Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

 

“Coming home?  You think that Diego will come home?  But you said that the thing which kidnapped him was a spaceship and that he was taken away.”  Hope flared up in Alejandro’s heart as he tried to understand everything he had been told.  It was impossible.  The only thing that really mattered were the words, ‘Diego coming home.’

As Diego used his legs to push himself more upright, Bernardo and Alejandro leaned over and helped him.  Even this seemed to exhaust him and he laid quietly, his eyes half closed.  After a short pause, the wounded man motioned for some more wine.  Bernardo quickly accommodated him.  He laid his head back on the pillow, eyes closed, resting.  After a moment, the face became more peaceful and relaxed. 

“Do you feel up to having some beef broth?” Alejandro asked after a long hope-filled silence. He wanted to demand further explanation, cry out for more information now, but he had to be patient. The man had been shot in the back only twelve hours before.  “It would probably give you strength.”  Diego opened his eyes and nodded, studying him intently.  Bernardo left the room immediately, not needing any further instruction. 

 “Yes, the part of me that is your son, tells me that he will someday come home.  I was hoping to remain here, in this role until that happened.  I was hoping to be here to give him his memories back…”

Dread again found residence in his chest.  Alejandro walked to the balcony door and stared at its wooden panels for a moment, his eyes following the grain of the wood.  So many emotions were churning inside him, fighting for ascendancy, bringing him hope one second, throwing him into the deepest pits of hell-spawned despair the next.  Dios, please help me to understand this.  Santa Maria, watch over my son! he cried out in his mind.  His thoughts were bleak and despondent.  Drawing in a ragged breath, he turned to the man on the bed, not wanting to ask his question, but knowing he had to. “Give him his memories back?  What do you mean?”  

“Diego did not adapt well to his captivity.  He broke out of his room three times in the two days after he had been kidnapped.”

“No, Diego never did like being shut in, whether it was in the house during inclement weather or at times when he was arrested falsely,” Alejandro commented morosely, aching for the suffering of his son.  Diego would never have submitted willingly to such captivity.  How could they expect otherwise?  “And he would have tried anything to escape what he considered the pits of hell.”

“Yes, I know.  I have his memories.  I have the memories of the Rantiri leader as well.  They were given to me when I was created.  Your son’s memories were excised directly from his mind and given to me.  This was done so that he would have no prejudices or prior experiences that would keep him from adapting to Rantir, so that he would remain sane and serve the purpose for which he was selected,” Diego commented sadly.

Horror crept in to reside at the same place in his heart with the anger and despair.  Diego would remember nothing of his life, of his growing up, his mother or himself?  How could they be so cruel?  How could they do that to my son?  Holy Blessed Virgin! his thoughts screamed, wanting release.  He looked down and saw his fists clenching and unclenching.  “You…you mean if Diego returns, he will not remember his past, or anyone he knew?” he asked, hearing a quavering note in his voice.  He did not want to hear what he knew this Rantiri was going to tell him.

“Yes, he would remember nothing; he will have been taught to live with my people.  I am sorry.  That is one of the reasons why I disregarded the directive I was given and was awaiting his return.  As to why I feel that Diego, the Designated One, who has no memories of his past, would still make it back home, I cannot say for sure, only that the part of me containing your son’s memories and feelings tells me that it is so.  Somehow he will return.  Something deep inside him, something beyond his memories will guide him back.” 

Alejandro stared deeply into the Rantiri’s eyes.  There had to be something there, something that could give him hope, something that would help him to understand these people who ripped part of his life away from him.  Only this man held the answers, this man who held the image and the…the soul of his son.  He saw deep concern in those eyes, along with respect, and, yes, caring for those he had been serving these past months.  Indeed, there was definitely a piece of his son in this look-alike.  He felt the prickling of hot tears in the corners of his eyes and he turned away again, this time to stare at the fireplace.  He blinked several times, feeling the confirmation of what this Diego was telling him.  Yes, if there were any way possible, Diego would return.  Sudden hot and flaring anger at the people, these Rantiri, who so easily used whomever they chose to use and then discard them when done with them rose in his chest.  How dare they feel they could pick and choose, take what they wanted without regard to those they were taking from!  He looked down and saw his hands trembling.  He had to regain control. 

Diego watched Alejandro de la Vega intently.  He saw the intense hurt, the anger and despair waging war with hope in the man’s countenance.  Hope seemed to be completely outnumbered.  This man, for whom he felt a son’s love, hurt terribly and there seemed nothing he could do about it.  Guilt for his own role in that hurt dug at him and caused him pain far exceeding that of his physical discomforts. 

The door clicked open and Bernardo entered with a large bowl of beef broth.  Alejandro turned and gazed at Diego briefly.  “I will be right back.  You eat this and rest,” Alejandro said woodenly, walking toward the door without waiting for an answer.  He had to go somewhere else and think and try to understand all of this. 

“Wait, Don Alejandro, there is one other thing,” Diego called out softly.  Alejandro turned.  “We have to cover for Diego.  There has to be an alibi for his absence, perhaps an extended absence.”  Alejandro just gaped at him, speechless.  “ ‘Diego’ has to leave in the sight of the servants.  He has to supposedly go somewhere far enough away that a prolonged absence will not be questioned.”  Diego paused, trying to gather his thoughts.  He felt much more comfortable, was in slightly less pain, and was able to breathe easier, but he was still so tired.  He just wanted to sleep, perhaps forever. 

Bernardo sat down on the edge of the bed, the bowl of broth in one hand and a spoon in the other.  The rich aroma of the beef cut through Diego’s lethargy and he eagerly took several spoonfuls before he explained his plan.  “Later this afternoon I will leave as Diego, telling any curious servants that Zorro has already left on his own.  That will help curb any talk that Zorro is seriously hurt.”  Bernardo shook his head and frowned, holding the spoon in front of his face again.  Diego acquiesced and took some more.  

“You can’t be serious!  You are in no shape to do something like that!” Alejandro exclaimed. 

“It has to be done.  For your protection, for Diego’s when he returns, for Bernardo’s and for all of the servants in this hacienda.  It would be devastating if Diego’s secret was revealed.”

“Maybe so, but you are too weak.”  Alejandro paced in the confines of the room.  “Ahh, you were always stubborn,” he exclaimed and then stopped and looked up, a stricken look on his face.  “Will there be any of this left in my son?” he asked pointing to his heart.

“I cannot say for sure, but I think there will be.  We have to protect that,” Diego said vehemently, ignoring the ever-present spoon.  “Let me rest this afternoon, regain a part of my strength.  Bernardo can prepare my riding clothes and my saddlebags.  The servants can get my horse ready.  When it is time, I will only have to walk down the stairs, talk a bit, mount and ride a short distance.  Bernardo will have a carriage waiting in a safe place and he can drive me to the curandera’s house, in the guise of Zorro, of course.”  Seeing Alejandro’s puzzled look, he continued.  “She is discreet, she is a healer and she is remote.  I think she can be trusted.  She does not like the local authorities very much since some have harassed her in the past.”

“I do not like this,” Alejandro said.  “I do not like the idea of you riding, nor of you going to the curandera.  She might be trustworthy, but if you…”

“If I died?”

“Yes!” Alejandro said harshly, almost shouting, but restraining himself.  Despite his anger and despair, this man had part of his son inside him and he cared for him.  “She would wonder about Zorro’s death and someday she would say something, and that’s if she doesn’t give in and see who it is behind the mask.  And when Diego comes back, she would wonder about the appearance of another Zorro.  At least Dr. Avila held out a bit of hope for your recovery.  He can continue in that belief.”  He paced back and forth.  “First of all, Bernardo always goes with you whenever you go on trips.  He is your mozo, remember?   Secondly, if you go anywhere, it needs to be the secret cave.  We can fix a place off of the floor where you can recuperate.”  He looked at the man on the bed and saw that he was too exhausted to even hear everything he was saying much less argue with him.

Bernardo’s persistence paid off and Diego took another spoonful of broth.  “I do not like it either,” Diego finally said, his voice heavy with exhaustion.   “I will…think on what…you have said.”  He paused again. So tired, he thought, so very, very tired.  “If I can sleep for a few hours, I will be fine….”   Diego finally gave in to his body’s demands and let his eyes close.  Bernardo put the bowl of soup aside and pulled the blanket up around Diego’s chest. 

Alejandro looked at the servant.  “He’s right, Bernardo, it has to be done.  But there will be modifications to his plan.  You will leave the hacienda with him, but then you will bring him to the secret cave, whether he agrees to it or not.  I believe that he will not be in any position to argue.”  Bernardo nodded.  

 

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Minta watched Diego as he worked out on a mat in a far corner of the exercise room.  He had what he called a practice foil and was going through various motions, which seemed learned or rote, but were nevertheless graceful.  The printout in her hand was all but forgotten as she watched his lithe body movements that showed brisal-like agility.  Occasionally he would make small cries and leap forward with his foil outstretched, and then just as quickly, step back. 

Finally she was standing not too far from the edge of the mat, but such was his intensity that he didn’t notice her presence.  Sweat glistened on his face, and caused his exercise suit to stick to his body, accentuating the lines of his lean frame.  She felt the excitement growing in her as she gazed at him, enraptured.  Minta felt the presence of someone behind her and turned to see Dr. Klictis behind her, his large red eyes focused on Diego as well. 

His mandibles began clicking softly.  “What is Diego doing?” he asked.

“He calls it fencing.”

“It appears graceful, but between two people I can imagine it could be a very deadly form of fighting,” the doctor said.

Minta thought of Diego’s comments about Zorro and felt that this was practice for his role of the masked vigilante.  In her mind she tried to picture someone fighting against Diego with one of those foils and she shivered slightly.  Would she be able to hold up every night when Diego was out helping his…no, their people?  She would have to, because this Zorro was as much a part of him as Diego was.  He would never be able to sit idly by and see others suffer.  Raising her chin, Minta determined that she would help him in any way she could, even if only by giving her loving support. 

Finally Diego lowered the foil, took a deep breath and walked to the furthest edge of the mat where a towel and a carafe of water sat.  Behind her Minta heard soft acclamations of appreciation and she turned to see that several other passengers had gathered to watch. As though suddenly realizing that he was not alone, Diego turned and saw his audience.  His look of surprise changed to appreciation and he made a short salute to his watchers and a wink to her.  His smile was one of realization of a task well done 

Walking up to her, Diego took her hand and kissed it lightly.  “Querida mia, how long have you been here?” he asked, his breathing only slightly fast. 

“Not too long.  That was magnificent, Diego…Eso era magnífico!” she repeated in Spanish. 

“Ah, mi amor, you said that beautifully,” Diego said softly.  “You will be speaking perfect Español within a week.” 

“Sir,” a sibilant voice called. 

Diego turned and saw an individual who stood about a head shorter than him, with blue downy hair sticking up on his head and round amber eyes gazing at him. “Yes?” Diego asked.  His translator hanging from his belt clicked on of its own accord. 

“I am Wis and where I come from we have a sport called Hurfix that is somewhat similar to what you were doing.  I am disembarking in seven day cycles, but I would like to practice with you before we leave the ship, if you are so inclined,” the alien said. “Perhaps we can teach each other.”

“I would be honored, señor.  I believe that we are leaving this ship at that time as well,” Diego answered, delighted to have some real practice.  “Let us decide on a time that is best for both of us.” 

Wis bowed.  “I will contact you…you are?” he paused, waiting. 

Diego gave Wis his name, and with a bow of his own, excused himself, putting his arm around Minta’s waist and walking with her out of the room.  “You have a note in your hand.  Is it anything important?”

“A communication from Jerintas.  Apparently he had decided that someone should take your place to dispel any hints of otherworldly visitation.”

“Take my place?” Diego asked, confused.  “How could someone….?”  Diego suddenly stopped, his face becoming pale.

“Diego, what is it?”  Minta saw a brief flash of the same panic that had struck him at the spaceport.  “Diego, please, what’s wrong?  What are you seeing?”  She guided him to a small table where they sat down.  He seemed oblivious to his surroundings.  His eyes were focused elsewhere, had a haunted look in them.

When he began speaking, it was in a voice only slightly above a whisper.  “I remember . . . wh . . . when I was kidnapped, there was a room with many machines.  Some of your people were there.  I was tied to a moving table or metal bed.  There were lights, bright lights.  There was someone in charge who stood over me.  Then there was another moving table brought into the room and put right next to mine.  I looked at the person who was lying there and saw . . . myself.  He was like a twin.  He looked exactly like me.  He just stared at the ceiling, not moving, not blinking his eyes, not saying a thing.”  Diego finally looked into Minta’s eyes.  “That was when I knew there was no hope.  I was helpless to do anything.  I knew I would be just like that….” 

“Oh, Diego,” Minta murmured. “A unit was created that looked just like you.  He didn’t have your memories in him yet.”  She took his hands and laid them against her cheek.  He had known even then.  Deep inside he had realized that the life he had known was about to end.  Tears sprang to her eyes and ran down her cheeks. 

“Then the person in charge stuck a needle in my arm and I felt sleepy.  I don’t remember anything else until I met you,” he concluded.  He looked up into her eyes, saw her tears and pulled himself from his horrific memories.  Pulling one hand out of Minta’s grasp, he wiped away her tears.  “But then I met you…”  he said, his voice still soft, but less morose, more happy.  Leaning over, Diego kissed her tenderly, then as she moved into his kiss, he kissed her more passionately.  “And we will meet this twin?”

“No, he was given the directive to allow himself to die when his job was accomplished.  We will be going back to a place that thinks you are dead,” Minta told him reluctantly.  

Diego’s stricken look told her that he fully understood the implications of that directive.  “No!  Father and Bernardo will think I’m dead.  They will be suffering believing that they buried me!” 

 

 

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