Tin Horses and Paper Planes

Chapter 13 - The Realms of Possibility

He was falling again. In the timeless moment between realising this and jerking fully awake, Wyatt wondered what vision would greet him this time. The bleak snowfield above the Winter Palace? The greyness of the Papay fields?


It was neither. DG took a step back as the front legs of Wyatt's chair hit the floor. "Hey, take it easy. I brought you coffee." She set the cup down and regarded him critically. "You look awful. Maybe you should try sleeping in that thing over there with the pillows. We call them 'beds'. They're all the rage, up here."

Despite his worry, Wyatt found he could still smile. He followed DG's glance towards the bed and shook his head. "What, and have people say I've gone soft? I'm already being waited on by a princess..."

DG pursed her lips, feigning annoyance. "Watch it, Wyatt. If Mother finds out about this, she won't be impressed. You're not her favourite person at the moment, even if you had a good reason for taking pot-shots at the furniture."

"Did she tell you why? I'd say I had a damn good reason." Wyatt could feel himself getting worked up all over again. "Or does she still think I'm -"

"It's okay." DG made a soothing gesture. "The doctor's assistant, Felix, told us everything. He's given us Krantz, his friends back in the City - I think he'd still have been talking this morning, if we'd let him. Mother is furious." Well, no-one likes to be proved wrong, Wyatt thought, but he kept the observation to himself.

"I guess they won't have to worry about getting a copy of the telex, then?"

She shook her head. "No. It's a good thing, too. Glitch set the way-station up back at the start of the war. He's the only one who knows where it is."

Wyatt paused in the process of reaching for his coffee and stared at her. "She was bluffing?" Iskra suddenly went up a little in his estimation.

DG shot him a brief, brilliant grin. "It's a family talent. Something to think about if we ever play cards. C'mon. Drink up and go get a shave or something. You can't visit Glitch looking like you slept in a hedge, and you just got made his official guardian until he's better." She caught a lock of her hair between her fingers and twirled it, slightly embarrassed. "I think it's Mother's way of saying you were right."

Wyatt smiled grimly while, inside, his stomach performed an odd little flip at the news. "In that case, I'll stick to shouting 'I told you so' in the shower."

"Probably for the best," DG agreed. "I'm afraid Captain Mellor's keeping hold of your gun for now, too. Mother says you can have it back when you leave."

It's a big palace. There must be a lot of chairs she's very fond of. "Looks like he'll be holding onto it for a while, then."

DG stared at him for a moment, then hugged him tightly. "I was hoping you'd say that."


The disturbance Wyatt had heard in the night had been another seizure. and others followed on its tail like aftershocks. By the time the suns had vanished from the sky once again, Glitch had experienced three more and the mood in the little room was one of quiet despair. Wyatt was at his side constantly, soothing the zipperhead through his confusion, bringing him water, holding him while maids fussed around him with fresh linens. In the quiet moments while Glitch slept - a faded rag-doll amidst the voluminous billows of bedding - he and Doctor Spicer conversed quietly. It hadn't taken him long to get used to the Munchkin's sing-song way of speaking, which seemed more of a habit than an affectation, and Wyatt discovered that he liked the little doctor immensely. Spicer seemed to view Glitch with the same faintly bemused affection that he elicited in most of the palace's residents. He was also refreshingly willing to admit that he didn't know the cause of Glitch's sickness, and had no qualms about the arrival of a replacement doctor.

"My knowledge is too general to tamper with the brain," he confided, pouring them both a tiny cup of the ferociously strong, syrupy coffee that he favoured. "The physicking of royal aches and pains is my domain. I've no desire to overstep the bounds of my position; a specialist physician is required. I trust he makes more progress than the last one -" He gave Wyatt a sly look, "Whom you fired."

That's all very well, Wyatt thought, his eyes locked on the slight rise and fall of Glitch's chest, but how many specialists know anything about zipperheads? He drank the coffee, and decided the purpose of serving it at something close to boiling point was to sear the tastebuds as a protection against the cloying sweetness of the brew.

Dinner appeared, spirited in by one of the silent, nervous maids: cold chicken and crusty, herb-laden bread for Wyatt, and some sort of watery oatmeal, which - fortunately - smelled better than it looked, for Glitch. Wyatt helped him to eat, holding the bowl and murmuring encouragement but, in spite of his efforts, most of it went back untouched.

"It's okay. We'll try again tomorrow." Wyatt forced himself to sound cheerful. "Maybe they can make you some applesauce, or something." Glitch mumbled a response, already three-quarters asleep, and Wyatt gently drew up the counterpane around him, wondering if another cup of Spicer's sump-oil coffee would be enough to keep him awake for another night's vigil.

The outer door to Glitch's apartment opened with the smallest of creaks. Wyatt sighed wearily and emerged from the bedroom, expecting DG or one of the interchangeable maids. Instead, a man who made Captain Mellor look like an undernourished Munchkin was feeding himself carefully into the room, presumably trying not to scrape paint off the doorframe with his shoulders.

"'Ello. This the right room for Doctor Oxley, is it?"

Wyatt looked up at him. And then a bit further up, because the first 'up' had only got him as far as the big man's chin. He tried to reconcile this minor land-mass in a suit with the title of 'doctor' and felt his brain attempt to mutiny and climb out of his ear.

"You're the doctor?" he croaked, and then, because it had been a long time since he'd slept, and his mouth was running several seconds ahead of his brain, "What do you do? Scare the diseases away?"

"No, Mr Cain, I'm the doctor." A second voice, radiating good-natured exasperation, arose from behind the newcomer. "Vincent, be a good fellow and let me in, would you? You have many sterling qualities, but transparency isn't one of them."

Vincent stepped aside, unabashed. "Just checkin' it was safe, Doc," he rumbled patiently.

The doctor, now revealed, approached Wyatt and put out his hand. "I'm Ralph Oxley, and my overprotective colleague is Vincent Macey, known to his contemporaries as 'Smasher' for reasons best left unexplored."

As he shook Oxley's hand, Wyatt studied the doctor with interest and a tentative feeling of hope. He was sprightly and amiable, hawk-nosed and balding, and there were a pair of golden pheasants embroidered on the waistcoat covering his modest paunch that put Wyatt in mind of the intertwined bird-gods of which Doctor Spicer had been so proud. He decided to take it as a good omen. Oxley smiled at his frank appraisal and clapped Vincent on the back.

"It's all right, Vincent. I have it on excellent authority that Mr Cain gives everyone one chance before he shoots them."

Wyatt pursed his lips. "I'm not going to be allowed to forget that, am I?"

"Probably not," the doctor agreed, affably, looking around the room at Krantz's stockpile of medical equipment. "But there's nothing wrong with a reputation, providing you're the one deciding what it is. Vincent - would you make these boxes vanish? It's rather like being in a warehouse, and I'm sure you can find a better place for it all."

Vincent grinned and tucked a crate under each arm as if they weighed next to nothing. "Not a problem, Doc. The Free Hospital's always lookin' for donations. We'll write 'em out a nice receipt an' everyfing."

"The Free Hospital?" Central City boasted one large civic hospital and, for those less fortunate, a number of public spirited medics ran 'paupers clinics'. If a charity hospital had sprung up, it had been in the years since Wyatt had quit the city. "Won't you get in trouble making donations without checking with your superiors?" There was a strange, gravelly gurgle, like a wolf being strangled at the bottom of a well. Vincent was laughing.

"The doc don't have no superiors, Mister Cain. He's what you might call 'freelance'."

"You're not from the Royal Hospital?"

Doctor Oxley shook his head. "Not unless Royal patronage automatically confers that honour. The Prince Consort did visit occasionally, in... a former life."

Then it clicked. "You're from the Realm of the Unwanted?" Wyatt tried to keep the consternation from his face, but something must have given him away because the doctor chuckled.

"Don't look so alarmed. Criminals and vagabonds need doctors, too, as do the forgotten and the lost." Oxley had a large leather bag under his arm, and now he set it down on Glitch's desk in a space previously occupied by one of Krantz's devices. "If it's any comfort, I'm sure the Royal Hospital will be sending a representative - His Highness said as much in his communique. Until he arrives, I fear you must make do with me."

Wyatt held up his hands, mortified by his initial reaction. "Don't get me wrong, Doctor. I'm not ungrateful and, frankly, I'll take a doctor from Phloxtown on the Great Gulf if they can find out what's wrong with Ambrose. It was just a surprise. You made damn good time if you came all the way from the Realm."

The doctor glanced up from his bag. "When one's summoned by royal command, one tends to make haste. Put the rest down to fair weather and fast horses. Now..." He nodded past Wyatt, towards the archway, "...is my patient awake?"

"No. He had a rough night." Wyatt went to the arch and peered in. Glitch was sleeping, peaceful for the moment. "And the day's been worse. Unless you've an urgent need to examine him, I'd suggest we let him sleep while he can."

"I see no reason to wake him up if he's resting. I'd like to take a look at him, though, if you've no objection." Oxley had joined him at the arch, a stethoscope draped around his neck. "I can make some preliminary observations without disturbing him."

Wyatt nodded, and beckoned him through the arch, keeping his voice low. "I should warn you, though, he - he's not fond of doctors. If you wake him, he may panic. The last doctor was..." He struggled for a suitable description, ultimately settling for "...unpleasant."

Oxley nodded gravely. "I understand. Any other aversions I should know about?"

"Ah... heights." Wyatt followed him into the room, watching him closely - the new doctor seemed decent enough, but after Krantz, he wasn't taking any chances. "Although I don't think that's gonna be a problem for a while," he added ruefully. "And right now he can't stand bright light or loud noises. One of the maids dropped a glass this afternoon and he damn near broke my hand." And I'd be obliged if you didn't think to ask why I was holding his hand at the time. "I'd rather not turn the lamps up if it's all the same to you."

"One grows accustomed to unfavourable lighting conditions in the Realm. Don't worry, Mr Cain." The doctor made his way over to Glitch's bed, speaking just loud enough for his voice to reach Wyatt. "We'll have a little talk about that in a moment. Tell me about today."

"Today..." Wyatt let out a small sigh and considered his words. This was an improvement - a doctor who was actually asking questions, rather than assuming that he already had all the answers. "He was asleep when I came to see him - he'd had one seizure at about two in the morning, but I didn't see that one - then he woke up at about ten and he was in pain. He didn't say it in so many words - if you ask him, he'll just say 'sometimes it aches' - but it was obvious, just looking at him."

"I see. And he had another seizure today?"

"Three. The first just before midday, another between four and five, and another one almost straight after that." He frowned, remembering. "Mostly he's slept for hours after each one, but he came round about half an hour after the last one and he couldn't get back to sleep for a long time. I think he was afraid it was going to happen again, and he was very disoriented."

While Wyatt was talking, Doctor Oxley gently took Glitch's wrist, peering at a large, gold watch he'd drawn from his waistcoat. Next, he returned the watch to its pocket and unslung his stethoscope, warming it against his wrist before moving the blankets down to listen to his patient's chest. Wyatt watched him, hoping to glean some news from the doctor's expression, but he remained infuriatingly blank throughout the brief examination. Satisfied at last, Oxley straightened up and crossed to the arch, indicating that Wyatt should follow. "Let's sit down out here, shall we, and let Ambrose have some time to himself." He settled on one of the elegant chairs at the windowside, smiling apologetically. "I've asked for my predecessor's records to be moved to my room, and I'll study those tonight, but I'm sure I'll have to ask you any number of questions that you've already answered. His Highness assured me that you know Ambrose better than anyone, so I must rely on your patience for a little while longer."

Me? I've been gone a year - why not DG or Azkadelia? It crossed his mind that Ahamo had read more into his dedication to Glitch than he was meant to, but Wyatt dismissed the thought as paranoid. Can't keep on jumping at every shadow. "Well, I don't know about that, but I'll tell you what I can." He sighed. "I've been away for a while, so I can't give you much indication how this all started, but since I got back he seems to have deteriorated quickly."

"His Highness said you travelled together during the war - I'm sure you can make some valuable contributions." Oxley gave him an encouraging smile. "Now, you said that he's wary of doctors. Do you think I'm going to be able to talk to him? Obviously at some stage I need to examine him more closely, and I'll want him to be as relaxed as possible for that. It certainly won't help if he works himself up into another seizure because he's panicking."

"He's usually okay if I'm there as well." Wyatt glanced towards the archway. "Well, maybe not okay. He'll fret, and he won't want to talk to you, but I should be able to keep him calm. I wouldn't try to see him alone, though. Oh, and it will help if you don't wear a white coat. I did try to tell Krantz, but he wasn't much interested in my opinion."

"More fool, he," Oxley murmured. "You needn't worry - I tend not to wear my whites unless I'm expecting to get something on them. And if you'll do your best to reassure him, I'd like to talk to Ambrose in the morning. Perhaps you'll explain to him beforehand that I'm here to try and help? It sounds as though it's been quite an ordeal."

"Doctor, you don't know the half of it. Have you ever been around anyone like Ambrose before?" Sometimes, sitting with Glitch, it was hard to imagine that there was anyone in the world like him, but Wyatt had seen them for himself - slumped, lost creatures babbling to themselves in the City gaol; refugees from the Moritanium mines, starveling, foot-dragging scarecrows with hollow eyes and puzzled smiles. Not you, Glitch. Never you.

"Two others - one in the Realm of the Unwanted, one in the Black Mountains. One required emergency surgery for problems directly and indirectly related to her zipper, and the other was a post-mortem examination requested by villagefolk who'd found the body near their local well. I'm not prepared to go into specific details, however. Confidentiality still applies, as I'm sure you appreciate."

"Sure. I wasn't asking for specifics." Wyatt nodded. It was more than he could have hoped for. "And you perform surgery. So you're not a house doctor..."

"I've been practising medicine for more than forty years, Mr Cain, and I've worked in a variety of settings, from the Royal Hospital to a blacksmith's yard in the Pasmitt valley, to the back-room of a bar in the Realm of the Unwanted. I've set broken bones, reattached severed fingers, dug out more buckshot and delivered more babies than I care to remember." Oxley's smile suggested that they weren't all bad memories. "But my formal training was in neurosurgery."

Well, damn, Ahamo. Why didn't you dig this guy up a week ago? "That all sounds... well, it sounds too good to be true. Can I ask what you were doing down in the Realm?" There was a wedding band on Oxley's finger. It was hard enough to imagine this avuncular, urbane doctor living in the grim underworld without adding the incongruity of a cosy homestead somewhere behind the neon and the bar-fights.

The doctor laced his fingers together on the table, watching the light glint and gleam over the golden curve of the ring. "If I'd wanted money or accolades, I could have stayed at the City Hospital and made my fortune in the operating theatre, carving people up for the Sorceress. But I swore an oath that I would do no harm and, to the best of my belief, I've upheld that oath ever since I first took up the scalpel." He looked up at Wyatt, fixing him with a level gaze. "I shall need you to trust me, because if you don't, how can I expect Ambrose to?"

"I'll be honest with you, Doctor. If I hadn't spent a week watching Edgar Krantz put Ambrose through hell, I'd be pushing you in there to get started without a moment's hesitation. Now I figure that kind of faith has to be earned."

The doctor tilted his head in acknowledgement. "Of course it does. But it's possible to reserve your judgement without immediately filling the well with suspicion. I haven't met Ambrose yet, but the young woman I met in his condition was quite impressionable - would you say the same of him?"

"Yeah..." Wyatt nodded. "Things don't always sink in immediately, but once he has an idea in his head, it's about as easy to displace as your friend Vincent. Don't worry, I'm not gonna make things more difficult for you."

"I'm sure you won't mean to," Oxley's tone was placating, but his expression was serious. "However, if he gets the slightest inkling that you don't have confidence in me, he won't co-operate, and I'll need him to work with me if we're going to get to the bottom of this thing."

Another point in the doctor's favour. "I can't promise you my trust just like that, Doctor. But if it makes you feel any better, you're already way ahead of the last guy." There's got to be a catch, somewhere. Spicer's bird gods be damned, there's no such thing as miracles. Wyatt shut his eyes for a moment, listening. You know, you really should do something about that bitter cynicism of yours, Cain!

I'm trying, Glitch. I really am.




This free website was made using Yola.

No HTML skills required. Build your website in minutes.

Go to www.yola.com and sign up today!

Make a free website with Yola