In the previous installment, we get some background about the Church of Machina and how society is now almost a utopia. Portia has solved nearly every major societal problem, and people barely work anymore. The sole pursuit of most people’s lives is pleasure and leisure. What could be better than that?
Let’s jump into Part 6 and return to the world of Azibo and Unity, the Collective members and informants who are dissatisfied with the so-called utopia and hate the almighty Portia.
(Disclaimer: There’s a brief mention of cutting and self-harm in this part of the story. If this is triggering for you, please skip this part).
Azibo was on his third cup of coffee before the sun had risen, while Unity still lay in bed sound asleep. He’d stayed up all night, which wasn’t so much of an oddity, considering the drugs you could take to replace sleep.
The dog-eared copy of the Bible lay on the coffee table, and Azibo had speed-read through the book about Portia. As much as he hated to admit it, he agreed with Unity he should read and think like the enemy. The problem was it made him so uncomfortable – he could feel his blood pressure rise when people praised Portia and all the bullshit (he thought) tech she’d created.
For a moment, he thought about stepping into virtual reality to watch porn, but he let the craving pass. That was something he needed to work on, the character defect of lust that seemed with him constantly.
“You’re up early.” Unity appeared behind him, wrapped in her blanket but naked underneath.
“Yeah, I was just … reading.”
Azibo realized he was holding the book. Embarrassed, he threw it down on the table. “I was just skimming it. It’s garbage.”
“I think you’re lying. So, you took my advice? Reading what the enemy reads?” Unity smiled and picked the book up.
“No, I skimmed it. It’s not worth my time,” he lied.
Unity dropped the blanket to reveal her naked body. She was pretty, a little chubby with stretch marks on the dark skin of her stomach. Like some people, she refused the cheap plastic surgery that was available and kept her natural looks. She sat on the couch next to Azibo and kissed him on the cheek. Azibo flinched and stood up, and began walking to the kitchen.
“I don’t want you reading these Portia books anymore,” he said. “They’re polluting your mind. We have to be pure.”
“Oh, God. Not this again. You have to relax. Just because we’re Collective doesn’t mean we’re in a cult. Besides, don’t tell me what to do.”
Azibo poured another cup of coffee. Their apartment was a hole-in-the-wall: two bedrooms, old plumbing, and a cockroach problem. Nowadays, most everyone lived in luxury, provided free by the government, but only if they swore allegiance to Portia. People like Azibo and Unity were viewed as freaks. Why turn down a life of luxury for some abstract moral values? It seemed like nonsense.
“Are you becoming one of them?” Azibo asked.
“What? What do you mean?”
“Are you going to join Machina? That’s what I mean.”
Unity’s face twisted in anger. “The fuck, Az? I’m just as committed to the cause as you. How dare you question that.”
“Then why are you reading their books? And the other day, you said you’ve connected to the feed. You said it was ‘an amazing experience.’”
She covered herself with the blanket. She felt threatened and wanted to conceal her nakedness. “You’re such a dick sometimes. It was an amazing experience, and I don’t regret saying that. But that doesn’t mean I’m not against Portia. Remember, I’ve been Collective longer than you.”
“But I’m more committed than you.”
“Ugh!” She jumped from the couch. “You know what? I’m done with this conversation. You’re being an asshole, as usual.” She stormed out of the room, her bare feet stomping the floor.
Azibo sipped his coffee, the feeling of superiority satisfying him. He could hear Unity slamming things in the bedroom, but he ignored it. He had to be tough on her, he believed. He had to keep her in line; otherwise, she could turn Machina. He’d seen it happened so many times before, and he didn’t want to lose her.
Unity, fully dressed, stomped toward the front door.
“Where are you going?” Azibo asked.
“I need to get some air. I’ll be back in a bit.”
The sun began to rise, finally, and a faint light shone through the kitchen window. Azibo had breakfast by himself that morning, worrying about what would happen if Unity left him. He felt a twinge of panic and sent her a message, to which she didn’t respond. Instead of reading the Bible, he went into virtual reality and watched porn for an hour. Feeling guilty afterward, he prayed in front of the Virgin Mary altar in the bedroom and used a small razor to cut himself, ever so slightly. He knew cutting was dangerous and left scars, but he liked the suffering and felt he should punish himself.
To be continued
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