Staring at the small, low, abandoned-looking building in front of him, Chess had the impression that it might crumble down upon them if they dared to step inside. But he had already come this far, he thought gamely. He picked up the water jug and followed the girl as she pushed through the creaking door and stepped into relative darkness.
Blinking, Chess stopped and let his eyes adjust to the dim light. And then he found that the building was not abandoned at all: as he stared around, many pairs of eyes stared back at him from the gloom. Bewildered, he turned to his companion, intending to ask for an explanation when, suddenly, a woman came rushing toward them.
“Sariel!” the woman cried. Grabbing the girl’s arm, she began to pull. “You have to help Tommy, please!” She sounded panic-stricken. “There was a snake!”
Ignoring Chess, the girl allowed herself to be conducted away. Chess set down the water jug and trailed behind the pair. He saw the girl kneel over a small body lying on the floor and, after a moment, he heard her mutter, “I must have light.” She looked up at Chess. “Not that heavy,” she said.
Obediently, Chess lifted the small boy, who was awake and had a tear-stained face, and carried him where he was directed: a small clearing between the building and the edge of the tree line. The distraught woman followed, accompanied by a tired-looking older man who held her shoulders as they stood over the boy. “Please calm down,” Chess heard the man say softly. To the girl, Sariel, he said, “We didn’t see the snake.”
Sariel tied up her hair so that it hung in a long ponytail down the back of her neck. Then she sank to her knees to examine the boy’s arm. Chess looked down over her shoulder at the injured site: two half-circles of bite marks that formed an ellipse shape, and, surrounding it, redness and swelling.
Sariel murmured something to the boy and then, reaching into the folds of her skirt, she drew out a small cloth bag. “We will mix this with water and you must drink,” she explained, removing a pinch of some kind of powder from the bag. Then she scrunched up her face and warned, “It tastes bad.”
The boy managed a small smile, but the woman interjected. “What kind of medicine is that?” she asked hysterically. “Don’t you have to know what type of snake it was, to give the right medicine?”
“Let her work,” the tired-looking man urged. Sariel looked up at the two of them in calm silence while someone handed her a cup of water. In those few minutes, Chess realized, they had attracted an audience, mostly of children, who now formed a ring around them in the clearing.
Finally, Sariel smiled. “This works with the venom, itself,” she answered, next producing several cotton swabs. Chess watched with curiosity as she swabbed the bite marks with one, and then -- he was sure he saw this -- she deftly palmed that swab, dunking a clean one into the water. “Now drink.”
Several women managed to get the boy’s mother to sit down a short distance away, and Chess overheard one of them say, “Now, don’t worry, he’ll be fine. She’s a great healer. Don’t you remember how she helped Ruth?” The other adults also moved back somewhat, but the children did not budge. In fact, some leaned forward intently as if watching a show.
With a furtive glance around, Chess clutched his aching abdomen and crouched beside Sariel. “What are you doing?” he whispered, alarmed. “Are you lying to them?”
Her hair swung to the side as she jerked her face toward him. “These people have nothing, here,” she hissed quietly. “No medicine but what I bring them, and no hope. Razor --” she spat out the name, “would rid them like vermin if they came to his notice.” She shrugged impatiently. “Anyway, I have no anti-venom. None exists anywhere here.” Abruptly, she turned away from Chess to smile at the boy, who had lifted his head and begun to fidget.
“You must lie still for the potion to work,” she told him. “Would you like to hear a story?”
The boy nodded eagerly and the entire group of children cheered.
Sariel gave Chess a fiery look. “Tell them a story,” she ordered. “I have other work.”
Continued next page...
Governments and corporations have more control over the Internet than ever. Now digital activists want to build an alternative network that can never be blocked, filtered or shut down. …
As digital-rights activist John Gilmore once famously said, “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
-Internet Freedom Fighters Build a Shadow Web, Scientific American, March 2012
In my story, I suggest that our future society might get unfair enough that some people will no longer be pacified by the latest mind-numbing television show or movie. And then those disenthralled individuals might just seek out another option for communication, even if that alternative is not very fast and requires its participants to invest time and energy, and perhaps even take some risks.
And so, I mashed together the concepts of ham radio and samizdat (the underground method of communications used by Eastern Bloc dissidents) and came up with the idea of samiz. It’s true that I don’t know much about computers and the internet, but I thought samiz at least sounded plausible… and then I found this Scientific American article from 2012 (link above):
(Located in Vienna) FunkFeuer is what is known as a wireless mesh network. No fees are charged for connecting to it; all you need is a $150 hardware setup (“a linksys router in a Tupperware box, basically”) … As the local do-it-yourself tech scene learned… the network grew. At somewhere between 30 and 40 nodes, it became self-sustaining.
So, people are already doing this! (And they are doing it in Vienna, which never struck me as a place that was especially repressive.) One can assume that the participants have some amount of technical knowledge and likely some leisure time and spare cash. However, if this is truly a freedom-bringing technology, how difficult would it be for people in oppressed countries to begin making it work for themselves?
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