Two Steps Forward...
Mari awoke to the sound of a distant beeping accompanied by an overall feeling of warmth and comfort. Turning her head to the side she gingerly opened her eyes; a figure slowly took shape before her. Recognition dawned immediately at the sight of tan skin, golden curls, and hazel eyes with just a hint of wrinkling at the corners.
“Mami?” She croaked, her throat dry from lack of use. It couldn’t be? Could it?
At the sound of her voice, the figure slumped in a chair next to her bed bolted upright immediately! A warm hand squeezed hers tight as the familiar face drew closer, her mother hovering above her with tears in her eyes.
“Marisol? My baby! I knew you’d come back to us.” A gentle hand cupped her face and Mari leaned happily into the warmth, inhaling the familiar scent of floral and coconut oil that lingered on her mother’s skin.
“Where?” She asked, slightly confused as she struggled to sit up in bed.
The last thing she remembered was riding in a van with Tina, Troy, and the doctor feeling much worse than she currently did and deeply under suspicion. Another set of warm hands gently but firmly pushed her back into the soft bed. Her sister stood to her left, relief evident on her face.
“You’re home, Mari.” She explained simply. “And you need to rest.” At the mere mention of the word, Mari felt her eyes getting heavy, fluttering closed briefly.
“Home?” she muttered, fighting her own drowsiness. “You kept your promise…” Her head tilted slightly toward her sister, wonder in her voice.
“You doubted me?” Tina hoped the hurt wasn’t evident in her voice when she responded. Mari’s next words assuaged all her fears.
“Never. Not for a moment…” she replied sleepily before her eyes slipped closed, a small content smile on her lips.
“Where is my captain?”
The question hung in the air, fraught with implications of guilt. Bradford Snow stood in his lavish office, the picture of wealth and opulence, a glass of aged scotch in hand as he awaited a response. He sipped quietly from the glass but never took his eyes off the view from his window as if he could spot Mari from here.
“According to all our intel, sir... she’s... the Captain is dead sir.”
Snow turned to face the man giving him this less than desirable report. The boy was barely nineteen, not a man at all; younger than his own son had been when he’d gone into battle. Snow’s eyes narrowed as he spoke again.
“Dead? All previous reports had the Captain recovering remarkably well and now you tell me she’s dead. Where, then, is my body? She belongs to me. You all do.”
“We believe the rebels took it, sir. Though we have no idea why...”
Why? Snow smirked. Oh, he knew why. This had been a rescue mission. Somehow the rebels had figured out a way to liberate his favorite possession and he would not rest until she was returned.
“But, sir, she’s de-“
“I said find her!
The man nearly tripped over his own feet trying to escape his leader’s wrath. Snow waited for the boy to leave before crossing to his mantle and lifting a frame from it. There, taunting him behind the glass was Captain Saint. His Captain. He smirked at his reflection in the glass, at the pure ruthlessness of his taking August St. John’s own child and turning her against his precious rebellion. An eye for an eye, a life for a life, a child for a child.
Yes, Mari was alive, on that he would bet his life. She would return to him, of her own accord he wagered because the rebels were not as innocent as they appeared. And Mari, for all the world a familiar face was also the beast that had carried out his every order. They would not easily take her back, if they would at all. And in that moment, when her desperation was high, she would flee back to the familiar arms of her master and help him crush the rebellion.
“Rest up my dear.” He clucked as he set the frame down. “You and I still have much work to do.”
When Mari awoke again, her sister was gone yet her mother remained at her side clutching her hand firmly. At the sound of her daughter’s waking, Gaia quickly took a cup from the bedside table and offered it to the girl. Mari sipped from the straw gratefully before signaling she’d had enough.
“How are ya feeling baby? Would ya like someting to eat?”
Mari smiled faintly as she listened to her mother’s soft voice, tinged with island dialect. Neither she nor Tina had retained their island accent, their father’s British accent overriding their speech, something she often regretted.
“It’s just like I remembered,” she mumbled happily. Her mother gently helped her shift into a sitting position, mindful of irritating her daughter’s injuries. Mari’s chest wounds were still healing, not to mention the cracked ribs she had suffered during her resuscitation the night before.
“What’s dat?” Her mother inquired.
“Your voice, your accent.” Mari told her with tears in her eyes. “I used to hear it in my dreams but I wasn’t sure it was real. That you were real.”
Throughout her captivity, Mari had dreamed of her mother, Tina and their family but she doubted its realism. After all, if she truly had a loving family, she wouldn’t be alone; fighting in a war she didn’t believe in. She had often wondered if she had made them up, imagined a family to make her solitude more tolerable. She was pulled from her musings when she realized her mother had enveloped her in a gentle, comforting embrace, her head cradled lovingly against her mother’s bosom.
“Don’t say dat! I’m real and ya gonna be alright. Mama’s here!”
“I’m sorry…” she began, not sure what she was apologizing for. Her mother moved back and cupped her face in both hands, staring intently at her, willing her daughter to believe.
“Ya have nothin’ to be sorry for. I dinnae care what anyone else says. You’re home now and dis is where ya belong.”
She waited for Mari to nod her understanding before she released her and began fussing over her once more, fluffing her pillows and tucking the blankets more securely around her. When Mari was sufficiently immobilized in a burrito of comfort, her mother climbed onto the bed with her, pulling her to her chest again. Mari sat back and enjoyed the attention, the gentle hands soothing her aches, stroking her hair. As she melted deeper into her mother’s embrace she thought that maybe Tina had been right; maybe it would all be okay in the end.
There was an audible slap as Tina closed the file on her desk and shoved it aside. She pinched her brow between her thumb and forefinger trying to ward off an oncoming headache from poring over supply reports and mission briefings. She’d been at it for several hours, finding it hard to concentrate knowing her sister was just a short walk away. Mari was doing well, responding to the treatment and stronger than she was less than a day before yet Tina still felt uneasy. When the phone rang on her desk, she knew why…
“Commander?!” Gomez panicked voice crackled through the receiver, putting Tina instantly on alert.
“Doctor? What’s wrong? It’s Mari, isn’t it?” Tina could feel her chest tighten as she awaited a response.
“You need to come to the med-bay, ma’am! Right now.”
Tina slammed the phone down and barreled out the door. She stormed through the halls, ignoring concerned looks until she reached the med-bay. Pausing outside the doors, she took a moment to compose herself before stepping inside to be immediately swallowed by the chaos.
Gomez spotted her near the door and charged over, expertly navigating equipment and personnel. Grabbing Tina’s hand, she pulled her into the small private room Mari had been resting in since her arrival, protecting her from prying eyes.
“Doctor, what is going on?” The doctor gestured towards the center of the room before answering her question.
Medical personnel poking, prodding and monitoring her condition surrounded Mari’s bed. She looked worse than Tina had seen her in weeks. Her face was pale and drawn, dark circles forming under each eye. Her chest rose and fell raggedly, aided by a ventilator. There was no trace of the vibrant woman her sister knew and loved.
“She’s crashing. The serum we synthesized just isn’t strong enough.” Gomez had a grim expression as she explained the dire nature of the situation.
Tina eyed Gomez warily. The doctor had reacted poorly to the news of who Mari truly was and had initially refused to treat her. One look at the other woman’s face confirmed what Tina already knew. The doctor had sworn an oath to do no harm and would keep to it no matter how she felt about the patient personally. Before she could inquire further or process the doctor’s words, her mother appeared.
“Bettina!” Gaia rushed up to her upset and shaking. Tina hugged her mother instinctively, trying to comfort her.
“Mami, what happened?”
“I don’t know! She was fine, sitting up and eatin’ on her own. Then she started coughing, said she couldn’t breath. By the time the doctor got here, she had collapsed!”
“It’s okay Mami. It’s gonna be okay.” She turned determinedly to Gomez. “What can we do doctor? We’ve come too far, I won’t lose her now.”
“I don’t know why our serum isn’t working but her old doctor might. If he could help us with the formula, she might have a chance…”
“How long does she have?”
“Twelve hours; maybe a day…” Gomez couldn’t hide her hopelessness. Despite everything else, she had hoped Mari would live, if only for her family’s sake. “We need that doctor NOW.”
Tina nodded stiffly then turned back to her mother. “Mami, stay here with her. Help the doctor and keep her comfortable. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
She grabbed her watch and set the timer feeling more panicked by the second as it counted back from 12 hours. She left the room, pausing to use the doctor’s phone.
“Lieutenant!” she barked into the receiver. “I need you and two of your best men. Discretion is key. Wheels up in 15.”
Tina quickly left the med-bay and headed for her quarters. There were several items she would need to make this mission a success and it had to succeed. She barely made it in the door before the sobs wracked her body. Sliding down the wall she felt the despair wash over her. Why? Why Mari? Why now? It seemed that no matter how hard Tina tried, there was always another obstacle in her way. The sounds of her misery filled the small space for several minutes before she managed to compose herself.
“Get it together Tina…” she mumbled angrily, wiping roughly at her face.
Picking herself up off the floor, she quickly gathered her supplies. Sparing a glance in the mirror on the way out she noticed her nose was red, cheeks flushed and her eye was bloodshot. She assumed the situation beneath her patch was even worse but there was no time for vanity. Mari trusted her when she had said it would all be okay, she had to make good on that promise.