The hottest part of the day was past, but the evening breeze that alternately lifted the plain white curtains and pressed them flat against the screens in Linda’s cabin was still too warm to be of any comfort.
Listen to the Chapter 25 podcast with roboreader Sangeeta.
Max sat on the edge of the small bed, stripped to his underwear and t-shirt, sweating and waiting for the dinner bell. After dinner, he imagined, he would lie here and wait for breakfast. Then lunch, and then dinner again. Eventually he would become nothing more than a great, fat, sweating lump, venturing out only to eat.
Joel was right – if you’re going to drop out you have to commit to it. This was about as out as he could get.
Although Linda had promised to explain everything to him, the information she’d offered was vague and minimal. She and her compatriots at the Freedom Club, she said, had been keeping an eye on Herman Grunding, as well as Perske and a think tank that Linda called the Jasons. How a bunch of granola munching Luddites in the Pennsylvania Mountains managed that was not something she was willing to go into, just yet anyway.
Max had only come to their attention when he’d logged in as Herman and started raising red flags by lumbering around and asking lots of questions that Herman would surely have known the answers to.
The door opened and the curtains snapped tight against the screens. Linda stepped into the room, leaving the door open behind her.
“Here you are,” she said. “Is everything all right?”
“Sure. Just doing my part. Staying low, dropping out.”
“Had enough of hornworms?”
“Yep,” said Max. “It’s not much of a hobby. The tomatoes are as good as dead anyway. I figure Joel can collect them himself, if he’s hungry.”
Linda shrugged and stood quietly for a while, apparently in search of a reply. When she didn’t find one, she made her way to the bathroom. The water ran briefly in the sink, then she stepped out as she dried her hands on the rough hand towel from the hook next to the bathroom mirror.
“You know,” said Max, “it’s not as exciting being on the lam as I might have imagined.”
“It never is.” She tossed the towel into the bathroom where it landed soundlessly on the tile. “There are,” she said as she crossed the room to sit beside him on the bed, “ways to pass the time.”
She placed her hand lightly on his thigh.
“Not board games.”
Max blinked. “It’s very hot, you know.”
Linda plucked at the leg of his boxers.
“It would be cooler without these.”
He reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze.
“Thanks, but I don’t think so.”
“Don’t you like me?”
“It’s not that. I have,” he said slowly, “a problem. It’s the drugs, mostly.”
She slid closer to him, pressing her leg against his.
“Are you sure? Have you tried?”
“Of course,” said Max. He stood and stepped away from the bed.
“Would you like to just lie down for a while? Until dinner.”
She pulled her shirt over her head, unbuttoned her shorts and pushed them down to the floor, then stretched out naked on the bed.
Max climbed onto the bed and she snuggled against his side.
“I’m sorry – about your problem,” she whispered.
“So am I.”
He stared at the ceiling as sweat trickled off his brow to the pillow behind his head. When the bell finally rang in the distance he took a shower, dressed in a fresh shirt and overalls, and walked with Linda down to the tent to eat.
“Attention, brothers and sisters,” called a man standing by the fire pit where the Freedom Club members gathered after dinner. He was dressed in robes similar to Joel’s but much cleaner. Even from a distance of twenty feet or more under the dim light of the crackling fire, Max could see that the man had wispy white hair and skin that was dry and loose.
Despite his announcement, the chattering of the crowd subsided only slightly. “Your attention please,” he said more forcefully. “I have a few announcements to make before this evening’s workshop.”
Linda patted Max’s knee and leaned back to rest her elbows on the blanket she had spread across the grass for the two of them. But for the most part, no one else appeared to pay any mind to the host.
“Holy robots,” the man shouted. “People shut up.” The crowd fell silent with the exception of what sounded like a woman softly whimpering.
“Thank you friends. The quicker we get started, the quicker we can wrap this up.”
He glanced at a single limp sheet of paper in his hand.
“First of all, I want to remind you that tomorrow is silent Thursday. Please avoid speaking for any reason other than absolute emergencies. Take time to reflect on your autonomy -- your individuality and separation from society. This is especially important for the new comers.
“Secondly, Friday’s workshop will focus on skinning and cleaning of small game. Brothers Alan and Justin will lead the class. Guys,” he said to a pair of young men seated next to the fire, “do you have anything to add to that?”
One of the men stood up. Max recognized him with a shuddering start. It was the hoodlum who had stripped the clothes from him in the parking lot outside the café.
“Please bring your knife,” said the ruffian, displaying the toothy smile that still haunted Max. “We’ll have a few squirrels and rabbits for those of you who don’t have a chance to trap one of your own, but not enough for everyone. So if you’re relying on us, you might end up just watching this time.”
“Thanks Alan,” the host said.
“You’re welcome Dr. Murray.”
“Third,” the old man continued, “I want to recognize sister Lorraine.”
The soft whimpering grew louder at the mention of the woman’s name.
“As you all know, her son Richard turned four last month and it was time to place him with a host family. Ted bless him.”
The whimper escalated to a muted wail.
“Ted teaches us that rebels beget and nurture more rebels. Our precious young revolutionaries are the greatest export that we can send to heal the world.”
The wail was broken with racking sobs.
“As you all can hear, sister Lorraine is overcome with joy at the prospect of her second son following the first in venturing out to plant the seeds of revolution. I’m sure we’ll learn great things about Richard in the decades to come. Would someone please help Lorraine to her cabin where she can celebrate her son’s transition in privacy for a while? Thank you.
“Finally, I want to welcome our guest, Max Caine. Most of you have met him by now. He’s been through a lot, as you all know. He’s staying in cabin twelve for the time being, and Linda has moved temporarily into the big house.
“He has walked among the enemy, and returned to tell the tale. He’s the only one we know of to have done so. We have a lot to learn from you, Max, and I hope we can teach you a thing or two as well. You’re welcome and safe here until it’s time to return and take up the battle again.”
Max asked Linda in a whisper what the hell the old man was talking about.
“He’s being a little dramatic,” she whispered back.
“Now, brothers and sisters,” said the old man, “let us recite from the manifesto.”
He raised his hands over his head and began a droning speech. Linda and the rest of the Freedom Club members muttered along with him.
“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences,” they said in unison, “have been a disaster for the human race. Over socialization leads to low self-esteem, a sense of powerlessness, defeatism, and guilt. Science marches on blindly, without regard to the real welfare of the human race or to any other standard, obedient only to the psychological needs of the scientists and of the government officials and corporation executives. Freedom means having power; not the power to control other people but the power to control the circumstances of one's own life. Industrial-technological society cannot be reformed. We resort to modern technology for only one purpose: to attack the technological system.”
“Thanks be to Ted.” The old man said. He let his arms fall to his sides. “Tonight we’re going to focus on the restriction of freedom in modern society. Consider the ways that people have become enslaved by the very technology that is claimed to free them. A supposedly free citizen labors day in and day out to earn the money to buy machines – cars, washing machines, refrigerators – to save, of all things, labor. How absurd it is to work all your life to build machines, and then buy those same machines, only to have them do the things you don’t have time for because you’re building machines. Why be a slave to your car when you can walk? Why sell your freedom for a washing machine when you can buy a basin and some soap for a thousandth the price? Refrigerators? They are no more than tools of the enslaving industrial complex designed to prevent you from producing your own fresh and wholesome food.”
He glared at his audience, as if daring anyone to contradict him.
“There’s nothing new about this. Absolutely nothing that Bookchin or Proudhon, Tzu or Zeno, or any of countless other anarchists didn’t already know. Despite all their wisdom and insight, however, there is one insidious evil they didn’t see – one that they couldn’t possibly imagine. Since the beginning of recorded history, so-called civilization has been nothing more than an effort by the powerful and rich to harness the strength of your body. But even Whitney, Stevenson, Deere and Ford couldn’t dream of what Gates, Jobs, Anderson, Page and Brin had in store for us. I would gladly turn back the clock to the time when all they could steal was the strength of my right arm. Manual labor is yesterday’s currency. Today’s unit of exchange is the mind.
“My friends, when a person boots up a computer, when they turn on their GPS, when they sign into an ATM, they’re not logging into the system, they’re logging out of life. Ask yourself why email and I M are so seductive. Why do technophiles get the shakes when they can’t connect? Why would a person adore their Second Life lover more than their spouse? And why do so many people coddle and refine their avatars more than they play with their children?
“It’s because every time you log off, part of you stays behind. They are kidnapping you, thought by thought, experience by experience. The average person used to watch four or more hours of television each day. They said that we were trading our lives and culture for bland mind candy. Now, most workers spend six or more hours a day online, only to go home to hours more time with their interactive entertainment system. At least when we watched TV, the information only flowed one way, only came into our heads. Now it goes the other way.
“The evil of television is that it added something to your life that you found addictive. The Internet, video games, and interactive entertainment can’t work unless they take something from you – your input. And when you step away, that stays behind. Your bank account, your emails, your web page, your blog. If I erased all that, the average person would effectively disappear. They’re not addicted to the Internet, they’re incomplete without it.
“That’s part of the reason why we’re here – to become whole again. But there’s more to it, as you all know. Otherwise we would be no better than our primitive Amish neighbors. No my friends, that’s not enough. That’s merely selfish. Ted tells us that we have a mission. Technology is evil. Evil is seductive. Someone has to be strong enough to resist the seduction and put an end to it, not just for us but for everyone.”
The old man took a step forward and scanned the crowd deliberately.
“Are you strong enough to resist? Are you committed enough to fight? Think about it.”
He brought his hands together and knit his fingers. “Now gather in your workshop groups and discuss ways that you will resist the insidious, creeping influence of technology and mind control. I want each of you to tell your group at least one thing you’re willing to do. Would you follow the example of our new friend Max and risk your very existence to venture into the lion’s den? Could you walk in Ted’s footsteps and attack the technological backbone of society? Be bold. Be creative.”
The crowd shuffled and divided into small clusters. Linda turned on the blanket to join a pair of couples sitting behind her, while Max kneeled up to get a better view of the exercise. Some groups launched into vigorous discussions almost instantly, others talked casually. The bunch near the fire that included the skinners Alan and Justin seemed to Max to be particularly ill at ease, as the two young men dominated the conversation. Although he couldn’t hear everything they said, he made out a few words from the thugs, including suicide vest, improvised explosives, and air burst. Linda’s group focused more on passive resistance and demonstrations.
The old man wandered from place to place, asking questions and making suggestions. When he caught Max’s eye, he grinned broadly, marching over and thrusting out his hand.
“How are you Mr. Caine?”
“You can call me Max.”
“Certainly,” said the old man. “My name is Henry. What do you think of all this?”
“I think,” said Max, “that you don’t need a weatherman.”
“To know which way the wind blows?” said Henry. “Very old school, Max. That’s excellent. I hate to drag you away from all this, but I think we should take a walk. Linda, would you like to join us?”
The three of them stood and Henry led them along a path toward the big house with its glowing window eyes.
“Linda has told you a little about us, I imagine.”
“Not much,” said Max as he strained to make out the dim crease of the path in the darkness.
“We’ll fix that.”
They climbed the creaky steps of the farmhouse and Henry stopped on the unlit porch. He knocked on the pitch black door. It opened slightly and a beam of light from inside illuminated Henry’s face.
“What’s the password?” asked a voice behind the door.
“The password, Joel, is ‘let us in.’”
Henry pushed his way through the doorway with Max and Linda close behind. Max squinted at the relative brightness inside. Despite a dull and worn carpet, and a rustic mantelpiece of stained wood, there was little that resembled the country house that Max had expected. Instead, racks of instrumentation, much like the equipment back at the university lab, lined the walls. In the panel above the fireplace, where a mirror or family portrait had probably once hung, a video panel displayed several news feeds, two in English, one in Chinese, one in Arabic, and one in German.
Joel stood next to a rolling stool parked beside a screen with a shot of the gathering outside the dining tent, with the Freedom Club members rendered in the glowing green of a night vision camera.
“High tech,” said Max. “Aren’t you worried about Jobs and Gates stealing your souls?”
“We’re just stirring up the weather.” Henry smiled and winked. "If you know what I mean."
Max had no idea, but it didn't sound good.