20. A Little White Truth
Lai spars with three people before the midday break, and she beats every single one of them.
After Ema and Les organized Squadron 3 into pairs, Lai found herself first confronted with a muscular heavyweight imp. His strength was humbling, and his reflexes were nothing to sneer at either, but she overpowered his untrained movements in a way that surprised even her. Her next opponent was a tall imp who was as fast as she was, and who she meticulously felled as if he were a giant, ancient tree. Then she went up against a woman who was closer to her own size, but who was much more reluctant to use the training information newly implanted into her head.
By the break, Lai is breathing hard, and her heart is beating faster than the wings of a panicked butterfly. But for every toll that has been taken, her body has rewarded her with a fresh adrenaline rush. She may take pleasure in reading, in writing, in playing her keyboard…but fighting, while much more tiring, provides her with a satisfaction that she has never really known before.
The members of Squadron 3 are flopped out on the soft turf around her, reclining and chatting as they rest up. Most have recovered their bags or purses and are thumbing through lists of missed comm updates. She sees a lot of pill bottles emerging as well, and right on cue, her stomach begins demanding compensation for all of the energy she’s expended so far. She reaches out to drag her own satchel towards her and digs out a small container with capsules rattling around inside.
Sustenance pills are just one of the many inventions that have grown in popularity since the invention of imps. They are chewable capsules that come in a variety of brands and in even more flavors. From Foodies to NutriChews, from fried zucchini to brown sugar cinnamon, there is a type of pill to cater to most anyone’s taste. Because of their balanced nutrient content, they are a recommended dietary supplement, although their lack of substance means that anyone who makes sustenance pills the sole content of their diet will waste away and starve.
Imps, on the other hand, have super-efficient bodies that allow them to survive on nothing but the food pills, if they so desire. Most of them find the “sussies” to be far more convenient and less messy than traditional food. Lai certainly does, and she always feels rather disgusted and mystified when a special occasion forces her to eat a meal from the cafeteria grate. She knocks back two watermelon-flavored Foodies now, washing them down with a swig of water before returning to her latest book.
For the first time that she can remember, she has a hard time staying focused on the story. Shockingly, the real world seems more interesting now than this fictitious one. When the group of feisty teenagers rides off on their dragons in order to prevent a war, all she can think about is flying off in an aircraft with a group of feisty Uniters in order to stamp out the conflict with the ILG. Break time, an event that she usually savors, seems inordinately long at the moment. They need to get back to work…
“So I hear that you’re on quite a roll today, Ms. Lai.”
The shadow of a tall figure blots out the fluorescent lighting and obscures the words on her page, and Lai scrambles to her feet. Lady T, the self-proclaimed leader of the Uniters, stands before her. The human woman’s white coat stands out among the identical black uniforms that everyone else is wearing. “Mr. Cole just sent me a progress report,” she states. “And he’s told me that you’ve been performing exceptionally this morning.”
Lai shrugs. As much as she likes receiving praise from afar, compliments aimed directly at her, face to face, only serve to put her on the spot and make her feel self-conscious. So all she says is, “I’m not the only one.” Which is true, because Les, Ema, and a couple of other imps all displayed exceptional skills during the training session.
“Maybe so, but Mr. Cole seemed particularly impressed with you. When it comes to you, it’s all in the mind. Everyone has been given the same internal training course, but not everyone is using that information readily.”
Lai nods slowly. “I guess my mind is just different or something.”
Lady T gives a short laugh. “It certainly is. You just keep working hard, Lai, and you’ll soon find yourself to be a very high-ranking member of Squadron 3.”
The corners of Lai’s mouth curve upwards. “Really?”
“Oh, yes. I’m very proud of you. And if you ever need to talk, remember that you can come to me with anything.”
“Sure. No problem.”
“I mean it.” Lady T locks eyes with the imp girl. “You can talk to me about anything. And I, for one, won’t be diagnosing you with imaginary personality disorders.”
Lai sneaks a glance over her shoulder, where she knows that Ema and Les are making eyes at each other as they sit together. She still finds it hard to believe that her own family would be talking about her behind her back, particularly Ema, who has been her closest friend for the past four years. Just because she’s a psychologist doesn’t mean that she goes around pinning everyone she meets with a mental condition. Friends don’t do that to friends.
But then again…Ema has always been a bittooperfect, hasn’t she? She’s always been the princess, the queen, the epitome of beauty and good breeding. She is beautiful and popular, with a perfect job and a perfect boyfriend and no real problems to speak of. And joining the Uniters has done nothing but cast her in the noble light of martyrdom, put her in a leadership position, and given her and even handsomer and more confident boyfriend. In other words, she’s not all that different from the vapid socialite imps that Lai has always avoided, refusing to get caught up in their clique dramas and superficial problems.
Maybe Ema is less interested in being friends and more interested in seeking out flaws…
By the time Lai turns around, Lady T is already sauntering off to consult with another trainer, and her ear clip buzzes as Walter’s voice comes over her em-comm, calling an end to the break.