Caleb has never been able to drive to his destination, not even with a four wheel drive. They’ve shown him where to hide his car, where to step to avoid nasty fucking surprises while he’s hiking the last bit, how to approach the place the they call the Back Forty. The first couple of times they had people to walk him in, but he’s on his own now. He doesn’t know whether to feel honored that they trust him, or annoyed because it means that his fucking pack sometimes weighs a metric ton, trying to carry all the shit that he needs.
Maybe he ought to just say fuck it and just stay for good.
Of course, living here would mean losing all opportunities in the outside world, opportunities to acquire new drugs and new techniques, opportunities to talk to other doctors. Of course, the opportunity to talk to other doctors really meant the opportunity to kiss the asses of the Good Ole Boys of Medicine.
Ok, so maybe he wouldn’t miss that. What the snobbish grandchildren of renowned surgeons he met in med school didn’t understand is that his upbringing gave him an edge that they could never claim. He spent so much his childhood watching his dad practice medicine on animals that he was really good at reading non-verbals and figuring out what was wrong with people that just didn’t articulate. Toddlers love him, and sweet, vague grandmas tease him about being a mind-reader. It’s none of those things, really, but it’s fun to pretend sometimes, to wink knowingly and smile, a fucking mystery.
He hasn’t been paying enough attention. His tightly-laced work boots stutter to a halt, and he looks behind, at the oak with the oddly-shaped burl on it. Fifteen steps? Twenty? Goddammit, he can’t remember. He wants to go back and recount, get it fucking right this time, but… Yeah. He’s still not sure that something wasn’t going to blow up if he did. He doesn’t think that failure to follow his instructions will make a vine net fall down and scoop him up into the trees to be jeered at when his potential patients find him. He thinks that something a lot worse, something fatal, will happen. What? Who the hell knows? Who cares, even? Dead is dead. Ok, call it eighteen steps then, and hope it’s close enough.
His mind ignores the command to just pay some goddamn attention to what he’s doing and wanders off again. He had a decent little practice in the suburbs after Pritzker and the standard brutal residency, found a receptionist of his own just like Dad, had three kids that he loved to death. Far from perfect, with the stress of paying off an incredibly large student loan and the cost of malfuckingpractice insurance, but still pretty great.
Really goddamn great, in retrospect. Best not to think about that while walking down this overgrown deer trail that Iscen calls a road, or he’ll get his ass blown to kingdom come. Or wherever. Who knows how they get that fucking circus in and out of this place. There are a lot of secrets that Caleb hasn’t been let in on, plenty that he’ll never learn, not if he is their doctor here for a hundred thousand years. He’ll always be a bit of an outsider, and that’s fine by him. This is how he’s been shown to get in, so this is the way he fucking goes. It’s clearly Iscen’s show.
In the year that he’s know Iscen, he’s grown oddly fond of her. In the beginning she was the reason he hiked to this place, through the fucking mosquitoes and the shitty swamp mud, through the baffling security that’ll probably kill him some day. Not because of any romantic inclinations, oh, no. Romance died with Joanne. But he was a people watcher. Her implacability and her obvious concern for her people were an intriguing combination. A little later, he met plenty of other people that were just as fascinating. Unfuckingbelievable.
When last year’s hurricane hit the coast of Louisiana, he’d volunteered on a whim. Nothing better to do, really. Then he had gotten stuck himself, trying to rescue people — wasn’t that a hoot? — out on a country road in a flash flood, after they had said that it was safe to go in. That’s when he had met these people. They pulled his ass out of the flood, dried him off, and put him to work.
Looking around made him scared to drink the water at first. Christ, the mutations! But then he figured fuck it, if he was going to grow a third eye in the middle of his forehead or suddenly sprout feathers on his arms, that was all right by him. Didn’t really have anything to live for anyway. But then he met Hal and that crazy aunt of his. And three bright, funny kids with black-striped white fur and brilliant blue eyes that bounced around him singing the Tigger song and giggling. And a frightened woman named Evonne who was pregnant and scared to death that her baby was going to be a stillbirth, like her last three had been. And Mama Gigi, who couldn’t afford a doctor after only maybe half the surgeries she really needs — she had problems with her prostate gland.
For these people, and others, he made this trip four times in the past eleven months. All sorts of interesting people in this swamp, people who couldn’t go to the hospital. Fuck the Hippocratic oath — he had taken his own, on his father’s grave, the day after he graduated from med school. These people needed help.