November 11, 2012 by Vee Villarreal
The morning had been quiet and calm. Kopi left his bedside early, just after dawn, to head back to the house; after an uneventful night, Kai guessed he felt more relaxed about leaving him in the care of the Hardings. Jean had brought him breakfast and coffee, the first solid food he’d had in over a day and his stomach was grateful. Every half hour or so, one of the daughters or Jean herself would drop by to check on him, but in truth he felt greatly improved and would have been up and moving about if they’d let him. The last two check-ins had brought Jean to his room and now she poked her head around the corner again as if on cue to see how he was.
“How are you feeling?” Jean asked cheerily.
“Same as thirty minutes ago I’m afraid,” he teased.
She smiled and light lines creased her face making her look more her age. “Glad to hear it. I think you can head home tomorrow. You’re healing well, remarkably well in fact.”
“Well, I’ve always been a quick healer.” He suddenly felt uneasy and he shifted on the bed to distract himself. He hoped she wouldn’t pry further into his medical anomalies; he didn’t enjoy talking about them. He tried to change the topic to something besides himself. “I haven’t seen the girls in a while, are they exploring the grounds?”
“Oh, Miri and Summer left to hand out some rations and goods to the locals down at the town square.” Jean took the seat next to him in the wooden chair; the early afternoon light seeped in through the curtains and warmly highlighted one side of her face.
Jean chuckled softly. “Miranda, it’s a nickname for her, diminutive I know, but I’ve called her that since she was a baby.”
“Oh. You said they went to the square?”
“Yes, I sent them there this morning with a truck full of supplies. Mostly canned food and protein bars, some second hand clothing and cloth diapers; basic supplies.”
“What are they doing with the supplies?” Kai couldn’t help his curiosity; it seemed like such a peculiar thing to do.
“Handing them out, of course, as a welcoming gesture. I purchased several crates of supplies that I thought might be scarce in this region to give out, hopefully it will also get our foot in the door with some of the area families.”
“You’re going to just give away all that food and clothing?” Kai stared at her hard, trying to puzzle out why anyone would just give away expensive stuffs for free and to strangers no less. “Why?”
Jean shifted her gaze to her lap and grinned. “It’s simple. The people here are in need of those items and we are in need of patients and students. How else will we gain the zone’s trust?”
“And what if people don’t trust you? What if they refuse to take the goods?”
“Well, I don’t imagine they have any reason to refuse, we aren’t forcing them to give us anything in return.”
Her calm and charitableness were beginning to unnerve him. “Anyone who gives away a small fortune in supplies is looking for something in return; there aren’t many here that don’t understand that?”
Jean gapped at him in shock, but their conversation was interrupted by the opening of the front door. Two female voices echoed through the hall, engaged in heated conversation. The Harding girls entered the bedroom looking haggard and dust-covered with downtrodden expressions.
“You’re back.” Their mother beamed at them, standing as they crossed the threshold. “How did it go?”
“Horrible.” Miranda mumbled, folding her arms over her chest.
“What do you mean?”
“We didn’t have very good luck. No one was interested in talking to us.” Summer added lips pursed in agitation.
“Well did you hand out the supplies?” Jean looked dismayed; she sat down hard on the edge of the wooden seat.
“They wouldn’t take anything from us. We sat out there all morning and people just passed us by. We even tried to give the lot to the general store owner to pass out, but he refused to take any of it.”
“That’s ridiculous! Why would they refuse a donation?” Jean was flushed with condemnation and let out a hardy breath.
“I told you it wouldn’t be so easy to gain their trust with gifts.” Kai glanced at her; tipping his head to the side and raising his brow knowingly.
“Then explain to us how we can gain their trust?” Summer pleaded with him, but her voice held a note of agitation from the day’s defeat.
“Time, example, I don’t know. There are a lot of reasons for those here to distrust you, I’m not sure how many will find that surmountable.” He watched them carefully, he was impressed that they had tried so hard only to fail and even more impressed that they were game to try again. “You’re outsiders and Genetically Intact to boot. Not to mention you brought the military down on us.”
“What? We didn’t bring the military here, Globalnetics called the troops here, and we’re working to get them out. And just how exactly can you-or anyone for that matter tell that we’re Genetically Intact? We could be Non-humans for all you know, or Mutants!” Summer, her hands balled in fists and resting against her hips, stared at him indignantly.
He couldn’t stifle the laugh that filled his throat at her rant. To him it was obvious that their station in life was only fit for the unregistered. Anyone with mutant heritage in the Northern Sector would find it extremely difficult to get an education, and he seriously doubted any of them would be allowed to practice medicine in any half-decent hospital in the capitol. Before she could lay in with another burst he stopped her with an upraised hand. “I didn’t mean any offense, but whether you see it or not, the people here don’t feel a kinship with you, and they aren’t likely to. If you want to gain their trust you’ll have to take more time than a single morning in the square passing out protein packs and shorts.”
“Do you trust us?” Jean blindsided him with the question.
“Uh, I – I mean, I don’t know you that well.” He struggled with the question and his conflicting feelings on the matter. Did he trust them? Surprisingly, yes, but did he want them to know that? Not particularly, not yet. “You seem to be well meaning, but I still feel the need to be cautious.”
“We could use your help getting to know the people here, Kai, and gaining their trust.” Jean touched his arm lightly with her delicate hand. “Have you considered our job offer?”
“You were serious about that?”
His expression amused her and she snickered. “Of course and the offer still stands if you want it.”
“What kind of work are we talking about?”
“Anything you think you would enjoy. We need assistance with the grounds and gardens, help writing letters back to sponsors in the capitol and teachers for the school.”
“Well, I don’t know about teaching, but I’m a pretty good gardener. I have some conditions though.”
Jean was intrigued. “Conditions?”
“Yes, firstly, Kopi gets a job as well. And if you want us to help you get in with the locals, you need to loosen up the security around here and send back some of the troops. Preferably all, but at least most of them. Finally, Kopi and I need every Wednesday afternoon off, no questions and it’s non-negotiable. We can work every other time, but Wednesday afternoon is ours.”
Jean took a moment to mull over his provisions then smiled. “Well then Mr. Gresham you’re hired.”