Arcturus Syndrome Ch. 12-1

Author’s Note: All characters are over the age of eighteen. This is a work of fiction: any resemblance to person’s living or dead is coincidence.

Author’s Apology: This chapter simply refused to go according to plan, and some of the story is going to need to restructure around the way the events demanded to unfold. The juiciest stuff is going to have to wait for Melissa’s Late Afternoon segment, which we will return to in Ch. 14.

Recap: Melissa, once a God-fearing church-girl has been transformed by an alien infection, and is leading the over-eighteen’s in the quarantine operation protecting the young people from the consequences of the disease. Melissa has come to believe that those who survive the sexual impulses caused by the infection are blessed by God and is preparing to winnow the over-eighteens by trial. Meanwhile, everyone is poised to hear what the President has to say about the situation!

>>> Day 2: Early Afternoon: Melissa

Melissa felt like she might be glowing. She was bright with these wondrous gifts of the spirit. She was a vessel for the Word. The Lord’s work was happening. It was happening through her.

She had always been a “good girl.” She was studious, attentive to her elders, obedient. She took a real interest in bible class. She wasn’t just going through the motions like some people she could have named. They were dead now, weren’t they!

There was one passage she had never been comfortable with. Pastor Paul had said that it was good to have some discomfort with the Bible. That God was challenging them to a deeper understanding. That there were mysteries to God’s love that continued to unfold.

The Apostle had written to the Corinthians: “All things are permissible, but not all are beneficial.”

She had always been annoyed by “All things are permissible.” The church had many guidelines, many rules. So what did it mean that all things are permissible?

And now she knew. Now the mystery was open for her.

In normal, everyday life, one has to live by rules for society to function. That’s what the old testament law was all about, making society function. Jesus-and the Apostle Paul-were not interested in making society function, although of course, that still needs to happen. But they were teaching about souls.

And now, for the first time in her life, Melissa saw it clearly.

God had filled her with the Word, just like Jesus had been filled. God had blessed her with a gift of the spirit. And she was using this gift to truly transform the world. She had definitely saved Robbie and Cody, she was making progress with Noah. She really needed to find another woman who could pass through the trial. That was her next objective.

But she felt like she had connected – finally! – with Dr. McKinnon. The older woman had called her late in the morning, and they had spoken at length. Dr. McKinnon-Emily!–had really invited her to share honestly. And she had: as much as was “beneficial.” Emily didn’t need to know all the details, of course. Some things were between God and herself. But Melisssa had felt that Emily was really, truly listening. So, maybe when this was over, Melissa would have a powerful ally to spread the Word.

Someone had found a radio, and her leadership team was gathered to hear the President’s address. Everyone was fascinated, of course! What would the President of the United States say about Philipsburg, PA? About them?

Melissa watched everyone settling in, drinking their electrolyte solutions, shifting nervously.

Robbie and Cody, sitting near her, attentive, ready. Noah sitting beside Hannah. Kyle kind of spread out, lounging in the back. Jim sitting ramrod straight, as was his habit. The other girls-women-spread out. Melissa observed them. Which of them would pass the trial? She wasn’t sure who she wanted it to be; there was a competitiveness amongst them now. It was all transparent to Melissa, she saw everything, how Nancy and Vannah were looking at Kyle (and frowning at each other), how Julia was sitting properly just in view of Jim. How Emma was licking her lips and trying to catch Cody’s eye. Avery surprised Melissa; little Avery was tracking Robbie. Melissa hadn’t imagined anyone would be after scrawny little Robbie, but she supposed there must be a type for everyone. The other women, Kayla, Isabel, Natalie, Paige, at the moment they were more focused on the radio than the other members of the team.

Melissa turned her attention back to Emma. Cody had yet to be fully tested himself. She had no doubt he would pass of course. He was her favorite, so of course he would pass. But did she really want him to be tested with just anyone? He was hers after all.

But this was the power of the Word. Melissa could even see into her own heart, and she saw that selfish, possessive impulse. That was not love. No, she should bless Cody with the same trust she was giving Robbie, and soon, Noah. Cody would bring the trial to Emma. Melissa decided.

And then the President spoke.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.”

That familiar voice, authoritative, calm, measured. Old.

“My fellow Americans, I come before you today to address rumors and speculation that have been swirling about events in Pennsylvania. I’m here at Independence Hall, where our nation began two hundred and forty six years ago.

“I will be honest. Before this week I didn’t know much about Philipsburg. We are a large country, with many beautiful small towns where the citizens of our nation work, live, build their families, contribute to their communities. Towns of churches, schools, and the small businesses that are the true essence of our great Nation.

“But now I know Philipsburg. I have spent the last 24 hours with the Vice President, the cabinet, and our security and military advisors learning everything there is to know about the lovely town of Philipsburg, Pennsylvania… and the radical terrorists who are holding this town hostage.

“We have always known this risk was out there, and —”

The room erupted in sudden shouts, cries of “What?”

Cody had gone pale. He stepped forward and switched off the radio.

“We don’t need to hear any more of that, I guess.”

“What does it mean?” Hannah asked, an edge of fear in her voice.

Melissa spoke, putting all of her gift into her words.

“It means that they still don’t understand this condition well enough to name it. Government scientists are making excellent progress, but Dr. McKinnon has explained that they don’t want to cause a panic.”

Kyle spoke up, the first time Melissa could remember him actually speaking in more than grunts of acknowledgement. “They’re gonna kill us.”

“What on earth?” Melissa said, suddenly terrified. It’s what Dr. McKinnon had been hinting of during their call. But she couldn’t let anyone think it. Not any of her team. Not herself. “No! Of course not.”

Kyle shrugged. “The president just told the biggest lie he could find. There’s no way they’re letting us out of here now.”

Melissa took a breath. It was a good point.

“They have poured so much help into this place, they are still dropping supplies every few hours. We are protecting the children. That’s not so that they’ll just turn around and kill us,” Melissa said, passionately.

She went on before Kyle could speak again. “I am sure they have a plan, but they have to avert a global panic. It’s…” she hunted for the word… “imperative to keep everyone calm. Here, outside, and in the nation. In the world.”

Kyle took a breath to speak but Melissa met his gaze and poured all her intention into him.

He shrugged, and looked away. Melissa was going to need to get better control over Kyle, but for the moment that was good enough.

“Now listen everyone. I had a long talk with the scientists this morning, and they assured me that this would all be sorted out by tomorrow. They are making excellent progress, with our help. The President is making sure the rest of the world doesn’t panic, and we need to do the same. We need to keep calm, keep our routine, keep things organized, do our duty by the young people of our town, and squarely face this tragedy. Like Kyle, like all of you, I don’t think it’s right for the president to lie to the American people. But that’s not our problem right now. Our problem is keeping each other safe, and keeping the children safe and healthy.”

She looked around the room, reaching out to everyone with her heart, filling them with the love and confidence to keep doing the work they needed to be doing. She saw who was doubtful, who was scared, who was resistant. Kyle was not persuaded. She would take care of that herself. Hannah was still a thorny one. Jim was skeptical. Natalie and Paige had a bright resistance in them that was very similar. They were sitting next to each other. Were they holding hands? Melissa pursed her lips. She would have to do something about that.

She had her hands full!

“Ok everyone, let’s make sure the seniors have the afternoon properly organized.”

* * *

Melissa made her rounds.

Cody

“Cody, thank you for taking charge in the room back there and turning that liar off. We didn’t need to hear any more of that garbage!”

He looked distracted. Melissa straightened her dress, tugging it a little to give him a little more cleavage.

That got his attention. “Cody,” she said. “I need you… to help me with something.”

His eyes got that glaze. “Of course, Melissa.”

“I need you to comfort Emma, Cody.”

“Comfort Emma?” He didn’t look confused so much as just awaiting further instructions.

“I can see she is upset by these developments. Maybe in about half an hour you could take her up to the teacher’s lounge and, soothe her. Help her… relax.”

“Oh. Robbie has told me about this. But, Melissa, Emma is… not…”

“You don’t think she’s pretty?”

“Well, sure, but…”

“What’s on your mind, Cody?”

“Emma’s a little too… sweet. I’d feel bad if…”

“Don’t worry, Cody. I have a good feeling about her. I think she’s going to pass the test.”

“Test?”

“God’s test, I thought Robbie had explained?”

Cody laughed, a short, tight laugh. “You really don’t get it, do you, Melissa. Ok. Let’s see if Emma passes the test. God’s… or mine.”

Emma

The conversation left Melissa a little on edge, but she knew that Cody was still under her control. Still, she wanted a word with Emma.

Emma had just finished helping get the lunch lines sorted. Meliisa took Emma’s hand and looked her in the eye.

Emma had soft blue eyes with a hint of green to them. Caribbean ocean eyes behind long dark lashes and set in a soft, smooth, lightly tanned face. She had full lips, pink cheeks, and long, dark hair.

She was wearing the basics: a white t-shirt tucked into jeans. It gave a luscious flare to her hips, accentuated a full figure that was on the generous side of proportionate.

Emma kind of reminded her of herself, in some ways. Studious, obedient, loyal, dutiful.

“Emma,” Melissa said. “I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am to have your steady presence on our team.”

“Oh, ah, thanks, Melissa.” Emma looked surprised, not least by having Melissa holding her hand.

“I feel like maybe we are sisters in a way,” Melissa said. “You and I have more in common, I think, than the others.”

“Oh, um, ok?”

“Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that Cody has been mentioning you a lot, and I think he is looking for a way to get some private time with you.”

“Cody? Cody is? Really?”

Melissa felt the tingle in her hand, the warmth in her belly. She softened to let that sensation flow between them.

“Yes, maybe. I mean, I hope so. I hope he’s not too shy.”

Emma smiled wryly. “Somehow I don’t think Cody is shy.”

“You might be surprised. Anyway, I just wanted to see if you might like that.”

“Are you Cody’s wingman??” Emma almost laughed aloud.

“No, no.” Melissa wasn’t sure what a wingman was, but in case it was something unseemly, she didn’t want to allow the possibility. “Just looking out for him… and for you.”

The pink intensified in Emma’s cheeks. “Well, I guess we’ll see what happens.”

Natalie

Natalie and Paige were packing lunches side by side for the kids who didn’t want to come to the cafeteria. Some had chosen the kind of quarantine life they were so familiar with from covid and didn’t want to be in a group setting.

Melissa watched for a few moments, the way Natalie and Paige smiled at each other as they chattered away. The darting looks they gave each other.

But Melissa also noticed the warmth in herself. What would it be like to have a female friend like that? A friend who would look at her like that? She had never had that. She shook her head; what was she thinking exactly? She didn’t even know.

Previously, she would have said: “Abomination!”

But if everything is permissible, how do you know what is beneficial? She had come here to pry them apart, but she changed her mind, and let them be… for now.

Kyle

She found Kyle in the library; not sitting at a table like a normal person, but rather on one of the broad windowsills.

“What are you reading?” she asked.

He looked up slowly, blinked, and snapped the book shut. “It’s called Battle Royale. Japanese.”

“Oh, I haven’t heard of it. I’m not much of a military buff, I guess.”

“There’s a lot of things you’re not. But you have changed recently.”

“Oh, you mean this dress? Yes, I was lucky to find this.”

“Hmmm. Yes, it looks good on you.”

Melissa smiled, sensing her progress. “Thank you, Kyle! I wanted to follow up on the thing you said, you know.”

“About how they are going to kill us?”

“Ah, well, yes, I guess that. I wasn’t sure you were really persuaded.”

“I get it,” he said. “You’re buddies with some power broker outside. You think you’re friends. You think they’re on your side. And you hold all the strings in here, so in here you are the power broker. It feels good, right?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Melissa frowned. “You are taking a very cynical view of things. It’s my duty to help protect the innocent children, and everyone outside is doing everything they can. There are a lot of people who are involved in this. Scientists, military, all the people who fly the helicopters bringing us supplies, all the people packing those supplies. Too many people to just hush it all up. And why would they go to all that work, anyway? You have to admit, they’re going to a lot of expense and a lot of trouble for us.”

Kyle shrugged. “Maybe. The left hand may not know what the right hand is planning. But we just heard the right hand, didn’t we. Now we know. So does the left hand, at this point. Call up your buddy right now and see what they say about the President’s little white lie.”

She would do that, but not this second. She had more important matters to settle.

“Ok, I will. I never thought I would be agreeing with the government, but sometimes a crisis brings unlikely people together.”

She moved a little closer, making sure he had a good view of her cleavage. The only drawback to this dress was that it was maybe a little too wholesome for God’s gift to her to be completely effective. She added another todo item: pay another visit to the backstage costume wardrobe.

“Are you suggesting?” Kyle asked. “You and me?” he erupted in a full belly laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Melissa said.

“Look, you were a freaky little church girl in school, and now you are some other kind of freaky. But I don’t think you’re my kind of freaky.”

“What kind is that?” she asked.

He picked up his book. “The kind who reads.”

“That’s so untrue! I read!”

“The Bible doesn’t count.”

“I read lots of things. Other things.”

“Books about the Bible don’t count either.”

Melissa pouted again. “You have a lot of rules and conditions. I would have thought that these times would let us put aside the old prejudices and conventions.”

“Look, I’ll put it this way. You really don’t want to have anything to do with me. You kicked out Thorvald. Others have been going out the top door in body bags. How do you know I am safe?”

Melissa had to stifle a laugh. Kyle thought he was such a rogue; if only he knew.

“Do you know why I am in charge, and not Thorvald? Not Cody?”

“So you admit you are in charge. That’s new.”

“Just to you. It’s better if everyone else thinks it’s Cody. Plus, you have figured it out anyway.”

“Ok, I’ll bite: Why?”

Melissa found herself wanting to tell him the truth. About God’s Word, about the Gift of the Spirit. But his words had already indicated he wasn’t ready for that.

“Because I know people, Kyle. And I know you are not a danger to me, and in particular you are not a danger to the kids.”

Kyle swung his legs over the edge of the windowsill.

“But you, Melissa. You are some kind of danger.”

She felt shock pass through her. “What? Me? I have been working tirelessly for the benefit of the children.”

“Maybe, and maybe it’s not the kids who are at risk. Maybe you do see into me. Maybe I am as harmless as you think. But I see into you, Melissa, and you are not harmless.”

“I like to think I am a fierce protector of—”

“No. Don’t give that bullshit. I remember who you were. A tiresome little chatterbox, God this, Jesus that. Nobody liked it. A few people tolerated it. Even the other kids in your church rolled their eyes at you, behind your back. But that’s not who or what you are now. I don’t know what you are. And that makes me uneasy.”

Kyle: a dark shock of short, straight hair. Lean figure, tall. He could have some Japanese in him. Maybe that’s why he liked that book. But not much. Maybe a grandmother or something. Good cheekbones.

They stood a couple feet apart. Melissa held his gaze. She felt for the heat in her body, and it was there, waiting for her. She felt her thirst, and tapped that also.

“Kyle,” she said, pausing, holding his attention. She put her hand on her belly, sucking it in just a little, pushing out her chest, just a little. “You feel it, don’t you.”

“I did,” he said. “I did. Not with you. Not now. I killed her, you know. I killed my girlfriend. So go ahead, kick me out now.”

“Now it’s my turn, Kyle. Don’t give me that bull… You do feel it. I know, because I already told you I know people. You’re just afraid. You don’t want to kill anyone. You’re a good man. God caught you in sin, and there was punishment, but God spared you for a reason, Kyle. For a purpose.”

Kyle wasn’t pulling his gaze away this time. He licked his lips.

“You made a mistake earlier, thinking I am hoodwinked by the scientists and the ‘power brokers.’ Of course I’m not. Kyle, I know the truth. The truth that they don’t let themselves even imagine. I know that this is not a disease. It is a purifying fire. It is the salt that took Lot’s wife. Those who are spared are spared for a reason. You didn’t kill your girlfriend. I’m sorry that happened, but God spared you, and brought you here… for a reason.”

“And what reason is that?”

Melissa felt the heat intensifying all through her body. It was like standing too close to a fire, except the heat came from the very center of her.

It had not been part of her plan. Not in the slightest. But she stepped right up to him, pressed her body against his, and tilted her head up.

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