Tsaari Ghait was a proud Lieutenant of Sword of Atagaris. Technically, she wasn’t an officer anymore, since being an officer required being a Radchaai citizen and she was reasonably certain that you can’t be a Radchaai citizen if an insane AI fragment successfully declares independence for the system you patrol. But, she had the dark brown uniform and ancillary decade of an officer and damn if she wasn’t going to enjoy that.
One of the less proud duties of being an officer were the routine checkups that came with being in an ancillary-crewed ship. Tsaari rarely- if ever- performed her actual checkups (Ship would tell her if anything went wrong) but with all of this business with AIs declaring their independence, an officer had the right to be worried. Especially when her ship had been given control of its own accesses.
Tsaari’s boots clicked against the floor as she hopped down the last few rungs of the ladder to Ship’s unused Var deck, and she swallowed back an embarrassingly teenage giggle. This whole situation was so similar to a romantic comedy that she had obsessively watched when she was young. A ship acting erratically, one of its most beautiful officers having to check up on its unused decks- she wouldn’t be too surprised if she found an alien in the holds waiting to ask for her clientage. Should she have applied makeup?
To complete that feeling, Tsaari turned off her handheld light and attempted to muffle her footsteps. She peeked around a narrow doorway solely lit by Ship’s dim light patching and was tempted to roll across the opening. Two poorly executed somersaults later, she had reached her destination of the other side of the doorway. A hallway, similarly dimly lit and cramped.
The hallway was spotted with doors here and there, but was mostly empty. It must, Tsaari thought to herself, be alongside the oxygen tanks since there were so few rooms. She nudged the first door open wider with her toe. It was too dark to see in, and was revealed to be empty when she turned on her handheld light. No aliens in there!
Room two was similarly empty, also with no hidden aliens.
Room three: empty again. Tsaari was getting bored of her assignment. This was why she never did it.
Room four: mostly empty but for a small pile of clothing. Tsaari stooped down and picked up a soft blue jacket. She sniffed it and gagged. It reeked of a type of perfume that her mother had worn on occasion. She dropped it and left.
Room five was completely empty, as was the next room, and the next.
And the next.
This was almost as boring as being in Command.
Tsaari fiddled with the edges of her gloves, a bad habit that she had never quite managed to rid herself of. Her hands stilled when she heard a quiet noise coming from down the hallway.
There shouldn’t have been a noise. Ship’s Var deck was its lowest deck, far enough removed from its inhabited decks that the noises of her fellow officers and Ship’s ancillaries shouldn’t carry.
Tsaari placed a hand over her gun and crept forwards. There was another clack, and she considered alerting Ship, but no. This was her chance to prove herself (and maybe get the promotion she had been waiting for). The door was closed, something that never happened on Ship. Captain Hetnys preferred to be able to physically check on her officers at all times. Captain Hetnys didn’t know about this, then. Tsaari blinked, took a steadying breath, and flung open the door. The room was pitch black, and she belatedly realized that she had turned off her light again.
She cursed, turned it on, and shrieked as she realized that she had been face to face with an ancillary.
It gently pushed her back into the hallway and she lost her balance, falling onto her butt. She stared up at the ancillary. “Fuck! You- you aren’t supposed to be here!” she accused, scrambling to her feet.
The ancillary was taller and broader than she, enough so that it blocked her view of the room. “I assure you, Lieutenant, that I am allowed to be aboard myself,” it said in its dead, flat tone. It looked tired, with dark shadows beneath its eyes and unkempt grey-streaked hair dully reflecting the hall lights.
Trying to recollect herself, Tsaari said, “These decks are supposed to be empty, Ship. You know that.” She attempted to look around the ancillary, but it matched her movements.
“They aren’t used by my officers, Lieutenant. Ancillaries still have to maintain the decks.” Its hand twitched, and it almost looked annoyed.
Tsaari breathed in. Then, with all of the authority that she was supposed to have (but didn’t feel like she actually had), she said, “Ship, let me in.” The ancillary stepped aside after a long moment. Her handheld light had rolled away in the commotion. “Ship, lights.”
Another pause, and the lights flickered to life.
Tsaari was rendered speechless. She couldn’t think of anything to do but to stare at the stacks of clothing and belongings and trash. The stacks were well organized, with sufficient room for someone (or an ancillary) to walk through. In the center was a neat circle of well-polished pictures of people she didn’t recognize surrounding an upright one of Captain Hetnys. She looked vaguely smug, as always.
The ancillary cleared its throat. “I hope you know, Lieutenant, that if you want to leave this room I will need you to perform a small favor for me.”
Many images flooded Tsaari’s mind. She tried to stop thinking about them, suddenly very aware that Ship knew her every move. She looked down at her boots. “What do you want?” she muttered.
“As a ship, I cannot talk to my captains as an officer would. Cannot make requests that an officer could.” Tsaari wrinkled her nose. “I would like for you to ask Captain Hetnys for a letter.” Then, as an afterthought, “Please.”
She wandered into the room, marvelling at how much junk there was. Many of the stacks were larger than she was. She gingerly picked a dirty tissue off of the top of one pile, confused. Had it been the only dirty tissue, she would have thought that the ancillary had left it there on accident. But no, there were many, all neatly folded like this one had been before she had picked it up. Tsaari placed the tissue down, and the ancillary was immediately beside it, gently folding it into a perfect square.
She poked a sack of cloth, and the ancillary almost hissed as it said, “Be careful with those! Captain Hetnys bought them for me!”
Tsaari was privately shocked that Hetnys had been willing to buy anything that didn’t directly benefit her, almost more so than discovering this room. She made her way further into the stacks, recoiling from a lacy pink thong emblazoned with Hetnys’ initials. “Ship? The captain she uh, doesn’t know about this, does she?”
“She doesn’t and she won’t.”
She examined Hetnys’s picture. It was alright, she supposed, but the eyes were pretty creepy. Some of the other ones were better. “Are all of these your captains?” she asked, picking up a picture of a young citizen dressed in royal blue. She looked like an unbearable snob. Tsaari set it down gently, and the ancillary poked it back into place.
“Not all. They’re keepsakes officers that I’m fond of.” The ancillary nudged the frame until it was perfectly even with the others.
Ship, thought Tsaari, didn’t have very good taste in officers. Also. ‘Keepsakes’? She paused. Something felt off. More so than the rest of the room, which was pretty damn off. She realized that the photo Hetnys’s eyes were looking straight at her and died a little bit inside. She moved a bit to the left. No success. And now the ancillary was looking at her too.
It smiled a small, perfect smile. “Would you like to see more of my collection?”
“I uh, think that’s enough for today. Thank you for showing me,” Tsaari started, walking backwards slowly. “This is a very nice collection and I’m-”
“Lieutenant?” the ancillary said, still smiling. “Please don’t forget about the letter.”