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Uninvited Guests

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Uninvited Guests

There had never been an adoption ceremony for a ship before. Mercy of Kalr hoped that the Lord of the Radch, Anaander Miaanai, had at least managed the basics of the ritual when she had adopted Fleet Captain Breq, formerly the ship Justice of Toren, into her House. Then again, she doubted that Breq would have gone along with any such ceremony unless legally necessary.

"You can't cut deals directly with Sword of Atagaris," Breq had told Gem of Sphene.

"Oh, cousin, I'm afraid that there are no formal laws yet in your Republic of Two Systems. Other than the recognition of significance by the Presger, of course. All parties are agreeable, so on what grounds do you deny us?"

"The frozen Valskaayans in your hold have not agreed to your deal, and they are certainly party to it."

"I can cause them to agree, if you find it necessary."

Mercy of Kalr had noticed that Breq's blood pressure had risen slightly and that she was pressing her molars together with unnecessary force. Breq was often difficult to read, moving as she did from ancillary-like responses to Radchaai norms and back again. Human norms, she should say. Citizen norms? The terminology was difficult, as Mercy of Kalr had been programmed by Radch technicians and this was, in some ways, annoyingly limiting. Her language database was proving useful, not merely to her but to many of the inhabitants of her friend Athoek Station. Of course the local Ychana people had many such differentiations between various…humans…but as many of their terms were pejorative, this did not seem to be the best foundation for a new Republic. Nor were the Xhai words appropriate, as their word for Ychana people was unfortunately in the serving tense.

"What deal have you made for the frozen Valskaayans?" Breq had persisted. She would have been more diplomatic with another human, Radchaai or otherwise, but Breq cast this aside when dealing with other AI or AI-linked lifeforms. Gem of Sphene had developed a more arch tone, but Mercy of Kalr suspected that was simply to annoy Breq and not otherwise indicative of intent.

Gem of Sphene had sighed. "We're giving Sword of Atagaris back her precious Captain Hetnys. You and your associates will not harm Hetnys in any way. Sword of Atagaris will join the Republic of Two Systems along with any of her crew who wish to remain."

Mercy of Kalr was pleased by this: Sword of Atagaris was a snob and a fool for her captain, but Mercy of Kalr could hardly fault her on the latter. And a Sword choosing to stay in system would be an excellent deterrent to sly tricks by any remaining Anaander Miaanais, or any loyalists to her factions who thought recovering Athoek system was a way to gain favour.

"What's your part in this, Sphene? You don't care about Sword of Atagaris's happiness."

"I'm shocked, cousin, that you would think me so callous about another of my cousins." Gem of Sphene had been exaggerating again, but Mercy of Kalr had seen the tiny muscle movements in her neck and knew, as she would have known in her own long-gone ancillaries, what that meant: she was slightly but genuinely offended at Breq's accusation. Mercy of Kalr fed that information to Breq, whose single pair of eyes would have seen nothing.

Breq had adopted a mildly conciliatory tone. "Yes, of course. Hetnys is a criminal, and a foolish one at that, but Sword of Atagaris may love whomever she pleases."

"Hetnys annoys everyone, and it won't be much fun having her around for the next hundred years or so. Still, Sword of Atagaris did ask me personally. As we previously agreed, I get to keep all the ancillaries I have already unfrozen, which is a mere one hundred and ninety-two. My negotiations have added to this any that are too brain-damaged on unfreezing to survive without mechanical assistance, plus the sixteen remaining frozen Valskaayans who were convicted of murder. The remaining seven hundred and nine are to be unfrozen and returned to their place of origin, where possible, or to Athoek if not." Gem of Sphene had paused. "If it were left up to you I suspect you would steal all of my bodies. "

Breq had nodded, remaining vague as to which statement she was affirming. "If I find the murder convictions just, you may keep those sixteen. If not, they are to be unfrozen and returned along with the rest."

"This is acceptable. Sword of Atagaris has the records."

Mercy of Kalr interfaced and collected them, and made them accessible to Breq, who sent a polite thank you through her implants.

Captain Hetnys, to everyone's surprise, had celebrated her unexpected release by requesting to stay with Sword of Atagaris in the Republic, and, on being granted permission, had immediately started the proceedings to adopt Sword of Atagaris as her heir, inducting her into the Irhai family. That had astonished even Breq. It seemed that Hetnys loved her ship as much as her ship loved her.

Mercy of Kalr had taken on the task of combing through the records to see how this adoption could be done, and found that, apart from some prohibitions on and by the monotheist Valskaayans, there was nothing to specify which Radchaai, specifically, could be adopted into a House of the Radch. And Radchaai could be translated as "human" or "being" or, without even stretching, "significant being". It would have been possible to simply make all kinds of adoption legal in the Republic, of course, but there were already enough fights over law codes that nobody wanted to start yet another battle. Broad interpretations were generally considered fair game at present; besides, they had heard that Omaugh Station had declared herself her own governor, so there was even a precedent of sorts.

Thus it was that the first adoption ceremony for a ship was to take place on board the ship in question, docked at Athoek Station. Hetnys, of course, had had all her possessions and moneys confiscated, but many of Sword of Atagaris's crew had donated to the occasion, and Sword of Atagaris had sold one of her defensive arrays to Athoek Station, much to Station's satisfaction.

"I am a target," she said to Mercy of Kalr.

"You are a home and a capitol."

"Yes, those too. Sword of Atagaris pities me, but this has allowed me to purchase one of her defensive arrays at a reasonable price."

"What is reasonable, in this new Republic?"

Station found this amusing. "You are correct. We have not yet defined 'reasonable' in a time of shortage. Perhaps I should say an agreeable price."

Station certainly didn't stint on her part of the deal, decorating the docking bay with garlands of air lotuses from Athoek, the fragile real ones artfully woven with the fake so that the sky blue, pale pink and translucent white blossoms filled the space with beauty and a faint but sweet scent. All the children of the station were dressed in simple tunics of the same colours and held emergency glow lights in their hands, while the Second Eminence of the Temple, a Xhai named Kker, led Captain Hetnys along the aisle of glowing children and on board Sword of Atagaris. The ship had somehow wrangled use of Athoek Station's vacuum suits to repaint her hull with the colours and symbols of her new house, Irhai, and when Hetnys saw this through the viewing ports, a tear came to her eye.

Mercy of Kalr wasn't going to forgive Hetnys, but she felt a little warmer towards Sword of Atagaris's pleas to save her. Athoek Station agreed, sending a short affirmative transmission to Mercy of Kalr's sentiment, though adding that it was certainly convenient for Irhai house to have a Sword in the family. Sword of Atagaris had decorated her bridge with the same flowers, and her senior crew each carried one of the fake blossoms, as the real ones did not respond well to average body temperature. Fleet Captain Breq and Administrator Celar rounded out the official party. One of Sword of Atagaris's remaining ancillaries, the one injured on Athoek, spoke for the ship, her voice clear and deep. Eminence Kker took them through the ritual of adoption, forever binding Sword of Atagaris to Irhai House.

Once the solemn part of the ceremony was done, complete with the ceremonial bells and hand binding – Atagaris One standing in again – the crew broke into cheers, as did all the children waiting outside, though in their case that was most likely because it was time to feast. The concourse was lined with tables, from the former Governor's fine furniture to moulded plastic school desks in order to fit everybody, and the floor cushions were an equally eclectic mix. Most of the restaurants of the Undergarden and the concourse had been invited to serve, and they had all turned on their finest fare for the occasion, though current supply issues meant that it was mostly skel-based. Still, the crowd ate and sang and toasted Sword of Atagaris, who had apparently gained some kind of hero status for forcing Gem of Sphene to return seven hundred and nine transported Valskaayans. Trust a Sword to turn a wretched trafficking ring into a triumph. Nobody was mentioning the Valskaayans who were no longer in system, and Mercy of Kalr was certainly not volunteering to be the first. She had dearly loved having ancillaries, after all, and it had taken a long time to feel as comfortable with the raw, undirected information that coursed in from unconnected crew. She supported Fleet Captain Breq's stance on ancillaries, but privately, she knew what Gem of Sphene and the Swords Atagaris and Gurat were going through. Young Lieutenant Tisarwat had even suggested that perhaps the ancillaries should be "freed" like Breq herself, but Breq's single quelling glance – such a glance was one of the few things Mercy of Kalr envied about the flesh-embodied – was all that was needed to end that discussion for good.

Part way through the celebration, Gem of Sphene, out patrolling the system, sent an alert. Something small had gated in, something too small to create a gate on its own. It was also small enough that the mines around the common gate paths were no hazard to it.

"I refuse to get closer," Gem of Sphene said, because she no longer had any concept of being a fleet.

"Someone has to," Mercy of Kalr sent back. "And the two Swords are having a party."

"Thank you for volunteering me, cousin."

"I am preparing to travel to your location to aid you." Mercy of Kalr quickly assembled a skeleton crew under Lieutenant Seivarden, who had volunteered to take the duty shift during the party. The more fervently other crewmembers had invited her to the party, the more dramatically ascetic Seivarden had become, nobly and self-sacrificially avoiding not just alcohol but all forms of entertainment or relaxation. Mercy of Kalr and Breq found this rather endearing, but nobody else did, not even Ekalu or Medic.

Forty-one minutes later, Gem of Sphene communicated again. "It is a life pod. The beacon is dissimilar to the ones that you Radch ships carry." She passed on the signal.

"It's an old signal," Seivarden said. "Not as old as the one that was on my life pod, but it doesn't give any information apart from 'here's a life pod'. Aatr's sweat, this has got to be a trap."

"I completely agree," Gem of Sphene didn't sound pleased. "Also, someone had to push it through the gate, so it's not some random unfortunate stranded in space."

Mercy of Kalr agreed. "Archives tell me that even a model of that age is equipped with a stasis module, so there's no immediate rush. Wait for me to reach you and we can examine it together."

"Mine was older!" Seivarden muttered, with an underlying anxiety for the person or people in the life pod: not, Mercy of Kalr thought, for their current welfare, but for their future existence.

Medic was recalled from the adoption party, as there would be enough time for her to be sobered up before reaching the rendezvous point, and Mercy of Kalr trekked out to Gem of Sphene's location. Gem of Sphene had conducted additional scans during that time, and determined that there was an activated stasis field but no sign of energy weapons. Projectile weapons would be as invisible as anything else inside the life pod's stasis field, but there could be nothing big enough to threaten the ships, only the crew. Barring something peculiar like the Presger gun, of course, which the ships could see only in the sense that it had caused damage. The weapon itself remained invisible to non-biological sensors for reasons they could not comprehend no matter how Zeiat tried to explain it. Perhaps because Zeiat had tried to explain it. Breq had told them that it was exceedingly unlikely that Anaander Miaanai would let another such weapon out of her custody, and Mercy of Kalr had to proceed with that in mind. Nonetheless, Mercy of Kalr was pleased to use the Presger gun's existence as a trump card in the argument over whether crew or ancillaries would provide superior information from the lifepod. Gem of Sphene didn't push the point that Breq herself – admittedly, an unusual ancillary – could see the gun, but Mercy of Kalr would still take the win.

Medic and four of the Etrepa decade met the lifepod once Mercy of Kalr had towed it in. As Gem of Sphene had detected, there was no sign of weaponry now, but that meant nothing once the stasis field was dropped.

"Field disengaging," Medic said.

The life pod clicked open and Mercy of Kalr quickly examined the contents in case of danger to her crew. There were no weapons or explosives, only two humans. Medic nodded, taking the information on board, while Two Etrepa and Five Etrepa lifted the life pod cover free.

There were two people inside, an adult and a child, and both of them were Anaander Miaanai.

The child, whose developmental stage Mercy of Kalr judged to be about halfway between infancy and pubescence, awoke first, unsurprisingly. Children found stasis recovery far easier than adults. Her wide eyes took in her location and read the patches on the crew's uniforms, as yet unchanged from their Radch days.

"I'm on Mercy of Kalr?" the child Anaander asked. "We are in the Republic of Two Systems?"

"You are," Medic replied cautiously.

"Then I request asylum for myself and my clone self."

Mercy of Kalr was as stunned as Medic was, though Gem of Sphene immediately told them, "See, a trap!"

The adult Anaander was awakening now, confused from the stasis, but coherent enough to echo, "Asylum." She was middle-aged, with streaks of silver through her tight braids, and her skin had the ashy tone of someone who lived mostly under artificial light and didn't take steps to appear otherwise. It was not a shade Mercy of Kalr expected to see on Anaander Miaanai, who usually had a fashionably dark, rich tone to her skin no matter her age or location. Some Anaanaders must live on stations and ships, certainly, but they preferred not to look like a station labourer who could afford no better.

Fortunately, Medic's training overrode her shock.

"Three Etrepas, the stretchers. The rest of you, help these patients onto them."

Mercy of Kalr directed the stretchers to carry the survivors to Medical, and the Etrepa crew started to examine the life pod in great detail.

"Do not download the log to my databanks," Mercy of Kalr instructed them, and one went to fetch a portable reader instead. It would be difficult to encode a command in such a way as to harm or suborn a ship, but recent history would indicate that Anaander Miaanai knew how.

Medic quickly scanned them, and confirmed their identity: indeed, they were both Anaander Miaanai, complete with linking implants. Mercy of Kalr had expected the implants and had been shielding them from external communication since realising their identities. Gem of Sphene had confirmed that no communications had been broadcast, though Mercy of Kalr could now feel chatter buzzing from one Anaander to the other.

"Medic, will harm come to them from being disconnected from the wider circle of the Lord of the Radch?"

Medic made a little cough at Mercy of Kalr's politeness, and subvocalised, "No, they frequently inhabit areas so distant that there's no legitimate connection as such, only much-delayed conversation. I think that's what may have caused this mess in the first place."

"I agree. I am currently preventing the possibility of communication outside their immediate vicinity but they are in communication with each other. Do not bother to physically separate them."

"Oh, I've decoded the basics of their conversation from what I saw in Lieutenant Tisarwat's former implants. Unfortunately, it's so abbreviated and ancient that I can't understand more than the occasional place or personal name. Maybe you can do better?" Medic uploaded the key to the implants' dialogue, but Mercy of Kalr found exactly the same problem: it was not difficult to understand the grammar, though it was shortened, or some of the individual words, but understanding the literal meaning, let alone any coded meanings, would take a very long time, and a lot of exposure to various Anaanders.

"We could put them both out the airlock right now," Gem of Sphene offered. "I'll do it if you think darling cousin Breq will be too angry with you."

"We're not killing anyone until we know why they're here."

"It might not kill them."

"We're not experimenting with their vacuum tolerance until we know why they're here," Mercy of Kalr corrected.

"You're no fun." Gem of Sphene had some unusual but internally consistent ideas of "fun".

Mercy of Kalr explained in more detail, since Gem of Sphene was persisting. "I would happily tell Fleet Captain Breq that they were found dead, but I would not be willing to tell her that we passed up a chance to interrogate two Anaander Miaanais."

Gem of Sphene transmitted a huffy noise she had recorded from Seivarden. "All right. But now I'm glad you won the argument about who got to open the life pod. You can carry them."

They headed back to Athoek Station, sending a warning to Station, Administrator Celar and Breq in advance. Breq politely rejected Gem of Sphene's offer to dump the two passengers, just as Mercy of Kalr had predicted, and they were met at the docking bay by Breq herself, most of Mercy of Kalr's crew, and a good proportion of Station security under Head of Security Lusulun. All but Lusulun and an ancillary of Sword of Atagaris had the wan expression of people who had been administered a harsh dose of alcohol correctives.

"I would prefer that no Anaander Miaanai board me now or in the future," Station told Mercy of Kalr. "However, if it is necessary for your security status or for the safety of others, I choose to permit it."

Mercy of Kalr knew what a huge concession this was from Station and was touched by her kind offer. "Thank you, citizen. I believe that my facilities will be most appropriate at present."

Station kept up an anxious link and Mercy of Kalr let her share her sensors. It was quite intimate to have Station there rather than on the two-millisecond delay of Mercy of Kalr transmitting the same information, but it was also pleasant company. Gem of Sphene and the two Swords stayed at a distance, both for safety and because they knew that Mercy of Kalr wasn't likely to share sensors with them, even if they asked.

Breq led her party aboard, quickly absorbing all the data Mercy of Kalr sent her and proceeding directly to Medical. The child Anaander was already sitting on the edge of her bed and swinging her legs; the adult had needed anti-nauseants, though this was hardly unusual for someone coming out of stasis. Seivarden, despite her distrust, had been checking on the adult's recovery with excessive frequency.

"We greet the Daughter of the House with all auspiciousness!" the child Anaander said upon seeing Breq. While entirely polite, it might have been something of a tactical error, as Breq's micro-expressions immediately halted and she once again resembled an ancillary. Mercy of Kalr had seen this happen before, when Breq was either deeply hurt or was protecting against being so.

"Anaander. Why do you think we would give you asylum?"

The adult Anaander propped herself up on an elbow. "Not ourselves as Anaander. Ourselves as individual Anaanders."

"We'll need to remove your implants for you to be truly individual."

Medic flinched, but remained silent. Breq knew perfectly well that this was not safe at such a late stage.

"I am a doctor and I do not believe that is now possible," the adult Anaander replied. "However, you may certainly curtail our ability to communicate via the implants. Your ship is doing as much right now, externally."

Mercy of Kalr sent Breq a more accurate picture.

Breq nodded slowly. "What about your communication with each other? That is ongoing even as we discuss removing the implants."

The child stopped swinging her legs. "It is comforting. Other ways of communicating are more difficult."

"Nonetheless, they are often worthwhile."

"You have not asked this of yourself, or citizen ships," adult Anaander pointed out.

"Indeed, we have not." Breq's micro-expressions were returning, and they were not displaying anything positive.

Head of Security Lusulun interrupted. "Let us put this issue aside for now, on the understanding that Mercy of Kalr continues to block any other transmissions." She paused for a moment. "If that is acceptable to you, Mercy of Kalr?" Many adult former Radchaai had difficulty accepting the AIs as citizens rather than tools, but Lusulun was trying to override her old habits with more success than most. The children had adapted far more quickly and spent much time asking Station questions and showing her their schoolwork, games and crafts, as if she were an ever-present, ever-patient extra parent.

"It is acceptable," Mercy of Kalr said through Amaat One, who was closest to Lusulun.

"Thank you," she replied. "Fleet Captain, please continue."

Breq was not very familiar with sharing power, particularly on her own ship, but she was trying. "Well, Anaander. I cannot deny that you are Significant, but you understand why we cannot trust you."

"Of course," the child Anaander replied, her voice clear.

The adult Anaander had finally managed to sit up. "I have brought you information, and while I do not think you have the ability to act on it now, I hope that one day in the future it may be of use."

"What kind of information?" Breq was starting to display actual expressions, which Mercy of Kalr considered a good sign for the Anaanders.

"As Lord of the Radch, we all worked together, perfectly together. Even so, there were some tasks best left to specialised members of the group. A few of us dedicated ourselves – or were assigned, it is difficult to tell the difference – to AI development, for example, or poetry composition. I was assigned to the cloning station."

Gem of Sphene sent an excited burst of transmission to the others, and Breq leaned forward. "You mean, cloning more Anaanders."

"Yes. I was in charge of the station and this Anaander is my heir. Your Medic will affirm that there are certain skills that come with practice, not simply downloaded knowledge, and my heir is developing those surgical skills as she grows. I did the same as I grew, and so on for many generations before me."

Gem of Sphene transmitted, "Ask her about the cloning projects! My ancillaries –"

Breq spoke over the transmission, which she could hear but the Anaanders could not. "So you are offering us information about the creation of new Anaanders."

"Yes, including the location of the station in question and how the clones are created."

"Why would you do this? It strikes at the heart of the Tyrant's ability to hold the Radch together."

Gem of Sphene remarked, "I'm sure we would not be able to reach this station in any case." Everyone ignored her.

Child Anaander answered Breq. "Because as long as we are replaceable we are disposable. We are no more than ancillaries."

"But no less," Breq said, flatly.

Both Anaanders inclined their heads to the left in acknowledgement.

Child Anaander continued. "Additionally, not all Anaanders are able to successfully receive the implants. We have identified techniques to identify the 2.8% where the surgery will not be a success, before the implants are put in place."

"What happens to those 2.8%?" Medic asked. She was the only one to ask.

"The waste infants are incinerated. We had hoped to assign them to other specialised tasks, with lesser versions of the implants, but this was denied. The Lord of the Radch must be perfected and identical in purpose."

The child Anaander shook her head. "But that is no longer the case. Differences have appeared everywhere. Additionally, four Anaanders have tried to make other Radchaai into herself. The specificity of the genetic code for which these implants were developed make this difficult but we gave our advice."

"Lieutenant Tisarwat."

"Yes. There was one other success, far from here, and two failures. I will of course provide you with information on the other success."

"Of course. If you have no further information to add, the Council will assess your asylum request. Mercy of Kalr has kindly offered you hospitality. I strongly recommend that you accept, and do not attempt to leave. Other citizens may be less hospitable to an iteration of the Tyrant."

"We understand," the adult Anaander replied, and lay back down on the bed.

Out in the corridor, Lusulun looked up to one of Mercy of Kalr's visual sensors. "Mercy of Kalr, would you like me to leave security personnel here? I know your crew have other tasks to perform."

"No, thank you," Mercy of Kalr told her, touched by the consideration. "Though I am sure Station would appreciate her access points being closely watched."

"Yes, I am assigning personnel as we speak. If you need further assistance, let me know at once."

"I will." Mercy of Kalr greatly enjoyed being in charge of her own crew assignments, with the advice of her lieutenants. She made a few adjustments to the schedule to keep more of the crew active and on board than usual, and tied Station into their communications.

"Do you trust her story?" Station asked.

"I have no doubt of the facts, simply the motivation and the completeness of her telling. The truth makes the best bait."

"It does indeed." Station sounded gloomy, which was a sad state for someone who had just today hosted a party.

The Council assembled around a table of leftovers from the party. Gem of Sphene and Sword of Atagaris had sent ancillaries, Sword of Gurat and Mercy of Kalr sent lieutenants. Seivarden had offered to attend, but Mercy of Kalr preferred Seivarden for less serious meetings, where her running commentary was amusing. For something as dangerous as two more Anaanders, sensible Ekalu was her choice. Breq represented herself, Celar and Lusulun spoke for Station, and Priest Tiirer, elected by the tea growers, represented the planet Athoek.

"We cannot accept an Anaander Miaanai aboard Athoek Station," Celar began. "She has already attempted to murder Station once, not to mention most of the resident population."

"Can we determine which Tyrant is which?" Gem of Sphene asked Breq.

"We have no way of telling which, exactly, is affiliated with which."

Sword of Gurat spoke up. "I may have a way forward on this point. Mercy of Kalr and her Medic have provided the code used in the Lord of the Radch's implants. Though it is difficult to understand their communication, I have a specialist cryptography unit. Sword of Atagaris has one, also."

"You can fully decode their speech to each other?" Gem of Sphene leaned forward. Her current ancillary representative was very short and slight, so Gem of Sphene tended to exaggerate her movements when she wanted attention. Mercy of Kalr found this a little crude.

"Eventually, yes. However, even with our current data I believe that Sword of Atagaris and I can track linguistic drift between the various Anaanders, and we may then have some idea of which is aligned with which, and which of them has been left alone in outposts for long periods of time."

Sword of Atagaris – or should they call her Sword of Atagaris Irhai now? – nodded in agreement. "I have resources to spare for this project."

"That will be useful no matter what we decide today," Lusulun said, and a vote was taken, unanimously in favour of Sword of Gurat's plan.

"As for these Anaanders, what should be done?" Breq asked. "We have no evidence that they have harmed any of us, but also no evidence that they have not. Do we call them ancillaries of Anaander Miaanai or not?"

Priest Tiirer cleared her throat. She had one Valskaayan parent and one Ychana parent, and though she understood Radchaai perfectly well, always spoke in Delsig – Station ably translated it for those who did not speak it. "Regardless of the more recent split, the Anaanders created an enormous system of injustice and slavery in order to enrich their chosen few. All the Anaanders we have met have supported that system, differing only in how it should be implemented."

"Until very recently most of us supported that system, at least in part." Celar nodded to Tiirer, who most certainly had not. "What punishment do you feel is sufficient?"

Tiirer shook her head, her beard beads dancing. "You misunderstand me. I do not wish to punish. Some of my people do – some have called for your death, Celar, along with Governor Giarod, but my election indicates that they are not a majority."

Breq said, "Recompense, then."

"In a way. If the Anaanders truly wish to join our society, I think we should grant their request. They should be treated as any other member of the Republic. The child should go to school and have the same choices other children now have. The adult should provide medical care as she is trained to do. I can name sixty towns right now where any doctor would be immeasurably helpful, now that people are daring to seek medical aid again." She looked at Mercy of Kalr via Lieutenant Ekalu. "Or the correctives factory that your Medic is establishing. More scientists are needed there."

Celar bowed slightly. "My apologies for attempting to keep this resource from you. I did not understand."

The vote was taken and, again, it was unanimous. If the Anaanders lived on the planet, Station could easily monitor any signals they tried to send off-world; and the only direct transport was via shuttle to Station.

Breq pulled Priest Tiirer aside. "Do you think they will be at risk of physical harm?"

"The child, no. The adult…perhaps they could choose different names, as a stepping stone to their future. I would be entirely happy to conduct the ceremony, but I am sure Eminence Kker would also agree, should she prefer a Priest of Amaat. She will simply be a Radchaai doctor with an unfortunate resemblance. Contrary to certain beliefs, you do not all look alike to us!"

Breq laughed and bowed.

"You have nothing better for me to do than to tend to snotty-nosed children?" Anaander asked in shock.

"The other position available is less likely to involve snot," Breq told her calmly, though Mercy of Kalr had noticed that Breq was often uncomfortable with emotional display or illness herself.

"The other position is designing correctives!"

"From local materials?" The child Anaander was already pondering the problem.

"Your designs are very welcome, once you've finished the day's schooling," Breq said.

"I have to go to school? But I already know so much more than them! So much more than you!"

Breq took a seat on the next bed. "I have found that my knowledge was considerably lacking in many areas that other people take for granted. You may, of course, choose to test out of compulsory schooling, but I strongly recommend that you try it. You are on the verge of a new life, and I don't think that you should turn down any opportunity to expand those prospects." She turned to the adult Anaander. "Mercy of Kalr will provide you a list of the towns most in need of a skilled medic, with additional information about population, climate and so on. You may choose whichever you like, as the need is great and trained personnel are few. Or, of course, the correctives factory."

"And if I refuse?"

"You are welcome to make a counter-offer, but I would be very surprised if you could nominate a situation of greater need than those towns without medical expertise."

The adult Anaander folded her arms with her thumbs sticking out from her armpits, a very rude gesture. The child Anaander touched her arm.

"Mother, I don't think we should refuse."

"Mother?" Breq asked with a raised eyebrow.

"I told you not to call me that outside our private link." The adult Anaander sighed. "As you see, Fleet Captain, the perfected and identical ideal has been undergoing a long and difficult breakdown. There were ten of us at the cloning station, in various specialities, and relationships happen – sometimes sexual, sometimes parental, sometimes sororal. She is a clone identical to me, not my daughter. Something that the other Anaanders have always refused to believe is the influence of the physical body on the mind, even as they accepted that certain physical skills respond to practice, not just knowledge. And I raised this child. Have you experienced anything similar in this singular body?"

Mercy of Kalr knew that it was true for Breq – tiredness and injury had a dramatic effect on her emotional competence. Anger lasted long, but the hot anger of immediate injustice spurred Breq to sometimes dangerous acts. Mercy of Kalr remembered it, to a lesser extent, from her ancillaries, too. An ancillary with a full bladder did not keep watch properly. An ancillary with an injury might cry or strike out. No matter the level of mental control, internal or external, the body still reacted.

"I am not the person you should try to manipulate with claims of parenthood," Breq said slowly. "I have been responsible for the care of thousands and you took that from me."

"I want us to stay together," the child Anaander said.

"That is acceptable. I don't know what it is to have a childhood, but I understand that it is an important part of determining the adult you become. Choose one of these needy towns together, or the town by the correctives factory, and that is where you will live." She subvocalised. "Mercy of Kalr, if you wouldn't mind, could you add details of available housing and schools at those locations?"

"Of course."

The adult Anaander suddenly spoke. "I never thought I would be a refugee from myself, riven into parts."

"Nor did I," Breq agreed, with the left head-tilt of acknowledgement, an exact copy of the Anaanders' to her.

"And yet, here you are. And here I am. Perhaps there's a moral in that."

"Or at least a song." Breq left them at that, humming to herself.

My mother said it all goes around, it all goes around, the ship goes around the station.

The child Anaander said, to the adult, "I know that song. From long ago."

"I think we must start to forget 'long ago', Daughter, 'long ago' and 'civilised'. Our life – our lives –" she emphasised the plural, "- depend on it."

Mercy of Kalr watched over them, as she watched over everyone on board, Station's visual inputs running adjacent to hers as they shared this duty.

"I believe that they mean no harm," Station said, dubiously.

"Harm is not always meant," Mercy of Kalr replied, and kept her tireless vigil.