Chapter 9:


Veils: Under the Panopticon

I get behind the corner of the library, the door just a few steps away. Heavy smoke fills the street, a stampede of Workers running at and away from the line of guards. Flashes blink in the haze, followed by piercing weapon fire and deafening explosions. A bullet flies above my head, embedding in the metal wall.

There are cries, shouts, and rushing footsteps, but I slowly move out of the corner, keeping low to avoid a stray shot. With a handful of bodies in front of me, the likelihood is small.

“Return peacefully to your homes! You are all valuable to the Panopticon!” The Journalist's voice rises over the fighting. Someone tries to rush at him, but a single weapon takes him down.

One of the guard's weaponry fires off, hitting the wall next to me. I crawl to the floor, hopefully obscured by the piling bodies on the ground. Some are still, some are writhing. I get up on my knees, seeing a man a meter away. Blood drips from where his arm used to be, his neck a dark violet. Behind him, Defiant Workers continue to fall, the explosions less frequent.

I reach inside the sack clutches in my hand, taking out two of the rods of fire material. I toss him one. He catches it, giving a nod before rushing out to the line of guards. I look around, finding a woman standing up from the floor, pushing aside a screaming body. I yell out to her and toss the rod.

I make it to the library's front entrance, thankfully finding it to be unlocked. I pull open the gate and run inside, shutting it behind me. The firing, screams, and explosions are muffled behind the cold walls. It convinces me to take a deep breath as I look around.

“Orion?” I call out, my voice reverberating. I try again, receiving no response. I nod to myself, reaching inside the sack.

My hands shake as I pull out one of the rods. I walk over to the shelf most filled with books, placing the fire material on the bottom. At this distance, setting it alight now would most blow my arms off. Just like the Workers outside. I dig around the bottom of the sack, pulling out a roll of thin wire. I wrap it around the rod, then move on to the corners of the room, wedging rods of fire material between bookshelves, strung together by metal wire.

It's a few minutes of work, but I roll the wire out to the entrance, admiring the transformation from a library to what I can describe as a spider's den. I should have enough line to step out the door and close it. I roll out the rest of the wire, finding its end, pinching it in my hand. I pull out the last thing inside a sack: A crude device on the verge of falling apart. Most of us call it a spark trigger. The name gives ample explanation.

I attach the end of the metal wire to the trigger, gripping it in my hands. With one last check to see the unbundled line, I make for the door, approaching the sounds outside. The fight is still going strong, to my surprise, as I pull it open. A guard turns my way, but is distracted by two bloodied Workers, trying to wrestle his weapon out of his hands.

Another explosion is my opportunity, and I step outside the door, pushing it close. I look down, yanking the wire through the slit under the door and run, making it to a corner out of sight, a structure away from the library.

I take a deep breath, the line is nearly taut, but it should still work. Hopefully Whisper managed to drag him away. If I remember, the library had a back door.

“We are finding someone of good knowledge, so please don't make this difficult,” the Journalist proclaims, the line of guards stepping closer to the library. I lightly touch the spark trigger. Thankfully, it still works. As urgent as this all is, I'm not ready to become a martyr.

“Get down!” I yell out to the Workers continuing to run at them. Some throw themselves to the ground, but others keep going. I look past the corner, finding the Journalist's gaze. A clean uniform, a clear smile amidst the chaos, and bright eyes. He looks my way, that smile breaking.

I press the button, the trigger going hot in my hands. A sharp lick of electricity sparks down the wire, disappearing behind the door. He opens his mouth, but the words are caught in his mouth as the fire material explodes. I hide behind the corner, but the explosion rings at my ears, a plume of dark smoke flowing into the street and through alleys. My vision darkens, soot watering my eyes.

“What did you do?” I hear Whisper's voice, the smoke settling.

“Where is he?” I ask, kicking off the wall. She stands aside, revealing Orion behind her. He recovers from a stagger, removing hands off his ears.

“We can hide him somewhere, and they think he died when I blew up the library.”

“You blew up my library?!” He tries to push past me, but I throw him back into the alley. Furious eyes snap up to me. “I had everything I ever owned in there! Food, water, my books!”

I stand in the way. Behind me, Workers continue to run at the guards who fire back, but the frequency of shots is reduced. Maybe I got lucky and knocked some out. “Look, man. We think that they're looking for you. That's I made it seem like you died in that explosion just now.”

Orion gets up to his feet, glaring at me. “You think? You destroyed all I had because of an 'I think?!’” He walks toward me and gives a harsh shove. “Get out the way, I need to find what's left of it.”

I grip his shoulders, pulling him away. He opens his mouth to speak, but suddenly the street grows silent. I turn around, seeing bodies strewn on the floor. Those alive desperately try to stand up, but their wounds keep them down. Guards step over beside them, aiming weapons.

“Our prospect seems to have perished in that explosion just now,” the Journalist stands at the center. His uniform is scorched, his skin stained in ash. The explosion blew his smile off, replaced with a hard line. “Defiants will be reprimanded accordingly, but I guess some just aren't meant to be fixed.”

He raises a hand, and a guard fires. Everyone watches in horror as a man drops limp on the ground, a section of his head missing, caking the metal ground in blood. Shock stills our breath, the only movement was the Journalist's hand, swiping up to the air. In response, the guards take aim.

A voice cries out, his hand swiping down. Five weapons fire, five Workers fall dead. The number of men in black uniforms had decreased. I guess some of them were too close to the explosion. They are fewer in number, but they have bullets to spare.

“I must apologize for all this.” The Journalist says coldly to the air, raising his hand up once more. The guards find new targets, most are still too horrified to move, not like they could get far enough.

“Orion-” I whip my head back at Whisper's voice, but I get pushed aside. Orion runs out into the street, shouting to get their attention. I shake off the stagger and run out after him, closing the gap as much as I can before a dangerous glimmer points my way, freezing my steps.

“The one in there,” His voice trails off, looking to the remains of the library. It's nothing but a fireball, surrounded by morphed metal that used to be its walls. He shakes his head violently and snaps up to the Journalist. “It's me. I took care of the library.”

A guard approaches him, but the Journalist stops them. He makes his way, taking slow, calculated steps. “You?” he begins, a tentative smile on his face. “The one they call Orion? You're smaller than what I heard.”

“Don't tell them anything!” I shout, but a heavy force knocks me to the ground. I whip around, the barrel of a weapon hovered between my eyes. A heavy breathing can be heard beneath his helmet. Ragged and deep breaths. “He's lying-” The guard kicks my stomach. Heavy leather digs into my insides. I curse at the pain.

“Shut up Hyde,” Orion yells out. The Journalist spares me no look, eyes trained on him. “What do you people want?”

A twisted laughter fills the air. The Journalist steps away, his movements a disgusting flourish. “I'm here to offer you work. I'm looking for people like you. Benefits come with the occupation, of course.”

He continues speaking lie after lie. I look at Orion, seeing him glare at the man in a dirtied uniform. “Are you interested?” He finishes, holding his right hand out to him with a sickening grin. Orion watches the outstretched offer. He can't possibly be considering it, right?

“If I do, will you leave everyone in the First Section alone?” He says after a stiff pause. There was a resolute harden in his voice. My stomach knots, nervous.

The Journalist nods, glancing around. “That can be arranged. If we find out who we are looking for, patrols will be less, I assure you!”

Orion raises a finger, stilling his words. “Open the Third Section for everyone, in that case. They need to eat.” For a moment, the Journalist is taken aback. A short silence passes, left without an immediate response.

“If you are what we are looking for, then that will be arranged!” Laughter melds in his words, and once more he holds his hand out. “Is that agreeable?”

Orion steps forward. I meet his gaze for a split moment. It was eyes I have never seen from him. His hand shakes the Journalist, the contact splitting his face in a grin. “Deal.”

“Wonderful,” his voice drops, but his mouth continues moving. I'm too far away to hear. He steps away and exclaims to the street. “We have a work taker. We will wish you a good day.”

The guards lower their weapons, walking back. They surround both the Journalist and Orion. I'll be damned if they take him away.

As soon as the guard moves away from me, I reach forward, pulling the weapon from his side. It's heavy, almost blinding beneath the light. I take aim at the man in the middle, with all my desire to wipe the grin off his face.

I pull the trigger, the recoil hitting my shoulder, blowing me back. I fall to the floor, the guard rushing to take pry the weapon out of my hands. His boot hits my chin, I let go in reflex.

“We have lost enough Workers.” Pain throbs in my ears, but I hear the distant words of the Journalist. Above me, the guard points the end of his weapon at me, then slams it against my head. My vision darkens, feeling the damp floor beneath me. I watch them leave, black uniforms disappearing into the dark. My mouth tastes like iron. I think someone is beside me. I see someone, watching me with worried eyes. I can't tell who it is.

Everything fades to black and I lose consciousness, feeling nothing but the cold metal.