Taylor Family Property, Yarragon
What do you really think, Lauren?
She walked to the window and looked out over the green fields, the phone
pressed to her ear and the other hand absent-mindedly twirling one of
the dark blond curls that hung around her face.
Major, I havent examined your son and I had no intention
to. Ill see what he needs as a result of the addictive nature of
Aurora as Sydney described it to me and treat it the best I can. Otherwise
theres not a lot I can do for him. Time and a break from the new
pursuit is the best I can offer and probably the best thing overall right
I can see your difficulty
And I can see yours. But youve told me Jarod doesnt
know hes here as my patient and I dont somehow think that
hed be thrilled to find out. As far as he knows, hes here
to get away from the usual stresses, maybe get some color and thats
you think you can help?
I can promise to send Jarod home a darn sight better that he was
when he left, but hes been on an emotional and physical roller coaster
ride since he found out about having a son. Being at the Centre, no matter
what they were giving him, wouldnt have helped much either. But
with all the information Ive received from you and Sydney about
Aurora, Ive at least got a starting point and well work from
Okay. There was a moment of silence. Just
please take care of my son for me, Lauren.
I will, Major. You know I will.
As she disconnected the call a hand tapped her on one shoulder. Spinning
around, Lauren found herself facing with a tall man whose blue eyes twinkled
with fun. Giving a delighted shriek, Lauren threw her arms around her
brothers neck and hugged him. The room was suddenly full of sound
as another man walked in and began a conversation with his father and
The loud voices in the formerly quiet house woke Jarod from his light
sleep and he stared blankly around the room for a few seconds before remembering
where he was. Stifling a yawn, he sat up, feeling a headache start at
the same instant as he saw a glass of liquid on his bedside table. The
piece of paper under the glass caught his eye and, somewhat curious, Jarod
picked it up.
Youre probably dehydrated. This is pure, Aussie tap water.
Two litres every day will help get rid of the headaches. Loz.
With a small smile, he picked up the glass and drank the contents, filling
it again from a bottle that stood beside it and swallowing that as well.
The headache faded to a bearable pain and he stood up, pulling on his
shoes before making his way down the stairs. One of the newcomers looked
up to see him standing silently in the doorway and grinned, dimples appearing
in both cheeks.
Hey, Loz, I think were making a bit too much noise.
Lauren looked up to see her visitor in the doorway and laughed. Jarod,
come on in and join the party. She pulled forward a man who had
his arm around her shoulders. This is my big brother. Mark, this
is Jarod. Hes here to do a stint with the RFDS.
Hi, the Yank. Good to see you here.
She grabbed the sleeve of the man who had alerted her to Jarod's presence,
pulling him forward. This is my baby brother, Steve. The one you
heard me talking to on the radio.
Great to finally meet you, the Yank.
Jarod smiled faintly. Nice to meet you too, Steve. Dad told me
Mark walked over to the fridge and opened it. Anyone want a beer?
Wouldnt say no.
Kill for one.
He shrugged, not wanting to cause any problems but slightly concerned
at the thought of the way alcohol might affect his system. Before he could
respond, however, Lauren jumped in.
Give him water, Mark. Alcohol wont help with dehydration
and, after eighteen hours of recycled air on planes
off, seeing an expression of relief in Jarod's eyes. But Ill
What, my baby sister drinking a beer? Mark tried to look
horrified as he gave out the cans and kept one for himself. Youll
have a nice, refined, ladylike glass of lemonade.
Youll get a nice, refined, ladylike glass of lemonade
all over your great noggin if youre not a bit more careful.
She took the can out of his hand and laughed at the expression on his
face as she sat on the sofa. Thanks.
* * * * * * * * *
Austin, Texas, USA
Charles taxied the plane inside the hangar and got up to unlock the door
so the men could begin unloading the cargo. Then he went back to the cockpit
and looked at where Jordan slept in the co-pilots seat. Charles
was unable to stop himself from comparing the face of this boy with both
that of the man he had watched walk through the doors at JFK airport and
also that of the boy on the DSA he had seen almost two and a half years
earlier. After a moment he put out a hand and gently shook the teenager.
Jordan? Were here.
Blearily the boy opened his eyes and looked up before undoing his seatbelt
and groggily rising to his feet. Picking up his bag, the man put an arm
around the boys shoulders, walking with him off the plane and into
the small room that had been promised for them at the airport.
Are you hungry?
Not really. The boy shrugged drowsily. Just kinda tired.
Charles nodded at one of the two beds. Have a nap, son. Its
been a long few days.
Nodding, Jordan stumbled over to the bed and stretched out on it with
a yawn. The man pulled a blanket gently over him, watching as the boy
curled up underneath it before he relaxed into sleep. Hes getting
better, the man thought to himself as he stood beside the bed and
eyed the fading shadows under Jordans eyes. By the time Jarod
gets home from Australia, he should be almost back to normal.
With a satisfied nod, Charles left the room to help with the unloading,
quietly shutting the door behind him.
* * * * * * * * *
Taylor Family Property, Yarragon
Jarod ran a trembling hand through his short-cropped hair, once more
at the length he had worn it for so many years. He pulled up the sleeves
of his t-shirt, eyeing the track marks on his hands and arms where the
needles containing Aurora and the anesthesia and withdrawal drugs had
gone in. The thought of the days of sleep and withdrawal made his brow
fold into a glare directed at the floor of the room.
The days before leaving America had been particularly unpleasant, the
first of which primarily passed with him sleeping off the anesthetic under
the supervision of Jordan and his father. By the following day he had
the strength to protest at being fed. Following that he had become engaged
in another argument between himself and his father, this time about the
trip. He could remember the difficulty he had had in simply being able
to get worked up enough to argue in the first place. Although Aurora had
been purged from his system during the hours of enforced rest in Maryland,
the flat emotional state it had brought him to was now almost a habit,
as was the fact that during his weeks back at the Centre, he had allowed
or been forced to allow others to make decisions for him. Ironically,
it was this that had caused the argument with his father in the first
place, filling him with resentment at the way that decisions had been
made without either his consent or input. And it wasnt only the
detoxification that hed been objecting to. The trip was another
sore point and this umbrage, as well as his own marked lack of interest,
had made him unwilling to do any investigation into his destination.
He couldnt help regretting that a little now.
Jarod found himself hating the very thought of the two weeks.
His gaze traveled to the needle lying on the flat surface in front of
him filled with the substance - his own creation - to help reduce the
withdrawal symptoms he was suffering. For a few moments he thought through
the time when, in 1968, he had created it. He could still remember the
instant of realization when he knew what he needed and the decision that
had made him get a sweeper to escort him to the lab where, in the early
hours of one morning, he had sat down and made it.
With a feeling of faint amusement Jarod also recalled the expression
on Sydney's face when the older man had burst into the laboratory, understandably
angry and also concerned at his seeming disappearance from his room. Even
the psychiatrists interest in the project hadnt been sufficient
to conceal the worry he had felt, and it had taken three days before their
working relationship had returned to normal.
Jarod wondered vaguely if Sydney even knew that he was no longer at the
His mind coming back to the present, Jarod eyed the needle again, this
time with a feeling akin to loathing. Knowing it didnt contain the
one substance he would happily inject until every vein in his body collapsed,
he had no real incentive to use this. But understanding how vulnerable
the shaking and nausea made him feel, he reluctantly picked up the syringe.
Finding a viable vein proved difficult after so many weeks but eventually
Jarod managed. After clearing the syringe of air bubbles and twisting
around, he awkwardly slid the sharp point into a vein at the back of his
knee and carefully pressed the plunger.
Lauren put the last form into the fax machine and sent it off before
standing and walking down the hall to the room where her visitor was sleeping.
Waiting in the doorway, she watched him silently for a minute before speaking.
Can you ride?
Jarod looked up as he screwed the lid onto the sharps container that
he had brought with him and into which hed dropped the empty syringe.
Elephants, Jarod. She rolled her eyes and grinned. Horses,
He considered for a moment. Probably not the way youre thinking
What did you do, a stint at a rodeo or something? She laughed
at her own joke and then came in, opening the cupboard. Taking out a plaid
shirt, she held it out to him. Youre going to need to wear
something other than black or youll bake in this heat.
Its Marks. He said you can wear whatever of his you
want, and I hope you do want because I certainly dont
want to work with an American undertaker under the guise of a doctor.
Youll get the uniform, of course - white shirt and dark blue trousers
and jacket - but youll need some off-duty clothes too.
Jarod peeled off the t-shirt hed been wearing since his arrival
and put on the sleeveless red shirt. Lauren glanced from the needle marks
on his upper arms and the faint scar on his lower left arm to the shoes
lying the floor beside his bed and then pulled out a pair of boots.
Youll need Blundstones, too. You cant ride in those.
He pulled them on, the elastic sides allowing his feet to slip easily
into the boots, and followed her downstairs. At the door, she took a floppy,
broad-brimmed Akubra hat off a hook and put it on his head, placing a
similar one on her own.
Well pass on the sunstroke quite this early in your visit,
The heat settled on them like a blanket as they walked out of the house.
Will it get cooler?
Tonight, probably not much. Its only 28 degrees right now,
though. It was a lot hotter when you arrived.
She caught sight of his expression and laughed. I forgot, youre
such a strange mob over there that you still calculate temperature in
Fahrenheit. Youll have to do the conversions yourself, Im
afraid. My maths was never that good. From memory, Celsius is five ninths
of Fahrenheit minus thirty two.
He thought quickly, a little astonished that he hadnt even thought
about the fact that this place used a different system, something that
he was actually well aware of.
Eight-three? At seven thirty in the evening in mid-October?
She shrugged nonchalantly. I guess. We are going through a bit
of warm spell right now. Itll be worse at work, though. Much worse.
Looking at him, she laughed as she saw the confusion on his face. Jarod,
you do remember that summers coming on this side of the world, dont
As they approached a gate, saddles over their arms, Lauren clicked her
tongue and immediately the ears of two horses pricked up and they trotted
Hey, beautiful. She stroked the nose of one, slipped the
bit into its mouth and fastened a buckle, leading it over to him. This
is Dads horse, Billabong. He said you could ride him. Do you want
to saddle him?
He hesitated. You do it.
Nodding understandingly, she gave him the reins, placing the blanket
onto the horses broad back after she had checked that there was
nothing underneath it that could cause an irritation and then did up the
saddle straps. Jarod got up, a little awkwardly, into the seat and settled
himself as Lauren flipped up the reins and lengthened the stirrups so
that they were the right length. As she did this, the second horse approached
and impatiently nuzzled her, almost pushing her to the ground.
Okay, okay. She turned and laughed, reaching into her pocket
and pulling out a carrot. You are so spoilt, Matilda.
It only took a few moments for her to saddle the horse and swing up expertly
as a voice could be heard calling from the doorway of the house.
Where are you going, Loz?
To get dinner, she called back. But well be quite
a while, Steve. Ill show Jarod the surrounding countryside at the
same time. Back in about two hours. Maybe three.
Okay, have fun.
The figure disappeared back inside the house and the two wheeled their
horses around, Lauren slowly leading the way towards the gate.
Lauren looked over to find Jarod looking somewhat helplessly down at
his hands and she looped her reins over her arm before reaching over to
position his fingers properly. Jarod's face suddenly reddened with embarrassment
as the feelings of the reins in his fingers became all too familiar, recalling
previous times when he was on the back of a horse. Jarod couldnt
help wondering if her question about the rodeo had been intended or just
off-the-cuff. Spotting the change on his face but ignoring it, Lauren
We wont go too fast at the start, but youll need to
be more used to it by the time we come back. Its seven kays
- kilometers - from here to the shop and if dinners cold, well
His stomach twisted again at the thought of food but as hed done
before, Jarod pushed aside the feelings, concentrating instead on what
he was doing as they rode down the drive of the property and out on the
road. A touch of her heels prompted Matilda to a trot and, as Jarod's
horse did the same, Lauren looked at him and was forced to hide a smile.
Grip with your knees.
She laughed and slowed the horse down. Okay, well walk until
you get used to it. Im guessing you havent ridden a lot, or
at least not for a long time.
And Im guessing you have.
Since I could walk. With the property being the size it is, weve
all had to learn.
Jarod listened as Lauren gave him a few instructions and adjusted his
style accordingly, instantly feeling more comfortable as well as irritated
that he hadnt been able to work it out himself.
Youll have to get used to riding. Its a bit of a necessity,
especially in our work.
And what is that, exactly? You still havent told me yet.
All Ive heard so far are a whole bunch of initials.
She looked up. Ill tell you but first I need to ask you a
Lauren quickly decided on the best way to pose the question, already
knowing the answer but still feeling it wiser not to reveal that. First,
can you be convincing as a doctor even though you arent one?
He straightened up in the saddle, feeling the sun warm his back. I
can be whatever you want me to be.
She nodded. Second, can you fly?
Jarod raised an eyebrow. Not without wings and maybe an engine.
Lauren groaned. Oh, you are just so not funny! Only my brothers
are worse than that! Seriously, have you flown planes? Small ones I mean,
I can fly both - and helicopters.
A chopper pilot too? She beamed. Youre custom-made!
The RFDS, which stands for Royal Flying Doctor Service. Theyre
the people I, now we, work for.
Lauren leaned back slightly in the saddle.
It was started in 1917. The Reverend John Flynn was trying to find
away to care for people living impossible distances from medical aid and
set up a system of radio communication. When people need help, they call
our base. Every homeowner receives a medical kit stocked with medication,
and the doctor at the base will instruct the patient what to take for
what illness. If necessary, we treat them at home or bring them to a hospital
for surgery. Katherine isnt an official base, though. If the main
office in Alice Springs gets a call thats too far for them, or theyre
too busy, we take it.
Jarod nodded thoughtfully. Sounds like a good idea. The whole thing,
I mean. Not just your base in Katherine.
It is, and it runs on an absolute shoestring. Our treatment is
free and were funded by donations, contributions and government
He glanced over to see the satisfied smile on her face. You love
your work, dont you?
Yes, I do. And once youve met a few of the mad creatures
that we help and done a bit of helping yourself, I guarantee youll
love it too.
So what kind of people will we be helping?
Everyone - old people, farmers, kids.
Kids? He looked at her curiously. How do kids get an
education in the middle of nowhere?
School of the Air.
Whats School of the Air?
Very much what it sounds like. Its an offshoot of the RFDS
meaning that they use the same idea and equipment, but wasnt it
started until 1951. The main base is in Alice Springs. The students -
more than 1,200 at last count - have a half-hour lesson with a teacher
each day by radio.
And its widespread?
Lauren laughed. Everything in Australia is widespread, Jarod. But
yes its a big thing. A decade ago, it was worked out that more than
a dozen schools service a area of about 1.5 million square kilometers.
She watched, a twinkle in her eye, as he did the conversion, staring
at her in shock. 580,000 square miles?!
At last count, yes. Its probably grown by now.
He paused. And you work alone?
Never. She shook her head definitively. Its far
too dangerous. I have a regular partner but hes in Broken Hill now,
at the hospital there. The directors sick and Paul volunteered to
substitute for him. Thats one of the reasons youre here. Well
be working together, flying around from place to place and treating people.
Thats why I needed to know that you could be a convincing doctor.
So you know all about me?
She shrugged. Maybe not all. But your dad told me a lot.
* * * * * * * * *
Mouth Worth National Park
Yarragon, Victoria, Australia
Lauren could feel Matilda getting twitchy and shot a sly glance at the
American. Seeing that there was only a little more emotion in Jarod's
eyes than when she had picked him up from the airport, she turned to him,
her own eyes gleaming in fun.
Feeling more comfortable?
Jarod nodded and she steered her horse off the road and onto a track
that led into scrubland, her guests horse following. Grinning over
her shoulder, Lauren clapped her heels to Matildas flanks and the
animal took off, first at a fast canter and then at a flat gallop. A hand
clasping her hat, she leaned forward over the animals neck as it
began to pick up speed. When Billabong did the same thing, the man on
the horses back could do nothing but hold on in a similar manner.
After almost ten minutes of flying along the winding trail, Lauren slowed
Matilda to a trot and waited until Jarod came close behind. Instantly
she turned her horse in to a clearing and grinned as he stared at her
with wide eyes, his mouth hanging slightly open.
What was that for?
The shock of it had rendered Jarod almost breathless but his companion
sat calmly watching him.
Just wondering how good you really are. And to have stayed on through
that is pretty impressive, Jarod.
that was for fun?
There was a note of disbelief in his voice and she laughed.
You didnt enjoy it? Not even the tiniest little smidgen?
He looked up at her, a small smile appearing on his face. Now that
I think about it, maybe I did.
Jarod shrugged, affecting nonchalance but thinking to himself that he
had found it fun, despite his earlier determination that, while, he might
be being forced to be here, it didnt mean he had to like anything
that wasnt American.
Sure. Why not?
The two horses made their way along the winding trail, occasionally beside
one another but more often behind each other. Finally they reached the
top of the hill, coming out into an open area with picnic tables. Dismounting,
Lauren tied up the horses before she and Jarod sat on one of the big tables,
watching the sky turn from blue to pink and finally to a brilliant red,
as the sun slowly sank towards the horizon. After it had vanished, however,
there was still enough visibility in the twilight. Jarod turned to Lauren,
about to ask a question, when he heard barking and two familiar-looking
dogs ran across the picnic area. Instantly Lauren looked over her shoulder.
Mark, where are you?
He appeared, also on horseback, and grinned. I knew those twod
give me away. Where are you headed?
To the shop for dinner in a bit. Is the milking done?
He nodded. Finished half an hour ago, but you two will have to
help tomorrow. I have to go back to work.
Already? There was a note of disappointment in her voice.
Time waits for no man, Lozenge.
I know, she grumbled. Id just like the chance
to see my big brother once in a blue moon, thats all.
Mark and the two dogs had already left when Jarod and Lauren started
to ride back. She nodded her head in the direction that the last hints
of red were fading from the sky and grinned. Not bad, huh?
He smiled, shadows of dimples appearing on his cheeks. I love sunsets.
Well, you havent seen any until youve seen them in
the Top End and at Uluru.
Somebody mentioned that to me. Its pretty good?
Its spectacular. I can never get sick of the sight and Ive
flown over it, walked around it, climbed it and slept beside it.
* * * * * * * * *
Taylor Family Property
Yarragon, Victoria, Australia
Jarod lay on the bed without bothering to turn it back. He had the feeling
that he wouldnt be able to sleep a lot, if at all, so there didnt
seem much point in going to the effort. With a rueful sigh, he stared
at the ceiling, feeling that he was a long way from everything he knew,
in a country he had no chance of understanding.
Once, he thought bitterly to himself, this would have been an incentive,
a challenge to be enjoyed, but now it felt like an insurmountable difficulty.
It was, he realized, not only that he felt a long way from all the things
he knew, but also what hed been before going back
to the Centre. He seemed to have such a long way to go to get back to
that point, to the point where he was able continue to help other people,
his family and himself. Right now he had to wonder whether it was really
worth the effort.
And there were the physical things he felt. Hed mentally made up
a tentative withdrawal program and knew hed be over almost everything
when he went back to the States but there was the next two weeks or so
to get through first, at least in as far as the physical side of things
went. He knew the other parts - the mental ones - would be more difficult
to overcome. And those mostly had to do with the things about Aurora that
he found himself missing. The peaceful sleep was just one of a number
of benefits, the best of which was the total lack of concern hed
felt every time the drug had been administered.
Suddenly he wanted to feel it again, just once more, right now, so he
could have one final night of peaceful, solid sleep to prepare him for
whatever was going to happen next. His empty stomach twisted painfully
inside him and Jarod sat up, filling the glass and gulping down the water.
Staring out of the windows over the grazing land, dotted with big, blurry,
white shapes that, in the daylight hours, would reveal themselves as cows,
Jarod knew water, at this time, was really the only thing that his stomach
was able to cope with. But he also knew that, no matter how uncomfortable
it made him feel, the fact that his body could recognize it should be
hungry was a positive sign. He knew, too, that that would fade in a few
days, and then for a couple of days after that, the sight of food would
make him feel just as bad as the mention of it did now.
At the sound of a gentle tapping on his door, Jarod looked up sharply.
I hope I didnt wake you. Lauren closed the door behind
her and sat in a chair opposite him as he shook his head.
Ive never been a big sleeper.
These might help. She held out a box of tablets. Theres
a sheet with the ingredients included so you can decide if you want to
take them or not.
He warily took them, putting them next to the empty glass. Thanks.
No problem. She noted the condition of the bed. If
you at least try to sleep at the correct times, youll get over jet-lag
He nodded silently and she eyed him before speaking again.
Jarod, youve got a few options with all this. Three, to be
And they are?
First, you can be my pilot, meaning that the only real contact
youll have with any of the patients will be lifting them in and
out of the plane. Second, you can be my assistant. But I need to know
if you think youre up to that. Its not easy, as you know,
and theres a lot of pressure. You need to work out if you can cope
with all of that or not.
And the third option?
You can stay here in Yarragon for the fortnight - two weeks,
she corrected hurriedly as she saw the look of confusion in his eyes.
I have to be up in Katherine in a few days, but I can always get
someone from one of the other offices as my pilot and you can stay here.
Mum and Dad are quite happy to have you.
Jarod stared at his hands for a couple of seconds before looking up at
her again. Do I have to tell you right now?
Not at all. Ive got a few days before I have to report -
Thursday to be exact - so provided you tell me before Wednesday night,
What did you have planned for tomorrow?
Lauren smiled. Well, after as much sleep as you want - and as much
as I do - I thought wed go and give one of our neighbors a hand
with the shearing.
He nodded without really understanding, but didnt have enough energy
to bother asking exactly what she meant. Will that take all day?
Probably not. If its still hot, well go for a dip in
the creek in the evening. Otherwise Id guess that some time not
doing much will probably be the best thing for both of us. Lauren
hid a yawn. Ive been working flat-out for the past few months
and Im looking forward to a lazy couple of days. Im probably
going to be a pretty unexciting hostess.
I think I can cope. He smiled faintly. Dad would probably
say its good for me.
She eyed his pale face. He might be right.
* * * * * * * * *
Austin, Texas, USA
Charles filled his mug from the kettle on the stove and sat down, sipping
as the hot coffee as the door of the kitchen opened.
Howre you feeling, son?
Better. The boy smiled as he got himself a bowl of cereal,
adding milk from the jug on the table. After hed eaten several mouthfuls,
Jordan looked up at the man. What are we doing today?
Well, the next load wont be ready until tomorrow so weve
got the whole day free. He grinned at the boy, knowing how popular
his suggestion would be. How about another flying lesson?
Sure. Jordan eagerly scooped up the last of the cereal before
picking up an apple from a bowl on the table and biting into it. And
could we go shopping somewhere? Im out of PEZ.
Charles laughed. It being such an emergency, maybe we should do
The boy grinned as he followed the man from the room. Shrugging on his
jacket, Jordan pulled on a helmet and climbed onto the motorbike that
stood outside the door, holding on around the older mans waist as
they roared away from the hangar.