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         Not long afterward, the dissidents escorted them to the edge of their territory and let them go.  They walked as quickly as they dared, through the darkening woods, not speaking until they had gotten some way off and safely into a shelter for the night.  Then, Chess risked a glance at Ileana.  The way she had handled the situation had impressed him.  And also, there was another thought in his mind.
         “‘The thief stole something valuable,’” he repeated.  “I guess that would be you.”  And they both started giggling uncontrollably, in the way that only exhausted people can laugh.
         “I bet that story will travel!” Ileana exclaimed.  And then she added, more thoughtfully,  “Everyone loves a good story… and people outside seem almost eager to believe the craziest things.  Like, for instance, everyone -- including Razor -- believing that Sariel is a witch.”  Ileana turned to Sariel with a sympathetic grin, but Sariel’s face was grave.
         “The way that man looked at us, did you see?” Sariel asked ominously.  “They have already had contact with Razor’s men.  They know who we are.”
         “Then why didn’t they stop us?” Chess asked, feeling suddenly breathless.
         Sariel shrugged.  “They might not go to the gang to offer information, but, if asked…”
         Ileana, instantly sobered, agreed.  “We need to be more careful, then.  Avoid people at all costs.”
         Chess nodded.  “And we need to get as far away from here as we can.”

         For the next two days, they walked as quickly as they could.  Chess, using his compass and map,  and the road behind them as a landmark, planned a course for them, which, for lack of any other potential goals, led them roughly in the direction where he thought Lodestar might be.
         The girls seemed to be getting along pretty well, now, which made Chess glad.  And they tended to walk together, leaving Chess alone to get lost in his own thoughts.  He decided that was the reason why, so many times on that two-day hike, he found himself glancing over his shoulder or peering suspiciously through the trees.  He observed nothing unusual: no stranger’s footfalls and no flashes of color in the low light of the woods, but he could not ignore the sensation that they were being followed.
         When he mentioned it on the second night, Ileana dismissed his fears.  “Razor’s men wouldn’t stalk us,” she told him.  “If they knew we were here, we would know it almost as quickly.”
         Chess quailed at the thought of meeting up with Razor, but he was ashamed to show his fear when the girls were so calm and brave.  He said, “Yeah, you’re right.  It’s just this weird feeling.”
         “Like I said before, I’ve noticed that, outside of civ, things can start to seem really odd,” Ileana said, touching his arm.  “People start thinking strange things.  They get fearful of the dark.”
         Chess repeated, “I guess you’re right.”  Anyway, he reasoned, if Sariel, the group’s keenest observer, had not noticed anything, then there was obviously nothing to notice.

         A little while later, Ileana, probably in an attempt to distract Chess from his worries, turned the conversation to his brief time in the army.  They were sitting on the rotting carpet of what used to be the living room of someone’s house, munching on the nutrition bars and wishing they dared to start a fire.
         “So, you said once that you never expected to be part of Home Defense?” Ileana prompted.
         “No way,” Chess answered, glad to change the subject.  “I was supposed to go overseas, to the war.  I mean, they say they need every able body they can get, over there.”
         “Yeah, that’s what I’ve always heard,” Ileana answered, sounding thoughtful.
         At this, Sariel laughed, and they both turned to her in surprise.
         “Why do you both believe there is a war?” she asked, looking at them as if they had gone insane.  “You’re right: people from civ believe the strangest things.”
         Chess gaped at her.  “Why do you say that?  I’m sure I’ve told you about the war, before now.”
         “You have,” Sariel agreed.  “And I thought about what you told me.  There can be no war.”
         Ileana looked at her intently.  “Sariel,” she asked, “how can you be so sure?”

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Water Water Everywhere

Prepare to hear of occurrences which are usually deemed marvellous. Were we among the tamer scenes of nature I might fear to encounter your unbelief, perhaps your ridicule; but many things will appear possible in these wild and mysterious regions which would provoke the laughter of those unacquainted with the ever-varied powers of nature...
- Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley

         Getting back to the subject of water: depending on where one resides in this country (or in the world) there is more or less news concerning the growing shortage of water. In the U.S., areas of the Southwest, from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, and on eastward, are facing more and more desperate shortages of water. Even the Southeast is experiencing the beginnings of this burgeoning problem.
         In his book The Ripple Effect, Alex Prud’homme explores the growing demand for water, while water supplies are dropping and threats to water quality are increasing.
         Prud’homme makes, I think, three major points in his book. The first is that people, in general, tend not to value water because it is very inexpensive. His second point is that we cannot make or destroy water, but we can pollute it beyond our ability to clean it. And the third is that the battle over water rights in this country has been rather low-key and behind-the-scenes as long as there was enough for almost everyone. I would like to explore these ideas further in the next few blogs...



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