Joshua lay on his stomach on the ground, trying to keep his gun steady. Tamu was teaching him how to shoot, without much luck. In all the days he'd been practicing, he had only hit the target a few times. He pressed the gun to his shoulder and shot, with the last of the bullets.
Tamu went over to the target and examined it. "Nothing. You didn't hit it. Never mind; we'll try it again later."
His heart sinking, Joshua put the gun down and rose up on his knees, rubbing his sore shoulder. "This is hopeless. I'll never be able to shoot properly."
"You will with more practice," Tamu said. She walked back over to him. "Anyway, Kamal and I can patrol the perimeter just fine until you get better at shooting."
Joshua doubted he would get better. He slowly picked up his gun and walked into the house. If he couldn't learn to shoot, he would never be able to do anything useful on Mars. Without doing anything useful, he would never be able to impress Kemlil Zulan. He went to the sitting room, with its flower-embroidered carpet, its colorful cushions scattered around the floor, and its white walls painted with flat-topped thorn trees. He sighed as he put the gun in the rack by the door.
"What is wrong?" he heard Alniru asked. He turned around to face her. She was sitting on the floor, at the little metal table where she and Joshua had their English and Talazan lessons.
Joshua shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing, really. I'm having trouble shooting."
"It matters not," said Alniru. "I am poor shooter also."
"But I can't be a poor shooter," Joshua said. "I need to learn to be useful. A month on Mars, and I'm still helpless."
"You are not helpless."
"But I am!" Joshua sat down and slammed a fist onto the table in frustration. "I can't shoot, I can't patrol my own property, I can't farm. The servants do everything for me. I haven't done a single useful thing since I came here."
"To teach me English is not useful?" Alniru said quietly.
Joshua was instantly ashamed. "I didn't mean to say that. I meant I haven't done anything useful besides teaching you English."
Alniru looked down at the floor. "If you do not want to teach me, just say."
"No, no! I do want to teach you," Joshua said. "It's just that I've never been in this situation before. I've never owned a farm, and I've never had servants to help me take care of it."
"You did not own a farm on Earth?"
"No. I was a student on Earth, and I was poor. My mother had to save a lot of money to send me to school in England."
Alniru cocked her head to one side. "Then you were very lucky to get this farm."
"You're right; I am lucky." Joshua traced a pattern thoughtfully on the metal table.
"You will get better at shooting," Alniru said. "You must practice."
"Yes, that's what your mother says," Joshua said. He stared glumly down at the floor. "It's discouraging."
Alniru frowned. "What is this word, dis-cor—"
"Discouraging," Joshua said. "It means that I don't have any hope."
Alniru pressed her palms to the table and looked fiercely at Joshua. "No, no!" she said. "You must have hope. You must. You will—you will die without it!"
Joshua looked at her in surprise. Alniru had never been angry with him before. Even when he made mistakes in his Talazan, she was always patient and sweet-tempered. "What's the matter?"
"You must have hope, or you will die!"
Joshua laughed awkwardly. "What are you talking about? I'm not going to die."
"You must promise to have hope," Alniru insisted. "You must promise."
"All right, I promise to have hope," Joshua said with a shrug. He had no idea why Alniru was so insistent about it, but he wanted to be agreeable. He stood up
"Where are you going?"
"To Shara's," said Joshua.
Alniru cocked her head and frowned. "You go there very much."
"Not that much," said Joshua, shifting uncomfortably. "But I like Shara, and I enjoy his company."
"And his daughter?"
Joshua felt his face heat up. How had Alniru known? "Yes. I like visiting all the Zulans. Including Kemlil."
Alniru stood up and walked slowly, shoulders slumped, to the metal shelf on the wall. She took down a book, walked back to the table, and sat down. "Have a good time," she said dully.
Why is she upset about this? Joshua wondered. Were her feelings that hurt when I talked about being useful? And what did she mean by "you must have hope or you will die"? He left the sitting room and went to look for Kamal, his chauffeur. He found Kamal in the corridor. "I want you to drive me to Shara's, please."
"Very well," was all Kamal said, for which Joshua was grateful. Tamu and Alniru had commented on his frequent trips to Shara's, but Kamal never said anything about it. He was as stolid as a typical English servant.
As Joshua and Kamal went to the garage, Joshua asked, "Do you know what's bothering Alniru?"
"No. Is something wrong with her? I hadn't heard."
"Just asking. She was in a strange mood today." Joshua climbed into the vehicle. "She was angry at me. I've never seen her get angry before."
"That is odd." Kamal frowned as he sat down in the driver's seat. "Perhaps Tamu would know. You should ask her."
"I suppose so," Joshua said, as Kamal started the car. He was silent as Kamal drove past the spiny plants and grass and the thorn trees, until until they reached the wall surrounding Redfield, a soil brick structure with a metal gate in it. Kamal pressed a button on a little device, and the gate slowly swung open. Joshua saw a hunched figure waiting on the other side.
"There's someone there!" he said, pointing to the figure.
Kamal scowled. "Not again." He turned off the car and rolled down the window. "Go away!" he shouted. "We have no money for you."
The person shuffled up to the car. Joshua saw, to his surprise, that the stranger was a white man. The man had long, greasy brown hair, a scraggly beard, and a dirty face. He was wearing a tattered coat and fur hat and boots full of holes.
"I said, go away!" snapped Kamal. "Are you deaf?"
"Who is he?" Joshua asked.
"An annoying beggar," Kamal answered. "He's been hanging around Redfield for a year. Be off with you!" he told the stranger. "I said, we've no money."
"No, wait," Joshua said. He dug in his wallet and took out a note: a Talazan rai. He handed it to Kamal, who sighed and held it out to the beggar.
The beggar took the note and dropped it on the ground. "Don't want money," he mumbled.
"Then why do you come around here?" demanded Kamal.
"My home," the Englishman said.
"Your home?" Joshua's interest was piqued. He leaned over Kamal to see the beggar more closely. "Were you a servant here?"
"No. But I've been waiting for six years."
"Enough!" Kamal said. "Move out of the way, unless you want to be run over."
The ragged figure bowed his head and slowly stepped backwards. Kamal drove through the gate and pressed the button to shut it.
"Who was that?" Joshua asked, as they drove out into the open desert.
"I told you: just a beggar that's been hanging around here."
"But for a year? That's a long time." Joshua turned in his seat to look backwards. He couldn't see the beggar now; they were too far away. "Why would a beggar hang around here for a year?"
"I don't know." Kamal didn't look at Joshua. "We offered him money in the past, but he wouldn't take it. If we drive him away, he leaves, but he always comes back. There seems no way to get rid of him."
"Why not call the police?"
"There are no police out here," said Kamal. "Even if there were, they wouldn't bother arresting a mere beggar."
"Then why not drive him somewhere in the car? Somewhere far away from Redfield."
"We tried that. It took a little longer for him to come back, but come back he did." Kamal sighed. "We'll just have to keep driving him away. Perhaps he'll eventually leave if we don't give him anything."
"I see." Joshua was quiet for the rest of the ride. Today was a day of mysteries. His thoughts moved back and forth, from Alniru to the beggar and back to Alniru again. He was still wondering about them when the car pulled up to Shara's door. A servant ushered Joshua into the sitting room, where the Zulan family were sitting. Shara clapped his hands. "Hello, Joshua. Back so soon? Excellent! We've got a roasted zinvil leg, and a pair of talmals. Glad you're here to help us eat them."
Joshua sat down on a cushion next to Kemlil. "That sounds delicious."
Kemlil smiled at him. "Have you come back to hear me play and sing?"
Joshua twisted his hands together, feeling shy and embarrassed. "You play well…and you have a good voice."
"No, I don't. I'm an amateur. But I'm glad you enjoy it." Kemlil stood up. "Do you want me to get my kumak and sing for you now?"
Kemlil left the room. Joshua was alone with Shara and Sierwen. His mind traveled back to Alniru and the beggar. "Have you noticed a beggar wandering around in this area?"
"Ah, you mean Ingilagh? He's in the area again?" Shara said.
Joshua translated the name in his head. "'The mad Englishman'? Is that what you call him?"
Shara nodded. "He's come around every so often. He was an officer in a British garrison. We don't know what made him leave the army, but ever since, he's been wandering from farm to farm."
"My chauffeur said he doesn't take money," Joshua said. He remembered the mysterious man dropping his rai note onto the ground.
"Your chauffeur's right," Sierwen said. "Nobody knows what he wants. He must be completely mad."
Kemlil appeared in the room again with her instrument. "Sorry that took a while." She sat down on the floor and began tuning the kumak. "What would you like to hear?"
"A song from Earth. Any one will do," Joshua answered.
"Very well," Kemlil began to play and sing "Baby Mine." Joshua listened to her lovely voice and watched the play of her hands on the kumak. He was so enraptured by her music that the mysteries surrounding Alniru and the beggar were driven out of his mind.