FALL TO EDEN

 

By Katherine Padilla

 

Book 1 of

 

DOMINION OVER THE EARTH

 

 

Published by Novaun Novels at

www.zerosilver.com

 

Copyright © 2003

Katherine Padilla

 

 

This e-book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0. This document may be reproduced for personal non-commercial use as long as the text is not altered in any way and the byline and copyright notice are included on every copy.

 

Fall to Eden is a work of fiction. The characters and plots are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

 

 

CONTENTS

 

INTRODUCTORY MATERIAL

DEDICATION

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

WARNING!

VISION OF EARTH

VISION OF EDEN

Part 1: THE LONG-AWAITED DATE

Chapter 1: MESSIAH OR ANTI-CHRIST?

Chapter 2: THE LIBRARIAN

Chapter 3: DOUBTS AND DREAMS

Chapter 4: DR. CARROLL'S LITTLE PANTHER

Chapter 5: THE QUEEN OF DANCE MEETS THE KING OF CLASS

Chapter 6: THE RELUCTANT BISHOP

Chapter 7: MYSTERY LOVE

Chapter 8: THE KING OF CLASS ENCHANTS THE QUEEN OF DANCE

Chapter 9: THE RING AND THE BLESSING

Part 2: THE COURTSHIP

Chapter 10: TOO MUCH HONESTY

Chapter 11: A SWEET, SAINTLY GIRL

Chapter 12: TWO OFFERS

Chapter 13: ONLY ONE ANSWER

Chapter 14: EDEN

Chapter 15: COMPATRIOTS

Chapter 16: THE FAMILY FROM MARS

Chapter 17: THE FANATIC AND THE CHARISMATIC INTELLECTUAL

Chapter 18: A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Part 3: THE MARRIAGE

Chapter 19: THE DEVOTED KNIGHT

Chapter 20: CAMERON CONFIDES

Chapter 21: BEN SPEAKS

Chapter 22: THE SPRINT

Chapter 23: THE FINAL METERS OF THE RACE

Chapter 24: THE FINISH LINE

Chapter 25: PRECARIOUS POSITION

Chapter 26: THE CARD

Chapter 27: THE TRAP

Chapter 28: A WOLF OR A RABID DOG?

Chapter 29: MYSTERY LIGHT

Part 4: THE SEPARATION

Chapter 30: BEN'S BELOVED

Chapter 31: MAN ENOUGH

Chapter 32: UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

Chapter 33: TEMPEST

Chapter 34: ALIVE UNDER THE LIGHT

Chapter 35: DAZZLED

Chapter 36: FEMME FATALE

Chapter 37: GOVERNOR AND QUEEN

Chapter 38: RESCUE OF THE BRIGADE

Chapter 39: REBELS

Chapter 40: CHAMPIONS

Chapter 41: ANCHORS AWEIGH

APPENDICES

1. THE EDEN PLAN

2. GLOSSARY OF LDS TERMS AND DOCTRINES

3. GLOSSARY OF FANTASY IDEAS AND TERMS

 

 

INTRODUCTORY MATERIAL

DEDICATION

To Steve, who understands the twists and turns of his alien wife's brain better than anyone and will know where all of this wild stuff comes from.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

First of all, I'd like to thank my friend Amy Merrill, who read this novel as I wrote it and happily submitted to my "price"--filling out pages of detailed questions that helped me understand what worked and what didn't. She spotted several significant problems early on, which saved me a great deal of time and made the novel much better than it would have been otherwise.

I can't neglect to thank my husband Steve, who dragged me kicking and screaming into the Computer Age. Without his support and expertise, publishing my work online would not have been an option.

Last, thanks to Cari Clark, my editor and friend since 1985. Her sharp literary insight helped me hammer this novel into shape, and her attention to detail aided me in buffing it to a satisfactory sheen. If my work has any sophistication at all, it's because of her!

 

WARNING!

This novel is not typical apocalyptic fiction. It does not attempt to present realistic speculation on the events leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I haven't consulted scholarly documents that analyze the scriptural accounts of the Last Days, nor have I attempted to dramatize true spiritual experiences of real people. Moreover, I will declare, once and for all, that the wild stuff that happens in Fall to Eden is just that--wild stuff. My work may be serious in tone, but it is fantasy. Period.

If you think you would enjoy getting lost in a world inhabited by a twenty-year-old Mormon bishop, a seductively innocent empath, a priggish planet-spirit, and an alien emperor who claims to be a direct descendant of the resurrected Jesus Christ, read on. I've even provided a glossary containing both Mormon and fantasy terms to make your reading experience smoother. If, on the other hand, you consider such radical ideas sacrilegious, this novel is not for you. If you think the great anti-Christ of the Last Days may really turn out to be an alien, you've probably been reading too much fantasy and need reading material that is significantly more substantial than my novel. The scriptures would be a good place to start.

Oh, and one other thing. Please don't quote from Fall to Eden in church. That kind of notoriety would destroy my credibility as a faithful, doctrinally literate mother in Zion. I've worked hard to cultivate that image, and one has to keep up appearances!

 

Katherine Padilla

March 2002

 

VISION OF EARTH

And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.

 

Moses 7:18

The Pearl of Great Price

 

VISION OF EDEN

And the Lord called his people ZION, because they expressed themselves equally and received equal education, and gained equal edification through regular facilitation with a qualified therapist; and there were no poor or dissatisfied among them because they were all equally employed.

 

Thesis of Psychological Keys to Building Zion

By Benjamin Carroll, Ph.D.

 

Part 1: THE LONG-AWAITED DATE

Chapter 1: MESSIAH OR ANTI-CHRIST?

The Divine One stood near the boardroom window-wall, an arm folded across His waist and a hand absently stroking His chin. He seemed oblivious to everything but the severely damaged condition of so many of the seventy-eight ships that remained in His space fleet.

Admiral of the Fleet Harman Sanzanal halted for a moment near the polished wood table, unnerved to see his Master so troubled. In the eighteen years Tohmazz Zarr had held the title of Divine Emperor, Sanzanal had never seen Him present anything but the calmest and most confident of exteriors, no matter how bleak the circumstances seemed.

As Sanzanal moved toward the Divine One, He turned, His luxuriant angel-white curls brushing against the spirit crystals that embellished his purple cape. His eyes, the icy gray of diamonds, studied Sanzanal's face, His spirit touching Sanzanal's as He communicated telepathically. Is our situation as grave as it appears?

Far worse, Divine One. Only forty-eight thousand people remain of our Nation. Eleven thousand of those are warriors, and a mere two hundred and eighty-one comprise the Aristocracy. The Nobility has dwindled to sixty-two.

Sanzanal could feel the Divine One's spirit shudder in mortification and indignation. In all three hundred years of exile, the Holy Nation of the Son of God had never been so desperate. With only twenty-one warships, defending themselves against the smallest of the rival fleets might prove fatal. It would be many years, perhaps decades, before the Holy Nation could initiate an attack. How many more centuries would pass before they were finally able to annihilate the infidel fleets and restore their planet to its original glory?

Discerning something of Sanzanal's feelings in their telepathic exchange, the Divine One communicated with passion, I will secure a planet, and you will have your warriors, and with the aid of the Father, we will not only conquer the infidel fleets, but the galaxy as well. Even the Novaunians will bow to the Son of God incarnate.

Sanzanal thrilled at his Master's declaration. Tohmazz Zarr was, indeed, the True Seed. What planet have you discovered that will provide me with these new warriors?

Earth. A savage planet that is waiting for a Messiah.

*

Sara Alexander tore open her letter and read eagerly as she jogged past the dogwood tree, its crimson leaves fluttering in the breeze. She laughed triumphantly as she rounded the corner of the garage into the backyard.

Sara waved her letter at her parents, who were sitting together on the wooden swing in a cluster of tall, thin trees. "Two weeks from Sunday, President Grant will organize the Eden Colony Ward. Of course we will sustain a bishop and his counselors." She was not an apostate, and she would get her parents to admit it if it killed her.

Sara's mother grabbed the letter from Sara's hand, her light brown eyebrows coming together in alarm as she read. Sara reveled in the glory of being right. "You can't now claim the Church won't support the colony." She turned away from her parents slightly and caught the basketball her brother Josh had fired at her, tossing it back and forth between her fingertips.

Her father studied the letter for a moment as if taking a mental photograph, then looked up at Sara, his pale blue gaze delving into her soul in that way it always did, seeming to say, "My big brain records everything. I've read everything. I know everything. If you don't do what I suggest, you're an idiot."

"You seem to be ignoring the fine print, Sara. In this letter, the First Presidency makes it clear that the Church will not support this new ward and makes a plea to you and all of the other colonists to remain on Earth."

How could they be so dense? Why in the galaxy would the Church organize a ward it had no intention of supporting?

"C'mon, Sara, shoot!"

As Sara shot the basketball at the taller of the two hoops in the backyard, Rebecca and Daniel shot handfuls of black walnuts. Emily knocked more of the small green orbs out of the tree with the handle of a broken hoe.

Sara remembered how much she had once enjoyed climbing the tree and shaking walnuts out of it. She turned to address her parents again. "We're being discouraged from going, not forbidden, and certainly not excommunicated. The Church will change its mind when the Brethren see how successful we are."

"It's unlikely the Brethren will see anything, since they will be here building Zion, on Earth, where they've told us all to stay." Her mother's voice was tight and her dark eyes were fierce, as if she were trying hard not to lose her temper.

Sara could feel her cheeks grow warm. "But we're going to be building Zion, just as the prophet has counseled! We're going to start with a virgin world, beautiful and perfect!" Sara could hear Rebecca behind her, pounding the husks off of the walnuts with a bat, the bat clicking whenever it hit the nut inside the husk. As the husks flew, so did shrieks of delight.

Too Cool rubbed her white face against her father's neck. Her father stroked the cat a little too hard, and she leapt out of his arms with a screech. His eyes were bright with urgency. "Call me paranoid, Sara, but it doesn't take a genius to see that the Church and its allies in the Cooperative Communities are on the verge of withdrawing from Zarr's influence."

"Our meetinghouses are being sold. We're moving to temple communities. BYU has closed its doors--"

"Your point?" Her mother's reference to Brigham Young University annoyed Sara. She had attended classes there for two years and had run on the women's track team before she and all of the other out-of-state students had been sent home. Her initial educational plans had been ruined, and now her parents were trying to talk her out of going to Eden to study journalism with Barbara Thomassen Carroll, one of The Baltimore Sun's finest columnists. Sara clenched her teeth and her fists to keep herself in control. She would not let them get to her.

"If you leave," her father said quietly, "you may separate yourself from the blessings of the Church for the rest of your mortal life. You will have a ward organization as long as it lasts, but you will never have a temple. You have no idea what you would be throwing away."

Sara shook her head, as if that gesture would shake away any possibility that she could be moved by the seriousness of her father's concern. Feeling abnormally hot, she removed her BYU track jacket and hung it on the limb of a wild cherry tree. "Don't be ridiculous. In a few years, Earth will have a glorious space fleet and interstellar travel will be easy and inexpensive. Given the Church's determination to establish its presence in every country and put a temple in every capital, it will certainly follow us to Eden. The time will come when even you will want to visit!"

 "That is assuming we're willing to travel in ships built by Tohmazz Zarr," her father said.

"The same Tohmazz Zarr the Brethren have been telling us to have no contact with for well over three years!" her mother added, fanning her face with Sara's letter.

Zack climbed on the swing and held a pulp-covered walnut under his mother's nose, his fingers stained yellow-green. "Coconut, Mommy."

Her mother instinctively leaned against her father. "Don't you come near me with that!"

"You know Tohmazz Zarr doesn't build those ships himself. Holy Nation Technologies does, and most of the employees are natives of Earth. That's hardly significant contact."

"Don't be stupid, Sara!" her mother exploded.

"Why are you and Sara fighting, Mommy?"

Matthew yanked the walnut out of Zack's hand. "Give me that!"

"Aaron," her father called. "Come and get Zack. Wipe off his hands and push him in the swing. Please."

Aaron threw the basketball at Sara. She caught it and tossed it in the direction of the hoops. "You know it's impossible to completely avoid contact with them. They're everywhere! Unless you live in a cave."

Sara had heard Tohmazz Zarr speak when he had come to Baltimore more than a year ago, but she wasn't ready to admit it. The prospect of seeing a real live alien, especially one believed by his people to be a descendant of the resurrected Jesus Christ, had been too tantalizing to resist. And the miracles he could do! He healed people of terrible diseases and deformities and made deserts into gardens. The arena in Salt Lake City had been full when she heard Zarr speak there the previous spring. Apparently she wasn't the only member of the Church who was curious.

"What are we supposed to do? Kill them all? That would certainly be the Christian thing to do."

"That's a rationalization, Sara, and you know it."

"It's the truth, Mom, and you know it!" Sara's heart raced, and her entire being felt as if it were on fire. She knew that the Spirit was bearing witness to her of the validity of her words. "They're Christians too!"

"Hardly!" her father gasped. "Their claims are blasphemous! They worship an anti-Christ! Even Christians who aren't members of our church recognize it! Antonio Vaccaro, that Catholic priest from Baltimore, was one of the first to denounce Tohmazz Zarr as an anti-Christ!"

Her father's outburst gratified Sara. It wasn't like him. He was usually so placid. She would win her point yet. "He can hardly be an anti-Christ when millions of former non-Christians now accept Christ as their Savior!"

"The people to whom you're referring are not converts of Christ, but converts of Zarr," her father countered.

"And the Guardians of Earth's Governments is made up of plenty of people who are more believers in the sovereignty of their nations than in God. Some of them are atheists! So why not claim that the United States is the 'great and abominable church'? The 'mother of all harlots'? 'Babylon the great?'"

"Zarr is the enemy, Sara," her mother said in frustration. "Why can't you get that through your head?"

"Tohmazz Zarr is no more the enemy than that priest from Baltimore. Both are serving Christ according to the dictates of their own consciences."

"Please, Sara. Don't be so naïve." There was that big brain gaze again. Her father seemed to be weighing something in his mind.

Her mother gripped his arm as if trying to restrain him, yet she looked as if she were the one determined to throw Sara to the ground and lock her in handcuffs. "There may be some Zarrists who are honorable and sincere, who really are worshiping God in the best way they know how, but that doesn't change the fact that as a race, they're dangerous to us."

Finally her father said, his voice grave, "There are very few people on this planet who understand how dangerous the Zarrists really are. The Brethren know what they're talking about, Sara. And so do discerning people like Antonio Vaccaro and even some of those atheists you're so quick to condemn."

As if her father were one of the few who did understand how supposedly dangerous the Zarrists were. That was one thing her father couldn't have learned from all of those books at the Library of Congress. "The fact still remains that it's impossible to avoid them."

Her mother's grip on her father's arm loosened. "Did it ever occur to the leader of your colony to find out why, if the Zarrists want the planet colonized, they haven't done it themselves? Or why such a beautiful planet is uninhabited?"

"I'm sure Dr. Carroll has asked all of those questions. He is an amazing leader."

"Only because he has an 'amazing' son!" Josh called as the basketball hit the backboard.

Sara would not allow her brother to destroy her credibility with talk of Cameron Carroll, even if Cameron was on a mission and wouldn't be joining his family on Eden for at least another two years, when the first exchange of colonists would take place. Feeling hotter than ever, Sara slipped her blue hair elastic off of her wrist and twisted her hair into a messy bun. Refusing to acknowledge her brother's taunt, she said to her parents, "Even you can't ignore Dr. Carroll's qualifications."

Sara's mother shot her father a meaningful look and smirked. "Yeah, Psychological Keys to Building Zion. That's a real winner." She began folding Sara's letter into a paper airplane.

"It was an excellent book, and so were all of the others."

Sara's father waved his hand in a dismissive way. "Psychobabble mixed with scripture." Too Cool jumped into his lap, trying to regain his attention.

Her mother aimed the airplane letter at the walnut harvesters. "His books rank right up there with Cain's Sandal Size and Other Vital Gospel Doctrines."

Sara snatched her letter from her mother's fingertips. Where did she come up with these absurd titles? Did she lie in bed at night and dream them up? What intellectual stimulation! She couldn't help but observe that Barbara Thomassen Carroll created real titles for real books and articles that were read by real people.

"And What I Learned about the New Testament by Sleeping in a Bed Belonging to the Prophet's Brother," her father added with a nod.

Sara had never been so irritated by her parents' hobby of dreaming up parodies of book titles. "He has degrees in both business and organizational psychology, and he and his firm have been bringing emotional healing, ethics, and cooperative management to organizations all over the world for years!"

"Hauling in the bucks by working as a consultant for Holy Nation Technologies, you mean," her mother declared.

"While plenty of others with similar credentials have refused to do business with the Zarrists, consecrated their wealth to the Church, and moved into temple communities," her father added.

"But Dr. Carroll is such a powerful influence for good. How can you not see that? And he's been a bishop!"

Her father looked at her pointedly. "Which makes his fall to apostasy all the more tragic."

Sara unfolded her letter and began smoothing it between her fingers. "You have no idea what you're talking about! You're not even a high priest. Dr. Carroll's a great man. Even the Brethren realize it!" Sometimes she wished her father were more like Dr. Carroll, more polished, more ambitious, more the dynamic spiritual leader.

"Carroll's personal righteousness or lack of it has nothing to do with why the Church has finally consented to allow the Eden Colony to be organized into a ward."

"You're wrong. The Church realizes we are all good members of the Church who want to do our part creating Zion in a unique way."

"No," her mother said, the swing creaking as she began to rock, "the Church got tired of Carroll's nagging and finally decided to give him what he wants."

How could she make them understand? "Dr. Carroll did not nag. He simply bore witness to the fact that the Lord wants him to lead this Zion colony on Eden." How could she convince them that the Lord had called her, too, to be a part of this glorious new colony? She had known her destiny lay in space for a year at least. "The prophet, being the awesome spiritual giant he is, recognized the will of the Lord in this matter and made it happen."

Her mother shook her head. "Joseph Smith nagged the Lord to let Martin Harris take the first one hundred and sixteen pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript--"

"What in the galaxy does that have to do with anything?"

"Everything. You know the story. The Lord finally agreed, the manuscript was stolen, and the prophet lost the ability to translate for some time. If we nag the Lord long and loudly enough, He may just give us what we want."

"I can't believe how ignorant you are. I'll go to Eden if I have to walk to the spaceport.

*

Trendaul Alexander hung a handful of shirts and dresses in the closet. Teri, his wife, set a basket of folded clothes on the floor. Instead of tossing her earrings into the jewelry box and collapsing on the bed as she usually did, she carefully removed her earrings and placed them on an earring tree. Trendaul knew she was upset when she actually began putting the clothes away.

Trendaul sat down in the light brown swivel rocker next to the bed and took off his shoes. Worry fogged his mind and confusion paralyzed him. He didn't know what to do or what to say.

Teri forced two pairs of jeans into an already stuffed drawer. "I can't believe the Church is actually going to organize those people into a ward."

Trendaul, too, wondered why the Church planned to take this unprecedented step. He had not been able to think about anything else all evening. Perhaps Sara was correct in her opinion that the Church would eventually follow the colony into space. He couldn't help but believe, as much as he tried to convince himself otherwise for Sara's sake, that when the Eden Colony left Earth, they would be separating themselves from Zion forever. "It does complicate matters."

Teri removed the red claw clip from her hair, the ringlets falling to her shoulders. Her hair color had never been "dirty blond" to Trendaul as it was to his children. In the soft light of their bedroom, her hair looked like gold, and it always moved, mesmerizing him. Teri combed through her hair with her fingers and shook her head. "She wouldn't go without a ward."

Sara's ability to believe she was a devout member of the Church while accepting Zarr's propaganda sickened Trendaul. "I'm not so sure anymore." He held his arm out to his wife, hoping she would come to him.

Teri took his hand and allowed him to draw her into his lap. "Then you're more convinced than ever that Zarr has a telepathic hold on her mind."

"Yes," he whispered, laying his head against her neck. How could he, of all people, have allowed this monster to violate his own daughter?

"You're certain she can fight it?" She didn't sound certain. Trendaul was relieved he could give her hope on that level at least.

"Absolutely. She just doesn't want to." Trendaul couldn't understand why Sara didn't want to fight the bond. What was it about Eden that so enamored her? Or was it Benjamin and Barbara Carroll and their accomplished, beautiful family she was in love with?

Teri stroked Trendaul's hair, ever so gently, almost tentatively. "Perhaps it's time to give her a reason to want to."

Trendaul knew what it had cost Teri to say those words. She couldn't help but be afraid for him and for their family. He looked up and gazed into those brown eyes that had always been so exotic and yet so familiar. "You didn't want me to 'give her a reason to want to' this afternoon."

"Of course I didn't. The thought of it scares me to death."

It terrified Trendaul. In her present state of mind, Sara might tell anyone. "I shouldn't tell her anything. I still have a mission to finish."

Teri reached for the dresser and a tissue to blow her nose. "A mission you may never be able to finish anyway."

Panic gripped Trendaul. "Don't say that." What had happened to his compatriots? Why hadn't anyone contacted him? If he relocated, they might not have time to find him and seven years' worth of work would be lost. Even so, he dared not wait longer than the end of the year to move his family to a temple community, either the one surrounding the Washington, D.C. Temple or the one supporting the temple in Kansas City, where his wife's family resided.

Trendaul knew it was only a matter of time before the countries of the Earth united to form the Federation of Earth Nations, with Zarr's Holy Nation of the Son of God as the presiding nation. Most Earthons believed that submitting to the leadership of this benevolent alien nation, whose knowledge and experience was so much greater than theirs, would enable their planet to take its rightful position in the interstellar community in the least amount of time, gaining them unimaginable wealth, influence, and new technology.

Once the United States became the first nation to give up its sovereignty to join Zarr's empire-disguised-as-an-innocuous-federation, all of those who shunned the Zarrists would be in danger of being labeled as traitors and be killed . . . or worse. Trendaul wanted to be safe inside a temple community long before that happened.

Teri slid off of Trendaul's lap. "If you don't tell Sara about her heritage and she goes to Eden, we'll both regret it forever."

Trendaul knew Teri was right. "Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure you want me to do this?"

"We have no other choice."

"Oh, I can think of a great many choices."

Teri headed toward the bathroom. "Go now, before I change my mind."

"She's probably asleep."

Teri spun around to face him again, her fists on her hips. "Go! Or I'll tell her myself!"

 

Chapter 2: THE LIBRARIAN

Trendaul sat at the top of the steps with his head in his hand at least five minutes before he gained the courage to knock on Sara's bedroom door. "Please, Father," he said under his breath, closing his eyes for an extra moment when he blinked. "Help me."

The door opened slightly, and Sara peered out with a scowl. "If you're here to reprimand me for going to Eden, I'm not interested."

This was going to be a long night, and seminary class would come all too early in the morning. "It isn't that." He tried to add, "Not exactly," but his voice froze.

Sara had inherited his straight black hair and his family's height, but her eyes, the velvety blue of morning glories, had come from Krista. Sara's features, smooth and lively like those of a little girl, softened into an expression so like Krista's that Trendaul's apprehension melted. He could hear Sara's finger scratching the back of the door. "Then what?"

Teri was right. He had to tell her. Krista would have told her. "I have something . . . critical . . . to tell you."

The door squeaked as Sara widened it. She wore nylon shorts and a Kansas City Royals T-shirt sent by her grandparents with the sleeves cut off and the crew collar cut out. Trendaul couldn't refrain from laughing. Sara was such an Orioles fan that to wear the shirt at all, even to bed, probably made her feel like a traitor.

Sara rolled her eyes and threw up her arms. "Stop laughing at my shirt!" She turned and walked to her bed.

Trendaul followed her into the room, closing the door behind him. He sat down on her bed, glancing at the art posters attached to the walls. Krista had chosen the first few posters, and Sara added new ones to the collection every time she visited an area art gallery. Such a visible reminder of Krista gave him strength.

Sara slid under her quilt, which Teri had constructed long ago from the fabric of old jeans, and pulled it to her chin. Thankfully she was smiling. Trendaul knew that if he didn't tell her now, he never would. "Do you remember how Josh, when he was about ten, used to claim that he had been adopted? That he was really from Mars?"

Sara chuckled. "How could I forget something so endearingly silly?"

"It was endearingly silly. And it was also relatively close to being true." He couldn't count how often he and Teri had laughed at the irony.

Sara became very still. "You mean he really was adopted? Does that mean that I--"

"No. Neither one of you were adopted. But Josh was right about one point." Trendaul hoped the tone of his voice wasn't too mischievous. "His father is an alien."

Sara burst out laughing. Trendaul laughed too. He couldn't have delivered that line in a serious tone if someone had held a laser to his back. It really did sound ridiculous.

"I guess now I have an excuse not to listen to you," Sara teased. "I wouldn't want to go against the counsel of the prophet."

As if she needed an excuse! "The prophet has only told us not to have contact with Zarr and his people. He's never said anything about Novaunians."

"Zarrists . . . Novaunians . . . what's the difference?"

All desire for lightheartedness fled. "The primary difference is that Novaunians worship Christ. The Zarrists worship an anti-Christ."

Sara stared at him in astonishment. "You're serious, aren't you."

"I'm afraid so."

"Does Mom know?"

"Yes, of course. I told her long before we were married. Your grandparents know too."

Sara's gaze found its way to the reproduction of "Young Mother Sewing," by Mary Cassatt. "And my real mother?"

"She was a Novaunian also."

Sara looked away, attempting to absorb this new information.

"Coming to Earth, in fact, was your mother's idea." Trendaul decided to leave it at that. Sara would ask the questions she wanted answered.

Finally Sara's gaze met his. "Then I have no Earth blood at all running through my veins."

"None whatsoever."

"Why did you wait so long to tell me?"

Trendaul detected strain in her voice. Was she angry? Betrayed? Or simply curious? "Because I couldn't take the chance that you might inadvertently tell someone."

"Which means you're in a certain amount of danger."

Trendaul had longed for years to live as a Novaunian openly. "I'm in a considerable amount of danger. If Tohmazz Zarr finds out who I am, he'll kill me."

"Oh, that's ridiculous! He's no murderer!"

"All right. He's no murderer. He would try to 'cleanse' my mind the way he has 'cleansed' the minds of so many of the world's criminals. Zarr's 'cleansing' is nothing less than telepathic slavery. Since I will never allow Zarr or anyone else to break my mind, I would probably die resisting. Either way, I'm a dead man."

Sara relaxed against the back of the bed and folded her arms. "Are your people at war, then, with Zarr's people?"

"Yes, in a manner of speaking. Our people are at war with the Zarrists and the many other Diron nations the way the early Americans were at war with pirates on the open seas." Or at least he believed they were still at war. A lot could have changed in twenty years. He had no doubt, though, that Zarr and his people were Dirons.

Sara's eyes shone with fascination. "So what do they supposedly steal?"

"Arelada. The Dirons call it spirit crystal."

"It's that strange, slightly luminous crystal they all wear in their clothing and jewelry, isn't it? Why is it so valuable?"

"It makes telepathy possible. With telepathy, Zarr is able to create mind bonds with people who hear him speak."

Sara frowned. "What do you mean?"

Trendaul tried to keep his explanation simple. "When Zarr speaks, he uses a telepathic process to expand his spirit to embrace all who are listening. It makes the listeners feel wonderful, as if they're communicating with God. Through this process, Zarr telepathically gains control of one brain cell. With this bond, the listener then becomes vulnerable to Zarr's telepathic suggestions."

Sara shook her head quickly. "But that doesn't make any sense! If arelada is required for telepathic communication, how can Zarr mind-bond with people like me who don't have arelada?"

"Arelada is required to transmit thoughts and to expand one's spirit. To receive thoughts, however, all a person has to do is open his mind."

"Have you heard Zarr speak?"

Trendaul could hear the accusation in her voice. "No, I haven't." He could have listened to Tohmazz Zarr speak without being affected, and he would have gained much useful information for Novaun by attending a speech, but he refused to live a double standard with his children. "The process I described is an old one and illegal on most planets." The old Latanzan monarchy had been overthrown many centuries ago for using it on its citizens, and there had been a time, over a thousand years ago, when Gudynean parents had used it to keep their children obedient.

"So what makes you think Zarr uses it?"

"Because it's the only thing I can think of that explains why he has gained such an enormous following among such diverse people in such a short period of time."

"Well, he has not used it on me!"

"You did hear him speak," Trendaul said gingerly. If he made her angry now, he might never regain her attention. "Your mother found the base ship key ring."

"All right. I have heard him speak. Who hasn't? He doesn't control my mind."

Trendaul shook his head. Too quickly, perhaps. He wanted too much to pacify her. "No, of course he doesn't. You're no Eslavu who has had her mind drained. If he has created a telepathic bond with you, he has certainly gained significant influence over you, but he can't force you to do anything. You can fight it."

"You think he has, don't you? That's why you're telling me all of this stuff now." The pitch of Sara's voice rose and the color of her cheeks changed from milk-white to pink. "You think you can use this new information to persuade me to stay home. How dare you!"

"Listen to yourself, Sara!" She would hear the truth before she ordered him out of her room. "I tell you that both you and I are of Novaunian race, and instead of asking me why I came to Earth or what kind of planet Novaun is, the only topic you want to discuss is Tohmazz Zarr. What am I supposed to think?"

"Why did you come to Earth?" Sara demanded, as if embarking on an interrogation.

Trendaul didn't like Sara's tone, but he wanted her to know something of himself and Novaun. "To telepathically record Earth's most significant records. My job was to record the obscure material. Your mother recorded documents from the local libraries and the Internet."

He could see that his explanation made sense to her. She and the other children, along with almost everyone else he knew, had always believed he was an employee of the Library of Congress. She rolled her eyes. "Which explains why you always think you know so much."

Trendaul chose to ignore that statement. "On Novaun, people with my particular telepathic skills are called librarians. Your real mother was a librarian also. We studied together."

"Will you ever go back to Novaun?"

"I don't know."

"Why don't you know?"

"I haven't had contact with another Novaunian for many years."

"Can't you just send thought waves to Novaun and tell them you want to go home?"

Trendaul shook his head. "It would take many people to transmit a message over that distance and far more arelada than I possess."

The interrogation act disappeared for a moment. Sara leaned toward him, her eyes widening. "You actually have some arelada? May I see it?"

Trendaul again shook his head. "I put it in a safe box when the Zarrists arrived."

She smirked. "Did Novaun forget about you?"

Trendaul was determined not to let her provoke him. "Not likely."

"Then why doesn't someone come and offer you a ride home?"

"The presence of Tohmazz Zarr's fleet in Earth's space territory makes that more difficult." Still, it wouldn't be impossible. What was keeping his compatriots?

"Why did Novaun send you here secretly? Why didn't the Novaunians make public contact with Earth twenty years ago?"

"Since Earth is on the verge of passing into terrestrial glory, Novaun doesn't see a need to ever have dealings with it in any kind of official way."

After living on Earth for twenty years, Trendaul believed Novaun's policy was naïve. A race that preferred to stroll along the scenic route to the grocery store could not possibly understand a race that sprinted to the exotic unknown at light speed. Earth would make its mark in space before God took it back into His presence, like an explosion in the night sky on the Fourth of July. And if a significant number of natives became proficient in telepathy, Earth would become especially volatile. Trendaul could only pray that the Novaunian government realized Earth's potential as a destructive force before too many good Fleet men lost their lives.

"Novaunians know the prophecies?" Sara asked in surprise.

"Yes, of course. The Council of Prophets canonized the Standard Works of the Church several decades ago. The New Testament, in particular, is precious to us."

"So Novaunians believe that the Savior visited them after His resurrection in the same way He visited the Nephites on the American Continent."

"Yes, but He didn't take a Novaunian bride and with His perfect, glorified body father a dynasty of so-called divine emperors!" Trendaul shuddered at the thought. Tohmazz Zarr's claim was as disgusting as it was preposterous, and he couldn't blame the Dirons for throwing the Zarrists out of power.

"I know the Zarrists have their faults, but you'll have to admit, they are fascinating. And they have a lot to offer."

"They offer telepathic slavery. Is that what you want?"

"Zarr and his people have been here for more than three years. If they really are so dangerous, why hasn't Novaun changed its policy about official contact and warned us?"

Why was she so determined to discredit Novaun? Was that the mind bond as well? "The Brethren, along with perceptive people of other belief systems, have been warning us about Zarr ever since he arrived. If Earthons refuse to listen to the prophet and other leaders in their respective communities, why should they listen to the Novaunians?"

"Why didn't Novaun stop Zarr and his people from making contact?"

"I doubt Novaun even knew Zarr made contact until well after it happened."

"Couldn't Novaun have stationed a fleet here to guard us?"

"Even Novaun has a limit to its resources."

"Doesn't Novaun care that this supposedly evil anti-Christ is taking advantage of a planet too primitive to fight back?"

"Novaunians do what they can to help other races, but they can't be everywhere all the time and they don't even try. They do take comfort in the knowledge that God will warn His other children of danger in the ways best suited to them. They assume Earthons are smart enough to listen to those warnings." Trendaul knew Sara would take his statement as a personal attack, but it was the truth.

Sara glared at him. "Obviously, Novaun cares quite a bit less about Earth than Zarr's Holy Nation does. Novaun only observes, while Zarr and his people work hard to help us into space."

"Zarr's motives are far from altruistic, I assure you."

"And Novaun's motives seem even less altruistic."

Trendaul winced to hear Novaun so ignorantly attacked. "How can I make you understand? Novaun is a great Union of over two thousand planets. It's Zion on a galactic level. Novaun isn't perfect, but it's achieved a level of righteousness as a society beyond anything you've ever dreamed of."

"Then you're even more of a hypocrite than I thought you were."

What bitter irony! The information Trendaul had hoped would change Sara's mind was making her more determined than ever. He mentally chastised himself for not anticipating that twist.

"You've been telling me for months that I shouldn't go to Eden, and now I find out that you left your home planet--not just any planet, but a Zion planet--when you were about my age and haven't been back since."

"I did not leave Novaun against the counsel of the High Prophet." The argument always seemed to come back to that.

"But you did leave your family, perhaps for the rest of your mortal life. How could you do that?"

"My mission here was only supposed to last ten years. When the convoy came back to Earth ten years ago, your mother wasn't ready to leave her family yet. To be honest, I wasn't ready to leave either. I'm still not sure I want to return to Novaun." As much as he missed his family, he wasn't sure he could give up his freedom, or the temple, or the feeling that Earth needed him far more than Novaun did.

"Why not?"

A true answer to that question would have taken all night, so Trendaul gave his daughter the shortened version. "I like working in the temple too much."

"There aren't any temples on Novaun?"

"On the contrary. Our houses of worship are large and individually designed, and there are sacred rooms in every one of them to do the higher ordinances. Novaunians do live ordinances, but there is no work to do for the dead. It's all been done."

"No way!"

Trendaul nodded. "It's true."

"If Novaun is so righteous, why hasn't it been taken into heaven like the City of Enoch?"

"It will help you to think of the most misquoted scripture in the Church."

"'Unto whom much is given much is required?'"

Trendaul nodded. "Novaun has been given some interesting blessings that haven't been given to Earth. Obviously Novaunians haven't, as a race, done everything that is required of them yet."

"What interesting blessings?"

"First of all, while still in our premortal state, we didn't have a War in Heaven. We had a Great Debate. While one out of three spirits assigned to be born on Earth were cast out of Heaven with Lucifer, only one out of a hundred spirits assigned to be born on Novaun were cast out with the spirit we call Perdition."

Sara opened her mouth to respond but couldn't; she was completely speechless.

"Adam and Eve were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth. Novaun's first parents were commanded to multiply and replenish the galaxy."

Sara finally found her voice. "That's bizarre!"

Trendaul smiled. "You see, I really am an alien."

"If I really am a Novaunian spirit, doesn't that mean my desire to help colonize another planet is natural and right?"

She was too quick, and Trendaul immediately wished he hadn't told her about Novaun's first parents. Then again, perhaps if he had revealed their Novaunian heritage long ago, he would have satisfied her innate curiosity and she wouldn't have felt a need to seek out Tohmazz Zarr. "Your desire is natural, I'll concede that, but the way you're going about satisfying that desire is wrong."

"In your opinion."

"No. In the Lord's opinion."

"You are not the Lord!"

"No, but the prophet speaks for the Lord, and he has told us all to remain on Earth."

"If he feels so strongly about it, why is he going to organize us into a ward?"

"In my opinion, the Church is organizing the Eden Colony into a ward instead of excommunicating its leaders because it wants to give those who go to Eden a chance to repent. Once Eden is cut off from Zion, repentance will be difficult, if not impossible without the official presence of the Church. I can only assume the Church believes most of the colonists will follow Carroll to Eden even if he is excommunicated."

"That's an interesting theory. And very presumptuous."

Her smugness and stupidity hurt him. How could this be his sweet little Sara? "The bishop won't be Benjamin Carroll or any of his cohorts," Trendaul said wryly, "but will be a man who is a true spiritual giant in every sense of the word. He'll have to be." How the Church hoped to find such a man among the colonists, Trendaul had no idea.

Trendaul stood to leave. "I know my opinion doesn't matter much to you, but there it is." She only wanted to argue, and he was sick of it.

Sara's face blanched and tightened, as if she wanted to scream. She stared at him with wide, glistening eyes, then lowered her head and rested her hand against her forehead.

"Goodnight," Trendaul said coolly as he turned and headed toward the door. Expecting her to respond with a disrespectful remark, he was surprised instead to hear a restrained little gasp. He turned toward her again and asked quietly, "What's the matter?"

She shook her head quickly, refusing to answer.

Trendaul couldn't help but feel irritated. It took every ounce of self-control he possessed to respond calmly, "I'd really like to know."

When Sara lifted her head, Trendaul could see that her eyes were filled with tears. "Your opinion does matter to me."

Sara's reply didn't make sense, but Trendaul knew it was sincere. He gazed at her blankly, trying to understand. She averted her eyes in embarrassment.

Several moments passed before he could reconcile Sara's concern about his opinion with her determination to go to Eden against his wishes. He came to the conclusion that Sara's decision to go to Eden had been final for many months. The arguments since then had done nothing to persuade her to change her mind, but they had chipped away at the security she had always felt in his love.

The decision took hold of him with such immediacy that he didn't have time to feel frightened. "I understand why you want to go to Eden." She looked up at him again cautiously as he continued, "I think you're wrong to go, but if it means anything to you, I believe your spiritual state is more one of confusion than apostasy, at least for now."

Sara's eyebrows shot up. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"I guess that's up to you. I can't in any way approve of what you're doing, but I won't fight you anymore." It would be difficult, but she would leave knowing he loved her.

Sara's face softened in shock. "Seriously?"

"Seriously. I can't speak for your mother, but I will talk to her."

Sara almost smiled. "It won't do any good."

"Perhaps she'll surprise you." Trendaul rested his hand on the doorknob. Before he could open the door to leave, he heard Sara speak again, her tone of voice tentative.

"Dad?"

Trendaul turned toward her one more time. "Yes?"

Her face was pale and her eyes were troubled. "If I weren't going to Eden, and you were going back to Novaun, what would I do?"

"I would hope with my whole soul that you would come with me."

"And if I decided to stay here?"

"I would be heartbroken. And yet . . ." Trendaul shrugged. "I wouldn't worry about you. Not very much, anyway. You would have David and the rest of your mother's family to watch out for you."

Sara picked at her quilt. Many moments passed before she asked, "What would someone like me do on Novaun?"

Hope trickled through Trendaul. She was asking questions. She was interested in Novaun. Maybe there was a chance, after all, that she would give up her Eden quest. "If we were to return to Novaun, our first priority would be education, not just yours but that of your mother and your brothers and sisters as well. We would also, undoubtedly, spend a lot of time with my family. My mother, in fact, (and my aunts, and my sisters!) would probably want to introduce you to lots of people your own age." Trendaul smiled, but not too broadly. He didn't want to anger her again. "There would be young men galore. A virtual feast."

Trendaul hoped Sara would laugh, but she cringed instead, as if the suggestion pained her. "A feast of Novaunian men . . . that sounds absurd."

Trendaul chuckled a little, nodding. "The women in my family wouldn't be able to help themselves, you understand. Most young women there are married by the time they're your age."

Her eyes grew huge. "Really?"

"Your mother and I were married when we were twenty, and we weren't completely typical. We had known each other all our lives and could have easily been married a year or two sooner."

"Why weren't you?"

Trendaul shrugged. "We were idiots."

Sara finally laughed. "You mean you couldn't make up your mind!"

Trendaul nodded, feeling a sense of peace he hadn't felt in months. "We were so comfortable together we didn't realize how much we loved each other."

"You really were an idiot!"

Trendaul nodded again and decided to make his exit quickly, while Sara was in a pleasant mood. "Goodnight, sweetie. I love you."

Sara couldn't stop laughing. "I love you too, Dad."

*

"What happened?" Teri demanded as soon as Trendaul closed their bedroom door behind him.

"She's going to Eden, or at least she's planning to go to Eden. I think there's still a chance she may change her mind, but we have to stop pressuring her. I promised her I wouldn't make any more attempts to persuade her to stay. I told her I would ask you to do the same."

"You can't be serious. How could she still believe she should go after everything you told her?"

"I actually made it worse. She now believes she's following in my footsteps."

"But your coming to Earth wasn't the same at all."

"It was the same, in some ways."

"Not in the important ways."

"No, but she won't see that. Teri, we can't let her leave thinking we hate her. We both have to make a determined effort to be kind to her."

"Be kind to her? I'd like to strangle her!"

"I know it will be difficult, but we have to do everything in our power to make her last week-and-a-half here as pleasant as possible."

"So you're going to let her go. Just like that. Have you lost your--?" Teri stopped herself and regarded him with interest. "So you made this decision. Just like that."

Of course she was as intrigued as Sara had been amused only minutes before. Both Teri and Sara knew that he never made a decision without agonizing over it for weeks or even months. "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time."

"Is it the right thing to do or isn't it?"

"It is."

Teri smiled at him with renewed respect. "Then I'll support you in it."

Teri's trust had always amazed Trendaul. Love surged through him and he drew her into his arms. As she pressed closer, caressing his jaw with her lips, he whispered, "I'm going to regret my decision."

"You always do."

 

Chapter 3: DOUBTS AND DREAMS

While Sara was at work at the health club the next day, her bishop called and told her he wanted to meet with her that evening in his office. She went, of course, as she had often in the past several months, but she knew it would be a waste of both her time and the bishop's. Bishop Eric Lanham was a good man who was trying to do the right thing, but he just didn't understand. The two of them simply weren't on the same planet.

During their first interview, while she was in the process of interviewing with Dr. Carroll and other key people, Bishop Lanham had read one of the prophet's recent talks with her and asked, "Do you believe the prophet speaks for the Lord?"

"Yes, I do. He gives us general advice from the Lord that we must adapt to our individual situations by going to the Lord ourselves."

"Our prophet and apostles have warned us repeatedly not to have contact with the Zarrists. Don't you think it would be safer to follow this counsel than not?"

"Of course the Lord, through the Brethren, counsels this. Zarr claims to be Divine, a direct descendant of the resurrected Christ. Most members simply can't handle that kind of attack on their testimonies. I know Zarr's claims are preposterous. For those of us who are strong enough to handle it, there is no danger."

"Which is why you are now a supporter of Zarr."

"You are mistaken. I don't support Zarr. But I do understand that he poses no danger and am not afraid of him."

"What if he really is dangerous? Then wouldn't your lack of fear be misguided?"

"Absolutely."

"He is dangerous, Sara. The Lord has said it Himself through His prophet. I know this is true. True for me, true for you, true for everyone."

The last time Sara had talked with Bishop Lanham, he had presented her with an absurd situation. "You are engaged and feel very strongly that you should be intimate with your fiancé before you marry him. Would this strong feeling be from God?"

"Of course not!"

"Why not?"

"Because sex without marriage is wrong."

"Even if the Lord reveals to you that, in this case, since you will be getting married anyway, it's all right?"

"The Lord wouldn't tell anyone that."

"Why?"

"Because it's never right."

"How do you know?"

"The scriptures say so. The prophets have said so. Common sense says so."

"Then where does this intense feeling come from?"

"A person who thinks she should be intimate with her fiancé before she marries him would be mistaking her own intense desire for intimacy for the Spirit."

"So what the prophet has said about sex transcends any strong personal desires or drives we may have?"

"Yes. Absolutely."

"But what he says about avoiding contact with the Zarrists and remaining on Earth to build up Zion does not?"

"No, because there is nothing inherently wrong with colonizing space."

"There's nothing inherently wrong with sex either, but the Lord does set some basic boundaries for its practice, just as He has set boundaries for space colonization."

The bishop was comparing space colonization with sex? Now Sara had heard everything! "I can't believe we're having this discussion."

"Do you understand the comparison or don't you?"

"Yes. Yes, of course."

"Isn't it possible, Sara, that you're mistaking your own strong desire to go to Eden as inspiration?"

No. She and Bishop Lanham were not on the same planet. They weren't even in the same solar system!

For some odd reason, both of Sara's parents always insisted on being with her at the stake center when she had an interview with Bishop Lanham. They rarely exchanged more than a few words with the bishop before and after these meetings; they merely sat in the foyer and waited.

This evening was no different. Bishop Lanham, an attorney in his early thirties, stepped into the foyer, dressed in a gray pinstriped suit, his teal tie lying neatly against his starched shirt. He shook hands with Sara and her parents and motioned her into his office.

"I have something interesting to share with you, Sara," he said pleasantly as he closed the door behind them.

Sara moved a chair closer to the desk and sat down. "What? Have you looked into your crystal ball and seen Parkridge's victory against Urbana tomorrow night?" She knew as well as he did that Urbana was supposed to win the football game, but she couldn't resist teasing him.

Bishop Lanham sat down behind his desk. "The Panthers will be Hawk food!"

"I understand the Hawks got a taste of Owl last week."

"The Hawks feasted on Owl last week," the bishop corrected. "Those Westminster boys didn't have a chance. Will Josh be conducting the band tomorrow night?"

"Who else?"

"We'll definitely have to drive over for the game then." Bishop Lanham removed a sheet of paper from his desk and handed it to Sara.

She took it from him in curiosity, seeing immediately that it was a letter from the First Presidency, a longer letter than she had received in the mail the day before. "Is this why you wanted to see me tonight?"

"It is. I've been instructed to read and discuss this letter with you."

"The Eden Colony is getting a ward, you know," Sara announced, feeling vindicated.

"I know, but it doesn't matter. Let's have a prayer, and then I'll read and you follow along."

The letter started by reiterating the prophet's counsel to shun contact with the Zarrists, remain on Earth, and gather to temple communities under the direction of their respective bishops and stake presidents.

As Bishop Lanham read, Sara couldn't help but believe that members of the Church would actually be more independent from the Zarrists on Eden. The colonists were obviously following the prophet's counsel in that regard.

"In Doctrine and Covenants section 101, verses 20 and 22 it says: 'And, behold, there is none other place appointed than that which I have appointed; neither shall there be any other place appointed than that which I have appointed, for the work of the gathering of my saints--

'Behold, it is my will, that all they who call on my name, and worship me according to mine everlasting gospel, should gather together, and stand in holy places;'"

Sara wanted to shout: "But we are gathering, to the most beautiful, holy place we know of!" Didn't the fact that the Lord was organizing a ward there prove it was an official gathering place of some kind?

The bishop went on: "The planet called Eden has not been designated by the Lord as a gathering place and is, therefore, not entitled to the blessings of Zion."

What blessings? Sara wondered. Protection? Surely the Lord wouldn't abandon them. They were, after all, doing the best they could to serve him.

"The Lord proclaims in D&C 1:14: 'And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people;'"

Sara knew, without a doubt, that the colonists had every intention of following the prophet and apostles, or would, as long as the prophet didn't abandon them! Was it possible the prophet had misunderstood Dr. Carroll's vision? Evidently the Lord hadn't, otherwise He wouldn't have directed the prophet to organize the colonists into a ward!

Bishop Lanham concluded reading the letter. "We fear that if you follow through with your plan to establish a colony on Eden, you will be putting yourselves in danger, both physically and spiritually. The Lord needs every one of you to do your part to build Zion here on Earth. We urge you to give up your imprudent quest for a colony on Eden.

"Your brethren of the First Presidency."

Sara set her copy of the letter on Bishop Lanham's desk. The letter, from a certain perspective, did counsel the colonists to remain on Earth. The Spirit, however, had strongly manifested to her that her life's mission lay on Eden. Sara concluded that the Lord had plans for Eden He hadn't yet revealed to the prophet.

Bishop Lanham looked solemnly up from his copy of the letter. "What are you thinking about right now, Sara?"

"I'm wondering why the prophet would counsel so strongly against going to Eden and yet still organize the colony into a ward."

"Let me ask you this. Does the Lord approve of divorce?"

"Sometimes."

"As a general principle."

"No. The New Testament teaches that clearly enough, and we do believe in eternal marriage."

"So you and I both agree the Lord would prefer all married couples to live their lives together in such a way that they would never want to divorce."

Sara nodded thoughtfully.

"If this is the case, why does the Lord allow the Church to recognize divorce?"

"Because we live in such an imperfect world and sometimes divorce, as bad as it is, is better than the alternative."

"It's my opinion that the prophet is organizing the Eden Colony Ward because such an action is better than the alternative."

"Which would be excommunicating Dr. Carroll and allowing the colony to fend for itself?" Sara understood what the bishop was driving at, but going to Eden to create Zion was hardly the same as getting a divorce.

"Would you follow Dr. Carroll to Eden if he were excommunicated?"

Dr. Carroll had put all of his professional and spiritual expertise into planning the Eden community, his whole heart and soul, and for this he would be excommunicated? The mere thought of it enraged Sara. "This is hardly an issue since Dr. Carroll has not been excommunicated!"

"How do you know?"

Sara clenched her fists on the desk in front of her. "The Church does not excommunicate righteous men!"

"It isn't my intention to make you angry, Sara," Bishop Lanham said gently, leaning toward her a little. "But I do want you to understand that the Church might have taken action against Dr. Carroll that you wouldn't know about."

"I can't help it. I am angry." Feeling guilty for being angry with her bishop, a leader she had been taught her whole life to support and respect, Sara forced herself to breathe deeply and relax her muscles, regaining some of her composure. "I'm sorry. I know you're trying to help me, but you just don't understand."

"Perhaps it would help if I explain the Church's policy regarding people who have contact with Tohmazz Zarr."

"Yes," Sara replied, her anger dissipating. "I would like to know the official policy and how it applies to Dr. Carroll and the Eden Colony."

"You already know that few, if any, members who have contact with Zarr and his people are excommunicated or even disfellowshipped, even those who are vocal supporters such as Dr. Carroll and his wife. What you may not know, however, is that as stakes are dissolved, the records of those who have not consecrated their wealth and moved into a temple community are sent to Salt Lake. These people may choose to attend services in a temple community, but they are not official members of a ward and will not have callings or be actively fellowshipped."

What the bishop described made sense. "So a person who doesn't choose to join a temple community basically cuts himself off from the Church, not the other way around."

"Precisely. As far as I know, the only exception to this is when a person is in a situation such as your uncle at the Naval Academy."

Sara nodded that she understood. David had no choice but to live on campus. The Annapolis Stake had been dissolved the previous June, and he and the other LDS midshipmen were assigned to a singles ward in the Silver Spring Stake, the easternmost stake in the Washington, D.C. Temple Community.

"Until our stake is dissolved, I, as a bishop, have been instructed to work with members who are sympathetic to Zarr's cause to persuade them to see their error. One of the first steps we're taking with those who are less active, of course, is encouraging them to attend church. As for those who are active, I'm counseled to release them from leadership positions and deny them temple recommends and impose other types of probation."

"You're suggesting Dr. Carroll may not have a current temple recommend? That's absurd!"

"I don't know what Dr. Carroll's status is. I'm not his bishop or his stake president. That's my point. I don't know and neither do you. Frankly, you can't assume that even a bishop always knows a ward member's worthiness; people have been known to lie to their bishops about all kinds of things."

"Really?" Sara said, stunned. "Why? I mean, what's the point of being a member of the Church if you're going to lie?"

"There are people who are more worried about appearing righteous than being righteous. You cannot assume a person is following a correct course just because he or she acts like an active member of the Church, nor can you assume the same if you haven't heard a public announcement that he or she has been excommunicated. The Church isn't going to excommunicate every person who may preach false doctrine to you or who would lead you down a wrong path. Ultimately, the Lord expects you to be spiritually discerning and take responsibility for recognizing and rejecting false doctrine and those who preach it on your own."

Sara stared absently over Bishop Lanham's shoulder at the picture of Jesus Christ, twisting one of the buttons on her long black skirt. Lying to the bishop was like lying to the Lord. Did active members of the Church really do that? Some must. Bishop Lanham wouldn't tell her something like that if it weren't true.

"Will you promise to do something for me, Sara?" Bishop Lanham said softly.

Sara focused on the bishop again. His gray-blue eyes gazed at her as if he could see right through her. "I don't know. It depends."

Bishop Lanham tapped Sara's copy of the letter they had read. "Will you commit to study this letter and pray about it?"

Sara nodded. She wanted to read the letter again anyway.

"And if after doing that you feel any doubts about going to Eden at all, will you promise to reconsider your decision?"

Again, Sara nodded. That much was self-evident.

"While you're pondering and praying about this letter, will you promise not to have contact with Dr. Carroll or any other member of the Eden Colony?"

Sara shook her head. "I don't think I can do that."

"Then can you commit to keep yourself from communicating with Dr. Carroll and all other members of the Eden Colony until next Tuesday?"

Sara hesitated. She and her three Eden Internet friends from the Baltimore-Washington area had dinner at Don Pablo's in Columbia every Saturday night, and Dr. Carroll usually joined them. She loved those dinners with her friends and didn't want to miss the one on Saturday.

"This is important, Sara. I believe you need time to think alone."

Finally Sara nodded. She could do that much for the bishop.

"Good," the bishop said, sounding relieved. "I'd like to meet with you again next Tuesday evening."

*

Sometimes Sara talked to her parents about her meetings on the drive back to Parkridge from Frederick, and sometimes she didn't. That evening she said nothing, preferring to think, and they didn't press her.

The bishop had received the letter they had read, but it had been addressed to her personally. This was detailed counsel directed specifically to her. Could it be that she really was wrong to go to Eden? That she was interpreting her own desires as the Spirit? Was it possible Dr. Carroll had lost his temple recommend or was on some other sort of probation? She didn't like the doubts this particular interview with her bishop had put into her mind.

When Sara and her parents returned home, Sara bade them good night and went to bed. Once in her room, Sara kicked off her shoes, stepped out of her skirt, and sat on her bed, crossing her legs in front of her and leaning her elbows into the sides of her knees. Her mind churned in confusion. She read the letter again and again, looking up the scriptures it referred to and reading entire chapters of the Doctrine and Covenants. Heavenly Father, I just want to have a successful life and do what is right for me, and I can't help but feel Dr. Carroll's Equality of Zion is the perfect answer. Please tell me what to do!

The phone rang and Sara jumped. She grabbed the phone before it could wake anyone up and put it to her ear. "Tony, I can't talk to you."

"You don't have to talk. Just listen."

"I can't even listen. I'll talk to you in a few days. I made a promise to my bishop."

"I talked to my bishop tonight too. That's the problem. I'm having second thoughts."

"Tony, I promised!" She hung up and dropped the phone on her bed, jumping up to put on her shorts and Royals shirt. Thinking about Tony Wright made her wish she hadn't made that promise to the bishop. Tony was as confused as she was, and she had hung up on him. Still, what else could she have done?

Deciding she needed to talk to Tony as much as he seemed to need to talk to her, she picked up the phone again and punched in the number for information. Within a minute, she had Bishop Lanham's number and was punching it frantically into the phone. His wife answered.

"Uh . . ." Sara said, feeling ridiculous, "I need--I mean, may I speak with the bishop? This is Sara. Sara Alexander." Sara winced. How weak! Why in the galaxy was she doing this? She was nothing more than a silly girl who couldn't keep a promise for more than two hours, and the poor man needed to sleep.

Eventually Sara heard Bishop Lanham's voice in her ear. "What can I do for you, Sara?"

"One of my Eden friends called. Apparently he's been talking to his bishop also and is now having second thoughts. He wanted to talk about it, but I hung up on him. I want to talk to him too, but, you know, I promised."

"And you want me to give you permission to call him back." Bishop Lanham sounded amused, in a nice way, and Sara felt more ridiculous than ever.

"I guess. Yes. It was rude of me to hang up on him and he's as confused as I am, so certainly there couldn't be any harm in talking to him."

"Who is this friend of yours?"

"Tony Wright. He's from Gaithersburg, and his family is now in Bethesda. I met him in Dr. Carroll's chat room online several months ago. Tony and I and the other two students from this area, Jordan Tressler and Marc McCabe, have dinner together in Columbia every Saturday evening."

"Do you want to call Jordan and Marc also?"

"No, actually I don't."

"If you talk to Tony tonight, will you encourage him to stay on Earth or go to Eden?"

"Neither. We're both confused. I think we would talk about our confusion."

"And you feel such a discussion would be productive?"

Sara leaned her head into her hand and rubbed her temples with her thumb and middle two fingers. "No. You're right. Such a discussion would just muddle things more."

"Why don't you e‑mail Tony and apologize for hanging up on him. Tell him you need time alone to think and that you'll get back to him in a few days."

Sara nodded, even though she knew the bishop couldn't see her. "I could do that."

"Perhaps both of you will decide, on your own, to stay home. After the Eden transport leaves Earth, you can take him to a Navy football game."

Sara laughed a little, releasing her head and looking up at the ceiling. "He's a die-hard University of Maryland fan. I'm not sure he would want to go see the Midshipmen when he could watch or listen to the Terps."

"He's a student at Maryland, then?"

"Was. He finished his undergraduate degree last spring."

"I think even a die-hard Maryland fan would get a thrill seeing David Pierce lead the Brigade of Midshipmen onto the field."

"He probably would," Sara conceded, "if he knew David."

"You haven't introduced this good friend of yours to David?"

The bishop's tone carried no hint of reprimand, but Sara felt reprimanded all the same. "No," she said quietly. "I haven't introduced any of my Eden friends to my family. And I haven't told my family about my Eden friends."

"Perhaps you should."

"Perhaps I will." Sara felt guilty. Her parents knew she spent time online talking to Dr. Carroll and the other people who were going to Eden, but they didn't approve. They so disapproved, in fact, that they had blocked Dr. Carroll's web site, along with all others connected with the Zarrists, on their own computer network. The only way around their stupid ban was to pay for her own wireless Internet service. Her parents didn't like the fact she kept in contact with the other Eden colonists this way, but there wasn't much they could do about it short of kicking her out of the house. "Thank you, Bishop. I'm sorry to bother you."

"Read D&C section 9 before you go to bed tonight, will you, Sara?"

"Well, why not?" Sara replied, feeling tense and mentally exhausted. What was one more section?

"That's what you get for calling me after nine o'clock," the bishop teased.

Sara couldn't help but chuckle, releasing some of the tension she felt. "Thanks. Good night."

Sara hung up and read section 9, lingering over verses 8 and 9: But behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong . . .

What was the bishop trying to tell her? That her present confusion was "a stupor of thought?" Perhaps. Then again, how could it be? For months she had known she should go to Eden, known it because the burning in her bosom told her so. Then again, her father would say a mind bond was compelling her, not the Spirit, but he didn't really know. She was his daughter, after all, intellectually and spiritually strong enough to resist such a bond, even if Tohmazz Zarr had attempted it, which she had a difficult time believing.

What was she supposed to do? The Spirit told her to go to Eden, and the prophet told her not to go. How was she supposed to reconcile these conflicting commands? Was her bishop right? Was this bewilderment she felt a "stupor of thought?" A sign that it really was wrong to go to Eden after all?

Sara forced herself to write a quick e‑mail to Tony. She really did wish she could introduce Tony and her other Eden friends to her family. It wasn't right that her Eden life and her family life were separate. Why did her parents have to be so dense?

And why did David? Her father had promised he wouldn't fight her decision to go to Eden anymore, but David hadn't and wouldn't. They argued about it every time she saw him, and he was formidable. Now and then she believed life would be easier if she could just slip away and not see David again at all, but she couldn't very well throw away her best friend in the world. She would see him again before she left if she had to take a Sunday afternoon and drive to Annapolis herself.

While Sara was online, she couldn't resist popping into Dr. Carroll's forbidden web site. She wouldn't chat with anyone, of course, but she could look at the family pictures for a few teeny tiny minutes. Her mind was too tired to work anymore and needed time to relax and dream.

The first pictures to greet Sara were recent portraits of Dr. Carroll and his wife. Dr. Carroll's sky-blue eyes exuded intelligence, spirituality, and friendliness, the smoothness of his skin, the fullness of his golden blond hair, and dimple in his right cheek displaying youthfulness, despite his age, which was forty-six. Sister Thomassen Carroll smiled in a self-assured way, her pale-blond hair cut in a pageboy with bangs, her warm pink blouse both business-like and feminine.

Below these portraits was a picture of them with their four children, all with various shades of blond hair and lush golden lashes. The Carrolls held themselves with elegance in their classic clothing. They were a family beautiful enough to grace the pages of the Ensign or an advertisement for Deseret Book.

Sara brought up the wedding picture of Dr. Carroll and his wife in front of the Oakland Temple. Dr. Carroll looked so much like Cameron in the wedding picture that she had to catch her breath every time she looked at it. His wife's wedding dress glittered in the sun, her hair long and gently curled under a wreath of white roses. There were childhood pictures of Cameron, Ashley, Brandon, and Adam and photographs of the family's gorgeous estate home in Greenwood, Maryland.

Adam and Brandon posed with their baseball teams. Brandon proudly stood with his parents at his Eagle court of honor. Ashley smiled for her senior picture, her eyes green like her mother's and her chin bearing a cleft like her father's. Her hair, like her mother's, was pale blond and cut in a pageboy. Her style, however, was flatter than her mother's, parted on the side, and angled at the jaw. Ashley had been the valedictorian of her high school graduating class and student body president. She had excelled in debate, drama, and choir, and played both the piano and the flute. Sara sometimes thought Ashley and Josh should have been friends. They were practically the same age and were interested in so many of the same things.

Sara casually moved from Ashley's photos and brief biography to Cameron's, forcing herself to maintain dignified restraint even in her solitude. There was a picture of him with his parents at his Eagle court of honor and one of him in a running suit with dozens of medals hanging from his extended arms and more hanging from his neck. There were prom and homecoming pictures, all with beautiful girls Sara recognized from his stake, and there was a photograph of him with his parents in front of the Columbia stake center, taken the day of his missionary farewell.

She examined the farewell picture more closely than she had the others, as she always did. It was odd. In it, Cameron wore the strangest expression she had ever seen on his face. His mouth curved into the tiniest of smiles, as if he didn't want to smile at all, and his eyes were feverish. He looked trapped. She had seen freedom and euphoria often enough on his face during his sprints that she thought she should be able to recognize the opposite. There was no doubt about it. In the farewell picture he looked caged and haunted, as if he didn't want to go on a mission at all.

Sara clicked on the hyperlink to a copy of one of the many e-mails Cameron had sent to his family from China. Since Cameron had been out well over a year and a half, there were many e-mails, all passionate about the gospel and radiating love for the Chinese people. Sometimes he became discouraged, but basically he was successful in what he was doing and happy.

Sara didn't think the Church would include a young man who was ambivalent about being on a mission in the first group to open up a country. Nor did she think such a young man would be called to be a branch president, with the responsibility of not only directing the branch, but teaching and baptizing converts and then arranging for them to travel to the temple community in Beijing. She believed, in fact, that Cameron was an exceptional missionary.

Not wanting to be disturbed by the farewell photo again, Sara went to Cameron's senior portrait, finally giving herself permission to ogle him. Those exquisite aqua eyes gazed back at her candidly from the photograph in a way they never had in person.

"Why couldn't you have looked my way once, Cameron Carroll?" Sara softly begged the portrait on the screen. "Just once?" Sara sometimes liked to think he was a snob, but she knew he wasn't. In six years, she had never detected a speck of haughtiness in him. She had been forced to accept the bitter fact that there simply wasn't anything about her that captured his interest.

Sara forced her eyes away from Cameron's and thought about Tony Wright, a guy she liked as well as any person she had ever known and who was quite good-looking to boot. Though she and Tony had a natural rapport and communicated often online and on the phone, he had never asked her out and she had never asked him. A part of Sara thought it was because Tony didn't feel any more comfortable introducing her to his family than she felt introducing him to hers. A deeper part of her, though, believed it was because they both intuitively knew they could never be more than friends.

Why that was, Sara didn't know. Perhaps Tony wasn't interested in her in a romantic way. Perhaps, on the other hand, he sensed her heart belonged to someone else and didn't want to get too close. If that was the case, a little encouragement from her could change things between them drastically. For the first time, Sara wondered whether her passion for Cameron was spoiling the possibility of a real love relationship.

Sara hadn't seen Cameron in two years and wouldn't see him again for another two. Tony was available now, a genuine flesh and blood guy, not a dream man. Cameron reminded Sara of candlelight, slow dancing, cotton and silk, BMWs, glamorous women, and classical music. Tony reminded her of campfires, bear hugs, denim and flannel, trucks, dogs (no, big dogs), and classic rock. She thought Tony was probably more her type, so why did she keep yearning for Cameron?

Sara's eyes found Cameron's again. Who was she fooling? She couldn't get Cameron out of her mind because he was perfect. Not because of the candlelight and silk, but because he laughed easily and smiled with his eyes. Because he achieved greatness while remaining a good sport. Because he was compassionate and full of faith and able to express his deepest convictions and emotions in a way that felt comfortable to her. Because he had the body of an Olympian and the countenance of an angel.

Sara shut down her laptop. No guy could be that perfect. There had to be something wrong with him. It was his farewell photo, after all, which was the only blemish in an otherwise flawless photo display. Cameron was probably the family lunatic.

Sara had mustered the nerve to ask Dr. Carroll how Cameron was doing only once, the first time they had met, and only because Dr. Carroll had recognized her from the track meets. One of these days she would work up the nerve to ask about him again and would in time, perhaps, learn something deliciously ridiculous about him. She kept hoping Dr. Carroll would say something about him without encouragement from her, anything at all, but he never did.

As Sara set her laptop on her desk and picked up her phone to plug it in and charge, the phone rang. Seeing that it was Dr. Carroll, she tried to ignore it. With every second that passed, however, her discomfort increased until she could do nothing but answer.

Sara's fingers trembled as they combed her long dark locks off of her forehead. She didn't know whether to panic or be excited. "Yes?" she replied as calmly as she could.

"This is Ben Carroll. I missed you in the chat room this evening. Are you all right?"

 

Chapter 4: DR. CARROLL'S LITTLE PANTHER

Hearing Dr. Carroll's voice from the phone always awed Sara. He was so in tune with the Spirit that he not only sensed her agitation but also took time to call her. How could this man possibly be an apostate? "I feel a little beat up emotionally, but otherwise I'm fine. Thanks for your concern."

"Of course I'm concerned, Sara. You never miss an evening in the chat room. What's wrong?"

"I spent the evening with my bishop." Sara couldn't help but feel guilty. She might be able to hang up on Tony, but she couldn't hang up on Dr. Carroll. She would just have to cut the conversation short somehow. "I promised him I wouldn't communicate with you or the other colonists until after our next interview, which is Tuesday."

"Why did you make a promise like that?" He sounded surprised.

"I don't know. He caught me off guard, I guess."

"It isn't like my Little Panther to be so acquiescent."

"No, I don't suppose it is." Hearing the nickname "Little Panther" always made Sara smile because only a tall man like Dr. Carroll would think she was little. She still couldn't believe that a man as extraordinary as Dr. Carroll remembered her from high school. When, at their first meeting, she had expressed astonishment at his memory, he had replied, amused, "How could I forget the black-haired girl in black spandex who sprinted with the liveliness and power of a panther?" Sometimes he called her Little Cougar in honor of her former position on the BYU track team, but usually it was Little Panther.

"Your parents must be pleased."

"My parents don't know unless the bishop told them, and I don't think he would do that." Sara felt so demoralized about being on such poor terms with her parents that she couldn't bring herself to talk about the situation with anyone but Dr. Carroll and her four Don Pablo's friends. Tony's situation with his family was actually worse than hers. "The good news is, my father did promise me last night he wouldn't try to talk me out of going to Eden anymore."

"That's wonderful!"

"That's ironic, you mean. He promises, and the next day, I'm mixed up. It's that letter the bishop read. He told me to read section 9. I think he's trying to tell me that this confusion I'm feeling is a 'stupor of thought' and is the Lord's way of telling me I shouldn't go to Eden."

"When you talk to your bishop again, tell him that your 'stupor of thought' was the Lord's way of telling you that remaining on Earth is the wrong thing to do."

Dr. Carroll's logic dazzled Sara. Perhaps he was right! She hadn't been confused about a thing until she had read that letter. "Maybe I will. Thanks. You know, I really must hang up. I promised!"

"I'm sorry, Sara. I thought you wanted to talk to me."

"I always love talking to you, but tonight won't work. I have to go. 'Bye!"

Sara hung up and turned off the light, collapsing into bed. Her body ached and she was too tired to think, but her mind kept working anyway. The conversations with her bishop played over and over in her head, along with the words of the letter, the counsel of scriptures she had read that evening, and her conversation with Dr. Carroll. She wanted to follow the prophet and take counsel from her bishop, but she kept coming back to the fact that she hadn't felt a second of doubt about going to Eden before reading the letter.

Sara drifted to sleep, eventually finding herself in the blocks on the track of Parkridge High School, wearing an ankle-length black spandex bodysuit. Her hair hung loosely around her face. Unlike the other girls, she never wore her hair back when she ran. When her hair was free, so was she. The gun fired and she sprinted away. Her start was excellent, and the air was still. She was a headwind barreling down the track, leveling her competition. She was gone! She was outta there!

Before Sara had run too many meters, she heard frantic cries from all around her, her coaches, her teammates, and her parents. "You're going the wrong way, Sara! Turn around now! Get back in the race! You're going the wrong way!"

Sara glanced around in confusion, slowing a little. Certainly she hadn't been stupid enough to run away from the race! She passed the high jumpers and the long jumpers and saw Dr. Carroll sprinting down the track several meters in front of her, wearing Gladiator-red. He turned slightly to look at her, motioning her to follow him. "Come on, Little Panther! This is a better way! You can do it! Look! You've left your competition far behind!" Soothed by the voice in front of her, Sara sprinted harder to catch up with it, the voices of her coaches, teammates and parents fading away.

Sara immediately woke up. She wasn't sprinting, but her heart was. She felt for the security of the denim quilt, her fingers finding the seams and knots of yarn. She always dreamed of high school after evenings of ogling Cameron's photos and reading his e-mails. Sara forced herself to breathe deeply in an effort to relax, feeling more confused than ever.

*

Sara left her phone off for the next five days and didn't boot up her computer at all, and as much as it tortured her, she didn't go to dinner Saturday evening at Don Pablo's. When she arrived at the stake center to meet with her bishop Tuesday evening, she was relieved that she could tell him she had kept her commitment to keep from communicating with Dr. Carroll and her other Eden friends.

Bishop Lanham invited Sara into his office. They chatted for a few minutes about the game, throwing around comments such as: "The Hawks killed the Panthers!" and "The Hawks ran up the score!" and "The Panthers need to get a defense!" and "The Hawks need to get a conscience!"

Eventually Bishop Lanham brought the discussion to the matter at hand. "Have you come to any new conclusions since we last met?"

"No, actually I haven't. I appreciate your concern, but I know more strongly than ever that the Lord wants me to go to Eden."

Surprise came over Bishop Lanham's face, followed by disappointment. "You've been talking to Dr. Carroll."

Sara knew she had done nothing wrong, that she had kept her commitment, but she felt guilty all the same. "No. I mean yes. I mean, I didn't mean to!"

"I don't understand." He watched her carefully from the other side of the desk, his eyes still disappointed, as if he had lost respect for her.

"After I talked to you Thursday night, I e‑mailed Tony as you suggested. I went online for a while after that, but I didn't go into Dr. Carroll's chat room, as I usually do. Dr. Carroll noticed I wasn't there and was concerned, so he called me. That's the only time I talked to him. I haven't had the phone or the computer on since!"

The bishop frowned. "You didn't think it was odd that he would call you? Or has he called you before?"

"He calls me every now and then, usually when I have something on my mind."

"Every now and then? How often is that?"

"Every couple of weeks, I guess. It's hard to say. It always surprises me."

"When he calls, how long do you talk?"

Sara shrugged. "It depends. The other night I only talked to him for a few minutes. Usually, though, it's longer than that."

"Ten minutes? Thirty minutes? An hour?"

"I don't think we've ever talked longer than an hour and a half."

"An hour and a half? That's a long time."

"Not really. He's a psychologist, remember?"

"Do the two of you e‑mail back and forth?"

Sara nodded. "Every few days."

"What do you talk about?"

"Oh, I don't know. The gospel. Books. Current events. His plans for the colony--everything. He has an amazing mind."

"What did he say the other night, Sara?"

Sara told him everything. "He was right, you know. I didn't feel one second of doubt about going to Eden before last Thursday evening, and I don't feel any doubt about it now. Obviously the decision to remain home was causing my 'stupor of thought.'"

"Why does he call you 'Little Panther'?"

"Because he says I run like a panther, which, as you know, is Parkridge's mascot."

"He saw you run when you were in high school?"

Sara felt her cheeks grow warm. "His son . . . Cameron . . . is my age. He ran track in high school too. Dr. Carroll, amazingly enough, remembers me from the meets."

Bishop Lanham smiled. "How many state championships did you win?"

"Five." She would have had six had she not blown it on the 400 her junior year. Cameron was better at the 400 than she was and had won it both his junior and senior years, along with the 100 and 200, making a total of six state titles for him.

"And you think it's strange that Dr. Carroll would remember you?"

"Well, when you put it that way, perhaps not."

"The fact that he remembered you doesn't disturb me. That he would spend so much time with you on the phone and online and give you a provocative pet name like 'Little Panther' disturbs me a great deal."

"He calls me Little Panther, and the guys call me Bubble Babe. So?"

"Bubble Babe?"

"Because I'm careful about what I eat and bring my own bottled water to the restaurant, like someone who lives in a bubble, isolated from the environment. Even Dr. Carroll was astounded when I told them I hadn't eaten any kind of restaurant food until I was seventeen."

The bishop leaned back in his chair and waved his hands, smiling. He knew her family too well. "All right, all right, I get it." His expression of amusement suddenly changed to one of alarm. "Dr. Carroll has dinner with you and your friends in Columbia?"

"Usually. Not always."

"Does he bring his family?"

"No. We told him he should--after all, he recommended Don Pablo's to us because it's his kids' favorite restaurant--but he says his wife doesn't want to intrude on our little gathering. I guess she feels it would make it more of a family event than a casual gathering of students."

"How long has this been going on?"

"Since early last summer." Sara counted to herself. "That would be four months, maybe five."

"And Sister Carroll has never come to one of these dinners with her husband?"

"No, not that I can remember."

"Never?"

"No, never."

"Isn't she one of the colony's leaders? And your mentor?"

Sara nodded.

"And it doesn't strike you as strange that she would never be there?"

Sara shifted her position and folded her arms, feeling annoyed. "Why are you asking me all of these questions?"

"Because your relationship with Dr. Carroll seems overly familiar, and that disturbs me."

Sara stiffened. "What are you driving at?"

The bishop leaned toward Sara, his face grave. "I have an uneasy feeling about this man, Sara. He's calling and e‑mailing you regularly and spending every Saturday evening with you and your friends--without his wife. Any one of those things by itself might not bother me, but all of them together add up to a lot of time he's spending with you instead of his family."

Sara gasped. "You're suggesting Dr. Carroll's behavior toward me has been inappropriate?"

Bishop Lanham nodded. "My gut feeling is that he's attracted to you and can't resist pursuing it."

How could the bishop suggest such a thing? How could he even think it? "You don't understand anything! He treats me like a daughter! That's what the Eden Colony is all about! Government leaders are concerned about every individual, and every individual has equal access to government leaders!"

"How many students are in the Eden colony, Sara?"

Sara drummed her fingers on her thigh. "A hundred."

"And you think each one of them is getting that kind of personal attention from Dr. Carroll?"

Now that the bishop mentioned it, Sara had to admit to herself that she had never thought about the time she was spending with Dr. Carroll in those terms. "Well, he chats with all of us online, and others would come to dinner with us on Saturday night if they lived in the area. As for phone calls and e‑mails, I have no idea."

"Well, I do.  He's only one man and a very busy one right now while he's working to get his colony organized. He simply doesn't have time to nurture every one of his students the way he's nurturing you."

"There's no way you can know that."

"Wake up, Sara! He is dangerous to you and in a very personal way."

"Since when does a classy, married, former bishop pursue a tomboy who is young enough to be his daughter? You're deranged!"

"You are no tomboy, Sara. You are a beautiful, intense woman capable of attracting all kinds of men, even classy, married, former bishops. Get rid of your phone, completely rid of it, and hand your computer over to your parents until the Eden transport leaves Earth. And if Dr. Carroll tries to see you personally in the next week, use that amazing talent of yours and run from him!"

Bishop Lanham had a lot of nerve! How dare he! Sara sprang out of her chair and leaned over the desk. "What are you, a bishop or a dictator?"

Bishop Lanham didn't flinch. "Fidel Castro, at your service."

What he suggested about Dr. Carroll was absurd, a thought that refused to do so much as plant itself in Sara's mind, much less grow there in any kind of serious way, but he was the bishop. Remorse overwhelmed Sara. She dropped back into her chair. "I'm sorry I yelled at you. I should repent."

"In sackcloth and ashes." Sara knew he meant it light-heartedly, but he didn't smile. "I'm worried about you, Sara, a hundred times more than I was when you walked in here this evening. Please stay home and take the scholarship at the University of Maryland."

Sara stroked the wood armrest on her chair, staring at one of the red flowers in her pink knit dress. "You seem sure my family won't move to Kansas City."

"Do you think they will?"

Sara shook her head.

The bishop grimaced a little in empathy. "I know Maryland isn't BYU, but I think you'll have a good experience there."

No one had put it to her quite that way before, and it meant a lot coming from Bishop Lanham, who was a BYU graduate himself. He understood. She thought her mother should understand too, but if she did, she had never said it. "No, it isn't BYU," Sara said under her breath.

"Neither is Eden."

Sara rested her forehead on her hand, unable to say anything for several moments. She felt as if she were being swallowed by darkness. Whether it was confusion, anxiety, or a hidden fear, she didn't know. Finally she looked up at the bishop again and forced herself to smile. "You aren't going to encourage me to go on a mission?" He hadn’t done so before, which suggested he knew about Novaun. Sara hoped he did.

The bishop's dark brown eyebrows come together in a queer way. "No." he said carefully. "Your father would never forgive me."

So he did know, and not only did he know, he believed her father would return to Novaun in the near future and therefore wouldn't want her to commit herself to a mission. "My father says most Novaunian women my age are already married," Sara said slowly, painfully.

Bishop Lanham smiled a little. "Perhaps that means Novaunian men are exceptional and irresistible."

It sounded like a joke, and Sara thought she should laugh, but she felt her jaw tremble and her eyes burn instead. She stared at the desk. "I can't imagine myself being married to a Novaunian man." She couldn't help but think of Cameron Carroll and knew she would never see him again if she went to Novaun with her father. He would slip away from her forever and never be anything more than a memory, a dream.

The bishop's voice was gentle and earnest. "You could do no better, Sara, than to marry a man like your father."

Sara felt the truth of Bishop Lanham's words and nodded. Cameron had never been anything more than a girlish fantasy. It was time she got over this silly obsession for good.

"I think if you would give your father a chance, he would tell you things about Novaun that would diminish your fears."

"You're probably right," Sara conceded, meeting the bishop's gaze again, feeling almost composed.

Bishop Lanham arose from his chair. "Why don't you ask him about it right now? You'll have plenty of time to talk on the drive home."

Sara decided to do as Bishop Lanham advised. As she slid into the backseat of the car and strapped herself in, she said breezily, "Dad, I was wondering if you could tell me something about Novaunian men."

Both of her parents turned and looked at her in surprise. After a moment, her mother laughed and her father grinned, as pleased as Sara had seen him in a long time. What followed were dozens of funny stories about his brothers, his uncles, and his friends from Shalaun. Sara and her mother were still in hysterics when they walked through the front door of their home, and the other kids were jealous that they had missed out on all the fun.

When Sara finally went to her room, she sat on her bed and studied her laptop. She moved to open it several times, but found she couldn't. Eventually she decided that she had nothing to lose by taking the bishop's advice. She would have no contact with her Eden friends for the rest of the week, and if on Sunday, she still felt as strongly about going to Eden as she always had, she would be assured it really was the Lord's will. She would go to the meeting to sustain her new bishop and renew her ties with her Eden friends and nothing would be lost but a few pleasant hours in the chat room and those Don Pablo's fajitas she so enjoyed.

Sara picked up her laptop and her phone and took them down the hall to her parents' bedroom. When her mother answered the door, Sara handed the items to her, then turned to go back to her own room, not saying a word.

*

The next morning, Sara felt too nervous to eat. All of her younger brothers and sisters had left for school already except three-year-old Zack, who was playing a game on the computer. She squished her cereal with her spoon, wishing she had been able to talk to her mother more over the past months during this quiet morning time.

A basket of clean towels, topped with several boxes of macaroni and cheese, slid through the basement door into the kitchen. After Sara's mother emerged through the door, Sara blurted out before she could change her mind, "What do you think about going to Novaun, Mom?"

Her mother regarded her in surprise, her features softening in pleasure. She immediately sat down at the old cherry table across from Sara, her eyebrows rising. "You do plan to go to work today, don't you?"

Sara smiled and pushed the bowl of cereal aside. "This can't be that hard. Do you like the idea of going to Novaun or don't you?"

"Yes I do. Very much. I've known all along, of course, that I would probably be returning to Novaun with your father at some point in time."

"It seems there is no decision then. Nothing to feel anxious or confused about at all."

"You have to understand, Sara, the prospect of going to Novaun has always been a future event, always hazy. When I try to visualize our leaving Earth, thoughts of my family and how I will miss them so overwhelm me that I don't think I'll be able to leave at all. Then it occurs to me that your father hasn't seen his family in ten, fifteen, and now twenty years, and I hurt for him more than for myself, and then I think that we must go to Novaun. Then in the middle of all this, I realize that your father loves his life here on Earth as much as he misses his family and that he has no idea whether or not he even wants to go back. He's very concerned about my happiness and doesn't know whether he should take me from my family. Not only that, but his skills are so needed at the temple."

Sara thought she understood. "I don't suppose there are many people who can to do the ordinances in any language and act as a translator when people from all parts of the world come to have their work done."

"No, there aren't. Sometimes I wonder whether we'll leave at all. I need your father to take a strong stand one way or another, and he won't do it." Her mother tossed her hands into the air. "So here I sit in limbo, anxious and confused."

"Sometimes I think Dad can't make a decision to save his life!"

Her mother moaned and gripped her temples with her hands, her eyes seeming to ignite. "Oh, he makes excellent decisions when someone holds a gun to his head! At that point, though, I'm usually the one who wants to kill him! He's going to make me crazy, you know that!"

"Can't you just make the decision for him?"

Her mother leaned on an arm. "In this case, no. His duty to Novaun is something that transcends the desires of either one of us. It's not something I can dictate to him or diminish. In the end, whether we leave or not is a decision only he can make."

"Does Dad have to go back to Novaun?"

Her mother sat up straight and rested her hands on the light blue vinyl tablecloth. "That isn't clear. He has seven years of information he needs to send to Novaun, but whether Novaunian Fleet will actually order him back we won't know until someone comes for him."

"Novaunian Fleet? Is that a space navy? Dad's a military man?"

Her mother nodded. "Through and through. Both his family and your mother's have a long tradition in the Fleet."

Sara looked away, attempting to digest this new information. Just when she was on the verge of deciding it was the most bizarre, incongruent thing she had ever heard, a hot, humid afternoon fifteen years before poured into her memory. She and David were chasing each other around a large cemetery in Gettysburg. Not many minutes passed before she felt her father's hand grip her arm.

She glanced to her right and saw that his other hand was holding David. "You will not run here," her father said solemnly. "Or speak in loud voices. The men buried under your feet died in defense of their homes and our freedom. This is sacred ground."

When he let go of them, David looked around the cemetery, his playful expression softening into one of reverence. He straightened and looked up at her father, nodding once. "I understand."

Sara remembered how, several years later, her father had stood as if paralyzed at the end of the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, staring at all of those names of soldiers who had died in the war, tears streaming down his face. Both she and David had been shocked. "I've never seen your father cry before, Sara," David had whispered, deeply disturbed. Her father had reacted in a similar way at Antietam, site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, and when they had gone to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, he had been so horrified and full of grief that they had had to leave before they saw much of the museum at all.

Sara met her mother's eyes again, nodding thoughtfully. "I can see it. Did Dad ever go back to the Holocaust Museum?"

"Yes," she whispered. "He spent several days there alone. It was one of the most difficult things he's ever had to do, but he had to see it. Novaunian Fleet needs to know the brutality our race is capable of. He was grateful your mother had never seen it."

So was Sara, and she didn't know why. "I wonder if all Novaunian women are so delicate."

Her mother smiled. "All you have to do is look in the mirror, Sara, to see a Novaunian woman. You were raised here, so you're not as sensitive to the ugliness and violence around you as your mother was, but in many other ways, you are very much like her."

"You speak as if you knew her."

"I do know her, in a way. Your father has telepathically shown me many of his memories of her."

"That didn't make you . . . uncomfortable?"

"You mean jealous?"

Sara nodded.

"Not at all. I knew from the beginning I was getting involved with a man who had been married before. To be honest, had your father not deeply loved your mother, I wouldn't have married him. Because he loved your mother so much and had treated her so well, I knew he would do the same for me."

"That's romantic logic I've never heard before," Sara said, moved by her mother's willingness to confide in her. "But it feels true."

"It is true. Your father may make me crazy sometimes, but he's never disappointed me in the things that matter most."

For the first time in six years, Sara wanted to tell her mother about Cameron and all of the strange feelings she was having. Maybe if she vocalized her predicament, it would disappear.

Trembling, Sara put her fingers to her forehead, staring at the table. "This is going to sound stupid . . ." She slid her fingers into her hair, pulling it. "All my life . . . well, since eighth grade anyway . . . I . . . I've been in . . . love . . . with someone."

Feeling tears flood into her eyes and blood into her cheeks, she gasped and dropped her head to her arms, which were folded on the table. Her mother laid her hand on her shoulder with a gentleness that was almost tentative, as if she weren't sure Sara would want her to touch her. That she would wonder such a thing made Sara feel ashamed, and she lost what little control she had left. The tears flowed and her shoulders shook, and six years' worth of pain erupted. "I've never . . . told anyone . . . because . . . he's never . . . looked . . . at me twice . . . but . . . but . . . I don't want to leave him . . ."

When Sara's sobs faded, she felt lighter than she had in a long time. She jumped out of her chair and went to get tissues from the box on the kitchen counter. After wiping her eyes and blowing her nose, she turned to her mother, who was walking toward her, her face also wet with tears. Sara handed her a tissue. "I feel so silly. I'm too old to have a crush. I haven't even seen him in two years. Tell me I'm being stupid."

Her mother shook her head, pressing the tissue to her cheeks. "I don't know what to tell you, Sara."

Sara moved toward the drawer where the dishcloths were kept. "Don't you want to know who it is?"

Her mother leaned against the butcher-block island. "Is he someone I know?"

Sara soaked the dishcloth with cold water and laid it against her eyelids and cheeks. "No . . . I mean yes . . . I mean, sort of."

"Well?"

Sara draped the dishcloth over the faucet and turned to her mother. "Cameron Carroll." She held out her hands. "There! That wasn't so hard."

Her mother was frowning. Sara wasn't sure telling her about Cameron had been a good idea. She went to the refrigerator to get several bottles of water to take with her to work, wondering what her mother would say and wondering even more what she would say in response.

As Sara opened the fruit drawer, her mother said, "Cameron's exceptional, Sara. There's no doubt about it. But so are you. I don't believe--not for a moment--that he never gave you a second look."

Sara closed the fridge door, apple in hand, and looked at her mother in surprise. She wasn't just saying words she thought a mother should say. She was serious. Sara relaxed, feeling liberated. "Thank you."

*

Sara arrived at work in a thoughtful mood and left the same way late that afternoon. She couldn't get the things her parents had told her out of her mind. She knew her destiny lay in space. Could it be that Novaun was her destination, not Eden at all? Underlying all of her thoughts were emotions of gratitude to her mother for believing she was exceptional enough to draw a second look from a guy like Cameron Carroll.

Sara took her car keys out of an outside pocket of her backpack and threw the pack over her shoulder. She twirled the keys on her finger and headed to her car, a pathetic eighteen-year-old red Camaro that even her brother didn't want to drive. As she jogged, someone stepped in front of her.

Startled, Sara looked up. Dr. Carroll stood there, wearing a golden brown suede sports jacket over a bright aqua polo shirt. The shirt set off his eyes and made them appear aqua. He looked so much like Cameron at the moment that Sara's hands began to sweat and her pulse picked up speed.

Dr. Carroll smiled in a way that suggested he was pleased he had surprised her. "Don't I get a hello?"

Sara could feel herself smiling, no, beaming like an idiot. She had never seen this man when he didn't make her feel both outclassed and exhilarated. "Hi! What in the galaxy are you doing here?" Bishop Lanham had told her to run if Dr. Carroll tried to see her personally, but Sara found herself hugging him instead.

Dr. Carroll's breath warmed her ear as he whispered, "If you wanted me to come to you, all you had to do was ask."

"I would never presume," Sara replied, happy and abashed.

Dr. Carroll released Sara and surveyed her at arm's length, holding her hands. "I can see you're agitated. Would you like to talk?"

"Please!"

Dr. Carroll put a hand on her back, guiding her toward his Mercedes. "Is there somewhere in town we can get ice cream?"

Sara directed Dr. Carroll to a frozen yogurt shop. Dr. Carroll purchased two sundaes, then sat down across from Sara at one of the small tables.

Dr. Carroll pushed Sara's sundae across the table to her. "How did the interview with your bishop go last night?"

What should she tell him? "It was strange."

"What did he say?"

Sara wanted to tell him about Novaun but knew she shouldn't--she owed that much to her parents at least--and she couldn't tell him about Bishop Lanham's ridiculous suspicions. "He counseled me to take the scholarship at Maryland and to talk to my parents."

Dr. Carroll smiled. "What's so strange about that?"

"Nothing." Sara stared at her sundae, unable to look at Dr. Carroll directly. She couldn't avoid telling him now. "It . . . it bothered him that you would name me 'Little Panther' and call me sometimes." She could feel herself blush.

Sara felt Dr. Carroll place his fingers gently under her chin. Before she knew it, she was gazing into his earnest blue eyes. "And he told you that I'm attracted to you."

Sara nodded, feeling her blush deepen.

"When he told you that, how did it make you feel?"

"I told him that you think of me as a daughter," Sara whispered. "I also told him that he's deranged."

His eyes narrowed a bit, wrinkling the little lines at the corners of his eyes. "How did he respond to that?"

"He told me to stay away from you."

Dr. Carroll's fingers moved to Sara's cheek in a caress. Sara's skin grew warmer than ever under his touch. He leaned a little closer to her, his knees touching hers under the table, compassion smoothing away the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. "Why is this topic of conversation making you so uncomfortable?"

"I didn't want to tell you."

Dr. Carroll moved his hand into her hair, stroking it away from her face. "Why not?"

Dr. Carroll's nonchalant reaction to Bishop Lanham's suspicions impressed Sara. A person with less class would have been offended. "I'm embarrassed by my bishop's lack of understanding."

A golden-brown eyebrow lifted. "According to conventional Mormon practice, my relationship with you is too affectionate."

The heat in Sara's face felt as if it were spreading into her neck. "I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to imply . . ."

"This doesn't have to be so difficult, Sara," he said softly. "You can talk to me about anything. Don't you know that?"

"I always thought so," Sara said, and she meant it. Why was this topic of conversation so difficult?

Dr. Carroll laid his hands over Sara's. Feeling his warmth, Sara realized her hands were clutching her cup of frozen yogurt. He lifted her cold hands and pressed them against her cheeks, smiling.

The tenderness of the gesture elated Sara. "You are so incredible!" She had almost allowed Bishop Lanham to talk her out of going to Eden. What had she been thinking? "I can't believe how tuned into me you are."

He squeezed her hands, then released them and folded his arms on the table, pushing his sundae toward her a little. "It isn't difficult to tune into a kindred spirit." He seemed to be choosing his words carefully, his eyes never leaving hers.

Sara lowered her hands to the table, so touched she felt as if she were trembling and giddy. "We have become good friends, haven't we?" Who would have ever thought it?

Dr. Carroll nodded, barely. After a moment, he said, "Sara I . . ." He stopped and surveyed her thoughtfully.

Sara laid her hand on his arm. "What is it, Dr. Carroll?"

The corners of his mouth turned up a tiny bit, as if he couldn't quite bring himself to smile. "There's so much I'd like to talk to you about, but sadly, this isn't the time."

Sara couldn't help but be curious. He seemed so serious. She didn't want to press him, but she didn't want him to feel as if she didn't care either. "Perhaps when we get to Eden."

"Perhaps. Are you getting excited?"

Sara smiled and relaxed, dipping her spoon into her frozen yogurt. "I've been excited for months! Or couldn't you tell?"

*

Trendaul came home from an unusual day at the temple to find Teri on the verge of laughter and tears. She threw her arms around him and squeezed. "She's softening, Tren! This morning she didn't just talk to me, she confided in me, something she's been holding inside for six years. And she cried. She laid her head on the table and sobbed like a baby."

Trendaul pulled away from Teri enough so that he could look at her. "She sobbed? Sara?" Could it be possible? Could Sara really be coming back to them?

Trendaul wondered what kind of secret would have come out with so much emotion, but he didn't press Teri for details he knew she wouldn't give. His hope grew as the afternoon waned.

When Sara didn't come home from work at the time she was supposed to, however, a feeling of dread stifled Trendaul's hope. Something was wrong. He called the health club and found out that Sara had left more than an hour before.

After Trendaul put the phone in its cradle on the kitchen desk, he heard the front door slam shut. He and Teri looked at each other anxiously, then stepped into the hall. Sara tossed her backpack into the closet and hung up her jacket. "Where have you been, Sara?" Trendaul asked gently.

Sara straightened and turned to him, her expression cool. "What is this? An interrogation?"

Trendaul glanced at Teri. She watched Sara cautiously. "We were worried about you."

Sara shrugged as she moved toward the stairs. "I don't know why. All I did was go have yogurt with a friend." She disappeared, her feet light on the stairs above him.

"Something happened, Tren."

Trendaul heard the upstairs floorboards squeak in the vicinity of the master bedroom. Teri pushed past him and ran down the hall and up the stairs. Trendaul followed in strides.

Sara came out of the bedroom, carrying her computer and phone, and tried to push past Teri to get to her own bedroom. Teri, though, wouldn't budge. She gripped Sara's shoulders and gazed at her in determination. "Please talk to us, Sara."

Sara tried to shake Teri's hands away. "Get your hands off of me!"

"Not until you tell us who you've been with the last hour."

"You'll just get angry at me! I'm tired of your abuse."

Trendaul stopped on the stair below the landing, consumed by frustration. "It was Barbara Carroll, wasn't it."

Sara's looked at him in astonishment. "No! I haven't met with Sister Carroll more than twice in my life. Dr. Carroll was the one I was with."

Trendaul was certain he hadn't heard Sara correctly. Teri pulled her hands away from Sara's shoulders, staring at her in horror and grief.

"He's the one I know." Sara shook her head, her cheeks flushed and her eyes brilliant. "He's so amazing! He sensed that I was confused and drove all the way over here to talk to me."

Trendaul sagged against the wall. Sara's situation was far worse than he had believed. Benjamin Carroll was doing everything in his power to make sure she didn't change her mind about going to Eden. Trendaul could think of only one thing that would motivate the man to take such a personal interest in his little girl.

Teri gazed at Sara with surprising empathy. "He isn't who he looks like, Sara."

"What . . . do you mean?"

"You know what I mean. Please be careful. We know you wouldn't want to get romantically involved with a married man, even unintentionally."

Sara groaned and rolled her eyes. "Not you too!"

Teri wouldn't let it go. "Who, Sara? Who else? The bishop?"

Bishop Lanham had to have a reason for suspecting Benjamin Carroll was pursuing his daughter. What else had happened? Dear Father, Trendaul begged, what am I supposed to do? Why hasn't that man been excommunicated?

Sara was usually skilled at dealing with men, a talent acquired through summers of being the companion of David and his friends. Despite the difference in their ages, Sara had always been David's equal, and Trendaul had long believed that if Sara could handle David, she could handle any man. David, though, as overbearing as he could be, was as guileless as Sara and so were his friends. Benjamin Carroll was a different breed--a sophisticated hypocrite. The threat from him was too subtle. By the time Sara woke up to what was going on, it might be too late. Dear Father, how do I save my daughter?

Sara shook her head at Teri. "You're all wrong! It isn't like that!"

"What is it like?"

Trendaul's first thought was that he should give Benjamin Carroll's bishop a call, then his wife. After that, he would pay a visit to the man himself. Trendaul's second thought, far more compelling than the first, was that he should let it go, that he should let her go; she had moved beyond his reach. Trendaul struggled against this thought--it seemed too wrong--and then the third thought came, even more compelling than the other two. The Lord was aware of Sara's danger and had provided an escape for her.

A new vision of Sara's future burst into Trendaul's mind, stunning him with its brilliancy. The solution was so simple Trendaul wanted to laugh at himself for not seeing it sooner. Sara's life on Eden would be turbulent but happy, provided she was sensible enough to make her escape when the opportunity presented itself. All Trendaul could do now was prepare her for what was coming.

Sara glared at Teri. "You can think what you want, but you can't stop me from going to Eden."

Trendaul stepped up to the landing and rested his hand on Sara's arm. "We know." He didn't dare look at Teri, afraid she would be angry with him for giving in so easily. He would explain everything to her later. "There's only one thing I'm afraid we'll have to insist on. We want to be with you Sunday when you sustain your new bishop."

 

Chapter 5: THE QUEEN OF DANCE MEETS THE KING OF CLASS

David Pierce lifted Sara out of the van and heaved her over his shoulder like a duffel bag, Sara's brothers and sisters cheering him on.

"Go Navy!"

"Go Uncle David!"

"What do you think you're doing, David?" Sara demanded. David and his midshipmen friends Dan, Mike, and Tim had attended church with Sara and her family that morning. She knew they were excited about the Naval Academy's win in the football game the day before, but this was going too far.

"We're taking you to Bancroft Hall, where you will be our guest for a few days."

Before Sara could completely comprehend Tim's statement, she felt David's arm clamp down around her thighs as he strode across the lawn, heading for the street, flanked by Dan, Mike, and Tim. She couldn't go to Annapolis. She was leaving for Eden the next morning.

Sara kicked him again and again, but he didn't flinch. "You can't do this, David! You have no right!" She tried to twist herself out of David's grip. "I'm not a plebe you can order around!" David's arm didn't budge.

"We're not going to let you go to Eden and ruin your life!" Mike said.

"I'll report you to the superintendent!" Sara screamed as she struggled. "You'll all get expelled!"

David chuckled wickedly, tightening his hold on Sara. "And just who will he believe? His brigade commander, or a hysterical girl?"

"You'll be forced to enlist in Star Force and be ordered around by those Federalist worms you so despise!"

"Even your parents will side with me!"

This was absurd! David hadn't become the highest-ranking midshipman by doing things like hiding young civilian women in his quarters. "You are answerable to the Honor Concept, Midshipman Pierce!"

"And if the truth is ever told, it'll be too late for you!" Dan said.

Sara felt sick. David had always been so scrupulous that none of the officers would ever believe he would do something so outrageous. If he wanted to hold her prisoner in Bancroft Hall until the shuttle to the Eden transport left Earth, he could do it, and no one who mattered would ever know.

Off to the side Sara heard her mother say with that familiar tone of command, "Put her down, David. None of us want her to go, but this isn't the way."

"It's just going to have to be the way, Teri, since your husband is too spineless to do what needs to be done!"

A door opened on David's car. Certainly he wouldn't really go through with it. Not David, who would rather die than ever disobey an order or be anything but perfect. Still, Sara couldn't be sure. She said in desperation, "I'll stay home and not go to Eden if you'll go home to Kansas City."

All of a sudden David released his hold on Sara and allowed her to slide off his shoulder and onto her feet. His hazel eyes stared down at her in protest. "You know I can't do that."

Sara knew she had struck a nerve. "I mean it, David. If you go home, I'll stay home." She had no doubt she would be leaving for Eden the next day.

"I have a duty to my brigade and to my country!"

David was scrupulous and exceptionally driven by duty as it was. Sometimes Sara thought the Navy had turned him into a monster. She rolled her eyes. "Well aren't you the perfect poster boy for the Nationalists."

David grabbed Sara's shoulders and gave her a shake. "I will do my duty to my brigade."

Sara gave up a smile, finding it impossible to stay angry with him. David might be uptight, but he was sincere. "Of course you will. And I'll go to Eden."

David released Sara's shoulders. "You don't have the commitment to the Eden Colony that I have to the Navy," he said quietly. "You know that if I resign now, I could be sent anywhere. At least here I'm near Teri and your father."

"Until they move to Kansas City." Sara reached into the left pocket of his suit jacket, where he kept pieces of chocolate for young women.

David glanced at Sara's parents thoughtfully, then shook his head. "No. They'll have a house in Kensington soon. Your father is tied to this area for some reason."

Sara longed to discuss all of the new things she had learned about herself and her father with David but knew it was not her place to divulge her father's secret. She popped a piece of chocolate into her mouth, shrugging. "He's probably waiting to get a visit from his long-lost brother, or something."

David looked at her strangely. "What are you talking about? Your father has no family."

"That's what you think. They're just so far away we've never met them. Why don't you ask him about it sometime."

Sara thought about how easily her father talked with all of the midshipmen David brought to their home and how interested he always was in their classes, their cruises, their families, and their traditions. She remembered how fascinated he had been when they had taken a tour of the Naval Academy so many years ago and how David had ignored her that day and had become her father's little shadow. No one in her mother's family had ever understood why David felt so driven to be a naval officer, but now she did. He had been inadvertently influenced in that direction by her father. Sara thought David deserved to know.

David turned again to look at Sara's parents, his curiosity piqued. "Hey, Teri," he called. "I'm spending the night."

*

Sara walked past the flagpole at the Washington, D.C. Stake Center in Kensington, Maryland as she approached the door, buoyant with excitement. For the first time she would see the members of the colony as a group and sustain Dr. Carroll as her new bishop. Most satisfying of all, her parents and David were there to witness her triumph. David's classmates had gone back to Annapolis.

As Sara stepped into the foyer, she turned sharply to the left and saw Cameron Carroll standing at the chapel doors with his mother, waiting to greet people as they entered. Sara was so shocked that she couldn't move forward another step.

Cameron couldn't be there. He was in China. What had he done to get sent home from his mission? Was he ill? The camel-brown suit didn't fit him as immaculately as Sara remembered. It was loose, as if he had lost weight. That didn't mean he was ill, though. He hadn't been in training for two years at least, so perhaps it was inevitable that he would now have the svelte body of a runner rather than the muscular body of a sprinter.

Sister Barbara Thomassen Carroll extended her hand to Sara's parents, greeting them graciously. Sara's mind was too distracted to assimilate what was being said, but after a moment, Cameron abruptly turned his attention from them to her, his eyes immobile with incredulity and his lips parted in horror.

Sara wasn't sure whether all of her dreams were coming true, or all of her nightmares. The great Cameron Carroll recognized her in a significant way, but on recognizing her was reacting with horror, not happiness. Sara averted her gaze, feeling queasy. Why hadn't they come in on the other side of the building? She had to move, but couldn't.

Cameron's golden-brown eyebrows drew together, as if he were puzzled. He raised his hand toward her and moved his finger slightly, as if he were motioning her to approach him. Her hand felt like granite as she lifted it to her heart with a touch. She raised her eyebrows and mouthed the word, "Me?" He nodded once at her, still gazing at her over her mother's shoulder.

Sara slowly walked toward Cameron. As she approached the chapel, she realized the hymn "If You Could Hie to Kolob" was being played on the piano. Sister Carroll took her hand in greeting, still speaking to her father. "So many preparations to make! And my son chooses to hide out in the temple all week."

"I can't think of a better way to prepare to go to Eden," her father observed.

"I think you've seen him more than I have."

Any other time Sara would have been concerned that her father would say something to embarrass her, but Cameron Carroll consumed her attention. Sara couldn't move her eyes away from his. "You . . . you know me?" she whispered. Those long-lashed aqua eyes were even more beautiful than she remembered, especially now that they were fixed on her.

Cameron's flushed face relaxed a little, and he looked as though he were on the verge of smiling. "The queen is puzzled her subject knows her?"

Before Sara could ask Cameron what he meant, Sister Carroll said, squeezing her hand, "It's good to see you again, Sara! We're pleased to welcome you into the Colony."

Sara reluctantly turned her attention to Sister Carroll, aware that Cameron was still staring at her. She was both uncomfortable and dying of curiosity. "I'm thrilled to be here."

Sister Carroll smiled knowingly and laid Sara's hand in Cameron's. Only now did Sara notice Sister Carroll's perfectly manicured hands, with their luxurious gold rings and nails painted creamy apricot to match her blouse. Sara and Cameron shook hands as expected. "I would introduce you to my son Cameron, but it appears you already know each other."

Cameron's hand was hot and trembling. "Actually, this is the first time we've ever met."

"That's interesting," David observed in a tone that said, "I'd better know everything about this guy before the day's over." Sara could almost see him look at her mother with raised eyebrows.

The intensity of emotion Sara felt in Cameron's touch confused her. For the time being he seemed as excited to touch her as he had been horrified to see her only moments before. One thing was certain--seeing her disturbed him. What did it mean? She had never felt so self-conscious. She tried to withdraw her hand, but Cameron's grip tightened.

"I saw Cameron for the first time at a regional dance," Sara said to Sister Carroll, trying to sound nonchalant.

"Sara was always the dance queen," Cameron explained. "At every dance she would ask virtually every guy there to dance at least once at some point in the evening."

"Then you have met," Sister Carroll said, her lips touched with a smile. She glanced toward Sara's mother, her golden-brown brows lifting briefly.

"No," Cameron said carefully, watching Sara's face with curiosity. His voice sounded strained as he said, "When I said virtually, I meant virtually."

"That is interesting," Sara's father commented.

Of course, Sara had never asked anyone Cameron was standing around with on any given evening to dance either, but apparently she hadn't been subtle enough in her exclusion. Cameron had noticed that in four years attending youth dances she had asked every boy in his stake to dance but him.

Sara felt David's eyes burning a hole in the side of her head. Thankfully he didn't say anything. Sara wanted to run and hide in the car until the meeting was underway. She would slip in, sit at the back, and sustain the new bishop unnoticed. Eventually, however, she knew she would have to face Cameron Carroll. With this knowledge, she collected her wits and determined to get into the chapel with as much dignity as possible.

"If I was the queen of dance, then Cameron was the king of class," Sara explained to Sister Carroll. "If I had had more class myself, perhaps I could have worked up the nerve to ask him to dance."

"Since when did you become such a coward?" David said in disbelief.

Sara shot a glare at David. Then to Sister Carroll's amazement and Cameron's shock, she bowed her head to Cameron and kissed his hand. "Forgive me, your majesty. I was concerned at the time that I'd make a complete fool of myself. Obviously my concern was justified." As she lifted her head she noticed the clip on his aqua tie displaying three Chinese characters; she assumed that they, in some fashion, stood for "CTR" or "Choose the Right."

When Sara looked at Cameron's face again, she shrugged slightly and smiled tentatively, begging him with her eyes not to think she was too much of an idiot. The flush in his cheeks deepened, bleeding into the tips of his ears. Had he been anyone but Cameron Carroll, he would have looked ridiculous.

Sara realized that Cameron wasn't as polished and as sure of himself as she had always believed. His little-boy uneasiness made him seem real and accessible, warming her all over. She squeezed his hand and withdrew hers with a smile. "I'm glad to finally meet you, Cameron."

Sister Carroll gazed keenly at Sara, directing her words at Sara's mother. "You have a beautiful daughter, Sister Alexander, and she has quite a bit more savoir-faire than she thinks she does."

"I always thought so."

Sara felt her mother's hand on her back, pushing her toward the chapel. She moved forward in relief. She heard her father behind her say: "You're a good man, Cameron. I wish things could be different for you."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Cameron said, his voice an agonized whisper.

Sara finally awoke to the fact that her father and Cameron had met in the temple the previous week. She didn't think it was strange--her father was always meeting interesting people in the temple--but it did make her uncomfortable. What had they talked about? Sara wondered how her father would answer Cameron now. Why hadn't he told Cameron that she was going to Eden too? Did her father still think she would change her mind?

"I don't know. For some reason I just couldn't."

"Perhaps it's better this way. Thank you for everything, Brother Alexander."

As Sara entered the chapel she observed, in surprise, that Tony Wright was the one playing "If You Could Hie to Kolob" on the piano. He was wearing a pale gray suit that he had jazzed up with a bright blue shirt, and he had trimmed his light brown beard. The piano was located to the far left of the platform, and there was a real pipe organ.

Before anything else could register, Sara felt a hand on her elbow. She turned to face Cameron Carroll again. He smiled, and Sara thought she would melt right there on the spot. "The king requests a private audience with the queen."

Sara motioned her parents and David to go on without her. They did so with interest as she allowed Cameron to guide her through the overflow area behind the chapel and into the cultural hall.

Once they were standing alone amid rows of empty chairs, Cameron gazed at Sara gravely. "Why are you here, Sara?"

What an odd question! "To sustain a bishop with the other colonists. Why did you think?"

"I don't understand why you're going to Eden at all."

What was he asking? Did he doubt her qualifications? "It's an incredible opportunity. I'm going to study journalism with your mother. She interviewed me herself."

"It doesn't disturb you that the prophet has counseled members of the Church to remain on Earth and have no contact whatsoever with the Zarrists?"

Cameron's question dumbfounded her. He could have been reciting a script written by her father or Bishop Lanham. She tried to tear her eyes away from his but couldn't. He gazed at her probingly, as if he were trying to analyze thoughts and feelings even she didn't realize she possessed yet.

"Well?" Cameron persisted.

Sara surprised herself by saying, "Yes. I guess it does. A little."

"Then why are you here?"

Sara loosened her muscles in an attempt to relax and compose herself. She reminded herself that Nephi had been disturbed when the Spirit had told him to kill Laban. Of course he had been disturbed. But killing Laban had been the right thing to do. "Why are you?"

"You didn't answer my question."

"And you didn't answer mine."

The corner of Cameron's mouth lifted in a wry little smile. "It seems my family needs me."

Sara still wondered why he wasn't in China. "Is that why you came home?"

"Apparently so."

"Apparently? Don't you know?"

"I didn't come home. I was called home."

Cameron was trying to tell her something, and Sara knew she wasn't getting it. "I don't understand."

"You will. Why are you here?"

"Because I believe in your father's vision of Zion."

"My father isn't a prophet."

"But he is a great leader and a righteous man."

"How do you know he's righteous?"

"What an odd thing for you to say!"

"No it isn't. How do you know what's in my father's heart?"

"Isn't it obvious?"

"Things aren't always what they seem."

"Your father is no hypocrite!"

"Perhaps not, but a well-meaning person can be confused."

Sara didn't like Cameron's attitude. He reminded her too much of her father. "Why don't you just come right out and call your father an apostate? Perhaps our new ward should be called the Eden Colony Ward of Apostates. While you're at it, why don't you go ahead and put yourself at the top of the list of apostates, since, unless I've misunderstood you, you're planning to go to Eden with the rest of us!"

Cameron stepped away from Sara as if struck. "Don't do this, Sara. Don't go to Eden." Anguish saturated his voice. "Please."

"Obviously you're the one who's the hypocrite!" Sara spun around and strode back into the chapel and toward the pew where her parents and David were sitting near the front of the chapel. Tony looked her way as he finished "If You Could Hie to Kolob" and made a face. He leaned back with his hands in the air, as if he wanted to say, "Ouch! Who bit you? Don't you come near me!" Sara shook her head at him and rolled her eyes. He grinned and began playing a perky "There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today."

"What did Cameron want?" Sara's mother whispered as Sara sat down.

"To tell me I should follow the counsel of the prophet and stay on Earth." Of all the nerve! Cameron wasn't her father. Or her bishop. She barely even knew him.

"And you, of course, berated him," David whispered pleasantly.

"What else could I have done? What a hypocrite!"

"Lower your voice!" her mother said. "And what's wrong with you, anyway? Haven't you noticed? He's crazy about you!"

"No, just crazy!" Cameron really was the family lunatic!

Sara's father leaned forward and whispered, "Cameron isn't a hypocrite, and he isn't crazy. He's a righteous young man who knows that going to Eden is wrong."

Sara did not like her father's implication that Cameron was righteous and she was not. "If he really feels that way, then he should stay here. Obviously he's not only a hypocrite, but a coward who doesn't have the backbone to stand up to his parents."

Sara's mother shook her head in exasperation. "You're the one who's crazy, Sara!"

Sara's father turned and looked thoughtfully at the back of the chapel. Sara followed the line of his vision and saw Cameron in the cultural hall where she had left him, standing by himself with an arm folded over his waist and his face bowed into his hand. Her father said with feeling, "You're wrong about Cameron, Sara. You of all people ought to know what that boy is made of; you've been studying him long enough."

Sara instantly felt ashamed. Her father was right; Cameron was as determined as anyone she had ever known and had never been a coward. Her mother was right also; she really was crazy. She had wanted to know Cameron for six years, and the first time she talked with him she had practically yelled at him! His feelings about Eden surprised her, but they changed nothing. She still loved him, and he liked her too, enough that her criticism had hurt him. What was wrong with her?

Cameron seemed now to be struggling with an enormous burden, and Sara perceived that he was going to Eden out of a sense of duty, not desire. Her anger disappeared. She wondered what was going on inside of his head. Before Sara knew what she was doing, she stood up and wound her way to the cultural hall. When she was standing in front of Cameron, she held out her hand to him and said lightly, "Would you like to dance?"

Cameron looked up at her abruptly, his eyes wary, but he played along. He took her hand and drew her closer. "I was hoping you would ask."

Sara couldn't restrain her curiosity. "If you wanted to dance with me, why didn't you ask?"

Cameron shrugged, ever so slightly. "I didn't think you wanted to dance with me."

His response astonished Sara. Was he really so modest? Or was he naïve? "How could any girl not want to dance with you?"

Cameron looked from one side to the other, then turned slightly and looked over his shoulder. "I don't see any monsters here. Nothing to frighten anyone."

"You're right, and I don't see any now, but at the time you always seemed so . . ." Sara paused, searching for the right word. "Urbane." She held out the side of her denim skirt with the hand that wasn't holding Cameron's, painfully aware of her bright pink knit shirt and black vinyl shoes purchased at a discount store. She had attempted to buy a suit once but had known she would never wear it when she saw her reflection in the mirror. "And I'm so . . ."

"Beautiful," Cameron said softly, taking her other hand in his.

Cameron's sweet-tempered sincerity charmed Sara. She owed him the truth, as difficult as it was to admit. "I don't think I was afraid of you personally. As far as I can tell, you've never been unkind to anyone. It wasn't that."

She lowered her eyes and her voice. "I think it was that I couldn't bear the thought that you, of all people, would treat me like one of the guys." Talking about her inadequacies was even more painful than she had thought it would be. "I . . . I didn't know to dress . . . or act . . . to make it otherwise."

Sara's eyes followed her hand as Cameron lifted it to his lips. He gazed at her over her knuckles, his eyes earnest. "A servant would treat his beautiful queen as one of the guys? Unthinkable."

He was almost too nice, which made Sara feel more ashamed than ever for the way she had spoken to him before. "Oh, Cameron . . . I'm so sorry for calling you an apostate and a hypocrite. You caught me off guard, but that was no excuse."

Cameron smiled, lowering her hand. "I forgive you. Now will you stay?"

"No. I'm afraid you're stuck with me."

"There's nothing I can say that will persuade you."

"Not a thing. If you don't believe me, ask my parents. You seem to know my father well enough." She looked at him expectantly.

"Yes, I did meet your father last week. And yes, I knew he was your father. And yes, he did know who I was. He remembered me from all of the track meets and assumed you and I were friends. And no, I'm not going to tell you any more about it. Not yet. He did tell me, though, that you placed third in the 200 and seventh in the 100 at the NCAA championships." He released her hands and gave her a thumbs-up. "You're incredible! Congratulations!"

"Thanks! It was an incredible opportunity. It felt strange your not being there too."

"It's enough for me that you were there. I was where I wanted and needed to be. It was thrilling, Sara! China is literally exploding with the Spirit right now! It was a glorious thing to be a part of, and I wouldn't trade my experience for anything."

Sara smiled and nodded, shivering with admiration. "I know." She knew the Beijing Temple had been dedicated a mere month before; the Shanghai Temple would be dedicated that week. "Did you get a chance to go to the temple there before you left?"

"I did. I was able to attend the dedication and go through a session. I attended several sealings also, for people I had baptized early in my mission." Cameron sat down in a folding chair.

Sara automatically sat down next to him. "How long have you been home?"

"I flew into Baltimore on Monday." To Sara's amazement, Cameron took her hand in his again. Could it be true? Was it possible Cameron Carroll wanted her to be more than just a friend?

Cameron's fingers caressed the back of her hand. "Do you mind?" He was so close that Sara could see the perfect purity of the aqua in his eyes. Not one tiny fleck marred the clarity of the color. They were the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen.

Sara smiled and shook her head. He smiled, and she blushed, unable to restrain herself from whispering what was in her heart, "I've missed you so much, Cameron."

"I've missed you too, Sara."

Tony began playing "Love One Another" with embellishments and passion. Realizing that he had just finished played "Love One Another" in the normal way, Sara abruptly turned toward him. He looked right at her and grinned, or appeared to anyway. He was far enough away that she couldn't be sure.

"The pianist seems to be amused that we . . . uh . . . know each other so well," Cameron observed. "He must be a friend of yours."

Sara nodded. "His name is Tony Wright."

"Tony Wright?" Cameron said thoughtfully, looking toward the piano again. "How do you know him?"

Sara explained about the Don Pablo's group and all the time she had spent online talking with the other colonists. "I have a confession to make," she said cautiously. "I've read all of your e-mails."

Cameron appeared puzzled. "E-mails?"

"The e-mails you sent to your family while you were on your mission. They're on your family's web site. Didn't you know?"

"I'd forgotten. I never had time to look at the web site." Cameron gazed at Sara tenderly. "You read all of them?"

Sara nodded. She wasn't ready yet to tell him that she had practically memorized them.

"And you were surprised by my feelings about Eden?"

"The e-mails I read said nothing about Eden." Tony finished "Love One Another" and began playing "I Stand All Amazed."

Cameron shook his head. "It figures my father wouldn't have included those." His fingers began trembling as he stroked her hand. "I'm thrilled you would want to read my e-mails. I wish I had known you were interested. I would have written to you directly."

The thought was too wonderful to believe. "Really?"

"You doubt?" Cameron squeezed Sara's hand. "I guess, then, I'd better make my confession. I used to read all of the Carroll County newspapers online, looking for information about you." He reached into a pocket in his pants and brought out his wallet, which required some awkward maneuvering since he didn't want to let go of her while he did it. He opened it and pulled two laminated pictures out of the bill holder and handed them to her.

Sara looked at the two pictures in shock. Both were newspaper pictures of her that had been printed out on the computer. One was her senior picture, and the other was of her after she had finished her state championship run of the 100 as a junior. She handed the pictures back to him, her eyes meeting his again in awe.

Cameron dropped the pictures into his shirt pocket. "Do you still doubt?"

Sara shook her head, barely, feeling as if her life had been turned inside out. A few minutes of unreserved conversation had clarified the status of her relationship with Cameron. They were already more than friends and had been for a long time.

"When I found out I was going to Eden," Cameron said, "I knew I would never see you again. I thought it would be better if I threw the pictures away, but I couldn't bring myself to do it."

His feelings, so like hers, inspired her to find her voice. "I finally told my mom. It was my way, I guess, of throwing you out of my heart. It might have worked."

Cameron smiled. "I'm glad it didn't."

A family sat down in the overflow area not far from where Sara and Cameron were sitting. Sara leaned toward Cameron and said in a low voice, "It looks as though our privacy's being invaded. It must be about time to go in."

Cameron glanced at his watch, then tugged on her hand. "You're right," he said reluctantly. "It is time." Once they were on their feet, he held out his arm to her. "Please lead me to the dance floor, fair queen."

Sara took Cameron's arm in delight and walked back into the chapel with him. Tony raised an eyebrow at Sara, cocking his head at Cameron in interest while he finished played "I Stand All Amazed." As Sara and Cameron sat down in her family's pew, Tony started playing "Choose the Right." Cameron removed the Chinese CTR clip from his tie and held it up for Tony to see, then clipped it onto the neckline of Sara's shirt. Tony smiled, nodding his approval.

Sara wanted to laugh. "Don't tell me you're one of those returned missionaries who supposedly proposes on the first date."

The corner of Cameron's mouth lifted in a mischievous way. "Perhaps we should take a walk to the temple. That way I could do it properly."

A hand rested on Cameron's shoulder from behind. Sara looked up and saw Dr. Carroll standing in the aisle, regarding them curiously.

"Son, I can't tell you how intrigued I am to see you on such friendly terms with one of the brightest of Eden's young stars." Dr. Carroll moved into the pew in front of them, knelt forward, and held his hand out to Sara.

Sara took Dr. Carroll's hand, leaning forward a little. "Good evening, Dr. Carroll."

"Why didn't you tell me, Sara, that you were so well acquainted with Cameron?" Tony finished playing a verse of "Choose the Right" and began playing another.

Sara could scarcely contain her happiness. "Cameron and I seem to have done the impossible. We've become quite well acquainted without ever speaking to each other."

"You had never spoken to each other before today?"

"I didn't think she liked me."

"I didn't think he knew I existed."

Dr. Carroll patted Sara's hand. "You're telling me that had my son not been so bashful, you and I would have had the pleasure of getting to know each other years ago?"

Sara withdrew her hand and relaxed against the pew. "Cameron was always so dazzling. He made me bashful."

Dr. Carroll laughed under his breath. "You bashful, Sara? I don't believe it."

Sara turned so that she could face Cameron. "When did you realize I existed, Cameron?"

"My first youth dance. You were so beautiful that you dazzled me, Sara."

"Why didn't you ask her to dance?"

Cameron turned to his father with a little shrug. "I thought she was seventeen."

"Really?" Sara said in astonishment.

"You were so . . . well, you looked seventeen, and it didn't occur to me that a girl barely fourteen would feel so comfortable asking juniors and seniors to dance."

"Oh that was nothing! You have to understand, I've spent my life hanging out with a guy three years older than I am." Sara elbowed David.

Cameron laughed softly; Dr. Carroll chuckled. Tony finished playing "Choose the Right" and searched for another hymn.

"My uncle, Dr. Carroll, David Pierce." Sara hoped she wouldn't have to introduce Dr. Carroll to her parents. They were so disgusted with him that she wasn't sure they could speak to him civilly.

David shook Dr. Carroll's hand, then elbowed Sara. "I taught Sara everything she's knows, didn't I, Sara."

Sara grunted. "Hardly! I taught you how to run."

"I taught you how to hit a baseball and skate."

"I taught you how to shoot baskets and dance."

Dr. Carroll watched their game with interest. When Tony began playing "Love at Home," Cameron laughed. He must have thought he was being too loud, because he quickly stopped himself.

"I didn't teach her how to kiss."

Sara made a face. "Don't be gross!"

David gave Sara a little shove in Cameron's direction. "That honor obviously belongs to you, Cameron."

Sara felt a hand squeeze her shoulder, and heard Dr. Carroll say with a chuckle as he walked away, "I think it's more likely Little Cougar will be giving lessons to him."

Cameron tensed, his hand involuntarily tightening on Sara's arm. Nobody said anything for many moments.

David finally broke the silence. "That comment was completely disgusting. He flatters you, Sara, and in the same breath humiliates his son. What kind of father does that?"

"Don't be absurd, David. It was a joke!"

"Then why aren't any of us laughing?"

"Dr. Carroll would never intentionally humiliate anyone."

"You mark my words, moron. That man is a tyrant, and he's going to grind your face into the dirt. I'm sorry, Cameron. I know he's your father, and I'm sure it pains you to hear the truth spoken so bluntly, but someone has to pound some sense into Sara."

Cameron moved closer to Sara to talk to David. "I almost pity my father. I wouldn't want you to be my enemy." The wonderful feel and smell of him so overwhelmed Sara that she thought she might hyperventilate. She was surprised to find that Cameron's hair smelled like plain old dandruff shampoo. His father always smelled expensive.

David leaned a little more toward Cameron, lowering his voice. "Dr. Expert Psychologist obviously knows nothing about how Sara interacts with men, Cameron, so don't let what he said disturb you." Tony began playing a new hymn, and David softly sang along: "Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly . . ." David sat back against the pew. "Your pianist friend is merciless, Sara. I like him."

Before Sara could reply, Cameron pulled her to her feet as he stood. The rumble of voices in the chapel faded as President William Grant of the First Presidency of the Church entered with Presidents Rowe and Damazo of the Washington, D.C. Temple Community presidency. They took their seats on the stand immediately instead of lingering in the aisles to shake hands.

Sara was still amazed a member of the First Presidency of the Church was there in person to organize their new ward. By the time President Grant had come to the pulpit to start the meeting, everyone was seated and silent.

President Grant announced that the opening song would be "I Believe in Christ" and introduced Tony and the chorister, a tall, light-haired guy named Brent Hall. Sara whispered to Cameron, "I met Brent when I was at BYU."

"Where's he from?"

"Layton, Utah. He and Tony must have been called into the elders quorum presidency or something. How else would President Grant know them?" She removed a hymnbook from the holder on the pew in front of her.

"Perhaps they're in the bishopric," Cameron whispered.

"Yeah, right! Tony's only twenty-four, and Brent's twenty-one!" Sara began flipping through the hymnbook to find the song.

"If the Lord can call young men to be prophets, why not members of a bishopric?"

It should have been a joke, but Cameron's tone was too serious. And he was right. The names of many young prophets came immediately into Sara's mind. Enoch, Joseph, Samuel, and Daniel. Nephi, Jacob, and Mormon. Joseph Smith. John the Baptist and the Lord himself, who had been far more than a prophet. Sara leaned a little closer to Cameron. "You really think it's possible Tony could have been called into the bishopric?"

Cameron nodded a little, appearing as disconcerted as she felt. He opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, then closed it again. He reached out to help Sara hold the hymnbook, a gesture that ended up being nothing more than an excuse to maintain his hold on her hand. The eagerness of his touch sent shivers through Sara and made her light-headed. He certainly wasn't being bashful tonight! Her eyes followed the words and music of the song, but Cameron's presence so consumed her that she couldn't sing more than a few measures. Cameron didn't sing much either.

After the song, Russ Brodsky gave the opening prayer. Sara didn't need to hear his name announced to know who he was. He looked just like his video image, with rich olive skin, dark eyes, and curly dark brown hair that fell loosely on his forehead. "Russ is your mother's other protégé," Sara whispered to Cameron. "He's from Chicago."

"Do you know him?"

"I've never met him in person, but I've communicated with him online often. Not as often as with Tony, though."

"Did you and Tony ever go out?"

"No. I'm not sure why, because we get along amazingly well. I guess it never felt right to either one of us."

When President Grant came to the pulpit again, he said, "Because we as the First Presidency are concerned that nearly all of you have been deceived and truly do not comprehend the danger of your course, we are organizing the Eden Colony Ward. The Eden Colony Ward will not be affiliated with a stake or district but will be under the direct authority of the First Presidency. The ward organization will give you both spiritual and physical protection and will enable you to repent of your rebellion against the Lord's authorized priesthood leaders."

Cameron's arm was still resting against Sara's, his fingers intertwined with hers, so evidently he wasn't planning to leave the meeting, despite his reservations about going to Eden. She glanced at him. He appeared to be watching his parents, who were sitting with his sister and two younger brothers to his left and forward a couple of rows.

President Grant's voice softened. "We do realize that there are a few of you who would remain on Earth were your spouses not determined to go to Eden. Those of you who are in that position know who you are. We realize the difficulties you're facing and pray the Lord will comfort you. Aside from you, there is only one adult member of the Eden Colony who has not been deceived and who is not guilty of rebellion, a young man who is blameless in every way. The Lord, in His infinite mercy, has inspired our prophet to personally call this dedicated young man to be your bishop."

President Grant startled Sara by looking straight at her, or so it seemed. He held out his hand and said affectionately, "Come on up here, Cameron. The time has arrived."

 

Chapter 6: THE RELUCTANT BISHOP

Stupefied, Sara turned to Cameron. He regarded at her in a cautious, almost guilty way. He mouthed to her, "Wait for me after the meeting."

Sara could do nothing but nod as he strode to the pulpit. Never in a million years would she have suspected Cameron Carroll would be made the bishop of the Eden Colony Ward. He was far too young, for one thing, and unmarried. Who had ever heard of a bishop who wasn't married?

Something inside of her said that if she and Cameron let nature take its course, Cameron wouldn't remain unmarried for long. She shoved that feeling aside in panic. She loved him to be sure, but they were too young to get married, and they couldn't come back to be married in the temple for two years at least. And what was wrong with Cameron, anyway? Why hadn't he known she would be here? Hadn't he seen a ward list?

Sara felt David rest the side of his hand against her head. His voice quavered as he whispered, "Your bishop can't keep his eyes off of you."

Sara turned abruptly toward David, feeling more anxious than ever. The situation was too outrageous. David's face twitched as he struggled to hold back his laughter. Sara whispered defensively, "I'll have you know that I've been waiting years for Cameron to put his eyes on me!" She knew it was a dumb thing to say as soon as she said it, but her mind was blank to everything else.

"I wouldn't have missed this for the world!" David leaned his head into his hands between his knees, his shoulders shaking.

Sara raised her hand with everyone else when Cameron was presented to be ordained a high priest and then again when he was sustained as bishop of the Eden Colony Ward. During the proceedings Cameron's face looked haunted, as if he were being sentenced to life in prison.

Sara's heart pounded so frantically that her entire body felt as if it were throbbing. Why had Cameron been made the bishop? It didn't seem right. He didn't want to go to Eden. He thought the colonists were apostates. He was essentially an outsider and could not possibly be effective. Dr. Carroll was the natural leader of the colony. Why hadn't he been made the bishop? Cameron wouldn't be any more than his father's puppet, and the thought of Cameron in that intolerable position outraged Sara as much as anything.

Sara realized she was gritting her teeth and made a conscious effort to relax before she ended up with a headache. She forced herself to look away from Cameron for a moment and observe his parents. What in the galaxy did they think of this twist of circumstance? Sara could see enough of their faces to determine that they were as shocked as she was. Wasn't that odd. Cameron had received this unprecedented call from the prophet himself and hadn't told his parents! Maybe she and her father were wrong. Maybe Cameron really was spineless.

Sara shifted her focus to Cameron again and saw that he was gazing pleadingly at her father. Sara couldn't help but glance at her father. Sara knew that look. It was the look he gave her when she was getting ready to perform or compete, the look that said, "You've worked hard for this. You are awesome. You will triumph!"  Why did it have to be Cameron now and not her?

As much as Sara wanted her father's approval, when she saw how Cameron blossomed under her father's gaze, she couldn't feel envious or even irritated. She wanted nothing more than for Cameron to be happy and to step into his new position with dignity and self-assurance.

When Cameron's eyes finally rested on Sara, his expression, while not one of happiness, was one of warmth. Cameron's experiences and callings as a missionary came to her mind, and she felt as if light were being poured into her body. She knew the Lord wanted Cameron in this position and had prepared him for it.

The feelings of astonishment and panic melted, and Sara smiled at Cameron. He smiled back at her, tentatively at first, but more tenderly as he came to realize she supported the call. His gaze became more loving, more grateful, drawing her into his heart. She couldn't have resisted him if she had wanted to. He didn't take his eyes away from hers the remainder of the time he stood at the pulpit next to President Grant.

By the time it occurred to Sara to wonder whether Tony really had been called into the bishopric, Cameron sat down on the stand next to President Damazo, and President Grant presented Tony's name along with Brent Hall, Russ Brodsky, and eight other young men to be high priests. Tony stood next to the piano, his face pale and solemn. She had never seen him so serious, but after she and everyone else raised their hands to sustain him as Cameron's first counselor, he looked directly at her and winked, the corner of his mouth rising slightly.

Of course Tony had known the moment he had seen her talking with Cameron that she had fallen for her new bishop and didn't know it. No wonder he had been so amused.

David could not sit still. Sara was afraid he might laugh out loud. He whispered to Sara again, almost unable to speak, "What an efficient counselor, providing romantic music for the bishop and his girlfriend to cuddle to!"

"We were not cuddling!" David dropped his head between his knees again. Sara leaned forward and whispered into his ear. "We weren't!"

The congregation sustained Brent Hall and Russ Brodsky as members of the bishopric along with two other young men, then an executive secretary and several clerks.

President Grant then asked for all of the high priests of the colony to stand and sustain the six other young men made high priests that evening to be the high priests group leader and his five assistants. When all of the elders in the congregation stood, Sara prepared herself for the unexpected and listened for old men to be sustained into that presidency.

Sara thought she should be disappointed when it became obvious that the elders quorum presidency of the Eden Colony Ward, with its younger men, would look like every other elders quorum presidency in the Church except for the unusual number of counselors. The president, though, unlike all of the other ward leaders just sustained, was a professional in his early thirties, the colony's general physician, a smartly-dressed African American man named Sean Marshall. Sara was relieved that Cameron would have one person to help him, at least, who possessed maturity and had probably served in many Church callings. Dr. Marshall was the one man whose appearance actually fit the position.

Sara glanced around and saw strained faces on the older members of the colony. She couldn't believe the finesse in which Dr. Carroll and the other leaders of the colony had been so effectively shut out of all ward leadership. The situation really was absurd. How would this ward function with mere students counseling and issuing callings to their government leaders and professors? The First Presidency was putting these young men in an impossible position. There was no way it would work.

After all of the sustainings had been completed, President Grant announced that two members of their new bishopric, Jeffrey Winter and Steven Sanchez, would sing "I Need Thee Every Hour," and that following their number, Bishop Carroll would speak. The two men sang with such feeling that Brother Sanchez was in tears by the end of the song.

Brothers Winter and Sanchez sat down in the choir seats near Tony, and Sara watched with anxiety as Cameron came to the microphone. "Your song was beautiful, Brother Sanchez and Brother Winter. Thank you." His hands gripped the pulpit, his eyes glossy with desperation. He looked as if he were preparing to hurl himself off of a cliff rather than address a few inspiring remarks to his new ward.

"There is no reason any of us should be here. We all know the prophet's counsel. I'm begging you. Give up your plan to go to Eden. It isn't too late, even for those of you who have just been called into leadership positions. Please."

Brother Sanchez arose and moved toward Cameron. "I can't do it. I'm sorry, Bishop." Cameron nodded that he understood, stepping forward to shake Brother Sanchez's hand. "God bless you. Take your family and go home."

Sara watched as Brother Sanchez walked down the aisle toward his wife and infant daughter. His wife watched him in relief. Sara didn't think she had ever seen a woman with a baby move so fast as she headed to the back of the chapel and the exit.

Cameron didn't speak as his eyes rested on every adult in the room. No one spoke; no one stirred.

Finally another young couple left with their three children. Then another family left, and another, followed by several unmarried students. The exodus took Jeffrey Winter, Cameron's second counselor, two members of the elders quorum presidency, an assistant to the high priests group leader, and a couple of others who had not been given callings. Impatience toward the dropouts seized Sara's heart. Those people had made a commitment! What specialists would the colony now lack?

When Cameron's gaze finally found Sara's, it lingered there for so long that many other members of the colony turned to look at her. If Cameron only knew what going to Eden meant to her, he would not ask her to give it up. She shook her head slightly and mouthed the words, "I can't."

A tear glistened on Cameron's cheek. "Please," he begged in a whisper.

Many more moments passed, and Dr. Carroll regally arose, his voice friendly but firm: "Son, I believe I speak for the entire colony when I say that despite the gracious concern of our Church leaders, we will move forward with our glorious goal to create Zion on the planet Eden."

Sara didn't know what to think of Dr. Carroll's words. He spoke for her, but he obviously didn't speak for everyone. She didn't think it was right that Dr. Carroll had interrupted Cameron's talk this way. She looked to President Grant to see if he would intervene. President Grant didn't appear to acknowledge Dr. Carroll's interruption at all; his eyes were riveted on Cameron.

As Dr. Carroll sat down, Cameron lifted his hand and waved it in the direction of the temple. "If here in the light of the temple you can still choose to follow my father into hell . . ." Cameron stopped speaking and took a tissue from the box on the pulpit. He touched it to his cheeks with shaking hands. "I'm certain that once we get to Eden, most of you will think I'm a pretty poor excuse for a bishop."

Sara watched Cameron in alarm. She wasn't sure whether she should be offended by his impertinence or filled with trepidation by his conviction that Eden was an evil place. In the end she decided he was afraid of going to Eden and that his fear was making him hysterical.

"That poor boy," Sara's mother whispered. "His parents ought to be shot."

"Nevertheless," Cameron continued, "I will do everything in my power to lead the colony in the direction the Lord wants it to go." He squeezed the tissue he held in his hand again and again. "In 3 Nephi, chapter 20, verse 13 it says, 'And then shall the remnants, which shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth, be gathered in from the east and from the west, and from the south and from the north; and they shall be brought to the knowledge of the Lord their God, who hath redeemed them.' I promise you, those of you who will live to recognize my authority as the Lord's representative on Eden, that when the time is right, I will lead you back to Zion."

 Cameron closed his talk and sat down, and President Grant came to the pulpit again. "The Eden Colony Ward will be out of contact with the leadership of the Church for a long time. Be assured that the Lord will not permit any of the men called to preside over you to lead you astray."

Sara shuddered. What a terrible thing to say! Would the Lord really kill Cameron if he messed up? One look at Cameron told her that he believed it. Surely the situation would never arise. She couldn't believe the Church really would abandon them so heartlessly.

"Bishop Carroll understands the seriousness of his calling and has been directed by the prophet to lead the ward to the New Jerusalem when the Lord commands. He will present you to the First Presidency at that time, and he and your other priesthood leaders will report on their stewardships.

"You must keep in mind that a bishop's authority is limited. This being the case, you will never have a temple. You will have opportunities to baptize nonmembers, but Eden has not been dedicated for the preaching of the gospel and you will not be permitted to engage in active missionary work. Your bishopric and other ward priesthood leadership will never change. Your sons will not be permitted to receive the Melchizedek priesthood, nor will any of your children be able to receive their patriarchal blessings. It isn't too late to change your minds."

Sara still couldn't accept the possibility that the Church would abandon the colony that way. President Grant believed it at the moment to be sure, but it made no sense. Hearing movement behind her, Sara turned to see others leave, a family and several more students, including another assistant to the high priests group leader and one of Cameron's clerks.

"To those of you who insist on going to Eden despite our warnings, I implore you to look to your new bishop for spiritual leadership." He turned slightly and motioned Cameron to the pulpit again. Cameron went to stand next to President Grant, appearing uncomfortable. "Bishop Carroll has faith, maturity, and experience beyond his years. He served for the past eight months as a branch president in the city Xi'an, in China. During that time he and his companion baptized hundreds of people and helped them make arrangements to relocate to the new temple community in Beijing."

Sara had known that people were joining the Church in China in droves, and although she knew that much of Cameron's teaching and baptizing had been done in large groups out of doors, he had never mentioned numbers in his e-mails. Hearing of his success this way astounded her.

"During the course of his mission," President Grant continued, "your bishop has been instrumental in providing the equivalent of a third of a stake to the Beijing Temple Community, which in less than a year, has grown to thirty-eight stakes. He has done phenomenal work and will serve you well if you will let him."

Cameron gazed at the floor, more uncomfortable than ever. Sara couldn't believe how modest and self-conscious he was. She loved him all the more for it, yet still felt ashamed that she had never asked him to dance. Rejecting him that way must have hurt him deeply. If only she had known!

The tone of President Grant's voice softened, "We love you and want you to be successful. May the Lord bless you until we meet again in Zion."

Cameron said something in President Grant's ear. President Grant nodded, then turned toward the Carroll family and smiled. "Ashley Carroll? Will you please come up here and lead the closing song? We'll sing Hymn 152, 'Till We Meet Again.' President Sean Marshall will give the benediction."

After Cameron and President Grant sat down, Ashley Carroll came to the platform. She lifted her arm to begin directing the music, her eyes bright with excitement.

"She's exquisite," David whispered.

Sara smiled. David had always liked classy blondes, and Ashley, with her contoured coral-pink dress made of silk and flawless makeup and hair, was as beautiful and as elegantly fashionable as young LDS women came, even if she was a little young for David.

"If you're nice to me, I'll have Cameron introduce you."

After the song and prayer were over, Sara stood up and stretched. It had been the strangest church meeting she had ever attended, the most troubling as well as the most thrilling. She watched Cameron until he looked her way. He pointed to the south foyer, and she nodded in reply.

Once Sara and her family were in the foyer, her father asked, "Well, what do you think of your new bishop, Sara?" His smile was a little too pleased.

"Other than the fact she's in love with him?" David said.

Her mother smiled knowingly. "Other than that."

Sara pursed her lips to keep herself from grinning stupidly, shrugging. "The Lord prepared Cameron for this. I don't doubt that, but it was still a shock."

"It looks like your boyfriend, Sara, is the type of leader who has what it takes to get you insubordinate plebes back into formation," David said.

"Get us insubordinate plebes back into formation? Are you nuts?"

David softly began singing: "Onward, Christian soldiers marching as to war--"

Sara shook her head at him. "You are such a moron!"

"With the cross of Jesus going on before--"

Sara slugged David in the arm.

He didn't flinch, but gazed straight ahead, his eyes "in the boat," and began bending his knees to the beat of the song, as if he were marching. "Christ, the royal master, leads against the foe! Forward into battle, see His banners go . . ." Sara's parents laughed softly.

They were hopeless! Sara turned away from them, toward the doors to the chapel. She saw Cameron pushing his way through the crowd to get to her. Sara watched him eagerly.

When Cameron reached Sara and her family, he moved as close to Sara as he dared, resting his hand briefly on her back. "You and your family will stay for my ordinations, won't you?"

Sara smiled at him and nodded.

"I'm relieved you're not angry with me for not telling you."

"How could I be? You didn't ask for the call. And you did try to tell me."

David tilted his head toward Sara. "You reprimanded your bishop."

"And now he's inviting me to his ordination. I think he's forgiven me."

David chuckled. "That's fortunate for you."

"Fortunate for me, you mean!" Cameron said. He extended his arm toward Sara's parents.

Sara's mother shook Cameron's hand first. "We're more pleased and relieved than we can express."

"Your call was inspired," her father said. "Don't ever doubt it."

Cameron shook the hand of Sara's father gratefully. "You have no idea how much your confidence means to me."

"Did you get to choose your counselors?" David asked.

"Actually, I did. President Morley gave me a list of names to pray about. There were thirty-five. From them, I chose my counselors, clerks, and the elders quorum president and high priests group leader. I didn't know anything about any of them until tonight."

"Unfortunately you lost a good portion of your staff," Sara said.

Cameron shrugged. "I expected to lose a few of them. My own opinion is that some of those men were having doubts about going to Eden to begin with and needed the call to push them into making the final decision to stay home."

"Seems backward, doesn't it?" Sara said.

"Maybe not," her father said. "Not if they were expecting Cameron's father to be made the bishop."

"And there's nothing like an unexpected calling to make a person do some intense soul-searching," Sara's mother added.

"Isn't that the truth," Cameron said with a sigh. "But for me, anyway, the soul-searching phase is over and the assuming-of-responsibilities phase must begin. I think it's time for me to face my parents." He gave Sara's hand a squeeze. "I'll see you later. The ordinations for members of the bishopric will be done in the Primary room."

For some odd reason, Sara felt nervous for Cameron as he went back into the chapel. What in the galaxy would his parents think of his call? Would they be offended he hadn't told them?

David said, "I like Cameron, Sara. I like him a lot. But I'll have to admit, I've never imagined you with the sensitive, gentle type."

"He's perfect for her," her father said.

David's words struck Sara as absurd now that she comprehended her own feelings. She had no qualms about setting him straight, especially now that she and Cameron had come to an understanding. "There is no 'Sara's type.' There is only Cameron. There has never been anybody but Cameron. I know it sounds crazy and maybe even abnormal. I don't why; I only know what is."

"I may never forgive you for not telling me about this other man in your life."

"If I had told you I liked Cameron, you would have called him!"

David looked at her pointedly. "Well, somebody certainly should have." He shook his head. "You sincerely had never spoken to him before tonight?"

"Not once."

"I can't believe you only saw him at a few dances a year. You know each other too well."

"Oh no, you're right. I've seen him far more than that."

"They should know each other better," her mother said.

"We assumed they did know each other better," her father added.

Sara looked at her parents in warning. "Don't tell him any more yet. You know he'll harass me forever."

Her mother drew her hands back. "I wouldn't dare." Her father smiled and shook his head.

Sara looked at David. "I think I'll just let you chew on it awhile." She took her mother's arm and led her down the hall quickly to find a bathroom, leaving David with her father to wonder.

"He's not quite what you thought he was," her mother said as they walked.

"No, he's a hundred times more wonderful."

"He really is sweet, Sara." Her mother sounded amazed. "And a little shy. I didn't expect that either. I can understand why he chose cross country and track and not football."

Sara murmured her agreement. Cameron could never have played football, even though he was big enough to have played in high school at least. He didn't have the personality for it. "I should have asked him to dance."

"Yes you should have, but you didn't. There's no sense beating yourself up about it. You know, though, that your support now will mean everything to him."

"I know," Sara whispered.

 

Chapter 7: MYSTERY LOVE

A few minutes later Sara and her mother joined her father and David in the Primary room. Sara didn't say much of anything, needing time to think about everything that had happened. After many minutes of silence Sara became aware of soft voices from behind her.

"That is him, Brandon. I know it!"

"Who?" whispered a female voice.

"That dark-haired man in the gray suit," the original voice answered.

"David Pierce!" whispered a third voice. "Brigade commander, first baseman for the Navy, and returned missionary!"

"Don't you know anything, Ashley?"

"Something has definitely been lacking in my education. He's gorgeous! Maybe I should be going to Annapolis instead of Eden."

Sara was dying to turn and see the faces behind the whispers but was afraid they would stop talking if she did. She turned her head, ever so slightly to the left, and saw Cameron's sister and two younger brothers huddled together just inside the door. Brandon was the same height as Ashley and looked even more like his father than Cameron did, with rich golden blond hair and sky-blue eyes. Adam was a head shorter than Ashley and had his mother's features and pale blond hair, his eyes turquoise.

"What's he doing here? He doesn't have to go to Eden," Adam said.

"He's with that girl Cameron sat with," Brandon said. "The one he keeps staring at."

"Do you think David Pierce is her boyfriend?" Adam asked.

"Are you blind, Adam?" said Ashley. "Cameron's her boyfriend. Didn't you see how they were cuddling?"

"No way!" Adam said. "Cameron doesn't have girlfriends, and he doesn't cuddle!

David whispered in Sara's ear, "You and your bishop were all over each other!"

"Oh, come on, David. We were only holding hands!"

"They were cuddling," Brandon said. "At least as much as a couple can cuddle in the chapel."

"How could they be cuddling when he didn't have his arm around her?" Adam protested.

"He would have gotten around to putting his arm around her had he not been called to the stand," Brandon said. "Ashley's right. Cameron has a girlfriend."

Ashley laughed softly. "He's turned into one of those marriage-hungry returned missionaries. You know, the kind sane girls stay away from!"

David began humming softly: "Families Can be Together Forever."

Sara glared at David sidelong. She was going to kill Tony for putting David in this harassing-with-hymns mode!

"Shut up, David!" Sara's mother whispered. "I want to listen!"

"Snoop!"

"You really think he'll marry her?" Adam asked.

"Well, he's certainly in love with her," Ashley replied, "and he did give her his CTR tie clip, and you know Cameron. It's not as if he's going to do anything else with her!"

David whispered in Sara's ear, "Should we tell them the bishop's bride-to-be likes to dress up as a Klingon Warrior Woman for Halloween?"

"Hsssss . . ."

"She's beautiful, even if she is insane," Brandon said.

"She can't be too insane if she's in love with Cameron," Adam observed.

"You think he met her on his mission?" Brandon asked.

"No," Ashley replied. "He knew her before. She looks familiar. I'll bet that magnificent midshipman is her brother."

Members of the new bishopric and their families trickled into the Primary room. Sara felt David reach into his left pocket for a couple of caramels.

"Cameron's girlfriend is David Pierce's sister? That's cool!"

A piece of candy flew over David's shoulder, hitting Adam in the chest. David said softly out of the side of his mouth, "Say 'Go Navy!'"

Adam hesitated, then said with excitement, "Go Navy!"

Another piece of candy flew across the room, tapping Brandon in the chest. "Say 'Beat Army!'"

"Beat Army!"

This time, David reached into his other pocket and tossed a piece of chocolate, which Ashley caught in her hand. "Say you'll go out with me Saturday night!"

"I'd rather stay in with you tonight!"

David reached into his pockets, removed all of the pieces of candy he had left and tossed them to Ashley. "It's a date!"

Ashley, Brandon, and Adam collected the candy from the floor and moved toward Sara and her family. David stood up as they approached, pulling Sara up with him. Sara's parents followed. David extended his hand to Adam. "I'm honored to meet such a spirited Navy fan, but I'll have to say, it's not fair you know my name but I don't know yours."

"Adam Carroll," the boy replied, sounding awestruck. "This is my brother Brandon and my sister Ashley. She doesn't know anything important."

Ashley's golden blond eyebrows flickered in an amused way that reminded Sara of Cameron's mother.

David pointed at Sara with his thumb. "She knows that Sara Alexander here isn't my girlfriend. That's important."

Adam pondered. "You're right. That is important. Who is Sara then?"

"I'm David's niece. My mother is his sister."

Sara's mother extended her hand to Adam, then Brandon, introducing herself and Sara's father. As she shook Ashley's hand, she asked kindly, "How old are you, Ashley?"

"Almost eighteen. I graduated from high school last June."

"I'm ten," Adam said. "And Brandon's fourteen."

"Did you hear that, David?" Sara's mother said sweetly. "Ashley's seventeen."

Sara also heard the words her mother didn't say: And you're a grown man of twenty-three.

David heard the silent words too, because he responded with, "Ashley and I have a date tonight, and I thought she and her brothers could come to the house for root beer and popcorn," in a tone that said, Don't be such a witch, Teri!

Ashley and her brothers looked at each other in excitement. "Could we really?" Adam asked.

"Well, it will be late . . ." Sara's mother pointed out in a tone that said, Don't be such a pervert, David.

Sara wanted to laugh. Who needed telepathy? Her mother and uncle communicated perfectly well by inflecting their voices in that way they had and making faces at each other. She looked at her father and saw that he hovered on the verge of laughter also. He said, the corners of his mouth twitching, "You can come, but only if you promise to watch the video we have of David and Sara at our wedding reception, throwing cake at each other!"

As Ashley and her brothers enthusiastically agreed to the arrangement, Sara saw Tony come into the room with Marc and Jordan. They were an incongruent sight as always--Tony big and hairy, Jordan little and balding, and Marc covered with freckles and red-haired. Sara quickly excused herself and went to meet them.

When Tony spotted Sara, he laughed.

Marc said, "So Bubble Babe's got it bad for the bishop."

"Shall we tell him Bubble Babe's too afraid of germs to ever kiss him?" Jordan said, grinning.

"I don't know," Tony said, shaking his head. "With all the heat that was flowing between those two, they're probably both completely disinfected!"

"Bubble Babe is in no danger of contamination," Marc said in an authoritative tone. He was the medical student after all. "Bishops don't have germs!"

Sara gave them all quick hugs. "This babe would come out of her bubble any day for Cameron Carroll!"

"You know, Sara," Jordan said, "given the fact that you seem to know Cameron extremely well, I'm wondering why we never heard you mention him."

"She never did, did she," Marc said in realization.

"Oh I knew she was secretly in love with him," Tony said, his smile smug.

"That's easy enough for you to say now, after you've seen us together!" Sara protested.

"You're hilarious, Sara!" Tony said. "You try to be so covert, and in the process, you reveal yourself completely. Don't look at me like that! What was I supposed to think? You and Cameron grew up in the same part of the state. You're both track champions, and on top of all that, you're members of the Church. You had to know each other."

"This is true, Sara," Jordan pointed out.

"The guy goes to China of all places on his mission," Tony continued to Sara, "one of the most exotic places imaginable, and you never once ask Dr. Carroll anything about him, no friendly interest at all, and you've asked me often enough about my experiences in France."

Sara punched Tony lightly in the arm. "You're awfully cocky. How did you know I didn't think Cameron was a big snob?"

"Your dislike of him would have soured you on the whole family and you wouldn't be going to Eden at all."

"I'll bet she read all of Cameron's e-mails online and didn't need to ask Dr. Carroll about him," Marc observed.

"You did, didn't you, Sara," Jordan teased. "Come on, admit it!"

"She doesn't need to," Tony said. "Look at her face!"

Sara covered her face with her hand. "You guys know me too well. It's not fair!"

Tony rested his hand on Sara's arm, his smile fading. "You'll stay for my ordination too, won't you?"

Sara lowered her hand and nodded. "Of course." She surveyed Tony tentatively. "Your parents didn't come, did they."

Tony dropped his arm to his side, shaking his head and lowering his eyes.

"I'm really sorry."

"I know." Tony lifted his eyes again and gazed over her shoulder. "Your parents are here though. That has to count for something. And I'm assuming the guy you were sitting next to in the chapel is David. He has that midshipman look about him. You know, the short hair and erect posture they all have."

Sara motioned the guys to follow her. "Come on. I'll introduce you."

The members of Sara's family were still conversing with Ashley and her brothers when Sara approached them. They all stopped talking suddenly. Sara's parents appeared amused. The others looked as if they had a secret. "What's going on?" Sara asked.

Adam grinned. "We've been arranging a surprise for you."

Sara turned to David, skeptical. "A surprise?"

David gazed at her conspiratorially. "Yes, a surprise. For the bishop and his bride-to-be."

Sara moaned. Tony, Marc, and Jordan laughed. Before Sara could introduce her Don Pablo's friends to her family, Cameron arrived with his parents, his Uncle Trevor and Aunt Cyndi and their three children, and President Grant. Trevor Carroll had the same golden blond hair as his brother and the same lively blue eyes, but he wasn't as tall, or as lean, and he wore a mustache.

Cyndi and Samantha, the college-aged daughter, were as tall as Trevor was and very thin, with waist-length, wavy hair, Cyndi's ash brown and Samantha's golden blond. Both wore casual knit dresses and sandals with no hose, and their skin was pale and perfect, untouched by makeup. Had they been wearing longer, more elaborate dresses, they would have looked as if they had stepped out of a Shakespearean play, an Arthurian legend, or a Renaissance fair.

As introductions were made, Sara's parents were forced to shake hands with Dr. Carroll. Her father did an excellent job, as always, keeping his face perfectly impassive, but her mother looked as if she wanted to scream.

Cameron introduced Sara to President Grant as his friend from high school, and President Grant shook her hand firmly, surveying her in a kind, but captivated way. He wasn't tall, and Sara was able to look directly into those sagacious brown eyes without moving her head up or down. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Sister Alexander. I understand you did very well in the NCAA championships last spring. Congratulations."

Sara's eyes and mouth widened. It still surprised her when people she had never met recognized her. "Thank you. I did far better than I expected to do. I felt privileged to be there at all."

President Grant patted Cameron's back. "You have a good man here. If he tries to get away, you chase him down!"

Sara grinned. "If he runs from me, I might, for the first time in my life, actually be able to catch him!" Cameron laughed.

When President Grant extended his hand to Sara's father, he said in a heartfelt way, "I can't begin to express what an honor it is to finally meet you, Brother Alexander."

Sara's father frowned slightly, as if he, too, were surprised to be recognized. Sara understood the reason for the recognition immediately. Sara could imagine her father and mother's first bishop calling or writing a member of the First Presidency directly and saying something along the lines of: "I have a young couple with a baby in my ward who claim they're agents from another planet. What am I supposed to do with them?"

Sara watched her father's face soften and knew he understood also. "It's an honor to meet you too, President."

"On behalf of the entire Church, I'd like to thank you for all of the service you've given over the years."

Her father was moved, there was no doubt about it. "It's been my pleasure," he said quietly, with feeling.

"I'm sorry things had to end this way for you."

Her father glanced at Cameron. "Things haven't ended as badly as they could have. I'd like to thank you for that."

President Grant acknowledged with a nod. "Have you told her?"

Trendaul nodded.

"That's good."

Sara turned her head to look at Cameron, wondering what he thought of this unusual exchange. He watched the proceedings, absorbed. Sara caught a glimpse of Dr. Carroll and saw that he was as intrigued as Cameron was. She didn't dare look at David.

President Grant shook her mother's hand, then David's. Eventually the rest of the introductions were made and the business began. As Cameron seated himself to be ordained, David whispered to Sara, "So Cameron's a sprinter too."

"You should see him run, David. He's like a beam of light. He's so beautiful it almost hurts to watch him."

"How many state championships did he win?"

"Six."

"Isn't that interesting! I'll bet he ran cross country and played basketball too."

Sara pursed her lips to keep a straight face. David sounded so pleased with himself for figuring it out--six years too late. "Nothing gets past you, does it, David?"

Dr. Carroll, his brother, and President Grant gathered around Cameron and laid their hands on his head. Dr. Carroll, in a meek, beautiful voice, proceeded to ordain him to be a high priest and gave him the most exquisite blessing Sara had ever heard. Her heart rejoiced as Dr. Carroll detailed the burgeoning of the Zion community on Eden.

"Cameron, because of the wondrous righteousness of your spirit, you have been chosen to be born at this time to fulfill a sacred mission on Eden. Your role will be to lay the foundation of the work there and expand it.

"Just as nature flourishes on Eden, so will the gospel. The initial Zion community you aid in establishing will influence the other fourteen Eden colonies in a miraculous way. Thousands of people will join the Church through your influence, and all fifteen Eden colonies will unite under one government that functions on the firm foundation provided by The Equality of Zion. The Church will organize many stakes, and you will be privileged to see a temple built on that hallowed Eden soil. A peace will reign on Eden unlike anything that has existed on Earth since the Nephites created Zion after the Savior's ministry as a resurrected being, a peace that will continue to blossom as Eden follows Earth into terrestrial glory."

Dr. Carroll continued the blessing by bestowing many spiritual gifts on Cameron and detailing their use and the responsibilities that would go with them as Cameron sought to fulfill his responsibilities.

When the blessing was over, Sara opened her eyes to see Cameron's eyes still closed. Of course he needed a few moments to contemplate everything his father had said. The blessing had been spectacular. President Grant immediately laid his hands on Cameron's head to ordain him to the office of bishop. President Grant's blessing was so short and to the point that it seemed abrupt.

Nevertheless, when the blessing was over, Cameron embraced the member of the First Presidency first. They didn't exchange words, but their eyes met with understanding and affection. After Cameron embraced his mother and father and other family members, he shook the hands of Sara's mother and David. His countenance was grave and brittle. Sara watched him, puzzled. Why wasn't he happy? Hadn't his doubts about going to Eden been resolved with that beautiful blessing from his father?

Cameron's eyes rested on her father's face, which was paler than normal and just as grave as Cameron's was. Cameron's jaw twitched, as if he had almost let slip a gasp. Her father squeezed Cameron's arm in a gesture of compassion and opened his mouth to say something, but couldn't. Then, most surprising of all, Cameron and her father embraced as if they had known each other their whole lives. It was all very strange. Sara wondered more than ever what had happened between them in the temple the week before.

When Cameron finally took Sara's hand, he smiled. Then, to her delight, he pressed the back of her hand to his lips. "It's been a pleasure, your highness."

As Cameron released Sara's hand, she replied in her best queenly tone, "The pleasure has all been mine." Then she added with a grin, "Congratulations!" She threw her arms around him and embraced him vigorously. She whispered in his ear, "Please be happy, Cameron."

Cameron wrapped his arms around Sara and squeezed tightly, as if he never wanted to let go of her. "You can't imagine how happy I am at this moment."

"I think I can."

"May I call you tonight?"

Sara replied with the number of her cell phone. She would have been thrilled to remain in Cameron's arms all evening, but the time wasn't right. Everyone was staring at them, and she didn't doubt Cameron had many other things to do before he could leave. In the end, they withdrew from the embrace at the same time.

Cameron's face was brighter and more confident than it had been as he turned to Tony and motioned him into the chair. Tony gazed at Cameron reverently. "Would you perform my ordination, Bishop?"

Cameron looked at Tony in surprise. Sara wanted to hug Tony. She had expected him to ask Dr. Carroll, who appeared just as surprised by Tony's request as Cameron was. This was more fitting, however. "I would be honored," Cameron said softly.

Cameron moved to stand behind Tony, and President Grant and both Drs. Carroll gathered around him. David whispered to Sara, "Tony's a downright decent guy. Why haven't you introduced him to me before tonight?"

"Because my Eden friends are evil," she whispered in an exaggerated tone.

Cameron laid his hands on Tony's head and, after ordaining him to be a high priest, gave him a blessing as personal as his own had been public. Cameron, as spokesperson for the Lord, said nothing about future events on Eden other than that Tony would soon find a woman to marry and would yearn to take her to the temple. ". . . By living the commandments and serving your bishop faithfully in your new calling, you will, in due time, be privileged to be sealed to your wife and children in the temple. Your parents and your brothers and sisters will be present at this event and will rejoice with you . . ."

All of the promises made to Tony about an imminent marriage made Sara feel keenly the fact that her relationship with Cameron had the potential to end in marriage. The thought of it overwhelmed her. It was too much too soon. She needed time to ponder everything. Perhaps she shouldn't have agreed to let Cameron call her.

After Cameron had finished the blessing and President Grant had set Tony apart as first counselor in the Eden Colony Ward bishopric, Tony stood up and embraced Cameron first, energetically, and Sara knew that Tony would not only be an excellent counselor to Cameron, but a close friend as well.

A few moments later, Cameron turned toward Sara and looked at her in a solemn, unsure way. He was thinking of the blessing too. Was he as overwhelmed by the prospect of marriage as she was, or was he concerned that all of this talk of marriage would scare her away?

Sara didn't think anything could keep her from Cameron now, even premature talk of marriage, and she couldn't help but smile at Cameron in a reassuring way. She mouthed the words: "I'll talk to you later." He had better call her now!

Cameron smiled and nodded. Ashley took his arm and whispered something in his ear. He pulled away from her abruptly and regarded her in surprise. Ashley raised her eyebrows at him, waiting. He hesitated, then nodded. He glanced at Sara again, his eyes charged with excitement.

Ashley motioned to Brandon and Adam, and they left the room with Sara and her family. Once the door shut behind them, Ashley burst out, "I remember you now, Sara! You're Cameron's sprinter friend, the one who always asked every guy to dance except him!"

Sara stopped in front of the cultural hall door and turned abruptly to face Ashley, mortified. "You knew?"

"Of course I knew. Everyone knew."

"Why didn't you guys push them out on the floor together?" David asked.

"Oh, that would have been horrible!" Sara said. "I wanted to dance with Cameron, but not like that!"

"No one would have dared do that to you, Sara," Ashley assured. "Once one of the guys asked Cameron why he didn't ask you to dance. The guy said, 'You afraid she's going to beat you up, Carroll?'" Ashley spoke in the deepest, manliest voice she could manage. "'Have you seen the muscles on that girl? She could beat me up!'"

Sara followed Ashley into the empty cultural hall, feeling shaken. "What did Cameron say?"

Ashley held the door for Sara, then strolled along next to her. "Cameron glared at him with the strangest glow in his eyes, as if he were a destroying angel. Let me tell you, even I had never seen him look like that, and it was frightening. Everything got really silent all of a sudden, and I had a feeling everyone else was noticing what I was at that moment--Cameron is pretty muscular himself, or was, and he's a guy, and it wasn't likely he was worried about being beat up by you, Sara. And then he said in a voice that was quiet but resolute, 'Do you have a problem with that?'"

"He really is a champion!" Sara's mother burst out in delight.

"Isn't he though?" Sara's father said in satisfaction.

Ashley continued to Sara, "The guy looked like a bug that had been squished, and he said, 'No, Cameron, of course not.' And no one ever said anything to Cameron about you again."

"So the servant was defending his queen's honor even then," David said, impressed.

Ashley slipped her arm through David's. "What a romantic way to put it!"

David gladly moved closer to Ashley. "Cameron was the one who said he was the servant and Sara was his queen."

Ashley slid her other arm through Sara's and squeezed enthusiastically. "I knew you looked familiar! Oh this does explain a great deal!"

Sara's embarrassment gave way to exhilaration. She had never felt like such a lady.

"She's Cameron's mystery love, isn't she!" Brandon said in delight.

"I don't think there's much doubt of that, no," Ashley said.

"Wow, that's cool," Adam said. "We finally get to meet Cameron's mystery love."

"I'm such a moron," Ashley said. "I should have guessed."

"We're all morons," David agreed.

Sara felt giddy. "Why did everyone know Cameron was interested in me but me?"

"We didn't know it was you," Brandon said. "Which was why it was a mystery."

"We just knew there was someone," Ashley explained, "because Cameron never took girls out for fun."

What an odd comment. "What do you mean?" Sara asked.

"Well, he did go to enough important dances with beautiful girls to satisfy Mother and Father that he didn't have some kind of social phobia or personality disorder, but that was it."

Sara's mother stifled a giggle. David laughed and patted Ashley's hand. Sara knew she would get teased about this night forever.

"And when we asked him for the name of his mystery love and pictures of her, he got really mad and made us do extra work around the house," Brandon said.

Sara smiled. So Cameron, too, had taken his turn as the family babysitter.

"I think Cameron should have let Mother and Father think he didn't like girls," Adam said with a decisive air, jogging forward to open the door into the north foyer for everyone. "Maybe they would have stayed home more, then."

"No," Brandon lamented as he passed Adam, "they would have just put him in therapy and we still wouldn't have been able to harass him about his mystery love."

"No, you're both wrong," Ashley said. "Mother and Father have thrived professionally because their work has just the right dash of liberal thinking. They would have told everyone about their difficult family situation, delicately of course, and educated America about tolerance. They would have had more speaking engagements than ever."

Ashley's cynicism shocked Sara. "I think you guys are awful. I hope Cameron made you do the bathrooms."

"Why didn't you ever ask Cameron to dance?" Ashley asked.

"Because he was my mystery love and I was a coward."

"You weren't much of a coward back there. I thought you were going to kiss him," Brandon pointed out.

Sara felt mischievous. "I didn't think it would be proper to kiss the bishop."

Instead of laughing, the Carroll kids seemed to lose all desire for light-heartedness. They looked at each other with expressions of pain. After several moments of uncomfortable silence, Adam complained, moving away from the door to the cultural hall, "Why didn't Cameron tell us he was going to be the bishop?"

"He probably didn't know how," Ashley said.

"I understand why he didn't say anything to Mother and Father, but why didn't he tell us?" Adam persisted.

"Because he's gone crazy," Brandon said.

"Do you really think so?" Adam said, more troubled than ever.

"You heard his talk. What was that all about? He's never been disrespectful or disobedient to Father in his life."

"I don't think this is the proper time to talk about this," Ashley warned.

"Why not?" Brandon said. "Only Sara is here, and she's almost part of the family!"

"Hardly!" Sara exploded in panic. "Your brother hasn't even taken me out, much less proposed to me!"

"Well when he does," her father interjected, "don't be an idiot--say yes!"

"Oh, Dad . . ." Why did he have to pick now, of all times, to make one of his off-centered comments?

Ashley stopped, and Brandon and Adam simultaneously turned to look at Sara's father. "You're that certain Cameron isn't crazy," Brandon asked earnestly.

"I am," her father said with equal earnestness. "I have a great deal of admiration for Cameron."

"I know everyone thought Father would be the bishop," Adam said, "but I think Cameron is a better choice, don't you? He doesn't have so much on his mind."

"Oh I don't know," Ashley said, leading them all to the foyer doors. "He certainly seems to have Sara on his mind."

 

Chapter 8: THE KING OF CLASS ENCHANTS THE QUEEN OF DANCE

"I can't believe you live in Parkridge, Sara," Ashley said as she stepped into the parking lot. "That can't be more than twenty minutes from where we used to live, in Greenwood. We were practically neighbors."

"I know," Sara admitted. "I saw Cameron whenever we had a game or a meet against Greenwood."

"What high school did you go to?" Brandon asked in surprise.

"Parkridge. If I lived on the other side of the interstate, I would have gone to school with Cameron."

Ashley rolled her eyes. "I can't believe you two."

Trendaul couldn't believe it either. Sara's feelings for Cameron must have been incredibly intense to have invoked such reticence in her. How different things might have been! He felt like an idiot for not suspecting Sara's passion for Cameron long ago.

"Would that have been a local phone call, Sara?" David teased.

Sara nodded sheepishly. "Probably."

Trendaul shared David's amusement, if not his exasperation. Sara's adoration for Cameron had turned her into such a jellyfish that she deserved a little playful harassment. "Cameron was written up on the sports pages of the Parkridge Gazette as often as Sara was. That's how local he was."

David's eyebrows shot up. "I'll bet Sara saved every one of those pictures of Cameron from the newspaper."

"She couldn't have cut pictures out of the paper without someone figuring it out," Teri said.

"Oh no," David persisted. "I know Sara. She's determined. I'll bet she carried scissors in her backpack and cut the pictures out of the paper at the grocery store."

"Actually, you're right," Sara admitted.

Ashley shrieked with ecstasy. "No way!" Everyone exploded with laughter, and even Sara couldn't restrain a smile. "Cameron must have pictures of her hidden somewhere!"

"We looked everywhere for them," Brandon admitted, still laughing.

"They're in his wallet," Sara admitted. "Hidden in the bill holder. He showed them to me."

David turned to Sara. "You're both pathetic, you know that."

"I told you you'd harass me forever!"

"You deserve it!"

"Well, I say it's about time we got a look at Cameron's mystery love!" Adam chirped. "They'll be engaged before you know it!"

Sara groaned and got into the van, slamming the door. Sara appeared surprised when David opened the door right back up and motioned Ashley, Brandon, and Adam into the van after her. "If you come with us, how will you get home?" she asked.

"Cameron will drive to your house to pick us up," Brandon explained.

Sara gasped. "Really?"

An expression of such delight and anxiety came over Sara's face that Trendaul couldn't restrain himself from suggesting, "I suppose David could take Ashley and her brothers home instead."

"No . . . no, no. I'm just in shock."

Adam slid into the seat next to Sara. "I told you we had arranged a surprise for you."

"He'll call you when he's done," Ashley said, "and you can give him the directions."

David chuckled as he pulled the side doors of the van shut behind him. "I'll bet he already knows where Sara lives."

Ashley and her brothers chatted excitedly with David and Sara during the forty-five minutes it took to drive to Parkridge. Ashley and her brothers seemed abnormally eager to be spending the evening with Trendaul's family. Trendaul had a feeling they were lonely and bored. They really were nice kids. None of them had the snobbish attitude that could have so easily gone with the famous parents, designer clothes, and Greenwood estate home. Obviously the parents had done a few things right.

No, as difficult as it was to admit to himself, the parents had done many things right, which made Trendaul wonder how they could have ended up in a situation so wrong. He believed Dr. Carroll's commitment to the gospel, at least, had once been strong.

His wife, on the other hand, seemed nothing more than a sophisticated parrot. Her writing on family issues combined generic Mormon values with a politically correct philosophy that had appealed to both Marylanders and members of the Church for nearly a decade. Trendaul had never perceived any passion in her work or depth of understanding, only trite ideas dressed up in tantalizing facts and witty language. Who knew what she thought about anything?

Benjamin and Barbara Carroll had loved each other in the beginning of their marriage, Trendaul was certain of it. Trendaul had spent most of the evening studying Benjamin Carroll and was equally certain that he now believed himself in love with Sara. He had watched her a good part of the evening, sometimes in a disturbed way, but usually with fondness, often trying to catch her eye. Sara had been so engrossed with Cameron, however, that she hadn't noticed.

As revolted as Trendaul was by Benjamin Carroll's desire for his daughter, he had to concede that he wasn't the kind of man who had spent his life preying on girls. It didn't look as if he had designs on any of the other young women in the colony yet. Trendaul didn't think, moreover, that he was a man who had been chronically unfaithful to his wife, although Trendaul couldn't believe that he would be pursuing a chaste young woman like Sara now had he not already made adultery a habit.

Of all the women in the Eden Colony, why was Sara the one he had singled out? Trendaul could understand a physical attraction easily enough. Sara was beautiful and vibrant, with a racial reproductive capacity and energy a man like Benjamin Carroll might be able to sense, even if he didn't have the knowledge to correctly identify it.

The emotional attraction Trendaul perceived, however, was more of a mystery. Twenty-six years' difference existed between their ages, and aside from their mutual desire to colonize Eden, they didn't appear to have much in common either in interests or in their basic perspective on life. The only thing that made sense to Trendaul was that Cameron and his father were far more alike in essence than it initially seemed and that both had personalities which were compatible with Sara's.

Could it be that Cameron had inherited more than his appearance from his father? That he was the gentle, deeply spiritual young man he was because his father had been that way not so long ago and had influenced him in that direction? Such a situation would explain how a young man of Cameron's profundity had come from such a family. It would also explain, along with the mother's attitude of graciousness, why Cameron's brothers and sister were so pleasant and lacking in arrogance. Trendaul came to the conclusion that Cameron and his father were, indeed, very much alike and that Sara had probably encouraged Benjamin Carroll unconsciously, responding to him as she would have to Cameron. Perhaps the man's feelings for Sara weren't difficult to understand at all.

Trendaul debated whether he should tell Cameron about his father's behavior toward Sara but eventually decided against it. Perhaps the man would put his feelings for Sara in perspective and leave her alone now that Cameron was in love with her. Not only that, but surely the First Presidency of the Church suspected Benjamin Carroll's problems ran deeper than rebellion. They would have told Cameron what they thought he needed to know. Trendaul had no doubt that learning such a thing about his father would shock and outrage him. If the knowledge came too soon, it might paralyze him also.

If his father's desire for Sara didn't cool, Cameron would discern soon enough what was going on, and Sara would be more likely to believe it herself if what Cameron told her was gleaned from his own observations. Whatever the case, the Brethren had turned Benjamin Carroll over to Cameron to deal with, and they had done it because the Lord knew that Cameron would handle the situation well. Cameron, in fact, might be the only person who had a chance of turning his father around.

How did Ashley and the two younger Carroll boys feel about going to Eden? Perhaps they didn't want to go at all. Ashley could probably choose to remain on Earth, but her younger brothers could not. Trendaul's confusion about why the prophet would authorize the organization of the Eden Colony Ward melted, replaced by gratitude. He now had hope for the Carroll children and all of the other innocents, hope for the colony in general, and especially hope for Sara.

Once Trendaul and crew arrived home, Ashley took one look at Josh and hurled a horrified scream at him: "It's the Dance Clown!"

Josh screamed back at her: "It's the Fancy Fashion Doll!"

"Fancy Fashion Doll!" Ashley exclaimed in outrage as laughter erupted. She whipped her pale gold head around to face Sara. "The Dance Clown is your brother?"

Sara nodded and extended her arm toward Josh as if she were introducing him on stage. "The one and only Josh Alexander."

Josh bowed to Ashley theatrically. "The Amazing Josh Alexander is pleased to finally meet the girl with the most intelligent, discerning eyes of any fashion doll he's ever seen."

Ashley involuntarily widened her eyes, her lips parting slightly in surprise. After a moment she smiled, extending her hand to Josh. "I'm Ashley Carroll. My brother Cameron is in love with your sister."

Josh turned knowingly to Sara, cupping his hand around his mouth and speaking to her in a stage whisper, "I guess that means it's okay now to admit you're in love with him too." Josh shook his head at Ashley. "You would not believe all of the abuse I've suffered over the years because of my knowledge of my sister's deep and meaningful crush on Cameron Carroll."

Ashley laughed. Sara glared. "If you had your own love life, Josh, you wouldn't be so concerned about mine!"

Josh threw up his arms in hopelessness. "See what I mean? 'Wherefore the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.'" That comment sent Ashley and her brothers into hysterics.

Trendaul's mind worked quickly. "1 Nephi 16:2."

"Ah ha!" Josh cried, turning toward Trendaul with his arm outstretched and pointing. "It took you three seconds! You're getting slow, old man!"

"Touché!" said David.

Trendaul backed away, clutching his chest as if stabbed. "'Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear!'"

"1 Nephi 16:1," Josh shot back. Then to Sara he said, "Does Mr. Preppie Pretty Boy know his new girlfriend likes to dress up as a Klingon warrior woman on Halloween?"

"No way!" Ashley gasped.

Sara nodded, grinning. "It's great fun. Josh still dresses up as the Phantom of the Opera and skates around the neighborhood, singing songs from the musical and throwing candy at the kids."

"Cameron likes to dress up as Cal Ripkin," Adam volunteered.

"Good man!" David said in approval.

"Dad does door duty," Josh said. "He used to dress up as a bug-eyed alien until we talked him into being Mr. Spock."

Brandon leaned on Ashley's shoulder, nearly breathless with laughter. "I love you guys," he said in Trendaul and Sara's direction. "You're so weird and cool!"

"We're from Mars," Teri said with a smile.

David waved his hands in an effort to calm everyone, his face solemn. "A question of eternal magnitude is begging to be answered." When David had everyone's attention, he continued, "I don't know about the rest of you, but my evening won't be complete until we've decided which bizarre and disturbing image is the most hilarious: a Klingon warrior woman with a bishop, a preppie pretty boy, or the clean-cut Orioles Hall of Famer."

Everyone laughed themselves into gasps and tears, Sara most of all.

*

Sara spent the evening only half aware of what was going on around her, feeling nervous about what would happen once Cameron arrived. She had already decided that she would go to the front porch for privacy once he called. She also hoped to keep him to herself for a few minutes before he gathered his siblings. At the same time, however, she wondered if she should.

Would the prospect of spending a few minutes alone together make him as uneasy as it did her? Would he be so unnerved that he would go directly into the house? Even if they did sit together on the porch for a few minutes, would someone inside of the house come out? Would his brothers and sister expect to return to their hotel right away? Or should she take him to the backyard, where they could sit in virtual privacy in the swing?

No, she shouldn't even consider that possibility. Cameron wasn't just a boy she had adored in high school--he was her bishop now. He probably wouldn't want to be that alone with her, and they had just met. Moreover, anyone finding them alone together in the swing, in the dark, would never believe they were only talking, and she would probably die of embarrassment.

When Cameron called around ten o'clock, Sara left the others as nonchalantly as she could, despite the giggles, and went to her bedroom to get a sweater. Quickly draping the sweater over her arm, she jogged lightly down the stairs and out the front door.

Sara paced as she conversed with Cameron and waited, the time passing so quickly that she forgot she was nervous. The tension returned, however, when Cameron's BMW pulled into the driveway. She felt both hot and cold at the same time and realized that she had forgotten to put on her sweater. She pushed the button to end the call and tossed the phone onto a porch chair, then finally slid into her sweater and casually approached Cameron's car. Whatever happened with Cameron in the next few minutes, she didn't want it to occur under the porch lights only a few yards away from where her parents were sitting.

When Cameron opened the door, Sara stopped walking. As Cameron stepped out of the car and stood up, Sara ran her hand along the hood of Cameron's BMW and said the only thing that she could think of at the moment, "Nice car."

"Thank you. It used to be my father's. He gave it to me when I turned sixteen." Cameron shut the door and walked toward Sara. "Are you all right?" he asked, resting a hand on her arm.

Sara nodded quickly.

"You seem shy all of a sudden."

Sara felt her cheeks grow warm. She didn't know what to say.

"Are you afraid of me again?" His voice was very gentle.

"Maybe a little," she admitted.

He inched closer to her, moving his hand slowly down her arm. "Why?"

Chills shot through Sara. Now that Cameron was there, standing so close to her, she wanted more than ever to be alone with him. "Because I've never been in a situation quite like this before."

The reflection of the stars shimmered in Cameron's eyes. "Neither have I. I've been dreaming about it, though, for six years."

"I have too," Sara whispered. "Maybe that's why I'm so nervous."

Cameron's fingertips grazed the back of her hand. "Perhaps we'll both be more at ease if we go someplace where we can be alone for a while."

Sara felt as if her mouth had been glued shut. All of her reservations seemed trivial at the moment, and she turned and motioned him to follow her into the backyard. Before she had taken too many steps, he caught up to her and slid his arm around her shoulders. They had not quite made it to the backyard when Sara decided to match Cameron's boldness by putting her arm around his waist under his suit jacket.

Cameron immediately stopped and drew Sara into his arms. Without hesitation, she snuggled close, reveling in the feel and smell of him.

"You feel so wonderful, Sara."

Sara laid her cheek against Cameron's, feeling as if she were trembling all over. "So do you. And you smell nice too."

"I like it that you don't wear perfume. You're fresh and natural."

"I didn't expect you to be so down-to-earth."

Cameron pulled away a little so that he could look at her. His features appeared shadowy in the starlight. "Are you disappointed?"

Sara couldn't resist stroking his cheek. "No, relieved. I prefer you to be made of flesh and blood, not fantasies."

Cameron's cheek grew hot under her fingers. His hand quivered as he smoothed her hair away from her face. "I love your honesty, Sara. I always have."

"But how could you? I had never spoken to you."

Cameron kissed the inside of her wrist. "It wasn't what you said, it was what you were."

"I don't understand." Sara slid her fingers into Cameron's pale golden blond hair. Even in its short missionary cut, it was as soft as it was beautiful.

"You've just always seemed so wild and free, but in an innocent, sweet way. It's as if your spirit is so confident and powerful and honest that it can't be hidden behind style or convention or anything. Am I making any sense at all?"

"Sort of."

He kissed her forehead. "The first time I saw you dance, you were wearing a red dress with big blue flowers on it, and when you spun around, it would flare out just a little. Your hair was up in kind of a wild style." He swept her hair up to demonstrate. "The strands of your hair began falling down, but you didn't notice, because you were so passionate about dancing." Cameron released tiny strands of her hair, one by one, twirling them around his fingertip, and Sara thought she would melt into the ground. "I had never seen anything so beautiful. You were so perfectly yourself, no posing, no pretension, no nothing but Sara Alexander, my glorious queen."

Sara widened her eyes at Cameron. She had never dreamed she could have this effect on him, and it both thrilled her and threw her off balance.

Cameron's features suddenly twisted into an expression of panic. "I've made you uncomfortable. I'm sorry. I'm moving too fast. No one who knows me would ever believe it."

He laughed a little, self-consciously, and Sara realized that he really was as nervous as she was. She wanted to tell him that she was simply paralyzed with happiness, but he didn't pause for a moment, even to take a breath. "It's just that I've never done this before, and I've been waiting for so long, and we have so little time, and I'm babbling. I'm pathetic."

He finally paused, briefly, to breathe. Sara rested her fingers on his lips and shook her head, smiling. "You're perfect."

His mouth fell open under her fingers, and then he laughed, just as nervously as he had before. "Perfectly silly."

Sara moved her hand to the back of Cameron's neck to draw him closer. "No, perfectly sweet and real." She kissed his cheek with all of the fondness she felt. "I told you that I preferred you to be made of flesh and blood, not fantasies."

Sara felt Cameron's lips on her neck and shivered. As he kissed his way to her mouth, her senses sprang alive with a ferocity that startled her, and she clasped him even more tightly. Suddenly she didn't feel too young to get married.

"Oh Sara . . ."

Sara returned his kisses with abandon, having no idea how much time had passed before she managed to say, "You are a . . . very good . . . teacher . . . Cameron Carroll."

"So are . . . you." Cameron kissed Sara's cheek, then whispered in her ear, "I couldn't wait another minute. We've wasted far too many years as it is."

Sara nodded, feeling his lips on her jaw. "We really were pathetic. We certainly should have danced together."

Cameron rested his cheek against hers. "And sat together at the track meets while we were waiting for our events."

"And eaten chili dogs and nachos together at the football games."

"And argued about which side to sit on."

"And felt free to cheer for each other's races."

"And gone to see the Orioles."

"Without my mom. My family never went to Camden Yards unless the Royals were in town, and my mom always cheered for them. It was so embarrassing!"

"There are two of us and only one of her. We could have out-yelled her. O-yeah!"

"O-yeah!" Sara repeated the Orioles cheer with enthusiasm. "We should have taken the same flight to Salt Lake when we were freshmen--"

"And played ping pong in the dorm."

"And written to each other while you were on your mission."

Cameron pulled away enough so that he could look at her. "You have no idea how much that would have meant to me."

They kissed tenderly, then clung to each other silently. Cameron cradled Sara against his chest and neck, his cheek against hers and his hands stroking her hair and back, still quivering. Sara held him in exhilaration, savoring every sensation.

Eventually Cameron's hands steadied and he pulled away a little. "Is that a swing I see over there?"

Sara nodded. "That's where I was going to take you until we got . . . distracted." She kissed him again, then took his hand and pulled him toward the swing. They sat down and gazed at each other in the light from the dining room window.

Cameron tilted his head toward the house. "I wonder how long it will be before they find us."

"Not for hours and hours, I hope."

Cameron drew her into his arms. "It'll probably be a lot sooner than that."

Sara laid her head on his neck and wrapped her arms around his waist. "There's always tomorrow."

Cameron stroked her arm. "Unfortunately, that isn't exactly true. My position makes our situation awkward, I'm afraid. In front of the other colonists we'll have to be extremely discreet. And we'll never be able to be completely alone like this again unless . . ."

He couldn't bring himself to say it and neither could Sara, but she understood what he meant. A bishop couldn't go off alone with young women if he wanted to maintain his credibility, and Cameron's credibility with the colonists was uncertain enough as it was. This was as alone as the two of them would ever be unless they decided to get married. Sara laughed a little. "The price I pay to date the bishop."

"I'm sorry, Sara. I wish things could be different."

"You know, this situation really is absurd."

"No kidding."

Sara giggled and squeezed Cameron's waist. "Here I am, cuddling in the dark with my bishop. It really is beyond belief!"

Cameron stopped Sara's laughter with a kiss. "I am always just Cameron to you, sweet queen." He kissed her again, lingeringly.

"You are definitely worth the inconvenience," Sara murmured.

"Am I?" he asked quietly. "You're sure you wouldn't rather spend time with the other single men in the colony instead?"

What was Cameron asking? Was he concerned that she might not be willing to see him exclusively? "Cameron, there has been no one but you for six years. Now that you've kissed me, the mere thought of going out with someone else makes me ill. And if I see you even look at another woman, I'll be ill and angry."

Cameron kissed Sara's hair. "Oh, you'll never have to worry about that. I haven't seriously noticed another woman since I saw you at that first youth dance."

"That's so hard to believe, Cameron."

"Is it any more difficult to believe than your claim? That you haven't wanted anyone but me for six years?"

"When you put it that way, how can I argue?"

*

At eleven-thirty Ashley's cell phone rang. She answered it and put it to her ear, saying pleasantly, "Hello, Father . . . yes, Cameron's been here for at least forty-five minutes . . . I can't put him on. He's here but he isn't here . . . we assume he's, uh, stargazing with Sara."

Brandon and Josh snickered. David laughed out loud. Adam leaned toward the phone and said enthusiastically, "Cameron's mystery love is now his mushy love!"

Ashley rolled her eyes. "Oh come on, Father. Don't make me get him! He's absolutely insane about Sara. It would be cruel. Give us another half an hour. Please!" Ashley stood up with a sigh, covering the mouthpiece of the phone with her thumb. "He says he won't hang up until he talks to Cameron. I guess someone had better go find him."

Trendaul glanced at Teri. They both knew why Benjamin Carroll was so determined to speak to Cameron. He wanted to break up the romance. Teri lifted her eyebrows, her smile sly. "Perhaps, David, you can drive Ashley and Brandon and Adam back to Columbia so that Cameron can stay a little longer."

"Excellent idea," David said, nodding.

Ashley looked at David, her eyes lighting up. "Would you really?"

"No problem."

Ashley lifted the phone to her ear again. "Father, we've made other arrangements. David Pierce is going to bring Brandon and Adam and me home." She paused and listened, then said, laughing, "You can't be serious! Why should Cameron have to come home now? . . . But you haven't been waiting up for him for two years! And he's a bishop! Certainly that makes him an adult now and qualifies him to come and go as he pleases . . . I know we all have to get up early tomorrow, but still! He can sleep on the shuttle." Ashley glanced from David to Trendaul to Teri, shaking her head incredulously. "Father, listen, I'll have him call you as soon as I can find him. See you in a little while, okay? 'Bye." Ashley turned off the phone and stuffed it into her purse. "I think he needs to go to bed. He's getting crazy!"

"He's just worried about you," Trendaul said, not sure he believed it himself.

"No, he's crazy," Brandon said. "Ashley's curfew has been one o'clock for at least a year."

Ashley nodded. "And Father usually doesn't mind waiting up. He likes to fool around with his web site and hang out in his chat room."

Teri lifted her eyebrows at Trendaul in a way that said, "What a surprise."

Trendaul thought he should be amused that the person Ashley's father wanted to chat with was currently busy with Cameron, but he wasn't; he was disgusted. He was so disgusted, in fact, that he was determined to keep Cameron there as long as Cameron wanted to stay, even though he needed some time to talk with Sara alone. He would send Teri to bed and stay up all night if he had to in order to play chaperon. "David, why don't the four of you go ahead and go. I'll find Cameron."

"Are you going to make Cameron leave?" Adam asked.

Trendaul smiled and shook his head. After they left, he bade Teri and Josh good night, picked up the telephone, and headed outside to find Sara and Cameron. He discovered them in each other's arms in the swing, talking softly and completely unaware of his presence.

The thought of Sara's spending most of the night in the swing with Cameron pleased Trendaul as much as anything could have at the moment. For a few hours they would be nothing more than twenty-year-old kids who were thrilled with each other. It seemed so normal. He almost hated to disturb them.

When Cameron leaned to kiss Sara, Trendaul decided it was time to make his presence known. "Cameron, I'm sorry to intrude, but you need to call your father."

 

Chapter 9: THE RING AND THE BLESSING

Trendaul didn't get a chance to talk to Sara alone until almost two o'clock. Trendaul followed Sara into her room, protectively carrying the little box that contained the remainder of his arelada. She was smiling and animated, and Trendaul doubted she would get any sleep that night.

She sat down on her bed with a bounce, her eyes gravitating to the box he was holding. "What is that?"

 "I'll tell you in a minute." Trendaul sat down on the bed and faced her. He set the box on the bed and removed from his finger a ring of polished white gold, set with an emerald, and held it out to her. "I want you to have this. It's the wedding ring your mother picked out for me after we arrived on Earth. You can give it to Cameron when the time comes."

Sara threw her arms up and shook her head at the ceiling. "Why does everyone want to rush us into marriage!"

Trendaul smiled, for the first time in five days pleased by Sara's innocence. It reminded him of the little girl he remembered. "You claim to prefer the pace of the 1,500-meter run, Sara, but you and Cameron have just come out of the blocks as if you're sprinting the 100."

Sara winced. "We've been shameless, haven't we."

Trendaul laughed softly. "Impeccably so."

Sara shook her head in resignation. "I knew what would happen if I spent any time alone with him. I know we just met, but I couldn't stop myself, and neither could he."

"I don't know why that would surprise you. You've been suppressing your feelings for each other a long time, and you're both very open, fervent kind of people. I'm not sure it could have been any other way between the two of you tonight, and it's for the best. You may not be completely comfortable with the idea of marriage yet, but there's no doubt in my mind where Cameron stands. He wants--and needs--a wife."

"Did he tell you that when you talked with him in the temple?"

"He'll tell you about our time together in the temple when he's ready."

"Somehow, I knew you were going to say that," Sara said thoughtfully.

Trendaul couldn't believe he could feel such peace at a moment he had long dreaded. "Cameron loves the Lord with his whole heart and soul and will treat you as the precious daughter of God you are. Don't throw him away for some silly desire to be a great writer or reluctance to have a baby before you're thirty or whatever." He had never dreamed he would actually want his daughter to marry an Earthon man.

 "I don't know if I feel ready to get married," Sara said meekly, gazing at her denim quilt.

"Trust me, Sara," Trendaul said gently, "you're more than ready to get married. You're ready to be a mother too." For Sara, marriage would mean a baby nine months from the wedding day. She needed to know, but how could he tell her when the prospect of marriage alone so unsettled her? The last thing Trendaul wanted was for Sara to reject Cameron out of aversion to having a baby right away, especially when he knew that, despite Sara's present discomfort, marriage to Cameron and a baby soon after would delight her.

Sara shrugged, ever so slightly. "I suppose I should be complimented." She brought her bent knees together under her chin and wrapped her arms around them, those velvety blue eyes meeting his in gratitude. "Your saying that means you think of me as an adult."

Trendaul rested a hand on her shoulder. "You are an adult, and I want you to be as happy as an adult as you were as a little girl. That means moving forward and not running away from the very thing that will bring you the most joy and personal growth."

"Which, in your opinion, is Cameron and a baby."

"If you are still determined to go to Eden, yes. Cameron and many babies."

"With everything moving so fast between us, how will I know whether or not I love him truly and deeply and am not just infatuated with him?"

That Sara would ask such a question at all proved that at least half of her intelligence remained intact. Trendaul answered, feeling relieved on that point at least, "Think about what it is that attracts you to him. Are you as attracted to his testimony as to the tone of his voice? To his mind as well as to his face? To his kindness as well as his caresses? Does he make you feel comfortable and wonderful about being you? Do you trust him? Is he your best friend?"

Sara gazed at him sadly. "Cameron and I would have been friends. Good friends. I wish I had asked him to dance. As happy as I am that we understand each other now, I feel a little empty, as if I've lost a friend or betrayed one."

Trendaul squeezed Sara's shoulder and released it. "There's nothing you can do about the past six years. You have to accept that and look forward to all the years together you have ahead of you." He smiled. "Your mother and I have been married three times longer than you have known Cameron, and to the people I work with at the temple, we're still newlyweds." Trendaul held the ring out to Sara again.

This time she took it, shaking her head and murmuring her thanks as she slid it onto her thumb.

Feeling an urgency he couldn't contain, Trendaul said, "Once you make the decision to marry, don't put it off. If you do, Cameron won't function well in his calling and you will both be miserable. I know you want to be married in the temple, but your decision to go to Eden makes a sealing unrealistic for the time being."

Sara closed her eyes and held very still, as if thinking deeply. When she opened her eyes again, she said, "I think I understand what you're saying. On the other hand, I can't believe it would actually come to that." She put an arm over her waist and a hand to her mouth, gazing at the bed, perplexed.

Trendaul tapped his box of arelada in frustration. Sara truly believed she could go to Eden and marry Cameron or someone else in the temple. She and Cameron hadn't been capable of spending a mere evening together without behaving like sweethearts. And she thought she was going to wait two years to get married? Or did she think Eden would get a temple within the next two years?

Zarr's mind bond hadn't consumed all of Sara's intelligence, but it had certainly sapped her common sense. Trendaul took some comfort in the knowledge that the bond would dissolve the farther Sara traveled away from Earth. Once on Eden, perhaps the Lord would have a fighting chance at knocking some sense back into her.

Moments passed and Sara looked up at Trendaul again. "Will you tell me now about your little box?"

"First I need to tell you something about the planet Eden itself."

"You know something about it?" Sara asked eagerly.

"A little. I know enough to tell you that it is in a strategic position, coveted by more nations than Zarr's, and that its spirit is probably one that refuses to submit to the dominion of human beings."

"Why do you think that?"

"Because the process of making a planet habitable takes years. It's very complex, demanding work that takes thousands of specialists and trillions of dollars. No government finishes terraforming a planet only to abandon it. I assume the planet-spirit agreed to be terraformed initially, then, for some reason, fought being bridled by the maintenance team after the process had been completed. That is extremely unusual."

Sara was amazed. "The planet's spirit actually agrees to be terraformed?"

"Yes. Planets with spirits that won't agree to be terraformed or cannot be tamed are dangerous and are, therefore, left alone. The fact that Eden is uninhabited means there is something seriously wrong with it."

"What makes you so certain Eden was terraformed? Dr. Carroll believes the Lord preserved Eden as a 'promised land,' kind of like the American continent."

Trendaul wanted to point out that Dr. Carroll was an idiot, but he refrained, with difficulty, and said instead, "What Benjamin Carroll believes is not impossible, perhaps, but it is improbable. Centuries of space exploration have taught the civilized galaxy that only original planets begin with ecosystems suitable for human habitation."

"Original planets?"

"Planets the Lord Himself actually created and populated."

"I can't believe Eden is as awful as you think. We'll make it work somehow. I know we will."

"I hope you're right. Even so, I want you to have this."

Sara took it from his hands carefully. "It's your arelada, isn't it? What am I supposed to do with it?"

"Nothing at the moment. If you open the box, Zarr's people will detect the arelada and take it from you."

"But there won't be any Zarrists in our colony. They'll be in Control Colony, hundreds of miles away."

"You won't get to Eden for three and a half weeks. While you're on the transport, you mustn't open the box. Once you get to Eden, wait a week to make sure the transport has left Eden's system, then take one of the arelada pendants out of the box and wear it under your shirt. Then hide the box under a clump of bushes or something, just in case Control Colony is monitoring for arelada use. That way they will only find what you're wearing."

"Why are you giving it to me?"

"Because it will enable you to communicate with Eden's planet-spirit, should there be a problem. Or at the very least, you will be able to feel the planet-spirit's current state of emotion."

"What kind of problem?"

"Continuous earthquakes, violent storms and other unpredictable weather. Any unexplainable natural disasters that might threaten your existence as a colony."

Sara's eyebrows shot up. "You can't be serious!"

Of course she didn't believe him now. She knew nothing of these things. "Just take the arelada, and, after you've been on Eden a week, start practicing with it. I've never communicated with a planet-spirit, so I'm not entirely sure how it would work, but I suspect that you will never be able to communicate with Eden unless you practice. Developing mind power is a lot like developing muscles. It requires conditioning. You don't remember, but when you were a baby, both your mother and I communicated telepathically with you often. During the year after your mother died, in fact, when you were with me constantly, I taught you a great deal."

"You almost make it sound as if I communicated back to you."

"You did."

"You actually allowed me to wear arelada?"

"I didn't need to. Arelada emits an energy field, and you were always close enough to me to get the benefits of it."

"Why did we stop communicating that way?"

"Because your mother, Teri, was afraid it would make you unable to relate to your Earthon peers in a normal way. She was right."

"But you think it'll come back to me."

Trendaul nodded; he had no doubt about that. He also had no doubt that Sara would be empathic enough to correctly interpret the emotions she might feel emanating from the planet-spirit. As a child she had been amazingly adept at interpreting his emotions and Krista's as they communicated with her telepathically. Krista, in particular, had believed that Sara's strongest telepathic talent would be empathy.

"This is what you do. Hold the arelada in your hand and try to pour your spirit into it. You will know you are succeeding, because it will make you acutely aware of yourself. I don't know how else to explain it. When you reach that stage, you may be aware of other strong emotion around you. If it is coming from another person, it will be focused and you will be able to identify the person. If it seems to come from everywhere, it's coming from the planet-spirit. The best thing you can do in the beginning is to work with a partner."

"So natives of Earth aren't so different from us physically that they can't use telepathy," Sara observed in surprise.

"Not at all. The only advantage you'll have over the other colonists will be that you've used telepathy before. That, and the fact that you'll be the one with the arelada." Trendaul explained several exercises to her as well as he could, feeling frustrated. Speaking was such an inadequate form of communication. "If your colony does begin experiencing freak weather or other problems, pour your spirit deeply into the arelada and then into the planet itself. Then try to communicate with the planet-spirit and learn what is troubling it."

"How weird. And exciting!"

Trendaul wouldn't have chosen the word "exciting" to describe an experience communicating with an out-of-control planet-spirit. "Terrifying" and "horrifying" were the proper adjectives, but Sara didn't have the education to understand the true situation. What in the galaxy was he doing? How could he let her go into such danger? Perhaps he should have allowed David to take her to Annapolis for a few days. Trendaul immediately expelled that desire. What was he thinking? David was an idiot if he really thought he could get away with holding a young woman prisoner in Bancroft Hall.

Trendaul felt a twinge of sadness as he watched Sara run her finger gingerly over the box of arelada. "If there is anything I regret, Sara, it's that I wasn't able to give you a proper education in telepathy."

"Wouldn't we have had to go to Novaun for that?"

"Yes." He nodded a little, staring past Sara's shoulder. He had never, for an instant, regretted marrying Teri, but his marriage to her had complicated his life in many ways. Had he returned to Novaun and given Sara her Novaunian heritage, he would have denied Teri and the seven children she had borne their rightful Earthon heritage. On the other hand, if he didn't return to Novaun soon, anxiety would consume his parents. No matter what he did, he couldn't give everything he wanted to give to everyone.

"Will you give me a blessing?"

Sara's request didn't surprise Trendaul, and had it come a day earlier, it would have made him uncomfortable. He had been both longing for the opportunity and dreading it, wondering what the Lord would say to Sara, knowing as He did that she had ignored His counsel. She hadn't changed her mind about Eden, but Trendaul felt confident that she had, at least, begun to turn around. She loved Cameron and believed his call was inspired, and that was as much as Trendaul could expect for now. She was as spiritually ready for a blessing as she had been in months.

Sara scooted to the end of her bed, and Trendaul positioned himself behind her, laying his hands on her head and allowing the words to flow. He was astonished to hear himself say things such as: "Your mother, Krista, watches over you and will go with you to Eden. Don't be afraid of having more children than you may, at present, think is natural. You are of a fertile, resilient, long-lived race and will not only experience excellent health as you bear these beloved spirits, but will rejoice in this unique opportunity the Lord has given to you. You will be blessed to meet your Novaunian family . . ."

Trendaul removed his hands from Sara's head, feeling relieved. What he could not bring himself to tell her about their heritage the Lord could. Thank you, Father!

Sara turned to face him, pulling her knees to her chin, gazing at him in amazement and fear. "How . . . how long do Novaunians live?" She held her breath, waiting for his answer.

"About two-hundred years."

Her face was white, with bright pink spots on her cheekbones. "Which is why you don't look a day over thirty."

Trendaul nodded slowly.

"How many brothers and sisters do you have?"

"I don't know." And he didn't. His parents had not been any older than he was now when he had left. They could have doubled the size of their family in the years he had been gone. "I was number three of eleven when I left."

Sara's hand trembled violently as she put it to her mouth with a little gasp. "How many . . .?"

Sara couldn't force the words out, but Trendaul understood what she wanted to know. "Thirty children seems to be about average for a couple. Your mother was the last of thirty-one."

Sara looked as if she might pass out. Trendaul suddenly remembered Dr. Carroll and his absurd vision of Zion. The thought of Sara and Cameron with thirty children instead of a politically correct two or three or maybe four was as hilarious as it was gratifying. He laughed.

Sara hurled her pillow at him. "It isn't funny, Dad. It's sick!"

The pillow stung when it hit Trendaul in the chest. Laughing even more hysterically, he threw it back at her, then sat down on the end of the bed with her, immediately causing the head of the bed to fly up. He jumped off of the bed as the bed set itself back down with a thump. Even Sara's anger didn't have a chance then. She couldn't keep herself from laughing too.

"I'm sorry, Sara. I just couldn't help but think of Benjamin Carroll and his 'sustainable growth' policy regarding childbearing."

Sara suddenly stopped laughing and her eyes became enormous.

"Now, are you absolutely sure you still want to go?"

*

At four o'clock Trendaul, Teri, and Sara loaded Sara's luggage, along with Daniel and Zack, into the van and headed to the Zarrists' base of operations, leaving the rest of the children to get themselves off to seminary and school. Teri turned the air conditioner on at full blast to keep herself awake and ended up keeping Trendaul awake also. Sara slept in one of the back seats. As far as Trendaul could tell, David never had come back to the house. He wondered if David would turn up at the spaceport.

When Tohmazz Zarr had first made contact with the United States and asked for permission to meet with the President, he and his entourage had been instructed to land at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County, Maryland. For many months, the government had refused the Zarrists permission to land their spacecraft anywhere other than Andrews. From there, they had flown their aircars to and from various air force bases around the world. The Zarrists were so cooperative with the government and so seemingly harmless that eventually the government allowed them to build their own spaceport on farmland they had purchased in P.G. County.

Now the Zarrists flew their space shuttles between their fleet and the base in P.G. County, and from that base, they flew their aircars into airports and spaceports all over the planet. The Zarrists were working with NASA and other space organizations around the world to build new ships and stations to use both in colonizing Earth's solar system and in defending Earth from enemy invasion. To accommodate the increased space traffic, the Zarrists were building a mammoth new spaceport, along with a city, in western Missouri, east of Independence and just north of Odessa. The city's name was Tryamazz, and its spaceport was supposed to be in operation by the beginning of the year.

At about five-thirty Trendaul and Teri arrived at the P.G. County spaceport. David was already there, waiting with Ashley Carroll and appearing exhausted and miserable.

Cameron met Trendaul and his family immediately, giving Sara a hug. Benjamin Carroll watched Sara and Cameron from his position in line at a check-in station, appearing amused. He seemed so amused, in fact, his stance so arrogant, that apprehension consumed Trendaul. Benjamin Carroll wasn't behaving normally, either like a father interested in his son or a spurned suitor. He looked as if he thought of himself as a conqueror, and there was no justification for it. What was going on in that disturbed mind of his?

Cameron took one of Sara's crates and led her to the place in line where members of his family were standing. Sara and Benjamin Carroll embraced in a natural, affectionate way that made Trendaul's skin crawl. He bit down hard on the inside of his lower lip to keep himself from vocalizing his outrage, within moments tasting blood.

Trendaul felt Teri dig her fingernails into his arm and knew that he would probably cheer if she berated the man right then and there. It was a nightmare, an utter nightmare. How could they stand by and allow this to happen? On the other hand, how could they intervene if they wanted to part with Sara with any degree of affection? If they humiliated and enraged her now, they were as good as throwing her right at this man they so despised.

The man squeezed Sara's hands as they withdrew from each other and smiled radiantly. "I'll have to say, Sara, that you're certainly the loveliest of Cameron's many interesting revelations."

"Thank you, Dr. Carroll," Sara replied, pleased.

"She's also a fabulous return on my investment," Barbara Carroll said to her husband, giving Sara a quick hug. "I select a student, and she turns out to be the one young lady capable of cheering up our unhappy son."

"I'm doing my best," Sara said, smiling at Cameron as they clasped hands.

As Sara and the Carrolls stepped up to one of the many check-in stations, David seized Ashley's shoulders and begged, "Please don't go. You can stay here and go to school."

Ashley's tired green eyes were filled with sadness. She touched David's cheek and shook her head. "It's too late for that."

Trendaul couldn't believe what he was witnessing. David and Ashley had flirted shamelessly all evening, but Trendaul hadn't seen anything to lead him to believe either one of them was interested in anything but a few hours of diversion. What had happened after David and Ashley had left? Surely David didn't really think he could persuade Ashley to remain on Earth. Even if she wanted to stay, Trendaul doubted her parents would allow it at this late date. Was David some kind of masochist?

"You can't go! It's wrong!" David insisted, giving her a little shake.

"I don't have any choice." Ashley gently touched her lips to David's, and he responded reverently.

Teri watched the two impatiently, as if she wanted to shout, "How dare you lead that girl on!" Sara was dumbfounded. The elder Carrolls were oblivious to everything but assuring that all of their light blue boxes were properly labeled. Adam and Brandon exchanged annoyed glances. Cameron blushed but couldn't tear his eyes away. Trendaul wasn't certain, but he thought Cameron appeared envious.

After a few moments Ashley and David withdrew from the kiss and gazed at each other desolately. "I'll never forget you, David."

David moved his hands from Ashley's shoulders to her back, pulling her close in a caressing embrace. "Please don't leave me . . ."

Teri shook her head and moaned. Sara looked away in embarrassment. Adam started making gagging noises. Brandon looked right at Trendaul and protested, "It's not our fault our sister's a tramp." Cameron erupted with laughter, and within a second, all of the reluctant witnesses were in hysterics. Trendaul allowed himself to laugh as boisterously as Cameron and did feel a little better afterward.

Eventually Benjamin Carroll took Sara's boxes and presented them for inspection under the "scanners." Of course the Zarrists, who were willing to sell the Earthons all the knowledge they possessed except their telepathic secrets, didn't tell the Earthons that what they called "scanners" were really Awareness monitors, devices used in conjunction with arelada to telepathically examine objects from the inside out. Nor did they tell the Earthons that they used this technology in their "divine" activities of cleansing the minds of criminals, healing people physically, and repairing and rearranging land.

Trendaul wondered where the Zarrists were getting their arelada. Had they found something on Earth to trade with the Senlanans? The Erdeanians? Pearls perhaps? Or chocolate? When would the other Diron fleets show up to collect their share of the spoils? The thought frightened him. The Earthons had no idea what kind of enemies they were making by allying with Zarr.

Once Sara's boxes were labeled and on their way to the shuttle, Benjamin Carroll motioned Sara and his children forward. Ashley reluctantly withdrew from David, kissing him one last time on the cheek, then took her place in the Awareness monitor booth after Adam and Brandon.

Sara hugged David first. "Thanks for being here. I really hope you don't get in trouble."

David kissed Sara's cheek. "Don't worry about it. I prepared for this."

"You always were the ideal Boy Scout." Sara squeezed David one more time and kissed his cheek.

"You have no idea how many hearts you're breaking at the Yard," David said dismally.

"It's your own fault!" Sara said as she pulled away from David. "You're the one who keeps introducing me to R.M. mids."

"You were supposed to fall in love with one of them and stay home!"

Sara laughed at David and groaned at the same time.

Trendaul had worried for years Sara would become serious about one of these young Earthon men and that he would be forced to leave her behind if he decided to return to Novaun. At the same time, though, he had watched her date with interest. Had she grown up in Shalaun on Novaun, surrounded by Fleet families such as his and Krista's, she would have dated young men similar to the ones she had dated here.

Of course none of it mattered now. Sara had entangled her destiny with Cameron and his troubled family and would now never marry a nice Fleet boy from Shalaun. It was one of the prices Trendaul paid for taking the assignment on Earth to begin with. Had he not been so fond of Cameron and grateful to him for agreeing to be the bishop of the Eden Colony Ward, he might have been angry with Krista for insisting they come to Earth.

Trendaul diverted his attention to Cameron, who waited near the Awareness monitor, his eyes on Sara with love, his fingers drumming his thighs in apprehension. He didn't like hearing about all of Sara's midshipmen friends. The warmth Trendaul felt for Cameron increased tenfold, and he knew more strongly than ever that Cameron and Sara would make each other happy, despite the fact that the marriage would mean he would lose Sara to Earth forever. Was this what the Pierces felt when they looked at him?

As Sara embraced Teri, Trendaul approached Cameron and held out his arms. Cameron hugged him tightly, unabashedly. "You'll never know how much our time together has meant to me."

Trendaul still marveled at this gift the Lord had given to him. "And you'll never know what it's meant to me."

"I love Sara; you know that now. I've loved her since I was fourteen. I won't let you down."

Trendaul withdrew, nodding. "I know that too."

When Trendaul finally hugged Sara, he clutched her to him as if he would never see her again. "Have a good life. Please." He couldn't rid himself of a feeling of foreboding. Sara hovered on the edge of a chasm, and Trendaul could nothing to stop her from diving in.

 

Part 2: THE COURTSHIP

Chapter 10: TOO MUCH HONESTY

Cameron took Sara's hand and moved her into the scanner booth. "So you've been dating the brigade, have you?" he playfully accused.

He was jealous! That both surprised and pleased Sara. "I've made a lot of friends." Sara noticed Ashley waiting impatiently outside of the booth for them.

"So the only way I was going to get you to stay on Earth was to let you fall in love with a midshipman and break my heart."

Sara wasn't about to tell Cameron that she had been far more inclined to fall in love with Tony Wright than any of David's midshipman friends. She was still surprised that Tony had perceived her feelings for Cameron as long ago as he had. She couldn't help but suspect that he had been interested in her in the beginning, which was why he had been observing her so closely. She was relieved that Tony had never asked her about Cameron. She knew she would have told him everything, and it would have made them closer. She had no doubt that, once Cameron showed up, she would have hurt Tony.

Sara stepped out of the booth into a wide walkway between shuttle gates and their corresponding lobbies. She turned slightly to look at Cameron as he stepped out of the booth behind her. She still grieved that she had hurt him by not asking him to dance. "I would never knowingly break your heart, Cameron."

Cameron rested his hands on her shoulders and moved her forward, speaking softly into her ear, "And I will never break yours."

The depth of Cameron's sincerity woke Sara up to the realization that they were making promises to each other they might not be able to keep. "I think it may be too soon to say such things."

Cameron took her hand in his, smiling, as they began walking. "Do you mean what you say, or don't you?"

"Of course I mean what I say."

"And so do I."

"Perhaps there's such a thing as too much honesty," Sara said in a light-hearted way. "We should pretend to be normal and play meaningless games with each other for a while. You know, flirt."

"I don't think either one of us has the ability to flirt."

Ashley approached them. "I'll teach you to flirt," she said, a hint of bitterness in her voice. "I'm an expert."

Cameron shrugged. "Go for it."

"Right now, Cameron, you're supposed to say something like: 'How many of those midshipmen did you kiss?'"

Sara looked at Cameron meaningfully. After everything that had happened between them the day before, he would, had he been paying any attention at all, already know the answer to that question.

Cameron smiled back at her in a confident way. Of course he knew. "And how should Sara respond to a question like that?"

"First of all, she should never, ever answer that kind of question directly. She should say something like: 'With my mind so full of you right now, how could I possibly remember?'"

Cameron nodded decisively. "That settles it. I'll take forthrightness over flirting any day." He laughed in delight.

Sara wanted to laugh too, but she didn't feel right leaving Ashley out of the joke. "You have to understand, Ashley, that David told Cameron he would have to teach me how to kiss, so you see, Cameron already knows how many midshipmen I kissed."

"It figures," Ashley said with a moan. "Sara, you don't belong here. Go home now, while you still have a chance."

"What exactly happened between you and David last night, anyway?" Sara asked.

"David sat up all night with Ashley talking," Cameron said. They strolled toward the flight gate assigned to the Eleventh Colony, passing members of the International Star Force along with others going to Eden in one of the fifteen colonies.

"Talking," Sara said knowingly, squeezing Cameron's hand.

"Talking," Ashley insisted.

"David is a tyrant," Sara explained. "Don't misunderstand me--I love him to death--but you can't let him get to you."

"He is passionate," Ashley admitted, "and persuasive."

"And he put doubts into your mind about Eden," Cameron said.

Ashley nodded. "It had never occurred to me that going to Eden might be wrong and it should have."

"You're right," Cameron gently chided. "It should have. You could have stayed behind if you had wanted to badly enough."

"I wish . . ." Ashley shook her head. "It hardly matters now what I wish. It isn't too late for you yet, Sara."

"But I don't have someone like David to go home to," Sara teased, losing sight of the rest of the Carroll family in the crowd.

"And you do have Cameron to go to Eden for. I'm not sure he's worth it."

"Whether he's worth it or not is irrelevant. I made the decision to go to Eden months ago, and I made it with the understanding that I wouldn't see Cameron for another two years. The fact that he's going with us after all is a bonus. It doesn't change the essentials."

"Sara, you have to be the most candid person I've ever met," Ashley observed.

"Like a spray of cool water on a muggy summer day," Cameron murmured in agreement.

"You're easily impressed."

"Modest too." Ashley turned and stepped in front of Sara, bringing both Sara and Cameron to a halt. Ashley patted Sara's cheek. "Look at you! You're so honest and real you don't even wear makeup!"

Sara grinned. "That's because my mom said, and this is a direct quote, 'If you ever dare cover your gorgeous lashes with mascara I'll make you wear a black cape and plastic fangs to complete the look!'"

Cameron turned to face Sara. "Your mother's right." His voice softened as he caressed Sara's cheek and temple, ever so gently brushing his fingertips over her eyelashes. "To cover those lashes would be a crime."

Feeling Cameron's fingertips on her face was almost more than Sara could bear. She returned Cameron's admiring gaze, breathless and trembling. She could feel her heartbeat pounding through her body, and she knew that if Cameron didn't take her into his arms soon, she would probably explode.

Several moments passed before Sara realized that she was gripping Cameron's bare arm. When she moved her hand, she saw white marks where her fingers had pressed into his skin and little indentations left by her nails. She felt herself blush. All he had done was say something kind, and she had responded like a wild animal. So much for being discreet! What in the galaxy was she supposed to say to him now, with Ashley right there? She spun around and began walking again.

Within seconds both Cameron and Ashley caught up to her. Sara felt Cameron rest his hands on her waist. A moment later his arms were around her and he was kissing her neck. "I had no idea you were so prim," he whispered. "I expected you to draw blood!"

Sara smiled and leaned into his arms, tilting her head back and nuzzling up to him, kissing his cheek. "So you prefer a wild animal instead of a discreet young lady."

Cameron kissed her jaw. "I don't see anyone in the colony but Ashley, and we don't have to be discreet around her." He turned Sara around so that he could kiss her lips. Sara returned his kiss eagerly. "I prefer you, my passionate queen," he murmured.

"Oh, you two are hopeless!" Ashley said, finally smiling. "Sara, you should have said: 'So you like wild animals, do you?' And Cameron, you were supposed to say: 'The wilder the better!' And then Sara, you would say: 'I can be as wild as you want me to be!' Boys like it when you're a little suggestive. It makes them crazy!"

Cameron squeezed Sara and released her, taking her hand again. "I'd rather say: 'Sara, I'm wild about you!'"

"I'm wild about you too, Cameron!"

"You're gushing, guys," Ashley said with a chuckle. "It's unsophisticated."

"I've never tried to be sophisticated," Cameron said, more to Sara than to Ashley.

"I guess we really are hopeless!" Sara said.

"Please don't keep Cameron in suspense too long," Ashley said to Sara, far too seriously. "He needs you, and you'll be happy with him."

Sara replied with equal seriousness, "You seem awfully sure Cameron and I aren't just mutually infatuated with each other."

"Infatuated?" Ashley said in surprise. "You? Two people so lacking in shallowness that flirting is painful? Do you want time to learn his faults? Is that it?"

"Don't do this, Ashley!" Cameron warned.

"Oh, shut up, Cameron! She won't care that you're a slob, and that you yell at everyone when you can't find something you've misplaced because you're such a slob, and that you're always losing or ruining your ties and shirts, because you're such a slob."

"The king of class is a slob?" Sara said dramatically. "Say it isn't so!"

"Ashley's right. I am a slob," Cameron admitted.

"And in a few years he'll be a fat slob, because he's addicted to chili dogs. He eats them all the time, which is why he's always ruining his ties."

"I bought some inexpensive ties once, but Mother threw them away before I had a chance to ruin them."

"She threw away perfectly good ties?"

"Oh, that's nothing," Ashley said. "When I gained five pounds, she threw away the box of chocolates my boyfriend gave to me."

"And took away her car."

Sara couldn't believe anyone would throw away clothing that could easily be given to charity. "Stop it! I may be honest, but I'm not gullible!"

"And what would your mother have done if you had gained five pounds?" Ashley shot back as they stopped just short of their flight gate.

"If Sara gained five pounds, it would be all muscle," Cameron said. "She would look more terrific than ever and even our mother wouldn't notice the weight difference."

"Cameron's right," Sara said. "And as far as my mom goes, I've heard her claim that after ten pregnancies and seven babies she's earned every extra pound she has and will wear them with dignity. I don't think she would comment if I let myself get out of shape."

"Go home, Sara," Ashley urged, walking away and leaving her alone with Cameron.

"David really got to her."

"I wish she had met him sooner."

"My mom would have discouraged David from getting involved with her. She's too young."

"Technically speaking, your mother would have been right," Cameron said. "But Ashley's never gone out with someone of David's caliber. He's exceptional. The kind of man who commands respect."

"Commands is the operative word here."

*

Cameron asked Sara to introduce him to some of the colonists, and at first she dreaded the prospect. From her time with the colonists online, she knew that they were, as a rule, opinionated and frank and had no tolerance for leaders they couldn't respect. Sara wasn't sure she could endure witnessing Cameron being criticized by the other colonists or worse, shunned. Her dread, however, quickly disappeared; the various colonists she and Cameron approached that morning received their greetings warmly.

Lisa Marshall, the colony artist and wife of the elders quorum president, gave Cameron a hug. "It's good to meet you, Bishop. Sara, you keep him out of trouble."

Sean Marshall extended his hand to Cameron, then Sara. "Weren't you fortunate, Bishop, to find such a lovely young lady among the colonists!"

Todd Jarrett, the general surgeon, slapped Cameron on the arm in a friendly way. "Eden will be a wonderful place to start a family."

His wife Linda, the obstetrician, smiled in satisfaction and squeezed Sara's hand. "Our reluctant bishop won't be able to help loving Eden if you're there, Sara."

Everyone Sara and Cameron talked to treated them kindly and seemed to be willing to give Cameron a chance. When the time came to finally board the shuttle, Cameron's mother waved at them to join her and the rest of the family.

"Well, son," Dr. Carroll said to Cameron, smiling, "I have a feeling that you're breaking a lot of hearts with your attention to Sara."

"A woman who doesn't know me can't have a heart that's too brittle, at least not with regard to me," Cameron said pleasantly.

"You're ruthless."

"No, he's perceptive and generous," Sara said lightly, "because I'm the only woman in the colony whose heart really would be broken if he chose someone else."

Dr. Carroll's eyebrows shot up. "You just met him last night, Sara."

Sister Carroll shook her head in hopelessness. "Stop teasing them, Ben."

"So they hadn't actually talked to each other," Ashley said. "A technicality."

Sister Carroll nodded. "And what young woman in the colony could possibly have more in common with him than Sara does?"

Dr. Carroll glanced at his wife, his smile fading. "Well, he'll never know, will he, if he spends all of his time with Sara."

Sister Carroll rolled her eyes and impatiently waved her hand in her husband's direction. "Don't listen to your father, Cameron. He would like to keep you a little boy forever. Now that you've completed your mission, a girlfriend is legal. Enjoy yourself!"

Sara smiled up at Cameron. "Did you hear that? We're legal."

Cameron drew Sara into his arms. "Now that you're officially mine, I'd better not neglect you." He brushed his lips against her forehead.

Dr. Carroll didn't smile. "If you continue referring to her as if she's your possession, Cameron, she's likely to leave you for a more progressive man."

Sara kissed Cameron's neck. "Don't be absurd, Dr. Carroll. Cameron had better think of me as his, because he's mine--all mine--and the sooner everyone in the colony understands that, the better we'll all get along!"

Ashley grinned. "It sounds as if you're both possessed!"

"Happily possessed," Cameron agreed, keeping his arm around Sara until they boarded the shuttle.

*

Sara spent many pleasant moments with Cameron and his family on the shuttle and on the Eden transport once they boarded. The transport had been a community ship for Zarr's people and so provided the three thousand people destined for Eden with many comforts a military ship would not have provided. Dr. Carroll's unmarried students lived in dormitories, but all of the families had been provided with large, multi-room cabins. While not in classes to learn about all of the new equipment they would be using once they arrived on Eden, the colonists relaxed in lounges and entertainment rooms, getting to know each other better and sampling the strange new food that came out of the ship's synthesizing machines.

During the first week on the transport, Dr. Carroll spent many hours with the leaders of Control Colony and with the leaders of their own Eleventh Colony. Cameron kept himself busy with his uncle, a former professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the colony's team of engineers learning how to operate and program the colony's synthesizing machines. While he did spend time in meetings with his counselors and other ward leaders, he seemed to be more interested at first in mingling with the colonists and getting to know them. Barbara Carroll put Sara and Russ Brodsky to work interviewing key colonists and writing articles for their first colony newspaper.

Now and then Sara and Cameron found an empty corner somewhere and sat whispering to each other with their heads together and arms intertwined. Sara wanted to know all about Cameron's mission, and he wanted to know about her two years at BYU and how she had come to be one of the colonists. Cameron wouldn't, however, tell Sara about his week in the temple with her father or about his meeting with the prophet.

"Not yet," he said mysteriously.

"When?" she begged.

"After everything else has been said."

"Didn't you tell your parents about your interview with the prophet?"

"I gave them an abridged version that wouldn't begin to satisfy your curiosity. Or my need to confide in you."

By Thursday, Sara's fear that Cameron wouldn't be capable of uniting with the other colonists had faded. If he believed the colonists were apostates, he refrained from saying it, always treating them with affection and respect, and the colonists themselves treated him with kindness or at least civility.

Just when Sara began thinking Cameron was softening toward The Equality of Zion, he shocked her by refusing to attend the United Hearts Forum his father had called for that evening. He told her his plan when they were leaving the dormitory dining room after dinner.

She stopped abruptly and turned to face him, dropping his hand. "But this is a vital colony meeting! It's where we share our feelings and concerns and become involved with each other and united!"

Cameron backed away from her slightly and leaned against the wall, which had been painted to look like a field by the side of a country road, complete with a rustic split-rail fence. "I don't think it's healthy to share too much in a large group like that. A lot of things ought to remain private."

How could Cameron have been raised in his father's home and have such an aversion to group intimacy? "But the forums are the foundation of our new society. You have to participate!"

"And I will participate. In the Colony Assembly. I might actually enjoy being a part of making our new laws." He folded his arms, as if he perceived she didn't wish him to touch her and wanted to assure her he wouldn't try.

"What about the People's Jury?" Sara's voice became loud and anxious. "Don't tell me you don't intend to participate in that either!"

"Actually, I don't. To be honest, I don't like the idea of dealing with law infractions in an open forum--I can't help but think it'll lead to nothing but chaos and injustice--but that's beside the point. Because of my calling, I'm going to know sensitive things about people that I won't be able to tell anyone, let alone make public in an open forum. So you see, it would be wrong for me to be involved in the People's Jury."

Sara forced herself to calm down. She couldn't bear to argue with him. "When you put it that way . . . I suppose you're right. Still, there's nothing keeping you from the United Hearts Forum. What do you have against it, anyway?"

"The United Hearts Forum sounds like a cross between a testimony meeting from a horror movie and a giant group therapy session, and I have no stomach for it."

Had there been a trace of sarcasm in his voice, Sara would have thought he was goading her. He had, however, simply given her an honest answer to her question. She suppressed her urge to fire a retort and said quietly, "I think you would change your mind if you'd just give it a chance."

Cameron shook his head. "I don't think so. I have a feeling this 'vital colony meeting' is going to turn into a 'let's criticize the bishop' meeting. I don't need that."

"You're wrong." Sara turned and strode away, leaving him there alone in the corridor, leaning against his make-believe fence.

Cameron didn't change his mind, and Sara went to the Star Lounge for the forum feeling disturbed and angry with him for being so bullheaded. That evening Dr. Carroll himself led the discussion, even though as governor he would preside primarily over the People's Jury. In the future Second Assistant Ann Eagle, the colony's clinical psychologist, would conduct the United Hearts Forum.

Dr. Eagle and First Assistant Rachel Vance stood with Dr. Carroll in the center of the huge, domed room, answering questions and calling on people to speak. Sara listened as the colonists, one by one, expressed their hopes for the colony mingled with frustration at the way Cameron and President Grant had influenced so many to drop out. The colony had lost six professionals and ten students on Sunday evening alone. Four more students hadn't shown up Monday morning to get on the shuttle, along with a single parent family, leaving a deficit in the colony of seven professionals--the two physical education specialists, a secondary school teacher, the cosmetologist, the meteorologist, a mechanical engineer, and the dental hygienist.

Now many students would not have mentors in their chosen fields, and many of the professionals would not have students to teach. Dr. Carroll and his assistants spent much of the time reassuring everyone that the colony would function efficiently, despite this initial setback. They asked everyone to be cooperative and flexible while they worked to reorganize.

The colonists were uncomfortable with Cameron's reluctance to be a part of the colony and were afraid he would continue to be a source of conflict. "He is a self-righteous rebel, Ben," Sister Vance said, agreeing with the opinion stated in different forms by many of the colonists. With her perfectly tailored burgundy suit and short classic haircut, Sister Vance looked every bit the U.S. Congresswoman she had been.

"He already made it clear that he has no intention of following your leadership," added Dr. Duane Vance, former law professor at Georgetown University and future president of the Eleventh Colony's college.

The more Sara heard, the more troubled she felt. Cameron had been right. The forum really was deteriorating into a "let's criticize the bishop" meeting. Why wasn't Dr. Carroll guiding the discussion into more positive territory?

Finally Barbara Carroll spoke up, her tone one of conviction, "You have nothing to fear from Cameron. He doesn't want to go to Eden, it's true, but he respects his father, and he isn't stupid. He knows he'll get nowhere in his calling if he doesn't work with us."

"Then why isn't he here?" Marc demanded. He was so close to the perimeter of the lounge that he appeared to be surrounded by stars.

"Because he doesn't see the importance of these forums yet," replied Sister Eagle. "But don't worry about it. His mother is right. He just needs a little time." Sister Eagle's straight, reddish blond hair fell loosely on her shoulders, and she was wearing casual slacks, sandals, and a loose cotton blouse. Next to Sister Vance, she almost looked like a hick.

"He's an excellent boy," Dr. Carroll said. "He's intelligent and fanatically virtuous, and so submissive and respectful some people might describe him as docile. He's always been the perfect son--so perfect we hardly knew he was there. He's no threat to what we're doing."

Emptiness shadowed Sara's heart. So perfect they hardly knew he was there? What did that mean? Was Dr. Carroll really referring to Cameron, this young man who had been such a powerful presence in her own life for six years? He was dazzling, like the sun, and impossible to ignore. How could they have hardly known he was there? Sara couldn't decide whether Dr. Carroll was defending Cameron or criticizing him.

Dr. Trevor Carroll agreed with his brother. "What Ben says about Cameron is true. It's not in his nature to be a rebel, and he is intelligent. He'll come around. He has no choice."

"In the meantime, we'll follow him as far as we are able," Dr. Carroll said.

"Just remember, he's here to organize the ward, not to govern the colony," Sister Vance assured.

Did they expect Cameron to be a puppet? Or a performing dog? Sara wanted Cameron to capture the vision of Eden as much as anyone else did, but not at that price. Sara raised her hand. Dr. Carroll motioned to her, smiling. "Go ahead, Sara."

"It disturbs me to hear Cameron described as insignificant. He was called by God to be our spiritual leader, and he will continue to do what he's always done--what he believes is right. He should be respected, not ignored or indulged."

There. She had registered her protest. At least none of them would ever think she didn't admire Cameron enough to speak up for him.

Barbara laughed gently, as did many others, and exchanged glances with Cyndi Carroll, Cameron's aunt and the certified nurse midwife of the colony. "I think it's true love," Barbara said to the group from her gray-blue overstuffed chair near the center of the lounge. Then she looked over at Sara and winked.

Sara felt like an idiot. Maybe she was overreacting. Even though she couldn't believe Dr. Carroll had meant the phrase "we hardly knew he was there" to be taken literally, she couldn't get it out of her mind. What would Cameron have thought had he attended the forum? For a moment she was furious he wasn't there, then, just as suddenly, she was relieved that he hadn't heard his father's comments.

"I feel uncomfortable looking to our new bishop as the colony's spiritual leader just yet," Sister Vance said. "No one can dispute the fact that he was called by the proper authority, but something must be lacking in his ability to receive inspiration if he couldn't even choose counselors who would remain a part of the colony."

"She's right," said Patricia Dixon, the landscape artist.

"Well said," added Scott Ireland, the colony clerk, accompanied by nods and murmurs of agreement.

Sara looked to Tony to defend Cameron, but he said nothing. He met her gaze for a moment, then averted his eyes and stared at the carpet in a pensive way. Disappointment seared through her, burning away a portion of the respect she had felt for Tony. She longed for David. He wouldn't hesitate to stand and defend Cameron against these unjust charges.

Sara sprang out of her chair. "What is this?" she demanded, trying to look into the eyes of as many of the colonists as she could. "Just because things didn't turn out exactly the way you thought they should, you assume our bishop is uninspired? We might as well accuse Dr. Carroll of being uninspired since he's the one who chose those people to be a part of the colony to begin with! I happen to know that Cameron himself wasn't surprised when some of the men dropped out. It's not my place to say more. If you have questions about that issue, why don't you ask him directly instead of criticizing him behind his back?"

"We would ask him about it if he were here!" Brother Vance said.

The Vances were already at the top of Sara's list of people to avoid, and that alone irritated her. She had participated in the passionate online discussions about colony law with them often and had never known either one of them to be so nasty. Of course, during her time online, she had been one of a hundred students who had looked to them as the colony's leaders, not the preferred companion of a bishop they couldn't stand.

Sara turned and glared at Brother Vance. "Cameron's been here for four days! He doesn't need to attend the forum to hear your concerns." She waved her hand at Ryan Farrow. "He has an executive secretary. Make an appointment!"

Brother Vance's pale blue eyes looked like ice. Sara doubted it had ever occurred to him that he should make an appointment with a twenty-year-old or that he was accustomed to being spoken to in such a defiant way by a student. He managed, however, to keep his voice calm. "Perhaps he's spending too much time with his girlfriend to be available to the ward." His face was as smooth as Dr. Carroll's was, but his hair was pure white, giving him an ageless appearance that was as unnerving as it was striking. Sara wondered whether he had ever been young.

"It isn't right for a bishop to be unmarried," muttered Anita Ireland, the electrical engineer.

"A wife wouldn't get in his way so much," agreed Mike Dixon, the construction specialist.

Sara believed that if she were consuming most of Cameron's time and energy, the colonists would be justified in being upset about it, but as it was, their complaints were ludicrous. She stared down one whiner, then the other. "So a bishop isn't allowed to have a personal life, is that it? And when he does get married, it's okay for him to ignore his wife? Is that what you're saying?" Sara again addressed the colony as a group: "I don't know about any of the rest of you, but I've never heard or read a definition of 'bishop' which included the word 'slave'!"

Sara knew now that Cameron had been right to stay away from the forum. His father thought he was submissive, did he? Cameron was what some people would consider docile, was he? Nothing could be further from the truth! By refusing to attend the forum, Cameron displayed incredible self-assurance and strength of will. He was serving the colonists, but he was doing it on his own terms, and the colonists themselves perceived it. How could his father not see it too? Or did he just not want to admit the truth?

The admiration Sara already felt for Cameron soared, and she knew in a way she had not known before that what she felt for Cameron was deeper than infatuation.

"Sara's claims are legitimate," Dr. Carroll said. "Cameron is not our slave. He does have the right to a personal life, and he has been called by God to be our spiritual leader."

Dr. Carroll slowly moved toward Sara as he spoke. "I feel impressed, however, to acknowledge the fact that Brother Vance's claim is equally legitimate. Our bishop has discarded a prime opportunity to answer your concerns by refusing to attend this forum. Sister Vance's reluctance to accept Cameron as the colony's spiritual leader just yet is also understandable. We all know that it takes more than an ordination to make a man a true spiritual leader. Whether our new bishop rises to the call or not is up to him. My hope is that as a colony, we will give our new bishop the respect he deserves."

Dr. Carroll laid his hand on Sara's shoulder with just enough pressure to encourage her to sit down, which she did. "And if my son can earn the same respect from all of us that he has earned from this young lady, he will be a very loved bishop indeed!" He gave Sara's shoulder an affectionate squeeze.

Most of the colonists laughed, and many of them cheered and applauded. Sara thought Dr. Carroll's words should have mollified her, but she felt more troubled than ever. The colonists seemed so eager to both ignore and indulge her because she was the bishop's girlfriend. Why hadn't any of Cameron's counselors or family members backed her up?

Sara looked at Tony again, wondering what he was thinking. Tony didn't laugh, but looked right at her, not at her eyes, but at something below her face, and she became aware that Dr. Carroll's hand had moved to her back, his thumb nestled in the nape of her neck.

Before Sara could catch Tony's eye, Dr. Carroll whispered in her ear: "Wait for me here after the meeting. I'd like to talk with you alone."

Sara turned toward Dr. Carroll slightly, questioning him with her eyes. He patted her shoulder and straightened, smiling, then moved away from her a few paces and brought the forum to a close.

 

Chapter 11: A SWEET, SAINTLY GIRL

Many of the colonists lingered in the star lounge after the forum, chatting with each other and embracing Dr. Carroll and Barbara. Sara's feelings toward Dr. Carroll at the moment were not friendly, and she didn't want to talk to him, but walking out on the governor of the colony wasn't an option. She didn't want to talk to anyone until she'd had time to think and so slipped away from the group of students she had been sitting with and went to the perimeter of the lounge to stand alone and gaze at the stars.

Awhile later, Sara felt hands on her shoulders. For an instant she thought the person standing behind her was Cameron and relaxed. Hearing Dr. Carroll's voice instead of Cameron's, her muscles tensed. "This is the first time in over a week we've been alone to talk," he said softly.

Sara turned to face him, at the same time backing away from his touch, still irritated. The more she thought about what had happened in the forum, the more it appeared that Dr. Carroll had been attempting to discredit Cameron, and yet a benevolent man like Dr. Carroll wouldn't do something like that, especially to his own son. What was she supposed to believe? "You've been incredibly busy and so have I."

"Busy encouraging my son to fall in love with you."

He seemed displeased. Sara folded her arms, annoyed and a little hurt by his objection to her relationship with Cameron. "You can't very well disapprove of me, Dr. Carroll. I may not be the elegant woman you envisioned for Cameron, but you did choose me to be a part of your colony."

Dr. Carroll stared down at her. "You know good and well that I don't disapprove of you. And no. I've never envisioned Cameron with a woman of your brilliance and vehemence. Since the sweet, saintly type of girl perfect for Cameron doesn't exist in this colony, I've been forced to change that particular vision."

"You are nothing if not pragmatic," Sara said coolly. She didn't know what annoyed her more--the implication that Cameron didn't want or deserve a passionate, intelligent woman or the possibility that a sweet, more sedate woman really would be more perfect for Cameron than she.

"We're all forced to be pragmatic at times." He surveyed her, pondering. When he spoke again, he seemed less annoyed and more relaxed. "You shouldn't feel you have to defend Cameron. You'll feel more liberated emotionally if, instead of trying to come to Cameron's rescue, you admit you're troubled by his inability to appreciate The Equality of Zion."

"If I'd wanted to liberate my emotions tonight, I would have spent the evening with Cameron instead of attending the forum."

"You aren't troubled by Cameron's point of view?"

"Yes, I am troubled by it, but I believe it would be disloyal of me to discuss it publicly. I certainly would never insult him the way so many did tonight in the forum. It galled me the way everyone took shots at him behind his back, and I don't appreciate the fact that I now seem to have no credibility. I thought the United Hearts Forum was designed to give everyone in the colony 'Equal Expression' and be a healing, empowering experience. The opposite happened to me. I don't think I've ever, in my life, been so offended."

Dr. Carroll raised an eyebrow. "You were offended."

It sounded like a challenge. Sara threw up her arms and demanded, "What does it mean to be 'fanatically virtuous,' anyway? Is that supposed to be a compliment or a criticism? And you claimed Cameron was such a perfect son that you 'hardly knew he was there.' What was that supposed to mean? How could you 'hardly know' your magnificent son was there? Are we talking about the same person?"

Dr. Carroll stepped toward Sara. He gripped her wrists, drawing her closer, his voice quiet and calm: "This from you, who never, in six years, even spoke to Cameron?"

Sara refused to allow him to disarm her and she would not apologize for something that had been nothing more than a misunderstanding between her and Cameron. She met Dr. Carroll's gaze without flinching. "I was not his father. I was simply a girl who was terrified to approach a boy I adored."

Dr. Carroll's eyes bore into hers. "Sara Alexander, my Little Panther, was terrified of my son, that gentle boy who wouldn't step on an ant if he could avoid it?"

Why did he sound so skeptical? Sara relaxed her arms and rotated her wrists, slipping them out of Dr. Carroll's hands. "Are you calling me a liar?"

"No, Sara. No. Of course not." Dr. Carroll shook his head. "But I just can't help but wonder whether you were really as much in love with Cameron as you remember yourself being."

Sara regarded him in surprise. "You're suggesting that I'm projecting my current feelings for Cameron into the past? That somehow I've convinced myself that I felt something I really didn't feel?"

"Exactly."

Sara wanted to laugh but didn't dare. "Trust me on this one, Dr. Carroll. I've been in love with your son for six years." Was this why he had wanted to talk with her? To discuss her relationship with Cameron?

"You're not willing to consider the possibility that I may be right?"

"No. Because what you suggest simply isn't true!" Sara began walking toward the nearest exit, hoping Dr. Carroll would take the hint and let her go.

Dr. Carroll walked beside Sara. "Certainly this . . . passion . . . you felt for Cameron faded from time to time as you had other boyfriends."

"I've never wanted anyone as a boyfriend but Cameron. He and I are the same this way. We're both each other's first and only." Why had she allowed doubts about Cameron's preferences to trouble her? Cameron hadn't wanted anyone but her for six years! Wasn't he the best judge of what kind of woman was perfect for him?

"The young woman who has spent her life with men and loves them as much as they love her, a young woman who has never in her life been afraid of men, never had a boyfriend?"

Sara doubted men loved her as much as he claimed, but it was a nice thing to say, and she softened toward him a little. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, smiling slightly. "There you go, calling me a liar again."

Dr. Carroll smiled back at her, offering her his arm. "Forgive me, Sara, but it seems a crime against nature that such a beautiful, passionate young woman never had a boyfriend."

Sara slipped her arm through his and allowed him to draw her close. "That's a very kind thing for you to say."

"It's nothing but the truth." Dr. Carroll nodded thoughtfully. "This does explain some things about you, though, things that have puzzled me. I wish you had told me about Cameron."

As they approached the exit, Sara stopped and turned to him, shrugging. "Had we spoken of him more, I probably would have."

"Have you considered the possibility that Cameron isn't right for you?"

"Of course I've considered it. I think about it all the time."

"And?"

"I've come to the conclusion that what I feel for Cameron is love, not infatuation. That's as much as I've been able to determine absolutely, and it's enough for one day."

Dr. Carroll's hand lightly cupped Sara's jaw, and he smiled, ever so slightly. "Are you sure, Sara, that Cameron is the man you love?"

Sara frowned. What a strange comment! Dr. Carroll lowered his hand, then turned away from her and left the lounge. Sara watched him, more troubled than ever. He hadn't addressed the issues she had raised at all but had evaded them with unsettling smoothness.

Sara went to the bunkroom she shared with fifteen other girls and climbed to her top bunk, leaning over her knees to think, unable to face Cameron just yet. Erica Rice, Brittany Novak, and Danielle Young came into the bunkroom and, after exchanging greetings with Sara, sat down together on a bed near the door, talking. Not long after that, Sara heard Cameron call from the door, "Sara? Are you in there?"

She couldn't very well lie to him. "Yes," she responded without passion, turning her head so that she could see her roommates. If she stretched forward in just the right way, she could see Cameron's profile at the door.

A minute passed, and she heard Cameron's voice again, beseeching, "Please don't be mad at me, Sara. I'm sorry I couldn't make myself go to that forum."

Danielle gazed sidelong at Sara with mischievous blue eyes. "She's not mad at you, Bishop. But she is in love with you, utterly. She defended you in the forum and got laughed at."

Now Sara had no choice but to tell Cameron everything. She didn't know whether to feel relieved or mortified.

"Really?" Cameron said in amazed delight. "She did that?"

Erica winked at Sara. "Come on in and talk to her. We're all decent." She quickly sat up and playfully exaggerated her point by brushing her black hair into place and primly crossing her dark-skinned legs as she smoothed down her skirt.

"You promise you'll stay?"

Brittany turned to her stomach, her straight blond hair brushing her shoulders as it fell forward and dangled above the bed. "Don't you want to be alone with her?"

Yes, Cameron, say yes! They hadn't been completely alone since the evening they had sat in the swing in Sara's backyard, and even though they both knew they had no choice, their situation was making them both feel tense and desperate.

"Yes! I mean, no. No! I can't. It wouldn't be right."

Brittany chuckled knowingly. "Then we'll be your chaperones for a while."

Danielle giggled. "We promise!"

Erica stood up and went to the door. "Get in here and talk to her!" She pulled Cameron into the room by his arm and pointed him toward Sara.

Sara lifted her head and watched Cameron walk past the other bunks in the room. "What happened?" he asked, pulling himself onto her bunk. She moved so that she was sitting beside him, her back facing her roommates, and whispered what had happened and what she had felt, her arm sliding around his waist. This was as alone as they could ever hope to be, and it felt wonderful.

"When all was said and done, I was glad you had stayed away."

Cameron fondled her hair. "I can't begin to tell you how flattered I am that you would defend me the way you did." He kissed her temple.

"I'm still disturbed. They shouldn't have said those things about you in the first place."

"Get used to it, because you're going to hear a lot worse in the future."

"You can't mean that!"

Cameron kissed her again and pulled away slightly. "I didn't accept this calling with any delusions. I knew my job would be difficult."

"Have you considered the possibility that your father's vision of Zion is a good one?"

"I will accept my father's vision as good where it's based on true principles. And no, public group therapy sessions like that ridiculous United Hearts Forum are not part of the Lord's plan for Zion."

Why didn't Cameron's statement anger her? Her father and mother had said the same thing and she had protested. She had, however, argued with her parents before actually experiencing the United Hearts Forum.

"So you intend to fight your father. The colonists fear as much." Why did she feel so numb?

"I only intend to lead the ward, and the colony, in the direction the Lord wants it to go. What remains to be seen is how hard my father fights me. Once he comes out of shock at being challenged, that is."

"You've never challenged him before?"

"Not like this. Not publicly. I don't want to now, but I'll do what I have to do."

"I can't believe your father would fight your authority." Or would he? Dr. Carroll's words seemed to shout in Sara's mind: "We'll follow him as far as we are able." And just how far was that?

"I hope you're right." Cameron gazed at the wall in front of them, which had been painted to look like a window with a view of the mountains. He whispered gloomily, "Perhaps you should dump me now and get it over with. Being with me is going to cause you nothing but confusion and heartache, because I'm not going to change."

Shocked, Sara couldn't speak. She knew Cameron's observation was almost correct. She would feel confused and divided in her loyalties until he came to accept his father's vision, which he had just claimed he would never do. Had their relationship so soon reached an impasse? The thought of it desolated her, and she realized that Cameron meant far more to her than his father's vision did. She couldn't change her own beliefs to match his, but she could be his ally in other ways. Hearing the others abuse him would wound her, but denying herself his presence would wound her far more.

Sara drew closer to Cameron, kissing his cheek. "How can you say such things? You are my shining sun, and I love you." Until that moment she had never uttered the three heavenly words she so longed to hear from him. Since the events of the evening had clarified her feelings, the time was right.

Cameron turned to Sara again, his features soft with wonder. "And I love you too, my beautiful queen." They kissed adoringly.

Once they had put their heads together again, Cameron began humming "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam."

Sara whispered playfully, "You'd better watch it, or I'll throw you in the dungeon."

"A sun-BEAM, a sun-BEAM!" Cameron sang in a whisper, bouncing up on "beam," as if he had the hiccups. Sara had a vision of a towheaded boy in Primary springing out of his chair every time he sang, "sun-BEAM!"

This image of Cameron as a child drained Sara of all light-heartedness. She tightened her arms around Cameron's waist and laid her head on his chest. "What did your father mean when he said you were so perfect they hardly knew you were there?"

Cameron combed his fingers slowly through Sara's hair. "I suppose he meant that I was so obedient, trustworthy, and determined to be good that I never caused them any real inconvenience or distress. I was, I suppose, what might be considered a low maintenance child."

What Cameron suggested didn't sound so terrible on the surface, but submerged in his words was something unsettling. "I thought children were supposed to be somewhat inconvenient to their parents," Sara said.

"I guess that depends on how you define inconvenience. As long as my father doesn't see me as a threat to what he's planning to accomplish on Eden, I'm not causing him any inconvenience and my presence here doesn't matter. In other words, he would hardly know I'm here because he would be able to do whatever he wants as if I weren't here at all. If he were to begin seeing me as a true threat to what he wants to do on Eden, I would become an inconvenience."

"He wanted to talk to me alone after the forum. It was the strangest conversation I've ever had with him." Sara sat up and faced Cameron, repeating the conversation back to him verbatim.

The more Sara said, the more severe Cameron's frown became. When Sara finished reciting the conversation, Cameron said, "That conversation wasn't just strange, Sara, it was downright bizarre. Why would he be so determined to think you imagined being in love with me in high school?"

"I have no idea."

"He was angry when you suggested he might not approve of you, wasn't he?" Cameron sounded bewildered.

"Yes. No." Sara shook her head. "He was hurt. And he was a little angry, I think. And, now that I think about it, he had a right to be. He's never treated me with anything but kindness and approval. It was wrong of me to think what I thought, to say what I said."

"I'm not sure that's true. His comment about your being 'busy encouraging my son to fall in love with you' sounded like an accusation. Am I wrong?"

"No. That was the way he said it."

"It sounds as if instead of disapproving of you as a love interest for me, in reality, he disapproves of me as a love interest for you."

"What in the galaxy do you mean?"

Cameron's bewilderment gave way to wry realization. "He thinks you're too good for me."

"That's absurd! How could he think such a thing about you, his own son? A man both of my parents are ecstatic I've become involved with?" Sara didn't want to believe what Cameron suggested, but as she reexamined what Dr. Carroll had said to her, she couldn't deny that Cameron's suspicion was valid.

The corner of Cameron's mouth lifted a little, as if he wanted to smile but couldn't. "Your parents are nice. And they're very different from my parents." Cameron turned from Sara, kneading his forehead in a nervous way. "My father thinks I'm too gentle and docile for a woman of your 'brilliance and vehemence.' He referred to me as a boy and you as a woman. That says it all right there."

Cameron was right. Sara wanted to disregard his belief but couldn't. She scooted to her knees and wrapped her arm protectively around his neck, resting her free hand on his chin and turning his head so that she could look into his eyes. "You are a man, Cameron Carroll, and I love you!"

He caressed her hair away from her face. "What would I do without you?"

Sara touched her lips to his. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather have a sweet, saintly girl?"

Sara felt Cameron smile. "You are my sweet, saintly girl, Sara." He returned Sara's kiss, then tenderly guided her back into a sitting position.

Sara marveled at Cameron's ability to make her feel like a lady. She loved that feeling, and she loved the gentleness that inspired it. How could anyone criticize Cameron for one of the very qualities that made him so irresistible? "Why would your father think you're not good enough for me?"

Cameron's face was still very pale. "Because he has no respect for me. I've known that for a long time."

"How can he not respect you? Especially now after you served such a glorious mission?"

"You want to know what my father thinks about my mission?" Cameron's tone was a touch bitter. "Do you really?"

Foreboding seized Sara, and she almost shook her head and turned away. "I only want the truth."

Cameron's brow wrinkled slightly, as if he wasn't sure he should tell her anything. Finally he said, taking her hands in his, "He questions the wisdom in the Church's policy of taking all of those people from their homes and moving them across the country to Beijing."

"He said that?" Sara said in astonishment.

"Many times. So did my mother."

Sara knew that Dr. Carroll thought the members of the Guardians of Earth's Governments were nothing more than alarmists and that they were overreacting to Zarr in their determination to establish their Cooperative Communities in major cities around the world. He believed the world should be united, not fragmented into these little groups that were afraid of major change and desperately hoping their dwindling domestic militaries were secretly planning a coup d'etat against their largely Federalist governments. He was, moreover, appalled that the Church would ally with a survivalist group.

Unlike Dr. Carroll, Sara recognized that the Guardians of Earth's Governments, which included upstanding people of all races, religions, and nationalities, was no fringe group. She thought their mission to provide political and economic support to those individuals and groups who didn't want to be connected to Zarr's network of organizations was a worthwhile one. She didn't completely agree with the Guardians' agenda, but she did feel they were right to stand up for what they believed.

Besides, she couldn't help but have a certain amount of respect and admiration for the domestic military organizations, considering David's position in the Navy, and it always pained her to hear Federalists refer to David and others like him as "the local police" and "Earth cops."

The Church's present policy of gathering to temple communities, which were, in many cases, within the Cooperative Communities established by the Guardians, excited Sara. When the New Jerusalem was built in Jackson County, Missouri, it would not be the Zion community; it would be the Center Place of hundreds of Zion communities all over the world!

Although Sara had never allowed Dr. Carroll to talk her out of her excitement for the new temple communities, she understood why he held the opinions he did. She could not, however, believe he would demoralize Cameron by expressing those same opinions to him. On the other hand, Cameron wouldn't have made such a claim if it weren't true. "What would your parents have had you do differently?"

"Nothing, probably. I only did what I was told and it was the right thing to do. Had I refused to do what I was told, I would have been sent home, and my parents know that. My father served a mission himself. I have no doubt he expected me to do what I did; he just doesn't see much good in it."

"Maybe that's why I never heard him say anything about you. Parents always like to talk about their missionary children, and I always thought it was strange that he never mentioned you at all."

"You may be right. You have no idea how difficult it was to stand up there next to President Grant and hear him tell everyone what I had done in China, knowing how my parents felt and wondering how many others in the congregation felt the same way."

Sara hugged him. "I've never felt anything but admiration for everything you did in China."

Cameron kissed her hair. "I wish we had written letters to each other while I was on my mission. Of everything we didn't do, I regret that the most."

"I regret all of it." Sara now realized that her greatest transgression in secretly reading Cameron's e-mails online hadn't been that she had invaded his privacy but that she had not written her own letters to him, letters he had so desperately wanted and needed.

"I say these things, and they're true, and I wouldn't have told you had you not asked, but you should know that my parents tried really hard to support me on my mission. They each wrote an e-mail to me every week, and the e-mails were always long and detailed and very interesting. I printed out every single one of them and still carry them around with me. One of my apprehensions in accepting this call, in fact, was that the good feelings that existed between us during that time would disappear and that I would learn things about them I didn't want to know. I wanted to remember them as they were in their e-mails."

"I'm not sure that your parents' opinion about the Church's policy of moving the converts to Beijing means they don't respect you. It's a clash of perspectives, that's all."

"That's just it. They don't respect my perspective."

"Can't they respect you and still disagree with your perspective?"

Cameron smiled sadly. "Neither one of them are you."

Sara shoulders drooped. "It pains me to be reminded of how much we disagree on."

"It pains me too."

"Do you think your father meant to undermine your authority when he said you were fanatically virtuous?"

"Yes. If he had meant what he said in a supportive way, he would have left out any mention of the word 'fanatic.'"

"I'm still wondering what he means by the term 'fanatically virtuous.' Is he saying you're too chaste? Or that you're too righteous? Does he think that achieving holiness is fanatical? Or was it just his way of saying you're self-righteous?"

Cameron shook his head. "He doesn't think I'm self-righteous, although it wouldn't surprise me if he encouraged the colonists to believe such a thing about me. He would never say he thinks achieving a state of holiness would be fanatical. He would, instead, quote scriptures and in interpreting them, would redefine holiness in a way that corresponds to his own views. He has, in fact, done that I think. So yes, I think he would look at a truly holy person and say he or she is a fanatic. And yes, I do believe he thinks I'm too chaste."

"Could that ever be a bad thing?"

Cameron grimaced. "I've never known anyone who would think it was a compliment to be thought of as a prude, and perhaps I am a prude. I just don't know how to be any other way."

Sara rested her hands on Cameron's cheeks and gazed into his eyes with all the earnestness she could muster. "What your father thinks doesn't matter, Cameron. I'm the best judge of what kind of man is perfect for me, and I chose you six years ago. I love you."

She kissed Cameron again and again, and he responded vehemently. "I love you too, Sara," he breathed. "I've loved you too much for too long that I couldn't have done this with anyone else. I'm not sure how much virtue had to do with it."

"Why did you wait until tonight to tell me you loved me?"

"Because I wanted you to be sure of your own feelings first. I didn't want to pressure you."

Speaking of love in this serious way made Sara feel she should tell Cameron about Novaun. She glanced toward the front of the bunkroom and her roommates' lively conversation, assuring herself that they had no intention of leaving, at least for the time being. "There's something I've been dying to tell you, Cameron. You can't tell anyone yet, even your parents. It's about my father, and my heritage."

*

Sara lay in bed late that night, too enlivened by the evening she had spent with Cameron to sleep. She scrunched the light blue spread in her hand, staring into the darkness and listening to the regular breathing of her roommates. Eventually she relaxed, and just when she thought she might drift to sleep, she heard a sniff and a muffled sob from the bunk below hers.

Sara sat up. Ashley, who had insisted on rooming with the other students instead of her parents, slept in the bunk below Sara's. Was she still upset about David? For all the pain David had caused Ashley, Sara hoped the Air Force Academy killed Navy in the football game that weekend.

Sara slid noiselessly out of her bed and knelt next to Ashley's, folding her arms against Ashley's back. Feeling her touch, Ashley turned toward her. Sara could barely see Ashley in the dim light. "I'm sorry I woke you up," Ashley whispered.

"I wasn't asleep anyway."

"Why not? Are you upset that Mother and Father laughed at you?"

"I don't know anymore. I feel very strange."

"What you did for Cameron was nice. I wish I'd had the nerve to speak up."

"I couldn't help myself."

"I . . . I understand the feeling." Ashley's shoulders shook as she began weeping again.

Sara rested a hand gently on Ashley's shoulder. "I could just strangle David."

Ashley's muscles tensed. "Please . . . please don't blame this on him. He's not responsible for . . ." She gasped and pressed her face into her pillow.

Wariness shadowed Sara. Something deeper than David tormented Ashley. Sara drew her hand back and said the first thing that popped into her head. "I'd still like to strangle him." Sara held very still, waiting to hear what Ashley would say.

A minute passed, and Ashley's breathing slowed a little. She lifted her upper body and turned her pillow over. "David did get to me," Ashley admitted, lying back down on her side. "We felt such a connection to each other." Her breathing steadied even more. "I couldn't help thinking that if I had stayed on Earth the question of marriage would have eventually come up."

"But you're so young, and David's old! You live in completely different worlds." David wanted a large family and a stay-at-home wife and was on the verge of completing his education and going to sea, while Ashley hadn't even started her education yet. Marrying him would have meant giving up her ambitions of being a lawyer, a senator, or president of a university. Did Ashley even know enough about herself at "almost eighteen" to make a decision like that?

"I know. The thought of it frightens me as much as it thrills me. But there's something about him . . . I think I would be willing to give up a great deal to be his wife. That's the problem. David would want to be married in the temple, and I'm not worthy."

Sara hoped Ashley was exaggerating. "But you have gone to the temple before, haven't you? To do baptisms for the dead? Didn't you talk things over with your bishop?"

"Yes and no." Ashley hesitated. "Brandon was right, Sara, when he said I'm a tramp. I've never gone all the way, but I have gone too far. My bishop would never have given me a temple recommend, and how would that have looked?"

"You lied?" Sara whispered, astounded.

"It didn't seem like such a big deal at the time." Ashley's whisper was weighted with guilt. "And if I'm completely honest with myself, I have to admit that one of the reasons I didn't tell my bishop was because I wasn't sure I wanted to give up what I was doing."

They very thought of going into the temple unworthily made Sara feel queasy. "So why does it matter now, all of a sudden?" How could anyone think it was no big deal?

"Because David is so honest and good that I wouldn't have been able to hide it from him and he would have ended up hating me."

Ashley understood David better than Sara had expected. David, the ultimate perfectionist, required a lot out of himself and those close to him. On the other hand, David and Ashley truly had connected. Ashley wasn't David's spiritual equal now, but his influence had already expanded her understanding of herself and the gospel in a serious way. As his wife, she might have excelled and been happy. What would have happened had Ashley remained on Earth? They would never know.

"You're not saying anything," Ashley whispered bitterly. "I must have hit pretty close to the mark."

"David is meticulous," Sara admitted. "But perhaps we're both wrong about him."

"No. I don't think so. What's worse is that as much as I want to have something sweet and decent with him, I also want to be with him the way I was with the others. I can't get him out of my mind. I mean, I really can't get him out of my mind. I feel filthy."

"You need to talk to Cameron."

"But he's my brother! I can't talk to him about something like this! It's bad enough having to talk to a real bishop."

"Cameron is a real bishop. He's the only person in the colony with authority from the Savior to set the conditions of repentance for the sort of sin you're talking about. You have to talk to him!"

"I just don't know, Sara."

"You just have to force yourself to do it. You know the guilt will torment you until you do. Just thinking about that kind of guilt oppresses me."

A thought dropped on Sara out of nowhere. David's intelligent, talented sister postponed her formal education and sacrificed a career to marry your father and be your mother. A queer yearning settled into Sara's heart. Her mother had been nineteen when she had married her father, age twenty-four, and they had been, quite literally, from "different worlds."

"Are you all right, Sara?"

"I . . . I'm just feeling a little . . . homesick." Sara quickly climbed back up into her own bed. Leaning over the side, she whispered, "For whatever it's worth, Ashley, I wish you could have had your chance with David."

 

Chapter 12: TWO OFFERS

Cyndi Carroll approached Sara in the dormitory dining room Friday morning. She led Sara away from the other students and said kindly, "I just wanted to tell you that what you said last night about Cameron was right on target. It made more than just a few of us stop and think."

"I appreciate your saying so," Sara said in a low voice. "I felt as if I had no credibility."

"I know. But don't let any of this bother you too much. Ben and Barbara have never had any real problems with their children, and they have no idea how to handle something as simple as a sincere difference of opinion."

Sara thought Cyndi's observation should relieve her, but the vision of a pale-haired Primary boy exuberantly singing "Jesus wants me for a sun-BEAM!" haunted her. That such a sweet little boy, having been taught in Primary that he should obey his parents and keep himself pure, would grow up to be regarded as a docile prude by the one who had taken him to Primary to begin with seemed incomprehensible and unjust.

"It's a wonder Dr. Carroll ever survived in the business world," Sara said, unable to keep the skepticism out of her voice.

"It's different when it's your own kids."

Despite what Cyndi said, Sara went through the next two days disturbed and thoughtful as she tried to reconcile Dr. Carroll's condescending attitude toward his son with her image of him as a sensitive, loving, righteous man. As hard as she tried, she couldn't make the information she had gleaned on Thursday evening fit with the other facts she had long taken for granted. She decided that she and Cameron had misunderstood everything his father had said and done. That had to be it. There could be no other explanation. Once she reached that conclusion, the feelings of discomfort disappeared.

Sara and Ashley had a permanent invitation to eat with Ashley's parents and the rest of her family in the Carroll apartment. They took advantage of that invitation Sunday morning for breakfast while their roommates ate in the dormitory dining room.

"Good morning Dr. Carroll, Barbara," Sara said cheerfully as she walked with Ashley into the compact dining area. Dr. Carroll, Barbara, Adam, and Brandon were sitting at the ornately carved white table, already eating. Cameron hadn't emerged from his bedroom yet.

Barbara looked up from her computer and smiled. "Good morning, girls."

Dr. Carroll set his fork on his plate and focused his attention on Sara. "It's time, Sara, for you to dispense with this 'Dr. Carroll' nonsense and start calling me 'Ben.'"

Dr. Carroll's request surprised Sara. She said the first thing that came into her mind. "But I'm not even engaged to Cameron, much less married to him."

"Yet," Ashley added.

Sara leaned against the back of the couch and sighed. "Am I the only person in the colony who has doubts about whether Cameron and I will get married?"

Brandon nodded. "Yeah!" He lifted Adam's cup of milk and took several gulps. Adam scowled at him.

"You kids stop badgering Sara and Cameron about marriage," Dr. Carroll said. "They've only been seeing each other a week. Decisions like this take time. Let's not rush them into something they may later regret."

Understanding warmed Sara. Dr. Carroll was concerned that Cameron's relationship with her was moving too fast. That explained why he had expressed so many doubts about her involvement with Cameron. He was a normal father after all.

"I think the thing they regret is that they didn't become friends sooner," Ashley pointed out. "Look at how long it took them to do anything when they were left on their own."

Adam nodded adamantly, reaching for a muffin. "They need to be pushed."

Sara chuckled. "You all worry too much. Cameron and I hardly need to be thrown at each other now." Her eyes rested on Cameron's father in appreciation. "And you don't need to worry either, Dr. Carroll. I have no intention of rushing into marriage."

Dr. Carroll squinted at Sara in a chastising way. "It's 'Ben,' Sara."

"Ben," Sara said slowly. She felt awkward addressing the governor of the colony by his first name. It seemed inappropriate. She shook her head quickly. "I'm sorry, Dr. Carroll. I don't think I can do it. It's just too weird."

Ashley, Brandon, and Adam laughed. "Are you going to keep calling him 'Dr. Carroll' when he becomes your father-in-law?" Brandon asked.

Dr. Carroll gazed at Sara fondly. "Your relationship with Cameron, Sara, is irrelevant. You and I know each other well enough, I think, to be on a first-name basis."

Barbara leaned against the back in her chair and looked up. "Drop it, Ben. If she isn't comfortable with it, she isn't comfortable with it."

Ashley gestured toward her mother. "You call Mother 'Barbara.'"

"I guess I do. And so does Russ." And she didn't know Barbara as well as she knew Dr. . . . Ben. "Your mother insisted."

Dr. . . . Ben widened his eyes at Sara. "So do I. Practice it with me now. Ben. Ben, Ben, Ben, Ben, Ben." He said it in a singsong way.

Sara repeated it with him once, then smiled. "Ben. Ben." She nodded, finally feeling comfortable with it. "It feels right."

"Of course it feels right. Because it is right!"

"Thanks, Ben."

"Thank you, Sara."

A few moments later, Cameron came into the dining room and Sara went to meet him, sliding her arm around his waist and leading him to the table. Adam immediately burst out, "Cameron, why aren't you and Sara engaged yet?"

Cameron's arm tightened around Sara's shoulder. He said mischievously, "Because Sara hasn't proposed to me yet."

Sara regarded Cameron in question. Everyone laughed, but Sara knew Cameron wasn't joking. If she proposed to him, his answer would be 'yes.' She knew it, yet she wondered how he could be so sure so soon.

Cameron kissed her briefly on the lips before she could say something in front of his family she might later regret. She didn't speak, but she couldn't pull her eyes away from Cameron's either. He crinkled his eyes at her in a tentative way, as if to ask, "Would marrying me really be so terrible?"

Sara rose on her toes and cupped her hands around Cameron's ear. "I love you."

Cameron rested his lips on Sara's ear and said softly, "We'll talk after church."

*

After breakfast the Carrolls and Sara met the other colonists in the Star Lounge for church. The meeting passed uneventfully until Cameron stood up to present the name of Samantha Carroll to be the young single adult family home evening leader. It was the first calling Cameron announced that morning, which seemed odd, considering the fact that the ward was barely staffed.

Sara looked around the huge room and saw many of the colony's leaders exchange disgusted glances. Most of the students frowned in bewilderment. Since Ben planned to direct the colony's family home education program, Sara, like the other young adults, wondered what she was supposed to do now.

Barbara groaned softly. Ashley stifled a giggle.

"What's the matter?" Sara whispered to Ashley.

"Father just lost the young adults, and both he and Mother know it."

"Doesn't Samantha believe in what your father's trying to do? Maybe she'll ask him for help."

"Samantha's not going to Eden for The Equality of Zion any more than I am. She only wants to paint pictures of exotic plants and animals and breathe air that isn't toxic. And she's the Queen of Party. She'll plan such awesome family home evening parties that no one will be able to resist them! If Father and Mother are smart, they'll ask her for help!"

Sara couldn't restrain herself from looking over at Ben to see his reaction. He happened to be looking in her direction, and when their eyes met, he looked briefly to the dome of stars and shrugged his shoulders slightly, as if to say, "What am I supposed to do?"

Sara couldn't resist. She leaned behind Barbara's chair as well as she was able and whispered to him, "Let's party!"

Barbara groaned again, but Ben's face lit up, the dimple in his cheek deepening as he grinned. Sara was afraid for a moment that he might laugh out loud. She pursed her lips to keep herself from laughing.

Sara sat up and forced herself to focus her attention on Cameron again. Seeing the grave expression on his face, her desire for levity disappeared. The family home evening issue was a major one, and Cameron wasn't comfortable addressing it.

"I realize that most of you are expecting my father and his associates to direct you in an 'innovative' family home evening program they have designed. I feel prompted to discourage you from becoming involved in this effort. The Lord's plan is that fathers and mothers direct the gospel education of their own families. My father, as intelligent and as well educated as he is, does not have spiritual stewardship over your families and therefore cannot know what is best for them. You do! Please be wise and take care of your own families with the Lord's help, and let my parents take care of theirs.

"As for those of you who are young adults . . ." Cameron finally smiled. "You'll love Samantha and her activities. She's the most creative, fun person I've ever known! We will, in the next couple of weeks, be calling a committee to work with her."

As Sara mused over Samantha's call, wondering whether Cameron would participate in a young adult family home evening group, the first notes of the sacrament song, sung a cappella, startled her into realizing that no other calls had been made that day.

Church ended with sacrament meeting. As Sara stood up with the Carrolls to leave, the colonists gathered around Ben.

"What do you think about Samantha's calling, Dr. Carroll?" asked Kevin Krantz, Ben's student.

"What are we supposed to do?" asked Erica Rice.

Samantha said nothing, but she appeared as interested in what Ben would say as everyone else did.

Ben glanced at Sara, the corner of his mouth lifting in a slight smile. "I intend to support our new bishop."

Ben's submissive attitude so shocked Sara that she could do nothing but stare as he left the lounge with Barbara. The colonists trickled by Sara as they headed to the door. When the last colonist exited, Cameron finally approached her. When she felt his fingertips on her back, she turned toward him slightly and said in a low voice, "I didn't know what to expect from your father, but I didn't expect him to support you in such an unequivocal way."

"Neither did I. I think something you said the other night must have gotten to him."

Sara spun around to face him completely. "Do you really think so?" She couldn't help but be skeptical.

Cameron shrugged. "I suppose someone else may have said something to him, but it isn't likely. You're the only one who was willing to speak up for me in the forum. I don't think you realize your own power, Sara."

"But the family home evening issue is a major one. If he really did let it go because of something I said to him, then that isn't just power, Cameron, that's real influence. He's my mentor, not the other way around!"

Cameron led her toward the door. "Obviously he doesn't just like you, he respects you. But you had to believe that already. Otherwise you wouldn't be here."

"That's true, I suppose."

"Unless he's up to something."

"Cameron!"

"Well? Which would you rather believe? That you have influence over him or that he's up to something?"

Sara stopped right before they arrived at the door and threw her arms around Cameron. "I don't want to talk about it anymore. I finally get a few minutes alone with the bishop, and I'm going to enjoy them." She drew his face down to hers for a kiss.

Cameron responded enthusiastically. After a minute, he just held her tightly and whispered into her ear, "I was afraid you were angry with me."

"How could I be?"

"I'm sorry I embarrassed you in front of my family."

Sara pulled away enough so that she could look into his eyes. "Don't be sorry. Just tell me how you can be so sure you want to marry me."

Cameron shook his head at her, his gaze a little impatient. "You were supposed to take what I said to Adam as a joke."

"It wasn't a joke."

"You are too perceptive, Sara. You're forcing me to reveal myself too soon."

Sara smiled. "I don't know how I could ever propose marriage to a man who isn't willing to reveal his whole self to me."

Cameron nodded in resignation. "I knew I wanted to marry you the moment I first saw you in the foyer last Sunday evening. The rightness of it took hold of my heart with such power that I felt as if I were literally glowing with love."

Sara couldn't believe it. "You weren't happy to see me; you were horrified!"

"How can I explain how I felt? As soon as I saw you, it was as if the Spirit were putting thoughts into my brain. It told me you were everything I believed you to be, that my love for you was real, and that I would be happy with you. My reaction, of course, was to argue. She doesn't like me, not at all. She can't be the person I thought she was if she wants to go to Eden. Then I became aware of a new, even more extraordinary thought. She loves you as much as you love her. Wait and see."

Cameron's experience enchanted Sara. She couldn't resist asking, "What did you believe me to be?"

Cameron gazed past Sara as if remembering events from the past six years, absently stroking her arm. "Lively and outgoing. Friendly. Guileless. Active and energetic. Passionate and bold. Talented. Intelligent. Completely committed to the gospel." His eyes met hers again, luminous with devotion. "Beautiful to me in every way."

"But Cameron, how could you know I was committed to the gospel? We never saw each other in church meetings." Sara had believed the same thing about him even before she had read his e-mails, but she couldn't pinpoint why.

Cameron shrugged. "You were at everything and knew everyone in your stake, which meant you were active. Along with that, I never heard you say anything that remotely resembled a bad word, even when you were angry. I never in six years saw you wear anything immodest, which still amazes me. Even the clothing you wore to compete in covered you well compared to the things some of the other girls wore, although I'll have to say, you looked pretty hot in those spandex tights."

Sara grinned. "So did you!"

"And you never, ever, hung all over boys at the dances or games."

Sara should have understood sooner. Of course he had noticed that she lived the standards. She had observed the same thing of him. "I'd hang all over you if you'd let me," Sara said impishly.

"That's different. I'm going to be your husband. You just don't know it yet." He pressed her close again, kissing her cheek, his voice lowering. "I've loved you for six years, Sara. I've never wanted anyone but you. Why shouldn't I be sure?"

"I'm not sure."

"I know," he whispered, "and I don't expect you to be. When you're ready, propose. You know what my answer will be."

Sara jerked away from him and looked into his eyes. "So you're proposing."

"Yes, I guess I am."

"That has to be the most backward proposal ever!"

Cameron smiled. "I'm a backward guy. I'm just living up to my reputation."

"You're not backward!"

"My father thinks I am."

"Do you really want me to propose to you?"

"Yes. If you can actually bring yourself to propose, we'll both know you're certain. Just be prepared at that point to set a date." His smile faded. "When the time comes, my father may insist on marrying us. I'm not sure what we should do about that."

"Your father?" Sara said in surprise.

"Tony has the authority to perform the ceremony, but my father is the governor. Even if it isn't absolutely necessary that he give us his license for it to be legal, asking for it is the courteous thing to do. I know he feels strongly about counseling with all couples getting married, and it may be he wants to officiate at the weddings too. I don't feel right about that at all. Members of the Church should be married with the religious ceremony if at all possible. If we agree to let him marry us, it may set a precedent and begin a harmful tradition."

"But I want to be married in the temple." Sara knew it sounded stupid as soon as she said it and remembered what her father had told her. He had been right, of course. Two years was too long. She hadn't perceived it then because she had not understood the power of her own passion.

"So do I." Cameron caressed her cheek. "I didn't mean to burden you with my concerns. I'm sorry."

Sara shook her head quickly, as if shaking away her illusions. "I'm feeling bad about not being married in the temple, and you're worried about what kind of civil ceremony we'll have. It seems outrageous and wrong, and I'm such an idiot." The realization that she would not marry Cameron in the temple wrapped around her heart like a black veil.

The corner of Cameron's mouth twitched in a way that would have suggested he was amused had he not been so glum. "Please don't criticize my future wife."

Sara didn't believe he would be so eager to marry her if he knew she was destined to live for two hundred years and have thirty kids. "You shouldn't be so sure. There are important things about me you don't know. Things that bewilder me. Things I'm not sure I believe myself."

"What things?"

"The other night I only told you about the first conversation I had with my father. On the night before we left, he told me more and gave me a blessing." Several people from Fifth Colony came into the lounge in preparation for their own meeting. She couldn't tell him now. "It's too big, Cameron. There isn't time." She wasn't sure whether to feel disappointed or relieved.

Cameron kissed her one last time. "We'll find time later."

*

Sara and Cameron never did find time on Sunday to be alone to discuss the blessing Sara's father had given to her. Sara hadn't seen Cameron at all on Monday morning when Kevin Krantz told her that Ben wanted to see her immediately. Kevin led her to the suite where the colony's headquarters were located and motioned to the door of Ben's office. As she entered, her eyes drifted around the blue room with its thick, faux marble columns and wall painting meant to simulate a courtyard at twilight, thinking it odd that an office would be decorated with so much attention to artistic detail.

Ben arose from a gray leather chair and approached her, spreading his arms and looking around in satisfaction. "Welcome to my sanctuary, Sara," he said with a smile. "This is the one room on the ship where a person can enjoy a few minutes of silence and solitude."

"Somehow I doubt you get too many minutes of solitude in here."

"No I don't," Ben admitted, "but what I do get, I relish. And now I'm able to share some of that luxury with you."

Sara smiled. "You're very generous." Then, remembering that she hadn't had a chance yet to thank him for compromising on the family home evening issue, she stepped forward and threw her arms around him, squeezing tightly. "Thanks, Ben."

As Sara withdrew, Ben rested his hands on her waist and smiled down at her, his eyes seeming to overflow with joy. "To what do I owe this exuberant expression of appreciation?"

"For supporting Cameron in his decision to call Samantha to direct the young adult family home evening program." Having nowhere else to put her hands, she laid them lightly on Ben's arms. "I know how difficult it must have been for you to take stance you did."

His gaze softened. "It wasn't as difficult as you believe. I was more than happy to do what I could to convince a disgruntled colonist that she does, indeed, still have credibility in the colony."

Despite the discussion Sara had had with Cameron, Ben's revelation surprised her. "So you did listen to what I said."

"Of course I did. Have you ever known me not to listen to you?"

Sara smiled and shook her head.

Ben cupped his hands around her face. "You are one of the most intelligent people I know, Sara Alexander, and although we may not always agree on everything, I will always listen to what you have to say." He shook his head. "Never doubt it."

"I'm sorry I ever did." She gazed at him, her eyes huge with awe. How in the universe had she managed to engender so much admiration and affection in such a great man?

Ben lowered his arms, his mouth curving into a smile. "Stop looking at me in such amazement. I'm only a man, you know, not an object of worship."

Sara laughed. "And all this time, I thought you were Apollo incarnate!" She waved her hand and glanced around the room. "In a setting like this, who could blame me?"

Laughing with her, Ben took her arm and led her to one of the gray leather office chairs. "Sit down, Sara. We have much to discuss." He sat Sara down and placed his hands on her shoulders, giving them a squeeze.

Sara relaxed into the chair, curious but without anxiety. "Sounds serious."

Ben sat down and rolled his chair closer to hers. "What I have to say to you is serious, but it doesn't have to be bad." He leaned toward Sara a little, his voice lowering. "You know that our physical education directors decided not to join us after hearing Cameron's talk a week ago Sunday."

Sara nodded slowly.

"Frankly, this was a blow. They were the only two specialists I had hired in that discipline, and all three of their students walked out when they did. Now, either the colony gets by with no physical education program, or I have to hire someone to take their place."

Understanding jolted Sara. "You want me to direct the P.E. program."

"I was hoping you would consider it. Understand, Sara, that this would mean you would no longer be a student, but a mentor. As the senior member of your profession, you would sit on the Board of Advisors. When we arrive on Eden, you will get your own home. You won't have to live in the dormitory with the other girls your age."

To go from student to full-fledged status in the colony within a week of leaving Earth seemed almost too good to be true, and yet Sara couldn't immediately accept Ben's offer. "I would have to give up journalism, wouldn't I?"

"You won't have time to continue as Barbara's student, but you will have the freedom to continue writing. You can write whatever you want. If you would like, you can even bring your work to me when it's finished, and I'll help you get it ready for publication."

Sara listened in shock. "You would do that for me?"

"I'm every bit as much of a professional writer as Barbara is."

Sara smiled. "That's not the issue."

"Then you must be doubting my sincerity."

"No, your sanity!"

Ben grinned. "You're an ungrateful young woman!"

Ben's gentle rebuke disarmed Sara. "I'm sorry."

Ben shook his head, still smiling. "Stop being so serious, Little Panther. I'm teasing you."

Sara blushed. She averted her eyes, feeling like an idiot. "I'm really sorry."

Sara heard him sigh, then felt his hand over hers on the armrest. "No, Sara, I'm sorry for making you uncomfortable." He lightly tapped the back of her hand. "It's just that I expect you to think of yourself as my peer. During these moments, when I realize you don't, it bothers me. It's the difference in our ages, I suppose, and my position in the colony."

Sara looked up at him again. He did seem very troubled and sincere. "You are the governor," she said softly.

"And you can be one of the governor's advisors."

Ben's request made sense, but it seemed strange. "I ran track to pay for my education. I've never even considered a career in athletics."

Ben rested his hand on Sara's, squeezing. "You would excel at it."

Sara withdrew her hand from the armrest of her chair and folded her arms. "So I've been told. Many times."

"It might even be something you would like."

"Perhaps, but I don't know. I'm going to need some time to think about it. Do you have other candidates?"

"I won't talk to anyone else until you've given me your decision, but there is another possibility if you decide this career change isn't right for you."

Ben's last few words set something off in Sara. She couldn't restrain herself from blurting, "But Ben, how can it be right for me? How could you and Dr. Eagle have spent so much time helping me find the one career that is perfectly tailored to my life's mission and then, within a few months, ask me to completely change careers? I know the colony is desperate, but I'm baffled."

Ben gazed at Sara thoughtfully for many moments. Finally he smiled, barely. "I'll be frank with you, Sara. Most people have the aptitude to be successful in various careers. Many even get a chance to have more than one career in a lifetime. That's reality. You know that."

Sara nodded, still troubled.

"Then there are a few people who are so brilliant and capable that they can, literally, do anything they want to do. You're one of those people."

"I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say."

"I urged you toward journalism because it was what you said you wanted."

Sara was stunned. "Then you don't believe what you teach."

"Of course I do. I believe Ann and I have given all of the students in the Eden Colony career counseling that is far more comprehensive than anything they would have received elsewhere."

"Then you didn't urge me toward journalism because you thought it was what the Lord wanted me to do?"

"Yes, I did, but I didn't base that belief on knowledge the Lord revealed to me for you. I based it on the good feelings you obviously felt toward pursuing a career in journalism."

"So you saw your role as helping me understand and feel good about what I already knew to be true, that is, that I should pursue a career in journalism."

"Yes. The Lord would certainly reveal that information to you before He would reveal it to me, and I've always trusted your spiritual discernment."

"So, given your belief that the Lord steered me in the direction of journalism, you now ask me to completely change careers?"

"I believe you're one of those people who can to do anything. How do I know that journalism, for you, isn't just a stepping stone to something else?"

"I guess neither one of us would know that, would we?"

Ben shook his head. "No, we wouldn't. Who can tell about such things? This I do know, Sara. I need a physical education director and you're the most qualified person in the colony to fill that role. I have to make the offer. And I know that you'll make the right decision."

 

Chapter 13: ONLY ONE ANSWER

That evening, when most of the colony was participating in family home evening, Sara and Cameron sat on the floor in the doorway of Sara's empty dorm room and talked. Every now and then one of the other students would walk by, but, for the most part, Sara and Cameron had the corridor to themselves.

Sara told Cameron about his father's job offer, and his advice was simple: "If you feel good about it, do it; if not, don't."

"But what about the needs of the colony?"

"I think the colony's need will take care of itself. My father said he had another candidate, didn't he?"

Sara nodded.

"Then what are you so worried about? One way or another, the position will get filled."

Sara pulled her knees to her chin. "I've been thinking about it all day, and my inclination is to refuse it."

"Then refuse it."

"You make it sound so easy."

"Of course it's easy for me. It isn't my decision!"

"You're a big help."

"Do you really want me to tell you what to do?"

"No. It's just that I didn't need this thrown at me now. There are too many other things I have to figure out. A lot of it has to do with that blessing my father gave to me."

Cameron scooted closer to Sara, interlocking his knees with hers and taking her hands in his. "I've been dying of suspense ever since we talked after church. What could there have been in the blessing your father gave you that was so terrible?"

Sara forced herself to smile. "It isn't terrible, just confusing." She repeated the blessing to him word for word. He listened carefully, his face intense with concentration.

When she was finished, Cameron asked, impressed, "Do you always do that?"

"Do what?"

"Repeat conversations and blessings verbatim?"

Sara shrugged. "I suppose."

"You have your father's incredible memory."

"Cameron, no one has my father's incredible memory!"

"You do. I'll bet that if you developed it the way he did, you'd be able to recite the scriptures word for word too."

"Actually, reciting scriptures is child's play for my father. Even Josh can do that. It's a game to them."

"You're awesome, Sara. You're a Novaunian librarian in embryo. Your brother is too."

It was a weird thought and probably true. "Aptitude to be a librarian isn't the only thing I inherited from my parents. Apparently it isn't unusual for Novaunian couples to have as many as thirty children, and they live to be two hundred years old!"

A mischievous smile slowly formed on Cameron's lips. "I always knew you were the queen . . . bee."

Sara couldn't believe he would joke about it. She jabbed him in the chest with her finger. "For that, you get stung!"

Cameron melodramatically fell to the side. "How are you going to make all of those royal babies if you incapacitate your consort?"

The audacity of Cameron's comment electrified Sara. She grabbed a handful of his T-shirt and yanked him off of the floor. "Consort?" She kissed him as vigorously as she dared, then declared, "I'll have you know that nothing less than a king will satisfy me!"

Cameron kissed her to take her breath away, drawing her into his lap as he sat back down. "Let me be your king, Sara," he whispered.

Sara stroked his face with trembling fingers. "You do understand that we would actually have to keep all of those royal babies we'd make."

"I know," Cameron said his eyes charged with anticipation. "Isn't it wonderful? You've given me a new vision of Eden, one I like very much."

"You actually like the idea of having thirty children?"

Cameron's arms tightened around Sara. "Just because Novaunian women often have as many as thirty children doesn't mean you will. The blessing said only that you shouldn't be afraid of having more children than you might think is natural. It didn't specify a number."

Sara kissed Cameron's cheek. "You know, you're right!" What a relief!

"If you think about it, even fifteen children would seem unnatural to us. Not only that, but a woman in her forties might feel some anxiety about having a child. She might be concerned it would have a birth defect or that she couldn't physically or emotionally cope with raising a child so late in life."

Sara nodded thoughtfully. "This is all true. With me, though, it's different, apparently."

"No kidding! At age fifty, you'll still be young and vibrant with three-quarters of your life yet to go. Sara, you'll have the strength and stamina of a woman in her twenties and, at the same time, years' worth of knowledge and experience! You won't hit middle age until you're a hundred years old! Wow! Under those circumstances, why not have more children?"

"So you think the Lord simply wanted to tell me that I should make decisions regarding my family based on Novaun's reality, not Earth's . . . or Eden's."

Cameron slid the hair elastic out of Sara's hair and gently unraveled the French braid Ashley had put there so carefully that morning. "Yes. But I do think He means for you to have a lot of children."

Was it possible to have a large family and still be a dedicated journalist? Or a physical education director? Under the "Equality of Employment" plan, mothers and fathers took their children to work and brought their work home in a community that blended career and family perfectly. Couples bore only as many children as they wanted and could sustain with their many community responsibilities, so obviously no family would be large and children would be spaced several years apart. How would she feel being the only full-time homemaker with an army of children in a community of professional women with their little companies of two and three children? "That plan doesn't match the Eden ideal very well."

Cameron combed through Sara's hair with his fingers, draping it over her shoulders. "The 'sustainable growth' idea has never made sense to me. We have a whole planet to populate! What would Earth have been like had Adam and Eve decided to have only three children? Or the United States if the colonists and pioneers had stopped at two?"

Sara could not ignore the logic of Cameron's observation. "My mother's ancestors were some of the early settlers of Virginia and Kentucky. It was nothing for those people to have fifteen or twenty children or more."

"And they didn't have synthesizing machines and robots to do most of their work for them! Nor did they live to be two hundred years old!"

"Maybe I have been looking at things the wrong way," Sara admitted. "I'm not sure what I'm afraid of. Come to think of it, my mom was able to do a lot of things she wanted to do, and there were eight of us. She reads all the time, you know. She sings too and is a wonderful actress."

"Really? Was she involved in community theater?"

"No, not with practices and performances on Sunday. But she did all kinds of things for our ward and stake, and she liked to help out with school productions when she could."

"Did she ever work?"

"Cameron, my father doesn't even work!"

"Then you ought to understand better than I do how to live the counsel of the prophets."

Sara loved the feel of him playing with her hair. She hoped family home evening would last all night. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised you would want me to be a stay-at-home mom."

"What do you have against it, anyway?"

"Nothing. I just thought the Eden ideal would allow me to be a full-time mom and have a career. Look at your mother. She seems to have the best of both worlds."

"All women who have children are full-time mothers, Sara. Not having a second career just makes it a lot easier to function as one."

"You don't think your mother functions well?"

"What I think is irrelevant. Everyone who knows my mother believes she functions well and that is enough for her."

"What strange things you say sometimes!"

"Don't misunderstand me. I never doubted my mother's love for us, and I have no desire to criticize her. She's doing the best she can with the choices she and my father have made. You're going to have to trust me on this issue. You are not Barbara Carroll. You wouldn't be happy living the kind of life she leads. Honestly, I'm not sure my mother herself is happy."

"Don't be absurd!"

"If it makes you feel any better, I hope I'm wrong."

"Do you think she'll be angry if we have a baby right away?"

"Does it matter?"

"She is my mentor. I feel that by coming here at all I made a commitment to her and to the lifestyle."

"What do you want?"

Sara closed her eyes, reveling in the luxury of being in Cameron's arms. "Right now, this moment, I feel . . . I want very much to have your baby."

Cameron reverently placed his hand on Sara's abdomen. "I wish you would."

"My mother was an emotional wreck when she was pregnant, and she was tired all the time. Do you really think you're ready for that?"

"Your mother is not a Novaunian. Your pregnancies may not be as difficult as hers were, and the blessing did say you would have excellent health. And even if you do have a difficult pregnancy, I'll do everything I can to make things easier for you."

"And what about my abnormally long life span? I'll have my last baby just in time for you to die."

"You're not thinking expansively enough, Sara! Just think of it! The earth will pass into terrestrial glory during our lifetime. Everyone's bodies will be changed. We'll pray that my resurrection will be deferred to a time that corresponds with yours. It's a reasonable request. The Lord will grant it, I'm sure of it."

Sara kissed Cameron's lips. "It's such a beautiful dream, Cameron, but I can't reconcile what I came here to do with the new desires that have developed in my heart in the last week. How do I know I won't change my mind again in another month? I don't know if I want to be a Novaunian. I certainly don't feel like one."

"I think you're more a Novaunian than you realize. You're definitely your father's daughter, and not just because you have the aptitude to be a librarian."

*

Sara thought and prayed about Cameron's proposal and Ben's offer all week. Every now and then she considered discussing Ben's offer with Barbara but never could bring herself to do it. She simply couldn't believe her apprenticeship with Barbara was over, and so there never seemed to be anything of substance to discuss. Finally, on Friday, she met Ben in his office again and gave him her answer.

"While I'm flattered you would offer me this position, I'm going to have to decline it. I'm sorry." Sara's hands tightened on the armrests of her chair as she braced herself for his response.

Ben laid his hand over Sara's, appearing shocked and troubled. "Are you sure about this?"

Sara immediately perceived that he had expected her to accept the offer, and she almost second-guessed her decision and said no. The mere thought of it, though, unsettled her, which gave her the strength to say, "Yes, I'm sure. The P.E. path is not the right one for me."

"Do you have any idea why not?" He seemed displeased.

The question seemed a little too personal, and Sara didn't feel inclined to satisfy Ben's curiosity, even if she had been in possession of an answer. "To tell you the truth, I don't care about the 'why.'"

Ben leaned back in his chair and studied her for many moments. "You have no idea what you've done."

Sara folded her arms, feeling annoyed. "I thought you said you trusted me to make the right decision."

"You're certain that you're sure."

"Yes!"

"I can't hold this position open for you if you change your mind." He added in a low voice: "As much as I would like to."

"If you wanted so badly for me to take this job, why didn't you just order me to do it in the first place?"

Ben regarded her queerly for a moment, then relaxed. "I wouldn't dare!"

"Well?"

"I'll find someone else."

Sara stood up to leave. "Thank you!"

Ben smiled a little as he arose from his chair. "You pick the most exasperating times to put the governor in his place."

"Isn't that what you want?" she asked tentatively. "For me to think of myself as your peer?"

Ben embraced her, chuckling. "Absolutely."

*

On Sunday, not long after Sara and Ashley finished dressing for church, Russ asked to speak with Sara alone. To Sara's astonishment, Russ called her to be the Primary president. "We've discussed this calling many times during the past week, and all four of us feel you are the one the Lord wants in this position."

"But women our age are called to be Primary teachers and pianists, not Primary presidents."

"And men our age are called to be ward missionaries and basketball coaches, not members of bishoprics."

"You have a point."

"Will you accept?"

"What in the galaxy is the Lord thinking?"

Russ smiled knowingly. "He's thinking you will make an excellent Primary president."

Sara accepted the calling because she could do nothing else. The colonists gathered in the Star Lounge for their second sacrament meeting as a new ward. This time the presidents of all of the auxiliaries were sustained. Some of the callings, such as Sara's, surprised everyone. Others, such as Cyndi Carroll as Relief Society president, didn't surprise anyone.

After sacrament meeting Sara gathered with the other newly called ward leaders in Ben's office. Sara decided she would wait and be the last to be set apart. Since she and Cameron desired to marry, this blessing would be a particularly intimate experience she had no wish for anyone but Cameron's family members to witness.

Once all of the other newly called ward leaders had left and only Cameron's family and the bishopric remained, Cameron laid his hands on Sara's head, thrilling her. Russ followed suit. "Sara Sekura Avenaunta . . ." Cameron hesitated, then added, as if it were an afterthought, ". . . Alexander." Understanding blossomed in Sara's mind. Those strange middle names were her real name, while "Alexander" was the surname her parents had taken when they had arrived on Earth, making it superfluous. Why had she not perceived that fact two weeks ago?

". . . I bless you with the ability to appreciate the great trust the Lord has in you by calling you into this position . . . I bless you to be filled with the Spirit, that you will know who in the ward the Lord wishes to serve with you as counselors . . . The Lord loves you and understands your confusion regarding the decision you are pondering. As you pray with your whole soul, He will help you discern the truth and will speak peace to your mind and heart . . ."

When the blessing was over, Cameron laid his hands on Sara's shoulders, giving them an affectionate squeeze. Sara didn't move immediately, wanting to enjoy the feelings of rapture created by this three-way communion between her, Cameron and the Lord.

Sara didn't feel as if her many questions had been answered, but she did feel confident that she could meet the responsibilities of being Primary president, and she knew that the Lord would give her an answer about Cameron and help her become reconciled to her Novaunian heritage. Sara stood up slowly and turned toward Cameron. He smiled radiantly. She hadn't thought it possible to love someone so much and almost proposed to him at that moment, but as she moved into Cameron's arms, she caught a glimpse of Barbara smiling and holding hands with Ben, and she remembered why she had come to Eden in the first place. The doubts descended on her again, but she shoved them away, determined to lose herself, for a few moments anyway, in Cameron's embrace.

*

On Monday evening, Cameron and Sara strolled to her dorm doorway while everyone else went to family home evening. When Sara was certain no one was in the corridor, she threw her arms around Cameron and kissed him vigorously. Many minutes later she whispered in his ear, "You know, the ward's going to start getting suspicious when they realize the bishop is never at family home evening."

Cameron pulled away a little and smiled. "You are my family, Sara. Close enough, anyway."

"That's an interesting way to look at it."

Cameron slid to the floor, pulling Sara down with him. "It's the only way I want to look at it."

Sara leaned her back against Cameron's chest and nestled against him as he wrapped his arms around her. "I feel the need to remind you that we aren't engaged . . . yet."

Cameron caressed her neck with his lips. "So there's still hope."

Sara laughed gently. "Would I be here with you like this if there weren't?"

"I don't know . . . you did date the brigade."

"David ordered those guys to ask me out, I swear!"

Cameron's lips moved to Sara's ear. "I have something important to tell you."

Sara sat up a little and turned to look at him. His expression was very serious. "Well?"

"I spent some time with my father today, and he offered me a job."

Sara frowned. "He offered you a . . .?"

Cameron laid his fingertips on Sara's lips, nodding slowly. "He offered me the same job he offered to you. And I accepted it." The corner of his mouth lifted slightly. "It looks as if you may be marrying the colony's P.E. teacher."

"But Cameron, what about engineering?"

Cameron shrugged. "After everything that's happened in the last few weeks, my desire to be a nanoengineer seems pretty trivial."

Sara turned away. "You make me feel selfish and frivolous."

Cameron stroked her hair. "You shouldn't. It obviously wasn't the right path for you, but it is for me."

"How can it be?"

"Things will be better this way. It's been awkward being the bishop and a student. This will give me a profession--a very flexible one. I want to do this, Sara."

Sara now understood why she had felt so uneasy about taking the P.E. job. It had always been meant for Cameron. With that realization, though, came doubt. Why hadn't Ben offered the job to Cameron first? As the bishop, Cameron really did need professional status in the colony. That his father had ignored that fact seemed a significant slight.

Cameron covered Sara's mouth with his hand. "Don't say it, Sara. It doesn't matter."

Sara raised her eyebrows at him.

He smiled complacently. "Yes, I know what you're thinking because I can read your face."

Sara pried his hand off of her mouth. "No you can't!"

"Okay. I can read your mind."

"It doesn't bother you that he offered the job to me first?"

"Why should it? You're better qualified."

"Only marginally, and only because you went on a mission! Had you not gone to China, you could have had your pick of universities!"

"None of that matters now."

"It seems wrong that only qualifications, and negligible ones at that, would be considered in a decision like this instead of fundamental talent and need."

"My father may have had no choice but to offer it to you first. Other colony leaders may have insisted."

"I suppose that's possible."

Sara kept telling herself that what Cameron had suggested was true, that Ben had offered the job to her first only because the Board of Advisors had insisted because of her qualifications. By the end of the evening, Sara had almost convinced herself that there could be no other explanation. She didn't even mind believing that Ben had approached her first because he didn't want her to become even more disgruntled than she had been. She could also accept the possibility that Ben wanted Cameron to continue his education in engineering. Engineering would, after all, give Cameron a better income than P.E. once they returned to Earth.

Deep down, however, Sara didn't believe any of these theories. Her conversations with Ben on the subject were still too vivid in her mind. Ben had offered the position to her first because he wanted her to have it. Had he been able, he would have held it open for her, which led her to believe that someone on the Board of Advisors had been pushing for Cameron all along. Probably his mother, his aunt and uncle, and maybe others. Despite her best efforts, Sara couldn't rid herself of the unsettling realization that Ben had more respect for her than for his son. With that understanding came an unanswerable question: Why?

Was it because Sara believed in The Equality of Zion and Cameron did not? Could it be that she had been ignoring the truth all this time? That Ben really did believe Cameron was a fanatic and therefore had no respect for him? Could it be that Ben had wanted to keep Cameron in the position of student to minimize his power in the colony? Was Ben really capable of discriminating against his son in such a despicable way? Then again, was the fact that Ben had offered her the position first really so despicable? She was better qualified. Perhaps Ben had been afraid he would be accused of favoritism if he offered it to Cameron first.

But that wasn't it and Sara knew it. Ben had wanted her in the position. Cameron was his second choice. Could there be some other explanation for Ben's behavior? For the first time in three weeks, the image of Bishop Lanham's grave face nudged itself into Sara's mind with his unthinkable suggestion: "My gut feeling is that he's attracted to you and can't resist pursuing it." Could Ben be interested in her romantically? It simply wasn't possible . . . or was it? Ben had a wonderful wife and their marriage seemed normal enough. Ben had always been friendly to be sure, but he was friendly to everyone . . . wasn't he? He had never made any kind of advance, and they had been alone on several occasions.

Sara went over and over everything that had happened between her and Ben in her mind. Ben's behavior had been a little strange at times, but never unseemly. Nothing pointed to romantic feelings, and yet the suspicion was one she couldn't discard. Then it occurred to her that she had never heard Kevin Krantz, Ben's own student, refer to him as anything but "Dr. Carroll." She told herself that it meant nothing, that Ben was treating her in such a familiar way because she was his son's girlfriend, but then she had to acknowledge the fact that Ben was the only person in the colony who had ever expressed disapproval of her relationship with Cameron. Considering his feelings on the subject, it seemed he would prefer to keep a distance between himself and Sara.

Unless he was interested in her himself. No. That was absurd! It couldn't be. Ben Carroll was a righteous man, a great man--not a philanderer. And he had to know that Sara would never consent to such a relationship, even to be with a world-renowned psychologist and the governor of a new colony. Other women might lower their standards for such an important, wealthy man, but not Sara. So it couldn't be that. Were Ben a philanderer, he would have chosen someone else.

Unless he was trying to seduce her. But a man who would seduce chaste young women would be worse than an ordinary adulterer; he would be a pervert. And that simply wasn't possible in Ben Carroll's case. Sara knew it, and yet every time he spoke to her now, she felt a tug of curiosity and a twinge of dread.

 

Chapter 14: EDEN

Thursday morning, a week and a half after Cameron had accepted the P.E. job and three and a half weeks after leaving Earth, Sara watched eagerly from the porthole as the shuttle approached Eden. Cameron's arm was draped over her seat, with fingers in her hair, and his cheek caressing hers as he watched too. Mammoth glaciers curled around the poles, and immense oceans surrounded two wide, narrow continents that almost touched along the equator. The northern continent looked a little like a giant brown crab.

"The island there between the continents is where Control Colony will be," Ben said from his seat behind Sara. "And we'll be at the northernmost end of that mountain range on the northern continent, near the ocean."

"It all looks so very ordinary," Cameron observed.

Sara refused to let Cameron spoil this awe-filled moment. "Stop being such a pessimist!"

"I'm not being a pessimist. I just think it looks like Earth. Basic, beautiful Earth."

"Eden is Earth as it should look, pristine and unpolluted," Barbara said.

"We'll make it into a paradise," Ben assured.

Sara watched, spellbound, as the coastlines disappeared and the landforms came into focus. From what Sara could see from the porthole, they really were descending into paradise. The shuttle soared over a hilly, heavily wooded country laced with lakes and streams before floating to the ground and landing in a meadow. Sara and Cameron inched to the exit with the other colonists and stepped down into hip-deep grass. Children squealed with delight as they tried to run and ended up falling down.

Sara deeply inhaled the fragrance of fresh grass and wild cherry trees in bloom. No cloud darkened the brilliant blue sky. "It's beautiful! Like Maryland in May."

"A little cool for May," Ashley murmured, gripping her arms with her hands. "I should have worn long sleeves."

Cameron reached into the grass and lifted out a handful of buttercups. "I'm not sure there's anywhere on Earth quite as beautiful as Maryland in May," he said, presenting the flowers to Sara.

Sara took them eagerly. "Except perhaps Maryland in early April, when the fruit trees are in bloom, and the world is a pale green haze."

Ashley rubbed her arms in an attempt to warm up. "Or perhaps Maryland in October, when the world is crimson, yellow, and orange."

Cameron nodded decisively. "That settles it. We're going home."

The grass rustled as Sara and Cameron waded toward the cargo shuttle, where an airtruck was being lowered to the ground, a synthesizing machine the size of a garage strapped to its bed. The driver moved the airtruck out of the way, and the shuttles lifted into the air, taxied into position above the trees, then shot away.

Ben and his brother took their places in the passenger seats of the truck and directed the driver to move it into the forest as everyone followed on foot, picking through the brush and ground cover.

The truck stopped in a smaller clearing than the one they had just left and hissed as the driver lowered it to the ground. Trevor Carroll jumped out of the truck and pressed a button on the side of the synthesizing machine. A large door lifted open, revealing all of the ice blue crates containing the individual belongings of the colonists. Everyone worked to unload the crates and set them out of the way.

Once the synthesizing machine was empty, Trevor Carroll flipped a keyboard attached to the machine into a horizontal position and typed in several commands. Ben motioned the colonists to gather around him and said, "While we're waiting for the unit to assemble the other synthesizing machines, let me show you the areas we staked out six months ago."

They followed him as he wound through several clusters of trees and stopped in a clearing dotted with the most beautiful dogwood trees Sara had ever seen, still partially in bloom, their single pink and white flowers seeming to float on clouds of green. Daisies grew in clumps where the sun shown through the trees, along with buttercups and many other varieties of wildflowers Sara didn't recognize. There were lilacs, azaleas, tulips, and irises in bloom and roses, both wild and domestic, in bud. The spot looked like a large garden.

Everyone's gasps seemed as one. Sara glanced at Cameron, pleased to see that he was as impressed by the sight as everyone else was.

"This beautiful place," Ben enthusiastically began, "will be the center of our colony and is the site we have chosen for our future temple."

"It's perfect!" Sara turned her head toward Cameron again as the colonists applauded and cheered. Cameron's awestruck smile tightened into a determined line. He released Sara's hand and wound his way to his father. Sara watched him, paralyzed with anxiety. What in the galaxy did he intend to do?

"I'm sorry," Cameron said loudly, "to disturb your celebration." His voice softened as the colonists turned to him in curiosity. "But every one of you heard what President Grant said. There will never be a temple here."

Samantha waved her hand at Cameron in a dismissive way. "Stop being such a pessimist, Cameron! We all know you don't want to be here, but you don't have to spoil it for the rest of us!"

Anger stabbed Sara. Why did Cameron have to be such a pessimist? What was wrong with him?

 Cameron turned toward Samantha. "I don't mean to be a pessimist, I really don't. And this is a beautiful site, perfect for a temple if there were ever to be one. But I would be doing you a grave disservice if I didn't do everything in my power to dissuade you from believing in this fantasy."

Ben chuckled, shaking his head at Cameron as if he were a misbehaving child. "You're only a bishop, son, not a prophet." Contemptuous chuckles sounded throughout the crowd.

Sara held her breath, waiting to see how Cameron would react, her anger toward him transforming into fierce loyalty. Ben really did think his son was a fanatic and maybe even a fool! That was why he had more respect for her than he did for Cameron and had offered the P.E. job to her first. Sara thought she should be relieved that her other theory had turned out to be unfounded, but discovering that Ben was capable of such discrimination made her more confused and uncomfortable than ever.

Cameron faced his father as if unaware he was an object of ridicule. "My only intention is to relay what the prophet himself has said."

As Cameron moved to rejoin Sara, his mother's voice rang out, cool with challenge: "You seem to be forgetting the blessing your father gave you, Cameron."

Cameron stopped suddenly. Sara watched at him in dismay, remembering all of the promises given to him in that blessing and the prophecy concerning Eden and a temple. Perhaps Cameron really was the one in the wrong. Maybe Ben was right to call him down in front of the colony.

Cameron turned his head slowly toward his mother, his features twisting into an expression of grief. "I would rather not talk about that."

"You're the one who brought it up, Cameron," Ben said.

"Many of us were there," Trevor Carroll persisted with a nod. "In declaring there will be no temple on Eden, you are calling your father a liar. You owe us an explanation."

Sara couldn't believe this was happening. Soft yellow petals floated from her fingers as she plucked them from the flowers she held in her hands. No matter what Cameron did or said he couldn't win. How had he ended up in this nightmare? Why had he been called to be the bishop at all? Why had Ben begged the Church to organize the colonists into a ward if he had no intention of respecting the authority of the man called to be the bishop? Why was Cameron so adamant about maintaining his radical point of view?

Cameron answered the challenge carefully. "I don't believe my father is a liar. But . . . if what is promised in a blessing contradicts what those in authority have proclaimed, I can only assume the blessing is uninspired."

Sara dropped the flowerless stems, bewilderment fogging her mind. Ben, a great spiritual leader, did not give uninspired blessings, but Cameron didn't lie, and he had been given authority as a bishop to discern such matters. Shouts of outrage thundered around Sara.

"You would actually accuse your father of giving you an uninspired blessing?" said Dr. Todd Jarrett.

"I didn't accuse him of anything."

"What kind of son are you?" said Patricia Dixon.

"He's a parrot for the Church, that's what he is!" said Kevin Krantz.

"Bishop Carroll is not a parrot!" Tony insisted. "He's an inspired leader and he doesn't lie!"

Sara wanted to cheer. Seeing Tony defend Cameron now more than made up for his lack of support at the initial United Hearts Forum.

"Which makes Dr. Carroll an uninspired liar!" Jordan said. "Which makes you a complete idiot for being here at all!"

"Tony is no idiot and you know it, Jordan Tressler!" Sara shouted.

Cameron listened to the proceedings, appalled. Ben wore a self-satisfied little smile. When he turned to confront Cameron, the shouts faded away. "You mean to tell us, Cameron, that every word that comes out of the mouth of one in 'authority' is inspired?"

Sara shivered. What had happened to the sun?

"It doesn't matter," Cameron responded. "Our priesthood leaders act for the Lord in their particular stewardships and we are duty-bound to follow them."

"So we follow them blindly, is that it?"

"No, we follow them alertly, with eyes wide open."

"Even when the counsel makes no sense in our own individual situations?"

"It didn't make much sense for Noah to build the ark, but he did it anyway and saved himself and his family when everyone else died."

Sara was impressed by the way Cameron so deftly untangled himself from his father's word traps and with such dignity too. The wind threw her hair into her face and blew wilting pink and white dogwood blossoms around the grove. She forced her hair away from her eyes, frowning up at the sky, which was rippled with deep gray clouds. Certainly it wouldn't storm. Not today. Where would they go for shelter?

"There you have it," Ben said pleasantly, holding a flattened palm toward Cameron as if presenting him to the colonists. "My son has expressed his opinion. And very well, I might add. I suggest we humor him for a while, give him time to recognize his determination to live every counsel that comes out of the mouth of a general authority for what it is--hero worship."

Cyndi Carroll elbowed her way to the front of the crowd. "I can't stand by and listen to you refer to your son in such a condescending way, Ben!" She shook her head indignantly, holding her long brown hair out of her face. "Not only is he a good man, he's our bishop."

Sara listened to all of the murmurs of agreement in surprise and satisfaction. The colonists had followed Ben to Eden, but they couldn't help but like Cameron, and they did respect the office of bishop.

Ben scrutinized his son. "You are a good man, Cameron," he admitted, his tone impassive rather than pleased. "And you are our bishop."

Cameron's mouth curved into that sad smile Sara had seen him wear so often during the past five days. "It seems, Father, that you made a mistake when you raised me. You took me to Primary, and I actually believed what I was taught there."

The colonists looked from Cameron to each other, frowning in discomfort and confusion. After a moment Sister Vance stepped forward and waved a thin hand in the direction of a grove of ash trees. "Come. See the rest of our beautiful colony. We'll build such a glorious city that even our reluctant bishop will never want to leave."

As the colonists began moving into the ash grove, Tony approached Sara. He smiled tentatively. "Do you respect me again?"

Sara nodded and gave him a hug.

"I'm as confused about all of this as you must be," he whispered. "Please be merciful."

She knew she hadn't been merciful at all. She hadn't challenged him on his lack of courage after the forum, but she hadn't conversed with him much since then either. "I'm sorry I ever doubted you."

As he pulled away from her, he said mournfully, "Is it possible to be Cameron's supporters, and pathetic ones at that, and not be traitors to Dr. Carroll?"

"I wish I knew."

"When you figure it out, you tell me," Tony said as he joined the flow of colonists out of the clearing.

Sara meant to follow Tony with the others, but once everyone was gone, she found that she had not moved an inch, despite the fact that the wind seemed determined to push her over. She and Cameron surveyed each other from their separate positions in the clearing. Then, as if by mutual agreement, they slowly walked toward each other. Cameron stopped when he was about a yard away from Sara. "You're still here," he said as if he didn't believe it.

"It seems I have a dilemma." Sara stretched her arm to touch Cameron's hand but couldn't quite reach it. "I came to Eden because I believe in the father, but I want the son to win."

"And did I win today?"

"Yes," Sara whispered, stepping forward and wrapping her arms around his waist.

Cameron shuddered and clutched her fiercely. Cameron didn't seem to want to speak, and Sara couldn't. She wished she hadn't seen this dark side of Ben's personality, this weakness that drove him to deride his son in public. She wanted to ignore it, to deny that Ben would ever do something so deplorable, but Cameron's hurt and humiliation made that impossible.

Eventually Sara became aware that she was feeling moisture on her arms and back. Cameron pulled away slightly, tilting his head toward the sky and looking around, puzzled. "How can it be raining? Fifteen minutes ago, there wasn't a cloud in the sky."

It was bizarre. "And I thought Maryland storms were abrupt. What are we going to do?"

"Wait it out, I guess." His arm tightened around her as they hurried into the ash grove after the other colonists, cold wind roaring through the trees and the rain shooting down so hard it stung their skin.

They found the others fluttering around in chaos near the edge of the original clearing, near the giant synthesizing machine. The mothers with infants squeezed into the cab of the truck, and parents of small, shivering children crouched against the synthesizing machine. Rain gushed out of the sky, pooling around the trees.

"We'd better get these kids running," Sara said in concern, "or they'll start dropping from hypothermia."

Cameron grabbed Sara's hand and ran toward the crowd, yelling, "Hey, boys! Sister Alexander was a BYU track champion! Why don't you see if you can catch her!"

Sara thumbed her nose at the two twelve-year-olds eyeing her most skeptically and taunted, "Girls are faster than boys!" She ran across the clearing as fast as the long grass would let her, and every boy between the ages of eight and eighteen sprang away after her.

"Come on, girls!" Sara heard Cameron urge. "If Sister Alexander can run circles around those boys, so can you!" By the time Sara passed the synthesizing machine, finishing her first lap around the clearing, fifteen or so girls had joined her.

Cameron led all of the adults who would run in an easy pace around the clearing in the direction opposite to Sara and her group. One of the young dads started the small children playing tag.

After a couple of laps, Sara slowed her pace just enough so that the fastest of the boys and girls could catch up with her.

"You getting tired, Sister Alexander?"

"Who me? Not a chance!"

"I'm going to pass you!"

"I'll make a deal with you. You keep going as long as I do, and I'll buy you pizza!"

One of the girls laughed. "Where're you going to get pizza, Sister Alexander?"

"Maybe we'll make mud pies instead!"

After Sara had circled the clearing several times, she criss-crossed it, then ran with the wind with her arms out as if she were flying, then led her group in a figure eight. Cameron tried to run his group opposite hers every time, with varying degrees of success. By the time the rain eased thirty minutes later, the two groups of runners had become tangled up with the group playing tag, and everyone was in hysterics.

Once the rain had stopped completely and the sun was again bright in the sky, the colonists, relieved that no one had fallen victim to hypothermia, opened their crates. They took turns wrapping themselves in the few blankets and towels there were and changed into dry clothing, chattering about this first adventure.

Soon cries of children chasing each other echoed in the trees again. Trevor Carroll opened the synthesizing machine, revealing many more synthesizing machines of various sizes stacked inside like a wall of bricks.

"That is so cool!" Sara said, combing her wet black hair and finally feeling warm in a BYU sweatshirt identical to the one Cameron was wearing. She still found it difficult to believe that billions of robots the size of molecules could be created in those machines and programmed to assemble matter from the atom up.

"It is," Cameron agreed. "And what's even more impressive is that we didn't need the Zarrists to learn the technology. We already had it, in its embryo stage, of course."

"It would have taken us decades, though, perhaps even a century or two to learn on our own what the Zarrists taught us in only a few years."

"Perhaps. But there are two things the Zarrists haven't been able to do yet, as far as I can tell."

"What is that?"

"Build a unit that doesn't require that bulky box. And synthesize chili dogs, of course."

*

Cameron worked with his uncle's team to activate the energy fields inside of the synthesizing tanks that would prevent the molecular robots from disassembling their way out of the machines. They then manufactured food, camping gear, and building materials and tools for the colony, as well as robots of various sizes to remove the brush from their camping sites and level the land for their buildings. All of the refuse generated by the camp went into the decomposers to produce priming solution for the synthesizing machines.

The colonists divided into groups and assembled the prefabricated homes on lots that had been staked out six months before. The colony's architects and engineers had worked with the Zarrists to modify the original designs of the homes into styles that would be pleasing to the colonists. The homes slotted together easily, built out of hardy "building boards," which could be synthesized in various sizes, colors, and textures.

None of the colonists believed the bishop should live with his parents or that his counselors should live with the other male students in the dormitory. Since four of the colony's families had chosen to remain on Earth after hearing President Grant speak, four of the original thirty-five lots became available for the members of the bishopric to choose from for their own homes. Since Cameron was the only one of the four with professional status, he received the first choice of lots. He chose the largest one, nearly three acres, which was located in an area that would be near the church building.

After the work was finished that evening, Cameron found Sara and the two of them moved camp chairs under a tree near the women's dormitory to talk.

"You have to tell me what style and color of house I should have made," Cameron said.

Cameron's request surprised Sara. She thought the house for that lot had been chosen months ago. "You don't know what you want?"

"It doesn't matter to me. What would you like?"

As much as she loved Cameron, Sara did not want to lead him into believing they were engaged. "What if I decide not to marry you?"

"And what if you do? Should I have Ashley pick your house out for you? Or my mother?"

Sara shook her head quickly. "Colonial. With white siding, black shutters, and a black roof. We can plant red azaleas in the front."

"Sounds striking. I like it." Cameron nodded. "See, that wasn't so hard, was it?"

Brandon approached them. "Mother wants to know if you're staying with us tonight."

"I guess so," Cameron replied with a shrug. "If you have room."

Sara and Cameron's conversation never moved beyond planning Cameron's house that night because no one would leave them alone. Eventually they separated to sleep, severely disappointed.

The original synthesizing machine worked all night to assemble an aircar and worked all the next day producing building parts to finish the shells of the thirty-three homes, the hospital, and the warehouse that would shelter the colony synthesizing machines. The colonists named their city Woodland Park, which would be arranged in an irregular hexagon around the dogwood grove. By the end of the day, they had completed the shells for all of the homes and hospital and had slotted together the foundation for the warehouse. They had also erected the communications center and had assembled phones for every member of the colony, along with hospital supplies, lights, and hygiene equipment.

Friday evening, when Sara and Cameron moved their chairs under the tree to talk, Cameron hammered a sign into the ground a few yards away from their chairs that read: "I'm on a date with the most beautiful woman in the universe. Disturb me if you dare!"

 

Chapter 15: COMPATRIOTS

Tohmazz Zarr stood near the window-wall of his palace suite, his heart expanding with pride as he surveyed his glorious new city. The buildings spread in front of him like terraces amid gardens, sprawling and spacious. He and his people had finally found hope in this expansive land with its unending sky, but paradise still eluded them.

If only his people could draw some of the fertility from this land that surrounded them and burgeon into the great race they were meant to be! Centuries of cramped living space and the subsequent restriction on births had left them virtually barren. His wife had borne him two strong sons, but other noble families had not been so blessed. Upon arriving on Earth, he had counted on the blood of the Earthons to rejuvenate his people and had urged all but those of the highest noble blood to take Earthon spouses.

The babies were coming more rapidly than they would have had his people married within the race, but they weren't coming rapidly enough, especially among the Nobility and Aristocracy. Many young people still could not bring themselves to marry the Earthon savages, and others simply could not overcome the inherent infertility of their race, even with a fertile Earthon partner.

Zarr had long known, deep down, that he needed a young couple of the highest nobility to put the survival of their nation above love and set an example for the others. He had known it and had dreaded it, because only one noble couple could make this sacrifice and bring about the needed results--Jahnzel and his beloved Myri.

Zarr transmitted a thought and turned toward his telepathic transmission recorder to view the image he had ordered. Seventeen-year-old Myri Vahro stood before him as if she were there in person, her infant-ready young body modestly clothed from neck to ankle in a shimmering white silk dress, embroidered with spirit crystal. Pale blond strands of hair coiled around jewels all over her head and ringlets draped her shoulders in a luxurious style reminiscent of the Ancient World.

Zarr sighed. No young Earthon woman could be as beautiful and faithful as Myri or more worthy of his son. No young woman of his own people could be more like a daughter to him, even Myri's sister, the young woman he had married to Arulezz two years before, the young woman who would someday be the Divine Empress. He suspected even Arulezz would have preferred to make Myri his wife instead of Jesalya, had Myri been of age and her heart turned to him. Myri was a queen of nobles, and had she been chosen to be the next Divine Empress, she could have fulfilled the call well. How could he marry her to an Earthon savage? How could he wrench her out of the cherishing embrace of his deserving son? Did rejuvenating the race truly require such a sacrifice?

Zarr sat down in his overstuffed office chair and lovingly ran his finger over the polished mahogany desk in front of him. He had worked hard to get his people so far, and perhaps they had come far enough. Perhaps. He would know they had if his fortified fleet proved strong enough to repel an attack from a rival nation. In the meantime, however, he had no choice but to prepare for the possibility that he would have to push his people to greater consecration by sacrificing his son and Myri.

Zarr had identified nearly a hundred young women suitable for his son. Jahnzel would be heartbroken to give up Myri, but in the end, he would do his duty and be content enough with the Earthon woman he chose. Myri, on the other hand, was more of a problem. She lived in Teton Colony and had not yet mingled with the Earthons. She possessed innocence borne of being sheltered, which was necessary if she was to become a Divine Princess--a Divine Princess must be pure and holy. Since the Earthons didn't, as a rule, appreciate such innocence and holiness, he had not found five unmarried Earthon warriors he believed were capable of treating Myri with the tenderness she both required and deserved.

Zarr transmitted another thought and brought up the image of the one young Earthon warrior he believed almost worthy of Myri Vahro, brigade commander of the United States Naval Academy, David Eugene Pierce, standing upright and confident in his white dress uniform. Zarr leaned back in his chair and brought his hand to his chin, gazing at Pierce's image next to Myri's and pondering.

Yes . . . David Pierce would be the perfect consort for Myri and an excellent commander in the fleet. He would, moreover, in marrying Myri, become an example to his peers. Zarr believed that if he could recruit Pierce, he would strike a strong blow at the Nationalists and their irritating practice of encouraging their young people to join the archaic domestic military organizations and law enforcement agencies instead of Star Force.

Zarr didn't think that either the domestic armies or the Guardian-supported United Nations could harm his empire, but they were drawing many of the best potential officers away from Star Force, the patriotic, duty-inspired men and women who were the core of any successful government or military organization. Some of his Star Force recruits possessed true "planet pride" but more had joined Star Force because he had compelled them through the bond. Still others had joined for the monetary security and adventure. Zarr had to entice the idealistic ones somehow, and perhaps David Pierce was the key.

The problem with Pierce, however, had always been that his determination to marry a woman of his own faith was as strong as his nationalism. Zarr had been afraid Pierce might refuse to marry Myri even if she bonded him, and then new information had come.

Zarr transmitted a thought to save the image of Pierce and brought up an image of Pierce's new love interest--Ashley Carroll. He positioned Ashley next to Myri and compared them, hope rising within him. Myri was like a white lily reigning over the early spring snow, and Ashley was like a yellow one bursting through late spring strawberries. Except for that slight difference in complexion, they were so alike they could be sisters. If Myri cut her hair and learned to dress the way American Mormon women did, Pierce would respond to her powerfully; he wouldn't be able to help himself.

Zarr knew that if he wanted Myri to marry David Pierce, he needed to move soon. Once Pierce graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy the following May, he would be free to wed and probably would as soon as he found a young woman who appealed to him. If the young woman didn't happen to be Myri, then Myri would lose her best chance of marrying an Earthon she could love and respect, and the Holy Nation of the Son of God would lose a prime opportunity to strike a blow at the Nationalists and strengthen Star Force.

Despite the gains that would come through a union between Myri and David Pierce, doubt still nagged. He decided to summon Arulezz and get his opinion.

*

Trendaul and Teri returned home from the spaceport and waited for Sara to call them and say, "Mom, Dad, I made a mistake. Come and get me. Hurry!" Tuesday morning the news reported that the Eden transport had left Earth's space territory and still Sara hadn't called.

Trendaul entered the house that afternoon to the sound of Teri's heavenly voice from the kitchen harmonizing perfectly with rock pianist Billy Joel as he sang the nostalgic "New York State of Mind." The saxophone played a bluesy solo, moving Trendaul to reach into his own memories.

He had come home from work one day early in his marriage to find Teri vigorously mopping the kitchen floor to Queen's bizarre "Bohemian Rhapsody." Teri sang and acted out the song as she mopped, while two-year-old Sara held a sponge to the floor with her finger and skipped around it, bobbing her head back and forth. Trendaul had been shocked to realize that his new soul mate wasn't a Novaunian in disguise--she was an Earthon!

As the Billy Joel song sauntered to a close, Trendaul wound his way through stuffed garbage bags labeled "Charity" on his way to the stereo. He pushed the button to skip forward several songs and turned up the volume for the upbeat "Movin' Out."

Trendaul jogged into the dining room. Teri met him at the threshold of the kitchen, smiling weakly. Trendaul declared, imitating the fed-up tone of Anthony from the song, "Let's go, Mama, we're movin' out!"

Tears came to Teri's eyes, and she quickly wiped them away. "I haven't been able to listen to anyone but Billy all day."

Trendaul brushed a golden brown curl away from Teri's face and kissed her as her hands slid under his suit jacket and she moved comfortably into his arms. "I guess it's time to sell the gold and close down the accounts."

"The bishop called earlier. The ward is being dissolved this week."

"So they're finally kicking us out." For over a year they had been meeting in Frederick with the only ward left of what had been a large stake, and that ward had dwindled to the size of a branch as members moved to temple communities or disappeared into Zarr's network of organizations.

Desperation touched Teri's eyes. "And that's not all. Apparently the Church has already started sending home the missionaries."

That was serious. Trendaul released Teri and moved to the window. He leaned on the lower sash and studied the sky. What was happening out there that he couldn't see? "So Cameron was coming home whether he went to Eden or not."

"Apparently so. The bishop has a house for us in Kensington--one of the added advantages of your being a temple worker, I guess. The Lanhams are going to Wheaton, so they won't be too far away."

Bishop Lanham had been urging them to move for some time but understood Trendaul's true status and why they had waited. "When will the house be available?"

"In a couple of weeks."

Trendaul had never been so grateful to have a concerned bishop. I'm sorry about Kansas City."

"I know."

"We may get there sooner than you think." Trendaul believed life would be easier if he could just move Teri and the children to Kansas City and be done with it. Then again, to make such a choice would mean that he would probably not see his own family again before he died. How could he make such a decision?

"They'll find us in Kensington, Tren. You'll see."

*

As David, Josh, and Aaron loaded the last of the boxes into the moving van, Trendaul stood on the front lawn, gazing at the house, remembering his arrival on Earth as he stroked Too Cool, almost unaware of the interstate highway roaring in the trees a quarter of a mile away.

All of the houses he and Krista had looked at had repelled them, but Krista had liked this little white colonial with its light gray-blue shutters and picturesque view of wooded hills better than any of the others. Even so, Trendaul had tried to persuade her to choose a different house. Not only had he thought living so close to a major highway would be unsettling for both of them, he had known the house would feel insecure to Krista when the thunderstorms came. Sure enough, not a week after they had moved into the house, a thunderstorm had put her into hysterics.

How can these Earthons be so stupid? She hid her head in his lap as the wind howled and the house groaned and shivered. They build their houses out of wood!

Trendaul had felt his own muscles tense and heart pound frantically. We could have purchased the flat one. It was covered with bricks.

Red bricks! And a gray roof! It was so ugly!

The thunderstorm had passed, and the house had remained standing, becoming beautiful to Trendaul as he learned more about Earth and grew excited about the important work he and his wife were doing there. Krista, however, had sunk into depression, hating Earth more and more each day until finally, it had killed her.

Trendaul thought it ironic that the house Krista had chosen had always been more Teri's than hers. Trendaul remembered the first stormy summer night they had spent together after their wedding. Teri had turned the loveseat around so that they could cuddle together in it and watch the storm out the front window. "Look at the way the lightning dances over the hills," she had said breathlessly.

"Doesn't it frighten you?" he had asked as the house rattled under an explosion of thunder.

She had messed up his hair as if he were a silly child and had said in that cute Kansas twang, "These little Maryland storms are nothin' compared to the storms where I grew up."

The sound of a vehicle pulling into the driveway nudged Trendaul out of his reverie. He turned and watched a miniature truck jerk to a stop. He surveyed the driver, a man with the black hair and milky fair skin characteristic of the Avenaunta family. A millisecond later, Trendaul realized that the man wasn't just any Avenaunta, he was his older brother Gavaun, a pilot for Novaunian Fleet.

Excitement seized Trendaul, laced with relief. "Gavaun!" he cried, setting Too Cool on the ground and moving to the truck in long strides, almost running.

Gavaun emerged from the truck grinning, his pale blue eyes wide with delight. "And I told Father you had probably forgotten us, you savage!"

Trendaul laughed as they embraced and kissed each other on the cheeks. "Don't be absurd!"

Gavaun motioned to his partner, a tall man not much older than David, with wavy honey blond hair and jade green eyes. "Sharad Quautar, Trendaul. His name will be Quinn while he is here."

"Sharad Quautar?" Trendaul said in disbelief, holding his hand out level with his waist. "Little Sharad Quautar?"

Sharad grinned. "Yes, that was I."

"It's good to see you again, Sharad," Trendaul said, extending his hand.

Sharad shook Trendaul's hand as if he had been greeting people that way his entire life. "It is nice to see you again too, Mr. Alexander." He couldn't seem to resist adding, "You are the only Alexander I have ever looked down to."

Trendaul slapped Sharad on the shoulder, chuckling. "You'd better polish your English, brother. You just insulted me."

Sharad's smile faded. "What should I have said?"

"'You are the only Alexander I've met who isn't as tall as I am.'"

Sharad nodded and pondered.

"And just where are all of these tall Alexanders none of the rest of us have met?" David demanded good-naturedly as he approached, followed by Josh and Aaron.

"One of them is right here," Trendaul replied, resting his hand affectionately on Gavaun's shoulder. "My brother, Gavaun Alexander."

David extended his hand to Gavaun. "David Pierce. Tren's brother-in-law."

Gavaun gazed at David with interest as he shook his hand. "Where is your sister? Trendaul's wife?"

"She left for Kensington with the kids a half hour ago."

*

Once Trendaul was alone with Gavaun in his car, Gavaun said with feeling, "I'm sorry about Krista."

"So am I," Trendaul replied in the Novaunian language. They didn't dare try to communicate telepathically.

"She was so young! What a tragedy."

"It was horrible." Trendaul still couldn't think about what had happened without feeling a stab of nausea. "Infant botulism in a woman age twenty-three." Even now, he didn't allow any of his children to eat honey, and he wouldn't eat anything that he or Teri had not prepared. Teri's family thought he was fanatical. Her mother had, in fact, suggested once that he get some "help."

"The incident made the news," Trendaul continued, "which terrified me for at least a year afterward. Then I met Teri."

Teri had been visiting his ward that fast Sunday with a roommate from BYU whose family lived in Parkridge. Trendaul could still see the amazed earnestness in her brown eyes when she had said, absently playing with Sara's hand on the back of the pew, "Your testimony was awesome. Lisa told me you're a new convert, but you don't sound like one at all."

Having been misunderstood for so long, he hardly dared ask, "What do you mean?"

"What do you mean?" Lisa asked Teri in surprise.

"A new convert's testimony is always about the contrast between the old life and the new," Teri explained to her friend, "but his is different. It permeates him. Can't you feel it?" Then she refocused that intrigued gaze on Trendaul again. "It's as if it's never occurred to you--not for one second of your life--to believe anything else. I would have figured you were born in the covenant, with generations in the Church behind you."

Trendaul, so overcome with emotion he could barely stammer out a request for her name, had known that this young lady was the miracle for which he had been praying and had loved her from that moment.

"I'm eager to meet your new wife," Gavaun said.

Trendaul smiled. "New? We've been married eighteen years! And I've had seven children with her!"

"I assume your children don't know you're a Novaunian."

"No." Trendaul couldn't bring himself to tell Gavaun about Sara yet. "Your presence here puts me in a bit of an awkward situation. I'm going to have to tell the older ones, at least, and David."

"Your revelation will pose less of a risk than you believe. Earth's Diron benefactors are on the verge of being thrown into chaos, if not destroyed."

"What do you mean?"

"Admirals Nexyun and Jaxzeran have joined fleets and are on their way to Earth. They should be here in two weeks."

"Invasion . . ." Trendaul breathed. No wonder the Church had called all of the missionaries home.

Gavaun nodded. "Fleet intelligence doesn't think that even the combined Diron fleets have the resources to significantly harm Earth itself or the native population, but they certainly have the means to destroy Zarr's fleet."

"They must hate Zarr very much to join forces like that."

"It wouldn't surprise anyone to see Admirals Nexyun and Jaxzeran turn and fire on each other as soon as they think they've eliminated Zarr. Once Zarr's fleet is destroyed, we'll have a straight shot out of here."

"Is that why Novaun waited so long to send you?"

"For the most part. Zarr's presence here complicated matters, obviously. The timing had to be perfect."

"What sort of convoy did you come in?"

"Four frigates."

Trendaul was impressed and relieved. "That's a lot of fire power."

"What choice did we have? There are three other agents on Earth besides you. We brought each frigate in separately to avoid detection."

"Where is your frigate?"

"In the little mountains just west of here. Our fleet is waiting in Vaenan space."

"The time has finally come," Trendaul said wryly, "and Teri and I are no closer to knowing what to do than we were ten years ago."

"Then you only have a couple of days to come to your senses, because we need to be on the frigate before Zarr's enemies get here."

"I need more than a couple of days."

"You don't have it, Trendaul. If we wait, we could be killed. This area will be hit hard."

"I'm moving into a temple community, and the temple communities won't be touched. God will protect them."

Gavaun laughed. "It's bad enough you've turned into an Earthon, but a pacifist?"

Trendaul couldn't help but smile. He did sound like a Mautysian pacifist instead of the Shalaunian Fleet man he was. "Seriously, Gavaun. You have to trust me. The Lord will protect His temples and His people. Either go back to the frigate without me, or give me a week to work things out with my wife. We can wait out the invasion at my new house."

"We may end up trapped in the destruction."

"It's a chance I'm willing to take."

"I'm sure you don't regret marrying your Earthon woman--such was your need at the time--but it was a gamble."

Hearing his marriage to Teri referred to as his "need at the time" disturbed Trendaul. It was such an inadequate assessment of what had happened that he couldn't keep the defensiveness out of his voice. "Teri is a good excuse."

"That's an interesting comment."

"I have an interesting life." Was it possible for his brother to understand his attachment to Earth in any way at all? "I like it here and feel needed. It's thrilling to be a part of the preparation for the Second Coming." The Church, in gathering to temple communities, had only just begun the effort to redeem Zion. How could Trendaul leave Earth now, when there was such significant work to do and so many glorious events to come? "I'm not sure I want to leave."

"Oh, I understand you, Trendaul Avenaunta," Gavaun said. "And so does Father. Why do you think I'm here? You can make all the excuses you want, but I'm not leaving without you."

 

Chapter 16: THE FAMILY FROM MARS

Trendaul parked on the street in front of his new Kensington house, a white brick colonial with black shutters. Teri appeared at the front door as Trendaul scooped Too Cool into his arms and walked around the front of the car. Teri stared at his brother, who was leaning against the passenger door staring at her.

Trendaul chuckled. "Hey, Teri, you're not supposed to be ogling him. I'm the tall, good-looking one."

Both Gavaun and Teri laughed. Teri opened the glass storm door and hurried down the tiny front lawn. Since none of the children followed her, Trendaul assumed she had been successful in settling them down in the master bedroom in front of the new video. "This is wonderful, Tren," Teri said. "They finally came!" She slipped her arm around his waist as his hand found her shoulder.

"Teri," Trendaul said as Gavaun approached them, still gazing at Teri in fascination, "this is my brother, Gavaun . . . Avenaunta. Gavaun, your sister-in-law, Teri . . . Avenaunta."

"I like that, Tren," Teri said merrily as David backed the moving van into the driveway, "but you'd better not let David hear you say it."

"I am glad to finally meet you, Teri," Gavaun said, extending his arm for a hug. Teri responded affectionately. "You must know, all of us have been speculating wildly about you for ten years."

"Tren has been a source of entertainment for my family too," Teri said as she pulled away from Gavaun, "so I guess we're even."

Gavaun appeared surprised. "But he looks like the perfect Earthon, right down to the time calculator on his wrist, the denim on his arms and legs, and that intimidating creature on his shoulder with eyes that match his."

"This clever little creature is Too Cool, my cat."

"He doesn't eat like an Earthon," Teri said as Sharad, David, Aaron, and Josh approached them from their separate vehicles.

Trendaul stroked Too Cool. "They also think I'm a jellyfish."

"No one in my family's ever called you that!" Teri protested.

"Of course they haven't. It's our word, not theirs!"

"Still, Tren, they don't think that at all!"

"They do too!"

"They do what?" David asked.

"Think I'm a jellyfish."

"An eccentric, lazy jellyfish," David corrected, grinning. "You can't throw a baseball to save your life, and there is that thing, you know, about how such a brilliant man never seems to have a real job."

"Oh, but I do have a job, or did," Trendaul said mysteriously. Since he had to tell them anyway, he thought he might as well have a little fun with it. He was amazed at how secure he felt, living so close to the temple.

"He is an alien agent," Gavaun whispered mischievously.

Teri gasped. David looked at her sharply.

Josh laughed. "I always knew you were from Mars, Dad!"

"And your father is brilliant even by Martian standards," Sharad said. "And something of a legend."

"And who might you be?" Teri asked Sharad. "You don't look like a brother."

Sharad moved closer to Teri, extending his hand. "Sharad Quinn. I am a neighbor and close friend of the family." Once Sharad released Teri's hand, his fingers automatically moved to her golden brown curls. "Your hair," he said in awe. "It moves."

Teri gazed sidelong at Trendaul, smiling at him seductively. "What is it with you Martian men and curls?"

Sharad lifted Teri's hair slightly, revealing an earring with three miniature gold cylinders hanging from it. "And those little pipes! What are they?"

"A gift from her eccentric husband," David answered.

"They're supposed to be wind chimes," Aaron said.

Teri opened her tan jacket, revealing the infamous blue T-shirt with its hand-painted oriole drinking from a birdbath. "They go with the shirt."

Sharad looked at Trendaul in question. "Wind chimes?"

"They're metal cylinders that hang from the terrace. They tap each other in the breeze and make chiming sounds."

Gavaun shook his head. "You are demented, Trendaul." He smiled. "And you have no idea how much we have missed you." He addressed Teri: "When we return to Mars, Trendaul will be able to afford to fill your ears with diamonds and other expensive crystal."

Teri's smile disappeared. "This savage prefers pearls."

"That is interesting," Gavaun countered, "since you married a prime piece of crystal."

"Tren would be rather heavy hanging from my ears, I think."

Anxiety seized Trendaul's heart. The decision facing them was too difficult as it was. He didn't need conflict between Gavaun and Teri to confuse things even more. "Gavaun's an older brother," Trendaul explained to Teri. "He can't help but be a bully. Tell him to go unload your truck. That ought to shut him up."

Gavaun nodded once in deference to Teri and smiled charmingly before heading to the truck. Teri watched him warily.

"Do tell us about your Martian family, Tren," David insisted.

"What is there to tell? They're very dull. They don't appreciate the finer things in life. Like wind chime earrings."

*

Later that evening, after the three younger children had gone to bed, Trendaul told David, Josh, Aaron, Emily, and Rebecca about Novaun. All were enthralled and asked question after question about Novaun itself and Trendaul's family.

Eventually twelve-year-old Emily asked, "If we do go to Novaun, Dad, could we stop at Eden along the way and pick up Sara?"

Sharad sat forward in the rocking chair and looked from Trendaul to Gavaun, puzzled. "Eden?"

"No, Emily," Trendaul answered sadly. "It's complicated to move a fleet so far out of the way."

"Sara probably wouldn't want to come with us anyway," Josh observed, extending his legs on the box in front of his chair.

"Where is Sara, Trendaul?" Gavaun asked, alarmed. He was sitting next to Teri on the couch. "I just assumed she was out for the evening."

"Emily, Rebecca," Teri said, "it's time for you to go to bed." The girls groaned their protests, but Teri remained firm and they went.

"Eden is the Earthons' name for an uninhabited planet in the Sustenun System, near the Erdean Portal. Apparently Zarr wants it as a base, because he sponsored a massive settlement there." Trendaul went on to tell Gavaun and Sharad about how Dr. Benjamin Carroll, a member of the Church, had led one of the colonies there against the counsel of the prophet. "Sara earned herself a place among the colonists and left nearly four weeks ago."

"You let her go?" Gavaun said, aghast. "No colony has ever survived that planet. We are forbidden to even go into the system!"

"I almost stopped her," David proclaimed, opening a bag of potato chips.

"You would never have gotten away with it," Trendaul shot back.

"Sara didn't know that. I would have had a promise out of her long before we even got to Annapolis."

Trendaul shook his head at Gavaun. "I can't begin to tell you the nightmare we've lived through this past six months. She was determined and . . ." His muscles tightened, preparing for an attack. "Obviously strongly influenced by Zarr's cell bond."

Gavaun sprang off of the couch and yelled down at Trendaul. "Krista's daughter was put under the influence of a cell bond?"

Sharad shook his head at Trendaul, his eyes wide and his face pale. "Neither the Avenauntas nor the Sekuras may ever forgive you, brother."

Trendaul jumped up from the dining room chair he had brought into the living room and began pacing. "Don't you think I know that?" he said shrilly. "Don't you think I tried everything I could think of to keep her safe?" Still, he doubted. There must have been something else he could have done. He should have found a way to keep her home. "What can I say? My daughter is a disobedient, bull-headed idiot!"

David, Josh, and Aaron all nodded their agreement.

"This should never have happened, Trendaul," Gavaun said. "You should have come home ten years ago."

Teri jabbed Gavaun's calf with her finger. "How dare you talk to Trendaul that way!" Gavaun flinched, turned abruptly, and stared down at Teri in shock. "You have no comprehension of what he's been through! Krista's death put him way behind in his work, work that was more than recovered by those extra seven years. How was he supposed to know ten years ago that the Zarrists would show up and start mind-zapping Earthons?"

No one said anything for at least a minute. Finally Gavaun sat down in his place on the couch next to Teri and gave her hand a gentle squeeze, his voice soft, "I am sorry, Teri. Not just for my behavior but for Sara." He turned to Trendaul. "I am sincerely sorry."

Trendaul sat back down. "I know."

"Perhaps the situation is not as grave as we believe," Sharad said to Trendaul. "Maybe you are mistaken about the identity of Eden. To make the assessment you did, you must have looked at some type of star map. Do you still have it?"

Trendaul nodded and went to the kitchen desk. He rummaged through the box of papers sitting there and found the maps he had printed off of Zarr's web site long ago.

"What's wrong with Eden, Uncle Gavaun?" Josh asked.

"No one knows. No one has ever survived to tell."

"It was terraformed by the Gudyneans over a century ago," Sharad explained. "All we know is that the terradirector of the project was Centynal Nortov. That is significant because we know he directed two other terraforming projects that almost ended in disaster. Apparently he lied to the planet-spirits and made unauthorized agreements."

"How in the universe could a terradirector think he could get away with something so abominable?" Gavaun asked.

"I do not know, but he did. He was stripped of his status after Braumita, one of his failures."

"Do you know something about Braumita?" David asked Sharad, captivated.

Trendaul came back into the room in time to see Sharad nod. "Braumita's planet-spirit agreed to be terraformed only when promised there would be no industrialization. When the colony began industrializing, the planet-spirit sent quakes of anger through the settlements, destroying factories and killing colonists. Fortunately, the maintenance team was able to determine the cause of the planet-spirit's anger and refocus the planet's development. To this day Braumita is an agricultural planet."

"That is so cool," Aaron said, grabbing the bag of chips from David and sliding to the beige carpet, out of reach.

"You struck arelada with this boy," Trendaul said to Gavaun, pointing a thumb at Sharad.

Gavaun nodded, taking the star maps from Trendaul. "Librarian specializing in galactic history and government. He is an excellent intelligence officer."

Sharad didn't appear to have heard the compliments. He stared thoughtfully at nothing as he rocked, finally saying to no one in particular: "If I were one of those planet-spirits, I would detest liars."

What an odd comment! Typically only terraformers attempted to understand the minds of planet-spirits; everyone else was too overwhelmed by the prospect--or too terrified. Trendaul glanced at Gavaun in question. Since when did the Fleet begin requiring its intelligence officers to know something about planetary psychology?

Gavaun said lightly, "I detest liars, and I am just a lowly pilot."

"Maybe Eden thinks all humans are liars," Aaron volunteered, reaching into the bag of chips.

Sharad stopped rocking and looked down at Aaron. "For your sister's sake, let us hope not."

David turned to Trendaul, his face skeptical. "Why don't the terraformers just force the planet-spirit to do what they want it to do?"

"That would require telepathic binding," Trendaul explained. "You have to understand, every physical particle of a planet has a spirit: the trees, the rocks, the blades of grass, and the specks of dust. The planet-spirit supervises, so to speak, all of the other spirits. When the planet-spirit is bound, it is unable to supervise the other spirits and all creation goes into chaos."

"But according to the scriptures, mankind is supposed to have dominion over the earth," David protested. "Are you saying that the scriptures are false? That the planet-spirit is really the one in charge?"

"Not at all," Teri said. "What the scriptures say about this earth is true. Man has dominion over it because the planet-spirit allows him to have dominion. The same is true for all of the original planets, the ones the Lord Himself created and peopled. It is the sign of a planet worthy of celestial glory."

David leaned back in his chair, tapping his fingers on his mouth, pondering.

Trendaul said, "When the prophet Malrezz cursed Diron so that it would no longer yield its arelada, the Dirons, in their anger, bound the planet-spirit in an attempt to force it to release the arelada, which destroyed the ecosystem. The various Diron nations, including Zarr's, were forced to flee. Only the followers of Malrezz remained. Their descendants still live on Diron in life-support domes."

Sharad shook his head. "Surely the Zarrists know something of Sustenun 4. There is no question that it is in a prime location, but even they cannot be desperate enough to attempt a settlement."

"They may know less of the Alliance than we know of them," Trendaul pointed out.

"We really do not know much about the Zarrists," Sharad admitted. "Zarr's nation is exclusive and virtually impossible to penetrate."

"They are desperate enough to mix their holy blood with ours," Teri observed.

Gavaun's eyebrows shot up. "They are actually marrying Earthons?"

Trendaul nodded. "Their goal has always been more assimilation than domination."

Gavaun finally looked at the star maps Trendaul had given to him. "These are awful!" he exclaimed. "Could you not procure a hologram at least?"

"Sorry. They're the best I can do."

Gavaun studied the maps. "The Zarrists are desperate," he finally said. "There is no doubt that Sara's Eden is Sustenun 4."

"Then we're just going to have to trust Cameron," Trendaul said. "And trust Sara to follow his counsel. That's all there is to it."

"Cameron?" Gavaun said.

David grunted. "Bishop Carroll, Sara's high school crush." He leaned forward and grabbed the bag of chips back from Aaron.

"Bishop Carroll, Sara's soon-to-be husband," Trendaul corrected.

David shook a chip at Trendaul. "You know that if I ever see Sara again, I'm going to hide her laptop. Her phone too. If she had dated Cameron like she was supposed to, I would have met Ashley in time to keep her here."

Sharad looked from David to Trendaul, puzzled. "What is a high school crush?"

"A boy she was infatuated with during the time she was a teenager," Teri explained. "They finally met the day before they left for Eden."

"Yeah, and when Cameron finally got here, he and Sara disappeared to do some serious stargazing. We didn't even get to meet him!" Josh said.

Trendaul nodded at his brother in satisfaction. "It was intense. And gratifying." His daughter loved the one clear-headed man in the colony, and he loved her. During all of the months of grieving over Sara's rebellion, he had never dreamed he and Teri would receive such an outstanding blessing, and he would treasure it! "Cameron will be a good husband for her."

"It's not fair we never got to meet Cameron!" Aaron protested.

Gavaun smiled. "You seem awfully certain about your prediction, Trendaul."

"I am. Because in this one thing, she will obey her father!"

 

Chapter 17: THE FANATIC AND THE CHARISMATIC INTELLECTUAL

The colonists met for church Sunday morning on the hill they had named Ash Auditorium. They sat on camp chairs and tarps under clusters of tall, narrow ash trees that they had stripped of their bottom branches the day before.

Sara would have been content to sit back and immerse herself in the beauty of their outdoor auditorium had she not been so nervous. This was the first week she would conduct Primary, and although her counselors, music director, and Ashley as pianist had been sustained the Sunday before and would be there to help her, she still couldn't relax. Sara smoothed her cobalt blue skirt over her legs, then crossed her legs and smoothed again, picking nervously at the hem. She hadn't even taught Primary before, much less directed it. How in the universe was she going to make this work?

Cameron walked into the grove, wearing a beige suit, his eyes feasting on Sara as he approached her. He took her hands and pulled her to her feet, still staring at her. "Wow, you look hot!" he exclaimed, softly enough so that only Sara and Ashley could hear. "That color is awesome on you."

"Cameron!" Ashley gasped. "You're not supposed to say things like that right before you conduct sacrament meeting!"

"Why not? It's the truth!"

Sara kissed Cameron lightly on the lips. "You be good, or I'll go change."

"Don't you threaten me, or I'll call you up to speak!"

"You do that and I'll put the dress in the decomposer!"

"You do that, and I'll put your Orioles shirt in the decomposer!"

Sara grimaced. "I have a confession to make. I wear a Royals shirt to bed."

"Say it isn't so!" Cameron pounded his chest with his fist. "All these years I've watched you, and only now I find out that under your letter jacket and Orioles shirt lurks a secret passion for the Royals."

"It's hardly a passion!"

Cameron kissed Sara's cheek. "I'm not sure I should marry someone so unfaithful."

Sara laughed softly. "We wouldn't want to tarnish the bishop's reputation."

"You're engaged then?" Ashley said in delight.

"Not until Sara proposes to me," Cameron said contentedly as he walked away, taking his seat at the bottom of the hill with the rest of the bishopric. Two teachers laid a white cloth over the camp table holding the trays of bread and water that had been prepared for the sacrament, and deacons began filling the camp chairs that were arranged in a line facing the sacrament table.

Ben, Barbara, Brandon, and Adam walked into the grove carrying camp chairs and set them up next to Sara and Ashley's. The Carrolls greeted Sara with embraces, as if she were already their daughter-in-law.

"You look absolutely stunning today, Sara," Ben said, smiling.

"Doesn't she?" Barbara agreed as she released Sara.

"Thank you, Ben." Sara hugged him, feeling pleased. "And you too, Barbara."

Ben held Sara affectionately and kissed her cheek. She felt secure in his arms, as if she really were a part of the Carroll family, and she wanted to laugh at herself for all of the silly suspicions that had given her such anxiety during the past week.

As Barbara sat down, she said to her husband with pride, "Cameron looks so distinguished down there! He'll be an apostle someday. You wait."

"Heaven help us!" Ben responded with a smile.

Ashley leaned toward Sara. "There. You have it," she whispered in a tone of mock authority. "Cameron's destined to be an apostle. You had better marry him fast!"

Sara couldn't imagine an apostle coming up to his wife in church and telling her how "hot" she looked. "I loved Cameron when he was a squirrelly fourteen-year-old," she whispered pleasantly. "What do I care whether he's ever an apostle? Right now I'd prefer a regular returned missionary who could go running with me in the woods!"

"Marry him, stupid, and you can run with him in the woods all you want!"

The colonists finished gathering in the grove, and Cameron came to the makeshift pulpit to begin the meeting. The colonists sang, prayed, and sustained each other into ward positions. To Sara's relief, most of the Primary teachers were sustained. Then Ben and Barbara were sustained as co-chairs of the activities committee.

Sara glanced around and noticed many expressions of discomfort and disapproval. Most of the colonists still didn't understand why Ben hadn't been called to be the bishop, but if he couldn't be bishop, young men's president or gospel doctrine teacher would do. But chairman of the activities committee? When Cameron asked for opposing votes, Brother Duane Vance actually raised his hand asked, "Are you sure about those calls, Bishop?"

"Absolutely."

"But they make no sense."

Sara couldn't believe that even Brother Vance would challenge the call. This wasn't an open forum, after all. This was church!

"Maybe the Lord thinks it's time for my parents to have a little fun." Cameron's tone was one of such innocence that most of the colonists decided the suggestion was reasonable. Despite a few skeptical glances, everyone raised their hands when Cameron presented his parents' names a second time.

Barbara gripped Sara's arm. She said softly so that no one else could hear, "You have to work harder on him, Sara!"

Sara tilted her head toward Barbara, thinking her plea sounded absurd. "I'm afraid Cameron's applying for the position of king, not consort."

Barbara leaned closer. "I wouldn't have thought you would be such a pushover, Sara. You had better not let him talk you into having a baby right away, or giving up your career."

Did Barbara actually want Cameron to be a consort instead of a king? "You don't think I should marry him then?"

"Marry him, by all means, but don't hesitate to demand your rights. I would hate to see you waste your intelligence and lose your identity. You're such a rational person, Sara. It's for you to bring Cameron into the real world, not the other way around! Don't allow yourself to be swallowed up in his fanaticism. Stand up for yourself!"

As the accompanist began playing "There is a Green Hill Far Away" on an electric piano, Sara turned away from Barbara, feeling shocked and hurt. Ashley held out her miniature hymnbook to share, but Sara could do nothing but stare at the page, the words a blur.

How could Cameron's parents interpret his orthodox adherence to the gospel as fanaticism? Their opinion made her uncomfortable enough; hearing that opinion stated so bluntly demoralized her. If they believed he was fanatical for being orthodox and she was rational, what did that make her and what did that make them? Not orthodox. But she was an orthodox member of the Church. She was! And so were they. They had to be!

The fanaticism concern aside, Barbara had articulated many of Sara's own anxieties perfectly. Even as questions whirled chaotically in her mind and butterflies fluttered in her stomach, Sara couldn't help but recall the advice her father had given her the night before she had left Earth: "Cameron loves the Lord with his whole heart and soul and will treat you as the precious daughter of God you are. Don't throw him away for some silly desire to be a great writer or reluctance to have a baby before you're thirty or whatever."

The whirling and fluttering diminished slightly as a realization of supreme irony supplanted every other thought. Her father had warned her not to throw a potential king and priest to God away on shallow ambitions, while Cameron's own mother had warned her not to throw herself and her substantial ambitions away on a consort. Sara's father wanted her to marry Cameron because he knew Cameron would treat her as a queen, while Cameron's mother seemed to want Cameron to marry a selfish woman who would manipulate him, ignore his values, and fight with him. Did Barbara really think Cameron was so insignificant and undeserving of happiness?

Sara imagined what she might say to a possible daughter-in-law. I've raised my son to love the Lord. He's wonderful and worthy of your sacrifices. You had better love him as much as I do or you might as well find yourself another man! If Barbara couldn't feel the same way about Cameron, who deserved the esteem more than any young man Sara had ever known, then Sara knew that, as much as she liked Barbara, she didn't want to be the kind of mother she was.

Even as that thought rooted itself in Sara's mind, she tried to pluck it out. Who was she to criticize Barbara? Barbara believed she was protecting Sara by giving her the advice she did. Would Sara perhaps do the same if she believed her son were behaving badly? Considering the circumstances, both Barbara and Ben were showing amazing tolerance toward Cameron; they obviously loved him.

Sara closed her eyes for the sacrament prayer and opened them again to see Cameron nod at the priests. He turned his head and rested his eyes on her, his smile gradually giving way to a frown. He could see she was troubled and was concerned.

She shook her head slightly as if to say, "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine." Love for him overwhelmed her. She longed to believe in him completely, to be his eternal queen.

Then Sara remembered that she wouldn't be Cameron's eternal anything for at least two more years. The black veil that had descended on her when learning she and Cameron would have to be married civilly wrapped itself around her heart several more times and squeezed, leaving an ache that wouldn't go away. She took a piece of bread from the sacrament tray, her hand shaking.

How could it feel so right to marry Cameron and at the same time be unable to marry him in the temple? How could she marry Cameron at all without completely believing in him? How could she believe completely in Cameron and not reject his father's vision of Eden? If she rejected Ben's vision of Eden, then what purpose had it served for her to come to Eden at all? Should she have remained on Earth, where she could have married in the temple? If so, did that mean there was someone else for her and that she shouldn't marry Cameron at all? That she should wait and return to Earth permanently in two years? If that was true, then why did the prospect of marrying Cameron feel so right?

On and on the tornado in her mind howled, hopping from one point to another without dissipating, until her head hurt and the ache in her chest settled into her stomach, leaving her queasy.

The sacrament ended, and three speakers spoke on the importance of observing the Sabbath. When Cameron came to the pulpit at the end of the meeting, he said, "I know the next few months will be difficult as we work to establish the colony. A lot needs to be done, and it will be tempting to carry on with the work of the colony on the Sabbath. We must never give in to that temptation! I feel a great urgency about this issue. So please, after the meeting, enjoy your time resting, studying, and socializing. You've earned it."

Cameron's counsel made sense to Sara. She needed a rest, even if no one else did. She knew, however, that both Ben and Trevor Carroll felt the warehouse needed to be finished as quickly as possible since everybody's lives depended on those synthesizing machines. Instruction on the importance of the Sabbath couldn't have come at a better time.

*

After Primary, feeling considerably more relaxed than she had before the meeting, Sara walked with Ashley to the "stage" area of Ash Auditorium to witness her parents be set apart.

Barbara took her place in the chair last. Cameron blessed Barbara and gave her a hug, then gravitated toward Sara. As he slid his arm around her, she heard the rhythmic pounding of a hammer, accompanied by shouts.

Cameron stiffened and released Sara, jerking around to face his father. "You have to stop them!"

"The ox is in the mire, son."

"No it isn't! There's no reason that building can't wait until tomorrow!"

"Cameron, you can't bully people into following your counsel," Trevor Carroll said with a smile.

"You don't understand! They're endangering the colony!"

"Relax, Cameron!" Ben said. "We'll finish it in a couple of hours. Then we'll stop and rest away the day feeling more secure with the knowledge that the machines won't be damaged if there's another storm." He and his brother hurried out of Ash Auditorium in the direction of Construction Clearing.

"Don't do it, Trev!" Cyndi called, striding after the men. "This is one time your brother is wrong and your nephew is right!"

Cameron grabbed Sara's hand, and they ran after Cyndi, arriving at Construction Clearing only moments after the Carroll brothers. "Stop it!" Cameron cried. "You're putting the colony in danger!" The two younger of the five Dixon boys turned toward Cameron, appearing guilty. The others were annoyed.

Mike Dixon shook his hammer at Cameron. "We have our agency, Bishop. Either help or get out of the way!"

Sara couldn't believe what she was witnessing. How could they disobey such a fundamental commandment and expect the Lord to prosper the colony? She faced Ben. "What did you lead us out here to do? Build Zion? Or a stupid commune?"

Ben's features flinched, as if he'd been stung. He waved the builders back to work. "Why are you feeling so hostile, Sara?"

Sara folded her arms across her chest. "I'm not a child, Ben. I'm a concerned citizen. If we don't live the commandments, this colony will be no different from all of the other utopian failures of the past." She was right to speak up, and she hadn't even yelled. Her father would have been pleased with how calmly she was handling this indignation.

Ben held out his palms. "Don't you believe the Lord is a reasonable being?" His tone was kind, but he didn't smile. "That He understands our predicament and where our hearts are on this Sabbath day?"

"You didn't answer her question, Father."

"It just sounds as if the two of you are more concerned about the letter of the law than the spirit of the law."

Did Ben really think she was too dense to see through such a trite rationalization? "My father often wonders why it is that whenever someone talks about the 'spirit of the law' it's always in reference to breaking a rule, not the other way around."

"The same father who disapproved of your coming to Eden in the first place."

Ben might as well have slapped Sara. She had never discussed her parents' disapproval publicly. That Ben would try to manipulate her by using information gleaned from their private discussions and accuse her of being a hypocrite in such an underhanded way outraged her. Perhaps he was correct in his implication that by ignoring the counsel of both her father and the Brethren by coming to Eden she couldn't justifiably criticize anyone for breaking the commandments. Perhaps she really was the most disgusting hypocrite that had ever lived. If so, however, she was determined to be one openly.

"You've all but called me a hypocrite, Ben. Go ahead and swear at me too. You might as well! You're breaking number four, why not number three also?"

"She's just as fanatical as the bishop!" Rick Dixon remarked.

"Maybe that's why they got together," said his brother.

"What a pair!"

"Aren't bishops' wives supposed to be dainty and docile?"

Ben smiled knowingly. "Not this little cougar!" He patted Sara's arm affectionately.

Sara shuddered. She wanted to back away but didn't dare. How could anyone be so gracious and so patronizing at the same time?

Cyndi shook her head in disapproval. "Sara's not the one who's the hypocrite, Ben."

"You always going to have your women speak for you, Bishop?" Mike Dixon demanded.

"What general, having Amazons, wouldn't send them into battle?" Cameron offered his arms to both Sara and his aunt. "Ladies, it's time to retreat. We don't want to be on this battlefield when lightning strikes."

Astonished, Sara took Cameron's arm and allowed him to lead her and Cyndi to the dining hall, the large building in Knowledge Knoll that would eventually be partitioned into classrooms for the college.

Cameron left Cyndi in front of the wooden stairs that led to the doors and led Sara a few paces away from the building, taking her into his arms as he pulled her behind a large tree, kissing her fervently.

"I've been dying for you to do that all morning," Sara murmured, kissing him again.

"Even though I come from such a disturbed family?"

"I don't think your family is disturbed. Just different from what I thought they were."

"Which disturbs you." The observation wasn't an attack, but an attempt to draw her out.

"Well, yes." How could it not? "I don't know what to think of your parents anymore. I came here thinking I knew where they stood on every issue of importance, but now I can't figure out what they believe or what they want because they constantly contradict themselves. Maybe I'm just confused!"

"Actually you're quite perceptive."

"Not perceptive enough to understand them."

"I think you understand them just fine. My own opinion is that they're trying to live two incompatible sets of values. Isn't that what you just told me?"

Sara nodded slowly, attempting to assimilate this new knowledge. "Yes. I guess I did."

"You realize that if we get married, you're stuck with them."

"You mean, they'd be stuck with me. I did berate your father in front of half the colony."

"You expressed an educated opinion, and you were right to do so."

"You're sure you wouldn't really rather have a dainty, docile wife?"

"I want, and need, a courageous, powerful wife."

"Powerful?" Sara shook her head. "Right now I feel paralyzed. I can't marry you unless I completely believe in you, and to do that, I would have to reject your father's vision of Eden. If I do that, then I have to wonder why I'm here at all."

"Because you believed in a vision that's flawed and you're just now starting to realize it."

"If what you say is true, then the spirit of rebellion and apostasy really was what brought us here." The evidence was there, but Sara still didn't want to believe it; the implications were too horrible. "And it would mean your father isn't the great spiritual leader I always thought he was."

"No, Sara, he isn't."

"Cameron, do you have any idea how awful that would be? What that would mean?" If Cameron truly did speak for the Lord, his father was nothing more than a charismatic intellectual, a spiritually blind one at that. There was no way around it.

"Yes, I do," Cameron said gently. "I've been living with this burden a long time. Why do you think I was so repelled by the prospect of coming here in the first place? Why I tried the day we met to get you to stay home?"

"But I felt so inspired to come! Sometimes I think the Lord inspired me to come to be with you, but I can't believe He would inspire me to follow a charismatic intellectual just to get me here. The Lord doesn't deceive people that way."

"No He doesn't. I don't believe the Lord inspired you to come to Eden any more than He inspired my father to lead you here."

"If that's true, then how am I ever supposed to trust myself to receive inspiration?"

"Tell me this. Was the urge you felt to come to Eden the same kind of feeling you experienced when I blessed you? Or when you prayed for confirmation on names to submit for Primary callings?"

"No. One was fire and obsession. The other was peace and understanding." Where was that fire and obsession now? Could what her father believed be true? That Tohmazz Zarr had put a bond on her mind? Why didn't the bond seem to be working now? Was it too weak to stretch so far into space?

"If you can recognize the difference between those two feelings, you ought to be able to trust yourself from now on."

"All right. I'm willing to accept, for the moment, that I made a mistake and shouldn't be here at all. If that's true, then how can it be so right for me to be here with you?"

"You do feel it's right to be with me?" Cameron asked tenderly, caressing her cheek.

"I feel such a bond with you, something intimate and magnificent." Had it really only been four weeks since they had first spoken to each other? So much had happened that it seemed as if three months had passed instead. "I want to marry you more than I've ever wanted to do anything, I think, but I can't resolve this paradox."

"I'm afraid this is one you're going to have to work out on your own."

"Because you don't understand it yourself or because you don't want to tell me?"

"Because some knowledge can't be forced. When the Lord gives it to you, you'll see there is no paradox at all." Cameron kissed Sara one last time, then led her into the dining hall, where many of the colonists had already gathered for lunch.

Less than thirty minutes later, the wind picked up and pounded rain against the walls of the building. Thunder blasted and lightning flashed all around them. The builders burst into the hall, drenched.

"The big synthesizing machine's been struck!"

*

Eventually the unexpected Sunday storm passed, and the colonists emerged from their prefabricated shells to find many trees felled and ripped out of the ground. The buildings proved excellent shelter against the high winds, lightning, and falling trees, but the storm had come on so suddenly that many of the colonists had been caught outside. Nine colonists had been severely wounded from trees that had fallen on them as they tried to get to their homes to escape the storm, more than fifty had been scratched and bruised from blowing debris, and twenty-one were found suffering from hypothermia.

Fortunately, none of the colonists had suffered electrocution from a lightning strike, but the large synthesizing machine, along with several of the smaller ones, had been jolted. Trevor Carroll refused to examine the machines until Monday or to allow any of the engineers to do so either, so no one knew how badly they had been damaged.

Cameron's comment about not wanting to be "on the battlefield when lightning strikes" nagged at Sara all day. A part of her wanted to believe Cameron had simply been repeating a cliché used by zillions of people before him, but another part of her couldn't help but think Cameron had known something awful would happen if the colonists broke the Sabbath.

Most of the other colonists were uncomfortable too, refusing to do any major clean-up work until the next day. Others, including a couple of the builders, blamed Cameron for the loss of the synthesizing machines, claiming that they could have finished the warehouse in time had Cameron waited to hold sacrament meeting in the afternoon. Of course none of them acknowledged the fact that the colony wouldn't have had sacrament meeting at all had they waited.

The only thing Ben said was: "It looks as though the ox really was in the mire, son."

Cameron replied with: "Only because you pushed it in."

Sara spent most of the afternoon assisting Cyndi in treating the minor wounds, while Cameron visited with the wounded and their families and gave them words of encouragement. Most of those who were hurt wanted Ben to give them one of "his beautiful blessings," not Cameron, but Cameron did assist in most of them.

After a late dinner that evening, Sara stepped out of the dining hall, hoping the fresh air would help her feel a little less exhausted and grimy. She hadn't moved far from the building, when she heard one of the doors open and close again. She turned and saw that Ben had stepped out behind her. She wasn't sure whether to be irritated, relieved, or just plain surprised.

"It's a beautiful evening, isn't it?" he said.

"It's a little muggy, but it's cooler out here than it is inside." After their confrontation in Construction Clearing that morning, Sara didn't know what to say to him, but she knew they needed to talk about what had happened.

He stopped in front of her and pointed his miniature flashlight toward a nearby cluster of trees. "Let's walk a little. We need to talk."

Sara felt uncomfortable about walking into the woods with him alone. "I would rather talk here."

"What I have to say to you is private. It's about what happened this morning."

Sara decided to ignore the feeling of uneasiness. The sensation was, after all, just a thorn left over from the groundless suspicions she had foolishly allowed to prick her mind not so long ago. "You're right," she agreed, and she began walking with him. "We do need to talk privately." She wasn't sure she would ever forgive Bishop Lanham and her parents for suggesting that Ben was attracted to her.

The trees, glistening in the light of Eden's three small moons, sprinkled droplets on Sara as a breeze blew through the branches. "What a gorgeous place," she murmured, looking around the moonlit grove.

Ben turned off the flashlight and dropped it into his pocket. Sara gasped. Pearls of light danced all around them as breezes continued to whirl through the grove. "It's enchanting," Ben whispered. "Like something out of a fairy tale."

The raindrops began penetrating the cobalt blue shirt Sara was still wearing, and she shivered. Ben removed his golden brown suit jacket and draped it over Sara's shoulders, then faced her, holding lightly onto the lapels as he gazed down at her. "I'm sorry I announced to the colony this afternoon that your father disapproved of your coming to Eden."

Sara gazed at him gratefully, tears starting in her eyes. She had longed for an apology but hadn't believed he understood her feelings well enough to know how wrong he had been.

Ben moved his hands to her cheeks, his thumbs brushing the tears out of the corners of her eyes. "I'm so, so sorry, Sara. I didn't realize until I thought about it, wondering why you were so angry, that your parents' disapproval was something you hadn't made generally known."

Sara's tears began flowing more freely than ever, and with them went all feelings of guardedness. "They think I'm an apostate. They think we all are, everyone but Cameron. Do you have any idea how much that hurts?"

Sara felt Ben's arms encircle her. She laid her head against his neck and wept as he stroked her hair, comforted by his heartbeat. "I do, Sara," he whispered in grief. "Utterly and completely."

"And David. David, my best friend in the world, was the worst. I wanted to introduce them to you and the others, but I couldn't. It tore me up inside. Like it tore me up today when you used my personal heartache to humiliate me publicly. Can you understand at all?"

"More than you know." He kissed her head. "I'm deeply sorry. Can you forgive me?"

Sara withdrew from him slightly and looked into his eyes. "Of course I forgive you." Remorse overwhelmed her. He would not have attacked her in the first place had he not been provoked. Accusing Ben of developing "a stupid commune" and comparing it to "the utopian failures of the past" was the kind of thing that would hurt him. She had sat too often in Don Pablo's and heard him pour out his dreams for Eden not to know that. "Can you forgive me for calling the colony a 'stupid commune'?"

Ben nodded, gently lifting strands of her hair out from under the collar of his jacket and arranging them on her shoulders.

"I didn't mean it. I mean, I didn't mean to attack the Eden plan or the colony itself. I was sincerely concerned about what effect breaking the Sabbath would have on the colony."

"I understand." His hand found her cheek again, caressing away her tears. He smiled in a tender way, reminding her so much of Cameron that she was suddenly breathless.

"Sara . . ." he said softly, touching the corner of her mouth with his thumb, "Sweet . . . sweet Sara . . . I . . ."

Sticks cracked and shrubbery branches rustled as though someone were approaching. Ben released Sara and they both turned in the direction of the noise.

"Cameron!" Sara exclaimed, moving toward him. He was carrying a lantern, and she could see in the dim light that his shirt was soiled and partially unbuttoned. The hair on his forehead and temples was dark with perspiration.

"Good evening, son," Ben said with a sigh, walking next to Sara.

Time alone with Cameron that evening was a luxury Sara hadn't dared hope for. "Are you done with everything? Really?"

"For now. Ashley told me you had stepped out for some air and that Father had followed you."

"Sara and I needed to talk. Alone."

To Sara's surprise, Ben sounded annoyed. Now that she thought about it, she realized he had been on the verge of telling her something when Cameron had interrupted him. She wondered what it was. She stopped and turned toward Ben. "Was there something else we needed to discuss?"

Ben glanced at Cameron, hesitating. After a moment, he smiled slightly and shook his head. "No, Sara. Not now."

"So you're friends again?" Cameron said lightly, squeezing Sara's hand. He sounded pleased and relieved.

"We were never not," Ben said quietly. "At least not from my perspective."

Sara suddenly felt ashamed for having been so angry with Ben. She stepped forward and threw her arms around his neck and squeezed, kissing his cheek. "Not from mine either," she said softly into his ear.

Ben returned her hug tightly and kissed her cheek. He whispered with emotion, "Don't ever stop being my Little Panther."

Sara shook her head at him and smiled as she withdrew. She began removing his suit jacket to give it back to him, but he stopped her with a shake of his head and a hand on her arm. "I'd like you to keep it until tomorrow."

"Thank you," Sara said as she slid Ben's jacket back over her shoulders, its warmth and fatherly smell wrapping around her in a comforting way. She extended her arm to Cameron, drawing him close, and they returned to the dining hall, leaving his father in the grove alone.

 

Chapter 18: A SIMPLE SOLUTION

After Church let out at noon, Trendaul's family squeezed around their old cherry dining room table for pot roast on paper plates. Matthew and Zack gave up their chairs to Gavaun and Sharad and sat on a box. Trendaul asked Sharad about his family, learning that he had married Nelena Sekura, Krista's niece. Sharad, in turn, began asking Trendaul questions about himself, strange questions that puzzled Trendaul.

"What is your favorite color?"

"Teal."

Sharad gave him a peculiar look. "What is teal?"

Trendaul struggled to keep a straight face. "The color of my car." Both Gavaun and Sharad had commented on the Earthons' "garish transports."

Teri and David and the kids laughed. Gavaun shook his head in resignation. "Why am I not surprised?"

Sharad grinned and tried again. "What is your favorite kind of music?"

"Hymns."

"Please don't ask him to sing!" Emily begged.

"Do not worry! I still have more questions."

Emily appeared mollified, but Trendaul's puzzlement grew. As he wondered where these questions were leading, Sharad fired another one at him. "What is your favorite food?"

"Root beer!" the kids, Teri, and David cried out.

Before Sharad could ask what root beer was, Trendaul turned to Zack and said, "Go get the man a root beer."

Zack jumped up and ran to the refrigerator, dodging boxes. Sharad took the free moment to ask, "Which football team do you like best, brother? The Washington Redskins or the Baltimore Ravens?"

What a question! Trendaul shrugged. "I don't know. Which one has the better halftime show?"

Trendaul's kids laughed themselves into hysterics; Aaron pounded on the table and cried with laughter, Josh gave Trendaul a thumbs-up and cheered, Rebecca fell out of her chair convulsing, and Zack dropped the cans of root beer he was carrying before he could get them to the table. Even Teri couldn't stop laughing.

David shook his head at Teri. "He's pathetic! And you know it!"

"He takes me to see the Royals, so what do I care?"

Trendaul knew David didn't mean any disrespect by what he said. He and the other men in Teri's family liked him, but they had never understood him. He turned to Gavaun and said breezily, "I told you Teri's family thinks I'm a jellyfish."

"You have to understand," David explained to Gavaun and Sharad, "Only a girlie-man doesn't like football. Tren's attitude toward the game is abnormal. It's . . . well . . . it's un-American."

"He never was an athlete," Gavaun said with affection.

"I'll only admit to being an alien," Trendaul said to David with a mischievous smile as he went to help Zack pick up the cans of root beer he had dropped.

As Trendaul walked back to the table, Sharad asked, "So what is your favorite sport, brother?"

Trendaul opened a can of root beer and handed it to Sharad. "Track, of course."

Sharad raised his eyebrows. "Of course?"

Teri and David nodded at each other and at Sharad. "Of course!" they said together.

Trendaul motioned everyone into the living room. "Teri, do you know where the track videos are?"

"Actually, I do. I brought the family videos with us in the van." And she hurried out of the room and up the stairs.

Sharad sipped at his can of root beer. His eyes widened, and he looked at Trendaul in surprise. "This is good!"

"Of course it's good."

"Do you have any video of Cameron, Tren?" David asked.

"I don't know."

"We do," Teri called as she walked down the stairs carrying a box of discs. "Sara always wanted me to record all of the sprints."

"Now we know why," David said. "Come on, let's see him."

Trendaul met Teri at the bottom of the stairs and began rummaging through the box. "Not until after my brother watches Sara run in the NCAA championships."

*

Watching family videos stopped Sharad's questions, at least for the time being, and entertained everyone. The younger children, especially, were happy to see what Cameron looked like, although Gavaun and Sharad were clearly uncomfortable with the prospect of Sara's marrying an Earthon.

Later that afternoon, after David had gone back to Annapolis, Trendaul managed to get some time alone with Gavaun on the deck. "We have so much to discuss," Trendaul said, leaning on the rail, "that I hardly know where to start."

Gavaun leaned on the rail next to Trendaul. "You could start by telling me why you are so desperate for Sara to marry this Earthon boy."

Gavaun's words surprised Trendaul. Gavaun couldn't help but be interested in Sara, but Trendaul had not thought she would be high on his list of priority subjects. "Did all of the talk about Cameron disturb you so much?"

"No, your desperation disturbs me. I'm afraid it will make it all that much more difficult for you to leave Earth."

So that was it. Gavaun was afraid Sara's situation had tightened Trendaul's ties to Earth. "You're right. I don't want to leave Sara. And I do feel desperate. Sara has gotten herself into an extremely bad situation, and I'm afraid the only way out of it is for her to marry this Earthon boy, Cameron."

Trendaul told Gavaun about Benjamin Carroll and his passion for Sara. Gavaun listened in outrage. After a while, he began pacing. "It's a good thing you are her father and not I. I'm afraid I would have killed him."

"You have no idea how hard it was to watch her go away with that man, knowing what we knew, but you have to believe me. She gave us no choice."

Gavaun shook his head at Trendaul, his gaze full of reproach. "This shouldn't have happened."

Trendaul had expected this reaction and was prepared to counter it in a way that would silence Gavaun on the topic for good. "No, it shouldn't have happened, and it wouldn't have happened had Krista and I remained on Novaun. If you'll remember, I was against this mission to begin with, so which one of you should I blame? Father? My dead wife? Or you, for telling me I was a jellyfish for wanting to stay behind?"

Gavaun threw his arms up. "You're right. I'm an idiot. So we are all to blame or no one is to blame. Which is it?"

Trendaul shrugged. "It doesn't matter, and I'm not angry, least of all with you, Krista, or Father. To tell you the truth, I'm not even angry at Benjamin Carroll."

"Then you're not human."

"Don't misunderstand me. The man disgusts me and I have no respect for him. I don't, however, feel any desire to hurt him. I just want Sara to be happy, and I know she will be happy if she marries Cameron. He really is a good boy--as good as boys come on any planet--and I will be pleased to call him my son."

Gavaun nodded that he understood, his mood mellowing. "Is there any chance we could permanently relocate Sara and Cameron to Novaun?"

"No. Cameron's mission is to lead the Eden Colony back to Earth, to the New Jerusalem specifically, at some future date. Of all the people in the colony, he must return to Earth and his wife has no choice but to come with him if she wants to remain his wife."

"So Sara either marries this boy and becomes an Earthon, or she becomes the paramour of the boy's father."

Trendaul nodded, feeling queasy. The truth was almost too terrible to face. "As much as I would like to believe Sara would resist Benjamin Carroll on her own, I know it wouldn't happen because it didn't happen. Our bishop almost persuaded her into giving up her Eden quest, and she would have--I'm sure of it--if Benjamin Carroll hadn't come to Parkridge to talk to her in person. She practically worships the man. If her love for Cameron isn't strong enough to get her to reject him, nothing will."

"What a mess."

"It is a mess. The children aren't aware of what was going on between Sara and Benjamin Carroll, and neither is David, and I would rather they didn't know."

"I understand."

"I knew you would."

"When we return to Novaun, we'll petition the government for permission to go into the Sustenun System. It may take a year or two, but you'll find out what happened to Sara far sooner than you will if you remain here. If her colony survives, there may be a great deal we can do to help her and the other colonists."

"If only the decision were that simple."

"It is simple, Trendaul Avenaunta," Gavaun said gently. "And it's right. What is it you're so afraid of?"

Trendaul almost smiled. "Are you calling me a jellyfish again?"

Gavaun gazed at Trendaul gravely, shaking his head. "No. I just want you to put your fears behind you and come home."

"I am home."

"Your mission here is over. You don't belong here."

"Using that logic, my wife doesn't belong on Novaun any more than I belong here."

"Novaunians have taken foreign spouses before. You are not as unusual as you think you are."

Frustration welled up inside of Trendaul. "No, I'm not unusual. I'm not unusual at all. Trust me on this one. I have no delusions about being 'unusual.' On Novaun I will be a usual Novaunian man who outlives his usual foreign wife by more than a century!"

Gavaun frowned. "But it will be the same for you and Teri if you remain here. Have you not thought of this? I don't mean to be crass, but for one moment you need to stare reality in the face. You are going to lose Teri while you are still in your prime. The only difference is that on Novaun, you will be surrounded by your family and in a position to take another wife, one of your own age and race. Here you will be a man of a hundred years, more or less, whose friends have all died, forced to either spend the remainder of your life alone or marry a mere child."

The image of middle-aged Benjamin Carroll embracing Sara charged uninvited into Trendaul's mind, revolting him to his core. He felt as if his stomach were turning inside out, and he turned to lean over the side of the deck, just in case his dinner decided to make an exit.

"You're wrong," Trendaul finally said, his voice hoarse. "I would not, and could not, marry a child. Nor would I have to. The Earthons are on the verge of passing into terrestrial glory. The honest and good people who are still living will be caught up to meet the Lord when He comes. Their bodies will be changed so that they won't get hurt or sick or die prematurely. They won't be resurrected and receive their glorified bodies until they're old, and then it will happen instantly. Under those circumstances, why shouldn't Teri live a longer mortal life than normal and be resurrected when my time comes?"

"It sounds, little brother, as if you're trying to pluck a piece of fruit from the Tree of Life."

Trendaul looked at Gavaun sharply, the verses from Genesis and their explanatory chapters in the Book of Mormon pouring into his mind:

"And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden . . . and placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."

So that Adam and Eve and their descendants would not become immortal in their fallen state and be forever unable to repent . . . forever cut off from God's presence . . . forever miserable.

Trendaul was shaken. Maybe he really was trying to find a loophole in the laws of nature. "Do you really think I'm desiring something that is forbidden? That I'm fighting God?"

Gavaun pondered Trendaul's question for many moments. "I think you're afraid of losing Teri, and that's certainly an understandable fear. I believe, in fact, you're so afraid of losing her that you've never been able to admit to yourself what you've known all along--that your duty and desire is to return to Novaun. And so you're consoling yourself with this fantasy you have and are, in the process, paralyzing yourself."

"It's no fantasy, Gavaun," Trendaul said, beginning to feel angry.

"It may not be a fantasy for Sara and her husband, it's true, but for you it is. For completing his mission in an honorable way the Lord may very well reward Cameron with a piece of fruit from the Tree of Life. I doubt, however, that the Lord would look as kindly on a man who chose to forgo his duty and leave his mission unfinished so that he could put himself into a position to steal a piece of that fruit."

Trendaul shook his head quickly, his anger rising. "I just don't think I can leave, Gavaun. I can't lose her. And I can't take her from her home and family and doom her to live the remainder of her brief life among people who will think she's a savage."

"You're not being fair, Trendaul. You're not going home to pacifist countrymen in Mautysia. You're going home to your Fleet comrades in Shalaun, where people are accustomed to seeing an occasional interracial marriage. No one in the family will think she's a savage. They will accept her and love her because she's your wife, and she will be happy there with you. I have to believe, in fact, that she will be more happy there watching her children grow to maturity in an environment suited to their abilities."

"My children are happy here and glorious! Bright lights on this dark world!"

"That's pride speaking, Trendaul. Pride, pure and simple. It gratifies you that your children are so much more intelligent and talented than other Earthon children."

"It's no sin for a man to be pleased with his children!"

"It is a sin for a man to be proud. Admit it, Trendaul. You don't want to let your children be ordinary."

"Ordinary!" Trendaul exploded. "Ordinary! They wouldn't be ordinary! They would be half Earthon, both physically and culturally. They would start their lives on Novaun far behind their peers and would die prematurely. How can I do that to them when here, they excel and are a strength to the race?"

"The strength of our race has never been in our physical and mental superiority but in our spiritual power, as you well know, unless you've become more of an Earthon than I thought you had."

Trendaul turned away from Gavaun, speechless with rage.

Gavaun rested his hand on Trendaul's shoulder and said softly. "Your children are bright, Trendaul. So is your wife. Once you come to Novaun, we'll quickly catch them up."

Trendaul turned and looked Gavaun straight in the eyes. "We aren't going to Novaun."

Gavaun didn't back down. "Oh yes you are. I didn't want to do this, but you've given me no choice. Lieutenant Avenaunta, as your commanding officer I order you to return to Shalaun for debriefing and reassignment."

Trendaul couldn't believe it. "You would use your position in the Fleet to force me to do what Father wants me to do?"

"No. I would use my rank to put a straying soldier back on the path of his duty, and you would do the same. You've done the same. You essentially ordered Sara not to go to Eden and she disobeyed, and now she's landed herself in an asteroid belt without any idea yet how precarious her position is."

Heat rose in Trendaul's face, and his heart pounded crazily. He tried to keep his voice calm but was barely able to keep it below a shout. "Don't you pretend that you're acting only as a representative of the Fleet! You said only yesterday: 'Oh, I understand you, Trendaul Avenaunta. And so does Father. Why do you think I'm here?' So don't you pretend you're something other than a representative for our tyrannical family!"

"Listen to yourself, Trendaul! You're castigating the Fleet, your father, your heritage, and me, the only member of the family you've seen in twenty years! Not only that, but you're yelling at me in the Novaunian language for your entire neighborhood to hear. Can this be a good thing?"

Trendaul shook his head as he moved to the deck stairs. He lowered his voice and switched to English, furious at himself for letting down his guard. Who knew what Zarrist spies might be living nearby? "You're twisting my words and misunderstanding my motives. I see no reason to continue this conversation." He jogged down the stairs and left the backyard with a slam of the wooden gate.

"Trendaul, wait!" Gavaun called.

Trendaul heard the gate bump shut behind him and knew Gavaun was following him. He quickened his stride, determined not to communicate.

Gavaun caught up with Trendaul easily and stepped in front of him to stop him. Gavaun placed his hands on Trendaul's shoulders and looked at him intently. Trendaul could only glare.

Gavaun proceeded carefully, in a whisper, still in their native language: "I would rather you not disappear to think until I've told you the real reason I was the one chosen to bring you back to Novaun."

His eyes were so earnest that Trendaul couldn't resist him. "Well?"

"First of all, the order to return to Novaun really does come from the Fleet. There are three others on Earth besides you, with their families, and they too are being ordered back to Shalaun. The Fleet is concerned for your safety and has closed Earth for the time being, perhaps for good."

"Novaun is afraid Earth is on the brink of passing away," Trendaul observed in a monotone.

Gavaun nodded. "And the Zarrists are a very real danger. If they find out who you are, they'll kill you."

Trendaul slumped his shoulders. "I know."

"You've been on Earth twice as long as the others and are the only one with a native wife. Both Colonel Larauna and Father are concerned about you. You know as well as I do that both are seasoned Fleet officers. They've dealt with many men over the years who have married foreign women, and they understand the strong temptation you naturally feel to stay here. If you'll remember, the Fleet won't allow unmarried men to take these deep cover assignments, and married men are required to take their wives."

"How could I forget?" Grief nearly smothered Trendaul as he remembered his beloved Krista and how his life had gone haywire after her death.

"The point is, the Fleet understands your situation. Colonel Larauna believes your position to be so precarious, in fact, that he felt the only two men in the Fleet with any hope of bringing you home were Father and I. Father couldn't leave his command, so--"

"Here you are."

"Here I am." Gavaun lifted one hand off of Trendaul's shoulder and knocked on his forehead. "The one Fleet man who knows how you think. The one who has the ability to get your mind moving down paths that have been overgrown for a while. The one who cares enough about you to want very much for you to come home. The one who has enough nerve to stand up to you."

Trendaul shook Gavaun's hand off of his shoulder, almost smiling. "That nerve of yours is a lot of hot air."

Gavaun nodded knowingly. "Admit it, Trendaul. Had the Fleet sent Sharad with another boy, you would have given them each a can of that root beer you love so much and sent them on their way."

"I don't know that, and neither do you."

"Oh, but I do. And besides, Sharad is only a lieutenant. Had he given you the order to return to Novaun, you would have laughed at him. Admit it!"

Trendaul shrugged and grimaced a little. "You're right. I probably would have laughed at him."

"I'd rather be yelled at than laughed at any day."

Trendaul allowed himself a chuckle. He had never been able to remain angry with Gavaun for long. "Why does Sharad keep asking me silly questions?"

"You fascinate him. He's trying to determine whether you're still a Novaunian or whether you've turned into an Earthon."

Trendaul didn't know whether to be interested in Sharad's observations or irritated with his presumption in making them. "What a strange boy."

"He's a good boy, but he does enjoy getting into the heads of the insane. He's actually quite good at it. When the Fleet lost track of Zarr's fleet, Sharad claimed that Zarr, being the most clever of all the renegade Diron leaders, would naturally come to Earth to build an army out of this blood-thirsty race--that is what he would do if he were Zarr. He's baffled, in fact, that it's taken this long for Admirals Nexyun and Jaxzeran to find Zarr. He didn't think they were such idiots."

"And has Sharad made a pronouncement about me yet?"

"He easily sees what anyone with eyes can see."

"And what is that?"

Gavaun's eyes danced. "We both know the answer to that question, don't we?"

His brother appeared a little too complacent. "You always were cocky," Trendaul said.

Gavaun bowed. "A cocky tyrant!"

Remorse chafed at Trendaul. "I really don't think our family is tyrannical. A little stern, maybe. Staid definitely."

"You only think that because you're a lunatic!"

"Even Krista thought the Avenauntas were stiff."

"Of course she did. She was a flighty Sekura!"

"The Sekuras do produce a lot of pilots."

"While the 'stern' Avenauntas raise navigators. Someone has to keep the Fleet on course."

"At least we aren't Quautars, raising our children to get into the minds of madmen and doublecrossed planet-spirits."

"Actually, the Quautars aren't sure what to do with Sharad. He's more insane than you are and puzzles everyone." Gavaun slapped Trendaul on the back. "The two of you ought to get along well."

Trendaul began walking again, and Gavaun stepped out of the way. Neither one of them felt a need to say anything else. They could entertain themselves with banter all evening, but that wouldn't move Trendaul any closer to a decision about whether to stay or go. Both knew Trendaul had proclaimed he would stay because Gavaun had provoked him, not because he had come to a final decision.

When Trendaul arrived at the foot of the temple parking lot, he gazed up at the six gold spires rising out of gold-flecked white marble. His heart lifted a little, as if the sun had just come out from behind a cloud. He strolled forward, the water from the fountain wavering a little in the breeze. He sat down on a bench across the sidewalk from a garden of pansies and leaned his head into his hands to think and to pray.

 

Part 3: THE MARRIAGE

Chapter 19: THE DEVOTED KNIGHT

When the colonists awoke the morning after the storm, they learned, to their relief, that no one who had been injured in the storm had died during the night. At lunchtime, however, Trevor Carroll informed them that the large synthesizing machine, as well as four of the smaller ones, had been disabled.

"The primary unit will need to be completely rebuilt and reprogrammed," Trevor Carroll said. "We've already contacted Control Colony, and a team of engineers will be here in about a week to help us."

"What are we supposed to do in the meantime?" asked Mike Dixon.

"We'll use the synthesizing machines we do have to produce the small synthesizers for the homes. Then we can get the wiring and plumbing done too."

Sara felt sick. Days of major construction work would be lost. "Can't we fix the big machine on our own?" she asked Cameron.

"I think so, but even Uncle Trevor doesn't feel completely comfortable with the technology yet. It would take weeks of study and trial and error."

After lunch Cameron left to help move the synthesizing machines into the newly-completed warehouse, while Sara and Ashley walked to Sister Ann Eagle's home, located on Hospital Ridge, to keep the appointments Brittany Novak, Sister Eagle's student, had made with them that morning. Sister Eagle wanted to ascertain whether any of the colonists had been traumatized by the events of the previous day.

"Why do you think she wants to see us?" Ashley said. "We weren't injured."

Sara shrugged. "I did confront your father about breaking the Sabbath, and you were there to hear it. Maybe she wants to ask us about that."

Why in the galaxy the woman thought it was any of her business to delve into what had happened was beyond Sara, especially since she and Ben had worked it out between themselves. Then again, Sara couldn't help but wonder whether she and Ben had come to a resolution at all. They had forgiven each other for being unkind, but they hadn't even come close to discussing the Sabbath issue.

"Should I tell her that I saw Cameron call down the powers of heaven to fry the colony for disobedience? And moan about what a horrible brother I have?"

"Only if you like the idea of being put into therapy permanently!" Sara sat down under a maple tree as Ashley walked toward Sister Eagle's prefab colonial style house, one of the small 400-square-foot units since Sister Eagle was unmarried with no children.

Sara pulled grass out of the ground blade by blade as she waited, folding each piece, stripping it with her thumbnail, then tossing it aside. What was taking Ashley so long? Ashley didn't need a psychologist, she needed a bishop, and the more Sara thought about it, the sillier this afternoon expedition seemed.

What did Sister Eagle want with the two of them anyway? Did she want to help them heal from some non-existent trauma, or did she want to interrogate them? Sara wondered why in the galaxy she had allowed this woman to psychoanalyze her and, with Ben's help, study and interpret her patriarchal blessing. She hadn't even given her patriarchal blessing to Cameron yet to read. Sara stood up and began pacing, digging her fist into her stomach, and feeling as if she might throw up.

Eventually Ashley emerged from the house, appearing bored. "I told her I thought Cameron was a good bishop, and she asked me if I thought my father was a good governor."

"What did you say?"

"I told her my father is an excellent governor. He thinks he's excellent anyway, and since he's the expert, he must be right."

"You're such an idiot!"

"I think she's going to want to talk to me again."

"If so, it's your own fault!"

Sara opened the front door of Sister Eagle's house and entered reluctantly. She would not, could not, discuss anything with this woman. Sister Eagle shook her hand and invited her to sit down, smiling.

"It's good to see you this afternoon, Sara. Have you had a productive morning?"

"I wrote an article and critiqued one of Russ's."

"When will the first colony newspaper be published?"

"Not until all of our equipment is up and running. Early next week, we hope."

"Are you enjoying the work you're doing here?"

"Very much."

"That's good. I sense, however, that the Eden Colony isn't measuring up to your expectations in other ways."

Sara hesitated. If she responded at all, Sister Eagle would continue to question her until she revealed all of her confused feelings about Cameron and being on Eden. She thought Sister Eagle was probably a good psychologist, but she didn't need a psychologist. She had a husband and the Lord. Well, she almost had a husband. Sara stood up. "I would rather not discuss it with you."

"Why not?"

"Please don't take this personally, but it's none of your business."

"You trusted me once."

"I did," Sara conceded, feeling more nauseated than ever. "But a lot has happened since then." How could she have been such an idiot? What kind of fog had she been living in, to confide her hopes and dreams and most intimate blessing to strangers? Admittedly, Ben wasn't a stranger now, but he had been when he had analyzed her patriarchal blessing.

"Do you really believe it's healthy to change so drastically because of a young man?"

Sara responded without thinking, "When the young man in question is the spokesman of the Lord for the colony, then absolutely."

"I perceive that many issues are disturbing you."

"I would like to have my file."

"You may change your mind."

"My file, please!" Or I may puke on your lap!

Sister Eagle reached into the file box that was sitting on the floor next to her camp chair, pulled a file from the front, and handed it to Sara. "As long as you repress your feelings, Sara, you will never be at peace."

Feeling relieved, Sara took the folder and walked to the door. Sister Eagle might still have her personal information on a disk somewhere, but Sara felt, for the moment, that her privacy had been restored.

Sara stopped at the door, understanding coming to her all at once. She did believe Cameron was the true spokesman of the Lord for the colony, not his father. No, she didn't merely believe it; she knew it. Sister Eagle had helped her after all. She turned and smiled at Sister Eagle. "Thank you."

Sister Eagle returned the smile. "Any time."

Sara shut the door behind her and jogged toward Ashley. Her stomach settled a little as she inhaled the fresh air. Sister Eagle's intention really had been to facilitate Sara's emotional healing, not to defuse a potentially disruptive force in the colony. She wasn't a confidant, but she wasn't an enemy either.

"That didn't take very long."

Sara held up the folder. "I decided I don't need counseling."

Ashley gazed at Sara, amazed. "What did you say to her?"

"As little as I could get away with," Sara replied as they began walking back toward Hospital Hollow.

"Aren't you going to look at your file?"

Sara shook her head. "I just don't care enough. It's going into the decomposer."

"You're becoming a real revolutionary!"

"I didn't come to Eden to be a revolutionary."

"Why did you come?"

"I don't know. You tell me."

"You're having second thoughts?"

"And third and fourth and fifth thoughts, and they're all tangled up." Sara realized, to her surprise, that Ashley wasn't just a friend, she was a close friend, a sister. Sara wanted her observations and advice. She sat down on the lip of the hollow under a cluster of maple, cherry, and sassafras trees, looking out over the hospital, and waved Ashley down with her.

Sara told Ashley everything. "How can it be wrong to be here and right to marry Cameron? Do you understand my dilemma?"

Ashley brought her knees together under her chin, her eyes delving into Sara's with affectionate impatience. "Of course I understand. If I give you the answer to this puzzle, will you promise to propose to Cameron tonight?"

Sara turned toward Ashley and pulled her legs into a crossed position, anticipation swelling in her heart. Could Ashley really have the key that would unlock this mystery? "I promise!"

"You didn't come here for Cameron, Sara. You said so yourself, that day in the spaceport. Cameron came here for you. Anyone with eyes can see it! That's how it can be wrong for you to be here and, at the same time, be right to marry Cameron."

"But that can't be true! Cameron accepted the call before he knew I was part of the colony."

"I know it doesn't completely make sense, but it's true. If you hadn't been a part of the colony, Cameron wouldn't have come. I don't think he would have been called to be the bishop at all."

Sara waved a fly away. "That's absurd! He isn't my own personal bishop. He's here for everyone."

"Of course he's here for everyone. No one doubts that, least of all Cameron. All I'm saying is that your existence in the colony was the motivating force that got him here."

"You don't think he would have come for you and the other members of your family?"

"Not a chance." Ashley relaxed against a cherry tree, her hands moving from her shins to her knees. "As it was, Cameron made it clear a long time ago that he would never come to Eden, even to visit. Mother and Father set up a trust fund for him, to pay for the rest of his mission and to support him in school after that. He was supposed to get home in January, and we assumed he would go back to BYU. Father's mother left Maryland two years ago to be near our two aunts and their families. They all live in the Provo Temple Community, and Cameron is particularly close to Grandmother."

"Your family must have been shocked when Cameron came home early and told you he was coming to Eden too."

Ashley plucked a white cherry blossom out of her hair and rolled its stem between her thumb and finger. "We were. Especially when it was so obvious he thought death by slow torture would be a more pleasant prospect. Let me tell you, nothing short of that call would have brought him here, and he didn't accept it because he hoped to inspire Father to change. I'm not sure even the Lord could have talked Cameron into believing his presence here would have done any good in that regard."

Sara's mind whirled. "I think I understand what you're trying to say, but I still can't completely accept it. Not enough pieces fit." Sara's spirit reached out to the Lord and begged to understand. Please take away my confusion. I love Cameron and want to marry him. I can't live like this! A moment passed and Sara suddenly thought to ask, "Why don't you think Cameron would have been called to be the bishop if I weren't here?"

Ashley held out her hand and let the cherry blossom float away in the breeze. "I don't presume to know the mind of the Lord, but I do know Cameron. If you weren't here, he wouldn't be able to function in that calling."

Sara pulled her knees to her chin and leaned on them. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, if you were not here, Cameron would be too depressed and unstable to communicate with anyone rationally. The colonists would have thought he was aloof or rude. He might have even isolated himself. He would have alienated everyone."

"That doesn't sound like Cameron."

"Of course it does. He was on the verge of breakdown at the stake center the night he was sustained. You could see that for yourself. Even Brandon said that Cameron had gone crazy. The only thing that got him through that evening was you."

Sara nodded slowly. "And my father." What had Cameron and her father talked about during the week they had spent together in the temple? "Cameron withdraws then, when he's upset?" It was a strange thought.

Ashley twisted her body slightly and stretched her legs toward the hollow. "He either runs or he locks himself in his room and reads. He used to download books by general authorities. He started doing that about the time I went to my first high school dance. I had a date to homecoming with a boy in my chemistry class, and Cameron was really disturbed about it. He showed me all kinds of quotes about how I shouldn't date until I was sixteen and begged me not to go."

"What did you do?"

"I went to the dance. I can see now that it wasn't a good idea, but at the time, I really wanted to go. Father didn't like the idea either and tried to discourage me, but Mother insisted."

Sara couldn't find a comfortable position. She shifted again, kicking a rock over the ledge of the hollow. "Wasn't your father's disapproval enough to stop you?"

"In this situation, no. My mother was adamant, and when she gets in that frame of mind, my father doesn't fight her."

"Did Cameron ever say anything to them about it?"

"Of course he did. He was really upset. He couldn't believe they would let me go on a date when I was only thirteen."

"You were only thirteen?"

Ashley nodded. "It wasn't that Cameron was mad about a double standard between the two of us either, because he didn't care to date anyway."

Sara's own parents would have laughed her out of the house had she even hinted at wanting to go out with a boy at age thirteen. No wonder Cameron had been disturbed! "What did they do?"

"Mother explained to him that since I have one of those late birthdays, I would be halfway through my junior year before I went to any school dances with a date if I waited until I was sixteen. That just wasn't reasonable. The other kids would think I was a prig and a snob, and I deserved to enjoy my time in high school. Ryan was only a freshman also and his parents would take us. I was a good girl and could handle it. Cameron said that there were more important things than a high school dance, and Mother responded with, 'Try telling that to a teenage girl!' My father simply shrugged and said, 'It is only a dance, Cameron.'"

Sara gazed out over Hospital Hollow. "So they brushed him off as they always do when they think he's being fanatical."

Ashley nodded sadly and moved to sit next to Sara again. "Not long after that, Tohmazz Zarr and his people came. Cameron wouldn't have anything to do with them, but Mother and Father were thrilled about everything their existence represented. Father was bishop at the time and invited one of Zarr's people to give a talk to our ward. Cameron was really upset. I know he spoke to Father about it, but he must have gotten the brush off again, because he disappeared into his room for days."

Sara turned toward Ashley abruptly, her heart tightening in dread. "How long did it take after that talk before your father was released?"

"There were several talks, actually. He was released within a month of the last one. We never heard any of Zarr's people speak at a Church function again after that."

Sara turned away, running her hand through her hair. So this great spiritual leader, this former bishop, had been released because he couldn't follow the counsel of the Church. Sara couldn't believe that she had allowed herself to be deceived by such a man. And she would still be deceived were it not for Cameron.

A thought came into Sara's mind that was so awful she almost fought it away without expressing it. She turned toward Ashley again. "Your parents couldn't go to the temple with Cameron when he received his endowment, could they?"

"No," Ashley whispered, her shoulders drooping. "Our bishop was the only one who went with him. I think Cameron was too embarrassed to invite anyone else."

Sara remembered the missionary farewell photograph and finally understood. The black veil that shrouded her heart knotted itself again and again. "I can't even begin to imagine what kind of nightmare Cameron's been living." How insensitive she had been! Cameron had told her he had been living with a great burden, and she hadn't even asked him about it.

Ashley turned to face Sara again. "Do you understand now why I said there was no way he would have come to Eden for us?"

Sara nodded, barely. Cameron would have thought such an act would be useless. After everything Cameron had experienced with his parents, the calling must have seemed like a curse. Sara didn't think even Cameron's sense of duty was strong enough to inspire him to agree to a call like that without protesting. What in the galaxy had the prophet told Cameron that had convinced him his sacrifice would not be in vain?

Ashley gripped Sara's arm. "I know it sounds crazy, but you have to believe me. Cameron came here for you. He's loved you for a long time, and something deep inside of him knew you would be here."

Finally Sara understood. The prophet had told Cameron something about his future wife, something that had given him hope. That was how her presence in the colony had given Cameron the motivation to come to Eden and why Cameron hadn't told her about his meeting with the prophet yet. Not only that, but Cameron had confided everything to her father. No wonder her father had been so certain she would marry Cameron. How had her father and Cameron come into such close contact in such a short length of time? Her father had the kind of personality that inspired trust in people, but it was still bizarre.

Ashley gave Sara a shake. "You have to believe me, Sara! I've heard Cameron call you his queen. He probably thinks of himself as your rescuer, your most devoted knight, and if you don't marry him, I'll think you're the cruelest person who ever lived!"

Sara felt feverish and lightheaded. "When . . . when we met, he . . . said . . ." She gasped. "'The queen is . . . puzzled . . . her . . . servant knows her?'" She hugged herself fiercely in an attempt to stop herself from shaking.

Ashley wrapped her arms around Sara tightly and said softly, "You can understand now why Cameron never spoke to you or asked you to dance. He had no confidence. His mission changed him a lot in that way, I think. And you. When he's with you, he glows! He's self-assured and glorious! The colonists are already looking to him for leadership. I wonder what Father will do when he wakes up one day and realizes the colony is following Cameron and not him."

Neither Sara nor Ashley moved for a long time. Once Sara felt composed, she sat up stiffly and said, "You've been talking about Cameron's troubles in such a matter-of-fact way, Ashley. These things must have affected you too. How do you feel about all of this?"

"Numb. I'm not happy, I'm not angry, I'm just numb. I think, so what my father's an apostate? Big deal!"

Hearing Ashley call Ben an apostate hurt Sara deeply. She knew it made no sense, given that he had, in a very real way, betrayed her, but coming to an understanding of the truth about his spiritual state didn't diminish the affection she felt for him. She clutched Ashley's arm. "Please don't call your father an apostate! It sounds so severe, so . . . final! Whatever he's done, I can't believe he's completely fallen away from the faith."

Ashley shrugged. "I can."

"You're not numb, Ashley," Sara said softly. "You're bitter and cynical."

Ashley folded her arms over her bent knees and laid her head on them, gazing sideways at Sara with tortured green eyes. "I think you may be right."

"You haven't talked to Cameron yet, have you."

"I talk to Cameron all the time."

"You know what I mean."

Ashley sighed. "No, I haven't."

"Talk to him tonight, and I'll give you my Navy shirt."

Ashley sat up abruptly. "That would be so wrong, Sara!"

"I can't wear the shirt anyway. It would remind Cameron of all the midshipmen I went out with."

"How could you go out with all of those midshipmen and never kiss any of them?"

"I didn't like any of them well enough."

"Cameron can't be the first guy you ever kissed."

"No. There was one other, at BYU, but he was more of a friend. I was in the mood to get rid of my obsession with Cameron for good, and I thought a few kisses from someone I liked could be the cure."

Ashley smiled. "It didn't work, obviously!"

"Not at all. I didn't like it."

"Please let me tell that to Cameron when I talk to him. It'll make his day!"

"I'm not so sure about that. He doesn't think I've ever kissed anyone but him."

"That's all the more reason to tell him."

"Why? Because he never had any real competition or because someone else's kisses made me want to throw up?"

"The throwing up part is good."

"I don't care what you tell him about my kissing experience as long as you talk to him!"

*

Sara went directly to Construction Clearing after her talk with Ashley and disposed of Sister Eagle's notes in the decomposer. Her head throbbed, and she felt so sick to her stomach she didn't think she could eat. Instead of going to the dining hall, she went to the dormitory, where she unraveled the French braid from her hair, took some ibuprofen, and lay down on her mattress, closing her eyes and pressing her fingertips into her aching temples.

She slipped into a deep sleep. She saw her father everywhere. When she slept, she knew he was near. When she awoke, he was there. He never smiled, but his thoughts stimulated her and his feelings warmed her. Hello, sweetie. What shall we do today?

Fly!

All right. When we're finished at the library, we'll go to the park and swing.

When the darkness came, he would press her against his heart and rock, and rock and rock, and embrace her with his sadness. I miss her too, Daddy.

I know, sweetie.

The sadness never left, but it changed, becoming charged with panic and desperation. Her father talked to someone else during those times. Father, what am I going to do? This is no life for my daughter. Please send a convoy for me early. I need a miracle.

Sara heard voices around her. She opened her eyes, disoriented.

"Are you coming to family home evening, Sara?"

"Huh? No . . . family's not here . . ."

"Leave her alone. She's half asleep."

Sara rolled over, dreaming of her father's smiles. His happiness poured over her like the sunlight from her window. She stretched her arms out to him, and he lifted her out of her crib, hugging her tightly.

I know it was the most idiotic first engagement there ever was, but I didn't know what else to do. She touched my hand, and I ached, wanting to hold her. I don't dare be too alone with her. I think she understands. A little.

Sara remembered being rocked by a different person, someone soft, feeling a warm breeze playing with her hair. She smelled pretty, Daddy.

She is pretty, sweetie. And I love her.

Her father's smiles spun away, and Sara strolled up the walk to the temple, her arm snugly intertwined with Cameron's, the dogwood trees crimson in their autumn splendor. The front doors slid open, and they approached the recommend desk. "I'm sorry, Sister Alexander. You don't have a recommend. You'll have to come back another day."

Cameron kissed her sadly. Speechless, she watched him disappear behind the wall with its panels of stained glass. Nausea pierced her heart. She would never see the beautiful mural at the other end of the bridge now, "The Sheep and the Goats." I'm a goat . . . I'm a goat . . . I'm a goat . . . Please forgive me, Heavenly Father.

"Sara. Sara!" She felt a firm hand on her arm, shaking her. She opened her eyes to see the outline of Ashley in the dim light.

Sara gripped Ashley's hand. "Did you talk to Cameron?"

Ashley nodded, smiling. "He wasn't surprised, Sara. Can you believe that? I was afraid for nothing. We prayed together, and read scriptures together, and I get to spend time like that with him every week for a while. I feel like dancing!"

Sara wished she felt like dancing. She smiled, despite her dreary mood, as Ashley pulled her to sitting position. Sara's headache had faded to mere tightness at her temples, but queasiness still gnawed at her chest. "Then dance! Take your music to the dining hall and have a party!"

"Actually, that's an excellent idea. Sara, you promised me you would propose to Cameron tonight. He's waiting for you outside." Ashley reached into one of Sara's crates and removed a brush.

"You didn't tell him I'm going to propose to him, did you?"

"Of course not, stupid!" Ashley said as she brushed Sara's hair. "He's just dying to see you. And worried, too. When you didn't come to dinner, I had to tell him you weren't feeling well." Ashley dropped the brush back into the crate, then rummaged around in it, looking for something else.

"What are you doing?"

"Looking for this!" Ashley held up Sara's Navy shirt. "Wear this tonight. It'll remind Cameron of all the guys you didn't kiss and the one guy whose kisses made you want to throw up! I must have spent ten minutes educating him on the fact that only one in a million women would ever be that loyal and pure and that he doesn't appreciate you nearly enough!"

Sara pulled the BYU T-shirt she was wearing over her head and slipped into the Navy shirt. "I've never been sure whether it was loyalty or just plain silliness!" After changing shirts and having her hair brushed, she did feel fresher and more ready to see Cameron.

As Sara walked through the dormitory, passing all of the mattresses on the floor with their jumbled bedcovers, she felt as if she were walking through a wall of glass. The fantasy planet Eden shattered, shards of Ben's vision of Zion crashing on the floor all around her.

She emerged on a planet of shadow, terraformed by a strange foreign government and abandoned for some mysterious reason, a planet that had seemed to throw a tantrum when the colonists broke the Sabbath. What would it do if it heard the Lord's name taken in vain? Or witnessed an immoral act? Did it understand their language? If Sara told the other colonists what she knew, they would think she was crazy! What kind of nightmare was she living in?

Sara paused for a moment in the doorway of the dormitory, gazing at Cameron in the waning light of the sun. He waited for her under their tree. When he saw her, he arose from his camp chair and looked at her with expectation. His eyes lingered over the word "Navy," his mouth unable to contain a smile of possessiveness and awe.

He was luminous in this world of shadow, and love for him overwhelmed her, embellished with gratitude, penetrating to her very bones, it seemed. She yearned to wrap herself around him, body and spirit, and soothe away his loneliness and grief, and suddenly she felt afraid.

All things considered, Cameron had been very reserved with her. He was an emotional person and far more vulnerable than he appeared. Sara had a feeling she had felt only a trickle of his passion, a few droplets he had carefully chosen, not just because he didn't want to force his understanding and will on her, but because he didn't trust himself to let down his guard too much.

When he started seriously confiding in her, that passion would burst out in a gush and she wouldn't be able to stop herself from responding to it with ardor that equaled his. Under those circumstances, how long could they keep their relationship on a wholesome plane? Too many beautiful, secluded places surrounded them. It would be too easy to be intimate. And if that happened prematurely, the colony would lose their bishop and fall into ruin.

Sara pondered the memories she had dreamed that evening of her father. What had seemed to her and her brothers and sisters to be a ridiculous first date, which they loved to tease their parents about, made perfect sense now. Her father had asked their mother to have dinner at his house with him and the missionaries, not so much because being alone with her in the house might have given his neighbors the wrong idea, but because he hadn't trusted himself to be alone with her. When her father had warned her against putting off marrying Cameron once the decision was made, he had spoken with understanding that had come from similar experience. Sara had no doubt he had spoken through inspiration also.

As Sara gazed at Cameron waiting for her in their designated date spot, watching her with such hope and apprehension, she knew what she had to do. The decision to marry had been made. She wasn't going to change her mind and neither would Cameron. Cameron was under a lot of pressure, and she had the power to either intensify it or do a great deal to relieve it. She was done making mistakes. This was one thing she would do right, as insane as it seemed.

Sara sprinted to Cameron and threw herself at him. He received her into his arms eagerly, pressing her close and kissing her again and again. Between kisses she managed to ask, "Will you . . . marry me . . . tomorrow?"

 

Chapter 20: CAMERON CONFIDES

Cameron withdrew from Sara slightly and gazed down at her in surprise. "Tomorrow?"

"You don't think it's feasible?"

"Actually, I don't. My father will insist on giving us intensive premarital counseling before he will agree to marry us. You know he'll make us talk about all kinds of things. I would rather we discuss as many of those issues as we can think of alone before we have to endure that meeting."

In her eagerness Sara hadn't thought of that. "You're right. Tomorrow's too soon. How long do you think it will take to work everything out?"

"I have no idea. The one good thing, though, is that my father has a lot of confidence in himself as a facilitator. If he believes he's molded us into an effective team, we won't have to wait too long. Not only that, but the colony will accept his decision and support us."

"So do you think a week is feasible? Next Monday, maybe?"

"Perhaps. Are you absolutely sure you want to be married that soon?"

"It's what I want and what you need. Yes, I'm sure."

Cameron's entire body relaxed in a giant shiver of relief. "Thank you, Sara," he whispered, lifting his fingers to her cheek.

"I love you, Cameron. Thank you for being my rescuer, my most devoted knight."

Cameron smiled--not the sad smile she had seen on his lips so often but a smile of bliss. "You're most welcome, my beloved queen."

Sara kissed Cameron, then embraced him tightly, speaking softly into his ear, "Will you tell me now about your meeting with the prophet? And what you talked about with my father? It must have been some conversation because my father knew I would marry you. He even gave me his wedding ring from my mother to give to you!"

"Really?" Cameron said in delight, releasing Sara and sitting her down in the camp chair. "He's so awesome!" He moved his own chair as close to her as he could manage and sat down facing her, interlocking his knees with hers and taking her hands in his. "I'm glad it worked out that I was able to talk to him. I needed it and he deserved it."

Sara still felt sick. "He did deserve it. I treated him so cruelly." She bowed her head, unable to meet Cameron's gaze. "I've been such a disrespectful fool, and now I can't even apologize."

Sara felt Cameron's fingers caress her chin, gently lifting her head so that he could look solemnly into her eyes. "Then make your apologies to the Father who is available to you now."

"Do you really think that will be enough?"

"For now. Neither father wants you to torture yourself forever."

"Will it be possible for either one of us to be happy here, Cameron?"

"A month ago, I would have said no. Now . . ." Cameron nodded reflectively. "I think so." His fingers moved from her chin to her cheek and into her hair. He touched his lips to hers softly. "I love you, Sara, and I'm happy. For the first time I believe I can accomplish my mission here, and I'm content."

"But I have no mission here," Sara said ruefully. "I should be home, in Maryland, preparing to move with my family."

"We should both be home in Maryland, but the fact is, my parents made some decisions that affected us both."

"I don't blame your parents. I'll take responsibility for my own mistakes."

"I'm not suggesting you shouldn't, but the fact remains that their actions have influenced us. After I saw you at the stake center that evening, I was really troubled. I couldn't understand how someone like you could have been so influenced by my father. In the couple of hours I slept that night, I had all kinds of strange dreams. In one of them, I was in a beautiful place full of light with all of the people I loved but one. You. So as often as I could, I would slip away and find you with all of the people you loved, and as I remained there with all of your people, I grew to love them as much as you did. Then I would get lonely for my own people and go home. Pretty soon, you would slip away and come to me."

Sara nodded slowly. "And I came to love your people, Ashley and your mother and father, and Adam and Brandon too. I think I understand." She knew that what Cameron believed was true. She had a relationship with Cameron and his family that had begun in the premortal existence.

"When I woke up, I wasn't baffled anymore, just sad at the waste. I understood why you were so drawn to them and they to you, and your presence in the colony made sense. So no, you shouldn't have come and neither should any of the others, but that doesn't mean the Lord doesn't have important things for you to do here. You've already done an incredible thing for Ashley."

Sara stroked the back of Cameron's hand. "And she's done an incredible thing for me. Without her insight, I don't know how long it would have taken me to realize you came to Eden for me."

"We're a strange couple, you see. I came here for you, but you've given me the belief in myself that allows me to be here for you and the others. So don't tell me you have no mission on Eden. I don't believe it."

"You do make me feel a little better. How can I possibly stay in despair when someone like you has so much faith in me?"

"I have to have faith in you, Sara. Without you, I'm lost. I've been praying desperately for the haze to lift from your mind. I'm just sorry it's causing you so much pain."

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were being selfish."

"I am being selfish," Cameron admitted. "I wanted you to throw off your illusions as much for myself as for you. I can't do what I have to do here without at least one person who completely believes in me. And the prophet did promise me support in the form of a wife."

"Hey you guys!" Ashley called. "Come dance with us!"

Sara leaned back in her chair. "So you are going to have a dance," she said as Ashley, Samantha, and Tony approached them.

"We're going to dance until we pass out!" Samantha said.

"Everyone's restless," Tony agreed. "We need this."

"Maybe we'll come later," Cameron said. "We have a lot to talk about first."

The thought of Ashley, Samantha, and Tony blasting music in the dining hall bothered Sara. "Just promise you won't play any songs that are bad, will you?"

"We wouldn't do that, Sara," Ashley said, hurt.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I don't mean bad bad. I mean be careful and don't play songs that have even one bad word in them. You know how easy it is to get numb to just one little bad word in a song."

Samantha looked at Sara strangely. "You're afraid we'll have another storm, aren't you."

"Aren't you?"

"A little," Samantha admitted. "But one bad word in a song is hardly in the same category as breaking the Sabbath."

"And this isn't Earth," Sara countered. "We don't know what the rules are here."

"We'll be careful, Sara," Tony assured. "We promise."

"We'll see you guys later," Cameron said, waving them away. Ashley and Samantha laughed at Cameron's anxiousness to get rid of them and hurried off with Tony. Once they were gone, Cameron looked at Sara penetratingly. "What haven't you told me? About Eden?"

Sara told Cameron everything her father had told her. She hadn't meant to keep it from him, but they had so much to talk about and so little time for private conversations. "What he told me was so farfetched I only half believed it until the storm hit yesterday. Since then, I've thought of it almost as much as I've thought about you."

"So you think the planet-spirit may be reacting to our unrighteous behavior."

"I think it's a good possibility. The first rain storm came after an argument, and the second came after we broke the Sabbath. Remember in the book of Moses? When Enoch heard the voice of the earth?"

Cameron nodded. "The earth was weary because of all the wickedness and longed to be sanctified."

"The way I see it, if the earth can perceive wickedness on its face, so can Eden."

"You were right to be worried about the content of the music Ashley planned to play. I've known all along this planet is cursed, but this puts everything in a new light. I need time to think about this."

"That's fine, as long as it isn't now!" Sara tapped the back of Cameron's hand. "You still haven't told me about your meeting with the prophet!"

The corner of Cameron's rose in an impish way. "Maybe we should go dancing instead."

"This is one time I sincerely don't want to dance."

"I know. Neither do I." Cameron's face sobered. "He told me the Lord was calling me on another mission, a mission to save my family, and extended this calling to me. I told him there was no way I could do it. In a way I wanted to do it, because I could see it was needed, and I certainly didn't want to say no to the Lord, but I couldn't comprehend how I could possibly do any good here."

"Did you tell him why you felt that way?"

"I told him all kinds of things. Basically, my parents have their own way of thinking. When I do or say something that deviates from that, they ignore me or tell me to grow up. Why should I think that would change?"

"Being a bishop, though, is different from being a little boy in your parents' home. Your parents may brush you off, but others will listen. Me, for instance."

Cameron nodded. "President Morley said the same thing. He told me that the colonists were basically good people who were temporarily blind. They just needed a discerning priesthood leader to show them how to get back on track. Some would take direction, and some would not. He didn't say whether my father would be one who would ever take direction, but he did tell me that he wasn't willing to give up yet on my father."

"Is that why your father was never excommunicated?"

"Yes. Apparently his priesthood leaders have never felt good about calling a court on him. The prophet didn't feel good about it either. He explained that, under the circumstances, any judgment rendered by a stake court could be permanent, at least for this life, since once my father left Earth, he might not live long enough to return to Zion to have his blessings restored."

"The Church really does mean to abandon the colony then," Sara said. She still found it difficult to believe.

"No. My presence here is proof that the Church didn't want to abandon the colony. What has happened, however, is that the colony has, in a literal way, abandoned the Church. And yes, the prophet told me that he believed most of the colonists would follow my father to Eden even if he were excommunicated."

Sara wondered what she would have done. She truly didn't know. "I'm relieved it never came to that. Did the prophet say anything else about it?"

"He told me that if the Church didn't organize a ward here, the colony would either destroy itself or fall into darkness as the descendants of Laman and Lemuel did when they were cut off. Unlike the Lamanites, however, the Eden Colony would never have contact with the Church on Earth again."

"The prophet seriously doesn't expect to have any kind of contact with us until you lead the colony back to the New Jerusalem? How can that be?"

"Think about what your father told you, Sara," Cameron said gently. "He said the Zarrists were pirates, didn't he?"

Sara nodded. "And that they are enemies to Novaun."

"Novaun. A galactic Zion of two thousand planets. Think about what the scriptures say about nations that fight against Zion."

"You're right. Novaun could crush Earth if it wanted to." The thought had never occurred to her.

"Probably so, and it's the only galactic power that you and I know about. Zarr must have other enemies. What happens if a stronger galactic power comes after him and he goes to war? He might completely forget about us. Not only that, but on Earth itself, what if Zarr goes to war against the Church and its allies in the Cooperative Communities? I have to believe that the Temple/Cooperative Communities are destined to become municipalities in a larger Zion community."

"So do I. I've believed that all along. It's terribly exciting!"

"It is exciting. And considering the prophecies, I don't think there's any chance Zarr could wound the Zion municipalities, but such a situation would definitely change things on Earth."

"And perhaps make it impossible to get back to a temple community. My parents do believe that all of the communities established by the Church and other members of the Guardians of Earth's Governments are on the verge of isolating themselves." Why hadn't she believed them?

"I don't know the details of how it has happened or will happen, but I do know that we're stranded."

"For how long, do you think?"

Cameron shrugged. "If we're lucky, fifteen or twenty years. It could be as long as fifty. That's why the presidencies were organized with five counselors instead of two and why most of the men are young."

It all made a horrible kind of sense. Sara felt the Lord's mercy on the colony keenly, gratitude overwhelming her. "You're relieved, then, that your father wasn't excommunicated or even disfellowshipped."

"Extremely. At the same time, though, I have to deal with him. I gave my excuses to President Morley, and he listened patiently. Then he said in that kind but very firm way he has, 'The Lord knows all of that, Cameron, and He still wants you to be the bishop of the Eden Colony Ward. He trusts you and knows you won't fail him. The task before you will be difficult, but the Lord will help you and your wife will give you strength.'"

Sara squeezed his hands. "What did you say to that?"

"I was stunned, let me tell you. All I could say was a very weak, 'My wife?' He said, 'Yes. Just think of it, on this mission, you can have a wife and children.' I said, and please don't be offended, Sara, 'I don't know how I could possibly fall in love with a woman so dense she would follow my father.'"

Cameron's comment made Sara feel strange, and yet she understood. "I'm not offended, but I am glad you didn't tell me that four weeks ago."

"I may be a fanatic, but I'm not suicidal!"

"So what did the prophet say after that?" Sara asked eagerly.

"He laughed at me and said, 'That won't be a problem. There's a young woman among the colonists whom you will want very much to make your wife. If you don't go to Eden and bring her back to Zion, you will regret it forever.'"

"So you finally agreed to the call."

"Yes. I didn't see much of a choice at that point. I didn't completely believe what the prophet told me, but I wanted to believe, and that was enough. I couldn't help but think of you, and I knew that if you were going to Eden, I would accept the calling and go to your rescue without thinking twice about it. I realized that if I was willing to go into hell for a fantasy woman (because I didn't really know you), I ought to be willing to do the same for the real woman who would be my wife."

"It never occurred to you that I really might be going?"

"Not for a second."

"Did President Morley tell you anything else about me?"

"No, but to make matters worse, he did tell me that a bishop should have a wife and that I should get married as soon as I could."

"He was right."

"I know he was right, and I knew it then, but the only thing I could think of at the time was: The prophet has just given me an impossible mission and now he's telling me that, on top of everything else, I have to date? To tell you the truth, it sounded like torture."

Sara caressed Cameron's cheek and kissed him. "Yeah, I'd say it's torture!"

 Cameron pulled Sara out of her chair and into his lap, pressing her close, returning her kiss with zeal. "You can torture me all you like!"

Sara couldn't resist. "Even though I'm dense?"

"The prophet did laugh at me. It is funny, really. I don't think a mere five minutes passed from the time we first spoke to each other before everything was decided between us." He kissed her again and again.

"Why did you hold my hand that evening at the stake center? If I hadn't loved it so much, I would have thought you were shameless!"

"I couldn't exactly help myself. I was already so in love with you that I wasn't about to wait around another six years, or even six days, for you to make the first move, and remember, I had an intense feeling right away that you loved me as much as I loved you. Not only that, but I didn't want to give you a chance to even look at any of the other guys in the colony."

"You were a little late in that department since I'd already met quite a few of them, but it hardly mattered! All you have to do is smile at me and I melt. I can't resist you."

"I know. I still have a hard time believing it! Who would have ever thought it?"

Sara slipped out of Cameron's arms and moved her chair so that it was next to his but pointed in the opposite direction. "If you had said 'hi' to me once or even acted like you were aware of me, you would have known!"

"I couldn't have done that. I was too hurt. I tortured myself wondering what you didn't like about me."

Sara sat down facing Cameron, leaning into his arms as well as she could. "That makes no sense. How can you be so modest? You're so gorgeous you had girls falling all over you. Don't you think for a moment that I didn't notice!"

"They weren't you. Even when I was on my mission I couldn't get you out of my mind. After I had been out for a while, I promised myself that when I got home, I would find you, and if you weren't married, I was going to ask you out."

It was such a wonderful thought that Sara could scarcely believe it. "Seriously?"

"Absolutely. You were unfinished business. Somewhere along the line, I realized there was nothing wrong with me, nothing you could have known about anyway, and that the worst thing that could happen if I asked you out would be for you to say no. In that case, I planned to ask you what you didn't like about me. So you see, whether you said yes or no, I would have had resolution."

"I doubt I would have said anything. All I would have had to hear was, 'This is Cameron Carroll,' and I would have passed out in shock!"

"You did look as if you would pass out when you saw me standing there next to my mother."

"I almost turned around and ran. Why didn't you call me, Cameron?"

"Because once I accepted the calling, I knew there could never be anything between us. You were as good as dead to me, and seeing you or even talking to you would have been too painful. Imagine my feelings when I first saw your father in the temple."

"Did the two of you recognize each other right away?"

"Yes. You look so much like him, and he does wear a name tag, and when a time came that I had to tell him my name, he already knew it. That surprised me, and he could see that it did, but he just smiled and sent me off. We didn't get a chance to talk, though, until later. It was really weird. Wherever I went in the temple, he was there."

"That is weird, Cameron."

"He thought so too, because when I saw him in the hall after a session, he smiled at me in a really mischievous way and asked, 'Are you following me, Elder Carroll?' Hearing him call me 'Elder Carroll' felt really good, but I didn't like the idea of being on such formal terms with him, so I asked him to call me 'Cameron.' I knew then that he probably remembered me from all of the track meets, so it only seemed right that I find a way to ask about you."

"That must have been awkward."

"It should have been, but it wasn't. I just asked if you were still running. He told me a little about the things you were doing, and since his shift was over, he offered to buy me lunch."

Sara couldn't stop herself from asking: "He didn't actually eat the cafeteria food, did he?" She couldn't believe that even the temple made her father feel that safe.

"No. But he did have a can of soda. It didn't seem strange, though, because he was so friendly and made me feel comfortable. He asked me questions about my mission and wanted to know how long I had been home. I told him I had spent some time with my grandmother in Utah before returning to Maryland."

"He must have asked you what your plans were. Did you tell him right then and there?"

"I did. It popped right out before I even knew what I was saying. 'My family is going to an accursed planet named Eden, and I've been called on a mission to save them.' He was so shocked I thought he would fall out of the chair."

"Shocked? My father? I wish I could have seen that. Nothing gets to him."

"Well, this did. He stared at me and asked, 'What do you mean?' So I told him about my wonderful new calling and expressed my desire to be dead instead. I was so comfortable I felt punchy. I didn't tell him much more about it at that time, but he did ask if I had told my parents yet. I said no, that I needed a week in the temple before I could even consider facing that challenge. I stood up to leave, thanked him for lunch, and told him I would see him again the next day."

"That was it?"

"For Day One, yes. On Day Two, it was the same thing all over again. Wherever I went, he was there. Eventually I went up to do sealings. I hadn't witnessed a sealing in English yet, but I wanted to memorize the words so that I could think of them in the time to come. Still, I was very nervous about it, which was why I hadn't done any sealings the day before. I was afraid the knowledge that my wife and children wouldn't be sealed to me for many years, perhaps decades, would weigh too heavily on me and that I would lose it."

"Did you?"

"I was all right for the first set, sort of, when I was acting as witness and your father was a proxy. Then it was my turn to be a proxy, I started shaking, and then my eyes so filled with tears that I went blind. Before the sealer could complete the ordinance, I had collapsed on the altar, sobbing. It was horrible."

"Were you able to pull yourself together and finish the sealings?"

Cameron shook his head. "Someone was going to call President Walden, and I heard your father say that he knew me and had some idea of why I was troubled. He would talk to me. He helped me stand up and walked me down the hall and into what looked like a big waiting room.

"He sat me down on a couch and put his arm around me, and I babbled on and on about how I had been born in the covenant and that now my parents had jumped off the edge of a cliff and had taken my brothers and sister with them. My parents hadn't been with me when I was endowed. My eternal family was falling apart, and now I couldn't even have my own temple marriage. I went on and on and on.

"Eventually I had no more to say, and I leaned back, drained. That was when your father began telling me the story of Enoch. He recited it as if a copy of the Pearl of Great Price was open on his lap and he was reading it word for word. 'Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant? And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good . . .'

"You are like Enoch," Sara said softly. "The Lord must have a lot of confidence in you."

"I know," Cameron whispered. "When your father was finished telling me the story of Enoch, I felt it. I realized that I might not be a prophet, but I am the Lord's servant, and He would take care of me. After that, your father began asking me questions, and we were able to discuss my situation rationally."

"He gave you advice?" Sara said in surprise. "I didn't think ordinance workers were supposed to do that."

"No, he really didn't give me advice, but he did make some observations that made me feel better, particularly with regard to marriage."

"Actually, my dad's an expert on marriage. He's done it twice. Successfully."

"He told me about both of your mothers. He said he had known his first wife for as long as he could remember. He grew to love her so gradually that he couldn't pinpoint when exactly it had happened. When they both realized that neither one of them wanted to see other people, they began discussing marriage. With his second wife, though, it was different."

"He knew he loved her the first time she spoke to him."

"He said the situation he was in at the time was bizarre. Not quite as strange as the one I was going into, but bizarre all the same. Now that I know about Novaun, I would disagree with him on that point."

"His situation at the time was bizarre," Sara agreed. "He probably didn't tell you, but he didn't go anywhere without me."

"He must have been afraid someone would give you something to eat that would kill you."

"He was, and he's still paranoid about it."

"He said it had never entered his mind that he should get married at that time. Apparently, some of the women in the ward suggested he should date and even introduced him to unmarried women."

"No way! He never told us that!"

"He was so annoyed by it that he was actually rude a couple of times; the thought of dating was outrageous. If he hadn't had such a strong feeling about your mother from the beginning, he would never have pursued a relationship with her. The knowledge that he should marry her came to him like a testimony of the gospel comes to a new convert, sudden and thrilling in its intensity. The knowledge that he should marry his first wife came to him like a testimony comes to a life-long member, gradual and powerful in its solidity. He believes that as long as the commitment is there, both methods are equally valid."

"Perfect analogy for a guy who just got off his mission."

"I thought so."

"So he believed you would have a new convert kind of experience with your future wife."

"He wasn't certain about it by any means, but he thought it was possible. He believed I should take President Morley at his word. The Lord wanted me to get married as soon as possible and I should have faith that He would give me a wife. We both agreed that I was going into a situation where it would be impossible to date in the usual sense. We also both agreed that I couldn't be alone with young women at all. In the eyes of the colonists, my position would be dubious enough. I couldn't do anything that would put even a glimmer of a thought into anyone's mind that there might be something inappropriate going on. Your father and I also agreed that life with my parents would certainly get more difficult rather than less so. He suggested that finding a wife might be one area of my life that would actually work out well right now."

"I wonder if he had any idea then that I would be your wife."

"He knew it when you and I were introduced. So did your mother. I could see it in their eyes. Whether your father knew it or even suspected that day in the temple, though, I have no idea. After our conversation, I was so filled with hope that I actually managed to do some sealings afterwards. I saw your father off and on all week long. On Friday, after his shift was over, we even did an endowment session together."

"Did you talk about me at all?"

"Except for our greeting on the first day, no. I would have liked to ask him more about you, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Every now and then I hoped he would invite me to your house for dinner or something, and then I would get to see you."

"That would have been weird!"

"I'm glad he didn't, because I wouldn't have been able to resist the invitation, and then I would have spent the rest of the week trying to talk you out of going to Eden. By the time we actually got here, you would have hated me."

"If you knew right away you wanted to marry me, why did you try to talk me out of coming?"

"I wouldn't have been able to live with myself had I not tried. After you berated me, I didn't know what to do. My prayer was desperate: I love Sara, but I can't have a wife who fights me. What am I supposed to do? The answer was immediate: Shower her with all of the love you feel, and she'll turn right around."

"So that's the real reason you held my hand that evening at the stake center," Sara teased.

"What can I say? The Spirit made me do it." Cameron removed the phone from his belt and began punching buttons.

"What are you doing?"

"Calling my father." He smiled seductively, stroking her arm with his free hand. "I want you, and I want you now!"

Sara would have kissed him had she not been so nervous. She didn't think it was ten o'clock yet. Perhaps she and Cameron could talk to his parents that night.

Cameron didn't waste any time telling his father what he wanted. "Sara and I are engaged. We would like to get married tomorrow." He shrugged at Sara and mouthed the words: "It doesn't hurt to try!"

Cameron pushed the button to end the call with a flourish. "Well, he wants to see us immediately. Says we're in dire need of counseling."

"Did he say it in a, 'Congratulations! Let's work out the details,' tone or a, 'You kids are crazy!' tone?"

Cameron laughed a little. "What do you think?"

"What are we going to say to them?"

"I think it's time we tell them the truth. The complete truth."

 

Chapter 21: BEN SPEAKS

Cameron persuaded Sara to have some soup and toast at the dining hall. They announced their engagement to cheers and applause, then invited Cameron's mother to walk back to the house with them.

"Your father wants to talk with you alone," Barbara explained.

"Why?"

"I assume he doesn't want distractions."

"That's ridiculous! My own mother can hardly be a distraction! You need to be a part of this too. Come on."

"He's the facilitator, not I."

"We don't need to talk to a facilitator, we need parents, a father and a mother. I want you to come with us." Barbara shook her head and Cameron gave up and left with Sara alone.

"Why wouldn't he want your mother to be there too?" Sara asked.

"Because he wants complete control over the discussion and any decisions that come out of it."

"It's hard for me to believe your mother doesn't see that. I can't believe she puts up with it."

Cameron appeared troubled. "She either doesn't care or she doesn't want Father to think she cares. I wonder why. This isn't like her."

Wariness crept through Sara. Perhaps Ben and Barbara's marriage wasn't as normal as she had always believed. She wondered what Cameron thought about it. "It's strange that your parents wouldn't want to be together at a time like this. They're acting as if they aren't even married. Am I making any sense at all?"

"Perfect sense. They seem disconnected to me too."

Sara hardly dared ask: "Have they always been that way?" Why did this new knowledge bother her?

"No. When I was a child, they were very close; I'm sure of it. Somewhere along the line, though, when I was in high school I think, I became aware that things weren't right. I felt as if I were living in a house built of modeling blocks. From a distance the house was grand and glorious looking, or must have been, because so many people told me how beautiful it was. But I was in the middle of it, and I could see that it was just little plastic blocks, and I was afraid that if it were dropped or tossed this way or that it would break completely apart."

The ache in Sara's chest returned. "You make me ashamed of myself, Cameron. I was as taken in by the block house as anyone. If I hadn't been so awed by it, we would have become friends a long time ago, and maybe you wouldn't have felt so insecure and trapped."

"Your friendship would have meant everything to me," Cameron said softly. "Just as your love means everything to me now. I don't want us to end up disconnected like my parents. I would be desperately lonely and unhappy."

"So would I." Wanting to comfort Cameron a little and cheer him up, Sara darted into his path, turnin