By Andrew Paul Grell
“Tell me again how this happened”
The last thing I needed was a visit from the Supervisor. “Oh, I don’t know. These people. Could be seed floating in the mikveh. The women have to wait until the men are finished before they get their turn in the baths. They might want to re-think that. Maybe I was gardening on the roof, a hot day, and I took my robe off. Maybe there was a laborer in the courtyard, also hot, also disrobed, and I fell on him. Long shot, that one. Or maybe, you know. These things happen.”
“They don’t happen to you, Lieutenant. Don’t they still have the honor system at the Academy? What are you going to tell the carpenter, your, what is it called, betrothed?”
“Doesn’t matter. These people will believe anything. Anything except the truth, that is. I was visited by a messenger from on high and he told me I was to have a son. They like that here. The men. They like to have sons. Could you do without one of your Qi receptors? They look a lot like the feathers on the Cherub statues. But they won’t feel like plumage. My Betrothed will believe me.” I looked at the Supervisor’s face and the surface of Kineret lit by the setting sun. They were the same shade of red. He would be saying something difficult.
“Of course, you can’t keep it. We can’t mix us and them. This would be a disaster. We don’t know what the potential effects are.”
“Sir. We know what the potential effects are. It’s called evolution. What we can’t know is what the specific effects are. I’m not giving up my baby. I can do my job pregnant, I can do my job with a baby clamped on my left tit. I affirm on my honor and on the honor of the Academy that if anything bad shows up, I’ll have him on the next transport back. And look. At least I won’t have to tell Joseph why he can’t take his betrothed, not after the story I tell him.”
“You heard about the last time this happened, didn’t you? It was the Supervisor of the time who messed up. Took pity on a poor family. Maybe it wasn’t pity, the reports are not at all clear on that point. Personally, I think she wanted to nudge the experiment a little bit her way by having a family which followed the program have something good happen. What a disaster. There was a big, dumb, ox running the country for twenty years. The Supervisor literally had to have this idiot tear down a temple and die to restore the balance of power.”
“I know the story. I think it was Lesson 3 at the academy. The lesson was about leaders needing to emerge organically and without interference from, you know, us. Sir. If you’re in need of a safety fence around my little baby, I wouldn’t at all object to monitoring. Really, I just want to do my job and raise my child. Is that so wrong?”
“Mar, you’ve done a great job so far, especially with Elizabeth and John. Have your baby. Tell your stories to your betrothed. But you absolutely MUST be as close as possible to the Foundation Stone when your time comes.”
“The Stone? By my timing that will be at their Passover. The City will be overflowing. Even if I could elbow my way into town, I couldn’t get past the Court of the Women.” The Supervisor frowned at that. “Sir. I’m a Mission Officer and I will do what it takes to carry out your orders.” That got a smile out of him; he headed back to the dock, got into his little fishing boat and cast off. He looked like he was having fun rowing. Good for him. Qi-forsaken place.
The house wasn’t all that bad for the circumstances. Our own courtyard. Lumber storage and prep on the north side, vegetable garden and doves’ cages on the south; the cool room opened out onto the garden and then a gate led to a tiny pasture for our three little goats. Heh, what’s the children’s song? Three goats, six zuzzim. Poor little Rinah, my “pet” goat, my joy, was now lame and dependent on my care to not be eaten. Wooden beams faced with fired bricks put us a bit ahead in the town of Afulah. My carpenter betrothed made us comfortable beds; I did my best to keep them vermin-free. The third room was for cooking, eating, and having guests. Not bad, but I could do without the dirt floors. Maybe I’ll take up weaving and make a rug. Well, time to break the news.
“The Angel of the Lord appeared to me at the boat dock. I went down to trade carrots for fish. We’ll have a nice dinner from this.” I put the lake trout in a pan on the carpenter’s sturdy table. “I am to have a son.”
“Well, Mar, I should hope so, when we are married. It would be a shame to let the line of Zerubbabel die out.
“I mean sooner than that. At the Passover. We must go to the City. We must go to the Foundation Stone.”
“The Angel said this. The messenger of the Lord.” My betrothed was honest, hard-working, good looking relative to these people, a descendant of the royal line. But like his line before him, he was not especially bright. Fortunately, neither was he prone to fits of murderous anger and he was not in a position to impose idiotic policies on others. Oh, look, he’s coming up with something.
“What did the Angel look like, my beloved?”
“He was tall, his body was black as the rock that burns. Face the color of the wonderful bricks you fire, Hair like barley shoots. Teeth like pearls.” I may have over-stepped on that last bit. Oysters were abominable, I knew that, but could these people touch pearls? “Hair like flame. He gave me this.” I held out the Supervisor’s Qi receptor. He looked scared. He didn’t want to touch it.
“It is the feather of a Cherub. We will surely die. What have you done, my beloved?”
“God has done the doing, Yussie. The messenger has said we are to have a child. We could not do that if we are dead.” I saw my eventual mate process that. Then I saw him smile.
“A son,” he said.
I rubbed the fish with zaatar, then flour, then wrapped them in cabbage leaves. I poured olive oil in the pan and when it sizzled I laid out the fish. My promised one was smiling at the aroma. It wasn’t Friday night, but my Yussie started singing Aishess Chayil, Woman of Valor. I baked some loaves of flat bread. We washed our hands, saying the blessing. Joseph blessed God who causes bread to come from the ground. Half and half, I thought. We put personal hygiene into the program for infectious disease control. But when Menachem paid us in bread for a new door, it was not God who made the bread magically appear from the ground. These people. I told my simple affianced that I had finished the oil, and that I would walk to the presser for another skin of it.
Now it was really time to tell the truth. I found him in the shuq. Lucky break for me; I could pick up a skin of oil after I did my coming clean and not have my affianced come up with the thought that I was spending too much time away. As quickly as it came, my luck sprouted wings and flew away. A man was in conversation with Phineas, father of my baby. The man was asking if Phineas would accept the five shekels to redeem his first-born, a son. My Phineas was a priest! The Supervisor was right about me. The priests bore the mark on their Y-chromosome. My son would be from the marked seed emerging from a Missionary field. There was nothing to do but tell him, I owed him that much.
“Phineas.” His conversation was over, and he turned to me, smiling. Not for long, I thought. “I bear your child. It will be mine and Yussie’s, but you will know it is your son who learns the trade of carpentry, and perhaps the study of the scriptures. That will be for you, so that you may know your son. I did not know that you were a priest.” He told me that he had been ministering to a Jewish colony in Byzantium for many years, but decided that at his age, he should come back to the Promised Land to be buried in the holy soil. We wished peace to each other and I turned and left, heading to the next rank of the market stalls. A wine skin, and a new pair of handsome gloves for my manual laborer. Anything to keep from having to tell the Supervisor.
Joseph was thrilled with his new calf-skin gloves. I told him everyone loved the new variety of peppers I was growing; seven peppers was the price of the gloves. All bases covered but one, I slid back into my role as a Missionary and waited.
After two new moon celebrations, Phineas visited our home with Deborah the midwife (and occasional prophetess). Yussie and Phineas had some man talk and Deborah lifted my robe and felt me. These people. V’tahar ha’isha v’teled bain. “And the woman enmountained and childed a son.” The balm she used on me could have been ultrasound jelly. She fell into the fit these people used when they prophesied, but I could see she was using it as a cover to hide the climax she had after touching my belly. Not a good sign.
The men returned and were greeted with the news that my baby was strong and healthy. I told everyone Rinah needed me so she could sleep comfortably. Phineas volunteered to see if there was anything a priest could do for a lame goat.
“Ti Kanes.” I switched to Greek once we were outside. Phineas, late of the Empire, would be more comfortable, as would I.
“I know what you are. In Byzantium I did a kindness for one of your overseers, and he told me stories. I can see his bearing in your stance and movements. You are a leader, a captain of ten, perhaps a captain of fifty. I smiled at you because I knew you for what you are and I wanted more stories of your Mission. It was not my intention to take you. But I did take you.” I was right, he was far more forthcoming speaking Greek. He went on. “I will do whatever you need, Mary, for you, your baby, even Joseph.”
“As it turns out, Phineas, we could use some assistance. I was told that I must be as close as possible to the Foundation Stone when I give birth.” I never saw Phineas shudder before, not even when he climaxed, planting his seed in my garden patch. “Any ideas?”
“You know you can’t get anywhere near the inside of the Temple. The Levites would kill on sight a woman who might bleed on the Pascal Sacrifices. But I can get you as close as Beit Lechem. My cousin Naphtali welcomes guests in his house during the three Festivals, an Inn, sort of, an Inn on a farm. Hopefully it will be close enough. It is a sure thing, no sneaking needed. So let’s take a look at your goat. People expect priests to do something sometimes!”
I fed Rinah, holding her in my lap, from the most succulent leaves until she was satisfied and I massaged her lame leg so she wouldn’t lose circulation when she slept. I stoked her silly piebald coat so she would know she was loved. All this under the professional gaze of the priest. I put my Joy on fresh straw and turned to go back inside. Phineas had a shocked expression when I saw him, and I turned back to see what he saw. Rinah was gamboling, nuzzling the other goats, bleating with pleasure! The priest and I looked at each other. Game changer.
We went on in Greek. I would get my Supervisor to talk with me, accompanied by Phineas, somehow without getting the Byzantium Supervisor in trouble with a Commander. It is the right of every Missionary to request Mast, and I will be betting my career and possibly the Mission to propose the Seventh Intervention. Of the previous six Interventions, only one was a net positive, and Command was not in a hurry to start a seventh. At least in the Mast tradition someone will have to show me that I’m wrong to shut me down. In the meantime, my son was sending out Qi like pollen in a windy autumn. All of the dings, dents, and discomforts I had from living and working in these primitive conditions started vanishing.
They bought it. They bought my pitch hoe, pruning hook, and plowshare. This would be the opposite of a thousand years ago. No one would have to suffer a moron with bizarre hair running a country. No temples would be destroyed, no one would have to die in this process. The nobility of Joseph’s poverty, his descent from the royal line, and his devotion to the program would mark his issue as a speaker of truth, not a brute and a philanderer.
Two weeks before the Passover, I made Elizabeth and John promise to take care of the doves and goats, especially Rinah, and we walked through and out of Afulah in view of the whole town. Grass grew in the sand touched by my feet. Fig and date trees fruited as I passed. There would be quite some stories from this trip. My supervisor then sailed us down the Jordan to Gilgal. Phineas and I split off for a trip to Jerusalem. My Yussie and the two Supervisors made camp until my return. As I left the men were planning to arrange donkeys for the trip to Beit Lechem. None of the three of them knew how to haggle and I sincerely wished them luck. Phineas took me into the City through the Damascus Gate and directly to an old friend in the sacrificial animal trade. I was covered in straw, sharing a wagon with two scrawny lambs. These people. They never caught on that to make a sacrifice it had to be the thing you loved most. Phineas wheeled the cart through the Courtyard of the Gentiles, the Courtyard of the Women, and a good twenty cubits into final court. That would have to be close enough to the Foundation Stone. He turned around, pretended to have forgotten something, and took us all back. Those lambs were safe, at least for now.
We made a show riding the donkeys into Beit Lechem that rivaled the production leaving Afulah. I was very, very pregnant. Only my son was keeping me from bursting into tears. Finally, after a quick reading that showed my son’s Qi was synched with the Foundation Stone, we got to the barn that served Naphtali as an inn. With all the guests watching, he cleaned out a feeding trough and lined it with soft linen cloth. The four men gently lifted me into it with about ten heleqs to spare before I went into labor. Everything went well, everyone was healthy, of course. We suspended the show for a couple of days; the Supervisor from Byzantium had a surprise. He got Command to put the geosynch satellite into a slow lazy-eight and point the mirrors down. Every night a bright, new “star” was seen moving east to west. Three Supervisors rode camels “following the star” to pay homage to my mewling little Jess. A kid with a little drum—his mother said he was mute—played an improvised rhythm and got the new baby, amazingly, to smile. And just as amazingly, he turned to his mother and said “imah, imah!” We all smiled at each other, even my Yussie, who really didn’t know what was going on. The stories people will tell about this trip! And they will be able to tell them, hopefully, in safety and security, thanks to my son. Nation will not lift up sword against nation. Men will no longer learn war. Judah will be a nation of priests, and the people of the world will say, “Let us go up to Jerusalem.”