Memories in the Dust
Diego looked dubiously at the doctor’s assistant and the tiny round device that she laid down on the little table near his bed. She was not the same kind of creature as Dr. Klictis, but she was still different enough to make him feel cautious. Completely covered with silky, honey-colored down, she had eyes of dark amber, large and round. They looked as deep as limpid pools and they seemed to be full of compassion. The stubby fingers moved in intricate patterns with a grace that belied their paw-like form.
This time, Diego had not left the bed, but he was watching from its very edge, waiting to see what the assistant would do. From what Minta had told him during her last visit, he had been in this hospital for two days, and, while he was still tired, he was feeling much better. Now he wondered what this individual had in mind for him. The device looked suspiciously similar to the sharp instrument that Director Jerintas had used on him when he had been kidnapped. “What are you going to do with that thing?” he asked, pointing to the device.
“This is the supplement that will help you feel better, so you aren’t tired all the time,” the assistant explained patiently, her voice as smooth as silk. The long whiskers that swept out from each side of her face twitched as she smiled her reassurance.
“Supplement? What do you mean by supplement?”
“It has things to build your blood and to keep you from being so tired. We have already given you several, all while you were asleep.” This assistant seemed to have the same type of warm personality as Minta, and he felt himself trusting her. Until recently he had been too tired to care what happened to him. Now he was just sick of feeling tired. He slid toward the middle of the bed so that she could reach him. “All right. Give me this supplement. I am getting very tired of sleeping in your hospital,” Diego said.
The assistant’s soft laugh echoed musically in the room. “I can see you are already beginning to feel a bit better. I think you may be ready to leave ‘our hospital’ tomorrow.”
“That will be very good,” Diego murmured, lying back against the pillows and trying to ignore the feel of the device as she held it against his arm.
The fifth day after the ship left orbit, Diego woke
suddenly and stared at the pale-colored walls of his new room, feeling
restless. He wiggled his
toes and saw that his feet were hanging off the end of his mattress.
Sitting up, he gazed into the tiny mirror that hung on the wall
across from the narrow bed.
It amazed him that something as tiny as this cabin could be
considered living quarters. It
was smaller than the room in the hospital on Minta’s planet.
He slid off his bed and stretched, realizing that his hands came
very close to touching the walls on each side of his cabin.
Diego opened the narrow wardrobe recessed into one wall and
pulled out the dark blue crewman’s jumpsuit that had been given to him
yesterday to replace his cream-colored hospital attire.
After a quick shower, the mechanics of which never ceased to
amaze him, he shaved and then donned the outfit, fumbling briefly with
the fastenings, until they finally snapped together, almost magically,
it seemed to him. He rubbed
his hand down the silky looking material, remembering a coal black
outfit of somewhat the same look and feel.
His hand paused briefly on his flat stomach, seeing in his mind a
sash covering that part of his anatomy, hiding the belt that held his
sword and scabbard.
Sword! he thought suddenly and realized
where the exercises that he had been performing each night before he had
left the Rantiri hospital had come from.
Looking around the room with wry amusement, Diego realized that
exercising in this room would only result in bruises.
As he reached over to close the wardrobe door, he felt the
softness of the outfit against his body and realized that the feel of
this material was slightly different than that of the black material he
remembered wearing back home, even if the look was the same.
This was softer and more lightweight, and it seemed to move more
flexibly with the movements of his body.
Closing his eyes, Diego tried to remember more of the black
outfit, but nothing came to add to the fleeting images that he had been
permitted to see in his dreams.
When he opened his eyes again, he felt as though
the walls were closing on him. He
remembered the nights on Minta’s world, when the hospital room, which
was his universe at the time, seemed cloistered and small.
It had taken all of his willpower to keep from beating the door
down then. Diego tried to
remember what Dr. Klictis had told him yesterday evening when he had
left the hospital. Had he
only dreamed the doctor’s statement that he could go anywhere in the
ship? His body demanded
freedom, it craved to walk and walk some more, free and without
Diego turned toward the door, then he stopped short. There was no door latch or knob, and there was no slot in which to slide a card, as Minta and her fellow teachers had in the hospital. He felt the door; it was cool to the touch, much like the one that kept him locked in at the Rantiri hospital. Next he made a thorough study of the doorframe. Suddenly his fingers brushed against a small depression and the door whooshed open. Diego stood in silent shock until the door swished shut again in his face. Carefully, he felt for the same depression and waited for the door to slide open again. When it did, he stepped out into the empty corridor. The door swished shut behind him. Startled, Diego turned and looked at the closed aperture, wondering how he would get back in. There was a symbol etched on a metal plate set in the wall next to his door. Looking around, he noticed similar plates next to all of the other doors. On each, however, the symbols were slightly different. Touching his symbol, Diego was gratified to see the door open for him again. Turning to the door across the hall, he pushed on the symbol of that plate, but nothing happened. Puzzled, he pondered and could only guess that like a special key, the symbols would only open the doors to certain people.
The thought of returning to his cramped cabin
suddenly seemed abhorrent and Diego turned and walked down the corridor.
Along its length, halfway up the wall, stretched a wide blue
line. Reaching the end of
the corridor, he noticed a similar, but different colored stripe on the
next corridor. The bright
paint broke the monotony of the cream colored walls and reassured him
that he would be able to find his way back quite easily.
He continued his walk, reveling at each step.
Some time later, after walking down what seemed to
be innumerable corridors, into tiny rooms that seemed to move up and
down, as well as those that boggled him with their immensity, his
exuberance had been tempered. He
was tired and hungry, and had realized long ago that he was lost.
On occasion other residents of this spaceship had addressed him,
but for some reason their translators didn’t seem to be working, and
he had left his in his cabin. All
he could do was smile and nod and hope he found his own room soon.
Walking down more corridors, Diego began wondering
just how large this ship was. Although
the corridors were almost identical, as had been the case near his
cabin, there were subtle differences, enough to tell him that he had not
been in any areas more than once. Turning
another corner, he found himself in a wide corridor with a large door at
one end. Touching the
symboled plate, Diego was pleased when the door swished open to reveal a
room with many empty chairs and tables.
Avoiding those tables on which were stacked dirty dishes and
utensils, Diego sat heavily on a chair near what appeared to be a great
glass window. Sighing in
relief, he turned to look at the view out the window.
It was unlike anything he had ever seen before.
The window itself seemed to be immense, stretching interminably
over his head, from one side of the room to the other.
It was what was outside the window that entranced
him. Diego had never seen
anything like it. Streaks
and whorls of red, yellow, white and orange flowed, wavered and danced
past his eyes. The colors seemed to sweep across the window in strokes like
a painter’s brush on a canvas. He
ignored a loud voice behind him as he continued gazing at the astral
Finally another speaker, one whose voice was more
strident and piercing than the other joined the first.
Turning, Diego looked into the face of a very short, totally
hairless, yellow skinned creature whose countenance was anything but
happy. Tiny round eyes
snapped with irritation. Behind
him was another of the same race. The
voices continued to rise in agitation, but Diego had not the slightest
idea what was being said. Like
all the others, their translators were not working for him. Puzzled,
as well as alarmed that these strange creatures were upset with him, he
pointed to his ears and made signs to indicate that he was unable to
understand them. There was a sudden familiarity about these signs
and he paused, trying to figure out their significance.
The creature said something else, peered closely at him, and then turning, pointed to a table covered with a myriad of dirty plates, cups and utensils. Did it want him to clean the table? Bernardo would certainly get great pleasure from this. Bernardo? he thought and saw flashing in his mind, a vision of a somewhat older man, shorter, balding, but with a merry twinkle in his eye. His manservant. This was also the one who made the signs that felt so familiar to him. Diego quickly added that additional memory to the library of such half remembrances that he was amassing.
A tug at his sleeve brought him back to the present
situation and he saw the creature pointing to the dishes, his finger
trembling in agitation. But
why does he want me to do this? Diego thought, bewildered.
Then he remembered that he was wearing a borrowed crewmember’s
crewmembers on this ship also worked as servants.
The creature in front of him had mistaken him for a servant.
Looking around for someone who might be able to assist him, Diego
was dismayed when he saw no other crewmembers in the room.
Some of the other creatures in the room began watching the scene
intently, one in silent amusement, others in sympathy, but none seemed
inclined or capable of helping him.
Confused, Diego chose to simply comply with the
creatures’ demands. He
carefully stacked the lightweight utensils into equally lightweight
cups, which then went on top of plates.
Yes, he thought, Bernardo would see the humor of this
situation if he were here. Despite
his present fatigue, despite his frustration at not being able to
communicate, he was nevertheless happy, happy that his memories were
beginning to sort themselves out in patterns that were now making a
little more sense to him.
Seeing that his pile was more than high enough for
him to handle, Diego turned toward an entrance that seemed most
logically to be the servant’s door.
The creature behind him kept berating him shrewishly, no doubt
because he had left things behind.
As he made his way carefully toward the far side of the room, his
steps faltered and he stumbled. Diego tried to get a tighter grip on the dishes in his arms,
but they were light, and they scattered everywhere. Some, despite their lightness, clattered noisily onto the
floor, but to his surprise, the rest ended up in the arms of Dr.
Diego looked at the mess on the floor in chagrin,
but glanced back up as he heard the doctor’s mandibles clack in quick
motion indicating amusement. “You
really don’t have to try to pay for your passage, Diego,” the doctor
said, putting the dishes on a nearby table.
Turning to the disgruntled passengers, Klictis spoke soothingly
to them. Their exchange was
brief, but meaningful. The
passengers gazed curiously at him, shrugged and then walked away.
Klictis turned back to Diego. “Mistress Minta was alarmed when she checked this morning
and found you gone from your room.”
He held a tiny oval device in his hand, which he quickly spoke
into before putting it away. Seeing
his patient’s puzzled gaze, he explained, “This is a communicator,
Diego. With it, I have contacted your companion.
She was almost panicked when she couldn’t find you in time for
lunch. I must say I was
beginning to worry myself, considering how anemic you were when you came
on board. If I had not
found you soon, I would have been forced to have your companion call for
you over the public communicator.”
“Public communicator?” Diego asked, puzzled.
“My point exactly. You
haven’t been taught to use the communications system yet. But why didn’t you use the translator that was given to you
“I did not think about bringing it with me until
I had been out of my cabin for some time.
Why didn’t the others’ translators work when they spoke to
“Because the language that you are using probably
wasn’t programmed into their communicators.”
Seeing Diego’s confused look, he tried to simplify.
“The translator has to know the language you speak.
If it doesn’t, or if you don’t say enough for it to decipher
your language, then it can’t make a translation.”
“Oh,” Diego finally said and then focused on
something that the doctor had previously said.
“Lunch? Is it that
“Apparently you have been wandering the ship all
morning. You weren’t
noticed because with that uniform on you were assumed to be a
“I felt very good this morning and wanted to see
what this spaceship was like. I
thought it would be easy to find my way back to my cabin, or maybe find
Minta, but all of the…corridors began to look the same and I’m
afraid I became lost. Now I
only wish to return to my cabin and rest.”
“Yes, I can imagine that you would be tired by
now. And without a
translator…” Klictis began.
Diego simply shrugged.
“Everyone seemed so busy.
No one was able to speak the same language that I learned from
Minta, so finally I stopped asking.” As Klictis motioned him to sit
down in a reclining chair, Diego fumed over his comparative weakness.
“When will I be well? I’m
tired of this!” he blurted. He
watched as a real crewman cleaned up his mess.
Klictis’ red eyes gazed unwaveringly on him, as
though trying to figure out how best to explain this sickness to his
patient. “Diego, what
happened to you was on the inside.
Your body couldn’t handle being on the Rantiri world and
certain parts of it, like the part that makes blood, quit working. And
you have to have healthy blood to feel well.
Thankfully, you left before you became too sick to heal, but it
takes awhile for the blood to build back up.”
Dr. Klictis paused and then cocked his head as his patient’s
expression remained unchanged. “You are getting better, you just overdid it this
The far door whooshed open and suddenly Minta was
kneeling at his side. Tears
were streaming down her cheeks and this time when she took his hand and
caressed it, it seemed more to reassure herself than to reassure him.
Diego was taken totally by surprise at her emotional outpouring and was
speechless for a moment. Then
he reached over with his free hand and lightly touched the soft, tousled
white-gold strands that fell over her face.
“When I couldn’t find you, I was so worried for
you, Diego. I thought maybe
you might be sick somewhere…”
“Minta, where would I go?” he asked with a
She looked up in surprise, gazing into his hazel eyes and seeing his warm expression. “I don’t know, but I only know that you were gone and I couldn’t find you . . .and I was afraid.”
Diego’s fingers lightly touched and then tenderly
wiped away her tears. He
experienced a thrill at the soft touch of her skin, gratitude at her
caring and then something else, something he knew he had not allowed
himself to feel for some time, something he had become so used to
suppressing that he had almost forgotten what it was.
For a moment, he rebelled and let the warm and tender emotions he
felt for this woman well up inside his heart.
He gazed deeply at into Minta’s eyes and saw more
than a teacher, he saw someone who cared deeply for him. He saw someone for whom he also cared deeply, so deeply it
hurt. Then he remembered,
digging into his still disjointed memories, just what he might be going
back to. His dreams had
shown him dangerous activities, perhaps not with absolute clarity, but
well enough to worry about someone else sharing that danger with him.
So he began trying to push those feelings back into the deep
recesses where they had slept until his abduction.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the doctor leaving the room.
Most of the other occupants had gone as well, leaving them pretty
much alone in the large room.
As she gained control of her emotions, Minta saw
immediately that Diego was no longer her pupil.
He was her friend, to be sure, and for a brief moment, she saw
something else. She thought
about her fears during his absence, silly though they now seemed to be,
and then she began thinking of their inevitable separation when he
reached his home planet. Thoughts
of returning to Rantiri alone filled her with emptiness and black
despair. Her dreams only
held visions of Diego, and his world as he described it, and her heart
seemed to swell enough to choke her. Tears prickled in her eyes again and she blinked desperately
to stop their renewed flow.
Minta remembered Loris, someone she was fond of a
few years ago, but that was brief, a flaring of affection,
half-fulfilled in a sanctioned living arrangement that had left them
both feeling pleasure while it lasted, but no lasting heart-aches when
he moved to another position in another hospital.
It had left her with temporary disappointments.
What good had those words of Rantiri union meant then?
To be together, care for one another, put the other’s interests
before their own? For how
long? As long as it was
convenient, apparently, she thought morosely.
But Diego? She
had felt something for him almost from the beginning, and looking back,
it had been more than a physical attraction, although that was there,
too. And now that he was
regaining his memories, she wanted to totally give herself to the
essence of this man. She
wanted to share her life with him, feel his tender touch, hold him, and
be with him.
She brought her focus back to the here and now and
saw that she was massaging his arm, smoothing the hair, lightly touching
his hand, massaging his palm. With
a slight smile she remembered how she had recoiled at the sight of the
hair on his body when she first saw him.
It was now a part of what she loved about this man.
For a moment, Minta felt the gentle caress of his
hand in her hair, and then she felt his strong hands enveloping hers.
Gently he coaxed her onto his lap, a move that she didn’t fight
in the least. As she leaned
her head against his chest, he murmured, his voice full of sadness,
“How can this work, Minta? You
know nothing about me. I am
You are wrong. I
know everything about you. I
don’t know your life story, but I know your heart.
And you are not my student.
You haven’t been from the beginning.
You have been my teacher.
You have opened up so much for me.
You have shown me what ‘soul’ is, what independence, courage,
and determination are.” She paused. “And
you have taught me love,” she added in a whisper.
She heard and felt his ragged intake of breath.
“Minta, how can this work?
I do not remember that much, but I know that what I have been
doing on my world is very dangerous.
I do not want you to be in danger.
You would be safer back on Rantiri…”
“There is nothing on Rantiri for me, Diego,
because the only man I feel anything for is not there anymore….” Minta felt the warmth of his body blend with the warmth of
her tears. She felt the
rise and fall of his chest, lulling her and arousing her at the same
time. She had never really
dared until now to show how she felt toward this man of another planet,
this man who was so much like her and, yet, so different, so vital and
alive, while her people lived as though in waking dreams, trying to
fulfill the wish of people long dead, living at the whims of those who
saw them as less than real entities.
“When I get home, Minta, I will return to those
things I was doing before. I
have seen someone in a disguise, fighting against others.
That someone is me. At
first I could not understand it. Then
I knew it was because I did not want my enemies to know who I was. If they did, they would kill me. And they would kill anyone else who knew me…”
Minta lifted her head up from his chest, and put
two fingers over his lips. “Diego,
my soul, my heart . . .” Was
she really saying this? It
was what she had read in the Ancestor’s diaries.
It seemed so very appropriate, the words of the Ancestor to his
beloved. How long had she
really felt this way about Diego and not realized it?
“How long have you felt this way?” he asked, as
though reading her thoughts, his voice husky with repressed emotion.
“And realized it?
Since shortly before the spaceport,” she said. “Without realizing it?
Almost from the beginning.”
Again, he sighed, but said nothing.