The next morning, Amos arrived at the hall and promptly went to Laurence’s desk. “Have you managed to obtain any further information on the manufacturing center?”

“I’m afraid not. Normally, we check energy consumption levels throughout the county and compare it to our estimates for that kind of operation. It seems they’re using power generators to keep it off the grid.”

“Either they’re purchasing very powerful ones or a lot of small ones to provide the power they need.”

“I can try looking into any big purchases,” Laurence suggested.

“Do that.”

He went to his locked office and found Archbishop Hughes waiting outside, his coat and hat in hand. “Congratulations on another successful raid, my friend.”

“Thank you,” Amos said as he unlocked the office.

“May I come in?”

“Please.”

Amos sat behind his desk, with Hughes still standing near the door as he closed it shut.

“My people are sifting through the theater,” he said. “I’m impressed with what we found. Disturbed, to be sure, but also impressed.”

Amos was mute.

“We were informed that one item was removed,” Hughes continued. “A painting, to be precise.”

“And?”

“Do you have it?”

“I do.”

Surprised at his frankness, Hughes sighed as he glanced over his shoulder. “I hope you realize that is bending—if not breaking—Church law.”

“If I broke any law, it was Commonwealth’s. And I didn’t break it. I’ve read both it and Church rules. We still allow displays of Michelangelo’s David, don’t we?”

“My friend, it’s not so much the painting itself as it is the way you took it without first consulting with the Church Council. And for the record, I give you my word that none of your men alerted me to the matter. One of the prisoners witnessed you leave with it and gave us a detailed description of the painting. When we separated and questioned the other prisoners in our custody, they all offered the same details.”

Amos looked displeased. “If what I did disturbs you, I must be honest; it doesn’t worry me. I broke no law. It’s not considered contraband under Church or Commonwealth decree. Were this issue to be taken up to either council, we both know I could demonstrate why it is in fact a legitimate and acceptable work of art that happened to be found amid degeneracy. At the same time, if the councils were to deem it objectionable, I would turn it over to them for destruction. Do you plan to file a complaint or take it up with the Church?”

Hughes was speechless for a moment. “Surely you understand that manner in which you did it had the appearance of subverting the law.”

“One of my own men thought it should be burned. That was enough for me to risk your displeasure by keeping it safe.”

“I don’t see why a painting of a nude girl is so important.”

“Our laws mean nothing if the men who enforce them can’t accurately discern the spirit of our laws. Perhaps that is more troubling than anything I seemed to have done.”

Hughes smiled as he put his gloves on and threw his coat back on. “Well put. I don’t intend to pursue this further. As I said, I’m chiefly concerned about the appearance of impropriety. I hope you will explain your actions to your men with the same clarity as you did with me just now.”

“I intend to.”

Hughes departed without ceremony. Minutes later, Laurence excitedly called Amos from his office. He was walking through the hallway as Jedidiah entered through the front doors and followed him closely.

“Any leads on the manufacturer location?” Amos asked.

“No, but we’ve tracked another sexbot purchaser,” Laurence said. “He might be of interest to you.”

Amos looked up at one of the monitors displayed above Laurence’s desk. A man’s disgruntled face appeared, followed by a name and the bounty price put on his head by the Commonwealth.

A large smile appeared on Amos’ face. “Where?”

“Getting the location to you now.”

Laughing under his breath, Amos put a hand on Jedidiah’s arm. “Get yourself ready. I want you to come with me. It’s important that you be there.”

“Why?”

“You’ll see.”

***

Jedidiah was perplexed as Amos pulled their vehicle up alongside the road outside of a decrepit mobile home park. The sign welcoming residents had fallen to the ground and was half-covered in moss. Yet, the lights inside the homes made it evident people still lived there despite the conditions.

“What are we doing here?” Jedidiah asked.

Amos drew his high-powered handgun and inspected it before putting it in his holster. “We’re here to arrest someone.”

“Who?”

“As I said, you’ll see. Just follow my lead.”

They got out of the car and entered the mobile home park. Wary, Jedidiah had his hand on his holster, but Amos shook his head as if saying there was nothing to fear. They walked to the end of the park, where on the right, an ancient motor home stripped of its wheels sat on a makeshift foundation of concrete blocks. A thin column of smoke seeped out from a stove pipe stuck out the side.

Amos looked at the mobile home directly to their left. A kaleidoscope-like face appeared in the window as its blinds opened slightly like blinking eyes. The face nodded, then vanished behind the blinds as they closed, like a dozen eyes shutting in terror.

“This is our man,” Amos said as he turned and approached the other mobile home. Softly walking up the steps, he drew his handgun and cocked it, directing Jedidiah to do the same. To the side, one of the windows’ blinds were closed, but they could feel a vibration of movement beneath their feet.

“Be prepared in case, but leave this to me,” Amos whispered.

Aiming the gun barrel at the left side of the door, he fired two high-velocity, low-impact slug rounds into the hinges, destroying them. The door fell backwards as Amos kicked it and moved in, making his way toward the bedroom in the back.

Shoving the door open, Amos trained his gun on two figures in the bed. A man immediately turned to face them. He was around Amos’ age, but bald and overweight. Perspiration fell across his forehead as he trembled.

Amos kept his gun aimed at the man as he grinned. “Hello, Leonard. Or should I call you ‘Mr. Meyer?’ It’s been a while.”

“Who are you?”

Amos touched the scarred section of his face. “Don’t you remember?”

“My God.”

“Yes, but not my God. What do you have with you?”

Meyer trembled as though shivering in the cold. Jedidiah walked around the bed, eying the other figure under the sheets. The young man gulped and retraced his steps backwards.

“Which girl did you buy?”

“Go to Hell.”

“If I want citizenship there, I’ll have you put a good word in for me.” He then grabbed the trousers and shirt lying on the floor and tossed them at Meyer.

“In the meantime, get up and get dressed. We’re going for a ride.”

***

Back at Cambridge Hall, Amos had Meyer escorted to a holding room from one of the converted Sunday school rooms. The sexbot was retrieved from their vehicle and sent to the evidence room, while Laurence took the hard drive and scanned its history.

After contacting Commonwealth authorities about the bounty, Amos led Jedidiah to where Meyer was being kept and led him inside. Their prisoner sat in the corner, his hands and ankles held close by restraining devices that tightened their grip if they felt certain muscle contraction. Amos had Jedidiah stand across from him and then sat on a stool in front of Meyer.

“For a Christ-denier, you’ve come a long way,” he remarked wryly. “From the 13th floor of an ivory tower to the 13th dumpster of a decaying mobile home park.”

Meyer grunted, but didn’t reply.

“You remember me now, don’t you?” Amos said. “Of course, you realize why you’re in my custody. You’ve violated both the Church and Commonwealth’s anti-blasphemy laws with that little website of yours. Breaking the Common Decency Act is just the cherry on top. A part of me wants to turn you over to Archbishop Hughes, but I’d prefer the whole nation see you tried for treason.”

Meyer seemed to plead. “Why can’t you just leave me alone? I’ve done you no harm. All I’ve done is engage in my right to free speech. Is the Commonwealth so intellectually crippled that it can’t fight on those grounds?”

Amos leapt up and struck him hard across the face, shocking both Meyer and Jedidiah. He then sat down, his hand still clenched as he laid it in his lap. “Don’t ever lecture me about freedom of speech, or I swear I’ll shoot you myself.”

“That’s all you have, isn’t it? I’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

“It’s my face that’s scarred, not my memory. And I recall you sang a different tune before the Turbulent Era.”

Meyer’s innocent face crumbled to reveal a Cheshire Cat-like smirk.

“What do you mean?” Jedidiah asked Amos.

“Before writing his garbage from that mobile home, Meyer worked for the Religious Toleration Association. Think of the exact opposite objective that name would imply, and that’s what the organization was about. Another example of their sorcery. He had the power of a king, and used every ounce of it trying to eradicate our people.”

He then stared at the prisoner. “How many churches did you successfully shut down by getting the government to revoke their tax-exempt status, Meyer? How many of my people had to worship in secret out of fear of your lackeys protesting their services and getting them fired from their jobs? How many people died that Easter morning when the mobs broke into the chapel and sprayed acid in response to your editorial calling our existence ‘poison?’ What free speech did we have then?”

“We opposed hateful groups like yours because we feared that this would happen. We were right to fight you. You’re living proof of it.”

Amos knelt close to Meyer, so their noses nearly touched. “It is I and my people who are justified in prohibiting heathens like you from like from spreading your hate toward our faith. You’re a vile cretin whose only power is the Satanic ability to wield seemingly noble concepts like ‘free speech’ and ‘personal liberty’ as weapons to advocate for the persecution of God’s people while shoving sexual degeneracy down our throats at the point of gun. You don’t believe in free speech or personal liberty any more than I do. The difference between you and I is that you lie about your intent. It is only now that you have no power and no influence that you advocate for the very freedoms you have denied us before and would if you ever obtained power again.”

Abruptly withdrawing, Amos marched out of the holding cell and waited outside for Jedidiah to join him. He locked the cell and then the two returned to his office.

“I wanted you to see that,” Amos said. “I hope you understand.”

“I do,” Jedidiah said. “I just find it rather odd that you fight Commonwealth censorship law one day and then enforce it another.”

Amos quietly turned to his bookshelf and picked up an old newspaper. He handed it to Jedidiah as he sat on his desk. “It includes a guest editorial my pastor wrote a long time ago, when I was young. Within days, he had to leave town due to the death threats made to his wife and children. When that happened, do you know what Meyer did? He wrote a post for his group’s website explaining how the ‘threat of theocratic rule’ warranted sympathy for the death threats. No one came to our defense. After that, our church closed because people left the congregation in droves out of fear, and we couldn’t find another pastor who was willing take the job.”

Amos’ eyes were moist. “One of Meyer’s millionaire funders and activist friends bought the church property and had it converted into a children’s indoctrination center of some kind. During the Turbulent Era, we managed to retake the church. But after what we found out had gone on to the children inside, we burned it to the ground. I set the building on fire myself.”

He took the newspaper from Jedidiah and put it back on the bookshelf. “I want you to remember that. I want the next generation to remember, so you don’t have to burn down something you love because you didn’t do what was needed to save it when you had the chance.”

Jedidiah nodded somberly.

There was a knock at the door. It was Archbishop Hughes.

“Do you have a moment, Amos?” he asked. “The elders’ council is meeting in the chapel over a rather interesting affair, and we thought you might be of help.”

“What, exactly?”

Hughes glanced at Jedidiah. “We’d prefer to keep this issue as private as possible.”

“I made it clear how I feel about participating in your councils.”

“Very much so. But we’d like your help, nonetheless.”

Jedidiah piped in. “I can work with Laurence on locating the manufacturing center while you handle this, sir.”

Amos was displeased, but shrugged. “Very well. Let’s get this over with.”

***

For all installments from The Pilgrim’s Digress, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Prologue
  2. Chapter 1
  3. Chapter 2
  4. Chapter 3