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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 59: Slade 109
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Slade let his three or four days slip into six, and no one complained that the black doctor was working with the surgeons longer than anticipated. For Slade, though, the problem was that there really wasn’t much to do. They were camped far enough behind the lines that they were never really threatened; since he was reluctant to fight for either side in this war as it stood and he didn’t have many talents otherwise, it was probably a good thing that battle was not sitting close beside him. However, there was only so much you could do wandering around the camp, and nothing at all that he could do to help Joe.
Joe was keeping very busy. Even at meals, he was frequently surrounded by medical staff, asking him questions about something he had done or something he had said, all eager to tap the knowledge of this amazing resource. The man put in long hours, genuinely concerned for his patients, frequently rising early to attend them, working late to save them, and getting up in the middle of the night to check on them.
Slade was thus pleasantly surprised to see his friend breakfasting alone on their seventh day in camp. He carried his own bowl over to the lonely table.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked.
As if popping out of a daydream, Joe jumped and responded with surprise in his voice, “Oh, no, please do.”
“I gather you’re making a big difference here.”
“Yes, I’ve got them working with a lot of new ideas. If even some of them stick, these people will advance by decades in their medical practice.”
“That’s got to be a good thing.”
The two sat in silence for several minutes. Finally Slade, musing on his own thoughts, broke it.
“You know what bothers me about this war?”
“Slade! Something bothers you about a war? I thought you liked wars!”
“Well, I do. But I don’t like this one.”
“O.K., I’ll bite. What is it about this war that bothers you?”
He thought for a moment. He didn’t really have a word for what he was thinking, so he was going to have to make a stab at it and probably sound a bit silly in the process.
“It’s the sides.”
“What, that it’s black against white?”
“Well, something like that. Not really that it’s black against white, but more that it’s all the blacks against all the whites. It’s like no one has anything else to fight about. I can’t imagine that everyone on either side is really so friendly with each other that they wouldn’t be fighting about something else given the chance, but this big war, it makes it seem as if they’re all brothers because they have the same color skin. I don’t know; am I making any sense?”
“I think I see what you’re saying. The two sides are so monolithic precisely because they have each other to use as enemies. The blacks would probably be killing each other right now, if they didn’t have the whites attacking them and causing them to work together. The whites, too, have their war against the blacks to force them to unite. It’s almost circular. All blacks are on one side and all whites on the other precisely because all blacks are on one side and all whites are on the other. There are no traitors, not only because your own people would never forgive you, but also because the enemy would never accept you. These people have dehumanized each other so completely that they can’t get together. The entire war is about stopping invading vermin, or destroying a predator’s lair. It’s not about people fighting people at all.”
Slade thought for a moment, unsure whether that’s exactly what he meant or not. Satisfied that it was close enough, he thought of something else.
“You know what else is missing around here?”
The way Joe stared at him, Slade realized that what he said was making no sense to his friend at all.
“Arabs.” Joe repeated flatly. He was obviously waiting for something more on that.
“Yeah, you know. North Africans, Palestinians, Arabs, Moors, Turks--the people who aren’t really black or white. I mean, I know nothing about it, but I would bet that the reason southern Europeans are darker skinned than northern Europeans is that historically, maybe during the Roman Empire, maybe even earlier, some Africans came north and blended their color into the gene pool. We know that Caesar and Marc Anthony were both interested in Cleopatra, so probably at some point people from Europe went to North Africa and did the same thing. The people who live in the Middle East are all darker than most Europeans, but lighter than most Blacks, and unless you want to believe that they were made that way or something, it would seem to make the most sense to think that their ancestors were both European and African, blended together. Anyway, any time any of my black friends married someone white, or the other way around, their kids were always that beautiful light brown color, like Indian or something. But you never see that here. At least, I haven’t seen it yet. It bugs me, and I’m not even sure why.”
Kondor looked very seriously at him for a full minute before he replied.
“You’re absolutely right; and it should bother you. It should bother all of us. I don’t know whether this world has anything like the Mediterranean Sea dividing the white world from the black world, but it doesn’t have it here, where we are. It is inconceivable that blacks and whites who grew up in the same part of the world would not at some point and to some degree interbreed and create such a neutral color. I can think of only four ways in which it could be that there aren’t any, and three of them don’t seem to fit the facts we already know.”
“Oh?” Now Slade was curious, in part because he couldn’t imagine how it was that his friend could in that short a time have come up with four different possible explanations, let alone that he would be sure that was all of the possibilities.
“It is possible that blacks and whites never met until very recent history, and so there was no interbreeding precisely because each race was completely isolated from the other. In that case, the interbreeding never happened historically, and doesn’t happen now because of the war. However, if that were so this battlefield would make no sense. Everything we know about both races suggests that they have histories of exploration and trade, so they must have met thousands of years ago.”
“Agreed,” Slade said. “That’s one, and it doesn’t fit.”
“We could imagine,” Joe continued, “that they were genetically incompatible, that somehow if they did attempt to interbreed they wouldn’t produce offspring.”
“Oh, come on. Even horses and donkeys produce mules, and you’re not going to tell me these people aren’t all people.”
“No, I’m not. You’re right; from what I’ve read, you could in theory cross a human with a gorilla and get some sort of child. The genetic studies the blacks did trying to show that the whites weren’t fully developed did not give evidence of distinct species, no matter how hard they tried to make it do so. If there were interbreeding, there would be offspring.”
“O.K., what’s the third?”
“Well, it has to do with that gorilla thing. If these people have always viewed each other as inhuman, so completely and for such a long time that they never would have thought, that is, that not a single person in either race would have attempted to mate with anyone of the other--” he stopped there.
“Yeah, I get it,” Slade said. “So just as people don’t usually marry their cats, no interbreeding ever would have happened here.”
“It’s possible, but I don’t believe it,” Joe said.
“Why not? They clearly think of each other as inhuman now.”
“Yes, but first, it seems incredible that anything like this level of prejudice could have existed all the way back through their entire history, and second, that’s never stopped people before.”
“Many white slave owners in the south used their female black slaves as concubines. They did not believe their slaves human, but they still had sex with them, and they had a lot of children, exactly the kind of children that are absent from this world.”
Joe had a look on his face so earnest Slade was not sure how to reply. However, his friend relieved him of that obligation by continuing.
“Even with that, we’re ignoring thousands of years of history that should have happened. There will have been wars in which the victors, black or white, captured women from the vanquished, and used them as concubines or even wives. There will have been Romeo and Juliet stories, in which the teens, one white and the other black, defied their parents’ prejudices and ran away together. There will have been communities in which color was not important, in which some of these mixed breed children welcomed both whites and blacks and created a world in which that blended color was the natural tint. How could it not have happened? Where are the children of those pairings?”
Slade nodded. That was three, and none of them fit. “So, what’s left?” he asked.
Joe looked off into space, as if not wanting to say what was left. When he continued it was much more quietly, much more seriously, much more somberly.
“Someone,” he said, “maybe one side, maybe both sides, has been systematically killing all the mixed breed children, for a very, very, very long time.”
Slade felt that his mouth had dropped open and realized he was staring at his friend. Finally, he managed to say half a word. “Wha?”
“It’s very easy to see why the blacks would do it. They’ve already got selective breeding and eugenics programs, a very controlled system for ensuring that only strong healthy children are born and raised to adulthood. Given their long-standing belief that whites are genetically inferior, it would be accepted that any child tainted by white genes was defective and ought to be destroyed. What is remarkable is that black parents would allow this, but there would probably be so much pressure on them at that point that their very survival might depend on accepting the judgment of society. As to the whites?” Kondor shrugged.
“The whites,” Slade suggested, “have that whole demon in flesh thing going. How far back does that go? Have they always thought of black people as demons, only intensified now? If you knew you had Rosemary’s baby, what would you do with it? If you knew your daughter had a demon child, what would you do? I think the likely answer is that you would kill it, and hope no one ever found out about it. People will fall into the temptation of a succubus, or an incubus, but they will never love the child. And even if it’s Romeo or Juliet, the Montagues and the, well, whoever, the parents were, are not going to allow the child to live.
“It seems this ugly war has an even uglier underbelly. I’m beginning to wonder whether we’re wasting our time here. There’s more wrong than we can fix.”
Joe stood up, preparing to take his bowl back to the dishwashers. “Wasting our time? Slade, the one thing you and I have plenty of is time. We could stay here for centuries putting this right, if that’s what it took, and not have any less time ahead of us than we do now.”
Slade nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah,” he said, “I guess you’re right. On the other hand, at the moment I’m not doing anything, so I really don’t see that I’m contributing to the solution at all.”
“Au contraire, mon ami,” Kondor said. “You are the reason these people trust me. Sure, they know that I don’t have to help them, and they’re mystified as to why I would, but at the same time they know that I won’t kill their patients, because you’re here, and I’m afraid of what you’ll do to those I hold near and dear if I do anything wrong here. You are making a big difference, just by being here.”
As Joe walked away, Slade thought about that. He was always a doer, really; he had to be doing something to feel like he mattered. It was a strange idea that he could matter without doing anything, just simply by existing. Yet Joe was right, as usual. His existence was the foundation for Joe’s acceptance, and that was the thing that was changing the world. It was really very like what happened at the bunker, only the other way around. There he and Shella had been the ones who really challenged everyone’s thinking, but they could only be there because Joe had talked his way into their good graces. Here he and Shella were the excuse that made it possible for Joe to disrupt everything these people believed about the enemy. Of course, it was just a drop in the bucket; then again, if only a few people on each side started to realize that their reasons for fighting this war were at least a little unreasonable, that idea could begin to spread, and eventually the world would change.
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: