We're silent for the first ten minutes of the drive, focused only on getting as far away from Marine World as humanly possible.
Reece sits rigid in his seat, both hands clutched tightly around the steering wheel. He drives faster once we hit the quiet side roads, zipping past palm trees in a way that makes me begin to feel nauseous, though I can't help but revel in the sights around me.
This is what I have always dreamed of–to be away from the prying eyes of the guests beyond the glass. To be free to do whatever I please. I should be able to enjoy it, but thoughts of killing Muriel and leaving the others threaten to tear me apart.
The world continues to rush by. Palm trees and foliage start to make way for restaurants and shopping malls. I glance to my left to see Reece staring ahead, his eyes fixed on the open road. From the side, his jaw is a sharp line, his nose straight and defined, but as usual the muscles in his jaw remain tense.
What will he say when he learns of what I've done? When he realizes he was right about us all along? We are dangerous, and I don't know if it is the human in me that took Muriel's life or the engineered part, but whichever it was, Reece is going to hate me when I tell him the truth, possibly even abandon me when I now need him the most.
"What are you thinking?" he asks, his eyes meeting mine before fixing back on the road.
"I'm trying to work out what happens next," I say. "What kind of ending this is going to have. Sometimes I think everything up until now has been a dream and I'll suddenly wake up like in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."
Reece glances over again, this time a thick eyebrow raised. "Your life isn't a book, Aura. It's up to you to decide."
"What if I don't know what ending I want?" I ask.
A hint of a smile crosses his lips. "Most people don't."
He turns his attention back to the road, his hands placed firmly either side of the steering wheel. I reach into my bag and pull out my compact mirror, running my fingers back and forth along its surface.
"Where are we going?" I ask after a while, feeling the need to fill the silence. The other cars on the road seem to have disappeared from view, leaving just us and an empty road.
"My friend has a cabin in Montana. It's about a thirty-seven-hour drive to get there, but at least you'll be safe."
"What about Asia and Jewel?" I ask. "How are we going to find a way to get them out if we're so far away?"
Reece grips the steering wheel harder, refusing to meet my gaze. "I don't know. I'll think of something."
I look down at my compact mirror, squeezing it tightly between my fingers. "The other engineered," I say, my eyes fixed on the curved, green jewels, "do you think they're the same as me? That they can do the things I can do?"
"I'm not sure. Most of them live in secret, not wanting to draw attention to themselves. I've heard of some of them becoming celebrities, though. Deep sea divers who can hold their breath for a long time, geniuses, athletes."
"Why do they hide?" I ask.
"They're not well-tolerated in our society," Reece admits. "A lot of people called for them to be gotten rid of when the engineering came to light, which of course, the government was never going to do. They're innocent in all of this, but many people don't see it that way."
"They shouldn't have to hide who they are," I mutter, it dawning on me that even in the real world, my kind are not free. "Do you think Marine World will try looking for me?"
When Reece looks over, his eyes are dark. "Undoubtedly."
I swallow hard at the thought, wondering if I'm going to have to spend the rest of my freedom running.
"You might want to think about changing your name, too."
"What's wrong with Aura?" I demand to know.
Reece smirks in response. "Nothing," he says. "I just figured you'd want to be called something different to what they named you."
I think about this for a moment, lured by the thought of shedding the old me and starting again. In this new world, I could be someone different, someone better, but Aura is who I am beneath the surface, who I have always been. Aura is how Muriel and Crystal knew me, and I can't yet bring myself to leave her behind.
"I'll stick with Aura," I say, focusing on my clasped hands, and things fall silent again as we continue on our journey to the cabin.
At some point, once Reece has relaxed a little bit, he turns a dial and music begins to blare from what he informs me is called the stereo. It is an upbeat, fast-paced song that seems to calm me, and I find myself trying to hum along as I watch the trees go past.
Jaqueline sometimes used to play music when we practiced our performances, but listening to it now and knowing I'm far away from Marine World's grasp makes it sound all the more wonderful.
I nod my head back and forth in time to the music, basking in the sun as it beats down through the window–warm, but not torturous like it is in the enclosure. A light breeze picks up and I slowly close my eyes, wishing this moment could last forever.
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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...