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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 55: Slade 108
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Previous chapter: Chapter 54: Brown 122
Slade awoke to the sound of rain on the canvas above him. Shella was cuddled up close to him, still asleep; she would be fine, he thought, and with a bit of effort perhaps he could bring her breakfast in bed. He slipped out of the blankets, covered her snuggly, and pulled on some clothes.
The fog was dissipating rapidly in the rain, but the skies were dark and the gloom thick. He wondered which direction was the mess tent. As it had been in the bunker, they seemed to have been housed somewhere away from the bulk of the men. There must be food somewhere, though, and wherever that was, there would be people. It was just a matter of finding them. If he followed his ears and his nose, he should be able to find where the food was.
Two sets of directions later, he was in the mess tent. Breakfast was not much different from supper in appearance, but from the flavor Slade guessed it to be some sort of hot cereal, probably barley, since he couldn't remember ever having barley himself but remembered that it was packaged as mush for babies. Still, if you were hungry enough you would probably eat dirt. Slade had never been that hungry, but he didn't want to get that hungry, either, so he ate his mush.
He saw the commander coming toward him. He guessed the man wanted to talk about his departure; he was not yet ready to talk about that, but didn't see any easy way to slip away. The notion of using the spell that would allow him to pass unnoticed among his enemies occurred to him. It was problematic, though. These people weren't supposed to be his enemies (although he still wasn't certain of that himself). Anyway, the spell didn't work against someone who had already spotted you, or at least, it didn't work well in that case. He would have to do what he could to stall--tell him his wife was exhausted from the journey, or something. Men generally accepted excuses that began with My wife. Wives were universally recognized as the unfathomable explanation for anything that didn't make sense.
"Sir Robert?" the commander began. "Might I sit down?"
"It's your table, sir; I'm the one imposing. Please make yourself comfortable."
"Thank you." The commander sat, shifted a bit as if he were not comfortable, and then began again. "This is rather awkward. I know that you're undoubtedly eager to return to your people, and that it's probably very important to the war effort for this shade you've captured to begin working on weapons. However, my surgeon has asked me to speak to you, to ask you if you could delay your departure, at least for a couple days."
"Your surgeon? Is he afraid we're sick or something?"
"Oh, no! Quite the contrary. It seems your shade showed up in his surgery last night and saved a man's life. He has promised to share some of his medical knowledge, which my people say is far beyond their own in many areas and may save the lives of many of our soldiers. I realize that this may be a delaying tactic on your prisonerís part, but the surgeon seems convinced that the medical knowledge will save more lives than any advance in weapons technology could do, at least in the short term."
This was an interesting turn of events. Apparently they didn't have to leave; on the other hand, Slade didn't wish to appear too eager to stay. That would be suspicious.
"Well," he said, "the man is a doctor; I hadn't realized that would be significant, being more a man of war myself. I'd like to get working on some more practical guns--but if your surgeon is that keen to work with Doctor Kondor, I certainly don't mind giving him that opportunity. Saving the lives of our young men is probably a better thing than killing more of theirs. How long do you think he needs?"
"Well, from the sound of him, he would enlist the man and keep him for years; but any time you can spare would suit him."
Slade nodded. "All right. Why don't we plan on three or four days, and then see where everyone is. If by the end of that time your surgeon hasn't learned everything he wants to know we'll talk about whether we can stay longer.
"Is anybody making any guesses about this rain?"
"We expect it to continue all day, sir."
"All right. I guess I'll be inside today. Commander, if I'm going to be in your camp for a few days, I probably should know your name. I don't think anyone has mentioned it yet."
"Vargas, sir. General Philip Vargas."
"General," Slade said, with an emphasis that betrayed the fact that he was impressed, "Philip Vargas. Well, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to take some breakfast to my wife, along with the good news that she doesn't have to travel in the rain today. Let me know if Doctor Kondor is any trouble for you; I don't expect he will be." He stood up with his now empty bowl.
"Thank you, Sir Robert."
"I'm pleased we've been able to help."
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 #235: Versers Infiltrate. 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: