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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 57: Kondor 110
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He's helping the surgeons.
Kondor heard these words, sometimes whispered, sometimes shouted, as an explanation of his existence that followed him around the camp. Indeed, he was helping the surgeons; he was helping the white people, teaching them about sterilization, aseptic technique, infection control, antibiotics, and the other basics of medicine that would revolutionize their health care and prevent uncounted deaths and incalculable suffering. The explanation kept him alive, gave him free passage throughout the camp, and almost, perhaps, won him some respect from the men.
He had that respect in the medical section. They recognized that he was doing things that made a difference. He remembered that in his own world each of these advances faced a slow and difficult road to acceptance. Doctors had operated on patients with the same instruments they had just used to conduct autopsies; they had been slow to accept each new medicine as it was introduced; they doubted the role of microscopic organisms in disease process. Perhaps it was because he could introduce all of these techniques at once, and from them get consistently better results, that he had avoided these problems. Perhaps it was only that these doctors, with the lives and deaths of so many men in their hands every day, were desperate for better techniques and willing to try anything that had even the appearance of improving their success.
Perhaps, he pondered somewhere in the midst of his week, he was Prometheus, the god who revolted against the gods and gave their secrets to men. The whites knew that the blacks had better medicine. Being black thus gave him credibility. Being willing to share his knowledge gave him acceptance.
He hadn't yet worked out how to bridge the gap between the blacks and the whites. Perhaps, though, what he and Slade had been doing had been subversive. They were undermining the assumptions of the people, and perhaps would bring these tumbling down like the legendary walls of Jericho.
The analogy brought to his mind the words of one of those preachers his Aunt Zakiya dragged him out to hear. I don't have to love all white people, the man had said, shocking his black Baptist audience. I just have to love those God puts in my life. The ones I never meet I can't possibly love, or hate--those words are meaningless until I am loving or hating a person, an individual made in the image of God, and then God calls me to love. Maybe that was what was happening here. Kondor had no illusions that these people were going to love him; but they were going to know that there was at least one black man in this world who cared about them and shared what he knew to make their lives better. At the same time, no one in that bunker loved the Slades, but they had come to see that Slade was at least every bit as skilled as they were at fighting, and then some. Having one person enter your life who broke your expectations could forever destroy your prejudices. It didn't always work, but if it impacted a few people the world would begin to change.
Lauren, of course, always said God brought versers into each world because He had a mission they could do. It was, from that perspective, interesting that he and Slade were brought to this world. Of course, it was all nonsense--it was sheer accident that they were here, together, at this time. There was no God, so he had nothing to do with it. Yet if there were, it suggested that he and Slade were anomalies, that the problem could not be solved unless they came. If all they did, though, was prove that whites were as good as blacks and that blacks could be compassionate toward whites, if that was why they were here, it did not speak well of this world. Were there no whites here who truly were equals to the blacks? Were there no black doctors here who were willing to share their knowledge with the whites?
That couldn't be true. Could it be some other qualities that he and Slade had that made them different? Of course, with the attitude most whites had to blacks, probably they would not have the patience to prove their abilities as Slade had done. Finding themselves inside that bunker, they would have killed as many blacks as they could before being slain, and then the blacks would have written off those successes to ambush and rampage, the danger of a cornered animal. Probably no blacks would have the patience to teach medicine to the whites. After all, Kondor knew from his medical colleges in Sherwood Forest that students never learned as quickly as you expected, and in this world black students would have better educations before they began studying medicine, all of which would reinforce the teacher's belief that these white people were not intelligent enough to learn the material. He and Slade shared an ability to be patient, honed in the worlds of their past.
Was there anything else that made them different? They were both intelligent; but although his opinion of Slade's intellect had improved markedly over the past few days he still did not consider the man in his own league on that count. He believed in gods, for goodness sake. Of course, Lauren believed in God, and she was rather bright despite this nonsense. Derek, whose brilliance in the computers field was unsurpassed, also seemed to believe in God, but Kondor attributed that primarily to Lauren's influence over the boy. Still, Slade was rather bright, certainly defying the stereotype of the brutish dull barbarian warrior on which he modeled so much of his image.
There was one other thing, maybe two tightly related things, that distinguished them from the rest of this world. They were friends. They didn't have the sort of prejudice that infected everyone in this world. Kondor didn't believe that all the whites were inferior subhuman creatures, whatever problems he'd had with white people. Slade didn't believe all blacks were cruel demons deserving damnation, as much as he enjoyed a good fight. They were comrades who had fought side by side before, who had accepted each other and overcome their differences. That preacher had been right, Kondor realized. He could easily imagine that he hated all white people, and he could let that color his meeting with anyone new; but Slade, and Derek and Lauren, were family. He cared about them, and they for him. That two people, one black, the other white, could look to each other as brothers, made them more different from everyone else in this world than anything else did or even could. It made all the rest possible.
It was the rest that they were still trying to fathom. The most important thing was that these people were being exposed to people who were not their enemies who, by everything they knew, ought to be.
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: