Minta gently touched Diego’s arm, gratefully
watching his chest rise and fall. The
surgery to repair the damaged tissues and organs had been long, an
eternity to her. The doctors
had been forced to operate without the benefit of a ready blood supply.
Even the children’s blood had not been a viable match to their
father, although it was some of their blood that served as the source for
the plasma that was now being used. At
one point, the doctors had warned her that it could go either way.
But as she watched the flow of enriched plasma as it traveled into
a vein in his hand, she was gratified to know that the facilities had been
here to save him. He
already looks so much better. Not
so ghostly looking, she thought, relieved.
She ran her finger down his arm and felt the tears
flow freely once more. Minta
had thought that there could be no more tears, but she was wrong. While
she looked forward to his recovery, Minta still felt the deep pangs of
guilt over being the cause of his injury.
Diego had stood staring at her as the bandit shot.
He had totally ignored the danger, simply because she was there.
How could she take the chance of that happening again?
Why did I think it would be better if I came back? she
thought. Oh, Diego, you have suffered so much.
I can’t take the chance that you will suffer again!
Minta heard someone behind her, but she ignored
him or her. The med techs had
been in and out of the recovery room almost continuously since the surgery
had been completed more than eight hours ago.
She looked at a small chronometer on the wall and saw that it was
almost midnight, California time. She
had purposefully set it when he had first arrived in the room.
Sixteen hours since all of this began. It had seemed like an eternity.
A familiar voice spoke behind her. “He is doing quite well,” Jerintas said softly.
“He should begin regaining consciousness sometime during the
“Why so long, Jerintas?” she asked.
“Shouldn’t he have come around at least to partial
consciousness by now?”
“No, the doctors felt it best for his system if
he was kept sedated for awhile,” Jerintas answered.
“By tomorrow morning, we should be able to administer the drugs
that will increase his production of red blood cells.”
“It was wrong to come back,” Minta said.
“He almost died because of me.
If I leave, he will be safer.
He will live longer and not have to suffer something like this
Jerintas gently grasped her shoulder and turned
her around to face him. “You
cannot be serious! Do you
realize what it would do to him to leave him now?” Jerintas asked,
incredulous. “Whether you
were right or wrong to come, whether Diego would be safer or not if you
remain doesn’t matter. You
are here. You have returned.” The
director paused, trying to gather his thoughts. “When the Designated One brought you to me that horrendous
day over twelve and a half years ago and made me promise that I would take
care of you, I saw the look of a desperately hurting man. As he left the shuttle, I wondered if perhaps he was so
desperate that he would not want to continue living.”
“What?” Minta asked, incredulous at such an
idea. Diego? Suicide? she
thought, stunned. She
remembered feeling momentary betrayal, hurt and anger that she had been so
summarily and blithely dismissed from Diego’s life, but soon the anger
and hurt had disappeared with understanding, leaving only a dull ache, a
longing for that which could not be.
And her love for him had never wavered.
“Minta, you have had over twelve years of living
on memories. You have had
time for those memories to replay, build and grow in your mind. They have had time to become the stuff that has made the
Designated One a legend on Rantir. Now
you have returned to the reality of Diego de la Vega. Do you still love him? Do
you still love the real man? Is
he the same man that you knew thirteen years ago?” Jerintas asked,
knowing he was being blunt, but nevertheless still feeling the necessity
of asking the question.
Minta jerked her head up and stared at him, amazed
that he would even ask such questions.
“You know I love Diego. I
have always loved him. I love
the man I met and the man to whom I became united.
My perceptions have not changed and he has not changed from what I
knew. It is just…”
“If you love him enough to return to him after
all this time, then love him enough to stay by his side, no matter what
the future brings,” Jerintas said softly.
His own heart was tearing apart.
For over twelve years he had been in close proximity to this woman.
His involvement in the biological resurgence of their race had made
that a necessity, but Minta’s welfare had become his life.
He knew her thoughts, her feelings, her every emotion.
By now he could almost predict what she would say, how she would
say it, her movements and expressions.
He loved everything about this woman. And now he was encouraging
her to leave his world and stay with Diego.
It hurt as much as he imagined that bullet had hurt the Designated
One. Jerintas sighed and continued, “I don’t think I realized
until that night the very depth of his love for you.
And yes, I’ll concede that his actions were to keep you safe, but
that doesn’t change anything, Minta.”
“But, Jerintas, I am the reason for him being
here, hurt like this,” she insisted, looking over her shoulder at the
sleeping man. The face was
serene, free of pain.
Would you not prefer a few months of living, breathing love and
companionship as opposed to many years of memory-laden separation? And what do you think Diego would prefer?
How do you think it would affect him if you walked away this time?
Minta, you don’t know what you are considering.”
Minta pulled away from him, realizing that
Jerintas was throwing her own words of the past years back at her. It had seemed so simple then, when she and Diego had been
light years apart and the prospects of ever seeing each other so remote.
She reached down and stroked Diego’s cheek.
It was already heavily stubbled.
She smiled, remembering her initial reaction to his facial hair and
remembering the first time she watched him shave.
It had seemed so foreign then, it was still unique to her now.
Looking back up at Jerintas, she sighed. “I will think on what you have said, Jerintas.
Would you watch over him for me?”
The director nodded.
“You look exhausted. Why
don’t you lay down and sleep for awhile over there,” he suggested
pointing to another, smaller, bed.
“No, I need to walk a bit and get the stiffness out. I will take you up on it when I come back, though,” Minta told him.
sighed as she left and then, he, too, looked down at the man who had, even
in his absence, become such an intrinsic part of his existence.
What had the Designated One said just before his surgery?
‘I was denied even the knowledge of my children for twelve
years?’ Turning away for a
moment, Jerintas realized how much easier it was to think of this
living, breathing human being as some kind of title.
Designated One. That
did not begin to sum up the totality of this man, this man who held the
position that he wished he had in Minta’s heart.
there was the possibility that Diego would feel the barest beginnings of
sweetness in reunion only to have it jerked away from him.
He thought of the supreme irony of her thoughts to leave him in
order to ensure his safety. Jerintas determined that if Minta
did decide to leave again, at least Diego would have some memories of his
Running his hand through his age darkened hair, the director thought wryly that another irony was that the only woman to whom he had ever felt a desire to be united, he had met after her heart had been taken by a man from another world. Sighing, he opened the link on his communicator and called for a laboratory technician.
Confused, Minta paced the corridors of the ship.
I love him. Oh, Madre de Dios, how I love him, but I don’t think
I can stand to see him suffer like that again.
She understood what Jerintas was saying. Smiling wryly, Minta remembered how, in the beginning,
Jerintas had constantly told her the numerous reasons why it was better
that she was not living on Earth. Why
Diego had made the right decision, even after she had found out she was
pregnant. Oh, Diego, how I
wish you had been there then, to feel the joy of our creation, she
cried out mentally. But
knowing the danger she could bring to him… “Oh, Diego, what have I
done? What do I do now?”
she asked herself softly.
If she only had someone else to talk to, someone
she could trust. A sudden
thought flashed in her mind, a vision of someone who had always been kind
and had seemed to know her innermost feelings.
Walking to the ship’s bridge, Minta was, for once, grateful for
her status as “First Mother.” She
approached and spoke directly to the captain.
“I want to take a shuttle for a short visit to the surface,”
she said, coming right to the point.
“California?” he asked, a knowing look on his
“Of course,” she answered.
“I can give you the general directions of the place that I want
“It is the middle of the sleep period there,”
the captain pointed out. His
amber colored scalp lock quivered in amusement.
For some reason, his amusement seemed
condescending and it irritated her.
“I am very much aware of that fact, Captain.
That is so much the better. The
shuttle will not be seen nor will I be noticed by anyone other than the
person I want to see.”
“It is dangerous to be seen by anyone at this
time, Elo,” he said, more respectfully this time, as though feeling her
irritation as well as her need.
“Remember what happened yesterday?”
“Of course I do, Captain. How
could I forget?” She forced
herself to remain composed and not even look back at the past right now.
“The person I am wanting to visit knows me from my last stay
here. He is trustworthy and
discrete. Most importantly,
he is a friend. And if we
stand here debating my request, the darkness will disappear.”
The captain turned to a subordinate and gave him instructions.
Minta followed the man and was soon on her way toward the surface.
The trip was short and before long she stood
outside the airlock, feeling the cool breeze drift across her face,
lifting her hair and causing her to shiver.
The pilot stood behind her. “Elo,
do you need a jacket?” he asked.
“No, thank you.
The walk will warm me up. I
only need a scarf,” she answered and began walking across the dark plain
that led to the Mission San Gabriel.
As she drew closer to the imposing, but beautiful edifice, she
smelled the scents she only remembered in the deep recesses of her mind.
She would have enjoyed the night much better had she not been
weighed down with this dilemma. In
her mind, she felt Diego’s kisses, the touch of his expressive hands
across her cheeks and down her arms.
She so longed to have him near her forever.
In several windows, candles flickered; their dancing flames somehow comforting to her. They also told her that at least one person was still awake. Minta only hoped it was the person with whom she had come to find. For that matter, she thought, immediately alarmed, she hoped that Father Felipe was still alive. He had seemed very young in spirit when she had been here last, but she was fairly certain that he was almost as old as Don Alejandro.
The moon was not full, but it was bright enough to
show her the path and soon she stood before the massive entrance doors of
the chapel. Pulling the scarf
over her hair, Minta tied the ends before opening the carved door and
stepping in. Several candles
were still burning on the table in front of the pulpit.
Quickly, she walked down the middle aisle, kneeling and crossing
herself as she approached the statue of Christ.
Then she found a new candle and lit it, saying a prayer for Diego.
She added one for herself.
“It is very late to be out.
Especially for a woman alone,” said a soft voice behind her.
“What is troubling you, my child?”
Turning, Minta saw a short, stooped, bald headed
priest. “Padre Felipe?”
“Sí,” he said.
“You have an advantage over me, however. In the darkness I cannot see you. But then my eyes are not what they once were,” he said with
“I am Minta,” she said simply.
There was a gasp and then silence for the barest
of moments. “Minta?”
The voice stammered as though not believing what it had just heard.
“Minta Morlif-Brocnor, Diego’s fiancé?
Can it be?”
“Yes, Padre, I have returned.
But I need to talk to you.”
“Would you like me to hear your confession?”
he asked. “I suspect that
there were no confessionals in space,” he added with a slight chuckle.
“No, it’s not that, Padre,” she said.
“It is more serious than that.”
“Then tell me what is on your mind.
But where is Diego? You
two were like shadows of each other the last time you were here.”
The priest’s smile was one of remembrance and
she smiled in reply, thinking back of that wonderful time when the future
was so optimistically bright. “That
is what I need to talk to you about, Padre.
I came back to be with Diego, but now I am afraid that I am a
danger to him.”
“Minta, my child.
Things are not as bad as they once were. There are people from all over the world visiting our ports
now. And you and I and Diego
can work out a way to take care of any people like the ones who beat
She shuddered, remembering that hideous time, and
then she pushed it aside. “Padre,
I have already endangered Diego. He’s
hurt because of me,” she said softly, and then felt panic slicing
through her. She wondered
just how she would explain the events of the previous morning to him
without compromising Diego’s identity.
“Diego is hurt?” he whispered his question,
his voice quivering in concern. “Where
is he? How badly?”
“He was hurt badly, Padre. He almost died, but he will recover fully.”
Even though they were both whispering, there were small echoes of
their voices rising to the vaulted ceiling.
She was concerned that others might be awake.
Sighing in relief, but feeling the woman’s
concern, the priest placed his hand behind her elbow and motioned into a
side room, a small sacristy where the neophytes often went to burn candles
for their dead. It would be
more private and their voices would not echo for any awake to hear.
As they walked the length of the chapel, the flickering candles
caused a partial illumination on the statues in front of her and it seemed
to Minta that the Christus was almost shedding tears.
Tears tried to force themselves out of her own eyes, but she
blinked several times and took control of her emotions.
“Let us sit down here, and you can tell me about
it.” He sat facing her,
seeing the flames of the candles reflected in her amethyst eyes.
“You look as though you have the weight of the world on your
shoulders. Maybe even the
weight of two worlds,” he said with a slight smile.
Minta tried to collect herself so she could tell
the story without telling too much. “I
was restless and went out riding just before sunrise yesterday morning.
My horse got away from me and before I knew it, I was in the camp
of a group of vaqueros. I did not realize it right away, but they were rustlers who
had stolen a great number of cattle from local haciendas.
They would not let me go, and they began molesting me.
They were ready to rape me when I scratched one of them and broke
away. That was when Diego showed up.
I suppose he had been out looking for missing cattle, but when he
saw the scratched rustler pointing a musket at me, he pushed me out of the
way. And he took the bullet
meant for me.”
Father Felipe gazed at the woman whom he had never
expected to see again. Again
she had left a great deal out of her story.
He rubbed his sore and watery eyes, reminding himself that he
should remain grateful that at his age, the only problem he had was with
his vision. “Ah, that would
explain why Diego did not keep the appointment with me to play a game of
chess yesterday afternoon. All
the servants would say, when I inquired, was that he had most likely gone
out to check the vaqueros’ camps.
But I would have thought that he would have had the company of
several vaqueros, what with the recent attacks,” the priest said
thoughtfully. It was not just
a chess game that Diego had been coming to the mission for; the caballero
was also going to read to him. The
junior priests read scripture to him, even though most was imprinted in
his memory, but he enjoyed listening to Diego’s mellow voice as he read
some of the works of the world’s authors.
He also enjoyed watching young Minta play at their feet, or as had
been happening recently, listening to the stories as she sat alternately
on his lap or on her papá’s.
“Thanks be to God that he is going to
recover,” Father Felipe murmured. After
listening to her brief story, he wondered just who had been out there to
save her from the rustlers, Diego de la Vega or Zorro.
He suspected Zorro. It
had been a great weight off the young man’s shoulders when he had
realized that the priest knew his secret.
Perhaps off his shoulders, but not off mine.
With the change from Spanish rule to Mexican there had been a great
deal of turmoil, and there had been a few times when his help had saved
the black-clad seeker of justice from over-zealous Mexican officials.
“Minta, my child,” he said, taking her hands and looking deeply into her eyes, “Who was it that saved you, Diego or Zorro?”