Luke 10:38-42: The Sons of Martha

In early May of 2008 I graduated with a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management from the University of South Florida.  As part of the graduation ceremony for the engineering school at USF there was an induction ceremony into something called “The Order of the Engineer,” with rituals similar to what was created by Rudyard Kipling for some Canadian Engineering schools in the early part of the 20th century [1].

Rudyard Kipling is, of course, one of the most notable English authors of the late Victorian period.  His belief that imperialism was the “white man’s burden” to civilize the rest of the world is notorious in these post-colonial times.  His books like “The Jungle Book” remain popular even for children.  I remember as a child reading and loving “Captains Courageous” as well.  What does he have to do with the civil engineering profession, though?  More than you might realize.

In my first semester as a civil engineering student at the University of Southern California, my Introduction to Civil Engineering course had as its textbook a book published by the American Society of Civil Engineers with the title The Sons of Martha.  The title comes from a poem written about civil engineers by Rudyard Kipling [2], and is a reference to a grossly and flagrantly and frequently misunderstood passage of scripture dealing with two sisters who Jesus greatly loved.  Interestingly enough, I have also written a short novel about engineers also called “The Sons of Martha” with the same origin [3].  It appears as if Rudyard Kipling and I have many intersecting interests in imperialism, duty and responsibility, literature, and engineering.  It’s an odd and intriguing connection to have, given the widespread dislike for Rudyard Kipling’s work among contemporary cultural elites (who probably wouldn’t have much nice to say about my own writing or worldview either).

Rudyard Kiping On The Sons of Martha

In 1907, Rudyard Kipling wrote the following poem about “The Sons of Martha:”

The sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited
   that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the
  careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she
  was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary's Sons, world without
  end, reprieve, or rest.
It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and
  cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that
  the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care
  to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by
  land and main.

They say to mountains, "Be ye removed." They say to
  the lesser floods, "Be dry."
Under their rods are the rocks reproved-they are not
  afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit-then is the
  bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly
  sleeping and unaware.
They finger death at their gloves' end where they piece
  and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry
  behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into
  his terrible stall,
And hale him forth a haltered steer, and goad and turn
  him till evenfall.
To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till
  death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden - under the
  earthline their altars are-
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to
  restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again
  at a city's drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a
  little before the nuts work loose.
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to drop
  their job when they dam'-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark
  and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren's
  day may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path
  more fair or flat -
Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha
  spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness
  to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their
  common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed - they
  know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for
  them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the Feet - they hear the Word - they see
  how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and - the
  Lord He lays it on Martha's Sons!

At first glance, one must read this poem and find it to be quite blasphemous.  I know I was quite shocked, personally, by my first reading of this poem.  In reading this poem I think about the hard and dangerous labor performed by civil engineers in making railroads, interstates, canals, aqueducts, dams, and other infrastructure upon which our civilization is greatly dependent and which attracts little notice or attention from the unaware and unreflective Sons of Mary are in our midst.

Kipling envisions the engineers and scientists of the world, those gravely concerned with the state of the world and how to bring it under dominion to man, or even those concerned with preserving institutions and communities, with the Sons of Mary.  While most people enjoy ease, and do not concern themselves with the burden of responsibility, the Sons of Martha are compared with those who in small and great ways ensure that responsibilities are faithfully discharged, that institutions do not fail, that infrastructure (social and physical) is built and maintained, quietly, without a great deal of fuss, but with a great deal of concern.  As Kipling says, the sons of Mary have cast their burden upon the Lord, and the Lord has cast it on Martha’s sons.

Two Misinterpretations

Some might say that Kipling got it wrong, that he misinterpreted scripture.  Nonetheless, his misinterpretation was a second order misinterpretation, an overreaction to a much more prevalent misunderstanding that is still current.  In order to understand what the Bible is really saying when it refers to Mary and Martha, we will need to examine both “ditches” on either side of the correct band of interpretation.

Let us first examine the ditch that Kipling’s interpretation falls into, realizing that it is the less extensive and less pervasive of the two ditches, but no less severe for that.  In Kipling’s mind, falsely, belief was forbidden to those who were responsible for keeping civilization going, because their heavy duties made it impossible for them to trust God.  Kipling’s interpretation puts way too much responsibility (and therefore, ultimately, control) in the hands of very fallible people.  But in Kipling’s mind perhaps the engineers were merely another group of people, like Western Europeans (and Americans) who had the “white man’s burden” of empire, being therefore superior in his mind to the ignorant and uncaring masses only interested in their own rest and selfish interests rather than in duties and responsibilities.

How could Kipling make this error?  Understandably, he made it because he was responding to a common error that falls into the other ditch.  Kipling’s praise of both imperialism and the engineering profession came about because he saw a need for both rebellious savage humanity and nature to be put under the dominion of those wiser and more responsible.  It was a conscious reaction both to neopagan Western tendencies to glamorize the noble savage as well as tendencies by purported believers to ignore any kind of social or personal responsibilities because of the false and mistaken belief that God will do the hard work it takes to subdue the earth and care for it as a steward and to handle and control the rebellious tendencies of people in families, communities, churches, businesses, and nations.

In short, the common pietistic belief that one need only be concerned about one’s own rest and enjoyment and benefit and that God will take care of the rest, a mistaken (indeed heretical) idea, is itself countered by an equally heretical belief that since Christianity endorses this selfish and lazy viewpoint that those who care deeply about the well being of mankind must therefore be denied the possibility of relief from God or belief in Christianity.  Both views are therefore in error.  What is the truth about this passage?

The Biblical View of Mary and Martha

In order to understand what the Bible says, we have to first go to the Bible itself.  We find the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42, and it says:  “Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.  But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Therefore tell her to help me.”  And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, whcih will not be taken away from her.”

In order to properly understand what point the Bible is making here, we need to examine both Mary and Martha.  Clearly, Martha is accusing Mary of being lazy and wishes for her sister to be rebuked.  Jesus’ response would indicate that Mary is not being lazy, and that Martha’s distraction in physical service may be obstructing a more important priority than mere physical service.  The scripture, in short, provides something that is not as clear cut as the two misinterpretations of this passage examined above.

The Question of Priorities

First of all, we must note that Jesus’ commendation of Mary was based on her choosing the “one important thing” as opposed to being troubled by many things.  Jesus was not endorsing laziness or selfishness, therefore, as is commonly supposed by both pietists and was supposed by Kipling, but was rather concerned on focusing attention on the right priorities rather than being concerned by that which is ephemeral and unimportant.  Therefore, it is focus, rather than effort, that is the true point that Jesus Christ is getting across here.

Let us note that this single-minded focus towards the “one thing” is mentioned frequently in scripture.  Some examples will suffice.  Matthew 6:31-34 says:  “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Here we have the contrast between Mary and Martha phrased in more detailed terms–we are not to be consumed with worry about the future, but rather we are to focus our efforts on becoming more like Christ and developing godly character through the troubles that each day provides.

Let us note, though, that sometimes searching for the Kingdom of God requires a great deal of effort, more than many self-proclaimed sons of Mary wish to do.  As the Bible says in Matthew 13:37-45:  “He answered and said to them:  “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man [i.e. Christ].  The field is the world, and the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one.  The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.  Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.  The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire.  There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  He who has an ear to hear, let him hear!  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hit; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

So, we may see from the scriptures that the kingdom of heaven is such an important matter that all other priorities pale into insignificance.  One cannot let physical matters (even physical service, as important as that is) cause one to lose sight or focus on the ultimate purpose of the Kingdom of God.  Our service, such as it is, is to help us develop the character of God, not to take on a life of its own and be done as routine, unthinkingly or without reflection.  This is an important point to make, especially for those of us inclined to busy ourselves with physical responsibilities.

The Question of Ceremony

The other important point to consider is that Martha was probably a “Jewish mother” in the sense that she was fussy about ceremony and only providing “the best” for Jesus Christ.  In this sense, her desire to show her respect and esteem of Christ led her to fuss and do more than was necessary.  We should remember that Jesus Christ was not greatly concerned about ceremony to an extent that was very surprising and remarkable.  He was not one to fly first class, drink fancy wine, and stay in five star hotels in his travels, like the usual so-called “evangelist.”  He was a far more rugged and informal sort of person.

For one, Jesus was not all that fussy about drinking the finest wine and liquor.  Take, for example, his admonition in Matthew 10:42-42:  “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.  He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.  And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”  This admonition is so important that it gets repeated in Mark 9:38-41:  “Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”  But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me.  For he who is not against us is on our side.  For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”  Jesus Christ was not into fancy exclusive entourages and drinks–a cup of cold water from a sympathizer was good enough for him.  It should also, therefore, be good enough for us.

Nor was Jesus Christ all that fussy about his housing.  As he told one of his would-be disciples in Luke 9:57-58:  “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.”  And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  No fancy hotels or mini-mansions for this servant of God, but rather the focus on doing the work of God and keeping the larger perspective always in mind.

Conclusion

Let us therefore, in striving to obey the commands of Jesus Christ and follow the example of Mary, neither neglect our duties and responsibilities nor let them crowd out our focus on becoming like God and entering into His kingdom.  Let us neither be lazy and unthinking pietists only concerned on our own well-being and state without any concern for the future at all, nor worried and faithless sons of Martha taking upon ourselves the burden that belongs to God alone.  In doing so, we will all be better equipped not to neglect that one good thing, and use our opportunities to serve to help us become more like God instead of serve as cares and worries that merely take up our time.

[1] http://www.order-of-the-engineer.org/

[2] http://www.mindspring.com/~blackhart/The_Sons_of_Martha.html

[3] I don’t pretend that my story on “The Sons of Martha” is an excellent one, but here it is, in its entirety, below:

The Sons Of Martha

A Story In The Secfenia Dark Series By Nathan Albright (written sometime in 2005–it has not been read nor edited nor proofread since then).

Acknowledgements

For Rudyard Kipling, the engineers of this world, and all the other Sons of Martha who work so that the Sons of Mary may live pleasantly sleeping and unaware.
I.

It was a bright warm Bravian morning, already humid, a bad sign, when Daniel dressed in his most formal attire to give respect to the engineers he was joining. After all, it was his life’s ambition to become a civil engineer and work in Graphical Information Systems, called GIS by those in the know. Daniel Miller had been given the opportunity to achieve his career ambition, and was determined not to screw it up. He looked at the directions several times before checking out of the Willard Hotel that morning and going off to the base. As Delia was still sleeping when he left, he gave her a goodbye kiss on the lips before he walked out.
It was a walk to the base. There were many side streets, and he had been wise to bring his map, as the base was located on Garvey Street. The only problem was that there were five Garvey Streets in this part of the city of Bravia, called West Covina. It was the fifth one that Daniel was looking for. He turned off of the street, his feet sore after the hour long walk in his loafers, and he stepped into the building to enter the base.

“Bienvenidos a la ciudad de los angeles caidos,” the soldier at the desk said. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”

“Excuse me?” Daniel said. “Am I in the right building?”

“It’s a joke we play on every recruit,” the soldier said. “You look a little young to be a recruit. What are you, ten years old?”

“I am almost fifteen,” Daniel said politely. “I am not a recruit, at least not exactly. My name is Daniel Miller, and I am here for an internship in the GIS area of Civil Engineering. I am a student in the Imperial School in the capital. Do you know where I go to be briefed on my duties and responsibilities?”

“Ah, you’re the International Baccalaureate student then,” the soldier said.

“Yes I am,” Daniel said. “Do you know who my officer will be?”

“No, sir, I do not,” the soldier said. “But I will find out for you.”

“I am no sir, at least not yet,” Daniel replied with a smile.

“Yes, you are ‘sir’, for even though you are not a noble, or even an officer yet, you are a corporal as an intern, which is a rank of E-3. I am a private, which is a rank of E-1. You outrank me by two stripes. When you graduate from school and become a part of the engineering staff, you will rank no lower than an O-1 as a second lieutenant.”

“I was unaware of that,” Daniel said. “Thank you for letting me know.”

“No problem, sir,” the soldier said as he walked to the Engineering Building.

Daniel looked around him at the clean and efficient building he saw around him. Obviously the people who designed military buildings such as this were indifferent, if not hostile, to architecture designed for show. He knew he would see no deconstructionalist buildings on this base, but pure utilitarian structures. He wondered what sort of mapping work they would have him do and where he would stay. After some moments of thought, the soldier came back with an officer.

“You are Mister Miller?” the officer said.

“I am Daniel Miller, reporting for duty,” Daniel replied.

“I am glad you showed up early,” the officer said. “My name is Col. Turner Parsons. I am sure that you will get used to your new duties in no time. Most of the work will involve maps, as you are no doubt aware of. Your job will be to take in new information collected by spy satellites and planes and use it to update the maps we have on our computer system. For example, if there has been recent development, you need to properly scan it into the system and tweak the dimensions to make it work. There will be plenty of time for you to engage in what is the office diversion of choice.”

“And what is that, sir?” Daniel asked.

“The boys have a great love of going into chatrooms and pretending to be teenage bisexual girls. I am sure you will fit right in,” Col. Parsons said.

“Interesting,” Daniel said, his eyebrows raised.

“Follow me,” Col. Parsons said. “Before I take you on a tour of the Engineering building you need to be fitted for your uniforms. You will always be in some kind of uniform while you are here.”

“I figured as much, sir,” Daniel said as they went into a room where a tailor stood with measuring tape.

“Could you strip down to your underwear,” the tailor said.

“Yes, sir,” Daniel said as he stripped to his boxers.

The tailor measured the dimensions of Daniel, noticing the slight deformation of the legs, the flat feet, and the severe curvature of his spine.

“You do not come from an aristocratic family, do you?” the tailor asked.

“No, I come from a poor family of farmers from Cork,” Daniel replied.

“I see,” the tailor said.

“Is there any reason you ask?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, there is actually,” the tailor said. Your clothes will have to be tailored for a few congenital deformations in your body. You must be a frail and sickly young man, right?”

“I fight against my body every day,” Daniel replied.

“I see,” the tailor said. “And yet you are quite intelligent, right?”

“That is what everyone tells me,” Daniel replied.

“Well, you are here for an office position, and that is what you will always be doing, I imagine,” the tailor said.

“Are you also the camp doctor?” Daniel said.

“Yes, I am,” the tailor said. “I am a regular renaissance man. You could never cut it in the field, but you seem to be an indoors person anyway, with your pale freckled skin and all.”

“I can’t tan, and not through lack of effort,” Daniel said. “I simply get more freckles when I am in the sun, and no tan.”

“That is very bad,” the tailor said. “If you were a recruit I would turn you out and tell you that you would sooner be a giant than be suitable as a soldier.”

“Well, it is good that I am not a recruit then,” Daniel said.

“Well, your clothes should be ready by tomorrow morning,” the tailor said. “Until then you can wear these relaxation clothes.”

“Thank you, sir,” Daniel said.

“You are most welcome. Your mind had better be sharp, because your body is a wreck,” the tailor said.

“Si solo sabia,” Daniel replied as he changed into the relaxation clothes, colored blue, which happened to be Daniel’s favorite color, dark blue that is (not that horrible shade of blue called baby blue).

“How do you like your relaxation clothes?” Col. Parsons asked.

“They are great. I am glad they are not light blue,” Daniel said.

“I would never wear the faggy colors of a baby bear. I could never be a bruin,” Col. Parsons said.

“Only Trojans for me,” Daniel said with a wink.

“You’ll fit right in here,” Col. Parsons said with a laugh. “You said earlier that you were from Cork, right?”

“That is correct, from the area of Bravia known as La Pascual Florida,” Daniel said.

“Ever visited U Stay Forever or U Can’t Finish?” Col. Parsons said.

“They are fine schools,” Daniel said. “I have visited there for field trips, as they are in the area.”

“Glad you have no great snobbery,” Col. Parsons said.

“I’m the son of a poor dairy farmer, sir,” Daniel said. “I do not have much room for snobbery, only for a bitterly sarcastic sense of humor.”

“You know that we call ourselves the Sons of Martha, right?” Col. Parsons said as they walked into the GIS department, having passed through the surveying area and design workstations.

“Yes,” Daniel said. “Is that from the Rudyard Kipling poem or the book from the Imperial Society of Civil Engineers?”

“Both,” Col. Parsons said. “You are quite well read.”

“Thank you. I do my best,” Daniel said. “I especially like the part of the book where the current issues in the profession are discussed, such as excessive litigation and environmental impact difficulties. It is a great shame that the law has served to hem us in rather than free us to do a great work.”

“Such as laws to mandate handicapped parking spaces for every public building that go unfilled, leaving the best spots unavailable? I agree,” Col. Parsons said. “Well, anyway, there is plenty of time for discussing the law later. Here is the GIS area.”

“Excellent, sir,” Daniel said.

“I trust you will like your workstation,” Col. Parsons said. “I made sure this area was away from the environmental engineers.”

“Why is that?” Daniel asked.

“They are a bunch of hippies anyway,” Col. Parsons said with a laugh.

“Oh,” Daniel said with a shrug. “I suppose a few of them are good to provide balance. What fun would a libertarian world be anyway?”

“You’re young yet,” Col. Parsons said. “Anyway, it is time to meet your coworkers. Come along, our intern has arrived.” The rest of the department, all youngish men, came towards the colonel and Daniel. “The intern’s name is Daniel Miller.”

“Hello Daniel Miller,” they said, almost in unison.

“Hello coworkers,” Daniel said with a smile.

“He will begin tomorrow,” Col. Parsons said.

“See you then,” one of the coworkers said. “My name is Koffman Broad.

“Pleased to meet you. What an interesting name that is,” Daniel said.

“See you tomorrow,” Koffman said.

“See you,” Daniel said as he followed Col. Parsons out of the room.

“Now we will go to the place you will be staying for the rest of the summer. I arranged it so that you would stay with one of our most musical families, the Hoovers,” Col. Parsons said.

“Alright,” Daniel said.

“I will tell you more when we get there,” Col. Parsons said.

II.

Dr. and Mrs. Hoover and their daughter Melody had just been informed that they would be having a summer houseguest. They were yapping as was their wont.

“I hope our houseguest is a nice person,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“We’ll find out when we meet him,” Melody said, in her usual testy mood.

“What shall I cook?” Mrs. Hoover said. “I don’t have any food here. I forgot to stop at the Trader Joe’s this afternoon.”

“It’s alright,” Dr. Hoover said. “You don’t have to fret over everything.”

“Yes I do,” Mrs. Hoover said. “He is our guest.”

“You’re so frustrating, mom,” Melody said.

“How about we just take our guest to Brent’s Deli? He’s probably never been to the best deli in all of Bravia before,” Dr. Hoover said.

“That’s a great idea,” Mrs. Hoover said. “I don’t have to cook, either.”

“That’s what we’re trying to tell you,” Dr. Hoover said.

“Yeah, if you’d only listen to us,” Melody said.

“You guys are always ganging up on me,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“You’re such an easy target, my dear,” Dr. Hoover said condescendingly.

“Don’t fight an unarmed man,” Mrs. Hoover protested.

“That is the funniest thing I have heard for a while,” Melody said. “This is going up on my aim profile.”

At this point there was a rapping on the door. Ending their conversation, they opened the door to see one of the enlisted men bringing a skinny and hunchbacked young man with cow-licked red-blond hair, big glasses, lots of freckles, and a huge grin.

“Ah, so you must be the houseguest, then,” Dr. Hoover said.

“Yes,” Daniel said with a smile. “My name is Daniel Miller. I am with the civil engineering program here.”

“Well,” Mrs. Hoover said. “Too bad you aren’t more handsome or I would try to fix you up with my daughter.”

“Mom!” Melody explained.

“Well, he is going to be a houseguest, Melody, he should know how your mom works,” Dr. Hoover said. “I suppose we should introduce ourselves. I am Dr. Hoover, and this is my wife, Mrs. Hoover. We could tell you our first names, but then you would probably write them down in a story, and we don’t want to attract celebrity status. A couple humble music teachers don’t need that kind of attention. Our daughter, Melody here, plays the violin very well. I had to tell you, because if I didn’t, she would.”

“Do you play any musical instruments?” Melody asked.

“None well,” Daniel replied. “However, I do play the viola.”

“Great, the viola,” Melody said. “As if we didn’t need more crazy people in the household.”

“He’ll fit in perfectly,” Dr. Hoover said. “How do you know a violist is at the door?”

“He never knows when to come in,” Daniel replied.

“Well, at least he has a sense of humor,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“So, Daniel, do you want to drop your bags and head out to the best deli in all of Bravia?” Dr. Hoover said.

“Sure,” Daniel said. “Where should I drop these bags?”

“In this spare bedroom with all the horns in it,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Alrighty, sounds good to me,” Daniel said, walking to the room, dropping the bags, and then walking out happily.

“Let us go then to Brent’s,” Dr. Hoover said. “You have not lived until you have eaten at Brent’s. It’s the best deli in Bravia, maybe even the planet.”

Even though Brent’s was still on the base, not very far away, they took the car, and found parking, which was a minor miracle, considering how crowded the place was. They were also able to walk inside and get a seat fairly quickly, even more unusual for this place and time.

“Wow, I’m surprised everything has gone so quickly,” Dr. Hoover said.

“Yes, there is usually a line out of the door and a wait of an hour for a table,” Mrs. Hoover said. “Have you ever had matzo ball soup?”

“No, I have not,” Daniel answered.

“You have to try it,” Dr. Hoover said.

“Have you been sheltered all your life?” Mrs. Hoover asked.

“I was raised in the town of Cork,” Daniel said. “It was a small town of humble strawberry farmers.”

“The part of Bravia with that voting scandal that made the national press?” Mrs. Hoover asked.

“Please don’t remind me. I don’t need any reminders of the embarrassment of having to learn about hanging and dimpled chads,” Daniel said. “Every time people mention my home area they have to bring that painful memory up.”

“Well,” Dr. Hoover said. “Obviously you must be a more intelligent soul. After all, you are here in the big city, and away from that barbaric area where there are still migrant farmers and where people still vote with punch card balloting systems.”

“Actually,” Daniel said. “They don’t anymore. After the election scandal the rest of Bravia subsidized the replacement of the old system with the optical scanner system.”

“Which is a better system then we have in parts of this city!” Mrs. Hoover exclaimed.

“Indeed it is,” Dr. Hoover. “But it is only those who embarrass that get hush funds to keep quiet.”

“Such is the nature of life,” Daniel said.

At this moment the waiter came over to ask them if they wanted anything to drink or any appetizers.

“I would like a root beer,” Daniel said.

“Alright,” the waitress said.

“I will take the iced tea,” Dr. Hoover said.

“Me too,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“And would you like any appetizers?” the waitress said.

“You have to try to matzo ball soup!” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Alright,” Daniel said.

“And for the rest of you?” the waitress said.

“No thanks, but we’re ready to order,” Dr. Hoover said.

“What would you like?” the waitress said.

“I would like the Prime Rib,” Dr. Hoover said.

“Would you like fries or baked potato?” the waitress asked.

“Fries,” Dr. Hoover said.

“And you?” the waitress said to Mrs. Hoover.

“I’ll have the pastrami sandwich with fries,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“You’re eating a lot today,” Dr. Hoover joked.

“Be quiet, you’re always teasing me,” Mrs. Hoover said, not amused.

“I’ll take the steak sandwich with fries,” Daniel said.

“Is that all?” the waitress asked.

“With portions like these, you had better believe it,” Dr. Hoover said, laughing. “We’ll be rolling ourselves to the personal carriers.” The waitress walked away in good humor.

“Well, for a country boy, you seem pretty thoughtful,” Dr. Hoover said.

“Well, just because one is a campesino one doesn’t have to be a total redneck,” Daniel said. “I have a great love of reading, and I am a baccalaureate in Bravia.”

“Oh, right,” Mrs. Hoover said. “So you’re not a total hick then.”

“No, indeed, I am not,” Daniel replied.

At this point the waitress brought the drinks and the matzo ball soup.

“Do you like the soup?” Mrs. Hoover said.

“It’s not bad at all. Tastes like some kind of wheat soup. Very interesting. I am a picky eater as well,” Daniel said.

“Oh well, we can’t all be perfect,” Dr. Hoover said. “A skinny guy like you shouldn’t be picky.”

“I know, beggars can’t be choosers, right?” Daniel said.

“Well, hopefully you’ll enjoy the food at our place,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Yes, hopefully,” Daniel said as he was polishing off the matzo ball soup.

At this point the waitress brought the entrees out.

“This looks very good,” Daniel said. “This much steak and bread is awesome.”

“I told you the servings were big,” Dr. Hoover said.

“I hope you enjoy this,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I’m sure I will,” Daniel said.

And so they did.

III.

Daniel got up and got ready, and then went off to the engineering area of base once again. He was chipper and bright, and wearing his relaxation clothes. When he reached the engineering area, he was told that the tailor had his uniform ready.

“That was fast,” Daniel said.

“Are you always early?” the tailor said.

“No, not always, at least not when I have to wake up early,” Daniel said.

“So you’re not a morning person?” the tailor asked.

“No, I am not,” Daniel replied.

“Well, that’s no crime,” the tailor said. “Your uniform may look a little odd, but that is because you have no medals yet. Hopefully you will get one soon enough, though. The Sons of Martha are always doing brave and intrepid things.”

“Well, I am glad for that. I hope it will be an exciting summer for me,” Daniel said.

“Don’t worry about it,” the tailor said.

“Oh, I worry about everything, but I try not to let it destroy me,” Daniel said.

“You know, I am the base psychologist too,” the tailor said.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Daniel said with a wry grin. “Obviously none of the jobs can be too daunting if you have three of them.”

“Nope,” the tailor said.

Daniel walked out after putting on his uniform and put his relaxation clothes in a nice little bag. Then he walked over to the GIS area, where Col. Parsons was waiting for him.

“Well, Lt. Miller, it is time for you to report to duty,” Col. Parsons said.

“Yes, sir,” Daniel replied smartly.

“There has been some interesting satellite activity over the night from Valleria,” Col. Parsons said.

“Valleria, sir?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, it appears they have received aid from their friends from another continent. They are building what appears to be nuclear reactors,” Col. Parsons said.

“Do we have the Krypton signatures yet?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, we do,” Col. Parsons said, amazed at the intellect of the young man.

“So, what then is the mission?” Daniel asked.

“Your job is to monitor the ports and see if any large tankers arrive into Valleria. If so, monitor what is being brought in and check if any silos are being built. If so, alert me immediately so we can inform the Directrix and Emperor at once and see if diplomatic or military action needs to be taken,” Col. Parsons said. “I don’t need to mention that all of this is under top secret.”

“Understood, sir,” Daniel said. “I’ll try not to be a blabbermouth about these things as usual.”

“Good luck, Lt. Miller,” Col. Parsons said. “There is much you will have to keep secret here.” Col. Parsons left to direct other people and to leave the young man alone pouring over view screens and satellite trackers.

After looking for a couple of hours, Daniel sees a truly amazing sight and calls Col. Parsons immediately.

“Has something happened?” Col. Parsons asked.

“Yes, something very important, sir,” Daniel replies.

“I’ll be over there immediately,” Col. Parsons asks. Within two minutes he is there. “What happened, Lt. Miller?”

“Well, it appears that there was a shipment of missiles that was coming into the main port for Valleria,” Lt. Miller said. “But something went wrong.”

“What was that?” Col. Parsons asked.

“The ship carrying the missile was sunk by the most advanced flying vehicles I have ever seen. I had the computer save some photos of them,” Daniel says as he shows the flying craft to Col. Parsons.

“The Zunian Air Force?” Col. Parsons asks rhetorically as his eyes widen. “Obviously we were not the only ones concerned with this geopolitical shift.”

“I thought the Zunians kept to themselves,” Daniel said.

“They usually do,” Col. Parsons said. “However, when something one of the nations does has a major effect or a potential affect on them, they are quite quick to pounce. Fortunately, the Emperor and Directrix, who both have had personal meetings with the leaders of the Zunians, have been very good at keeping peaceful relations. After all, you do not want to upset the empire that controls most of the planet.”

“That is true,” Daniel said. “Well, it looks like we don’t have to worry about that one anymore, do we?”

“No, we don’t,” Col. Parsons said. “That is a relief. Obviously the Vallerians weren’t merely going after us. They must have been within range of an important area of the Zunians. I will inform the Directrix and Emperor of the latest developments, and be sure to name you.”

“Thank you for the honor,” Daniel said.

“You deserve it,” Col. Parsons said, leaving. He turns around. “After today’s work, you deserve to relax with the boys in the main computer lab. Your next project will come up soon enough anyways.”

“Thank you, sir,” Daniel said.

“Hey, boy, come in here,” Koffman Broad said.

“Yes?” Daniel answered as he walked into the computer lab.

“It is time to initiate you into a sacred ritual of the engineer,” Broad said.

“And that would be pretending to be bisexual girls, in chat rooms, right?” Daniel asked rhetorically.

“That is correct,” Broad said.

“Well, then, let’s get started,” Daniel said. “How successful are you guys at passing yourselves off as female?”

“Sometimes too good,” Broad said. Some of the other engineers chuckled.

“Well, then let me log in here, and you guys can critique my performance,” Daniel said.

“This should be good,” one of the engineers said.

“What is your name?” Daniel asked.

“My name is Samuel Norwich,” he replied.

“Well, here in this chatroom, I am Maria Hernandez,” Daniel said.

“Not a bad name,” Broad said.

“I am sixteen years old, completely bisexual, and really horny,” Daniel said.

“This should be good,” Broad said.

“I am 5’6″, with long curly brown hair, brown eyes, tan, 115 pounds,” Daniel said.

“Look, you’re talking to a girl now,” Samuel said.

“Yes, she appears to be bisexual too. She is asking me about what kind of girls I like,” Daniel said. “This could be a promising conversation.”

“Yes, and she likes your taste in females,” Broad said.

“She is sending me some pictures of herself,” Daniel said.

“Score!” Samuel said.

“And she wants me to cyber with her a little, acting as her best friend at school,” Daniel said.

“You have a rare gift for this. Look at how you treat her body. You’re practically a lesbian in a guy’s body,” Broad said.

“Uh, thanks for the compliment, I think,” Daniel said.

“Well, I suppose you are the best of any of us,” Samuel said.

“Why do you say that?” Daniel said.

“We were all busted before the girls gave us their photos and e-mail addresses,” Samuel said.

“I see,” Daniel said. “Well, I expect my duties will prevent me from enjoying this diversion very much.”

“That could be fortunate. We would not want some poor girl to think that you were some hot Purian sex goddess,” Broad said.

“You guys are funny,” Daniel said. “It is about time for dinner. After that we shall have to rest before our next assignment.”

“Who knows what that will be,” Samuel said.

“Indeed,” Daniel said.

IV.

It was night in the cheaper side of Bravia, far from the statues of Anias Russ and Natonito Albright, far from the Bravian Cantina where beautiful girls gave head to wealthy businessmen and where noblewomen sang for the hearts of noblemen. While night for the wealthy meant amorous escapades, night for the people in poorer side of Bravia was a matter of mere survival.
It was called the Sweatshop District of Bravia, for good reason. People from Puria or Imperium or the Southern Isles, none of them ethnically Bravian, seeking a better life than the grinding poverty back home, worked long hours making Nike clothes for Natonito. The managers of the factories kept Natonito largely in the dark about the state of the factories. With as many business affairs as Natonito had to deal with, he could not tour every factory and place of business.
Something had gone horribly wrong in one particular factory for making patrician robes. The mixture for Tyrian purple, the color of royalty, and the color of the official government robes for the city of Bravia (there were other vats for the other official robes, with indigo and scarlet dyes) had overheated, and the mixture of dyes caught fire. Soon the whole factory was ablaze, and the workers, almost entirely female, were rushing for their lives. Few made it.
Outside, amidst the crying and screaming masses of oppressed laborers, the factory management, who were all safe and sound, were trying to keep order. After a great delay in getting through the illegally narrow streets (for the people who ran the factories did not hesitate to bribe local officials to let them conduct business in any way they chose to, laws to protect the public and their employees be damned), the fire trucks came in and valiantly fought the blaze, keeping it from destroying the whole benighted area.

“Mis hijas,” one lady sobbed. “Muerte.”

“My factory,” the factory owner, a man by the name of Honorable Dealer, retorted. “Ruined. Natonito is going to kill me.”

“Mis hijas ya son muertes,” the lady replied, the tears still flowing.

“I don’t care about your daughters, lady,” Honorable snapped. “I care about my livelihood, my job, and my reputation.”

A young lady of about thirteen from the southern isles piped up, “Perhaps if you cared more about us you would not have to worry so much about your livelihood, your job, and your reputation.”

“And what is your name Miss know it all?” Honorable snapped.

“My name is Delilah Harris,” the young lady replied.

“Well, it goes without saying that you don’t work for me anymore,” Honorable said.

“I figured as much when I saw my home and job go up in flames,” Delilah replied, keeping her cool.

Looking up into the sky Honorable saw the craft of Natonito come in to land on the street. He walked up to the craft with a knot in his stomach and a lump in his throat. He knew that the news would not be taken well, and was surprised at how fast the news had reached Natonito, who must have traveled at maximum speed.

Walking out of the craft, Natonito said. “Dishonorable, come here right now!”

“Yes, Natonito,” Honorable said, his head bowed towards the ground.

“This factory was your responsibility,” Natonito said in somber tones. “What went wrong?”

“The vat for the purple dye overheated, catching fire, and the rest of the factory caught fire too,” Honorable said.

“I know that,” Natonito said. “I am asking you what went wrong. How did the dye ever get that hot in the first place?”

“I do not know,” Honorable said. “Perhaps one of the workers put in too much fuel. It could have been any number of things.”

“You know better than to try to pass off this blame to others. Look at these workers here, probably illegals. You probably pay these workers less than a freznic a day, and put on the books that you pay them minimum wage, pocketing the difference. From the looks of it you have broken every municipal code for living and working practices.” Seeing Delilah, he added, “You’re even breaking child labor laws here. You’re beyond fired.”

“What are you dong to do about the factory?” Honorable said.

“I will rebuild it somewhere else, slightly away from here,” Natonito said.

“You’re going to have the same problems,” Honorable said.

“I think not,” Natonito said.

“How can you say that?” Honorable said. “You are manufacturing cheap clothing, and you need to pay the least to get the profit margins you are looking for. So you will cut corners and hire illegals to help your bottom line.”

“That is your mistake,” Natonito said. “That is your way, not mine. I make high-quality clothes for those with means. They know what they get is not some cheap stitched clothing, but fine apparel. I can pass the costs on to them. It even benefits me to do so, since my client base understands that you have to pay for quality. Those who are slightly more daft and easily parted from their money believe that anything expensive is high quality. So either way, my market understands my pricing.”

“I don’t understand your logic,” Honorable said.

“Well, I can assure you that you will never work as a manager again,” Natonito said. “You have no understanding of quality. People with means and brains are willing to pay for quality. In order to get quality, you have to treat your employees with a certain amount of respect, make sure they earn enough to make a decent living, and rewards for work of high quality and for ways to improve the production line. People must know that you think they are special and then they will do special things for you. As you seem incapable of understanding that, you are not worthy of working for me.”

“Anything else you have to say?” Honorable said.

“Yes, I am requiring a full accounting of your personal profits from this factory,” Natonito said. “I believe you have defrauded me. You never defraud the Directrix.”

“Are you accusing me of fraud?” Honorable said.

“Exactly. You are under arrest. Prepare your defense,” Natonito said. Guards come out of the craft and arrest Honorable.

“This is an alarming development,” Honorable said.

“Indeed it is. When the engineers finish piecing through this you could be in even more trouble,” Natonito said.

“The engineers?” Honorable asked.

“Yes, the engineers,” Natonito said. “You look surprised.”

“I thought some police were going to look this over and then leave it be,” Honorable said.

“You were very wrong. When something goes wrong in a place of business I own, there is hell to pay for whoever is at fault. And that person is you,” Natonito said.

“Oh,” Honorable said, choking on his words.

“Yes, unless you have some facts I am unaware of, silence would be good, unless you plan on making your punishment swift and certain,” Natonito said. “Guards, take him away.” They take him away.

“Are you the Directrix?” Delilah asked.

“Yes, I am,” Natonito said.

“What are you going to do about us?” Delilah asked.

“I don’t know. First light is nearing. You guys stay around here. I think some of the people can go to other factories, but the younger ladies might want to go with the engineers tomorrow,” Natonito said.

“Why do you say that?” Delilah asked.

“Well, you guys might find a better future around the engineers, and might be attractive to them as well. It would be better than this. You could go to school at the army base as well, and perhaps you could find a way to belong in this land, not just be an underclass,” Natonito said.

“You’re a kind man there,” Delilah said.

“I can afford to be kind, there is no excuse for me not to be,” Natonito said. “When one is as wealthy as I am, there is no point to hoarding it for one’s self. At that point it becomes important to establish a legacy. History and society honor those who make their billions and then give it back to the community. But I deserve no special credit for giving a little when I have a lot to give.”

“Well, how long will it take for the engineers to arrive?” Delilah asked.

“They will probably be receiving their wake-up calls soon,” Natonito said. “And they won’t like it.”

“That’s too bad, I hope this doesn’t inconvenience them too much,” Delilah said.

“Don’t worry, this is their job, to work on matters of imperial interest. Whether it is spying on our nation’s enemies, doing forensic engineering work, working on building a massive project, they do their duty,” Natonito said.

“That is good,” Delilah said.

“Besides, once they see you, they will not be inconvenienced at all,” Natonito said. “They will be tripping over themselves to be your host. Take my advice, though, if you see a skinny boy with red-blond hair and freckles, pick him.”

“You know him?” Delilah said. “And thanks for the compliment.” She blushes.

“Yes, I know him,” Natonito said. “And you’re very welcome for the compliment. You have a lovely tan complexion. You must be from the south islands.”

“Yes, I am. My family sent me up here to make some money, but I have not heard of them for a couple of years,” Delilah said.

“There was a horrible hurricane down there,” Natonito said.

“I know,” Delilah said.

“So much death and destruction,” Natonito said. “Just like tonight. And all we can do is pick up the pieces and move on as best as we can.”

“I know,” Delilah said sadly.

“You’re alive, though,” Natonito said, hugging her. “Make the best of it until God decides it is your time to go.”

“I will,” Delilah said softly.

“It is time for me to go now, before my wife wonders what is going on. You stay here, the engineers will arrive shortly,” Natonito said.

“Thank you for the kindness,” Delilah said.

“You deserve far more than just that,” Natonito said, leaving. To himself, he said, “But that is all I can give you right now.”

V.

It was morning in the base, and the engineers had just been roused by a special bugle call. Needless to say, they were groggy and more than a little annoyed. As they all met at the engineering station they began to sort out what was going on.

“What was that awful sound that woke me up,” Daniel said. “It sounded like someone dying. What a horrible instrument.”

“That was the bugle call,” Col. Parsons said.

“Oh, thank you for letting me know, sir,” Daniel said. “And I figure that this was important news, since we were roused from the pleasures of sleep so early.”

“You are correct, Lt. Miller,” Col. Parsons said.

“So what is our mission?” Broad said.

“There was a fire in one of the Nike factories last night here in Bravia. The death and destruction was severe. Directrix Natonito was most displeased with the fire, as it showed that the factory manager had neglected his duty to the company and to the people of Bravia. Our job is to sift through the rubble and see what sort of forensic evidence we can produce.”

“That sounds like an easy job,” Broad said.

“This job is high priority,” Col. Parsons said. “We cannot afford to waste time or do a half-ass job on this. This is a special request from the Directrix. I am sure everyone in here is aware that he is one person in this empire we cannot piss off.”

“Yes, sir,” Broad said.

“That is a better attitude,” Col. Parsons said. “We will divide into teams to handle the job.”

“Sir, what kind of teams?” an engineer asked. “If this is only one building it should be a pretty small job.”

“The job itself is small,” Col. Parsons said. “However, there are a few tasks of great importance. We must try to reconstruct the building, see what kind of structure it was, and see what laws it broke. I will lead this group, as it demands the greatest amount of engineering expertise. The more experienced engineers will be on my team.”

“Yes,” Broad said, not quite sotto voce.

Ignoring him, Col. Parsons continued, “There also remains the task of determining the proximate cause of the disaster, and dealing with the spread of the fire itself, and the damage. That task I leave to Capt. Kajima and Capt. Kiewit, who will take all but one of the remaining engineers and work on that somber task. I will have further instructions soon on your task.”

“Who is the remaining solitary engineer?” Daniel asked.

“You are, Lt. Miller,” Col. Parsons said.

“Why me?” Daniel asked.

“Well, you are the most inexperienced of the engineers, so you will be observing us, if not doing anything, when your mission is complete. However, you are the only bilingual engineer here, and it is your job to talk to the survivors and record what kind of conditions they lived in, and what the factory and living conditions were like. Hopefully the account you get will illuminate the reconstruction that my team is able to determine,” Col. Parsons said.

“I see, Colonel,” Daniel said. “But this seems to be as much a criminal case as it does an engineering job.”

“You are exactly correct,” Col. Parsons said.

“Let me put the pieces together,” Daniel said. “This is a special request from the Directrix because of the activities of the factory manager. That means that the case would be against him. That means that we are part of the forensic team for an Imperial Court case.”

“You are a smart lad,” Col. Parsons said. “I hope the rest of you were paying attention. Our actions have to be above board. We are performing for a high audience here. Keep your head on straight, avoid stupid mistakes, let’s hope that what we find will help the Directrix with his case.”

“Yes, sir,” the engineers say.

“I am going to give specific instructions to each group now,” Col. Parsons said. “I don’t think I need to remind you to pay attention to everything I say.”

“No, sir. We know,” the engineers say.

“For those engineers in my group, our focus will be reconstructing the factory in designs to the way it was. Focus on any detail that provides floor plans and dimensions. Pay attention to the materials we come across in the rubble, and take as many pictures and make as many drawings as possible. When we are done, we will make structural plans and compare those to the ones that the Directrix has provided me with,” Col. Parsons said.

“Yes, sir,” the experienced engineers said.

“Capts. Kajima and Kiewit, you will handle the instructions I have previously told you. If you forget any important detail, I will tell your team the details,” Col. Parsons said to the two high ranked officers standing near him.

“Yes, sir,” Capt. Kajima said. “The first duty of this group is to determine the cause of the fire. Our squad will piece through the rubble, assisting the first group wherever possible, and will seek the place with the highest temperatures. It is our job to find out where the fire started, and what exactly went wrong, as best as we can tell.” “But there is more to our task than that alone,” Capt. Kiewit said. “We also must try to quantify the damage. We will use unit prices wherever possible and utilize the valuation given to us by the Directrix for this factory. Once we calculate the value of the factory, we will try to determine the value of what remains in the rubble. If there is nothing remaining, then the damage is total, and that damage will be held against the factory manager. In our search through the rubble, we will assist the local emergency agencies with the bodies, letting them know if we discover a new corpse.”

“This is a somber duty,” Col. Parsons said. “Remember that.”

“Yes, sir,” the engineers said.

“And now for you, young Lt. Miller,” Col. Parsons said that.

“Yes, sir?” Daniel asked.

“I will now give you your directions. As many people are able to give intelligible answers to your questions, and that will not be many, write their account, and tape it as well, for evidence. I know your handwriting is not very good, so I trust you will type it up later, and we will have some of the office staff transcribe the tapes themselves that you provide,” Col. Parsons.

“Yes, sir,” Daniel said.

“Something else, too,” Col. Parsons said. “If you can get one or two full accounts, you may stop there if the police are doing interviews. We do not want to get in the way of the local popo.”

“Yes, sir,” Daniel said.

“When you finish that task, you will help my team with the reconstruction, using your accounts to help flesh out the evidence we are able to recover,” Col. Parsons said.

“Yes, sir,” Daniel said.

“Everyone, that is all, it is time to head to the scene,” Col. Parsons said.

The engineers rushed into the jeeps and headed off to the site.

Just before the last jeep left, Broad told Daniel, “Don’t feel bad, you get to interview old ladies from Puria. This was a sweatshop after all.”

“I know,” Daniel said.

VI.

The engineers arrived at the scene with their mouths agape. Many of them had never worked in such a site before, most of them more used to building then sorting out a disaster.

“Alright, everyone, get to work,” Col. Parsons said. “Divide into teams.”

“Daniel, there aren’t many people left here,” Broad said.

“No, there aren’t,” Daniel replied.

“Go talk to that girl over there,” Col. Parsons said, pointing at Delilah.

“Yes, sir,” Daniel said, walking over to her.

“Hello, what is your name?” Daniel said, starting the tape machine quietly, and preparing to write on his pad.

“My name is Delilah Harris,” she said.

“My name is Daniel Miller, with the Corps of Engineers. We are here to sort out this disaster,” Daniel said.

“The Directrix told me about you,” Delilah said.

“Oh, really?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, he said it would be good to stay close to you,” Delilah said.

“Well, I shall have to thank him. I already have a girlfriend, but lovely female company is always a good thing,” Daniel said. “What happened here last night?”

“I was sleeping in my bed when I heard screaming about the purple vat overheating. By the time I threw on these clothes and ran out of the building the place was almost completely ablaze,” Delilah said.

“You mean there were no firebreaks in the building to contain the blaze, and no sprinklers in the building to handle the blaze?” Daniel said.

“That is correct,” Delilah said. “Once the fire started it just swept everything away. Most of the factory never had a chance. At least my room was close to the door.”

“That is alarming,” Daniel said. “I’m glad you made it alright, though.”

“Thank you,” Delilah said.

“What was work in the factory like?” Daniel asked.

“We would be roused from bed by a whistle every morning before dawn, and make our way to our small breakfasts, and then work for eight hours before a small lunch, and then eight hours again before a little dinner and then bed again,” Delilah said.

“Was there any schooling at all for you?” Daniel asked.

“No, but I read books that I could in the library of the factory,” Delilah said.

“Well, that is wise for you. You are aware of compulsory education laws for people our age, right?” Daniel said.

“No, I was not before you said it just now,” Delilah said.

“What sort of safety regulations were posted up on the factory floor?” Daniel asked.

“There were none,” Delilah said.

“None?” Daniel asked, incredulously.

“Not one,” Delilah said.

“There were no notices about the Bravian minimum wage or worker’s compensation or safety regulations about fumes?” Daniel said.

“None of that,” Delilah said.

“It goes without saying that many laws were broken here,” Daniel said. “What wage did you receive while you worked here at the factory?”

“I received a wage of 1 Freznic a day, of which three fourths of that went to the food and rent bill,” Delilah said.

“So there was basically no opportunity to save?” Daniel asked.

“That is correct,” Delilah said.

“Why did you accept this arrangement,” Daniel said.

“I did not feel I had much choice,” Delilah said. “I was sent here by family courtesy of someone who slipped through the naval patrol, and as I had no official papers and was too young to legally work, there was nowhere else for me to go.”

“You should not have to go through that again,” Daniel said.

“What other life is there for someone like me,” Delilah said.

“It is not the fate of the poor young person to slave away,” Daniel said. “I received a scholarship to come to the Imperial School in the capital from the small farming town where I was raised.”

“But you are a smart young man,” Delilah said.

“You are a smart young woman, you just need the opportunity to show it,” Daniel said.

“Thank you for your faith in me,” Delilah said.

“You just need to see it in yourself,” Daniel said. “So, what was the factory like in terms of dimensions?”

“Well, it seemed like the halls were all very narrow,” Delilah said. “Barely enough room for two people to walk through them. There was not much ventilation, and there were three giant vats in the main part of the factory where the purple, indigo, and scarlet dyes were prepared. The fumes from the vats circulated all over the factory, which gave us all headaches and made us dizzy.”

“What sort of controls were there in the vats,” Daniel said.

“Controls, as far as I know there were none. There were a few alarms when the dye overflowed a few times, but no changes were made,” Delilah said.

“So the temperature of the dye has been a problem before?” Daniel said.

“Yes,” Delilah responded.

“And what job did you have in the factory?” Daniel asked.

“It was my job to stitch the Albright at the bottom of the robes,” Delilah said.

“How long did that take?” Daniel asked.

“Quite a bit of time,” Delilah said.

“Could you draw on this sheet of paper an approximate floor plan of the factory?” Daniel asked.

“Certainly,” Delilah said, taking the pen. She then drew on the paper the relative size of the rooms.

“You have a good eye for design,” Daniel said.

“Thank you,” Delilah said.

“You are very welcome,” Daniel said.

“Lt. Miller,” Col. Parsons shouted.

“Yes, Colonel,” Daniel said loudly.

“Come over here with the girl, I have found something interesting,” Col. Parsons said.

“Yes, sir,” Daniel said as he and Delilah walked over to where Col. Parsons was standing.

“I have found here an original copy of the Directrix’s collections of plays, it somehow managed to escape the blast,” Col. Parsons said.

“The Directrix is a playwright?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, he also writes fantasy stories that not many people pay attention to with the emperor,” Col. Parsons said.

“They must be dark stories indeed if they spring from a place like this,” Daniel said.

“They are dark stories indeed, Lt. Miller,” Col. Parsons said. “Did you get a lot of information from this young lady?”

“Yes, I did,” Daniel said. “Here are my notes, and here is the tape.”

“Good,” Col. Parsons said. “The work is nearly done here. You and her may go in the jeep and talk about personal business.”

“Thank you, sir,” Daniel said.

“You deserve it. I like your questions out there. Ever thought about being a lawyer someday?” Col. Parsons said.

“Law school?” Daniel said. “That would be something indeed.”

“Yes, it would be,” Col. Parsons said as Daniel and Delilah walked to the jeep.

“Is that your commanding officer?” Delilah asked.

“Yes, it is, Col. Parsons,” Daniel said.

“And you are an officer yourself at your young age?” Delilah asked.

“All of the engineers are officers,” Daniel said.

“I always wanted to make out with an officer,” Delilah said.

“Nice joke there,” Daniel said.

“Yes, it is,” Delilah said, winking.

“I told you I already had a girlfriend,” Daniel said.

“I know, but she would understand,” Delilah said, putting Daniel’s hand on her inner thigh.

“You’re a beautiful young woman, but this isn’t the time or place for making out,” Daniel said.

“I know, but I think you’re a wonderful guy, and I want you to know it,” Delilah said.

“Thank you for your affection,” Daniel said.

“You are most welcome,” Delilah said, before she kissed him, sucking on his lips.

“Alrighty, kissy time is over,” Broad said. It’s time to get back to base. Oh, and the Colonel says that she will be staying with you.”

“I hope the Hoovers do not mind,” Daniel said.

“I’m sure they won’t,” Broad said.

This is the end of Part I of “The Sons of Martha.” Stay tuned for Part II.
VII.

It was the next day at the engineering office, a time of congratulation and joy. When a job goes well, even a harrowing job like this one, there is always celebration to go around. Where esteem was due, Col. Parsons was generous with praise. Where praise was not due, the men still esteemed themselves, as is customary with humankind.

“Lt. Miller,” Col. Parsons said.

“Sir,” Daniel replied. “I am still only a corporal. Why do you call me Lt. Miller?”

“In my eyes, and in the eyes of the Corps, you are Brevet Lt. Miller,” Col. Parsons said.

“Thank you for the high favor,” Daniel said.

“You deserve it. In fact, you are about to receive even more favor,” Col. Parsons said. “Step up here and face your fellow engineers.”

“Yes, sir,” Daniel said.

“Why is the kid always getting honored?” one of the engineers asked Col. Parsons. “This little guy is only fourteen, and yet he is treated just like one of us.”

“Yes,” Col. Parsons replied. “He is only fourteen years old. In the engineers, though, age is immaterial. We value quick thinking and brainpower. Already, in the time he has been here, our young intern has performed two tasks of high importance. He viewed the sinking of a Vallerian missile by the forces of Zunia, earning him a NIMA Award from the Directrix. Also, his work yesterday helped us solidify a case against the manager of the factory. For that he deserves high praise. Thanks in part to him the case appears to be beyond reasonable doubt. I sincerely doubt any of you were performing such brave tasks as teenagers.” There was silence in the room.

“No, I guess you are right,” the disaffected engineer said.

“Thank you for your high praise,” Daniel said. “I do not know how to properly respond.”

“You have a bright career ahead of you, Lt. Miller,” Col. Parsons said. “Remember that.”

“Yes, sir, I will,” Daniel replied.

“It is time to discuss our next task,” Col. Parsons said. “We will be constructing a new canal.” There was snickering in the room. He continued, “As Bravians, in particular Natonito Albright, love digging canals, we will be starting work tomorrow.” There is groaning in the audience. “Good luck, men.”

“What do you call a failed engineer?” Broad asked Daniel.

“What, a ditch digger?” Daniel replied.

“Close, a Bravian canal digger,” Broad said.

“Why do you hate the job so much?” Daniel asked.

“You shall see,” Broad said. “You have some time to hear a story, right?” Broad asked.

“Of course,” Daniel replied.

“Sit then,” Broad said.

“Alrighty,” Daniel replied.

“I remember my work in digging the channel for the Albright River, back when it was still the Bravia River,” Broad said. “Back then men were real men. We were dredging the channel. It was awful work. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, I hear you,” Daniel replied. “I’ve never spent much time around rivers. But I know swamps well.”

“Ah, you’re from Cork. Bloody swampy land that is too,” Broad said. “Well, then you understand where I am going with this story then.”

“I do?” Daniel asked.

“Yes,” Broad said. “Have you ever seen the swarms?”

“I assume you mean the bloodsucking mosquitoes,” Daniel said. “Yes I have seen many of these.”

“Well, you have seen nothing until you see the canal swarms,” Broad said. “The mosquitoes there are as big as gumballs, but nowhere near as sweet. They also do not attack individually, but in massive swarms.”

“That sounds rather hellish,” Daniel said.

“Hellish indeed. These beasts are the very stingers of sheol,” Broad said. “The borderlands between Bravia and Imperium are called the land of 10,000 lakes and 10,000,000 mosquitoes. We shall be lucky in not meeting them all at once.”

“I see,” Daniel said.

“Have you ever drained a swamp?” Broad asked.

“No, I have not,” Daniel said.

“Well, you will,” Broad said. “I hope your health survives, laddie. You look a bit delicate, and this is no work for a frail one like you.”

“I will do what I am required to do,” Daniel said.

“I know that,” Broad said. “For your sake, though, I hope they leave you to help map out the path of the canal, what lakes we shall use along the way, instead of digging and running the site like the rest of us.”

“Thank you for your concern,” Daniel said.

“You are most welcome,” Broad said. “You are a brave little guy. I just hope you don’t have to pay the price. You do know how many shots you will have soon, right?”

“No, I do not,” Daniel said.

“Well, if you don’t like shots you’re not going to be having much fun tomorrow,” Broad said.

“I do not have a problem with shots,” Daniel said. “Once I broke my knee playing touch football, and I sat calm while three vials of blood and fluid were drawn from my knee.”

“Well, that is quite something,” Broad said.

“There is no need to actively seek pain,” Daniel said. “But when it comes you should know how to deal with it.”

“That is a wise philosophy from someone so young,” Broad said.

“I may be young,” Daniel said. “But that does not mean I am foolish.”

“That is the assumption,” Broad said.

“There is an exception to almost every rule,” Daniel said. Capt. Kajima comes over.

“Welcome, young engineer,” Capt. Kajima said.

“Welcome, what is your business, sir,” Daniel said.

“I am here to tell you about your task for the canal building,” Capt. Kajima said.

“This should be interesting,” Broad said quietly.

“Go ahead, sir,” Daniel said.

“Do you know how to swim?” Capt. Kajima said.

“Yes, sir, I can swim pretty rapidly,” Daniel said. “Why do you want to know?”

“I am just collecting a profile of our engineers, and that had never come up for you,” Capt. Kajima said.

“Understood, sir,” Daniel said.

“Do you want to know your task?” Capt. Kajima said.

“Of course, sir,” Daniel said.

“You will be handling the GIS Mapping,” Capt. Kajima said. “Considering your skills, it will be best if you are in the office handling the mapping duties, seeing what kind of lakes we will be in, where the most advantageous channels will be and the like.”

“That is good,” Broad said.

“Thank you, sir,” Daniel said. “Is there anything else?”

“No, Lt. Miller,” Capt. Kajima said. “That is all.” He walked to another engineer.

“Well, you lucked out there, kid,” Broad said. “You could have ended up in dredging duty.”

“We shall see,” Daniel said. “Anyway, I will look at some of the maps here and get ready for tomorrow.”

“Good luck, Daniel,” Broad said. “I figure I will handle the dynamite.”

“Really, that sounds like a fun job,” Daniel said.

“Oh, yes, fun,” Broad said. “And very dangerous.”

“Of course it is dangerous,” Daniel said. “Blowing up things is always fraught with danger.”

“Well, you should do alright yet,” Broad said. “As long as you avoid sickness you will be fine. The lakes are very humid.”

“But I am used to that,” Daniel said.

“Not the cold humidity,” Broad said.

“That is true,” Daniel said.

“See you in the morning,” Broad said.

“Goodnight,” Daniel said.

“Goodnight,” Broad said as Daniel picked up some maps and left.

VIII.

It was night in the Hoover residence, and Daniel and Delilah were sleeping in bed. It was only the second time Daniel had ever slept with a girl, and sex was not on his mind.

“Daniel,” Delilah said.

“Yes?” Daniel replied.

“Don’t you want to, do something with me?” Delilah said.

“What are you talking about?” Daniel asked. “I’m tired, it’s been a long day, and I am going to be doing canal work tomorrow.”

“Too tired for fooling around?” Delilah said.

“I told you, I have a girlfriend,” Daniel said. “You are a very beautiful girl, but I am not going to cheat on her.”

“But how am I supposed to know that you will not abandon me if I do not sleep with you?” Delilah said.

“Abandon you?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, abandon me,” Delilah said.

“Look,” Daniel said. “I am not going to use you and then forget you. You are a bright girl, a clever girl, and a beautiful girl. Someday, I hope, you can become educated enough that you will be seen by guys as a girl to settle down with, not a girl to screw.”

“Thank you,” Delilah said. “No one has ever told me that.”

“I suppose it is my just penance, letting girls know they are attractive and should be loved when no one else will tell them,” Daniel said.

“Why penance?” Delilah said.

“Sit down, and let me tell you a story,” Daniel said.

“Okay,” Delilah replied.

“Before I had my first “real” girlfriend, I had a girl in Cork I kinda went out with,” Daniel said.

“What does that mean?” Delilah said.

“It means that we said we were going out, but not seriously and not exclusively,” Daniel said.

“Oh,” Delilah said. “Carry on.”

“She was a cute girl, a bit on the chubby side, but with a bright smile and beautiful eyes,” Daniel said. “And I never told her that she was pretty, never complimented her looks, but instead I always told her how much other girls were prettier than her and how conservative she dressed.”

“That is terrible,” Delilah said.

“I know,” Daniel said. “I didn’t really like her all that much, to be honest, and when I broke off the relationship she found that out too.”

“But did you stay friends?” Delilah asked.

“Yes, friends, but it was always awkward. I had told her I felt for her feelings I did not, so the lie was mine,” Daniel said.

“And you will always carry that with you,” Delilah said.

“Of course,” Daniel said. “I am an honest person, but we all make mistakes of weakness. I wanted to have a girlfriend, but it does not matter unless you really want her.”

“What are you saying?” Delilah said.

“Having a relationship is just a title unless you really care for the person you are with, unless you really want them, unless you really love them. And, quite honestly, I didn’t really love her. So after two months we got in a stupid fight because I did not spend enough time with her, and so I decided to break up with her,” Daniel said.

“You realized your mistake?” Delilah said.

“I knew my mistake from the beginning, but then, everybody knew after that,” Daniel said. “I should have never asked her out in the first place.”

“You asked her out,” Delilah asked, incredulously.

“Yes, I asked her out,” Daniel said.

“So you went out with a girl for two months without feeling for her anything but the feelings of a friend?” Delilah said.

“Not exactly. There was that bright moment when I felt something magical, a wonderful touch, but it was fleeting and soon vanished, and there was nothing to take its place,” Daniel said.

“That is so sad,” Delilah said.

“Sometimes love is sad,” Daniel said. “I know I have to carry what I have done for the rest of my life. I learn and move on.”

“Did you and her, do anything?” Delilah asked.

“No, we did not have sex, or even kiss,” Daniel said. “But I do not suppose that matters. Does it hurt any less to have played with someone’s heart because you have not also played around with her body? Are you any less of a cad for not having taking away purity when you have feigned emotions?”

“Do not blame yourself too harshly,” Delilah said.

“What, I deserve it,” Daniel said. “But you are right. Blame is not the end I have in mind, but it is improvement that I seek. And improvement comes on looking at your life, seeing where you have gone wrong, and in doing better the next time.”

“What if there is no next time,” Delilah said.

“There is always a next time,” Daniel said. “As long as a new day dawns there is another chance to do what is right and to grow and learn from past mistakes. So long as I am breathing I have a chance.”

“That is a good way to think,” Delilah said.

“It is the only way to live,” Daniel said. “Do you know how sad my mistakes make me? I live them out time and time again in my mind, but I know that while I cannot go back and undo them, as pleasant as that would be, I can move on and not make the same mistake again.”

“Well, I hope the same for me,” Delilah said. “You think that even more me there is a chance?”

“Yes,” Daniel said. “There is a chance for all of us, if we choose to take it. We have to put the effort into growing, though. It is not enough to say that there will be another chance. We have to work on ourselves to make that chance a better one.”

“I know,” Delilah said.

“I know too, and I knew that even then,” Daniel said. “But knowing is not enough, one has to do. It is easy to know, intellectually speaking, but so hard to do. Oh, that I had the heart to follow the true ways with all of my understanding.”

“How I wish for your understanding,” Delilah said.

“Be careful what you wish for. What you know, you are responsible for doing. That sobering thought I carry with me all the days of my life,” Daniel said. “I know much, so I know I am responsible for much as well. Seek knowledge, but not empty knowledge that will puff you up, but knowledge that will edify you and help you grow.”

“Well, do you think we should sleep now?” Delilah said.

“Yes,” Daniel answered.

“I will not bug you this time about sex,” Delilah said.

“That is good,” Daniel said.

“You do not want to get in trouble with your girlfriend, do you?” Delilah said.

“No, I do not. She is a wonderful young lady and I want to keep what I have with the one I love,” Daniel said.

“Tell me about your girlfriend,” Delilah said.

“Her name is Delia Sanchez,” Daniel said. “She is a shy girl, but exceedingly beautiful, with a wonderful smile, with long straight black hair, two cute little breasts, a slim but nice body, and the softest hands I have ever held.”

“Anything else?” Delilah said, enraptured.

“She has the voice of an angel, a soft and sweet voice that reflects her shyness as well as the beauty in everything that she does. I dream of her every night when I go to sleep, and every morning when I wake it is her face I see, no matter how far away she is,” Daniel said.

“That is really sweet,” Delilah said. “Have you ever told her this?”

“Not yet,” Daniel said. “I am afraid she would think it is too corny.”

“Say it, you never know when you will have the chance to tell her you love her,” Delilah said.

“You are right, I should let her know just how I feel,” Daniel said. “Neither her nor I can read each other’s mind, but yet I am sure she loves me. I feel it in her hugs and kisses, and the way she looks into my eyes, and I hope she sees it in me too.”

“I hope I find what you have,” Delilah said.

“You will, someday, believe me,” Daniel said.

“How do you know?” Delilah asked.

“I just do,” Daniel said.

IX.

It was morning in the Hoover household, and Dr. and Mrs. Hoover got up early to remind their houseguest of some matters before he left for the swamplands and the canal project.

“Wake up, Daniel,” Dr. Hoover said, knocking on the door.

“You can come in, Dr. Hoover, I am already awake,” Daniel replied.

“Alright,” Mrs. Hoover said, opening the door.

“Yes?” Daniel asked.

“We have some things we need to discuss with you, before you leave,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Go ahead,” Daniel said. “I have a bit of time before we leave for the western regions of Bravia.”

“Well, we have some comments to make about you as a houseguest,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Alright,” Daniel replied.

“You have treated this house like it was your own,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I imagine you don’t find that a good thing, do you?” Daniel asked.

“Well, not exactly,” Mrs. Hoover said. “We are glad that you have kept your clothes in here. But you are also a really picky person, and we have tried to make you feel comfortable.”

“I know you have,” Daniel said. “And you guys are great hosts. I am sorry that I am such a picky person, but you guys have done a great job. I especially love that you took me to Brent’s.”

“Well, you can go off now if you are ready. We just wanted to talk with you a little bit,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“No problem,” Daniel said. “Have a good rest of the summer, and say farewell to your daughter for me.”

“That we will,” Dr. Hoover said as Daniel took his bag and walked out of the house.

“Thank you,” Daniel said quietly under his breath.

At this point Melody opened up her door. “You guys are softies,” she said.

“What do you mean?” Mrs. Hoover asked.

“You should have ripped into him. That would have been fun. I would have loved to have seen him squirm as you called him an ungrateful guest, a worthless loafer, trying to take advantage of your hospitality,” Melody said.

“That would not be nice,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“But that is the reason why she would want to see it, dear,” Dr. Hoover said.

“What are you saying? We all know that Melody is mean girl,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Don’t call me that,” Melody said. “I’m just trying to tell you to stick up for yourself.”

“You’re always trying to get on my case,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“If you don’t stand up for yourself people are going to walk all over you,” Melody said. “If you don’t listen to me you’ll just have to learn it the hard way.”

“What do you mean, learn the hard way?” Mrs. Hoover said.

“You’re always complaining about how people don’t respect you,” Melody said.

“And what does that have to do with anything?” Mrs. Hoover said.

“This has everything to do with this subject,” Melody said.

“What are you talking about?” Mrs. Hoover said.

“What I’m saying is that if you want people to respect you and not walk all over you, you have to stand up for yourself,” Melody said.

“I don’t want to be a mean person like you are,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Then people are going to step all over you,” Melody said. “It is such a waste of time to argue with you. You never listen to a word I say.”

“How come you’re not saying anything, David,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“This is your argument, I am just enjoying myself listening to it,” Dr. Hoover replied.

“Don’t you have some horn lessons coming up?” Mrs. Hoover said.

“There are always horn lessons coming up,” Dr. Hoover said.

“You’re changing the subject, mom,” Melody said.

“No, I’m not,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Listen, if you want to get trampled over, go ahead. Just don’t complain to me about it,” Melody said. “I don’t want to hear it if you’re not going to do anything about it.”

“I do something about it,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Whatever,” Melody said.

“Don’t you whatever me,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“You are so frustrating,” Melody said.

“You are frustrating. You’re always nagging and contradicting me,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“That’s because you do not think logically and because you never pay attention to what I say. Somebody has to contradict you, talk some sense into you,” Melody said.

“You’re not going to talk sense into me, or whatever you call it,” Mrs. Hoover said. “I’ve been around a lot longer than you have.”

“And look at how little that means,” Melody said.

“Are you disrespecting me,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Of course I’m disrespecting you,” Melody said. “Can’t you understand that?”

“Of course she’s disrespecting you, dear, that’s what she does best,” Dr. Hoover said.

“Stop taking her side, David. It’s not funny,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I’m not taking her side,” Dr. Hoover said.

“He’s right, you know,” Melody said.

“I don’t take anyone’s side, dear, I just enjoy the argument,” Dr. Hoover said.

“No, you’re taking his side,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“You’re changing the subject again, mom,” Melody said.

“That’s because I do not like this subject. You are harassing me again,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I can’t wait until we get rid of that poor girl, whoever she is,” Melody said. “I can’t even remember her name.”

“She’s a bit too dark-skinned for my tastes,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“You’re so racist,” Melody said.

“I am not,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Whatever,” Melody said.

“Don’t you whatever me again” Mrs. Hoover said.

“You’re so hard to be around,” Melody said. “That’s why I’m going to move out as soon as I can get myself into a good situation.”

“Freedom is a lot more expensive than you think. Here, everything is paid for. Out in the real world you have to pay for everything yourself. You’ll be living with a lot less when you’re out of this house,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I don’t care, I will be free,” Melody said.

“And you will be poor too,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I won’t be poor,” Melody said.

“That’s what you say now,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I will make a decent wage as a teacher,” Melody said.

“That’s what you think now,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“You and Dad seem to do alright,” Melody said. “Anyway, I’ve got to get off to school now. It’s been fun arguing with you.” She leaves the house.

“Good riddance. It’s a good thing she takes summer classes,” Mrs. Hoover said. “I don’t like having her in my hair.”

“She doesn’t like having you in her hair either,” Dr. Hoover said.

“There are you, taking sides again,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I never take sides, I just enjoy the show,” Dr. Hoover said.

“That’s right, this is all just one big joke for you,” Mrs. Hoover said. “You think I’m funny.”

“That’s because you are funny, my dear,” Dr. Hoover said.

“I am not,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Yes, you are, and I love you greatly,” Dr. Hoover said.

“You’re just saying that,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“No, I mean it,” Dr. Hoover said.

X.

At the same time, the rest of the civil engineering group was getting into helicopters for transportation to the Canal Zone. Col. Turner Parsons looked over his charges with a jaundiced eye, making them aware that this was a job of some importance.

“Do you realize how important this canal is?” Parsons said.

“Very important,” one of the engineers said.

“Good answer. I have already discussed much of the basics of the plan, and what some of the jobs will be. Today I will tell you why this canal is being built,” Parsons said.

“Why is it being built?” an engineer asked.

“The Albright river is not wide enough or deep enough to carry the largest ships to the Russ river, which would increase trade by a large amount. However, the Directrix does not wish to destroy the habitat of the Bravia river, which includes unique and tasty types of birds and fish. So, for roughly the same cost, we will instead dig through the swampy lands of Eastern Imperium, which is known, as I have already mentioned, as the land of 10,000 lakes and 10,000,000 mosquitoes. We have precisely mapped out the routes for the canal to go from one lake to another in a straight line north from the sea to the Russ River. Where are those maps,” he said.

“Here they are,” Daniel said, breathlessly running to the group.

“There you are,” Capt. Kajima said. “We were worried about you.”

“I am sorry for being late. I was detained by the people I was staying with, to whom I had to apologize for being an inconsiderate houseguest,” Daniel said.

“Well, you are on cue. The Colonel wanted to see the maps,” Broad said.

“Oh, yes sir, here are the maps,” Daniel says, giving them to Col. Parsons.

“Yes, here they are. We will be using the services of this young man to help us keep on path. All of those who have had their shots can now get on their proper helicopters,” Col. Parsons said. “Those without the shots need to see the doctor.”

As a point of fact, only Daniel had failed to get the shots, since he was the only relatively new engineer, and so he stood facing the doctor as the doctor recited the list of shots that he needed to have.

“Tetnus?” the doctor asked.

“No,” Daniel said. The doctor gave him a tetnus shot.

“Measles, mumps, rubella?” the doctor asked.

“No,” Daniel said. The doctor gave him that shot.

“Yellow fever?” the doctor asked.

“No,” Daniel replied. The doctor gave him that shot.

“Hepatitis?” the doctor asked.

“No,” Daniel said. The doctor gave him that shot.

“Sleeping sickness?” the doctor asked.

“No,” Daniel said. The doctor gave him that shot.

“Flu,” the doctor said?

“No,” Daniel replied as the doctor gave him that shot as well.

“Smallpox?” the doctor asked.

“No,” Daniel said. The doctor gave him that shot.

“That should be all,” the doctor said. “Your right arm looks almost numb.”

“That is fine,” Daniel said. “Remember, I am left handed.”

“Good thing,” the doctor said.

“Yes, indeed,” Daniel replied.

Daniel gets up, picks up the maps, and carrying them with his left hand walks with his right hand falling beside him limp gets on the helicopter.

“I’ve never seen someone get all those shots at once,” Broad said.

“I didn’t have any of my shots, so I had to get them all,” Daniel said.

“You didn’t have any of them,” Capt. Kajima said.

“No,” Daniel replied.

“Why not?” Broad asked.

“I’m from Cork,” Daniel answered.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Kajima asked.

“Everything,” Daniel replied.

“You’re from out in the boondocks, right?” Broad asked.

“That’s correct. In Cork we are a bunch of poor farmers living in the swamps. We get sick, there are no doctors for us, no inoculations, merely the strength of will against all grief on every side. Only the strong survive such a childhood,” Daniel said.

“But you look rather frail,” Kajima said.

“You do not look as tough as you are,” Broad said.

“If I had come from a family with better means I would not have my crooked back or my weak lungs, and I would without a doubt appear as a better specimen of humanity, but such is my life. I can only make do with what I have. There is no sense in wishing for what is not mine to possess, for the most I can do is strive to possess what I can in the future,” Daniel said.

“You are a brave lad,” Kajima said.

“That you are indeed,” Broad said.

“You are staying inside in this mission,” Kajima said.

“So I have been told,” Daniel said.

“We are responsible to the Directrix for your health,” Kajima said.

“And we do not want to get in trouble because your health was jeopardized,” Broad said.

“I appreciate the concern, but is this really necessary?” Daniel said.

“You are the top student at the Imperial School,” Kajima said. “If you die, we die.”

“That was exactly what we were told,” Broad said.

“Then you had better hope I live,” Daniel said.

“That we most certainly do,” Kajima said. “Besides, to see someone with your intelligence and pluck is quite rare for us to see. Here in the engineers we do not see very many people from the commoner classes.”

“I suppose you would consider me a credit to my class, being able to rise up to such a high position, but I wonder if all things were equal if there would not be a lot more people like me. The goal of society with regards to its lower classes is to make society equal enough and the road to success fair enough so that anyone may succeed without considering them a credit to anything other than their own dreams and their own strength of will, as well as the will of our merciful Creator God,” Daniel said.

“If that were so life would be quite different,” Kajima said.

“Indeed it would,” Daniel said.

“Is such a world possible?” Broad asked.

“I do not know,” Daniel said. “But I believe it is worth finding out.”

“Do you know the other reason you are inside?” Kajima asked.

“No, I do not,” Daniel said.

“There are reasons besides your health for you to stay inside,” Kajima said.

“And what are those?” Daniel said.

“You’re needed to check for military operations,” Broad said.

“Against the canal?” Daniel said.

“Not exactly,” Kajima said.

“Then against what?” Daniel asked.

“Against the facilities of New Paz,” Kajima said.

“Is there some special ship being built?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, the Directrix and the Emperor are building more copies of the type used by the Animal Star Empire,” Kajima said.

“The ones with the high tech weapons and the cloaking,” Broad said.

“I thought we lacked the technology for that,” Daniel said.

“Apparently not” Kajima said.

“Well, that would certainly tip the balance of military power in the area,” Daniel said.

“That has to rank as the understatement of the year,” Broad said.

“Indeed it does,” Kajima said.

“Well, I will do my duty. Who do we fear an attack from?” Daniel asked.

“Either a coalition of the minor island states or the Zunians,” Kajima said.

“I hope the Directrix smooths things over with them, and lets them know that we do not plan on attacking their empire,” Broad said.

“I hope so too,” Kajima said. “Believe me, I hope so too.”

XI.

It was a rainy day in the capital of the Zunian Empire, whose size and technological level dwarfed anything Secfenia had to offer. Natonito Bravia et Albright and his lovely wife Bathsheba were walking towards the monstrous palace of the Zunians. They had left after receiving the summons rather quickly, leaving their child in the care of an experienced wet nurse. They hoped the journey would be short.
While they walked down what seemed to be a walkway of interminable length, Natonito wondered what it was that drove his ancestors to leave, and start the province of Bravia. After all, the Bravians were, by blood, Zunians. This palace was, in essence, the capital of all people with Zunian blood, and that included him. As one of the three races of Secfenia, the Zunians were a people with an unmatched passion for technology and building. While looking around, Natonito was impressed at how much like his designs for Bravia the capital city of Zunia was. Perhaps somewhere in him, even without ever knowing, there was the ancestral genius of a people who had long ago left their home for freedom in the uncertain woods and swamps and plains of Bravia.

“This place is huge,” Bathsheba said. “One cannot help but be in awe.”

“That is the point,” Natonito said. “Any builder of a palace wants supplicants and courtiers to be amazed at the power and grandeur of the empire, and, by extension, the emperor.”

“I see. So does my little empire builder do the same thing?”

“Well, we do in West Maue, because that is where the emperor is. However, in Bravia we chose instead to accentuate the commonality between ruler and ruled, and so the palace is modest in size and located in the center of the city. Though this palace is much larger, it appears to be the same sort of thing. It seems to remind the people of this capital of how central the ruler is to the ruled and to the nation as a whole.”

“Who knew this much thought went into buildings,” Bathsheba said.

“Governments never do things without important reasons,” Natonito said. “The glory of the empire is of the utmost importance.”

Finally, they had arrived at the front door, which stood three stories high and opened sideways into what appeared to be a dark cave. Natonito and Bathsheba walked hand in hand into the palace, where they met with a palace greeter.

“Welcome to Zunia,” the greeter said.

“Thank you, we came as soon as we got the summons,” Natonito said.

“That was wise,” the greeter said.

“Is there anyone ahead of us?” Bathsheba asked.

“No, walk this way. The emperor and empress are ready to see you now. We have been expecting you,” the greeter said.

“Thank you,” Natonito said.

“You are most welcome,” the greeter said.

As they silently walked across a long hall of mirrors, which made the large hall appear even larger than it was, Natonito wondered how many people were kept waiting in these halls, sweating and nervous, while the emperor and empress smiled and kept the heat on the humble supplicants.
Even though Natonito was as experienced a politician as there was in Secfenia, he too felt a little bit ill at ease. However, he was able to control it, and so was Bathsheba. Still, they looked around and saw the sights. Finally, at the end of the hall of mirrors there was a small door for only two to walk in at a time. One guard stood at each side of the door.

“Here we are,” the greeter said.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Natonito said.

“It is my job, no thanks are required,” the greeter said. “The guards will check to see if you are armed.”

“Check away,” Natonito said.

The guards checked closely and were satisfied that neither Natonito nor Bathsheba were armed. They pondered why this stranger looked so much like their people as they silently opened the door. Natonito and Bathsheba walked inside to what was a small but very bright room. At the back end of the room, which was covered in gold with scarlet carpeting running down the center was the Emperor and the Empress of the Zunian Emperor. The Emperor looked uncannily like him.

“Welcome, Directrix,” the Emperor said.

“You have a wonderful palace here,” Natonito said.

“We shall talk more about that. What is your name?” the emperor said.

“My name is Natonito Bravia et Albright,” Natonito said.

“And who is the woman?” the Empress asked.

“I am Bathsheba Longbert et Albright,” Bathsheba said.

“You look Zunian,” the Emperor said.

“I am Bravian,” Natonito replied.

“Bravian?” the Emperor said. “While we are aware of the insignificant political divisions in Secfenia, we have never taken an interest in the people.”

“The Bravians are a Zunian race that crossed over the mountains and founded an independent dukedom. When I was a young adult, I was chosen as the head of the Duchy of Bravia. Since then I have represented my people in whatever empire we were in.”

“Well, I am glad to know that there are Zunians in your empire. You do know why you are here, do you not?” the Emperor said.

“I assume it has to do with our military buildup,” Natontito said.

“You catch on rather quickly,” the Emperor said. “We are concerned about letting you take over all of the continent.”

“We have no interest in taking over all of the area known as Secfenia, much less in attacking you,” Natonito said.

“How many ships are you building?” the Emperor asked.

“Seven,” Natonito said.

“That is a small amount,” the Emperor said.

“They are expensive to build, and are to be mainly for expeditionary missions, hit and run. We realize that if we were to build an entire fleet on them that it would be a security threat to your empire,” Natonito said.

“You are smarter than the Vallerians,” the Emperor said.

“They were rude enough to decline our invitation,” the Empress said.

“That is why you destroyed their military buildup with the most advanced missiles I have ever seen,” Bathsheba said.

“How did you know about that?” the Emperor said. “That was a private matter.”

“A young engineer happened to be looking at the satellite feeds and noticed something was odd in time to witness the whole attack. I must say I was rather impressed with it when I saw the feed myself,” Natonito said.

“How young was this engineer?” the Emperor asked.

“He is fifteen,” Natonito said.

“Is he a Bravian?” the Empress asked.

“Yes, he is,” Natonito said.

“Your people possess what cleverness and initiative there is in your puny set of islands,” the Emperor said.

“Well, I thank you for the compliment, as left-handed as it may be,” Natonito said.

“I am impressed with the way you know proper protocol,” the Emperor said.

“When an empire more than ten times the size of yours sends you an invitation, it is not exactly something you can refuse,” Natonito said.

“You would be surprised,” the Empress said.

“How much do you know about my government?” the Emperor said.

“You have sort of a dual rulership. There must be a husband and wife team in order for there to be rule. Likewise, any guests must show up unarmed one male and one female. If an Emperor and Empress are not strong enough to carry on a dynasty, then a virile man and wife may take over the throne by force.”

“Palace intrigues are a constant problem,” the Emperor said.

“You never can trust anyone. The best you can do is have everyone suspicious of each other so none of them can feel confident enough to intrigue together,” the Empress said.

“Divide et imperum,” Natonito said.

“Yes, indeed,” the Emperor said.

“I am most impressed with your palace as well,” Natonito said.

“Oh really,” the Emperor said.

“Yes, it reminds me a lot of home,” Natonito said.

“Your capital city is built like this?” the Empress said.

“The capital city of my province, Bravia, is built a lot like this city,” Natonito said.

“You did say your people were descended from Zunians,” the Emperor said.

“Yes,” Natonito said. “Still, it is remarkable how much alike the cities are, except for the difference in size.”

“A people never forgets where it comes from,” the Empress said. “No matter how far it may wander, it will always take home with it, as much as is possible. In that way the spirit of a people is maintained even over long distances.”

“That is quite profound. It is as if buildings and music and language are but the forms in which the soul of a people remains the same over the course of time, changing in some respects due to current fashions, but always returning the same one unless the spirit of the people is destroyed,” Natonito said.

“Yes,” the Emperor said. “Tell your boss that your building is permitted, but for him to consult us the next time he decides to up the technological ante of your people. As long as Bravians are high in authority, we have nothing to fear, but someday other peoples may rule and may not have the same attitude that you do towards our empire.”

“I am sure you would be able to beat back any attack as giants smash the gnats that crash against their shields,” Natonito said.

“That is not the point,” the Empress said.

“We seek to be left alone,” the Emperor said.

“And we respect that,” Natonito said.

“But we can only keep that policy so long as the preponderance of strength is on our side. If that is ever threatened, then we will have to be much more active in the world scene,” the Emperor said.

“And then you may seek to take everything over again,” Natonito said.

“Yes. We do not want that, and you do not want that. Your people squabble constantly, and are currently a source of amusement, as the mostly backward tribes seek to rule over the little sandbox you call home. At least your people have some sense. Use it to help both us and yourselves,” the Emperor said.

“It would be my pleasure,” Natonito said.

“I have a question for you,” the Emperor said.

“Go ahead,” Natonito said.

“Do you know how your people got its independence and kept it?” the Emperor asked.

“I know we fled over the mountains,” Natonito said. “But I know little else. The history of that time is nothing more than contradictory oral tradition.”

“Our people kept better documents, though they are rather flattering to you. At least you would think so. A long time ago, there was a group of Zunians that desired an egalitarian state. After a long and destructive civil war, their side lost, and they were forced into exile. It was a bitter pill for them, since they had hoped to create an empire of liberty. There were few survivors from the battle, as they fought to the death, for the most part, rather than surrendering. However, that small group finally ended up in the fertile and beautiful land that you call home. After a few generations, your people had become the strong and mighty nation you have always been. The then Emperor of the Zunian Empire decided it was time to take back the area for the Empire. He figured, like the Animal Star Emperor, that a few hundred thousand troops would do the trick. He did not realize the attachment that your people have to liberty and independence. His people were sniped at from trees and barns, even the sewers, and though he took over most of the area, in the swamps the Bravian freedom fighters still were free, and so he rushed into the swamps to destroy the last resistance. However, to his surprise he was surrounded and, refusing to believe that the Bravians could beat him, was forced to surrender. He went back to Zunia in shame, touting a negotiated settlement. When the people found out it was a settlement to give them their total independence and leave them alone, despite the loss of the entire army, they rose up and committed regicide. The next Emperor forswore foreign invasions, as we have to this day. We figure if a people would rather choose death over what they consider slavery, then we will let them be free. It is better to have a free people as an ally than to have to kill them at greater cost to ourselves then the benefit of a ruined land would be. Go to your country in peace,” the emperor said.

“Thank you for the history lesson, and for the hospitality you and your people have shown this distant relative,” Natonito said.

“You are most welcome,” the Empress said. “Thank you for your interest in this people and in this palace. Most people have no interest except to get what they want.”

“Then they are fools,” Natonito said.

“They are indeed,” the Emperor said.

With that, and a final bow of respect, Natonito and Bathsheba walked back out of the palace quietly and went back to West Maue, pleased that they had survived and gained what they wanted in negotiation with the Zunian Empire, something that rarely happened. They had reason to be glad.

XII.

“We’re finally here,” Col. Turner Parsons said as the helicopters landed in the marsh country of eastern Imperium, where the new canal was to be built.

“That’s good,” Daniel said.

“I have heard rumors that the Directrix might come and give us directions himself,” Kajima said.

“He sure does take an interest in the engineers himself,” Broad said.

“He apparently has a lot of practice in engineering design,” Daniel said. “I myself have seen many of the buildings he designed. He has good style.”

“That he does,” Col. Parsons said. “Alright, everyone get out of the helicopters.”

The crews leave the helicopter, where there is an RV already waiting as the moving trailer. Daniel headed immediately for the trailer, and got inside, finding a comfortable seat near a computer with a wireless and super-fast connection to the satellite feeds it was his job to watch. He, breathing a sigh of relief, saw that everything was alright with the ship construction docks in Navy Island.

“Why is the boy inside?” an engineer asked.

“That is where his job is, to monitor things,” Col. Parsons said.

“When will we get started?” an engineer asked.

“As soon as the Directrix comes and speaks to us himself,” Col. Parsons said.

With that there was silence as the engineers waited for the Directrix to come. For several minutes they looked around for sounds and sights of the Directrix. All of the sudden one of the new invisible ships became visible and the Directrix, master of quiet entrances, walked out to the stunned crowd.

“I have returned recently from important business, and the result of it is that we were allowed by the Zunian Empire to build these seven ships with invisibility. This ship is the first of those seven. But that is not the purpose of my journey here. I wish to remind you that this project is of serious importance. I do not desire for there to be any deaths in this building project, so far as it is possible. After all, this project is to be a centerpiece in the economic redevelopment of the area, and the expansion of Bravia’s zone of influence in the area, as well as the advancement of naval travel and trade. Do your work, men, and I hope to toast you at the end of the project,” Natonito said.

“God save the Emperor. God save the Directrix. God save the empire,” the engineers said.

“Where is Daniel Miller?” Natonito asked.

“He’s in the trailer,” Col. Parsons said.

“Thank you,” Natonito said, walking into the trailer.

“Who is it?” Daniel said.

“It is I,” Natonito said.

“Oh, how are you doing Directrix?” Daniel asked.

“I am doing quite fine. I was able to talk about your work to the Emperor of the Zunian Empire,” Natonito said.

“Oh really?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, quite so,” Natonito answered.

“I am glad the meeting went well,” Daniel said. “I saw nothing unusual on the feeds.”

“They let us build those seven wonderful machines, but only those seven,” Natonito said.

“It is enough,” Daniel said.

“Yes, it is,” Natonito said. “How has this summer been for you?”

“It has been good,” Daniel said.

“That is nice to hear. I have heard about your brave work so far. You have done two important services to the empire, with your interviewing skills and with your skills on the satellite feeds. Who knows if in this project you will get the trifeca,” Natonito said.

“Who knows?” Daniel said. “I do the best job I can.”

“That is all you can do,” Natonito said.

“I hope it is enough,” Daniel said.

“I suppose we will find out,” Natonito said.

“Yes, for the sons of Martha there is no rest,” Daniel said.

“And yet the sons of Mary get to rest,” Natonito said.

“Such is the life. God rewards the sons of Martha though,” Daniel said.

“Yes, that He does,” Natonito said.

“So, why did you come here?” Daniel asked.

“I am going to keep a close eye on this building with the invisible ship,” Natonito said.

“What is the purpose for that?” Daniel said.

“I am worried about possible sabotage from enemies,” Natonito said.

“I see. With this ship here anyone who attemps to destroy will have more then they bargained for,” Daniel said.

“That is what I am expecting,” Natonito said.

“So, how will you do the fake. If enemies have spies here they will know the ship exists and that it is in the area,” Daniel said.

“I know,” Natonito said.

“So how are you going to deal with that?” Daniel said.

“What would you do?” Natonito asked.

“I would visibly lift off in the ship and fly towards West Maue, then go invisible and return and land near the work site, moving forward invisibly as work progressed,” Daniel said.

“You are wise,” Natonito said.

“Thank you,” Daniel said.

“You are most welcome. You have the makings of a fine leader,” Natonito said.

“I hope that is what I end up to be,” Daniel said.

“I have no doubt of it,” Natonito said. “So long as you loyally serve your people and your empire you will lack nothing in terms of advancement.”

“So what will you do when you are not preparing defenses for the canal?” Daniel said.

“Enjoying time with my wife and son,” Natonito said.

“That is always good,” Daniel said.

“Yes, young Natonito II is quite an energetic little tot,” Natonito said.

“Most of the smart ones are,” Daniel said.

“Yes, I agree,” Natonito said.

“It has been nice talking with you, Directrix,” Daniel said.

“It has been nice talking to you as well,” Natonito said.

With that Natonito walked out of the RV, walked to the ship, and took off. However, even though the engineers did not know it, Natonito as well as his wife and son were not far from them as they worked on the canal.

“Let the work begin,” Col. Parsons said. “We do not have long to dig this canal.”

“Only a Bravian would want a canal dig to last less than a month,” an engineer said.

“Be glad that the Bravians have the technology to do it,” another engineer said.

“That is true, but this is horrible work. I have never seen so many mosquitoes drop from the sky or seen so much land be torn up so rapidly,” the first engineer said.

“It’s all a matter of perspective,” the second engineer said.

“I should have done better in engineering school,” the first engineer said.

“Why is that?” the second engineer asked.

“Then I could be inside or in the shade like the smart people,” the first engineer said.

“You know the saying, a failed civil engineer is a ditch digger,” the second engineer said.

“Don’t I know,” the first engineer said.

“I don’t complain, though. I am working through my education now,” the second engineer said.

“Good for you,” the first engineer said.

“Just think,” the second engineer said. “The faster we move along, the faster this gets done.”

“Yes, and the faster we get out of this mosquito-infested, swampy hell,” the first engineer said.

“Amen to that,” the second engineer said.

“I wish I was in New Paz swinging with the ladies, and having fun every night with a girl named Mercedes. I wish I was in Bravia drinking with my buddies, and sloshing in the city streets that often are quite muddy. I wish I was in West Maue with girls from Albright’s harem, for then I’d woo them and I’d bed them and then I would scare them. I wish I was anywhere but here, this cursed swampland, where mosquitoes bite and gators sleep underneath the grandstand,” the first engineer sang.

“Singing like that will wake up the alligators,” the second engineer said.

“I don’t mind,” the first engineer said.

“But I do,” the second engineer said.

This ends Part Two of The Sons of Martha. Coming soon is Part Three.
XIII.

Wilfred Smith rose from his comfortable bed with his beloved and beautiful wife Beth at his side. He looked at his wife, who wore a satin nightgown in the warm morning. The sun had recently risen and Wilfred was upset for not having gotten up earlier. It was not that Wilfred was late for anything, quite the contrary. Wilfred, as the prior for the Imperial School, had nothing but time on his hands in the summer while the children were on break. While most lesser souls, who simply love time to waste without understanding its precious nature, would not understand, Wilfred was anxious to find something productive to do.
Wilfred thought about the possibility of doing a study on one of the most prolific writers of the Holy Book and determining how his writing dealt with issues of slavery, women, and government. Wilfred thought of the long hours he could spend in the library researching and then he thought of Beth. What was the point of giving himself over to the solace of the library when he had all he ever wanted beside him? If he was going to study in the library he was going to bring his wife along. Hopefully she would go with him this afternoon. But there remained to spend the morning and Wilfred did not know what to do.
And then Wilfred remembered his desire to help out the poorer of West Maue. He wondered what he could do about that, even without an official position to help them. “Sleep well, angel,” he thought. “I will return in a few hours.” He was glad his wife had slept so much since their wedding. She was used to her schedule from the bar still, and was not used to getting up early. Honestly, Wilfred preferred to sleep in, but there was too much for him to do. A restless mind and body like his could not rest for long without getting anxious and irritated.
So Wilfred got up from bed, went over to his shower and washed himself good, and put on good robes, though not his finest ones, for his travel to the poorer sections of town. He knew that he could not solve the problem of poverty, for it was a problem without solution. Besides a few fiercely stubborn poor people who refused to except their lot, most poor people had little hope of advancement. Wilfred felt sad for such people, for when those who were without lacked the belief that hard work and high moral standards had no reward, there was no hope for them at all. They may as well be dead in body, for they were in heart, mind, and spirit.
But he was not there to give them despair, but hope. He wondered how he could do it. What way was there to break beyond the seeming casual cynicism about success that so many of the poor had? How could he show them that they could rise beyond their status if they put their energies into that instead of frittering it away on games or drinking? Such money was much better spent on books.
Wilfred quietly walked out of his room in the Directrix’s palace, letting his wife sleep peacefully. Wilfred walked down the street that the palace of Natonito bordered, and into the poorer section of the capital. Seeing his priestly robes, many of the people stopped and stared at him, wondering what a man of God could be doing in a place like this, especially without a military escort. Even if his mind did not know where to go, his feet did, and they took him to the school that serviced this run-down neighborhood. His mind understood. If we are to start with hope, we must begin with education.
The school itself was nearly empty. There were no students running in the hall, or playing in the playground. It was as if the school was a giant mausoleum for the hopes and dreams of the working class children of the neighborhood. This made Wilfred feel upset. What were they doing here? The school was supposed to be the place where the poor could rise based on their ability, not the place for them to be even more discouraged about the world at large.
Finally, he saw a school functionary, a guidance counselor who worked over the summer. She was middle aged, a little frumpy, and used to speaking to people of much lower intelligence than herself. She quickly saw the priestly robes and bright, freckled young face on Wilfred and realized this would not be the case.

“What do you want here, sir?” she asked.

“I want to know why there are no students here,” Wilfred replied.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“My name is Wilfred Smith, and I am the prior for the Directrix’s Imperial School,” Wilfred answered.

“I see,” she said, looking rather cross. “Why do you criticize our summer vacations when your school is also on break.”

“We are a boarding school,” Wilfred retorted. “Our students are productive on break. One of them is crossing Puria on a backpack trip. Another is working with the Imperial Corps of Engineers right now. I am sure others are involved in interesting projects as well. They are not spending their summers idle in body and mind. Besides, none of our students would need remedial education like the ones here. What can they do about that?”

“A prelate with some interest in education, I see,” she spoke, looking rather upset. “Our teachers value break so much that they refuse to come here. If a student is behind, they fail. Most often they do not come to school anyway, so we would rather be rid of them.”

“What do you do for the bright students you have?” Wilfred asked.

“We do not have advanced classes, so they end up bored and frustrated,” the guidance counselor replied.

“What kind of guidance counselor are you? Aren’t there any better schools that the students could get to?” Wilfred asked.

“We are in a different district than they are. The better areas of town do not want problem students dumped on them,” she retorted.

“The best and brightest are hardly problem students,” Wilfred says.

“You probably came from some aristocratic line, just like all of your students,” she said cruelly.

“You are quite wrong about that,” Wilfred said, shocking her. “I come from simple farming stock in Bravia, and my best student comes from the same background. We succeed here not because we are rich, but because God has blessed us with brains and we feel the responsibility to use them rightly. Even if there are only one or two students that are capable of advancement, at least those two deserve a chance at success.”

“The handful of bright students that we have are barely capable of having our school defunded altogether,” she said angrily.

“Let the bright ones go off to greener pastures. Surely it is better to inspire hope in all by showing how those who work hard and possess talent can rise above their status than it is to crush the faith and hope of all,” Wilfred said.

“You are a strange man,” she said.

“Perhaps I am. What of it?” he replied.

“Would you like to see the family of the smartest kid in this school?” she asked.

“Certainly,” he answered.

“Follow me, then,” she said.

The two of them walked from the school to one of the tenement areas that was close by. The homes, if they could be called that, were made of spare concrete blocks stacked together and topped by corrugated metal, often aluminum. How people could live this way Wilfred did not know. Even the poor Bravian farmers took pride in the roofs they put over their own heads. These people did not look like they had the pride they should. Finally the guidance counselor came to the cleanest and brightest of the various slum homes. Bending down, the two of them entered the home and saw a father and mother trying to take care of their three children.

“Who are you?” the father asked.

“It is the guidance counselor with a guest who looks like a priest,” the mother answered.

“We don’t need any priest in here,” the father replied.

“This priest is not here to give you a sermon,” Wilfred answered. “I am here because the guidance counselor wanted to show me the smartest student in her school.”

“Who do you work for?” the father answered.

“I am the priest responsible for the Imperial School,” Wilfred answered.

“My son is smart enough for that,” the father stated.

“Perhaps he is. Has he applied?” Wilfred answered.

“How do you apply?” the mother asked.

“Your guidance counselor does it,” Wilfred said. The guidance counselor gulps noticeably.

“Did you do that?” the father asked.

“No, I did not,” the guidance counselor said. The father looks violently angry. Wilfred speaks quickly.

“The Directrix is not a cruel man. There is room for two more students in the Imperial school, if they are willing to stay with the sophomores,” Wilfred states.

“We do not care. We want the best for our son,” the father says.

“Then could you all come with me?” Wilfred says.

“Where are we going?” the father says.

“We are going to go to Natonito’s palace,” Wilfred says.

“Are we allowed there?” the mother says.

“You are my guests, and you have a favor to ask. He will not be angry,” Wilfred says.

“I hope you are right,” the mother says.

The kids hop up, feeling glad they can walk. Wilfred leads the guidance counselor and the mother and father, as well as their three children, the oldest of whom is quiet but very watchful of his surroundings. As they leave the slum part of town they appear self- conscious, realizing they are out of place. People give the party a wide birth and Wilfred sighs but understands the situation. Finally they arrive at the palace, where the guard looks puzzled but lets them all in. Wilfred comes to where Natonito and Bathsheba are sitting.

“Who are you?” Natonito asks.

“We are humble citizens with a request to make,” the guidance counselor answers.

“What is your request?” Natonito asks.

“Before you stands the family of the brightest student in my school,” the guidance counselor begins. “I neglected to appeal to you for his entrance into your school until your priest came up to me and told me about the opportunities you provided for students.”

“Let me see the young man myself,” Natonito says. The young man stood up to face him, somewhat frightened but brave nonetheless. “What is your name?” Natonito asks him.

“My name is Kwame,” he replies.

“Where is your family from?” Natonito asks.

“The south sea islands,” Kwame answers.

“Would you like to be part of the Imperial school?” Natonito asks.

“I certainly would,” Kwame answers.

“Answer six questions I have for you,” Natonito says matter-of-factly.

“Okay,” Kwame replies.

“What is the usual meaning of the butterfly motif in Secfenian literature?” Natonito asks.

“Butterflies are the messengers of the mages. Their actions signify what omens an individual must deal with. When butterflies flutter around someone, it is a sign that someone has been or is about to be blessed by God. When the butterflies pester someone, though, that person is going to face near-certain disaster. In Secfenian literature, heroes in melodramas often have fluttering butterflies demonstrating their favor, while in tragedies, butterflies pester those who are doomed,” Kwame answers.

“Well done,” Natonito answers. “Who was in charge of the independent Duchy of Bravia before it joined with the rest of Secfenia under the current monarch Robert Russ III?”

“Why, you of course,” Kwame answers.

“Correct again,” Natonito replis. “What is the sixth element in the periodic table, and what type of chemistry focuses largely on this element?”

“The sixth element is carbon,” Kwame replies. “It is the foundation element in organic chemistry.”

“Well done once again,” Natonito says approvingly. “If x squared minus one is factored, what are the two roots of polynomial?”

“That’s easy, sir,” Kwame says. “One and negative one.”

“What language family does Bravian belong to?” Natonito says.

“The Zunian language family,” Kwame answers.

“That is correct,” Natinto replies. “Last one. How does one know where one belongs in society?”

“I don’t know,” Kwame says. His parents look sad.

“Neither do I,” Natonito said. “Welcome to the Imperial school.”

Wilfred was happy, and he left to talk to his wife. The guidance counselor was embarrassed at having to ask such a favor from the Directrix. But the happiest of all was the family of the young man, for they knew now that their son had hope of rising above the poverty that had ensnared him. And that was how it should be. Wilfred and Beth went to the library that afternoon, both of them overjoyed at the good deed that Wilfred had done for that poor family.

XIV.

Like all disasters, it began as a normal day. It was the wise man who said that no good deed goes unpunished, for that is surely true. No one knows that sad truth better than the sons of Martha, but this day even they forgot it. So far the canal building had been a success, going faster than schedule. With no work-hours lost to injury so far, the Imperial Engineers were feeling good about themselves. As confident souls, they were bound to feel good about themselves anyway. Pride comes before a fall, the wisest man who ever lived, said. Still, they did not heed the warning voices that should have been going off in their head. If they had, perhaps the disasters would never have happened.
Daniel Miller began that day, as he had all days since the canal building started, in the RV that was setup for intelligence. Most days were not particularly exciting, but Daniel had enough to keep him occupied. With one eye on the satellite feed, which showed that Zunia had been much more peaceful lately (something Daniel thanked God for every night), and the other eye on the computer he used to type up romantic plays for his dear Delia (he never used Pears, as they were only for artsy-fartsy people, and though Daniel was an amateur playwright he was not an artsy-fartsy person), he went through his daily business. He did not go outside where the rest of the Imperial Engineers worked on the canal, and the other workers understood why. He did not want to go outside anyway, being an indoors person who disliked the sunburn giving him more unsightly freckles than he already possessed.
Most of the engineers had, this day, gone off to the other end of the canal to finish the work there. Only a small crew of workers, none of them who Daniel knew well personally, were keeping an eye on the machines in this part of the canal. As it happened, none of them knew how to swim, though none of them expected to be in the water. They were wrong. As they stood by the edge of the canal, which was not as grassy as the rest of the edge and steeply sloped, they began to talk.

“Look at this canal,” the first engineer said.

“It is beautiful,” the second engineer said.

“It looks better than some of the concrete rivers I have seen,” the first engineer said.

“That it does,” an overweight engineer pipes in.

“Be careful,” the second engineer said.

“This slope is quite unstable. The machines have not bolted this area down enough,” the first engineer said in agreement.

“It’s good enough for me,” the third engineer said.

“I wouldn’t trust it,” the first engineer said.

“I feel safe standing by the edge. I like to be close to the water,” the third engineer said.

“Don’t be too close unless you want to get in the water,” the second engineer said.

“That is not a wise idea,” the first engineer said.

“Look, I’ll be alright,” the third engineer said.

Just then the slope fell out from under the feet of the overweight third engineer and slide straight into the water. The other engineers shouted out as the overweight engineer struggled in water, drowning. Daniel rushed out to see what the commotion was about. Seeing the other two engineers point at the figure in the canal, Daniel gave them his portable communication device and told them to call the other group so that they could get a boat over and he jumped in the water to help the engineer who could not swim.

“How are you doing?” Daniel asked.

“How do you think I am doing?” the engineer replied.

“Stop struggling,” Daniel said.

“Why?” the engineer answered.

“It’s not going to help,” Daniel said matter-of-factly.

“How do you know?” the engineer said.

“I know how to swim,” Daniel said. We are going to have to float here for a while.

“Really?” the engineer asked.

“Yes,” Daniel said. “It will be at least thirty or forty minutes before they get here.”

“This water is freezing cold,” the engineer complained.

“Yes, it is freezing cold, but I wasn’t going to let you drown,” Daniel said.

“Can’t you get me to shore?” the engineer asked.

“Look around you. What do you see?” Daniel asked.

“Cliffs,” the engineer said.

“That’s right. What are the odds we can get up those?” asked Daniel in a somewhat annoyed tone.

“Not very good,” the engineer replied.

“What are the odds we can float until we are rescued?” Daniel asked.

“Better,” the engineer answered, somewhat insulted.

“Now, that’s thinking like an engineer,” Daniel said.

“Are you cold?” the engineer said.

“Deathly cold,” Daniel answered.

“So am I,” the engineer said.

“Then we are agreed. This canal is not for swimming,” Daniel said, trying to strike a tone of levity.

“Yes, we are,” the engineer said. “You’re not a bad guy.”

“Would a bad guy try to teach you how to float in the freezing water?” Daniel asked.

“No,” the engineer answered.

“That’s right. Let’s just sit tight. They’ll never let me outside again,” Daniel said.

“You aren’t supposed to be outside?” the engineer said.

“No,” Daniel said.

“Why not?” the engineer asked.

“Delicate health,” Daniel answered.

“That’s not good,” the engineer said in an understatement.

“No, not at all,” Daniel said, sighing.

The water was too cold for them to keep talking for long. As their skin started to turn blue it was all they could do to keep afloat and keep breathing. They refused to give in to the cold water or the darkness of unconsciousness, and they sought to preserve their tenuous hold on life. They were two miserable souls in the cold, dark blue water. Meanwhile, their friends shouted encouragement from above as they were in contact with the rest of their party.

“Base camp, we need help,” the first engineer said through the transmitter.

“This is Col. Parsons, what happened?” Col. Parsons replied.

“Walter fell into the water when the slope under him slumped,” the first engineer replied.

“Can he swim?” Col. Parsons asked.

“No,” the first engineer answered.

“Then it’s going to be too late to save him if we leave now,” Col. Parsons answered. “We’ll send the boat anyway, though.”

“That’s not all,” the first engineer said.

“What else is there?” Col. Parsons answered.

“Some young kid from the RV jumped in to save him. They’re both floating now in the water below,” the first engineer said.

“Would that be Daniel?” Col. Parsons said.

“What other kid is there who looks at the computers all day?” the first engineer asked, puzzled.

“Are you kidding me?” Col. Parsons said, agitated.

“No,” the first engineer said.

“We’re coming right now. We should be there in half an hour,” Col. Parsons said.

“Help is coming!” the two engineers shouted to the small figures below in the water.

Meanwhile, Col. Parsons told the people at the end of the canal what had happened and they readied a boat immediately and went as fast as they could down the canal until they could save the two engineers. They felt sad that Daniel had risked his life so that another person could have a chance to escape certain death. They also knew that someone would pay dearly if word got to the Directrix. Then again, how could it not?

“That kid had to try to be a hero,” one engineer said, grumbling, to Col. Parsons.

“He can’t help it. That’s what an engineer does,” Col. Parsons said.

“I wish he could help it,” the disgruntled engineer said.

“He can’t, and so we have to help him,” Col. Parsons said.

“That kid will probably get a medal if he lives,” the engineer said.

“So what if he does?” Col. Parsons said.

With that there was silence as the boat sped towards the two engineers who struggled against the cold water and time, both implacable foes at this point. Finally they arrived and the two barely conscious bodies were placed on the boat, which hurried for the hospital of the nearest port town. They arrived in time so that both engineers were alive, but they were in bad shape.

“I hope you’re happy, kid,” the disgruntled engineer said.

“Would you like to have swamp clearing duty?” Col. Parsons said.

“No sir,” the engineer replied.

“Then you will cease insulting the young man,” Col. Parsons answered.

“Someone of his health should not be jumping into cold water” the engineer said.

“Who else could have saved him?” Col. Parsons said.

“I don’t know,” the engineer said.

“Neither do I,” Col. Parsons said in reply.

At that moment the doctor arrived to tell Col. Parsons about the two patients. The doctor looked tired and haggard.

“How are they?” Col. Parsons asked.

“They’ll live,” the doctor said.

“That’s great,” Col. Parsons answered.

“But they are going to be sick for a while,” the doctor said.

“That is too bad,” Col. Parsons said.

“I am worried about the young man especially,” the doctor said.

“He does have delicate health,” Col. Parsons said.

“But he has a fierce spirit. I think he will make it, but he has pneumonia right now,” the doctor answered.

“That is horrible,” Col. Parsons said.

“But he is a hero,” the doctor said.

“Yes, he is,” Col. Parsons answered.

“This is going to be an expensive hospital bill,” the doctor said.

“Money is no object. We are the imperial corps of engineers,” Col. Parsons said.

“I think the empire is going to want to know about this,” the doctor said.

“You are right,” Col. Parsons said.

“I don’t think Mr. Albright is going to be happy about this,” the doctor said.

“I do not think he will be happy either,” Col. Parsons said.

“Was this young man of any importance?” the doctor asked.

“He was a young intern, a special young man of great intelligence that the Directrix wishes to protect and promote,” Col. Parsons answered.

“Someone has a lot of explaining to do then,” the doctor said sympathetically.

“I do,” Col. Parsons said, sadly. “May God have mercy on us all.”

“Especially that young man,” the doctor said.

“Yes, especially him,” Col. Parsons said.

XV.

The Directrix was not pleased. When he heard the news about what happened to Daniel he first wanted to calm down with Bathsheba, because otherwise heads were going to roll. Bathsheba was a wise woman, knowing his moods and knowing how to handle them. While they cuddled in bed and his arms felt up and down her slightly hairy back, Bathsheba tried soothing his temper so that he would not do something he would later regret.

“Daniel saved a man’s life,” Bathsheba said.

“But the other engineers left him alone,” Natonito said.

“It is as you ordered,” Bathsheba replied calmly.

“But none of them knew how to swim except for Daniel,” Natonito fumed.

“It was an accident. Accidents happen,” Bathsheba said, giving him a big kiss.

“You’re such a sweet woman,” Natonito said, kissing her back.

“It is my job to look after your best interests,” Bathsheba said demurely.

“And you do a good job of it,” Natonito said.

“Someone has to tame the best within,” Bathsheba said.

“I wish I could do it,” Natonito said.

“You do it when you listen to your better nature,” Bathsheba said.

“What do you think we should do?” Natonito asked.

“We can talk to the engineers, as well as to Daniel,” Bathsheba answered.

“I thought of that, but I do not want to get mad when I see Daniel,” Natonito said.

“You can keep it under control,” Bathsheba said.

“This summer has been so stressful,” Natonito said.

“I know, love,” Bathsheba said.

For a few minutes no words were exchanged as the two made love to each other. Bathsheba was an expert at relieving tension through affectionate and sexual contact. That was, after all, the reason why she became the chief concubine, before she became his wife. She knew what to do to calm down the tense Directrix, and he was a wise enough man to respect the power and skill she had. They were an equal partnership, and neither of them took advantage of their power, preferring instead to seek the benefit of the whole family. The moments of sexual intimacy were less often now that Natonito II was around, but whenever they could the two would find the time and space to make love. After they finished they showered together, changed into nicer clothes, and went to talk with Wilfred and Beth, who were in the library as usual. Natonito motioned Wilfred over for a private chat between the two of them, while Betsabeth and Beth made pleasant small talk.

“Wilfred,” Natonito said.

“What do you want, sir?” Wilfred asked.

“Does God reward those who work without glory?” Natonito said.

“Absolutely,” Wilfred answered.

“Why?” Natonito asked.

“God is fair and just. If this life were all there was, then no injustice could be brooked. But since God allows for judgement of those who do good and those who do evil, those who do good without notice and suffer without blame will be paid back with interest. Also, those who did evil secretly and never faced censure will face the judgement of almighty God and have to repent, publicly, of their sins,” Wilfred said.

“Where does it say this?” Natonito asked.

“In various places in the Holy Book,” Wilfred answered.

“Why do not more people know this?” Natonito asked.

“Because no one wants to wait for God to reward,” Wilfred asked.

“And do you have a theory about that?” Natonito asked.

“Yes, it is called the time value of punishment and rewards,” Wilfred said.

“And how does that work?” Natonito asked.

“The sooner rewards and punishments are meted, the less serious they have to be to get the point across. However, since mankind has rejected the authority of God, God seldom directly punishes people for their sins. However, sinning, whether that is breaking God’s food laws or any of his other laws, puts a human being into a risk-analysis type of world. Instead of knowing that whatever goes wrong is not your fault, there because an element of chance in whether one will be punished or not. It is that random domain that constitutes the domain of sin, rather than the ordered and perfect world God would have us live in,” Wilfred said. “If we only had the heart to obey.”

“Thank you for your thoughts,” Natonito said.

“You are most welcome,” Wilfred said.

At this point Natonito and Bathsheba left the library and were talking to each other in their bedroom once again.

“What was that about?” Bathsheba asked.

“I wanted to see a theologian’s view on sin and suffering,” Natonito said.

“Did he answer as you hoped?” Bathsheba asked.

“Absolutely, it was a very good answer,” Natonito said.

“Then you should be pleased,” Bathsheba remarked.

“I most certainly am,” Natonito intoned.

“Is there anything bothering you, other than Daniel, right now?” Bathsheba asked.

“It’s been a horribly long summer. I’ve had to marry off a ward, keep my sister safe from my brother-in-law, deal with international politics, and try to keep my favorite student from the Imperial School safe and alive. All of this I do without thanks, for the common person considers me a dictator and does not see how hard I work on their behalf while failing to claim the power and prerogatives that cold be mine,” Natonito said.

“And you ought to be commended for that,” Bathsheba replied.

“And then I have to deal with environmentalist wackos who would destroy our entire society to save a single tree,” Natonito said. “Such lunatics.”

“That is the price of power,” Bathsheba said.

“I know, but it’s just getting to me,” Natonito said.

“You need to sleep and eat well, and then you will be able to face what is ahead,” Bathsheba said.

“I suppose you are right,” Natonito replied.

“You can’t stay up late every night, forget to eat meals, and expect to feel good,” Bathsheba said.

“I love it when you look out for me like that,” Natonito said, kissing her forehead.

“Would you like to go visit the engineers now?” Bathsheba said.

“I think I am in the proper mood for it now,” Natonito replied.

“Good,” Bathsheba said.

They both held hands and they walked into the Directrix’s personal transportation vehicle. As Natonito took the controls and Bathsheba sat next to him, Bathsheba thought about her life with this most extraordinary man. In the beginning he had been an ambitious young man who was a rising force in Bravia, and who took notice on her when the other men in her life were merely using her for sex. She knew, correctly, that he liked what she could offer physically (and who could blame him, she was dark and lovely, and had an extremely flexible body that was very useful in the various positions they tried), but he also liked holding her and talking to her. There was something different about him.
She could not remember her own upbringing, but when she found it out, after years of service as the chief concubine, Natonito saw that she was truly wife material. And he had been honorable about it as much as possible. He put aside, without destroying their lives, all of the other concubines he had ever had and had her alone. Since their engagement he had not kissed, much less made love, to any other woman. For this Bathsheba was most pleased. Her prayers had been answered. Seeing her in this reverie, Natonito started talking to her.

“What are you thinking about, dear?” Natonito asked.

“Just my life and history,” Bathsheba said.

“What caused that line of thought?” Natonito asked.

“Every time I am in this vehicle I think of what happened when we went to Russville,” Bathsheba said.

“I think of that often myself,” Natonito said.

“You do?” Bathsheba said.

“Yes, I feel glad that I have you as my wife. You were always good to me, but I did not treat you with the right honor,” Natonito said.

“You have repaid that debt many times over,” Bathsheba said. “Besides, you were the only one who treated me with any respect before my true identity was known.”

“You are too kind,” Natonito said.

“I have no reason to be upset for what you did for me. I was just a prostitute, and you made me a kept woman, and then you made me your wife, your equal partner. What more could a kidnapped girl who had been taken advantage of so horribly ask for? You showed me that there was such a thing as kindness and love in the human race for poor wretches like me,” Bathsheba said.

“We are all poor wretches without love,” Natonito said.

“Yes, that we are,” Bathsheba said. “But we need not dwell on the problems of our past, for we have a glorious future ahead of us, God willing.”

“Do you think we have deserved our good fortune?” Natonito said.

“No. Do you?” Bathsheba retorted.

“No, I do not,” Natonito said.

“No one deserves their life, whether it is poor or rich. Fortune and merit are independent, as much as we would like to claim otherwise. Even so, it does not reduce our responsibility to do the best with what we have,” Bathsheba said.

“That is wise advice,” Natonito said.

“Thank you,” Bathsheba said.

“You’re welcome,” Natonito said.

“We are nearing the hospital now,” Bathsheba said.

“I hope Daniel is alright,” Natonito said.

“So do I,” Batsheba stated.

“I guess we shall find out shortly,” Natonito said.

“I would hope so,” Bathsheba said.

Natonito guided the vehicle down and unconcealed it, allowing the engineers to gape at the vehicle and surmise what the not entirely unexpected visit was about. As Natonito got out the engineers stared at him. Natonito hurried into the hospital as if to say that he would not talk to them until he found out how Daniel was. To this end he spoke with the head doctor.

“He has pneumonia,” the doctor said.

“Will he recover?” Natonito asked.

“He will, so long as he keeps fighting,” the doctor said.

“Will there be any permanent effects?” Natonito asked.

“There should not be,” the doctor said.

“Good,” Natonito said.

“As soon as he has some rest and some fluids and some time, he will be alright,” the doctor said.

“I am very relieved to hear that,” Natonito said.

“Otherwise you would be very upset, would you not?” the doctor asked.

“You are correct,” Natonito said.

“That young man saved another engineer’s life,” the doctor said.

“I know,” Natonio replied.

“I find that quite astounding, considering he is a fairly weak young man,” the doctor said.

“Spirit is more important than mere strength,” Natonito said.

“I agree,” the doctor said. “People can survive the most horrific injuries as long as they refuse to give up.”

“Well, I wanted to hear it from you, yourself,” Natonito said.

“I understand. I advised the Colonel to tell the empire, and you have found out,” the doctor said.

“That was wise advice,” Natonito said.

“I do my best,” the doctor said. “Since you are paying for it you should know it.”

“I agree. I wonder why it took so long to rescue them,” Natonito said.

“From what I know the other engineers were at the end of the canal when the incident occurred,” the doctor said.

“I was just checking my stories,” Natonito said.

“I understand,” the doctor said.

“Thank you for your time,” Natonito said.

“It has been a good thing to speak to you with you not ripping my head off,” the doctor said.

“An honest man like yourself should not be working in the boondocks like this,” Natonito said.

“Positions are hard to find in management for honest men,” the doctor said.

“Something can be changed about that,” Natonito said.

XVI.

It was after this comforting news that Natonito visited his engineers. With his lovely wife (dressed, as she was want to do, in a pretty blouse, mid-thigh length skirt, and black leather boots), he talked to them and wanted to see how they felt about the whole accident. They were upset that they lost the no man-hours lost in a major civil project award. They understood, though, that the most important thing was to make sure that everyone was alive and alright. That was the purpose of safety considerations, after all. Human beings were not machines, were not commodities, and so their lives and health was of the highest value.

“I’m really sorry,” Col. Parsons began.

“You did what you could. There is no need to apologize,” Natonito replied firmly.

“Daniel was inside monitoring the satellite feeds,” Col. Parsons said.

“What made him go outside?” Natonito asked.

“They were screaming for help,” Col. Parsons.

“Who are they?” Natonito asked.

“These two people here,” Col. Parsons said pointing at the two engineers who were with the one who fell.

“And why didn’t they try to save the one who fell?” Natonito asked.

“Because they cannot swim,” Col. Parsons answered.

“I see,” Natonito said. “It is good, then, that Daniel can swim, because the person who fell did not know enough to keep himself alive for 45 minutes.”

“Not at all,” Col. Parsons said.

“We should reward Daniel for his efforts,” Natonito said.

“He is not likely to feel worthy of such rewards,” Col. Parsons said.

“That is possible, but it is my prerogative to give awards,” Natonito said.

“I know,” Col. Parsons said. “Do what you will.”

“I do not need the invitation,” Natonito said with a smile.

The engineers, wise men that they were, knew better than to attempt to correct the Directrix when he was right. The younger engineers, still girl crazy as they all were (and what good and true man is not girl crazy as a youth?) had a difficult time not staring too much at the Directrix’s wife. Natonito found it humorous how they tried not to act as if they thought she was attractive but would still give her furtive glances anyway.

“She is my wife,” Natonito told them, mock conspiratorially. “I will not kill you for looking at her. Maybe for touching her though.”

They all laughed, including the guilty parties.

“My love, should we go in to the young man now?” Natonito.

“I would like that,” Bathsheba said. “There will be fewer people to stare at me there.”

“I know how that bothers you, my dear,” Natonito said.

“Guys have stared at me for so long it reminds me of the days they used to bargain over my purchase price,” Bathsheba said.

“Those days are over,” Natonito said, kissing her gently on the forehead.

They walked inside. Natonito spoke with the nurse there, and she said it was alright for them to go in. Daniel was feeling better and was almost ready to be discharged from the hospital. Natonito and Bathsheba walked in to talk with Daniel, who was relaxing and reading a book, as he was wont to do.

“You aren’t mad at me, are you?” Daniel asked.

“Not at all,” Natonito said.

“I’m glad. I thought you were going to be upset for risking my health the way I did,” Daniel stated apologetically.

“You saved a man’s life,” Natonito said.

“But almost at the cost of my own,” Daniel said.

“That is the highest form of live,” Natonito said.

“I guess you are right,” Daniel said.

“You will be rewarded for this,” Natonito said.

“In the state I am in?” Daniel asked.

“No, I will wait until you feel better,” Natonito stated.

“How long do you think that will take?” Daniel asked.

“Not long,” Natonito said.

“Will we be going back to Bravia?” Daniel asked.

“Absolutely,” Natonito said. “You will at least. I will present your award there.”

“Do you want me to make a speech?” Daniel asked.

“Make a few appropriate remarks,” Natonito said.

“I will do my best,” Daniel said.

“I am sure you will do fine,” Natonito said.

“I am glad you have such confidence in me,” Daniel said.

“You have earned my confidence,” Natonito said.

“And how have I done that?” Daniel asked.

“You have done your duty, and you are a loyal and hardworking and intelligent young man,” Natonito said.

“That is quite flattering praise,” Daniel said. “And I am not the type of person who is used to flattery.”

“Yet it does not turn your head,” Natonito said. “What I value the most about you is your truthfulness. Despite the fact that so many others in the same position as yourself would twist words and intrigue, you are honest and do not seek to pull off lies.”

“I am glad it pleases you, then,” Daniel said.

“You would do it anyway,” Natonito said.

“Yes. How would you know, though?” Daniel asked.

“Have you forgotten my story of the Bravian rebellion?” Natonito asked.

“No, but you seemed to make yourself awfully incompetent of charm in the story,” Daniel said.

“I was not making anything up. That is how I was and that is how I am. The only difference now is that I am in a position of such authority that people do not equate bluntness with rudeness, and you have yet to reach such a position yet. But trust me, you will, and when you do, you will find people take less offense to your bluntness and directness,” Natonito said.

At this point, the doctor was speaking with Col. Parsons. The two of them had spoken about the patient many times before in the last hours since the incident, and the doctor had something else to say.

“Col. Parsons,” the doctor said.

“Yes?” Col. Parsons answered.

“Do you have room for beds in your helicopters?” the doctor asked.

“I suppose we would,” Col. Parsons answered.

“Daniel is well enough to leave the hospital,” the doctor said.

“That is good,” Col. Parsons said.

“Yes, but he will have to be reclined for several days yet,” the doctor said.

“That will not be a problem,” the doctor said.

“It won’t be?” the doctor asked.

“No, we will let Daniel be reclined for the entire journey,” Col. Parsons.

“Good, then I have no further words for you,” the doctor said.

“I am sorry this had to happen, but your care of Daniel has been exemplary,” Col. Parsons said.

“Well, we are not miracle workers,” the doctor said. “But we do our best to help those patients we have.”

“And your work is much appreciated,” Col. Parsons said. “As you know more than most members of your tribe.”

“I believe that medical knowledge can spring from a variety of sources, and so long as it works I do not care where the knowledge sprang from in the beginning,” the doctor said.

“Most doctors care too much about whether something has succeeded in double blind studies under the care of eminent physicians,” Col. Parsons said.

“The real world is much different from a clinical study, and over a much longer term as well,” the doctor said.

“Well, we will look after Daniel now,” Col. Parsons said.

“Make sure he rests,” the doctor said.

“We will,” Col. Parsons said.

“He is too restless,” the doctor said.

“We will give him plenty of books,” Col. Parsons said.

“Good,” the doctor said.

With that Daniel was taken from the hospital, put into the helicopter, and the engineers, finished with the canal at least, returned home. They were happy that everyone survived. Reading accounts of earlier periods of canal building, they marveled at how tens of thousands of people lost their lives over foolish things such as not taking care to monitor slope conditions (which almost proved fatal for them as well), as well as such basics as control of mosquito population so that humans are welcome there. Thankfully, mosquitoes had been eliminated from all but the most remote of sites, and they were not found here (though they had taken shots and pills in precaution).

Once they arrived at Bravia, they found no parades, no show, no one asking how they did. The engineers did not work for public adoration, and though what they did was many times more important than the work of all the local politicians who put their names on dams and roads and buildings, they were not accorded the proper respect. And though their work was many times more valuable than that of entertainers, they did not command millions of dollars per project. Instead, they worked without much public concern at all, except when accidents happened and people wanted someone to blame. Yet for all this, they did not complain, for they knew that the approval from God and from those few souls that knew more than the common herd was more important than the adoration of the ignorant masses. They just hoped that in time those masses would become less ignorant.

“How are you doing?” Samuel Norwich asked him.

“I am doing well,” Daniel replied.

“We will take good care of you when we get back to Bravia,” Kaufman said.

“We will see,” Daniel answered.

“How many of the books have you read?” Samuel asked.

“I have read all but two of them,” Daniel answered.

“Why didn’t you read those?” Samuel asked.

“They were epic poetry,” Daniel answered, as everyone else guffawed.

“I understand,” Col. Parsons said.

“We are almost there,” Daniel said.

“How do you know?” Kaufman asked him.

“I can see the city through those small windows on the side of the helicopter,” Daniel answered.

“You’re the only one who can look out of them right now,” Samuel answered.

“That’s because I’m lying down,” Daniel said.

“We know. You’re lying down on the job,” Col. Parsons said.

“I can’t help it. Doctor’s orders,” Daniel answered, as everyone laughed again.

At this time Daniel was sleeping in sickbay, and little was going on. He did not like sleeping and resting so much, and longed to do something- anything. But he did not have the chance. He had orders to rest, and rest he did. As much as he groused about them taking the joy out of life, he knew that he had to be healthy before he could be of use to anyone, and so for his own sake, he curbed his natural appetite for disobeying unfair orders and was impatiently patient. Meanwhile, some of the engineers talked among themselves.

“Well, the young guy lived,” the fat engineer said.

“No thanks to you,” another engineer said.

“It wasn’t my fault,” the first engineer said.

“If you hadn’t have fallen then the young guy would have been able to get out of his bed,” the second engineer said.

“It’s not my fault that he’s a frail guy,” the first engineer said.

“But it’s your responsibility that he’s the only one that could have saved your life,” the second engineer said.

“I suppose I could be thankful,” the first engineer said.

“You had certainly better be,” the second engineer said. “His sacrifice kept you alive.”

“I knew someone would do it,” the first engineer said.

“Right,” the second engineer replied sarcastically. “I just thought you were flapping your arms like a fool because you didn’t know how to float, much less swim.”

“Hey, that’s not fair,” the first engineer said.

“That’s what the other two engineers who saw it said,” the second engineer said.

“I will have to talk to them,” the first engineer said.

“What, and tell them not to tell the truth?” the second engineer said.

“Next time I will look more carefully where I step. It’s not worth all the abuse,” the first engineer stated mournfully.

“Serves you right. The price of being saved is having to face who saved you, how he saved you, and at what cost he saved you,” the second engineer said.

“That’s really deep,” the first engineer said.

“I know, I have my moments sometimes,” the second engineer said.

“Yes, but only sometimes,” the first engineer said.

“Still, sometimes is better than never. The only sense you have is when you shut up,” the second engineer said.

XVII.

Daniel spent the closing days of his summer reading, and though he enjoyed reading a good deal, he disliked the idea of forced bed rest. He was the kind of person who liked to do things his own way and without interference from others, even if it was intended for his own benefit. However, he was not lonely there in sickbay. Delilah came over to talk with him, as her own place was still unsettled.

“Hello,” Delilah said.

“How are you?” Daniel said as he hugged her.

“I am doing well, thank you,” Delilah replied.

“I am obviously not doing so well myself,” Daniel answered.

“You are a hero around here,” Delilah said.

“Hero is such an overused word,” Daniel said.

“Well, it applies for you,” Delilah said.

“I did what any decent person would have done,” Daniel said.

“You risked your life to save someone else,” Delilah said.

“Like I said, any decent person would have done the same,” Daniel said.

“There aren’t that many decent people around here then,” Delilah said.

“The fact that society is corrupt does change my obligation to do what is right,” Daniel said gently and firmly.

“What gives your slender frame such a stubborn strength?” Delilah asked.

“My strength is not within me,” Daniel said.

“Where is from then?” Delilah questioned Daniel.

“It is from above,” Daniel said.

“Then it truly is a gift from God, and you truly are blessed, to be so noble and bright,” Delilah said.

“Yes, but the fact that God gives me what I need does not mean I am worthy of myself of the gift,” Daniel said.

“You seem to work hard enough as it is,” Delilah said.

“Are we not to be perfect as our Father is perfect?” Daniel said.

“You seem to take that more seriously than most,” Delilah said.

“I am a reasonably serious person,” Daniel said.

“What do you think our society is missing with regards to that seriousness?” Delilah queried.

“Now, I do not wish for everyone to be as serious as I am,” Daniel said. “That would be a very boring world.”

“I agree, but you did not answer the question,” Delilah smilingly said.

“I was getting there,” Daniel answered.

“Go on then,” Delilah stated.

“Our society seems to be based on some false premises,” Daniel said matter- of-factly.

“And what are those?” Delilah asked.

“The first is that the aim of all human existence is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain,” Daniel said.

“And why is this false?” Delilah asked.

“We were created here to be the very offspring of God. In order to achieve our destiny, we must choose to follow God’s way,” Daniel said.

“Is that all?” Delilah asked.

“No,” Daniel answered. “In choosing to follow God and accept the contract that God desires to have with us, there are terms on both sides. Since God cannot lie, his consideration of eternal life in His family as a reward for our acceptance and fulfillment of the contract must be considered an absolute guarantee. However, he also demands that we provide consideration as well. That consideration is the free choice to follow God’s way as He has stated in the Holy Book, without addition or subtraction.”

“That is asking a lot,” Delilah said.

“Yes, it is,” Daniel stated. “But eternal life as a member of the God family is the greatest possible blessing that can be bestowed on anyone. For that God could, if He wanted, have required anything His heart desired. As the Creator and the one who is making the offer, he has that right.”

“I know, but why is obedience to His law so important to Him?” Delilah asked.

“God Himself has bound His actions to His law, so that He Himself cannot do anything that is contrary to His laws. God’s laws are the very source of human happiness, and following them in their entirety would automatically improve the lives of human being, preserve them from sickness from foods and from the problems of envy and jealousy and strife, keep families together, keep relationships strong by ridding them of falsehood, and keep society focused on what is truly important-what is above,” Daniel said.

“You are too much the philosopher,” Delilah said.

“I can’t help it,” Daniel said.

“And why is that?” Delilah said.

“I have been recovering here, and the only thing they will allow me to do is read. It’s not like I don’t read enough as it is, but when one cannot even write out one’s thoughts because that would be too much exertion, the amount of knowledge one wants to express and consolidate becomes quite oppressive for someone who likes to express everything that lies within,” Daniel said.

“Well, I wish you well,” Delilah said.

“I wish you well as well,” Daniel said.

“I hope your gf can nurse you back to health,” Delilah said.

“I hope so too,” Daniel said. “But we shall have to see how she fared backpacking across Puria.”

“I am sure she managed,” Delilah said.

“It is her home territory. One with a Bravian accent would not fare so well,” Daniel said.

“Do the Purians dislike the Bravians?” Delilah said.

“Absolutely,” Daniel said. “They consider themselves the only worthy Secfenian people of rulership, and find Bravians to be overly pushy and loud and commercial and democratic. They think themselves as pure as their name would suggest, neglecting the other two peoples of this continent.”

“And what are those two other peoples?” Delilah asked.

“The Bravians, who are a Zunian people, and the Murians, who are a people much like yours,” Daniel said.

“And what characterizes the Murians?” Delilah asked.

“You are of the Murians, even without knowing it,” Daniel asked. “They respect the traditions of their ancestors.”

“Well, that is a noble thing,” Delilah said.

“So long as it does not become ancestor worship or blind one to the sins of one’s fathers, it is,” Daniel said.

“I suppose you are right,” Delilah said.

“So, what are your plans for the fall?” Daniel asked.

“I will be studying here at the base in a prep program,” Delilah said.

“Good, you are focusing on education,” Daniel said.

“Yes,” Delilah said.

“I am happy for you,” Daniel said.

With that they parted. The two of them promised to remain good friends and keep in touch. As a member of the Imperial Corps of Engineers, Daniel got free SMS usage. One can never neglect the perks of service to the state. Often in life, even without intending to, one can serve one’s self while serving others. The difference between good people and bad people is that bad people serve others only to serve themselves and good people serve others and find it pleasantly surprising when it ends up serving themselves. Daniel wondered how we would work that into his speech.
Meanwhile, the Hoovers were discussing matters in their own lives. Since Melody was not present, they felt free to talk about her. Both of them relaxed in their house and complained, as they were wont to do.

“I can’t believe Melody laughed when she heard that Daniel was sick,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I know,” Dr. Hoover replied. “That girl has no manners.”

“How could we have such poor luck with our three children?” Mrs. Hoover asked.

“I have no idea. One is a stripper, the other lives halfway across Bravia studying in medical school, and the third mooches off of us and then complains about it,” Dr. Hoover said.

“Well, at least she is doing better recently,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Except for those comments she made, she was doing well. She should have organized some kind of party for him instead of laughing about his ill health,” Dr. Hoover said.

“I agree,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“When is that girl going to be nice?” Dr. Hoover asked.

“She’s always nicer to people to their face,” Mrs. Hoover.

“It’s behind their back that is a problem,” Dr. Hoover said.

“Remember that time she went to Cork and talked to Daniel’s old ‘friends’?” Mrs. Hoover said.

“How could I forget. It was the highlight of her summer,” Dr. Hoover said.

“She gloated about that one for weeks,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I know,” Dr. Hoover said.

“You are too lax about this sort of thing,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“When playing good cop, bad cop, someone has to be the good cop,” Dr. Hoover said.

“Are you saying I’m the bad cop?” Mrs. Hoover asked.

“Did I say that?” Dr. Hover asked, protesting his innocence.

“You implied it,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I never imply anything,” Dr. Hoover said.

“You imply everything. You never like to go right out and offend. You prefer to imply and hint at things.”

“Let him who understands understand,” Dr. Hoover said.

“Whatever,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I love it when you’re upset,” Dr. Hoover said.

“I know, it gives you great enjoyment,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“It’s easy to get you to change the subject,” Dr. Hoover said.

“You just like hearing me complain,” Mrs. Hoover.

“I just about admitted it,” Dr. Hoover said.

“All the things I have to go through,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Do you want to go to the awards ceremony?” Dr. Hoover asked.

“What would be the purpose?” Mrs. Hoover asked.

“Daniel will be speaking there,” Dr. Hoover said.

“He is such a nice boy,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I figured you would want to hear that,” Dr. Hoover said.

“It’s a shame he’s so plain looking,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Nobody’s perfect,” Dr. Hoover said.

“That’s true,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“Is there anything else my love would like to complain about?” Dr. Hoover asked.

“How about you?” Mrs. Hoover asked almost rhetorically.

“You always complain about me,” Dr. Hoover said in mock shock.

“I don’t complain nearly enough, since you don’t do anything about it,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“You kill more flies with honey than with vinegar,” Dr. Hoover said proverbially.

“Are you trying to say I’m too sour?” Mrs. Hoover asked accusingly.

“I’m not saying anything at all,” Dr. Hoover said enigmatically.

“You’re always like that,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“What am I always like?” Dr. Hoover asked.

“You always act like you’re not saying anything at all and letting others get all worked up over the insults you are implying,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“You think rather little of me,” Dr. Hoover said.

“I know you well,” Mrs. Hoover said.

“I’m sure you do,” Dr. Hoover said.

XVIII.

It was a bright and glorious day at the end of summer. It was time for Daniel to leave, and he was just well enough to move around a good bit on his own. He was wearing the officer’s uniform of the Imperial Engineers, and as skinny and lanky as his figure was, his scholarly mien gave him a distinguished air. He certainly looked as though he belonged as an engineer, even if he was more friendly and outgoing and well-rounded than most engineers were thought to be.
Natonito and Bathsheba went to the ceremony as well, for the Directrix had an award to present to Daniel. Since the second-in-command of the entire Empire was on hand, the crowd was large. People gravitated to centers of power, whether they cared to admit it or not. Even something as insignificant as a church headquarters would attract a fair amount of people, so the presence of an Imperial ruler would attract a lot of notice. Natonito paid it no mind, being used to it. Bathsheba, too, was becoming more used to this part of her life, as the loyal and helpful wife to the powerful man who she knew so well, and who had been so kind and loving to her.
After everyone had more or less found their seat, except for those loquacious few who could not take the hint and sit down. Those who could not take the hint did when Col. Parsons, the master of ceremonies, took the stage and stood in front of the lectern.

“Today is a very special day. Thanks to the heroic actions of a young engineer among us,” Col. Parsons said pointing at Daniel. “Thanks to this young man, the life of another engineer was saved. For this the Directrix has come to give an award and speak to us. He also speaks to us today because of our completion of the Imperial Canal. So, without further ado, Directrix Natonito Bravia et Albright.” The audience clapped.

Natonito gallantly walked up to the podium and started talking. He picked, out of his large vocabulary and varied mind, words that he thought would be fitting for the moment.

“Today we are gathered here to give credit where credit is due. I am looking out over people who are responsible for every major civil project in the entire empire, and yet who seldom receive credit for it. As someone who enjoys building myself, rare among people in politics, I appreciate the work that these fine engineers have done.” Natonito says, as he and the engineers have shared a private laugh.

He continues, “There are too many people to thank. All of the people out here today in the audience either worked on the canal or knew someone who did. May you never fail to thank those who work so hard and so long for your benefit. An engineer is not someone who tends to profit materially from years of hard work. Engineering is a middle class profession, but there are many professionals like medicine and law who work as hard but who earn far more. What is it then that draws people to this fine profession? Engineers do not work with the sick like doctors, for they instead seek and work for strength. It is not quarreling, like lawyers, that is the bread of the engineers. It is not public shows and ribbon cutting ceremonies, like politicians, that draws the engineer. It is the desire to be like God, to create something that did not exist before, that draws the engineer. An engineer seeks to build up and maintain civilization, despite the fact that so few know the work and struggles and so few care. But the engineer knows in his heart of hearts that upon him civilizations depend. A nation without doctors would be ill, a people without lawyers would be blessed, and a nation without politicians would have plenty of amateurs willing to try their hand, but civilization without engineering could not exist, for design and construction is at the heart of every advance that humanity has made. To engineer is human, to appreciate such works, divine.” The engineers, understanding the sagacity of this comment, cheered him with loud exclamations.

“Thank you for your kindness,” Natonito said sincerely. “However, today is not merely to congratulate ourselves on the completion of a new canal that should increase trade between Imperium, Bravia, and Puria. Today I want to honor a special young man for his work in saving the life of another engineer. It is a shame I did not see this happen, but our youngest engineer, a student at the Imperial Schools named Daniel Miller, saved an engineer by teaching him how to float in the cold waters of the canal. For this we would like to award him the Imperial Star, the highest award given to members of the Imperial Armed Forces.”

Daniel stood up and walked gingerly towards the podium. Throughout the whole ceremony he had not felt well, and he never liked being praised in public. It was a highly embarrassing thing for him.

“Thank you for your brave deed,” Natonito said, pinning the award on Daniel’s chest.

“It was but my duty,” Daniel said.

“Doing one’s duty does not preclude the bravery of that deed,” Natonito said.

“I will try to remember that,” Daniel said.

“Please do,” Natonito said. “Would you like to make some appropriate remarks now?”

“Yes, thank you,” Daniel said. “The words I have to say to you today I cannot express properly, for my strength has not yet recovered from the chill. Still, I would like to read some words from a poet whose ability to express is much better than mine.” He reads the following poem:

The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited the good part; But the Sons of Martha favor their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest, Her sons must wait on Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest. It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock. It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock. It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain, Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to the mountains, “Be ye removed.” They say to the lesser floods, “Be dry.” Under their rods are the rocks reproved-they are not afraid of that which is high. Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit-then is the bed of the deep laid bare, That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware. They finger death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires. He rows against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires. Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall, And hale him forth a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall. To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from those till death is Relief afar. They are concerned with matters hidden-under the earth their altars are- The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth, And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city’s drouth.

They do not preach that their God will wake them a little before the nuts work loose. They do not teach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they dam’-well choose. As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand. Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s day may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or clear the wood to make a path more fair or flat- Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that! Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed, But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed-they know the Angels are on their side. They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for them are the Mercies multiplied. They sit at the Feet-they hear the Word-they see how truly the Promise runs. They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and-the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons.

“While I do not agree with everything that this poet said, it does express my own feeling about this profession,” Daniel said. “We do not work for glory, but we serve and worry so that others do not have to. While I wish too that others would recognize the value of our deeds, we must do those deeds whether they are recognized or not. I for one would prefer that those deeds be recognized when they are truly brave, and I do not consider sacrificing what little health I have to be a deed worthy of adulation. But I suppose that is not for me to judge. Nonetheless, let me be a reminder that heroic deeds may only involve being decent in difficult times. I wish I could say more, but my breath only allows me to speak this much. Thank you all for our care and attention, though.”

To that the audience cheered loudly. Since the show was over most of the people filed out. Daniel stayed behind and talked to Natonito and Bathsheba though.

“You gave a great speech,” Bathsheba said.

“Thank you,” Daniel said shyly, for he never felt comfortable when beautiful women, even beautiful wives, complimented him.

“Care for a few days of rest the palace?” Natonito asked.

“I would like that very much,” Daniel said.

“You looked really frail up there,” Natonito said.

“I am really frail, even more so than usual,” Daniel said.

“You’ll be alright,” Bathsheba said.

“I know,” Daniel said. “Eventually.”

“We’ll take care of you,” Bathsheba said.

“I know. You always have,” Daniel said.

“You are a courageous young man,” Natonito said.

“You think too kindly of me,” Daniel said.

“No, it is the truth,” Natonito said.

The three of them went into the invisible vehicle and went back towards the capital. Natonito and Bathsheba both thought of Daniel like an incredibly smart kid brother that was always far too hard on himself. Still, they supposed it was better to be too hard on one’s self than to be too lax. As they got to the palace, Bathsheba went and talked with Daniel by herself.

“Daniel, I have something to tell you,” Bathsheba said.

“What is it?” Daniel asked, somewhat uncomfortable.

“I understand where you are coming from,” Bathsheba said.

“You do?” Daniel replied slightly incredulously.

“I know what it means to feel uncomfortable with blessing,” Bathsheba said.

“You are the wife of the Directrix,” Daniel said. “How could you understand?”

“I was not always so blessed,” Bathsheba said.

“What could you possibly mean?” Daniel said.

“Remember that night at the Bravian Cantina?” Bathsheba asked.

“Yes,” Daniel said. “The Directrix seems to like that place a lot.”

“He does. That is where he met me,” Bathsheba said.

“Lots of young noblemen and noblewomen go there to find love,” Daniel said. “Surely the two of you could not have been alone in that.”

“I did not go there to find love,” Bathsheba said.

“What did you go there to find them?” Daniel asked.

“I was a prostitute,” Bathsheba said.

“I thought that was a private joke between the two of you,” Daniel said.

“It was no joke,” Bathsheba said.

“How could such a beautiful and wonderful and high-class woman such as yourself be a prostitute for the rich and famous?” Daniel asked.

“I was kidnapped as a child,” Bathsheba said. “And then I was sold into prostitution.”

Daniel hugged Bathsheba tightly and tried to console her, as they both were crying. “That must have been so horrible. You must be so glad to be out of it.”

“I am, but I still do not feel as if I deserve this fortune,” Bathsheba said.

“You deserve every bit of it,” Daniel said.

“Intellectually, I know it, but I do not believe it in my heart,” Bathsheba said.

“I think I understand what you mean,” Daniel said.

“When Natonito rescued me, and purchased me, I felt happy that I no longer had to service all of the men that came into that Cantina. But I felt the stain of my actions still weigh down upon me.”

“It was not your fault,” Daniel said. “You should not have felt the weight. Whatever you did wrong had been forgiven.”

“I knew it, and know it still, but I still feel scarred inside of me. I still feel tainted because of what I did, and what they did to me,” Bathsheba said.

“What can heal you?” Daniel said.

“I don’t know, love and time,” Bathsheba said.

“I still do not entirely know why the Directrix loves me so much, and why he feels so bad that he did not marry his pretty concubine sooner,” Bathsheba said. “I am amazed he married her at all.”

“You are a beautiful and amazing woman. Any man with a shred of decency could not help but love you and want the best for you. Why can’t you see that?” Daniel said pleadingly.

“It’s the same thing with you,” Bathsheba said. With that Daniel was taken aback.

“What?” Daniel said, shocked.

“I know how you spent your childhood an unusual person, the object of much ridicule and abuse. I know how that left a taint on you still, such that you do not feel comfortable in your own skin, how you do not feel as if you deserve the fortune that God has given you, because somewhere within is still that little scrawny kid who was being mercilessly teased. I can see it in your eyes,” Bathsheba said. “And I know that anyone with a shred of decency could not help but want the best for you as well.”

“You are too kind,” Daniel said.

“No, it is the truth,” Bathsheba said.

“So you say we both suffer from the same problem?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, and I do not want you to forget it,” Bathsheba said.

“Maybe I need some time and love as well,” Daniel said.

“Maybe we all do,” Bathsheba said.

They both hugged each other and knew in their hearts the depth of understanding that they had between them. Those who have suffered deep in their hearts and felt tormented and corrupted know to treasure those moments of hope when it looked as if there was a chance for them to be made whole again. For God grieves when sorrow covers the earth and discouragement chases away the hope and faith for the brighter day He will provide. No one’s accomplishments, no one’s struggles, and no one’s decency will go unrewarded, even if such things must wait for a better day ahead.

This ends “The Sons of Martha.” Coming soon is “Backpacking Across Puria.”

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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