V.O.C. of the People

Inquiries and Injuries
In which a knife is twisted

“I suppose one of us should probably help him to his bunk,” Godfrey Livingston observed, watching Johann stumble across the deck towards the stairs. He wasn’t terribly fond of the combative engineer, but the man was just as a much a part of the crew as he was, and that counted for something. He looked over at Avi, with whom he’d been speaking, who looked at Johann as impassively as Livingston had felt. “Right,” he resigned. “I’ll go give the chap a hand.”

He cleared the deck with a few steps of his lengthy stride, and was behind Johann in a short moment. Trying to avoid startling the man, he mustered the best sailor’s greeting he could think of. “Bit early to be tanked, wouldn’t you say?”

Johann attempted to flash Livingston an angry glare, but his deeply inebriated state left it looking more like a suggestive glance. “Not ev’rybuddy cn’ deny through th’r trubbles as well as you English,” he sputtered out, nearly falling over in the process.

Livingston held out a hand to steady Johann as he stumbled, catching the man with one giant bear paw. “Yes yes, quite cutting. Come on.” He tried to steady Johann, but the engineer only collapsed further into his arm. “Okay,” he sighed, hefting the man over his shoulder. “Let’s get you to the doctor.”

“Yanno,” Johann started, his head lolling around with each of Livingston’s massive steps, “I’ve b’n thrown off ev’ry ship in the Atlantic, and I’ve nev’r met a moth’rfuck’r as crazy ‘s you.” Livingston didn’t respond, which Johann took as permission to press on. “No, I’m s’rious. You got the stones to pissss ‘ff the chief, ‘n then you j’st let ‘er fester ‘n it. No fights, no shout’n, j’st cold ‘atred.”

“Yes, well you’re sprinting down that path as well, my lad,” Livingston replied. Johann made a sound somewhere between a chuckle and a gag.

“Nope, ‘s’where yer wrong, sail’r,” Johann burped. “Chief knows damn well why she ‘ates me. S’cuz I’m a cock to ‘er. Talk’n back, disobeying ord’rs, n’ g’nerally bein’ churlish.” He enunciated the last word with unusual clarity before falling back into his slurred rhythm. “She thin’s I’m a child, but she thin’s yer ‘er daddy.”

Livingston set Johann down at the top of the stairs outside the Infirmary, a hard anger painted on his face. “There is far more to you than insubordination, and you are very lucky that the chief and the captain haven’t seen it yet. If I were you’d I’d consider finding a new job before they find one for you.” Gesturing to the door at the base of the stairs, he made to end the conversation. “You can see yourself the rest of the way.”

“‘J’st sayin’, s’all. Wh’n you plannin’ on liftin’ that spell ye’ got ‘er und’r?”


Johann had been in a lot of fights before. Hell, he’d been punched in the face more times than he could count on his fingers and toes combined. He had taken more than his fair share of knocks to the jaw and had gotten up swinging from every single one of them.

Until this one, that was.

The difference between all of those punches and this one was that this one had a charging rhino behind it. It wasn’t fair to bring a sledgehammer to a fistfight, and he was pretty sure that was exactly what Livingston had done. His head was so cloudy that he barely noticed the other punches, and when Livingston finally let him fall, he was already on the verge of blacking out anyway. The last leg of his journey to the doctor felt less like a tumble down the stairs, and more like a fall from the gallows.

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Farrah's night

knock knock

The sound of the door startled Farrah as she sat in bed reading a technical schema for a prosthetic knee. Her head pounded in time with the knocking.

“Yes, come in.”

The door opened to Captain Phillip, holding a cup of brown sludge. He hesitated in the doorway a second, seeing Farrah in bed, then shut the door and sat at her desk, facing the bed.

“Here, drink this. It will help.”

Farrah looks uncertain, but takes the cup. “Thank you, Captain.”

“I know how it looks, and it tastes even worse. But Fabio makes it for me when morning disagrees with me.”

The sludge tasted like barnacles and wood mold, but Farrah remembered coaxing skittish merchants into taking the medicine the University slaved over. Just choke it down. It’s good for you.

Phillip watched Farrah’s face crumple in disgust, solemn and tired.

“What happened?”

Composing herself, Farrah answers in careful words. “I had a … delicate matter to discuss with Avi. Things must have gotten out of hand.”

“Whatever you said to her, I don’t think she took it well.”

“Oh?” Farrah tried to remember what exactly was said. Avi had not been much help with the marriage issue. She had talked about her family, not having a normal childhood. Could that have…

“I do seem to recall the end of the conversation getting a bit derailed. Talking about humans and Strangers and the other world…”

Farrah’s hands clench in the bedclothes, crushing the schema she had been studying. Nothing was worse than getting flashbacks of that world. The filthy insidious way it got inside you. The way you felt unclean after walking through it. The way it was alway looming, threatening as a thunderhead, just on the edge of reality.

“In either case, I’m sure it will be fine now. Alcohol is like a demon. It makes people do strange things.”

Phillip uses his non-prosthetic hand to rub his eyes and sighs. “And sometimes it makes you hurt people.”

“I don’t know what you said to Avi but you hurt her.” The Captain meets Farrah’s eyes and frowns.

“If you want to drink, that is your business. Lord knows you’ll be in good company. But this crew has been through enough these past few months. I can’t have any more problems.”

Farrah studies the Captain’s face. He looks tired. Resolute. She would do any thing to help him.

“Of course, Captian!” Farrah leans forward to take his hand in hers. His roughened skin is warm. “I never want to drink again. It is unclean and it clearly has unintended repercussions. It has made me feel horrid, though this drink helped.”

Farrah meets Phillips gaze with her own. “You have led this crew through hell and back. You never left anyone behind. That takes great courage and strength. I would never want to cause you any problem.”

Phillip smiles. Farrah wonders why this feels different from the moment in the hallway. Nice, still, but very different from that desperate fluttering feeling.

“Now, how is that arm feeling?” Farrah turns her attention to her creation. The metal looks more weathered than she expected after such a short exposure to life at sea. She would have to find some means of protecting it from degredation.

Phillip laughs. “If I had a gilded for every time I swore off drinking I would be richer than the V.O.C. Just be more careful in the future, Farrah.”

Farrah giggles, suddenly seeing so young, so impossibly young after everything. “If you stopped drinking you might sleep more, Captain.”

“Sometimes it helps the sleep come.”

A brief moment of silence separates them. Farrah is unconsciously swaying to the motion of the waves beneath the hull.

“The arm is … functional. A little sore.” The words are a statement of fact, not a complaint. Phillip rolls his shoulder, and the mechanisms shift heavily.

“Oh! I might be able to help with that!” Farrah briskly folds back her sheets and hops out of bed, bare feet padding softly on the weathered floorboards.

Reaching over Phillip she brings out a small pot stoppered with wax. When she breaks the seal, the small room fills with the delicate scent of jasmine.

Phillip looks apprehensive as Farrah pins up her hair and positions herself behind him.

“Relax, Captain. This could even help the arm move more smoothly.”

Dipping a single finger into the pot of oil, Farrah rubs it into her hands and then into the muscles of Phillip’s neck and shoulder. Where her fingers meet metal, she gently rubs around and beneath the mechanisms. Her nimble work begins to ease tension from his neck, and she moves lower onto his back.

“You know, my mother used to do this for my father.” Farrah feels Phillip tense beneath her hand and hurried to explain. “He would get so stiff from sitting in negotiations all day, she would spend hours massaging him. Like he was the sultan himself.”

Working her slim fingers beneath the leather straps of the arm, Farrah notices the callouses forming in thick bands around Phillip’s torso.

“Maybe you should leave the arm here with me. For adjustments.” Farrah suggests lightly. Phillip is silent, but helps her remove the heavy prosthetic.

Pressing her palms firmly into the extensive scar tissue, newly raw from Alan’s emergency excision of the jade arm, Farrah does not even seem to realize she is humming an old lullaby.

Later, when the Captain is back in his quarters and Farrah is lying in bed listening to the ocean, she resolved to speak with Avi soon. Things would be set to rights again. Everything was going to be alright.

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Various Philosophies
Farrah's writing

Esteemed Dr. Crustevya,

Let us rest, for the moment, our political and philosophical debate. Your recent notes on internal surgery will take more time than usual for me to digest, if you’ll allow the small jest, and I have a more pressing need of your advice.

Namely, personal advice. As a woman, I feel that we could be confidantes, and through our correspondence I have come to trust your judgement. I will beg your judgement on a personal matter, though if I overstep the bounds of our friendship we may return to drier matters.

I am of a marriageable age, and though my family is obliterated and my fortune lost, I am not prospectless. Indeed, my position aboard the Songbird has put me in contact with a man suitable to both my station, and my person. However, though I think the partnership would benefit us both, I am unsure of how to arrange it, without parents or guardians of any kind to lead the negotiations.

If you were to marry, and had a suitor in mind, how would you go about solidifying the merger? Lacking any notable experience in this area, I throw myself completely upon your mercy. And I thank you with all the passion a friend’s heart can muster.

With best regards,
Farrah Al-Azar

Fel-ethet eilbee,

My eye’s light, I implore your kind guidance once more. Our ship, the Songbird, has gone through a realm of demons, and though I am in body and spirit safe, my mind is in turmoil. It is more pressing now than ever that the Al-Azar line be continued and strengthened. Please, heart of my own, send me word of how you fare. How are our people?

My soul aches to be reunited again, but until then let this correspondence remain unbroken and undelayed.

Love,
Farrah Al-Azar

From the journal of Farrah Al-Azar

No new advancements to engine. Seems to be unharmed from the recent journeys through the crossways.

Phillip’s arm has been corrupted. Must begin work on next prototype, perhaps with safety measures against the Orichalcum growth.

No response from correspondence. Will write again in two days time if no reply by then.

Avi and I are going shopping tomorrow. It will be good to speak with her on the matter of my plan. Perhaps she knows more about the customs than I do.

Though I remain logically committed to my course of action, it is strange that no new…moments have occurred since that night. I was led to believe being in love was more exciting than this. Perhaps I was mistaken, and this is how it always feels. Will ask someone if trend continues.

end journal of Farrah Al-Azar

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Ranks and Regrets

Harken pushed the batwing doors open as he strode into the tavern, anger resonating with every step of his heavy boots. The building was quiet and calm, though not for a lack of patrons; nearly every table was full, and customers spoke softly with their company. The tables near the door took notice of both Harken’s arrival and his especially sour glare, and many of the heads that turned to acknowledge his arrival had since returned their noses downward, as though in anticipation of a fight they wanted no part of.

The carpeted flooring and gentle lighting painted this place as an uncommonly upscale establishment, especially for this part of the Caribbean. The few patrons that weren’t regaled in military coats were instead decked in the jewelry and finery indicative of great wealth. Powdered wigs were uncommon in this far-flung corner of the British Empire—and even more so in such a maritime province as Havana—yet even a few of those could be spotted in this crowd.

The muffled thuds of Harken’s footfalls were joined by the slight jingle of metal buckles and clasps rustling in his coat as he moved, swiftly cutting across the tavern floor to the bar. Halfway to his destination, three others treaded into the tavern—slightly behind him, but close enough to still declare themselves members of his party. Unlike Harken, these three quickly spread out across the floor, each heading in a different direction, and each moving with a different purpose. Scanning faces, windows, tables, and doors, they inspected the establishment with a level of scrutiny normally reserved for thieves and murderers.

Harken approached the barkeep, placing one boot up on the foot rail and leaning against the bar with the cocksure manner of a man who owned the place. “Your dryest vodka, please,” he barked, not bothering to wait for the bartender’s attention.

The barkeep, a slender-yet-tall man with evenly parted hair and a finely waxed mustache, turned gently to face the gruff fellow before him. A derisive smile flashed across his face for the briefest of moments before he adopted a compassionate face. “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m afraid it’s terribly difficult to get vodka out here. Might I interest you in some rum instead? I have some selections that are quite difficult to find back in England.”

Harken let out a frustrated sound somewhere between a growl and the word “idiot,” then slapped a small coin on the bar and slid it forward. Tapping it pointedly with one finger, he locked eyes with the bartender. “I’ve come a long way, and I’ve had a very rough journey. Your dryest vodka, please.”

The bartender made to repeat himself, then paused, as a thought clicked in his brain. “Oh,” he simply said. “Oh, I see,” he continued, as his eyes fell to the coin. He inspected it for only a moment, then stepped away from the bar. “Yes, sir, I do believe that there might be a small bit stashed away. Please, let me show you what I have.” He strode around the bar and out from behind it, over to a door against the back wall. As he walked, he met eyes with each of the men that had followed him in, and nodded to them in turn.

Harken grumbled under his breath, pocketing the coin as he slid over to join the man. “Thank you,” he said as the barkeep pushed the door open, and passed through it. The latch locking shut made him look back for only a moment, but he quickly snapped forward to inspect this new room. Thicker, softer carpet, and a crackling fireplace in the back immediately lent a sense of luxury to this room. Paintings, framed maps, and thick bookshelves decorated the dark wooden walls, and model ships, antique sextants, and ornate compasses covered every flat surface. A faint smell of lavender even tickled Harken’s nose as he struggled to take in all the finery about him.

“Missing home yet, Colour Sergeant?” A voice rose from an overstuffed armchair a few paces to Harken’s side, surprising him. “I can’t imagine you’ve had much in the way of creature comforts these last few years.” The man had piercing blue eyes, which shone out through his bushy eyebrows, and his thick grey whiskers concealed his mouth. Though clearly at least a decade Harken’s senior, he stood tall in his officer’s jacket and ascot, and his epaulets bore the insignia of a Brigadier, which only surprised Harken further.

Harken snapped to a crisp salute, immediately regretting his gruff demeanor and poor grooming. He wasn’t expecting to be greeted by a Brigadier this far out from England, and his slipshod appearance was wholly unbecoming of His Majesty’s Royal Marines, even under current circumstances.

“None of that out here, son, especially not in front of me,” the Brigadier said gently as he stood. “We’re working quietly from here out, and there’s no sense in telling people more than what they need to know.”

Harken allowed himself to relax a bit, though a stiffness lingered in his spine, as penance for his oversight from before. “As you say, sir. You’ll forgive me my poor appearance, I wasn’t expecting to be greeted by anyone more than a fresh-faced lieutenant.”

The Brigadier grunted as he walked over to Harken. “It’s already forgotten, Colour Sergeant, though it does bother me that you were planning on asserting yourself over your superior.” He stepped in close and inspected Harken’s face. “That’s not going to be a problem, is it?”

“No, sir.” Harken responded crisply, trying to keep his eyes unfocused despite the officer in his face.

“Good,” the Brigadier replied, turning on his heel and stepping away. “The Falconers don’t have time to be measuring cocks out here. Which, while we’re on the subject of time,” the Brigadier turned to face him again, this time from halfway across the room. “Would you care to explain why you’re two months late?”

Harken frowned, confused at the question. “I’m sorry, sir, I don’t understand. We made excellent time, my men and I were onboard the Songbird for less than a week before we arrived.”

The Brigadier pursed his lips and made for a desk in the corner. “Colour Sergeant, my commission names me Brigadier Percival Patience. One thing you’ll learn quickly about Brigadier Patience is that I have none.” He grabbed the standing calendar on the desk and turned it to face Harken: June 21, 1718.

Harken felt his stomach flip as Brigadier Patience continued. “You were to report to my office in March. Your missives out of Manila led me to believe this would be the case. Even your letter explaining your departure across the Pacific sounded hopeful; I recall you mentioning a ship with Chaos Sails.” He leaned against the desk, rubbing his knee. “So why don’t you try that answer again?”

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Scars and Stains
As They Once Were

“There’s a slight scrape with the breath. I’ll want to keep an eye on that, Dion.” Alan held his hand against Rosie McGann’s back, checking her breathing with his extremely sensitive fingers. Beside him, Dion Medina, his new assistant, nodded absently while taking notes on Alan’s examination.

“Breathing otherwise seems normal,” Alan continued, moving his hand up to Rosie’s jaw, and gently placing two fingers beneath her neck. He stood for a moment, motionless and silent, before removing his hand. “Pulse is a bit rapid, but seems otherwise normal.” He moved a light close, and began examining her eyes. “Do I unnerve you, miss McGann?” he asked calmly, focusing intensely on her pupils.

. . .

Rosie slammed her back against the brick wall, trying hard to muffle her sharp, desperate breaths. She’d never run so hard or so fast in her life, and, though she’d known the streets of Dublin since she was a child, fear obscured her memories. She was hopelessly lost now, and prayed that her pursuer had likewise lost his way.

The MacTavish’s gad had always been the sleekest model in town. So helpful, so trustworthy; she had no reason to worry about borrowing it for the day to help with some errands. The last thing she expected was for it to push old man Murphy down some stairs and start chasing her with a hammer. She’d learn later that it was malfunctioning something awful, but, for the time, all she felt was fear.

. . .

“Not at all, Doctor,” Rosie responded through her thick Irish accent. “Your touch was just colder than I expected, is all.”

“Apologies for that, my circulation isn’t what it used to be.” Alan paused and searched her face, as though awaiting a chuckle at what he believed to be humor. She smiled appeasingly. He nodded in appreciation, and resumed examining her eyes.


Johann Lindemann smiled at Alan’s observation. “Well, I enjoy the sport, doc. Boxing might not be the most gentlemanly of pursuits, but I think it keeps me in good shape.”

“Be that as it may, Mr. Lindemann,” Alan replied, unamused, “I must advise against doing so bare-knuckled. Your hands are already showing the wear and tear of a man twice your age. Just look at this scar,” he tutted, pointing at a large gash along Johann’s inner left forearm. “This could have killed you.”

. . .

“Get that damn compressor plugged!” The Chief’s voice carried over the din of the engine room, while Johann wrestled with the white-hot steam now belching out of the compressor tube. Waist-deep and rising in briny seawater, he struggled to keep his footing with the shifting currents and slippery floor. Outside, the cannon-fire had stopped — or maybe he just couldn’t hear it any more, he wasn’t sure — all he knew was that he was going to die in this half-sunken ship, trapped in an engine room.

With a loud pop, the compressor tube in his hands ripped itself open, gouging his face and leaving a huge chunk of metal embedded in his left inner forearm. He screamed in anger and pain, furious at it all. “Dammit, Lindemann!,” the Chief shouted, wading over to him. “If we don’t die today, I’m gonna kill you!”

. . .

Johann smirked. “You’re right, doc, I shoulda been more careful with that one.”

Alan nodded, apparently proud that his patient was heeding his warning. “Good. Now, remove your shirt, please. I need to check your breathing.”


“My Dutch not good,” Selene Berger struggled out, trying to explain her condition to Alan. “Doctor told me, little girl, I have… uh… tired blood?”

Alan held a hand to his chin, pondering for a moment. “Anemia? You’re anemic?” Selene nodded furtively, recognizing the word. “Well, that’s no problem, miss Berger. Just maintain an iron-rich diet, and make sure you get plenty of sleep when you’re off shift.” Alan continued, apparently unaware that most of his words were sailing right over his patient’s head. “Now, tell me please,” He continued, studying her left eye from afar, “should I be concerned about that wall-eye of yours?”

. . .

The sound of pebbles being piled together always filled young Selene with fear. Even as a grown woman, she would always flinch at the sound, and the sight of a sock with a heavy weight in one end.

. . .

Missing the words, but noticing Alan’s attention focused on her left eye, Selene tried to casually brush it off, not interested in opening those old wounds. “Have had since child, doctor. Sometimes not so bad, sometimes so bad. Never big problem.”

“Yes, well,” Alan hesitated, not sure if he should press the matter. “Please come visit me if it ever starts to bother you.”

“Ja doctor.”


Alan repositioned himself to get a better look at the scar on Agarwal Dopinder Singh’s obliques. It was a horrible scar, sick with poorly-regrown muscle and flesh. “I’m not sure what I’m looking for, Mr. Dopinder.”

“No, no, I see it,” Dion, chimed in. “That is a very nice, scar.” Dopinder beamed at the praise.

Confused, Alan stood back up properly. “It looks like nothing but injury and pain to me.”

. . .

Dopinder felt the breaths deep in his chest as his heart thumped mightily in his throat, his back to the ground. The bandit’s lifeless body fell at his side, kicking up dust as it thumped to ground. Letting the battle rage on around him, Dopinder laid there for a moment, catching his breath. This was a good death. This was a noble death. He might not die today, but if he did, he’d be okay with it.

Lifting his head slightly, he could still see the jagged knife sticking out of his side. Buried all the way to the hilt, no less, he knew that taking this thing out would probably make things worse. But he couldn’t keep fighting like this, and his brothers needed him — the village needed him. Jamming a strip of bloody cloth in his mouth, he put both hands on the dagger’s handle, and pulled.

. . .

“I like it,” Dopinder replied gently, a note of self-satisfaction in his voice. “It hurts sometimes, but its a good pain. Reminds me of a very good day.”

Alan nodded as though understanding, the gears in his neck whirring softly as he did. “It would be a lot of trouble to fix up, anyway. I see no reason to operate on it unless it starts being more trouble than it’s worth.”


“You’re wasting your time, doc, I’m fine.” Charlie complained, knowing full well that her complaints were falling on deaf ears.

Alan swirled his hands around in a basin of hot water, his back to her. “Again, miss DuPont, this is just a check-up. We’re establishing a baseline of the crew’s health, so its easier for us to spot when something is amiss.” He wiped his hands on a towel Dion offered him, then turned to her, extending an arm. “Now, please relax, I’m going to check your pulse.”

“I really wish you wouldn’t,” she said, softly, recoiling a bit.

“Is something wrong?” Alan asked.

“I just… I don’t wanna, is all.” Her voice carried a hint of hesitation that both Alan and Dion picked up on. The two physicians shared a puzzled look, then turned back to Charlie.

“Charlie,” Alan began, “It’s just a simple check, nothing serious. I’m just making sure everything’s okay.”

. . .

“Please” crossed her pink lips. “Please, please, please.” It seemed so empty, so meaningless. It was all she could say, even though every inch of her longed to say more.

Like a spring never ending. Wasn’t there a dream last night? None of it mattered, and none of it ever would.

“Please.”

. . .

“Patient um…” Alan hesitated, balking at the weight of the words he knew he had to say. “Patient has no pulse.” He stood in silence for a moment, Dion’s furtive pen scratches making the only sound in the infirmary.

Charlie, her back slouched and her head slumped, locked eyes with Alan as a single tear rolled down her cheek. “I see you, Alan.”

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To be a bride

Mind in turmoil, Farrah still presented a poised demeanor to the world. Life on the Songbird was not what she was raised to expect from her future, but it was a good life. It led to certain opportunities. Opportunities like inventing a new hybrid fuel sky ship engine. Improving dorsal prosthesis coupling so that Captain Phillip’s arm wouldn’t chafe him.

But she could not deny that her life had changed. She had changed. Uncle Chakroun had spoken about the wisdom of her actions, and Farrah was ready to take that advice to heart. Perhaps the best thing for her passions would be to share them with a…partner.

Captain Phillip was trustworthy, powerful, responsible. Captain Phillip trusted her, letting her operate on his arms at all hours. Who was it who took care of her during her grief? Him. Who was it who stood by him through the many fiascos that seemed to follow the ship? Her.

After talking about what becoming a bride meant, what would happen, Farrah felt prepared for the decision already made. Of course she knew what came after, many of the women she educated were in harems. But despite knowing how distasteful it could become, Farrah was making this decision. She wanted a partner, and all that entailed. That meant she would have to become accustomed to being a good partner herself. Serving the Captain in any endeavor, even before he knew to ask her. No matter how difficult. Farrah trusted completely in herself, her ability to become whatever she needed to be.

And when she remembered how terrifyingly quick this decision was made, the moment alone in the Captain’s quarters when her heart fluttered like a bird against a cage, Farrah trembled again. Was this how her mother felt? Irrationally, completely his? Farrah would never have the answer to that, now that her parents were dead. But perhaps…maybe it would be more cautious, wiser, to not question this. Instead, Farrah would try her hardest to become a good bride.

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Enough

As the door slammed behind Farrah, Phillip slumped into his chair and reached for the bottle. No need for a glass tonight.

Phillip’s mind swam, but he didn’t let it bother him. No one else seemed to give a damn about the state of his mind or anyone else’s, so why should he? You could delve into someone’s deepest secrets, enthrall a crowd, even rewrite someone’s life, and somehow Phillip would still be talked down to like a child for objecting.

Enough was enough. Damn his mind, damn everyone and everything…

Phillip passed out, half-formed curses echoing silently through his mind.

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Letter to a Friend

Avi collapsed onto the floor of her room, which caused alarm with Tip and Kharrakh, both moving to her side. The flock fluttered around her, chirping until Little Tip scolded them. She did not rose at first, to their chatter but after a moment, lifted herself up enough to look at them. Her tears glistened in the lamp light, as they slipped down her cheeks. Her azure and gold eyes stared, desperately back into the void of Kharrakh’s. There had to be something else she could do. Her heart ached with grief and fear. If it had not been for the Captain, she could have been like that woman. Her gift was so similar, and she had need to use it to save Phillip from the siren’s spell. She felt dirty, and flinched away from Kharrakh’s touch as he tried to pull her into his arms. He wanted to comfort her but she did not want the feeling to just go away. She needed to do something first.

“Avi?” his voice sounded in her ears, instead of her mind, and she was grateful for that. He was learning quickly, picking up the words necessary to speak with her or the limited interactions he would have with the crew.

“I must,” she began. “I must do something. I can not let her hold them like this. It needs to be their choice. What can I do?” With her question, she looked helplessly into his eyes again. He did not respond at first, he did not know of what she was speaking.

“Shall I kill them?” his question made her flinch again.

“No, no, I do not want her blood!” she responded with vigor. She lowered her head, wishing that he would have a different solution that death. He was a being made for war, and some days she worried that she was no different, or the woman she was before she was Avi. “I will write a letter, maybe, maybe he can do something to fix this.”

She lifted herself up and moved to her collection of belongings, most being shiny rocks and shells, with a few small pieces, to small to use, of Orichalchum. Within the pile, however, she was able to draw out a quill, ink, and paper. The words came out quickly, messily, as she was not use to the format.

Dear Adam,

I feel that you may be able to help, with a problem that we recently came across in Manila. To my great grief, Captain Phillip made us leave without this woman understanding. Sanna Marina is a Stranger, with a gift that, since discovering, I have learned not to use, unless in the most dire of circumstances. With sadness, I used it for the first time on your brother, to break him from this woman’s hold. I cannot bare to think what may have occurred if I had not been resistant to her weird to her siren’s song.

While I was able to save Phillip, I mourn for the men and women under her control. Oblivious to the weird that holds them, but their happiness is false and comes at the expense of their freedom. They have been stolen from their homes and families, as she tried to take me. I only wish for them to be free to choose. If they wish to stay with her, without the weird, I will not pursue the topic.

My point, dear Adam, is that Sanna Marina needs to understand that those that join her, should do so of their own will. I do not want harm to come to her, I just hope you have a way that can help these victims and prevent future cases. Again, please avoid harm! And do not subject her to prison, in jail or on an island. She only needs to understand and stop what she is doing.
I know this may sound like a desperate plea or a waste of VOC time, but I do not know who else to turn to. Your brother did all that he felt he could.

She stopped to stare at what she had written, and only after she felt she had gotten her point across did she return to the letter.

Since, I am writing, I would also like to thank you for delivering my feather to my sister. I hope she is well, I do worry so, for her. I hope this letter finds you, too, in good health. My bird will stay if you wish to send a response, she will be able to find me. Her name is Ouluck, and she likes it if you rub above her beak and the shoulders of her wings. Thank you, once again, dearest Adam.

Your Friend, Avi

She rolled up the letter and tied a ribbon around it to hold it together, then attached it to Ouluck’s leg. She stroked the sea bird’s beak.

“I will return after I send her out, Kharrakh.”

She continued up, to the deck, and let Ouluck go, this was the most she could do, hopefully Adam could do more.

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The Mind

In the dim light of the captain’s cabin, the guilt returned.

Phillip hadn’t asked for help; he had repeated that fact to himself every day since Livingston had made use of his oddity. It felt true enough, though most truths didn’t require constant repetition to remain so. Livingston should have said more; he should have explained first. Nonetheless, Phillip was complicit now. And it weighed on him.

There was no denying Farrah was easier to handle now. Phillip hadn’t felt he’d deserved the princess’s ire, but nonetheless it was hers to feel. She was young and naive, and she was grieving. He had dealt with worse without turning to magic.

Phillip had long since given up trusting his own body to carry out his wishes. The metal device strapped painfully to his side was reminder enough of that lesson. He had met a girl who could exsanguinate him with a thought, but even she could not touch his mind.

For so long, he felt sure that his mind was his own. But Avinia had found her way into it. A man he hardly knew had rewritten his friend’s memories. The arm he had trusted for so long, that had saved his life, had been warping his mind for years.

Could he trust his crew? Could he trust himself?

Phillip finished his drink and poured another.

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The Freya
Aleid searches for her lost sister

I wonder how much of the world Avi has had the chance to see, wondered Aleid Elon.

Aleid stood at the bow of Freya, the grand ship that was built and gifted to her. Freya was a fine ship, her father had hired men who excelled in their fields to build a ship worthy of the new head of the Elon family.

“It is like you, my child, strong and smart, yet sleek and elegant,” he had told her. She could not disagree with him, and she found herself longing to be at see with it.

Aleid’s hand traced a carving that ran the length of the railing. These little details were what her father had meant. They made Freya more than just another ship from Iceland. However, if Ewald ever knew just how magnificent his daughter and the ship he had bought for her, he would bulk in fear, like the coward he was. He feared the weird. He feared strangers. That was why he had tried to kill Avi and that was why their mother, Janneke, had made sure he never knew of Aleid’s gifts.

Soon, sister. Soon, we will be together once more and the Elon name will be known for us and not our cruel father.

“Lady Elon, we will be seeing shore in a days time. What are your orders?” Captain Amberth asked.

Aleid looked at the man she had chosen as captain. He had years of ship-work experience, even being a captain of one of her father’s ships, though he had never known that Amberth was a Stranger. All the strangers that had worked under Ewald had known to hide their abilities from him.

“We will make port. Send out men to resupply and have them ask for word of my sister. We will not return to Reykjavik until we find her.”

The captain bowed to her, and she watched his dark curls slip from his shoulders. He moved from her almost as fast as he had approached and she could hear him shouting orders behind her.

Her eyes returned to the see and she pulled a feather from the breast of her dress. When she had received the feather she had crafted a necklace for it. The feather meant her sister was alive. The man who had sent it to her, Adam Van Hett, had sent the letter from Batavia, but it was unlikely that her sister would still be there. Batavia was a long way from the Americas, but without knowing exactly where her sister was, she could not order her crew across the ocean. They would look for rumors until she knew where her sister would go. It would take time, but Avi would be found.

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