Veils: Under the Panopticon
I am betrayed. Stabbed in the back from someone whom I once called a friend. It was foolish of me to think that such luxuries are available inside this prison of cold iron. Now, I'm kneeled over this carcass of a cart, sorting through the mess of gears, components, and spare metal that shouldn't be here.
“And to think I trusted you,” I grumble under my breath. My betrayer stands behind me, with a weapon to silence me for the slightest transgression. I don't know that for certain, but after lying to me, who knows what else she's hiding.
I hear her heave a tired sigh, her audacity knowing no bounds. “You're too dramatic. You told me yourself you wanted to help.”
“Yes, but not this!” I gesture in front. After Whisper told Bellow of her intended purpose why she brought me, he excitedly shoved a toolbox in my hands and set me here to work before disappearing down one of the alleys. What I'm meant to do? Fix this puzzle without knowing for sure that I have all the pieces. In likelihood I don't, seeing as they tore parts for the drill. “I can't work magic, Whisper. I need parts, not a miracle.”
She steps to my side, looking down with a flat stare. “Mutter is getting parts. We don't need magic, Hyde, just a cart that works.”
“Do you hear yourself?” I groan back, sighing at the unchanging expression. I lean back, sitting down on the floor. “How are you all supposed to drive this out? The way in looked too small to fit.”
Whisper glances over the drill middle of the room. I watch her walk over to it, trailing replaced fingers along its surface. “Do you want to know?”
She faces back at me. I nod, with my interest piqued at least about their plan.
“Make the cart work, and we'll show you.” A quick tone. Once again, my goodwill for conversation is abused. I heave a long breath, staring up to the ceiling.
“Would you not have brought me if you didn't find out I could fix carts?” There's a momentary silence. “Don't answer that.”
“Remember, Hyde,” I catch her pass by in the corner of my eye, her voice growing farther. “No stupid questions.” Her footsteps fade into an echo, leaving me alone in the room.
What have I gotten myself into? Associating with Defiants was the trigger that sent me here, and I'm still doing it. I thought she was joking about being with people she thought could make a difference. That it was her twisted sense of humor finally revealed to me. Yet, looking at the drill, the only thing that's a joke is my ability to maintain disbelief.
I stand up, dusting my coat. Walking over, the drill looks larger up closely. It's crude in design, held together with welded metal. Whoever did this had precision, and masochistic tendencies to put themselves up to exerting this much effort. I remove my eyewear, inspecting the external gearworks with unobscured eyes.
There's not much use in trying to understand what I simply don't know. Some aspects of the drill just seem to stick up at its sides without purpose. A gear attaches to nowhere, and one of the covers have been removed to expose its inner workings. Everything looks salvaged, handmade, or cannibalized. Not just from treaded carts.
I look for the power switch. It has to have one, or else it would be broken. I don't know how mining drills are powered, but I'm guessing they'd have to be hooked to a source. From the size, a large source. From what I know, there aren't many power sources that are portable. The only thing common would be engines from the carts, but it uses a specific type of fuel. Scarce and used sparingly in the Wing.
Checking one more time, I can conclude that they're mimicking the engine of the treaded carts. They need a bigger engine. I guess that's why Whisper said they're making it from scratch.
The top of the drill has an unscrewed panel. I remove it, revealing an empty compartment. Peering in, I find the amalgamation of a cart's engine, along with hollow cylinders, shafts, and valves.
“Is he the mechanic you brought?” They should really stop calling me that. I turn around, finding Whisper, Bellow, and a new face step into the room. Two set down metal boxes, the contents of one rattling as it hit the floor. “I've been working on this for nearly a year. I don't want to see it gnawed apart by some nosey rat.”
I'm guessing this one with the flavorful words is the person they call Mutter. Eyewear hides his eyes as he walks to me, drawing up his full height. He's the shortest one among the four of us.
“A mechanic? No, I'm just a tourist.” I counter, giving a friendly smile. He scoffs, pulling up the eyewear to land a heated stare. Suture scars pattern his eyelids, one hand a metal replacement.
He opens his mouth, but Whisper cuts in before he can speak. “Keep it to yourself, Mutter. You don't need to talk to him.” I watch him bite down on his lower lip. He grumbles under his breath, and walks away, circling behind the drill. So, I’m guessing that's where he got his name.
I look over to Whisper to speak, but she also cuts in before I could. “And you, don't touch the drill.”
I roll my eyes. When her glare didn't let up, I raise my hands, stepping back to the cart. “I hear you; I'll be over here.”
They talk amongst themselves around the drill. I can hear Whisper and Bellow's voices from where I am, but Mutter keeps to his namesake. Sharp drags of breath are the only things I can hear. I continue to listen as I walk to the boxes they brought in, uncovering to peer inside.
Gears, threaded shafts, valves, and wires. All of them possess a faint sheen from the abuse of sandpaper. Products of the Second Section. In the second box lies a cart engine, coated in rust but looking to be still functional. I take it out, carrying it over to the cart. I'm guessing they brought it for this purpose. Unless they find an odd fascination in collecting cart engines.
“How about we just carry it to the next forge? It's not done yet, so bringing out of the Section is impractical.” Whisper rounds past the corner into view, scrutinizing the large drill. Mutter follows behind her, shaking his head, rueful.
“I can't undo the welds. If you're adamant, you're welcome to chip it apart yourself.” I hear his voice faintly as he passes by. For a soft-spoken individual, his words can be quire biting. I thought Whisper was the only person to be this unwelcoming in a conversation.
“Why not use the cart? After Hyde fixes it, we can carry it that way.” Bellow suggests loudly out of view.
A short silence passes by, I mount the engine, tightening bolts to hold it in place by the shafts. I feel their eyes on me as I step away, standing up. That was the easy part, now I have to find how to make it run with a few of the sprockets missing, and one side of the tracks nowhere to be seen.
I shake my head, dusting rust off my hands. “Can't make it go without treads,” I point to the left of the cart, their eyes following my finger. “What could you had possibly used it for?”
They turn to look at Mutter. He crosses his arms, saying nothing. “Ridges for the drill.” I turn to the drill bit mounted on the front, noticing the scratches of welds and joined metal. For what he used, I couldn't even tell it was made from scratch at first glance. “Does that much leave you impressed?” He boasts, huffing with pride.
I decide not to bother, looking back at the cart, reaching for the steering. It creaks, but the mechanism turns. An idea strikes me, and I turn back to them. “Can you find something circular?”
“Uh,” Bellow speaks up, walking to the cart. “This forge has a grinding wheel-”
“Bring it here,” I interrupt him with a pointed look. “Actually, bring me two.”
“What are you planning, Hyde?” Whisper asks aloud. I turn behind my shoulder, meeting her eyes.
“You want me to get the cart going, so I'm getting it going.” She continues to stare but says nothing else. Bellow laughs heartily beside me, slapping me on the arm. The pain is numb at this point.
“I like this one! Mutter, come help me carry the grinding wheels from the storage walls!” He walks to the opposite end of the room. Mutter trails behind in silence, or he did say something, and I didn't catch his words.
I pick up the toolbox, rummaging for a wrench. Footsteps settle behind me as I begin removing the smaller wheels and the other sprocket.
“I'm thinking what I should ask you, Whisper.” I say with a smirk, smugness heavy in my tone. “There's just so much I want to know, but I only get one chance.” She says nothing, but I can hear the exasperated breath behind me. After I get this cart working, I can ask her one thing, but I wonder what a worthwhile question could be. Where she came from? No, that's not important. Knowing the purpose of the drill could be good. I'd become a person they can't afford to walk freely, and so far, I'm useful enough to warrant being kept in contact.
Not like I want to associate with Defiants again, I'm still deliberating if all this is a good idea.
“Sometimes, it's better off not knowing, Hyde.” She says in her usual monotone. I put the wrench down, pulling off each wheel component one at a time.
“Having too much of something never looks bad. Knowing too much could be the same.” I glance at her momentarily, then returned my attention to the last sprocket. The rust puts up a fight, but I manage to yank it out with a heave.
“Just like Orion.” I drop the gear. It crashes loudly on the floor as I look back. Her face tells me nothing, but something tells me that she didn't mean to say that. Before I could ask, Bellow's voice draws closer until he steps out of the darkness, a large concrete grinding wheel perched on his shoulder. Behind him is Mutter, who shows difficulty in carrying the object with both arms.
“These are the only ones without cracks!” He announces, both setting the wheels down on the left side of the cart. Whisper darts her eyes away and I return my attention to why I'm here in the first place.
“These should be fine,” I drag the box of spare parts over to the wheel, chiming with every kick. “Give me twenty minutes. While you're at it, get the drill ready to be mounted on the cart.” I say the last sentence with my eyes on Mutter before setting to work. Three voices fill the air nearby, but I tune them out, rolling the first grinding wheel into position. Luckily, they're large enough to touch the ground and have the center hole line up with the steering shaft.
If the drill is too heavy, then the concrete might crack under its weight. I have no solution for that, so I do nothing but hope as I mount both grinding wheels on where the sprockets used to be. After attaching the first wheel, I look back at them, watching a lively discussion take place. One person can be heard in this distance, but I don't hear the other two. They're a weird combination. I can see Mutter and Whisper associating without issue. They more or less have the same demeanor, but Whisper has a pretty enough face to not warrant punching.
Mutter, on the other hand, can die, and Wing Five will be a brighter place. However, Bellow is completely out of place with his exuberance. Chestnut brown hair is cut short, a bright green fire in his eyes. If a pattern exists, then he'll likely have a replaced part as well. I won't flat out ask him, but it would be a lie if I said I wasn't interested. Perhaps I should waste my free question to ask where they all came from. Whisper said these two were all she had. If that's true, then I almost feel sorry for her.
With one last huff, I push the second wheel, guiding the shaft through the hole in its middle. I stand up, stepping away to admire my handiwork. It's asymmetrical, but it should work, hopefully.
Metal drags along the floor behind me. I turn around, seeing the two men pull the drill by its backside. Whisper watches them from a distance, not helping.
“Drag it on slowly!” I shout above the painful screeching, walking to the back of the cart to pull down the ramp onto its cargo bed. Careful movements and deliberate steps see us mount the drill onto the cart. It groans under the weight and I quickly check the concrete wheels.
I breathe a sigh of relief when it didn't crumble and break in half. Whisper steps beside me, her arms crossed as she stares at Bellow tie the drill in place with leather straps. “Guess I owe you one answer.” I laugh, giving a sideways glance.
“You better not lie when I ask you.” She rolls her eyes, looking away.
“Who do you think I am, Hyde?”
I smile, shrugging as I step back. “I'm not sure, but that's a good suggestion for a question, though.”
“It's all good!” Bellow shouts, walking around the cart. Mutter throws a cloth over the drill, concealing most of its large mass. He walks to the front, switching on the engine. It sputters, then grows quiet.
“That's just great,” he tries the switch again, yielding no result. Huffing away in frustration, Bellow gives it a try. I remove the panel hiding the engine to check if I mounted it wrong.
I rest my hand on the center. It's cold. “It needs a jumpstart.”
“How do we do that?” Bellow asks. An idea strikes me, and I loosen the straps on the pack, slinging it over and reaching inside, producing a rod of fire material.
I quickly snap a quarter of it, sliding the larger portion back inside my pack. I separate it further into 4 pieces, slipping it inside the piston cylinders. “When I give a signal, switch it on, Bellow.” He nods, reaching back to the steering. I slide the cover panel over, this time I push my entire weight on it. I grit my teeth and nod at him.
As soon as he turns the switch, an explosion knocks me to the floor. The panel skids off to a far corner in the room. My view swims for a moment as I sit up. Somebody rushes to me, kneeling at my side. A voice, but I can't quite understand.
Slowly, I collect my bearings. Whisper is at my side, Bellow looking on with concern behind the cart's steering. What grabs my attention, however, is the grumbling engine inside the cart. The jumpstart was violent, but luckily it didn't tear itself apart.
“I didn't think that would work.” She helps me stand up. I laugh while I dust myself off.
“You did that as a baseless idea?” Mutter steps over, his tone a sharp snap. I roll my shoulders, collecting wind after the combustion knocked it out of me.
“It works for boilers, so I figured it would work for engines.” He stares blankly, Bellow laughs. Whisper moves away, heaving a tired sigh. It makes sense in my mind, at least. And I had the courtesy to hold onto the panel myself. If it didn't work, at least it would be my blood painted on the walls.
“Let's go. That explosion might have been noticed.” She sits on the cart, setting the cart in motion. Every rusted aspect of the vehicle creaks under the weight of the drill, but it moves. Bellow leads the way, Mutter and I trailing behind as the cart squeezes through tight alleys.
I look to the side. He puts on his eyewear, a scowl on his face. Sparks cascade up ahead, and I rush to do the same. “So, were you born here?” A good conversation starter as any.
“I just realized what kind of person you are,” he says. It wasn't an answer to my question, but he continues. “You rush things headfirst without thinking. A narrow thought process based off a single hunch.”
I shrug. Some of those feel like they're right, but not quite right for me to consider such. I raise a brow, hiding my hands in coat pockets. “Are you mad I could've blown up the drill?” I respond calmly. If I was him, it would be what I'd be feeling.
He doesn't answer. Facing away, the cart turns to a brighter corner, opening to a busy street. Sparks fly from forges. I turn my head up to see light fall from perches embedded on the high walls. They remind me of soot.
“Hyde, was it?” I look back at him. I can feel his stare from the thick eyewear. “Remember to keep our interests in mind the next time you try to kill us?”
I laugh, and his brow twitches. I collect a shallow sigh, wary of the flying sparks. “If you tell me whatever it is you three are, I'll gladly do that.”
“If Whisper doesn't trust you enough to say, then it'll be obvious on where I stand.” His words are a low breath, but they drip with venom. A cold, unwelcoming finish before he walks ahead, falling into step with Bellow. I stay behind, my eyes wandering to the grinding wheels.
It doesn't seem like I'll be striking up a conversation with him any time soon. I worry that Bellow might be as secretive, despite his warm nature. My only hope for answers now would be the one question I can ask Whisper, but what should I ask.
Perhaps asking now would be a waste. For now, I should stay here until business is concluded in the Fifth Section. She never mentioned when we'll be done here, but I should familiarize with this Section. New places come with new opportunity, but these new conversations drill in my head to keep low.
Hopefully I'm not becoming like these three. For people who claim to be making a difference, they are only three people, and two are difficult to speak with.
Right. For now, I'll keep myself useful. With a nod, I quicken my pace, catching up to a spot beside Whisper, who's sitting on the cart with an unreadable gaze. “So, your friend seems, uh, nice.” I whisper to her. A smile cracks across her face, but it disappears quickly.
“Really now?” She gives a glance at the corner of her eye. I shrug, suppressing a laugh.
“No. He's a bastard, actually.”
She hums, nodding in what I can guess is approval. “I'm glad there's someone that can annoy you. For a moment, I was worried.”
I roll my eyes, huffing out fake laughter. The rest of the transfer is silent on my part. The spectacle of cascading sparks steals my attention. It's a warm light, different to the offending white of spotlights. For the first time, there's something inside these metal walls I can call beautiful.