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  • Mark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Act II

Prophet of Death

Part 8

The two police officers watched as you turned as pale as the cheap toilet paper in your bathroom. “Um. Sleeping, I guess.” You shrugged, as if that’s where you were every early morning.

“Can anyone confirm that?”

You sneered. “Look around, Marshal. Who would be with me in a place like this?” You’d been bitter about your living conditions for years, but nothing you did had changed your life in any significant way.

“Mr. Reymond, do you own a car?”

No doubt he knew about your sky blue 1978 Pacer.

“Y-yes. It’s parked out front.”

Woods rose to his feet. “Do you mind if we take a look at it?”

You led the trio of law enforcement to the off-street lot where thirty or so cars were parked. Tucked in the middle of the lot was the rust bucket you used as little as possible. A vandal had keyed the passenger door long enough ago for the groove to corrode. You didn’t even bother to lock the doors, thinking thieves would only break windows to get in. Besides, there was nothing inside worth stealing.

You pulled open the driver’s door, which complained loudly. Then you noticed the garbage on the passenger seat wasn’t in the same configuration you’d left it.

“Already searched it, didn’t you?” The bright afternoon sunlight contrasted with your scowl, and the clear sky accentuated the remaining bits of blue on your car.

Woods only smirked. “When was the last time you drove it?”

“Last night I splurged for a Mikey Burger and fries at the Half Pint. I ate on the way home and left the take-out bag on the seat.” You gave Woods a significant glare. “Not on the floor.”

The marshal crossed his arms. “Any chance you could have driven to Fairmont and back?”

One of the cops chuckled. The vehicle probably would fall apart before getting to the next county. No way it could get to the next state, much less back again.

“In that?” You pointed to the blue hunk of junk. “Are you kidding?”

He took a deep breath and looked down his perfect nose at you. “Stranger things have happened.”

“I had an oil change a month ago.” Planting your hands on your hips you dared him to accuse you of something. “I haven’t driven enough miles since then to get to Fairmont and back.”

“Receipt?” Woods made a note. “Maybe a work order?”

You gestured to the accumulated trash in the passenger area. “Feel free to dig into the pile to find it.”

The marshal nodded and made another mark in his book. “That won’t be necessary.”

Scoffing, you knew he’d already checked your odometer reading against your mechanic’s notation of the milage. “Then if there’s nothing else, I’d like to get back to work. I’ve picked up a number of subscribers in the last few days.”

That’s when you first realized why Woods was treating you like a murder suspect.

“Wait, that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

Woods gave you a knowing smile and walked toward a black SUV with government plates. Like the marshal, the police also left without saying a word. Their unmarked sedan started a moment before the marshal’s Escalade. Woods gave you a suspicious stare from the driver’s seat, then both vehicles drove off.

Back in your apartment you checked your subscription numbers. A thousand more since yesterday. The service selling ads on your website had even bumped up your payout.

A quick search produced a news story about a nursing student in Fairmont being killed at a railroad crossing. Two hours after the news story was posted, your subscriber numbers had ticked up.

The headline on a local rag screamed, “RN-WANNABE DIES AT RR XING.”

A medical scribe at the Fairmont Clinic was killed when her car was struck by a train at the Pioneer Drive crossing.

Janet Wilson was returning home from Lakeside Cemetery late Tuesday evening when the accident happened. She was alone in her late-model Kia, which showed no signs of slowing.

Railroad investigators say witnesses saw the crossing lights flashing, and the automobile’s taillights come on, but police say the car was traveling over the speed limit when it entered the crossing. No skid marks were on the pavement leading up to the intersection. Detectives believe the witnesses must have been mistaken. Initial inspections have found no evidence of tampering with the vehicle’s brake system.

Friends and relatives say Wilson has no history of drug or alcohol abuse. According to Wilson’s family, routine tests at the clinic where she worked were all negative. “They’d have to be to keep working there,” her sister said. Postmortem blood tests have yet to yield results.

Services have not been scheduled, and the investigation is ongoing.

Further searches showed similar articles, with an internet-only story mentioning your post about avoiding railroad crossings. One comment on the story named you “The Prophet of Death.”

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

A few minutes later the four William Placard crew members clustered around the airlock. Goofball had no problem bypassing the colony’s external security.

“Yes.” Goofball pumped a fist. “And there we go.”

The hatch swung open. The airlock easily held the four infiltrators, and when pressure built up their support belts switched off.

Carnifor pointed to an access terminal. “Goofball – go.”

The fighter pilot’s eyes glazed as he tried connecting with the internal Node. “Most systems have safeguards, but out-of-the-way colonies don’t have the resources for tight security.” He grinned. “After all, why would anyone come to Cayn to steal something? They don’t have anything.”

The colony’s Node popped up a message hologram asking for a password.

Goofball continued. “More than likely they left the passwords set at the default.” A virtual keyboard allowed inputs, and the third password he entered was accepted. “They didn’t update after installation.” He moved on to schematics, sensors, traffic flow, and finally he pointed to the holo. “He’s in the Admin Dome. That way.”

Carnifor’s eyebrows raised. “Thirty seconds. Not bad.”

“Rare praise. I prefer mine medium-well.”

“Make mine soy,” Carnifor quipped. “There’s a lot at steak.”

Lannetay snickered at the byplay, glad to see Carnifor loosening up. She waved her hand to open the inner airlock hatch and the four entered the colony.

“We should be good for at least a hundred meters.” Goofball followed Lannetay as closely as possible. “Nobody’s in this dome and probably won’t be until nearly the next shift – about two hours.”

They crossed the dome filled with mostly residential buildings a single storey high. A smattering of two-level buildings were clustered toward the center where the dome was higher.

Directly opposite their entrance point was another airlock leading to a dome connected to one of the two central habitats. The larger of the two was the depressurized farm dome. A ring of four domes surrounded those two.

The infiltrators used a nonchalant pace. If someone came across them, sneaking would draw attention.

At the airlock Goofball checked the Node for status updates. “Scanners just cut out. I can’t tell where anyone is, but I still have the colony details.”

Could be a glitch.” Carnifor headed down the corridor toward a residential dome. “Young colony, limited resources, and fixing the farm dome has a much higher priority than maintenance.”

Lannetay didn’t believe in coincidence. Scanner malfunctions right when invaders happened to be crossing the first dome never happened outside of entertainment dramas.

They skirted the edge of that dome, skipped one passage, and edged through an airlock to the corridor leading to the admin center. Olthan kept watch at the end of the four-person parade. He hadn’t brought his rifle, but his massive disrupter pistol rested within reach in its holster.

“That leads to the admin dome.” Goofball pointed to the airlock ahead. He pecked at a nearby virtual keyboard. “I still have access to colony hatches, even if I can’t access their scanners.” The airlock hatches both opened to admit them.

Six buildings filled most of the volume enclosed by the dome. The center structure – a five-sided tower four levels tall – dominated the other five edifices. Those were tucked into the space between the middle building and the dome walls.

Carnifor gave a derisive laugh and pointed to the tallest structure. “Bet that’s the admin center.”

“Either way, that’s where Hyanto is being held.” Goofball pointed up. “Third floor – at least as of the last sensor reading I got from the Node.”

“Why din’t they skip the dome and make the buildings pressurized?” Olthan asked. “They’s close enuf to just stick ‘em together.”

Carnifor threaded his way between two stubby buildings, leading the rest of his compatriots to the central building.

“Less expensive to make one pressure dome and cheaper buildings.” Lannetay was still uneasy at the lack of anybody moving around. Their infiltration was too easy.

Goofball grabbed the handle on the main door to the admin center and paused. “Looks like they managed to make this workplace safe for vacuum.”

The main entrance consisted of reinforced transparent double doors. A portico with numerous access panels suggested space suits and support belts hidden out of sight. Another set of doors three meters within made the vestibule look suspiciously like a rather large airlock.

“Let’s go.” Carnifor slid open the door next to where Goofball waited. A faint sucking sound and brief resistance indicated the seals were airtight.

Beyond the inner doors stood a reception desk. A bored clerk, wearing an outlandish outfit – even by Lannetay’s standards – sat staring into nowhere as he worked with the colony’s Node. His billowing blouse printed with a jungle motif must have included miniature holographic projectors. Small wild animals pranced around the man in a ludicrous ballet, with an elephant performing impossible leaps, caught by a chimp and swung around the man’s back.

He blinked twice as his eyes cleared. “Can I help you?” The creatures stopped dancing and all turned as one to look at the four who had just entered. A giraffe peered over the man’s head.

Olthan and Carnifor leaped at the same moment, the lower gravity letting them easily arc over the chest-high barrier. A quick strike from Olthan, and the clerk slumped in his seat. The animals glared at Olthan – particularly the giraffe.

“Nice job, lance-” Carnifor cut himself off. One of the chimps turned its scowl at him.

“Thanks, s-” Olthan’s reply was accompanied by a smile of camaraderie.

Goofball moved to the display panel the attendant had been using. “No sign of alarm. The Node is still quiet according to what I can access.”

Olthan brought up a set of virtual controls and tapped out a series of commands. “This building’s on a separate Node. Ain’t hardly nobody here. Two guys in the basement, thirty more here and up.”

Goofball connected to the desk. “We can take a lift to level three. There’s three men – unarmed – watching the corridor outside the room with Hyanto.”

“Whattabout him?” Olthan prodded the unconscious clerk with his toe. The man moaned, but otherwise didn’t react. A faux panther licked the man’s cheek, then bared its teeth at the Marine.

“Leave him.” Carnifor marched toward the lift. “We’ll be gone in a minute or two. He should be out for at least that long.”

The lift whisked them to the third floor. Carnifor, Goofball, and Olthan boiled out of the lift car and engaged the three guards. In moments the sentries, each wearing azure unitards, dropped to the floor, senseless.

Lannetay looked at the three. “I thought you said there were three men, Goofball.”

A look of confusion crossed his face. “One, two, three.” He pointed as he counted them off.

“That one’s a woman.”

Carnifor heaved a sigh. “The military now counts everyone the same. Just like they call female officers ‘sir,’ they call every service member ‘men.’ They started that years ago.”

“After I left the service.” Lannetay shrugged. Times changed. It’s only offensive if someone allows themselves to be offended. She was secure enough in her identity.

They pushed open a door, and inside found a nicely-appointed suite – as far as a new colony could have “nice,” at any rate. The sitting room sported three love seats and a recliner. Three doors no doubt led to a master bedroom, guest room, and sanitary facilities. In the middle of the room rested a crib, where a baby less than a year old slept.

“A baby?” Carnifor growled. “We came to rescue a baby? I thought we were after a kid.”

Lannetay picked up the baby. He squirmed a bit, but kept sleeping. Lannetay whispered, “We should go. They’re expecting us.”

“Why do you say that?” Goofball asked.

Holding up an index finger, Lannetay put it to her mouth. “Quiet. We’ll discuss this later, but we need to move out. Now.”

The four filed out into the hallway and stopped. A trio of armed colonists in beige coveralls stood in the hall to the left, another set to the right of the suite entrance.

“Too late,” Carnifor said.

Olthan’s hand twitched toward his side arm, but his weapon remained holstered. Of the six disrupter rifles, four pivoted to cover him.

A man’s voice came from within the suite. “Come back inside, and we’ll discuss your situation.”

Carnifor motioned the others into the suite. Once the rest were inside he edged in and closed the door.

A man in a paisley coverall stood within. He was hunched over due to extreme age. With medical nanites so advanced, Lannetay estimated he must have been nearly two hundred years old.

Lannetay walked half the distance to the man. “Okay, we’re here. What’s the issue?” She patted the back of the baby leaning on her left shoulder.

“The issue is that you’re here to retrieve the child.” The man’s voice remained strong, though his bone structure had deteriorated significantly. His green eyes with red flecks reflected a deep wisdom.

“Yes, we’re here.” Lannetay didn’t offer to replace the baby, and the man didn’t reach for him. “What is your name, and who are you?”

“Interesting choice of questions,” he observed. “Most would think the two are the same.”

Carnifor stepped up beside Lannetay. “You didn’t answer the lady’s question.”

“My name is Gorsh Welling. I’m the governor of this colony. That you’re here is very telling.”

Lannetay sensed Goofball and Olthan spreading out behind her and Carnifor.

Welling glanced from one to the other, then continued. “You notice I didn’t ask for your weapons.”

“Irrelevant.” Lannetay wasn’t in the mood for verbal fencing. “You have us at a disadvantage, so keeping our weapons means nothing.” She tried sending Carnifor a message on their implants. Nothing went through.

Someone must have notified Welling, however. “No, your implants won’t work for the time being.” Welling carefully lowered himself into the overstuffed recliner. “Your ship might have hidden weapons, and I don’t want anyone left aboard flying to your rescue.”

Lannetay bristled. “Then you’d better let us communicate, because our ship will be on the way. They probably lifted off the second our connection broke.”

“We forged a signal.” Welling gave a polite smirk like only the truly aged could. “No Core would be able to tell the difference.”

“How about an AI?” Carnifor asked. “Our ship is on the way.”

For the first time Welling’s eyes betrayed unease. “You have an AI? Who does that?”

“I do.” Lannetay cooed to the baby who had begun to squirm. “Let me talk to my ship.”

Welling waved a hand. “Go ahead.”



Affirmative. If you’re on the way, stand down. We’re condition Tan.

Tan confirmed.

Lannetay moved to put the baby’s crib between herself and Welling. “We’re okay for the moment. Care to tell us what’s going on?”

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

Act II

Prophet of Death

Scene 7

“Humans. What a waste of matter.”


Chapter One

We first did business when you wrote horoscopes for a local newspaper – pablum worded so vaguely almost any event could be interpreted as fitting the oracle. Most people laughed when you told them what you did for a living – if an efficiency apartment in the poorest part of Waterloo, Iowa, qualified as living.

The internet allowed you to work from home, writing your tripe for a publication based in a larger city. You even wrote a subscription-based blog which took questions. “Should I quit my job, or stick it out?” was asked toward the end of March by someone calling herself Flummoxed in Fairmont.

That’s when I first planted an answer into your receptive mind. You looked for inspiration and I provided it. “If you don’t quit, you’ll be fired.” I’d see to that, if it came right down to it.

The screen in front of you glowed in the dim confines of your third-floor hovel. You pondered, considered, wrote out a few sentences, reworded things, and posted the answer.

Dear Fired,

While a job as a medical transcriptionist might be the perfect entry-level job for your hopes of attaining a career in nursing, your current employer is positioned near a dairy organization undergoing a bankruptcy. Though encountering a dairy cow is an excellent omen, the farm’s financial problems indicate the reverse for your future.

If you attempt to hold onto your current job things will not go well for you. With four being an unlucky number, I would predict you will be losing your job on April fourth – a week from tomorrow.

You reread your posting and your jaw dropped in surprise at your own words. Such specific predictions were frowned upon among those who foretold such things. It was so unlikely it would play out as you predicted; things could go wrong in too many ways. But credibility was my hook.

You sought more, so I gave you another thought. You tapped out one more line.

Avoid railroad crossings this spring.

You published the Q and A.

Ten days later law enforcement knocked on your cheap door.

“Mr. Reymond, may we come in?” A man in a tailored suit, flanked by two uniformed officers, held up his credentials folder to your peephole. “We have some questions we’d like to ask.” His badge showed he was from the United States Marshal Service.

You sighed and unlocked the door – which could be pushed in by anyone but the weakest preteen, even with the deadbolt set. “Come in, Marshal . . .”

The marshal stepped inside and ignored your offer to shake hands. “Woods. Bill Woods, Mr. Reymond.”

Woods glanced around your squalid apartment. He almost tiptoed, as if afraid he’d step in something that might ruin his custom Kenneth Coles. The two uniformed patrolmen were a little less genteel as they entered. I knew they’d seen much seedier homes than yours.

“What can I do for you, Marshal Woods?” You offered him the folding chair you used when tapping away on the laptop resting on a pressed-wood desk from a thrift store. Since there were no other chairs you sat on your bed only a few feet away. The police remained on their feet.

“Mr. Reymond, a few days ago you published your astrological advice column about a woman wondering if she should quit her job.”

You nodded. “That’s right. She signed her email Flummoxed in Fairmont. That’s a city just across the border in Minnesota. I changed her name to ‘Fired in Fairmont’ in my answer.” The interaction stood out in your memory because it was so atypical.

Woods grimaced. “She worked at a clinic, didn’t she?”

“Uh. . . .” You paused. “Worked? Past tense?” As a writer, no matter how incompetent, you’d pick up on a detail like that.

“Yes.” Woods noticed a cockroach scampering across the dirty dishes in your minuscule kitchen’s diminutive sink. “Worked. She was fired three days ago.”

Your face burned with embarrassment at the condition of your home, but you forged ahead with the business at hand. “If memory serves, I advised her to quit before she got fired.”

The thirteen-inch black-and-white television in the room emitted an electronic snap. It did that on occasion, and you never knew it was me causing it. Woods eyed the device with a grimace, but turned back to you. “And you told her to avoid railroads.” He stared intently at your face.

“Uh, maybe. I don’t remember that part.”

“Her internet browser’s history showed your website and the advice.” Woods drew out a stereotypical notepad and read. “‘Avoid railroad crossings this spring.’ What prompted you to tell her that?” The note of subtle threat wasn’t lost on you.

As if on cue, both police officers lowered their hands to the butt of their service weapons. They were unobtrusive, but that nuance was also noticed by you.

“I, uh, don’t . . .” You looked from the police to Woods, and finally to your computer. “Did I tell her that? I don’t recall.”

You wouldn’t. I didn’t want you to. My best work is done without anyone realizing who was at work. Newly promoted from imp to full Brother, even I knew that much.

Woods drew out a digital voice recorder and placed it on your sorry excuse for a desk. He pressed the red button. “Where were you in the early hours of yesterday morning, Mr. Reymond?”

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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