V.O.C. of the People

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Don't Look Down

Looking back, Farrah might even admit that Allah must have meant her to find the Songbird. Life aboard this ship gave her so many new opportunities to advance her work. She was meeting biological mechanics from all over the world, maintaining a network of correspondence that shared ideas between those mechanics and enriched her own projects. She had challenging projects at her fingertips, and of course the funds and workspace to complete those projects.

And despite all the setbacks, she felt more focused and productive every day. Losing her people would never stop being torment, but she could become someone that would never let the Al-Azar name die. Her parents would be proud.

However, some matters were still not clear. The new crew member was untrustworthy, and Captain Phillip seemed to meet with him quite often, discussing something troubling. Avi had found family and then…lost them again. Alan was acting erractic and quiet. Mel’s strangeness was changing in unpredictable ways. Farrah wasn’t blind to these issues and sometimes when she could spare a thought from her work and her letters, the lack of answers troubled her greatly.

Farrah’s breath hissed through her teeth as a plug slipped and a jet of superheated steam seared her knuckles. She was becoming distracted and cloud-headed again. Perhaps it would help to discuss matters with someone, try to find answers to put these issues to rest. But who? Avi was a trustworthy friend who might be in pain, but also she was not human. Who could say if Farrah could offer any comfort there, where her pet monster could serve better perhaps. Captain Phillip would be open to talking, but his decisions for crewing the ship would be beyond question, even by Farrah. Alan then? Also not human, but if he was experiencing difficulties perhaps Farrah would be the perfect person to offer guidance. She certainly knew enough to offer insight to particular issues a sentient machine might face.

“Miss, the steam is making it quite difficult to breathe in here now. Might I open the door?” Farrah blinked out of her reverie to find a red-faced sailor tugging at her sleeve. What was his name again, Titus? Timothy? The man was useless except for his brute strength and doggish obedience to Farrah’s direction but now that he brought her attention to it she really ought to replace that plug.

“Yes, fine Toby. Open the door if you must and bring me another pair of clamps for this joint. The large ones from the engine I think should do.”
“Very good mam, but…not the big clamps on the main valve? Those are there in case it needs an emergency systems purge you said. You were quite specific.”
“Tanner, we are in dock. The engine will be fine, now just do as I ask!”

Farrah returned her full attention to the gleaming appratus before her on the desk. Who could have dreamed that she would have access to all the necessary parts by the end of the week? This arm would be the envy of all the Captain encountered, and advance prothetesis studies by leaps and bounds. If only she could keep her mind cleared of all the other distractions…

Death and Determination
In which a Dragon meets its end.

“So, we just let them go?” The first mate’s voice was gruff and indignant, almost disbelieving. “Just like that?”

“We aren’t in a position to cause any trouble,” Ju-Long, captain of the Superstition, replied, his voice measured and calm. The two of them stood atop the deck of their ship, watching a potential future rival leave their failed parley. “We are here representing the VOC.”

“Aye, Cap’n.” The first mate replied, resigned, as he watched the Songbird turn away. “I just don’t get why the VOC sent us to help defend this shitty town.”

“As the missive said,” Ju-Long began, “We are the closest VOC-sponsored vessel in the area.” Noting his mate’s sour response to that, he continued: “And it pays remarkably well. One week here will be—”

The world shifted around Ju-Long. No longer on the deck of the Superstition, he was now suddenly inside a wooden room. “…very profitable,” he whispered, finishing his thought. With no windows, a lone door, and only a single candle resting in a wall sconce for light, the room was quite dark. The ceiling, walls, and floor were all wooden slats, like the inside of a ship, though the lack of any decor whatsoever made it feel more oppressive than spartan.

A thunderclap sounded from somewhere outside, and the room shook, nearly knocking Ju-Long to his feet. His sailor instincts kicked in quickly, however, and he was able to keep his balance despite not being able to see the sky. A moment later, another, harder rumble jostled the room, and Ju-Long recognized the sound: a magazine explosion. This ship is going down, he thought. I have to get out of here!

Granting himself as much of a running start as the small room would allow him, Ju-Long threw his shoulder into the door. The door didn’t budge, and he fell back, clutching his shoulder in pain. Outside, cannon fire rang out. A battle. After a moment of letting the agony subside, however, The Dragon inside him took over, and he tried again. And again. And again, and again, until, on the fifth time, the door finally swung open as splinters of a door bar fell to the ground outside.

He stood in a hallway. Similarly wooden to the room he’d just been in, the gentle sloping of the walls confirmed in his mind that he was definitely onboard a ship; though from the angles of the slopes, this ship had to be massive.

He pushed the thought out of his mind — he didn’t have time to marvel at the vessel. From down the hallway, he heard rustling. “What’s all that noise?” A woman’s voice called out in Dutch.

The Dragon commanded him to run, and so he broke into a run towards the voice. “Hurry,” he cried out to the other voice. “The magazine is exploding! We need to get off the ship now!” He reached the end of the hallway to a loud bang. There, just around the corner, was a young lady with a flintlock pistol leveled at Ju-Long, a small wisp of smoke rising from the end of the barrel. Her face was a combination of surprise and worry, though as her gaze met his, he saw no regret behind her brown eyes.

Ju-Long had shot many people in his life. He’d even killed a few of them. He mostly disliked killing, but understood it as an occasional necessity in his line of work. However, for all the pitched shootouts he’d been in over the last three years behind the mast, he’d never been shot before. He’d certainly been shot at, but the Lord had never allowed a bullet to strike Ju-Long.

He was surprised at how little pain he felt. Getting socked in the stomach — having the wind knocked out of him — that was painful. He’d always imagined getting shot in the gut to feel a lot like that, but he’d honestly hardly noticed this. Had he not heard the shot, he might not have even acknowledged the possibility.

A small step back was all he allowed himself. The woman, still frozen in surprise, hadn’t even finished processing what had just happened. Ju-Long needed more time himself, but The Dragon was not going down with this ship. His shirt growing sticky with what he assumed was blood, The Dragon guided Ju-Long’s gaze to the cutlass at the woman’s belt. In a flash, the blade was in his hand, and she was crumpled at his feet, trying to gasp for air as blood poured from her throat. He stepped over her calmly, whispering “sorry” in Mandarin as he moved.

It wasn’t until he was in the next room that he fully realized she’d been wearing VOC colors.

He moved with speed, The Dragon leading him through rooms and halls like a snake through a mouse’s burrow. Bodies crumpled around him, and though he felt sad for their slaughter, he knew it wasn’t truly his fault — their blood was not truly on his hands, but The Dragon’s. Nearly a dozen men and women laid at his feet when he finally reached the deck, and he squinted to let his eyes adjust to the light of day.

Only, it wasn’t bright out. The sky was dark, as though in a pitched storm, although the ship had felt steady. Was this vessel so massive that it could just plow through a storm on the open ocean? Did such ships even exist?

Ju-Long looked across the deck, trying to find some answers. Deckhands scrambled in a panic, ignoring him completely. Their hurry was genuine, but not the kind of fear that came after a magazine explosion. Had he been wrong about the ship going down? Cannon fire sounded in the distance, and the ship jolted, hit hard. If he was wrong, he wouldn’t be soon.

Ahead of him, the ocean defined the horizon, but it felt, somehow, more distant than normal. I’m in the sky? He thought for a second. This is an airship. He balked, looking around. They were above a harbor. A VOC warship, he realized. That explained the size, and the sailor’s uniforms, but now how he’d gotten here. Or what had happened to—his heart froze in his throat.

The Superstition.

In a panic, Ju-Long ran to the port railing, and looked over the side. Flaming debris slowly crashed to the ocean 300 feet below. His life’s work, his crew, his legacy… reduced to floating, burning wreckage.

Ju-Long sank to the deck as The Dragon subsided. The pain of his loss and the pain of his injuries mixed, and agony overcame him. The salty wind mixed his blood and tears together beneath him, and the weight of his failures crushed down on him like a lead weight. He’d built his life on pursuing the devil’s abominations, and he’d tried to show them mercy, but they’d only ever hated him in return. He’d spared them from the headsman’s block, and taken them all to their own island home, but they saw him as the monster. In later years, he tried to stop caring, instead immersing himself completely in the relentless pursuit of perfecting his ship. The Superstition was the ship to end all ships, a feat of engineering and Weirdcraft that was unparalleled the world over.

Except, the Songbird was better. In the distance, he could still see it gliding away, the mysterious ship no-one had ever heard of until a few years ago. Faster, nimbler, and capable of sail and flight from the beginning. Ju-Long had spent nearly a half-million guilders just trying to keep up with that blasted schooner. Now, debris, in a harbor outside Batavia.

Was he really almost 60? A daughter that hated him. A crew he couldn’t protect. A ship he’d lost. A career of sacrifice, for which he was hated. And a bullet in his gut. A life: wasted.

He rolled over on the deck, looking up at the stormy sky. The jet-black clouds rolled and boiled angrily, crashing into each other. No, he realized, not clouds. Harpies. Above him, they circled, then made their descent. Talons extended, their screeches filled with the anger and pain of loss. A sound he’d known well all his life.

He closed his eyes, and awaited his final judgement. He did not expect it would be kind.

The Speechwriter
How long has it been since Farrah slept?

Bretheren, I incite this meeting to rebellion

Farrah sharpened her quill

Rebellion is not evil, is not wrong. It is never pretty or palatable to those who live in comfort, but the thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion. And rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.

Farrah closed her eyes against the pounding in her head. Her fingers were cramping in the joints, swollen with the moisture in the air even as her skin cracked with salt exposure

They have isolated us from one another with money, religion, and fear. Their armies hold the world. They have obscured our common condition and while we stay blinded, any United rebellion against our oppressors is inconceivable. But open your eyes! Look up to the skies and see! This is the inevitable conclusion to the VOC oligarchy. Their reckless use of the world, of our labors, will meet with retribution. Justice must prevail and, brothers, sisters, yours are the hands chosen to wield it.

Farrah remembered her mother, laughing as she spun silk in the solar. Her father biting into a lamb chop dripping fat. The women in the market peering seriously over their books every night by stolen candles.

I have felt loss, I have known the crushing weight of VOC oppression, but I ask that you do this not for me, but for yourself! For your sons who will have no choice where to work. For your daughters who will have no voice when the VOC demands they prove their piety. For your city before it is beset from all sides by beasts!

Joining Farrah’s family ghosts, images of Avi and Alan lend the lie to her anger. Avi, dancing with Captain Phillip, her feathers brilliant in the lamplight. Alan toiling without end to save the lives of people who can never understand what he is. Neither could exist without the VOC, in her world without the crossways. In a war against the VOC, against the other world, could she protect them?

There is something the VOC cares more about than human life, and that is the security of property. And so it is through property that we will strike. Be militant each in your own way, but where you find the VOC, strike them down. Deny them commerce, deny them peace, deny them security until they guarantee to cease use of the crossways! Until they cease study of the other world! Until the Orichalcum mines are given over to the people for fair use! Rebel until this world is one in which you are safe from the beasts!!

Farrah carefully sanded the parchment, and blew out the candle. But instead of falling asleep, she climbed to the deck of the Songbird. With the moon shining on her face she sat carefully in the bow and wept, and prayed, and meditated. She said prayers for the lost sailors. For Avi. For herself. The night air was cold, and her prayers went unanswered, but in the back of her mind whispered the dark words of doubt.

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.

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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