Part I - Bringer of Storms :: 14
The guard looked from the identification paper to its owner, eyes squinted.
"That's right," replied the Cyneweard. "In baling."
With a frown, the guard handed the parchment to his companion.
"That's the seal," he said, tapping the wax sigil at the bottom of the paper. "A direct hire."
The first guard shook his head. "I wasn't expecting new hires today. The administration is very busy and won't be able to help train you."
Shrugging, the Cyneweard reached out for the paper. "That's fine. I've baled before."
Both guards laughed. The one directly in front of him grinned. "Not like this, you haven't. Report to Foreman Beorgman. He'll find a spot for you."
The hardest part of this business was over for the Cyneweard. He was not as expert in stealth and had relied on stolen clothes, a stolen mark, and some careful handwriting to get this far. Now there was no preparation, just the walking and talking to be done. Get to a station, pretend to work, slip away near shift change and get into Calor's office.
Most dangerous of all was the fact that three people had now seen his face and could mark him if they were called to do so. He regretted letting the secretary live but her turning up dead would have put a severe strain on what he had to do today. Covert missions always relied on luck and he was pressing every ounce of his.
He posed as a new hire. He would access an area he was barred from entering. He would escape. He was leaving trails and he hated it. It had to be done. He had to expand his knowledge before he could finish his business in the Chop. Calor's office held the key to that knowledge.
"Baling," he said, handing his parchment to a feline Foreman standing near the three staircases.
"Stairs down. Watch your head."
The Cyneweard nodded and headed into the belly of the smog spewing beast.
A great, suffocating heat that seemed to suck at the purity of the air enveloped him as he descended, cutting off his clear path to oxygen. He coughed and the sound bounced all the way down the long, reddening corridor. His lungs began to burn. Workers dealt with this every day. He only needed a few hours.
He stepped off the final step and entered a world that could only be compared to the fanciful descriptions of Humbolt's Below. Steam, metal, and flowing red rivers of magma made up the furnace and smelting areas of the Machine. All glowed bright red; there was no need for alchemical light here. It was loud too. Clanging, bubbling, whirring, screeching; all loud, all permeating, all encompassing.
Imposing buckets of hot metal flowed across gangplanks of mesh steel, deposited their lava payload into sluices, and moved on to collect more of the glowing red resource. The technology was all but foreign to him. He could see men, women, children, Hume and Animas alike, operating sticks and pushing small colored circles to move the great machinery moving back and forth along the rivers of magma. Was this magic? Part of him doubted it. The Machinists, formerly the Rebellion, hated magic. It was one of their great actions when seizing the city: outlaw, through the Sigil, all offensive magic. Would they use it to make things? Surely not.
He moved on, coming to a large collection point of painted lines. The green line went to shipping, the yellow to Production, the red to Administration, and the blue to baling. Stowing away the red line's destination in his memory, he began to follow the blue line.
Winding corridors, super heated steam bursts, and more flowing liquid metal. More workers, all moving in tandem, every single one of them just a small piece of this large machination. A long time ago, he would have marveled at this unfettered access to the core of the economic driver for the Chop. But he had business.
"New hire," he said, having made it to Baling and located Beorgman by the blue sash and permanent scowl. The man was squat and plump with jowls that curled down as he frowned. The thick beard he wore did little to hide his comfortable eating habits.
"Horseshit. I don't have time to train new people. Shouldn't they have let you go to the funeral anyway?"
"Funeral?" the Cyneweard responded, offering the hire papers.
"Where'd you come from?" Beorgman scoffed, ignoring the offered identification. "Mount Hewn?" He punctuated his question with a walrus like chuckle.
"Hmm. Ok. You dealt with baling before?"
Again the Foreman laughed. "This isn't Hay, Mr..."
"Weard, huh? That's an old one."
The Cyneweard affected a grin.
"If you baled, you should be fine, but again, this ain't hay. This is iron and steel slugthrower parts. You have to bale tight and make sure they don't move."
The new hire nodded.
"And I don't have time to police you. If you mess up, one of your linemates will report you faster than you can blink. We offer rewards for efficiency reports."
Again, the Cyneweard nodded.
"I'll take you to your station."
The Cyneweard followed his temporary boss. The idiot had never bothered to look at the hire paperwork. He stowed it away in one of the gray coverall's many pockets.
Baling was much harder in the Machine than it was on a farm. The payload was heavier than any amount of hay could muster. Tying the wire tight enough to get a good hold was difficult. The Cyneweard was quick to fall behind, holding up his end of the baling line.
After only two hours, just as Beorgman had said, he was reported for inefficiency. The walrus appeared not ten minutes after the fifth failed bale tie on the Cyneweard's station.
"Look, I know you're new, but I can't have a hold on my line. We're five behind because of you."
The new hire only nodded.
"Do you understand? Humbolt save me I don't have time for this. I'm going to pull you for now until we can properly train you. Who did you say hired you?"
"Direct hire," replied the Cyneweard.
"Who hired you? Not how."
After a moment of hesitation, he replied "Calor," and handed over the hire paperwork. This time, Beorgman took the paper and read through it.
"I see," he said, folding the parchment and stuffing it behind his sash. "Let's go have a visit with VC Calor."
"Is something wrong?"
"No," Beorgman began. "I just need to ensure we have plans to train you up. I don't remember Vin saying anything about a new hire today. Where did you say he hired you?"
"Hmm," came the Foreman's reply. "Follow me. Won't take long to get this cleared up."
The Cyneweard stuffed the baling wire still in his hand into a side pocket and followed the Foreman.
They walked in silence, moving at a brisk pace along a steam-filled corridor and onto a mesh walkway painted with a red line. The walkway turned into a gangway that rose above two large drums of liquid metal, two flowing sluices of the glowing stuff, and a trough full of workers hammering away at bright orange ingots.
Beorgman stopped and looked out over the expansive world the gangway viewed. He leaned against the rail and sighed. They were high above all of the bustle, all of the workers, their conversation drowned out by the cacophony of work sounds, their visages distorted by and hidden beneath the thick steam clouds.
"We worked hard for this, you know."
The Cyneweard didn't answer.
"Fought hard. Set up a whole new world. Gave the people agency. No longer were they going to be sacrificed to a far off war. No longer were they going to be taxed to death to pay for the weapons and training of constant war. And now, those same people spit in our faces. They want to upset this wonderful world we have set up. People like you."
"Calor didn't hire you."
"And you can't bale worth a damn."
"It's time you fessed up. Are you with the Union? Trying to infiltrate the Machine? Surprised you got this far."
"No," he replied.
"Then why would you want to work as a baler? Maybe you're a Remnant spy looking to stir trouble? The onus is on me to rid us of your threat."
"I just want to work, no threat."
Beorgman turned around and smiled, his beady eyes twinkling. "Yeah, I reckon I need to do this job myself."
"What are you-"
And the big walrus came charging towards him. The Cyneweard stepped to the side and as the short, wide Hume impacted the rail of the gangway, took the baling wire from a side pocket.
What the Cyneweard lacked in baling skills, he made up in garroting. In a flash, he had wrapped the wire around the foreman's neck and began to twist.
The walrus thrashed and garbled, spit flying from his lips. His eyes began to bulge. He tried to grab the rail to use as leverage against his attacker but the Cyneweard arched his back and pulled the large man away from his only avenue out of his pending fate.
Again and again the Cyneweard wrenched at the wire, turning its ends over and over, tying off what remained of the foreman's air supply. Sound no longer came from his temporary boss. He grabbed the walrus by the shoulders and pushed.
Beorgman's final word was more of a choke than anything else. He plummetted to the river of magma below.