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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 81: Kondor 116
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 80: Brown 134
A spasm of pain passed through him and was gone. Obviously he had died again. It was one of the hazards of war, and a simple fact that no amount of stealth or camouflage will protect you from a stray artillery shell. He caught himself before he fell, standing on a level surface as he opened his eyes.
He was in a room, low light levels but not exactly dark. It appeared to be a waiting room, functional chairs along the walls, tables, magazine rack, doors to either end, a window behind which was a desk, currently unoccupied. He scanned the walls for some clue as to what sort of office it was and thought perhaps the magazines would help, but abruptly one door opened and three men in uniforms entered. The one in the lead was giving orders to the other two when he saw Kondor. He was white; one of the others was black. Kondor was relieved to see that the military in this world was integrated. He snapped to attention and saluted.
“At ease. Have a seat, soldier, I’ll be with you in a minute.”
The men continued through the other door. In a moment one of them, the white underling, appeared behind the glass, but turned his attention to papers on the desk and then picked up a phone. The phone was similar to those Kondor remembered from his childhood, a corded handset and a base with a rotary dial, although the style was unfamiliar.
Kondor realized he was in a bind. He could leave, but he had no idea what was outside the door and whether he would be missed if he did so. His best option at this point seemed to be to wait to be called, and take his best shot at seeming like he belonged here. After all, it was an army, and armies were very good at mucking up communications, so it was entirely likely he could come out of that office with more information than he had now.
Still, he was nervous. Of course, probably anyone in the position he was supposed to be in--appearing before a superior officer who did not know his name--would be nervous.
Name. He did not know the officer’s name. He would have to remedy that. He stepped up to the window and waited while the officer at the desk finished his phone call. Finally the man looked up.
“May I help you?” It was not said courteously, but Kondor took it so nonetheless.
“Sorry to bother you. I wanted to check: how does he pronounce his name?”
The man cocked an eyebrow. “Colonel Roberts?”
Kondor played it through. “Roberts. Thank you. Can never be too careful, people are sensitive about that kind of thing sometimes.” The man shook his head as Kondor turned away. He did manage to read the nametag--Lieutenant Philip Vargas. Kondor smiled at the name; he knew someone with that name not long ago. He wondered if they were related, but there was no way to ask.
The inner door opened and the black soldier spoke. “Right this way,” he said. Kondor said, “Thank you, sir,” and went through the door, catching the name on the uniform as he did so: Captain David Nye. There were several rooms off a hall back here, much as a doctor’s office but with closed doors. Play it cool, play it straight, he reminded himself. They know nothing about you but what you pretend to be, so if you pretend well they’ll believe you.
Entering the room, he saluted. “Captain Joseph Wade Kondor reporting for duty, sir.”
Colonel Roberts put his pen down and looked at him for a moment, with a puzzled expression. “I’m sorry,” he said; “should I have been expecting you?”
Holding his salute and his posture, he replied, “I don’t know, sir. I was told to report here for duty, sir.”
“Who told you--at ease, Captain.” Kondor lowered his salute and moved to the formal “at ease” stance, and the colonel continued. “Who told you to report here?”
“Covert ops, sir. I’m not supposed to talk about them much.”
The colonel nodded. Once again Kondor managed to get through with his claim to have a connection to covert ops. “So, what can you tell me?”
“Well, sir, I have a medical and scientific background, and have led small strike teams in narrowly defined missions--hostage rescue, sabotage, object recovery. I am a skilled marksman with some training in primitive weapons, and have worked in urban, rural, and wilderness fields. I’ve also done some investigative work.”
“That’s quite a resume for someone your age, Captain.”
He had forgotten that part; he had decades of experience, but still looked young. “I am older than I look, sir,” he answered.
The colonel shifted in his seat. “So, Captain Kondor, why did they send you to me?”
Kondor feigned embarrassment. “I--I don’t know, sir. They did not give me that information.”
“And you didn’t wonder why you were being assigned to me?”
“It’s covert ops, sir. They often tell you to report to someone without telling you why. I assumed that you would know, and would give me my assignment.”
The colonel opened a drawer and pressed a button. “Well, I don’t know, but I’ll find out. It could be some big mistake, that they meant to send you to that Colonel Roberts over at B Company and fouled up your instructions. Or it could be that someone has something in the works for me and thought I could use you, but I haven’t been told what it is. Meanwhile,” Captain Nye opened the door, “Captain Nye, my exec, Captain Kondor, apparently a mission specialist of some sort, let’s get him billeted in time to catch lunch at the mess. Also, tell Phil to see if he can track down a paper trail on our new man, what was it?”
“Captain Joseph Wade Kondor, special ops. Good luck--one thing special ops does not like is paper trails.”
“I’ve seen that before, and it’s always a problem. Who were your commanding officers?”
“Well, the names they used were Smith, Jones, White, Brown, Young--I often wondered if anyone in the branch used a real name, or if having a common name was regarded a qualifying factor for it. You didn’t ask that kind of thing, sir. You assumed that either this was the man’s name, or he had a good reason why you should think so.”
The colonel nodded. “Never did covert ops myself; it takes a special kind of man, they say. But that sounds about right. You call over there and ask who you’re talking to, and they hang up. But don’t worry; I’m sure we’ll figure out why you’re here, even if it’s because you’re supposed to be somewhere else.”
“Very good, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“Oh, and Kondor? While you’re on base, stash that gaudy jewelry somewhere. If it’s worth anything we can put it in the base vault and give you a receipt for it, even if it’s just junk it’s too much. A ring, a single chain, I’m not too strict, but you look like a jewelry store display.”
“Yes, sir. It’s just easier and safer to transport it this way. I’ll find a place for it.”
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 #243: Verser Redirects. 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: