Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Last Free Man: A Short Story

Someone was knocking on the door. He was not surprised. He rose slowly, walked to the door, and opened it for the men. He assumed they were federal agents. He stood in the doorway, calmly looking at the men, but saying nothing.

The silence was uncomfortable for the agents. Their leader cleared his throat and began, "Mr. Smith, we've been sent here to help you."
"I did not request any help," Mr. Smith replied. "Who sent you?" Mr. Smith already knew the answer, but he wanted to make the men answer.
"Why, the people, of course. Your fellow citizens are concerned that you are still living outside the collective."
Mr. Smith, of course, was fine. He needed no collective. He grew his own food, had a well with fresh water, and had built a fine house. He had once been the most brilliant engineer in his country. He was still brilliant, but the collective had confiscated the factories and machinery he had designed and maintained. He had retreated to his remote home to try to live in peace. Other engineers had moved to the collective but, over time, had lost their desire to innovate. Perhaps being surrounded by all those "people's representatives" and federal agents did not inspire men to put forth their best efforts.
Mr. Smith, after another long silence, responded to the agents. "The citizens' concern is unwarranted. I am fine. Now, if that is all, I'll say good night." He turned from the door, knowing the agents would not leave.
"Mr. Smith," said the leader, "We came to take you with us."
"Why?" said Smith. He knew the answer, but wanted the satisfaction of hearing it spoken out loud.
"Well...we...need you, Mr. Smith," they admitted.
"I see. All those drones in the collective and not a one of them can keep your economy going? So you've come to drag me away to save you all, after you've stolen everything I ever invented?" Smith waited for their next move.
"We wouldn't exactly say that. You will come, won't you? We didn't plan to use force."
"Of course you didn't," said Smith, "but I can't help but notice you are all armed." He paused for a moment, appearing to consider their request. Could they really believe a man of his intelligence would go with them and save the collective that had destroyed his life's work? Yes, those agents could believe it, because they did not understand how free men lived. At last, he answered. "If you gentlemen will be so kind as to let me gather my books, I will meet you at your car."
The relieved agents went to their car while Smith went back into his house. Smith called his dog, grabbed a pack he kept in the closet for just such an emergency, and slipped through a trap door in the bedroom. When he was safely on his way through his carefully engineered tunnel to the forest, he pulled a detonator from the pack. All the agents saw was Smith's fine house, blown to bits. They assumed Smith had committed suicide, just as Smith had known they would.
The collective held a meeting that night to decide what to do. Winter was coming, and nobody had enough ambition to fix the heating system or preserve the food. The rusting factories were filled with drones, waiting for the collective to tell them what to do. They were waiting for the collective to save them. They did not realize that they were the collective and they would not save themselves. They had forgotten how. Smith however, continued to be the last free man.

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