That evening Thenorn and Belna visited them in the ward. “I’m sorry, Jorn, Nehma, but the Council of Elders is evenly divided meaning that we cannot approve your use of the Archive.
Jorn hung his head. “I understand.”
“I did suggest supervision, but not even that was accepted.”
Jorn didn’t know what to say so he said nothing.
“We expected they might decide this way,” Nehma said.
Thenorn raised an eyebrow. “You two didn’t do anything you shouldn’t, did you? We won’t discover you’ve told it not to talk to us anymore.”
“Oh, no. We didn’t do anything.”
“Except stay in the facility until right before we left. We were told to find out what you were doing.”
Jorn and Nehma glanced at each other, then Nehma shrugged. “We had archive print us a few diagrams. When we copy them we’ll bring them to the medical ward.” He included Drs. Thorn and Manha. “We got detailed diagrams of all the internal parts of both the Elsue and Merree. The books in the restricted section just have diagrams of Full humans. We thought this might be helpful in our work.”
“Did you really get detailed diagrams of everything?” Dr. Manha asked, his excitement almost as acute as Nehma’s had been. “Even the nerves and blood vessels and respiratory diagrams.”
Nehma grinned. “Yep. But wow, they’re detailed. But we’ll start work on copying each section right away and making them much bigger.”
Thenorn nodded. “Indeed. I suppose that will be very useful to you doctors. Very well. I will tell them you obtained the medical diagrams. I suppose it took all that time.”
“Archive had to sort through many records,” Jorn said, not meeting Thenorn’s eyes.
Belna chuckled. “Fine. But don’t do anything to let your name come up in the next few months. I’m looking forward to meeting Zander and Dr. Owen Ryans.”
“Don’t worry. Archive will not mention our name to the elders again.”
“And I am sure that you both are always keeping the needs of the whole community in mind in everything you do.”
“Yes, Sirs, we are,” Jorn agreed. “This information, these diagrams will potentially prevent many deaths.”
“Very well. But you know that the library now has extra guards. It is no use trying to sneak back in there.”
“No, Sirs, we won’t go into the library.”
Thenorn raised an eyebrow. Belna chuckled. “Best not ask, Thenorn. Not even Archive.”
“You two better not make me regret the trust I have in you,” Thenorn said firmly. “I expect those diagrams will start appearing in the medical ward soon. We’ll see you in a few weeks. And watch the hypothermia.”
They left the ward. Drs Thorn and Manha however were very excited. “Can we see the diagrams? Maybe we can help copy them?”
Nehma stepped back, his face displaying shock. Jorn hoped he didn’t look as guilty.
The doctors frowned. “You didn’t really get the diagrams, did you?”
“We got them,” Nehma said, recovering some. “It’s just . . . .” He looked at Jorn for help.
Jorn desperately searched his mind for an explanation. “They’re not . . . not in paper form,” he admitted.
“What other form . . . .”
“You really don’t want to know, do you?” asked Nehma weakly.
Dr. Manha glanced at Dr. Thorn. “Apparently, like Thenorn and Belna, we probably don’t.”
“But unlike Thenorn and Belna, the other elders will not be asking us to explain what you have. We aren’t required to report things that our apprentices do unless we feel they threaten the community.”
“What if your apprentices happened to find something that was . . . unusual, but helpful to us as doctors.”
“Well, all medical information rightly belongs in the medical ward. But we couldn’t share it until we’d fully examined and proved its worth,” Dr. Manha said.
“Like those new plants. We didn’t share them with the north ward yet because we don’t know their worth for the Mersue people.”
“One item is hard to share,” Nehma added.
“True. One item can only be in one spot — the spot where it will do the most good.”
“And if it is mainly medical information . . . .” Dr. Thorn said with a shrug. “Where else should it be?”
“With you,” Jorn said, seeing where this might lead.
“Us?” Dr. Thorn shook his head. “No. Here, maybe, but only because you’re here more than anywhere else. You’ve learned everything we’ve taught you faster than anyone else ever has, and you had a disadvantage because we were trying to prevent trouble. And you’ve obviously figured out how to use that vast speaking wall when the elders knew about it for years and couldn’t do anything with it.”
“If it’s one thing we know,” Dr. Manha said, picking up when Dr. Thorn paused. “It’s that you two are going to be the best doctors this community has ever seen if you aren’t killed in your other adventures. If I had my say, I’d set you up learning everything you could from that Archive and have someone else risk gathering. Your potential is too valuable to lose.”
“In fact,” Dr. Thorn said, “In the last few days, since we learned of what’s below us, we thought for sure the elders would expand your duties to discovering its secrets. We have discussed . . . well . . . .” He trailed off.
Dr. Manha picked up. “If you would not object, we would like to look for another set of apprentices — unless it bothers you.”
“It would be to free you up from all the minor tasks usually assigned to apprentices.”
“We don’t know if anyone good will present this year. We just know that we are getting older, and you are very busy.”
“And wives and family will cut into your time even more.”
“By the time we had the ward, some of our children were old enough to assist. But none of the males wished to become doctors.”
“Did Rayli?” Nehma asked. “She appeared to recognize my hypothermia instantly.”
Dr. Manha smiled. “She loved to be in the ward.” He frowned. “Panha was so short-sighted. Without children she would have been such an asset to him in his work.”
“Yes, we wouldn’t trade any of our children,” Dr. Thorn continued. “But why couldn’t he accept her and see that there could be some good — that restrictions could be turned to advantages if one only half cared.”
Dr. Manha sighed. “We’re wandering. Tired, I guess. We just want you boys to know that we recognize that you’re going to be better doctors than we ever were, and we welcome it.”
“As any good doctor who has been frustrated by his inability to help should welcome someone who can help those he cannot.”
“Go home,” Dr. Manha said. “We’re all tired.”
At home Jorn and Nehma studied their notebook, debating. The next morning they took it in to the ward. The doctors were true to their words. They set Nehma and Jorn up in a private alcove which contained shelves and a work table, papers, and inks in various colors. When there weren’t patients or necessary chores, they were to work on their studies and on transcribing first the diagrams, and then anything else they found useful. This kept them so busy that they had no trouble maintaining the low profile elders Thenorn and Belna had requested. In fact the day they did arrive in the ward, Jorn scrambled back to the alcove to hide the notebook, before coming to stand before them.
“Keeping busy with your diagrams?”
“Oh, yes,” Dr. Manha said. “Just look at these.” He directed them over to the far wall of the entrance room where each copied diagram was posted. “Thorn and I are making copies for North Ward, but this is such a fantastic find, and we’ve already consulted them during that hunting accident last week. I felt far more confident trying to repair his crushed ribs. Merree lungs and respiratory systems are far different than those Full diagrams we’ve had to go by. And now we know why sometimes after a blow such as this a Merree couldn’t breathe properly underwater. We never understood these . . . .”
Thenorn gave a laugh. “Okay, okay. You don’t need to convince me their little excursion was time well spent. Is the ward empty?”
“Our crushed Merree is still in the smaller ward, but he’s recovering well. I have high hopes he’ll still retain his proper respiratory function.”
“I see. Well, which day were you scheduled to meet your friends, Jorn?”
Jorn glanced to Nehma to redirect the question. He was the one who kept track of such things.
“In six days. They will let us go, won’t they?”
“With supervision. You leave at first light?”
“We’ll see you then.” They left.
“Is it almost spring?” Jorn asked. “We’ve been so focused. We better take some time to gather the pearls together.”
The doctors gave them the afternoon to visit their relatives and gather pearls. Jorn told Nehma to go alone to the North Cave to see if Treliss and Rayli had any more pearls. Jorn would be spotted much easier.
The weather was cold but bright on the day they headed to the full homeland. The boat seemed overly crowded with so many people, but the waters were still too cool for a prolonged swim. Jorn taught Elder Thenorn how to handle a sail. Thenorn laughed and said that if he were younger, he’d definitely request a boat with a sail.
Jorn saw Lady first. It made him realize that Breeze had grown just as much in the last three months. Soon they would both be ready for riders. Nehma and Belna swam when they came close to Flying Elk Island. Thenorn and Jorn hid the boat, and as he gazed back to sea, he saw the rowboat with Zander and Dr. Ryans.
Lady landed first and greeted Jorn with such enthusiasm, she almost knocked him over. “Hey, you remember me, little girl.”
Belna and Nehma came from the water as Zander jumped from his boat and pulled it onto the shore and into the grasses. Dr. Ryans helped, and then they greeted Jorn and Nehma.
“Zander, Dr. Ryans. This is elders Thenorn and Belna. They wanted to meet you.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you,” Dr. Ryans said. His hand started to come out, but then he glanced at Nehma and winked, pulling his hands together to clasp non-threateningly in front of him.
Thenorn gave a slight bow. “Although I have the utmost confidence in Jorn and Nehma to represent our community, I am pleased the other elders do not, and forced us to supervise them.”
Zander gave Nehma a look of horror.
Dr. Ryans motioned toward the trees. Tiny buds could be seen on the branches. Their spot was not as sheltered as it normally was, but they walked through to the clearing and started the fire. When they were all crouched or sitting, he said, “I hope that you’ll visit often.”
“You’ve told no one about our people?”
Both Dr. Ryans and Zander shook their head. “No,” Dr. Ryans said. “Many people fear what they do not understand, and although people are used to the many animals that were designed by the geneticists, this obvious abuse would send some to wish to destroy the victims instead of those who performed the abuse.”
Thenorn leaned forward. “Abuse? Victims? I am not sure I understand.”
“Of course. I’m sorry. You do not see what was done as a crime, do you? But the galaxy has outlawed human genetic experiments since well before your people were designed. It is considered immoral. A violation of human rights.”
“But which rights of ours were violated?” Belna asked.
“Not yours, but the many people who were failures of theirs. The ones who didn’t meet the standards the geneticists had set. The ones who were killed and dissected to find out where they could improve their creation. I’m glad your community survived, but I know many were tortured and killed to create your people.”
Thenorn and Belna gave each other a look. “Are you sure? You know how genetics works?”
“I am not a geneticist, but this information is known. It is one of the reasons the geneticists were destroyed.”
“Surely not all of them were such monsters,” Thenorn said, and Jorn detected a bit of anger. Why did Dr. Ryans have to bring this up on their first visit?
“No. Many geneticists are not. Many help to find cures and prevent birth defects, I’m told.” Dr. Ryans shifted and poked the fire with a stick before throwing it on. “I did not mean to offend you. I only meant to assure you that I would never tell others about you, because I don’t want you killed. And I wanted you to understand that they wouldn’t kill because they hated you as individuals, but because of what you represented to them. Many times good and reasonable people become unreasonable when confronted with this. I want you to know that just because Zander and I are open, that will often not be the case.”
Thenorn nodded. “We suspected that we would not be welcome. That is why the elders wanted us to make sure that Jorn and Nehma were doing nothing to endanger the community.”
“But,” Belna added. “Your explanation does help us to know what is behind it. We know very little of the world beyond our home.”
“We,” Thenorn picked up, “think that it is prudent to understand what is out there, but others believe we are safer if we just stay hidden.”
“I hope you can, but this planet will not always be a penal colony, and when it is open to technology, no surface will be hidden. People will be able to easily travel anywhere they wish. For the people here, I long for that day. For your people, I dread it.”
“Why do you long for it?” Nehma asked. “What would the people here gain by being able to travel everywhere?”
“For them the travel would be a side benefit. The main benefit would be technologies that would improve the way we live. And you will appreciate this Nehma and Jorn, medical technologies. You have no idea what the rest of the galaxy enjoys,” and here he raised his arm and indicated the sky from horizon to horizon, “that we cannot have. They have only a little in Alexandria, but that is so far from here, it does little good. And imagine. I’m told they have regeneration tanks. If your leg is bitten off by a dragon, they could regrow you a new one and reattach it so that it is like you never lost it. Imagine! But instead we die now because even the ability to have electricity to run the simplest piece of medical equipment is denied most village clinics. We don’t even have proper lighting for emergency surgery at night.”
“Glowing moss does not help?”
Dr. Ryans chuckled. “Never seen any glowing moss anywhere, let alone on my surgery ceiling.”
“Perhaps we can bring some, and you can see if it will grow and work for you?” Nehma suggested. “There’s over and under moss, but I imagine you won’t need undermoss. It only grows underwater. Overmoss is for the upper caverns.”
“We can try it, but it probably needs a cavern, as you say, and our homes are not quite the same.”
“We have some more plants for you,” Zander said. He pulled some pages from his pack. “Here are the papers on them.”
“We brought lots of pearls. We’ll need another saddle and bridle. It can wait until you buy yours. I think Breeze is the same age as Lady.”
“And Wind adapted easily to the saddle and riders?”
“Yep. Treliss was flying around on her own the next day.”
“Is there anything else you’d like us to buy for you? We have many items you might like.”
Nehma shrugged. “Do you know of anything we need?” he asked the elders.
“Is there such a thing as fruit trees here?”
“Yeah, plenty,” Dr. Ryans said. “We could find a few saplings of several different varieties. Seeing as they’ll have to be very small it may take a few years to grow big enough to produce fruit, but in the meantime we can probably share some at harvest.”
Thenorn smiled. “I have read of such things, and even seen pictures, but the largest fruit I’ve seen are widberries.” He held his fingers up to make an inch circle.
“We have glass and metals, but I must admit that I’m not sure how you’d transport amounts to be of any use to you.”
They stayed until Dr. Ryans jumped up and looked at the western sky. “We stayed far too late. The sun will be down before we’re home. The dragons hunt at night. You must leave also.”
They rushed to their boats and exchanged pearls and plants. Zander gave them another carving, and they left. As they were sailing away, Nehma said, “You know, I just realized, Zander has no limp at all now. His surgery really worked. Although he seemed really quiet.”
“You didn’t speak much either, and I don’t think Jorn said two words,” Belna said.
“Jorn rarely speaks much, but it is unfortunate that Zander feels he cannot speak with so many older people to respect.”
“You’re saying our visit inhibited him.”
“Not just you. He hasn’t said much since Dr. Ryans began coming. I think he must feel his opinions aren’t important. Too bad, as I think he needs us as friends. His own siblings tried to take Lady from him. I don’t think they’ve treated him kindly since his injury. But at least he’s healed now — physically.”
Belna gripped Nehma’s shoulder. “Thorn and Manha are right about you, Nehma. You will be a great doctor.”
“Jorn will be a great doctor,” Nehma said with conviction.
Jorn stayed focused on the wind and the horizon.
Thenorn tried to stretch, but his wings interfered with the sail. “Hey Jorn, I think we need some air. Let them take the sail a while.”
Jorn was stiff from crouching all day. Nehma took the sail and both Thenorn and Jorn jumped into the air. Jorn always was careful how he leapt from the boat, but Thenorn jumping at the same time caused the little craft to lurch and dip so that Nehma was forced to struggle to keep it from flipping over. When Jorn knew he’d succeeded, he flew higher and relaxed.
He looked back the way they’d come. A large creature flew toward them. Thenorn saw it now also, and he readied his crossbow as Jorn did. Jorn motioned to Nehma to alert him, and then caught Thenorn’s attention by flying almost over him and keeping pace. “It’s too big. We probably can’t kill it.”
“If we don’t, it’ll kill us,” Thenorn shouted back.
“Not if we can outdive it. Shoot and dive.” Jorn separated before Thenorn could counter his suggestion. This was the dragon that Dr. Ryans and Zander feared.
The dragon headed for Thenorn. Thenorn’s arrow flew into its neck but the beast didn’t slow down. It’d be on top of Thenorn before he could reload his crossbow. Jorn flew in front of its nose, startling it, letting an arrow fly into its eye at the same time. He looked back, but Thenorn wasn’t diving, the idiot. “Dive,” he yelled. But that just told the beast where he was. Jorn struggled to reload and outfly the creature. He thought for sure he was dead. But when he reloaded and twisted to assess the situation, the beast was after Thenorn again, another arrow in its neck. Jorn rushed back toward them. “Over here!” Jorn shouted, hoping the noise would distract him.
The beast turned, and Jorn let his arrow take out the creature’s other eye. It thrashed as the arrow hit its brain. Jorn reloaded as it struggled to find them. Both Jorn and Thenorn raced to it. Thenorn’s arrow hit right below the neck where a major vein was located in rajadrake. He was rewarded for the guess, by the spurt of blood that spit out of the wound. Jorn aimed at the small round ear, and his arrow pierced it into the brain. He had one more arrow, but as he readied it, the beast fell down and slammed into the water.
Jorn scanned the dark waters searching for Nehma and Belna, but all he saw was the empty boat. Thenorn joined him. “Thanks, Jorn. You are the most accurate hunter I’ve ever met.”
“Why didn’t you dive? Now he’s down there with Nehma!” He swooped low as the beast churned the water. But then all was still.
Nehma and Belna popped up close to the dead dragon. “Get us the ropes,” Nehma yelled. “He’s dead.”
“You’re all idiots,” Jorn yelled. “Every one of you could have been killed.” But he flew to the boat and snatched the ropes without landing.
They worked hard to secure the dragon to the boat as they had the whale. “This beast isn’t worth you dying of hypothermia, you know.”
Nehma grinned and climbed into the boat. “Let’s get that third rope tied on the nose, and you and Thenorn can pull while I sail.”
After that was done, Thenorn and Jorn each took an end of the rope whose middle was wrapped around the beast’s neck, and pulled.
“You’re a great hunter, Jorn.”
“You’re an idiot.”
Thenorn laughed. “Do you insult Nehma every time you hunt?”
“We didn’t need this dragon. We don’t need a stupid trophy. Your life is worth more than this. Don’t you understand anything? At least I knew Nehma and Belna could escape under water. But this thing flies twice as fast as any of us. It was stupid.”
“Do you really think we could have held our breath longer than it could? Come on, Jorn. We had to fight. We had no choice.”
“Yeah, well next time we’re leaving so early you won’t have time to taste anything he might bring.”
Thenorn chuckled. “You know I think you’ve come to care about me.”
“You’re wasting breath needed to pull this stupid trophy of yours.”
Below them Jorn heard Nehma and Belna’s laughter. Then he wondered if they’d overheard him call Thenorn an idiot. For a moment he felt a bit of embarrassment, but then he remembered when he thought the dragon was going to catch Thenorn. “You know every half drunk Elsue is going to try for one of these now,” he said, keeping his voice lower, but it still traveled in the still night.”
“You’re right. We should keep this quiet. Treliss and Rayli are discreet. But what will we do with that hide?”
“We could see if Zander could use it. I hear there’s only one dragon slayer on the whole continent.”
“Good idea,” Thenorn grunted, and Jorn could tell the exertion was finally starting to get to the older man.
“Stop talking. We’ve still got a ways to go.”
Thenorn tried to chuckle, but then just pulled.
They went straight to the North Cavern. Treliss and Rayli helped pull the beast onto the dock and then stood back examining it with growing horror. It was as long as a rajadrake and thicker around. The wingspan was greater than four men head to foot. The flying elk snorted nervously and shied away, going to the back of the cavern.
Thenorn was so weak, he had to kneel on the dock. Belna touched his brother’s back as he gave instructions about the secrecy of this project, proving that they’d heard everything on the boat that Jorn and Thenorn had said. When Belna finished, Thenorn tried to stand.
“Into the boat,” Jorn ordered. “You’re spending the night in the medical ward. Really. We could have let the thing rot in the ocean for all the trouble it’s going to be.”
Thenorn did manage a chuckle then and winked at the girls. “Who died and made him an elder.”
“You will, if you don’t be careful,” Jorn said. The man could have his heart burst. “I should have made you rest in the boat long ago,” he said in frustration.
Thenorn grabbed his shoulders and looked into his eyes. “My health is my responsibility. If I overdid, it is because I wanted to, and not because you didn’t tell me not to. Do you understand? Even if I die tonight, it is not your fault. You could have done nothing to prevent it.”
“I can try.” But his voice broke, and he had to pull away from Thenorn because for some reason now that his anger was gone, he only felt weak and desperate, and he didn’t want anyone to see either emotion. He stepped into the boat and waited for Thenorn. Then Belna and Nehma pushed them out of the cavern.
Go to Chapter 24
© 2013, 2006 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.