They waited, while strangers decided their fate. After a while, Ileana stood, tapping her feet as if trying to restore circulation. “Maybe you could summon a demon to get us out,” she groaned at Chess.
“I thought I performed the magic,” Sariel intoned, sounding annoyed.
“You guys are taking this awfully lightly,” Chess hissed back at them. “What if --”
He stopped abruptly as the door opened. The old man, the one whom Chess had noticed studying him through the window, entered and sat down, facing them. He nodded solemnly.
Ileana dropped back to sitting cross-legged on the floor. “How can we help you, Grandfather?”
The man seemed to chuckle to himself and, from his coat, brought out the link-phones and Sariel’s knife. “These belong to you,” he said to Chess. And then he chuckled again, glanced around at the girls, and placed the items on the floor. Sariel dived to grab her knife and settled back in a flash.
“Thanks,” Chess breathed, surprised. He handed Ileana her phone and pocketed the other one.
“You have technology from civ.” The man’s words were unhurried. “So do we. For instance, you would not have been noticed without the security cameras installed along our boundaries.”
Chess stared at the man’s solemn, deeply lined face and curiously alert eyes. There was something that he wanted from them, Chess realized. But what?
“You don’t seem to need much that civ has to offer,” Ileana observed. “You have your own food and energy sources here. I am amazed at what I have seen. Have you always lived here, outside?”
The old man rolled his eyes. “For many years, I was a professor. I wrote, and taught both history and literature at a university on the east coast.” He shook his head. “Back then, it took less than a day to drive from there to here.” He gazed at each of them in turn, grimacing at their surprised looks. “I helped my siblings to research and create what we have here. But now I am old.” His gaze dropped to the floor. “And younger men make the decisions.”
Ileana raised her eyebrows at Chess. “Why did you leave civ?” she asked.
“I could see the direction of the winds, and I was worried for my family. There were altercations with others who were intolerant, hostile. One night, we all sat down and talked… and decided to go.” He sighed. “That was a decade ago. We had much knowledge between us, but life outside is difficult. I am all that’s left of my generation here. I love my children, but I have done all I can for them. They don’t need me anymore.” He raised his eyes. “…but perhaps you do,” he concluded.
“Huh?” Instinctively, Chess glanced toward the still-closed door. “What do you mean?”
The old man followed his gaze. “Civilization has failed us… and the younger generations have returned to older ways. It comforts them.” He tipped his head in acquiescence. “It is also practical.”
“Older ways?” Ileana murmured. “You mean the village’s religious beliefs?” And then she nodded, seeming to understand. “Faith sustains the people… and strict rules benefit the community.” She frowned suddenly, glancing at Sariel. “But what value does the fear of demons and witches have?”
“Oh, that.” The man shrugged. “Don’t judge us too harshly. We are all doing our best.” He stood and walked toward the window. “I guess my theory is: the farther one ventures out here into the wilderness, the more time one seems to spend in a darker part of the human mind – an older part, steeped in instinct and fear. I, too, have found myself feeling… superstitious, at times.”
“Yeah, I can understand that,” Chess agreed, glancing anxiously past him out the window.
“But I remember freedom from fear.” The old man turned back to them. “I remember the joy of using my mind, of learning, of creating…” He clasped his hands together, looking suddenly earnest. “You are going somewhere. I know it. Let me come with you,” he pleaded. “I refuse to believe that my journey will end here. Let me feel useful again.” But then his face folded into a resigned expression and he looked down. “But perhaps it is not God’s will that I should ever leave here,” he muttered.
Chess realized that this man was their chance at a quick escape. He shrugged at Ileana.
Ileana straightened and said, “We are headed for a new home, we hope… if we can make it there. Grandfather, you are welcome to join us.”
Continued next page...
“I need a change, or something.... Well, I’ve made up my mind anyway. I want to see mountains again - mountains: and then find somewhere where I can rest. In peace and quiet without a lot of relatives prying around... I want to see the wild country again before I die, and the Mountains”
- The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
The political rally that Chess’s parents attended, which Chess and Ileana discuss, could be based on many political demonstrations which have ended badly. For me, however, the inspiration came from the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989. This tragic conclusion to several weeks of protests, during which many protesters were killed by government forces, is well-known to us in the western world, but is nearly erased from the history of China, where it happened.
Many people played admirable roles in that protest, including some government officials like Zhao Ziyang, but the one person who stands out is Liu Xiabo, who was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize while imprisoned. Anything that I could say about him pales in comparison to this excerpt from an article in the New York Times (8 October 2010):
The [2010 Nobel Peace ] prize is … an affirmation of the two decades Mr. Liu has spent advocating peaceful political change in the face of unremitting hostility from the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Blacklisted from academia and barred from publishing in China, Mr. Liu has been harassed and detained repeatedly since 1989, when he stepped into the drama playing out on Tiananmen Square by staging a hunger strike and then negotiating the peaceful retreat of student demonstrators as thousands of soldiers stood by with rifles drawn.
“If not for the work of Liu and the others to broker a peaceful withdrawal from the square, Tiananmen Square would have been a field of blood on June 4,” said Gao Yu, a veteran journalist and fellow dissident who was arrested in the hours before the tanks began moving through the city.
Liu and this event were a definite influence on my story as, while protests, government coups, and outright civil wars currently rage somewhere in the world, I wonder what our future will look like.
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