Incense tickles Lucia's nose. This special room. She thinks of it as the guru's throne room. Now the guru holds court, just the three of them. The trio stands facing their guru, Valmiki’s lieutenant, Preston. Lucia. And a woman whose mind has been emptied by weeks of conditioning. For a moment Lucia wonders, will the entire audience be held with all parties standing? Lucia’s side glance observes the woman. Whose stare points vacantly at the guru.
Valmiki intones, "Congratulations, Evelyn, you now follow only me." His eyes come up to bear on Preston. "This one is ready. Bring another one," Valmiki demands, ready for the next. His lieutenant seizes the young woman’s arm and leads her out. The guru’s tone draws a shudder from Lucia, though she can’t say why.
She catches Preston's nod as the vacant-eyed convert moves, compliant, no awareness of her surroundings.
I'm lucky never being a follower. Lucia gives thanks for being a slave and not a convert. A small glow warms her at this thought, until the next moment. Shocked. She’s startled at who Preston has returned with. Alejandro! Hadn’t they forgotten about him?
"Preston, observe." Lucia’s feet and hands go cold in a second. It takes all she has not to shake and call out, Not this one. "We begin with initiation…" Valmiki waits, being sure his lieutenant follows what he’s saying.
"This is the introduction. The commencement. The baptism into the faith." The guru's voice reaches to Lucia, she waits for the cues she knows to be hers. At the right word, she hands over the cup. "It signifies the journey from one stage to a new experience. Like a strong tea, it is infused with special themes and notes. Death and rebirth."
Preston nods. "Yes." The pair hold their hands in the same manner, and Lucia can see Valmiki is proud at this.
"Good. Good. This rite of passage, a loss and then a renewal, allows the emergence of a totally new person." He moves his hand in front of the boy’s eyes. Alejandro seems tired. Shaken. But, Lucia thinks, maybe not completely gone. She's seen so many of these conversions; she knows that a few fail. This might be one.
"We need to set the conditions for a successful conversion!" Valmiki sips and hands the repaired cup back to Lucia. "The child must be removed from all other influences.” He coaches Preston more than chants now, “The isolation creates dependency, powerlessness, fear and vulnerability." Lucia has had those feelings. Even without being a follower. She grips the glass cup, and Valmiki continues.
"Our final step is to bring compliance." Valmiki seizes Alejandro's head. "We use persuasion. We use reason. We coerce. Or, we trick." Lucia has seen it all. Hardly ever reason, within the safety of her own mind.
"Coercion takes many forms. Be it real or threat. It can be physical, social, or psychological." Valmiki looks deep into the boy's eyes. Though his words are for Preston.
"Who are you?" he asks finally.
"Alejandro," a dull, listless tone.
With a stern grip, pointing the boy’s chin to all parts of the room the guru’s swiveled the boy's head. Compliant, to gaze around the room. Krishna in a charcoal drawing. Five Niyamas, a scroll with a Sanskrit symbol at the top. The totems on the wall represent the faith. Books mounted on the walls. four books of Vedas stolen from Los Angeles library. Lucia holds the glass cup high. Alejandro's view rests for a moment on its glitter, under the candles and oil lamps set among the ornate room.
"Do you understand why you are here!"
"No." The boy only half focuses on Valmiki. His eyes seem to seek escape.
"You are here to obey," Valmiki intones deeply. "You have found your true home!"
The guru whispers to Preston. "It's important to keep him unaware," And a smile crosses both men’s faces. "We want his compliance to come without conscious thought. He will move along a preplanned course of action so we gain control."
"No!" Alejandro lets out softly, but forcefully. Lucia's head snaps back at this. Preston and the guru’s reactions are the same.
"I am your leader." Valmiki sooths, but with a firm grip on the boy. "You will obey me."
"No!" Alejandro tries to shake loose. "I want to go home."
Preston steps closer to grasp the boy's arm. "What should I do with this one?" Preston knows. The question is nothing more than part of the conversion’s ritual. For moments exactly like this. His grip betrays his own fear. They’ve had failures before, Lucia regrets.
Pausing. Thinking. Valmiki frowns. And this pause, this allowance makes Lucia all the more fearful. "Send him home." A fierce finality. Preston looks suitably serious at this sentence. Both know what it means, in spite of the gracious command.
I must save him. "No!” Lucia surprises herself and the men who hear this.
Valmiki looks at her. She must appear like a flying monkey to him. "What?" But she’s certain. He’s never even seen me. Except, to give orders to. Well now he will.
"Don't kill Alejandro!" Lucia feels more committed than a minute ago. This is how it ends. Perhaps this will be her last day.
A dumbfounded expression transforms the guru’s face, taking over his initial calm. Preston, angry, tries reaching her, but can’t let the boy loose. She almost laughs. Too far away!
"This is not your affair. Lucia." Valmiki delivers a short, quick chop of a certain hand. Then he really looks at her, perhaps for the very first time. "Go to the kitchen,” comes the command. “Get me food." He pauses a moment. "Get your dinner, too."
"No." She doesn't know what she’s feeling. But one word is calm. Not angry. She looks at the cup in her hand. She raises it over her head. Hides the grin she feels growing. I won't stop now!
Valmiki lets go of Alejandro now. "Lucia!"
A reach forward. But she steps back. Preston’s torn, hold on to the boy or come after her? He awaits the guru’s word. And Lucia can see now is the chance. This feels good. She lifts her hand higher, threatening to smash it down. At that they all freeze.
"Lucia, I'm disappointed." Valmiki steps back and collapses into his chair. His throne. "Preston. Release the boy.” A sweep of his hand makes this so. “Lucia, take him back. Lock him up."
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