Veils: Under the Panopticon
Sharp hissing rattles the grates lining the floor. Two men step out into near darkness. Lights flicker down the length of the street. They are stagnant. Once, they glided along its surface.
Almost five years ago today, the walls shifted. Witnesses were little and the tale is passed through hushed lips, but even without proof of it happening, the aftermath is indisputable. Along the vast space of The Partition, the lights burned out. Amidst the disarray of Defiants in that fateful day, steel grated against itself, and the gates to the Inner Wings locked shut. A minute after saw everything plunge into darkness. Lighted perches snuffed out in the high ceiling, the glint of guards joining the expansive shadow.
That day, the orchestra of industry changed. Droning monotone of steps and hammers went silent, replaced with fervent cries and distant rings. Since then, the Panopticon shifted, it was now a cacophony of defiance.
Quiet roads see the rushing steps echo down the metal alleys. Life continued, but there is now a difference. A more dangerous, but more freeing difference.
“You turned him down?” One voice asks, steps slowing when they reach the larger roads. Up ahead are men in black uniforms, their presence known with a bright light. In recent years, they've made formidable, but tempting targets. “They have that death machine on treads and you still said no?”
The question hangs in the air as they wait for the guards to pass. They disappear at a corner, both sigh in relief.
“I'm needed here. They already have a leader there already.”
A scoff to a confident answer. “Who said you were the leader, Cass?”
He smiles, stepping out into the street. “You're following me now, aren't you?”
These two men dart through the width of the road, slipping back into the darker shadows cast by high walls. Around them, the hiss of steam vents guides their way. For one, he memorizes these streets long before the lights went out.
This familiarity will be lost if he's somewhere. As exciting dust winds and vast mires are, he is needed here. After all, this is home.
They weave through cluttered corners, empty structures, and tight alleys. Across the Outer Wings, the past five years has seen life struggle amidst the growing defiance. Despite the struggle, there is life. Both men enter a room, adjusting their eyes to the faint glow of orange.
“How many of them are walking out there?” A woman calls out to the two men. Cass steps over, the other tying the door shut, careful to block any light from leaking out.
“We saw two patrols. Nothing out of the ordinary,” he shrugs a bag off him, setting it down with a thud. Metal chimes in the leather. “Have any of the houses been found?”
She shakes her head, leaning against a wall. “We can pass as any Worker. They're still trying to hold onto the status quo by allowing us to work as usual.”
A bark of laughter behind Cass. He peers over his shoulder, finding the other's gaze. “After five years, you'd think they'd give up.”
“Without contact to the Inner Wings, I don't think they can do much else.”
Everyone remembers the tale, even if sensationalized between each whisper. A brave opposition of Defiants across all the Outer Wings saw the end of the watchful eyes of guards. In the darkness, they stumble through the unfamiliar alleys. To the Workers, it is their home. Knowing each turn like the back of their hand.
The Outer Wings were not without stumbling in the dark at first, however. Purpose has found these three, but they were just as blind as the guards when the lights snuffed out. For Cass, it was that way for a year until a parcel reached his doorstep.
It was a charred metal box. Hard to open and filled with pages. Writings of two men he looked up to, and still do today. Alongside the parcel was a letter from Wing Six. He still remembers Linen to be an odd name, but it was through her that he learned the truth, and the metal box held more weight.
Workers who survived that day knew about Hyde. His clock still functions long after the darkness. In the piercing silence, the steadfast pendulum was a hope to those who continued to be Defiant. Guesses were blunt on his absence since, but it only pushes all to continue a fight he started.
A purpose Cass saw himself rallying behind and gathered old friends to that cause.
“I'm turning for today,” he walks down the hall, waving a hand.
“Old man Harbour wanted to see you.”
Cass stops, looking over his shoulder. His feet are tired, the days’ worth of running left him exhausted. Still, he surrenders with a nod, walking the other way.
“Wain was nice enough to sneak in food. Distribute them as quick as you can,” he gestures to the bag on the floor as he passes, rolling aching shoulders. Both hum in agreement, doing just that.
A long hall lit dimly with faint orange lamps. Leftover fire material from boilers down below. With the constant hissing of pipes and vents, it becomes a desired spot to hide in a world that now relies on hearing. Cass finds the room, knocking once before entering. Behind it, a gruff voice calls from the corner.
The door clicks shut, he walks over, his steps purposefully loud. “It's Cass. I'm back.”
Harbour clicks his tongue, facing in his rough direction. “You've been gone for days, son. Where have you been?”
He shrugs, finding a stool beside his bed. He picks it up, setting the legs down. “Food. Finding more people. Some group in Wing Four asked for me, but I can't leave home behind.”
“I thought you were looking for places more exciting?”
Cass laughs, sitting down on the stool. “That was six years ago. This is definitely more exciting than driving carts.”
A memory almost forgotten. It's almost impossible to remember a day with the offending lights gliding along the roads. The constant watch of guards, and the drowning hum of work.
It is a memory better forgotten, Cass admits to himself.
“You haven't been sitting still since. Before I know it, you'll be like Hyde and disappear,” Harbour remarks, the room falling into silence. Both mull over his words, Cass chewing on his bottom lip.
“I never would've guessed life would end up like this because of him.” Harbour finishes, suppressing a coughing fit.
Cass looks up, trailing his eyes along the long shadows on the wall. “Isn't this better?”
The older scoffs, leaning back on the bed. “I'm already blind, so it makes no difference for me.”
Laughter fills the room. Darkness has left a terrifying void in the streets for some. To them, it is a life worse than the invasive light of the guards. For people like Cass, the blind means something. Where the glint of weaponry scared Workers, the darkness has robbed them of their injustice.
Now, everything is equal.
“I'll be leaving tomorrow,” Cass says, standing up. His eyes land on a foggy stare. “I hear that Fourth Section has stocks of fuel left.”
A blank glare. Harbour coughs, waving a hand to the air. “You'd go even if I tell you to stay put. Just don't die.”
Death has replaced reprimand. The ring of weapon fire spells the death of a Defiant. Even with such dangers, Cass meets his warning with a smile, turning to the door.
When he leaves the room, there is no longer any dragging thought. No regret, no anxiety. Cass wonders if Hyde had the same resolution on his last day. Sometimes, he wonders what he was like when he left with Whisper. In the letters left to him, there isn't much information. For the most part, the pages belonged to Orion. Only one sheet was written by his role model. A brother he never had.
“The fight is always tomorrow, never today,” He breathes out, reciting the last entry of his letter. Cass heard that Defiants would leave parting letters before a task should they die. He wonders to make one too, but he isn't one for eloquence.
Parting letters were known to be dramatic and emotional. The full weight of the Worker left in a single slip of paper. It wasn't like that inside that metal box. It was like reading through a conversation they would've had. No dramatic conclusion, no ambition left for him to follow. There was no evidence of his cause that everyone assumed, only that line of finality that closed his letter.
As Cass enters his own room, he can't help but feel pride inside. To him, this is the tomorrow Hyde wanted to leave. The guards that used to strike fear in Workers are nothing but a memory. Invasive bright lights and wires are a relic, left cold in the growing fires of defiance.
In these high walls of metal, the lives thrive without light. With a cause, they keep their defiance. Before, they were labeled Workers, but the dark paves a day where they will be more. Right now, they are more.
In the darkness, the future has never looked brighter.