The Serra Teresa has invited the woman soldier into the harem, but in truth, she does not expect very much to come of the meeting. They are of different ages, of different social positions, above all of different cultures. The number of things that they cannot say to each other – or at least, in any way that would be understood – could fill a book.
They have this much: they are two women, and they are alone.
“I’m honored to be invited,” says the woman quietly – Lieutenant Hawkeye, it seems, is the correct way to address her. Her straight-backed posture is subtly different from a Serra’s equally upright carriage. Soldier-straight. “And I want to tell you that my superior understands that what we discuss here will not necessarily reach his ears. Unless you want it to.”
A younger Teresa might have been taken aback by this bluntness, behind her serene mask; the older, more experienced Serra barely blinks. “I would not expect a man of your superior’s importance to listen to harem talk, regardless.”
“That’s difficult to say,” says the lieutenant. “As you know, we don’t have harems in Amestris. But I’m reasonably sure that if we did, he would find the discussions that went on inside them fascinating.” She’s not smiling, but there’s a subtle glint of amusement in her face that might indicate a private joke. It disappears, as she adds, “If there is one thing that we both understand, Serra – and would like for you to understand as well – it’s that the talk no one else listens to that’s often the most worth hearing.”
‘We both.’ The phrase is not insignificant. Amestrian military society obviously doesn’t work along the same gender-political lines as the Dominion; the Serra understands that it has a strong hierarchical structure, all the same. The pairing of Hawkeye’s own opinion with her superior’s might be simple self-importance in someone else, but not, Serra Teresa suspects, from the clear-eyed, direct woman in front of her. Teresa is being offered a level of trust.
“I wouldn’t wish you to misunderstand,” says the Serra Teresa, slowly. “It would dishonor any man in the Dominion to be influenced by me. It would dishonor me to attempt to influence them. The spheres are separate.”
“Please pardon my rudeness.” The woman’s gaze is straight. She does not look apologetic. “But the alchemists of my country have a saying – one is all, and all is one. All things are connected.”
“A movement in one place sends out ripples to another,” the Serra says; it would seem a concession if her face and voice were anything less than perfectly serene. As it is, it might simply be a remark. “But it takes a great deal of skill and study to discern which ripples originated from which dropped stone.”
Nothing, in the Dominion, is offered on a silver platter. Nothing is given for free. Teresa appreciates what the lieutenant has already offered her, but she does not intend to change that habit now.
“I don’t expect instant understanding,” says Lieutenant Hawkeye. Blunt, again; the Serra Teresa spares a moment to regret the grace with which another southern woman could convey the same information, and in the same moment is grateful that – unlike the women of the Voyani, or of the North – the lieutenant at least does not seem to grudge the lack of the same bluntness in the Serra. “Nobody could. We’re too different. But please believe I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t willing to put in the time to try, and if we didn’t think it was important.”
‘We’ again, and also ‘I’.
The Serra Teresa has not yet decided her course of action. But they are two women alone in a room, and so she can, at least, raise her eyes to the stranger’s and say, with perfect calm, “I believe you.”