Michael and Kayden made it back right before dinner. Jake went up to his loft to rest before his nighttime patrol, and Michael and Kayden went inside.
“Collin is not here,” Jake told them. “He is not in range. Quinn, where is Collin,” Jake asked, apparently deciding to let Michael know he was making inquiries. Usually Jake was careful not to speak into Michael’s transceiver unless absolutely necessary.
Michael met Quinn in the infirmary, and he whirled around to face them. “What do you mean, he’s not here? Maybe he’s at the river.”
Then Jake was silent.
Quinn studied Michael. “Do you have Cee?”
“Michael,” Jim called from the bed. “Rose! Where is that woman?” He motioned Michael to the bed.
Michael shifted his pack from his shoulder as he walked to the bed. “Yeah, I’ve got Cee.” He reached into his pocket and pulled her out for Quinn.
Quinn snatched her and rubbed the outside of the black case as Tori and Charles came from the dining room. Rose followed them.
Michael withdrew the sensor shielded pouch from his back pack and handed it to Jim. Kayden slipped her arm around Michael’s waist.
Jim took the pouch, and he reached for Rose with his other hand. “Is…?”
Rose opened the pouch and pulled her out. “Trea?”
Jim and Rose both broke into relieved smiled. Rose asked, “You’re okay now?”
“Yes. Michael is an excellent surgeon. Thank you again, Michael.” She let out a slight sigh. “Unfortunately a few of my data files were destroyed in the attack. I will need to find that chocolate apple cheesecake recipe again.”
Jim groaned. “My favorite. That rat.” Then he grinned. “But I can live without the cheesecake better than I can without my editor and friend.”
His grandfather brought his hand up to rest on Michael’s back. “I knew you could do it,” he said hoarsely. “If only…” but then he shook his head and shuffled to his room.
Tori gave Michael a quick smile and then followed Charles to settle him in.
“Collin is not at the river,” Jake informed them. “He is not anywhere in the village.”
Michael frowned. “What happened while we were gone? Where’s Collin?”
Quinn shook his head, and then focused on Rose. “Didn’t he have a meeting with you?”
“Yes, and then he went flying. He didn’t say where.”
Rose shook her head. Then she glanced at Jim and then back at Michael. “He was upset, but I’m sure he’s coming back. I offered him full government support. I….”
Kayden brought her fingernails to her lips, and Michael could see she was becoming upset.
“Government support for what? He gets his supplies from Alexandria. We don’t need anything here.”
“For the mammal dragon project,” she whispered. She shook her head. “I can’t talk here.” She grabbed Michael’s arm and drew him through to Collin’s office, turning on the light and shutting the doors after Kayden slipped in. Rose reached into her pouch, handed Michael a computer, and started an archive playing. Collin Alexander.
“You showed him this?”
“Oh, no,” Kayden moaned. “No. Jake you’ve got to find him.”
“What did she threaten? I must know,” Jake demanded.
Michael rubbed Kayden’s back. “Why would you threaten the man who saved your husband’s life?”
“I didn’t! I told him I wanted him to create more dragons. Michael, I want to set up a new branch of executive sheriffs with you and Collin in charge to match up honorable young men and women with mammal-dragons. We can destroy the reptiles! Just like Hollis wants, just like all the citizens want. I’ll ship down anything you need. More cores, anything. I told him that.”
Kayden sunk into the chair. “Then why did he leave?” she whispered. “What did you say?”
“I thought he just went to think. We spoke briefly about his childhood, and he needed to get away. I got the impression that there are things that are better not known about that time. I assured him that history reconstruction can wait while we focus on the dragons.”
“Then Collin just needs to hunt,” Jake said. “He will return, Kayden. Do not fear. It will be before dusk. He will not endanger Angie.”
Michael nodded and relayed the information to Rose. “He’ll be back before dusk then.” He finally sat down in Collin’s chair. “I had to be sure, you know. He’s threatened to leave us all for our own good before. He doesn’t want us hurt.” Michael shook his head and stared beyond Rose to the wall. “He’s a good man, Rose. Please guard his secrets. Keep him safe. He’s saved all of us in some way. Me, Kayden, Geoff, Quinn. None of us would be alive without him.”
“Me, too,” Jake said.
“Don’t forget Jake,” Kayden added.
Rose smiled. “Nor most of the Village of Hope, I presume, the way the Mayor spoke of him. No, Michael. I have no intentions of harming the man. He’s a living legend. It was hard to confront him, but he holds the keys to restoring this planet. I can only do so much, but with those dragons we can do more than kill reptiles. We can discretely set up a police presence throughout the continent, and they can report to us the mood of the area and how our changes are affecting things. If we can choose honorable men and women, wise men and women, we can head off potential problems as they come up.”
Michael nodded. “I see. They would chaff at just an ordinary man coming in and acting as a government force – a spy as they’d see it, but they will beg to have a dragon slayer added to their village, and he generally will have the good will of the people, if not the officials.”
“Exactly. Before we can remove the satellite restrictions we must know for sure the place will not riot at the freedom. It will take years to do it all. I imagine it takes some time to make a dragon.”
“A year – if nothing goes wrong. But the core needs a bit longer to gain its moral bearings before Collin will place it in a deadly beast.”
Rose nodded. “A year. One a year then?”
Michael shook his head. “These are definitely decisions for Collin. I am barely functional with the human body yet.”
He glanced at Kayden. She still clutched his hand tightly, but she was smiling. Tears ran down her cheeks. Michael kissed her temple. “What is it, Love?”
“Collin. His dream, his hope. You’re making it happen, Rose,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Tori and Quinn stayed in Charles’ room as Jake relayed the conversation to all three of them. Geoff found them and joined them, taking the desk chair. Quinn and Tori stood along the back wall, while Charles lay in bed.
“How did she find out,” Geoff asked quietly, but Tori knew he thought she told her.
“I don’t know,” Tori admitted. “On the station she would go to bed early each night, and I could hear only the rumbling of the archive. I believed she was researching but she didn’t tell me what.”
“She didn’t ask you about Collin?”
“No. She asked me nothing about anything except Quinn, and that was because we are getting married. She wanted to make sure I wanted to.” She slipped her arm around Quinn’s waist, hoping he did not accuse her also.
“Tori would never tell,” Charles said roughly. “She is completely trustworthy. She has always kept all my secrets.”
“No, Tori did not tell,” Cee said from Quinn’s pocket. “I just spoke with Trea. She says that Rose searched the archives and discovered that Collin Alexander looks the same as Alex Collin and Collin Hansell. Trea says that Tori performed her duties admirably and saved her from being recycled at the manufacturing plant. Trea wishes to thank you, Tori.”
Tori could only stare at Quinn’s chest. Cee was speaking to her, and she wasn’t accusing her.
“Tori?” Cee asked.
She glanced at Charles and then Quinn. “Yes?”
“Please forgive me for letting my fear for Quinn override what I logically knew of your character. I will strive not to make that mistake again.”
Quinn had that soft, special smile that he reserved for Shanika or Cee, and she’d seen it directed toward her a few times. He was proud of Cee. He glanced at Tori as if expecting her to speak.
And then she knew she had to. “Yes, Cee. I forgive you.” The words were hard, not because she didn’t mean them, but because she’d never been asked for forgiveness before. “I hope I never do anything to hurt Quinn again.”
Quinn drew her into his arms and kissed her neck.
Geoff gave a quick snort. “Young people, these days. Can’t wait until they’re in their own bedroom, can they? Get on out of here, you two, and let us old men talk about dragons and robots.”
Tori glanced at Charles, and he was smiling. He gave her a nod, dismissing them, and Quinn took Tori from the room.
As they reached the living room Shanika ran to them. “Daddy, Mommy. Flash flied. He flied all the way over the field and back. Come and see.”
Tori bit her lip and felt her eyes sting.
Quinn squeezed her shoulders. “Come on, Mom,” he whispered. “Our little girl wants to show us something.”
The next book will be Hansell's Apprentices
© 2007 by Deborah K. Lauro. No part of this book may be published in any form without permission from the author.