Veils: Under the Panopticon
Returning to my house is a silent affair. Whisper walks ahead, forcing me to hurry. We separate with Cass at the last corner, his own home being the other way. No words are exchanged until we find ourselves in the familiar alley. She stands aside, waiting for me to enter. She is as cryptic as she is polite. An unusual combination, one I have trouble understanding.
“So, what is this thing you want to tell me?” I ask as she walks in. Closing the door after myself, I watch her carefully. Her expression has evened, standing in the middle of the room.
“You heard that announcement, right?” The sinking feeling still lingers, her question surfacing the unease upward. I nod, swallowing a lump in my throat. “What I'm about to say, you keep it quiet.”
“Why does it sound familiar?” The words fall out before I know it. She returns a pensive look, arms cross over her chest.
“Before the last week, guard patrols increased since the past two months?” Her sentence ends off as a question. I raise a brow, urging her to continue. “It wasn't to prevent the Workers from becoming Defiant. It was, but the reason why is different from what we thought.”
“You mean they didn't just flaunt their weapons around to keep us in line?” I say, a mocking tone lacing my words. She returns with a blank stare. I sigh, nodding for her to continue.
“You were there when they closed off the Third Section, right?” I almost decide to lie, but she was the first to know, so there's not much point in trying to save face with this one. “Did you notice anything strange? Similar to what happened out here earlier?”
For someone who wants to tell me something, she's asking a lot of question. I decide to humor her, giving a thoughtful hum. It's not every day we can have a conversation that lasts for more than a minute. “Anything strange, you say? Let me see.”
The incident in the Third Section was strange in of itself. There was no way for those guards to find out that they were holding fakes. Underneath a coat, the glint of polished metal mimics that of a weapon's barrel. I studied that fact well. So, how did they know? She asks for something strange, but there wasn't anything from back then worth mentioning. The voice from the speakers were different, and just before that were the moving wires that shook the ground.
Just like what happened earlier before the guards stopped at that specific door. The door that hid Defiants. “The wires from above. They shook, and the guards knew what to do. It was the same in the Third Section. They knew that the cloaked Workers were carrying fakes.”
Both incidents contained similarities, but what does that mean? They didn't breathe a word, yet they knew.
Whisper looks at me, reading my face like my thoughts were written on it. She walks to the wall, leaning against the cold metal. “They're connected. During these two months, even with squabbles from desperate Workers, the wires never moved, and guards were taken by surprise.”
The more she speaks, the more everything begins to feel connected. The increased guard patrols, the lack of announcements from the speakers, only for everything to return to normal, save for the different voice. I pay attention to her eyes, seeing them dart away from my direction. She's hiding something, a detail she seems hesitant on saying.
Orion always said it hurts to know less than to know too much. I decide to put that saying into practice. “What are you not telling me?” The question takes her by surprise, her eyes freeze. Slowly, they trail up to, finding my gaze. The unpleasant look of acceptance is there once more, the same look she gave me earlier when we met. She's silent, but I don't let up. “Whisper, what are you hiding from me?”
Her stare lightens, but it's fleeting. It returns to her usual deadpan, kicking off from the wall to stand. She walks over to me, dropping her voice to fit her namesake. “I'm leaving the Section, Hyde.”
I stare back, my jaw dropped. Whatever I expected, it wasn't this. It doesn't fit the conversation we just had, so this couldn't be the revelation she's trying to hide. It must have something to do with the announcement, it was how she opened this talk. But why is she hiding it? What does she want me to not know?
“Whisper-” My words cut off when she faces up to me. A hardened, resolute glare. One similar to Workers that are prepared to die to make a change.
“Tomorrow, I'm going to the Fifth Section, and I'm leaving the Wing when the winter months end.” There's a cold finality in her words, and she turns away to the door. I catch her arm, pulling her to a stop. She whips back, staring in surprise. I think back to the last proper conversation we had on the day they took Orion. She said to trust her, but can I really trust someone who keeps from me? Now, she comes back just to say she'll be leaving? There was never a warning before, and the tone of finality tells me that this would be our last encounter before she goes.
Where's the trust in all of this? I can't blindly trust something that keeps me in the dark, much less a person who declares cryptic words without so much as a reason. Would the better option be to just let her go? Watch her leave the door so I can wake up to a normal life? Working with Cass for the boilers. Is that my vision of normal?
It isn't, but that's the tomorrow. Worrying about the future is a luxury Orion tried convincing me to consider. Now, he's out there, and I'm here. That's a normal I can't accept.
“I'll go with you,” My voice was quiet, but no less resolute. She watches me with wide eyes, nothing but bafflement on her face. “What you said doesn't sit well with me, and as far as I know, I'm the only person you talk to here.”
She grits her teeth. For the first time, she shows another emotion: Irritation. “It doesn't sit well with you?” She fails trying to pull her arm out of my grip. “Why, because you don't trust me?”
I shake my head. “No. Because they sound like they're coming from a person who doesn't mind dying in what they're about to do.” A somber honesty from my time bartering with fools who think they can make a difference. Martyrs, fanatics, and Defiants. All of them have the same set of similarities: Acceptance in their eyes and a finality in their voice.
Nothing but a faint gasp leaves her lips. Her face is different now, telling me that I hit the bullseye. Her arm goes limp. I sigh, releasing her, clothes rustling as her arm falls back to her side.
“You don't want to tell me yet? That's fine. You trust me enough to tell me this, so I'll trust that you'll tell me when you're ready. I can't do that if you just up and leave.” As sad as it sounds, she's the few ones left for me here. If she disappears, it'd just be Cass and Harbour, and I'd be hard-pressed looking for someone willing to put up with me.
Between these cold metal walls, you hold onto whatever you have.
“Hyde,” the words catch in her throat. There's no argument, only silence. It grows heavy, suffocating, until she speaks again, her tone subdued, regretful. “Don't blame me for whatever happens to you.”
A smile crawls on my face. It's not every day I win an argument with her. It wasn't technically an argument, but it's a victory I'll take pride in. “Me? I'd be too busy trying to watch over you.” I say, laughing out when her face drops to a familiar look of bemusement. She rolls her eyes, stepping away.
“I can't promise wherever we're going to is safe. Or that we'll be able to come back in one piece.”
I shrug, giving a reassured smile. “Nowhere is ever safe.”
She huffs quietly. Until now, she's still trying to dissuade me. Yet, she closes her mouth, swallowing thickly.
“Tomorrow, when the roads are its busiest. I'll meet you here.” She says instead, followed by a tired sigh. Honestly, I'm not sure about this decision, but for now, the Fifth Section isn't far in the slightest, and if she's involved in shady activity, I'll be hitching the first cart back home. She shows up here every few days without any injury, so I can at least take that as a reassurance whatever she's involving herself with has a degree of safety. That, or it's discreet.
“Anything I should bring?”
“Valuables. Whatever you can barter. It won't be a long trip. Two, maybe three days.” I walk to the table, crouching down to slide out a box holding containers of food and water.
“It's the Fifth Section, so they'll want broken tool parts. The Second Section has those.” I hear her walk behind me, her shadow looming over to peer down.
“Do you still have fire material?” She asks. At least she's returned to normal, though I can't tell if that's a good thing or not.
“I think I do, why do you-”
“Bring them,” I look back up at her. Before I could ask, she gives a response, her tone the usual flat. “The people we're heading to will need them.”
“You're not selling these to Defiants are you? We know how well that happened.” I remark, half-joking. She doesn't refute my words, and that sends worry down my stomach. “Whisper, just who are the people you uh, frequent with?”
I stand up. She looks at me, her stare hardened. She chews on her bottom lip, deciding what words to say. “People who can make a difference.”
A laugh bubbles up, causing me to turn away. I hear her heave a sigh, myself trying to stifle my laughter. I used to compare her to one of those suicidal Defiants, but I never thought it would be true. That being said, does that mean she's been leaving the Section to meet up in secret with them? A lot of questions rise, but right now, I settle with a good laugh.
“The ones you associate with are narrowminded in their efforts, Hyde,” she snaps, annoyed. I continue to puff out laughter, struggling to keep them in. “I change my mind. I'll go on my own.”
“Wait, wait,” I breathe out, seeping air through my teeth. A deep breath in quiets the tickle and I face her, more disgruntled than earlier. It's good that I'm provoking visible emotion from her. “I'm done laughing, you can tell me now.” Even if it sounds absolutely ridiculous.
I watch her eyes roll for what has felt like the millionth time since we met. She leans closer, her voice dropping to an exclusive whisper. “Will you swear not to ask anything stupid when we get there? It'd be bad enough if I show up in the first place with you.”
“Now, what's that supposed to mean?” I fire back, crossing my arms. “I, for one, think I ask reasonable questions.” She sighs, turning to the door. “Fine! I'll keep shut. But you better answer me after we get there.” I yell after her, she stops at the door, dark-colored eyes looking past her shoulder towards me.
“Fine. One question.” She opens the door and walks out. It clangs shut behind her, resounding through the now-lonely room. I walk to the bed, throwing myself over to lay down. Today has left me exhausted, but for the wrong reasons. That entire conversation came out of nowhere, and now I agreed to accompany Whisper to a Section I know next to nothing about. Fifth Section is adjacent to ours, but I don't possess eyewear to walk past alleys filled with sparks. If Second Section is a breathing hazard, Fifth Section is a hazard for one's sight.
I sigh, staring blankly at the ceiling. People who can make a difference. That's a line I've heard plenty of times before. All of them either dead, or half-machine. Hearing it enough times made me wary of such a declaration, so why would this one be any different? I might be able to barter for some good tools while I'm there. Though fire starters are being used more frequently in the winter months, there's still an abundance that even I have a sack full of rods hiding somewhere in this house.
After all of that, she still refused to answer my questions. The announcement, what she knows about the guards these past two months, and what she intends on doing about all of it. I'm left with more questions and not a single answer. I guess the only way to get anything out of her now is to go with her to the Fifth Section, and here I thought I was considering a life working for the boilers.
Starting tomorrow, it won't be a normal life. Whatever Whisper does is a far cry from any sense of normality. Yet, that word is gone for me. Since Orion was gone, what I had as normal has been discarded, left in the soot in front of the library's remains. I stand back up, rolling my shoulders backward. They still hurt, but it is a dull ache. I was able to catch up to her without hassle, so It's a safe assumption that I've mostly recovered.
Whisper, an enigma that's now the closest thing to a friend. I can't tell if that's hilarious or sad. Judging from how much I like to compare these two outlooks I'm going to guess I think they're both. Still, she has said next to nothing aside from her episodic conversations, cryptic warnings and half-spoken truths. This trip to the Fifth Section might change that, but I'm not hopeful.
Still, I hoist myself out of bed, walking to the cluttered pile of metal boxes in the corner. I set to work rummaging through for all the rods of fire material I can find. They're around here, somewhere, and I want to leave that place bartering something good.