Starlight Dreams



Chapter Nine



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 invisibility. 

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 remove it. 

“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,” Diego said.

“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.

“Very well.   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 reach. 

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 cheeks.

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 embarrassment.   

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 about…Tornado?   And 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?” he asked. 

“Oh, Father, I want to stay here forever, and I know Mother wants to,” Maria Isabella said, her eyes bright with unsuppressed excitement. 

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 shot you!”

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.




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