January 7, 2013 by Vee Villarreal
The big house was quiet, as it always was when he arrived just as the sun crested in the east. The house was still tucked away and fast asleep, all except Reggie, who Kopi could hear in his library even now. The dull tip-tap of the keyboard could just barely be heard through the heavy door as Kopi approached. He softly rapped on the wooden door, loud enough to get the attention of the doctor, but not enough to wake his wife or the girls upstairs.
“Come in.” A quiet, but commanding voice spoke from behind the barrier Kopi turned the knob and entered, careful to close it gently behind himself. Reggie was hunched over his computer, his appearance no more disheveled than usual and with a familiar glaze over his eyes as he studied the screen, as though somewhere within contained all the secrets of the world and for all Kopi knew, it did. His hand reached up to comb through his mangled hair, doing nothing to improve his appearance. He was an odd man, Reginald Harding, but Kopi had quickly come to realize that behind the absentminded scholar there lay a practical genius and an admirable apathy for life. It was astonishing to find someone so likable and open to the Mutant cause in an outsider. Kopi had to admit he’d grown to really appreciate the man, despite himself.
“Ah, Kopi,” the doctor looked up from the screen and shook his head lightly from side to side, clearing the distraction from his mind then looked at his visitor with a congenial smile, “I’m glad you’re here.” He stood slowly, stretching his back as he did and groaning ever so slightly. He must have been sitting there over that machine for hours already. Did the man never sleep?
“I have a real chore for you today, but I think you’ll enjoy it.” His smile broadened as he walked around his desk and laid a hand on Kopi’s shoulder. “I would like for you to tear down that abominable fence if it’s not too much trouble. Take whatever time you need, anything that will help you complete the task is at your disposal of course.”
Kopi’s eyes widened in surprise, he flinched and looked at the doctor. “The fence? All of it?”
“Yes, absolutely. If it were up to Jean and myself it would have never been put up in the first place, but seeing as it was, now is as good a time as any to remedy that eyesore.”
“You’re not worried?” Kopi felt the nervous tightness in his chest that was a nearly constant companion whenever he was at the estate ease and an almost giddy delight replaced it.
“Worried? Why should I be worried about a fence?”
“Uh-I mean if there’s no way to close off the boundaries of the estate, what will you do in the event of an uprising?” He wished he could take back the question the second he let it slip.
“Uprising, Kopi what are you saying, do you know about some impending conflict?” Reggie starred at him now with concerned eyes, but left his hand warmly gripping Kopi’s muscular shoulder.
“I-no. I mean, I don’t know anything about that, but it’s always a concern isn’t it? The military wants an escape plan for all of you if the Mutants here should turn on you.” His cheeks flushed warmly with embarrassment, he knew he shouldn’t be bringing any of this up with the doctor or his family, but he liked Reggie and Jean, and the war was impending, always hanging just over their heads.
The doctor responded strangely, his face lit up even more and he chuckled. “Kopi, we have nothing to fear from the people in Zone 17. You and your brother have been nothing but helpful and though we haven’t exactly been welcomed with open arms, no one has made any threats or actions that would have me worried for my family’s safety. No,” he patted Kopi lightly on the back and turned back to his work, “we’re as safe as lambs and removing that offensive barrier will only serve to broaden our relationships with the locals.”
Kopi nodded in response as he headed for the door again, mentally preparing for the task ahead. It would take all day for him to break down the fence and fill in the soil so that no hazards were left on the estate property. He hesitated a moment as he reached for the door knob, but kept his gaze forward so he wouldn’t have to look back at the doctor’s naïve and cheerful face. How could he not understand the precarious situation he was in and how each day in the Pacific pulled him and his family further into the path of danger? Kopi tried to shake the thoughts from his head as he opened the door and left Reggie to his work. He shouldn’t care so much, he should put the doctor and his family farther from his thoughts; they were, after all, not his kind. They represented the power of Globalnetics and all that the government held over mutantkind, but the Hardings were also selflessly trying to better the lives of the people in this zone, Kopi’s people, and he couldn’t forget that. Kopi choked down the rising bile from his stomach; he also couldn’t forget how in just a few days’ time he would be embroiling the Hardings even further in the rebellion when Rex arrived. After that, if harm came to them, he knew it would be at least partially his fault.
Night fell and the sun sunk behind the heavy blue horizon of the ocean before Kopi finished putting away the tools in the shed. The view was unobstructed now that the chain-link fence was lying, neatly stacked in sections, by the side of the big house. His skin was covered in a thin layer of grim from his work and he made sure to remove his work boots before entering the house, an old habit from the days when he had a home of his own instead of a small room in his brother’s cabin. Not that he would ever gripe about his current housing, Kai had generously taken him in when he’d been unable to keep himself together and now he had no real desire to leave.
Kopi was taken by surprise upon walking through the door when he saw the living room was occupied by several chattering bodies. The Hardings along with his brother and one of the new instructors, a Doctor Maxwell Cooper, were all sitting on the various chairs and sofas, enmeshed in lively conversation. The conversation stalled when they realized the intruder in the room. Jean smiled brightly at him from her seat beside her husband.
“Kopi, we thought we were going to have to go out there and bodily remove you from your work. Here it is evening and you were still out there slaving away.” She rose to standing and gracefully strode toward him, for such a petite woman she moved with admirable poise and fluidity. “In the future, you don’t have to exhaust yourself till dusk; work can always wait until morning.”
“I finished, ma’am. I didn’t want to stop when I was so close to being done; besides I’m not that tired.” He tried to return her enthusiastic smile, but found it uncomfortable with everyone staring at him so he settled for a closed-mouthed grin.
“Finished? Well, you never cease to amaze me. Would you like anything to drink or eat, I’m sure you’re famished?” She hurried off to the kitchen before he could answer and returned with a tall glass of ruby-colored liquid, a sweetened hibiscus tea concoction that Kopi had taken a particular liking to after the first time she’d brewed it, and a plate of some kind of casserole, no doubt the remnants of dinner. The steam rising of the dish smelled delectable and Kopi couldn’t refuse as she handed him the dishes and waved for him to take a seat with the rest of them in the living room. He felt strange eating when no one else was, but now that he had food in hand he realized just how hungry he was after all.
Reggie piped up to reinstate their previous discussions, “As I was saying, Sean sent us a message this morning about what he and his men have found out in the South Pacific sector, and I have to say it is quite disconcerting.”
Kopi took his first bite of food and it was delicious. He barely caught what was being said around him as he savored the dish, a hearty stew of beef and garden vegetables, even some bright peas no doubt from the greenhouse, all covered in a thick, bready crust. He was sure that Miranda had prepared it, she was a fine cook and usually made all the meals for the family and whoever else dropped by the house hungry.
“…he’ll be back here in a month, perhaps a bit longer…they’re trying to find a way into the compound, to liberate it…there could be casualties if they attempt a rescue hastily…” Reggie’s words waved in an out of his consciousness until he swallowed the last bite, hardly sating his hunger, but taking the edge off it at least.
“What kind of compound did he say that they found?” Kai chimed in, looking anxious; Kopi had the same concern at hearing of the facilities existence. Could this camp be similar to the one that they were imprisoned in?
“He didn’t give us many details, just that it was some type of prison facility and that they had seen children within the walls. Beyond that they didn’t seem to have much information yet.” Reggie answered him calmly before continuing. “When Sean returns it will be to go over arrangements for the treatment and housing of the liberated prisoners. Then he’ll be heading back to begin the assault on the facility and hopefully be bringing the evacuees here for assessment and treatment.”
Kai exchanged a wary glance with his brother; they would need to pass on this information to Rex and the rebel front. If the prisoners were Mutants, Rex’s people would want to arrange a way to intercept Globalnetic’s involvement. He was going to have to pit the Hardings against their son and sponsors sooner than he had anticipated. Suddenly he felt rather ill as his stomach rolled involuntarily. Looking for an escape from his uneasy thoughts Kopi got up and swiftly excused himself to the kitchen to wash his plate and glass.
Summer’s sudden appearance beside him at the sink as he finished washing up startled him. He must have visibly jumped because she mumbled an apology as she scooted in to begin rinsing the dishes from dinner earlier. Kopi stepped back to give her room, unaccustomed to the woman being so familiar around him. Frankly, the blonde normally avoided him like the plague.
“Sorry, I’ll get out of your way.” Kopi moved to leave the kitchen when Summer turned to look over her shoulder.
“You can stay and help if you’d like, I noticed you got a little uncomfortable when we started talking about my brother coming back. I can’t blame you after what happened in September.” She shrugged nonchalantly and went back to scrubbing the stuck-on grim from the dishes. “I wouldn’t mind the company.”
Kopi hesitated, he worked hard at being detached and was already failing at that where Reggie and Jean were concerned, but she had a point; he really didn’t want to go back to the living room just yet. He sighed and walked back to the counter to grab a dry towel so he could assist the girl in cleaning.
After a few moments of heavy silence Summer breached the void in conversation, “How was your day?”
“Fine. Long.” He dried off a plate as she handed it to him.
“Man of few words, as always.” She giggled to herself, ribbing him lightly. Kopi wasn’t sure how to respond, so he decided to change the subject.
“I heard Jaxon dropped by last week to talk to your father.”
“Oh-,” she seemed surprised to find that he knew about the visit, Jaxon was his old employer and he supposed there was some bad blood there, but Kopi didn’t really hold a grudge against the man. Pate had always been a fair boss, but he was a politician at heart and Kopi was a liability. “He did come over in the morning, he said he had something to discuss with Dad, I never asked what it was. Must not be important, Dad never mentioned anything. All I got from the visit was his invitation on a date.”
“He asked you on a date?” Kopi was taken aback by his own interest in Jaxon or Summers’ romantic escapades.
“Yes, we went on a picnic. It was rather whimsical.” Summer chuckled again. “He took me to this really odd location, some kind of crater, it was lovely.”
“A crater? Near the house?” Kopi scanned his memory, he couldn’t think of any craters in the immediate area, except the compound site. The realization left him dazed; he caught himself holding his breath and let it out a little too harshly. Summer offered him a quizzical gaze over her shoulder and he tried to relax.
“Yes, maybe ten or fifteen miles down the road. Do you know it? The flowers that grow there are so vibrant, it was breathtaking really.”
“Y-yes, I know it.” He stuttered a response and could almost feel the warmth and color fade from his face. He didn’t allow his thoughts to wander to that place, it was too dark and it evoked memories and nightmares that he already had in spades, he didn’t need more.
“Do you know what caused it? Jaxon said something about a fire, but that seems highly unlikely.”
“You should stay away from that place.” Kopi blurted out the words, harsher than he intended. He swallowed heavily. “I mean, it’s dangerous there. Jaxon shouldn’t have taken you there, maybe he doesn’t know, but it isn’t safe.”
“Not safe, the place looked like a sanctuary. We didn’t see another person or even an animal the entire afternoon. What could possibly be so dangerous? It’s not even a deep pit.” She wiped her hands on another towel and shifted to lean one hip against the counter lip as she faced him.
“It just isn’t. There are places and people in this zone that should be avoided, that’s one of them.” He knew she didn’t believe him, he could see that her curiosity was piqued, but if she was going to find out about the compound it wasn’t going to be from him.
Summer narrowed her eyes at him. “What are you hiding, Kopi? What’s out there in the woods that has you so spooked?”
“I’m not spooked.” She was pushing his resolve and he was growing increasingly irritated at how he’d fallen into her trap. “Just leave it.” She didn’t flinch at his booming command like most people did, the feisty little blonde held her ground defiantly and Kopi could see that this wouldn’t be the end of it, but for the time being he had an out and he took it.