“I’d have thought the crew would be bigger,” she said. They were coming up to the galley. “Normally, spacers travel with their families aboard.” Bix’s tone made it clear this wasn’t just a conjecture or question on her part. This was a matter-of-fact statement.

Li laughed. “Hell, that’s merchies. Ain’t us, boss.” He keyed open the galley latch, stepped through and went to the coffee maker. “We’re mercs. No place for a family on a warship.”

Selina handed Bix a cup of coffee before dropping four sugar cubes into her own. “It’s rare to find the right mix of specialties without any family ties, given how well you all work together,” Bix said. She cradled the cup in both hands, She always felt cold when shipboard.

“No, the crew all have families.” Selina sipped her coffee. “Big Chance has a wife and other kid back on Washukanni, and Little Chance sends his money home too. Lissa’s got a wife and…twins? I think,” she looked at Li, who shook his head. “Quads. Punching uni tickets, last I asked. Big costs.”

Selina nodded. “Right, quads. Grey’s single still, but it’s a big culture thing on Beralen to tithe back into your local fire temple, so there’s his tie back. And Li here,” she said, punching his arm with a slight bit more force than what would be playful. “He’s supporting an ex-wife and ex-husband on some gods-awful freecan in the Ur El-Fi.”

Li grimaced. “Former, not ex. Just back pay on 36 month contracts, you know that. You don’t call our former clients ex-clients, do you?”

Selina grinned, cockeyed. “Only if they sell us out. ”

Bix set her cup down, masking her annoyance with mechanical action. being corrected not once but twice; why should it bother her so much that she didn’t know the ends and outs of some spacer – no, merc – crew’s private lives? Was she really expected to glean all this from brief encounters and snippets of conversation?

Of course she was. She knew that. Caldonian training let her analysis scraps of data at lightspeed. Her own natural ability saw to her extrapolations being correct with 95% certainty. But these bloody…sophonts! She did a quick read of Selina, still laughing with Li.

“But not you, Commander.” Again, no question in her tone. Certainty. “All your family is onboard.” She looked into Selina’s narrowed eyes, her soul. “This crew is your family, no one planet or station side to connect with.”

Selina replied, tight lipped. “Just the crew, and the rats,” her voice just above a whisper.

“Well, and you now, boss,” Li said, clinking his mug against Bix’s cup. “You on board now, we take care of you like family.” He laughed, “at least, until you’re ‘former’, eh?”

Even if I wanted one, this is not my family. Bix kept her eyes on Selina. I am Caldonian. I have no family.