Chapter 18:

Into the Panopticon

Veils: Under the Panopticon

I suggested we stopped at the side of the road to rest in between the days but it was quickly shot down. Apparently, the guards see any activity other than walking in The Partition as suspicious or a threat. As much as it sucks walking for two whole days, I'd choose it over getting a bullet in my head.

According to Whisper, executions are more common than a dismembering reprimand. With how close Workers are to the Inner Wings, they take no chances.

In those two days, conversation became scarce over on my end, as well as theirs. With the lighted structure, there was never a sense of security with its bright lights dancing along the empty floors. It was exposing, and my hands were starting to bruise from knocking against the metal so much.

So, I kept myself busy by looking at Workers that pass by us. A similarity among them was the light brown powder covering their clothes. It reminds me of the rust in the Second Section, but this was a far shade from the dried orange. I tried asking, but to little reply.

I look behind me, seeing the lighted structure a distance away. I keep myself distracted so my mind doesn't focus on my aching feet. I'm tempted to tie myself to the back of the cart and let it drag me. No man should be able to walk this far for so long.

“Ah, we're here.” Bellow's sudden words brought me out of my thoughts of becoming cargo. I look ahead, then upwards at the slit on the wall coming into view. Brown smoke obscures my view past The High Gates, seeping through into the empty space of The Partition.

“What is that?” I ask as we continue entering into the cloud. It prickles at my eyes, causing me to shut them tight. I groan out in pain rubbing at the pain.

“Dust from rocks in the mines,” he answers with a nostalgic cheer. I hear clothes rustling while I blink away the pain. “Use your eyewear. When we get through, I'll lend you better ones!”

Sounds good-” I breath in dust, drying my throat and leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. I cough it out, searching my pockets for the eyewear. “How do you breathe in here?” I bite out, spitting as I wear the protection over my eyes. The air tastes heavy of dirt, my mouth covered in grainy substance.

“Slowly, painfully. However you can,” Mutter chimes in. I see him put on his eyewear along with a mask to cover his nose and mouth. “No life in the Outer Wings are easy. In here, we all suffer.”

I roll my eyes, wearing up the mask settled on my collar. “Have you considered writing a book? Your poetic words are very moving.”

He shakes his head, looking past his shoulder to me. “I hear you tend to destroy hard written work, so I won't bother.”

Oh, he didn't. A smile somehow plays up my face. Perhaps I've been looking for a reason to send him toward the floor. Before I could say anything, Whisper snaps at us to be quiet, nodding to the gates.

“Bicker when we're inside. For now, shut up.” She sighs exasperatedly, a gesture I agree with. At this point, I'd rather learn how to build the drill so we can drop him off somewhere and forget. It'll be a suggestion for later, but right now I walk close to the cart, keeping my wandering glare in check.

White lights pierce the choking clouds. Under its thin sheet, I see silhouettes. Some stopped, some disappearing further. I look back ahead, a large figure emerging from the shroud.

“Stop,” a guard holds a hand up, standing in the way. The cart slows to a stop, I hear the tread creak painfully. After the two days of working, it won't hold out for much longer. “Present your tag, Worker.”

Whisper nods, producing the item from her inner pocket and showing it to the guard. He takes the tag, inspecting silently. Brought up close against the tint of his helmet. A single nod, and he steps aside. “Proceed,” he walks off, disappearing back into a silhouette with a yell. “Let this one through.”

The cart begins moving, the three of us walking beside it through the gates. Sight through the thick eyewear worsens as we enter into the Wing. I squint, looking up. Lights barely shine through the dirt clouds, its path visible as it continues on its perpetual patrol. Around me are noises, chimes, and engines all obscured in the thick cover. I keep my hand on the cart as I walk.

Short, shallow breaths seem to be optimal in this environment. Any deeper and my mouth dries from the dirt. I keep my tongue moving to produce more spit, lathering my throat. The dryness is irritating, unlike the soothing dry of boiler steam.

“Still alive?” Whisper's voice ahead of me. I look over, seeing her silhouette. She's received a certain joy from asking me that question every few hours during the walk through The Partition. It's not at all caring, and very much biting.

“Sometimes I want to answer no.” I shoot back, my words hasty to not allow my throat to dry. I hear a subdued laugh and I turn to find the source.

“Keep your throat wet, Hyde. The dirt can choke you.” Bellow sends quick advice, his own words rushed, likely to keep the dirt out his mouth. I look overhead, the swaying shadows of wires contrast with the blurred spotlights. We enter Wing Four. From what Bellow has told me about it, a Wing specializing in mining and refining of metal.

With nothing visible ahead in the road, I keep my eyes on the cart. Thrashing winds threaten to rip the cloth off the drill. Why is the wind so energetic here? Looking around does me no good, and if I open my mouth I might just die. I'll bring it up later.

Faint, but constant rattling from dust whipping against metal walls. The cart begins a slight turn to the right, a subtle difference I otherwise would've missed if I haven’t been remembering every detail of this cart for the past two days. Objects to keep me distracted were scarce in that vast emptiness. I'm glad I didn't go insane from counting the scratch marks.

“So, where's our stop?” I ask aloud, cupping a hand over my mouth to block the sharp wind.

“To meet with the others,” an excited yell. Bellow seems to be the only one keen to answer my questions. I guess he's the most comfortable with the air since he lives in this Wing. “An hour until we're there, at best.”

“Good, because I'm just about to get blown away back here.” I cough out trace grains of dirt. He laughs loudly.

“You'll get used to it.” An optimistic thought, but I'd rather I don't, as nice this place seems to be. Whisper and Mutter are silent, their backs faced to me. An understandable stance, the taste of dirt is not my favorite as well.

We continue our walk. I check the treads of the cart, its sprockets less fluid at every passing moment. Mutter's makeshift treads lacked oil to keep it slick, and the dirt clouds aren't helping. Working on carts in the middle of the road is frowned upon by all Workers, so I hope it holds out until the destination. After that, it can explode if it wants.

I turn my collar up in the hope to block the wind hitting my neck. A dull, but irritating and constant sting. I try to ignore it, this time listening to the ugly noises of the engine instead of counting the worn marks on the metal. So far, my first walk in this new Wing hasn't been all bad. No Defiants at every corner, and there are no guards to be found. Though, that may be due to the thick cloud of dust obscuring everything.

Half an hour passes, and we approach a wall. Not all that high, but a tunnel gives way to the road. As we enter, my ears are assaulted by the constant noise of winds thrashing against the metal exterior. Away from the clouds, my vision clears, landing on rectangular structures, presumably houses. I see Workers covered in brown dust enter, turning away at alleys out of sight.

I look down at myself. Completely covered. I hope I can pat this out like soot.

“What is this place?” Without the threat of my mouth assaulted by dirt, I speak freely. Bellow slows his pace to step beside me, removing his mask. He wears goggles over his eyes. Wider than my eyewear, but the glass is thinner. Used to only keep the dirt out, I'm guessing.

“This is Section Three of Wing Four,” he explains, looking around with a look of nostalgia. “This is where the metal gets smelted. The next Section is where they draw fuel from deep below.”

I look around as he talks noticing flickers of light between closing doors. I notice pipes run along the side of the buildings, snaking up the walls.

Bellow must've seen my eyes follow them, because he answers before I can ask. “It pipes smoke outside. We'll choke in here otherwise.” I nod in understanding. A smart design. So, they stay under here, away from the dust clouds. There are worse fates.

“Is this where your friends are?” He nods. Whisper turns around, meeting my gaze. For the past two days, I can count the amount of times I've seen her face with one hand. If that hand was missing two fingers.

“The constant noise makes it hard for them to listen.” I look up, readjusting my hearing to listen. A constant crash of metal. A drowning annoyance. I see now.

A clever choice to instigate Defiant plans. If they chose this place in particular, I can't help but imagine what the other Wings are like.

“Bring the drill to the cargo wall. I have matters to attend to.” Mutter snaps, then steps off into a corner, disappearing. I raise a brow, whipping my gaze to Whisper and Bellow. No reaction, not even a word.

“We have things to do, Hyde.” She says, her eyes trained on the road ahead. It was a sudden departure. Not even a warning.

“Do you know where he's going?” I see Bellow shake his head, turning to look at me.

“We don't. We only know what we need to do. For example, I don't know about you or what Whisper was doing until you showed up two months ago.” He explains with a sure tone. I remain skeptical.

“How does that work?”

“We tell each other what we need to know, if it helps.”

I fail to wrap my head around this logic. Isn't that just a type of blind trust? Walking around with people you're not sure of their intentions? Can there be an association with so much left in the dark? Unlikely.

“Then, how will you know who to include or to avoid?” Come to think of it, wasn't it a risk keeping me with them at the start? Killing me is impossible, so eventually they would've let me go. What then? Why did they keep me around, even with my skills as a mechanic?

“Are you talking about yourself?” Bellow hits the bullseye with his question. My breath halts for a moment, but I nod, exhaling slowly. He spares no hesitation. “Whisper trusted you enough. She'd do the same for whoever I'd bring.”

I stare, wide-eyed at the explanation. My eyes flicker to Whisper. She remains faced ahead. Is that how everything is held together? A blind trust with every decision?

“Blindly trusting each other?” I ask. He nods, saying nothing else. I swallow thickly, wetting my throat. “Isn't that risky?”

“Too many questions,” Whisper interjects. The cart turns at a corner, both of us following behind it. A tight alley between structures. “Remember what I asked you before we entered the Fifth Section, Hyde?”

I laugh. I'm surprised she still remembers. “No stupid questions, I know.” I wouldn't consider inquiries about the trust of their group as stupid questions though. Well, to each their own.

The alley opens to a small square space. Buildings make up the edges, one of them resembles an unloading wall of the boilers. She steers the cart in that direction, the engine huffing to a loud stop when it finally shuts off, arriving at its destination. I pat the worn metal in congratulations.

“Shut the door, Bellow.” Whisper says, getting off the driver's seat. She stretches, and I fall on my ass, groaning at the throbbing pain in my legs.

“I just realized you've been sitting down the entire way.” I huff out, the exhaustion catching up. Metal creaks loudly as Bellow pulls the doors down, plunging the room into darkness. I hear footsteps heading farther in the wide space, and dim lights flicker on. Whisper stands on the wall opposite of the door, her hand moving off from a switch.

“You could've asked to swap.” She remarks, walking back. With the numb feeling in my legs, I can only glare up at her, staring at the disbelieving words that left her mouth.

“Excuse me?” I gesture behind me, representing the two entire days of walking. “You didn't offer that option back then.”

She shrugs, looking away. “You never asked about it.” A smug deadpan. Sometimes, I wish I didn't learn more about her to discern the subtle differences.

“We're here now, Hyde. Pat yourself on the back,” Bellow steps behind me, laughing heartily as he attempts to dislocate my shoulder with congratulatory pats. “Give him five minutes to sit down, Whisper. Then you bring him to listen to Discourse together.”

“What?” I hiss out the question, rolling my aching shoulder. He says nothing as he walks to a dark instance in the room, opening a door and leaving through. I didn't notice that was there.

The slam of metal reverberates, highlighting the emptiness of the room. I sigh, collecting my breath. “What's the discourse?”

I turn my eyes up at Whisper, she watches me with an unreadable expression. “Too many questions.”

“Not that question, too?” A silent glare. I hold my hands over my head. “Fine, I'll find out, probably. Trust and all that, right?”

“If you say it like that, it's almost like you don't trust me.” She counters with a light tone. If I'm right, it's her own version of a laugh. What hurt this woman for her to subdue all her emotions?

I shrug, relaxing myself on the floor, waving my feet. The boots are heavy, and I quickly stop. “Hey, I'm not too sold on it. I'd like to know what I'm getting into.”

“Are you saying we don't?”

“Beats me, Whisper.” I bend my knees, preparing to stand up. They feel light, and my lower half is heavy. I heave myself up, then grunt as I'm sent back to the floor. “How can those two still walk? Bellow I can understand, but it surprised me Mutter didn't get blown away by the wind back there.”

A short hum. She walks over, offering a hand towards me. “They haven't been sitting on their ass for years, that's why.” I roll my eyes, taking her hand and pushing myself back onto my feet. With her pulling, I get back up, somehow still standing.

“Okay, so where to now?” I ask, looking down to her. She points to the door Bellow went through and begins walking. I follow behind. “No last-minute warning I should know about?”

She shakes her head, opening the door. “Just remember the ones I told you.”

Easy enough, I guess. We walk out, entering a windowless hallway, a slit of light at the end. Is this where I'll meet the other Defiants? Basing off the three's names, I feel a certain naming scheme is at work. Maybe I'll meet someone called 'yell.' I wonder if whoever is called that can only speak with raised voices.

We reach the door, standing in front. She shoots a quick look, then pushes it open.

“Ah, a new sound,” a loud, soothing voice echoes from inside the room. I step through, Whisper closing the door behind us. “Tell me all about yourself.”

A spacious room. Enough to fit a dozen without much issue. Orange lamps embedded in steel walls. Not a single window, but the corners and edges are adorned with boards, shelves, and cabinets. All the way across is a long desk stretching through the middle. I walk to the nearest end, at the other stands a man, staring off into nothing.

Beside him is Bellow. I'm guessing the were holding a conversation until we walked in. Probably talking about the drill, along with my existence, it seems.

I walk further in the room, stepping closer to them both. As I do, I notice more features of the man. Lines trace his face, but he looks no more than ten years older than me. What catches my attention, though, is his eyes. Completely white, but not from old age. The skin at his temples are replaced with wires, but they connect to nowhere. “You already have a name?” He looks at me, specifically, at my direction.

I swallow, pushing out a quieter tone than normal. “Hyde. I'm from Wing Five.” Was that too much information? Probably not, and I'm sure Bellow has filled him in on everything about me.

He bows a curt nod, joining his hands in front of him, the thumb bouncing on a palm. “I'm glad there's more who wish to see days of brighter steel.” There's that phrase again. I wonder if that's their slogan or motto.

His hands stop. I meet his eyes. They're blank, but I feel his focused stare. “I hope Whisper, Bellow, and Mutter has kept you intrigued enough to join The Voices.”

I quirk a brow, leaning an arm against the table, my legs still light. “The Voices?” He nods, flashing a soft smile.

“That is us. Those three, and the others, are all voices in these walls.” His words leave a warmth, leaving me wanting to hear more.

“And, what do they call you?”

“The center of all The Voices. They call me Discourse.” I stare. I knew it. There is a theme to their names. Of course there is.

“Discourse?” I repeat, to confirm. A curt nod. Collecting a breath, I nod as well.

“It's uh, a very nice name.” Bellow laughs at my comment and I hear a tired sigh behind me. I see his smile grow a tad wider, his thumbs bouncing on his palm again.

“The first time I've ever heard a compliment about what I'm called,” he says, facing away to Bellow's direction. “If you're here to join us, it will certainly be an interesting addition.

“Do I have to change my name into some voice, too?” Whisper walks past me, bumping my shoulder on the way. She shoots a quiet glare. “What? It's an actual question.”

“A stupid question.” She snaps, quiet, but sharp.

“Whisper, why have you been keeping this one from us for so long?” Discourse laughs, a noise smooth like water. She shrugs, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Too loud. Besides, he was busy running around striking deals with idiots.” A strong point, but I'd like to think I would've joined if I was asked.

“I take it that he's not the prospect you wanted?” He raises a brow, I do the same, all landing on Whisper. She darts her eyes away, taking a step back. An action I've never seen from her.

“No. He's not,” a response through gritted teeth. She breaths a short sigh, then continues. “But he's what we need for a mechanic.”

He claps his hands, a look of satisfaction on his face. It's odd too see how expressive one can be even with vacant eyes. “And not a moment too soon! You can keep the name Hyde if you wish. It's a good one.”

I hum. I can't shrug, because he won't be able to see. “Thanks, I'm quite used to it,” Wait, why is this conversation so lightweight? I shake my head, focusing on the warm look in the blank white. “Actually, I'm not here to join. I said I would help, but-”

He cocks his head to the side, showing a curious face. “Aren't you here to retrieve what's yours?” A harmless question, but I'm utterly confused. “That's why Whisper finally brought you here, isn't it?”

“Discourse, I haven't told him yet!” Whisper shouts, the room falling silent. I stare at her, utterly shocked. She shares the same look.

“Haven't told me what?” My voice was quiet, barely reaching my own ears. She bites her lip, a conflicted look on her face. It doesn't meld with her deadpan, it's almost a raw emotion. I collect my voice, trying again. “Whisper, what haven't you told me?” A sharper tone. I try to ignore the desperation lacing it.

Before she could answer, a metal box crackles to life on the table. All eyes gather on it. It resembles the speakers on the walls. Discourse walks over, leaning over toward the machine. His eyes close quietly, the white noise dissipating behind a strained voice.

“Section Four. Wing Three. Creation of contraband will be met with reprimand,” It's the same voice from the announcements overhead. A familiar tone that claws at my head, but I don't know why. “Surrender all offenders and contraband immediately. Or face lockdown.”

The voice fades out into white noise. After a few seconds, the radio shuts off, plunging the room into a tense silence. My eyes flicker around. A curious look from Bellow, a quiet understanding from Discourse, and an angry glare from Whisper.

She meets my eyes and I stare back. “What are you not telling me?” I yell out, frustrated. Her lips are a hard line, no noise leaving through, but her eyes glint with a new emotion. Regret.

I tear my gaze away, looking to the middle of the room. “What's she talking about? Tell me.” I point at him. A futile gesture, but I don't care. Whisper tries to speak up, but nothing leaves through.

Discourse looks at my direction, his hands falling still. “I see why you didn't tell him,” he moves his gaze to Whisper, then settles back on me. There better be no more secrets, or else he's going to lose more than just his sight.

“She told about the incident of Wing Five. Someone she knew taken by the guards.” I hate how his voice is dampening my anger, but I keep quiet, letting his continue. “She shared her fears on the matter, but I never thought it would be real.”

“Stop, don't-”

I put a hand up over her, cutting her off. “You. Shut up,” I spare her look of surprise only a second before facing back at him. “And you, cut straight to it. What isn't she telling me?” My persistence stokes the flames in my voice. He blinks, his expression shifting to a look of pity.

His next words tell me why.

“The voice tied to the metal walls. The Watcher of the Panopticon. Whisper's friend, and yours.”

A silence. A momentary, painless silence before the realization.

“Orion. He is their new Watcher.”