Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

“Director!!  She has kidnapped the Designated One!  That teacher unit that you had so much confidence in has stolen the alien!!” 

“Peace, Gerol.  I am fully aware of what Minta has done with the Designated One,” Jerintas told his assistant, motioning for him to sit down. 

“And you are allowing it?  Why haven’t you had the power cut from her commuter so we can bring them both back?  Why didn’t you block her from leasing one?”

“Yes, I am allowing it,” Jerintas said and then paused, considering what he wanted to say next.  “Gerol, you have been very loyal.  You had done everything I have asked, quickly, thoroughly and without question.”  The director paused, smiling at his assistant sitting across the desk from him.  “At least most of the time you have not questioned my motives.”  He watched Gerol relax a bit before he continued.  “I reread all of the Ancestors’ directives and guidelines last night.  Looking at the access logs, I found that Minta did the same thing well over a week ago.  She realized what I should have understood when we started this venture.  It is wrong to take a being from another world against its will.  Wrong to take its life away and force it into servitude, which basically is what would have happened to the Designated One.”  Jerintas gazed into Gerol’s face and finally saw a measure of understanding. 

“It is hard being the director over a planet.  It is even harder trying to follow the directives of the Ancestors, knowing that they never intended for their creations, our fellow units, to end up being servants to races all over the galaxy.  For years we have allowed this to happen.  We have endured the patronizing and arrogant attitudes of members of the Merchants’ Federation.   And for what reason?   So that we could develop a race that could biologically procreate without any of the other members of the federation knowing what we were doing.  The horrible irony of all this, Gerol, is that they have known for over two hundred years that no matter what we did, it would be an impossibility!”  Jerintas leaned back, letting himself calm down. 

Gerol’s face registered intense shock.  “What do you mean, Director?” he asked.

Please read these latest reports,” Jerintas said, handing a small sheaf of papers to Gerol.  He sat patiently as the scientist skimmed through the reports with their diagrams and figures and findings.  When Gerol looked up in surprise, he nodded, returning to answer Gerol’s original complaint.  “Yes, I am allowing the Designated One’s escape.  And I am allowing Minta to be the instrument of that escape.  It just seemed simpler to let Minta do it than to arrange it myself.  He trusts her.  He could not stay here, Gerol.  That is evident from the results of the recent blood work.”

“When did you discover this, Director?” Gerol asked, his voice soft and filled with disappointment.

“About the time of your last visit.”

“But the promise of this unit…”

“We have a great deal of what we need from the research we have done already, and I believe we now have the means to make our race a viable one.  We also have the added bonus of finding out what our so-called federation friends have known for two centuries.  I now know what caused the demise of the Ancestors as well.  I have been looking at all the old records, seeing what happened near that time and I find striking similarities between their illness and the Designated One’s test results.”  He paused yet again, studying Gerol’s face.  The scientist showed dawning understanding.

“I have found that this alien is going to help us in more ways than one,” Jerintas explained.  He paused, looking out of the large window at the lowering sun, the large red orb that hid a deadly companion.  “Gerol, about the time of the Ancestor’s sickness a celestial body appeared in our solar system.  It was small but was attracted by our sun and was caught in a tight orbit around it.” 

“You mean the Late Comer?” Gerol asked, puzzled by the direction of the directors conversation. 

“Yes, Gerol.  I have also looked up some emission studies on the Late Comer.  The researchers found a type of radiation different from that of the sun.  I believe this radiation killed the Ancestors.  And it is what is affecting the Designated One.  For some reason it doesn’t effect us,” Jerintas continued, “except in matters of biological procreation.”  He paused again to let Gerol internalize the all of the information.  “I have ordered further research in this matter. You see why the Designated One has to leave? We can not take the risk of causing him more harm than we already did.” 

“But will he be able to recover from the radiation?” Gerol asked, concern evident in his voice. 

“Yes, I believe so.  He has been here for only six weeks.  I am sending my results to the doctor on board the ship that Minta and the Designated One will be leaving in.  He will be in contact with me.”

There was a long pause.  Neither man spoke for a time.  Then Jerintas said, “We did something that was not right, Gerol.  Actually, I did.  I am the one in charge.  I should have stopped this action before we ever left the Designated One’s planet.  I caused hurt; I caused pain.  It is no matter that this was an individual from a primitive society, a backward planet.  It was still wrong.”  Gerol said nothing, but the look on the assistant’s face told Jerintas that his point had been made.

“But his planet is not visited except occasionally for research.  It will be difficult to get someone to make a special trip there.”

“It was difficult to arrange, but I have some small means to accomplish my desires.  Some of our ‘customers’ owe me.”   Jerintas sighed.   “I have left instructions for the star cruiser now docked at the space station to accept passage for both of them, and provide for the Designated One’s eventual return to his home planet.”

Gerol sighed, “Will it not be awkward when the Designated One returns?”

“Perhaps, Gerol, but I have every intention of sending instructions to Minta to help ease that difficult situation.”

Gerol sighed again, but nodded his agreement.

“Gerol, I want you to gather the sub-directors together as quickly as you can.  It is time for everything we have learned to be shared and discussed.  It is time to take this mistake and turn it into a victory.  But it will take all of Rantir’s leaders.  We have to do this together.” 

 

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The commuter traveled along, occasionally going through towns, but mostly passing through wilderness areas.  Minta yawned and rubbed her eyes.  “If you could show me how, I can drive your commuter while you sleep,” Diego offered, having watched the comparative ease with which she drove it.  

Laughing, Minta said, “I wish it was that easy.  It takes time to learn to drive one of these things and we don’t have a great deal of time right now.  And besides, you also have to have a certificate showing that you know how to drive a commuter.” 

“Certificate?” Diego asked.  He remembered his dreams of driving a coche.  “It can’t be that hard…is it?”

“Diego, driving a machine like this is much more difficult than driving a coche pulled by an animal.  It only looks simple because I am used to it.”

“Oh, I am sorry.  You just looked so tired.  I thought I could help.”

“I am tired, but it isn’t that much further, and then I don’t have to worry about it.  We’ll be on the large commuter and someone else will be driving,” she said with a laugh.  He nodded his understanding. 

As they rode along, Diego periodically talked to Minta, or gazed at the passing scenery while listening to the broadcaster.   Often his gaze drifted from outside the window of the commuter to the woman at his side.   That she was risking her comfortable life on this world, he was just now beginning to realize.  Diego felt grateful to Minta, but he felt something else, some feeling that he could not even internalize into words.   He wanted to hold her as he did the night before, feel the warmth of her body next to his.  Sometimes he would just doze and then he would dream of her riding with him under the bright yellow sun of his home. 

On occasion, when she couldn’t take sitting any longer, Minta pulled off the road to stretch and walk around, making sure that they were not near any forests or other areas where a wild animal such as a brisal could hide and possibly attack them.  Regardless, Diego stayed close to her, the knife stuck in his belt.  When she questioned him about his actions with the brisal, Diego just shrugged.  He had very little to say about it, although Minta felt it was an incredibly brave thing to do.  Finally, after several attempts to get him to talk about it failed, she asked, “Diego, do you remember what you did back at your home?”

“No, I really don’t, Minta, at least not much.  I have tried to remember, but the memories do not come when I wish them to.  They only come when they are ready to come, and only in small . . .parts,” he tried to explain.  “I wish I could just want it and the thoughts of my home could come.”  He then described the sight that his mind had presented him in the commuter station, trying to make it as vivid for her as it had been for him, despite his struggle sometimes to find the right words.  At times he had to use the words that came into him during his ‘mental scenes.’ 

“Diego, I don’t know all the terms you used, but you painted a wonderful picture for me.  I could almost taste the ‘tortillas.’  I hope I get to see that when we get you back to your home.”

“I hope you do, too, Minta.  I would really like you to see my home.  I would like to see it as well.  Perhaps the sight of my real home will bring back the rest of my memories.” 

“I’m sure it will,” Minta reassured him, hoping it was true.

He then described the ship that he had seen sailing across the sea.  “I felt as though I was flying with the ship,” he said with a sigh.  He looked out the window at the clouds gathering on the darkening horizon.  In the far distance he saw only the flat desolation of this rugged plateau. 

Minta saw his look.  “We really are coming near the end of this journey,” she told him.  “I would estimate another four hours or so.  You should be able to see the lights of the spaceport well before we get there.”

“You mean the place where the commuter will be that will take us to my home?” he asked, excitement clearly evident in his voice. 

“Yes,” she said with a laugh.  “And I am eager to be rid of this thing,” she added, patting the steering wheel of the commuter.  “This has been a long trip." 

The sun slid behind the mountains as they drove the last distance to the spaceport.  Knowing how very close they were made the last few hours interminable.  Minta was suddenly nervous.  Would she have enough credit in her account for passage on a ship, at least for Diego?  And if she couldn’t go with him, would he be willing to go alone?  What would he think of space travel?  Had she kept too much from him?  They hadn’t been stopped, even though she had taken a slower method of travel.  Would someone be waiting for them at the spaceport to take them back?  She tried to shut the doubts and fears out of her mind.  This had to work. 

Finally they saw the lights of the spaceport, and shortly thereafter they arrived.  Diego peered out the window, eager to catch a glimpse of the commuter that would take him home.  There were several large orbital shuttles, indicating at least one or two large passenger spacecraft in orbit.  All of the shuttles were sitting in relative darkness, with only a minimum of lighting, indicating to her that they were in final disembarkation sequence, or they were waiting for loading the next day.  She hoped at least one was for the first reason. 

Leaving the commuter in an underground parking area, she and Diego made their way to the ticketing booth.  The unit sitting there was dozing.  “Excuse me,” Minta said softly.  The receptionist started in surprise, then looked embarrassed at being discovered sleeping.  “We need to buy tickets to travel to the…” Minta took out the reference paper on which she had copied interstellar figures, “…L4 Quadrant."

“You are in luck,” the receptionist said.  “There is a ship that was delayed.  It’s headed in that direction, and will be lifting off within the next quarter hour.”

A bit of unease crept up Minta’s spine.  Surely the reason for the delay didn’t have anything to do with them.  “Do you know why it was delayed?” she asked.

 “I have no idea.  No one saw fit to tell me any anything about it,” the unit informed them with a slight frown.  Then she brightened, “If you don’t have any luggage, you might be able to make it.”   When Minta shook her head, the receptionist spoke into a communicator.   She then looked up with a smile and nodded.  “You are definitely in luck. They will wait for you if you hurry.  The next ship traveling to that quadrant won’t leave for another week,” the unit told her.  “Your identification?” 

Minta removed her ident papers from her carryall, along with the unit identification papers that she had pulled up for Diego.  She hoped that the added information she had typed in, that giving her the right to accompany this specially created unit to his new home in the L4 Quadrant, would not be questioned.  Giving additional information almost breathlessly, Minta was elated at the good fortune they were experiencing up to this point.  She handed over her credit vouchers and then held her breath, hoping that she had enough.  The woman made a notation and handed a few of them back to her.  “Very good.  If you will go out that door to the docking bay straight ahead, there will be a crewmember there to help you board.  But hurry,” she said, pointing.

Nodding her thanks, she took Diego’s hand and sped out the door.   Small lights illuminated the causeway leading to the ship, which sat a short distance away, its engines whining slightly in pre-takeoff mode.  When they were halfway to the shuttle, the loading ramp descended, bathing the causeway in sudden and intensely bright reddish light.  The interior lights caused her to blink in surprise, but it was Diego’s sudden stop that almost threw her off balance.  She turned to him in alarm.   His eyes were wide and bright with shock.  His hand clenched painfully around her fingers until she finally had to pull free. 

“Madre de Dios, he said once, then again, louder.  He continued to stand stone still, his gaze transfixed on the ship.  A figure descended down the ramp.

“Diego, we need to go.  Please, it’s just like an oversized commuter.”

Diego saw in his mind another night, lights like these shining blindingly during his kidnapping.  He relived the capture, the numerous dark hosts grabbing at him, holding him down, tying him up, and carrying him inside a starkly bright pit that felt like the bowels of Hell.  He felt the hands holding him in their vise-like grip; it was as real now as when it happened the first time.  He heard again the whining and chattering of demonic utterances greeting him and welcoming him to their domain.  The faces looked at him in triumph, their victory complete.  The clanging of metal against metal, the steam, the fire and the smoke were like the laughter of their hellish joy.   He saw it and saw it again.  He smelled the fumes like those experienced by hell-bound tormented souls.  It beat on his senses, and in his mind.  He felt the fear, the despair of not being able to help himself, to escape, to fight back.  He felt the endless torment, pain and mental anguish that repeated escape attempts and failures had wrought upon him. 

“Diego!” Minta shouted at him, fearful of the display of emotions on his face.  Except for the murmuring whisper of his voice repeating something in his native language, and the tenseness of his muscles, he could have been a statue.   Gently she took his hand.  It was clenched into a fist, steel-hard.  “Diego!  It’s just a large commuter.  It will take you home.  I will be with you!”

Suddenly, Diego looked down at her, his face filled with the bitterness of the discovery of duplicity.  “It was your people.  They did this to me.  They took me from my home, took me prisoner, held me in Hell.  They took away my memories, made me helpless.  What was the reason for this, Minta?  Why?”  His words were like projectiles; full of recrimination and Minta realized that Diego was remembering his abduction.  She could only imagine how intensely terrifying it must have been to someone who hadn’t even experienced an industrial age yet. 

“We really need to go, or we’re going to lose our window of opportunity,” a voice said from behind her.  “A bit of fear of flying?”  Without looking, Minta knew that the voice belonged to one of the ship’s crewmembers, but she ignored it, concentrating only on Diego.

Diego saw the newcomer clearly for the first time, and while this was not one of the people of his vision, he began to pull away, fearful of the hulking entity, fearful of being dragged back into the torment of his previous hell.  “Diego, this commuter will take you home.  I promise.  You have to trust me!  Please trust me!” Minta cried, trying to get through his shock and fear. 

Diego heard her words and stopped backing up, looking carefully into Minta’s eyes.  Do you trust me?’ she had once asked him.  Yes, he did.  Had she ever done or said anything that would cause him harm?  That even caused hurt feelings?  No, she hadn’t.  He began to relax slightly.  “I trust you, Minta,” he whispered, his eyes on the newcomer and the ship behind him.   He felt the touch of her fingertips and slowly unclenched his fist.  Minta took his hand and held it close to her, cradling it against her body.

“We really do need to hurry,” the crewman said.  He seemed anxious.  Diego nodded, but still couldn’t make himself move forward.  With a sigh, the stranger from the ship reached around Minta and put his hand on Diego’s shoulder.  Diego suddenly felt a sting like that of an insect and then felt blackness descending in his mind.  He remembered the one who had stuck him with a needle.  “No!” he screamed.  Not the blankness and unknowing again. Dios!   He felt bitterness returning as the darkness overcame him. 

“I’m sorry, Miss, but we do have to hurry.  The ship has waited as long as it can.  It has to take off in the next few minutes or we will be stuck her until tomorrow and be hopelessly off schedule.”  The alien, blue-furred and heavily muscled, easily reached down and picked up the unconscious form on the pavement at their feet.  He just as easily carried him on board, with Minta following behind meekly, tears coursing down her cheeks.

 

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