In the previous installment, Azibo attends Catholic mass and speaks to a priest afterwards. He’s amazed by the gentle priest, who has a nonchalant attitude about Portia and the religious war going on. As he’s leaving the church, the self-doubts creep in again about the suicide mission.
Let’s jump to Part 14, where Azibo meets up with Horace, his Collective contact, and something happens that irrevocably changes Azibo’s troubled life.
Horace stood there under the bluish lamplight, smoking his old-fashioned cigarette. Pickles, his dog, was nowhere to be found and, as Azibo approached him, he felt his muscles tense. He was excited for the meeting, but anxious, too.
“There he is!” Horace exclaimed.
“Ah, he croaked. A few days ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Horace spit on the sidewalk. “It’s no skin off my back. That dog was a pain in the ass, and he cost me money. I’m glad he’s gone.”
After spending time with the priest, seeing Horace was quite the shock. The man was crude and disgusting, and Azibo began to hate him.
“Listen,” Horace whispered. “You’ve seen the news?”
“About the hit list?”
“Yeah … we need to go somewhere else tonight; not my apartment. I’ve already noticed AIs in my building, on the streets. This town is bugged to hell.”
“Where can we go that’s safe?”
“I know a place.”
It was after midnight and downtown was a party-zone. They pushed their way through the crowd, through the maze of streets. Azibo had no idea where they were heading and began to feel nervous. Could he trust Horace?
They walked for a good thirty minutes until they reached the shipyard on the river. Horace barely spoke to him the whole time, and Azibo assumed it was because he didn’t want to be overheard. Horace led him into an abandoned ship docked on the river, finally stopping to light a cigarette.
“Here we are,” Horace said.
“So, it’s safe here?”
“For now. But the feds are moving fast, so no place is safe for long.” Azibo turned on the flashlight on his watch, but Horace stopped him. “No, not now. Can’t draw attention at all. We’ll have to stay in the dark for now.”
“So, what’s up? Why did you want to meet tonight?”
“There’s been a change of plans. Now that police pressure has increased, we’re doing the bombings earlier – not on Portia Day.”
“Two days from now.”
Azibo’s heart sunk. Horace’s words sounded like a death sentence because, well, it was. What happened to his allegiance to the cause? Suddenly, he was feeling very squeamish about the whole thing.
“Okay. Good. So, what do I need to do?” Azibo stammered.
“First of all … You’re still good to do this? I don’t want you backing out now. And, you should know, now that you’re in this deep, you can’t get out.”
“What do you mean?”
In the darkness, Azibo heard the click of a loaded gun.
“What I mean is, you know my name now. You know about confidential Collective intel. And, if you back out and snitch, well …”
It was a threat, Azibo knew, and the reality of the situation began to sink in. He couldn’t drop out even if he wanted to.
“No, I’m still committed. You don’t have to worry about that.”
Horace lit yet another cigarette, and Azibo briefly saw his ugly, shadowed face from the light of the match. He also saw the handgun he was holding.
“Okay, good! Now, let’s get down to business.”
Horace told him exactly what he’d have to do: bomb a Machina church in Center City two days from now. He explained where he’d secretly pick up the explosives, and he detailed how Azibo would have to get past security to gain entry into the church. The explosive would be a tiny one strapped inside his shoe, but would carry quite a punch.
He also told Azibo (perhaps he told him too much) that other coordinated attacks would happen throughout the city and the country that day. The plan was to re-create Sebastian Fuller’s mass chaos on a grand scale, therefore sparking a revolution or civil war. Government and public infrastructure would be targeted, as well, hopefully leading to widespread looting and anarchy.
“So, that’s that. Questions?” Horace asked.
“Well … I mean, it’s a lot. A lot of dead people, I’m guessing.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Horace sounded pissed. “Don’t give me that. You’re starting to worry me, kid. Wait … you’re one of those religious freaks, right?”
The words cut Azibo to the bone. Wasn’t that the point? Wasn’t that what The Collective was all about?
“I’m religious, but not a freak,” he corrected him. “And if I’m not mistaken, Sebastian Fuller, the man who started it all, was quite religious.”
Horace laughed bitterly. “Give me a break. Fuller was a hypocrite. You know how many girlfriends he had? He had about twelve kids from ten different women. He was power-hungry, that’s all. Sure, he knew the bible and all that dumb shit, but that’s not the real reason he hated Portia.”
“Then why did he?”
“Because Portia effectively ended his self-righteous and bullshit way of life. He was the type of person who viewed America as a Norman Rockwell painting. Church on Sundays, apple pie afterward, white picket fences.
“Those days are long gone, my friend, and we’re better off for it.”
Azibo stood there in the dark, stunned. He felt the rage boil up inside of him. He felt like a sucker, and his bruised ego was too much to bear.
“But … no, he was a visionary. Fuller was a genius. I’ve read his writings, the Collective writings, maybe hundreds of times. You’re lying.”
“It’s all propaganda, kid. It’s bullshit.”
“But … then, you. Why are you doing this?”
“Why do you even care?” Azibo’s voice was raised; he felt on the verge of tears. “Why are you Collective? If you’re not a true believer, then why even bother?”
“Hey, calm down. You’re getting loud.”
“No! Answer me! Why?” Azibo was shaking Horace now, and tears streamed down his cheeks. Horace tried to break free, but Azibo was strong, and he pushed him to the ground. They tumbled around in the darkness of the ship.
“The fuck, dude?” Horace yelled. “You’re nuts! Knock it off!”
The gun had fallen from Horace’s hands, and Azibo fished around in the dark for it. He felt the cold steel when he picked it up, then turned on the flashlight. The light beamed into Horace’s scared eyes.
“Fuck you!” Azibo screamed. “You bastard! You’re a liar!”
He fired four shots into Horace’s chest. His ears rang from the incredibly loud sound, and he crumpled to the floor on his knees, sobbing. In his blind rage, he hadn’t realized what he’d done, and it still hadn’t hit him yet.
Azibo lay there next to the corpse and cried. Outside, he heard the squawk of seagulls flying over the river and the water lapping on the deck.
He sent a message to Unity: “Please respond. I’m in trouble.”
To be continued
Check the following links to see previous installments of Mother Portia: