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         When they arrived at Shelter, they found Sariel seated in front of a group of children.  Her long skirt was ruffled out on the ground and she appeared happy.  Then she looked up and spotted them.  She rose immediately, swinging her skirt behind her and shaking the dirt off of it in one quick movement.  She strode over to them, her dark hair bouncing agitatedly from the twist at the top of her head.
         Completely ignoring Ileana, Sariel put her hand on Chess’s upper arm and, with lowered brows and an angry look in her eyes that set his heart pounding, pulled him a few meters away.
         “What are you doing?” she demanded in a hiss.  “Have you just doomed us all?”
         “No!  Please listen,” Chess protested.  “Sar, we can’t keep this up forever.  People notice things.  I know they are noticing us.  Ileana might give us some protection.  And she wants to help.”
         He glanced over at Ileana, who was feigning disinterest in their conversation -- or maybe she was actually interested in her surroundings.  Sariel, too, stared at her, with the same narrowed eyes that she had turned on Chess.  For a few minutes, she was silent, steadily regarding Ileana and appearing lost in thought.  Chess did not dare to interrupt her.
         Chess noticed that the residents of shelter kept back from Ileana.  He could see a few people whispering together nearby, so he figured some of them had come from the main buildings and knew who she was.  But, after a minute, a couple of women walked boldly up to her and began speaking, and Ileana quickly became animated.
         Beside him, unexpectedly, Sariel growled, “Fine.  Bring her.”  She turned and walked quickly back to the children.  Chess politely extracted Ileana from her conversation and they joined the circle of  Sariel’s audience.  As he sank to the ground next to Sariel, Chess glanced, unsure, toward Ileana, but she appeared to have found a comfortable space in between some of the children.  He heard one of them ask her, “Are you a witch, too?” and saw her smile as the question echoed in other children’s voices.
         Sariel was not smiling.  “I was beginning a story,” she said in a cold voice.  “A story about the goddess.  Some of the children have not heard it.”
         A couple of the small girls cheered, and one of them got to her feet and twirled around in the center of the circle.  “The goddess is beautiful,” the girl cried in a tiny voice.  Sariel began the story.
         “Once,” she said, in a voice just loud enough to carry to the edges of the circle, “there was nothing at all.  There was only a power, for which we have no name.  Some call it the abyss… the infinite… Wu Chi… or even the great dragon.”  Her eyes flickered toward Chess momentarily.  “But none of these names define such a power, which started as nothing and grew.  It grew larger and larger until it touched the edges of the universe itself.  And then it burst,” she said, with a staccato note.  “And from it came countless fragments, which became the elements of our world.  And some of these fragments,” she added, scanning the group of children, “became gods and goddesses.”
         As he listened, Chess felt his heart beating more quickly.  Sariel’s words reminded him of the night that he had taken the herbs, and of the mysterious force that had seemed to be inside his head.  He still wondered: what exactly had he promised?  And to whom?  He rubbed damp palms on the legs of his jeans and dropped his gaze to the ground before him.
         “Now,” Sariel was saying, “the gods and goddesses possessed much creative energy, and they brought into existence whatever suited their elemental composition: for instance, fire… or the trees which tower over us… the vast bodies of water called the oceans… and the animals that rule the wild areas of the world.  Each of them created something that added to the natural world… except for one goddess.  Her name was Lilumei,” Sariel explained, accenting the first syllable of the name.
         “Like light – illumination,” Chess thought, not realizing that he was speaking aloud.
         “Like Lilith,” he heard Ileana say from the other side of the circle.  She seemed entranced by the story.  Around her, though, some of the children appeared to gasp in horror, and one little boy threw his arms over his face.  Bewildered, Chess looked toward Sariel.  She was glaring at them.
         “My grandfather would smack both of you,” she said sourly.  “Shall I continue now?”

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The Meh-pocalypse

The 10 dimensional superstring theory, for example, gives us a compelling explanation of the origin of the Big Bang, the cosmic explosion which took place 15 to 20 billion years ago, which sent the stars and galaxies hurling in all directions. In this theory ... the universe was completely empty.  However, this 10 dimensional universe was not stable... finally “cracked” … creating the Big Bang,
-Hyperspace – A Scientific Odyssey by Dr. Michio Kaku

         Toward the goal of figuring out what our future world and society will be like, I read some writings by “futurists,” such as the book Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku.   Kaku is especially interesting because he does not spend the entire book saying, “here’s this great thing that we’ll have, and then there’s this thing, and...”  Instead, although he does describe some pretty cool things, he sets his predictions inside a larger framework that includes both the arc of history up until now and the major variables that can be expected to affect further scientific advancement, like climate change and the changes in the economies and power balance of the world.  He also addresses how scientific advances might affect society (like replicators for everyone) and how lack of advances might affect us (like what might happen to world economies if computers do not follow Moore’s Law of continuing to double in speed about every eighteen months).
         So, considering these views and thinking about the sort of slouching-toward-the-apocalypse world that I was creating, I had to wonder if our science will really continue to advance.  Will we hit some great disaster, natural or man made, and be set back?  Will we have a war -- which admittedly, usually helps science to advance greatly -- and somehow disable our advancement for some time?  Will our society merely turn away from the foolishness of all that learnin’ and refuse to allocate any more funds to scientific research... or will our great minds continue to be recruited out of science and engineering into investment banking?
         And speaking of looming disasters: water is essential, not just to us and to our food, but to our manufacturing and energy industries; therefore, if we can’t figure out how to secure more water for ourselves, will that slow us down?  And when the people have all pulled into densely packed cities around secure water sources, what will the abandoned countryside that Chess travels through look like?

         (Note: when searching for a word or phrase in a long web page, hit Control + F.  A field will show up at the bottom of the page where you can type in that phrase: for example, 10 dimensional superstring theory.  It can save a lot of time when doing research!)  



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