top of page
  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Olburq squinted his suspicion and didn’t reach for the credit chip. “Whatcha want from me?”

Carnifor stepped in with the explanation. “We have a full load of farming equipment, from simple tractors to flexiblecrop harvesters.”

Olburq eyed the bribe, but still refrained from taking it. “That’s a lot of machinery, and won’t be doing us no good. We don’t have enough tillable land.”

Lannetay put the payment back into its hidden pocket. “We have a solution for that, too.” She turned to face Carnifor.

“We have a colonization kit.” Carnifor’s words were chosen with utmost care. Olburq hadn’t given much clue as to his thoughts about the Wantis taking over. The former administrator could be “all-in” for the new system. “We might be convinced to deploy that package, if the price is worth the effort.”

Olburq’s eyes widened, his interest nearly screaming. “Might be worth hearin’ more. Can you come back in an hour?”

Lannetay crossed her arms. “We’ll be charged another thousand credits if we stay on the surface that long.”

Olburq focused on the holo hovering above the desk. Displays flashed past too quickly to follow, then settled on the spaceport’s landing schedule. A number changed. “There. Now you can stay for hours. The timer showing how long you been here only counts one second for every four.” He smiled openly at Lannetay. “By the way, you just landed.”

Lannetay and Carnifor leaned in to get a better look at the display. The twenty-six minutes since they’d been cleared by customs had vanished.

“Thank you.” Lannetay uncrossed her arms and produced the fifty credits again. When she held it out, Olburq took it. “Nice doing business with you. We’ll be back here in one hour.”

Olburq had already switched his attention to the colony’s Core. He gave a perfunctory wave as the two turned away.

Outside the factory Carnifor asked, “What do you suppose a colony like this has to offer a traveler?”

“Not much.” Lannetay was still uneasy about the lack of people. “We could wander from dome to dome to check things out. Maybe find out where Mr. Nasal works.”

Carnifor scrunched up his face and imitated the customs official who’d made them wait so long. “Do you really want to know where I work? I can show you if you’ll pay five hundred credits.”

Lannetay laughed as they walked along with no specific destination. The two meandered, chatting aimlessly while they surreptitiously peered through ground-floor windows. Eventually they circumnavigated the colony’s main dome.

“This dome somehow seems even more deserted than when we arrived.” Carnifor pointed at three separate dormitories. “Each of those could hold hundreds of people. Bill told me Olmin Colony has five thousand residents, and everyone is packed into the other domes?”

Lannetay pondered. “It does seem unlikely.”

“I wonder why that is.” Carnifor peered in the direction of another dome.

“Let’s see what the next one has to offer.” Lannetay pointed toward an airlock. One hatch opened into the lock, three hatches lead to passages connecting with other domes.

Lannetay looked through the transparent material at the next domes. After studying them she couldn’t see any difference between them.

“What do you think?” Lannetay gestured. “Left, right, or middle?” Maybe another habitat could give them some idea as to why this one was so deserted.

Carnifor paused to consider. “Do you have any preference?”

“You pick.” Lannetay crossed her arms and gave a friendly smirk. Any of the choices would be okay with her. Part of being a good leader, though, involved letting others have their say – or at least the semblance of making decisions. She’d heard the same about raising children.

“Okay. Left.” Carnifor pressed the control to open the lock.

The colony’s Core intoned, “Authorized personnel only. To obtain authorization, contact the colony administrator, Shelle DoMinn.”

Carnifor frowned. “Who is Shelle DoMinn?”

The Core’s bland voice replied, “Shelle DoMinn is the administrator of all seven colonies on Rubineker. He also serves the Confederation of Wrantiban as the customs agent, chief of law enforcement, and planetary treasurer.”

“I’m surprised the Core responded.” Lannetay checked the time. “It’s only been seventy minutes. Even if we take our time going back, we’ll be twenty minutes early.”

“Then we’ll be early.” Carnifor turned back toward the main factory.

“We might have to sit and wait.”

“Then we’ll wait.” Carnifor lengthened his stride.

Lannetay managed to get a half-step ahead of Carnifor and stayed there. By the time they arrived at the factory’s main entrance, she heard Carnifor puffing for breath. She pulled open the swinging door. “After you.”

Carnifor gave a tight smile and walked inside. Olburq sat behind the desk beside a woman in drab clothing, though not stained like Olburq’s. The two looked up in surprise.

“You’re early.” Olburq stood, mostly hiding the woman from view. “I said an hour – a full one-hundred minutes – and I meant it.”

Lannetay fought a frown. “If you’ll provide us chairs, we’ll wait outside.”

“That won’t be necessary.” The woman stepped from behind Olburq and extended a hand. “I’m Grenwel Pop, former administrator of Pop Colony.”

Olburq was still obviously annoyed. “They do the farming for Rubineker. Those domes are ten klicks south of us.”

Lannetay took Pop’s manicured hand. “You don’t do much farming yourself, do you?”

Pop’s eyes twinkled. “It’s been a long time, I admit. We had a pretty good system here until the Wantis showed up. Can we work your bargain around that difficulty?”

Lannetay wasn’t about to let Olburq’s scowl worry her. “I think it can be managed, but I’m surprised you could get here at all. When Carnifor and I tried to go to another dome, your Core told us we weren’t authorized to do so.”

Pop took a step back, shock spreading across her face. “You . . . you tried to go to another dome?”

Carnifor answered. “Why shouldn’t we?”

Olburq stood, reaching into a pocket. He withdrew a credit chip and handed it to Lannetay. “You need to leave – now. Our colonists are being held captive, and the Wantis will interpret you trying to look in another dome as an act of espionage. They’ll be on their way to arrest you, and impound your ship.”

“And they’re not known for letting people go who were wrongly arrested.” Lannetay grabbed the coranium wafer. “Where would you like your new colony?”

Pop said, “Twenty klicks south of Pop Colony is a steppe surrounded by jagged hills. Put it there, but go. Now, before it’s too late.”

Carnifor leaped for the door, Lannetay a moment behind.

“I’ll override the block on the airlock,” Olburq shouted. “They’ll never know you left, and we’ll change your ship’s designation in our system.”

The door swept closed, and Lannetay passed Carnifor at a full sprint. “Don’t hold back for me.” She gasped, breathing deep. “Just run.”

The sound of boots grinding on gravel came from behind the two. Carnifor reached ahead to grasp Lannetay’s arm and pulled her behind one of the small shacks. Chests heaving, they peered back the way they’d come. A squad of Wanti soldiers took position outside the factory, and a woman with gold lieutenant pins entered.

Carnifor hissed in anger. “We should go.”

“In a moment.” Lannetay’s response was pitched for Carnifor only. If Wanti training had any similarities to her own, leaving now would be a mistake.

Two privates turned away to survey the vacant boulevards between silent, deserted buildings. They looked right at where Carnifor and Lannetay peered around the hut, then their eyes moved on. The factory door opened and the lieutenant prodded Pop and Olburq outside with her sidearm. The privates turned toward the sound.

“Now.” Lannetay ran, careful to place her feet quietly.

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.

0 views0 comments
  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 27


The First Horseman

That parade marked the beginning of your meteoric rise in popularity. Pictures flooded social media of you hugging a “regular” person. The t-shirts and caps identified you, and speaking with one child after another in subsequent pictures and videos sent fans into a frenzy.

We met in your office at the state Capitol building. You handed me an envelope filled with cash. I hefted it and frowned. We couldn’t talk, because recording devices saved everything you said for posterity.

I sat in a leather chair across from your desk. “Congratulations on the parade. You made quite an impression.”

“My numbers have me at plus twenty.” You grinned as you sat on the edge of your desk. “In fact, I’m thinking of cutting your pay.”

My firm received a fairly generous stipend from your campaign to allay any suspicions about our meetings being inappropriate, but you spoke of our other arrangement. “I’d be happy to look over our agreement and discuss things with you. Could you stop by my office this afternoon?”

“Can’t do it.” You stood and turned to glance at your printed itinerary. You no longer used an internet calendar – too open to hackers. Your secretary gave you an updated list daily. “Important meeting across town at six.”

More like dinner reservations with your mistress, followed by a hotel reservation under her name. “Remember what I told you about defiance?”

Though my tone was light, you didn’t react well. “Not defiance, Leo. I’m busy.”

“You could meet with me at four and still make it to your . . . appointment.”

“Strategy meeting at three.” From across the room I could see that time slot was open. “That’ll last until at least four-thirty.”

“I’m disappointed, Bob. You need me more than you know, and cutting my pay is the wrong move at the wrong time.” Your envelope went into my briefcase.

I glared at you a moment before I moved toward the door. My look must have concerned you, because your eyes widened. Your right hand twitched toward your chest. I smirked. “Think about what I’m saying, Bob.” You didn’t stop me from leaving.

I exited the building. While hailing a taxi I had an imp return to you and try to stop your heart. It returned to where I climbed into the taxi and shook it’s head. An imp didn’t have the strength, thanks to the parade lady.

I scowled and gave the cabby the address of the restaurant where you were to meet Sheila. Along the way I slowly morphed my clothing into a stretchy track suit and altered my hairstyle.

I waited in a park across the street from the restaurant. Squirrels approached, begging for peanuts. People fed them, for some unknown reason. Probably to make themselves feel good after ignoring the suffering of the human scum around them.

Just before six you parked an unassuming car a block away. Hundreds of similar vehicles clogged the city. Wearing a bland, off-the-rack suit further disguised you. Neither one of us wanted to be recognized.

You approached the park across the street from where Sheila waited, staring out the window for her first glimpse of your arrival. I stepped out from behind a shrub and blocked your path.

“Your envelope was light, Bob. I need more money if we’re going to continue with making you the first horseman.” Even if the Brotherhood could generate stacks of money, we needed at least the semblance of legitimacy in order to maximize our impact of corrupting people like you.

You glanced at my attire and hairstyle. “Nice outfit. Did you change your hair?” You looked over my shoulder and waved at your date.

I grabbed your wrist. “I told you what would happen if you broke our agreement. I can’t accept your rebellion.”

“If you could have done something, you already would have. Whatever trick you used on me before isn’t working.”

I shook my head. “I’m serious, Bob. Don’t defy me.” I was close enough now I could end your life without a third party.

You placed your other hand on my shoulder. “Leo, I don’t need you, your partner Sally Shoen, nor your firm. I’m successful enough to carry through without you. You’re never getting another cent from me. You’re fired.” You pulled your trapped wrist free of my grip.

A fire built up within me. I had worked too many years to get you into a position to corrupt or dispirit one insignificant guttersnipe for Chamos. You couldn’t be allowed to simply go off on your own.

I pulled you into the park, part of me noticing Sheila stand to get a better look. Let her. The man in the track suit would never be seen again.

“You can’t fire me. My people would destroy you. I’ve shown that to you over and over again.”

You scoffed. “Maybe at one point you could. Like that time in D.C. Seems to me you can’t do that sort of thing anymore.”

Thanks to the parade lady and her ilk, he was right. As I tried to reach into your chest something stopped me – a force field of sorts. That didn’t mean I was powerless, though. “Don’t push me, Bob. You’ll regret it.” But you ignored me.

As you stepped past me to reach the crosswalk I signaled one of my subordinate Brothers. A stoplight cycled.

“Bob, I hate to break it to you, but you’re never going to be the first horseman. That title doesn’t apply to any human being.”

You paused at the curb and turned to face me. “I saw your papers, the schedule. Don’t try to fool me.”

“That’s all a sham.” And with that I shoved you into traffic, directly in front of a fully loaded dump truck.

I heard your date scream. I didn’t care. A faint whiff of brimstone curled up from your corpse and I smiled before vanishing in a puff of ecru smoke.

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.

Next week begins Act IV: Windowed the Soul.

0 views0 comments
  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Lannetay and Carnifor trudged across the rugged surface of Rubineker, on their way from the William Placard to the first colony dome. Their support belts allowed them to walk freely, and the short-range comm signal allowed them to speak without much risk of being overheard.

“Three hours in orbit.” Carnifor’s rant had been nonstop since they’d landed. “A micromanaged descent, hovering at the edge of the spaceport for an hour, another two hours on the ground before customs even came to look.”

Lannetay mouthed along, getting nearly every word. Then she spoke right along with her second-in-command. “Then two more hours while he scanned every square centimeter of the ship looking for contraband.”

After a few more purposeful steps Carnifor stopped. “I am sort of going on, aren’t I?”

“Even Olthan has this memorized.” Lannetay stopped with him and pointed to the customs agent a hundred meters ahead. “Mr. Nasal certainly does know how to irk people. He wouldn’t even give us his name.”

“A thirty percent tax on our cargo?” Carnifor picked up his harangue against Wantis and everyone who worked for them. “How can anyone afford to trade in their confederation?”

Lannetay resumed walking. “Now you know why poverty follows wherever Wrantiban appears.”

“It doesn’t make sense.” Carnifor nearly had to run to catch up. Despite her being shorter, she always managed to stay ahead of him by about a half-pace

Mr. Nasal reached the main airlock and slipped inside the colony dome. Carnifor shook his head in frustration.

“To a Wanti bureaucrat it makes perfect sense.” Lannetay smiled a bit at Carnifor’s rushing stride. “They control their entire economy – hatch, batch, and container.”

“They don’t control everything.” Carnifor grumbled wordlessly for a moment. “There’s always an underground. We might find somewhere to spend our extra eight thousand credits.”

“The Wantis haven’t been on Rubineker long enough to have an iron grip, but that also means a black market hasn’t been established yet.”

The two stopped at the airlock where Mr. Nasal had entered. Lannetay pressed a control to open the hatch and felt a vibrating buzz from the button. She connected to the colony’s Core and inquired why the airlock didn’t open.

“A fee of five credits per individual must be paid before entrance might be granted.” The Core’s dry recitation contrasted with Bill’s non-mechanical voice.

Lannetay rolled her eyes, and Carnifor muttered insults about Wrantiban. Lannetay sent to Bill, Could you send the colony ten credits so we may enter?

You must be kidding, Bill said. Ten credits is a lot of money for just entering a colony. And after taking sixteen thousand credits before even letting us trade!

Good thing we hid the food from the pirates or they’d have taxed that, too. Lannetay watched the ship’s account get debited as Bill paid, then pressed the control again. This time the hatch opened.

Thanks Bill, Carnifor sent as air filled the lock. Their support belts turned off and the far hatch opened, giving them access to the colony.

“They’re going to nickle and dime us to death.”Lannetay stepped into the colony dome and looked around. She’d expected to be met by some official, but nobody appeared.

“Nickle? Dime?”

Lannetay answered by rote. “Fractions of a credit. A dime is a tenth of a credit, a nickle half that.” She looked around. “Where is everybody?”

The transparent dome overhead covered a series of low buildings. The biggest had to be a factory of some sort. Smaller structures looked like dormitories, and a few tiny ones tucked into the mix had unknown purposes. One of those stood directly in front of the lock, and it looked newly built.

Lannetay indicated the shanty only a few meters away. “That could be a guard house.”

“Mid-morning, Lannetay. This time of day most people would be at work, so why not there?” He pointed to the big structure.

Lannetay walked toward the large building a hundred meters away. “Hopefully some colony administrator is there.” Bill, can you find out from their Core if there’s someone we need to contact to sell our tractors?

You still hope to sell those things? Bill asked.By the way, I can’t break into their Core. Security is too tight, and even if I forced my way in alarms would would be triggered. However, the dome you’re in only has fifteen life signs. The rest are scattered through the rest of the colony with almost none in the dome you’re in.

Carnifor pointed in the direction of another colony on the other side of some small hills. “The planet’s only farming dome has no use for all that equipment. With the Wantis taking over, we can’t give them any of our ‘gifts,’ can we?”

Lannetay was pleased Carnifor had avoided naming what their gifts were. Wantis might be listening. “We’ll see if we can find someone.” She kept her eyes searching for something other than empty roads and buildings that might very well be deserted.

Carnifor stepped ahead of Lannetay and opened the door for her. “After you.”

I tell ya, he’s got it bad, Lannetay. Bill laughed. He wants you.

Lannetay dipped her head in thanks and entered the factory, ignoring Bill’s jibe. She wasn’t interested in Carnifor. Too pompous. If anyone on her crew would catch her eye . . . No. Nobody.

“We’ll have to work fast.” Carnifor tried to beat Lannetay to the receiving desk, and failed. “If we’re on the surface for more than an hour the Wantis will charge us another thousand credits.”

Lannetay looked around for someone – anyone – to help out. The reception area stubbornly remained vacant. Office doors in the area were closed.

“Should we see if they’re locked?” Carnifor asked. “I hate waiting when something needs to be done quickly.”

Lannetay shook her head. “No, that’s just rude. I have a better idea.” She walked past the desk, down a slight ramp, and onto the factory floor. The two passed a sonic dampening field and the cacophony of machinery assaulted Lannetay’s ears.

A recharging rack at the base of the ramp held circlets which would project short-range deflectors to protect the wearer’s head. Lannetay placed one on her head, with Carnifor following suit.

The long, narrow room stretched into the distance, noisy machinery blocking Lannetay’s view of the far end of the building. Scorched industrial lubricant created a stinking, translucent miasma. A faint shout from Lannetay’s right drew her attention.

“What?” Lannetay called back. “I didn’t catch that.” She couldn’t even see who had spoken.

A graying man in a stained coverall emerged from the haze. He yelled, “You shouldn’t be here.”

Lannetay barely made out his words, so shouted back. “We need to speak with someone!”

“What am I, a decommissioned robot? Talk to me.” He pointed back up the ramp. “In the front office.”

As the man walked past, Lannetay deciphered the name “Olburq” embroidered on the coverall. The patina of dirt and grease on his clothing told of manual labor in a dirty environment. Back on the quiet side of the sonic field, Lannetay pulled off her headband. “I’m Lannetay. Nice to meet you.” She held out her hand.

He looked at his battered, filthy hand. “I don’t think you want to take this. Not someone dressed like you.”

Lannetay smiled, resisting the urge to make a quick spin to show off her calf-length pleated mauve dress. “I’ve been down and dirty before and probably will be again.”

Olburq dropped into the seat behind the reception desk and flicked on a holographic display of the factory. “I’m Olburq, former administrator of this colony. The Wantis use me as a go-between to the rank and file here. You must have come from that fancy ship what just landed. Nobody here would dress in high fashion, so you gotta be a new arrival.” He sniffed. “And you don’t smell like Wantis. Not even him.” Olburq glanced at Carnifor.

“We have a cargo we’d like to sell, and from the recent political changes that might be difficult.” Lannetay drew out a credit chip and thumbed a contact. The number “50” floated briefly over the coranium wafer. “Maybe you can help.”

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.

0 views0 comments
bottom of page