At SXSW, the annual tech startup conference in Austin, 13 homeless men are hanging around the conference center wearing white shirts that say “I’m _____, a 4G hotspot.” Each is carrying a wireless internet device, and for a PayPal donation, will provide conference-goers with internet access for as long as they want. .
We had long since left the cities and the plains and forest. Now it was heat and dirt. Mother trailed behind us both. Her coughs were getting worse. The dust did something terrible to her. Father had tied a rope to her hand and attached it to his kit. When she fell, it grew taught, and he turned from his silent lumbering to help her up.
We followed the path it gave us. It never told you when, but eventually, past that point where your lungs claim you can’t go any further, you would arrive at a node. I could tell when we were close because Mother’s smile, a beautiful thing, and the dimple that graced it, would transition to a frown, then on to a grimace.
Father told me these used to be shipping containers, used to move things by oil-driven ships. I don’t know whether to believe him or not. All I know is that once they take your pack to charge it, which takes two days, they gave you food, beds, showers, fresh water – even medicine. Mother always looked better when we left.
Father’s back was too weak from the war, so I carried the pack. On the rare occasion we met Consumers, they would invariably comment on this sight. For them, I was too young, the pack too heavy. This was not what they thought they were paying for.
In response, Father would look them in the eye and say, “My son carries this family’s future. I am proud that he does.” I would stare at my feet, pretend I didn’t hear, but I always did, and his words always marked my happiest moments. The Consumers would nod sagely, as if they understood, and then would disappear into their networld.
Part of my ongoing startup dystopia series. Previous installments here.
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