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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 47: Kondor 107
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The commander was interrupted in his efforts to find quarters for them; Kondor and the Slades were given over to the care of a junior officer whose instructions were perfunctory. As he walked alongside Slade, he talked perhaps a bit more than was wise.
"So, when does he die?"
"Die?" Slade responded.
"Yeah," the officer answered. "All the shades have to die, right? There's no such thing as a good shade. Kill 'em all, as my dad says, send 'em all back where they came from."
There were two sides to this war after all.
"Where would that be, exactly?" Kondor asked. The man started; apparently the whites were as averse to talking to blacks as the blacks were of talking to whites. No answer came.
"Perhaps you didn't hear me," he asked again. "Where is it to which you would like to return us all?"
"I think our companion was trying to say that shades all come from the evil sections of the netherworld," Slade said. "Call it Hades if you like, or Pandemonium, or the Abyss. The point is that shades aren't really human, but something more akin to a demon--would that be what you were saying?"
"Well--yes, I guess that's right."
"No need to be embarrassed by your feelings, son. Getting these things out in the open is sometimes the best way to understand them. Wouldn't you agree, Joe?"
"Oh, yes," Kondor said. "I certainly understand them much better now, thank you."
"You mean, you're not offended or something?"
Slade answered. "Don't you know that the shades believe something much the same about us? We call them shades and think they're some kind of demons; they call us ghosts, and think we're subhuman or something. Why should a demon care what a subhuman thinks of him, any more than a subhuman worries what the demons think about him?"
"I don't know," the man said. "I think it would bother me, at least to have it said to my face. Sure, I know that their opinions of me don't matter, but still--"
"Exactly," Slade said. "The opinions of our enemies don't matter, because we've decided they aren't people. They've decided we aren't people, so they don't care what we think, either. See how easy it is? We can all kill each other, because no one thinks he's fighting against another human being, so we aren't really killing people. We're killing non-people, creatures who don't matter. We've all demonized each other, and that allows us to kill each other without any pangs of conscience."
Kondor's opinion of his friend was improving.
"Now, for me, I think that's all nonsense. I have no problem killing a man; I've killed my share, and maybe then some. I have no problem killing a beast or a monster, either, as I've done that, too. But I think we should be clear in our minds when we're killing the one and when it's the other. Somehow I think it should still mean something to kill a man, even if he's our enemy. We should care in a different way. Wouldn't you agree, Shade?"
It took Kondor a second to realize that this was addressed to him.
"Oh, absolutely," he said, a beat behind when he wished he'd said it. "I've killed more beasts than men, myself, I think, although I've killed a few about which I wasn't completely sure one way or the other--"
"Yeah, the lines can get blurry sometimes," Slade interjected.
"But I agree that it's important to try to make the distinction. Our reasons for killing men have to be somehow better than our reasons for killing monsters. Being afraid of someone different isn't good enough."
The soldier stopped walking. "That doesn't sound much like demon talk to me," he said. "I thought you shades were all out to enslave us and stuff?"
"And you ghosts are out to kill us all, right?" Kondor countered.
"Well, yeah--but that's really because you're all evil, monsters who don't know anything about good. You kidnap our families, rob our coasts, claim our lands--you treat us like we're not people."
"And we respond," Slade said, "by acting like they're not people, either. We've got a war going on, between people who continue to fight because we've all convinced ourselves that we're not fighting against real people. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of a good war over important issues, and there are some very important issues in this war. I just think we should acknowledge, on both sides, that the enemies are men."
"Men who suffer," Kondor said, "who bleed and die, who love their families and fight to protect them, who sometimes make mistakes and sometimes won't admit it. Killing men is a serious matter. Let's admit that we're doing that, and justify the action itself, instead of pretending that this is some kind of pest control problem, like getting rid of the wasp nest in the back yard."
"At least then," Slade said, "we would understand the seriousness of our situation."
There was a moment in which no one said anything. Shella broke it.
"You were going to show us to our quarters?" she said.
"Oh--oh, yeah, beg your pardon, m'lady; as I said, we don't have much, but these tents are available. I'll let you know when there's some grub--I mean, when we have dinner."
"Thank you so much," she said. "You've been quite helpful."
There were two tents, the same size.
"So," Shella teased, "do we split up boys in one and girls in the other, or do you prefer a different arrangement?"
"Well," Slade answered, "since the only arrangements I find acceptable have me sharing a room with someone, at least let me pick my roommate. Joe, I hope you won't be offended if I bunk with my wife?"
"Not at all," Kondor said. "Of course, that makes you two the majority, so you're going to choose which tent is which."
"Not seeing any difference between the two," Shella said, "we'll trust your judgment and your kindness to provide us with whichever you think better suited to us."
Kondor smiled. That was a very interesting way to put it. "I think the one on the left looks more suitable to your needs," he said; "or perhaps it would be more honest to say that they look pretty much the same to me too, so if I'm choosing I'll give you the one I would have chosen for myself."
"That's thoughtful of you," Slade said.
"Yes, good lord, very kind indeed," Shella said.
"Think nothing of it," Kondor answered. "Just remember my kindness if someone decides to try to kill me in my sleep."
They all smiled at this grim humor.
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 #235: Versers Infiltrate. 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: