By Max Fauth

Hi. My name's Ilsa Regent, and I'm a telepath.

After an opening like that, you sort of expect the crowd to chant "Hi Ilsa." Problem is, there's no crowd. My powers are pretty rare, overall, and I've certainly never met anyone else like me. They make life... interesting.

Today looks to be a pretty typical day, and they're already kicking in. I'm getting a big buzz from the apartment up above me. Seems he just got the job he was after, and she decided they should celebrate this morning. And I'm feeling both of them, busy as they are. Yikes. I quickly run a cold shower, and make an effort to block them out.

Times like these make me feel awful lonely, despite that fact that I can often hear the thoughts of those around me. See, while my abilities certainly help out, I can't always keep them under control. Incidents like this morning are far from uncommon, and the closer I get to people, the stronger the impressions come. Feelings, thoughts, memories, all come flooding in. And when I touch someone... Well...

That's why I rug up. Long black dress, heavy boots, high collar and my favourite soft leather gloves. I finish things off with a long coat, although I leave my sombre black one behind today for a more cheerful red piece. My upstairs neighbours are still having an affect, it seems. I leave my blonde hair out, and finally slip on my glasses. Today I think I'll get out of the house, especially if they still feel like celebrating.

I slip outside and tack stock of my home. It's a reasonably sized apartment, about halfway up the well-known Mandarin Towers apartment building. I only recently moved in, so I'm still getting to know a lot of the tenants. I hear some pretty interesting types live here, though. No doubt I'll be finding out more about them.

I descend the final stairs (the elevator was far too crowded, and there was no telling what I'd pick up in there) and come face to face with the nicest evil person I've ever met. Sarah J Ferrari, manager of the Mandarin apartments, on her way back from yet another stupid cleaning job that just goes to show people shouldn't be told they have a staff to rely on, when it only means that they can be lazy about their messes and have someone else...

I blink twice as I try to shut out Sarah. She's what I like to call a verbal thinker, the sort of person who composes her thoughts as if she's writing a novel. I do it a lot too. Most people just think randomly, and I get little more than snippets of thoughts, usually just what's sprung to mind at the time. I often can't help but get caught up in Sarah's thoughts; not only are they organised, but they're also very loud, in a way.

Oh yeah... And Sarah's a blue skinned synthetic. Just... By the way.

I give her a quick wave which she responds to not that Ilsa's really bad or anything, just keeps to herself. Looks the type too, rugged up like that. Can't say I blame her and decide that I really should get going. I wind my way out the front doors and onto the street before I realise two things. First, in my quick exit from my all-too-friendly apartment, I skipped breakfast. Second was that I don't actually have anything planned for the day.

Breakfast first, and there's only one place for it. It's not really a cafˇ or anything like that, just a nice little corner store right across the road where I can pick up a couple of things to eat on the way. It also just happens to be my favourite place in the world. I fast-step across the road and make my way inside.

"Ilsa, dear!" Comes the call the moment I step inside.

"Mother..." I reply quietly, blushing slightly because she's already heading over and making a scene. There's a few other customers in, but they're all regulars and have seen this a dozen times. Mum wraps me up in a hug and I deftly avoid a kiss on the cheek. She pulls back and looks me up and down, and I don't even need to read her mind to feel her pride. I give a brief wave to my father behind the counter, who simply smiles and nods back.

They're quite the couple. Mother has taken the right of every middle-aged Russian woman to become a pear-shaped bundle of energy, and has settled into it perfectly. My father's grey moustache seems to get bushier every time I see it, and its beginning to hide his taciturn smile.

"So!" She says, clapping her hands together. "What can I get you this morning?"

"Oh, I'm just on my way out... Just a bite to eat."

You skipped breakfast again, she thinks, which has me flushing slightly. It's not really a problem overhearing their thoughts, as they are by far and away the most honest people I have ever met, especially to their 'baby girl.' "Breakfast bar and a fruit juice then?"

"I am nothing if not predictable," I reply, bowing slightly. Sometimes I wonder if mum didn't give me my talents.

"Let me see now," she says, making her way among the shelves. I'd object that I can handle it myself, but she wouldn't have any of it. Hope she doesn't want the R2Go, we're practically out of it. She starts fussing over the shelves, digging through the stock, so I spare her the agony.

"Just whatever you have, really," I interject. Relief seems to wash from her, and she grabs one basically at random from the shelf.

"Oliver dear, find her something tasty to drink," she calls out over the store. By now the customers are beginning to smirk. My father replies with a simple "Yes dear," as always.

It's about now that my mobile sounds off. As much as I love my parents, it's almost a relief to excuse myself. I step to one corner and check the caller, then quickly answer it. "Ed, what's up?"

"Uhm..." Comes the drawn out reply on the other end. I can all but feel his fatigue from here, even though he'd no doubt still be at the police station. Sure, his shift would have ended at eight AM, and it's almost ten...

"I uh, need a little specialist help. It's a sensitive case, and fairly urgent," he continues. He hits all the important keywords, and I know just what's needed. Edwin's the only person I know that's aware of my powers, and he lines up a lot of work for me, under the guise of 'private investigation.' He's not exactly corrupt, not really honest either... He's 'flexible' with the rules, but always with good intentions. Hell's that way...

Mother's beside me by now, my breakfast in hand. I cringe slightly by way of apology, and fumble with the change. I hear her asking Who is it? even as she wordlessly mouths the question. 'Edwin' comes my silent reply, and I bob my thanks to her and father, even as Edwin gives me a brief run-down of the case. Oh, it's that nice police officer friend of hers, Mother thinks as I step outside. I do hope he asks her out some time, he's awfully cute.

I did not need to hear that.

I get a few looks as I wind my way through the police station. The thoughts however have all but ceased. It's hard to explain, but I only pick up such surface thoughts at odd times, mostly at random. I'm glad for the quiet, as I'm going to need to concentrate on this one.

A few of the officers are familiar with me; they all seem to assume I'm Edwin's girl, here to drag him home after another over-long shift. I've no doubt that he's encouraged this belief; it's certainly better than trying to explain things to them. It's not too long before I find him, stepping from an interview room and wiping the sweat from his brow.

Edwin Lau is hadly an impressive person to look at but as they say, it's personality that counts. Short, with a wiry build and a seemingly permanent stubble, he looks more like a teenager trying to be taken seriously. But I've never met anyone more devoted to their duty than him. He's trying his best to be the good cop in a system that's basically alienated the whole concept.

He desperately needs his own movie series.

"ILsa..." he says with a sigh. I nod, favouring him with a slight smile. He looks up and our eyes lock. I subtly reach out, feeling his own mind and establishing a solid contact. Information flows into me; the subject, the case, the problem and more become clear, as if I had been working on it... Ooh, since eleven last night, judging from his weary sag.

Edwin nods, feeling the contact in his mind. "I'll just be a minute, then we're going," he says through the fatigue. The door slips open and he steps back inside, although he lets the door hang open for a brief second. That's more than enough for me to see the subject, a young man in a cheap suit, and get a feel for his thoughts.

Behind the closed door, Edwin's questions start up one more time, even as I try to slip a probe into his mind. He's one of a million, a fresh triad recruit, more loyal to his leaders than they to him. I reach for his thoughts gently; not that it's hard, but simply so he won't feel the intrusion. He's all but shouting out the answers to Edwin's questions in his head, as his show of 'defiance' to 'the man.' Easy.

All done, I tell Edwin through our freshly established link. He makes a show of frustration and steps out, slamming the door behind him. With an overstated sigh, he looks to me and says "Tell me it's good."

I shake my head and simply say "Glaze."

Glaze is about the rarest thing you'll find in Hong Kong; unused land. Depending on who you talk to, ghosts drove an entire triad gang mad in a single night, and turned them on each other. Others say that the cause of the spontaneous bloodbath in the small-time nightclub was an attempted coup gone horribly wrong that wiped out every single member. No rational explanation has been provided for the final victims of the Glaze massacre turning their pistols on themselves, if only to finish the job. The one thing that everyone agrees on is that the site is haunted, although that still makes it a haven for squatters, the homeless and small-time criminals.

Of course, Edwin and I know better.

It also happens to be where our perp of the day stashed a rather sensitive package, containing a few juicy tidbits of evidence, rather than letting the cops take it with him. Problem is that Edwin doesn't have an 'official' lead on this, and despite his recent run of lucky hunches, nobody's going to backup an off-duty police officer; myself excepted, of course.

And of course, he managed to let his people know where the case was. So if it's still there, we're likely to meet competition. As we approach the sight, I let my mind stretch out. Glaze is usually abandoned by this time of day, but I can faintly feel two minds inside it. I nod quietly to Edwin, and he immediately knows what I've sensed.

We step into the shadow of the mangled doorway and Edwin draws. Sure he's off duty—but these are his own pistols. A rather over-sized piece for himself, along with a spare thirty-eight that he offers me. I shake my head and instead concentrate.

More than anything else over the past few years, what has served me best is my uncanny recall for the thoughts and memories I've absorbed. I take a deep breath as I plumb the depths of my mind, pulling forth impressions of a middle-aged man I spent two days studying with in my youth. Of course, he happened to be a grand master of Aikijutsu, but that's what makes it interesting. My body flexes as I remember the hard training I put myself through afterwards. It was one thing to learn the forms and motions from another man's mind, but it meant nothing when I wasn't used to using them.

I nod to Edwin. "Ready." And we go in.

The light all but vanishes with the first step. Towering high-rises block out most of the sun, even at midday, and the boarded-up windows only ad to the effect. All we can see is dust motes dancing in a few beams of light, playing across the garbage that litters the open floor of the club. Edwin pauses for a while, adjusting to the darkness, while I let my senses expand once more. I can feel both of our foes, frustration radiating from them. The courier hid his package well - very well, from what I read—and didn't fill his employers in on as many details as he could have.

One's in the back rooms of this level, I let Edwin know. The other's upstairs, going through Johnny's room. Johnny lead the gang that resided here, and naturally owned the club as well. Johnny's not using it any more.

I'll head up, he silently replies, and cautiously moves to the stairs. We've been quiet so far, and they have no reason to suspect anyone would be coming in after them. As Edwin advances out of sight, pistol held at the ready before him, I circle around the central bar and towards the stock rooms. I can feel as much as hear the man approaching, cursing silently. With a deft step, I'm beside the doorway and ready.

He steps out, almost directly into a beam of sunlight. His hand goes to his eyes just as I step in behind him. I grab, shove, and he finds the floor face-first. A cloud of dust springs from his impact, and the entire building seems to shake as the precious silence is broken. Almost immediately I can hear a call of alarm from upstairs, and I know Edwin is taking position, ready for the other goon.

But mine is faster than I thought. He strikes out blindly, grabbing hold of my dress and yanking hard. I stumble, and with another pull, he has me on the ground beside him. He's on top of me in an instant, face caught up in a snarl as he pours out his accumulated frustration. He's stronger, heavier and much bigger than I, and it's all I can do to shield my face for a second.

The crack of a pistol alarms him. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Edwin at the top of the stairs, smoking gun in hand. My opponent glances around, and I take the brief opportunity. A hard, straining shove with both knees sends him sprawling on his back, granting me a reprieve.

Except that he's landed on his pistol, felt it pressing into his back, and has inconveniently noticed that I'm unarmed.

He springs to a crouch, drawing even as I pull towards him. The pistol tracks on me, but I catch his hand and twist. A yelp of pain accompanies the clatter of metal on the hard floor. I get to my feet, twisting and keeping him on his knees.

I get a spike of excitement from the second goon, still out of sight. Glancing up, I see his shadow looming behind Edwin. I send a pulse of raw panic to his mind and he flinches, startled. Edwin spins at the same time, surging back down the stairs away from him. Both raise and aim, but only Edwin fires.

I turn away and concentrate on pinning my opponent. I don't hear the wet gurgle from the top of the stairs, the elaborate thumping of the body folding up or the rattling of a pistol skittering down the stairs. Technically I've never killed, but I'm lying if I tell myself that. I've shed blood; just not with my own hands.

A long sigh draws my attention, and Edwin is standing over us. Smoke still trails from his gun, now aimed at my prisoner's head. "Are we done?" He asks. His fifteen hour work day catches us both at once.

"I ain't talking," the prisoner spits out.

"We don't care," I say. It's done anyway.

Edwin hauls them back to the station, where there's a lot of muttering about 'anonymous tips' and 'hunches.' Looks like they're getting a result out of this, finally. He meets me outside, finishing work for real this time. I pass on his offer of a drink—it's midday, and he's got work in eight hours anyway.

It's a sign of his lifestyle that he lives only a couple of blocks from the station, so we walk it. A lot's rolling around in his head, so I do my best to keep out of it. The idle madness of a flock of pigeons keeps me occupied for whole seconds while he arrives at a decision, and pops a question.

"Are you happy doing this?" He asks. "I mean, days like this the job is lousy, not to mention dangerous. There's so much more you could do without hanging around a dead-end cop and getting guns stuck in your face."

I'll admit I've been thinking the same of late, but there's only one conclusion. "No, not really," I tell him frankly. "But I've got a lot of thinking to do, and this is the only way I'll get it done."

He gives me one of the oddest looks I've ever seen. "You think by getting shot at?" He asks.

A chuckle hits me, and I shake my head. "I can do great and horrible things with the powers I have. I just need to figure out how to fit a life around them."

"Huh..." He mulls over this for a minute as we reach the door to his apartment block. "It's weird... I don't understand, but I don't think I can, without what you've got..." He trails off again, shaking his head.

"No, you're not making sense." I take his hands in mine, my gloves shielding me from his touch. "I guess I'm not either, which is by and large the problem. But when I do, then I'll know what I'm doing."

We stare at each other. I know that I must look just as confused as him. He's thinking just what I am, and we laugh at that. "Anyway," he says, drawing back and scratching his head. "I'm kinda short, so I'll have to pay you later for this one."

I quickly shake my head. "Don't. Save up for a holiday."

He won't admit just how relieved he is. "You keep turning down pay for these jobs. How do you make a living?"

I shrug. "I've found some uses for my powers," I reply. We nod our goodbyes and he slumps inside. I just hope he won't doze off in the lift again.

But he's right, and I do need the cash. Numbers start flowing through my head, accompanied by the familiar thoughts of a nervous dealer as he figures precisely which card will go where. I smile as I set course. Lu Chi'an will have just opened, and I've got an afternoon to kill.

Sure, it's cheating. But they'd cheat worse without me, and I've got to use what I have.

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