Her berth on the IJV Belas was loaded with bags. Before leaving Samfa Seven the General had taken Sapphire by a Galactic Armed Forces store in the military district to requisition supplies for her new life. Packs of black socks and undergarments filled one bag. Another was filled with casual sweats and GAF-branded t-shirts. There was even some hooded jumpers and jackets along with jeans and trousers there.
As she sat on the bed, her attention was on two of the bags in front of her. One was her uniform from the ICV Wight. A grey jacket, black undershirt, white leggings and polished black boots. For years it had been the only clothing she wore, the only clothing she needed to wear. Now possibilities were in front of her that she would not have been able to conceive a few weeks back.
The other bag had her dress uniform in. A charcoal overcoat and beret, a grey knee-length dress, crisp white gloves, sensible black ankle boots, and a polished silver belt with a leather sheath for her knife. The knife was usually the final gift to a member of the military before their first deployment, a weapon of last resort to be used with honour and diligence to duty. As part of the autocrew of the Wight, the Ensign was not given hers then. Instead, General Watton had presented it to her at dinner the night she was granted rights as a lifeform.
She smiled. Eating had never been necessary for her, aside from water and supplements to ensure the smooth operation of her body. There was a joy to sitting down opposite someone, talking over small matters while eating. She had come to learn much about life from her breakfast and dinner chats with the General, each one broadening her perspective and revealing new possibilities and ideas to her.
His gifts he had gotten for her were in a smart bag, not one from the military store. The cream sundress. A pair of sandals to go with it. A dataslate loaded with helpful books and media. A wooden case filled with pencils and paints and a pad of paper to go with it. Utensils for one in a polished steel carrying tin. Dr Gan had slipped a few gifts in too. A Galactic Science Academy mug, a small plush Merlet toy, and a framed picture of the three of them before she left the academy.
A knock on her door had her up on her feet. “Please enter.” She called out.
General Watton stepped in then quickly focused his eyes on the ceiling. “Sapphire, we will be docking in ten minutes, and the funeral is in an hour. You may wish to consider putting some clothes on.”
Glancing down at herself, Sapphire apologized. “Sorry, General. I was… lost in thought, I suppose.” She then looked up at the ceiling. “Is something wrong with the room?”
“No, no. It is just considered impolite to… well-” Without looking down, the flustered general gestured at her.
She scanned through the section on social etiquette loaded into her memory. “Oh! I understand.” Crouching down, she unzipped the bag with her dress uniform in and started pulling it out to place on the bed, before leaning over to get some underwear from the other bag.
Glancing down at her, the General shook his head in wonder. CAZ model automatons were identical to humans in exterior physiology, given the same bodies and parts were also offered for sale to cyborgs. Bioskin covered synthetic muscle fiber and a reinforced skeleton, with a subdermal gel containing micro- and nano-machines for repair and transfer of nutrients in place of fat. Each body produced by them was a little different, randomization patterns in their design systems giving each one an individual flare. Hair colour and style, voice pitch and tone, facial features, eye colour, primary and secondary sexual characteristics, even fingerprints.
Sapphire was one of the newer generations, light years more advanced than the autocrew he served with back in his trainee years. She had finished dressing, save only for the beret in her hand. “Would you brush my hair, General?”
Nodding, he pulled out a chair from the desk and motioned her to sit. Searching through one of the bags he pulled out a flat comb and started to run it through the length of platinum blue. “I used to do this for my daughters, you know? Now they have their own lives, their own families.”
“I wonder if I will have a family one day?” Sapphire spoke quietly. “I do not know what the future holds for me beyond my new job and home, but I feel you have given me a good start in my new life, General.” She saw him smile in on the screen acting as a mirror as he placed the beret on her head. She stood as he stepped back and turned to face him. “How do I look?”
“Like a beautiful young officer, Ensign.” The compliment brought on the biggest smile he had seen on the young woman who had come to dominate his life for the past few weeks.
“My belongings will be transferred to the IJV Tybalt during the ceremony, correct?”
The General nodded. “Ready to take you to Tamoko City on Tyden.”
“There is one thing I do not wish to take with me. More to the point, there is one thing I wish for you to have.” Crossing the room, she lifted up the picture she had painted in the Academy and brought it to him. “To remember me by.”
Carefully taking the abstract sky under a golden sun from her, he used his free arm to pull the gynoid in for a hug. Surprised, she soon settled against him. “I won’t need anything to remember you, Sapphire. But thank you. And do not think you’ll have seen the last of me. Dr Gan made me promise I’d visit you.”
She looked up at him with her bright blue eyes, but whatever she was going to say was cut off by the Belas’ computer.
“We are now docking at System Military Installation ‘The Star of Catherine.'”
“I’ll put this in my quarters,” he lifted the picture up as he released her from the hug, “then we’ll disembark. Watch carefully during the funeral and follow my lead.”
Straightening her coat out, Sapphire nodded. “Yes, General.”
The Star of Catherine’s function hall was laid out in three sections. The first had tables and chairs with longer tables laden with food. The second section had row after row of seating facing towards the third section and the massive window overlooking the stars. The third section was on a raised plinth, a smooth and rounded casket placed in the middle with a small amount of seating either side of it. Just behind it was the official records photograph of Lieutenant Joan Adnams, almost looking out over the room as people filed in.
They made their way to the casket. She had seen the others do this. They approach and take off their hats, a brief bow of their head before making their way to the seating reserved for them, indicated by an ident tag visible in augmented reality. She was surprised to find out they were sat up at the front, on the right side of the casket. The five seats there were for General Thomas Watton, Captain Sandra Myint, Commander Horace Lee, herself, and the Star of Catherine’s Station Commander who was officiating.
The five seats on the left hand side were reserved for Joan’s family. Her mother, her father, two sisters and a brother. She rapidly assigned names to the faces of those who were greeting the guests as they arrived.
“General, Ensign.” Commander Lee spoke as he sat down. “I hear congratulations are in order for you, Ensign.”
“Thank you, Commander.” Sapphire gazed at the casket. “In truth I do not feel much like celebrating that at the moment, though.”
“Understandable.” Captain Myint nodded, taking her seat between the General and the Commander. “But you’ve my congratulations as well. I hear you’re heading to Tyden to work at ISC, maintaining cyborgs and automatons?”
Sapphire nodded. Iron Shell Conditioning was a galactic chain of stores who fitted and serviced cybernetics, popular with military and ex-military personnel. The Tamoko City branch had jumped at the chance for an awakened AI to work for them, and it saw lots of trade from the shipyards that proved a popular employer of veterans.
“If I’m ever in the region I’ll drop by and ask for you.” The Captain said, touching a finger to her lips as the Station Commander stepped up to the plinth and motioned for silence, the family soon joining them on the left side.
“Thank you all for joining us today on the Star of Catherine. I am Station Commander Myra Tanner, and it is my duty to lead us in sending this soldier to the stars.” The woman spoke, her long black hair cascading down her back. She was slender, with angular features and one eye completely dark, a long scar traveling from brow, across the eye and down to her chin.
“As is tradition to my left sit the family of Lieutenant Joan Adnams, who died in battle protecting the ICV Wight and the colonists it was carrying. To my right sit those in the military who served alongside her and came to her aid. Though they are not of blood to the Adnams the bond of service ties them to her, as it binds us all.” Tanner motioned them all to rise from their seats. “Please stand and come together to sing the Star-bound Soldier.”
As she rose up, Sapphire’s view of the service wavered as tears started to brim in her eyes.
After speeches from the family and the Commanders, and yet more songs, Sapphire found herself near the window looking out into space. The plinth was empty now, the casket having been lowered away ready to be shot into the system’s sun. The portrait had been set on a table, the back of it showing for people to write messages on. Sapphire had stood near it for a while, but could think of nothing to write. A tap on her shoulder brought her attention to Mrs Adnams, the older blonde looking glad to move away from the throng of activity.
“Commander Lee said you were with Joan when she…” Mrs Adnams trailed off, unable to say the word.
“I was. I am sorry that I was not able to… do for her as she did for me.” Sapphire looked down. “I owe her my life.”
“Did she say anything before she went?” Mrs Adnams asked. “Anything at all? She always had to have the last word when she was a teenager.”
The memory hit her like a wave. Joan had been trying to say something. Her breathing was coming in short, sharp bursts, often flinching with each one. Her face was pale, skin clammy, she was saying something? Her lips were moving but no sound was coming ou- no. No sound was coming in from her ears.
[Running prediction software. Analyzing lip movement patterns.]
[“Finish the mission! You’re not permitted to die, you lucky bitch!”]
“Ensign? Ensign?” Mrs Adnams was saying, looking concerned.
Sapphire blinked several times before smiling. “I am all right, Mrs Adnams. I was just… Her last words?” Something in the back of her mind told her that paraphrasing might be for the best in this situation.
The gynoid considered carefully before she spoke.