V.O.C. of the People

Holding hands
A quixotic moment

The new tools felt good in Farrah’s hands. Delicate and deft, the cool metal picks and pliers were everything she had always dreamed of at the University. Salin and Muhazzan Beg would sick themselves with envy if they knew she had a true set of advanced gad tinkerers. More so, of course, if they could see what she had her tools and fingers in. Even gentle Muhazzan might take up arms against her to gain the chance to trail a covetous finger over this gorgeous arm prosthetinai.

Phillip stood, slightly uncomfortably by the way he turned his eyes repeatedly from her proddings. Farrah didn’t much care if he was uncomfortable having a woman operate on his arm, but was interested if she was actually causing him pain or nausea. Those reactions were expected in a conscious medical operation, but she was not prying vein from flesh. These interlaced cables, wire, and improbably fine ceramic could not bleed, could not conjure images of infernal torture in the mind; yet Phillip could feel pain and heat and pressure with this marvelous machine. When Farrah tapped gently on a thick lens of glass in the wrist with her stylus, she felt the briefest of flinches from her subject.

Farrah was so absorbed by this paradox of body and machine that she couldn’t help but observe her own body, as a student of reactions. Her braided hair hung heavy and oiled over her right shoulder, dividing the small enough space between her and the captain. Her neck ached, but the sweat upon it caught chill from each slight exhale. Suddenly, her fingers fumbled, and dropped a thin flexor into the exposed mechanisms of the captain’s arm.
“Farrah, did a spark catch you?” Phillip asked in concern. She thought his voice sounded only concerned, because he couldn’t possibly read anything into her blush. His hand was large on her shoulder, steadying her, and that was something a captain did for a crewmember who was suddenly unsteady.

“No, I must be tired only,” Farrah assured Phillip, “the day was long and…complicated.” With a deep breath that pressed her chest tight against the silk of her robes, she resumed work on judging the tensile strength of each component. When Phillip moved to withdraw his arm, demurring that she should rest, Farrah ignored him and firmly grasped his mechanical hand in hers, pinning him to the table for her ministrations.

Farrah knew, of course, that many women would find the captain’s station and respectful mein marriageable. More than that, the hasekis seemed to take great amusement from the Sultan who was much older and less physically able than Phillip, so it stood to reason that he was attractive. But Farrah couldn’t desire being mounted like a mare or a moth. The violence of her thoughts caused Farrah to force a panel clean off of the bicep to clink and roll under the desk.

Smoothly, Phillip stooped and produced the panel before Farrah finished hissing curses through her teeth.
“Wouldn’t want to lose this,” he said with a rough chuckle. Crouching before her, fingers still entertwined on the table, Phillip met Farrah’s large dark eyes with his.

A thought occurred to her as Farrah sat that night in her room. Marriage could not legally happen twice to one woman. Perhaps she had a choice after all…

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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. If the captain caught him drunk, there would be hell to pay. Summoning his strength, Phillip forced his eyes open.

Red.

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

He realized his mouth was open and tried to close it. He tasted copper, gagged, and spat. He strained his neck, lifting his face from the pool. Glancing around, his eyes met those of the cabin boy. Phillip blinked. The boy 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.

The blood was the boy’s, mostly. From where he lay, Phillip could see a gash drawn across the boy’s chest. Not a cannon. A cutlass. Close range.

On the ship?

Fear spiked through Phillip, and he willed himself to stand. As he moved, lightning seared through his arm and the darkness enveloped him again.


When consciousness found Phillip a second time, the pain came with it. 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. The hollow eyes of the cabin boy 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, their contents missing. Storage holds sat empty.

Phillip mounted the main deck and beheld the carnage before him. One of the ship’s masts had splintered. The port railing was blackened, and the lines to the sails were cut. The bodies of the crew were piled to the side, save for one: the body of the captain stood lashed to the splintered mast. 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 the captain upright. He caught the body and guided it to the deck. As he did, a small flask dropped from the captain’s belt. Phillip knelt painfully, retrieved the flask, and slumped against the base of the mast. He uncorked it with his teeth and sniffed it. Rum.

He drained it in one.

As the warmth of the drink dulled his senses, a delicate sound broke the quiet rhythm of the sea. Looking skyward, Phillip squinted in the sunlight as a small bird flitted overhead, its song carrying over the waves. It passed above the wreckage of the ship and glided off toward the horizon. As Phillip slipped once more into unconsciousness, he wished he could join it.

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Execution

Dashiell opened his eyes, as the creaking of unoiled hinges meant that his cell’s door was being opened.He lifted up his unshaven head, expecting Ewald Elon to be standing there. “No,” escaped his lips. Instead of Ewald, Aleid stood in the doorway. Tears dripped down his cheeks as she walked towards him. She too had been crying. He could see the tears still in her eyes. “You should not be here, Aleid,” he begged.

“Nor should you, my beste vriend*.”

She knelt on the ground, her arms stretching out to him and she wrapped them around his neck. Her sob left his body weak and he collapsed against her, wishing to embrace her but his hands were bound by iron.

“Aleid, if your father catches you with me,” he began again.

“Enough. Enough. This is my fault. I came up with the plan to free Avi.”

“Do not say that so loud,” he begged her. “Do not let your father know. Let this end with me. Avi is free of him and she is too smart to let him find her. I gladly give my life for her and for you, Aleid.”

She released him from her arms and shook her head as she moved back.

“I used your affection for her to get you to risk your life. I was too afraid to stand up to father. This should be me. I should have set her free. I,” she paused with another sob. “I should never have said such horrible things to her!”

“Aleid, Aleid, you must listen to me,” he said with a shake of his own head. “Let my death be worth something, do not blame yourself. Your sister is alive and out there. Now you can use your position and power to find and protect her. For me. Keep her safe and free, for me.”

Aleid was in sobs again. “You love her so much,” she began with a nod. “She will know how much she meant to you. I will keep father from her.”

Dashiell smiled at her, the smile of a man who could die without fear or regret.

“Now go, your father must not find you here or he will know you had a part in this.”

She leaned towards him and with soft lips, kissed him. It was quick but it meant everything.

“I love you. Avi loves you. This was from both of us.” She stood up and began back for the door. “Goodbye, Dashiell,” she said as she looked back one last time.

“Goodbye, Aleid,” he said and kept his eyes on her. “Remember the good and do not mourn for me.”

It was only a few hours before light woke Dashiell, again. The morning was upon him. It was time. The door of the cell opened and the guards came in. He was pulled to his feet and dragged out of the cell. The sky was so beautiful, he thought, as his feet walked the steps to the gallows. Not once did he look at the noose waiting for him. Ewald Elon was there but Dashiell did not acknowledge him.

“Dashiell Dupond, you have been found guilty of the crime of treason against the Elon family and the V.O.C. The punishment for treason is to be hung by the neck until dead. Do you have any last words?”

The noose was slipped around his neck.

“Do you hear the birds? They are singing for me. Avi would have wanted that. She always loved when they sang.”

“Do it,” Elon said in a harsh voice.

“She is singing with them now, Elon. The song of freedom.”

Dashiell shot Ewald a gaze and a smile before he dropped through the floor of the gallows.

*beste vriend is Dutch for “dearest friend”

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Stormy eyed, black eyed
In which Mel is introduced to Captain Stedman
“Welcome aboard Mister Collins. I expect you to be deck-side with the rest of the crew at Seven o’clock sharp tomorrow morning. We set sail at Eight.” Captain Stedman shook the calloused hand from behind his make-shift desk before looking down the quay-side queue of would-be crewmen. Damned if this wasn’t supposed to be the duty of his first-mate, but Quiggley was laid out with fever and Stedman didn’t trust anyone else to do the job. A third of the applicants were fishermen who had never before crewed a vessel with more than one sail, another third had been dismissed from their last posts for bad behavior, and if he was lucky the rest were…eight?

The Captain put down his leather dossier case as the lad was pushed forward. The boy’s eyes were the color of the sea in a storm and glued to the ground. One was still freshly blackened and starting to purple.
“This ‘ere is Johnathan Boughman.” said the man with a vice-like grip on the lad’s shoulders, “’e’s got four years experience on the water an’ e’ll be twelve this August. The missus and I was ‘oping you’d find some use for ‘im as a cabin boy.”
Captain Stedman looked the pair up and down slowly, seeing little more than gaunt bodies and thread-bare clothes. The man was clearly the boy’s father, he had the same gray eyes though his were hardened and mean. If Stedman had to guess he would have said that the family had more children than it knew what to do with. Otherwise a child of twelve would not be so malnourished as to look eight, nor would he be pawned off with four years of the family trade under his belt. Stedman sighed. He was not the kind of man to take on urchins, least of all the sullen black-eyed kind. And his ship already had a cabin boy, and…
An ocean breeze ruffled the Captain’s hair bringing with it unbidden memories of a certain other starving child, picked up by chance. Little Gurkin Stedman, so-called for the pox that had left him bumped and pocked and the rest of his family dead. Stedman felt his business hardened heart weaken as a sand-bank lapped by waves.
“Blast it all, I’ll take him.” he said, discomfited by the way the breeze seemed to caress his face at this declaration. “But la- er, Johnathan, I’ll have no scuffles aboard my ship.”
“Oh, e’s not a fighter.” Mister Boughman said with a gruff barking laugh.
“Then how did he come to be so bruised?” Stedman asked, a little non-plussed.
“Little milk-drinker did’n want to leave ’is mum.”
The gaunt fisherman turned and walked away, leaving Stedman with a new charge, but utterly without words.

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Interlude
A brief tale of amusement

Farrah couldn’t remember the last time she laughed this hard or long. Her throat was raw with wheezing. A laugh like this is worth more than a dozen hot baths and dreamless nights combined.

“An’ tha’s no’ all! I slapped that coo’ righ’ on ‘er arse an told ’er ta leave the damn butterchurn aloone. The poor creature went off so forlorn I felt bad fer interruptin’ in the first place!” As Cullen imitated a drunk cow lowing, Farrah collapsed in another fit of giggles.

Even when Farrah had friends in the University, there were never nights like this. She could never let go of her ambition, her station, her ideals.

Who would have guessed that in a cramped ships’ hold, feeling slightly seasick, far from home, and after watching men and women die in bloody dishevelment, Farrah could finally find this kind of joy.

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Wonder and Worry

“Is it their scarves?” Peter lifted his cup after offering the question. “Covering your face…that’s not right, I say.”

William scoffed. “I’ve worked up and down the Suez. Plenty of folks in Africa cover their heads, never bothered me none.”

Peter took a long drought of raki, and immediately grimaced in regret at the bitter anise taste. “Well, I mean,” he hesitated, judging William’s face. “We all saw what happened on the Songbird’s deck last night. That would make anyone uncomfortable.”

“No,” William dodged, shaking his head. “I watched a Stranger execute a man by boiling his blood.” He drew in breath through his teeth. “I think it’s how they move.”

“How they move?” Peter asked.

“They don’t walk right. They…slither.”

“Like snakes?”

“Like snakes!” William nodded in confirmation. “Exactly like snakes.”

Peter stared into his drink, thinking hard about William’s observation. “You’re right, they do move weird. And I overheard one breathing once, it sounded like he was gasping for air.”

“I tell you, Peter. Something’s not right about those men.”

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Feathers for a Hat

On the way back to the Crafty Sassafras, Philip decided that he wanted to stop and buy a hat for himself. While he was picking out his hat, Avi noticed a beautiful, little hat sitting on one of the racks. She picked it up, her eyes wide to take in the magnificence. She lifted it up and placed it atop her head, turning to Farrah. “Pretty ha-hat,” she said to get Farrah’s attention.

“It is a very lovely hat, Avi,” Farrah responded. She was surprised for a moment by the sudden interest before becoming pleasantly happy that Avi had finally found something appropriate to like. Avi’s desire for the hideous shiny buckles still lingering in Farrah’s mind. “Excuse me, the lady would like to buy the hat. Would we be able to put it on my family’s credit?”

“Certainly!” the merchant said, in a chipper voice and opened up their book of names. “What name may I put it under?”

“Al-Azaar,” Farrah responded.

“Ah, yes! Al-Azaar.” They began to look through their book, glancing up at Farrah and Avi every few moments. “Al-Azaar,” they said again. “I am sorry it does not seem that I have that name. Perhaps another form of payment?”

Farrah was startled by this news. The merchant did not know her family name. She stared at the merchant for a long moment then looked to Avi.

“How much for this hat and the lady’s,” Philip spoke up, bringing forth the hat that he had settled on.

“Oh yes, one gold piece for your hat and two for the lady’s.”

“Alright, how about this. Two gold pieces for both,” Philip replied in an attempt to get the price down.

Avi was beginning to take notice of the problem with money. “Pretty hat,” she said, looking down at the hat in thought. Farrah’s name had not been recognized, but her’s might be. Her family was in the dutch nobles, and their merchant reach was growing when she left home. She had once overheard her father lecturing Aleid on how they needed to reach farther across the world.

If she told them her name, would it get back to her father? Would she be discovered as still alive. She did not know if Dashiell’s plan had even worked. Perhaps her parents were just glad to be rid of her, dead or alive. She looked at the merchant who was still haggling for the higher price. She could try it. She looked down at her hat. No, it was too soon, the hat was not important enough for her to risk her freedom or her new family. She noticed her feathers on her wing and an idea lit up in her mind.

She plucked a couple feathers from her skirt and set them on the counter. “For the hat,” she said with a smile.

Philip took notice of what she was trying to do. “Two gold coins and these lovely feathers.”

The merchant picked up the feathers, looking from them to Avi. “These are from you?”

“Yes,” she replied, proudly.

They looked at the feathers again.

“They would look lovely on one of your excellent hats,” Farrah added.

“Two gold coins and the feathers for the two hats,” they finally agreed with a nod.

Avi put the hat back on her head almost immediately and Philip handed over the money. The rest of the walk home Avi did not feel that the stares were because of her wings. She felt pretty, she was sure she looked like a lady now.

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The Last Walk in the Garden
Avi is sentenced to death

Avinnia sat in the window of her bedroom, looking down at the garden below, through the locked glass. She wanted to be down in that garden, back with Aleid, with everything as it had once been. That night was not coming. It was the eve of her birth. A birthday that Aleid had said she would never reach. She stared towards the flowers and wondered when they would come for her. The moon was full in the sky that night, beautiful, silver light illuminating the garden. She waited for the footsteps.

A clicking noise indicated that her door was being unlocked. She turned her head to look over. Her father stood in the doorway, another man hidden slightly behind him. Her mother and sister were not present. Her mother had not looked or spoken to her since her last birthday. Avi rose from the window seat, her eyes darting from one man to the other, and the past. She needed to escape as she did not wish to die.

“It is time, mormel*,” pa said, his tone never had been so cruel.

She did not approach them, she could not bare the disgusted look her father held as he gazed upon her. “Please, papa,” she begged. “Please.”

“Grab the creature and take her out to the garden. It can have one more walk amongst the flowers. Then you know what is expected of you.”

Ewald turned away from his begging daughter and walked away from the room, leaving just the second man and Avinnia.

“He wants you to kill me, Dashiell?” she asked as the man was now in sight.

Dashiell was between Avinnia and Aleid’s age, and being the child of one of the servants he had grown up with them. On the occasional night, he had even joined the sisters in the garden. It had been a long time since he had seen her.

“Come with me, Avi,” he began. “Let us go walk in the garden.”

The garden was as beautiful as every time she had been in it. The flowers blooming under the moonlight. This is the last time I will see it, she thought and paused. Her gaze drifted from the flowers to the man beside her. He was no longer the young boy she had known. Feelings that she could not begin to understand swept through her. Her cheeks had been burning every time he looked at her. When she heard his voice her stomach did somersaults.

“How long do I have?” she asked him, her voice no more than a whisper.

“I have missed you, petit oiseau*” was his response.

She did not understand why he would say that. She had been sure that he would have hated her just as her sister did, as her parents did.

“When you walk through this garden it is almost as if watching la déesse,” he went on. “The vibrant color of your feathers painted against the flowers. They bow before the beauty you shine.”

Beauty? She wondered why he was speaking to her as if she was not a monster. Was he not there to end her life?

“Aleid told me about tonight,” she pried, attempting to find some answer in him.

“Tonight,” he repeated and turned to her. “Tonight I go against your father’s orders. Tonight is the night that you will be free.”

Avinnia stared at him with nothing short of confusion. What did he mean? Free? She was to die, would that be freedom?

“I watched you grow. I watched your feathers sprout and I found it to be a beautiful sight. I was to shy to show my affection when we were younger, and our positions would have made such attention from me undesired by your father. However, you have been disowned, and now he wishes for your death. I can not allow this.”

She was listening to his every word, her face burning, and her heart thundering against her chest. The cool tears slipped down her reddened cheeks, causing her body to involuntarily shiver.

He spoke more when she did not respond, “Your father came to me a few months ago, with his plan to dispose of you. It gave me plenty of time to form my own plan. A way to free you but to make sure your parents believe you are dead. They will not care to look at your body. They have no reason to be suspicious of me. As long as there is a body around your size to bury and I have that ready. Do not worry about the details, leave those to me.”

“I do not understand, Dashiell.”

He reached out his hand and ran his thumb across her cheek, wiping away the tears that had been falling. “I am in love with you, Avi. I have been for years. I need to help you be free.” He turned his head to look at the house behind them. “Your family did not wish to watch. This is the only chance you have. Flee, leave Reykjavik, leave Iceland. Fly far from here and do not come back. I will make sure they have no reason to look for you.”

Dashiell laid a kiss on her brow before stepping away from her. She was still confused by his confession of love but he was letting her go. She could be free.

“Go, Avi,” he urged.

She moved back from him, tested her wings, then lifted into the air. It was not long before she was far enough away that she could not see him. Then her prison fell away from her sight. Then all of Reykjavik. She was finally going to be free.

*mormel is the dutch word for monster, mutt, and mongrel
*petit oiseau is french for little bird
*la déesse is french for goddess

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A Broken Family
A story of the sister Avinnia lost

Sneaking out was Aleid’s idea. A common occurrence once Avinnia began to grow feathers. Aleid was a few years older than her Weird sister, but she had adored the girl from the day she was born. She found nothing wrong with her sister having feathers and she did not understand why her parents were so concerned. Sneaking Avi out of her bedroom was easy for the older girl once their parents retired to their bed chamber.

Aleid tugged on her little sister’s hand as she pulled her out through the door to the back garden. The wildflowers native to Iceland populated the garden. They were in full bloom and well taken care of by the family gardener. She let go of her sister’s hand and moved further outside. She spun around, the moonlight glinting off of her fair hair. She looked back over at her sister, stopping and smiling at the sight of the younger Elon girl.

Avi had already been growing feathers for over a year, many patches covered her arms and body beneath the dresses that their parents forced her to wear. She moved, awkwardly in them, the fabric bending and pushing the feathers in directes they were not meant to turn. To add to their parents horror, her once golden hair had begun to turn bright blue. Avi stared over at her big sister, concern showing through her eyes. If they were caught she would be the one in trouble.

“Ma and Pa are asleep by now, Avi,” Aleid said in a hushed whisper and reached out her hand towards the small girl. “Dance with me.”

She caught her sister’s hand and snatched up the other. They began to spin, the moonlight glowing down on them. The moon seemed to make everything about Avi’s weird more evident. Aleid noticed that her sister’s hair had begun to layer itself, and the layers almost looked like feathers. Their parents would not like that but it only excited her

“You look so pretty, Avi!” she shouted with a smile spreading across her lips.

“Only you think so, Aleid,” was Avi’s timid response.

“Of course I think you are, you are my sister!” she spoke louder with a giggle. “You will always be my sister.”

The nights out in the garden were short lived. Only a few months of these went by before their parents discovered them. Avinnia’s continuing changes led them to lock her door at night, leaving Aleid unable to get inside. They developed a new game after this.

Aleid sat in front of the door to her sister’s room and slipped a paper under the door. Giggling soon told her that Avi like the drawing. A paper was slipped back beneath the door and she picked it up. She looked it over and began to laugh herself.

“Oh, sister, I do not think Pa is this fat,” she spoke through the wooden door.

Before Avi got the chance to respond, Aleid was pulled to her feet, as a man cleared his throat. She let out a gasp and looked up at the angry face of their father.

“Aleid, what are you doing out of bed at this hour?” Ewald Elon was indeed a large man, he was stout around the middle, and over twice the height of his eldest daughter. “One day you will take over for your mother and I. You can not be sneaking around every night and skipping your lessons.

“Pa,” Avi began to speak through her door, worry in her voice.

“Not another word out of you, Avinnia,” he snapped and slapped his hand against the door to silence her. “It is time for bed,” he returned to saying to Aleid. “I do not want to catch you out of bed one more time, or there will be serious consequences for your sister.”

When he let her arm go, Aleid quickly moved back from the door. She glanced over at it, concerned that her sister was going to get punished but she knew it would be worse if she did not obey. She hurried off for her bedroom down the hall.

As the years went by, Avinnia’s condition worsened and the less she saw her sister. Lessons were given to Aleid to keep her busy throughout the day and too tired at night. Avi’s lessons had stopped when her arms had begun to change into wings. Almost no one came into her room after that began. Food was brought to her, her window was sealed, and she had to bathe in cold water. So, when her door unlocked, one late evening, it came as quite a surprise to her when her sister walked in.

“Aleid!” she shouted as she hurried across the room to greet her sister. She was going to hug her but Aleid’s hands lifted to stop her. “It has been so many months since I have seen you. May I hug you?”

Aleid did not speak at first, her eyes hardened and cold, the same eyes that her parents had went they looked at her. “I am not here for a hug, Avinnia,” she began, her voice steady and without feeling. “I will be seventeen soon and I do not have time for your silly games. I have come to see you because of the relationship that we once had.”

“What are you talking about, Aleid?” Avi asked as she was confused by the words coming out of her sister’s lips. “We are sisters.”

“WE are not sisters,” she added almost as quickly as Avi had said they were. “You are something that happened to be mistakenly born from my mother.”

Avinnia stepped back from her sister, unable to believe what she was hearing. Aleid had always loved her feathers. What could possibly be making her say such awful words? She crossed the room back over to her bed. “How can you say that?”

“It is the truth that I now understand. It may have taken time, but I finally understand the abomination that you are. Now, let me speak what I have come here to say. Mother and Father grow tired of tending to something like you. It is putting a great strain on them, keeping you secret, and keeping you alive.”

Avi listened in silence. Each word left new tears in her eyes.

“They will not continue to put up with it much longer. Your… transformation, let us call it that, is a disgrace upon the Elon name. If word of what you are ever got out out status and business would be in jeopardy. I have heard them speaking of what to do with you and that is why I am here. When I was naive we were close. So, I am here to warn you. Your recent escape attempt has left them with no choice. On the eve of your next birthday, you will die.”

Fear left Avi paralyzed. She did not know what to say. She did not know how to react. Her parents wanted her dead? They were going to kill her? Not only that but Aleid spoke to her with hate and disgust. What was she going to do?

“I thought, for our past, you should know. Perhaps you will be able to persuade them or perhaps you will be able to plan a better escape. I do not want to know, and beyond this conversation I do not care. This is the last I plan for us to see each other.”

Aleid was beginning to leave. She had turned around and moved to the door.

“Sister, please, wait,” Avinnia whispered. Her cheeks were now damp from the tears. “Please, hug me,” she said as she began towards her sister.

No hug came. No response and no more words. Aleid stepped out the door. When Avi reached it, the door was shut, and it was locked once more.

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A Notable Correspondence
Philosophical Treatise on Orichalcum and Tech

Esteemed Dr. Crustevya,

I greatly enjoyed your august company during our woefully brief stay in Hokobae. Your skillful care of my companion, Phillip was generous to a fault. He is recovering well, and sends his thanks along with mine.

As to continuing the conversation we started before I left – several points of development have struck my mind with enough force that I feel obligated to bring them to your attention.

Firstly, the matter of Orichalcum’s many uses and benefits are widely touted and I would be a fool to deny them. But is it not the greater fool who neglects his inheritance for the gambling den, drawn by the promise of easy winnings? I do not suggest we forego the gifts of the Weird for the backwards ways of the past. No, instead I see before us a grand future of steel and innovation. In my studies with the University of Cairo I explored new ways to produce the energy to match any size crystal. I promise you that with the guiding fire of human ingenuity, we will fly to nigh-unimaginable heights, without any fear of our wings melting from around us.

Now, try to imagine all of the good technology can do. And not simply by virtue of reliability. No, I allude now to the possibility of true freedom. A bright dawn without the tyrant V.O.C. or barbaric religion that preaches fear and shame. A world where the only limit on a person’s potential is their own ambition. Female and male are endowed with equal minds, the Chinaman and the Frenchman are equally dexterous at a lever. But none of us are equipped to handle an otherworldly substance like Orichalcum, and control all of its ramifications.

Finally, I value your opinions on this matter, both as a professional and as a friend. I fear that it will be very long before I can give you a point of address, but if I can beg your patience and trust, there will be certain avian species that will seem abnormally astute. Give over any missives you have for me to those birds, and they will find me.

Humbly yours,
Farrah Al-Azar

Miss Al-Azar,

I am flattered by your correspondence and your friendship. You show yourself to be exceptionally bright, if bloodthirsty in your ambitions. I was not aware that the University in Cairo took female pupils as well as male, but of course I would not want to give offense to the power of your lineage.

I cannot claim the luxury of your high education. However, as you claim that your propositions would be accessible to all people, I will give my opinions boldly.

I cannot believe that you travel with a living machine, that miraculous gad, and yet fail to see the flaw in your own claims. Orichalcum enhances both tech and flesh alike and any virtue you name for machines can be given to the crystals in turn by this fact. While the Weird is erratic and incomprehensible at times, Orichalcum is not. The reagent is as predictable as the simple sparking of a sulfer match.

And forgive my shortness, but the visions you have are too optimistic. Speaking of true freedom and a flowery future because of technology? Tech means tools and as such can do nothing to eliminate man’s prejudice and most ignoble urges. Progress too narrow and reckless would only put people in more precarious positions than they are in now. What you suggest sounds more to me like a business venture, aimed to cut away at V.O.C. control.

I am filled with nothing but respect for you and your companions. Though it might be unorthodox, I would enjoy continuing this talk with you.

Warm wishes,
Dr. Sarroyen Crustevya

Esteemed Dr. Crustevya,

There is nothing wrong with not clinging to an education, because we both know that most institutions of education are simply large groups of men saying to one another “You sir are right for thinking, and well intentioned for consulting me in the matter” which can only lead to more entrenched minds in the muck of ignorance and mists of ego.

I do mournfully admit that you pricked my conceit well, deflating it to a more rightful shape of business venture. Alas, if you think that business does not mould every other aspect of our lives with its meaty hands, you must be blind to its vagaries. Anything that reduces the power of certain entities in our lives relieves the suffocating pressure they can apply to those that don’t fit their mould. And more breathing room, I think you’ll have to agree, means more freedom.

But if you are convinced that my ideals hold no benefit, I charge you to shake apart every wonder made possible by the implementation of Orichalcum, like the most tenacious ratting hound. Tear them all apart to find proof that they are infinitely reliable and superior to pure machinery. Because I will accept nothing less as proof against my growing conviction that only through expiring ration and innovation will we finally beat back the tides of uncertainty and fear swelling around us.

As always, I wish you health and prosperity. May you find any flaw in these small ideas, and boldly challenge me where I step wrong. But may you also keep a mind as open and fertile as black soil, so that new growth of ideas do not wither before they can bear fruit.

Yours truly,
Farrah Al-Azar

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