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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 102: Kondor 123
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It was not always obvious where the hot spots were. Kondor realized that it would require significant attention to detail to recognize this. The natural assumption was that a base which ordered a lot of ordinance was in a hot zone, but in fact the bases that consistently did so were training centers, using the ammunition to hone the skills of soldiers assigned to them. It was more likely that a location with a lot of military action would fluctuate, ordering more ordinance one month and less the next, as they used it unpredictably. Still, United was not involved in any wars anywhere. Even in countries in which there were rebel uprisings, United troops were officially defending United bases, not fighting on behalf of local governments. The concern was that local national governments given the support of the United military would subvert democratic process to maintain their own power. So if there were high levels of unrest, bases were more heavily armed and protected and soldiers were run through routine combat drills with live ammunition, and this was reflected in the supply orders that hit the commissary. It took a couple of months, but Kondor was beginning to recognize which bases were simply consistently high users of ordinance and which were covering use in defensive operations.
Most of the unrest was in central Africa, where democratic governments were still a new notion and efforts to create independent nations where there once had been European colonies had squeezed together ethnic groups--“tribes”--which had long been enemies. They always voted along tribal lines, creating very unstable parliamentary governments and very militant anti-government protest groups. The prevailing philosophy seemed to be that given time these groups would learn to work for the benefit of their joined peoples, as had happened in United, but others observed that the situation had been very different in United, where no one who had owned the land for centuries was in a dominant position in the present, and everyone had in essence agreed to join the union. Some political theorists apparently believed that the region would be more stable if each ancestral group had its own territory and government, although it was admittedly complicated determining what territory belonged to whom. Officially, United was opposed to such redivisions. That made it the enemy of anyone who was not in power and saw civil war as the path to power.
In the back of his mind he realized that, at least by the calendar, he ought to be in an era of racial tension. Again he did not want to betray his ignorance, and asking why blacks in the military seemed to be completely accepted as equals with whites in what he now knew to be the nineteen fifties would be an odd question in the world in which that was the reality. He learned that coming out of World War I the military began a full integration policy, so that in World War II soldiers were shoulder to shoulder with others without regard to race--and the fact that Cuba had been a member of the Union before that had a significant impact, as the multi-racial population of that state had meant predominantly non-white governments from its beginning, and clear proof to the other states that black and Hispanic leaders were as capable, competent, and trustworthy as anyone. He would not lay bets on conditions in Alabama, but at least within the army race had ceased to be an issue. Too many white soldiers owed their lives to and shared their foxholes with black soldiers for that to matter anymore.
That also explained why it was not an issue for Lieutenant Zeke Smith, and why Smith did not think it would be a problem for Mary. The waitress certainly was attentive to Kondor, and did have a welcoming smile when she saw him, but again he reminded himself that most of the men just called her “waitress” or “miss” and did not know her name. He hoped that addressing a woman by her given name was not some kind of social faux pas in this world, but it seemed not to upset anyone, only to please the waitress.
One night while Kondor was sipping soda and Zeke enjoying beer between games at the alley, Zeke apparently decided to take some action.
“Mary,” he called, and Kondor smiled at the fact that Zeke only knew her name from their previous conversation. “Mary, why don’t you sit for a few minutes? Grab yourself a beer or something and join us.”
“Why, thank you, Lieutenant, give me a few minutes and I might just do that.”
With his best ventriloquist’s clench Kondor said, “What are you doing?”
“I’m offering Mary the opportunity to rest her feet and chat with people. You always say we should treat her like a real person. Wouldn’t inviting her to join us for a drink be doing exactly that?”
“Yeah,” Kondor continued without moving lips, “I’m sure that’s all it is.”
After filling a few orders quickly, Mary appeared at the table with a cup of what appeared to be hot chocolate, and sat.
“Wow, thanks, my feet are killing me,” she began.
“You’re certainly welcome,” Zeke said. “Right, Captain?”
“Captain Kondor here is always telling me that we should treat people like people, so I thought what better way than to invite you to join us for a drink.”
“That’s mighty decent of you, Lieutenant--?”
“Smith, ma’am. Lieutenant Ezekiel Smith, call me Zeke. And I’m sure you know Captain Joe Kondor.”
“Ma’am,” Joe said.
“Well, not to say I know him, but I know who he is, and you are right, he does treat people a lot more politely than a lot of other officers here.”
“I do my best, Ma’am.”
“Oh, stop this ‘ma’am’ stuff. I’m Mary.”
“Then in that case I must be Joe.”
“Pleased to meet you Joe.”
Before Joe could respond, Zeke was back in form. “Did you know that Joe is in special ops?”
“I certainly had heard so. That must be fascinating work.”
“Indeed. It’s also classified, and I’m not supposed to talk about even what I know, never mind anything I might guess.”
“Well, I guess there’s a down side to everything.”
“That’s certainly true. I suppose the struggle is to try to see the up side.”
Mary laughed. She had a pleasant laugh. “Tell me about it. What’s the upside to serving beer and snacks to soldiers posted overseas?”
“Well, you meet people.”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I think you’re the first soldiers I’ve actually met. For most of them, I’m just the waitress, or a skirt to chase.”
Kondor glanced at Zeke, who tried to look away nonchalantly.
“I know exactly what you mean,” Kondor said. “I should apologize for the boys. They’re supposed to be learning how to be men, but that part of the education seems to be lacking. Wouldn’t you agree, Lieutenant?”
With a bit of reluctance in his response, Zeke said, “Yeah, I guess that’s right. They don’t really teach us how to treat a lady--but then, that’s not actually part of our job.”
“Indeed, and not their responsibility. You should have learned that at home.”
Zeke nodded. “Well, I’m hoping to learn to do a bit better.”
“You’ve made a good start here,” Mary said. “I’ve got to get back to work; can I get you another beer?”
“Thanks, that’d be great,” Zeke answered. “Hey, maybe you’d like to see a picture one night?”
“I’ll have to see when I’m off. But I’d like that.”
With that she was gone.
“I told you,” Kondor said. “Treat people like people, and they warm up to you pretty quickly.”
“Yeah, well, I guess you’re right. So how come you’re not married? Or are you?”
“No, as I said, the life the army gave me is no place to have a girl.”
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: