In the Shadow of Heaven



Chapter Thirty-Three - The Good Captain


The Good Captain

“If you miss the ship I’m on, you will know that I am gone, you’ll see it in the sky, so far away. We’ll jump away, jump away, jump away, jump away. You can see us in the sky as we jump away.”

-From “Jump Away”, traditional spacer song

Yan banner

Yan and Sid’s afternoon included a whistlestop tour of several major locations in the city which was entertaining, if not particularly enlightening. The tour included the farms surrounding the city and ended at the largest public market. The farms did give Yan and Sid an idea of why food production was so low; because of the weather, terraced greenhouses were built into the sides of the mountains. Though the whole process was automated, it was constrained by the fact that it was indoors rather than outside. Apparently the situation wasn't much better on any other part of the planet. The settlements closer to the equator had to contend with storms and flooding year round, and those farther north or south dealt with harsh cold for much of the year. By the end of the tour, Yan thought it was a wonder that the terraforming of Olar was widely regarded as a "success". Sure, people could walk around outside, but at what cost?

On the tour, protected by their own Fleet guards and an OPM escort, no civilians dared to approach the group, which made it both easy and lonely to walk around. Since the last stop on their journey was the open market, Yan and Sid decided to stay a while and have a late lunch. They had a little time to kill before they were going to have dinner with the Trade Guild representatives, a group that presumably included Yan's uncle Maxes.

The market was massive, with both an indoor and outdoor section. The indoor section mainly sold finished goods, such as clothes or electronics, while the outdoor area sold mainly food, of both the prepared and produce variety. The indoor stalls were permanent but the outdoor shops were made up of tents that could be moved at a moment’s notice. The outdoor stalls were set up with heavy plastic sheeting, tied down with thick ropes to posts embedded in the ground. Whenever a particularly nasty gust of wind came through, the whole place shook and the plastic doors flapped around with a loud rattle. Though Olar natives darted back and forth with ease, knowing where all their favorite stalls were, the place was overwhelming to Yan.

Sid decided where they would get a snack from, and they sat down at a sheltered outdoor table. The food here was a traditional food that was a favorite among Olar children. They watched the vendor of the stall make it, curious. First, a dough was prepared and stretched out into a skinny rectangle. Dried fruit, nuts, spices, or chocolate pieces were laid along the length of the dough, depending on the preference of the consumer, then the rectangle was rolled into a long tube. That tube of dough was then fried with the assistance of a mesh basket that held the dough in a cone shape as it was dropped little by little into the fryer. Once it was cooked, it was then used as a holder for a filling. Adults tended to order the less sweet versions, with meat, cheese, or vegetables tucked inside the fried-dough cone. Children almost universally preferred to fill it with candied fruits or, if they were feeling particularly messy, ice cream. Once ordered, it had to be eaten quickly, as it tasted best warm.

The food was pretty good. They also had a hot beverage, made of milk and a mix of spices, predominantly cinnamon. It was actually better that they were eating it in one of those strange outdoor shelters. Yan felt as though the experience would have been significantly diminished by being cozy and warm while consuming it. As it was, drinking the spicy and hot beverage burned her mouth and throat, while holding the hot food warmed her hands. It was more of an experience than a food, Yan thought. Even if she ordered something like this in some other setting, it would never be the same as it was here.

Yan couldn't stop thinking about things, but at least the ugly feeling in her stomach was mostly unrelated to the events aboard the Sky Boat, and more anxiety about their current project. She wasn't optimistic about the upcoming dinner with the Trade Guild. While the meeting with Governor Marquis had gone alright, it still seemed as though he was treating them like children.

Maybe they were still children just playing at being politicians. They didn't have any real say.

All they needed to do was provide an excuse for a meeting between Olar and the Trade. Without the intermediary of the Imperial government, it seemed as though neither of the involved parties would be willing to step down. But as soon as Sandreas's office had issued a summons, saying that he was sending representatives to negotiate a peace, then Olar and the Guild had been willing to come to the negotiating table. That was the kind of power that Sandreas wielded by name, and that Yan and Sid were tasked with following through on.

Yan didn't want to face her uncle, but that was a different miserable thought. There were so many things that she was worried about failing at, and being an acceptable spacer was one of them. Word from the Sky Boat had almost certainly reached the Dreams by now. And if Captain Pellon saw it, he would forward it to her uncle Maxes. It was shameful for her to have run away in the first place. Yan wouldn't be surprised if they disowned her. They didn't have any responsibility to keep a wayward family member. Certainly they had no responsibility to claim her as a family member when she had brought shame upon them with her actions. She was an orphan, and she didn’t even live on the ship. She-

She was slowly tearing apart the wrapper that had held the fried dough, staring into space. Sid leaned over the table and snapped his fingers right in front of her. Yan was jerked out of her thoughts and back into the present moment.

"You okay?" Sid signed.

Yan shook her head. "Worried about tonight."

"I'm sure we'll handle them just like we handled Governor Marquis." Sid smiled.

"You almost drove me crazy in that meeting," Yan signed. "You know you don't need to antagonize everyone you meet."

"I can't help it. It's as natural to me as breathing."

Yan rolled her eyes. "Please don't make a fool of yourself at the Guild dinner."

"I promise to be on my best behavior," Sid signed. "I just couldn't let Marquis keep any misconceptions about who I am. Besides, you asked some pointed questions."

"There's a difference between a pointed question and a..." Yan didn't quite know how to express it. Sid grinned. "Whatever it is that you like to do in conversation."

"If I'm mean to people, I catch them off guard, then I have power over them," Sid signed.

"Sure, that's how it works."

"The Guild dinner will be fine, we've handled Guild events before."

"You mean months ago with Vaneik? About this same issue?" Yan asked.

"Yeah, that went great," Sid signed. Yan had to laugh at his expression.

"I think this is a little bit different."

"Well, I trust us to do a good job anyway. And if you don't think you can, you can just let me take care of all the talking."

"That is the best idea I've heard all day. Sadly, I will have to decline that generous offer."

Sid gathered their garbage and tossed it into a nearby trash can. Yan flagged Iri over. She got up from her seat next to Hernan and came to talk to Yan and Sid

"Ready to go?" Iri asked.

"Yeah, I think so. How much longer do we have before we meet with the Guild?" Yan asked.

"Enough time for you to digest that whole mess. Did you want to go back to the hotel or do something else?"

"I'm pretty done with being a tourist, if I'm completely honest with you," Yan said.

"Understandable. That will at least give us some time to prep you on what to expect at this Guild meeting," Iri said. Yan suppressed a groan. She knew it was better to go into things prepared, and staying busy would stop her from ruminating, but it still did not sound thrilling to spend the rest of her afternoon hashing out strategies for polite dinner conversation.

Dinnertime rolled around. Over the rest of the afternoon, Yan had slowly been working herself into a more and more anxious state, barely able to concentrate on the advice she was being given by their Olar expert and the other members of her team. Sid noticed this, and did his best to deflect attention away from her, for which Yan was immensely grateful. Still, that didn't stop them from having to go through with the dinner.

Yan was jittery all through the car ride to the restaurant where they were meeting. The Trade Guild always had meeting places that seemed arbitrary and random, but that was because they didn't tend to own large properties on planets. They usually an office building, to coordinate what would be shipped on and off each planet, but that didn't lend itself to formal events, so rented out restaurants were the easiest solution.

The restaurant in question was built of stone into the side of the mountain, as was the typical Olar style. It was warm and dark inside, with the same hanging rugs that had adorned the walls of Marquis's residence. Yan and Sid had discussed with their team where they would remain during the meeting, and it was decided that it would be a show of good faith for Iri and Hernan, as well as the Fleet personnel who were accompanying them, to not join them in the meeting, but to remain outside. Yan and Sid both had ways of contacting them quickly, should there be an emergency, but there wasn't likely to be one.

The host led Yan and Sid down a set of stairs in the back of the restaurant. Since the place had very few windows to begin with, and it was dark outside, Yan supposed they wouldn't be missing the natural light anyway. They went down a short hallway and through a door into what seemed to be a space that usually held banquets, but it only had one large table set up. The Trade Guild representatives were already seated around the table, talking and laughing, but they quieted and stood when they saw Yan and Sid enter the room. It was a level of respect that Yan hadn't been expecting at all, so she didn't really know how to respond.

"Good evening, Apprentice Welslak, Apprentice BarCarran," Yuuni Olms said, walking over to shake hands with them. "Thank you for coming to meet with us."

"Apprentice Olms! Good to see you again!" Sid looked genuinely excited as he shook her hand. This whole experience was so similar that very first dinner that they had had with Sandreas and Vaneik, it was giving her a weird sensation that she had been here before. Yan put on a brave face and smiled and shook Olms's hand. Olms led them over to the table.

"And may I introduce you to Captain Aditya Chattarge of the Imei, First Officer Marc Stath of the Skyfish, and our Guild Council representatives: Em Staffort from the Fantastic, Xueyin Lee from the Lightning Brigade, and Maxes BarCarran from the Iron Dreams."

Every ship elected a representative to the Guild Council, and those members could request to be involved in various decision making processes that the Guild was undertaking. Though her uncle had not been on the Council before, possibly he asked Captain Pellon if he could take up the position. Maxes was always a go-getter, with connections both above and below the board. It made sense that he would want the position, especially if it gave him more of a chance to see Yan. Yan wondered if he was regretting it, right about now. She couldn't tell what he was thinking, the expression on his face was carefully neutral.

Yan and Sid shook hands and exchanged polite greetings with all the Guild members. Sid was by far the shortest person in the room, despite being of average height for a non spacer. It was almost comical. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, and none of the spacers seemed ready to yell at Yan and Sid for what they had done aboard the Sky Boat, so maybe the news hadn't reached the Guild proper yet? Everyone took a seat around the table, Yan and Sid next to each other, with Maxes on Yan's left and Olms on Sid's right.

A waiter came in and filled everyone's glasses with water, then handed out a short menu before leaving. Presumably to avoid having the waiter interrupt the dinner more than was absolutely necessary, it was a sheet where each person checked off the item that they would want. Everyone busied themselves with that before the conversation could begin in earnest.

Despite sitting next to her, Maxes had barely given Yan a second glance. What did that mean?

Yan distractedly picked the first thing she recognized on the menu and then looked around at the group. Yuuni Olms was the same as she had been when they had met ages ago, on Yan's first night on the job. She had the same friendly, broad face and spiky black hair, but she seemed slightly more confident when running the meeting herself than when Vaneik was around. Yan envied that about her, but maybe she would grow into her own position in the five years that Olms had.

Captain Chattarge was a brown skinned man with curly dark hair streaked with grey. He sat up completely straight, looking over Yan and Sid imperiously. She tried not to openly study him, but their eyes met and he gave her a curt nod.

First Officer Stath was a fat man with bright brown eyes and a crooked nose. He was the polar opposite of Chattarge in his attitude, as he leaned back in his chair and smiled broadly at everyone, inquiring what the people next to him were going to order for dinner.

The Council members seemed to know each other well. Staffort and Lee talked quietly about the birth of Lee's first child, a boy, and Lee took out her phone to show pictures of the child. Yan, glanced at the picture, which showed a placid and chubby baby with wisps of black hair and dimples. Staffort was as pale as Sid, with long, braided brown hair.

Maxes looked the same as he always had, except that he was wearing nice clothing rather than his Iron Dreams uniform. His hair was braided tightly, with beads at the end of each little braid. They clicked whenever he moved his head.

After everyone had chosen their meal selection and the waiter took their orders, the real talk could begin.

"So, Apprentices, how was your journey here?" Olms asked.

Yan took a sip of her water, wishing desperately that any other question had been asked.

"Yes, we heard that you had quite the adventure," Maxes said. "We're all eager to hear about it."

Though the words sounded perfectly pleasant, Yan felt as though she were on trial. She looked down at her plate, mentally pleading that Sid pick up the slack. He did, as he had promised.

"Our time on the Sun's Gold and the Fantastic were both completely uneventful," Sid said, pretending that he had no idea what they were talking about. That was not what Yan had wanted him to do. At least he wasn't trying to hold the conversation in sign. Perhaps he had forgotten that most spacers had some familiarity with the language. Or maybe he just didn't want to bring that awkwardness to bear on the conversation as well.

Olms laughed. "Well, it wasn't the captain of the Fantastic or the Sun's Gold that we've been hearing from nonstop. What did you do to poor Lida Migollen that got her so riled up?"

Sid scowled. "We didn't do anything to her."

"She didn't tell you what happened?" Yan asked.

"I served briefly aboard Captain Migollen's ship many years ago," Staffort said. "She has a nasty habit of letting her displeasure be known, but never telling anyone why."

"She's sent me no fewer than three letters detailing how you in particular cannot be trusted," Olms said. "Now, I thought that was a little overboard. I can't judge the facts of the situation until I've heard them myself."

"Did you-?" Yan turned to Maxes. "Did Captain Pellon tell you?"

"What? No, I haven't heard from Pellon since I left the ship to come here. All anybody here knows is that Captain Migollen has been sending angry messages to Guild leadership."

"I would love to have this mystery cleared up, so that we can get down to the real business of the evening," Chattarge said.

"You in a hurry to go nowhere?" Stath asked with a smile. Chattarge glared at him. "But I agree, let's hear what has gotten one of our illustrious captains so worked up."

"How much detail do you want?" Sid asked, looking resigned.

"Give us the thirty second summary, and then we'll see if we need clarification," Olms said. "Just to be clear, you're obviously not in trouble. Whatever problems Captain Migollen has with you are between you and her, but I've been dying of curiosity ever since she got in touch with me."

Sure, they weren't in trouble now, but what about after they had told their story? Yan glanced at Sid, wondering who was going to take the responsibility for actually telling it. Sid looked more confident than she felt, so she let him take the lead. Thank God for Sid.

"While we were on the Sky Boat, in transit from Byforest Station to Zhani, the ship encountered pirates. Yan and I, we, uh, acted under orders from our group leader, Fleet Lieutenant Harber, to leave the Sky Boat. We returned to help the Sky Boat when the pirates ambushed them. Captain Migollen was angry that we abandoned ship, and blames us, Yan mostly, I guess, for the deaths of several of her crew members and some damage to her ship. That's the thirty second summary," Sid said, awkwardly.

Everyone at the table took a long second to process that. Yan couldn't tell what anyone was thinking. It was dead silent, and everyone’s expressions seemed frozen.

"Actually, we could use some more detail. When you say you left the ship, what do you mean by that?" Olms asked, clearing her throat.

Yan felt like she could answer this question, at least. "It was part of our travelling contract that we would have use of one of the Sky Boat's shuttles while we were aboard. Lieutenant Harber used that to take us off the ship. He wanted to wait out the attack rather than get involved, because he knew that even if the Sky Boat was destroyed, a Fleet ship would come looking for us."

Captain Chattarge looked as though he wanted to spit. "Fleet are all cowards," he said. "Running away from danger won't do anybody good. Why did you go along with that?"

"I can't give you a satisfactory answer to that," Yan admitted quietly. "Now, I don't think it was the right choice. But at the time-"

"You were looking out for your own skin, I understand," Chattarge said dismissively.

"I'm sorry," Sid interjected. "I know you all think that Yan needs to obey some sort of code of behavior that all you spacers have, but I was an equal part in this decision, and I have no such requirements. You all want to blame her, but it was not her decision entirely, and it was not her fault."

Yan wanted to crawl underneath the table and die. The truth was, it had been her decision. Sid had looked to her for what to do, and now he was lying to try to protect her. It was sweet, if completely miserable to witness and experience.

"You're right, you aren't a spacer. You don't understand," Lee said. "Spacers need to stick together, and no one abandons ship."

"Hold on," Olms said, holding up a hand, attempting to placate the group. "No one is blaming anybody."

It certainly felt like they were blaming her, just as Captain Migollen had. At least now they could understand the context for the angry messages that Olms had been receiving. Yan was glad that Olms was here leading the meeting. She had seemed very nice the first time they had met, and even if they had a vast gulf of experience separating them, they were still both apprentices.

"So what happened after you left the ship?" Maxes asked, sounding more curious than angry. "You said you came back when the pirates ambushed them?"

"We expected that the pirates would come in with the sublight engines, and save their jump to get out, but they jumped in instead. I, uh, felt it happen, and had the shuttle turn around and come back," Yan explained. She was feeling okay, listing out facts like this. She wasn’t choking on her own words yet.

"Why would you do that? If you thought the Sky Boat was capable of fighting off pirates before, what made you change your mind?" Staffort asked.

"The dogs were still out and wouldn't be able to get back fast enough. I- we- couldn't leave the Sky Boat helpless like that," Yan said.

"If you thought you were going to be useful, you should have stayed with the Sky Boat in the first place," Chattarge said.

"Hey, we had to-" Sid started, and Yan kicked him swiftly under the table. She didn't need to add mutiny to her list of crimes, and Yan was certain that was what he was about to elaborate on in their defense.

Olms raised her eyebrows at Sid's outburst and subsequent wince. "Had to what?"

"Nothing," Sid grumbled. "Forget it."

This whole thing was going from unprofessional to outright disaster. Olms looked like she absolutely would not be forgetting whatever it was that Sid wasn't about to say, but she didn't try to pry. At least she had some sense of being diplomatic about things.

"So you came back. What did you do then?" Lee asked.

Yan could handle the fact that she had abandoned ship. It was shameful, but that was something that she could recon with. Yan couldn't handle the fact that she had killed probably upwards of thirty people. She didn't even know the exact number, for God's sake. Desperate to escape the situation, Yan took deep breaths and tried to zone out. She did her best not to cry. She had already done too much of that.

"We killed them," Sid said, sounding distant. The blood was rushing in Yan's ears. "We destroyed the boarding parties and the shuttles and the dogs."

There was a clamor around the table, as everyone tried to voice their own opinion. Yan stared down at her plate. She took a drink of water, her hands shaking. Yan had hoped that this meeting would stay on the topic of the Olar trade dispute because that was the only thing keeping her mind off of all the rest of it. But here she was, being forced to confront it, in what felt like a jury trial of her people.

"Cheers, I'll drink to that," Stath said loudly.

"How could two children dispatch an entire pirate raid?"

"They're not children, Staffort," Olms said.

"At least they did turn around and make themselves useful," Chattarge said.

"But the Sky Boat still had casualties? It doesn’t sound like you were protecting anyone." Lee asked.

Only Maxes was quiet, looking at Yan with an inscrutable expression.

Olms held up her hand again to silence the group. It was amazing the amount of power she wielded over them, considering she was about half the age of the rest of the spacers in the room.

"Is this true, Apprentice BarCarran?" Olms asked. Yan nodded.

"Do you care to elaborate?" Staffort asked. "I find it difficult to believe that-"

"Staffort," Olms said in a warning tone, "if you have never seen the power used to violent ends, you have lived a lucky life. Let's not end that streak of luck now."

There was a moment of silence. Perhaps everyone else in the room was coming to the realization that Yan, Sid, and Olms could kill the rest of them with little more than a thought.

"In your estimation," Chattarge began. "Did the Sky Boat only survive due to your intervention?"

Sid had no way to answer this question, so Yan had to take the lead. Her voice cracked when she spoke.

"By the time we got back, they were being boarded. They had no dogs left nearby, and they had a hole blown in their side. I can't say for sure they wouldn't have survived- if their other dogs came back in time- or if they held off the boarding party-"

"I see," Chattarge said, then said nothing else.

The tension in the room was momentarily broken as several waiters came in bearing everyone's meals. They set them down in front of the group and then departed. It gave everyone a chance to focus on something other than Yan and Sid for a second. Unfortunately, that distraction didn't last long.

"If you had stayed on the Sky Boat, would they have suffered any casualties?" Lee asked.

"Lee, they're not on trial. Leave it," Olms said.


"Leave it, or leave the room," Olms said again.

Yan's face felt like it was on fire. It was a miracle that she wasn't crying.

Sid looked around and spoke. "I don't know what would have happened if we stayed on the Sky Boat. I don't know what happened aboard while we were gone. All I know is, when we were on the shuttle, we were in a position to do something, and we did. We did our best, God damn. You can yell at us for that, but it’s the truth. And if you don't have to live the rest of your life knowing that you killed people, then good for you." Sid's face was angry and red, and his words sounded like rocks that he was throwing to the ground.

There was a profound silence this time. No one was quite sure what to say after Sid's outburst.

"Apprentices," Olms said after a long few seconds. "We are not here to pass judgement on you. But, as an official representative of the Trade Guild, what I can say is that if you had not been in a position to assist, the Sky Boat would have surely been lost to pirates. I am grateful for the... help you provided."

"But they abandoned ship," Lee said petulantly. "Anyone else and you would have-"

"Lee, please leave the room before I lose my temper," Olms said slowly. There was a crackling, static feeling in the air. The hair on Yan's arms stood on end.

"You're only defending them because you're all alike-" Lee shouted, then choked, her words cut off by her own shirt wrapping itself tightly around her throat. Olms was sitting perfectly still, but her power moved through the room. She yanked Lee's chair out from under her, and Lee scrambled to stand, clawing at her shirt. The door to the room slammed open, and Olms used Lee's shirt to drag her out of the room. Olms released the shirt once she was outside in the hallway, and Lee fell to the floor, gasping. Olms used the power to slam the door back shut.

"Does anyone else have any objections?" Olms asked. There was a resounding silence from the room. "Good. Let's eat, then we can get on with the actual purpose of this meeting."

Olms was a scary bitch, Yan thought. It was good that she seemed to be on their side, or this whole dinner would be going much, much worse than it already was. It was a shame, maybe, that Olms wouldn't be leading the Trade Guild. Was Vaneik still planning to install his son as his successor? Yan hadn't heard anything new about the Guild's line of succession since Sandreas had mentioned it ages ago.

Yan looked at her dinner. It was fried vegetables on a bed of rice. It came with a sauce, but Yan's stomach was tied in knots enough that she didn't want to chance eating too much of anything too flavorful. The waiters had poured them all alcohol, some sort of Olar specialty, but Yan definitely wasn't going to touch that. She did see Staffort and Stath both drinking it freely, but everyone else was showing some moderation. The whole group was uncomfortably aware of the empty space left by Lee, and the power that Olms had wielded.

It was Chattarge who finally broke the silence. "Are you still planning on becoming a captain of your own ship, Apprentice Olms?"

"For now," she said tightly, poking at the fish on her plate. "The future is always a cloudy proposition."

"You'll make a good one," Chattarge said. Apparently he had nothing to follow that up with, because he began eating his own dinner. As the only captain in attendance, he was apparently qualified to make that assessment, though Yan couldn't really tell on what basis he was making it. Maybe in order to be a captain a person had to be ready to assert their will upon others. Olms had certainly demonstrated an ability to do that. Yan wondered if someday she would be confident enough to do as Olms had. It didn't quite seem civilized.

Olms accepted the compliment with a nod.

Yan glanced at her uncle, who had barely contributed to the conversation. He seemed to be enjoying his dinner. He gave Yan a small smile when he saw her looking. Yan turned away.

"How's life on orbit around here been?" Maxes asked, changing the topic of conversation back to the original purpose of the meeting.

That was apparently the signal to let the real discussion of politics begin.

"I will literally pay you to get me out of here," Stath said. "Have the Dreams come over, we'll trade spots."

The conversation flowed fast and easy from there. Olms laid out the official position of the Guild, which was to prevent piracy. They were willing to resume normal operations on Olar if and only if Olar could prove that there was no more illegal activity happening. Apparently, several ships who had been trading with Olar had had their routes quietly rearranged, and more trustworthy ships were set to take over the normal trading.

Stath and Chattarge were interested primarily in resuming their own normal operations. Their priority, above all else, was to leave Olar behind. Although they were being compensated for their time at the same rate as their normal routes, apparently their crews were both getting extremely antsy to leave. Sid had to ask where the money for the Skyfish and Imei was coming from, and apparently it was being drawn from a Guild fund that offered charges to ships who performed Guild duties. Where that money came from was a slightly deeper mystery. Guild dues were so minimal as to be nothing, and it wasn't as though the Guild itself as an entity was making a large cut of trade profits. Yan made a mental note to look into Guild finances later. Though it was just one more headache to add to her plate, she had a suspicion that if she went digging in that greenhouse long enough, she was bound to find some worms.

The Council representatives had varying opinions on what the Guild's responsibilities should be. Maxes seemed to be of the opinion that the Guild should have stayed out of enforcement and let the Empire deal with all drug running issues. If the Guild had done its part by quietly punishing the ships responsible, why did they need to take this extra step? Staffort felt that the damage that had been done to the Guild's reputation by the whole affair did require some sort of public action, but at this point they were perhaps moving into territory that was unjustifiable.

As the night progressed, Yan was able to focus on the talk and get a clearer picture of how to best approach the actual negotiations over the next day or so. Olms was taking the hard line stance, but that was because she had to as the official representative of the Guild. It would be interesting to see how much she was actually willing to cave when she got into a room with Governor Marquis and started fleshing out an agreement.

Yan was certain there would be an agreement. The opinion of the Guild in general was written on the walls; no one wanted to be strongly involved in Olar anymore.

Yan wanted to leave with Sid the instant the dinner was over, but her uncle couldn't let her do that. He grabbed her arm as she tried to head to tehe waiting car, wearing the world's most pitiful expression on his face.

"You're not going to say hello to me at all?" Maxes asked. "Oh how the power has gotten to your head."

They were standing outside the restaurant. It was dark, and the streetlights cast a harsh blue light down on everything, glaring off the snow that had fallen the night before. The wind was whipping past them, tugging on the edges of Yan's cloak. Thankfully, the huge red moon was completely covered by clouds, so Yan didn't have to look at it. To be honest, it scared her a little.

Iri and Hernan were watching this exchange with curiosity, leaning up against the wall of the restaurant. The rest of the Trade Guild members had already departed, but Maxes had waited behind to talk to Yan as she came out of the restaurant.

Yan sighed, but the wind was loud enough that she didn't think anyone heard it. "Sorry, Uncle Maxes. I didn't mean to seem like I was trying to escape." Not technically a lie, since she she just didn't want to seem like she was trying to escape. She very much had been trying to actually escape.

"You didn't think I'd let you go without giving you your birthday present, did you? I weaseled my way onto this board just to see you, after all."

"I was wondering how you managed that," Yan said.

"I have my tricks," Maxes said with a wink. "You may be the politician, but I'm very well connected."

Yan said. "I don't feel like that much of one."

"You look the part alright. And image is 98% of the law, isn't it?"

"I don't think so," Yan said. "Why, do you think I did well in there?" Yan still didn't know what her uncle thought of the whole fiasco with the Sky Boat.

"I think that you were forced into a difficult situation," Maxes said diplomatically. "Once we got on to actual business, it was a lot smoother."

"Yeah," Yan said. "I'm sorry you had to find out about it like that."

"Hey, how could I hold anything like that against my favorite niece?"

"Heh. It's a good thing I'm not your only. You should pick a different favorite to have," Yan said.

"Now why in the world would I do such a thing?" Maxes asked. "I think you're being too hard on yourself."

"I don't know," Yan said. "This whole thing, like, I feel like I don't even deserve to be a part of the family."

"Yan, family isn't something you deserve or don't. It's something you're stuck with, like it or not. Besides, you did defend the Sky Boat in the end. I think that's something to be proud of. People aren't giving you enough credit."

Yan shrugged. She was at least able to have this conversation without crying, but that didn't mean she was enjoying it in any way. She was exhausted.

"I'm glad you see it that way, I guess," Yan said. "I'm all messed up over it."

"Hey, at least now that I know the real story, I can spin it in your favor when I get back to the Dreams."

"Please don't," Yan said. "I'd really like as few people to be talking about it as possible."

"I don't think that is a realistic desire," Maxes said. A particularly strong gust of wind caught his braids and flipped them onto his face. "You're going to have to live with the fact that people will want to talk about you. You're a public figure, after all. At least on the Dreams we're all your family."

Yan wasn't really comforted by that. "Well thanks for taking my side, then."

"Not a problem," Maxes said. "But can I ask-"

"I can tell you're going to ask anyway, so go ahead." Yan scuffed her feet on the ground, kicking up some of the old snow.

"How many pirates do you think you killed? And how did you do it?"

"I hit them all with a rock," Yan said. That was understating it, but Yan didn't want to elaborate. "Thirty, maybe. I don't know."

"Wow. You know, I was just a little older than you when the Iron Dreams-"

"You've told me the story before," Yan said shortly. "I don't need to hear it again."

"Oh." Maxes seemed to be lost for words, which was unusual for him.

"Look, I'm sorry," Yan said. "I don't really want to talk about it. I kinda hate everything right now. I'm really..." She scuffed the ground with her feet some more.

"I understand," Maxes said. "Let me change the subject to something else. Happy birthday!"

He reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out a wrapped package. Yan took it. It was heavier than it looked.

"Want me to open it now?"

"Go for it. It's nothing massive, but I figure you should at least get something if I'm coming all this way."

"Just seeing you is enough of a gift," Yan said, feeling slightly more lighthearted now that the topic was changed. Maxes laughed.

Yan peeled off the blue wrapping. Inside was an ornately decorated book. It had an embossed red cover, and the spine and corners had inlaid metal decorative metal. Yan opened it up. It was a prayer book, written in Terlin. Every few pages there was an illustration, shining with gold leaf.

"Oh, wow," Yan said.

"I'll be honest, this was meant to be a graduation present, but you know how delayed these things get sometimes. No one swung by Terlin to pick it up in time to get it to you. So happy belated graduation as well."

"Thank you, it's beautiful." Yan turned the pages delicately. She was more used to reading books on her tablet, but printed books were still nice as decoration, and for prayer.

"Well, I'm glad you like it. I was worried that you wouldn't. After all, what do you get for a girl who has everything," Maxes said.

"I love it," Yan reassured. "But honestly, you all heathens up on the Dreams could use a prayer book more than I do."

Maxes laughed. "Don't you hold that against us."

Yan tucked the book into the pocket of her cloak. She would have to keep it nicely on her desk when she got back to Emerri.

"You going to introduce me to your partner in crime?" Maxes asked suddenly, nodding over to where Sid was leaning against the wall, having a signed conversation with Hernan. "What's his deal?"

"Do you really want to talk to him?" Yan asked. She wasn't sure if she really wanted the two to have a real conversation, but it didn't seem like she had much of a choice.

"Yeah, I always want to know who your friends are. And I never get a chance to meet them."

"You met Sylva," Yan said.

"And she was great! Now I've had a taste for getting involved in your personal business, I'm never going to want to let go."

"How was I to know that bringing Sylva for the summer would unleash this type of torment upon me?" Yan asked sarcastically. "Are you going to keep showing up at important meetings, demanding to meet my friends?"

"Only until I die," Maxes said.

"Don't say that," Yan said. "But fine." She turned around and waved at Sid. He looked up from his conversation with Hernan and trotted over.

"Hey," he said. "Maxes BarCarran?"

"The one and only," Maxes said. "Pleasure to meet you, Apprentice Welslak."

"Well, if you're Yan's family, you can just call me Sid," Sid said awkwardly. He had a knitted black hat pulled down to cover his ears, and his glasses glinted in the streetlights.

"Well, Sid, are you taking good care of my niece here?"

"What?" Sid asked. Yan groaned in embarrassment.

"You can't make this weird," she admonished. "Sid isn't my keeper."

"Yeah, that's, uh, Maedes's job," Sid pointed behind him at where Iri was leaning next to Hernan. "Yan and I are just partners."

"Oh really?" Maxes asked. "Partners?"

"Oh my God. You're making this weird. Not like that," Yan said.

Sid seemed to revel in Yan's awkwardness. "Yep, Yan and I are as close as two peas in a pod."

Yan slapped Sid’s arm lightly. "Coworkers is the word you're looking for. We're coworkers."

Sid and Maxes both laughed. Snowflakes began to fall, more horizontally than vertically due to the wind. They caught in Yan's eyelashes and made the lights of the street dance in the edges of her vision.

"Do you work together well, at least?" Maxes asked Sid.

"Yeah, we do make a great team, I think," Sid said. "We look out for each other."

"I'm glad to hear it. Where are you from, Sid?"

"Galena," Sid said. "Just born a humble farm boy."

"I've only ever been there a few times," Maxes said. "Guess I can't say much about the planet, then."

"Eh, there's not much to say about it," Sid said. "My life has gotten exponentially more exciting since leaving there."

"I would be shocked if it hadn't," Maxes said. "Can I ask you a question?"

Sid raised his eyebrows, but didn't object.

"How are you holding up after this whole pirate ordeal?"

"That's a little personal, don't you think?" Sid asked. "If you must know, not great. But we both have a job to do here, and we're going to do it." He looked over at Yan, who nodded.

"I wish you luck with that," Maxes said.

"You don't need to wish us luck, you're in a position to affect Guild policy, you can make things easy for us, if you wanted to," Sid said.

"That's not how the Guild Council really operates, unfortunately. If I could I would, for my favorite niece and her... partner."

"Coworker," Yan said.

Sid laughed. "Why do you have to tease her like that?"

"Only family has the perfect responsibility to knock each other down a few pegs," Maxes said. "I take that duty very seriously."

"Are you going to be around tomorrow for the talks?" Sid asked.

"Hm, I don't know. Apprentice Olms may decide that she wants to represent the Guild by herself. It might not look good for me to be there."

"Because you're related to Yan?"

"Yes. Especially if, as I suspect, Lee will not be joining Olms in the talks tomorrow."

"Is she ok?" Yan asked.

"I'm sure she is," Maxes said. "Olms wouldn't actually hurt her."

"Well, yeah, but is she going to lose her council spot?" Yan asked.

"I don't know. The council is always in a weird position," Maxes said. "I can't really make any judgement on what the individual members will choose to do."

"Olms is scary," Sid said. "We've met her before and she didn't seem like... that."

"Usually she's very sweet. She must have taken a shine to you, though," Maxes said. "I've heard stories from the other council members about her getting angry, but this was the first time I ever saw it myself."

"What did Captain Chattarge mean when he said that she would make a good captain?" Sid asked.

"Not that I have any plans to ever become one myself, but to be a captain, you have to be willing to make difficult decisions and then put your full force behind them. To Chattarge, it probably didn't matter so much that Olms was making a decision that he personally disagreed with, just that she was making one and being forceful about it."

"That makes sense, I guess. Seems like a crazy way to live life, though."

"You and Yan are training to be the next Voice," Maxes said. "I think you'd better get used to making unpopular decisions."

"I don't really like to think about that," Yan said. "But clearly we already have been."

Maxes laughed. "Starting off your diplomatic careers on a very weird foot. I admire that."

The snow was falling heavier now.

"We should probably get back," Sid said. "It's late."

"It certainly is," Maxes said. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Sid."

"Good to meet you too, Mr. BarCarran."

Maxes reached out and swept Yan up into an unexpected and crushing hug. "You'll be ok," he whispered. "You're doing good."

Yan nodded into his shoulder, unable to say anything. He released her, and she slid a little on the wet snow.

"See you around, Uncle."

"Bye, Yan," Maxes said.

Yan turned and headed towards the waiting car that had been idling at the side of the road. Iri and Hernan left their watchful positions and followed them into the vehicle. Once everyone was seated, they drove away, Yan watching her uncle recede into the snowy distance.

"I thought you were going to talk forever there," Iri said. "Glad to see you escaped your uncle alive."

"He didn't seem that bad," Sid said. "Just like, family weird."

"He was on his best behavior," Yan said. "And I think that's because I've been having a bad time, and this is a diplomatic trip, and it's my birthday. If any of those hadn't been true, you never know what sort of nonsense he could have started."

"I think you overthink it," Iri said.

"Maybe," Yan said. She stared morosely out the window of the car, the snowflakes splattering against the glass.

"Think you'll be able to sleep tonight without having a fit?" Iri asked. "I don't really enjoy being woken up in the middle of the night."

"I'll do my best," Yan said. Sleeping was yet another thing she wasn't enjoying about this trip. There seemed to be no end to her troubles.

"Good," Iri said. "I'll hold you to that."

"Just sleep without bed sheets, then you won't be able to strangle yourself with them," Sid suggested.

"And freeze to death instead? No, thanks."

"Whatever you choose to do, you have the public forum at eleven hours tomorrow. You don't have to get up early, but you do have to get up."

"Boy, I'm sure looking forward to getting yelled at by members of the Olar public," Sid said.

"That's the job of a public servant. Get used to it," Iri said with a smile.

"You know, I'm really starting to hate this job," Sid said.

Hernan, recalcitrant as usual, rolled his eyes.

A note from javert

Anyone thinking back to chapter idk, 14? when they last met with the Guild? Yuuni Olms is very fun to write. She's like, sweet on top and steel in the middle. She's sympathetic to Yan b/c they've had similar upbringings- spacers pulled away from their family ship to attend the Academy, then thrust into power because of their apprenticeships. But you can see that the Guild is full of clashing personailities. Boy I sure hope THAT won't become a problem in the future :p

I have a lot less to say in these authors notes since I batch edited all the chapters through the end of part 1, rather than editing them just before posting. Anyway this chapter has not been beta'd, so if you see any glaring errors, feel free to shout them out in the comments. 

Anyway, hope you all had a good week. I'll see you on monday!

edit:// 12/9/18- fixed continuity error in character's name

9/9/19- 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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