Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

Diego gazed at the coal black stallion in great frustration.  He was dressed in costume but had pulled down the mask to deal with this latest problem.  There had been no time to come down alone and get acquainted with the horse.  The last two days his father had felt the need to quietly celebrate his return. They had played chess and bruja together, talked in the library, walked the nearby hills, and taken the carriage into the pueblo often.  Diego had not had an opportunity to even think about the reaction of the horses until earlier this evening, when he had received word that the bandits had raided the mission the night before.  

Diego remembered his father’s… that sounded strange to him even with the complete memories of the Designated One that had been given him on the ship after his creation.  Father.’  To have absolutely no experience with a concept of a nurturing biological entity, someone who had cared for and raised another entity from babyhood, that had taken him aback for a few brief seconds.   Alejandro, ‘Father,’ had been watching him in eager anticipation, wanting to hear about his absence.  He had mistaken Diego’s confusion for reticence and had given him the opening he had needed.   

“My son, if you wish to wait for a bit before telling me what happened to you after you were kidnapped, I understand,” the older man said gently as they sat by the fireplace in the sala, smoking cigars.  “Was it that bad?”

, I was held in a tiny room, recaptured several times when I tried to escape, but I do not remember everything either, Father,” Diego explained, not telling any lies, but certainly not telling the whole truth.  “I think they were from far away.  Whether they were demons or not…?   I am not sure.   I finally was able to make my escape during the confusion of their departure.”  The little bits of information, plus the possibility he had given of partial amnesia seemed to mollify his father, at least for the moment.  

Then had come the news that El Diablo was beginning his campaign of terror once more.  He had attacked some of the mission workers apparently feeling emboldened enough in Zorro’s absence to begin a campaign of revenge.   His father had wondered aloud why it had taken so long for the bandit to take action.  Diego’s own answer that El Diablo’s gang had had the hell scared out of them had been received with a great deal less humor than it had been delivered with. 

“Tornado,” he called softly, thinking, How in the world can I follow through on the orders of the Director if I cannot even fool a horse?  It was confusing, having all of the memories and thoughts of the Designated One in his mind alongside of the thoughts and memories of the Director Jerintas.  Whenever he let Diego’s feelings take over, the others managed to intrude, momentarily putting him off balance.  Sorting them out had become easier since he had come to the Designated One’s house, but it still took a great deal of effort.  Now this!  And he genuinely felt an affinity for this horse.  It had carried the Designated One—him-- to safety many times.  He closed his eyes to concentrate better.  Everything was so new to him, but he had to succeed.  His heart slowed.  If he let himself become Diego de la Vega, he knew he could succeed.  He opened his eyes. 

Bernardo stood nearby, watching with concern in his eyes.  He started forward, but Diego stopped him with a slight gesture of his hand.  This would have to be something that he did for himself and he would prefer to do it alone.  “Bernardo, go back to my room and wait there.   Tornado is still having trouble recognizing me and I need to work with him alone.”  Bernardo paused only for a moment, then nodded, turned and left.

“Tornado,” Diego said, even softer than before.  Then he began talking, walking a bit closer as he spoke. 

The horse gazed at him with curiosity, but also with the wary consideration of one studying a stranger.  And essentially I am, Diego thought.  Tornado snorted and shook his head.  Diego stopped his advance but not his monologue.  Softly he spoke to Tornado, letting his Diego memories take over, pushing the other memories deep into his subconscious.  Slowly he began to approach again, never taking his eyes off the magnificent stallion’s eyes, never pausing in his one-way dialogue.

Finally Tornado reached over and touched his outstretched hand, sniffing, trying to figure out how something so very different in one way could be the same in others.  Slowly Diego reached up and stroked the horse’s muzzle, his touch as light as a feather.  His heart reached out for the stallion, and he yearned to be the part of the horse’s life as it had been ‘before.’  Tornado snorted, but didn’t pull away and Diego continued his touching, reaching toward the eyes and ears, rubbing between them and then letting his hand follow the lines of the graceful neck.  Within the next half hour, Diego alternately stroked the horse with his hand and rubbed with the curry brush, only stopping when Tornado began nuzzling him.

Slipping on the mask, Zorro mounted without any further problems and rode out into the cool, clear night. The moon was just rising over the far horizon, bright yellow and bloated looking.  The image of a dusky red moon, chased by another, tinier white one flicked through his memory, but Zorro pushed that thought from his mind and urged Tornado toward the mission, trying to get there as quickly as possible.  While he had anticipated having to take some time letting the stallion get used to him, it had taken longer than he had thought it would.  

The news of the bandits’ attempted retribution against the priests and the neophytes the night before had led him to strongly believe that they would attempt another attack tonight.  And while the inhabitants of the mission had succeeded in turning back the assault with bows and arrows and sheer numbers, Zorro felt that tonight, El Diablo would come better prepared.  The outlaw had to chuckle at the fact that the mission Indians seemed to have their own sources of information about the dealings of El Diablo.  Just as Bernardo was ignored, so too are the Indians, especially their children.

Just before reaching the crest of a hill overlooking the mission, he paused, dismounted and continued stealthily, crouching low.  Tornado followed, his hooves making only the barest of sounds in the soft dirt.  In the moonlight, shadows flowed eerily, but he was still able to make out furtive figures skulking near the back gate of the mission.  

“Tornado,” he whispered near the horse’s ear, “stay here until I call you.”  The horse whickered softly, but stayed in place. Still crouching low, Zorro slipped from tree to bush to rock, pausing periodically to listen and look.  The sword in its sheath felt comfortable as it bumped lightly against his thigh; the soft breeze lifted the ends of the cape causing it to flutter softly as he slipped across the mission grounds. 

Near the large monastery courtyard, he paused again, listening intently, straining his ears.  There! he thought, hearing a snapping of a twig, the rustle of leaves near the pepper tree.  He slipped through the cemetery and peered around the corner of the building.  Three dark figures skulked toward the monks’ quarters.  Moonlight flashed on the blades of knives and barrels of pistols.  Zorro raced stealthily toward the tree and, grasping a lower branch, swung up into it.  He took a moment to see where each bandito was located. 

One turned toward the tree and hissed, “I heard something, Manuel.”

“You are loco!” whispered another.

Zorro grinned, quickly forming a plan, his Jerintas memories completely repressed.  He gave a low moan, elongating the sound until it sounded as though it was coming from the farthest grave in the nearby cemetery. 

All three bandits spun around, their mouths forming round O’s of fear.  “What was that?” one asked.  Zorro let out another moan and then leaped from the tree, his cloak spreading behind him like wings.  Landing lightly on his feet, he whipped out his sword, the sound more like the hissing of a snake than the rubbing of metal. 

“Zorro!” they cried, almost in unison.  One pulled out his pistol and fired, but Zorro had already jumped nimbly aside into the darkest shadows of the huge tree.  

Laughing, he called out, “I am very much alive, muchachos, and able to send you to purgatory, unless you surrender.”  He leaped back into the moonlit courtyard, his cape swirling around him as though it had life of its own. 

Two of the bandits dropped their weapons and fell to their knees, moaning in fear, but the third whipped out a sword and lunged at Zorro.  Laughing, the black clad masked man easily parried the wild thrust, answering with a slight motion of his wrist, which parted the bandit’s shirt, and caused the buttons fall into the dust.  With a growl, El Diablo’s man slashed wildly, but Zorro ducked easily, returning each attack with one of his own. Finally, the masked man reached in and almost delicately tweaked the sword from his adversary’s hand. 

By this time most of the inhabitants of the monastery had popped their heads out of the doorways and windows. They appeared to have been anticipating the arrival of the bandits, having in their hands spears, bows and arrows and garden tools.  They rubbed their eyes and gasped, some crossing themselves in fear.  The whispered word, ‘Zorro’ almost became a chorus. 

The bandit, now weaponless, cringed at Zorro’s feet.  “No, Señor Demon, no!  Do not kill me, por favor.  I will confess!”    

Loud enough for everyone to hear, and making up his story as he went, Zorro said, “I am no demon, señor, although I have had to fight a few.  With help from the santos and God I am back.  Mainly, I believe, so I could come back after you and your leader, El Diablo.  Does El Diablo think he can get away with attacking priests and mission workers?”  Looking toward a doorway where Father Felipe stood watching, he added, “Padre, if you will send some of your Indians to tie up these men and also send someone to alert the lancers, then I shall take my leave.”

“Well met, Señor Zorro,” the priest said, holding a large wooden crucifix in one hand and making the sign of the cross with the other.

The Indians and monks tied up the three bandits, while keeping an eye on their spiritual leader and the masked man.  Sheathing his sword, Zorro held out his hand to the priest, a bright smile on his face.  Father Felipe took the outlaw’s hand and shook it warmly.  Zorro looked down at the smooth wood of the crucifix, and then looked back into the priest’s face.  “Padre, I assure you, I am Zorro.  I am not a demon or a devil.” 

“I believe you, Señor Zorro,” Father Felipe said quietly.  “But it does not hurt to make sure.  It is good to have you back.” 

“Believe me, Padre Felipe, it is good to be back.  I hope it will be safe now for you and the rest of the priests and neophytes tonight.”  Zorro whistled and was gratified to hear hoof beats indicating Tornado’s approach.  

The stallion pranced almost shyly in front of him, but didn’t move away when he grasped the saddle horn and vaulted onto the horse. 

“Señor Zorro, please come back when you can talk about your experiences,” Father Felipe told him.  

“I will, Padre,” Zorro returned, smiling broadly and saluting, knowing that to continue to allay suspicions, he would have to visit the priest in the near future.  Turning Tornado’s head, he rode into the hills, feeling a deep sense of pleasure and well-being.  Pushed away and forgotten were any Rantiri directives and memories that Jerintas had given him.

 

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The day of the second excursion dawned slightly overcast, cool, but not overly so.  “This is perfect,” Minta said as she and Diego left the building.  He again received curious stares from newer units.  “I had worried about staying warm enough if we were out after dark.  These jackets will keep us at least partially warm.”  

Once outside, Minta grabbed his hand and pointed toward a nearby wooded area.  While the foliage was not dense, it afforded more privacy than the pond had.  They walked along a neatly groomed path.  Diego gazed thoughtfully at the vari-colored flowers and purple-veined leaves on droopy limbed trees.  Small, scaled long-toed creatures hung upside down from limbs, peering curiously at them with large and round eyes, their skin a light shade lavender.  Diego’s sense of alienation deepened and he wondered why Minta’s place would seem so different from the place he dreamed about each night. 

“What are those?” he asked, pointing to the creatures as they strode along.  The reddish hued sun filtered through the leaves, seeming to set spots of the forest floor on fire. 

“They are crilors.  They eat fruit,” she answered, not slowing her pace.  After walking for several more hours, Minta stopped.  “We’ll take a few minutes to eat some lunch and then continue through the park to the service center.” 

“Service center?” Diego asked, taking a proffered fruit roll.  He was glad for the rest, this much walking had tired him out, much to his chagrin.    

“It’s where people learn more about what is in this park.  It’s also where people leave their commuters while they explore in the forest.  It is also a place where one can borrow a commuter that will take us to the nearest city.   When we get to the city, we will rent another commuter that will take us to a large ship that will take us to your home.” 

“Oh,” he said, trying to assimilate what Minta had said.  “Will the trip take long, the one that will take me home?” 

“Yes, Diego, but not that long.  The ‘commuter’ is a very fast one,” Minta said hesitantly, not wanting to give Diego more than he could handle technologically at the moment.  They finished in silence, listening to the tree-dwellers chirping, whining and droning.   As the sun’s heat penetrated even the shadiest parts of the forest, Diego stripped off the jacket. 

“Did you get enough to eat?” Minta asked, digging around in her oversized carry-all. 

“Yes, I did,” he replied, watching her curiously.

“Good, now we put on the disguise,” she said with a smile, taking out a jar, a knit cap and a cloth. 

“Disguise?” he asked, not sure what Minta had planned. 

“Something to hide your white skin and dark hair.  We don’t want anyone to notice you, or we won’t be able to get you home,” Minta explained. 

A disguise . . . .  He pondered the idea for a moment as images of black leather boots and a dark cloak swirled through his mind?    Then it was gone.  Minta handed him the cloth and the now-open jar with a dark paste.  “How do I do this?”

“Just rub it on your face, arms, neck and anywhere your skin is exposed,” Minta explained.  She watched intently as Diego dipped the cloth into the jar and began rubbing the mixture on his cheeks.  After he had applied where he thought it was needed, she took the rag from him and covered the places he had missed.  Her hand paused slightly when she was working on his neck, enjoying the warmth and closeness of his body. 

Diego smiled, lightly touching one darkened finger to her arm.   “It is interesting.  We are the same now.” 

Minta nodded, returning his smile. When she was finished, she handed him the cap, which, while unusual this time of year, wouldn’t be as noticeable as his dark hair.  He put it on, and looked at her expectantly.  His now swarthy skin made him look roguish.  “Perfect, Diego.  You don’t have to wear the cap right now, but as soon as we reach the edge of the woods, you will need to put it back on.  You shouldn’t stand out… oh.”  She paused, looking him over intently.

“What?”

“The hair above your lip.”  Minta got up and walked a few paces away from him. 

“It is called a mustache,” he said quickly, feeling the rightness of the recalled word even as he said it.

Minta looked at him quizzically for a few seconds before smiling.  She was beginning to expect newly remembered words and thoughts to come from her student at any time.  Nodding, she continued, “But then again, maybe not.  The color of your . . . mustache blends with the dye.  If you don’t get too terribly close to anyone, it shouldn’t be noticeable.”  

“Good.  I did not wish to take it off,” Diego said so matter-of-factly that Minta chuckled softly.  He helped Minta gather up their picnic supplies and they continued down the path.  A light breeze made the leaves rustle and cooled the pair as they walked.  Diego noticed that this path was not as well groomed as the one before.  They had to walk more carefully, paying closer attention to rocks, roots and debris. But for some reason it made him feel more comfortable.  It didn’t make him feel less tired, though.  Despite the rest during lunch, Diego still felt tired and wished he could take at least a short siesta, but he knew that they must get to this ‘service center’ as quickly as possible, though, so he said nothing.  As the sun began slipping toward the horizon, the path ended. 

“Put your cap on,” Minta told him, and after he had followed her direction, walked out onto a wide expanse that seemed to be covered with flat gray rock, much like in the picture of the commuter that Minta had shown him.  A building sat across from the flat rock, with people coming and going in and out of it.  “This is one of the entrances of the park.  Just follow my lead and don’t say anything unless someone says something to you.  We are going to get a commuter for hire to take us to a terminal.  It will be a short trip, but the terminal will be much larger and busier, so you must do just exactly what I tell you to do.” 

Diego pondered Minta’s words, trying to understand.  This place already seemed incredibly busy. 

Seeing his look of bewilderment, Minta added, “Everything will be all right, though.”  Diego nodded, even though he wasn’t entirely sure he could imagine what was coming next. 

Some commuters drove into the large space in front of the building, while others drove out.  One of the vehicles made a whirring noise, along with other sounds that he could not recognize.  Heat seemed to reflect from the dark stone area in front of them, making the sweat stand out on his forehead.  Not knowing if the disguise could be wiped away, Diego resisted the temptation to wipe his brow. 

Everything was so confusing after living in the confines of a hospital room, but this was the way that Minta said she was going to get him back to the home of his dreams, so he would do whatever it took to get there.  With a resolution borne of desire, he followed Minta across the flat rock and into the building. 

 

 

Chapter Eight
Memories Prologue
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