Breakfast of Champions
“The miners there were hard worn folk: steady, strong, and spry. They rubbed their nose in the rock and coal and pulled what they could find. Beneath the glare of two hot stars they mined the asteroids, but one fine day they rose to find Fleet ships there in the skies…”
-from “Malstaire”, spacer song
The next morning, Yan and Sylva ate breakfast in the communal dining hall of the ship. The room was spacious, filled with several long tables capable of comfortably seating the entire ship's crew. It was mostly empty, as usual, since everyone ate at their own time, but it was a useful space for whenever the entire crew needed to be addressed. The crew of the Iron Dreams was only about two hundred people. With a few people coming on and off, plus hired hands and passengers hitching a ride to various places, the meeting spaces on the ship didn’t need to be massive.
Because the crew were all on varying schedules, depending on the shift they worked, the dining hall had a very relaxed policy towards what was considered appropriate food to serve at various times of day. When Yan and Sylva arrived, there was a choice between a dish with fish and rice, or egg salad sandwiches and chips. Sylva chose the sandwiches and chips, Yan chose the fish.
"That's space life for you, I guess," Sylva said as they took and poured drinks out of the large industrial fridge.
"You could have always had cereal or toast- there's dry goods and stuff like that over there." Yan pointed to an area in the back of the room where there were some neglected looking cereal dispensers and toasters, near where the condiments were kept.
"Eh. This is fine," Sylva said.
As they were headed to sit down, Yan saw her uncle Maxes enter the dining hall. He waved at them in greeting. Yan, balancing her tray in one hand, waved back. She didn’t really want to talk to him, but he was her uncle, so it was her obligation. She was still feeling strange about the fact that Maxes had apparently convinced her mother to even have her in the first place.
The two girls found seats, and eventually Maxes came over to join them, having also chosen to take a sandwich.
"Good to see you up and about," Maxes said as he sat down across from Yan and Sylva. Yan did her best to put on a real smile for him. "Wasn't sure if you'd make it out of bed before second shift, considering the long day you both had yesterday."
"Well, I did set an alarm," Yan said petulantly.
"How's ship life treating you, Sylva? I've heard you're going to be our replacement cantor for a while?" Yan rolled her eyes as Maxes said this, apparently the gossip spread as fast as ever on the Dreams.
"It's different," Sylva said, mouth full of sandwich. "I'll get used to it eventually, I think. And you'll get used to my bee-you-tee-ful voice."
"I'm sure you'll be a welcome addition. Ever since our normal cantor went on leave, we haven't had anyone to do services," Maxes said.
"How well attended are the services, when you did have someone?" Sylva asked, curious.
"Pretty small, but we have a small crew here, and everybody works different shifts. How many will you do a week?"
"Just three on sevensday, and I'll have to do them in Old Imperial, obviously,” Sylva said.
“I’m sure the whole crew will really appreciate that,” Yan said.
“Well it’s not like I’m going to learn a whole new language in a month,” Sylva said grumpily.
Yan nudged her with her shoulder. “I’m just joking, it’ll be fine.”
"Getting back to your original question, you'll probably have a crowd of maybe forty at each, at least the first week. People love to meet any new faces around here, so that curiosity will be a major draw."
"Always happy to be gawped at. I’m content to be a caged animal in a zoo," Sylva said. "How about the high holiday? I assume I'll do that service, too.”
"Very good. Most people at least come for the high holidays. Actually, since there's only one service for that, it's held in here instead of the chapel, so more people can fit," Maxes said. “I know the dining hall is a little dingy for a worship service, but…”
"I love midyear," Yan said, interrupting Maxes before Sylva could accidentally say something insulting. "Definitely the best holiday."
"Well I look forward to becoming a spectacle this sevensday," Sylva said.
"You already are a spectacle," Yan said. Yan had been happy to keep the focus of the conversation on Sylva and her cantoring, because it avoided talking about her own life with her uncle. "The fish is good, you both are missing out." Underneath the table, Yan was jiggling her legs, an uncharacteristic nervous tic. She wished her uncle was not here having breakfast with them.
Had he waited until they had come to eat to show up himself? That wouldn’t surprise Yan, but it also seemed like a paranoid thought.
"We've had a glut of fish recently, I'm personally getting a little tired of it," Maxes said. "There was something that went wrong with a couple of the biovats, and a few of the fish were the only ones that survived. The other ones have only gotten fixed recently. It's been a pain."
Yan nodded. "Well, I guess I was spared that fun food adventure."
"You're lucky," Maxes said. His face became more serious and he looked directly at Yan. "So. Yan. Pellon said that you had something to tell me about your apprenticeship?"
Yan tensed up, more than she already was. "What is it you want to know?"
"Well, what you're going to be doing would be a good start," Maxes said. "Pellon didn't specify what you had to tell me, only that you had some information to divulge."
"Oh, I see, he's giving me the privilege of spilling the beans myself. I see,” Yan said, awkwardly repeating herself from nervousness.
"Did you not get the xenobio position you were hoping for?" Maxes asked. "I'm very proud of you just for graduating, even if you didn't get your first choice team."
"No, xenobio offered me a spot, but I turned them down," Yan said. She took a quick glance around the room, seeing who would be likely to overhear their conversation. "Ugh. I guess this is going to become public information sooner rather than later. First Sandreas decided to take apprentices this year, and I was offered a place on his team."
Maxes was stunned into silence.
"Yeah, I probably should have told you sooner but, uh, it's pretty crazy." Yan laughed nervously.
"Wow. That's amazing, Yan. You're turning out to be a real asset to the family!" Ordinarily, Yan would have taken these words as normal strange exuberance from her uncle, but given the information she had learned the night before from Pellon, Maxes’s words took on a somewhat ominous feeling.
"Like, I don't know what I'm going to be doing, and I'm certainly not going to be indulging in any nepotism or granting personal favors to family," Yan started to caution.
Maxes just laughed. "I'm sure you'll find out what you're willing and able to do once you've started the job. But this will definitely lend us some increased bargaining power in the Guild."
"You're going to use my name and connection to First Sandreas to strongarm the Guild into better trade deals? You really are shameless," Yan said, frowning.
"Oh, I'm not going to do anything!" Maxes said happily. "They'll do it themselves. These Guild types, they fall over themselves trying to get in the good graces of the Empire, so if they see the name BarCarran starting to be associated with the most powerful man in the Empire..."
"Disgusting," Yan said shortly. "You're lucky I love you all enough to not change my name."
"It's the way of the world, Yan." Maxes said. "People are greedy and corrupt, and I'm sure you'll find that out pretty intimately the more you work with them."
"Until proven otherwise I am going to try to hope for the best in people," Yan said. "And that does include hoping you don't use my name for nefarious ends."
"You know what he's going to start doing?" Sylva asked, jokingly.
"What?" Yan took the bait.
"He's going to start holding your little cousins hostage so that you do what he wants," Sylva said, then continued in a growly imitation of Maxes' voice, "Let the Empire negotiate a better deal with the Guild, or your baby cousin gets it."
"That's a good idea, now that you mention it," Maxes said with a smile. "I'll just have to keep that tactic in mind if I really need you to do me a political favor."
"You're both the absolute worst," Yan muttered unhappily, pushing the remains of her fish and rice around on her plate. "Besides, I don't even know what I'm going to be doing on this job. For all I know I could have been brought on to polish his boots or be a simple message runner."
"I'm sure whatever you do, it's going to be big and great," Maxes said. "Definitely you're my best niece."
"Aren't I your only niece?"
"No," Maxes said with a smile. "Aren't you tired of using that joke every time I say something nice to you?"
"It never gets old," Yan said. "And you set yourself up for it so nicely."
The three of them finished up their meals while chatting about other, less serious subjects. Yan mostly focused on her excitement for her upcoming stint as a bridge crew member and her relief to get out of cargo bay reorganization. It was almost a normal conversation, but everything that Pellon had told her was weighing heavily on Yan's mind. She couldn't help but feel that despite Maxes' joking tone, he was being deadly serious that he would use her name to get some sort of financial advantage in the Trade Guild.
Yan thought about this all the way up until the start of her first bridge shift, which, while completely uneventful, was exciting enough as a concept to distract her from pretty much anything.