The Reverend Silas Merchant prayed. He needed the Holy Spirit to lead him into making the right decision. The drive from Mount Elba Baptist Church to Hot Springs took almost an hour. The ice storm had coated several bridges. Twice he helped to pull other cars out of various ditches.
Cornerstone Market Place rented one of its closed stores for a Confederacy Testing Center. Silas took an open parking slot directly out front. A quick prayer bolstered his resolve.
Opening the truck's door, the biting cold reminded him that he was entering a foreign land. Grabbing tight to his heavy overcoat, he took the ten steps to the door quickly.
Once inside, he discovered the center was warmer than he thought it would be. He met the gaze of a giant; granted Silas stood only five foot seven.
"Hello, I'm Sergeant Kinsman," he held out a massive paw. The accent hinted he was of local origin. "We can fit you in quickly today. This fender-bender weather is keeping most folks at home."
"I had to help rescue a few folks on the way in," Silas offered.
"Nothing serious, I hope."
Silas looked out the window at his battered ancient early nineties Ram-350 dually. "There are a few bruised egos. My monster there had to snatch out a couple of high end toys not meant for weather like this."
A mild smirk crossed the sergeant's face. "Here is a pamphlet that explains the process and has an FAQ section." The marine pointed at the different sections in the brochure. "Right now all the facilities are in use."
"Could I ask you a few questions?" Silas knew he could learn more from the man as opposed to the written material.
"Honestly, I will answer what questions I can." The marine hesitated a moment. "Some questions, like 'how does faster than light space travel work?' I am clueless."
"I was going in a more personal tone. I'm the pastor of Mount Elba Baptist Church." The marine stiffened slightly. Many of the very conservative religious pundits were quick to damn the Confederacy. "Part of the reason I am here is to have firsthand knowledge of the process."
Sergeant Kinsman relaxed. "I am glad you are being open."
<"Please answer him as honestly as you can,"> the AI sub-vocally encouraged the exchange.
"Do you consider yourself a person of faith?"
The sergeant decided to do a quick internal check. "Yes, I do."
Silas nodded. "Would you say it has changed?"
"Yes," he smiled. "I believe that my faith is stronger now."
Silas reached out to touch the marine's forearm. "May I ask how?"
"And very personal," they locked eyes a moment. "Part of my job is to help people understand the complex."
"I guess it goes back to how the world was before the Confederacy came." He pointed at the low clouds that made the day seem so dreary. "We hadn't been good stewards of the Earth. I do think that man compounded some of the global warming mess."
Silas prompted him to continue. "You think the Swarm is God's punishment?"
"No, it's like the story my grandmother tells about her father in World War II." He straightened up and his eyes looked brighter. "My grandmother's family was from Margate, in the county Kent, in England. Her father served on the HMS Medway Queen. She was a paddle steamer that made a record seven trips during the Dunkirk evacuation. When they set out on May 27, Granny said he described it as God covering the channel in His cloak of clouds. Even though at her timed sea-trials in 1938 they put her top speed at fifteen knots, for those seven trips she managed eighteen knots." He made eye contact again with Silas. "Having the Confederacy here to evacuate as many as possible is sort of the same. I'm not saying that God will hide the Earth from the Swarm, but rather that a solution for mankind has been made available."
"You see a miracle in God acting in history to provide this evacuation." Silas watched the marine agree by nodding. "From what I understand, there was chance involved that pushed the Swarm this way."
"That's more or less right." The sergeant confirmed. "They were discovered heading toward Earth."
"We humans are then part of their miracle in this."
The marine chuckled. "It was a debated choice for the Confederacy, either unleash us, or die."
"Talk about a rock and a hard place; that would be scary."
Another sergeant escorted a woman from the back. Silas did not recognize either of them. "Kinsman, unit three is open." They moved to sit at a table in the waiting area. "Once they're in the back we'll talk."
It dawned on Silas that the second marine was a girl. The same height as his sergeant, he pictured her for a moment as She-Hulk.
"This way sir," Kinsman tugged his arm.
Silas flashed a smirk. He stood and followed the marine, who he never saw stand up. "Lord," he whispered to ask forgiveness. They went to the third door on the left. Sergeant Kinsman let Silas enter first.
"You should see her in a swimsuit." The sergeant offered, "Nothing but long lean muscle."
The exam room consisted of what looked like a La-Z-Boy recliner with surround sound. Silas wondered what it would be like to watch the Super Bowl from it.
"Sit down and find a comfortable position. There are controls at both of your fingertips." He pointed at the controls on the armrests. "Once you're set, push the red button."
There was a difference after Silas woke up. He felt warm like you do in the summer. More importantly, his bladder signaled it was under pressure. The door opened.
The woman sergeant stuck her head in. "Down the hall toward the back, men's room is on the right." She ducked out of the way.
"Thanks," Silas found the need to pee was so bad he had to walk with a slight hunch. The temptation to manually grab and squeeze off the flow crossed his mind but with each step he managed to increase his speed.
It is a physical impossibility but Silas would have sworn he passed a quart. It left him a bit lightheaded. Coming out of the restroom, Kinsman motioned him to the front.
Once seated, Kinsman handed him his CAP card. It showed two sixes separated by a period. Silas slipped it into his wallet.
"You will be receiving a new keyboard next week." That revelation came from left field.
Kinsman looked up and to the right. "It will serve as a link to answer questions you may have."
"I can accept that."
"Are you going to volunteer?" Sergeant Kinsman asked thoughtfully.
"That I need to leave up to the Lord," Silas donned his overcoat and slipped back out to the truck. Almost three hours had passed. He had to wait for the glow plug light to turn off before he fired up the truck. He waved bye to the sergeants, then backed out.
On the drive home, Silas found himself going down one of the gravel roads that wound through the county. This offered him the opportunity to drive a bit slower while he thought. He started thinking about his time in the seminary.
He'd scored a six point six. Nothing had changed. He still felt the love of the Lord in his heart. Those of the congregation who might come to him to speak about testing would find he could relate to their doubts and fears. Whatever evil there might be would come from the same source it always had. The choices people made.
That Sunday, Silas spoke at length about Jonah. Not the typical 'do what God bids you to, ' but the lesson Jonah learned after he went to the city and preached. It took three days for him to warn them that their wickedness would bring their destruction in forty days. The city repented from the most high to the lowest in the street. Nineveh was not destroyed.
Jonah, who had been moved by the Holy Spirit, became angry with God. What he foretold as the fate of Nineveh had changed as God saw the people change.
Silas then pulled out his CAP card. He held it high for all to see. "I remember Sister Sarah Platt." He pointed at the third pew, which was empty. "Five years ago, there was a cry from the congregation that we needed a church school, as God had been legislated out of our public schools." He paused, looking at several members, who visibly showed they recalled the feisty old ninety-year-old woman. "She reminded us that to pull our families away from the schools did more to take God out of school than the idiots in Little Rock." He waited for the reactions to stop. "Many of us here were her students." Silas rubbed his backside. "We knew what happened when Mrs. Platt used that tone. We all wished for three days of darkness to hide." That brought about a round of outright laughs and cackles.
Silas turned serious. "Some people say the Confederacy is Godless. I see that unless we take the opportunity to send God's people, to follow the wisdom of Sister Platt, we cannot sit in a stupor and debate about how Godless they are."
Monday, the new keyboard arrived. It looked like a generic USB el-cheapo model. Still, he plugged the unit in. Silas received a phone call at seven that evening, from Pete Hinkle. He was in charge of the young men's adult class. They wanted to meet with him on Tuesday at six in the evening. Silas offered to provide the tea and soft drinks if the group would bring pizza.
Half of the class, about seven young men, and Pete met him in the fellowship hall. At 6:30 pm, the pizza was gone. Pete spoke up. "There were questions about concubines and how there are no marriages in the Confederacy."
"I remembered something from my Christian History class." Silas paused to get the names correct. "We are not Lutherans, but Luther and his followers did study the scriptures. Luther, Philip of Hesse, Philip Melanchthon, Anabaptist Bernhard Rothmann, and others supported multiple marriages."
"In the New Testament," Matt Donnelly interjected, "Paul talks about a deacon having only one wife."
"That is a message for ministers like me." Silas justified. "We must put the church above our families."
Pete cocked his head. "You support polygamy?"
"We render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's," Silas answered. "Here on Earth, no."
Joey Martin asked, "How do you feel about a group who forms before extraction?"
Silas did not expect the questions so soon. "This is not a license to run around town with your fly open." Several of the young men blushed. A few readjusted their equipment. "I think we need to look at the Old Testament for guidance. At the minimum, you will have two women. Though the concubines will never have the status of wives, I advise that you treat them as wives. To have multiple concubines in the Old Testament, you needed to show you could provide for them. The Confederacy uses a CAP score." As Silas looked around, he saw that he had their attention. "In biblical terms, the difference was a dowry; wives had them while concubines did not. As humans, we will end up having a favorite. However, in Exodus, if you take another wife you shall not diminish from the first wife her food, her clothing, or her marital rights." That drew blank looks. "That means you must not have a bed favorite. The sponsor has to treat a concubine as a wife. Though he may have greater authority and latitude in which to treat his wives, it is a husband's responsibility to care for them always."
"There's a way we could make pledges to pre-pack." Joey sounded small. "Forms are on the Internet that can be notarized that you can carry."
"That is a foundation from which to build a family." Silas liked the idea. "May I ask if you have one?"
"Do their families know?"
"Two and a half do."
Joey blew air into his mouth, puffing his cheeks. "I can take four. I asked Dena's parents, and Elsie's. Gigi's been emancipated since she was sixteen. My last slot is pending."
Silas spoke in a slightly lower tone. "I will never condone sexual activity before they are your wives." He made eye contact to back up his words.
Pete broke the silence. "If they meet your conditions, can you do something?"
"It won't be a license to fornicate." Silas made sure they were listening. "There will be chances to take girls as young as fourteen with you. There will be differences between here and space. Agreed?"
The response was ragged but strong.
Once the meeting broke up, Joey hung around. Eventually he approached Silas. "Preacher, do you have a moment?"
Silas always did. "Yeah Joey."
"I'm in an awkward position." He checked to make sure they were alone. "Mrs. Gore is my next door neighbor. She asked me to take her and her two little boys."
"You have already said yes?"
"Mr. Gore never comes home. The cops are-"
Silas grabbed Joey's forearm, stopping the ramble. "Did you do more than say yes?"
"I did. She came over when mom and-"
"Joey," Silas redirected him again. "I think he is an over the road trucker. Find out when he is heading out for a week long trip."
"Thanks," Joey bolted to his little beater pickup.
Silas walked across the parking lot to the parsonage.
Science Fiction /