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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 26: Kondor 9
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Previous chapter: Chapter 25, Hastings 9
"Halt where you stand, if you value your life."
The voice came from an unseen source in the tree branches ahead and above, so Kondor stopped and raised his hands.
"You are surrounded. We will not hurt you if you surrender your valuables. It is the toll for passing through these woods."
"I have no money, at least, not of any sort which would be of any value to you."
"Oh, I am sure that is true--a foreigner on English soil. But we are not picky--jewelry is fine."
A rope fell from the branches, and a young man dressed in leather and green cloth with a striking sash of red slid down it to the ground. Kondor wondered if he were dressed for Christmas.
"What makes you think I'm a foreigner?"
The laughter burst from all directions.
"All right, certainly I have just arrived. But how did you know?"
"Well, apart from your skin and your hair and your face, there is your strange speech." Kondor smiled at this; he had never heard English spoken so strangely. "So, what are you? A Turk? An Egyptian?"
"I'm an American."
"I do not know that tribe. Is it below Ethiopia?"
"Well, not exactly."
"So, American traveler, you say you have no valuables, and yet you carry many packages. Would you care to share with us what they contain?"
Kondor stood a moment, staring at his inquisitor. But it was clear that there were quite a few unseen faces behind the leaves, and likely a good number of guns pointed at him.
"This one is my medical kit," he began. "It doesn't contain any drugs you'd know, or anything you could sell; and I doubt you'd find anyone else who would know quite how to use it. The duffel contains mostly clothes, some reading material, and my personal stuff. I carry food and water and some emergency supplies in the backpack, along with a tent and a bedroll." He carefully did not mention the blaster he had tucked in the duffel.
"And that thing on your back--is that some kind of weapon?"
"It is." Kondor began to realize that there might not actually be any guns pointed at him. However, the world obviously had some kind of ranged weapon; a bluff like this would not work in a world where they hadn't been discovered.
"Well, keep it right where it is, and show me this medicine."
Kondor set down the med kit, and opened it. Vials and bottles and instruments gleamed in the light. It crossed his mind that the anesthetic was right on top--he had given some to Walters just before he versed out. He could surprise the spokesman, and then use him for cover. The worst that could happen is that he would verse out again--and so far he didn't have much reason to want to stay. But there was something about these bandits which intrigued him. They could have attacked him, killed him even, and taken his things; had they carried his body even a few dozen yards from the road, it might never be found. It would be too much to say that they were not dangerous, but at least they did not intend to take his life, and were he to start the fight it would probably cost a few of theirs.
"All right, now the other bag." Kondor opened the duffel. The blaster was on top; but he had loosened the power cell to save energy, and it would take a moment too long to reset it. Besides, he could escape without a fight, if all they wanted was money.
The stranger picked up the blaster by the barrel. He clearly had no clue what it was. "What is this? Some kind of religious thing?"
"It could be called that." The man put it back, dug around a bit, and then stood up.
"Now the one on your back. Don't touch the weapon."
"I'm afraid I can't take off the pack without first taking down the weapon. You can see that the straps are in the way."
"All right, then take down the weapon carefully, and set it on the ground." From somewhere beneath his clothes, the young man produced a rather large fixed-blade knife, and Kondor complied with the request, and then removed the pack and opened it.
The contents were a mix of packages from home, from the Mary Piper, and from that first world he'd visited. A lot of the stuff from home was wrapped in plastic foil. It shone brightly.
"No treasure, you say?" He reached in and grabbed one of the shiny packets. But being filled with liquid, it bent and shifted in his hand, and he dropped it on the ground with a start. "What kind of metal is that?"
"It is not metal," Kondor said, bending to pick it up and glancing at the label. "It's ultra-pasteurized milk."
"What kind of beast is an 'ultra-pasteurized'?"
Kondor had had enough of this nonsense. These people were obviously clueless about everything he carried, and it would not be worth the effort to try to explain himself. "It's not a beast. It's a plant. It grows this shiny fruit in which there is liquid, and it can be carried long distances without spoiling. My people pick them in the desert of Africa; they are shiny so that the sun will not dry the juice. Now, I have told you that I have nothing of value. I do have these." He showed them a handful of plastic diktar, the coins used in Sardic and most cities on the loop. "They were money in the land from which I came, but you will never go there and no one in England will buy them. But if you have any use for these, they are yours." He could hear his anger and indignation as sarcasm in his own voice; but perhaps because of their very different dialect they did not seem to notice.
"Well, men, it appears that our foreigner is worse off than we are. Someone should tell Robin--perhaps he will adopt a new charity." Laughter again sounded from the trees. "You may go, American. We meant no harm."
The young man climbed the rope quickly, and pulled it up behind him. Kondor repacked his things, and continued down the road. "How far," he asked, "is civilization?"
"You should reach the city late tomorrow. There is a village a bit closer, but it is out of the way."
He found a clearing just off the road a few miles away, and camped for the night.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with the first six chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #27: A Novel Continuation. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: