Chapter 3: “It’s a good thing the biotrace found him.”
Landon heard a familiar voice, a man’s voice. The Master? Where was Buddy?
“Yes sir. Another few minutes and his signal would have faded forever.”
It was Carmen Ramsey, Landon’s doctor; the one who treated his wounds after one of the Games, the Roman’s sword. Yes, he remembered.
“Without the collar, he was free of our influence, and in his case, the ability to use sorcery was restored. He is too valuable a contestant to lose. Besides, if he ever freed the dragon…” The Master abruptly stopped talking.
“Wait. He’s coming to.” Carmen put her hand on his forehead.
Landon had involuntarily fluttered his eyelids. He was on his back in bed. He’d been unconscious. This must be the hospital back at the Arena; at HQ Prime where he had originally trained. How did he know that?”
“Soldier. Can you hear me?”
Landon opened his eyes to see the stark, imposing visage of the Master, his eyes boring into the young man’s.
“Yes, Master.” His voice sounded so weak. How had they gotten him back from the space between dimensions?
“You were wounded on the battlefield, soldier. The doctor repaired your injuries and your damaged collar was replaced. When you feel up to it, you can rejoin your comrades in the Games again. You are an excellent contestant and have won many medals. I praise you for your skill and endurance.”
“Yes, Master. Thank you, Master.” Landon felt like a fool and a toady saying such things, but it was better to bide his time and figure out what happened. He still felt strange, but in a way that should be impossible thanks to the collar.
The Master stopped leaning over Landon and stood. “Keep me apprised of his progress, Doctor.”
“Of course, Master. I will notify you immediately when I am able to certify him fit to return to combat.”
Landon watched the Master nod at the doctor and then at him before the tall, gaunt figure in black turned and left his room.
“Just rest now, Landon. If you are hungry, I can have a meal sent in.” She sounded genuinely concerned. Many of the doctors treated their charges as machines or puppets, only needing a repair job before being returned to the wars, to win or die. Carmen was different, but in the hours and days ahead, the former apprentice of the dragon would discover just how different.
Landon was dressed in his common uniform as he slowly walked the parade grounds, inhibited by a heavy limp and assisted by a cane. The cane was made from part of the hull of a World War Two German U-Boat, or rather the simulation of one. It had been sunk with depth charges by a U.S. Navy Destroyer commanded by one of the teen’s friends, Moses Schneider. The handle was carved from a piece of wooden debris found floating in the ocean after the sinking; a chest or cabinet of some kind.
Schneider had made this for Landon as a gift and presented it last week when the young soldier was finally able to move around. It was only yesterday that he had been told Moses had been killed. He had been portraying a Jewish freedom fighter resisting the British occupation of what was once called Palestine. He died in a running firefight between his team and an English patrol. He saved five of his comrades, holding off the enemy while the rest ran to safety.
Carmen had delivered the bad news, but she really didn’t have to. Landon had “felt” the moment of Schneider’s death; the fateful bullet that pierced his valiant heart. There was only one explanation. The replacement collar was somehow faulty. Landon could still use magic.
He had to be very careful. Each collar’s output was monitored by a vast array of computers, and any deviation was immediately reported to Discipline Control. He got lucky the first time. The original collar was damaged by accident, and no blame was placed upon Landon. However, it he were discovered to have eluded the collar’s influence a second time, he would be summarily executed.
But how had this happened? Landon could sense the output of the collar. It reported normal operations, and that he was both completely under control of the Master and his mystical abilities were totally suppressed. Both were a lie, but that meant the collar had been deliberately programmed to transmit false readings. Who did this? Certainly not the Master, and the regular soldiers never had access to the programming parameters of the collar. A rogue technician? Impossible. They were under constant surveillance. One deviation from the standard programming installed on any collar would mean instant death.
“There you are.” Carmen greeted Landon at the door of the rehabilitation clinic where he was now stationed. She visited him often, even though she was assigned to the trauma ward at the main hospital. “I was wondering where you’d gotten off to.”
“Just walking the grounds, Doctor. Part of my therapy.”
“How’s the leg?”
“Dr. Swanson thinks I’ll be able to walk unaided within another two weeks.”
“You’re making excellent progress. Let me accompany you to your room. You look tired.”
Landon did feel fatigued, but not as much as he let on. He had managed to make his injuries look worse than they really were, and a subtly applied healing spell would see him in perfect health in another three days, that is except for his right eye which was still blind. But then what? He had to plan an escape, but this time not for only himself.
Carmen opened the door of his room for him, as Landon was feigning exhaustion, but only for her benefit as well as any hidden cameras and microphones.
“Sit down in your chair and I’ll pour you a glass of water.”
As the door automatically closed behind them and Landon awkwardly seated himself, she poured water from a pitcher into a glass. “We don’t have much time. I’ve arranged for the cameras and microphones in your room to output false data for the next five minutes.” She handed the shocked soldier his water, and Landon’s fingers gripped it reflexively.
“Of course you’ve noticed the collar is a dummy, designed to send routine signals to the monitors. You have your full range of abilities. So have several hundred others. If you reach out with your senses, you’ll be able to find them.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“The doctors, nurses, all the professional staff wear the same collars. We’re as much prisoners in this place as you are.” She placed delicate fingers on her collar for a moment. “A glitch in the programming of three collars several weeks ago freed the first of us. After that, we’ve been introducing that flaw into newly manufactured devices, including yours. We plan to lead a revolt, to take over the system and free the rest. Are you with us?”
“Yes, of course I am.” Landon sensed she was telling him the truth and that it wasn’t a trick of the Master’s. “I’ve been waiting for something like this. But if you’d let me go when I was between dimensions, I could have found…”
“I know, the dragon. But the time is not right. Your dragon is in worse shape than you imagine, trapped in the past. We will need his help, but only you can save him, and then save all of us.”
“I’ll do anything. What…?”
“Stop. The sensors are about to come back online. No more talk. You will be contacted.”
Landon tried to look relaxed as he took a drink from his glass. “Thank you, Doctor. Really, you don’t have to keep checking in on me. Dr. Swanson’s care is excellent.”
“I am pleased you are responding so well. The Master has personally asked me to keep track of your recovery. He will be gratified that you will be able to return to the Games soon.”
“As will I. Thanks again for dropping in on me.”
“Of course. Please remain seated. I’ll see myself out.”
Carmen turned and opened the door but before stepping out, she looked back at him. “We will talk again soon, Landon.” Her message carried a double meaning only he could detect.
“I look forward to it, Doctor.”
The door closed behind her leaving him alone, except for the monitors in his room. He would be contacted. He was part of the revolution, but he sensed that his primary role wouldn’t be leading the rebellion against the Master and the Wargames. What was it then? The dragon. Where was the dragon, and more importantly, when was he?
Far in the past, the dragon, now much younger than the last time Landon saw him, was in the dark, shivering from the cold. Unbidden, he recalled a little boy of seven or eight. He could see his shining smile, feel the warmth of his hugs, and then he began sobbing at the tremendous love and bond they shared, the bond that was no longer there, and in fact, one that had never existed.
“Landon. Are you real?” he whispered to himself in his captivity. “If you are, save me. Hurry before I die.” Then he began crying again, his heart and his wings both broken.
As I mentioned at the end of Chapter 1, my nine-year-old grandson has asked me to write a series of adventures featuring his future teenage self. He really liked the first chapter, and I hope he enjoys this story, too. Oh, he requested losing sight in one eye for some reason, so I’ve accommodated him. He didn’t like Chapter 2 as much, especially the ending, since he wanted to extend the rescue of the dragon for a while yet. He told me his plans for the dragon, but I only remember a small portion of what he said, so I ended the story here and will continue it once I have a chance to consult with him again. It’s building up to be something exciting.
Just a few says ago was the two-year anniversary of these stories, which is pretty amazing. My grandson was only seven when I began the original series with The Day a Dragon Came to Live with Us. I have no idea how many stories I’ve written for him since, but there must be hundreds, and I’ve found that some of my other readers enjoy them as well.
The Next Chapter: Steve.