Day 15, 23:21:07

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Where are you?

Vince lay on his bed in a small, pragmatic room. The full moon and starlight glowed through a skylight and shutterless window, illuminating a patch of dusty air in the room. The night’s lights scattered shadows across the dark wood flooring and walls, painted artfully in patterns and colors reminiscent of nature.

Vince squinted at a dim screen, typing out directions to his location, along with coordinates. The past three weeks really have changed me. I never would have trusted Carroll or this app to keep this information secure before.

But he was changed. He found three things in the past three weeks that changed his life entirely: the novel thinkers Paul, Carroll, and Benjamin; the Reconstructionist community via the application; and the family that had adopted him in the wilderness. The last of these struck Vince as the most important thing he had ever discovered.

Vince put his phone down, shut his eyes, and breathed deeply. The message he sent flashed through a complex system of satellites, antennas, and routers, and eventually found its way to Carroll’s phone, all in a fraction of a second.

Vince drifted into restful recollection of the past three weeks as his mind impulsively rationalized sending his location to Carroll.

His journey had been desperate; an aimless wandering into the unknown. The first two days after the release of the application, Vince navigated through the thick suburban areas surrounding the city as best he could. He stayed off of highways and roads as much as possible, fearing that he may yet be intercepted by CorpCorp. During this time, he obtained a new phone and began to be active on the Reconstructionist application. Eventually, the neighborhoods, businesses and infrastructure ceased with an eerie abruptness. Forward, into the west was a vast expanse of farmland. Golden fields of grain sprawled as far as the eye could see; and into them, Vince continued his journey.  

Only hope drove him onward, hope that the rumors of wild men living away from cities was true, or that he could at least find some place that wasn't managed by the Overworld farming companies. Vince continued as westward as he could manage while staying relatively close to rivers for several days. Then, just as suddenly as the suburbia had changed to farmland, the scenery changed again. A vast variety of plants and trees, all of which were alien to Vince, filled the westward land. He felt somehow less alone as birds and insects created a cacophony unlike anything he had heard before.

Vince basked in the wonder of the strange wilderness as he walked along, still following the small river that had led his journey so far. Abruptly, he stopped and shielded his eyes from the sun, focusing on a spot across the river. A light, yet distinctly worn line, perhaps a footpath, caught his eye on the opposite side. It etched a clear mark into the greenery of the foliage veiling the earth around it.

Vince shrugged. It could be nothing; perhaps a simple path worn by animals coming to drink at the river. Or—it could be evidence that the legend of the wild man was true—and not only that, but also that some of them might live close by. He tightened his belt around his waist and dove into the cold water, straining against the current to reach the other side of the river.

Although the river was small in comparison to some, the current had pushed him several hundred feet downriver by the time he reached the other side. He wrung out his clothes as best as he could, and walked back in the direction that he had seen the path.

When he found it, he examined it carefully. This was no deer path - dozens of human footprints lined the trail; some worn, some fresh. A strange tire-like track also ran up and down the hillside, suggesting a sort of cart or wheelbarrow.

A mixture of excitement and fear filled Vince. The wild men are real! Now, the question of whether or not they would take him in had to be explored. Purposefully, he started out along the path, following it into the deeply wooded realm.

Ninety minutes passed as Vince followed the relatively straight path deep into the forest. The trees were immense and hauntingly shaded much of the understory; rays of light danced sporadically, appearing and disappearing as the wind willed. Vince’s anxiety and hopefulness about encountering the wild men waned with time, as he realized that he might have to walk for hours before finding them. As Vince considered how far he could go without finding a new water source, a faint whistling melody reached his ears,  an otherworldly invader among the varied sounds of nature.

What could make that noise? How long had it been there? Where was it coming from? The sound strengthened as Vince took cover behind a nearby tree, scanning the path ahead. The peaceful melody resonated with Vince’s spirit, somehow beckoning it to make peace with the transience of life. A small human silhouette emerged on the path at the farthest reach of Vince’s vision. Blurred by dancing light, a girl emerged from shadow.

At first he could only see her strikingly red hair, but soon her entire young figure was discernible as she stepped into a brief patch of sunlight. She wore a roughspun off-white tunic with a primitive belt, and was wheeling a large container behind her. The whistle became piercing as the girl approached. Vince hadn't decided what he would do by the time that there was only one option left. He stepped out from behind the tree, into full view of the wild woman some eight feet away.

Instantly, she screamed in shock and terror. Dropping her water container, she fled.

“Wait!” Vince yelled, wounded by the terror in her anomalistic blue eyes.

The girl hesitated, turned, and drew her dagger, glaring back at Vince. An image of the wild woman viciously stabbing Vince with the small blade flashed into his mind. Their eyes locked for a moment. Vince didn’t know what to say - something about the girl stunned him. She turned away once more, running back down the path the same way that came.

I’ve had a week to fantasize about meeting the wild men, and all I could say was ‘wait’? Vince remained transfixed on the girl even after she had gone out of sight. Undoubtedly, a hunting party or similar danger would be sent out to find him. He hoped that they wouldn’t outright kill him when they found him.

Vince was left to wonder what he would do next. He distractedly stared at the water container, lying neglected on the path. It was a large barrel, at least thirty gallons capacity, made from a sort of shiny grey metal with an integrated handle and solid wheels. There was a hose wound and fastened near the attached lid, and it looked like the handle doubled as being used as part of a pump system as well. How could the wild men have something like this? Vince’s mind queried, distracting him from his current plight. Yet, the question turned out to have a very important answer. This barrel meant that the wild men weren’t isolated - not entirely anyways.

Vince, and other city-dwellers at large, only knew the wild men as a myth - a ridiculous story of people who lived away from the society and were governed only by themselves. The variations in the story were as endless as human imagination. Yet somehow, the presence of this barrel defied everything that Vince thought he knew about the wild men. He grasped the handle, confirmed that the pump worked, and felt the weight of the unit. Everything about it seemed to be of the highest quality. The quality of the aluminum welds cemented the idea in Vince’s mind - only the most advanced of societies with advanced machining capabilities could have achieved this quality of manufacturing. The thought of secret cities of wild men living under different rule than the Overworlder’s was fantastical to Vince. Yet the simpler thought that these wild men somehow managed to trade with the rest of the world rang true - otherwise, there was no explanation for why they would choose to trek water through the woods, rather than just building a pipeline or aquifer.

Snapping back to reality, Vince found himself no closer to a solution to ensure his safety than he was before. He considered simply following the girl down the path to meet his fate directly. Yet the water barrel tugged at his mind yet again, offering another alternative - he could simply complete the task that he had interrupted--a sort of peace offering. The idea was instantly better than anything else he had come up with, presenting itself as the only solution. Why not try and offer them something of value? Why not try to make recompense for scaring the girl away? The only thing that Vince could offer was this barrel, full of water. At the very least, Vince hoped that it would confuse them to see him working with the barrel.

Vince made better time out of the forest than he had entering it. The thought of wild men throwing primitive weapons into his back was adequate motivation to run back to the river. The barrel offered little resistance, as its wheels were somehow perfectly suited to the dirt path. The process of filling the it with water also was surprisingly efficient. Vince unwound the hose into the river, pumped quickly, and water poured from the fixed outlet into the jar.

Some five minutes passed as Vince glanced nervously at the woods where the path entered it as he worked. He imagined wild men in various forms emerging from the underbrush. The jar was overflowing. Vince secured the hose and closed the jug. Grasping the handle once again, he pulled the jar back into the woods. It was difficult work at first, straining against gravity while he traveled uphill away from the river. Sweat dripped onto the ground - a phenomenon that Vince had rarely felt in his life.

As the ground flattened out, Vince looked up, startled by the presence of another human. A large man loomed at the edge of the woods. He held a long, metal pole which tapered into a perfect point at the end. The man was broad, yet his muscles were concealed beneath a garb of similar design to the one that the girl had been wearing. Their eyes met, and Vince strained to stand up straight, intimidated by the aura of the man.

“Hello,” Vince managed, simply trying to communicate.

“Salutations,” the man’s voice was as large as his chest; musicality and power edged every syllable of the word.

The man stared into Vince, expecting an explanation. Yet somehow, Vince still didn’t know what to say. It’s not like he could just explain to him why he was here.

“Why are you here?” The man asked, somehow reading Vince’s mind.

A plethora of options flashed in Vince’s mind. Out of time and short of breath, Vince weakly stated, “I am running from the Overworld.” The tone paled in comparison to the broad man’s.

“And why are you doing that?”

Does he understand what the Overworld is? Vince thought. The man’s sheer immensity, towering over Vince’s worn frame compelled an immediate and honest response. “Because they are trying to kill me.”

The man tilted his head, raising an eyebrow skeptically. Vince took a deep breath. “You see, I worked for thi--”

“No, no!” The man held up his hand. “None of that makes any difference to me. But why do you still embrace them if they have rejected you?”

The man’s speech, eloquent and deep, struck Vince as peculiarly similar to that of a religious preacher. Yet somehow, just as he failed to understand religious teachings, the man’s meaning was entirely lost on Vince. “How do I still embrace them?”

The man roared with laughter, somehow louder and deeper than even Carroll would have been able to manage. “Little child-- no, baby, do you not understand that you are yet wrapped in them from head to toe? Are not your clothes from them? Indeed, do you not stay in communion with them through your devices? It is not enough to leave their cities after they have raised you. If you want to escape them, you must be reborn!”

Vince hesitated, trying to make sure that he understood what the man wanted of him. “You want me to… shed my clothes?” He looked down at his still-wet clothing, and back up at the man disconcertingly.

“Does this not make sense to you, baby? I suppose it wouldn’t. But just as your father would have instructed you on what is right, so I do now. You may become a baby in my family and call me Father, or you may return to those who have rejected you.”

With that, the man turned and walked away slowly. He was immediately joined by two other large men who Vince had somehow not seen before. A sort of panic set in as Vince felt the power of the man leaving - slipping out of his life forever. I suppose nudity isn’t the worst rite of passage. Vince considered a moment longer, and resolutely stripped himself bare. He still clutched his phone which was modified to only communicate with the Reconstructionist application. Yet, that too he would leave behind if it was required of him. Dragging the water jug behind him, Vince followed the three men back into the woods.

The village was only a little ways beyond where Vince had encountered the girl. The underbrush and most of the trees were cleared as far as Vince could see, and thick grass carpeted the ground. Walkways made with stepping stones or hardened clay went from building to building. The houses were uniform in material and construction, yet had vast diversity in design and color; and from what Vince could immediately see, there were dozens of them.

A large group of children from a wide variety of ages played with a ball in the grass at the edge of one of the nearby buildings. They stopped and stared at the man, seemingly shocked, but quickly broke down into hysterical pointing and laughing. Vince wasn’t sure which reaction he preferred. After a few moments, the man joined in the laughter, his roar overwhelming and encompassing all other sounds. Yet as his voice died down, so did the children’s. “My dear children, a new baby has entered our world. Now, be kind to him and help him to grow strong, out of infancy, and into a powerful man!”

The children hung on every word, transfixed by the man. Each agreed with him, responding with, “Yes, Father,” or, “We will!” each one in harmony.

The two men left the Father’s side, and Vince continued following him for a moment more. The man pointed to a nearby house, saying, “There is where you will stay. The woman who you terrified has adopted you! Come and see me tomorrow morning.”

With that, the man grinned and left at a pace that made it evident that Vince shouldn’t follow. He was left alone with his jug of water, naked and exhausted. There was nothing to do except go to the indicated house. A small, circular black window ornamented the front of the blue house along with a large wooden door, which was rounded on the top in a similar shape to the roof of each building. The door opened. Inside, the woman stood, several inches below Vince’s height. She wore the same outfit, the drabness of which served to enhance the contrast that Vince saw between the girl and the rest of the world.

“Please, come in.” The girl said, looking at Vince’s face.

He stepped through the door, into the dim room. The house was small by Vince’s standards, yet quite spacious for a single person. There were three rooms, the entry room being the smallest, yet most worn.

“My name is Rowan, what is yours?” The woman said calmly, as she walked out of sight into the further room.

“Uh, I’m Vince.” Shyness set in instinctively. Rowan returned with a folded set of clothes, doubtlessly identical to what Vince had seen the rest of the people wearing. He smiled broadly at her as he received the clothing, relieved that he wouldn’t have to go around naked any longer.

“Your room is there,” She said, pointing to the room where she had just come from, “Please, make yourself at home.”

Vince entered the room and immediately garbed himself.

“I brought another portion of food back from the evening meal - I imagine you’re hungry?”

“Yes, thank you, I’ll be--” Vince said, finding that the woman was standing in the doorway with a bowl of soup and glass of water. Stammering another thanks, he took the sustenance and immediately set at consuming it, setting it and himself down at the nearby desk. The bowl contained a goulash of meats and starches, soaked in what Vince considered to be a flavorful gravy. Although he was biased by his hunger and having only been able to graze in the fields for food or the past week, he thought that it was the best thing he had ever eaten. The room was simple; A desk with a chair, a bed, and a skylight were the only notable features. The walls were painted white, while the furniture was made from a mix of lightly colored metal and wood.

“I’m afraid you missed the community meal time, so, I suppose you have to eat alone.” Rowan said, still standing in the doorway. She looked at Vince as if he were an alien.

“I suppose I’m rather a surprise to you. Do you not have many outsiders come to your village?” Vince asked, in between bites.

“I have seen many trading partners with other villages, but never someone from a city.” Rowan responded. Her voice was deep in contrast to her size, with a particularly pleasant melodic quality, reminiscent of how Father spoke.

Vince was too preoccupied to continue the conversation for the time being, and Rowan seemed contented to just stare at him. Oh well, Vince thought, those are probably the nicest eyes that have ever stared at me.

After the meal was finished, Rowan seemed intent to ask Vince to explain the things that he wanted to forget the most - CorpCorp, the Overworld, and how they were trying to “get rid” of him. As the evening drew on, Vince began to get answers about the village. She explained that individuals were allowed to be children as long as they wanted to, and simply went to the Father in order to gain responsibilities and “ascend in stature”. Additionally, there was a group of elders, many of whom had previously served as Fathers. They were independent in that each of them did whatever they wanted to do, never having to request responsibilities from the Father, and had the collective authority to replace the Father at any time. Apparently the current Father had been so for two years.

The conversation turned to discuss the Reconstructionists, which Vince had briefly mentioned a couple of hours before, but Vince was too tired to fully satiate her thirst for knowledge. “I must sleep, Rowan. You’ve been quite kind to me, and I have enjoyed every minute of your company.” Vince said, rising from the mat where he sat. It was difficult to tell in the dimness of the room - only illuminated by the crescent moon through the windows and a small luminescent stone that sat nearby - but she may have blushed at the compliment. Vince left the room, and laid down in his bed. It was the most comfortable place he had been since he left the city - maybe even in his whole life. He quickly faded into a deep sleep.

Vince arose before dawn, fully rested after a good day’s work. He brushed away curls of red hair and kissed the cheek of his sleeping wife before donning his tunic and leaving the house. Father had given him continually increasing responsibilities for the past week, which Vince perpetually proceeded to achieve. He loved filling his day from before the sun rose, until after it went down, with hard work, exercising his mind and body to their limits at every opportunity. Father provided an endless amount to learn.

Vince had never seen the moon so full and beautiful as it was this morning - yet another inspiration that he soaked in as he walked towards Father’s workshop. The broad man that Vince was doubtlessly the most impressive individual that Vince had ever known. He was an expert in what seemed like every field of engineering, a historian and philosopher who could match any university man, and somehow managed to directly govern a few hundred people - all of whom loved him. In his spare time, he repaired the automated farming equipment in the surrounding areas which were owned and operated by various Overworld companies.

Within a single day, he could ride on his hovercraft as far as two-hundred miles out to a broken-down machine, diagnose it, bring the damaged parts back to the village, repair them, return to the machine, fix it, and return to the village once again - still with time to manage the daily affairs. The income from this work provided enough money to buy supplemental supplies for the village. Vince had never seen any such mastery, even from the most proficient employees at CorpCorp. What really excited him, though, was when Father or one of the elders would teach the people. Every day, some vastly learned man would sit outside the workshop and tell a story or teach some scientific or philosophical topic, entrancing all who came with robust oration and mastery.

Naturally, Vince observed, every person in the village became highly educated and skilled in whatever they did. Such that even Father could surround himself with skilled individuals who were more adept in some way or another than he himself was. Yet, like those whom Father trusted the most, Vince was growing in breadth of knowledge in an equal measure to depth. While there was still a gap in responsibilities between himself and the villages of a similar age to him, Vince managed to build on his former work experience and formal education and was able to excel in certain areas.

To Vince’s surprise, the title ‘baby’ was never used on him again after the first day of entering the village, and he was only referred to once as Child, the next morning when he went to Father’s workshop for the first time and received his first responsibilities. After that, everyone called him by his name. Vince had observed that that privilege was reserved for those with responsibilities, while children were simply called children in public. Rowan, whom he married on his fourth day in the village, explained that in theory, an Individual could be a child their whole life if they never wanted to ascend in stature, and gain responsibilities. Yet, it was hard to find a child of age twelve in the village - they invariably sought out work as soon as they were able.

Vince arrived at Father’s workshop, still reminiscing of the events of the past three weeks just as he had been the night before.

“Good morning, Vince!” Father greeting him at the door as he entered. Three other men from the village were already there. “Today is a special day for you, good sir. It is the first day that you will teach us!”

Vince smiled sincerely. The greeting that Father gave each morning always framed the new tasks as exciting opportunities for the day, but this morning was especially important to Vince. “Indeed? What is it that I might venture to speak to you about?” Vince had naturally adopted the speech patterns of the villagers, filled with old figures of speech structured in a more formal syntax than what he had been used to.

“Reconstruction,” Father said, with his most serious tone. The topic had been discussed casually many times, and apparently the idea had spread throughout the village. It wasn’t lost on Vince that these people were effectively living as if Reconstruction had already happened. It fueled the idea for Vince, and all of his interaction on the application was colored by his experience with these people. It just worked. Vince felt more and more alive, as he adopted more and more responsibilities. He worked jobs from pulling weeds, to welding, and each task seemed to serve the purposes of helping others, building wealth, and developing beauty.

“Reconstruction… I believe you understand as much of the concept as I do.” Vince said, humbly.

“That is not true. Yet, regardless, the understanding of concepts is not precisely what we will discuss.” As father spoke, the other men began to gather around. More had arrived with every passing minute, and they began to form a crowd around Father and Vince.

“Father, you flatter me. I truly would still be unborn if it weren’t for your wisdom. Yet I believe I understand this: You seek to participate in Reconstruction. It is not lost on me that your physical isolation from the world is purely pragmatic. You seek the good of all men, not just those who are directly under your care. Indeed, why else would you have such knowledge of history, and still keep abreast of the happenings in cities all around the world?”

Father grinned widely, his eyes flashing brightly as he engaged the topic with Vince. “You understand my intentions well, Vince. We cannot be contented in our privileged knowledge of humanity. While such serves us well enough to live our own lives, this knowledge would be abused if we made no effort to share it with the world.”

Every man in Vince’s vision seemed to agree effortlessly. It was clear to Vince that Father was not the first man of his kind, but that those before him typically took a more narrow view of their responsibilities. By his own admission, Father’s study of philosophy and history gave him a different perspective than that of his ancestors, or even that of the elders in the village. Yet his abilities in reasoning and teaching were enough to bring the entirety of the village into agreement. Vince mused upon the ways of providence, It is as if this village was primed to become Reconstructionists.

“I can see that your beliefs are sincere and good. As you have taught me, accepting as much responsibility as you can is an essential step in being human. It seems as if you are prepared to accept the responsibility of the entire world - and indeed you alone could perhaps manage such. But these notions are not novel to you, unlike those of Reconstruction - so what have you done thus far in pursuing the fulfillment of such responsibility?”

“Nay, Vince, your flattering lips fall upon deaf ears. No single man may hold the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Yet must each try. I have indeed made attempts at bringing the people of the world to knowledge of our abundance in life. In recent years, we have sought such through publishing websites with doctrines and applications which explain our way of life and the purpose that it brings. Yet, verily, there were very few who cared to engage for more than a few seconds, and none who showed interest in joining us. What more can we do if the world turns such a blind eye to us?”

“While I am reticent to criticize such efforts, it seems that that is why we are here, and you think me worthy to do so. I suppose, it is clear enough from my own experience that you have simply made the mistake of putting the cart before the horse. In this case, I believe that Reconstruction is the horse which must precede the cart of your lifestyle. Beyond myself and a few others, of which most are accounted for here, there are few individuals who preach the wisdom of a responsible life on the Reconstructionists’ application. Yet still, the knowledge that we promote is well received, and often praised within that group. Meanwhile, they toil excitedly with the ideas of Reconstruction, which simply attempts to bring the world to a place where it is ready to live our lifestyle. The irony, of course, is that these individuals could just live out their goals now, rather than waiting.” The group of men seemed to be following Vince’s line of reasoning, so Vince decided to add something that he considered a complexity, “Yet as we already discussed, each man must attempt to bear the weight of the world.”

Father replied quickly, instantly understanding. “You permute the meaning of such a phrase! Their attempting is folly, as they try to do so without training themselves with lesser responsibilities, while my own meaning is clear - take up as much as you can bear as you journey towards carrying the entire world.”

“Verily, you speak truth, Father. Yet it matters little in this case whether it is folly or wisdom on their part - for somehow the goals of the foolish are working towards the same end as the wise, just from a different direction. In both cases - that of the Reconstructionists and that of yourself - Reconstruction must occur before the responsible life may be attained by all men. In their case, they only see Reconstruction as the goal, and think little of what comes after that. Indeed, only once Reconstruction is taking place, or has already occurred will these masses be ready for your teaching - It will be you and those like you who guide all men into purpose once Reconstruction has completed.” Vince smiled broadly  as all of the novel thoughts and ideas that he had found in the past three weeks painted a marvelous, harmonious picture. He felt as if he had grasped a piece of the plight of man in his hands, and suggested a solution for it.

“You have spoken well, Vince. Yet, these are conclusions that I had already arrived at before this morning. Indeed, I believe that we must make time for another session like this to get to the point of my inquiries - how we might achieve Reconstruction. Yet now, the sun is rising and we must begin our labors!”

The group of men nodded in agreement, and each went to his own work or to Father to assign them tasks for the day.