In the previous (short) installment, Azibo gets his first dose of life without Unity. He also gets a surprise note from Horace, their Collective contact, who wants to meet him one-on-one. Why does Horace want to meet so urgently? What does this mean for Azibo’s potential suicide mission?
Let’s jump into Part 13, as the series starts to wind down, and Azibo tries to find solace for his worries by talking to a priest after Catholic mass.
It was hard to avoid seeing Portia’s face when watching NetNow News. Inevitably, they’d show clips of Portia speaking to the world on matters ranging from personal hygiene to new scientific breakthroughs to nuggets of ancient wisdom. This annoyed Azibo to no end, and it was one of the primary reasons he avoided watching the channel.
On this lazy evening, though, watching the news was all he felt like doing. Since receiving the note from Horace, he couldn’t focus on anything. Sure, he daydreamed about the suicide bombing a lot. But now that it was becoming closer to reality, it made him feel increasingly nervous.
Unity wasn’t answering his messages, and he began to think she’d blocked him. He had an urge to get wasted again or watch porn or do anything to escape reality. Instead, he turned off the net and put on his sneakers. He decided he’d go to evening mass at St. Mary’s – the same church he and Unity had visited as informants. He wondered why he didn’t go to mass more often, and it struck him that now was as good a time as ever.
St. Mary’s was just a few blocks away from their apartment. He walked with his head down, avoiding the holographic images of Portia’s face on the sidewalks and jutting out from the sides of buildings. He also avoided eye contact with people passing him by. He wanted peace of mind, and he thought he could find it in the church.
Walking into the church, he immediately noticed how sparsely attended it was. He took a seat in the back pew and knelt down in prayer. Then, he went through the motions during mass, receiving communion, standing and kneeling, and quietly asking God for forgiveness. The rituals soothed him, and mass went by without any interruptions from suspected Machina members.
Azibo approached the priest afterward. “Father?”
“Oh, hello. Yes?”
“My name’s Azibo. Do you have a minute?”
“Why, yes. Pleased to meet you. Call me Matteo.”
“Father Matteo … I just wanted to say what a wonderful homily that was. It really touched me.”
“Glad to hear it, Azibo. I haven’t seen you much. Is this your first time at the church?”
“No, well. I’ve been here once before.”
Father Matteo was a small man with a shock of snow-white hair. His hands were wrinkled and looked like they’d seen some manual labor. “Yes! Now that you mention it. You were here the night of the latest Machina disturbance.”
“Oh, it’s no bother. It happens from time to time. They mean well, they really do. Unfortunately, I’m afraid many from the church have joined them.”
Azibo recalled the night of the disturbance – how he punched the Machina man and rushed out with Unity. In front of this gentle priest now, he felt embarrassed. “Yes. It’s disgusting. For these Machina people to come into a house of God and to …”
“I wouldn’t say disgusting,” the priest cut him off.
“This is America – a free country. We all have our rights. The Machina people worship Portia, we worship Jesus. The disturbance was a bit rude, but we live in rough and confusing times. C’est la vie.”
Azibo was shocked by Father Matteo’s nonchalant attitude. Why was he so unconcerned with someone interrupting mass? Why wasn’t he railing against Portia and the government?
“But … We must defend our God, should we not?” Azibo asked. “We can’t let them walk all over us.”
Father Matteo smiled and put his hand on Azibo’s shoulder. “Let me guess. Are you Collective? Don’t worry – I won’t report you.”
Matteo chuckled. “Yes, we get Collective types every so often. Very firm in their convictions. Much blood has been shed in the name of God over the centuries, Azibo. Not much has changed. But the way of the sword is not exactly how I view the Christian life.”
“Then how do you view it?”
“Love. Jesus said it himself; the most important commandment: To love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Azibo went to reply but stopped. Love? he thought. It seemed so simple, so elementary. So naïve. “I guess so, father,” he replied. “But there’s a war going on. Machina and the government; they’re trying to wipe us out.”
“They may succeed!” Father Matteo smiled again. “But that doesn’t mean we must fight fire with fire. Listen … we have a bible study every morning here. Why don’t you stop by sometime?”
“I will. Count on it.”
The old priest slowly got up, and they exchanged good-byes. Azibo watched him as he walked away, so short he looked like a hobbit. He was stunned by the man’s gentleness in the face of such adversity. He thought about the phrase used to describe Collective members: violent fanatics.
Then he asked himself as he left the church, “Am I a fanatic?”
To be continued
Check the following links to see previous installments of Mother Portia: