Ellis was one of the two recruits who seemed destined to be platoon leader – he seemed a natural at playing that game, Chess thought glumly. And the guy also seemed to make it his business to know everything that went on in the barracks. When he stomped over to them, his heavy boots resounding on the bare floor, the entire group sitting around Chess’s cot looked up with shared dread.
Ellis stood over the recruit who had tuned his link phone to the radio program. The considerable white noise and gaps of silence in the transmission made the content hard to decipher, but the talk was unexpectedly loud. Ellis scowled fiercely at the recruit and they all waited. Chess held his breath.
“Contraband,” Ellis growled. “Turn it off.”
Dutifully, the recruit switched off the noise.
“Once you get overseas, I hear they don’t care so much,” Ellis added in a more civil tone. “But you can’t have that here.”
Feeling shaky, Chess opened his mouth to speak. He was fearful, but he really wanted to know. “You know who that is?” he asked hoarsely.
With a quick movement of his head, Ellis appeared to take stock of their surroundings. Then he sat heavily down on the edge of Dallow’s cot. “Isaac Dale,” he said quietly. “He broadcasts for the dissidents. The drill sergeants will rip your head off if they hear that crap.” He seemed to smile. “So would Brandt. And I’m not thrilled about it myself.” He looked pointedly at Chess. “Don’t you know we’re under constant threat from the dissidents here?”
Chess, along with the rest of the group, remained silent. Chess felt that his mouth was hanging open, but he couldn’t seem to close it. Ellis rose from the cot and turned to leave.
“Try to make it to graduation,” he advised derisively.
During their next scheduled free time, Chess, as promised, did his best to give the group a cursory explanation of the game. With halting sentences, he managed to make it sound much less interesting than he actually found it, in the hopes that they would leave him alone. However, a few of the recruits, Mal included, persisted, and soon he was giving them far more detail than he felt comfortable with: about the game and about himself.
“So, can you shoot people?” Dallow asked hopefully.
Chess frowned. “There are some archers in the game,” he answered doubtfully. “The setting is sort of medieval. Lots of swordsmen. My character rarely used weapons, though.”
Dallow seemed disappointed with the answer.
“Do you cast spells?” someone else asked. “This sounds like that big online game. Are there wizards and stuff like that?”
“Oh!” Mal jumped in. “How ‘bout that goddess that you bring offerings to: can you ask her to give you some magic?”
“Well…” Chess took a deep breath. “Some characters ask their gods for the ability to cast spells, yeah, definitely.” Despite his discomfort, he smiled at Mal. “But, uh, this goddess doesn’t really make things happen… it’s more like she helps me make good decisions.” He started talking more quickly, more sure of himself now. “I bring offerings to her high priestess --”
“High priestess, huh?” Mal echoed, her bright eyes sparkling. “What’s she like?”
“Oh, she’s beautiful,” Chess sighed impulsively, and, suddenly, the indigo priestess had red-blonde hair and freckles scattered over her nose. He blinked in embarrassed surprise and plunged on with his explanation. “Uh, so I say, for instance: I was thinking about going after this particular treasure. Is it a good idea or not? And the goddess gives the answer through her… uh, high priestess.”
Chess stopped talking and looked around at the group. He realized that most were staring at him with some expression of blank confusion. Mal was still smiling, though.
Frowning, Dallow snorted, “Maybe you should have asked her advice before you enlisted.”
Continued next page...
Rufus, the Apostle: Are you saying you Believe?
Bethany: No. But I have a good idea.
Rufus, the Apostle: Yes!
So, around about the time that I was struggling through Nehru’s massive book (which has a cover photo of the author reading a book of noticeably fewer pages!), I also happened to be listening to two recent books by Thomas Friedman. Friedman is unapologetically a capitalist, in both of the ways that word seems to be understood. First, on the idea that capitalism as an economic system gives fair opportunity to anyone with the ambition to take advantage of it, Friedman appears to have an overwhelmingly positive view of the globalization of business and manufacturing, believing that it will eventually offer equal opportunity to everyone in the world. And, as for the other definition of capitalism -- that financial capital is necessary for the operation and success of a business -- he definitely provides illustrations of judicious, efficient, and profit-making uses of capital by multinational mega-corporations in his book, The World is Flat.
It was a little mind-bending to listen to Friedman, a capitalist, on my way to work and read Nehru, a socialist, at dinner break. Both authors speak as though they have possession of the ultimate ideas that can save the entire world. In reality, if the answer is to be found at all, it probably has to be somewhere in between. But it’s still good to have an idea.
Okay, one more blog to conclude this subject, and then we take a ride in a Time Machine...
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