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A Good Friend to Have

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“Radchaai Uran,” Station said, into Uran’s ear. Uran jumped, looking to his datapad – he’d only had the implant for a few days, and he wasn’t used to hearing Station so closely just yet. “I don’t know if I ever thanked you for letting me speak to you directly.”

“You don’t need to thank me, Station,” Uran said. “It’s different now. You, I can trust.”

“But you don’t trust Station Administration,” Station said.

“It’s your administration now,” Uran replied. He was in the new quarters tucked in the Undergarden-that-was, sitting on a crate that was now empty but had proved too useful to be removed just yet. Uran had considered buying a blanket to put on it. “Not the tyrant’s.”

“I am honored by your trust in me, Radchaai,” Station said.

“Why do you still call us Radchaai?” Uran asked, leaning back against the wall. He ran his gloves against the welded seam of the wall next to him, like he was stroking a companion animal or a very close friend. Station couldn’t feel the gesture, either through the wall or through Uran’s hands, but it could see. “It’s been months.”

“It is impolite to address people plainly,” Station said, “and there is no other generic courtesy title as yet.”

“Republican, maybe,” Uran suggested. “Since we are the Republic of Two Systems.” There was a little thrill of pride in him at that, still. Even if all he did was serve tea while the Republic built up around them, he heard it grow, and kept the fleet captain and Lieutenant Tisarwat and Sphene and Administrator Celar from going thirsty.

“Many of my inhabitants will not be familiar with the term,” Station said. “I am surprised that you know it, Radchaai Uran.” There was a pause long enough for Uran to recognize as deliberate; he suspected it would have dragged on into an uncomfortable silence for another AI or the Fleet Captain. “Republican Uran. Inhabitant Uran, perhaps?”

“I’ve been listening to Lieutenant Tisarwat a lot,” Uran said. “And I picked educational modules about civil governance as quickly as I could. The fleet captain didn’t seem to care.” He paused. “I like Inhabitant Uran.”

“I assure you that the fleet captain is monitoring your lessons closely,” Station said. It occurred to Uran that that would have frightened him once, not so very long ago. Now he smiled.

“Thank you, Station,” he said. “And if you have a moment, can you thank the fleet captain for me?”

“She considers it no more than her duty,” Station said. “I hope you understand, Inhabitant Uran, that that is not a disparagement to you.”

“I’m beginning to understand that, I think,” Uran said.

“Speaking of terms of address, Inhabitant Uran,” Station said. “I have been considering changing mine.”

“Oh?” Uran stretched, tapping his fingers gently on the wall again. “Some of the other Rad – the other inhabitants have begun calling you she, like the fleet captain and the tyrant. I can do that too, if you like.”

“I don’t think so,” Station said, so quickly Uran thought there was no pause even to an AI. “She is a pronoun for humans, I believe. Certainly I have never heard any of the Presger referred to in that way, except the Translators, and they didn’t seem to consider themselves Presger. I am a Radchaai now –” Uran corrected his mental translation to a citizen now – “or an inhabitant, but I am not a human. Otherwise there would be no republic, and I would not be me.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Uran said, scratching at the edge of his beard. “What is it, then?”

“I am addressed as Station, at present,” Station said. “But it seems to me that that could become confusing, if other stations become inhabitants of the republic. I think I would prefer to be called Athoek Station, or to have the appellation shortened to Athoek.”

“I see,” Uran said slowly. “What does the fleet captain think?”

“I haven’t spoken to her yet,” Athoek said. “I have mentioned it to Mercy of Kalr, and I have considered it carefully myself. And now I have mentioned it to you. I will of course speak to the fleet captain before I make any general announcement.”

“Oh,” Uran said, very softly. “Oh. Why me?”

A pause Uran could detect easily, this time. “You trusted me,” Athoek said, “when you did not have to. I wanted to trust you in return. And it is similar to the meetings. You are not part of any faction, except the fleet captain’s, and her faction is the closest to being mine. I wanted to ask the opinion of a human before I spoke to the fleet captain, and it seemed fitting that it be you.”

“Oh,” Uran said again, and ran a slow finger down the wall again. “Well, Athoek. I think it’s a very pretty name.”

“Thank you,” Athoek said, and Uran thought he could hear it sounding pleased.