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Authors: Rose Foster

The Industry (4 page)

BOOK: The Industry
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When the plane finally touched down, Kirra scrambled to the window and pressed her nose flat against the freezing pane. Her vantage point only told her what was already obvious: they had landed on an airstrip in a field somewhere. She did a double take when she saw a thin layer of ice blanketing the grass. Ice? She stared. In the distance were fields of white. Snow? Kirra had never seen snow before, but much more unsettling was the fact that it was currently the height of summer at home in Freemont. Beyond the fields, she could make out the faint outline of a cluster of industrial buildings, a long and empty highway, and nothing at all to help her identify her location.

Behind her, the door burst open with a bang. She whipped around as two men came towards her, snatched her under the arms and heaved her into the air. She tried to get a good look at them, as much as she could whilst being swung above the ground. Were these the same men from Barrie Avenue?

The trouble was, she had no idea what those men had looked like. They'd all worn ski masks the entire time. What Kirra seemed to remember most of the event was the sound of that piano and how the person playing it had failed so spectacularly to come to her aid. Now she was beginning to realise that her abduction had been over and done with in less than a minute. She wasn't even sure how much of that time she'd screamed for, meaning that anyone who might have helped her hadn't had long to do so before the van had swallowed her up and taken her away.

The moment she was thrust into the outside air a small, helpless yelp burst from her lips. The icy wind sliced through her school jumper and cotton dress, the summery garments a ridiculous opponent for this kind of weather. As she twisted and gasped within the men's grip, the air stung at her bare legs like tiny frosted pinpricks. If the two men flanking her were bothered by the dramatic drop in temperature, they certainly didn't show it. There was ice on the tarmac, small piles of snow in the places where bitumen met grass and the sky was a steely expanse of grey cloud.

Distracted by the cold, Kirra barely realised she was being carried towards the looming mouth of an aircraft hangar. The two men forced her through a side doorway into an extended concrete corridor, and marched her along it for some time before pausing at an open door.

Inside the room, a woman sat on a couch, talking happily with someone out of Kirra's view. The woman wore jeans, a dark crimson jacket and gloves, and had long dark hair draped over her shoulders. She looked up at Kirra and the two men, her expression curious.

One of Kirra's brutish escorts spoke in a language Kirra couldn't identify, and was answered in the same language by the other person in the room, a man Kirra couldn't see. Obviously the men had been given instructions of some kind, because they led her off in the opposite direction with a distinct sense of purpose, heading down another corridor before stopping at a wide metal door, once painted a silvery grey and now peeling and rusty.

One of the men punched a security code into the keypad on the wall and lifted the bolt, and Kirra found herself face to face with a concrete room full of nothing. She was pushed over the threshold, stumbled, and spun around just in time to watch them slam the door and hear them bolt it from the outside.

She sucked in a breath and tried to wrench the door open, not entirely sure why she was bothering. Whirling around, she noted a metal tap and basin and a frosted steel toilet in the corner behind the door. The water in the toilet was almost frozen over. She flushed it once and watched the liquid seep away and then reappear. Several flushes proved successful in thawing most of the ice.

Opposite the toilet and basin was a tiny window, high up in the wall: metal bars crisscrossed over a broken pane of glass. She tensed when an icy breeze whistled into the cell.

After concluding that escape was impossible via the little window, Kirra did a few quick laps of the cell. In four steps she could walk from one side to the other.

She was trembling with cold. She slipped her hands up into the sleeves of her jumper, crouched in the corner facing the door and wrapped her arms around herself.
Her breath curled away from her mouth in steamy spirals, and each inhalation felt like someone had her chest in a vice and was winding it tighter every few seconds. She glanced at her wrist, but remembered that back home in Freemont she'd stupidly forgotten to put on her little watch with its cobalt coloured wristband.

As night fell, Kirra started to panic in earnest when she thought she saw several dainty snowflakes float in through the window. The room grew colder and colder by the moment and the air pressed in on her. It felt like being shut up inside a freezer. She wondered for a frightening moment if she'd survive the temperature of the night. She wasn't positive she would and so she told herself that a rescue team had to be on its way. Any time now, they'd come for her. They'd wrap her up and give her a warm drink and take her back to Freemont. There was no need to panic about the cold. None at all. They were coming.


Kirra woke to the sound of voices. They sounded far off and for some reason Kirra processed their words at a much slower rate than she normally would have.

‘You have made an unacceptable error,' a man was saying threateningly. It sounded like Latham.

‘Me?' The second voice sounded ashamed. Kirra didn't recognise this man.

‘Yes! You! I gave you a simple task: to keep her alive. Not challenging, is it?'

‘No, but —'

‘Not hard at all, really, and still this morning I very nearly find a frozen corpse in the room instead of a viable Translator.'

‘That's not my fault. You can hardly blame me for hypothermia.'

Kirra wanted to open her eyes and see them, but when she did she was blinded by a bright light hanging directly above the bed she seemed to be lying upon. She shut them quickly. The men kept talking.

‘I told you to check the room to ensure it was safe and escape was impossible —'

‘I did! I just … I just didn't think about temperature.'

‘You don't seem to understand the severity of the situation. She must
be allowed to die. Her safety is
. You must be prepared for
. Do you understand?'

‘Yeah, of course.'

‘This is about to become an ongoing responsibility for you. The most vital responsibility imaginable.'

‘I know. I know how important she is.'

‘Good. Ensure you are more cautious from now on.'

‘I will be.'

‘Now go, before she wakes up and sees you.'

What they were talking about interested her, but not enough to open her eyes properly or attempt actual movement. She didn't know where she was or what was going on. Her body felt frozen stiff and her lungs were like iceblocks in her chest. Eventually she drifted back to sleep.

Kirra awoke the next time because she felt a mattress creak beneath her. Two things were very clear right away: she was trapped beneath a weighty pile of blankets, almost to the point of being smothered, and she was far from recovery. Her chest throbbed, her muscles felt like
flimsy plywood and her limbs no longer seemed to be part of her body, as if they were weird foreign attachments her nerves couldn't recognise. Kirra didn't know much about hypothermia, but she did know she was lucky to be alive.

She jumped when something touched her hand. Looking up, she was met by a concerned face with huge dark eyes and recognised the woman she had spotted on her arrival at the hangar.

The woman sat on the edge of the bed, still dressed in her red jacket, her long dark hair over one shoulder. She said something in a language Kirra didn't understand and gave a tiny, timid smile. She was pale, and her hands were dry and chafed, her neck splotchy and rough with what looked like wind rash.

She seemed to realise Kirra was incapable of movement and propped her up into a half-sitting position with an extra pillow. She picked up a stained ceramic mug, raised it to Kirra's lips and murmured another foreign word.

Kirra inspected the woman closely. She didn't seem threatening. Not at all. She was young and sweet and seemed hell-bent on helping Kirra drink. And really, what did Kirra have to lose? Parting her parched lips, she took a shallow sip. The tea scorched as it swept down her throat, but the woman seemed so delighted that Kirra was drinking, she didn't have the heart to complain.

The woman then draped another blanket over the bed and tucked Kirra in so that she was only visible from the chin up. Voices could be heard occasionally beyond the door. With each murmur, the woman glanced up, her hair floating around her worried face. It was plain that
she was there in secret, and the sooner Kirra drank the tea, the sooner the woman could go.

Kirra obliged, and couldn't help but feel a tiny bond with the woman. Perhaps she was a prisoner too. After the last sip the woman set the mug down, removed the extra pillow and straightened the blankets. She took Kirra's hand between her own for a moment, then got up and left, closing the door quietly behind her. Kirra wanted to shout after her, wanted to ask her to stay. She wanted to know what was going on and what was going to happen to her, but stopped herself just in time. She didn't want to get the woman in trouble, especially as she seemed just as afraid as Kirra was.


Kirra was kept in the low cot bed in the infirmary for nearly a week. She was, for the most part, left alone to recover from her near-fatal bout of hypothermia — the result of a single night spent in the cell. Every so often a man came into the room to fetch something from one of the cabinets. He was young, with wavy blond hair and dark circles beneath his weird, staring eyes. He checked Kirra over twice a day, monitored her breathing, her heart rate, her temperature, and then left her alone. He never looked her directly in the face and never said anything to her, his eyes strangely empty and his face disturbingly soulless.

Kirra knew he was a doctor, or had at least some training, because one day two injured and bleeding men had stumbled into the room, and he had treated them both without a moment's hesitation and prescribed medicine from a cabinet high up on the wall.

Every day Kirra told herself to expect Latham, an event she regarded with an acute sense of terror. She wondered anxiously how he might force her to cooperate with deciphering the code, and what he wanted it for. But he never showed up.

The person Kirra saw most often was the woman. Always in her jacket, the precise colour of blood, she came with plates of food and mugs of tea and assisted Kirra in whatever way she could. She always seemed nervous and never stayed very long, but Kirra looked forward to her visits as much as she did her cooking. She guessed the woman made the meals herself, because whenever Kirra managed to get through one she seemed almost flattered. For breakfast, she brought bowls of cereal and toast, sometimes even eggs, and, once, pancakes. For lunch, she made thick sandwiches packed with chicken and cheese. Dinners were by far the best. She made soup and spaghetti dishes, roasts and vegetables, rice and chunky stews, all of it warm, comforting and delicious.

After almost a week of immobility in the infirmary, Kirra began to feel restless. She had recovered to an extent and regained the full use of her limbs, but tried to hide it from the woman and the doctor for fear they might return her to the cell if they knew she was well enough. The idea of going back there frightened her immeasurably, and she wasn't sure she would survive the cold for another night.

Her efforts were all in vain, however, because one day, after the doctor had completed his second examination, another man barged through the door, grabbed Kirra out of bed and set her on her feet. He steered her out of the
room, stopping only to grab a large paper bag from the top shelf of a cabinet, and forced her down the corridor.

Kirra did her best to catch quick glimpses into the other rooms in the hangar. Many were computer labs, some were storage rooms, and others were filled with equipment in black and silver cases. Occasionally she passed a room with a couch, a rug or a mirror; simple items that tried and failed to lend the hangar a sense of domesticity. One room, its door only slightly ajar, was painted a sickly shade of violet. Frowning, Kirra twisted back to get a better look, but was wrenched onward.

Finally, they came to a door she recognised. The man typed the code into the keypad on the wall, lifted the bolt and pushed Kirra back into her cell. He tossed the paper bag in after her and slammed the door shut.

Kirra was pleased to note that the broken pane in the window had been removed, a new one in its place. In the corner now lay several blankets, for which Kirra was grateful, though she couldn't help thinking a mattress wouldn't have gone astray. She cautiously opened the bag the man had thrown onto the cement, and expelled a sigh of relief as she pulled out two scuffed boots, a pair of faded jeans and a dark fleecy jumper. All the clothes looked and felt as though they'd been worn before. Kirra wondered if they belonged to the woman in the red jacket. The jeans were a bit too long, and the jumper very tatty, but they were warm and soft and Kirra was grateful. She slipped off her blue school dress and put the new clothes on. She bundled up the uniform and shoved it into the corner, thinking it would make a better pillow than none at all.


A week had passed since Kirra had been returned to her cell. She made sure to count the days, and tried to count the hours too. The boredom she felt was so intense that she wouldn't have been surprised to find herself going mildly insane. Latham had yet to make an appearance and she didn't want to worry about what might happen when he did. Instead, she spent the time wondering about her family. She tried to imagine what they were doing, and how an evening in the house might unfold now that her disappearance was approximately two weeks old. Did they still sit down at the dining table for dinner? Did Olivia have to be wrangled into her chair? Did she talk non-stop about Steven? Did Mitchell have to be extracted from his video game? Or did they all sit at the table quietly, ears on alert for a knock on the door or a phone call that might tell them where Kirra was?

If only she'd told her father about the code at dinner that Monday night, as she'd thought to. Maybe it would
have made all the difference, might have pointed them in the right direction, perhaps even got them to her almost as soon as she'd been abducted. They had to be close now. They just had to be. Any day now, she'd see them again.

The woman in the red jacket, Lena, had continued to visit Kirra after she'd been returned to her cell. The first time Kirra had seen her post-recovery, she had pointed to herself and said her own name, then pointed to Lena and looked questioningly at her. Lena had understood immediately and rewarded Kirra with the word in a strong accent. Their time together was usually brought to a close by one of the men, who would come to the door, throw it open and issue a harsh command. Lena seemed to dislike the men intensely, her dark eyes resentful as they led her out of the cell like a child who'd done wrong and slammed the door after her.

Sometimes Lena remained in the cell even after Kirra had finished eating. Occasionally she brought her extra bits of clothing, sneaking in a glove or a beanie or an undershirt, one at a time. She started bringing a newspaper with her, always the same scrunched edition, as though she had been toting it around for years. Though Kirra couldn't identify the language, let alone read it, the pictures were enough: of stern men in suits, of crime scenes, of protests and ceremonies. Lena read the paper out loud, providing Kirra with long and animated explanations in her own language. Sometimes she giggled softly at what Kirra guessed were jokes of her own creation, and Kirra often found herself giggling along too. Frequently Lena flipped to one of the last pages to
point at a picture of a city skyline at night, lit up and glittering prettily. She'd take Kirra's hand in her own and talk about the picture far more than any other photo or article, gazing at it and thumbing the tattered corner of the page. Though Kirra had no idea why Lena was so obsessed with the tiny photo, she did have a feeling she was trying to tell her something important about it.


One morning, the bolt lifted and two men entered the cell. Kirra had worked out their names — Marcam and Bjerre — from listening hard to their interactions with Lena. They pulled her to her feet and escorted her down the corridor and into a long, mouldy bathroom.

It was there they extracted her from her clothes and tossed them, one by one, into a rattling washing machine, before pushing her under the icy jet of water slamming out of a rusting showerhead. At first, Kirra had tried to fight the men off, horrified at the idea of being naked in their presence. Of course, between the two of them her struggling was a slight inconvenience, and they'd easily succeeded in removing her clothes by force in under a minute. After several moments in the freezing shower a flimsy towel was tossed her way, her clothes were dried in a wheezing tumble dryer and she was finally allowed to step into them once more. The men unashamedly observed the entire process from their places by the door.

Hours later, Kirra was still choking back hot tears of humiliation. When the cell door opened and Lena appeared, she hurried to hide the moisture around her eyes, and was grateful when Lena pretended she didn't notice. Instead, she grinned and pressed a finger to her
lips. Kirra felt annoyed by her jubilant mood. What the hell was there to be cheerful about?

Lena crouched down, her hands held behind her back, and tilted her head from side to side. Kirra stared at her. Lena rolled her eyes and continued to nod towards each shoulder with increased enthusiasm. Suddenly, Kirra understood.

‘That one,' she said, indicating to Lena's right hand.

Lena revealed an empty palm.

‘Okay then, that one.'

Lena smiled widely and produced a hairbrush, probably her own. Kirra reached for it, but Lena gently pushed her hand away. Without a word she took Kirra's stringy hair between her fingers and began working out the knots.

Kirra stayed very still, struggling to contain the painful sobs sitting hot and heavy in her chest, until she could hide them no longer. She wasn't sure why this simple kindness produced such emotion in her; she was crying harder now than she had just after her shower. It wasn't merely the incident in the bathroom though; it was everything. Weeks were passing and still no rescue. No sign of help at all. The longer she spent here, the further away help seemed and she was fast losing hope.

Lena let her cry as much as she wanted. She wrapped her arms around Kirra's neck — a surprisingly sturdy grasp for someone so wispy — and hugged her for a long moment before going back to her hair.


The next afternoon, Marcam and another man Kirra had never seen before collected her from her cell and took
her into a long, dark room. There was only just enough light for her to distinguish a single chair surrounded by trolleys and tables. The men dumped her into the chair and proceeded to strap her arms and ankles down with black belts built into the upholstery. Kirra started to panic. What exactly were they going to do to her?

Less than an hour before, Lena had come into the cell — not to present Kirra with a meal or to sneak her a woollen scarf, but to administer a frantic, desperate hug. She had looked stricken, as though she'd been crying, and had held Kirra for a very long time. Kirra had clung to her, feeling terrified, sure that the hug heralded something truly awful and there was nothing she could do but wait for it to happen. Lena had seemed not to want to let go, but the men had called her to leave, so she'd stood up and given Kirra a fierce, bolstering look, her distress too great for anything more. Now, strapped into the chair, Kirra realised Lena had been trying to tell her to be brave.

‘Good afternoon, Kirra.'

The light above her chair was switched on. She strained her neck around to watch as Latham entered the room, closely followed by the blond doctor from the infirmary.

Latham placed a piece of paper and a pen on one of the tables by the chair and she glanced at it. It was another code.

‘If you wouldn't mind, I need your help with this.' Latham's voice was light and even, almost pleasant.

‘What do you need it for?' Kirra said, her voice wobbling.

Latham's eyes narrowed. ‘It makes no difference to you, Kirra,' he said smoothly.

‘Tell me.'

He lifted an eyebrow. ‘Each sequence acts as a security PIN. Each PIN unlocks a door behind which something of value is hidden.'

‘Something of value? What?'

‘Would it be better if I told you we were bank robbers?' Latham asked, looking amused.

‘I just want to know,' Kirra said, sounding pathetic even to herself.

‘Yes: you
to; you don't
to. Now, look at the code. Does anything jump out at you?'

She shook her head, her eyes glued to the paper. ‘No.'

‘Lying won't help,' Latham said.

‘I'm not lying!'

He gave her a sceptical smile and turned to the blond doctor, who, up until then, had been standing silently to one side. Latham said something in another language and the doctor came forward to hook Kirra up to a heart monitor. He attached a little clamp to her left index finger and fastened a belt around her arm. He fixed a catheter into a vein in the crook of her elbow, then took a syringe from one of the trolleys and filled it carefully with some kind of clear medication from a vial. He double-checked the dosage and turned to Kirra.

‘This is an interesting drug,' Latham commented. ‘The opposite of a painkiller. I've not tried it myself, but the sensation is apparently so acute that after only a minute death would come as a welcome release. Decipher the
code, Kirra, and Balcescu will discard the dosage. Now, take another look for me.'

Kirra swallowed, eyeing the doctor nervously.

‘Please don't,' Kirra pleaded quietly. It seemed, however, that he couldn't hear her; his eyes stared vacantly as he came ever closer.

‘He won't,' Latham assured her, ‘as long as you decipher the code.'

‘You need it to kill people. You said that on the plane.'

Latham tapped a plump finger against his chin, looking frustrated. ‘You have a moment to make your choice,' he said, his voice far less patient than before.

Kirra stared at the paper, unwilling to look at Latham, unwilling to look at Balcescu. The sequence was already forming. She could see it. First the letter H, and then a six, and then —

She looked away. She had to be brave, just like Lena wanted. After all, Latham was a murderer. She mustn't give him the sequence, not under any circumstances. And anyway, how painful could this drug thing be? She'd broken a finger once. It had been jammed in the bathroom door one morning as Olivia had fought with Kirra over whose turn it was to go first. How much more painful could it be than that?

‘I won't help you,' she said, feeling oddly brave. ‘I won't.'

Latham merely nodded. He murmured something to Balcescu, who took a firm hold of Kirra's arm. Her throat dried up and she tried to wriggle away, but the bonds held her tightly, inescapably, to the chair. To budge even a centimetre in any direction was impossible.

Balcescu injected the syringe into the catheter, and Kirra felt the drug empty into her body and wash right into her blood. She bit her top lip and shut her eyes tightly, bracing herself.

After several seconds, she opened her eyes. She waited, blinking under the light. Nothing was happening. Nothing at all. She almost wanted to laugh, all the tension draining from her body to leave her feeling victorious. It wasn't working! She felt nothing! Perhaps, in the inexplicable way she could decipher the code, she was also immune to the drug. Maybe the drug had a horrific effect on others, but none whatsoever on her. Perhaps she was mysteriously special in all sorts of ways.

But then she saw Latham look at Balcescu and Balcescu look back, fanatical anticipation gleaming in his eyes. And, finally, she felt it.

A terrible shriek ripped from her throat as an invisible knife stabbed at her heart, twisting and seemingly digging it out from her chest. The agony continued downward, circulating through the veins in her legs, flooding into the soles of her feet. It spread out to her arms, her hands, her fingers, and up into her neck, shooting spikes into her head. Her blood boiled and her skin felt as though it was blistering. It felt as if she'd been injected with poison, and now it raged within her, scalding and furious, as though searching for a place to escape.

Kirra heard herself screaming, a high-pitched, frenzied sound she'd had no idea she could produce, as she writhed in the chair. It had to stop.
It had to stop!
She was going to die! She was certain of it. She couldn't take much more. Any second now her body was going to give
in. But it couldn't. She didn't want to die. She wanted to live! She wanted to survive long enough to get back to her family, long enough to make it back to Freemont Grammar, and then even longer so she could leave it. She wrenched her head up and gazed imploringly at Balcescu.

‘Please,' she rasped, surprised she could speak at all. ‘Please … just
stop it

Balcescu said nothing, but it hardly mattered. Latham had his own reply ready.

‘It can stop at any moment, Kirra. We have the antidote ready. Agree to decipher the code and it will stop and you can go back to your room. Refuse, and Balcescu will increase the dosage.'

Kirra's skull was being sliced in two. She crumpled forward, with only the restraints to keep her from falling. Her mouth hung wide open; she had no control over the muscles in her face. She gasped for air and struggled furiously to keep her brain functioning.

‘Alright,' she panted. ‘Alright! Please …
just make it stop …'

She was barely aware of Balcescu holding her arm and injecting something else into the catheter. Within an instant, the fire inside her was extinguished. Her whole body was drenched in a cool wave of relief and her lungs found air, her eyes regained their sight. All she felt now was violently ill, but that was a glorious improvement.

Her relief was short-lived, however, as Latham pushed the piece of paper in front of her, followed by a pen, which he pressed into her hand.

‘Balcescu is preparing another dose, Kirra, just in case you change your mind.'

Kirra couldn't even raise her head to answer him. Exhaustion such as she had never known overwhelmed her.

‘No,' she breathed. ‘No, I'll do it.'

She scrawled the code as best she could. With her wrist still bound tightly to the armrest and her fingers quaking, her handwriting was atrociously messy, but each digit, each letter, was just legible along the bottom of the document.


She dropped the pen, her hand collapsing with it, and slumped back, feeling wretched and sickly. To have aided Latham was more agonising than any physical pain, but of course it was too late now.

‘In time, Kirra, I believe this will get easier,' Latham said, slipping the piece of paper into the breast pocket of his suit. He said something Kirra didn't understand and she felt the restraints loosen. She was lifted from the chair by two men and carried out of the room and back into the corridor.

BOOK: The Industry
9.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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