Part 1

How should I know? The enormous wheels of will

It started off as surveillance. He was a threat to me, to my team, so I set Prodigy to watch him, to record his every move. Every time he walked past a security camera I knew it. Whenever he bought anything not with cash I knew it. At first Prodigy would prepare me a monthly report of what he did and who with. Then it became weekly. None of what he brought me was any use. He had bought a CD by X artist. He had bought such and such a book and read it in the park with a cup of black coffee. It became apparent he bought the important things with cash.

He wasn't an enemy, he was an inconvenience. But he could be an enemy. I had seen many things in regards to this one, the others were just children, nothing to worry about or fret over. He was the problem. He was cold, and determined, and stubborn. What he wanted he got, just like me. That was why I started surveillance. Estet gave us many advantages, state of the art tracking was one of them.

He didn't go out much, he didn't shop much and when he did he bought few frivolous items. At six am he left the shop by car and went to the east, there he vanished from surveillance for at least an hour, more often between two and four, then he would return as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, although for him, it hadn't. Then he worked in the shop from between four and eight hours, Prodigy had got a copy of their shift rota and it was easy to predict the absences in relation to his shifts. He always left at six and returned a good half hour before his shift. After his shift he would take a walk, sometimes stopping into a store, these usually coincided with release dates. He was as meticulous in his shopping as everything else. Once he had bought a sweater. Twice a week he would go to the post office to send something overseas. I didn't care enough to intercept the post, it was obvious where it was going.

On the days that he sent the letters he would stop off on his way home at a supermarket where he never spent more than four thousand yen. Prodigy's Intel suggested that it was his turn to feed them. He even got copies of the receipts and it became obvious from his ingredients he could cook, and cook well. At that point he had been up thirteen hours. Then depending on the day he would either stay in his apartment where there was no sign of a television and read or listen to music, or once a month he would go drinking with a friend, I even had Intel on his friend. The friend paid for everything. He came home alone. He never slept for more than six hours.

I disliked the blank spots in my information, they were inefficient. I despised inefficiency and took over his surveillance myself. Tokyo was covered in security cameras like fleas on a cat, but like the cat it had blind spots and whatever it was he did, he did it in a blind spot. I changed camera angles, I hacked mainframes, I changed codes, and I couldn't figure out what he did, he didn't pay for it, or if he did it was in cash, but withdrew no money to do it. It was in an area full of private residences but whatever way he took he missed the cameras until his reappearance in the same spot where he vanished.

I bugged his car. That proved as fruitful as commanding the tide. He parked up less than fifteen feet out of the range of the last camera. Wherever he went he walked from there, but judging from his nightly perambulations, that didn't mean it was close. It also suggested that could be part of the reason surveillance lost him if he was on foot and he was looking for a car.

I went over the tapes again and again and again, but nothing. He had vanished completely, but then reappeared. I went to the area and checked it, there was nothing. I checked blue prints and maps and there was nothing. I moved the camera so it covered where he parked his car, his car was there at the time to make sure, and then went back to see what direction he took the next day.

Weiss had a mission that night. I missed the opportunity to bug him by seconds when he jumped back out of range. I very nearly asked him where it was that he went and how he got there? I hadn't realised just how much it irritated me until I saw him, jumping out of range with his sword in the saya. He wasn't wearing his trench coat and he looked long and slender, all in black apart from his hair. He looked very young and very dangerous. He snarled at me, and I couldn't help but think of him like a snippy pet, all snarls and teeth but with no real bite. My surveillance was so complete I could pick him off anywhere after noon, or in his car on the way to the blank spot. He commanded a tactical retreat as did I. We didn't regard Weiss as dangerous, they were lucky and they were stubborn, but no real threat.

Although following the mission we didn't get back till gone three, and they had further to drive I didn't go to bed, and went to the last camera that recorded him at ten past six and followed him. He didn't deliberately stay out of the way of the cameras, the path he took was the quickest and the easiest. He went to a traditional house where the door was opened for him he went in, escorted by a middle aged matron, and about two hours later he was led out by an old man. There was no hint whatsoever what went on behind the wall. The name plate said Tamakurai, which revealed nothing, blue prints and maps revealed nothing. I hadn't expected it to annoy me as much as it had.

I took to surveilling the house, I rented out a room in a house facing it and recorded everyone in and everyone out. I stopped off twice a day to change and collect the tapes. He spent time within that house every day and was always met at the door by a middle aged woman and let out by an old man. Through out the day the middle aged woman escorted children and young men in and out. The middle aged woman was a servant of some kind, and following her revealed nothing. The old man never left the house. Research showed it to be a kind of private school though what it taught I could only guess, entrance was only by invitation. However there was more than one way to skin an Abyssinian.

I crept into the garden around five am, drugged the man's lazy old dog, and waited. The answer was so obvious I very nearly groaned but that would have alerted both Abyssinian and his sensei to my presence. It was a kendo dojo. He came here to practise his sword craft daily. It answered so many questions and I felt an idiot for not realising sooner. I had been surveilling him for seven months but this was the first time I had ever really watched him. He was as graceful as his namesake cat, long clear limbs that moved like water through first tai chi to warm his muscles and then a long hard sword battle with a little old man who appeared to be made of some kind of elastic. He wore traditional robes in a pale grey and his feet were bare. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. The only motions he made that were uncontrolled was the swing of his red hair. I had answered the question and in doing so had set myself a thousand more.

I had to steel myself to look away from the white skin on his forearms as his shirt rode up. I had seen him with a sword many times but this was the first time I wasn't on the wrong end of it, I would be if he saw me, but only if he saw me. The bend of his feet as he lunged and parried and thrusted and turned was intoxicating. The flick of his red hair in that pale coloured room. The look of determination on his face. I had to keep perfectly still or he would hear me, I was armed and so was he, but that wasn't what this was about.

The old man was keeping his ground firmly. He was neither giving nor taking slack. He was as rubbery as a gum tree and although he was small and wrinkled he was more than a match for Abyssinian. He was working him hard, forcing him back again and again. Abyssinian was frowning, then raised his hand, put down him wooden sword and rolled his shoulders, looking out almost exactly at me. I swear he almost looked me clear in the eye, but he obviously didn't see me or he would have reacted, then he lifted the sword again, and began the fight anew. Each step was almost perfectly choreographed, the sensei didn't need to say anything, the only advantage he had over Abyssinian was his years of experience. Abyssinian had youth, vigour, strength, and beauty. I caught myself at that thought. He was an annoyance, like a buzzing fly, buzzing flies were not beautiful, they were swatted. His hair was flung across his face, his mouth open, his eyes narrowed down to slits, I was close enough I could hear him panting.

I had to get out of here, and fast. It was becoming hard to think, harder to remain objective. I crawled away from the door until I well out of sight, and hopped over the wall, but not before I tucked a camera with a digital relay on the frame of the paper doors.

I found myself a small local restaurant and ordered coffee. My hands were actually shaking as if he was someone that scared me. The truth was I scared myself. He was beautiful, I ran over our previous meetings in my mind as I sipped the scalding black coffee, ignoring the pretty waitress and her cautious employer, had he always been beautiful under that scowl and scream of Shi-ne. Had his skin always glowed like that, like a pearl or some other gemstone. No he had been Abyssinian, an annoyance, and then he began his kata. Part of me wanted to go back to the dojo and gun him down and rid myself of the annoyance, the other remembered his face as he practised, the look of intense concentration, the way his hair was slicked to his forehead, the way his mouth was slightly open. I checked my watch, it was nearly eight. How long had I watched him, and had I lost him when I panicked.

Part of me knew it wouldn't matter, one of two things would come of this, one he hadn't seen me and he would go back to the shop and carry on letting my surveillance pick him up again, or two he would come and find me, and nothing would happen in a crowded place. I wanted to tell myself that I found this restaurant for that reason, but really I just needed a coffee to calm my nerves. He was not my enemy, that was too good for him, he was a fly in the ointment, a spanner in the works, nothing more, but somewhere when he practised with his wooden sword he had become more, he had become human to me.

I looked at the muffin the pretty waitress put in front of me, for a whole moment trying to remember if I had ordered it. It looked like something I would eat, a gaijin breakfast, it was studded with blueberries. I didn't want it. I pushed it away, leaving more than enough money for coffee, muffin and a healthy tip on the table. Then got out.

I went to the safe house as soon as I could. Prodigy sat on the couch with a hand held game bleeping and flashing away at him. He looked up when I came in, "Out all night, Crawford?" He asked.

"I went out this morning." I told him, part of me wanted to take that whirring bleeping contraption and stick it up his nose, what right did he have to mock me? "I ate out."

"Oh," he said and went back to button bashing with abandon. When he lost his concentration to the game cups rattled in the cupboards, when he lost they shattered. Nevertheless cups were easier to replace than he was. He was Prodigy, he was Schwartz. It was a bearable price to pay, and better than drinking out of plastic cups. "Anything nice?"

It was too early in the morning for conversation, didn't teenage boys sleep constantly, I know I had when I got the opportunity at his age, but not Prodigy, he just pushed the buttons on that infernal machine or in the space room and made the world obey. I wondered if he did sleep at all. "A coffee, and a muffin."

"You should have asked me." He said, "I like muffins, was it blueberry?" If I had have thought I would have brought it back for him, he may have been small and abnormally active for his age, but he ate enough for four.

"It wasn't very nice," I told him, I hadn't even tried it. "And I didn't think you'd be up. I went for a walk very early."

"Finding Abyssinian's blind spot?" I blinked, I knew I had set Prodigy the start of the surveillance, but I didn't think the annoyance had filtered that far just yet.

"A kendo dojo." I told him bluntly running the tap into the coffee pot for more coffee, maybe I was coming down with something but I couldn't seem to stop shaking.

"Aah," he said, "sometimes you really can't see the wood for the trees." He turned off the console and put it down meticulously on the side of the table, so it was exactly parallel to the edge, "I put it down to a Kritiker safe house or something."

"I didn't even think of that." I told him, "I bugged it," Why was I telling him this, he was Prodigy, he was Schwartz but that hardly made him privy to my innermost thoughts.

"I would have too," he said, "the more we know about Abyssinian's technique the better to counter it."

I agreed as I made the coffee. "Have you eaten?" I asked changing the subject. He shook his head, the others wouldn't be up for hours yet and he normally cooked for everyone. "Get your coat." I told him, he actually looked shocked. I couldn't remember ever taking him out before, but that hadn't meant that I hadn't, it just made it very unlikely that I had. "I'm just antsy," I told him using the American word, "and you look like you could eat a horse, stable and all." He looked at me very suspiciously, "I'll even pay." He got his coat.

Prodigy can be disconcerting, he looks like a child, sometimes he even acts like a child and then he looks at you and all sense of his childhood vanishes. He plans meticulously, he executes complex strategies. Of us all he is the most suited to Schwartz, Mastermind is temperamental and can be frustratingly weak at times, Berserker is difficult to control and impossible to stop. Prodigy looks as innocent as a baby and then when he gets the opportunity he will do it and your heart is crushed and he hasn't moved a muscle, but still managed to rifle your pockets. Sometimes he is very young, and sometime I look into his big blue eyes and I consider the options I am presented with. He is dangerous, as dangerous as any of us, if not more so, but sometimes he is only eighteen and very small for his age. He is home tutored, at a separate safe house, because of issues he had at school.

Sometimes I want company and he is easier managed than the others. Something changed in me this morning and I don't like it. There is a café down the street from our safe-house. Its convenient. I open the door and Prodigy glides in, he is never over energetic, he just doesn't sleep. He sits at a table and waits for me as I hang my coat on the back of the chair. "Kawaii," a woman says looking at us, "are you out with your papa?" She asks prodigy.

He raises an eyebrow, "no, he's my employer and together we're part of an international conglomerate of assassins."

The woman looks mortified although he told her the truth. "There's no need to be rude, young man." She tells him going back to her own table.

I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy watching that. I didn't laugh, that would be the last straw, but I enjoyed it. "I don't know, Tousan," he says for the woman's benefit. "People today."

"Order what you like," I tell him handing him the menu, "as much as you like," he raises a single thin eyebrow, "I told you, I'm paying."

I call the waitress over and order coffee, I even lower my glasses to look at her over the rims and explain that the young man is to have everything he desires. She coughs. This kind of mind game suddenly isn't fun anymore. Prodigy orders enough food for a small army, mostly sweet.

"I trust that you're not feeding me out of some kind of parental responsibility." He asks.

"Of course not," I tell him, pushing my glasses back up my nose to look at him clearly. "it is inefficient for you to pass out of malnutrition at certain inopportune times from eating someone's cooking." We are always careful of the words that we choose if we talk about work, but Mastermind's cooking is, even internally I carefully choose my words, educational, hearty and filling, but German. If Berserker gets in the kitchen, he cooks everything in fat, including his own hands usually. In a moment of lucidity he told me of the four Irish food groups, bacon; beans; whiskey and lard.

He is not a telepath like Mastermind but he can tell what I'm thinking, what I am avoiding thinking. "I should learn to cook," he says, "perhaps we can slot in lessons, Far shouldn't really be let loose with those kitchen knives."

I smile at him, he treats the gesture as suspiciously as I would, "it is the blood pudding that disturbs me most."

He smiles back, my little ally. "He will eat anything." He concedes as his food arrives, "but I'm sure its not really blood in blood pudding," he says biting into a sausage with obvious delight. He's enjoying his food too much for me to contradict him. "Can I have some coffee?" He asks.

"No." I tell him, "it will stunt your growth. Have some tea."

He frowns around the sausage. "Schu lets me drink coffee." He says.

"Schu calls you Naggles," I remind him, "and I'm sure you don't want me to start that."

He agrees to the tea which I order for him. "Is this about the surveillance?" He asks dipping his sausage into the runny yolk of his egg and then into a blob of tomato sauce on his plate before biting into it.

I blink, caught unawares. He is the only other that knows about it, but even he doesn't know what I saw this morning, what I can still see. His skin is so white. "What makes you say that?"

"You're antsy," he repeats my word, "you were doing that this morning, you never do this." He looks at the table. He's clever, sometimes I forget that. "Maybe you'd be better off going to the gym and working off some of that tension, or maybe going to the range." I look at him surprised at what is actually a very good idea. "Did something happen?"

"I nearly got spotted planting the camera." I blurt out, a small truth to cover the whole truth, the image of Abyssinian with his head flung back, his hair across his cheek, his mouth open.

"Clumsy." He chides gently, cutting his bacon, teasing me the way I would scold him. He is in a very good mood and I can't say that I trust it. "He's handsome though when he's not in a death glare."

I practically spray coffee over him in shock. The look that he gives me is conspiratorial, "you must have noticed, taking over surveillance like that, he's scary but that doesn't stop him being hot. I mean if he wasn't Weiss I'd throw myself at him, listen to me, I'm like a proper fan boy." He smiles to himself almost a little shyly. "Believe me, everyone but you noticed."

"I've never seen him without the look of determination." I tell him blithely.

He quirks that eyebrow again, the ketchup skids across the table, "I believe you." He says somewhat sarcastically, "but I have more interesting tapes than you think."

It's my turn to raise an eyebrow. "They're not cheap." He reassures me, and that sounds like Prodigy. "I have mission tapes." He said, "and voice recordings."

It's then we talk in earnest.