JD and Evelyn Travis had been gone for about an hour when Josiah sought Vin out. The empath sensed turmoil in the young telepath, and he hoped that he could do something to alleviate it. He found Tanner sitting up on a tree branch located at the edge of the property. Josiah leaned against the trunk and asked, "Would you like to talk about it?"
Vin was nearly startled out of the tree by the rumbled question. He looked at the sentient below him, but Josiah was staring hard at the house, not even looking at Tanner. "About what?"
"About whatever it is that is making your emotions fly all over the place."
Tanner sighed. He knew better than anyone that secrets were hard to keep in this group. Not only because of their powers, but also because they had gotten to know each other so well. "It's nothing."
"If it were nothing, you wouldn't be agitated and I wouldn't need to be over here." He finally looked up at the younger man. "Is it Chris?"
The telepath glanced down with a piercing look. "Why would you say that?"
"You haven't been near him more than necessary since he first went to see Mary."
Vin cursed himself for forgetting his friend's perceptiveness. After a few minutes of silence, he softly admitted, "I was just wonderin' if I still belong."
Josiah honestly seemed surprised by the statement. "Why would you question that?"
"Things seemed to 'ave changed a mite." Vin shook his head.
"It happens," the empath agreed. "Maybe you should let Chris know what you're feeling."
"Yeah, right." Vin laughed harshly.
"You might be surprised." Josiah patted the young telepath on his dangling leg and started back toward the house.
"What do I say?" Vin called out after him.
"Go with your gut," was the reply.
The team was kept busy for the next few hours, walking sentry over the grounds and transferring their belongings from the cars into the house. Once it got dark, the majority of the men moved inside, gathering in the back sitting room. Buck and Ezra remained outside on patrol; they'd drawn first watch.
Nathan took a seat in one of the chairs and began to read. Chris sat at the table and started a game of solitaire, while Vin watched from across the room. Josiah sat down next to Orrin on the sofa, the leather creaking as he arranged himself. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?" the grey-haired empath asked the justice. The men scattered around the room tuned into the discussion, curious themselves to hear it.
"Be my guest," Travis said. "I guess I'm surprised it's taken you this long." He smiled, showing that he meant no animosity.
"What made you find against the PCCA?"
The justice sighed deeply before replying. "One of the worst decisions the Court ever made was Korematsu v. United States, when it refused to stop the government from holding Japanese-American citizens in the prison camps during the Second World War." Orrin stared at a point in the distance before returning his focus to Sanchez. "I couldn't let that happen again. If we don't learn from our mistakes, we'll never progress."
"Well said." Josiah nodded in approval. "When are you scheduled to release your opinion?"
"After discussion with my colleagues, I decided to write the opinion myself. It'll be released publicly this Friday, along with their summations."
Ezra and Buck had just entered the room in order to swap the watch with Chris and Nathan. The new arrivals were quickly drawn into the discussion.
"All of the justices agreed to the decision?" Sanchez asked.
"Yes, that's how things work." At the looks traded between the men, Travis asked, "You don't think one of them could've shared the confidential brief?"
"How else would Baines know about it?" Nathan said. "The Guild has a far reach."
"What happens if you die before it's released publicly?" Ezra asked.
"Legally it's still valid, although without my support, it probably wouldn't pass," admitted Orrin. "Until it's made public, any of the justices can change their position, and I think some might be hesitant about voting against the Guild if I were killed. I know Carr and Staley would remain with their stance, but to tell the truth, I have no way of knowing if the brief will pass the vote in Court even with my support."
Sanchez looked the justice dead in the eye. "What do you believe will happen?"
Travis glanced at each of the men trying to save his life. He stated firmly, "If I survive, the PCCA will not."
"And that is the root of the problem," Nathan said.
Tanner moved over to stand next to Larabee, deciding this was a good a time as any to talk to Chris. Before he could start a conversation he felt something. Cocking his head, Vin extended his psionic sense out, trying to get a lock on what caught his attention. "I think someone's here," the telepath said.
"Where?" asked Larabee, glancing around.
Before Vin could narrow his mental search, Ezra received a flash. Explosion. "Everyone out!" he yelled.
The occupants had just started to scramble for the door when the rear of the room exploded, catching everyone in the blast. Shards of glass, brick, and wood mixed with plaster hurled violently through the air.
The wall fell, dust settled, and -- for several moments --silence reigned.
Coughing harshly and struggling to clear his throat, Ezra sat up, his ears still ringing from the explosion. He squinted as he looked around, but nothing could be seen in the darkness. Stretching out, he patted the ground around him, grateful when he came across a leg. At least he hoped it was a leg. He shook it and heard a voice.
"Five more minutes, darlin'."
"Mr. Wilmington, this is not your wake-up call and I am not your courtesan. Are you all right?"
Buck rolled over and pushed up on his hands and knees. "I'm alive," he said gruffly. He sniffed the air. After not smelling any gas, he produced a small flame in his hand for some light. Sweeping his hand around, the two sentients spotted Nathan lying just a few feet away. They crawled over to him and Buck gently shook the healer's arm. "Nate? You okay?"
A low groan was the answer and then the healer's eyes opened. "What hit me?"
Wilmington looked at the scattered debris and shrugged. "What didn't?"
Nathan sat up and looked around, seeing the mess. "How is everyone else doing?"
"We don't know yet."
Another groan sounded from the corner.
Nathan looked over, guided by the light in Buck's hand. He could see Vin and Chris lying facedown next to each other. The telepath was struggling to push up into a sitting position. Tanner leaned over and swatted the man beside him. "Get up, Larabee, I know ya ain't dead."
At hearing the growled curse in reply, Nathan decided those two would be all right for now. "Josiah?"
"Over here," called Ezra. He was kneeling down beside the large man, ineffectively struggling to awaken the sleeping giant. Josiah was out cold. Together, Buck, Ezra, and Nathan gently moved him off Travis; the empath had apparently dived over the judge in order to shield him from the blast.
"Mr. Travis, you okay?"
The older man moaned, opened his eyes and blinked the dust clear. He looked around the room and whispered, "Oh, shit."
"What?" Nathan asked. "What's wrong?" He was worried about internal injuries.
"Evie's going to kill me. That was her collection of Staffordshire Dogs." The chief justice pointed to a pile of broken ceramic in the corner. Everyone laughed a little in release, the comments releasing some tension.
Larabee took charge. "We need to find a way out of here before this place collapses. Anyone see a way out?"
"I think we should be able to get out this window," Ezra said, pointing in the direction of a faint light. "If we can manage to clear some of this debris." The entire rear of the room where they had been sitting had collapsed, and without the clairvoyant's warning most, if not all, of them would be dead.
Nathan stayed by Josiah's side, checking out his wounds, with the help of Buck's light.
"How's he doing, Nate?"
"I think he'll be fine, just knocked for a loop." Nathan placed his hands on the empath and, using his healing ability, he pushed Josiah's body to start healing itself.
An enormous screech sounded while the others dug a passageway through to the window, startling the men.
"The ceiling's givin' out," announced Vin, voicing everyone's fears.
The men hurried to get the rubble clear. Just as they broke through and could see the moonlight filtering through the window, the ceiling gave way and came crashing down toward the men.
It stopped halfway down.
The sentients turned as one to see their leader with his arms raised, straining in concentration to hold up the wreckage with his telekinesis. Orrin Travis stared in awe at the sight. He'd heard of things such as this but never had seen any in real life.
"I'm not going to be able to hold it," Chris grunted with effort. His TK force was quickly being used up by the weight, and the ceiling was starting to visibly drop. "You guys get out, now!" Tanner reached across to his friend, and placed his hand in the middle of Chris' back.
The telekinetic felt the hand on his back and a sudden burst of power flowed into him. The ceiling was once again pushed up and held. Chris suddenly flashed back several weeks ago to the confrontation at the Harcourt office building. He remembered when he was shot during the escape. All his power had left until Tanner grabbed him, and power surged into him.
Chris continued to hold the ceiling with Vin's help, allowing the other men to crawl through the wreckage and out the window. Nathan and Buck dragged Josiah with them until the only ones left were him and Vin.
Larabee was afraid to disrupt his friend's focus, not entirely sure how dependent the power flow was with Vin's concentration. But there was no other choice. "Vin?" he called softly. No answer. "Vin?" Dammit, now what? He could hear his teammates calling for them from outside. //Vin!// he shouted mentally. //We have to get out.//
He felt the hand on his back move a fraction, pushing harder. Then a voice inside his head, //What th' hell are you waiting for? Move it.//
Chris snorted at the reply. The hand continued moving, never breaking contact with the telekinetic until Tanner's hand was on his left arm, clutching his sleeve. The blond started crawling through the cleared tunnel, taking care to go slow enough so Tanner's grip wouldn't be lost. It was a little more difficult maneuvering through the window, but strong arms grabbed the two friends and pulled them out into the yard just as the room crashed down onto itself.
Larabee and Tanner lay side-by-side on the lawn, looking up at the stars, gulping in breaths of fresh air.
"So," Chris panted, "is there something you want to tell me?"
There was no answer from the telepath.
"Vin?" No response. He sat up quickly. "Nathan?"
The healer was already examining the telepath. "He's asleep," Nathan said after checking the unconscious man. "I think he's just drained."
"Helping you used a lot of energy. He just needs to rest and recharge." At Chris' worried look, Jackson said, "He'll be fine."
Vin regained consciousness relatively fast. When he saw everyone staring at him, he got up quickly, staggering, but refusing to take Chris' offered arm.
Chris was taken aback at the slight, but had no time to ponder it. They had more urgent matters to attend to. "We need a place to lay low," he stated.
"I agree." Nathan said. "This place is too well known."
"Any ideas?" Josiah asked. He'd recovered from his injuries thanks to Nathan's help, and now just struggled with a tremendous headache.
Suddenly, Buck smiled and asked, "Hey, Judge, you know if any of your neighbors are on vacation?"
As they drove down the winding driveway, the lead car's headlights illuminated a tall man in a long coat and top hat standing in the center of their path. The brakes squealed as Buck slammed down on them. "Another one?" Buck asked. "You think Baines grows 'em somewhere?"
In the glow of the headlights, Chris could see the man had a metal patch that stretched over one eye. Larabee stepped out of the car and called out to the tall man, "Get out of the way."
"I'm right where I want to be," the man answered. "I'm Bob Spikes. Maybe you heard of me."
"Nope," growled the telekinetic. "And I'm only going to tell you this once "
"Once is enough," replied the man curtly. Powering instantly, he garnered a large fireball and thrust it at the car. Quick reflexes prevented anyone from being caught in the fiery blaze, as Buck, Ezra, and Chris jumped clear of the conflagration.
In the second car, Vin, Josiah, Orrin, and Nathan watched as the car exploded and their companions jumped free. They hustled the justice out and ducked down behind the vehicle. "You guys okay?" yelled Vin.
"Fabulous," drawled Ezra. The Southerner scooted behind the intact car with Buck and Chris close behind. He settled down next to Travis and Josiah, patting a smoldering spot on his pant leg.
"This car won't last long as a shield," said Nathan.
"It's all we have for now," shot back Chris. "Buck, can you get him?"
They heard Bob Spikes laugh as he advanced past the burning wreckage of the first car. Gathering his energy, the hired gun aimed his next fireball at the second vehicle.
Buck popped up from behind the car and tossed his own fireball. It hit the approaching ball dead-on, showering sparks over the group hiding behind the car. The men held their arms over their heads, protecting themselves from the embers.
"He's stronger than I am," reported the pyrokinetic as he ducked back down behind the car. "Ain't no way I'm gonna be able to stop him."
Chris asked Vin, //Think you're strong enough to lend Buck some power?//
There was a pause, then, //Yep.//
Larabee looked over at his fire-maker. "Vin will give you an energy boost. Now make the biggest damn fireball you can and toast that asshole."
The ladies' man nodded and motioned to Vin. Racing over to a nearby tree, Buck stood behind it and waited for the telepath to join him.
"Is this the safest place you can think of to hide from a pyro?" Vin asked once he arrived. "Ain't it awfully flammable?"
"I need room to do this and I'd rather be on my feet. If you wanna try standing out in the open, be my guest."
"Never mind." Tanner placed his hand on the pyrokinetic's back.
Buck gathered his power together, slightly taken aback when so much flowed through him. Damn, Chris was right! Once he collected enough energy to make a fireball slightly larger than a basketball, he stepped out from behind the tree, throwing the ball straight at the other pyrokinetic with as much force as he could.
Spikes was stunned by the intensity of the attack, and couldn't get a defensive fire-screen up in time. The enormous ball hit him squarely, immolating the man in an instant.
Motioning the others to stay hidden until they were certain the danger was past, Buck cautiously walked down the driveway, looking around for any other trouble. Vin joined him a minute later, looking a little pale. They gazed down at the ashes of the former sentient.
"Whew!" Tanner waved his hand back and forth, trying to waft the stink away. "Good job, Buckley. I guess we're lucky Eli Joe is gone or else Baines woulda sent 'im for sure."
"Coast is clear," Buck called out once they could see the threat was gone. The rest of the Seven and Travis arose from behind the un- scorched vehicle and came forward.
Larabee looked down and then back up at the surrounding area. "Boys - - let's get the hell out of here."
They didn't stick around; they knew it would be safer if Baines thought his last assassin had succeeded. Everyone squeezed into the remaining car. Chris drove with Josiah in the passenger seat and Travis between them. In the back seat Vin sat at one side, leaning against the window with his eyes closed, resting. Nathan was next to him and Buck on the far side. Ezra was unceremoniously dumped in the back, extremely unhappy at his situation. But he realized at this time, he was the smallest in stature besides Vin and the telepath needed to relax and replenish his power. The mood of the car was subdued; each was feeling fortunate that they'd escaped without serious injury.
Travis directed the group to a house within the same suburb. The justice knew that the owner was out of town for a month in Barbados and wouldn't mind the "borrowing" of his home. The car was parked around back, and lights were kept to a minimum to limit suspicions. They could hear the emergency vehicle sirens from their location. Knowing the media would quickly grab onto the story, Orrin requested a call to his wife to let her know he was still in one piece. Larabee told Buck to check in with Dunne as well.
Chris looked around the dark house in vain. Finally, he asked Nathan if he'd seen Vin.
"I think he went to the outer edge of the property to scan the surrounding area for any threat." The healer pointed in the general direction he'd seen the sentient go.
"Is it safe for him to be pushing himself so hard?"
Nathan shrugged noncommittally. "I figure he's a big boy and can tell when he needs a nap."
Chris waited another hour for Vin's return before going off to search for his friend. The blond could see Vin in the moonlight, and sat down beside him on the lawn. When the telepath refused to look at him, Chris knew for sure that something was wrong. He'd sensed his friend's retreat from him, but he had no idea the reason behind it. Time to cut to the chase.
"So, Tanner, what bug do you have up your ass?"
Vin whipped his head around to look at his friend. "What do you mean?"
"You've been avoiding me."
Larabee stared at him and raised a quizzical brow.
After trying to outstare the man in black and failing, Vin sighed in defeat. Looking out over the estate so he wouldn't have to face Chris, he said, "I got used to the rhythm. I'm off stride without it."
"We work well together."
"That we do," Chris agreed.
"I been alone fer so long, I never had a rhythm."
"Again with the rhythm." Larabee was thoroughly confused. "Are you studying to be a dancer or something?"
"I'm baring m'soul and yer giving me shit."
"My apologies." The telekinetic motioned for Vin to continue.
"As I was saying," Vin continued, scowling at Chris, "I got used ta certain things."
"When I got used to it, it kinda scared me that I was so dependent on it in jest a short time."
"Dependent on me?"
"Not jest you. Us."
"Did we get married without me knowing?"
"You really can be an ass, Larabee."
"I'm just trying to figure out what the hell you're talking about!"
"Now I'm startin' ta feel like an idiot."
"Never stopped you yet."
//You aren't my type.// Aloud Chris asked, "Cut the bullshit, what's wrong?"
"Ya shut me out."
"When ya left."
Larabee thought back through the past few days. "Do you mean when I went to meet Mary?"
"That's what's got your panties in a bunch?" Chris laughed. "I thought it was something serious."
"You're laughing at me again!" Vin accused.
"I was actually worried for a minute there."
"You were pissed at me fer questionin' you."
"Hell, yeah, I was pissed. You were being a smartass and if I took you along I knew I'd have to kick your ass." Chris shrugged. "Besides, Buck needs to be taken out and walked once in a while."
Vin couldn't stop a small smile.
Chris turned serious. "Sorry, pard, it wasn't intentional."
The telepath stared at his friend, feeling that once again their connection was clear and unblocked. //Then we're okay?//
//Never been better.// Chris asked, "Is there anything else I should know about?"
Vin knew this would be the perfect opportunity to tell Chris of his fairly new -- and painful -- power of psychokinesis, but he still wasn't ready. "That's it for now," he answered truthfully.
"Let's get back to the others and see if they came up with anything." Larabee stood up and extended a hand to help his friend up. They clasped forearms, reestablishing their bond of friendship and trust. The two walked into the house together and caught the tail end of Buck's conversation with JD.
"How is he?" Vin asked once Buck was finished.
"The kid's disappointed 'cause he missed all the excitement," Wilmington said as he closed the cellphone and handed it back to Standish.
"And Mrs. Travis?" Chris asked Orrin.
"Good. She and Nettie are getting along famously." The older man paused. "I didn't have the heart to tell her about her collection."
"Trust me," Nathan said with a smile, "you should tell her now. She can't getcha from so far away."
"You don't know Evie." Travis shuddered in mock terror.
Chris scrutinized the room. "Anyone come up with anything?"
"I believe it's time for a little tête-à-tête with our dear friend, Paul Baines," Standish said. "I'm afraid we will use up all nine of our lives before he runs out of minions."
Chris agreed. He was done with running from the megalomaniac. Knowing that the simplest answer is sometimes best, he said, "Let's kill him."
"That would be too easy," Josiah objected. Everyone turned to look at the empath. "For a man such as that, life without power would be so much worse."
"How are we going to stop him, then?" asked Nathan.
Ezra flashed his gold tooth. "I have an idea."
Everyone groaned -- then Standish started explaining his proposal.
Buck, Vin, and Chris drove into downtown Washington, D.C., careful to maintain a low profile.
Their goal was to enter the Guild headquarters. Vin would stay positioned in the car outside, with Buck along for backup in case anything went wrong. They pulled into the lot and parked, with only the leader getting out.
Buck sat in the driver's seat with Vin on the passenger side, leaning back, eyes closed. The ladies' man knew that the telepath needed his full concentration to lead Chris to Baines and to stay connected to Chris.
Watching his oldest friend walk up to the front doors and pause, Wilmington sent a quick prayer that the plan would work.
Larabee drew a deep breath and walked straight into the headquarters of the Guild -- the last place a sentient would voluntarily go under normal circumstances. That's why the team decided it was worth the risk. No one, including the Guild, would imagine that one of their most wanted enemies would waltz in through the front door. Vin guided him through the building to Baines' office, honing in on the "absence" Baines projected by wearing a telepathic jammer to prevent sentients from reading his thoughts.
The Guild leader looked up at the intrusion in surprise. "Chris Larabee, it's so nice of you to come to me; it saves me the trouble of sending hunters after you." The pale blond man smiled cruelly, his eyes dark. "You won't mind if I call for Security, will you?"
Baines went to pick up the phone, but Larabee tossed it across the room with his TK. Baines watched it smash on the wall and land on the floor. "You do realize the taxpayers will be charged for that?"
"Leave Travis alone," Chris growled.
"I have no idea what you mean." Baines held his arms wide in innocence. "I have nothing but the utmost respect for our esteemed chief justice."
"I just came here to warn you."
"Warn me?" Baines chuckled cruelly. "You and your men are the fugitives."
"That's true right now but I have Vin Tanner on my team." Baines noticeably flinched at this and Larabee pressed his advantage, leaning forward over the desk. "If anything --anything -- happens to Travis, you will die seconds later. I don't care if it's an accident or not. So you'd better hope the chief justice stays a perpetually lucky man."
"Tanner won't do anything," Baines scoffed. "He's a coward."
Still in mental contact with Larabee, Vin could hear everything that Paul Baines was saying. Extending his power, he gave Baines a sharp, mind-blowing, fall-on-the-floor-and-pray-for-death headache. After ten seconds of excruciating pain, Tanner released Baines.
The Guild leader lay gasping on the floor, clutching his head.
Larabee squatted down next to the fallen man and whispered, "There's a difference between cowardice and decency." He patted Baines on the arm before standing up and walking toward the exit.
As Paul Baines stared to rise unsteadily to his feet, he couldn't help but threaten, "You'll be dead inside a week."
"I'm not the one that's worried. Remember, Tanner can get to you anywhere," Chris said with a snarl. "Soon the PCCA will be gone along with your Guild." He walked out of the office and out of the building as easily as he entered, holding Baines' door closed with his telekinesis until he'd cleared the building.
Buck opened the car door for his oldest friend. "Is it over?"
Chris nodded. "For now."
"Tonight's top story the Supreme Court issued a decision, stating that the Psionic Control and Containment Act is unconstitutional, and will therefore be abolished. The news sent shockwaves through the various government organizations and public outrage at the decision is strong
And in other news, Senator Clayton Hopewell and his top aide, Louisa Perkins, were killed in an auto accident while on their way to a political fundraiser. Celebrated for his strong anti- sentient stand, the senator was rumored to have been planning to run for president in the next election. Services will be held "
continues in Reclamation
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