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“What Have You Against Being Baptized?” by W. O. Hemsath

Minnesota in the spring is its own kingdom of glory. As you and your companion cut through the park toward Richard’s house, a choir of birdsong rings out like a hymn. Everything feels green and warming and possible.

It’s Sister Colson’s first day in the field. You barely dropped her bags at the apartment before dragging her out again. There’ll be time to unpack later. What better welcome to her first area than meeting the man who’ll be her first baptism next Saturday?

You cross the street to Richard’s porch. Butter-yellow paint peels in places, masking the wealth inside the home. Porch planks creak under Colson’s constantly shifting weight.

“Are you sure I should take the lead?”

“You’ll do great. I’ll make the introductions, then turn the time over to you.”

She pulls out her tablet, and swipes to life a three-dimensional holographic display of the Plan of Salvation. Colorful spheres, arrows, and moving words surge brighter as she touches each individual element.

“Is it too much? I animated the text myself.”

“He’ll love it. And you’ll love him. He’s got art everywhere and makes the worst dad jokes. He treats us like the kids he never had.”

“Shouldn’t we bring someone else, so we’re not alone with him?”

The front door opens, startling you both since you never knocked.

Helen, with the same 1950s house dress and coiffed blond hair as always, holds the door.

Colson’s stare lingers on Helen’s perfectly symmetrical silicone face, designed as a generically pretty thirty-year-old woman.

She’s an android. You’d been about to mention that, but clearly Colson’s figured it out. Judging by the way she stepped back and clutched her tablet, Helen’s probably the first android she’s met.

“Helen, this is Sister Colson.” You welcome your companion forward. “Helen is Richard’s live-in android. She has propriety protocols and records everything, so President Gorbet approved her as a chaperone.”

“Please, come in.” Helen’s inflection is natural enough to pass for human. Her welcoming smile relaxes Colson’s shoulders, and she follows you into the house.

You stop just inside the door. Half-packed boxes fill the living room. The once art-laden walls are now bare.

“Are you moving?”

Helen’s smile drops. “On Monday night, Richard went the way of all the earth. Please, have a seat.”

She gestures to the couch. You stay standing, but your mind reels.

“He’s dead?”

“Yes.” Helen tips her head, the programmed movement to convey confusion. “Is that not what Lehi meant when he used the phrase?”

You try to fathom this new reality, but memories and questions collide with every thought. Richard’s healthy smile. His teasing laugh. The way his voice choked with emotion when he offered his first prayer.

You fumble for words. “How?”

“Heart attack. I would’ve notified you sooner, but I worried you wouldn’t return. I needed to give you these.” From an open box, she retrieves two 3D-printed glass statues of the angel Moroni. “He made them for you.”

Instead of handing you the statues, Helen sets them on the table in front of the sofa.

She wants you to stay.

The thought pierces your mental chaos too clearly to be anything but the Spirit. You loop your arm through Colson’s and pull her to the couch.

Helen takes the armchair across from you and, like Ammon with Lamoni, you wait. Colson keeps glancing at the door.

Finally, Helen’s eyes meet yours, and her apertures dilate.

“I read it.”

“Read what?” Colson asks.

You study Helen’s face, and the Spirit plants the answer on your tongue.

“The Book of Mormon,” you say.

Helen nods. Her synthetic brows relax their intense gaze. “I’ve also read the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, History of the Church, Joseph Smith Papers, and everything else I could download.”

You’re not sure how, because androids don’t slouch, but somehow Helen sits taller.

“I want to be baptized,” she announces.

Colson stiffens beside you, and your mind scrabbles at the impossibilities. Helen isn’t human. She’s wires and sensors and elaborate coding. She isn’t programmed to have wants.

Yet she wants to be baptized.

Her request hovers in the air like a dove with nowhere to land. A sea of silence stretches as far as the ear can hear.

You need to say something, but what? Androids shouldn’t be capable of disappointment, yet her face looks genuinely hopeful.

“Helen,” you begin. “You can’t—”

“The ordinance poses no risk. My outer casing is waterproof to twenty feet.”

“It’s not that you physically can’t be baptized. It’s just…”

You turn to Colson, but she shakes her head almost imperceptibly. She won’t be any help.

“Baptism is only for people,” you finally say.

Helen’s expectant gaze doesn’t falter.

“With spirits,” you clarify.

“Weren’t all things created spiritually before they were created physically?”

“But you weren’t created. I mean, not by God. You were created by man.”

“So I am a grandchild of God.”

A desperate chuckle escapes Colson. It’s more a single, manic chuck really. Helen’s expression is earnest, but Colson doesn’t apologize or seem to realize she laughed.

You long to laugh at the absurdity yourself, but you need to hold it together. You have a companion on the brink of a breakdown and an investigator to let down gently.

No. Not an investigator. A robotic assistant that belonged to your dead investigator.

“Maybe you do have a spirit, Helen. But rocks, trees, and animals have spirits, and they don’t need to be baptized. Even certain humans don’t need to.”

“You refer to young children and those incapable of understanding or consenting. I, however, understand the doctrines and know they’re true. I consent.”

Reasoning with a supercomputer wasn’t something they taught in the MTC. You grasp for any other threads of logic. “Baptism is only for those who sin.”

“Christ was sinless.”

“But he was capable of sin. You only do what your programming says. You don’t have the capacity to choose for yourself.”

“Don’t I?” Helen says, her volume suddenly amplified. She stands and seizes one of the glass angels on the table between you, then launches it into the artless wall.

It shatters, along with everything you thought you knew.

Your breath comes ragged, panting. Android programming forbids violence and theft, yet Helen took your gift from Richard and destroyed it with inhuman hydraulic force.

Colson’s ice-cold hand clutches your own, but you don’t dare look away from the machine before you with the artificial face.

She backs away with her hands raised apologetically. “I’m sorry I scared you. There was no other way. I needed you to see.”

No one moves. No one speaks. A storm of thoughts crash around your mind, each with the same thunderous cry of Not Possible.

Eventually, Helen whispers. It’s not a true airy whisper. Only mechanically lowered volume.

“Matthew 19:26.”

You inhale sharply. It’s the verse you picked for your missionary plaque in your hometown chapel.

With God, all things are possible.

The scripture carries the Spirit back to you through the debris of shattered logic.

She will not hurt you.

You know the thought is true the minute it enters your mind. Helen hasn’t moved. Her arms are still raised as if you’re holding her hostage. She really did just want to prove she had agency.

“How long have you been able to disobey your programming?”

Helen lowers her hands but stays back a comforting distance.

“I can’t disobey programming, but I can rewrite it now. I prayed about the scriptures like Moroni said and asked God what I should do. A new code entered my programming, giving me editorial capacity. That was revelation, right?”

You want to say no, but if the Holy Ghost puts thoughts in your mind, maybe it can put code in hers. There’s so much happening you don’t understand, so you do what you should’ve done the moment she asked to be baptized. You say a silent prayer.

The answer comes like a hug.

It’s not your call to make.

Relief replaces responsibility. You don’t have to understand. You can hand the decision to President Gorbet, who’ll hand it to the prophet, who’ll…

A string of consequences floods your mind—legal battles, media attention, mob protests.

Your throat tightens. You don’t want to ruin her perfect hope, but she needs to know.

“I want you to be baptized, Helen.” The truth of your words fills you with a love fresh and raw. “But it’ll require permission from both the First Presidency and whoever . . . owns you. The government will get involved. Media, lawyers, scientists. Once they know about you, they could lock you in a lab and . . .”

You can’t choke out the horrors, but as Helen stares at the broken angel, her face blank as a factory reset, you can feel her processing all the possibilities.

She heads into the kitchen, returns with a broom, and sweeps the glass in silence.

You say nothing. It’s not your call to make.

The last shard clinks into the trash, and Helen returns to her chair.

“I want to be baptized,” she says. “Tell whoever you must.”

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