Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my
enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!” Numbers 23:11
In the beginning Sean Billings created a City on a Sea. William Bradford provided his greatest inspiration, though he looked also to the myriad Greek and Roman colonists who had settled the Mediterranean region.
The Founder of Bethel grew up at sea. He knew her ways. When sixteen years of age he went on a great adventure: “normal” life. Sean obtained a Bible degree from Columbia International University and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Pennsylvania. As a result of these years away from the Pacific, Sean thought he understood something of the landlubber mentality, the ways of God, and the treacheries of Corporate America.
Hostility towards Bethel – this Sean did not understand. As best he could determine, colonists headed for the New World had not been hated by those who remained in Europe. Neither had ancient pioneers been despised; indeed, by embracing the Aeneid the Romans had actually glorified people like Sean. Bethel’s First Father considered all this history, weighed his treatment at the hands of his contemporaries, and felt baffled at the disconnect.
He desperately wanted to grasp his enemies’ motives. He felt frustrated and embarrassed over the fact that he could not. But Sean did not have to understand his opponents; all he had to do was defeat them. And although it was painfully true that Sean did not understand the people opposed to Bethel, Sean did realize something critical: the people opposed to Bethel did not understand Sean Billings.
Dudge and his girlfriend collapsed onto the bed in their new quarters aboard the bulkcarrier R.B.T. Pertexpat. With one hand Dudge felt the metal bulkhead behind their heads, with the other he stroked Jolene’s hair.
“What did I say?” Dudge bragged. “Told you we could get on board.”
Jolene gave him a stupid grin. Dumb as dirt, Dudge pondered. But that’s the way he preferred his women. She would do what he said. That was all that mattered.
Having someone to talk to would have been nice, though. Dudge had put in a year of law school in order to make this plot work, no small feat given his background. That was how he’d hooked up with Ben Quinn, the lawyer who would become so critical once Dudge and Jolene managed to force a trial.
Ben understood the “crab-pot feeling.” If the rest of America had to stay and pay interest on the national debt, these traitors should be forced to do so as well. Ben also understood why Christians were so offensive. They were driven by different longings, different dreams, than the rest of the human race. It wasn’t normal. It wasn’t right. In a properly functioning society they would not be allowed to exist. At the very least they should not be permitted to escape, to develop and thrive and infect the world. This Bethel thing had to be plucked up now, while still a tender shoot.
“Christians are sheep,” Dudge gloated. “Easy to shear, easy to eat. Oh, but this is going to be fun!” He bounded to his feet and smacked his head on the metal ceiling.
He scowled while rubbing his scalp. “I wish we didn’t have to wait till we left port,” he lamented. “But I guess it gives us more time to meet our fellow shipmates. Remember the basic rule.”
“Be friendly,” Jolene said, flipping her hair.
“That’s right. Keep smiling, keep talking.” Dudge reckoned it would take an American colonist about a minute to figure Jolene had some sort of learning disorder. It would be perfect. They’d be put off their guard from the start. And Dudge…how nice he must be to marry her, what with her issues and all.
Sheep, Dudge sneered. So many opportunities to expose Christianity for the joke it really was. And Billings was too stupid to realize it! Worse than Jolene, the way he’d set himself up.
Dudge reckoned this is what his parents always meant when they talked about “calling.” He had finally found his niche in life. He would use the City on a Sea to make a world-wide mockery of the Bible.
He reached a hand to Jolene, pulled her to her feet. “Come on,” he said. “Time to get to work.”
Jack Star led his wife and eight followers down a grimy Los Angeles dock. He had never seen this part of the city, and didn’t care to be in it now. The group walked slowly as they dragged luggage and noses through a cloud of diesel fumes. Coming to the end of the pier, they read the name on a vessel still loading containers: R.B.T. Pertexpat.
Jack glanced around, blinking. He expected more…what? Fanfare. Media. Something. Some acknowledgment, at least, of all he was giving up to join Bethel. They weren’t some pack of grungy laborers from Thailand or China who couldn’t even speak the language. They were Americans: the sort of people Billings would need if this colony of his were ever to amount to anything.
He noticed a gangplank leading up to the ship’s forecastle. On the pier before this simple walkway, a woman sat in a folding chair. Jack trudged up and read her nametag: Mae Quan, Purser. He introduced himself and his group.
Mrs. Quan smiled and shook his hand. “Welcome,” she said in thickly accented English. “Your quarters are prepared.” She handed out diagrams of the ship, identical to the ones they had already downloaded and brought along with them. She pointed them to the ship’s entrance.
Jack stood unmoving, realizing finally that he expected servants to appear and carry his belongings aboard. But there were no valets. He grabbed the handle of his suitcase and gave it a violent tug. “Come on,” he pronounced.
Unappreciated, he lamented as he entered Bethel territory. Everywhere he went, it seemed, people refused to be grateful for him. So much use he could be to the kingdom. So much good he could do. If people would just listen.
He made it onto the Pertexpat’s foredeck, dropped his bags, and glanced back at the smog-enshrouded city. Hopefully Bethel would be different. Great idea this Billings guy had. It just needed a little tweaking. Jack knew he was perfect for the job.
“Remember,” Abraham urged Mohamed, “you cannot talk about grace too much. Say it over and over: Islam taught I had to earn my salvation. But Jesus earned salvation for me, and I have received it as a gracious gift.”
“I will remember,” Mohamed promised.
Abraham looked his student over, doubtful he had taken the lesson to heart, even after four years of drilling.
“And the prayers you memorize, they must not sound memorized,” Abraham insisted. “Canned prayer sends off warning bells. You have to sound spontaneous. And the more Scripture you include, the better. Most Americans don’t know the Bible well enough to include it in spontaneous prayers. They will grow intimidated, and not wish to probe you too deeply.”
The time for prayer came and went. The men did not get on the floor and face Mecca. The deception could not be risked. Instead they uttered a Trinitarian prayer. Practice made perfect.
“Christians are usually easier to trick than heathen,” Abraham continued. “Dealing with Muslims is one of the few areas in which this is not the case. You will actually have a much harder time getting them to trust you than if you were joining the U.S. Army. I know this makes no sense, but for our purposes it hardly matters. The key idea is that you are attempting what most would consider impossible.”
You are trying to convince highly educated Evangelical Christians that you are one of them, Abraham thought. Impossible because it requires you to understand how they think. And how can you do that without becoming one of them? Well, that was the risk. Let Mohamed know what the Bible actually taught – not the revised nonsense spouted by the imams – but genuine Reformed theology, and yes, Mohamed could possibly pass for a Christian. But he could also end up converting, and that would ruin everything. A chance that had to be taken.
“It can be done,” Abraham insisted. “You’ve seen how they accept me, the position of importance I have been given. But I cannot do this task alone. Only together can we strike this blow against America. Only together can we humiliate Billings with his inability to stop us.
“These people are kind and respectable,” he continued. “It will be easy for you to let down your guard. But they will turn on you with shocking savagery if they discover the truth. They call this vessel Republic of Bethel Territory Pusan Perimeter. Never forget that. To them it is not a ship. It is the very territory of their nation. It is home. If they realize what we’ve smuggled, they will hang us from the yardarm and post the clip on YouTube.”
Sean convened Bethel’s government aboard the Pertexpat, a single marine guarding the entrance to his quarters. One man, Sean thought. Indeed, at this point the entire Thelan military consisted of four veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. How easily might Bethel be snuffed out: a smoldering wick, a bruised reed. During this first generation, their survival depended entirely upon diplomacy. The third generation would likely have to rely upon advanced water and space technologies. And the second – well, that was Sean’s unique insight: the American quality that would secure Bethel’s survival when it had grown large enough to annoy the United States, yet remained too small to defend itself.
Those problems would belong to other presidents. At the moment Sean’s aides joined him in watching a live CNN stream: Washington was considering an embargo against all Bethel-flagged ships.
“I told you not to push David over the edge,” Rebecca said. “It’s not like he was ever going to agree. But now he’ll try even harder to stop us.”
“That’s why I pushed him,” Sean explained. “We need his opposition to reach critical mass now, not six months from now. I’ve made him so angry he’s lashing out blindly, excessively and, most importantly, immediately.”
Rebecca looked unconvinced. “Who has David golfed with, just in the last four weeks?” she asked. “By my count, four Congressmen, two Senators, an Emir, a Prime Minister, the CEO of Microsoft, the largest Exxon stockholder, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and, oh yes…the president of the United States. Don’t you realize the kind of damage he can do?”
“I’m counting on it.” Sean pulled his aides into a huddle. “This is the time of testing. Our enemies will try to delay us, to keep us from delivering goods and services within the times delineated in our contracts. If we arrive late, we lose. I know this. David knows this. If we don’t keep covenant, our enemies can label us hypocrites. You know how much non-Christians love accusing us of hypocrisy. And never mind that they’d be the ones preventing us from offloading in the first place. We miss our deadlines and they own us.”
“But most factors are beyond our control,” Abby protested. “If people are determined to prevent delivery, how can we make deadline?”
“By transforming weakness into strength,” Sean said. “We take our enemies’ attacks and twist them to our purposes. That is why I want David going ballistic from day one. Opponents must come to dread cursing us, for certain fear that God will turn their curses into blessings.”
The walkie-talkie in Dudge’s pocket vibrated, signaling that Pertexpat’s sergeant-at-arms was occupied at the other end of the ship. Major George, everyone called him. Former Commando of Her Majesty’s Special Air Service. Dudge had encountered a few of those blokes in Afghanistan, realized they could break him in half while sipping their tea and never spill a drop. Thus Dudge’s strategy for dealing with Major George: avoid the man at all costs.
Jolene was God’s gift for keeping the sergeant-at-arms busy. Hopefully the chap interpreted Jolene’s attentions as the embarrassing flirtations of someone not entirely in her right mind. The girl was, after all, married. And a Christian. So she and Dudge were pretending, anyway.
With Jolene keeping the good major under dim but dutiful observation, Dudge commenced with his mission. He brought a useful skill to the evening’s immediate objective. He knew how to fix machines. That meant he also knew how to break them.
Water treatment plant first. Then food refrigeration. Odds were against getting a crack at a third ship system, but if they could somehow manage it they’d take out the air conditioning. All to provide a background of general discontent ahead of the real attacks.
Pertexpat’s maiden journey to Malaysia was about to become a trip through hell.
The former Reverend Star and his faction headed to the galley after the conclusion of the morning worship service. The water restrictions announced that morning had put him in a foul mood before they had even left for church. Then those suffering through Yu’s absurdly long message had been packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a room where the air conditioning did not seem to be working.
No one else had been able to shower, either, and the congregation had reeked. The cooks stank, the engine men stank – actually, everybody stank. And the agony of listening to a sermon in another language! The old fool had insisted on preaching in Mandarin, pausing after each sentence while a young seminarian translated. The irony was that Yu could have done the translation better himself. He had even politely corrected his assistant on several occasions. Why had the Republic’s “Secretary of State” forced the torturous session upon them in the first place? English was Bethel’s official language. People needed to accept it.
These complaints and many like them Jack spewed freely as they got in line for lunch. There to his surprise he discovered enormous piles of hot food – beef, chicken, and pork dishes representing the entire range of Pacific Rim culinary preferences. They could never eat this much, not in an entire week.
“The freezers broke,” a server explained. “We have to cook it all now, before it goes bad.”
“But even cooked it won’t last long,” Jack said, considering the sweat pouring down his back. “Especially without air conditioning.”
“Eat up, then,” the woman said cheerfully, her British-tinged accent making her sound more educated than she must have been. Otherwise, why would she be working in a kitchen?
The obnoxious food handler looked South Asian. Jack loathed them even more than the race his father had dismissed as “Rice Eaters.” He pictured this woman dunking her laundry in the Ganges River, too dense to realize the water was toxic. She probably didn’t know the first thing about maintaining a clean cooking environment. They’d be sick of food-borne illnesses within a week.
Jack loaded his tray with meat, unaware that the feast he was about to eat contained more protein than much of the world’s population consumed in an entire month. His wife and his “righteous remnant” quickly joined him at a table. The ten of them joined hands. Jack said thanks for lunch and got ready to serve his favorite Sunday meal: roast pastor.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t think of an automatic complaint to level at Yu’s sermon. Jack’s normal plan of attack was to highlight whatever the minister had not said. Usually this was easy to do. A typical message lasted thirty or forty minutes, after all, and in that time it was impossible to go over everything in the Bible. That necessarily lent a certain imbalance to each individual discourse.
Jack’s expertise lay in vilifying that imbalance. If the preacher focused on God’s grace, Jack would express dismay over the neglect of God’s justice. If the preacher zeroed in on God’s justice, Jack would lament the poor man’s failure to proclaim God’s grace.
This strategy worked because visitors normally caught a pastor in the middle of a series. Few people understood that within a collection of sermons, no individual message was capable of standing on its own. Instead, on any given Sunday worshipers got a piece of the Bible: grace or justice, transcendence or immanence, preparation or fulfillment. Over time, of course, the sermons of a good preacher would form a larger, unified whole that faithfully represented the entire counsel of God.
Jack didn’t give preachers time. He would take his group to a specific church only as long as he could accuse the minister of putting too much stress on one part of the Bible and not enough on another. This way Jack always appeared superior, the one man who got the big picture.
The problem today, Jack reckoned, was that it had been Yu’s first worship service aboard the Pertexpat. His sermon had consequently been quite general in nature, an overview of Biblical theology rather than a snippet of some larger train of thought. Jack couldn’t think of any core doctrine, actually, that Yu hadn’t gone over. Perhaps he’d have no choice but to go the opposite route, and accuse the old geezer of being too general. A good sermon ought to communicate one main point, after all, not attempt to summarize the whole Bible in a single morning.
That’s not what Jack felt like saying, however. What he really wanted to do was blast Yu for being Chinese, for preaching in Chinese, and for having a congregation that was almost half Chinese. It took so much energy to suppress this rant, in fact, that he ended up doing nothing but mumbling into his pork stir-fry.
A wave of body odor swirled with a cacophony of eight languages, creating in Jack a sudden urge to bolt from the galley. Billings is failing, Jack concluded. Bethel needed Americans. But their “Founding Father” had been unable to get real people to join up. In desperation he had settled for a pack of filthy, squint-eyed charity cases who couldn’t even talk in complete sentences. No way to start a country.
Jack was the first to admit that churches ought to keep a token chink or nigger on hand. But this ship’s complement was ridiculous. And to have the pastor be Asian! Jack scanned the eighty or so people gorging on Pertexpat’s fresh food supply, realized there wasn’t a single black person in the crowd. Maybe that’s it, Jack thought. I can accuse Yu of racism.
He recalled that blacks and Koreans didn’t exactly get along in Los Angeles. A shrewd man could take advantage of that history. Was it enough? Jack listed his points of contention: sermon by translation, translator incompetent, sermon too general in subject matter, hot and stuffy worship space, smelly worship space, all of it overseen by a prejudiced leader who had not tried hard enough to recruit Africans.
The former Reverend Star thought he could sell it. He would have to follow up, though. You can’t beat something with nothing, we would tell people. And that’s why he had no choice but to start a competing worship service the very next week.
“The artillery piece is ‘hidden in plain sight’ as they say in America,” Abraham explained, Mohamed showing by his expression that he did not understand. “This means if we tried to conceal it, people would be suspicious. But because it is listed as official cargo, no one asks questions.”
“But why will they let it in?” Mohamed asked.
“Because they lack imagination. Because they are fixated on weapons of mass destruction. Because it would never occur to them that an object so old might still be dangerous.”
Mohamed shook his head. He thought their venture was doomed to failure, and he said as much again. “No one has succeeded in smuggling military weaponry into the United States. Ever. There must be a reason why illegal drugs get in so easily, but no weapons. Not a single machine gun. Not a single grenade. We’re trying to smuggle a 105 millimeter howitzer!”
“It’s precisely because of its size that they will ignore it. It is too big. A mortar, an RPG, even a single AK-47 – all of these would draw more attention than our gun. Its paperwork is in order. Its firing pin is missing. Any American dock inspector will accept it for what it appears to be: a Korean War relic on its way to a museum in Arizona.”
And that was the beauty of it, Abraham thought. The gun was a relic from the Korean War. Manufactured in America but apparently handed over to the ROKA sometime in the 1960’s, the howitzer had been tucked away in an abandoned warehouse, rusting and forgotten. Abraham had been careful to leave the rust, of course. Useless junk. Who would think otherwise?
The key discovery had not been the gun itself. Rather Abraham had found and purchased a World-War II die used for casting 105 millimeter firing pins. And thanks to his mechanical engineering degree from Caltech, he knew exactly how to use it. In fact, he already had. A beautiful new pin lay in their Los Angeles safehouse, awaiting the gun’s arrival.
Americans thought too big and too small, ever on the lookout for suicide bombers and nuclear weapons, never for something in-between. But Abraham had read his history books. There was a reason soldiers called artillery “King of the Battlefield.” Modern U.S. security personnel had become too preoccupied with counter-insurgency warfare and high-tech weaponry. They had lost sight of the power of a simple, unguided, large-bore shell.
“Getting the ammunition in,” Abraham allowed, “is admittedly a much harder problem. But all three inspection techniques are accounted for. One shell is hidden in each bag of ammonium nitrate. That renders dogs and electronic sniffers useless.
“Since these Thelans are not complete idiots, they are aware of the fact that someone might try shipping explosives within a larger container of ammonium nitrate. Thus the palates of fertilizer will be exposed to two additional tests. First, they will be X-rayed. We get around this in the most simple of manners: I run the X-Ray machine.” A degree from Caltech had many uses.
“Second, a magnetometer will be used to test for the presence of ferrous metals. This is where Bethel’s commitment to new technology comes to our rescue. The Pusan Perimeter has been equipped with an experimental degaussing device that will disrupt the sensor. The crew does not know of this impending side-effect, of course, but I have computer-modeled it.” A degree from Caltech had many uses. “As the senior technical advisor aboard ship, I will be the one asked to solve the problem. That gets me operating the magnetometer as well. Our shells will make it to port undetected. All 300 of them.”
The final irony was that after all this effort to get around Bethel security, the American dock workers probably wouldn’t even open the container for the most cursory of visual inspections. They’d sign the shipping order and let a truck haul the whole package straight to its firing position in Ingleside.
“Bethel is about cargo,” Mohamed said. “After the attack, when Americans realize the weaponry was shipped…”
“Bethel will be ruined,” Abraham proclaimed. “An instant laughingstock. Two-for-the-price-of-one, they say. You should learn that as well.”
“Not being taken seriously,” Bethel’s First Father shouted at his senior aides as the six of them took their shift practicing firefighting. “Never forget that everything depends on not being taken seriously.”
Sweat dripped into Sean’s eyes. His mask prevented him from wiping it away. The absence of air conditioning made this exercise a real killer. Nothing like a real fire, though. He had been in one of those. Once was enough. It was something land people never understood about life at sea. On a ship, even a metal ship, the biggest danger was never drowning. The biggest danger was fire.
Sean had offered Yu a pass, but the pastor would hear none of it. Bethel’s President had heard of the cruelties done in the Chinese labor camps. Stomping around in a heavy suit was probably a walk in the park by comparison. They reached their action station at last, informed the bridge they were ready for deployment.
“Thankfully,” Sean continued, still yelling to be heard through his breathing apparatus, “the poor reputation earned by Evangelicals…in every field of endeavor besides linguistics…actually guarantees that no one will take us seriously.” He paused to take a breath. “And what does Jesus say? From whom much has been given, much will be required.”
The emergency-control officer signaled all-clear. They removed their masks and collapsed against the corridor walls. Abby broke out a bottle and passed it around. Precious water, Sean thought. The back-up distillation system was coming in quite handy. As if he hadn’t guessed his enemies would engage in sabotage.
“You could almost say,” Sean said, taking a drink, “that we have ‘inherited’ the legacy of mediocrity stored up by previous generations of Christians. This legacy of incompetence and irrelevance is a gift, a ‘talent’ that we are to put to use. That is how I challenge you to think: God has entrusted us with the preciousness of not being taken seriously. Christ commands us to lay hold of this ironic endowment and use it to build his kingdom.
“It is essential that we be ignored. You’ve met Christians who feel a great urge to let unbelievers know how rapidly the church is growing throughout the world. These believers have twisted motives: they want to enlighten unbelievers because they crave legitimacy in the eyes of unbelievers. In other words, they want non-Christians to take them seriously. But why would we want enemies of the gospel to know that the church is growing? Better that humanists remain convinced they are winning. Better they never pay the church a thought.
“Bethel needs the same neglect. We need the U.S. to ignore us. We need the current generation of leaders to retire and die without ever realizing what is happening. And that’s why we need to get rid of half our Americans.”
“But we only have twenty percent,” Rebecca protested.
“That’s a hundred percent too many,” Sean said. “The more Americans present in Bethel, the more it puts us on the radar scope. I can’t stress the racism angle too strongly. Americans don’t care about Chinese or Filipinos or Malaysians. As long as we’re not white, we can get away with anything. That means a lot of whites have got to go.
“Besides, a significant percentage of our Americans are really wolves in sheep’s clothing. Fringe movements attract fringe people. The only reason they’re here is because they think we’re easy pickings. Because, ironically, they don’t take us seriously.
“A painful Darwinian process took place in the early American colonies. The greedy, the incompetent, the lazy, and, unfortunately, the weak, died quickly due to the unforgiving environment. This ruthless natural selection created an extremely non-random sample. The early colonists who survived and thrived, this elite remnant of hardy pioneers, they were the best sort of foundation upon which to build a new civilization.
“We don’t have starvation or smallpox, which means we need something else to winnow the chaff from the wheat. I believe God is securing the departure of our chaff. Do not doubt for a second: I will be happy to see them go.”
As he listened to Jolene’s testimony and pondered her blackened left eye, Dudge considered afresh the force with which he had hit her. Dudge may not have been special forces material, but between his two tours in Afghanistan he had participated in a goodly share of North Carolina parking lot brawls. His right hook had knocked down soldiers. Big soldiers. And certainly it had left quite a mark on Jolene’s cheek.
What worried Dudge was the instant after the blow. Jolene had remained standing. And that wasn’t all. The stupid look had vanished, replaced with a grin of feral savagery. Fear had coursed through Dudge in that moment. Something inhuman lingered within Jolene. She could take him if she wished.
“He blocked the passageway,” Jolene said, the ship’s inhabitants listening with rapt attention to the first Thelan trial. “I should have run, I guess. Then he grabbed me. I panicked. I tried to run past him, to the stairs. That’s when he hit me. I don’t know what would’ve happened if Dudge hadn’t shown up. He took off fast when he saw him.”
“The man who attacked you,” the prosecuting attorney replied. “Would you please identify him again, Mrs. Nesbo?”
Jolene paused, then faced the defendant and pointed. “That’s the man,” she said, her lip quivering. “Major George.”
Perfect, Dudge thought. He suppressed a smile at his fellow Thelans’ grumblings. I’m going to be the next Darwin, Dudge decided with glee. Trashing Genesis had become old school. Dudge would expose the rest of the Pentateuch to international derision. After this excuse of a trial, historians would add a new name to the list of mankind’s greatest thinkers: Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud – and Dudge Nesbo!
He nearly uttered this out loud, was glad to catch himself in time. Too many people hovered within hearing distance. The vessel’s occupants packed the aft weather deck, there being no interior space sufficient to hold so large a crowd. In fact, other than a token presence in engineering and navigation, Dudge figured every Pertexpat resident had turned out. Billings himself, together with aides and two bodyguards, observed from a platform opposite the jury.
Standing room only, Dudge considered. Very impressive. But the real power of this circus lay in its live broadcast. Most of Bethel’s citizens, scattered across the Pacific, were certainly observing the legal proceedings by satellite feed. But they were not the audience that mattered. Every person in the world with internet access and a grudge against Christianity would be watching, waiting, looking for ammunition to use against the Bible.
It was going to be great. Neurotic fear of wrongful conviction enslaved American legal thought. Better a hundred guilty men go free, they said, than one innocent man be convicted. Being a criminal enabled Dudge to realize the idiocy of this American notion. But thankfully most Americans were idiots. Dudge and Jolene would secure the false conviction of Pertexpat’s sergeant-at-arms. Once the sentence was carried out, Dudge would hit the news circuit in Los Angeles, explaining how he and Jolene had concocted the whole thing. Bloodthirsty reporters, desperate for fresh anti-Bethel angles, would thrash about in a feeding frenzy. Dudge and his girlfriend would be labeled heroes for their brave exposure of Billings’ Kool-Aid kooks.
Dudge figured he could ruin four Biblical teachings in the process. Deuteronomy 19 commanded a matter be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. Dudge and Jolene’s combined testimony would result in the punishment of an innocent man, exposing the inadequacy of the “two or three witnesses” requirement. Deuteronomy 17 mandated genuinely public trials. Deuteronomy 25 insisted on corporal punishment. Americans found these notions horrifying enough all on their own, but combined with a wrongful conviction they would appear even worse. An innocent man’s reputation and honor would be forever ruined – again, a consequence of the folly of Old Testament civil law.
Finally, the Lex Talionis would be vilified. Dudge and his allied attorney had worked out the plan over a year ago (thank God Bethel did not distinguish between criminal and civil cases!). Serving as Jolene’s lawyer, Dudge’s friend would harp on the “eye for an eye” passage, knowing full well that Christians did not have the first clue how to interpret or defend the phrase. Bible-thumpers – so smugly self-righteous, so convinced of their superiority – unlike Dudge, they could not summarize the legal principle enshrined in the Lex Talionis, nor could they explain Jesus’ treatment of it.
Best of all, Christians felt utterly ashamed of Moses’ words. How wonderful that Evangelicals were so ignorant, so naïve, so comically insecure. Major George would get flogged on live TV, thereby granting Jolene her “eye for an eye.” Then the Fundamentalists would go apoplectic, falling over each other in their rush to attack the Lex Talionis and insist that they did not agree with it. The very people who claimed to uphold Biblical inerrancy would shed buckets of sweat throttling Moses, spitting on him, grinding him into the dust. It would be marvelous to behold.
A juror suddenly raised her hand. To Dudge’s great confusion the judge acknowledged her. Through a translator she directed a question at Dudge: “Why were you walking so far behind your wife?”
The prosecutor (Jolene’s attorney and Dudge’s co-conspirator) objected. “Your Honor,” he insisted, “it is hardly appropriate for a juror to ask questions of a witness. Such is the responsibility of counsel.”
“Why?” the judge asked. “Is there any statutory law requiring jury silence during trial?”
“Well, no, Your Honor. But precedent…”
“This is not the United States,” the judge reminded the prosecutor, so recently brought by helicopter to represent Jolene at trial. “You familiarized yourself with the Code of Bethel in transit, did you not?”
“Of course, Your Honor. It’s just given the common law tradition…”
“A tradition of proceedings so boring that jurors fall asleep. You recommend we perpetuate such a system? An interactive trial makes more sense. Keeps everyone on their toes.”
Dudge traded glances with their lawyer. They had not given proper consideration to the fact that in Bethel, the captain (an elected position, go figure) served as mayor and judge. And what would a typical ocean-going captain be like, given his constant responsibility for crew survival and on-schedule delivery? Such leaders would tend to be pragmatists, more interested in common sense than in legal technicalities. A captain-judge would also, unfortunately, be thoroughly preoccupied with ship’s business, and thus determined to cut through the mindless hours of crap that consumed the American justice system.
“But jurors have no training,” the prosecutor insisted. “Their questions may not be relevant.”
“Are you suggesting jurors are too stupid to fulfill their civic duties?”
“Certainly not, Your Honor. But the resultant disorder…”
“Then you’re suggesting I can’t manage my courtroom? Is that it, Mr. Quinn?”
The prosecutor swallowed. “Objection withdrawn, Your Honor.”
“Good,” the judge said. “I believe Mr. Nesbo has been asked a question.”
“But Your Honor, we are hearing Mrs. Nesbo’s testimony. Mr. Nesbo has already testified.”
“Then let’s establish a Thelan precedent,” the judge explained. “Witnesses never ‘leave the stand.’ They remain subject to questioning until the trial is over.”
Dudge looked at Sean Billings, observed him nod to the judge ever so slightly. A cold wave of doubt broke across the bow of Dudge’s brain: he was not the only person who had conspired to make use of these proceedings.
Sun and wind forced Dudge to squint as he weighed the juror who had questioned him. She stared at him calmly, waiting. Dudge gave the entire jury a quick evaluation, realized they were intelligent, focused, very much in the game. So unlike an American jury. Most were taking notes on electronic tablets. Two were videotaping.
Dudge’s physical proximity to the jury seemed a double-edged sword. He could read their body language, guess how to play them. But closeness meant the jurors could observe Dudge’s expressions as well. And they seemed to be paying him entirely too much attention. Jolene stood at the witness position. Hers was the central testimony: the words of the actual victim. Why, then, did the jurors keep looking at him?
The question he had been asked disturbed Dudge. Did married people exercise mannerisms he had never consciously noticed? Did husbands accompany their wives? Testimony placed Jolene walking alone in a corridor when she had been attacked, with Dudge stumbling upon the confrontation moments after she had been struck by George. But why had husband and wife been apart? Why had he gone after her? They had not settled on this part of their story. Had Jolene been asked this question in deposition? What if his answer contradicted hers? He was afraid to invent a lie on the spur of the moment.
“I don’t know,” Dudge finally answered.
“Really?” the juror asked. “It was only two days ago. It can’t be that hard to remember. Where were you going when you found your wife and Major George?”
Such a simple question, Dudge thought. Why hadn’t he thought of it in advance? Why hadn’t the police asked him yesterday?
“Your Honor,” the prosecutor interrupted, “we see now why Bethel’s ‘Two Nights’ policy is impractical. Victims need time to organize their thoughts and recover from trauma. Counsel needs more time to conduct an investigation and prepare its case. Given the court’s desire to establish precedent, I move that we recess until a later date. This will permit the setting aside of the Two Nights statute, at least in felony cases.”
“On the contrary,” the judge said, “we are encountering the very reason for the law in question. The trial begins within two nights of the offense so that witnesses’ memories are still fresh, and so that those who would lie do not have sufficient time to build a coherent alternate account of events. The witness will answer the question.”
“I don’t know,” Dudge said again, realizing he was making the jurors question his credibility. But he was even more afraid of contradicting Jolene’s pre-trial deposition. He had not been present yesterday when she had given her official statement under oath. To his horror Dudge suddenly remembered that copies of all pre-trial discovery materials had been handed to the jurors in advance. So different than America. The jury had read Jolene’s statement before the trial had even started! They knew more than Dudge did.
Dudge realized now why the two of them had been sequestered upon reporting the offense: the “witnesses” were not to collaborate. They had not even been permitted to talk with the prosecutor until the morning of the trial. But why should this matter? A victim needed no “witness preparation” – not, at least, if she were telling the truth.
Major George had been allowed an attorney from the moment of his arrest, Dudge noted, deeply annoyed. But then George was the defendant. It occurred to Dudge that perjury might be harder work than he had imagined. And this legal system seemed strangely designed to expose false testimony. As if the testimony of witnesses was what mattered most.
Another juror raised his hand. “I want the forensic evidence,” he said.
“Yes,” Jolene’s lawyer replied. “The prosecution calls Lieutenant Nate Smith.”
The court swore in the police detective who had led the investigation. Photographs taken by the man were projected before the jury. “The imprint of a fist is visible in this blow-up of the victim’s face,” Smith explained. “There is evidence of a ring worn on the right middle-finger of the assailant’s hand.”
Dudge held back his satisfaction at this touch. The ring on Major George’s hand was distinctive. It had been an easy matter to find jewelry of similar shape and use it when striking Jolene. Such a gesture would have been useless in the United States, of course, for the obvious reason now brought up by defense counsel.
“Did you perform DNA tests on the victim’s face?” George’s lawyer asked, “or on the defendant’s hand and ring? Do you have any physical proof that it was the defendant’s hand that struck the victim?”
Lieutenant Smith hesitated for a moment, then declared: “Bethel does not yet possess the means to conduct DNA testing. The hand and ring in the photograph, however, do match the sizes of those belonging to the defendant.”
“But is there not a margin of error in such measurements?” defense counsel asked.
“Yes,” Officer Smith acknowledged.
“So while the sizes of hand and ring revealed in the pictures do not rule out the defendant, the measurements are not precise enough to prove that the defendant struck the victim?”
“That is correct,” Smith said.
Dudge fell back into gloating. This was why they had chosen Major George. As near as she could tell without using an actual tape measure, Jolene had determined that the sergeant-at-arms and her “husband” possessed hands of identical size. Thus the entire situation yielded something of a bonus prize. Even if they ended up losing the case, the trial still exposed Bethel’s lack of a police force capable of the forensic science now routine in all modern countries. Open message to the criminals of the world: Bethel was fair game.
Once again a juror raised his hand. “Were pictures taken of Mr. Nesbo’s hand?”
“Objection, Your Honor,” the prosecutor declared. “Mr. Nesbo is not on trial here, and the implication that he may have struck his wife is highly offensive.”
“Prosecuting counsel needs to work on his reading skills,” the judge replied. “In Bethel courts, the witnesses are considered to be on trial as well as the defendant. Lieutenant Smith, did you take pictures of Mr. Nesbo’s hand?”
“No, Your Honor.”
“Well, hop over there and take a few.”
“Objection, Your Honor!” Jolene’s attorney cried out. “This is hardly the time and place for police to engage in investigative work!”
“Why not?” the judge-captain replied. “Time is money. We’ve all got work to do. Why should he take his pictures in a week and bring them to court in a month when the task can be completed to the jury’s satisfaction in the next two minutes?”
The prosecutor grabbed onto this and made his biggest mistake of all. “How can the court know of the jury’s satisfaction?”
“Hmm,” the judge pondered. “Good question. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, give us a vote. All those in favor of having Lieutenant Smith photograph Mr. Nesbo and present the findings without delay, raise your hand.” The judge counted, nodded. “Lieutenant Smith, you may proceed.”
Dudge stood numbly as the police officer photographed his right hand from a variety of angles. He scarcely heard as the Lieutenant announced that Mr. Nesbo’s hand also matched the size parameters of the one that had struck Mrs. Nesbo.
His insides boiled. It was all so unfair, so ridiculous, so…un-American. Trials were supposed to be boring, long-winded ordeals preoccupied with minutia. This absurd focus on immediacy, on practicality, on common sense. He hated it. He hated it. He had to destroy it.
He tried to think of a new plan while Major George took his turn testifying. It was still two witnesses against one, Dudge reminded himself. The testimony of two or three witnesses, that’s what the Bible said. How could they lose?
The defense attorney asked to present character witnesses on behalf of Major George. Jolene’s lawyer objected.
“This trial centers on the truthfulness of sworn testimony,” defense counsel argued. “Obviously, either Major George is lying or Mr. and Mrs. Nesbo are lying. The jury should be given evidence to help them decide who is doing the lying, and who is telling the truth.”
Dudge was no longer surprised that the judge granted the defense request. He stood listening as Major George’s life was laid out: 27 years of marriage, four baptized children, ten baptized grandchildren. 22 years service in Her Majesty’s Special Air Service. Battlefield commendations from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Medals and promotions. Membership and regular attendance at a series of Evangelical churches. Ordination as an elder in the church. Service on the ruling bodies of several churches.
What really began to get Dudge worried, however, was the pile of documentation presented by the defense. Letters of recommendation from pastors and fellow soldiers. Battlefield reports declaring how George had remained calm under heavy enemy fire. Testimonies to how he had resisted the constant temptation to lash out against Afghan civilians. Certificates of appreciation from churches. Paperwork from marriage conferences and Bible studies. Worst of all, thirty years tax returns combined with church-offering receipts. The man had tithed without ceasing for three decades – and had the evidence to prove it.
“Major George is a covenant-keeper,” the defense attorney concluded. “Through a life of faithful service to God, church, family, and country, he demonstrates that his testimony should be taken seriously. Indeed, this is one of the chief benefits of a godly life. When slandered by the wicked, the righteous man is given the benefit of the doubt. This stack should incline you to believe Major George’s testimony. He did not harm Mrs. Nesbo; indeed, he is not the sort of man who would ever harm an innocent person.”
The lawyer paused, then turned to face Dudge. “The paperwork of the accusing couple, however,” he noted, “deserves attention of a different sort.”
Dudge turned toward the jury, tried not to avert his eyes. What sort of documentation had been delivered to them before the trial? How much did they already know? The marriage certificate he and Jolene had used…it had been forged, of course. If only they had gotten a Vegas wedding! Then there was the record of church membership listed on their Bethel citizenship application. Why hadn’t it occurred to Dudge that someone might call those churches and ask pastors if they actually knew Dudge and Jolene? And his convictions in California and New Mexico. Weren’t they a matter of public record?
His lawyer was a fool! He must have known what evidence had been handed to the jury. Why hadn’t he realized then and there that the case was unwinnable? American attorney. That was the problem. He hadn’t read the Code of Bethel. At least, he hadn’t really believed the Thelans would follow it. Just words on a page. No one would dare attempt running such a legal system.
The prosecutor made to speak. Dudge interrupted him. “We withdraw the charges, Your Honor.”
The judge turned to Jolene. “Is that your wish, Mrs. Nesbo? Are you withdrawing the charges against Major George?”
She looked at Dudge, confused. But she nodded dutifully when he made it clear what she should do.
“Then the charges against Major Clive George are hereby dismissed,” the judge pronounced. “The accusers will pay court costs and Major George’s legal fees. The accusers will also offer Major George a public apology. Immediately. Major George, you must decide by next port whether to press slander and perjury charges.”
Dudge opened his mouth, choked back his protest. He had enough sense to realize anything he said would only make things worse.
A bailiff led Dudge and Jolene to a position facing Major George. They stood there silent for a moment, avoiding the stare of the man whose reputation they had tried so hard to destroy. Dudge became painfully aware, not just of the ship population gazing at him, but of the millions of people who would soon watch Dudge and Jolene’s “apology” on YouTube.
This country, Dudge decided, is hell.
Jack forced a smile and pronounced the benediction. Only two new people. And both of them white. Jack wasn’t sure whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. He didn’t really want minorities swarming into his quarters. But then, most of Pertexpat’s inhabitants were minorities. How could Jack start a church without including at least some of them?
The language barrier had proved more difficult than anticipated. During the last six days Jack had talked to just about every person on board, explaining the shortcomings of Reverend Yu and his worship service. Such thorough, unassailable reasoning. No one had been able to offer a decent response. But then again, how many people had actually understood Jack’s arguments? English served as a second or even third language for the majority of those living on Pertexpat. The finer points of ecclesiology and liturgical practice seemed lost upon them.
Jack’s frustration at Thelan linguistic incompetence threatened to choke him. They should be forced to learn English so Jack could snag them for himself. What did they expect – that he learn their languages? That would take fifteen years! Much more practical for the foreigners to acquire English. At least everyone had been required to speak English during the trial.
The trial. Why had they spent so much time discussing Jolene Nesbo’s face? Slander had been the real issue. It was obvious they’d concocted the whole story, probably to hide the fact that Mr. Nesbo beat his wife. Why couldn’t anyone see it? Jack could see it. He had made the failure of Bethel’s first trial the centerpiece of his sermon. Scumbags should not be allowed to malign a shipmate’s good name. Pertexpat had to jettison this silly idea of the captain serving as judge. If Reverend Star had overseen the trial, he would have provided real justice for poor Major George.
Jack led his eleven followers (eleven was better than nine, he reminded himself) to the galley for lunch. There he was forced to deal with the same petite server whose very existence had become a thorn in his flesh. The “Hindu Hussy” he had silently named her. She smiled and scooped two depressingly familiar mounds onto his plate.
The group sat in a corner, distancing themselves from those who had attended the “official” service led by Yu. Jack found himself unable to serve roast pastor (he couldn’t very well attack his own sermon, and he hadn’t had a chance to listen to Yu’s yet). Jack settled instead upon the hardships dominating Pertexpat’s run.
“The saltwater showers are a weariness,” he declared. “You can’t get a decent lather. You still feel sticky when you’re done. And the cabin’s so hot, what’s the point of bathing anyway? You’re soaked with sweat as soon as you’re finished.” He picked up a spoon and dug into his lunch. “And always, always the same. Fish and rice. Fish and rice. Fish and rice. You can’t even tell what kind of fish it is.”
“You’re offering to helicopter fresh food to Pertexpat?” a voice asked loudly from behind.
Jack turned, found the Hindu Hussy hovering above him, ladle still in hand.
“How about new condenser for water plant? Compressor for AC? Anything?”
Jack became painfully aware of the galley’s silence. Everyone had stopped to witness the confrontation. Jack opened his mouth, but what could he say? He did not have the money to transport supplies or equipment to their vessel, not so far from land. But he knew someone who did.
“Billings could do it,” he declared.
“Yes,” the woman allowed. “He certainly could. But he doesn’t. Can you tell me why, Mr. Star?”
Reverend Star, Jack almost said. He glanced from face to face, ninety people, full capacity. They were judging him. Judging him! What had he done to earn such looks of disapproval? It was always the same, he lamented. Everywhere he went. Unappreciated.
He stood up and thrust his tray into the impudent woman’s hands. Keep the paste, he thought as he headed for the nearest hatchway. I hope you choke on it.
“The spotters have been flying in and out of LAX for a month,” Abraham said as he opened a computer for Mohamed, “familiarizing themselves with the layout of the terminals. The airport’s square shape helps. That is our kill-box,” he emphasized, using Google Earth to highlight the borders of Los Angeles International Airport. “A shell landing anywhere within this area will almost certainly cause significant damage.”
“But we’re after the airframes,” Mohamed commented, “not the buildings.”
“Correct. If our impact zone were soft ground, simple fuses would be a bad choice. Given the hardness of the tarmac, however, contact-detonation is exactly what we want. The concrete will produce a greater shrapnel radius than usual for this caliber.”
“Aviation fuel has a high flash-point,” Abraham’s student observed. “We won’t really get good explosions.”
“I realize that. Our goal is not to blow up the airplanes. Our goal is simply to set them on fire. Our attack won’t have a ‘Hollywood Look’ to it, which does seem regrettable given the location. Despite the lack of impressive explosions, however, we can still count on a significant number of targets being destroyed.”
Mohamed moved the mouse and zoomed in on a runway. “These planes will be full of passengers,” he lamented. “They stack up so deep this time of day. Hit three and we can kill a thousand people.”
“And waste most of our ammunition in the process,” Abraham objected. “We must resist the temptation to go after a big body count. Once we start firing, every plane at the airport will empty quickly. Crowds will head underground. Cars will be abandoned. Hopefully we’ll get lucky in the first minute and strike a full plane or two near the gates.
“But keep the overall objective in mind: we seek to destroy the airport as a functioning transportation hub. We march our shells through the entire kill box, focusing on the sections of tarmac where planes are parked. Fifty wrecked airframes. That is the numerical goal. Combine that with incidental damage to the terminals and roads, and LAX will be crippled for months. The resultant economic disruption should cast the entire Los Angeles region into recession. Other airports will be forced to adopt new security measures, wrecking their profitability as well.”
Mohamed looked dubious.
“Have you learned nothing I’ve taught you?” Abraham lamented. “Americans worship money. Kill a thousand people and why should they care? Depress market capitalizations so badly that suburbanites have to delay retirement – now that gets them where it hurts. You should think of us as holy thieves, Mohamed, not holy warriors. Every round we shoot strips value from millions of investment portfolios.”
“We will turn the gun on the city,” Mohamed reminded him.
“Yes,” Abraham granted. “The law of diminishing returns dictates that the more we hit the airport, the less damage each subsequent round is likely to cause. Thus it seems prudent to deliver the last fifty or so shells in the general direction of downtown. But remember that our maximum range is only eleven kilometers. From Ingleside that’s not far enough to reach the tallest buildings. And we won’t have spotters in the city. Everyone’s committed to the main attack.”
Abraham clicked on the artillery practice software and got ready to run Mohamed through a fresh set of drills. Certainly not the same as loading a real gun and setting it off, but these simulations captured the main idea: Mohamed and his team would have to adjust fire based on cell-phone conversations.
Pretending to be one of their forward observers in the LAX terminal, Abraham spoke a set of coordinates into his Bluetooth. Mohamed dutifully typed the numbers and pressed “Enter.” A few seconds later the computer screen showed the first round falling short, damaging a section of terminal roofing. Abraham called out a new range. Mohamed adjusted the gun’s angle, hit “Enter” again. The next shell exploded on a runway in the distance, damaging nothing.
But the spotting rounds had succeeded in bracketing their target, a United 737 that had just begun pulling away from its gate. Sluggish, loaded with fuel, every seat crammed for the 2:00 PM flight. An aluminum death-trap.
Abraham studied the screen data, pondered the enthusiastic grin on Mohamed’s face. So willing to kill for Allah, he sighed. Then he barked a fresh order to his imaginary gun crew: “Drop one hundred meters and fire for effect.”
Chief of Staff Rebecca Billings, Government Spokeswoman Megumi Abigail Uehara, Secretary of State Pastor Ching Yu, and Ministers of Science Jonathan Cheung and Grame Hudson joined the President of Bethel on Pertexpat’s lookout platform, the interior of the ship having become unlivable due to the ongoing lack of ventilation.
“You should kick them off the ship,” Jonathan recommended as soon as the cabinet meeting came to order. “Everyone can tell they made it up. It makes us look stupid, like we can’t recognize perjury when we hear it.”
Sean remained silent, preferring to let his aides figure out the matter for themselves.
“I thought we did background checks,” Grame said. “Their citizenship applications should have sent up lots of red flags.”
“You let them on deliberately,” Rebecca declared suddenly. “You knew they were trouble. That’s why you let them on. You were hoping they’d commit crimes!”
Sean smiled, pleased that this sister had gotten it first. “Show, don’t tell,” he said. “We can defend our laws till we’re blue in the face. No one will listen. But show the Code at work. Let people see an actual trial. That’s a different matter. Before the first live prosecution our enemies could caricature our legal system at will, creating straw-man versions unbelievers would be all too willing to embrace. Essential, then, to conduct a real trial as soon as possible. We’ve ripped the rug out from under everyone who’s been misrepresenting us. Praise God for YouTube.”
“But they’ve served their purpose,” Jonathan protested. “Why keep them on?”
“You’re hoping for more, aren’t you?” Rebecca suggested.
“It’s a dangerous game,” Grame said. “What if this Nesbo guy hurts someone?”
“It’s risky,” Sean allowed, “but we have to look at the big picture. Until someone actually gets punished, our Code is just words. No one will take it seriously. The sooner we carry out the law’s sanctions, the sooner criminals get the message that Bethel is different.”
“I thought you didn’t want people taking us seriously,” Abby said.
Sean paused. “Remember what I mean by that. I mean it is essential that the U.S. Government not feel threatened by us, that they have no desire to snuff us out. We want criminals, on the other hand, to take us very seriously. Our country is meant to be the safest place on earth to raise a family and save money.”
“What about Jack Star?” Abby asked, shifting topics. “His words are poison.”
“I let him on for the same reason,” Sean said. “He enables us to highlight the ‘Next Port’ laws. Plus he’ll draw out any other Americans with agendas or bad attitudes. He winnows the chaff.”
“What if his complaints infect the whole ship?” Grame asks.
“Do you think they will?” Sean asked. “The majority aboard Pertexpat speak limited English. How can Star’s grumblings really sink into their minds and grow there? Besides, compared to where they came from, this ship is hardly a step down in standard of living. They never had air conditioning before. They never had this much protein, even with the freezers broken. And they were never free.”
“I still think we should boot him,” Jonathan said.
“Just give him a little time,” Sean said. “As wolves in sheep’s clothing go, the guy is pure amateur. You think I’m ignoring him. I’m really feeding him enough rope to hang himself.”
“Solving our internal problems won’t open the West Coast,” Abby reminded them. “We’ve got four ships less than three days out from U.S. territorial waters. I get no hint from our people in D.C. that they’re even thinking about lifting the embargo.”
“Do you know what ‘just-in-time delivery’ is, Uehara-san?” Pastor Yu asked.
Everyone turned to look at Pastor Yu. He had been so quiet, they had almost forgotten his presence.
“Yes,” Abby said. “Thanks to computerized tracking programs, factories no longer keep surplus parts on hand. The materials they need are delivered just-in-time, meaning right as they are needed. This saves money because the factory does not have to maintain an on-site inventory of components or raw materials.”
“Which means,” Sean explained, “if our ships are delayed from offloading, even by a single day, factories will have to shut down.”
“That’s assuming we’re carrying critical components,” Abby said. “What if those vessels are full of toys?”
“Let’s say,” Yu continued, “that the ships currently approaching U.S. ports contain a disproportionately large percentage of automobile parts.”
Abby fixed her attention on Sean. “You planned this, too,” she said.
“Of course,” Sean said.
“Today I begin contacting the CEO’s of manufacturing plants,” Yu said, “explaining to them the consequences of the embargo. Then I will be calling the relevant representatives and senators, listing the numbers of workers in their districts and states who are about to be laid off. And we’ll helicopter reporters to the ships being denied dock, open the containers, show the components destined for American factories.
“It will make a good story,” Yu continued. “A ship’s captain will hold a fuel injector before the camera, explain how the part is destined for an assembly plant in Ohio. Then the program can cut to footage of the line in Ohio that is about to shut down, complete with sound bites from workers unhappy at the thought of being forced out of work. We have a lot of Ohio-destined cargo.”
“The most important swing-state,” Jonathan noted. But then he added, “It won’t be enough.”
“The core fact,” Sean said, “the central truth that gives us hope, is that at the end of the day, no one in America cares who ships their products across the Pacific. Those factory workers in Ohio do not care. No one cares. That means there is no real strength behind this embargo, no true body of animosity against Bethel.”
“Then why did Washington declare the embargo in the first place?” Grame asked. He was Australian; American politics made no sense to him.
Sean sighed. “I don’t really understand it myself,” he admitted. “Or I should say, nearly all of our enemies are a mystery to me. Especially the Christians. Some of the nastiest comments have been spoken by believers, after all. But there is one little slice of our opponents, just a fraction of a percent, that I do understand. They are the most dangerous, because they are the only ones who really perceive the long-term threat we pose to America. They are the ones who understand that in the end, Bethel is all about inheritance.”
“The United States will always be much larger than Bethel,” Yu explained. “Despite our size, however, the time may come when we inherit America’s status as the best country on earth, the nation with the greatest degree of freedom and opportunity. As kids say, Bethel might one day become the coolest nation. Certainly this is our goal. We are not aiming low.
“Such inheritance of ‘coolest nation status’ has happened before. Although England still exists, the United States eventually claimed her position of preeminence. And there are a few, a precious, dangerous few, who realize that this is what Bethel is really trying to do: we are trying to inherit America’s mantle, to become the new America in the minds and hearts of the peoples of the world.”
“These enemies who truly get it,” Sean said, “they are the ones driving the embargo. But there are only a handful of them. They don’t get along with each other, and most importantly for our immediate needs, they can’t clearly articulate their opposition to the bulk of their allies. Or to be more precise, although they think covenantally, they are incapable of teaching others to do the same.
“So these elite enemies, the ones who really get it, they have to use other reasons when gathering support. Bethel is oppressive, they say. It denies religious freedom, it supports the monstrous Old Testament Law, it steals patented ideas, it allows people to escape their tax obligations.
“But when all is done and said, most people simply do not care. They do not care about what we’re trying to do. They do not care about the future. In fact, they are actually quite annoyed at David and those others who do make a big deal about us. From most people’s perspective, as long as we keep delivering X-Boxes and iPods, as long as we keep the factories running, as long as we mind our own business, all is right with the world.”
Jonathan shook his head. “So you say. Yet we are under embargo.”
“An embargo,” Yu said, “that most of its alleged supporters are looking for an excuse to lift. We just have to give them that excuse. Something that will get the majority to drop their opposition. Something that convinces them we are lightweights.”
Lyrics of an old song came to Sean’s mind: Here we are now, entertain us. The City on a Sea had caught America’s attention for the moment, a state of affairs Sean did not want. But the First Father realized he could turn this weakness into strength. He could use the attention to get Americans to stop paying attention.
Sean knew how to do it. He had to succeed in entertaining America. He had to give the huddling masses yearning for amusement a live reality show, one capped with a unique climax never seen before, not even on cable. Entertain them properly and Americans would dump Bethel in the MTV category: harmless and irrelevant. No reason to continue the embargo. Change the channel.
The whip stripped a fresh line of skin from Dudge’s back. This time he could not help it: he screamed in pain and collapsed to his knees. He yearned to look away from the cameras, but the lenses drew his eyes like a ring of power: haunting, irresistible, the combined attentions of CNN and FOX. How he longed to keep the one and banish the other. Liberals had a divine claim upon the media. No one else had a right to tell his story. FOX was an abomination, an unclean thing any fair country would banish into oblivion.
Corporal Johnson raised the whip again. Dudge dragged himself to his feet, grabbed the fishnet with cracked and bleeding hands. He had never worked so hard in his life, had never really known what hard work was. Unnatural, inhuman, mindless labor. Pulling and cleaning, casting and trawling. How could anyone be expected to endure it?
Senseless. Perhaps that’s why Jolene kept at it so well. The girl showed no sign of slowing down. She didn’t even seem to mind. Certainly no lashes had struck her precious back. It was all so wrong. So utterly, utterly wrong. At least the world watched. They saw his humiliation at the hands of these barbaric “Christians.”
“Hypocrites!” Dudge spat, laboring to haul aboard the net’s fresh load. “Love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. Do not judge. Look at them!” he shouted. “They preach one thing and practice another. Hypocrites. Barbarians. Medieval morons!”
The cameras stayed in his face, capturing every word. Dudge rejoiced at the freedom of the press, yet it concerned him, too. Americans would watch the footage, no doubt about that. But would all of them be repulsed by it? The CNN reporter and his cameraman were eating it up. Dudge knew the liberals would spin it marvelously. But what about the really smart viewers? Would they connect the dots? Would they realize the implications of Bethel allowing Dudge’s punishment to be broadcast live and unedited?
Then there was the background. Dudge and Jolene did not work alone; thirty-four other Pertexpat residents labored at the nets, trying to replace the food ruined by the freezer sabotage. Even Billings and his spokeswoman, the Japanese girl, were taking their daily turn at the chore. Despite the brutal sun and their aching muscles, no one besides Dudge complained. None of the people needed whipping to motivate them. In fact, many even sang as they toiled. “Dim-witted, clueless Bible-freaks!” Dudge shouted. “Too dumb to realize they’re slaves trapped in a cult.”
Dudge figured CNN would use only close-ups, lest Billings get such incredible free press before America’s working class. Liberal editors could be counted on to dub out the singing as well. Curse FOX! They would broadcast it all. Billings had taken his turn on the nets every day, but he had made no attempt to get the media to video him at the job. Now, with the sudden interest in Dudge’s punishment, Billings’ willingness to work with his hands was getting displayed to the world. It wasn’t fair!
“Restitution,” Sean Billings said for all inclined to hear. “Prisons are an unjust form of punishment. They steal the lives of criminals. They steal from taxpayers, who are forced to pay for the imprisonment. Bethel has no prisons. And in Bethel crimes are not usually conceived as having been committed against the state. Criminals do not owe a debt to society. They owe a debt to their victims. It is to the victim that restitution must be paid.”
He’s using me as a visual aide! Dudge realized. The whole horrible scene would be on YouTube within the hour: Dudge working to pay Major George’s legal fees, Billings laboring at the same task while explaining the superiority of Biblical law, and Corporal Johnson hovering over it all, making sure that Dudge and Jolene fulfilled the court’s mandate.
Despite losing the trial, Dudge at first had come away happy with the restitution verdict. His overall goal was to humiliate Bethel, after all, and he had thought the trial’s outcome would suit his purposes nicely. One of the central tenets of the Bethel Code was that witnesses had to “cast the first stone.” But his offense was not capital in nature. Thus there was no way for the witnesses to enforce the sentence.
According to the Bible, convicted criminals unable to pay restitution were to be sold into slavery to pay the debt. This law was among the top five or so that most embarrassed Christians. Dudge figured that no matter how it played out after the trial, Moses’ slavery laws would be proclaimed openly to the world. Dudge would still get his pile of revolted Fundamentalists falling over backwards in their desperation to attack the Bible. How, then, had he ended up here, a white man whipped by a black man on international television?
To Dudge’s fresh horror, Billings seemed to be reading his mind. Bethel’s president explained everything to the cameras.
“As a rule,” Billings elaborated, even as he rejected a smallish fish and threw it back into the sea, “Bethel courts cannot carry out punishments on their own. This is a very important principle. Witnesses must ‘cast the first stone,’ then the members of the jury, and finally all of a vessel’s remaining citizens. If people refuse to carry out the sentence, the court cannot use a paid executioner to enforce its will. This provides an absolutely critical check on the government’s power. Citizens can smell a rat. They can tell when a judge has been bribed.
“The exception is when the court itself is the victim. If the crime is committed against the court’s honor, then the court can punish a criminal directly.
“Contempt of court is such a crime. So is refusing to submit to the court’s will. This means that in denying restitution to Major George, Mr. Nesbo committed a second crime, this one against the court itself. Therefore he has been symbolically ‘sold into slavery,’ meaning put under the state’s direct authority and forced by the state to do its will. The ‘master,’ represented by the police officer you see here, whips the ‘slave’ into obedience.
“But ever the central concern remains full restoration for the victim. Defending oneself in a trial is a very expensive undertaking. The court is ensuring Mr. Nesbo does sufficient work to pay every dollar of legal expense incurred by Major George. And as for the public nature of this slavery,” Billings added, looking directly at the TV cameras, “Mr. Nesbo should have thought of that before slandering the good name of one of his betters.”
I’m going to kill him, Dudge decided, wincing with fresh pain as ocean spray dribbled down his back. He imagined the millions of people who were no doubt feeling incalculable moral outrage at Billings’ words and deeds. They would agree wholeheartedly with Dudge: Bethel was a sickening monstrosity worthy of summary destruction. The Founder of this hell deserved punishment, not Dudge Nesbo.
Kill Billings, and the nations of the earth would declare Dudge a hero. He’d never have to work again.
“If a man shall not work, neither shall he eat.”
Jack stared blankly at the Hindu Hussy, shocked past incredulity that she dared speak such words to his face. He continued holding his tray before her, certain that he could shame the little brat into serving him dinner. She refused to be stared down, however. More importantly, she refused to scoop any food onto his plate. “I paid my room and board,” Jack finally objected.
“We all paid room and board,” she replied. “Lease require extra work in event of emergency. Three ship systems down. What have you done to help?”
Jack opened his mouth, suppressed the surge of insults threatening to burst out. He became aware of the all-too-familiar hush. Dozens were listening to this latest altercation. “It would not be right for me to neglect the Word of God in order to wait on tables,” the Reverend Star finally explained, as though to a child.
“That all well and good,” the server said. “Pertexpat not a church. Pertexpat a town. Paul make tents. Where are your tents?”
It occurred to Jack that his normal habit of moving from church to church granted a great benefit: a woman never got on your nerves so badly that you wanted to smack her in the face. But here on this cursed ship, a man couldn’t get away. He couldn’t leave. Day after day, meal after meal, the blasted Hindu Hussy waited.
What could he do? Pertexpat had one galley. The need to eat chained him to the horrible reality of dealing with the same people three times a day, every day. No escape. No peace. No chance to live one’s own life. It was so…un-American.
“I’ll…report to the purser after dinner,” Jack finally said. There, he thought. That ought to make her happy.
The Hussy gave him a big smile. But she didn’t give him any food. “A man’s hunger works for him,” she quoted.
Jack slammed his tray on the counter and hurried from the galley. Mrs. Quan couldn’t be that hard to find. It took the Reverend less than five minutes to discover her laboring with nine others at a set of makeshift hand pumps. He gagged at the thought of taking orders from Mrs. Quan, but what choice did he have? Soon he too was struggling to force fresh air through a set of hoses down into the engineering room.
Within an hour Jack’s hands were badly blistered, but Mrs. Quan showed no sign of quitting, or of letting him quit. Jack cursed Dudge Nesbo. Most people figured he was the one who had sabotaged the air conditioning. Certainly he was the only man who seemed to be carrying around some sort of anti-Bethel grudge.
Why didn’t Pertexpat possess better forensic science equipment? An American police department would have been able to identify the saboteur with little difficulty. Nesbo had taken advantage of Bethel’s incompetence. He had exposed it to the world.
The repetitive pumping action made Jack’s arms and back scream for relief. Mrs. Quan pressed on. What was this lady’s problem? Star never bothered considering that the men in the engine room were suffering far worse due to the lack of air conditioning. Neither did he reflect on the fact that he had done nothing but complain about the fish and rice; why, then, should he be so bent out of shape at suddenly not receiving a serving of it? Most unfortunately, however, it never once occurred to the good Reverend that he was a fool.
Look at the condition of this ship, Jack thought. Billings is an idiot to have allowed that criminal on board. Pathetic, really. Total lack of spiritual discernment. Next Sabbath Jack would have to preach on keeping wolves in sheep’s clothing away from the flock.
The other people working the pumps were content to chatter away in what Jack guessed to be Korean and Filipino. A few times he considered starting a conversation, but what was the use? No one’s English was good enough to discuss important matters, the stuff that really needed to be talked about.
After two torturous hours the purser let Jack stop. At last, he thought. He was starving. Hopefully a bit of dinner was still to be found somewhere in the galley. He turned to leave, but Mrs. Quan stopped him. “Next job,” she said.
“Huh?” Jack asked, confused. He had done his share.
“Distillation system, two hours. Fishing, six hours.”
“But dinner…” he objected.
“Breakfast at six,” she said, smiling as she continued to pump.
Jack stumbled away, stunned at the realization he would have to work all night before his next meal. Before he would be allowed to have his next meal.
This country, he decided, is hell.
“To most Americans,” Abraham said, “half-life is a computer game.” He produced the stainless-steel thermos, most of it filled with lead save the tiniest inner space. That precious chamber held the crown jewel of their attack plan: fifteen grams of radioactive iodine stolen from Manila Hospital.
“We use a paintbrush,” he continued, “and coat each shell with just a hint, just the slightest little tincture.”
“It won’t actually hurt anybody,” Mohamed stated.
“But it will,” Abraham insisted. “It will hurt because they’re so utterly, amazingly stupid. The word ‘radiation’ is magical to them. They don’t know the difference between alpha, beta, or gamma. Exponential functions mean nothing. Say the word ‘radiation’ and they freak out. In the common mind, the entire airport will be contaminated with radioactive fallout.”
“No, it won’t,” Mohamed continued. “This isn’t enough to pollute a significant area. Plus it’ll decay so quickly there won’t be any left in a year.”
“Consider everything you just said there. The level of physics understanding you obviously possess. Don’t you get it that at most five percent of Americans would have the slightest clue what you’re talking about? The rest will consider ours to be a ‘nuclear’ attack. Yes, they’ll actually use that word. This iodine, my friend, this is what turns Osama into a has-been. Our attack will leave 9/11 in the dust.”
Abraham let Mohamed shake the thermos. They listened to the magic liquid splash within. Amazing that such a tiny amount of something could accomplish so much.
“The iodine also helps with PR,” Abraham explained. “The response teams will quickly detect the presence of radioactive contamination. They will try to conceal this information from the public. Simultaneously, many groups throughout the world will take credit for our attack.
“But we will be the only ones with inside information. We will declare openly to the press, not just our responsibility for the attack, but also our use of this isotope. We will specify where the material came from. This will legitimize our claim. It will also make the U.S. government look bad, as we will have disclosed vital information withheld by them.
“The appearance of a cover-up will make people assume the radiation is far worse than it actually is. No one will believe assurances that the site has not been significantly compromised. The final beauty, Mohamed. The American government’s initial response, their panicked secrecy and hesitation in those opening hours – that is what gives our attack genuine long-term influence. LAX will forever be known as the glow-in-the-dark airport.”
“How did he win?” Sean asked, anger and guilt warring for mastery of his heart.
“It was her,” Abby explained as a nurse irrigated another cut. Eighty-five stitches and counting. “She’s an animal. After I put him down she fought like a lioness defending her cub. I destroyed an elbow and a knee. Full compound fractures. Either would be considered incapacitating. I mean true fight-ending body-droppers. But she kept wailing away. Biting, scratching, smashing her head into me, into the floor, into everything. Like she didn’t even see me. I swear she’s possessed.”
Sean studied Megumi’s frame. Every part of her showed evidence of a horrific, close-quarters struggle. Cuts, bruises, lost hair and fingernails, missing teeth. But no breaks. And the knife wounds were superficial. That was easy for him to say, though. He wasn’t the one bleeding all over the infirmary.
Bethel’s founder considered Abby’s attackers, sedated and awaiting treatment just two curtains away. The same doctor working on Megumi’s face would shortly have to operate on the people who had cut her up. How could he do it? Especially right after administering a rape kit to their victim.
“Did he…?” Sean asked.
“He did,” Abby declared.
Sean ached with pride. Most Asian women would have acted ashamed, as though they had done something wrong. Many would have avoided the medical exam, would have been unwilling to press charges. But Sean’s spokeswoman refused to look down. She refused to avert her eyes. There was nothing for her to be ashamed of. She was not the law-breaker.
“It’s my fault, Megumi,” Sean declared, kneeling beside her bed. “Forgive me. I knew they were likely to commit another crime. That’s why I let them stay. I thought I was a prophet. I thought I could predict their actions. I’m a fool.”
Megumi shivered in her hospital gown. She waited several second before replying. “You’re not the one who attacked me,” she said finally.
“But you know the worst of it, Abby, even if others don’t. I let them on because I wanted crimes committed as soon as possible, just so we could show the world how we would punish crimes. I wanted the law broken. That’s exactly what I got. But you ending up being the victim.”
“It was your name he cursed,” Abby said. “I think it was his way of getting at you.”
The physician began examining the inside of Megumi’s mouth, cutting off conversation for a minute. “You need serious dental reconstruction,” the doctor finally concluded, “which I can’t do. Even if we helicopter in the right personnel, Pertexpat lacks an oral surgery suite. It makes more sense to evac you to Sydney or Singapore.”
“Which I will pay for,” Sean informed her. “Money is no object. We’ll get you fixed up, Abby. I’ll get a cosmetic surgeon, too.”
“No doctor can restore what he took,” Megumi whispered.
It’s all my fault, Sean thought. “I’ve been playing God,” he admitted. “Moving people and ships like pieces on a chess board. I forgot that I was a creature. You trusted me, Abby. I let you down.”
“There may be sin on your part,” Megumi granted. “If so, I will have to forgive it. Christ forgave my debt, so I’ll have to forgive yours. I am angry. So many years saving for my husband. For this? You have a security guard, but didn’t assign one to me. My black belt failed. He got what he came for.” She closed her eyes, and for a moment Sean thought he was being dismissed. Then she looked at him again and shook her head.
“Playing God? No, Sean, that’s not what you’ve been doing. There is a realm of human endeavor in which mistakes cause injury and death. Driving a car is the simplest. Text while driving and others may die. A foolish act, certainly, but the driver is not playing God. Sinning, yes. Playing God, no.
“There is a select body of jobs in which life-and-death decisions are routine. Doctors, police, judges, presidents, pastors, battlefield commanders. These men and women are not playing God by performing their jobs, even if some do end up developing god-complexes.
“What were you a year ago, Sean? Husband, father, CEO, author, speaker, evangelist, church member. Did you fulfill any of these roles perfectly? Of course not. And what were the consequences when you failed? Feelings were hurt, stock value was lost, sinful thought-patterns were passed on, people who might have repented instead hardened their hearts. Serious negative consequences. But nobody died.
“Now you’re a president. Make mistakes, and people are going to die. That doesn’t mean you’re playing God. That doesn’t even mean you’re sinning. Presidents have to make decisions that result in people under their authority being hurt or killed. They have to live with it. The next day they have to go out and make decisions again.”
Sean considered his spokeswoman in growing wonder. He knew his aides were smarter than him. That was one reason he had chosen them. But this was more than mere intelligence. Megumi was wise beyond her years. She really would be able to replace Yu when old age forced the Secretary of State to retire. And what about after that? Sean could see the brightest future opening before Megumi. Bethel would have a female president, perhaps even sooner than America.
“Think about Major George,” Megumi challenged him. “For years he demonstrated courage in combat. But there is virtue greater and rarer than courage. George had to order his men into harm’s way, knowing that some would be killed. George had to do it knowing he was not God, that some of his decisions were certain to be wrong, that men he loved and cared about would die because of his incorrect decisions.
“Whatever mistakes George made – and everyone makes mistakes – were his decisions sinful simply because men died as a result? I do not think so. The sin would be in refusing to go back out the next day, in hesitating to once again order his men to their deaths. That is the virtue rarer than courage. The virtue of leadership.
“I follow you because you are our leader. You led us into harm’s way by founding Bethel. Colonization is dangerous work. I counted the cost, perhaps better than you did. Many colonists die. Many colonists face hardships worse than death.
“Do you understand what I’m saying? My decision to follow you was not based on Little House on the Prairie. What really happened as America expanded her borders westward? Thousands of women were sexually assaulted. Don’t you think those women knew what they were getting themselves into? Do you think it took them by surprise when they were kidnapped and raped and murdered? There was no surprise, Sean. They had counted the cost. They had decided the risk was worth it.
“I am a colonist. I knew the risks. I knew this risk. It’s why I got the black belt. Civilization’s edge crawls with wicked men who prefer the frontier because they think they’re beyond the reach of the law. I take my place in the long tradition of frontier women who pay the price of frontier living.
“And I join those believers who suffer bodily for their faith. If I were not a Christian, this assault would not have happened. That means I experience the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. How many of those who died subduing America did so because they were Christians? How many left the comfort and security of England because the love of Christ compelled them? That it how one must interpret my experience: it is because I love Christ that I’m sitting in this hospital bed.”
Sean broke into a smile. Like any good spokeswoman, Abby had organized her comments in advance. What amazed Sean was when Megumi had done so. Months prior – perhaps even years prior! – Megumi had prepared what to say in the event that someone raped her.
None of this had been Sean’s idea. He had told his followers to count the cost, but he had not trained them how to do so. And the risks of being a frontier woman…to what extent had Sean really weighed them? He had known there would be dangers, especially at the beginning. That’s why his own wife and children remained in Connecticut.
Sean had kept Patricia out of harm’s way. But not Megumi. She had understood Sean’s actions better than he had understood them himself. Someone had to serve as first victim. Anyone would do, as long as it wasn’t Sean’s wife.
Megumi knows how to count the cost. She’d outlined the speech she’d give after paying the cost. Remarkable. She was a blessing from on high, a cabinet-member who exceeded her boss, a servant who was already growing past her master. I instilled the vision in her heart, he reminded himself. I provided the start-up capital. But in Megumi’s confidence Sean could already see the future that awaited him.
I am John the Baptist, Sean realized, not Jesus. Sean would have to diminish. He would have to get out of the way. Bethel was less than three weeks old, but it was already taking on a life of its own. New wine. And despite being the country’s Founder, there was some strange sense it which Sean was old wineskins. Megumi and those like her were the ones who would really create the City on a Sea.
“Don’t lose your confidence,” Megumi concluded. “Don’t lose your edge. The world has plenty of wimpy Christian men. It doesn’t need any more. Allowing criminals onto Pertexpat was a good idea. It was cunning. There are so few cunning Christians.”
“But what about gentleness, Abby?” Sean asked. “Am I innocent as a dove?”
“I guess we’ll find out at the execution.”
As Dudge struggled to keep his balance on the crank pedestal, plastic cuffs binding his wrists behind his back and nylon noose squeezing his throat, it occurred to him that attacking the Republic of Bethel might have been something of a mistake.
“Deceivers,” he swore at the people crammed onto the weather deck, a gathering swollen by morbid reporters eager to watch Dudge Nesbo hang. “You aren’t Christians.” Real believers were emotionally insecure. Real believers were wimps. These people were neither; therefore, they weren’t real believers. They had lied to Dudge. They had declared themselves Christians. And everyone knew Christians were not to be taken seriously.
Dudge had appealed his conviction, of course. Thus it was not Pertexpat’s captain but Sean Billings himself who oversaw these final proceedings. Thelan law required that everyone look the doomed convict in the eye. Thus the Founder of Bethel stood facing the condemned man, a mere five meters away. The three key prosecution witnesses waited to Dudge’s left. To his right Jolene observed from a wheelchair, a whole side of her body encased in plaster. An officer of the court kept guard over her nonetheless.
“Miss Uehara’s assailant has asked me to overturn his conviction,” Sean informed the crowd, “and by law I must consider his request. Understand that unlike in the United States, the Thelan President possesses no power of pardon. Yet also unlike American courts, I can consider the merits of the case against Mr. Nesbo. But I see no reason for overturning the decision of the lower court. Nor do I see a reason for granting Mr. Nesbo a new trial.”
“You have no right to judge me!” Dudge spat. “You’re a joke. This whole thing’s a joke. You’re a freight company, not a country. If people let you get away with this, businesses all over the world will start arresting people, imprisoning them, by your reasoning even killing them. You’re trying to legitimize murder and vengeance, all in the name of the Bible. Hypocrites!”
“Power flows to the government through the consent of the governed,” Sean Billings replied. “The people of Bethel covenanted into a body politic. No one forced us to do so. Nor were you compelled to become a citizen of this country. Here is the contract you signed when you became a Thelan.” Sean held it up for the cameras. “You submitted yourself to the government of this nation, agreed to follow its laws. You made this choice freely, even as you freely chose to attack Miss Uehara. Instead of trying to redirect attention away from yourself, why not accept responsibility for your actions and die like a man?”
“I’m an American!” Dudge screamed. “Born and raised in Florida. You said you’d never kill an American. But here you are, faithless and accursed. Lying hypocrite!”
“You were an American,” Sean clarified. “You chose to give up your American citizenship when you became a Thelan. Which is actually rather interesting, since surrendering prior citizenship is not required to become a citizen of Bethel. Many Thelans on Pertexpat possess duel citizenship, although, like you, I am this day a citizen of Bethel only. Why did you give up your U.S. citizenship, Mr. Nesbo? Why did you throw in your lot so completely with a people you so obviously hate?”
The rope compressing Dudge’s larynx made vocalization an ordeal. In his desperation Dudge persisted in shouting through the pain. “I was forced onto this ship against my will!” he declared. “Billings set me up. He wanted an execution as soon as possible. He picked his victim well. He knew no one would believe a person like me.”
At first Billings did not respond. The President’s face grew pensive; Dudge realized he had somehow managed to strike a weak spot. Had Billings planned all this? Ruining Bethel had been Dudge’s idea. The thought that his actions had fit into a broader design, that Billings had wanted him to commit crimes. Oh, how it offended!
“Mr. Nesbo’s protest must be weighed carefully,” Billings finally announced. “He is claiming that Bethel is not a free country, that the residents of our ships do not come and go as they wish. If this charge proved true, it would indeed call into doubt the court’s right to judge Mr. Nesbo.
“Did Dudge Nesbo sign the Bethel covenant of his own free will? Did he fully and properly understand the rights and responsibilities undertaken in this covenanting?”
Billings pointed at Jolene. “You will note that Mr. Nesbo’s wife is not about to be put to death. The victim decided that Jolene Nesbo did not fully and properly understand the covenant she signed. Miss Uehara recommended banishment for Mrs. Nesbo, and the jury concurred. Does Mr. Nesbo deserve the same charity?”
Bethel’s Founder motioned to a bailiff and had Dudge’s lawyer brought to center-stage.
“In exchange for a reduced sentence,” the President explained, “Mr. Quinn has agreed to confess his own complicity in the crimes recently committed aboard Pertexpat.”
Ben Quinn, Dudge’s supposed friend, proceeded to testify about his prior history with Nesbo. He explained how the two had met in law school, how they had conspired to ruin Bethel through a series of show trials. Quinn admitted that Nesbo was the one who had struck Jolene, not Major George, that their goal had been to obtain a wrongful verdict. Most painfully, he explained how they had decided Dudge ought to give up his U.S. citizenship entirely, on the theory that Dudge might thereby more readily gain the Thelans’ trust. Anything to give them an edge in bringing Billings down.
“And what was in it for you?” the President asked.
“Fame,” Quinn replied. He could not resist looking at the cameras as he said it.
“Mr. Quinn has gained his fifteen minutes,” Billings pronounced to the assembly. “For his crimes he is banished at next port, never to enter Bethel again on pain of forty lashes. Get him out of my sight.”
Growing desperation overwhelmed Dudge, fresh realization of his own folly. In conspiring with Quinn in such exhaustive detail, Dudge had secured for himself a unique status: the only citizen in all of Bethel who couldn’t possibly pretend he had been forced to sign the covenant. Only one avenue of defense remained. He used it now.
“The victim is your friend,” Dudge declared. “You have a personal stake in the outcome. You should recuse yourself and allow another judge to take your place.”
“You wish for another judge, Mr. Nesbo? Gladly do I grant your request. Indeed, it is time for the entire substance of your life to be appealed to a higher Judge. The court hereby forwards all arguments and evidence to the throne of Christ. And we commit you there forthwith as well, Mr. Nesbo, that you might argue your case in person.”
The platform upon which Dudge stood was not really a pedestal, but the upper end of a ramp that could be lowered through the turning of a round, brass hand-crank. This rotating mechanism had been positioned less than a meter in front of Dudge’s knees. Dudge found himself suddenly fascinated with the device. Sunlight glinted off the polished metal. He closed his eyes for a moment, listened to the wind whipping through his hair. His knees ached with the effort of avoiding a premature fall off the edge. It was wonderful. He was alive. He did not want to die.
Billings summoned the first witness, the surgeon who had examined and treated Megumi immediately after the attack. The doctor approached the wheel, grabbed one of its handles, gave the device a quarter turn. It seemed to snag a bit at that position, as though it had been designed to allow for partial rotations. The physician pressed past the sticking point, however, until he had given the mechanism one full crank.
Dudge felt the pedestal move downward slightly. The rope, tied in unyielding fashion to Pertexpat’s loading-crane, bit into his neck.. “Cursed hypocrite,” Dudge accused as the doctor paused to hear his last words. “Do no harm. Where’s your oath now?”
“I’d worry about the log in your own eye,” the doctor replied. “You forget the duties you forced upon me that I might testify at your trial. I didn’t appreciate the task, and neither did she. The way you throw the word ‘hypocrisy’ around makes clear you don’t understand it, Mr. Nesbo. That means you probably don’t know what justice is, either. Justice means getting what you deserve. Die like a man, Mr. Nesbo. Eat your dessert.”
I picked on the wrong group of Christians, Dudge thought. There were so many timid pencil-necks willing to bow before the world’s definition of justice. Why hadn’t he chosen to attack some of those? It’s not like he’d ever have run out of targets. Instead he had zeroed on the one group of believers who knew how to think, how to rule, how to stand their ground in the face of liberal mockery. He felt like a soldier who charged the only section of an enemy position still manned by living defenders.
The second witness stepped forward and began cranking the wheel. This was the man who revealed the duplicitous nature of Bethel’s founder: a DNA expert Billings had helicoptered in from New Zealand. The lack of forensic science had made Dudge assume he could get away with anything. Billings had betrayed him. Testimony based on genetic evidence left no doubt as to the nature of Nesbo’s crime – or who had committed it.
The ramp gave way further, rendering Dudge incapable of anything beyond a whisper. “Cruel and unusual punishment,” he croaked.
“I’ve testified at fifty-nine rape trials,” the biologist declared. “Fourteen were repeat offenders. Cruelty bothers you? Cruelty is letting losers like you do it over again. Cruelty is carrying out punishments in secret, denying other scum proper cause for hesitation. Be glad you are about to cause a great decrease in cruelty. Women will sleep safer watching the birds pick your flesh.”
The scientist stepped away, leaving Dudge to gasp upon his carelessness. I picked on the wrong part of the Bible, he realized. Six-day creation, three Persons in one God, sovereignty that did not absolve creatures of responsibility. All of it was absurd. God become man, miracles, substitutionary atonement, love for the unlovely. Complete nonsense. The Bible was a joke. A pathetic, ridiculous fairytale for weak-minded fools.
Except for the Law! Dudge had always hated the Law more than any other part of the Bible. That loathing had driven him to make a life’s work of ruining Bethel: the first group of Christians in over three centuries to take the Law of Moses seriously. Everything about the Law was so patently, manifestly offensive. Slavery, intolerance, inferiority of women, corporal punishment, restitution, and above all, of course, capital punishment. Execution, execution, so much execution, and for so many “crimes.” People needed to know the Law, inconveniently buried in Exodus through Deuteronomy. It had to be held up in the light, that the world might better trample it in the mud.
Too late Dudge realized that the laws requiring capital punishment were not ridiculous. They were not excessive, or burdensome, or barbaric. The witnesses had to carry out the sentence. If the witnesses did not “cast the first stone,” the execution would not take place. Not barbaric. Beautiful. Perfect. Just.
And the deterrent power of such total, public humiliation! He imagined thousands of crimes that would never take place in Bethel because would-be perpetrators knew this spectacle awaited them. The Law was the one part of the Bible, then, that even the most jaded of unchurched souls might fall in love with, simply because they craved justice. My God, Dudge thought. Everyone who loves comic books will want to move to Bethel!
Discovering the Law’s perfection did not make Dudge hate the Law less; it made him hate it more. He hated it because it was beautiful. He hated it because it was just. And worst of all, everything he had done to pour contempt upon the Law was serving only to heighten awareness of the procedural sections that made sense of all the rest.
Centrality of testimony. Trinitarian oaths. No prisons. No debt to society. No preoccupation with technicalities. Necessity of restitution. Public punishments. Witnesses casting the first stone.
That requirement especially had to be hidden, concealed, kept from the masses. No one must know of it, no one could be allowed to know of it. The Law might “click” in the minds of others, too. Dudge longed to speak, wished he could force words past the pressure on his throat. People must be kept away from the procedural laws.
And here Dudge was, displaying through his own death the centrality of Deuteronomy 17:7! The doctor had made the first crank. The DNA expert had made the second. One more turn and Dudge Nesbo would begin the unpleasant process of dying. Corporal Johnson had even coined a phrase for it: “Three cranks and you’re out.”
The third witness approached the pedestal, prepared to do her duty: Megumi Abigail Uehara, target, victim, executioner. For though the jurors would quickly join in, followed by Pertexpat’s remaining citizens – all of them giving the dying man a symbolic “quarter-crank” – Megumi’s turn of the wheel would be the one to put lethal tension on the rope about Dudge’s neck.
“You took nothing from me,” Megumi declared. “I still belong to my husband.” Then she pulled a knife from her waist and cut him free.
Dudge hit the weather deck hard. Megumi sliced the handcuffs, releasing his bonds. Then she threw her blade away. A number of unhappy voices cried out, but Billings silenced them. “The victim wields right of forgiveness,” he proclaimed. “How dare you protest exercise of that right!”
Rising onto his knees, Dudge got a brief look at Billings admonishing the multitude. An instant later a foot smashed his left eye. The shock sent Dudge flying backward. Megumi pursued, pounding his tattooed, muscular body into the Pertexpat. He tried to crawl away, but blows rained in from every direction. Voices yelled encouragement, urging Megumi on. Dudge began crying. He wet himself. He threw up. The sound of cheering grew.
“You’re not so tough without your girlfriend!” Megumi shouted.
The crowd went wild. Her kicks increased in speed and strength. Bones cracked, then cracked again. Dudge screamed uncontrollably, groveling in a puddle of blood and vomit and urine.
A final thought occurred to him before he passed out: I picked on the wrong girl.
Summoned at last, Jack thought excitedly. Billings realized he needed help, the sort of help only Reverend Star could provide. It was why Jack had decided to emigrate to Bethel in the first place, of course. The Thelan government would bring him on as presidential aide; he would be paid to provide the counsel Billings so obviously lacked. Who knew? Together the two of them might still make something of this City on a Sea.
Not that the task would be easy. Pertexpat had reached Malaysia just before dawn. Dudge Nesbo and his girlfriend had been unceremoniously dumped as soon as the ship had settled alongside a pier. Nesbo required major medical intervention. Jack wondered if anyone would scoop him up and drag him to a hospital, or if he would die in place and get turned into fish bait.
The near-hanging of Megumi Uehara’s assailant had been most unpleasant. Mere watching had been bad enough. Realizing that he would have to participate, however – that had been even worse. No choice: give the wheel a quarter-crank or lose his citizenship. Witnesses had a choice. Jurors had a choice. The rest of the people did not. Not that Nesbo would have been twitching by the time Jack had gotten to him. It was just the thought of getting so close.
But the worst thing had not been the disgusting display of proceedings better conducted in secret. The really horrible element had been other people getting all the attention. In a proper gathering, a point should always come in which everyone focused on Jack. And the preoccupation with action! Talk was what mattered. There had been some talk at the execution, at least. But it hadn’t been Jack’s talk. The event should have focused on words. Jack’s words.
Jack finished with his tie and reentered the common room shared by the forward billets. A CNN feed in the corner showed an empty dock alongside Pertexpat. Someone, then, had carried Nesbo off. Likely unbelievers had snagged him, eager to use his treatment in some anti-Bible rant. The matter would have to be included on the first day’s agenda, unpleasant as it was. Critics were accusing Thelans of being worse than Muslims. It was a PR nightmare. Billings had to get a grip on how the world interpreted Bethel’s legal system.
Unfortunately, the pummeling and banishment of their first capital criminal had been superseded by an even bigger problem: terrorism. The Christian Republic of Bethel, supposedly committed to tight security, had allowed Islamic terrorists to smuggle an intact field artillery gun. Plus three hundred rounds of ammunition, if the reports were to be believed. News channels were trumpeting the matter at the top of every quarter hour.
Thankfully the FBI had discovered the plot. Thousands of lives had been saved. The ship being used by the smugglers, R.B.T. Pusan Perimeter, now sat impounded at the San Diego naval base, its interior swarming with federal agents. Less than a month after Compact and already Bethel had become a laughingstock, a supposedly independent country that needed U.S. law enforcement to protect its own territory. No one would every take them seriously now. In fact, the entire embargo had been lifted just so ships could deliver their containers for proper, American-quality inspection.
Worst of all, many U.S. colonists were abandoning ships as they reached the West Coast. Reporters were scurrying over San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, and San Diego, interviewing disgruntled ex-Thelans eager to explain why life was better back in the States, why they had been fools to ever think about leaving America in the first place. An incalculable disaster. Within a few months’ time Bethel would hardly have any Americans left. Might as well call the whole thing off.
His appointment time approaching, Jack pecked his wife on the cheek and headed toward his destiny. He found Major George standing guard in the corridor outside Billings’ quarters. That was something else that had to change. Ridiculous for the government not to possess dedicated space. A president could hardly run a country from his living room! The Major opened the hatch for Jack, then followed the Reverend in and closed the door behind them.
Sean Billings sat at a desk covered with laptops and iPads. To Jack’s unpleasant surprise, Mrs. Quan sat at Sean’s left and the Hindu Hussy at his right. An uncomfortable feeling rose in Jack’s breast. The arrangement looked suspiciously like a tribunal.
“Jack Star,” Sean said, with no hint of a smile or a handshake. “Pertexpat’s Owner Committee has decided not to renew your lease. You will have to vacate the ship within the next twenty-four hours.”
This pronouncement so opposed Jack’s expectations that his mind simply ejected the words, like a machine refusing to read a scratched DVD.
“I’ve got a list of issues we need get started on,” Jack announced. “Taking Pertexpat through that storm, for example. Unwise given the only rationale was arriving by today’s date.” Such a clueless maneuver, Jack thought. He had spent that unpleasant afternoon losing the limited contents of his stomach. And to what purpose? Certainly there were times Christians had to suffer. But crossbearing had nothing to do with delivering cargo.
The three sat before him, silent. Jack found his gaze drawn to that of the Hindu Hussy. A peasant, he protested. Mongrel Ganges dirt. What claim did she have to that folding chair beneath her ignorant rear end? How dare she act like she belonged!
“This decision applies only to you,” Sean finally added, “though I’m sure your wife will choose to go. The friends who came aboard with you in Los Angeles will have to decide whether to stay on Pertexpat or join you in Malaysia.”
This got Jack’s attention. “I am a Thelan citizen,” he protested. “You can’t just tell me to leave.”
“You signed a port-to-port lease,” Mrs. Quan explained. “We have reached the next port. The owners of this vessel do not wish to renew your lease.”
“I…” Jack mumbled. “How can you do this? You said ships are our territory.”
“But they remain under private ownership,” Mrs. Quan said. “Ships belong to their owners, not to the state. Owners are free to continue or terminate leases as they see fit. We are terminating yours.”
“I’m…I’m a Thelan,” Jack protested.
“Perhaps you can lease space on another vessel,” the Hindu Hussy suggested. “Several should be docking in Malaysia within the next week.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Jack declared, his anger rising. “I don’t have a visa.”
“You should have thought of that,” Sean noted, “before making such a nuisance of yourself.”
Mrs. Quan concurred. “Really, we’re just giving you your heart’s desire. You’ve done nothing but complain about Pertexpat since we left port. Clearly you’d rather live elsewhere. We’re granting your wish.”
“You can’t kick me off!” Jack shouted. “I have rights.”
“Every sheep on Pertexpat has rights,” Sean said. “I’m thinking especially of the right not to get gnawed on by wolves.”
This accusation brought Jack up cold. He had heard it before, realized at last what was happening. Unappreciated, he lamented, his shoulders sagging. Always, always, the same. Unappreciated.
“You can’t leave us here,” Jack implored. “You need to take us back to the States.”
“Think of your case as a warning to others,” Sean suggested. “Behave extra-well on outbound runs, or you get jettisoned who-knows-where.”
“You’re a con-man. Look at all the Americans bailing out. You fooled them at the beginning, but they’ve come to their senses. Soon the whole world will know you’re a fraud.”
“You know,” Sean said, ignoring Jack’s taunt, “you’re not very good at the whole wolf-in-sheep’s clothing thing. You’re really just a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Kind of sad. But I will say this before we boot your whining butt. There’s a part of me that’s like you. An unstable, self-destructive element. I am not a fringe loser like you. But I could easily be one. More worrisome, I could easily become one.
“Bethel faces so many challenges. Criminals, terrorists, humanists, wolves like you. But I look through the history books at ‘new works,’ and I see their greatest danger lies, not in external enemies, but in their Founders. For whatever reason, the qualities that make a man capable of great things also lead him increasingly toward some radical tangent that destroys everything he has built.
“I am the greatest danger facing Bethel. Not now. Not yet. But thirty, forty years…in a way I can’t guess or imagine, I will do something that ruins everything for which I’ve worked. Such is the usual pattern, anyway. The few successful churches, countries, businesses – these are the rare exceptions to the rule.
“I must make Bethel one of those exceptions. I must protect her from myself. As yet I do not see how to do it. Discover an answer I must, or our Republic will last but a single generation.
“The threat ever looms in my mind, Reverend Star: the day I become you. But I’m not you yet. The Committee has reached its decision. Get off our ship.”
America’s newest public enemy moved on foot through the crowded streets of Pasay City. A dense southern portion of greater Metro Manila, Pasay provided the sort of nasty urban jungle in which a wanted man might hide indefinitely. Abraham labored amongst the street stands, concentrating on keeping his pace idle. He felt the cross-hairs: nothing quite like being on the FBI’s top-ten wanted list.
Abraham had once taken a class in horror-film makeup. That training now served well as he tried to make good his escape. He had altered his appearance with nose, cheek, and chin enhancements – sufficient, he figured, to fool facial recognition software sifting through millions of security feeds. But what about voice-recognition? Body and gait scans? Unknown means of measuring fingerprints and retinal patterns?
The terrorist had done what he could. Diuretics to lose weight. Heel lifts to appear taller. But no one knew the CIA’s full capabilities. Agents lurked around every corner, preparing interrogation and worse for the plot’s mastermind. Mohamed they had already arrested, of course. But what did he matter? Mohamed was a patsy. Abraham had to avoid capture. At this late stage, capture would be worse than never having started. And the plan was so close to succeeding! All he needed to do was disappear.
His hands kept searching his pockets for a cell phone. He no longer carried one, of course. Something he had to get used to. He would never be able to use electronic devices again: a heavy burden for a Caltech grad. Talk, breathe, think anywhere near a phone, a computer, an iPod – the National Security Agency would track him down.
Westerners accused Muslims of living in the Middle Ages. Through his aborted attack, Abraham had ironically consigned himself to a medieval existence. Nothing that used electricity. Nothing. He had a target on his back.
Abraham entered “Wise Man Alley,” the six square kilometers of Pasay City unofficially ruled by crime lord Glenn Padilla. Twenty years ago Padilla had been wrecking the typical dead-ender havoc: joyriding stolen cars, mugging tourists, pimping teens for drugs. And Abraham had followed him devotedly, learning what it meant to really terrorize a neighborhood.
Then a man had arrived to show Padilla and Abraham another Way. Their gang had beaten the young American senseless. But he came back. Then he came back again. And again. Always he returned for fresh pummeling, until finally he had earned the gang’s respect and been granted the right to live and teach in the worst part of Pasay City. Abraham and Padilla had been transformed as a result. Abraham had even converted.
Glenn had not gone that far. But although he had refused to bow to a new Lord and Master, Glenn had changed into a different sort of criminal. He had remade himself into an old-school mafia boss, protecting the people of his neighborhood from the very crimes he had once committed against them (in exchange for a small annual fee, of course). The fool who entered Padilla’s territory to attack foreigners or sell drugs often found such activity to be the last mistake he ever made.
Thus Abraham relaxed as he strode deeper into Wise Man Alley, safest neighborhood in Manila. He turned down a narrow side-road, then another, coming finally to an abandoned three-story house in apparent need of demolition. Abraham went around back and let himself in through the unlocked door. In the dimly lit kitchen he found what he was looking for: Glenn Padilla and Sean Billings.
The three men embraced and wept, for long had it been since they had last gathered in this room, plotting the establishment of a City on a Sea.
“You were right,” Sean declared, beaming with pride as he kept a hand on Abraham’s shoulder. “You were so right!”
“I guess I was, wasn’t I?” Abraham admitted, laughing for the first time in many months. “Praise be to God.”
They settled about a rickety table loaded with take-out. They feasted and rejoiced, Abraham marveling that after so many obstacles, their goal of creating a Christian country had finally come to fruition.
The original idea had been Sean’s, of course, the PacRim heir having spent most of his childhood on container ships. Abraham had been the one to dampen their dreams with common sense: the U.S. could place the new country under embargo, destroying the project from the get-go. Then 9/11 had happened, creating a possible solution. If Abraham were willing to risk all.
“Bethel has signed a secret treaty with the FBI,” Sean informed Abraham, “just like you hoped. In exchange for Mohamed, plus a promise to hand over any future terrorists who attempt to infiltrate our ships, the United States will permit Bethel-flagged ships to load and unload in American ports. The treaty also grants federal agents unlimited access to our vessels, a right they are free to use at their discretion. In turn federal agents may testify in Bethel trials if they choose, and in that role be considered private individuals rather than representatives of the U.S. government.
“As for your future plans, any additional human intelligence we develope regarding threats to U.S. interests must be communicated to Homeland Security. It worked, Abraham. It worked!”
“But you had to give them credit!” Padilla objected.
“That was the deal-maker,” Sean explained. “When we told the FBI they could take credit for the discovery, the package became irresistible. Besides, it adds to our aura of incompetence. Anything to keep people from taking us seriously.”
Abraham laughed again. He could not help himself. “Still not willing to repent?” he challenged Padilla.
“Everything is beautiful in its season,” the lord of Wise Man Alley replied. “Besides, it’s useful to know a few criminals, isn’t it?”
“Indeed it is,” Sean said, handing over a case containing $500,000 in American currency, final payment for the radioactive iodine Padilla had stolen from Manila Hospital.
Glenn in turn picked up a heavy steel object and passed it to Sean: the 105 millimeter howitzer’s original firing pin. Friendship was friendship, after all. And business was business.
“Four people on earth know Abraham is a double-agent,” Sean said, “and three of them are in this room. Not even Yu or Rebecca know. The dangers will only get worse, Abraham. You’re going to spend the rest of your life with the CIA trying to stick you with a Hellfire missile. This is your best chance to bail.”
Abraham shook his head. “Being in the top-ten will grant me entrance to elite terrorist circles,” he said. “I’ll get some good intel headed your way. That’ll keep the FBI happy – and U.S. ports open to Thelan ships.”
“There will be other embargoes,” Padilla observed.
“Not for a while,” Sean said. “In the minds of many, embargo is a failed strategy. They will think it necessary to try other approaches.”
“And always the deeper factors,” Abraham said, settling back into his chair with a glass of rice liquor. “No one cares who ships their cargo. No one takes Christians seriously. There’s nothing to hold people’s attention.”
“Change the channel,” Sean concluded, clinking glasses with Abraham. “My, but it is a relief to the get the first embargo out of the way. I haven’t felt this good in years.”
Padilla poured himself some sake. “You should travel more,” he suggested. “Take a vacation. See the world.”
The three of them sat silently, enjoying their victory. After a few minutes Padilla stirred. “Tell me,” he asked Sean, “have you heard of Megumi Parties?”
“My wife led one last week. Women get together, listen to Megumi Uehara’s testimony. Then they watch the video of her kicking the crap out of that guy. He’s not ever gonna have children. The women cheer Megumi, go back, cheer her again. She’s peaked YouTube. No one’s even close.”
Sean shook his head. “It’s my fault Megumi was attacked. I knew Nesbo’s record. I expected him to commit crimes. I was counting on it. Megumi paid the price.”
“Now she’s the face of Bethel,” Padilla explained. “She makes women feel empowered, especially ones who’ve been sexually assaulted. Think of all the Asian women who refuse to press charges after a rape, who internalize the idea that they’re to blame. Megumi’s their hero, Sean. That gives your Republic millions of secret fans. Reckon that’ll come in handy one day.”
“It’s still not worth it,” Sean said.
“Think of it this way,” Abraham suggested. “You wanted to establish some strong precedents, right? That’s what Megumi did. A rape victim can forgive her attacker, hang her attacker, or publically beat the living hell out of her attacker.”
“Rather ironic, don’t you think?” Sean asked. “Megumi means grace.”
“She gave him grace,” Abraham said. “He deserved worse.”
“It was the right call,” Padilla maintained. “Used to be when my men were getting ready to beat someone up, they’d say they were gonna ‘Go Medieval’ on him. Now they say they’re gonna ‘Go Megumi.’ I’m telling you, she’s the face of Bethel. You couldn’t have paid for such great PR.”
“She paid for it,” Sean lamented.
“Many will pay, before all is done,” Abraham reminded Sean, his voice hardening. “Leading a group of colonists means leading people into hardship. Some survive. Some thrive. Many die.”
“Megumi said the same.”
Abraham nodded. “Then she understands. Real colonists always do. And I am a real colonist, Sean, though perhaps few will ever know it. If a Predator strikes me down, don’t waste time doubting or second-guessing. I knew the cost of colonization. I was willing to pay it. I died in service of my country.”