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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 87: Kondor 118
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Kondor decided that what he should do was make himself useful, and so he made a point of asking Colonel Roberts’ adjutant Vargas where he might be useful until orders came through. The peacetime military being in essence a government agency, Vargas was always short-staffed and had plenty of tasks behind schedule, and Kondor soon found himself working in an administrative inventory section, counting widgets of every description to be certain that the amount in the warehouse matched the amount in the files. He was amazed at the scope of the work--everything from wing nuts to tank trailers, explosives to medical kits, fresh frozen beef to rat poison.
It was dull work, but of course it was important. He was intrigued by the discrepancies--probably twenty percent of the numbers were wrong, more often that there were fewer in stock than the records showed, and usually by a relatively small number, suggesting that an order was filled but the paperwork was improperly completed. Overages, he was told, usually meant that someone either sent the wrong item for the order or reduced the wrong item in the records. Investigations into the discrepancies were rare, due to a combination of the facts that such investigations were usually more expensive and time-consuming than the missing items were worth, usually nothing was ever discovered, and when it was it was almost always a clerical error, that something was misfiled or incorrectly entered. The inventory process kept the count accurate enough to know whether orders could be filled; that was the purpose of the system.
Theft here would be quite simple, Kondor realized, as long as you did it in little bits over a long time. Of course, there weren’t that many things that were both small and valuable--if transistors had been invented they were not yet stored here, and microchips were quite a bit more advanced than that; about the most valuable items turned out to be large vacuum tubes, radios and microphones, vehicles and generators, water pumps and purifiers, and a few other bits of equipment that would be difficult to steal and difficult to sell. But someone who worked here long enough would be able to work out what to take and when, to supplement his income over the long term. A case of light bulbs, for example, would be an acceptable discrepancy in inventory, but would bring enough cash for a decent meal at a good restaurant.
Of course, if it was happening here, it was probably something he could never catch. Never.
No, not never. Never was much too big a word. He caught Krannitz the Stupefying, the magician who rather cleverly attempted to steal the Vorgo years ago. Besides, if there was theft happening here somewhere and word spread that someone from covert operations had been sent to work here, that might make the thief nervous enough to make mistakes.
You’re thinking like Lauren again, he reminded himself. You are here; you are not here for some purpose, but simply because in the random vagaries of the multiverse you landed in this place and time, and are doing your best to fit. Of course, if there is something happening and you can discover what it is, that will help you fit--but if there is nothing happening, looking for it is probably only going to make trouble. One thing of which he was fairly certain, too, was that in this situation there was going to be trouble; he did not have to create more.
The accommodations here were better than in General Vargas’ camp; that was to be expected. He got himself and his gear cleaned, slept well each night, and ate well each day. He put himself through fitness training and weapons practice, did whatever work they gave him, and tried to blend into the background.
However, blending into the background of necessity meant meeting other soldiers. He was invited to several poker games. These he had to decline, but he did not want to suggest that he didn’t have any money. At first he said that the paperwork had not yet come through to deliver his pay here, but after a few days he decided to say that he was willing to gamble with his life but not his money. To the odd reactions he got to this he said, “If I live, I’ll need my money.” He did accept invitations to bowl--the lanes on the base were free for soldiers--and so he began to get to know (“make friends with” was in his mind too strong a statement) some of the men. He was not particularly good at bowling, but that served as an excuse not to put money on the game--he could simply say, “Yeah, sure, why don’t I just give you the money?” and that got the requisite laugh and the end of the suggestion that he gamble.
He also played a few games of pool--again warning players that he was not good and would not play for money--but the pool tables were in the base pub (a word that surprised him) and the other players all drank beer and were suspicious when he declined to do the same. He told them, “In my line of work, a clear head is often essential to survival at unexpected times,” and since they knew he had been in covert ops they accepted that this was likely true. Still, they realized that he would win more when they drank more, and considered it something of an unfair advantage.
After about three weeks he got word during his workout that Lieutenant Vargas wanted to see him, and so sent word back that he would be there that afternoon, after he got showered and dressed. He hoped that Colonel Roberts would be out, but had given some thought to what might happen and what he might do in response.
As to the old stories that have long been here: