7/25/2010

Volturi's Bane

Chapter 3

"I love you."

As always, those were his last words whenever Edward and I ended a call. And once again I had to thank my lucky stars that if I was going to fall for a vampire it had been with 'Edward the Romantic' rather than some Dracula wannabe.

I blinked on the red 'end call' icon near the center of my field of view and then leaned back into the passenger seat of Jaime's car. My gaze took in the increasingly urban streets as we neared her apartment, but my thoughts were focused inwards.

I had just talked to Edward for the first time since the accident, for the first time in thirty-six hours, and I had said nothing, absolutely nothing, about the nearly miraculous things that had transpired in those hours. No, all I had talked about was shopping with Alice. And I wasn't certain why.

Oh, what I had to say would be hard to comprehend face-to-face let alone over the phone. Who would believe that in less than twenty-four hours my arms, my legs, an ear and an eye could be replaced with artificial constructs that were in many ways superior to the originals? And not just replaced, but be fully operational? Or that a large portion of my blood would be replaced with molecular machines which could heal broken ribs in an hour and suspend the aging process? Anyone who heard that without a shred of proof would believe I had gone crazy rather than was simply stating the truth.

Well, maybe Edward would believe me, if I told my story. After my nearly two years in Forks, he certainly would know I am not creative enough to have made up such a bizarre story. But still, it had seemed better to wait until I got home to give him a little demonstration of my new abilities. And truly, I wanted to be there to look into his golden eyes when he realized there was no longer a need for him to turn me into a vampire. I was now as ageless as he without risking my soul, as he feared would happen in the conversion process.

However while part of me knew Alice had been right and this was the best solution from so many angles, the rest of me wasn't certain. Things had been happening so fast ever since I woke in that oversized hospital room at the facility, it felt like I hadn't had a moment to sit back and think. But during the forty-five minute drive from the facility, I had had a little time and the enormity of my situation had started to hit home. I was now part MACHINE. Oh, I wasn't some steam punk monstrosity filled with gears and cams, but a significant part of my body was manmade. And that didn't even address the A.I. supercomputer they had jammed into my head. I think my mental preparations for my anticipated vampiric destiny made it easier for me to accept the sudden gifts of speed and strength than would have been the case for most people. And knowing I would never face millennia of unending blood lust made this situation seem like a gift from heaven. But now with a few minutes of thought, I realized most people would still think of me as some variation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein monster. And was that really much better than being thought of as some variation of Bram Stoker's Dracula?

It was almost a relief when Jaime chose this moment to interrupt my thoughts, which seemed stuck in some dark, downward spiral.

"Bella, is inviting Alice into my home going to be okay? Until today, I had never met an actual vampire and . . . and it was a lot more intense and the guy was a lot stronger than I was expecting. And a lot faster, too. And my baby sister lives with me. Okay, she's about to be a senior in high school, but she still seems like a young kid to me."

Jaime seemed to be on the verge of babbling, so I jumped in.

"Jaime, it will be alright. Alice is basically a good person. I would trust her with my life and have on several occasions. Okay, you really want to be careful not to cut yourself when she's there or her self-control might slip, but otherwise everything will be fine. Oh, and a vampire needing to be invited in? Just one of the myths, a vampire can go anywhere without an invitation. And they don't sleep in coffins either. Actually, they don't need to sleep at all. Plus you saw how sunlight doesn't hurt them. They only avoid it because the 'sparkle effect' would get them noticed."

"How good can she be if she drinks blood?" asked Jaime, glancing over to me for a second before turning her attention back to the road. "If she kills people like that other one. . ."

"Alice doesn't kill people or drink human blood. None of her family does. They only drink animal blood – preferably large predators like bears or mountain lions."

I almost added a comment about how their drinking human blood would also violate the treaty with the Quileutes. But I realized Jaime, her boss, and the others at the facility might not know about werewolves and I didn't want to reveal that secret if I could avoid it. Jake and his pack didn't need to be hassled by these quasi-governmental types. And besides, the pack was sort of my ace in the hole. They had been a deciding factor in the battle against Victoria's army. And the Volturi didn't seem to know about them. For the moment, the less people who knew about them and their shapeshifting abilities, the better.

Jaime pulled the car over to the curb and then shut off the motor, so we must have reached her apartment. I glanced around and we were on a tree-lined street filled with larger, older homes. Obviously, Jaime and her sister didn't live in a traditional apartment complex, but in a house that had been converted into three or four apartments.

I had just started reaching for the door handle when Jaime touched my arm.

"Our abilities need to be a secret. Even my sister doesn't know; so be careful what you say in front of her. And I would really prefer if she didn't find out about vampires either."

I slowly nodded. "I'll be careful about what I say in front of your sister. But obviously Alice knows our secret. And if Alice knows, Edward will know as soon as she gets back to Forks. In the same way Alice can see the future; Edward can hear the thoughts of almost anyone in his presence. And their 'family' is very close and has been together for over eighty years. If two of them know, the rest will know soon after."

"Damn," responded Jaime with a shake of her head. "Jonas is not going to be happy. I think less than thirty people in the world know of my abilities."

"Well, if he truly expects to be successful against the Volturi, he's going to need a lot of help. Carlisle, Alice's adoptive father, has been dealing with the Volturi for hundreds of years. And the rest of the Cullens bring a lot of unique abilities to the table. Before today I would have strongly doubted they would want to disrupt the status quo, but Alice's comments are getting me to think otherwise. And even if it is only Alice who wants to see them overthrown, she can be very persuasive to the others with her gift for seeing the future consequences of various courses of action."

Jaime looked at me for a moment as though she wanted to gauge my reaction. "Tell me the truth. You've met at least some of the Volturi. Do you think we stand a chance of defeating them?"

I don't know what she could tell from my expression, but I tried to answer as truthfully as I could. "I don't know. With Alice's ability to see the future to help us make the best choices along the way, maybe, but the Volturi have access to weird psychic abilities, too.

"The only good thing is that their numbers are limited. They have always worked hard to limit the vampire population to minimize the risk of being exposed. I think the whole world's vampire population numbers only in the low hundreds. Well, at least when none of them are forming vampire armies."

"Vampire armies?" echoed Jaime.

I smiled. "There is a lot you need to learn about vampires. Hell, there's a lot I need to learn about them, too, if we have any hope to be successful." I paused to open my car door. "But it's probably better to get it straight from the source. Alice or Carlisle or Jasper, Alice's husband, will be better sources of information than me."

Jaime nodded, opened her door and climbed out.

We quickly walked up to the antique front door. It was filled with large panes of etched glass which allowed a view into the house's interior although all that was visible was a hallway and a staircase leading to the second floor. Jaime unlocked the door and ushered me through before leading the way up the staircase.

She used a second key on the ring to open the apartment's front door. This door looked much more solidly built and when she closed it behind us, it gave a satisfying 'thunk'. I must have raised an eyebrow, as Jaime responded.

"A couple of times, my work has tried to follow me home. I take security a lot more seriously now than I did back in the days when I was a part-time student, part-time bartender."

I nodded and then turned to take in the apartment. The living room, dining room, and kitchen were all one big open area at the front of the building and had a pleasant airy feel. I could see a short hallway leading towards the back where I assumed the bedrooms were located.

"Let me see if Becca is home," said Jaime before she disappeared down the hallway. I know at my house my Dad or I would merely shout to see if the other was around, but perhaps Jaime and her sister had a more formal relationship.

In less than thirty seconds Jaime returned. "She's not here. I sent a text and she answered saying she is on her way home from the library and should be here in a few minutes."

Then Jaime gestured towards the large off-white overstuffed sofa before continuing. "Have a seat. Would you like anything to drink? I think we have some sodas, ice tea, or I could make some coffee."

"Ice tea sounds nice," I answered before wandering over to the couch.

As I took a seat, I glanced at the nearby large bookcase. My augmented reality software quickly and briefly outlined each binding in green. Then as I slowly swept my eyes along a shelf, whichever book was in the center of my vision would highlight with a display of its front cover and a brief synopsis. Curious, I focused on the cover of a book about 'green' gardening and after a couple of seconds it expanded to fill most of my field of view. Then a table of contents appeared to its left and when I blinked on a chapter, the virtual book appeared to quickly flip pages until it reached the first page of that chapter.

After playing around with that book for a few seconds, I closed it and randomly selected another volume; this one was what I guessed to be a college level text book on robotics. The virtual version of this one which appeared in my visual array also would immediately opened to any selected page. I had to wonder if every book ever written was stored in my head or if the A.I. was seamlessly retrieving them from the web, as needed.

"Playing with the augmented reality function?" asked Jaime as she handed me a tall glass.

"Yeah," I answered. "Quite an eclectic collection of books you have."

Jaime glanced at the bookcase for a moment. "Well, that's what happens when you have two people with very different tastes sharing an apartment. Even with my, ah, specialized gifts, you might be surprised to learn all the history, travel, art, and cooking books are mine while all the science books belong to my sister."

Jaime paused to shake her head. "Becca is very attractive, maybe borderline beautiful, but talk to her for more than five minutes and you'll realize she's a true geek."

I was about to respond that my tastes ran more to the liberal arts end of the spectrum, too, when we were interrupted by the doorbell. I glanced at the time displayed in the upper left corner of my visual display and saw it was eight twenty-five. It had to be Alice. Jaime quickly moved over to a fancy panel by the door I hadn't noticed. Not only was there an intercom to the building's door, but also a video display for a security camera. I wondered if this was another upgrade related to Jaime's work.

Would I soon be needing security like this around my home in Forks? Of course, what good would it have done against Victoria or any of her followers? No, if my new life was going to require additional security, I would once again have to depend on the Cullens and Jake's friends.

It seemed like only a moment before Jaime was opening the apartment's door and I noticed how she stood well back to give Alice a wide berth.

Alice flitted into the room and then almost seemed to dance over to where I had risen from my seat.

"Bella, how are you doing? Any more adventures to share since your run-in with Santiago earlier?"

"Alice, you knew the other vampire? Was he one of the Volturi?"

Alice nodded, but continued to display a big smile. "Yeah, he has been one of their lower ranking guards for hundreds of years. But he never had any special gift beyond brute strength to earn him a higher station."

"So he was stronger than average?" asked Jaime with a hint of relief in her voice. She had finally approached until she was standing near Alice and she appeared to tower over the petite vampire. Not that Jaime was particularly tall – five seven, maybe five eight. No, it just emphasized how diminutive Alice was at five one.

Alice shrugged. "I guess. However from my experience speed and skill will usually triumph over brute force."

I was less interested in his strength than why he was here. "Is he here because of me? Are the Volturi coming now because I haven't yet been turned? Or do they know about my change?"

Alice frowned and got this expression on her face I had come to associate with her using her special gift. She stared blankly into the distance for fifteen seconds.

"Santiago came over from Italy with the group who were here to deal with Victoria's army. He chose to remain when most of the others went home. His death has not significantly impacted future probabilities. The Volturi are still intending to enforce their edict that you be converted. Their representatives will arrive in Forks on August 13th unless they have positive proof it has already happened."

"August 13th? But that's the day before my wedding! We were supposed to have more time," I said sharply. I had planned to enjoy my honeymoon as a human before making the big change and then, depending how the change went, do a second honeymoon as a vampire for the complete experience. And now they were going to insist the change happen, one way or the other, before we even had a chance to get married.

"More importantly, it sets the upper time limit on when we are going to have to move against the Volturi. Because as soon as one of them gets close enough to you to smell your change and lives to tell about it, they are going to move against us," responded Alice.

For a moment I fantasized about Edward and me simply running away and spending the next few years in some secret hideaway. But I knew it could be nothing but a fantasy. James had had no difficulty tracking me to Phoenix and I knew from Edward that the Volturi had trackers who would make James look like a rank amateur.

"That's barely three weeks away," said Jaime quietly. "I don't think my boss and our organization were planning to make the first serious move against them for at least a year."

Alice threw Jaime a girlish grin like it was all some big game. "I guess he is just going to have to try to keep up. Fortunately, I do have a few things in motion."

I wondered what Alice already had in the works. How long had she known about this possible path forward? If it had been longer than since we had left Forks, then Edward would have certainly read it in her thoughts. If he knew about things, why hadn't he mentioned them to me? Had Alice and Edward and maybe the others been keeping secrets from me? And if Alice hadn't clearly seen a future where I would have the accident and end up with these enhancements until after we left Forks, why would she already have had things in motion?

These thoughts were swirling around in my head and as I tried to turn them into a coherent set of questions, my enhanced hearing heard a key slide into the apartment door's lock. It had to be Jaime's sister. And if I was going to honor my pledge not to reveal our secret enhancements or reveal the existence of vampires, we were going to have to table the whole conversation for now.

"Jaime, I'm home," called a girl's youthful voice as the door barely began to swing open. Of course, then I had to remind myself, if Jaime's sister was about to be a senior in high school, she was only a year younger than me. However after the last twenty-four hours, I was feeling a lot older than eighteen going on nineteen. A nineteen that was now, good or bad, never going to arrive. Good, because my new enhancements meant I would never age. Bad, because the Volturi were due to arrive before my nineteenth birthday and I suspect they would try to kill me because of my new enhancements. Yeah, no matter how I looked at it, I was never going to turn nineteen.

Jaime moved over towards the door. Based on her earlier comments about being leery at having a vampire in close proximity of her sister, it seemed like her intention was to be protective. However Alice had also turned towards the door and Jaime's sister, who looked like a younger, shorter version of Jaime, looked straight passed Jaime at Alice. And after a quick look of surprise, a grin broke out across the younger girl's face.

"Alice? What are you doing here? This is such a wonderful surprise."

Jaime had a startled expression on her face as she looked down at her shorter sibling. "Becca, you know her?"

Jaime's sister didn't respond to her question. She started to move passed her in Alice's direction, until Jaime clasped her arm. When she had her sister's attention, Jaime abruptly began to sign. It wasn't until then that I realized Jaime's sister was deaf.

"Yes, I know her," said Becca when Jaime finished signing. "Although it has been a couple of years since I have seen her. We met at that evening robotics course I took down at Stanford during the fall of my sophomore year. We have stayed in touch by email and she helps me sometimes when I get stuck on my project. Surely you remember me talking about my friend, 'Golden Eyes'?"

The girl's speaking abilities were as good as mine. Whatever had caused her hearing loss, she hadn't had the problem since birth.

Then I ran the numbers in my head. The fall of her sophomore year in high school would correspond to the period when the Cullens had left Forks. They had never said where they had gone, other than I knew Edward spent much of that time alone in South America. It was only mildly surprising to learn Alice had spent the time in foggy San Francisco. However I never would have guessed she would have spent it taking science classes at Stanford.

Jaime turned back towards Alice and asked in an almost demanding tone. "You're Golden Eyes?"

Alice grinned. "Guilty, as charged." And it was an exceedingly appropriate moniker, as no ordinary human had eyes the shade of pure gold she possessed.

"And you've known her for years?"

Alice nodded. "However I'll admit I never realized your connection to her until we met face-to-face this afternoon."

I had remained on the sofa, but now rose to my feet and walked over to where the others stood closer to the still open door.

At my approach, Jaime touched her sister's arm. When the younger girl looked at Jaime's face, Jaime said, "Becca, this is Bella, a friend of Alice's."

Becca started to turn in my direction, but before her head had completed the motion, Alice began to sign. I was surprised at first she knew sign language, but with over a hundred years of life, Alice had had plenty of time to learn a lot of obscure things. And learning she knew sign language was much less of a shock than finding out she had been attending robotics classes at Stanford.

Then I got a bigger shock when my Augmented Reality system started printing across my field of view what Alice was saying in sign language. What were the limits of my A.I. system?

". . . a lot more than just a friend. Bella is marrying my brother in three weeks."

"Congratulations," said Becca extending her hand in my direction. "I would love to meet your fiancé and the rest of Alice's family someday. And yours, too."

As I shook the offered hand, Alice moved beside me so Becca could see both of our faces.

"I think that someday is going to be today. I would very much like for you and Jaime to come up to Washington State with us for a couple of weeks."

Becca grinned at Alice and then turned to her sister. "Can we? School doesn't start for over a month. But can you get away from work?"

Jaime smiled, but it looked a little forced to me. "Yeah, I'm due some vacation and the few things I need to take care of can be handled by email."

Becca was displaying a wide grin as she turned back towards Alice and me. Then abruptly she frowned. "Damn, I almost forgot about my project. It's due in just over a month. There's no way I'll be done in time, if I take a couple of weeks off now."

Now it was Alice's turn to grin. "No problem. I have a large van out front. We can pack up your gear and take it with us. And I'm sure I can squeeze in a little time amongst all the wedding preparations to help you."

"Wow, that'd be great," answered Becca. "Most of my equipment is down in the garage, as Jaime wouldn't let me keep it up here after the second hydraulic leak ruined the carpet in my room. Want to help me start packing?"

"Sure, Becca. Although why don't you get started. I'll be down in a couple of minutes and move the van around."

Becca nodded. Then turning to her sister, she exclaimed. "This is going to be so much fun."

Jaime smiled, but again it struck me as forced. I wasn't sure if it was the thought of her little sister spending time with a family of vampires or concerns about the accelerated schedule for dealing with the Volturi which was suddenly necessary – probably it was some combination of the two.

Becca dropped her backpack on the kitchen counter and then went back out the front door with a definite bounce to her step. It was nice to see at least someone was having a good day.

"You've been taking robotics classes?" I whispered to Alice as I watched Becca descend the stairs. I knew Becca couldn't hear me if she couldn't see my lips, but whispering somehow still felt appropriate.

"Well, you know," began Alice speaking at a normal tone. "After the twenty-fifth time you have graduated from high school, it gets kind of old. And when you have an extra eight hours every day, which others spend sleeping, it's easy to become bored with life. So you learn to explore different things. Perhaps it is learning different musical instruments like Edward. For me, for the last couple of decades anyway, it has been learning about science."

Alice had never struck me as the nerdy type. Or the scholarly type.

"Science?" I echoed back. "You struck me as someone who wouldn't open a textbook unless someone held a gun to your head."

She grinned. "Who said anything about me opening textbooks? I have just been using the patented 'Alice's Bootstrap Method for the Advancement of Science' to see that certain technologies move in the right directions."

Alice must have seen the lost expression on my face, so she explained. "Remember how I saw your cellphone numbers in the future so I could call you in the past? Well, it's the same thing. I see solutions to problems in the future and then give the scientists a hint in the past to point them in the right direction. I have been helping Becca and a few others I have met here and there who are developing things my visions indicate are important."

All of a sudden the 'lift yourself by your bootstraps' reference made sense. We had talked about 'perpetual motion' devices briefly in physics class and how they were impossible. But wasn't what Alice had just described been much the same thing? If she was getting information from the future and using it in the past, it had to be violating some laws of physics. And whether it was getting information about how her opponent would move in a fight or secrets about some scientific advance, it was the same. I had just never thought about it in this light before.

However at that moment my musings were interrupted by Jaime.

"If we are going to do this, we better get busy. Becca has an awful lot of equipment down in the garage."

Alice nodded. "Why don't you two go down and help her while I go get the van." Then she flitted back out through the front door and was gone.

Jaime gestured towards the still open door. "This day certainly hasn't gone the way I expected when I left for work this morning."

"Tell me about it," I retorted. "I wake up with most of my body replaced and discover I am about to go to war with the Volturi."

Jaime glanced up at me as we descended the stairs. "At least you had heard of vampires before today. Jonas likes to play things close to the vest. He may have been plotting against the Volturi for months or years, but he didn't brief me until an hour before I met you. 'Need to know' and all that crap."

We exited through the back door of the house. Behind it stood a wide garage structure with four individual stalls, which I assumed were each assigned to one of the apartments. Jaime must park full time in the street, as I could just barely see Becca moving about in the stall behind the one open door. And has Jaime had said, Becca had a lot of equipment.

As we moved closer, I could see racks of electronic equipment, some welding gear that would make Jacob green with envy, and even an anvil that looked straight from some blacksmith's shop. How had a high school girl accumulated so much stuff? And how were four girls going to be able to load it into a van?

Then with a grin, I abruptly remembered three of the four had superhuman strength.

End of Chapter 3