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Awn ficlets

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Awn Elming, cook’s daughter, was almost a lieutenant. This fact still seemed impossible, something that her mother would tell her when Awn returned home for a festival. Of her class in the officer training academy, she was among fifteen other lower class citizens, forty middle class citizens, and fifty daughters of wealthy houses at the start. Eight years later, she graduated along with the seven wealthiest citizens of her class. All others had quit, transferred to academies for another job, or had been kicked out.

The shuttle she was currently in was uncomfortable and smelled strongly of cleaning solvent and metal. In it, an ancillary (she’d never seen an ancillary before), a teacher of hers, and an officer of the warship Justice of Toren. Within another hour, Awn would join the officer in the ranks of soldiers of Justice of Toren, and begin her career as an officer in the Radchaai military. She was the first of her family to consider a job off of her homeworld, let alone in the military that had annexed it only a few centuries ago.

“Awn, are you feeling quite alright?” the teacher asked.

Awn startled and looked up. She smiled. “Of course, sir.”

The teacher held her gaze for a few moments, then nodded. “Lieutenant Coliss, how much longer until docking?”

“Shouldn’t be more than another hour, citizen.” Lieutenant Coliss’ accent was long, smooth, aristocratic. Awn was acquainted with that accent. More importantly, she recognized the dip of annoyance at the end of the sentence.

They lapsed into silence again. Awn watched the distant stars and the slowly growing shape of Justice of Toren on the shuttle monitor, mostly covered by the ancillary controlling the shuttle. After another period of time had passed, the ancillary stood up and stretched its legs before sitting back down. Upon noticing that Awn was watching the monitor screen, it shifted its body to the side so she could see better.

“Thank you,” she said.

It nodded, and Lieutenant Coliss huffed out a laugh. Awn flushed and straightened her back, desperate to make a good first impression. Her stomach growled and she slumped back down under Coliss’ disbelieving gaze. Fortunately (or unfortunately. She wasn't sure) the ancillary didn't offer her anything to eat.

When her former teacher tried to talk with Coliss, she was met with thinly veiled disdain. Awn’s earlier excitement had vanished beneath this onslaught and her growing anxiety.

Awn’s back ached, an old strain that she had refused to tell the academy’s medic about. But she kept her back straight and her head arched. When the shuttle finally docked with a subtle bump, Awn struggled momentarily with her restraints before she unlatched the locking mechanism.

She stood up and followed her teacher, the officer, and the ancillary out of the shuttle, stumbling in the gravital change.

Funnily enough, the first thing she noticed about the ship- her new home for at least the next five years- was its smell; vaguely like station smell (sweet cleaning solvents, human odor) but more acrid.

“Citizen, Elming will be taken to her induction soon. Any farewells should be prompt,” the ancillary said quietly. Its voice was startlingly deep.

The teacher cleared her throat. “Well, Awn, I must say that teaching you has been an absolute pleasure. I’m aware of how hard this has been and will be for you, but I am so, so proud of you. We all had our doubts about your aptitude for this career path at first, but you’ve surpassed our expectations. I and the rest of us at the Varden Academy wish you nothing but the best.”

Awn smiled, face hot. “Thank you so much for what you’ve done for me. I,” she paused to think of a more appropriate rewording, “Your support has been greatly appreciated.” She wasn’t quite sure what else to say. “Thank you,” she repeated again.

Her teacher smiled and gestured a short prayer to Amaat- luck and opportunity.

When she left, Awn felt oddly glad. The academy had been a long and hard journey, but she was here now, a soon-to-be officer of Justice of Toren.

Later that night cycle, Awn entered her quarters. Her luggage was tucked beneath her neatly made bed, and her new uniform was folded atop the covers. An ancillary with a crooked nose and tired eyes waited next to it.

“Is everything to your liking, sir?” it asked.

“Yes, thank you,” Awn said.

“If you have any questions, please ask me. As you know, I use standard civilian and martial hand gestures. As your ship, I will also learn your personal gestures to make silent communication easier. I look forwards to working with you, Lieutenant Elming”. With that, it left her small room, the door sliding shut behind it.

Awn sat on her bed. There was a small dip in the center, and she wondered how many other lieutenants had sat there as well. The blankets weren’t scratchy, but weren’t soft either. Her drawers weren’t empty, but they weren’t full. She smoothed a hand over the top of the bed, and then flopped back and sighed. In any case, this bunk was leagues better than her old dorm with her old roommates. She rolled onto her side and called up the time remaining until her first shift with a twitch of her hand.

Nine hours to go.

She had slept more than long enough on the shuttle ride over and didn’t feel at all tired.
Awn sat up and undressed herself, putting on her sleep clothes. She burrowed beneath the covers and stared at the wall.

It was vaguely cold in her room, and her blankets weren’t really thick enough to ward off the chill. She considered asking Justice of Toren to heat her room more, and almost didn’t before remembering that it had undoubtedly had had hundreds if not thousands of officers ask it to change the heating in their quarters. And, it would be a good excuse to practice her silent communication which, if she was honest with herself, complete and utter shit.

She twisted her wrist. Military ship?

The answer was prompt, scrolling past her eyes in a line of neat grey characters. How may I be of aid, Lieutenant?

Heat too low. Military ship make warmer, please? Silent communication had never been Awn’s strength.

Of course, Lieutenant. My apologies for any discomfort.

Thank you. Awn frowned, trying to remember the sign for an apology for annoyance. Personal-negative was her right smallest finger, so her apology would be a horizontal twitch.

I beg your pardon, Lieutenant, but I believe that the sign you’re looking for is- a diagram popped up into the corner of her vision- this.

Awn repeated it.

Your shift is in nine hours. When are you going to sleep? asked Justice of Toren.

Awn searched for the signs. Sleep small military spacecraft many. Suddenly worried that it would judge her for her lack of expertise with silent communication, she switched to oral communication. “I slept for most of the shuttle ride.”

On review of your academic transcript, I noticed that you had trouble with your silent communication. Do you wish to practice with me?

Yes. Thank you, military ship, Awn signed.

Lieutenants in the past have found it easier to learn when shown a diagram and signaled whenever the sign was preformed wrong. Will this method work for you? Respond nonverbally, please. Halfway through, the message switched from written to a quiet, flat voice in Awn’s ear.

Unknown. Attempt will be made.

Immediately, a small diagram appeared in her vision, sketching out a slightly changed version of her signs. Perhaps we should start with my sign. Using your personal and item fingers, make a small hook. This in addition to the call of intent will work to clarify which ‘military ship’ you are referring to. Now, many of my officers have found tilting their palms inwards to be of assistance….


When Justice of Toren’s lesson ended, Awn’s hands were aching, but she felt less alone than she had since the last of her friends had left the academy.