The water rushed passed the streamline forms dashing for
escape, little bubble periodically breaking off and floating to the surface. In
the distance they could all feel, if not hear, the roar of motors blazing after
them. It hardly seemed possible; none of aquatics had ever thought they would
grace the salty waters that now moved through them let alone be on the mad dash
of an escape as they were. Once on the island their fate was supposedly sealed,
they would live out their lives and die in the warm fresh waters of lake and
river. But that was no longer the case, they were free, racing passed reef,
weed and fish. All moving in pace, desperate not to be caught by their
Daring not to turn her neck a full length at this speed, a large manta eye glanced briefly towards the others. Cody, Alec, Sayuri and herself were all that had escaped from the island, all that remained of the underwater life from the island. Awen was glad that they all seemed to be keeping pace. They all knew they could attempt to dive under, hide in the murky depths until the searchers moved on to a different place, but it would be futile. They may be free and allowed to breath in the salted waters, but it was no use to hide. The chips in their necks may not be able to put them to sleep any longer but it was certain that they could still be used as a tracking device. For now the aquatics jet through the waters, hoping the boats would run out of fuel before they did.
Awen closed her eyes tightly, feeling the waters press all around her quickly moving passed her with each graceful stroke of wing or kick of leg. She was determined to be away, to get help from mainland. Too much had gone wrong in the past month; too much blood had been spilled. Too many friends had been lost.
It all seemed a blur in the manta’s memory, everything moving even faster than the waters swirling around her. With her eyes closed the images, voices and screams echoed in her mind.
When it had happened there hadn’t been any warning, no announcements, no sirens. The only thing that alerted the remaining islanders to any danger was the rumbling of jeep wheels, the distinct sound of gunfire and a mesh of inhuman screams. They came through the village first, knowing the majority of islanders would be milling about the various buildings and rooms, sweeping like a plague the subjects dropped out cold at the feet of the guards. Those in the duplexes were the unlucky few who had no chance of escape, the locks on the doors all jammed shut only to be opened when the burly guards had gotten to them. Many an islander had sat in wait, curled and trembling from the shots and screams from down the line of duplexes, many more pounded at walls and windows, clawed and gnashed trying to escape the small confines. But it had been no use. In the end every islander so trapped had fallen. Those outside the village buildings, fled into jungle and lake, had they not already taken up residence there. The effort, of course, was a futile one. When the guards, or perhaps even Moreau himself had grown weary of the game of hide and seek, all those hidden had been put to sleep and soon found.
Awen had been having a rather nice swim in the lake, enjoying the company of a certain penguin, who dove and circled around with her. At the sound of a female cry and the distinct rumble of a jeep the two had paused in their play and strained to see what was the matter. A blur of yellow and black fur shot out from the trees, long trails of raven colored hair whipped out behind Colche as she darted around the edge of the lake. The low rumble had gotten suddenly louder as the vehicle bounded around a bend and in sight of the two water logged watchers. Confused and terrified eyes watched as one of the men in the jeep slowly raised a long barreled gun towards the fleeing girl. The manta ray’s heart skipped a beat in realization, she reached towards Marshall’s arm and meant to pull him under but by then it was too late. The gunshot resounded and echoed around the lake, bouncing between the trees, it was almost too loud to hear the thump made by the cheetah’s sleek body hitting the ground and skidding to a halt amongst some bushes.
“No!” Marshall yelled and selflessly pulled away from Awen’s reaching hand, moving as
quickly as he could to get back to shore, heading towards where Colche’s still form lay sprawled.
“Get down!” Awen hissed at the black and white form moving away from her but the penguin didn’t seem to hear her.
The commotion in the water drew the attention of the two in the jeep. Awen immediately ducked low to the water, but Marshall had tunnel vision towards the cheetah. Watching with horrified eyes as the barrel on the gun rose once more, this time pointing much too close to home. There hadn’t been time enough to reach him, especially not without drawing attention to herself as well. She didn’t want to but she had no choice, the manta ray ducked under the waters just as the next loud bang sounded. The vibrations echoed through the water but soon everything became much too still. The flight of the penguin to shore was ceased abruptly as Marshall floated on the surface of the water, not moving. Surprisingly there hadn’t been a spiral of blood seeping into the water as Awen had expected, moving quickly and low under the water the manta ray moved up to her fallen companion. Sticking from his shoulder there was something small sticking out, like a miniature needle with a little ruffle of red on the end as a marker. Tranquilizer darts.
The splashing in the water behind her signaled her cue to leave. The guards weren’t going to wait for their quarry to sink or revive himself. Taking a last look up to the now serene face of the once frantic penguin Awen pushed herself further to the depths of the lake. She would not come out from the small caverns and crevices near the lake bottom until they had put all others to sleep and found her hiding place.
Awen awoke suddenly. Nestled at the bottom of her duplex under the water she stirred and took in a breath. Shaking her head slowly the girl smiled sheepishly. Her heart still pounded and the sound of gunshots and screams still rang in her ears, but no, it had all been a dream. Lifting herself up slow Awen was surprised when her head burst through the surface of the water. Her eyes blurred, suddenly unused to the dry air around her. Blinking away the water Awen saw herself staring out through a plexy glass window at a pair of haunting green eyes. Across a short hallway Richard behind bars, stuffed to the brim in a cage a few sizes too small to hold the displacer beast.
“You’re awake.” She said slowly with a grim smile on her lips. “I’m not sure if I should say that’s a good thing or not…”
Awen held her head in confusion as she knelt in her own water filled cage. The lower half was filled with water, but the top portion was dry, a small series of holes remained right at the top of the glass to let air and sound in. There was barely enough room for Awen to sit in her kneeling position and when she looked it didn’t seem like there was much more room than her body length and width. Still her cage seemed to suit her a lot better than Richard’s did for her.
“What’s going on?” Awen slurred trying to grasp the situation. It hadn’t made any sense to her, why were they in cages like this?
Glancing around she saw others in cages like Richard, above her and to both sides. She saw a green scaled rear end of what must have been the poor iguana girl Amaya beside Richard’s cage, a ruffle of blue feather betrayed Miller to the other side. Above was a blond girl with large ears and what was the beginnings of a muzzle, Awen didn’t think she’d met this islander before, but just as well as the girl seemed to have been dead to the world anyway. To left of this girl the manta noted the same yellow and black pattern she’d seen racing across the lake front just before she’d gone into hiding. Colche sat curled up, pushed as far back in her cage as she could manage, shaking and wide eyed she stared into nothingness. To the right was the form of Lauren, one she’d known practically since the beginning. The girl who’d always been full of heart was now silent as she watched her feet.
“Moreau’s finally snapped.” Richard replied with a slight shrug when she saw Awen’s gaze drift back to her. “There’ve been whispered telling of events down through the cages… none of it is very pleasant.”
Awen sat in silence for a moment before urging Richard on with a motion of her webbed hand.
The large cat sighed and leaned herself against the cage, which wasn’t a very hard feat in her condition. “There are a few versions of it but it all makes for the same end. It goes that Annie had either snuck into the labs somehow, or Aubrey in a huff had gone outside the complex for a time, but either way the end is the blood body of the second in command laid at Moreau’s feet. From what I hear he had been enraged by this, it had been the final straw. No one really knows if it was because of Aubrey’s death or if it was the unborn child that was torn from her womb, but something had hit the deepest nerve for Moreau. An order was put out for all the islanders to be hunted down, it would have been easy to put us all to sleep and collect us, but most say Moreau wanted us to suffer the fear and horror of being hunted that we are. In any case he’d sent guards out to collect us, many were trapped in duplexes, as I was, when they came to town. Some escaped to the rivers or jungle before anything of the sort happened.”
“I’d been in the lake.” Awen mumbled, almost to herself. “Saw Colche being chased by a jeep, shot down… then Marshall was caught as he was trying to get to her. I couldn’t do anything… I ran to the bottom of the lake and hid.”
Richard nodded slowly. “Many tried to escape and hide, like I said. It had been weeks I think until the last of the islanders had been round up. You were among the last few.”
Any form of mirth or hope that Awen had seen previously in the eyes of the displacer beast, however fleeting it had been, was lost to the moment. Even the fiery rage that sometimes burned so bright in the changing eyes was lost now, dull and accepting of where life had brought her, Richard was seeming almost as listless as the rest.
“So… Moreau’s just going to keep us in cages? Continue his experiments like this as we’d all feared he might?” Awen’s brow furrowed in concern for them all.
“No.” A voice suddenly spoke up, the hard tone was distinctly feminine and laced with sorrow. “We’re going to die.” Lauren finished as Awen’s eyes met the yellow of the mongoose’s.
“What?” Awen could do nothing but balk at the comment made by one who had been as close to Moreau as an islander could have gotten. Almost as a daughter once Lauren rested behind the bars of the cage just like the rest of them.
“Moreau is ending his experiment.” She said plainly. “The company is being taken out of his control, the board on mainland is stealing away his power and his funding. He said he was going to stop the experimentation eventually, when the island ran out of room or whatever, and have the island become self sufficient away from the needs of mainland. Eventually he’d just cut completely from mainland and have this island run on its own. However he’d been preparing for this eventuality too; he could not risk being caught like this, with us. With Aubrey’s death and the hostile takeover back on mainland everything got sped up. With so many things unraveling around him Moreau decided just to quit while he can, destroy the evidence and quickly.” If the girl could have slumped over even more in her cage Awen was sure she would. “Subject, staff no one will be spared. Though the staff doesn’t believe me, of course, they think I’m just throwing a bid to have them help us escape.”
Awen sunk down in her cell as the weight of what Lauren had said really sunk in. Richard frowned as she saw the crush of the young manta’s heart, the defiant spirit that had been in so evident in the cat was slowly being strangled out. They took away her humanity, they humiliated her by taking away her manhood but worst of all they had ruined the lives of so many youth, those who had the opportunity for more, the potential to do more in life. She had been ready and accepting of death since long before the island experience, but they of all did not deserve that life to be taken away from them. The beast forced her paw forward hitting the side of her metal cage with a loud growl. The scaled green tail recoiled some more as Amaya started in her cage, but said nothing.
“What do we do now?” Awen asked in a small voice as she ran a hand through the water at the bottom of her cage. It would be just enough to keep her alive for a short while… maybe a few days.
“We wait to die.” Another meek voice answered her from above. Awen looked up and saw Colche’s eyes on her for only a moment before they moved to stare off into space once more. Nothing so terrifying had ever been spoken by one so seemingly innocent. The brief look into Colche’s eyes revealed the true depth behind the child-like cheetah, all the pain and fear in her life returned and aged the girl. Those eyes, so knowing of suffering, haunted Awen and plagued her. The manta gave a small shiver knowing that inevitably the girl was right. They had nothing left to do…
Weeks had gone by since the disturbing awakening and there was hardly any change. Awen could hear others in cages beyond her sight, angry and frustrated yells, agonized sobs and teary conversations echoed through the hallway. Awen and the group around her said little in this time; some sat awake and cried like the manta herself had, others like Miller had beaten against the cages, shedding fur and feather. No one even came to silence them, the guards and staff knew that it was useless, futile. Awen had learned that the cages on her side of the wall had been full tanks, with a little more room and a lot more water than Awen’s. It seemed the other aquatics were being left completely sunk, their resilience to air having been questionable. So silence was all that came from Awen’s side of the hall, except for the occasional pounding against glass.
Most disturbing of all however were the line of islanders that had passed the cages; Jamal had been the first, bound and muzzled. The tiger man swore and struggle against his shackles and the guards that practically dragged him down the hall, threats were spat out in growls as much as in words. This had spurred a momentary interest in the small group, listening and watching what little they could as the procession went on. A door creaked open not far from their cages and then slammed shut once more. The commotion of the tiger was muffled behind the steel portal as he continued his rage.
“What’s happening?” The blond girl in the cage above Richard asked. She’d woken up a few days after Awen had. The haunting reality had taken time to sink into the poor girl. Sophie had cried a long while, manta ray helpless but to watch.
A disturbed sound came from Richard, halfway between a grumble and a growl but otherwise she remained silent. Amaya hadn’t spoken since Awen awoke, in fact she’d just sat there facing the far wall. Colche was likewise mute and Miller had taken to occasional bouts of yelling at the staff. Lauren had just retold her tale to Sophie and otherwise said nothing. So it was left to Awen to answer the fox girl’s question.
“It’s the end. Jamal is the first… probably for his obvious transgressions against the labs.” Her voice was dead, cold. She locked away the pain and tears welling up inside of her, they would do her no good.
Sophie’s eyes widened for a moment before they shut completely. Obviously fighting back her own fear she opened her mouth to say something when a loud roar erupted from behind the door. The girl retreated to the back of her cage, in the shadows as much out of sight as she could manage.
The roaring and yelling continued for an inhuman length. At first the islanders had thought that perhaps it would be short, or that Jamal had just been giving out cries of anger and rage in his last moments. But it hadn’t stopped. There was no way to tell time anymore but it had to have been hours that they sat listening to the man. Eventually the screams died down, and the pleading started. No one knew what they had been doing to the tiger behind that door, but everyone was shocked and appalled to hear such a strong advocate broken. If they could make Jamal beg… the rest of them didn’t have a chance. It had become very clear that Moreau didn’t just mean to end his project quickly and quietly, but that he meant to take every wasted day, every penny thrown away and every ounce of sweat and blood back from his subjects. He was going to make them all pay for sins that were not even their own. The wasted life, the harassment he received his entire life, his company’s takeover and finally Aubrey and the child’s death. He would take it all back from those who were powerless to stop him. Moreau would make them all pay…
The days crept by at a slug’s pace. Islander after islander was escorted or dragged down that aisle, always at a sporadic pace. Sometimes there were a few islanders a day, at other times there was only one and rarely there had been none. Some who were lead through the metal door screamed and raved in the agony of whatever had been happening to them, others went quickly and without a sound. It seemed random which islanders would endure the torture and which seemed to simply fade away, some who screamed had never lifted a finger against the labs, but all who had transgressed against the labs, and especially Moreau personally, screamed just as Jamal had. Those who were left were left shaking in fear of which fate they would end up suffering.
Tearful goodbyes were muttered behind cage bars as friends and lovers were dragged out of their cells. Amaya had been taken; the girl hadn’t even put up a struggle. Listlessly she followed the guard behind the metal door. Her eyes bore so much pain already Awen was relieved to find at least they had been quick with her. There had been no screams or cries of pain that followed her. Unfortunately however, Awen did.
The guards appeared at the opening of the manta’s cage. One of them punched a sequence into the panel on the side of the cage and the water drained out from the bottom of her cage. The plexy glass door swung open as greasy hands reached forward and grabbed Awen by the arms. The girl was dragged from her small cage with little grace. Had the guard not been gripping her arm so tightly Awen was sure her legs would not hold her, caused by both her inactivity for the passed few weeks as for fear of the metal door.
Her eyes started to tear up as she thought about her face. A small clearing of throat drew the girl’s large purple eyes to the cramped cage at floor level. Richard gave her a sad smile and Awen wanted nothing more than to sink into the arms of the grandmotherly displacer beast. “Be strong…” The cat whispered softly as the guard wrenched the manta’s arm forward.
They started walking down the hallway and Awen steeled her expression. She blinked the tears away from her eyes and tried to control the wobble in her knees. Inside there was a begging a pleading a screaming voice telling the world she didn’t want to die. The voice tried to tell Awen to beg to barter and maybe they’d let her go. But she shut that voice out. She held her head high as she walked towards the metal doors. It was a shorter walk than Awen had expected, with only a few more cages until the end of the row. None of them had been inhabited. All islanders from the front had been taken. The manta had lost count of how many had gone by her, she wondered briefly how many islanders were left in the cages. She could only hope that their suffering ended quickly.
The guard ushered the manta ray quickly through the door and closed it behind her. Before her was an open room, with a few lab tables, some cupboards and in the middle of a room something that looked strangely like a dentist’s chair, except any padding that would have been on a dentist’s chair had been stripped away to leave only the metal behind, with a number of restraining straps, of course.. From all she had heard coming from this room Awen had expected something a little… less sterile, perhaps a bit bloodier.
Awen was lead over to the chair and as she neared the girl’s resolve started breaking. She started resisting and pulled against the grip on her arm, tears started to well up once more as she realized at her core what sitting in that chair meant. She struggled and pulled and even managed to kick one of the guard’s in the shin but to no avail. They had no trouble picking the manta ray up off of the ground, forcing her to sit in the chair and strapping her down to it. Whimpering the girl tugged at the uncomfortable restraints, obviously not shaped with her webbed fins in mind. Everything was crunched uncomfortably together, stuffed in so that all the straps would hold her down. Not as though she had much strength to truly resist.
Slowly the guards withdrew and exited back through a separate door to the side. Awen was left little time to ponder her fate as she heard footsteps approaching. From the same door the guards had left a somewhat tall man entered the room. His usual attire and oddly formal top hat were not present today as the man wore normal black pants, a black dress shirt and black tie a stark contrast to his white lab coat. The manta almost didn’t recognize the man but for his brilliant silver hair.
“Sabin…” She choked out as she stared at the one who she knew would be the death of her, the man to whom she had given her heart for so long. The one crush she just could not get over here on the island, the smooth French accent and hidden depth of pain just had struck a cord in the girl’s heart and though she tried many times it simply would not let go. So her torture would not be that which would produce screams of physical agony, but that which silently tore out her heart.
“Awen…” He said her name softly, his delicate tone laced with his own pain and sorrow at the moment. “I must apologize… Moreau is forcing me… there is nothing I can do about it.”
“Your hands are always tied… aren’t they Sabin?” The pain in her voice suddenly hardened to an edge. “Even in this end you will not stand up for what you know is right?” Rage slowly boiled to the surface, past the heartbreak past the fear. No, she would not squirm and cry as Moreau wanted her to. She would not end with a pathetic whimper. Not so easily.
“You must understand… I never wanted this to happen, my dear. I have been arguing, fighting Moreau at every step. But he still has the power, if I do not do as he says…”
“You’re going to end up like us anyway Sabin! Don’t tell me you are so much a fool as to think he’ll let you all go too. You’re just a liable to expose him as any of us. One missing or copied video tape, one document, one photograph… no. You will not be spared out fate, not this time.” Her words spat like venom, fueled by fear her tongue was loosed by the end. There would be no more secrets, no more staying of her voice for fear of offense. It didn’t matter anymore.
The man winced as he stepped forward, a needle slowly becoming visible in his hand. “Awen, you do not know how hard this is for me… I do not trust that man, but this is my only chance at life. Were you in my position I would want you to do anything you could to stay alive, even if it was just for awhile longer. Please understand…” He leaned forward slowly, lips right close to the manta girl’s ear. “I believe you, I know your words to be true… but the others they do not. They trust and fear Moreau too much to even break away. I must do this, until I can convince others. I may be able to save more lives this way. I do not want to see anymore death. The man’s gone mad Awen… I never wanted this to happen to you, I had tried to spare you until the end, buy you time… But Moreau would have no more. It took all the pull I had left to assure your death be quick, by my hand and not his. Please understand Awen…”
The glare that had been in Awen’s eyes slowly faded away. How did he always manage to do that to her? How could he manage to always calm her anger and make her simply understand? What the man said made sense, and god help her, she trusted his word even now. She tried to hold on to that grit, that defiant determination that would bare her in this end, but it slipped away, dissolving into the air because of those sickly sweet words.
A lump formed in Awen’s throat and she tried to say something but it caught. The tears finally burst from her eyes in full force, the salty drops trailing down her cheeks and running into her gills. “I don’t want to die!” She cried out unable to control herself. “Sabin, please, I don’t want to die!” Sobs wracked through her very bones as she lay strapped to the cold table, the man she had been pining for standing above her holding an elixir that would seal her fate.
A gentle hand was placed upon the girls head, gently stroking down. “Sshh, sshh.” The man hushed her softly. “I know Awen… I am truly sorry for what I must do.”
“It’s not fair…” She gasped out. “It’s just not fair! I accepted this, I enjoyed what I became, I embraced this life! Why is it all being taken away?” The manta stared widely, searching for an answer in the cool grey eyes of the lab tech.
Slowly the man shifted the hand stroking her hair gently slipped around her shoulders. Leaning forward the man gave the girl the only comfort he could, strong lips pressed against her quivering mouth. The kiss full of regret and despair surprised the girl but was accepted gratefully. In this last moment there was no harm in such a small token, to give the girl something that the man had known she had longed for, for so long. Pushing aside all thought or reason, Sabin held Awen in this embrace for a long moment. Then he pushed the needle into her arm with his free hand. The steely liquid burned as it entered her bloodstream but Awen hardly noticed, caught up in her final moment, the final comfort she would feel carried her over this mild pain.
Sabin slowly pulled himself away from the girl, his eyes slightly damp from his own tears. “Goodbye Awen… please forgive what I have done. You will be alright. The pain of this island is over for you. Embrace your next transformation into a new world.”
Awen’s eyes held the lab techs for only another instant before her vision started to blur and darken. The girl was vaguely aware of her lungs burning but it seemed to distant now. She held on to the image of Sabin and the tingle he had left upon her lips as long as she could, but slowly, ever so slowly, her eyelids slid closed and everything went numb.
An endless swirl of darkness filled the manta ray. It was a void in Awen’s heart, yet it was not a void. This was a place filled with nothingness but still somehow had substance; tangible, but not all in the same instance. Awen dimly found herself wondering if this was what death felt like. Vague shadows of grey moved distantly across the black sea, voices murmured the true words never fully taking form.
Soft words, delicate and dear to her eventually rose above the rest. “It is okay.” The elegant curl of the French accent accompanied the feeling of arms around her shoulders, her world shook softly. “Awen, you are alright. Wake up.”
A small pinpoint of light appeared to stream through the darkness, it’s brilliance chased the shadows and whispers from her world but not completely eliminate the darkness. The soft silver light flooded Awen’s world, just as the smell of salt air reached her thin nostrils. The crash of waves soon registered in the manta’s mind. Violet eyes fluttered open as hundreds of little sparks of light filled her vision. Stars, Awen was looking up at the night sky.
“There you are…” The same voice said with a touch of a smile. “You started to worry me there for a moment Awen. I was beginning to think you wouldn’t wake up.”
The manta tilted her all too heavy head and still half lost in a haze distinguished light bouncing off of silver hair and the blur of top hat blotting out a portion of the stars. “Am I dead?” She asked softly. “I’m supposed to be dead…”
A soft chuckle rose from the man holding her. “You know of Romeo and Juliet I will assume, when Juliet drank the potion to make her appear dead for a short while only so she could wake up and run away with Romeo in the end? Or at least that was the idea behind it… Well I did the same sort of thing with you… and a few others.” Sabin gestured towards three figures already waist deep in water. Cody gave a small wave, but Alec and Sayuri were simply talking lowly amongst themselves.
Awen blinked slowly trying to take everything in to her still fuzzy brain. “But… Why?” She mumbled as the girl slowly toddled to her feet, with the aid of Sabin’s hand.
“I told you before Awen, I may be able to save more lives this way. Your death was quick, yet it was also brief. I urge that you must embrace your new transformation, go into the world reborn.” He spread his arm out towards the sea dramatically before lowering it and his voice. “You must get to mainland, go for help. It should take just a few days, or perhaps a week, to reach the coast of Florida. I will hold off as many of the terminations within that time frame.”
A fist clenched at the man’s side as his jaw tightened. There was a fire there that Awen had seen once before. When Sabin had told her of his mythical experiments that Moreau had destroyed he held the same look as he did now. Whether this was his compassion for living beings or the waste of time, effort and care into making these creatures, Awen couldn’t be sure, but something stirred in this man so profoundly it moved him to such measures. The manta girl sincerely hoped it was his compassion, the conscience that he had kept deep within him locked away. No, the girl was certain of it… This went deeper than not wanting to waste the time and effort spent in the labs, mutating the subjects into animals. This was a genuine caring; the glint in the man’s eye could not be for such a shallow reason. There simply was too much passion there, so Awen believed.
After the moments pause Sabin urged the manta forward. “Go, there is not much time left. My absence will soon be noted as will yours if you do not hurry.” He waved her on towards the water.
“The chips?” Awen asked suddenly thinking of the restraining chips that had kept them all at bay for so long.
“Disabled. In part. They can still track you but they will not be able to put you to sleep.” Sabin replied quickly.
“But the salt water?” The thing that had almost killed Awen in her attempt to escape what seemed like ages ago.
“That was a side effect of the serum I gave you. I did not lie when I said you had another transformation. You may now swim in the salt water as you had the fresh before.”
Nodding that she understood the firl took a deep breath and turned towards the waters. Awen took a step towards the water but paused and turned back to him. In a flash the manta had her arms wrapped around his waist and a blue haired head resting on his shoulder. She gave the man a large squeeze. “Stay safe Sabin…. Thank you for everything you have done for me. I won’t forget it.”
The man caught by surprised could do little more in a moment than gape at the girl now firmly latched to his waist, but soon a soft smile drew to his lips and he returned her embrace. “Keep the worry for yourself Awen. You’ve a long journey and I do not know exactly how people will react on the mainland. Just be careful.”
Awen let go and turned herself back to the sea. As she hurried to the water she held no delusions of Sabin and his feelings; she had known that the kiss he had given her was a token, a final parting gift to one so infatuated with him, it had been a show for Moreau, to convince him of the reality behind the death that was not a death. He did not love her, but that did not mean that he did not care and value her. Their friendship had been very dear and special to the both of them. Each had been a support in the storm of the island life. Sabin was her tie, the one person that she could talk to without fear of reprisal. Awen to him had been a release, a sidetrack from the complications within the gates, her naïveté had been a refreshing release from the subterfuge in the labs yet her intelligence had made for stimulating conversation. It was not love, but in a way the pair had been in a large way dependant on each other. The only way either of them ever had a chance to realize this was during this parting on the beach. Awen leaving for a world nor foreign to her, Sabin remaining behind in a desperate attempt to spare the lives left on the island, the both of them leaving the support that they had so dearly needed. It would be a trying time for both, but someday, and hopefully soon there would be a reunion and they could discuss all of their events and adventures together.
However now was the time for the adventure to commence. Awen waded into the warm salty waters towards her aquatic companions.
“’Bout time!” Alec called, halfway between annoyance and teasing.
“So we’re ready to go?” Cody asked enthusiastically moving back and forth in the waters. Awen was perplexed by that boy’s positivism in the light of these serious times, but from their brief encounters she was somewhat not surprised.
Sayuri had stayed silent. Even with only the dim light of the moon Awen thought she saw a paling of her features and a twitch of a frown upon her lips. Not all in the party were so keen or confident.
The manta’s eyes trailed towards the horizon, a shimmering, moving line in the distance. This was it, the beginning of a new life, into a new world. Returning her gaze to her fellow aquatics Awen finally moved deep enough to join them, her legs swirling below her to help keep her afloat. “We’ll move as quickly as we can, underwater for the most part but close enough to the surface for Cody to go get air when he needs it.” The girl took a small breath before giving the group her best smile. “Alright guys, let’s go.”
Sabin watched as the group departed vanishing under the waves. He watched seriously and solemnly sending his best hopes and wishes for them to reach their destination safely. But even as he did the rumbling sound of a vehicle reached the man’s ears. He turned just in time to see the headlights of the jeep around the bend. Sabin slowly clasped his hands behind his back as the vehicle rounded the corner and came into sight. One of the many seemingly nameless faceless guards sat in the driver’s seat but that was the least of Sabin’s concerns. The brilliantly bright orange hair of Dr. Moreau whipped in the wind, his eyes alight in a murderous glare. The jeep slowed but the man would not wait for it to stop, he jumped out of the still moving jeep and without missing a beat started marching straight for Sabin.
“Duvert, what did you do!?” He cried in a rage.
Sabin stood calmly facing the owner of the island, the bringer of all of the pain and suffering of all who dwelled there. His only reply was a wry smirk which slowly slipped to his lips. The man’s steady gaze never faltered even as the moonlight glinted off of the gun’s barrel pointed at his head. One last and proud thought moved briefly through his mind. [i]For Aubrey…[/i]
The gunshot rang in Awen’s ears as she raced through the waters in attempt to outrun the boats that chased them. The girl opened her eyes once more, shaking off the ghosts that haunted her. She needed to focus on the task at hand, getting away with her life. A quick look to the others startled Awen as she found only two of the others keeping pace. Where was Cody?
Slowing her speed the manta half turned in the water to see what was keeping the kid. Red swirled in the water near the surface. It took a moment for Awen to see what had happened, but the figure soon stood out against the water. Cody’s still form floated near the surface. The gunshot the manta had heard was no echo of the past but a fresh one aimed at the young boy. The sound had been muffled and distant, almost as though she hadn’t heard it at all. Awen had never truly heard a gunshot while below the surface before and it chilled her to the bone.
The boats slowed as they approached the body, surely they did not want it to sink and have some stray group of scuba divers find it, or some ridiculous thing. Alec and Sayuri, having noticed the absence of two of their group soon turned around and joined Awen. The boats had arrived at Cody now and they were beginning to fish the boy from the water. Alec shot in front of Awen, his eyes ablaze with a fierce predatory anger the girl had never imagined she could see in his eyes.
The man paused and pointed to the two women and then to the murky distance of the sea. He wanted them to continue while he did something foolish. Awen shook her head vigorously and pointed back at Alec and then in the direction he had pointed. There was a short underwater argument consisting of emphatic gestures and mouthed swear words, but in the end Alec threw his arms out in frustration and turned to the ships. Bearing teeth and gnashing jaws the barreled towards the ship. Awen almost felt pity for the men on board the ships. The girl knew that in the end Alec could never win against so many with fire arms, but she knew that plenty of blood would be spilled to make up for the kid.
Awen still of a mind to stop Alec from getting himself killed was about to go after him. A small hand latched onto the manta’s arm and drew her attention away. Sayuri shook her head, her eyes wide with fear and sorrow. Looking back briefly towards the man streaking towards the boats Awen closed her eyes. She would have shed tears for them right then if she had been capable, but she could not. She looked back to Sayuri and nodded, before turning with her and taking back off towards their destination.
It would be some time before the pair ever reached shore. They rested deep in the waters when they needed to. Though the boats caught up to them when they rested the search was difficult. They would anchor in one place while they sent divers to try to find the aquatics, but they were all too slow. Able to go deeper than the divers and with their advantage of speed it never took too much to slip passed them. It had almost been too easy. Had Awen known it would be like this she would have let the group rest and hide from the first boats. If only she would have thought of these then Cody and Alec may still be alive with her…
The blue tang above her suddenly dropped down in the water beside her. Startled Awen glanced over to her companion. Sayuri pointed to Awen and then up. She needed to talk clearly, more than just gestures. Awen nodded and made her way upwards with the fish. As they broke the surface Awen had to blink against the sun’s bright light.
“Land!” Sayuri had gasped out when she surfaced beside Awen. The woman pointed and danced about in the water.
Turning to look to where she pointed Awen’s jaw almost dropped. There in the distance was the making of land. They had come across a few small islands in their attempts to get to the mainland of Florida, but this could be no island. The girl’s heart skipped a beat as she suddenly realized there was more to fear than Moreau and his boats… How would they react to the pair of fish women appearing at the shore? The manta’s stomach knotted in a bunch as she thought more. They could shoot her just as easily in fear, they could cage them as Moreau had, experiment on them…
“Um…” Sayuri’s voice broke through Awen’s fearful thoughts. Waiting until the manta turned full attention over to her Sayuri continued. “I cannot….” She hesitated a bit, swishing in the waters. “I cannot go to land.”
A soft smile broke the manta ray’s features. “It’s okay Sayuri, we can find people to help there. I know it’s scary, but we have to. We have to help the others.” It there was anyone left to help…
“No.” Shaking her head the woman seemed frustrated. “I cannot walk on land. No legs…”
With the searing ach in her own legs from the journey Awen had completely forgotten that she had been the only one from the outset that actually could have gone and walked onto the land. Had this been a part of Sabin’s design? Did he want her to be the emissary of the islanders, or had there simply been no other aquatic left that could walk on the land?
“Oh.” She said dumbly and paused to think about what she had done. “Well…” She bit her lip and wondered. “You could stay underwater, we’ll find a place for you to hide while I go on land.”
“The boats. They come and I am hiding… It will not end well.” She replied quite simply but obviously trying to think of a way to work things as well. “I stay in water, but in sight?”
Awen thought about this for a time and then nodded with a smile. “That’s a good idea! They wouldn’t attack out in the open…”
Sayuri nodded and it seemed like all was set out. It would take perhaps still an hour or so to reach the shore, and with no Feral Labs boat in sight it seemed as thought they were going to make it. Awen had to start wondering about what she would say, what she would do once she reached shore. Her stomach lurched and she felt as thought she would be sick right there in the water. Fleeing to survive had been terrifying, but at least it she had a set goal, a stabilizer. Now she had no clue what was going to happen, she didn’t know how the people would react. It was just such a large unknown it was somehow more frightening than running for her life.
A soft hand gently moved to grasp the manta’s webbed one. Sayuri looked into Awen’s eyes with a small hesitant smile. She offered only one small piece of advice before they started towards the shore once more. “Be strong…”
It didn’t take long for the pair to reach the shore, but even before they had caused a stir. Boaters had seen them moving under the water, radioing people on shore to warn them of some strange looking things coming towards shore. Swimmers, surfers and general beach goers had been evacuated from the waters temporarily because of it. So when Awen did get to the shallow water where she would have to stand and start walking there were hundreds of people standing on the beach looking out into the waters skeptical of these creatures and annoyed that their day had been ruined.
Under the water Awen gave a small smile to Sayuri, who gave a somewhat wavering smile in return. The two moved closer to the shore, Awen planted her feet on the sandy floor of the ocean, while Sayuri followed her along, her torso rising as Awen’s.
Gasps and shocked cried erupted from the beach as the two started to emerge from the water. The two kept forward at a steady pace, until the waters got too shallow for Sayuri to advance any further. The majority of her torso was exposed to the beach goers and that seemed to be enough.
Awen paused a moment and smiled down at her friend. “Here goes nothing.” She said with a nervous chuckle.
Turning back to the shore she started moving on her own, slowly exposing more of her body and the extent of the webbing between her arms. There were a few horrified faces in the crowd, and cameras started flashing from everywhere. Awen held up her arms in a peaceful gesture, but it only lead to a few frightened squeals from the crowd. She didn’t relent however and simply kept moving forward.
People closest to the edge started to back away at her approach, while at the same time wanting to stay near and see the odd sight. The beach grew deathly silent as she stood a last step out of the water, the waves only occasionally lapping around her ankles. Her arms still up Awen made the decision that it would have to be her that broke this quiet.
“My name is Awen Zyn.” She said, her voice raised high for all to hear. She tried to keep the tremble out of her voice, but she had a feeling some had escaped. “I mean no one here any harm. In fact… I need help.”
Awen didn’t know what was going to become of her and Sayuri at that point. She saw news vans already pulling up in the parking lot of the beach. In the distance Awen heard the approaching police sirens. Her heart pounded in her chest as she looked at all of the spectators. All of them were human, not a single fur, feather, slime or even scale on the bunch. This was the world that she had once been born into, this was a world she left behind for the island. This will never again be a home to her, however the island offers no salvation either. The world had certainly changed for her and all of the other subjects left on the island. All that was left to do… was embrace it.