I stay rooted to my seat, my eyes nervously flitting to each of the four men before me. It's clear this no longer looks like an accident and I'm the only one who knows the truth. What am I supposed to tell them? That my best friend-my family-murdered Jaqueline in cold blood?
These men would never understand the darkness that follows us, they couldn't. We aren't allowed to talk about it, we aren't allowed to feel anything other than happiness, and when we do they feed us pills, try to make us forget we'd ever felt anything different.
How can I explain to these people what it feels like to have no freedom when they have it in abundance? They have no idea of the mental anguish that comes with such a lack of control. Perhaps if the truth comes out, that we're struggling more than we let on, they'll send us away forever, just like they did with Muriel.
Everyone's looking to me for answers now, answers I can't give, and I feel my stomach turn with angst. "Jaqueline said it was a game," I say suddenly, and all four men turn to look at me with eyebrows raised.
"What?" Jackson asks, utterly confused.
"Not long ago," I say, trying to be as vague as possible since I don't have an exact timeline of when Crystal first started obscuring the cameras, "she told Crystal to play a game. She told her how she could cover all of the cameras."
There's a long silence as I sit tensely in my seat, waiting for someone to say something-to either confirm or deny my story.
"Bullshit," says Reece, causing me to freeze with fear. I thought I'd seen something within him, something sympathetic, something different, but now that he's calling me out on my story, I realize I've been wrong. Reece doesn't sympathize, he doesn't care, he thinks of me in the same way the others do, and now he's proved it.
"Don't swear in front of her," Rob snaps. "We don't want her picking up words and saying them to the guests, and she wouldn't lie to us."
"There's no way this was an accident," Reece says, ignoring Rob. His eyes flit to Jason now, who's looking at Reece with some kind of admiration, and I can't help but wonder why Reece is trying as hard to impress Jason as we do to impress our trainers. "And why wouldn't she?" Reece wants to know, turning to face the others. "You said it yourself, they can feel everything we can. That means they can lie."
"Yes, they can feel what we can," Jackson says exasperatedly, "but they have no life experience to draw lies from."
There's a brief moment of silence before Reece turns to the others, his expression dark. "Let me talk to her alone."
"Why?" Jason demands to know. "What do you think she'll tell you that she won't tell all of us?"
"Maybe she's reluctant to speak out with so many of us in here," Reece replies, keeping his cool gaze on me. "Just let me talk to her alone."
With an irritable glance in my direction, Jason stands up. "Fine," he says, "but make it quick. We've got reports to fill out and I'd rather start them sooner than later."
Reluctantly, the three men exit through the door and I clasp my hands together in my lap, praying Reece can't see them shaking. He turns to me now, his eyes studying every inch of my face.
"The sooner you give us some answers, the sooner this will be over, all right?" He says, his voice softer than the one he'd used only moments before. "You need to work with me, Aura. Can you do that?"
Slowly, I nod.
"Good," he says, leaning back in his chair. "Have you ever had thoughts about hurting other people, Aura? Of hurting a guest?"
"No, of course not," I say.
He leans in close now, glancing over at the door before his eyes find mine once more. "Are you happy here?" He asks quietly, his eyes searching mine for something, but for what, I don't know.
His concern for my well being is so convincing that I almost want to tell him the truth, that I'm miserable, that I know more than I let on, that I want to leave this place more than I've ever wanted anything in my whole life, but I know it's not real, his concern. I know that deep down, he must be like Jackson. Pretending to be nice, until one day, he isn't. I know the truth will only grant me the same fate as Muriel, and now, probably Crystal, too.
"Very happy," I smile, but as I speak the words, my smile twitches, and I pray he doesn't notice.
His eyes fill with something, relief maybe. "Do you ever feel sad or angry?"
I lower my gaze. "I was sad when they took Crystal away."
"Understandable," Reece says. He's watching me carefully, desperate to trip me up, to break me, but I refuse to be broken. "Crystal was your enclosure mate, I'm sure you two were very close. Tell me, Aura, if Crystal ever did something bad, would you cover for her?"
"I don't understand the question," I say tensely, my eyes locked on his.
Reece's jaw twitches slightly. "If Crystal ever did something you knew was wrong, would you lie to protect her from harm?"
"No," I say calmly, my expression void of any emotion. "I wouldn't."
He leans across the table towards me, his muscular arms only inches from my own. "How do I know you're telling the truth?" He asks, his blue eyes searching mine for a truth he won't find, because we both know I'm lying, he just doesn't have the proof.
For a fleeting moment, it's as if I want him to know I can't be trusted, because for once, it gives me the power. It puts them at my mercy, and slowly, I look up, something flickering within the pit of my stomach, like a flame against a crisp wind. "You don't."
The door swings open and Reece jumps back slightly as Jason walks in, his eyes skimming the two of us with impatience. "Times up. Did she tell you anything?"
Reece doesn't take his eyes off me, and his voice is cold when he next speaks. "Nothing I didn't already know."
Jason turns to Jackson and Rob now, who hover anxiously behind him. It's clear even to me that there's a hierarchy at play, and Jason has the power over the rest of them.
"All of them are under constant surveillance now, but her especially. Reece will be watching her around the clock. Don't even think about wiping the Crystal incident," he warns. "I need her to remember everything about that day. Wipe the parts of the conversation she's not supposed to know and that's it. "
Once the others walk out, Jackson steps towards me, reaching out and cupping the side of my face in a move that forces me to squeeze my eyes shut in disgust.
"You would never lie to me, would you, Aura?" He asks, his fingers cold and calloused against my skin, and it takes all my strength not to turn my face away as images of that night come back to haunt me.
"No," I say, opening my eyes and slowly raising my gaze to meet his. "I would never lie to you."
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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...