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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 7: Kondor 3
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 6, Slade 2
The last thing Kondor remembered was diving out of the blast of a grenade. He felt the force of it, but didn't know he had blacked out. He didn't know whether he had survived or died. He didn't know whether it had been moments or months. He didn't know whether he was in the same world or another. But as his consciousness eked back he realized he should stop thinking about what he didn't know and turn to what he did know.
He knew that he was lying on his back on a soft surface in a warm room. That suggested that he had moved, or been moved, from the floor by the airlock. He knew that his head and body ached, if not everywhere then near enough that he had not yet found a part that didn't. But he believed that surviving a grenade would be painful. Dying was also painful. He knew that; he had done it twice before.
The sounds around him were difficult to identify. He thought probably someone else was in the room, but the noises were unclear. Look, he told himself. Just open your eyes and look.
His right eye opened. He closed it again. The room was spinning, and rocking--wait, that rocking feeling, that was familiar. That was the pulse of the grav generator on the Mary Piper. The spinning, that was also familiar, but different. That was what he was taught to call vertigo, the dizziness you get sometimes, like when you start to come out of anesthesia. His left eye didn't open; he could feel now that it was bandaged, and that there were many bandages all over him, all of them covering very tender wounds.
"Hello?" he called out. Even in his own ears it sounded slurred.
"Ah, it's good to have you back among the living." Dr. Evans walked over. "I wasn't sure you were going to make it."
"So how bad is it, Doc?"
"Oh, it's not really bad at all. It was very uncertain for a while, but with a few spare parts you'll be good as new."
"And what about my eye?" Kondor opened his uncovered eye to see Evans' face.
"Well, that was very serious, but I think it's going to be all right--different, but all right. You lost the eye; there was no way to save it. But we had a Meritronics Cybereye in stock, and your body seems to have accepted it just fine."
"Doc, I don't think my Blue Cross covers that."
"I can't pay for some cybernetic eye."
"Oh, that's not a problem. It's covered under the company's contract." The doctor looked at him, looked at his good eye with that professional examination expression on his face. "You should rest a bit longer so the effects of the anesthetic have a chance to pass."
A Cybermetrics...Cybertronics...Metrisonic...Cybermerit...what was it called? Kondor wasn't sure he liked the idea. Maybe in this world robotic replacement parts were normal for people; but he was human, and becoming a cyborg wasn't part of his long-range goals. On the other hand, had he lost the eye back home, it would be gone. Oh, there were eyes for the blind, transplants available from organ donors; but with a severe injury they probably wouldn't try it, not knowing how much damage was done to the optic and occulomotor nerves. If it worked, it meant he still had binocular vision. But could they really build an eye that could see like that? Or would he be like some science fiction cyborg, seeing strange colors and patterns of radiation no one else could see, and trying to make sense of the real world from them? His consciousness drifted in and out a bit. Whether the minutes that passed added up to hours or even days he was not certain, but suddenly he realized that he was awake, and it was not a dream.
"I'm going to remove the bandage now." Dr. Evans had come over to him, and was lifting the tape off his face. "Things will probably look very strange, because we still have to tune the eye; but only you can really tune it, because you're the only one who sees what you see. In many ways, this eye is just like the one you lost." He went on to explain that there were two different kinds of sensors, much like the rods and cones in the eye. The rods responded broadly to photons across the full spectrum, but translated to brightness and darkness, shades of gray when light levels were too low. The cones divided into three groups, understood by the brain as red, green, and blue light. Each is most sensitive to a single color, less sensitive to light near that color, and unresponsive outside a very narrow band. Other colors are created by the brain interpreting how much each sensor is stimulated. But especially when you have one natural eye and one artificial one, you have to tune the sensors so that they see the same light or your brain gets confused--like wearing glasses with different colored lenses. A small control panel was installed on the inside of Kondor's left arm. Five small dials controlled the centering of the three sets of color sensors and the range of the broadband sensors. The controls themselves reminded him of setting the preset channels on an old VCR he pulled out of the attic when he was in high school; adjusting them reminded him of playing with the color and brightness controls on a television set.
"Whoa, this is weird. Hey, what happens if I get it way out of adjustment?"
"It will probably make you dizzy and sick to your stomach. But it can be interesting. You can lower the sensors to see very long wavelength photons such as heat, and raise them to see ultraviolet, RF, and even microwaves. But those photons can be very confusing, because they don't reflect off many objects the way visible light does, so you could be looking right at something and not see it at all."
"Wild. So, what happened to the pirates?"
"Pirates? Oh, the ones you were chasing. They were driven from the ship, quite a few dead, and then we damaged their vessel with our ship's guns. You were our worst casualty, and repairs to the ship were quick and easy. But that was--oh, about seventy days ago. You've been unconscious through the crossing of the Greater Syndic, and we've already passed Durnmist and are headed for Tempest."
"So, when do I become useful again?"
"Not before Tempest, that's certain. After that, we'll see. Here, this gadget will help you tune your eye."
The gadget fit like a pair of glasses, but on the inner surface it displayed color patterns. The patterns were identical, so Kondor could adjust the dials until both eyes saw the same color. Doctor Evans also gave him a simple eye patch and instructed him to wear it sometimes over his natural eye and sometimes over the artificial one, but sometimes not at all, so that his brain would learn to rely on both eyes and not disregard one. For the present, he would have to be satisfied with looking at things in the med bay, as he was not yet allowed to walk around; but expectations were that he would be stretching his legs fairly soon.
He was still in bed a couple days later when someone helped Walters, with whom he'd been working in security, into medical. He looked like he'd been in a nasty fight. One of the medics examined his arm.
"Well, it isn't broken. It's quite a bit banged up, and some cellular regeneration treatments will help it, but there's no reason why you can't go back to work. Just try to stay away from angry dock workers for a few days."
"Like that'll be a problem," Walters replied.
"What happened?" Kondor asked. He had worked a lot with Walters, and was concerned about the accident, and the more so as he thought it might not have happened had he been on duty instead of confined to sick bay. Besides, Walters was also black, and although he didn't like to admit it to himself, that made a difference to Kondor, more so it seemed than to anyone else on the ship. It had made him feel more a part of the crew to be able to work with him, although as far as that went he still didn't get along with First Officer Jamison.
"Oh, it was some union thing about imported machine parts," Walters said. "They're cheaper at Durnmist than here at Tempest, so a lot of ships that make this run pick up some profit by carrying a few crates, but the workers who make them here aren't happy about that. Some protestors got rowdy on the dock, threw some rocks at us and such, but the local police stopped them. Good thing, that--I hate it when we get a problem with locals, because you really don't want to shoot 'em, but it can get very dangerous."
"Uh-huh." Kondor turned to the medic. "Hey, Doc, how did you know his arm wasn't broken?"
"Oh, this ultrasound viewer. It catches all but the most insignificant fractures, and doesn't require extra exposure to x-rays."
"You know, I don't know if they told you, but I use to be an army medic. It was a long time ago, and we didn't have a lot of fancy equipment, but as long as I'm stuck here in the medical bay, maybe I could help out a bit and learn something while I'm at it."
"What, and take my job?" Dr. Evans laughed from the other side of the room. "I guess we could try to bring you up to date on the latest in field medicine anyway. Where was this?"
"Where was what?"
"That you were a medic?"
"Oh, you know--worlds away in another life. You know how it is."
"I hear that. I've done so much in my time I'm not sure I remember it all."
"Yeah, I guess life can be like that. Mine is, anyway."
Kondor spent the next few weeks in the medical bay, recovering from his injuries, learning to use his new eye, helping with patients, and learning a lot about medicine in a more advanced world. About two months later the ship docked in Sardic, and he stepped into a new world, money in his pocket and a wealth of possibilities opening before him.
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 #20: Becoming Novel. 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: