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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

“Bill.” Lannetay sighed with relief. “Get Goofball aboard. As soon as Penn releases their docking clamps, get us out of here.”

“What about your fashion designs?” the AI asked.

“Send them over. She paid for them.” Lannetay wasn’t likely to wear any of them again. She’d used each one at least twice.

“Goofball is aboard,” Bill said. “Their power levels are increasing. Uh, now they’re falling.”

Lannetay dove toward the control cabin. “Maximum speed. Now. And find out what’s going on, if you can.”

Carnifor followed as the ship thrummed, moving once again. “Why did you want us to sit quietly?”

“I had everything under control.” Lannetay smiled as she sat. “Thankfully you’ve learned to trust me at least a little.”

Marc sat behind Lannetay, listening to the exchange. “I’m just glad to be alive.”

Bill said, “We’re at maximum rated velocity. They’re not pursuing.”

“Rantaal’s Pony never wavered.” Carnifor scowled. “At close range, a J-12 will leave a really nasty headache – after you wake up. And Cabon looked ready to shoot if we even breathed funny. I wasn’t eager to try anything they might object to.”

Bill cut in. “Uh, Goofball has some bonuses for us. He raided their cargo hold.”

L-T barked a short laugh. “Leave it to him to turn the tables on those guys.”

“What could he get into a fighter?” Lannetay asked. “Those things are nearly as form-fitting as my body suits.”

“Delicacies.” Goofball stood in the hatchway, hands behind his back. “Mushrooms, spices, caviar, and more. All proprietary, not synthesized. Small packages, so I stole as much of a variety as I could.”

Carnifor’s eyes gleamed. “What kind of mushrooms?”

“Furanto black truffles.” Goofball’s expression indicated his thoughts about mushrooms. “Some others, too. Don’t remember their names, but I recognized the Furanto label.”

Carnifor smiled. “When we get to a place I can use a stove, I’ll make you all a meal you’ll never forget.”

“Don’t bother.” Goofball waved away the offer. “I can’t stand mushrooms, and it’ll be wasted on me. But if you’d sell all that stuff on a civilized planet, it would be worth more than all those tractors we’re hauling. Then there’s the box loaded with cash.”

“Uh, cash?” Lannetay asked.

Goofball pulled the small bin from behind his back. “There’s about sixty credit chips here. No markings on how much they’re worth, but why would pirates have chips with less than a hundred credits?”

“That would be six thousand,” Carnifor said, “if they each have only a hundred.”

L-T whistled. “That’s a lot of money. Especially if it’s more.”

“First order of business,” Lannetay said, “before we even cook Carnifor’s mushrooms, is find out how much money that is. Goofball, see to it.”

“Absolutely, my liege.” Goofball bowed in sarcastic deference.

Bill said, “The pirate ship never made a move to follow us or to fire their weapons. What did you do, Goofball?”

“I . . . changed the ship’s programming, ruined their disrupters, and gave their Core a virus.” Goofball beamed. “Penn and his merry band of pirates will spread that virus when they get to their home base.”

Bill hummed an ancient tune for a moment. “I overheard you talking in the cargo bay. His aunt owns that ship?”

“Yes.” Lannetay looked at Carnifor and shrugged. “And a dozen others.”

Bill asked, “So we were attacked by the pirates of Penn’s aunt?”

Carnifor and Lannetay groaned. Goofball’s smile grew as he withdrew to the common room, whistling “Tarantara.”

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: Tractors for Sale, as Ebony Sea: 1 continues.

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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 25


The First Horseman

You watched the television report of Frank’s assault with glee, then switched off the unit. “How did you do it, Leo?” You sipped gin from a tumbler. We were forming a tradition you appreciated.

“You don’t want to know, Bob.” I took the remote and slid it into a drawer.

You frowned. “Mandy claims Frank never laid a hand on her.”

I gave a mysterious smile. “Tomorrow the newspapers will publish a story about Mandy attending a support group for abused women. Frank will be unemployed by Monday. People will wonder why Small would hire a campaign manager who abuses women.”

The story ran, using the angle I’d paid for. Small’s primary campaign never recovered. A twelve-point margin of victory energized your backers. Contributions flooded your accounts, and your victory in the general election was easily predictable.

Your acceptance speech at a college football stadium mentioned me by name. I slipped into the shadows behind a floor-to-ceiling banner of your face. No sense having my likeness noticed since the national media were there. My Brothers and I work best while unnoticed.

Your first months in office were busy. Significant donors needed a quid pro quo. With my help, your services went unnoticed.

Two years later your reelection’s victory reached legendary proportions, thanks to the spin I managed to give your useless floundering. Your approval rating skyrocketed, despite having proposed no serious legislation. Kowtowing to everything suggested by your party’s leadership gave you broad support, and you never noticed the goals you’d had in the beginning had faded away in favor of the unending quest for reelection.

You invited me to visit your office and asked about running against the president at the end of his term. Your dwarf mugo pine had moved with you on your way up the political ladder, giving off a scent pleasant to humans and Brothers alike.

“No. It’s too early to run for president.” My denial surprised you. “You need at least two more terms, then you should run for governor. Congressmen don’t do well when they try to win the presidency.”

You dropped the pen you were using to edit a speech you would give next week to the UAW convention at the Walter E. Washington Center. Though you still thought of yourself as an idealist, your power-hunger had outgrown everything you’d stood for. “Governor? Of an insignificant plot of land in Middle America? The whole state is routinely bypassed by presidential candidates because the electoral votes are meaningless.”

I shook my head. “Your state may look like it’s nothing, but in six years it will become the most important state in the union. If you’re elected to that seat in four years, you’ll be in the middle of a term in office that will give you the attention you need to campaign for president.”

“How could you know that?” You didn’t believe me. “I should run now, while I have the approval rating.” You returned to your editing, only halfway listening.

Perhaps you were the wrong person. “Your approval rating is what gets you into the governor’s mansion. That chair will be pivotal to your presidential run in eight years.”

That is where I wanted you – where the Brotherhood needed you. As president, under my control, the possibilities were enormous. If you rebelled, though, you’d be useless.

The Oval Office is where you wanted to be, and my mention of the presidential race finally stopped your pen. After a moment you turned your chair around and picked up a decanter of twenty-four year old McCallum scotch. You poured a tumbler half full and sipped. “I’ll do it your way. For now.” No offer of a drink for me.

I left, fuming. Some of the plants in the corridors of power wilted as I passed. Yes, I was that angry. With a flicker of will I killed your dwarf pine tree. Nobody would notice the death of an evergreen for a couple of weeks.

After your reelection you announced a run against the incumbent president. Foolish, to say the least. The current office holder had too much value for the Brotherhood. I tried talking you out of it, but you wouldn’t listen.

On the streets of Washington D.C. we argued as pedestrians swirled around us. Bystanders interrupted to greet you. You spoke with each of them, blocking my attempt to get you to listen.

After one brief chat with a lobbyist you turned to me. “Leo, I’ve seen your reports. They show me as the first horseman, the man who conquers the world. I’m not going to give you twenty percent of the Earth.”

I could crush you as quickly as I’d killed your tree and you’d never know who made it happen. “You need me, whether you admit it or not.”

Another sycophant approached, but I shot her a withering glare. She gulped, eyes bugged, and she turned away. The streets were full of people like you, and she found a senator in seconds.

“Why did you do that, Leo? Her firm could bring millions to my war chest.”

I took a deep breath. “Bob, if you run for president now you’ll fail and ruin your chances to win later. The nation is about to be hit with an illness that will kill millions. We’ve invested heavily to get this timed just right for you to ride the wave of success following a cure by a researcher in your state. You have to be governor – not congressman.”

Your eyebrows drew together. “How do you know there’s going to be an outbreak?”

You no longer cared about the millions of deaths, only what it would mean to you. “You’re not the only one we work with, Bob. We’re more than political advisers. We are everywhere, in every industry, in every country, and we control things you’ve never dreamed.”

Your expression faltered. “You can really control diseases?”

If we wanted to, yes. My instructions, though, were to corrupt you and put you to use. Killing was beside the point. I leaned in and said, “Try me. Before we go on I need certain assurances. You’ve resisted me for the last time.” Foot trafficpassed within inches of us, but we were alone.

“What ‘assurances’ do you mean?”

I’d prepared for such a moment. Years of planning and maneuvering had gone into this project, scores of Brothers both higher and lower had worked for occasions like this. Regardless of your cooperation, my goals would be advanced. In the long run you were meaningless. Your inflated ego, however, would never let you see that.

“Your life is mine. Say it.”

You blanched. “What?”

My eyes narrowed. Our noses nearly touched. “The only thing you value is your life. If you defy me again, I’ll kill you.”

Your chest puffed out. “You wouldn’t dare. I’m a sitting Congressman.”

I smiled. “If I remove you nobody will ever know it was me. Would you like a demonstration?”

I raised a finger and your heart thudded three times before pausing. You clutched your chest and struggled for breath. Your knees wobbled and you grabbed my lapels for support.

I relented.

Your heart beat once.


Then it found its natural rhythm.

“I did that to Congressman Gordon's replacement. Remember him dying on live television? I was seven states away at the time. I can do the same to you – from across Pennsylvania Avenue, the other side of the Potomac, or from Pakistan.” Stretching the truth, but he wouldn’t know that.“You are mine. Say it.”

You let go of my suit but didn’t look me in the eyes. “I am yours.”

My voice snapped. “Look at me. Say it like you mean it.”

If looks could kill, you were capable of murder. “I am yours.”

Hatred is beautiful.

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

The first thing Sieznull saw in Lannetay’s stateroom was the arch of the fashion mirror. “Oh.” The pirate’s eyes widened. “Do you own the pattern for that?” The pirate’s holographic image wore the outfit Lannetay had tested earlier.

“I do. But that severe blue clashes with your complexion. Watch what happens when we program your skin tone in.” Bill, could you take care of that?

Leaving aside a snarky comment, yes.

The brilliant color deepened a bit toward indigo, and the retro business suit suddenly looked natural on Sieznull. The matching pants grew a pinstripe of charcoal down the side, and the blouse sprouted eggshell highlights.

Sieznull gasped. “It’s beautiful.” She turned to one side, then the other. “Can I buy this from you?”

Penn growled. “We’re here to steal, not buy. Put a gun to her head and make her give it to you.” He peered into every corner and looked under Lannetay’s bed. Then he moved toward the sanitary facility.

“You know nothing of fashion.” Sieznull huffed. “One does not steal designs.”

Are these guys for real? Bill asked. They have to be the worst pirates ever.

Penn did a cursory search of Lannetay’s other rooms and found nothing.

Lannetay smiled inwardly. “We could trade, though.”

“We could?” Sieznull looked at Penn. “Could we?”

Lannetay put a hand on Sieznull’s shoulder. “Wait until you see what else I have.”

“I think we’ve seen enough of what you have, Captain.” For emphasis, Penn tapped Lannetay on the shoulder with his Grackle. “Show me the rest of the staterooms.”

Lannetay gave Penn a wry frown. Bill, let Penn search the rest of our quarters, okay?

Are you sure that’s wise? Bill sent back. He might break something by accident. I swear, they’re related to Olthan.

He’ll get in one way or another. “I’ve instructed my Core to allow you access for the next half-hour. That should be sufficient, Captain.” Lannetay turned back to Sieznull and the fashion mirror.

Penn rammed his pistol into its holster and stalked out, muttering under his breath.

“Let’s try this one.” Lannetay selected a skin-tight lime leotard with a diaphanous coral poncho.


From the pirate ship’s airlock Goofball looked at the packed cockpit of his fighter. He might just fit inside with all the other boxes and loose packages. He floated across the two-meter gap to Tabitha and climbed in, surveyed his cargo, then thought of one more thing he needed to do.

Some programs never left Goofball’s memory. In grade school he’d developed a simple, elegant routine to erase all electronic memory of himself and what he did. He’d gotten away with so many hijinks because of that program. He carefully climbed out of his cockpit, floated back to Olinerie, and made his way back to engineering.

I need to input a program, Goofball told the pirate ship’s Core. After another level of security was bypassed, the display at the engineering station allowed him access to the inner workings of the Core.

Proceed, the Core responded.

Fifteen lines of code completed the base program. Just in case, he added a sixteenth line to have the program delete itself. He didn’t want to spend the time to add code to overwrite the memory locations. He doubted the pirate crew had the knowledge to look for that anyway.

He set the code to execute in one hundred seconds, then sprinted back to the airlock and jumped back to his ship. Goofball closed his canopy and flew off. A silly grin erupted as packets of Furanto truffles slid across his lap. He hated mushrooms, but Carnifor would love them.

He looped around the two docked ships and approached William Placard from the side opposite the pirate ship. Bill, I’m back.

Wait a minute, the AI told him. I’ll be right with you.


Lannetay had just demonstrated a tenth outfit for Sieznull, who still primped in the fashion mirror, when Bill’s message came. Goofball is ready to dock.

Then it’s time to wrap things up, she sent back.

As if he’d been following the same itinerary, Penn stalked back into Lannetay’s quarters, weapon in hand. “There’s nothing to see here. Let’s get going.”

“Can’t you go look for something else?” Sieznull kept her focus on her holo image. “There must be something of value on the ship.”

Penn glared at Lannetay. “It appears you were telling the truth after all. Tractors and seeds.” He shook his head in disgust. “And your smallest tractor won’t fit in our available space.”

Lannetay returned a black look. “I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m not. You’ve threatened me, my crew, and my son. I won’t be sorry to see you go.”

“Maybe.” A cryptic smirk crept across his face. He stomped toward the common room and called through the open hatch, “Cabon, go take a box of seeds. We have the room, and these idiots won’t miss it.”

Pot, meet kettle, L-T quipped. He fought to keep a smirk off his face as Lannetay and Sieznull joined the rest in the common room.

The man in the ratty t-shirt glowered at Carnifor. “Why not take the whole ship?”

Penn scoffed. “For a puny fifty thousand credits? Not worth it. We have more than that in our hold.”

“Then why the seeds?” Cabon brandished his gun, pushing it toward Carnifor’s forehead.

Penn ground his teeth. “Because I said so, that’s why.”

Cabon grumbled to himself, then rammed his pistol into its holster and headed toward the hold.

“If you’d all just sit tight for a couple more minutes, we’ll be out of your hair.” Penn glanced at the bristle on Olthan’s scalp. “So to speak.”

“You have my permission to leave any time.” Lannetay stood beside Marc’s seat. When the boy shifted to stand, Rantaal swung his stunner around to cover him. Marc sank back.

Cabon returned with two boxes of seeds, one under each arm. “Got it, boss.”

Penn waved his crew toward the airlock and covered Lannetay and her crew with his pistol. “It’s been an experience.”

Sieznull produced a credit chip and placed it on the deck where Penn wouldn’t notice it. She motioned to Lannetay it contained fifty credits – enough for all ten of the patterns she’d viewed.

Carnifor shot a questioning look at Lannetay, but didn’t ask for clarification.

Penn stopped at the airlock and pulled out a five-credit coin. “Rantaal, call it.” He flipped the coin into the air.


Penn caught the coin in his right hand and slapped it to the back of his left. He peered at it and sneered, then left the ship.

Sieznull paled, then mouthed, He’s going to kill you.

Lannetay sent to Bill, Can you tell her we’ve prevented that?

Certainly. He paused. Done.

Sieznull blanched as she received Bill’s message.

Lannetay gave a small nod of encouragement as Sieznull and the other three pirates backed through the airlock. Both hatches closed.

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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