Having served in many different climates in my thousands of years, I was uniquely qualified to say that Ors was hell. I could tell from her expression that Lieutenant Awn agreed.
This was probably why she immediately agreed to undress for me.
“I don’t want to be late to this dinner,” she said, trying not to sound too relieved as she slid her coat off. “But if you think it looks poorly—“
If there had been any mirrors in the house besides her own small hand mirror, long unused in the bottom of a box of cosmetics, she might have noticed the ill fit herself. Or maybe not. I was designed to be aware of even the most minute changes in the mental, emotional, and physical states of my human officers, and I paid special attention to the state of every officer’s formal appearance as a matter of course. Humans tended to be sensitive about that kind of thing, although to Awn’s credit she had never been as fussy about her wardrobe as some of my more pedigreed officers.
“I’m going to go over my reports,” Awn said in case I changed my mind. I knew that she would have preferred to stay and file reports rather than make small talk with dissatisfied local gentry, but this particular dinner was unavoidable. She settled cross-legged on a cushion, trying and failing to keep her uniform trousers from withering in the heat. I made a mental note to alter those, too, when there was more time.
“I’d wear something lighter if it were anything else,” Awn said. “But I don’t want to look too friendly towards these damn Tanmind growers. I may need their goodwill at some point, I certainly don’t want any trouble from them.”
“No, lieutenant,” I said. “It will only take a moment.”
“As long as it’s only a moment.”
I passed the jacket off to my number twelve segment, which had come upstairs with the sewing kit. Awn watched with mild interest as I popped the side seams from yoke to waist and flipped the garment inside out, exposing raw seams.
If she hadn’t turned to her console then, I might have had to create a distraction. Tailoring is not the kind of thing that ships do in historical dramas—partly because it’s much less exciting than going berserk over dead captains, and partly because they don’t show those kinds of entertainments on standard transmissions.
Every officer I had served knew that my ancillaries were capable of tailoring and mending. Even when docked near stations I performed these tasks, my experience with military dress exceeding that of even the most studied human tailor. But it wasn’t something you could have a polite conversation about. Even if I were in the habit of conversing like a person with my officers.
I pulled my gloves off.
I worked much faster than any human could. With one set of eyes I traced the dimensions of Awn’s upper body, mentally calculating changes in the musculature of her chest and stomach. She didn’t notice. Even officers from downwell families readily adjust to being the constant focus of a segment. Being a constant center of someone’s attention probably feels natural to most of them.
Ors had made all of us—my selves included—a little leaner, but despite the lack of proper gym facilities and heat that could steam a body down to the bones, I was pleased to find that the jacket only required slight alteration. Within seconds I had mentally marked the new seam.
I licked my bare fingertip and swept it across the spool to catch the thread.
“You haven’t sung that one lately,” Awn said. Or started to say.
She was staring at my twelfth segment’s bare brown hands, one teasing a gleaming side seam out of the jacket’s hidden interior, one deftly aiming the needle, damp spot on the index finger. Acute embarrassment registered throughout her body.
“One Esk, is that really—“
“I should have taken this from the room,” I said. “No disrespect intended.” A human soldier would have done that, but a human soldier couldn’t have fixed the coat as well or quickly and I was not human. Even now I was hand pressing the slip-stitched lining into place against the shell, checking the taper on the new side seams. Perfect and precise. No seconds lost fumbling with thread stuck to the tips of my gloves, which meant less chance that she might offend by a late appearance. A completely just choice, when you thought about it logically.
“My apologies,” I said, in one’s voice. Twelve was experiencing some temporary vocal difficulty, no doubt because its energies were still concentrated on the coat. Awn stared at its hands.
“That’s unnecessary,” she said. “Ah, the apology, I mean.”
“I’ll bring you a fresh shirt.”
“Don’t, it’ll be the same in a few minutes.”
“In that case, if you’d stand again, lieutenant.”
“I can’t tell where you took it in,” she said, studiously avoiding the bare hands that held the coat out. I did up the front fastenings with my one segment’s hands, after she’d slid her arms into the sleeves. Behind her, where she couldn’t see the offensive fingers, I straightened the center back pleat and fussed with the way the yoke hugged her shoulders.
“Thank you. That does feel better.”
I scanned her route from a sentry post up the road, I opened and closed doors for her, I followed her down the street. Upstairs, I considered my twelve segment’s hands. Fine, as human appendages went, though probably not fine enough to put in an erotic hand-sewing entertainment.
“One Esk,” she said, “I didn’t mean to sound ungracious. I just don’t think I’ve ever actually seen you, well—.”
“An oversight on my part,” I said. “I have not paid the attention I should to your dress uniform.”
“It’s fine, I can’t stand to wear it in this heat—“ a look of horror crossed her face. “You have twenty bodies to feel the heat with, would you rather be out of uniform? I should have asked earlier.”
“No, lieutenant,” I said, while I put away the mending and carefully slid gloves onto the hands that had touched her clothing. There were chores to do, and few segments in the house, yet it seemed somehow improper to immediately put my segment twelve hands to work. Out across the city, I opened my mouths to sing. “Your concern is kind, but I am quite content like this.”