Nearly a year had passed since the twins capture and Tina’s escape.
Countless raids and information drops had yielded no hints as to Mari’s whereabouts leading many to believe she was indeed dead. Troy had urged Tina to give up, to mourn her sister's loss and move on.
The two had grown close over the past few months: she, now the rebellion’s commander and he her top lieutenant. She knew he meant well but she refused to turn her back on Mari, she could still feel her. Mari was out there, somewhere, and this time Tina would be the hero, save her. She owed her that much.
It had been a blazing hot day. Snow had gathered the people of the small township of Saint Andrew together in their makeshift town square for a rally celebrating his newly bought presidency. Tina, Troy and a few of their men were in the crowd waiting to see what Snow was up to this time. She had been leaning casually under a coconut tree with a baseball cap pulled down to disguise her face when the rally began.
A large, black Hummer pulled up near the stage and a dozen Snow Corp. soldiers moved through the crowd, forming a walkway from the vehicle to the stage. The door to the Hummer swung open, and Tina thought she would puke. The figure disembarked the vehicle in an immaculate white dress uniform, sword slung at their hip. A porcelain mask covered the upper part of the face but Tina knew those eyes. Knew those curls that her mother had cried for days when she had shaved hers off.
“Mari…” she gasped in a hoarse whisper, clinging to the tree for dear life.
Her sister moved through the crowd with the grace and poise she had always possessed, Tina being the brawler of the two. She moved to the platform and for just a moment, she locked eyes with her sister. Tina thought her knees would buckle at the notion that Mari would give them away. However, her sister simply smiled and nodded as she had done to several people behind Tina and continued to do until she reached the podium. Once there she stood ramrod straight, waiting for Bradford Snow to begin his speech.
“Is that? It can’t be…”
Somehow Troy had made it to her side without her noticing. He grabbed her arm, trying to shake her out of her trance. Throughout the rally she stared at Mari but her sister never acknowledged her, never behaved like she had any idea who Tina was. As the affair was nearing its end, Tina had decided to simply grab Mari and run. She had been searching for over a year, she would not let Snow take her sister and disappear again. All her plans went to hell when Snow stopped speaking and gestured for Mari to approach the pedestal.
“Good people of Saint Andrew. I have come today to introduce myself. My name is Captain Mary Saint and I was once one of the rebels you glorify.”
Murmurs spread through the crowd and Tina felt the urge to puke quickly returning. Mary Saint? No wonder Mari hadn’t recognized her; she no longer even knew who she was. A cold sense of dread began creeping through Tina’s limbs. Even if she grabbed Mari, her sister was obviously brainwashed, unable to remember her former self. Taking her now could do more harm than good. She was snapped back to attention as Mari began to speak again.
“In my youth and inexperience, I thought that change was a bad thing but President Snow took me in, helped me see the error of my former ways. With great pleasure I offer my services as Captain to the President’s personal vessel The Magnus Q. I, along with my men, hope to serve both the president and you the people to the best of our ability. Thank you.”
Mari gave a short bow to the crowd and then a stiff salute to President Snow, which he returned with a predatory smile. That son of a bitch! He was dangling Mari in their faces but keeping her just out of reach. His personal bodyguard?! They would practically have to be on top of Snow to get anywhere near Mari. He knew that anyone from the rebellion would immediately recognize one of their fallen leaders. He was trying to break their spirit by breaking Mari’s mind. Tina and her men had no choice but to watch Mari board Snow’s personal vessel and sail way.
The rally two nights before, when Mari was nearly killed, had been eerily reminiscent of the first. The main exception had been that Captain Saint, not Snow, was the main speaker. Over the years, Mari had gained a fearsome reputation for carrying out Snow’s every sadistic order. She was feared by all; spurring many in the rebellion to urge Tina to deal with Mari, permanently. For her part, Tina never gave up hope that she could free her sister. She and her mother had decided some time ago that if they could pry Mari from Snow, the three of them would disappear on The Black Hammer and rebuild their family. Suddenly that felt within their grasp.
Tina scaled the building once more; glad the heavy rains had dissipated for the night. Again she crept through the sliding glass door and to her sister’s bedside. Mari had been propped up, a thin sheet pulled up to just below her ribcage, bandages exposed. Tina could see the scars she remembered all over Mari’s arms and abdomen. Her mind flashed back to the image of tubes jammed brutally under her sister’s skin and she shivered involuntarily.
She noticed Mari was shivering slightly too, so she grabbed the blanket from the end of the bed and covered Mari up to her neck. A sigh of contentment alerted Tina that her sister was waking up. She was relieved to see more color in her cheeks and the fact that Mari was mostly breathing on her own, save for the thin oxygen cord under her nose. Tina reached gently beneath the blanket to hold her hand.
“Hey,” she rubbed her cheek gently with her free hand. “ Mari, are you awake?”
Bleary hazel eyes met hers as Mari tried to shake off the effects of the drugs constantly being pumped into her and the exhaustion borne from a life-threatening injury. Not to mention it was 1:00 in the morning again. A small smile ghosted across her lips when Tina came into focus.
“You… came back?” She whispered hoarsely. Tina quickly grabbed a cup of water from the bedside table and held it to her sister’s lips. Mari drank greedily before turning away.
“I told you I would.” She reached forward to brush a few wayward curls out of her sister’s face as Mari once again sighed in contentment. She leaned into Tina’s warm touch and breathed as deeply as her injuries would allow.
“They said I was crazy. That…” she paused to gasp a little in pain. “… You didn’t exist…” The statement put Tina on high alert.
“Who told you that?”
“Officer…a doctor…” Mari was fading again and who could blame her. Less than two days ago she had taken three bullets to the chest, the fact that she could even speak was remarkable in itself.
“Mari? Mari stick with me a little longer.” Tina lightly slapped her sister’s cheek trying to rouse her. Her sister cracked her eyes, trying to focus. “Honey, do you still have my gift?”
Mari nodded weakly before closing her eyes again and fumbled around for something on the other side of the bed. Tina grabbed her hand and placed it back under the blanket.
“Let me.” She reached to the other side of the bed and was delighted when her fingers brushed something cool and round near Mari’s thigh. “You hid it?”
“Ummm… couldn’t let them know about… you.” Mari’s mind was fuzzy but she knew deep down that keeping this secret was important. Tina leaned forward and pressed her forehead to her sister’s, trying to memorize the scent and feel of her.
“You were always the smart one.” She quipped lightly. “I’ll keep this safe for you, for us. We love you so much.”
“We?” The word had piqued Mari’s interest though her eyes remained closed. Tina nodded against her forehead.
“Yes, ‘we’. Mami and I. The three of us are gonna be together again, I promise.” There was a hard edge to Tina’s voice as she realized the magnitude of her words but Mari needed hope. She needed a reason to fight the programming, to reclaim her life.
“Mami…” Mari repeated. “That would be…so…nice…” she whispered as she fell unconscious again. Tina leaned back and watched her sleep for a while before she moved across the room to Mari’s charts hanging on the wall. She pulled out her phone, documenting all she could because if she was truly going to free her sister, she first needed to know what they’d been doing to her.
Once finished, she crossed back to the bed, making sure Mari was comfortable and warm. She tucked the blanket more securely around her, gazing at her sister’s peaceful face. She tried to banish the image of that same beautiful face contorted in pain. No, this was how she should always be; at peace. Tina had to do anything she could to make that a reality for Mari.
She had no idea what horrors her sister had been facing in the time they’d been forced apart but she intended to find out, as soon as Mari was strong enough to hold a full conversation. Tina realized her visit was running long and reluctantly pressed one last kiss to Mari’s temple before making her way out of the room and into the night.