Another week or so went by, and Chess and Ileana carried on by themselves. Using Sariel’s medications and instructions, Chess was able to help the children who were sick and, to his great relief, they recovered quickly. Sariel, too, appeared pleased when she returned, but all she said to Chess was, “You are still alive. Good.”
He told her about Ileana’s hard work, and all the small things that had happened since she had been gone… and, by the end of his story, she was actually smiling, albeit in a vague sort of way.
She moved closer to him, and rested on the edge of the table of computers. As she leaned over him, he felt the light brush of her hair as it fell forward against his neck. He was afraid to move or breathe, afraid that even the pounding of his heart might distract her from whatever she intended to do now. He kept his eyes on her face and felt her hands move up his arms and slip under his shirt sleeves.
“Remember,” she asked quietly, with a devious-looking smirk, “that practice which I had promised to teach you?” She climbed onto his lap and her scent settled in a cloud around him. Her body felt warm and vital against his chest and thighs. “I have some hours free,” she whispered in his ear.
The afternoon sun was shining hazily through the dust-covered window, making pools of light on the floor, and Chess found himself distracted by it. Actually, since Sariel had returned, his attention span had become markedly decreased. Nothing else was quite as interesting as her. Things seemed easier and less stressful when she was around, as well. Yawning, he stared, unfocused, at the spot of light.
“Oh, good, you’re here.”
Surprised, Chess jerked his head up to see Ileana entering the room. She grabbed a chair for herself, her movements quick and agitated. In answer to his questioning look, she only shook her head. “It’s Razor,” she hissed, with a resigned-looking shrug, and would not elaborate.
“So, how’s it going here?” she asked, looking distracted. “It must be good: our internet connection has never been so fast as it is now – or so steady.”
Chess guessed that she just wanted to talk about anything. “Didn’t you think,” he broached, “that by the time we were out of school, all this stuff would be obsolete?” He waved a hand dismissively at the table of computers. It worked: she grabbed onto the subject eagerly.
“Oh, yeah,” she grinned, leaning forward in her chair. “When I was in third grade, they told us how, by the time we were adults, we would all have these chips implanted. We would be able to plug directly into the ‘net and everything would be integrated. And we would do things just by thinking.”
“Yeah,” Chess agreed. “I remember some talk about that. But then…”
“But then,” Ileana jumped in, “by the time I was in high school, they didn’t talk about that stuff anymore.” She snorted derisively. “Of course, everything does have computer chips in it, so they were right about that part. And maybe they could all be integrated, if each one wasn’t so damn proprietary.”
Chess laughed. “You know, my mom, once in a while, mutters something about how she was supposed to have her own jet pack by now. So, what happened?” he mused, half to himself. “It’s as if we were on track for all these great advances, and then something happened.”
Ileana shrugged. “Scarcity of resources, tightening budgets, lack of government funding, maybe. R and D departments had to focus on keeping their companies alive. There was nothing left over for pure research. Forget about the greater good. Oh,” she groaned suddenly. “Listen to me! Who am I to talk about the greater good? Those people in shelter, suffering so much,” she charged on, her face getting flushed, “and Razor will not even discuss helping anyone who can’t do anything for him in return. I’ve tried. I’m so angry… I don’t know what to do,” she finished in a small voice.
Chess regarded her silently. He admired her, always had. Maybe it was only the memory of her saving him from Razor that first day, but he was amazed by the way she freely put herself at risk in order to accomplish her goals. And he guessed that this feeling of helplessness was new for her.
“I don’t know either,” he answered. “But it’s my turn to go to shelter. Want to come along?”
Continued next page...
The new movements which appeared in the middle years of the century, Ingsoc in Oceania, Neo-Bolshevism in Eurasia… the purpose of all of them was to arrest progress and freeze history at a chosen moment. ...by conscious strategy, the High would be able to maintain their position permanently.
-Nineteen Eighty-four, by George Orwell
Not long ago, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation took out a full-page ad in Time Magazine to highlight the importance of basic scientific research. This is the type of research that usually goes on in universities and is supported by government grants. It is research that can take many decades of studies, conducted by many scientists, before it ever gives any useful answers. But the answers that we get from this type of research are often the most ground-breaking, with far-reaching implications. They are also the answers that tend to hold up under future scrutiny and further studies. Unfortunately, this is also the research that is frequently attacked for being “pork-barrel spending” by Congress, and a stupid waste of money.
A 2011 article by NPR does a good job of capturing the typical attack on this type of research with one example. Many people recognize the importance of studying the effects of changes in water quality on ocean life, but how many people would support a taxpayer-funded project that is presented in terms of putting shrimp on a treadmill? The average taxpayer does not have the time or the knowledge to delve into every government-funded study to determine if it is worthwhile. We only hear sound bites designed to influence our opinion.
“The remarkable thing is that although basic research does not begin with a particular practical goal, when you look at the results over the years, it ends up being one of the most practical things a government does.”
-President Ronald Regan in a radio address on the Federal Role in Scientific Research, 2 April 1988
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