They’d said it was a suicide mission. No one had wanted to go. Since the job needed doing they’d asked for volunteers. Of which there had not been any. Not until she’d raised her hand. Dosia had started to cry as if she knew her mother was being an idiot. Or so Jory had told her later that night once their daughter had gone to bed.

Their argument was quiet so as not to wake her, but it was an argument. Marcelina knew he understood why she’d volunteered. She understood he was afraid for her. All of the understanding had not left them with any resolution.

“Idiot,” whispered in her earpiece.

“Dumbee,” she whispered back.

He’d taken the night shift monitoring her progress since she’d left three days ago. Sometimes she’d hear Dosia in the background. She’d turned one not long before Marcelina had left. A normal child. No missing limbs, or extra…stuff. Jory had never been able to quite reassure her. Not until she’d had Dosia and held her in her arms. Normal. Unlike her mother.

“The reports are looking worse, Marcelina. Are you sure you won’t scrub this insanity and come back?”

The three-day trip to this outpost had been harrowing. Twice she’d almost been caught, but she hadn’t told Jory. He worried enough now. When she got home she would tell him. She would be safe then. He would hold her and it would be a bad dream because nothing bad would happen when he held her.

“I can’t.”

“I know.” His sigh barely made it through the earpiece. “Dosia misses her mama. I do too.”

Tears threatened her vision, but she dashed them away with a quick swipe of her hand.

“I miss her dad. Especially when it’s this cold.” She hadn’t been warm since she’d left the rebels’ base.

“Tonight then?”

“It has to be. I picked up some chatter earlier. The inspectors left this morning. There’s only five soldiers here now.”

“Five to one is not good, Marcelina.”

“If the one were someone not me, Jory.”

His laugh was harder to hear than his sigh had been.

“You had better be careful. Or I will kick your ass when you get home.”

“With what foot?”

“Low blow, Couch.”

“I thought you liked those?”

He stuttered and he stammered and she knew he’d be blushing.

“I’m going quiet now. I’ll contact again in an hour. When it’s done.”

“Marcelina, please me careful.”

“Only because you asked. I love you.”

“I love you.”

He would still listen. The mic would be muted, but he’d hear everything. Which was why she was determined to do this by the book. Nothing reckless. So he would know he didn’t have to worry.

Marcelina crept closer to the outpost. There was not much to it above ground. The base could extend underground, but they did not know. What she needed was in the communication shack. Where there were always at least two people. Because if this had been an easy task someone else would have volunteered.

For an hour she froze on the ground as she watched the soldiers. No one had been more surprised than her to discover she had the patience for this work. The shack door opened and one of the radiomen came out to light a cigarette. Which left one inside.

Every muscle wanted to run, but she took it slow. She had, maybe, two minutes the way he was sucking on the thing in his mouth. A snicker surprised her. Had she laughed? Marcelina slapped a hand over her mouth. An itch on her back had her shrug off her coat. The thin wool didn’t keep the cold out anyway.

A flat, empty stretch of ground stood between her shadows and the access she needed at the back of the shack. She didn’t think about what she would do or what might happen. Instead, Marcelina raced across the ground and almost slammed into the back wall. That would have been bad.

From her coat pocket she pulled out the small pin and stuck it into the thickest wire in the mess. Pressed against the wall as she was, it was easy to hear the alarm ping. Fuck. Marcelina almost dropped the syringe, but uncapped it without incident.

The door opened and she heard voices. Fuck again. Hands shaking, she carefully inserted the syringe into the hole the pin had left. Once she’d injected whatever weird tech she’d been carrying, she ran her finger over the wire. She felt no trace of a hole.

Now all she had to do was get away.

“Don’t move.”

“Fuck.” The word echoed in her ear.

“Identify yourself.”

Later, when she was safe at home, she would honestly tell Jory she had no idea what had come over her.

Right now, she let her wings extend and heard gasps from the three men standing with guns pointed at her. The wind picked up and she let it help her as she launched herself into the air. A few feet off the ground she spoke as alarms sounded around her.

“I am the Scarlet Ibis. Tell your people they are no longer safe. They will never be safe until they throw off their oppressor. Because so long as your beloved president rules, I will be here to take him and those who follow him down.”

She stopped fighting the wind and flew higher. It was quite dramatic, she thought.

“You stole that speech from The Claw 195.”

“Shut up, Jory!”