"The Observer. I see, the observer..." The agent trailed off, his words chasing down the thousand yard stare that rolled out of the 32nd story window and bore through the adjacent building.
Patricia had seen this reaction before. She had been interviewing agents about the observer for nearly 10 months at this point and, while she had never seen the young man before, she knew more than most about him.
That's not to say she knew what he looked like, if you had read her reports you would know that no one did, really. To most he was a he, to some a she. His hair, skin and eyes were never the same tone to two people. There seemed to be no pattern behind the outward appearance, a white man didn't see a white man, a widower didn't see her former husband, long time agents didn't get one last glimpse of former partners.
What she knew was simply this - while his appearance might change, his feeling didn't. The way it was described by every single person who managed to set eyes on the observer was the same:
Imagine you had had enough of city life, 15 years in the urban jungle, juggling life, love, and labor and the time had come for you to escape. With little preparation and less notice, you pack the few earthly possessions which mean something to you and set off into the wilderness.
For days you drive, passing over potential campsites because you saw another human being 3 days prior and it made you feel as though things weren't secluded enough. Finally, after abandoning your car, taking the hunt to foot, and losing track of the number of times the sun had crossed the sky, you find yourself sufficiently secluded.
You set up your camp reveling in this city of god, far removed from the works of men. You enjoy your time in the woods, the memories or idling engines and overhead airplanes are chipped away by the chirping of birds and the rustling of small animals. The world is calm, the land is still, and you are alone.
One afternoon, while on a hike and without a thought in your mind of the future or past you feel it - the distinct tingle of being watched. It is nothing, at first, and you are able to ignore it, but the feeling persists. Persists and grows.
From a pressure at the base of your skull to a deep and unscratchable itch, the feeling grows. From an unscratchable itch to a persistent burn, the feeling grows. From a persistent burn to an undeniable burden, the feeling grows and grows and yet the observer, the progenitor of the feeling, remains unseen.
On the brink of madness, like a wild animal trapped in a cage seeking only a way out from the unblinking, incorporeal stare, you see him. The perfect juxtaposition of your burdens he stand, not just with no weight on his shoulders but as though his very posture creates a force opposed to gravity.
That is when you realize where your burden is coming from. The pressure rolls downhill, from the vacuum his mere presence creates straight into the bottom of the well you now call home.
That's what Patricia thinks, anyway. She had never seen the Observer before, so she couldn't say for sure. Her job wasn't in the field where the Observer liked to be found. No, she would have to earn her way to that privilege. She, like all new recruits, was a desk jockey - compiling reports from field agents, helping them to turn the messiness of reality into easily digestible texts in order to find budget approvals and resource allocations.
It had been boring work, until she was assigned to the observer. She had a natural talent for listening and a nearly unnatural talent for asking the right questions. Most, when assigned to the observer files, were so keen on finding answers that they would grill the agents and push them farther into that deep dark well.
Patricia, on the other hand, was a cat person and like any good cat person she knew the merits of simply waiting in silence.
10 months of waiting. 10 months of listening. 10 months to become an expert in the observer, the only one who knew enough to identify him without having been driven to madness by him. 10 months and still, she felt, she had nothing.
Well, almost nothing. She had a pattern. Or, what seemed like a pattern. The observer liked a certain type of agent. Not old, but experienced. Not insane, but well worn. As though tracking the ones running on the razor's edge of madness, checking to see if they would fall left, right, or simply be split in two.
Despite how it might seem, few agents were ever truly on this edge, most were smart enough to throw in the towel before it got that far. Most of the rest were killed. No, only a few fit this profile and, by the time Patricia decided second hand experience wasn't enough, there was only one.
To describe Dan Jones, a generic name for a generic man, would be an exercise in futility as he was hired for just how indescribable he seemed to be - in every way generic. He had been with the agency for ages, and rumors of his decay were everywhere. She was his man.
After tracking through files and folders far beyond her pay grade, Patricia finally managed to find Jones, deep undercover in some formerly soviet nation whose borders shifted faster than the sahara's dunes.
She trailed him for days, though everything he did seemed utterly unremarkable. He never seemed to tail anyone, never reached out to his contacts, barely even left his humble flat.
He seemed paranoid and skittish, problems which not only persisted but seemed to grow on a daily basis. He wasn't the man she had read about in the files, he was something else now.
She felt for him, this man who was no longer a man. He had no human contact, as even his handler had seemed to give up. He was alone, truly alone, and this bothered Patricia.
Days into her tail, when she could no longer take seeing the isolation of this poor soul, she found herself moving without thought or will of her own. Down from her rooftop perch above a cafe, across the street, up to the window of the grocers that Dan frequented every other day at 3:35. She peered in, staring at Dan, not knowing what to say but trying to convey with every ounce of her being that he was not alone, that she was here, with him.
When he saw her his eyes grew wide. His paranoid gait turned to timid steps the stopped all together. His meager produce selection fell from his hands and she could see his mouth form the words:
"The Observer. I see, the observer..."
Her phone buzzed.
A message had come.
"Welcome to the field".