Degrees of Freedom
Robert regained consciousness. He was lying on the ground in the middle of a clearing. When he lifted his head and glanced towards his side, he noticed that the clearing was bordered by a tree lined lake. Once he cleared his eyes of eye-boogers and let them adjust for a minute, he could see dozens of canoes on the lake, each containing a fisherperson.
The view was serene, but what was going on in Robert’s body was to the contrary. His head was pounding and his stomach was far from being in prime condition. Last night he had disregarded the adverse effects of alcohol consumption; now he was being reintroduced to the hangover: one of the worst ailments known to man.
The reason why it’s the one of the worst ailments is not because of its severity to one’s health, but because of its commonality and the fact that it’s brought unto oneself consciously. Drinkers know they’re going to wake up feeling like something the cat dragged in, yet they neglect that possibility and continue to drink anyways. So the hangover brings to light the weakness of one’s own will.
Also, of all the known ailments, hangovers are one of the few that normal, stable people often premeditatedly subject themselves to. It’s socially acceptable to admit that you’re dealing with a hangover, yet if someone were to say that they were fatigued one day because they drink two liters of gravy a day in hopes of getting a heart attack, they would most likely be taken for a looney and then would be ostracized.
Despite all the philosophical and sociologically ways in which one can interpret hangovers, these were actually the last thing on Robert’s mind. In fact, what he was trying his hardest to do was to think of ways of getting rid of his. He wanted to get hangovers out of his mind completely and would have to do something about it soon. Back in the day his preferred hangover cure was to down two aspirins with a glass of water and then get something greasy to eat. Right now he would give up everything for that combo, but there wasn’t much hope for it because he knew that a greasy hamburger would be impossible to come by right now, as is aspirin.
Robert’s body then got the best of his mind. His stomach wasn’t agreeing with what he put into it last night, so it sent a signal to his nervous system. The result: his abdominal muscles contracted then out of his mouth came the former contents of his stomach. At least he was looking to the side when it happened; that made it so no vomit got on his outfit.
Robert now needed that glass of water more than he needed the aspirin or the greasy hamburger.
Round two almost happened because the word ‘greasy’ popped into Robert’s mind, but luckily he was able to fend it off.
He felt the need to get up and flee the site of the crime. It took him a moment of struggle, and it used up all of his energy, but he eventually got to his feet. When standing, he felt much more disorientated than he did when sitting or lying. His head was spinning and the world around him followed suit. He thought it best to sit this one out, so he stumbled over to a bench that overlooked the lake.
Once on the bench, his eyes shut and quickly enough he drifted back to sleep.
Robert was woken up by a man taking a seat next to him. The man gave Robert a few moments to collect himself, then he introduced himself.
“My name’s Darius.” He offered his hand to Robert.
Robert was in no mood for introductions, or a conversation for that matter. He took Darius’ up on his gesture and told Darius his name, albeit a tad bit reluctantly.
As he shook Darius’ hand, he got his first good look at him. Darius reminded Robert of himself; not the current Robert, but the Robert of twenty years ago. Darius had the same blue eyes, longish nose, and sandy blonde hair that Robert had at that age. Darius was more experimental with his hair, both head and facial, than what Robert had ever been (Darius’ hair was grown out and he sported a beard), but if Robert had ever risked it, he assumed it would look similar to Darius’.
The only difference between 35 year old Robert and current Darius was that Darius wasn’t as thin. Not that he’s fat in any way; it’s just that Robert would have been considered thin for his time, whereas Darius would be considered a ‘medium build.’
The resemblance had mysteriously cheered Robert up. For some reason he was drawn to this man. He wanted to know Darius, which put him into a more talkative mood than what he had been prior.
“Did you enjoy the celebration last night?” asked Darius.
“Yes, yes. It was excellent. At least, from what I can remember of it.”
“You feeling alright this morning?”
“I’m feeling terrible. I’m not gonna lie.”
“A lot of people have been telling me that today.”
“I think I settled my stomach problem, but my head is still pounding.”
“Here, eat some of this.” On the other side of Darius was a plate with some bread on it. He offered the bread to Robert.
Robert took a bite of it. It didn’t taste like any bread he had ever eaten. Quite frankly, it tasted pretty nasty. He inspected the bread and noticed that there had been something colored green inside of it.
“Yah I know, it doesn’t taste too good. Don’t blame the bread maker though. What tastes off is those feverfew leaves that I put in there. You would probably hate the flavor more if you had to eat them raw.”
Darius talked with a slight accent. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what it was because it was almost so faint that it was barely noticeable. But Robert was convinced that Darius had one. Robert’s best guess is that it’s some sort of Scandinavian accent. This theory certainly agreed with his physical features, but that wasn’t the main evidence in Robert’s assumption. He came to this conclusion because Darius’ way of speaking reminded Robert of his own grandfather who happened to hail from Denmark. They both spoke in a slow but crisp manner that put an emphasis on the last syllables of words. However, Darius accent wasn’t as thick as Grandpa Christiansen’s. Because of this, Robert speculates that Darius probably learned English earlier on his life.
“Feverfew?” Robert eventually asked.
“It apparently helps with headaches. Nature’s hangover cure. I’ve been giving it to a lot of people this morning.”
“You’ll be more thankful once the ingredients kick in,” said Darius light heartedly.
A canoe that was sailing near the shore went past the bench. A bearded man paddled it and gave a wave to Darius as he passed by. Darius gave a nod back.
“That’s Chad. One of the best fishers in the settlements. We’ll have plenty of fish tonight if he’s out on the lake all day.”
“Is that what you call this place, ‘the settlements’?”
“I guess so. It doesn’t really have an official title. We don’t bother with that.”
“Oh. Since it’s plural I’m assuming that there’s more than one settlement.”
“That’s correct. You’re in the south one right now. The original one. If you follow that road over there,” Darius pointed to an isthmus with a county road running on top of it, “for about a half-mile you’ll be at the north settlement. If things keep up around here though, we’re going to have to start another settlement.”
“Sorry if I sound intrusive, but what do you mean by ‘things keeping up around here’?”
“Ahh yes, I have to remember that you just got here last night. I’m assuming that nobody has explained to you what this place is and what’s going on, hey?”
“I gathered bits and pieces from the party last night, and through my travels, but I don’t think I know enough. It still isn’t clear to me.”
“You have the right guy to ask. I’ve been here since the get-go, so if there’s such thing as a resident know-it-all, it would be me.” Darius paused for a brief moment. “Well, there are others who have been here since the get-go, such as Chad over there, and they could probably answer questions to the same ability, but let’s just forget that for the moment.”
“So you’re kind of like the leader here?”
“Ha. I heard some people were getting a kick out of that question last night. The answer is no. However, I do have a bit of authority around here. Not in the sense that I have power and I’m willing to exercise it; more in the sense that I have experience and advice. The old meaning of the word.”
“Okay. Since you’ve been here since the get-go, right?”
“Almost fifteen years now. Ever since the Restructuring.”
“Whoa. No wonder you have authority around here.”
“Yes. It’s been a long ride. A lot of things have changed around in the last fifteen years, particularly in the last few months.”
“Let me hear it from the beginning. That’ll make it easier to understand what the settlements are all about.”
“Are you sure?” Darius looked at Robert quizzically.
“Sure, why not?”
“I wouldn’t want to endure a whole history while I was nursing a hangover. That’s probably the last thing I’d want to do.”
“I can rough it out. I’m starting to think straight anyways, thanks to those leaves you gave me.”
“I doubt the feverfew has taken effect yet. But if you say so.”
“Yes, go on, go on.”
“But where should I start?”
“How should I know. Haven’t you told this ‘history’ before?”
“Well start where you usually start.”
“Hmm. A good story teller has to know his audience well. I don’t quite know what is an interesting, from your perspective, point to start at.”
“Start at the Restructuring. That seems like an appropriate point of reference.”
At the time of the Restructuring, Darius was in his first year of studying at a community college in Virginia. He hadn’t gone into much detail about what he was taking or what school it was, maybe it wasn’t important to him or the story, what was important though was the cast of characters that he was hanging around with at the time.
He had been new in town and was eager to make some friends so naturally he was welcomed by the outcasts of his institution. ‘Have you ever noticed,’ said Darius, ‘that when you go to a new place you’re always welcomed by the strangest folk, whereas the ones who are established in the community are the ones that want nothing to do with you? Those that fit in don’t want you to fit in while those who don’t are the ones that want you to.’ Darius said that it was a rag-tag group of individuals. There were punks, ex-punks, stoners, Goths, ex-goths, amateur artists of every variety, hippies, neo-hippies, wannabe greasers, and a few other subcultures that he couldn’t remember the names of. It was a community of misfits. They were people with unorthodox backgrounds who probably wouldn’t have anything to do with each other if it wasn’t for this fact. Darius, who admitting to having an unorthodox background because he grew up fatherless in a paternal society, felt as though he fit in just fine.
The crew had their differences, such as their preferred music and choice of hairstyle, but they had found some unity in the fact that they were willing to embrace new ideas. They were free thinkers. This is what set them apart from the small minded townsfolk that had ostracized them throughout their lives, after all. Plenty of discussions were to be had about the different ideologies and societal structures. These were the most hotly debated topics, but the society of misfits never erupted and disbanded because of the varying opinions. They were civilized and respected each other’s viewpoints, and through this they were able to make constructive criticisms and notable suggestions. The group also had noteworthy conversations about a number of topics that the corporately controlled media of the time refused to talk about, such as environmental issues, the implosion of the consumer culture, and the fleetingness of America’s transportation system. Darius had never engaged in conversations of such matters, which made it all the more intriguing and made him more deeply connected to this group.
When the Restructuring finally came around, it brought a time when the group could put the knowledge of their debates to practical use. Although the group was open to new ideas, they weren’t open to the idea of turning America into one continuous franchise establishment that was to be spearheaded by a monopolistic corporation. It went against everything they believed in. They saw through the Restructuring plan and wanted to have nothing to do with it. So they renounced their citizenships to the Republic of America in order to escape a life working for Alpha Corp. They were to become full independents.
At this point in the tale, Robert asked for Darius’ opinion on the Restructuring. ‘It was sort of inevitable,’ said Darius. ‘America couldn’t go on the way it had been operating forever. Although I was new to the typical America, I could see its major underlying fault: it didn’t make anything. Now I’m no economist, but it isn’t hard to figure out that if a country doesn’t make anything, it can’t succeed indefinitely. You can’t have a consumer society without some production to support it. But that’s exactly what we had. Money would change hands and would be repackaged in fancy ways, but the well was dry. People would buy things with borrowed money that didn’t actually exist. It was a republic of jesters. The majority of people were useless because they were stuck in a failing system. So in a way, the Restructuring helped end that waning system. I can’t deny that. But it wasn’t mine, or my groups, ultimate answer to the question.’
Robert asked what the question was. ‘How do we want to live our lives?’ replied Darius. Robert then wanted to know the answer. ‘That brings us back to the early days of the settlement.’
Living as independents meant that the group would have to deal with a number of challenges. The biggest challenge they faced was how they were going to provide themselves with bare necessities. They would have to think of a system that would allow them to procure food, shelter, and water. So the group had a meeting during the early days of Restructuring that attempted to theorize which societal structure would work best in coping with their immediate needs. They came to the conclusion that they would have to shelve their utopian ideals because they were thrust into a situation that couldn’t be solved by any 18th-21st century ideologies. Instead, they would have to look to the past; way, way back into the past.
A few of the group members had taken a course in Native American Studies and one of them suggested that if the members of the group cared to survive, then maybe the group should live like the local natives did. The natives were able to sustain themselves for years and years on the local land, after all. The rest of the group found the idea reasonable, so the answer to the question (how do we want to live our lives?) was: similar to the Powhatan Indians of Virginia.
Darius mentioned that the group wasn’t willing to live exactly the same way. The group’s way of life was to be influenced by the Powhatan, not emulated. The group’s main critique of the Powhatan was that the Powhatan were a series of tribes that each had its own chief, and the tribes also paid tribute to a central chief. Many members of the group believed that their group should be a classless society, so the notion of chiefs and an overlord did not go over well with them. These people were more willing to take an egalitarian route, which is what the group attempted to do in the early years.
Although the society of misfits didn’t agree with the Powhatan’s system of social stratification, they did however agree with their ways of providing for necessities (with some alterations of course). A member of the group read in their Native American Studies textbook that the Powhatan had hunted and fished to meet some of their nutritional needs. That was reasonable enough. Some of the members had grown up hunting and fishing (a fact that they would’ve previously kept to themselves) and thought that it would be easy enough to salvage rifles, knives, fishing rods, and boats from local houses whose residents were being relocated to Homesteads across the nation. What they didn’t have, however, was a significant body of water to practice fishing, so the group decided it would be best to relocate further south-east where there are endless bodies of water.
Hunting and fishing hadn’t been the Powhatan’s only way of acquiring food. In fact, those were only alternative endeavors. ‘The Powhatan Indians primary means of supporting themselves was through agriculture, specifically growing maize,’ said the textbook. This posed a problem for the group. The majority of its members knew nothing about plants, let alone agriculture. How were they going to sustain themselves if they didn’t know the first thing about planting, maintaining, and harvesting a corn field?
This is where Darius expertise came into play. As it turns out, Darius grew up in a Hutterite colony. This would explain his accent (Hutterite German is his first language) and his unorthodox upbringing that was separate from the traditional American culture. ‘We are like Amish people,’ said Darius, ‘sort of but not really.’ Robert didn’t need to hear this for he was already well aware of Hutterites; maybe even too much so. Nonetheless, Darius made it clear to the group that he could teach them everything they needed to know about corn production. He would need to adapt to the new conditions, seeing as his colony had more high tech equipment than what the group would ever have (believe it or not), but he could remember the classic harvesting and pounding techniques that were practiced during the ancestor appreciation festivals that were held at his old colony.
Because of Darius’ knowledge, and because of the hunters and fishers, the Powhatan lifestyle was nearly attained. The group felled plots of forest, used the land for corn crops and used the lumber for a number of purposes; all the while people were hunting, fishing, foraging, and salvaging deserted towns. Life went on smoothly for the group members. They were able to produce enough food to achieve sustenance and once they had a few years’ experience they were actually able to generate a surplus. Every few years they would migrate to move away from nutritionally depleted soils and to have a new source of timber. ‘When I say I’ve been at this settlement for fifteen years,’ said Darius, ‘I’m sort of lying to you. We’ve only been at this particular settlement for two years now. But I’ve been with this group at the different settlements for that long.’
The settlement’s location changes haven’t been the only changes throughout its history; there have also been a number of technological advancements and population fluctuations. Horses and oxen weren’t employed at the settlements inception, but after five years they had been integrated into the group’s system. Irrigation has also been sophisticated over the years. Long gone are the days when the group had to haul buckets of water across fields when there had been insignificant rain falls. These new practices, along with the salvager’s recoveries, meant that the group has become more and more high tech throughout the years. ‘What we want most,’ said Darius, ‘is to find us an alternative energy specialist; then we can get our asses out of the Dark Age.’
As far as the population fluctuations go, the general trend is that the population has slowly risen throughout the first fourteen years. Some people have left because they were curious as to what the Homesteads were like or they thought that the pseudo-Powhatan lifestyle wasn’t for them; however, these people often returned, and sometimes they even brought Homestead coworkers back with them. This, coupled with the fact that group members have had children and struggling independents have joined the group, means that the settlement’s inhabitants have been increasing, albeit slowly. That is, up until the past two months.
Three months ago, the settlement’s population was around 150 people, now, after the influx of new people, it is roughly 800. This explains why there’s now a north settlement, and quite possibly, an east settlement coming on its way.
Feeling that he was now caught up with the history of the group, Robert asked, “How do you feel about this new influx of people?”
“I don’t mind it,” responded Darius. “If it makes more peoples’ lives better, then why should I discourage it?”
“But don’t you fear that it ruins the status quo? You’ve developed this system throughout the years after all; don’t you fear that it might be threatened?”
“More people has to bring more complications though.”
“There are more mouths to feed.”
“But there are also more people to work the fields.” Darius paused for a second to gather his thoughts. He wanted to make things as clear as possible for Robert. “Look, things change. If there’s one statement to sum everything up, it’s that. You can either fight change, or you can embrace change. Those who fight it eventually fade into obscurity, while those who embrace it adapt to it and live another day. We choose to accept the challenges that change brings. We aren’t going to deny acceptance to people who ask to join our group because we fear that they’re going to make us go hungry. We aren’t like that. Instead, we’re going to welcome them to our community, and by doing so, we will likely gain more skill and expertise to our pooled knowledge.”
“Some people I’ve talked to said that this ‘settlement’ had a messiah. Now I know who they were talking about.”
“I know I sound a little out there, but that’s just the way I see things. The world is in perpetual change and the easiest way to deal with it is to adapt to it. I know this from experience; whether it’s through my time here or through my upbringing in the Hutterite colony.”
“In the Hutterite colony? I thought those places never change.” Robert was just being naïve. He knew that Hutterites, just like everyone else, are prone to change.
“They fight cultural change as much as they can, but they eventually cave in. I’ve seen this first hand. My colony had a strict ‘no internet’ policy up until I was thirteen, then they realized that it was a good business and educational tool. Had they not used the internet, they could have very well lost their customers and we would have been wiped off the map, or at least, not been able to purchase any more land on the map.”
Robert, wanting to divert the conversation from Hutterites to something else, asked, “Why do you think all these people are coming to the settlements? Why now? And why not before?”
“Ah, so you want to get down to business?” Darius had a peculiar look on his face, one that Robert had not seen yet.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I know what you do Robert.”
“And what’s that?”
“There are enough ex-Homestead employees around to fill me in on the different Alpha Corp. occupations. One of the occupations that I’ve heard so much about is the PR silencer.”
“Ohh, and how do you know that I’m one of them?”
“The ex-Homesteaders have been asking each other, ‘When do you think a horse-and-buggy containing a silencer is going to reach the settlements?’ They don’t seem to anticipate it either. So, the prophecy has been fulfilled. Here you are: horse-and-buggy and all.”
Robert wasn’t taken aback from his outing. He knew that this would have to come up at some point in the conversation. It was inevitable. He just didn’t want to make it sound as though he was working antagonistically towards the group. “Alright, it’s true. I have only been sent here to find a few things out, that’s all. The main thing being: why do you think the people are leaving the Homesteads?”
“Now Robert, don’t take me for a fool. I know you’re here to stop us. I’ve heard enough about public relations to know that you guys aren’t investigators. You guys are bullies of independents, and if you can’t bully, you narc to the higher authorities. Sending all the pawns back to the Homesteads is in Alpha Corp’s best interest, isn’t it?”
Damn, thought Robert. Now his cover is fully blown. How is he supposed to get any answers now? The guy knows what he’s all about. He’s steps ahead of Robert. The best thing to do now: admit defeat. “I give up,” said Robert. “That was my assignment all along.”
“Already? Silencers were made out to be much more fierce than what you turned out to be. I thought I would be dealing with a maniac who would lie through his teeth and remained incognito until he had a knife in my, and my colleagues, backs.”
“I guess I’m just too transparent,” Robert let out a sigh, “and as far as being fierce, what do you expect from a 55 year old man who spends most of his day in an office?”
“You don’t seem too adamant about your job.”
“Work is work.” Robert rolled his eyes.
“If you don’t like it so much, then how did you keep your position? Surely there’s gotta be some young bucks that have been indoctrinated by Alpha Corp. their whole lives that would be more eager to do your work.”
Darius had it all figure out. “There are. I guess I have seniority. That’s why they keep me on.”
“Have you had the same attitude throughout your time as a silencer?”
“Then how did you get the job in the first place? And why were you willing to work for Alpha Corp.? I have picked up on some hints of skepticism, after all.”
“Because there was nothing else… and I chose the job.”
“Really?” Darius was puzzled. Why would Robert ever choose this line of work? Wasn’t he pessimistic in the first place?
“I had no debt so I got to choose my occupation. I didn’t want to be a Homestead manager because, at the time, I wasn’t too fond of the country, so I opted to work in the city. After I told them that, they just assigned this job to me.”
“Now what do you mean by ‘there was nothing else’?”
“There just wasn’t any other options for me. I wasn’t going to be an independent. I had zero survival skills. I grew up in a time when kids spent their summers being entertained by some sort of video screen, like a TV or computer or video game or whatever, so it’s not like I was an elite boy scout who retained any survival knowledge. I did go camping every now and then, but there’s a big difference between drinking beer around a fire that you used a newspaper to start and actually knowing how to provide for yourself in nature. And, on top of that, I didn’t have a community of free thinkers that were willing to live free of mainstream society. So, for me, there was nothing else.”
“I guess I’m sort of privileged then.”
“That you are.”
Darius felt bad for bringing it up. In retrospect, it seems as though he was scrutinizing Robert for working for Alpha Corp., but after hearing Robert’s case, Darius now had sympathy for him. So Darius attempted to back track to put it past them. “Well, to be honest, I’m glad you’re transparent and lack ferocity.”
“I wouldn’t stab you in the back or anything either. My job doesn’t entail violence. The only thing I could do, after telling all these people to go back to their Homesteads, is report the settlements to human resources and security.”
“So you guys don’t have a real efficient way of dealing with deserters?”
“Not at all. Well, we can deal with a small amount of deserters. We have a protocol for that. But when it comes to mass amounts of them, then we don’t know to do, or at least, I don’t know what to do.”
“So what we have here in the settlements would be considered a mass amount of deserters?”
“Yes. In fact, it’s the largest amount of deserters that my office has ever dealt with. Some of the surrounding Homesteads are having major issues because of their decreasing number of laborers.”
Darius let out a laugh and waved at another canoe that passed by. “I don’t know if I should be proud of that. ‘The Settlements: The Biggest Labor Drain in Southeast Virginia.’ Hmm, I kind of like that. The ex-Homestead workers tell me that they like it much better here, so I guess we’re doing something right. Kind of sucks that it puts us in the limelight, you know, as a threat to a corporation that could easily crush us.”
“That explains why I’m here.”
“Are you still curious as to why the people are leaving the Homesteads?”
“Well, if I get an answer it’s not like I can do anything about it. Maybe leave a comment in the suggestion box, that’s pretty much it. It’s not like it’s going to make an impact or anything,”
“But you’re still curious?” interrupted Darius.
“Yeah, sort of. I originally asked it as a cover up, but come to think of it, I am sort of interested in it. I barely know anything about the lives of Homestead workers. I’m rarely in contact with them. That goes to say, I know almost nothing about the life of the average American nowadays.”
“Well let me fill you in. I’ve talked to a lot of them as of late, most of them being older, probably cause they can remember life before the Homesteads. But that’s beside the point. What they’ve been telling me is that when they were on the Homestead, they felt as though they couldn’t think straight. Their minds were foggy. When they would work the fields, which isn’t what they complain about cause they work fields here as well, but anyways, when they would work the fields they felt as though their brains were shut off, or on autopilot as some have said.”
“They don’t feel the same way here? What’s the difference?”
“They’ve told me that they were given pills each morning to assist their workday. Can you believe that?”
“Hmm. That doesn’t surprise me. Everyone’s looking for an escape from their grueling workday. If it comes in the form of a pill, so be it. I don’t see what the big deal is.”
“I do. Inhibiting these people from thinking is Alpha Corps’ way of controlling them. By making them docile and submissive, Alpha Corp. has kept them mindlessly laboring away which has upheld the status quo.”
“It sounds as though you’re speaking at one of a ‘society of misfits’ ideological debates.”
“I know, I know. But here me out. Have you ever heard a manager or whatever refer to their laborers as drones?”
“Well, that means the bosses know that their underlings are mindless and will do whatever their told.”
“So you see this medication as an Alpha Corp. scheme to hold onto power.”
“Exactly.” Darius let out a sigh of relief.
“I don’t see why you care so much.” Robert paused for a moment to think back to Darius’ story. He remembered a phrase that Darius had said that made him sound superior to others. “You called the pre-Restructuring times the ‘republic of jesters’ after all. Doesn’t that mean you also see them as mindless? So why should you care about them now if you hadn’t cared about them years ago?”
“It’s not like that. You’re warping my words, or maybe you just didn’t understand what I was trying to say. It means that they were misled, as are the Homestead workers. I have sympathy for them. They shouldn’t be considered drones or mindless or anything like that. They are people, and I care because they deserve to think freely.”
“Alright. I get your point.” Robert thought things over for a few seconds. “Is it just the pills that you’re worried about though? Is that your only critique of the Homesteads decisions?”
“I have other suspicions.”
“This will sound out there, but another way for them to hold onto power and keep their subjects docile and uncritical is through the ARTifacts.”
“Societal control through technology… that’s not a new premise. For books and movies at least. I don’t think it works that way in the real world though, just like every other premise in a book or movie.”
“I know, I know, but hear me out on this one too.” Robert gave a nod as a sign of approval. “So their workdays are spent in the field relatively thoughtless, right?”
“Then what do they do on their off hours when thinking comes naturally?” asked Darius.
“I don’t know. I said that I didn’t know much about their lives, didn’t I?”
“Easy now, I’m just leading you through my theory.”
“Okay, okay. So what do they do on their free time?”
“They plug away at their ARTifacts doing whatever they do on those things. Frankly, I never had one, so I don’t know what most people do on them.”
“Mostly take pictures and videos and make music and watch old movies and TV shows. These days. Back in the day you could phone people, or email them or text them.”
“Exactly. So now it’s strictly a marvel of personal entertainment, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“But personal entertainment chewing up all your free time poses a problem. It means that nobody is talking with one another, complaining about how their treated by their bosses and theorizing about how life could be better, so nobody is planning to make any changes.”
“You know what, I kind of agree with you there. Your argument sounds pretty similar to the ones made about television when I was growing up.”
Darius smiled because he was getting his idea through to Robert. “Go on, go on. How is it similar?”
“Well, people were always complaining about people watching too much television. They said that it ‘rotted the mind’ and made people more willing to just accept things. In a way, I guess it was sort of true. I never got to witness any major social movements, which is probably related to the fact that people were content watching their favorite crime-drama instead of actually going outside and protesting something they didn’t agree with. All the while, the next day at work they’re going to complain about their wage or their work conditions to their co-workers, so they obviously have something to protest about.”
“Yeah, yeah. That’s how I see it. That’s a good comparison.”
“So do you think if you, or Homestead management or whatever, took away the worker’s pills and ARTifacts they would instantly start a nationwide revolution?”
To Darius, this statement sounded like it was mocking him, especially since he thought he was getting his point across. He was somewhat insulted by this question and his answer would reflect that. “Instantly? Nationwide? Come on Robert, I’m not a fool.”
The question was too important to Robert pass up though, so he tried to put it in a friendlier manner. “Sorry, I guess I was pressing too hard, but do you think a revolution will be the outcome? I mean, in the long run?”
“It’s hard to tell. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m sort of hoping for one though. I do care for those people. Like I said, I think that they should be free to think freely. Becoming an active member of a community that values their input would probably be in their best interest. And if they don’t like it, they have the choice to move on. That’s what has worked for me and the group.”
“I don’t want to sound like an asshole or anything, but that sounded a little pre-rehearsed.”
“That’s because I’ve said it before. That’s just the way I feel about it. I might as well express it to anyone who cares to listen.”
“Fair enough. So what I’m getting out of this is that you believe every American should live like you and your cohorts?”
“No. I believe they should have a choice to live like me and my cohorts. They don’t have to mimic our lifestyle. If they’re content in the Homesteads, so be it. I just think that the ARTifacts and pills distract them, or maybe even inhibit them, from realizing that there are other ways of living. The choice is hidden from them. That’s my thesis.”
Robert didn’t know what to say, so he just kept silent.
“I know it’s a lot to take in, but to me it makes sense.”
“Well, at least it makes sense to someone.”
Darius laughed. He got up from the bench and looked off into the distance. “I should probably get some work done. It was nice to meet you Robert. I’ll probably see you again, maybe later today. In the meantime, think about what I’ve told you. Give it some deep thought and maybe you’ll see it from my perspective. After all, you do have some big decisions to make.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like what you’re going to do with us.” Darius paused to stop himself from going on another tangent. “I guess I’ll just let you figure it out. See you soon, Robert.”
Darius started walking away from the bench and the lake.
After Darius walked a few steps, a thought suddenly hit Robert. He had been oblivious to it before, but things were now coming together. The resemblance. Fatherless in a paternal society. The corn expertise. It was so clear to him. Why hadn’t he figured this out before?
“Darius,” Robert yelled.
“Are there many Hutterite colonies down south?”
“Nope. In the Republic, there are only colonies in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest states.”
“Ohh. So where do you come from?”
It must be him. There’s no other way.
“What year were you born?” asked Robert.
“2006. Why do you ask?”
“Umm, because … I think I might be your father.”
 He didn’t specify what town it was.
 The orthodox being raised in suburbia, giving into the pleas of mass marketing, and worrying about ones position in the social ladder.