They were traveling through hallways, and rounding corners that led to more hallways, until Chess felt lost in a dungeon maze. Every once in a while, though, they passed walls of dusty windows and Chess could see sunlight and grass outside. It appeared that they were gradually winding their way around the central courtyard of the compound, moving through each of the ivy-covered stone buildings by means of a network of window-enclosed walkways, which connected one building to the next.
And, through it all, Razor kept talking…
“This place was chaos before I took over, absolute chaos,” Razor was saying. “With my men, I brought order. We keep order here.” With a wave of his hand, he indicated one of his men, who was walking down the hallway toward them.
Chess gaped around him. The many-roomed stone buildings appeared to be occupied by a large population: men, women and children, who peered out at them through partly-open doorways.
“Are all these people living in these rooms?” Chess asked quietly, watching faces disappear into the shadows as the two of them passed by down the hallway.
“These people were squatters here,” Razor told him solemnly. “But we have made them citizens of their own country. They lived in fear, but now they are happy. They can make a good life here.”
Abruptly, he stopped and turned to Chess. “Where would these people be if they lived in civ? If they lived in the city that you come from? You tell me.”
“In Shelter, maybe,” Chess answered softly, thinking of his family.
Appearing satisfied with the answer, Razor began walking again and Chess hurried to keep up. “I went to university, you know – got an M.B.A.,” Razor declared. “You went to college, too, I bet?”
Chess nodded silently.
“And I had a good job back in civ,” Razor continued. “But I looked outside myself, outside the life I knew. I knew people were hurting out here, so I left the comfort of civ to do some good.” He flung open a door at the end of the hallway and swept out into one of the covered walkways. Chess felt the floor vibrate under Razor’s heavy stride as they crossed yet another edge of the courtyard. “And other people are following me, joining us out here all the time. Including you, my friend the dissident.” He turned to Chess again. “So tell me: what made you leave the army?”
In a few minutes, Chess told him the story of recent days, ending with the burning village. He was not ready, yet, to talk about the girl and the child. “And the soldiers were looking for people they called Water Wizards,” Chess finished. “I heard they have some big world-conquering weapon.”
“Yeah,” Razor nodded thoughtfully. “We’ve been hearing rumors about them, too. I have eyes and ears everywhere around here, and contacts in the villages. But I’m still not clear on just what --”
A female shriek, close by, interrupted him then, and Razor went charging down the hallway.
Chess caught up to Razor in time to see him forcefully pulling a man away from a screaming teenage girl. When the man resisted, Razor pushed him against the wall. Chess watched in horror as Razor then pulled out a large black handgun and struck the man full on the side of the face with it.
Chess stood paralyzed, watching the scene unfold. And, in his memory, he saw his former lieutenant questioning the villager. He stared, open-mouthed as Razor turned back toward him.
“Sometimes the citizens get out of line,” Razor shrugged, seeming embarrassed. He pulled out a link-phone. “Excuse me a minute.” Behind Razor, Chess saw the man slink away, holding his face.
“Yeah, find Tez for me, please,” Razor shouted into the phone, “and have him check who’s supposed to be patrolling this area – it’s…” He glanced around at the windows. “Oh, of course: it’s the south corner. Scared of their own shadows. Well get somebody down here.” He sounded annoyed. “Oh, and make sure the girls are in their rooms, resting. They’re all going out tonight.”
He sighed and turned to Chess again. “Where was I? Ha! Man, you look like a goldfish,” he laughed, comically imitating Chess’s open-mouthed stare. “So, what’d you major in at university?”
Continued next page...
… Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence.
Here we may reign secure; and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
- Paradise Lost: Book I by John Milton
Our world has seen many examples of totalitarian governments, with the most vivid recent ones being the Eastern Bloc communist countries that people like Vaclav Havel fought against. But there are other types of autocratic societies that are just as scary, if not far more so. When government fails, the void of power is filled by others. In some countries, the “others” are law-bringing tribal leaders who already wield some cultural power over the people. However, in truly chaotic lands gangs tend to come in and take over.
In their book Half the Sky, the authors talk about the steadily worsening situations of women in many countries. “One reason for that is the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and Indochina… the immediate result was economic distress and everywhere criminal gangs arose and filled the power vacuum.”
At many different times, in different books, I seem to encounter the same idea over and over: Somalia’s government fails and gangs (or what I, in my lack of culture-specific knowledge, call “gangs”) take over; Columbia’s government is inadequate in the countryside and gangs terrorize the people, etc. Because of that, I wanted to include some elements of gangs in my story. I guess I could have researched the big drug cartels in Mexico, since it is pretty close to home, but I wanted to avoid both the glorification of that particular industry and the insane amount of violence that it involves. But I managed to find another common “lawless” situation that seemed to fit my criteria, and an engaging author who was eager to explain it…
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