A Matter of Time

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

 

Despite reassurances to the doctor, Lee tagged along behind the admiral and Diego.  Finally the admiral stopped and faced him.  “I seem to have heard the CMO telling you not to go on this tour.”

“No, Admiral, the CMO said I wasn’t to be the tour guide,” Crane corrected. 

“You know what he meant,” Nelson said, his mouth curved into a knowing smile.  

“I know what he meant, sir, but I have been dealing with this for five months. One more hour isn’t going to make a great deal of difference.”  Lee stood resolute.  He still felt the effects of the past several hours, but he had gained his second wind and he was determined to accompany Diego around the boat. “It’s the least I owe Diego after telling him so much about the Gray Lady all these months.”

Despite Lee’s quick reply, Nelson knew just what was behind that reply.  Lee was like a man in the desert, grasping for the elusive drink of water. Now that he had received that cup, he couldn’t get enough, he wanted more. “Doc may have our hides tacked up on the barn door, but let’s go.”

“Aye, aye, sir!” Lee replied with a soft laugh. 

With that the admiral led the way to various rooms, allowing Lee to explain what they were for. Diego was totally overwhelmed. Corridors seemed to turn on themselves, while the rooms appeared relentlessly small. It amazed him that in Lee’s day, this vessel was considered spacious. 

“This is the missile room,” Lee explained as Diego gazed around in the relatively large room in wonder. He pointed to the small submersible on one side of the room. “There is the mini-sub, which we can use to explore and retrieve items at deeper depths than a man in a wetsuit can go.”

“Wetsuit?” Diego asked. 

“Remember I talked about the equipment I used to dive with?” Lee asked. Diego nodded. Lee pointed to a rack on a nearby wall. “Those are wetsuits. We use them for protection at deeper reaches than I could have dreamed of going holding my breath. There are the tanks that hold the air supply. It’s a heckuva lot more efficient than bear grease or tallow.”   

Diego looked at the suits in wonder, touched one of the cold metal tanks and gazed at the pliable fins and clear glass-like faces of the masks. “No wonder you felt as though you were under-equipped to go into the ocean.”

“We have the means to see in the darker depths, the means to take pictures of, or rather preserve the things we see underwater,” Lee elaborated. “We have the ability to talk to one another and to the Seaview while we are diving.”

“Why do you call this a missile room?” Diego asked. “Do you mean projectiles such as those that are shot out of cannons and the like?”

“A tiny bit.”  Lee then launched into what he hoped was a simple explanation of deterrents and defense. They then headed to the laboratory and then stopped at the reactor room door.  “This is what powers the Seaview.”

Diego stared into the room through the door that that the admiral had opened slightly for him to get a glimpse. The room seemed to emanate power, throb with something dangerous. He remembered Lee telling him how deadly this type of power could be and he backed away a step. The admiral closed the door and Diego saw Lee leaning against the wall—bulkhead, he remembered them calling it. His friend was almost ashen in color and Diego knew he was at the end of his endurance. He turned to the admiral, not wanting to insult either man, but realizing that the tour needed to end for Lee’s sake.  “This is a wondrous ship, Admiral.  I can see why you are proud of it.  My sincerest thanks, Lee, for showing me this marvel. I can see that your love for her is so much akin to my love of the land.”

“Shall we go forward?” the admiral asked, seeing the same thing that Diego had noticed.  Lee took a deep breath and nodded. As they approached the officer’s cabins, Nelson stopped. “Captain, I think it’s time to obey the doctor’s orders. I will finish the tour of the control room and the Flying Sub and bring Diego back to have some coffee in my cabin.” He had strategically stopped in front of his cabin door. 

Lee simply nodded.  “Don’t take too long.  I’ll have someone in the mess bring us some coffee.”

A short time later, the three men sat comfortably in Nelson’s cabin. The coffee had already been delivered and it appeared that Lee had finished a cup. “Are you comfortable, Diego?” the admiral asked.

“Yes, I have enjoyed being here very much, but as much as I hate to inconvenience you, I will have to leave soon.” Diego turned to Lee.  “I can also assume you will remain?”

“Yes, Diego. You will have to give my regards and good wishes to your father, as well as to Bernardo and the others. I was so fortunate to have been found at all, so I’m not going to tempt fate by venturing off the Seaview until we have returned to our own time.” Lee wondered if he should even venture the thought that was in his mind, but then decided not to. Just as he could have made changes in the future by just being here, so, too, could Diego leaving this time cause changes. 

As though reading his mind, Diego asked. "Please do not offer the wonders of the future to me, my friend. While it is tempting, my place, my people are here-- just as your place is in this marvelous ship and in your own time." He smiled his reassurance.

"I am that transparent?"

“Yes," Diego replied with a laugh. “I certainly do not blame you for wanting to stay with your Seaview, Lee,” Diego added.  “And it’s probably just as well.  Sgt. Garcia told me yesterday that a new comandante was arriving any day, one whose reputation rivals Ruiz.”  

Lee grimaced. “My condolences,” he said sardonically. Nelson looked questioningly at him.  “The reason for this,” Lee added, pointing to the injured leg. “I’ll tell you the whole story after I get a bit of shut eye.”

“When you are ready, Lt. Rojas and Seaman Morales will go ashore with you,” the admiral told their guest.  “In the darkness, they will most likely be able to go directly anywhere you want to land. They will make sure you get safely on your way before they return.” Diego nodded. He seemed nervous, almost eager to leave the confines of the sub.

Lee understood the look very well.  Diego missed his open spaces, his rancho and his duties to the people he knew and understood.  Despite his own homesickness the past six months, despite the pain he had suffered, Lee was still going to miss this time and place.  Maybe that was too general, he thought.  He was going to miss Diego and Alejandro, Luis and Bernardo.  They would be long dead when he returned to the Institute.  Lee found that thought very depressing and he tried to shove it away. 

“What about the treasure?” Diego asked, breaking into Lee’s reverie. 

At this the admiral raised his eyebrows in astonishment.  “What treasure?” Nelson asked, studying his captain carefully. 

“I found the wreck of the Orbe de Oro.   The last couple of artifacts that I was bringing up when the storm hit proved it.”   He shrugged.  “I was mainly down there for the adventure, and for something to do that, uh, might be called useful.”

Diego knew what else was behind those words, but didn’t say anything.  He thought he saw in Admiral Nelson’s eyes the same understanding.

After a while, Lee focused back to Diego’s earlier question.  “I know you and your father will make good use of what I brought up.  I’m not worried about it at all.  I certainly don’t need it. I have all I could ever want right here.”  It grew silent for several moments.  Diego sipped the last of his now almost cold coffee.

Nelson looked at the two men and then looked at his watch. “I don’t want to rush you, but I think within the next hour would be a good time for you to return to shore, Señor de la Vega,” he said. 

“Yes, Admiral, I think you are right.” Diego looked at Lee, who despite the coffee was seriously fighting sleep. He stood up. “Lee, you cannot imagine the honor I have felt at being able to know you these past six months.”

“The honor has been mine, my friend,” Lee said in Spanish, also arising. “Even as I rejoice in my rescue, feel the comforting embrace of my home….”  Here he gestured at the walls around him.  “I will miss you terribly.  You have been the only thing keeping me sane during my exile.  Yours and your father’s graciousness are much more than I deserved.”

“Lee, I have learned so much from you and after meeting your friends….”  He nodded to the admiral.  “And seeing this creation of the minds of men, I have great hopes for my children.”  He repeated his words in English.   “It is time for me to go.”

“Why don’t we head back to sickbay, before Doc comes after us,” Nelson suggested.  “I’ll have the skiff prepared for departure.”

Lee nodded and took up his crutches.  Diego opened the door for him and they all headed back the way they had come a couple of hours before.  

“I was wondering when you were coming back, Captain,” Doc growled good-naturedly when they entered sickbay. 

“At least you didn’t have to page me,” Lee retorted wearily. 

“No, but you’re here and I need you to get some serious sack time.  That way I can keep an eye on you and prevent anymore excursions against my orders.”

Lee was surprised at the doctor’s knowledge, but then again, there was little that Jamieson missed.  “I would love to sleep in my own bunk, Doc,” Lee replied, knowing that he was whistling in the wind for all that the CMO would honor his request.  

“Uh, uh, you’re here for the night, Captain,” Jamieson said. 

Lee just shrugged and turned to his friend. For a moment, he didn’t say anything. “Diego, I guess it’s time to say good-bye,” he finally said. 

“Yes, but I have the great pleasure of knowing that you will be safely returning home,” Diego said, laying his hand on his American friend’s shoulder.

“Thanks.  And you be careful. You carry a great weight on your shoulders.”  

“Somehow, I suspect that in your own way, you do, too,” Diego returned.   

“Bunk, Captain,” Doc ordered.  Lee sighed and did as he was told.   

“I’m going to give you an IV to balance the electrolytes, among other things.”  He held up a hypodermic and without preamble, stuck it in Crane’s arm.  “And something to let you sleep for more than a few hours.”

“Wait a minute!” Lee protested.  “I wasn’t finished.” Whatever it was, it was fast.  Almost immediately, Lee yawned and lay down.  Within a short time, he was asleep. 

Nelson pulled a blanket over his captain and then turned to the doctor. “Jamie, I’m sorry that I didn’t introduce you two formally.  This is Diego de la Vega,” he said.  Diego nodded his head slightly. “Señor de la Vega was responsible for keeping Lee alive.”

“We couldn’t prevent everything that happened to him, though,” Diego said sadly. 

“Oh, you mean the leg?” Doc asked.

“Yes.”

“Well, it would be easy to be angry with the doctor who worked on Lee’s leg, but I can’t, considering the time and place.  I am amazed at how well it healed.  As to the future….”   Doc winced at the reference to time.  They had been jumping around so much he sometimes wasn’t sure if they had been coming or going.  “Anyway, as to the future of his leg, I would need detailed diagnostics, but I believe his knee is in fine shape.  The workouts in the ocean took care of what I believe was damaged ligaments.   And I am just giving an educated guess, but I also suspect that the pain and leg weakness are mainly from the area of the broken bone.  If that is true, then it would be a fairly easy thing to reset the bone and let it heal right this time.”

“I do not understand,” Diego blurted out in surprise. “Reset an already healed bone?”

“Mmm, yes.  It entails a bit of recovery time, also some discomfort.  The bone would have to be re-broken.”

“You can do that?”  Diego was incredulous. 

Doc nodded and smiled reassuringly. “Happens naturally sometimes.  You know, someone breaks a bone that was broken before.  Anyway, this can be dealt with when we return to our time.” 

Diego was elated that his friend would be able to continue the job that he loved so much.  He gazed at his sleeping friend and then turned back to the admiral.  “I am ready to go home, just as you and your men are.”   

Nelson nodded.  "I don't think that Pem could have failed more then he did by dropping Lee in your time.  I cannot tell you enough how grateful I am that you helped him--saved him."   Harriman could see the depth of friendship that the two men had developed in the six months that Lee had been in this time and place.  He also had trouble controlling the gratitude that he felt toward this surprising man.  "Thank you, Diego."

Diego reached out his hand.  "Take care of him, please, Admiral Nelson."  They shook hands and then he unhooked the belt holding his sword and handed the weapon in its sheath to the admiral.  “Please give this to Lee.  He was a fine student and a good and loyal friend.” The admiral nodded and took the gift with a solemnity befitting the bestowal of a medal of honor. 

 

Two hours later, Zorro was riding north on Tornado, who had been more than happy to see him.  Liberated from his hiding place, the black stallion flew up the north road that paralleled the shoreline.  In the distance, he saw the steady-paced winking of the light atop the giant submarine; the same pulsing light that had drawn his friend.  After several miles of steady galloping, he paused atop a tall bluff, watching, almost mesmerized by the flashing light.   The sea breeze puffed his sleeves and tried to lift his hat.  It was refreshing, even as he knew that he needed to be going back home.  There was something that kept him from leaving, however; something that would not allow him to depart until he knew that Lee had left his time.  The light seemed to diminish a little, but still shone enough for Zorro to continue counting the flashes.  Then an hour before dawn, the light vanished.  Zorro continued to watch, but it was gone and he knew that Lee and his friends were back in their own time.  He turned and galloped toward home.   

             

 

Epilogue
Chapter One
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