Chapter Nine – Mel

Everything seemed to be going in slow motion.

Desperate cries for help.
A mob of men in black.
Open fire.

Lying on top of Amanda’s motionless body, I shook my head and tried to recollect myself.

Two gun shots.
Last man standing.
And … Jasmine.

“What a bastard.”
A girl dressed in a black turtle neck and tight pants strutted in from the back of the hall, dodging the panic-stricken hostages lying helpless on the hard wooden floor of the Wyslaskie Hall, in her stilettos. The girl had crossed over to main entrance where we were laying and towered over us, offering her hand.
“You okay?” She smiled slightly as her voice echoed throughout the hall. Everyone was silent now, almost in awe of her presence.
Jasmine? It can’t be you. I’m just hallucinating.” I gaped.
“Yep, it’s me in the flesh,” Jasmine said, bored.
I took her cold hand and pulled myself up onto my feet.
“I don’t know what to say-,” I started, still a bit jittery.
“Try ‘thanks for saving my life’?” Jasmine laughed in her casual style but she was still unrecognisable.
Her dark hair was now long and straight and she looked taller and fairer.
I laughed slightly and gazed down at Amanda.
“Amanda’s shot. She needs medical attention or she could,” I paused to try and find the appropriate words.
“She could… the ‘D’ word.” I whispered.
Jasmine glanced quickly over at Amanda and gave a flick of her hair.
“Mhm.” She would murmur now and again as I explained what had happened.
“So?” I finally said. “What do you think we should do?”
She folded her arms, disinterested. “I’ll get a doctor over.”
“A doctor,” she repeated, annoyed.
“No, I mean, how?”
“I kidnapped one. Really Melissa, don’t you ever use your imagination?” She held out a polished hand and admired her perfect cuticles.
“Sometimes,” I answered not sure where this discussion was going.
“Well? Let’s go then.” She started out for the main entrance and motioned an impatient hand.
“Where?” I said, unsure.
“You tell me. Where are the other escapees?” Her hands were now positioned on her hips and her eyes twinkled sinisterly.

* * *

The sky was a flawless sepia brown and the sun was at its highest point. It would have been a picturesque view but instead the large grey buildings towered over an empty car park creating contrasting shadows.
A petite figure sat by a patch of healthy red roses, hugging her knees as a cold draft of wind swept over her face from the breezeway.

Where are you? A desperate voice in her mind plead.

Bored, she pulled out her wallet and flipped through a couple of pockets where she carried pictures of her friends; Steph, Kate, Caitlin and … yes, she found it.
Carefully taking the photo out she gazed at the familiar faces, the captured moment still fresh in her mind. It was her sixth birthday when she was still living in Sydney. She sat clumsily on her mother’s lap in the family room, with her long tangled bits of hair falling out of her ponytail. In front of the girl was a small chocolate mud cake with icing elaborately decorated on the top and for the finishing touches, six different zoo animals that served as candles.

She smiled, running her fingers over the aged photograph. Then she stopped, her attention focusing on something new.
A Chinese man stood at the far corner of the room with his arms folded. He was a serious man in his late forty’s with a held black smile.

“Jasmine!” A hoarse voice echoed.
She turned her head in the direction of the breezeway and a tall figure appeared, walking towards her in a powerful stride.
“Jasmine, my, have you grown,” he opened his arms invitingly and gave a warm, yet harsh hug. As she hugged him, she closed her eyes and smelt a waft of something unfamiliar; black, burning.

She detached herself and scanned around for the source.
“Can you smell that?”
“Smell? Jasmine, do you know how old I am? Half the things I used to be able to do when I was your age,” he seemed to rattle on. “But now we will go. I want to show you something.”
He took her by the hand and led her towards the breezeway though it was hard to see ahead. A misty, white dust appeared to shroud around them as they entered the school.
“Look up,” the old man pointed. Jasmine breathed a sigh. The world had disappeared altogether and they were standing in the middle of a giant, damp cave where the ceiling was covered with millions or billions of glowing insects.
“Where are we?” She smiled, still amazed at the breath taking sight.
He didn’t answer but clenched her hand tighter and led her deeper into the unknown territories of this new world.

They came to a bolted metal door with a security pad next to it. Typing various numbers into it, the door opened robotically and noiselessly closed behind them after they had gone through.

Jasmine wrinkled her forehead at the sudden darkness and tripped over something hard.
But not an answer.
Jasmine shuddered, suddenly feeling alone.
“Don’t be scared.” A toneless voice whispered in her ear.
And with the click of a finger, the room was lit with a strong white light.
Two bald men, both dressed in white coats and immaculately groomed stood in front of her, staring blankly ahead as if unaware of her presence.
The moved apart and in the exact centre of the square room, a buckled chair was positioned.
Her face was filled with horror and she screamed.

* * *

“What are you – speechless?” Jasmine sneered.
“I’m sorry, I’m just tired.”
I nodded, faking a yawn.
“Yeah you do look terrible today.”
Suddenly feeling conscious of myself, I retied my hair and rubbed my face. I wondered how “terrible” I looked as I realised it had been days since I looked into a mirror. What a record.
“So,” Jasmine continued, “where are your other friends?”
“It’s a long story, kind of embarrassing.” I lowered my head slightly.
“Embarrassing? Well it’s not like you hid in a hole in the middle of the oval cause’ then that would be pretty embarrassing,” she patted me on the back and she strode ahead laughing to herself.
“Yeah”, I tried to smile, “it would.”

We continued haphazard prowling around the victimised PLC ground, passing through ashes and rubbles and random potholes in the ground as if something heavy had been dragged through like heavy military vehicles. First Jasmine would calmly look left then right and prompt me to follow when the coast was clear, and then she would clutch tighter to the BB-gun as if something was coming closer toward us. Or maybe we were coming closer to it.

Jasmine kept an alert eye and as we turned a corner of the eastern terrace, she suddenly halted bringing me clumsily smacking into her back and falling down on the concrete ground. “Could you try aim at a pole next time like regular people?” She muttered dusting herself. “Sorry,” I rolled my eyes, tired of her smart-arse comments. We waited for a couple more minutes until we finally proceeded tentatively.

Everything suddenly turned cold, and I found myself rubbing my goose pimply arms behind Jasmine in her rigid stance. She had taken me somewhere new, and I stood in awe at the glowing ceiling.
“Where are we?” I asked, robotically following her deeper into the cave-like structure. It seemed as if the breeze way had been completely transformed and an underground tunnel had been built in place.
“Let’s find out.”
“But, what if there are scary black men down there?”
But Jasmine was already ahead in a self-righteous saunter.
“Well, aren’t you coming?”
Shuddering I kept close to her, though strangely, even that was not comfort enough.

Then we came to a bolted door and Jasmine typed some numbers in the key pad and it opened eerily.
Pulling out a black mask from underneath her turtleneck, she pulled it over her head.
“Jasmine, what is this?” I demanded, starting to shake. My gut told me everything around me was a lie.
This time she didn’t answer and pushed me into the darkness.

* * *

She cracked her neck brutally and clenched her fists. For the very first time, she felt strong.
The old man could see it too and it pleased him. She was his secret weapon for if you could not trust family, who else could you trust? Not the other drug tycoons. What he needed was assurance and dirty business was not one to put your bet on.

Two men came into the gym whilst Jasmine focused her attention on the punching bag. They were dressed in science robes and carried black clipboards. The aged man stalked over to the men, motioning them towards the latter area of the gym so that she could not zone into their conversation.

“I hope you have good news,” He spoke harshly.
“Yes, sir, in fact, too good,” the taller one spoke, his thick black glasses sliding further down his nose as he leaned in to speak.
“So what are you telling me?”
“We’re telling you, that the project was successful. You’re looking at the child prodigy.” The other scientist nodded with approval.

The girl stopped abruptly, at those words: ‘child prodigy’ and the images flooded her head like a never ending slideshow. It was like seeing the past in front of her eyes and feeling it at the same time; it felt so real. She remembered reading all the labels of the bottles, the mixed-drugs, the secret formula and the tools they had used on her. And at last she heard a scream that went on for eternity, her real self but she was trapped and suppressed by something superficial and shallow.

* * *

“Jasmine!” I cried, helpless like a child. Now I could see everything, exposed to the bright light.
Jasmine crossed her arms and leaned against the cushioned walls. She did nothing, said nothing.
A Chinese man came from behind and swung the chair around, so I could see them clearly. Two bald men came closer towards me, one holding a long syringe and the other holding a platter with many intricate tools.
“Now, if you cooperate with us, this won’t hurt,” he said with a slight accent.
My breathing became louder as I panicked and sweat trickled down from my forehead.
“Jasmine, help me.” My voice turned from a plea to a shout.
He cackled sarcastically.
“She’s not going to help you. You see, she’s on our side now.”
“What have you done to her?” I lashed out at him but the buckles held me tight.
“Let’s find out.” The bulky man snapped his fingers and the scientists moved in. As I watched the syringe go into my veins I watched her. On the outside, Jasmine resembled a normal teenager, but on the inside, she was an inhibited human being, seemingly lifeless, with no identity. A fabricated machine of cruel shoguns, made to be a weapon for selfish desires. And now, was I to be turned into one?

I closed my eyes and prayed.

I have to finish this.

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