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Candy Comfort

Eleanor R. Wood's stories have appeared in Pseudopod, Crossed Genres, Urban Fantasy Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, and the Aurealis-nominated anthology Hear Me Roar, among other places. She writes and eats liquorice from the south coast of England, where she lives with her husband, two marvelous dogs, and enough tropical fish tanks to charge an entry fee.

She blogs at creativepanoply.wordpress.com.

When I was little, I never thought about where the sweets came from. Daddy would leave me on board with a packet of sugary delights while he, Jeb, and Callum left for work. Sometimes they'd only be moments, sometimes hours, sometimes they'd come back with injuries. We always departed in a hurry. But I still had the flavors of fruits and spices and fizz on my tongue. I knew they were precious, and I was lucky to have a daddy who got them for me. Once they came in a red velvet pouch with another girl's name embroidered on it in silver thread. I was sad he'd got me the wrong one; the pouch was so pretty. But my name was unusual and tricky to find.
I knew luxuries were rare even though I never went without. When we docked at Zircon Station, everyone would "ooh" and "aah" over the treasures Daddy's crew brought home. Fine-spun fabrics, feather cushions, glassware, jewelry, and, of course, sugar. He'd sell cut-price to the station's traders and save the essentials for us. It wasn't until I got older that I noticed he took nothing to trade in return.
"Where do my sweets come from?" I asked him when I was eleven. "No one on Zircon ever has any."
"They don't come from Zircon, love," he answered with a grin, handing me a bag of sparkling pink and yellow jellies. He disembarked with Jeb and Callum and I tried not to think about the disruptor pistol tucked into his waistband.
"Who do you steal those from?" I asked him when I was fourteen. "I know you aren't a trader."
He gave me one of his looks that meant "ask no questions," handed me the bag of liquorice, and left with Callum.
"They're not bad people, are they?" I said when I was fifteen, gesturing to the yacht we were sidling alongside. Its hull shimmered against the blackness of space.
Daddy shushed me out of the cockpit and reminded me Jeb had died so I could have nice things. I sucked on a sour fizzball while Callum cycled the airlock.
"They're rich bastards," Callum told me later. "They have everything while we have nothing. Their children think sweets are ordinary. They have new clothes every year. Their water is always fresh. It does 'em no harm to be reminded their luxuries aren't a gods-given right."
I didn't ask again, though I'd never known my lot in life was a hard one, any more than the rich children knew their privilege was envied by the Zirconites. The next time Daddy went on a raid, the sweets he left me tasted bitter. I couldn't help but think of the child who'd lost them along with whatever else my father's crew took by force.
Daddy came back without Callum when I was seventeen. "I need you to co-pilot, Agneta!" he yelled as he slammed the lock on the hull door and raced down the corridor.
"Where's Callum?" I asked as I strapped myself in.
"Gone." He choked on the word and said nothing more as we hightailed it away from a listing cruise ship venting atmosphere. He handed me a packet of chocolate caramels later: the only spoils of his ill-fated raid.
"I'd save these for next time, but I don't know when that'll be."
I sobbed for Callum and took small comfort from the chocolates.
There were crew for hire at Zircon, but none of them met Daddy's high standards. When we returned to the ship, he handed me a disruptor.
"You're old enough, now. You can pilot-- it's time to teach you the rest of my trade."
I took the pistol, my heart leaping and sinking at once.
"No," I whispered at last. "I can't. These people don't deserve to be robbed. And I'm afraid for you."
He cursed at me for the first time in my life. "This is our livelihood!" He snatched the pistol back.
"Then we need a new livelihood," I said. I knew we had money. Enough to buy sugar. Lots of it. My mind suddenly whirled with the possibility. "While you were plying your trade, I was learning another. I know about flavors, textures, eye-catching colors, how to balance sweet with tangy. You didn't know it, but you were teaching me all of those things every time you went on a raid."
"What are you talking about, Agneta?" He was still angry.
"What's the one thing you always brought back? The one treasure that every ship had on board?"
He shrugged at me in exasperation.
"Sweets! Sweets, of course! And I know sweets like you know piracy. Give me some time. Let me try. Instead of stealing their candies, we can provide them, and earn an honest living in which no one tries to kill us."
To his credit, he let me buy the sugar, flavoring oils, gelatin, molds. I experimented in the galley and tested my first batch on an eager Zircon crowd.
"I think you're on to something, my girl," Daddy said as our fellow citizens queued for more.
I spent days crafting sugar into a hoard of exquisite delicacies. I packaged them in gauze pouches and ribbon-tied boxes. We repainted the ship's hull and re-named her.
"Candy Comfort!" I cried as the bottle smashed against her bow. The dread pirate vessel was no more. We were entrepreneurs now: traveling confectioners instead of traveling thieves.
"Do you ever miss your old career?" I asked when I was twenty.
My dad looked out the cockpit window at the approaching cruiser. The old gleam was in his eye, but now it was the prospect of honest profit rather than rich spoils.
"Nah, love." He grinned at me. "We're still pirates, we just lure them with our treasures rather than the other way around."
He popped a fresh marshmallow in his mouth and steered toward their airlock, like all the old times.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Author Comments

This story was born from a Codex contest, in which the prompt was to choose from an existing list of titles and then write the story. This wasn't the shiniest title, or the cleverest title, or even the most exciting title. But it was the title that grabbed me and started pouring ideas into my head. I had the story's premise in moments, and from that point I was destined to write it. This story is the sweet, sticky result, and became my first sale to Daily Science Fiction.

- Eleanor R. Wood
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