Chapter 47: Survivor
I stared at her. She blinked at me expectantly, looking hopeful.
"One second," I said to John, and then I switched to her chosen Greek. "Yes, that's what I said. Um..."
"Just how many languages do you know?" Dr. Valenti asked me from the doorway.
"A lot," I told him in Italian. "Hang on a minute, please." I turned back to Didyme and resumed speaking Greek. "...What about him?"
"You do mean Marcus of the Volturi, and not some other Marcus?" she clarified, sounding very earnest about it.
"Can you tell me how to find him?" she asked urgently. "I don't know where I am or how I came to be turned human, but I've been... here, wherever this is... for more than a week now, and I don't know the language, and I need to find my husband. And my brother," she added as an afterthought. "I was with my brother when whatever happened, happened."
Didyme had never realized who killed her. She'd thought they'd been ambushed, and at least until the moment Aro set her aflame, she had never suspected her brother...
I had no idea what the correct order to disclose information to this woman was. I didn't even know whether she needed to be updated on Didyme's details.
"Hey," said John, "I can't understand you like that. Any chance we've all got some language in common?"
"You don't," I said. "You never learned Early Latin, and that's the only other language she picked up."
"Wait, how do you know that?" he asked. "Are you a witch? With the power to speak any language, or something?"
"It's complicated. I'm a witch but not that kind."
"Did she use to be a vampire too?" he asked, gesturing at Didyme.
"She's like you," I hedged, "but she spent less than a year as a vampire so language learning wasn't her top priority." I could have projected translations to either or both of them, but I didn't want to risk scrambling their brains with more applications of my power beyond what had already happened.
"Do you know where Marcus is?" Didyme asked again. She'd been killed before the coven set up permanent shop in Volterra.
"Yes," I said, pinned down by the direct question, and she lit up. I didn't feel like I remembered it felt to be within her aura of happiness, but like her brother, Didyme hadn't developed her witchcraft until after turning. It seemed like the power hadn't accompanied the memories. She still had a cheering presence, but it couldn't dissolve the awkwardness of the situation. "I know where he is, but I can't just take you out of here like that. This is super complicated. Wait a minute while I talk to that guy." I would have said "doctor", but psychiatry wasn't easy to discuss in either dead language; I turned to John and told him to wait too.
Switching back to Italian, I asked Dr. Valenti, "What are their names?"
"Those two are Benito Bianchi and Paola Greco," he said. "What languages are they speaking? How could they have learned them? They were both monolingual Italian natives until July 4. You said you've seen this kind of thing before? Is that how you learned to talk to them?"
"He's speaking Old English and she's speaking Ancient Greek," I told him. "My experience with this sort of thing is definitely related to why I know the languages. I've seen similar, but not identical, presentation. I'll need to consult with some of my colleagues. I might want to arrange for the patients to be moved to another facility, where they can get specialist treatment. Were they all identified? Are their families accessible?" It was weird speaking as though I had authority to a guy who was probably at least six or seven times my age and had an advanced degree, but I didn't think I'd get anywhere by talking meekly, and unlike most of the people I interacted with on a regular basis he wasn't my physical superior. (Also unlike most of the people I interacted with on a regular basis, he probably wasn't accustomed to considering violence a first or second resort to solving differences of opinion, which made the physical superiority thing less relevant.)
"Yes, we know who they all are," Dr. Valenti said. "Do you want their files?"
"If I could just look them over briefly," I said, "that would be perfect."
"We're thinking some kind of environmental cause," he told me, leading me out to where they kept their documents, "because they were all near the same area at the time. Two of the less aware patients are brothers..." He went on about the circumstances under which all of the blast victims had been discovered, and I paid the minimum amount of attention to be able to replay the information for everyone else later; I paged through the files with similar intent.
I'd known from what Addy had said about the blast victims that the ones left alive were only left that way because they were under too much scrutiny to be done away with by the time the Volturi were in a position to deal with the problem. Dr. Valenti gave no indication that he even knew about the other nine, and none of the files I read mentioned them. They would, I supposed, have fallen insensate into some location where they were unlikely to be noticed; or "recognized themselves" promptly and wandered off lucidly enough not to be picked up; or crashed their cars and been assumed to have head trauma instead of an inexplicable psychological disorder. At any rate, the six that were there were the six left alive, so I scanned their files and discussed them with Dr. Valenti.
Paola was twenty years old - two years older than Didyme had been when Aro thought she was old enough to turn - and she had living parents, two brothers, and a handful of nieces and nephews, but she wasn't married and had no kids. Benito, thirty-six, was divorced with a young son, and he had a sister and his father was alive. I tried, and failed, to think of a good way to handle those families, and the others, if it turned out that the original people were unrecoverable.
John/Benito and Didyme/Paola waited impatiently, but calmly, while I did all of this, the significance of the files and the modern Italian completely wasted on minds more than a thousand years out of their times. I was actually somewhat impressed with them for not being completely terrified or bowled over by things like Dr. Valenti's digital watch, or the computer that they could just see from the dayroom, or the linoleum. I didn't know whether to interpret it as leftover from Benito and Paola's comfort with the twenty-first century, or leftover from John and Didyme's vampiric confidence that anything not actively on fire wouldn't hurt them much.
"You've been giving them all this?" I asked, pointing at a list of medications.
"Trying, anyway. Benito and Paola don't cooperate with the regimen. Benito actually bit an orderly, and drew blood," said Dr. Valenti. "Normally we don't need to restrain them; it's only when we administer the drugs that they've ever become violent. You see we're keeping the dosages low -"
"Because you don't actually know what's wrong with them, and know you're guessing," I said, allowing my tone to become slightly clipped. "I must recommend as strongly as possible that the medications be discontinued as quickly as is safe, assuming they remain at this facility for any length of time. It's not going to help; they'll only get side effects."
"Benito and Paola did respond to -"
"Benito and Paola's improved condition relative to the other four patients is unrelated to the drug regimen," I interrupted confidently. (The other four did bear assorted degrees of resemblance to people whose memories I had stored in my head, but it was perhaps not close enough, or they hadn't looked in a mirror, or there was something about John and Didyme in particular that had allowed their memories to surface where others hadn't.) "At any rate, every person I've seen with this disorder has made a complete recovery without any pharmaceutical intervention at all."
"All right," he said, only slightly dubious under the force of my honesty.
I looked at the wall clock; I'd been gone from the compound for nearly half an hour and it was time to check in with my mother. "I need to contact my colleagues," I said. "Excuse me."
"Of... course," said Dr. Valenti.
Taking a guess that nobody in the hospital would know what I was saying, I greeted my mother in Norwegian when she answered the phone. "Hi, Mama," I said, speaking rapidly enough that I'd be tricky to understand even if someone who knew the language was in earshot. "Four of the blast victims are comatose - babbling about all sorts of things from all sorts of people. Two of them, though, got a look in the mirror, "recognized themselves" as being dead vampires who looked similar, and are basically acting like they were magically turned into humans and time-traveled. I think the best thing to do would be to get Addy in here wearing Aro's power, while she can, and have her check them out and see what's going on. But the really crazy thing is who the patient named Paola thinks she is... Um, who's in the room with you?" I would be able to whisper quietly enough that my voice shouldn't carry any farther than that, but it would be too big a hint to ask directly if Marcus was there.
"A lot of disassembled Volturi - we're keeping Renata, by the way, she doesn't seem too upset about the regime change except for the new dietary requirements - and Alec, our friend the Imperial Factotum, and your daddy," she said. "Why?"
"Because Paola thinks she's Didyme," I said.
There was a silence. "Oh my," my mother said.
"That's about what I was thinking," I said.
I finished conveying the details of the situation to my mother, and she arranged for Addy to come bearing Aro's power just after sunset. Since Paola-or-Didyme wasn't currently a witch, Addy's copying wouldn't interfere with the read, and Addy would be able to figure out what was there in her head. Likewise with Benito-or-John.
If there was any Paola left, we'd see about getting her to surface, if that was possible.
If there wasn't... if Paola was somehow gone altogether and there was only Didyme...
Then I wasn't sure.
First things first. My mother got Carlisle's help in creating an identity for our "specialist facility" in case we wound up needing or wanting to move the blast victims. I was instructed to describe Paola and Benito as having "mnemic displacement" and the other four as having "mnemic overload", which were accurate enough terms (given what we knew) that I expected to be able to deliver them without a blip in my "honesty voice".
I told Dr. Valenti that my "colleague" (Addy) would be on her way shortly to make a more detailed examination of the six patients, and assured him that she was "at least my equal" in the field of mnemic disorders. It wasn't lost on me that Addy was responsible for the patients' condition in the first place. Still, she hadn't gone out of her way to hurt them; it had been an accident, albeit a predictable one. She probably didn't really care about what she'd done but she didn't have any reason to do worse, either.
Addy showed up at the hospital shortly after sunset. She was dressed up a little more formally than was usual for her, although she hadn't turned up in a labcoat or anything like it, and she introduced herself cordially to Dr. Valenti and went to where the six patients were. Under the guise of peering into their eyes like she was checking for dilated pupils, she touched the chins of each of the six while I discreetly showed her the files I'd read. John and Didyme (or Benito and Paola - I couldn't decide how to think of them, I kept attaching both names to each one) knew immediately that Addy was a vampire, although I had to explain to them why her eyes were gold. (John was disgusted, Didyme vaguely curious.) Addy herself didn't talk directly to them; she was busy mulling over the memories she'd picked up.
"Well?" I asked her in Norwegian, to prevent inopportune eavesdropping from the staff or awkward listening in from either "mnemic displacement" sufferer.
"The four folks we're saying have mnemic overload are weirder to read than anyone else Aro or I ever pulled memory from before," Addy said. "They're full of fragments from everybody in the payload - me, you, Aro, your father, everyone - but it's all wispy and hard to get at, like a vampire's human memories are after the vampire turns. The human memories like from, say, Gianna, dramatically more so than yours or the vampire memories. As far as I can tell, everything I put in the blast is there, but not attached to what it should be. For instance, they know, or their heads contain information about, where I was on the fourth of July in 1857, and where I was on the fifth of July in 1857, but those things don't flow together in sequence. They'd have to connect them up manually, so to speak, and they don't have enough of a train of thought to manage anything of the kind."
"And the mnemic displacement cases?" I asked.
"Contain less," Addy said. "Just the memories from John and Didyme respectively. Mostly the vampire ones, and to a sharply lesser extent, the human ones. They're losing bits of the vampire ones too as time wears on, though. For instance, Paola couldn't tell you how many windows were in the room where Didyme woke up when she finished turning." Didyme - Paola - the female mnemic displacement case was evincing interest in our conversation, hearing "her" name, but Addy ignored her and I didn't pause to translate. "Whereas you and I, with brains designed to hold arbitrary amounts of information, have no trouble holding on to that data."
"What about Paola, or Benito?" I asked. "Are... they there?"
"The one thing that's not there, in any of the six, is the memories these humans used to have. Those are gone. I couldn't have told you their names were Paola and Benito and so on if you hadn't sent me what you remember of the files, let alone anything else about them," said Addy.
"Completely gone?" I asked faintly.
"Unless something about the mnemic disorder, if that's what we're calling it, interacts strangely with Aro's power and I just can't read those memories? Yes. Completely gone. Not hidden, not repressed, not temporarily forgotten, not of lesser importance, absent."
"Um," I said.
"For all practical purposes," Addy said, "sitting over there are Didyme and John, vampires from centuries ago who have been turned into humans and may have some genetic differences beyond that. And four irretrievable nutcases who might be salvageable if we get them to look into reflective surfaces, although they all look at least as much like somebody as the displacement pair look like who they think they are, so I'm not sure how they've managed to avoid "displacing" for this long. There are mirrors in this room."
I looked at the four slack, blank-eyed faces, and ran through mental lists of all the people they looked sort of like. "Everybody they could have recognized themselves as was a lot older than John and Didyme were," I observed after a moment's thought. "Or was human."
"True," she mused. "You think that's related?"
"Maybe," I said. "The vampire memories are sharper and stand out more... and the more of them there are for any given person the harder it would be for the human brain to handle them..."
"That would explain why Benito would look in the mirror and think he was John instead of the other fellow, or why Paola would think she was Didyme and not, oh, that woman who led the newborn army near New Mexico," Addy agreed.
I blinked, tipping my head to the side. "There is really a lot less variation in vampire appearance than in human appearance."
"That's what you get when you make us all so pretty," Addy said cheerfully, as though I were personally responsible for vampire aesthetics. "Tends to even out the distinctive features. Anyway. So we've got Didyme and John and four people who don't look much like any young vampires. Near as I can tell, there's no way to get anything else out of this situation. The question is how Marcus will react. And, I suppose, whether we turn John, and what we tell the biological families."
"I guess he'll be able to tell by looking if she's... real enough," I said.
"Presumably. And I doubt she'll object. Look at her, shiny-eyed waiting for us to take her to her mate, insofar as he can retain that distinction to a human-brained person. Her family might complain, of course, and the strategy "kill them if they become inconvenient" is probably off the table with our favorite Empress Regnant in charge. John, on the other hand..."
"I don't know how to tell him about Anne," I said. "He didn't have anybody else."
Addy shrugged. "He has biological family, and I could go discreetly read them all and then we'd be able to catch him up on how to pretend to be Benito-with-some-amnesia. He could keep the life the body comes with. I suppose Didyme could do that too, but she's less likely to want to."
"Is there a way to fix the other four, do you suppose?" I asked.
"Find face matches, blast them with the first year or six of those lives again and stop there?" suggested Addy. "See if that knocks everything loose? Turn them and hope their new, improved brains can sort out the information in some less comatose way? But getting back who they used to be, nope, don't think so. They weren't backed up ahead of time."
"You know," said Dr. Valenti, "I would really appreciate it if you would speak Italian. I know you're both fluent."
"Our apologies, doctor," said Addy sweetly, turning and batting her eyes at him. "The other language has a number of specialized technical expressions we use to discuss mnemic disorders, but you're correct, it's unkind to leave you out of the loop. Do you have a background in mnemic disorders - a rotation with them during school, perhaps? - or does your specialty lie elsewhere? Help me understand where I need to begin explaining."
"You're being awfully helpful," I remarked to her, not in Norwegian, just at a high pitch.
"Daddy's listening," she sang back to me in a similar register. Right - this was within my father's range from the compound. He was probably telling my mother everything, so Addy had to behave. She ushered Dr. Valenti away, engaging him in deftly patronizing conversation about his inability to handle the memory blasted patients.
I sat back down near... Didyme and John.
"I understand that there's something dreadfully complicated going on," Didyme keened gently, "but if you know where Marcus is I don't understand why I can't go to him now. Am I a prisoner? Or if I can't leave, perhaps he could come here? Does he know what's happened to me?"
"I want to know what happened to Anne," demanded John. "Did the Volturi bastards do something to her?"
"Hoo boy," I said, and then I steeled myself to do what I did best.
I told the truth.
I started with John. He was just a little easier to confront. "The last time you saw Anne was in 1007," I said.
"Sounds right," he said. "How do you know -"
"This year is 2011," I told him.
He gaped at me.
"I'm going to explain the rest of it without using the pronoun "you" because otherwise it's going to be very confusing," I said, fighting to keep my voice even. "In 1007, John was executed for -"
"I was what?"
"Let me finish," I pleaded. "John was executed for creating an immortal child, Anne. Most immortal children were killed with their creators but not her. She was one of a handful that Aro brought to Volterra to watch and learn about, in case they could be controlled. She lived with the Volturi until 1754, and then Aro gave up on the project and murdered her and the others."
John was too enraged to let me go on uninterrupted. "That evil bastard - my daughter -"
"Aro's dead," I cut in. He calmed down enough to shut his mouth, although there was still anger burning in his eyes. "In 2005, a witch joined the Volturi who had the power to copy other witches' powers by touching them. She copied Aro, and read all of the memories he had ever absorbed, including John's up until shortly before his death in 1007. Thirteen days ago, she borrowed my power, which is complicated but includes the ability to send memories. And she sent them all, to everybody within range, including a human man named Benito Bianchi, and me and most of the Volturi."
He blinked several times, very rapidly, and opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it. I continued. "The vampires and me - I'm a half-vampire, don't ask, it's a story for later maybe - were able to recover from the blast. The humans that the blast hit weren't equipped to handle so much information, though. Their original memories were erased completely. But... Benito looks a lot like John did. Enough that when Benito saw his reflection after being hit with all of the memories, he recognized himself as John, and all of the memories except John's faded."
"But I'm," began John, and he looked down at his hands. "I'm..."
"You're John," I said, albeit with less confidence than I'd had in the rest of the story. "But you're in Benito's body. And Benito had a son, and a sister, and a father, who all think you're Benito. Benito with something wrong with him, but still him."
"Anne lived to be seven hundred and thirty seven years old," I soothed. "She was... well-fed... and she had some other immortal children to play with and she was generally happy." There was a two-year period in the fourteenth century where they tried having Jane administer punishments to misbehaving children as a means of controlling their tantrums and other unwanted tendencies, but that was eventually discontinued, mostly because Jane didn't have a sufficiently constrained definition of "misbehaving." I decided not to tell John that, and just suffered through the itch from Magic.
John nodded, slowly, eyes slightly glazed over. "So... now what?"
I shrugged helplessly. "You could potentially live Benito's life. We don't have a way to get his memories, but the copying witch has a piece of Aro leftover that she could use to read Benito's family and friends, and then I could tell you what you would need to know to fill the role passably. We can probably get you out of this hospital even without doing that, although it might be tricky, and then... well, if you want to be a vampire, you'll have to take it up with the Empress Regnant. If you don't, she'd probably consider setting you up wherever with enough money to get started doing whatever as reparations or something."
"I don't know," he said. "I don't know. I need to think."
"Okay," I said, and then I turned to Didyme, who looked anxiously hopeful.
I took a deep breath, and said to her, "I'm going to tell this story without using the pronoun "you", because otherwise it will be too confusing."
Didyme looked confused, but she nodded.
I had to start with a brief aside about how we'd started numbering years since Didyme's time, which in combination with the present number in use stunned her enough that she remained completely silent through the rest of my explanation, even when I revealed that her brother had murdered her and tricked Marcus into working for him anyway for the next couple thousand years. Even when I told her that her brother was dead at her husband's hands as part of a revolution against a government that she'd never seen take power. Even when I explained that Marcus was just shy of a mile away, but didn't know she was "alive again", and if he saw her, might or might not find her to be Didyme according to the capricious magic of the mate bond. Even when I made it clear that the knees she was looking at when she fixed her gaze downward had belonged to someone named Paola Greco.
When I was done with my explanation, she looked up from her knees to me and said, "I am sorry about Paola. But I want to be Didyme. If Marcus looks at me and says I'm not his wife... then I suppose I can't be. Then perhaps I'll be Paola instead if you and the other witch can do that, to help her family. But if I can, I want to be Didyme. Marcus has already spent far longer with his loss than Paola's relatives have."
"He's different than you remember," I cautioned, thinking not only of the cosmetic changes but of the toll of centuries upon centuries of grief.
"Whatever has happened," Didyme said securely, "he is Marcus, and that is who I need him to be."