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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 23: Kondor 102
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Previous chapter: Chapter 22: Brown 106
As the battlefield smoke cleared, it was obvious that Slade had called it; the enemy troops were doing exactly what he had predicted. Kondor felt good about this.
Colonel Mlambo turned from his work and came toward them.
"I owe you my thanks," he said, "and an apology."
To Kondor's surprise, he was not talking to Slade, but to him.
"You owe me nothing, Colonel," he said. "Mr. Slade spotted the danger and alerted you to it. It was he to whom your thanks are due."
The colonel sort of nodded, in a very noncommittal way, and continued to talk to Kondor, not Slade. "Well, anyway, I appreciate your efforts. I had concerns about having a ghost in my complex, but perhaps I've learned something, and maybe you intelligence people know what you're doing after all." He turned to walk back to his console.
"Don't mention it," Slade muttered, just loud enough for Kondor to hear. Then, in a more normal tone, "I'm headed back to the room; I've left Shella alone too long, and she's likely to be worried by now."
Kondor hesitated only a moment. "I'll join you," he said quietly. "There's a lot to discuss, and this might be the best opportunity we have for a while.
"Colonel," he added more loudly, "if you'll excuse us, we're going to retire to our quarters."
The colonel waved a hand, which seemed to mean that was fine with him, and he headed to the door, Slade already one step ahead of him.
The door was still closing behind them when Slade burst into questions.
"What do you mean, a lot to discuss."
"What's going on here, anyway?"
"Not now; wait until we're in our rooms."
"What's the problem?"
"In our rooms. Don't make a scene; it's important to fit in, remember?"
"Fit in? Is that what you call what I just did?"
"You did marvelously; I'll explain everything, but we've got to get somewhere--" he broke off as soldiers came around the corner. He returned salutes rather quickly and continued around the bend toward their quarters "--private. We don't want to be heard discussing things here."
Apparently he had persuaded his friend, who fell silent until they reached Shella's door. It was open; she was standing in it, but whether she had been there all along or merely came as she felt them approach Kondor couldn't guess.
"Missus Slade," he said, trying to think of the correct form of address for the wife he did not know well of a friend he did, "could I ask you to join your husband and me in my quarters for a moment?"
She nodded, grabbed something off the table by the door, and closed the door on her way out.
Stepping into his own room, he popped his head into the bathroom and turned on the shower.
"I thought we were going to talk?" Slade said.
"We are," Kondor answered more quietly; "but the rooms may be bugged, and if someone is listening I want them to tune out right now. There's a lot of weird stuff going on here, but to these people it's absolutely normal, and if they think we think it's weird it's going to be trouble."
Slade still had a hard look about him, like someone who didn't like what was happening and was demanding an explanation; however, in a moment he relaxed, and looked for a chair.
"Please," Kondor said, feeling he had lost the hospitality that had been so natural to him years before, "please make yourselves comfortable."
He was not comfortable; he paced the floor a moment.
"It didn't take us long," he began, "to realize that these people were at war. Since then, we've seen that it's a racial war--the blacks and whites are fighting each other. We've also seen that the blacks have vast technological superiority. There's still a lot that's not apparent, and even from what I read last night there's a lot I don't know. However, I have read enough to see that it's not merely technological superiority here. The blacks are genetically superior to the whites."
He paused to let this penetrate. Slade was turning it over in his mind.
"When you say 'genetically superior'," he asked, "exactly what do you mean?"
"Well, I should think it was self-explanatory. The blacks are larger, stronger, more intelligent, with greater development in every area of life. It's not just that they're the superior society; they appear to be the superior race. There are medical studies showing that this superiority is in the genes themselves--blacks have stronger bodies and sharper minds because evolution has made them the dominant race."
Slade seemed to be getting it. "I see," he said. "Well, setting aside what that really means, you know, scientifically, what does it mean as far as the war goes?"
"Until recently, the whites have been servants of the blacks, or at least, those who have been brought from their animal existence in the northern forests."
"You mean they've been slaves, and they've suddenly decided they don't like it?"
"I think slave would be too strong a word. We don't call horses or dogs or sheep our slaves; we call them animals, and care for them, and put them to work for us."
"We don't call them slaves because they're animals. They're not people."
"Well, that seems to be the point here." Kondor was attempting to explain patiently. "In a very real sense, the whites are animals. They aren't people. They aren't as smart as you or me; the blacks might actually be smarter than we are. There is a real disparity between them."
"M'lord," Shella interrupted. "I don't know what this djinni superiority means, but how can they know such a thing?"
"That's right," Slade said. "There are a lot of problems with saying that one race is genetically superior to another. Does it mean that every black person is stronger and smarter than every white person? Does it mean that the best of the blacks are better than the best of the whites, or that the worst white is worse than the worst black? When they did their comparison, did they take their outstanding black man and some sickly white that they could catch? Does it mean that blacks and whites couldn't produce children together, like horses and donkeys? And how did it get this way?"
"What do you mean, how did it get this way?" Slade was asking questions for which Kondor didn't know the answers; but this question didn't seem to make sense. "Isn't it enough that it is this way now?"
"I should say not. If the blacks systematically kill any child that doesn't measure up to some standard, or at least don't let them have children; or if the most promising of the whites are killed off generation after generation by blacks who feel threatened, or if some advance in technology among the blacks has led them to a policy of selective breeding, those are all things that could create an imbalance that had nothing to do with whether everyone is human. And after all, isn't the question here whether everyone is human?"
"And the answer that the blacks give is that the whites aren't."
"And the answer that the whites give is that they are, I'm sure. Who do we believe?"
"The blacks appear to have science on their side."
Slade threw up his hands. "I can't believe I'm arguing this with you, of all people." He shook his head. "Look," he said, focusing straight at Kondor's face. "When we rescued Speckles from the sparrow people, we killed a lot of sparrow people to do it. We did it because they were going to kill one of the parakeet people, and we liked the parakeet people. Did we ever once ask whether the sparrow people might have some genetic superiority that gave them the right to kill the parakeet people whenever they wanted?"
"No, but--" Kondor broke off. He realized what he had done; he had bought the entire line of propaganda in their publications, because it had been presented to him as scientific evidence. When he tried to explain it, it all fell apart. This wasn't about genetic superiority. It was about slavery, justified by fallacious arguments about differences in racial biology. What made one race better than another anyway? Clearly the whites, although outgunned and outmaneuvered, made up for it somehow. The black propaganda would say that it was from sheer numbers, and their incredible breeding rates and overpopulation--in other words, they bred like rabbits.
The whole thing suddenly left a very bad taste in his mouth.
"You're right," he said. "The entire idea is bogus. This is a war about a people who don't want to be enslaved and those who don't want to admit that their way of life is wrong.
"Now the question is, what do we do about it?"
As to the old stories that have long been here: