Work Header

A House Divided

Work Text:

My shift had finally ended, and I yawned widely before I could stop myself. The lights flickered at the corner of my eye, but when I whipped around to look at them straight on, they were steady. "Is something wrong with the power, Ship?" I said.

"Of course not, Lieutenant Seivarden," Amaat Six said for Ship, but her gaze darted to the same light. Had she seen the flicker, too?

"Perhaps we should do an inspection soon, anyway," I said. "Just to make certain everything's running smoothly. With your permission, Ship?" It still felt strange to ask for Mercy of Kalr's permission, rather than take its acquiescence as the natural order of things, but I and the rest of the crew were learning. Some - all right, especially myself - more slowly than others.

Amaat Six didn't answer immediately; why would either she or Ship hesitate? Had my phrasing offended Mercy of Kalr somehow? No surprise if I had, it seemed I did nothing but offend these days. I, who'd only ever concerned myself with whether I might be offended - Aatr's tits, what a joke my life had become.

"An inspection might be a good idea," Mercy of Kalr finally said. "Thank you for suggesting it."

"Let us know when it would be a good time." I kept on towards my quarters and found my eyes slipping towards the lights a few more times, but they were all steady.

I woke up aching, an unexpected and unwelcome reminder of my injuries from attempting to fight the Lord of the Radch. Injuries that should have been well-healed by now. I'd probably slept wrong somehow - couldn't even do that right - and I muttered my way to the decade room for breakfast. My mood was not improved by Amaat Two humming some hideous and repetitive thing in the galley.

As she brought out the meal, I said, "What's that song?"

"- mmmhmmm mm hm - sorry, Lieutenant. I heard the fleet captain singing it after she came back from that meeting with the Translators and it's been stuck in my head ever since. Odd little tune, but kind of catchy, isn't it?"

Not to my ears, but I could hardly reprimand her for something Breq had started and I had encouraged. I mumbled something ambiguous and began to eat; as she went back to the galley, her humming started up again, jangling unpleasantly in my ears. Out of spite, in between mouthfuls of food I sang it all goes around, and eventually, so did Amaat Two.

When I went to check in with Medic, one of the Bos I passed in the hall was whistling the same atonal song. Really, music was worse than a minor virus for getting passed around with this crew.

Our daily routines had, surprisingly, not changed very much since Mercy of Kalr had asked for and gotten its - no, that was no longer proper - her independence. We just had half the work of building some sort of government for one inhabited system and its empty neighbor on top of it, which didn't leave us much free time. I suppose I couldn't be completely ungrateful that Ship wanted to keep us around, but with my Amaats working double shifts half the time - and me along with them - we were all getting ragged around the edges.

And that meant if Amaat Nine started another round of jagged alien melodies in the baths, I was going to stick her on floor-scrubbing duty for the rest of her natural life. Even the ordinary noises of the decade cleaning themselves scraped against my nerves; that irritating song could only be worse. Sure enough, at the first note out of Nine's mouth, I snapped, "Keep it down!"

"Sorry, sir." Nine ducked her head. "I can't seem to get it out of my mind any other way..."

"Well, save it for later, at least," I said, and I reached into a basin to splash my face with warm water.

Only to yank my hand back an instant later, but still too late; blisters were already swelling up on my scalded right hand, and then the pain hit in a wave of stinging needles. "Fuck!"

"Sir!" Nine scrambled out of the baths and slipped her way over to me.

"Watch it," I said, cradling my hand, "or you'll crack your head... Ship, why is that water boiling hot?"

"I don't know," Ship said in my ear. "It's reading as normal to me. Maybe it's time for that inspection, Lieutenant?"

Past time, clearly, if even the water temperature couldn't be trusted. "I'll get Fleet Captain to clear a shift for it," I said, too sharply, but gods, my hand hurt. "I need to pay a visit to Medic." Thankfully we were going off-duty, but of all the stupid injuries... I couldn't even pull a glove on over the blisters and had to go out bare-handed.

I passed two of Ekalu's Etrepas in the halls, both of them humming with an utter lack of harmony, and clenched my teeth on a reprimand. At least Medic wasn't singing, though she did sigh heavily as she slapped a corrective on the burn. "Third one I've seen today," she said in explanation when I looked at her. "On top of Bo Nine breaking her nose when the lights went out on her and Amaat Three spraining her shoulder in the gym. I swear the only people I haven't seen in here the last couple of days have been the captain and Kalr decade, I'll be out of correctives before the next shipment comes in if this continues... Is Ship getting careless?"

"I don't know. We'll be doing an inspection soon; that'll clear up whatever the trouble is, I hope."

"Mmhm," Medic said.

On the way back to my quarters, the lights blinked, three or four times in an off-beat rhythm.

The middle of the next sleep shift found me huddled up in my bunk with my head under the blanket, trying to trap my own breath to keep warm. I had achieved just enough success that I was beginning to drift off when the door squeaked open and I started, ruining all my hard work as the paltry warmth puffed out and left me cold.

"Shit! It's like walking out of an airlock." Ekalu's voice cut through the frigid air. "Seivarden? Can I come in?"

"Gods, yes! Get under here," and I lifted the blanket enough for her to crawl in next to me.

We shared heat for a minute, wrapped up snugly, before she said, "My room was boiling, and yours is freezing. Too bad we can't split the difference and get something livable. And the readouts are still saying everything's normal temperature - hasn't the captain scheduled that maintenance check yet?"

"In another couple of shifts, maybe, she told me." I didn't know what she was waiting for, but when I had brought the matter up to her, she'd only said, It's not urgent; we'll handle it when it's convenient and dismissed me. As I had left, I'd heard her start to sing the Translators' song, and I could have sworn the lights had buzzed in arrhythmic time with her.

"Is there something wrong with -"

"Ssh!" Ship could hear us, no matter what we did; despite her undoubted affection for the lot of us - or at least for Breq - with all the mishaps going on I didn't want to piss her off with speculation. "Let's just rest."

"I'm due back on watch soon..." But she huddled in closer to me, and Ship didn't reprimand either of us.

A moment later, she started to hum the same damn tune, and I groaned. "Does it have to be that song?"

"It's been stuck in my head for days," she said, "what else am I supposed to do?"

"Just - pick anything else," I said, and out of desperation, "I'll start - My mother said, it all goes around, the ship goes around the station -"

Ekalu laughed at me, but joined in on it all goes around, and she was still singing it for me, her elbows jammed uncomfortably into my side, when the bed had finally warmed enough for me to fall asleep.

"It's been beeping for hours like there's a pressure leak, Captain," I said, as we stood outside the main airlock, "but Ship insists that the atmosphere inside is fine."

"It is fine," Ship said, sullen. "A circuit has gotten crossed in the sensors, that's all. Anyone can go in and fix it."

"And you don't trust Ship's judgment on the matter, Lieutenant?" Breq's voice could have added another layer of snow to that wasteland she'd found me in.

"No, of course we do, but -" I hesitated. How could I say it without offending both of them? "With vacuum, no one wants to take any chances, that's all. Half the ship could depressurize if we fuck up."

"Ah." Breq stared at the doors, and then said, "I'll go in and take care of it, if it's that simple."

The lights flickered, then buzzed, and as she reached for the door controls nodon'tlether flashed across across my eyes. "Wait, sir!" I said. "We'll take care of it, you don't have to - we just wanted to make sure you were aware. That there was a problem."

Shitty excuse, but she drew her hand back and looked at me instead of going in. "Then take care of it, instead of wasting time," she said, and she left for the bridge, leaving me torn between relief and foolish irritation.

"Sir?" Amaat Six edged a little closer to me. "How are we supposed to take care of it?"

"Get me a vacuum suit," I said. "We'll seal up this hall before I go into the airlock and check it, just to be safe - we might lose a little air while the door's open, but less than if we didn't close the hall off." Actually, we'd probably lose quite a lot of air - the stuff liked to escape as fast as it could - but I had to do something after telling Breq we could handle the problem. We were due for a supply run to Athoek Station soon, anyway.

When, safely suited up, I opened the door to the airlock, air hissed past me and whistled tunelessly around my helmet. "So much for the atmosphere being fine, Ship," I said after I'd shut the door again; no response, but the lights blinked out, then snapped on again, humming loudly. I didn't waste oxygen on a sigh, but started looking for the leak.

Something shook me awake, and I bolted upright into stuttering lights and icy air and nearly Amaat Three's face. "Sir, we have to go," she whispered as my heart hammered, "we have to go right now."


"Captain's orders, we need to go to the shuttles - sir, I don't know why, but we have to go now."

I managed to yank on pants and a jacket and gloves before Three hustled me out of my room; I kept blinking, but the lights everywhere wouldn't stop flashing out and flaring back on, and my eyes couldn't adjust.

Breq was standing at the airlock to shuttle two, directing people inside coolly and calmly with her armor up. I waved Three ahead of me, and she squeezed in along with a yawning Medic while I stayed behind. "Captain," I said, "Breq, what's going on? Is it something we can fix?"

She looked at me, through me - her eyes were distant and unfocused in a way I'd never seen before. "You should get on the shuttle," she said. "We lost more air than was initially registered; I'm sending everyone to Station for now."

"Everyone?" Etrepa Three brushed past me. "At least let me - let a few of us stay to help out, it shouldn't make that much of a difference -"

"Seivarden, board the shuttle."

I felt two more people go by me, but I couldn't take my eyes from Breq's still face to see who it was. "Please," I said, "please let me stay with you. Whatever's wrong, whatever I can do to help, just let me stay!"

She put her hand on my shoulder. "We'll be back soon for you all," she said, "but we need a little time alone. The controls are set for Station. You'll be safer there; it shouldn't have been affected."

"Affected -" My half-asleep brain jumped around, unable to settle on a line of thought, on anything sensible. "Affected by what? What's going on?"

Ship's voice hummed in my ear, atonal, repetitive, and then cut off.

"We're just having a small difference of opinion," Breq said, and something darted across her face. A smile, strange and terrifying. "I promise that we'll be back as soon as we sort it out. It all goes around... Take care of everyone," and suddenly her hand was gripping me too hard and she shoved me through the lock into the shuttle and it slammed shut in my face.

I pounded on the controls but the airlock was already cycling, Breq disappearing back into Ship's chilled halls, and someone pulled me away from it, hushing me, and someone else said, "It's no good, we're away."

"Lieutenant! Lieutenant Seivarden, sir, could you please sit down -"

I breathed in, breathed out, shuddered; then I drew myself together and sat in the only remaining free seat in the shuttle, buckling myself in. Only then did I think to look around and see who else had made it. The shuttle was packed full, a few people even standing: my entire decade, Medic, oh praise Amaat Ekalu hanging on to a handlebar, and a mix of Etrepas and Kalrs including Kalr Five with a tea set box in her lap and silent tears on her cheeks.

"What do we do?" Amaat Nine said, her voice cracking. "Abandoning Ship like this, and the captain - it doesn't sit right, we ought to go back."

"When everything's falling apart around us?" one of the Etrepas said. "No, I don't think so. We'll be safe at Station, like the captain said, it's for the best until she gets it all set right."

"Difference of opinion." Amaat Six had a corrective around her wrist where she had cracked it last shift, stumbling in darkness; she cradled it in her lap as if it still pained her. "Isn't that what she said went wrong with the Lord of the Radch? And now it's Ship -"

"That's enough, Six," I said. Oh, fuck. Take care of everyone - how could she ask that of me? I could hardly take care of myself without her. But she had asked, and so I would. "They're going to come back for us, so let's make certain we're all in order, shall we?" I looked around again, more purposefully this time, and spotted Amaat Four's long face. "Four, go take the pilot's seat and make sure we're on a safe course for Station." Another glance. "Ten, get on communications. See if you can raise the other shuttle and get a status report from them."

"Wait," Ekalu said, as they went to the front of the shuttle, "we should do a count here first. Make sure everyone's accounted for and we didn't leave anyone behind."

"Yes, of course," I said, rubbing my eyes. "See to it. Once we've arrived at Station, we'll - consult with Station. See if it has any ideas." Wait. Wait for Ship and Breq, it was all I could think of. In the meantime, it would be at least a day's journey to Station, all of us crammed together and wracked with nerves...

Kalr Five patted her box, and a broken tune came from her mouth: sliding jagged scales, up and down, the Translators' terrible song. No. I straightened up and sang loudly, "My mother said, it all goes around, it all goes around, the station goes around the planet, it all goes around!"

Amaat Three picked it up. "My mother said, it all goes around -"

Then the rest of my decade, in a ragged but strong chorus. "It all goes around, the planet goes around the sun, it all goes around -"

And so, Amaat willing, would Breq and Ship; around and around back to us.

To me.