Chapter 10


The calves grew quickly. In just two weeks they had doubled their weight. Angie was able to fly again, and Collin took her on short outings, but never too far or too long from her calves.

He'd just readied himself for bed, when he heard a commotion downstairs. It wasn't unusual to be called out for an emergency at least once a month. He wished more would call him at night instead of waiting until morning when their loved one was almost dead. But fear of being eaten alive kept most people inside after dark.

He threw on his clothes. He could hear crying. Then Tara was cursing. "Damn that Hansell. Damn him to hell." A dragon victim. At times like this he couldn't blame her for cursing him.

"Alex!" Quinn called up the stairs. "Quick."

He met Kayden in the hall. "It'll be a long night, Sweetheart. Could you get dressed and help? The family needs warm food and comfort."

"I'll be right down."

Collin ran downstairs and instantly noted the bloodstained man and teenage boy in the entry. But they were both standing, emotional pain their biggest problem. The door to the examination room was closed, Quinn already inside. Collin gave the family a slight nod and rushed inside.

The victim was a child, not more than seven years of age. His shoulder and left arm were missing.

"Did they get the arm?" Collin asked, knowing he'd see it if they had, but he always hoped.

"No. He's lost too much blood."

As they worked to slow the flow he heard the door open. "Tara, we need more clamps . . . ."

"Oh, no," Kayden cried.

"See what those precious dragons of yours do!"

"Not now!" Collin roared. "Get us the clamps, will you!"

Tara scurried to do as he bid.

He focused on the child, and it wasn't until some time later that he realized Kayden was handing both him and Quinn more needles filled with gut or new cloths to blot seeping blood.

He put the last stitches in as the early morning light filtered into the room. He stretched and noticed Kayden, stiff and staring on her stool beside the tool tray. "Thanks, Kayden. You did a good job."

She lifted her gaze to Collin, but she looked straight through him. "Is he alive?"

"Yes. But not out of danger."

"Will you grow him a new arm?"

Quinn shot her a glance and rolled his eyes. "Hate to tell you this, but this is a low tech penal world. Maybe where you used to live, they could grow people new heads, but it just doesn't happen here."

Kayden started shaking and crying. Collin felt too stiff to move, but he did anyway, putting his arm around her shoulder and letting her lean against him.

Quinn's jaw was tight -- too tight. He turned his back to them, first throwing off his bloodstained jacket, and then leaning down over the fresh water Tara had left to wash his arms and hands.

Collin left Kayden to do his own washing. When they had donned fresh jackets and moved the boy to a clean bed in the adjoining room, they started for the door to the living room.

Quinn stopped without opening it, looking back at Kayden, still on the stool. "I'm sorry," he said. "I wish we could get him a new arm, too." Then he jerked open the door.

Collin followed him out, letting Quinn tell the family about the operation. He'd been the first doctor with them, and Collin would use every opportunity to show the village that Quinn was no longer the drunk's son, but a talented and qualified doctor.

After seeing the boy, the father and brother decided to go home to let the mother and two other siblings know.

Kayden disappeared upstairs. Collin ate because he knew he'd be busy, and he hadn't had any sleep. He'd taught Quinn to eat when necessary also. They couldn't help anyone if they didn't take care of themselves.

It wasn't until dinner that he saw Kayden again. Circles were under her eyes, and Tara was talking, her back to him. "Now, I'll forgive you, Child, for not seeing how evil Hansell was. But now you know, and you can't be making light of someone else's misery. Hansell was an evil, evil man."

Kayden stared at Collin. Then she closed her eyes and nodded.

Collin's throat tightened. Surely she didn't think . . . surely . . . .

"Good. Maybe we started off wrong, but we'll get along well now, I bet, if you just remember I know what I'm saying. I've lived here all my life. My family was one of the original settlers, and they weren't convicts like Alex said. He was just mad about that little misunderstanding we had."

This time Collin couldn't even take his own advice. He couldn't eat. He left the kitchen and ran outside.

"Collin!" he heard the voice, but didn't want to face anyone.

"Collin!" came the voice again. It was Jamel.

He'd been going to take Angie flying, but as it was dusk, he realized that was a bad idea, especially with a dragon somewhere nearby. He walked along the pasture fence to the pine tree clearing.

"Collin," came Jamel's voice, more soothing than before. "Kayden needs to talk to you."

"No, she doesn't," he yelled to no one. "She thinks I'm an evil bastard."

"How far are you running, Collin? Do you want Kayden out after dark? She's following you."

Collin turned around and screamed back to her. "Get back inside!"

She kept coming, running now, and he could no longer lead her further from safety. She ran into his arms. "Daddy, I love you," came her voice, muffled by his shoulder. "I hate Tara. I hate her. I'm sorry, Daddy. I wanted to yell at her, but Jamel said I shouldn't. But I should have. Jamel was wrong. It does hurt you, doesn't it?"

"I didn't say it didn't hurt him," Jamel said with a bit of indignation. "I said he'd be hurt if you gave away his secret with your anger. Why do humans continually misrepresent the words of others?"

"I'm not misrepresenting!" Kayden said. "You always talk and I have to just be silent. I'm tired of it. If I said as many words as you did, you'd probably mix a few up also."

"I would not. I have a perfect memory."

Kayden stuck out her tongue. "That was for you, but you probably didn't see it, Mr. Perfect."

Collin leaned against the pasture fence and smiled at his children, one visible, the other not.

"If you do not wish my advice, I'll let you sulk in the corner next time." There was a slight pause. "But I do think you served quite admirably in the operating room."

"But not as good as you would have."

"There is no need to compare yourself to me. I am incapable of doing anything but talking, and apparently that is not adequate."

Kayden leaned back against the fence. "Oh, Jamel, don't get maudlin on me. You talk quite well. Just quit expecting me to have a perfect memory. You know I'm brain dead when it comes to learning."

"I'm sorry," Jamel said, his tone more contrite than the bantering had indicated. Then he was silent.

Kayden rolled her eyes. "There he goes again. He's not going to speak to me for a couple hours."

Collin wrapped his arm around Kayden's shoulder. He wished he could grip Jamel's shoulder and tell him that Kayden's joke had nothing to do with his attempt at surgery. He was sure by Kayden's reaction to studying, by what she did learn, and by the way she spoke certain phrases, that the "brain-dead when it comes to learning" expression was not a new one to her. For some reason her previous education, while better than many of the youths on this planet, was not as stellar as it could have been. Her grasp of new material made him think it was more lack of opportunity or desire than any real brain dysfunction.

But now he had to know how Kayden felt. Her banter with Jamel made it appear that seeing the dragon's handiwork did not affect her.

"Kayden, about the surgery."

"Did I do something wrong? I knew I shouldn't have gone in. But the first time Tara forced me, and then Jamel said I should help. He said . . . ."

"Yes. And you did a wonderful job. If that wasn't too traumatic for you, I'd like to train you as a nurse."

"Really? But I want to raise wingdeer."

Collin couldn't help the smile. "Well, fortunately we don't have a large number of surgeries, but if you could spare the time to assist me."

She hugged him. "Anything, Daddy."

"And the blood didn't bother you? You looked a little peaked this morning."

Kayden turned and stared over the dark pasture. "I'll get used to it."

"And the dragon's injuries? I've had worse."

She still didn't look at him. "Are you going to kill it?"

"Do you want me to?"

"Yeah." She leaned into his arms then. "I'm scared."

"You shouldn't be outside at night. Especially now that we know there's one close by."

"Neither should you." She grabbed his hand and pulled them back toward the house.

"I can kill it the same way I did at the cabin."

Kayden whirled around to look up at him now. "I want a laser, too. I want to kill the one that hurt that little boy. Why don't you take him to the lab?"

He started her walking again. If they were closer to the barn, he'd feel she was safer. "I would if I could. But I can't. Not without everyone finding out. The lab would be destroyed, and I wouldn't be able to develop new medicines or help another person. Even Jamel would be killed. I can't help that child any more than I have." And it tore at him every time. Oh, people with serious illnesses could be diagnosed in Alexandria and apply for a special dispensation to go to the station orbiting the planet, where the guards lived. But even if they were approved, most died before the guards got around to coming down for them. Damn them for leaving the people to die. Damn them for tying his hands when he could help. Damn the whole galaxy.

He stalked past the barn, now dragging Kayden back to the house. On the porch, he growled. "Get back in the house. I'm going hunting."

"No, Collin." Jamel said calmly. "You are a human, and you are not in peak condition. Your reflexes are too slow. Sleep tonight. We will go hunting tomorrow night."

"And if he kills tonight?"

Kayden grabbed on to him. "He's right, Collin. You know he's right. He's always right. Don't take the chance. The lab isn't even any good without you. No one will ever be helped again . . . ."

Her panic broke through his anger, and he hugged her to him. "I won't be killed."

She pulled away from him. "Yeah, right. You think you're immortal, don't you? But you're not. If it ate your head off you'd be dead and not even Jamel could save you."

"Sssh. Sweetheart. You're overreacting. You're tired. Let's go up and get some sleep."

"You, too. You promise me you won't go out tonight."

Collin gave in. It was nice to have someone so concerned for him. Sure Quinn was, but he would never be so open in his fear for him. "Okay. So are you going to let Jamel go with me?"

"Yeah. He sees everything. He has some kind of electronic eyes."

"Sensors," Jamel corrected.

"Yeah."

"I know, Kayden."

"I want to go, too."

"No."

"Some day you have to give me a laser and teach me how."

He herded her into the house. "We are not talking board games here."

"Yeah, but you'd be there to save me if I mess up."

"What if you accidentally kill Collin with the laser," Jamel asked.

"I wouldn't do that!"

"Not on purpose. Lasers kill."

"I hate you, Jamel."

Quinn stared at them from his chair. He'd waited up to make sure they came back in safely. He'd never admit it, but Collin had caught him doing that many times before.

"Kayden," Collin said quietly. "I think you're overtired. Go on up to bed."

"I wouldn't hurt you!"

"I know that, Sweetheart. Now go on up to bed."

Kayden ran upstairs. Collin watched her until she disappeared and then turned to Quinn who now stood beside him.

"Is she okay?"

"Yeah."

"Tara said . . . thought she heard her talking when . . . ." Quinn shrugged. "Know they don't get along, but . . . ." he glanced up the stairs.

Collin tried not to cringe. They both were going to start looking like a couple of psychotic drunks if they weren't more careful. "She'll be okay. She just does her planning out loud sometimes."

Quinn nodded. "She helped out during surgery."

"I want to have her help out more. She won't make a doctor, but it's nice to have an extra hand during emergencies."

"Yeah." Instead of going upstairs, Quinn started for the kitchen. "You didn't eat."

Collin followed him to the table, and Quinn brought in the roast and potatoes from the kitchen, setting it before him. "Thanks, Quinn."

Quinn slid into the chair across from him. "We need more help. Especially when you go up to the cabin."

Was Quinn trying to get Burke back here? "You think we should get an apprentice?"

Quinn shook his head. "If you want." He closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. I just can't keep up when you're gone working the garden at the cabin. Come spring . . . ." He bit his lip, a rare gesture for him. "I love Rae," he said referring to his baby wingdeer. "But I just don't have any time. And when you're gone . . . Tara's right. I just can't do it all. I'm sorry."

Collin studied him. He looked pale in the light of the lamp, his black hair making the angles of his face seem deeper. He'd been busy since he returned, and more than once he'd wondered how Quinn had managed for two months alone, but he had yet to do anything to remedy the situation. Partly because he was too busy and fulfilled with Kayden and Jamel to have any desire to train an apprentice. But Quinn didn't need an apprentice, he needed help.

"What do you think about us sending a request to Alexandria for someone."

Quinn closed his eyes, his jaw tensing and untensing. "Whatever you think best. I just want the people to have the help they need." His jaw tensed and untensed a few more times. "I guess someone from the hospital would be best for the people. He'd know far more than I do." He rose from the chair and tried to brush past Collin out of the room.

Collin caught his arm. "Wait a minute, Quinn. You're an excellent doctor."

"I've never been to school."

"And you're saying what? I didn't teach you everything there is to know? Guess what? Even if you did this for a hundred and sixty years, you still wouldn't know it all." He had another thought. "You want to leave me."

Quinn whirled around. "Never!" And at his horrified expression, Collin realized he was telling the truth.

"Then why are you upset?"

"I'm just a failure. All those cases you had to bail me out of, and that boy sleeping in there wouldn't be alive if you weren't home. I didn't see that ripped lung."

Collin stood and grabbed Quinn's arms to face him. "Quinn, we all go through this. I do, too. I was just cursing our lack of medical equipment to restore that boy's arm. But you are right about one thing. We need help. Not because you've failed, but because the village has grown a lot in the last two years. I couldn't do it without you either. We need another doctor around here."

Quinn hesitated and then nodded. "Where will he sleep?"

"I've been thinking about a new building. Perhaps Kayden and I could have a new house with the pharmacy, and a few extra rooms, and you, Tara and the baby would stay here. Wilma would be my housekeeper, and you'll have to hire your own, if Tara wants someone. I'll contact a builder next week."

"And the new guy?"

"If we can convince someone to come out to Hope, I think I'd prefer he stay here, but if it doesn't work out, we can switch it."

Quinn nodded and then yawned. "We better get some sleep. Are you down tonight or am I?"

"I'll do it." Collin finished eating, and then went to sleep in the chair between the two beds in the patient guest room in case the boy had any problems during the night.




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