PART III: PANDORA'S BOX
“You have got to be kidding me,” declares Felix unhappily. He slumps against the well-worn sofa cushions, his eyes darting swiftly around the parlor to examine three of his four imps, who are occupying their preferred chairs or seats on the couch. His division is decorated more for comfort than it is for opulence, and the living room is no exception, though none of its occupants are particularly relaxed today. Despite the tiring training of the day, Ema, Alec, and Lai are all rather tense. But out of everyone in the room, only Lai is high-strung with excitement instead of anxiety.
You’re getting sent to anorbital?” complains Felix, as if they’re being deported to Timbuktu. Of course, going beyond the atmosphere is probably something to be concerned about. “For how long?”
“We don’t know,” responds Ema. “It depends on how long it takes us to find the nimp.”
“Oh, yeah, that nimp thing.” Felix rolls his eyes in exasperation.
Ema is still trying to be vainly optimistic. “Lady T says that we’ll be provided for – ”
“I know what shesays, Ema, but do you know what I think?” He sits forward rigidly. “I think that she’s sending you all on a wild goose chase. She’s no less nutty than those paranoid conspiracy theorists, and she won’t be getting any farther than them, becausenimps do not exist!”
“Uh, Felix?” pipes up a new voice. “You know I hate to correct you, but this time, I think you may be wrong.”
Everyone turns to face Les, who is standing in the doorway of the room he shares with Ema, comm in hand. “I’ve been doing the research Lady T asked me to,” he continues slowly, “and I found something very interesting.”
Felix blinks. “You mean, you actually found evidence that nimps exist?”
“In a sense,” answers Les carefully.
Lai exclaims, “Well, make a liar out of me, then!” Alec is shaking his head slowly, as if unable to process the fact that his seemingly infallible brain was incorrect.
“These aren’t nimps in the sense that we think of them as,” Les interjects. “They were only ‘hybrids’ in the sense that they had both human and improved DNA, and even then, they weren’t born that way.”
“Tell us what you found out,” Ema prompts.
“Well…about ten or fifteen years ago, the Settlement 209 government was funding a company called the Institute for the Betterment of Humans Genetically Improved and Otherwise. This was when imps were still pretty new. The Institute was trying to find a way to use improved genes to permanently eliminate disabilities. The company is defunct now, but during their years of operation, they performed experimental procedures on ten children and adolescents.”
Lai’s eyes brighten. “So, those kids are the nimps!”
“They are, sort of…but most of them aren’t around anymore. All of the kids had birth defects, usually mental, but sometimes physical as well. Seven of them showed no or very little improvement after surgery; all of those are dead now. Two died during the procedure. The high body count is probably why the Institute eventually had to shut down.”
Ema shakes her head sympathetically. “Those poor children…but wait a minute, that’s only nine patients. You said there were ten of them.”
Les nods. “The tenth test subject was Pandora Amity, and I think she’s who the ILG is looking for.”
“Pandora Amity,” repeats Lai. She wrinkles her nose, as if the name tastes bitter on her tongue.
Felix heaves a sigh. “Bet that was right at the tail end of that whole ‘Greek mythology names’ fad.”
“Probably,” Les agrees. “Pandora was born to two wealthy parents, Lionel and Loretta Amity. Testied via GeneLab around twenty-eight years ago. She should have been perfectly healthy and beautiful – her parents had a lot of specific orders, their money gave them a big say in her development – but something went wrong, and she was born cognitively and emotionally dead. She never even learned to talk, from what I understand. When she turned eighteen, her parents got in contact with the Institute and arranged for a procedure to be done…and apparently it was successful.”
“Then, what is her current location?” asks Alec.
Les exhales slowly, shaking his head. “If only we knew. As far as information goes, Pandora Amity barely exists. There isn’t even one surviving photo of her. All I could find was a birth certificate and a few spotty medical records. There’s some observations that one of the scientists must have recorded after that last surgery. ‘Patient responding to stimuli as expected. Linguistic and motor skills vastly improved. Shows signs of analytical thinking. Complications: see attached…’ But there’s nothing attached, like the rest was never finished.”
“Or it was deleted,” adds Ema thoughtfully.
“What about her parents?” asks Felix. “Did you find anything about them?”
“They’re pretty secretive people, but there’s a lot more available on them. Lionel and Loretta Amity were married thirty-four years ago. He was the heir to a worldwide chain of mainstream antique stores, she was the editor of a popular fashion magazine. They’re both retired now. They used to live here in Settlement 209, just a few blocks from us, in fact. Up in the three-divisions. They moved to an orbital after their daughter’s operation. I guess they wanted to get away from imps and improvements.”
“Did the daughter go with them?” Ema inquires.
“Not as far as anyone knows. That would be too easy.”
“Upon which orbital do they now reside?” Alec wants to know.
“Orbital 9!” exclaims Lai. “That’s where we’re going!”
“Exactly,” agrees Les. “And we’re going there because we’re following the ILG. They must have gotten their hands on this information, which isn’t all that surprising. It was buried under a bunch of newer stuff, but it wasn’t encrypted. I didn’t even need most of the security codes Lady T gave me…anyway, I’d be willing to bet that the ILG is planning to try and get information out of the Amitys so that they can find out what happened to Pandora.”
Felix frowns. “But what does the ILG want with a nimp in the first place?”
“No one knows,” replies Ema. “But this all seems to add up, assuming that Lady T’s sources are correct. At least now we have a better idea of what we’re looking for.”
“All of this is giving me a headache,” mutters Felix. “I need some meds.” He heaves himself out of his seat as if the action is costing him a great amount of energy, then shuffles off to his bedroom.
Lai’s foot is patting out an irregular rhythm against the carpet. Her eyes are narrowed, presumably scrutinizing a landscape that lies far beyond the Mansen living room. Plans and schemes roll around in her mind with a nearly audible clunking sound, like irregular rocks in a tumbler.
“What are you planning, Lai?” demands Ema warily.
Lai purses her lips. “Who lives in the Amitys’ division now, Les?”
“No one,” says Les. “It’s being held for them. Why?”
She grins. “Oh, that’s even better.”
“Better for what?” Ema crosses her arms. “You had better not be planning anything stupid…”
“It isn’t stupid,” says Lai innocently. “I’m just thinking…maybe we should do a little bit of off the books work for the Uniters. I don’t think Lady T would mind, and we could gain an advantage over the ILG…”
“You are intending to break into the abandoned Amity division in order to search for evidence,” interrupts Alec flatly. “That is madness.”
“No, it’s not,” she argues. “It makes sense! For all we know, everything we’re looking for is there! There could be a picture of Pandora, and then we might be able to find her without going to Orbital 9…”
Les begins to nod. “Actually, that does make sense. I bet that the security override codes that I have would get us into the building.”
“But that’s illegal!” protests Ema.
“No, it’s not,” Lai contradicts smugly. “We’re government agents now. It’s legally registered and everything. You and Les are even leaders – that means we can go where we want to, as long as we have justification.”
“We are still expected to abide by the correct procedure and submit a request to the Settlement Government before taking action,” Alec points out crossly.
Lai shakes her head dismissively. “Those forms always take months to clear, and we don’t have that kind of time. In less than a week, we’ll be off-planet. I say we should go now, tonight. No one will find out, and even if they do, we won’t get in trouble for it!”
Ema’s eyes flick from side to side uncertainly. Finally she submits, “All right, we’ll go. But we won’t tell anyone else about this unless we absolutely have to. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Lai and Les echo in unison.
“Agreed,” adds Alec after an uncomfortable pause.
“Wear something in dark colors,” suggests Lai. “And bring lumi-sticks. Oh, I’m so excited! This is going to be our first adventure together as members of the Uniters!”
“You and your ‘adventures,’” mutters Ema. “That’s a nice way of disguising the fact that we’re breaking and entering…”