Mal stumbled out of the cave and ran past Miles, fighting back the urge to vomit. Except there’s nothing left; it’s all on the floor of the cave. She sat down and ran her fingers clinically over her abdomen and lower back, checking for signs of swelling or bruising, but finding nothing. The fact that she found no signs of anything being wrong made her panic even more. She reached into an inside pocket of her med kit and pulled out a burner cell. She waited for it to power up, trying to keep her breathing under control.
She turned away from the Camero, speaking quickly and softly. “Hi Eva, it’s me. I just…can you call me as soon as you get this?” Her voice wavered. “I’ll explain later, but…I almost had to send the email. Just, please, as soon as you’re done…”
“Mal! Let’s go!” called Taz from the driver’s seat.
“I have to go. I love you.” She finished the call and slid the device back into her pocket, noticing that the front of her shirt was covered with blood and vomit. With trembling fingers she unbuttoned it and folded it neatly before sliding it into a larger evidence bag. The tank top underneath also bore some bloodstains, but it couldn’t be helped. She shouldered her kit and got into the backseat of the Camaro just as Taz hit the gas, sending dust spinning out behind them. She fiddled with the hem of the tank, thinking, This is Eva’s. She glanced over at Susan, who seemed to be having a serious conversation with Darren. Later, she thought. Focus. Right now we have a job to do. Let Susan do the ritual without killing herself. We can do this.
Mal watched as a team of nurses and doctors descended on Susan, moving her from the hospital bed to a stretcher that would wheel her out to the waiting helicopter, to take her back to WakeMed. She wanted to yell and scream at them, tell them to wait. They didn’t know about her labs or organ failure. They didn’t know what was done to her mind, how the false memories were implanted. But she remained silent. She had tried that earlier, and she was told that if she didn’t calm down they would remove her from the hospital. So she sat, holding Susan’s hand, and waited until they came for her.
She stood in the doorway as Susan was wheeled away. “I can’t help you right now, but I will find a way. I promise.” Her declaration was drowned out by the sound of a helicopter taking off. She sighed, and moved to grab her kit from the chair when her phone rang. It was an incoming call from Jason Scott. It was pure luck that her assistant Chelsea had found him, in a list of possible Empire Foundation contacts that could help her. There were rumors going around that his research project was not going as well as he had hoped, mostly due to lack of funding. Her offer to divert some of her funding to him, and a promise of a future favor, had opened a lot of doors. She steeled her voice before answering. “Doctor Cunningham.”
“So, I couldn’t get the coroner’s office to release the bodies for us,” Jason said without preamble. “However, they agreed to let us take some samples for additional testing—and maybe, if you play nice, they’ll let you have a look. I can’t guarantee anything, though. I had to pull a lot of strings for this, so you owe me big time.”
While she would have liked to do the autopsies herself, she knew she would have to take what she could get. “Alright. I can work with samples. It’s not ideal, but I’ve worked with much less before.”
“Also, you’re probably aware, but there were multiple explosions at Cloverleaf. Things are kind of hectic here, so don’t count on being able to get lab space. You can either run your samples at the coroner’s office, or get them shipped back to New York.”
She sighed, and made a mental note to call Chelsea. “Okay. Well, thanks again.”
“Sure. Hey, say I wanted to cash in my favor now, would you consider lending me your assistant? Some time away from the big city would do her good.”
Mal’s voice was flat. “No. Absolutely not.”
Jason sighed dramatically. “Oh well, can’t blame me for asking. She’s very persistent, which I appreciate. I’m sure we’ll be in touch soon.”
As soon as she hung up with Jason, her phone rang again, this time from an unknown number.
“Mal? Oh my God,mami! I was so worried! When you didn’t answer the other phone…I’m so glad to hear your voice. Creía que you were…Are you okay? Where are you? Are you in a hospital?”
Oh god, I didn’t call Eva. Why didn’t I call her? I was busy with Susan trying to keep her stable. But I should have called her right away. That’s what normal people do right? Call their girlfriend first?
“Yes, I’m in the hospital.” As soon as the words escaped, she realized it was the wrong thing to say. “Let me rephrase, I’m physically at the hospital, but I’m not a patient. Eva, calm down, I’m okay.”
“You left me a message, on the emergency phone, que you were going to send THE email, which means que you thought you were going to die. And you just expect me to calm down? No, I won’t fucking calm down. And why the hell would you say that and now all of a sudden you are okay? No, Mal—you don’t go from ‘I’m dying’ to ‘I’m fine’ just like that. Unless…” Mal swore she could hear Eva putting two and two together. “What the fuck did you do?”
“I…” She tried to get her mouth to form the words, but they wouldn’t. She didn’t know how to explain how she felt the snake’s fangs sink into her skin, The burning pain that followed as the poison coursed through her veins. Doubling over and vomiting blood, gobs of it getting stuck in her hair. Looking down in horror to see that her whole abdomen was swollen, and the dark red bruising was spreading way too fast. Trying to turn her focus inward to try to identify exactly what organs were damaged, but not being able to tell, because the only thing her brain could process was pain. The realization that she had fifteen minutes at most before she bled out completely. Struggling to get her phone out of her pocket and open the email app, but the touchscreen wasn’t working because she’d smeared blood all over it. Taz holding the apple out to her, waiting for her permission. Making the decision without knowing the consequences, because she wasn’t ready to die, not yet. Her teeth piercing the ripe flesh of the fruit, and as she swallowed, all of the pain receding.
You almost died again. You keep making the same mistakes, running straight into danger, messing with things you can’t possibly understand. You will never learn, and next time you won’t have anyone there to save you. You are going to rush headlong into death, you foolish, foolish girl.
Eva shouting at her broke her train of thought. “Mal, are you still there? Díme algo, tell me what’s going on. Because I’ve got a million and one things going through my head y no hay nada bueno.”
Mal shuddered as she realized that they had been here once before. They had had this exact same conversation. Still she managed to force the words out. “I didn’t want to die, not like that. What I did…I’ll figure it out, but I didn’t want to die.”
“Hey, hey—Mal. It’s okay. Look, I’m sorry, you just had me so scared. We don’t have to talk now, just tell me what you need.”
Mal wrapped her arms around herself to try to stop shaking. “Can, you come pick me up? I need you here. And…I just want to go home.”
“Yeah, of course, I’m leaving right now. I want you to go someplace safe—go to Granger’s and stay there, okay?”
Now that she knew Eva was coming, all of the tension receded and exhaustion claimed her. “Yeah, okay. I could probably use a nap. And a shower.” She grimaced as she ran her fingers through her blood matted hair. “There is blood…” She stopped short at the pained sound that Eva made. “I’m sorry. I’m fine. I’m grabbing my stuff and going to Granger’s.”
“You better. And stay there, okay? Promise me.”
Eva paused. “You know I love you, right? I didn’t think I’d get to tell you that again.”
“I know, and I love you too.”
“Okay, well, I’ll see you in a few hours. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
After she hung up with Eva, she got a text from Chelsea. Courier on its way to the coroner’s office. Get all the samples you need and they’ll make sure everything gets back to the lab.
She paused before sending a quick text back. Thank you. Will see you soon.
She had totally forgotten about the dead members of the Triple Threat. But she needed to look at the bodies and get samples if she was going to make any headway on her other problem. She rubbed at the mark on her palm self-consciously as she made a rough estimate in her head. Getting from New Orleans to Hill Valley probably would take about eight to ten hours, so she could expect Eva in five. It would be cutting it close, but she should be able to get what she needed and make it back to Granger’s in time. She grabbed her med kit and put everything else out of her mind, except what was in front of her.
Okay, what do I need? Blood samples, and bone samples of the one who looked crushed. If I can’t get a look at the body, x-rays might work. Photos too, of any distinct markings. I think I saw a key, and a… She looked down at her palm, which bore the three-eyed marking. We’ll need scrapings of those definetly. It looked like a rash, not as defined as Susan’s. There is something going on here, I just have to find it. I don’t know what these corpses will tell me, but it’s a place to start. Maybe I can get them to release the body—what did Jason say, to play nice?
I don’t play nice. I will get what I came for.