Three days went by before they commenced Murphy’s plan to rescue Jon. Silas and Reed noticed five suspicious black SUVs rolling through town every time they went on their daily watch. Today was Reed’s day to handle the watch duties, so she spent most of her time either out or napping in-between shifts. Silas had become more helpful over the past couple of days than either Deacon or Michael had anticipated.
“If we’re going to be a team, I need to make sure you at least know the basics of how to use your abilities,” He had said repeatedly over their time together. Michael noticed that everytime Silas said the word “team”, he couldn’t stop himself from slightly wincing.
The three of them spent a good portion of each day running through different training exercises. They used items around the house to create simple makeshift obstacle courses to practice their powers. After a couple of days, they learned that Michael had much more control over his telekinesis when working with live objects. They hung different objects from the ceiling; a hula hoop, an old rusted basketball hoop, or a clothes hamper with the bottom ripped out, and Silas would turn into animals of different sizes- a squirrel, a fox, a tiger- while Michael levitated him through the obstacles in different patterns without having the animals touch them.
Michael felt his heart beat a little faster every time he initiated his abilities. He had to admit he didn’t necessarily like having these newfound powers. It was a weird feeling having a living thing under your control. It felt…wrong, in a lot of ways. Deacon and Silas had taught him to envision an invisible hand every time he wanted to move something. Spatially, it helped him wrap his head around the form of the object he was moving, the same way you physically pick up and move an object with your hand. It took a considerable amount of effort to move even the smallest creature, despite taking regular breaks, he felt spent after a couple of hours of practice.
Deacon had become better at directing and willing his fire to do what he wanted it to. He could ignite his hands and upper arms pretty easily and had even learned to gauge his power output, though he still had more to learn, struggling mightily with his self-control. Two days ago he tried to light a candle and ended up melting the entire thing, to include the stand it was on. Now, with some real focus, he could ignite the candle while only burning half of it. He was still a ways away from perfecting his power, but it was progress. They positioned targets along the different levels of the house- a trash can tied to the bannister, a series of tennis balls hung from the ceiling- and Deacon would have to hit them with controlled balls of fire. Silas even flew around as a crow a few times holding a large bulls eye for some moving target practice. After a few singed feathers, they decided to stick to stationary objects until he improved his accuracy.
As they were nearing the end of their third practice session of the day, Reed flew in from the pull-down attic entrance and flew quick circles around each of them before landing on the living room floor and returning back to human form.
“Murphy around?” she asked, stretching her limbs. Her brow was wet with sweat and her eyes were red. Her face and cheeks also looked flushed with exhaustion.
Michael had grown used to her entering rooms without greeting. It was kind of her thing. He liked Reed even though she was pretty uncharming. She reminded him of himself in a lot of ways. She was tough and smart. He imagined he would have liked having her as a friend back at school. Michael had to consciously stop his mind from returning to the past. The thought of school reminded him of his best friend, and immediately struck him with a painful pit in his stomach.
Deacon juggled two small balls of fire in both hands with great concentration. “Murphy’s asleep upstairs,” he said, without looking in Reed’s direction. “Why? What’s up?”
“Wake him up,” she said while fixing her hair. “We’ve got a problem.”
Silas turned into a Rottweiler and bounded up the stairs three at a time. He came back a few minutes later with a groggy Murphy in tow. He ran down the stairs and sat on his haunches right in front of Reed, like most dogs do when they’re begging for treats. She rolled her eyes and walked away from the panting hound. Michael thought it was funny that Silas was the older of the two but consistently acted like he was the younger.
“What’s the… big emergency?” Murphy said through a big yawn.
Deacon caught one fireball in each hand and squeezed his fists tight. The balls dissipated in a small cloud of smoke.
“I tailed one of the SUVs,” Reed started. “The driver got a radio call saying ‘it was time to pull out, they were sending the Cerberus team in’”.
Deacon furrowed his brow and looked to Murphy for an explanation. “I have no idea what that is, but it sure as hell doesn’t sound good.”
“That’s because its not.” Murphy started towards the stairs leading towards the basement. “We’re going to use this in our favor. They don’t know that we know their next step. They won’t expect us to slip out right under their noses. Get ready, we leave in an hour.”
The next hour was a blur. Reed, Silas, Michael, and Deacon went upstairs to the disheveled office full of papers stacked high and shredded each and every one of them. Deacon had no idea what they were but he burned the shredded the pieces as an additional security measure.
Murphy came back upstairs and handed each of them a small black backpack and told them to fill it with everything they could fit, which was easy for Michael and Deacon. They both came with pre packed bags. Reed and Silas took a little more time on the other hand. Murphy gave them each a change of clothes, blue jeans, and a plain t-shirt. Michael pulled a sweatshirt out of the bag he brought and threw it on over his new shirt. Within 45 minutes, they were packed and ready to go.
“Here’s the plan,” Murphy pulled out two ear buds and handed them to both Reed and Silas. “We’re meeting Bobby and Avery at the hide out on the outskirts of town. It’s a one hour drive to the complex from there. Reed and Michael, you two take route one and head to the bus station. Deacon and Silas, you take route two and head to the train. They both drop-off within walking distance of the hideout.” He pulled out one bus ticket, one train ticket, two sets of large black glasses, and what looked like some kind of harness and handed them to Deacon and Michael. “Reed and Silas will lead the way.”
Deacon and Michael exchanged confused looks at the equipment now in their hands. “What exactly are we supposed to do with this stuff?” Michael asked raising the harness in one hand and the sunglasses in another.
Murphy responded with a nod to Silas and Reed, who answered with a nod of their own.
Silas stretched and walked towards the center of the room. “We haven’t done this one in a while, have we?” he asked Reed, who nodded in mock agreement. “Let’s get to it I guess.”
In mid stride the two of them morphed into full-grown German Shepards and sniffed the harnesses in Deacon and Michaels hands. They looked pretty much identical except that Reed was a little smaller and had blue eyes instead of Silas’ black.
“Service Dogs…” Deacon realized. “We’re pretending to be blind?”
Murphy nodded his head and checked the watch on his wrist. “The easiest way to blend in is to hide in plain sight.” He said, digging in his other pocket for something. “Here, each of you put one of these in your ears.” He thrusted a single small black ear bud into each of their hands. “Its an amplifier. We’ll be connected as long as you stick to the route. If you have it in, I can sense where you are anywhere in the city.”
Michael looked at the ear bud as If it were an alien artifact that had somehow made it into his hands. Murphy checked his watch again and hurriedly attached the harnesses to the two dogs in front of them. “Let’s go. It’s now or never.” He said to them one last time. “Stick to the plan and we’ll all be back together in no more than an hour.” He turned towards the front door and paused before twisting the knob. “Remember, hide in plain sight,” He said directly to Michael and Deacon. “Don’t draw any attention to yourselves. You’re two blind men with service dogs. Play the part and people will do whatever you want them to.” He nodded at them one last time and with that he opened the door and they all scattered to their designated routes.
Michael struggled to hold on to the harness as Reed pulled them down the street. She led them past a series of apartment complexes, twisting and turning every few streets and they were eventually deposited into a busy outdoor shopping center. It was just like Murphy said, play the part and people will do whatever you want them to. As they walked people parted ways around them, giving them ample space to move along the sideways. Michael tried his hardest to act like he was blind but felt more awkward than anything. Between the adrenaline in his system and the strong buzzing sound in his ear from Murphy’s amplifier making him twitch every so often, he imagined he looked like a blind nut case to everyone passing by, but at least he appeared blind. In any case, the disguise was working better than he expected. They had been moving for 20 minutes and they had no problems.
They made their way to the bus station and stood in the long line of people waiting to be seated. Almost immediately, the other bus riders began offering up their place in line, inching them closer and closer to the front. After a few minutes of this they boarded and were seated in the row behind the driver, closest to the door. The head rests on the pair of seats had the blue and white handicapped figure embroidered on them which made him feel guilty. Michael sat and stared at a spot on the wall in front of him. He hoped it looked like he was just staring into space, but in reality he was watching each and every passenger as they entered the bus threshold for anything suspicious. Reed sat next to him at full German Shepard attention doing the exact same thing. Within a few minutes, everyone was boarded and the bus slid out of the bus stop. As they made their way to the main road, Michael looked out of the window at the town and tried to remember what it was like before all of this. He stared blankly out the window when he saw a convoy of black SUVs. He witnessed between 12 and 17 of them tear down the street in the opposite direction. He turned his head at Reed, who was also looking out of the window. She made a low growling sound in the back of her throat before lowering her head into the seat and closing her eyes.
Silas strolled through the streets as if casually being walked by his owner on a brisk spring day, with not a cloud in the sky. Deacon on the other hand, followed behind him gripping the harness like it was the only thing keeping him attached to ground. Deacon tried not to look suspicious but he couldn’t help but overcompensate for the glasses, darting his head back and forth.
As he walked he noticed more than one person stop what they were doing to look at him. One man from behind his newspaper, another man sitting outside a small coffee shop peered at him as he talked on the phone and sipped his coffee, a woman pushing a stroller in legwarmers and work out gear looked at him and quickly looked away right as Deacon glanced back. He hoped the dark glasses didn’t make it look obvious that he had noticed.
Murphy, uh…you copy? Deacon felt awkward asking the question in his own head but he didn’t know how else to get in touch.
I’m here, Murphy’s familiar voice answered. What’s the problem?
I think they’re on to us. I’m getting some pretty suspicious looks out here, he thought back.
A moment of silence passed as he waited. He noticed signs hanging from the street lamps with the words TRAIN STATION in big block letters and one single arrow pointing down the street ahead.
I don’t sense any movement on your side of town, Murphy answered back. Silas says you’re close to the train. Get there fast you’ve got 15 minutes. Get on and you’ll be fine.”
“Copy that…I mean 10/4…I mean over and out…” Deacon cursed under his breath and hoped he didn’t sound as stupid as he thought he did.
“And just look straight ahead. You look like an idiot whipping your head around like that.”
A few blocks later they made it to the train station and Deacon handed over his ticket to the attendant sitting inside the glass booth. He fumbled with the ticket on purpose and tried to look over her shoulder instead of directly at her face. She took his ticket, ripped it in half, and then another attendant came over and directed him and his German Shepherd to their seats, skipping the long line of travelers waiting outside.
They made their way into a small private booth on the front rail car and waited patiently for the rest of the passengers to enter. Ten minutes went by before the conductor signaled over the train’s intercom for the passengers to ready for departure. The train pulled away a minute or two after the announcement.
As the train made its way out of the station, a fleet of black SUVs barreled the opposite direction down the parallel running highway. Deacon felt a pit form in his stomach as he watched the last of them whiz past. He turned to see if Silas had noticed, but the large Shepherd was laying flat on its back in the middle of the private train booth floor with its tongue hanging out, snoring.
It took him almost the entire day to get there but Murphy walked into the almost empty shopping center parking lot on tired legs with his hood over head and his eyes down. Over the years, he had learned to “see” using his ability to see using electromagnetic wavelengths. It wasn’t like seeing with your eyes at all, which made it a little more risky in his current situation, but he trusted it more than relying on what he saw with his normal sense of sight. When he engaged his full ability he could feel the presence of everything with a pulse and functioning brain in his vicinity. He couldn’t “see” them per say, but he could tell you exactly how many people were sitting in the dimly lit Mexican restaurant as he walked by its modern brick and glass store front.
Sitting at the edge of the parking lot was an intimidating black SUV, with matching black tinted windows and rims. He quickened his pace and walked towards the dormant vehicle. He neared the front door and with a push from his mind unlocked the door.
“Took you long enough,” the familiar voice of Jon chided from the front seat.
Murphy took off his back pack and laid it on the spacious floor mat beneath his feet and stretched his whole body. “Sorry, had to make a couple of judgment calls.” He looked in the back seat and saw Reed, Silas, Michael, and Deacon all fast asleep.
“Am I really that late?”
Jon tapped the blinking digital clock on the center console. Without hesitation he twisted the key in the ignition and the heavy SUV roared to life under them “Avery’s waiting for us at the safe house,” he said putting it into gear. “She says she’s got something big.”
They drove 20 minutes to the edge of town and cut through a wide, over-grown trail on the shoulder of the highway. They all slumped out of the SUV and covered the vehicle in as many heavy branches as they could find. Five minutes later the SUV looked like a massive, poorly constructed Piñata. The six of them walked through the woods as night fell, stepping over fallen trees and crossing webs of slow babbling brooks. Finally, they made it to a dimly lit cabin, covered in moss and built into the side of a small cliff.
“Here we are,” Murphy said, “home sweet home.” He looked around him with a concerned look on his face as the words left his mouth.
Bobby continued on, walking up the small house’s set of wooden stairs. With each step, the old wood creaked, but held firm. He walked up to the door and twisted the old stubborn knob with force, putting his shoulder into it for some extra juice. The rest of the group followed after him, cautiously taking the wooden steps, one at a time.
The interior of the cabin was much more palatial than compared to the outside. The entire interior wall was lined with small dim light fixtures giving it a sleepy, homey feel. The door opened into the living room area which was filled with simple, cozy, wooden furniture in the shape of a square in the center of the room. The couch was accented with solid colored decorative pillows and blankets with geometric shapes and patterns on them. Behind the comfortable living space was a wooden dining table with six brown paper bags placed in the center. Behind the table on the back wall of the house was a simple kitchen.
To the left of the living area was a staircase leading up to an open balcony. Avery leaned against the railing, peering down at them with a half empty bottle of water in her hand.
“Glad to see you all made it in one piece,” she said before taking a swig from the bottle. “I was starting to get worried,” She walked down the steps with slow deliberate footfalls, holding the railing as she made her decent.
Silas pushed the pillows and blankets off of the couch and plopped down on it, spreading his long limbs and yawning deeply. “Worried? About us?” he stretched his arms wide, extending his fingers to the ceiling before tucking his hands behind his head. “Please. Getting out of tight jams is what we do best.”
Reed rolled her eyes and walked over to the sink before she said anything more. She turned the faucet handle and started gulping down water by the handful.
“You said you have news?” Bobby asked pointedly. His eyes went wide in anticipation.
Without speaking a word, she walked over to the wooden table and pushed the brown paper bags to the edge and dropped a single manila envelope in the now vacant spot. The rest of them – except Silas – positioned themselves around the table as Murphy took up the envelope and pulled out a single picture. He stared at it for a few seconds before placing it back on the table for the rest of the group to see.
Bobby picked it up and passed it around after a quick examination. After passing through everyone’s hands, it finally came to Michael, who had somehow come into possession of a banana.
“Who’s… this guy?” he asked in between bites of fruit.
Staring back at him was the picture of a man with close-cropped hair and a perfectly tailored suit stepping out of a pricey sports car.
Murphy and Avery exchanged looks before either of them answered. Deacon had a feeling more than just a look was shared in those few seconds.
“Its him,” Avery started. “It’s the voice.”
Michael stopped mid-chew and studied the picture with renewed focus. His entire demeanor changed as he re-examined the picture, searing the image of the man into his head.
“How’d you get this?” Silas asked from the couch.
Avery pulled out the closest chair and took a deep breath. “I snagged one of their comm units while I was doing recon a couple of days ago. I’ve been tracking the chatter coming through and everything seemed normal, routine security checks, lab accident clean-ups… that type of thing. A couple of days ago they started dropping the call sign ‘ghost’ over and over again. So I decided to do some digging and lucky for me he showed up at the compound right before our rendezvous time here.”
“How do you know it’s him?” Reed asked, picking up the photo for another glance. “I mean, this could be anybody if that all you have to go on, right?”
Reed shook her head and looked at Murphy. “Remember a couple of months back, we got intell on that kid in Brazil who could fly?”
Silas poked his head up from his spot on the couch. “You mean the one that went dark almost as soon as we got it?”
“Exactly,” Avery agreed. “Remember the rumors we were hearing? People doing ungodly things almost as if they were possessed.”
“I thought we agreed that was just cultural superstition?” Silas asked, again.
“We did. But remember that last bit of intell we got before we decided to drop it? ‘Start with Vic, the ghost.’ We tried deciphering it and after that the name never came up again and we thought the intell was incomplete, but it was actually a message. Two nights ago the head gate guard said over the radio, ‘Vic…I mean Ghost will be on the premisis. ETA zero four hundred. Be on high alert. Enable all dampeners’.” She paused for a few seconds to let this sink in. “Why would the head security guard tell his team to enable their dampeners for anyone other than a high level telepath? The guard slipped and said his name.”
From his seat Deacon could see that Silas still wasn’t entirely convinced, and neither was Reed. Michael’s face had turned to stone and his jaw was locked in a tight scowl. They all looked to Murphy for the signal it was okay to accept this as truth.
“What do we do now?” Deacon asked. “If this…voice, guy is going to be at the compound, is our plan still good?”
Murphy put his thumb and index finger on the bridge of his nose and paced back and forth across the room, taking everything in. The plan that he had spent an entire night coming up with had seemed so solid just a few hours ago and now it felt like it didn’t stand a chance.
“We can still make this work,” Murphy said with a crack in his voice. “This doesn’t change the plan. In fact, it might help us. They think they’re at their safest right now. They weren’t expecting us before, and they definitely aren’t expecting us now. We just have to do it before zero four hundred.”
All the air in the room had dissipated and everyone was trying as hard as they could to believe Murphy’s words. Reed and Silas looked at the floor, lost in thought. Michael was staring at a divot in the table’s wooden surface, lost in his own thoughts.
Avery stood from the table breaking the silence with her chair legs scraping across the floor. “Here,” she said grabbing the brown paper bags and putting one in each persons hands. “Eat, get some sleep. If this is going to work, we should leave here no later than midnight. That gives us six hours.”
With that she headed toward the stairs where she disappeared into the balcony overhead. Murphy followed shortly after and Silas after him. Michael sat for hours in the same spot looking at the same divot with his locked jaw and piercing focus. Deacon remembered he intended to ask him what the mystery man meant to him, but in this moment, thought better of it.
He hung around the couch for a few seconds before deciding to go sit on the steps outside and get some air. He hadn’t noticed her leave, but Reed had beaten him to it and was sitting on the front step.
“Are we crazy?” he asked, sitting down, staring into the darkness above. “Are we really about to do this?”
Reed looked at him and shook her head giving him silent confirmation. “I don’t know if that’s the guy. To be honest, if that’s not him, I don’t think we’ll ever find him.”
A few seconds passed and the two of them sat in silence as the words floated between them and evaporated into the darkness of the night.
“How’d you end up here? You and Silas I mean. How’d you end up with Murphy doing the whole superhero spy thing?”
Reed laughed and a pretty smile crept over her face. She stood and turned towards the door. “Maybe you’ll hear that story another time, firefly. Let’s just try and get through this first, without all of us dying.” She left him sitting on the steps and slowly walked to the door. She turned the knob and paused before pushing it open. “I trust Avery, Murphy too. If they think this guy is who he is, that’s good enough for me.” She released the knob and turned towards him sitting with his back to her. “And for what it’s worth, I trust you too.”
Deacon didn’t turn around as she spoke. He just listened for the sound of the door opening and closing behind her but it didn’t come. Finally he turned his head, and saw nothing. The space where her petite body should have been was empty and the door was still closed. He turned his head back around when something on the floor caught his eye – a small green and blue feather. He picked it up and turned the delicate feather in his hand. He placed the feather on the nearby porch banister and walked back inside, suddenly exhausted. Michael had found a small sleeping bag and was now curled up on the floor next to a small space heater, snoring quietly. Deacon sat on the couch and closed his eyes just for a second, and before he knew it he was fast asleep.
Deacon woke up at the prodding of Avery, standing above him. She handed him a banana and a bottle of water before walking away in a hurry. Deacon pulled himself up and tried to push the groggy sleeplessness from his eyes. He had only slept for about three hours but it felt like it had lasted less than 5 minutes.
“Put these on,” Reed handed him a pair of black boots before sitting down in the seat next to him. She pulled the laces on her own boots tight and tied a double knot before straightening up again. “You better hurry. We leave in 10.”
Everyone else in the small wooden house scurried around like ants in an anthill. Deacon barely got to his feet before he was rushed out of the door and into the woods.
They walked in the dark of night back to the SUV they had shoddily hidden, and de-cloaked it in a matter of seconds with the six pairs of hands they had at their disposal. Avery jumped in the front seat and brought the car to life with a hard twist of the key.
“Everyone put your amplifiers back in,” Murphy started. “As an added precaution, I’m going to cloak your thoughts. Remember we stick to the plan. We get in, we get Jon, and we get out. That’s it. By the time they figure out what happened to them we’ll be long gone.”
Everyone pulled the small black ear-buds from their pockets and placed them into their ears as instructed. The rest of the 20 minute ride to the compound was spent in silence.
Michael’s emotions had evened out just a bit. His intense focus had shifted to a sense of reserve. Deacon snapped his thumb and forefinger to pass the time, playing with the sparks and embers that popped and slowly dissipated from the motion. Reed, Bobby, and Silas sat in the backseat silent as three church mice.
They pulled up to the heavy metal gates they had seen on the security tapes and Michael forgot about his smoldering time wasting efforts. The reality of the situation was right in front of them.
The guard at the booth took care of the identical SUVs in front of them and waved them forward with padded black gloves and an assault rifle strapped to his chest.
“Everyone stay calm, no sudden movements.” Murphy said from the front seat. He took in a deep breath and concentrated hard on the man.
The man extended his gloved hand and held onto the butt of his gun with the other. “Dispatch papers and credentials,” The man demanded with a deep gruff voice. Like he had been gargling sand and smoking cigarettes for years. He looked right through Avery who was sitting less than foot away from him, separated only by the SUVs heavy door, as if there was nobody in the seat. There was a thick vein shooting up Murphy’s neck and into his now tomato red face.
Avery reached into the glove box and pulled out a stack of papers and placed it into the man’s outstretched hands. He reviewed the papers one by one before handing them back, satisfied. He waved over his shoulder to his partner in the booth and gestured to Avery to move the van forward.
Murphy exhaled, relieving the tension in his neck and shoulders. “I’ve never had to shadow six people at once. A lot harder than I thought it would be.”
Avery didn’t respond. She just kept the SUV moving forward slow and steady, careful not to draw any attention to them. Deacon turned his head, looking through the rear view glass. The heavy gate slide closed behind them, with a loud clattering noise. Through the SUVs enforced doors it sounded like a loud muffled hammer falling on metal plates.
Deacon turned back around and let the sound ring in his head. Whether he liked it or not, they were in. Whatever happened now, good or bad, would be at the hands of the wild men willing to kill them, and the only thing he had to aid him was a weeks worth of training and the trust (or lack thereof) of the six people sitting next to him.
Avery pulled up to the back of the large power plant they had scoped out days before. “Team one,” She turned around with a determined look. “You’re up.”
Right on cue, Reed turned into her usual blue and greenhummingbird, with alarming quickness, and buzzed around the ceiling before being let out through a crack in the side window.
Bobby punched Deacon in the arm and gave him a reassuring smile, “Let’s do this.”
And with those three words, the two of them jumped out of the reinforced black door and darted into the compound full of hostile, gun toting savages.