January 29, 2013 by Vee Villarreal
The house was buzzing with excitement when she woke up that morning. Her little brother was coming back. Sean had sent her parents a message stating that he would be arriving sometime this afternoon and her mother was busy making everything perfect for his visit. They weren’t sure what to expect, but her mother was hell-bent on enjoying what time she had with her only son while he was home. Well, the new house wasn’t really home, not even now, but it was the closest thing they had. The last time they’d seen him they’d been in the process of a major move and tension was high, Summer was hoping this visit would be more pleasant.
For her own part in the preparations she was assigned to cleaning and straightening the house. Miranda, as always, was busy whipping up delicious surprises in the kitchen, if there was one thing her sister was good at, it was the culinary arts. Miranda was a natural cook. Summer was passable in the kitchen, she could certainly master a recipe in a few attempts, but lacked the creativity that Miranda had and really baking was more her thing. Her parents were locked up in their office going over plans and upcoming events for the school. Her father knew that Sean would be concerned about the estate’s security now that the fence was down and the guards were quartered in number, so he was preparing himself for that debate.
The hours eked by at a painfully slow pace as they all nervously awaited Sean’s arrival. When the jeep pulled up in the driveway Sean looked fatigued, but cheerful. He smiled and hugged each of his parents and sisters in turn and they all retreated inside for dinner. His flight had touched down on the rural airstrip on the other side of the zone early that morning, but he and his two escorts were waylaid for several hours at the strip with local police issues. Once resolved, they’d embarked on the 3 hour drive to the estate. Sean looked tired, but relieved and once out of uniform, showered and fed he seemed in amiable spirits.
They all settled onto the couches and armchairs in the living room as a fire crackled away in the stone fireplace and her father opened a few bottled of sweet red wine. The wine was smooth and soothing as it flowed down her throat. Their conversation was mostly small talk at first, but with the help of the alcohol and the late hour they soon established a more familiar pattern. Sean told them about his work in the far east of the Pacific Sector, about a small compound deep in the jungle, hidden from Globalnetic records. His intelligence spotted at least forty-five captives being held inside the walls, all under the age of fifteen. Her parents were horrified and desperate for Sean to tell them of the plans to liberate the facility. Sean couldn’t disclose the exact specifics of the campaign, but he assured all of them that they would be taking measures soon to secure the compound and turnover the children to their respective home authorities. That didn’t seem to fully satisfy her parents, who had a bleeding heart wherever children were concerned, and she tended to sympathize with them on that, but of course Sean’s hands were tied by the force that he worked under.
“I imagine a number of them will be returned to this sector. I was hoping that I could count on you to help with the recovery effort.; identifying the children and locating their families.” Sean’s voice flooded into her awareness as she swallowed a lingering sip of wine.
“You think some of the children would be from this zone, but-how? Someone would have reported missing children certainly.” Her mother set down her glass on the side table and rubbed her brow in her familiar mannerism that accompanied a serious inquiry.
“Not likely, many of the families here may not know of these children’s existence or are unaware that they’re still alive. They would have gone missing eight or nine years ago.” Sean was so casual about the admittance, as though he were reading a data report instead of shedding light on a horrible injustice that had been done to these poor people.
“How can you possibly know that, Sean?” Miranda interjected, and Summer had to admit the whole thing was very fishy. How could someone not know they had a child, at least the mothers had to be aware and had to be missing these children.
“Look, a little less than a decade ago there was a facility, very similar to this one only much, much larger, here in Zone 17. The official name was Compound 17 Pacific. It was a prison camp of sorts for Mutants and suspected Mutants. All of them were from this sector and the majority of those from this zone. The children in this new compound are more than likely the offspring of those prisoners that were then transferred to this facility, along with children from several other compounds across the sector.”
“You mean there was a prison here, for Mutants? Where is it? I haven’t heard anything about this.” Summer’s father had shifted to the edge of his seat on the antique sofa and his brows furrowed in concern.
“It was destroyed and the prisoners freed, but many of the survivors are people you see every day, they may even work for you.”
“We haven’t heard one word about this, not one word, Sean.” It was hard to believe that so many people would endure that kind of injustice and not speak about it, and yet that was what Sean was suggesting. Her parents appeared horrified at the idea, and frankly so was she. “No one has even hinted about the existence of such a place here. A decade ago, most of the workers would have been young, maybe teenagers even. Where was this camp?”
“It wasn’t far from here, ten or fifteen miles up the coast. It was razed to the ground in the liberation, I believe it’s not much, but a crater now.” Sean still didn’t seem fazed by all of this, desensitized to the inhumanities of the world.
Summer tried to wrap her mind around these new facts and when her brother mentioned a crater she immediately connected that to her date with Jaxon. That first date, he’d taken her on a picnic to a small valley a ways up the north road. That had to be the ruins of the old complex, a wave of nausea washed over her and she shakily set down her glass before she spilled it. Kopi hadn’t wanted to talk to her about that place; did he know what it was? Of course he did, he was born and raised in this zone for all she knew, how could he not know of its existence? Her parents continued to question Sean and they all bantered back and forth, but Summer’s thoughts wandered and continued to sweep back to Kopi and Kai, and what secrets they might be harboring.
Her mother’s voice pierced every corner of the house as she expressed her thoughts aloud from the dining room. She was worried and frustrated and most importantly, fiercely angry. Her father always threw himself into his paperwork when he was anxious, but her mother had a more direct approach. In that way they were very alike. Just like Summer, Jean felt that her trust had been betrayed a bit when Sean explained that there were camps built with the sole purpose of imprisoning people for being Mutants and even more so when he revealed that there had been a camp just like that near their new home. How could they have built so many relationships with the locals in the seven months since their arrival, and yet no one had felt the urge to tell them about this major historical feature in their lives. It wouldn’t do any good for Summer to remain cooped up in the house and irritate her father and sister by joining her mother in heated deliberation, so she set out to find some answers. For what Summer shared with her mother in passionate humanity, she differed strongly in diplomatic tact. After a quick, but thorough search of the grounds she found her victim working quietly in the stables.
Kopi was mucking out the stalls in just a pair of faded jeans and a dingy white T-shirt, or at least it was white, in a long forgotten past. He was covered in a thin layer of earthy grime from his labor, but no sweat despite the humid warmth of the barn. Summer slipped inside as he bent down to spread a fresh layer of hay on the stall floor.
“Why didn’t you tell me that crater used to be a prison?” She kept her voice steady even though she felt like screaming at him. Kopi’s back straightened in an eerily slow manner as he heard her voice and stood up, leaning the pitch fork carefully against the wall. He turned to look at her over his shoulder.
“I don’t think I understand the question.” He set his lips in a tight line as he watched for her reaction. Something in his expression made her feel as though there was a lot more that the Greshams were holding back from them.
“Bullshit, Kopi! You knew exactly what that place was when I told you about where Jaxon took me on our date.” Summer’s fists balled up against her thighs as she tried to control her tone.
“A better question is did Jaxon know where he was taking you?” Kopi turned back around and picked up the discarded tool to begin work again, dismissing her. That only served to infuriate her more; she rushed forward and pushed futilely at his broad back.
“What is that supposed to mean?” She couldn’t believe he was insinuating that her boyfriend would take her to that wretched place, knowing what it was. Jaxon came to Zone 17 long after that place was buried in earth and vegetation, he couldn’t know any more than she did.
“Just drop it, all of that was in the past, what difference does knowing about that place do for you now?” He was trying to push her off, as he always seemed to be doing. Shrugging off any chance at becoming more than just acquaintances. All the locals didn’t mind working for her family, but anything deeper or more revealing than polite conversation was casually brushed off.
“It makes a huge difference, how can we help the people here if we don’t understand your history? That place, that compound, I can’t imagine the horrors that took place there and most of the people I see every day were here when it still stood.”
Kopi responded with a derisive snort and continued to scatter hay across the floor as though they were discussing the weather and not the imprisonment of a whole population. Summer stamped her foot in frustration and let out a heavy breath. “Why won’t any of you take a leap of faith and talk to us, we’re here to help you.”
“And why should we?” Kopi stopped again, his body visibly tensing. “You demand our friendship.” He turned on her and her breath caught in her throat as she starred back at his feral eyes, just inches from her face. “You’re no better than the soldiers they sent her to keep an eye on us. You cannot bully me into talking to you!” His fist fell heavy on the wooden archway behind her head, stirring up a flurry of dust and sending a tremor of fear through her.
When she mustered up the courage to speak, it was to her own feet and just an octave above a whisper. “I just want to help you.”
“No, you want to satisfy your own curiosity. I don’t wish to discuss that place.” With that he backed away, but the conversation had clearly ended. Kopi wouldn’t indulge her any information, but her anger at him for hiding his knowledge of the camp had faded a good bit. Kopi was a large and imposing man, but his quiet demeanor might lead you to forget just how imposing he could be. You could get comfortable around him, until the tension boiled over and that wild and ferocious side made an appearance. Then it was suddenly all too apparent how dangerous he could be. Whatever secrets he was protecting, they were big enough to provoke him into lashing out, and she didn’t want to see that side of him again anytime soon.