"In the beginning, there was light. And the light was without form, and without substance. Then, the hand of the son of God reached out and gave the light respite, and it was known as darkness. And the people knew the darkness, and knew that they could not see their iniquities and their blemishes, and they rejoiced. 'Praise be to He who will drive us back to the seat of the Father!' the people cried, and with a tumultuous roar, the world began."
Father Harrod looked up from his worn copy of the scriptures. He was preparing a lesson from the Book of Coercion for next Guiltday, but stopped when his secretary buzzed him.
"Yes, Mary?" he said into the intercom.
"Christopher Veritt is here, Father. Your one o'clock appointment. Shall I send him in?"
"Go ahead. And Mary . . . pull his file for me, will you?"
"Yes, Father. I'll send it over to your screen."
Father Harrod's computer beeped to let him know it was ready. He hit the space bar, and the file came up on the monitor.
The door opened, and in walked a young man with a scruffy beard and long, kinked hair. The man bowed, and the Father offered him a spot on the floor.
"Thank you, Father. I was afraid that my offering wouldn't be enough to grant me an audience," the man said, and knelt down on the ornately embroidered rug.
"It is not the amount that matters, my son," said Father Harrod. "We wish only to be sure that your intentions are sincere. When you have more, you may return and complete your offering. Now then . . . how may I help you?"
"I guess you know my name, but I'm Christopher Veritt. I came to you because--well, because I need some guidance," he said. "I was recommended to you by the Church Probatum--they said you might help me."
The Father smiled and placed his hands together in a spire. "It is always prudent to seek guidance from one's elders, Christopher. The Probatum was correct--I have helped many a troubled youth in my day. Show me your burdens, that I may be a witness to your struggle."
"Father, tell me--why are we here? What is our purpose?"
"What strange questions! Surely these are things you were taught in school as a child? Is your memory so short?"
"No, I remember my lessons . . . but when I think back to the answers my indoctrinators gave me, when I asked questions . . . they seem awfully vague."
"Most interesting. Tell me, my son . . . do you devote much of your time to thought?"
"Not--some, yes. I just wonder, sometimes, that's all. I was hoping you could answer some of my questions."
The Feared Father paused for a moment to look at his computer screen. "Christopher Michael Veritt - Church Intelligence Dispatch C45120.C6," it read. "Records indicate a history of unorthodox tendencies. Disciplined twice for worship infractions. Suspected of possessing subversive non-religious literature . . . ." The list went on, but Father Harrod stopped reading and looked back at Christopher.
"Questions. You want me to answer your questions? Surely, though, you must understand that questions can be dangerous. Knowledge is God's realm, my son, not ours. But if I can ease your suffering, I will," he said, and slid his middle desk drawer quietly open.
"I've been thinking about things lately, Father--"
"A theologian, perhaps? Wondering about the nature of our Compellor, Lucifer Christ? Contemplating ways in which to serve his Church? Trembling at the vastness of his might and the swiftness of his fury? If so, you travel a noble path, my son."
"Actually, Father, my thinking wasn't really about the Church. Well, in a way it was, but it was more about me and what I'm here for . . . what my purpose is. Like I said, that's what I wanted you to answer for me."
Father Harrod sighed and leaned back in his chair.
"Perhaps you would honor me first with your notion of our purpose?"
"Well, sir--may I be candid?"
"I've given it a lot of thought, and . . . it seems strange that we should be here at all, if our only purpose is to glorify Lucifer and the High Father. Couldn't we have stayed where we were for that? I just think that maybe . . . ." Christopher trailed off weakly.
"Continue, my son. 'Maybe' what?"
"Maybe we're not just supposed to be here for that. I mean, we can think, and we can reason, and there are lots of things in the world that don't have anything to do with God--" Christopher shifted uncomfortably. "That came out wrong. I mean, that don't seem related to the reason we're told we're here."
Father Harrod was silent for several moments. He ran his finger softly along the smooth rod of the instrument in his drawer, nodding to himself. Finally, he spoke.
"Ah, Christopher. You indeed travel a perilous road. The dangers that accompany such thoughts are many, and poorly reckoned with by the ill-prepared mind. May I tell you a parable, by way of illustration?"
Christopher swallowed and nodded.
"Once there was a young man, about like yourself in nature, who was not content with the answers his elders gave him. He had a wondering mind, and was quite curious. He began to ask questions, asking his elders to justify their words and teachings to him. Time and again, he was warned by those wiser than he that there are simply some things that cannot be questioned, but their admonitions were to no avail.
"The young man progressed through life, gradually growing discontented with the way of his world. He began to study literature outside the realm of theology, and when the wicked thoughts he found there entered his mind, they poisoned him. He began to blaspheme in his heart, thinking about the nature of the Church, the nature of his life, even the nature of his God. Such thoughts did not go unnoticed, of course, and many others fell as a result of this man's ill. He progressed in this fashion, thinking and contemplating as though he were God himself to use knowledge at his will, until a day darker than the rest befell him. The man began to wonder at the nature of his own soul, that sacred treasure given into the care of the Church for its eternal preservation. When he began to blaspheme in this manner, of course, the Church was compelled to action."
The Father stopped and looked at Christopher, who knelt on the rug, eyes open wide.
"What did the Church do?" he asked quietly.
"What choice was there? The man's spirit was caught in the choking tendrils of a lie; the only solution was to tear down that lie and start again."
Christopher stared at the floor in silence.
"What other sins have you committed, young Christopher? Have you lusted after such knowledge? Would you transcend your mortal bonds, your fellow Churchmen, and seek the forbidden truths? Tell me now, so that I may pull your soul back from the brink."
"Father, help me! Please . . . don't be angry with me. I'm confused, and I'm frightened . . . I don't know what these thoughts mean. I do think about my life, and what I'm here for, but how can that be a sin? I just want to know, that's all," Christopher cried.
The Father smiled, but his brow darkened. "And you have come to me to make retribution for such irreverence, I suppose? I will be glad to send these vile thoughts fleeing from your mind." He took from his drawer a metal box with a long spindle attached.
"Father, please! I didn't come here to be purged . . . I came to find out what my thoughts mean! I only want an answer, and then I'll go on my way."
Father Harrod came around his desk and approached the kneeling young man. As he approached, Christopher rose and began to back towards the door. The father pressed a button on the box, and a beam lanced out of the rod's end towards the young man's head, immobilizing him. The Father clucked his tongue sadly at Christopher, who stood motionless except for a tear which rolled down his left cheek.
"There are many evils in this world, my son, and self-knowledge is the most vile of them all," the Father said sternly. "Only the Lord may know the meaning of men's souls, for he is our creator. Any attempt to steal this knowledge for personal gain is to wrong the Lord himself."
"Your mind has been poisoned, but I will spare your soul and expel these wicked thoughts," the Father said, more softly this time. He pushed another button, and Christopher's face contorted. He let out a small scream, and then his face and body went slack.
Father Harrod smiled softly at the man curled fetally before him. "Remember from now on that you are here but to sing the praises of our Compellor, without whom you would wander lost in the wilderness. Your name is Christopher Veritt," he said, as he helped the man to his feet. "Go in peace, my son."
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