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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 38

Act IV

Windowed The Soul

Chapter Ten


To assassinate.

On your elevator ride the next day you retrieved a voice mail from Detective James. You were cleared of all wrongdoing in your car’s explosion. Various reasons were given, but your lingering headache made them seem trivial.

Then you wondered about how to get into racing. You could buy an existing NASCAR team, but watching someone drive in circles didn’t interest you. Maybe something with more immediacy.

When the lift doors opened the beagle greeted you. “Welcome back, sir.” Understated, as he usually was.

“Thank you, Victor. I appreciate the lack of ostentation.”

“Head injuries come with headaches, sir. Fanfares are noisy, and I didn’t want to make it worse.”

The two of you worked well together, if you could call what you do “work.” Most of the rest of the week passed without your involvement, with you simply staring into nowhere or looking out the windows at the city below. I was able to push you closer to depression, since you did nothing of use to anyone.

You ruminated about your lack of participation in society, how if you vanished nobody would really care. The thing you craved now was relevance. Money you had, influence as well. People looked after you, but nobody sought you out for yourself – only because you had the money and influence

On Friday morning the beagle raised his head above the privacy shield in your Grambic Tower office suite. “They got the guy.”

You turned from your perusal of the Savannah skyline. “Context, Victor.” At times people lost track of what they hadn’t said aloud.

“The man who bombed your Paris plant. He was shot and killed trying to escape from soldiers.”

That someone even sent soldiers was surprising to you. “French special forces?”

The beagle’s expression was unreadable to you, but I saw something flicker. “If so, nobody will admit it.”

Maybe Howe was more than just a beagle. I could get to like him, but Brothers seldom experienced affection.

You shrugged. “I hope someone thanks the people responsible.”

“I’ll see to it.”

I smiled. He would indeed. And your accounts would be docked by a few hundred thousand, though you’d never notice. The gunman, however, would notice. Nice job, Beagle.

A half-hour later the Paris Police Prefecture liaison called the beagle’s desk. It was Lepine, announcing what you already knew.

“Pass along my thanks to the responsible parties, Monsieur,” you said.

Lepine seemed puzzled. “They were mercenaries, Mr. Grambic.”

“If you say so. Thank you for the call, Monsieur Lepine.”

After ringing off, you told the beagle to have your car ready. “I’m leaving early today, Victor.”

The beagle nodded as the elevator closed.

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

By Mark W. Meier

Part 37

Act IV

Windowed The Soul

Monday brought tests. There was an MRI, an EEG, blood draws, and a whole gamut of poking and prodding only performed to satisfy attorneys and keep lawsuits at bay.

I watched. And waited.

You’d learned that the log had peeled back a piece of your scalp and cracked your skull. The pieces were all still in place. No bleeding in the brain, either, so beyond stitching the flap of skin back in place there was no surgery planned.

For some reason nobody could recall Judge Boynton being there. Their only recollection was a local fisherman had pulled you from the water and taken you to Polly’s Landing. An ambulance had arrived a minute before the flat bottomed boat.

By evening you were bored out of your skull. I chuckled at the irony of that phrase. A television on the opposite wall was tuned to a classic television network, but Dobie Gillis made your headache worse. You turned it off, preferring silence over the dialog of Maynard.

The beagle’s phone had buzzed maybe a dozen times during the day, so when the examinations ended he stepped into the hallway to take care of Grambic Tiles.

An hour later he returned.

You asked, “How’s business?” Did you even realize it sounded like “Howe’s business?”

“Everything is going well, Mr. Grambic. The required permits in Dannacona will all be approved unless something unusual comes up. About half of our valuable employees from Paris were enticed to move to Canada. Perhaps five of the less-than-valued will relocate on their own. The Paris police determined the culprit of the explosion, but he’s fled outside the EU. Stock prices dropped after the explosion, and again after your accident Friday. Word of you waking up has pushed the price back upward. Unless there’s another issue, analysts say Grambic Tiles will fully recover by mid-summer.”

For some reason you didn’t care about stock prices. Altruism? Perhaps. Even I couldn’t make concern for your employees drop lower on your priority list.

You breathed a sigh of relief. The survivors of the explosion were all taken care of, with some in the process of joining your new plant when it started up.

“Victor, is there anyone asking for me?”

You succeeded in keeping your voice level, but I knew you well enough by now to interpret it as whining. You already felt nearly useless at work, and the emptiness yawned beneath you. Nobody but the beagle saw fit to be at your side.

“Terrance Yang called to see how you’re doing.”

“He’s only worried about his ten percent share of the company.” You stretched. The pain you’d felt before had faded through the day.

“I told him you were willing to buy him out.” The beagle grinned. “With the price drop you could have picked up his shares at a bargain. But he said he’d hold on to them.”

“What about Amy?” You wondered if your cousin even knew you existed. If so, you doubted she’d cared about what happened to you.

“Nothing from Iowa.” The beagle frowned. He didn’t like your thoughts of someone so far beneath you.

You reached up to touch the bandages above your right ear and winced. That was still tender, but you’d had no pain relievers for more than six hours. “Ring the nurse. I’m leaving.”

A moment later you pulled the clip off your index finger, then peeled back the sticky pads holding the heart sensors. The display over your head flatlined and shrieked in protest, but you swung your feet over the edge of the bed. You wobbled, but managed to sit upright.

The day nurse knocked and entered, her face white with panic. When she saw you sitting she took a deep breath. “You shouldn’t be getting up yet, Mr. Grambic.”

“I’m not going to spend another night here. If I’m going to be useless, I might as well be home.”

The beagle opened the cabinet he’d stocked with a pair of your shoes, new sweatpants and a sweatshirt. You’d never worn anything like them since before your father had died, but they were loose-fitting and easy to get into. Underwear and stockings were from your home supply. The slip-on shoes were probably as new as the sweats.

“I have to insist, Mr. Grambic.” Day Nurse did her best to look stern. “You’ll have to stay until the doctor releases you.”

“I’ll be leaving. I think you call it AMA, ‘against medical advice.’ You can help me get dressed or stay out of the way. Your choice.”

Day Nurse scowled and crossed her arms, but otherwise remained still and silent.

The beagle gathered your few belongings, and the two of you brushed past the fuming nurse. She followed and gave a hand signal to the duty station.

A short spitfire of a head nurse stepped away from the desk and blocked your path. “If you’re leaving, you have to sign out.” Her expression brooked no dissent.

Your gait faltered. Attitude went a long way in dealing with people, and she had enough to stop a train. Her arms akimbo, creased forehead, and a steely gaze all contributed to the overall “don’t mess with me” and took it to new heights.

You hesitated a moment. “Very well.” You stepped to the desk and leaned, grateful for a brief respite. “Where do I sign?” Depression bayed in the back of your mind. Those were the hounds I wanted you paying attention to, not the beagle.

At the valet station outside, the beagle led the way to his car and opened the door for you. Exhausted, you nearly collapsed into the passenger seat. He handed the valet a pair of bills and closed your door.

The beagle climbed into his side of the car. “Mr. Grambic?” He started the engine. “I think you should change your will.” He pulled away from the hospital entrance.

You closed your eyes, wanting nothing more than to sleep. “Why do you care about my will, Victor?”

“Sir, you almost died.”

“That’s why I’m leaving everything to my cousin Amy.” You paused as your head throbbed. “You’ll be taken care of, Victor. No need to worry about that.”

“That guttersnipe in Iowa won’t have any idea what to do with wealth, sir. Handling a multinational corporation would be so far out of her wheelhouse as to be ridiculous.”

“She’s my only living relative, Victor.” Lassitude clawed at you. “Who else would I leave everything to?”

You were so insulated from the way the world worked you never suspected the beagle might be after your wealth. “Just let me sleep. Wake me when we get home, Victor.”

The trip from Clarendon Memorial Hospital to the interstate didn’t take long, but you were asleep before the beagle took the entrance ramp. Minutes later the car crossed over Lake Marion within sight of where your life almost ended.

You passed through Santee, South Carolina, at midnight. You’d probably have slept the whole two-hour trip except for the beagle swearing, followed by the grinding vibration of antilock brakes.

Your eyes opened to high beams glaring into the Honda Crosstour from behind. One car flashed past in the left lane, then the one which had nearly rear-ended the beagle’s car changed lanes and accelerated into the wake of the first. Seconds later a third car rocketed past, then three more in rapid succession.

You blinked in confusion for a moment as the beagle swerved back and forth in his lane as the Crosstour slowed to a stop.

Then you smiled in appreciation as taillights faded in front of you.

The blue and red flashing lights of a police cruiser appeared behind you, and followed the speeders toward Georgia. No chance he’d catch them before they crossed the state line.

As you watched darkness swallow their tail lights new orders came to me from the Brotherhood. The timeline was set.

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

Let’s get moving, people, Lannetay sent to everyone. We have five minutes and I want everyone ready and waiting when soldiers come aboard.

Whoa! Iresha sent back. What was that?

Bill explained. Electronic telepathy. You gave me access, so now any of the crew can “talk” to you this way, and you can do the same.

That is so great!

Lannetay gently prodded Iresha. Four minutes. I’d like everyone at the airlock when we’re boarded. First the Wantis stopped the ship, then trying to avoid the battle cost them more time, and now the supposedly-friendly Terran forces slowed them down more. Lannetay wondered how she was going to recruit spies with everything conspiring to keep her from actually getting anywhere to do her job.

Iresha stood to leave and stopped to stare at the Cayn painting mounted on the aft wall. “What in the world is that travesty?”

Carnifor smirked. “We’ll tell you later. Right now we need everyone to get ready.”

With a half-minute to spare, Iresha hustled toward the airlock.

Bill sent to Lannetay, She’s worried she’ll be turned in as a Wanti spy, thinking we’ll get sent on our way faster that way.

Wouldn’t happen that way. That would only slow us down more.

Apparently she’s not as smart as she thinks she is. Bill said aloud, “Outer hatch opening. Atmo mix approved.” The inner hatch swung open to admit a dozen Marines in light combat armor.

“Who is in charge here?” A sergeant barked the question while soldiers took up positions along the periphery of the room.

Lannetay stepped forward. “That would be me. Captain Lanny Tae, at your service.”

“Search the ship, Corporal Chovin.” The E-5 walked to Lannetay and stared down at her from a height advantage of seven centimeters. She refused to step back from his obvious ploy to intimidate her.

As Chovin organized the search, Lannetay told Bill to permit them access to wherever they asked to go. Except if they asked for the hidden compartments.

Bill sent, Their Core gives the sergeant a name of Juchine Bach. And he doesn’t like jokes about his name, so don’t mention the composer.

Bach frowned. “Your Core just asked for my name. Not typical for a ship’s Core.”

“We’ve given it a few enhancements, Sergeant.” Lannetay pointed at Goofball and Iresha. “Either of them could provide you with details, if you wish.”

Bach moved away from Lannetay a half step and surveyed the common room. “That won’t be necessary.” He stayed and let his soldiers conduct the search, which took less than ten minutes.

How’d you know I can work with Cores that way? Iresha shot Lannetay a questioning look.

Lannetay merely smiled in return.

The scattered Marines returned, having peered into every conceivable nook and cranny of the ship. Corporal Chovin returned to his superior and reported. “They’re clean, Sergeant.”

“Quick work.” Bach looked around again, as if expecting to see something amiss. “Did you check the hold – all of it?”

Chovin held out a small display with a holo of scanning results. “Eight Marines with scanners make quick work, Sergeant.”

Bach glared at Lannetay. “Your course was from one Wanti-controlled system to another. What is your business with the Wantis?”

“I’m a trader, Sergeant.” Lannetay paused as the Marines converged in the common room. “We take goods from one system to another, and pay our taxes as we should. It’s good for Earth, good for me, and takes wealth out of Wanti space.”

“As long as it’s not weaponry.” Bach’s scowl deepened. “Give me your cargo manifest.” He snapped his fingers repeatedly.

Lannetay reached into her pocket and produced a display. Bill, give me our manifest.

A holo of the cargo documentation sprang into being and Lannetay handed the display to Bach. “This is everything, Sergeant.”

Bach’s eyes flickered over the holo and the corporal’s search results, comparing the two. “Apparently everything is in order here. What about your tax payments?”

Bill? Lannetay prompted.

A record of their income and expenses appeared with tax payments highlighted. “Excellent. I’d have hated to impound your ship for failure to pay.”

Bach’s tone of voice told Lannetay he’d not be bothered a whit to take the William Placard and all their cargo. Keeping detailed records was the best defense against any organization with power. Some people weren’t bothered by lackadaisical records, but keeping track never hurt.

“Thank you for being diligent, Sergeant.” Lannetay offered her hand. “You’re on the front line in our war with the Wantis. Please convey my thanks to your officers and enlisted for keeping the trading lanes safe.”

Bach’s expression tightened as if he didn’t believe Lannetay. “You don’t act like a normal trader.”

“Twenty years in the Corps, Sergeant.” Lannetay smiled.

Bach’s eyes picked up the “dreamy” look people frequently had when accessing a Core. “Name?”

“Major Lanny Tae.”

The sergeant blanched when information flowed into his mind. He saluted. “Major. I apologize for the inconvenience. May I say what an honor it is to meet someone of your stature?”

Lannetay returned the salute. “Sergeant Bach, my gratitude is sincere. Carry on.”

“Listen up.” Bach’s voice brought his people to heel. “We’re done here.” He looked back at Lannetay and muttered, “Navy Cross? Twice?”

Moments later the Marines vacated the ship.

Iresha stared, shocked at more than just the sudden departure. “Just like that it’s over? And you didn’t turn me in?”

Lannetay nodded and walked toward the control room. “Yes, it’s over. And we don’t betray crew.” She tried to keep her shoulders from slumping, but they sagged as she moved.

Iresha stood gaping. “Wantis would stand on the corpses of grandmothers to get an iota of advancement. You protected me?”

Carnifor moved to her side. “This isn’t the Wanti navy. But there are still those who would do anything to get ahead. Nobody knows better than me.” He turned to follow Lannetay.

Lannetay’s pace slowed. “It’s best to give the military what they want and treat them with respect.” She looked over her shoulder. “They’ll finish sooner, be less belligerent, and you’ll be left with less hassle.”

The William Placard continued on their modified course for Swonorikus. Individual warships and small battle groups forced them to alter course multiple times every day. Their six-day trip took just short of a whole week. Their arrival wasn’t a simple one, either. Wanti patrols surrounded the planet.

Carnifor glowered. “Wonderful. Now what?”

“We sneak in.” Lannetay ordered Bill to cut power and coast. “We don’t need them taxing something they already taxed.”

Iresha spoke from the hatchway. “And the Terrans taxed it, too. It’s a miracle you guys can make any money at all.”

Bill chuckled. Lannetay, if you were paying off a ship you’d be operating in the red. Good thing they gave me to you free of charge.

Yeah. Good thing. She still resented having to give a year of service to replace a ship destroyed to benefit the Navy.

With just life support running, they managed to slip into orbit using only a short burst of main propulsion. No Wanti ships challenged them. Brief nudges from attitude thrusters brought them into a lower orbit around Swonorikus.

The colony world had more than fifty large domes, hundreds of smaller outposts, and millions claimed it as home. Shipping activity around the planet proceeded at a lively pace, and when the William Placard settled into low orbit they drew the attention of traffic control.

William Placard, Swonorikus Orbital Control. Please respond.” The monotone of the words implied a Core system in overall control.

Again the control room drew the whole crew, who either sat or stood in the available space.

“Orbital, William Placard,” Lannetay replied. “Requesting descent to your main space port.”

Orbital Control came back with an unhurried question. “Seven are available. Which would you prefer?”

“We’re looking for an industrial base, Orbital. Which would you suggest?”

“Gorbandic Station,” Control answered. “Use pattern Kilo in three hundred nineteen seconds.”

Bill interjected, “I have the synchronization signal.”

Lannetay scowled. “Then use it.”

“I will. In three hundred ten seconds.”

Bill followed a nearly straight-in course. Maneuvering thrusters kept the ship on flight path Kilo, and the William Placard flared out at the center of the touchdown area.

A dozen landing circles surrounded the wide area for ships to descend. Gorbandic Station asked them to use Circle Fifteen – one hundred fifty degrees from true north. When the ship grounded, a squad of Wanti soldiers approached.

William Placard, Gorbandic Station. Sorry, but they arrived just before you settled.” A woman’s voice, not Core-generated, sounded genuinely contrite.

Lannetay ground her teeth. “We’ll handle it, Gorbandic. Some things can’t be helped.”

“Thanks for the understanding, William Placard.”

A minute later Bill allowed the Wantis to override the outer airlock hatchways – both port and starboard. Four soldiers locked through on each side. Only two carried blaster rifles, but the other six wore standard issue Tewk P9 medium blaster pistols.

One of the soldiers stepped forward, wielding a display instead of his weapon. “Captain Lanny Tae? I’m Corporal Yundu, in charge of customs at Gorbandic Station.”

Lannetay moved a half-step away from the others. “Yes, Corporal? What can I do for you?”

Yundu worked the controls of his display. “I see you didn’t check in with our orbital patrols.”

“I was unaware of any requirement.”

“Ignorance is no excuse.” Yundu sounded bored, as if he’d performed the same lines countless times. “The penalty is confiscation of all cargo.”

Iresha couldn’t keep silent. “What?”

Yundu didn’t bother looking up. “Resistance will result in the forfeiture of your vessel.”

The seven soldiers eased their hands to their sidearms. They were so matter-of-fact about the move they also appeared to follow a script. Obviously they didn’t act like they expected anything more than verbal objection.

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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