Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Four

   

A quickly constructed unit lay on one of the surgical tables dressed in a thin, white hospital gown.  It looked around, but appeared totally disinterested.  Jerintas was pleased.  The unit, created using some DNA material from the designee, mainly that of eye, skin and hair color, as well as hand formation, had exceeded the director’s wildest expectations.  The unit on the table was a virtual duplicate of the ‘selected one,’ at least outwardly. 

A door on the far side of the room opened and the bound form of the chosen one was wheeled into the transference room.  He lay on the gurney, also clothed in a knee length white hospital gown.  He did not struggle, but looked around him, his eyes surveying the entrance as well as every other part of the room.  He looked at the machinery, his eyes widening at the array of technology surrounding him.  Knowing of the primitive state of this man’s society, Jerintas could only imagine how much the sight and sound of such a vast collection of machinery would overwhelm him. 

Only once had Jerintas seen fear in the eyes of the man before him.  During the capture, the eyes behind the mask had shown a burst of fear, before it was controlled.  At the time, Jerintas had wondered about that mask and the costume that seemed to cloak the designee in mystery, but there was no time…precious little time, and the alien had refused to say anything to them that would allow a translator to assimilate his language.  Since that unguarded moment of the capture there had been anger and frustration, and a great deal of determination.  Jerintas noticed the slight staining of the light colored material that had been given to the young man.  Or should he say forced on the alien.  It had taken three medical technicians to get the man’s black outfit off of him after his third escape attempt.  They had not tried to put the hospital gown on him, choosing rather to let the captive remain naked if he chose not to put on the garment that had been left for him.  The alien had continued to refuse to let anyone touch him; therefore his wound had not been tended to in the ten-day cycle that he had been on board ship.  That worried the director, but, like everything else, he would take care of it as soon as the transference was made. 

The alien’s gurney was placed near that of the unit.  The Designated One looked toward the unit and made a soft cry of surprise, rising up against the straps holding him in place.  He seemed unable to take his eyes off the unit, horror replacing the cold scrutiny.  

Might as well get this over with, Jerintas thought, slight twinges of conscience tickling his mind.  In the writings on several worlds, he had read statements declaring that the greater good of the group was more important than the good of the individual.  The Ancestors’ Deep Directive must be carried out, despite the rules of conduct that the Ancestors had left.  It was simply too important and there might never be another opportunity like this one.  Too many years had passed with too little effort toward reaching their goal, and far too little success in what they had been attempting. 

He motioned to the technicians, who wheeled the transference machine near the two men. The unit just glanced at the machine, but the designee stared at it, the anguished look in his eyes increasing.  Does he suspect?’ Jerintas wondered fleetingly and then pushed the idea away, feeling ridiculous for even considering it.  He took a syringe from an assistant and grasped the arm of the Designated One, quickly plunging the point of the needle into the flesh and releasing the relaxant.  Eyes filled with despair turned toward Jerintas.  The Designated One opened his mouth and said something quite unintelligible to him, “Por qué quiere dañarme?”  Then as the muscles relaxed and the eyes closed, Jerintas heard several more words, softer this time, almost in supplication, “Valgame, Dios!” 

Jerintas jerked up in his bed, suddenly awake, the dream/remembrance of the time just following the capture of the Designated One still fresh in his memory.   Reaching over to his nightstand, he touched the small lamp and was relieved at the soft warm light that dispelled the shadows.   He just wished he could dispel the shadows of his mind and the dream that had lingered in his mind the past few nights.  What was it that the Designated One was saying? the director wondered.  He knew that there would be no more sleep for tonight.  Throwing back the covers, he slipped out of bed and grabbed a towel on the way to the shower.   The needs of the race far outweigh the needs of the individual, he kept telling himself.

Later, in his office, he turned on his computer and brought up a decoding program.  He added the words that he had heard, typing them phonetically.  The program asked him questions and he answered them.  Finally, after several hours of frustrating detective work the screen flashed and two sentences came up.  “Why do you want to hurt me?” was the first, and “God place some value on me,” was the second.  Jerintas sighed and bowed his head.  The needs of the race….

As he was deleting the words from his screen, a knock sounded at his door.  “Enter,” he called out absently, still trying to get the accusing eyes out of his mind.   

Gerol entered with a small packet of papers.  “Director,” he began and then waited for his superior to look up. 

Jerintas composed himself and gave his assistant a warm smile.  Gerol really was an excellent researcher, as well as an enthusiastic follower of the Ancestor’s directives.  His experiments had given hope for progress, slow though it was.  But the doctor wondered if their latest adventure was going to backfire, doing more harm than good.  On top of the almost botched capture of the Designated One, there had been the crash of a small surveillance shuttle.  He had not even learned of it until they had sent the duplicate of the Designated One on his way and were back in orbit around the planet.  Jerintas had been assured that the craft had been demolished.  Mentally shaking himself from his sullen thoughts, he pushed any ideas of failure from his mind.  They had already turned on this path; they had to continue to the end of it.  He sighed mentally; there was so much more to the viability of the Rantiri race, the fulfilling of the Ancestors directives to become a people capable of procreation, then seeing what was needed and then just taking it.   

“Director,” Gerol repeated.  “I have the reports for the ‘new unit’ here and they seem very sparse to me.  Are you sure you picked the right teacher for him?”

“I personally went over the records of teachers from all over this continent and chose Minta 246 because of her qualifications and success rate.  Perhaps she doesn’t write much because she doesn’t have that much to write about.”

“But that’s just it, in her previous cases, she has been very detailed about every aspect of a unit’s progress, to the point of boring the reader with minutiae.  This report has only the barest of essential data,” Gerol protested.  

“I will read what you have and if it is warranted, I will investigate personally, Gerol,” Jerintas said soothingly.  Seeing his assistant’s anxious look, he added, “Gerol, I understand your concerns.  They are valid; this is too important to treat lightly.  I promise that I will look into the designee’s welfare.”

“But don’t forget the export committee meeting.  The delegation from the Huperis system will be there to negotiate for more units for their pleasure ships,” Gerol said.

“I won’t forget that, either, Gerol,” Jerintas said with a frown.  He hated authorizing the creation of new units to be sent to other worlds to serve arrogant and self-serving races and their indulgent tastes.  Only because of the need to fund the research did he allow it, but it still left a bad taste in his mouth.

“I will keep you updated on the DNA study, Director,” Gerol stated as he left the papers in front of Jerintas and turned to leave.

“Thank you, Gerol.  I really do appreciate all of your work.”  Jerintas saw the slightly smaller man beam with pleasure as he pulled the door shut.  Looking at the papers, neatly placed in chronological order, he saw what the assistant was talking about.  The information really was sparse, and yet it was almost impossible to hide the fact that the Designated One was progressing faster than a normal unit.  Could this be a product of his being a member of another race? 

Jerintas read on.  His secretary brought in more papers as he was reading.  Making a cursory glance toward the pile, he saw that there was a paper from Minta 246.  Picking it up, he looked it over and saw that it was a request to take her charge for an outdoor excursion.  Startled, he glanced at his calendar.  That was awfully soon to be taking a ‘new’ unit out of its room.  Normally units were still learning how to take care of their basic needs after just a week and a half, walking, eating, bathing, and things like that.  Essentially the designee should have been no different than any other unit.  Looking again at his calendar, Jerintas saw that he had a free afternoon in two days.  With a quick flourish, he put his initials on the sheet to approve the request.  He was curious to see just what progress the Designated One had made.   

Two days later, Jerintas sat unobtrusively on a bench in the middle of the park adjacent to the hospital, watching for the arrival of the teacher and her ward.  It took him a few minutes to realize that the Designated One had already arrived.  They were near the pond, he gazing around him in undisguised amazement, she pulling food and drinks out of a picnic basket.  The ‘unit’s’ back was to him, so while they conversed at times, Jerintas could not hear them.  He decided to move closer and took up a position on a bench closer to the pond.  While he seemed to be somewhat further along in progress than most new units of two weeks, the Designated One didn’t seem overly advanced. 

Jerintas still had trouble understanding the conversation, but knew he couldn’t get any closer without looking arousing suspicion.  He did notice, though, that most of the people nearby took the time to gaze at the light skinned unit, so he did the same.  His jaw dropped in shock as the designee turned in his direction. The face had been shaved with only a thin strip of hair left on the upper lip.  He looked exactly as he had at the time of capture. But how?   Jerintas’ thought furiously, coming up with and discarding ideas right and left.  He could come to only one conclusion… the ‘unit’ was not wiped clean of memories. 

Jerintas continued to stare unabashedly, pondering this new development.  At the moment, he was very glad that he was a fairly private individual, not prone to public appearances on the telecasts.  Minta glanced around her, looking in his direction several times, but not recognizing him.  The director returned to the problem of the Designated One.  Were his memories partial?   They had to be, or he would have tried to escape as he had on the star cruiser.  But how?  Theoretically there should have been no memories.  Theoretically. . . a word that could cover a world of discoveries as well as mistakes.  And the process of stripping memories, like that of kidnapping aliens from their worlds was a new one.  That hair on his lip seemed to be the only manifestation of memory.  I wonder if that is why the Designated One seems to be learning a bit faster than a normal unit?  This would bear a bit closer scrutiny.  Jerintas watched for a little longer, before leaving and returning to his office.

   

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“Diego?  Why Diego?  Where did that name come from?  How do you know?”   Minta stared at Unit…no, Diego, in shock.  It was inconceivable, unless one of the other teachers had gone ahead and created a name for him.  But why would they do that? 

“Diego is my name.  That I know.  Why?  I do not know that,” he said, looking at Minta’s shocked face.  “Do you not like it?"  

“But… but who gave it to you?” she asked, still in shock from the revelation.

“The face I saw in the cup,” Diego stated simply.  He wished he could have seen more.  He wished he knew who this older man was.  It was someone he should know, he just couldn’t remember.  

“Wha…what?  What are you talking about, U…I mean Diego?" 

“The drink you gave me.  It…there was something about it.  I looked in the cup and saw the face of a man like me.  Only he was older.  His hair was white.  Even the hair on his chin was white.  He was holding something in his hand and saying something.  I could not understand anything he said, except when he said ‘Diego.’  I knew he was saying my name.  And he had a great…liking for me.”

Minta had been slowly calming herself down.  There had to be an explanation for all this.  “And you don’t know who the man was?  Could he have been a teacher, like me?”  

Diego shook his head.  “He was white, like me.  I am the only white unit I have seen.”

Minta mentally chided herself.  Yes, he had said that, but I hadn’t been listening.  How in the world could he be seeing something that didn’t exist here?  Diego is the only white unit I have ever seen; the only one I have ever heard of.  And the name Diego. . .such a strange name, and yet so distinctive.  Where could it have come from?  It could only have been a name given by another teacher.    “Diego?” Minta began and then paused.  “Diego, did you have a teacher before me.  Or did one of the other teachers tell you your name?”

Diego’s eyes flashed in the first sign of irritation that she had seen from him.  “No, Minta.  None of the other teacher’s gave me that name.  The old man gave it to me.  And no, I did not have a teacher before you,” he said vehemently and then stopped and stared at the sky.  “At least I don’t remember another teacher.”  He looked in the cup again, willing the old man to return, to bring him comfort.  “Things are wrong.  I wish I knew what it was.  The sky is wrong.  The trees are wrong.  The ground is wrong.  Even the water is wrong.  In my dreams I see a blue sky, clear blue water, trees that have limbs going up to the sky.  There are animals, powerful animals that can be ridden.  They are very beautiful.  I do not know what to think, Minta.  I am…”  Diego shook his head, got up and walked down to the edge of the pond.  

Minta got up and stood beside him.  “You are confused.  That is the word you are looking for.  I wish I knew why.  I wish I could tell you the things that would help you feel better.”   She laid her hand on his arm and they watched the fat water birds skim the surface of the water, calling softly to each other as they flew. 

 

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Minta didn’t go straight home that night.  She stopped off at the archives.  Rubbing her eyes, she wanted to pound the screen that kept telling her “Impossibility” whenever she put in the data about Diego.  Never in the history of the people had there been a unit with racial memories.  But what could it be?  Did someone make a mistake and use the transference machine before his first teaching?

With sudden inspiration, Minta put in the Diego’s unit code and waited for the creation data.  The information that flashed on the machine a moment later showed only his date of arrival at the new unit’s wing.  There was no creation data.  Odd, she thought.   Just to check out the reliability of the computer, she keyed in the code for her previous unit.  The data sheet that flashed up on that one was complete.  Date the order was initiated, date the unit creation process was begun and the date it was completed.  Why was Diego’s so lacking in information?  She clicked on the number in the lower page of Diego’s data sheet.  That would at least provide the name of the individual who had completed the form.   For a few minutes the machine quietly hummed and purred, almost soothing her into light sleep.  She was so tired.   

A beep jerked her back into full wakefulness.  The screen was flashing a name.  Jerintas 21.  Jerintas?  The Director?   What did the director have to do with individual units?   Jerintas had only recently come back from an interstellar trip just before she had been assigned Diego.  It was rumored that it was to find new DNA materials to improve the race of units.   Could Diego be a result of that DNA search?   Could he be a unit created from DNA culled from an alien race?  That would explain the skin, hair and number of digits.  But there was still no record of his creation. 

Her friend, Klissa was on board that ship.  She had been so excited at having been assigned to an interstellar research ship that she had sent word of her good fortune in big bold letters.  Her friend would be able to tell her about the director’s latest trip.  As soon as she arrived at her residence, Minta contacted Klissa.  A weary voice answered on the other end of the line and Minta watched her rub sleep from her eyes.      

“Klissa!  How are you?  I heard that you got back from your voyage recently.  How was life among the stars?” Minta bantered.

“Minta?  Do you realize what time it is?” Klissa murmured.   

“Yes, I know you’re half a continent away, but I really need a favor,” Minta said apologetically, hoping her dearest friend from the training facility would still be as patient now as she had been during their secondary training.

“Minta, you know I could never refuse one of your plaintive pleas for help.  What is it this time?” Klissa asked.  Minta pressed the security transmission button.  After a moment, Klissa did the same thing, looking at her friend in surprise.  “What’s up?”

“Klissa, I am teaching a unit that is not normal.  Not that I haven’t had units that are different from the norm before, but there is no creation data on this one.  It was as though he was dropped from the sky.  I was given so very little to go on, he is so different and I want to know some background on him.  I don’t believe I can effectively teach units if I don’t have all the facts,” Minta said, quickly.

“Wait a minute, Minta.  What does the teaching of units, normal or abnormal, have to do with me?”

“The papers have Director Jerintas’ number on them.  He personally filled them out.  I was assigned this unit just a day after you got back.  I have also heard rumors that the main reason for your trip was to gather DNA.  Is that what Jerintas was doing?” Minta replied.  Her friend just stared at her and there was a silence that seemed to head into eternity.  “Klissa?”

“Yes, it was, Minta, along with the source of that DNA.  I have said more than I should and that is only because you are my friend.  Maybe you should look at the Ancestor’s directives,” Klissa said in a soft voice.  Minta could have sworn that she could hear a fearful tone in her friend’s voice.  “I have to go now.  You take care, and take care of that unit.  If he is who I think he is, then you are dealing with a special unit.”  The screen went fuzzy blank.

Minta sat staring at the dark communicator for a moment before putting it down.  What in the world did she mean, ‘along with the source of the DNA?’  As far as she knew, most of the Ancestors’ Directives dealt with continuing the people… creating units.  But did the Ancestors want the people to deviate so much from what was normal?  And why did Diego ‘remember’ so many things?  Units were empty shells, individuals that had no memories.  But Diego had never been an empty shell; he had remembered the basic things, had been so much more advanced than most new units.  Then it hit her; the source of the DNA would be with the people in whom it was contained.  Jerintas had not only gathered new DNA, he had also gathered those that contained it. 

“By the ancestors,” she moaned.  Diego is not a unit; he is an alien!  He was a biological entity kidnapped from another world!  But he also acted like a unit.  He could only remember bits and pieces.  Had they taken his memories from him?  What have my people become--to resort to taking other beings from their homes, stripping them of their identities and then using them in our genetic experiments?   Minta put her face in her hands and began crying.  She cried for herself, for her people, but mostly she cried for Diego.

 

Chapter Five
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