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         Together, they gathered some food and headed off to shelter.  As they started out across the courtyard, Ileana kept up a low-volume tirade against Razor’s indifference.  “I think I have talked to him more in these last couple of weeks than ever before.  At least, not since the beginning, when we chatted online.  And now,” she said thoughtfully, “I feel like I know him much better than I ever did.  Now, I understand what he actually wants for the future.”  Chess could hear the breathlessness in her voice as she struggled with a heavy bag of food, but she did not slow her pace.  “I feel like I’m really seeing what he -- and this whole operation -- is, for the first time.  I can see where it’s going.  And I don’t like it.”
         “Understandable,” Chess muttered, plodding along with a large container of water.
         Then she did pause, setting the bag down momentarily.  “I want to stop him,” she said emphatically.  Then she turned toward Chess with a bemused expression.  “I just don’t know how.”
         Chess could not offer any suggestions.  In fact, the very idea that they were discussing a subject this dangerous within the compound made his stomach churn with fear.  Ileana might be confident in Razor’s attachment to her, but Chess had plenty of reasons to be terrified of the guy.
         By the time they reached the tired-looking shacks, he had managed to change the subject somewhat, and now Ileana was telling Chess about the latest intelligence that Tez had gathered on the mysterious water wizards.
         “Of course, if he did find something worthwhile, some kind of weapon, Razor would take charge of it,” Ileana commented, beads of sweat rolling down the sides of her face, now.  “And Razor would be angry to know how much effort Tez has expended on this investigation without informing him.  See, Razor doesn’t actually believe that some kind of take-over-the-world weapon exists, but he wouldn’t want anybody else to get hold of it, if it does.”
         Chess nodded absently at her, and then pushed his way in through the creaking doorway.  He surveyed the darkened interior and the people around him as he set his bag on the floor.  But his main focus was now internal, and an idea was beginning to form.

         Outside, behind the sheds, they found Sariel seated on the ground, in the now-familiar story circle.  Relieved to have a break from their own stress-filled discussion, Chess and Ileana sank down gratefully among the group of children.
         Sariel gave them a glimmer of a smirk and continued her monologue.  “Lilumei, as you remember, was the goddess who created humans.  She loved all that was alive, and she loved humans -- her own creations -- most of all.”  She gazed thoughtfully into the distance for a moment.  “Now, the humans knew Lilumei as their mother goddess.  But they also knew that other gods and goddesses existed, and they did their best to worship these as well.  And, being human,” she added, rolling her eyes, “in their prayers, they also tended to request things that they wanted.  They asked the goddess who regulated the seasons to grant them warmer weather for planting crops, and they asked the gods who created the various animals to send rabbits and deer for the hunt.  They especially pleaded with Enthirath, the god of water, to send the rains at certain times and to withhold them at others.”
         From somewhere within the audience, a few of the children echoed the god’s name.
         “Enthirath,” Sariel repeated for them, stressing the second syllable.  “And all these things they did out of a belief that the gods listened to them.  And when things went as the humans wished, they thanked the gods… and when things went wrong, they pleaded harder.”  Sariel shook her head.
         “But Lilumei knew that her brother and sister gods did not regularly take part in the daily happenings of the world.  And, when they did, they usually assisted their own creations: the animals, for instance.  And, certainly, the humans, who were insignificant in terms of the overall workings of the world, held no interest at all for the other gods.  The gods simply did not interfere in their lives.”
         “Oh, but Lilumei was different,” Chess blurted out, breathless with sudden excitement at his developing idea.  “Lilumei took a great interest in the lives of humans.  In fact, she helped them a lot.”

Continued next page...


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So Where’s My Jetpack?

Shatner: I can't get behind the Gods, who are more vengeful, angry, and dangerous if you don't believe in them!
Rollins: Why can't all these Gods just get along? I mean, they're omnipotent and omnipresent, what's the problem?
Shatner: What's the problem?
-I Can't Get Behind That by William Shatner

         So, when I tried to think about the world of the 2040’s when Chess would be living, and what kind of technology we would be using then, I considered the possibility that it might not be quite as advanced as our recent history and current trajectory might indicate. One reason for this pessimistic view is because one of the major things that propels our scientific advances is what we have learned, and been able to expand upon, from basic university research.
         However, this kind of broad, fundamental research is coming up against more and more obstacles that stem directly from the public will to support it. Most typically a study of some basic processes, this research tends to take a long time before it generates answers, and even longer before it generates concrete results. And because it uses money rather than generates money, it is always in danger of having its funding shut down. Those are the major negatives of basic research, and they make support difficult enough without considering the positives of its competition, namely, corporate-funded research. Research that is undertaken by, for example, pharmaceutical and chemical industries, is not only well-funded, but is also targeted at a specific problem. Hence, it tends to generate relatively fast results and significant revenue. Research from the latter half of the twentieth century and up to the present time seems to be heading progressively in this direction.
         This trend is worrisome, because often in the rush to arrive at a specific result and to produce a money-making product, other factors are often not considered or not taken as seriously as they need to be. Almost every major recall of a pharmaceutical is a good example of this. I had an encounter with such a situation, myself...



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