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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 14

Act II

Prophet of Death

“Where were we?” You thought a moment, then looked up as the bell on the door tinkled. Woods walked in, and your conversation with Amy halted. “Amy, it looks like I’m going to have to cut this short.” You turned beet red and pointed over her shoulder. “Someone wants to speak with me.”

Woods looked at his watch then back at you, but otherwise left you a bit of privacy.

Amy glanced over her shoulder, then took the last bite of her roast beef sandwich. “Law enforcement. Probably federal.” Her eyes narrowed. “What have you done?”

You sighed. “Nothing. He’s a federal marshal and thinks I have, though. Someone’s making it look like I did things.”

She looked you deep in the eyes, and again she appeared somewhat sad. “I believe you.” She stood. “Would you like to go to church with me on Sunday?”

Your embarrassment turned to surprise. “Uh, well, sure.” You didn’t want to go, but the request was so unexpected in such an awkward moment you couldn’t manage to decline.

“Let’s carpool. Friends usually pick me up, and we can get a ride from them.” She took one last sip of lemonade and gave you a vacuous smile before turning to leave. “See you then.”

Woods grimaced and edged away from Amy as she walked past, then he swaggered over to your booth. “Mind if I join you?” He sat without waiting for an answer and helped himself to the fries Amy had left. He sneered at the taste and added some ketchup. “They’re cold,” he complained.

The family hit with the food bomb left without paying, but also without eating. The manager continued berating the waitress about being more careful. Woods smirked at the situation.

“Perhaps you could have come sooner and ordered your own meal.”

Woods took a large swig of Amy’s lemonade and another handful of french fries. “I just got some news.” He paused.

I couldn’t wait to hear. Having the Marshal Service pestering you really helped advance my purpose. Having Woods show up to chase Amy away was a bonus. Woods’ news should be exquisite.

Instead of indulging the marshal by asking, you simply finished your sandwich while staring at him. Then you gulped down some cherry soda and waited.

“Okay, have it your way. I’ve had some more news about your case.”

You remained silent. He wiped his fingers on a napkin.


Woods glanced up. “Did you leave your TV here somewhere?”

Not amused, you crossed your arms and waited.

“We’ve found airline tickets in your apartment.”

You turned white, but refused to say anything.

Woods went back to eating. “Do you remember telling a construction worker in Boise he shouldn’t go to the movies in December?” he mumbled through a mouthful of fried food. “A movie theater burned to the ground last night with him inside. Preliminary inspections say it could be arson. Guess where that plane ticket was to.”


He pointed at you with the last of Amy’s french fries. “Bingo. And we have video of someone who looks just like you arriving in Boise the day before the . . . incident. The manager of a motel near the airport picked you out of a photo lineup. He said you stayed two nights, then checked out. A cab driver described you, saying she picked you up and took you to the airport, and you arrived two hours before a returning flight to Waterloo via Chicago.”

“Not possible. I was online at home during that time. Surely you had someone check my internet usage.”

“We did.” Woods drank the last of Amy’s lemonade. “That’s why you’re not under arrest. Yet.”

Sweat stood out on your forehead. “Don’t you need a warrant to search my apartment?”

“We got one.” Woods patted a pocket in his suit coat. “That’s how we found the airline tickets.” He stood. “Don’t try to leave the area. You’re being watched night and day.” He left.

On the way home you again arrived at every traffic light just as it turned red. At the fifth stop you screamed and pounded the steering wheel in frustration. An old woman walking her ankle-biter scowled at you on her way past. She pulled on the leash to get her Pomeranian to come away from the shrub it barked at.

To keep the dog entertained, I hid in the bush and growled at a frequency the woman couldn’t hear. It yapped and yapped the entire time you waited for the traffic light to cycle. The woman’s screechy voice chastised her pet as she kept trying to yank it away from me.

The little things.

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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

“One questionuh.” Huerla’s suspicion dripped from his words. “Why do you nevah object to being called ‘Captain Lannyuh?’ Wouldn’t ‘Captain Tae’ be more correctuh?”

Lannetay smiled, but it felt tight and artificial since her mind couldn’t think past the invading nanites. They might be infiltrating her body, getting ready to kill her – or Marc. “I’m not stuck on formality. I have friends who call me ‘Captain Lanny’ all the time. That doesn’t annoy me, so I never bother correcting people.”

Carnifor managed to stifle a laugh so it merely sounded like a grunt.

“I bid you good day.” Vensi gave a broad smile, nodded, and made his way back to his own ship. Qi and Huerla followed without another word.

When the airlock hatches closed, Lannetay sent to Bill, What are the nanites doing?

They’ve scattered throughout the ship.

Carnifor picked up the conversation. Can we do anything about them?

We might, Bill sent. We’ll have to wait until after the Jenbur Sho is out of their communication range.

Is that why we’re conversing via implants? Carnifor asked.

Lannetay rolled her eyes. Yes. Not even nanites can tap our implants.

Bill’s response was deadpan. Not that we know of.

The warning sent a chill down Lannetay’s spine. “Let’s continue on course. Inglep, here we come.” To Bill she sent, Warn the others to watch their words. We don’t want to give Vensi a reason to stop us again.

Bill guided the ship back above light speed. A half-hour later he messaged Lannetay, and apparently Carnifor, too.Uh, guys? Jenbur Sho is pacing us. There’s no way we can evade them, and trying would only tip them off we’re hiding something.

Then we still can’t talk to you aloud, Lannetay replied. We can only act as if everything is normal. A cargo ship’s sensors wouldn’t detect them, I’d guess.

Acting normal it is, Carnifor sent. “Are you going to change out of your costume now? There’s nobody here but us, so showing off is a waste.”

“I don’t show off.”

Carnifor simply shook his head and reclined in the right-hand seat. Would an EMP take out the nanites, Bill? You’re hardened against that.

Maybe, Bill replied. They might be hardened, too.

Lannetay squinted in thought. We have our own nanites, Bill. Can’t you hunt them down and destroy them?

I’ve been doing that on a limited basis, but any wide-spread attack wouldn’t look like a typical cargo ship. At the rate I’m killing them, it’ll take a year to finish.

How long if you go all out? Carnifor asked.

Ten seconds.

Lannetay sat bolt upright. Can we be sure we’ll get them all?

I’ll have a hunting routine programmed into ours, Bill sent. Any strays won’t stand a chance.

Carnifor looked to his left. What do you think?

I think we have to do it, Lannetay replied. The risk of not taking steps is too high.

We could wait for an opportune moment. Jenbur Sho isn’t going to follow us forever.

Bill alerted Lannetay to a situation ahead. Weapons fire. Lots of it.

Lannetay said aloud, “There’s a battle along our course line.”

Carnifor shouted through the open hatchway, “Trouble ahead, everyone.”

In an instant a thousand ships appeared around the William Placard. Bill’s reflexes took the ship below light speed. He dodged and wove through the chaotic formations of strike craft and made his way out of the scrum to where larger ships clashed. Weapons fire flew past the ship, narrowly missing.

Bill, calm as ever, said, “If they wanted to hit us, they would.”

The crew flocked into command center. Lannetay and Carnifor gripped armrests as the rest babbled questions over the top of each other.

Lannetay shouted over the noise, “Get us out of here, Bill!” She ordered a holo of the battle, which appeared above the control panel.

“Working on it.”

A Wanti heavy cruiser flew past with only a hundred meters to spare. Bill dropped toward nadir, but was cut off by a flight of frigates. He turned to port-apex for a few seconds, then port-nadir. “Hang on. This is going to be tough.”

A Terran fleet carrier, escorted by a dozen destroyers and a hundred fighters, forced the William Placard to veer off again. Artificial gravity couldn’t totally keep up and everyone was nearly unseated. Olthan, who had been standing, slammed into the starboard bulkhead. “Sorry,” Bill said.

After another course change Lannetay could see they were approaching the edge of the battle. “I wonder why they weren’t shooting at us.”

Carnifor snorted. “I wonder how this happened right where we happened to be flying.”

The ship burst free of the scrum and sped away. Bill said, “Full speed away from the mess.”

“Wait,” Carnifor said. “Let’s wait to see how this turns out. Something like this could be pivotal.”

Lannetay nodded. “Okay. Keep us a light month away. Olthan, you okay back there?”

“Good to go, s-” The Marine rubbed his shoulder.

Sensor readings resolved the holo image of the fight. Thirty escort carriers spat squadron after squadron of fighters. Frigates and destroyers sprayed deadly bolts of disrupter and blaster fire, shown in miniature on Bill’s display. Cruisers released clouds of missiles which flashed to and fro, smashing the smallest of space craft out of existence. Each loss was replaced by a seemingly endless supply provided by the carriers.

Marc gasped. “How did we get out of that alive?”

“Another task force coming in from nadir.” Bill rotated the display to include another set of ships streaking toward the battle.

Carnifor said, “Bill, highlight that carrier on the upper edge. It looks like it’s in trouble.” A moment later a short-lived gout of flame erupted from its flank. Repeated missile strikes followed the conflagration to its source, and the ship shattered.

Battleships on each side of the conflict traded broadsides. Most of the destruction glanced off, though enough energy seeped through to carve armor from the target’s hull. Occasionally a gnat of a fighter intersected a reflected bit of annihilation and vaporized.

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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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 13

Act II

Prophet of Death

Chapter Five

Inside the eatery you waited to be seated. Friday nights were popular for dining out. One of the wait staff asked you how many were in your party. He made a grease pencil notation on the piece of plastic covering a diagram of the dining room, and you waited, shifting your weight from one foot to the other.

About ten minutes later Amy arrived. I didn’t linger to listen to your small talk while you waited for a table. Another group lingered over coffee and ordered another round of fried cheese curds, keeping you waiting for another twenty minutes.The speaker in the ceiling played an instrumental version of a classic hit by Duran Duran. I nudged the volume up, and a moment later . . . .


The little things.

Eventually someone vacated their booth and the two of you sat. A moment later a harried member of the staff took your drink order and vanished.

After an awkward moment of staring at each other, you broke the silence. “I’m curious about why you agreed to tonight. It’s kind of sudden.”

Amy’s bashful smile melted your sappy heart. Humans. What a waste of matter.

“I’ve seen you around.” She flushed in embarrassment. “You’re kind of cute.”

Flustered, you looked everywhere but at her. Finally you were able to respond. “Uh, I, ah, don’t r-remember seeing you around.”

Casanova was no doubt bashing his head into the nearest solid object – his casket would be handy. I didn’t need to interrupt graceless conversation, so I let you stumble around in your own steaming pile of refuse.

Amy adjusted her shirt and pushed some curls behind her ear. Probably they were nervous habits which were seldom indulged. “Well, to be truthful, I’ve only seen you four or five times. I was coming home from work and waited in my car until you either drove off or went inside the building.”

You frowned. “Why didn’t you introduce yourself?”

“I don’t walk up to strangers and start conversations for no reason.”

You raised a hand to placate her. “No offense intended. I just wish we’d met earlier. You mentioned a job. What do you do?”

“I work at the Hy-Vee on Flammang Drive. I’m a part time cashier, but I’m looking for something better. Maybe I’ll get full time hours soon. That’ll help.”

The ineptness of the conversation had ended, so I made a patron’s fingers slip as she lifted a glass of soda. Two tables away from you the plastic tumbler dropped, and I gave it a bit of English to spray sugary cola all over the table and several others seated there. Three of them jumped to their feet to avoid the scattering flow, but failed. They did, however, overturn chairs and angered others who wanted a quiet meal.


The two of you only glanced over for a moment, but otherwise ignored the commotion. Unfortunate.

“What do you do, Andy?”

“I’m an astrologer.”

The hesitant silence returned. Maybe I should have had you bring up your profession sooner.

“Really? Someone who reads star charts and birth signs?”

“Absolutely. There’s a science to it.”

Time for more distraction. Just for fun.


She blanched. “Don’t you know astrology is nothing but a scam?”

You’d gotten that reaction for most of your career. Nodding, you didn’t take offense. “For most, I’m sure it is. I used to give trash predictions until recently. But my forecasts have been getting pretty accurate lately.” Your chest swelled a bit. I could work with pride.

The only reason you’d earned your new nickname was because of me making them pan out in reality. Most of the time your predictions were written with me giving you the words. And now with the Marshal Service taking an interest, my plans were progressing nicely.

Amy still seemed skeptical. “Well, what kind of things have you predicted that actually happened?”

A waitress interrupted, bringing your drinks and taking your order. Amy selected the roast beef – with Friday’s special of free fries – and you saved yourself a bit of money by taking the grilled cheese po’boy, also with the fries. You’d rather have the roast beef yourself, but your funds were limited despite your recent good fortune.

After the waitress hurried off you said, “Remember that singer, Bether?”

Amy nodded. “Sure. Very sad what happened to her. I’ve heard her sing. Nice voice.”

“She asked me if it was time to expand her career, and I told her she should. Bookings tripled overnight, and she was on her way to being a household name.”

Amy frowned. “Do you think if you’d told her to stand pat for another year she might still be alive?”

“It’s possible.” You shrugged. “I warned her about wearing scarves. If she’d followed that advice she’d be alive, too. I’m accurate now.”

Her frown deepened. “Okay, try me. Tell me something about me using your astrology.”

“It won’t be much. I can’t do a full chart off the top of my head.” You gave her an ingenuous smile. “I’ll need your birth date. To do a full workup I’d need even more information.”

Amy finally smiled again. “Birth date, huh?”

You grinned. “Can’t do my job without it.”

She gave you her birth date, and you had to work to recall your charts. These days you used a computer to calculate these things, so you couldn’t remember the details as readily as you did before you had a laptop.

“You’re a Sagittarius, which means you love freedom. You’re usually happy, hate routine, and trust people – sometimes too readily.” You took a sip of your drink to give yourself time to ponder. “You love to travel. Some think you’re too quick to forgive people who betray you, and you don’t like letting people down.”

Amy scoffed. “That’s all pretty general. Tell me something specific.”

“Okay, let me think.”

The overhead speakers, playing a jazz rendition of a Styx song, popped.

I needed to keep you from concentrating. You were winning her over and I knew it.


You didn’t look up, even after a third attempt.

“You’re smart, and you know it. Many times you don’t listen as much as you should, and you try to joke your way out of things when you’re caught at it. It doesn’t always work.”

“Some of that’s true,” she said thoughtfully.

“Which parts?”

“You’ll just have to wait to find out.” Coquettish, to be sure.

The waitress brought your meals, and again small talk dominated. I tried to trip a fifty-something man on his way past. He’d have fallen into Amy and spilled her lemonade as she drank, but he caught himself on the edge of the table.

“Oh, excuse me,” he said. “Getting clumsy in my old age.”

Amy stood and took his elbow. “Not so old. You’re about my age, I’d guess.”

“Then you look young for your age.” He patted Amy’s shoulder and continued on his way to the restroom.

Amy stabbed a french fry with her fork and dipped it into a pool of ketchup. “What about my future?”

“You eat fries with a fork?” You looked askance as she chewed.

“I don’t like greasy fingers.”

You adjusted yourself deeper into the booth’s seat. “I usually have a computer, so I can’t just pull a prediction out of my hat.” After taking a bite of your po’boy you looked at Amy with intensity. Using your fingers you ate a french fry without ketchup.

Amy smiled at you and speared a fry. She held it up for you to see. “Like that.” She dipped for ketchup.

You cleared your throat. “Okay, here’s the best I can do. You’re going to have – maybe already did have –a series of love interests that won’t pan out. You’ll keep in touch, and eventually a good job will present itself through one of your former boyfriends. There will be a significant tragedy in your near future, but it will only make you stronger.”


You were doing the prediction, and I needed you to rely on me to get things right. For some reason I couldn’t touch you at the moment, and the woman wasn’t at fault.

Amy looked up. “What’s with their speakers? Seriously? They need some maintenance guys here.”

You were in the zone, ignoring her comments. “You take religion seriously, and wonder why others don’t…And that’s all I can tell for now.”

Amy nodded. “Yes, I do take my faith very seriously. I wonder why a person’s eternal fate doesn’t make them think more about the afterlife. Sure, it seems like a long way off, but what’s eighty years compared with, well, eternity?”

You wanted to bite your tongue, but the topic of religion was already out there. “Some don’t believe there is an afterlife. Why would anyone think that much about a fantasy concept?”

Amy looked over your shoulder toward where I stood. “Satan’s best trick is to make people think he doesn’t exist.”

I backed away from her. She gave me what humans called “the willies.”

“Astrology exists.” You gave her a frank stare. “Your Bible essentially denies its existence.”

“Not true. The Wise Men were astrologers.”

I needed a distraction. A waitress with a massive tray filled with food walked past, so I tipped it off the hand it was balanced on. Cheap plates dumped their load, slid across the table, and broke on the floor. Food scattered across the waiting family. They ended up wearing the entrees instead of eating them. The mess was wonderful.

You laughed. “I guess someone’s about to get fired.”

Amy said, “I hope not. Accidents happen.” She touched her pendant and subvocalized a prayer.

I grumbled and reluctantly moved away from the waitress I’d been about to make fall again. She’d look better with her face planted in the family-size steaming basket of french fries that had landed intact. Too bad. Grease burns were delicious.

The manager of Newton’s emerged from the kitchen, and the waitress blushed as she received a dressing down. If she objected too much she risked getting fired. Another waitress moved to help clean up the mess, but the manager waved her away.

“Where were we?” You thought a moment, then looked up as the bell on the door tinkled. Woods walked in, and your conversation with Amy halted. “Amy, it looks like I’m going to have to cut this short.” You turned beet red and pointed over her shoulder. “Someone wants to speak with me.”

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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