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You Can't Go Back

“You can’t bring her back here.”

Tina gaped in disbelief at that statement. She had just filled Troy in on her latest visit with Mari. How her sister was beginning to heal and more importantly, remember. How scared and confused Mari was and how desperately she wanted her life back.

Tina had taken everything she gathered from Mari’s hospital records to the doctor’s on her base. Her sister’s life wasn’t the only one ruined by Snow. Many other local youths had been taken forcefully over the years and their families could benefit too, if there was a way to break the programming.

Now, in her office away from prying eyes and listening ears, Tina revealed her budding plans to Troy; she was not prepared to be so soundly shot down.

“Are you kidding me?” Tina resisted the urge to yell, as the walls in their little base were not as thick as she would have liked. “Why can’t I? This is where her family is. This is her HOME.”

“No, it’s not, not anymore. Mari isn’t the same person that helped build this base and led this rebellion. It could be dangerous here for her…” Troy slumped against the wall, wrung out from trying to get Tina to understand. “She’s in that hospital right now because someone on this base thought she had become too big a threat. Do you really think he’s the only one?”

The thought actually had occurred to Tina, more than once. She had been horrified when one her own, one of the men she trusted with her life, broke rank and fired on her sister. The solider in question was currently being held in the brig, not for attacking Mari, but for ignoring orders.

How many more were there like him? People on this base who wanted her sister tried for her crimes or worse, dead? Could she really protect her? Mari couldn’t be by her side all the time, not to mention, she would be unable to defend herself in her current state.

“This wasn’t her fault! She sacrificed herself to protect me, this base and these people. She couldn’t have known what they would make her… the things they would make her do!”

Troy moved from the wall and over to her. He reached a hand out, gently settling it on her upper arm. He tried to coax her into a hug, or at least into making eye contact with him. She did neither, instead staring numbly at the wall on the verge of tears.

“We’ve all suffered in this war.” He reached up tracing her scars with the softest touch he could muster, resisting the urge to kiss her. Tina pulled away but only went a few steps before she whirled to face him.

“This!” She pointed emphatically at her patch before ripping it off to expose the wounds beneath. “This is NOTHING compared to what they did to her. I lost my eye but Mari… she lost her whole identity, her life.”

Troy stared at Tina in disbelief. He had only seen her without her patch a handful of times and they had been together for months before she had trusted him enough to let him see her scars. Now being faced with the damage again, he couldn’t help but remember the last time she had been this open with him.

They had been lying in bed, quietly enjoying each other’s company when he had gotten up to get a glass of water. When he returned, she had been sitting up in bed, idly flipping through a report, unaware she was being watched. Her patch lay on the nightstand and he was struck by how beautiful she was, even despite the scars.

“What?” She had inquired when she caught him staring, then in a moment of self-awareness,“My patch… I forgot…”

He had grabbed her hand before she could reach it. Assured her she didn’t need it, didn’t need to hide herself from him. Now, staring at those scars once again, he sought to reassure her.

“I didn’t mean it like that.” He pulled her into his arms despite her feeble attempts to escape him. She whimpered helplessly as he held her tightly against his chest before wrapping her arms around him in a fierce grip.

“It’s all my fault.” She whimpered again. “I need her! But I don’t know how to help her. I don’t know how to fix this.”

Troy just nodded as he set his chin on top of her head and let her cry. The two stood entwined for several long, peaceful moments before Tina pulled away wiping her tears roughly. She bent to retrieve her patch before securing it into its usual position. She sniffed a little more then met his gaze.

“Thanks… I just needed to get that out I guess…” Troy nodded his understanding before asking a question that had plagued him for five years.

“What happened, Tina? To your face, to Mari? I remember she was there when we rescued you but we couldn’t reach her.”

Tina flopped ungracefully into her desk chair, motioning for Troy to sit in the chair across from her. For a long while she sat, fingers steeped, staring off into space before she cleared her throat and began to tell a story she hadn’t been able to recount since it happened. She had often thought foolishly that not talking about it made it less real. Her nightmares had proven that to be a false hope, as her nights were peppered with heart-stopping moments of terror.

Even as she recounted the nightmarish chain of events that led to her disfigurement and Mari’s assimilation, part of her couldn’t believe that any of it had truly happened; that two people could endure such horrific events and still be whole in the end. Maybe that’s why it hadn’t felt real, because neither she nor Mari were truly whole, would ever be whole again. No, not until they were reunited… for good.

Throughout the entire retelling, Troy listened with a grim expression, afraid to interrupt Tina lest she become less forthcoming. When she stopped talking he had stared at her with both pity and a renewed sense of awe that she had held it together this long.

“That’s … that story was…um…”

“Horrific, nightmarish, bone-chilling, hard to believe that any survived?” Tina supplied in a flat voice.

“Yeah… all of that…” He whispered. Tina simply nodded in response, a faraway look in her eyes. “I’ll help you.”

“Help me what?”

“Save Mari. I’ll help you save Mari.” Tina’s jaw nearly hit the floor at his announcement. “Now that I know what she’s gone through and why, I can’t just turn my back on her or you.”

Tina continued to gape at him in disbelief, a single tear sliding down her cheek. He was going to help her; she wasn’t alone. More importantly, Mari wasn’t alone anymore. Someone besides Tina wanted to help her, help her take back her life and identity.

“Thank you…” she whispered as he rounded the desk and enveloped her in another crushing embrace.

“Don’t thank me yet…” He responded ruefully.

“How are you feeling today, Captain?”

“Stronger than yesterday. A little bit better each day actually…” Mari had responded as the doctor carefully removed her bandages to check her wounds for infection. She hissed a little as he pressed on a particularly tender spot but he didn’t seem worried.

“Good, good. All your wounds are healing quite nicely, remarkably in fact. I had no idea your ‘enhancements’ would be so efficient…” He clucked as he finished re-bandaging her chest, pulling the blanket back up to cover her.

“My what?” Mari was confused. She had heard the doctor telling an officer the same thing weeks before when she had first awoken. This was the first time in over a month at this hospital that anyone had mentioned it again. “What are you talking about?”

The doctor looked nervous as if he had said too much but then seemed to resign himself to her unnerving gaze. She had a right to know what was happening to her own body.

“Your ‘enhancements’…” he began and Mari could almost see the air quotes. “Advanced gene engineering that allows you to be faster, stronger and heal more quickly. Apparently, every solider in Snow Corp. has them, though I always assumed it was just a rumor until you ended up in my O.R.”

Mari nodded stiffly, digesting this interesting bit of information. She had a suspicion that the ‘enhancements’ did more than just make her a better solider, they had to have something to do with why she hadn’t remembered Tina until just a few weeks ago. The doctor seemed to be watching her with a worried expression as if he had broken her somehow.

“How does it work?” She asked finally.

“I’m sorry…”

“The gene engineering, how does it work? Can it ever stop working?” The doctor seemed genuinely intrigued by her questions.

“Well, I’m no expert…” he began, pursing his lips in contemplation. “From what I can tell, the manufactured genes are unique to each host and when introduced to the body, they clasp onto the host cells and boost their production. The increase in cell production would, in essence, make you heal faster.”

“I see. But could it stop working?” The doctor’s expression went from thoughtful back to concerned. “Doc?”

“Yes… and no.” Mari’s expression pressed him to continue. “From what I can tell, the injections they’ve been having me give you reintroduce the manufactured genes into your blood. A booster shot of sorts.”

“And without those?”

“Your regenerative qualities would be diminished. But continuing the treatments could have ill effects too. The engineered genes would never give up on their mission but, the human body can only take so much… eventually…”

“I’ll burn out.” Mari finished for him, her expression equally grim.

“Essentially.” He agreed with her in a solemn tone. “It all depends on how long you’ve been on the therapy? How often you’ve been gravelly injured?”

Mari remained silent because the answers to both questions were less than promising. How long? Five years. How many injuries? Too many to keep track of. The enormity of his words hit her harder than the three slugs he had dug from her chest. She had been running full steam for so long, she couldn’t possibly have much time left.

“If I stop right now, refuse more injections, what are my chances?” The doctor stared at her with a mixture of sympathy and caring. He took her hand in his own.

“My dear, I have no idea what you have been through but your scars tell a harrowing tale. At this point in your recovery, stopping the treatments may set you back substantially; perhaps even kill you. However, if you continue at the pace I suspect you have been going, you will ‘burn out’ as you put it, in just a few years. Is it worth it?”

“I don’t know…” He patted her hand gently before setting it on the bed.

“You should rest. I will return tomorrow to check on you and bring your next injection. I’ll leave you to decide how we proceed…”

He turned and crossed to the door, knocking twice to let the guard know to let him out. He gave her a small nod of reassurance as he stepped into the hallway, turning out her light as he went. Mari sat in the darkness, staring at the ceiling and wondering how she was going to break the news to Tina that she may not be worth saving after all.

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