THE TORTURER’S DAUGHTER
Becca’s steps slowed as she approached Processing 117. The floodlights of the parking lot shone down on her, exposing her. Past the lot, the darkness threatened to close in. There was no other source of light nearby except for the dim glow of the streetlamps, nothing but trees for at least a mile in every direction.
The concrete structure loomed taller than its five stories—maybe because of the invisible presence of the underground levels, or maybe because in a moment Becca was going to have to walk inside.
But when Becca remembered the panic in Heather’s voice, the thought wasn’t all that reassuring anymore.
Becca took the last few steps across the not-quite-empty parking lot. The windows of the upper floors glowed in a patchwork of lights, showing who was working another late night and who was at home sleeping… or down on the underground levels. Becca knew that in one of those dark offices, a phone had been ringing off the hook for the past half-hour, its owner oblivious to Becca’s pleas for her to answer, to find Heather for her, to fix this.
Becca reached the double doors of the entrance—and froze. Her heart thudded against her ribcage.
She pulled the doors open and stepped inside.
The doors slammed shut behind her, the noise echoing off the stark white walls. Security cameras stared down at her from the ceiling. The guards, one to either side of the metal detector, pinned her to the floor with their eyes, but said nothing.
Opposite the metal detector from Becca, the room was bare except for a huge metal desk with corners that looked sharp enough to cut. Behind the desk, a dark-haired woman with a headset clipped to her ear stopped mid- yawn and jerked up to face her.
Becca held her breath and stepped through the metal detector. Its light flashed green, and one of the guards waved her forward. She let her breath out and stepped up to the desk.
She eyed the woman’s crisp gray suit, and the desk that gleamed like it had never seen a speck of dust in its life. Then she looked down at her own clothes, the jeans and wrinkled t-shirt she had grabbed from her dresser after hanging up with Heather. She crossed her arms around her stomach.
The receptionist’s bleary surprise had vanished, replaced by a stone mask. “Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for…” Becca bit back the name on her lips. No. If she were in her office, she would have answered the phone. Anyway, Becca could imagine her reaction at finding out about this midnight walk to 117. Becca was on her own.
“…Heather Thomas,” she finished. “She called me half an hour ago and told me she was here.”
The receptionist’s expression didn’t tell Becca anything.
“She’s here… somewhere… she called me…” Becca’s voice trailed off.
Which led Becca back to the question that had been circling through her mind since she had gotten Heather’s call. What was Heather doing here?
The receptionist turned away and tapped something out on her keyboard. It only took her a few seconds to find what she was looking for. She typed in something else and touched her earpiece. “We have a detainee in temporary holding,” she said to someone Becca couldn’t see. “Last name Thomas. Her file says she’s waiting for a relative to collect her. Right, that’s the one. Someone forgot to collect her phone, and she called a friend.” A pause. “No, that won’t be necessary. Just confiscate the phone.”
She turned back to Becca. “Heather Thomas is waiting for her guardian to arrive. Are you Lydia Thomas?” She gave Becca a skeptical once-over.
Becca considered saying yes, but even if the receptionist weren’t going to ask for proof, there was no way she could pass as Heather’s… aunt, she remembered after a moment. Aunt Lydia, the one who always looked at Becca and Heather like being in high school was catching.
The receptionist took her silence as an answer. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Becca wanted nothing more than to do just that. But she couldn’t leave and let this place swallow Heather. “If she’s waiting for her aunt to get here, I can wait with her until she shows up.”
“I’m sorry,” said the receptionist, already turning back to her computer. “The policy is clear. The detainee will remain in temporary holding—alone—until her guardian arrives.”
Becca was losing ground. And somewhere in this building, Heather was waiting for her. “I’m not trying to take her home or anything. I only want to…” To make sure she wasn’t locked away underground. To make sure they hadn’t gotten her mixed up with somebody else, some dissident slated for execution. “…to let her know I’m here. I promised her I’d—”
“Your refusal to leave the building when instructed will be recorded.” The receptionist placed her hands on her keyboard. “May I have your name?”
“At least tell me what happened. Why is she here? Is she all right?”
“Your name, please,” the receptionist repeated.
If she stayed much longer, the receptionist would order the guards to drag her out—or worse, in. She could end up in one of those underground cells… She shivered. They couldn’t do that to her just for asking about Heather, right?
“Your name,” the receptionist repeated again, with a glance toward the guards.
Becca slumped. “Rebecca Dalcourt.”
The receptionist blinked.
“Well,” she said, her voice suddenly warmer, “I suppose we can make an exception.”
The room looked like somebody’s afterthought. The walls were painted a flat gray that matched the worn carpet. Two folding chairs had been shoved together along one wall, leaving the rest of the room empty. The smell of sweat and carpet cleaner hung in the air. Heather sat in the chair furthest from the door, rocking slightly. She didn’t show any sign of having heard the door open.
The guard stepped out of the room and pushed the door shut behind Becca. It closed with a click that made Becca suspect she was now locked in.
Heather didn’t look at her.
“It’s me. Becca. I told you I’d come.”
Heather raised her head like she was moving through water. She stared past Becca with mascara-smeared eyes. Her hands trembled in her lap. This wasn’t the Heather who had tried to talk Becca into a makeover at the mall this afternoon—or was that yesterday afternoon by now? She could still hear Heather laughing as she tugged Becca toward the makeup counter.
Becca sat down next to the trembling girl who didn’t look nearly enough like Heather. “What are you doing here?” Her voice came out as a croak. She cleared her throat. “What happened?”
On the phone, Heather had only managed disconnected phrases through her sobs.