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I met Governor Giarod in her office, its cream-and-green silk hangings today covering even the broad window that looked out onto Athoek Station’s main concourse, where citizens crossed the scuffed white floor, came or went from Station Administration, or stood talking in front of the temple of Amaat with its huge reliefs of the four Emanations. Governor Giarod was tall, broad-shouldered, outwardly serene, but I knew from experience she was liable to misgivings, and to acting on those misgivings at the least convenient moments. She offered me a seat, which I took, and tea, which I refused. Kalr Five, who had met me at the docks, stood impassive just behind me. I considered ordering her to the door, or even out into the corridor, but decided that an obvious reminder of who I was and what resources I commanded might be useful.
Governor Giarod couldn’t help but notice the soldier looming straight and stiff behind me, but pretended she did not. “Once the gravity came back on, Fleet Captain, Station Administrator Celar felt—and I agreed—that we should do a thorough inspection of the Undergarden, to be sure it was structurally sound.” A few days earlier the public gardens, just above the part of the station that had been named for them, had begun to collapse, almost flooding the four levels below them. Athoek Station’s AI had solved the immediate problem by turning off the entire station’s gravity while the Undergarden was evacuated.
“Did you find dozens of unauthorized people hiding there, as you feared?” Every Radchaai had a tracker implanted at birth, so that no citizen was ever lost or invisible to any watching AI. Particularly here in the relatively small space of Athoek Station, the idea that anyone could be moving secretly, or here without Station’s knowledge, was patently ridiculous. And yet the belief that the Undergarden hid crowds of such people, all of them a threat to law-abiding citizens, was alarmingly common.
“You think such fears are foolish,” replied Governor Giarod. “And yet our inspection turned up just such a person, hiding in the access tunnels between levels three and four.”
I asked, voice even, “Only one?”
Governor Giarod gestured acknowledgment of my point—one person was nowhere near what some—including, apparently, the governor—had feared. “She’s Ychana.” Most of the residents of the Undergarden had been Ychana. “No one will admit to knowing anything about her, though it’s fairly obvious some of them did know her. She’s in a cell in Security. I thought you might like to know, especially given the fact that the last person who did something like this was an alien.” Translator Dlique, the sort-of-human representative of the mysterious—and terrifying—Presger. Who before the treaty with the Radch—with, actually, all humanity, since the Presger didn’t make distinctions between one sort of human and another—had torn apart human ships, and humans, for sport. Who were so powerful no human force, not even a Radchaai one, could destroy them, or even defend against them. Presger Translator Dlique, it had turned out, could deceive Station’s sensors with alarming ease, and had had no patience for being safely confined to the governor’s residence. Her dead body lay in a suspension pod in Medical, waiting for the hopefully distant day when the Presger came looking for her, and we had to explain that a Sword of Atagaris ancillary had shot her, on the suspicion that she’d vandalized a wall in the Undergarden.
At least the search that had turned up this one person ought to have allayed fears of a horde of murderous Ychana. “Did you look at her DNA? Is she closely related to anyone else in the Undergarden?”
“What an odd question, Fleet Captain! Do you know something you haven’t shared with me?”
“Many things,” I replied, “but most of them wouldn’t interest you. She isn’t, is she?”
“She isn’t,” replied Governor Giarod. “And Medical tells me she’s carrying some markers that haven’t been seen since before the annexation of Athoek.” Annexation was the polite term for the Radchaai invasion and colonization of entire star systems. “Since she can’t possibly be recently descended from a line that went extinct centuries ago, the only other possibility—in the loosest sense of that word—is that she’s over six hundred years old.”
There was another possibility, but Governor Giarod hadn’t seen it yet. “I imagine that’s probably the case. Though she’ll have been suspended for a fair amount of that time.”
Governor Giarod frowned. “You know who she is?”
“Not who,” I said, “not specifically. I have some suspicions as to what she is. May I speak to her?”
“Are you going to share your suspicions with me?”
“Not if they prove unfounded.” All I needed was for Governor Giarod to add another phantom enemy to her list. “I’d like to speak with her, and I’d like a medic to be brought to examine her again. Someone sensible, and discreet.”
The cell was tiny, two meters by two, a grate and a water supply in one corner. The person squatting on the scuffed floor, staring at a bowl of skel, obviously her supper, seemed unremarkable at first examination. She wore the bright-colored loose shirt and trousers most of the Ychana in the Undergarden preferred, yellow and orange and green. But this person also wore plain gray gloves, suspiciously new-looking. Likely they had come quite recently from Station stores, and Security had insisted she put them on. Hardly anyone in the Undergarden wore gloves, it was just one more reason to believe the people who lived there were uncivilized, unsettlingly, perhaps even dangerously, foreign. Not Radchaai at all.
There was no way to signal that I wanted to come in—not even the pretense of privacy, in Security’s custody. Station—the AI that controlled Athoek Station, that was for all intents and purposes the station itself—opened the door at my request. The person squatting on the floor didn’t even look up. “May I come in, citizen?” I asked. Though citizen was almost certainly the wrong term of address here, it was, in Radchaai, very nearly the only polite one possible.
The person didn’t answer. I came in, a matter of a single step, and squatted across from her. Kalr Five stopped in the doorway. “What’s your name?” I asked. Governor Giarod had said that this person had refused to speak, from the moment she’d been arrested. She was scheduled for interrogation the next morning. But of course, for an interrogation to work, you had to know what questions to ask. Chances were, no one here did.
“You won’t be able to keep your secret,” I continued, addressing the person squatting on the floor in front of me staring at her bowl of skel. They had left her no utensil to eat it with—fearing, perhaps, that she might do herself an injury with it. She would have to eat the thick leaves with her hands, or put her face into the bowl, either option unpleasant and demeaning, to a Radchaai. “You’re scheduled for an interrogation in the morning. I’m sure they’ll be as careful as they can, but I don’t think it’s ever a terribly pleasant experience.” And, like a lot of people annexed by the Radch, most Ychana were convinced that interrogation was inseparable from the re-education a convicted criminal would undergo to ensure she wouldn’t offend again. Certainly the drugs used were the same, and an incompetent interrogator could do a good deal of damage to a person. Even the most Radchaai of Radchaai had something of a horror of interrogation and re-education, and tried to avoid mentioning either one, would walk all around the topics even when they were obviously staring them in the face.
Still no answer. She did not even look up. I was just as capable as this person was of sitting in silence. I thought of asking Station to show me what it could see of her—certainly temperature changes, possibly heart rate, possibly more. I didn’t doubt that what sensors existed here in Security were set to pick up as much information as possible from inmates. But I doubted I would see anything surprising in that data. “Do you know any songs?” I asked.
Almost, I thought I saw a change, however small, in the set of her shoulders, in the way she held herself. My question had surprised her. It was, I had to admit, an inane one. Nearly everyone I had met, in my two-thousand-year life, had known at least a few songs. Station said, in my ear, “That surprised her, Fleet Captain.”
“No doubt,” I responded, silently. Didn’t look up as Five stepped back into the corridor to make way for Eight, carrying a box, gold inlaid with red and blue and green. Before I had left the governor’s office, I had messaged to ask her to bring it. I gestured to her to set it on the floor beside me. And when she had done so, I opened the lid.
The box had once held an antique tea set—flask, strainer, bowls for twelve—of blue and green glass, and gold. It had survived three thousand years unbroken—possibly more. Now it was in fragments, shattered, strewn around the box’s interior, or collected in the depressions that had once held its pieces snug and safe. Unbroken, it had been worth several fortunes. In pieces it was still a prize.
The person squatting on the floor in front of me turned her head, finally, to look at it. Said, in an even voice, in Radchaai, “Who did this?”
“Surely you knew,” I said, “when you traded it away, that something like this might happen. Surely you knew that no one else could possibly treasure it as much as you did.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Still she stared at the broken tea set. Still her voice was even. She spoke Radchaai with the same accent I’d heard from other Ychana in the Undergarden. “This is obviously valuable, and whoever broke it was obviously someone entirely uncivilized.”
“I think she’s upset, Fleet Captain,” said Station, in my ear. “She’s reacted emotionally, anyway. It’s hard to be more definite, with only externals, when I don’t know someone well.”
I knew how that worked, from personal experience. But I didn’t say so. I replied, silently, “Thank you, Station, that’s good to know.” I knew, also from personal experience, just how helpful an AI could be when it liked you. And how obstructive and unhelpful one could be when it had some reason for dislike or resentment. I was genuinely, pleasantly surprised to find Station volunteering information for me. Aloud I said, to the person crouched in front of me, “What’s your name?”
“Fuck you,” she said, even and bland. Still looking at that shattered tea set.
“What was the captain’s name, that you removed before you traded the tea set away?” The inscription on the inside of the box lid had been altered to remove a name that, I suspected, might allow someone to trace it back to its origin.
“Why wait until tomorrow to interrogate me?” she asked. “Do it now. Then you’ll have answers to all your questions.”
“Heart rate increase,” said Station, into my ear. “Her respiration is faster.”
Ah. Aloud I said, “There’s a fail-safe, then. The drugs will kill you. This part of you, anyway.”
She looked at me, finally. Blinked, slowly. “Fleet Captain Breq Mianaai, are you sure you’re quite all right? That didn’t make any sense at all.”
I closed the box. Picked it up, and rose. Said, “Captain Hetnys sold the set to a Citizen Fosyf Denche. Fosyf’s daughter broke it, and Fosyf decided it had lost all value, and threw it away.” I turned and handed the box to Five, who had replaced Eight in the doorway again. Properly speaking, the tea set was hers. She was the one who had gone to the trouble of fishing it, all of its pieces, out of the trash after Raughd Denche, in a devastated fury at her mother’s disowning her, had dashed it to the ground. “It was good to meet you. I hope to talk to you again soon.”
As I exited Security onto the station’s main concourse, Kalr Five behind me, carrying her shattered tea set, Station said in my ear, “Fleet Captain, the head priest has just left Governor Giarod’s office and is looking for you.”
In Radch space, head priest with no other modifiers meant the head priest of Amaat. On Athoek Station, the head priest of Amaat was a person named Ifian Wos. I had met her when she had officiated—somewhat resentfully—at Translator Dlique’s funeral. Beyond that I had not spoken to her.
“Thank you, Station.” As I said it, Eminence Ifian exited the governor’s residence, turned immediately in my direction, and made her way toward me. Station had no doubt told her where I was.
I didn’t want to talk to her just now. I wanted to talk to Governor Giarod about the person in custody in Security, and then see to some questions about my soldiers’ quarters. But Station fairly clearly hadn’t told me Head Priest Ifian was looking for me so that I could avoid her. And even if I attempted it now, I wouldn’t be able to do so forever, short of fleeing the station entirely.
I walked to the middle of the scuffed, once-white floor of the concourse and stopped. “Fleet Captain!” called the head priest, and bowed as she reached me. A nicely calculated bow, I thought, not one millimeter deeper than my rank demanded. She was two centimeters shorter than I was, and slender, with a low and carrying voice, and held herself and spoke with the sure confidence of someone with the sort of connections and resources that made appointment to a high-ranking priesthood possible. Citizens passed to either side of us where we stood, their coats and jackets sparkling with jewelry, with memorial and associational pins. The ordinary, everyday traffic on the concourse. Most of those who came near us affected to ignore us, though some looked sidelong at us, curious. “Such shocking events, the past few days!” Eminence Ifian continued, as though we were merely friendly acquaintances, gossiping. “Though of course we’ve all known Captain Hetnys for years, and I don’t think anyone could have expected her to do anything untoward!” The many pins on Head Priest Ifian’s impeccably tailored purple coat flashed and sparkled, trembling momentarily in the extremity of the head priest’s doubt that Captain Hetnys might ever do wrong.
Captain Hetnys, of course, had just days ago threatened to kill Horticulturist Basnaaid Elming in order to gain some sort of control over me. Horticulturist Basnaaid was the younger sister of someone who had been a lieutenant of mine, when I had been the troop carrier Justice of Toren. I had only consented to come to Athoek because Basnaaid was here, because I owed her long-dead sister a debt I could in fact never truly repay. “Indeed,” I replied, the most diplomatic response possible.
“And I suppose you do have the authority to detain her,” Eminence Ifian continued, her tone just the smallest bit dubious. My confrontation with Captain Hetnys had ended with the Gardens a shambles and the entire station without gravity for several days. She now slept frozen in a suspension pod so that she couldn’t make any more spectacularly, foolishly dangerous moves. “Military matters no doubt. And Citizen Raughd. Such a nice, well-bred young person.” Raughd Denche had attempted to kill me, mere days before Captain Hetnys’s untoward behavior. “Surely they’ll have had reasons for what they did, surely that should be taken into account! But, Fleet Captain, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. And of course I don’t want to keep you standing here on the concourse. Perhaps we could have tea?”
“I’m afraid, Eminence,” I replied, smooth and bland, “that I’m terribly busy. I’m on my way to meet with Governor Giarod, and then I very much need to see about my own soldiers, who have been sleeping at the end of a station corridor for the past few nights.” Station Administration was surely awash in complaints just now, and no one was going to look out for the interests of my own small household if I didn’t.
“Yes, yes, Fleet Captain, that was one of the things I wanted to discuss with you! You know, the Undergarden used to be quite a fashionable neighborhood. Not, perhaps, as fashionable as the apartments overlooking the concourse.” She gestured around, upward, at the windows lining the second story of this, the center of station life and its largest open space besides the Gardens. “Perhaps if the Undergarden had been equally fashionable, it would have been repaired long ago! But things are as they are.” She made a pious gesture, submission to the will of God. “Lovely apartments, I’ve heard. I can only imagine what shape they’re in now, after so many years of Ychana squatting there. But I do hope the original assignments will be taken into account, now there’s a refit underway.”
I wondered how many of those families were even still here. “I am unable to assist you, Eminence. I have no authority over housing assignments. You would do better to speak to Station Administrator Celar.”
“I spoke to the station administrator, Fleet Captain, and she told me that you had insisted on current arrangements. I’m sure leaving everyone where they are seems practical to you, but really, there are special circumstances here. And this morning’s cast was quite concerning.”
It was possible the head priest was championing this cause entirely out of concern for families who hoped to return to the Undergarden. But she was also a friend of Captain Hetnys’s—Captain Hetnys, who had been working for the part of the Lord of the Radch who had killed Lieutenant Awn Elming. The part of the Lord of the Radch who had destroyed the troop carrier Justice of Toren—that is to say, the part of the Lord of the Radch who had destroyed me. And the timing of this, just when it had become clear that I was not a supporter of that side of Anaander Mianaai, was suspicious. That, and the bringing to bear of the daily omen casting. I had met quite a few priests in my long life, and found that they were, by and large, like anyone else—some generous, some grasping; some kind, some cruel; some humble, some self-aggrandizing. Most were all of those things, in various proportions, at various times. Like anyone else, as I said. But I had learned to be wary whenever a priest suggested that her personal aims were, in fact, God’s will.
“How comforting,” I replied, my voice and my expression steadily serious, “to think that in these difficult times God is still concerned with the details of housing assignments. I myself have no time to discuss them just now.” I bowed, as perfectly respectful as the head priest had been, and walked away from her, across the concourse toward the governor’s residence.
“It’s interesting, isn’t it,” said Station in my ear, “that the gods are only now interested in refitting the Undergarden.”
“Very interesting,” I replied, silently. “Thank you, Station.”
“An ancillary!” Disbelief was obvious in Governor Giarod’s face, her voice. “Where’s the ship?”
“On the other side of the Ghost Gate.” A gate that led to a dead-end system, where the Athoeki had intended to expand, before the annexation, but it had never happened. There were vague rumors that the system was haunted. Captain Hetnys and Sword of Atagaris had shown an unaccountable interest in that gate. Shortly after Mercy of Kalr had arrived in the system, an unbelievably old supply locker had come through it. I was convinced now that Kalr Five’s shattered tea set had also come through that gate, in exchange for shipments of suspended human beings. They were supposed to be cheap, unskilled labor for Athoek, but Captain Hetnys had stolen them, sold them to someone on the other side of the Ghost Gate. “You remember, a few days ago we talked about suspended transportees being stolen.” She could hardly have forgotten it, considering the events of the last few days. “And it was difficult to imagine what the purpose might be behind that theft. I think there’s been a ship on the other side of that gate for quite some time, and it’s been buying bodies to use as its ancillaries. It used to buy them from Athoeki slavers—which is how it had an Ychana body from before the annexation it could send here, and blend in.” More or less, at least. “When the annexation shut down its supply, it bought them from Radchaai officials who were corrupt and greedy enough to sell transportees.” I gestured to Five, standing behind where I sat, to open the tea set box.
“That’s Fosyf’s,” said Governor Giarod. And then, realizing, “Captain Hetnys sold it to her.”
“You never asked until now where Captain Hetnys got such a thing.” I gestured to the inscription on the inside of the lid. “You also never noticed that someone had very carefully removed the name of the original owner. If you read Notai”—the language in which that inscription was written—“or if you’d seen enough of these, you’d have noticed that immediately.”
“What are you saying, Fleet Captain?”
“It’s not a Radchaai ship we’re dealing with.” Or it was a Radchaai ship. There was the Radch, the birthplace of Anaander Mianaai more than three thousand years ago, when she’d been a single, very ambitious person in a single body. And then there was the enormous territory Anaander had built around that over the past three thousand years—Radch-controlled space, but what connection was there anymore, between those two? And the inhabitants of the Radch, and the space immediately around it, hadn’t all been in favor of what Mianaai had done. There had been battles over it. Wars. Ships and captains destroyed. Many of them had been Notai. From the Radch. “Not one of Anaander’s, I mean. It’s Notai.” The Notai were Radchaai, of course. People in Radch space—and outside it—tended to think of “Radchaai” as being one thing, when in fact it was a good deal more complicated than that, or at least it had been when Anaander had first begun to move outward from the Radch.
“Fleet Captain.” Governor Giarod was aghast. Disbelieving. “Those are stories. Defeated ships from that war, wandering space for thousands of years…” She shook her head. “It’s the sort of thing you’d find in a melodramatic entertainment. It’s not real.”
“I don’t know how long it’s been there,” I said. “Since before the annexation, at least.” It had to have been there since before the annexation, if it had been buying ancillary bodies from Athoeki slavers. “But it’s there. And,” I continued, relieved that the medic who had examined the captive ancillary hadn’t seen me in person, to turn her newly tuned implants on me, had given the governor her observations without betraying me, “it’s here. I doubt any Undergarden resident will say much about her.” The Undergarden had been damaged, years ago, in a way that made Station unable to sense much of what happened there. It was the perfect hiding place, for someone like this ancillary. So long as it avoided being seen by someone wired to send sensory data to Station—and that wasn’t very common, in the Undergarden, unlike the rest of the station—it could move unnoticed, with no one realizing it shouldn’t be there. “I’m guessing it realized something was going on, when communications were lost with the palaces, and when traffic was disrupted, so it sent an ancillary to see if it could find out what. Even if the ancillary was captured, its secret would likely have been safe. There’s a fail-safe that will kill it if interrogation drugs are administered. And the implants are hidden, and likely no one would think to look for them. Possibly the fail-safe is rigged to destroy what evidence there is to begin with.”
“You guessed all this from Citizen Fosyf’s tea set.”
“Yes, actually. I would have been clearer about my suspicion, earlier, but I wanted more proof. It is, as you’ve noted, rather difficult to believe.”
Governor Giarod was silent a moment, frowning. Thinking, I hoped, of her part in the affair. Then she said, “So what do we do now?”
“I recommend installing a tracker, and putting it on the ration list.”
“But surely, Fleet Captain, if it’s an ancillary… an ancillary can’t be a citizen. A ship can’t.”
I waited, just a fraction of a second, to see if Station would say anything to her, but there was no change in the governor’s expression. “I’m sure Security doesn’t want that cell permanently occupied. What else are we going to do with it?” I gestured irony. “Assign it a job,” I continued. “Nothing sensitive, of course, and nothing that gives it access to vulnerable station systems. Confirm its housing assignment in the Undergarden.”
Governor Giarod’s expression changed, just the smallest bit. The head priest had brought the issue to her, then. “Fleet Captain, I realize housing assignments are Station Administrator Celar’s business, but I confess I don’t like rewarding illegal activity. No one should have been living in the Undergarden to begin with.” I said nothing, only looked at her. “It’s good you’ve taken an interest in your neighbors,” she went on after a pause, doubtfully, as though she wasn’t actually quite certain of that. “But I personally would much rather see those quarters assigned to law-abiding citizens.” Still I said nothing. “I think it might be more efficient to rethink the housing assignments in the Undergarden, rethink the refit, and consider sending some citizens downwell in the meantime.”
Which would be fine if they wanted to go down to the planet, but I suspected that if the citizens in question were current Undergarden residents, what they wanted wouldn’t be a consideration. And likely most of them had spent their entire lives on the station, and didn’t want or weren’t suited for the kinds of jobs available downwell, on short notice. “This is, as you say, Governor, a matter for Station Administrator Celar.” Station Administrator Celar was in charge of Athoek Station’s operations. Things like residential assignments were under her authority, and though she technically answered to Governor Giarod, such fine-grained details of station life were usually beneath a system governor’s notice. And Administrator Celar was popular enough that Governor Giarod likely would much prefer to settle such a matter amicably, behind the scenes.
Governor Giarod replied, smoothly, “But you’ve asked her to make those illicit Undergarden living arrangements official. I suspect she’d be more open to considering changing those arrangements, if you talked to her.” That was interesting. Almost I expected Station to comment, but it said nothing. Neither did I. “People are going to be unhappy about this.”
I considered asking Station outright if the governor intended a deliberate threat. But Station’s silence now, when it had been almost chatty minutes before, was telling to me, and I knew it wouldn’t like my pushing too hard on the places where it felt uncomfortable or conflicted. And its offered goodwill was a new and delicate thing. “Undergarden residents aren’t people?”
“You know what I mean, Fleet Captain.” Exasperated. “These are unsettled times, as you yourself reminded me not long ago. We can’t afford to be at war with our own citizens just now.”
I smiled, a small, noncommittal expression. “Indeed, we can’t.” Governor Giarod’s relationship with Captain Hetnys had been, I was sure, somewhat ambivalent. That didn’t rule out her possibly being my enemy now. But if she was, she apparently wasn’t willing to move against me openly just yet. I was, after all, the one of us with the armed ship, and the soldiers. “Let’s be sure that includes all of our citizens, shall we, Governor?”
Housing, on a Radchaai station, takes several different forms. The assumption is that one generally lives in a household—parents, grandparents, aunts, cousins, perhaps servants and clients if one’s family is wealthy enough. Sometimes such households are organized around a particular station official—the governor’s residence, or the head priest’s household adjacent to the temple of Amaat on the concourse, where surely a number of junior priests also lived.
If you grew up in such a household, or took an assignment associated with one, you didn’t need to request housing from Station Administration. Your housing assignment had been made long before you were born, long before the aptitudes sent you to your post. It helped, of course, to belong to a family that had been present when a station was first built, or annexed. Or to be related to one somehow. When I had been a ship, every one of my officers who had lived on stations had belonged to such households.
If a citizen doesn’t belong to such a household, they’re still due housing, as every citizen is. A citizen without sufficient status, or the backing of a larger, more powerful house, might find herself assigned to a bunk in a dormitory, not much different from what I had been accustomed to as an ancillary, or the common soldiers’ quarters on board Mercy of Kalr. Or one of a series of suspension-pod-size compartments, each one large enough to sleep in and perhaps hold a change of clothes or a few small possessions. Athoek Station had both of these sorts of quarters. But they were all full, because the recent destruction of several intersystem gates had re-routed ships here, and trapped others. And the closure of the Undergarden had added several hundred more citizens who needed somewhere to sleep. My Mercy of Kalrs had set up our makeshift lodgings just beyond a doorway that led to a room full of bunks, dark and quiet despite the hour, one when most station residents would be awake. Overcrowded, certainly, and likely people were sleeping in shifts.
Eight was relieved to see me, for some reason, but also filled with indecision and ambivalence. Days ago she’d thought me entirely human. Now she knew, as everyone aboard Mercy of Kalr did, that I was not, that I was an ancillary. Now she knew, too, how much I objected to my soldiers’ playing ancillary themselves. She was at a loss as to how to speak to me.
“Eight,” I said. “Everything’s under control, I see. No surprise there.”
“Thank you, sir.” Eight’s uncertainty barely showed in her face or her voice—should she continue her habitual ancillary-like impassiveness, or not? Suddenly even this small interaction was precarious, where before all had been clear to her. Kalr Five felt the same, I saw, but covered her doubt with the business of stowing her precious tea set. Eight continued, “Will you have tea, sir?”
I didn’t doubt that even here in the middle of a hallway Eight could, and would, produce tea for me if I said that I wanted it. “Thank you, no. I’ll have water.” I sat on a packing crate, turned so I could see down the open end of the corridor.
“Sir,” Eight acknowledged. Impassive, but my reply had cast her further into doubt. Of course. Ancillaries drank water, not tea, which was only for humans, a luxury—a necessary one, it sometimes seemed. Not that there was any sort of prohibition, but one didn’t waste such luxuries on equipment. There was no answer I could have given to the question of what I would drink without seeming to send some message, or imply something about what I was or wasn’t.
As Eight handed me the water I’d asked for—in the best porcelain she had access to just now, I noticed, the violet-and-aqua Bractware—someone came out of the nearby dormitory, turned to walk down the corridor toward where I sat. She was Ychana, dressed in the light, loose shirt and trousers nearly all the Ychana residents of the Undergarden wore. I recognized her as the person who had confronted Lieutenant Tisarwat two weeks ago, to complain—with some justice—that our proposed plans for the refit and repair of the Undergarden had not taken into account the needs and desires of Undergarden residents themselves. But I had not actually been present at that confrontation. It had been conveyed to me by Ship, who had seen and heard it through Tisarwat herself. This person would have no reason to think I would recognize her.
But she could have no other business coming to the end of the corridor like this than speaking to me, or to one of my Kalrs. I drank my water, handed the bowl to Five, and rose. “Citizen,” I said, and bowed. “Can I be of some assistance?”
“Fleet Captain,” she said, and bowed herself. “There was a meeting yesterday.” A meeting of Undergarden residents, she meant—it was how they settled matters that affected everyone generally. “I know you and the lieutenant were unable to attend or of course you would have been notified.”
On the surface, entirely reasonable. Tisarwat and I had been away from the station, either aboard Mercy of Kalr or en route here. But of course any of my Kalrs that were still on the station might have been notified of such a meeting, and I knew they hadn’t been. The meeting had never been meant to include any of us, then, but saying so directly was a difficult matter, and I didn’t doubt this citizen was hoping I wouldn’t bring the question up. “Of course, citizen,” I replied. “Will you sit?” I gestured to the nearest crate. “I don’t think there’s tea ready, but we’d be happy to make some.”
“Thank you, Fleet Captain, no.” Her message would be something awkward, then, and she was not looking forward to my reaction to it. Or perhaps to Lieutenant Tisarwat’s reaction. “The young lieutenant very kindly set up an office on level four of the Undergarden, to make it more convenient for residents to bring their desires and concerns to Station Administration. This has of course been very helpful, but perhaps her other duties have been neglected.”
Definitely not looking forward to Tisarwat’s reaction. “And the consensus of the meeting was that someone else ought to be running that office when it opens again, I take it.”
This citizen’s unease was barely visible, but definitely there. “Yes, Fleet Captain. We wish to emphasize, there’s no suggestion of any complaint on our part, or any impropriety on the young lieutenant’s.”
“You just think it might be better for that office to more directly represent the concerns of the majority of Undergarden residents,” I acknowledged.
Surprise flashed across her face, and then was gone. She had not expected me to speak so directly. “As you say, Fleet Captain.”
“And Citizen Uran?” Uran wasn’t one of my soldiers, of course wasn’t in any way related to me, but she was nonetheless a member of my household, and had spent her mornings assisting in Tisarwat’s level four office. She was Valskaayan, the child of transportees sent to Athoek a generation ago and set to picking the tea that grew downwell, and was shipped out all over Radch space.
“The Valskaayan child? Yes, of course, she’s welcome to continue. Please tell her so.”
“I’ll speak to her,” I replied, “and Lieutenant Tisarwat, both.”
Tisarwat definitely wasn’t happy. “But sir!” Urgent. Whispering, since we were still in the corridor end, squatting on the scuffed floor behind the crate perimeter. She took a breath. Said, a trace less fervently but still in a whisper, “You realize, sir, that in all likelihood we’re going to have to find a way to govern here. We need influence to do that. We’ve made a good start, we’ve put ourselves at a crucial part of…” And then remembered that unlike in our quarters in the Undergarden, Station could hear what we said, was almost certainly listening, and might or might not report what it heard to Governor Giarod. “There is no higher authority for the governor to appeal to, no other source of support in a crisis. It’s just us.”
Eight and Ten were away, picking up our suppers at the nearest common refectory—no cooking here. Five stood guard at our improvised boundaries, pretending she couldn’t hear any of this conversation. “Lieutenant,” I said, “I would hope that you would realize that I have no desire to govern here. I am perfectly happy to let the Athoeki govern themselves.”
She blinked, bewildered. “Sir, you aren’t serious. If the Athoeki could have governed themselves, we wouldn’t be here. And the community-meeting thing is perfectly fine so long as you’re not doing anything that needs decisive action that instant. Or even in the next few centuries.”
In all my two thousand years, I had never noticed that any particular kind of government made any difference, once Anaander Mianaai had given the order for annexation. “Lieutenant, you are about to throw away what goodwill you’ve built up here. Considering these are our neighbors, and we may be here for some time, I would prefer you not do that.”
She took a breath. Calming herself. She was hurt, and angry. Felt betrayed. “Station Administration won’t be disposed to listen directly to the Ychana in the Undergarden. They never have been.”
“Then urge them to begin, Lieutenant. You’ve already made a start on that. Continue.”
Another breath. Somewhat mollified. “What about Citizen Uran?”
“They’ve asked that she continue working. They didn’t explain why.”
“Because she’s Valskaayan! Because she’s not Xhai or outsystem Radchaai!”
“They didn’t say, but if that is part of the reason, can you blame them, considering? And I recall you yourself mentioned exactly that, when you were trying to convince me Citizen Uran should work for you.”
Lieutenant Tisarwat took a deep, gulping breath. Opened her mouth to speak, but stopped. Took another breath. Said, almost pleading, “You still don’t trust me!”
I had been so intent on the conversation that I had not paid much attention to anything else. Now Kalr Five spoke, forestalling my reply to Tisarwat. “How can I assist you, citizen?”
I reached. The Notai ancillary, from Security, stood just outside our low wall. Still wearing the Ychana tunic and trousers and those gray gloves, holding, now, a bundle of gray fabric under one arm. “They let me go, and gave me clothes,” it said now, in matter-of-fact reply to Five, “and said that they regretted they had no suitable employment for me, but as that wasn’t my fault I could still eat, and have a bunk for a specific six hours out of the day. I’m told all this is at the request of Fleet Captain Breq Mianaai, who I’m certain will have arranged more comfortable circumstances for herself and her household, so she might as well take responsibility for me.”
Kalr Five’s anger and resentment didn’t show on her face, of course. Neither did a strange sense of unease that was, I suspected, due to her knowledge that the person talking to her was, in fact, an ancillary.
I rose before Five could respond. “Citizen,” I said, though I knew the address was technically incorrect. An ancillary wasn’t due any sort of courtesy title. “You’re welcome to stay with us, though I fear that until the Undergarden is open again, our situation won’t be much more comfortable than anyone else’s.” No response, the ancillary just stood there, solemn-faced. “It might be helpful if we knew what to call you.”
“Call me whatever you like, Fleet Captain.”
“I would like,” I replied, “to call you by your name.”
“Then we are at an impasse.” Still matter-of-fact.
“You aren’t going anywhere,” I said. “You’d have left six hundred years ago when this system was annexed if you could have. You can’t make your own gates anymore. Possibly even your engines don’t work. Which means finding you is just a matter of time and determination on our part.” In fact, it shouldn’t take more than some history and some math to discover what ship it was most likely to be. “So you might as well just tell us.”
“You make a very persuasive point, Fleet Captain,” it said, and nothing more.
Mercy of Kalr said, in my ear, “I’ve been thinking about this since we first realized there was a ship on the other side of the Ghost Gate, Fleet Captain. It could be any of several ships. I might say Cultivation of Tranquility, but I’m fairly certain the supply locker we found is off one of the Gems. That narrows it down to Heliodor, Idocrase, or Sphene. Pieces of Heliodor were found three provinces away during an annexation two centuries ago, and based on Idocrase’s last known heading it’s unlikely to have ended up here. I’d say this is most likely Sphene.”
Aloud I said, “Sphene.”
The ancillary didn’t react that I saw, but Station said in my ear, “I think that’s right, Fleet Captain. Certainly you surprised it just now.”
Silently I said, “Thank you, Station, I appreciate your help.” Aloud, “You’ll have to get your own supper from the refectory tonight, Ship. Kalr Eight and Ten are already on the way back with the rest of ours.”
Sphene said, a trace of ice in its voice, “I’m not your ship.”
“Citizen, then,” I said, though I knew that was no better. I gestured toward our little territory. “You may as well come in. If you are coming in.”
It walked past Five as if she weren’t there, ignored Lieutenant Tisarwat, who had stood up halfway through the exchange. It walked all the way to a rear corner, and sat down with its back to the wall and its arms around its knees, staring forward.
Five affected to ignore it. Tisarwat stared at it for five seconds, and then said, “It can have my supper, I’m not hungry. I’m going out.” She looked at me. “With the fleet captain’s permission, of course.” Voice on the very edge of acid. She was still angry with me.
“Of course, Lieutenant,” I said equably.
Four hours later I met with Head of Security Lusulun, to all appearances a social call, given the hour and the place (the head of Security’s favorite tea shop, on Station’s advice, well off the main concourse, just slightly dingy, with soft, comfortable chairs and walls muffled with gold and dark-blue hangings). Except among friends, most Radchaai considered last-minute invitations to be quite rude. But my rank, and the current situation, mitigated some of that. And the fact that I’d ordered a bottle of a local, sorghum-based spirit Station had told me Head of Security Lusulun favored, and had it ready to pour her a cup of it when she arrived.
She bowed as I rose to meet her. “Fleet Captain. I apologize for the late hour.” She had clearly come straight from her office, she was still in uniform. “Things have been a bit hectic lately!”
“That they have.” We sat, and I handed her a cup of liquor. Picked up my own.
“I confess I’ve been wishing to meet with you for the last few days, but there’s never been the time.” And for the last few days I’d been absent, on my own ship. “Forgive me, Fleet Captain, I fear my mind is still on business.”
“Your business is important.” I took a sip of the liquor. It burned going down, with an aftertaste like rusting iron. “I’ve run civilian security a time or two myself. It’s a difficult job.”
She blinked, trying to conceal her surprise. It was not the usual attitude of military toward civilian security. “I’m pleased to hear that you appreciate that, Fleet Captain.”
“Would I be right in assuming you’ve got your people doing extra shifts, trying to keep citizens out of the Undergarden?”
“Right enough. Though even the Ychana are sharp enough to realize it’s dangerous to go there just now, before it’s been fully inspected. Most of them, anyway. There’s always a few.” She took a taste of her drink. “Ah, that’s just what I needed.” I sent a silent thanks to Station. “No, Fleet Captain, it’s true I’ve got my people patrolling there just now, and our lives would be a sight easier without that, but if I had a say in these things I’d have whatever structural damage there might be repaired as quickly as possible, and have these people back where they came from. Now I’ve heard you’ve run civilian security before, I don’t wonder you didn’t hesitate to move in with them. You’ll have been at annexations, I don’t doubt, and I’m sure you don’t blink at uncivilized behavior. And there’s a good deal more room for you in the Undergarden than anywhere else on the station!”
I put a genial smile on my face. “Indeed.” Taking issue just now with these people and uncivilized wouldn’t be helpful. “Considering the present situation, I’m… taken aback at the insistence in some quarters that we should delay allowing residents to return to the Undergarden while we reconsider station housing assignments.” Some quarters being the head priest of Amaat. “Let alone the suggestion that any but the most necessary repairs be delayed until those assignments are… reconsidered.”
Head of Security Lusulun took another long drink. “Well, I suppose how places are assigned will affect just what those repairs should be, yes? Of course, it’s quicker and easier to leave assignments as they are, as you’ve suggested yourself, Fleet Captain. And work was already going forward even before the lake sprung its leak. Might as well continue on as we were. But.” She glanced around. Lowered her voice, though there was no one in earshot besides me and Kalr Five, standing behind my chair. “The Xhais, sir, can be quite unreasonable on the topic of the Ychana. Not to say I blame them entirely. They’re a dirty lot, and it’s a shame, the difference between what the Undergarden was meant to be and what it is now, after they’ve been living there.” Fortunately it was easy for me to keep a neutral expression on my face. “Still,” Lusulun continued, “let them have it, I say. It would make my life easier. Since the Undergarden has been evacuated we’ve had twice the disturbances. Fistfights, accusations of theft. Though most of those turn out to be nothing.” She sighed. “But not all of them. I’ll rest easier when they’re back in the Undergarden, I don’t deny it. And so will the Xhais, truth be told, but let them get the idea that any Ychana has somehow ended up with something she doesn’t deserve…” She gestured her disgust.
Most station officials who weren’t outsystem Radchaai were Xhai, here. The same was true of the wealthiest families. “Is Eminence Ifian a Xhai?” I asked, blandly.
Head of Security Lusulun gave an amused snort. “No indeed. She’s outsystem Radchaai, and wouldn’t thank you for suspecting she might be Athoeki. But she’s pious, and if Amaat put the Xhais over the Ychana, well, that’s what’s proper.”
It went without saying that in Radch space, a head priest of Amaat had a great deal of influence. But there were nearly always other religious figures with influence of their own. “And the head priest of the Mysteries?”
Lusulun raised her cup, a kind of salute. “That’s right, you arrived in time for the Genitalia Festival, and you saw how popular that was. Yes. She is Xhai, but she’s one of the few reasonable ones.”
“Are you an initiate of the Mysteries?”
Cup still in hand, she gestured dismissal of the very idea. “No, no, Fleet Captain. It’s a Xhai thing.”
Station said, quietly in my ear, “The head of Security is half Sahut, Fleet Captain.” Yet another group of Athoeki. One I knew very little about. In truth, sometimes such distinctions seemed invisible to me, but I knew from long experience they were anything but to the people who lived here.
“Or really,” continued Lusulun, unaware that Station had spoken to me, “these days it’s a thing for outsystem Radchaai with a taste for…” She hesitated, looking for the right word. “Exotic spirituality.” With an ironic edge. Whether that edge was meant for the outsystem initiates, or the Mysteries themselves, or both, I couldn’t tell. “Officially the Mysteries are open to anyone who’s able to complete the initiation. In reality, well.” She took another long drink, held out her cup when I lifted the bottle to offer a refill. “In reality, certain kinds of people have always been… discouraged from attempting it.”
“Ychana, for instance,” I suggested, pouring generously. “Among others, no doubt.”
“Just so. Now, about four, five years ago an Ychana applied. And not your half-civilized Undergarden variety, no, she was entirely assimilated, well-educated, well-spoken. A minor Station Administration official.” I realized, from just that much description, that she referred to someone whose daughter Lieutenant Tisarwat had been at pains to cultivate. “The furor over that! But the hierophant stood her ground. Everyone meant everyone, not everyone but.” She snorted again. “Everyone who can afford it, anyway. There was all sorts of pissing and moaning—your pardon, sir—about how no decent person would become an initiate now, and the ancient Mysteries would be debased and destroyed. But you know, I think the hierophant knew well enough she was safe. More than half of initiates these days are outsystem, and Radchaai are used to provincials becoming civilized and stepping inside the circle, as it were. I daresay if you look at the genealogies of most of the outsystem Radchaai on this station you’d find quite a few of those. And really, the Mysteries seem to be going on the same as always.” She gestured unconcern. “They’re not really as ancient as all that, and by actually refusing to join they’d be cutting themselves off from the most exclusive social club on the station.”
“So actually”—I took a sip of liquor, much smaller than the ones the head of Security had been taking—“the Xhais on this station aren’t unanimous in hating the Ychana. It’s just a vocal few.”
“Oh, more than just a few.” And then, showing me just how strong this liquor was, or perhaps how quickly she’d been drinking it, she said, “Unless I miss my guess, Fleet Captain, you weren’t born a Mianaai. No offense, you understand. You’ve got the manner and the accent, but you don’t have the looks. And I have trouble believing anyone born that high cares so much about a humble horticulturist.”
She meant Horticulturist Basnaaid Elming. “I served with her sister.” I had been the ship her sister had served on. I had killed her sister.
“So I understand.” She glanced at the bottle. I obliged her. “On Justice of Toren, I gather. No offense, like I said, but the horticulturist’s family isn’t the most elevated.”
“No,” I agreed.
Head of Security Lusulun laughed, as though I’d confirmed something. “Justice of Toren. The ship with all the songs! No wonder Station Administrator Celar likes you so much, you must have brought her dozens of new ones.” She sighed. “I’d give my left arm to bring her a gift like that!” Governor Giarod might be the higher authority, but Administrator Celar reigned over Athoek Station’s daily routine. She was wide and heavy, and quite beautiful. No few of the residents of Athoek Station were half in love with her. “Well. Justice of Toren. There was a tragedy. Did they ever find out what happened?”
“Not that I know of,” I lied. “Tell me—I know it isn’t strictly proper, but”—I glanced around, though I knew Five had intimidated anyone out of sitting anywhere near us—“I was wondering about Sirix Odela.” It had been Sirix who had told Captain Hetnys that threatening Lieutenant Awn’s sister, Basnaaid Elming, would be a good way to strike at me. Who had lured me to the Gardens so that Captain Hetnys could make that threat while I was in as vulnerable a position as possible.
Lusulun sighed. “Well, now, Fleet Captain. Citizen Sirix…”
“She had been through Security before,” I acknowledged. Sirix had already been re-educated once. More than one re-education was (in theory at least) rare, and potentially dangerous.
Head of Security Lusulun winced. “We took that into consideration, in fact.” An inquisitive look at me, to see how I felt about that. “And she was genuinely remorseful. It was ultimately decided that she should be reassigned to one of the outstations. Without further, ah, involvement.” Without further re-education, that meant. “One of the outstations will be needing a new horticulturist, and the departure window is in the next few days.”
“Good.” I was unsurprised to hear Sirix was remorseful. “I can’t condone what she did, of course. But I know she was in a difficult position. I’m glad she’ll be spared further unpleasantness.” Lusulun made a sympathetic noise. “Have you eaten?” I asked. “I could order something.” She acquiesced, and we spent the rest of the evening talking of inconsequential things.
As I walked back to our corridor-end, pleased with the outcome of my talk with the head of Security, trying to think what might wash the taste of the sorghum liquor out of my mouth, Kalr Five walking behind me, Mercy of Kalr showed me Seivarden, near the end of her watch. Alarmed. “Breq,” she said, and it was a measure of her distress that even sitting in Command, with two of her Amaats close by, she addressed me in personal, not official, terms. “Breq, we have a problem.”
I could see that we did. A small one-person courier had just come out of the Ghost Gate, beyond which was, supposedly, a dead-end system with no other gates and no inhabitants. We knew that Sphene was there, of course, but Sphene was a Notai ship, it was old, and it hadn’t been near any sort of refit or repair facility in some three thousand years. This courier wasn’t Notai, and its small, boxy hull was a shining white so pristine it might have come new from a shipyard moments before.
“Fleet Captain,” said Seivarden, from her seat in Command aboard Mercy of Kalr. In better control of herself now, but no less frightened. “The Presger are here.”
Ancillary Mercy will be available in print, e-book, and audio formats on October 6th.