Copyright (C) 2003 by Katherine Padilla. This sample is published by Novaun Novels at www.zerosilver.com and 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.
FALL TO EDEN
By Katherine Padilla
Book 1 of
DOMINION OVER THE EARTH
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 na´ve." 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!"
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."
"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 na´ve. 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.
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."
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.
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?"
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."
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?"
"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 fiancÚ before you marry him. Would this strong feeling be from God?"
"Of course 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."
"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 fiancÚ 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?"
"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?"
"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?"
"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?"