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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Updated: Jul 5

By Mark W. Meier

Part 36

Act IV

Windowed The Soul

Chapter Nine


Acronym for Acute Loss of Consciousness.

You woke two days later. I’d used that time to assess what I’d observed of you. Like most of your disgusting species you were simple – almost incapable of complex thought or planning.

Nobody expected much from the management at Grambic Tiles over the weekend. Victor Howe took care of the few things which needed attention, but mostly he sat at your bedside, two hours away from Grambic Tower. I’d liken him to a German shepherd, but he was more like a beagle.

Cute, if one likes that kind of devotion.

You blinked and tried to make sense of your surroundings. The room refused to clarify. HVAC whispered. Sharp smell of antiseptic. Indistinct PA announcements. Quiet beeping over your head. Only one possibility – hospital room.

Then the pain in your skull slammed into you like a log hitting your head.

I chuckled at that comparison.

You blinked away the filmy coating on your eyeballs and confirmed your guess. The low lighting told you it must be nighttime. A glance toward a window verified that conjecture and drove fresh lances of fire into your brain.

“Thirsty.” Your voice rasped. There might be nobody there, but you spoke just in case someone could give you a sip of something. A single malt would be most satisfying, but hospital staff would not allow that.

A blurry shape moved in your peripheral vision. Someone spooned a bit of ice into your mouth.

You let it melt, swallowing the moisture, then cleared your throat. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, sir.” The beagle retreated to his chair.


Unlike the other times he’d given you ice, you remained conscious. The beagle perked up. If he had a tail it would have wagged.

“Yes, sir. What do you remember?” He pressed a call button. The duty nurse would arrive shortly.

“I was sailing.” You smiled at the thought. After more than a decade of isolation, your only joy had been while sailing that day.

Of course, it also brought injury – nearly death. I’d been so close, yet so far.

“What happened?” Your voice sounded gravely, so you cleared your throat again.

“There was an accident.”

The door to your room opened and a young man walked in. “Awake, Mr. Grambic?” The nurse looked at the machines and sensors. “You appear to be doing nicely. Are you hungry?”

You considered. “A bit.”

The nurse nodded. You couldn’t read his name badge. “That’s a good sign. How about a cup of jello?” Nurse Jello vanished into the hall without waiting for a response.

The beagle stood again and moved into your field of view. “Do you remember the log?”

You concentrated for a moment, then your head pulsed with a new level of pain. “No, Victor. What happened?”

Sell Short hit a log and flipped stem-for-stern. You came down on the log in a glancing blow. The doctors say another inch or two the wrong way would have broken your neck or killed you.”

You’d twisted away at the last moment. Fortunate for both of us, because I’d received word my project’s culmination needed to be delayed. Your death would have been a setback – I wasn’t told why.

“What day is it?”

“Sunday.” The beagle gave you another ice chip. “It’s nearly midnight.”

You shook your head and immediately regretted it. Light flashed behind your eyes as agony hammered your skull. Obviously they weren’t giving you narcotics.


The door opened to admit Nurse Jello, who gave you a plastic cup with the top torn aside.

Your grip was unsteady, but you took the plastic spoon and jello cup. “Thanks.”

After twenty minutes you’d finished most of your treat and fallen asleep. The beagle stayed by your side through the night, only leaving to attend to bodily processes. Sleeping in the hospital chair gave him a sore neck and left him churlish.

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

A flurry of blaster fire shredded a pair of Terran light cruisers. They lost power and coasted toward the edge of the fight, slowing toward light speed.

L-T audibly gulped. “My next posting might have been on one of them.”

Lannetay’s heart leaped when the Terran heavy cruiser fired a full salvo. The first Wanti fleet carrier fragmented under the assault. At the same time, the destroyers sent a volley of missiles toward the second carrier. Then the Earth ships hit the Wanti carrier’s point-defense batteries with waves of disrupter fire. With almost no anti-missile guns to stop them, the missiles slammed into the massive ship, vaporizing large swaths of armor. Another series of disrupter blasts gutted the interior of the massive vessel.

The crew of the William Placard cheered. Lannetay felt sick. So many deaths for nothing more than a greedy man’s quest for power.

Bill sent, Watching from a “safe” distance is a lot different from being in the thick of things.

We have the luxury of seeing the whole, Lannetay replied. They only get to see portions of the battle.

Moments later the heavy cruiser altered course by a few degrees to intercept the third Wanti fleet carrier. The surviving destroyers converged as well. The carrier boosted to escape, pushing engines far beyond their design parameters.

Lannetay breathed a quick prayer for the survivors. While a person lived, hope existed for God to make Himself known.

Wanti escort carriers also retreated, with cruisers, destroyers, and frigates screening the withdrawal. The Terrans pursued for a few minutes, then the larger ships let fighters harry the enemy while they mopped up dwindling resistance in the battle zone. Rescue ships would do what they could to minimize casualties. Even Wanti survivors would be rescued – eventually.

The whole encounter with the battle took four hours. Flying back and forth trying to evade the combatants had cost the William Placard almost a half-day in progress. With hostilities winding down, Lannetay expected they could pass without further incident. She slumped in her chair, drained and exhausted.

“So.” Iresha clapped and rubbed her hands together. “What’s this mission you’re on?”

Lannetay blinked. Iresha had evidently blocked out the carnage. Doing so wasn’t as easy for Lannetay.

Carnifor recovered and turned to answer. “We’re taking O2 machines to Swonorikus. We’re traders.”

Iresha sneered. “Don’t lie to me, Carny. I’ve been in the Wanti military for more than a year. I had to deceive people every day I was there, so I recognize someone else doing that to me. Try again.”

Lannetay hated lying, but a certain amount was necessary in order to recruit spies. With a Wanti on board, the requirement was greater than ever. Bill, do you have enough data on her for a baseline?

If she’s not very good at it I could tell a lie from the truth. Of course, if I had access to her implants it would be a cake walk.

Then what are we waiting for? Lannetay knew the answer, but frustration got the better of her.

You know I can’t do that without her permission.

Lannetay ground her teeth. Have you asked?

Bill spoke. “Iresha, would you give me access? I think Lannetay wants to ask you some questions before she tells you anything.”

Iresha thought for a moment and crossed her arms. “That you asked instead of just doing it tells me you have some ethical programming, Bill. I thought AIs were too flaky to trust.”

“The same could be said about humans,” Bill responded.

Iresha uncrossed her arms. “Proceed.”

“Lannetay, you’re good to go,” Bill said.

Lannetay pondered. Let’s get some known answers as a test, Bill. “Iresha, what is your full name?”

“I gave you my full name and rank already.” Iresha scowled.

“Give them again, please.”

“My name is Iresha Donter, corporal in the Wrantibani Marine Corps.”

Lannetay nodded. “Now lie when you tell me what ship you’re aboard.”

“I’m currently aboard the Lannetay Carnifor.” Iresha smirked.

“Very funny.” Carnifor’s deadpan delivery showed his sarcasm.

Bill said, “Okay, Lannetay. We have as good of a baseline as we’re going to get.”

Over the next hour Iresha’s story came out, with prodding from Lannetay and Carnifor. Because very little food was available on Wrantiban, people starved. Food synthesizers stretched available organic material, but after passing through the system so many times the nutritional value became nearly worthless. Wrantiban’s soil had so many heavy metals, nothing useful would grow.

Iresha, upon turning sixteen, joined the Marines to get enough food to survive. The family of enlistees also received a slight boost in rations. She hated Wrantiban and all it stood for, remembering quite well the collapse of the starship market and the associated recession on her home planet.

L-T said, “You enlisted at sixteen? That seems unlikely even for Wantis.”

“You’re forgetting to translate Standard to Traditional,” Bill said. “Sixteen is more like twenty where you grew up, L-T.”

Marc fought to keep his voice from cracking. “L-T, shouldn’t you be used to Standard time by now?”

Lannetay shook her head. “He’s only been in the service for a little more than a year. He still thinks in Traditional time. Iresha, what would you like to have happen on Wrantiban?”

“Good question. I don’t know enough to make suggestions. Kio Otmitter is too entrenched to listen to anyone, much less me. He’s not so much able to manipulate the system as he is the system.”

Carnifor cleared his throat and exchanged an amused glance with Lannetay. “We might soon be in a position to make him listen.”

“You?” Iresha scoffed. “A cargo ship with six people aboard, one of them almost a baby?”

Marc growled. “I’m nine, nearly nine and a half!” His voice snapped from one octave to another without warning.

Iresha smiled with just a hint of condescension. “Your voice has just started changing, though you’re sure to turn into a fine young man.”

“Enough.” Lannetay waved her hand to dismiss that subject. Navigating an adolescent’s development wasn’t a subject for the crew, much less someone of questionable allegiance. She’d take care of Marc’s issues in private. “Carnifor was talking about Earth and her other colonies forcing Otmitter to listen.”

Iresha still scoffed. “There’s another whole theater to your war, what with the Nats blasting everyone who has nanites in their brains. What kind of fool is Director Sotinar to get embroiled with two interstellar empires at the same time?”

Carnifor drove a fist into the palm of his other hand. “The Terran Space Navy has already conquered two of Wrantiban’s original ten signatories, as well as a lot of the colonies they conquered. It won’t be long before Otmitter sues for peace.”

Lannetay added, “And the spy we placed will help out.”

“You just sent a spy to Wrantiban and you think he’ll be in a position important enough to turn the tide of war?” Iresha shook her head. “Optimists are so annoying.”

“Not by himself, of course.” Lannetay shifted mental gears and changed the direction of conversation. “Tell me your estimation of Wrantiban, especially its strengths and weaknesses.”

“The biggest strength is easy. They’ve established total government control. There are people who ask their local officials which bathroom to use and how often.”

“I don’t believe that.” Marc’s soprano was back. His next sentence, though, had his voice dropping an octave. “Nobody would put up with that kind of thing.”

Iresha continued as if Marc hadn’t spoken. “Of course I exaggerate, but not by much. Get the populace used to asking permission for everything, and pretty soon whatever isn’t mandatory is forbidden. That’s where the Wantis have an iron grip on the people – they do what they’re told.”

“What about their weaknesses?” Carnifor asked.

“Food.” Iresha saddened. “There have been riots at the mere mention of food. The authorities mowed down everyone who participated and expunged their names from the planetary Core.”

Lannetay gasped. “Would they really do that?”

“She’s not lying,” Bill said.

Carnifor raised an eyebrow and shrugged. “When you think about it, you end up with fewer mouths to feed. The ones who rioted are either the hungriest or most willing to resist. Killing them makes the average population less likely to be defiant.”

“They try to erase the dead.” Iresha’s voice cracked with emotion. “When I enlisted, they asked for the names of my family members – you know, to increase their rations – and nearly executed me when I listed cousins who had died and were no longer in the Core. They accused me of trying to pad my family’s food allotment.”

Bill cut off the questioning. “We have a pair of Terran frigates coming alongside. A Commander Xich is demanding we allow them aboard for inspection.”

Lannetay gritted her teeth. She’d thought they were far enough away to not be bothered. “Slow to a stop, Bill. Don’t be too quick about it. We have to hide Iresha’s space suit.”

“What about my blasters?” Iresha stood, and her chair dissolved back into the decking. “Won’t they wonder about my rifle and pistol?”

“That’s already hidden.” Carnifor gave the Wanti an ingenuous smile. “Bill, is L-T’s shoulder healed enough to withstand having his arm free for a while?”

Bill harrumphed for effect. “As long as he doesn’t go swinging it around, it should hold up for an hour.”

L-T appeared worried. “Why chance it?I’d rather not have to regrow the whole arm.”

Lannetay scowled. “If they see something out of the ordinary they’re likely to look closer at everything. If they see an injured crewman, they might just take it upon themselves to scan that injury. No doubt there are still traces indicating a Wanti blaster bolt hit him, and they’ll want to know why.”

“So what?” Marc asked. “Just tell them Admiral Choergatan is your . . . .” He struggled for the right word.

Bill provided the answer. “Controller.”

“Yeah. Controller.”

Lannetay scowled. Marc and Bill had just give Iresha information that could compromise their mission. If she decided to defect back to Wrantiban, she’d have more of a bargaining chip.

Carnifor shook his head. “It’ll be quicker to not let the issue come up. Once they become suspicious, we’ll be here for days while they sort things out and pass requests up and down the chain of command.”

“Five minutes,” Bill said. “One ship is setting up to dock, the other is standing off with weapons charged.”

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 35

Act IV

Windowed The Soul

Chapter Eight

Pitch pole

A spectacular end-for-end capsize where a boat’s stern catapults over the bow

You’d forgotten about the text from Howe, so didn’t see it until the next morning. It read, “I’ll clear your day tomorrow if you want to check out Sell Short.” Typical of Howe not to use any text-speak.

You sent a message thanking him, then prepared to head to Polly’s Landing. Your new driver waited outside the front door when you emerged into the cool February breeze.

He introduced himself without being prompted. “Scott Waldorf.”

You couldn’t decide how you’d remember his name. He wasn’t short, so there was no play on “dwarf” available. Perhaps that was the way – Scott Wall-not-dwarf.

“Scott.” You nodded a greeting.

Your old 2016 Volkswagen Phaeton stood running. Wall-not-dwarf pulled the armored rear door open as you approached.

Though the VW was still in good repair, you’d switched to a larger Audi after rumors circulated of assassins on the prowl for CEOs. A bigger car meant more power, which meant more ballistic protection could be installed. That hadn’t protected you from the bomb I’d planted, though.

Much like a typical day at work, you watched the scenery outside the window. Mile after mile slipped past, and eventually you came upon the I-95 bridge over a narrow portion of Lake Marion. You tapped out a quick text to Isaiah Short to be ready.

Wall-not-dwarf pulled into a parking space at the landing. You climbed out and saw your new boat in the water, tied up to the dock. The Neo hadn’t been personalized at all. According to Short’s text reply, he’d only taken possession about twenty hours ago. Floating alongside the dock in the small inlet of Polly Cantey Pond, the boat looked minuscule.

Time to put my plan into effect.

You walked up and down the dock, inspecting the small sailing craft. Less than twelve feet long and not even five feet wide, it took only one person to operate – hence the term single-handed.

I left as you climbed aboard.

The northern end of Lake Marion was more like a swamp than a lake. Tree limbs drooped to the waterline, forming living tunnels. Occasionally a tree died and rotted off at the base, falling into the marshy mire. Limbs would decompose to nothing, the trunk would get waterlogged, and eventually the slow current would push the neutrally-buoyant hazard farther into the lake.

That’s what I wanted. And there were perhaps a dozen already drifting in the area just north of the interstate bridge.

I toyed with the current enough to get my chosen weapon moving in the right direction. I could manipulate the speed later to get it into the proper position.

You hoisted the sail as I returned to the dock. A huge “Neo” was spelled out with white lettering in a block of blue. The RS Sailing logo occupied the corner between the mast and boom. A light breeze wafted from the south.

You tacked to the south edge of the pond. When the depth dropped off you turned west, angling the sail to keep you moving forward. I had ten minutes before you could reach the mouth of the pond. Time to play with the weather.

As you entered Lake Marion the breeze picked up to about twenty knots straight from the south. Your sail filled as you steered toward the interstate bridge.

Exhilaration. The roar of wind across sails was life, not the sterile environment of your corporate office or the indolence of a power yacht.

A trio of personal watercraft screamed past the Neo’s stern. They hollered a greeting, but with both hands occupied all you could do was glance over your shoulder and smile. They were too far away by that time and didn’t see you.

One of those watercraft pilots swung around and paralleled I-95 just above the island and opened up full throttle. His two compatriots yelled in good-natured outrage at the change in course. They spun to port to follow.

As you approached the bridge you checked your surroundings in preparation for your own tack to port. You were clear, as far as you could see. But the three PWCs were out of sight. One of them came dangerously close to a log drifting downstream. He never even noticed it.

You adjusted the tiller extension and boom to change direction to the southwest. At that moment the three PWCs rounded the western end of the I-95 bridge island and flashed past your bow a few dozen feet away.

Their wake struck Sell Short broadside, and you struggled to prevent a capsize. I didn’t expect you’d have much difficulty, and you didn’t. In fact, you felt proud of yourself for maintaining your course.

Such events are a perfect example of why people with sailboats hate power craft owners. That, and the relative lack of skill required to operate a motorboat. True sailing is an art.

You came up on buoy 100 and checked the area again. A fisherman with a flat-bottom and outboard drifted under the bridge, looking for a catch. The PWCs swept past buoy ninety-nine and streaked toward Polly’s Landing. You were clear.

You stepped across the boat with your right foot and let out rope to spill wind from the sail. Then you pushed the tiller away from you and ducked under the boom as it crossed the Neo. You shifted to the opposite side of the boat to counteract the tendency of the Neo to heel over in the wind. You swapped hands with the rope and tiller, and steered southeast toward buoy ninety-four.

After a brief tack to the southwest, you headed back to round the buoy. A power boat zipped past, pulling an early-season water skier. The boat passed at a reasonable distance, but the skier came as close as the rope allowed, suddenly turning. The spray he kicked up drenched you, but the wind and waves had already done that.

No wonder there was such a dearth of sailing rentals on the lake, with attitudes like that. No doubt a low-ranked Brother or imp made the rounds on fostering that kind of thought, stopping at Lake Marion when time permitted.

I swirled a bit of water to adjust the log’s trajectory.

The last leg of the course was the fastest. While not totally a following wind, the angle favored a straight shot right back to Polly Cantey Pond. You reefed the sail and coasted to the pier, only once having to raise it partially for an extra boost.

Isaiah Short caught the rope you threw, and only then did you notice another Neo tied up across from you. Judge Boynton stood, arms crossed and feet wide, in the middle of the dock.

“Nice day, Mis-ter Gram-bic.”

You fought a scowl. “Wind picked up a while ago. Wasn’t good when I first went out.”

Boynton put his nose up, as if sniffing the breeze. “Seems okay now. Great day to sail.”

“I just finished a test run.” You jumped to the wet boards of the pier. “The lake is yours, Boynton.”

He chuckled. “You misunderstand, Grambic. Let’s get this race done. Now.”

“Now? Are you kidding? I just spent the last hour on the water.”

“And you called me old.” Boynton sneered. “My age, your fatigue, those should cancel out. Unless, of course, you’re too tired.”

Watching the play of emotions on your face was rich. Your mouth writhed, and your eyes grew hard. If you disliked anyone, it was Judge David Boynton.

“Let’s do it.” You jumped back into Sell Short. “What’s our starting line?”

Boynton dug into a jacket pocket while heading back to his boat. “The shoreline outside The Pond.” He produced a starter pistol and tossed it to Short. “When we’re in position, give a five-count and fire.”

Boynton was quicker getting underway and took the lead away from you, tacking back to the mouth of the Polly Cantey. There you saw him establish a dynamic stall. He waited for you to approach the line.

You eased up to the starting line fifty yards downwind of him, swinging your boom back and forth a bit to come to a relative halt. Behind you Short called out the countdown and the starter pistol sounded.

Boynton got the edge at the start, and most times a skilled racer who beat the others off the line went on to win. But you knew the judge was old – in his upper fifties – and could easily make a mistake.

With less than seventy square feet of sail, there wouldn’t be any use in trying to “steal his wind.” You weighed less, so Sell Short road a bit higher and produced less drag cutting through the water. That advantage gave you a slight edge as you raced up toward the I-95 island. Within moments the slight waves slapped the bow of the boat, resonating through the fiberglass.

A gust threatened to capsize the Neo. You wrestled with the tiller, leaning further back, and recovered. Boynton didn’t seem bothered in the least and gained a few feet on you.

Since you’d started further north than Boynton, you could make your turn sooner and cut him off. If you were even a few yards in front of him he’d have to give way at your turn. The rules gave you three advantages there.

First, since you’d slow to change course, Boynton would be the overtaking boat and have to give way.

Second, Boynton would be the windward boat and have to give way.

Third, you’d be to Boynton’s starboard so he’d have to give way.

The increased drag took its toll on the judge’s headway. You approached the island and checked around to see to safety. The judge’s boat had fallen about thirty feet behind, so your turn put you across his path. He reefed his sail a bit so you could slip past, then he turned to follow in your wake.

With your course heading at an upwind angle, your boat’s taller cross section caught more of the breeze. Boynton slowly edged up on your stern as you focused on Buoy 100. Wind-driven spray made you squint. The edge of the sail flapped a bit so you adjusted the tiller. Your goal was to turn as tightly as possible to the buoy so Boynton couldn’t cut you off.

Slacken the ropes, wrestle the tiller, duck the boom, and swap sides. Right in the middle of the process you noticed the jagged end of a log just below the surface. Sell Shortstruck, wooden spikes shattering the bow. The momentum of your boat diverted down, driving the log with it like a teeter totter.

Sell Short pitch poled, throwing you out of the boat. Your head slammed into the rising end of the tree trunk.

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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