Veils: Under the Panopticon
I push past the door. Before I knew it, I'm back in the loading bay. He said something after, but I couldn't hear anything after knowing what Whisper was hiding from me. All this time, she knew what happened. All this time, she never told me.
That voice, whoever is helping the guards now, is Orion. They took him and used him. The white noise from the speakers doesn't hide his pain. Whatever they're doing to him.
I walk to the shutter gate to pull it open. It won't budge. I trail along the nearby wall for a lever. Anywhere but here. I just want to be anywhere but here.
As I flip a switch, the door behind me swings open, a voice muffled by the slow process of the shutter gate folding upward.
“Hyde,” A bitter taste in my mouth as soon as I recognize the voice. I don't give her the satisfaction of turning around, or even a response. “Where are you going?”
I grit my teeth, silent as the gate opens enough for me to leave. The assaulting noise of dust winds slamming against the metal dome hits my ears, but I keep walking. Behind me are footsteps, desynchronized with mine.
She keeps calling out, but I have none of it. This is much more than keeping things from me. This was a lie. A betrayal. Trust? I knew that her words were suspicious from the start, but it's just another stab in my chest. I trusted her, and for what? Lies and deception.
I step out into the main road, her voice echoing down the deserted gaps between metal. The loudest I've ever heard her voice, but it's just noise. No different to the rolling winds outside.
Before I can walk farther, she yells out. Desperate and rushed. Two words I never would've used to describe anything associated with her.
“Listen to me!”
Is that a joke? I turn around, looking down the alley to meet her eyes. Laughter hisses through gritted teeth. The hypocrisy of those words is too funny, and here I thought she didn't know how to crack jokes. Maybe I was the entertainment all along.
Whisper bites her lip, chewing silent words uncomfortably. I glare, saying nothing. There's nothing to say. On her end, there's everything to say. An explanation, above over things.
“I didn't mean for you to find out this way, Hyde.” A cautious set of words, unapologetic. Even now, she thinks what she did is right.
I click my tongue, disgusted. “Apologizing for your friend back there for spilling your secrets?” I'm breathless, words heavy in anger. No, not anger, but frustration. “You lied to me.”
“It wasn't a lie. I wanted to tell you at a later time.”
“And when was that going to be? After I slave enough tasks for you? Were you going to even tell me?” I ask question after question, having nothing else but a burning desire for an explanation. A reason. Anything. Yet she looks at me with resolute eyes. I hate everything about it.
“When it mattered, I would tell you.” What is that supposed to mean?
“It matters! It matters the very second you knew, because he is my friend.” I jut a finger, walking forward. She glares at the pointed digit, then snaps her eyes back up at me.
“And he isn't my friend, too?” She swats my hand away, her stare hardening. It takes an unknown source of self-control not to walk away. “You don't know how painful it was to find out what happened to him. When the first announcement blared through those speakers and Discourse gave a name.”
Her breath is hasty, her tone forced. A fragile look beneath fiery eyes. “You don't know how terrible it was when I knew.”
“Yes, I don't know,” I snap, my words sharp. Frustration has taken the lead, nothing else matters right now. “Why don't I know? Because you never tell me anything.” I settle my finger on her shoulder, giving a pointed push.
“Why would all of this matter to me?” I all but yell. Her lips part in disbelief. I see a look of hurt cross her face before she evens out into frustration. At least she knows an inkling of what I'm feeling. “If you had told me, then you wouldn't be alone in knowing.”
“I,” Her voice catches, a moment of silence passes before she speaks again. “I wanted you to focus on helping. If I told you two months ago, then-”
“Then you think I would run off and do something stupid, right?” I finish for her, leaving her in a stunned silence. I can't believe this, any of this. Yet, it's right here in front of me. “It was so I could be useful to you and your group?” Her eyes are pleading. Is she remorseful? She lost forgiveness from me the moment she decided to lie.
My question lies unanswered in the space between us. It grows heavy, weighing painfully on my chest. There must be a good explanation why she kept everything from me all this time. “So, it was for your group's benefit that I never knew?”
“That's not it.” The response was so quick I almost believe her. I feel stupid for believing everything she had told me until now. Where did it get me? A Wing far from home and caked in dust. I had a possibility of a peaceful like of working back in the First Section. Not a life I would've dreamed, but it sustained me and those I know. As soon as I did, she walked in and stole me away from all of it.
“Then, what was it, Whisper?” Yelling does this situation no good, but I’ve lost control of my words. I stare her down, watching her string words together. More lies, no doubt. “Was it some self-sacrifice so I stay blissfully unaware while you bear the guilt of knowing?”
She says nothing, but the unwavering glare is enough to tell me I guessed right. So, she did it for me? Am I supposed to feel relived, possibly guilty for becoming angry without reason? I take a deep breath, but difficult emotions still lay heavy.
I open my mouth to speak, but nothing leaves. I'm still angry, but there's nothing for me to accuse. I think what she did was selfish, but what am I supposed to say? She was wrong? I've made that perfectly clear. So, why don't I just leave now? Why do I still want to trust her?
“How long have you known?” I breathe out, the fire blowing out into tired smoke. I stagger to one wall of the alley, leaning against it. The cold metal is soothing, but it accentuates the icy stings on my chest. Still, I feel betrayed, used, and lied to.
I watch her out from the corner of my eye. She walks over, leaning on the wall beside me. I hear her expel a long sigh. Between us is a silence, filled by rattling metal until she speaks. “A week after they took him. The day before you woke up.”
“How did you all find out?” She says nothing. This time, I’ll settle for no compromise. “No lies this time.”
“I never lied to you once, Hyde,” she responds sternly. I raise a brow her way, but she doesn't relent. “Not telling you things is different than lying.”
“Yes, and if you weld treads on me, I would be a cart,” I counter, releasing a short laugh. Her glare narrows and I roll my shoulders. “Fine. No more hiding, sugarcoating, or anything like that.”
Whisper's eyes flicker to the side, and she nods. “The first announcement was different. Now, he sounds restrained, but then he was barely hiding the pain in his voice. It was like listening to torture.”
She crosses arms over herself, staring up at the dim ceiling. “I recognized it was him. How couldn't I? You would've too, in my shoes.” A quiet noise escapes me. Our eyes meet, and the usual deadpan is replaced with an uncharacteristic softness.
“Did you tell them once you found out?” I ask, my voice a careful crawl. She shakes her head, staring across to the wall.
“I reacted strongly. Discourse pieced it together, and I told them all I knew about Orion.”
“What exactly did you say?”
A deliberate glare. She swallows, clearing her throat. “He was everything that the Journalists were looking for. Across all the Outer Wings, Orion fitted their job description.” A somber finality in her words.
“As a Watcher,” I stop, chewing the words on my bottom lip. There's still so much I don't understand. I remember Discourse calling him that. “What does Orion have to do for them?”
Her hair sways gently. “He watches everything. I don't know how. Discourse hasn't told us how it works yet.” So, there are things even she doesn't know. This group truly is full of surprises. “But when you saw those guards know that Defiants were inside that building. That was him.”
I stare, my jaw hangs open in disbelief. Those tales from the hostess were true, after all. If this is true, then the wires might be a way for him to watch over everything. A sickening feeling settles in my stomach at the imagination of what they've done to him. I look over to Whisper, her eyes trained on the blank wall in front of us. Her eyes show a glint of conflict. Two months of hiding this all from me.
I'm still angry, but at the bottom of it sprouts guilt. Maybe I can try to understand why she kept this all from me.
“What does Discourse plan to do?” A vague question. It's all I have left to ask that aren't baseless accusations. Her eyes focus, eyebrows furrowing.
“As you can tell, he expresses pity.”
I laugh, resting my head against the wall. “He expresses something, that's for sure.” An unsteady hum beside me. Someday, I might hear a real laugh from her.
She sighs quietly, rolling her shoulders. “Our plan is the drill and the weapon.”
“What about Orion?” My voice is harsher than intended. She trails her eyes back up at me, a difficult expression on her face.
“They won't kill him as long as he does his work. He's too valuable for him to get rid of. Someone who knows so much and pays attention. Discourse said he isn't the priority right now.”
Orion did pride himself on those two traits. I never would've imagined things to end up this way. I wonder if he was mortified when he was told why they took him. A cruel sense of irony, in that case.
“What do you want to do?” A question I've reserved for last. I watch her carefully. For a moment, she's still, but a grimace plays across her face. With the most expression I've ever seen from her, she turns to me, releasing a tired sigh.
“If I had to guess, the same thing you want to do as soon as you found out.”
I blink at the answer I didn't expect. A knowing look crosses her as she looks at my incredulous expression. “That's why I didn't tell you,” she pauses, looking back up the ceiling. “I usually stop you from doing something stupid. What would've happened if both of us were thinking the same?”
I shrug, looking off to the wall. Laughter bubbles out of my lips. “With both of us? We would've gotten him back at this point.”
“Leave the optimism to Bellow. He has attainable expectations.”
This time, the laughter leaves in full. I see her roll her eyes at the corner of my eye. When I calm down, I turn toward her, evening my breath with a sigh.
“Was it that hard to tell me all that?”
Without hesitation, she nods. “You would've kept walking back to The High Gates only to be shot by guards if I let you keep walking right now.” A fair assumption. Maybe it's a good thing she knows how I think. Deep down, I still detest the secrecy, but I understand why she did. For her sake, and mine.
“Hyde?” I raise a brow quizzically from the call of my name. “What are you going to do now?”
A question I haven't given much thought on. She's right that there's nothing I can do about Orion. At least, for now. Returning home would be a step backward in seeing him again. That leaves me with one option.
I nod to her, kicking off from the wall. “You still need a cart that needs to be fixed. If I help Discourse, I'll get a promise that he'll help us with our situation.”
“What makes you think he'll help us?” To be honest, I'm not sure. I’m not going to tell her that, though. I smile, walking back in the direction of the loading bay.
“If I don't, I'll tell him you have this crazy suicidal plan to get him out,” I look over my shoulder, pointing a thumb at myself. “And that I, his only mechanic, will help you.”
She blinks, giving a blank stare. Then, she shakes her head in disbelieving, but amused surprise. “You sure sell yourself high now huh, Hyde?” A challenging look. I chuckle, looking back ahead.
“Not particularly, but I was thinking that he'll want to keep you alive.”
A silence falls between us. Unlike before, it's comfortable. It's welcoming, as it gives me time to sort my thoughts. I always knew Orion is still alive, but not like this. Used by the guards for God knows what. From what Whisper admitted, she doesn't know what how he's being used other than that he's something they call The Watcher. A person that watches everything for the guards.
What am I supposed to do now? Continuing to help Whisper and his group of Defiants seems like the slow, but gradual step forward, but how long will that take? If they had to replace the previous Watcher, who knows until they'll need to replace Orion.
We move under the shutter gate, closing it behind us. I move through the door and back down the dark hall. Whisper matches her steps with mine, a singular set of echoes reverberating down the cold metal.
“You really need to stop doing that. I'm going to think you disappeared somewhere again.” I mutter behind me. I guess some things never change.
An amused hum behind me. After a moment, a soft nudge at the back of my shoulder. “I'm still here.”
I stop at the door, shooting a look her way. “I'll give you until tomorrow before you vanish somewhere for a few days.”
“And leave you unsupervised? Not a chance.”
I laugh, pushing the doors open. On the other side of the room are Discourse, Bellow, and Mutter. They surround the table, leather sheets rolled across its surface. We walk over, Bellow waving us over with a wide smile.
“Ah, You came back.” At least he's happy. Mutter looks my way with unwelcoming eyes, Discourse maintains a neutral look, but a soft smile plasters across.
“I'm sorry for the sudden news, Hyde. But, I'm glad you're back with us.” That's not entirely true, but I won't spoil the happy mood. I look down at the table, tracing my eyes along the embedded markings on the leather.
I move closer, hands on the table. “I decided this is the best place to be right now. So, what's all this?”
Discourse smiles, looking to my direction, gesturing widely to the table. “Our plan for the drill.”
I glance down, admiring the intricacy. Drawings, lettering, and symbols all over the surface of the leather sheet. “Another voice made this, not me.” A good joke. Nobody laughs, so I mumble out a soft chuckle to acknowledge the humor
“Quarry says the metal will be ready in a month's time. After that, it's back to Wing Five's smelting.” Bellow explains to him with hearty enthusiasm. I raise a brow, looking away from the plan.
“How long is that going to take?” I ask, pushing off the table. Mutter looks at me, his answer a quick snap.
“Two months, at most. If we're fast, it won't be for that long.” I blink in surprise. That long? I remember the mass of metal that was his drill. How long have they been planning this? My eyes trail to Whisper, who answers my unspoken question with a quick nod.
I look back at Discourse, chewing my next words on my lip. There's no other direction for me if I want to help Orion. Even if I die trying, I can rest easy with a clear conscious. I hold back a laugh. Since when did I become so poetic?
“How can I help out?”
A smile stretches across his face, joy narrowing his white stare. “Look at the plan yourself. Mutter, tell him what he needs to do.” His hands trace the edges of the leather sheet, gripping and spinning it around for me to see clearly. I hear a disgruntled sigh somewhere in the room, likely to be Mutter. I wonder how long he's been here?
With reluctance, he moves past Bellow to the edge of the table, tracing the markings with his finger. “For now, we'll be in preparation,” his hand trails along. The entire drawing makes sense when he stops. This is a plan of this place. What did he call it? The Panopticon.
A crude drawing of six pentagons stemming from a circle. Descriptions alongside each pentagon, but nothing inside the circle. I lean over, reading over the texts. These must be the Outer Wings.
The more I make sense of the plan, the more constricting the air becomes. If this is all there is behind these high metal walls, I'd rather preserve my disbelief and wonder. If Whisper tried to keep me blissfully unaware of Orion, I can at least keep myself unaware of this limited world.
“We have carts that needs to be fixed in Wing Six-”
“That's where I come in, I'm guessing?” I cut in, confident in my assumption. He leers up at me, grumbling quietly before looking back down.
“Yes. That will be your task during the preparation.” I quit a life working with carts for a life working with carts. This time, it might get my limbs blown off. At least I'd be filling Cass' expectations of me working something exciting.
I nod, tapping my finger near the spot he pointed to. “How long is this going to take?” I'm met with a hard glare. His eyes narrow, drawing his arm away. I raise hands to my face, backing away. “I'll do it as quick as I can, don't you worry.”
Discourse nods, his hands settling on the table's edge. “Whisper, you'll go to Wing One. No more than a week, find sellers for green Substitute. Oh, and don't eat all of it.”
Wing One? I flicker my eyes to the plan, then to Whisper, who rolls her eyes, crossing her arms together. “I can do that. One of those.” Discourse moves over to Bellow's direction, pointing down to the door.
“Bellow, you said that Quarry is still willing to help?”
He nods, pumping his chest out. “Right! For food, but that was his only demand.” So that's where the green Substitute comes into the plan. Those moist balls of slime would be a delicacy here where the air is dry and keeping your throat wet is a survival requirement.
Discourse says nothing else, only a resolute clap. That brings me to another wonder, one I ask aloud. “Are there more of you here?”
All eyes turn to me. Did I ask something I shouldn't have? He looks my way, an intense stare with vacant eyes. “There are Voices here, there are Voices now, and there will always be Voices.” I blink. What does that mean?
“I don't follow?” He seeps in a breath to speak, but the rest begin walking away. Even Whisper, who just said she would be around five minutes ago.
“Sit, Hyde. If you are to know more, it will take a while.” He explains in an exalted voice. I understand why they left now, but I peer over my shoulder to see them filing out the room. I look back to find Discourse pulling out a chair beneath the table, sitting down. He gestures for me to do the same.
The dull ring of the door closing shut echoes into silence. At this point, I can't quietly leave the room even if I try. Also, I don't think he's actually blind.
I sigh, reaching for a chair. I sit, looking at him as I prepare for the worst. “I'm all ears.”
He gives a smile, clasping his hand together. “Good. Now let me begin.”