The Great Smog
We were walking through the dark streets of London, crouching on our legs. It was so uncomfortable, I mean, sneaking was one thing but crouching? My knees were in pain. “We cannot draw any attention,” Jacob would say, and he was right, because what we were about to do was something that we wanted for a really long time, and we couldn’t risk it.
It was time to destroy that factory.
The city of London used to be a bright and vibrant city, the center of trade. The markets used to teem with people from all over the country, bringing in goods of high variety to be exchanged for coins. The production of the goods was slow, but people were actually happy once their coin, the worth of all their troubles, was given to them.
When the steam engine was invented, the people of London were ecstatic about it. “Finally, we’ll be able to wear new clothes!” they would say, as if it was going to make their life any better for them. Obviously, it didn’t. Because everything turned black.
The engines used coal as main source of power, which was high in sulfur. Things were fine at first, until the machines began to release a gas that created a dense smog, which was so strong that after a while it didn’t vanish. First it was in the factories, then it started to affect people’s breathing, and it gave its black color to the sky. It had killed so many workers in factories, including my parents. Both of them were factory workers, as the employers would need all the people they could get. If me and Jacob weren’t 6-year-olds, we would’ve made the cut too. That day while my parents were working in the factory, a machine began to release an immense amount of smog, smothering my parents, leaving me and my twin brother Jacob to the orphanage.
By the employers I mean the King Aeor, the last hope of England against Spain, also the greediest person you could ever imagine. He was hungry for power. He was the one who gave a pass for the research and extreme use of the steam engine, which used its power to mass produce clothes, furniture and most importantly, weapons.
The city of London has changed accordingly, as we were sneaking towards the factory in the middle of the night, I was able to see with the help of a few streetlights. The buildings around us were usually short, except for the tall factories with their chimneys. “Puffers,” we’d like to call them, and they were high in number. Out of every eight or ten building was a puffer. They were the reason why we were wrapping a piece of cloth around our faces, covering our nose and mouth, which made it harder to breathe but made any exposure to smog safer for us.
Jacob and Abed were right ahead of me. “It’s right up ahead,” Jacob said, hinting with the tip of his jaw. “We only need to walk for 4 minutes and we’ll go around to hit the side to get in.” Jacob is… well Jacob, with his expert knowledge and calculation. A master planner who wants to be ahead of everything, which is really not my cup of tea. I’d like to face any issues head on, or punch on, should I say? If it weren’t for him, though, I would’ve been in much bigger problems today, that’s for sure.
“Okay we’re here.” Jacob said, “Is everyone comfortable with the plan?”
There we were, twins and a former factory worker, filled with vengeance, sought to burn this puffer to the ground. It was a tall and wide building made of stone, there were windows lined up next to each other, twelve on each line, to be exact. The building looked quite prismatic and had no room for creativity, except for the fence locks on every window of the ground floor. It was to keep thieves, or rebels like us, out. Other than that, it was just a building. The only thing that got attention was the tall chimney at the top, which was still puffing black smog right into the air even at night.
Jacob stopped and looked up, “Smog. I think there’s someone in there now.”
“That was a risk we thought of before.” Abed said, “We will follow the plan, won’t we?”
I squinted my eyes, “Let’s go over the plan again, just to be safe.” There was no room for mistakes. Jacob sighed but answered for both of us quickly, “Right. We go in through the window on the side, Abed’s brother left its fence lock open for us. It’s the third window on the ground floor,” he pointed, “we will break it with the log that Abed’s carrying, and it’ll send us right to the basement, where we will find the engines. We will use the lamps to set the machines on fire. We escape through the window again, however, since someone is in there, I highly think that the entrance door is open. We might want to consider that as our escape as well. Once the fire is out, whoever’s inside will either smell or see it and flee, they only need to be occupied to not disrupt the plan. Any questions?”
“Got it.” I said, “Aye,” added Abed.
“Then let’s begin, shall we?” Jacob signaled us to go in through the narrow window.
Abed smashed the window with a loud noise, whoever was in there, they now knew that something was happening. We needed to clear the broken glass to get in safely, but knowing that we didn’t have much time, we just swept the pieces around quickly and tried to swoop in. I turned my back to the window, lied down on my face, extending my legs through the broken window and pushed myself backwards into the building. I let myself go and fell right on my feet. The gap wasn’t that high considering it was the ground floor.
Inside the machines were quiet. I wondered if there really was someone inside. It was kind of a prismatic room with no walls within, which had nothing but rows of weaving machines, all of them were black but looked old. If you looked above, you would see two more floors, where you could see the stairs and the metal fence on their sides. On top of that, there was the blackest ceiling, done by the smog. The dark stones of the walls revealed to me how feeble this building actually was, it looked as if one strong punch could push the stones out of their place.
The frailty of the walls reminded me of the orphanage, which was hell. It was the smallest place for the biggest amount of people that you could ever imagine. The boys were disgusting as always, seeing a brown-haired skinny girl with her brother they would go crazy and tease us. At least the nuns were nice, Mary, the prioress who had a liking to me for lord knows why, would help me by hitting the boys away with her long wooden rod. You see, I was a small girl back then, but now I would’ve punched those boys’ noses out, eagerly. Destroying a factory is a more ambitious concept than punching boys, of course. Aeor has to pay for what he has done to my family and to the people of this city.
In the engine room there were unfinished blankets, shirts, pants, even socks everywhere. Some were falling out of the machines; some were still waiting to be worked on. “No sight of anyone!” I said in a confused tone, which really said, “yet,” as Abed and Jacob was coming in the way I did.
“Oof!” I heard a grunt. It was Abed, who couldn’t slide down as he was supposed to, letting the glass cut a few scratches on his brown skin. He was a top-heavy man, which made him unable to move nimbly and got him stuck in tight spaces, even though he had slimmer legs. It was nothing serious, so he gave himself a shake and we moved on.
The engine room only had the sound of six footsteps now. My eyes were scanning everywhere, from the thick dirty pipes at the corners to the rectangular windows.
Jacob, raised the lamp. It was a portable lamp that showed itself to have seen some years. It was rusty, and when you shook its handle, it screeched like a bird. It would be the best thing to set a place full of cotton clothes on fire: the incendiary liquid in the lamp, combined with fire, would show us a blaze of glory. “I’ll smash it down on the machines, you two should look for whoever’s in the building and keep them occupied,” he looked at me in such a way that everything counted on me, while he was the one doing most of the work. I didn’t want to disappoint him.
“But of course,” I said, nodding pompously. “Abed, let’s find them.”
Abed had joined the cause even though this place was his old workplace. He used to work with my dad in the factory. When I asked him how he had felt he said “The pain you feel upon hearing that your friends have perished is something unbearable. It stays with you. To lose your job was nothing. It was for the better, I would have the chance to reclaim those people, and set things right with this cause. My brother is still there, too. I’ll be happy to burn this puffer to the ground to save him.”
I didn’t know how this “cause” was going to turn out and how future was going to be once we start this off, but Abed was there to comfort me, “We’ve made up our minds, we believe in our cause. We will rid this country of Aeor’s reign and once that’s done, we will see better days. We owe this to the ones we’ve lost.” Doing this with him was much easier, he had been a great friend who truly understood what Jacob and I went through.
We stood up to walk towards the real entrance of the building, not the one we came in from. As we were getting closer, I started to hear another pair of footsteps. Surprisingly, it was only a pair of footsteps, while I was expecting a group. We were walking slowly, following the wall on our left, there was a direct turn towards left and it was the entrance to the building, which was the start of staircases that led up to the second and third floors, rising above in a straight line through archways, up into the empty cage looking engine room.
There I saw a figure, going upstairs whereupon seeing us, stopped and turned. “Who are you? State your business!” It was a girl, maybe in her twenties, with a piece of cloth wrapped around her mouth, nose, and ears, as if she was wearing a scarf but much tighter, which proved she wasn’t a worker but had a plan of coming here. She had short dark hair apparently, some of it was strung up due to the mask, the rest of it was a ponytail and she had very thin fringes. She was wearing a simple long sleeve black blouse which seemed a bit tight for her, and a pair of brown trousers, the same kind as I wear.
“Are you a worker?” I began with a question, “You need to get out of here!”
She must’ve taken that as a threat, “And why would I do that?” she produced a knife, pointing it at us.
I’ve lived this scenario too many times by now. I quickly thought of a story, but I had to calm her down first. “Hey, we’re not here to harm, me and my uncle are staying here, the boss knows. We heard some noise, wanted to take a look, and it turned out to be some rebels, they attacked us with knives, we fought them off, but my uncle needs help!” I gestured towards the scars that Abed just cut. Abed was quick to play along, he arched his back and covered his scars with his hand. “Get out of here! Unless you’re one of those rebels too.”
Abed was acting as if he was in pain, breathing quietly but heavy. I appreciated him for being so quick to play along. With his eyes he pointed towards the girl, meaning I could take her out by force. I shook my head, I knew that I could bring some sense to her, without revealing our plan. She seemed shocked just as much as we did. What was she doing here?
The girl seemed lost in thought, she looked at me gloomily. “Leave, now.” She said, in such a low voice that I could barely pick out the words. She had that stoic disposition about her, you would see that she was angry, but somehow that anger was turning into sadness, as if she had just lost someone important to her. At any rate, that wasn’t the answer I was expecting. Thankfully, I caught the scent of fire.
Jacob came out on quick steps next to me, “The fire’s set - but why are you her-?” he paused twice, first when he saw us, a second time when he saw the girl. “Who might you be?” Jacob asked, noticing the knife. The girl swung his knife in front of us, making us jump backward. She used that move as a distraction to dash up the staircase and jumping off the first window she saw on the first floor. She was out.
“Hurry now, we have to go!” Abed said, pushing us from our backs, into the entrance door, which was, as Jacob had expected, wide open.
And we were outside. Abed was relieved that it was over. Jacob seemed glad the plan worked. He never made it show but I knew he was just as passionate as I was in this cause. We were watching it, the yellow-orange colors were all lighting up inside. If there was one advantage of stone buildings, it was that the fire wouldn’t spread to others. Our one and only intention was to burn the machines, which took my parents and countless other lives, put everyone at constant risk of death for the sake of progress and profit. But I’ll show Aeor and his minions, he may not know that I exist now, but he will know who I am and what he did to these people.
Then we heard the screams. They were coming from near the factory, “Help! Fire!”
“Oh God…” I could only mutter.
“H-how?” Jacob stuttered, “There wasn’t supposed to be anyone in there!”
“Oh no…” sighed Abed. “What have we done?”
“No, no… I didn’t notice anyone! Maybe it’s their people?” I was trying to hold on to the slimmest hope.
Jacob exhaled. “Regardless, we must have a look to be sure.”
I don’t know which one would be worse: to assume it’s Aeor’s men and leave; or check where the screams are coming from. Are they dead? What if they are suffering because of us and we can’t help them? We’re no doctors.
That didn’t feel right. “We need to take a look, not just to confirm; but to prove that we can’t be like Aeor, we will take responsibility. Come on.”
And with that, we made our move.