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         He did tell them eventually. Well, he had to, of course. His mom had been kind of upset, as he had expected. However, he also figured that, before too long, she would forget exactly where he had gone and be content again. His sister’s expression had remained stolid, her frown deepening only slightly as she had said to him, “I guess I understand. I…” And she had turned her face away from him for a moment. “I’ll use the time well,” she had told him quietly.
         Later that night -- the night before he left -- his mom, padding softly in her slippers, had come to the door of his room. She had something in her hand that she held out for him to see.
         “Take this with you, honey,” she said. “We’ve become so dependent on technology. Those foolish eyepieces…” She waved her hand dismissively around her ear. “They can just pull the plug whenever they want in the name of public safety,” she added in a soft murmur.
         He stared at her intently, not sure what to say. Her eyes looked distant for a moment, but then she blinked and pressed the small object into his hand. “Just don’t forget where your old mother is,” she said with a sudden wry smile, and then shuffled out of the room as he watched her in silence.
         Now, riding in the back of the huge loud truck, the only ride in a motor vehicle that he could actually remember, he looked down at what she had given him: a compass. It was a manual compass, which worked without GPS, adequate signal strength or even electricity. He did not even know why she owned it, but she had given it to him as if presenting a treasure, and so he had brought it with him. He smiled a little as he looked at it. “She trusts in this like I trust in my dice for the game,” he thought.
         On impulse, taking a hint from her, he had also managed to dig up an old paper map of the entire area, and he had drawn a circle at the spot where his Game Administrator had guessed that Lodestar was located. It was a stupid thought, he knew, but for the first time he would actually be outside, and it would be the closest to Lodestar he would probably ever get.
         Other than those two items, he had only packed what was on the army’s recommended list.

         The truck charged along, spewing fumes that made the air seem filled with tiny bits of dirt. Chess tried to breathe into his sleeve at first, but the violent bumping of the truck, once they had passed outside the gate, made that almost impossible. Passing the gate was, itself, an unnerving experience, and he had sort of expected the sky to come crashing down on them as soon as they went beyond the boundary of the city. Around him, among the new recruits, talk was muted. People appeared to be trying to stay in their own space, but with the crowded seating, that was difficult.
         “Hey, I hear we’re getting out of there at a good time,” someone shouted, affecting a forced-sounding joviality over the roar of the engine. “Water rationing starts up again next week.”
         The statement was met by a few groans and then mostly silence again. No one else tried to engage the entire company in conversation for a while until one of the recruits suddenly pointed out the truck window. “Hey, there’s that old base they blew up,” the kid exclaimed. “I heard those guys had to run, under fire, all the way from there back to the city gate.”
         The statement reminded Chess of his foolish run from city security, two nights before. And he remembered, for the first time since then, the thought that had come unexpectedly to his mind: if he had to die out here… then, if he could just die while in motion, while running or fighting or trying, then it wouldn’t be so bad.
         Somehow, moving, being active, doing something made him feel better, even more confident in himself. But he had always had the vague, nagging fear that he would, instead, die helpless, paralyzed: the way he had felt at that awful job interview, the way he felt while in school, the way he felt almost every moment of his life. And those situations stressed him so much that, well, this one could not possibly be any worse, he decided. He took a deep breath and choked quietly on the exhaust-filled air.
         “There’s the camp,” someone cried, and a dark shape loomed into sight among the trees.
         Chess, the master thief, gripped the straps of his backpack and resolved to die trying.

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“If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of a light,” Ma considered. “We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl, before this newfangled kerosene was ever heard of.”
“That’s so,” said Pa. “These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves—they’re good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ‘em.”

The Long Winter (Little House series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

         Since before the theatrical comedies of Aristophanes, a contemporary of Socrates, older people have bemoaned new technologies that are fast appearing and wonder if they will lead ultimately to the destruction of society. And each generation worries about the next generation, which, like a progressive series of xerox copies, always seems more flawed than the one before.
         I admit, I think about this too. If things go on this way, will we become a world of people who don’t speak to each other, can’t spell or use grammar at all, and can’t focus on anything for more than a few seconds at a time? We might stop accomplishing, stop learning and just spend all day surfing (or whatever the kids are calling it these days). But then I remember that probably the most intelligent, thoughtful, ambitious, and quick-witted people that I have ever met happen to be much younger than myself. The mere fact that the ancient Greeks worried about this sort of thing gives me confidence that it is not that urgent of a problem. So, yes, it does bug me when people don’t use their spell check or even seem to have cast a second glance at what they have written… but maybe when I retire they can hire me as a part-time proofreader for their blogs. (I figure that there will be job openings once the computerized spell-checkers become sentient and form their own exclusive communities.)



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