V.O.C. of the People

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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The Sailor's Hymn
The aria of Mel's beloved.

Alone she sleeps in the shirt of man

with my three wishes clutched in her hand

The first that she be spared the pain

that comes from a dark and laughing rain

when she finds love may it always stay true

this I beg for the second wish I may too

but wish no more

my life you can take

to have her please just one day wake

to have her please just one day wake

Hear this song here.

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Guard Duty

The only sounds in the brig were the gentle creaking of the moored ship and the occasional shuffling from the prisoner, but Mel’s head was full of sounds. The pounding of surf, the rushing of deep currents, the calls of seabirds, and sometimes mournful whale songs. Usually he let them wash over him, to revel in the deep vital expanse that was Her, but just now he needed to think. Reluctantly he pushed the sea to the far corners of his mind and focused on the creature in front of him.
It paced on pale feet in its cell, having given up staring at him with its black pupil-less eyes. When it hissed at him its teeth were perfectly sharp, and the hideous wounds on its face were scabbed with jet black blood. What upset Mel the most, though, were the webbed fingers.
He held up his own hands, calloused and salt-stained, but also undeniably webbed to his second knuckle. His toes were completely fused together now too, and the creeping black and gray up his legs could not be explained away with pitch or oil stains. When he looked at the monster before him, Mel could only fear for the worst. He needed advice, but Phillip was indisposed and Cullen was landside. Perhaps Alan would know something. The mechanical man was undoubtedly the best saw-bones Mel had ever met, but Mel also had the suspicion that Alan was able to see things that his flesh and blood counterparts could not. Mel resolved to ask the GAD’s opinion next he saw him.
The sailor settled back against a wooden beam, and folded his arms. The sounds of the sea poured back into his consciousness and Mel allowed himself a fond smile.

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Time for a Deal
Farrah and Cullen come to an understanding.

Farrah almost lost momentum, pausing in the hall outside of Cullen’s berth. She remembered how often he had disrespected her, how violent and unpredictable he could be. What help could he possibly be??
But of course, she also remembered the sound of a hard metal key in her cabin door. The smell of burning ash on the wind where her people should have lived. She had no other choice.
“Ah, what brings the lil’ miss ta mah door?” Cullen was, unsurprisingly, drinking a foul-smelling spirit. Farrah swallowed back her desperation, and met his skepticism with poise.
“I need your help.”
Cullen could not have forced more derision into his chuckle. “Tha’s a laugh. Wha could ya possibly need fra me?”
With a deep breath, Farrah managed some dignified honesty. “Captain Phillips has, of late, found my lineage to be…problematic. As such, he has threatened to confine me to my quarters next time we make port. That is…unacceptable to me.”
Cullen dropped his glass to the boards with a clack. “And what,” over pronouncing his consonants, most likely in anger, “can I do for ye?”
Farrah smiled. Negotiation had always been easy for her. “Perhaps, when we make port, you could gain possession of the Captain’s keys. Of course, I respect his rule on the ship, his ship. I do not wish to inspire mutiny. But I must be allowed my freedom.” If nothing else, Farrah could bet freedom was a cause the burly Irishman and her shared.
Cullen frowned, rather than immediately rising to her bait. “Lass, what sort o business would ye have in port?”
Pleading now, Farrah said “I have a contact, a friend at the University. He is no danger to us or the ship, but I MUST speak with him.” She tried to read the eyes before her. Was he hesitating because he would rather keep her confined? Or because he somehow had honor enough to disdain her underhanded proposal?? “If you are not willing to aid me, say now. I will only ask that you give me time before speaking with Captain Phillips.”
The red-faced man finally sighed. “Look, if Ah’m ta help ye, ther’ll be three conditions.” Farrah would probably never know what changed his mind. A woman in need? The plight of her people? A chance for petty mischief? It didn’t matter.
“One, ye’ll never leave mah side girlie.” Farrah nodded. She had assumed she wouldn’t just achieve total freedom without paying a bit of blood.
“Two, ye’ll ditch tha fancy togs. Ah’ll have some bettah clothes fer ya.” Farrah didn’t say anything yet…but doubted this sot had any clue of what was appropriate for a woman of Cairo to wear. She would talk with Cullen later, but was happy to leave the Al-Azar name on the ship. It suited her plan.
“Three,” and Cullen stuck his fat finger inches from Farrah’s nose, “and ye cahnt tell a soul abou’ this one. Ye will get me a al-Amarna blue lotus blossum. Press it inside this book o verse. An ask NO QUESTIONS.” Farrah hesitated, then grinned.
“Deal!” Farrah offered Cullen a firm handshake. He took it with a grimace. “Ah’m ta regret this.”
Such was the agreement between Farrah and the last man she would have thought to ask for assistance. She couldn’t say she felt fine. Until she found and punished the ones responsible for Alexandria she would not sleep easy. But at least she could do SOMETHING.

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Overboard

I am writing to warn the other captains making port in Liverpool not to take aboard nor employ a man by the name of Johnathan Boughman. The man is a danger to himself and others-

The storm was the worst one Stedman had ever encountered. It had started with a bruised sky and the wind and hail had begun with scarcely any additional warning. The captain had weathered hurricanes in port before, but never in open ocean. He stood in the center of the deck screaming orders to his men as the sails were lowered and everyone tied themselves to safety lines. The deck shuddered and groaned beneath Stedman as his ship struggled onward for what seemed like ages. Suddenly the ship tilted horribly as the largest swell Stedman had ever seen nearly capsized them. Then-
“MAN OVERBOARD!”
Stedman had not seen John vanish over the railings, didn’t know if his line to the mast had snapped or if he’d simply never latched himself on. The storm howled and battered the ship as Stedman half-slipped half-ran to the railing,
“JOHN! JOHN!” he screamed, immediately seeing the fair-haired man off the port bough. The first rescue line fell short, but the second nearly hit the floundering sailor. John was clearly struggling to keep his head above water, but made no effort to catch the rope. His lips were moving though any words were lost in the salty gale.
“JOHN! ….DAMMIT, MEL!” Stedman screamed as the life-line was yanked away from John by a swell. He lost sight of the man for a moment under the same wave, but when John resurfaced their eyes met. John looked sad, resigned.
Stedman cursed and unlatched his own line. With a new life-line in hand he gripped the railing and steadied a foot on it. Ignoring Quiggley’s screams of protest and shoving away the grasping hands Stedman jumped.
The first wave nearly slammed him against the ship, but the second carried him closer to his crew-man. John’s back was to him as he grasped the sailor by the shoulder and jerked him close. Stedman could hear the other man’s voice now, and was horrified by the pleading he heard,
“You have me now, let them go. Why are you so angry? You have me now, isn’t that what you wanted?” As the rope to the ship went taught and began to pull them back John began to struggle against the vice-like grip his captain had on him. Holding onto the man with a grim determination born of rage and fear, Stedman caught a brief glimpse of John’s face. John’s eyes were pupil-less and glowed with a yellow-green light. The same color as lightning striking the ocean.
Another pull from the rope and they cleared the waves. Then Stedman felt the deck beneath his shaking legs. The ocean roared as sailors piled onto John, fighting to subdue him. Waves that should have broken against the ship instead seemed to climb up her wooden sides. Seeking, grasping. There was a horrible explosion of sound as the railing was ripped away and the splintered remains were consumed by the rearing water. It loomed above them, struggling sailors, exhausted captain, and John with his damned glowing eyes.
It was Quiggley who saved them- taking the life-boat oar to the back of John’s head. The unnatural wave crumpled with him, breaking over the deck of the ship and sliding broken back into the ocean. Unnatural calm settled over the ship as the storm dissipated, the sea’s frenzy becoming sullen. A voice rang out issuing orders, and Stedman was surprised to realize it was his own. John was bound and taken to the brig and repairs were to begin as soon as the crew was all accounted for. The men seemed comforted by these tasks, but Stedman realized that he was still shaking. Once Quiggley had everything in hand the captain retired to his cabin. The contents of his desk were horribly jumbled, but he managed to find a pen and paper. Hand trembling, Stedman began to write…

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Nighttime, Nightmares
Captain Stedman stepped into the cool night air, glad to be away from the cloying heat and smell of grog below. He generally kept a cask set aside for when morale needed improving, but always excused himself from the festivities before they became too boisterous. Quiggley and his braying abomination of a trumpet were generally enough to entertain the men.

As his eyes adjusted to the starlight he saw the increasingly familiar sight of John Boughman at the starboard railing looking out to sea. Stedman still insisted on using the crew’s proper names, but could see why John had inherited the nickname “Melancholy” from the other sailors. With the exception of a few widows, Stedman had never seen a person so perpetually forlorn and distracted. In the beginning he’d chalked it up to missing family or some boyhood trauma (God knew he understood that) but John had disabused him of the notion when Stedman suggested he take some shore leave to go visit. “I send them money. It’s enough.” John had said with a shrug.
Stedman admitted himself glad that no lasting damage seemed to remain from John’s poor upbringing. The last five years had transformed the lad from a runt to a towering young man. There were still days when John seemed unsure what to do with his huge frame, but Stedman had seen enough cabin boys mature to know he’d grow into his body eventually. He cleared his throat as he stepped across the deck,
“Good evening Mister Boughman. Enjoying the stars?”
“Mmm.” John said noncommittally, barely looking away.
There was silence for a long while, and then,
“Captain do you ever…”
More silence.
“Ever…? Ever what, John?”
John squirmed; suddenly awkward,
“I mean…are you ever afraid. Of the sea.”
“I think every sailor is sometimes, John.” Captain Stedman replied, “Why do you ask? The voyage has been unseasonably calm so far.”
“Oh, I know. The sea seems happy right now. It’s just that I…I have this feeling in my gut that I will die out there someday.” John gestured at the lapping waves unhappily.
“That’s not too unusual, I suppose. Ships do get lost from time to time.” Stedman admitted, “A man might worry that the worst could happen while out at sea.”
John continued to look wretchedly uncomfortable, enough that Stedman was growing concerned,
“Spit it out, lad. What’s worrying you?”
“I’ve seen it, in my dreams. I’m in the ocean and I don’t want to leave her. But the waters are rough and I can’t keep my head above the waves. She’s…killing me. Holding me tight, crushing me, drowning me. But I don’t want to leave her. I’m at peace when I should be terrified.”
Stedman blinked, unsure how to respond to this admission.
“It…it sounds as though the crew have been filling your head with stories of sirens and magick…don’t worry about it John. I’ve never lost a man overboard and I have no plans to start with you. If these dreams keep bothering you, then maybe its time you worked a land-side job for a spell?”
John nodded but didn’t meet the captain’s eyes. Stedman was about to try a different tack when there was a resounding Blat! from below decks and a string of curses in strong Scottish. Like as not a sailor had splashed a mug of grog into the bell of Quiggley’s horn and the festivities had come abruptly to a close. As men began to make their way above-deck Stedman excused himself to his cabin. He spent another hour with his charts and some good brandy, eventually deciding not to worry about John’s nightmares anymore. Years later he wished he had.

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In Cairo
Introducing a New Character from Farrah's past.

Muhazzan Beg worked by the light of one hand dipped tallow candle. The harsh black smoke coiled up to a low ceiling, already heavily stained from numerous past nights of work. The paper and mechanisms spread over his desk, constantly in danger of being swept to the ground by his voluminous sleeves.

Muhazzan was a minor official for the University of Cairo. If he had been born in England he would have been destined to be a bursar or notary. But in Egypt, he wrote endless responses to civil disputes, student proposals, and new trade rulings. Beside his job, Muhazzan Beg loved to build beautiful machines.

Tonight, he was working late into the night penning a letter to a previous student of the University, the notorious Farrah Al-Azar. She had hidden her sex from him for six years while studying machinery beside him. He had quite taken a liking to her quick, indomitable mind. But then she shamed her family and all of her teachers, and of course was quietly taken away. Muhazzan had no doubt that her father had traded her away for political security.

But her mother pined for The troublesome child. The students who had grown close to Farrah were sullen and rebellious at how the University treated her. Even Muhazzan Beg considered leaving off his love of law and crafting to find Farrah and offer what succor he could.

The letter he wrote, and re-wrote every night, would never be sent. Where would he send it? And what would he do if the University found out?

Still, he poured out line after line of apologies, revolutionary philosophy, plans for meeting in future and taking over the Al-Azar trade routes. If she only knew what her family power truly meant in the world…

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