Illusion Of Choice
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, please. It's clear that we are all Enhanced here. Don't we have enough troubles in this time of suspicion and doubt without resorting to violence against one another?" Ezra struggled against the tall, long-legged man holding him but the gentleman in question merely tightened his grip, almost lifting Ezra off the ground while forcing him to walk ahead through the dark, deserted city streets.
"I ain't no gentleman," the man whispered lightly, his moustache tickling Ezra's ear. "And you'd best quit struggling because I wouldn't want to accidentally break something before Chris gets a look at you."
Gulping, Ezra relaxed a little. The man holding him was, without a doubt, someone of enhanced strength and could probably snap him in half like a cheap toothpick. However, if he could--
"And you're no gentlemen either," the third member of their less than cheerful trio spoke up and Ezra twisted around to look up at the tall, broad-shouldered man of African descent. Height seemed to be a prerequisite for this group. "Cheating folks out of their life savings? That's no way for a gentleman to behave."
"Oh please," Ezra retorted. "You saw those men, and I use the term loosely, they've never worked a day in their miserable lives. Petty larcenists all of them."
"You're no innocent yourself and that's no reason to cheat them."
"For the last time," Ezra almost growled, "I didn't cheat. Anyone who would need to resort to sleight of hand to win a card game against those Neanderthals deserves to be tarred and feathered by them."
"Unless that cheater can conjure up big blue bears to scare the tarnation out of them." The moustached man grinned by his ear. "That was some sight!"
"Thank you, sir," Ezra replied dryly. "If it wasn't for your telepathic friend here detecting my--"
"I'm no telepath, understand?" the other stepped in front of Ezra, placing a large hand on his chest and effectively halting them in their tracks. "I'm an empath. I feel emotions, not thoughts and I don't try to manipulate folks' minds."
"Fine, whatever you say." Ezra met the angry gaze until the other man moved to his side once more and they began walking towards an even more rundown part of town. "Couldn't you gentleman find the resources to scare up an automobile for this little jaunt?" He eyed the dilapidated buildings surrounding them. "Or are you just planning to walk me into submission?"
"Don't you ever shut up?" the empath demanded before leading the way down a fire gutted alley to a concealed metal door secreted at its seeming dead end. "It's us, open up." He rapped on the door.
Ezra wasn't sure what to expect when the door flew open, but a dark-haired boy barely out of his teens certainly wasn't it. "This is your door guardian?" He grinned before he was shoved hard into the cavernous, brightly lit shell of a church and stumbled against the table and chair, the only furniture in sight, set up a short distance from the doorway. Just as he scowled back at the lanky, moustached man, the dark-haired boy came swaggering up to him.
"So you're the illusionary telepath, huh?" The boy looked him up and down then, quicker than Ezra's eyes could follow, a hand had snuck into his inside coat pocket and the boy was fanning out his deck of playing cards. "Isn't cheating at cards a little low on the list for a telepath?"
"I don't know." Ezra snatched his cards back with a sour look. "Isn't picking pockets a little low for the speed enhanced?"
"You got that right!" The moustached man grabbed the boy around the waist and a struggle of strength verses speed began enfolding across the spacious floor.
Too busy watching the tussle, wondering when and if he should jump out the way, Ezra never noticed the other three men approach him until they had almost reached the table. Consequently, he almost startled when the blond, dark clad man in the centre of the trio was suddenly there, glaring him into the chair while asking sharply, "Is this him?" of the empath.
"That's him." The other nodded. "He's the illusionary we've been hearing whispers about the last couple of days. It's lucky those illusions he creates can't have feelings or we'd have never have found him. But, Chris, I can't read him at all. He's as blank as those fake visions he can put into folks' heads. I can't tell you if he's lyin' to us."
"That's all right." The one called Chris settled a cold, sharp-eyed gaze on Ezra. "He won't lie."
"Ah, I take it you're the leader of this happy band then, sir?" Ezra plastered on his most charming smile but didn't dare try anything else. Yet. "You're an Enhanced as well, I take it?"
Chris didn't answer for a long moment that almost started Ezra fidgeting. "You've met our empath, Nathan and our enhanced strength and speed men, Buck and JD. Vin has enhanced senses so he can hear your lying heart hammering in your mouth." He inclined his head to the buckskinned man with shoulder length, wavy hair on his right. "And Josiah here," he went on with a nod to the grey-haired, bear of a man on his left. "Can see the past, future and what's just around the corner. He'll know if you're planning to betray us. Got that?"
Ezra nodded, feeling queasily out of his depth. "And what about yourself, sir, what enhancements do you posses?"
No one responded. Even Buck and JD had ceased their wrestling completely so all six stood there looking blankly down at him. It was all rather unnerving. Ezra smiled more brightly to compensate. "Gentleman, gentleman, we're on the same side. None of us chose the DNA we inherited. Can't we all just get along amicably? Believe me, I have as much interest in your business as you have in mine."
"Well, that's just it, mister," the one named Vin began, "We don't know what your business is. Illusionary telepaths just don't fall out of the sky. Yet here you are, right on our doorstep."
"The talents of you gentlemen aren't exactly common place either, if you'll excuse me for saying so. I doubt that such a team of Enhanced has been put together since the war."
"But we're not actively sought by the government and forced to register ourselves for assessment," Josiah added. "Only full telepaths are and a little bird tells me you aren't on the Meta Registration at all."
"I'm not a full telepath," Ezra answered low. "If I could read thoughts, I wouldn't have been caught by your friends tonight, would I?"
"But you can get inside minds." Chris leaned menacingly over the table. "You can make people see what you want them to see."
"A flawed talent as your empath has proven."
"How are you against full telepaths?" Chris snapped.
"What do you mean?" Ezra hedged, finally sensing the reason he had been brought here.
"He's good," Nathan broke in. "It would probably take at least three telepaths to work out he was pulling the wool over their eyes."
"Is that right?" Chris prodded.
Ezra nodded reluctantly. "I can usually convince two but any more than that increases the chance of variation in what they see and, to use a vernacular term, I am soon rumbled."
"How long can you hold an illusion up for?"
"Don't try me, just spit it out," Chris snapped. "Lives are depending on this."
"Now wait a minute, just hold on here." Ezra pushed back his chair and stood up. "I don't remember signing up for this little group. You gentlemen can play meta soldiers to your hearts' content, save anyone you have a mind to. I won't alert the constabulary. Frankly, I really don't care what--"
"Well, that's our bind, you see." Buck interrupted Ezra's brotherhood of Metas speech by placing an over-friendly arm around his shoulders. "Now that you know our faces, know our abilities, know where we live, we can't really let you go, can we?" He grinned cheerfully. "Josiah is now going to explain your choices to you. Josiah?"
"Thank you, Buck," the other smiled at his friend but then his face lost all expression as it focused on Ezra. "Seems to me you have two choices son: you can either wake up in the Central Office For Meta Registration with a really bad headache, or help us stop some bad people hurting some innocents. The decision is yours."
Ezra stared at Josiah, hardly believing the threat in that deep, melodious voice. "You wouldn't. You know what they'd do to me."
Chris shook his head. "Not our problem. Your lucky Nathan and Buck caught you pulling that stunt and not the Meta Cops."
"Yeah, I hear those Alpha Wave Guns can turn a telepath's brain into dog chow," Vin added helpfully.
"Better choose your poison." Josiah folded his arms to await Ezra's decision.
"And what choice is that?" Ezra scowled, shrugging off Buck's arm. "All right," he sighed. "I can fool a strong telepath for around ten or fifteen minutes straight depending on the complexity if the illusion."
"So, what do you think of him?" Chris asked Vin and Josiah as Buck, JD and Nathan showed Ezra to a spare room in the living quarters they had built onto and the church's back lot. "He could make our work against the Judge go a hell of a lot smoother."
"I don't know," Vin considered slowly, his eyes narrowing as he looked in the direction of the living quarters as if he could see through the walls. "There's something about him."
"You think he's a plant by the Judge?"
"Nah, not that and I don't think he's lyin' to us either but he's holding something back. Chris, I think he might be a preternatural charmer too."
"He was tryin' to charm me?" Chris blinked. "I didn't feel anything."
"I don't think he was actively using any charm powers. Hell, I don't even know for sure that he has any, but he does have that feel about him that all charmers do. You're drawn to them but you can't figure out why."
"Could it be he doesn't know he's a charmer?"
Vin shrugged. "Anything is possible with our screwed up genetics. You just need to look at Nathan pushing those nails around to know that."
Chris nodded; unstable or evolving powers were a worry for them all. It had been three months since Nathan's powers had become erratic and he had begun to wield some small telekinetic ability. But, luckily, the flux in his empathic powers seemed to settle and, with it, the limited telekinetic abilities stabilised also.
"I think he's the one," Josiah suddenly announced.
"Him?" Chris scowled. "He's the one in your vision?"
"No, you know I didn't see the face of that man, but he feels right and you know the vision told me that only with seven could we overthrow the Judge's corruption once and for all. I think he's the one." Josiah repeated with a shrug.
Chris watched his friend, looking for any hint of uncertainty in his calm expression. "All right, but we play it cautiously. Everything is on a need to know basis. We don't tell him about the Judge or the diamonds or any of the rest of it."
"What about you?" Vin frowned. "Should we tell him?"
"Oh, he'll find out soon enough." Chris grinned.
"This is such a bad idea." Ezra took another swig from his faithful whisky flask to steady his concentration for what was to come, before hunkering further down behind the shipping crates out of the night's biting sea wind and checking his watch. In precisely one minute and thirty-two seconds, he was going to walk into the jaws of death with nothing but his wits for company. Of course, his newfound friends would be out there somewhere, doing whatever their part of the plan was, but no one was keeping an eye on him. Not even the enhanced senses of Mr Tanner could see through concrete and metal.
Ezra took another swig of whisky and went through his plan once more. It was basically the same plan as set out by the enigmatic Mr Larabee except this one involved his good self walking out the door with two hundred thousand dollars worth of illegally smuggled gems. Frankly, he reasoned, it served Larabee and the others right if they thought he was foolish enough to go up against an unknown foe with nothing but an illusion or two to safeguard him from harm. The fact that they didn't even think enough of his welfare to warn him of the considerable measure and deadliness of their opponent only served to make matters worse. Ezra was no fool, nor was he suicidal and, as far as he was concerned, only one or the other would go up against Ella Gains, the Judge's rabidly homicidal second-in-command. Larabee's crew deserved any punishment they received for thinking they had talked him into such madness in the space of one day.
From the very beginning, as they carefully laid out their plan of attack, he knew exactly what was going on. Being new to town, they were no doubt counting on his ignorance but Ezra had been at this game a long time. He had only made the mistake of skinning in a town without checking out who the main players were once -- and it was a painful mistake he had absolutely no plans to repeat. That was how he had first met the Judge but he didn't tell Larabee and company that. If they wanted to believe that he was ignorant of the Judge's organised crime syndicate, Ezra felt absolutely no need to tell them of his various run ins with the man. If they wanted to believe that he was just another telepath on the run from a crackdown, who was he to dissuade them? If they wanted to believe that he was willing to risk life and limb upon the utterance of an idle threat, who was he to put them straight?
"They'll be all right." Ezra tucked his flask away, checked his watch, and then took a steadying breath. "That kind live for these heroic idiocies." He quickly moved out from behind the crates and strode into the wind up to the two men guarding Ella Gains' warehouse doors.
"Judge, sir!" The men immediately saluted him. "We weren't expecting you."
"Well, it wouldn't be a surprise visit if you were now would it?" Ezra scowled back at them, projecting 'Judge' Orrin Travis from head to toe.
"Something's wrong," Josiah muttered low.
"What?" Chris responded but his gaze never stopped scouring the target warehouse and surrounding docks for a moment. The abandoned fish processing plant, upon the roof of which they crouched, afforded the perfect view point and he wasn't going to give up that advantage for a moment.
"I don't know but something's not goin' to plan."
"Come in, big dog," Buck's voice broke in on the com link.
"Go ahead, stud," Chris responded immediately.
"Nathan's got the first package. He's heading out to the rendezvous point with it now."
"Is it damaged?"
"A little fractious but holding together. JD's keeping the coast clear."
"Negative. Six down and out. Me and Vin are heading for the second package now."
Chris paused in his answer as he caught Josiah shaking his head out of the corner of his eye. "Negative, stud, get out of there."
"What about the second package, Chris? It's as quiet as the grave down here and I'd really like to--"
"Negative," Chris repeated sternly. "Withdraw, Buck. Now. Is that clear?"
There was no response.
A dull static buzz was all he heard in return.
"Hell!" he cursed, glaring at the warehouse. "You ready to go in?" he glanced at Josiah for the first time.
"As always," the big man smiled.
The diamonds were beautiful. Perfect. Absolutely flawless. This plan was so ridiculously easy. Ezra almost giggled as he pocketed the gems then turned to the idiot of a guard who had been duped into handing them over without so much as a questioning look.
"That's fine. You may escort me out now, my man," Ezra ordered.
"You're leaving?" The guard blinked stupidly back at him. "I mean, sir, Miss Gains is--"
"Who's the chief of this operation, myself or Ella Gains?"
"You, sir, of course."
"Then do as you're told," Ezra snapped in his best Judge impersonation, marching past the guard back the way they had come through the stacked boxes.
"But Miss Gains is on her way, sir, she--"
"You told her I was here?" Ezra stopped dead to growl at the hapless lackey; the last thing he needed was any more dealings with that telepathic psychopath.
"Her car has just pulled up out front, sir," the guard gulped.
"Well it's just as well that I'm heading for the back, isn't it?" Ezra snapped before continuing on his way. "Relay my apologies to Miss Gains that I couldn't stay to greet her."
Ezra glared at the man guarding the door until the unfortunate idiot opened it sheepishly, then he was in the clear, almost running to hide behind the shipping crates while projecting the image of the Judge climbing into his limousine and driving away.
Then the alarms went off.
"Oh hell!" Ezra looked around the side of the crates to see the two guards run into the warehouse. "Hell!" he repeated more venomously. His role in Larabee's plan was to distract the guards and raise the alarm with a fake fire in event of an emergency; how was he supposed to do that without guards to distract in the first place?
Shaking his head, Ezra stood up and turned his back on the warehouse to stride off into the surrounding darkness, the gems in his coat pocket weighing heavy against his hip. It wasn't his fault that Larabee's plan screwed up, and it certainly wasn't his duty to check on the welfare of men who had threatened to turn him into government scientist fodder. But, then, he really knew they wouldn't. They weren't killers. Not one of them. Even Larabee with his cool exterior had something about him that drew Ezra like a moth to a flame.
"Oh great," Ezra stopped to sigh then look back at the warehouse. "You're going to go back there just in the hopes of getting your wings burnt, aren't you?" He studied the warehouse. "I suppose taking a look wouldn't hurt." He paused a moment longer before hurrying back the way he came then skirting around the side of the building to make his way up the slick metal slope of the upper floor delivery chute.
Cursing silently as he heard Ella Gains' harpy tones, Ezra dropped onto the upper floor gangway without a sound and crept over to the rail to see what was happening. It was exactly as he had feared: Buck and JD were on their knees with two of Ella's henchman pressing gun muzzles into the backs of their heads while Nathan and Vin stood a little way off, covered by another two henchmen's automatic rifles. The only thing that surprised Ezra was the presence of four oriental children, a boy and three girls all around six years old, who clung desperately to Nathan's and Vin's legs.
"Where are you, Chris?" Ella called, echoing Ezra's own thoughts. "I know you're here. I can feel your mind. Come on, lover boy, don't be shy. I know it takes you a while to ignite and these kiddies and your friends will be dead before you can start my men a smoulderin'. And don't think I care about a few telepathic brats. The Judge can always find more and he knows how much you mean to me."
While Ella raved on, Ezra's mind was spinning and Chris' plan was suddenly making perfect sense. If Ella's ramblings were true, then Chris was a pyrokinetic and illusionary flames would be the perfect method of assault. Backed by Chris' own power, the enemy would be hopelessly confused, unable to tell which fires were real and which were illusions. Ezra grinned at the thought. The plan was a masterpiece, one that could still be put into action.
As Ezra tried to subtly catch Vin's attention, he quelled an unreasonable disappointment welling up in his soul that Chris hadn't trusted him enough to tell him of his powers. While it was true that pyrokinetics and telekinetics were the only Enhanced that the Meta Cops would shoot on sight, no Enhanced, not even Ella Gains had any love for the backstabbing bastard Meta Cops who had turned on their own kind.
Just as Ezra began to suspect that Vin's abilities were grossly overrated, Vin finally glanced up to catch his eye.
'Where's Chris?' Ezra mouthed, hoping Vin would understand but, instead of indicating in a direction, the enhanced sense man very subtly directed Nathan's attention to Ezra's presence. Then Chris was striding out from between the stacked crates, walking to the edge of Ella Gain's performance space.
"Chris, sweetie." Ella fluttered her eyelashes in response. "I knew you'd come. You just couldn't bare it if anything happened to your friends and these innocent little cherubs. But, you know what?" She settled her gaze on Buck and JD. "I never liked these two at all."
Ezra never waited to see how quickly the henchmen would respond to her gesture. In the blink of an eye, all the men with firearms and Ella Gains herself were screaming from the illusionary flames that engulfed them. Then everything was moving like clockwork, as if they had done it a million times. While the warehouse guards rushed in, Buck and Vin disarmed them so JD and Nathan could get the children to the metal stairs that led to Ezra's gangway and their escape route.
"Shit, telepaths! It must be her bodyguards," Ezra called down to Buck, Vin and Chris as his carefully set up illusions wavered shakily.
Just as the two thick set telepaths came into view from between the stacks of boxes, and just before Buck, Vin and Chris sank to their knees under a vicious telepathic assault, Ella Gain's howl of frustration at being outwitted turned into a shriek of agony as her clothes smouldered then burst into real, devouring flames. While Buck recovered quickly and almost carried the barely conscious forms of Chris and Vin over to the steps and up to the gangway, Ezra kept the last two telepaths and the remaining guards busy with more illusionary flames, but he was tiring, his concentration slipping.
"Ready to go, Ez!" Buck called from the mouth of the chute. "C'mon now the Cops are coming."
"But what about--" Ezra moved up to the chute, his words dying on his lips as he looked down to see Josiah and JD helping Chris and Vin into the back of a plain black truck.
"Josiah always has the escape plan ready to roll." Buck grinned before shoving Ezra unceremoniously down the chute.
"Hey-- My-- Mr Wilmington!" Ezra finally found his breath to complain as Josiah pulled him to his feet before bustling him into the back of the truck. "Mr Sanchez, I'd appreciate it if--" the doors were slammed and bolted and he quickly sat down before he was catapulted into either a whimpering child or one of his half-conscious teammates in the darkness. It wasn't until the truck had jolted off on its merry way to the sound of approaching sirens, that Ezra realised what that sickeningly light feeling in his inside coat pocket meant.
With a flash of desperation, he reached into the pocket in question only to find an ominous tear in the lining. Ezra felt like bursting into tears as he recalled the dull sound of something that could have been gems in a bag rattling off into oblivion when Buck had pushed him down that thrice-damned the chute.
Some over-achiever of a Meta Cop was about to discover the lucky find of a lifetime.
Chris didn't know what to make of Ezra Standish. While it would have been easy to write the man off as an untrustworthy cheat and send him off to Mary Travis' underground network for relocating along with the orphan children they had rescued from the warehouse, something had stopped him from suggesting it. The oddest part was that he seemed to be the only one that felt betrayed by Ezra's actions at the warehouse -- the others seeming to believe the illusionists tale of needing to relocate. While it was true that none of the others had felt the same crushing defeat he had when he had went to Ezra's position at the warehouse only to find it abandoned, it didn't account for his need to trust the man now. And it had nothing to do with how seamlessly Ezra fitted into the team, either.
Not at all.
If anything, it had to do with this vision of Ezra now: sitting curled up on an overstuffed armchair in the day room, double stitching the lining of his finely tailored coat by afternoon sunshine that streamed through the streaked window glass. While his nimble fingers worked speedily through the cloth, his head tilted slightly this way and that so the sun caught his hair in a fiery light.
"Anything I can help you with, Mr Larabee?" Ezra asked without looking up. "Apart from suggesting the services of a reputable window cleaning company, that is." This time he did look up with a smile to take the sting from his words. But Chris wanted the sting.
"Don't ever run out on me again," he growled low, holding the green eyes until Ezra blinked and looked away. Then Chris was turning away, wanting nothing more than to leave this scene behind him. But something stopped him. Something in those green eyes made him stop with his hand on the door and say over his shoulder, "Ella Gains deserved what she got. She murdered my wife and son."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Ezra replied softly.
Chris left the room without another word.
|Illusions Index||On to: Lost Rainbows And Other Fables|
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