Chapter 2: Stacking the Deck

The engineer was sat on a grey chair, hunched over a grey desk with drawers, at the side of the grey workshop. He was flocked by the now, lone mechanic, looking over his shoulder at the fire-damaged blueprints, as the engineer traced them with a pencil on tracing paper. All of the four tables and chairs, that weren't bolted to the floor in four rows, which faced the door, were shoved to the right side of the room, clearing the left side to simply house the empty carcass of what was the containment of the Type III Prototype Time Machine. Born from a theoretical, throwaway design concept of one, long gone Gryaz physicist, whose budget and time was re-allocated towards war.

The engineer claimed, during his compulsory project interview, that he did not understand the use for a time machine at all. The past was the past, and Sýnnefa was his future.

Yet, Sýnnefa was obsessed, halting most other on-going projects, to create the time machine. The engineer was simply tasked with designing the mechanisms of the moving parts, removed from the nanobot supply delivery project, formerly used to transport supplies over difficult terrain, on cave ceilings and cliffsides, away from the Type 4 network covered zones in the wilderness, to prevent hacking.

The engineer had watched the actual time machine being moved to the main research hall, just across the corridor, accessible visibly only by the guards, escorting all personnel in and out, always watching over the shoulders of the workers.

All of the four computers at the back of the workroom room were taken up by a systems programmer, who had his own copy of the blueprints, adjusting the brightness, and contrast to reveal more details to copy down later, his screens visible to the two guards stood at the door, watching. There was a security camera and microphone, placed on the ceiling at the centre of the room, watching all of them.

The mechanic occasionally prodded the engineer whenever he had a question, before waiting a few seconds and mumbling it out. The systems programmer preferred to demand answers instead, not looking away from his screen, and without standing up. Nonwork-related speech between the scientists, during work hours, resulted in solitary confinement, and the three had learned their lesson.

The engineer spied the grey clock above the door, where two guards were stood, without lifting his head, pencil still moving. He had ten minutes left, before 20:00, curfew. The programmer and mechanic were both younger than the engineer, with matching, glazed, hazel eyes, sighing now and fidgeting, their ID badges hanging from the pockets of their uniform, on display, able to see them at all times, just in case. The guards stood still, unmoving.

When the shift was over, the drawers under the desks, ready and waiting to store all the paperwork and small parts, were to be filled with the blueprints, the tracing paper, and the pencils. The workshop would be locked up at curfew, and only the guards and cleaners were allowed back in, all the scientists in their individual, identical, grey rooms, unlocked by their ID cards, carried round as a symbol of loyalty and acceptance of the empire and their 'employment'.

Punishment for losing one's ID card was isolation, and the details of the card- text, geometric code, and all- tattooed onto the skin of the transgressor, if they unable to locate it before a guard lost their patience, tired of escorting the desperate worker from location to location in a mostly fruitless search. The facility was seemingly unwilling to issue another, and the three had learnt this the hardest way.

The engineer needed to lose his ID card.

He eyed the grey clock next to the door, where two guards were stood, without lifting his head, pencil still moving. He had ten minutes left, before 20:00, curfew. The programmer and mechanic, both younger than the engineer, and with matching, glazed over, hazel eyes, fidgeted behind the engineer, sighing now and again, and prodding the engineer's shoulder whenever they had a question, which they mumbled out after a few seconds every time.

The layout of the room had been changed eight months ago, and the engineer had never been so thankful for it. He thanked, the younger mechanic on his right, for being the one to suggest the change, in his mind.

It was time.

The engineer coughed into his left elbow, and his twin shadows jumped away. One of the guards jumped up to move at him, before the engineer put his left hand up, right hand, having released the pencil, to reach into his chest, and grab his ID card. He moved his right hand up, making to massage his throat, as the software developer grabbed the almost empty cannister of water, to pass to the engineer.

"My throat was just a bit dry," he attempted to explain, balling his right hand up, over his chest, pushing the ID card down his sleeve.

The guard relaxed back into his original position. "You've had a persistent cough for three weeks now, due to, what you claim, a drier throat. Would you like to access mental health therapy?" the other guard offered. He hadn't moved at all the entire time. The programmer and the mechanic flinched, remembering, the engineer looking down once more. He had a soft voice and seemed far more relaxed than the other guard. The engineer could almost picture the sadistic smile under his helmet, and a long forgotten face, replaced by the now, ever present vision of the dead comrade from the library.

He picked up his pencil and continued tracing, hoping that the outline wasn't visible through his sleeve.

"No, thank you. It will pass," the engineer replied, voice wobbling as he finished speaking. His heart was racing. He didn't think that he was even going to be able to finish working, let alone act normal, with his ID card in his sleeve. He kept going, throat suddenly too dry.

The engineer drank some of the offered water with his left hand, it tasted like vomit, and felt thick and acidic in his throat. Everything tasted like vomit to him now, even the tasteless grey mush he had for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Every time, the engineer went to sleep, he saw his dead comrade, with his eyes wide open, image burned into his retinas. There were five minutes left until curfew, ID card resting heavy in his sleeve, hands sticky.

"Any final questions, you two?" the engineer asked, attempting to place as much authority into his voice, barely keeping himself from gasping out the words, stomach rolling. What he wouldn't do for fresh air? What he was doing now for fresh air. The engineer almost choked.

The two shadows scrambled back, glanced at each other as he pulled himself up, eye brows furrowing. The engineer ignored them, as he always did now. Those two never had any questions.

The draw was opened. The pencil was placed in first. The tracing paper was rolled up, and placed in next, alongside the pencil. The engineer, when going to roll up the damaged blue print, placed his right arm horizontal, dropping the ID card, rolling it up immediately into the paper, placing it alongside the tracing paper.

He did it.

He had done it. He had knowingly committed treason, punishment death. The engineer felt moments away from crying. Phase one of his plan was complete. Nights in the throes of insomnia were starting to come into fruition. The engineer remembered the comrade, dead, outside the library. He had discussed a protest, and was beaten, and killed. The engineer remembered the missing mechanic from their quartet. He had lost his ID card. He had his details inked into his arm. He had taken the therapy request. And he was never seen again.

He shut the drawer, hoping that he didn't do so too quickly, sweating under his collar, and looked towards the guards, feeling that familiar heat at the back of his neck, and walked towards the sadistic guard, bowing his neck down as he was led out into the grey corridors, leading the system programmer and the mechanic, behind him, all in single file towards the west block rooms.

The engineer closed his eyes, and listened to the guard footsteps around him, listening for when the rhythmic marching would change. The doors they walked through in their line, were silent.

He began to hear a new march. A second beat. A second rhythm.

The engineer did not know where it came from, but it was undeniably there. He stepped out of beat of it, walking along at a pace, matching neither, confused. He could not glance behind him to see his two shadows, but could only look forward towards the Sýnnefa guards, and their grey uniforms.

Lights from nowhere were beginning to flash, and he heard screams echo in his mind.

He would get his revenge. He would shed his identification code of Gryaz E-009, and he would be called by his actual name. His real name: Red_Two.

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