"Did you see what happened, Aura?" Rob asks, his voice harder than Jackson's, more impatient.
The enclosure has cameras both in and out of the water, they would have seen exactly what happened, so why are they bothering to go through this charade?
I stare back at the men before me, ensuring my expression is a blank canvas. "Yes."
"Tell us what happened," Jackson soothes, his eyes skimming my face affectionately. My skin begins to crawl underneath his gaze, because I know. I know what he did to Muriel. I know what cruelty lies behind even the kindest of eyes. "Tell us how Jaqueline died."
I glance at Reece to see he's watching me carefully, searching my face for any trace of a lie, and I know I can't give him one. "She wouldn't let go of Crystal," I say, clenching my fists by my side and praying they haven't seen the footage, that this isn't some kind of trick. "She held her down."
The four of them look at each other with varying levels of disbelief at my story, which isn't a good sign, but telling. These men don't know what happened any more than I know why it happened, and that means I still have a chance to fix this.
"Why would she would do that?" Jason wants to know, and I glance at Reece again, whose own eyes are burning into mine.
"I don't know," I say in a small voice, keeping things vague. Muriel always said the best card we have to play is to be pretty little fools, and it's what I've been doing ever since. "Maybe she wanted to stay under the water longer."
Jackson turns to Rob now, his eyebrows all the way up. "You think she committed suicide using Crystal as a weight?" Jackson looks back at me, a thick eyebrow arched. "Are you sure that's what you saw, Aura? Are you sure you didn't see Crystal forcing Jaqueline down or hurting her?"
"No," I say innocently, the corners of my lips pulled into an innocent frown. "Crystal would never hurt anyone. She tried to pull away from Jaqueline but Jaqueline wouldn't let her go."
"What do you think, Reece?" Jason asks, his eyes flitting over to Reece in an unsettling manner, and a muscle in Reece's jaw contracts, before he leans across the table towards me.
"She's lying," he says in a hard voice, examining my face with eyes that hold no mercy, and I wonder if I'd only imagined whatever it was I thought I saw in him.
Jason smiles for the first time now, as if Reece has met some unspoken expectation of his.
"She wouldn't lie," Rob replies, whilst I clutch my hands underneath the table in a bid to stop them from shaking. "And I certainly don't believe they purposely hurt Jaqueline. I know these mermaids, they wouldn't hurt anyone."
Reece turns to him now, his pale eyes like ice. "These mermaids have been in captivity for–"
"Controlled environment," Jackson corrects, causing Reece to stop and stare with furrowed brows.
Nervously, Jackson scratches the back of his head, and I can tell Reece's presence intimidates him as much as it does me. "We're not supposed to use certain buzzwords," he explains, glancing in my direction before focusing back on Reece. "Captured, tank, captivity, customer-they give off a negative impression. We're supposed to use acquired, controlled environment, guest, or aquarium."
Reece is silent for a moment, the muscles in his neck contracted as he glances at Jason for some kind of cue, but Jason simply rolls his eyes in agitation.
"These mermaids might not be completely human," Reece continues, regarding me with suspicion, "but if there's an ounce of humanity inside of them, they're capable of lying."
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Marine WorldScience Fiction
A featured story|Wattys 2018 Winner| Seventeen-year-old Aura and the three other genetically modified humans in captivity have been planning an escape from Marine World for months, but when one of them going off the rails leaves the rest under scrut...