A Matter of Time

 

 

 

Bernardo and Diego de la Vega

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

Zorro stared at the American, barely believing his ears.  Crane?  Could there be a connection?  But that was impossible.  Beneath the injuries and illness this was a deliberate, professional military man.  And in spite of his seeming youth, this man was a leader.  And there was absolutely no resemblance.    “Crane, did you say?”

“Yes, Lee Benjamin Crane.”  The American looked puzzled.  “Is there a problem?”

“No, except for the fact that the only other American I have known in more than passing was named Crane as well.  Do you have any relatives who are mountain men?” Zorro asked.   The reaction further puzzled him.  The American Naval officer laughed heartily for several minutes. 

Finally, he had to bite his lip against a moan as his battered back reminded him of his previous experiences.   “I really do owe you an explanation, Señor Zorro.  Apparently this previous contact of yours just coincidentally had a similar name.  My people came from Armenia, a Near Eastern region.  My name is a grossly Americanized version of a name that the record keeper couldn’t pronounce, write or want to deal with.”

“Ah, a coincidence indeed.  And you are in the American Navy,” Zorro prompted.

Again there was a chuckle.   It seemed rather hollow, though and Zorro knew there was a back-story included in this as well.   “Yes, I guess you could say that.”

Zorro thought back to Crane’s first declaration.  The masked man wasn’t familiar with anything more than the most famous naval ships of various foreign powers, so this ship Seaview was not familiar to him.  But the declaration had been made with much pride.  This was a vessel that the American was very proud of serving on. . . and that he missed very much.   He wondered . . . but then, Zorro assumed that most of his answers would be included in the explanation that Crane had offered.  “I thought from some of your fevered talk that you were.  You have a very high rank for one who appears to be fairly young.”

Crane smiled.  “Thanks.  A combination of a great deal of good luck and intense desire.”

“And dedication,” Zorro added. 

“You’re a fine one to talk,” Crane shot back amiably, thinking of the Zorro mythos that had developed over the years before and during his childhood.  “You’ve been doing your daring-do for what, around five years, I would guess?"

It was then that the thought crossed Zorro’s mind.  Maybe Ruiz, realizing that his prisoner was from a foreign Navy, had just cause in questioning him.  On the other hand, all of Zorro’s instincts pointed to the fact that Crane was not here for any militaristic or diabolical reasons.  Still….   “Why did you call me by the name of Don Diego?”  To him right now, that was the number one question on his mind.  The rest could come later.

Crane sighed.  “When I said that where I came from you were considered a myth, I was kind of stretching it.  Actually Zorro is considered fiction.”  His brow furrowed in thought.  “Depending on the version, Zorro is Diego Vega or Diego de la Vega.  And in all versions, he, or rather, you, are a wealthy landowner in the guise of a masked bandit trying to relieve oppression.  There are various adversaries.  I guess you have had several already.  There is a servant who is either mute or Indian, again, depending on the version, with the name of Bernardo.”

At that, Zorro glanced over the American’s shoulder and met Bernardo’s eyes.  The mozo shrugged.   All in all, Zorro was flabbergasted.  That so much information, with so much of it hitting very close to total accuracy could have reached an American Naval officer as a piece of fiction astounded him. 

“I guess the fictional part is pretty much what the first author wanted his readers to believe.  Unless of course, Pem managed to figure out alternate universe contact as well as time travel,” the young naval officer said softly, almost to himself. 

“Alternate universe?  Time?” Zorro asked.  “The first words are unknown to me.  The second only serves to confuse.  Perhaps you had better start from the beginning of your adventure here.” 

“Perhaps I had,” Crane said wearily, again swiping his face with his hand. 

“Unless it is too much for you at the present time,” Zorro added gently.  He was aching to find out the answers to the myriad of questions he had, but would not overexert this man.  While the American had slept, he had seen closely the results of the comandante’s interrogations and was amazed at how well the man was doing in spite of the abuse. 

Crane smiled.  He gazed at the masked man before him, who, up until just a short while ago was considered only a figment of some pulp author’s imagination.  There was something about him, however; something that said this Spanish American citizen could be trusted.  Lee had to trust someone.  “I have to go back a bit further than that or else everything will seem very disjointed and unbelievable.”  Zorro nodded.  “It will sound unbelievable anyway,” Crane added.   He took a deep breath and began.  “We, I mean the men I work with on Seaview, met up with a scientist who had discovered the means of time travel using a timepiece.  He needed us because of Seaview’s tremendous power source.”   He looked at Zorro, heard a slight noise behind him and sighed again.  “Your manservant doesn’t need to stay hidden anymore.”   At a nod from Zorro, the small, somewhat pudgy man eased forward to sit near his boss.  The eyes were intensely inquisitive and seemed to be sizing him up.  It reminded Lee of what some of his men did when confronting possible enemies.  Seaview is a very large nuclear powered submarine.”  He stopped again.  “A submarine is an enclosed vessel that can travel underwater.  Some scientists and inventors were experimenting with crude submarines back during the American Revolutionary War.   Anyway, nuclear power is a type of fuel that the Seaview runs on.  It’s very dangerous, but used the right way, it is much, much more efficient than . . . well, wood or coal.  As I hinted, it’s very powerful and Mr. Pem wanted Seaview’s nuclear, uh, furnace to power his timepiece.  He tried twice.  The second time he sent Seaview back to the time of the American Revolutionary War.”  He stopped and licked his lips. 

Zorro refilled the mug and handed it to Crane, who took a long drink.  “Anyway, Admiral Nelson, my boss….”  He paused a moment, before sighing and continuing.   “The admiral is also one of the designers and the builder of Seaview and was able to thwart Pem’s plans and take us back to our own time.”  He gazed intently at the two men.  “A time more than a hundred and fifty years into your future.  Or rather now, I guess.” Lee shook his head.  “It’s confusing.  Anyway, Pem was killed and the admiral was planning on destroying the timepiece.  It was simply too dangerous to leave around.  Only thing is, it seems that Pem had one last piece of posthumous revenge on his mind.  He apparently planned to pull me from my time to a place far from my home and friends. 

“But how could he do that if he was dead?” Zorro asked.  “And before we continue, what do you have in mind with the information that you know about me?”

“Nothing, of course.  I have been undercover often enough to know the merits of such work as you do and the secrecy under which you operate.  Whether the stories are partially accurate, wholly accurate or only a little bit on the mark, what you did for me tells me that you are doing good with this disguise of yours.  I have no intention of giving you away.  Hell, I only want to stay alive and figure out how to survive in my new existence.”  

The resignation in Crane’s voice wasn’t lost on the masked avenger, but there was no immediate response he could make.   Zorro instantly believed him.  He took off his hat, and then pulled the mask off, running his hand through his hair.  “You are right.  I am Don Diego de la Vega at your service, and this is my man-servant, my friend, Bernardo.”

Crane nodded to both.  “Thank you for your confidence.”   He finished the mug before continuing.   “Can’t get water from a spring like that in my time.  Or rather in the future.”  He handed the mug to Bernardo.   “As to your question, it would seem that Pem was able to make a companion timepiece, or something on that order.  Right now I am only guessing.   The timepiece that I had on me when I ended up in your time and place seemed to be only a, uh, well, like a receptor.  It was linked to the actual time travel device, but it doesn’t seem to have the same capabilities.  I can only guess that when the admiral began working on the watch—and I’m sure he did it meticulously, taking it apart piece by piece to try and find out how it worked….”

“But I thought you said your admiral was going to destroy it.  Why the detailed examination?”

“If someone lays a trap for you, one that is clever and very scrupulously put together, don’t you want to know how it worked?” Lee asked.

Diego nodded.  “Yes, I would.  I am sorry, that was a rather simple-minded question.”

“No, not really, perhaps it would have been better to simply bash it in,” Lee replied.  “Be that as it may, the admiral is a scientist as much or more than he’s a retired admiral and statistician.  I’m sure he had to find out.   I was going to help him, but I had just finished a duty watch in the control room after a rather tense and stress-filled adventure and, frankly, I was totally beat—tired out.  Admiral Nelson ordered me to get some rest.” Crane shrugged as he remembered the events leading up to his time transfer.  “I went straight to my cabin.”  He blinked and then grinned.  “I really must have been tired.  I usually get a cup of coffee from the galley after a watch.  Well, I got to my cabin, pulled off my shoes and tie, then noticed the watch on my desk.  I picked it up, wondering where it came from, then sat on my bunk, still studying it.  That’s when all hell broke loose.  I don’t remember much of the transition, except for the gut wrenching feeling of being pulled through an eyedropper.   Then I was on an arid hillside, the device in my hand, and the sun in my eyes.  That’s when I knew that Pem had figured out an ultimate revenge.  At least for me.”

“Capitán Ruiz has the timepiece,” Diego said thoughtfully.  “Maybe if we….”

Crane waved his hand.  “No, like I said it wasn’t a full-fledged time travel device.  It simply was linked to the main timepiece and was meant to do just what it did, ship a victim to a predetermined destination and strand him there.”  What he didn’t say was that the main watch would have been destroyed by the time anyone realized that he was gone.  In so many words, Lee Crane, modern Naval commander, was stuck in a pre-industrial society, wanted by the law and protected by a previously believed fictional character.  He sighed but said nothing. 

Bernardo signed vigorously.   Diego watched him carefully but Crane didn’t have the desire to do more than glance.  The full import of all that had happened the previous week crashed into him with the retelling.   Everything had been taken away from him.  Pem had to have realized at least some of what this would mean to him.  No career, no Seaview, Chip, the admiral, the men.  Everything gone.  Everything….

“Captain Crane?” Diego was asking. 

Lee looked up and saw that both men were gazing at him intently.   “Just Lee will do, Don Diego,” he said woodenly.  “I have no commission, no ship and no crew, therefore I am no longer a captain.”

“Lee, and by the way, I am Diego, not Don Diego. Whether you feel you have no position, by virtue of your past accomplishments you deserve your title.” 

Crane nodded, but said nothing. 

“Bernardo was pointing out that if this Admiral Nelson is clever enough to build one of these submarines and to outwit a man with a time travel device, why couldn’t he rebuild that time piece and use it to find you?”

Hope flared briefly, but then died.  “Because he would have no idea where and when to find me.”

“Maybe if you had the other timepiece it would be easier for him,” Diego responded quietly.  “You said they were linked.”

Crane only gaped at them.  Indeed, if anyone could pull off something like this, it would be the admiral.  It would be a definite long shot, but Bernardo was right, if anyone could do it, the admiral could.  “It would mean staying in the vicinity, I think.  I never was as scientifically oriented as the admiral was.”  He sucked in a deep breath, feeling at least a small measure of hope.  “I wish you could know Admiral Nelson.  A brilliant man.  You couldn’t even begin to imagine all of the things he’s invented, improved on, discovered.  And the Seaview!   Since I heard he was going to build her, I had dreamed of serving on her.  Finally I did.  More than four difficult, fantastic, exciting, frightening, magnificent years aboard the most phenomenal boat on or under the ocean.”  Lee sighed, trying to rein in his emotions. 

“I do not understand all of the things you have told us, but I think you are right.  You would need to stay in this area, I believe.  And you would probably need that strange timepiece you were carrying when you came to . . . our time,” Diego mused.  “We have to figure out a way to get it back.”

“But how do I stay out of the comandante’s clutches?” Lee asked. 

“You have to give your body time to heal anyway,” Diego responded.  “Would you mind spending some time in the cave here?”

Crane laughed.  “You are talking to a submariner.  Of course I wouldn’t mind.  The only problem I would have is that there would be nothing to check, to fix or to rebuild.  Rock doesn’t need maintenance and usually doesn’t spring leaks.” 

Throughout the conversation Bernardo periodically watched his master and Crane.  Diego translated some of the conversation that it was apparent the mozo didn’t understand.  Suddenly, Bernardo began signing.  Lee watched him intently, but the sign language, while more picturesque than ASL, was something that the two men had worked out among themselves and was difficult for him to follow. 

“That is a very good idea, Bernardo,” Diego said with a great smile.  He turned to Lee.  “Bernardo thinks that it might be very good for you and I to practice Spanish with each other.  Ruiz knows that you are American and that your skill in our language is limited.  If we practiced and you became proficient, it would help you avoid being recaptured.”

“I appreciate that,” Lee replied.  “That would be very helpful.”

Diego smiled before continuing.  “And when you are feeling better, perhaps we could cross swords.  It has been a long time since I have had more than my father or Bernardo here to practice my skills on.  Since you are a Naval officer, you most likely had your own saber, but you should easily be able to adapt to one of my blades.   Undoubtedly each of us has a different style that would be of benefit to the other.”

Lee stared at Diego in disbelief and then he smiled softly.  “I don’t have a saber and I have never fenced.  That is not something expected in the military of my day.  I do have some fighting skills that might interest you, but anything you teach me about fencing would be new to me and I would appreciate that, too.”

Diego was flabbergasted.  “No fencing skills?  What did you learn in your military training?” he asked, thinking of the classes he had taken in Spain.

“A lot of things have changed, Diego.  There are more advances in the military arts than you can even begin to imagine.”

Diego was thoughtful.  If what Lee had said already was any indication that was probably true.   “Well, I can teach you fencing as well.  But first you must get well and then we must figure out how to get your belongings back from the cuartel.”

Lee was tired, and his feet hurt, his back hurt, but he wasn’t going to admit it, so he simply said, “I’m okay.  But I think it is imperative that we get that timepiece and my other things.  He got my father’s ring, too.”

“I do not remember seeing a ring with the things he said he took from you,” Diego said.

“Probably kept it for himself,” Lee said acidly.

“We’ll get all your belongings back, Lee.”

Bernardo came down the stone steps.  Crane hadn’t even remembered seeing him leave.  The servant handed him a bowl of something that exuded a remarkably enticing aroma.  Lee sipped and then drank more heartily.  It had beef mainly, but whatever else it had, the combination was heavenly.  He had eaten nothing like this since his arrival in this time and place.  It wasn’t long before he had finished the entire bowlful.   Within only a short time he was lying back down on the pallet and had fallen sound asleep. 

 

 

 

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