“The people who are chasing you,” Ileana told the water wizards, “likely believe that you have some kind of powerful weapon. Stories about the mysterious water wizards are everywhere out there.”
“Yeah.” Luis nodded. “But we can’t do magic. And we don’t have any weapons.”
“But you have a powerful secret,” Ileana pressed.
At the corner of his vision, Chess noticed Sariel and her new friend, Marcello, moving in closer to join the group around the campfire.
“Power…” Luis answered slowly, appearing to shiver in the cooling evening air. “Yes, we have that. But it’s not something that we want. We only have power because others have relinquished it.”
“You’ll have to be a little clearer than that if you want us to understand,” Chess said with a faint smile. “Are you talking about making the water drinkable? Uh, which is really amazing, of course. I mean, I met some people who…” His voice trailed off as he recalled the first time he had heard about the water wizards, from the girl who had set herself on fire. “But, well, is that all? Uh…” He noticed Ileana shooting him a puzzled glance. “What I mean is: what’s the water wizards’ big secret?”
“It’s not a big secret.” Marcello’s solemn voice suddenly entered the conversation. “Or, at least, it wouldn’t be, if the government was protecting its citizens, instead of being in thrall to mega-corporations. Yes, we can remove the toxic chemicals from the water and maybe reduce the risk of the villagers dying of cancer before they reach their third decade. And, yes, civ, itself, is going to need that knowledge very soon, and that is why Home Defense pursues us.” He shrugged. “But we have more than that. We have a comprehensive system for surviving outside the walled cities: water, gardening methods, machinery for sustainable energy--”
“And, of course, the seeds, which are not patented, so you can save and use them from year to year,” the younger female scientist added in a bitter tone, “without paying royalties to any company.”
“Yes,” Luis agreed. “But these things are just a means to helping people out here live better lives. It disheartens us that so many people -- people who got left outside when civilization pulled in on itself -- don’t realize that they can do these things for themselves, with materials that are readily available. Instead, they are still scrounging old manufactured products where they can. But that old world of civ is dying, and nature is beginning to take back the earth. We envision a new way of living.”
“We hope you will teach us,” Ileana said, nodding, “And maybe we can find a way to help you.”
The wizards settled in, and peaceful days stretched into weeks. Chess felt as though he was living a new life. He spent some of his time guiding the scientists through the hallways of Lodestar, which he already knew well, and helping them to find materials that could be useful in their work.
He also spent increasingly chilly mornings assisting Ileana and Noah with the development of their gardens. On the advice of the wizards, they had decided to plant only a few crops, which would mostly nourish the soil in anticipation of the following spring. But there was plenty of work to be done beforehand, in previously untilled ground. Chess helped as much as he could, shoveling until his back ached, and then retreating to Sariel, when he could find her, for admonishment and comfort.
Working with Fogg, he helped detect and fix some of the gaps in the security of Lodestar’s transmissions. And he began using the equipment himself: exploring the structure of the samiz network.
Soon, he found himself communicating with distant villages – haltingly, of course, because samiz was indirect and slow. And also because dissidents and villagers alike were an extremely cautious lot. But he learned significant things about the nature of samiz, and the people who used it.
Chess also learned about events he never would have heard of back in civ. He began to understand the nature of some of Isaac Dale’s resources, and his motivations. Sometimes he listened to Dale, himself, and felt that he gained a better understanding of Ileana. Often, he talked to Ileana and pondered the growing mystery of his parents’ past. He also talked to the artificers quite a bit.
But, most astonishing of all, to him: he began to help with the game.
Continued next page...
When he planted this patented seed, he made copies of it... Hans Sauer, deputy general counsel at BIO, says many biotech products are a lot like seeds. "They are easily replicated. They are difficult to make, but once created they are relatively easy to reproduce." The same is true of computer software. But these are new technologies. Farmers' seeds are old; they're the original self-replicating technology, and for centuries, nobody tried to claim them as intellectual property... Yet all of these varieties are patented... Twenty years ago, that wasn't the case. Many seed dealers sold "public" varieties that came from breeders at universities like Iowa State or Purdue. Today, most new varieties come from private companies, and even universities acquire patents on most of the varieties that they do release. Farmers aren't supposed to save and replant those seeds, either.
- Farmer's Fight With Monsanto Reaches The Supreme Court (2013)
So what’s my obsession with seeds, already? Well, they are clearly an insidious part of the agro/military/industrial complex. No, I’m only kidding. (Am I?) Anyway, as a reformed, formerly practicing gardener, I knew that companies develop seeds that are somehow improved: more resistant to diseases or can be harvested sooner than nature intended, etc. (Yes, I am talking about genetically modified organisms- “GMOs”) And if I had given it any thought, I would have realized that these companies had patented their specific seeds. And, working in a lab, I have a good idea of the investment that might be required to develop products, so the fact that a company is vigilant about monitoring the use of their patented seeds makes sense. What does not make sense to me is that a farmer cannot save seeds from this year’s crop and replant them, and be protected by the doctrine of patent exhaustion. That seems akin to not being able to sell a used paperback on Ebay. True, there are differences in the two examples. Maybe it would be more like photocopying the pages of a paperback and trying to sell it? I’m not sure.
Anyway, the Supreme Court in Bowman v. Monsanto ruled in favor of the seed patentee, Monsanto. Nowadays, apparently, seeds are terribly expensive, and farming, as it has always been, is still subject to drought, floods and many other forms of natural bad luck. It’s amazing that anyone still wants to “bet the farm” on farming as a career. Of course, if farmers don’t want to pay for patents, they could go back to using wildtype seeds. But that strategy would be dependent on a few factors: whether they can successfully compete using non-patented seeds, whether there are any available for them to acquire, and, as we radically change the chemical and biological makeup of our ecosystems, whether formerly indigenous plants can still thrive in their native lands.
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