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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Lannetay gestured to the star field surrounding them. “Which one are we headed to?” She could detect a slight motion to some of the nearer stars, telling her the image was real-time.

“Rubineker.” Marc pointed. “You can’t see it from here unless I have Bill brighten it.” A red dot pulsed three times, then vanished.

Lannetay nodded, and asked Bill to meld her seat together with Marc’s. “Tell me about that colony.” She put an arm around the boy.

Marc’s shoulders drooped as he sighed. “Always making things into a lesson, Mom? Seven different colonies started there. Each is a simple dome-settlement, but they cooperate quite well.”

“Don’t cheat,” Lannetay said. “Using Bill is against the rules.”

Marc frowned. “I know. Bill just told me that too, by the way. Since their planet is in close orbit around an M5 star and is tidally locked, they’re all in the same region.”

“What about their economy?”

“Only one is dedicated to farming,” Marc said.

Bill interrupted before Marc could elaborate. “Lesson time is over. Lannetay, we have a ship coming on an intercept course.”

Lannetay scowled. There’d be more opportunities to teach. Space was really big, and even at more than a hundred times the speed of light, getting from place to place took considerable time. Instructing Marc was a perfect pastime for both of them.

“How long until intercept?” Lannetay asked.

“Just over an hour.”

Lannetay’s frown deepened. They usually only had a dozen minutes of notice when a ship approached. “That’s a lot of lead-time.”

“They’re big and slow, or we wouldn’t have noticed them that far out. They’re almost as big as our ship.”

William Placard had been constructed to military specs, so the scanners were better than commercial grade equipment. Even so it still took a massive ship to register so far away.

“Take us a few degrees away from the convergence point. Maybe it’s just a coincidence.”

Carnifor stepped into Marc’s room and his jaw dropped. “Nice view. Bill, can you do that anywhere on the ship?”

“Yes. Now about this other ship . . . .” Bill reminded them.

Carnifor said, “Can’t be a coincidence, Lannetay. Space is too big.”

Lannetay and Marc shared a brief disgusted look, then both of them stood. A sitting person was in a less-dominant position, and Lannetay wasn’t giving that away to Carnifor. “Then can you explain why there’s another ship coming so close?”

“Our altered course plot will take us quite a bit away from intersection,” Bill said. “I took us three degrees off course, and goosed our speed by a tenth of a c.”

“I can think of a few examples of why another ship could be on an intercept course.” Carnifor edged toward Lannetay and put his hands on his hips.

Do you think he’s going to start beating his chest? Lannetay asked Bill.

The AI’s response oozed sarcasm. Chimps have been known to do that.

Lannetay barely suppressed a laugh. Marc gave her a quizzical look, so he must have felt her silent chuckle.

“I’m guessing they’re pirates,” Carnifor said.

Lannetay rolled her eyes. “Pirates?” She wanted to dispute him, but couldn’t think of any reason he was wrong. In fact, she agreed.

“Your previous ship was probably fast enough you didn’t have to worry.” Carnifor switched from intimidation to lecture so smoothly few would notice the difference. “Now you’re ship is bigger, slower, and a ripe target.”

Marc grumbled. “If you’re not going to talk to me in my own room, could you at least leave me alone here?”

Bill canceled his starfield display. “Maybe you two would think better up front.”

Lannetay nodded, then she and Carnifor left Marc’s room, each trying to keep ahead of the other.

Lannetay edged out Carnifor and managed to get into the control room first. “What do you think we should do about that ship, Carnifor?” She sat in her recliner and peered at the sensor images displayed above the blank console.

“Normal sensors would be able to pick them up in five more minutes.” Carnifor sat in his right-hand chair. “At that point we should react somehow. It’ll look suspicious if we don’t.”

Lannetay crossed her legs and leaned back. “We could have Goofball fly. He’d certainly ‘react’ in ways not easily predicted.”

“Let’s do it.” Carnifor looked at Lannetay as if waiting for her order.

Is he actually deferring to you? Bill sent to Lannetay. There is a God.

Lannetay tried to suppress a smile. “Okay.” She switched to her implants and sent, Goofball, could you come up here?

Consider it done, he sent back. And while I’m on my way, think of the other two wishes you’d like me to fulfill.

Lannetay muttered invectives about the evils of live theater. Carnifor’s smirk told her he’d been included in the electronic conversation.

Moments later Goofball sauntered into the ship’s nerve center. The hatch closed behind him. “Oh, I come from a land, from a far away place.” He leaned against a bulkhead and crossed his ankles.

Lannetay ignored the affectation. “We have a ship coming up on us. Feel like doing some magic, Genie?”

“You did get that joke, then. I’m impressed.” His expression didn’t show any awe. “To be more accurate, though, the play should have called him a Jinn, not a Genie. Most people wouldn’t have known what a Jinn was, though.”

Carnifor rolled his eyes. “Oh, mighty Jinn, would you please fly our ship and evade the dastardly brigands who are about to accost us?”

Goofball looked at Lannetay, who nodded encouragement. “I suppose I could do my best. This beast isn’t exactly nimble.”

The fighter pilot stepped to one side and gave Lannetay a peremptory wave to vacate her seat. She did, but with eyebrows lowered.

Goofball leaned back in the pilot’s recliner. “Bill, give me tactile controls Bravo Sierra Eight.”

Macrites grew from the decking, chair, and panel to encompass Goofball’s legs to mid-thigh, his arms nearly to the shoulders, and most of his head.

Carnifor stated what Lannetay was thinking. “Direct mental commands are faster.”

“This isn’t for control.” Goofball’s voice came from Bill’s sound inducers. “This is for me to feel the ship.”

Bill, can’t you do that without physical contact? Lannetay asked.

Bill’s answer came as a mixture of two voices, Bill’s and Goofball’s. Yes, but the best pilots have a reaction time somehow quicker this way. Just via implants slows them down a fraction of a second.

Lannetay sat behind Goofball. Hook me in, Bill. I want to watch this.

Me, too, Carnifor sent.

Bill, do you have to include him on everything I say to you?

A chuckle that was pure “Bill” came from the sound inducers. I sent the conversation to everyone aboard. “The rest of the crew wants to monitor this, too.”

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 18

Act II

Prophet of Death

Chapter Eight

Sunday morning you dug through the groceries Amy had given to you. There were three packages of instant oatmeal, and you tore one open. After dumping the contents into a bowl, you opened the mini fridge for milk. Nothing.

You sighed, then measured out some water and stirred it together. A moment later you remembered the small microwave on your counter had been disposed of because of the popping noises you thought it gave off. Another sigh, and you dug into your scant inventory of dishes for a pot.


Grumbling, you turned on the back burner of your gas range. The front one had stopped working a year earlier, and no amount of complaining brought the building’s maintenance worker.

You waited, but the back burner failed to ignite. The smell of mercaptan filled your tiny apartment.

I smiled and took the opportunity. POP!

Your heart rate doubled. Natural gas . . . possible shorting circuits . . . potential explosion. You nearly panicked, but instead turned off the burner and threw open the window to air out your diminutive living space.

A part of me wanted to simply incinerate you, but that would look suspicious. I didn’t want anyone questioning my work.

When the apartment grew too chilly you closed the window and lit the stove’s pilot light. The tiny serving of oatmeal didn’t take long to heat through, and you stirred the slimy mess.


You ate in a mechanical manner, scooping the slop one spoonful after another. All too quickly it was gone.

I could see you thinking of cooking another packet of oatmeal. The analytical part of your mind rejected that, since taking two today would only leave you with one for tomorrow.

You shook your head and sat wondering what to wear to church. Your best set of clothing had already been worn two consecutive days –well, a day and a half, but Amy had seen you in the same clothes both days.

Amy. Her distraction couldn’t be tolerated much longer. I’d call on another Brother to help out, but didn’t want to give the impression I wasn’t capable of fulfilling my role. My first assignment as a full Brother had to be a test of sorts.

As you sifted through your meager selection of attire, I kept projecting distaste in your mind. That shirt had a stain, those pants were torn, and so on. Your cleanest items were socks. For some reason you had a dozen pairs of socks, but only three pairs of pants.

Humans. Only one thing to do with them, and I was doing it.

You settled on a third day with the same clothes, using the last bits of your five-year-old Aqua Velva to cover up any accumulated body odor. The aged cologne probably smelled worse than your shirt, but I wasn’t about to say anything.

You made it to the exterior door of your building a full sixty seconds before Amy. That left five minutes before her friends were scheduled to pick you up. The pair of you chatted about the eight inches of snowfall the previous day and wondered aloud if the plows would have enough streets cleared for you to get to church.

A dark gray sedan pulled up.

“That’s Josh and Sarah.” Amy tugged the sides of her coat closed and pushed open the cracked glass door.

Caught by surprise, you waded into the drifts behind her. You wanted to open the car door for her, but she’d already climbed in before you got there. The only thing left for you to do was to circle the back side of the vehicle . . . .

POW! The car backfired. I laughed to myself.

You staggered a step before slipping on the packed snow of the wheel tracks and fell on your butt.

Amy must have been watching. She jumped out of the car. “Are you okay?”

Mostly you were. Your bruised tailbone would trouble you for days, and you sitting on hardwood pews would be a delight to witness.

“I’m okay.” You stood and brushed snow off your pants, then climbed into the back seat behind Sarah.

You were introduced to the couple in the front seats.

Josh glanced at you in the rear view mirror. “Sorry. I don’t think the car has ever backfired before.”

“No problem.” You could already tell it would be an uncomfortable day.

Josh carefully accelerated through the snow. Tricky going, but he’d obviously driven in deep snow before.

The street between your apartment and the park had been plowed, but the parking lot still had a thick layer of powder. That meant quite a berm of packed snow at the entrance. Josh had already forced his car through that pile to get into the apartment’s lot, so getting out wasn’t difficult.

After an awkward silence you decided to get Amy talking again. Since she liked to talk about the Bible, you thought that would be the best way to start things up. With three of their kind in the car I was powerless to do anything about it.

“So tell me how those Wise Men got from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.”

Sarah turned in her seat. “The star?”

Amy nodded. “The Wise Men left Herod’s palace and probably looked up at the stars. Being astrologers, they’d have an opportunity to look at a night sky from a different location. And in the morning, just before dawn, there was Virgo and a thin crescent moon in the east.”

“Revelation talks about that,” Josh added as he turned onto Willow Street.

“‘A great sign was seen in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet,’” Amy quoted.

Sarah said, “Revelation also tells of a woman giving birth –”

“Don’t talk about Mary,” you interrupted. “Nobody believes a virgin could give birth.”

Amy put a calming hand on your arm. “This isn’t about Mary. Just listen for a bit.”

I tried to keep you from doing just that, but there were three of . . . them.

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

Lannetay and Carnifor walked out of the customs office into the bright orange morning sunlight of Inglep. Standard time indicated mid-afternoon, but a sun’s position had little to do with time of day on most planets.

Carnifor’s voice climbed two octaves as he said, “You could have told me this place had those kinds of rules about approach procedures.”

“It’s only a few thousand credits.” Lannetay fought her own anger. That fine for a descent well above the limits could bankrupt a lot of traders. “We’ll be okay.” At least she hoped so. On top of the admiral’s fine, Inglep’s penalty put them back into the cash-strapped category.

“You turned off the com!”

“You needed to break out of your shell of regulations!” Descent without contacting the controlling agency doubled the “too fast” penalty. And it gave the commander a reputation among the trading community. A “rep” like that would go a long way to deflecting any suspicions that might come up later.

Pedestrians edged away from the arguing couple, creating a bubble of isolation. Lannetay and Carnifor could pretend they were alone, but anyone within thirty meters could hear them.

Carnifor’s voice shook with frustration. “We have an hour to load cargo and lift off before they hit us with another five thousand credits in fines.”

“Child’s play.” Lannetay prayed that statement was true. “I have Bill looking for a good consignment heading to Wrantiban. We should be there inside a couple of weeks.”

Uh, Lannetay? Bill sent. Nobody is taking us up on that. As soon as they find out the name and registration of the ship, the contract gets pulled. Nobody with a cargo heading to the capitol planet wants to use a ship with our violations.

Carnifor must have been included in the conversation. Just lovely. Trapped on the best planet I’ve set foot on since leaving Earth. If we stay we’ll be broke in a few hours, leave and we have no cargo to take with us.

“We could take a spec payload.” Lannetay didn’t like the idea, but it might be the best option.

Carnifor froze. “A spec?”

Lannetay took two more steps before noticing Carnifor had stopped. She turned back to him. “We pay for the cargo outright, and keep the money at the end of the trip.”

“I know what ‘spec’ means.”

Lannetay growled low in her throat. “Then what did you mean?”

“Wrantiban doesn’t accept spec imports, not since the war started. They’ll turn us away at the edge of the system if we don’t have a contract with an established import company.”

“Then I guess we’ll have to take a spec somewhere else.” Lannetay turned on her heel and marched toward the nearest slidewalk. Bill, set something up. We’re lifting in an hour. Alert the crew.


Two days later Lannetay’s patience ran out about Marc’s sulking for being forced to leave Inglep earlier than planned. In that time he’d been out of his room twice, according to Bill, and Lannetay had been sleeping both times.

She paced back and forth in front of the door leading to Marc’s room. “You have to come out sometime, hon.” Lannetay projected her voice to carry through the pressure hatch.

He’s reading again. Bill chuckled. At least he’s trying.

Lannetay nodded at the AI’s comment. “Marc? Are you okay?”

“Go away!” Her adopted son’s voice filtered through the hatch.

“Marc, we had to leave. Don’t you understand that?” Lannetay’s frustration resurfaced.

Do you like being on that emotional roller coaster, Lannetay? AIs don’t do that.

No, Bill, you’re annoying at all times.

I could open the door for you, if you asked.

Lannetay pondered, then replied in low tones. “I don’t want to violate what little privacy he has.”

“He’s nine!” Bill’s voice was also quiet, though emphatic. “You’re his guardian.”

“That won’t matter if I push too hard. He’d never forgive me.”

Bill made a rude noise.

“Marc! I’ll give you until the count of thr–” The hatch slid open and Bill laughed in Lannetay’s mind.

“You wanted something, Mother?” Marc waved a hand and the virtual book he’d been reading vanished. From his chair he turned a bored gaze toward his mom.

Lannetay’s glance took in the room she hadn’t seen in months. Seven posters from the epic “Brotherhood” series graced the walls – all from the limited release collection. If Marc could acquire the eighth his set would be complete. Lannetay had offered to buy the general release poster for number eight, but Marc had refused, saying it wouldn’t be the same.

Lannetay leaned against the hatchway. “We had to leave, hon. Our clearance had been granted and we’d have been fined if we overstayed.”

Marc sighed. “Another half-hour, Mom. That’s all I wanted.” He leaned forward in his chair and stared at the floor.

“I know, Marc. L-T told me about that girl.” Lannetay truly sympathized. She didn’t stay anywhere long enough to form attachments for herself, much less Marc. Maybe that would have to change. If not for her, then for the boy. The others aboard ship weren’t enough for social development.

“She liked the same things I do. She quoted the ‘Brotherhood’ movies. When she came back to see how we were doing, she noticed how I eat my fries and asked, ‘You eat fries with a fork?’ That’s one of the classic lines from the original movie. She said it just like Andy did.” Marc slumped even further forward as his shoulders drooped.

Lannetay had no idea what the movie quotes were, but understood the concept. “She was nearly twice your age.” She ordered Bill to produce another chair and sat next to Marc.

The boy shot Lannetay a scathing look as a flush crept up his neck. “I wasn’t going to ask her to get married.”

Lannetay chuckled. “You’re right. Sorry.”

Marc sighed again, but remained silent, staring at the room’s bulkhead where his movie posters hung.

Lannetay nodded to herself. “How about this, then. Next time we stop, I’ll give you more time. And if we come back to Inglep, I’ll take you to that same cafe.”

Marc’s mouth twisted as if he’d bitten a rotten lemon. “Take my mom to see her?”

“Okay, I’ll let L-T take you back.” Lannetay suppressed a chuckle.

“Deal.” Marc looked up at one corner of the room. “Bill, project space.” Suddenly the ship vanished, and stars appeared. Marc and Lannetay were alone, floating in space. Only the still-open hatch and artificial gravity ruined the effect.

“Nice!” Lannetay’s heart fluttered and her eyes widened. “I didn’t know Bill could do that.”

“I can do a lot more than you could ever know,” Bill said.

Marc grinned. “I learned this one last week. Olthan showed me.”

“Olthan?” That was a surprise to Lannetay. Perhaps she underestimated the Marine.

“He knows a lot more than people give him credit for.”

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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