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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 88: Slade 118
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Previous chapter: Chapter 87: Kondor 118
They had been incredibly lucky, Slade thought, as they were now standing in Colonel Mlambo’s office without having been noticed. This, though, was the moment to dread, and Slade was nervous; in a moment he would drop the spell and Mlambo would realize he was there. The man had already waved a hand, without looking up, to signal a chair, so he knew someone was present and simply had not realized who.
The spell dropped. “Colonel Mlambo, sir,” Slade said.
He had to credit the cool of this man. The man did not jump or startle, did not grab for a weapon or an intercom, did not shout. He simply set down his pen and sat back in the chair.
“Mr. Slade,” he said. “Should I fire my adjutant?”
“I wouldn’t, sir. After all, I’m very good at what I do, and that includes getting into places unnoticed.”
“I should say. You had left with Mr. Kondor; am I to understand that you have returned?”
“Well, yes, but no. Mr. Kondor was a war casualty; hit by something, nothing left to bury. My wife and I returned here mostly to collect the few things we left behind. But we wanted to thank you for your hospitality before we left.”
Mlambo raised an eyebrow. “That’s unexpectedly courteous of you, particularly since I ought to place you under arrest and contact Special Branch to find out why they wanted you. Of course, you could tell me.”
Slade smiled ironically. “I’m not sure they ever really did, sir. It’s kind of hard to explain, but Joe and Shella and I, we’re not from around here, and aren’t really part of your war--we’re more observing, trying to figure out whether anyone is right about anything, and offering to help where we can. We just came from the white camp, where Doctor Kondor taught their medics quite a bit about surgery and medicine. I know we’ll meet again in another world, but I’ll miss him.”
Let Mlambo draw whatever religious implications he wished from that, Slade had met Kondor in other worlds twice now, and if Lauren was right about the whole “same cycle” thing (and he’d met her twice, too) then they would run into each other again sometime. The general nodded, although it may have been a bit condescendingly.
“As to you arresting me, I am confident enough in my own ability to think that I could kill you and then vanish before anyone knew you were dead, if I chose. But then, as I say, I’m not in this war, and while I’m probably the best warrior in this place, I don’t really have a stake in the outcome, so I have no reason to kill you. I’d as soon you didn’t give me one.” He put that smile back on his face, and Mlambo nodded.
“So, if you’re not part of this war,” he said, and there was skepticism in his eyes if not his voice, “what are you going to do next?”
“Yeah, honestly, I’ve been wondering the same thing. I could fight for your side, but your people would probably kill me on sight; I could fight for the other side, which I honestly think has a reasonable argument for fighting, but somehow I don’t think you’d want to let me leave if you thought I was going to do that. I might head east or west, see whether I can get far enough that there is no war, but, I don’t know, there’s a feeling to this that suggests it engulfs the whole world.”
“Why wouldn’t it?”
Slade chuckled. “Why indeed? Oddly, we have words for such a war--Lauren calls it ‘Armageddon’, although I prefer ‘Ragnorak’. The notion is that when the entire world goes to war, that’s the end of the world. The war is unwinnable, but the sides won’t, or maybe can’t, quit, and ultimately they wipe each other out. I always imagined it happening very quickly; but then, maybe that is what’s happening here, building up to the moment when everyone dies.
“Your technology is interesting. I’ve seen your guns in action, and the computer targeting systems really are impressive. On the other hand, a couple of good nukes and you’d have reduced the opposition to the stone age--not that they’re that far above that now, but I think you’d have ended this war if you could. Unless there is some political reason for maintaining it? Are the Shades and the Ghosts perpetually fighting because having each other as enemy gives unity to their own sides?”
Mlambo’s face was hard to read, but an eyebrow raised as if he found this an interesting possibility. Slade shook his head.
“It won’t last. Eventually you’ll hit a generation of young people who won’t die in a war against a faceless enemy, or of parents who won’t sacrifice their sons for it. No one remembers the Maine, or even Pearl Harbor, really. The Communist threat and Domino Theory held people for a while, but eventually they became unimportant. People only really like wars they expect to win quickly. We get tired of death pretty fast.”
Slade realized that he had moved up and was now leaning on Mlambo’s desk. The soldier did not flinch at any of this. Now Slade stood up and backed away.
“Come, Shella, we’re leaving. I don’t think there’s anything else for us to do here.” He started to turn toward the door, then stopped, and in one swift movement drew and fired his blaster. The glass of water on the desk shattered with the impact.
“As I said, we’re not from around here, and we’re not part of your war, but if anyone attempts to stop us on our departure, he’s dead. Your men might not believe it, but I know that you know I’m that good.”
He left the office, Shella behind him. He did not pause passing the adjutant’s desk, but merely said, “I think the Colonel needs to see you.”
As to the old stories that have long been here: