A Second Opinion, Chapter Seven: The More You Know…

Featured, Original Works

This is chapter 7 of a serialized novella appearing on Ars Gratia Libertatis every two weeks.  Read from the beginning here.

Chapter Seven: The More You Know…

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? –Juvenal

The surveillance van was state of the art. No expense had been spared in equipping it with all the newest bells and whistles of the professional voyeur’s trade. Declaring that the van would be “fighting terrorism” the Health Board had kitted it out with full video and auditory sensing and recording equipment (including night and thermal filtering), a veritable hacker’s wet dream of phone and internet taps and signal boosters, and even some more exotic technology still in the experimental phase. Though budgets for life-saving drugs and new beds for hospitals lagged, for this, it seemed, there was always enough money.

A Second Opinion, Chapter Six: Thomas King

Featured, Original Works

This is chapter 6 of a serialized novella appearing on Ars Gratia Libertatis every two weeks.  Read from the beginning here.

Chapter Six: Thomas King

Never doubt what small men will do for great power. –Paolo Bacigalupi

Thomas King had been ten the moment he first decided he wanted to be a bureaucrat. It had not been a conscious decision; he still said he wanted to be an astronaut, but deep down, where it counts, he didn’t. The young boy with the mousy brown hair, his midsection always a little too doughy, wanted to be a bureaucrat when he grew up.

It had happened the day Thomas was awarded the title of Recess Monitor for going a whole month without being tardy once. That recess was one of the least fun half hours the children at Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary School would ever have to endure. But for Thomas King, it was a blast.

A Second Opinion, Chapter Five: Shelly Reyes

Featured, Original Works

This is chapter 5 of a serialized novella appearing on Ars Gratia Libertatis every two weeks.  Read from the beginning here.

Chapter Five: Shelly Reyes

“The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.” –Robert Heinlein

Shelly Reyes was a good person. That’s what everyone who met her said about her. She devoted countless hours outside her job (as a selfless public servant in the Office of Energy Regulation) to community service and social work. Naturally bubbly, she could carry on a conversation about absolutely nothing with just about absolutely anyone.

A Second Opinion, Chapter Four: The Devil You Know

Featured, Original Works

This is chapter 4 of a serialized novella appearing on Ars Gratia Libertatis every two weeks.  Read from the beginning here.

Chapter Four: The Devil You Know

A light dusting of snow, freshly fallen, lay across the earth outside John Morales’ window. Like an accent it highlighted the objects it covered. Edges became sharper and more visible in the stark, white landscape, as if a lens had clicked into place to bring everything into focus.

Revolution, Chapter Two: Disturbance, Part Two

Featured, Original Works

This is chapter 2 of a serialized novel appearing on Ars Gratia Libertatis weekly.  Read from the beginning here.

Ko Hamilton looked out the window of the top floor of the People’s House.  The name was a bit of inspired political theatrics.  Under British rule, the governor’s mansion had been called “King’s House” in a fit of self-promotion that bordered on sedition.  When Hamilton had ascended to power, he had declared that the people of Oraanu owned the property of Oraanu, including the finest house in the country.  Now, he was wondering if he should call over one of the people of Oraanu (his servant) over and get the windows cleaned.  There was a large fire burning to the north and it had deposited a bit of soot on the otherwise spotless bulletproof glass.  Instead of calling for the servant, he decided first to find out what was going on.  He turned away from the window and took a step toward the door, bellowing, “William!”

His aide was through the door in under two seconds.  “Yes, your excellency?”

“What’s that fire out there, William?”

Original Poetry: The Public Good

Featured, Original Works

In the Name of the Public Good

The judges were old, the judges were cold.
They defended the Public Good.
Their mandate was clear, today they would hear
Who rejected the Public Good.

The verdict from them: ten men they’d condemn
For ignoring the Public Good.
There is no reprieve, if you don’t believe
In restoring the Public Good.

The men were famous, their actions shameless:
They’d reviled the Public Good.
Salesmen and bankers, merchants and traders
Were on trial for the Public Good.

Their crimes were excess, achievement, success
For themselves, not the Public Good.
The judges intoned, “You’ll be publicly stoned;
Selfish pride hurts the Public Good.”

“Thus our law decrees: you’ll die on your knees
In the name of the Public Good.
For profits you’ve lusted, your freedom has rusted
The chains called the Public Good.

Our god called the Public Good.
The Tyrant, the Public Good.”

Revolution, Chapter Two: Disturbance, Part One

Featured, Original Works

This is chapter 2 of a serialized novel appearing on Ars Gratia Libertatis weekly.  Read from the beginning here.

Tyler Floust grimaced as he sipped his coffee.  Stale and flavorless, the hot liquid left an acidic aftertaste as it made its way down Tyler’s throat.  Tyler noted the particularly awful taste and took another sip.  He needed the caffeine.  It was 10:42 in the morning on a day that had started three hours ago and which already seemed like an epoch to rival the age of the dinosaurs.

The problem was that nothing was happening.  Nothing ever really happened at this job.  Tyler yawned and leaned back in his chair.  He was twenty-four years old, but his dreary boredom made him feel closer to fifty today.

Just do the time, he told himself.  If he ever wanted to move on to something more important and interesting, he had to do this job well.  His current job sounded interesting to people at cocktail parties.  Intelligence Analyst, Central Intelligence Agency, Africa Section, Oraanu desk.  People would nod and express some interest in Africa.  The more honest among them would admit that they had no idea where Oraanu was.  Then they would ask how he got interested in Oraanu.

The real answer, the one he never gave, was that he wasn’t actually interested in Oraanu.  He had been an African Studies and International Relations double major at Columbia University.  He didn’t really know what he wanted to do with his education.  He had joined CIA because he had not been hired at the State Department and did not have any connections to get him a job at a non-profit, NGO, or any of the other vaguely-purposed organizations that employed people such as him.

CIA had needed more people for the Africa Section, and the resident expert on Oraanu had passed away some months before he was hired.  His mentors at the Agency had advised him to log some time at the Oraanu desk and try to work his way up the Africa Division.  Thus, Tyler sat at his desk, bored out of his mind.

Oraanu didn’t have much going on at the moment.  CIA had recruited a few agents amongst the bureaucrats in the Hamilton government.  They tended to report on careerist jockeying for position within their respective agencies.  Utterly uninteresting stuff.  The best information still came from the Locketon Gazette, the only respectable paper emanating from Lomboko.

Locketon Gazette.  He remembered that one of the answers he gave to people who asked about his interest in Oraanu was that he was interested in post-colonial third world development.  Oraanu had gained freedom from the British in the sixties and still retained vestiges of colonialism.  The Locketon Gazette was a prime example.  The newspaper had retained the British name for the city that the citizens of Oraanu had renamed Lomboko.  No one really knew why, but it was a fun fact that Tyler brought up at happy hours and cocktail parties.

Tyler checked the website of the Locketon Gazette.  The big news of the day in Lomboko was the Kwange Marketplace shooting.  Several merchants had been killed while resisting government agents and many more had been wounded.  Tyler wanted to see if there were any additional details on what the agents had been doing in the Marketplace.  He knew the stories were censored, but the journalists of the Gazette were experts at slipping important facts past the government bureaucrats.  If he got some more details, maybe he could write a report on the inability of the Hamilton government to control the black market that was starving the central government of funds for its ambitious social programs.

Underneath the headline about the shooting, a new article had popped up.  “Sindamo’s Bakery Destroyed in Fire.”  Tyler took a quick look.  A baking oven had apparently caught fire and burned the building down.  The government’s fire department had rushed to the scene but were too late to save the building or the people within.  The bakery assistant was dead.  The owner’s body had yet to be found, but he was feared dead as well.

The news made no impression on Floust.  Fires happened everywhere in the world, even in Oraanu.  He went back to the story about the Kwange Marketplace and took another sip of his stale coffee.

*  *  *

When Sindamo crawled free of the building, several people had come to help him.  They had seen the government agents leave and guessed what had happened.  One of the helpers was the father of one of Sindamo’s child employees.  Another was a worker who frequented the bakery.  Everyone had a reason, but no one talked about it.

They carried Sindamo to a nearby home and bandaged the stub where his left ring finger used to be.  Sindamo was dazed, bloody, and in shock from the destruction of his life’s work.  They asked him what happened, and he told them in an emotionless monotone.  Half an hour later, Martha Togo arrived.

The news of the fire had quickly swept through Lomboko.  Martha had still been working on the victims of the Kwange Marketplace raid when she heard about the distruction of Sindamo’s bakery.  She had given cursory instructions to the bystanders regarding the care of the wounded and rushed to the bakery.  Examining Sindamo’s wounds, she said, “You do realize you’re the luckiest man in Oraanu?  If the bullet hadn’t hit your finger, you’d be dead.”  She took a pair of pliers out of her tool bag.  “As it is, we’ve got to get the bullet out.”

Sindamo nodded.  The wound where his finger used to be did not hurt anywhere near as much as the wound in his chest and his broken ribs.  Martha put on a pair of gloves and went into the house’s kitchen.  There was an ancient stove, which she turned on.  She held the pliers in the flame until they glowed red.

Martha handed Sindamo a bit of rope.  “This isn’t going to be pleasant, Thomas.  I had to heat the pliers so they’ll cauterize the wound.  Bite down on the rope.  It helps”

Sindamo nodded, trying not to show his fear.  He bit down and Martha jammed the pliers into the wound.  Sindamo screamed and bit down with all the savage panic the more basic parts of the brain can muster.  Martha grabbed the bullet and withdrew the pliers.  She dropped the bullet into Sindamo’s hand.  “Keep it for good luck.”

“He’s going to need it.”  Martha turned around and saw that someone else had arrived to take care of Sindamo.  Sindamo turned his head and saw the visitor.   His thoughts had been scrambled by the extraordinary pain he had just experienced, but seeing this person reminded him that he had a purpose.  To the amazement of Martha and the other onlookers, Sindamo said without preamble, “I’ve got a business idea I want to talk about with you, John.”

Revolution, Chapter One: The Shop On the Corner, Part Four

Featured, Original Works

This is chapter 1 of a serialized novel appearing on Ars Gratia Libertatis weekly.  Read from the beginning here.

Sindamo consciously willed his hands not to shake as he set the pan down on the counter.  The man with the dress shirt asked, “Business good today, Mr. Sindamo?”  After trying with limited success to wet his suddenly parched throat by swallowing, Sindamo croaked, “Yes, sir.  May I help you?”

“Good to hear you’re doing well.  Not everyone is doing so well.  You may have heard about the unpleasantness at the Kwange Marketplace.  It’s really a shame.  All we wanted was a bit of their profits to help the less fortunate.  After all, where would those merchants be without the protection afforded by their government?  They owed us.  We only wanted what was ours.”

Sindamo did not have the courage to point out that the man had contradicted himself.  All Sindamo wanted was these men out of the store that he had worked so many years to build up.  He was willing to lose much in order to make that happen.  He thought, just leave me enough that I can rebuild. He said, “Yes, they didn’t have to be so unreasonable.”  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his bodyguard George wince at that.

The man in the dress shirt smiled.  “My sentiments exactly.  We’re hoping that you can be more sensitive to the needs of your fellow citizens.  Now, we had in mind a donation of two thousand dollars and whatever bread you’ve got on hand.  After all, the people are going hungry and you look like you’ve got more than enough.”

Sindamo felt as if a vile of acid had spilled in his stomach and was slowly eating its way down.  In addition to twenty-seven U.S. dollars in the cash register, He had $1939.91 hidden in the building.  It represented the entire profit of his life to date.  He had gone into debt to buy his bakery and get it up and running.  If he didn’t convince this man to take less of his money, he would have to start over.  It had been an incredible, breathtaking gamble to accept a loan on the Lomboko black market, the only source of capital available to the citizens of Oraanu, when he had wanted to buy the bakery.  He would have to run the risk again just to buy supplies for the next day until he could make enough profits to get back on his feet.

All of that flashed through his mind in a split second.  He was about to say that he appreciated the plight of his fellow citizens, but just didn’t have that much money when something totally unexpected happened.

There are certain moments, often totally unrecognizable when they are occurring, when the course of an entire nation, continent, or world is altered.  In these moments, the rudder controlling the ship of fate is turned, and though it often takes a long time to see the ship begin to turn, the movement becomes inevitable once the moment of decision has occurred.  George Hela, an unknown, quiet, not particularly bright bodyguard from a nondescript slum in Lomboko, was lucky enough not only to witness his moment, but to cause it.

No one had paid enough attention to George to see his brows furrowing in fury as he listened to the man in the dress shirt.  George shouted, “No!  Who are you to steal money from Mr. Sindamo?  Without him there would be no money!”  For a second, the man in the dress shirt stood in stunned silence.  Then, he erupted.

“Shut up, you damn idiot!  What do I care about your crappy little nobody bakery?  We need that money, and we’re going to get it.”  The man turned around and pointed at one of the soldiers standing in front of the doorway.  “Sergeant, remind this punk who runs things around here!”

“Yes, sir,” the sergeant intoned.  He unslung his rifle, took two steps toward George, and raised the rifle as if to hit George with the butt.  George, acting perhaps on instincts long since instilled by life in the slums of Lomboko, lashed out with his fist, punching the sergeant hard square on the nose.  The sergeant staggered back, blood gushing from his broken nose.

The other two soldiers promptly unslung their rifles and fired.  They were about fifteen feet away and could hardly miss.  The bullets slammed into George’s chest and he was dead before he hit the ground.  He uttered no brave last words, and the only consolation he might have had was that he had died where he worked.

By now the man in the dress shirt was screaming.  “Just as I thought, a nest of traitors here!  Kill Sindamo and take the money!”  Sindamo wanted to object to this order and put up his hands placatingly.  He had time to yell, “No! I don’t –” before one of the soldiers fired a three shot burst at him.  The first bullet struck his extended hand, ripping off his left ring finger.  The bullet kept going, embedding itself in his chest and breaking a rib, but not penetrating further.  The sacrifice of the ring finger saved his life.  Sindamo fell to the floor, shocked by the impact of the bullet.  The other two bullets in the burst smacked into the wall behind him.

Sindamo played dead to the best of his ability while the soldiers were in the building.  The soldiers were in a frenzy for the next two minutes, smashing open cupboards and display cases, looking for money.  They took what was in the register and found about half of the money Sindamo had spirited away in various locations throughout the building.  Sindamo concentrated on not moving or breathing loudly.

Meanwhile, the man in the dress shirt was beginning to settle down and think about what had happened.  Things had spiraled out of control.  His superiors wouldn’t care about the shooting, but he knew that Sindamo was a well-known member of the tiny Lomboko middle class.  Everyone knew him, and everyone would be upset to hear about his death and angry at the government.  The Hamilton regime would not look kindly on a mid-level official who had stirred up popular outrage that would have to be bought off with more handouts of precious food supplies.

The man in the dress shirt snapped his fingers.  Of course.  Burn the bakery down.  The papers would report a terrible accident — a cooking fire that had claimed the life of Thomas Sindamo and his bodyguard.  The man in the dress shirt gathered all the rags and paper he could find in the building and stuffed them into one of the ovens, leaving a rolled up edition of the Locketon Gazette stuck in the oven door.  He told the soldiers to take whatever they had found and wait for him outside.  As they left, he lit the newspaper and turned on the oven.  He ran out the door and took the soldiers with him just as the first onlookers were gathering to find out about the gunshots at the bakery.  The men from the government hurried away, secure in the knowledge that they had done their duty.

*  *  *

The building began to burn in earnest, and Sindamo still lay on the ground.  Why get up?  The bakery was destroyed and with it all of the money and equipment he had spent his life accumulating.  He had no family or job and no prospect of acquiring either.  No one hired new workers in Oraanu.  If he crawled out the door before the flames claimed his life, he would be just as dead as he would be if he remained.

Suddenly, from the deep recesses of his mind, he heard that song his ears had not registered in decades.  He was back in the office with Sister Schiller, hearing the song on the radio.  He heard the melody again and the voice declaring the word.

That was all he needed.  He had a purpose again.  He crawled to the front door, away from the bakery that was already in his past.  Every plank of wood on the floor, bought with his ingenuity and work, was now just an indicator to show that he was moving toward his goal.

And then he breathed fresh air and knew he had escaped from the shop on the corner.

A Second Opinion, Chapter Three: Decision Made

Featured, Original Works

This is chapter 3 of a serialized novella appearing on Ars Gratia Libertatis every two weeks.  Read from the beginning here.

Chapter Three: Decision Made

It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”

–Roy Disney

Morales didn’t sleep well the next week. He would find himself lying in bed next to Shelly, uncomfortably aware of her measured breathing and occasional snore, staring at the ceiling as his mind raced.

He had continued his search for public records of the Fremonts. The mother-daughter pair didn’t appear in any of the tax databases, and had apparently never made a political contribution or even applied for a credit card. Lysandra had also been right that they didn’t appear in any of the medical databases (so it was obvious they would never be admitted or qualify for specialist care). Morales even called in a few favors with some government employees he knew and learned that there was no record of them in the Social Security, National ID, Collective Pension, Civilian Registry or Friends of the State databases. They didn’t even appear on the Terrorist Watch List!

According to the myriad, hydra-like branches of federal, state and local government, the Fremonts did not exist. Which, in this day and age, was impossible. After the passage of the Internet Safety and Accountability Act you couldn’t even log on without someone having a record of who you were and what you were doing (not that Morales minded this, of course; he had nothing to hide and it kept terrorists and pedophiles at bay).

Though John spent his evenings in search of information on the mystery visitors, this was not what kept him tossing and turning long hours after he had brushed his teeth and settled into bed. Instead, he found himself thinking about events that had happened during his day at the hospital. Little events. Insignificant events. Things that, before, had not occupied a single neuron’s-worth of thought in his brain.

Things like the firing of a nurse for her online journal criticizing the government’s handling of the healthcare crisis. Or a young man being refused care because his stomach pains weren’t “serious” enough, or yet another good doctor suddenly retiring from stress and overwork (though he said it was to spend more time with his family). Or three full rooms of patients being cleared out to make way for the State Attorney General who thought he was having a heart attack (it turned out to be gas). Or the faces of the people waiting in line outside the emergency room. One or two had even put up tents but the security guards had taken these down before the media could show up.

One incident that week struck Morales’ mind above all the others. He had been delivering a discharge form for a patient of his to the nurse at the front desk of the ER and had passed through the waiting area on the way there. As he made his way through the seated patients and their families he overheard two children arguing over a game. Their high pitched voices had spoken in hurried, petulant tones.

“I’m daddy, you hafta be the doctor!”

“But I don’t wanna be the doctor!”

“I already picked daddy, so you hafta be the doctor” the older of the two insisted.

“I don’t wanna be the doctor! I hate doctors!”

Morales wasn’t quire sure what had so unsettled him about that episode. It was only rational that a child, taken away from playtime by a sick parent or family member may come to resent the ever-present apparitions in white coats; the people who were the most visible reason for his being cooped up in a hospital. Still, John couldn’t help contrasting that with his own childhood awe of the medical profession.

Of course, thoughts of that nature soon led to thoughts on his current malaise regarding his work, on why it wasn’t as enjoyable as it once was, and on what, exactly, had changed in the intervening years. He had thought for a long time it was himself who had changed, but Alyssa and Lysandra’s comments had opened a crack in that line of reasoning. A hairline fissure that was slight, for now.

********************************************************************************

The appointed day arrived. Exactly one week from the evening visit by the strange pair. Morales had still not discovered who they were or where they were from, and was driven by curiosity, if nothing else, to see them again.

The snow had melted, except for some dirty piles in the parking lot and by the sides of roads, and John Morales had made up his mind. The fact that he had done so didn’t ease the feeling of vertigo he endured in his stomach that day as he attended to his duties at the hospital. When he sat down that night to finish the paperwork required for Thomas’ visit the feeling had only intensified. It was with an odd sort of trepidation he listened for the knock that would announce their arrival.

He glanced out the window often, hoping to catch some glimpse of the Fremonts, his curiosity making it almost impossible to focus on the paperwork in front of him. He saw nothing, but at 7:30 there came a knock on the front door.

He wasn’t going to help them. That much was clear. He’d taken an oath on becoming a state-licensed physician to obey the law and uphold the collective good. And the law was very unambiguous in this respect; you may not offer specialist medical care to people who were not eligible for it. Especially when so many who were eligible for it had to go without for want of enough doctors and medical equipment.

He couldn’t break the law just to help a pair of people he was intrigued by, no matter how much he wanted to. The system may be flawed, yes, but this was not the way to fix it. He’d thought through it over and over again in the last week. The right way was to work within the system; to reform it, not rebel against it. He could organize doctors, maybe start a political action committee to bring some of these issues up in the next election. These were the the ways to actually effect change, not some silent revolution for two people he’d only just met. He didn’t need to be a martyr.

All these thoughts went through his head as Morales walked slowly to the front of the office. He opened the door and they were both there, just as he remembered them; bundled against the cold and looking at him piercingly. The yellow-orange glow of the streetlamps in the parking lot silhouetted the pair.

Lysandra opened her lips to speak, but before she could say a word Morales whispered softly, “I’ll do it; I’ll help you.”

Revolution, Chapter One: The Shop On the Corner, Part Three

Featured, Original Works

This is chapter 1 of a serialized novel appearing on Ars Gratia Libertatis weekly.  Read from the beginning here.

An hour and twenty-five customers later, Tangwishon was still talking with his friend.  Their conversations were like European wars of the 17th century.  The eager participants often covered the same ground, but there was always a new twist or variation that had to be worked out.

Sindamo and Tangwishon were some of the very few citizens of Oraanu who had received an education of sorts.  In addition to his years at the mission, Sindamo spent most of his personal profits from the bakery on second hand books from Ben Linkarf’s store.  Characteristically, Tangwishon never explained where he learned about astronomy, philosophy, politics, or any of the other subjects he and Sindamo talked about.

The original conversation about the hornets had gradually turned to government generally, then to other governments.  They were at the heightened pitch of an argument about whether the European Union would survive the latest debt crisis when the bell rang, announcing another customer.

It was Martha Togo and her eight year old daughter, Mary.  Tangwishon smoothly transitioned from his conversation with Sindamo and gave an expansive greeting.  “Hello, Mary!  You’re looking lovely today!”  Mary smiled and shyly murmured her hello to Tangwishon.  “And Martha, good day to you too!  You’re looking well well, so I guess that means everyone else is worse off.”  Martha couldn’t help grinning at this very old joke.

Martha was a rarity in Oraanu — a single woman who ran her own business.  The only reason this could happen in her case was that too many powerful men owed her favors for anyone to think of robbing or violating her.

She was a doctor of sorts.  She hadn’t gone to medical school.  Indeed, she hadn’t even gone to high school.  However, someone had taught her how to read and she had devoured every medical book she could get her hands on as she was growing up.  After apprenticing at the Lomboko Hospital for a few years, she had known enough about medicine to open a shop where she set bones, treated whatever diseases she could with the limited drugs she had access to, and gave medical advice.  Tangwishon always said that Martha did better business when the people of Lomboko were suffering from more illnesses, and he was right.  The country of Oraanu was poor enough that Martha never lacked business, and so could afford luxuries like Sindamo’s treats.

Martha responded with the very old response to Tangwishon’s very old joke: “Well, John, we can’t all be good-hearted, pure mercenaries like you.  I have to settle for healing people.”  She looked at Thomas.  “And how are you, Thomas?  Anyone die from eating your bread today?”

Sindamo gestured back to the kitchen and answered deadpan,  “Not too many.  You’ll have to wait on the human heart pie you ordered.  But, I do have some chocolate chip cookies if you’re willing to settle for less.”  Mary’s eyes lit up at the mention of cookies.  Her mother noticed the cue and bought a half-dozen for the rest of the week, giving one to Mary at once.

“You’re quite the salesman, Thomas.  I’ve got to drop off Mary at school and then head over to the Kwange Marketplace.  The hornets are getting feistier than usual.  They killed a couple merchants and wounded a dozen people.  I’m going to go see if I can help.”

Before Sindamo could say anything, Tangwishon responded.  “Are they still there?  The hornets, I mean.  It could still be dangerous.  I’d better come with you.”

Martha nodded, trying not to smile too obviously.  “Thanks, John.  Thomas, thanks for the cookies, and have a good day.”

Sindamo nodded.  On his way out, Tangwishon said to him, “Listen, we’ve got to figure out something to do about the hornets.  Let’s have dinner together tonight and talk it over.  I’ll get us some meat in the Marketplace and you can cook it.”

Sindamo agreed, wished Martha luck, and watched the three of them leave.  He sighed inwardly, regretting that he hadn’t offered to help Martha.  He wasn’t as quick-witted as his friend John.

Sindamo was not Tangwishon’s opposite; he was merely unremarkable in every area where Tangwishon was distinctive.  Tangwishon was tall, Sindamo was of average height, maybe even a little shorter than normal.  Tangwishon’s face was manly and handsome, complete with the lines and scars proper to his mysterious background.  Sindamo had the kind of reserved, intelligent face more proper to a librarian or a serious professor.  Tangwishon was solidly built; Sindamo was, like many of the citizens of Oraanu, underweight.  And, unfortunately for the moment,  Tangiwshon was suave and smooth talking and could act quickly and decisively.  Sindamo was more of a planner.

Sindamo shook his head and got back to work.  He had more food to prepare.  Two hours later, he was taking a batch of harder, cheaper loaves out of the oven for the afternoon rush of workers when the bell rang out front, announcing another visitor.  When Sindamo returned to the storefront holding the pan, he saw three rifle-armed soldiers in army fatigues standing behind a tall man wearing a dress shirt, tie, and suit pants.

The hornets had arrived.