November 13, 2012 by Vee Villarreal
The morning passed by enjoyably as he distracted himself with the chores of his new position, which currently involved mucking out the stables. He didn’t mind the work, the smells and sounds of the horses were comforting and in general it was less demanding than the work he’d done at the ranch. The Hardings had just ten horses and a few other barnyard creatures roaming the paddocks that surrounded the house. He found himself pleasantly occupied into the late afternoon. The dull strain in his shoulders as he set about spreading fresh hay over the stall floors helped ease his irritation at his brother for making him take the job. Kai had it in his head that the Hardings were good people and that the two of them should aide them in getting settled in the Pacific. Ridiculous. He didn’t like them being there anymore than the rest of the zone. His brother was sick alright, sick in the head; that fever somehow convinced him that this family of uppity capitol socialites was going to improve life for the mutants here. Kopi sighed to himself shaking his head at the thought as he bent over the rake, dragging a clump of hay across the packed earth floor. What did they need from these government minions; hadn’t they done enough already?
Once he finished the floors he busied himself with brushing down the horses. It was easy work, but soothing and rhythmic. The events of the morning settled in his mind as he stroked the side of one of the older mares with a wire comb. He and Kai had met with Mr. and Mrs. Harding at first light, they hadn’t expected them that earlier and had still been dressed in their sleepwear when they invited the two brothers in, which for Mrs. Harding constituted no more than an oversized shirt. Their clothing and the intimate morning introductions around the dining table only served to make the atmosphere that much more awkward and tense, or maybe it was just him. Reginald Harding struck him as an exceedingly peculiar man. He appeared young and fit enough for a man with three grown children, but he preferred to work behind a desk, mulling over papers and books, to the hard labor demanded of a life in the Pacific Sector. Kopi had noted to himself that the man fidgeted a great deal, as though his energy bubbled over and looked for outlets anywhere it could find them. Not to mention the giggling, the man tittered at his own jokes like a teenage girl. His humor, which Kopi found to be a bit dry, didn’t warrant much chuckling, though admittedly the doctor’s jovial and cheery laugh was mildly infectious. Jean Harding was a different enigma entirely. She was polite and pleasant enough, but with a more composed and serious nature than her husband. Something about her irked him though, not in a negative way per say, but there was a very familiar air about her.
Before he’d left that morning with Kai to start work at the Hardings’ estate he’d been convinced that his older brother had gone mad. In the three days since he’d returned home he talked incessantly about the Hardings’ charitable efforts and the job they’d offered him. Their new employers’ daughters were both pretty attractive, maybe that’s why Kai was so keen to risk their safety for this crazy endeavor. He knew Kai was lonely, but surely he didn’t think he had a chance with either of the girls. Associating with a registered mutant wasn’t usually enough to get you blacklisted, but marrying or having a child with one was and no pure-blood human in their right mind took the risk of registration. It was more than social suicide; a profile in the Globalnetics Mutant Registry was a free pass for the government to do just about anything to you. A profile would prevent you from living or working where you want, not to mention any school or hospital could refuse you service without pretense, and frequently would. In fact, the Hardings’ willingness to associate so closely with mutants was what set him on edge about them. Jean could momentarily calm his unease with those honest blue eyes, but he’d stared into too many lying eyes to fall blindly for them.
The stalls mucked and the horses fed and brushed Kopi headed back to the shed to pack up the equipment for the night. Seeing as work on the estate had just started and all the tools were still bright and shining new everything in the small wooden building was shelved neatly or wheeled into a space set aside just for it; easy to find and easy to put back. It took him no time at all to put the rake, wheelbarrow and other miscellaneous supplies away. As he slipped inside to place the last item on its shelf he heard footsteps approaching behind him. He looked over his shoulder to find four uniformed men grinning sinisterly at him, their forms casting a dark shadow over the interior of the shed.
“Would you look at that, and who let you in here?” The center shadow addressed him, his white teeth shone against the black of his features.
“I’m just finishing up here gentlemen. I’ll be out of your way soon enough.” Kopi attempted to placate them, the last thing he needed was to get fired on his first day. He stood up straight and made his way to pass between two of the soldiers and exit the building when the center figure lifted a hand to stop him.
“Sorry, friend, but we’ve got some unfinished business with you.” Kopi studied the man’s face, now half cast in dwindling sunlight. It didn’t ring any bells, but he did have a fat lip and the man behind him was bruised up too. It appeared as though a few of the men he’d laid into after the fire the week before were looking for a rematch. He let out a heavy sigh.
“I don’t want to fight you.” Those simple words were honest, but held the barest hint of a warning and he knew that would only serve to instigate the actions he was hoping to avoid.
“You shoulda’ thought of that before you uglied up me and my friends here.” The soldier grimaced at him. He was a head shorter than Kopi and he had to wonder why it was always the little ones that lead the pack.
“You got what you deserved. Don’t push your luck twice.” Kopi tensed as he stood between the men. He itched with the urge to leave, by force if it came to that, but he stood his ground, avoiding eye contact without lowering his gaze fully.
“Don’t you tell me what I deserve, you Mutant son of a bitch,” the little man fumed. “You’re lucky we didn’t arrest you that night. Shoulda’ shipped you off to some dank stone prison. Like to see you burn yourself outta that one.” His lip quirked up as he sneered wickedly and his buddies snickered gruffly at his side; closing in around Kopi. He felt his fingers curl into fists and he licked his lower lip, mentally preparing for a scuffle.
“What’s the meaning of this?” An authoritative voice rang out over the group and two of the ruffians parted enough for Kopi to spot Reginald Harding standing not fifteen feet away on the foot path watching them with furious intensity. There was nothing comical or jolly about his face now; his mouth was set in a firm line and his eyes burned like onyx stars as they passed over Kopi from head to toe, assessing him for damage.
“We were just checking in on this Mutant, sir. We weren’t sure if he was authorized to be on the grounds,” the small soldier replied, lowering his head slightly and softening his tone.
Reginald approached them with quick and full strides, stopping directly in front of the soldier who had answered his query. “You will address my employees by name,” he paused to check the man’s rank, “corporal. And seeing as he is my employee he is certainly allowed to be on the grounds. You are dismissed.”
“Sir, if I may,” the corporal interjected.
“You’re dismissed.” Reginald commanded. The four soldiers left the area, leering at Kopi as they retreated. The doctor turned his attention back to Kopi. “I apologize for that, Mr. Gresham. I obviously need to address our grievances with security sooner than I thought.”
Kopi couldn’t help, but feel amused by the change in the nerdy doctor’s demeanor, now suddenly so much more commanding. Perhaps he’d underestimated the man, a mistake he wouldn’t make lightly again. “Thank you, sir.” He shut the doors of the shed and closed the padlock. “If there’s nothing else today, I’ll be getting Kai and heading home, sir.”
“Absolutely, good work today.” Reginald turned to head up the path, but turned back after two steps to look at him. “I mean to make good on the promise we made to your brother; we will take care of the security issues. The military’s control here has grown out of proportion to its need and I apologize that you have to keep facing these challenges.” Kopi nodded in response, rather dumbfounded by the doctor’s candidness. They parted ways and Kopi went to the house to collect his brother before they both made the walk home.