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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 39: Kondor 105
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Previous chapter: Chapter 38: Brown 114
Kondor awoke and found the lights. According to the clock, it should be daylight; but there was no sound of battle.
He dressed and headed out into the hall. The breakfast cart was waiting in the hall; apparently whoever delivered it decided not to knock. He would eat when he returned. First he needed to find out what was happening.
He found the colonel in the operations room; all the screens were gray. At first he thought they had malfunctioned, but quickly he realized that it was fog, a thick, heavy ground cover that was completely obscuring any view beyond a few yards.
"Mister Kondor," the colonel said. "This might be your best chance to get outside. I presume you boys have gear to find your way in soup like this."
"Yes, Colonel. I take it you've got men scouting the area to warn you of any efforts to take advantage of the weather. Might we be of some assistance in that regard?"
"How do you mean?"
"Let us go outside and sweep the territory somewhat wider than your men can afford to cover, and we'll return with a better idea of troop numbers and locations if we can get back to you."
"You don't have to report to someone?"
"My mission is a bit open ended; I can afford to help you for a few days, and the observations of their positions will be useful for my purposes as well. Call it information sharing between branches."
The colonel nodded. He seemed satisfied.
"What are your time expectations?"
"As far as returning, that's rather open-ended. There is something I have to check some distance from here, and I'm not certain of the precise location; I left some gear in the field, as well, which I'm going to want to recover if it's still secure. A lot will depend on what I find and what it takes to get around them. We'll leave as soon as we've eaten. With your permission, I think we'll leave a few of our things here to pick up on our return; I hope we can regard the quarters as available for our use upon our return."
Colonel Mlambo did not seem as agreeable to this as Kondor would have liked, but he nodded. Kondor took another look at the screens, but there was nothing to be seen there but the gray stillness of the outer world.
Returning to their wing, he knocked on the Slades' door. Bob answered in a moment, half dressed.
"Morning," Slade said.
"Yes, it is," Kondor answered. "But it's a foggy morning which looks like it's going to give us the opportunity to get outside and do a bit of exploring. Breakfast is served; it looks like canned fruit and cold oatmeal, but I suggest we eat and prepare to leave. Oh, and I've told the colonel to expect us to return, so feel free to leave anything in your room that you don't want to carry with you."
Shella's voice came from the room. "I told you it would be good to make ourselves comfortable. Now we can leave it looking nice and come back to it waiting for us."
Slade grinned sheepishly; Kondor smiled back. "Eat and get ready; let me know when you're done." He picked up his own tray and went back to his room.
He packed his things; the more he thought about it, the more he wanted to leave something here, something infected with scriff that was his, something he'd brought from another world. It would give him a sort of homing beacon to find his way back to the bunker--he could sense his things over long distances, if he stopped and relaxed for a moment to feel them. Having something here would mean he could find his way back from anywhere. The problem was, before he had come here he was floating in space because to save the station Derek had destroyed the runaway spaceship they had boarded; that had been a mission for which he'd carefully selected his supplies. The things he didn't really need were the things he was on his way to recover; there was precious little packed here that he wouldn't want on this mission.
Finally he found something. There were a few diktar, the plastic coins that were used as money in that universe years ago when he was a security guard and then a medic on a space ship doing a regular cargo run from planet to planet. They'd been with him through--Sherwood, the Vorgo, meeting Lauren and Slade, the other cargo ship, the grav generation experiments, TerraNova Habitat--six universes, not including the world in which he got them or this one. They should be perfect for this. He dropped them in a drawer.
He filled his canteen from the sink; the water here was safe, and he didn't know what was out there. It would take him a bit to kit up--donning his bullet proof vest under his shirt, settling his pack on his back, and situating his weapons where they would all be useful. The M-16 and the pistol were his first choice for a fight, but he had the Mark VII kinetic blaster, the mace, a Bowie knife, and the crossbow he'd never yet used beyond a very little bit of practice. Probably he would use none of these; still, it seemed right to have them all.
He set up the surveillance gear. The starlight vision system fed to his right eye; his artificial left eye he could adjust to pick up infrared and ultraviolet if necessary. The parabolic sound system would be helpful. He was not sure whether the sniffer would have any use, but it was easy enough to use with the other gear and not sensible not to include it.
Slade knocked on his door in a moment. He picked up his tray and joined them in the hall. The warrior wore his leathers under a heavy cape, sword, dagger, mace, and blaster all readily available. His wife carried a cloth travel bag, and wore a cloak over her robe. She appeared to have no weapon.
"I'm leaving something in my room," he said, "so I can trace my way back by it if necessary."
"Oh, now there's a reason," Slade said. "We're leaving stuff, too, but only so it will be like home when we return."
Kondor wondered whether there was sarcasm in that voice; Shella did not react to it, so either Slade was able to veil such things from his wife or he misunderstood.
"It seems quiet today," Slade said.
"Most of the men are patrolling close to the bunker to intercept any efforts to attack under cover of the fog. Or were you referring to the shelling?"
"Yeah, I guess that would do it. Fog does make it a bit tougher to find the enemy, doesn't it?"
"Speaking of finding the enemy," Kondor said, "we'd better get the Colonel to let us out. I don't know where the door is, exactly."
"Yeah, funny that--we never really checked the emergency exits, did we?"
"Well, maybe it's because we've got our own emergency exits available at all times, so it doesn't seem as important. Besides, running out of the bunker in an emergency doesn't seem to make sense when you think about it."
"No, it doesn't; leaving it to go out into a battlefield in the middle of the fog doesn't, either, though, so apparently we're not using sense as the primary basis for our decisions."
They reached the control room.
"Colonel," Kondor said, "we're ready; I'm sure you'd like to have someone escort us, to assure that the door is secure behind us."
Mlambo nodded to Lieutenant Lyson, who set down a clipboard and walked over to them. "Follow me," he said, and exited the room.
"I understand you may be returning," Lyson said as they walked.
"We expect to, at any rate," Kondor answered. "It seems a reasonable place to regroup, and we're leaving a few things behind while we scout the area."
Lyson didn't appear entirely pleased at this, but he walked on in silence to what was obviously the inner side of the secured door they had seen on screen from the other side. He punched in a code; Kondor watched carefully, noting it. The door opened.
"Well," Lyson said, "I guess we'll see you again, then--if you're lucky."
"We're good," Slade said. "We don't usually need luck." He led the way outside, and Kondor came last, behind Shella.
"We'll be back," he said. "You be watching for us."
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #226: Versers Adapt. 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: