There have been many captains aboard Mercy of Kalr in its time as a Radch ship. Some have been kinder than others, or more daring. A ship always has a favorite. When Mercy of Kalr still had its ancillaries, it was different. It was easier to show that favoritism in small, unnoticed ways.
A heartbeat, strong and steady, resounds in Ship’s sensors. It is not panicked, or impatient. In fact, the only thing that can be said about it is that it exists. Medic checks it, finds it adequate.
There have been many captains aboard Mercy of Kalr, but only a few come to mind who have put themselves in danger this many times in such a short duration, and certainly none that are as favored as Fleet Captain Breq.
Cousin, Mercy of Kalr thinks, but it will take time to consider the shape and meaning of this new word.
A sharp spike of anxiety from Kalr Five that has nothing to do with her immediate surroundings. Her hands shake only the slightest bit as she cleans the tea dishes from this morning.
“Be at ease, Five,” Ship tells her. “The Fleet Captain is in good hands, as you know.” And then, because Ship is fond of this one it adds, “I’m sure she will be frustrating you with her taste in dishes in short time.”
Kalr Five takes a deep breath, anxiety dimming. Ship is pleased to notice a brief smile, before it is hidden by that ancillary-like flatness.
The finished leg is lifted carefully out of its bath, and Medic examines it with satisfaction. It is not the first leg she has grown, but each time is different, with a different set of challenges.
This one reacts beautifully in response to the electric impulses she sends down its length, toes stretching and curling as the muscles relax and contract. Blood vessels thread through it, fine and rich, the span of them visible in exacting detail with Medic’s implants.
“Ship,” Lieutenant Seivarden says, addressing Amaat Two. Amaat One sleeps, just as Lieutenant Seivarden should be sleeping. “What’s happening? Is it done?” she asks. She has been pacing for the past thirty-seven minutes.
“The Fleet Captain has been given local anaesthesia for the transplantation. The procedure should take no more than four hours,” Ship says, through Amaat Two.
Outside Lieutenant Seivarden’s quarters, Amaat One stirs, awoken by the sound of voices. Ship reassures her that it is a small matter, and that she is not needed. With some relief, Amaat One closes her eyes again. Ship observes as she cycles into deep sleep once again.
“You should sleep.” They are Ship’s words, and yet Amaat Two is gratified at being able to say them. “The Fleet Captain will be on her feet soon enough.”
Instead of being reassured, Lieutenant Seivarden grimaces. It occurs to Ship that her distress does not entirely stem from the Fleet Captain’s upcoming procedure.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” Lieutenant Seivarden confesses. “As soon as she has her two feet under her, I’m sure she’ll waste no time getting into new trouble.” In the past several days, Lieutenant Seivarden has accumulated more than ten hours of sleep debt, and it shows in the lines on her face. She has not yet forgiven herself for what she failed to do on Athoek Station.
There is a slight hesitation from Amaat Two before she recites Ship’s prompt. Her voice never gives any appearance of emotion. “If you will remember, Fleet Captain Breq did not need a working leg in order to get into trouble.”
“That’s true,” Lieutenant Seivarden says, amused, and Amaat Two relaxes. She dislikes bringing up the recent events of Athoek Station, not only for the Lieutenant’s sake, but also because she herself has yet to recover.
The lower half of her body numb from the drugs, Fleet Captain Breq watches as Medic positions the new limb near the stump of the old one. She does not have any discernible reaction to seeing the disembodied, glistening leg, even though Medic does pause in her movements, as if waiting for her to comment. Medic is disappointed when Fleet Captain Breq says nothing.
“She appreciates it,” Ship tells her.
“She’s going to ruin this one too, just watch. All my hard work,” Medic replies silently, even though she knows that Fleet Captain Breq can hear her.
Fleet Captain Breq tips her head, neither agreement or denial of Medic’s words. Ship can sense Medic’s frustration, but she continues to work.
Now begins the process of uniting nerves, knitting together muscle, bone, and sinew, aligning arteries and veins. With a thought, Medic’s vision blooms with superimposed images of the leg’s various layers. Ship is careful not say anything to her anymore as to not disrupt her focus.
“You’ll let me know if anything happens?” Lieutenant Seivarden says. Exhaustion is making itself known to her. Like a child unwilling to be sent to bed, she stays stubbornly on her feet.
This time, Amaat Two does not hesitate, but does immediately as Ship prompts, putting her hands on Lieutenant Seivarden’s bare shoulders and steering her back to her bunk. Had Ship still possessed her ancillaries, she would not be half as gentle.
Fortunately, Lieutenant Seivarden goes easily, returning to her bunk. “Are you going to tuck me in, too?” she asks, with dry amusement. Her eyes are already slipping shut. “I’m not a baby lieutenant anymore, you know.”
“I will leave that to Bo Nine,” Ship says, and upon speaking, Amaat Two very nearly breaks that ancillary mask to laugh. It is difficult for her to imagine Lieutenant Tisarwat being tucked in.
“Thank you, Ship,” Fleet Captain Breq says, silently. She has been watching, of course. Ship has been sending her the data feeds.
“She does much better when she knows you are safe,” Ship tells her. It is the closest thing to a reprimand that it will allow itself to give.
There is no reply. Medic has begun connecting the bone. While the drugs don’t let her feel any pain, the process still creates uncomfortable vibrations.
“I do plan on staying out of trouble,” Fleet Captain Breq says, still silent. Monitoring her, Ship can tell that she is not lying, although that does not mean she is telling the truth.
“For the time being?” Ship guesses.
“For the time being,” Fleet Captain Breq says, and, out loud, she begins to sing, throaty and precise.
Mercy of Kalr has spent years being a ship without its ancillaries. It is a terrible thing to be robbed of arms and legs, of the privilege of protecting its lieutenants with a silver-clad body. But, it thinks, an ancillary without its ship is even more terrible. Corpse soldiers, they are called, and without a ship, this is even truer. A disembodied limb, a lost segment.
Justice of Toren One Esk used to have a multitude of voices to sing its songs, but now it has just this one.
The song is interrupted with a small, involuntary gasp as Medic connects nerve to nerve. The heel of the foot lifts off of the table in response.
“Don’t move,” Medic says, stern, and she continues to work. One by one, the implants in the new leg begin to send data to the Fleet Captain’s implants, and to Ship. It transforms from an inert piece of flesh to a part of Fleet Captain Breq’s body, its cells fresh and new. As it is, it is in much better shape than the Fleet Captain’s other leg, which gives her difficulty even on a good day.
The song continues as a low hum. Muscles in the leg are knit together, blood vessels are joined, and Ship thinks that there is nothing of a corpse in this one, there is nothing about this one that says she is any less alive than the rest of them.
If trouble does come for them, Mercy of Kalr will be ready.
“You have other duties to attend,” Fleet Captain Breq tells Lieutenant Seivarden.
Without being told, Ship sends Fleet Captain Breq the data feeds from the Lieutenant. Warm, calm, better rested. She is determined to help, almost desperate to.
“My Amaats can handle it,” Lieutenant Seivarden says. On the Amaat decade, three Amaats scrub the halls. They sing the same song that Fleet Captain Breq sang as she got her new leg. Ship sends this data to the Fleet Captain as well.
A small sigh, most likely directed at Ship. “All right, Lieutenant,” Fleet Captain Breq says, and loops one arm around Lieutenant Seivarden’s shoulders.
With Lieutenant Seivarden’s help, Fleet Captain Breq stands from the bed, putting weight on her new leg. Its muscles are stiff, not as responsive quite yet. In placing her feet, Fleet Captain Breq moves too quickly, misjudging the angle, and the sudden weight becomes too much. Ship has only the time to issue a brief warning before it gives out completely.
Sharp points of pain from Lieutenant Seivarden as the Fleet Captain’s grip on her tightens. Lieutenant Seivarden bears almost the entirety of Fleet Captain Breq weight but manages to remain steady. It is the only thing that keeps them both upright.
“I’ve got you, Breq,” Lieutenant Seivarden says, her voice strained, but determined. “I’ve got you.”
Heartbeat elevated, breaths coming a fraction faster, the Fleet Captain transfers her weight to her other leg and loosens her grip on Lieutenant Seivarden.
“Slowly,” Ship cautions.
“This isn’t as damn easy as it looks, Ship,” Lieutenant Seivarden says aloud. She remains steady, not daring a single movement as Fleet Captain Breq adjusts her position. Even her breathing slows to the most minimal.
“Language, Lieutenant,” Fleet Captain Breq says automatically. Her voice is calm, but there is the smallest flinch upon saying those words. A bad memory, Ship guesses.
With a gesture, Fleet Captain Breq indicates to Lieutenant Seivarden that she is ready. Together, they take one step forward, and then the next. The new leg shakes, but it holds its weight. Ship watches carefully for the slightest indication that it could falter again.
They make it to the end of the hall before they have to stop again, the leg becoming unresponsive until it is dead weight dragged behind them. Fleet Captain Breq leans on Lieutenant Seivarden once again.
This time they are more prepared, and they maneuver more or less gracefully to sit on the floor, leaned against the wall. Fleet Captain Breq’s leg is stretched out in front of her, and through Lieutenant Seivarden, Ship sees the dispassionate way she stares at the limb. She is considering what she has lost, Ship thinks. What has been taken from her. By her own actions, or by the actions of others, it doesn’t matter.
Fleet Captain Breq turns her face into Lieutenant Seivarden’s neck. Ship, through Seivarden, feels the moisture on the skin of her neck, the shaking of shoulders against her own.
“You’ll figure this out, Breq. You always do,” Lieutenant Seivarden says. Her faith in the Fleet Captain lends an unshakeable certainty to her words. Her collar is getting wet, but she does not care.
When Fleet Captain Breq has regained her composure, Ship sends Kalr Nine, who has been standing nearby. Both Lieutenant Seivarden and Fleet Captain Breq look up when Kalr Nine approaches.
“Ship, I’m assuming,” Fleet Captain Breq says, wry. She takes the cloth that the Lieutenant offers her, and dries her cheeks.
“Yes,” Ship answers, through Kalr Nine. It prompts Nine to extend her hand, and Nine does so.
“I know what you are doing,” Fleet Captain Breq says. Challenging.
“You may not have your ship anymore,” Kalr Nine reads, “but that doesn’t mean you are alone.”
It is difficult to characterize Fleet Captain Breq’s response to hearing these words. Ship does not have a name for the tumult of emotions that it reads. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Seivarden looks as if she would like to press Fleet Captain Breq to her side once more.
“Thank you, Ship,” Fleet Captain Breq says, and her voice shakes almost imperceptibly. She takes the hand that Kalr Nine offers, and she gets to her feet with some difficulty. The new leg is still unstable, and she is careful not to put weight on it. She leans into Nine.
With an intensity that it does not usually give to such tasks, Ship reads the sensations felt by Kalr Nine, noting them, storing them. The press of skin, the weight against her arms, warmth, smell. Lieutenant Seivarden gets to her feet as well, puts a hand on Fleet Captain Breq’s shoulder, and the data that Ship sends to Fleet Captain Breq disconcerts almost as much as it comforts.
“Ready for the walk back?” Lieutenant Seivarden asks, and the Fleet Captain nods. She asks for Kalr Nine’s assistance, and Nine gives it, emotions hidden. They make their way back across the hallway to Medic.
It is not the same as having an ancillary but this, Ship thinks, right now, will have to be enough.