47. I Remember
Lai sits with her head bowed forward and her eyes squeezed shut. She listens to the story, but after a while, she doesn’t need to. She remembers now.
She remembers being a little girl and examining the world around her, comprehending more than anyone gave her credit for, watching the nursemaids as they doted over her and her parents scurrying by. She remembers playing with a new doll she was given and growing frustrated, somehow sensing that she was doing it wrong. She tore the limbs from her doll that day, she recalls, and then she became fearful and stowed it away beneath her mattress, knowing that she’d be sent to another doctor if her parents ever found out.
She remembers sitting beside her father at his keyboard bench, listening raptly as he played a special song.“I wrote this just for you,”he once told her – and it was the December Lullaby. That was where she got it from.
She remembers the doctors, the psychiatrists, being dragged around and poked and prodded and questioned and wishing that she could answer. She remembers the medicines being injected or poured down her throat. And she remembers the night that her father cupped his hand over her mouth and slipped her two pills that put her to sleep, only she didn’t sleep for long. She lay there and listened with her eyes closed, knowing that she was about to be taken andchanged, and she managed to give her father a look of betrayal. It was probably the first emotion she’d ever shown, all because she thought that he, out of everyone she ever knew, might protect her.
And in one night, she lost all of that and became an imp. Or so she thought. Everyone in the room is staring at her in horror, no longer seeing her as a person, but as athing, a freak, an anomaly…a nimp. She shivers involuntarily. Suddenly, she’s a littletoospecial. z
“So you abandoned me,” she states flatly.
“It was a difficult choice,” replies Lionel uncomfortably. He has his hands on his wife’s shoulders, and she is dabbing at her eyes in a very dignified manner. Lai is sickened by it. They don’t actually feel anything towards her at all. Right now all they’re doing is playing a part, going through the motions because they think that’s all that is expected of them.
“Itwasn’ta difficult choice,” she refutes, her voice rising. “Not for you, anyway. Call it whatever you want, you just decided that I wasn’t worth your time and effort and you abandoned me!”
Loretta sits forward. “Please understand, Pandora – ”
“Lai. My name is not Pandora. It’sLai!”
She clears her throat. “Lai, then. Please try to understand, we only wanted what was best for you! And aren’t you happier now?”
“Happy?!” Lai repeats incredulously, rising to her feet. “Well, do you think you’d be happy right now if you were me?! For the past ten years I’ve been considered strange by both humans and imps alike. I’ve always known that I was different, but it didn’t really bother me. I liked what I was doing. I thought that I was unique because I liked old-fashioned things, because I enjoyed reading, and because I could write stories and play the piano.”
Lionel and Loretta look at each other knowingly, immediately understanding what she’s getting at. Nearly every facet of Lai’s personality is a fragment from her memories of them that she somehow managed to retain. She inherited her writing skills from her mother, her appreciation of the past and musical skills from her father. She is a patchwork of a person all the way down to her DNA.
“I was dissatisfied with my job, and I didn’t understand why,” Lai continues to rant. “I assumed that I was just different from most other imps. But everyone said that something had to be wrong with me, because imps aren’t made to be different. Then I ended up with the Uniters, and I thought that I finally had a chance to make something of myself. I could find the nimp and be a hero. Everyone would take me seriously – no one would dare to call me immature or absentminded again! All I had to do was find the nimp. But it turns out that I was looking in all the wrong places.”
She leans forward, her eyes wide and panicked. “So now tell me, what the hell am I supposed to tell my superiors when they ask me where the nimp is? I can’t say that we couldn’t find Pandora Amity. That would be a lie, just like the last decade of my life has been a lie. But if I tell them the truth, then I’ll be screwing myself over forever! I’ll spend the rest of my life being stared at and whispered about! And that’s not even mentioning all the genitechs who are going to want to study me and all the conspiracy theorists who are going to start talking about how their idiotic ideas were right all along!”
Loretta frowns at this but makes no comment.
“…Lai,” Ema finally speaks up. “Calm down. Let’s just see if we can think about this rationally for a second. All we have to do is call Lady T, and she’ll tell us what to do.”
“I am certain that I already know what her response will be,” responds Alec. “She would want us to carry on and complete the mission. She can be ruthless in her goals.”
“But she’s taken a liking to Lai,” Les points out. “With anyone else, she probably wouldn’t be worried about whether or not she ruined their life, but when it comes to Lai she may actually care.”
Ema shakes her head worriedly. “But there’s a war going on, and this is our opportunity to stop it! As horrible as it sounds, we can’t afford to worry about one person’s life when there’s so much at stake…”
Lai sinks back into her chair and presses her hands against her face, feeing her short nails bite into the flesh of her cheeks. There seems to be ceaseless noise beating at her ears, a roaring and a ringing, and the meaningless chatter of her companions as they go back and forth at each other. They don’t get it. Neither do her parents. Then again, maybe nobody can ever truly understand the thought processes of a nimp…
She springs to her feet. “Do with you want with me!” she cries. “I know you will anyway. I know I’m not even real to you!”
She shoves her way past everyone, much to their surprise, and tears out of the room. Her long formal dress hinders her movements, making her stumble, but she ignores it and presses ahead. She runs, unsure of knowing where she was going but acknowledging that she needs someplace quiet, where she can sit and think and maybe even try to accept this horrible fate that has befallen her…
She runs as if she can leave every shred of her current life behind her and go back to being the person who she was mere hours ago. That girl was a bit odd, but she was confident and sure. That girl was certain that she knew her place in the world, and she was too strong to require support from anyone. Lai is not that girl anymore.
Unfamiliar hallways whiz by, and a few startled faces flicker in her peripheral vision – maybe of other Uniters, or maybe of ordinary guests. She can’t tell at this speed, and she doesn’t stop to look. Her muscles, strengthened from so much training, feel no fatigue, and they joyously carry her forward. Her body is oblivious to the raking, tearing torment that has almost completely overcome her mind.
After a few minutes she sinks to her knees beside a floor-to-ceiling window. She’s shaking and panting from emotional overload rather than tiredness. Wearily, she presses her face against the cool glastic surface, as if exposing herself to the glittering stars will help her to hide from the rest of the world.
I should be crying, she realizes.Crying or screaming or something. After all, I already fainted, didn’t I?But her emotions run cold rather than hot, and her pain is blunt and hollow. She has some control over it. She doesn’t need to surrender herself completely, not yet.
A silhouetted figure looms over her.
“Excuse me, miss,” rumbles a man’s voice. “You look quite distraught. Is something the matter?”
“N…no,” Lai manages, turning to face him. He towers above her, but as far as he can tell, his expression is one of concern. “It’s just…never mind. Forget about it.”
“You’re Lai Mansen, aren’t you?” he asks.
She hesitates; after everything that’s happened tonight, she’s a bit wary of anyone who knows her name. Besides, is Lai Mansen her proper name now, or should she really be introducing herself as Pandora Amity? “Yes,” she answers reluctantly, squinting as she tries to get a better look at him.
He extends a hand helpfully. “I hope you’re all right. I hate to see a pretty young lady get so upset.”
She shrugs and slides her fingers around the offered hand as if it might be coated in poison. “Don’t worry, I’ll get over it.”
“What in the world happened? Did your boyfriend break up with you?”
Lai snorts. “No. Nothing as simple as…” Her breath hitches as his face comes into focus, a face familiar from scores of electronic photographs, and from the modern equivalent of “wanted” posters. “Wait a second! Aren’t you…”
Her head swivels, and she can see that it’s too late. The uniformed ILG members are already closing in around her, heavily armed this time, and she left her weapon back in the Amitys’ cabin. And now Ule has his burly fist clenched tightly around her hand. Her chances of escape are slim to none.You stupid, stupid girl,she thinks at herself,hasn’t Lady T trained you well enough for you to know that you shouldn’t wander off into enemy territory alone?!
“I’m terribly sorry about this, Ms. Mansen,” says Ule in what she could almost take to be a genuinely apologetic tone. She tries to flinch away from him as he reaches up to her ear and plucks out the clip embedded there. That em-comm is the only tracking device she has right now – without it, no one will be able to pinpoint her location. “Hopefully we won’t have to resort to such drastic measures in the future.”
“Damn you!” hisses Lai through gritted teeth, and terror pangs at stomach as she realizes that they must know what she is, who she is…
She struggles and almost breaks free, but two ILG agents restrain her from behind before she can make a break for it. She falls to her knees, still growling, her chest heaving.
Ule reaches into his pocket and produces a tiny thumbtack-shaped device. “Once again, I’m very sorry it had to come to this,” he repeats, and he reaches down and embeds the pricker into her neck.
Before she can come up with another retort, she has a sensation like a falling dream, and the world slides out of her grasp like a strand of oily yarn.