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The Flower of Tisarwat

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The person in the body of Lt. Tisarwat stared up into darkness. The drugs Medic had given her numbed the body's distress, made the pathetic remnants of Tisarwat go quieter. She could almost think.

The blanket Bo had wrapped around her was not the same.

She wanted to write. She didn't; there was no benefit. Tisarwat would have gotten up and fetched a pad, or some flimsies and a writing tool if she felt especially restless. Or asked Ship to record for her like she used to ask House, when she was living planetside.

There was no benefit in such indulgences now. She couldn't make Ship look away, couldn't bear the thought of Mercy of Kalr sharing even more than what the body already betrayed with Justice of Toren and Medic.

The words came anyway.

Must I subsist on glass
like the dead departed?
I was born in this body
it is not mine
it is what remains
to me


"Lieutenant," Mercy of Kalr said in her ear, "Bo Nine is coming to check on you. Would you like to take your breakfast in the decade room today?"

She hunched in the blankets. Stared at the tea bowl within easy reach. The tea would be cold, now.

"Would you like me to contact Medic?" Mercy of Kalr asked.

If she took more of Medic's drugs, she could pretend it was the drugs that made everything feel not quite right. The drugs that made it all a bit off, like a dream or a play she couldn't leave.

Her fingers brushed her neck. She forced the body not to flinch. She moved the thumb — her thumb — to the center of the bruise, and pressed it. Pressed a little harder.


When Bo Nine entered the room, she was sitting upright. "I'll be joining the decade for breakfast today," she managed to say without rasping too badly.

Bo's pleased surprise carried her through the awkwardness of dressing.


She spoke the familiar words and the Bos — her Bos — spoke with her: The flower of justice is peace. The flower of propriety is beauty in thought and action. The flower…

'Rituals keep the breath moving' indeed.

"What's the morning's cast?" she asked Mercy of Kalr automatically as she swallowed her first bite of skel. She had to swallow again against the sudden surge of nausea. That an ancillary would handle the omen coins—!


She woke, bereft. That dream again. The one where she was in one of the right body, was one in many and never out of reach of other bodies Anaander to shift attention to when enduring a new body's immaturity. Very young bodies weren't wholly useless, of course; she had— She had raised them in gardens around her server nodes, used their higher capacity for data integration to control and relay between the older proper bodies She used in public and found most comfortable.

She wasn't Anaander any more. There were no other bodies to her to even out the distortions of being young and unfinished.

She had taken this unstable body to add to Herself and Fleet Captain had killed Her the way She had killed Tisarwat and now she was expected to live for Tisarwat and be a baby Lieutenant for her Bos as if anything could ever be right again when she was no one real and she had to pretend she wasn't Houseless and utterly, painfully alone.

It wasn't right. She wasn't right.

She could use that.

She made an ancillary
of a citizen, Tisarwat,
innocent of any crime
eager to be of service, sir
I animate the corpse
She left of her
there are not gloves enough
to shield the ashes
of Tisarwat in my touch

would I were glass
that I be sharpest
where I am most broken

that I may cut open
Her gloves for all
Radchaai to see

if She grasps at this
body for Her use again

I will turn in Her hand
Her hand will be bared


Horticulturalist Basnaaid Elming had exquisite taste. The way her solemn face might ease into a rare smile was like Bo's grace: unexpected and numinous. Tisarwat found herself wanting to do anything to make Basnaaid smile more.

Tisarwat wanted her to look back with desire. Wanted her to see Tisarwat as a potential lover, not some child fresh from her aptitudes. She wanted to write Basnaaid poetry — real poetry, not the drivel the old Tisarwat would have written — wanted to write of intimacies that would show the depth and force of her feelings in words that would move Basnaaid to return them.

The Paloh have words
for so many distinct smells
they will not cook
two ingredients in the same pot
with contrary scents
nor permit siblings to sit
too close together
lest their smells mingle

I would borrow a pair
of your gloves if I could
and sleep with them reversed
next to my skin to soak
up the essence I emit
for three nights entire

you would turn them right
and slip them on for public
propriety, and underneath
the gloves our smells
would mingle past distinction
two into one


"Sir," Bo Four messaged. "There's a difficulty."

"What is it, Bo?" she messaged back, fingers twitching. She had heard nothing from Mercy of Kalr.

"Sir. Sphene and the Translator had a question I can't answer, sir, and they won't stop asking. I think you'd better come."

Tisarwat controlled her face reflexively. "You did right to contact me. I'll be there shortly. Bo, if they are making you uncomfortable, you do not have to stay. They do not have the authority to require anything of you."

"Sir," said Bo Four, but did not end the connection.

She took a guess. "You may use my room to make your tea."

"Thank you, sir."

She found the Sphene ancillary and Translator Zeiat huddled over their game of counters in the decade room. There now appeared to be eggshells involved, somehow. Bo Four was gone; good.

"Lieutenant!" said the Translator, twisting around with unsettling eagerness. "We have a problem you can solve for us!"

Translator Dlique would have been so much easier to deal with.

"What is your problem, Translator?"

The Translator pouted. "Sphene says I can't break the tea bowls for our game. But I need them!"

"We need bodies for hearts, Lieutenant," said the Sphene ancillary. It smiled. "Could you loan us some of your Bos?"

"No," she said. Breathed. Said firmly, "The bodies of my Bos are not to be counters in your game. You may not use them." What would Fleet Captain do? "Why don't you use fish-cakes instead of tea bowls, Translator? You could dunk them in the tea if you needed."

"The priest is not the god," said the Sphene ancilliary in Notai. It was no longer smiling.

She felt herself freeze. In Anaander Mianaai's memories, no disloyal Notai had lived to repeat that charge for three thousand years.

Sphene made a satisfied gesture, and turned its attention back to the board. It said, as if to no one, "If the Usurper were here, I would put my hands around her neck right now and strangle her to death."

She forced herself to breathe.

The Sphene ancillary took a red counter from one hole and moved it to another, taking a blue counter from the second hole and moving that back to the first. The Translator made an intrigued noise, and put its head down on the board to stare at the first hole up close.

Sphene turned back to look at her. "My cousin tells me you are Tisarwat, no?"

"I am," she said. Enough of this. "Sphene, Translator, do you want me to fetch you fish-cakes or not?"

Translator Zeiat raised its head in interest. "Yes, please, Lieutenant Tisarwat! And another egg; Sphene is going to need it." The Translator waved a dripping eggshell in emphasis; the Sphene ancillary glanced into the bowl of tea by the game board and began to curse.


I dreamed I was Translator
for the Anaander

there was a darling fish
gasping for a bowl of tea

inside me. I could feel
its sides scrape on mine

No matter how many fragments
of Notai gold-and-glass

I swallowed I could not
assemble a bowl complete.

the fish gasped and gasped and gasped
and I could not hold the tea


On the occasion of Tisarwat's eighteenth birthday, she received a sheath of beautiful paper, with a weight she had missed in the flimsies more common to ship and station life, and a handwritten note from Citizen Piat.

Your eyes like temple flowers
dedicated to beginning and ending
the universe in between

Oh, she thought, and felt the bloom of it.