Symphony of Aeons: The Log of an Expatriate Vessel

By Jave Harron

Dead in the Water

The Captain surveyed the deck of his vessel. The ancient yellow-green ceramics comprising the hull had withstood the rough seas and storm they had just passed through. Now, on their way to the North Atlantic, they were stuck by some Godforsaken rock of an island. He had requested that the nominal head of maintenance meet him on deck.

The soulshell's metallic feet clanked on the floor as he approached Captain Andrei Razin. Despite the fact he resembled the service automatons that patrolled the vessel, a once-human mind commanded the mechanical body. "Status: Unit M-36, alternative name 'Johan Stark,' reporting to Master Razin."

"Stark, this is a big boat. Why do you always come find me?" the disheartened officer groaned.

"Observation: Master Razin, I hope you realize why this vessel has been entrusted to you," the mechanical man spoke. "This is a priceless historical relic, in addition to being one of the most lethal classes of vessels on the ocean."

"Yes, Stark, I'm aware of that," the Captain nodded his head. "We've been stuck off this deserted rock, and you can find nothing other than bothering me. Can you please get back to work or talk with someone else?"

"Statement: Master, when I do that, they simply refer me back to you for their various issues," the soulshell continued. The construct's tone of voice changed, and it began to replay several recorded quotes. "Will you stop bothering me? Tell the Captain to get more rations!"

"Those rations will get here in a day! I can't make them come any faster!" Razin complained to himself. "Stark, go tell Julian to calm down. He's had enough wine by now."

"Explanation: Master, Lieutenant Antoku is currently locked inside his cabin. Playing audio records now," the voice coming from the construct changed to a man heavily breathing. "I presume you know what the little pervert is doing now."

"Stark, that's enough!" Razin shouted and sighed. "Return to the engine room and continue with diagnostics. I want this ship fully operational by tonight."

"Summary: Conventional thaumechanic engine issues. Problems encountered with key generators offline. The attention of Specialist Elizabeth Barrett was occupied by a four legged mammalian organism, designated as 'vermin,'" Stark's eyes flashed red.

"And did you do anything with this 'vermin'?" Razin asked. The answer was not going to be pretty.

"Audio playback commencing," the construct again changed its voice. A snap was heard, then a younger woman's voice. "YOU! YOU KILLED MY DOG! GET OUT OF HERE BEFORE I SMASH YOU!"

"No wonder the Eisenkaiser was so eager to donate you," the Captain buried his head in his hands. "Please, Stark, find someone else to bother. I'm not in the mood for it now."

"Consolation: Master, I enjoy your company," the construct continued. "Statement: Is not today the anniversary of the Drakon Incident?"

"Stark, unless you want to end up on the bottom of the sea, get back to work," the Major glared at the construct with an anger that had not been there before.

"Statement: Yes, Master, I have nothing but a desire to make this ancient ship run efficiently," the construct added. "And exterminate several meatsacks over the course of its service life."

"If you get this ship running soon, Stark, we'll be able to go hunting for meatsacks," Razin tried to appeal to the soulshell's bloodlust.

"Statement: Your powers of negotiation move me, Captain," Stark saluted. "Soulshell M-36, formerly known as 'Johan Stark,' heading for repair duty."

As the soulshell vanished below deck, the Captain breathed a sigh of relief. The soulshell had offered to have himself donated to the Expatriates for a period of indentured servitude. Likely due to punishment for some offense, Razin reasoned. From what he'd seen of that soulshell so far, that would not be a stretch to imagine. Razin began to form mental images of Stark committing several massacres and murders when a strange smell interrupted him. A scent like tanned leather filled the upper deck, and some traces of perfume were also present.

Razin turned to see the abdead Jesuit, Juan Diego, holding a book. "Captain, may I have a word with you?" the former missionary asked in a raspy voice with a slight Spanish accent.

"Yes, Brother?" Razin asked. "Have you settled in yet?"

"About that," Diego replied. "My entire collection of tomes and records is unable to fit in my room. I'd like permission to use the adjacent room as a library."

"Isn't that the armory?" Razin rolled his eyes. "A few history books shouldn't warrant that much security."

"Captain, as I'm sure a man of your rank should know, books can be more dangerous weapons than the biggest gun," Diego continued. "But these aren't just history books, or even subversive literature. These are grimoires, spell books, treatises on forgotten thaumaturgy, and the like. These things require more security, si?"

"The armory's a bad idea, Brother," Razin replied. "Since that's where Stark resides when not bothering us or repairing the ship. I'm sure he'd love to explore that collection."

"Then how about the empty room next door?" Diego inquired. "Throw a few locks and wards over each entry point, and it should suffice."

"Good idea," Razin nodded, turning his gaze to the book in his hand. "So, what are you reading now?"

"An early draft of a new historical treatise I plan to publish soon," the abdead man held up his book and read the title aloud. "The Forgotten Crossing: Tracing The Lost Japanese Refugees."

"That's the one about that lost Japanese colony in North America, right?" Razin inquired.

Diego nodded. "Despite the Papists and Allies largely downplaying it, I would argue that if not for this colony's expedition south, the Aztecs would have invaded Europe."

"Interesting view, Brother," Razin nodded. "Keep up the good work."

"Will do, Captain," the abdead man walked back to his studies.

The Captain, seeing no one else on the yellow-green ceramic deck, headed for his office in the heart of the vessel. Descending down a metal ladder that had been added in, he could see the vessel was a product of Volksreich engineering as much as the Mulian ship it had been built into. Electric lights had replaced many of the ancient glow-crystals. Thaumechanical engines were used instead of the ancient Mulian resonance crystals (which had been removed for study). Modern guns and drone manufactories had been equipped on the ancient vessel to ensure it could survive in most engagements. Only a primary weapon, a resonance weapon of some kind, had been left unchanged. Only Beth and Stark knew how to operate it, but Razin had yet seen it in action.

The lights in the hallway flickered, and Andrei Razin looked up. Some of the wires were exposed and improperly connected. He would have to yell at Stark later. The last thing the strange amalgamation of ancient super-thaumotechnology and modern engineering required was the power to fail at some inopportune time. For now, he would have someone else deal with the troublesome soulshell. Spotting a light on under a door nearby, he saw the nameplate reading "Pierre Quesnay, Doctor of Philosophy" on the door and knocked on it.

"Who goes there?" a French accented voice was heard.

"Hey, Pierre, Captain Razin here," Razin replied. "I have a request for you."

"Oh, come in, Captain!" Quesnay opened the door.

The bespectacled young man had his light brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. He moved back to his desk, which was covered on papers on mathematics. "How may I assist, sir?"

"What have you been up to, Doctor?" the Captain tried to look at the math, and failed to comprehend most of it.

"I was just comparing the new theorem of Fourier with Mulian resonance theory," the Doctor flipped over some papers. "Both independently reached the conclusion that any signal can be represented as a finite sum of sinusoids."

"Fourier?" Razin searched his mind for that name. "Oh, he's one of those refugee French scientists, right?"

"Yes," Quesnay nodded. "Not all Frenchmen are Sadists, thankfully."

"I'm glad you're not, Doctor," the Captain said. "That new guy, Napoleon, I think, doesn't look much better than de Sade was."

Quesnay shrugged. "I don't trust that idiot. Now, how can I help?"

"Can you tell Stark to fix the wiring? Some aren't working, some aren't attached right, some are worn down, and we need power maintained," the Captain requested. "Since he doesn't bother you much, could ask him to watch it?"

"It could have been Stark's automatons, instead," Quesnay suggested. "Without Stark to check their work, they can be completely oblivious to problems like this."

"Well, you'd know that better than I," Razin nodded. "I guess I'm not used to having most functions on a ship automated."

"But you were a Captain in the Imperial Russian Navy before, right?" Quesnay inquired. "Forgive me for asking."

"Yes, I was," Razin replied. "But not anymore. Now I'm here, an Expatriate, and ready to serve humanity. Or at least try to."

"At least the Expatriates have standards," Quesnay mused. "If we didn't have them, know what we'd be called?"

"What, Doctor?" Razin asked.

"Rapists, thieves, and murderers in uniform," Quesnay replied. "In other words, the French Foreign Legion."

Razin chuckled. "So, you can yell at Stark, right? You have the degree from Berlin University, so if anyone, he'll listen to you."

"Believe it or not, Captain, but Stark actually likes you," Quesnay said with a grin on his face. "Especially getting you angry. He's a sociopath, but he used to be a fairly respected engineer."

"Do you know what happened?" Razin asked, rubbing his chin. "How did he end up a soulshell in indentured servitude?"

The French thaumaturge shrugged. "I know criminals in the Volksreich may be given indentured servitude," he explained. "Especially for extreme cases. From all I've heard, he's just a baseline engineer that converted himself, and somehow ended up in servitude."

"And now he's stuck with us," Razin rolled his eyes. "Look, I don't need to be best friends with that bastard. I just need him to keep the ship running."

"Understood," the Frenchman nodded. "I'll see what I can do."

"Thanks, Doctor," Razin said. "Good luck with your studies."

Quesnay nodded and Razin pulled the door closed behind him. The Frenchman was technically a civilian, but still under his command as per Expatriate personnel structure. Stark seemed to leave him alone, compared to the other members of the crew. Recalling the recording Stark had played earlier, Specialist Barrett was down another pet. First was the kitten, then was a bird, and now a dog. Razin shuddered to think of what Stark had done this time, considering they had still not yet found all the parts of the kitten.

Razin headed down another flight of stairs, and followed corridor where the sound of generators grew louder. Looking around, a rather cross Elizabeth Barrett sat cross-legged, trying to clear something from between two cogs of a Prussian thaumechanical generator. She wore earplugs, presumably so the noise from the engines did not cause her to go deaf. Upon closer examination, Razin could see the American mechanic trying to scrape out bits of fur and gore from between two massive gears. Noting the color of the fur and recalling the mental image of the dog, Stark's previous recording made a sort of sick sense. Beth's dog was now Beth's mess to clean up.

"Captain, may I go smash Stark?" she said, removing her earplugs. "Look what he did to Minuto!"

"That was your new dog, right?" Razin recalled. "The one you purchased in Veracruz, correct?"

He did not say that the canine resembled a giant, hairless rat. Stark may have simply killed the unfortunate chihuahua for the hell of it, but perhaps simply did not know what type of animal it was for some reason, only Beth was attached to it. Or both.

Beth nodded. "Stark grabbed Minuto and just threw him in here!" her eyes were wide and showing a sign of clear annoyance. "I've had to shut down some main generators just to clear out what's left of him!"

"Hold on, what?" the Captain exclaimed. "You shut down some of the generators just to clean out dead rat-dog?"

"Yeah, of course!" Beth protested, putting her hands up. "Not only was he my pet, but that asshole Stark knew that it could jam up something."

"Still, I'd appreciate it if you'd tell me when you plan to shut down the generators," Razin shook his head. "How much longer do you have?"

"Not much longer," Beth replied. "But if you could send someone to give me a hand, this would be even faster. And I mean real help, not just brainless automatons."

"Statement: I am able to assist, Master," came a voice from down the corridor.

Razin and Beth turned to see Stark, holding a coil of wire in his metal hands.

"Stark, did Quesnay talk with you?" Razin asked. "I have several issues with your behavior."

"Consolation: Oh, Master, I am sure you do," the soulshell said smugly. "But my actions have an explanation."

Stark threw the coil of wire to the floor, and began to point at several stripped sections. "Explanation: Master, note how the wires look. The damages on these sections of wire are consistent with bitemarks of a certain type of vermin: the chihuahua."

"Well, Stark, how did that wire not get fixed by the automatons, then?" Razin asked. "Some of that wire was on the ceiling, not floor."

"Explanation: I believe that this chain of events can be complicated by a simple automaton programming error. They were not detecting the damages in the wire, and using the defective strands instead," Stark continued. "Realizing that these damages had dramatically increased since docking in Veracruz, I found the guilty party, and administered extermination to the meatsack vermin."

"Well, now you can help clean it up, Stark," the Captain pointed towards the stopped gears. "And from now on, don't try to annoy Beth. I'll let her take you apart if you try a stunt like this again."

Beth suddenly perked up, waved a wrench menacingly, and scowled. Stark seemed to back away slightly.

"Now, both of you will be cleaning every toilet on this ship unless it's running soon," he looked at both. "Finish early, and I'll get you a new pet, Beth. And I'll get you some new guns, Stark."

Both construct and mechanic looked at each other, and began scrapping canine guts out of the gears at a frenzied pace. Captain Razin walked away, hoping to be on his way. Within the hour, the generators were back online, and the Symphony of Aeons was on course again.