“I’ve studied the damaged memory phenomenon. The sarcobox causes some damage, of course, but I’m assuming that your memory was worked on, as well. They almost never let anyone come through transit without messing with their brains.” Teo knows he sounds bitter, and he can feel his lip curling in disgust. He’s lost more than one loved one to that box.
“This is more,” Drin says distantly. “Telepathy work good enough that you don’t even know what you lost.”
“Who on earth would be so stupid as to do a telepathy modification to something as valuable as a War Librarian–” Something in Drin’s expression gives him his answer. “Don’t tell me–some clever scientist over here came up with it, not even knowing what they were doing. Since they’ve got all this whacked-out stuff pouring in, they’ve got no idea what’s an accident and what’s been deliberately crafted at an astronomical cost–” Teo pauses. Actually, a Librarian is more like a quadriplegic without their world-map, totally amputated from most of their sources. No wonder Emma has that preoccupied look in her eyes, like a research librarian poking for a lost link — a lost world. Doesn’t Drin have an amazing taste in lovers? One is terminally damaged, the other nothing but a dirty gene-eng bomb.
No. That’s not right. Teo likes Dance, likes the way he plays the fiddle, the sly, clever way he teases Emma and Drin. And he likes Emma, her braying laughter and tough-girl attitude. Grace was right. He can’t look at Drin’s lovers and see them as merely damaged tools in a far-off war. They are more. They are people. Drin loves them. They are people, as surely as he and Drin are.
“I know you’ve met Preacher. Others aren’t so careful.” Drin’s voice makes him jump.
“There are others here?” Teo hears how his voice is scaling higher. This is no time to lose his cool.
Drin just smiles a little. “Seung probably got worked on by this guy in India. So did I, probably several times, going in on zoomorph rescues and getting wiped so I wouldn’t reveal who was helping me.”
“Is there anything left in your head? Let me ask you — what was your mother’s name?”
“I wish I knew.” Drin sounds weary now, almost plaintive. “I got nothing.”
“All right then, don’t try too hard. Just imagine — if you had a sister, what might her name be?” Teo feels his attention drawing in to focus on Drin, on the questions he’s asking.
Drin sits thinking for a very long time, and Teo’s heart begins to sink. “I… I’m not sure. I had at least one sister, I think.”
“All right, don’t worry about it. If you had a brother, what might his name be?”
There’s a moment’s pause, then it comes in a rush. “If I had a brother, his name would be Kai.”
“Well, there you have something.” His heart is pounding his ribs, but he has to stay professional, or he might mess up Drin’s chances of recovering anything else.
Drin gives him an irritated look, waves it off. “They make all that stuff up for your new ID when you get dropped into this place. Preacher’s very good at what he does. I daresay the others are too.” Drin’s eyes are like black holes, all pupil, in the dim light.
Teo looks up into those eyes for rather a long time. “You think I’m faked out like you and Emma and Dance and Seung and God-only-knows how many other–“
Drin shrugs. “It’s an operational hypothesis.”
There’s the Drin Teo remembers. The scientist, the role model, the unreachable never-home war hero. The one with the impatient expertise who won’t sit there parroting the party line or feeding the ignorant comments in the family, the guy who just walks off rather than get into arguments with the elders spouting nonsense. Too often the dogma at home won out over facts.
“Another question. What is your full name?” It’s so easy to fall back on his old examination technique. It’s comfortable, and it gets results.
Drin’s still annoyed. “Don Ridcully Innocenzio Navarre.”
“Do you think your name is fabricated, that someone gave it to you when you got here?”
“Probably,” Drin shrugs. “Somebody with a hell of a sense of humor, more than likely.”
“They say that truth is stranger than fiction. I just think that your mother got some pretty good post-labor drugs.” Teo smiles and it feels strange. There hasn’t been much to smile about for a good long while.
Drin snorts and Teo can tell he’s trying to decide if he has to defend his mother’s honor or something. This mother that he can’t remember. Then Drin turns his line of questioning back on him. “So tell me, Teo, what’s your full name? Is it real, or did someone give it to you when you got here?”
Ah, you’re always getting somewhere when your subject becomes defensive, so he lightens his tone when he answers. “Oh, I have the same name I’ve had since I was born. I was sent here for a purpose, they didn’t wipe me at all beforehand, so I remember everything.” He sighs. “My full name is Teobaldo Arkaitz Ridcully Navarre.” He pauses again and nods sagely. “Drugs.”
“And the rest of the kids?” Drin asks, obviously skeptical.
“I’ll write it out, so you can look at it later if you want to. Do you remember a whole army of little kids running about screaming? Piles of cousins?” Teo says, writing away on a little notebook page, squinting in the dim light.
“You still have terrible handwriting,” Drin says then, in quite a different voice. A different accent. The English that kept things private in a Spanish-speaking family.
It’s like a lightning bolt through the darkness. He has to swallow to get his heart to slide back into his chest.
“There,” Teo says, cautiously. “Like that. You remembered that.”
“I can read into what it must have been like from context perfectly well, we’re neither of us stupid. So we can’t assume that just because we can infer all kinds of things from the current arrangement of limited facts, that we’re correct about what things really were like,” Drin says, in that same iron-hard voice.
“Ah, so you were playing me. Fair enough. Nothing at all shaking loose?”
Drin looks at him with those eyes like holes. “I remember Aunt Maria screaming when the bugs started getting through the bunker walls.”
“Oh God, I’m sorry. I didn’t– I wasn’t at those battles. I wasn’t old enough, they wouldn’t let me up on the city walls with the guns.”
“Oh, the guns,” Drin says bitterly. “Such as they were. Yeah, it’d be hard to forget those blowing up in our faces. Aunt Maria screaming out her best operatic high A was better at stopping the bugs. She made the damn things explode when somebody brought her a decent amplifier. Bloody things cut her in half like scissors to stop her when we were getting overrun. I don’t remember why we weren’t all killed. Probably they wanted to keep us around as bodies for making bugs, and lucky us, we just got rescued from the lab in time, or something. That part– that’s gone. Maybe just as well.”
Teo gulps. “Nobody ever told us how her mom died when Pilar came to live with us.”
“Aunt Maria was a fucking hero, and they erased her name,” Drin says quietly.
“Why?” Teo asks. He’s learned that neutral questions, political, organizational questions, can get him further into the subject’s memories than the deeply personal. “Do you remember why the whole bug war or skirmishes, or whatever they were, got covered up by the First Provisional Government?”
Drin starts to laugh. It’s not the kind of laughter you ever want to hear from your brother. “They didn’t call it that at the time. Provisional. My God, what a come-down.” He stands up, walks around restlessly in the dark. “Maybe because they couldn’t decide if they were going to play at being a revolutionary assembly, or just admit it was a straight-up fascist elite running everything with an iron fist.”
Teo takes a deep breath. Talk about plunging off-topic in all directions. “How come you remember things like that, but not who your first girlfriend was?”
Drin shifts irritably. “During the — migration process – they take out everything that could be traced back to your loved ones and leave more neutral stuff like that. Surprised they missed that bit about Aunt Maria dying while she exploded a bug, they must have been in a hurry. Or they left it on purpose, like a political goad. Maybe they figured she was dead long since, so it didn’t matter.”
“So you’d rather be Drin here, the wacky fun rich guy with no memory, rather than Aunt Maria’s nephew, the war hero, the– the guy you used to be back home,” Teo says.
“Wouldn’t you? And happily married to my very beautiful partners, let’s not forget. Who are crack shots in bug skirmishes, by the way. What’s not to like?”
Teo thinks about it. “It doesn’t matter who you say you are, it only matters who you are.” His voice is changing, becoming plaintive. Younger. “I was hoping you’d be glad to see me.” He shakes his head. “It really doesn’t matter. I’m just happy that you’re still alive, that you’re happy.” His voice is very small now, very soft in the dim light.
“Teo, I’m warning you. The guy I used to be was a recruiter, an officer. He would tell you what you want to hear, get you eating right out of his hand in ten seconds flat, assign you tasks you’d strain really hard to do. Get you fighting in our bug wars now, right here. I could recruit guys who were nowhere near as engaged as you are.”
“You still could, dammit,” Teo whispers. “But you won’t.”
Drin pauses, as if this surprises him. He nods. “Instead of playing you, or assuming all kinds of things about you, let’s have the truth. You don’t need to get killed in a bug war for nothing. You’re a doctor and these zoomoorphs here need your help. I don’t honestly know you at all. I might not have known you back there, either, as little as I was home. I can’t drag up stuff I don’t have for you anymore.”
“I don’t need you to dredge up the details of any horrible holiday dinners, thank you. I don’t need anybody to give me money or run my life or pat me on the head.”
“They didn’t have Thanksgiving. They had… they had the Festival of Hungry Ghosts,” Drin says, in that weird voice. Another bolt of dazzle in the dark.
“Which is Chinese, not Spanish,” Teo says.
“Yeah. We did… Chinese New Year too. One of the in-law grandparents was from… a northern province? Ice Festivals, with lights in the glacier blocks. Lion dancing.” Drin’s voice drops away.
Teo can’t look at him. It’s impossible to tell if the loss of memory is hysterical or literal brain damage, or some of both. He didn’t expect to be able to diagnose it so clearly. Everything his brother used to be, all that handler’s touch, all that arcane knowledge, all that skill, it’s gone. The library of Alexandria is burnt. All washed away, as if it mattered much less than the cost of hiding somebody’s political embarrassments… or whatever the hell provoked the orders that made this happen. He is angry suddenly. Again. He’d thought he was over that.
Dreamily, Drin says, “Believe me, far as I’m concerned, this kind of… blank…is probably better than a bullet or a nice clean little needlestick.”
“Were those the choices?” Teo says, and hears the anger.
“God knows,” Drin says. A shrug. “Either I made that choice back then, or somebody made it for me. They didn’t bother for less, usually. This is my home. This is what I care about. I can get to know you now, if you want. You’d probably like me better now. When you hear me hashing up data in those flashbacks, that’s all I was. That’s all anybody wanted. I was an expert, man. I was the go-to guy, day or night, I’m at work, I got no time for nothing else. Partly because, hey, what did it matter if you were going to die no matter what you did? Who the hell had time to nurture scared little kids with the bugs coming in the windows? Call the damn shovel a shovel, you know?” Drin says, pacing.
Back and forth, restless as hell. The ghosts are not laying quiet in their graves tonight, clearly.
“Oh, and any nasty thing I might have been called upon to do? That’s trivial compared to the kind of slimy politics that went down among the older folks in our so-called family. If you ever meet their local analogs here, you’ll see what I mean.”
“I’ve done some homework,” Teo says, dryly. “It wasn’t pretty.”
“Doing your research first? That is a Navarre talking. So, what’s the reason they gave for sending you here?”
Teo sighs, and stands up. The list he wrote out goes on the table. His voice is strong again, not childish at all. “Clearly, I don’t know you well enough to tell you that.” And then he walks off the back deck of the houseboat, down the dock, and into the darkness.
He’s still foolishly hoping to hear the clatter of boots coming after him. He doesn’t. What he does hear is Drin’s voice in passionate anger, “Well, dammitall to hell in a haybale handcart on fire, dammitall!”
Teo smiles a little, even though he feels like shit. Drin must have picked up and read his list. When he was young, he remembers Aunt Maria swearing like a farmhand. That phrase, that was one of hers.
But he’s also wondering how long it will be before he gets a visit from the oh-so-exotic partners, telling him to lay off their husband, stop provoking him into flashbacks, or else. Teo doesn’t think they’ll have to warn him to stay away from Drin. The brother he thought he grew up with, the brother he adored and emulated, well, wasn’t he just told that that person was nothing but a fabrication? Besides, all he was to Drin was a half-recovered bad memory. And that was worse than being nothing at all.
Family of Jacinta Luisa Guerrero Martinez and Oriol Guilliam Navarre Abaroa
- Don Ridcully Innocenzio [Cenzo]
- Erlea (bee!) Maria Papagena [Lea] 2 years younger
- Eduardo Ridcully Pau (peace) [Pau] 2 years younger
- Pilar Goizeder (beautiful morning) [Pilar] 4 years younger/cousin
- Magdalena Luisa Anais [Mags] 4 years younger
- Teobaldo Arkaitz (rock) Ridcully [Kai] 7 years younger