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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 29: Kondor 228
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Beam 167
Making sure he was not missing anything, Kondor opened up his electronic tablet to his pre-med textbook. Sitting at his desk, he reread the chapters dealing with deep wounds, and head wounds, looking for anything he might have skipped over. As far as he could tell, he had done everything needed for Derek’s injuries.
The young man had taken on three opponents, one of them quite capable, and suffered numerous injuries. The head injury was closing, and without a scar, Kondor thought. The stab wound in the thigh was a bit tender and warm, which was a sign of infection, but Kondor thought that Derek would fight it off. The immunity booster he had given the wounded man had helped what was probably a dirty wound. If not for it, Derek might have been fighting off a general infection with a major fever by now. Instead, he had a small infection which his body could likely handle by itself. If necessary, Kondor would give him more medicine, but if the body could do it on its own without stressing the patient too much, that was better.
Since his tablet was out, Kondor went on to another one of his books to read more about the art of Sardic. He had been on the Mary Piper, a cargo spaceship, in a previous universe. It ran a trade route that focused on emerald, a radioactive power source. Probably he would never see that Piper again, but he still enjoyed their art.
He read about the creation of the Wheel of Trade, a jade stone wheel ten feet high in Moon of Korg. Each of the spikes in the wheel led to small carved precious jade representations of each planet along the trade route of the Mary Piper, along with other planets apparently involved in other trade routes, that had been placed carefully on the outer rim of the wheel. In the center was a figure made of a dozen gemstones.
His friends on the Piper had never mentioned worshiping anything so he assumed they had moved beyond such primitive superstitions. However, carefully, slowly examining the picture, he had to admit there was a power to it. It spoke to him in a way that he could not easily define. It was obligations freely taken on, and then duly discharged. It was promises. Honesty. Fairness. Justice. And yet there was something more to it, something greater than all that, subsuming all that, and yet larger.
Flipping to the next page electronically, he began to read of the trio of artists who had created it, for it had taken over eighty years to make. Each artist had followed the path laid out by the first, while striving to add layers of deeper complexity and insight to it. The last artist, when faced with invasion, had hidden the Wheel, and when given the choice of death or revealing where the wheel was to the invaders had chosen death.
Kondor shook his head. He could not understand living like that. After all, the invaders had promised to treat the wheel respectfully. This led him to wonder about his situation, or more precisely the Parakeets’ situation since he, Kondor, was immortal. He hoped, deeply, that his theory of the aliens in their UFOs being xenologists on a scientific mission was correct--but if it was not, what if the aliens demanded, not total submission, or chicken for their freezers as Slade suggested, but something less?
At what point do you say ‘death or glory?’
Kondor could not see doing as the last artist had done and willingly choosing death rather than revealing his great artwork--he forced himself to be honest--his great sacred artwork to the invaders.
At some point, yes. It was war. But just how much should they be willing to give up if it came to that before they shed blood? As a doctor, Kondor disliked the idea of war--but it might come to it. So, frowning, he closed his tablet, and put it away. Instead he found his mace, and went in search of Slade. The warrior had been teaching him in a previous world, and Kondor thought it would not be a bad thing to get some more lessons here and now.
He carried his heavy black flanged mace in his right hand outside, and went toward the training grounds where Slade and the Parakeets practiced daily, hoping to find him there. Sure, he could use the scriff sense, but it was not a long walk, and with six of them there he couldn’t tell who was who other than Zeke. Along the way, Zeke came up to him.
“What’s up, Cap’n?” Kondor waved his mace toward the distant figure of Slade fighting two Parakeets while the rest sat in a long circle on the grass watching the practice duel. “I thought I’d get some training in.”
“Oh, yeah, I’ll do that too. Think I can borrow a weapon from someone?”
Kondor shrugged, and Zeke continued walking with him. They arrived as Slade finished tripping one opponent, and then tapping the flat of his sword on the last bird’s neck. Kondor reached out and tagged a speech center in time to hear the response to Slade’s question.
“I overcommitted on my last attack.”
“And why did you do that?” Slade asked patiently as Kondor stood behind the sitting line of Parakeets. Slade flashed him a quick grin, and then went back to teaching without a pause.“I--” The bird thought. “I got desperate because you’d already taken down,” the sound of a name which meant nothing to the versers trilled out.
“Good. You’re seeing what you did wrong, clearly. A battle is not over until it's over.” He patted the bird on the shoulder, and it scampered over to sit down in the half circle. Slade turned toward Kondor, and eyed the mace in his right hand.
“We have guests.” The others looked behind them, surprised to see Kondor and Zeke. “Be aware of what is around you, fellow warriors. You never know when someone is walking up behind you.” He nodded to Kondor.
“I wonder if there is time for a bit of practice like we did in Twin Rivers? Oh, and Zeke needs to borrow a weapon.”
“All right, class, we’re going to show you a bit about the mace, which is an improved club. But first, let’s hear from your professor.” Kondor was surprised, and then he saw the bird that had come to him much disturbed the other day when Derek had been injured. Apparently this was the professor of warfare whom Slade respected. The bird hopped to its feet, walked out, and gestured for Kondor to join the other two. Zeke took a seat with the birds at one end of the half circle.
The professor made a half whistle which Kondor recognized as the equivalent of clearing its throat, and then spoke. “We do not use the mace much today, but it was used in the past. Our recent visitor is of” odd chirps that meant a name “blood which got infused into the bloodline of the southerly nation in an invasion about three centuries past. Now the” more chirps “were notably larger than most of us, and they took advantage of this by wearing heavy armor which at first made them almost undefeatable in battle. But we found that while a sword did little to their armor, a mace or a warhammer was well suited to taking them on.”
He paused, and answered several questions.
“Now, my knowledge of the mace is mostly theoretical. However, I have some points that might help our distinguished friend.” He pointed at Kondor, and held out a hand for the mace which Kondor willingly gave him. Then he pointed at Slade’s sword which was less willingly relinquished.
He then held both of them up, one in a hand each.
“The mace is small but a bit heavier.”
And then he swung both. “But the mace feels far heavier in the swing. Why?”
One of the students raised a winged arm with feathers trailing.
“The point of balance. Most of the weight of the sword is near the hand.”
“Indeed. This makes the sword a faster weapon. Choe, you will not outspeed someone with a sword. And you must,” he awkwardly struck empty air, and spun the mace back around ready for another strike, “keep it moving.” He then showed a strike, and hold and switch of target. It was clearly far harder to do than with Slade’s sword. The mace required a follow through swing for keeping speed up and stamina loss low. That very thing made it more tiring than the sword to use in close combat.
“This makes me think the sword is a better weapon,” Kondor observed.
“If you face someone armored, and you can get in a good hit, you can stop them in a way that the sword cannot. Also, you don’t need to worry about breaking your tool in the way that we swordbirds do. If I were incautious enough to put my sword in a straight block against your mace, I think you might snap my blade.”
After that, Kondor and Zeke joined in with the rest for practice duels, Zeke borrowing swords from several birds in turn. Kondor found the greater reach of the swords balanced by the Parakeets being smaller. And he was lucky enough one time to catch a Parakeet napping, so to speak, and knock the sword right out of the surprised bird’s hands. Overall, though, it was a bruising and humbling experience. Still, he felt that he had learned a bit from his hour of practice. Finishing, he went back to check on Derek. The inflammation near the leg wound was almost gone, and everything else was looking good.
“Another day of taking it easy, and if you’re better, then I think we can call you fully back up to par, like before the spar.”
“Funny, doc. Real funny,” Derek said as Vashti came in.
“Join us for lunch?” she asked. Kondor shook his head.
“I need to take a quick shower first. I’ve been practicing with the sword birds today.”
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: