Veils: Under the Panopticon
Four days pass and Discourse’s fervent speech of his cause still rings familiar in my ears. I was in that room for hours, my sense of time muddled by continuous surges of enthusiasm and hope.
It wasn’t all bad. By the end, I’m refreshed with his outlook on life. Not supportive, but I can respect a person’s perspective, if they’re well-founded. I guess that’s why I’m beginning to see them as more than just simple Defiants. Same category, but at the least, they’re more idealistic, more organized.
I spent a day to collect myself and settle in Wing Four. Its Third Section, despite limited to that metal dome, housed plenty of rectangular buildings all servicing as smelters, material storages, and even housing. I didn’t get time to familiarize myself with the Section. By the next day, I fixed the cart’s treads with spare materials they had, and Discourse sent me out to Wing Six.
Whisper mentioned it was a four-day trip through The Partition, but with the drill unloaded, I can comfortably sit on the cart, peacefully driving through the vast space. It was a four days I didn’t mind doing, until he threw Mutter with me for the trip.
“Remind me again why you’re coming with me?” I look behind me, my gaze returned with an exasperated glare.
“I also have my missions. Nothing for you to know.” Mutter returns with a groaned breath. I look to Whisper, the person beside him and the third passenger of this small party.
She raises a brow. “I’ll step off and walk the rest of the way to Wing One.”
It has been a silent four days, devoid of any conversation with these two. We passed by The High Gates of Wing Five two days ago, and we have already passed through the lighted structure between the Outer Wings.
The air is colder since passing by Wing Five. Winter hasn’t left, but it should be getting warmer now. I realize that I know nothing about Wing Six. What work is done inside, and what to expect. Before it had been easy with Bellow eager to tell of his home.
Now, I’ve relied on passing carts and Workers for hints. Unfortunately, they vary, probably Workers traveling through distant Wings, much like us.
I sigh, leaning back on my seat. That leaves me with one last option. Steeling myself, I turn back around, finding Mutter’s eyes.
“What can you tell me about Wing Six?”
He quirks an eyebrow, staying silent. His eyes flickers to Whisper, and they exchange a silent, but deliberate conversation through their locked gaze. She nods, and so does he, then he looks back.
“Have you ever seen the Wet Workers?” I nod, snapping back to check the clear road ahead before committing myself to listen. “Wing Six is where they come from. Slimy, quiet, and full of odor.”
I never would’ve thought to finally see the origins of the Wet Workers. Back home, they were a mystery. They’d walk the main roads in silence, leaving footsteps of murky slime behind them. Nobody knew about the sludge and everyone was weary in asking for themselves.
I’ve only heard of speculation and rumor, but none held firm ground. I always thought the slime on their body was edible, the secret to them looking well-fed. If we’re heading towards them, I’m now beginning to hope that isn’t that case.
“Why do we have carts in Wing Six? Seems pretty far from your base of operations.” I tap the metal of the cart repeatedly, producing a dull, but continuous noise. Mutter does the same when he speaks, wrapping his knuckles and knocking on the metal bed.
“It was an exchange Discourse made with an old friend,” he answers, shrugging his shoulders afterward. “I don’t know what he means, but all I have is a name and a phrase.”
“A phrase?” He nods. It must be similar to that cryptic phrase Whisper said to Bellow when we first arrived in the Fifth Section. That already feels like it happened too long ago.
“What about you, Whisper?” I look to her. Legs hold close to her chest, hiding under a cloak dusted with dirt.
“It’s better you don’t remember,” she says quietly. I barely hear her from the knocking metal from Mutter. “I’ll return to Wing Four in a week.”
“Is this one of the other reasons why you used to disappear for days at a time before?”
“I’m kept busy.” A closing answer, ending the conversation. Either one of them are keen on doing them whenever I strike one up. I hope there’s someone willing to say more than a minute’s worth of conversation in Wing Six. Hell, I might make a friend with a Wet Worker and learn about them.
My thoughts clear when the cold seeps deeper in my skin. Different to winter cold. This one is more humid, more uncomfortable. Up ahead the roads trail with bright lights, the large slit between the walls that separate another Wing.
We approach Wing Six. Its High Gates ooze a thick air, visibly different to the emptiness of The Partition.
“Stop here.” Whisper suddenly speaks up, shifting herself up from the cart’s cargo bed. I nod, slowing the treads to a stop. It creaks, but not as much. Oil and replacements will keep this running for a while longer. Honestly, I’m proud that it still runs after carrying the drill.
Mutter says nothing as she hops off the cart, walking to a spot beside me before looking up. She makes a quick glance at the man behind me. I notice the look, quirking a brow in confusion.
“He’s here to make sure you don’t do anything stupid.” She says with a quiet hum. I suppress laughter, rolling my eyes.
“I’m sure he loves my company.” I respond. Behind me, I hear a low groan.
She settles a hand on the cart’s front, tracing deep scratching on the metal. “See you in a week.”
A goodbye? That’s a first. All the times I’ve known her, this is the first time she’s ever said anything before disappearing. The surprise bubbles out a quick laughter, prompting her own confusion.
I wave a hand, evening my breath through a sigh. My lips part, but I can’t think of any words to say. It’s happened so much that I’m no longer bothered with the disappearances. Before, I was curious to where she’d go, but the curiosity is replaced with unfazed acceptance. She’s always returned enough times to no longer worry about her safety, so there is no nervousness.
Wordlessly, I stare down at her. Her eyes possess a waiting glare, perhaps for my response. When nothing comes, a quiet hum fills the silence between us. “I’m glad you got used to it.”
Whisper walks away with that, saying nothing else. I stare at her back until an irritated cough from behind moved me to move the cart.
“It’s not like I had no other choice,” I whisper under my breath. She’s too far away to hear it, and I’m not going to draw attention by yelling it out. I clear out my chest, heaving out a long sigh.
“Hey, Mutter?” I call out, leaning back to trail up the gates. “Where are you from?” A good conversation as any. Besides, I haven’t had a proper conversation with him as of yet.
I hear cloth shift behind me. When he speaks, his voice is closer. “Save the useless chatter until we enter the Wing.”
A cold response. I peer over my shoulder, finding an unwelcoming glare. I sigh, holding a hand up. “Fine. You have the tag, so I’ll shut up and leave it to you.”
He nods after that, saying nothing. At least Whisper would end it with some biting remark that provoked retaliation. Damn, not even five minutes and I’m missing her certain silence. Who knew that it came in different types?
I drive into the blinding light, exposing us to the guards. Unlike Wing Four, the air is thick, but not obstructive on my vision. One sees us and walks over, his large frame looming over.
“Present your tag, Worker.” The same question from when we entered Wing Four. I wonder if they practice it in their head until it’s seared as a hard memory.
Clothes flutter behind me. Mutter presents a tag, handing it to the guard in silence. At each encounter, my nervousness lessens when in front of these black uniforms. I won’t face off against a weapon’s barrel, but I can handle enough to stare at the dark tints of their helmets, hiding their eyes.
He inspects the tag bound by thin chain, nodding after a stiff moment. “Proceed,” stepping aside, he walks away. “Let this one through.”
I drive the cart forward, passing by Workers under intense scrutiny. However, I notice the Wet Workers proceed onward without a lengthy challenge. Maybe even the guards don’t want to know what they are.
Workers filter through The High Gates. Cold, wet air settling in thicker behind the high walls. The treads thump softly against uneven road, but something else takes me in awe.
The main road stretches on into the dark mist, but around it is nothing. Shifting, murky liquid below the raised roads. I notice the stilts that prop thick metal that we drive on. In the distance are stilted structures, spotlight illuminating the way. The lighted perch of the Wing is dim at the center, but visible from the lack of high metal except for the outer walls.
“What is this place?” I ask in breathless amazement. I steer the cart to the middle of the road. There’s nothing to catch us if I drive it off the edge. It is however the same width as the main roads of other Wings. Eight or so carts across could be fitted.
“The vast murk. The tides of impurity. Home of the Wet Workers. Wing Six.” A poetic, albeit, slightly confusing answer. His point comes across, though. I always thought the other Wings would be different, but not this drastic. If I had grown up here instead, I wouldn’t even think to imagine of constricted space.
In here, everything is open. Nothing but wide emptiness. Below, dark tides wash against the stilts, making a soft, gurgling noise. A viscous sensation. Chills shoot up my spine.
“This isn’t your first time here?” I ask behind my shoulder, hearing him sit back down.
He doesn’t answer immediately, his quiet voice answering as I take in the foreign scenery. “Once. Discourse sent me here before,” he scoffs under his breath. “From the look on your face, this is your first look?”
I bark a soft laugh, peering over my shoulder. “Is it that obvious?” He says nothing, I shrug, looking back around. “Until a few days ago, I’ve only been in Wing Five my whole life.”
“You never bothered to see what’s beyond?” An unexpected question. I bite, shaking my head.
“I never saw the need to. I bartered between Sections, and it was enough to get by. Fixing and driving carts for the boilers did the same.” I explain, odd nostalgia coating my tone. I lean back, staring up to overhead spotlights. Silhouettes of wires are still. He could be listening right now.
“I,” He starts, but nothing follows. I turn my eyes back over to him. “I was from Wing Three. A stale, closely guarded Wing.” I settle in to listen, but I face back ahead to keep the cart from driving off the road.
“What did they work over there?” I ask behind my shoulder. There’s a brief tenseness before I hear his answer.
“Clothes, guard uniforms, leathering, reliable boots.” I peer down, knocking my toe against the metal. It clangs quietly. “I was in its Fourth Section. Guard uniforms. Any mistake was met with reprimand. After that, you get shipped to work elsewhere.”
“Is that why you-” I can’t find the right words that won’t get me smacked at the back of my head. A soft bout of laughter behind me, I turn to meet his eyes, seeing the suture scars patterned on his eyelids.
“Yes,” a snapped response. I nod, silently motioning him to continue with raised brows. “It was an accident on the sizes. I was lucky, if you can call it that. Some had their eyes removed. Mine were just sewn shut.”
I wince at imagining the pain of wire running through my skin. He grimaces at my reaction, expelling a sigh.
“That was long ago. I worked in Wing Four’s soil recycling where Bellow found me. God knows how long I worked there.”
“I guess your sense of time gets foggy if you’re blind.”
His laughter hisses through gritted teeth, eyes looking up to the ceiling. “You have no idea.”
I hum out, not quite a laugh. An acknowledgement since he can laugh about the memory. The cold shortens my breathing, requiring me to adjust with deep sighs.
“How did you get them removed?” I spare a quick look before facing back ahead. Again, quiet sounds of shifting clothes occur behind me, but the words are silent for only a moment.
“Discourse removed them in exchange for joining his cause. I never quite see brighter steel, but I just wanted to see again.” How was he able to? From what I heard from Workers in the packaging warehouses, not even melting the sutures can break the metal. It’s a permanent addition from the guards. Reprimands. Scars to discourage defiant thoughts.
I have a feeling he won’t tell me about Discourse. From his words, there’s a deep trust between the man who gave his sight back. For now, I’m satisfied with this much conversation. This time, it wasn’t me who started it.
“You don’t expect to be asked no questions while you asked that much, do you?” He challenges. I laugh. An equal exchange for my questions. Was this his intention all along?
I shrug, looking back at him. “Hit me, then.” Before I faced back to the road, I saw a glint of a smile. I feel like I fell into a trap.
“Whisper refuses to talk, but you seem to know more.” A sinking feeling settles on my stomach. I already know where this is heading towards. He’s a crafty one. Devious, but smart.
“What was The Watcher like as a person?”
The phrasing of his question sparks a deep frustration, but I push it down. I bite my bottom lip, evening my breath. “He is a person, and his name is Orion.”
I feel his stare on my back. When he says nothing, I continue. “We have been friends for as long as I can remember. We were both from the same Section. No parents, just us and Harbour. An old man who lived nearby.”
There’s not much point in asking about one’s parents or family if they’re not mentioned. Too many things can happen, it’s better to leave it unsaid. It’s relieving that this custom is practiced in far places, all the way up to Wing Three.
“He was curious guy. Everywhere he went, he’d ask questions. One time, we got thrown out one rented room in the Fourth Section for asking too much about the host,” I laugh at the memory. It feels like a lifetime ago. “We had to walk back home half-asleep.”
“Whisper mentioned he worked in a library?”
I shrug. That’s more or less true. “If you can call it that. He scribed whatever he knew on pages. Documenting facts, stories, details. Everything.”
I pat my coat. Those pages I recovered from the library are still with me, unread. I should try to read them again.
“Why did he do that?” A question I’ve been asking for years. I meet his gaze, shaking my head slowly.
“I’d tell if I knew. Until now, I don’t understand why,” I look back ahead, expelling a drawn-out sigh. A calming reset on my nerves. “I knew it would provoke unwanted attention, but he kept going.”
I take another deep breath, strangely, my exhale is shaky. It must be the cold air.
“Do you think he regrets it?”
“Writing all of it?” I chuckle, trailing off with a sigh. “Probably not. If anything, he’d be angry I blew up all of his hard work.”
A silence persists, and so does my realization. “That wouldn’t be a lie. Our last exchange was an argument, after all.”
The conversation trails off into silence. Nothing but the clattering treads and soft shift of murk fill the air. I don’t want to end the conversation here.
“Mutter,” I sigh. At least he can close this talk. “What do you think is the reason why he kept writing?”
He falls into a thoughtful hum, mulling my question over. I wait, simply listening to the sounds below. It’s oddly soothing, with only a slight uncomfortable afterthought.
“For tomorrow,” Mutter answers, breaking the stagnant cold air. “For people to read long after he dies.” I say nothing in response. He shrugs, leaning back against the cart.
“That's how I understand his intentions, at least.”
The silence properly settles as we continue in the direction of the stilted structures. It gives me time to think on our conversation. Specifically, what he said last.
For people long after himself? Was that the bigger picture he kept telling me about? I never understood and refused to. Those kind of thoughts I always believed to be a luxury. Something Workers would never spare to have. In these metal walls, it's all there is. For me, it's all there is.
For Orion, there was more. To him, there was more to everything than just continuous work. I don't know how that way of thinking connected to him writing everything he heard.
When I see him again, that would be the first thing I'll ask.
Smaller streets diverge from the main road, propped up by stilts. Beside them are buildings of the same nature. Traffic of carts and Workers are scarce, a majority of them being Wet Workers. Do they really delve in the murky depths? I struggle to imagine a reason as to why.
“They have a main market. Follow my directions.” Mutter orders, his voice uncomfortably close. I lean away, peering over my shoulder.
“Loud and clear. Just be less close next time.” He rolls his eyes but moves back. At his signal, I turn the cart to the left, away from the main road and between buildings. Dim light filter through windows on the walls, Workers passing by without batting an eye. They look straight ahead, but their expressions are unsettling.
They look at peace. As if there isn't a care in the world.
The echoing metal under the cart fades. Unlike the close walls from Wing Five, the noises just disappear. In the distance, the hammers of industry beat continually. Without the maze of walls, they're louder. I'm glad some things don't change.
A few turns open to a wide area. Not as wide as the main road, but it bustles with more activity of stalls, Workers, and bartering whispers. Mutter points down the farthest part of the market, and I drive the cart over. I look at the stalls as we pass by. Unlabeled canisters, boots, and clothing are the main items. In this work environment, a constant change of clothes would be essential.
We approach a warehouse, empty and open. I slow the cart, looking over to him. “In there?” A silent nod. I'm hesitant, but I drive in, my vision nearly dark. The engine quiets, and I hear Mutter step off, the soft thud echoing.
He clears his throat. A momentary silence passes before he speaks. “Voices string a connection for tomorrow.”
His voice seemingly goes unanswered in the darkness. Before I ask, my vision floods with light. It's dim, but the suddenness causes me to blink away. On the far side of the long room is a figure, almost engulfed in the dark.
“But The Voices need linen.” A dainty voice returns his phrase, equally as cryptic. Mutter walks past me, heading to the figure ahead. I step down the cart, following behind. They- She, now with the light's benefit of sight- steps forward. She carries the same tranquility of Workers outside.
“A new face to visit. Discourse must be growing his dream,” she laughs, a delicate sound. “I'm Linen. A friend of your cause in these dark marshes.”
I glance at Mutter before meeting her glare. Her name is Linen. At least it's not in theme with the rest of them. If it was, I would go insane and change my name to 'Scream.'
“Hyde. That's what I'm called. It's nice to be here?” I accidentally left it off as a question. An amused laugh escapes her.
“Steady hands. You must be here to fix the carts Discourse lent to me.” She says with a knowing tone. I blink in surprise, looking down at my hands. How did she know? As far as I know, we were the only ones sent here.
Unless there are more people in this group of Defiants, I'm stumped for ideas.
Linen claps her hands lightly, her smile soft. She turns on her heels, beckoning us to follow. Mutter does so without hesitation. I walk behind him, taking the chance to look around the warehouse. Sparse shelves, cold air. It isn't used much.
Past the door is the outside, I nearly fall off the thin walkway to the murky depths below.
“Watch your step,” she warns lightheartedly, continuing on with familiar steps. “It's deeper than you think.”