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Authors: Rose Foster

The Industry (7 page)

BOOK: The Industry
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She finally got a hold of herself and took the next step. At almost that exact moment, she was jolted off her feet by a force so powerful it knocked her down the last few stairs. The ceiling began to crumble, tiles and chunks of debris raining down on her.

‘Milo!'

She fumbled around, trying desperately to orientate herself. She couldn't see him. She couldn't see anything. She sucked in a breath and spluttered it back out; the air was clogged with dust and smoke. She glanced up again, in time to see the ceiling collapse. She did the only thing she could: she shut her eyes and braced herself.

CHAPTER ELEVEN
A VISIT FROM VACLAV

At first, there was only silence. Maybe she was dead?

Then there was a terrific ringing in her ears, but that didn't mean anything. Maybe that was just what death sounded like? But then, permeating her dulled senses, came the ambulance sirens. They were muffled and distant, but Kirra was certain she could hear them.

She opened her eyes and took a shallow breath, coughing out amongst the smoke. She was in almost total darkness, lying flat on her back amongst the rubble. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see a tiny break in the concrete and plaster that provided a small shard of light. She tried to move her arms. One was trapped; it was tender and sore, perhaps broken. The other seemed alright. She reached out with it and a cold, smooth surface met her fingers. Slowly, her eyes began adjusting to the dark and she discovered the flat surface was a vast concrete slab. She was trapped beneath it, buried by the blast, protected in a small dark crevice.

Somewhere above her right shoulder a pipe had burst and icy water was trickling into her hair and down her neck. Her face was covered in thick, heavy dust and her cheek was stinging. She could feel a gash of some sort beneath her left eye and the airborne grime from the explosion was mingling painfully with her torn flesh.

The distant sirens continued, the sound confirming again that she was still among the living. Without them, she might have thought this was hell. The screaming of the frightened office workers had ceased. There was no sound, and she couldn't sense any nearby movement.

She gently twisted her head to the side. What had happened to —

‘Milo?' she croaked. Her voice was tiny, muted from the smoke and dust. ‘Milo?'

There was no answer. No sound at all.

She fumbled around in the darkness with her uninjured arm, hoping that she wouldn't reach out and find a lifeless body lying compressed amongst the rubble. When she found nothing, she told herself not to panic. Milo was still alive. She felt sure of it.

Somewhere in the distance, a drill started. Kirra's head was aching and there was something jagged sticking into her hip. She wondered how long it would take Latham and his recruits to dig her out. She was certain they'd get to her first. Her hope of being saved by a rescue team was minimal at best.

How many unsuspecting office workers had lost their lives in the explosion? She wondered how many had survived, and if any of them would ever know that a
man named Latham was to blame, and that she, Kirra Hayward, had aided him.

She had no idea how long she lay there, trapped and chilly, until the tiny shard of light faded to black. Night had fallen and she still hadn't been saved. Dreadful thoughts scuttled around inside her head. What if they didn't dig fast enough? What if she remained down here, squashed in the darkness, until she died of thirst and starvation? What if word of her death never reached Freemont? What if her parents were left to wonder for years and years to come what had happened to their eldest daughter?

Kirra willed herself to be patient. She wasn't going to die here, trapped beneath the rubble of the stairwell in the ruins of this office building. Her life wasn't meant to end like this. How deeply could she be buried anyway? Surely Latham's recruits were close by now, and if not them, then the rescuers. She just had to stay calm. They'd rescue her. If not tonight, then tomorrow.

 

A voice screamed something in German. Kirra recognised the language from her first year of high school when she'd been made to sample the subject like the rest of the year level. Her eyes cracked open. There was a commotion somewhere above her. The drill started up again. Sirens blared. Dust sprinkled onto her face from the shifting layers above. She had no idea how long she'd slept for, but it sounded as though the rescue teams were close.

‘Help!' she spluttered, finally finding her voice. ‘Please help me!'

More yelling in German, and then she was blinded as someone shone a torch into the crevice. The sudden burst
of light after so many sightless hours reignited Kirra's headache. But it hardly mattered. She was about to be rescued!

It took the rescue workers hours to sift through the rubble, but she waited, perfectly still, her heart beating wildly, patient to the very end. Finally the concrete was lifted off her and more dust poured onto her face. She gasped in the morning air, squinting in the sun. Hands gently examined her, people yelled orders, others murmured words of encouragement into her ears. The rescue workers lifted her onto a stretcher and she was carried away.

Kirra squinted from the stretcher at the wreckage. Some of the Bachmeier building was still standing, but the damage was extreme, and what was left of it was blackened and crumbling. She could hear a mass of people yelling, what sounded like desperate relatives being contained on the street. A few feet from Kirra a man covered in blood was holding a towel to his eye, watching as workers lifted a chunk of steel off the legs of a woman who lay motionless, coated in white dust. Kirra looked away. Any moment Latham would pounce and take her away from this terrible place, and not a moment too soon, she thought desperately.

Paramedics fussed over her, offered her oxygen, bandaged her sore wrist, and then she was on her way to the hospital, tucked safely inside one of the numerous ambulances waiting to transport survivors away. She almost couldn't believe it. Where was Latham? And where was Milo?

The emergency area at the hospital was like something from a horror film. One man was bleeding profusely
from his chest, nurses and doctors attempting to staunch the flow. A middle-aged woman was holding a patch to her forehead, moaning quietly in a chair in the corner. An older man was rushed into an operating room, shards of glass protruding from his back, and a girl in a pinstripe suit and dusty high heels was lying on a stretcher to one side, uncovered though clearly dead. Kirra recognised her as the woman who'd rushed past her in the corridor before the bomb.

Kirra was immensely grateful when the nurses relocated her to a bed in a ward, patched the wound on her cheek and drew a curtain around her. She noticed many scrapes, bruises and bleeding wounds she hadn't seen whilst buried, though she didn't make any effort to cover them or have them seen to.

She fidgeted with the bandage on her wrist and thought about how no one, not the victims, the relatives or the frenzied hospital staff, knew that she had played a part in this carnage. She didn't know how many had been found dead, or how many were still buried; she only knew she ought to be one of them.

She was safe now, but for how long? She knew she was in Germany; probably Dusseldorf from the few signs she'd glimpsed as the ambulance had sped through the streets. This presented another problem: apart from extremely basic politenesses retained from a single semester at school years ago, she could speak no German. How could she ask about Milo? What was his last name? Had he told her? She struggled to recall, combing back through her memory as she waited for the nurses to return. What she really needed to do was ask
for the police. Once she spoke to them, everything would be alright.

Suddenly sensing a presence at her bedside, Kirra looked up. She had been expecting to find a nurse wanting to patch up some other injured part of her, but instead a short, brawny man stood frowning down at her. Kirra expelled a fearful breath. It couldn't have been clearer that the man was not hospital staff.

His brown eyes were sharp, his face harsh and serious, his jaw lined with a very short and unkempt auburn beard. He was dressed in a suit and rested heavily on a steel cane and Kirra frowned, her fear replaced by the shock of recognition. He was the man she'd seen in the street before Latham had taken her and Milo into the Bachmeier building.

‘Kirra Hayward?' he asked urgently.

Kirra swallowed her dread. He didn't seem like one of Latham's recruits.

‘Who are you?' she asked softly.

‘Vaclav,' he said. His voice was rough and very impatient. ‘My name is Vaclav. Look … don't cause a scene, I'm on your side. Latham has sent a recruit for you and he's almost here, but before they take you away, I want you to know that I'm going to help you.'

‘Help me?' was all Kirra could say.

‘Yes. You've probably worked out by now that you're important — not just to Latham, but to many of us. All of us, really. Because of your interference yesterday you have become far more prized than you can know to people like me.' He gave her a strange look, as though he was most pleased with her. ‘Help is on its way. It
shouldn't be much longer now.' And he turned on his heel and stomped from the ward without another word.

Kirra gawked after him for several seconds. He was on her side? What did that mean? What was her side anyway? Maybe it just meant he was a police officer? No, that wasn't right. He sounded as though he was like Latham somehow, though it certainly didn't seem they were friends.

Then she remembered what he'd said about Latham sending someone for her. She scrambled to sit up, tossed the blanket off her legs and fumbled around for her boots. She needed to get out of there, right now, before whichever recruit Latham had sent arrived.

It was only once her feet touched the ground that she stopped. Milo. If she ran, what would happen to him? If he was dead, there was a possibility she might never know. If he was alive, then sure, she could point the authorities in the right direction, but it was unlikely they'd ever find him. No one would ever see him again.
She
would never see him again. It would be as if she'd never met him at all. The only way she could know for certain was if she returned to the cell. No, she couldn't do that. Of course she couldn't do that. It was absurd even to contemplate it — crazy even. By some glorious twist of fate she was alive. She had been handed this one chance to run, to be free. But … what about Milo?

She flexed her hand gently, feeling incredibly alone all of a sudden, listening to the sirens of the ambulances arriving outside. She almost didn't notice the recruit enter her ward. When she did see him, all thoughts of escape faded instantly. She'd lost her chance.

CHAPTER TWELVE
THE FACTORY

The recruit took Kirra in the back of a car to a brick building that looked like a warehouse from the outside. Inside, it was grey and draughty. Kirra followed the recruit through a labyrinth of darkened passageways before he unlocked a door and pressed her inside. She had time only to register that it was another cell before she saw Milo spring to his feet and cross the room in two sweeping strides. Kirra let out a breath she hadn't realised she had been holding in. The thought of arriving back to an empty cell had sat with her all morning.

‘You're alive!' he said, taking her hands in his own.

She gasped as he gripped her bandage.

He let her hands go as if he'd been electrocuted. ‘I'm sorry. I didn't mean to —'

‘It's okay. It's just a fracture,' she told him, touching the bandage lightly. ‘At least I think it is.'

‘I thought you'd been killed,' he said.

‘I thought you had been too,' she admitted.

‘Your cheek …'

He thumbed the flesh beneath the wound for a moment, assessing the damage. Then he seemed to realise what he was doing and withdrew his hand from her face.

‘Yeah,' she said. ‘Is it bad? I haven't seen it yet.'

‘It might leave a scar,' he told her.

‘Could be worse,' she said, tucking her hair behind her ear.

‘Definitely,' he agreed, clearly relieved she hadn't become upset over it.

‘How did they find you?'

‘I wasn't really buried. Some recruits dragged me out of the alley a few minutes after the bomb. Then they started searching for you, but they took off when the rescue teams turned up.'

Kirra nodded and settled against the wall, dabbing at her throbbing cheek with her fingertips. The lock creaked and she looked up to see a recruit she'd never seen before swing the door open. He was tall and had dark, stringy hair, pale skin and tired eyes. A jagged scar tore from his bottom lip, down through his black stubble, and trailed below his collar. He studied Kirra closely but she ignored him.

Latham appeared in the doorway and looked between Kirra and Milo. He seemed calm enough on the surface, but Kirra wasn't convinced.

‘I'm not certain of what happened yesterday,' he began, ‘but I have a feeling that it somehow involved the two of you. My associate Keller is dead, as are the two men who escorted you, so I'll never have the full details. I am, however, going to take this opportunity to make
something very clear. This is a business and nothing more. The fact that these three men are dead is unacceptable.' Latham paused to run his plump fingers through his hair. ‘I heard you rang the alarm, Kirra. Very brave, of course, but ridiculously stupid. What were you expecting the outcome of such a stunt to be? Did you hope to run away?'

‘If I'd rung the alarm earlier, more people could have escaped,' she said. ‘I didn't do it just to save myself. Getting home would have been a bonus.'

Latham watched her for a long moment.

‘I feel it's best to tell you this now, so we can circumvent any more of these attempts of yours. You must have realised by now that we know everything about your families. We know your street numbers, your siblings' hobbies, the cars your parents drive. Even now your families are under surveillance — constantly. My point is this: if you attempt to call them, to see them, to get in contact in any way, they'll no longer be safe.'

‘Safe from what?'

Latham tilted his head to the side. ‘Safe from me, of course,' he said.

He disappeared back into the corridor and called for Wyles — Kirra supposed this was the dark-haired recruit — to shut the door and follow him.

She slid to the ground once both men had left. ‘Do you think he'd really hurt our families?'

‘Yes,' Milo answered. ‘If for no other reason than to show he means what he says.'

Kirra let out a shaky sigh and glanced around the cell. It was cool and bare except for another couple of blankets tossed in the corner and a toilet and basin by the
door. It was just like the hangar, except this place carried no memories of Lena. Kirra realised with a jolt that she hadn't thought about Lena at all yet today. Not once. Feeling guilty, she turned to Milo.

‘So … this is the factory, then?'

He glanced up. ‘Yeah, this is it.'

‘Home, sweet home,' Kirra mumbled, playing with her bandage.

‘How's your arm?'

‘Fine. Sore.'

He stared at the opposite wall, his face set. ‘I really thought you didn't make it,' he said, his voice a little too casual. ‘It was a long night.'

‘It was a long night for me too.'

 

If Kirra ever had to make a choice between the hangar cell and the cell in the factory, the factory would definitely win. It was after they'd arrived there that things started to take an almighty turn for the better. The bitterest part of winter had passed, and the days began to produce a measure of sunshine that made it in through a little barred window.

‘Hey,' Milo said one day.

‘What?'

‘Reckon I can do more push-ups than you?'

‘Yes,' Kirra said truthfully.

‘Oh.' He said nothing for a moment. Then: ‘Do you think you can do a handstand?'

‘With my wrist? No.'

‘Oh. Yeah. No, don't do that.' He took a long, slow breath. ‘I'm bored,' he said finally.

‘Really?'

He glared at her. She gave a small smile.

‘Okay, well, tell me …' She fished around for something to ask. ‘Tell me about the day you were kidnapped.'

Milo stared at his feet for a very long time before he spoke. ‘I was waiting for a train to uni,' he finally said. ‘Latham showed up with a couple of recruits.'

‘Latham got you himself?'

‘Yeah. No one saw it though. It was quick, and I wasn't really having a good day anyway …' He gave a dull chuckle.

‘You're lucky. Mine was horrible,' Kirra said. ‘Don't think I've ever been so scared.'

Milo nodded. ‘Sorry,' he said.

Kirra shrugged. ‘What for? I've kinda realised there was nothing anyone could have done.'

Milo nodded in agreement. ‘What time do you think it is?' he asked after a moment.

‘Ten thirty,' Kirra guessed.

‘Are you kidding? No way in hell. Look at the sun!'

‘What would you say then?'

‘Noon. Easily.'

‘You don't know what you're talking about. It feels like we just got up.'

‘Yeah, well, time flies when you're having fun.'

 

‘You never learned to ride a bike?'

‘No. So what? It's not so strange.'

‘Yeah, it is actually.'

‘I had a go on my sister's bike once and fell off and shattered my kneecap. I dunno, I guess I wasn't very good at outdoor things.'

‘So what did you do instead?'

‘I don't know. Nothing really.'

‘What's your sister's name?'

‘Olivia. She's fourteen, and my little brother, Mitchell, is twelve. This is his first year of high school.'

‘Who were you closest to?'

‘Mitchell. What about your family?'

‘Uh … well … my father … he's lived in Southampton his entire life, and my mother's the same. I have two brothers. Josh is twenty-two. Eli is seventeen.'

‘Do you miss them?'

‘Not much … My parents weren't around a lot, and I've never been close with my brothers. They were both into sport. They used to win everything.'

‘You didn't play?'

‘When I was younger, but I was bad. Really bad. I was only good at science. Nothing else.'

‘There are worse things to be good at.'

‘I got into a chemistry degree — the only thing I could hold over my brothers. Josh's job isn't great, and Eli doesn't even want to go to uni, he just wants to play football.'

‘So really you're doing the best of all of them?'

‘Yeah … maybe. I still can't believe you never learned to ride a bike. Is there anything else you can't do?'

‘I never learned to swim.'

 

‘You were talking in your sleep before.'

‘Was I?'

‘Yeah. Mumbling something about “Lena”. Who's Lena?'

‘Oh … she's … I don't know.'

‘Yes, you do. You were speaking about her.'

‘I said I don't know.'

‘Tell me about her.'

‘No.'

‘Go on.'

‘No.'

‘Why not?'

‘Because there's nothing to tell! It was in my sleep. How am I meant to know what I was talking about?'

‘You just don't want to tell me.'

‘Maybe I don't!'

‘Fine.'

‘
Fine
.'

 

‘I'll go first. Ready?'

‘Yep.'

‘Okay. I spy with my little eye … something grey.'

‘I'm not playing this.'

 

‘Morning.'

‘Hi. Why are you all the way over there?'

‘See this patch of sun? I'm just working on my tan.'

‘Right.'

‘It's getting so warm now. I don't even really need this jacket.'

‘So take it off then.'

‘No. I … No.'

 

‘A watch.'

‘A TV.'

‘A mattress.'

‘A book.'

‘A brush.'

‘Backgammon.'

‘Don't know how to play.'

‘I'd teach you. Coffee.'

‘A radio.'

‘The internet.'

‘Really? The internet?'

‘Oh yeah. I take that back. No internet.'

 

Kirra awoke to find Milo's fingers tangled with hers, his hand startlingly dark against the almost translucent pallor of her skin. The tips of his fingers were still stark white though, something left over from the cold. She frowned. Their hands hadn't been like that when she'd fallen asleep. Slowly she drew away and stretched, stifling a yawn so she wouldn't disturb her snoring companion.

The cell seemed almost homey now. Their shoes were lying in various corners, Milo's jacket hung from a tiny nail sticking out from the door, and over the weeks he had managed to smuggle towels from the shower room when the recruits weren't looking to use as pillows and extra blankets.

The room was warming quickly. Kirra got up to stretch her legs. She looked down at Milo, long as ever, sprawled ungracefully on his side, his mouth wide open. She smiled when he rubbed his nose in his sleep, and stopped herself just in time from reaching out to touch his face. He might wake up and catch her in the act and that would be bad. Kirra had to maintain her distance;
she had to remember Lena and how dangerous it was to get close to people. So she stayed away, difficult as that was with him lying there, his hair sticking up in places and his eyes scrunched up to avoid the sun in his sleep.

The day before, when Milo had been returned to the cell after his shower, he'd looked almost like a different person.

‘What happened to you?' she'd asked him, her mouth agape.

‘Got rid of some of my hair,' he told her with a shrug. ‘Trimmed it in the bathroom.'

‘What'd you use, a chainsaw?'

‘A pair of scissors I found. Had to do it quickly before they noticed.'

‘Yeah, I can see that.'

He scowled at her and resumed his usual spot in the adjacent corner. ‘Needed to be done. It was getting longer than yours.'

‘Prettier too,' Kirra teased.

He looked at the sock he was turning inside out to dry. ‘I disagree,' he said very quietly.

Kirra had stared at him. She'd felt her cheeks burn, as though she'd just stuck two hot coals in either side of her mouth. She parted her lips to say something back, but nothing came out.

 

That night Kirra jerked awake from a strange dream in which Milo and Olivia were speeding away from the factory in the same getaway car Lena had once used, leaving Kirra for dead. Disoriented, she fumbled around for a moment, and jumped when she realised Milo was right by her side, pressing against her.

‘What are you —'

‘Shh!' His hand clamped down over her mouth.

She pushed him away and sat up, frowning through the darkness. He was sitting perfectly still, his eyes trained on the door, and he looked as though he hadn't moved in some time. Kirra saw moving shadows visible in the light coming through the crack beneath the door. A soft muttering of male voices was just audible.

‘Don't make a sound,' Milo breathed. ‘Stay very still.'

The murmuring grew louder, as though the recruits outside were having an argument, and Milo coiled his hand around Kirra's wrist. He seemed petrified, and was obviously interpreting the situation in a way she wasn't. She was merely confused. What were the recruits doing up at this hour?

The whispering ceased and the shadows moved away. Milo released Kirra's wrist and relaxed against the wall.

‘What was that?'

‘I dunno. Probably nothing.'

‘Then why were you —'

‘I said I don't know. Just go back to sleep.'

BOOK: The Industry
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