A Death in the Family

“Vaneik’s father was the master. Long live Vaneik. Now he’s gone, his son’s none the better. Long live Vaneik. Oh, when your father is the captain, won’t you be the captain too? That’s what we all deserve when we’re our father’s precious brood.”

-from “Descendants”, popular spacer drinking song

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It was a long month. The late fall swept itself away into an early winter, and everyone gradually settled in to their new/old roles around Stonecourt. Yan followed Sandreas along like a loyal dog, attending to his every meeting and observing the political goings on in the galaxy beside him. Kino and Sid spent much of their time together, which chafed them both for different reasons. Kino, in her usual solitary nature, was annoyed by Sid's constant presence as mandated by Sandreas. Sid hated feeling dependent on Kino as he remained powerless.

The time dragged on, and their tempers wore thin. Yan was luckily spared the brunt of it, as she was so busy with Sandreas's business that she barely had time to herself, let alone to dedicate to working on Kino and Sid's relationship. She came to realize just how much work Sandreas had been shielding them from in the early days of their apprenticeship. Of course, now that she understood better exactly what being Voice entailed, she was looking forward even less to that ultimate responsibility.

They all formed an odd little family. Yan hated to admit it, but she was beginning to think of her apartment as home, and she enjoyed the familiarity that being in Stonecourt brought. She was used to Sandreas, Halen, Sid, and Kino in the same way that she was used to her friends at the Academy, in the same way she was used to her uncle and aunts and cousins on the Iron Dreams. As the end of their mandated punishment period drew to a close with the launch of the Anthus colony on the horizon, Yan was feeling apprehensive about what that would mean for a changing of the status quo.

Yan was sitting with Sandreas in a meeting with representatives from Raithe and Cogita, who were both interested in creating a profit sharing system of stations and mining operations in an area that was equidistant to their two planets. It was a fine idea, but all new stations, especially mining stations, needed imperial approval to construct, so they were here petitioning Sandreas. Yan was paying attention, taking notes and contributing to the discussion whenever prompted, but this was a very low stakes discussion. If Raithe and Cogita could come up with the budget for these stations, then there would be no issue passing the proposal through the Imperial Council, especially if Sandreas put in a good word for them, which he would.

The meeting room was warm, and the light passing in through the windows was the last golden dregs of fall shining upon them. It would probably be one of the last days where it was still almost warm enough to go out in just her cassock. Yan, although she liked her winterwear very much, felt like she wasn't justified in wearing it unless there was snow on the ground. It hadn't snowed yet, despite the bitter cold that came when the sun went down. Yan was half listening and half looking out the window when an aide came into the room, interrupting their meeting, and whispered something to Sandreas. Yan saw his face pale, his knuckles whiten as he suddenly clenched the pen he was holding. Other than that he made no outward sign; his face didn't change, his voice was as steady as ever as he thanked the aide who left the room as swiftly as he had come.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Falkes, Ms. Zev, something has come up. We will have to pick this issue up another time," Sandreas said. "I look forward to seeing your proposal to the Council. If you need anything from my office, please do not hesitate to get in contact with my secretary."

The two petitioners looked crestfallen. Sandreas stood, and they all shook hands. Falkes and Zev thanked Sandreas for his time, and Sandreas headed out of the room. Yan, who was just as confused as the two petitioners were, followed him out.

Wordlessly, they walked at a swift pace down the halls of Stonecourt toward Aymon's office. Halen was waiting for them there, along with Wiley Blune, the seniormost Trade Guild liason to Stonecourt. Blune was a tall woman, about the same height as Yan, with curly black hair and dark skin. She stood stiffly, and had a somber expression. Clearly she was the bearer of some sort of news. Sandreas greeted Blune, and let them all into his office.

"Have Kino and Sid been sent for?" Sandreas asked Halen.

"Give them another minute," Halen said.

The whole group waited in tense silence for Kino and Sid to arrive, and they did, quickly and out of breath. Apparently they had been sprinting through the hallways to arrive. Yan was growing more nervous by the second. Why as Blune here? Why had Kino and Sid been summoned away from whatever they were working on? Sandreas gestured for everyone to take a seat on the couches in front of his desk. Halen stood in the back of the room, but everyone else arranged themselves around the coffee table. The sun had set outside; it wasn't late, but the days were shorter now. Out of deference, they all waited for Sandreas to say something.

"Ms. Blune, I was told that you had some bad news for us," Sandreas said finally.

"Reading our mail again, First Sandreas?" Blune asked. Sandreas smiled faintly. It was well known that all ansible communications were strictly monitored. "Well, that's no matter. I'll spare you the prelude. Guildmaster Vaneik has died."

Yan couldn't help but gasp aloud. Vaneik was hardly any older than Sandreas, and he had seemed in the peak of health when they met him just a few months ago. Was his ship attacked? No one reacted to Yan's gasp; Sid was wearing his own horrified expression and Kino was intently listening.

"I'm sorry to hear of the Trade Guild's loss," Sandreas said diplomatically. "Do you have any details about the circumstances? I was unaware that the Guildmaster was in ill health."

"I do not have any details, aside from knowing that it was not an attack on his family's ship," Blune said. "I assume that his family will decide if they are going to disclose that information. He was in fine health, as far as I was aware. It may have been a sudden short illness."

"Could he have been overworked?" Sandreas asked, raising an eyebrow. "A heart attack?"

"I don't have the details, First Sandreas. You would be as able to judge such a thing as I am," Blune said.

"Of course, of course. I am simply compelled to speculate due to the lack of information," Sandreas said. Yan was certain that Sandreas would find out exactly why Guildmaster Vaneik was dead soon enough. He probably had agents all over the Empire who would be in position to discover such information, it was just a matter of when that information would be relayed.

"The funeral arrangements have already been made," Blune said. "In accordance with Guild tradition, it will be held on his family's ship, but there will be plenty of time before the service to allow all the mourners to gather."

"I will be there," Sandreas said. "Who is leading the Guild in the interim?"

"Until the council can vote, his two apprentices will be leading it together. Of course, they will have no real authority during this period- no one is making any decisions during this time of turmoil." Blune may have said this in an attempt to quash Sandreas's hopes for one of the Empire's favored successors to take up the reigns of the Trade Guild, but Sandreas had no reaction to it.

"That is completely understandable. When will the council be coming together?" Sandreas asked.

"Since they will all be in place for the funeral, they will be electing a new leader then. The specific meeting time has not been announced, but we are certain it will be on Canerra station within a day or so of the funeral. The Guild cannot remain leaderless for long."

"Certainly not. I'm sorry for asking, but do you know whose names are in the running?"

"That sort of speculation is best left untouched. You know, of course, that his two apprentices, Nomar Thale and Yuuni Olms, will be putting in their names. His son Wil might put his name in as well, if his mother urges him to. As for which captains will throw in, I couldn't possibly say."

"Marne Vaneik wouldn't be willing to bid?" Sandreas asked, curious as to what Blune would say.

"I'm sure that she is consumed by grief at this moment," Blune said. "And between us, I never considered her a woman in search of power."

"That's too bad," Sandreas said. "Vaneik always described her as having a sensible head on her shoulders."

Yan found that somewhat hard to believe, considering how badly he had gotten along with Vaneik himself, and how much he apparently hated his son.

"Well, First Sandreas, it's for the council to decide," Blune said. Sid raised his eyebrows.

"Of course. But that doesn't stop me from having an opinion," Sandreas said with a smile. "May I ask a favor of you, Ms. Blune?"

"Is this a favor from me, or a favor from the Trade Guild?" Blune asked. "Either way, I'm sure we are willing to provide."

"Ah, neither in particular," Sandreas said. "But I am finding myself as a man without a ship and places to be. The First Star has been undergoing maintenance recently, so I will have no transportation to attend Guildmaster Vaneik's funeral. Is there any ship that would be willing to host a poor traveler such as myself? Quietly, of course?"

Blune laughed. "Of course, First Sandreas. I'll flag down a ship for you. But don't be making a habit of expecting free rides."

"I would never dream of doing such a thing," Sandreas said. "Thank you, though. It would be unconscionable for me to miss paying my respects simply due to lack of transportation."

"I completely agree. You and Guildmaster Vaneik worked together for a long time."

"Saying we worked together is an interesting way of putting it. We've been butting heads for the past twenty years. I find it hard to believe he's really gone."

"Such is the way of the universe," Blune said with a sigh.

"Knowing that makes it no easier to lose a loved one. If you are in contact with Marne or Wil Vaneik, please do give them my immediate condolences."

"I will be sure to," Blune said. "Thank you for your time, First Sandreas."

"Thank you for delivering us this bad news, Ms. Blune. And for finding me a ship to sail away on, of course." This was the end of their little audience; the main points had all been hashed out. They stood, Blune shook hands with all of them, and then left the office.

Everyone sat back down on the couches after she was gone.

"Well, that complicates things, doesn't it?" Halen asked, coming over from the back of the room to sit next to Sandreas.

"Yes, unfortunately," Sandreas said. "And I was really hoping that I'd be able to see the Anthus colony off to a good start without any drama."

"Wait, so what's going to happen?" Yan asked. "Are we still going to Anthus?"

"That's what we need to figure out." Sandreas rubbed the back of his neck. "The Anthus colony can't be delayed, that date is set in stone, and it would be a major snub for there to be minimal Imperial presence there. The funeral takes precedence, of course, so I'll need to be there, but there isn't time for me to do both- the travel times make it impossible."

"But all the captains will be going to Vaneik's funeral, will the Anthus ships even still run their route?" Yan asked. "I don't remember when the last Guildmaster died, but I know that it's a massive event."

"The captains will come, but the whole Empire can't come grinding to a halt to send off one man. Any ship that can't abandon its route will be left in the hands of its seconds. I'm sure the Anthus colony ships will be like that," Halen said.

"So you're going to the funeral for sure?" Sid asked.

"Yes." Sandreas thought for a second. "And I'll have to divvy up the rest of you to attend to everything else while I'm gone."

This made Yan so nervous her vision swam, and the sound in the room turned into a whine. She tried to breathe evenly, and the sensation passed after a second. Yan looked up; Halen was staring at her, alarmed. She shook her head minutely. Halen raised his eyebrows but didn't say anything.

"Yan," Sandreas started, and Yan jerked her head toward him. Her expression must have betrayed something, because he looked concerned for a brief moment, then continued. "Consider your punishment over. You're in the best position to go out on your own, so I'm going to send you to Anthus in my place."

No, no- she couldn't do that. Alone? Without even Sid? It had gone so badly last time she went out, and now this? She didn't, she couldn't… The words Yan wanted to say, any protest she had, they stuck in her throat. Her face was burning, and she felt like she was drowning, unable to breathe.

"Are you okay, Yan?" Sandreas asked.

She took another few deep breaths, unclenched her fists, made a conscious effort to relax her body. Next to her on the couch, Sid was looking at her with some concern.

"Can- can someone come with me?" Yan finally asked. She couldn't make this worse by asking not to go. That would be too cowardly to even admit, and there was no chance of Sandreas changing his mind on that, but she had a chance, a small chance, of getting either Sid or Kino to come with her. Either would be fine. Yan couldn't do it alone.

"No, unfortunately," Sandreas said. "This will be a good learning experience for you. Just try to think of it that way."

"Why can't I go with her?" Sid asked. "We work well together."

"For one thing, I need people to stay on Emerri to deal with any crises that may arise in my absence," Sandreas said.

"We all left at the same time before," Sid protested. "Why's this different?"

"On our last trips, there was no unexpected event, such as the lack of leadership within the Trade Guild. There's a difference between a planned trip an an unexpected outing to deal with a crisis," Sandreas said. "And besides, you are not going anywhere until the Emperor decides you are done with your punishment."

Yan had almost forgotten that Sid still couldn't use the power. He tried to hide it, as though the lack of it embarrassed him, by simply not mentioning the power at all, and ducking out whenever anyone was about to meditate. Yan felt bad for him, but it was only one in a million people who had the power anyway, so he wasn't suffering any more than them.

"The Emperor didn't say anything about me staying on planet," Sid argued.

"No, but I am. It's simply too dangerous for you to leave when you can't protect yourself." That was a fair point. At least on Emerri, Sid was surrounded at all times by highly trained guards. Yan didn't think that Sid was a particularly worthy target for assassination, but then again, they had been attacked by pirates, so the point probably stood.

"What about me?" Kino asked.

Sandreas sighed. Yan could see exactly what the dilemma crossing his mind was. Could he trust Sid and Kino together unsupervised, or would he have to separate them for the sake of the Empire?

"Fine. Kino, you'll go with Yan to Anthus." Yan's spirit soared.

"I don't think that I can do that," Kino said.

"Why not?" Sandreas asked, surprised.

Kino pointed at herself. "I think it would be a bad image to have someone from Falmar go to a new colony opening."

"Would that really be such a big deal?" Sid asked. Sandreas thought about it for a long few seconds. Yan desperately hoped that he would say that Kino could still come with her.

"Kino isn't wrong," Sandreas admitted. "It would be bad publicity, especially since I'm already bowing out of the trip unexpectedly."

"But-" Yan tried to protest, and Sandreas held up his hand to stop her.

"You'll have a great time on the trip by yourself, Yan. You'll get to stretch your wings, and it's a purely ceremonial thing. Kino, you can come with me to Vaneik's funeral."

"I'd rather stay with Sid," Kino said.

"I don't love that idea. You've been spending enough time together recently, it will be good for you to have a break." A rare look of disappointment flashed across Kino's face, but she squashed it and returned to her normal neutral expression.

"So I'll be left all on my lonesome," Sid said with a smile.

"No, you will be babysat here at home," Sandreas said. "Don't get any funny ideas while I'm gone. I have to be able to trust you to run things while I'm away."

"I won't even have Yan around to boss me around and keep me on the right track," Sid said. "How sad."

"Get used to it," Sandreas said. "This will be a good test to see if you two can handle independent work. I'm hopeful that you will both pass with flying colors."

"Yeah, just like our last trip," Sid muttered.

"I must say, the actual work part of your last trip was fine. Better than fine, even, considering the circumstances under which it was performed. The rest of it…" Sandreas paused and Sid smirked. "It could have been better, is all I'll say about that.

"It really is a shame the First Star is in for maintenance," Sandreas continued. "An occasion like this is just where having your own ship comes in handy. I hate hitching rides with the Guild."

Yan, whose relationship to the Guild remained rocky, nodded in agreement. Even if the First Star had been available, it wasn't as though she would be able to avoid hitching her own ride to Anthus; Sandreas would have taken the First Star himself to go to Vaneik's funeral. It was a shame that stardrives were in such short supply; it would be nice to have a sky as full of ships as it was of stars. There seemed to be a perpetual shortage of transportation, and so all their journeys ended up being circuitous and longer than necessary. Having a personal ship that could go in a straight line from one planet to the next, without having to arrange deliveries and layovers, it sounded like an unimaginable luxury.

Yan still would have vastly preferred for Kino to accompany her, but it seemed as though that was not to be. It seemed like not being able to attend the consecrations of new colonies would be a major problem going forward for Kino. It was a big event, and if she was the one of the three of them who eventually became Voice, well, she would have to attend these sort of things, Falmar bad luck or no. Sandreas was too obsessed with image, but he hadn't even been thinking about it before Kino brought it up. Was that just on her mind all the time, or was she purposely trying to stay on Emerri with Sid? Maybe Kino was just as averse to travelling as Yan was at this point- had her cave misadventure affected her that badly? Yan didn't know. It wasn't as though Kino was exactly loose lipped with what she was feeling at any given time. As for what Yan was feeling, it was complete nervousness. Her thoughts spiraled out of control.

"So when are you leaving?" Sid asked.

"It will all depend on what kind of transportation Blune can arrange for me. The funeral probably won't be for at least another week or so, just to give everyone a chance to get the news and respond to the summons," Sandreas said.

"That's gross," Sid said, wrinkling his nose.

"I'm sure they'll be keeping the body on ice," Sandreas said pragmatically.

"Imagine keeping that in the big walk in freezer," Sid said.

"Don't be crass," Sandreas warned. "You need to practice having polite conversations."

"Will I get my power back then?" Sid asked, leaning forward on his hands.

"That's not up to me. If you want you can go beg the Emperor while I'm gone," Sandreas said, giving Sid a look.

"Ha, no, thanks."

Yan hadn't been able to find out exactly what the Emperor was like from Sid; he had been completely unwilling to discuss the experience. She knew it must have been bad, though, because Sandreas always had a weird expression whenever the subject was brought up. At least the Emperor, however powerful, stayed out of day to day business and communicated with Sandreas primarily through text.

"Sid, just to be clear, I am leaving you in charge of all of my business. The Empire will be in your hands, at least while I am in transit. I expect you to be able to handle it gracefully," Sandreas said sternly.

Sid seemed to be somewhat chagrined, because he responded seriously, for once. "I'll do my best."

"Good." Sandreas put his hands on his knees and stood. As usual, everyone else stood as well, following his cues. "Kino, you should get ready to leave as soon as possible. When Blune gets a captain to take us, we need to be ready to go. Yan, the Anthus trip is still happening at its scheduled time, so get your affairs in order over the next three days. Sid, you're with me. I'm going to go over the schedule for the next few weeks with you so that you're prepared."

Sid frowned, looking jealously at Yan and Kino who were walking towards the exit. Yan gave him as much of a rueful smile as she could muster. She was still feeling horrible about leaving, but she could at least commiserate with Sid over him taking over Sandreas's schedule. After all, Yan had been following him around for the past month- she had a much better sense of just how much work that entailed.

She knocked the underside of her chin with her knuckles as she passed Sid. Chin up. He rolled his eyes at her.

A note from javert

RIP Ungarti Vaneik, you will be dearly missed as the last bastion of sanity in the Guild. At its heart, the Guild is a squabbling, barely held together mess. We haven't seen a lot of that yet, but Guild politics become a biiiiit more of a thing in act 2, for obvious reasons.

It feels like the whole cast just got back together and now they're going to be scattered to the four winds again. Guess that's how stories go, though.

Please consider leaving a review or rating if you haven't already, it really helps.

Hope everyone had a good week. I'll see you on Monday!

update 9/17/19 - added chapter title

About the author


Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].

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