25. The First Mission
“You wanted to see me, Lady T?”
“Yes, Les. If I didn’t want to see you, then I wouldn’t have asked you to come here.” Lady T swivels in her chair. With her hands planted solidly on its cushioned arms, she looks like the queen of the Arena Control Center, a queen with a face much more serious and grim than he is used to seeing.
He looks around nervously, a bit unnerved by his surroundings. The Control Center is a boxy room jutting out of the Arena’s far wall, and true to its name, it is the base of operations for all of the electronics in the Arena, from the sound system to the mounted cameras. It is also Les’s imagining of what being trapped between the panes of a window would be like. The floor and front-facing wall are comprised entirely of clear, unblemished glastic. Every other surface is wallpapered with input screens, output screens, and all manner of tangible controls. He knows that Lady T has been up here for the greater part of the past seven days, observing everything from afar, a spider comfortably nestled in her web of communications.
“We at the World Gov have been keeping tabs on the ILG,” she says. “And they’re getting ready to move out. Our sources inform us that they’ll be splitting up, so we must split up as well. I happen to have outlined here the first mission for your squadron…” She holds up her comm and taps it with a manicured fingernail. “But first there’s something I’d like you to do for me.”
“Of course,” Les responds instantly. “What do you need?”
“You say that you’re good at finding things.” She leans forward. “If I allowed you access to the government database and gave you a temporary override code, would you be able to recover some specific information for me?”
“I’m sure I could. I just need to know exactly what I’m looking for.”
“Well,” she says slowly, “you’re going to find that rather difficult to believe.”
Squadron 3 always assimilates into their square formation automatically now; they don’t need their leader to tell them to form ten rows of ten soldiers. Although technically, the first row only consists of nine soldiers at the moment. There is a gap in the line next to Ema, where Les would be standing if he wasn’t up at the front, waiting to address everyone else.
“Well, guys, this is it.” His voice is carried across the crowd via em-comm, every uncomfortable word ringing crystal clear. “We’re finally going to go up against the ILG. Our squadron will be following a group of ILG members who are going up to Orbital 9.”
Murmurs rise up and spread, as if Squadron 3 has suddenly become a single living entity and drawn its first breath.
Most imps have never been on an orbital before, and the Uniters are no exceptions to this rule. For decades there was an infamous law forbidding imps from setting foot on orbitals, all due to the even more infamous Orbital 13 incident, in which an early imp who worked as a first mate on Orbital 13 turned on and murdered his human captain. It is still whispered about deliciously, a juicy bit of gossip passed along between the members of homes and workplaces. Almost everyone agrees that the uprising was caused by the offending imp – which was one of the old bionically improved humans, not a genetically improved human like current imps – deciding that it wanted to take control, even though no official verdict was ever reached.
The humans-only orbital rule was only fully repealed less than a year ago, after it was determined that imps were no longer a significant threat to the security of orbiting habitats.I guess they were wrong about that, thinks Cade, sneaking a glance at Alec.
“What do they want on Orbital 9?” calls Lai from the first row.
“Well…they’re looking for something.” Les clears his throat. “Something important. Lady T says that our mission is to find it first. She doesn’t know what they want with it, and she doesn’t want to wait and find out.”
“And…did she say what exactly we’re looking for?” asks Lai.
He gazes at her evenly, unable to believe the words even as they leave his mouth.
“Yeah…a nimp. She said we’re looking for a nimp.”