keeps this site and its author alive.
Stories from the Verse
Chapter 84: Kondor 117
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 83: Brown 135
The barracks were simple, divided into rooms with doors which closed but did not lock, each with two beds, bedside tables, a chair and desk with a few shelves above and drawers below, and two upright cabinets of which Kondor was not certain whether they would be wardrobes or chifforobes or what, but which Captain Nye called “lockers”. There was no place for computers, which suggested these did not exist here. “Sorry we don’t have open officers’ quarters available at the moment,” Nye said, “but they’ve been fumigating and painting and remodeling and who knows what else for several months now. But there aren’t many here on the base at the moment, so at least you’ll have this to yourself. Latrine end of the hall; stow your gear and I’ll meet you out front to show you to the mess.”
Kondor put most of his things in the locker. He removed the jewelry, but for the star sapphire ring and one gold chain which he wore under his shirt, and stashed it in the bottom of the backpack, which he put in the bottom of the locker. He pocketed his alarm clock; if this world ran on twenty-four hour days he should be able to set the time on it somewhere. He did not take time to settle things, as he did not wish to keep the captain waiting, but he did avail himself of the latrine before heading out the front door. He took note that in addition to the usual showers, there was a tub, and considered that he had collected a fair amount of soil in his recent adventures which he would like to remove. That would probably be his afternoon activity, given that it would take them at least a few hours to determine that they could not learn anything about him.
As he stepped outside, he scanned the area. He did not wish to appear as if he did not know where he was, but to a large degree military bases were very much the same everywhere. Certainly the weather would give him clues about the climate, and there would be aspects to the terrain, whether there were mountains visible, what sort of ground was beneath him. Building materials might help, as it was generally cost effective to build with whatever was locally available, although cement blocks and bricks were nearly ubiquitous in that regard. There were also people. He hesitated to say these were Americans, although they spoke English with American accents and did not indicate any surprise at his own; the uniforms, too, were similar, if a bit older than those to which he was accustomed. He did not know whether America existed in this world, and would have to refrain from mentioning it until he had some better knowledge. He thought, though, that he might be able to guess whether this was a home-based camp or a foreign base. Foreign bases had a lot of interaction with local contractors, who tended to wear local garb and speak to each other in the local language. It was imperfect, certainly, as there were places where immigrants maintained their cultural identities, and equally contractors who worked for the military around the world using American workers, and parts of the world in which the natives wore the same clothes as Americans, but it might give him a clue.
On the other hand, he was not certain what the non-military dress was for these soldiers. Soldiers tended to wear uniforms at all times but when sleeping, on or off base. If he was going to get a view of what ordinary people wore, it would be by seeing military families, and they did not sleep in barracks nor eat in the mess, generally. If he were to see these at all, it would be at the Post Exchange, or PX, the store where military personnel did their shopping.
As they approached the large mess hall, Kondor read the words “Fort Porthos” over the doors. Somewhere in the back of his mind it sounded French, but America was a melting pot so that proved nothing. It did, however, give him a starting point.
“So, what do you do here at Fort Porthos?”
“You’re kidding, right? You’ve never heard of Fort Porthos, commissary of the United Forces in Europe?”
“Well, of course I have; I just wondered whether that was really the main focus here. A base can have a reputation built on one thing it does that really isn’t what happens on the base. You are famed as the commissary, but it could be that you spend more time training quartermasters, or even that your real job is gathering intelligence. It is not at all uncommon that a base that is known for something is really mostly about something else when you’re there.”
“Well, that’s not the case here. We’re the people who supply all the other military bases on the continent, and to some degree North Africa. You’ll find Navy, Marine, and Air Force offices here working with us to try to do things efficiently, although that never happens.”
He had learned much already. Places called Europe and Africa existed, and the base was not on its own home soil. Home was called United, although whether that was short for United States of America or something else or simply the whole name, it would suffice for the moment.
He looked about for flags, and found three. One was one of the style popular among European countries, three colors in vertical stripes; he was not certain which colors were which country, but that would be the flag of the host nation. Opposite it was the regimental flag, for whatever unit this was that manned the fort. Between them was the familiar stars and bars—but it wasn’t quite right. It had the wrong star pattern, and that meant a different number of stars, which meant a different number of states. Wait, though—would he recognize a forty-eight star pattern? When did Alaska and Hawaii join the union? If this was before that the arrangement would be the simple six-by-eight rectangle, not the more complicated four-by-five inlaid between the stars of a five-by-six that made the fifty he knew. But the wind was not blowing well enough to see clearly, and he knew neither what year it was nor what year those states joined. Indeed, he had not yet established that “United” was short for “United States”, and he was not going to venture to make a mistake at this point.
This, meanwhile, was a supply depot on a grand scale, providing equipment and provisions to other bases and forces in a large part of the world. He was beginning to understand where he was; once he knew that, he could start on why he was here.
He caught himself. He was thinking like Lauren and Slade. He was not here for a reason; no hidden purpose chosen by some supernatural intelligence dictated his travels. He was here by cause and effect, and nothing more. He accidentally fell through a flaw in the fabric of the multiverse, and landed in this universe, on this planet, at this military base. That he was so easily taken for one of their own was just a remarkable coincidence aided by the practice he had had in making himself fit into other worlds. There was no more purpose to his being here than there had been to his arrival in Colonel Mlambo’s base a few months ago, or any of the other places he had been. He was here by chance, and was going to make the best of it and try not to die too painfully. Anything else he did while he was here was not more than what Joseph Kondor would do in this situation. If it made their lives better, so much the better. He would not, however, magnify himself by imagining that some greater power had assigned him to do those things. He was the greatest volitional power behind his own destiny, and it was entirely up to him to make himself whatever he thought he should be, and so to do whatever he thought he should do.
Somewhere in the back of his mind he realized that that word should carried again the suggestion that there was a greater power dictating an expectation or responsibility for him. However, he had not actually said the word, he had only thought it, and it was easy enough to pass it off as the wrong word without having to find the right one.
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: