Kayden sat in the recliner and rested. The doctor had insisted she exercise with him. It was more of a leisurely walk through an art gallery. He had paintings and sculptures of all kinds on every available wall and most surfaces. Now she was exhausted, and the doctor had left her alone with the mauve and burgundy robot carts. Even Tabitha, the sweet grey kittle, was gone.
This hospital was so strange, and she longed to ask Dr. Collin why there were no human nurses, but she couldn't seem to make her mouth work right. She also wanted to know where someone was. She wasn't quite sure who, but it wavered, right at the back of her mind, that someone close to her should be here. Perhaps a mother or a brother or even a husband. She tried not to look at her hands. She hadn't found a mirror in her enforced travels, and she wondered if her face looked just as bad. Maybe that was why she was isolated from everyone.
She let her gaze stray into the corner. A robot stood there, but never moved. She longed to ask about him also. Why didn't he move? Who was he?
Kayden closed her eyes in frustration. If only she could talk or even write.
She started awake, only to find Tabitha had landed on the floor beside her. And she was eating something almost as large as herself. It looked like . . . like a winged lizard of some type.
"Tabitha," Dr. Collin said, entering the room, or maybe he was Dr. Hansell. That's what the robots called him. "You should have better manners than to eat dragon in front of our guest." He gave Kayden a smile and plopped into the armchair. "You seem more fascinated than horrified so I'll let her be."
His rich brown hair was ruffled as though he'd been in a windstorm, the longer ends curling into his face. His hazel eyes twinkled as he spoke, like he knew a joke he just longed to share. She liked him. And if she was too horrid for others to see, he never let on.
"Guess what we're going to do tomorrow?" He didn't wait long for an answer, and Kayden didn't try to give him one. "We're going flying!"
"Yeah. Look." He pointed to the monitor over the hospital bed. "Hey, Archive, paste me up a picture of Angela Batten's Wingdeer."
The screen lit up with the picture of a large elk or deer, antlers spreading from the top of its head, and wings -- Wings! -- stretched out on either side.
"My friend is female, so she doesn't have the antlers, and she's pregnant. But she'll be healthy enough to wing us around the trees for a few more months. I named her Angie after her designer. And she's just as sweet as Angie was." Collin hesitated, and then shrugged. "My Angie, of course, loves me unconditionally. The best of animals do. Just like Tabby there." He grinned again. "Although she's a bit of a traitor. She loves you more than me now."
Kayden looked at the kittle licking herself clean. Then her gaze fell at her lap covered with a hospital type robe. Glancing up at the wingdeer on the screen again, she suddenly felt a bubble of laughter welling up. He was obviously making up a wonderful story, because he wouldn't be taking her flying in a hospital gown.
Collin watched her, a gentle smile on his face. "One of these days, Dear Heart, you'll be able to tell me what you find so amusing. But I can see you need your rest before dinner." He helped her back into the bed.
After breakfast the next morning, Dr. Collin came into the room followed by Burgy. Burgy's cart overflowed with cloth. Dr. Collin picked up something and then held it before him -- a grey pullover shirt. "I think it'll fit. You are close to Lea's size, although I think you'll grow just a little more. And you can wear Tamin's boots."
Lea, Tamin. She wanted to ask who they were. Why didn't they come and see her. It looked like the hospital was deserted.
Dr. Collin had been bathing and caring for her, so she felt completely safe as he helped her dress. When she was ready, he helped her to a wheelchair she hadn't noticed before. One of the robots must have brought it. She glanced into the corner. Why didn't that robot ever move? As she sat in the wheelchair, Dr. Collin gave a gentle smile again. "Don't want to wear you out before you get to the stables."
He was serious. He was taking her to see a flying elk. She was so excited she almost forgot to look for signs of any more people. But the hospital was empty. And then they were at the end of a long hall. Nothing. Of course not. They were probably on an abandoned space station, one without windows to the stars beyond. There wouldn't be any wingdeers.
Dr. Collin left her by the far wall. "I'll be right back, Sweetheart." He pressed a button and a door slid open across from her. The interior was not as bright as the hall, and a faint, musty odor wafted to her.
She waited, it seemed an eternity before she saw him. And he was leading a huge beast. Its shoulders were higher than Dr. Collin's head. Its hooves clipped as they stepped out of the room and into the hall. She could barely see the contraption on her back, but straps were on her face, leading back around her neck.
Collin smiled at her. "Kayden, meet my friend, Angie. Angie, this is Kayden. I'm fairly sure she's never met one of your relatives before."
Angie's huge nose dropped down and took several sniffs of her hair and neck. Kayden laughed as her breath tickled her. She reached up to hug the head, but could only rest her cheek for a moment against the soft skin on the side of her nose.
"I knew you'd get along great," Collin said. He helped her from her chair and pressed another wall panel. The end of the hall slid open, revealing greenery.
Kayden walked toward the greenery, the garden, and then stopped just outside the door and stared. "Oh....." The trees were so tall, and they reached up to no ceiling but a light so bright she had to squint. It was so overwhelming she could barely comprehend it.
Collin's arm came around her waist. "Kayden, dear? Are you okay?"
She wrapped her arm around him to steady herself. She was on a planet. A real planet. She couldn't remember where she had lived before, but she knew she'd never been on a real planet. "Ssssooo bigg."
"Hey, Sweetheart. I understood that. You're getting better."
She only glanced at him before looking up into the trees. She heard chirping, leaves rustling, and the air moved and pulsed around her like a living thing. Tears came that she couldn't stop. It was beautiful.
Collin swung her up into his arms. "Hey," he whispered. "It's okay, Sweetheart. We can go back inside."
Collin sat down on a slab beside a wall of dirt and plants and rocks. The door was gone. He settled her on his lap. "Think you can tell me what's wrong?"
"Sooo big. Be... be... u...ty."
"You like Aussie? I must admit I'm rather partial to the place myself." He stood and caught the strap on Angie's cheek. "Let's go for a ride, and you can see a bit more." He lifted Kayden up and pushed her right foot into a holder hanging from the blankets on Angie's back. "Lift your leg over her back," Collin instructed. When she was straddling the huge beast, Collin swung up behind her. Then he fastened some straps around them and back to the blanket. "It's so we don't fall off," he explained. "It's completely safe."
He reached around her and grabbed the strap that hung over Angie's neck. "Come on, Girl. Let's go see a bit of the forest."
Kayden felt Angie's muscles bunch beneath her and then she was jolted back against Collin as the beast sprung up into the air. "Oh...."
"That's it, Kayden. Scream as much as you want," he shouted. "Enjoy the wind and the pleasure of pure flight."
Enjoy? She was terrified at first, but Collin's strong arms surrounding her made her feel safe enough to look beyond the back of Angie's huge neck. Her wings beat in a fantastic cycle, and then below them she saw the tops of the trees. Then a streak between them. She tried to point but had no fingers. It dampened her mood only a moment.
"It's a river," Collin said. "And there's a lake." Angie angled down toward a bright blue surface, that almost seemed brighter than the sky from the reflected light. Then she was on the ground, running and then walking beside the lake. She stopped and lowered her head to drink.
Kayden could see the lake and the trees surrounding it. So much space. And no people. "People?" Kayden ventured, pleased with how much better her tongue was cooperating today.
"Where?" She felt Collin twist behind her as if looking around.
"Yea. Wwwhh A rrr." Since he was looking, then perhaps there were people somewhere.
"Oh." Collin fell silent. He moved his arms, and Angie trotted along the edge of the water. "We'll talk about it back at the lab." He said nothing more, and Angie took to the air.
The trip back seemed faster than it had on the way out. She watched him move a rock, press some buttons and then a door opened where there was none before. Her stomach churned. She wasn't sure if it was the aftereffects of the ride, or the sudden knowledge that this hospital was hidden for a reason.
She let Collin help her down and sit her in the wheelchair. Then she waited while he attended to Angie in what he called the stables. She was now tired, and she let her eyes close.
"We need to get you a nap." Collin said softly. "We'll talk later."
When she awoke in bed, it was quiet, which wasn't unusual, but now she knew why. There were no other people. She turned on the bed, and sure enough, Collin was in the recliner, this time sleeping himself. He was such a strong, handsome, caring man, she couldn't imagine why he wanted to live alone. She knew he couldn't be a criminal. He was too good....
The image of another man flitted into her mind. A good man, but he'd stolen some money, gambled away someone's money. His boss. She wasn't sure who the man was, but she knew he was good, too. Maybe this man had stolen something, hoping to make it good some day.
She glanced around the hospital. Why would he need to steal? He was a doctor, an excellent doctor.
Collin smiled. "Feel better, Dear One."
He was always calling her special names. Maybe he was more than her doctor, and she just couldn't remember him. The thought startled her. Who was he?
"Mauve, have Lime bring us breakfast." Collin rose and helped her from the bed to the recliner. "You're looking better all the time, Kayden. How is your voice today?"
Kayden took a deep breath. Apparently she'd slept longer than she thought. Her voice had seemed better yesterday. Perhaps she would get better completely just like Dr. Collin kept saying. Or was he . . . ?
"Are . . . ." So far so good. "Are you my . . . father?"
Collin drew in a deep breath, closing his eyes. "I would tell you yes, if I knew the lie would never be found out." He opened his eyes and leaned forward. "But I will always care for you as a father would. I will be your family now."
"Where . . . what . . . why???" She was still frustrated. She had the questions, but there was still something blocking the thoughts from flowing out. Tears of frustration filled her eyes. The first sentence had come, why wouldn't the others?
Collin sat on the arm of the chair and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "I'm sorry, Kayden. I don't know where you come from. I'm sure your real parents miss you very much, but I have no way of contacting them. I don't even know your full name."
It was too much. He couldn't answer any of her questions. She stood to get away from him and slowly made her way to the hall. She wasn't sure why. She just didn't want him to see her tears. She leaned against the door frame and then decided to walk along the wall to the bookshelf to keep her eyes away from his. She'd examined it before, amazed at the luxury of paper books.
But then she was before the robot that didn't move. It stood four and a half foot high, but somehow she knew it could grow taller if it wanted to, telescope itself up. "Why . . . why doesn't . . . he move." She ran what was left of her hand along the smooth top of the machine.
"He malfunctioned. I had to shut him down."
She wiped the back of her arm across her face and then turned to look at Collin. "Will . . . he . . . be fixed?"
"I hope so. Someday. But right now you are my main concern, and malfunctioning robots will have to wait."
Mauve came in with their breakfast setting the plates on the small table between the recliners. Kayden made her way to her chair. They ate in silence. When they were finished, Kayden leaned back. "Where... is everyone?"
Collin sighed. "It's rather complicated, Kayden. You see, we're on a penal world. And we're not allowed to have any type of electronic equipment."
Collin seemed surprised, but then he smiled. "Yes, Kayden. I believe your memory is returning. We're on Austin, but the people prefer to call it Aussie. If you call it Austin, they'll think you're a new convict, and that will make things harder for you than they need to be."
He looked serious then. "But this facility would be destroyed if anyone knew it was here. Kayden, once we leave here, we must never speak about it. This place is our secret, okay?"
"No one knows?"
"How . . . how did you find it?"
Collin hesitated and glanced back at the non-functioning robot. "I was born here, Kayden. A hundred and seventy eight years ago. That's a secret, too. Your electronic friend found me out, but you and he are the only ones who know."
"My electronic friend?" She glanced back at the robot again.
"Yes, you came here with him. You were both injured. And he, unfortunately, must stay here, because out there, he'll be destroyed." He stood and paced to the robot, touching it with the tips of his fingers. "Kayden, we will go to the village when you are healed, when your hands have grown. But it is essential you keep these secrets. I will be killed if anyone knows I am a geneticist." He turned to face her. "The geneticist who bioengineered the most deadly animal on the planet."
Kayden felt weak. There was too much to think about. He was a hundred and seventy eight year old geneticist? The silent robot was her friend? And hands growing? She lifted her mutilated hands to stare at them, only half her palm even left. "Hands?"
Collin kneeled before her chair, taking her pathetic hands in his strong ones. "Yes, Kayden," he said softly. "I started them growing when you first came in three weeks ago. It'll be another three weeks before I can perform the operation to attach them. And then it will take work on your part to train the new muscles, tendons, and nerves to perform as you wish. Unless . . . you don't wish the operation. You're stable enough to make those decisions for yourself now."
"New hands? Real hands?"
Collin's mouth lifted a little at the corner. "Yes, Dear One. Real hands grown from your own genetic code. I'm sure they perform the procedure out in the rest of the galaxy. Unfortunately, you're the only one I've been able to help here, because the technology is forbidden. Do you see why we must stay alone? No one can see your hands like this if you ever want them whole."
She gave a quiet nod. He didn't normally live alone. He was doing it for her.
He sat in his chair. "Out there I have a medical practice in Hope, a small town between here and Capitol. My partner, Quinn, probably thinks I'm dead right now, but I haven't been able to go back and let him know I needed a bit longer vacation. I didn't want to leave you alone. The machines are . . . unreliable sometimes."
He glanced at her, but Kayden wasn't sure what to say to him. He was sacrificing a lot. "Your . . . friend. You need to . . . to go?"
"I should at least let him know I'm alive, so he doesn't give my home away and sell off my furniture. And he's only been a certified doctor for a little over a year. He was my apprentice, and he still could use the help."
"How . . . how long?" She knew he wanted to go then, but she also knew he wouldn't if she asked him not to. She wasn't sure how she knew that, except that he hadn't gone yet. She had to be brave.
"A couple days should be enough to let him know I'm alive."
"I'm scared," she whispered.
"It can wait."
She tried to smile. She'd been right. He'd stay for her. "But where will we live if he sells your house."
Collin's face broke into his big humorous grin which meant everything was right and would be all right. "Yes. We need the house in Hope. I'll even make sure a room is prepared for you, my sweet girl."
Collin spent the next day preparing Kayden for his departure, making sure the robots would obey her, and that she knew where the kitchen was if she'd rather go there herself. He also asked if she wanted to study anything while he was gone.
"What do you want me to know?" The words came even easier today.
"I can't determine where your interests lie, except I know you love animals. Do you want to study healing? I'm also working on a garden of bio-engineer plants at the cabin, in hopes that some will yield breakthroughs in medicine that I can't get through the Planetary Council relief shipments. And working out in Hope, what the Council does let through is usually used at the hospital in Alexandria, and us smaller villages only receive the leftovers. Pharmacology using native plants, and plants that I intend to make native, is essential to medical practice here."
Kayden heard more than his words, she heard his passion. He loved helping people and discovering new cures. How she wished she could help. "I . . . I'm not smart."
"Really? You know that."
Kayden blushed. "No. I don't know anything."
"Then perhaps you're a genius. But we'll start you out on refresher science texts since you don't remember them." He gave the Archive computer some orders.
Kayden found herself staring at the silent robot again. "Can he be reactivated?"
Collin glanced at the unit. "Not while I'm gone. I'm sorry, Kayden. He'd never hurt you on purpose, but he might thinking he was helping."
Collin's soft smile emerged. "Yeah. His designer is a genius. I'm sure Jamel will be functional again."
"Jamel . . . ." The name rolled over her tongue. "Jamel. There was . . . ." It wasn't coming. There was still some kind of block. She pounded her fist against the chair arm. "Why can't I remember?"
Collin was beside her, kneeling before her again. "Remember what, Sweetheart? Is it Charles Jamel, the machine's designer?"
"Charles. Charles." She shook her head. "No. Not Charles."
Collin hesitated. She almost thought he was keeping something from her. He stood and turned from her, facing the robot. "Well, that machine, the Jamel 5000A, probably saved your life. That must be why the name is familiar. Don't worry about it. He'll be fixed someday."
"When you get back?"
"Aaah . . . Yeah. I'll look into when I get back."
The next morning he left with Angie at dawn.