Read The Industry Online

Authors: Rose Foster

The Industry (5 page)

BOOK: The Industry
11.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Out of the corner of her eye she caught a swift glimpse of red, and, looking back, saw Lena pressed against the wall outside the room, her cheeks wet with tears. Kirra wondered if Lena had expected her to refuse Latham, to be far more courageous than she'd been. But then she caught Lena's eye and they shared a silent moment of understanding. They were on the same team, the same side, not to be disappointed by each other, but to be beaten as one.

CHAPTER SEVEN
LENA'S DEPARTURE

Hours later, in the dead of the night, Kirra was still awake. Her body seemed unwilling to give in to sleep, though it felt as though she'd just run a marathon. Her hands were trembling, her throat was still hoarse from screaming, and for the first hour back in her cell she had crouched by the steel toilet, vomiting without respite. Finally, she'd been able to wash the taste of sick from her mouth and retreat to the blankets in her corner, her tongue burning and her forehead bathed in sweat.

Was it Monday today? She was losing track. It was as likely to be any other day as it was to be Monday, but today had a Monday sort of feel to it. At least she was missing out on PE at school then; that was something to be thankful for. On the other hand, she was also missing out on maths, something that would have felt wonderfully comforting. She wondered if her class had realised she wasn't there yet. The students in the Year Twelve maths class paid about as much attention to her as they did to
the stain on the carpet in the corner of the room, left over from when a Year Seven had lobbed a balloon filled with an undetermined substance through an open window just before the summer holidays one year.

Kirra registered the sound of hushed footsteps travelling down the corridor. She frowned. Nobody ever came to her cell in the middle of the night. A night-time visit struck her as very worrying. The five-digit code was entered into the keypad and the bolt lifted, all with as little noise as possible, and Kirra braced herself for the worst.

Lena appeared in the doorway, swooping down to hold Kirra in a tight embrace for several long moments. Kirra exhaled happily and returned the hug. Then Lena was fumbling for her hand and pulling her to her feet, a definite air of haste about her. Kirra held back. She had expected Lena to be bringing her a hot drink, as she often did in the evening, or to suggest a game of cards with the deck she carried with her. She hadn't expected to be taken somewhere.

She frowned at her through the darkness. ‘Lena, what are you doing?'

She ignored Kirra.

‘Lena!'

‘Shhh!' Lena pressed a finger to her lips and motioned for Kirra to follow her out the door.

Kirra froze. What was happening? Lena turned back, her eyes huge and imploring. She clasped Kirra's hands and gazed at her fiercely. Kirra knew if Lena had the words she would be pleading with her to cooperate.

Kirra nodded and followed. It was against her better judgement to venture out into the freezing corridors of
the hangar at any time, but she trusted Lena implicitly. She was the greatest friend — the only friend — she'd ever had.

The hangar seemed deserted. There were no lights on, nor any other signs of life, as Lena dashed silently through the corridors, peering around corners and tiptoeing past doorways, looking over her shoulder to ensure Kirra was following. Kirra wondered what on earth they were doing. The corridor ended, and Lena inserted a slim silver key into a side door. It clicked softly, the noise magnified in the tense silence, and Lena pushed the door open.

The cold blasted over Kirra's face with the force of a hurricane, almost throwing her back into the passageway. Since the window pane in her cell had been replaced, she'd forgotten just how cold it was outside. It didn't take long for her to start shaking, goose bumps parading up and down her forearms, the tips of her fingers searing in the wind.

Lena shrugged off her red jacket and draped it around Kirra's shoulders. Kirra immediately went to shove the coat back, but Lena ignored her with a strained smile and helped — almost forced — Kirra's arms into the sleeves before moving on.

She kept close to the side of the building, her long hair billowing around her as she turned a corner and entered the great, gaping mouth of the hangar. Several cars were parked just inside, and Lena turned to Kirra to fish in the pocket of her forfeited jacket. Suddenly, Lena's intention dawned on Kirra and she halted, her heart almost stopping along with her.

‘We're leaving?' she gasped loudly.

Lena jumped a few centimetres into the air and dropped the car key, her hand, coarse and red with an irritation of some sort, clutching her chest in fright. She looked around, her eyes wide, mistaking Kirra's sudden realisation for an alarm.

‘Lena? You're helping me escape?' Kirra asked again.

Lena frowned, but grasped Kirra's arm and motioned for her to stand by a shiny teal-coloured sedan. She scooped up the key from the ground and placed Kirra's hand on the passenger door, silently urging her to be ready for a quick getaway.

Lena winced as she pressed the button on the remote key and the beep that indicated the unlocking of the car resonated loudly inside the hangar. Kirra flinched. Surely someone would have heard that. Lena didn't hesitate to find out. She flung the driver's door wide open and scrambled inside. Kirra followed suit, shutting the door behind her.

A light flicked on further back in the hangar. Kirra could hear shouting, people rushing about, orders being made with desperate urgency.

Lena's hands trembled as she tried to jam the key into the ignition, missing several times. Finally, the car roared to life. Kirra looked back over her shoulder. She could see several silhouettes pouring into the hangar, sprinting towards them.

‘Lena!' she yelled. ‘Go!'

Lena didn't need telling twice. She released the handbrake, hit the accelerator and the car sped off into the night. In the distance, Kirra spotted a dimly illuminated highway: their path to freedom. Once they reached it, she
assumed Lena would drive to the nearest police station, explain the situation and then the appropriate calls would be made. Within days, Kirra was going to be home.

She stole a glance at Lena. Her eyes were on the road ahead, her knuckles stark white as she gripped the steering wheel. Kirra felt a pang of misery at the prospect of leaving her. She was certain Lena would want to go back to her own family once she was free, and so she knew their freedom meant their goodbye.

Just as Kirra was lamenting the impending loss of her friend Lena looked in the rear-vision mirror and gasped. Kirra whipped around. They were being chased. Two sets of headlights were tailing them, growing steadily closer with each tense second. Kirra looked back at the highway. Once they reached it, she was sure nothing could hurt them. So long as they got there, they would be safe.

A sharp crack pierced the air and Kirra couldn't help but yell out in surprise. Were they being shot at? She didn't want to believe it —
couldn't
believe it. She turned back to look, but couldn't see anything except the ominous pairs of headlights. Another crack sounded out.

Lena was crying now. Silent, terrified tears streamed from her eyes as they sped onward, though the highway didn't seem to be getting closer at all. More gunshots rang through the night and the back windscreen exploded, shards of glass soaring into Kirra's hair. She ducked and slipped further down into her seat, her body seeming to operate on adrenaline alone. A louder, closer bang, different to the gunshots, sounded and the car lurched wildly. Lena fumbled for the steering wheel, but the
swerving was beyond her control. Kirra felt herself bump around in her seat. Another ear-splitting bang, another tyre blown, another dangerous zigzag.

A silver car effortlessly overtook theirs, slowing in front of them and forcing Lena to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision. She tried to veer around it and keep going, but the second car, a black one, blocked them in.

Lena yelled something to Kirra, then sprang from the car like a cat as two men clambered out of the silver one. Kirra froze. She couldn't move. Those men had guns.

Lena glanced back to see Kirra still in her seat. She came to a slow standstill in the middle of the road, studying her resignedly. The chase was over. The two men ran to her and she didn't struggle as they took her arms and twisted them behind her back.

‘No!' Kirra yelled, finally moving from her seat. It was far too late, of course. One of the other men was already by her side and removing her from her seat. He dragged her towards the black car as Lena was deposited into the silver one.

‘Lena!' Kirra shouted.

But she had been swallowed up by the vehicle, lost behind its tinted windows, and was already on her way back to the hangar.

 

The ride back was short and silent for Kirra, who was drowning in disappointment. They had been so close. She gazed gloomily at the car ahead. Lena had done so much to get them away and Kirra desperately wanted to tell her how much it meant, how thankful she was, how brave she thought Lena had been. Maybe they would try
it again someday. They could plan it carefully together, work out every detail to ensure they weren't ever caught again.

All too soon the cars were parked and Kirra and Lena found themselves back in the hangar. A single light high up in the ceiling gave the area a deceptively welcoming glow — until Kirra saw Latham waiting for them.

He looked tired and supremely inconvenienced by their near escape. Kirra couldn't help staring at the small handgun resting in his grip. Was he going to kill her? The terrifying thought collided with what he had said about how important she was. Latham needed her. He wouldn't kill her.

‘Kirra,' he began wearily, ‘you must know that this will be your last attempt at leaving us. Security will be improved greatly from this moment on. Be assured, you won't get so far next time.'

Kirra felt Lena reach for her hand and hold it tightly; her fingers were cold but remarkably reassuring nonetheless. Looking up, Kirra saw a strange emotion in her friend's eyes. Acceptance perhaps, or something akin to it. Standing there with her, shoulder to shoulder, Kirra wanted to tell her it didn't matter. They could try again. They
would
try again.

She heard Lena take a long, slow breath as Latham started speaking very softly to her in what sounded like her own language. When he'd finished, he motioned for her to go to him. Lena looked at Kirra once more and, with an encouraging smile that seemed to communicate there would indeed be another escape attempt some day soon, she stepped forward.

She had barely left Kirra's side when Latham raised the gun. Kirra must have screamed. She must have. Who else could have made the terrible sound that accompanied the gunshot?

Not Lena. Of course not. How could she? She was sprawled on the floor and she wasn't moving. Blood was running thick and fast into her hair, as though it had a life of its own. Kirra wanted to believe she wasn't dead. She wanted it so much more than she'd ever wanted anything in her life. But Lena was motionless, her blood was everywhere and her big dark eyes were glassy and still.

 

Kirra was in her cell. She didn't recall leaving the mouth of the hangar and had no idea how she'd got back here. She supposed someone had carried her, or possibly dragged her, but it didn't really matter. The only thing that mattered was that Lena was gone.

Kirra's chest tightened as the thought repeated itself over and over in her head, each time more excruciating than the last. She had never in her life known such kindness from a stranger, and because of that kindness Lena was dead. No, that was wrong, Kirra thought. Lena hadn't died. She'd been murdered — by Latham.

Latham
, Kirra thought. He needed to die. He needed to be killed as soon as possible, and Kirra was the one to do it. It didn't matter that she came from Freemont or that she was still in high school. It didn't matter that murder had never once crossed her mind before. Latham had killed Lena, and Kirra was the one who was going to avenge her. She was certain of it.

It wasn't until dawn that she realised she was still wrapped in Lena's dark red jacket. She remembered how Lena had given it to her the instant she'd realised Kirra was trembling from the cold. Even now, it was still keeping her warm.

CHAPTER EIGHT
MILO FRANKLYN

A bleak sort of haze descended upon the cell, hanging like a thick, weighty fog. Kirra barely moved in the day following the escape attempt, and couldn't keep her thoughts from turning to the matter of Lena's body.

She knew, of course, that Lena would not be given a funeral, and her family, wherever they were, would never know what had happened to her. In all likelihood, her body had been dumped someplace where it would be impossible to find, with the only person in the world who cared about her death unable to scrape together anything at all to honour her.

The injustice of Lena's death, combined with her own guilt, festered within Kirra like a disease. It never relented and it never eased. It was the kind of thing someone might be admitted to hospital for, where they'd be administered a constant supply of pain relief, because no one could be expected to function in this kind of agony. It felt like Balcescu's drug raging inside her, but this time there was
no antidote. The only thing that could possibly help was if Lena appeared at the door, alive and safe. Kirra just wanted her back. That was all. She just wanted that to be somehow possible. She wanted to rewind time so she could stop Lena, or convince her to run away by herself. She wouldn't have done that, of course. Kirra knew that. Lena had died because of her selflessness. If only she hadn't been so generous, hadn't been so loyal, so kind.

Kirra noticed she was no longer being provided with meals. Clearly, Lena had been solely in charge of Kirra's well-being, because, as soon as she was killed, Kirra seemed all but forgotten about. In her grief, though, she didn't really care.

Late in the afternoon, two men came and pulled her from her cell. She'd never seen either of them before. The constant turnover of guards used to interest her: where did the old ones go? How did they hire the new ones? She'd wondered in particular about those she saw regularly. Did they have parents, wives and children? Were any of their families aware of the nature of their jobs? Now, her lack of familiarity with them helped; it made it easier to keep hating them.

The men steered her towards the shower room, and Kirra readied herself for the humiliating process to come. As they went they passed two other people in the corridor. One was a guard, wearing the dark clothes they all seemed to favour — a sort of uniform Latham had probably prescribed for them. The other figure caught her attention: a male prisoner stumbling along in a pitifully disoriented fashion, wrists cuffed tightly together at the front, a black bag tied securely over his head.

Before Lena's death, Kirra might have twisted back to get a better look. She might have been curious, might have wanted to know more. But the new prisoner wouldn't change anything. He wouldn't bring Lena back. He wouldn't help Kirra get home.

 

When Kirra was returned to her cell, she slid onto her blankets in her usual corner. Her hair was still damp and frosty and she began the tedious task of combing it out, remembering how Lena's hands had once carefully untangled the strands as though they had been spun gold. Lost in the memory, it took a while before her gaze fell on the adjacent corner. She froze.

The new prisoner was there — there in her cell — pressing against the wall as though the room was six sizes smaller than its actual size. The cuffs hadn't been removed and the black bag was still tied firmly over his head. He was tall — taller than her by a foot at least — and broad. His fingertips were bright white in the freezing cold and each fingernail was encrusted with a lining of dirt. His clothes were bulky and weatherworn, indicating that he was quite used to cold weather. His padded jacket had holes in one pocket and lint balls infesting the collar, and his jeans were marred with grass stains. He brought a strange, alien smell into the cell: a mixture of sweat, dirt and fresh air.

Kirra stayed perfectly still, examining him very closely for many minutes, before she considered him safe and got to her feet. Instantly, he recoiled.

‘Who's there?' he demanded, his head jerking around.

Kirra stopped. He spoke English. She supposed that made things easier.

‘Who's there?' he repeated, struggling to stand up.

Kirra frowned down at him. ‘Stop moving,' she said quietly.

He did, and froze against the wall.

‘Good,' she said, and crouched down.

‘Who are you?' he asked.

For a moment, Kirra said nothing, her face very close to his hooded one. She frowned at him, though he couldn't see, and dropped her gaze.

‘Just stay still,' she ordered finally, and began to work at the knot keeping the bag secure. He allowed her to take it off and discard it on the cement by his side. The moment it was gone, he squinted in the light, scarce as it was, and looked around.

His skin was black, his eyes tired and bloodshot and he had a short mop of tightly curled brown hair. His cheeks were dotted with a few of what she supposed were old acne scars. He was older than her, though not by too much.

‘Who are you?' he repeated, as though Kirra mightn't have heard him the first time.

She said nothing.

‘Well?' he asked. ‘What's your name?'

She sighed. He wasn't going to back off. ‘Kirra,' she answered.

‘Kirra …' he repeated, as though trying the word out for size. ‘Where are you from? Why are you here?'

‘I'm from Australia,' she mumbled. ‘I'm here because I can crack a code.'

‘The Spencer code?' he asked immediately.

Kirra looked up. ‘Yes …'

‘That's why I'm here!' he said. ‘That man said it's really rare, being able to do that code. I've never heard of anything like it before. Were you kidnapped?'

‘Yes … Were you?'

‘A week ago, I think.'

Kirra nodded. ‘I've been here longer,' she told him, leaning her head back against the wall.

He studied her for a long moment.

‘My name's Milo Franklyn,' he offered, a crooked smile on his face. ‘I'm from Southampton. That's in England. I'm eighteen,' he continued when she said nothing. He seemed to have calmed down considerably, slumping against the wall and looking too long for the small space they were now required to share. ‘How old are you? You look really young …' He glanced at the bundled-up school uniform serving as a pillow in the corner.

‘Sixteen,' Kirra said, pinching the bridge of her nose. His chatter was starting to annoy her.

‘Oh. Well … don't worry. My government is coming for me. When they come, you'll be rescued too.'

‘I've been here for weeks,' Kirra said. ‘If anyone's police are coming, it's mine.'

‘All the way from where? Australia, wasn't it?'

Kirra could detect the hint of a sneer in his voice. ‘Yes,' she challenged.

‘Don't get your hopes up,' he countered. ‘Australia isn't exactly close by. It could be quite a wait.'

She glared at him.

‘Your people aren't coming,' she said flatly, picking at her nails.

Milo blinked. ‘I'm sure they are,' he said in a forced tone. ‘I'm surprised it's taken this long, but they'll arrive soon.'

Kirra frowned. ‘They aren't coming for you. No one's coming for you. They don't even know where you are.'

The truth of it almost floored her, because they weren't coming for her either and she'd only just realised it.

Milo was glaring at her.

‘You know what? You're very annoying,' he said suddenly.

Kirra didn't reply. She resented having to share her cell, resented having her private grief for Lena disrupted by this boy. She'd never have imagined feeling this way before; permanent company was something she'd craved. But now that it had arrived in the form of Milo, she really wished the hangar came with two secure cells instead of just the one.

Milo shrank away into his own corner and ignored her for the rest of the night, which suited Kirra perfectly. She wrapped herself tightly in Lena's coat, which, despite being washed in the bathroom earlier that day, hadn't lost all of her smell. Breathing in deeply, Kirra curled herself into her corner and closed her eyes.

 

The next morning Kirra awoke to find Milo sprawled across the floor. In her sleep she had forgotten all about him. He was lying on his back, his mouth wide open and his jaw dark with stubble. He seemed even longer all stretched out like that. His hands were still cuffed together tightly and every few moments he let out a snore.

Kirra didn't move. She wanted to savour her time alone before he woke up, precious as it now seemed. It was barely dawn. She never slept full nights anymore — the long days of inactivity saw to that — but she supposed it had its upsides. Sunrise was something she'd never experienced before, due to the fact that she'd never had any kind of sports training to get her up early enough to glimpse it. She moved her feet distractedly, watching the weak shadow they formed, and wondered if daybreak had always been so glorious and why on earth she'd slept through it all these years.

In the silence, she considered what she would be doing today if she were at school. Sitting alone, probably, worrying about how friendless she looked and whether Cassie Cheng was going to stare her into a state of profound insecurity on the bus ride home. She almost managed a smile when she realised something: none of it mattered. Not now, anyway. She vowed silently to never worry about such stupid things again if only she could go back.

‘How often do they bring food here?'

Milo was awake. He was struggling with the cuffs again.

Kirra ignored him and busied herself by wondering which of the guards had been assigned to deal with Lena's body. Had they been careful with her? Respectful? She glanced at Milo. He was staring at her pointedly.

‘It used to be all the time,' she told him, avoiding mention of her lost friend. ‘But it's been a while now.'

Milo nodded, and ruffled his hair with his cuffed hands as though frustrated with its length. ‘It was fairly
regular at the factory,' he explained, as though Kirra had wanted to know. ‘Not too bad, either.'

‘The factory?'

‘Yeah. This sort of hollowed-out warehouse they use. It's where they kept me before.'

Kirra wasn't really listening. She wondered if they'd covered Lena's face when they dumped her body.

‘He's an assassin, you know,' Milo continued, scrutinising her from the corner of his eye as though interested to see if she was impressed with his deduction. ‘I could hear his recruits talking sometimes, from my cell in the factory. They need the code to get past security systems. To … you know … kill people.'

Kirra closed her eyes, still thinking about Lena. She hoped that they had at least taken the time to bury her properly, but maybe that was too much to hope for.

‘Yes,' she said. ‘They kill people.'

She was beginning to feel very ill, and her neck no longer felt up to the task of holding her head in place. When had she last eaten?

Milo examined her for a moment. ‘You alright?'

‘Fine,' she murmured, the room spinning. ‘Just leave me alone.'

 

By the afternoon Milo was still struggling with his cuffs, more determined than ever to get them off. He was growing agitated, his teeth grinding as he thrashed around. The cuffs weren't made of steel but a tough nylon cable.

‘Got to be kidding me! What?' he bellowed, catching Kirra studying him.

‘Nothing,' she said with a shrug.

‘Good!' he spat and resumed his task.

Kirra fought off the desire to laugh at him.

‘It's just plastic. Bite through it,' she suggested snidely.

He glared at her. ‘It takes more than that. These are police-issue cuffs! They're not designed to give in to teeth!'

Kirra shrugged once more, wondering how he could possibly know whether they were police-issue or not. He probably just wanted to sound impressive. It seemed like the sort of thing he might do. She closed her eyes, willing the hours to pass, wondering hopefully if Milo's imprisonment in her cell might be only temporary whilst they set up another.

The next time she looked over, he was chewing into the cable. She smirked and resisted the urge to say something childish.

 

A week passed, during which Milo seemed to become more annoying than before, something Kirra hadn't thought possible. He remained adamant that it was only a matter of days before some rescue team burst through the door, arrested Latham and his men and escorted Kirra and Milo to safety. In fact, he rarely stopped going on about it. For Kirra, the hope of rescue had died alongside Lena.

‘Have you ever tried escaping?'

She looked over at him. He had long since worked off his cuffs, but always stayed in his corner. Kirra had not offered him one of her blankets, reasoning that he'd ask if he really wanted one. His hair now hung limply around his ears, as though curling was too much effort for it.

She turned away. The last thing she wanted to discuss with Milo was Lena.

‘Well? Have you?' he prodded.

Kirra ignored him. She got up and stretched her legs. She was so hungry. Too hungry, really. The recruits were now taking it upon themselves to bring in food, but it was mostly raw or unassembled and they often forgot. It had been a day, perhaps more, since they'd last remembered.

‘Why don't you speak to me?' he asked after a moment, his voice low and his eyebrows knitted together. He too clambered to his feet. ‘When I was alone I would have given anything for someone to talk to. Figures that I'd get some brat who doesn't want to speak.'

‘Stop,' Kirra said quietly. Her head was spinning and her stomach was twisting. ‘Please stop talking.'

‘You are so frustrating!' he snarled.

Somewhere in the aircraft hangar someone started hammering something and the sound of metal scraping against metal ground into Kirra's head.

‘They're probably fitting a new door or something,' Milo speculated, scratching a caked piece of earth from the knee of his pants.

BOOK: The Industry
11.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Shadow Magic by Patricia C. Wrede
The Heir of Mistmantle by M. I. McAllister
Arrow To The Heart (De Bron Saga) by Vickery, Katherine
Alif the Unseen by Wilson, G. Willow
Knowing Is Not Enough by Patricia Chatman, P Ann Chatman, A Chatman Chatman, Walker Chatman
¡Muérdeme! by Christopher Moore