Putting the “Soap” in Space Opera
A space opera is a kind of story that is part science fiction and part soap opera. Here’s an excerpt from book four of the Alien Revelation series, called The Celebration. I think it shows the power of the human emotional elements even in a story that deals with leaving planet earth and traveling to a new universe.
Here’s what you need to know to understand the excerpt. Roger Seaton and a group of followers have received a revelation from an alien being. That revelation requires the group to do a difficult task and then to leave earth, taking as much of humanity with them as they can persuade to go along. Roger’s connection with the alien has changed him so that he can look inside people and manipulate things. Sometimes he can heal, sometimes not.
Tom Harrison is a catholic priest who feels disappointed in himself and in the church he serves. Sister Mary Celeste is a nun who teaches autistic children. Adelle is one of her students who was cured by Roger at an early point in the revelation.
The purpose here is to tug at your emotions – to make you feel for the characters.
My favorite part? Where Adelle asks Roger to heal her friend. She tries to explain to Roger why Andy should be healed, saying in her childlike way, “He’s really nice.”
Now that’s soap opera and it’s also enough. Here we go:
They walked mostly in silence, across the park and down a side street. Finally they arrived at the church Roger had sat in one evening. They didn’t go inside, but went into the building across the street. The sign above the door identified it as a school.
The reception desk was facing the door. An older nun in full traditional habit was behind it. There were sounds of children wafting in from the distance – sounds of life.
“Could we speak to Sister Mary Celeste?” Roger asked the nun.
She studied some papers in front of her. “She doesn’t have a class right now. I’ll see if I can reach her. Please sign in and then have a seat.”
They put their names in the log and sat. They heard the receptionist say, “Celeste, there are two gentleman callers for you. Yes, two. A Roger Seaton and a Tom Harrison. Yes? Okay, I will.”
“She will be down shortly,” the nun said with a smile.
As they waited, Tom looked at Roger with a questioning expression, but didn’t say anything.
It only took two minutes. Sister Mary Celeste appeared from the hallway to their left and headed right for Roger in full stride. He stood and then was uncertain of what to do until Celeste put her arms out for hug. He obliged.
Today she was wearing jeans and a shirt, but her round face was still highlighted by her nun’s veil. “Roger, I’m just thrilled you came by. Do you have time for me to show you around?”
“Sister Mary Celeste, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Tom Harrison. I know he’d appreciate it if you could show us both around.”
“Sure, I will. Glad to know you Mr. Harrison. Can I call you Tom?” He smiled at her and nodded his head. Roger could tell he liked Celeste.
She led them back down the hallway and let them peek in several classrooms. Kids of all ages, sizes, and colors were hard at work at the business of being kids – and of learning. In every classroom, one or two nuns – some old and a few young – were leading the learning. Some smiled at them momentarily as they looked in. Roger could feel their dedication, their competence. The air was filled with the low level sounds of a well-run school.
Soon, they went up a flight of stairs and entered a different part of the building. It was much quieter. Celeste motioned them into a meeting room and closed the door. “This is our special needs area. Each child is given an assessment and an educational plan is built based on that. Some of these kids are close to being able to go to regular classes. This is where I work. Excuse me for a minute.”
She left them alone. Tom looked out the glass windows of the meeting room into what looked like a classroom. A little boy was playing with a train. He moved it with his right hand and then pulled it back with his left. He did that again and again.
When Celeste returned, she wasn’t alone. With her was a cute girl dressed in the uniform that was used in the school. Roger recognized her instantly. It was Adelle.
“Adelle, do you remember Mr. Seaton? And this is Mr. Harrison.” She added gently, “Tell them that you are happy to meet them.”
She walked to Roger and studied him. “I do remember you, Mr. Seaton. And I am glad to meet you Mr. Harrison.” Celeste’s smile dominated her face. Roger thought her eyes looked watery.
Adelle looked outside the meeting room and then to Roger. “That’s my friend Andy. He’s doing it again, isn’t he Sister?”
Celeste nodded. “Yes he is. Do you want to go play with him?”
Adelle opened the door and skipped over to the little boy. She got on her knees right beside him. They could see she was talking, but he didn’t look up. He just kept playing with the train.
“Sometimes Andy is quite communicative. He reads and laughs and interacts. He’s definitely getting better, but he still has these periods of repetitive behavior.”
Now Tom spoke up, “Are all his RRBs lower order?”
Roger had no idea what this meant. Celeste was surprised at the question. “Are you a doctor?
“That’s close enough. Yes, it appears that his repetitive behaviors are all lower order. He plays with that train as you see. He has a rock collection and sometimes he stacks and unstacks them again and again.”
Roger was lost and Celeste saw the signs on his face. “It’s a coping mechanism for these kids. They are trying to bring order to a suddenly chaotic world – or so it looks like to them. They shut out all the outside ‘noise’ by focusing on a single thing to the exclusion of most other things. At least that’s the current thinking. Is that right, Doctor?”
“Yes, Sister. That’s my understanding as well.” He paused, deep in thought. “And Adelle? Did she have ASD as well? How did you treat her?”
Celeste laughed, “Roger did it. Didn’t he tell you? I met him one day when I took Adelle to the park. For some reason I could feel his concern for her. As we were getting ready to leave, he reached out to her and I had the strongest impression that he was praying for her to get better. I pray often, Doctor Harrison, but right then I prayed for Adelle and I think Roger did too. I don’t really know why it happened that way – it just did.
“That’s when God made her better. She reached out to Roger – that never happened before. From that point, she’s become more and more acclimated to living in our world. A couple of weeks ago, she joined our regular classes and she’s doing well.
“It’s not a treatment you can write a paper about, Doctor Harrison, but sometimes prayers really do get answered and miracles really do occur. I believe that.”
Roger could tell that Tom was moved by this beautiful person. “I believe that too, Sister,” he said quietly.
In the ensuing silence, they heard Adelle singing faintly through the glass. Roger turned his attention back to Celeste. “Do you need anything, Celeste? I mean, is there anything that would help you in your work?”
She smiled at him. “Bring your checkbook? We’ve had a diagnostic center on our wish list for three years. The diocese just can’t afford it right now. At $450k, maybe they never will be able to. And it’s not just my work. I’m a small part of the Sisters and Priests who run the school and the church. One of our parishioners donated enough to help us get started with this program – her daughter had ASD. I do what I can, though. We all do. It’s why we’re here.”
Roger rose, “It must be comforting to know why you are here – what your purpose is.”
As Celeste led them out of the meeting room, she said, “It really is, Roger. It really is a comfort and I thank God for it and for all these precious children.”
Adelle looked up as they walked over towards her. “Adelle, Mr. Seaton and Mr. Harrison have to go now. Can you tell them goodbye?”
In an instant, Adelle’s face went from showing happiness to a look of disappointment. She looked up a Roger with eyes that seemed too big for her face. “Mr. Seaton, Sister told me that God chose to make me better when you and her prayed together for me. Before you go, can you do that for my friend, Andy? He’s really nice.”
Roger was taken aback by her request. His encounter with Adelle had happened during the time BP was telling him the first parts of the Revelation. Later, he’d come to understand he could heal, but until this moment, he’d never really believed he’d healed Adelle.
But he had. He knew it now and this knowledge hit him hard.
He stuttered, “Adelle . . . I think . . . ah . . .”
Father Tom cut him off. “Go ahead, Roger. Try.”
It was a one word command, but it was enough. He knelt by Adelle and held out his hand. He connected to Tom so that he could witness what was going to happen – if anything happened at all.
Adelle put her tiny hand in his. It felt small and fragile.
Then she tried to connect to him.
Roger felt Tom’s shock at what was happening, but he allowed the connection to happen. Adelle was feeling . . . determination. Almost before he could grasp the meaning of it, he was looking inside Andy. Adelle was leading him.
“See, Mr. Seaton. See? There it is. I just don’t know what to do.”
Roger would see two flowing areas in the boy. One was active, moving, almost thrashing. The other was quiet, but it moved slowly so that the two areas got closer together and then farther apart. And then closer together again. They repeated.
Roger could see that these two parts needed to be integrated together. Now they were too separate from each other. He reached out with his free hand and put it on the boy’s head.
He heard Celeste praying softly. Her voice sounded angelic. Tom took her hand and joined her.
Roger willed the two parts of Andy to join. At first, they seemed to resist – little happened. But soon, they started to combine into a single whole. Roger knew the process would continue. It might take minutes or hours or even days, but he knew the boy would get better now. Tom, through the connection, knew it too.
So did Adelle.
“Sister! He’s going to be better now. I know it.” She didn’t seem shocked or even surprised at what had happened. Roger guessed that everything in the world seemed new and wonderful to her right now. This was just another example.
But he could tell that Celeste was stunned. She wasn’t part of the connection and hadn’t seen the miracle like Tom and Adelle had, but she felt the electricity in the air – and the joy from Adelle.
And she realized that Andy had stopped moving and was just smiling at her.
Tom let go of Celeste’s hand. “I think we need to let the experts continue their treatment, Roger. Sister, we can find our way out. Perhaps you should stay with Adelle and Andy for a bit.”
Celeste was still trying to understand what had happened. She was confused. “Yes, maybe I should.”
Roger stood and so did Adelle. She still had her tiny hand in his. It felt natural to him – like it belonged there.
“Mr. Seaton. Thank you for asking God to help Andy. I knew you would!” She jumped up at him and he hugged her.
They left without saying another word.
Later, as they walked to catch a cab, Tom said. “Thank you, Roger, for letting me see that. I’d almost forgotten that the church is more than reports and cover-ups and old men jockeying for positions of power. It’s more isn’t it? Much more.”
When they arrived back at the apartment, Tom asked a simple question, “Are you going to arrange with Evan and Juliet to send them the $450k or should I?”
Roger answered with no hesitation, “You do it, Father. But make sure it’s anonymous. And there’s no need to report anything that happened this afternoon. We just visited this nun and they are in need and we’d like to help them out. That’s enough.”