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         A few days later, they found themselves - contrary to every instinct of caution - walking along the crumbling remains of a highway, in an attempt to stay in direct sunlight and recharge the link-phone.
         Sariel was pleased because she could gather a selection of plants that differed from what grew in the shade of the woods. And Chess was doing his best to stay in contact with Lodestar. Although, what they would find there, if they ever made it that far, he could not imagine.
         “The good news is, they are still pretty talkative,” Chess told Ileana. “I mean, with their usual one-way mode of samiz transmission, I doubt they get a whole lot of feedback on their game. But they won’t tell me where they are. It’s so frustrating. They’re worried about someone intercepting the messages and finding them. Are they worried about the government? Home Defense? Or gangs?”
         “All of the above?” Ileana shrugged, frowning. “We’ll just keep heading that way and trust to luck, I guess.” And then she brightened. “At least we can listen to Isaac Dale, now!”
         “Yeah. You know, I keep wondering,” Chess murmured, “if my mom is listening to the same thing at the same time.” Suddenly, he stopped walking and looked at Ileana. “You would know the answer to this: my mom said Isaac Dale ran for president. But I thought he used to be a comedian. I couldn’t find much about him in the Chronicles.”
         Ileana nodded. “He’s almost completely wiped from our history now,” she agreed. “But when I was a kid, he still had a program online – a mainstream, corporate-sponsored comedy show. Mostly, he made fun of whatever was going on in politics… and politicians. He ran for president in order to highlight the corruption in political campaign financing.” She smirked. “He lost, of course.”
         “So, then, what happened to him?” Chess asked. “Wait, let me guess: corporations stopped sponsoring him because he questioned the influence they were having on politicians?”
         “Not at all.” Ileana waved the idea away. “Not while he was making money, anyway. What happened was that he started getting frustrated. Then, he started sounding angry, not funny. He couldn’t make it all sound okay anymore. People lost interest. His own audience let him fade away.”
         Chess looked at the solar charger. It was a good one – the reading said that the phone was already halfway charged. His thoughts returned to his mom. “The day they closed the gates, my mom told me, uh…” He hesitated. He could not bring himself to tell anyone about his mom’s memory loss or her failing health – not even Ileana. “Well, she said there was a protest.”
         “Yeah.” The sunlight glinted off Ileana’s still-short hair as she walked. “Instead of protesting at every gate, people decided to gather at one big demonstration,” she explained.
         “People traveled from other walled cities?” Chess asked incredulously.
         Ileana frowned at him. “You could do that… until they decided to close the gates.”
         “Oh, right.” Chess felt foolish. “I don’t remember any of that. I guess I was maybe five or six.”
         Ileana smiled apologetically at him. “Well, I’m a little older than you. I was just a kid, but I watched the whole thing online -- well, for as long as I could. The police were gathering and people were filming. There were episodes of tear gas and other awful chemicals being sprayed.” Her words were speeding up, and her stride was matching them. Chess picked up his own pace to stay with her.
         “And Isaac Dale,” Ileana continued, “was scheduled to make a big fiery protest speech, that day. But he ended up pleading with everyone to calm down. He made what he called a ‘plea for sanity’ to the government. And then, he asked all the protesters to go home. A lot of them did. The ones who stayed…” She shook her head, frowning at the ground. “After his speech, the internet went down.”
         “My mom was there,” Chess muttered. “Probably my dad, too. Guess they didn’t bring me.”
         Ileana stopped and squinted at him in the glaring sun. “Not many people who were actually there are still alive. Even the ones who listened to Dale, and went home, developed terrible illnesses.”
         Chess shook his head. “She said, ‘I was there at the protest. I saw him speak...’”
         “I think he still embodies hope for a lot of people,” Ileana said quietly.
         “That’s a big responsibility,” Chess said. He started to say more, but Sariel screamed.

Continued next page...

Jon Stewart: What impact does... me... have on the public dialogue?
Choir Soloist: If anything, you’re just weak: dulling the populist anger that could really change the system.
Wit Happens on The Daily Show, 31 October 2013 (at 0:35 & 4:56)

         The character Isaac Dale runs in the background of my story. Although no one has met him in person, he is an inspiration to a few of the others. So, who is he based on? The most obvious answer is Jon Stewart (John Daily?) of The Daily Show, who comments on the news with equal amounts of silly humor and thoughtful analysis. Over the years of The Daily Show, he has become more visible politically, addressing emotion-charged issues and engaging politicians and other talking heads in intelligent debate. His growing influence even causes the real news shows to report on his doings occasionally.
         As an avid viewer of The Daily Show myself, I can envision someone like him, who combines a likable, self-deprecating manner with intelligent sharp argument, to end up as a leader to a group of people who are fighting for a cause. The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, held in 2010, was one of several inspirations for the ill-fated demonstration that Chess’s mother attended long ago -- more because of the central message of the rally rather than the event itself.
         On his show, Stewart not only makes the issues of the day known to his audience, he presents them in a way that makes people pay attention. In another time and place, Vaclav Havel felt strongly about the need to entertain people in order to get them to listen. Jon Stewart has been doing this since 1999. But there are others who might also be the inspiration for Isaac Dale.



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