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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

In his quarters, Olthan had the Wanti rifle in parts on a work bench. The spartan rooms in his suite didn’t need adornments, so he left them largely bare.

“Bill, kin we tighten up the programmin’ on this here circuit?” He waved a circuit block toward the far corner of the room. He imagined Bill watched from there, and didn’t care if that wasn’t the case.

“Yep,” Bill replied. “It’ll take a few hours, so it might be simpler to just make another barrel.” He didn’t tell Olthan the how and why.

Olthan shook his head. “Won’t work. There’s stuff in there what can’t be copied.” Sergeant Wilks had given him a long lecture on what couldn’t be replicated, then why it couldn’t. After the “it couldn’t” part he didn’t listen. The “why” of it didn’t matter, nor did he care why reprogramming a circuit block would take so much time.

“Could we just make the bore a bit bigger?” Bill asked.

“Ya mean drill it out?” Olthan peered down the length of the tube. He couldn’t see anything but the dark durasteel. “Maybe. Ya wanna chance it?”

Bill hummed a few seconds of something. “We have disrupters, so what do we have to lose?”

Olthan’s mouth twisted in thought. “Might be nice ta have a rifle what looks like a Wanti weapon. Case one of ‘em shows up ta ask questions.”

“You really think some Wantis are going to be wandering around twenty kilometers from the colony?”

Olthan shrugged. “Sergeant Wilks says, ‘If ya don’t plan fer it, it’s gonna happen.’ Somethin’ like that, anyhow.” He glared at the offending circuit block.

The weapon as a whole looked good to Olthan. Nice and powerful, reliable – unless fired too many times in a minute. Then the barrel sort of slumped, and every shot after that put more and more energy onto the metal. Eventually the power guides in the tube would explode. He’d seen it happen once. Pretty, but deadly to the soldier firing it.

“Reprogram it, Bill. I want one what works, not blows apart in two minutes.”

“I’ll have it for you in a couple of hours.”


Lannetay crept out of the control cabin and watched her crew. L-T and Marc played a turnbased game, Carnifor played at being an admiral of a space fleet, Goofball finished reading an article and headed for his stateroom, and Olthan no doubt inspected his new toy – the Hobart-90 rifle.

Carnifor puzzled her. One moment they interacted quite well, then he’d essentially call her stupid for doing exactly what should be done. He’d learn. Being abrasive wasn’t a good way to advance in the TSN. No doubt being disagreeable had put him aboard her ship, despite what the official record suggested – something about an unnamed lieutenant working against him.

Lannetay nearly smiled when L-T’s eyes flickered her way. He went back to studying the game pieces hovering between himself and Marc. Lannetay ordered a chair in the middle of Olthan’s running track and watched Marc.


Goofball waited for his room’s hatch to seal. “Bill, is there any way to launch Tabby while we’re on the ground?”

“Ye-ess.” Bill sounded reluctant.

“Okay, out with it.” Even with a ship’s AI he couldn’t stop playing with words. “How?”

“The ship is designed to launch your fighter toward nadir,” Bill said. “Tabby would have only three centimeters of extra room if you wanted to fly out from beneath the ship while on a planetary surface.”

That didn’t leave a lot of room. Launching from a grounded ship would take practice. The controls were pretty hot, what with the fighter being designed to operate in the wide open spaces between the stars. Getting docked with any ship always relied on the parent ship’s ability to minutely control the smaller. Launching was a whole different situation.

“Can we make another setting on my controls?” Goofball asked. “Something more forgiving for close quarters.”

“I’m sure that can be handled.”

Goofball had an idea. “Can you extend the landing struts another couple of centimeters? That would help.”

“If I can stand it.”

Goofball smiled. “Strut your stuff, mon machine.”


Olthan snapped the last piece of the Hobart-90 in place, confident Bill would install the updated programming as soon as it became available. He thumbed the power level to “practice” and aimed at a spot on the far wall of his bedroom.

He fired three times in rapid succession and wondered if he imagined the intensity shifting with each blaster bolt.

“Bill? Did you see that?”

“Yes. The power levels varied by as much as twenty percent from optimal.”

Olthan didn’t know much about percentages, but knew twenty of them weren’t right when talking about power levels on a weapon. “The aim’s good, though, ain’t it?”

“I could do better than your meat hooks.”

Olthan grinned. “AIs is too flaky to aim small weapons.” He fired three more times at the same spot. All three hit within a centimeter.

“You’re getting better, Olthan.” Bill managed to sound smug, like he’d had something to do with any improvement.

“Thanks, Bill.” Olthan switched on the safety and headed to the common room to rack the weapon.


Goofball took Tabby out of simulation mode. He’d launched thirty times in a row without crashing, then climbed up the short passage into his quarters. “Close her up, Bill.”

The fighter’s canopy lowered into place, and the hatch in the decking sealed without leaving a crack. Goofball smiled. He knew he could launch now, and support the William Placard.

“Bill, energy equals mass, right?”

“With a few adjustments, but yes. Why do you ask?”

Goofball ordered a recliner and flopped into it. “I’m reluctant to expend any of Tabby’s missiles because there’s such a limited supply. Is there any way you could take some of the energy she’s capable of and generate missiles?”

Bill laughed. “The conversion formula includes this little thing called the speed of light, and then squares it. The energy needed to create even a quarter-scale Shrike is more than a year of William Placard’s total output.”

“So you’re saying . . . no?”

“I’m saying no.” Bill’s flat statement left nothing to the imagination. He emphasized. “Capital ‘N,’ capital ‘O,’ italic, bold, underline, flashing and flying holographic lettering with fireworks and fanfare. No.”

Still, the idea was good, Goofball thought. He headed for the common room.

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 30

Act IV

Windowed The Soul

Chapter Three

Zone of action

A smaller section of a larger area. Used during offensive maneuvers.

You couldn’t concentrate when you arrived at work on Monday – your busiest day of the week. There wasn’t a lot to do, but making decisions about closing or opening manufacturing plants, increasing or decreasing production, and how it all affected market prices demanded your full attention. Thousands of families would be affected by your course of action and you wanted to do what was right.

A large plant outside Paris wasn’t performing as well as it had in years past. The French police weren’t decisive in law enforcement around your facility, and vandals had taken their toll. Repair costs were climbing, fear among workers increased, and you weren’t confident there’d be any firm response to counter the problem anytime soon.

Though you didn’t know it, that was another Brotherhood project. There were a great many of those, all intertwined, and all orchestrated.

Your mind kept returning to Sunday’s race, if it could be called that. You’d won, which pleased you, but it was simply a matter of which vessel was better. Skill hadn’t figured into it in the least.

You looked up from the computer screen on your desk. “Victor, when was the last time I sailed?”

“I’ll check, Mr. Grambic.” Your assistant raised the rectangular sound deadening partition at the back side of his desk. The sound of his voice on the phone barely reached you.

That you couldn’t remember wasn’t a surprise. Your father had died young, and seizing the reins of Grambic Tiles had kept you busy until you’d settled in.

Howe didn’t take long to find the answer. He lowered the privacy shield which matched the size and shape of the back of his desk. “Seventeen years, sir.”

A note of sorrow crept into your mind. Your father had been gone for seventeen years, which meant your mother was thirty years deceased. The only family remaining for you was a younger cousin in Iowa you’d only learned about last year. You hadn’t contacted Amy since you preferred to keep people at arm’s length. She might want to hug, and you couldn’t have that.

“Thank you, Victor.”

You considered going back to actual sailing. The wind in your face certainly contrasted with the protected environment you now inhabited. You missed the freedom, and though you owned a top-of-the-line powered yacht you still disdained those who couldn’t handle a true sailboat.

You couldn’t sail today, though. The factory in France had to be closed and a location chosen for another to pick up the slack. Not in Europe. The continuing economic difficulties there left things too unstable. Perhaps Canada. Quebec City would have a workforce, and the infrastructure wouldn’t need to be started from scratch. Access to the Atlantic would cover shipping, and air freight was right next door. As a bonus, if a valued employee from the French facility was willing to relocate, there wouldn’t be much of a language barrier.

“Victor, have Legal dig into starting a factory near Quebec City. They’ll know what to look for. I want it up and running before I shut down Paris.”

“Yes, sir.”

Again the privacy shield rose.

The next item on your agenda would have to wait. A Hawker 400 flew past your window jarringly close. You owned a similar plane for your trips to overseas facilities, and hated that cramped mode of travel. Even your Gulfstream seemed closed in.

The elevator dinged. Both you and Howe looked up in surprise when the doors opened to admit Georgia Supreme Court Justice David Boynton.

“Gentlemen.” Boynton pulled a key from a slot inside the elevator and dropped it into his pants pocket. He gave you a mysterious smile and raised a restraining hand as Howe rounded his desk. “Mr. Howe, I suggest you keep yourself in check or I’ll break you in half.”

Howe skidded to a stop. His expression of surprise made me want to laugh. Even his martial arts training would have availed him nothing against the muscular gray-haired justice. Boynton glared at your assistant until the intimidated Howe backed away.

“Mis-ter Gram-bic, I have a challenge for you.” The elevator doors closed behind him.

Boynton stood bold and confident on your turf. He’d infiltrated where only a handful of people should have the ability to access. Somehow he must have gotten a key that bypassed all security measures.

You pushed a button to summon a squad of ex-military security guards. “What challenge?”

“Sailing.” Boynton folded his hands behind his back, remaining at ease with a knowing smirk. “You used to sail, did you not?”

“What do you want, Boynton?” The antique clock chimed once for the bottom of the ten o’clock hour, and you noticed your heart beat twice for each tick.

“Your petty display off Hilton Head. The only reason you won is because you owned a faster yacht.” Boynton gave Howe a dismissive glance. “Go back to your seat, lackey. If I’d wanted to hurt Mr. Grambic you certainly couldn’t stop me.”

You waved for Howe to back off. “I buy the best. If you were interested in having a faster vessel, I’m sure you could have afforded one.”

Boynton walked past your oak conference table and toward your window. His shoes made little noise on the hardwood floor. “Nice view.”

“I have men on the way.” You moved to keep the judge on the opposite side of your desk. Nervous sweat formed on your brow.

“No doubt.” Boyton, still standing at the window, pivoted to face you. “I challenge you to a sailing contest. Both of us with identical single hander boats, just you and me, the wind, and Lake Marion.”

That lake had been created in the 1940s after damming the Santee River for hydroelectric power. You’d sailed there in your teens, but parts of the lake had tree stumps just below the waterline. Dangerous, and you’d once almost killed yourself showing off for a girl. She’d only been interested in you for the money you’d inherit.

“What boat, when, and what’s the course?” Your eyes narrowed in suspicion. Boynton wasn’t known to be competitive, and you sensed a trap.

The justice gave you a look of disdain. “RS Neo, Saturday morning, Polly’s Landing to Buoy 100, to Buoy 94, then back to Polly’s. The total trip will be a little less than three miles.”

You shook your head. “No thanks. I’d never race a course like that without studying it. Saturday would be far too soon.”

Boynton shrugged. “If you have another location or a later date, name it.”

You knew sailing a single-hander could be grueling. “That’s kind of a lengthy race for someone of your age to be twisted up in a Neo. You sure you can handle a trip that long?”

He sneered. “Can you?”

You heaved a silent sigh of releif when the elevator doors slid open to disgorge a half-dozen guards, weapons drawn. They took positions to cover the entire room, but most of their attention was focused on Boynton.

The judge held his hands out to his side, palms down. “Paranoid much, Grambic?” He grinned.

“I seem to recall someone killing Brett Stevens last year.” You gave Boynton a measured stare. “Where were you the evening of March third?”

Boynton laughed, but still held his hands out. “Fair enough, Grambic. When and where would you choose to race?”

You noticed the justice’s hands never wavered and wondered how he could hold them out to his sides that long. “Last Saturday in March. I’ll accept your course – provisionally.”

That would give you most of five weeks for research and practice. In a sailing race like this, preparation meant almost as much as actual skill.

Boynton raised an eyebrow. “Can you stand to wait that long?”

“Probably be windier than this weekend,” you countered. “No fun sailing when there’s no wind.”

After considering, Boynton slowly lowered his hands. “Done. May I leave now?” He eyed the security team leader. “I don’t want to get shot today.”

I could almost hear your thought of, “Perhaps tomorrow, then?” But you restrained the snide comment.

You waved permission for your agents to allow Boynton to leave.

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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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

When Carnifor realized his voice had been dampened, he stomped his way into the common room and looked around.

The fighter pilot had a function, but limited. Goofball spent most of his time flying the simulator or, like at the moment,sprawled in a chair, reading. Carnifor looked closer. A magazine called Interstellar. They mostly printed speculative science articles. They’d been predicting for years a better starship engine would come along and make five hundred c look like nothing.

The Marine must be in his quarters. Why a trading ship needed a soldier of questionable ability was beyond Carnifor’s comprehension. They were spies, and much of the crew obviously came from the military. If any enemy looked beyond the surface the William Placard would be doomed.

The lieutenant with the difficult name spoke up. “Want to join us, Commander?” He gestured to the turn-based game he played with the boy.

Carnifor blinked himself back to reality. “No, thank you, Lieutenant.” He wasn’t supposed to use military ranks, but couldn’t remember how to pronounce the man’s name.

What Carnifor really wanted was to distract himself from being so irritated with Lannetay. He ordered a chair a couple of meters away from L-T and Marc, then involved himself in a simulated large-scale space battle in real time. Hundreds of capital ships appeared, and he competed against a Core-generated admiral for supremacy in a star system. He placed the sim between himself and the other two so he could keep watch. Nobody else bothered monitoring the crew. Even the AI seemed heedless of what could happen with such a . . . strange . . . mix of crew mates.

L-T shook his head and turned back to the turn-based game he played with Marc.He moved a cruiser the allowed distance, and pivoted the ship a few degrees. The other ships in that formation followed suit. He moved five other groups of ships, and arranged the firing sequence of their weapons. “Your move.” His words barely reached Carnifor’s ears.

Marc staged his ships, gave the game instructions to fire, and the holo flashed as faux weaponry discharged. Status markers showed damage sustained. “My turn to move first?”

L-T smiled. “Yes. You go first this turn.”

Marc glanced toward Carnifor. “Why doesn’t he like me?”

Carnifor could think of a dozen reasons, but kept them to himself. He affected concentration on his own simulation, wondering what L-T and the brat would come up with.

“I don’t think he likes anyone.” L-T kept his voice low while he studied the commander. “Well, other than himself.”

Because nobody here is worth liking, Carnifor thought to himself. A year ago he’d been undermined by a subordinate, then awarded a medal of honor. The navy had thanked him by stuffing him into a tiny ship for no apparent reason. He’d been trained to command, and should be in charge aboard the ship. Instead he had to take orders from . . . her.

“Why?” the boy asked.

L-T pondered a moment. “I think it might be because he thinks he should be in charge of everything. He’d been a leader of men from the time he could ride a horse, and all his training has reinforced him being at the top of whatever hierarchy he’s in. Now he’s not, and he doesn’t really have anyone to order around.”

That pretty much nails it, Carnifor thought. Though the reasoning was simplistic, it wasn’t inaccurate.

“So he ignores me because I’m not one of his assets?” Marc maneuvered his ships and pointed to L-T to tell him he’d finished.

Carnifor almost laughed. The boy was not an asset at all. More like a liability.

“I guess.” L-T studied the holo. The boy was close to boxing in one of his formations. “You’re good at this game.”

Marc smiled. “Thanks.”

The lieutenant raised his voice a bit. “He’ll give you a run for your money in a couple of years, Carnifor.”

“Ha.” Carnifor concentrated on his own simulation and blocked out the other two. Despite his best efforts his mind kept thinking of the woman in charge of the ship.


In the control room, Lannetay ran through options. The Wanti garrison might discover wherever they finally landed, though that seemed unlikely. She may have to lift the ship for Goofball to launch and defend them.

Bill interrupted her thoughts. A Brock Class cutter just launched. It’s flying along our previous course line. They’re scanning heavily, but that class of cutter isn’t known for separating valid returns from ground scatter.

Lannetay didn’t bother turning off the sound dampening field. Put us on the ground, Bill. Make sure there’s a hill between us and them.

Lannetay brought up a holo of the ship and landscape below. The William Placard spun and dropped like a rock into a small valley. They settled without a bump. Nice job, Bill.

Thanks. Powering down the engines.

Think we should notify the rest of the crew? Lannetay watched the power levels on the engines fall to near-zero.

After a brief pause, Bill said, No. They’re all busy, and not harassing us. Let ‘em be.

Show me this hemisphere of Rubineker.

Bill displayed a view of the planet centered on the ship. After a few minutes the line tracing the course of the Brock curved into space and the ship picked up speed. They’ll never see us now.

Lannetay asked, Would it be safe to move the ship?

Should be, Bill sent. Want me to take us to the new colony site?

Lannetay thought for a moment. Head that direction. If you see a good hiding place, put us there. I’m thinking the Wantis will come back to execute a search pattern.

The ship lifted and Bill flew it toward the position they’d be planting the new colony kit. Rubineker didn’t have much tectonic activity, nor much of an atmosphere, so finding cover wouldn’t be easy.

There. Bill flashed a cursor over an area with four spires of stone. They were on the border of the plane where the new colony would be founded. If we slip in there, that cutter shouldn’t pick us up unless they fly right above us.

Lannetay inspected the holo. We should fit, so let’s do it.

Consider it done.

The ship slid over the top of the shortest of the pinnacles and descended. Lannetay watched a feed from the ship’s point of view as the towers climbed higher and higher. What could have caused something like that on this planet?

I’m not sure, Bill replied. I’m not programmed with geological information like that.

The ship settled, and Bill switched off the engines again. If anything could give them away, powered drives would top the list. Now all they had to do was wait.

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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