Kayden entertained Shanika that night until she heard the newborn cry. She took her to the patient guest room to see the baby. The husband was talking to Quinn. Michael gazed at the mother and child with an intent expression. Then he saw Kayden and blushed.
Kayden bit her lip. He wanted a baby. She wanted to run. Instead she walked from the room, leaving Shanika. She needed to be alone. She ran out to the barn, but Jamel was not home. Collin would not be back tonight. Michael would never love her if he knew. She no longer wanted to yell at him, she wanted to beg him to hold her, to love her more than any baby. She went back to the hay pile, wishing he was there with her again, holding her.
She had released her tears, had wiped her face, and was staring up into the blackness when she heard the horses nicker a greeting to someone.
“Kayden,” Michael called. “Are you in here?”
“Yes,” she said, but didn’t move. She heard him fumble along the hallway until he reached her.
Then he sat beside her, putting arm around her shoulders and pulling her to lean against him. “I love you, Kayden,” he whispered.
“You want children.”
She felt his hold tighten on her shoulders. Then he kissed her forehead. “I want you.”
“But I can’t . . . .”
“I figured that out.”
“But . . . .”
“I love you! More than computers, more than children, more than anything.”
“Enough to stay here?” she had to ask.
“I’m still here.” He lowered his head and found her lips. This time he didn’t pull away. He continued kissing her and touching her, caressing her, running his lips over her neck, and then her stomach and breasts. And she did’t stop him. She didn’t try. All she wanted was to know he would always love her.
And then a thump sounded above them. Michael jumped away from her. “What was that?”
“We have eleven horses and seven wingdeer sharing this barn,” she said, annoyed at the interruption. Her skin felt cool where he’d been against her. She heard more than saw him stand.
“We need to get back to the house,” he said.
“Wait a minute.” Kayden jumped up, her shirt falling back into place. “You can’t just touch me like that and run away.”
“What? Do you want me to take your clothes off and finish the job?”
“Maybe I do!”
“Well, it’s not going to happen until you love me enough to marry me.”
Kayden couldn’t believe her ears. “You know I love you.”
“No, you don’t. You always think I don’t love you. Something comes up, and it’s there again. Just now you thought I wouldn’t love you again. You don’t trust me enough for marriage. You don’t trust me enough to follow me anywhere.” He turned to leave.
Kayden grabbed at his back, holding on to him. “Wait. You’re the one who doesn’t trust me. Lied to me. Why didn’t you tell me about Niles? I had to make a fool of myself in front of his wife. Don’t tell me the woman’s my mother now. Probably is, for all I know.”
Michael grabbed her into a hug. “Is that where you went? Alone? You could have been killed!”
She pulled away from him. “Is she? Is that woman my mother?”
“You don’t remember at all?” He seemed disappointed, irritating her.
“I have a stupid hole in my head, and nothing’s going to change it.”
“I’m sorry,” said a familiar voice in her ear.
“And would you quit apologizing!” she yelled. “It’s not your fault.” She hated that. Every time she couldn’t remember something Jamel had to take the blame, and there was no blame to take!
Kayden made her way from Michael, leaning against the wooden wall of the barn. “I’m not whole, Michael. You want someone whole.”
Michael’s arms surrounded her, and he kissed the side of her forehead. “I want you, Kayden.”
They stood in silence, Kayden letting the slight pressure of his body against hers comfort her. “Tell me who I really am.”
He kissed the side of her forehead again. “Kayden Joy Pannier. Your father is Niles Pannier and your mother Genienne. Her name was Pannier, but since you’ve been gone, she’s remarried. Your family was coming here, but your mother changed her mind at Frontier Base 28. Your father came on alone. I think he married Marta a couple years ago, and she was born here.” He paused. “I didn’t tell you because the last time I tried to force you to remember, you had that little breakdown. I was hoping the name would help, and I wouldn’t need to push you.” He kissed her again, tenderly. “I love you. I don’t want to hurt you.”
Kayden leaned against him. “What did he do? Niles that is.”
“Embezzlement, I think. But you always told me you missed him, and he was a really nice guy. You were right, you know. Your father’s a nice guy.”
“Collin is my father.”
Michael rubbed her arm. “You didn’t tell Niles that, did you?”
“I didn’t see him. I don’t want to see him.” She pulled away from him, her long day catching her off balance. “I think I need to get to bed.”
Michael walked with her inside and left her at her room.
The next day Collin made it home by noon. The day was overcast, and as he set Angie down by the stables, he felt the first drops of rain. Shanika ran to him, and he lifted her into a hug. “How’s my little girl? Are you keeping the horses company?”
“We had lots of fun. Lightning is fast.”
Kayden joined him, and as soon as he set Shanika down, Kayden was in his arms. “I love you, Collin.”
He kissed the top of her head. “I love you, too, Sweetheart. How are you doing?”
“I’m okay,” she whispered.
“No problems?” he asked, hoping she’d tell him what she’d done before it started pouring rain.
“Not really. Just don’t have enough time.” She pulled away and took Angie’s halter, rubbing her nose.
So she wasn’t going to tell him. “Well, you’ll be happy to know that I got you some help. Niles and Marta will be here some time next week.”
Kayden whirled around. “No!” She took the two steps to him and raised her hands to his chest. “I don’t want them anymore. He’s not my father. You are.”
Collin drew her close again. “Kayden, sweetheart, I’ll always be your father. You can always count on me. But don’t trample Niles’ heart. I really believe he sincerely loves you.”
“He doesn’t even know me.”
“No. Probably not.” The wind picked up and drove a few more drops of rain into them.
“I don’t want him.”
Collin held her until he felt her begin to relax. “Let’s get Angie unsaddled.”
Kayden pulled away. “I’ll do it. Probably should take Shan inside.”
Collin motioned to Shanika who stood in the shelter of the barn doorway. Shanika ran to him, and he lifted her to his shoulders. “It’ll work out, Kayden. He’s not expecting you to declare undying affection and love. He knows you have amnesia. Just treat him as kindly as you’d treat anyone else.” Then he jogged into the house, through the rain, as Shanika giggled over his head.
He was immediately drawn into the work of the practice. Shanika played with her dolls, as Collin had picked up another for her before he left Capitol as well as a set of toy dishes. Between patients, Quinn, Michael, and Collin would pretend to join her party. Mid afternoon there was a lull, and the three men stood around the surgery. Both Quinn and Michael looked at Collin expectantly.
Collin sighed. “Bad news. I couldn’t find a doctor yet, but I left a job posting. Good news. We’ve got that couple Michael knows coming in next week to help with the stable and other odd jobs. You may not know it, Quinn, but Niles is Kayden’s biological father.”
Quinn accepted the news with a slight widening of his eyes.
Michael leaned on the surgery table. “You spoke to them?”
“Yesterday evening, and why did you give her that address, Michael? I thought you were waiting for me.”
“I didn’t think she’d take off like that. I just hoped to jog her memory with the last name.”
Collin knew it was useless to be irritated with him. “I guess everything is okay, but I like to know what’s going on. That goes for you, too, Quinn. When you started having trouble with Gaben, you should have told me he was rebelling. I might have been able to get him out of here without the major problems.”
Quinn flinched. “I knew we needed another doctor.”
“Maybe not as much if I’d been able to get him set up on the other side of the village.” Collin looked at both of the men standing before him. He knew they were alone. Wilma had gone home early because of the storm, and Kayden was entertaining Shanika with a game in the living room. “I expect both of you to alert me if you see any problems. Especially when we have so much to hide here -- our computers and other tech.” Collin had no doubt Quinn would do whatever he asked, Michael though, seemed a bit defensive.
“Listen. I’m not trying to restrict your movements or decisions, but I am not exaggerating when I say I’ve seen people killed for less. And if the people think we’ve got things that they don’t, they’ll riot and burn homes to the ground, not caring about the screams of the children inside. Do you understand? It’s not just us, but the people we bring in here, the Pannier’s, the new doctor and his potential family, Kayden, our own little Shanika. So from now on, keep me informed. That includes you, too, Jamel.”
“I will report any usual disturbance immediately,” Jamel said. “And I will not let anyone burn down your house.”
Collin smiled at Jamel’s naive willingness to protect. “Wish it was that easy, my friend. Riots can’t be stopped by one person, not even you.”
Michael stared at Collin. “How? You can’t be . . . You’d be . . . ancient.”
Collin chuckled. So Michael was putting the clues together, but he couldn’t resist confusing him a bit more. “There have been various local riots since 2421, just in case you’re having trouble with your internal math. Villages will riot against what they perceive is a threat to them, especially if led by a charismatic leader.”
They heard the door of the clinic. “Back to work.” And he hadn’t had time to tell them he wanted the bedrooms moved around. Later though, he moved Quinn and Shanika to his side of the house, and Michael to the other side. Then they prepared the bedroom Quinn and Tara had used for Niles and Marta. There was one other big room on that side, but Collin was pleased that Michael didn’t take it. Instead he settled into the smallest room that had been Shanika’s, leaving the large room for the new doctor, whoever he might turn out to be.
Michael sat at the small desk in his room and stared out the window beside him. This room wasn’t any larger than the room he’d been in, but he chose it because its window looked out toward the barn. As he suspected he’d might, he saw Kayden go to and from the barn after dark each night.
Tonight he watched as she jogged out again. He longed to go after her. He felt his body reacting to his thoughts and knew he had to stay where he was. Next time they were alone in the dark, he didn’t think he’d be able to stop with just kisses and caresses. She was asking for more, and he wondered if he wasn’t a fool not to give her what she asked for. But he knew if he gave in, it’d be even harder when she refused to come home with him. Although he wasn’t sure how it could be any harder than the pressure on his heart now.
Maybe he should just go home. All she wanted was someone to replace the painful memories. Once she had that, would she even want to stay with him? If she married him, would she refuse to follow him wherever he was forced to go? Would she abandon him like her mother had Niles?
Michael stood and stretched. Perhaps he should go tell Collin he would be leaving soon. He’d need his report, and a dragon-hide if possible.
He found Collin in the office, as he suspected he would. He sat studying a text on a notebook computer and scribbling with a pencil on paper. Michael sat in the chair beside the desk.
Collin finished his sentence and then dropped his pencil. “Just the guy I was thinking about.”
“Really? You’re writing about me?”
Collin chuckled. “No. Not yet. I’m writing an article for the Austin Medical Journal about the insulin stabilizing properties of the diabsan flower when dried, crushed, and made as a tea.”
“Oh? And here I thought you kept a low profile.”
“I do. I sign all my work C.H. Anon.”
“What’s the C.H. stand for?”
Collin laughed. “When you figure it out, let me know.” He leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms up behind his head. Then he relaxed again. “My patients tell me that they hope you stay. ‘Bright, courteous, young man,’ one said. Another asked if you were Quinn’s apprentice because you two worked so well together while I was gone. So, I guess that’s it, Michael. The people want you, and I’m willing to train you. I think you’d make an excellent doctor.”
They’d joked and hinted about it before, but Michael had thought it settled because he wasn’t staying. But all he could say was, “Obviously they’ve never seen Quinn, the raging protector.”
“Are you upset with Quinn?”
Michael had tried to avoid Quinn after he’d thrown him against the wall, but the day of working side by side had neutralized his apprehension. Quinn seemed genuinely sorry he’d attacked him, apologizing several times. “I guess he just thought he was protecting the machine, just like he protected Kayden. He doesn’t understand machines well.”
“No. He doesn’t. There’s not a lot of opportunity here.” Collin leaned on the desk. “Let me know if you’re hurting over this, Michael. You didn’t deserve that kind of treatment. I understand if you resent it.”
Michael shrugged, but didn’t meet his eyes, staring out the office door to the waiting room and the dragon head on the wall. “He’s been under some stress, I guess.”
“It’s only because I know Quinn well that I am not more concerned about him lashing out again. I did reprimand him. But if it bothers you, let me know. We’ll work through it.”
“I’m okay. I guess I’m not upset because he has been so welcoming most of the time, and . . . and he told me something about his father one time.” Michael shrugged. He wasn’t quite sure he understood why that made a difference, but he knew it did. And when they’d stood in the office right after the attack, Michael had watched Quinn, the gentle doctor, the protector of people and machines, melt into a defeated child right before him. Seeing that had turned his anger to an uneasy emotion he couldn’t define, and he just couldn’t resent Quinn any longer.
But that brought him back to his reason for being down here. No one really trusted him here. He was better off leaving. “I’ve decided to leave as soon as you find your new doctor.”
“If it’s Quinn, we can work something out. I’m sure of it. Would you prefer not to work with him? I can set him on house calls when you’re in the office. I can . . . .”
“No. It’s not Quinn. I’m not mad at him. Not quite sure why, but I’m not.”
“I guess it’s Kayden.”
Collin took a deep breath. “You’ve decided not to marry her.”
“That’s just it!” Michael said, his irritation getting the best of him again. “No one trusts me here. You all always think the worst of me. You’ve always assumed I didn’t love her enough. Even she does it. Whenever something comes up, she thinks I hate her. Then she wants to have sex, and frankly next time she says she wants it, she just might get it.” Michael winced. He hadn’t meant to be so blunt about the matter, especially with the man who claimed to be her father. He leaned over and put his head in his hands. “I’ll marry her, but I’m not staying on this planet. I’m not a convict.”
“Neither am I. Neither are most of these people. But that’s not your problem, is it?” Collin sighed. “I’ll miss you both.”
Michael straightened. “She won’t follow me.”
Collin only raised one eyebrow. “You asked recently?”
His heart pounded. Did Collin really think Kayden would leave with him? “She doesn’t love me that much.”
“You don’t trust her either, I see.” Collin leaned back again. “So you mentioned a report a while back. You still want my impressions of Jamel for your grandfather, correct?”
Michael could only be relieved at the subject change. He wasn’t ready to think about Collin’s accusation. “Yeah.”
“I imagine he’d love a report from Jamel himself, wouldn’t he?”
Michael shook his head. “I was going to tell him the units were destroyed. If you don’t want me to take them back, I need an excuse.”
“You have an excuse. They didn’t want to go. You couldn’t find Jamel. And I will let him know that I have hidden him so that you couldn’t possibly find him.”
Michael’s eyes narrowed, and then he smiled. “I really think you’re trying to challenge me.”
“No. Just help. I do know that as a scientist Charles Jamel will desire the data, and I won’t deny him that courtesy. I will of course explain that I am claiming finder’s rights, that for five years no one claimed him, and that the unit itself told me he had no owner. Now he claims allegiance to me. I hope all these facts will keep me from being known as a thief. And the Cee unit? You gave that away as broken.” He shrugged.
How could he tell his grandfather that he’d left his beloved computers behind. That they’d been lost and destroyed was one thing, but to admit he left a functional unit behind on purpose, that he hadn’t done everything possible to find it, that . . . . “As a scientist, how do you think he’s going to view that? He’s going to kill me. Those 5000 units were like his children.”
“I plan to give him a report on you also, highlighting your difficulties and near death experience. I also will point out that you are uniquely unqualified to possess a unit such as these because of your past psychological problems.”
Michael shook his head. “You can’t be serious.”
Collin smiled. “I’m serious, but I’m not condemning you, Michael. You’re a man with a lot of talents. Interacting with a machine designed to emulate and respond on a human level is not one of them. Your past experiences have caused you to hate them.”
“A machine is a machine. They’re never worth a human life.”
“And I agree. Human life is sacred. I think even your grandfather would agree with that. Please, Michael, trust me. I may not know your grandfather personally, but I believe I will be able to make a fair and thorough report for him which will not malign you. You have said you weren’t going to continue in artificial intelligence, and that would be my recommendation also. In fact I think you belong in medicine,” he added with a teasing grin. But then he looked serious again. “Will you let me give a sealed report to your grandfather as a matter of trust on your part?”
Sealed? What did he want to say? Why would he try to hurt him like this? And yet, how could he hurt him, except to cause problems with his grandfather? And Michael didn’t plan to go back as his apprentice. Collin was right about that. He thought he’d get repair work, but maybe he should study medicine. He liked people more than machines anyway.
He glanced at Collin, still waiting for an answer. How could he deny him? The man had saved his life. And afterward he could have easily thrown him out to fend for himself, but he hadn’t. “As you wish. I have trusted you with my life so far. Will it be ready in two weeks?”
“I’ll make sure it is.”
Michael stood. “See you in the morning.” He went back to bed, but he couldn’t sleep. Was Collin right? Was Kayden ready to go with him?