Some people are born with tragedy in their blood.
At least, that's what Gemma Shearing has thought since she was twenty years old and was awoken by the sound of a state trooper knocking on the front door to tell her that her parents were dead. The trooper had been very solemn offering Gemma his sympathies for her loss. It was just after midnight but she'd already been asleep for hours, knocked out by the pressure of studying for finals and writing essays, desperate to finish out the winter semester with a 4.0. Wouldn't her parents be proud; her sleep-heavy mind had a difficult time processing the man's words.
It had to be a dream; the words seemed disjointed but fit together into a perfect nightmare of understanding. Your parents killed…Traffic accident…Coming home…Drunk driver. It seemed so Lifetime movie, so much like a dream that she wanted to wake from and she would. That was what Gemma had held onto for the first few hours, the fact that maybe she was dreaming. But when more officers showed up to ask her questions and give her details, when she started getting calls from family members, when she had to tell her ten-year-old sister that her parents were dead and the last traces of them in the house were the carefully wrapped and labeled Christmas presents under the tree, Gemma stopped believing it was a dream.
But she never stopped believing that somehow her family had been tainted by tragedy. How else can you explain a ten-year-old growing up without parents? A twenty-year-old having to raise her sister alone in the big house that seemed to be haunted by the ghosts of their parents?
How else can you explain a late night phone call from a stoic voiced man informing her that her baby sister was dead; killed in a fire that consumed her beautifully run-down Maryland home? It seemed this voice was no more comprehensible than that state trooper so many years ago. No trace of her body…Ongoing investigation…Very sorry...Did she seem depressed? Gemma had stared at the phone in her hand for what felt like hours, willing her mind to piece it all together praying her comprehension of his words was wrong; Marta—dead. It just didn't make sense. Gemma had spoken to Marta only hours before, doing her best to soothe her baby sister's addled nerves and fears. They made plans for her to come and visit, to fly up in the afternoon.
Gemma could hardly believe it when Marta had choked out the story about her colleagues and how she'd narrowly avoided ending up like the rest of them. Gemma was working late that night and had not seen the 'Breaking News' story as it aired. It was only after she got home and charged her phone that she received the twelve texts from her sister, each pleading with her sister to call as soon as she got the message. So, Gemma called instead of texting assuming that dick Peter Doyle had done something to hurt her sister. Marta's voice when she answered had sounded shell-shocked and she had dissolved into a fit of tears at the sound of Gemma's voice.
She never regretted taking the promotion and transferring to Montreal more than at that moment when her baby sister needed her. Gemma could not breathe. She was so breathlessly relieved that Marta made it out of that situation alive; especially, after she was able to get more details from various news reports and online articles. There were rumors that the man, Foite, had an unusual fascination with her sister. Marta had talked a little about her co-workers and had on more than one occasion mentioned the man being gay. It just wasn't making any sense.
Questions seemed to be haunting Gemma's footsteps. How does a woman walk away from a mass-murder and suicide only to be burnt alive in her bed? Receiving news of her sister's death in a random house fire less than twenty-four hours on the heels of surviving such a high profile shooting defied logic; Marta would have said, 'I don't do random.'
Gemma figured it was understandable for Marta's death to consume her mind. Marta was all she had left; her sole remaining family, the little sister Gemma had practically raised and guided through life. She couldn't seem to stop pacing around her house, pausing intermittently to stare at pictures of her and Marta on her mantle or framed in her office. Marta's high school graduation, various birthdays and holidays, Marta graduating at the top of her class and charging on without pause to achieve her doctorate and several doctorates after that.
It was the photos of Marta mugging for the camera on various vacations, smiling despite the serious glint that was always visible in her warm brown eyes which ripped a sob from Gemma's throat. That glint had been there since Marta was ten years old and had only gotten more pronounced as she went through her life, striving to follow in their father's footsteps. Gemma couldn't make the Marta in the photos and the dead Marta the man described into the same person. It just didn't fit together. She refused to let it.
It was only after her second sleepless night that Gemma started to really think. She had been working so hard at not thinking, at trying to block out the fact that her little sister was dead, dying a horrific death, that she now wondered if she had been missing the obvious. The strange coincidence that Marta should die in a seeming accident, just a day after everyone else in her department had been murdered.
Gemma had never been one for conspiracy theories but now this one was nagging at her, consuming her mind in a way that was almost foreign to her. She wasn't like Marta, who got an idea or plan in her mind and wouldn't let go of it until she had seen it through to the end but now she felt like a bulldog with a bone. This thought was impossible to shake loose.
She thought about that last conversation with Marta, how her sister had still been noticeably disturbed about what happened in the lab but seemed resolute in her desire to start putting it behind her. Marta hadn't mentioned anything dubious or even sinister; she'd just expressed her continual disbelief that her colleague had been capable of shooting up the entire lab. "There are behavioral projects," Marta had started but quickly stopped herself from saying anything more.
Gemma was used to these sorts of conversations with her sister, the ones that abruptly switched gears. Marta had never really been able to tell her what she worked on, only that it was a government project and highly classified. Her security contract kept her from saying too much, even to her sister. It used to annoy Gemma, but now she couldn't stop thinking about the implications of what Marta had nearly let slip.
What was Marta working on? What type of behavioral projects were taking place inside her lab? Marta was a virologist what use would she be to a project on behavior? Gemma wasn't naïve enough to think that she and the general public knew everything that the government was working on, that there weren't all kinds of secret projects being conducted on a daily basis. She'd also seen enough thrillers to know what happened to the people who knew too much or threatened to expose those secret government experiments. She'd always written those plots off as fiction but now she wasn't so sure.
Maybe it wasn't a coincidence that Marta was dead, suddenly killed in a freak house fire. She knew Marta well enough to know that she'd never be careless enough to allow the house to burn down due to negligence and Marta was level-headed enough to be able to escape the burning building; if she'd been able to. Maybe it wasn't the fire that had killed her sister.
This idea rolled around in Gemma's mind until it established itself as truth, in spite of her best efforts to keep herself from jumping to conclusions. It is the only thing that Gemma is thinking of as she sits on her couch, mindlessly flipping through channels as the Chinese takeout she just ordered gets cold on her coffee table. It seems almost too crazy to entertain, the thought that the government just kills off people who don't suit their needs anymore and yet…Gemma just can't see it any other way.
The knock on her front door startles Gemma enough to cause her to drop the TV remote. She is not expecting visitors, especially not at eight o'clock at night. Her eyes flick to the takeout containers on the table, as though they can somehow provide an explanation as to who could be at the door.
There is another knock, louder and somehow more impatient and Gemma gets to her feet, shuffling toward the front door. She hasn't changed out of her pajamas in three days but that hardly seems important. Whoever is at the door will just have to deal with her rumpled sleepwear and funky aroma; her sister was dead.
A sharply dressed man is standing on her front stoop, looking out of place in the fading daylight. His hands are stuck in his pockets but it doesn't make him look casual. Gemma opens the door just a crack, regarding the man cautiously. "Can I help you?"
"Gemma Shearing," He gives her the once over, starting to withdraw his hands from his pockets. She barely has the chance to answer in the affirmative before she sees something moving toward her and everything goes black.
When Gemma opens her eyes, she doesn't recognize her surroundings. Her head is pounding and her mind is heavy, unable to provide any help in trying to figure out where she is or how she got there. She tries to lift her hands to press against her temples but cold metal bites against her wrists. Gemma looks down to see her hands cuffed to the arms of an uncomfortable plastic chair. Her ankles are cuffed as well. That is when she begins to panic.
She feels like she might throw up from the emotions roiling in her stomach and the pounding in her head. Complete and absolute fear that washes over her body and Gemma tries to remember something, anything that might indicate how she got into this position. She remembers sitting on the couch…Chinese food…the man. The man who came to her door, "Oh my God," she gasps, "I've been kidnapped." This cannot be happening. Though, Gemma has to admit, this is a fitting ending for the Greek tragedy that is the Shearing family. Parents killed by a drunk driver, youngest daughter killed in a house fire, oldest daughter abducted and killed. There is a lesson in there for everyone.
Out of her line of sight, a door opens and Gemma desperately tries to see who is entering the room, but she can't quite angle her head and the movement sends a flash of pain through her body. A man dressed in a grey suit walks into her line of sight; he's not the man who showed up at her house, however long ago. He is taller, thinner and his features are sharper. His pointed nose lending a predatory look to his blue eyes; his face is expressionless but those eyes seem to shine dangerously, like he's enjoying having her here defenseless and terrified.
Gemma swallows, trying to calm her pounding heart and still the waves of terror coursing through her body. She lifts her head slightly, trying to look less like a cowering mess. She doesn't want to die here but if she has to, she wants to do it with some dignity.
"Please forgive the accommodations, Miss Shearing." The man says as he sits down across from her. "We just never can be too careful."
"How do you know my name," Gemma asks and follows up with more questions, "Who are you? And where the hell am I?"
"My name is Eric Byer, I work with the CIA." The man answers and Gemma is a little surprised by his up front answer. "The reason you're here, well…you can thank your sister for that."
The cold way he says this is like a punch to her gut not only because of the unfeeling words, but because his voice seems so horribly familiar; it is the way he says the word sister that triggers her memory. "My sister is dead," she hisses, "But you already know that, don't you. After all you are the one that called to tell me the news,"
The man does not betray anything with either word or deed and Gemma's brow knits in confusion. "My sister," She repeats, staring at Byer uncomprehendingly. "What does Marta have to do with any of this?"
Byer folds his hands together on the surface of the table. "Your sister is a wanted terrorist, Miss Shearing. She's responsible for the deaths of several federal agents and has been aiding and abetting another wanted terrorist for the past several days."
For a moment, Gemma just stares at him. It is almost as though he is not speaking English; his words go in one ear and out the other. She catches certain words like Marta and 'terrorist' but they don't seem to go together. Finally, she says dumbly, "My sister is dead. You—," she emphasizes with a tilt of her chin as she grounds out, "You told me my sister was dead!"
Byer just shakes his head. "Marta Shearing faked her own death as an attempt to shake the CIA off her trail. I can assure you, Miss Shearing, your sister is very much alive." He informs her frankly.
Gemma wonders how he can utter those words so casually. He has no idea he's just turned her entire world upside down, for the better. The man is an idiot and Marta is alive. Gemma wanted to laugh and cry in spite of her fear and confusion, she feels something akin to hope or joy bloom in her chest. It seems almost too good to be true. People don't just rise from the dead. "What?"
Byer reaches for the attaché case he brought in with him and pulls out a manila folder. He withdraws three photos from the folder, sliding them across the table so Gemma can see them. They are stills taken from security footage, blown up and cropped. She looks at her sister's face in each photograph: Marta in the airport, Marta going through customs, Marta accompanied by a man in the corridor of some building Gemma does not recognize. In the first two photos, Gemma can see apprehension and fear in her sister's eyes. In the third, she looks almost courageous, confident in her actions. Gemma wants to reach for the pictures, to brush her fingers across the pixilation's that make up her sister's face, to somehow touch her through the paper. But the handcuffs keep her in place.
"I don't understand." Gemma looks back up at Byer. "How can she be alive?"
"Your sister is a very dangerous woman." Byer informs her and Gemma snorts at this. "The house fire was to throw us off her trail. Your sister has stolen government property and helped murder a number of agents both here in American and on foreign soil."
"No." Gemma says abruptly and Byer stops, looking at her. Marta was a bookworm, a scientist; there is no way she would take lives unless she had no other choice. "No. You're wrong. Marta would never kill or steal. "
Byer laughs mirthlessly. "I can assure you, Miss Shearing, she already has."
Gemma just shakes her head. "I don't believe you. I know my sister. She would never…she could never kill anyone. She'd never help a terrorist." Not her Marta, not the Marta who refused to do anything but play by the rules. It was almost funny to think about Marta running around the world causing destruction and felling government agents with a single blow. Under any other circumstance, she would have laughed.
"I'm not here to debate your sister's character with you." Byer retorts. "I have the facts and the footage. Whether you believe what I'm saying is not my problem. Your sister is my problem. Has she made contact with you? Told you anything about her plans or whereabouts?"
"No!" Gemma responds, incredulously. "I thought she was dead until two minutes ago."
Byer retrieves the pictures, sliding them back into the folder. "I need you to tell me everything about your sister. Remember your last conversations, her behavior, anything she might have said to you."
Gemma shakes her head, "No."
"You need to consider very carefully what you are saying, Miss Shearing." Byer's voice was authoritative as he continued.
Gemma could tell he was used to people following his orders and she was also pretty sure he did not make idol threats, but he made one too many mistakes bringing her here like this. "You're wrong about her," she shook her head, meeting the cold blue eyes. "And I refuse to sit here and be interrogated like this. Uncuff me...I know my rights, you can't just abduct me from my house and cuff me to a chair. Where am I? I want to speak to a lawyer." She glares at him. "Let me out of here, now."
"Your sister has been branded a terrorist and you don't want to be painted with the same brush; in America terrorists have no rights and traitors get the death sentence." Byer smirks, shaking his head. "Miss Shearing, this is a matter of national security. I can do whatever I want." He got to his feet, picking up the attaché case. "When I return, perhaps you'll be feeling a little bit more talkative."
Gemma's protests fall on deaf ears as Byer leaves the room, slamming the door shut behind him. Gemma stares at the wall, trying to make sense of the things he just said to her. Marta is alive, this time she does laugh even as tears fill her eyes. "Oh, baby sister." She sighs, "What kind of trouble are you in?"
Nothing else makes sense, but Marta alive even like this makes Gemma's heart beat normally for the first time in three days. What that man was asking her to believe made no logical sense. Marta couldn't possibly be responsible for the things Byer is accusing her of. She is not even sure her sister knows how to fire a gun; let alone kill another human being. This was the six year-old that had nearly been hit by a car trying to help a caterpillar cross the road; there was no way she was capable of out-right murder.
Unfortunately, it did not seem like Byer was going to be very receptive of that profile of Marta Shearing; which meant she was being held here in the hopes that she might betray her sister by giving them information. Maybe, if they had come to her and explained the situation she might have helped them with information, but snatching her from her home the way they had only closed that door. Gemma is smart enough to put two and two together and get four; if they found Marta she would be tried as a terrorist and a traitor. Which would mean death, as Byer so cockily informed Gemma. Marta was free, in trouble and undoubtedly being hunted, but free. That was good enough for Gemma at least it was a chance that her sister could live free.
Gemma was another story; no one knew where she was and she had no intension of endangering her sister. The elation she felt over learning about Marta's resurrection quickly dissipated.
She was in deep trouble.
Marta Shearing jerked upright, a scream caught in the back of her throat. She is covered in a cold sweat, her heart pounding in her chest. Everything around her is dark and for a moment she feels like she might still be caught in the grips of the nightmare she prays she has just woken from. Nothing is familiar, not the smell of the place or the feeling, not the thin sheet that is tangled around her legs. The only thing that feels real is the nightmare she just came out of: the feeling of panic, the terror of running for her life, the press of cold metal against her temple.
Someone lays a hand on her shoulder and Marta cries out in surprise, recoiling from the touch. "Whoa, Doc, it's just me." For the first time, something is familiar. That voice. Marta feels her heartbeat begin to slow, her breath comes easier now. She knows that voice, that man. "I didn't mean to scare you." Aaron apologizes, his voice soft in the darkness of the room.
Marta shakes her head, brushing her tangled hair away from her face. "It wasn't you…I…I had a nightmare." She remembers where she is now. She can feel the cool metal of the ship beneath her body, the gentle rocking of the waves as they move through the endless ocean, hopefully away from the people who want to kill them. Unfortunately, some elements of her nightmare are real.
Slowly, Aaron reaches for her again, resting his hand over hers. This time, she does not move away. "Want to talk about it?" He asks gently, threading their fingers together. This is the only embrace they have ever shared, this tangling of fingers. It has become a security blanket for Aaron, a safety net. The feel of her hand in his is enough to make everything okay. He hopes it does the same for Marta.
Marta swallows and shakes her head again. "No. Just…" She closes her eyes against the memories. It was only a dream but it feels real. It could become real at any time. Them being hunted like animals. Aaron shot down like a dog by a bullet meant for her, too. "No."
Aaron squeezes her hand reassuringly. "Try and go back to sleep, Doc. You need to rest." This is the first real reprieve they have had since leaving the States. He can see the exhaustion in her face; he knows how tired she must be.
"I'm not sure I can." Marta confesses. She is not sure she wants to close her eyes only to watch his curiously handsome face go slack in death from a bullet bloom in the center of his forehead.
Aaron gives her a faint smile and she feels relieve. His features are different now, more comforting. And she is not sure if it is because he has a name instead of a number or if she just likes the way he looks when he smiles that boyish, charming smile.
"I'm here." His voice is gruff and low, a promise to keep her safe and for now, that is enough.