Everything was caught up at the clinic since Gaben’s vacation, except they needed more supplies from Alexandria. Collin waited until Quinn, Gaben, and Michael were waiting for their morning assignments. “I’ve decided to take Kayden and Michael with me to Alexandria. We’ll leave tomorrow and probably be gone about four days. Do you, Gaben or Quinn, have any problems, requests?”
Quinn’s face was unreadable. Collin wondered if he was getting ill, but he suspected it was Tara’s nagging bothering him again. If he could, he’d throttle her. He’d already lectured her to grow up and support Quinn instead of running him down every chance she had. But maybe now that Gaben was back, she’d watch her tongue a little more.
Gaben gave a small smile. “I suspected you might go soon. I’m sure things will run smoothly here.”
“Good. I’ve talked to our neighbors, and Fred Keller has agreed to come tend the animals in the morning, but you two will need to make sure they’re in at night.” Actually Collin had to offer Fred a decent amount of money for the chore. He was nervous around wingdeer, and he did have his own farm to maintain. But this would erase the doctor’s bill he owed. “If you two think of anything you want me to pick up while I’m there, let me know by tomorrow morning. Come, Michael. We’ll go over supplies here. Gaben and Quinn can take house calls today.”
Michael followed him back into the clinic to go over their supplies and equipment. After Gaben and Quinn left, Michael said, “If we’re going to be at the hospital, I can earn a few coins, if that fits in with your plans.”
“It’s where I earned the other money I had. Dr. Ithica has offered me a permanent position as his tech repair person, but he’s willing to settle for whatever time I can offer.”
Collin chuckled. “You have traveled, haven’t you? So how did you come to reveal yourself to Dr. Ithica? A similar accident?”
Michael turned to shove the medical supplies they’d just counted back into the cupboard, but not before Collin detected his annoyance. “I just asked to speak to him. I wanted to find out if Kayden had been brought there. I thought it a logical place to search -- after of course, checking her father’s home in Capitol.”
Collin felt like he’d been kicked in the gut. He was sure he’d misunderstood. “Who did you see in Capitol?”
Michael faced him again. “She still doesn’t remember her parents, does she? But I promised Niles I’d let him know when I found her.”
“Niles?” Could he not have one little piece of Kayden to himself? Michael was taking any last chance of an exclusive friendship, and now he was saying she had a father just down the river in Capitol.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Collin snapped. “Kayden came off the shuttle. She isn’t a native. I thought we agreed on that.”
Michael stepped back. “I thought Kayden wasn’t ready for more from her past, but you don’t seem to be either.”
Collin took a deep breath and then motioned Michael to follow him to the living room. He needed time to think through this. He needed to sit down. He took his favorite armchair and leaned back, waiting for Michael to take a seat also. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was unaware that you were still withholding important information from me.” And Collin winced. He knew what he was doing as he did it --throwing the blame on Michael to cover his emotional response.
“I was waiting until she was ready Remember last time I tried to talk to her about her past? She keeps remembering little things, and I’d hoped she’d remember this.”
Collin ran his hands over his face. Michael’s reasons were valid, and Collin could have interrogated him long ago. “I’m sorry, Michael. You’re right. I’m overreacting to a simple statement.” He leaned forward. “What kind of man is he? Controlling, abusive, domineering?” He’d have no trouble keeping Kayden from a man like that.
“Actually, he’s very decent. My second night on the planet, I was so exhausted and sore from my experiences, he put me in he and his wife’s bed, which was about the only piece of furniture in the house. They don’t have much. He’s only been here eight or nine years. I think his wife was born here though. Talked about how her dad used to own a horse farm.” Michael relaxed back into the couch, his defensiveness leaving.
“Not Kayden’s mother?” Collin shoved his own feelings back behind a shield where he could no longer be bothered by them. It was time to do what was best. He knew nothing ever lasted and this was proof. Now he didn’t even have the status of father.
“No. That’s how Kayden ended up on the Frontier Base 28. They were all heading here, but her mother changed her mind at the base and refused to go further. Niles was forced to go on alone. I didn’t meet Kayden until after he left, but she always said he was a nice guy. And she missed him a lot.”
Collin wondered if Michael realized he was ripping him apart with his words. He sat over there talking earnestly, completely relaxed.
“Do you think she’s ready to hear about him yet?”
Collin sighed. “Why don’t we just take this trip first? Then maybe after we get back, I’ll check him out. Maybe bring him for a visit.”
“He works six days a week at some factory. Doesn’t earn much, but it’s all he’s got. His wife has several places she cleans stables for. I’m not sure they could easily go on vacation. It’d probably be better if I took Kayden to Capitol.”
“No!” Collin said, standing. “She’s not going near Capitol without me until she knows you want to take her off planet and she agrees to leave with you. I won’t have her forced onto a shuttle against her will.”
Michael’s breathing suddenly came in short, quick bursts. His eyes narrowed. He rose and shot at Collin.
Collin thought he’d be hit, but Michael stopped right before him, looking slightly up into his face. “I didn’t force her! I took her to the waiting room. That bastard pushed her into the bay. I couldn’t do anything. If you think . . . .”
Collin grabbed Michael’s shoulders. “Slow down,” he said softly. “Slow down. I know you didn’t do anything then. Poor choice of words. Come on. Relax for me.”
Michael closed his eyes, his body stiff under Collin’s hands.
“I’m sorry, Michael. I know you love her. I know you wouldn’t hurt her on purpose. Let’s just forget about her father . . . what’s his name?”
“Let’s just forget about Niles Pannier until we get back from our vacation. We’re going to the beach. Have you ever been to the beach?”
But then he heard someone come in the front door and into the adjoining waiting room. A patient. Collin squeezed Michael’s shoulders. “We’ll save this for later, okay?”
Michael nodded, his body slowly relaxing. Then he turned and walked into the waiting room, greeting the newcomers as Collin walked back to the office to pull the notes he had on them.
That night Collin went out to see Jamel. He took the light, because he needed to clear out the inventory of dragon hides. In the loft he set down the lantern and gave in to Jamel’s obvious bid for a bit of caressing and scratching. He loved the softness of his fur.
“I’m going to send you to Alexandria tonight, my friend.”
“You’re a quick one, Jamel. Yes. You’ll get to Ulan’s door before dawn. Tell him I’ll collect payment sometime within the next week.” Collin walked back to the small area behind the ladder and began pulling out bundles. There seemed to be more than the last time he’d looked. “You’re forever hunting without me,” Collin complained again in a teasing voice. “I’ll be sending you on your own to Ulan more often, I think. You’re going to be packed tonight.”
“Look at that rose hide. I was with Quinn then.”
Collin pulled out a section of it and admired the colors. “With Quinn, huh? First time?”
“Yes. I think I scared him again. But he recovered. His real father sounds like a very cruel man.”
“I’m his father, Jamel. The man who supplied half his genetic makeup was a sick alcoholic. I’m afraid he followed his own father’s example, and Burke was determined to continue the tradition. But Quinn was reborn my son. He has a new life now.”
“I understand. Visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation.”
“What are you quoting from, Jamel?”
“The Ten Commandments in Exodus.”
Collin shook his head. “Did you run out of other things to study? Should we go back to the lab so you can shuffle your files?”
Jamel chuckled. “I wouldn’t replace these particular files regardless. You were right. Philosophy has helped me.”
Collin noted Jamel’s chuckle was much the same as his was when he was amused. The imitation made him smile. “I don’t think the Ten Commandments fall under Philosophy.”
“In my files the category is ‘Philosophy and World Religions’. At your suggestion I studied everything and came to a workable view of the world which harmonizes with the facts of nature.”
Collin strapped on Jamel’s saddle as they spoke and then began tying the bundles to it. “Well, my friend. I must say I’m surprised that your logical mind settled on what most people consider illogical.”
“I can go through the process of proofs . . . .”
Collin held up his hand. “I’m sure that would take more time than we have tonight, Friend. Let’s table this discussion for some time when we can spend a week at the lab or at the lake.”
Jamel eyed him and chuckled again. “I’ll look forward to that day.”
Collin laughed. “My friend, the fire and brimstone breathing dragon. Just watch you don’t think yourself too good now.”
“An adequate understand of the text eliminates such sentiments.” Jamel shifted, and Collin lifted another bundle to tie to the saddle. “But you are right, Collin. I must always be careful. I hurt Michael thinking I was doing right and protecting Kayden. I must always remember not to rely on my own understanding of things.” He seemed to sigh. “Unfortunately neither John Calvin nor Augustine wrote anything about being a computer in a dragon’s body. In fact there’s no literature of any kind on the subject.”
Collin grabbed Jamel’s big head and hugged him, rubbing his ears vigorously. “I love you. You keep studying your files then, if it keeps you amused. Although we could use a plant medicine which would wither cancer cells.”
“Take your pick. We need homegrown cures for all the cancers since the powers that be won’t help us.”
“I’ll work on it. If you can get frequency reports from Alexandria, I’ll start with the most common and work my way to the obscure. By the way, I do have the cell structure for the new alterative bronchial dilator and a tentative plant design. I sent it to your notebook for you to go over.”
“Good.” They were back on firm, familiar ground. Jamel had far surpassed any casual reading of philosophy that Collin had undertaken, and he wasn’t at all sure he was ready to wade through Jamel’s conclusions in that area. His current report in plant and human genetic cures, a subject he knew well, would probably take him over a month to fully understand and appreciate.
Collin attached the last bundle. Ten in all, which meant five full hides. “Are you going to have trouble with all that weight? I don’t want you endangered.”
Jamel assured him he’d be fine, but Collin made him take a test flight and then kept in voice contact with him until he was on the other side of Hope and winging toward Alexandria.
Collin and Kayden readied Angie and Sam for flight as the sun rose in the east.
“Kayden, Michael can ride with you, can’t he?” Collin asked, giving Michael a wink.
Again Michael was amazed at Collin’s openness. He had rules, but within those rules he’d give Michael whatever he wanted, even his beloved daughter. He climbed up behind Kayden and made sure he wasn’t tight against her as the straps were fastened down. And then they flew. He was glad he’d had a few weeks to get used to the wingdeer rides before the trip.
They flew over several small villages, and then the City of Alexandria. They reached the Village of Jacada a little after noon. Michael could see the vast, never-ending flow of the ocean to the east and south reflecting the bright sun. Watching the surface pulsate he began to feel queasy until Kayden brought Sam down to the ground before a three story building. Flowering shrubs grew along the front of the white painted clapboard, and blue trimmed the windows and borders. Collin led them inside and arranged for them to have a room. Then they ate in the dining room.
Afterward Collin took them walking along the bright streets. Michael finally determined why everything seemed so glaring. Most of the ground was white. White bricks made the roads, and white stone and sand bordered small patches of grass protruding from a light brown dirt, not the dark brown or black dirt back in Hope or in the mountains where he’d traveled before. And the houses were mostly white with colorful trims.
“I realized you’ve lived here almost six years, Kayden, and I’ve never taken you to see the ocean,” Collin was saying. “It’s really the core of the economy for all the major cities except Alexandria. And even Alexandria benefits, although it takes an hour by horse drawn truck to get there from here.”
He took them into a small shop, which had a few racks of clothing in the middle and shelves lining the walls. “We’re going to get bathing suits so you two can go in the water.” He grinned.
Michael could see Kayden was just as surprised as he was. “Go in the water? Why would we want to do that?”
Collin looked through a rack of clothing. Then he held up a very short pair of pants to Michael. “It’ll do.” He threw the small pants over his arm and started searching another rack. Michael met Kayden’s gaze.
She slid her arm around Michael’s waist. Collin held a short sleeved, short waisted tunic up to Kayden, and then followed with the short pants. “Ahh. Collin, I don’t mean to be picky, but . . . I’d rather have something made of dragonhide.” Then she blushed. “I mean, not that I don’t appreciate all you’ve given me. I just don’t think this . . . .”
Collin stopped, looking into her face. “Of course, Sweet Child,” he said softly, bringing his hand to touch her cheek. “You never ask, and I forget. I meant to go back and get you something after Quinn had his hide, but . . . .” He shook his head.
“But you have gotten me things,” Kayden said quickly. “My jacket and the medical pouch and . . . and . . . .”
Collin touched her lips with his finger. “We’ll all go to the tanner’s, and you can see his beautiful work.” Then he grinned and almost seemed to hop to the counter. “But today, my children, we are going swimming!”
Collin purchased the scant outfits and took them back to the inn. Their room had three beds, one in each of three corners. The fourth corner had a screen hiding a dressing table and mirror. Collin handed Michael and Kayden the clothes he’d purchased for them, and then searched his own pack, withdrawing his own pair of short pants. “Guess I’ll go first.” He slipped behind the screen.
When they all had their short suits on under their longer clothing, Collin took them back outside and whistled for the wingdeer. Then they flew north along the white sands of the beach until they no longer saw any other people. When they landed Collin stripped off his outer clothing until all he wore were the short pants.
And he said he didn’t favor loincloths! Michael couldn’t help comparing him to the dragon slayer in the painting. The man could probably make a killing as a model in one of those artist communities like NewParis. It was as if one of the planet’s long dead geneticists had said, “Instead of making the perfect flying beast, I’m going to craft the perfect human body.”
Michael glanced at Kayden, and she had noticed also. He vaguely realized he wasn’t jealous. Admiring art in any form was natural.
Collin jogged to them with a jar of cream, his face holding his familiar humorous grin. “Come on, you two. Don’t just stand there. Strip down. And then put this cream on to keep the sun from burning you. Michael, it looks like you could use a bit on your face already.”
Michael remembered the cream as one of his assignments in the pharmacy last week. Collin gave one more encouragement to undress and then began slathering cream over his physically perfect body.
Kayden pulled off her own shirt and slipped off her trousers. Michael stared at the flesh peeking out between the end of Kayden’s short tunic and the top of her short pants. But then she rushed at him, laughing. “Come on, Michael. You must join us.”
Michael knew he couldn’t compete. “Are you sure you want to see healing ribbons all over my back?”
Kayden grabbed the bottom of his shirt and lifted it. Michael helped her complete the procedure. “I don’t care about seeing,” Kayden whispered and then ran her arms over his bare chest and around his back to hold him. “I just want to be close to you.”
Collin took two steps to them and held out the jar of cream. “Better rub his back, Kayden. Don’t want burns added to his list of planetary curses.”
“And who rubs yours,” Kayden teased.
“You can.” Collin turned to display his back to her.
When they finished with the cream, Collin slipped it back into his bag. Then he left the bag by Kayden’s feet and ran into the water.
Later, when Collin returned from what he called a “refreshing swim”, they walked along the beach. Kayden and Michael actually enjoyed playing in the shallow water, and they found many curiously shaped shells and rocks.
“Did the geneticists make all these shell creatures,” Michael asked.
“Not many. The planet had some sea life, and most interested in the oceans wanted bigger canvases, like new types of whales and fish. Although Benton and Shar Usari focused on crustaceans and other invertebrates.”
Michael continued to search the sand for more of the planet’s artwork. When he found a new shell, he’d inquire about it, and amazingly Collin knew everything, whether native or engineered, and if engineered who designed it and sometimes even the date it was released. “Is this part of doctor training on this planet? You’re like a computer. Total recall of obscure facts.”
Collin tilted his head back and laughed. “I have never been compared to a computer before. Thanks, Mike. I enjoy your compliments.”
Michael hadn’t tried to compliment, and realizing his words, he’d have taken it as a criticism. But not Collin. He wasn’t offended at all. Michael tried to cover his gaff by going back to his original question. “Is it mandatory in doctor training?”
“Not at all. I just spent quite a bit of time studying the planet and the records of its creatures.”
“I’d like to read the book or books.”
Collin’s smile left. “Don’t have them in Hope.”
“Maybe I could buy something before . . . in Alexandria.”
“Probably not. The citizens of our fine world don’t appreciate their history. They pretend they’re on Terran Earth, and wonder why there are no kangaroos hopping along the grasslands. The only time a geneticist is mentioned is to curse him. And they only know one name. I need a swim.” He ran into the water and soon was swimming away from them with powerful strokes.
Kayden stared after him, her face holding a strange mixture of sympathy and pain.
She glanced up at Michael, opened her mouth and then paused. She looked back toward Collin and shook her head. “He’ll be all right.”
Michael turned them to walk back the way they’d come. “Yeah, but why’d he get upset?”
“He wasn’t upset. Not really. He’s just frustrated with the way things are. This is a wonderful place, but it isn’t appreciated. Beauty isn’t appreciated and neither is history. In fact most will deny that the original settlers during the reign of the geneticists were convicts also. They don’t like to admit that any good thing came out of the labs, although they love the kittles and wingdeer, and the exotic birds. They especially love those dragon-hide jackets and belts. But they never once give credit to the ones who made those things possible. In fact without the geneticists bioengineering the food crops and even the sheep, we wouldn’t have wheat that thrives, nor sheep that can digest the tougher grasses here. They just don’t want to hear it. To them, even almost 150 years later, the geneticists deserved to be killed and their work destroyed in the riots.”
Kayden grabbed a piece of driftwood and flung it out into the water. “The geneticists didn’t deserve to die, and their work should be preserved.”
Michael walked beside her, silent, waiting for her brief anger to subside also. Collin had succeeded in transferring his love of the planet to Kayden. That would make it harder for Kayden to leave when they got married. But then Collin knew that. And bringing them here to this beach was just another ploy of his to get both of them to relax and enjoy this unique world.
But it had too many problems, and Michael wasn’t about to make them his problems. As soon as Kayden was ready, they would leave by the next shuttle off the planet.