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   After the meal, Chilley-Sue reclined on a comfortable lawn chair near the fire and let her eyes relax towards the unending sunset of the northern sky.  She looked to her right and smiled, for Beck and Burrows were napping blissfully nearby without a care in the world.  As the fire continued to crackle, Adevon could be heard now playing medieval sounding chords in the background, and some of the guys were playing a game of hackey-sack by the grass.   Chilley turned her heavy head to her left and could see Ivonne and Rolensteddo relaxed and staring at the fire as they reclined in their lawn chairs. Across from them the guy named Thope with the Egyptian headdress was sitting on a stump and carving something with a large knife.   And even though it wasn’t particularly cold outside, Chilley had to grin again: she could see the young couple sitting across from them cuddled up in a blanket and enjoying the fire.  

 Suddenly the young woman named Audriana (who was one of the couple) whispered something to her boyfriend and got up and grabbed her pack.   Then she walked to the middle of the campsite and pulled out a strange high-tech device from her backpack: it was a large metallic stick with several oval shaped articulations sticking out of one end like legs on a tripod.  On its other end was a large glowing orb the size of a grapefruit.  Upon hurling it on the ground it dug in deep into the earth like a tent stake, and soon a gelatin-looking bubble could be seen encircling the entire perimeter of the campsite.  It got larger and larger until it reached the edge of the encircling trees around the meadow.  After glowing red for a few seconds, the bubble disappeared, and the entire sky now returned a normal black color as countless stars above could now be seen encircling all around them. 

   Chilley-Sue hesitated and looked at Ivonne as if asking with her facial gestures if she could give her any explanation on what was going on.

  “The best of both worlds,” said Ivonne as she returned Chilley’s confused look with a smile. “See?  We have gained access to some incredible technology out here which, let’s just say was lying around.  Thanks to the Berrebos, we’ve discovered a way of life that seems to tap into using the natural environment to its fullest.” She kept smiling like someone fully satisfied in a lucid dream.  “Like we were living in some mythological world you hear about fantasy stories.”  The sound of pleasant wildlife was almost too pleasant for Chilley to not start bracing herself for some unforeseen letdown at this moment.

 All this stuff comes from the ancient world.   Maybe we lucked out, but with what we know now, we get to enjoy the combination of rustic living with all the conveniences of real technology. Go ahead, walk out of the bubble.”

   “What bubble?” Chilley-Sue asked.

    “It’s still there.  In fact, its medium is the reason any ions inside of it are polarized out of its perimeter:  From this particular location now as long as that device is on, you can’t see the effects of the Feefilluzah lights in the surrounding atmosphere.”

 “It also works as a hell of a bug zapper,” said Ben the stilt-walker.

    “I got to tell how impressed I am” said Chilley. “But really; how does that device work?” she asked, meaning the bubble making rod thing with the tripods.  

     “I have no idea” replied Ivonne.

    It was just as well:  This was all truly fascinating, but now that she had acquainted with them a little better, it was plain that these fine folk also relied on their powerful gadgets to ease their travels, and they looked like they just wanted to enjoy their camping trip.  Chilley-Sue figured that when the time was right, instead of the science lesson, it would be good to ask anyone if they had ever heard of a great ‘Do Not Press Button’ somewhere in these parts.

    After lightly trying to press the company a little more about anything they might have heard about the ‘hollow Earths’, Chilley-Sue was once again treated to more banter about how unlikely any urban legends around here could be real.  It was making her secretly frustrated, but she had kind of asked for it.  Soon, however, Rolensteddo began to ask her questions about back home.

   “Things really aren’t too good back home,” she confessed.  “How long have you lived out here?”

  “Long enough to realize that I’m not missing anything back in the ‘real world’,” the big man replied with a grin.  “Harmony is an elusive term out there, no matter how much advancement they want with their tech,” he said. “They don’t seem to get it either.  Fake-polite customer service and politics all day, never ending!”  Rolensteddo appeared to be in pain as he reminisced about these things.  

 “Dummy,” Chilley  thought to herself. “You’re ruining the moment.”  She could start to see the appeal of not dwelling on the past the way these fine folk seemed used to doing.  “Masking corruption isn’t really going to cut it for that ‘ideal world’ they seek,” Rolensteddo continued.   He went on to explain his theory of geopolitics: why everything had gotten so screwed up back home.

“So many countries want to naively create that perfect way of life, but they never once thought that just maybe, they should have mastered the concept of ‘virtues’ to be part of what they considered ‘advancement’ -- that’s what Berrebos knew all along, and why I’m not anxious anymore and not going back.”

 “That’s why Berrebos have the best of both worlds,” said Ivonne.

“But what about movies; entertainment.  Food?  I don’t know,” muttered Chilley as she threw her hands up in the air. “VR…whatever entertainment floats your boat.  Don’t you get bored?”

  “VR?” Ivonne smiled. “Really? Let me guess; you miss your smart phone.  Damn, I thought they recalled all those things finally.  They still use them out there?”

 “I’m just saying” Chilley-Sue reasoned back. She felt foolish. She realized she was (truly once again) ruining the mood.

“Have it your way,” said Ben.  Nice to assume things, isn’t it?  Go ahead; sit around and worry about things that don’t matter – or if the hollow Earths exist or not, I guess.”

   Thope the guy in the Egyptian headdress walked into the circle and put his two cents (obnoxiously) concerning how happy we was no longer ‘falling into the trap of getting caught up in the rat race’:   “’Rolensteddo’s right:  the game’ back home is so pointless,” he explained to her.  Everybody working those long hours in industry didn’t seem too appealing to him.  Interesting fella: apparently he didn’t care how his audience received his rants. “Most people I knew would get burned out while life continues to become more complicated and overbearing,” he went on. “What the hell kind of routine is that??”

    “Sweetheart, I worked in public relations at a financial advising firm before accidently finding myself up here” said Sue. “Ivonne here was once a lab technician for a pharmaceutical company.  Everyone’s got the same story: ultimately, I came to this realm trying to lose my previous wretched life and all the cutthroat crap my job dealt with everyday.   I don’t miss that at all: my own constant dissatisfaction with myself, deadlines that existed for no good reason; you know: working a pointless job for a thankless economy.”

  Chilley-Sue gave herself a noogie as she scratched the top of her head where she could feel an itch coming on.   “But if you didn’t like your life, why not just…?” Chilley-Sue asked. “I mean, it can’t all be that bad!  Why in the world risk coming out here if you didn’t even know Berrebos existed when you came?”

   The audience collectively laughed, but Chilley couldn’t tell if they were laughing with her comment or at her directly.  After trying to get her to mellow out a little, Thope seemed to be the one who went out of his way to give her the rundown on how misguided most people were out in the so-called real world back home:

“The second flood taught people nothing,” he interjected rather coldly.  “It’s ironic how civilized they think they all are down there.  “It’s ironic how civilized they think they all are out there.  Give them five days anyway of martial law and they’ll start to rip each other apart like animals,” Thope called out loudly. To Chilley’s shock, it suddenly appeared like a halo had formed around his head that turned into a beekeepe’rs hat. Chilley tried to keep a calm disposition. “Many people wish they could do what they ideally could do otherwise. But that stupid system won’t let them.  Fear of financial insecurity or stupid status they don’t understand gets too great; my whole family selling out their dreams to keep up with the…what’s that stupid word?  ‘Jones’.”   The musclebound goon then had the insensitivity to continue his brow-beating against civilization for a few more minutes. “At any rate I’m right,” he concluded. “With all the eventual riots and tribulations that ended up happening out there back where I came from… No thanks: it’s not worth it!"

   “It’s funny you mentioned that actually,” Chilley was thinking to herself.  She had a strong desire to explain to them in greater detail how exactly she ended up here and her real task that was at hand.  She had already claimed she was seeking the ‘great Do Not  Press Button’.  But she still debated that what she said was probably as much as she should share about her business lest they thought her completely insane:  it appeared likely that for this caravan of bohemians,  the idea that they may be possibly staring right at the sole avatar who might be able to save the world from getting devoured may be too nonsensical – even for this Thope guy --- it all just seemed too discredible of an idea to believe.  So even with the atmosphere around her playing tricks with her head, Chilley-Sue kept her wits and decided to learn as much as she could about this whole place before doing anything else.   The question was, how much time did she really have to linger around and ignore the threat going on?  The thought about how this kind of procrastinating and looking the other way was what had brought about the second flood in the first place that had changed life forever back home was running loops around her mind…

Excerpt from Book III: The Towering Road

Copyright 2019 Octavio Rhodes 

"Note the excerpts have been slightly edited and abridged for non spoiler content"

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