Jirel sat in his office. Snyder rushed in grinning like the Cheshire cat. “Sarge, I got the goods on Ivan.”
Jirel smiled. “Well done!”
“Thanks. I handed the information over to Dread, and as a reward, he’s sending me out for six weeks of Wilderness training.”
Dread is up to something. “Snyder-”
The Spirit checked Jirel. Let him go.
Jirel smiled. At last, he’d heard something! He’d never had this little contact from his Lord on assignment before.
“Sarge?” asked Snyder.
“Oh,” said Jirel. “Have a nice trip and be sure to check out thermal underwear. It’ll be cold at night this time of year where you’re going.”
“Yes, sir,” said Snyder.
A crisp early November breeze whipped around Snyder as he knocked on Mama Borden’s door, back in dress uniform for the first time in six weeks. Wilderness training had been his first opportunity for combat dress since Basic, but Christians had rather negative associations with the Imperial combat uniform and it’s faceless helmet. What the folks who killed their vocal relatives and pastors wore. So he changed before coming here.
Mama Borden would be tickled pink. He hadn’t been away this long since he was fourteen, when God stood by and let his egg donor kill Grandma. The druggie sold her own mother for a fix. And had wanted to sell him again, too.
Mama Borden peaked out the living room window, showing an orange, green, and black splash of dashiki caftan that matched the cloth wrap hiding her beautiful natural African hair.
A few seconds later, the door swung open. Mama Borden embraced him with as much force as a woman in her sixties could manage. “Anny!”
Snyder coughed. “I had a day off after wilderness training. So, I thought . . . Mama, you can let go.”
Mama Borden released him. “Cerulean, Damian, Anny’s home!”
“Did they hang him?” asked Damian from the kitchen.
Snyder shouted, “Yes, that’s why I’m standing at the door!”
Damian shouted back. “She didn’t say how you came home!”
The eldest Borden brother emerged from his workshop in blue coveralls spotted with white paint. The forty-four-year old virgin who’d dedicated his life to taking care of his mother and seven adopted siblings, which included Snyder, was probably at least as old as his sperm donor.
Cerulean extended his paint-stained hand. “Son, welcome home.”
Snyder returned Substitute Daddy’s firm handshake. “Good to be back, Sir.”
“Come on,” said Cerulean. “Mama’s got some stew on. There’s plenty for you.”
“No, there ain’t!” echoed Damian from the kitchen. “I ate it all.”
“Boy!” said Cerulean. “You’re not too old to whip.”
“I’m twenty!” screamed Damian.
“Boy, as long as I can whup ya, I can whip ya.”
Snyder followed Mama and Cerulean into the kitchen. Twenty-year-old appliances dominated, but Cerulean had gotten fresh tile laid a couple years back. The cabinets were Cerulean’s own work and had been there as long as Snyder could remember.
Damian stared at Snyder’s dress uniform. “Hey, Empire Joe. You almost look like a man.”
Snyder smiled daggers. Damian and the Babe had tormented him the most. “Same to you, Damy.”
Damian grunted. Snyder took a seat in an old kitchen chair that Cerulean had saved from a dump and refurbished.
“Where’s the Babe?” That should have been his nickname.
“Out with friends.” Cerulean paused. “He won’t be back. Unless you want me to call him.”
“Nah, don’t bother. He won’t care. No one in this family does but you and Mama.”
An objection filled Mama’s eyes, but she sighed and began serving the meal instead. Mama put a bowl of stew in front each of them and grabbed one for herself. She sat at the head of the table in a high backed chair. “Cerulean, say the blessing please.”
Cerulean and Snyder removed their hats. Cerulean sent Damian an icy stair and Damian removed his.
“Lord,” prayed Cerulean. “We thank you for bringing Anny home to share this meal. We pray, Father, for this we are about to receive, make us truly thankful. Amen.”
Snyder always wondered about that prayer. The only way he could think of to be made more grateful for food was if he was really starving. He didn’t want to be made truly thankful. But he knew better than to argue with Cerulean.
Cerulean said, “Hey, Mama, let me turn on the news.”
Mama grunted. “If you must.”
Cerulean fetched a remote out of a drawer, settled back at the table, and pressed a button.
News Anchor Don Trapp appeared in the dining nook’s window. “In other news, decorated Imperial Hero Colonel Paul Dread is returning to his post in Nevada after addressing a joint meeting of Congress where he received the Imperial Medal of Distinguished Service from Donovan the Steward for revealing the many nefarious deeds of Ivan Dimitrov, thus showing why he deserved to be executed.”
Snyder spit out his stew. “What?”
Dread appeared in the window. “I’m just pleased to have been able to serve the Steward. That is honor enough for me.”
Snyder cursed seven ways to Sunday.
Cerulean boxed his ear. “Boy, watch your mouth!”
Snyder stood. “That fairy took credit for my work. I’m going to kill him.”
Damian said, “Good, kill ’em. Then they’ll hang you.”
Mama put down her spoon. “Anny, come with me.”
Snyder walked outside with Mama. She settled on the porch swing. “So, what did you find?”
“Ivan’s diary. He was running the mob on the side. He sold tainted meat on the black market, killed people, and didn’t even care, Mama. He was a monster.”
“And that’s been exposed. You did the right thing, and I’m proud of you.”
“But Dread took all the credit. He sent me out in the wilderness while he wined and dined with the Steward.”
“So you didn’t get any credit?” Mama Borden pushed herself up and walked over to a berry bush. “Nothin’ good ever gets accomplished by folks waiting for someone to throw them a parade, Anny. I saved plenty of babies, but only those I raised myself even know my name. The IBI dubbed me Harriet Tubman, and some folks I knew actually thought ‘Harriet Tubman’ was a hero, but they never knew it was me.
“There are some things in life you’ll do that other people will take credit for. And the most important things you can do, you can’t take credit for. But God sees, and He knows. And He is a just Rewarder.”
Snyder stiffened and folded his arms. “I don’t believe in your God.”
“Oh, Anny, don’t try and fool your mama. Be mad at Him all you want, but you believe. And whether you believe it or not, boy, He cares about how you feel right now. And neither He nor I want you to do something stupid that’ll get you killed for no good reason. So you didn’t get to go to Washington? You didn’t get to dine with that slick Steward, or with Emperor Herald, the Devil himself. You didn’t get to sleep with enslaved concubines-”
“No one gets to sleep with Donovan’s concubines. He doesn’t share.” Why he even had any didn’t make sense, considering the headlines the Steward got in the gossip rags. Always some new famous or random girl the Steward was caught in bed with.
“Regardless, this is just not something God willed for you to have.”
“Good to know the Man upstairs is pulling against me.”
Mama shook her head. “He’s pullin’ for you, but not everything you can have is good for your life or your soul. Ya hear?”
“Yes, Mama.” But he was still ticked at Dread, and God could go on his list as well.
Subscribe to Laser & Sword by Email to get the next part and all the rest of our free offerings delivered to you. To find out what happens sooner, visit the Laser and Sword Online store and download Issue 1 for free or purchase the Annual Editioncontaining 11 action packed stories.