36. A Soul in Peril
30 Jan 2055 | 1200h
Gamma looked out the East-facing window of her second-floor bedroom. It was a clear day, and she could see all the way to town and beyond. When she was growing up, she used to look out over this picture and imagine herself adventuring all over the city. She would try and imagine what it was like inside of each building. She would imagine herself jumping from rooftop to rooftop. She would imagine climbing the tall Government Building in the center of town.
At times she would look to the south of the town and imagine herself living in one of the small farmer’s houses that peppered the large fields in that portion of the city. At times she would look north, and imagine what it would be like to be a student at the University. Or she would imagine herself heading into the heart of the Jungle, trying to find some rare tree or animal that had never been seen before.
Now, as she looked at the town and all that surrounded it, she just felt sad. Ten days ago, she had gone downtown for the first time in about half a year. At thirteen years old, she knew the western trails near her house like the back of her hand, but many of the features of the city were still a mystery to her. She was tired of using her imagination to think about what might be out there. She wanted the real thing.
Gamma knew she should count herself lucky. Her life was entirely provided for. She lived in a beautiful house on the Western Mountain Ring. Ten days ago, she had seen a crowd of protestors, many of whom would have loved to live where she did, with easy access to hiking and beautiful views of their city and all that lay beyond the mountain walls as the land stretched out toward Oregon. Gamma knew she was supposed to feel empathy for these protestors, to feel bad for their living conditions near the Jungle, but she felt just the opposite. Guilty as it made her, she felt that she would put up with living in any sort of house if it meant she could go somewhere other than her little territory in Western New Idaho and the Virtual World that her father permitted.
Her father. Gamma thought of “Papa Frederick” and grimaced. She remembered the sound of the crowd when he had made his rare in-person appearance at the protest. Cheers all around, some bordering on fanatical. None of them understood what the man was really like.
Or maybe, she thought, they did. His entire sermon that day had revolved around the importance of righteous anger, the likes of which she had lived under her entire life. A righteous anger culminating in a Christmas that cemented tension into the foundation of their household. She had trouble believing that these feelings would dissipate any time soon, if ever. With the strength of her father’s convictions, she assumed she would have to be the one to come to a place of more empathic understanding.
Gamma wondered who she could go to, isolated in this area with a father she couldn’t confide in. Her mother would have been the next natural step, but Gamma feared that she was more scared of her husband than her daughter was. Come to think of it, Gamma realized with the strength of an epiphany, she barely had a relationship with her mother at all. Her mother had always come across as almost an empty shell, filled with Frederick’s ideology, a loyal disciple to the point of total submission to all that he preached.
At least she was allowed to read, Gamma thought. Her father hadn’t gone so far to censor this practice—so far. She shivered as she realized that he had the power to take even that away from her as soon as he realized these were her last portals to external ideas.
All the more reason to read as much as possible while she could. Gamma opened her Library Application on her Lenses. A grid of mini-bookshelves appeared in front of her. She selected the one marked “currently reading.” This shelf expanded to realistic proportions while those around it faded away.
There were only three books currently on the shelf. Gamma liked to read multiple books at once, but she didn’t like her shelves to get too cluttered. She selected a novel by JD Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye. She had heard that this book had been banned in many schools about a century ago. She assumed that meant it would certainly be banned from her household as soon as new restrictions were put in place.
She opened the Virtual Book to where she had left off. No sooner had she turned a page than she heard a knock on her door. ‘Gamma.’ Her father entered the room before she could respond.
‘Yes?’ Gamma answered.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked. Gamma could tell it was his attempt at acting cordial. His phrasing felt too unnatural for it to be a question of suspicion.
‘Just reading, Papa,’ she answered.
‘I see. Would you please come downstairs when you find a good stopping place? I would like to speak with you for a moment.’ Without waiting for an answer, he shut the door and walked downstairs.
Well, thought Gamma, that stopping place was immediately. There was little chance she could relax and finish up a section when her father wanted to “speak with her for a moment”.
Gamma made her way downstairs and found her father standing in the kitchen. ‘Why don’t we go outside?’ he said, opening the sliding door to the back porch.
The wraparound porch of Gamma’s house overlooked two jagged peaks that formed the Western Edge of the New Idaho Mountain Ring. On a clear day like today, if you stood on a chair, you could see out into the plains of Greater Idaho below.
‘So, Gamma,’ her father started. ‘What did you think of my sermon? At the protest?’
‘It was good, Papa,’ Gamma said. She doubted he was really interested in any sort of theological debate concerning his homily.
‘And what did you find “good” about it?’ her father asked.
‘Well,’ Gamma said, ‘the part about the first being last and the last being first was interesting. It makes it feel like everybody gets their turn.’
‘Hm,’ her father said, ‘yes. Everybody gets his turn indeed. You know, I have been meaning to ask you about that sermon ever since I delivered it that Wednesday. When was it? Over a week ago, now, I suppose.’
‘Yes,’ Gamma said.
‘Yes,’ her father said, ‘over a week ago. I have been meaning to ask you, but we have hardly talked since then. I don’t believe you have once opened your mouth to speak with me.’
‘I’m sorry, Papa.’
‘Gamma, I’m not sure how smart you think I am, but I assure you, I am not an idiot. You are not under the impression that I am, I hope?’
‘No, Papa. Of course I know you’re not.’ Gamma’s heart was beating faster. It was coming. The real reason he had called her out.
‘Then you should not be surprised that I have perceived the coldness with which you have treated me since Christmas. Since your punishment. Would you like to say something about this, Gamma?’
‘Do you believe you were undeserving of your punishment, Gamma?’
‘No, Papa. I deserved it.’
‘Hm. Tell me this, Gamma. How strong is your faith in the Lord.’
‘It’s—it’s strong, Papa.’ Gamma looked up at her father expectantly, hoping desperately that he believed her.
‘Your stutter betrays you, Gamma,’ Frederick said. Gamma stiffened when she heard his tone, slightly quieter, slightly more tense.
‘I just don’t want to displease you, Papa.’
Frederick looked over the jagged peaks before them. ‘Do you lie, then, to please me?’ he asked.
‘Gamma, I expect you to tell me the truth. As father and daughter, we must understand one another. We cannot operate functionally if we live on different planes. Tell me the truth. How do you feel about Jesus Christ?’
‘He’s the best,’ Gamma said quietly.
‘Perhaps it is just my own suspicion,’ Frederick said, ‘but I fear I cannot trust you. Tell me, Gamma, and tell me straight. How strong is your faith?’
‘Papa,’ Gamma said, ‘would it be a sin if I maybe didn’t believe in the same God that you believe in?’
Frederick’s face hardened. It was as he suspected. ‘Is this not the discussion we had on Christmas?’ he said. ‘If you do not believe in the One True God, which god do you believe in?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘And if you don’t know,’ Frederick continued, ‘how can you believe in him? Gamma, we must get to the bottom of this. Who would you rather worship? Zeus? Ba’al? Are you being led astray by Pagan gods?’
‘Papa, I don’t know!’ Gamma said, her voice slightly raised. ‘I only know what you tell me, and I’m not allowed to question anything about it. So maybe there is a better way, but I just don’t know.’ She turned her head to speak into her lap. ‘So I believe it, then, Papa. I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, I believe in Heaven and Hell and Purgatory and I want to go to Heaven, so I believe—I believe in it all.’
‘Gamma,’ Frederick said. ‘Was your brief view of Hell not convincing enough to turn you from your wicked ways, never to return?’
‘Yes Papa!’ Gamma said sharply, before shrinking back and repeating in a quieter voice, ‘yes, papa. It was enough. I believe in it all.’
‘Then I take it you believe,’ Frederick continued, ‘that you must honor your father and your mother.’
‘Do you see what I’m getting at, Gamma? I need you to show me more respect. I need you to talk to me more. I have asked you to be honest with me, and in turn I will be honest with you. The truth is, I am not entirely convinced that your soul is on a straight path. If you wish to be saved, we need to talk. We need to have an open flow of communication. I am the greatest resources you could possibly have for salvation, my dearest. Do you understand me? Please, do not take this for granted. Please, utilize this resource.’
‘“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Thus it is written in the book of John.’
‘I will not live forever, Gamma. Perhaps you do not now care or understand, but someday you will. I only hope that this understanding does not come too late. My greatest fear is that you will not join me in the celebration of eternal life.’
‘You will be at church tomorrow, yes?’
‘Of course, Papa.’
‘Very well, then. Gamma, thank you for talking with me. I know this age can be difficult.’
‘Yes, Papa,’ Gamma said. ‘I’m going to go for a walk.’
‘That’s fine. Just be back for dinner.’
Gamma nodded and left the porch to walk on the perimeter of the Mountain Ring. She had been walking these paths since she was a child, and to this day, they always helped her process her thoughts.
Frederick watched Gamma as she disappeared behind the first boulders in the path. She probably hates me, he thought. Oh well. There was nothing he could do about it. With her soul in question, measures had to be taken. She would understand when she got older. Everything he did for her—it was for the best.
For a thirteen year old girl, she really was precocious. Extremely gifted in intelligence. Frederick shuddered to think that such a talented soul could be corrupt—nay, that it was already corrupt, and if she did not save it now, her wickedness would set in like a handprint in the middle of otherwise smooth concrete.
Frederick was weary. The protest ten days ago had shown him another hard truth—how many people even in his own community were far from salvation. How many of them would be saved? How many could be? How many of them died today, and, without his example, were left without salvation? Countless, he had no doubt.
If he could save only one soul, however, it would have to be Gamma’s. This world was so rough, so chaotic and full of pain. The Lord had chosen him to address this pain, to begin to alleviate it from the shoulders of those weaker than him, those who had not heard the word of Christ, who still lived in darkness. He had such a great responsibility that he wondered if he would ever be able to appreciate Gamma the way a father should. All the more reason he needed to make sure they could spend eternity together.
As Gamma left Frederick’s sight, he prayed that she may find the love of Christ in her heart, and that she would come back from her walk refreshed for tomorrow’s service, happy and full of love. Truth be told, he worried about nothing else. Only that his one and only daughter be saved.