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         The next visitor that Chess had in the computer room was, of all people, Sariel.
         She eased through the doorway, lifting her skirt as if crossing over a barrier, the scent of her perfume floating in with her.  Briefly, she surveyed the room, and then focused on him.
         “I think Princess’s plan is not a bad one.  I am willing to try, for now,” she growled.  “Tell her.”
         “Uh, great,” Chess answered, stunned, but pleasantly so.  “She’s a good person.  She’s trying.”
         Sariel made a skeptical noise and then told him, “You will need help.  I must go away again.”
         Chess did not reply.  The news – although it was a constant in his life – seemed to hit him harder than usual, this time.  He lowered his head and dropped his gaze to the floor.
         Sariel continued without seeming to notice.  “Two of the children have taken ill.  More may follow.  I will need you to do several things.  First --”  She paused, and then asked, “You are unwell?”
         Chess inhaled deeply and looked up at her.  “No,” he answered softly.  “I just hate it when you go away.  I hate to think of you being with other --”  He stopped himself, as his heart began to pound.  It was not her fault, he told himself.  She had no say in what happened here.  But…
         “We could leave,” he blurted out.  Then he jumped up from the chair and walked toward her, instantly excited about the idea.  “Yes, we could go: you and me.”  She was shaking her head, but he persisted, putting his hands on her arms.  “Could we go back to your village?”
         Sariel’s face seemed to darken at his question.  She did not answer him.
         With a groan, he let go of her and wheeled away.  “It’s just… this place,” he said quietly, facing the wall.  “Those people in shelter… and everything else that’s happened.”  As he spoke, he could feel panic rising.  “Sometimes I go along okay, but sometimes I just can’t stand it,” he moaned, turning back to her abruptly.  She was staring calmly at him with her dark eyes.  “I know I promised the goddess I would try, but…”  He could feel tears welling up and his throat was getting tight.  He sank to his knees.
         In an instant, Sariel was there, kneeling before him, her hand on his shoulder.  “A promise to the goddess must be kept,” she told him solemnly.  “And people need your help.  I need your help.”
         “But I don’t want to try anymore,” he gasped, feeling suddenly out of breath.  A weight seemed to have settled on his chest.  He looked down, away from her, and whispered, “Want to die.”
         All at once, the room seemed very small and confining.
         “You are the only person I have found…”  Sariel did not finish the thought.
         “I don’t care,” Chess snapped, staring at the floor.  He inhaled sharply.  “Make it go away.”
         He heard Sariel make a noise of frustration -- and then he felt her knife at his throat.
         “Yes, you want to die?” she whispered, glaring at him.  “Now?”
         Instinctively, he pulled away from her, but he was struggling for breath, and he ended up sinking backward until he was lying on the floor.  She followed him down, keeping the blade pressed against his throat, until she was kneeling over him, and staring down at him with narrowed eyes.
         “Sariel, please,” he groaned, swallowing hard and feeling the knife move with the motion.  As he looked at her, all sound seemed to condense to just the pounding of his heart.  It all could be over in a moment, he thought.  And then: yes, it could all be over.  And he stopped resisting.
         He found himself staring up at the long dark hair curling over her shoulders and the moisture on her lips, and the sunlight glowing behind her.  She could be the goddess’s angel of death, he thought.  And it would all be okay.  “Okay,” he breathed, and closed his eyes.  “Just kiss me,” he begged, overwhelmed by the feeling of surrender.
         Then he heard the sound of metal clattering against the floor, and next felt the impact of Sariel’s hand against his cheek.  Startled, he opened his eyes to see her face hovering over his.
         “What’s wrong with you?” she cried.  She slapped him again, making his cheek sting.
         He partly lifted himself and caught her hand.  “Stop,” he whispered, blinking.  He felt as though he had just woken from a dream.  “I’m sorry.”  Still breathing hard, he put his arms around her.
         “I need you to be here with me,” she told him firmly.  And then she pressed her lips against his.  

Continued next page...

Any dolt with half a brain
Can see that humankind has gone insane
To the point where I don’t know
If I’ll upset the status quo
If I throw poison in the water main
-Dr. Horrible’s Sing-AlongBlog  by Joss Whedon (2008)

         Another author who has done extensive research -- drawing on the history and current state of some areas of the earth -- to describe what our world might be like in the future, is Jared Diamond.  Diamond focuses on people and societies rather than the structures and artifacts of civilization.  I found his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed particularly interesting.
         After reading the history-musings of both J. Nehru and H.G. Wells, I had the understanding that many societies throughout the millennia have crumbled to oblivion, even including empires that remained strong for hundreds of years and must have seemed to their people as if they were destined to continue forever.  That is why a crumbling American society does not seem out of the question to me, even though, to all Americans, it seems highly improbable.  It’s just that if the current first world nations were to continue on indefinitely, they would really be the first ever in the history of civilization.
         In his book, Diamond talks about the typical reasons that societies collapse: mostly either war or a growing lack of or a sudden competition for resources.  He talks about societies that successfully adjusted to changes, and those that refused to adjust, like the once-successful Viking colony on the coast of Greenland that was eventually completely obliterated when the inhabitants all died of starvation.  The author’s description of the attitudes that contributed to such historical failures -- mostly an unwillingness to deal with big problems before they become unmanageable -- just do not bode well for the current political climate of our society.

Many of our problems are broadly similar to those... that many other past societies also struggled to solve.  Some of those past societies failed and others succeeded.  The past offers us a rich database from which we can learn, in order that we may keep on succeeding.
-Collapse by Jared Diamond



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