“Ugh!” Tina grunted with frustration as she slammed another Snow Corp. soldier’s head against a wall.
She was irritated and tired, this raid being the fourth she had been on in a month looking for intel about Snow’s brainwashing techniques. For weeks she had been visiting Mari, sneaking in, staying by her side for hours piecing together the years her sister seemed to have lost. She was secretly relieved every time Mari knew who she was because it seemed like only a matter of time before someone noticed and wiped that away for good.
Another solider emerged from a nearby hallway and she thought she would play with him a little. Why not? She could definitely use the outlet. He lunged at her with his sword, narrowly missing her midsection before his jaw connected heavily with her fist! He pulled back annoyed and readied himself to attack again.
Tina just smiled and beckoned him closer. He tried again, hefting a mighty swing that would have taken a less experienced fighters head off. Even with the use of one eye and the hood of her cloak up, Tina was a formidable fighter. As soon as she was well enough she had begun training with Troy to acclimate her fighting style to her disability. There were few swordsman with both eyes who could best her and this solider was nowhere near an expert.
Tina ducked easily, nicking the soldiers upper arm with her own blade to add insult and injury. Now the man was incensed, his attacks coming in a flurry of angry swipes! Tina dodged each one with practiced precision though a couple swings came dangerously close to connecting. She decided to stop playing with him and on his next charge, she used his momentum to duck under his arms and flip him over her back against the bulkhead! The impact made a satisfying clang that was music to her ears.
“Black Betty?” A familiar voice came through her earpiece.
“Yes, lieutenant? Find anything?”
“Yes ma’am, you’re gonna want to see this!”
“Nice work. Pull everyone back to the Black Hammer.”
Tina’s heart was racing as she made short work of a few more inexperienced soldiers’ on her way back to the main deck. She had been expecting more of a challenge but suspected Snow kept his best fighters as close to him as possible. She made it to the deck and barreled towards the railing without hesitation before vaulting over it into darkness. Her feet collided with the deck of the Black Hammer mere seconds later. As soon as she landed she began giving orders.
“Disable cloaking, all sails at the ready, all hands on deck!”
The seamen on the scientific vessel in front of them were dumbfounded as the intimidating black vessel came into view. Its sails shimmered like oil, and the entire ship was made of dark smooth wood making it nearly invisible even without the cloaking device. The main mast flew a black flag with the usual skull and crossbones motif one would expect from a pirate ship. Just below flew a smaller flag depicting a sledgehammer with a golden crown hanging on it. The design had been their father’s and both Tina and Mari bore that crown on their bodies. At the slightest movement, glittering cannon barrels automatically swiveled to put an end to the already disabled vessel.
“Ma’am? Cannons are at the ready. Waiting on your order to fire.” A seaman informed Tina as he readied his finger over the launch button at the helm.
“At ease.” Tina commanded.
“Was I unclear seaman? I said at ease. The ship is incapacitated and they have no defenses. We got what we came here for. Set a course for the base. I’ll be below decks. That is all.”
“Aye, aye ma’am.” The chastised seaman immediately went to work setting the necessary coordinates while avoiding Tina’s scathing gaze as she headed to the lower decks. “All ahead full!”
Tina threw her hood back as she entered the stairwell; glad to be free of its stifling effects. It was a necessary evil, as it maintained an intimidating façade for Black Betty and disguised her identity but she never quite got used to it, no matter how often she wore it. Heading down a hallway she entered the first door on her right, the war room. Inside, a large metal table sat centered in a room surrounded by monitors of all sizes. Some showed security footage of the ship, others a live feed from the base, while others still showed various tapes obtained from their recent raids.
Troy stood before a large monitor, remote in hand watching and re-watching a tape they had just acquired. To his right stood the ship’s medical officer, Rae Gomez, a pretty Mexican girl in her 20’s that Tina was sure Troy had trysted with since their breakup. Tina did her best to still her jealousy as she approached the two, wondering what had captured their attention.
“You had something to show me Lieutenant?” She asked in a voice that clearly showcased her authority. As always in the field, Troy was all business.
“Yes ma’am. Dr. Gomez and I were just reviewing the tapes obtained in today’s raid. Doctor?” Gomez looked slightly uneasy about having to address Tina directly. She cleared her throat and began speaking in a less than authoritative tone.
“Well… um, ma’am… These tapes seem to showcase some new techniques Snow hopes to use on his soldiers’ in the near future. In the first few cases, it seems that they upped the doses of engineered genes given to the subjects. In the second set of tests, they tried combining the enhanced genes with cybernetic implants.”
Tina listened carefully, trying to figure out why they insisted she hear this. She made a small motion with her hands encouraging the duo to keep talking.
“The results were… less than desirable…” Tina fixed the doctor with a hard glare.
“In all cases ma’am, the subjects died within a few days of organ failure, stroke, heart attacks, brain aneurisms, you name it! From what I can tell, Snow and his mad scientists sacrificed at least 50 healthy young people. It was a huge loss so they decided to turn their trials on a more expendable group.” Gomez glanced at Troy for support and Tina instantly felt her anger rise until he spoke.
“They’re going to start experimenting on those soldiers who are infirmed… or injured.” He shot Tina a meaningful look and she felt as if all the air had left the room. Mari was a solider, an injured solider, in Snow’s army. Tina groped blindly for a chair and sat with a defeated thud. Troy was instantly at her side. Gomez looked on confused.
“We have an… informant in Snow’s army who was injured recently." Troy explained to the young woman. "It’s their medical records you’ve been studying for the past few weeks. If this is true, they’re in a lot of danger.”
Gomez nodded numbly as her expertise was medicine, not extraction.
“Can we have the room please, doctor?” Somehow Tina had found her voice, just enough to dismiss the doctor.
Gomez seemed relieved to be excused and hurried back to the medical bay to further study the tapes. Once she was gone Troy sealed the door and took a seat across from her, waiting for her to say something.
“What do you wanna do?” He asked quietly.
“We’re out of options. We have to bring her back to the base… the sooner, the better.”
As soon as the ship docked, Tina stole away to the hospital. It was well past her normal visiting time yet Mari was awake when she arrived. It had surprised her to find her sister sitting up in bed, absentmindedly tracing the scars on her arm with her fingertips. She didn’t even look up when Tina entered which put the other girl on high alert.
“Mari? Mari what’s wrong?” Her sister still wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“I have to tell you something… something that changes everything.” Tina sat on the side of the bed and gently tilted her sister’s face up to meet hers.
“Sweetie what’s going on? Just tell me.”
“My enhancements,” Mari began shakily barely able to hold Tina’s gaze. “ My enhancements... the side effects are... fatal. I only have a few years left at best... I’m so sorry I got your hopes up.”
Tina went numb.
She had come here to warn Mari about the effects of what Snow was planning for her but it seemed he had already given her sister a death sentence. Tina drew her sister into her arms and did her best to comfort Mari as her shoulders shook in hushed sobs. Over the next few minutes she was able to coax a few more details out of her sister yet none of them made her feel any better.
If Mari quit now, she could be dead tomorrow and if she quit later, she could die suddenly of any of the terrible conditions Gomez had outlined earlier that day. Tina needed more time to figure this out, a luxury being denied them at every turn.
“Mari listen to me.” She waited for her sister to look at her. “You have to keep taking the injections, just a few more days, until I can figure a way to get you out of here in one piece.”
“Tina,” Mari sighed as if she had already accepted her fate. “What good is that going to do?”
“Well for starters, the more injections you take, the stronger you’ll be when I bust you out of here! And on the other hand, if you suddenly start refusing treatment, they’ll be tipped off that something’s different with you.”
“And if I manage to escape? Then what? Instead of dying here, I die at the base where everyone around me wants me dead anyway?”
Tina stared at Mari in disbelief, dumbfounded that her sister had lost hope so quickly. Just the night before, the two had been discussing all the things they wanted see, traveling the world with their mother. Now Mari acted as if she already had one foot in the grave.
“Stop it! Stop acting like you’re already dead. We’ve been given another chance and dammit we’re gonna take it! I just need a little time.” Tina grabbed her sister’s shoulders and shook her more roughly than she intended, causing Mari to wince. Her expression softened when she noticed the pain etched across her sister’s face. “I’m sorry! Did I hurt you? I just can’t stand you talking about yourself like you’re not worth it.”
Mari nodded slowly, taking in her sister’s words. Tina was so determined to help her but she worried doing so would in end in both their deaths. Still, if her sister believed they could do it, Mari would try. She couldn’t disappoint Tina.
“Okay. I’ll keep taking the injections, as long as you have a plan that doesn’t put you in danger.” Tina smiled broadly and waved a dismissive hand before hugging her sister much more gently.
“Danger is my middle name…” Mari made a face of disgust. “What?”
“Your middle name is ‘Grace’.” Tina rolled her eyes.
“Oh sure, that you can remember!”
She climbed into bed beside Mari and held her gently until Mari drifted into a slightly fitful but well-deserved slumber. Watching her sister sleeping soundly against her chest, Tina couldn’t imagine getting Mari back only to lose her in a few short years. There had to be a way to reverse the effects or at the least extend her sister’s life and she barely had 48 hours to find it. She had her work cut out for her. With a sigh she slid Mari off her chest onto the mountain of pillows required to keep her sister comfortable. Mari stirred but didn’t wake, a testament to how truly exhausted she was from staying up all night contemplating her mortality.
“I’m not gonna let you die.” Tina whispered to her sister as she tucked her in, placing a small kiss on her forehead. “I love you too much.”
Tina burst into the medical bay on a mission for answers. The doctor nearly jumped ten feet in the air at her entrance, having been extremely focused on her laptop. She spun in her chair, clutching her chest staring at Tina wide-eyed.
“Commander! I mean ma’am! I mean… what are you doing here at this hour?”
Tina glanced at the clock. It was 4:30 in the morning, an hour no sane person ever saw on their bedside table. She couldn’t care less about the time, she was on a strict clock and she could feel Mari slipping away from her with every second that passed.
“This is my base. I can be anywhere at any time I please.” She gave Gomez her most intimidating stare before continuing. “I want a briefing on everything you’ve discovered about Snow’s bioengineering.”
“Of course… I’ll have my staff pull it together…”
“Brief me now. I don’t have time for official reports.” Tina pulled a rolling chair away from a table and sat facing the doctor, an expectant look on her face. Gomez swallowed hard and began.
“Well, it’s pretty sophisticated…”
“I know it super-charges cell production and makes you heal faster. I also know that it has a major side effect in that it burns up your immune system. What I want to know is…can you slow the deterioration? Even stop it?”
The level of knowledge Tina had just displayed on the subject took Gomez aback. Tina knew the doctor must be suspicious as to how she became an expert in just a few hours but she didn’t have time to play coy. Mari’s demise was inching ever closer and this time around Tina intended to fight to keep her sister. She waited for the doctor to answer.
“From what my research indicates, the patient would have to be administered a high dose of the engineered cells and then slowly backed off the regimen with decreasing doses.”
“Like a detox?”
“Essentially. However, there are a few hurdles to get over.” Tina thought it sounded too easy.
“First of all, the patient would suffer painful withdrawal symptoms possibly even the re-opening of old wounds.” Tina flinched at the thought of Mari bleeding deeply from the chest again. “Secondly, the treatment itself is difficult to duplicate and it has a shelf life of barely a day or so, which means we would be manufacturing the serum nearly round the clock, depending on how many patients we have.”
The doctor sounded hopeful that she would be able to help more soldiers. It had long been Tina’s plan to free those poor souls taken into Snow Corp. by force and that had been the carrot she had dangled in front of the doctor to garner her cooperation. Gomez had joined the resistance when her two younger brothers were taken and months later showed up in Snow uniforms. Tina didn’t want to alienate her by saying that mission was no longer a priority so she lied.
“Your second concern shouldn’t be a problem doctor. We’ll only be trying this treatment on one patient to start, just to be sure its safe, so you should have no problem synthesizing enough serum.”
“Your informant?” Tina nodded brusquely. The doctor didn’t know Mari, she had joined the resistance barely a couple years ago; the fewer people who knew her sister’s identity, the better. At least until Tina could guarantee her safety on the base.
“Yes…” Tina hedged. “I am concerned though that we don’t have the medical resources to keep them comfortable during the detox period.”
“Actually ma’am,” Gomez stood and pulled back a curtain on the other side of the medical bay to reveal a dizzying array of medical machinery that Tina could only guess the uses for. “After we gathered the intel you wanted, I thought it might be beneficial for us to do a little ‘shopping’? I was just finishing up the inventory when you came in.” Tina couldn’t hide how impressed she was.
“Nicely done, doctor. Nicely done.” Tina moved forward to run a hand over one particularly shiny machine. “Now we just need a plan to get them out of that hospital and back down here safely.”
“I think I might have an idea…”