Prologue: THE INVISIBLE WOMAN

When the Washington, D.C. Spaceport received the message to evacuate all non-essential citizens to the Nation’s resort in the Grand Teton National Park, environmental technician Varia Day worked to repair an Awareness monitor that was used to examine luggage from the inside out.

Varia didn’t leave with the first group, or with the second, or even the third. She had no desire to wait out the invasion in the mountains, where there was nothing to do but watch wildlife graze and snow fall. In Washington, D.C., at least, she could use her skills to ensure the survival of the Holy Nation of the Son of God.

She would give her life without hesitation for this righteous cause, just as her parents had and their parents also. An only child of only children, Varia had no one waiting for her in Teton Colony. She had been alone since the last invasion three and a half years before, the one that had sent her parents to the World Beyond the Stars. If she died doing her duty, no one would mourn.

The last airbus to head west left the spaceport the morning before Admirals Nexyun and Jaxzeran were due to attack, and all commercial flights out of the area had been cancelled. The only vehicles that would leave during those final hours would be shuttles carrying Star Force personnel to the fleet. Since the Tryamazz Spaceport was still not fully operational, this was no small number.

Varia had heard that even the Divine Prince Jahnzel would travel to his flagship via Washington, D.C. Prince Jahnzel walked into the control center while she worked with a team of technicians to test the readiness of all communication devices. All of the technicians arose when they saw him and stood at attention.

“Petty Officer Trinaav!” Prince Jahnzel cried. “Why hasn’t this young civilian woman been evacuated to Teton Colony?”

Panic gripped Varia. Certainly Prince Jahnzel meant someone else. Her steel gray jumpsuit had no Star Force patch on the breast or rank patches on the shoulder, but it was in every other way the same as those of the other technicians. There was no reason he should have noticed her. She held her breath, wondering what reason Trinaav would give for her presence.

“Technician Day refuses to leave, my Prince.”

He really was talking about her. Her cheeks grew hot, shame shadowing the panic, but she continued to stare straight ahead. An environmental technician’s job was to keep ships and now spaceports operating so smoothly that no one would ever have a reason to complain, and the most effective way to do that was to do one’s duty quickly, efficiently, and more silently than the hum of an engine. Varia worked as if she were a machine, and one didn’t notice a machine unless it malfunctioned.

Prince Jahnzel and the men in his guard approached her in a blur of purple, white, and wine red. “Relax, Technician Day, and look at me.”

His voice was a beautiful baritone and would have been pleasant to listen to had it not been directed at her. Varia couldn’t relax, but she did allow her eyes to focus on Prince Jahnzel. She had never seen him this close and couldn’t help but be awestruck. He smiled, his deep green eyes appearing worried but kind.

“Why do you remain in Washington, D.C., Technician Day?”

“To do my duty, my Prince.”

“If you are so determined to make the spaceport’s readiness your duty, why have you not enlisted in Star Force?”

“I am forbidden by law, my Prince. I am the only surviving member of my family left in the Nation.”

“Then your duty, Technician Day, is to live, and if you stay here, you will become a target.”

“The last airbus has already left, my Prince.”

“That doesn’t matter. Get as far away from the spaceport as you can in the time left and take cover.”

Prince Jahnzel’s words horrified Varia. She cast away all dignity and begged, “Please let me stay, my Prince. There is so much to do, and I can help!”

He grabbed her hands and squeezed, his face resolute. “There are too few of us left; we can’t throw away lives needlessly. You must live, Technician Day. I’m going to lose too many warriors in this battle as it is. Don’t give me another death to mourn. Go now.” He released her hands and waved his own in the direction of the exit.

The words sent a thrill of joy through Varia, making her tingle all over. Not only did Prince Jahnzel want her to live, he would mourn her death. Could there ever be a Divine Prince as compassionate and charismatic as this? No wonder everyone loved him! Here was a man who would lead their people to safety.

The only place Varia could think of where she could wait out the invasion was in D.C. under the mysterious light. “Thank you, my Prince. I’ll live. I promise.”

Prince Jahnzel nodded and turned away. Varia hurried out of the spaceport and went to her dormitory, her mind racing through all of the possible modes of transportation. The metro trains had come out of the city the day the light had descended and had not returned. Since all of their routes required them to go through the city, they weren’t running at all. Many buses were still running, but their schedules and routes were confused. Varia hadn’t heard whether taxis were still in business and decided that was a good sign. Perhaps she could hire a taxi to take her to the border of the light.

Varia made a phone call and learned that she could, indeed, hire a taxi, but that the rates had gone up. While she waited, she synthesized an emergency kit and changed into trousers, a cotton shirt, and hiking boots. When everything was synthesized, Varia loaded it into a backpack and went to meet the taxi.

“Take me to the Sousa Bridge,” Varia told the driver.

“You’re the first person who’s asked me to drive them to that alien light,” the driver said as he pulled away from the curb. “I’ve driven plenty away from it.”

“You’ve made some good money, I imagine.”

“I sure have.”

Varia relaxed against the back of her seat, relieved the driver hadn’t asked her why she was going into the mysterious light. She wasn’t sure why she was going into it herself, except that she was sure it would be safer than the spaceport.

Varia understood, contrary to what those ignorant savages believed, that the light wasn’t a weapon engineered by Admirals Nexyun and Jaxzeran. If her Nation couldn’t build a light shield like that, then certainly those heathens Nexyun and Jaxzeran weren’t capable either. Even if they had developed such a shield, they would be using it to protect themselves, not the savages’ communities! Varia decided that if the light wasn’t a weapon developed by Nexyun and Jaxzeran, then perhaps it was a weapon that could be used against them.

Varia fiddled with the strap on her backpack, tapped her fingers on her thighs, and redid the braided bun in her hair. The light began growing in her mind after entering the District, even though she couldn’t see it yet. It burned through her with an odd sense of sweetness and warning. Somehow she knew that if she entered the light, her life would undergo a transformation. Was she ready for such personal upheaval?

Varia almost told the taxi driver to turn around and take her back to the spaceport, but her promise to Prince Jahnzel stopped her. If she wanted to live to provide posterity to the Nation, she had to venture into the light and face whatever great change waited for her there.

By the time Varia saw the uncharacteristic glow over the buildings, she felt the telepathic caress of Earth’s planet-spirit and was shocked. She wasn’t anywhere near arelada and shouldn’t have been able to feel the spirit or emotion of any person or creature, much less a planet-spirit, particularly one as silent and docile as Earth.

In the two years Varia had been a technician for the Divine One’s planetary repair team, Earth’s planet-spirit had never communicated an articulated thought or rebelled against the manipulations in any way. Most of the terraformers had been relieved their job repairing Earth’s land, bodies of water, and atmosphere had been so easy. Many had been bored and had eagerly accepted the assignment to go to the planet Eden and wrestle with a planet-spirit they knew would be unpredictable and interesting.

When the taxi pulled to the side of the street to let Varia out, Varia paid the driver, jumped out of the taxi, and ran to the bridge. Apparently everyone who had wanted to evacuate the light was gone. No vehicles of any kind traveled across the bridge in either direction, and she didn’t see any other pedestrians.

Varia shouldn’t have been able to feel Earth’s planet-spirit at all, but as she crossed into the light, what had been a mere caress blossomed into an embrace of joy. She stopped on the bridge, the Anacostia River rippling like strands of diamonds under her feet.

“You are so beautiful, Earth,” she whispered.

“So are you, Varia Day.” The voice was deep and motherly.

Varia glanced around to see who had spoken. Seeing that she was, indeed, alone on the bridge, she asked, “Is that you, Earth?”

“You may call me Crystal.”

“Planet-spirits aren’t supposed to be able to speak, only communicate telepathically.” And when they did communicate, they didn’t do so with mere technicians. Whether the terraforming job was large, small, complex or routine, the planet-spirit had only one point of contact while doing the work—the terradirector.

“I am able to do many things now that I could not do before.”

“What other new thing can you do?”

“You will see.”

“How do you know my name?”

“You are the essential one who tries to be invisible. You aren’t invisible to me.”

“It’s true that environmental technicians are essential, but we’re supposed to be invisible. The Divine One’s planetary repair team, in particular, was supposed to be invisible to the savages.”

“But you try to be invisible to everyone, even the others like you. Why?”

“If someone had noticed me, I might have been sent to Eden. I didn’t want to go there.”

“What is Eden?”

“A planet near the Erdean Portal that is fully functional but uninhabited. We believe this planet is rebellious and difficult to manage.”

“Why do you believe that?”

“Because it’s in an important place and, to our knowledge, people have never lived there. That doesn’t make sense unless the planet-spirit is dangerously rebellious.”

“Then why do your people want to go there at all?”

“The Divine One wants Eden as an outpost.”

“Do your people often encounter rebellious planets in their travels?”

“Sometimes, but usually not those so rebellious that people can’t live on them. Most of the planets we go to were terraformed by our own people many centuries ago, before the fall of our Home World. The people left long ago to join the fleets, so there is no one left to monitor the planet-spirits on a regular basis. If there were, they wouldn’t be rebellious.”

“Then why didn’t your people find a home on one of those planets?”

“We can only stop at those planets to lift resources.” Varia had assisted in that work during her apprenticeship. They could recycle the elements of their existence indefinitely in the synthesizers, but they couldn’t make new items out of nothing. Every time the rival fleets took or destroyed a ship, the Nation required metals for the new priming solution that would be used to manufacture parts to rebuild. “We had to abandon the last planet in our territory three and a half years ago; we’re too few in numbers to hold even that. Our enemies would destroy us.”

“What, then, makes your emperor think he can establish an outpost on Eden?”

“It’s on the frontier of Gudynea’s space territory. The rival fleets don’t go there very often. If the colony can survive the rebellious planet-spirit, it will have time to grow and become strong enough to fight the rival fleets.”

“But you just told Prince Jahnzel that you are ready to die. Why were you afraid to go to Eden?”

“I wasn’t afraid. I just wanted to stay here. You are beautiful, Crystal, and I trust you.”

“And I trust you, Varia Day.”

“You do?” It was such a strange thing for a planet-spirit to communicate to a mere technician, and Varia wondered what it meant. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because it is something that you need to know. I will be working with the angels presiding over your nation to help you fulfill your glorious mission.”

Varia was certain she hadn’t heard correctly. “Who do you mean by ‘you’?” Certainly the planet-spirit didn’t mean her personally. What kind of ‘mission’ could she have that would require the planet-spirit and angels to work together to help fulfill it? Crystal’s ‘you’ must mean the Nation.

When Crystal didn’t reply, she asked, “Are you the light?”

Crystal still didn’t reply, her telepathic embrace of joy dissipating into something more subtle, like a serene breeze, but Varia realized that she already knew the answer. Earth’s planet-spirit somehow was the light. Of course it was. Varia remained on the bridge a little longer, basking in the peaceful feeling that flowed through her, making her feel as if she were glowing. Eventually she pulled the map out of the backpack and started walking again toward the center of the city.

As she moved deeper into the city, she approached one of the neighborhoods renovated by the Guardians of Earth’s Governments. Seeing the solar panels on the roofs of the buildings glinting in the eerie light unnerved her a little. She and her compatriots had never been able to understand how so many of the savages had been able to reject the Nation’s technology in favor of primitive methods that weren’t nearly as reliable or cost effective. Washington, D.C., in fact, was no different from the other world capitals she had visited, in that the primitive fought with the modern and existed in as much force, creating an environment of extremes that she and her compatriots had never experienced in their space travels—even the rival fleets used the same advanced technology the Nation did.

The Nationalists installed solar panels on their homes and businesses while the Federalists renovated their buildings with synthesizing technology; the Nationalists planted gardens everywhere while the Federalists fed themselves with convenient synthesized food; the Nationalists pedaled themselves around their new cooperative communities on bicycles, while wealthy Federalists zipped around the city in aircars. Now, as Varia saw the solar panels everywhere and realized just how perfect this imperfect solar technology appeared to be for this new light environment, she wondered how the Guardians had known the light would come, because they had to have known—luck didn’t exist on that kind of scale.

Then again, the light came from spirit, not the sun. Perhaps the primitive solar technology didn’t respond to the spirit energy at all and worked only with the sun. Perhaps the Guardians hadn’t known the light would come any more than anyone else on the planet had.

The further into the city she walked, the more people she saw. They waved at her as she passed and sometimes conversed, eager to discuss this new phenomenon. Varia wondered whether the savages would be so friendly if they knew she was a Zarrist and decided it would be better not to enlighten them. Most believed the light had come from God to protect them from the invasion. It was a good enough explanation, and since the savages knew nothing about planet-spirits, Varia had no language to articulate a more detailed view of what was happening, even if she wished to do so.

The savages believed their theory was proved late that very afternoon when Nexyun and Jaxzeran invaded. Varia watched the combined rival fleets obliterate most of her Nation’s ships on a television in an abandoned red brick house she found on Capitol Hill. The residence had been renovated with a synthesizing system and, therefore, possessed all of the comforts to which she was accustomed. Eventually the television screen turned to white noise as the invading fleets destroyed the satellites orbiting the planet.

Grief overcame Varia as she thought about all of her compatriots who had died. As she mourned, a gentle voice whispered, “Trust Prince Jahnzel, Varia. With him lies the hope for your future. Pray for Prince Jahnzel, Varia.” The voice sounded like that of a man, not the planet-spirit. It had to be an angel or maybe God Himself, and Varia wondered why she had felt a spark of hesitation upon entering the light. This wasn’t personal upheaval; it was a personal miracle! How could God, even for a moment, believe that she might prefer to reject these wonderful gifts?

Varia did pray that Prince Jahnzel would survive the battle and salvage as much of Star Force as possible. Then she stepped outside with others in the neighborhood and watched as projectiles and laser blasts fell on the dome of light over their heads and dissipated on impact. As Varia witnessed this miracle, she, like the natives who had remained in the city, was filled with the understanding that God really had magnified Earth’s planet-spirit in this unprecedented way and that He was the source of the Light. People shouted with joy, wept, embraced, and thanked God that they and their homes were safe. Varia wept for the dead of her people and continued to pray for Prince Jahnzel. Very late, she returned to the house and slipped to sleep in a bed constructed of deep red-brown wood, her body exhausted but her mind charged.

She dreamed of a fortress-like white marble building with six gold spires rising out of the trees and walls between them that looked like battlements. A column of energy from the heavens pulsed into the building like a mammoth laser, making it glow like the sun. Amazed the building wasn’t being vaporized by this raw power, she looked more closely and saw that the heavenly energy flowed out of the building, deep into the planet itself, turning the stone under the Light into unadulterated crystal that freed the planet-spirit to radiate from the ground surrounding the fortress of God. The heavenly energy was so powerful that the crystal expanded away from the Light like roots did from a tree, forming a network of crystal threads under even the dark parts of the planet.

Dazed, Varia contemplated the implications of this wonder. Was the glory of God really coming from Heaven and using this grand building as a conduit? Was it really turning the earth into crystal? Why? It was all so bizarre and yet so wonderful! The Light wasn’t just hovering over the city, protecting people in a random way; it had a source and a focus and could be directed.

Even as Varia wondered if mere mortals could harness this kind of divine energy, she saw another vision, one of a huge white room with a high ceiling. Men and women of many ages, dressed in white, filled the room. Their eyes shone with the Light, and their voices combined with excitement and conviction as they sang:

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations rise;
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!

Varia puzzled over the phrase “Christ is born in Bethlehem,” but all of the references to angels made sense. She thought she could hear the voices of angels intertwined with those of the people in white. She opened her eyes wider and beheld that there were, indeed, other beings in the room singing, youthful men and women with flowing white hair, shimmering white robes, and countenances so luminous their skin, too, appeared white.

Following the eyes of the angels, Varia discovered that Christ Himself stood in the highest place, shining with the Light of Heaven. Varia dropped to her knees, awed by His brilliance. Her soul sang with the people of the Light:

Hail! The heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail! The Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Ris’n with healing in his wings . . .

The Lord floated upward through the ceiling, toward a blue sky laced with tree branches. He smiled at Varia and extended His arms, silky orange and black wings like those of a monarch butterfly forming behind Him. Out of His wings emerged twin angels with wavy, shoulder-length hair and luminous emerald green eyes.

Varia perceived that these men were angels with a particular mission to minister to her people, not the natives. During their mortal lives they had been noblemen of the Holy Nation of the Son of God. They had to be the ones who presided over her Nation, the ones to whom Crystal had referred. She arose and began bending her knees in a curtsy, but before she could complete the motion, the angel on the right said, “Please do not bow to us, Varia Day. We are your brothers.”

Startled, Varia realized that this was the voice that had urged her to pray for Prince Jahnzel. “You both look like my liege lord, the Divine Prince Jahnzel.”

“You have chosen your liege lord well, Varia,” said the angel on the left. “Jahnzel Zarr’s faith is true.”

The angel’s words confused Varia. “I did not choose him. He is of the Divine Blood.”

“His blood is no more divine than yours.”

“That can’t be true!”

“We speak the words of Christ and do not lie.” The angel’s tone was gentle, not offended.

“I’m sorry,” Varia responded, abashed.

“Jahnzel Zarr’s faith is true, but he is in danger of being destroyed by despair. You have a mission at this time to give him a reason to live.”

The request made no sense. “But there is no one lower in our Nation than those, like me, who were born to keep our ships habitable, and he is almost the highest. I have no power to do any such thing for him, even if I wanted to.”

Do you want to?”

The feeling that her life would undergo a transformation descended on Varia again, only this time, it nearly smothered her with the understanding that if she said yes, she would meet the prince again and he would yank away her comfortable cloak of invisibility as he had done on their first meeting, only this time, he would take it away forever. “I . . .”

“Well, do you?”

Varia almost turned to run, but an image of this brave and compassionate prince flooded her thoughts, and she found herself whispering instead, “Of course I do.”

“Keep praying for him, and you will be shown the way. Remember, his blood is no more divine than yours is.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will once you find the House of God.”

Excitement chased away Varia’s panic. They had to be talking about the fortress of Light! “Where is this ‘House of God’?”

Before either one of them could answer, the dream faded and Varia again found herself in the wood bed. As she awakened she knew that she had to find the “House of God” and, still a little stiff from the long walk into the city, didn’t want to do it on foot. She had seen many people on bicycles and thought that had to be a better way to explore the city. Even the Federalist owners of the home she was using had bicycles. She had never ridden one, but could it be that difficult?

After eating two of those delectable oranges the Federalist owners had in their house, despite the synthesizing machine they owned to produce food, Varia took a bicycle that looked as if it would fit her to the street and gave it a try. She tried it again and again. Every time she thought about giving up, she recalled all of the children she had seen riding the contraptions. If the savages’ children could ride these things, certainly she could! Eventually she figured out the balancing trick and rode around the block again and again to get used to it.

As Varia set out that morning, the image of the “House of God” refused to leave her mind. She spent many hours riding around the city and found nothing that even remotely resembled it. As the afternoon progressed, she noticed that everyone in the city seemed to be traveling east in automobiles, on bicycles, and on foot. This particular city often had the savages’ helicopters in the sky above it, but there seemed to be more than normal that afternoon. Curious, she almost followed the crowds to see what was going on, but something inside of her compelled her to keep searching for the “House of God” instead.

Frustrated that she couldn’t find it, she finally gave up for the day and began making her way back to the Federalist home on Capitol Hill. As she did, she approached several people and described the six-spired building to them.

“That sounds like the Mormon temple,” a woman on a bicycle told her.

“What is ‘Mormon’?”

“A religion.”

Suddenly Varia remembered, shocked, that the Mormons were some of the strongest supporters of the Guardians of Earth’s Governments. They hated her people and refused to have contact with them. How could they possess the building that was the source of the Light? Despite Varia’s uneasiness about the Mormons, she asked, “Where is this Mormon temple?”

“In Maryland. You can see it from the Beltway.”

“How do I get there?”

“There’s a trail behind Union Station, next to the tracks.”

“Where is Union Station?”

“On Massachusetts Avenue, just up the street.” The woman pointed in the direction Varia should go. “It’s a huge building with arches and pillars.”

Like so many other buildings in the city!

“You can’t miss it. Once you get on the trail, just follow the signs; it ends in Silver Spring. By the time you get there, the people you meet will know how to direct you to the temple.”

“How far is it?”

“Ten miles, maybe. If you don’t have to stop much, you could get there in about an hour.”

“Thank you!”

Varia easily found Union Station, just as the woman said she would, and then returned to the house. She fell asleep, exhausted, and dreamed of the white fortress again. The dream proceeded in the same way it had before, only this time, she asked the green-eyed angels, “How can the House of God be in the possession of people who hate our Nation?”

“The Mormons do not ‘hate’ our people, but they are right to avoid contact with them. Your nobles have telepathic powers they do not.”

“Members of the Nobility possess telepathic power to be sure, but they aren’t dangerous!”

“On the contrary; they are very dangerous.”

“If the Mormons believe our people are so dangerous, how will I ever persuade any of them to communicate with me?”

“Describe your vision of the House of God, then ask the question that is in your heart.”

The angels’ words bewildered Varia. “What question?”

But the dream ended, and Varia awoke. She did exactly what the woman the evening before had suggested and headed north from Union Station on the trail next to the tracks. Varia crossed the border into Maryland in about an hour, and the other bikers she met in Silver Spring did, indeed, know how to direct her to the “Mormon temple.” She didn’t see the gold spires through the trees until she was on Jones Mill Road. She crossed under the Beltway and rode up the hill, not stopping until she was directly in front of the Mormon temple. The United States flag flapped at half-staff in the breeze above her head.

Varia leaned over the handlebars, panting. She had almost expected angels to greet her with songs, but instead, no one appeared to be on the grounds. Being early winter, even the birds were scarce. Something seemed to be going on at the building directly to her left, but since it wasn’t the structure she had come ten miles to find, she decided not to investigate.

The temple itself was constructed of gold-flecked white marble, with gold spires reaching into the sky that were, indeed, connected by what appeared to be battlements. Varia could feel the Light emanating from it rather than see it with her eyes.

Once Varia’s breathing returned to normal, she approached the huge, gated doors and looked for some kind of buzzer or bell. Not finding one, she began walking around the temple in search of another door. As she walked, a middle-aged man wearing a gray wool coat approached her. “May I help you?”

“Do you work here?”

“Yes. I watch over the temple.”

The man’s words were so absurd that Varia protested, “But I thought angels guarded this fortress of God!”

The man smiled. “We mortals help where we can.”

Varia felt her cheeks grow warm. “I’m sorry. It’s just that . . .” She hesitated, remembering the counsel of the twin angels. Now that she was standing next to a tangible building talking to a mortal security guard, her dream of angels seemed outlandish. If she related it, would he think she was crazy?

As if in answer to her thoughts, the man asked, “What brings you to the temple, sister?”

Varia told him about her dream and sang the song the angels had sung in the mammoth white room in the temple. When she was finished singing the song, she recognized the question that was in her heart and asked, “What do the words ‘Christ was born in Bethlehem’ mean?”

Understanding lit the guard’s face. “You’re a Zarrist, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but I’m not dangerous! I’m of low rank and am forbidden to communicate telepathically unless I need to because of my job, I swear! Please tell me what it means that Christ is born in Bethlehem, because it doesn’t make sense, because Christ just is, He couldn’t have been born, could He?”

Compassion flowed into the man’s eyes. “How can it be that your people have been on Earth these three years and you haven’t learned the story of Christ’s birth?”

“Is it so common?”

The man nodded.

Varia sighed. “I studied your language, but not your holy writings. I was too busy with my work.”

The man patted her arm in a kind way. “It’s all right. Your questions will be answered.” He pointed in the direction of the busy building Varia had seen near the flag pole. “Your people are gathering at the visitors’ center.”

Varia almost didn’t believe it. “There are others?”

The guard began walking toward the visitors’ center. “Yes. They’ve been arriving since yesterday.”

Varia walked with the man. “How many?”

“I’ve lost count.”

“And your people don’t mind?”

“No, of course not. This is a unique situation.”

The guard left her at the visitors’ center in the care of a middle-aged woman. The woman took her into a room full of beautiful little icons, and Varia learned that the icon displays were representations of Christ’s birth from all over the planet. The story Varia heard of Christ’s birth awed her, and she went through the remaining displays at the visitors’ center wondering if the savages had any idea how blessed they were to have had Jesus Christ actually born on their planet.

Many of her people lingered at the visitors’ center, just as the temple guard had said, although Varia didn’t know anyone there. She learned that her people were gathering at the ambassador’s home in Chevy Chase and that aircars were shuttling people there. Since she had a bicycle and didn’t need the aircar, and since she wasn’t ready to leave the temple yet, she sat down in a chair in front of the large window looking out over the temple. Behind her stood a large statue of Christ, and she could see its reflection in the glass in front of her.

As Varia gazed at the reflection of Christ, thinking about everything she had learned and felt since she had come into the Light, the still, ethereal form of Christ solidified into a glorious, glowing, tangible Man. Men, women, and children dressed in archaic clothing gathered around Him, and Varia understood, astonished and thrilled, that somehow she was seeing the Ancient World Diron as it had been fifteen hundred years before when Christ had come down from Heaven and established His theocracy by taking Myri Preysou as His wife.

Throbbing with excitement, Varia scoured the multitudes for a sign of the Holy Wife. The Lord laid His hands on the head of a little girl and healed her broken arm, and then the crowd parted as a group of important-looking people approached, bearing a canopied stretcher.

The stretcher-bearers laid their burden on the ground at the Lord’s feet, while a woman dressed in a voluminous blue silk gown knelt before the Lord, weeping. “Please, Dear Lord, heal my sister. She was ill with the Fever and died this morning. She carries the babe of the late King Deryhan in her womb.”

The Lord parted the white satin curtains and looked upon the woman, smiling. “Arise, Queen Myri Preysou and be healed.”

How strange! Myri Preysou had been married to a King Deryhan during the Visit and had been carrying his baby? Why did history say nothing of this first husband and his child?

Riveted to the scene, Varia watched as the Holy Wife extended a fair hand through the curtain, followed by delicate feet in white slippers. She emerged carefully, her long, wavy blond hair draped down her back. Varia could see that she did, indeed, have a baby in her womb.The Holy Wife looked up at the Lord in gratitude, her eyes the same deep green possessed by so many of noble blood. She and her party worshiped at the Lord’s feet and departed only when He ascended into Heaven.

Varia watched Him return again and again, but except for that one time, the Lord did not converse with the Holy Wife. Varia waited to witness a marriage, but it never occurred. Instead, the Lord called twelve men, the “Chosen Witnesses,” to lead the church in His absence. He didn’t establish a new civil government at all.

Before Varia could ponder the implications of what she beheld, the Lord ascended to Heaven for good, and Time began moving at an accelerated pace. Varia watched Queen Myri Preysou and her entourage return to their kingdom and teach their people the words of Christ. Within two months, Queen Myri delivered twin sons—Zarr and Vahro.

The people of the land rejoiced at the births of Zarr and Vahro and dubbed them the “Miracle Princes.” Their mother taught them that they owed their lives to Jesus Christ, and as they grew into manhood, Varia recognized them as the twin angels who had emerged from the Lord’s wings. As Varia watched, her amazement increased. How had she, an orphan of low rank, become so privileged to receive two visits from the fathers of her Nation?

Zarr and Vahro became holy men who were both called to be Chosen Witnesses to replace two of the original men the Lord had called to lead the church. Since Zarr and Vahro’s ecclesiastical duties took the bulk of their time, Zarr’s eldest son acted as king. Under his reign the kingdom so flourished that all of Diron beheld in wonder and pronounced it blessed. Some even went so far as to say it was the most chosen of all kingdoms and that the Lord Himself could not have sired such holy children as Zarr and Vahro and their posterity.

When at age eighty Zarr and Vahro and their wives left the kingdom and never returned, leaving no evidence of their deaths, the people deduced that their “Miracle Princes” had been granted the gift of immortality and taken into the bosom of Jesus.

A hundred years after the departure of Zarr and Vahro, the people of the land were referring to them as the Immortal Princes and Queen Myri Preysou as the Blessed Mother. The kingdom spread as other nations were deceived into believing that the Zarrists’ “blessedness” gave them the right to rule all Dirons.

Five hundred years after the Visit, Myri Preysou had become the Holy Wife of Christ and had borne Him the Divine Sons Zarr and Vahro. The monarchy had evolved into a theocracy, and the kingdom had become an empire that governed the planet and was beginning to expand into space.

One thousand years after the Visit, the majority of Dirons rejected the Zarrist nobility’s claim to divinity and threw them out of power, breaking into many tiny nations once again.

Fifteen hundred years after the Visit, only a few thousand faithful citizens remained of the once glorious Holy Nation of the Son of God, and one of those faithful had been Varia Day.

 

Part 1: DESPERATE CIRCUMSTANCES

Chapter 1: MIND BOND

Saintess Myri Zarr-Vahro walked to the Divine Emperor’s office in Teton Palace, her heart fluttering with anxiety. No matter how often Jahnzel tried to convince her that they had nothing to fear, that they were for each other and always would be, Myri knew they would have to give each other up for the survival of their race. So many others had been invited to make this sacrifice, and the nation’s status had never been as grim as it was now.

As soon as Jahnzel emerged from his brother’s office, Myri knew they had argued. His face was flushed, his brow was damp with strain, and his eyes flashed with anger.

Dread nearly submerged Myri. How could he be angry about this request without being angry with God Himself? If anger sapped his faith, he would lose his divinity too. If a Divine Prince couldn’t remain faithful, their nation was doomed for sure!

Jahnzel clasped Myri in his arms. She tried to keep herself from becoming frantic but couldn’t. Please tell me that it isn’t what I suspect.

Jahnzel grunted. The great Lezz Zarr himself will tell you his plan.

Myri slid her fingers into his long brown curls one last time. Please don’t put it that way, darling. It makes you sound . . . blasphemous.

I’m not only a blasphemer, I’m a bona fide apostate.

Myri’s threw her arms around his neck. Don’t be stupid!

Myri felt his lips on her neck, then her cheeks. There are more choices than you realize, Myri. You can tell Lezz no.

But the contract between our families doesn’t protect us from a decision by the Divine Emperor during a time of extreme peril.

That’s open to interpretation. Your mother is the daughter of an emperor! The two of you can fight this!

As the daughter of Arulezz’s great-grandfather, the late Emperor Denahz Zarr, her mother did have a great deal of influence in the Nation. Perhaps what Jahnzel believed was true, but his suggestion still made Myri uncomfortable. To fight it would be selfish when so many others have made the same sacrifice.

This is a sacrifice that none of us should have had to make!

Your father believed otherwise.

Lezz is not my father. What he’s commanding you to do is wrong! You have no idea how much power you have, Myri; you can fight him!

Hearing the door to Arulezz’s office open, Myri tore herself away from Jahnzel. Smoothing her silvery green gown, she turned to Arulezz and curtsied. At your service, Divine One. His short black hair and dark American suit had never appeared as incongruent as they did now at this, her first official meeting with him in his role of Divine Emperor. A faceted arelada prism still hung from a gold chain around his neck, and he wore a purple brocade sash around his waist. The diamond jewel that should have been in his hair to display his rank as a nobleman, however, pinned the sash in place. Myri inwardly cringed. The combination of the American with the ancient had never been so jarring.

Arulezz dismissed Jahnzel with a look. Jahnzel stormed away without a backward glance.

Arulezz took Myri’s hand and kissed it. You have no need to be so formal with me, Myri.

Myri bowed her head. Your new position makes taking such liberties feel awkward. He hadn’t stopped being her cousin or her sister’s husband, but it still felt strange.

Arulezz patted Myri’s hand. Who can call me “Lezz” if not you, my sister-in-law and a woman of the highest nobility?

Myri allowed him to lead her into his office, having difficulty shaking away her agitation. She would give up Jahnzel for God alone. Only the Divine Emperor Himself could make the request, not a cousin or a brother-in-law. Jahnzel claims that it is “Lezz Zarr” who asks us to make this unbearable sacrifice, not the Divine Emperor.

Arulezz motioned Myri into a chair across from his desk, smiling. My informality has made you bold—more like the Myri I’ve always known.

Myri’s defenses dropped. Perhaps a man could be both a Divine Emperor and a close family member. She would have smiled had she not been so upset by the prospect of losing Jahnzel. I’m not sure the bold Myri is the one you wish to communicate with right now.

Yes it is, as a matter of fact. His expression became serious. I have a mission for you that will require every bit of boldness you possess.

I daresay it’s a lack of squeamishness that will be most required, not boldness. You do want me to take a savage as a consort, don’t you?

No, God wants you to marry a man who will one day be an admiral and saint.

Myri felt as though her heart would stop. Our situation must be desperate indeed if you’re planning to elevate one of the natives to such a position.

Would I separate my brother from his beloved were it not absolutely necessary?

No. Of course not.

We’re on the verge of extinction, Myri. If our race is to survive, all of age not married must take native spouses. But you know this. Your own gift of prophecy has whispered the truth to you already. You knew before I summoned you what I would ask.

Myri’s eyes filled with tears. I knew.

Arulezz handed a tissue to Myri. My father loved you like a daughter and dreaded this day, but he prepared for it. He searched for many months and took special care to find a chaste native for you, one who would appreciate your purity and treat you tenderly.

Myri and Arulezz’s father had shared a bond of affection that transcended the actual family tie. Technically Myri and the late Divine Emperor were first cousins, but he had been much closer in age to her mother and had been more like a brother to her mother than a nephew. Myri had known for some time that the late Divine Emperor thought of her and Jesalya as the daughters he didn’t have. Since their own father had died, he had filled the fatherly role for them. She already missed him dreadfully. How could everything have gone so completely wrong? Rumor whispers that it was a Novaunian ship that shot you and the Divine One down.

Yes, it was a Novaunian frigate.

Myri dabbed her cheeks with the tissue Arulezz had given to her. Why in the galaxy were the Novaunians even here?

To pick up some agents. Your future husband, in fact, is the brother in-law of one of them. Arulezz transmitted a thought to activate the telepathic transmissions recorder. The image of a sturdily built young man with very short dark hair appeared. This is David Pierce, Brigade Commander of the United States Naval Academy.

Myri shuddered. Pierce possessed an attractive military bearing to be sure, but his nearly-bald head made him ugly. She didn’t know how she could ever become attracted enough to such a man to bear his children, even if she weren’t in love with Jahnzel. Suddenly Jahnzel’s advice to tell Arulezz no didn’t seem so outrageous. What did Jahnzel mean when he said there were other choices?

Arulezz studied Myri’s face for at least a minute before responding. Jahnzel wants our people to join with the domies.

Myri had felt Jahnzel’s desperation and knew it was true. Still, to take such a course would be to admit defeat and dissolve The Holy Nation of the Son of God forever. Sadness sank into Myri’s heart. Jahnzel really was an apostate. She had already lost him. God have mercy on his soul.

Do you think, then, that you can marry this native?

Myri had never felt such despair. I can do anything God asks me to do.

*

Arulezz Zarr dismissed Myri and began pacing in front of the picture window in his office. What did Jahnzel think he was doing, telling Myri there were “other options”? What would he tell her now that Arulezz had revealed his plan to them both? Jahnzel had left him with the feeling that he had accepted—albeit grudgingly—Arulezz’s decision to remain on Earth and marry Myri to David Pierce. So what had Jahnzel hoped to accomplish by telling Myri about these “other options”?

The more Arulezz thought about it, the more unsettled he became. Jahnzel wielded a powerful influence in the Nation, and so did Myri. If Myri began feeling any inclination at all to go to the domes, Jahnzel would not be capable of letting the matter rest. Together they would put pressure on him to change his mind. If that didn’t work, they might take their ideas to the Nation, despite Jahnzel’s promise to the contrary.

Was Jahnzel right? Should he make going to the domes on the Home World an option? Arulezz couldn’t fathom it. Such a course would do more than break the Nation’s pride—it would strip it of its identity and purpose. It would mean extinction by assimilation instead of death.

No. Extinction of any kind was not an option. Tohmazz Zarr had brought the Nation to Earth to survive, and as long as Arulezz was Divine Emperor, it would survive. He simply had to keep Jahnzel from having a reason to rebel, and the only way to do that was to do everything in his power to make sure Myri remained faithful.

Now that it came to it, Arulezz didn’t know if Myri could go into that Mormon city and remain loyal to him. The light had a strange effect on those who became ensnared in it. Those who had managed to escape it had returned with stories of disembodied voices and waking visions that almost always urged treason. The treacherous nature of the light, combined with Myri’s abhorrence of David Pierce and her love for Jahnzel, might make going to the domes palatable to her after all.

As Arulezz’s mind churned, a thought entered that was almost too terrible to contemplate—he could bond Myri’s mind to his. The harder he tried to expel the idea, the more it clung. Myri wanted to remain faithful, and she didn’t want to join with the Malrezzites. A little bond would simply strengthen the ideals and desires she already had. It wouldn’t change her essence or even fight with it.

Still, Arulezz’s father had never used the bond on a citizen, and Myri was more than a citizen. She was a noblewoman, a high priestess. To even consider such an act was sacrilege, and if Jahnzel ever found out, he would organize a coup d’état that might well succeed.

Something inside of Arulezz urged him to summon Jahnzel and Myri that moment to withdraw their new assignments. There would be no binding a high priestess, no coup or even a debate. There would also be no David Pierce or secrets of the mysterious light shields. The nation might survive as this little colony in the mountains, but would it conquer?

A weak leader might humble himself in such a way, but Arulezz was not weak. He couldn’t admit he was wrong to someone like Myri who not only believed in his divinity but in her own. Divesting himself of his divinity would destroy hers also.

No, this Divine Emperor would empower his high priestess with a bond, not abase her with an admission of error. He would just have to figure out a way to do it so that neither Myri nor Jahnzel would ever find out.

*

Jahnzel left Myri in the Grand Hall with Arulezz and bounded up the stairs to his apartment to get control of his anger and think. He paced in front of the huge arched window in his sitting room, the falling snow silent yet restless in the wind.

He went over and over his discussion with Arulezz in his mind and had no choice but to concede that yes, their father had taken great pains to choose a suitable husband for Myri from among the savages. Jahnzel didn’t doubt that his father would have issued the ultimatum himself had he lived. Jahnzel’s anger toward Arulezz lessened as he forced himself to accept that fact.

Feeling compelled, Jahnzel slipped the disc Arulezz had given to him containing information about David Pierce into the telepathic transmission recorder. Images and assessments sank into Jahnzel’s consciousness within minutes.

He was from an obscure Mormon family in Kansas, the youngest of five children. His father and two of his brothers were in business for themselves as electricians. After the brothers came into the business and received the requisite training, the business gradually switched to solar panel installation almost exclusively. Because of this skill, the members of the Pierce family had been some of the first Mormons to join the Kansas City Temple Community. The Pierce men had installed solar systems in many of the homes in that community.

David, however, had not been interested in joining the family business and had, instead, enrolled in the United States Naval Academy and studied physics in preparation for a career as a submarine officer. He was an excellent athlete, an extraordinary student, and gifted military leader. He treated his subordinates in a stern but just way and they, in turn, liked and respected him. He thrived on order and had never been officially disciplined.

The agent who had observed him had never seen him do anything dishonest or immoral. He was as chaste as a saint and had never even been observed looking at lewd media images, which was unusual for an American man. Women were attracted to him, but he kept them at a distance—all but the girl who resembled Myri, Ashley Carroll, and even she had occupied no more than an iota of his life.

He spent thirty minutes a day reading the holy writings of his religion, went to worship services every Sunday, spent an hour in a religious study group once a week, and attended the Mormon temple twice a month.

David Pierce was determined and passionate, impeccable and impressive—the kind of man Jahnzel liked to appoint to his own staff. If ever there was a perfect native for Myri, David Pierce was it. On the other hand, if there existed a man who had the power to resist Myri’s noble strength and beauty, David Pierce was that also. This was a man who would and could fight a cell bond and win.

Then again, he was weak at the moment, having been injured in a riot Jahnzel suspected had been instigated by his father through the cell bonds. Jahnzel removed the disc from the telepathic transmissions recorder and put it into a drawer, more disgusted than ever with the despicable course his Nation was on and downright outraged by Arulezz’s plan to send Myri to Kansas City to bond David Pierce’s mind.

Jahnzel had, from the beginning, disagreed with using the cell bonds on the natives, but he had placated his conscience with the fact that the natives, albeit unknowingly, did open their minds to receive the bonds and could, if they desired, fight the subliminal messages that came through them. Bonding a physically and perhaps even mentally helpless man, however, was something different. This was an act akin to rape, and no matter how Jahnzel looked at the situation, he couldn’t reconcile it with his conscience.

With or without one of those vile cell bonds, Jahnzel couldn’t believe that this Mormon David Pierce could ever value Myri more than he did. Pierce would appreciate Myri’s beauty and might even grow to love her, but he would not understand her upbringing, perspective, or role in the Nation. Unless she accepted his religion, she would never be quite good enough by his strict standards, just as David would never be quite good enough by Myri’s.

Jahnzel couldn’t help but believe that if this union occurred, it would cause a great deal of unhappiness to both Myri and David Pierce. How could entering into such an incompatible marriage ever be the will of God? By the same token, how could this mission of his father’s to join their race to these Earth savages ever be the result of Divine decree? It just couldn’t be, and that was that. Somehow he had to get his brother and Myri to set aside National pride long enough to see reason.

Jahnzel left his apartment and strode to the opposite wing of the Palace, where Myri lived with her mother. The Divine Princess Francezka Zarr-Vahro spent her mornings teaching priestess novices at the Divinity Institute and therefore wouldn’t be home. Myri would have to stop by her rooms for her coat and boots before returning to the Institute herself, which would provide Jahnzel the perfect opportunity to communicate with her alone.

Jahnzel let himself into Myri’s apartment and waited for her on the couch in her sitting room, watching the snowstorm from her large, arched window. Jahnzel didn’t have to wait long.

When Myri saw Jahnzel, she stepped backwards toward the door, blood rising into her pale cheeks. You shouldn’t be here, Jahnzel. Have your apostate desires torn all feelings of propriety from your heart?

Myri’s discomfort pained Jahnzel, but he had to press forward. Despite his assurances to Arulezz, Jahnzel couldn’t bring himself to give Myri up so easily. He arose and walked toward her. Please don’t page your mother. I need to communicate with you alone.

Myri reached to open the door. I won’t allow you to compromise me. We can communicate somewhere else, as we always do.

Jahnzel had long hated the formality he and Myri had been forced to adopt. He yearned for a closer companionship with her that their lack of time alone together could not possibly produce. Is it more a disgrace to be found here alone with me than to marry a savage? He communicated with as much gentleness as he could manage.

Myri released her hold on the door and looked away in confusion. Obviously she did consider marriage to a savage a more shameful prospect than a few innocent minutes alone with him. Why are you here?

Jahnzel took her hand and squeezed it, thrilling in the smooth warmth of her skin. Because I need you to open your mind.

Myri yanked her hand out of his as if burned. My mind will forever be closed to the possibility of joining the domies!

Do you have any idea how many people live under the domes now?

During the survey eight years ago, it was just under thirty million.

Do you know how many remain of our nation?

No. The Divine One didn’t give me a number.

Just under three thousand.

What little color Myri had in her cheeks disappeared. She stepped forward, fumbling for a chair. We aren’t desperate; we’re desolate.

Jahnzel helped her into the chair, afraid she might faint. No, it’s worse than that. We’ve been abandoned.

Myri shook her head. There must be another explanation. It’s not up to us to question God.

Jahnzel sat down in a chair near hers. It isn’t God I question. It’s our so-called divinity I question.

Understanding came into those beautiful green eyes. You wonder why the Divine One’s immortal genes didn’t save him from being killed by the Novaunians.

No, I wonder how we, or any of the other nations in exile, can be “chosen” when the domies outnumber us all.

You would rewrite history and make Malrezz a true prophet?

What makes our history right and that of the Malrezzites wrong?

Our records have been meticulously kept since the Visit. We cannot argue against the facts.

The Malrezzites make the same claim. Who’s right?

Myri averted her eyes. My calling requires me to help people work through their doubts, but I can’t fill this role with you. She stood up and walked to the door.

We don’t have to believe in the history of the Malrezzites to go to them for aid.

She turned to face him again, her gaze accusing. You would humble our people to the dust just so that you and I could marry?

With only two battleships, a cruiser, a flagship, a transport, a mere twelve sub-light vessels, and fewer than three thousand people, we’re less than dust, Myri!

Jahnzel couldn’t help but think of the frigate that should return any day from Eden with messengers to assure him that the planet-spirit had been bridled. Since the colony’s survival depended on maintaining complete communication silence, using the frigate as a mail ship had been necessary. What a help that frigate would be now, and what a relief it would be to learn the colony was viable!

You aren’t the Divine Emperor.

No, but if you refuse to do what he asks, then the two of us together might be able to persuade him to consider all of the options.

For a flicker of a moment, Myri almost looked as though she would agree. After several moments of pondering, she shook her head. I would rather marry a savage than go with you to the domes. I’m sorry, Jahnzel.

Myri’s thoughts chilled Jahnzel. She could not possibly feel the passion for him that he felt for her or she could not have so quickly dismissed the possibility of “other options.” Then again, for Myri to defy the Divine Emperor and consider other options would be to deny her heritage and redefine who she was. Could there ever be a love strong enough to drive a person to change his or her essence so completely?

Confused and heartbroken, Jahnzel forced himself to stand up and join Myri at the door. There’s no need to be sorry, darling. I didn’t expect you to feel otherwise, but for my own peace of mind, I needed you to communicate it to me.

Her eyes glistened like ice. I’ll always love you, Jahnzel.

Her declaration did nothing to appease him, because he didn’t believe it. She didn’t even love him now—not enough to trust him and certainly not enough to want to be with him at all costs.

Her eyes seemed to thaw, spilling tears onto her cheeks, and her lips quivered. For a moment, Jahnzel thought—he hoped—she would throw her arms around him and let him comfort her as she wept.

Myri pursed her lips but in every other way maintained her composure. She removed the ornate arelada brooch she wore at her throat in token of their betrothal and placed it into his hand. Please go, Consecrated One.

Not certain he even wanted her anymore, Jahnzel leaned toward her and brushed her wet cheek with his lips in farewell. I will pray that your native gives you all the happiness you deserve.

*

Arulezz avoided his wife all day, afraid of how she would react to his plan to bond Myri. As soon as he recognized his own uneasiness, Jesalya recognized it also through their dijauntu bond and, as the perfect wife she was, left him alone with his worries. He had dinner in his office and finally saw her when he went to their apartment late that evening.

She met him at the door, her long golden curls and pearly white skin luminous against her purple lace nightgown. As she drew him into her arms and mind, everything in his body and spirit came alive, and he pressed her close, his lips caressing hers and his hand finding its way into that luxurious hair he so loved. As their souls merged, she closed her eyes so that he couldn’t see out of them, and he did the same for her.

Arulezz couldn’t have hidden his plan to bond Myri from Jesalya, even if he had wanted to, so he didn’t even try. Privy to Arulezz’s mind in a way no one else was, she saw problems even he had not been aware existed and felt more urgent about his plan than he did.

Myri must marry the Mormon David Pierce, even if it results in her abandoning the Nation for the light. Otherwise she will marry Jahnzel in two months when she comes of age, and he will corrupt her through the Holy Joining. Alone, Jahnzel is powerless, but together, they might do significant damage.

You don’t think, then, the Nation would hearken to Jahnzel alone?

No, I don’t. We’ve been successful on this planet, and most would rather die than go to the domes. Jahnzel will lose all credibility if he suggests it.

Do you really think she might decide to stay with David Pierce rather than bring him back to us?

You know that Myri is incapable of giving anything less than her whole heart to the man she marries. Jahnzel told you that himself.

You’re right. He was, in fact, very concerned that Myri’s feeling for David Pierce would be stronger than Pierce’s would ever be for her.

Combine Myri’s sense of conjugal loyalty with the light’s treachery, and I think it’s a very good possibility she would decide to stay with David Pierce.

It was a bizarre thought but one Arulezz couldn’t discount, given Jesalya’s unique understanding of Myri. David Pierce won’t be any use to us at all if he stays where he is.

One thing is certain: Myri wants to be loyal to you. If you explain to her the deceptive nature of the light, she might agree to let you bond her. I think she would appreciate the added strength.

And if she tells Jahnzel?

He will then reveal his true self to the Nation, and they will destroy him.

I don’t want to lose my brother, Jesalya.

And I don’t want to lose my sister. If it needs to be done secretly, then do it secretly.

I could use your help.

What do you want me to do?

Dr. Zedrul prescribed a tranquilizer for Mother when Father died. Get one of the pills and dissolve it in Myri’s drink tomorrow evening at dinner. I’ll do it quickly, as the drug begins to take effect.

*

Myri sat down at the dinner table, exhausted from her day of study. Her beautiful long blond curls were gone, replaced by a short, angled cut that made her feel ugly and exposed. Thankfully, there were no guests at the table that evening to comment on her hair. Just her mother, Jesalya, Arulezz, and Arulezz’s mother, the Dowager Empress, were there, and they were too compassionate to comment.

Learning that Jahnzel had ordered dinner in his apartment again, Myri felt more depressed than ever. Her rejection had demolished him. Myri almost wished she could discard her ideals and go with Jahnzel to the domes.

Myri hadn’t eaten in two days. Her stomach growled, but nothing appealed to her. She assimilated the conversation around the table without participating, twirling the stem of her goblet between her fingers. Little by little, she drank her punch. It settled her stomach and her nerves, and she decided she would nibble on a piece of bread. If she could get that down, she would try the soup.

As Myri reached for a slice of bread, her elbow dropped to the table and slid forward a little on the smooth varnish; her head drooped to meet it. Realizing what had happened, she sat up and shook her head in an attempt to wake herself up. She felt the warmth of her mother’s hand on her arm. Are you all right, dear?

I’m just a little tired. It’s been a long day.

Her mother buttered her bread for her. Try to eat a little, and then you can go to bed.

Myri nodded and put the bread to her mouth. She managed a little bite, and then reached again for her punch. Her glass was empty. Feeling dizzy, she leaned her head into her hand. She felt warm all over, and the next thing she knew, she was walking up the stairs, her arms linked with those of her mother and Jesalya.

“I’m still thirsty,” Myri whispered.

You may have a drink after we get you to your room, Jesalya soothed. Then you may sleep.

 

Chapter 2: ORIGINAL AGREEMENT

Even after all of the terrors Eden’s Eleventh Colony had experienced, First Assistant to the Governor Rachel Vance still couldn’t believe that the alien seductress who called herself Sara Carroll hadn’t sabotaged her colony. Yes, she had married Bishop Cameron Carroll in front of the colony and had claimed she had been in love with him since age fourteen, but why would a young woman committed to living Ben Carroll’s Equality of Zion marry a boy who had shown, time and time again, that he was nothing more than a Church bureaucrat who clung to the most out-dated and irrational interpretations of Church doctrine and followed mere policies as if they were commandments?

The very thought of it made Rachel angry. She and the other colony leaders had been so careful in their screening of the applicants and had made certain that all they invited into the colony shared their more mature view of the gospel. They knew that if they could throw off the cultural biases long held by many members of the Church and get away from the bureaucracy, they could create a truly free community. Then out of the blue, Ben and Barbara Carroll’s own son turned out to be the kind of robot whose application would have been rejected, had he been anyone else.

Rachel and many others were still wondering how such a freak of nature could have happened. Rachel and Duane had met Cameron a few times when he was a teenager, but neither had perceived that side of him. Ben and Barbara had never discussed it, and why should they have? He was a child behaving in a childish way, and they had assumed he would grow out of it. How wrong they had been! It was bad enough that someone like Cameron had ended up in the colony at all, but his call to be the colony’s bishop had been plain outrageous.

That prestigious call, however, was the only thing that explained how Sara Alexander, one of the students most passionate about the Equality of Zion, could have married such a boy. Of course she claimed she had a change of heart about her own ideals and that she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her stepmother, who had no education and was a full-time homemaker with eight children and no ambitions for herself. Rachel wasn’t gullible enough to believe something so ridiculous, but others were. Somehow this twenty-year-old child had persuaded the rightful governor of the colony to fall in love with her also—fall in love so completely that he had announced in front of the colony that he wanted to dump his beautiful, intelligent, and accomplished wife of twenty-three years and marry Sara, and this after he had already married her to his son! Not only that, but Ben had thrown away his high, rational ideals and fallen in with his son’s fanaticism.

Rachel had spent too many years in politics not to recognize a gold digger when she encountered one. These beautiful young women chased men of power for their own selfish purposes, not caring one iota for the broken families and careers that followed in their wakes. Not only had Sara seduced both the bishop and the rightful governor of the colony, she had ended up as the governor herself! Most gold diggers weren’t able to accomplish so much so fast, but Sara had something most didn’t have—telepathic powers.

To become the governor, Sara had claimed that the so-called spirit of the planet was sending storms and earthquakes because the colonists weren’t following some rigid interpretation of the commandments, a rigid interpretation that looked—surprise, surprise—like that of the bishop’s Nazi-like traditionalism. Of course, the colonists weren’t stupid, and many of them had rejected these claims just as Rachel had. The only solution had been to take away the crystals that gave Sara her telepathic power and isolate her so that she couldn’t tamper with any more minds. Rachel and the others staging the coup had almost accomplished their goal when their minds had been pried open by a mental tornado. Images of the coup plans had blown into the colonists’ minds, along with the words: Sara Carroll will be your ruler. She is the empath and telepathic communicator. I will give you my will through no one but her. Anyone who opposes her will die.

At the time, everyone, including Rachel, had been convinced that the planet-spirit was, indeed, real and demanding that Sara become the governor, but Rachel’s skepticism was returning. She had not believed at first that Sara could have had images of the coup plans to reveal to the colonists during that demonstration of telepathic power, but now Rachel wondered if one of her associates had betrayed them and given those images to Sara telepathically. Rachel also wondered if Sara could have gained telepathic power over the planet-spirit. Rachel had a difficult time believing in the idea of planets having spirits to begin with, but if they did exist, wouldn’t God make them answerable to His children, not the other way around? Aside from that, Rachel still wasn’t sure the planet-spirit wasn’t a mere manifestation of Sara’s mind, despite the fact that clinical psychologist Ann Eagle, who had interviewed Sara extensively before recommending her for the colony, had discerned no mental illness.

When a storm shook the colony with vengeance yet again, rattling the windows of the dining hall, Rachel insisted that she be joined in mind with Sara as she communicated with the so-called planet-spirit. Sara’s black brows rose in question. “You realize that you will feel Tempest’s unbridled fury.”

“I’ve faced down some of the most powerful people in the world.” Rachel heard some chuckles. “I think I can handle it.”

Sara sat in a camp chair facing her, her arm against the flimsy silver table she shared with Cameron, Ashley, and Brandon Carroll. She was wearing jeans and an Orioles t-shirt, her black hair straight and draped on her shoulders. She never wore any makeup at all, and Rachel doubted she had ever even thought about wearing a suit. She didn’t look the part of a gold digger, a governor, or an alien, for that matter, and that irritated Rachel as much as anything.

“You realize our spirits will be overlapped and that both Tempest and I will be able to discern many of your thoughts and feelings.”

“I have nothing to hide.” Rachel spoke promptly—perhaps too promptly. What if the little witch really could read her thoughts? What would she learn? That she was angry? Skeptical?

Blood flooded into Sara’s pale cheeks. She turned slightly toward Cameron and gazed at him in a way that suggested they were communicating telepathically. She tugged on his hand, and he stood up and positioned himself behind her, resting his hands on her shoulders. He really was a beautiful boy—tall, with a runner’s build, pale blond hair, and aqua eyes.

Despite Sara’s obvious reluctance to allow Rachel to share her communication with the so-called planet-spirit, she shrugged. “All right. Let’s give it a try.”

Rachel felt energy flow around her, lively and colorful, like a rainbow. The youthful perkiness of Sara’s spirit irritated Rachel and she recoiled.

Sara pushed harder, and Rachel discerned her thoughts: There is no other way. I’m sorry.

Determined to expose this little tramp for good, Rachel relaxed and let down her guard as much as she could. When their spirits overlapped, she felt a grating, like sandpaper scraping across skin, and while her spirit was yet raw, astounded realization from Sara surged through them both: Your hate for me comes from personal pain. Certainly you aren’t in love with Ben Carroll?

Rachel’s mind darted to an image of that student bimbo who had been the object of her husband’s one-night stand. Not wanting Sara to discern her thoughts, she fought them away, but she was too late.

Sara deduced the source of Rachel’s pain at once. Sara’s memories of Duane flew by, images of his verbal attacks on her husband the bishop and finally his appalled words about her personally, “She’s just a child, Ben!” Sara had believed at the time that Duane had been defending her, but now she understood the comment for what it had been—an effort to cover his own sin—and anger flashed through her, not just at Duane but at Ben Carroll for victimizing her and at herself for being so gullible and following him and all of his messed up/apostate friends to Eden in the first place.

Rachel somehow perceived that had Sara not married into Ben Carroll’s family, she would have been first in line with the other students to demand his resignation, and yet Rachel still couldn’t accept the idea that Sara was Ben’s “victim.” Rachel wanted to scream that Ben and his “friends” were not messed up, but given Ben’s recent actions and Duane’s history, how could she, on some level at least, disagree? Of one thing, however, she was certain—neither marital troubles nor advocating for policies in Congress that supported the nations of the earth in federalizing under Zarr’s nation made one an apostate!

Sara’s thoughts charged into Rachel’s mind, I am not the “bimbo” you think I am, and you are in too much pain to be as cold-hearted as I thought you were, but the truth is smacking you in the face and you are ignoring it. Tempest is very real.

Just when Rachel thought Sara had come to some sort of reconciliation in her mind and that her spirit would relax, it flexed in panic. Calm, Sara, calm. She can’t know about this new development. Calm! Sara didn’t feel calm at all. She directed her thoughts to Rachel again: You must stay completely calm and not bring any memories of your husband’s sin into your mind, and you must curb your anger toward me. You can still back out. It’s only been a few seconds, and no one will know anything.

Rachel realized that while she felt a little more enlightened, she didn’t trust Sara any more than she had before they had overlapped spirits. I can’t back out. I have to know.

Very well, then. Assimilate, but keep your thoughts to yourself! If you don’t, I can guarantee you that your pain will be made public. Sara’s spirit shuddered in frustration as she thought about Ben and Barbara Carroll and their secret estrangement that had become public in an odd and humiliating way. The planet-spirit had supposedly believed that Barbara was “lying” when she concealed her grief and anger toward Ben and had almost destroyed the colony as a result. The emergency, however, had yielded one good thing—Ben and Barbara had reconciled.

Another second or two passed, and Sara did seem to calm her agitated emotions. She pulled Rachel’s spirit along with hers into the floor, and then into the ground. A force that did, indeed, feel like a mental tempest seized the connection with such strength that Rachel felt as if her spirit were being sucked out of her body. The planet-spirit thrust a vision of Barbara Carroll screaming at the sky in a gorgeous rose-filled clearing: “My planet, the earth, will progress to be the celestial kingdom, but you will be nothing but a rock in outer darkness, fit only to be inhabited by Satan and his—”

The vision dissipated as Rachel saw Ben lunge forward and cover Barbara’s mouth with his hand, her green eyes bulging and blond hair brushing against his perfectly-manicured fingers. Tempest’s thoughts stabbed through Rachel and Sara: What did Wounded-Mortal-Who-Hides-Behind-Lies mean when she said those things?

Panic from Sara spiked through Rachel. Sara could not keep herself from recalling other things Barbara had yelled about the planet-spirit’s being the vilest of sinners and unworthy to ever stand in the presence of God. Barbara was angry and trying to make you angry. What she said doesn’t mean anything. She feels sorry now for what she said.

Ben and Barbara had been away from the colony a week and a half to rescue the refugees from the twelve colonies that Tempest had already destroyed. From the beginning, Sara had been uneasy about Ben and Barbara’s plan to undertake this rescue effort in the colony’s single aircar. If the aircar malfunctioned, they could be stranded thousands of miles away with no ability to receive help until the primary synthesizing machine could be fixed and produce more aircars. The colony’s truck could eventually get to them if they went down on the northern continent, but it wouldn’t be of use at all if a breakdown happened on the southern. The continents were more than a thousand miles apart at their closest point, and the truck didn’t have the range to get over the water. Ben and his brother Trevor, a physics professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had assured Sara that the aircar had been designed for global use and that as long as it had twelve hours a day to repair and recharge itself, it would be safe, but Rachel discerned that Sara’s reservations about the matter had returned tenfold, knowing that Ben and Barbara were out there with nothing to buffer them from Tempest’s wrath.

Rachel understood then that Sara truly believed the planet-spirit was real, which meant that it either was real or Sara was suffering from multiple personality disorder of the worst kind. Even if it was multiple personality disorder—a controversial mental illness to begin with—wouldn’t the alter egos manifest themselves separately instead of in this immediate way?

Almost as soon as Rachel was aware of her own thoughts, she assimilated dismay in Sara. Withdraw now, before more harm is done! Sara’s reaction was so instinctive and so genuine that Rachel discovered she could more easily believe that Tempest was, indeed, the planet-spirit or some other alien creature than that Sara had multiple personality disorder. Sara gave Rachel a powerful mental shove, and, suddenly feeling frightened, Rachel attempted to pull her mind out of Sara and Tempest’s grip. It held firm.

Rachel could do nothing but attempt to bring her thoughts and emotions under control and remain as invisible as Sara had commanded. Tempest seemed to be too consumed by its own concerns to be affected by the mental interplay between Rachel and Sara or even by Sara’s worries about Ben and Barbara. What is celestial kingdom? What is outer darkness?

The questions shocked and intrigued Sara. She wondered how the planet-spirit could not understand the meaning of these things and what sort of veil covered its mind. Sara struggled to respond in a calm way. Do you know who Satan is?

Is he one of the dark spirits the mortals brought with them?

The possibility horrified Sara. We brought dark spirits with us? Can you see them? Are they with us now?

They are everywhere the humans are. I can’t see them, but I can feel them creeping on my face. They are terrible!

The idea that a planet-spirit, even if it existed, could feel demons on its face really was far-fetched. Even Sara was a little skeptical, because she asked, How do you know what they are if you can’t see them?

Because after I received my body, my Creator told me that He would leave me for a time and that the dark spirits would come. The creature’s urgency increased. He commanded me to ignore them. It was a test, He said, to see if I was worthy to receive life.

Absurd! To think God would really do such a thing!

Rachel perceived that Sara was trying hard to ignore her, which seemed odd, because if a person were really ignoring someone, wouldn’t that fact be imperceptible? If Tempest was aware of this telepathic subtlety, she didn’t acknowledge it.

Why are you so angry, Tempest? Sara asked.

It wasn’t a fair test! He awakened me when I was all mixed up with light and dark matter and cleared my vision. He gave me a body, and then He made me filthy on purpose! 

But the dark spirits didn’t stay, did they? You said we brought them with us.

The dark spirits came, and they made me so filthy that I did everything I could to make them leave. How could that be wrong?

It’s always wrong to rebel against a command from God.

Why would God command me to become filthy? Why would He give me a test that wasn’t fair?

He wouldn’t! And couldn’t—this creature only thinks that because it’s delusional!

Sara stumbled along: You only think it was unfair because you don’t understand it.

Do you understand it, Governor Carroll?

Rachel bristled at Sara’s being addressed as “Governor” Carroll and almost responded, but she restrained herself.

I understand that God wants His children to be able to choose good from evil and that they can’t do that unless evil exists. My planet, Earth, has evil all over it, but it doesn’t send earthquakes and storms every time something bad happens.

The prospect surprised the planet-spirit. Evil all over it? What does that mean?

People fight with guns and knives and bombs, and they kill each other and do other terrible things to each other. They profane the Lord’s name, and break the Sabbath, and commit whoredoms.

Rachel couldn’t help it. Her mind went to Duane and his bimbo. A wave of nausea erupted within her. What had she done?

Sara’s emotions relaxed, as if she had resigned herself to an inevitable course of events, and for some odd reason, that frightened Rachel more than anything else that had been communicated in this bizarre exchange of thoughts and emotions. They do these things so much that many people don’t even know they are doing things that are wrong.

Duane had known it was wrong! As soon as the thought entered Rachel’s mind, she hurled it out, feeling more ill than ever.

How does your planet live with such filth?

She trusts that God will cleanse her.

What does it mean that she will be the celestial kingdom?

It means that she will become part of Heaven and be in the presence of Jesus Christ and God the Father Himself.

What does outer darkness mean?

It’s the place where Satan and the other dark spirits will live.

For how long?

Sara hesitated. Forever.

Fury erupted, filling Rachel with terror. Wounded-Mortal-Who-Hides-Behind-Lies thinks I will have dark spirits on my face forever?

She isn’t God; she isn’t your judge. She doesn’t know anything about your destiny. Please don’t be angry with her.

Are there planets in outer darkness?

I don’t know. The scriptures don’t say.

Where do the planets go that do not pass the tests?

Where did people go who didn’t pass the tests? The planet-spirit’s urgency about the matter became Rachel’s own in a way it never had been before. In the Book of Mormon, Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life described people wandering into “strange roads” and “forbidden paths.” Rachel tried to force the questions out of her mind and couldn’t. They were too significant. She had always regarded herself as someone who held firm to the iron rod—someone who passed the tests—and now she wasn’t so sure about herself. What “strange road” were people who were stuck on an evil planet destined to travel?

I don’t know. The scriptures don’t say that either. You should know this better than I do. What did God tell you after you failed the test with the dark spirits?

That I would have to be put in a dark place and wait for mortals to put life on my face.

What mortals?

He didn’t say at that time. I waited here in the dark for a long, long time and was at peace. Then an immortal came and told me that God was giving me another chance.

Another chance at what?

To become part of Heaven.

Then you knew all along what your destiny was supposed to be! That you were supposed to become part of the celestial kingdom like my planet!

I did not understand the term “celestial kingdom,” and I still do not completely understand what it is. I’ve never seen it.

I’ve never seen it either, but I still want to go there.

I like the way I am. Why should I try to become the celestial kingdom if I’ve never seen it?

But you did agree to let someone put life on your face, didn’t you? So you must have believed at one time that you wanted to become part of the celestial kingdom.

Then an immortal came and told me that a race of mortals would soon come and want to make an agreement to “terraform” me. God wanted me to make the agreement.

Who were those mortals, and why don’t they live here?

They broke the agreement, so I don’t have to live by it. They are gone.

What was the agreement they broke?

They lied to me! The immortal told me that God wanted me to become a part of His kingdom but that I could choose.

Couldn’t you have made a new agreement with the mortals who gave you life?

I don’t want mortals to have dominion over me! God said I could choose!

The mortals with me are not the same as the mortals who gave you life—

No, they are not! They are so stupid they are unbelievable! At least the others knew enough to respect me, and I still got rid of them! I am not accountable to you!

Rachel perceived that Sara was anxious to end this discussion before more harm could be done. I didn’t mean to suggest you were. I’m sorry. Please tell us what we did to cause the storms.

I was troubled and wished to communicate with you.

You sent storms to hurt my colony because you wanted to talk?

You try hard to avoid me. There was no other way.

If I agree to schedule a time every week to communicate with you, will you agree to stop sending storms and earthquakes to hurt my colony?

As long as every one of you obeys the commandments of God with perfectness and does everything I say.

We’re doing the best we can. I’ll communicate with you again this day and time next week.

Very good, Governor Carroll. Tempest withdrew.

When Rachel became aware of her body again, she realized that she was shaking. Duane rested his hand on her shoulder and rubbed in an attempt to calm her down. She welcomed his attention. She really did want to forgive him and thought she had until that fateful morning when he had declared, “She’s a child, Ben!” as if he couldn’t comprehend, even for a second, a man their age falling for a pretty student.

Sara didn’t withdraw her spirit immediately. I won’t tell them anything about your husband’s sin, but don’t think you’re off the hook.

Is that a threat?

I have no desire to threaten you; my desire is to keep Tempest from killing us all. She knows about your husband’s sin now, and that you haven’t forgiven him, which means, at the very least, that if you act as though you’ve forgiven him, she’ll think you’re lying, and you know what will happen then.

Sara pulled her spirit away from Rachel’s, and at that point Rachel became aware of her physical surroundings. The first thing she saw was that Sara was looking at her with urgent blue eyes.

Ann was the first person who dared speak. “What happened?”

Rachel turned her head toward Ann and whispered, “I . . . I can’t find words.”

Ann frowned, her straight red-blond hair sweeping across her jaw as she leaned forward to take Rachel’s hand from across the table.

Sara stood up to address everyone who had gathered around them. “I’ll tell you what Tempest communicated, but you must keep your anger and accusations to yourselves.”

Kevin Krantz, Ben’s student, had made his way to the front of the group and faced Sara with arms folded across his chest. “Who brought the storms this time?” Sara and Kevin were exactly the same height, giving an appearance of equality between them, but everyone knew that they weren’t equal in Ben’s eyes. Kevin was more skeptical of Sara than anyone, but that didn’t mean he trusted Ben again either.

“Tempest did. Tempest always does.”

Thank goodness Sara left out the initial exchange between the two of them and dove right into the encounter with Tempest, omitting the parts about Duane’s indiscretion. Hearing actual words describe Rachel’s own thoughts, emotions, and mental images was almost as strange as the encounter itself had been. Perhaps Sara really wasn’t the bimbo and gold digger Rachel had long believed, but there could be no doubt that she really was a little witch.

Seriously jarred, Rachel longed to close her eyes and tune out Sara’s all-too-astute words, but her instincts of preservation wouldn’t let her. She released Ann’s hand and stood up, her gaze flitting from one face to another, analyzing expressions and reactions. Sara was giving them almost too much to digest at once, and the reactions reflected the stupor that came with being gorged.

Sara came to the end of their conversation with Tempest: “If I agree to schedule a time every week to communicate with you, will you agree to stop sending storms and earthquakes to hurt my colony?”

“As long as every one of you obeys the commandments of God with perfectness and does everything I say.”

“We are doing the best we can. I’ll communicate with you again this day and time next week.”

“Very good, Governor Carroll.”

No one spoke for many moments. When they did, the voices seemed to come all at once.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” said Marc, the idiot medical student who, on that fateful Sunday, had failed in his assignment to tranquilize Sara and had put out Ben’s son Brandon instead.

“She sent the storm because she wanted to talk?” said Trevor’s daughter Samantha, sounding as if she were on the verge of hysteria. She, like Sara, never wore makeup, but unlike Sara, her features were bland enough that she really did require it. Unfortunately, she took after her mother, not the Carrolls. Today Samantha appeared especially pale and gaunt, and she twirled the end of her long, golden brown hair in a nervous way.

Brittany Novak, Ann’s student, shrugged. “At least it’s an easy problem to fix.”

“Is it?” asked Brian Webster, one of only four survivors of Eighth Colony. “Even if Sara communicates with the planet-spirit on schedule, and even if we are ‘perfect,’ what guarantee do we have that she won’t change her mind and kill us for no reason?”

“There is no guarantee,” Sara said.

No, there was no guarantee, and the colonists needed to understand their true position. “How do I say this?” Rachel couldn’t come right out and say the planet-spirit was evil, because it heard everything that was being said. “This planet is beautiful on the surface, but inside, there is no light. Whatsoever. Communicating with it nearly froze my heart.”

“Then you’re certain it’s real.” Duane sounded troubled.

Rachel turned and looked down at him. “Yes.”

“And that she can’t be resisted.”

“Sara told you exactly what was communicated between the three of us. You be the judge.”

He gazed up at her, those beautiful pale blue eyes filled with meaning. “Then the planet-spirit is . . . mentally challenged.”

Thank goodness he hadn’t come right out and said it was dangerously delusional! “It would appear so.”

“It is useless to resist Tempest,” Sara said.

“But she’s a big hypocrite!” said Erica Rice, a beautiful and cultured African American girl from New York City who was one of Rachel’s own students.

Rachel’s other student, Jordan Tressler, stepped toward Sara. “Can’t you get her to see that?” Jordan was slightly built and balding, but he made the most of his personal appearance and was brilliant and formidable. He had been an intern in her office on Capitol Hill.

Sara glared at Erica and Jordan, shaking her head. “How can you be so bullheaded and blind?” Obviously she hadn’t forgiven the two of them from taking her arelada and tossing it in the decomposer. “Tempest knows she’s rebelling against God, and she doesn’t care! She doesn’t want to change!”

“She can’t require this of us; it isn’t right,” said Russ Brodsky, one of Cameron’s counselors and Barbara’s only student of journalism now that Sara had become the “governor.”

Sara aimed her glare at Russ. “She doesn’t want us here! If we want to survive, we have to be so perfect that we become virtually invisible.”

“I’d rather die than submit to this tyranny,” said one of Mike and Pat Dixon’s sons.

Sara motioned to the door. “As you wish. Just live somewhere else.”

“Surely there’s some way to fight her,” said Anita Ireland, the engineer in charge of the colony’s electrical power and communications.

Anita’s student, Brent Hall, towered over her. “The Zarrists must have brought arelada with them. Maybe we can use it to fight her telepathically.” As if Brent actually had any fight in him at all! As the one member of the bishopric who didn’t know Sara well, he had been the natural choice to take Cameron’s place as the leader of the Church, and he had agreed to do it. The spineless kid, however, had fallen apart in front of the colony and all because Cameron had been “inspired” to ask him to speak on a topic so common in the Church that it could hardly be considered inspired at all—the Atonement of Jesus Christ!

“The Zarrists, who knew much more about telepathy than we do, used their own arelada to try to ‘bridle’ her,” Sara said. “For that, she sank their island!”

“What do you think, Rachel?” Dr. Sean Marshall, an African American man in his early thirties, appeared too calm to have just lost his wife and one of his daughters, and yet Rachel knew he was devastated. He was the president of the elders quorum and the only member of the ward leadership with any maturity or experience at all.

“I don’t think we can fight her or even reason with her,” Rachel replied, “but we might be able to negotiate with her.”

“I’m hoping she will reveal who terraformed her and what her agreement with that race is,” Sara said.

The idea was so obvious that Rachel should have thought of it herself. “She was very defensive about the fact that she is in no way accountable to us.”

Cameron nodded. “That suggests that she may be accountable in some way to those who terraformed her.”

“You’re right!” said Tony Wright, Cameron’s first counselor. He had become close to Samantha and was sitting with her family as usual. “The best chance we have is to encourage her to live by the original agreement. It can’t have included ordering colonists around and killing them for silly reasons.”

“Rachel, Ann, didn’t the Zarrists tell you anything about the political situation in this area of space when they brought you out here to stake out the colony?” Trevor asked. He wasn’t as tall as his brother, or as lean, but he had the same golden blond hair and stunning blue eyes.

“We don’t know anything the rest of you don’t know,” Rachel said. “We’re so far out on the periphery of the galaxy that the astronomers from Six assumed it was undeveloped space territory.”

“The trip was so quiet and uneventful that we just assumed this was an uninhabited, peaceful area of space,” Ann added.

“Which reminds me,” Rachel said. “Originally the Zarrists didn’t intend to give us a look at the planet at all. It was only when the leaders of the fourteen native colonies threatened to back out that the people we were working with obtained permission from Tohmazz Zarr himself to make the trip.” The memory disturbed her. The colony leaders had believed at the time that the Zarrists hadn’t wanted to make the trip because of the length and expense, but she wondered now if there had been more to it than that.

“I’d forgotten that,” Ann said.

“Did the Zarrists say anything that would have led you to believe they were the ones who terraformed the planet?” Trevor asked.

“Nothing at all. We all believed the Zarrists had discovered it recently and that it was just waiting for people to colonize it.”

Brandon moved toward Sara. “Didn’t your dad say the Zarrists were pirates? And that terraforming takes mega money and mind power?”

Sara nodded.

“It would be like pirates managing NASA. That doesn’t make sense.”

“What are you talking about?” said Trevor’s son Luke. “The Zarrists built Star Force, which is a zillion times bigger than NASA!”

“I’m talking about NASA for other planets—something really big that only an important, really established planet could do.”

Rachel was impressed. For a teenage kid, Brandon had made an acute observation.

“Could the Novaunians be the terraformers?” asked Samantha.

Sara shook her head. “My father didn’t know anything about Eden other than the fact that it is in a strategic location and coveted by more nations than Zarr’s. I think he would have known more if it belonged to Novaun.”

“He didn’t tell you anything about what other planets might want to have a base here?” asked Cyndi, Trevor’s wife.

“Nothing at all.”

“This makes me sick!” said Kevin Krantz. “If you or your father had told us all of this before we left Earth, we would have stayed home!”

“That’s assuming you would have believed me!”

“If Eden is in a strategic location, then perhaps there are other planets close by that could give us help if we send a distress signal,” Sean suggested.

“There are no inhabited planets or space stations in this system, and to send a message to a neighboring system would take years,” said Anita.

“The Zarrists will be back with more colonists before that,” said Duane.

“Could we send divers after the equipment in Control Colony and perhaps repair it?” Cameron asked.

Sara shook her head. “I don’t think so. I don’t know much about diving, but I’ve got to believe Tempest buried the colony too deep for that.”

“You can’t know that for sure,” Jordan said.

“It’s in a pit. Tempest showed it to me.”

“Could we send the robots?” Anita asked Trevor.

“Perhaps,” Trevor said, “but we don’t know whether they can realistically be submerged and whether they could withstand the pressure.”

“But the big synthesizing machine might have suitable robots in its programs already,” Brent said.

“It may,” Trevor agreed, “but there’s no way of knowing that until we get the unit up and running again.”

“Didn’t the Zarrists have arelada?” Brian asked. “Couldn’t we have Sara get it out for us and use that to send a signal into space?”

“What do you mean?” Sara asked.

Brian turned his head toward Sara, his black braids swinging over his shoulders. He gazed at her with earnest brown eyes. “Pull it out of the ocean with your mind.” Brian’s level of confidence in Sara shocked Rachel. People who had known her better and longer than Brian didn’t trust her.

“I can’t move anything larger than a cell with my mind. I can only see inside of myself and communicate telepathically.”

“Maybe if Sara got close enough to the arelada, she could use it to send a message,” suggested Ashley Carroll.

“I don’t know,” Sara said. “It sounds good in theory, but I don’t know if I could expand my spirit that deep into the ocean, and even if I could, it would need to be a very strong signal to get out of the solar system. I might need more people to help than we could fit in the aircar.”

“It’s worth a try,” said Cyndi.

“I wouldn’t know how to direct the signal. It could end up anywhere.”

“It’s still the best idea we’ve heard so far,” said Ann.

Sara nodded. “It is the best idea we’ve heard so far, but it doesn’t do us much good. We can’t make the trip until Ben and Barbara and the aircar get back.”

“How long will that be?” asked Tony.

“If all goes well, about five weeks,” Anita answered.

“That’s presuming we don’t get the synthesizing machine fixed before then,” Trevor said.

Rachel directed her words to Trevor: “Just how close are you?”

“It’s impossible to say, but we’re not giving up yet.”

*

The colonists eventually left the dining hall and began the clean-up work as they had done so many times before. As Rachel worked, she pondered her dilemma. If she told Duane what Sara and Tempest now knew about his relationship with a former student, she would bring the situation to Tempest’s attention. If she didn’t speak with Duane about the matter or in any way acted as if she didn’t care, Tempest might perceive her attitude as lying. Neither approach was a wise one; which was the lesser of two evils? Round and round her mind went all day. Sometimes she was grateful she had so much time to think about it, and other times she wished she had been forced to make a fast decision.

Eventually Rachel asked herself what she would do if they were still on Earth and interference with the planet-spirit wasn’t an issue. In that situation, the answer was obvious. She thought back to her disastrous first marriage. She had been twenty years old, and Mark had wanted her to be a stay-at-home wife and mom. Since Rachel wanted to have children and give them the best of herself, she tentatively agreed to the arrangement. This was what the Church had taught was right, and, in those days, there hadn’t been as many Latter-day Saint professional women who had learned how to balance the demands of motherhood with a career. Even her mother, a highly educated woman, had been involved in civic activities instead of a career. Had more role models existed, Rachel would not have made such a concession to Mark and they probably wouldn’t have married at all.

Rachel had her son Steven right away, but she still managed to finish her undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University; that much was non-negotiable. After graduation, Michael came. And more bills. And the boredom that came with being with an infant and toddler day in and day out. Certainly there couldn’t be anything wrong with going to work part-time? Many LDS women did so, and it seemed a reasonable compromise, but Mark was adamant. Their children needed a full-time mom.

She worked hard to convince Mark that what she wanted wasn’t wicked. It would be good to use her degree. She would be a better wife and mother if she could exercise her talents in this way. But he would not yield to her persuasion; their sons needed her to be a full-time mother and that was that. Once she realized he would not relent, no matter what she said, she decided to go ahead and get a part-time job anyway. Eventually he would see that the boys would actually be better off, because she would be happier.

Having a job didn’t make her happier, however, because Mark refused to let the matter go. He insisted she quit, and she refused. They fought about it all the time. Who would have thought that such a little thing could cause so much contention? Rachel became so depressed that she took the children home with her to Bethesda, Maryland for a vacation. Her parents were outraged by the way Mark had treated her and supported her eventual decision to make the separation permanent. They urged her to pursue her dream of going to law school, particularly now that she would be a single mother.

Rachel met Duane in her first year at George Washington University. They became instant best friends. He was always so wonderful with Steven and Michael and never treated them any differently than he did their own son Joshua, when he came along. After law school, she took a job as an assistant state’s attorney in Montgomery County. That kept her near home. She wanted to remain close to her kids and so became involved in the parents’ organizations at their schools. Duane coached many of their teams and became actively involved in Boy Scouts. She was elected to the school board, then county council, then state congress. Duane was hired onto the faculty at Georgetown Law Center. Given that Washington, D.C. was closer to Bethesda than Annapolis was, she made the off-hand comment that she ought to run for U.S. Congress so that she could get a shorter commute. Duane said, “Well, why don’t you?”

When Rachel looked at herself now and what she might have been had she remained with Mark, the difference was like day and night. Duane had betrayed her, but he was too precious to throw out of her life. They had discussed his affair extensively afterwards and had come to peace with it in their relationship. She had begun to trust him again. They had both so looked forward to their chance for a new life together in the Eden Colony. Keeping what had happened with Tempest to herself meant marital stagnation. To continue on their quest for an eternal marriage, Rachel had to tell Duane everything.

The evening was late before Rachel and Duane were finally out of earshot of the other colonists. Rachel didn’t hesitate, “Something happened with the planet-spirit that you need to know.”

He stopped and turned toward her, frowning, his white hair glowing in the light of Eden’s three small moons. “You and Sara didn’t tell us everything?”

“No, this was personal.”

“So Sara edited out what happened.”

“Yes.”

“I would have never guessed; she’s smooth.”

“She’s a little witch.”

“Then at least your opinion of her in that regard hasn’t changed.” He smiled, and Rachel might have laughed had she not been so anxious about what she had to tell him.

Rachel slid her hand under his arm, and they began walking again, side-stepping the muddy puddles on the trail. “I’m not sure what to think of her anymore. She seriously believes that she’s Ben’s ‘victim’ and is angry with herself for following him and his ‘messed up friends’ to Eden.”

“Are we the friends she thinks are ‘messed up’?”

He was quick, and that relieved Rachel. He wouldn’t require too many details to understand. “Within the first few seconds of joining minds with her, she could feel my pain. At first she thought I might be in love with Ben myself, but obviously that isn’t the case, and I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about—”

“I thought you had forgiven me.”

“So did I.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“It really irritated me when you acted so shocked and horrified that Ben could be attracted to a twenty-year-old girl.”

“No, not attracted. That never surprised me. The fact that he would pursue her that way shocked and horrified me.”

He said he had been shocked and horrified, but there was no trace of those emotions in his voice. Rachel stopped and turned to confront him. “Oh, so you have no idea how a man your age could pursue a little girl.”

“Seeing Ben lose his moral center disturbed me.”

Rachel sighed. “Of course it did.” Rachel was more than disturbed; she was disillusioned. Ben’s actions had betrayed them all—Duane included.

“Why didn’t you tell me your concerns sooner?”

He appeared genuinely concerned that he had hurt her, and that thawed Rachel’s heart. “Everything went crazy that day, and then you left with Ben to investigate Control Colony’s disappearance. It seemed too serious a topic of conversation for the little time we had, and yet, it seemed petty too. I wasn’t sure it was worth making an issue over.”

“Obviously you didn’t really think it was petty.”

Rachel had made the decision to forgive her husband, and revisiting that decision took more mental and emotional energy than she was willing to devote to the task, so yes, the issue really had been petty. On the other hand, the anger and hurt had returned, at least in part—despite her best efforts to erase the feelings. “I’m not sure anymore what I really feel.”

“I never felt anything for her; you have to believe me.”

“That much I do believe. I keep thinking about Barbara and how awful it would have been for me to find out that you were in love with that girl and wanted to marry her.”

“And yet Ben never slept with Sara.”

“You really don’t think so?” Rachel sincerely didn’t know whether Duane’s sordid act or Ben’s passionate pursuit had been worse.

“I wasn’t sure at first, but I really don’t think so.”

“At any moment now, either Sara or the planet-spirit could make this public, and the colonists will blow up again, just as they did when they learned about Ben.”

“Do you think Sara will tell?”

“I don’t know; I don’t understand her at all. I’m not sure which is more disturbing—that she’s a gold digger or that she’s everything she claims.”

“It bothers you that she may really love Cameron?”

“Yes, I guess it does.”

“Because he’s so much like Mark?”

“You see it too?”

“How could I not? So Sara’s either evil, calculating, and downright brilliant or she’s good, completely guileless, and naïve to the point of being stupid.”

He said it in a joking way, but the words were too pointed. Rachel brushed a speck of mud off of his bare arm. “You can’t say things like that. The planet-spirit hears everything, and whatever else Sara may be, she is definitely the creature’s pet.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have told me any of this.”

“I already feel better, so yes, I should have. We just have to figure out now what we’re going to say if it becomes public.”


Copyright © 2017 by Katherine Padilla. This sample is published by Novaun Novels at novels.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.