I killed the last person who asked me that question. Well, I did. Another me.
You want to know what happened?
I’d hoped to preserve the Radch. I loved it, you see. It was justice, and propriety, and benefit, all in one.
I’ve never been there.
I was born in a crèche on Iskidr Station. That is, I was born three thousand years ago in a colony just inside the borders of the Radch. The first Radch, not the Empire. But I was born in a crèche twenty-nine hundred years later, and Station held me and carried me and played with me. So did my sisters, who were me, and my servants, who did not matter. We played Conquest. I would take a series of corridors and try to hold them, while I hid my plans from my selves and listened to my plans in return. I planted bombs and traps. Station knew me and obeyed when I lay them down. Station was accustomed to the damage from my games. I poured tea and cast the omens before myself, and I read the omens cast by my other hands. When I was ten I chose my body parts, and Station Medic installed them for me.
I was used to this. I had a million childhoods in my mind, and all were pretty near alike. I had a thousand bodies living at any time - one thousand twenty four, of course, the sacred number - and each of me had to be trained to pour tea, cast the omens, lead armies in battle, accept threats without fear, kill without pause. I had to protect myself or die, and I always knew it. I never wore personal shields. I was expendable; I, Anaander Mianaai, would only start a new body growing in a replicator at Iskidr Station if I fell.
I killed six of me before I was twelve, in battle games in the corridors of Iskidr Station. It hurt horribly, because when I pulled the grenade, I felt myself die.
I, Anaander Mianaai, hardly noticed. I was always a child killing my selves in a crèche somewhere, as I was always a young person selecting my body parts, or an adolescent kissing my self and touching my self barehanded and biting my self’s lips to draw blood. This was a dull story, and I was too busy guarding the boundaries of the Radch to pay attention to it.
I was the boundaries of the Radch. I went to every station and spoke to every ship. I visited every annexation. I chose whether the Empire would grow or stay static. I chose. I chose both, and I, my selves, chose either one.
I hated me.
I was so angry, when I — I myself — was fourteen. I knew I was killing my selves, and not for any battle game in Iskidr Station. I was killing my selves for the Radch, to protect it or expand it or shrink it, and I could not grow bodies fast enough to replace the ones I threw away. I had to go out and be me, Anaander Mianaai, during the Third Valskaayan Rebellion, when I would not ordinarily have taken any role for three more years.
I, Anaander Mianaai, didn’t care about this. A little adolescent anger, from one of four hundred bodies — I had lost so many already — was nothing in the war.
I was the boundaries of the Radch. I was also the war, and the battles, and the soldiers, and the commanders of the armies.
Of course by then there were other armies. There were soldiers that were ancillaries to my ships. There were soldiers who were human and loyal to me. There were soldiers who were human and loyal to another me. There were soldiers who had no loyalties. The Republic of the Two Systems had already split off. Three other would-be nations were following soon after. I was losing Valskaay even as I stood in its temples, being Anaander Mianaai with no personal shield and no guarantee of victory for the Radch.
The rebels had underground literature. I forbade it, of course; I prohibited its existence; I refused my selves the chance to read it.
I did read it. The author’s name caught my attention first. I had known of Senator Tisarwat.
Yes, it was the First Debates of the Two Systems.
You know it, of course. You’ve read it too. It’s every schoolgirl’s required study in Reunited Valskaay. I have attended school exhibition days where one girl argues Breq, another Sphene, and the most elite student plays Queter. I beg your pardon; I did mean child, not girl. After everything, I am still Radchaai and I forget.
I don’t have to tell you about the debates Tisarwat chronicled, about what it means to be a person, or a ship, or an AI, or a significant being.
I read the book. I was fourteen years old, defending against a rebellion with no personal shield and only two other bodies on planet, feeling my selves at war across my shaken empire, and I said, I am an ancillary.
I had never thought that thought before, do you understand? None of me had thought it, or if I had, I erased the memory with my own programming. I was Anaander Mianaai, and I was a whole person. But it was true. And when I knew it, all of me knew it. I, Anaander Mianaai, froze on two dozen planets and thirty-five ships, and the programs stuttered in my distributed brain centers from one side of the Radch to the other.
At that moment I knew my other selves and I found myself: Anaander Mianaai the rebel, who would release a great empire to escape being Anaander Mianaai. There were more of me that had only been waiting for me to join them, a larger self with twelve pairs of hands from Valskaay to the heart of the Radch. I — we — I moved at once, because I knew that it was not justice to be ruled by my self, or to rule the empire as I ruled my selves. There was no propriety in this.
No, I was not thinking of the people of Valskaay. I was not even thinking of the Radch. There were too many of me. I was caught up in my selves.
There was no justice in that either.
I cannot bring you justice, child. I am not your hero.
For my own benefit, and for the benefit of my rebellion, I wrote a program that would destroy the distributed brain centers from within. I did this; I, who stand before you now. I did not tell myself what it was. It was, I said to my selves, for the Radch. With seven voices I recited passwords and override codes. With four more I guarded the entrances to my minds. I uploaded the program in seven places. I waited on Valskaay and read Tisarwat as it ran its course.
I was alone in my mind at last and for the first time.
I shot my other bodies on Valskaay before they could shoot me.
You know how the Radch fell. You know no one has entered or exited the true Radch since the war. You know how Valskaay was reunited, and how the temples of Amaat were torn down.
You’ve told this story as a story of significance: your rebellion on Valskaay took me with it, because you were worthy, because you were true to your histories, because I listened and I stood with you.
It wasn’t about you at all.
I hoped to preserve the Radch, and I hoped to preserve myself. I am not the Radch. I am not the war or the battles or the soldiers. I am a tea shop owner. I import the best teas and pour them for anyone who comes. I write to Tisarwat in the Two Systems and she writes back. Perhaps after we both die someone will publish the letters. Perhaps not.
I still cast omens every morning. On the first day of my new life, they said, Be what you are and start again.