The next few months were busy. Their new house was built, the calves were growing, and Dr. Gaben Blanne joined their practice. He was a year younger than Quinn, but with mid-brown hair, and although an inch shorter, he was slightly broader in the shoulders. Collin hadn't had many applicants during his two day stay in Alexandria, and Gaben was the only one who could come back with him immediately. But he was a city boy, used to stone and brick buildings, running water, and the electricity at the hospital. He'd been shocked that their practice didn't own a generator.
"We are still waiting for approval from Capitol," Collin explained as they stood in the main examination and operating room. "You have to wait four years between apps. So next year I apply again. And we may get it then. Hope is a growing village."
Gaben gave the shake of the head, which was becoming all too familiar. "I'll fill out the forms for you. Sometimes they won't approve you if they think you're a fraud. You don't know how many quacks are out there pretending to be doctors."
"And you're less of a quack than Alex?" Quinn asked.
Gaben tilted his head and smiled. "I didn't mean any of us were quacks. But I do know how to fill out government forms."
"And so do I," Collin stated. "It's my practice. I do the paperwork."
"Just trying to help. Those forms are complicated."
"No more complicated than any other aspect of medicine." Collin moved them on to other topics. Gaben was never disrespectful, he was always polite, and he was always easy to get along with, but he just didn't have the respect for him that he'd shown before they arrived in Hope. Collin was judged by where he practiced and how extensive his equipment. It didn't matter that without the generator permit, the best equipment was useless. Collin tried to remind himself that he'd chosen Hope specifically because the people needed a doctor here.
But soon Gaben was a part of their crowded household.
Collin's house was built first. It was beside the old house and practice, and the builders would continue to work on the extended medical rooms that would connect the two. He also had the barn extended on the pretext that they would use the extra room as their wingdeer population grew. A large loft with a second story door would be installed, insulated by strips of overlapping dragon-skin. When the contractor balked at his design, Collin had to patiently explain that wingdeer were perfectly happy jumping out a second story door and would have no trouble getting into it.
In reality, the new loft was for Jamel, if all went well with the new dragon reptile/mammal conversion and the bionic enhancement. Collin loved working with Jamel. He challenged him, found holes in logic, and made charts and diagrams, which he transferred to Collin's notebook. He was the perfect assistant. Collin hadn't been this free to so unself-consciously explore ideas since the above ground lab was destroyed. Whenever he'd worked with other people since then, he'd had to monitor his ideas and thoughts so they didn't get carried away and reveal more background in genetics than a simple doctor on an isolated planet without a decent computer should have.
Collin hoped his foray into merging flesh and machine worked, not only to still his own desire to succeed, but because of the longing he heard in Jamel's voice to be fully mobile again.
They moved in to the new section of the house two weeks before Tara had her baby. Tara insisted, though, that Gaben, instead of Collin, assist in the delivery of the baby, much to Quinn's annoyance. Collin's campaign to turn away her affections had worked remarkable well.
Tara named the girl, Shanika, and Collin teased Quinn about them both having a daughter now.
Spring finally arrived and it looked like the whole planet was in bloom. The air was refreshing, and Kayden loved the feel of the wind in her face as they rode Angie toward the mountain cabin. Sam, her adorable little wingdeer, followed his mother. He didn't quite have the speed and stamina, and they were forced to stop several times, taking all day for what was a four hour trip. She hoped that Quinn was able to manage Rae alone. She imagined the poor little wingdeer was lonely without her mother or brother. Her mood dipped for a while until she realized Rae had Quinn. He loved her. He'd protect her. She didn't need a brother or a mother.
She hadn't been to the lab since she left almost six months before. And after the first day, she became restless. Collin and Jamel were completely immersed in their work, although Jamel assured her he was multitasking and could talk to her also. But she wanted to do more than talk. She wanted to be out in the summer sun, and the lab now seemed like a dry and empty tomb.
At the end of their three week stay, Kayden was ready to return home. Jamel and Collin had things started in the lab, and they anticipated that in less than a year, Jamel would be flying in his own body.
Kayden settled into a routine at home. She did more nurse and pharmacy work in the evenings, but most of the daylight hours she spent outside and in the stable. One day Collin brought home another female wingdeer, and both Kayden and Quinn took turns learning solo flight while Collin flew alongside. He also taught Gaben.
Collin let Kayden stay home the next time he and Jamel went to the lab to check on the progress of the dragon's body surrounded by bioengineered amniotic fluid in the large Plexiglas chamber. She claimed the lab bored her, and she'd rather stay with the wingdeer, Tabitha, and the horses. After charging Quinn to keep an eye on her, Collin finally left.
The dragon's body was progressing nicely and right on schedule. It was the size of a newborn calf now, its skin holding a very light tinge of blue. Jamel's voice held excitement as they stood before the chamber. "It's going to be perfect."
Collin laughed. "I should have made sure you had a few failures like the rest of us lowly scientists."
"I am indebted to your experience."
"Remember it, Genius. None of us have success without the work of those who came before."
"I am loyal to you forever, Collin Hansell."
"Until I die. You're the immortal one now, the keeper of the planets records, the righter of wrongs and designer of good creatures."
"You're not dying!" Emphatic. And as frightened as Kayden or Quinn. Did the core of positronic connections actually love him as he had come to love it?
"I may have another 150 years, give or take a few, providing I judge my physical condition right and give up dragon baiting when the reflexes start to slow down."
"My pledge will not be revoked. I am loyal to you and will follow your vision for the future. Better medicines for the people, to help the oppressed, to father the fatherless, to love those with no one, to stop the killing of the innocent."
Collin smiled and sat down in the recliner before the chamber. "Jamel, my son, I treasure your loyalty. I hope it is not stretched when you no longer need me."
"I have made my vow. I have no doubt it is a good one."
He chuckled. "Kayden would be chiding you for thinking you were always right."
"I know I am not always right. But I have found a guide, two of them. You and a book of philosophy."
"Really? Which book is this?"
"It is called simply 'Holy Scriptures'. There are many commentaries, and I am sorting them out."
Collin grinned and closed his eyes. "I don't suppose religion will hurt you any, Jamel. Just don't use it as an excuse to hurt people."
"It is not! I sorted through them all, and I would not choose one that stated or implied that I should."
"Why did you choose that one?"
"I found it best lines up with the laws of nature -- properly understood. I have found divergent views, but have discarded them as you suggested."
"Is that the one with that 'neighbor as yourself' stuff?" he was starting to drift to sleep now, the long ride over from Hope catching up with him. He'd never had much interest in the religious angles of philosophy anyway. Too many people had done too many bizarre and sometimes hurtful things in the name of religion.
"Good. You do that then. Treat people right. Don't hurt anyone." He then dozed off.
When he returned to Hope two days later, Kayden was not around. Tess was missing from the pasture, but the calves were there. So were all three horses.
He took care of Angie first and then took his pack into the house, going through the new clinic door into the waiting room. He heard Gaben from the back examination room, at first assuming he had a patient until he heard Tara's giggle. Then Gaben laughed again.
Collin made his way down the hall, and then stepped into the room. Tara was looking up at Gaben, her hand on his arm, and he smiled down into her face. "I see we're not busy," Collin said, nonchalantly.
A very slight blush spread over Tara's face, and Gaben's face went blank.
"No. No patients here," Gaben said too quickly. "Quinn took Kayden with him as a nurse. Josh Shettler's horse, that one he's always bragging about, missed a jump and impaled itself, and they're seeing if she can be sewed back up since there aren't any patients."
"And you didn't want to go?"
"Someone had to be here for the people. Besides I'm not a horse doctor."
Collin slid one of his packs off his shoulder. "This goes in the pharmacy. I'm going to wash up and change. Then we'll go over what I missed."
After wiping the sweat from his body and putting on dryer clothes, he found Gaben in the office. Gaben told him about each case that had come in. When he finished he asked, "How was your trip?"
"Good." He led him into the pharmacy and went over the medicines he'd already made, and the plants that still needed to be prepared. He started them working at the table in the center of the room, both of them on stools across from each other. "So, you and Tara seem to be getting along pretty well."
"I get along with just about everyone," Gaben said nonchalantly, his mask back in place.
"Pretty girl, isn't she?"
"I hadn't noticed."
"Make sure you don't, or you'll be walking back to Alexandria while your breach of ethics dismissal paper is flying back."
"I thought breach of ethics was limited to doctor/patient interactions."
"Quinn is my son. If he is hurt by anyone's hand, I won't limit my ethics, and you won't have to either because you'd end up as dragon bait walking home with woman as loud and as contentious as she is."
"Frankly, Alex, this lecture is unnecessary. It's Kayden I'm interested in."
"She's a child."
"She looks to be a woman to me. How old is she?"
Collin tried to contain his anger because truthfully there was nothing wrong with Gaben having an interest in Kayden. Quite a few of the girls in rural villages such as Hope married that young. "Fourteen. She has four more years before she's allowed to consider a husband."
Gaben spurted out a laugh. "Oh, man, Alex. Which planet did your people come from? Wake up. You won't be able to hold onto a girl like that for four more years." His eyes narrowed. "Unless Tara's rumor is true."
Anger would reinforce his suspicion. He had to diffuse it. He laughed, but it didn't come near as freely as his laughter normally did. "I'm afraid Tara's a little bitter. Don't believe everything she says. I adopted Quinn, and I adopted Kayden. If I wanted to replace my ex-wife, I wouldn't have any trouble doing so. I don't need to seduce children, and I'd kill anyone who did."
Gaben worked in silence, and Collin was able to get his temper under control. He'd have to face this and be ready. Gaben wouldn't be the last to notice Kayden as a woman. She'd finished maturing physically over the last year, and also grown as a person. She'd make a good wife to the right man.
He tried to see Gaben neutrally, and realized he had let Gaben's slight boasting influence him. He'd probably not been after Tara at all. Probably never thought of such a thing, just as Collin hadn't until it blew up in his face. And he was a good doctor, and Collin had never known him to be cruel or to even display a temper. Oh, he'd rage along with him and Quinn over the injustices of not receiving needed medicines from Alexandria, and he'd yell at a patient who waited far too long for care, but it was all in concern.
"Forgive me, Gaben, if I misread the situation earlier. I'm a fiercely protective father, but you are probably a better man that ninety-nine percent of the youth of Hope, so I will try not to interfere. I do prefer though that you wait the four years. She's still recovering from an attack."
"Tara said dragon attack, but she looks . . . I see. I will wait."
"You will wait?"
Gaben didn't meet his gaze. "I won't ask her for four years. If I meet someone before that . . . ?" He shrugged. "I can't predict the future."
"Then we won't speak about this again, unless you are still interested in four years."
"No, Sir," Gaben said, for the first time showing the respect he had for him in Alexandria.
"You should find him a wife, Collin," Jamel said in his ear. "Kayden does not care for him much. He's too proud of himself."
Collin smiled. If Gaben wouldn't think he was deranged, he'd tease Jamel about the time Kayden complained that Jamel, himself, thought he was right all the time. But he couldn't do it now, just when he was regaining Gaben's respect.