Bernardo looked from the crest of a hill into a
valley that was devoid of any indication of recent habitation. Wiping the sweat from his face, he felt the protesting of
joints and muscles in his back and legs.
He knew his body would be waging a full-scale battle tomorrow.
But he pushed those thoughts from his mind.
He listened, hoping to hear something that would give him a clue
as to where Don Diego was. He
looked into the deep blue vault above him, dreading the thought of
sighting vultures, but knowing that they could also lead him to the
injured man. He heard only
hawks, and with a sigh he gathered the reins to turn the horse toward
yet another location. But
then the distant cries of cattle floated across the air currents causing
him to pause. He heard the
noise again, and this time he was able to pinpoint the direction.
His discomfort was forgotten as he kicked the
horse into a canter, riding down the hill toward the south.
As he rode, he began to see signs that a herd of cattle had
indeed run through this area. Guiding
his horse through a narrow pass, Bernardo saw something that momentarily
puzzled and frightened him. He
saw two men carrying Don Diego on a stretcher simply disappear into thin
air. A woman closely
resembling Minta was following them.
She, too, disappeared.
There was a strange humming noise that seemed to
bother his horse, but Bernardo was determined not to lose his friend and
master. He kicked the horse
into a full gallop, straight toward the point where Don Diego had
disappeared. The gelding
kept trying to pull to one side, but the mute kept him on a straight
path, kicking him mercilessly. He
couldn’t let these people take his patrón to this place of
The humming intensified and the horse screamed
as though in pain, finally stopping short, refusing to go any further.
When it did, the mute flew over the gelding’s head, landing in
a heap at the foot of a ramp leading to a strange metal building.
The ramp, which led to an open door, was mysteriously pulling
away from him. With an energy borne of desperation, Bernardo leaped to his
feet and ran toward the doorway. He
threw himself through it just as the door was closing.
Panting to catch his breath, the mozo found himself staring at the end of several strange, but deadly looking weapons. The individuals holding the weapons, for the most part looked like men, but he saw differences that caused him to gulp in fear. Looking behind him, Bernardo saw that the door was fully closed and then he felt the floor beneath him shudder. He wanted desperately to genuflect, to call upon the powers of heaven to protect him, but the deadly glint on the strange pistols made him pause. One of the strange beings stepped forward, a scowl on his face, resting the end of the pistol’s barrel against his chest.
Diego felt himself struggling against a tidal
surge of pain and weakness as he returned to full consciousness. He was confused at the images being presented in his mind.
There were so many and they moved like scenes illuminated during
flashes of lightning. He saw his nightmare kidnapping…next to the first night of
his honeymoon…next to his separation from Minta…next to the first
time he held his child…next to a vision of Jerintas.
He blinked and the vision focused and coalesced on the Rantiri
man in front of him. Jerintas.
Diego’s eyes took in the metallic walls, the
chirping, clicking devices, the little apparatuses stuck in his arms and
a similar thing that seemed to be clamped on his nose.
There seemed to be machines and little tubes everywhere as though
he was some kind of prisoner. Where am I? he wondered.
Irritated with the annoying thing on his face, he reached up to
“You need to leave it alone. It is there to help you breathe,” Jerintas said gently,
catching his hand.
Behind the director stood Minta, her amethyst
eyes glistening with tears. The
whole incident in the rustler’s camp came rushing back to him and now
Diego understood. He had
been brought to the space ship. Like
Dr. Klictis so long ago, the doctor on this ship was going to help him. He wondered how that could be, but then there had been so
many things about Minta’s people that he could not understand.
He wondered at Jerintas’ words.
“I was not having a problem breathing before,” he said, even
as he felt his chest laboring to draw in air.
Minta drew close and took his hand.
He looked into her eyes and smiled before turning his attention
back to the director.
Jerintas smiled slightly.
“It does not hurt you to breathe, Designated One?
I would have thought, given the location of your wound that you
would have difficulty…”
Diego tried to consider the director’s
comments, but decided it wasn’t of great importance.
Very little seemed important right now.
His universe consisted of one thing at the present time…. “Everything hurts . . . Jerintas,” he murmured, trying to
block out the pain.
“Yes, I know.
But regardless, you lost a great deal of blood and it is blood
that carries the oxygen to the different parts of your body.
So we are helping your body get more oxygen.” Diego looked down at his arms and body, and all of the little
tubes that seemed to run here and there.
“Designated One, do you really wish for me to explain all of
this to you?” Jerintas asked, anticipating Diego’s curiosity,
despite his injury-induced lethargy.
Smiling wanly, Diego suddenly felt his gut
wrench in sudden agony. Oh,
Madre de Dios, help me to endure this!
He shook his
head, gritting his teeth against the pain as well as the demand from his
body that he quit the struggle to stay awake.
He felt Minta’s hand returning his grip and it comforted him
somewhat. Why is it so important to remain conscious? he asked
himself. Then he
remembered…the children! He
wanted to talk to his children. Diego
saw Jerintas pick up something that looked like a needle and come to his
bedside. This time it was
Diego who stopped Jerintas’ hand, grabbing the director’s wrist as
the needle came close to his arm. Minta
stroked his other hand as she had done when he had first awakened in the
Rantiri hospital. It was
upon Jerintas he concentrated, though.
Jerintas could have easily continued, the hand
on his arm was so weak, but he stopped, not wishing to agitate the
already seriously weakened human.
“What is that?” Diego asked, suspicious.
“It’s for the pain,” Jerintas said,
simply. “It will also
help you sleep so you will be ready for your surgery.”
“I want to talk . . . to my children first,”
“We need to prepare you for your surgery.
Your injury is very serious, and there is no time to waste.
We will be docking with the star ship soon,” the director
explained, almost placating, Diego thought.
“You are suggesting . . . that time with my
children would . . . be wasted?” Diego asked softly.
“No, of course not, but you can speak to them
at length after the doctor has taken care of you,” Jerintas replied.
“Can you guarantee . . . this operation?”
“I believe so.”
“I was deprived, Jerintas!
Twelve years . . . I did not even know. I want to . . . see them
now. Not too much to
ask,” Diego insisted, pausing to gather some measure of energy after
his outburst and to deal with the added pain that it had caused.
The two men looked at one another for a moment,
before Jerintas lowered his eyes. He
didn’t like the delay, he knew just how close to death this man was,
but he couldn’t help but admire the Designated One’s determination. Remotely, he noticed that Minta was not holding Diego’s
hand anymore. In fact, she
had slipped out of the room—to get the children, he presumed.
For a short time,” Jerintas acquiesced.
He laid the needle down and brought another.
“This one will just dull the pain.
It will not make you any more sleepy than you already are,” he
said, before Diego could say anything.
Diego simply nodded, desperately wanting an end
to the pain that surged relentlessly through his body.
Watching gratefully while the director slid the needle into one
of the tubes and released the reddish-colored contents, Diego eyed the
liquid as it traveled down the little tube to a place where it was stuck
into his arm. “I also
guarantee that the facilities will be more comfortable and modern than
they are here, too,” Jerintas muttered, more to himself, Diego
realized, than to him.
As the medicine began to work, Diego smiled.
“You have not seen…the inside of Dr. Melendez’s office,
Director.” The door slid
open and Alejandro entered, his sister just behind him, with Minta
following both. Diego’s
heart constricted and he was momentarily speechless.
She is so beautiful, like her mother. If only I had known. If
only I could have been there to watch them growing up, he thought,
remembering his joy as little Minta learned to walk, talk and as she
came to all the little milestones that he had so enjoyed watching her
Alejandro stood back by the door, but Maria
Isabella quickly came forward and took his hand. “Father,” she said,
her voice choking slightly, tears rolling down her cheeks.
She saw before her the man of her mother’s memories, weak
physically, but still strong. Even
though assured otherwise, Mari had still felt the niggling doubts that
told her that her father might not want to see her when they had
arrived. Before the
journey, Jerintas, himself, had suggested that Diego de la Vega may have
become caught up with life on this primitive world, forgotten her
mother, even be dead. Relief
had been palpable when they had arrived and they found that Father was
still alive. She had been
elated when she found that he had not forgotten Mother.
Now, as she looked into his eyes, clouded though they were with
injury and drugs, she saw not only acceptance, but joy and love.
She felt the warmth of his hand, but it was his eyes that held
her. Her heart felt full to
overflowing, and she felt more tears forming and sliding down her
Diego looked at his child’s long, dark fingers
held in his lighter ones, noticing remotely that she had only four on
each hand. Then he looked
up into Maria Isabella’s face. He
gazed into her deep violet eyes, noticed the lustrous brown hair
cascading off her shoulders and saw so much of Minta in this girl.
“You are so beautiful…” Diego finally choked out, his
emotions hard to control. “…like
your mother.” He
continued to hold her hand, feeling in it an anchor to the reality of
this world. His mind told
him this was reality, but could he be sure?
Everything seemed to be shimmering behind a fog of dreaminess.
Her eyes continued to be his focus.
“I have been told all these years that there
is much of you in me,” she said, with a smile.
Diego shook his head.
“You…still look like your mother.
Favor me? No,” he
added with a smile. He
saw Jerintas and Minta slip out the door, leaving him alone with his
children. He was grateful for that as well.
“Oh, Father, why not?
I was told for twelve years that you are the handsomest man in
the galaxy,” she blurted out, and then she lowered her eyes in
Diego blushed and looked at Alejandro, who was
still standing by the door. “My
son…” Diego said, holding out his other hand.
The boy walked forward hesitantly, but didn’t touch him. Diego wondered at his reticence and thought it might be
because of his condition. The
boy might just be squeamish.
If Maria Isabella took after her mother,
Alejandro seemed to favor him greatly, even to the lightness of his
skin, which was only slightly darker than his own.
Diego continued to gaze at his children, even while he wondered
at the bumping and whirring that he heard and felt.
“What?” he asked in surprise.
“The shuttle is docking, Father. You will soon be in the medical facility and soon after that
you will be well,” Maria Isabella told him.
“Medical facility can wait . . . until I am
finished,” Diego said and then paused for a moment.
“I wish . . . I had known.”
“I wish you had, too, Father,” she said.
“But there will be so much to talk about, so much to catch up
with. I want to see the hacienda
and the horses, especially the black one that Mother always talks
I want to see the pueblo and the mission, everything.
I want to see all the places and all the people that Mother has
told me about. Is Grandfather still alive?”
Her words came out in a rush as though she had been storing them
up, but when it came time to actually see him, she couldn’t decide
what to say first so she said everything at once.
“Yes,” he said simply.
There was something that he had been wondering since he had been
told about the children, something he had to know.
“Are you here for a . . . short time . . . or a long time?”
“Oh, Father, I want to stay here forever, and
I know Mother wants to,” Maria Isabella said, her eyes bright with
Diego noticed that Alejandro still hung back, a
silent watcher, somber looking and deeply unhappy about something.
He motioned to his son to come closer, felt his lethargy
increasing. Madre de
Dios, give me the strength to talk to my son, he thought.
“My son, what is it? Jerintas
says…I will get well. Your
doctors will take care of…me.
I want to ride with you.”
Diego paused to gather what little strength he had.
“You have a gift…with horses.
Tornado accepted . . . you quickly.”
Diego paused, this time because his feelings were overwhelming
him, especially that of love. “I
love you both. You came from…a union of love.
I want to do . . . so much with both of you . . . talk with you .
. . come to know you, to . . . to make up for the lost years.
So many years….” Diego sighed and closed his eyes for a moment before
opening them to see his son standing over him.
My son, he thought, savoring the feel of those two words
in his mind.
Alejandro nodded, gulped and finally looked into
his father’s face. Diego
could have sworn that he saw guilt in the boy’s eyes.
“What is wrong . . . my son?” he asked gently.
Jandro gazed deeply into his father’s eyes and
saw the drug-repressed pain in them, but he saw something else as well.
The boy saw acceptance of him, a desire to take him into his
life. And he saw love.
But he does not even know what I did!
Suddenly overwhelmed by it all, he blurted out in a choking
cry, “How can you love me? I
Confused, Diego replayed in his mind the events
of his shooting. Some of it
was crystal clear, some blurred and confused, but he vividly remembered
the bandit, the musket aimed directly toward Minta.
He heard the slight click of the hammer on the firing pan, and
then felt the sharp biting pain of the ball hitting him.
Nowhere did he see Alejandro.
And he vaguely remembered the bandit falling to the ground.
Was it when he was falling?
Or when he was trying to get up?
Diego couldn’t remember.
Coming back to the present, he saw his son still standing over
him, tears flowing steadily, silent sobs racking his body.
Reaching out, Diego was able to touch the
boy’s hand, but he could not do more than that.
“Jandro,” he said, using the boy’s nickname.
It was getting so hard to focus, but he knew it was important to
resolve this, to ease the boy’s guilt-ridden conscience.
“When . . . when you fired . . . where was I? Was I . . . facing you?”
“As I aimed you were just barely off the right
side of the barrel. Mother
was just in front of you. No,
your back . . . was to me.”
He paused, his face suffused with sudden insight.
“Yes, son . . . you are courageous, but you do . . . not understand weapons. Bandit shot me. I fell backwards. You shot . . . the bandit. I think . . . I saw him fall. Saved us…” Diego explained, feeling himself losing his fight to stay awake. “But even . . . if you had . . . hit me, I would . . . still love you. You are . . . my son.” He blinked, trying to focus his eyes. He felt Alejandro’s head on his shoulder, felt the warm wetness of the boy’s tears. Slowly, he managed to bring his hand up and lay it gently on Alejandro’s head. “I would just . . . have to teach you . . . how to shoot better,” he whispered. He heard his son laughing quietly at his joke, and he smiled. Laughter was the last and most wonderful thing he heard before the soft, welcoming darkness overtook him.