Thursday, June 1, 2017

Role Call

Topper pushed his plug hat down a little. It helped him keep a pokerface. He studied the cards before him. Luch waited for Tulip’s steward to do the math. Elf was not as patient. Furry Freddy from the Inside Strait already had folded and left in disgust to go walkies.

“Fold or meet the wager good sirrah,” Elf  snapped.

“I thought elves were good at waiting,” Topper muttered.

“For something worthwhile, perhaps!” Elf spat. Topper tsked and finally with much flourishing removed his top hat and added it to the pile of clothing. Elf sighed and began removing her left ear. After a moment Luch removed his mask. Rubbing his scalp vigorously, he added his leather mask to the pile.


“Both ears sweetheart,” Luch said.

***
The Deck Department and the Steward Departments are two vital sections of a merchant ship. Both do not concern themselves with minor matters such as fuel and courses but dealing with the commodities that actually generate money.

Not generating money can kill a ship faster than not generating power in some situations. Of course one department has to deal volatiles and other dangers. The other is the Deck Department.

Stewards must deal with passengers, anyone of which could be a pirate saboteur, indie hijacker, nut case or just plain obnoxious. A good steward is better than an anti-hijacking program. Having a program deny you access is just not the same as a steward toting a shotgun denying you access. (If you doubt this then you never aimed a shotgun at a person or had one aimed at you. I turned around and had one pointed in a guy's general direction by accident in my reckless youth when he surprised me. The irate neighbor got very polite and reasonable with no transition.)

Most of the time the passengers are just passengers and the worst problem that comes up is jump sickness (and guess what, if you have an understaffed free trader, Mr. Steward becomes Dr. Steward.) Besides cooking the meals for passengers and crews stewards can provide a variety of services: hairstyling, tailor, makeovers, personal trainer, sparring partner among many others.  Scouts with their jack of all trade skills make excellent stewards. 

Long ago the question was raised, "Shall we provide such services seamlessly, blending into the background? Shall we be ghosts in the sleep cycle and keep the down low?" The stewards on the big liners indeed do just that. They are another all purpose fixture. The big companies insist on standardization, making passengers feel they provide a second home or at least familiar surroundings. Some lines even coax or demand their stewards undergo plastic surgery to better fit a template the line deems the most commonly accepted.

Free trader stewards call bullshit on all that for one reason: tips! They believe the way to tip success is personality! Make them remember you! They invent an in your face persona and run with it, often winning cosplay awards inadvertently. So Topper goes for a steampunk vibe. Elf is an elf (what'd you expect? A hedge troll?). Luch is a luchador. Furry Freddy ... let's not talk about Furry Freddy. Suffice to say, he has his fans. That's enough.

Passengers on free traders: tramp freighters have no call to demand the comforts and privileges of the big liners (even the low berths have pillows and silk sheets). But they can have a fine show. So the families fortunate to travel together might want to buy passage on the ship with the lovely Elf (who babysits as events allow). The more refined passengers might find Topper to their liking. Luch appeals to those with a sense of humor and eager to have a trained martial artist look out for them (note he also makes the best creme brulee around). Furry Freddy ... has his own clientele.

Stewards often assume their roles completely. They are on call 24/7 during passages after all. It's easier mentally not to shift gears. It's also a lot of fun. Crews overlook this eccentricity, at least if the Steward is a good one. Ask Sandoval what Luch's real name is or hair color and you'd probably get a blank stare. It's not discussed to the point of being a superstition. If Luch lost his leather mask no one on the crew would look at him. As long as they keep the persona sacred good fortune will be theirs.

Okay, I'm writing the stories, but they at least figure they'll avoid outright disaster.

The antithesis of this is the poser. A poser or a faux steward does not develop a persona. They have a whole wardrobe of different clothes and accessories which they will pick and choose from to maximize their appeal for the cultures they are dealing with. The persona school regard them as con artists, and tip whores. To them they are not putting on an act, they are living the life. Being entertaining tip magnets is just a benefit. Besides, how can you play so many roles adequately, maintain them and practice your many other skills?

besides entertaining the passengers a good steward will combat boredom and space fatigue in their crews before it even comes up. It's hard to be bored when the crazy Elf woman goes running around the ship shooting arrows at those tetra-crabs you picked up and calls them baby goblins, or Topper figures out a way to shovel coal into the ship's power plant, or Luch wears the Camazotz mask to to the formal dinner, or furry Freddy ... never mind. You get the idea.

One of the most unforgivable insults is to poach another steward's persona. They have an unofficial record of stewards and their costumes. New stewards are advised to research it before choosing their own style. Poaching will quickly result in other stewards imposing all manner of sanctions on the poacher. They vary with circumstances but siffice to say, you better not try to borrow a cup of sugar from any of them. Violence is not unheard of if the poacher runs into the wrong person. Some stewards have a strong reaction to even similar roles. When Elf heard about Fae she demanded sanctions. The other stewards were undecided so a duel was called. In a masterful show of immersion they had a magical duel with Elf declared the winner when Fae's entire crew came down with food poisoning to various degrees. Most people considered it a coincidence but no one else (not even Luch) has screwed with Elf since. 

Of course if your steward is playing a wizard or magical type and has psionics, well that's the hat trick.