Chapter 26:

Connection Through Cold Steel

Veils: Under the Panopticon

I always thought planning was a luxury. That biding one's time was an excuse for inability to act. I thought quick action would yield the best results. Within the sedated pace of industry, I believed impetuous defiance would be the key to a difference. Bookmark here

“Workers from Wing One will lend their support,” a voice calls across the room. I look up, shuffling away papers. Bookmark here

“Add it to the marker, in that case.” She nods, walking to the middle of the table. Perched on a metal frame is our invention that has helped us in communicating with the Outer Wings. A contraption of thin metal rods, cogs, and heat to keep the murk fluid. It swings a pendulum, synchronized to the distant hammers of industry.Bookmark here

More iterations have been made, distributed to other Defiants in other Wings. With actions marked, we can initiate plans in unison. It makes my view of The Panopticon smaller, but with this, a sense of connection is present. Bookmark here

Linen preferred to use water instead of the murk. It's more accessible, but this forces a belief that only we here can make them. Bookmark here

“We're almost set,” I mutter, standing up from my seat. I stretch, biting down a yawn. A dull pain in my side, but it's distant. The murk has its benefits, but time is the greatest healer.Bookmark here

“I'm surprised you've been patient enough to prepare up to now, Hyde.” Bookmark here

I breathe out a laugh, looking her way. “I tried impatience before. Didn't work out. I thought I'd try something different.” My remark is met with soft laughter. Linen glances up from the ticking metal. A quiet, yet continuous rhythm.Bookmark here

“Almost a year in preparation. I must say that I'm impressed.” I nod at her comment, walking past her toward the door. Bookmark here

Sitting here isn't a decision I chose. According to Linen, guards had ceased all traffic to Wing Four. Our guess was to find the armored cart, but it was a search that stretched on for longer than I anticipated. After a month, I started making my own moves, reaching influence on the other Wings.Bookmark here

It was a tedious effort, one I couldn't have done without her. Aligning promises and causes of different Workers had consumed waking nights, but the cold air of the Wing brought a sense strange of calm. I took care not to lose myself a second time, so I invented something so I never would. Bookmark here

A clock of sorts. Strung together by leftover gears, metal, and cogs in the leftover warehouses for repairing carts. Harbour mentioned a contraption like this, and I based its functions mainly from memory. A piece that keeps track of time indefinitely. I remember him saying that this tool had gone out of use since the distant hammering had replaced it, and to this day, he's still right.Bookmark here

So, I timed its swings to the hammering. In view is a thin rod that gradually fills with the melted slime. It counts the days, so planning can be done easier. The first few iterations were frustrating, but I'm satisfied at the final version. As I've heard back from Workers, they're satisfied as well. Bookmark here

“How's Wing Four?” I ask idly, standing at the doorway. A breeze brushes by, tickling my face. A sobering cold. I hear her step closer from behind. Bookmark here

“They're allowing Workers through now. Turns out they can't cut everyone off from their only source of metal.” Bookmark here

I laugh quietly, looking over my shoulder to meet her gaze. “Any word from Discourse?”Bookmark here

She shakes her head. “No. I fear the worst may have happened.”Bookmark here

A possibility, but strangely I don't find myself believing it. Bookmark here

I turn away from the door, walking back to the table. The pendulum swings, the black liquid nearly reaches the brim of the metal cylinder. “Linen, do we have another clock?”Bookmark here

“A few. Why do you ask?”Bookmark here

The preparations have been set. Figuring out the plan from scratch took almost a year, but it's finished. All written and copied onto sheets of paper. I take one from the table, slipping it in my coat pocket. “Whatever happens, the plan continues.”Bookmark here

She gives a curious look. I wonder why. She's known the plan for months now. “Does it have to proceed like this? You've proven yourself to be a natural in this position, Hyde.”Bookmark here

I shake my head. Despite the changes of my mindset throughout the year, the desire to rush has been burning all this time. At least this way, I can incorporate it into the grand scheme. Bookmark here

She watches me for a moment, the uncertainty in her eyes disappearing. She bows her head, looking back to the door. “I'll see to it personally, then.” Bookmark here

“Don't go crying on me now, Linen.” I jest. She hums out in amusement, peering over her shoulder as she steps back out. Bookmark here

“Your plan hasn't strayed so far. Why would I doubt it now?” A momentary smile, then she's out the door. Being trusted has been an odd sensation. Having the lives of Workers rely on me is even weirder. I've proceeded with as little sacrifice as possible, but it's unavoidable. Sitting here while knowing honest lives have died for a cause they're not sure of has left a bitter taste in my mouth.Bookmark here

I hope this next stage of the plan will rectify my inaction. Bookmark here

A few more papers are stored in metal cylinders. To conceal them in the chance of being searched by guards. I leave a charred metal box on the table before heading out. Linen will know what to do with it. The instructions are clear. Bookmark here

I step outside, taking a shallow breath of air. A thick, refreshing cold of the mire dulls my senses, but the reminders and regret keep my mind sharp. Polar opposites that keep me going. Bookmark here

Familiar pathways, creaky platforms and bubbling murk down below. The streets of this Section have been memorized during my aimless wanderings. I've only stepped out of Wing Six a handful of times, and those occasions are but a foggy memory. Bookmark here

I enter a loading bay facing the main road. Inside is one of the carts that I fixed up a year ago. I brush a hand along the metal. Free from rust and residue, but the air has left it in a dark hue.Bookmark here

“Send Discourse my regards,” Linen says, entering the room. In her hands is a clock concealed in a sack. I can tell from its outline and the faint ticking. She sets it down carefully on the cargo bed. I step up, sitting behind on the driving seat. Bookmark here

“If he's alive, I'll let him know.” Bookmark here

She shakes her head, stepping away from the cart. “Activity in Wing Four would be more frantic if he died. That man has no qualms in hibernating amidst close scrutiny.”Bookmark here

I shrug. That's a piece of information I haven't heard until now. “That sounds like someone I know, wouldn't you say?” A laugh escapes her, shooting a quick glare.Bookmark here

“You're in no place to speak now, Hyde. You've been at it yourself this past year.” Not entirely, but I realize that it's a weak argument. Instead, I switch the engine on, hearing the low grumbling underneath. As I drive it forward, I watch her from the corner of my eye.Bookmark here

I've had months to prepare, yet I have no proper set of words to part with. I stop on the main road, watching with a sidelong glance. She raises a brow, puzzled.Bookmark here

“What's this, cold feet?” She taunts, crossing her arms. I bark out a laugh, leaning against the seat. Bookmark here

“I just have no proper goodbye, or however you want to call it.”Bookmark here

Linen shrugs, her gaze softening. “Then don't,” she takes a step forward, looking up at me. “What do you want to say?”Bookmark here

I mull her question over, humming quietly in thought. What do I want to say? I always thought this would be a dramatic parting. Something of meaning to leave a lasting memory. Yet, every day has felt like that. I wouldn't say I'm jaded, but the nervousness has dissipated along the passage of time. Bookmark here

She keeps her stare, waiting for my question. I shrug, and that will be my answer. “Nothing.”Bookmark here

“Then, you have no regrets.” She finishes with a smile. I look on for a moment, then find myself smiling back. With no words left, I drive forward, Linen disappearing at the corner of my vision. She says nothing else and I don't look back.Bookmark here

No regrets. I guess that's one way to describe it. It isn't the dramatic departure I was thinking of, but it feels fitting. To leave this Wing without a second thought, but there's no pleasure. I only think about what's to come in the next few days, and nothing else. Bookmark here

I take a deep breath, sighing out the brisk air. The days are warming, winter nearing its end. Around this time, the soot would stop back home. I haven't even had time to think about going back. Harbour must assume I'm dead at this point, and I don't blame him. However, Cass is surely thinking that I'm off on some exciting adventure. I wonder what he thinks is outside Wing Five. Before I left him to go with Whisper, I made sure to teach all I could on working with carts. It was short, but he was a fast learner. Bookmark here

Up ahead, the lights of The High Gates grow brighter, around me are the sedated paces of Wet Workers and carts. I look on ahead. Eventually, I slow to a stop for the guard to approach. A year back, I'd be nervous, terrified. Now, it is a blank feeling.Bookmark here

“Where is this cart going?” He asks, glaring down through the helmet. I nod, my shoulders sagged.Bookmark here

“Wing Four. Delivery of water.” Barrels conceal the clock, all filled. A veil that passes the watchful eye of the guard, who nods and steps out of the way, handing the tag. Bookmark here

“Let this one through.” Bookmark here

I don't linger, driving on without another word. Feeling the air warm around me as I leave the Wing is almost a foreign feeling. Winter has dropped temperatures, but the murk possesses a different chill compared to the rest of The Outer Wings. Even the vast space of The Partition hits differently. Not that I've been out enough to discern a difference.Bookmark here

A single right turn and I drive forward. In the closing distance are the lighted structures. The only bridge between the Outer and Inner Wings. It was once a speculation, but this past year has provided information that it's more than that.Bookmark here

It doesn't matter to me, much. All I care is where it leads to. As I pass under it, I think back on the drawings. This prison of metal bears symmetry. A radial design that beats from the center. If I'm right, then these lighted bridges will lead to the same place. Bookmark here

I hear a sharp noise overhead. The wires shudder. A minute later, a cart is apprehended by rushing guards. He continues to listen. I wonder if he's heard any of my own plans this past year. I've been careful, but you never know. Bookmark here

Almost an entire year since that attack on the Inner Wings. Since then, I haven't had the chance to contact Whisper or any of The Voices inside Wing Four. Guards had immediately shut down the entire Wing, similar to the lockdown of Third Section back home. Without the means to return, I stayed with Linen. Until today, I was there, planning, recruiting help, and everything in between to steadily reach my objective. Bookmark here

Yet, every news of Workers dying from my ideas shook me. It wasn't that long ago that I was in their shoes, blinding following in the hopes of seeing through my own desires. Every account of death was a stab in the chest, consuming my hours when I should've slept. Bookmark here

It was only a few months ago, I can't remember when exactly, I proposed the new plan to Linen. She was skeptical but agreed to lend her support. It required the hands of all Workers around the Wing. I know it will lead to more mindless death, but little by little, more Workers showed support to my cause. Uniting against a common enemy is a strong banner to join under, and every zealous, or foolhardy man is keen to join. Bookmark here

A singular moment all happening at the same time would prove troublesome to coordinate, but the invention of the clock has solved that. Soon, the marker will soon reach. But before that, I need to secure the cooperation of Wing Four. Bookmark here

The months of starvation, scrutiny, and death are likely to see no Defiants among the Workers, but I only need a select few.Bookmark here

Them, and the treaded weapon I'm sure they're still hiding from the guards.Bookmark here

Discourse and his Voices still live. In hiding, but I know they're still alive. I never saw Whisper as someone to be caught that easily. The guards are persistent, but they all know that they can't massacre an entire Wing. Not a second time, anyway. The Outer Wings are necessary for their survival. It's a thought that struck me half a year ago.Bookmark here

Without our cooperation, they would be nothing. A handful of Workers would make no difference, but on a grand scale. A bigger picture, then something may happen. I've set plans on this very thought. If I've held the entire Panopticon hostage, then the guards may be willing to listen. Linen expressed the idea to be extreme, but I have no option left. Orion is kept somewhere in the deep reaches of the Inner Wing. Nothing short of extreme will suffice in breaking him free.Bookmark here

I look around, blinking tired eyelids. Sitting up, I stifle a yawn, watching a spotlight streak by. Behind me in the far distance is The High Gates of the Wing Five. I don't remember how many days have passed. My lungs still feel the cold of the murk's air. It muddles my sense of time, but with passing through The Partition, I don't mind in the slightest. It's how Wet Workers travel long distances without ever feeling the exhaustion. Bookmark here

Up above, I pass under another lighted structure. As I do, I notice more guards around, patrolling under the silhouette of white light. On the far wall, closely watched Workers weld metal over a section of the wall. If I remember, that's where Mutter's drill dug in. I wonder if he's mad that I blew it up.Bookmark here

My hands grip the steering. I feel the metal on my fingers. I stretch, groaning as satisfying pops resound throughout my body. So, I've been sitting for four days? It isn't a year, but it tells me how much time can easily escape me. Perhaps I should make a smaller clock on my wrist to keep me more grounded.Bookmark here

I drive toward The High Gates. More security, more weapons. They glint under the light, fully drawn. In the wall's slit, few pass through. A cry echoes from the dust cloud. They seem to be arresting on the slightest suspicion. Bookmark here

I check the cargo bed. The clock is bundled, hidden within the dark barrels. With or without me, the plan continues. It's strange to feel light, even at the face of uncertainty. Bookmark here

“Present your tag, Worker,” a guard approaches quickly. I haven't even driven into the plume of dirt yet. I present the tag while searching my pockets, taking out eyewear. A crack goes down the middle of one side, but it shouldn't impede my sight much.Bookmark here

He takes it, looking over it with care as another guard approaches from the side. They inspect the cart with watchful eyes. I feel the hull rock as they kick the treads, expecting for something to fall through. I sit in silence as they grow more frustrated, their searches coming up empty. Bookmark here

“Proceed,” he finally says. I watch him step away, stopping another group of Workers. They aren't so lucky. I drive forward into the cloud of dirt, ignoring the growing screams. Soon, it will be different. Bookmark here

The winds whip at my clothes, pelting me with grains of dirt. It would be unlikely if they stayed in the same place, but with no better place to start looking, I guess I'll head there. The roads are quiet. Carts pass by on slim occasion, Workers of the Wing are scarce along the stretch of the path. Whatever this dust cloud can permit me to see, anyway.Bookmark here

Eventually, the sight of the metal dome comes into view. Overhead are more spotlights, the entrance watched by guards. They stay under the protection of the metal. Upon my approach, they shoot obscured glares, but let me pass.Bookmark here

A brighter ceiling, but more deserted streets. The turn should be around here if my memory's correct. As I find a corner wide enough for the cart, I notice some of the buildings are destroyed. Deformed metal bent from the impact of weapon fire. Some of the smelteries are charred black. Cold husks of forges lay empty in dark spaces. Bookmark here

The guards went through an extensive search for their weapon. I doubt they couldn't manufacture another, so it's to make sure Workers don't possess a means to fight back. Every alley is the same scene of deserted destruction. Strangely peaceful, different to the quiet of Wing Six. Bookmark here

There's no sign of anybody, no matter how deep the alley. I stop the cart, peering my head up at the ceiling. I could do that hidden code, but with guard closely watching, I feel that might be a bad idea. Bookmark here

I reach in my pocket, slipping out a writing needle. Larger than the usual, but I use what I can get. I slap the metal of the cart with it, repeating far, but consistent intervals. I doubt it will work a second time, but I have no information on where to find them. For the past year, Defiants of Wing Four have been quiet. Linen assumes they're all either hiding or dead.Bookmark here

At this point, all I can do is wander around and hope. Bookmark here

“I have your delivery,” I recite under my breath. I think that was the phrase. The needle continues its rhythm as I drive the cart onward, taking deeper paths into the Section. If I was them, I'd conceal the armored cart farther inside, but it could only go so far given its size. I'll just drive wherever I can, chances are that the cart can't go down the thinner alleys. A basic strategy, but it's a start.Bookmark here

Five or so minutes go by and I start to notice strange noises overhead. Not the wires nor the constant winds hammering at the metal dome but scurrying on the roofs. At first, I thought it was just random street strays, but as I turn more corners, I notice that the sounds are following from behind. Never too far, but not too close.Bookmark here

I turn to a wider street deep within the maze of dilapidated smelteries. Here, I switch off the cart, the only recognizable noise dying down into the silence. I sit up, looking down the tall, dark path. Above it, broken spotlights, the metal frames dented with weapon fire. So, this is the place.Bookmark here

To play it safe, I step off the cart with my hands in the air. Bookmark here

“I have your latest shipment.” I call out, the minutes of wandering allowed me time to remember the phrase. My voice echoes down the street. At first, there's nothing, but slowly, I see the glint of weaponry emerge from the windows. Behind that, Workers. Tired, charred, dismembered, eager. Bookmark here

They slowly surround me. I step back to the cart, looking around for any recognizable faces. On the roofs are small silhouettes jumping from building to building, soft noises on impact. Their numbers must have dwindled for them to use children. Bookmark here

“Who are you?” One of them steps forward, his weapon raised. It's scratched, likely to hide its glint under the light. Bookmark here

“A Worker from Wing Six. Looking for some familiar faces, familiar voices,” I reply, deadpanning the words. He narrows his glare, suspicious. Bookmark here

“What's in the cart?” Bookmark here

And here I thought I'd only get asked that from guards. “Water and a gift for your leader.” Bookmark here

I watch the Workers from the corner of my eye. They're starved. The lockdown on traffic has sapped them of supplies. The barrels of water are only here as a distraction, but I don't see why I won't lend help. It would make him drop the weapon a lot quicker.Bookmark here

“Are you one of The Voices?” I ask the man, meeting his eyes. The gun wavers and lowers slowly. Behind me, the Workers approach the cart, noticing the barrels. “If you can take me to Discourse, the water is yours.”Bookmark here

He blinks, then a realization hits him, telling from the sudden shift in expression. “You've been gone for a while, then,” he remarks with a quiet laugh. “Follow me. Leave the cart. No one will bother it.”Bookmark here

I shake my head, walking back to the cargo bed. “If you can carry this with us, then I'll do that,” I offer, shooting a look. He meets it, squinting suspiciously. After a moment, he nods, motioning another Worker toward me. I look at him. A man half-charred black. I point between the barrels. “That thing bundled in cloth, please.”Bookmark here

I follow the man, turning a corner at more ruined buildings. Behind me is the man carrying the clock, and behind him are Workers rushing to open the barrels. They must've been without proper water for months. Bookmark here

“Have the guards found the weapon?” I ask the man in front of me. He turns his head to speak over his shoulder.Bookmark here

“Not a chance with this maze of a Section,” an optimistic answer, but his words were devoid of any hope. “We've been fighting for months. It was quieter in winter, but without food or water, many of us spent it dying in these charred walls.” Bookmark here

I haven't seen him back when I was here. Maybe he was forced to fight when guards started torching the buildings. I think to ask for a name, but I've learned not to do that. Should he die, it would be less painful. Bookmark here

“The plan has been to hold out and survive, then?” He answers the question with a silent nod, stopping when we reach the end of an alley. He swings the metal open, stepping inside. I follow closely, the darkness obscuring a proper view of the floor. Bookmark here

“Discourse hasn't made any moves to break the guards off from the Section?” Numbers may be short, but I only saw a handful watching the entrance. Bookmark here

He shakes his head, heaving a tired sigh. “We make it seem like we're less in number. Less watching eyes that way.” A logical move, but from the looks of those Workers earlier, waiting any longer and they wouldn't even have a numerical advantage. Bookmark here

“Discourse isn't the one in charge,” he says, stopping at a door. I look up at him, giving a quizzical look. “The guard raids reached the previous building. He's still alive, but damages were severe.”Bookmark here

I gulp, suppressing the worst-case scenario from my mind. Before I can ask further, he opens the door, walking inside. “It's best you ask them yourself.” Bookmark here

A smaller room lies through the door. bare walls, no windows. Papers scatter a long table in the middle, people huddled on the far side. It's amusingly similar to the last room. I almost expect Discourse to greet me as I walk. Bookmark here

Half of that expectation is true. Bookmark here

“This one drove up the street. He says he's a Worker from Wing Six,” the man introduces me. I shrug at the suspicious tone and walk forward. On a chair is someone covered in bandages. Gaps in the cloth are left for his mouth and eyes. It turns towards me and I meet a blank stare. Bookmark here

“A familiar sound,” he croaks weakly, coughing. Someone rushes to ease the pain, but a sudden gasp snaps my attention up. Bookmark here

Our eyes meet, and I almost couldn't recognize the pure surprise on her face. Bookmark here

“You're alive?” Whisper speaks through a choked gasp. I laugh quietly at the question. If I was her, I wouldn't be too hopeful, myself.Bookmark here

I nod, patting my chest just in case I'd be proven wrong before I answer. “Pretty much.” Bookmark here

“I heard you died in that explosion right after we got through the gates. You, Bellow, and more were caught in the blast.” Was the explosion that bad? I never thought myself to be lucky for surviving it.Bookmark here

“Well, you might need more reliable sources, Whisper.” Bookmark here

Behind her are new faces. Some old, some young. At her side is a girl that can't be older than thirteen. Likely one that leads the street strays. A thud on the table brings my stare to the side where the charred man has set down the clock. I whisper a quick thanks as he leaves. Bookmark here

“Where have you been?” She asks, her voice still a breathless gasp. Eyes flicker to the man at the side, then to me. “Wing Six?”Bookmark here

I nod, suppressing a smile. “Before you ask, I did not eat the muck.”Bookmark here

She blinks, then a grimace on her lips, as if the action was the most difficult task. “I was about to mention. Maybe you finally succumbed to that swamp.”Bookmark here

“A tempting lifestyle,” I laugh out. It falls heavy in the room of dreadful faces. Bookmark here

“So, why are you here?” Bookmark here

I open my mouth to ask, but the numerous eyes stop me. I look around, then fall my gaze on Whisper. “Perhaps we could talk in private? I'm not too big on crowds.”Bookmark here

She crosses her arms, raising a brow. Behind her, a voice rings out. One I recognize. What I don't recognize is the mismatched noise of footstep and metal. Bookmark here

“Is it so secretive the rest of us can't hear it, Hyde?” The last time I saw him, he was drenched in his own blood. now, he stands in front of me, leaning heavily on a metal cane hooked under his arm. One leg stands firmly, the other is nowhere to be seen. Bookmark here

“Mutter. I'm relieved to see you alive,” I say in greeting. I thought the injuries were too much. I guess you can be wrong despite the likelihood. Bookmark here

He scoffs, drawing up to his full height. “I could almost say the same too you.” Still prideful as he is arrogant. Something may truly never change. We exchanged glares, but I soon find myself laughing. The strangest thing? He laughs as well. This time, the tense atmosphere truly broken. Bookmark here

“An entire year sooner, and we'd be glad to see you,” Whisper says, stepping up against the table. “Now, I just think I'm seeing a ghost.”Bookmark here

I take a deep breath, composing myself. A dry air forces me to lick my lips. “Actually, I'm early. For my own intentions.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?” They both say in unison. I gesture to the table, reaching to remove the cloth. Watchful eyes stare daggers at me as I remove the wiring. A flourish would break something, so I opt to lift it slowly, revealing the clock. Bookmark here

“I heard about this,” Mutter gasps, leaning closer. “A piece that syncs with the hammers. A tool to keep track of time.” He looks up at me, almost offended. “You made this?”Bookmark here

I nod, a smug smirk on my face. “And distributed across the Outer Wings. With the recent lift on the lockdown, I thought I'd add this Wing into the fold.” Bookmark here

The Workers stare at the contraption. It ticks quietly, the pendulum swinging in full view, drawing curious eyes. Whisper, however, keeps her gaze on me. Bookmark here

“Why did you come?” Bookmark here

I say nothing, using my eyes to gesture to the people in the room. She takes a breath, nodding. “Give us time alone.”Bookmark here

Some look to protest but say nothing. They all file out of the room. Leaving myself, Whisper, and Mutter in the room. I shoot him a quizzical look, and he glares right back. “I stay.” Bookmark here

I shrug, then look down at Discourse who stares into space. Bandages cover the entirety of his body from what I can see, the rest obscured by a thick coat. Bookmark here

“What happened to him?” I ask, giving a sidelong glance at both of them. Bookmark here

“Guards threw fire at the previous house. They barely got him out,” she explains with a difficult face. Her eyes stare at the clock on the table, Mutter doing the same. I guess they have no room for small talk. Here I was hoping we could catch up lightly.Bookmark here

“I have a plan,” I begin, leaning a hand on the table. I make sure not to press on any of the paper. “I'll need your help.”Bookmark here

“You disappear for a year, then come back saying you have a plan?” Whisper snaps. That sums up the current turn of events, so I nod. “Let's hear it, then.”Bookmark here

At least it isn't an instant refusal. I reach inside my coat, taking out a copy of the plan. She takes it, unfolding it in front of both of them. I wait in silence, watching their reaction. Bookmark here

Mutter hobbles to a shelf in one corner of the room, retrieving a roll of leather. He returns, laying it down over the table. It's charred at the edges, but it's the same map they had before. In comparison, theirs is a basic outline. I find it difficult to hide the smile creeping up my face. Bookmark here

“How did you manage all these details?”Bookmark here

I wouldn't say mine is extremely detailed. All of the information has come from cooperative Defiants from the Outer Wings. What stands out, however, is the flow of guards to and from the lighted structures. Workers died for this information, so I better use it as much as I can. Bookmark here

“An investment that took almost a year,” I answer, nonchalant. She looks back down, tracing the lines with a metal finger. Bookmark here

Her lips part in confusion. I peer over, following her gaze. “What's with these lines here?” Her finger traces highlights scattered along the plan.Bookmark here

When she sends another look, I nod simply, pointing to the clock. “When that black murk spills over, every Defiant in support to this cause will take up arms in unison.”Bookmark here

“You think the attack on all the Wings will be enough to take down the guards?” Mutter scoffs, his gaze bouncing between the plan and myself. I shake my head, moving over to set a finger on the paper.Bookmark here

“Not in the slightest.”Bookmark here

Whisper casts a look, confused. “So, what is your intention?”Bookmark here

I nod down, tapping at a certain spot on the plan. The lighted bridge between Wings Four and Five. “With all attention focused on the Outer Wings, we'll be able to slip in through here.”Bookmark here

“And do what, exactly?” Bookmark here

A silent exchange of stares. Has she forgotten? “Break Orion free.”Bookmark here

This time, the silence persists. Winds rattling against the metal are distant as they look on with wide eyes. Her bottom lip quivers, unsure on what to say. Mutter is floored, equally as speechless. As the shock fades, the first to fill the silence is a wheeze from Discourse. Harsh coughs through the worn bandages.Bookmark here

“I knew you were an interesting one, Hyde!”Bookmark here

Whisper maintains an icy glare, leaning away from the table. At her side, Mutter examines the plan. Both of them hold a pensive look. I don't blame them. Even I would be skeptical if I showed up from the dead to propose yet another outrageous idea.Bookmark here

“You're serious?” She finally asks. I nod, saying nothing else. “We'll get shot the moment we get close.” Her hands settle against the table, gripping the edge. Bookmark here

“Trust me, Hyde. You don't know what it feels like to be shot at every day.” Bookmark here

I remember the scenery on the way inside. Not just that, the Workers were on their last legs. The water might've saved them, but it's unlikely I'd be able to convince them to join me. Bookmark here

However, it doesn't need to be me that needs to convince them.Bookmark here

“I only need some from this Wing, not all,” I turn to Discourse, narrowing my gaze at him. “Back then, you said you would lend your support if I brought you that weapon on treads. Now, I need that help.”Bookmark here

He says nothing, craning his head up slowly before wheezing out a laugh. Mutter sighs, righting himself up with his cane. Bookmark here

“Discourse no longer leads The Voices. I do.” A firm declaration. From his voice, he's growing used to saying it, but the confidence is weary. From the uncertainty in those Workers' eyes, I can understand why. Yet, his eyes still glare daggers. Despite the loss of a leg, he stands just as tall. “We need them here. Until the guards assume that we've all died off.”Bookmark here

A tone of finality. I won't be able to get through to him, but I may not need to. Bookmark here

“Whisper,” I turn to her, meeting that icy gaze. I believe that she still strives for the same objective as I do. The struggle in this Wing may have preoccupied her thoughts, but I know she still wants Orion free. “You always said I wanted to make a difference, right? This is it.” Bookmark here

I point to the plan, tapping my index against the center. Somewhere, they're keeping him inside. “Their Watcher. Free him, and the guards are blind. With the Outer Wings, we'll be able to break in through the lighted bridges.”Bookmark here

“Even with the weaponized cart, they still outgun us!” Her voice is a strained yell. Tired, frustrated, exhausted of options. “We've survived for this long on luck. Now, you want us to throw ourselves at them just like that?”Bookmark here

I’d choose better words, but there’s no sugarcoating hers this time. A look of offense crosses her face when I nod my head. Bookmark here

“We are strained for resources and manpower enough,” Mutter chimes in, looking up at the plan with a heated glare. “What’s in it for us if they all die for a plan they don't support?”Bookmark here

“I don't need them to support my cause. I only need them to rally behind you two.”Bookmark here

“What makes you think we'll do what you say?” Bookmark here

He looks away when I turn my eyes to him. A sudden slip of the tongue, from what I can guess. He's trying to preserve what's left of The Voices. I don't blame him, but it's painful seeing their refusal to help out of fear. Bookmark here

I take a breath, recognizing his point with a nod. “I don't. If I'm honest, I didn't even know you were all still alive.”Bookmark here

My words provoke Whisper. Steel fingers scrape against the table's surface. “Then, why did you come? With all the guards, you coming here is nothing short of suicide.”Bookmark here

Linen said the exact same words when convincing me not to go. From a logical view, both of them are right. But I didn't take that into account. For Whisper and all the time I've known her, logic was never the right mindset to use.Bookmark here

“I trusted you to be alive despite everything,” I remark in earnest, leaning away from the table. She watches me, her expression a conflict of frustration and bafflement. “I know you see merit in this plan, Whisper. No matter how long it's been, you still want the same thing I do.”Bookmark here

She clenches her teeth, words hissed in anger. “And if we die?” Bookmark here

“Then, we die.” My sudden answer leaves her speechless, the words prepared choked into silence at her throat. I swallow, preparing my words.Bookmark here

“I know how it is to have people die on your call. This past year has been nothing but that feeling. I've worked for this one plan. It might kill us, it might even fail. But I owe him to at least try.”Bookmark here

I round the table, stepping to her side. My finger jabs lightly on her shoulder. “I could die, but if I go out knowing I did my damnedest to free him, then it will be a life without regret.”Bookmark here

Whisper stares, her mouth agape, eyes shaky. They flicker to the finger pressed against her shoulder. A soft gasp spills from her lips. “So, that's it? Everything just for this moment?”Bookmark here

It's a cause different to hers. I'm not hopeful that she'll give her support, but a part of me wanted to try. At least, I could leave knowing that I did.Bookmark here

“This is your life, Whisper. Before being a Defiant, I was Orion's friend.” Bookmark here

I step back, turning on my heels. “It's regrettable to hear you won't lend support. With the water I brought, your Workers should be able to breathe easier,” I peer over my shoulder, watching them both. “Oh, and it's good to see you both.”Bookmark here

As I begin to walk away, Whisper yells out. I stop, turning around to see her stride over, anger in her eyes. Bookmark here

“He's my friend too,” a hushed, but vexed tone. I find her gaze, still ridden with turmoil. Perhaps what I said is unfair, but if this plan really is more suicidal than I thought, I wanted to explain myself.Bookmark here

I nod, showing a faint smile. “Then if I get him back, you'll be first to know.” Bookmark here

Footsteps echo as I step out, the door falling shut behind me. I take a long breath, clearing my mind. I left everything I wanted to say, for better or for worse. I walk, tracing the old metal with a finger. Untouched by the scars of weapon fire, with any luck, it will stay that way. With the coordinated strike from the rest of the Outer Wings, it should relieve pressure off this Wing. They can recover and do what needs to be done after that. Bookmark here

I helped out with that much. That should wash out the inkling of regret for being away for almost a year.Bookmark here

Weary eyes watch me as I walk back to the cart. The barrels of water are gone, likely hauled away to be distributed among them. A sigh escapes me. That was a goodbye I didn't expect to have. Bookmark here

My next stop will be Wing Five for fuel. Fire material still has its uses, and the Defiants of that Wing have pledged their support. It will be the first time I've stepped foot near home in a long while.Bookmark here

I switch the engine on, growling to life underneath. Before I can drive forward, a figure turns out from the alley leading to where I left. Disheveled black hair flows in the wind. On her shoulder is an object bound in cloth, but I recognize the length and shape of a guard's weapon. She steps up to the front of the cart, looking up with tired, but determined eyes.Bookmark here

“I have so much to do,” she begins, her gaze unwavering. “Freeing Orion stopped being the priority when the situation here became dire.”Bookmark here

I nod, understanding the pain in her voice. “I don't blame you for thinking that, Whisper. You're a Defiant, and they need you here.”Bookmark here

“I'm not just that, and I'll be damned if the few friends I still have die while I do nothing.”Bookmark here

“Friends, huh?” I repeat, a chuckle bubbling up. Her gaze narrows and I raise my hands up, jutting a finger to the back of the cart. “I'll make sure you make it back home in one piece.”Bookmark here

She scoffs, rolling her eyes before walking past me, stepping up onto the back. “For me, home is with people, not a room, Hyde.”Bookmark here

She is poetic, after all. I look over my shoulder, raising a brow. “Then, where is home right now?”Bookmark here

A ghost of a smile tugs at her lips. She sits down, looking up to the ceiling. Bookmark here

“Wherever I'm needed.”Bookmark here

These profound statements lie a sense of finality in them. Let's hope that's just my imagination. I drive the cart forward, listening to the scurrying of footsteps on rooftops.Bookmark here

“So, where's the next stage of your plan?”Bookmark here

I lean against the seat. In front of me, quiet, desolate streets. In a few days, hopefully the fire of Defiants against guards. Soon, oppression will sing to the voice of Workers.Bookmark here

She gives a curious look, uncertainty still stains her eyes. I look back to the road, speaking over my shoulder. Bookmark here

“Wing Five. Fourth Section. To meet with Workers. There, we'll wait and prepare.”Bookmark here

Quiet laughs escape to the air coming from her. “Where we first met?” She still remembers. The air fills with my own laughter, peering over my shoulder to look at her again. Bookmark here

“My series of events started when you tracked me back home, now that I think about it.” A soft hum of amusement. She looks off, eyes wandered to the charred scenery.Bookmark here

“So, I made a difference then,” a short silence, then a smile. “That's all anyone can ask for.” Bookmark here

She turns to me, her eyes resolute. “I hope your plan works, Hyde.”Bookmark here

I nod back shortly before facing forward.Bookmark here

“I hope so, too.”Bookmark here

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