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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 32

Act IV

Windowed The Soul

Chapter Five


A wind shift towards a sailing vessel’s bow.

The factory was engulfed in flames. Someone had set off a series of explosives typically used by demolition companies. Six people were dead.

You returned to Grambic Tower just as Howe would normally be shutting things down for the night. Instead, you went to your conference room on the eleventh floor.

Multiple phone calls were in progress when you arrived, one with a French liaison officer from the Paris Police Prefecture. As soon as you entered the room your employees on cell calls turned toward the sound dampening walls of the room to allow you a clear conversation.

“This is Michael Grambic,” you announced to the speaker phone. “To whom am I speaking?”

The accented voice spoke clear English. “Liaison Roger Lepine, Mr. Grambic.”

You imagined him as a bald-headed man, similar to a ball peen hammer, to remember his name. “Can you tell me what’s happening over there, Monsieur Lepine?”

Lepine’s frustration indicated he was repeating himself. “A series of explosions has killed your maintenance staff and night guards. The building itself will most likely need to be razed. At the moment firefighters are searching the facility for hot spots, bodies, and any fortunate survivors. They are not hopeful, as the damage is extensive.”

One of your lackeys whispered. “The French army fire team was called in.”

Lepine must have heard. “Your underling is correct, Mr. Grambic. The Paris Fire Brigade has already made the decision to condemn your entire facility as unsafe. Commandant Papon has said only a miracle has kept the structure standing.”

You considered options for a moment. “Please keep my people informed, Monsieur Lepine. I appreciate what you’re doing.”

“My pleasure, Mr. Grambic.” Lepine’s tone of voice told you he found dealing with overseas owners a hassle.

One of your people picked up the handset. Since you’d never met the man you didn’t know his name.

You turned to your assistant as numerous people around the room murmured into their phones. “Looks like we’ll be here for a while, Victor.”

“Yes, sir. I’ve made arrangements for everyone here, and called your home staff to have a meal brought to your office.”

You nodded. “Have people from Legal, Finance, and Human Resources meet me there. Tell my chef to bring enough for all of us.”

“Very good, Mr. Grambic.” Howe turned to a corner of the room to make the phone calls.

I could probably have manipulated more chaos from the situation, but why bother? Humanity, for the most part, needed very little help in destroying their own lives.

By the time you settled at your desk the sun had gone down. As twilight faded to night the city lights came on, setting up a dark and light patina outside your window. Eventually even the dimmed lights inside your office made seeing outside impossible.

The elevator dinged and the doors opened to show your assistant. “Mr. Grambic, I’m sorry, I forgot to fog the windows.” He hastened to his desk and turned the proper control. Another twist and the lighting increased to normal levels. “Your people will be here momentarily.”

A muted hum told you the elevator had departed to collect senior members of your staff to deal with the tragedy.

“What happened in Paris, Victor?” You couldn’t believe someone would blow up a factory making ceiling tiles. You shook your head in frustration and sorrow over what some families would be feeling. You knew firsthand about the loss of family members and sympathized instinctively.

I’d make sure you felt even more than loss in the very near future. Even the anticipation of it pleased me.

“Some people just don’t like Americans, I guess.”

You nodded. “Six dead, probably more injured.”

A signal must have illuminated on Howe’s desk. He checked a video monitor, then okayed access to your floor. The elevator dinged again, and three department heads stepped out. Three assistants followed, each already tapping away on mobile devices.

You motioned for them to take seats at your conference table. “First things first. For any of the deceased, match any insurance payouts. If they have none, average out the ones who do and pay that. People are more important than cash or property.”

Patrick Strutt from Finance nodded. “Done.” The subordinate behind him made a note.

You turned to Kristy Erickson from Legal. “Find out what our obligations are in France. Close everything down as soon as possible with the minimum of fuss.”

Erickson replied, “We’ll be out by the middle of March.”

One more decision to convey. “Susie, find out if anyone currently employed with Grambic Tiles in France wants to relocate to Canada. Give them a moving allowance, and provide an additional incentive to people who are valuable enough to warrant it.”

Your director of Human Resources nodded, and the assistant standing behind her tapped away on his phone.

Howe must have been notified of an elevator arrival. He noiselessly moved to his desk to check who it was, then allowed the doors to open. Your home chef and two other women pushed carts into your office.

“Supper is served.” You knew it would be a late night for everyone. “Help yourself when you get the chance.”


By the time everyone left at midnight everything had been arranged. Paralegals would come in early to deal with the preliminaries of decommissioning and selling your property in France. Accountants would begin the search for insurance policies and payments, and Human Resources workers on the overnight shift had already called employees who might want to move to Canada.

You rolled into bed about an hour after leaving Grambic Tower, knowing you had capable people taking care of what needed to happen.

That night you dreamed of sailing Sell Short on Lake Marion. It exploded.

Not only did you die, you lost your race to Judge Boynton.

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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Lannetay looked up when the aft hatch in the common room opened. Othan walked over to the port side airlock, opened the weapons locker, and slotted the Wanti blaster rifle. One of the ship’s other surprises was behind a hidden panel right beside that cubby.

Goofball stepped into the common room with a satisfied grin. Lannetay knew that look. He’d succeeded at a difficult goal, probably with the hidden fighter he called Tabby.

Bill, tell everyone I have an announcement, Lannetay ordered.

Marc and L-T saved their game, switched it off, then turned toward Lannetay. Carnifor glanced up, but otherwise kept his simulation running, and Olthan met up with Goofball at Lannetay’s position just outside the control cabin.

The captain stood. “I was going to wait for supper, but since we’re all here I’ll ask now. In case you didn’t know, a Brock Class cutter launched a while ago to search for us. The question is, should we deploy the Five-K manually while that cutter is looking for us out in space, or should we wait?”

Carnifor paused his simulated fleet action. “They’ll never find a person wandering the surface, and doing something beats doing nothing.”

“Is the cutter comin’ back?” Olthan asked. “If it ain’t back, whyn’t we just let Bill do it?”

“We’re on a planet tidally locked to its sun,” Bill said. “The cutter’s on the other side of the planet, presumably headed to the outer regions of this system. If they turn around we’re unlikely to notice, what with a planet blocking our sensors.”

Goofball dropped into a recliner still being assembled beneath him. “The worst thing we can do is nothing.” The macrites of the forming chair took his weight and raised his feet. “Thanks, Bill.”

“Someday I’ll let you fall,” the AI said.

Goofball smiled. “Maybe.”

Marc pivoted his seat, wondering if he should answer. He knew most of the decisions wouldn’t be influenced by his input, but maybe this one would be. “I’m game.”

L-T simply shrugged. “Idleness can lead to lethal mistakes, so I’d support doing something.”

Carnifor grunted. “Did you wait for so long to let us get bored?”

Lannetay gave an innocent look. “Would I do something like that?”

Carnifor smiled. “You’d do exactly that.”

“Okay, so here’s the deal.” Lannetay projected her voice the way she’d learned in the Marine Corps. “We have to plant the ten canisters with ‘wall’ nanites before we can do the ones at the center of the circle. That means someone has to walk all the way across the five-kilometer diameter. Twice.”

Silence descended. After a few awkward seconds, L-T spoke up. “I’ll go. And if we don’t linger we could get there and back in the two hours our support belts would last.”

“Thanks, L-T.” Lannetay nodded his direction, working to suppress a warm smile. “But we’ll want a margin of error. Take two belts, like we used on Cayn. Anyone want to back him up, just in case?”

“I’ll go with him.” Marc stood, daring his mother to defy him as a choice.

With her heart pounding, Lannetay accepted the offer. “Thanks, Marc. Carnifor and Goofball, you take the arc to the left, I’ll take Olthan to the right.”

Goofball grinned. “It’s the right thing to do, I guess. Carnifor and I are left with the other.”

Carnifor groaned. “Can’t we swap partners, Lannetay? His puns will be the death of me.”

Goofball stood and headed to the starboard airlock. “A coward dies many times before his death, Carny.”

“The brave die but once,” Carnifor quipped. “You volunteering for that?”

The others made their way to the airlock, too, but Lannetay went toward the cargo bay. “Don’t forget your canisters, gentlemen.”

A half-hour later L-T and Marc, clad in space suits, hiked down the boarding ramp and onto the desolate surface. The rest of the crew followed. The sound of crunching gravel transmitted into the airspace inside suits and force fields.

“You ready for this, Marc? Ten klicks is quite a distance.” L-T spoke over his short range radio on the assigned group frequency.

“Ready or not, here we go.” The two headed out toward the assigned point on the far side of the circle. Marc carried one canister fifteen centimeters long and three centimeters wide. L-T carried two.

Next to the ship Olthan drove the first into the grit near the William Placard’s ramp.“One down, nine to go.” The Marine marched toward the next drop-off point.

Surprised at the rapidity of Olthan’s departure, Lannetay rushed to catch up.

Carnifor stood for a moment, watching Lannetay nearly running. “That’s something you don’t see too often.”

“Want to see if we can finish before them?” Goofball nearly skipped away. “Bill said gravity was thirty-eight percent standard. I’m betting we’ll be first.”

Carnifor sighed. “I’m always running to catch up to someone.”

Before anyone had covered a hundred meters Bill sent to all six crew members, There are Wanti ground troops headed this way. Return to the ship immediately. Five scouts are about three hundred meters to my northeast, the rest of a platoon coming up behind them.

Lannetay swore, then frowned at herself for cursing. Bill, can you lift off and pick us up?

You’re all so close it’ll take longer to fly from place to place. Besides, I doubt they know exactly where we are, so I’d rather not show myself.

Goofball didn’t wait. After hearing about Wantis on the way he turned and sprinted back toward the ship. Bill, prep Tabby.

Lannetay shook her head, not caring her fighter pilot couldn’t see her. “Goofball, you can’t launch when the ship is grounded.”

“Yes I can, yes I can,” Goofball sang. He jumped from the ground all the way into the airlock, which cycled in seconds.

Lannetay saw the boarding ramp retract and the William Placard’s landing struts extend to full length. “Goofball, that’s not enough room!”

Bill broke in. You people are putting out enough comm traffic to light this place up on sensors. Can we all just quiet down?

Everyone stopped in their tracks when the Tromant fighter dropped toward the cracked rocks beneath the ship.

“Goofball!” Carnifor’s exclamation came too late. The fighter had already slowed to a hover over the sharp stones, then eased out from the gap beneath the ship and shot toward the horizon. A thin sonic crack echoed through the area.

Goofball let out a whoop as he disappeared over the low cliffs.

Olthan waved Lannetay to one side and pulled his disrupter rifle from his shoulder. How far away are they, Bill?

Point is a hundred-fifty meters at zero one three.

Olthan looked that direction and sent to Lannetay, Skipper, I got this. He disappeared into the the opening airlock.

Marc, L-T, and Carnifor met Lannetay where she waited for the lock to cycle open again. As soon as the inner lock opened, Lannetay rapped out, “Marc, quarters. And keep your support belt on. You two, rifles at the port airlock.”

Marc stood with hands on hips. “Mom, I want to help.”

L-T walked past Marc toward the far airlock.

Lannetay whirled on Marc. “Training first. Quarters now.”

Marc huffed a wordless objection, but turned toward his berth.

Oh, the language he’s using, Bill sent to Lannetay. This is a side of you they’ve never seen before.

Never been a need for it until now.

Carnifor went to the port airlock and had to wait. “What’s the delay, Bill?”

“Olthan’s leaving the ship with his extras on.”

“What extras?” L-T asked.

Lannetay and Carnifor shared a grin.

“It’s a surprise,” Bill said as the inner hatch opened.

If you're wondering more about these characters, their origins are detailed in Ebony Sea: Origins. If you appreciate this story, please share on social media, and consider supporting the author's ability to continue writing by purchasing the Origins story and leaving a review at the link above.

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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 31

Act IV

Windowed The Soul

Chapter Four


A sunshade supported by a metal frame.

By the end of the business day you’d purchased your own Neo. A few thousand dollars meant nothing to a man worth a quarter of a billion. You also had a new employee – Howe’s brother-in-law – to see to the new addition to your fleet.

While all that was being accomplished, behind the scenes your legal department had located a spot for your new Canadian factory – Dannacona, Quebec. Good utilities, nearby access to the St. Lawrence River, an international airport in Quebec City only a few miles away, and a railway even closer. Getting to the United States by road would be convoluted, but certainly not impossible. You’d probably never need to drive there anyway.

Delivery of your Neo wouldn’t happen for a few days. You’d cajoled and threatened when they told you it would take a month, but they wouldn’t relent until you put a ten thousand dollar incentive on the table. “Three days,” they’d said. No amount of money shortened that time frame.

Preparation for a sailing race was a lot like getting a new factory going. You needed to spend time perusing the charts where you’d be racing, and getting to know your new boat was a must. A vagrant puff of air could change how a boat as small as your Neo reacted. So you intended to practice, practice, practice.

The major difference – you had employees who would see to the zoning regulations, legal hurdles, and required permits for your factory. Only you would be on the Neo.

Your new “boat guy,” as you thought of him, told you he’d have everything ready for a Saturday morning shakedown. In a way, you named the boat after him: Sell Short. You didn’t dabble in the markets much, but he was named Isaiah Short. Your way of remembering what to call him. That he’d take the boat’s name as a threat never occurred to you.

Polly’s Landing was just south of where I-95 crossed Lake Marion in South Carolina. You’d be well out of the swampy area north of the interstate.

With initial research done for both the race and the new factory, you had nothing left to do but stare out your window again, longing to be on the open water. The Savannah River was visible from your twelfth floor vantage point, and you imagined sailing. Even though you’d just been out on your yacht, you felt the walls closing in on you.

“Victor.” You moved back to your desk to power down your computer. “I’m taking the rest of the day off.”

“Very good, Mr. Grambic.” Your assistant nodded and made a few notes. “I have your numbers if something urgent crops up. Schwartz will be ready with your car in a couple of minutes.”

“Call the club. I want my yacht ready to launch by the time I get there.”

“Yes, sir.”

When you arrived at the Savannah Yacht Club the engines on Resonant Frequencywere idling and the moorings were singled up. A deck hand coiled the lines the moment you climbed aboard, then Panicked Pilot engaged the screws. You finally took a deep breath as Tybee Island shrank astern. The open ocean beckoned.

Less than an hour later your serenity faded. I’d stirred your mind to rise to the challenge of sporting competition, and merely watching the ocean aboard a power yacht no longer satisfied you. Another hour passed as you grew angry and agitated.


A hesitant answer filtered back from the helm. “Sir?”

“Take me home.”

Other members of your crew stole glances at you. Your yacht swung around and headed for shore.

Perfect. Now for a bit more ire with a Coast Guard inspection.

I called in a favor from a Brother to the north, and he diverted a cutter to cross your path. The captain of the Southland had been monitoring shore traffic along the Carolina coastline. It didn’t take much trouble to rouse her suspicions of such a short trip off shore.

Thirty minutes later a loudspeaker blared off your starboard. “Resonant Frequency, this is the USCGC Southland. Cut your engines and prepare to be boarded.” A Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawk rose from the vessel’s stern landing area and orbited to your port beam.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood slipped a shipment of drugs through a gap where Southland normally patrolled. A small boat entered Stone Bay, and cocaine worth a few million dollars would be distributed from Jacksonville.

Mayhem. Wonderful.

Panicked Pilot didn’t wait for permission to throttle back and turn off the engines.

You climbed to the sundeck to meet the boarding party, and a few minutes later the Southland pulled alongside. A squad of armed sailors jumped aboard with practiced ease, followed by an ensign and a young lieutenant.

The rifle-wielding enlisted sailors fanned out, while the eager ensign stayed beside and a bit behind the lieutenant. You were covered from every angle, and resented having weapons pointed at you. The helicopter continued to circle your yacht.

“Michael Grambic, Captain.” You knew better than to offer her a handshake. “What can I do for you?”

The lieutenant gave you a steely-eyed stare. “Lieutenant Swale, Mr. Grambic. We’ll be inspecting your vessel.” She nodded to Ensign Eager, who took the squad of sailors below.

You sat on the edge of the hot tub. “Any particular reason you think I’m doing something suspicious, Lieutenant Swale?”

Swale remained standing and alert. “I find it interesting a yacht like yours would head away from shore, then suddenly reverse course without pausing to get a line wet or even take a sounding.”

“Drug interdiction?” You knew the area was rife with drug trafficking. “But if you were watching us on radar you’d know we didn’t rendezvous with anyone.”

“A small boat wouldn’t show up on radar with ten-foot waves, Mr. Grambic.” Swale rolled with the deck as a particularly large wave lifted the Resonant Frequency’s stern, then the bow, and dropped them in the same order. “A cigarette boat, or four, would easily be able to bring you sizable shipments of cocaine.”

You smiled at the idea of being a drug dealer. Sure, a good deal of money could be made short-term, but the long-term risks made legal businesses far more attractive. “Search away. Can I get you an iced tea while we wait?”

Swale relaxed a fraction. “I would be delighted, but I can’t accept anything while on duty.”

In all, the Coast Guard spent half an hour searching Resonant Frequency. They found nothing, but most disappointing to me is they didn’t irritate you.

Maybe next time.

Eventually Captain Swale and her crew moved back to the Southland. The Jayhawk settled on the stern of the cutter, and the boat moved off to do something about the drug trade. They should know better. The supply will always find a way as long as the demand exists.

A crewman cleared his throat. “Sir? You have a call from shore.”

“Thank you.” You ambled toward the bridge.

A minute later the pilot handed you a handset. “Grambic,” you said.

“Mr. Grambic,” Victor Howe said. “We’ve received a call from the Paris police. There’s been an explosion at your factory there.”

I smiled.

If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.

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