V.O.C. of the People

Pulses and Promises
In which a situation is pondered.

Thump-thump. The pulse rang, radiating life, despite being mired in death. It was so strong, so full in sound and body, and betrayed its own destiny. Anyone with ears could tell that.

Thump-thump. It echoed in the halls and stairwells, pounding into ears and reverberating through heads with neither patience nor mercy.

Kharrakh had long since grown accustomed to the noise, though he’d found it deafening at first. The pulse of the vessel and those aboard it, the sounds of life and those who live it, had, in a way become comfortable to him. The Songbird was what one of his ekurr had called it, a strange name for a vessel if ever he’d heard one.

Thump-thump. The sound of laughter worked down the hallway and into his ears. He did not like the shrill noise, but his Okraik, may her shadow ever stretch, had told him the sound was one of mirth. It was a concept he’d struggled to understand, chittering as a means of signaling to others that you are happy. It was a weak behavior, one that invited mun, but Kharrakh had come to recognize that there was much to Avalon that did not make sense.

Thump-thump. Avalon itself had been much of a disappointment. Him and his brothers had been promised blood and war, with worthy foes and kers aplenty. But they’d been greeted instead by soft, cowardly creatures, who feared battle. When he did finally join upon a worthy foe and became her ker, he was denied his ker-thin, instead being forced into a prison of shame and impotence. Twenty-seven days without being allowed to shed another’s blood. It was amazing he yet lived.

Thump-thump.

Thump-thump. And yet live he did. He ached for battle still, but found himself enjoying the peace of his Okraik and her band of ekurr. She was lovely, as were all of Iures’ daughters, and he would no doubt hope for one like her, were he ever deemed worthy of urni-ga, but it was more than her appearance that was softening him. The mun-oraith, the kindness, that they showed him. It was repulsive, but it was also…calming.

Thump-thump. He still longed for battle, and ached for his ker-thin, but perhaps it would not be the worst to wait a while more.

Thump-thump. His body was stiff and sore from this prison, but he found himself not needing freedom as badly as he once did. Perhaps he was beginning to like it here.

Thump-thump.

Thump-thump.

Thump-thump.

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Wind and Wishes
In which the journey is its own reward

The wind tossed Kemal’s hair, and he allowed a smile to crawl across his face as he enjoyed the magnificent view. Two months ago, he never would have guessed that he’d be on his way to Nepal, with a beautiful woman in his arms and the plan for a good life ahead of him.

The good ship Northwind, the flying vessel upon which he rode, had given him doubts at first. Less of a ship, really, and more of a rowboat strapped to the bottom of a giant balloon, Kemal had been very worried when they’d first taken flight — the first windstorm had very nearly made him mess himself. But now, nearly four weeks later, with the tips of the Himalayas coming into sight, he’d gotten used to her rough-and-tumble style of handling the skies.

Indeed, he’d actually grown fond of it. For while she wasn’t much to look at, she was his. “Or rather, ours,” he thought. “Sunita owns this ship as much as I do.” He glanced down at her, wrapped up in a blanket, nestled in the crook of his arm, and he felt another smile coming on.

Though they’d met under less-than-ideal conditions, they realized almost immediately after making it off Christmas Island that they had a lot more in common with each other than the rest of the world. It turns out that being exiled, no matter where it’s from, can leave some pretty major scars.

He’d found it almost comical, in a fashion, how quickly they’d bonded. Her being a thief with no shame or reservations, and him being a former soldier and bodyguard for the Vatican. Were it the premise for a stage play, he’d find it far-fetched… and yet, here he was.

He’d sought her company the first few nights after their arrival in Odessa. He tried to be the courageous man he felt he should be, but it turned out Malika was (and likely always would be) far better at courage in the face of the unknown than he could ever be. He’d grown to fear the outside world, and found himself distrustful of new people, afraid they’d discover his secrets and send him back. When he learned Sunita felt the same way, he couldn’t keep away from her. They talked for a while, and finally agreed to leave the others and try to start a life together.

First, they’d get a ship and fly to Nepal, where Sunita last saw her son. Once they’d found him, they’d flee into the country and live off the land. It was a simple plan — a Godly plan — and the promise of it gave Kemal the peace he felt he’d lost all those years ago.

A sudden gust of mountain air struck the side of the Northwind, causing it to sway slightly as Kemal felt the chilly air pass through his thick layers. The gentle rays of dawn were just cresting the peaks ahead, and Sunita’s weight in his arms filled him with a strong, if gentle, sense of purpose. His past was behind him, filled with pain and confusion. His future laid ahead of him, full of hope and uncertainty. But for now, he had just the wind, the sun, the mountains, and a woman he was madly in love with.

In that moment, he was free.

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Continued correspondence
For the Revolution!

Dr. Crustevya,

I have previously spoken to you on the matter of shaping the world, changing the lives of those people crushed now under gross oppression. You, in your caution, tell me that my aims are too hasty and bloodthirsty.

However, recently you must have been made aware of the true scope of these forces. Cairo, along with many other Ottoman-controlled port cities, has fallen and my people scattered. I am safe, relatively, in my position with Captain Phillip and the Songbird. Many of my theories have been tested and found solid by the recent events.

I write now only to ask you one simple, yet crucial question. Will you stand with the Al-Azar heir?

As ever thus,
Farrah Al-Azar

Mister Khouri,

I am establishing correspondence with you for the unfortunate reason that I feel someone should become aware if I should ever run aground in hostile seas. My journey has not been safe or easy, but it continues for now. It is my dearest hope that you should not feel this position too taxing or dark for your taste.

I continue to search for my family, but the search seems unlikely to produce positive results. Currently, the Songbird rests in Batavia, that den of jackals, and I will ask at the University of the Al-Azar fate. Hopefully this will not draw ire toward myself or the crew of the Songbird. I have found myself growing fond of the ship.

You must know, my ultimate goal is not peace. And I must ask you now before this correspondence continues further upon your time and mine; Will you stand with the Al-Azar heir?

Yours ever,
Farrah Al-Azar

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When Dreams are only Nightmares
between the party and the shore

After the party, both Farah and Avi had gone to bed, scolded by their captain for their actions that night. Avi had meant no harm by her actions. She trusted Kharrakh and believed he trusted her. She had wanted to show him a side of them that were not his captors. Everything had fallen apart, so quickly. He had smelled Farrah as soon as they were near the deck. And under Cullen and her own orders he had gone to Farrah, so that they would know who he was not to hurt. Farrah had reacted in a way Avi had never expected. Violence was so unlike the woman she idolized. Even so, Farrah had attacked Kharrakh and he in turn got ready for a fight, but not to protect himself. He had leapt in front of Avi, pulled bones from his own body, ready to protect her from Farrah.

She left Alan to tend to Kharrakh’s wounds while she went to speak with Captain Phillip. After he was done speaking with Farrah he turned on Avi. Though, circumstances had made her become an adult much faster than her age, she was still very much a child. It took all her strength not to cry in front of him. She had made such a mistake that he was threatening to kick her off the ship. She took in his words, harsher than she had ever heard from him. She spoke little, “Yes, Captain,” and “I understand, Captain” were almost the only words that slipped over her trembling lips.

As she moved to leave the room, her shoulders hunched, her head lowering, she spoke once more. “I am sorry,” her words so quiet, as she struggled to hold back a sob..

She hurried off to her cabin and locked the door, as soon as she was inside. She wanted to see no one else that night. She wanted no more kind voices to turn cold. She rested her brow against the wooden door and listened to the soft, sleeping chirps of her birds.


Day 1

Everything was slipping. She has not meant to lock herself away at first. When morning came, she did not budge. She knew the sun was up, she always knew when the sun was going to rise, something she associated with her bird-form. Her eyes, one blue, one yellow, stared off into the dark of her room. There were no windows in her room, and she had lit no candles. She had not slept the night before, every bone in her body ached with the gentle shaking of her body. She had, instead, cried all night. Breakfast would be served soon, but there was no hunger inside her. Her birds tweeted awake and Little Tip hopped over to her.

“Did you have a good time, last night, Avi?” he asked in his small voice.

She reached out her fingers, still so very strange to her, and stroked his head. She remained silent, which worried her birds.

“Why are you crying, Mistress?” he asked as he hopped closer to her face.

“Sh,” she whispered and finally let her eyelids close. “I am going to sleep.”


She was falling, so fast, and she could not get her wings to catch her. Her feathers were falling from her, slipping up passed her body as she continued towards the water. A gasp escaped her lungs as she felt cold fingers catch her hand. She looked up at a metal arm then into the face of her captain. Relief washed over her. Phillip would save her, he would not let her fall. But as she stared up at him, he did not pull her up. He was staring back at her, smiling at first, like he had been relieved to catch her, but then his smile was gone. His face was growing dark. Hate replaced the love in his eyes. His metal fingers tightened and he scoffed at her cries of pain. Tiny bones snapping in her fingers as he crushed them.

“Phillip, why are you doing this?” she asked through her sobs.

“You are one of them, Avi, we can not trust you. You have to be put down before you betray us,” his words echoed but his voice was not his own, she could hear the entire crew saying the same words.

“Please, please!” she begged. “I would never betray you. You are my family.”

“We do not want you in our family,” though this voice had the others with it, as well, the main sound was that of Farrah. She stepped up to Phillip’s side, looking down at Avi. She looked different, one had resting on a swollen belly, but her face was as dark as Phillip’s. “I can not have a monster like you near my child.”

Farrah reached down a hand, a small knife in hand, and slid it across the wrist that Phillip held.

Avi screamed in pain as the blood slipped down her arm.

“Goodbye, Avinnia,” they said as one voice.

She was falling again but this time she felt her body hit the cold water. A numbness washed over her. Death’s cold grasp now held her.


Day 2

She had slept through the most of the day and night, though the sleep had been filled with nightmares. She had not ate that first day, but she did not expect to be missed after only a day. She had slept through any meals that had been served. During the second day, she sat in a corner of her room, listening to the chirps of her birds as they tried to cheer her up.


Day 3

Avi looked over at the door, she was still not ready to go out, her nightmares had only grown worse. She was afraid. Afraid to step out of her locked cabin, afraid that the faces she would be greeted with would hold nothing but fear and hate. She had dreamed about her parents the previous night. About the day she first started growing feathers. Her mother’s screams of fear still pounded in her head. Her father’s words, calling her an abomination never left her ears. When she closed her eyes she could see their faces and the faces of her new family.

Fear. Hate. Disgust. These were the things people felt around her. What her presence seemed to evoke in them was even worse. Abuse. Violence. Towards her and anyone like her.

She wondered if her nightmares were what were to come of the future. Perhaps they were not just dreams of her fears but a warning. She would stay in her room longer. She was not ready to face her fate.

Death. Abandonment. Loss. She had been here before. Was she fated to repeat the cycle? Would she have to flee the people she thought had finally accepted her?

Though, near dry of tears, these thoughts once again brought on her sobs. Soon, someone would come looking for her. She needed to decide if they would find her like this, broken and alone, or as a strong, fearless woman, not showing the pain that she felt so deeply.

The third night was no different, nightmares rushed to her, every time she closed her eyes.

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Little Darling
A glimpse of Farrah's father from the past.

“… two “Beste”s and two “Semaî”s have to be composed to form a fasıl of an air. These are verbal pieces. The “beste”s are in the forms of “Murabba” or “Nakış”. “Murabba”s composed on two couplets of a “Gazel” can be with or without “Terennüm”s. Melodies formed with meaningless words such as “ten, tenen, tenenen, ten nen ni”, etc. or meaningful words such as “canım, ömrüm” etc. in accordance with the measure…”

Farrah found it very difficult to focus on the music lesson; she had been out late at the Rashid household teaching the women there how to hide their slate and scrolls from the men, how to meet and study in the many hours when women are not seen around the house by their fathers, husbands, brothers.

Besides, this droning old man had not an ounce of beauty in his soul. Her father had sung often when she was little, rousing war histories and clever tales of princes to amuse his sole child. Once, and this memory was vague to her but nonetheless dear for that, Farrah had spied upon her parents at night and her mother had danced while her father sang slowly, low of voice and somehow softer than he was with everyone else.

This foolish old teacher had never seen a woman dance like that for him, and never would. Songs were a sort of machine to him, but Farrah would rather have gears she could touch.

Lately, Farrah’s father didn’t sing much. She generally avoided him, to preserve her secrets from the man who had power enough to ruin everything, but even the townspeople whispered at how the mighty warrior had diminished in body and spirit. For just a second, Farrah was swept up in the silly thought that the Al-Azars might not be so powerful always. But that wasn’t possible. If anything, her own plans were growing in power and could in future be used to the advantage of trade, politics, and even war! Imagine her father taking up sword again, marching at the head of an army with advanced weaponry that the VOC had never dreamed of, every regiment with a talented Doctor and prosthetinai mechanic.

While of course Farrah wrote the laws in Cairo, corresponding with their merchant vessels and the ambassadors from countries around the world.

The teacher was still droning on about how each fasil could be constructed in patterns of 6 and 8, but Farrah thought instead of her father’s favorite song to sing for her.
_
My life, my little darling
My life for you
My love for you
Little darling
The world is sleeping but you have woken me.
Woken life
Woken love
Little darling my child._

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Dreams - Pt. 2
Alone with her Thoughts

Avi had not drank a lot that night, she was not wanting to get drunk, though the others, Farrah and Phillip mostly, did. She was not able to discuss the evening’s events with Farrah as she had wanted. That, however, was alright. She had so much on her mind and most of it Farrah would not want to hear. She sat in her cabin, which now had a chair, a table, a dresser, and some blankets sprawled on the floor for a bed. She did not need much and she did not want to bother the captain with getting a real bed moved into her room. She had chosen it because of it’s space and privacy. Some of the crew still seemed hesitant around her, and particularly uncomfortable when she would go clothesless. Once she gained her arms she had been happy to dress up. It was easier to alter them with her wing’s slight change in position.

The early evening had been enjoyable. The party had been enough dancing to tire her, but she still went to meet with the other smuggler captain. Kharrakh had been vaguely mentioned during their time there and she had grown rather frustrated. Everyone seemed to dislike him, and she understood to a degree, he had attacked them and the cities, but he would not hurt anyone now. He was under her command, and she honestly felt that she could find a way to turn him into a friend and an ally. To do that, she would have to keep him alive, which worried her. Mel worried her most of all. He had referred to Kharrakh’s kind as monsters. Her mother had called her such. Did Mel think she was a monster? Did the others? She knew that Farrah on occasion had fear in her eyes when she looked at Avi, was that because she thought she was a monster? Fear of her new family turning on her brought tears to her eyes.

She pushed the thought from her mind and thought about something completely different. Her birthday was coming up. She would be seventeen in a little over a week’s time. She had not told any of the others about her birthday, she did not think it was an important day, as she had not celebrated her birthday since she had started to grow feathers. But it was now on her mind. She was growing older, she was learning, and she was beginning to realize what attraction was. She did not know how to deal with it. She knew she was of the marriage age.

Back home these feelings had been for Dashiell, though she had not realized what they were then. She would not see him again, however. She had no intention of ever returning to Iceland. She had informed Captain Phillip of her history and he promised to avoid the area as much as possible. She was grateful that he was always so willing to listen to them. He taken her in after what had happened on Christmas Island. That was not something he had to do but she felt welcomed by him.

He had always been kind. She had thought about that when they were dancing. His kindness may have been what first drew her to him. He had reacted to her desire to learn with an eagerness to teach. He had been interested in the lady captain, however, and so the thought never crossed her mind. He was older than her, but that did not seem strange. Aleid had once mentioned that the man father wanted her to marry was older. Aleid was all human, however.

Like Farrah, Avi thought again. Phillip had his mechanical arm, which Farrah seemed to love, but he could also make his ship fly. Would he ever look at Avi the way men were meant to look at women? Farrah would be a much more attractive prospect for him. Or even Charlie. Neither of them feathers growing in odd places; feathers instead of strings of hair.

The man back at the ball had approached her, but something about it all seemed strange to her, she had seen Farrah reject him. Did he ask her to dance because she was there and a woman? Did Phillip only accept to dance with her because he was her Captain and he did not want to disappoint her? She was knew to all these emotions, there was a chance she was reading too far into them. He might think nothing more of her than being a part of his crew. Or worse, he might have thought of her as a monster.


Avi’s sleep was restless, her sleep terrorized by the thoughts that had plagued her in in the waking world.

Red eyes stared at her, everywhere she turned, boring into her soul. She tried to run but one of them was already there to stand in her way. Human hands caught ahold of her feathers, snatching handfuls and tearing them out. Ripping them away from her wings. Fingernails scratching her skin. Blood mixing with tears and her screams deafening. They did not stop. They pulled and tore at her. Unwilling to yield at her pleads for them to stop. She saw their faces; Farrah, Mel, Cullen, Philllip. Each filled with hate.

She woke in sobs, feeling up to her hair, then to her shoulders for her wings. They were still there. She was still whole, alive, safe. She looked around her room, her birds were sleeping soundly and she was alone. Sleep overtook her again.

Her door creaked open. Footsteps approached where she laid. She did not open her eyes. She did not want to spoil the moment. A hand caressed her cheek before the body of her visitor laid down beside her. Their arms held her, strong and comforting.

This time when she woke, she was still crying, but she felt more relaxed. She looked towards her door and longed for someone to open it. Someone to come in and comfort her. She did not want to be alone, but she knew they would all be in deep sleep from the eventful evening. So, she stayed, wrapped up in her blanket, and soon sleep took her once more.

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Dancing: Alan vs. Phillip

It felt great to be dancing again. The worries of her life always melted away when she let the music and movement consume her. She turned and spun with and without her partner. She glanced at him, as they moved, her curiosity sparking, for the first time, with Alan. Mechanics never interested her, no matter how much Farrah tried to teach her, so the way Alan worked never crossed her mind. She liked him, he was a part of her family, and that was all that mattered. What he was, or how he worked was not important. He was her friend. Tonight, however, he was her dance partner and she had been prepared to do all the work. He took her by surprise, knowing not only how to dance but doing it well. Not once did he step on her, thankfully, and she was quite sure that more attention was on him than her.

She did not mind that, though earlier that day she had enjoyed the catcalls and whistles she had been given. Alan was remarkable and he deserved the attention, the praise, instead of the rude words and stares she had noticed him receive in the past. Why was it so hard for humans to accept those that were different from them? Most of her new family had something different about them, many of them were Strangers.

The crew were the closest to what her parents would have called normal. Farrah, perhaps, her parents would have liked. Yes, they would have loved to have had Farrah as a daughter instead of Avi. Aleid and Farrah were similar, both strong willed, smart, and ready to take on the world. Aleid would one day take over the Elon business, that had always been father’s plan. Father did not look down on women in power, he was proud of Aleid, and he would have been happy with Farrah as his daughter.

Some days Farrah reminded Avi of her sister. They both liked her but at times feared her. She had seen the look of fear in Farrah’s eyes at multiple occasions. Her sister had even denied they were related, the last time they had seen each other. She feared that one day Farrah would do the same.

Alan was not like that. He liked all of them, though he did, on occasion, get upset at something Captain Phillip or Cullen would do. Recently, Avi had noticed, Alan had taken a liking to the ship’s cook, Fabio. She, personally, did not care much for the cook. He had threatened to cook her birds while they ship was on rations.

As the music set came to a close, Avi excitedly returned to Farrah and Phillip. She had enjoyed dancing with Alan, but she had ultimately had the goal to get the Captain to dance with her. He was always teaching her about smuggling but he had never been available to dance until now.

“Will you dance with me, Captain? Please,” she asked in her sweet voice.

Phillip looked at her, taking in her request, then turned to Alan. “Keep a close watch on Miss Farrah, if you would, Alan.”

Alan had no objection to watching over Farrah. He took up a position only feet away from her,, his focus never leaving her. Avi, in the meantime, snatched up Phillip’s hand and dragged him to the dancefloor.

Once again, she found that she did not need to lead, and she happily let him do the leading. He danced well, she perhaps was a bit better at it, but she did not feel that she needed to slow down for him to keep up. One of the songs brought their bodies close, his hand, gently holding onto her own delicate. His touch was surprisingly gentle. Alan, though good at dancing, hand not held her like this. Phillip’s arm was around her waist, through her dress she could feel the placement of his other hand.

She felt her cheeks burning up and found that she could not look her Captain in the eyes. Her gaze bore into his collar bone. He looked nice, tonight, she noted. She had not seen him in much other than his smuggler clothes. Now, that she was thinking about it, he always looked nice. Handsome. That was what women would call him. She was beginning to understand what that meant.

“Are you doing alright, Avi?”

He was speaking to her, his voice soft and his breath hitting her flushed cheeks. She lifted her gaze, one yellow and one blue eye looking up at him. His words had never been harsh with her, he was always kind, and now he was concerned. Perhaps because she was being so quiet. Or perhaps because her face was, no doubt, as red as a tomato.

“Yes, yes, I am quite happy, Phillip,” she responded with a lighter tone than she normally would speak with.

Had she called him Phillip? She had taken to calling him Captain almost every time she addressed him. At least whenever he was teaching her or while they were aboard the Songbird. Why was this so different?

“Do you need to rest?”

His words brought her back to the moment and she realized she had been staring at him. She turned her head slightly away from him to look out at the other dancing couples. He could tell something was wrong.

“No-no, Captain. I would very much like to dance one more with you.”

She wrapped her fingers more firmly around his hand, to hold him there. One more song and then they would not be this close. The next chance to dance could be weeks away. She wanted this to last. She felt the need to hold onto the moment.

As the last song was ending, they noticed a man hurrying away from Farrah and Alan. Avi was quite sure she saw him crying as he moved away. They regrouped with them to discuss the next move and Avi ended up at the buffet table for sometime. The night was beginning to grow late when the same man approached her.

“Would you care to dance, my lady?” he asked her.

Avi glanced around for the others; Alan was dancing with men and women, Phillip was nowhere in sight, and Farrah too was gone.

“Sure,” she agreed, with a half shrug.

They ended up on the dancefloor and she found that, though holding her in a similar way, she did not like dancing with this stranger. Phillip was better at dancing, and this man was holding her to firmly. When they finished the song, she was anxiously hoping to return to Phillip and Farrah. She looked around for them and spotted that they had returned to the room.

“May I ask if you spoken for, My Lady?” he was asking.

Avi did not know what he meant. She looked at him, her expression confused, but she wanted to leave so she did not bother to ask. “I have a Captain,” was her response, figuring it had something to do with being on a ship.

“Ah,” he looked passed her to where Philip was. “Alas, if you ever find yourself a free woman, please think of me.”

She stared at him, blinking, as she remained confused. “Sure,” she was the only way she could think to respond. “I think I need to return to my companions.” She quickly headed back over to the others.

“Farrah, what does it mean to be spoken for?” she asked when she reached them. “That guy said I was not free,” she added and pointed towards the man.

Farrah looked over and in her knowing voice said, “Oh, Him. We’ll talk about that later tonight, Avi.”

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Awake?
Ghost Ship

The wooden planks of the floor dug into Phillip’s cheek. His skull ached, his head swam, and he was dimly aware that he was lying in something wet. The world rocked around him, and silently he swore off rum. Practiced words.

As consciousness crept over him, the steady rocking persisted. From somewhere far away, he heard the lap of waves. Summoning his strength, Phillip forced his eyes open.

Water?

His eyes struggled to focus. The smells hit him then, all at once. Blood. Burnt wood. Smoke. Salt water.

He realized his mouth was open and tried to close it. He tasted brine, gagged, and spat. There was something wrong about the water. He strained his neck, lifting his face from the pool. Glancing around, his eyes met those of the Mel. Phillip blinked. Mel did not.

The memories came rushing back. The ship on the horizon. Far at first, but gaining fast. The ringing of the bell. The boatswain’s whistle. The call to arms. He was belowdecks when the first cannonball struck.

Mel didn’t move. From where he lay, Phillip could see a trickle of water running from Mel’s mouth. The same wrong water Phillip was lying in.

Fear spiked through Phillip, and he willed himself to stand. As he moved, lightning seared through his arm; Phillip screamed. He thrashed, swinging his head and looking desperately for the source of the pain. He found it where his right arm disappeared below a heavy wooden beam.

Gritting his teeth, Phillip pulled his left arm up alongside him. He drew his knees toward him, flexed his back, and pushed. The pain came, stronger than before. Phillip screamed again, sweat and tears running down his face. The beam resisted, then tipped, and slowly slid sideways.

Phillip fell back panting, his ruined arm lying limply beside him. An eternity later, he struggled to his feet. He pushed the pain to the back of his mind as he scanned the room. He saw the hole where the cannonball had entered, and where it had left. Wooden splinters littered the floor, and the door to the room lay thrown open. There were other bodies. He recognized the faces of his fellow crewmembers: Smeb, Fabio, Charlie…

Mel’s hollow eyes seemed to follow him as he limped out of the room.

In the halls of the ship he saw more of the same. Bodies littered the ground. Crates lay open, overflowing with copper ingots. The limp body of Cullen lay crushed beneath them.

Phillip mounted the main deck and beheld the carnage before him. One of the Songbird’s masts had splintered. The port railing was blackened, and Phillip saw Alan’s rusted frame still smoldering with heat. The bodies of the crew were piled to the side, save for one: the body of the Avinnia stood lashed to the splintered mast, her wings broken and deformed. The fear of the enemy’s presence left him then, replaced by the cold realization that Phillip was completely alone.

Phillip staggered to the mast. Lifting a discarded cutlass with his functional arm, he slashed at the ropes holding Avi upright. He caught the body and guided it to the deck. As he did, a small flask dropped from her belt. Phillip knelt painfully, retrieved the flask, and slumped against the base of the mast. He uncorked it with his teeth and tipped it into his mouth.

Empty.

A sharp pain cut through his abdomen. As the flask dropped from his hand, he looked up to see Farrah. The small knife in her hand was slick with his blood. Phillip’s vision began to darken.

“For Al-Azar,” she whispered with a sneer.


Phillip woke with a start, one hand clutching at his stomach. His breath came in gasps, and his brow was soaked with sweat. In his outstretched arm, his pistol was cocked, menacing a figure that was not there.

After a time, his breathing steadied. He dropped the gun to the desk, retrieved a bottle of rum, and drank greedily. His eyes scanned the dark room, and fell upon the sleeping form of Farrah Al-Azar. After all that they had been through, what reason did he have not to trust her? She wasn’t a threat. She was part of his crew, just as the others were. It was his job to keep them all safe. He wouldn’t take that responsibility lightly.

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Aleph Sifr
Grief in many forms.

Going to sleep was a chore Farrah dreaded. All day she would work on the Songbird’s engine, Phillip’s arm, her letters, repairing her robes, dancing with Avi…absolutely anything to keep from the contemplation of the future. And then the sun would dip below the horizon – a view of buildings not so different from her childhood, and Farrah was aching to be back at sea where the innocent sunset wouldn’t remind her – and she would start to garner concerned looks from her friends and the crew.

She looks so tired.
She never smiles, or utters an unnecessary word.
The poor creature, she’s broken.

Farrah loathed the pitying glances, but couldn’t bear to be alone for long. And so, at the point of night where only the lookouts were awake, Smeb or Mel would gently take her by the elbow and lead her to the captain’s quarters. Farrah would be presented to Phillip like a cow that had caught a fever, a prized animal that must be temporarily brought indoors to save it. She slept fitfully in the captain’s bed, while he penned correspondence to who knows where and tallied ledgers and charts. Once she woke to find him pouring tumbles of liquor down his throat. She didn’t let him know how often she awoke.

Farrah didn’t dream much. Perhaps she lacked the energy even for nightmares. There was simply an unending listlessness, conscious or not, that wore at her. As if she was a single dune of sand being blown away, smoothed into the featureless topography of the desert. And that would have been a blessing. To simply not exist where her home no longer existed. “Allah would not leave the believer, except to separate the wicked from the good.” Then perhaps she was wicked, and Allah had separated her from her family for a reason. Perhaps she was now abandoned by her God and her people.

When these dark thoughts came to Farrah during the night, in a loathsome voice she recognized as only her own grieving mind, she clutched her people to her in the only way she knew how.

Aleph Sifr
Aleph Sifr and the five infinites
Infinite of Sifr
Infinite in two directions
Aleph Sifr as the perpetual infinite

The University was gone. The ash of its library had burned in Farrah’s nose, and certainly its scholars were either dead or scattered to the desert winds. But she had its gifts, its mathematics and medicine and ways of thinking that no one else knew. When she worked on the machines around her or diagnosed a patient, she had her people standing beside her. When she prayed to Allah, all she thought of were the mysteries of numbers.

Aleph Sifr the uncountable
Aleph Sifr all-enumerated

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Birds and Fishes
Avi speaks with Kharrakh

Avi spent the first night, after the attack, unsure of how to react to the prisoner. He was still alive by the following night, an unusual occurrence, after the prisoners she had previously seen on the ship. By the next morning, her curiosity was beginning to grow. He was a strange being, she recalled what she could remember of him, from the moments she had been the one keeping him prisoner. Black eyes and sharp teeth. He reminded her of the legends of vampires, she had heard of as a child. He was no vampire, however, that she was sure of.

It was not long before she found herself wandering into the brig. The man ordered to guard the prisoner gave her an uncomfortable look, but she paid it no mind. Many of the crew found her odd. It was also possible they were concerned that Philip would be angry if he found her alone with the prisoner. She was not there to speak with him, however. She already knew she did not understand the language he spoke. She moved up to the bars and sat down.

His black eyes were watching her. They had been on her the moment she came into the room. For a long while they sat and stared at each other. She said nothing and he did not look away. Eventually, he moved up to the bars, giving an unthreatening motion to the guard as he straightened up. He lifted a bandaged hand that she recognized as the one she had stabbed. He held it up to the bar and made several sounds that she could not understand. He almost immediately moved back from her and sat down once again. Eyes never once leaving her own.

Avi, instead, broke the gaze to look down at a little pouch she had started to carry around. She had picked it out while collecting clothes she considered to be her smuggling clothing. She reached into and pulled out a half shell. It shimmered in the light of the brig, polished by her own hand. She slowly moved it through the bars and set it down. The guard, once again, was growing anxious.

He looked at the shell, then the guard, and then Avi again before moving to pick up the shell. He lifted it up and moved part of it into his mouth, biting it, as one would to check if a coin was real. He lowered it, looked at Avi, and said another strange word.

She could not help but smile softly as she watched him pocket the shell. She then stood and headed back out of the brig without a word.


An apology, that was what her gift was. She did not have the words to speak her feelings so this was the best way. Avi sat in her cabin once more, thinking over the interaction. When he had showed the hand, which she had wounded, she felt her guilt increase. She knew she had been protecting the crew, but she did not feel good about injuring this creature. She never felt good when she hurt someone. She had killed some of the previous crew, when they had been attacking her, but they had just been following orders. This creature, perhaps, had thought he was protecting his own. Or, he could have just been following orders. She had not killed him, though. She had not intended on killing him when she attacked, she had just wanted to protect the crew. None of the others had been on the ship to do so.

The one she injured was still alive, in the brig. She could not tell if he held a grudge with her for injuring him or not. Though, her apology gift had seemed to go over well with him. She pulled the pouch onto her lap and rummaged through it. Her birds had brought her a bunch of small rocks and shells that she had been polishing. She had added a few of her own findings to this collection, as well. Perhaps, in a few hours she would return and give another gift of good intentions to him. This time she would attempt to speak with him, attempt to understand. They were not too different after all, she was a bird woman while he was more like a fish man.


Avi returned to the brig with no difficulty, she was often left alone to roam the ship, and she did not mind. She approached the cell the fish-man was in and gave him a small smile. She did not know how she would communicate with him. She had listened to Cullen attempt to interrogate him,but the responses were impossible to understand.

He was watching her, much like the last time she had visited, his eyes never looking away from her. She stared back at him, trying to come up with a way to ask her questions. She did not know if he could even understand her.

“My name is Avinnia,” she offered up.

No response.

“Or Avi, if it is easier,” she continued but there was still silence.

She let out a defeated sigh and lowered herself down, rather carelessly, to a sit. I wish he could understand me, she thought. She leaned her brow against the bars of the cell and stared back at him. He seemed to sit up a little straighter, continuing to watch her. There must be some way.

He started to move forward, suddenly, but nonthreatening. Avi sat up to watch him, Little Tip ruffling up his feathers and chirping in her ear.

“Hush, Tip,” she ordered. If I could figure out what to call him at least, she thought as she turned her attention back to the prisoner.

You may call me whatever you wish, though among my brothers, I would be known as Kharrakh Ker-Avinnia.

Avi stood up, startled by the words lingering in her head, in a voice that was not her own. “Did you-” she began to ask. Your name is Kharrakh? You can hear me? He did not answer these questions but he seemed more attentive to her than he had moments earlier.

Where are you from? The thought came faster than she realized what was happening.

My home is not the same as this place. We have only called it Mu, he responded in the same manner.

Mu? Not the same as here. She hesitated between questions, processing what she was hearing. He was from another world, perhaps like the world they had passed through in the crossway. Perhaps. She needed to know more.

Why did you leave? Why come here? She looked at him as she thought her questions.

My brothers have long ached to return to Avalon, and take our place as its rightful rulers. The door was finally open; we merely passed through it.

A door, that answered her question about the crossway. They were either from Vandagen or from beyond, like how Christmas Island had a door to Odessa. Either way, he must know more.

We are similar, though I have feathers; do you know anything about what I am?

I know of your kind, yes, and have gazed upon your sisters before, though I am not permitted to speak of them.

Sisters? There were more like her? Somewhere in this world or another. Where did you see them? There was no answer. Please, I have never seen another like me. What are they called? Where do they live? What are they like? But all of her questions fell into the empty silence that he refused to break.

Reluctantly, she returned to the rest of her questions, Do you trust me?

I do not understand the question, was his simple answer.

Do you trust what I say and do? She hoped that would clarify what she meant, unsure of how to explain to him.

My trust is irrelevant. You have asserted your might over me, I am now Ker to your Okraik.

Avi’s face contorted in confusion. You are what to my what? I do not know these words. Can you explain them to me?

You are my battle-master. My blood and my blades are yours to command, until you or I am bested by another again.

This was because she beat him in battle, she realized. He viewed her as his better, no one had ever viewed her like that before. She needed to know more about what this meant.

Would you aid us if I asked?

If you commanded it.

If we offered, would you stay with us?

If you commanded it, he repeated.

Will there be a way I could contact you when we let you go?

In my home, there was a way for an Okraik to speak to their Ker over great distances. I do not know of such a power in this world.

That was important, perhaps this new way of communicating could do it, or perhaps she could find another way. One of her companions might know something. Or someone in one of the cities, perhaps a scholar.

One last question lingered in her mind. This fish-man, this Kharrakh, had said she was his battle-master. That his blood and blades were her’s to command.

As your Okraik, would you fight to protect me?

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