Chapter 16:

One Question

Veils: Under the Panopticon

I stare up at the ceiling, shifting on the bed. The air is stagnant, the chimes of hammers muffled behind walls. Transferring the drill proved to be no issue with the cart carrying the weight. They dropped it off at a smaller, yet spacious warehouse adjacent to a forge. Open fires were the only source of light, even the spotlights barely reached.

It was secure, as far as I could tell, and Bellow showed his gratitude by guiding us to open rooms to stay in. If nearly blowing myself up gets me free accommodations, I might consider doing it for work.

I stretch, cringing at the dull aches all over my body. Whisper is staying in the next room, leaving me to myself. At least, I can think about everything that’s happened to me today. To start, I’m now associating with Defiants, and they all have terrible names. Another, I left my work in the First Section just after starting. I left a notice on the worktable for them to see, but I’m sure I won’t be welcomed back warmly.

What happens now? If I fix the cart, will Whisper send me back and disappear with the other two? Bellow seems open and welcoming, but Mutter doesn’t look keen to be anywhere near me. Specifically, his drill near me.

If it wasn’t for me, they’d be spending days disassembling that massive drill before they can transfer it. If he continues to be difficult, then so will my cooperation. It’s not everyday someone smart works with Defiants.

My thoughts continue to clutter, and I stand up. I can’t quite take a walk outside. The roads are unfamiliar, and the sparks turn every shadowy corner into a dazzling light show. They’re nice to look at, but without eyewear, they’d be the last thing I’ll ever look at.

I throw on my coat, smoothing down the hardened folds on worn leather. I walk to the door, checking back inside before stepping out. I still have that question I want to ask Whisper, and we’re alone. Right now, it feels like the best time. That is, if she’s in the room.

There are many things I use to describe her. ‘Stayed put’ is not one of them. Still, I try my luck, knocking on the door.

“It’s Hyde.” I say against the metal. I look down at the slit of light beneath. A shadow shifts inside, then stops.

“What do you want?” Surprisingly, an answer. I swallow, stepping back from the door.

“I’ll have you answer my one question now, Whisper.” I say, then silence settles. The shadow remains unmoving for a few seconds, but the door swings open, revealing Whisper.

“It better be a good one.”

“Like what you said, no stupid questions from me.” I shrug. She walks back inside, leaving the door open for me to follow. It clicks shut behind me as I survey the room. It’s almost a carbon copy of my own, but there’s an extra shelf in one of the walls, filled completely with covered metal boxes. She must have had this room for a while to warrant her own furniture. Is this where she lives?

My eyes follow her. She sits on the edge of the bed, meeting my gaze. “What?”

I shake my head, walking further inside. “Nothing. It’s weird to find out you have something you come back to,” I gesture at the shelves. “I always thought you were some sort of nomad.”

“Is that your question?” She asks flatly, rolling her eyes.

Laughter escapes me. I stifle it quickly. “No, because that would be a stupid question.” She sighs, looking away to the wall in front.

“Then, what’s your question, Hyde?”

Her expression is almost unreadable, but I notice hesitation in her eyes. There’s a question she won’t like to answer, but which one is it. I pace around the room, my steps echoing in the silence. “Ever since I discovered where you’ve been all this time, something’s on my mind.” I watch her as I speak, careful to find any cracks in her monotone.

“I bet you’re confused. That’s why I’m allowing this one question.” She responds calmly, coldly. Her tone is uninviting, but not harsh.

“Untrusting to only allow as little information as possible, then.”

She shakes her head, looking up at me. “It isn’t that. Like I said, sometimes it’s better not knowing.”

I cross my arms, staring her down. “It’d be difficult to support a cause you don’t know, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I’m not asking you to join us. You’re here to get the engines working.”

I bark out in laughter, leaning against the wall in front of her. “You and I both know it’s too late to walk away,” She snaps her gaze, her lips parted. “If guards can know about everything here, then they’d come for me eventually.”

Whisper sucks in a breath, clenching her teeth in silence. Her glare is icy, but it all tells me that she agrees. I raise a brow, and a breath pools out from her lips.

“You still haven’t asked anything yet.” She pushes out from gritted teeth. I kick off the wall, taking single steps toward her.

“I’m about to, don’t worry.” I wet my lips, talking leaving them dry, but I’m almost done. I’m not certain this is the question she’ll regret to hear, but right now, this is the best question I can ask her. For the sake of knowing more and deciding what to do from now on.

“Whisper, what’s your plan for the drill?” Her eyes widen, staring at me for a moment. Then, she breathes out slowly, looking relived. Damn, it looks like I asked the wrong question.

“What do you intend to do with the information?”

“Ah,” I point a finger, shaking my head. “That’s up to me. But I won’t be gossiping it around the Sections.” She swats my hand away, staring intensely. When I don’t look away, she nods, collecting a breath.

“When the winter passes, we’re carrying it to Wing Four.” She stands up, walking to the shelf. She picks up a container, then stands beside a grated window. When she continues, she drags the metal along the bars, producing a rhythmic noise that nearly drowns her words.

I hold up a hand to tell make her stop. “What are you doing?” She turns her eyes up to the ceiling before looking back at me. I don't understand what she's getting at. “What?”

“So that people don't listen, Hyde.” Her voice is barely above the clang of hollow metal, but I see what she's trying to do. A deterrence against the guards. She doesn't know how they watch or listen, so any little interference is worth trying. It's smart, but it makes the conversation ahead painful. “We need fuel to make the drill run stronger. One of their Sections makes fuel. We have more people there.”

I try to drown out the noise as I step closer. This way, I can hear somewhat better, but the proximity lets me take in every detail of her striking the bars. “Fuel? And what's after that?”

She pauses for a moment, but her hands continue to move. The room fills with nothing but rhythmic clanging before she answers. “We're drilling into the Inner Wing. The one closest to Wing Four.”

I stare wide-eyed. She doesn't say anything else, only watching the disbelief on my face. More questions fill my mind. There is a place called the Inner Wing? Well, they call this place the Outer Wings, so it would make sense, and the guards must come from somewhere. But what is in there? What lies beyond The High Gates?

“Why? What's in there?” I finally ask, finding a voice amidst surprised breath. Her movements stop and her lips form a hard line, mulling silently in thought.

“You can't tell me all that and stop now, Whisper.” I take the container from her hand. Before I hear her complain, I start running it along the bars, plunging the room into noise. I glare down, waiting for her to speak. If she won't, this empty can is going to bang somewhere else.

“We've heard that beyond that part of the Inner Wing is a vehicle manufactory. Where they make carts, among other things,” she looks down. I lean closer, picking out the soft tones in the middle of clanging steel. “They're making a weapon. One on treads.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’re not sure, but there are carts leaving Wing Four. All filled with smelted metal. Before that, Workers from this Section have been taken. More than a year ago, we've heard they secured a mechanic.” She swallows thickly, her throat likely to be dry from speaking. Meanwhile, I try to process everything she's said. A weapon but on treads? My imagination can't paint a clear picture, but it's similar to the drill being carried earlier. Something that large in the hands of guards? A terrifying thought.

Wait, she mentioned a mechanic. A few years back, my mentor disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Everyone chalked it up that he left to find better work, but I was never sold on it, despite the fact the boilers aren’t someone's dream. It paid well, and there wasn't much to do. Until now, I always speculated, but now, with what she said, I'm sure of what happened to him.

“How long do you think the weapon will be ready?” I ask, my hand tiring from dragging the container along the bars. She shakes her head, her arms crossed.

“We don't know, but the deliveries have been growing smaller. Soon. Perhaps it'll be finished in the next half a year,” she answers in a speculative tone. So far, I now know that there are more than just three of them on this plan. They have more information of the outside than I had thought.

“Before that, you will all try to destroy, possibly even steal the weapon before they finish?” She nods to my question. It's outrageous, but this extreme seems possible with them. Whoever they are.

I look at her, chewing the words on my bottom lip. “What are they going to use the weapon for?” I see no reason for it to exist. To keep us in line? We can't even hurt them without weapons of our own. As far as the Workers are concerned, the only way to take one guard down is through a suicidal act with fire material.

Whisper steps away, turning her gaze away. “That's too many questions, Hyde.”

She's joking. After all of that, she shuts up now? The can slips out of my grasp, dropping to the floor. It's the only noise between us. I seep in a breath, desperate to stay calm. “Look, Whisper. You've got to tell me more than this.”

“No,” a harsh voice. She walks to the edge of the bed, sitting down. The metal frame is quiet under her light weight. “It's all you need to know for now.”

“What does that mean?” I counter, my voice harder than intended. She glares quietly. I refuse to look away. “Is it so bad for me to know more? Is it distrust that I'll do something stupid once I find out?”

She nods, sparing no hesitation. “That's exactly right.”

I'm not sure what's restraining me from punching her right here and now. Whatever the reason may be, it allows me to take a calming breath, relaxing my fists. “Whisper, look. What do you want from me?” At my wits' end, I throw the question out. Hopefully she answers with something, anything at this point.

“To cooperate and not ask stupid questions, Hyde.” Her tone never shifted from her usual gray. I watch her expression, seeing nothing but a flat look.

“Would helping more give you enough trust to tell me more?” I sigh out, exasperated. After this, whatever happens, I'm going to sleep. Her glance trails to the corner and she hums quietly in thought. It isn’t for long, and her eyes are on mine once more.

“Eventually, yes.”

At least, some progress. Even if 'eventually' can be at any time. A vague answer is at least better than no answer. I nod slowly. There's only one path I can take to reach that eventual trust. I remember her mentioning the risks of following her here. This must be it.

“You three will leave when winter passes, right?” I step away, walking to the door. I kick the empty container on the floor, producing a hollow chime.

“The soonest we can, but yes. What's your plan?”

I stop, bending down to pick up the can. I return to the window, softly trailing it against the window bars. “Get more answers from you,” I find her gaze at the corner of my eye. “Right now, that means helping you carry the drill to Wing Four.”

Surprise cracks at the perpetual deadpan. I smile, returning my eyes to faint sparks out this grated slit in the wall.

“What if we won't let you?” She asks, her words hissed through a hard line. I hum a laugh, watching the container.

“It was luck that made that cart not explode earlier. You still need someone to do checks during the trip, Whisper. From the looks of things, Mutter isn't going to cut it.” This must be what it feels like to be one of the Journalists. Confidence lacing your words, knowing you'll come out on top no matter the outcome. It's disgusting, but the feeling is elating.

I turn around, meeting her heated glare. I roll my shoulders, hands stopping. “So, what do you say?” She clicks her tongue, looking away. Frustration is visible in her face. These emotions are rare to see.

“I'll tell you more information when you need it. Nothing more.” A compromise. From what I can see, she won't budge any more than this.

“That's fine. But if you keep anything more from me, I'll turn that cart into a portable boiler.” I finish with a sharp breath. She growls under her own, but nods. “Good. Well, being blown back to the floor has made me tired. I'll turn in for the day.” I begin walking to the door, passing by her on the way.

“I won't wake you up,” She calls out as I open the door. Looking over my shoulder, she's stood back up. “Don't oversleep.”

“Alternatively, you can wait for me.” A deathly stare. I raise my hands up, stepping out of the room. “Fine. I'll be up and early, chief.” I close the door, expelling a long sigh as I step back. That conversation took a lot out of me, and the longest I've ever had with her. I should keep a page to track our progress with conversations.

Joking aside, I've learned more from her group. True to her word, they are more organized than any group of Defiants I had come across. Those who share their plans were shallow in comparison to this. How long have they been planning?

A question for another day. I walk back to my room, noticing the fewer sparks outside. Work hours are finishing, the distant hammering will soon grow quiet. It's what symbolizes the day's end. Spotlights are always on, always wandering the main roads, but at least they grant us a few hours of respite. To rest, recover, and for others, scheme.

I open the door, walking inside the quietness, metal thudding shut behind me. I look outside the window, high to see the wires running overhead. I haven't given it much thought, but the guards' ability to find planning Defiants is through those wires. They're too high up to reach, so no one knows the material, or where they lead to. There isn't a pattern either, as they connect at random hooks on walls, buildings, walkway and spires.

Stepping away, I lay down on the bed, listening to the creaking underneath. They're all my own speculations, and I'm sure if I tell any of this to Whisper, she won't say anything else. I guess you must keep everything you have close, even information.

I'm no different, now that I think about it. I kept my knowledge of fixing carts in order to keep myself around. There's no guilt on my part. If she'll keep her secrets, I'll keep mine. In an ideal world, there wouldn't be a need to high, but ideal is synonymous to impossible in these walls. Surviving for tomorrow is as ideal as it can get. Whisper, Bellow, and Mutter are likely against this way of thinking. Defiants usually are.

Well, whether or not I support their cause doesn't matter. Right now, I want answers. I try to find a reason why I want to know, but there is none. I guess it's a curious hunger, or the desire to prove Whisper wrong.

I stare up the ceiling, the noises beyond the room growing quiet. With it, my eyes grow heavy, consciousness slipping away. Once I get my answer, what then? Will I be satisfied?

Sleep takes me before I finish that thought. The dull pain of today subside into the darkness along with my vision. I can always worry about it tomorrow.