V.O.C. of the People

Eulogy for Sailors Lost

Sailors are not like other men: they are born of the sea. In the darkest depths of the vast ocean, a sailor’s spirit is forged of brine, and coral, and just a little gold. In that all-encompassing darkness, amidst the unknowable terrors of the deep, a sailor’s spirit learns courage. It is this courage that urges him to pursue his destiny, and rise from the ocean’s depths.

But a sailor cannot rise alone. He must find others like him, and only together can they emerge from the darkness. Thusly does a sailor’s spirit learn teamwork and brotherhood. As a crew, they rise and breach the surface, and the world welcomes them, for it has need of them. Though they may wander from the sea, she is their home, and in time all sailors return to her.

May we remember that, though they leave us now, it is only to fulfill a greater purpose. We release them that they may return to those black depths. For it is their task now to take brine, and coral, and just a little gold, and fashion the spirits of those next to rise.

And may we not mourn that we could not prevent their passage. For who are we to control these mythical beasts, these terrors of the deep, who rose from the ocean’s infinite blackness to master its surface? Let us mourn only that our ship sails more slowly, diminished for lack of their terrific might.

A final salute now, from those fortunate to have known them. And song to bear their spirits into eternity.

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Don't Let This Moment Slip Away
Avi wishes she could stop time

Avi turned to Kharakh, resting her head on his shoulder, even though he did not know how to react. She needed a moment, so much had happened in just a day. Everything was threatening to slip through her fingers, her desire for freedom, for a family, and to know the truth, it all could fall apart so easily if she made the wrong decision. Her light sob caused a startling response from Kharakh, one of his hands touched her back, though it was awkward and unsure.

His touch reminded her of the fleeting feelings she had had, always while she had slept. She recalled the moments, the dreams, first of Dashiell, the she had learned too late loved her. Then of Captain Phillip, the dreams inspired by a girlish crush, and had slipped away from her. Now, she stood, with Kharakh’s hand on the small of her back. Hours ago she had been at his bedside, fearful of what was going to happen to him. She had never experienced fear so strong, even her fear of being caged had not affected her this way.

She wished to stay, in this moment, even if he did not understand it, she needed it to last. If it ended she would have to return to the reality that so many were waiting for her. The eyes of her sisters were upon her, waiting for answers she did not have. She had so many new questions, about who she was, how she had been born to two human parents, why she had been lost. The sister she had spoken with, that was waiting for her, had said she had been the first of them, the first daughter, but she only had memories from her human life. She had a human sister, a human father and mother, how could any of this news be true?

Truth and lies, both threatened to be either, both threatened to be true, and yet if they were the truth then her life had been a lie. If it was true, was she not human, even though she had been born from a mortal womb? She wished Kharakh understood more of the ways of comfort, his touch so light, but she wished he would embrace her, whisper to her that everything was going to be alright.

She let the moment slip away and removed herself from his shoulder. Just days ago she had known who she was, and now she was unsure. She lifted her eyes to the sky, her mother and sisters still up there, except the sister that waited to speak with her, wanting to fly with her. She had not decided if she would go, especially if she would go alone or not. She wanted Kharakh with her, to keep her safe, if anything went wrong, she could not trust herself to harm those like her.

What would the Captain think? Would he be alright with her speaking with them, likely not if she went alone, he had only let her be on her own twice, once when he had sent her back to the ship and once when she had been left on protection duty. But, he trusted her, if she took Kharrakh perhaps it would be enough, she was not ready for the others to know what her sisters were telling her. She did not want them to fear her.

She looked a Kharakh, who had been watching her, and she wondered what he was thinking, but she did not reach into his mind. She could see his nostrils flare, perhaps taking in the smells around them. A faint blush came to her cheeks and she wiped the tears from her eyes. The moment was over. The truth waited for her.

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Leads and Lies
In which observations are made

Adam Van Hett sniffed a bit as he stepped into the Observatory. It smelled like Orichalcum dust in here, a smell that always left his nostrils burning for the rest of the day. He made a note to talk to the boys in Manufacturing about moving the workstation into a more well-ventilated part of the building.

The Observatory itself was impressive—or at least, it had once been. Adam had since grown bored of all the various ways the VOC kept abreast of things, but was able to still recognize how truly efficient and impressive a machine the Observatory was.

The center of the room was dominated by a large, flat world map, lit from beneath by electric lights. All along the walls were shelving units, each filled to capacity with small Orichalcum nuggets, no single one any bigger than the tip of Adam’s pinky. Beneath each organizer was a small cabinet, which Adam knew were all filled with files, full of information on each asset the VOC was currently tracking.

The “assets” were individuals who, for one reason or another, had agreed to allow the VOC to monitor them. They were then Tagged, and released to do whatever they did, and the folks working the Observatory would check in on them every so often — with the Orichalcum crystals attuned to their specific Tag. A global network of spies. Any one among them was infinitely replaceable, but the conglomeration of all of them working together was, without question, the single most valuable tool in the VOC’s possession.

“Oh, uh, good morning, Mr. Van Hett,” the technician stammered out as Adam walked in, clearly caught off-guard by his unannounced arrival. “How are you today, sir?”

Adam suppressed a smile at the technician’s behalf. “I’m fine, thank you. How are things down here today?”

The technician, a mousy, bespectacled young lady who exuded an aura of being fresh from the University, gathered up her parchment and pen before responding. “We are hitting all projected benchmarks for check-ins, sir. All check-ins are on time and are fully within expected parameters.”

Adam finally let his smirk show a bit. “Relax, kid. This isn’t an inspection.” The girl let out a soft sigh and a smile, though seemed no less comfortable for it. “I actually wanted to look at a file, asset 71N.”

The technician stammered a bit as she adjusted her spectacles. “Oh, yes, I actually just finished checking in on him earlier this morning. Let me see here,” she said, setting down her things and moving towards one of the organizers. “Nothing unusual,” she continued, thumbing through a cabinet until finally withdrawing a leather-bound folio, “he’s probably one of the less exciting assets, to be honest.” She strode back across the room and offered it to Adam.

“Thank you,” Adam said as he accepted and opened the folio. He began thumbing through it, speaking as he did. “It looks like we’re checking in on him once a week, is that correct?”

“I believe so, sir, if that’s what his file says.” Adam lifted his gaze to meet hers, and cocked an eyebrow inquisitively. “I just do the check-ins, sir,” she confessed.

“I’d like you to start checking in on him daily, if it’s not too much trouble,” Adam said, returning to the file. Without allowing her time to deny his request, he continued, “Are you able to tell anything else through his Tag, other than location?”

“I-its a pretty basic Tag, sir,” the technician said, struggling to keep up with the Executive’s pace of conversation. “He was acquired as a low-value asset—just some klutz snooping around in the financials department, if I remember right. I doubt I’d be able to get anything more than just a heartbeat.”

“Well, let’s start recording that, too, then,” Adam said, conclusively. “We want to know everything you’re able to tell us.”

“Um, yes, Mr. Van Hett.” The technician held up a finger, as though to ask a question. She hesitated, almost thinking better of it, but after a moment, pushed forward. “Sir, may I ask why this man is suddenly so interesting? We’ve had him as an asset for a while now, and he’s barely given us anything useful.”

“I’m afraid,” Adam said, finishing up his browsing and clapping the folio shut, “that is above your paygrade.” He handed back the folio and turned to leave. “For now, just record what you can, and we’ll keep you informed of any changes as they roll in.” He opened the door, then turned back to the technician. “And thanks for all the hard work. You’re really helping us out, down here.”

“My pleasure, sir,” the technician called out, but Adam was already gone. “Huh,” she muttered to herself, after the door closed.

She eyed the folio as she returned it to its cabinet, continuing her external monologue. “Asset 71N: ‘Joe.’ You just got into a whole lot of trouble.”

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The Deceiver

After the battle, Farrah left her smoldering machines to feel the sea air on her face. She never thought the sea could give her comfort, that cold wasteland between her and home from which destruction was delivered to her people. But the cool spray calmed her nerves, cleared her lungs, and washed away the sweat of her brow.

Below the waves, above the waves, all around the ship were enemies. But as father used to say, “The army may surround the desert, but crossing through it fells them one by one.” She would be a desert, searing passion and intellect to burn away their opposition. Even the greatest enemy could not kill that fire, even should she die. Allah would not allow it.

And Tamir Lin did not betray her – yet. He had survived the battle. If he did not lie, he would present himself to her soon to receive his punishment. What punishment would the deceiver earn from her hand? Even he didn’t have the power she truly craved, the power to split the world in two and safeguard all humanity from Chaos.

But he had much more power than her. The power of base deception. The Book of Muhammad claims Allah as the greatest deceiver, one who turns every scheme of men against them. Tamir Lin was a demon, but even his schemes could be of use to a devout believer.

Farrah breathed deeply, salt on her tongue. Tamir Lin would be hers to use, to atone for the destruction he brought upon her family.

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A Conversation of Importance
Between Mother and Daughter

Hello, daughter dearest. I have searched far and wide for you, and it pleases me that you are well, speaks Iures.

“You tried to kill my friends!” Avi shouted, finding no need to think the words.

“I did not mean to cause you pain. I am not used to my daughters becoming attached to lesser beings. Please, excuse my misgivings. I meant only to clear a path to you.”

Avi’s head shakes in desperation. “You could have asked! So many are dead because you chose violence!”

After a moment of hesitation, Iures speaks again, “I apologize. I did not realize you were so fond of these creatures. You are so precious a find for me, I did not consider the consequences of acting in haste.”

“What is so important about me?”

“You are my daughter. “

“I don’t even know how that’s possible.”

Iures chuckled, “You have forgotten much. There are many rules in this world that define how things work — rules from which I am exempt.” She smiled, motherly, at Avi. “Come home with me, and I will explain everything to you.”

“Where is home?”

“I have heard the creatures here call it Vandagen, though to us it is known as Mu.”

Avi’s expression fell, her eyes shifting, torn between staying and going. “I can’t leave them,” she finally decides.

“Your pets?”

“They’re not pets, they’re my family,” her words coming out hard.

Iures look becomes derisive for a moment before becoming motherly again. “Oh, my child. Yes, you may bring them if you wish. But it is not heir home, there will be many dangers awaiting them there.”

“I cannot come with you. At least, not right now.”

“Then your sisters and I will stay here with you. We have much to share with you,” she says, hiding a disappointing expression.

“Uh… on the Songbird?”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“The ship”

“The vessel your… friends… attacked my mother with?”

“Yes!” Avi laughs, a little nervously.

“If that is where you will stay.”

“I don’t think that’s gonna work,” she says, quickly.

“Then we shall occupy the harbor instead. I do not wish to be long or far removed from you, Gamayun.”

“Gamayun?”

Iures’ face grows concerned once more. “You have forgotten even your name? Oh, my child, forgive me for leaving you so long to this horrid place. Never again will I allow this.”

This time, Avi’s expression turns, offended. “My name is Avi.”

“Of course it is, my dear,” she replies, very concerned.

“I guess, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.”

“I will not. Your sisters are very excited to see you, however; they will struggle to remain calm under the circumstances.”

Avi looks around to notice all the others like her circling and staring at her in awe. “Right now, Kharrakh needs me more,” with that she began to fly back for the Songbird.

Do what you must. I will be waiting. Return to me when you are ready to learn your truth. Bring your friends, too.

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Fear, As Told by Avinnia
When all she needs, is for him to wake

There was blood everywhere. The bodies, of my lost kin, piling up, around me. They were trying to kill my friends, but I could not hurt them. Kharrakh had left my side, to fight, I knew he had, I did not need to look. My mind continued to pound against my skull, searching for the words, with which I could end the fight. At last they came, and with them, my sisters retreated, with the being claiming me as her daughter.

I could breathe, for the briefest of moments. Then there were two splashes. I had to lift my head, to see. Hurrying, to the railing, and grabbing on when I caught sight of him. Kharrakh. He was swimming out, with Rhaxdi, to continue the fight. The feeling of fear returned to me. But this, fear, is unlike any I had felt before. I could feel my heart throbbing against my chest. I could not help him in the water.

The minutes dragged on like hours, until I see him once more, but he was not moving. He was floating, on the surface of the water. Was he dead? Fear, stronger than ever, surged through me, and I had to go to him. I had to reach him. I had to save him.

I pulled myself up onto the railing of the Songbird, and took flight. No one knew what I was doing, everyone was too distracted to stop me. My fear pushed me through the air. I was coming, Kharrakh.

Dipping myself down into the water, waist deep, the cold ocean wrapped around me. I had to get him back to the Songbird, to Alan. He was not moving. I would have to carry him back, yes, whatever was necessary. My arms slipped beneath him, and with the aid of my powers I lifted him out of the water, with ease. Taking flight, once more, I made my way back to the ship.

Kharrakh had not awoken. My talons barely touched the ground, as I propelled myself quicker with my wings. I see, but have no time to acknowledge the new crew member, his head and sword tipped to us, as I pass.

There were many below deck, Alan was busy, treating them all as I come inside.

“Al-Alan,” the words came out of my mouth, so quietly, so fearful. “Alan, I need your help. Kharrakh needs your help.”

Alan continued to work for several more moments before he seemed to hear my plea. “Alan, please!”

He took Kharrakh from me and began to work on him with the care he showed everyone. After too many minutes he finally turned to me.

“He is stable. I must tend to the others,” he said. “You should let him rest.”

“I am not leaving!” the words passed over my lips before I knew I had thought them. If Alan thought to object, he did not say. He must have understood.

For several hours, I have been sitting at Kharrakh’s bedside, afraid that he might not wake. Stable but not here, with me. The commotion of the medical bay calms down, around me, as I wait. The minutes seem endless, the fear tells me that he will not awake, but I must hold onto hope. I must not let him go.

My hands, once not able to hold anything, just feather and wing, keep my fingers coiled, ever so tight, around his hand. My head droops over his, not because of exhaustion, but because of the sobs I can no longer qwell. The fear is overwhelming. I need him to open his eyes, to look at me, to know that he will live. The night is growing so long, so dark, and a pain in my chest will not end, like this night.

“Kharrahk, please, please wake up,” I whisper, uncaring if he could understand these words. “I need you to wake.”

My plea seems to go unheard. He does not stir. Many of the less injured crew leave the medical bay while I wait. A few of them stop at our side. They do not speak, but look at us in silence. They are thanking him. Thanking him for fighting alongside of them. Thanking him for fighting to protect their lives. If he wakes, the fear of who he was before may now fade away. He is a part of the ship, this crew, this family that I have made. The Song Bird is his home, like it is mine.

I want him to wake, I want him to stay. Somewhere, deep inside, I fear that now that he has tasted battle that he will leave. He has his freedom, what I have been fighting to get him, but with it, he has the right to leave. I would not think to force him to stay. I fought for my own freedom so long, but somewhere the fear remains. Will he wake? Will he stay?

“Kharrahk, I need you,” I do not know the full extent of those words. I feel them, in my bones, where they make my body quiver and my heart catch.

There is movement, in my hands, and I stop breathing, as I open my eyes. He is looking at me. My face, fully damp with tears, and I do not stop a sob of relief.
“You are awake,” I began.

Thank you, he speaks with tired words. For allowing me ker-thin. It has made me happy, to bring you and I such great honor.

The fear fades. The pain begins to ease. He is with me. And he is….happy.

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Tale of a Lost Sister

Sisters, Sisters, Gather Round,
Come Hear the Tale that I Have Wound.
Among the Humans of Avalon,
Lives a Sister Long Since Found.

Her Colors Match the Sky and Sun;
Half Azure, Half Dandelion.
She Speaks the Tongues of Mortal Men,
And Seeks Their Thoughts for Deeper Sins.

She Travels by Both Sea and Air.
Strangers by Her Side,
Birds On Her Wings,
And Rumor Has, A Fish to Guard Her.

Sisters, Sisters, Gather Round,
Come Hear the Tale that I Have Wound.
In Avalon A Lost Sister Lives.
To Avalon, We Go, To Find Her.

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Siblings and Squabbling
In which exposition is spouted in a wild and carefree manner

“It is good to see you again, brother.”

The voice rang gently through the damp alley, moss and stone muffling the echoes into whispers. At the edge of the alley, a man, dressed in fine Dutch fashion, stepped into the silent causeway, tapping his cane softly as he walked.

From the shadows under an awning, Rhaxdi stepped out, clad in the plain dress of a serving girl. “I’ve been expecting you for a while,” she continued, a concerned look on her face, “you’re very late.”

The man let a grin spread across his lightly-whiskered face. “Yes, well, I got held up dealing with our sister’s little mess.”

Rhaxdi brought her eyes to meet her brothers’, not allowing her concerned expression to fade. “This isn’t the time for joking.”

“I’m not joking,” he responded, holding his hands up defensively, “Iures decided to cause some real problems! People died! I was trying to help clean it up.”

“Clean it up?” Rhaxdi asked, her expression changing to one of skepticism. “You can’t stem that tide.”

“I had to try. One of my girls had family there.”

“One of your toys,” Rhaxdi corrected. “That’s all they ever were to you.” The man turned away, chided by his sister’s remark. “Besides, we have much bigger problems.”

The man turned back to face her. “Bigger problems than you deciding to just show up after thirty years?”

“Lin.” Rhaxdi replied.

“Fine, I’m sorry. Continue.”

“When Iures came in, she left The Door open behind her. Best I can tell, it’s still open”

Lin’s face snapped into an extremely serious expression, as he met his sister’s gaze. “What?”

Rhaxdi nodded slowly. “Yes, and I think mom has already crossed over.”

Lin let out an exasperated sigh as he paced about. “This wasn’t supposed to start for another century. Avalon is not ready for our family.”

“Yeah,” Rhaxdi said, letting her gaze fall to the cobblestone walkway. For a moment, silence hung between the two as they contemplated the weight of what lay before them. Rhaxdi spoke first. “She’s going to be coming here.”

Lin nodded, his back turned as he studied the harbor in the distance. “Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised. She has every reason to come here. Any word on dad?”

Rhaxdi shook her head. “No, and I’m not expecting to yet; it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than The Door to let the King in Chains into Avalon.”

“Do you think Seven could do it?”

“Hell I hope not. That’d be a bad day for everyone.”

Lin turned to face his sister. “But do you think Seven could do it?”

Rhaxdi studied her brother’s face for a moment, her breaths shallow. “I don’t know,” she finally said, shaking her head. “But I do know that mom is on her way here, and if we don’t do something right now, a lot of people are going to die." She sighed gently. "Seven can wait.”

Lin nodded in agreement. “Death rides for Batavia,” he said, straightening his jacket. “What do you say we roll out the welcome mat?” He let a grin crawl across his face as he offered an elbow to his sister.

Rhaxdi stood and took her brother’s arm, allowing herself a smile. “Tamir Lin, I hope you never change.”

“Dear sister, was that a joke?”

“Shut up and walk with me.”

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The Bleeding Edge
A People Obsessed

The glass and metal orb sat precariously atop a mess of Orichalcum hubs and clicking gears. Sometimes, a sporadic flickering would illuminate the walls of the engine room, and the newly lined face of a sleeping girl.

Across the world, a doctor sat down at her writing desk to transcribe the rushed notes taken during her last surgery. More and more frequently, her days were spent not in healing the sick, but modifying the living. What the popularity of these new mechanical body parts meant for society, she couldn’t say. But today she had learned more about the technology and about the body. Perhaps that would be enough. She hoped what she did was not against God, but there was little time for prayer these days.

In a shadowed room, little more than a hut, an exiled scholar wrote yet another letter to a lost girl he once admired. Though his recent travels were not chosen, they had enlightened him in many ways. All his years at the University were not enough to show him how the world could turn on a dream. Paupers and prisoners (and refugees) could feel strong with hope. Was that not a gift from Allah? Wherever she was, if she was still alive, she was hope for him. He wrote down anything he found in his trek that might be of use to her. And on the way, he whispered hope into the ears of the powerless.

The factories churned on.
The Orichalcum mines dug deeper into the earth under the watchful eye of the VOC.
Brilliant minds strained against what was possible and known to bring the world into the murky lands of invention.
Everywhere in the world, the bleeding edge of discovery stained the palms of its worshippers.

And the girl muttered in her sleep, cheek pillowed only by the thrumming metal of an engine, always on the brink of waking from whatever nightmare chose to visit that night.

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Carrots and Cutlery
In which snacking is not permitted

The smell of boiling carrots filled the galley. They weren’t being prepared with a purpose; Fabio just liked to boil carrots. They were easy to do, smelled good, and gave him an easy out whenever someone tried to get him to do something. “Just started boiling carrots,” he’d say. They usually left him alone after that.

It was a smell that always took him home, back to when he was a young Arighetti in Italy. His mother never had much, so most dinners were primarily carrot or tomato in composition. Occasionally, they’d have potatoes or pasta, but those were usually reserved for special occasions. Being the oldest of seven, he was often enlisted to help with making dinner — a chore he eventually took over completely once he was comfortable with the knife. It came natural to him, making food for others, so becoming a ship’s cook was almost a matter of course. He didn’t mind.

The sound of rope hitting the deck nearby brought him back to the moment. “Ey Cookie,” one of the deckhands called out as she walked towards the galley, “how’sabout givin’ us an early supper, then? I’ve worked twice as ‘ard as any other today.”

Fabio didn’t even bother raising his head. “No snacking, Joan. I just started boiling some carrots.”

The stock excuse didn’t seem to faze Joan. “Come on, cookie. Jus’ an apple. I’ll eat it secret-like.”

“No snacking, welp.”

Joan, eyeing Fabio, stopped her approach just outside the galley’s door. “I’ll not bother ye, then. Just an apple for me’self,” she said, reaching her arm towards a bushel on a nearby counter. “Nothin’ to bother ye wiAAAAAAA!”

Her scream came on the tail end of Fabio slashing her arm with his cooking knife. She gasped, grabbing the wound defensively as she eyed the cook. Fabio, emotionless as always, simply wiped off the knife and resumed his work.

“Yer crazy, then!” Joan shouted. “That punishment t’weren’t fit fer pinchin’ an apple!” Hatred filling her vision, she grabbed for her cutlass and pulled it from her belt. “I’ll have your ‘ead for that!”

She lifted her cutlass, as though prepared to charge into battle, but felt a hand grab her wrist from behind. She turned, startled by the sudden grapple, to see Captain Borrow restraining her.

“There’ll be none of that,” the Captain said, his voice reminiscent of a father scolding his child. “Besides, you wouldn’t last two seconds with the cook.” He gestured with his head that she look ahead.

Where Fabio had previously stood working, now there was only empty air. Instead, Joan felt the flat of a blade tap against her ribs. She looked to see the cook, crouched silently at her side, holding the kitchen knife against her ribcage. “It’s a shame,” Fabio muttered, standing back up, “not much meat out on the open seas. Be nice to get some protein back in our diets.”

“We don’t eat deckhands for being rowdy, Fabio” The Captain chided.

“Quite right you are, Captain,” Fabio responded. “Not since we resupplied in Suez.”

Joan went pale at the implication, but calmed a bit upon hearing the Captain’s chuckle. She lowered his arm, and sheepishly returned the cutlass to her belt. “I’ll return to my duties, then, sir.”

“Captain,” Philp interjected.

“Yes, Captain. I’ll return to my duties, then, Captain,” Joan reiterated.

“Yes you will. And when we arrive in Batavia, you’ll be looking for another ship. I’ll not have deckhands attacking my cook because they’re hungry.”

“Yes, Captain.”

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