In the previous installment, we get some background about how Portia developed and how the Collective started. A televangelist by the name of Sebastian Fuller became the inspiration for the rebel group, leading a bombing of the Utah facility that housed the AI. Soon after, Fuller was imprisoned for life and an underground movement started.
Let’s jump into Part 4!
It was the Saturday evening mass at St. Mary’s in Rittenhouse Square. Azibo had never attended before but heard it was a beautiful service.
“Listen,” Unity began. “We’re just going to observe. If someone asks you a question, just give a polite, simple answer. We want to blend in.”
His hands still twitched; he wanted action.
“Okay, okay,” he said.
They didn’t notice any Machina Church members at first, but they did spot something. On the bulletin board entering the church, there was a Machina flier. It advertised a nearby Machina Church with big, bold letters saying, “The Future is Now. Come join the World’s Biggest Movement, Right Here in Philly.”
Azibo’s stomach turned. What scum, he thought, going into a church of God and placing this flier here. They should burn in hell.
A few minutes later, they were in the pew listening to the priest’s homily. His nerves were still shot, but the priest’s words soothed him. He spoke of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, a story his mother used to read to him frequently. The mass was sparsely attended, but Azibo was beginning to calm down. He closed his eyes, meditated on the words.
“Excuse me.” A voice in the front of the church. “Excuse me, father. I have an announcement.” It was a young man, probably early 30s, with a well-kept beard and cosmopolitan look. “I’d like to speak to the faithful.”
“Son,” the priest exclaimed. “You’re interrupting.”
“What you’re saying is outdated,” the young man said. “This is the old law, as you’d say. This book,” he said as he held up a Bible. “This book is two millennia old. There’s a new way now, a new law.”
People began murmuring in dismay. A few people shouted at him, and the priest just shook his head. Maybe this had happened before.
Azibo’s palms sweated, and the rage boiled inside of him. He wanted to march to the front and knock the man’s teeth out. He wanted to rip him apart.
“Listen, this is nonsense. We have no way of knowing if this God, this God of the Bible, exists. But we do know about Portia.” The young man had a stack of fliers, and he began handing them out. “Come to Machina Church, just across town. The future is now. There’s no need for this old stuff.”
Azibo glanced over at Unity, and she was furiously scribbling in her notebook.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Taking notes. What do you think?”
The young man had stopped talking, and he headed for the exit. He handed out a few more fliers than said, “See you all soon.” Azibo could smell his cologne as he brushed past their pew. His blood was boiling.
“Hey,” Azibo said. “Why don’t you show some respect?”
“Azibo!” Unity grabbed him by the arm.
“Respect?” The young man smiled. “For what? This old, dying institution? Stop living in the past, man. What are you, twenty-five? This is old man’s nonsense.”
Azibo stood up; Unity’s grip on him loosened. He stepped toward the man, getting inches from his face. “There’s no God but the real God. Your god is a sham, a creation of man.”
The young man didn’t back down. “And your god doesn’t exist. So … what’s your point?”
Azibo swung at him, his fist connecting with the man’s jaw. The young man fell backward into the wall, then stood back up, slowly. Blood trickled from his lip, but he smiled through it. “Collective member, maybe? I can smell one a mile away.”
Before Azibo could reply, Unity grabbed him and rushed him out the door. The night air was cool, and he felt his adrenaline pumping.
“What the fuck? I thought I said to blend in?”
“That smug bastard.” Azibo spit on the ground. “He deserved it.”
“That’s not the point.”
They got lost in a side street away from the church, heading back to the apartment. Unity stayed silent, apparently fuming. He glared at everyone who walked past, trying to figure out if they were Machina or not.
“You know, you’re a piece of work,” Unity finally said.
“Why do you say that?”
“It’s just too much. You can’t control yourself.”
They got back to the apartment, and she fumbled with the keys. He placed his hand on hers, still feeling his blood running hot.
“I can’t control myself. So what?”
“We have to be strategic. We can’t just announce ourselves wherever we go.”
She pulled her hand away, but he grabbed for it again. Then he slid it down to his crotch, which was swollen. She glared at him, exhausted but also intrigued, squeezing him through his jeans.
When they opened the door, they immediately began. Clothes strewn on the floor, they howled like animals that night. When Unity fell asleep, he went to the living room and picked up the book she’d been reading, the one about Portia solving climate change. The urge to destroy in him was gone, and he felt calm.
Despite the upsetting nature of the book, he read on.
“Never before has humankind been able to solve intractable problems so quickly and so decisively,” the book said. “It’s all because of Portia. We shouldn’t forget that just twenty-five years ago, we despaired about a warming planet and the extinction of our species. We should never forget this.”
Azibo pondered this for a moment, then put the book down. He picked up his old, dog-eared copy of the Bible and turned to the Gospel of John. This was the real stuff, he thought. There is no salvation in this life; that comes after this life. The world, as he saw it, was a corrupted place. Portia, as powerful as she was, couldn’t save it. Only God could, the real God of Jacob and Abraham.
He was sure of this.
To be continued
Check the following links to see previous installments of Mother Portia: