Veils: Under the Panopticon
The sounds of the murk fill the air as I work in silence. It turns out the engine only needed to be cleaned off the muck that found itself inside the cogs. As for the other cart, its issue lay with sludge stuck on the treads, keeping it from moving. It requires me to tear it apart, the underside more complicated than the engines.
Working by myself blurs the hours. I thought to count the sound of distant hammering but after a while I begin to lose track. Linen visits sparsely, and I take up her offer to join in meals. It's a relief that she didn't serve anything dark or viscous, and the conversations were enjoyable apart from the occasional accusation of my belief.
Before I knew it, the week blurred over. I only realize the passage of time when I enter the storage building to find nothing further can be done on the carts. The floor is stained in dried murk. Tools strewn on shelves and worktables. I look down at my hands, blackened by the sludge I had to pull out of the treads.
My head feels light, my lungs cold. The open air is freeing, but I notice it to numb my senses. Is this how the Workers of this Wing look so at peace? One of the days I remember walking the market in search of fuel. There was a young girl, younger than Cass.
Half her body was slick with muck, but a smile stretched across her pale face. She bumped into me, staggering back. When I tried to apologize, she kept walking as if I was never there.
The air of this Wing is laden thick with a spell, for the lack of a better word. I never noticed when I got here, but now it looms over me.
I turn on my heel and leave the building, navigating narrow paths to Linen's home. Metal platforms clang under my feet, the soft waves colliding against the stilts. A familiar tune, a numbing sensation in my ears.
“I've fixed the carts,” I say as I enter through the door. Linen sits in the dimly lit room, her eyes glued out the window to the wide mire. “Just like what's asked of me.”
“What will you do now?” She asks, turning to face me. I watch her expression. A serene stare that I've come to recognize from people living in this Section.
I quirk a brow, taking a step closer. “What do you mean? Didn't you say you'd help Discourse if I helped you?” She nods to my words, humming in agreement. Her usual whimsy, I'll be surprised if I get a straight answer this time.
“And we will, but it's only been three weeks since. There is another month of preparation, at least.”
I blink, repeating her words in my mind. “What did you say?”
She shoots a confused look. “Mutter said it won't be until two month at most-”
“Not that,” I yell, cutting off her words. My breath quickens, confusion building in my head. “I've been here for a month?”
She shakes her head, standing up from her seat. “You didn't drink the murk, did you?” I return the curious look with a hard glare. I'm not that desperate to drink sludge.
“Of course not!” I lick the inside of my mouth. It's the same taste of metal. A few of my teeth stab a sharp sweetness on my tongue. I don't remember eating bread cubes this past week.
Her eyes widen in silent realization. “It must be the scent. To think that would affect you.”
“What does that mean?” I feel the words on my tongue, as if I haven't said anything for days. Every word strains my throat. The frustration of not knowing is like heat permeating through my body. As if I'm waking up. “When was the last time we've talked?”
Linen brings a hand to her chin, humming aloud in thought. It takes her a moment to answer. “A week or so.”
I stare in disbelief. What is in this mire? I step back toward the door, feeling the cold metal press against my body. She gives a patient smile. “It happens to most newcomers. Mutter was here for two months on his first time.”
So, that's why he was so eager to leave. That bastard could've told me. Though, if he did, I would've refused the task. Sometimes, this blind trust and information keeping will be the death of me.
I sigh. My breath is cold. “I need to get back to Wing Four.”
“Because I've been here for a month.” I snap, my voice echoing off the metal walls. She rolls her shoulders, the dainty smile still on her face. I wonder if she drank the murk herself. How else could she explain the odd calm demeanor towards everything.
“None of The Voices have come since you arrived, so I can't provide an easy return.” I shrug. I'll walk the whole way back if I have to.
“That's fine. I'm leaving right now.”
She raises a hand before I look away. “I have something for Discourse. If you can bring it to him. I assume you're heading the same way.”
I watch her walk to a table in one corner of the room, opening a drawer to rifle through its contents. I quirk a brow at her words, confused. “Where else would I go?”
A quick smile at me as she takes out a sheet. She walks up, holding it out. “You always look like you want to be elsewhere.”
I take the paper, slipping it in my coat pocket. “I don't really want to blank out for another month, as you can guess.”
She shakes her head, humming in amusement but says nothing else. I open the door, stepping back out to the small streets. “Anything else you want to mention before I go?” A snide inquiry. At this point, I won't be surprised if she says I'm sick with an incurable disease from breathing the air for too long.
“I hope you understand your purpose, Hyde.” A tone of finality in her words. I take it as a goodbye as I shut the door. I keep my breaths short as I walk to find the main road. Four days of walking back to Wing Four. I'll lose feeling to my legs before I reach halfway, but I can't stop in The Partition.
I look around as I walk, the sparse traffic of Workers and carts provide no hope for a solution. At least I find myself back on the main road, stepping away from the trail of white lights overhead.
Can I even pass through The High Gates? As long as I don't act suspicious, I'll pass through without issue. The stagnant air makes it hard to think, so I begin walking. The faster I leave this miasma, the better.
The lights are dim in the distance, concealed by the mist. The distant hammers of industry tell me that everyone is awake. Even though my sense of time is askew, the Workers everywhere else are there to remind me. I keep my attention away from the gentle noises below. The rolling muck seems to drown my senses, mudding my thoughts.
That's my guess, anyway. If I was here for a month, I can say for certain that this massive body of murk has something to do with it.
I take a deep breath, looking around. The Section is farther now, and The High Gates stand in view. Did I space out again? I should think more actively, count the Workers in front of me, or something. Anything to keep my mind from wandering off.
My walk resumes, but this time I watch the carts that pass by. One was carrying barrels. A group of Workers shuffle by, dry and wearing thick clothing. I haven't seen them before, so they might be from Wings I haven't seen yet.
Suddenly, my vision blurs. I adjust slowly, noticing the impurity of everything around me. The sunken eyes of Workers, the scratched metal of carts. I look down, my hands stained in tones of black. Soot, dirt, and muck spots my coat.
Light. Bright white light coats me. I peer up, the slit on the wall in front of me. I'm at The High Gates, but I've been walking for only ten minutes, at least.
I shake my head, swallowing thickly. I have to go through those gates before I throw myself off this road.
Heavy footsteps begin to approach me. I straighten myself, recognizing the hard beats against the floor. “Where is your destination, Worker?”
A guard. His black uniform is spotless under the offending light. Under his coat is a bright glint. The only weapon that can kill us. I nod at him. My throat is dry.
“Back to Wing Four. Third Section. Away from here.”
I can feel his stare through the dark tint of his helmet. There's no reply, but a sharp noise echoes overhead. A familiar noise. The movement of wires.
The guard steps back, facing to a cart nearby. Few do the same, drawing their weapons. They approach cautiously, but the guard looks back at me, tossing a glinting object my way. “Carry on, Worker.”
It must be from the urgency of the cart, or he sympathizes with my desire of leaving this Wing. Probably the former. Either way, I quickly make my way through, other Workers rushing to do the same. The momentary distraction is welcome. Today I've learned that the guards can be easily distracted at the cost of a few Workers.
I lay my eyes on the vast emptiness of The Partition. At the ends of the road are tiny specs walking along the floor. I wonder how far it goes.
At least, I'm out. I turn right, walking in the direction of Wing Four. Each step brings a slow clarity to my thoughts. Pain registers in my legs, and the air is drier. I stop, taking a deep breath. The lighted structure is up ahead, and I notice the cacophony of Workers around me.
I realize that Wing Six is devoid of this type of noise. I never thought I'd miss it, in some twisted way.
A cart passes by me, carrying metal crates. Its cargo bed is nearly filled, but there is space. I walk over to him, unslinging my pack and reaching in.
“Hey, buddy. Can I get a lift?” I take out a metal bottle. Linen had an abundance of drinkable water. Turns out she was insane for a different reason. The cart slows to a halt, the Worker looking down with a narrowed gaze.
“As far as you can. Two bottles of water in exchange.”
He nods in silence, reaching an open hand out between us. I shrug, handing one of the bottles. “The second one for when I get off.”
“I stop at Wing Three. Where are you going?” He asks, his voice is crisp. I notice the lacking fingers on his hand.
“Wing Four. It'd be on the way,” I respond, walking to the back of the cart. I hoist myself up, sitting on the miniscule space on the bed. “Let's go before they think we're doing something suspicious.”
“You approaching out of the blue is suspicious enough.” He remarks gruffly. The cart drives forward. I listen to the groaning engine. He is silent, but I hear him uncap the bottle. A moment later, a satisfied sigh.
I watch The High Gates of Wing Six shrink in the distance. A sight I'm sure to not miss. Discourse is going to have a few words, possibly punches, from me when I get back to him.
A whole month? But it felt like a week. I was sure it was a week. Damn, I guess nowhere is truly free. Though some may see the muddled sense of time as a blessing in these high walls.
“Hey,” I call out over my shoulder. A rough voice tells me I've caught his attention. “What are you carrying to Wing Three?”
“Raw hides.” I suppress a laughter. It's similar to my name. The mist of the murk must've damaged my humor as well. “You don't look like a Wet Worker.”
I shrug. He's not wrong. “I'm not. I'm from Wing Five. But, work has me going from here and Wing Four,” looking over my shoulder, I meet a confused stare. “It's complicated.”
He nods, taking another swig from the bottle. I examine for any key features. Aside from the lack of fingers, there is nothing. “Do you have a name?” I ask. A good conversation starter as any.
I wave a hand up, sighing in relief. “Hyde.”
He laughs, facing back ahead. “I really am just carrying hides this trip, huh?” I laugh at the joke. It feels good, despite my jaw hurting from inactivity.
We spend the next four days in constant chatter. But for some of the hours were spent sleeping. Without the numbing mist, I finally feel how tired I am.
Conversations with Wain is a breath of fresh air. He's worked with deliveries for most of his life. From the livestock Section of Wing One to the workshops of Wing Three. Through him, I can paint a vague image of life in Wing One. Food production and livestock. He says that he's never seen the animals, but their noises echo from the walls.
He's an uninteresting guy, but I need this sense of normality. The past few days has been anything but that.
“Why don't you just go the other way around?” I ask during one of the days. If this place is a circle, then wouldn't it be fast for him to just go past Wing Two?
Wain gives a confused look, and answers quickly. “There is no Wing Two. And that way is blocked.”
So, that was what the tale of the Lost Wing is about. I need to offer an apology to that hostess in Second Section. It is true, after all. But that just leaves the question on why there isn't a Wing Two anymore.
“To remind the Workers not to defy.” Is his answer. Workers of Wing One are most familiar of the tale, it seems, as they are closest. Those of Wing Three are the same, according to him.
I ask as much as I can before he suddenly pulls the cart to a stop. I look on curiously, and he tilts his head to The High Gates up ahead. “This is your stop.”
I blink, stepping off the cart. I groan out as I stretch, the feeling returning to my legs. Looking around, the brown dust bleeds from the gates. Wing Four is just ahead.
“Thank you, Wain. It's a shame we didn't talk for long.” I thank with a smile, reaching in my pack to give a bottle. He takes it, nodding.
“It was four whole days, Hyde. I pretty much know all about you.” Untrue, but he knows everything I wanted him to know. During these four days, I learned what it felt like to be in Whisper's shoes. “Stay out of trouble, mechanic.”
I bark out a laugh, shooting a quick nod. “Don't reach your hands somewhere illegal again, if you can.” He groans, gripping the steering of his cart. Two hands, I can count five whole fingers.
“Shouldn't have told you that.” He snaps, but laughs aloud, driving the car forward. I wave, then approach the gates. I put on eyewear just before entering the plume of dust, my vision blurring brown.
Stepping into obscured light, a guard walks over, looming over me. “Present your tag, Worker,” I nod, holding it out. Noticing its origins, he accepts it quickly, steeping aside. “Proceed.”
I continue, stepping through and further into the rapid winds. Dust pelts at me, nipping at exposed skin. Pain is an almost forgotten feeling, and I welcome it.
The metal dome lies ahead, the noisy metal growing on my approach. I breathe a sigh of relief when I finally step out from the cloud of dust. Being covered by it is the only drawback, but it can be patted off.
“It's around here, I think.” I mumble to myself, navigating the narrowing streets. Quiet alleys, no Workers. I'm looking for a loading bay. Though, I'd be out of luck if they're closed. If I remember, they can't be opened from the outside.
I lean against a wall, looking down both ways. The lights are dim, and none of these paths are familiar. Should I just yell? It might draw attention from guards, but it might pay off.
What should I yell though? 'I'm Hyde and I'm over here?' No, it feels like I'm a lost child. I kick off the wall, brushing myself down. It won't hurt to look around blindly for a few more minutes.
I decide to tap along the metal walls as I walk. A constant rhythm to draw their attention, if they're listening. Hopefully, Orion doesn't pick it up, if he really can listen to everything. Overhead, the wires are still, luckily.
Another turn opens to an alley. I walk down, trailing my hand against the wall. The knocking has bruised my knuckles, but I keep going.
I see a shadow on the far end of the alley, disappearing past a corner. The first signs of anybody since I began walking. I keep up, following them.
“Brighter steel, blah blah. Anyone into that?” I speak out loud. No one returns it but the quiet alleys. I'll give Discourse this, though. He chose a good place to hide and plot.
I remember them having a hidden code. Whisper used it when I first met Bellow, but maybe that was exclusively for the occasion. Well, it won't hurt to give it a shot. I stop walking, cupping my hands and taking a deep breath.
“I have your latest shipment.” I yell out, my voice bouncing back over. I wouldn't be surprised if they assume that I'm dead.
This time, I walk farther, trying again. It feels stupid, but right now I'm out of ideas. I cup my hands over my mouth, but a voice from behind stops me. I turn around, her features barely visible in the dim light.
“You took a while.” Whisper says in lieu of a greeting. I laugh at the gesture, shrugging my shoulders as I compose myself.
“You've no idea what I had to go through.” I reply, walking over.
I stop in front of her. She reaches an arm out and bumps me on the chest. “And you gave me complaints for disappearing for days at a time.”
What a way to make me feel guilty. Is it my fault for essentially being drugged the past month? “Remind me to punch Discourse when I meet him again.”
She laughs, albeit quietly. Out of all my jokes, she laughs at something I intend to do. Fitting, now that I think about it.
“Oh, can you guide me back? I'm lost, as you can tell.” She rolls her eyes, walking the other way. I follow closely. Being lost is an experience I'd like to shelf and never try again.
“Smart thinking on hitting against the metal,” Whisper remarks, looking over her shoulder for a moment. “Discourse heard you and sent me to check it out.”
“A bad move on his part, really.”
“You wouldn't punch a cripple, would you?”
I smile. “Without hesitation.”
We arrive at the loading bay, its shutter gate open. Both the cart and the drill are nowhere to be seen as we go inside. Whisper hits the button on the way in, the gate falling shut behind us. I take a deep breath. Dry, irritating air.
“Anything I missed since I was gone?” I ask, following her through the door.
“A month is a lot to miss, Hyde.” She replies with a scolding tone. It wasn't my fault that Wing had air that blurred the days together. That makes me wonder.
“Did you know this would happen when they said I needed to be in Wing Six?”
She keeps walking ahead. When we reach the door, she keeps her eyes away. I wave a hand over her face. “Answer me.”
“I thought you'd be too frantic for it to affect you.” Is her reply. I stare, dumbfounded. “Unless you ate the muck.”
“I did not eat the muck,” I groan out. This is the second accusation. “You could've at least warned me about it.”
She shrugs, pushing the door open, sparing a quick look. “If I did, then you wouldn't have gone.”
I knew that was the case. If I was in their shoes, I would've done the same, but damn them. She walks in first, I follow behind to close the door. Nothing has changed in the room. Even Discourse is standing in the same spot where I last saw him.
Whisper reaches him first, muttering under her breath that only Discourse can hear. My footsteps are obvious, and he smiles my way. “Ah, Hyde. Did Linen give you any trouble?”
I roll my eyes. The gesture is useless, but it's not something I can stop. “If by trouble you mean keeping me there for a month, then yes. There was one trouble.” If I hear another spiel about his cause instead of an apology, I'm throwing a chair at him.
He nods, humming shortly in thought. “You must understand why I couldn't tell you about the effect of the vast murk. It has a tendency to dull people.”
“An understatement,” I snap, crossing my arms over my chest. Whisper gives a glare, one I return without issue. “A heads up would've been nice, at least.” The risk of my second thought would still be present, but they must really distrust me to think I'd turn tail and go home at the slightest inconvenience.
I don't think I'm that much of a coward.
“You're right. From now on, any question of your next task, you're free to ask a question about it.” He says in an offering tone. He doesn't say that I'm free to refuse the task, but nothing is stopping me from just turning around and leaving right now.
I nod, huffing a sigh. “Deal. Now, what have I missed?” If anyone's up to speed on the events of the recent month, it would be him. Whisper might still omit some information, and if Discourse does, then I'd be justified in breaking his jaw.
“We are almost ready,” he walks to the edge of the table, leaning over the sheets of paper strewn about. The plan marked on leather sits on the bottom. “I trust Linen will lend her support for your efforts?”
That reminds me of the paper she handed to me before I left. “Oh, here.” I slip it out of my coat pocket, tapping his hand with the sheet. He takes it with a small thanks, unfolding and trailing its surface with a finger. The same medium of writing with those of Third Section.
“That leaves us with only Bellow returning and Mutter to finish the drill.” He concludes, a bright, but suppressed smile on his face. I turn to Whisper, raising a brow.
“Mutter carried the metal back to Wing Five. Mutter's holed up somewhere here. He wants to be undisturbed, so he locked himself in one of the smelting forges.”
Talk about dedication to the cause. That, or he's hiding from me. Both could be equally possible.
“He said two months at most, but that was a month ago. How much longer?” My question leaves a tense silence. He looks up from the table, staring with blank eyes.
“A week.” A resolute reply. His eyes turn to Whisper's direction, sliding a blank sheet over the table. “Write a notice to both Quarry and Linen. When the hammers rise, that is our moment.”
“In those exact words?” She asks, taking the sheet. He laughs quietly.
“Surprise them with your unique vocabulary.” I wasn't aware that Whisper does have unique vocabulary. Her blunt honesty with me has always given me the assumption she would never need large words. Then again, that might've been sarcasm.
As Whisper walks away, Discourse pulls up a chair under his side of the table, sitting down with an excited sigh. “Sit, Hyde.” He looks up at me, resting his chin on propped up arms. “Tell me about the vast mire and how Linen is doing.”
He's strangely calm for having his plan finally coming to fruition. I shrug, pulling up a chair to sit down. I could use some downtime, and a conversation seems pleasant. I can tell him all about my week-long stay in Wing Six that lasted for a month.