Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

A small chime sounded.  Diego jerked up, surprised, muttering irritably about interruptions on the first night of their union.  A slightly distorted voice announced over the intercom, “Your dinner.”  Diego sighed, pulled the coverlet around the lower half of his body and went to the door.  A crewman, who looked to be Rantiri, smiled and brought in a fairly large tray.  It was filled with a variety of covered dishes and bowls, glasses and a bottle of some kind of drink.  He laid it on the table near the bed.  “Have a wonderful evening,” he said with an even broader grin and then turned and left.  The door whooshed softly behind him. 

Diego gazed resentfully at the tray, the door and then at Minta, who sat on the bed, the sheet pulled up seductively across her chest, smiling at her husband’s irritation.  He sighed again, aggrieved that the heat of the moment had been lost, but as he gazed at his wife, he knew it would return quickly. 

“Diego, you can’t eat with a coverlet around you,” Minta said with a soft laugh  “Check in the closet and see if they left robes.  Sometimes in honeymoon suites they do that.” 

“And perhaps I do not wish to eat right now,” he said with a slight smile, finding almost nothing about which to stay irritated. He opened the tall narrow closet door and found two lightweight, identical robes, both of them white with gold trim around the cuffs and necks.  He threw one over his broad shoulders, letting the coverlet drop to the ground.  As he took the other one to Minta and helped her put it on, he admired again the slender softness of her body, the gracefulness of her fingers as they emerged from the ends of the sleeves.  He kissed her shoulders as he drew the cloth over them, lightly ran one finger down her cheek as she was trying to tie the belt around her waist. 

“Diego!” she admonished him lovingly, shivering at his touch.  “Let’s eat dinner now, while it’s nice and hot.  There will be a great deal of time afterward.”

“Very well,” he acquiesced, somewhat reluctantly.  Suddenly his stomach agreed with her, growling loudly at the presence of so much food.  Minta laughed musically and he laughed with her.  He pulled the lids off the bowls and plates, sniffing each one.  “This food smells much better than what I was given in the hospital on your world,” he stated. 

Minta joined him at the table and glanced over the array of food.  “Watch out for that one.  It bites back.”  She was pointing at a bowl with something that looked like soup.  Small bits of vegetables floated in a dark brown stock.

Diego looked up, a puzzled look on his face.  “Bites back?” he asked.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean that it will burn the tongue and keep burning all the way to the stomach,” she explained with a chuckle.  “They talked me into trying some when you were in the medical bay.” 

Diego glanced at it again and then perused the rest of the meal.  He pulled out the bottle that was resting in its own container, a small bucket of sorts.  It was cold to the touch and tendrils of frigid air drifted upward like smoke.  “This looks like vino, but why is it so cold?”

“Vino?” Minta asked.  “This is a slightly alcoholic beverage called sitheril.  It is used for celebrations and special occasions, especially unions.  It’s supposed to be cold.”

“Then let us celebrate,” he declared, trying to find the cork to pull out. 

Minta gently took it from his hands and squeezed at the top.  What had looked to be a solid top separated and a lid popped off with a slight whooshing noise.   She pointed to the small goblets that sat upside down on the edge of the tray.  Diego reached for them and held them out for Minta to fill.  The sitheril bubbled and fizzed, and to his utter astonishment, the drink changed color, lightening somewhat from its original deep, dark purple.  He stared at his drink, wondering if it would change yet again. 

“Diego, let us toast our life together,” Minta said, interrupting his examination of the sitheril.  She held up her glass, gazing into the depths of the drink.  He did the same and she moved her glass toward his until they touched.  “To our lives together, filled with joy and love,” she said, continuing to gaze at the drink.  The sitheril slowly changed, darkening until it was blood red and then it changed again, gradually, until the liquid in both glasses was a light rosy pink. 

“What is the meaning of this change in color?” Diego asked, completely mystified at a drink that could change colors, bubble and be so very cold.  It made him think briefly of a witch’s brew.

“It is supposed to reflect the moods of the celebrants and reveal their futures,” Minta explained. 

It began to seem more and more like witch’s brew to him.  “The future?” 

“I think it’s mainly a legend, Diego.  I don’t think it really does any such thing. It just picks up a little on emotions and the body heat of whoever is holding the glass and changes color when the air hits it.”

“Oh,” he said relieved, and deciding to play along.  “And what does it say about our future?” 

“The rosy color indicates a long and happy life together.  Now, drink it quickly, my love.”  Minta sighed and taking the small glass to her lips, drank it down in three gulps. 

Diego did the same, feeling the cool drink become almost a fire in his throat.  “I think I would prefer wine from a cask,” he said, coughing.  “It is the food that is supposed to be hot in the stomach, not the drink.” 

“Then try this, my dear,” Minta said sweetly, pushing the bowl of soup across the tray to him. 

Taking a spoon, Diego dipped into the steaming mixture and tasted it.  The flavor reminded him of soup from home, liberally mixed with shredded bits of dried beef and chilies.  He glanced at Minta, who had the mischievous look of one expecting a reaction to something shocking.  Then he took another spoonful. The various bits of what he presumed were vegetables added slightly differing tastes, but all in all, it seemed wonderfully spicy after the bland fare in the hospital.  “Ah, maravilloso!” he said with a sigh. 

Minta shook her head in amazement, and passed him a crusty roll.  He broke off a piece and dipped it into the broth.  She gazed at him, watching the movement of his hands, the lines of his face, his enjoyment of the moment.  “Diego, tell me about your world.  What is it like, this hacienda of yours?  What are the people like?  If they are all like you, it is paradise indeed.”

“Ai!  You flatter me, querida.  I am no santo.  Some are better, some are worse, and there are some who are far worse.  Why do you think Zorro came into existence?”  Diego paused and looked down at the soup that he had been enjoying.  He saw Minta in his mind’s eye as some of those worst members of his society would see her and tendrils of alarm whispered in his mind.  The darkness of her skin would make a difference to some.  Her eyes and hair would stand out as different, and to some different was bad.  And her hands….  For the briefest of moments he wondered if this was what had been bothering him…the thing that he could not figure out from his disjointed memories.  Diego thought of his father and realized that, although he might not totally approve of his choice in marriage partners, he would support him and ultimately help Minta make the transition.   With Father’s help, surely the other dons would come around, and the opinions of the peons did not matter in consideration of his wife.  Looking back at his beloved Minta, he knew that nothing would come between them and eternal happiness.

“Diego, I saw concern in your face.  What is wrong?” she asked, reaching over and gently touching his arm.  “Did you remember something?"

“Yes, mi amor.  I remembered that my world is not perfect and there may be difficulties for you.  You are different and some are afraid of that which is different.  I wish I had remembered more clearly before we were united.  I do not wish anything to take away from your happiness.”

“Are you saying that you would not have united had you remembered these things?”  She paused and looked deeply into his expressive green/brown eyes.  “Diego, you saw how people looked at you on my world.  No one did or said anything to you, but you were different and people noticed.  When I realized that I loved you and determined to go to your world with you, I felt there might be problems.  I knew when you assured me that it would make no difference; that it probably would.  There are always those who will be afraid, and say and do things that are hurtful.  Diego, to be with you, I will endure anything-- looks, words, anything.  I only hope that my presence doesn’t cause you any problems.”

Diego took her hands and caressed them gently with his lips.  “You cause me problems?  Never!”  He kissed her some more.  “My father will welcome you.  Bernardo will, too.”

“Oh, Diego, I can’t wait to meet them, but you still have to teach me your language, your customs and everything you remember about your world, your California.”

“Sí, I will be happy to do that, mi querida.  The language is more…more musical than your own and should be easy to learn.  And you will be the envy of the pueblo in a beautiful new dress and mantilla.  It will be deep purple with…”  Diego paused trying to think of the words to describe the trimming of a fancy fiesta gown.  He finally made motions with his hands to indicate additions to plain material.

“I think you are talking about a fancy dress, yes?”

“Yes, and it will match the color of your eyes.”   He paused, his mind picturing Minta in a splendid gown dancing with him at a fiesta.  

She smiled, flattered by his words.  “But right now, let us finish our dinner before it gets cold.”

They ate quietly, savoring the flavors of the different dishes.  They also savored each other, each one pausing to gaze at the other from time to time, as though just the sight of the other was a fine and rich dessert.

“How long will we be on this ship?” Diego asked, breaking the shared silence.

“By the very nature of the kind of ship we are on, it will take longer to get to your world than it did for you to get to Rantir, Diego, but time will still pass quickly.  That is why it is important for me to learn what I need to know.  You must begin to teach me tomorrow.”

Diego pushed away the food remaining in front of him, taking her hands and pulling her toward him.  “We can begin tonight, my dear.  I can teach you how a proper Californiano treats his bride on the first night of their union.”

“Diego!!”

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

 

“They united?” Gerol asked in astonishment, his eyes widening in disbelief.

“I expected it.  They were attracted to each other.  I could see that from the first time she took him for an outdoor excursion,” Jerintas explained.  “They knew their time on board the ship was limited and our customs demand that a union precede cohabitation.  I am looking forward to a thorough briefing with Minta, along with a complete examination.  Her input, along with the samples from the Designated One, combined with the destruction of the Late Comer should make our dreams of racial viability a reality within a generation.”  Jerintas gazed up at his assistant with a very pleased look on his face.  Yes, he thought, things are going very well indeed.

Gerol nodded.  “Have you read the preliminary reports on how to destroy the Late Comer, Director?  I also added some other reports on the effects of the planet on our population.”

“Yes, I have and I read the other reports as well.  It is interesting to note that the Late Comer seems to affect the males of our race more than the females.  I knew that male sterility has always been a problem, but in context with our information about the Late Comer, it makes for an interesting pattern.  Again, it seems incredible that our scientists didn’t put these clues together before now,” Jerintas mused. 

“As you pointed out earlier, the medical problem of the Designated One was the catalyst, Director.”  Gerol pulled a small packet of papers from the inside pocket of his lab coat.  “And here is a paper written by Drin Horin of Altinada.  It lists the various recovery procedures for official visitors to our planet.  It is silent as to the reasons for the recovery procedures, but it is very explicit on the various medicines to be used depending upon the length of exposure to our atmosphere.  As you can see, it is labeled as a top secret document,” Gerol explained as Jerintas looked over the papers.

“Yes, it is becoming clear to me that everyone in the universe seemed to know about our problem except us,” Jerintas commented sardonically.  “By the way, I am impressed.  How did you get a top secret document from Altinada?” 

“I paid the right person, Director,” Gerol replied with a slight smile. 

“Very good, Gerol.  Now, I think we need to let Minta know about a unit that was left behind on the designee’s planet.  It is only right that the Designated One understand that there are going to be a lot of people who think he is dead.”

“Do you think that will lead to renewed speculation about other worldly visitation?”

“If she briefs him well and he is as astute as he has shown himself to be thus far, I don’t think there’ll be lasting problems for us, especially if we can implement our plans on this end.  Hopefully we will have reproducing couples before the Alliance digs that deeply.”  He paused, frowning.   “I will point that out to her, though.  I certainly do not wish to further complicate the Designated One’s life.”  Jerintas gazed at Gerol, his eyes suddenly uncertain.  This had become much too complicated.  Life had become too complicated, he thought.  Aloud, he said, “There is nothing to be done about it now.  We will see what Minta says when she gets back and then we’ll decide if further interference is necessary.”  He paused again.  “Thank you, Gerol,” Jerintas said as he began looking at the scientific reports.   “I have read the various ideas for the destruction of the Late Comer.  I tend to favor the plan that sends several smaller charges at the point of the planet’s furthest orbit, sending it out of the solar system.  As soon as it reaches the outer periphery of the solar system, a larger charge will finish the job.”

“I agree, Director,” Gerol concurred.  “All data seems to suggest that is the best option and the least dangerous one.  We can modify a long distance shuttle to handle the radiation as the charges are placed.”

“Good, Gerol.  Continue to let me know of any and all progress.  I want this done as soon as it can safely be accomplished.”

The sub-director nodded and left.  Jerintas sighed as he began composing his message for The Galactic Rover.   How could this Earthman, Diego figure out a way to resurrect himself when he returned?  He hoped that his own optimistic statements would turn out to be accurate. 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen
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