Chess walked slowly homeward, his mind even more filled with chaotic thoughts than it had been on the journey to the game. But worries about his family were crowded out by what the G. A. had told him about Lodestar: they were outside, he recalled incredulously. Outside city walls – outside of civ, itself. And, more than that, they used samiz transmission. He stopped for a moment and gazed up at the bright moon, which seemed to be hanging low, just over the skyscrapers.
Samiz, short for “samizdat,” was a relay method of transmission ascribed to the dissidents on the outside. Chess shook his head in wonder. Of course, they had covered the subject in his Information Systems Defense classes, but it was always presented more like an urban legend than any kind of real threat. It was not really workable, his teachers said, because the technology also depended on the participation of people in the system. It was a cool idea, though, Chess decided as he plodded on, and he resolved to look up his old class notes on samiz tech the following morning.
The next day when he went online, however, the current headlines grabbed his attention.
“Did you hear about this?” he asked as he entered the kitchen. “There’s a protest.”
His sister muttered something under her breath and turned away from him slightly. Under the fall of loose brown hair, her face looked so serious. She was hurriedly typing on her link-screen interface, in between taking bites of a nutrition bar, and she was pointedly ignoring him.
He tried again. “The protesters say there was a town massacred. An entire town… outside.”
She looked up at him then, brows furrowed in irritation. “How do they know?”
“Oh, I knew,” his mother answered serenely from her seat at the nearby table.
Looking startled, his sister stopped typing and put down her link-phone. They both turned automatically toward their mother, waiting for more revelations… but the fragile-looking figure merely lifted a coffee cup to her lips, and then stared quietly into the distance.
Chess was not aware of how silent the room was until the blowers kicked on a moment later, making him jump. “Huh,” he breathed out, and then added, “How… how’s your exam coming along?”
“Ugh.” His sister focused on her link-screen again, shrugging.
“Try to finish as soon as you can, honey,” their mother urged. “You don’t have much time.”
His sister put the link-phone down again and took a hesitant step toward the table. “I have until six tonight,” she answered slowly, and then she smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry, I can do it, Mom.”
Chess watched his mother’s face darken into a frown. “It’s just like before. It will be. Save what you’ve written. Save it here, not online.” She nodded toward the link-phone and then looked off into the distance again. “Online, things get lost.”
His sister smiled more brightly. “Now, Mom, we talked about this before. Just because you can’t find information right away doesn’t mean it disappeared. I can help you.” Then she turned to face Chess and motioned her eyes toward the hallway. For the first time, he clearly saw her fear.
Out in the hallway, they huddled together. Somehow, even with the bright lighting, it seemed too dark around them. “The government says there are no longer any people with chronic, deteriorating illnesses,” Chess growled quietly, his heart pounding. “So what’s going on with her?”
“We just have to find the right medication,” his sister sighed. “Everyone can be helped. Everyone gets cured,” she added earnestly. “We just have to be patient and let the doctors work.”
“Gets cured… or disappears?” The darkness seemed to be closing in over him, like a great shadow. The white noise, always present now, grew louder in his brain.
His sister let out a long breath, and he envisioned the shadow covering her, too. “We won’t disappear.” She turned her brave smile on him now. “Gotta finish my exam.” She moved back toward the kitchen doorway. “We’ll get through this,” she added over her shoulder, “even if I have to enlist.”
He stood there, watching her walk away. “You are so much better than I am,” he sighed quietly.
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What is true about the will of the regime, however, is not necessarily true of the real spiritual potential of our community… I see evidence of this in far more than the hundreds of samizdat volumes… seminars, concerts, and other events: besides, there are theaters crammed full of people grateful for every nuance of meaning, frantically applauding every knowing smile from the stage… young people travelling half way across the country to attend a concert that may not take place at all.
Six Asides About Culture by Vaclav Havel
Vaclav Havel, a leader of the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and later president of a newly democratic country, seems to have understood the power of entertainment to gain the attention and support of the people of a nation. He was much more of a political satirist than a comedian; however, the plays that I have read are intensely obvious in their message to a comical degree.
I don’t remember exactly why he ever came to my attention, but he is part of a long list of political dissidents who were jailed for a period of time because they were outspoken about getting their governments to take steps toward whatever they defined as making things better. Some of these activists become well-known political leaders: Nelson Mandela, Jawaharlal Nehru, Aung San Suu Kyi, etc., and probably went on to view their time in prison as worthwhile, even if terrible. But countless more activists are imprisoned and either disappear or, once freed, spend the rest of their lives quietly. These people are the necessary cogs in the machines of change that enable the success of the Vaclav Havels of the world. They are the crowds that attend the protests and the concerts. And when information is censored and can only be disseminated in secret, many hands are needed.
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