14. The Skeleton in the Closet

14. The Skeleton in the Closet

            Next on the schedule for a diagnostic is Ema.

            “Well, Dr. Ema,” Lady T greets her coolly, “it’s quite an honor to have a celebrity imp interested in joining us.”

            “I’m no celebrity,” Ema responds calmly. As an Emotional and Mental Associate, she is extremely knowledgeable on the basic techniques that can be used to acquire information in interrogation scenarios; she is certain that Lady T will not be getting the better of her today.

            “There’s no need to be modest. You and your little boyfriend are the first two imps to fall in love. You know that you’re renown all over the world.”

            “Maybe so, but we’re not ‘celebrities.’ We don’t get any kind of special treatment. We’re just ordinary working imps.”

            “What exactly is it that you think you’ll get out of the Uniters?” demands Lady T, not even bothering with a transition to change the subject. “You’ve got perfect friends, a perfect family, a perfect job…a perfect life. And you’re willing to throw all of that away and fling yourself into danger?”

            Ema purses her lips. “I have my reasons.”

            “I’m sure you do. Care to share them?”

            “No, I really don’t.”

            “So something about this upsets you?” Lady T presses on. “Maybe the conflict with the Imps Liberation Group affects you on a personal level, hmm? How does it make you feel?”

            Ema forces a wry smile. “Lady T, who’s the psychologist here? You or me?”

            “I’m only curious, Ms. Ema. It seems to me that any…past experiences…with the ILG might help my mission a great deal, if you would tell me about them.”

            “I don’t appreciate you pretending to be ignorant, Lady T!” Ema’s voice becomes cross. “You know very well what happened to me five years ago. Everyone does.”

            “Maybe so. But there are some things that the history feeds don’t document.” Lady T’s manicured fingernails patter against her jaw line thoughtfully. “Such as your personal experience, which is what I’m really interested in.”

            Ema releases a huffy breath. “I don’t like to talk about it.”

            “Perhaps not. But in this case, talking about it will be your ticket into the Uniters. If you’re truly interested in joining, you’ll tell me. For all of our sakes.”

            Silence lingers for a moment. Then Ema lowers her eyes. “You know the story.”

            “Yes,” agrees Lady T. “I’ve often thought that it sounds like the plot from some low-budget dystopian flick. I can see it now: a secret group of humans is plotting to get rid of imps. Some of the more radical members of the group decide to kill their imps as an act of warning…and that’s where you come in, isn’t it?”

            Ema pauses, then says softly, “Dr. Prometheus never did seem to like me. I always thought that he was sore about how everyone kept saying that I’d take over his position, after he retired. He always made me do the tedious work, and I rarely got to interact with his clients. Still…he was my first owner. I admired him.”

            “And you never suspected that he was involved with an anti-imp group?”

            “No. I spent as little time with him as I could get away with. I had plenty of friends who were much more enjoyable to be around. Like Alec – I always liked talking with Alec, ever since I was first commissioned. Pythagoras Mansen was always good for a conversation, though of course he moved on from the company years before the Morality Conflict. I didn’t even know him for that long. And, of course, there was my best friend.” She breathes in heavily. “Codi.”

            Lady T has been listening with muted interested until this point, but now, the nameCodihas made her intrigued in a way that is impossible to disguise beneath nonchalance. “Yes, tell me about him,” she prompts. “The Citizen’s Order and Defense Interrogator. This is very important for me to hear…how did he normally behave?”

            Ema shrugs uncomfortably. “He was…usually nice enough, I suppose, although he had a way of pushing my buttons hard. He never did it on purpose. There would just be times when he’d agree to meet me somewhere and then never show up, or he’d spend all day with his other friends and not even talk to me. He wasn’t trying to be mean. He just wasn’t all that great at being attentive. But whenever we did spend time together, I always had fun.”

            “Did you fall in love with him?”

            “No. You’d have heard about it if I had. I was always trying to force myself to fall in love with him – I wanted so badly to be known as the first imp to fall in love – but it didn’t happen. Not yet, anyway.”

            Lady T smiles a bit at that. “Was Codi impulsive? Did he often let his emotions get the better of him?”

            “Yes. I remember he’d get mad about the dumbest things and then stay mad all day. He was a charmer, though. No matter how frustrated he made me, I’d always come back. It…it was like I couldn’t help myself.”

            “And he was the one who came to your aid when Dr. Prometheus attacked you?”

            An involuntary shiver crawls through Ema’s body. “Yes.”

            “What happened, exactly?”

            “I came in for work one day and Prometheus pinned me against the wall. He had a gun. I’m not sure what he would have done with me, but I managed to send out a distress signal from my comm, and Codi happened to be the one who responded to it. I didn’t call him specifically, it just worked out that way.”

            “Did he pull a weapon on Prometheus?”

            “No, he used his…I think it’s called a memory probe? All of the Codi imps carried experimental mindhack weapons; that’s what they were made for. I remember Prometheus letting go of me, and I saw that he had a probe needle ticking out of the back of his head, and Codi was behind him. Then Codi and I ran away, but there were other people in the Labs trying to attack imps. One of them almost got us.”

            “And how did you escape that time?”

            “Well, it was a pretty stupid idea to attack a Pristine Labs Security worker. It was a time of crisis, so Codi had his locator on and a distress beacon blaring. When we were attacked again, Rico – he was the Head of Security at the time, and also Codi’s owner – found us right away. But…” Ema’s hands drop into her lap like two clusters of limp seaweed, and she looks away. “I’m sure you know the rest.”

            Lady T nods slowly. The names of the six humans and imps who perished in the Imp Morality Conflict are pretty common knowledge, and one Rico Deslandes is definitely on that list. “And that’s where the Imps Liberation Group comes from, isn’t it?”

            “That ILG and this ILG can’t be the same. Codi was crazy with grief when he came up with the idea. Rico was like a father to him, and wouldn’t anyone lose their nerve after the death of their father?”

            “Did he really same crazy to you when he told you about it?”

            “Yes, he did! I hadn’t seen him in weeks and weeks, and when I found him again, he just looked…haunted. There’s no other way to describe it. And suddenly he had this anti-human stance that just came out of nowhere! An imp supremacy group?! And he wanted me to be the co-founder?! Of course he was crazy! I assumed it was post-traumatic stress, so of course I reported it. I thought that the Set Gov would get him help. I didn’t think they’d make him…disappear.”

            “You mean, decommission him?”

            “No. Even decommed imps have records, and all evidence that Codi ever existed is gone now. The only reason why people still know about him is that they still discuss him in rumors about the Morality Conflict. And even those will go away in time. For all intents and purposes, Codi has disappeared.”

            Lady T pauses. “Nothing ever really disappears, Dr. Ema, imps least of all. But no matter. How old were you when all of that happened?”

            “Fairly young. I was still an Emotional and Mental Assistant back then; I didn’t get my promotion until afterwards. I had been commissioned for about twelve years.”

            “So that means that now you’re, what, seventeen?”

            “Sixteen.” Ema’s lips give the barest little twitch. “It wasn’t quite five years ago. But you know that imps don’t have human ages, Lady T.”

            “No, of course not.” Lady T reaches behind her to adjust the bun of hair affixed to her head, although it is already tighter than a sailor’s knot. “Thank you for telling me all of this. It might seem inconsequential, but any information on the ILG is invaluable to us at this point. And you’re invaluable to us as well.”

            “You’re welcome,” says Ema, managing to smile. “I see how driven you are, Lady T. I think that if anyone can stop this madness, you can.”

            “That’s what I’m hoping.”

            “But still…” Ema pauses uncomfortably. “Do you really think that there’s a connection between Codi’s ILG and the current one?”

            “I can’t be sure, but to put it bluntly, it would be one hell of a coincidence if they were unrelated.”

            “How would that even work, then?”

            Lady T stares at the imp woman somberly.

            “Isn’t that what you’d like to find out?” she asks.

The End

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