Daniel woke up in a panic. For a few seconds, he didn’t know where he was. He sat up to get a look at his surroundings. He’d wanted to jump all the way up, but his legs were being assholes and weren’t responding like they should have been. That might have made him panic some more, but he quickly recognized where he was. He was in the Protector Center in Central Cincington. More specifically, he was in the Protector Center’s medical facility.
The door to his room opened up and a young woman, in her mid-twenties, walked in. “You know the drill, Carter,” she said, annoying him by only calling him by his last name. “Lay back down while you’re worked on.”
“How bad is it?”
“Your spine got the worst of it. After looking at your scans, I was surprised that you were still standing at the end.”
“How many shots of Coop to fix it?”
Coop was the unofficial name that the Protectors used for the recuperative injections they received to speed up their healing process. It was a wonder drug. He’d had both his legs broken before and was back on his feet within two days. Unfortunately for everyone else in the world, Coop only worked on Protectors. It worked in conjunction with the Protector serum they were given at the start of their tenures. Lately, though, he’d noticed that it was taking more Coop to heal him than it used to. Another effect of his growing age.
“Four,” she replied. “Double what I had to use the last time you hurt your spine. Although, to be fair, your injuries were more severe this time.”
He sighed and accepted her reasoning. Daniel laid back down and let her work. Without anything else to do, he watched her as she checked his vitals on the computer screen. Emmaline Callay was the Central Protector, and since her sector housed the Protectors’ medical facilities, that meant that she also doubled as the team’s physician.
Looking at her now, he could see why Calrian became flustered every time he was near her. She was a very attractive woman, with long black hair and the athletic build that came along with being a Protector. Still, he didn’t think of her in that way, a fact that caused him to catch grief from every other Collector and Protector that he had worked with in the time that he had known her. Daniel knew that some men got off on chasing girls that were almost the same age as their daughters, but he wasn’t one of them. He found that practice to be sick. There was no way he’d ever try to hook up with someone Tatiana’s age.
Wait…. Shit! His daughter!
“Did anyone call Tatiana?” he asked.
“Were you not paying attention? I said you’ve gotten four shots since you got here. That means you’ve been here for two days. Do you honestly think we’d leave Tatiana in the dark for that long? Of course we called her. She’s working right now. She’ll stop by to see you when her shift is over.”
Daniel breathed a heavy sigh of relief. He hated that his job made her worry about him. Despite all the preparations he had to make to become a Protector, there was no preparation for how to handle being a Protector and being a parent at the same time. There was a good reason for that, though. Until Tatiana came along, no Protector had ever had a child before. Ever.
He was on his fifteenth birthday that he’d found out that he would join the Collector program. There was a two day gap between that notification and him joining the program. It was during those two days that Tatiana was conceived. On a whim, Daniel told a girl he had a crush on that he might not survive the Protector training and that he wanted to have sex before he left, just in case. He didn’t think she would go for it, but she did. After that, he never saw the girl again.
He didn’t know about Tatiana until he was twenty-one. It was only a year after he became a Protector and suddenly someone showed up claiming he had a five year old daughter. He laughed it off at first. The serum given to candidates when they joined the Collector program not only prepared their bodies for the changes that they would undergo when given the Protector serum, but it also rendered them infertile. It wasn’t until he heard them say the name of Tatiana’s mother that he admitted that it was possible that he was the father. The DNA test confirmed it.
Tatiana’s mother and maternal grandparents had died in a car accident. That left Tatiana to his care. Since he was a Protector, and could be called away at any time, he moved back in with his parents so there was always someone at home to watch her. Even then, there was talk of replacing him when it came out that he’d fathered a child. The Protector program decided to give him a chance to prove that he could handle both responsibilities. They also decided to get rid of that two day gap so that something like this could never happen again, something that all of the newer Protectors held against him. Apparently they wanted to use the “I might die, so we should have sex now” line too.
The door to his room opened, snapping his mind out of going over his own backstory. It was Tatiana. She rushed over and hugged him. He returned the hug, happy to see her. Their embrace lasted longer than usual. Daniel thought that was probably because he was in a medical bay and she was worried about him. Tatiana finally pulled away from him and looked him right in the eyes.
Then, she smacked him upside the head.
“What was that for?” Daniel demanded.
“For being stupid enough to end up in here,” she responded with a half smile.
“There was a dragon,” he explained. “A dragon!”
“That’s what Calrian told me. I didn’t believe it when he said it either.”
“No, he’s telling the truth,” Emmeline interrupted. “I was there. I saw it.”
“Oh my god,” Tatiana gasped. “You really fought a dragon?”
“Wait,” Daniel cried. “When she tells you there’s a dragon, you believe her, but when I tell you, you think I’m lying? What’s up with that?”
“Unlike you, Emmeline doesn’t have a history of lying to me to keep me from worrying.”
“That doesn’t make sense in this instance, though. Wouldn’t the presence of a dragon make you more worried?”
“No. I’d be more worried if something weaker than a dragon did this to you.”
Daniel wasn’t sure he understood, but his daughter slapped him across the face again before he could question it. “What was that for?”
“Look what you did to your hair!”
“I didn’t do that.The dragon did. You remember the dragon, right?”
“Now how am I supposed to find a woman for you?”
“It’s not his hair that’s keeping him from finding a woman,” Emmeline said. “It’s his personality.”
“Or his sense of humor, ” Tatiana added while both women burst into laughter.
Daniel sighed. “Your attempts at comedy are more painful than the dragon hitting me upside the head. Next time I’ll take the more pleasant option and let it pound me into the ground.”
Tatiana slapped him again. He sighed once more. “You realize that I don’t even feel that, right?”
“It doesn’t matter. It still makes me feel better.”
“Anyway,” he said. “Speaking of the dragon, have you been able to find it?”
“No,” Emmeline answered. “We’ve scanned the whole area and haven’t found any trace of it.”
“That’s not surprising. It somehow was able to pass for a human. Have you figured out how it did that?”
“Seriously? You’re going with magic?”
“Do we possess any technology that can do that?”
“Well no, but…”
“Then, until you can come up with a better explanation, we’re going with magic. Besides, from every bit of folklore we’ve been able to find on them, most of them suggest that dragons are capable of magic. It would also explain their breath.”
Something Emmeline said jumped around in his head for a few seconds before it hit him. “Its breath!”
“What about it?”
“Something that hot would have to give off some kind of heat signature, right? Can’t we do a thermal scan of the city to find it?”
Emmeline chuckled. “You should get hit in the head more often. That’s actually a good idea.”
She went over to the computer and punched in the commands. It took a few minutes for the satellite to reposition its orbit to get into position. When it did, the thermal image of Cincington appeared on the screen. “There it is,” Emmeline pointed to it on the monitor.
“Where?” Tatiana asked, leaning in to get a better look.
“It’s in Eastside right now, but it’s on the move.”
“Where’s it heading?”
“I can’t be sure, because it’s still a ways off, but it looks like it’s coming here.”