Tina distinctly remembered the night when everything had changed.
An officer had tried to assault her sister at knifepoint inside their little cell. Tina had been nearly unconscious from the day’s tortures when she heard her sister screaming, dragging her out of a pain-induced haze. She opened her eyes to find Mari thrown against a wall with a knife to her throat while a young officer tried desperately to unbutton his pants with one hand. There was a thin line of blood on Mari’s neck where the blade was already digging in. Her sister’s eyes were wide with terror but she was too weak to fight back.
“NO! Leave her alone!”
She had lunged at his back with everything she had left, ripping him away from Mari. Her sister dropped painfully to the ground and the officer swung the blade wildly, off balance from her attack. The first time it met her face, Tina thought she would black out from the searing pain. The second cut was shallow and barely registered to her shocked system.
She had fallen to her knees, screaming in pain and terror, unable to defend herself. The officer kicked her savagely as she blacked out from the blood loss, Mari screaming in the background.
The next time she awoke, several hours had passed. Her face burned intensely and she found she could only open one eye. When she raised a hand to investigate, it was quickly but gently pulled away. She had followed the hand to gaze up into her sister’s stricken face. Tina realized then that her head was pillowed in Mari’s lap and she was lying somewhat awkwardly on the bunk in their cell. Mari had tucked her hand back under the blanket and hugged her tighter.
“I was so scared…” she had whispered against her sister’s forehead. “I thought he had killed you and it was all my fault.”
Tina’s voice had been hoarse with pain. She knew something was wrong because their captors had never before bothered to tend their wounds after an altercation.
Mari had kissed her forehead and just kept whispering “I can’t let them hurt you anymore.”
Tina hadn’t known what that meant until the following morning when two burly guards had come in to retrieve Mari. Her sister had kissed her gently on the forehead again and promised “I love you, ALWAYS, no matter what” before she laid Tina’s head on the stiff bunk and allowed herself to be pulled out the door.
For the next ten days, Tina slipped in and out of consciousness but the guards never brought Mari back. On the eleventh day, when she was strong enough to walk, the guards drug her down a bright hallway, propping her up in front of an observation window at the end. She stared into the glass with horror, her knees buckling at the sight presented before her.
On the other side of the glass, Mari was strapped to an examination table wearing a simple paper gown that was drenched with sweat. Dozens of different fluids flowed into her from various tubes jammed brutally under her skin. Her eyes were rolled back into her head, chest heaving in distress. Tina tried to turn away but one of the officers held her head in place.
“Look at her! She did this for you! She tried to buy your freedom with her own life but she was a fool. You will swear your allegiance to Snow or you will die.”
Releasing her head with a snap of his wrist, the officer and his companion began dragging her back down the hallway, away from the window, away from Mari.
She had screamed her sister’s name until her throat was raw and she had no fight left. Several more days passed but they gave her no insight into her sister’s fate. By the time they opened her cell again, Tina had lost track of time. It didn’t really matter. Mari was dead, she was sure of it, which meant she had nothing more to live for. No more reason to fight. She let them drag her down another hallway to a door that surprisingly led outside.
They dropped her on the ground in a heap, and she made no move to untangle herself. Footsteps came up behind but she made no effort to investigate. A fist gripped her hair and snatched her head back savagely to face the other person. She couldn’t believe the face sneering back at her.
“Mari?” She had croaked as her head was released roughly. It couldn’t be!
The woman staring down at her had her sister’s face but her eyes were cold. Mari glared at her with no recognition, as if she didn’t remember her own face, the face they shared. Dark circles under her eyes and cuts all over her body in various states of healing from where those tubes had been hastily removed, showed Tina how brutally her sister had been treated. An oversized tank hung off her gaunt body as she swayed unsteadily on her feet. When she pulled a revolver from her waistband, Tina didn't bother trying to defend herself. Mari was a mindless puppet and it was all her fault. Her sister had made a Faustian deal on her behalf.
“I’m so sorry Mari! This is all my fault. Do it! I forgive you.” She whispered as she closed her eye,waiting for the shot.
It never came.
At that exact moment rebel forces had burst from the forest surrounding the compound. Snow’s officers had grabbed Mari and pulled her back into the compound before she could be rescued. Troy and his team scooped Tina up and they disappeared into the tree line.
Months passed as Tina and her mother mourned their losses at the rebel base. It had broken her heart to tell their mother what had become of Mari and their father. She couldn’t bear to look in the mirror; see her sister’s face staring back at her. Even with the scars, the milky white eye that had once been hazel, it was still Mari’s face that glared at her from inside the glass.
The first thing she did when she was
strong enough was remove the massive curls that framed the face of a
stranger. Gradually Tina came to terms with the loss of her eye as well. She
began wearing a leather eye patch and answered primarily to Black Betty, her
given name too painful to acknowledge.
In the absence of her father and sibling, she became the new face of the rebellion and took over leadership. The raids continued and the rebellion strengthened. Many came to believe that Black Betty was just a myth, a legend used by the rebels to disguise their true leaders. Some even thought that several different people filled the role.
The rumors worked in Tina’s favor.
If Snow truly believed she was dead, he would be expecting no one to come for Mari. Every raid, Tina searched the officer’s manifest in hopes of finding Mari.
The day they met again shook Tina to her core…