Disclaimer: I don't own anything. I don't think I could come up with characters that could interest me for this long on my own!
Jack Cooper walked down the main road, his large frame hunched over as he walked into the wind. The wet, raw weather seemed to be keeping everyone else in the little town inside. All he could think of was that it was a good thing he was almost at his destination. He picked up his pace as best he could, shivered violently, and blew on his hands to warm them. He really did need a new pair of gloves. Of course, a new pair of gloves would require money, and he hadn't had a job in two months. It still floored him – all the rebuilding going on in the area, and he couldn't find anyone that would hire him. All because he'd told the guy in charge exactly what he – and everyone else in town – thought of him when they guy had asked for his opinion. He'd been told since then that he needed to learn to recognize a rhetorical question when he heard one.
Oh, well. Cooper wasn't a man who stewed about things. It was over and done, so for now his pockets would have to do – at least he had a warm coat. He felt relief wash over him as he got close enough to see the door of his destination - the small, tidy general store that had been set up to service the growing town. The bell over the door rang out cheerfully as he entered. He closed the door behind him quickly in order to keep as much heat inside as possible and scanned the interior for his friend. "Martin?"
"Cooper? That you?" Martin Flynn's head of thinning hair poked out from a door behind the counter. His eyebrows shot up in surprise when he spotted Cooper. "You've had quite a walk. I was just unpacking a few supplies. I'll get some coffee - be right out."
Cooper walked slowly up to the counter, letting the warmth of the store seep into his bones. Martin was right, it had been a long, cold walk from his place, but he'd been tired of being alone. He'd needed the company of a friend. For a man used to staying busy, this down time was torture. If he didn't find someone to hire him soon, he'd go insane long before he starved to death.
"What brings you out on a day like today?" Martin came out from the storeroom with two cups of hot coffee in his hands. "It's one of the rawest we've had yet this spring."
"You call this spring?" Cooper asked, raising an eyebrow at him. "Sure don't feel like spring to me, Martin." He took the mug gratefully, curling his hands around it to soak in the warmth.
"Calendar says it is," Martin laughed. "Apparently, Mother Nature doesn't agree, though." He appraised his friend carefully. "Looking a little on the thin side, Jack."
"Well, two months without work will do that to you," Cooper shrugged. "I'm doing ok. Not going to starve yet."
"And you won't – no one around here is going to let it get that bad," Martin said forcefully.
"I won't take charity," Cooper said, his face growing mulish. "I made my own way all through the war; I can make it through this." Martin shook his head at his stubborn, forthright, honorable friend. It still made his blood boil to think about the situation.
The former regional governor, Stephen Richards, had been a member of a prominent family that had helped establish Eden. He'd somehow gotten the idea that a position "out in the frontier", as anywhere outside of Eden was considered, would help his career. The man apparently hadn't realized that he wouldn't have his social circles, or access to the luxuries that Eden had learned to replicate, out here in Colorado. Richards had been unpopular from his arrival, where he'd loudly complained about the location and state of repair of his temporary office, and had immediately begun to expect the people that had been hired as his staff to take care of personal business for him as well as their professional duties. He'd talked an awful lot about building up the region and courting new businesses from the growing settlements on the east and west coasts. However, everyone had soon learned that he was great at giving speeches and not much else. Other than supervising the plans for the new government building, he couldn't seem to be bothered to actually do any of the things he'd promised. Not surprisingly, there was little loyalty towards him in the people he'd been sent to represent. The result of all of this was that he'd become a bit of a tyrant in order to insure that things got done the way he wanted them to. Anyone who crossed him paid a high price. Cooper, a talented carpenter who also happened to be a frank-speaking man, had called him on it, and had paid that price. "That idiot. Blacklisting you because you had the courage to speak your mind."
"Well, anyone who knows me knows it's only a matter of time until I do," Cooper shrugged, taking a sip of the coffee and letting it slide down his throat. Coffee was a luxury he couldn't really afford at the moment, and he intended to savor it now that he had a cup of it. "I did it, and I'll take the consequences, good or bad."
Martin sighed. That was the irony of the situation – Cooper took responsibility for his actions and didn't fuss. If this had happened to Richards…well, to say he wouldn't have accepted it and moved on would be an understatement. "Richards is gone now, though. With the new guy in town, I'll bet you'll be back at work in no time. The only reason people stopped hiring you is because they were afraid of Richards – everyone knew he would make life difficult for anyone who crossed him."
"Yeah, I'd heard some rumors about that," Jack said dryly.
"Well, I think we're in for a reprieve. That idiot is back in Eden where he belongs, and we've got a guy who has been fighting for the little guy for a long time."
"Yeah, that's what I've heard. I ran into Anderson today."
"Oh?" Martin's eyebrows went up. Anderson – another man that was usually hired to work on any sort of building project – had a level head, and Martin knew that Cooper thought highly of him. "What did he have to say?"
Cooper took another sip of coffee before answering. No one can hurry Jack Cooper, Martin thought as he suppressed a grin by taking a sip from his own mug. "He said that he thinks the new guy will be a breath of fresh air compared to Richards. Said he seemed real down-to-earth, and didn't mind getting his hands dirty."
"Well, that sets him well apart from Richards right off the bat," Martin laughed. "That man was more worried about getting his clothes dirty than anyone else I'd ever met. All I kept thinking was that I hope they're not all like that in Eden. Not sure I want them running us if they are, whether their help was instrumental to ending the war or not."
"Yeah, well if we can believe the stories we heard about the end of the war, their technology was pretty important," Cooper conceded. "I guess I just wonder if any of them have any idea what life is like outside the borders of their settlement."
Martin laughed. "No, I don't think a lot of them do. At least, not the ones that have been there since the beginning. But Richards is behind us now. And I bet there's going to be more work around here than we have hands for, what with the project just outside of town," he said. He was surprised to see the frown that crossed his friend's face. "Now, Cooper, don't tell me you're against the new Academy, too."
Cooper simply continued to frown into his mug. "I haven't decided if I'm going to head over there yet," he said slowly.
"Jack, I don't think I've ever heard you talk about turning down work before, and especially now!" Martin looked at his friend in amazement. "You're telling me you'd turn down work there?"
"Martin, don't go getting on your soap box now," Cooper growled. "I didn't say I wouldn't take a job there…just didn't say I would." He finally looked up and met his friend's eyes. "I don't know. We fought long and hard against the Dreadheads, and the thought of just accepting them – of pretending that they're just like us…well, it's hard to swallow."
Martin shook his head. "Cooper, we're talking about kids. Young kids who had no idea there was any other choice for them. Don't you think we need to start looking forward, not backwards?"
"I don't know what I think, Martin. That's part of the prob-"
Both men looked up as the bell sounded, announcing that another customer had braved the elements to re-stock their pantry. Martin winked at Cooper as they realized who had joined them. "Morning, Maggie," he called. He didn't miss Cooper's long-suffering sigh as he turned back to his coffee mug. He knew that having to deal with Maggie, famous for being the town gossip, wasn't in Cooper's plans for his trek out this morning. It also served as a change of subject, as Martin didn't really want to continue that particular subject with her.
"Good morning Martin. Goodness, that wind is just wicked. Just about blew me down here from my place. I'll tell you, I don't look forward to the walk back." Just then, she realized who Martin's other customer was. "Jack Cooper! Well, it's good to see you out and about. It's been a while! How are you holding up?"
Cooper closed his eyes and took a deep breath before turning around and answering her. "It's not like I've been on my death bed, Maggie. I'm doing just fine."
"Well, of course you are," Maggie said with what Martin assumed was supposed to be an understanding smile. She reached out and patted Cooper's arm. "I'm guessing you'll be back to work now that Governor Richards has left us?"
"I suppose so, Maggie," Cooper said simply. It obviously wasn't enough information for Maggie, who frowned a little and pressed on.
"Well, of course the whole mess was just ridiculous in the first place. I told Tess Morgan when she was in to clean for me the other day – I said, 'Tess, we're all well and good to be rid of that man. He was a lazy lie-about who didn't know the first thing about running an office, let alone a whole region. Just because we aren't one of the major new settlements, it doesn't mean we should get stuck with some namby-pamby nephew of someone the president owed a favor to whose pride was more important to him than the well-being of the folks around here –"
"Yes, Maggie." Cooper could hear from the tone of her voice that she was really getting warmed up, and knew he needed to head her off before they were forced to listen to one of her rants. "I plan on heading over to talk to the construction head on the new government building as soon as the new administration gets settled in."
"Well…well, I'm glad to hear it, Cooper," Maggie said, a bit at a loss at being cut off as she was really working up to her prime. Turning back to Martin, she handed him a list. "Martin, I need to restock on a few things. The weather's been so bad, a few of my guests haven't been able to get out much. It seems like several of them haven't had much to do all day but eat." Maggie ran what amounted to a boarding house for new residents, but still preferred to call them her "guests." She liked to tell stories of the fancy hotel her family had run before the war had started, and everyone knew she dreamed of having that kind of business again. For now, she'd settle for the work that she could find – just like all of them. Just having a chance to do something meaningful again, without the fear of it being suddenly taken from them in a raid, was something all the residents of the town were thankful for.
"I'll help you get this together then, Maggie," Martin assured her. The two of them headed out among the shelves to find what was needed. Cooper settled himself on the stool Martin kept next to the counter and sipped his coffee, listening to Maggie try to pump Martin for information. Since Martin's store was the only place for supplies in town, he tended to see everyone at some point or another. Therefore, he was seen as a wealth of information to someone like Maggie. He smirked into his coffee as Martin sidestepped as many of Maggie's questions as he could, sharing information only when he couldn't figure out a polite way to redirect his customer. Martin was much more tolerant of Maggie than Cooper was. Martin believed quite firmly that because they'd fought for humanity for so long – all of humanity – that it was every human being's job to at least tolerate one another now. Cooper understood the feeling behind it. He just didn't have the patience that Martin had.
When they'd found all the items on Maggie's list, the two headed back to the counter. Martin tallied up the cost for his customer while the two of them discussed the new government building that was just being finished up. "It's looking pretty done on the outside," Maggie commented.
"It's the inside work that's still being finished," Cooper said, nodding. "Some wiring, some plumbing, and then the finishing touches are all that have to be done now. Of course, there aren't quite as many finishing touches to be done now that the new administration has taken over and thrown out many of the 'finer details' Richards was insisting on."
The words "new administration" caused Maggie's head to snap up, and her eyes focused in on Cooper. Martin tried to shoot his friend a warning glance, but it was too late. The look on Maggie's face told him that this was the information she'd really been after during her visit.
"Oh? The new administration, huh? The new governor is making changes already?"
"Well…" Cooper's face showed that he had just realized his slip. "I mean, that's what I've heard. I haven't been over there, Maggie. Hasn't been my place."
But Maggie wasn't going to be put off. She rounded on Martin when she realized she wasn't going to get anything else out of Cooper. "So, have you met him yet?" she asked, pinning him with a steely look.
"You know – our new regional governor. Jonathon Power! I thought for sure you'd have met him by now. Surely he's come by for supplies. There's not really anyplace else he could get them, now is there?"
Martin caught Cooper's eye as he shook his head. There really wasn't any use in putting her off. When Maggie got that look on her face, there was no stopping her. Plus, he could honestly say that there wasn't much to tell. "Maggie, the man just got here less than a week ago. Give him a chance to get settled, will you? Besides, he came straight here from Eden. He probably brought a shipload of supplies with him. Heaven knows there would've been more to choose from there than there is out here."
"You've got a great selection here, Martin," Maggie said stubbornly. "Not many people would have made the effort to bring in the variety you do. We're thankful for your place here. And if the new governor doesn't like it, he can just go find someplace else to settle."
Cooper shook his head. "Maggie, ten seconds ago you were desperate for information on the man, and now you're ready to send him packing. Why don't you wait until you meet him, and then make your decision?" Martin laughed quietly as he listened to his friends and finished packing Maggie's purchases up.
"So you have met him?" Maggie challenged Cooper.
"No, I haven't. I've heard some things, though, and I happen to like what I've heard."
"Heard things? Jack Cooper, I've been asking around since the man got here and I haven't heard a darned thing."
Martin couldn't completely hide his smile. "Maybe you ought to try listening instead of talking every once in a while, Maggie. You might learn a little that way."
Maggie leaned across the counter and swatted his arm, then pinned Cooper with a steely glare. "Ok, then, Mr. Know-it-all, what exactly have you heard that has you so convinced?"
Martin pulled out a cloth and began cleaning off the counter, but his attention was on his customers. The Powers were the most recent arrivals in town, and – whether they knew it or not – were also the most common topic of conversation. Martin already had his own opinion, but he was interested in what Cooper had to say, too.
"Well, for one thing, he insisted on setting up his own office," Cooper began. "He didn't just expect it to be done when he got here like the last guy."
Maggie snorted. "Yes, well, Richards hadn't been outside of Eden since he was a toddler. He wasn't quite ready for life out here 'on the frontier.'"
"Well, we don't have to worry about that with Power. You know Anderson, over at the new government building? He said the Captain hauled out construction supplies himself to help finish up the area his office is in. It wasn't what Anderson expected. He thought that someone who had his choice of jobs from the president wouldn't have picked someplace where he had to do heavy work."
"Anderson isn't thinking straight, then. Or else, he doesn't know Power's reputation." Martin said simply. "I've been hearing about the Captain for years now. We heard a lot at the UTO. He and his team worked like no one else. They were the reason the war turned, and you know they were the reason that Dread went down for good."
"Still, the war's been over for going on two years now. Some people figured he'd settled in over in Eden and gotten used to the good life," Maggie said with a shrug.
"Then they don't know what they're talking about," Martin said simply. "Volcania might've fallen two years ago, but the Power Team didn't just turn around and head for the hills. Right before I left the UTO and headed out here, the Captain was at a base we'd headed to for supplies. One of the guys I was with got to know him a little. Power and the whole team were rebuilding a communications hub there that hadn't been set up right – kept going offline. I left about a month later to head out here, and that wasn't even a year ago. Maggie, the work didn't stop when Volcania fell. Still hasn't stopped, matter-of-fact. The man I heard about wouldn't have retired while there was still work to be done."
Cooper nodded. "That goes along with what I've been hearing, too. Apparently, Power's made it known from the start that he expects his people to work, but also that he would work along with them. He doesn't seem interested in playing politics, either. Anderson heard him telling his assistant that he had enough of that out in Eden."
"Now that would be a welcome thing," Maggie said emphatically. "Richards was only interested in who he could convince to visit so that he could make a big show of all the work he wanted them to believe he was doing."
"That's not going to be a problem now," Cooper assured her. "From what Anderson tells me, Power's interested in listening to what people have to say, and then getting things done. He really wants us to make this place into an area people want to settle in."
"I've heard he grew up around here," Maggie said.
Martin nodded. "My buddy in the UTO spent a long time talking with Power. It turns out they lived about 50 miles away from each other before the wars. They sat and told stories about the good 'ole days, even though my buddy could probably have been his father," he added with a chuckle. "My buddy loved to talk about his hometown. In fact, it was his description of life out here before the war that convinced me to head in this direction. If we can get this place back to what it was like before the wars, it'll be paradise."
"According to Anderson, Power's full of big ideas like that," Cooper said with a nod. "Said it takes almost no encouragement at all to get him talking about when he lived here as a boy."
"And now he can make a life for himself close to where he grew up," Martin said approvingly.
"I think I like this guy already," Maggie said, nodding her head in satisfaction. "Sounds like someone who's got their priorities in line, all right. That's just what we need around here. Of course, it doesn't surprise me, given what I heard about how he and his wife wouldn't play the game they wanted them to back in Eden."
"Oh?" This was something Cooper hadn't heard. Martin worked hard to hide his grin as his friend – the one that barely tolerated Maggie's gossiping habits on a good day – leaned in for more information. "How's that?"
"From what my cousin tells me – she's out there in Eden, you know – the government there wanted to put on some big wedding for them. Lots of fanfare, important people invited – lots of nonsense. But when the Powers finally got there and heard about it, they took matters into their own hands. Got their friends together real quick and got married in someone's back garden – just a nice, low-key thing, just the way they wanted it."
"Well, low-key will fit around here a whole lot more than what we're used to," Cooper acknowledged. "You, know, this place could really grow if we have the right leadership in place. We're in the middle of a lot of the bigger settlements now – great for trade. That new kid down south of town? The one opening up that new hangar? He won't be the only one setting up shop here if we play our cards right. This place will be perfect as a hub for some pretty lucrative trade routes. With the right kind of administration – one that's focused on us and not what we can do for his career – we could really grow."
"Well, it looks like we'll have someone pulling for us now. If Power had been here before, maybe the president wouldn't have stuck us with that darned Academy of his full of former Dread Heads." Maggie's voice turned bitter as she finished. Martin sighed at the return to the subject. He wasn't one to gossip usually, but between Maggie's comment and the conversation with Cooper that she'd interrupted, it was time he shared what he knew as well.
"Don't talk like that around the new governor if you meet him, Maggie," he warned her, shaking his head. "That project is special to him, I'd imagine."
Maggie eyed him warily. "Special to him? Why? Why should Captain Power care what happens to a bunch of former Dread Youth? He spent the better part of his life fighting them."
Martin shook his head. "Maggie, remember that wedding you talked about?"
"Of course. Didn't I just tell you about it?"
"Do you know who he married?"
Maggie shook her head. "Sherrie just told me the story about the wedding. She didn't go into details."
"Wasn't it someone on his team, Martin?" Cooper asked. "I'm pretty sure I'd heard about that."
"Yes, it was. Now her I've met. She was their pilot – best damn pilot I've ever seen. She could do just about anything with an engine, too. I got the chance to talk to her a few times. She'd help us out when we were shorthanded. Always ready to help, that one." He eyed Maggie sternly, as if daring her to say anything as he continued. "And, it just so happens, she was an escaped Dread Youth."
Maggie's eyes flew open. "Escaped Dread Youth? Someone on the Power team?"
"Yes, ma'm. She broke through the brainwashing somehow, managed to escape. Found her way to the Power team. From what I heard tell, it was a tough road, but they stuck by her. Then she and Power ended up falling for each other. They hid it pretty well during the war, but afterwards, during the rebuilding, it got out." Martin pushed back from the counter where he'd been leaning and went to rearrange the boxes on a shelf near the door. "I've heard that they came out here as much for her as for his career. She wants to be here to help with the Academy. Heard she's going to split her time between working for that new guy building the hangar south of town and volunteering at the school."
"Makes sense," Cooper allowed. "I suppose she'd know more about helping those poor kids than a lot of those white coats do."
"Poor kids?" Martin could tell Maggie's temper was rising again, and tried to head her off.
"Maggie, most of those kids had no idea what was going on outside Volcania's walls. A lot of the ones they're sending here are younger – five, ten, twelve years old. They'd never set foot in the outside world – some say a lot of them were born there. They were still finding hidden bases and labs just six months ago – to them, the war never really stopped. And these younger kids have never been on missions to hurt humans-"
"They still followed Dread's orders!" Maggie huffed. "They still helped him."
"They didn't know there was an alternative," Martin said simply. "Look, I talked with Corporal Chase – or maybe she's going by Power now – a few times over the years. She's one of the most genuine people you've ever met. Most of us had heard rumors about one of Power's team being a former Dread soldier. If she trusted you, she would talk about it – as long as she could tell people were asking because they were trying to understand and not just being nosy. Do you know she barely has any memory of her life before she was taken? She has no idea who she was, where she was from, or even exactly how old she is. There was nothing for her except the rules and regulations of the Youth. She did everything she could to be the best she could be in all her classes because that was what was expected. She didn't even see other human beings that weren't involved with Dread until she was sent out on assignment one day. She was the youngest Youth ever to earn the Youth Leader rank, and she was anxious to please her commanding officer. But when she saw it – really saw people suffering, instead of reading about it in a report that someone loyal to Dread had written…well, that was it. She knew she couldn't do it anymore.
"And according to her, that was the kind life all of them had – training, rhetoric, and hate. If that's the case, these kids were doomed to be filled with the poisonous ideas Dread was famous for. But now, they have a chance at something like a normal life if they're allowed to take it, taught that it's ok. That's what the Corporal said the Power team did for her. It doesn't surprise me at all that she wants to be here to help other kids like Power and his team helped her." Martin was please to see that Maggie's temper had subsided a bit. At least her cheeks had lost their flush. His eyes caught on a display that had fallen over on a shelf near the front of the store, and he moved to fix it, giving her some space as he continued. "Maybe you want to wait and see – meet the Corporal, see what these kids are like before you join all those other folks that have been ranting and raving ever since the Academy was announced." He finished rearranging the boxes on the shelf and noticed people walking down the street towards his store, bundled against the raw weather. It looked like he'd have yet a few more customers that day. Someone to distract Maggie, perhaps? Then again, with the mood she was in, maybe it wouldn't hurt to hurry her along a bit before she tried to pump more information out of the newcomers.
He turned around and addressed her again. "Maggie, now that I think of it, who's watching your place while you're down here catching up on all the news?" he asked her.
"Oh, Karen's there now, doing laundry and holding down the fort in case we get any new customers." Maggie did seem to remember why she was there, however, because she looked at the full basket on her arm and began to bundle herself back up for the trip home. "But it's been a while, and she's pretty new. I've left some bread over there to rise, too, and knowing Karen she won't think to punch it down and put it in the oven. She'll be too busy gossiping with her friend that comes by every afternoon. I swear, all those two ever worry about is everyone but themselves."
Cooper and Martin worked very hard at not looking each other while Maggie finished getting herself ready for the elements. "Well, time for me to get back, I guess." All three of them turned at the sound of the bell, announcing that someone was joining them. A couple walked in, cheeks and noses red from the wind, but holding hands and chuckling about something – oblivious to the three at the counter.
"New folks every time I turn around," Maggie remarked quietly, a small smile on her face.
"Good for business," Martin reminded her.
"Good for business," she agreed.
"Good for humanity," Cooper added, and the three shared a smile. They all remembered a time in the not-too-distant past when they all wondered if something as simple as working for a living and meeting new people would ever really happen.
"Stay warm, Maggie," Martin called as she headed out the door.
"You really believe they deserve a chance, don't you, Martin?" Cooper said after a moment. "Those kids that'll be coming to the Academy?"
"Yes, I do," Martin said simply. "Stick around for a minute, and you might get a chance to meet the reason why."
Cooper followed his gaze and realized that Martin was watching the couple that had come into the store. They were moving through the aisles at a leisurely pace, talking softly to each other, laughing often. As he watched them, Cooper could see their affection for one another. The tall, dark-haired man seemed unable to keep from touching her from very long, touching her back or brushing hair away from her face that had been dislodged when she'd taken off her hat. The petite blond, in turn, teased him quietly about some selection he'd made before adding it to the bag on her arm. They also walked along in silence for a while – a silence just as comfortable as their laughter had been. They were clearly in no hurry as they wandered up and down every aisle. Cooper made small talk with Martin while the couple wandered. He was curious as to what about them could possibly help convince him that the Academy was a good thing for the fledgling town he'd come to care about so much.
Finally, as the couple neared the counter with their purchases, Martin caught the eye of the young woman. Her face lit up in recognition and surprise. "Mr. Flynn! I didn't recognize you – I didn't know you were here."
Martin smiled warmly back at her. "Yep, traded in the storeroom at UTC headquarters for my own little place here. Wanted a fresh start…and not dealing in motor oil all day long has its benefits too, now that there are other things to sell."
"This is your place?" she asked, looking around her.
"All mine," he repeated. "Welcome to town. News travels fast in a place this small…I was happy to hear I'd be seeing you again, Corporal - well, most people aren't going by their military rank anymore. Are you?"
Cooper watched as the woman blushed slightly, but continued to smile. "No…I'm not very used to it yet, but I'm trying to use my married name here. It's a fresh start for us, so I thought, well, why not?" She smiled up at the man who'd come in with her, wrapping her fingers around his. "Mr. Flynn-"
"Martin, please. We're going to be seeing enough of each other that we certainly don't need to keep the formal titles going."
"Martin, then – this is my husband, Jon Power." The tall man let go of his wife's hand long enough to shake Martin's warmly, and then reached again toward his wife as she continued. "Martin ran the storeroom over at UTO headquarters. He was the one I had to sweet talk out of spare parts when I was over helping them out from time to time."
"She was good at it, too," Martin teased. "Of course, it helped that I knew she would actually be able to use whatever it was she was asking for to fly some old bird that everyone else had given up on."
Jon laughed. "Yes, that she could. Still can. Good thing, as she's working down at the new hangar."
"I wondered about that. Sounds like a good place for you," Martin nodded. "Plus, there's the added benefit of being close to the Academy." The smile on Jennifer's face told Martin he was right. He jumped at the sound of Cooper clearing his throat - he realized, belatedly, he'd left his friend hanging. "I've forgotten my manners," he exclaimed. "Mrs. Power –"
"What happened to not using titles?" the young woman asked with a gleam in her eye. "Goes both ways, Martin."
Martin conceded with a nod of his head, and started over. "Ok, then – Jennifer, and …Governor," he added sheepishly. "Sorry, sir, but that title's going to take a little longer to lose."
"We'll see what we can do about that," Jon smiled back.
"…this is my friend Jack Cooper." Cooper smiled at the young couple and shook both their hands as Martin began to total their purchases. "Cooper does odd jobs around the area, fixes up houses for newcomers…"
"I do whatever I can," Cooper said simply. He didn't need Martin to plug for him. "Pleasure to meet you both. How are you doing - settling in?"
"The best we can," Jennifer said with a sheepish smile. "We didn't realize that we'd be quite so busy as soon as we got here."
"This is actually the first afternoon we've had to ourselves all week," Jon admitted. "I've been trying to help get things finished over at the new government building, and someone I know has been spending every spare minute helping finalize the plans for the Academy," he said with a grin, bumping his wife's shoulder.
"There's a lot to do," Jennifer said with a grin. "That's why we're here, right?"
"It is nice to actually feel useful again," her husband agreed. "It didn't seem like there was anything this important back in Eden."
"This important?" Martin asked.
"There's so much potential out here," Jon said, his eyes sparkling. "I remember what this area used to be like, and I'd love to see us return to some of that. We'll even have an educational hub – granted, it won't be the military academy that used to be in the area, but it'll still be a major place of employment, and a great way to bring businesses out here."
"You're not…ummm…worried about reactions to the Academy?" Martin asked, trying to phrase his question as carefully as possible. "It's a small town, Governor, and there's a lot of talk already," he added as Jon regarded him questioningly.
"It's nothing we haven't faced before," Jennifer said simply. "Maybe on a larger scale, but we're well practiced at the arguments we'll be making. We know that there's more to do than just fix up that dilapidated old campus. We're going to work on showing the people here that we want to be a part of the community, and that we want the Academy to be a part of it as well. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and not just to set up the facility. We really want the people here to understand the importance of giving these kids a second chance at life."
"It's something she has fairly strong opinions on," Jon teased, noting her flashing eyes and slightly flushed cheeks. Then he turned serious. "But she's right. We know that not everyone is thrilled with the Academy – trust me, I've heard plenty of concerns in just the time we've been here. But we think we can help people see that we're going to be doing really important work here – worthwhile work. And work that people will want to be involved in, once they get a chance to see things for themselves."
"Well, sounds like you have your work cut out for you," Martin said simply.
"Yes, we do. But for now, we need to finish getting ourselves settled at home. We've settled into one of the old cottages halfway between the government building and the Academy."
Cooper whistled. "Nice area, but those old homes could use some serious work."
Jon grimaced. "Yeah…we didn't think this through. With me busy with finishing the government building and my wife here splitting her time between planning the Academy and helping set up the hangar…well, home improvements haven't been getting done." He fixed Cooper with a level stare. "Martin said you do odd jobs…you wouldn't happen to be looking for some work, would you?"
Cooper cleared his throat, obviously caught off guard. "Actually, my slate is pretty free right now. What are you thinking?"
"Where do I start?" Jon laughed. "We've really bitten off a bit more than we can chew. How would you like to head to our place later on this afternoon? I don't think we're going to be able to get the place into shape without help."
"I'd be happy to come and take a look, give you an idea of what it'll take," Cooper said in his calm, unruffled manner. "I'm not one to turn down a job." "Sounds good, Mr. Cooper." Jon gave the man directions to their home, then looked at Jennifer and winked. "Well, gentlemen, since this is the first free day my wife and I have had since we arrived, you'll excuse me for whisking her away now that we have the supplies we need." He wrapped his arm around his wife's waist and pulled her tightly to him, then smiled at the two men. "Have a good afternoon," he added, paying Martin and taking the bag back as they headed out the door. "We'll see you later, Mr. Cooper."
Nothing was said for a few minutes after the two men waved the Powers out the door. Martin watched his friend as he finished his coffee and placed his mug down on the counter. "Well, Martin, I guess it's about time that I headed out. Sounds like I need to check on the state of my tools."
Martin couldn't hide his grin anymore. "Sounds like it," he agreed. He patted his friend on his shoulder. "See? I told you things would be looking up now that the new guy's in town."
Cooper grunted as he picked his coat up and began to bundle up. He couldn't completely hide his own grin, however. To have real work again – it gave him more of a boost than the caffeine ever could. "I think Anderson has the right idea. Sounds like we're in for smoother sailing."
"I think I agree with you." Martin nodded. "Jack, those cottages were in pretty poor shape. Even the best of them could easily keep you busy for a month or so. You'll be back on your feet in no time."
"Yep," Cooper said simply. As he finished wrapping his scarf around his neck, he stopped to stare out the window at the branches of the trees that were still being tossed wildly in the wind. "And then…well, I just might have to go and see if there's any work to be had at the Academy building."
"Sounds like there just might be," Martin said, his smile never leaving his face.
"Alright, Martin – I suppose I'll be in to see you a little more often if all goes well. You're on my way to the Powers' place, after all."
"Now that sounds good to me. You be sure and drop by tomorrow, tell me how things went." He stood at the door and watched Cooper walk off into the wild weather. At least the wind would be at his back for the walk home, he thought. And, if things went well, Cooper would be able to buy a pair of gloves as well as his favorite coffee beans. Things were looking up for their little town. In fact, the way Power talked, it might not be such a little town for too much longer.
"Good for business," he said to himself with a smile as he returned to the back room to unpack more supplies. "Good for business, and good for the human race."