For information, introduction and credit, please read this post.
Gail James was thirty-seven years old. A decade ago, she had been one of the first graduates from SingleEarth's paramedical program, where individuals who had been born human could receive training that combined the well-known human biomedical model with psychic or outright magic ailments and treatments.
The SingleEarth organization called their pride and joy the School of Holistic Medicine, or SHM. The program had been created in 1997 by a witch named Rosemary Marinitch, who had taken the controversial stance that any human had the potential to be a healer, regardless of witch ancestry or natural psychic talent.
The first graduating class had three students. Originally, there had been four, but one had suffered a dangerous combination of classic med-school exhaustion and psychic burn-out and had dropped out of the program. Gail thought she had come close to doing the same thing, but had stayed with it and somehow made it through. Though she didn't have much natural psychic ability, she was a quick study, and Rosemary had a way of coaxing every bit of talent to the surface.
It helped that Gail didn't have family outside SingleEarth. The accident had taken most of them from her, and brought her to SingleEarth's attention at the same time. She threw herself into her studies, and later into her work, with single-minded focus.
Even so, she couldn't help her surprise- and anxiety- when she received the call:
"We received your application to work at SingleEarth Medical #8. If you're still interested, we would like to have you in for an interview."
She had applied, yes, but she had never expected to hear back, unless it was a polite, "Sorry, we chose another candidate." SE Medical#8 took only the best of the best... well, the best of the best who were willing to work there. Not everyone was.
* * *
"Gail James?" he inquired.
"Yes. Thank you for inviting me here," she said in reply.
Normally, she would have offered to shake his hand, but she had heard that the locked wards limited physical contact of all kinds. She had decided before arriving that should would rather err on the side of possible rudeness, than appear ignorant of protocols. Liam either didn't notice the oversight or else took it as common sense, since he didn't comment.
Getting past the gate took a swipe of Liam's name badge and a verbal instruction to the guard inside. The enclosure beyond the fence was wooded, except for a paved driveway.
"Is the security to protect the clients, or to contain them?" Gail asked. SingleEarth took confidentiality seriously as a general rule, and Medical #8 was practically a myth. She wasn't sure how much of what she "knew" was actually just speculation and rumor.
"This gate protects us from outside eyes," Liam answered as the gate shut behind them and they started up the driveway. They turned off at a smaller path, which led around to the front of a red brick building. "Reporters are the biggest threat, but we also get hikers and teenage kids who don't realize or care that they've wandered onto private property."
"But Number Eight is a lockdown unit?" she asked, confirming. That much had been in the job posting.
"Yes," Liam answered, "but a fence and a guard wouldn't stop our clients if they really wanted to get out."
"I couldn't find many concrete details on Number Eight's clients," Gail admitted.
"Clients here are guaranteed a high level of anonymity," Liam answered, as he swiped his key card to get in through the front door, which led them into a small reception room. Instead of continuing through the locked double doors in front of them, however, they turned left and entered an office with Liam's name on the plaque. "That way, they are protected both from potential discrimination after discharge, and from human authorities that may be... problematic."
* * *
Like many SingleEarth paramedical sites, Liam's office contained a seemingly-eclectic combination of common and arcane devices. In a jar on his desk, a handful of Bics kept company with a glass dip pen and what looks like a small paintbrush- a Chinese calligraphy brush, Gail guessed. Small bottles that might contain ink sat next to the stapler.
Someone looking for a witch's den would probably be interested in the low table near the window, which held crystals of various shapes, sizes and colors, a pair of finger-chimes, and a silver bowl that was currently empty. Those same people might be disappointed by the two BPA-free Nalgine bottles that also decorated this seeming altar- one blue and one an unsightly neon green- and the basic gray yoga mat stretched out in front.
Gail made a point to keep her attention focused on Liam, though her training at SHM had left her naturally curious about other practitioners. Among the born-witches, power was power to an extent; witches in a single family line tended to have similar experiences. Among humans, there was no such uniformity. Magical experience varied as much from one person to the next as taste in music or food might.
"What do you see?" Liam asked, as he sank into the task chair behind the desk, leaving her to one of the utilitarian armchairs facing him.
"See?" she repeated, unsure of his meaning. "Physically or psychically?" It was normally considered rude to pry into another's personal psychic choices, so she had made no attempt to read the power signatures in this room, and wouldn't do so unless invited.
"Both," he answered. "In..." His gaze flickered to the clock on the wall. "...two minutes or less, give me your most thorough analysis of the magic-user who works in this room."
This was not what she had expected for a first interview question, but she did her best to rise to the occasion.
"Well..." She took a breath, and imagined windows opening in the otherwise solid walls that were her psychic protection. She tested the power she could feel around her, and considered it in the context of what she had already noticed in the room. Her eyes widened as she noticed something strange. "For one thing, either this is not Liam McGregory's office, or you are not Liam McGregory."