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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 1: Kondor 1
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Joseph Wade Kondor never knew what hit him. Oh, he could see it well enough--well enough to empty half a clip from his army-issue M-16 into it--but he never knew what it was. It closed fast and hit hard, and if the bullets slowed it down at all, he never knew it. He was dead--for the second time.
As he came back to life, he was surrounded by darkness. "Not again," he groaned. "Those jack-brassed army experimenters really did it to me. I don't know whether that scriff stuff they were using really makes the electronics faster, but it really made a mess of me. I get killed, but I don't stay dead; next thing I know, I'm waking up in another universe. I wonder what this world is like." He could feel the floor beneath him press up and fall away, press up and fall away, press up and fall away. "Hmmm...must be a ship. Guess I should be glad--a little bit to the left, I'd have been in the water."
Pulling a pack of cardboard matches from his pocket, he struck one; the sand colored camouflaged military fatigues reflected the light, contrasting sharply with his dark skin. Reaching into the military-issue duffel bag next to him, he soon replaced the glow of the match with the brighter light of a multi-cell flashlight. With this he could better appraise his surroundings.
Clearly, this was a cargo hold. All around him were crates, some with printed packing slips, many with the words "Mary Piper" stenciled on them. Beyond that, walls and support structures of what appeared to be metal and plastic were visible--a modern ship, he thought.
Organizing his things, he pulled out one of the protein bars from his pack; eating half of it with a swig of water from his canteen, he folded the wrapper around the remainder and tucked it in his pocket for later. He would have to explore this world; eventually they would find him, and the more he knew about them when that happened, the better off he would be. The first step was the one that would take him out of the hold.
The hallway he entered was empty; he chose a path, and proceeded cautiously. Most of his gear, including his rifle, he left in the hold, but he still had his flashlight in one hand, and his pistol in the other. The hall was well lit, and he turned the flashlight off. This part of the ship, at least, was apparently rather quiet, and he walked up one hall and down another without learning much. Then he heard voices coming up from around a corner. Without thinking, he stepped through an open hatch into a room.
Two people walked past the hatch--human, he observed, but strangely dressed. At least he wouldn't have to explain what kind of creature he was--only how he got here. Meanwhile, he had to learn what he could. Looking around, he could see what must be a bed, a desk of sorts, and a cabinet large enough to be a closet. This opened to reveal clothes which might fit him, and he quickly selected several items which were similar to those he had seen, and scampered back to his cargo hold to change. As he tried on the strange clothes, he suddenly wondered whether he had borrowed women's clothes. A cross-dresser in the crew would certainly stick out. But at least these fit. He made a mental note to leave them behind whenever he was blown out of this world.
Camouflaged in his new outfit, he returned to the corridors to continue his explorations. Once again all was quiet for a while. This time, he saw someone approaching before he heard them; but there was a side corridor a few steps ahead, and without changing his pace he turned down this to avoid meeting. Then he walked a bit more quickly.
At that speed, he was past the open hatch before he'd realized what was there. Stopping short, he backed up and looked again. It was the ship's mess. There was fresh fruit on a sideboard, along with bread and some kind of spread, and a drink server similar in concept at least to a soda machine, but more advanced. Apart from food and furnishings, the room was empty. Kondor entered quickly, filling a cup and draining it while grabbing some bread and fruit. He then returned to the hold with his treasures.
Over the next few days, the young soldier grew more confident, even brazen. He would walk past crew members with a friendly wave, drop into the mess to carry out food, and return to his quiet place in the cargo hold. He saw only men, all dressed differently, sometimes carrying unusual equipment, and most of them paid him little more attention than a glance and a smile. Perhaps with a bit of luck, he could survive until the ship reached its next port, and then disappear into whatever passed for a commercial city in this world.
But his luck was not to hold. A few days later, as he waved to one of the crewmen in the hall, the man's face suddenly changed, as he cried out, "Hey!..." Startled, Kondor was already turning to run as he heard the rest of the words: "That's my shirt!" But he was already running up the hall, around the corner, back to the cargo hold.
"That was too close," he said aloud in the darkness, panting as much from shock as from exertion. But slowly he began to realize that the situation had changed. It was over now. His presence on the ship was known; it was just a matter of time before he was found.
Kondor couldn't say how long he waited before the light came on and several armed men burst into the room. "Don't move," came the command. He wasn't about to. Rousting him, they scooped up his equipment, and took him to another, more crowded, deck of the ship. Entering a room more like an office, they addressed a man behind the desk. "Officer Jamison. Here is the stowaway--he was in the main cargo hold."
Jamison seemed an efficient officer. He was nearly six feet, a well-muscled young black man with hair in a military cut, clean shaven. But that he was a few years younger and hadn't seen a razor for about a month, Kondor realized that could describe himself. Barely looking at Kondor initially, Jamison began a speech which almost sounded rehearsed. "Well, the captain will have to decide what to do with you; but as First Officer, I'll have to make a recommendation. I'm inclined to have you tossed overboard, but why don't you tell me why I shouldn't? How did you get here?"
Of course, Joseph Kondor was killed by a monster in another universe, and his body, ripped apart as it passed through the scriff which keeps all universes apart while holding them all together, was reassembled in the cargo bay. But he couldn't tell them this; they wouldn't believe it anyway. So he needed a good story. He'd been working on one for a while, and had about convinced himself it might work, although he wished he had something better. "A strange woman invited me to have a drink with her. She was a looker, and I thought it would be nice to have the company. The next thing I knew, I was here--with my equipment. I've been trying to survive and figure out where I was ever since...I'm not sure how long."
"So why didn't you come tell us this immediately?" the officer asked.
"To be honest," Kondor continued, "it's the kind of story I wouldn't believe myself. And let's face it--the stakes were rather high for me. If you didn't discover me until we got to port, I could be thrown off the ship in a reasonably safe place. But out here--" He let the thought hang.
A smile came across Jamison's face. Kondor began to relax; perhaps he had pulled it off. "Security!" the officer called, "Take him in to the captain now. " The familiar guard escorted him out of the small office hatch, and opened another hatch on the opposite side of the hall. From here, Kondor could see a clear view of the starry sky through what was more than a portal, a massive window behind the captain's desk, and he realized to his horror that the situation was not quite as he had supposed. He was looking out into space; Jamison's words from behind him were saying, "I'm recommending we toss him out an airlock."
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with the first six chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #18: A Novel Comic Milestone. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: