Prologue

In which our heroine remembers her past

Sometimes at night, when the entire world sleeps, most nights, almost all of them, I lie awake.  To some ungodly hour near the break of dawn, my mind knows nothing but the horrors and helplessness of the past.  When I can no longer ward off the demons in my mind, that are supposed to lie at rest in the past, I drift into a fitful sleep. 

The drama obsesses my unconscious mind.  No matter how I have tried to break free, it is still part of my past.  I cannot hide it from my mind, for it knows best what has happened.  I am forced to battle the war raging in there and often to no avail. 

On those nights, the same dreams creep between the crevices made vulnerable by slumber.

Steam rose from all directions, billowing into swirls, each a threatening tentacle ready to choke, suffocate, asphyxiate me.  I tried to run, only to look down and see my ankles chained.  And I, less than a foot from the glass door.  I tugged at the shackles on my wrists, shrieking in impatience.  On the other side, I could see Marcavitch, ever so proud and arrogant standing next to his prisoners.

 "Now, Todd, Jake, William, and Charlie, you will speak," he instructed, baring his teeth.  "Or your girlfriends…" He let the rest cast over their imaginations. 

I read the torn expression on their faces.  They refused to forsake Heath's life and national security.  Yet our lives hung in the balance.  I opened my mouth, hurling at the lot of them, "I'm not their girlfriend!"

 "Don't say anything!" Haley snarled at them, manacled to the bars on the window.  "Don't tell him anything!"  She coughed several times, choking on the heavy air.  Already, we were feeling the strain of the gaseous toxin. 

The chains rattled from the opposite wall, Chloe tugged mercilessly at her restraints.  Her arms strained to break through the iron chains, ankles raw from struggling.  Disgusted, and closest to the door, I slammed my shoulder into it. 

 "What kind of a person are you, Marcavitch?"  I emphasized it further by hitting the door with the little arm movement I was allowed.  The glass didn't rattle, nevertheless violence gave my a silent sense of power.  "You think they're going to break?  Well, I've got news for you!" 

Jake pounded on the glass to put an end to my screeching, Marcavitch made no move to restrain him.  "Trinity, I'm not going to keep my mouth shut and watch the three of you die!"

 "You're going to have to.  Unless he lets us out!"  The sound of what I blabbed, in my voice, seemed to seal our fates.  He stumbled backwards; surprised at how I, too, accepted the fact we probably would not survive this encounter. 

We're dead, I thought ominously.  It doesn't matter what the guys tell Marcavitch.  He wants us dead.  Thirty-one days dodging death, punishment, torture, and here it comes. 

He glared at me, "I'm not living with any of your deaths on my conscience!"

 "It's not going on your conscience!  It's his fault," I jerked my head at Marcavitch.  I choked, gagging on the misty smoke moving up to my face.  I turned away, heart racing, to let several tears dribble down my face, hidden from sight. 

Todd slammed himself into the barrier.  "Turn it off, Marcavitch!!"  Even as he spoke, he stared right at me.  "I'll tell you what you want."

Haley rattled the chains loudly, fighting to be heard.  "Todd, you – ugh!"  Her eyes met mine, dark and unwilling to give up.  "If you talk, I'm going to beat you to death!"

He didn't say anything in return, but the rest of them nodded their heads in consent.  "Let them out," Charlie snapped.  "What do you want to know about Heath?"

 "Charlie!" I slammed my forehead hard on the only thing in front of me.  "Stop it!  Todd!  Tell him not to say anything!"

 "I'm sorry, Trinity."  He looked down, away from my streaming face. 

Both hands pressed against the glass, I sobbed, "Don't give up on Heath!  Don't you get it?  If you give up on him, we're all as good as dead!"  The metal cut into my wrists.  I didn't care.  I clawed at the glass with all my might.

 "The only reason Marcavitch is keeping us alive is because we're the only ones who know!" shouted Chloe.  Her voice barely carried to Todd, the steam had filled up the space behind me. 

 "Todd, swear you don't tell him anything!" I shrieked, body convulsing.  "Swear it!"  I drew nearer to death with every gulp of air. 

 "I'm getting you guys out," he hissed.  He turned away, eyes wide in surprise.  I felt betrayed.  I wanted to cry for myself, for Heath and Haley and Chloe.

I shook my head defiantly, the poison drenching my eyes.  My throat hurt too badly to continue speaking.  I thrashed violently, trying to stop them.  The mist was too thick to see through by then, even if my eyes weren't swollen shut.  "It ends like this," I cried bitterly. 

With a loud crack, I forced my skull against the glass.  I refused to breath in anymore of the fumes surrounding me.

 "Oh, God!  They're in there!"  Moments later, I heard rifle butts cracking the glass.  Blood splattered pieces breaking against the ground. 

 "It's nothing but a fog machine!" someone called in shock. 

 "Someone get the locks off!"

 "I've got it!"  I felt my arms dropping and I swayed dangerously.  Still, I fought for consciousness.  I needed to know what had happened. 

The nauseous feeling faded as I felt myself being lifted into someone's arms.  "What h-h-" I coughed hard, "happened?"  I forced my eyes open.  The light from the lamps searing them.

 "It's alright, ma'am," the young man answered.  I saw his camouflage fatigues and hat, relieved to know the military had been deployed.  He pressed field dressing to my forehead.  "You have an injury," he noted.

I wheezed, "I know.  I slammed my head on the glass."  I stopped to catch my breath, my lungs feeling heavy.  "Who are you?"

The soldier replied, "Private First Class Calvin Norman, United States Army Rangers, ma'am."

 "Is everyone else okay?"

 "You're all being air-vacked out, but you'll survive."

My eyelids felt heavy, even the great surge of relief washing over me couldn't sustain my body.  "You will tell me what happened when the hospital finishes up with me, right?"

 "Yes, ma'am."  I caught a hint of a smile on his weary face.  Relieved, I gripped his uniform as he stepped into the chopper.  I refused to let go, needing comfort from someone so much like my brother.  I fell asleep to the sound of the blades of the helicopter and the gentle rising of his chest. 

The darkness fades into blinding light, and I am forced awake.  Shuddering, my tremor wracked body snaps back to the reality of milk-green walls.

  "There could be serious repercussions to their experience.  Post-traumatic stress disorder is likely."

I lay awake for hours listening to the doctor explain our conditions to the parents outside.  Most likely, the rest of my friends were out there, listening and reassuring parents and other relatives that they were fine. 

 "However, with the right treatment could help with their situation.  Especially for Miss Andrews, as you can see we are hesitant to release her from medical care."

I groaned, knowing I was perfectly fine despite the physically scarring events I had gone through.  "Heath," I murmured.  Smiling, I was satisfied to know he was safe for the time being. 

 "So you're awake," the nurse smiled. 

I smiled as the dream faded with the light streaming through the windows.  "Good morning."  I loved daylight. 

 "I have a few letters for you."

 "No visitors?"

 "I'm sorry, honey, not for a few days."

 "Oh."  I opened the first letter quickly to find it was from my guardian, Miss Alice.

Dear Trinity,

          I know times are not easy right now.  They never were when it came to you.  You don't want my pity or concern, so I won't bother.  All the same, I wish you would tell me more about your health than the doctors do.

          I hope for that these events will shape you for the better, as all things before have.  I love very much, my daughter.  You are truly a courageous and talented girl person. 

          Love you. 

Miss Alice

I rubbed my eyes, trying not to tearstain the note and moved on the next. 

Miss Trinity Andrews:

I hope this finds you in the best of health.  I was here to visit, but the nurses informed me that I wouldn't be allowed in for several days.  When the time comes, I promise to tell you what happened, as you requested. 

Best of luck to the one of the bravest people I know.

Calvin Norman,

Private 1st Class, US Army Rangers

It was nice of him to remember, I thought.  And I really did want to know what happened.  For the time being, I decided to sleep.  It was less painful for my head.  That day, like most before them, I finished in unconsciousness.

A voice hissed, "I don't believe you came!"

 "She's still asleep, shut up."  It sounded like Calvin!  I moved, trying my best to rouse myself from a deep sleep.  I rolled over to face him and a friend. 

 "Hi," I said drowsily.  "Nice to see you came."

 "Afternoon, ma'am."

Still tired from the visit from Miss Alice, I struggled to sit up.  He propped a pillow behind me, holding me up by the waist until I could settle. 

 Thanks."  I looked over at his friend and extended my hand, "I'm Trinity Andrews.  It's nice to meet you."

"Sergeant Richard Emory," he introduced himself.  "Part of Operation Fantalia like Calvin."

"Oh… so that's what they call it now.  What else about the operation?" I demanded.  "How many men deployed?"  Bedridden, I'd grown desperate for news, any word, from the outside world.

Calvin gulped, surprised by the onslaught of questions.  "A battalion of men after they pinpointed the location."

 "How long did that take?"

 "About two weeks to find out Marcavitch was going to use his summer mansion.  By then, the windows had been blacked out and the doors were sealed."

I nodded understanding.  "Did you get floor plans?"

 "Yes, ma'am," Richard answered.  "But we couldn't storm the mansion, on account he had his own men in there."

 "How many for Marcavitch?"

 "Maybe 50 or so."

I shuddered when I remembered those who held us captive, guarding, watching, and trying to pump information out of us.  But I knew I needed to know the whole story, "How'd you guys do it?"

Calvin looked mildly confused, if not astonished at my inquiries.  I rephrased quickly, "The operation.  How did you carry it out?"

 "Marcavitch, open up!" the captain hammered the heavyset door with an iron fist.  "I'm giving you until the count of 3, and then we're detonating!"  There came no reply.

 "Sir?" Private Norman looked expectantly at his commanding officer.

The veteran of raids and guerilla warfare, Captain Boding didn't disappoint.  "Back up, men!"  As they did, he retrieved a grenade, shouting as he did so, "1!  2!"  He paused, waiting.  "3!"  He threw the explosive, with a "Get down!" at his men, as the shattering explosion ripped through the door.

  "What was that?" I groaned, rolling over on the tile floor.  It was dark already, and I was unwilling to move.

 "Guards got into a scrap?" William suggested, staring longingly at the empty food trays.

Haley snorted, "Good.  Maybe they'll kill each other."

Huddled together in a corner of the room, with me sprawled out on the ground, we made do with what we had had for a month now.  Todd, Charlie, Jake, and William were constantly called out to be interrogated.  Each time, they returned a little quieter.

I always opened my mouth to ask what had happened, but shut it knowing it was not my place to intrude.  We, Chloe, Haley, and myself, had never been taken.  Our existence seemed irrelevant, except for the fact Marcavitch himself realized that we were a threat above the boys. 

  "Flashbangs!" Boding ordered.  More explosions went off, the Rangers with Delta leading, stormed into the building.  "Go!  Go!  Go!  Let's move it!"

A loud cry fell over the silent hall, where Marcavitch's men lay spread eagle across the wooden floor, stunned. 

Always ready with a command, Boding shouted, "Sergeant!  Disarm these men and extract them!"

 "Captain!  2 o'clock and closing in!"  Men were filing out on the top floor, rifles ready. 

 "So much for higher ground!  Take cover!" 

A shower of bullets, shells, and smoke exploded in the mansion.  Slicing, cutting, impaling men on both sides. 

 "Marcavitch!  Get the hostages and interrogate.  NOW!  We're running out of time!"  A man shouted from upstairs on radio after seeing the fire fight. 

Below, Captain Boding was having troubles of his own.  "We have two men down!  Injury to the knee and arm!"

I jerked up at the sound of rifles.  "What the heck is that?"  I rushed to the locked door and pounded on it.  "Hey!  You out there!  What's going on?!  Hello??  What's happening?!"

The door swung open, Marcavitch towering over me.  "Change in plans, Miss Andrews."  I heard him switch the safety off on his handgun.  "All of you, come with me!"  I panicked; none of the girls had ever been called out before. 

What's going on? I wondered.  Something's gone wrong…

  "Sergeant Emory!  Take your men and move on up to the second floor!"  The forces from the upper level were falling back.  There was no time to lose.  For sure, the hostages would either be removed or exterminated. 

 "Yes, sir!  Come on, guys!"  The other men showered the stairs ahead of Emory's men, clearing it once and for all.  The corporal and eight of his men swept through the second story, kicking open doors and firing. 

Over the radio, Emory reported, "Nothin', sir.  Not one hostage.  Three gunmen, though."

 "Richard!" shouted Calvin Norman.  "I saw them moving on the fourth floor."  He pointed up a spiral staircase.  "They've got the hostages!"

Boding heard Norman's report and shouted, "Get going, Emory!  I'm sending another squad up after you!"

Heavy boots smacked against the antique metal railings.  They fired into the darkness, not knowing who was there. 

I grimaced as we were prodded down the hall.  It sounds like boots, I decided.  Someone else's here. 

 "Hurry up!" a tall man shouted at me, butting me hard in the back with a rifle. 

My temper flared at the poor treatment.  I resented their advantage over us, their sheer power and brute force.  The knowledge a rescue party might have been following fueling my drive. 

I spun on my heel, swinging a fist straight at his face.  My knuckles cracked on impact, but it didn't stop me from raising my left hand to follow up the offensive.  I slammed my right hand into his stomach and pushed him away from me. 

At that, seeing him double over and crumble, I ran towards the next corridor. 

 "Get her!" Marcavitch commanded soberly.  With a glance backwards, I saw him as calm as ever, unnerving me with a piercing stare.  Three guards set out after me. 

Heart pounding, I circled around the corner, breaking a large statue in the process.  Arms flailing and unsure of where to go, I threw myself against the ground, falling behind the large fragments of plaster. 

 "Where'd she go?!"  I could see their boots right in front of my face. 

 "Come on!  She went down the hall!"  The two lumbered off, arms pumping. 

I heaved a sigh of relief and straightened from the rubble.  My first concern was to find my friends.  Sneaking back to the first hall, I peeked around the corner to my left.  No one.  Where'd they go?  I looked to my right. 

Astonished, I gasped, staring at a bulging neck. 

 "There you are," he leered.  "They were wondering where you got off to."

I started to run and scream, but something crashed against my head.  With a loud thud, I crumbled. 

 "Did you hear that?" Richard jumped at the silenced shriek. 

 "Over there!"  One of the sergeants from the second squad pointed.  Twenty of them sprinted in my direction, late by seconds. 

Richard huffed in frustration, no one was there.  He swore, this was turning into a wild goose chase.  He looked around for possible gunmen. 

Sergeant Irving told his squad to sweep the area.  "There's nobody, sir!" was the report. 

 "Keep looking!" he commanded.  "We're moving forward!"

 "I hope your head doesn't hurt too badly, Miss Andrews."  He was on the other side of the glass pane. 

I raised my lolling head to see Marcavitch smirking.  "I hope I didn't injure your ego too horrendously."  My lip curled as I spoke, arms itching to swing and club his teeth out.  To my annoyance, my arms were chained, my legs, too. 

 "Temper. Temper," he scolded mockingly.  He backed away and slid the glass door shut.  "Now tell me everything you know about Heath Carson!"

Haley rolled her eyes, "Oh, okay.  We're going to tell you everything."  Her face contorted in disgust, "You really don't have this 'evil freak of nature' thing down, do you?"

Chloe was the only one who had something of substance to say.  "Why do you want to know about Heath?" she demanded.  "He doesn't even know you!"

 "Know me!" he laughed cruelly.  "I can assure you, ladies that he does indeed know who we all are."

 "Can't forget his henchmen," I called to them. 

 "Yeah.  That's the other half of his brain working for him," drawled Haley.

I smirked, leave it to the three of us to be sarcastic at a time like this.

The two stories fit together immaculately.  The sounds, screams, and even our movements were synchronized. 

 "When we got into the compound he was interrogating the boys in," Calvin explained, "your half of the room was already filled with the chalk dust."

I nodded.  "We couldn't figure out if anyone was still alive in there."  He stopped and looked down, "We didn't really want to open it and let the 'gas' out."

Appalled, I demanded, "You were going to l-l-let us die?  In there?"

 "Then you slammed your head on the glass, so we knew someone was still alive.  It wasn't until we forced the glass open we found out it was just a fog machine."

 "Why didn't William or anyone say anything?"

 "Marcavitch kept threatening to break the remote control to the door if they said anything," Richard said.  "Eventually, while we were breaking the glass, Marcavitch tried to run for it."

 "What happened to him?"

 "They caught him.  Don't worry.  They got him."

The Ranger and Delta Task Forces had done what was impossible for me.  They had stopped Marcavitch and his mob of hit men.  Moreover, they had the power, physical strength, and mental endurance that I had needed.  If only I had it… then I would have been able to save Heath instead of putting him at greater risk.