The Last Bastion of the Living
Page 11

 Rhiannon Frater

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“No, Mama. Nothing is wrong. I just wanted to call to let you know that I am going on a special assignment for around six months. I am not going to be able to contact you and I just wanted-”
“Where are you going?” Lourdes demanded, her eyes flashing.
“Hey, sis, what’s up?” Mariano leaned into view.
“All I am allowed to say is that I am on a special assignment authorized by President Cabot,” Maria answered truthfully.
“I don’t like it,” Lourdes decided. “Tell him no.”
“I can’t, Mama, I already said yes. I’m getting ready to leave now,” Maria answered, her hand sliding nervously up and down her arm.
“No, no. You tell him no. I already lost your father to the Scrags. Don’t you go and get yourself killed, too!” Lourdes wailed, slamming her fist onto the armrest of her recliner. “You almost died in that last battle!”
“Mama, I can’t. I made a vow,” Maria answered quietly, her voice rough with emotion.
“Calm down, Mama, and listen to her,” Mariano urged.
“I am listening and I don’t like it!” Lourdes shouted. “You never come to see me! I hardly see you, and then you call to tell me that you’re going to do something stupid and get killed!”
“Mama,” Maria exclaimed, standing up sharply. “I just wanted to tell you how much I—”
“If you go, I don’t want to hear from you ever again! I already lost your father! Isn’t that enough?” Lourdes sprang out of her chair and stormed out of view.
Mariano swiftly moved into frame. “She doesn’t mean it, Maria. She’s just upset. She never wanted you to go into the service,” he said, trying to console her. “And when you got wounded...”
Despite her best efforts to control her emotions, tears streamed down Maria’s cheeks. “I know, I know. But I need to do this. Not just for me, but for you, for her, for everyone.”
Mariano nodded, his dark eyes studying her. “Just keep safe. Come home safely. She’ll forgive you then.”
“Don’t be angry with me.”
“I’m not. I’m proud of you. And scared for you,” Mariano admitted. “Be careful, okay?”
“Tell her I love her, please,” Maria asked. “And I will come back.”
Mariano flashed his beautiful smile. “I know you will. You’re a bad ass. Te amo, sis.”
“Te amo,” Maria answered just before the screen flashed to black.
“That could have gone better,” Dwayne’s voice said, startling her. He stood just inside the narrow doorway in his dark blue uniform, his expression one of concern.
“I don’t know why I ever expect it to go well when I talk to her.” Maria yanked her pad out of the vid-screen and angrily tucked it into her bag of personal possessions.
“Mothers have a way of making their kids crazy. I see it with Barbara all the time. Hell, my mother did it to me, too.” Dwayne reached out and touched her cheek lightly. “But she loves you. She wouldn’t be so upset otherwise.”
“I know that, but it doesn’t make me feel any less shitty.” Maria wiped at her face with irritation. “I just wanted this one conversation to go well and not end with her yelling at me.”
Wrapping her up in his arms, Dwayne held Maria close, kissing her forehead.
“And I hate crying! And she always makes me cry and feel like a stupid little kid. I’m not a stupid little kid, Dwayne. I’m a bad ass. I’m a decorated war hero. I shook the hand of the president! But is that good enough for her?”
Dwayne listened in silence as she raged.
Maria clenched her hands at her sides, stepping away from him. “She is always going to hold it against me for enlisting. Hell, she even blames me for getting wounded. The last time we argued she claimed I had killed her future grandchildren because I chose to become a soldier. At least she didn’t throw that in my face this time.”
Dwayne sighed as he sat on the edge of the bed. His blue eyes gazed up at her with such tenderness, Maria felt her rage start to ebb away. It wasn’t his fault she had failed in all of her mother’s expectations of her. She had betrayed her mother by following in her father’s footsteps, and for that her mother would never forgive her. Rubbing her hand over her stomach, she could feel the ugly scars beneath her shirt.
“I don’t know what to say other than I believe in you and what you have chosen to do. I’m scared, too. That’s most likely why she’s lashing out at you. I’m not saying she’s right to do so, but I do understand how scared she must be that she’s going to lose you.” Dwayne touched her hand lightly. “I’m scared I’ll lose you.”
“You won’t. I promise. This will work. We’ll kill the Scrags and be free of them. Then you and I will go live in that house by the lake.” Maria plopped onto the bed next to him, covering her face with her hands. “I just wanted to have a good moment with her before I head out there. I wanted to tell her I love her.”
Rubbing her back lightly, Dwayne said, “At least she knows you were thinking of her before deployment.”
“True. I almost didn’t call her. I thought about just sending her a message. But she would have killed me for that.” Maria ran her hands over her hair and turned her gaze toward him. “Did you get your errand taken care of?”
“Yes, I did,” Dwayne answered, smiling slightly. He pulled a small black box out of his pocket. “I’m not going to lie. I don’t like the idea of not having any communication with you while you’re out there. I hate that they’re disabling that aspect of your wristlet.”
Sighing, Maria nodded. “I don’t like it either. It’s going to be the hardest part of the mission.”
“Well, I went to see someone that gave me a solution.” Dwayne held out the box. “It’s for your wristlet. I am leaving this up to you, though. All you have to do is connect it to this device and it will download a program that will create a back door for us to communicate through.”
Maria took the small box, flipped it open, and stared down at the small device. “If I got caught...”
“Exactly. That’s why I said it’s your choice. I’ll download the same program, of course.”
“We’ll be jail breaking our wristlets,” Maria said in a solemn voice.
“Which is against the law,” Dwayne added, his keen blue eyes gazing into her dark ones.
Maria ran her finger lightly over the slim silver stick thoughtfully. Running her hand over her wristlet, she activated the screen and slowly tapped in her passcode. She could feel Dwayne watching her, waiting. Pulling the device out of the box, she tilted her head to gaze at the man she loved.
“I’m willing to risk it if you are,” she finally said.
The corner of Dwayne’s mouth quirked upward as he nodded. “I’m absolutely ready to risk it.”
It took only a few minutes to install the program and Maria was relieved when it disappeared into the depths of the wristlet’s operating system. Together, they experimented with pulling up the hidden program and giving it a test run. They were both pleased when there were no problems.
“She’s the best,” Dwayne decided with a grin.
“And how do you know this hacker?” Maria wondered.
Grinning, Dwayne destroyed the device, grinding it under his boot. “I’ve been around a long time. You meet people along the way and find out their special talents.”
“She’s one of us?” Maria said.
“Maybe. Does it matter?”
“No, no.” Maria smiled as she ran her fingers over the slim wristlet. “Whoever she is she just made this job not seem quite so bad.”
“The new house on the lake wasn’t enough to make it bearable?”
With a shrug of her shoulders, Maria lay back on the bed. “It was enough to keep me motivated, but this actually makes me happy.”
Dwayne settled down beside her, his arms around her waist and his face tucked into the crook of her neck. “I’m going to miss you.”
“I’m going to miss you.” Maria noted the time and her stomach coiled with nerves. Rolling over onto her side, she rested her palm gently against Dwayne’s cheek. “I have to go in two hours and the hardest part of all of this is leaving you.”
Dwayne stroked her hair as he kissed her lips softly. “Two hours, huh? Let’s make it count.”
Laughing, Maria dismissed her fears, her doubts, and her heartbreak as she lost herself in making love to the only man she had ever loved.
Chapter 5
The painful scene before him reminded Dwayne of the night he had packed his bags and walked out of his old home. It held a finality that bothered him.
Maria slowly moved through her flat, checking each cabinet, the closet, under the bed, every location she might have left one of her small possessions. The tension that had settled between her eyebrows had her forehead knotted. Clad in her charcoal-colored dress uniform, her hair braided down her back, she looked lovely, yet stern.