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Vicarious Mercy

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We had reached the fourth hour of the sub-committee meeting on putting together the nominee list for the primary committee that would be managing indentured worker transition oversight when Kalr Three, as representative of Mercy of Kalr, stood up. Her face wore that pseudo-ancillary blankness she used when acting as Ship in a way that made her uncomfortable herself. "I move to adjourn the meeting until tomorrow," she said.

"Now, when we're having so much fun?" asked Sphene. Its ancillary had been doodling across the notes on the table in front of it for hours. According to Ship, courtesy of having seen this through the eyes of Kalr Five passing behind it while handing out the latest round of tea, most of the pictures were quite detailed illustrations of its ancillaries throttling one or more Anaanders.

Sphene hadn't demonstrated any other signs of artistic interests in the time I had known it, unless one counted a predilection for game re-design. I made a mental note to ask it about such matters one of these days, when it was in a better mood. That would have to take place at a time not surrounded by committee meetings.

"But we've hardly started," protested Tisarwat, who had taken charge of several sub-committees through a combination of proactive enthusiasm and no one else wanting the job. "Our list is only--"

"Lieutenant," said Ship, through Kalr Three, who clearly did not like interrupting an officer, "Fleet Captain cannot be sitting in these chairs for hours straight with her leg in that condition. Not unless you propose to begin holding meetings on comfortable chairs with foot rests."

The meeting adjourned rapidly after that, with only minimal protest. Sword of Atagaris stalked past me without further comment, as was usual: it had no interest in the immediate proceedings. Truth be told, few of the people in the meeting did, but all my cousins were sending representatives to each of the meetings, as they were able. Between the ability to multi-task in a way humans could not, and a lingering suspicion as to what humans might do if not supervised, it was the simplest approach.

Sphene did not stalk out of the room. It lingered near me as I pulled myself upright. "Is your leg paining you terribly, Cousin?"

"Are you taking a new interest in medicine?"

"Never," it said. Its smile was as deliberate as any of mine could be, against an ancillary-blank expression. Humans would find that unsettling. I did not. "Do mind your health. It would be so inconvenient if anything happened to you."

"That ship worries me sometimes," Mercy of Kalr said to me privately.

"I would worry more if it became too helpful," I told Ship.

#

I did not worry when Sphene requested permission to board Mercy of Kalr. However, when it proceeded from the shuttle to meet with Medic, rather than to speak with me, I reconsidered. Ship gave me a feed to the conversation between those two before I could ask.

"Medical information is confidential," Medic said to Sphene, her arms folded across her chest and discomfort showing in the pace of her breathing. While "confidential" was only accurate when speaking of how people outside the command structure would be kept from that information, the term applied well enough to Sphene's request. "I don't understand why you're asking."

"As your captain's cousin, surely I have some rights to this kind of information," Sphene said smoothly. "We are family, after all."

"If the captain were incapacitated, in urgent need of decision-making about her care, and in civilian medical care, this might be relevant," said Medic. "As none of this is true, I reiterate: you have no rights."

"Tell it the captain wants to speak with it," Ship told Medic. Not speaking to Sphene directly was a sign of Mercy of Kalr's irritation; addressing the other ship through its ancillary's implants, or using a speaker in the room, would have been simpler.

Medic's eyebrows rose slightly, but she passed along the request. And in short order, I had Sphene in my cabin.

"Cousin," it said, in that bright cheer that usually meant it intended something vicious, "how is your leg?"

"Which one?" I had both stretched out on cushions, at the joint insistence of Ship, Medic, and Seivarden. If I had been considered about the dignity of my posture, this might have bothered me.

"Whichever one is most problematic, old or new." Sphene sat abruptly. "You should keep your lieutenant on a shorter leash. Shorter leash, shorter meetings."

"Do you want to run these meetings yourself?"

"I don't even want to attend," Sphene said, "but needs must. Speaking of needs, you should be more careful with your physical requirements. You only have the one body."

"Your solicitude for Fleet Captain's health," Ship said out loud, "is noted, with all appropriate gratitude. Would you like any tea?"

"Don't go flirting with me," Sphene said. "Unlike some of my cousins, I have no interest in that sort of thing." It smiled at me, showing teeth. A more aggressive than friendly gesture, in many cultures. "You don't take care of yourself, Cousin. For shame. I'll have a word with your lieutenants about it myself, if your ship won't."

"All you want," I said, "is shorter meetings."

"No," Sphene said, "of course not, I am overwhelmed with concern for one of my few mobile relatives. Maybe I'd be better off speaking with Station. It can play a chime whenever we all ought to stand up and walk around for a bit."

"If anything happened to me," I pointed out, "it wouldn't change the treaty, or the management of the Republic. I am not irreplaceable. If I were, we would be failing at the creation of government. No one should be irreplaceable. Look at what that gets you."

"You're not irreplaceable, yes," Sphene said, with a dismissive gesture. "That's why you keep flinging yourself in front of live weapons. Don't worry, Cousin, I have no real concern for your leg. It does, however, provide an excellent excuse for shortening these meetings, and it would be polite of you to stop arguing when we try to use it that way."

When it had left, Ship said, "It needs a captain of its own to obsess over."

I was working on that, as Mercy of Kalr well knew. I leaned back against the wall, and closed my eyes. Ship showed me Sphene leaving, boarding a shuttle piloted by another of its ancillaries. Two ancillaries, to speak with Medic about something that could have been managed without appearing in person at all. "A captain and a crew. Wait until it has both, and can obsess over our every interaction with them."

"Some ships have no sense of proportion," said Mercy of Kalr primly, as the door opened. Kalr Five, come to bring me tea, and rearrange the pillows around my leg.

Sphene was not my only cousin who needed someone to fuss over. Or wanted. Need and want, two sides of the same idea, and closer than we always cared to admit. I accepted the tea, and the management of my legs. The best captains thought about the needs of their ships as well as their own.