Mercy stared at the plate of reconstituted eggs and something that smelled a bit like bacon, and a bit like the burnt metal of a ship hangar. She nudged the misshapen piece of mystery meat with a finger. 

Since joining the pirates, she’d enjoyed their ever-changing and varied menu of freshly cooked meals, something rarely experienced aboard ship unless you were wealthy enough to travel on a luxury liner. Honestly, she’d considered the food one of the biggest perks.

This was more like the spacer fair she’d spent several years forcing herself to eat, while doing fringe space smuggling runs. Barely edible. Maybe she was spoiled. Or maybe what she’d done without thinking in her early twenties wasn’t nearly as appetizing as she approached the wiser age of thirty. 

Still eyeing the plate suspiciously, she picked up her coffee mug and took a sip, only to nearly spit it back out. Instead of the often nutty and layered complexity she was accustomed to, an ashy, burnt flavor filled her mouth, coating her tongue and leaving behind a bitter aftertaste. 

“What the hell is this?” she asked, staring at the mug as though it had betrayed her. 

Reaper, just retrieving his own mug from the dispenser, sat down across from her at the tiny kitchen counter space her quarters provided. “Coffee,” he said, his tone definitive. 

“No.” Mercy tried another sip, grimacing. “This is swill. The same processed, fake crap served on every transport-for-hire in the Commonwealth.”

Reaper shrugged, taking a drink of his own mug with no change in expression. As Mercy watched with thinly veiled horror, he pulled her untouched plate across to him and took a bite of the mystery meat pretending to be bacon. 

“Seriously?” she asked him. 

He looked at her, his features as stoic as ever, his pale blue eyes cold as he chewed with the mechanical precision of military personnel the galaxy over. Food is food, he told her mentally.

The hell it was. 

“This has got to stop,” she muttered. “I accepted that he needed time to recover in the beginning. But it’s been months.”

Reaper said nothing as he began to work his way through her breakfast. 

“I was happy to help,” she continued, “when suddenly I was the one attending every meeting and dealing with every tiny complaint.” And damn, did pirates complain like a bunch of unruly children. Everyone thought their own agenda was the most important thing in the universe. “But that was supposed to be temporary.”

“You are the Queen,” Reaper said, in between bites. 

Mercy waved a hand. “Semantics.”

He eyed her with a hint of humor. “Precisely. Being Queen means you lead.”

“I never agreed that he should step down.”

“But he always intended to.”

“Maybe. But that’s politics. This—” She gestured to her cup, the food. “This is serious.”

Reaper leaned back in his seat. “You think food is more serious than politics?”

Mercy wished she could gather all of the politics in her life, trap it in a stasis pod, and chuck it out the nearest airlock. She couldn’t banish politics, but she could damn well do something about the food. 

She winced as Reaper took a drink. “I think Cannon loves coffee more than life itself, and he loves cooking and fresh meals. I think the Cannon we all know would sooner die than drink this sludge.” She pushed her own mug away. “This is a cry for help.”