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  • Mark Meier

Vensi has a portable scanner built into his clothing, Bill sent. And Qi is still trying to penetrate my system.

Lannetay held up a hand to keep everyone in the control room. “My ship tells me Lieutenant Qi is attempting to infiltrate our system. Is there any reason in particular you’d do that?” She kept her eyes focused on Vensi.

He smiled and looked toward the deck for a moment. “There are smugglers, spies, and even pirates in the Confederation. We’re constantly on the lookout for people who aren’t what they seem.”

“And one thing for certainuh,” Huerla said, “is you aren’t what you seemuh.”

Carnifor frowned. “What do you mean? We’re traders, taking cargo from one system to another.”

“The problem,” Vensi said, “is you’re not hauling much in the way of cargo. According to our scans you have only a few percentage points of your available space in use. A trader would haul dirt before running nearly empty.” Vensi’s gaze grew hard.

Lannetay shot Carnifor an “I told you so” look, then noticed Qi’s hand rested on a holstered sidearm. Her eyes widened and she mentally kicked herself for missing a concealed weapon. Qi had to be good to get a sidearm aboard without her noticing.

Carnifor noticed her reaction. We both missed it.

Lannetay could see him struggling to keep his face neutral, though a slight rumble of disgust was expressed.

Bill provided an in-head holo and explained, He had it under his jacket at the small of his back when they boarded. I missed scanning it, somehow. His clothing subtly blocks some scanning frequencies and I didn’t notice. Sorry.

Lannetay gave a reasonable approximation of an unconcerned laugh. “We’re carrying a contracted shipment. A family on Inglep is paying a premium for this cargo – enough to make the trip well worth it.”

“I doubt thatuh. You could have cut straight through the centuh of the Confederationuh. That would greatly reduce your traveluh.”

Carnifor gave a weak smile. “And we’d be stopped by every ship we came across. We’re actually saving time.”

“You see,” Lannetay added, “I’ve flown through Wanti . . . bani space before and had just such a thing happen. As an independent trader, I avoid red tape whenever it’s feasible.”

Nice recovery, Bill sent. One thing all Wantis hated was to be called “Wantis.”

Lannetay fought to keep her expression under control. Quiet.

“Perhapsuh.” Huerla frowned, maybe at Lannetay’s near slip-up.

“May we see your cargo bay?” Vensi asked.

“You may see anything you like.” Lannetay shrugged. “Let’s head aft.”

Goofball, L-T, Olthan, and Marc watched in silence as the Wantis entered the common room. Nobody else spoke either. Qi kept his distance from Lannetay’s crew and always looked ready to draw his weapon.

Vensi showed no reluctance to pass the tall, burly Olthan. “Big man, for a trader,” the Wanti said.

Olthan shrugged. “Not my fault for bein’ big an’ strong.”

“So true.” Vensi slapped the Marine’s back and continued on.

Carnifor explained, “He grew up on a farm.”

“Ah.” Vensi appeared willing to let the topic drop.

At the pressure hatch leading to the crew quarters, Lannetay pressed a control to gain access. The short corridor, crossed by a much longer one, ended in an airlock. She entered an override code as the Wantis took in every bit of information they could. The hatches opened to the cargo area.

“There it is, Captain Vensi.” Lannetay waved to the relatively small stack of cargo secured in the expansive bay. “Herlorwian wood. So sought after at Inglep we accepted an exclusive order to bring this much and no more. Nobody else will have that kind of wood until they can arrange their own shipment. We got a bonus to refuse further shipments.”

Vensi, Huerla, and Qi ignored Lannetay and Carnifor, fanning out to search the hold. Qi and Huerla produced hand scanners and inspected the bulkheads to port and starboard. After a quarter-hour they hustled back toward Carnifor and Lannetay.

The three conferred in quiet tones just out of earshot, then Vensi spoke up. “Captain, you do appear to be telling the truth.”

“I have nothing to hide. You could spend all day here with your scanners, and I wouldn’t stop you.”

Vensi’s jaw worked for a few moments as if fighting to hide frustration. “All of our searches have yielded nothing, Lanny.”

He’s repeating himself, Bill observed.

“You’re welcome to stay, if you think you’ll find something.” Lannetay crossed her arms.

Bill laughed over his link with Lannetay. Now you’re repeating yourself.

“There’s no needuh. We’ll find nothinguh.”

Qi fastened the strap over his sidearm and headed toward the airlock. Vensi and Huerla went with him.

They’ve released a cloud of nanites, Bill sent. They’re meant to be stealth.

Lannetay’s heart skipped a beat, then she followed the three Wantis. Ignore them. For now. Nanites could be programmed to disassemble the ship, kill an individual, or record all conversation for later listening. What panicked Lannetay was they could search out the secrets built into her ship and report on it. William Placard had a lot of secrets.

At the airlock to their docked ship, Vensi turned to Marc. “And why would a child be on a trading vessel?”

Marc scowled and pointed at Lannetay. “She’s my mom. And you don’t scare me.”

“I don’t intend to scare you, son.” Vensi laughed.

Lannetay thought Marc might kick the man in the shin. While her son had never been violent, Olthan had taught him a few self defense techniques. The moment passed and she sighed in relief.

Marc sneered at the Wanti. “I’m not your son. Call me ‘Marc.’”

“You have quite a son, Captain Lanny.” Vensi reached out to tousle Marc’s hair, but the boy stepped back out of range. Vensi turned to Lannetay. “With the exception of your son, you’ve all been very polite and accommodating.”

Lannetay gave Vensi a knowing, condescending smile. “With the exception of Qi’s sidearm, you’ve been gracious and forthcoming as well.”

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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  • Mark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 12

Act II

Prophet of Death

Chapter Four

After posting the advice for Gaming you checked your subscription numbers. They were skyrocketing. But your bank account, while higher than usual, still didn’t satisfy you. Only if your subscribers numbered in the hundreds of thousands could you afford an apartment without infestations.

You considered writing a book on the art of effective prediction. You smiled, imagining the title: “Fatal Fortunes.” Below that the author’s name: “The Prophet of Death.”

I sensed trouble only a moment before a tentative knock on your door.

Your daydream dissolved as you thought of another interview with Marshal Woods. The door nearly ripped free from its hinges as you violently yanked it open. Instead of a badge you saw a young lady dressed in a classy top and jeans. She looked nothing like Marshal Woods, and you calmed in an instant.

You smiled, then cleared your throat to stall for a moment to think. “Yes, what can I do for you?”

I tried to alter her image in your mind, but you found her too attractive. The wart I tried to project never made it through your instant infatuation. My discomfort grew with the failure.

“Well, um, I think your television committed suicide on my car.” She gave you a shy, but somehow sad, smile. “I don’t think it suffered. Not with that cement block stuck through it.”

You laughed. “The suicide was inevitable. It’s been depressed and complaining for months.” After sticking a finger in your mouth you imitated the POP your TV had been emitting.

Suddenly you were embarrassed about the condition of your apartment.

The woman gave a self-conscious laugh. “Well, uh, about my car.”

“I have to apologize about that. I didn’t mean for it to land there.” You looked down at your feet. “I expected the wind to carry it to my car.”

The woman seemed to relax a bit. I hated her already. She could ruin my plans for you if I didn’t keep the two of you apart.

She feigned thoughtfulness. “I see. That’s a bit of a problem when you don’t allow for windage. You’ve never golfed, have you?”

Your smile made me want to slap you silly. But you were already as silly as a drunken teenager.

“No, I can’t afford the fees. Besides, I already spend too much money on racquetball.”

A man in jeans and a denim shirt topped the stairs at the end of the hall and walked past, giving the two of you an indulgent smile.

Amy nodded a greeting, but kept talking to you. “Racquetball is an inside sport. That explains why you misjudged the wind.”

Your witless grin widened. “I’ll take care of any damages to your car.”

I tried screaming into your mind, “Get away from her!” No luck. With her right there you weren’t very receptive to my influence.

“In fact,” you started to say.

I pushed harder, made your toaster pop, enough of an interruption that it halted the conversation, broke the brewing chemistry between you two. But only for a moment.


I was at a loss. Certainly I wouldn’t – couldn’t – touch her.

“My name is Andy. I know we just met, but would you like to have dinner tonight?”

“I’m Amy.” Her smile blossomed wider. “Yes, I would. What time should we meet, and where?”

“Uh, where? How about here?” You flushed at the condition of your apartment. However, she hadn’t given any indication she’d noticed the smell of your overflowing trash receptacle.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Amy’s expression shifted to downcast. “I couldn’t be alone with a man.” Her necklace of a cross suddenly caught some light.

That should put you off. You didn’t like . . . those people . . . any more than most in America, and getting alone with her was the only reason you’d asked.

But you surprised me.

“Sure. I get that,” you lied. “How about Newton’s at seven?”

You made arrangements and she finally turned away. As you watched her make her way to the stairwell, I could tell she was already praying for you. Something had to be done.

You closed the door and I followed Amy. She’d never see or hear me, but she knew I was there. I could tell, because she grabbed her pendant and whispered . . . His . . . name.

On the second floor she entered her apartment and closed the door. I couldn’t go in, whether through the door, walls, floor, or ceiling. I was locked out.

I couldn’t even touch her car. She belonged to . . . Him . . . through and through. So I’d have to do something to you in order to keep the two of you apart.

Meanwhile, you went back to work, sifting through the deluge of emails. One looked promising. A man near Bristol, Wisconsin wanted to know if magic was real. He’d been working with what he thought of as magick – something more real than magic – for years. But he’d grown suspicious, as if other forces were at work. He signed his email Wondering Wizard.

The question wasn’t exactly related to astrology. You almost clicked delete, but I gave you the idea to expand your horizons beyond the usual. After some digging into your charts and graphs, you came up with a response to be posted on Monday.

Dear Wondering:

I don’t normally field this kind of question, but something prompted me to take it on.

For most people I’d say magic doesn’t exist. However, Scorpios are most likely to have some kind of real magic, which you’ve correctly dubbed “magick.” With Pluto in such an auspicious position at your birth, I don’t doubt you have some real magick.

The main problem with magick is that you have to believe and totally commit to being a wizard. Most people have no ability whatsoever, and most of those who do have the gift don’t really accept the power’s existence. In short, they like the idea but can’t consider it a real power.

For those who start down the path, even a shred of doubt will be fatal.

The Prophet.

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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  • Mark Meier

L-T stood. “Something going on?”

“Wantis,” Carnifor grumbled, as if that explained everything.

Bill answered Lannetay. “Won’t be long. I’m getting a final readout of their atmo mix.”

Olthan switched off his weights and moved to the airlock. “They’s always trouble.”

“They’re not shooting,” L-T said, “so it’s not bad trouble.”

Lannetay’s frown eased a little more. “Anything they do is trouble, or leads to it.”

All six crew clustered near the airlock and waited while the two ships agreed upon the right adjustments to make interaction safe.

“Their gravity is a little lower.” Bill let their field drop a fraction. “Medi-nanites are programmed to attack their pathogens. Our atmospheric units are poised to take on anything else we detect.

A few moments later the locks opened to admit the boarding party from the Jenbur Sho.

A thin man with a round, jolly face strode in, hand already extended in greeting. “You must be Lanny and Carny. Your ship sent identification. Happy to meet you.”

Lannetay, somewhat taken aback by a genuine greeting, blinked as Carnifor covered for her lapse.

The two men shook hands as Carnifor said, “Glad to meet you.”

Captain Vensi, Bill provided.

With barely a break to absorb the information, Carnifor continued. “Captain Vensi, this is Captain Lanny.”

“A pleasure.” Vensi introduced two men who entered behind him. “This is my first officer, Lieutenant Huerla, and my chief of security, Ensign Qi.”

Lannetay received a message from Bill. After these three there’s only fifty others aboard. Not much in the way of departments for them to be the head of.

Qi eyed Lannetay’s outfit with disgust, which gave Lannetay a secret thrill. Huerla took in her attire with a single glance, then ignored it.

“Captain Vensi, welcome aboard.” Lannetay gave a sloppy salute, which made Carnifor growl. Don’t want them to think we’re Navy, she sent, smiling.

Not a chance in that outfit, Carnifor shot back.

Vensi didn’t return the salute, but instead looked around the common room and rubbed his hands together. “Would you mind if we inspected your ship? I see your medical panel, you have macrites to grow simple equipment, and someone here likes watching Galactic Expansion.”

Marc and L-T both gave a sheepish grin.

Lannetay nodded. “What would you like to see first?”

Vensi’s eyebrow raised a millimeter. “How about your bridge? We could work from stem to stern, as the saying goes.”

“Our control cabin doesn’t exactly qualify as a ‘bridge,’ but you’re welcome to look it over. Carny, why don’t you take Captain Vensi forward?”

“Are you preoccupied with something?” Vensi gave Lannetay a sharp look. “Why wouldn’t you come along?”

Lannetay paused, affecting surprise. “I was about to offer Lieutenant Huerla and Ensign Qi some refreshments. If you’d like something, don’t hesitate to ask.”

Vensi nodded. “We’ll stay together, if you don’t mind. And there’s no need for refreshments.”

Suspicious much? Lannetay thought. “No problem.” She led the way to the ship’s control area and pressed a contact to open the pressure hatch. “It will be a tight fit, but not too bad.”

Carnifor stopped outside. “I’ll wait here to give you more room.”

Qi is trying to get past my safeguards, Bill told Lannetay.

You don’t need me to tell you what to do . . . .

Stop him, the two sent in unison. Lannetay chuckled.

Vensi paused at the hatch. “Something funny, Lanny?”

“Not really, Captain. Carny said he’d wait outside to give us more room, but he doesn’t take up that much room.”

“I see.” Vensi paused in thought, then looked over the spartan bridge. “Four places to sit.”

“Room for five, if we grow another seat here.” Lannetay pointed to the floor. “A sixth if we’re all friendly.”

Vensi, standing in the middle of the diminutive room, looked past the front two chairs to the unadorned panel beyond. “And actual panels for physical controls. Odd.”

Lannetay smiled, shrugging. “One never knows. I’d like to maximize any price I get when I retire and sell out. Someone might be willing to pay a premium for that option.”

“I dare sayuh, you’re rightuh,” Huerla said.

Carnifor broke in from the hatchway. “That’s an interesting accent, Lieutenant Huerla. Which colony are you from?”

Huerla sniffed. “I’m from the planet B'Lottneluh. My family owns a rahther large share of the business interest thereuh.”

“Does everyone on B’Lottnel have that accent?” Lannetay asked. The man was such a condescending jerk she had to take a little jab.

Huerla looked like he’d just eaten a sour lemon, but Vensi cut off whatever his first officer was about to say. “Does William Placard have a Core, or is it an AI?”

Core, Bill suggested. AIs are illegal.

I know that, Lannetay said. I was there, you know.

Lannetay and Carnifor answered in unison. “It’s a Core.” Lannetay continued after giving Carnifor a sharp look. “We’ve made some interesting improvements, though.”

“What kind of improvements?” Vensi lowered himself into the pilot’s seat.

Lannetay’s eyes narrowed. Someone was sitting in her seat.

He’s trying to annoy you, Bill sent. Angry people let things slip easier. He must think we’re hiding something.

Lannetay sat next to Vensi in Carnifor’s chair and forced a smile. “Our Core expert is Rogul,” she said, referring to Goofball’s alias. “He’s in the common room if you want to ask him about our modifications.”

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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