One – Difficult Sentiments

Some of his crew called him the Voyeur.

That was all right with Fabian. He did an awful lot of watching; least of which was from the many monitors he had installed back at the foundry. And when he wasn't watching and observing his crew—as they always knew he was—then he was out here in the open doing it.

Granted, his unique abilities further earned him the title. It was easy to watch a street corner or apartment when tech wasn't relied upon.

But Fabian didn't consider himself a voyeur. Not really. True, he had followed individuals home and observed their doings, even seeing things he really shouldn't. But that wasn't his purpose and he knew that in a crusade such as his he would have to see things that earned him the reputation as a voyeur. When a silent war was being waged and a revolution kindled, there was no time for niceties. That was the unpleasant reality of the work Fabian and his crew did, but it wouldn't make him shy.

Not with what was at stake.

Yes, Fabian had a reputation as a voyeur among his crew. But in a way it was more of a subset of his true reputation: visionary. Symbol. Something they could look to and follow in their silent war. Voyeur was almost a comical name given for his unique abilities. For awhile, the crew had come by calling him the Voyeur as if he were a superhero or something. Fabian knew he was no hero; just a soldier. But titles were quickly spreading among his crew, as was natural. They had talents of their own, all of which were earning them nick-names.

Comical names would not be their defining trait, though. The capacity for them to use their talents to wage and fight a successful war…that was what would define them. Fabian did not mind being referred to as a voyeur. But he would not be the Voyeur. Especially not when he had more important tasks to do besides peeping on women.

Presently, he found himself a slightly more honorable vantage point, his eyes phased just barely through the edge of a brick wall to look out over the street.

Back before Fabian's family had immigrated to the States, he had already learned at a young age that when he focused hard enough he could make his hand phase through solid objects. With enough time and practice in his early youth, he could walk through walls and even take a knife or a bullet without a single drop of blood.

But the real magic—the real talent he had fine tuned in the last decade—had come when he could freeze himself in between the folds of matter and hold a position. It had taken so much mental focus and restraint, almost costing him a leg once. Since then, he had worked it out to a near science. He could now sit in the sides of walls like this with little more than a simple thought on keeping himself partially phased. He even had it perfected to the point where only his irises could poke through without being noticeable to a passerby.

Fabian didn't waste any energy on crafting an invisible smile in between the folds of the brick wall. His focus was too engaged presently across the street, where a group of homeless were scattered about another wall. There was a mix of old and young among their number, some huddled around piles of trash. A surprising amount of young, actually; including what may have been a teenage mom with a baby in her arms.

The one that stuck out to Fabian, and the reason he was in this wall in the first place, was a woman perhaps closer to his age, scooted up against the wall alone. Her knees were drawn up close to her chest, arms wrapped around the edges. Her clothing was worn and battered, a greasy hoodie pulled up around her head. Even under the hood, Fabian could make out olive complexion skin and dark brown eyes wandering carefully over the venue around her. Her wardrobe and posturing was well pulled off for this part of town, making her nearly as invisible as Fabian at this exact moment.

This time Fabian did smile to himself. Jade had apparently been promoted back at Initiative-9.

Jade-614, as I-9 had officially designated her from a specific batch of "recruits." Fabian had been in that very same batch, a year's worth of investment that had paid off handsomely. Just like Jade, he had been issued a generic name and a number. Then placed through considerable brainwashing, part training and part torture. Unlike Jade, who he didn't even know by her real name, Fabian had retained his identity, infiltrating the ranks of I-9 as a Trojan horse. He had hoped to do more damage during his time among their numbers, but considering the information he had denied them access to nearly a year ago, it was all worth it in the end.

Since then, he had fought I-9 in a different kind of war, with his own soldiers and rules of engagement. Apparently I-9 had kept up to pace since then. Initially, they had trained their young recruits like Jade to do little more than stalk around in the dark, hunting for clues and carry out an assassination here or there.

Now she was playing dress up, blending in with her environment to hunt people like Fabian. People I-9 had deemed enemies to their precious States. She was becoming more like the original agents I-9 had employed, with a lot more autonomy and singular purpose in accomplishing their goals.

Fabian was impressed. To an extent. As far as he was concerned, Jade-614 was still just a brainwashed little girl that had a much more free-thinking enemy to face.

And that enemy was coming right…now.

Right on schedule, one of Fabian's crewmembers wandered up the street with a small group that had just gotten off a bus. This particular crewman was a kid named Burk, sometimes nicknamed Sparks because of his knack with charged electrical energy in the air. Fabian had insured that the group Burk was getting off the bus with had no one else among their number that Jade might be potentially tracking. That way Burk would stand out like a sore thumb to whatever tech I-9 had managed to cook up that had gotten Fabian's last crew massacred.

Fabian watched as Burk stayed loosely within the confines of the group, passing Jade by a few scant inches along with the rest of the homeless. A few of them instantly took to begging, but not Jade. Fabian noted as her focused eyes slowly panned in Burk's direction, locking onto him like a laser guided smart bomb.

Oh yes, I-9; you certainly have some neat toys to play with. Too bad we know how to use that knowledge against you.

At the next street corner, the group getting off the bus began to disperse. Burk broke off alone kitty corner across the street. Fabian stayed put long enough to watch Jade stumble casually to her feet, hands in her pockets, wandering up in the same direction Burk had gone. When she was out of sight, Fabian withdrew from his watching place in the wall, dashing through the abandoned building with ease as he phased through each wall. He had had to wait long enough that Jade was focused solely on Burk; otherwise she might have sensed the use of his magic from just across the street.

That certainly would have made a mess of the surprise they had planned.

It was easy following from inside the row of dilapidated buildings along the street that Burk and Jade were presently walking up. Most of them were empty, giving Fabian the privacy he needed to keep up without giving himself away to whatever detection equipment Jade was running. The few that had squatters or even businesses still running were largely oblivious to his passage. One woman in a cheap business skirt froze at the sight of his passage out one wall in a conference room and out the other. But he doubted she would do little more than shake her head and carry about her work.

Folks like Fabian were quite common in this city. As long as the things that went bump in the night didn't try robbing you blind, most of the residents didn't bat an eye. And with a city housing a fair amount of folks like Fabian, he had known I-9 would send someone eventually. It had just been an added bonus that Jade was the one they sent.

Soon Burk was headed down the targeted dead end street they had scouted out. Fabian slid to a stop in his last building, easing himself carefully into the drywall to peek out at his crewman a half block down. Right according to plan, he was knocking on a back door, as if waiting to be let in. The building was of course vacant, which would hopefully give Jade the appearance of cornered prey.

Sure enough, Jade had paused at the corner of the street, staring down into the dead end where Burk was still wrapping with feigned annoyance on a door that wouldn't ever open. She remained frozen to her spot, hands still in her hoodie pockets. For a moment, Fabian wondered if she was even planning to attack Burk; she looked so…absent.

All she really had to do was start stalking down the street. Fabian and Burk had left out a fair amount of loose scrap metal and wires. The streets in this part of the city were so littered that it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. As Jade's I-9 training would put her into a sort of cat like trance, ready to pounce on Burk the mouse, she would come in contact with some of that metal. And since it was all touching, Burk's magic would sense a new conductor in the system and he could zap her a new one.

But Jade wasn't moving. Fabian scowled, irritated mostly with the delay. Burk seemed to sense something was up, grunting in frustration and putting his own hands in his pockets. It looked genuine enough, but Fabian wished they had had a better crewman with magic and acting skills to pull off this trap. Granted, he was keeping his attention focused on the door of an imaginary friend that wasn't ever coming to open it.

And Jade remained unmoved.

Fabian narrowed his eyes, trying ever so hard to read her body language. Something was up. He could see it now, the way her relaxed pose had straightened; tensed. Was she onto them? Had she somehow sensed Fabian behind her and across the street, watching through the wall? He wouldn't put it past her. Fabian knew when some of his targets felt like there were invisible eyes watching them; the way they got anxious, glancing over their shoulder. He could only imagine how a trained I-9 young operative with advanced sensory tech must feel with his peepers staring at her from behind.

Burk made one last attempt at knocking in vain, as if fed up. And then Jade turned, walking past the dead end street entirely and away from the scene.

She had ignored the bait.

Fabian blinked; something that was still an interesting sensation even after years of walking through walls. Mostly he couldn't believe it. She had clearly sensed Burk; she wouldn't have followed him otherwise. She must have realized it was a trap. What tipped her off was beyond Fabian, but he thought he might as well find out. Even if that meant asking her in person.

She had since crossed over to his side of the street, still walking in a direction away from Burk. Fabian phased over one more building, then stepped right out onto the sidewalk in front of her. Jade froze mid step, her eyes growing wide.

Surprise! Bet you didn't see that one coming.

"Hey girl, haven't seen you in some time," he began casually. "Now can you please tell me why the hell you just passed up my buddy back there? I'm really trying to figure that one out, and, to be honest, you have me stumped."

The hesitation that accompanied his dramatic appearance barely lasted long enough for him to get his little speech out. About the time he had finished saying "stumped," she had drawn a concealed pistol, firing off a quick three shot burst. All of it passed harmlessly through Fabian with little more than a thought, of course. He had already been phasing at the time, figuring she would have started shooting sooner.

But then she would have expected that…

Fabian quickly dodged to his right, phasing back through the building wall. He caught sight briefly of a sparkling mesh of thin wires flying through the air in his general direction. He had no idea what it was or whether or not it could actually stop him from phasing, but he really had no intention of finding out. The drawn sidearm had been a diversion to put him at ease.

And I nearly fell for it…damn, she's good.

A random passerby somewhere on the street had screamed, the rest taking shelter without a peep. A few people in the building Fabian had entered were going through the motions of crouching low behind barriers. There were enough shootings in this part of town that it had become a routine for these residents. Fabian should know; he armed his crew from the same black market vendors that got the street thugs their weapons.

Jade was already in the door, toting some kind of attachment on the under barrel of her sidearm. Fabian wondered how he had missed that before, but didn't waste time thinking about it. Another web of sparkling mesh wires was flying through the air at him.

It was time to get creative. This time he phased down through the floor, sinking into the foundation below their feet. Moving through large chunks of solid matter, be they dirt or concrete, usually made for much slower going. But it was enough time for him to pinpoint where Jade was standing and propel himself back up through the floor. He managed to snag her sidearm in the process.

Jade instantly switched to hand-to-hand combat, but Fabian was phasing again, so her movement instantly threw her off balance and nearly flat on her face.

"Hey! Will you stand still long enough for me to talk to you?"

Apparently not. She now had another piece of gear on her person that she was lunging with in his direction. Fabian dropped through the floor again, leaving her sidearm to re-solidify out of her reach. He briefly considered going through the process of disarming her of all of her gear, but that would do little more than make her angry and even more dangerous. It was time to make a tactical retreat.

A minute later, he was on the roof of the building, tapping on his earpiece to Burk.

"Head for home through the back route. This job is cancelled."

"So soon, Fabian? She might come back this way…"

"I very much doubt that. Now get on your way and keep an eye on your tail."

"Right. See ya back at the foundry."

Fabian switched off his ear piece, sighing. He waited a few more minutes before Jade finally exited the building below, glancing up and down the street furtively before setting off back for her raggedy street corner. Fabian trailed her briefly, taking care to phase discretionarily to keep her off his scent. Sure enough, she had soon settled down with her back to the same brick wall with the rest of the homeless. No one called for cops back up the street.

Fabian sat for awhile on the fifth story roof, watching Jade far below. What was her game? What little bit of I-9 programming ran through her brain right now? Was she unaware of how many of the city's targets on I-9 lists belonged to Fabian's crew? Maybe she didn't. Maybe I-9 had no credible Intel on Fabian's crew. Then Jade would spend a long time sitting down there, waiting for a target to pass by that was never coming. Fabian had put his whole crew on alert. They were all steering clear of the reported I-9 operative in the city.

The afternoon gradually wore on, the skies growing a mixture of red and orange as the setting sun set fire to the clouds. Still Jade waited, unmoving, seemingly content to play her part for as long it took. Fabian was more than happy to keep watch over her. His crew had their orders and could take care of themselves. He wouldn't be missed.

But that was beside the point. He wasn't just here spying on the enemy. In the long hours Fabian spent high up on the old building roof, watching over Jade, new plans and ideas began to take shape. He admitted that part of it was driven by emotion, but hell, he was a revolutionary. And revolutions were sparked by powerful emotions.

This particular emotion fueling him was pity.

Watching the young woman for so long had welled up great reserves of pity. What was she doing out here like this? Shouldn't she be in school or dating or doing something to live her life? No, I-9 had taken a life full of potential and joy and squashed it out, turning her into a monster; a killing machine to fight this silent war of theirs. Fabian didn't like it. He certainly didn't like how I-9 indiscriminately killed his people in the name of National Security, but this…this was too far.

So while Fabian spent those long hours planning and scheming, the exact decision had long since been made. All fueled by his pity for Jade.

As shadows in the city grew longer, the sky growing darker, Jade finally stood, dispersing as a few of the other homeless wandered off. It was perfectly timed; she didn't stand out in the least with her new motion. Fabian watched her walk off a bit of stiffness from sitting in the same place for so long; or maybe that was part of the imagine she was trying to portray.

Fabian followed.

Walking by foot alone, she crossed a mile worth of city into a new district entirely. Things were a little cleaner and nicer here; a few of the wealthy inner city folks lived in high rises in these parts. He followed her to a cheap, eight-story apartment building where he guessed she was set up. Sure enough, on the sixth floor she had a simple studio apartment with austere furnishing. Fabian kept mostly to across the street, watching her through her main window. He didn't want to get too close to whatever instruments she had set up inside. Fabian knew well enough that any nasty gear she hadn't carried with her previously would be well stocked inside.

As he watched her, part of him did feel like a voyeur. He watched as she changed from her homeless garb into simple work clothing, attending to various unknown projects or duties. Mostly she kept her tablet on her person, constantly attending to something unseen on the screen. At length, she even made herself a meager meal, something that looked like military grade feeding; simple, tasteless, packed with nutrients and calories.

It was all very robotic and routine like, the way she went about her evening. But in it, Fabian saw traces of her humanity. So at length, when she finally closed her blinds and he headed back to the foundry, he was certain more than ever.

He was going to save whatever humanity was left in her.