Agitatedly, Chess tapped his fingers on the bottom of the keyboard. He stared at the computer monitor in front of him, then glanced toward the open doorway… and, finally, took a deep breath.
The chat with Ileana had brought thoughts of his family back to the front of his consciousness. He had to try contacting them, he just had to, he decided. But would they be glad to hear from him? He wished desperately that he could find out what had been reported about him. Was he now a deserter? Or was it possible that they considered him KIA?
His heart pounded as he began to work his way through cyberspace, still pondering the question.
Back at the site of the fire, where the girl had… He winced and forced himself to think about the scene without bringing up a flood of emotion. He had left his weapon, he remembered. Yes, and his water bottle, and his backpack, which might not have been completely consumed by the fire. Everything was there, in fact, except his I.D. card. And his body. But… He took another slow breath.
Probably, the patrol would have been in a hurry to get out of there, he mused. And the effort that would be required to track down a missing soldier in that forest -- especially one as expendable as he was -- never mind the required filing of forms to explain that delay… Well, it was entirely possible that the patrol had given the charred remains a cursory look, decided that Chess had been the victim of an attack by a villager, and moved on. Chess shrugged. There was only one way to find out, he told himself as, with shaking hands, he took the final step needed to reach his sister on a restricted channel.
Trying to imitate correspondence that he had previously received from the army, Chess typed: Hello. This is a follow-up regarding your brother, Charles, age 22, citizen soldier.
Immediately, the reply came back: Do you have new information?
Chess pictured his sister leaning earnestly over her link-phone, could almost hear her voice as the words appeared on his screen. His throat started to tighten and he could not think what to say next.
But, as he hesitated, she spoke into her phone again, and the speech recognition program made her words appear: We were told that his body had not been located. Do you have new information?
Chess let out his breath in an explosive sigh of relief at the news: he was considered KIA! With hope surging, he typed: My records show you have received the first monthly stipend. Please confirm.
He held his breath again as he waited for the reply, which came after a pause.
Yes, that’s correct. So. There’s no new information about Charles? Nothing?
He stared at the log of the conversation, trying to reconcile his exhilaration at the news with his fierce longing to speak with his family. Finally, he typed: No. There is no additional information on this matter. I am sorry for your loss.
And then, on impulse, he added: Chess is dead.
Instantly, he lifted his hands from the keyboard, clenching them into fists, aghast at what he had just written. He imagined his sister gripping her link-phone and shouting into it: Chess?
The words blazed across the silent screen: Chess. CHESS!
With a cry of dismay, he ended the conversation.
Afterward, he paced the floor of the computer room. He had been so unbelievably stupid, he berated himself. Everything was all set -- just the way he had hoped it would be. Now, he might have just ruined it all. He pressed on the sides of his head with his still-clenched fists and squinted his eyes against threatening tears. His brain felt numb, full of white noise and anguish and accusations of failure.
Finally, weariness overcame him and he started to calm down. No, his sister was smart, he told himself, settling into a chair. She would understand that something unusual had happened. She would intuit that he wanted to keep hidden, he reasoned. She would not investigate. She would not tell their mother. He drummed his fists on the table. Yes, she was smart -- much smarter than he was. She would keep her hopes alive and keep quiet. And, from now on, he would do the same.
Continued next page...
(Moss has a small plastic box with a flashing light)
Moss: This, Jen, is the Internet. …
Jen: This is the Internet? The whole Internet?
Moss: Yep. I asked for a loan of it so that you could use it in your speech.
Jen: It's so small.
Moss: That's one of the surprising things about it.
Jen: Hang on, it doesn't have any wires or anything.
Moss: It's wireless.
Jen: Oh, yes, everything's wireless nowadays, isn't it...
Moss: Yep. It goes on top of Big Ben. That's where you get the best reception.
-The IT Crowd: The Speech, Season 3 Episode 4
So, how does the internet interconnect? Is it really all wireless, nowadays? The answers surprised me. Taking his title from the famous quote by Senator Ted Stevens, Andrew Blum has written an informative and entertaining book about the physical structure of the internet, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet. In reading it, I learned that, contrary to that IT Crowd episode, we are still mostly connected by wires! When the internet first began, it ran over telephone wires, and, like the convoluted roads of Boston that started out as wagon paths, the internet evolved organically from there. The internet connects from the USA to other continents by undersea cables, some of which were put there in the 1800s.
In 2004 Tata paid $130 million for the Tyco Global Network, which included almost forty thousand miles of fiber-optic cable spanning three continents, including major undersea links across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. (Tubes by Andrew Blum)
Apparently, wireless satellite connections are much less efficient because the data has to travel all the way to outer space and back again, which takes seconds that we modern internet users just won’t tolerate. (Think of any televised interview where the interviewee is in a remote area and only available by satellite: the delays between question and answer are almost uncomfortable.)
“Look at Kenya,” (a Tata executive) said. “Last August it had only satellite (for international traffic). Suddenly it’s as well-served as most other coastlines around the world... That makes it part of the global network. (Tubes by Andrew Blum)
Admittedly, for more tech-minded individuals, I understand that Wired magazine and probably many other sources have published better or more in-depth articles on this subject, but Tubes was just perfect for my level of understanding. And it gave me a pretty good picture of the way the internet is connected within this country, as well.
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