Disclaimer: Characters belong to Koyasu Takehito

The Elders had seemed amused, like good natured grandparents whose favourite grandchild had made a ridiculous yet endearing request. Brad Crawford could only hope there weren't any mind readers nearby, but as his visions had let on to him, they had agreed. A team, his very own. His one and only opportunity to break off from the dried up Elders and take over the world.. well, that made him sound too much like a megalomaniac for comfort. Take over Japan! or maybe America... Anyway the one thing he really wanted was to be free from the Elder's leash, but he knew he couldn't make it on his own, he had seen he couldn't make it on his own.

Of course he expected it to be hard work, he'd have to win his team's trust, their loyalty. Absolute obeisance would be the ideal thing, but it was too much like what The Elders were expecting from him, and if he was any sing of the success of that school of thought, he'd much rather try his luck within another path. For Brad Crawford actually believed in team work. If you were planning on to defeat an organization spawned from the very 9 circles of hell you needed people you could trust your back to.

He should have foreseen The Elders weren't going to make it a bit easier. He should have expected some kind of sick game to humiliate him, something to laugh at his effort, something to have him crawl back to them like an abused lap dog.

His team mates were The Elders best chance, give him scraps.

And he was the first! M-85

Code numbers were the only form of ID the talents got from Esset, real names forgot and forsaken for the most part.

It was much better than he had expected, and yet his stomach sank. Weren't mind readers supposed to be submissive?

So much for unquestionable obeisance.

A mind reader had sounded too good to be true. Their kind wasn't dispensed lavishly. They were quite profitable, but also rare and perishable. Most of them died soon, smothered under the weight of all the minds, all the thoughts, hate, love, confusion, paranoia, distress, all the pain inside them which wasn't even their own. They said, after a while, they couldn't really differentiate between their own thoughts and the others'. Like a radio getting every single station at once, the white noise inside their brains deafening.

Most of them needed sleeping pills just to get a few hours of unrestful slumber, their brains kept on working, kept on listening. They could never rest. Always tired. Always confused. They were easy to control. You got what you wanted from them until they wasted to a shadow and vanished.

Not, apparently, this feisty thing. A mop of tangled red hair, a black eye and attitude. Oozing spunk and curses in German. Crawford had to drag him -quite literally- out of his cell, through halls and corridors. He needed the help of one Sentinel from the 'Academy' an elegant name for the prison/laboratory in which Esset studied their talents until their souls and minds where shattered to pieces. If they were lucky they were assigned to a team before that happened, if they weren't they were deemed only as useful as lab rats.

One of the beefy sentinels got a broken, bloody nose. Crawford wasn't sorry.

Much less so because he had done it himself.

What had come over him he wouldn't know. He usually played goodie two-shoes. The perfect secretary, the perfect pawn. It was while they were dragging the kid, still spitting and cursing like a cornered, rabid, little, fluffly animal.

He had had a guinea pig once. He had got it as a present for his 10th birthday. His older brother had given him a weird, German name, Schul-something.. he couldn't remember now, but it was too difficult for his 10 year old self to pronounce so he had ended up calling it Schu-Schu.

He hadn't thought of his brother in a long time, at least he wouldn't admit it to himself. Anyway, the kid reminded him of the guinea pig, noisy and fluffy.

That's when he saw it, the sentry pushing the boy down, a menacing syringe in his hand probably chuck-full of something similar to a sedative but not as relatively harmless. A flash of fear in the boy's defiant blue eyes. Then, Blood on his hands.

He was standing over the boy -who knew how he had got there- a flawless boxer stance, it had been a precise short range right hook, his best move. The syringe broken in the floor, just as broken as the sentry's nose and self-confidence. And he had the feeling of muttering some nonsense about the kid being his now, and he being the only one with any right to touch him.

He had grabbed the boy by the arm and ran for it. Or at least as much as his really expensive shoes would allow him to, which wasn't much. (An ideal secretary had to look the part) They ended up walking really fast towards Crawford's car.

He had ruined everything.

The elders wouldn't be happy with this, it was too suspicious. And for what, a twig of a boy who reminded him of a guinea pig.


"Oh" Oh yes, the reason for the fall of his still-born empire was now sitting next to him, while he drove away in some parody of a bank robbery escape. Great!

"I don't look like a mouse, I'm too good looking" said the guinea pig fixing his dirty, tangled bangs and checking his black eye in the rear-view mirror "you think too loud, you worry too much, you run like a sissy and I'm hungry... fix it"

"Firstly, Anyone with $400 dollar leather shoes would run like that! and Fix it? Fix it? how I'm supposed to do that! the original plan was going to a hotel, an Esset sponsored hotel mind you, we can't do that now as we are fugitives. You ruined everything!" Which Crawford knew was a preposterous, childish thing to say to a complete stranger.

It had been his own right hook which had ruined all, but nothing mattered now.

"Are you always this pessimistic? you are annoying me!"

"No, you are annoying me! and could you have the common courtesy of getting out of my head!"

"Getting out of your head! I would if I could! who would like to be in that mothballed place! booooooring! but I can't help it, you are too loud! YOU ARE ANNOYING!" And with that he slumped into his seat, forehead on his knees, eyes closed, hands in either side of his head.

Great! Now Crawford felt offended and -oddly enough- he was sorry he had said anything. First things first, he had to figure out how to keep them alive, how to sweet talk the elders without compromising them, they hadn't killed anyone, but a violent outburst was something Esset didn't let go off, not from a team leader. It was seen as the seeds of anarchy Esset had to smite. He was supposed to be a good spaniel already. Run obediently after his master's coat tails, fetch whatever dead thing he wanted even if it meant get mud, or water, or blood, or any other foreign substance all over his very expensive suits.

If his mind hadn't been racing trying to concoct believable excuses to give, he would have wondered at how easily he had gone from me to we. He already thought of them as an unit, the thought of ditching the boy to save himself didn't even cross his mind, it would be so easy to blame it all on the mind reader "he controlled me. I have no experience with mind readers, I couldn't push him off my head!"

But that thought never even suggested itself, in Brad Crawford's mind the one thought running in circles was "we are so screwed".

He had doomed himself, he had doomed this kid, all for nothing, and he knew somewhere in his mind there was a channel going over and over all the horrible ways in which the Elder's could hurt them, all what he had seem them do to others and he was probably transmitting in high definition to the kid sitting next to him.

"Annoying and morbid loud prick who runs like a sissy! They are not coming after us, you are not that much older than I am, and I'm 17. So stop calling me a kid! just stop this and feed me!"

"You don't know anything!. You are a kid! I'm supposed to be all for Esset's ways! hail and everything! not harming the staff right and left. Do you think they'll dismiss me with a pat on the back "oh! don't worry Brad, we all know what is having a bad day and breaking some of the staff's bones and noses" and well, they do know what it's like, but you are not supposed to do

it unless you are an old, rotting prune like they are!"

Crawford was suddenly startled by the mind readers clear blue eyes wide in surprise.

"What! what is it? Esset?.."

"Y- your name is Brad?" said the boy with a light hearted chuckle which startled Crawford even more, he only hoped the heat he felt on his cheeks wasn't showing.

"Absolutely not the point! And is Crawford for you!"

"Well... Brad" a expression he would grown used to in the next years fluttered over the teen's features. An easy, slimy, dangerous smirk. His tone, however, was that of a kid proud of some new trick he had performed successfuly "I took care of it! People like those beefy fools have little, quiet minds. Very unflavoury but easy to manipulate. They won't know what hit them, they'll probably think it was me getting back at them for smearing my perfect face with this stupid black eye. I even suggested they should stupidly delete the day's film from the security camera. I wanted to add an inclination to walk around on women's underware, but I thought I'd leave that for next time. So we live to fight another day!.. right Brad" an amused, fox-who-ate-all-the-chickens smirk this time, which Crawford quite liked.

"It's Crawford not Brad... That was... an excellent job.. Schuldig" He added as a inside joke, that was it! the name he couldn't remember earlier.

"What do you mean with that! how am I guilty of anything! you only want to show off your lanky german" The boy chuckled, the fox-like smirk in full force

"Really? I think it suits you perfectly"

"You do..?"

"I haven't got your name though, I guess you don't want me calling you M-85"

"Of course not, only the people from Esset do that!" A pause in which the mind reader vaguely wondered how was Crawford not one from Esset. Not surprisingly, he had set him apart.

After a thoughtful silence and in a quiet voice, more timid than he had let out in years he finally said "Can I keep "Schuldig" then?"

Crawford felt an unfamiliar tug at the end of his mouth, realised he was starting to smile and stifled it. A model Esset Pawn does not smile. ever. Unless it's evily in the sight of lots of blood.

"As you wish" he replied simply.

For the first time in years Brad Crawford was genuinely amused. Maybe it wasn't hopeless. Maybe he and his team would break free.


Thanks so much for reading! \('w ')\