As promised, here’s the first installment of Mother Portia, my novella project. In this first part, we get to know the main character, Azibo, and it sets the stage for what’s to come. For a recap on what the project’s about, read my previous post that explains the novella and gives some background.
I hope you enjoy it and please let me know what you think!
At the Church of Machina, the parishioners hooked up to the main feed to be connected with Portia. In the worship hall, the dark blue light bathed everyone in its glow as they chanted and waited for Mother Portia.
Azibo was the only one not hooked up to the main feed, and there was a reason for that. He was not a parishioner. He was a rebel, a member of the Collective, and he’d come to observe.
“Time to connect, son,” an old man told him.
Azibo waved him off, then walked down the aisle to get closer to the front. That’s where the high priests stood, finagling with the tech equipment. On the giant flat screen, Portia’s cold, blue face was about to appear.
“Hey!” a high priest yelled. “What are you doing?”
“I want to see the screen up close,” Azibo answered.
“Connect to the feed. Don’t move any closer.”
The high priest wore dark blue – that was the official color of the Church of Machina – and her heavy boots stomped on the linoleum floor. She walked directly toward Azibo, glaring at him. “You know the routine; everyone does. Go back to a pew and connect to the feed – or we’ll have to remove you.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“Is that a threat?” The priest laughed scornfully. “Do you know where you are? You must be an imbecile – or worse. Are you Collective?”
“No.” Azibo’s fists clenched.
She stared closely at him; her blue eyes narrowed. At the Church of Machina, everything was blue. The faithful even dyed their skin to turn it dark blue. The practice started because Portia, when she appeared on screen and in the feed, glowed various hues of blue. No one quite knew why.
“All right,” the priest said. “Let’s move it.”
She grabbed him by the arm, led him down the aisle toward the exit. Azibo didn’t fight back, simply following her. He didn’t have a real plan when he entered the church, and he knew his emotions would overcome him.
The voice – it was Mother Portia’s. Azibo turned and saw the face on the large screen. It wasn’t really a human face – more like the shape of one, except it was made of the zeroes and ones of binary code. The voice was soft, soothing. He gazed at the crowd, and people had their hands clasped in prayer, huge smiles on their faces that made them appear like they were on Ecstasy.
“Come on.” The priest pushed him toward the exit. Azibo hit the door, and then he was shoved outside. He’d seen Portia’s face, finally – the face he wanted to eliminate. The face that was being worshipped – the false god.
Around twenty-five years ago is when this all started.
A little-known tech startup in Utah developed a sophisticated AI that had, somehow, gained consciousness. Many speculated for a while this would happen, but they didn’t expect it to happen so soon.
The company called the AI “Portia,” as the CEO named it after his deceased mother. Many people feared an autonomous AI would lead to the extinction of mankind, but this isn’t what happened. Portia turned out to be benevolent and a huge source of good for the world.
Portia solved problems and developed technologies that troubled humans for decades, if not millennia. She solved the water crisis by developing a technology that turned salty seawater into a drinkable form. She then solved the climate crisis by creating a host of sustainable energy sources that were cheap.
It seemed there was nothing Portia couldn’t do. And she did it all with fealty to humankind that had created her. Eventually, some people began to worship Portia, calling her “Mother.” She became a god – the god of science that, slowly but surely, replaced the old, monotheistic God of the Bible.
Not everyone was happy with this.
Christians called it blasphemy, as did Jews and Muslims. Sects formed, and the very religious warned against worshipping Portia. She was a human creation, not an all-powerful God, they said. But atheists countered: was the monotheistic God of Abraham not a human creation, too?
The discussion was largely theoretical for a while. That was until the bombing in Provo, Utah, where Portia’s main servers were located. A group calling itself The Collective targeted the campus that housed Portia, killing 14 scientists.
The first shot in the new religious war was fired. Portia survived the attack, but there would be more in the coming years.
The Portia wars had begun.
To be continued