Monday, December 3, 2012

Test of Freedom - Episode 13

First Episode | Series Intro and TOC | Story So Far | Previous Episode

Episode 13 - "Old Cooper"
by Camille LaGuire

Among the prisoners at Clement farm was a man named Cooper.  Everyone assumed he was older than he was.  He had a bad leg that gave him a bent look, and his skin was wrinkled from too much time in the sun.  He didn't mind being thought old, though, since people tended to either treat him better, or ignore him altogether.

He had been around for a long time, having survived the disease and poor diet and dodged the sometimes vicious treatment by the guards.  He was trusted to go more places, and given less supervision, perhaps because his bad leg made him less valuable, and less dangerous.  He could go out in the woods to gather herbs, and was sent on errands instead of the slaves sometimes.  He was the nurse to the compound, and when there was an accident, or someone collapsed from heat or exhaustion, he was the one they called for.

It was in the late evening, when things were finally cooling off a bit.  Most of the prisoners had dragged themselves in and eaten, and were collapsed on the ground for well needed rest.  Cooper was placing a paste of leaves across a cut on young Tim's forehead.  The boy was probably sixteen, another youth from the Acton Peninsula.  He was about worn out, but there was nothing Cooper could do for that.

Jack Alwyn came and sat down next to him with a wince.  He looked exhausted, too.

"You should put more effort into looking like you're working hard," said Cooper.  "Rather than actually working."

"It's a fine line, though, and I've had enough knocks today."

"The Rock caught you not paying attention."

"You could say that."  Jack adjusted the way he was sitting, and then rubbed his shoulder.

"He likes you to be aware of him," Cooper told him. "He'll give you a knock just for not knowing he's there, sometimes."

As if the very mention of the name were likely to call up a demon, both Cooper and Jack looked over toward the cook tent, where you could see Rocken leaning on a post and smoking a pipe.  The cane dangled from his arm, but he seemed at ease, and was certainly too far to hear whey were saying.

Jack nodded and looked thoughtful.

"I heard something odd today about him," he said.

"You mean that he's a prisoner too?"

"Aye."  Jack turned to Cooper with interest.

"He's a murderer," said Cooper.  "Has a life contract.  The only way he can ever get free is if the governor commutes."

"And beating the hell out of us will help with that?"

"No, beating the hell out of us gets him a decent life.  And I think the bastard likes it too."

"You think so?" said Jack.  There was a note of doubt in his voice.

"If you think there's anything soft about the Rock, you'd best learn otherwise right fast, Jack."

"Oh, soft, no. I don't believe there is anything soft about Rocken," agreed Jack.

And yet the note of doubt remained in his voice.  What it was about, Cooper couldn't imagine, but it made him uneasy.

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