42. A Meeting
There are many, many conference rooms on Orbital 9, varying in shape and size and décor. All are windowless and relatively drab when compared to the rest of the ship, in order to prevent as many distractions as possible. On this day, the Uniters are certainly not the only group using one of the conference rooms, but they most likely assumed that the other spaces being utilized are inhabited by legitimate business holding legitimate board meetings. They are incorrect, because at quite a distance from them, the Imps Liberation Group is meeting as well.
“Ule, what did that Uniter mean when she called us an ‘imp supremacy movement’?” asks one young woman worriedly. She is restless and testy, much like the other forty or so imps gathered there. The battle yesterday has plagued them all with fear and uncertainty. Even though they learned about the Uniters shortly before their off-planet departure, they were under the impression that their task here was a relatively safe one, and the sudden combat took them very much off guard. They felt like cowards as they fled, but they certainly weren’t prepared to fight.
Ule is seated at the head of the long table, trying to radiate calmness in order to soothe his ranks, but concern flickers on his brow nonetheless. His broad frame appears to be hunched, his muscles pinched together by anxiety. Things have not been going as planned, lately. He knew when he began this group that it would mean leaving everything in his life behind – his satisfying and well-to-do job, his respected position, his routines, his happiness. Ever since the capture of Settlement 211, things have been even messier than he originally accounted for. But sometimes, one hears something that makes it impossible for them to stay silent. Sometimes a revolution, while not preferable, is necessary.
“Dr. Ema apparently thinks that we believe ourselves to be superior to humans, and that we’re fighting for that cause,” he answers at last, stretching the skin of his forehead between thumb and forefinger. Dr. Ema is yet another complication that he didn’t have enough foresight to anticipate. He spent a large chunk of last night staring at his reflection in the mirror, assuring himself that he is indeed unrecognizable now.
“I knowthat,” says the woman who asked the question, “but we’re not – ”
“I know, I know,” Ule interrupts, willing her with his eyes to settle down. “You don’t need to remind me of what we stand for, Ara.”
The woman, Ara, twists her face into a deep frown. “Why would they say something like that, though? Were they just trying to make us angry?”
Her statement stirs up mutters of agreement.Those Uniters are nothing but evil, good-for-nothing government pawns!, the group nearly whispers as one.They’ll stop at nothing to silence us all!
“Calm yourselves,” snaps Ule, his eyes darting around the room sharply, and every word of unrest immediately evaporates. He clears his throat, trying to obey his own order. “I didn’t see much yesterday, but I’m starting to suspect that whoever gives the Uniters their orders has not been entirely honest with them. They didn’t justsaythat we’re in imp supremacy movement. They believed it as well.”
“That can’t be right,” someone else insists. “They must know what we’re trying to do! After all, they’re called theUniters. Isn’t that what they’re fighting for, the ‘union’ of humans and imps?”
“That is what they’re fighting for,” agrees Ule, “but maybe they don’t know that. Maybe the government could only drum up recruits by turningusinto the bad guys.”
“Or they could be trying to trick us,” another soldier points out.
“True…very true.” Ule rubs his chin. “I think that we’re going to need to take a few ‘prisoners.’ Only temporarily, of course. Just long enough to tell them our side of the story, and then we’ll let them come to a decision on their own. Who knows? It might change their minds just to see that we’re not trying to hurt them, and that we’re more than willing to let them go…”
“That isn’t what we came here for!” Ara protests. “We only left because we needed to find Pandora Amity, and her father’s already said that he doesn’t know where she is. I say we go back to Earth. It’s only a matter of time before the Uniters call in everything they have and run us off of the orbital, anyway.”
An icy spear seems to extend from Ule’s eyes and pin her to the spot. “Everyone on Earth knows who we are now, and we won’t be able to hide for much longer,” he declares gravely, and the rumble of thunder in his voice gets everyone’s attention. “For whatever reason, the Uniters haven’t trapped us yet, and I say we take advantage of this opportunity. I’m not going to lie to any of you, our chances aren’t good. The rumors about us have been spreading, and we’re almost universally hated now. It’s gotten to the point where if we tried to tell people what we’re actually doing, they wouldn’t believe us. Finding Pandora Amity is our only hope.”
No one says anything, but he can see the desperate reply in all of their faces. “But wecan’tfind her!”
Indeed, Pandora has thus far proven to be quite elusive. An anomaly like a nimp should logically be a standout in this oh-so-ordinary world, but whatever measures were taken to conceal her have done their jobs despicably well. Pandora herself must be an excellent actress, too. She seems to have perfectly disguised herself as either an ordinary human or an ordinary imp, never revealing a trace of her true heritage to anyone. It would be admirable, but Ule urgently needs to find her right now. He only hopes that she’ll understand the plight of his group and be willing to tell the truth about who she is for their sakes. If she doesn’t, they’ll all be in deep trouble, but it never hurts to try.
It also might help their cause to convince a few Uniters of the truth. He knows that many of the people in his group strongly detests their opponents, but the World Gov has unfairly used its soldiers just as it has unfairly used everyone else, then there’s really no reason for them to continue opposing one another. He might try to catch one of the leaders, first, and give them a little something to think about. Perhaps Dr. Ema, or the other girl, the small one who fought him yesterday; he recalls seeing somewhere afterwards that she is a leader as well.
“I know you’re tired, my friends,” he murmurs. “I am, too. I feel that soon we’ll come closer to our goal, but then again, I always feel that way. Maybe it’s not an intuition I’m harboring, but a hope. So I’ll make you a promise that if my hope is debunked this time, I won’t come up with another excuse not to leave. We’ll stay for another week, and then we’ll go back and reunite with the rest of our group. Does that sound acceptable to you?”
Heads bob in weary agreement around the table, and Ule leans back, heaving a sigh. He’s sick and tired of this ordeal, and he knows that everyone else is, too. At least he was designed for being a leader; no one in his group has experience or proper training. They were all ordinary working imps from Settlement 211 until his secret information reached their ears, and then they gave up everything for him simply because they wanted to do the right thing. Now they’ve lost much of their access to technology (most devices require entail some form of tracking or user identification, and only the most advanced override codes are effective in disabling these mechanisms); they’ve inadvertently betrayed their owners (the World Gov has more of a hold on the humans than he could have ever imagined, and it’s only gotten worse since his takeover was dubbed an “attack”); and even if they were to decide that this new lifestyle wasn’t worth the trouble and turn themselves in, their opportunity to be normal has been lost forever. They only have two options left: to stay with him and pray that this tiny revolution will somehow succeed, or to leave and submit themselves to the harshest punishments still legal in this era of supposed “government benevolence.”
Sometimes Ule wishes that he could run away, out of this skin, out of this life, out of this universe. But when that stabbing panic strikes him, he has only to remind himself how much is at stake. It isn’t just his own life, or even the hundreds of lives that make up his little union. His actions now might change the course of the entire world.
And changing the world is hard enough, but now he might have less than a week to do it…