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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 93: Kondor 120
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Previous chapter: Chapter 92: Brown 138
“You should ask her out.”
It was such an unexpected statement that it took Kondor a moment to process it.
“Are you talking to me?”
Zeke--Lieutenant Ezekiel Smith--smiled, the froth of beer forming a mustache atop the sparse sandy real one on his upper lip. The best description of the man was probably scrappy--small frame, wiry build, but with muscles from military training. Kondor assumed the maybe twenty year old officer was good enough in combat, although his training focused on the budding field of electronics, radio, primitive radar, and related fields. It was also a bit ironic that the man had the name that had been given to Kondor as an alias in a previous world; he still had ID somewhere with that name on it. Kondor was never good with accents, but Zeke handled English like a blunt blade. “Well, I suppose I might be talking to myself, now, mightn’t I, but a hot babe like that isn’t going to be interested in me. You, though, you should ask her out.”
Kondor smiled back as he set down his coffee. “I presume you mean Mary.” Mary was their waitress at the bowling alley snack bar. “And what makes you think that she would be more interested in me than in you?”
“Mary? Is that her name?” Zeke didn’t wait for confirmation. “You’ve got to be kidding, right? You’re a captain. You’re special ops--you’ve got that whole spy mystique going for you. You’re a pretty good looking guy and you still look young, but you’re obviously smart and have more learning than any three other guys on this base. Besides, you’re the only person in here that she gives that smile to.”
“Maybe that’s because I’m the only person in here who treats her like a human being, bothers to learn her name and call her by it, and shows some basic courtesy. You should try it sometime. You’d be surprised how well it works with people.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I still say she likes you, and you should get to know her. You never know--there might be something there.”
Kondor did not really think there might be something there. For one thing, Mary was white, and this was the nineteen fifties, and while the army was far more integrated than his own world had been at that time, he had no illusions that the rest of this world was yet comfortable with interracial relationships.
“It wouldn’t work.”
“What, because you’re black? I don’t think she cares. Does it matter to you?”
“No,” he said hesitantly. “That isn’t really it. It’s more this crazy life the army has given me. I never know where I am going to be next, or whether I’m going to come back alive. It would be entirely unkind to put a girl through that kind of uncertainty. I only ever knew one person who does this kind of thing who got married, and the girl he married joined his unit so she would go on missions with him. She was good at what she did, but I sometimes worried that they distracted each other--or more that their concern for each other distracted them from the mission and teammates. But I don’t see Mary suiting up for covert operations, do you?”
“Oh, come on--you’re not going to do this forever. Besides, I didn’t say propose to her. I said ask her out, have some fun, get to know her. If it turns into something else, you’ll figure out what to do about it then.”
“I already have figured it out. No relationship entanglements, no problems for the job.”
“Suit yourself. I just think you should ask her out. Ready for another game?”
“Thanks, but I think I’ll retire.”
As he walked back to his barracks he gave some thought to what Zeke had said--not specifically about Mary, but about getting to know people. He always kept his relationships either casual or professional. That meant he never had any truly close friends or loves. Friends and loves tended to complicate life, and of course a lot of those complications were good--but then, his life was already complicated, and he did not need it to be more so. He hadn’t lied to Zeke. This crazy verser life had been given to him by the army. It just hadn’t been this army, and the crazy parts were entirely outside anything Zeke would have guessed. Slade and Shella seemed to be making it work, but they hadn’t been at it all that long when he last saw them. There was something about her--intelligent, resourceful--that made her a good fit for the verse, and a good fit for Slade, but he wasn’t placing any bets on the long term for them. He was not likely to find a girl like that--particularly since he did not mean a girl like Shella, but rather a girl that fit him and his life the way Shella fit Slade. He didn’t know where one found such a girl, but somehow thought that unless she had secrets he was unlikely ever to discover, a waitress in a military base bowling alley snack bar was not likely to be that person. When he had first seen Shella, part of his reaction had been that it was dangerous to have a civilian in the middle of a firefight, but more so if it is one for whom one of the combatants particularly cared. He also remembered wondering why they had needed to marry, given that they had no need for offspring to continue their posterity. However, he did have to admit that his was a rather lonely life, filled with mostly superficial relationships. That’s probably one reason why his connections with Lauren and Bob and Derek were so close: he knew they could be friends who understood something of the problems of his life, and whom he would see again sometime.
He did not see that happening with people here.
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 #257: Verser Relationships. 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: