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Posted: Oct 16 2016, 06:20 PM
Joined: 21-February 11
There were a lot of awful things about this job. The most existentially horrific one was why she was chosen for it.
Lila was here doing this job because the FBI and the upstanding Representatives and Senators of this country could not officially condone what she was doing; they did not want to put their stamp or signature on this ugly business, and they didn’t want to have to deal with any fallout when and if this went wrong. It was better for this to be a shadow operation done by people on the fringes, people who, if something happened to them, no one would care. No one would go looking for Lila Salhab if she was blasted off the face of the Earth. No muss, no fuss.
The job, they told her, was to protect a convoy. Those little purple pills she took? The brand name was ‘Admerar’, and their purpose was containment. Sometimes, society had discovered, the powered could not totally keep control of their powers. Scientists speculated this was for various reasons - age, power overuse, stress, mental instability. The ‘natural’ way to contain the powered was pairing them off - a witch for every warder, a warder for every witch. When that was insufficient, Admerar was prescribed.
Admerar prescriptions, Demetrius told her, were very controlled. Every powered who received a prescription was added to a database, with their name, age, location, description, and dosage. It was extremely important that the government tracked who was stable and who was not - ‘for the good of society and all that,’ Demetrius explained. Since the release of Admerar, there had been less scrupulous physicians who were happy to overprescribe their patients, allowing the excess to be sold on the black market. When the government cracked down on these pill mills, they saw a spike in outright raids.
“You’re joking,” she laughed, as Lonnie drove them down to the docks. “You’re talking about… land pirates?”
“Yeah,” Demetrius said, shrugging. “That’s basically what it is. They’re tracking the distribution of Admerar somehow, busting up trucks and trains. They’ve gotten real organized.”
“So what’s my job?”
She leaned back against the leather seat and snorted. “That’s not really my thing.”
“It’s about to be.”
That’s how she ended up riding in the front seat of the semi-truck, next to a commercial driver who, Demetrius told her, was one hell of a witch. It was her job to help protect the truck, and the other trucks in the line. Every driver was a witch, and every witch had a warder. All of them were picked up by the FBI, some in a more official capacity, some less.
Lila didn’t know who was who. She just knew that somewhere in them, there was a minder, someone who was babysitting all of them. Demetrius warned her not to get any stupid ideas about running off. They found her once, and they would find her again.
The awful thing that got to Lila more was how boring the job was. Her job was just to sit in the passenger’s seat and keep an eye out for things - nothing more, nothing less. She had some clothes, her phone, a charger, and a book, and that was what she had to live with during the twenty-six hour drive from New York City to Denver.
There were three trucks in total. She would get paid four thousand dollars - a little more than a thousand dollars per truck - if the goods made it to Denver in one piece. There was another thousand in it if there was a fight, and she captured or killed any of the armed group that was preying on the trucks. The FBI was calling them the Drakes, after the English pirate. Even the name of the bad guys was boring.
They left that afternoon, and trying to beat the traffic out of the city. Leaning out the window, staring at the cars, Lila watched as they passed a school bus full of children, their heads down as they looked at their cell phones or tablets. She could remember being like them, once - when she was young and in an NYC prep school, first learning about her powers. She remembered the first time her teacher announced they would be receiving a visit from their ‘sister school’ in Los Angeles, an all-girls Catholic school. She remembered that the teachers were looking to pair them off, witch-warder - they were hoping for some high potentials. It was then, in the seventh grade, that she met Marielle La Roche.
Lila closed her eyes. She didn’t usually like to remember, but now, there was nothing to do but to wonder and think. It was easy to remember twelve-year-old Marielle, fidgety and outspoken, wanting to be the center of attention but also wanting to be liked by her peers, who did not seem fond of her. When her class was introduced, Marielle stood on the edge, alone.
Marielle couldn’t keep from showing off though - couldn’t keep from putting herself at odds with her classmates with her own performances. She couldn't blend in. When they gathered Lila and Marielle’s classes in the gymnasium and asked for volunteers for demonstrations, Marielle’s hand had been the first one up. She had stepped into the center of the polished court and produced a fireball as big as she was, all four feet of her, before she split in half, then in fourths, then in eighths, and made them spin around her like planets. Lila had been hypnotized, then determined. She wanted to do something like that too.
After a few other students went, Lila volunteered. She needed the minutes to figure it out, but by the time she went up, she knew. What she did was to make the stigma of a flower appear under her feet, before it grew giant petals that folded up and enclosed her. When they opened again, she was wearing a crown of roses, with sixteen smaller rose bushes bending towards one another to form eight heart-shaped bushes. Eight and eight, she thought.
The trick worked. When the students were allowed to wander and mingle, Marielle came straight up to her. She was pale and short for her age, with a snub-nose and strawberry-blonde hair. “I liked your trick a lot,” she said. “We should do some tricks together.”
We should do some tricks together. Lila opened her eyes. The next time, when Lila’s classes went to visit Los Angeles, Marielle found her again to make the same proposal. With permission from the teachers, they did.
It was then that Lila truly understood the witch-warder partnership that was beaten into their heads. She and Marielle took turns - one of them as the witch, the one casting, and one of them as the warder, the one offering additional support and power, as well as the one fine-tuning the performance of the casting. Marielle was a mediocre warder, at best. She couldn’t focus long enough, or couldn’t put her own ego aside long enough to really focus on Lila and help her. But Lila - Lila was good, maybe even a prodigy at warding, and Marielle was a powerhouse of a witch. Without ever formally agreeing on it, they settled into those roles for future demonstrations.
Was there anything like that feeling, of the witch-warder match? In the beginning, it hadn’t mattered to Lila at all that she was the warder, because it was such a fun and beautiful game. It was like listening to a piece of music, singing or maybe a symphony, and finding just the right notes to harmonize, or the perfect spot to interject new instruments or rhythms. Warding was about having an ‘ear’ for such things, or at least, that witch’s version of music. Marielle might have been good on her own, but Lila made her better. Lila made her among the best. When she warded well, it was like her whole body was vibrating with energy and happiness, and her mind was clear of fear and doubt. The end of a good casting was like a deep, fulfilling exhale. It was good to be together.
The truck abruptly came to a stop. Lila opened her eyes. She had fallen asleep somehow, or been half asleep, and now the sun was setting in the middle of nowhere. The truck had stopped at a four-way stop sign on a four lane road, and the driver was staring at her, his eyes like two black beads in a pockmarked face.
Lila rubbed one eye with the back of her hand. “You need something?” she mumbled. Part of her was still back in high school, texting Marielle under her desk. She didn’t inject enough venom into the words.
“Nothin’,” the driver said, and looked away.
Lila sank deeper into the leather seat. She was twenty-eight now - twenty-eight and bored, twenty-eight and tired of witching as well as warding, tired of the purple pills and the long days and the empty nights. What would she tell her thirteen-year-old self, if she could go back in time? What would her thirteen-year-old self tell her present self? Probably something smug like, ‘Only boring people are bored.’
“Maybe I’m boring then,” Lila murmured to herself.
“Hmmmmm?” The driver slid one eye over to her.