Starlight Dreams

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

Return to Earth 

 

The wispy tendrils of another dream floated from the deepest recesses of his mind, almost remembered but quickly gone.  Diego woke to find Jerintas gazing meaningfully at him.  The director seemed to be very happy about something.   Diego rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and yawned.  “You look like someone who has just won several thousand pesos at a game of bruha, Director,” he stated, yawning again.  This continuous sleeping was getting annoying.  “What are you so happy about?  And did you put some kind of sleeping draught in my breakfast this morning?  I do not remember much after you and the doctor came to visit me.”  Carefully, he pushed himself into a sitting position. 

“I will address the second subject first, Diego.  No, I did not.  Your body is simply using sleep as a means to heal,” Jerintas explained.  “It is a natural humanoid reaction to severe trauma.”

Diego suddenly realized, in shock, that the director was speaking Spanish.  “When did you learn my language?” he asked, incredulous.  “And why didn’t you speak it before?” 

“I learned along with the twins.  I almost had to, as Minta insisted that the children would learn their father’s language along with our own.  I did not speak it much, mostly understanding enough for the twins to practice on me, but I worked harder on the trip out here.  Jandro and Mari helped me.  I knew what Minta wanted to do when the twins made their request and I realized that someone had to speak for her in the marriage negotiations.”  He saw the Californiano looking at him in surprise and continued.  “She had told me of some of the marriage customs of your people.  As to the reason for not speaking it before . . . there was no need until I visited with your father.”

Diego felt his jaw dropping.  “You visited . . . with my father?” he asked.  

“Yes, Diego, the night before last.  Not only am I the only representative of Minta’s ‘family,’ but I felt that he and I needed to clear some things up.”

“And did you?”

“Yes,” Jerintas said with a chuckle.  “Enough so that he invited us to stay at the hacienda.”  Seeing Diego’s bemused look, he continued.  “We declined for several reasons, one having to do with events of the past.  When Minta had been in your country before, she had been staying at your hacienda.  That apparently had not allayed the fears of some of your people.  Minta felt, and I concurred, that staying at the mission would not only relieve many people’s minds, but also be safer.  There are many there who could protect Minta.  Besides, Padre Felipe had invited us, too.”  He paused and waited for Diego to digest all of this.  “I also did not wish to push my luck with your father’s magnanimous feelings.”

Diego laughed, and then stopped suddenly as tender muscles protested.  “I understand perfectly, Jerintas,” he finally said.  “Now tell me why you are so happy.”

“You will not have to leave the ship quite so soon,” Jerintas said with a smile. “You will have several more days to recuperate.”

“I do not understand.  I thought my return was necessary to counter any suspicions of my being Zorro,” Diego said, disappointment impossible to hide. 

“The bandit, Zorro, appeared briefly last night.   The residents of your area are talking about his return,” Jerintas explained.   “With that taken care of, you do not need to be ‘found’ quite as quickly as we had planned.”

“But who?” Diego asked.  “Who was Zorro?”

As Jerintas began to speak, Minta and the twins entered the room.  Diego’s eyes lit up with undisguised joy.  “What a sight to greet me this fine day,” he said.  Then he glanced over at Jerintas.  “What time is it, anyway?” he asked.

“It is late afternoon, California time, three and a half days since your injury,” the director answered.

“And now that everyone is here, someone please tell me how Bernardo managed to ride as Zorro,” Diego inquired.  He saw the glint in Jandro’s eyes and had sudden suspicions.  “Bernardo did not ride, did he?”

“No, Diego, he was not able.  He has had a great deal of difficulty getting around since he went out in search for you the day you were shot,” Minta answered.  She sighed. 

Diego gazed at his son.  “You did.”

“Yes, Father.  I rode through the pueblo, by the mission and back to the secret cave,” Jandro said proudly. 

“Jandro, that is a dangerous thing, riding as Zorro,” Diego said softly, his heart filled with pride, even as he wanted to take the boy and spank him for attempting such a perilous stunt. 

“Father, I did not do this to show off.  I did it because it was the only way to protect you, to help you.  The first time I rode Tornado in your costume, I fell off.  I did not know what to do.  Then Bernardo helped me.  He fixed the costume to fit me better and helped me practice wearing it.  Last night, I was ready and I rode,” Jandro stated.  Pausing to contain his emotions, he looked toward the floor and then looked back into his father’s eyes   “I only did what needed to be done.  Just as you did, when you created Zorro,” he added.

Sighing, Diego sat quietly, contemplating, wondering just what to say to this old, young son of his, this child that he had only recently met.   Being the father of a little girl is difficult enough, but suddenly having half grown children—ai!—how is a father supposed to deal with this?  “Alejandro, that was a very brave thing you did, even if it was risky.  Thank you.   But next time, consult with me first, my son.”

“If it is possible, Father.”

Diego sighed again.  Turning to Jerintas, he said.  “You mentioned that I did not need to return home so soon.”  The director nodded.  “But I wish to.  As I said before, I want to return to my daughter, my house.”

“Designated One!”

“You will gain no favors of me by calling me Designated One, Director,” Diego growled testily.  “If it was deemed feasible for me to return to my home before my son rode in my place, then it is no less feasible for me to return because I want to—because I miss my family.”  He paused, looking down at the hand that Minta had placed on his arm.  Lovingly he caressed what he thought never to have been able to touch again in his lifetime.  Then he looked up again at the Rantiri leader, still softly caressing Minta’s hand.  “I may have traveled in space thirteen years ago, but I am still a ‘primitive’ Californiano.  I am uncomfortable on this ship, even though I know it was by the skills of those here and their devices that I am even alive.”  His voice grew husky with emotion.  “Jerintas, I am very grateful to you and your people . . . but I want to go home.”

Jerintas nodded, knowing that he had lost the argument before it had begun.  “I understand, Diego.  But it will be more difficult for you.  Your recovery time will be lengthened.”

“I understand, Director.  But I am alive, thanks to you and Minta, and I will recover….”

There was silence in the little room, only broken by the soft flow of air from vents in the wall and the clicking of machinery to which Diego was still hooked.   He looked at the devices and knew that he would not miss those.  “I will recover, because I have so much to recover for,” he added softly, gazing at his long lost family.

 

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Diego studied his reflection in the mirror and sighed.  Going back home was going to be a great deal less than a big event.  The two days growth of beard as well as the dusty look to his clothes lent themselves well to the concocted story that he had been thrown from his horse in a remote area and injured.  The fact that he had lost some weight and that his clothes hung a bit loosely helped the illusion, too. 

Minta adjusted the make shift splint on his arm, tightening the cinta, or headscarf around the two sticks that held his left wrist immobile. 

“You look scruffy enough,” she commented.  “How do you feel?”

Sighing again, Diego wished that people would quit asking him how he felt.  The answer was always the same…he was very tired, but at least most of the pain was gone—for now.  He turned to her with a slight smile and said, “Just a little tired.  That is all.”

“Be careful, querido,” she murmured, kissing him.

He pulled her close to him and kissed her more deeply and passionately.  As her body pressed close to his, he felt a twinge of soreness in his gut, but he ignored it, wanting to concentrate on Minta.  It was happening this time—it was really happening and nothing would stop it.   

Finally, he pulled away and gazed deeply into her eyes, those pools of amethyst that were showing concern as well as love.  “It will be all right, cara mia,” he assured her, kissing her again.

As if on cue, Jerintas entered the room with a medical technician and a wheeled chair.  “It is time,” the director said, motioning for the injured man to sit down in the chair.  Diego looked at the chair in distaste, but acquiesced without argument.  He already felt tired. 

“It is good that you will be ‘found’ near the mission, Diego.  Minta and I will be there waiting and I can keep a close eye on your recovery,” Jerintas bantered as they made their way toward the shuttle. 

“Yes, a very sweet reunion indeed,” Diego responded sardonically.  “I only hope that I feel awake enough to appreciate it.”

Jerintas laughed.  “And if you do not, you will sleep safely until you do.”  They traveled in silence for a few minutes.  “To be sure, this is risky.  I hope that the Indians find you quickly.  I also hope that the medicine that I just gave you helps you during that period you are out there alone,” the director added, concern coloring his voice. 

“Jerintas, you and Minta have taken care of everything.  I appear trail worn enough to have walked from Monterey.  I do not have to pretend to seem a bit addled from my ‘fall.’  You have added enough injuries to keep me in, or near a bed until the very day of our wedding.”  He glanced up at Minta and Jerintas, a twinkle of humor in his eyes.  “And by being cared for at the mission, you have made it possible to more easily arrange our upcoming wedding.  For that I thank you and Padre Felipe.” 

Minta laughed as they approached the ramp and the doorway of the shuttle.  This one was much tinier than any he had been in before.  It was only large enough for a few passengers to sit on either side of a narrow aisle.  It reminded him of the commuter he had been on with Minta all those years ago, only this was about four times the size. 

Diego looked around at the tiny craft gratefully, seeing in it a step closer to his return to a normal life.  He took a seat near a window, wanting to see the large space ship from the outside as they left it.  He had not wanted to all those years before when Minta first came to his world.  This time, with her at his side, he gazed out the little window.  There was nothing to see at first except the interior of the large ship where this tiny shuttle resided, but soon there was a thump, some hissing noise and Diego felt this ship rising from the floor of the larger space ship.  It moved slowly down a large corridor and then they were suddenly among the stars.

Through the tiny window, Diego watched the shuttle pull away from the larger ship.  His eyes widened in awe as he saw the immensity of the vessel that had brought Minta and his children back to him.  As the huge space ship receded rapidly from his view, he held Minta’s hand, trying to relax.  Not only was riding in the heavens stressful to him, but he was still a little worried about the future, wondering if the past would return to haunt him. 

As though reading his thoughts, Minta leaned over and whispered in his ear.  “Diego, I rode into the pueblo yesterday; the children had already made several visits there without any problems.  This time, I wanted to go with them.  When we entered the plaza there were people who stared at us, a few with fear.  There was one who genuflected, but I saw none making signs against evil that I saw thirteen years before.  I believe that all will be well this time.”

“You took an incredible risk, Minta,” Diego admonished her.

“I cannot stay cloistered inside your hacienda forever.  That would only make things worse.  I have to get out.  It is better this time,” she said.  Then she frowned.  “I worry about you being so far from the mission.  The air will be chilly out there this time of the morning, and the Indians may not find you right away, or there may be animals….”

“Ai, we are like old ones sitting in the sun worrying about whether the tiny cloud on the horizon will bring storms.  I will be all right, cara mia.  I only have to wait.  And you know that it would look very strange if I was suddenly to appear right before the mission gate.  I am supposed to have addled my brains a bit in my fall and become lost.”

“Yes, I know, but I will worry about you until we are reunited at the mission.”

“I know,” Diego said.  “I look forward to that reunion myself.  But we are only talking about an hour or so.”

When the shuttle landed with a soft bump, Minta leaned over and kissed him yet again.  Smiling, he stood up. “With that, my dear, I will be able to wait, thinking of being with you again in a short time,” he said, rubbing his stomach to ease the tightness that he felt there.  Jerintas gave him repeated instructions as he made his way to the door of the shuttle.

As he slowly walked down the ramp of the shuttle, one of the crewmen walking close beside him, he smelled the crisp cleanness of the night air, reveling in the tang of juniper.  The alien escorted him to a stand of trees, oaks, Diego noticed, and then left him there.   A short time later, with a soft whine, the shuttle left.  Standing quietly under the tree, Diego began cataloguing the various other night sounds-- a coyote’s howl, an owl’s soft hooting, the scream of a mouse becoming some predator’s early morning meal. Even in the wildness of it, he found comfort.  It was familiar, unlike the cold metallic sounds, smells and sights in the space ship.

As he stood there, a chill began seeping through the three layers of clothing and Diego walked slowly, carefully toward the next tree, trying to keep warm, but at the same time watching his feet for anything that might trip him.  He knew that the mission orchard was just over the hill.  If he kept moving in that direction, he could rest under an orange tree and would be that much closer to the mission itself, within sight of it.  He could call for help if need be. 

Still cold, Diego continued walking until his legs began giving him messages he couldn’t ignore.  He looked for a semi comfortable spot where he could rest and watch for his rescuer.  Dead leaves of past seasons had piled under one particularly majestic tree and Diego gratefully sank into them, feeling the muscles in his diaphragm stretch uncomfortably.  A sharp pain caused him to bite his lip.  Condenación!” he muttered, cursing his weakness.  

Diego watched the stars twinkling through the rustling leaves, trying to make out constellations, trying to stay awake….

Cold, intensely bitter, made him shiver, but shivering made him hurt.  Where is the cursed blanket? Diego thought, reaching in front of him, but only ending up with a fistful of leaves.  Then a sharp light hit him in the eyes and he blinked, coming out of the fitful sleep that had overtaken him.  He tried to blink away the light, but it only intensified, brightened by a slight mist that covered the ground and seemed determined to defy the heat of the sun that sat above the hills to his right.  Finally Diego opened his eyes fully to the brightness of the rising sun, remembering that he was outside.  Pulling himself slowly into a sitting position, he was startled to find himself looking into the face of…himself.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-one
Chapter One
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