Veils: Under the Panopticon
The bed groans loudly under my weight. I open my eyes to the same dark orange hue I fell asleep too. A distant, dirty hum of machinery fill the silence. I turn to the other bed, finding Orion still sitting on the bed, the only difference being that his eyes are shut, breathing evenly. Asleep.
I expected that he'd still be awake writing. He's prone to losing himself in the pages, often times he spends days on end staying awake. It's easy enough to go on for days at a time without rest, but to do that with something as boring as scribing down ink on paper? A thought I'd reserve for what the guards use for torture techniques.
Sitting up, I crane my neck, shivering to the satisfying cracking in my body. I look to the small window in the room, walking over to it to unfurl the cloth that obscures the outside. It's dark, but the day seems to be on its starting crawl. Outside, a handful of Workers drag their feet, heading down the alleys. With the bright spotlights, discerning the days is difficult. We rely on the distant hammers of industry to discern our work hours; its duration tells us the length of a day. Clocks that still work serve that purpose too, but most wonder which one is the correct time.
I turn around, walking to the bed beside mine, shaking Orion awake. He jolts, snapping his eyes up to me. I laugh, “Did someone have a good sleep?”
He rolls his eyes, the shadows beneath them are heavy. “Barely. You snore,” He complains, sleep thick in his voice. I move to my bed as he stretches up, yawning loudly. “One more Section then we head back home, right?”
I nod, checking the contents in my pockets and pack to make sure everything is still where I left it. A force of habit, a good habit. He hauls himself out of bed with extreme effort, reaching for his bag to sling over his body.
“Good. I could use sleeping somewhere that isn't cold.”
“Is that why you couldn't sleep much?” I ask, turning to him.
“No, just finished writing about last night.” He answers, stifling a yawn this time. After checking for everything, we leave the room, stepping into the hallway. The hostess stands behind the desk, in front of her are two dark canisters. She sees us step into the room and waves us over, motioning to the containers.
“Eat,” she croaks. “And come again. If you need room.”
I take both canisters, shoving it to Orion's chest. He groans but drops it inside his bag. I look at her and give a smile. “Thank you for the stew and uh, we'll be here if we make a stop again.”
Her lips twitch to an attempt of a smile, then drops it. The stretch on her dry lips was enough to crack the skin. I turn around and make to the door, opening to a gust of rusted air. “I miss it back in there already.”
“Shut up and let's just leave.” Orion pushes me out into the street, closing the door behind him. I lead the way, making turns into deserted paths back onto the main road. At every step, my sight gets less hazy, my breathing gets deeper, and the lights are now a blinding white than a faint tinge of orange. We are approaching the third Section, where more and more Workers have sutures over their eyes, sewn-shut from a crime they refuse to speak of.
“We'll be selling things to blind people?” He asks beside me. I shoot him a look.
“If you want. But, they're not all blind. Some pretend to be. Or some have learned to open them with the sutures.” A thought that sends a chill down my spine, but I admire their tenacity to keep resisting.
Orion swallows, flickering his stare to a passing Worker. “What happens if they get defiant even with their eyes sewn shut?”
I think of an all too easy answer. “Do you ever wonder where the green Substitute comes from?” He shoves me, barely catching myself while I laugh.
“Don't ruin the one thing I partially enjoy, Hyde.” He warns in vain. With nothing to kill me, I'm less inclined to feel scared.
We walk under a large arch, unable to escape the stagnant pool of light. In the short minute, I catch a look at myself, Orion, and everything else passing by. A sight that lingers, no matter how many times you see it.
Beneath the pure white light, I get to see the dirt that stains our skin. The slick of oil, rust and coal on our clothes. Sunken eyes, replaced body parts, or some completely missing. Working never brings us death, but we're a step into the grave, farthest from living.
Still, we're alive, and the thought of having to take extreme measures to die is a comforting thought, at least for me. I'm sure Orion thinks otherwise. He's one to always look at the bigger picture. A picture I can never see.
“How does anyone get some sleep around here?” He comments, gritting his teeth to the cacophony of clacking metal, treads of passing carts and the sharp whir of string. Without sight, people rely more on their other senses.
I look down, shrugging. “They work while getting some shut eye.” The joke is unappreciated as he walks off, swearing to the wind. I restrain a laugh, catching up to him.
“Remind me never to go with you again,” He huffs, following me down loud streets and fewer lights. Only the main roads are lit up with bright orbs, the workshops are dim at best. Darkness isn't an issue for the blind, after all.
We reach an opening, similar to the market back home. They barter unlabeled canisters for a variety of objects. Metal rods for canes, sharp shears, or a spoon to just gouge their eyes out. A thriving, but oddly specific trade in the Third Section. I lead us to a stall in the far corner where even the sole light can't reach. I reach into my inner pocket, producing the bundled rods concealed with leather. I set it down on the table, the noise of metal colliding draws out a noise from behind the stall.
“You took a while.” A voice calls out, belonging to a man about my age, glaring at me with the tiniest slit behind dark sutures.
“It was a long walk.” I respond, rolling my shoulders. His hand glides across the table, stopping once his knuckles bumped into the bundle. He picks it up, feeling the metal in his hand. Up close, it's a grounded down metal bar. Beneath a light, one might be able to mistake it for weaponry.
I watch his hand slowly run the length of the bar. After confirming the smooth texture, he reaches into the pockets of his vest, placing down a rolled-up paper. “Bring this to the next three stalls over. They have your end of the deal.” I take it, knocking twice on the table's surface to indicate.
“So, an uprising?” Orion asks beside me. I shoot a warning look, what follows is a brief but heated exchange of expressions and stares.
The man's voice breaks the silent conversation. We turn to see him picking up the bars, clutching it between his arms. “If we're lucky, we can pull a big enough scare that they'll run instead of checking to see if they're real.”
Orion digs an elbow into my side. “See? I can ask.”
“Whatever, I'll pick up what I came here for.” I throw my hands up, flipping up the paper before heading down the lane of stalls. I hear his voice of curiosity pepper the man with questions. I won't be held responsible if they try to kill him for asking too much.
I approach the third stall down, knocking on its front. An older man, his eyes unobscured, but completely fogged over. “I have uh, a piece of paper.” Setting it down, I tap on it twice. I notice the bumps on the paper's surface, his hand running up and down the sheet. So, that's how they read.
“Give me a minute,” he says, looking away and running his hand down the shelves and boxes. I look down both ways of the street. It's a short row of stalls, and Orion is still at the first one at the end of it. I heave a sigh. The poor guy will have to live a life both blind and deaf.
“An exchange for a crate of canned provisions. Assortment, unlabeled.” He comes back, reciting the contents of the small box in his hand. He sets it down, taking the piece of paper and stabbing it through a small spike on the table, forming a small pile of sheets.
I open the box, placing my pack on the table to transfer the cans. Ten cans the length of my hand. A normal, average hand, I'd say. As he said, they're unlabeled. Most are. I stack them inside, tightening it closed after I empty the box. I sling it over my back, it thuds against me, making soft chiming noises.
“Thanks,” I nod before realizing the futility of the gesture and walk back to the stall where I left Orion, the faint buzz of words tells me that he's still there. As I approach, I see a handful of Workers approach the stall, knocking in a series on the table in silence. The man snaps away from the general direction of Orion and gives a nod.
“What's going on?” I ask, watching them pass around the metal rods to each other. “They're going to do something today?”
Orion looks at me, shrugging his shoulders. Not a comforting response. “He just said they'll do it the soonest they can before more guards can show up. I give him a blank look, and take his shoulder, dragging him away. “Hey- What?”
I shush him, making sure we turn a corner before I'm confident they won't be able to hear us speak. “If they do something while we're in here, it's on us too.”
“The soonest couldn't possibly be today,” he argues, looking back to the market area. I do the same to find them walk into separate alleys. “See? Maybe it's just to distribute them out so he doesn't get caught with all of them.”
I shake my head, but he breaks away, adjusting his clothes. “I also have to drop off some things to barter, too. I still have my pages and needles.”
“They are blind, Orion,” I point out, emphasizing the first letter of the word 'blind.'
He rolls his eyes, jutting a finger back at the way behind me. “I asked how they communicate, and they stamp indents on the paper for them to read. It's smart, and with how dark everything is, the guards can't tell it from an empty sheet of paper.”
“Yeah, I saw the stall guy. He moves his hand down, feeling it,” I chime in, his eyes lighting up at the new information.
“I'll sell these sheets, and maybe I can find out how they do it.” He adjusts the straps on his sling and walks past me back to the market.
“Five minutes.” He yells out and walks off. The entire Section probably heard that. I follow him, taking time to listen to the orchestra of noise in the background. There's another addition to it: Hurried steps through dark alleys. I look at Orion in a hope he hurries but negotiating a price with one of the stall owners drag on.
Ten minutes, give or take, pass by. He walks away from the stall with cans, bread cubes and a few pages on how to read the Third Section's writing. I lead the way back onto the main road, fighting down the suspicious darkness of the alleys we pass.
“Nothing ever takes five minutes,” I remark with a long sigh. Orion walks beside me with a satisfied smile, patting the pocket that hides the blinds' secrets.
“We got something out of it, though. Nothing you'd like, but I'm happy.”
I see the blinding row of lights up ahead. A sigh of relief escapes me. “I'm glad you're happy. I will be once we leave,” I mock, looking away. “Bastard said he'd wait at least until I get out of here.”
“What are you so worried about?” Orion bumps my arm, rolling his eyes at the stare I shoot his way. “The edge of the Section is right there.” The moment the words leave his lips, men step into the light from different angles, all concealed with cloaks. Beneath it, an object that shines underneath the white light. Their tallest takes a step forward, heaving a loud voice.
“Third Section is now, and forever lost!” The rest of the men cheer. The two guards dart their bodies around, unsure where to look. Nearby Workers pause, then some begin to flee. Those with sewn eyes stay, cheering to the cries of the cloaked men. I bring Orion to the corner, away from the road.
I raise my hand and strike the back of his head. “You just had to go and say it.”