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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 25: Kondor 227
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Beam 166
As Joe came out of Derek’s bedroom, he was promising to return to check on him in an hour or so; head wounds required regular checks for the first day, but he didn’t think it was too bad. He told Vashti to contact him if there was any change, but that he should rest, and at this point if he felt like sleeping that was fine.
Coming out the front door he was met by a contingent of birds, one of whom twittered at him; it used Bob’s name near the beginning of what it said, but since he didn’t have a language link running he didn’t know whether they thought he was Bob (which, he thought, would be a bit silly, given that Bob was blonde with blue eyes and he was, well, not at all that) or telling him something about Bob. He raised a hand for silence and chose someone from the group for a language link, then spoke in their language.
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
“Bob said you would want to question the thieves.”
“Thieves? The ones who attacked Derek?”
“Yes. They were trying to break into his spaceship, and they took his computer.”
That explained something.
“Do we know why?”
“We think they work for,” and then there was a word that didn’t translate. That usually meant it was a proper name, and more likely to be a country than a company, because companies usually included words in their names that did translate.
“Who is that?” he asked.
“The nation group of birds just south of us.”
He nodded. “So, where is he?”
“Not far. We put them in unused cages in the zoological garden.”
That actually was quite close. The university kept a small zoo, and the land on which they had built the versers’ homes was technically part of that, adjacent to it. He suspected that officials thought it would be easier to defend housing these “aliens” if they could pretend they were with the other zoological specimens. He waved a hand to indicate that they should show him where.
“Zeke,” he said now in English, “we’re going to go question this bird, and I want you to do the lie detector thing. Connect to his speech center and read his mind while I’m questioning him, and let me know if he thinks one thing and says another.”
“Got it, Cap.”
Approaching the cages, Kondor renewed his connection with the bird providing his language link, just in time to hear a large bird ranting. “You can’t treat us like this! It’s a violation of the conventions! My government will file a protest!”
One of the birds responded, “With whom, exactly? And what will it say? What we have here is three birds who were caught stealing by a private landowner who is holding the thieves until police arrive. There is no reason at this point to think that there is anything political here. Besides, don’t the conventions apply to the treatment of prisoners during war? I was unaware that we were at war.”
The bird plopped on the floor of the cage. On earth, something like this might have held lions or gorillas in an old style zoo, large enough for the animal to walk around in a limited area, heavy bars spaced maybe eight inches apart, with a concrete floor below and a solid roof above. There were no mammals in this world, but he guessed it was designed for similar-sized reptiles and avians.
Kondor glanced at Zeke, who nodded his readiness. He had some concern; on a previous effort to read a language center and active thoughts simultaneously he almost burned out someone’s brain not that long ago. He hoped Zeke had had enough practice by now to alleviate some of that danger.
“So,” he said, addressing the one he gathered was the leader, “why were you trying to steal Derek’s computer?”
“I am,” and he said something that didn’t translate, which must have been his name, “from,” and he followed this with something else that Kondor surmised was his home country. He turned to the bird who had brought him there.
“That was useless to me,” he said. “Names don’t translate, or at least, yours don’t. Let me know if it’s important.” He continued, addressing the prisoner. “That’s not an answer to my question.” He waited perhaps twenty seconds, then continued. “Hey, I don’t have to question you. I can hand you to the police and tell them you’re a common thief and they shouldn’t believe any of your protestations otherwise, and it might take years for you to get that straightened out--years you might not have, if these alien visitors decide to attack. When are we expecting the police?” he suddenly asked his guide, who startled, and then answered.
“Actually, we have not yet contacted them.”
“What!” the prisoner exclaimed indignantly. Kondor couldn’t help thinking it squawked like an upset chicken, but decided to keep that to himself.
“Which means I could simply make you disappear--give you something to render you unconscious, load you on Derek’s spaceship, and drop you somewhere in orbit. Or perhaps we could just keep you here until someone comes looking for you, and then we could interrogate them.”
Kondor wasn’t very good at avian facial expressions, but this one did not look very happy. Perhaps it was beginning to understand its situation. In any case, it began to talk.
“This country is hoarding secret technology--that computer, that flying machine. Why have we not been given these?”
That was something difficult to explain; Kondor bit his lip, but then thought of something.
“Do your people have automobiles of some sort?” It nodded. “Suppose you had driven up here in one of those automobiles, and parked it in the woods, and the turkeys somehow asked you to build one for them. Would you be able to teach them how to build an automobile, there in the woods?”
“Of course not. First, I’m not an engineer; second, I couldn’t get the parts.”
“Exactly. We’re aliens. We came from another world, and we’ve visited various worlds, different worlds, along the way. Derek drove that spaceship here, and he knows how to drive it like you know how to drive a car, but he doesn’t know how it works or how to build one. I know more about that than he does, but I’ve never built anything quite like it, and not only do you not have the parts we would need to build one, we don’t have the parts we would need to make the tools to make the tools to make the tools that will be able to make the parts. You are lifetimes away from being able to build something like that. The same with that computer you stole. You don’t have the tools even to see what those parts look like or how they work. Derek got many of them when he was living in a city floating in space.”
“But,” the bird interrupted, “you’re giving all this technology to this country.”
“Not exactly,” Kondor said. “Technically, we’re selling it to them. We have a loose trade agreement by which we provide them with information on improving their machines, and they provide us with what we in turn need. You’re not trading with us; you’re stealing from us. Now, as far as I know, the people to whom we are selling our secrets are in turn selling them to everyone who can buy them, and since that’s where our money comes from, we don’t interfere in that. But I can assure you that nothing we have given them has been kept secret--telephones, radios, heating systems, improvements to their guns, everything. We haven’t secretly given them rayguns or spaceships or anything like that that they’re hiding from you. Sure, there’s some delay between when we start explaining an idea to them and they figure it out well enough to produce something, but that’s because they have to work with the idea and turn it into something. Once they’ve got it, they share it. No secrets, really.”
The bird apparently was not fully persuaded. “Why should I believe you?” it chirped. Joe shrugged.
“Why should I keep you alive? I’m not here to engage in political infighting. But tell your people that if anyone else tries to steal from the aliens, the aliens will kill, and quite possibly eat, them.”
He could feel the shudder go through the crowd.
“Contact his embassy--you have embassies?” Seeing affirmation, he continued, “Let them have him. He can carry my message.”
“What about the students?” the older bird asked.
That surprised him. “Are they genuine students here?”
The birds looked at each other, and then one of them said, “I know that one of them is in a freshman physics class.”
“Well, it’s up to the Dean, I would think, but if they return anything they’ve taken that they shouldn’t have, as far as I’m concerned they can continue as students. We’re not here to educate whatever you call this country; we’re here to educate this planet, and all its people. Let them participate in the engineering projects and take such knowledge as they learn honestly back home with them. Of course, it’s not up to me, but that’s what I think.
He turned and left, Zeke joining him.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eleven other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #480: Versers Think. 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: