Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

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.

 

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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 restraint.

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 splendor.  

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 uniform.  Apparently 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. Klictis. 

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.

Mandibles clicked.  “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 yesterday?”

“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 me?”

“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 late?”

“Apparently you have been wandering the ship all morning.  You weren’t noticed because with that uniform on you were assumed to be a crewmember.”

“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 morning.” 

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 smile. 

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 your student.”

“No, Diego.  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. 

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve
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