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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 18: Kondor 101
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Previous chapter: Chapter 17: Brown 104
Kondor couldn't help noticing the disparity between the trays. His food looked better, and there was more of it. Apparently someone here thought he was important.
He began to wonder whether covert ops in this army had a reputation comparable to Hitler's S.S. It might be that these soldiers were afraid of him, worried that he might report something to command that would get them in serious trouble. In that case, this might be special treatment. It certainly would explain the soldier's deference to him a moment before. There was no rank or insignia on these fatigues; he bought them at an army surplus store a couple worlds back, when his old ones were wearing out. They didn't even have his name over the pocket (but, he thought, covert operatives probably wouldn't wear their names when they were in the field). This soldier thought he was someone who should be respected. Someone in the kitchen thought he should get the good food. It might be that his cover story had made him out to be someone to be feared.
On the other hand, he didn't know what everyone else was eating. It might not be that his food was better, but that the Slades' food was worse. The attitude that soldier took to Slade and his wife was completely inappropriate for a soldier to take with a civilian; but Slade was a white civilian, and here that meant at least that he was the enemy. That might be prisoner food. It might be something more significant–food given to people who didn't count as people. Kondor didn't like to think of that, but the possibility loomed in front of him.
He told himself that there could be some reason completely beyond guessing. Maybe they ran out of food, and had to make up something extra to get two more trays, and it was only chance that gave him the good tray. Or maybe it was the other way around, and they ran out of the food everyone else was eating, and had to make something special for the third tray. It might be that having made something special, they gave it to him, because he was special ops, or because he was black; but that didn't mean that the Slades were getting inferior food–only that he lucked out and got something better.
He didn't enjoy it much. It was delicious; but he couldn't help thinking that there was something amiss, that whatever the reason it came to him was not a good reason.
When he was done, he wondered what to do with the tray. He decided to carry it back to the kitchen, or at least to wander around carrying it until he stumbled on the kitchen. It would give him the excuse to look around a bit.
On his way past Slade's door, he knocked. Slade's voice answered.
"It's me," Kondor said. In a moment the door opened. "Look, I'm going to take a look around; I'm carrying my dinner tray, so if anyone questions me I'll just tell them I'm looking for the kitchen. You two sit tight; I'll let you know tomorrow what I find."
"No," Slade said, "come back this way tonight and let us know you're good. A lot can go wrong in a strange place, and I'll want to know that it didn't."
Kondor decided that was reasonable. "Good," he said. "I'll see you in a while."
As the door closed, he headed down the hall in the direction of the main room, tray in hand. It was the best guess he had regarding where the mess would be, and also the place he was most likely to learn more. The halls were quiet; a memory returned of walking the halls of a space ship years before, hoping to be undetected. That time he knew less about his situation than he did now, but he also had less reason to be concerned.
He was still wearing his surveillance gear. It would look odd for him to be walking around with the viewers on; but the listening gear–well, it looked odd to be wearing it, but apart from that people couldn't tell whether you were using it. He switched it on, and let his head pan back and forth, listening to lights buzzing, pipes gushing, walls creaking. The bunker was undermanned, apparently. Colonel Mlambo had arrived with a strike team to retake it if necessary, and would be bringing in the rest of his unit later, probably tomorrow. These rooms were empty; they had the wing to themselves.
It wasn't long before he was picking up the confusion of voices and footsteps, as he approached a populated area of the building. He might be nearing the kitchen. He hoped he could avoid that a bit longer, long enough to get a bit more of a look around; but clearly if he walked right past it he was going to have to surrender his tray and wend his way back to his quarters. There was also the suddenly obvious flaw in his plan that once he started encountering people, they would undoubtedly attempt to point him in the right direction, and that would reduce his ability to get around. He wasn't certain what he was seeking; if Derek were here, the boy would hop on a computer terminal and in a few minutes know everything important one could find out about this complex. He didn't know how to do that, and besides, that wasn't the sort of information he thought he wanted. What did he want to know? How, really, could he find it out?
He turned a corner, and realized that his search was ending. The room in front of him was so obviously the mess that he couldn't avoid it. There was nothing for it; he walked directly through the door and looked for someone on the kitchen staff.
"I brought my tray," he said. "Thought I'd get a look at your operation and save you a bit of work at the same time."
"Thank you, sir," the man said, snapping to attention. "Very thoughtful of you, sir."
"At ease. I'm a guest here; I don't want to make more work for you than I have to. I told my companions to wait in their room; if you'd like, I can have them bring their trays down for you."
"No, thank you, sir. I will arrange to have them retrieved, sir."
"That's fine. I just didn't want to inconvenience you unduly."
He looked around quickly to see what the others had for dinner, but it was mostly cleaned up at this point, so he didn't learn anything useful.
"It was very good. Thank the mess sergeant on my behalf."
"Yes, sir. He will be pleased to hear it, sir."
Kondor didn't know for sure whether he liked all this respect or not; but there was no point in arguing about it. He nodded, and walked out of the room.
As he reached the corner where he had turned, he saw another room ahead of him, one which interested him greatly. There were chairs and tables, but also what appeared to be books, magazines, and newspapers. It wasn't terribly big, but it appeared that he had found a library.
Without hesitation, he walked into it, pulled up a chair, and grabbed the closest newspaper to hand.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #218: Versers Resume. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: