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         Without another word, Sariel rose and walked away, leaving Chess crouching in front of an audience of children.  He desperately wanted to go back to his room now, he thought, touching the side of his face, which he was certain was swelling.  Seeing as how he had shown up with a “healer,” he was kind of surprised that no one had commented on his poor state of health, he thought grimly.  But then, no one had really looked at him since he had been there, except the children.  And, in exasperation, he wondered why he had even come out here?  He was only adding more complications to his life.
         Chess scanned the crowd before him: about a dozen or so children in all, of varying ages.  Then he glanced down at the snake-bitten boy, who was focused on him expectantly.  He swallowed hard.  Well, he did know some stories, but he wondered what would interest them?  He pushed aside his story of the indigo priestess, knowing that they would not understand that one.  Yeah, he was not even sure he knew where that one was going just yet.  He sighed quietly, stared at the ground in front of him for a few moments, and thought about his old game in the city… and about more recent events, as well.  And then he looked up at the children and grinned.

         “One time,” he began, with narrowed eyes and what he hoped was a mysterious expression on his beaten face, “a long time ago, there was this dragon.  Do you know what a dragon is?” he asked.
         The children replied with a chorus of “yes” and “no” and Chess nodded.  “Uh, okay, good.”
         “Well, dragons are huge animals, like…”  He considered what his audience might understand.  “Like big, huge snakes – snakes with legs, with claws like bears, and wings like hawks.”  He took a deep breath and winced at the pain that was growing in his forehead.  “Most are bigger than this building.”  He indicated the shack behind them.  “And this dragon, well, he was one of the biggest of all.”
         Looking around again, Chess felt reassured by the attentiveness of his audience and continued.
         “So, dragons like to collect treasures: gold and jewels and whatever they happen to like… and this dragon had a big collection of stuff in the cave where he lived.  Yeah, he was really rich.  And every day, he would fly out all over the lands around his cave, just looking for more treasures to collect.”
         In an effort to illustrate someone looking around, Chess put a hand up to shade his eyes, and turned his head to the side.  Just at the edge of his vision, he saw Sariel looking at him.  The sudden wave of self-conscious discomfort he felt almost made him forget his story, but he took another deep breath and went on.  Hadn’t she told him to do this? he reasoned.  “So one day, as he was searching for treasures, he happened to spy -- in a big castle -- this princess, whom he had never noticed before.”
         “Was she beautiful?” one of the little girls asked excitedly.
         “Well… she was definitely very cute,” Chess grinned, shrugging.  “But there was something different about her, too -- different from all the other people around there.  And the dragon decided he just had to have her for his collection.  So, you know what he did?  He started talking to her.”
         “Dragons talk?” one of the boys asked skeptically.  “I thought they were snakes.”
         “Well, they are very special animals,” Chess answered.  “And this dragon was telepathic, which means,” he hurried on, to stave off the blank looks that he was sure to get, “that he could say something, and the princess could hear it in her mind.  And then she could talk back to him the same way.”
         “That sounds scary,” one of the kids interjected.
         “Uh, yeah, I guess it does sound a little scary, huh?” Chess faltered.  “Uh, but the princess was not scared.  She really got to like the dragon.  She liked talking to him and, after a while, she decided to leave her castle and go live in his cave with him.”  He raised himself to his knees, getting more involved with the story.  “Now, her parents were the king and queen, and they were very upset about this.  They sent their army after her, but the dragon just breathed fire at them -- oh, did I mention that dragons can breathe fire?” he asked sheepishly.  “No?  Well, they can!  They can blow huge walls of fire just by breathing out!  So the dragon scared off the whole army and kept the princess with him, and the king and queen just did not know what to do.  That’s when Chess, the master thief, came into the story.”

Continued next page...

Trogdor was a man!
I mean, he was a dragon-man,
Or maybe he was just a dragon...
But he was still TROGDOR!
-Dragon, Strong Bad Email #58, Homestar Runner

         Just a couple more points concerning the real-life “samiz” network that was profiled in Scientific American.  That particular outside-the-internet network uses the packet radio technology that I mentioned before: a variation on ham radio that utilizes computers.  The hardware makes individual computers capable of forwarding information from other computers -- and if one computer in the network drops out for some reason, others are there to keep the flow of information going (like with BitTorrent).  The article describes it as a “mesh network.”  In other words, the network’s many interconnected links -- weak though each individual link is – make it robust and give it an overall resistance to damage.
         And, as Chess says, when he is trying to explain samiz to Ileana: the larger the number of willing participants, the more powerful the network became.  But he is talking about more than just the physical nature of the links themselves.  There is a related concept that is well-known to economists, marketing experts, and planners of telecom networks, alike.  Whether it is referred to as “Metcalfe’s law” or as “positive network externalities,” it basically means that if you design a way of connecting people – for instance, an alternative to Facebook – but only a few people communicate on it, then it is not very useful.  However, the more people that join in, the more useful and potentially valuable it becomes to everyone involved.  Therefore, the strength of an extensive mesh network would be two-fold: the large number of links make it self-repairing, and the large number of users promises a significant flow of information.
         Of course, this all probably just seems like common sense – which is good for my story because it makes samiz seem possible.  (Plus, you know, there’s the fact that something like it is already up and running!)  But the concept of positive network externalities can apply to just about anything that involves a network of people.  In his book, The Evolution of God, Robert Wright refers to this concept when he describes the growth in popularity of a religion.  And that brings me to another subject…



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