Six long, depressing if dissected down to the hours, days had passed since Dr. Joris Flemming had arranged for the stealthy escape of his Golden Ticket from the scientific industrial complex that he'd sardonically referred to as his home. Jonah had been standing only breaths away, her upturned nose level with the identifying blue stitching on his muslin lab coat; armed to the teeth and prepared to kill whomever stood between she and her skins and it had been as torturous as pushing an entire wedge of bread down a dry throat to keep the curved silver blade obscured by her gray leather jacket from making an impulsive appearance. The urge to kill him was stronger than the restraint it had required to take a step back and allow her surroundings to acquire definition. The scream of the sirens overhead were a painful echo between her ears. beyond the sirens, she could hear the distant footfalls of boots on metal floor drawing nearer with each second she wasted trying to master what should've been the most natural thing in the world: killing the thief who'd stolen her life.
Jonah Mare had seen her own malicious intent reflected in Dr. Flemming's eyes. Reflected. Not mirrored. The good doctor knew that she would kill him if she had to. Not mirrored but absorbed by her own intrusive probe into the depths of his cold green eyes was the knowledge that she didn't want to kill him. The way her ruthless black eyes had done a thorough scan of the room upon her loud entry had been one piece of the puzzle, tight fists another, then the slip of cold sweat he could smell from across the room sliding down the back of her neck. Panic. Fear. Desperation. Hope. Relief. Alas, a picture. The left corner of Dr. Flemming's mouth had twisted up in a smirk far too relaxed for the situation in which they found themselves. She, a petty interplanetary fugitive and he, her unwilling but guileful accomplice.
Jorah should've killed him just to finish the chase, get her skins and flee. She could have gone far before The Authority would have known where to find her. But she didn't. Dr. Flemming, cuntrag though he was, had done nothing to intentionally wrong her. She didn't want the mark of innocent blood on her hands when her day of judgment came. She had lowered her eyes, drowned out the fear of her imminent detainment, probable torture and possible execution and ran the tip of her tongue across her teeth. Hunger had made her twitchy.
"You know what I'm here for," she'd said.
Mercifully, he hadn't seemed eager to waste her time. Dr. Flemming had gotten right to the point.
"I do. Just as you know that I can't give you what you want." Jonah had felt Joris' eyes slide over the top of her head, then lower to meet her unflinching frustration without a shred of empathy. If anything, his eyes had only grown more frigid. "You took a very stupid risk, Mare." Heaving what had sounded like a growl, he'd yanked her hand into his and pulled her toward a series of doors that hadn't looked as though they led to anywhere significant. Well, at least anywhere she wanted to go. Joris had yanked off a surgical glove, punched numbers into a digital pad and shoved Jonah out of said doors no sooner than they'd opened a fraction with instructions to run until she found doors and daylight.
He'd shouted move out! when she started to speak, to inquire, to ask where the fuck she was going.
Then the doors had closed, leaving her with one big question mark of an option. Jorah had faced odds much worse in her life, so she'd run.
It had taken less than an hour for her to find doors, daylight and an empty parking lot. From there, she'd sped for the obscurity of trees in the distance, any thoughts of her fear, exhaustion and desperation left behind with her skins, Dr. Flemming's smirk and hope.
Six days. One-hundred and forty-four hours. Six days of sleeping rough to avoid using her identification card to find decent lodging. Six days of stealing food from unsuspecting al fresco diners taking full advantage of the rare sunny day. Six days of hacking into vending machines for coffee worse than what had passed for it on her planet of origin. Six days of yearning to satisfy the most elemental instinct she had, to break into Bravin Laboratories, find her skins, climb into them.
And then what? Jonah didn't know. There wasn't a drop of salt water on this fucking terra replica. There were no natural open bodies of water. Just reservoirs, tributaries and the man-made canals that separated the large buildings in the city. Here in a suburb of the largest city on terra replica Herbous, there was absolutely no hope of yielding to the call of the sea. There was no sea to yield to. There hadn't been a sea to yield to in hundreds of years. She knew that. She'd known it since her Awakening and since that day, she had been racing to what would probably be a slow, unnatural death because her kind no longer existed and hadn't existed since Mother Earth had swallowed up the last of its oceans a long, long time ago.
Jonah wouldn't have minded not racing to her death if the resistance weren't a daily, almost visceral all-consuming pain that had only dulled when her stolen airship had landed on Herbous four months ago. The pain was still there, but it no longer made her howl like the werewolves she'd once seen in films. They were depicted as desperate and dangerous. She was both. But full moon or not, the pain persisted. The pain was as native to her as the dark silver hair with which she'd been born, as familiar as the heavy black brows that hung just above her eyes like a visual disruption. The pain wasn't physical. It was a gaping hole in her chest. Being kept from a sea that no longer existed was like watching a loved one die over and over and over again, every second of every day. Constant, fatal heartbreak.
And yet, Jonah endured; pain neatly tucked away so that she could lead some semblance of a life. Well. At least she could've before she'd started breaking every law The Authority diligently and mercilessly enforced to keep the "folkies" like her from going rogue. Now, Jonah didn't know what a life would look like. There was no plan to make. The best she could do was die well.
A couple of blue-haired children zoomed by her as Jonah lay down on a bench in the middle of an otherwise peaceful park, startling her into the present. She'd actually gotten a good night of sleep wrapped up in her leather jacket, zipped up to conceal her arsenal, even though the duffel bag containing her whole life had been the most uncomfortable pillow ever upcycled. With a languid stretch, Jorah sat up and planted her feet on the ground, winding tension from her shoulders as though oblivious to the respectfully distant eyes on her. Her hair, specifically. It usually made her stick out like a missing thumb. She made a mental note to steal a hat or a beanie or maybe just cut it off.
"Don't you dare even think about it," a familiar voice graveled as a warm body lowered itself onto the newly abandoned space beside her on the bench. "It's probably keeping you alive. Human aesthetics are important on Herbous."
With an impatient sigh of relief, Jonah sheathed the switchblade she'd already jerked down from the inside of her sleeve and glared up at the intruder. He grinned down at her, all incisors, empty green and golden-coloured hair he always kept neatly gelled back like a psychopath.
"Good Morning, Mare."
"How'd you find me?" Jonah didn't have patience for Dr. Flemming's condescension. The morning was beautiful but in lieu of her life being a heaping pile of cow shit, a good morning was hardly worth commenting on. She sniffed at Dr. Flemming's impeccably tailored hooded sweatshirt. She smelled cotton, auburn leaves and sausage, damn him, but no silver, zinc, copper or plastic. "You didn't track me."
"Didn't have to," he drawled. Smirking, possibly, because she was making it pretty obvious that she was smelling him for any signs of treachery. It was cute, really. "This is one of three parks in Cevita and the only one near more than three restaurants. If you've been exceptionally clever, you've been getting your slop from the back door instead of stealing from tables."
"Fuck you," Jonah spat. "I'd rather steal from tables than risk that kind of exposure. Eating from abandoned dinner plates may be disgusting but so is intergalactic prison."
Joris sighed and rubbed the heel of his hand hard across his forehead. They'd been over this before. The punishment for rogue folkies depended on a lot of things, mainly the severity of crimes committed and species. Joris had the only first-hand account of the worst of her crimes, crimes that would, indeed, see her shipped off to the aforementioned intergalactic prison on the Glacies terra replica. Glacies was no place for a destination vacation. It was a planet made entirely of ice and constantly plagued by storms. It's where The Authority sent abhorrent criminals who were too valuable to be receive Capital Punishment. However, Joris was in no hurry to report any of her offenses. Not because he had any loyalty toward the female who had become a bigger headache than the possibility of scavenging missions to Mother Earth, but because she was a criminal too valuable to expose to the harsh elements of Glacies. If the old tomes in his library could be trusted, Jonah wouldn't last a week on Glacies without her skins and Joris was as adamant to keep her skins as he was to keep her alive and easy to find.
As the last living Selkie, Jonah Mare had thousands of years of information embedded in every cell of her body. Information about what Mother Earth had been before The Cloud had dissipated the oceans, desecrated all but a few forms of life and had become uninhabitable. Finding her skins had led him to her. If he could convince her to surrender herself to The Authority, as a foremost Environmental Archaeologist, Dr. Flemming could appeal to The Courts to have her crimes forgiven on the condition he be given guardianship of her. He wouldn't need that much from her. Some plasma, a few pints of blood, collagen from her actual body and maybe a few centimeters cut from her skins...
It wasn't for him, it was for science. If her skins re-animated, there was a strong possibility that while the scientists in his field hadn't had the samples to recreate marine life on Herbous, they could start trials on one of the many failed planets in their solar system. If his idea had any merit, it would take the rest of his lifetime, yes, but it would work and what scant few genetically unmodified humans that existed would be thawed and shipped off to multiply.
Of course, Dr. Flemming had an entire peanut gallery of naysayers who thought he was nothing more than an ideologue tip-toeing toward full-on conspiracy theorist whackjob. What his peanut gallery of naysayers didn't know was that he had a secret of his own buried deep in his own DNA and his DNA was just as ancient and mysterious as Jonah's. If he could get her to see reason, The Authority would have no choice but to thaw the Unmodified or Raw Humans as the other scientists like to joke. They couldn't very well keep an entire species suspended in time forever. They needed the Unmodified just as much as the Unmodified needed a recreated Earth. With the modified having such low birthrates, it was only a matter of time before their own species dwindled to nothing.
Joris was determined to protect Jonah from the Authority until she was ready to willingly surrender.
What remained as unspoken as always was that they were running out of time. The longer Jonah Mare remained a dangerous rogue Folkie, the less apt to forgive her the Authority would be when they inevitably caught her.
"I'd rather die," Jonah said as lightly as if she were commenting on the rain and not talking about capital suicide. "What you want is unnatural. You can't guarantee I'd survive your experiments. You can't guarantee that the Authority won't experiment on me in other ways. No matter how noble your intentions are, the only thing I have left is free will and my answer is "no". Just give me my fucking skins and let me go."
Dr. Flemming absently traced the outer face of his watch, his head bowing for a quick shake. "You'd rather die than save humanity?"
"Humanity used to hunt and kill my kind to make essential oils. Fuck humanity," Jonah grumbled, then flinched. That had been an unintentional slip.
A slip that Dr. Flemming latched onto immediately, the growing warmth between them making way for the chill of detached, scientific curiosity.
"Do you remember life on Earth?"
"No," Jonah said, flat and stiff as a wood plank. "Not the way you're hoping, anyway. It's genetic memory."
"How do you know that?" Dr. Flemming asked mildly, as though trying to delicately peel back a painful scab. "What else do you remember?"
Jonah peered off into the distance. She'd crossed her arms over her chest, effectively communicating she would not be answering anymore questions regarding what she did or didn't know, what she did or didn't remember, what she'd seen or hadn't seen. Dr. Flemming didn't stand down, but he gave her space.
He'd glimpsed the outline of two large knives near where she'd just rested her hands and if he didn't know anything about Jonah Mare, Joris knew that there was no line of questioning disarming enough to keep said knives out of his person should she even scent that she was in immediate danger.