“Par,” Collin said, keeping his voice low. “When I’m ready, I want you to take Vince Napier into a room on the pretext of being secretive, and then give him an in depth lecture about leukemia and heart disease. Geoff has opted for treatment, and Jake will take Quinn, Geoff, and I up north so that he may recuperate in peace. The stress of a fight here will kill him.”
Par gave a low whistle. “He’s gonna be mad when he knows he’s gone.”
“And he’ll demand Geoff’s money. But I’m taking Geoff’s belongings with me. Geoff is quite stubborn about it. It appears his battles with his son have been going on for some time. You are the senior and only physician while I’m gone, but Michael is the manager. It’s an awkward situation for you, but try to let things go smoothly. If a situation can’t be worked out, refer it to me when I return.”
Par accepted the instruction with no comment. It appeared that he was willing to follow Collin’s lead more since he’d discovered his secret identity.
Quinn and Collin gathered their things together. He gave Par the signal and then let Vince know he’d be working in the pharmacy if he was needed. As soon as Quinn said the door had closed on Vince and Par, Collin helped Geoff from bed and led him out the back door where Jake waited. Geoff sat between Quinn and Collin, and then they were winging toward the mountains.
“You’re going to be busy, my friend. Try to let your body rest as much as possible.”
Jake chuckled in his ear, the wind whipping past them preventing normal speech. “You have guessed my intentions, Collin. I must return to the village each night. I can’t let them down after my great debut.”
Collin kept his arms around Geoff, feeling the beating of his heart and periodically gauging whether the trip was harming him. At one point he knew Geoff slept in his arms. He was so weak, this stubborn child of his. But at least he’d made the decision to live. He was glad he hadn’t forced him. If Vince was always so controlling then it was no wonder Geoff resisted any attempts at persuasion. Geoff had probably had to use all his defenses not to be bowled over by Vince.
They landed outside the lab two hours later, and Geoff jerked awake. “Sssh. No danger. We’re at the lab.”
Quinn dismounted and looked around as he waited for Collin to hand Geoff down to him. Then Collin slid off. He could see Quinn was puzzled as he stared first at the mountain wall before them and then back at the trees and forest sloping away from them.
“I don’t even see a cave,” Geoff grumbled. “But then an old man can’t see well anyway. Michael said you’d fix that, too.”
Collin smiled. “Yes. I’ll examine your eyes also if you wish.” He walked to the rock wall of the mountain and pushed aside the stone hinge covering the control panel. Then he entered the password and allowed his DNA to be scanned. The rock door sunk in and slid open. “Come inside, children. This is where I was born.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“I’m not a child,” Geoff mumbled as he followed Collin into the brightly lit hallway. “Thought the grey hair gave it away quite clearly.”
Quinn heard Collin chuckle as he followed behind them both. Jake came right after him. Quinn whirled around as the door slid shut sealing them inside the mountain.
“Jake, get a couple hours of sleep before you go back,” Collin said.
The dragon lumbered through a doorway to their right, but then a large rectangle on a triangle came toward them. “Of course, Collin,” it said, in a rich voice similar to Jake’s. “Geoff is right. We are not quite children like Shanika anymore.”
Collin grinned. “Meet Jake’s imprudent alter ego – his robot self. And Geoff, my apologies. Michael, Kayden, and Quinn have not yet called me to task for my endearments, but if it bothers you I will try to resist.”
“It does not bother me,” the robot Jake said. “But I do know when my body needs sleep by now.”
“You have an adoring public, and you no longer respect the old man.”
“I’ll always love you,” declared the robot. “If you wish to make unnecessary statements, you may continue. I will treat it as an expression of your love for me.”
Collin ran his hand over the top of the robot, and then glanced back at Geoff. “Perhaps we can get Geoff to bed. Is the room prepared for him?”
“And yours and Quinn’s. I came two nights ago to give them the orders, and I see they have complied.”
“Good. Come, Chi… my friends.” Collin grinned and led them along the hall. Paintings filled the walls. A few tables held vases or statues, and several statues stood on the floor.
“Your dragon was right. How’d you get all this stuff,” Geoff asked, staring at each item. Collin obligingly slowed his pace and began to give them the details on each picture or sculpture.
Then they entered a room to the left. A cart rolled to them. “Good afternoon, Dr. Hansell. The rooms you requested are ready.”
Geoff glanced at Quinn. “Talking carts?”
“Thank you, Mauve. We’ll be taking our evening meal in here tonight, and I’ll need a third chair at that table.”
“Yes, Dr. Hansell.”
Quinn thought he’d been prepared for this, but he realized he really wasn’t. The place was lit, but he saw no bulbs of electric lights nor any windows. The walls were a smooth cool surface, made of something he could not identify, and even his familiarity with Cee had not prepared him for Jake’s robot body or the talking cart.
“Geoff, you will be staying here.” Collin motioned to the large room. A bed sat in the middle. To one side were two stuffed chairs, and a little from them a small table with two hard chairs. Shelves lined the wall behind them, holding more artwork. Along the wall on the opposite side of the bed sat two more carts, unmoving. And on the wall were several pictures, a series depicting sea life, and another of a grey haired Collin holding a smiling, wrinkled, grey haired woman.
“The stolen picture.”
Collin grinned. “So Michael told you of our adventures. Isn’t it a great picture? Vita was a wonderful woman.” He glanced back at them and then led them to the picture. “I’ve never met another woman like her. But Geoff, you look weary. Perhaps a nap before dinner?”
“Yeah, sure. Shuffle the old man out of the way.”
“My friend, I’m three times older than you. Your illness is temporary. Try to put things into perspective, will you?”
“Yeah. Right. Three times older. I like you better with grey hair. Adds dignity.” Geoff pushed himself up on the bed and kicked off his shoes.
Collin chuckled. “Mauve, Burgy, alert me if Geoff needs me. Archive, contact me at any change in Geoff’s vital statistics.”
“Yes, Dr. Hansell,” chimed two carts.
“Yes, Dr. Hansell,” said the wall.
Geoff lay down. “The whole building is alive. Is this what it’s like in space?”
“I have no idea. You need to ask Michael those kinds of questions; I’ve never been off the planet. Come, Quinn, I’ll show you your room, and then we’ll prepare for tomorrow’s operations.”
“Yeah, you go prepare,” Geoff muttered. “I don’t think I really want to know how you’re going to use those carts.”
Collin smiled and reached over to touch Geoff’s arm. “They’re just robots. Don’t worry about them. They can only do as ordered.”
They left Geoff in the large room, and Collin took Quinn into a tiny room with no furniture. “Level three.” Quinn felt them moving and realized it was an elevator like the one they had at the hospital in Alexandria only smoother. “We were on Level Two.” He took him to a room. “You can sleep here. My room is right next to it, but I’ll probably sleep in the chair in Geoff’s room.”
“How big is this place?”
“Bigger than the Village of Hope.”
“Yes, but we won’t go over to the other section. Mostly living quarters. It’s pretty depressing.”
Quinn set his bag on the bed and then followed Collin so that he could set his own luggage and Geoff’s in his room. Then Collin took him to see the operating room and the lab. The Jake robot met them in the lab.
“When will we begin Cee’s body?”
“Three days. Geoff’s operation comes first. He’s too ill to postpone things. Then we’ll take a day to recover before we begin.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
They took Geoff in the next morning, and he briefly wondered what it’d be like to operate in such a clean, bright environment. “Wish I’d had a room like this,” he said weakly.
Collin gave a slight smile. “I often wish I could transport all my surgery patients here.”
The robots were around the surgery table also, and they’d all sprouted arms with claw-like hands, even the robot that was somehow related to the dragon. Quinn stood on the other side of the bed beside the Jake robot. Geoff wished he’d been able to see the boy in action as a doctor before he messed around inside him, but the procedures actually didn’t sound as bad as some. Collin would send a wire up through his veins to scrape away the cholesterol, and then he’d pump some kind of fluid into his blood stream that was supposed to finish cleaning them and restore the elasticity of his blood vessels and heart. He’d told Geoff what it was, but said they couldn’t get it in Alexandria, nor the machine which would monitor and circulate it. He didn’t say it, but Geoff felt that meant there was no need to remember it.
The blood cleaning would also help the leukemia, but he said he was replacing his bone marrow with some he’d grown for him.
“How’d you grow it?”
“When I took your blood right after your heart attack, I brought a sample up here, separated out the unhealthy cells, took a good one, split it open and told it to grow only good marrow.” He pointed to a jar which Geoff could barely see. “It’s right over there.”
“Yeah. Just like you grow dragons. What about my eyes?”
“We’ll worry about that when your blood is straightened out.”
And then Geoff knew no more until he heard Quinn and Collin, the Jake robot, and Quinn’s pocket robot talking softly about blood cells and DNA codes and chromosomes. When he slit open his eyes, he knew he was back in the room he’d been assigned.
“The patient is awake, Dr. Hansell,” said the mauve robot.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next day they stayed in Geoff’s room, but the following day Collin had settled him into a chair which he said would take Geoff anywhere he wanted to go, all he had to do was push a little stick in the direction he wanted to take, or he could press another lever and the chair would lean back so he could sleep. He ended up going to sleep, and when he awoke they had all disappeared. He tried to remember his controls, and soon the chair was scooting him down the hall. He stopped to admire the works of art. Hans really had an exquisite collection here, and everything was labeled. He came across several pieces he’d briefly remembered passing through their home in Shade. He’d never guessed his father collected art though. How little he’d known him, and yet he had been everything to that young boy he’d been.
He found them in a large room. Collin’s back was to him, and he looked into a machine. Quinn sat on a stool behind him staring up at a large picture above him, except the picture moved, and Collin spoke as if lecturing, explaining what he was doing. The Jake robot rolled to him. “Welcome, Geoff. Collin must have complete concentration right now. He is manipulating the cells that will grow into Cee’s new dragon body.”
Geoff stared up at the picture. “That up there?” he whispered.
“Yes. That is an image magnified by an electron microscope. Do you wish to watch or do you need assistance? I can bring you water or a juice supplement.”
Geoff refocused on the smooth black surface of the robot. “Nobody thought to give you a face, did they?”
“Collin did,” the box said with a chuckle. “Are you thirsty?”
“Sure. I’d rather have water, but I suppose that juice supplement has some kind of nourishment I need, doesn’t it?”
It chuckled again. “Yes, it does. I will bring both.”
“But you’ll miss the lecture. Of course you robots probably know it all, don’t you?”
“No, Geoff, I don’t know this. It’s illegal in the rest of the galaxy, so my files were very limited. But I can hear Collin through his transceiver.” He chuckled again. “But then you don’t know that computers and robots are multitasking. We can do more than one thing at a time.”
“Yeah, I can walk and eat at the same time. That is when I’m not strapped to a chair.”
“I will bring your drinks, Dr. Napier.” The rectangle left, and Geoff wheeled closer to Quinn who gave him a quick smile before returning his attention to the screen.
Geoff tried to pay attention, but he realized he was too tired to comprehend most of what Collin said. When he awoke they were all back in his room.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Two days later Collin left them to check on the practice in Hope. Before Collin left, the Jake robot said, “Cee, you may use my body while I’m gone. I’ll be back in three days, though, and I’ll wish to use it again.”
“Jake… Thank you,” came the voice from Quinn’s pocket.
“What do I do?” Quinn asked.
Collin shrugged. “Did you need to be plugged in to get oriented, Cee, or can you take over from the pocket?”
“Plug her into it to start out. She’ll immediately know everything she can do with it when she’s there. The remote accessing won’t be as efficient if she isn’t recognized by the subprocessors in the unit. Make sure they know I’m still a valid user, Cee.”
“Of course, Jake. I would never steal your body from you.”
The top of the rectangle slid open. “You can take over now. We’ll be leaving in a few minutes.” The robot’s arm reached up and took Cee from Quinn’s hand. Then it set Quinn’s computer inside the open top of the robot.
Quinn looked like he wanted to snatch the tiny computer back. “Cee? Are you all right, Cee?”
The robot closed its top and stretched out both arms. “I am mobile again, Quinn! I am alive.” Its voice was now higher pitched.
Geoff glanced from Quinn to Collin who had a soft smile on his face as he watched the robot. “Remember what I told you all about the station robots and archive. I’m sure you can help them out if they forget, can’t you, Cee?”
“Yes, Collin. I will make sure they get the nourishment and medicine they need. Jake, thank you.”
If there was a reply, Geoff did not hear it. Collin left, and Quinn still stared at the robot. “Did your body look like this, Cee?”
“No. My body was a cylinder with a flat rounded head. This body is almost the same internally though. Quinn, can we walk through the complex together?” Then she backed toward the corner. “I am sorry. Robots do not demand their owner’s time; they work to make their time more productive.”
“I would like to walk with you, Cee,” Quinn said, almost tenderly. “Do you want to come, Geoff? You can use the chair, as I think Collin’s forced enough walking on you for one day.”
“No, no. You go. I’m ready to sleep.” Geoff lay down and feigned sleep until Quinn and his robot left the room. Then he simply lay and reflected on all the strange things he’d witnessed in the last week – a remorseful robot afraid of being chastised was only the last in a long line.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Collin knew there would be trouble when he returned to Hope. Jake’s reports from Michael and Kayden each morning told him what had happened. Vince had requested that a warrant be placed for his arrest in connection to the disappearance of his father, even though Par had insisted that Geoff had gone willingly with Collin to receive an experimental treatment for heart disease and leukemia. That had happened the day after he left, but Collin waited until he knew Geoff would fully recover. Then he’d asked him to write a letter to his son and one to the sheriff to clear up any problems.
It was deep night when Collin returned, and he slipped up to his room to rest so that Jake could patrol the village. When he came downstairs for breakfast the next morning, Vince grabbed his arm. “I knew you’d be back.”
Collin yanked his arm away. “Vince, is this how you treat your host? What kind of manners did your father teach you?”
“You killed my father!”
“No, your father is very much alive. He should be back here in a couple weeks, but right now he is still recovering from surgery.”
Michael and Kayden walked into the dining room. “Collin!” Kayden ran to him, giving him a hug.
Collin kissed her forehead. “I trust things have gone smoothly here while I was away?”
Michael gave a small laugh. “You do have a way with words. Other than having a house guest dead set on disrupting our lives and searching through every record you own, I guess you could say it’s been rather uneventful.”
“You forgot about the sheriff,” Kayden said.
“Oh, yeah. He’s here every day about noon. Mayor, too.”
“You’ll regret what you’ve done to my father.”
“Vince, I never regret performing life saving surgery.” Collin sat at the table, greeted Wilma, the housekeeper, briefly, and then continued as if he hadn’t paused. “If your father wasn’t a very close friend of mine you wouldn’t even be in my home, Vince, and even that consideration is being stretched. And to think you were such an endearing child. Always ready with a big hug and a sticky kiss, he was, Kayden. And always into mischief. He chased the kittles until they all found new homes except one stubborn female who found a small space in the barn rafters. Kind of like Jaynee, Michael. He ran right under the horses. He gave his mother such a scare when we had to stitch that gash in his stomach. He’d been playing with the scalpels. Pretending he was a doctor until he felt the pain. Probably why he went into politics instead of medicine. Couldn’t stand the sight of a scalpel after that.”
Vince shook his head as he sunk into the chair beside Collin. “You weren’t there! You don’t know about that. You aren’t any older than I am.”
Kayden burst out laughing, but then slapped her hands over her mouth to hold it in.
“My point, Vince, is not my age, but that I am a very good friend of your father’s, and I would do nothing to harm him. I left Quinn with him, and I plan to return.”
“Where is he?”
“Vince, the way you were at him, I thought he’d have another heart attack right here at the table. You and he apparently have some kind of power struggle, but if you insist on playing it through, it could kill him. You don’t need to dominate him to prove yourself.”
Vince stood and roared down at Collin. “I don’t dominate anyone.”
Collin ignored him and focused on Michael. “You and Par keeping up with the patients?”
“I said I don’t dominate anyone!”
Collin sighed and then said in a very quiet voice. “None of us are hard of hearing, Vince.”
“You’re going to the pit.”
“An old threat and hardly effective in a village with no pit and a guardian angel.”
“Your little village superstitions do not impress me.”
“At one time, Vince, I thought you might make a good mayor. I’m starting to change my mind. Now let me eat my breakfast.”
Vince stalked from the room.
“Has he been like this all week?”
“We’ve had such fun,” Michael said. “Par even asked Sheriff Paxton to have him removed, but the Mayor is waiting to hear your side of events. Mayor Talbert apparently has met Vince before while on business in Shade – politics.”
“Collin, maybe you should wait until Geoff is well enough before you come back,” Kayden suggested. “Things don’t sound good.”
“No. I won’t have him harassing you any longer. He’ll be leaving after we talk to the Sheriff, but there is no need to wake the man. I hear he works quite late.”
Shanika came downstairs then but was upset that Collin was home and her father was not. It took Kayden’s promise of a secret ride tonight to distract her. Par was overjoyed to see Collin, but he, too, suggested that maybe it’d be better for Collin to wait a little longer until Geoff could return also.
“No. I will not have a heart patient subjected to this kind of stress the moment he returns home. We’ll solve it now.”
And Vince returned with both the mayor and the sheriff. Vince seemed to gloat now. “Now what did you do with my father’s body and his property?”
“Your father is still using his body, Vince. By the way, he sent this letter back for you.” He pulled it from the pack still hung over his shoulder. With Vince taking the liberty to search all his belongings he wouldn’t leave it sitting anywhere.
He pulled out the second sealed letter and handed it to Mayor Talbert. “He heard about the trouble and wishes to assure everyone that he is still alive, although weak after heart surgery.”
Vince glanced through the letter and threw it down. “Where is he?”
“Up at my cabin. It’s too stressful here. Mayor, the patient had a heart attack the day of your daughter’s attack. You may remember he was the man in the second bed when you visited. I had outlined a course of treatment, which we planned to initiate the day Vince arrived. However, Vince failed to listen….”
“This isn’t relevant.”
“Silence,” commanded the mayor. “You asked us here repeatedly. Now let us come to a decision. You’re overstepping your authority in my village. I told you before, Dr. Collin is a well-respected member of this community and has been for close to twenty years now. Please continue, Dr. Collin.”
“Vince insisted on moving his father to Alexandria. His father refused and asked me to take him elsewhere for the surgery. I believe, Sir, that this is a domestic problem of long standing.”
“So Mr. Napier asked you to….”
“Dr. Napier, Sir,” Collin corrected as politely as possible.
“Yes, sir. We both apprenticed to Hans Vita in Shade. We were good friends up until I accepted the challenge to work with the people of Hope. He plans to join my practice when his health permits. In fact that is why he was here. Only the stress of traveling and the recent death of his wife precipitated the heart attack. Once he is recovered, he will begin seeing patients.”
“Oh, well, certainly Mr. Napier, you can’t now say that Dr. Collin kidnapped and killed your father.”
“I don’t see him.”
“I want to see my father.”
“Not with that attitude,” Collin said, his voice becoming as hard as he could make it. “He’s just a few days out of surgery, and I won’t have him stressed. Now you will remove yourself from my clinic and stop harassing my staff and family.”
“I demand that you arrest him until my father is returned.”
“Now Mr. Napier, I can’t hold a man when no crime has been committed.”
“I want my father’s property until I see him well.”
“He insisted on taking it with him instead of leaving it here in the safe. Besides I would not steal from him to give to you, regardless.”
The sheriff handed the letter he had to the mayor and pointed to the center of the page.
“Yes. Hmmm. Dr. Napier has expressed his desires quite plainly here.” Mayor Talbert refocused on Vince. “Your father left voluntarily, and no crime has been committed. I suggest you stop harassing Dr. Collin and his staff so that they can perform their duties to the community, which they do so well,” he added, shooting a smile at Collin.
“My father has disappeared!” Vince insisted.
“Do not fight a battle you can’t win, especially when your father will return here in a few more weeks and declare his own wishes personally.”
“Mr. Napier, it appears to me that Dr. Collin is correct,” Sheriff Paxton began. “I will have to honor the requests to remove you from this property.”
“I’m taking this to Capitol if my father isn’t returned in three weeks.” He whirled around and stalked from the house.
Collin waited in silence with the two men. Michael came in. “Will you be seeing patients today, Collin?”
“This afternoon.” He sighed. “I’m sorry to have you dragged out here so early, Gentlemen.”
“Not a problem, Dr. Collin,” the mayor said with a slight smile. “You’ve always been a man we could all trust. You came to Hope when no other doctor would, and you’ve been with us through births and deaths and skinned knees. So Quinn is still away? Paxton says he sees Jake every night.”
“Quinn is with Dr. Napier. He’s still recovering, and I didn’t wish to leave him alone.”
“Jake has assured me all along that Geoff Napier was fine,” Paxton said. “We’ve struck up quite a friendship. He’s even given me a few rides.”
“Dr. Collin,” Mayor Talbert said. “I have considered writing a letter of reprimand to Mayor Jakson in Shade for the high handed tactics his aide attempted to use. What do you think?”
“I wouldn’t presume to influence you. My friendship with his father is my first concern, and politics are not my specialty. Do as you deem proper for your own inconvenience, not mine. I am just an ordinary citizen, earning my way.”
Mayor Talbert cuffed Collin’s upper arm. “Doc Collin, you are more than an ordinary citizen. I know how many times you work for free, and how you have been ready on a moment’s notice to help anyone. Your compassion is legendary.” He winked and Collin had the uneasy feeling that he knew about Hans Trapper. “Don’t worry about Vince Napier,” he continued. “The whole village will support you in any situation, just as you’ve been here for us.”
“I appreciate that,” Collin said sincerely. He’d never tried to integrate himself with authority, treating everyone with equal respect. And as people he wouldn’t spurn their sentiment, but neither did he truly believe it. These things were true as long as it was convenient to be true. Collin had a lot of property and employees now. Taxes from him were very useful, and he was needed as a doctor.
© 2007 by Deborah K. Lauro. No part of this book may be published in any form without permission from the author.