For a moment, the only thing I can hear is the sound of my own heartbeat filling the silence. I swallow hard, running the pads of my fingers back and forth over the small, hard lump, as though this action might make it disappear.
Not only have they tried to numb my feelings, they've been inside of my body at some point, planting something under my skin that doesn't belong. Something I didn't even know existed. What else have they done to me without my knowledge? Without my consent? What else is hiding in my body that I don't yet know about?
My mind flashes back to a curled-up Muriel, the way the tears had glistened in her eyes as she relayed what Jackson had done to her. The same could have happened to me and I might not even remember–they've implanted a device into my skin without me knowing, who knows what else they've done to me in my unconscious state?
I'm vaguely aware of Reece saying my name, but my tongue feels too heavy to formulate a response, my skin as though it is crawling, trying to break away from a body I have no control over.
"Get it out," I say, my eyes glazing over as they fix on the window opposite. "Reece," I hiss when his body doesn't move. "Get it out of me!"
Reece jerks into action, flicking the bedside lamp on before grabbing a pocket knife from his bag and positioning himself behind me. I tilt my head downward so he can get a good look, my stomach churning with the urge to be sick.
"It seems to be just under the surface," Reece says, his cold fingers brushing the nape of my neck in a manner that makes me shiver. "I think I can cut it out."
I flinch as he lowers the knife's point to my skin, squeezing my eyes shut in anticipation for the pain I know will follow.
"This is going to hurt," he warns, and I nod briefly.
The sharp edge of the knife cuts into my skin, forcing me to dig my hands into the duvet in a bid to stop myself from screaming out.
"I've got it," Reece mutters, scrambling to his feet before placing the device on the floor. He lifts up his shoe, stomping on the chip until it shatters into pieces, and then he grabs a towel and presses it to my neck to stem the bleeding. "We need to go," he says.
I nod before taking the towel from his hands. He gets up and begins throwing things back into his bag. I keep my gaze fixed on the front door, expecting somebody to come bursting through it at any given moment.
Once Reece is packed, I throw down the towel and slip on my shoes, turning to look at him cautiously. He gives me a small nod before taking my hand and leading me toward the motel door.
It is pitch black outside, but I can just make out the silhouette of our vehicle. We run toward it, our footsteps almost soundless against the concrete floor. My fear eases once we make it to the car, and my hand just clasps around the door handle when something hard presses against the back of my head.
Slowly, I move my hand away from the door and place it at my side, my eyes shifting toward Reece, whose own gun is pointed at whoever is standing behind me.
"This adventure of yours is over, son. Drop your gun."
My eyes widen, able to recognize that calculating voice anywhere. The man with the gun to my head is Reece's father, Jason, and any hopes I'd had at escaping seem to shatter into pieces.
Reece drops his gun to the floor without hesitation, kicking it away from him before straightening up, his hands outstretched in an act of surrender. "You know I can't let you take her," Reece says, his eyes like sparks of electricity through the dark.
Jason tenses before pressing the barrel harder into the back my head. "We don't have time for this," he snaps, his body like a brick wall behind me.
I think back to the very first time I'd laid eyes on him, back when I'd thought escaping Marine World could only ever be a dream. I tell myself if I die tonight, at least I'll die having experienced the real world, having fought against Marine World's iron embrace, but the thoughts do little to comfort me.
I still die, either way.
"They sent me to talk some sense into you before they bring out the big guns," Jason continues, and even though his voice is as hard and as irritable as ever, I can detect the underlying fear in his tone. "If we don't take her back, they're going to kill you, Reece."
I expect Reece to hand me over right here and now, but from the look on his face he is still determined to fight for my freedom–a fight neither of us is going to win.
"I can't let you take her," Reece repeats before moving toward Jason, but the faint, orange glow of car headlights in the distance stops him, their beams getting closer until I'm forced to shield my eyes from the glare.
Jason prods me again with the gun and I drop my hands as the lights switch off, plunging us into darkness again. No one moves as the car door jerks open. The sound of heavy boots against gravel gets closer and closer, the steps strangely in sync with my fast beating heart.
I expect to be faced with an army of men, all ready to drag me back kicking and screaming, but only a single figure emerges from the car, his face not yet close enough for me to make out his features.
He is tall, though, and broad, with a strange, shiny object gripped between his fingers. My eyes hone in on it, able to make out the point of a needle–the same kind Marine World would use to make us unconscious.
I raise my gaze to meet the eyes of the intruder, my heart all but stopping when I'm finally able to get a good look at his face. It is the same face that forever pops up in my nightmares, along with those same calloused hands that pinned Muriel down.
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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...