Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

Diego sat in the sala, his empty wine glass in one hand and a newly lit cigar in the other.  He listened while Sgt. Garcia told them yet another story of the insufferable pest, El Diablo.  The man was living up to his name.  Even though Zorro had captured or killed at least a dozen of his followers, the robber king seemed to have an uncanny ability to gather more minions around him.  The man was as hard to catch and hang onto as a fighting rooster.  Always he seemed to be one step ahead, or like a badger, possessing an escape route that no one dreamed existed.  

Now El Diablo was trying to convince everyone that Zorro was a demon in disguise.  Apparently the robber felt the same way about Zorro as Diego felt about this Diablo.  “Sergeant, if Zorro has been transformed into a demon, or replaced by one, why is he unable to catch El Diablo…unless the self-proclaimed ‘Prince of Thieves’ is really the Prince of Darkness?”

Garcia blinked and gazed at him in surprise.  “But that would put them on the same side, would it not, Don Diego?”

“Very astute, Sergeant, and you wisely pointed out the flaw in El Diablo’s logic,” Diego said with a smile, saluting the corpulent soldier with a nod of his head.

“Father Felipe has generously offered to test Zorro and anoint him with Holy Water,” Garcia added. 

“Sergeant, why should Zorro do that?   I thought that Father Felipe had already tested the outlaw.”

“That is true, but the good padre wants to lay all these rumors to rest.”

“Perhaps Zorro will take him up on it someday, then,” Diego said nonchalantly, and added,  “Have some more wine, Sergeant.”  Bernardo brought over a flagon and poured about half a glass full. 

Later in the secret room, Diego fumed.  “The man is insufferable!”

Bernardo signed, ‘Sergeant Garcia?’ 

“No, Bernardo, El Diablo.  There has to be a way to find him and stop him somehow.  This has gone on too long.”

Bernardo nodded his agreement and then seemed to be pondering as he handed the pieces of the costume to his master.  Diego suddenly stopped dressing, gazing at the manservant, his feelings for his friendship and loyalty suddenly superseded by wonder at the relationship they shared-- the relationship that the real Diego had started, that he had only inherited.  As he wondered what his counterpart was doing, Diego suddenly felt sorry for the Designated One.  To have had all this, the friendships, the parental affiliations, the feeling of belonging to a world, of being part of a whole, of doing something so very worthwhile, and then to have it all wiped away.  He felt a stab of pain.  Then he remembered the directive he had been given and the pain was increased, knowing that there would be even more heartache in the future.

He felt a tap on his shoulder, Bernardo looked at him quizzically, signing a question. 

“I feel all right, Bernardo.  I was just wondering how I was going to rid this part of the world of El Diablo.”

Bernardo signed a suggestion, ‘I will listen more carefully in the pueblo.’

“Perhaps that might give us some clues that we missed before.  Thank you,” Diego said as he donned the mask.  “Yes, tomorrow.”

He swept down the stairs, and Bernardo followed, wondering at the incredible sadness that seemed to have suddenly overtaken his master.  

 

                                                ========================

 

Minta sat by Diego’s bed with his hand in hers, his sleeping form under her strictest scrutiny.   She let her thumb massage his palm gently almost without conscious thought.  A lock of unruly hair had fallen over his pale forehead and she leaned over to push it aside, noting how much more natural he looked now.  Earlier in the day, she had helped a medical technician remove the disguising gel. 

Minta didn’t remember the shuttle’s take-off; she had been so stricken with the look of total despair on Diego’s face as the drug took effect.  Now they were on the mother craft, a large passenger pleasure ship headed for the outer quadrant of the galaxy, specifically the planet, Morloze, a comparative neighbor, in the larger scheme of things, to Diego’s planet.  From there, Minta had been assured they would be able to get a smaller interstellar craft to take them to Diego’s world.  

She yawned and looked at the chronometer set into the opposite wall and saw that it was the ship’s equivalent of late afternoon on Rantir.  A soft chime sounded, indicating someone at the door of Diego’s room in the infirmary.  Reaching over, Minta keyed the response switch,  “Yes?”

“Mistress, may I come in?  I am Klictis, the ship’s doctor.”

“Yes, you may,” she answered.  The door whooshed open and admitted an alien who looked a little like a bundle of sticks and twigs glued together.  His mandibles clacked and chittered together, but a little box on a cord around his neck provided translation.

“He is still sleeping,” the doctor said softly, almost to himself.  “We left orbit last night.”

“Yes, he has only partially awakened a few times since the take off, never enough to be coherent.  I was wondering how long that drug the crewman gave him was supposed to stay in his system,” Minta answered.  “I…I’m worried about him.”

“You have need to be.  The sedative was only supposed to last through the take off and docking with this craft, at the most four or five hours. It has been more than half a ship cycle.”  The doctor pulled out several instruments, using them to examine Diego.  With one he took a blood sample, causing her companion to moan softly, talking in his native language.  Minta continued to hold his hand, stroking it gently.  The doctor took the sample over to a nearby workstation.  Within a short time he had returned to the bedside. “Tell me, did your friend seem overly tired during the last two weeks?” he asked.

“Yes, I guess he did seem more tired during the trip, but I attributed it to the stress and extra exertion of the journey itself.  He seemed more bored than anything else during the week before we left the hospital.”  She wondered what the doctor had found out.  Fear for Diego sat like a boulder in her chest, threatening to choke her.

More clacking brought her attention back to the doctor.  “His appetite?” he asked.  

She thought.  “I guess he really hadn’t eaten much before we reached the spaceport.  We were attacked by a brisal and Diego left his lunch to it.”  She paused and thought once again.  Diego had really not seemed interested in eating during their trip to the spaceport. Indeed, he hadn’t eaten much during the preceding few days.  “No, he really didn’t seem to have his usual appetite even before our trip to the spaceport, come to think about it.” 

The doctor nodded.  “While I was running the tests, I received a communication from your home planet, directly from Director Jerintas.”

Sudden panic clawed at her, making her catch her breath.  After successfully finding a flight and getting on their way, was the director going to force Diego to return?  “What did he say?” she asked.

“He expressed concern that there was something inherent in your solar system that would cause illness to your companion.  Director Jerintas sent me his findings based on blood samples taken from him while on your planet.”

Shock left her gaping, speechless.  “Illness?” she finally squeaked.  Had the director known everything she had been doing since she met Diego?  Was that why their escape seemed so easy?  Had he realized that kidnapping Diego was wrong?  Or was it the illness?  Oh, Diego, what more will you be asked to suffer? she thought, reaching over and touching his stubbled cheek, stroking lightly.   She could not even begin to conceive of Diego dying.  Tears welled up in the corners of her eyes.

“It is nothing life threatening if caught in early enough stages,” the alien doctor explained, as he examined the readings on a diagnostic tool.  “And my findings match those of your director.  Your friend is anemic.”

“What?”  She reached for Diego’s hand, took it in her own, feeling the reassuring warmth. 

A slight change in the sound of his mandibles seemed to indicate laughter.  “Your director suggested, and I concur, that some sort of radiation effected your companion.  He also suggested that this might be linked somehow to the demise of your creators.  Your companion, although different on the outside, seems to possess many genetic materials that match not only the Rantiri units, but even more so, your creators.  It is a most curious phenomenon.” 

Minta nodded, still overwhelmed with relief.  “What can we do to help him get over this?  He will recover fully, won’t he?”

“Yes.  My preliminary findings show that there is no irreversible damage.  I think he should stay in the medical quarters for a day or two after he has awakened.  We will give him supplements to build his blood and when he is feeling better, we will run more tests.  Within a few days he should be feeling better . . .more energetic.”

“Thank you for helping, Dr. Klictis,” she said to him.  And thank you, Jerintas, for understanding, she thought fervently.

 

                                           =========================

 

Diego felt a vibration, not unlike that of a commuter, heard the whirring and clicking of various devices and slightly opened one eye to see a room like the hospital room where he had met Minta.  But it was bigger, like one of the rooms where his kidnappers had held him.

Diego remembered the spaceport, and the gaping door on the commuter like the jaws of Hell.  He remembered the strange looking man coming toward him and then sticking him in the arm, as did the man who made him to forget everything he had ever known.  He remembered and then paused, his eyes opening wide.  He remembered!  This time they had not stolen his memories!  Everything he had learned and remembered was all still there.  With a slight smile, he sat up straighter against his pillows and looked around him.  Where was Minta?  The feel of her hand enveloping his was still fresh in his mind and the memory of it gave him a thrill of great pleasure.  He wanted her near him to celebrate this triumph. 

A soft whooshing sound heralded the opening of a door and Diego looked toward it in anticipation.  His eagerness was short lived however.   Approaching him was a skeletal, insect-like man, the legs and arms mere twigs, the head oval, but covered with a hard carapace.  The eyes were faceted like rubies, blood red and round, the mouth was two pincer-like protuberances that opened and closed with clacking, clicking noises.  There were fingers on the end of each stick arm, but they seem to simply be thinner extensions of the arms.  The body was also encased in a hard shell, the belly a soft lavender color and the shoulders, arms and legs the color of warm honey.

Dios!” Diego exclaimed, sliding out of the bed and backing away from the monstrous apparition.  Commuter? he thought.  No, this must be Hell, indeed!  And where is Minta?  Is she a prisoner here? 

The creature moved its mouth pincers back and forth furiously and Diego began wondering if he had been saved for lunch.  There was a little box hanging around the demon’s neck and sounds were coming from it. 

“I am Doctor Klictus.  I am here to care for you.  I will not hurt you, Diego,” the ghostly voice said. 

Diego stared at the talking box and then back into the face of the demonic-looking being.  What kind of creature could be imprisoned in such a tiny receptacle, he wondered, staring back at the tiny box.  Similar sounds were coming from another little box, this one lying on the table next to his bed. Diego gazed around him, his eyes darting right and left, desperately trying to find something with which to defend himself.  Finding nothing, he backed up until he was against a wall and there he waited in a crouch.  The demon stopped on the opposite side of his bed, laying its pouch on the covers and stretching its now empty hands out to him.  Is it trying to be friendly? Diego thought.  He waited.  There was another soft whooshing noise.

“Diego!”  It was Minta.  She walked up to the stick creature and stood next to it for a moment.  “Diego, he is a doctor.  He will not hurt you.”  She came around the bed and took his hand in the gesture that he had come to recognize as one of reassurance. 

Straightening up, he looked at her and seeing no sign that she was a prisoner or saying anything against her will, he asked, “Where is this place?  It is so much like the place I was taken to before.”  He paused.  “Like Hell.”  A series of clicks and clacking sounds came from the little box on the table, as well as from the box around the creature’s neck. 

“Hell?” Minta asked, confused by the term.  

The doctor moved his jaws and the soft voice spoke from the small devices, “Mistress Minta, Hell is a place believed by many to be where those who have acted wickedly go after death.  A place of punishment, so to speak.”

Minta looked at Diego in awe.  “I can never imagine you going to this Hell you speak of.  You are too good.”

“Thank you, Minta.  But you know nothing of my life before we met.  You really can’t say that.” 

She squeezed his hand.  “Of course I can.  Lack of memories does not hide the personality of a person.”

Diego cleared his throat, uncomfortable with her praise, “I would still like to know where we are.  Am I a prisoner?”

“Oh, no, you aren’t a prisoner,” Minta reassured him.  “This is a spaceship that will take us near your home.  We’ll get on another ship that will land on your planet.”

Diego pondered for a moment.  “So when you said we would take a large commuter to my home, you were talking about this . . .this spaceship.”  She nodded.  He thought some more, and Minta, seeing the look of concentration on his face, said nothing.  After a while, she saw his face suddenly go pale.  “Spaceship?  A ship in space?  Land on my planet?” he whispered.  “You mean we are in heaven?  I know what a ship is, but there are ships that can go out where the moon and stars are?”

“Yes, Diego.  That is how you got to my home…my world…in a spaceship.  It is not exactly like the ship you described to me, though.  A ship that sails from star to star has to be encased in metal.  There is no air in space.  The ship has to have engines to make it move; it can’t use sails like your ships do on the oceans.”

The doctor had slowly approached while they were talking.  Diego looked him over carefully but didn’t pull away this time.  Minta trusted him, so he would, too.  The stick-man had been moving his mouth, making his clicking, chittering noises, but Diego had not been listening after the doctor’s explanation of Hell, concentrating instead on what Minta had been saying.  Now the soft voice was coming from the box again.  Diego gazed at the physician, pondering, knowing there was some kind of connection between the clacking of the doctor’s mouth and the little boxes.   His jaw dropped in sudden realization.  “Are the voices from the little boxes what the doctor is saying?”

“Yes, they are,” the doctor answered.  “The little boxes, as you call them, are translators, Diego.  They take words from my language and turn them into words you can understand.  Now you must lie down, and rest.  If you do as I say, you should be able to leave here in a few days.”

Gratefully, Diego did as he was told.  He was tired; even that small amount of exertion seemed to have drained him.  “Jerintas is helping you get home, Diego,” Minta said, as soon as the doctor left.  “He arranged passage for us on this ship.”

“Jerintas?  He is the director that you have talked about?  Why is he helping me?”

“Yes, he is our planet’s director, and he is helping you because of your illness.  If you had stayed on Rantir, you would have died,” Minta explained simply. 

“Why?” he asked. 

“Our solar system has a celestial body that we call the Late Comer.   About five hundred years ago it came into our solar system and was caught in the gravity of our sun.  Our scientists have recently discovered that it has something . . . a radiation that made you sick.  As soon as Jerintas found out, he began making plans to get you back to your home,” Minta explained. 

“I do not understand this ‘radiation.’  How could something like this Late Comer make me sick?  From what you have said, it sounds like a planet.  A planet can make me sick?  Or is it a . . .” Diego paused, unable to come up with the word he wanted.  Pantomiming the word he was looking for, he watched Minta for recognition.

“Oh, you must mean a comet,” she exclaimed.  

“Yes.  Some scientists believe that comets can be dangerous,” Diego offered. 

“Perhaps it is somewhere in between the two,” she replied.  “I don’t really understand all of this.  Some of what I am telling you I didn’t even know until Director Jerintas sent the message to Dr. Klictis.”  Minta paused, trying to determine the best way to explain the radiation problem to Diego in a way that he could understand.  Finally it came to her.  “Diego, do you remember the first picnic that we had?”

“Yes.”

“Your skin was a little red the next day.  That is a kind of radiation.  It burned your skin a little bit.   The radiation that made you sick is something like that, only it works on the inside,” Minta explained. 

“Oh.”  Diego yawned, feeling an overwhelming desire to go back to sleep, but there was something that he needed to know first.  “Minta, why did your people take me from my home?”

Minta sighed.  “Diego, believe me when I say that I had no idea you were anything other than a created unit when I first met you.  Like me.”  He nodded and she continued.  “When Jerintas traveled to your planet, he was searching for ways to let my people . . . have babies,”

“Have babies?  Do you mean that your people cannot have babies?  Is that why there are no children on your planet?” Diego asked, not totally understanding how that could be.

“Yes,” Minta replied, pausing to find the words that would help Diego understand DNA and other scientific principles.  Sighing again, she went on to explain as simply as she could, hoping that Diego would understand.  “Diego, you know about breeding and reproduction.  From what you have told me of your dreams, the animals that you ride breed amongst themselves.”

“Yes, they do.”

“It is what is deep inside each animal, and person, too, that makes them able to reproduce; to create young like themselves.  It is called DNA.   For many years that is what our scientists thought we needed to reproduce amongst ourselves.  Physically, we should be able to, but we have not.  So the scientists believed that we had to get DNA from a race that was very close to our Ancestors.”

“These Ancestors are the ones that you told me created your people?”

“Yes, Diego.  They created us.  They did not create us to look exactly like them, but we have DNA that is similar.  They told us to continue to create more units and to try to make units who could reproduce biologically . . . have babies, in other words.  That is why Jerintas went on his scientific expedition, and why he went to your world—to see if there were people who might have the DNA that the Rantiri needed to biologically reproduce.”

“So you are saying that I was kidnapped to help your people, to help them so they could have children?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered simply.

“I understand what you are saying.  I still feel anger that my memories were taken, but if I had not been kidnapped . . .” Diego suddenly paused.  He gazed at Minta, his expression affectionate.  “I would never have met you.  That would be sad . . . to not know you.”

Minta blinked back the tears that suddenly blurred her vision.  “Oh, Diego.  Thank you.  You have made my life so much richer.  I cannot even conceive of not knowing you either.”

 

Chapter Eleven                                                                                                                                    
Memories Prologue 
Zorro Contents
Main Page