Eight – Monster

The alarm chirped incessantly, a soft whine in the night.

Fabian groaned, rising from the deepness of sleep. It took him a moment to come to his senses, as well as focus on the small sensor package on the desk. It sat next to the cheap alarm clock, which told him it was three in the morning.

Realization flushed through Fabian like cold water in his veins. Bolting out of bed, he scooped up the small device and killed the alarm. It was connected wirelessly to a series of sensors around Ashley's room. He set them every night before bed; a precaution in case someone ever made a move against her. The argument with Sheyda still fresh in his mind, Fabian hoped to God she hadn't taken hasty measures on an emotional whim.

But Sheyda was better than that, wasn't she? Fabian hoped so as he pulled on a shirt, finding his shoes and running for the monitor room. A night's rest would calm her down; if she had wanted to hurt Ashley, she would have marched there right after their previous encounter.

It was Dustin. It had to be. Fabian had known he should have taken better precautions against the guy. He had murder in his eyes ever since they had bagged Ashley way back in the alley weeks ago.

Fabian stumbled into the monitor room, the fog of sleep still leaving him hazy. He flicked on a switch to the foundry's impromptu security system. Nothing happened.

Shit. Fabian fumbled with the tangle of wires and computer boxes tied up to the mess. Everything looked plugged in. But something was seriously wrong. Did he need to wake some of the tech specialists? Shit, why couldn't he get this going? Something must have worked, because the wall of monitors lit up, camera feeds streaming to life.

Fabian glanced up, his breath catching in his throat.

Scenes of death and carnage greeted his eyes. Most of the rooms showed bodies lying in pools of blood, either in bed or on the floor where some kind of fight had broken out. A few had made it to the halls, some even to the larger recreation and practice rooms. But as far as Fabian could tell, not a single soul still moved about. In the washed out color of the monitor screens, the gore was poignantly detailed.

"No…" This was worse than his last crew; there had only been a handful of them back then. This was an entire army he had crafted; over fifty of them. He could see signs of flight and battle. How had he missed all of this?

Fabian felt his legs wobble and he collapsed to his knees. He wanted to puke, but there was nothing in his stomach. Anguish rolled over him. His army; his friends…they were all slaughtered. He could pick out the individual faces. Burke, Doren, Brack, Dani, Reed, Cora, and…

Sheyda. She was sprawled out in her bed, several bullet wounds in her chest.

Who had done this?

Movement in one of the screens caught his attention. Focusing, he saw a figure crouched low in the shadows of the kitchen behind a countertop. Oh thank God! Someone was still alive! Fabian scrambled to his feet, pressing his face closer to the screen for a better look. It was Ashley.

She peeked up over the counter top, keeping her profile small. She was watching for something outside in the mess hall. A shadow briefly passed over the open doorway, but moved on.

Shit, she was in danger—maybe one of the only ones left alive. Fabian pushed off from the desk, running full out into the hallway beyond. Ashley was in danger and she needed him now. Whatever was loose in the foundry slaughtering his crew, Fabian had to do something. He was unarmed and still wobbly from the massacre on the screens. But he wouldn't let her die.

No one else was going to die tonight.

The power went out. The few security lights sparsely lining each hall plunged into darkness. Whoever was orchestrating this attack, they had finally found the backup generators. Fabian was grateful he had gotten a bearing on Ashley while it was still running. But if these folks had night vision…

Grunting, Fabian moved into a full on phase, charging through walls and short cutting his way across the foundry. Let them take shots at him. Let them use whatever toys they brought, even if this was some kind of surprise attack by I-9. They couldn't stop him. No one could stop him.

The mess hall was a two story room with windows lining the upper wall; one of the original production rooms when the foundry was active. Ambient moonlight streamed in, lighting up the darkened space, as well as casting pillars into the kitchen. Fabian ground to a halt from his mad dash, keeping his phase on. The sudden waking and full exertion of his ability was wearing him down, but he wasn't near finished yet.

Ashley was gone. Fabian dashed out into the mess hall, spying several bodies lying in pulls of blood. Justin was out here, several scorch marks on nearby tables and walls where he had fought back. But he had fought mostly alone by the look of it. Whoever had cased this place, they had isolated his crew and defeated them individually. For all the good it did having a secret army, their attackers had stabbed them in the back when everyone's guard was down.

Could this be the work of I-9? Fabian wasn't sure. Part of him still believed Dustin had gone off his rocker, but why would he do all of this? Why was Ashley still alive?

A voice growled in pain in the halls beyond. Fabian heard the unmistakable cough of silenced gunfire. Then he heard a body tumble to the ground.

Ashley.

Fabian took off across the mess hall, phasing into one of the long corridors that wrapped back towards the rooms. He came to a jarring stop when he found Dustin's bloody corpse at his feet. Glancing up, Fabian spied a small figure standing silhouetted in moonlight, gun outstretched where Dustin had come at her.

"Ashley…" Fabian breathed a sigh of relief. So Dustin had come at her. But what about—?

Fabian blinked as several phased rounds passed through his body. Muzzle light flashed in the darkness. Ashley was shooting at him.

"Ashley! It's me! Fabian!"

He heard her eject the gun's magazine, reaching for a fresh one on her person. She completed the action in several fluid motions and then drilled several more rounds Fabian's way. One of them took a bite out of his back. Damn, he was starting to lose focus.

"Ashley! Please! I know you're scared, but you got him! You got Dustin! It's okay now!"

She wasn't listening. Damn it, she had snapped, hadn't she? All of that brainwashing coupled with Dustin's sudden blood lust. Ashley was just trying to stay alive. She didn't know any better. She—

Fabian gaped, watching a mesh of electrified wires race at him through the darkness. He sidestepped it, trying to phase through the wall. Several coils caught him though, and Fabian lost his phase focus. Screaming in pain, he tumbled out of the wall, several bloody scrapes on his torso where he hadn't quite made the transition smoothly.

That was I-9 tech she had just fired at him. The same kind she had used on him back on the city when he found her several weeks back.

A cold horror settled in Fabian's gut. He scampered to his feet, wincing in pain. He managed to start phasing again as Ashley—no, Jade rushed the room, firearm drawn.

"You were never Ashley," he voiced aloud.

She didn't hesitate, firing several more rounds at him. He watched as she made to reload a special cartridge with the mesh wiring. Still clever Jade, trying to finish the mission.

Fabian shoved himself backwards through the wall, finding himself back in the mess hall. He heard her curse, making her way the long way around out into the halls. Had she planned this encounter, too?

"You were never my prisoner!" He found his voice rising, both in anger and a warning. Fabian seriously doubted anyone was left alive in the foundry. But he had to make the effort. And he was suddenly very pissed off. "You were a smart bomb! Waiting to go off when we had your full trust!"

She rounded the corner into the mess hall, now carrying an assault rifle. Fabian took off running, automatic fire phasing through him and chewing up the tables and chairs. The pain from his partial phase earlier was becoming excruciating, and Fabian felt himself stumble through the wall. He landed outside in the dirt, his focus all but gone.

Winded, and finding sudden tears in his eyes, he growled out. "I believed you! You let me get pulled into your little, lost girl fantasy! Hell, you even made me fall for you!"

Between the pain and horror, Fabian found himself balling like a little kid. It would take Jade awhile to wind back around the foundry interior and out to where he was lying in the dirt. Maybe he should just let her finish him.

She had taken everything now. His trust, his dignity, some of his closest friends, and most importantly of all, his army for fighting I-9. All this time, coming here to the city as a solo agent…she had waited for an opportunity like this. Where someone with a sense of mercy like Fabian would take her in. Damn, she had played him for a fool. Spending all those weeks learning the layout of the foundry; learning everyone's powers for the perfect strike.

And then she had pushed it too far and gotten to him emotionally.

Jade-614 eventually came around the corner, rifle up to bear, scanning the immediate grounds. Because he was lying in the shadows, she didn't immediately see him. He remained there, his tears all gone and breathing silently. When she did spy him, there was no hesitation. The dirt and concrete in the wall went to pieces as she drilled him home.

But Fabian was phasing again.

Standing up, he turned and ran back inside just as she was preparing another mesh wire trap. He cut straight through the middle of the foundry, running across to the vehicle bay. Fabian didn't bother trying any of these; he knew Jade would have sabotaged them ahead of time. Instead, he pulled aside a secret wall block where he had kept something hidden for such an occasion.

Fumbling for the keys on the tool chest in this secret room, Fabian started up the motorcycle. The engine purred quietly, a feature one of these models toted specifically. He wheeled it into the vehicle bay proper, then gunned it out into the night. Fabian didn't look back.

Their faces came back to haunt him as he sailed into the night. Sweet Cora, so motherly and willing to nurture. Young Dylan, the kid cast out by his family because they were mortified by his power. Strong Dani, one of the toughest people Fabian had ever met, yet with a softer side with her friends.

And Sheyda.

Oh Sheyda…we had so much we were going to do.

Fabian gripped the handle bars of the motorcycle, gritting his teeth. The city lights had long since fallen behind him as he headed west. By morning, he would dump the bike and find new transportation. There were places on the west coast he knew where he could lie low for the time. But this wasn't over.

This was far from over.

Initiative-9 was an evolving, learning entity that had proven itself tonight. They didn't need powerful bombs or guns or anti-magic warfare even. Their greatest assets had always been and always would be the monsters they forged from the souls of men and women.

Jade-614 was one such weapon. Perhaps the greatest threat ever known to his kind. Far worse than the old generation of hunters like Housten could ever become. She was no machine; she was conniving and adapting. And now, worst of all, she knew about the portal. Fabian's last great secret. May whatever God who watched over them have mercy on his soul.

But knowing of the portal's reality and having direct access to it were two different things, weren't they?

As dawn began to rise behind him, Fabian knew that the war was far from over. Oh yes, Jade-614 had certainly won this battle. She had destroyed his army; slaughtered his friends. Maybe even broken his soul. And while she held secrets that Fabian had striven to keep from I-9, she was not God.

No, the gods were rising up around them. The so-called demons I-9 sought to destroy. Gods with very real power to smite and burn the unworthy. Fabian fancied himself one such god in the making.

They would meet again; he and Jade. And when they did, she would burn for her sins.