Today on the blog, I’d like to welcome the very lovely Zoe Cannon, author of the self-published novel The Torturer’s Daughter, which is the first book in her Internal Defense series. I gave the book a well deserved four stars because it was amazing. Click HERE to read my review on it.
Zoe has very kindly written an exclusive scene from Raleigh Dalcourt’s point-of-view. Raleigh is the main protagonist’s mother and is head of the Internal Defense team where she lives. She was one of the best characters within the book and I was always curious to see what it was like from her perspective.
I’m very excited to present this extract to you, where Raleigh Dalcourt first shows up in the first chapter.
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Raleigh Dalcourt let herself sag against the door, all the strength draining out of her at once. She hadn’t realized how far beyond her limits she had pushed herself until she could finally let go. Her eyes drifted shut, and she felt herself starting to slip into sleep right there.
Across the room, something rustled. The sound of someone standing, shifting. Her eyes snapped open. With the ease of practice, she shook off the exhaustion, instantly on alert before she had even begun to process the threat in front of her.
The figure standing at the other end of the room snapped into focus. Not a dissident. No, this was a threat of a different type.
Becca. Her daughter. Becca, who had—according to what Raleigh had been told—walked to Processing 117 in the middle of the night to try to get her friend Heather out of temporary holding. She could have gotten herself thrown in a cell; she could have—
She could have found out who was in charge of Heather’s parents’ interrogation.
She shook off the thought, and the sharp stab of fear that came with it. Becca knew the threat that dissidents represented. She knew what had to be done in cases like this. It would be hard for her to accept, yes, but she would understand.
She would understand.
I will not lose her over this.
Raleigh swept her gaze over Becca, running through her usual assessment out of habit before she realized what she was doing. Becca looked wobbly and weak, disoriented from lack of sleep, shaky with conflicting emotions. If this were a dissident standing in front of her, Raleigh would know exactly what to do, exactly what to say. But this was her daughter.
“I would have thought you’d be asleep, after your visit to 117 last night—or was it this morning?” The sharpness in Raleigh’s tone was equal parts parental concern and her own selfish frustration. She didn’t have the energy for this conversation. Not tonight. And now she had come at it wrong from the beginning—snapping, lecturing.
But a little of the tension went out of Becca’s body. “Heather called me.” There was a familiar note of relief in her voice—the kind dissidents started to feel when they were too tired to fight anymore, when they welcomed any excuse for someone else to take over and make things easy for them, even if that someone was their enemy. Even if that someone was Raleigh.
“I tried to call you, but you didn’t answer your phone,” Becca continued. “Heather’s parents—”
“I was on the underground levels all night. You should have waited. I don’t like the thought of you walking down that road in the middle of the night—let alone going to 117. If you had waited a couple of hours, I could have told you everything was under control.” Maybe she could just stick with the easy part for now, the part where she lectured Becca for walking along the road when it was too dark for passing cars to see her, or for knocking on the door of the country’s most infamous processing center and asking if they could please release one of their prisoners.
Please argue with me, she found herself thinking. If we’re going to fight, let it be about this. Not that they ever fought, not really, but she could feel it coming, could sense the calm before the storm.
“Then you know what happened?” Becca asked.
So they were going to have this conversation tonight after all. “With Heather’s parents? Yes.” How much to tell her? Better to keep it simple. Better, like a dissident in the early stages of interrogation, to hold back as much as possible for as long as possible, on the off-chance that the right questions simply wouldn’t come up.
“Why were they arrested? It was a mistake… right? I mean, it had to be.” Becca radiated doubt—doubt and the desperate desire to be told that she was right, that this was all a mistake. In an interrogation, Raleigh could have exploited that in a dozen different ways. But this wasn’t an interrogation; it was a conversation with her daughter. She didn’t want information. All she wanted was…
All she wanted was not to lose her.
Raleigh crossed the room to the couch. She sat, and motioned for Becca to do the same. She felt a small flicker of relief as Becca joined her. She hadn’t lost her yet.
But then, Becca didn’t know the whole story yet.
“I knew this wouldn’t be easy for you.” She paused as she thought about how best to begin. She couldn’t treat this casually. Becca deserved more than that. This was Becca’s first taste of betrayal, of finding out that someone she had cared for was working for the enemy, and the pain of that betrayal had to be respected. “We all learn this lesson, sooner or later. A neighbor or a friend or a relative is arrested, and we find out we don’t know the people around us as well as we thought we did. I wish you didn’t have to find out this way.”
Becca shook her head, as Raleigh had suspected she would. “You have to tell me more than that. This is Heather.”
It would have been easier if Becca had simply accepted it, written Heather’s parents off as dissidents, and gone to bed. But that wouldn’t have been Becca. Becca thought too deeply, felt too deeply, to simply let it go at that. For a moment pride welled up in Raleigh at Becca’s tenacity, at her commitment to her friend, even though she should have felt nothing but disapproval for these questions that bordered on disloyalty.
Even though Becca was leading her straight to the conversation she didn’t want to have.
“All right,” Raleigh said reluctantly. “You know Heather’s parents worked in Surveillance.”
Becca nodded as if she had won a victory, as if Raleigh’s words had proved something. “So they can’t be dissidents. If they were, how could they have worked there for that long without anyone knowing?”
“They were very careful,” Raleigh answered. “For most, if not all, of that time, they’ve been working with a dissident group we thought we eliminated a couple of years ago—a group that had several people inside Internal. Heather’s parents have been altering transcripts, deleting data, and passing warnings to suspected dissidents. I know this isn’t the answer you were hoping for, but they are dissidents.”
“How do you know for sure it was them doing all this, and not somebody else? That’s happened before. You’ve told me.” Becca stood, her voice growing more animated even as Raleigh’s limbs and thoughts grew clumsier with exhaustion. “Did you look into it? Can’t you try to figure out what happened?”
This was getting too close to all the things she didn’t want to say. But there were other conversations they needed to have. Safer conversations. “Sit down, Becca. There’s something else I need to talk to you about.”
Becca sat back down. Another flicker of relief.
“It’s about Heather,” said Raleigh. “Children from dissident families… There’s not much we can do with them. The options are to arrest them along with their parents, or let them go and hope their parents’ ideology didn’t get passed down to them. A futile hope, in too many cases.”
Becca’s eyes narrowed. “Heather is not a dissident.” Her voice dared Raleigh to contradict her.
And that, Raleigh realized, was exactly the reaction she had been hoping for.
A distraction. A safer fight than the one still lurking at the corners of her vision.
“Unfortunately,” said Raleigh, “there’s no way to know for sure. The odds aren’t good. And the directors have been telling us to ease up on dissidents’ families lately—some new initiative or other—so she wasn’t even sent down for questioning. If they would just let us do our jobs…” Not that there was any chance of that happening. Despite the nobility of their mission, at its core Internal was a bureaucracy like any other.
Although if they had let her question Heather like they should have… if Heather had died down there along with her parents…
Losing Becca wouldn’t have been a possibility then. It would have been a certainty.
She shook away the thought. “So for now, I’d prefer it if the two of you saw less of each other.”
“You didn’t answer me. How do you even know this isn’t all a mistake?” Becca’s voice still rang with the anger Raleigh had hoped for. But her question meant it didn’t matter – there would be no more postponing this conversation with a lesser argument. Raleigh was out of distractions, out of misdirections. There was only one answer she could give.
She looked away. She didn’t want to see Becca’s face. “Because they’ve confessed. They were assigned to me; that’s why I had to work through the night. I heard their confessions firsthand.”
She could have requested that Heather’s parents be assigned to another interrogator. The personal connection between Raleigh and the two of them had been tenuous—they had always done their best to avoid her, which she had taken as nothing more as people’s usual hypocrisy when it came to interrogators, although in hindsight their true reasons were obvious. But weak as the connection had been, it had existed, and it was documented. Nobody would have questioned it if Raleigh had passed on the assignment.
But the situation had been urgent. Internal had needed to know everything the Thomas couple knew as quickly as possible; they had needed the identities of any other potential dissident infiltrators before those same infiltrators caught wind of the arrest. They had needed the best interrogator they had, and Raleigh was it. That wasn’t arrogance. It was fact.
So she had done what was necessary.
She had interrogated two dissidents, and risked her relationship with her daughter in the process.
Becca stood. Raleigh’s relief guttered and died.
“I need to go get some sleep.” Becca’s voice was flat, empty, but Raleigh could read too much in it. “I’m going to have to get up for school soon.”
Raleigh couldn’t let her walk away. I will not lose her over this. “If you want to talk some more—”
“Not right now. I need to think.”
Raleigh opened her mouth to—what? To apologize for doing her job? To lecture Becca in defensive tones about dissidents and betrayal?
Before she could speak, before she could figure out what she wanted to say, Becca disappeared down the hall, her bedroom door closing behind her as she vanished. Raleigh was left alone on the couch, worn beyond measure but with no desire to sleep.
I will not lose her over this.
I will not lose her.
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Zoe Cannon writes about the things that fascinate her: outsiders, societies no sane person would want to live in, questions with no easy answers, and the inner workings of the mind. If she couldn’t be a writer, she would probably be a psychologist, a penniless philosopher, or a hermit in a cave somewhere. While she’ll read anything that isn’t nailed down, she considers herself a YA reader and writer at heart. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and a giant teddy bear of a dog, and spends entirely too much time on the internet.
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Thank you so much for participating on this guest post Zoe! Necessary Sacrifices, the second book in the Internal Defense series will be out on the 15th July 2013. I can’t wait, just look at this stunning cover!