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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 42

Act IV

Windowed The Soul

You and Kiel went into the track’s clubhouse. I found a lot of irony that a drag racing facility had a clubhouse serving alcohol. If the drivers would drink perhaps the sport would draw more of an audience.

The two of you selected a small table in a somewhat secluded corner. Only two other patrons were in the open area. A bartender wiped glasses like some movie caricature.

Kiel pulled a pen and yellow note pad from his briefcase. “Mr. Grambic, do you like the will I drew up?” He pointed to the will you’d perused. “It seems to me a trustworthy underling is betraying that trust.”

Perhaps you could read the lawyer’s body language, perhaps not. I certainly could. He hated your will. I loved it.

“No, Ben. It’s almost completely opposite of what I told Victor I wanted.” You pushed the will aside. “I have a cousin in Iowa who should get the bulk of the estate, with the proviso that Victor is kept on as her executive assistant for no less than five years.”

Kiel scrawled a note. Maybe he was a doctor as well as an attorney, judging from his poor handwriting. “Might I make a suggestion?”

“Go ahead.” Your racing loss and the beagle’s push to get your money didn’t put you in a good mood, but you were willing to listen.

Though I was loathe to resort to sophomoric tactics, sometimes they were called for. The pair of drinkers across the room were a perfect opportunity to divert your attention away from the will.

The bigger one shot to his feet and shouted. “What’d you do that for?”

“What?” The smaller one gave a look of total mystification. “I didn’t do anything.”

Big Man took a long swig of beer, emptying his mug. “You kicked me.” His voice, though not as loud as before, certainly carried well enough.

Your conversation with Kiel ended with the exuberant display. Well, maybe not ended, but certainly put on hold.

Small Man carefully climbed to his feet. “I didn’t.”

Big Man slammed his mug to the table and lifted his pants leg. A trickle of red traced a line down his shin. “Look! You drew blood!”

Small Man’s eyes widened. “I swear, I didn’t do that.”

“You wear steel toed shoes, don’t you?” Big Man shoved the round table out of his way, his mug shattering on the floor. He grabbed Small Man’s T-shirt. “You work at that factory, don’t you? Your job needs toe protection, right?”

The bartender shouted from behind the bar. “Hey, guys, keep it civil.”

Small Man lowered his own beer mug to a neighboring table. “Didn’t happen, I swear.”

Kiel stuffed everything into his briefcase and latched it. He nodded toward the door in a clear hint the two of you should leave.

“How’d I get that?” He still held Small Man’s shirt in his right fist, and pointed down with his left index finger.

The barkeep rounded the end of the bar as you and the lawyer stood, left a tip, and stepped outside. As soon as the door closed behind you the fight started.

“Fighting aside, Ben, what’s your suggestion?”

Kiel placed his briefcase on the wooden decking outside. “Michael, Victor Howe has been with you for a long time. Some kind of cash payout would be a good gesture, and a guaranteed annual raise from Miss . . . .” He struggled to remember your cousin’s name.

“Drabbs. Amy Drabbs.”

“Yes. Miss Drabbs will need his help, probably more than either you or Howe realize. Keeping him on the payroll would go a long way to keeping Grambic Tiles solvent.”

You paced outside the clubhouse as another car thundered down the track. You couldn’t tell if the race or the fight set the deck vibrating. The match inside seemed to wind down without my continued instigation. I couldn’t be everywhere at once, and my project was a solo affair. Pity. More bloodshed would have been pleasant.

As the track and crowd noise faded, you continued. “Ben, I told him to have you leave everything to Amy. He didn’t, and obviously told you to leave nearly everything to him. Can I even trust him now? He betrayed me!”

Kiel worried the inside of his cheek. “I could put in language to curb anything he tries if he wants to wrest the company away from Miss Drabbs.”

“Something like . . .” you paused a moment. “You have to approve any major decisions involving the company.”

“Perhaps.” Kiel thought a moment. “A trustee might be the best way to hamper bad decisions, but I’m not sure I’d be appropriate. I’ll think things over and get back to you.”

“Thanks, Ben.” You looked back toward the pit area where Mr. Grin was loading your car. “I’d better go check on things before the day winds down completely.”

Kiel shook your hand. “I’m going to get something to eat before hitting the interstate. Care to join me?”

You considered. The problem was most restaurants outside a race track would be dives or mid-range establishments – certainly nothing of high quality. “I don’t think I could handle a cheeseburger and fries, Ben. I’ll just head home.”

As Kiel headed back to his rented BMW you texted your butler, Charles, to expect the attorney to bring the will in the morning.

Back in the pits you looked around for Boynton. Nowhere to be seen. But his car was getting looked over.

“His stand-in disqualified.” Howe shoved his hands in his pockets. “He’s headed home, too.”

You nodded, still irked with the beagle. “I’m not happy, Victor. Why did you tell Ben to write that will?” You tossed the manila envelope of your rejected will at him.

“You know it’s not greed, sir.”

“You’ve been a valuable assistant for ten years.” You sniffed, still suppressing your anger. “I’m going to assume you’re only thinking of what’s best for the company if I should die.”

Mr. Grin closed up the trailer and walked your direction.

Trying to keep your voice reasonable, you said, “You could help her make good choices.”

“Then I’d be running the company. She knows nothing.” Even though the beagle looked downcast, he exuded defiance.

“She could always sell, but if she wants to keep the company, the new version of my will has you as her executive assistant if you don’t quit.” You pointed toward where Kiel’s sedan backed out of a stall in the parking lot. “He said I should give you a cash bonus, and a sizable automatic annual raise. Provided, of course, the company thrives.”

Though that was a lie, it was something you’d insist on Kiel putting into the will. That you lied was good for the Brotherhood, but it would be better if you didn’t get the chance to put changes in writing. If I had pants, there would be ants in them.

Now if only my project could be completed before the new version was presented for your signature.

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

A half-hour later the other screen of warships cleared the William Placard to approach the colony. While Lannetay and Carnifor discussed the interaction, Marc exited his quarters and dropped into a recliner in the common room near L-T. He ignored Lannetay and Carnifor speaking about the frequency of getting boarded. “What’s the issue this time?”

Lannetay let Carnifor prattle on while her attention shifted to Marc and L-T.

“Good guys.” L-T closed the publication he’d been reading and it winked out of existence. “At least we hope they’re good guys. They’re holding the Wanti blockade at the edge of the system.”

“Odd outfit, Marc.” Lannetay interrupted Carnifor mid-sentence. “Black with orange stripes?”

Marc grunted, but otherwise dismissed those around him and simply stared into deep space.

“Kinda clashes with the blue shoes,” L-T added. When Marc didn’t react he shrugged and opened his reading material again.

Lannetay, bewildered, shared a helpless shrug with Carnifor. An awkward silence built.

Marc opened a hologram of a print publication.

A few meters away, Olthan turned off his weights and moved to sit next to Marc. “What’s up, little man?”

“Who you calling little?” Marc’s voice squeaked for a moment, and he stood.

Olthan’s jaw dropped. “When’d you git so tall?”

“This morning. It was on my agenda.” Marc slashed his hand through the hologram and stalked back toward his room as Bill dissolved the chair.

Goofball shut down his dogfighting simulator and canceled the sound suppression system. “Marc looks testy.”

Iresha shook her head and continued with shooting targets in a holographic gun range at the far end of the room.

“He is. Hormones.” Lannetay had read up on puberty. “Look for him to start bumping into things. His body is growing faster than he can adjust.”

Carnifor cleared his throat. “We’re going to make landfall in a bit more than an hour. The abbot of the monastery is not too pleased about missing out on that shipment of food.”

Goofball shrugged. “Seems inherent in the Wanti system.”

Olthan scratched his head. “Why don’t they do somethin’ about it?”

“Who?” L-T asked. “The government or the people?”

The Marine’s eyebrows drew closer together as he thought, but Iresha paused in her shooting to rescue him. “The hierarchy doesn’t care, and the people don’t have the ability.” She fired again.

Lannetay tried to project an optimism she didn’t feel. “Well, we’re doing what we can, and we’ll try even more.”


Lannetay was shocked when she entered the primary dome of the Clerimsu colony. Children ran everywhere. Most of them were giggling and having fun. She guessed their age ranged from four years old to perhaps nine – Marc’s age.

A monk just inside the inner hatch waited for her and Carnifor to take in the scene. “They’re recovered from Wanti space. Their parents didn’t want them growing up in that society and couldn’t get out themselves.”

“How many are there?” Carnifor asked.

“Somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand.” The monk opened his arms wide in a gesture to include the whole colony. “It’s hard to keep track when we keep getting new entries and adoptions.”

Lannetay blinked and turned to the monk. “How do they get here?”

“Abbot Shramitore can tell you more. Shall we go?”

Lannetay wondered at how the youngsters had adapted the simple game of Tag to the half-normal gravity of the colony. Hide and Seek would be different as well. “Yes. Let’s go meet the abbot.”

The building the two crew mates went into had the feeling of a dormitory. The tiny reception area held the center position on the ground floor, with halls leading left and right down the middle of the wings. Stairs stood to one side heading up to the second and third floors.

Opposite the stairway was a large office without a door. There Lannetay and Carnifor met Abbot Shramitore.

He stood as the monk retreated from the building. “Captain Tae, I’m Granish Shramitore.” He extended his hand.

After greetings and offers of something to drink, which Lannetay and Carnifor refused, the trio sat and discussed business.

“I understand you need food, Abbot,” Lannetay said. “I’m sorry to say we had our shipment confiscated by the . . . Confederation.” She didn’t want to use insulting language in the presence of the Abbot.

Shramitore smiled. “Call them Wantis, Captain. Everyone not part of the Confederation does. It’s a pejorative, but not vulgar.”

Lannetay returned the man’s grin. “Very well, the Wantis. The people we’ve met say you’re in dire straits regarding nourishment.”

“Perhaps not as critical as some believe. We do have gardens and have some fresh food, but not as much as we like.”

“Does anyone?” Carnifor leaned back in his seat and stretched his legs out to cross his ankles.

“Nutrition from our systems drops off every day, though it’ll be a while before we have real health issues.”

“The Wantis say you came here without a decent plan to feed yourselves.” Lannetay wondered. With a good system to recycle organic material, a small garden could keep enough fresh input to sustain the process.

The Abbot’s mouth twisted to one side. “In a way they’re right. Our gardens were enough for our original plan, but the influx of children has pushed our increased growing space beyond the limits.”

“What was this ‘original plan’ you mentioned?” Carnifor asked.

Shramitore’s expression faded to sadness. “Our mission was to retrieve families from Wrantiban. We’d been contacted, surreptitiously, by agents representing a dozen groups who wanted to leave the planet. They were denied. So we bought a used Cepheid class cutter modified for speed. We could take out ten people at a time.”

“What happened?” Lannetay knew all good plans were ruined as soon as opposition began.

“The war.” The Abbot’s words were clipped. “As soon as hostilities broke out we were flooded with requests by our contact. After setting up this monastery we had enough time for two runs. Now there are hundreds of trapped families who are willing to stay if their children can get out. It’s turned into a fiasco with thousands of kids moving through our facility in the last year. We can’t place them fast enough if we want our efforts to remain covert. Apparently all our measures weren’t enough.”

Carnifor nodded. “The Wantis.”

“Someone must have tipped them off.” Lannetay wondered who would be so cold as to sentence children to starvation. “Still, why can’t you import food? You have a ship fast enough to get out of the system without being intercepted.”

“We make do. When we take kids outside the Confederation, the ship comes back loaded with food. But there are so many to take from Wrantiban, and our trips to Terran space are few and far between.” Shramitore frowned. “We only make that trip when we have to get more food, and that’s where we stand today. Our cutter is overdue by two weeks and nutrition has fallen off a cliff. We need a new influx soon or we’re in for some real trouble.”

Lannetay pondered a moment. “What can we do to help?”

“The B star in this system has a small colony.” Shramitore gave Lannetay a frank stare.

Carnifor leaned in. “I’m guessing you’ve tried contacting them?”

“I have. There’s been no reply. Perhaps if a ship landed there they’d be more communicative. And as I’ve mentioned our only ship is out of the system and overdue.”

Lannetay connected with Bill. Do we have any information about a colony around the B star in this system?

After a moment the AI replied. Nothing. And if we don’t, hopefully the Wantis won’t either.

Carnifor said, “The Wantis can’t know about every colony is their space. So many stars, so many options for habitats.”

Lannetay turned from the Abbot to Carnifor. Should we go? The Wantis might detect us.


“Less than a hundred and fifty light minutes.” Lannetay explained the situation to her crew while the seven stood in the middle of Olthan’s track. “We won’t even have to break light speed to get there in a reasonable amount of time. At such a slow velocity the Wantis might not even notice us.”

Carnifor added, “They’ll probably still be watching the mercenaries defending this colony. We could sneak over, grab some food, and be back before the Wantis are any wiser.”

L-T glanced from one crew person to another. When none spoke out he did. “If we do nothing the people at Clerimsu could starve to death. We’re balancing the fate of one colony with the fate of another.”

The thousand children in the main dome around the monastery weighed heavily on Lannetay. “I say we try. But since this is outside our mission I wanted to see what the rest of you think. Carnifor has already agreed. What about you?” Her gesture included the other five people in the common room.

Goofball shrugged. “Don’t really care either way. We could give Clerimsu some of our stocks and it would help out for a while. We still have some of the food we took from the pirates.”

Olthan took his turn to shrug. “I ain’t here ta decide stuff. Tell me what ta shoot and I’ll do that.”

Marc remained defiant, hands on hips. “My voice doesn’t mean anything anyway.” He turned away but stayed in the common room.

L-T said, “Iresha? What do you think?”

“You’re asking me?” The reformed Wanti seemed shocked. “I’m not on your little mission.”

Lannetay shook her head. “You’re on the ship, and while you’re here you matter. What do you think?”

“Well, um, ah,” Iresha stammered. “People on Wrantiban are starving to death. If we let that happen here we’re no better than them.”

“I agree.” L-T crossed his arms. “Let’s do this.”

Lannetay smiled. “Bill, let’s go.” Then she and Carnifor moved to the control room.


As the William Placard approached the unnamed colony planet, Bill gave the crew, packed into the control room, some relevant information. “Only five domes that I can detect. Single colony setup, all interconnected. They’re the only people on this planet.”

“Looks like we’re in the right place,” L-T said.

Even Marc had pried himself from his quarters to watch things, “as they happened,” though he remained sullenly silent.

Lannetay sat in the pilot’s seat, left of the short aisle. “Any luck contacting anyone?”

“No,” Bill replied. “They must be keeping a low profile.”

Carnifor smiled as he nodded. “Avoid the Wantis. Smart move.”

Iresha snorted a sarcastic laugh from the rear center seat grown for the occasion. “Works for me, and probably a lot of other people, too.”

Marc smirked and spoke for the first time since they’d left Clerimsu. “Works for me, too.”

Iresha gave Marc a withering sneer and he turned stony again.

Why does she treat him like garbage? Bill asked Lannetay.

She’s flirting. I’d talk to her about it, but Marc needs to learn how to deal with it. I’ll talk to him about it when we have time.

“So we’ll land and try the airlock?” L-T asked.

Lannetay nodded, glancing over her shoulder at the lieutenant in the right seat in the back row. “That’s the best we can do at the moment.”

The lone planetoid orbiting the “B” star probably would never receive a colony kit. The one-quarter native gravity would require too much assistance from gravity generators and create too much havoc. A small dome settlement would fall beneath the notice of Wanti investigations – as long as ship traffic stayed minimal.

Bill landed beside a small runabout near what seemed like a main airlock. As Lannetay and Carnifor, wearing support belts, exited William Placard, a pair of riflemen stepped out from behind boulders.

A man’s deep voice said, “Get back into your ship and fly away.”

“Wow.” Bill sounded impressed. “They inserted that into your receiver without matching protocols.”

The voice replied, “It’s not that hard. Only ten channels on standard equipment. Go away. We don’t want company.”

“Do you know of the monastery?” Lannetay stopped walking and spread her arms to show she wasn’t armed, Carnifor following suit.

“Yes. Go away.” The woman with him fired a disrupter bolt and carved a chunk of rock out of the surface near Lannetay’s foot.

Lannetay edged away from the target area before she could stop herself and silently berated herself for doing so. “They need some food or people will die. They sent us here to see if you could spare anything.”

The second figure gestured, obviously speaking on a channel Lannetay didn’t pick up. The first gave a chopping movement with his left hand to silence the second. “Food is all you want?”

“Yes.” Lannetay decided to keep her answers short. “Anything you can spare.”

The man spoke without Lannetay hearing a word, and a moment later three crates burst into existence on the rocky surface in front of the William Placard.

“Take that and go,” the man said. “If you come back we’ll fire on you without question.”

Carnifor shrugged. “Let’s go.”

Lannetay hated to retreat, but if they had what they came for she could call it a victory, not a retreat.

Bill rotated the ship to present the cargo hold to the crates. The doors opened and gravity lifters pulled all three boxes into the bay.

“Simple as that?” Lannetay still watched the two riflemen.

“Unless you want to complicate things.” The figures brandished their rifles.

Lannetay definitely didn’t want further entanglements. “No, that’s sufficient. Carnifor, let’s go.”

Back in the ship Lannetay had Bill lift off and head back to the monastery. “We need to do something about arming the ship. I’m sick of being pushed around by people with simple rifles. If we could have fried their domes they would have been more polite.”

“We could have crashed through, killing everyone,” Bill reminded her.

Lannetay stomped toward the control room. “It’s not about the act, but the threat. Nobody’s afraid of a cargo ship unless it can shoot back. I want the ability to avoid unpleasantness like that,” she pointed over her shoulder to indicate the colony they’d just left. “If we had visible armament, they’d treat us with more respect.”

“Well, you say L-T can help.” Carnifor gestured for the lieutenant to join them as they passed through the common room. The Navy lieutenant stood and followed them into the control room.

Lannetay could read between the lines in the younger man’s file. He had to know someone.

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.

Next week: The Guns of Inglep, as Ebony Sea continues.

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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 41

Act IV

Windowed The Soul

Chapter Thirteen

Put him on the trailer

Send the loser home.

Your driver with your #88 racer was slotted into the spectator lane, while Boynton’s #13 was pit side. Both drivers spun their wheels to warm up the rubber. The track was reglued, and crews made last minute adjustments.

Boynton looked over at you standing in the pit, and again you were creeped out. The superior smile and dead look in his eyes brought a sheen of sweat to your forehead.

The beagle sidled up beside where you watched the preparations. “Your lawyer’s here, if you want to look over his draft of your new will.”

“Not now, Victor.” There was a race to run.

Too bad you were too cowardly to drive it yourself. Of course, it was probably your smartest decision in years. Sometimes chickenhearted choices actually were the wisest course of action. My job would have been much easier with you on the track, though. This dance with you was nearly over, and I was getting anxious for the endgame.

The body rose on Boynton’s car, cutting off your view of the judge. A crewman tweaked the brake calipers, another tuned the fuel mixture, and tire pressure was checked again. All optimum.

Similar changes happened on your car, and when everyone was satisfied, your driver edged up to the starting line. The pre-stage light illuminated on the Christmas Tree, and the driver inched forward until the stage light glowed.

Boynton went through the same process.

When both cars were ready the amber lights flared down the pole. Just before the green light came on both drivers slammed on the accelerator. As long as the green was on when the starting beam was crossed there was no disqualification.

Boynton’s RT read 0.003. Your driver hit 0.254. But reaction time, though useful in training, didn’t really mean anything, according to Wilson. The elapsed time, or ET, determined the winner.

The reading at sixty feet was impressive for Boynton. Two seconds even. Your car was more than a half-second behind. The gap opened wider and wider, so at the Big End your driver lost by an eternity.

Boynton’s run wasn’t a record breaker, but certainly very good with a time of 12.870. Your driver’s time wasn’t bad, but 14.266 wasn’t enough for your racer to advance.

Mr. Grin would be putting #88 on the trailer. I smiled.

When the two cars came back to the pits Boynton was told he’d be doing hot laps – heading right back to the track for another race.

Mr. Grin squinted in suspicion when the pit crew removed the old chute pack and installed another one. “He’s not even getting out to stretch his legs. How can a guy take that kind of abuse without a break? He looks nearly sixty.”

“He’s not exactly a wilting flower, Harley.” You gave a barking laugh. “Is it really that bad? I mean, it’s only a few seconds long.”

Mr. Grin explained that acceleration at the starting line can climb above four “Gs”, or four times the force of gravity. Though that’s a lateral acceleration instead of the vertical forces of fighter pilots in a banking turn, only a few seconds pass before the racers get eight “Gs” or more while decelerating. It’s hard on a body, and the speeds involved demand the same total concentration as combat pilots.

“Imagine getting punched in the gut, sir.” Your crew chief faked slugging you. “Then, when you’re struggling to get your breath back, someone else double-punches you in the kidneys.”

You nodded, finally getting a hint of what it was like. But you noticed Boynton still stared at you from his car. “Why does he keep watching me like that?”

The beagle glanced over Mr. Grin’s shoulder as your personal attorney crossed into pit row. “I hadn’t noticed. What difference does it make?”

You followed his gaze. “Tell me again why Ben is here?”

“He brought over a draft of your new will.” The beagle waved Mr. Grin away. “He’s expecting you to sign it.”

You sighed, wondering why your assistant seemed nervous. “Have him bring it here.” Your #88 was getting a post-race check to make sure nothing had been damaged, so you sat on a nearby bench. When Kiel brought over the papers you flipped through.

On the raceway, Boynton’s #13 again moved into the pit side lane. Another car, #122, went into the spectator side lane. The crews performed the same pre-race rituals, taking perhaps twenty minutes.

The engines roared, and the noise rapidly faded. The crowd went wild when the RT display of 0.000 blinked on for Boynton. His sixty-foot time improved to 1.998, and his ET for the whole race registered 12.280.

By the time Boynton returned to the pit, waving his race ticket out the window, you’d already finished skimming your new will.

“Ben, I don’t like it.” Your displeasure was acute, but you managed to keep from snapping in anger. “My cousin is nearly frozen out.” Your glare at the beagle could have melted glass.

“Mr. Grambic,” your assistant explained, “she’ll get a million dollars payout, with a hundred thousand annually for life.”

You gave the beagle a significant stare. “And who gets the bulk of my estate?” As if you hadn’t just read it.

Howe had the grace to blush.

“Mr. Howe does, sir.” Kiel didn’t look too happy with the draft that awaited your signature. “I wrote it as instructed, Mr. Grambic. If you’d like some changes, I could accommodate them.”

Judge Boynton chose that moment to jump from his car like a man of twenty. He waved the slip of paper with his times listed. “Goose eggs, Gram-bic. I hit an RT of zee-row.”

You glowered. “You put entirely too much emphasis on winning, you know that?”

“Winning is what it’s about.” Boynton looked out at the track. “Too bad #122 oiled the track.”

Noxious fumes from the track drifted into your pit and distracted you. “What?” Your eyes watered and throat burned.

“Blew a gasket. Sprayed fluids all over the far lane. It’ll take an hour to clean up for the next race, unless they simply go with bracket racing.” He paused, but before you could ask Boynton gave the answer: “Cars running without a competitor in the other lane. Takes longer, but it beats sitting around waiting.”

You brushed Boynton off. “Ben, let’s go somewhere quiet – without exhaust fumes – and look this over.”

The beagle took a few steps to follow, but you gave him a sharp look. Tail between his legs, Howe threw himself onto the bench you’d just vacated.

Let the sulking begin.

Boynton disappeared into his own pit.

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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