Cooper Wilson woke up shivering.
As the dark and blurry room came into focus, he remembered where he was. Jake still slumbered on a bed on the other side of the room. Cooper sat up, listening to the wind gust outside, and watching his exhaled breath roll away from his face. He was never one to trust his fate to people he didn’t know, and yet here he sat, miles from his home, and light years away from the life he’d once lived there.
The door to the cabin swung open, and a cold wind rushed through, and the cold, hardened rain driving in behind it, and rattling on the floor like a hand full of bbs thrown against its surface. Silhouetted by the dim evening light, stood Evan, water dripping from his hair to his face, with another, taller form behind him.
“Dad? This guy walked out of the forest, knocked out the sentries, and then came up to me and asked me to bring him to you. He knew my name. Who is he?”
The taller figure took two steps forward so that the grey light from the cabin’s one window shown on his face. ”You’re a hard man to find, hoss. What are you doin’?” The Texas drawl of his question still hung in the air as Rick Gearhart’s face broke into a wide grin.
“RICK!” exclaimed Cooper, as he leapt off of the broken down bunk that has been his bed for the last three nights. ”What are you doin’, Old Man?” he asked as he pumped Rick’s hand. He stood back, his eyes rolling over the man in front of him. Rick was wearing a camouflage set of fatigues, and a camouflage jacket, and a Texas flag patch on his right hand shoulder.
“Well, I’m tromping all over the Cascades instead of leading my men, because a certain yankee who for some reason has been determined to have some symbolic value to a whole lotta people who love freedom seems to have gotten himself into a pickle.” He paused. ”We saw the broadcast. Of your mother. I read the dossier on Teresa. I’m sorry.” The two men stood silently, looking each other in the eye, both jaws hardening at the memory. ”Still, I’m not kidding. I got called to the capitol. It seems that when you were singled out for a particularly brutal punishment, some people wanted to know why. And when they figured out that you and I are friends, well…let’s just say that they decided it was time for me to take a little trip. You are a symbol right now to an awful lot of people who have fallen back to that last box that defends freedom. And I have been ordered to bring you back with me.”
“You can’t take my Dad anywhere!” Evan shouted.
Cooper turned and said “Evan, Rick is a friend. An OLD friend, and probably one of the few that I would trust without any hesitation. What he is offering is to take us somewhere where we wouldn’t have to look over our shoulders for the rest of our lives.”
Evan regarded the lanky Texan standing in front of his father. ”How did you guys get to be friends? He looks old enough to be your Dad.”
“Never mind that. It’s time to go.” Cooper said, motioning at Jake, who had been sitting up on his bed, and quietly listening to the exchange.
Outside the cabin, the sentries, just average people who had been part of the chain of people smuggling Cooper and what remained of his family out of western Washington, were coming out of the woods, rubbing their heads, and looking at Rick with some irritation. Rick had been telling Cooper about the helicopter in the woods that he and his pilot had used to fly in from Canada. He had just shouldered Jake’s bag, and started to ask Cooper about his condition when a shot rang out, and one of the sentries fell as his face disintegrated into a bloody mess. Another shot rang out, and a few yards away, another sentry crumbled. Then the sound of weapons fire filled the woods. The cabin behind them exploded, and soon, one of the remaining sentries was tugging on Cooper, trying to drag him away as he shielded Jake. To his right, Evan scanned the trees, holding the rifle dropped by the first sentry, trying desperately to find someone to shoot back at. And then, in the hail of gun fire, Evan fell in front of Cooper and Jake. Cooper looked into the unblinking eyes of his oldest son, and the two growing red stains on his chest, and knew he had joined his mother and grandmother.
Cooper knew he was yelling, screaming Evan’s name, even as a kind of silence seemed to descend on his ears with the knowledge that his oldest son was dead. He instinctively held Jake closer as the boy writhed and cried and screamed his brother’s name. Cooper could feel more arms grabbing him, dragging he and Jake away from Evan’s side. He looked, the silence in his ears masking his and Jake’s shouting and crying, and the sounds of the battle around them, and saw Rick motioning for he and Jake to run to the east. Cooper’s mind struggled to comprehend the fact that he couldn’t seem to hear Rick’s voice at all, when he saw Rick’s body jerk as a shot tore through his chest, then another, and another. Rick’s face seemed frozen in a mask of surprise as his knees buckled, and he fell to the ground. Cooper was only dimly aware of even more hands dragging he and a now quietly sobbing Jake into the woods behind the smoking embers of the what had been the cabin, as the rain seemed to grow in its intensity.
“What?” Cooper asked, aware that someone had just addressed him, the memory melting away in the morning sunshine of the safe house kitchen.
“I said, you don’t look happy to see me, hoss.” boomed Rick.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I…”
“I know. I thought I was dead too. But then, after that day, I thought YOU were dead too. And then we learned differently.”
Lise shot Rick a perturbed look. ”You weren’t supposed to come yet, Colonel.” Her voice taking a noticeably hard edge on the last.
Cooper considered this. She was clearly more than she appeared, and he became even less comfortable with the idea of her being in his head, not believing that such a thing was possible.
Rick turned to Lise, and said “Well, Major, the problem is that your security is for shit, as is your country’s ability to keep a secret. They know he’s here, and they aren’t going to let a little thing like Canadian sovereignty get in the way of their plans for him. He isn’t just an assignment to me, he’s a friend, and I have no intention of letting your incompetence and false sense of security get him and his boy killed.”
Cooper watched them both stare each other down, feeling a little like a bone being fought over by two dogs, when Rick turned to him and said “Get your stuff, hoss. And get Jake ready to go. We need to get out of here, because they are coming, and they are willing to make an international incident over this.”
Cooper looked at his friend and asked “Why? Why do I matter so much to them still? Its been a few years, and they got me gone and presumed dead.”
“Presumed dead? You’re Public Enemy Number One to them, hoss. Any time they lose a battle with “insurgents”…I never thought that would mean people like me… YOU get the blame. Whenever a shipment of goods goes missing, YOU get the blame. Hell, the way the government tells it at home, you’re a ghost, a bogeyman, and a rebel mastermind all rolled into one. Of course, this probably doesn’t help either.” He put a small, plain-looking book on the table. Cooper picked it up, and started thumbing through it. He recognized a few essays as ones he’d written in what felt like a lifetime ago, along with others written by some people he’d known, and some he did not. Confusion clouded his face as he looked back to Rick. ”Yeah. I know. But the guys running the government on our side felt it would be good for our troops to be able to have these are reminders of why we’re fighting. Because of the way they tried to make an example of you so early, I think you just won the prize of being picked as the face of the resistance.”
Cooper blinked, and then felt the growing anger as his gazed turned to Lise. ”But if this is true, how could I not know? How could I not have any idea?”
Lise replied “Just because the current government of the United States publishes propaganda, doesn’t mean we have to repeat it. We knew you weren’t to blame for all the things they blamed on you. We’ve known where you have been all along. And we didn’t move until we did, because they didn’t know where you were, and you weren’t in any danger.”
Cooper turned to Rick, and asked “So what’s the plan?”