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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 25: Slade 100
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Slade thought about that last question for several minutes, as they sat in silence. What should they do about it? It was an incredibly difficult question to answer. They were inside a bunker with a group of armed soldiers who were fighting to preserve a lie. There was little they could do here. After all, they could attack these men, and there was a slim chance they could kill them all; but this would make no change to the world out there. Without Derek they couldn't do anything clever like change the security codes on the doors; it would be an amazing feat if they merely learned how to operate the guns and equipment, and with only three of them they couldn't keep these manned around the clock. All they would do was make themselves some very powerful enemies.
"Well, one thing we don't do," he said, "is we don't go and tell this colonel that we've figured out he's an idiot whose been duped all his life into believing a lie and risking his life for it. He probably likes the lie; it's comforting to feel you're special, and very threatening to feel like someone you thought wasn't as good as you might in fact be better."
"Yes," Joe said; "I noticed that he wouldn't thank you."
"Yeah. I did, too."
The silence was awkward.
"Look," Slade said, "maybe I've got these people all wrong. I mean, what would we have done, on earth, if we had managed to train gorillas and chimpanzees to work for us, taught them enough language to communicate with them, given them clean cages and healthy food, and then suddenly they decided they didn't want to do it anymore? Just because the monkey learns to talk doesn't suddenly make him a man, does it?"
"No," Joe said; "but you were absolutely right about this. Every argument these people are using to justify oppression was made in our world about my people. We weren't human; we were highly advanced apes who could be made to understand human language and put to work at tasks humans didn't want to do. But that was in a time when the most advanced races had cannons and muskets, and we had spears. Here, it's the primitive side that has cannons and muskets."
"Then maybe what we need to do," Slade said, "is find out where they got them, and whether they really are as human as we think they are."
The silence may have indicated general consensus; Slade wasn't sure. He also wasn't at all sure whether he knew how to decide whether someone who could talk, fire a gun, and plan a distraction so they could assault a fortress from an unobserved quarter was really human. It almost seemed a stupid question when he put it that way.
"I'll go tomorrow," he said.
Joe frowned. "N-no," he said tentatively, "no, we'll all go, but it won't be tomorrow. The fighting is going to continue for at least a couple of days, and we're not going to be able to get out of the bunker safely until the enemy pulls back again."
Joe was right, of course; in the midst of a firefight, the people in the bunker weren't going to let you open the door to go outside, and the people outside weren't going to wait to see who you were before they shot you. They were stuck here for the moment.
"So, what do we do then?" he said.
Joe looked toward the bathroom; the shower was still running.
"We wait," he said. "We watch and learn, come to understand these people as well as we can, make friends here to the degree that we are able, and maybe as we do that we'll find something we can use. Then whenever they say it's safe to leave, we'll slip out and see what's out there.
"I just hope my suitcase isn't shot to bits or completely rifled by the time we reach it."
As to the old stories that have long been here: