top of page
  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 17

Act II

Prophet of Death

Chapter Seven

As soon as your phone rang I knew I’d missed opportunities that could be easily remedied. Riiiiiiing-POP!

You shrieked, spraying half-chewed club crackers across your kitchenette.


A swallow of water cleared your mouth.


If you didn’t suspect Amy was calling you might have smashed the desk phone. Simply tossing it out your window wouldn’t be as satisfying as the way pitching out your TV had been. You threw your plastic cup toward the sink and dove for the phone on your rickety desk.


One more swallow, just in case. “Hello?”

“Did you just scream?” Amy’s voice told you she was smiling.

“No.” A lie you immediately corrected. “Well, yes. I stubbed my toe getting to the phone.” A second lie within seconds. This one you didn’t rectify.

“Did you call the ambulance?”

“Yes, but with all the snow they said it’d be quicker to self-amputate.” You paused for effect. “Do you own a cleaver? I don’t think my potato peeler will work.”

If you had been on a cell phone I could have made the call drop. Instead . . . POP! I could see the vein in your forehead swell as your blood pressure spiked.

“Sorry, Andy, no cleaver. Maybe you’ll just have to bandage it and hope for the best. So do you want to talk about the Wise Men?”

“Sure.” You reclined on your bed against the outside wall, your pillow keeping the cold from seeping into your back. “You said they knew ahead of time when Jesus would be born. How?”

I hated it when you used that name. I hated everything about you, Amy, and every single human in existence.

“Well, the Persians of that time might not have had the technology we do, but they knew almost as much about the stars.”

“How? They didn’t even have telescopes.” Two thousand years of technology had to make a difference to your way of thinking. Regardless, you were wrong.

“The stars they could see were understood.” Amy’s enthusiasm for the topic was evident in her tone. “The motion of the planets were plotted out, and they knew when retrograde motion would occur.”

“I know about retrograde.” You wanted to show her you knew something about science. “Normally planets move across the night sky –too slowly for most people to notice. Because Earth is also orbiting, planets sometimes look like they’re moving backward against the starry background. They move forward, pause, move back, pause, then forward again.”


You heard Amy slurping. “Are you drinking?”

“Some tea. It helps me relax before I go to sleep.”

You scrambled to the bag of groceries she’d given you, hoping she’d put some tea in. No such luck.

I created static on the phone line and ended it with a POP!

You grimaced and moved back toward your bed. “Maybe I’ll have to try that some time.” That vein at your temple pulsed again.

“I’ll let you try some of what I have. Some people just don’t like tea, no matter what kind.” Amy brought the conversation back around. “The astronomers of Persia were astrologers as well. Every star and constellation had a name, as well as something it was associated with. You’re familiar with that, right?”

“Sure.” You brought up the first thing to come to mind. “Leo is associated with fire, for instance.”

“Exactly. And when planets moved through Leo, that meant certain things to the people associated with that planet.”

You warmed to the conversation. “You mean, like Pluto transiting Capricorn. America will have things come back to haunt the nation we haven’t seen since the nation was founded –the last time Pluto was in Capricorn.”

“Uh, sort of. It’s more like how Regulus and Jupiter met three times. That it happened in Leo meant a lot to these astrologers.”

“You mean the Star of Bethlehem wasn’t a nearby nova or supernova?”

Amy laughed. “No, silly. A bright star suddenly showing up would have been recorded somewhere else. Like when the Chinese recorded a new star in the sky in the year 1040.”

“Right where the Crab Nebula is.” That all made sense to you.

Amy continued. “So what happened had to be something most people would ignore. Nobody but an astronomer would make note of a triple conjunction.”

“Or an astrologer.” You reached for the box of crackers on your desk.

“Remember, they were the same thing back then. But the Wise Men knew how the planets moved. They’d have predicted the triple conjunction of the King Planet and King Star in Leo –the constellation associated with Israel. That whole dance would mean a significant king was going to be born in Israel. They’d guess it would happen in the capitol city, so they went knocking on King Herod’s door.”

You didn’t know much about the Bible, so you didn’t know who Herod was –one of our patsies, to be honest. I had to do something –anything –to keep you from learning too much, though.

I brought a single word into your memory –something Amy had said while you were cavorting in the snow.

“You’re just guessing the Wise Men knew ahead of time, right? You said, ‘maybe.’”

“Sure.” Amy didn’t seem reluctant to admit that. “Even so, Levitical law restricted what Mary could do after giving birth. Mostly it meant she couldn’t go anywhere for forty days. The Wise Men were less than six hundred miles away, and a camel can go at least forty miles in a day, so they could have made the trip before Mary was allowed to travel.”

An authoritative knock rattled your door.

You stood. “King Herod isn’t the only one with visitors, Amy. Someone’s here.”

“Okay. I’ll see you in the morning.” You waited for her to hang up before you returned the handset to its cradle.


You opened the door and found Marshal Woods. He held a cardboard box filled with the things he’d confiscated from you.

“Marshal.” You stood in the doorway, hands on hips, blocking him from entering. “Isn’t it snowing kind of hard for you to be out and about?”

Woods sneered and thrust your belongings at your chest. “It stopped almost an hour ago. The task force investigating you is based only a mile away, so when we finished analyzing your things I thought I’d bring them back. That way I don’t have to go out on a Sunday.”

You lowered the box to the floor and pushed it aside with a foot. “I’m so glad I could accommodate you in that respect. If it weren’t so late I’d invite you in for coffee. Oh, wait, no I wouldn’t.”

That earned you a sincere grin. “Have a nice evening, Mr. Reymond.” Woods spun on his heel and marched down the hall.

You closed the door, put the box on your bed, and rummaged through it.

Computer, check. That was the most important item.

A folder of printed pages, check. Your papers had all been loose, so the folder must have come from the Marshal’s Service.

“I wonder if he’s going to charge me for the folder,” you muttered.

Printer, paper, connecting cables, all check. Even the laptop’s charger was included. “Looks like it’s all here.”

POP! That one came from the printer. You hadn’t even plugged it in.

Then, in rapid succession, a series of popping sounds came from the laptop, your phone, and pretty much anything else I could think of –even your pressed wood desk.

You stifled a scream. The vein at your left temple pulsated.

One more. POP!

Your phone. You grabbed your head with both hands and pulled on the hair above each ear. Coupled with your mouth writhing in frustration, you chewed the insides of your cheeks.

My mission wouldn’t take much longer.

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.

0 views0 comments
  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Again the lieutenant exhibited shock. “How’d he access my sound inducers, Major?”

Lannetay merely smiled, and directed her comments to Choergatan. “We’re making progress, Admiral. Stopping us may have put a wrinkle in our plans, but we’ll deal with it.”

“Try to stay out of combat zones in the future, and we’ll avoid this kind of complication.” Choergatan’s anger was apparent.

Lannetay bristled. “Let us know where the fighting will be next time, and we’ll gladly do as instructed.”

“You’re bordering on insubordination, Major.”

“As I just reminded your lieutenant, I’m retired, Admiral.” Lannetay spread her feet and crossed her arms. Any of her crew would recognize that stance and avoid irritating her further.

Choergatan couldn’t see her, and admirals were not known for fair treatment of those who defied them. “You’re under my orders, Major, so I expect you to show a certain amount of regard for me.” His voice tightened even more. “Now, what progress have you made?”

“We have authorization to trade within the Confederation.” Lannetay bit the end off each word as she spoke. “We’re hoping to make connections on Inglep that will lead us directly to Wrantiban. A certain customs agent named Borenic is now the colonial governor of Herlorwis, so he won’t be getting in my way at Wrantiban. That’s all for now.”

“Not much progress for all these months,” Choergatan complained.

Lannetay frowned. “We’ve stopped at one colony. I’d say that amount of progress is about as expected.”

“Fine, fine.” Choergatan harrumphed, then continued. “I suppose I’d best let you get about your business.”

“You’d better fine us a few thousand credits first,” Lannetay suggested. “Call it a tax, toll, or whatever. The Wantis won’t believe it if we get off Scot-free.”

Choergatan grunted again. “I suppose not. We’ll fine Lanny Tae Shipping ten thousand credits, then.”

“T-ten . . . thousand?”

“Yes. Ten thousand. That’s enough to buy us a small ship, and we could use it.”

Lannetay stood speechless for a moment. “That’s enough to bankrupt us!”

“Yes, it is,” Choergatan replied. “Good thing you have cash reserves aboard the William Placard.”

“Uh, we’re not supposed to use the ‘special funds’ you’ve provided. Is there something else?”

“Yes. Eight thousand credits. See to it, Lieutenant.”

The Marine snapped to attention. “Aye, Admiral.” He withdrew a credit chip from an external pouch, inserted it into a reader, and programmed in eight thousand credits – authorized by Admiral Choergatan.

Lannetay accepted the chip with reluctance. Favors by admirals never came without expectations of repayment. “Thank you, Admiral.”

“Get on with your mission, Lannetay. Get your job done, and we’ll call it even.”

“Aye, Admiral.”

Bill broke the connection.The lieutenant faced Lannetay and came to attention again.

“Thank you for everything, sir,” he said.

Lannetay nodded. “If that’s all, then would you kindly get your men off my ship?”

“Aye, Major.” His mouth twitched a brief smirk before he marched off to follow orders.

Lannetay eyed her credit chip with suspicion. She’d turn it in on Inglep and send the cash to her accounts. Eight thousand credits would tempt a priest to commit a venial sin, if not a mortal one.

By the time she made her way back to the common room, the Marines had already sealed the locks. “As soon as they’re clear, get us back under way, Bill.”

Marc ran to Lannetay and hugged her.

“Aye, Major.” Typical Bill snark.

“One day I’ll slap you, Bill.”

L-T came over to Lannetay. “What happened back there? Everything okay?”

“We were fined ten thousand credits.” Lannetay fought to hide a smile at his concern.

Carnifor gaped. “Ten thousand? How much does the company have?”

“Ten thousand, three hundred sixty. And a fraction.” Lannetay tried to keep her expression downcast, but evidently failed.

Marc smirked. “She knows something. Don’t you, Mom?”

“She does,” L-T said. “What is it?”

“The admiral gave us a credit chip worth eight thousand.” A smile exploded across Lannetay’s face. “It means we’re still out two thousand, but we can cash it in at Inglep, and it’ll look like we were paid for a full load of cargo.” They might never get to another colony substantial enough to redeem a credit chip with Terran funds.

Carnifor ordered a chair and sat. “At least we can pay for the ship’s registration and insurance at the end of the year.”

Lannetay’s smile faded. At the end of the year her involuntary servitude would be over. She could kick Carnifor off her ship, along with Olthan and Goofball. And L-T. Marc would be disappointed with that. The ship would be hers, free and clear. Such a big ship, too, with only Marc for company. Getting used to it again would take a while.

“There’s more to trading expenses than registration and insurance.” Lannetay’s voice was caustic. She shook off her ruminations and walked to one of the few portholes.

Carnifor came up behind Lannetay and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “We have months to earn that out. We’ll make it.”

Does he know he’ll be gone whether we make it or not? Bill asked. Maybe you need to make that plain.

Lannetay turned and ambled toward the control room. He’ll figure it out. Eventually.

The hatches closed behind her as she took the few steps to her seat. “How long before we reach Inglep?”

“Twelve days,” Bill replied, “unless you want to step up our speed a bit.”

The hatch opened to admit Carnifor. He stood in the hatchway and asked, “Looking to be alone, or can I come in?”

Lannetay waved him in, thinking he was being uncommonly perceptive. “Twelve days to Inglep.”

“We could . . . exceed our ‘design parameters’ again.”

“If we do that too often, people will notice. The rest of the trading universe would be the first to suspect something wasn’t according to Hoyle.”

Carnifor sat and pivoted his seat to face Lannetay. “Hoyle?”

“Never played cards as a kid, did you?” Lannetay smiled. “We played all the time. If anyone had a question about the rules, Dad would pull out a copy of According to Hoyle. That would be that.”

“You mean an actual physical copy of a book?”

“Yes. Printed on something like plastic, but it wasn’t that, exactly. He liked the feel of holding it in his hands.”

Silence between them stretched until Lannetay could hear Marc and L-T laughing at a story Olthan told. Something about a tractor pulling a chain.

Carnifor smiled, then leaned back and put a foot on the console in front of him.

Bill snapped, “Get your feet off my control panel, you barbarian. Didn’t your mother teach you any better?”

“She tried, Bill. She tried.” He put his foot back on the deck – where it belonged.

Lannetay had Bill grow a footstool under the panel and used that. “Twelve days, Carnifor.”

“Twelve days.”

“Want to take us in when we get there?” Lannetay allowed a tiny smile.

Carnifor looked skeptical. “Are you kidding me? Don’t tease, okay?”

“No teasing. You get to land the ship. Got that Bill? Don’t let me change my mind.”

Bill said, “Uh, are you sure? Can he be trusted?”

With a wry, somewhat reluctant smile, Lannetay said, “Time to find out.”


Twelve days later the ship hurtled through the atmosphere at Inglep. Carnifor whooped as he threw in full deceleration. “You’re right, Lanny! This is great!”

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 Pirates, as Ebony Sea: 1 continues.

0 views0 comments
  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 16

Act II

Prophet of Death

Twenty minutes later the two of you charged through your apartment’s parking lot and into the public park across the street. Traffic was nearly nonexistent because of the heavy snow, and even hardy Midwesterners knew to stay off the roads with so much blowing and drifting.

For a few minutes you traded off throwing snowballs at each other, then that devolved into simply scooping unpacked snow and flinging it. The scattering flakes limited visibility even more than the snowfall. Eventually the two of you collapsed, laughing.

An old pickup with an attached plow lumbered past. I made the engine backfire. POW! The two of you jumped as the percussive sound washed through the winter wretched-land. At least it stopped your loathsome tittering.

Amy turned on her side and propped herself up on an elbow. “You know, snow sure is beautiful.”

“I suppose.” You looked longingly toward the sky. “I can’t see the stars, though.”

Amy chuckled again. “With all the city lights you can’t see them anyway.”

The snowfall slackened a little.

“They seem further away when it’s cloudy, though.” You turned on your side to face Amy. “It gets kind of depressing.”

“They’re still there,” Amy reminded you. “God put them there to be our guides. With the internet and computers, even if you can’t see them you can still use them to find your way.”

You snorted in derision. “This has nothing to do with astrology. I have computer programs to show me what the sky looks like.”

More like you’d “had” computer programs. They were impounded when Woods took your computer.

The old pickup rounded a corner and its engine noise faded. I made it backfire once more just for fun.

“The Wise Men knew where things were, even on cloudy nights.” Amy wiped melting snow from her face. Her mittens left a smear of water drawing lines down her forehead and cheeks. “Maybe they knew years ahead of time about the birth of Jesus.”

Your laugh was more akin to a bark. “Why do you say that?”

“They were the best astronomers in the world at that point. They knew what the planets and stars were going to do, probably as accurately as you and your computer models.”

“I’m cold.” You realized you hadn’t eaten anything since your carrots at lunchtime, and the lack of fuel for your body was really what made you cold. Your thoughts were muddled, too, for the same reason.

But then no human really has clear thoughts. Fools, each and every one.

“Let’s go inside.” Amy jumped to her feet and offered you a hand up.

You took it, and didn’t let go as you ambled toward your apartment building.

You walked her to her second floor apartment right at the top of that flight of stairs. She stopped, and you wondered if she wanted a kiss.

“Have you eaten anything today?” she asked.

You hesitated before answering. Boredom had dominated your Saturday, but you realized hunger had crept up and pounced when you weren’t looking.

“You haven’t.” Amy nodded. “Wait here.”

She vanished into her apartment and closed the door.

I could feel the offensive influence of Him oozing through the cracks, so I backed away from the door. The quiet sounds of rummaging ended and the door opened again.

A smiling Amy presented you with a plastic grocery bag filled with food. “Nothing much, but you need to eat.”

“Uh . . . thanks.” You took the bag’s handles and stood there like the fool you were.

“I’ll see you in the morning?”

“Okay. Did you want to call me tonight?” You were so like a three-year-old, in a way, but children usually exhibited more common sense.

“Sure. We can talk about the Wise Men.”

You smiled. “All three?” Even you knew there weren’t necessarily three. “Will we have that much time?”

“Ha.” She followed the mock laugh with a light punch to the shoulder. “Have something to eat tonight, there’s instant oatmeal for breakfast, and I’ll see you at 8:30 tomorrow morning.”

Your mournful look was a thing of beauty. “Call me in a half hour?” It’s not like you really wanted to talk about the Wise Men, but you were willing to talk about pretty much anything if the conversation was with Amy.

She nodded and closed the door.

You almost flew up the stairs, eager to eat, doubly eager to talk to Amy.

Revolting. But you were mine. I wasn’t about to let you go.

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.

0 views0 comments
bottom of page