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Epilogue

 

 

 

A Matter of Time

 

A Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea/Zorro Crossover

 

 

 

 

Commander Lee Crane

Zorro and Tornado

 

 

Two very different worlds clash when a maniacal scientist devises the ultimate revenge on his enemies.   (Pictures will accompany some of the chapters to help those not familiar with one fandom or the other.  I want to thank KimQ, Stephanie and LaJuan for the Voyage pictures, and Janis for the Zorro pictures.)

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Zorro lay flat on the rooftop of the comandante’s quarters, watching as the lone guard patrolled inside the cuartel.  The night was still, nothing to mask any sounds, so the crunching tread of the soldier’s footsteps sounded almost like musket ball shots.  That would make it doubly hard to get the prisoner out of his cell.  A door creaked below him and Zorro almost stopped breathing.  Capitán Miguel Rico Hernandez Ruiz, current comandante of the Pueblo de Los Angeles was up rather late tonight.  Did he sense something?   Sometimes Zorro wondered if it could be so.  His own senses seemed to have become sharper over the past few years, but this new man?   He mentally shrugged and continued his surveillance.

Zorro watched as Capitán Ruiz sauntered down the steps, across the parade ground and gazed into the jail cells.  Several were occupied as the comandante prided himself on his efficiency in keeping law and order, but it was in front of one particular cell that he lingered.  It was the cell of the mysterious Americano. 

“You will tell me your government’s plans, señor.  You will tell me everything I want to know.”

Zorro could see that the prisoner was awake.  The man sat calmly on his cot, but he said nothing.  He only watched his tormenter, the man who had whipped him the past two days out in the parade ground of the cuartel, the second day more severely than the first.  And in the eyes that reflected in the moonlight, Zorro saw something of the predator.  This man had been beaten and may be physically bent, but he was far from broken. 

The masked man smiled and continued to wait.  When Ruiz got no response, he laughed nervously.  “Tomorrow, Señor Americano.  Tomorrow it will be double the strokes, unless you tell me what I want to know.”  Still there was no response.  Ruiz slapped his thigh, muttered something to the guard and strode back to his quarters.  He shut the door behind him with enough force to sound like a cannon firing.  Zorro watched the guard pace back and forth in ever-shorter circles, finally stopping altogether when the soldier noticed a light go out in the comandante’s quarters.  The night watch in the plaza called out the one o’clock.  The guard leaned against the wall between two cells and watched.  Soon his head began to nod and his breathing deepened until soft snores drifted across the cuartel to the masked man.

Zorro realized that he must make his move quickly before the changing of the guards.  He noted that the other prisoners appeared to be asleep, curled up in their flimsy, moth-eaten blankets, but the Americano was still awake, his eyes reflecting the three-quarter moon.  Probably the pain of the whippings keeping him awake.  Or it could be something else, some internal watch system that kept him alert.  The prisoner silently got up and approached the bars of his cell.   His steps seemed almost cat-like and Zorro watched in interest.  This man intrigued him, even as the American mountain man had intrigued him.  However, this man seemed a quiet threat in a way that Señor Joe Crane could never be.   The prisoner appeared to be studying the guard, at the same time his fingers feeling the lock of the cell.  He reached toward the guard, whether for the musket or keys, Zorro couldn’t tell.

Zorro decided that now was the time to act.  In spite of his worry over Ruiz’s almost uncanny wariness, notwithstanding his own feeling of something not quite right, Zorro could wait no longer.   And the man in the cell, despite his seeming alertness, would not last many more days.  When the Americano had been dragged in from the hills four days ago behind a soldier’s horse, there had been little public fanfare.  Ruiz had seemed content to harass and bully the man in the privacy of the cuartel.   From his own investigation and that of his servant, Bernardo, it appeared that the comandante thought this Americano to be some sort of foreign spy; a military man of some importance.  Or at the very least, someone who had information that could be important.  Zorro had caught a glimpse of the Americano when he had accompanied his father to visit the capitán. Father, as the newly appointed acalde of the pueblo had felt it his duty to inquire about the prisoner and the nature of his crime.   Worried about the tempers of both men, Zorro had found an excuse to accompany his father on the trip.  Despite Ruiz’s claims, and several official-looking pins that had been on the prisoner’s collar, there seemed to be nothing that had denoted any kind of relationship with an American military organization, or any other military for that matter.  The prisoner’s clothes were too plain; a simple tan.  There was no braid, no shiny buttons, no medals, and no plumed headgear.  Apparently, there had not even been any weapons on the man.  There were just the pins and a seemingly broken timepiece. 

In the dark shadows cast by one of the buildings, Zorro slipped from the roof, landing almost silently on the dusty ground.  The prisoner noticed, though, and gazed intently at him.  Zorro made motions, indicating his intent and the Americano nodded.  Then he gestured back desperately and Zorro whirled around.  Another soldier had slunk out of hiding in the shadows, blade exposed. 

As quietly as he could, the masked man pushed it aside with his own sword and grabbed the man’s arm, drawing the lancer close enough to hit him on the side of the head with the fist holding his sword.  It was all done in an instant and the soldier, a new corporal, had only had time to look surprised before he slumped to the ground, unconscious. 

Zorro heard a very harshly muttered curse from the cell and the movement of the regular guard.  He pivoted and saw the prisoner holding the attention of the regular guard, making gestures that Zorro didn’t understand, but which he clearly recognized as being unflattering.  With a soft growl, the soldier rushed toward the cell, musket extended.  Without hesitation, Zorro leaped after him.  The guard prodded the end of the weapon at the prisoner’s middle, but the Americano was ready.  He jumped back a step and then reached for the barrel, grasping it tightly with both hands and jerking it down.  Zorro laid the hilt of his sword across the back of the guard’s head and caught him as he fell backward. 

The Americano still held the musket, but quietly passed it through the bars as Zorro straightened up.  With a grin, the masked man took the weapon, laid it down quietly next to the unconscious man and then extricated the keys from the guard’s belt.  He approached the cell door.  Still the prisoner said nothing, only leaning wearily against the bars, watching.   Zorro heard the lock click and he gently opened the door just enough for the prisoner to slip out.  The door didn’t have to be opened far, but even so, the grinding squeak seemed explosively loud.  A horse whinnied and Zorro grabbed the prisoner’s arm, motioning toward the stable.  With a nod, the Americano ran in the direction indicated.   Another horse whinnied, snorted and shuffled in his stall.  Zorro noted a new light in the comandante’s office and motioned his companion to greater speed.  The capitán’s door opened as Zorro motioned to the roof.  Without hesitation, the Americano climbed a crate and pulled himself onto the tile roof with an agility that told Zorro that this man had done this sort of thing before.  Zorro quickly followed, even as Ruiz shouted for help.   Shouts came from the barracks and Zorro heard lancers clattering from their barracks.  Sergeant Garcia bellowed like a bull for the men to come to arms. 

Zorro rushed toward the cuartel wall, motioning the Americano after him.  A pistol shot further shattered the previous stillness, but Zorro didn’t hesitate.  He knew the exact distance to the ground.   Grabbing the edge of the wall, he swung down, landing easily, knees slightly bent at the end of the twenty-foot drop.   The Americano couldn’t have known the exact distance, but still he followed Zorro and landed next to him, the only sound a soft hiss of pain. 

A sharp whistle brought an immediate sound of hoof beats and within seconds the large dark shape of Tornado loomed before him.  “Bravo, my friend!” Zorro whispered.  He vaulted on the dark stallion and reached a hand down to help his companion.  With only slight hesitation, the man grabbed his hand and allowed himself to be helped up behind the masked man.  The noise behind them indicated that the lancers were readying their mounts.  There was not much time.  “Tornado, your fastest,” he urged his mount.  “Hold tightly,” he ordered his passenger, who only barely wrapped his arms around Zorro’s torso before the stallion leaped forward.  They raced through the streets and out into the hills as lancers began pouring from the cuartel led by Capitán Ruiz.  Dogs barked a chorus as horses thundered down the dusty streets. 

Tornado quickly gained more and more distance as he galloped through the night, his familiarity with the various roads, trails and paths lending extra speed to his flight.  The Americano’s grip felt as though it was relaxing slightly and Zorro hissed in English, “Keep a tight hold!  The trail is rough!”

The American mumbled something but tightened his grip.  It was then that Zorro noticed how hot the escapee felt against his back.  It was the heat of fever.  They would have to hide soon.  He urged Tornado to more speed as they drew further and further from the pueblo.  They galloped down the narrow beach of a rocky shore just out of reach of the pounding waves, and the Americano stirred slightly.  “Hard left rudder,” he muttered in English.  “Ahead two thirds.”

Then they were back among the brush and scrub, slowing slightly as the trail narrowed and twisted.  Tornado was surefooted among the rocks but Zorro slowed the stallion even more.  He would only need to slip once to seriously hurt himself.  The moon traveled inexorably toward the ocean, a sight that Zorro welcomed whole-heartedly.  He turned toward the hacienda.  Originally, the masked man had planned on leaving the Americano with the priest who would have the means of sending the prisoner out of the area and eventually back to his home, but the illness changed everything for the time being.    The first night the Americano would stay in the secret cave and then perhaps the curandera….

“Where are we going?” his companion asked softly, close to his ear.  He sounded a bit more lucid.  The Spanish, though halting, was easily understood. 

“To a secret place,” Zorro replied simply. 

“Will the comandante be able to follow?  Will that put you in danger?”

Zorro laughed.  “He hasn’t been able to follow me yet, and danger?  There is much danger these days and not all of it comes from thwarting the comandante.”

The Americano fell silent for a few minutes.  “Thank you,” he finally said, before falling silent once more. 

Zorro stopped and listened a quarter mile from the secret cave.  He could hear and see nothing but the slight moaning of the wind through the few trees that grew near the top of the hill.  “Only a short distance farther my friend, and then you can rest,” he reassured the Americano, who only murmured an unintelligible reply. 

Within minutes, they had clattered into the cave.  Zorro reached around to help the prisoner to the ground, but his companion slid off the back of the stallion unaided, to stand staggering against one wall.  Dismounting, Zorro led Tornado to his stall and then turned his attention back to the Americano.  A small lantern sat in a niche in the wall.   It was enough to give some light in the cave, but not so much as to show from the outside.  The former prisoner seemed mesmerized by its flickering flame, but then he turned to gaze around the rocky cleft.  Water trickled along a tiny stream and the Americano was drawn to it.  He stumbled to his knees and began to suck in great mouthfuls. 

“It is good water, is it not?” Zorro asked, following the man and sitting next to him.  He now had the opportunity to learn more about the man he had rescued, at least while he remained lucid. 

“Right now, it could be ballast and it would be good,” the man answered emphatically. 

Zorro knew that sometimes bilge water was used for ballast and he shuddered.  It would seem that this man was part of the American Navy.  He studied his dirty and ragged clothes and saw that they were somewhat uniform-like, but not anything he was even remotely familiar with. 

Sated, the Americano washed his face and hands in the cold water, shivering visibly.  Then he studied Zorro in the dim light, his fever-bright eyes large in the gaunt face.  “I want to thank you again, Señor Zorro,” he said. 

Zorro nodded.  “So you know me.”

The American grinned softly.  “I do now, although I thought you were only a myth before.”  He swiped a tattered sleeve across his mouth and then bit his lip.  He spoke in English now, as though it was too hard to think in Spanish.  “I don’t feel so hot.  ‘Fraid I’m a liability to you.”

Zorro, who knew English quite well from the course of his adventures, still didn’t understand everything, but got the gist of what the man was saying.  “You can rest here and I will get you something for your fever,” he replied in English as well.  “Did Ruiz do anything else to you beside the whippings?”

A chuckle became a bit off moan of pain.  “Just dragged me behind a horse.  Oh, and shot me, that’s all.”

In alarm, Zorro looked where the man was pointing and saw the bloodstain spreading across his upper left leg.  He rushed to a small chest near the steps and opened it.  Inside were some bandages.  He pulled out enough to clean and bind the wound and went back to where the Americano was sitting.  Right now, it appeared that the wall was the only thing keeping the wounded man from falling over.  He leaned his head against the cool rock and sighed.  “Guess I didn’t move fast enough.  Didn’t either time….”

“Just sit still and let me see how bad it is,” Zorro said tersely. 

“Think the bullet just grazed it, but it hurts like hell.”

Ripping the bloodstained material of his trousers proved easy.  Then Zorro dipped a cloth into the tiny stream and began to clean the wound.  The American shuddered, then bit off a moan, but kept relatively still.  It was pretty much as the injured man had guessed.  The ball had gouged along the outside of his left leg.  Silently, Zorro thanked this man’s patron saint, whoever he or she was, as well as his own that it wasn’t worse.   He finished cleaning the wound and then bound it up tightly enough to cut off the bleeding.  Bernardo could more properly clean and re-bandage the leg later. 

When he had finished, the American gazed intently into his eyes.  Zorro could tell that there was little stamina left.   He seemed to be staying conscious by force of will alone.  “Mmm, Don Diego, um, I, uh….”  Then he fell forward into Zorro’s arms. 

The masked man was so startled he almost dropped the Americano.  How could he know?  Where would this American have found out his secret?  This changed everything.  Zorro had to keep the injured man here, he had to find out how much he knew, just what he knew and if anyone else knew his secrets.  A small sound came from behind him.  It was Bernardo. 

The mute mozo stepped to his side and signed.  It was almost too fast to follow, but Zorro thought he knew anyway.  “You heard him then?”

Bernardo nodded vigorously and then made another sign. 

“I do not know how he knew.  He is feverish and he may have mistook me for another.”  Zorro paused, not really believing his own theory.  “I will continue to care for him as Zorro in case that is what happened.” 

Bernardo sighed and then motioned that he would get the needed medicines and bandages. 

“Yes, do that and you are right.  Here is a mystery of extraordinary dimensions.” 

 

Almost a day later, the American awakened to find himself lying on his stomach on a pallet on the cave floor.  The heat in his back seemed to have been tempered; his leg was more carefully bandaged.  He felt the grogginess that accompanied ingestion some kind of sedative and he had a raging thirst.  Pushing himself off the ground, ignoring the pain from his injured back, he watched Zorro wringing out a cloth.  “Don Diego?” he whispered. 

Zorro whirled around in an instant.  “Why do you call me that?” he asked bluntly, trying to steady his voice to only show curiosity.  The American seemed much better for his medicine-induced sleep, although he still looked feverish.  

Carefully levering himself up into a sitting position, the injured man took a minute to let the dizziness pass.  Then he laughed softly, but the laughter died, becoming a moaning sob before it faded into silence. 

“Are you all right?” Zorro asked in alarm. 

The amber-brown eyes were filled with despair for a few short seconds before the injured man rubbed his arm across his face, seemingly purging all emotion in the action.  “I am fine,” he said in stilted Spanish.  “Well, as fine as I can be.”  Zorro handed him a mug of water.  “Just water?” the American asked, suddenly suspicious.   “I know you gave me some kind of medicine.”  Halfway through the sentence, his Spanish seemed to fail him. 

“I speak very good English.  It would probably be better to converse in your native language,” Zorro said, still worried, but somehow trusting this displaced stranger.  “And yes, just water.”

“I know several languages fairly well, but my Spanish was only passable until I landed in this situation.  I have learned much more of your language in the past week.”  He finished the mug and handed it back.  “I guess I do owe you some kind of explanation, although I don’t know how I’m going to make it sound like anything other than the ravings of a maniac.”

“Try me,” Zorro coaxed, his curiosity winning out over his anxiety.  “Who are you, first of all?”

“I am Commander Lee Crane, United States Navy Reserve, captain of the SSRN Seaview.”

 

 

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