Lai awakens with a start to find herself in an unfamiliar cabin, bolstered into a chair. Her hands are bound behind her, and something that feels like fine chain cinches her wrists together. Try as she may, she can’t quite crane her neck far enough to ascertain what the strong, lightweight material could be.
The pricker left no hint of fuzziness in her eyes or brain, so she must have been out only for a few minutes. But that was long enough for the ILG to tie her up and haul her here, apparently. So where exactly is she? And what are they planning to do with her?
She almost shudders as she remembers that they never did learn what the ILG wanted with a nimp in the first place. Whatever it is, she’s doubtlessly about to find out.
“Welcome to my humble abode.”
Lai jerks in surprise as Ule strides into her line of vision. Despite his size, his footsteps are light, even soundless against the tiled floor. He bends down to examine her, his golden-brown eyes gleaming curiously.
“What do you want?” she snarls, yanking herself forward as much as she can in order to sneer into his face.
“To talk to you,” he answers simply. “As I said before, I’m sorry that we had to restrain you in order to get you here, but I don’t think you would have responded well if I’d just asked.”
“Well, no. I wouldn’t have justletmyself be kidnapped,” she shoots back.
He shrugs slowly. “You’re not really kidnapped. All I ask is that you listen to me, and then I’ll let you go. Whether or not you believe what I have to say is entirely up to you.”
“Lady T told me not to believe anything you say!” she declares. “I know all about you. You think you’re so persuasive, and you probably want to turn me against the Uniters, but it’s not going to work!”
“Lady T? So that’s what she’s calling herself now,” Ule mutters under his breath. Then, turning back to his captive, he announces, “Although I have been known to be persuasive, and persuading you would certainly be an advantage right now, I don’t want to turn you against the Uniters. I just want to talk – to you, specifically.”
“Why me specifically?” she demands, although she’s sure that she already knows the answer.
“Because you’re a leader,” he responds, and she can’t help but blink in slight surprise. “We wanted to get your two friends, as well. We had a plan to divide and conquer in a few days, but we were lucky enough to catch you on your own and unarmed. I need to tell you that there are things you don’t know about what my group is doing. And about whatyourgroup is doing, for that matter.”
Lai lifts her chin indignantly. “Your group is trying to conquer humans, and my group is trying to stop you. End of story.”
“No, that’s not the end of the story. As I thought, you’re clueless.”
“I’m not clueless!” she shouts, bristling.
“Not about everything, you’re not.” He bobs his head. “You seem to be a very smart girl, actually, and a capable fighter. So let’s have a talk like civilized people, shall we? We won’t attack each other or make any accusations. We’ll just have a normal, calm discussion.”
“We can’t really do that unless you untie me,” she jeers.
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” he says gravely. “I can’t risk you breaking out or harming any of my soldiers. Well, we’ll have an almost normal discussion, anyway. Do you and your Uniters know what I’m looking for here on Orbital 9?”
“You want to find Pandora Amity,” responded Lai matter-of-factly. “Because she’s a nimp.” She neglects to mention that the whereabouts of Pandora Amity have already been discovered, as she is now sure that the ILG doesn’t know the truth about her after all.
“Butwhy?” she asks. “She doesn’t have anything to do with your imp supremacy movement, does she?”
“We’re not an imp supremacy movement, Ms. Mansen,” says Ule, enunciating each word slowly and carefully, as if he wants to instill each world deep into her head.
“Then why did you take over Settlement 211?! What could you possibly hope to gain by that if you weren’t trying to eliminate every human in sight?!”
“And there we go with the accusations again. Before I answer that, let me ask you a question. Have you ever seen a nimp?”
“No.”Not since the last time I looked in a mirror.
“That’s because they’re urban legends. Everyone likes it that way; they’re a hard concept to deal with. After all, do you know anything about nimps, besides the fact that they’re alleged hybrids?”
I know that it sucks to be one, she can practically hear herself saying, but she replies with a simple, “No.”
“No one else does, either, and that’s why I need to find Pandora. I need her as proof, to show the world that nimps can exist and already do.”
“How exactly is that going to help you? And what does the siege on Settlement 211 have to do with any of this?!”
He stares at her coolly. “Settlement 211 is a major headquarters for the World Gov. Almost every business there has felt their influence.”
Lai opens her mouth, then shuts it again. “Wait a minute. Are you saying that you’re trying to take down the whole government?! Um…whytellme that?!”
“You’re not getting it.” Ule sighs and shakes his head, as if she’s a hopelessly incompetent child having a math problem explained to her for the umpteenth time. “It’s not thewholegovernment we’re after, it’s just one of their ideas. A particularly hazardous idea that might decimate life as we know it if the World Gov decides to set it free.”
She groans and lets her head loll back against the chair. With all of these revelations and new, potentially false facts being thrown at her, she wishes that someone would invent some sort of vacuum apparatus used for cleaning one’s brain, so that she could siphon out all of the fluff and distractions and start thinking clearly again. “Will you just break it down for me, Mr. Criminal Mastermind, because I’ve had kind of a long night. If you say that I can leave after you tell me about your conspiracy theories or whatever, then hurry up and finish so that I can go!”
“So impatient. But fine, I’ll oblige you this once.” Ule crouches down on one knee in order to align his eyes on hers. His face is dark and sober, and yet as she examines it, she can find no trace of the evil or madness that she is searching for. All of the books she’s read tell her that insane villains practically radiate negative energy, but Ule doesn’t look any different from her fellow Uniters when they really put their minds to something and start focusing. He’s a man absorbed, maybe, but not a man possessed.
“Right now, there are two ‘breeds’ of people, if you will,” he begins. “There are humans, and there are imps. We aren’t quite different enough to be separate species, but there are enough variations to keep us separate. The main difference is that imps can be controlled. We have different jobs assigned to us depending on society’s needs at the time, our genetics can be determined remotely, and we lack parents or familial ties. At the same time we’re not emotionless, and we still behave more or less like people. Some people would prefer it ifeveryonewas like that.”
“If everyone was an imp, the population would collapse,” Lai sniffs. “We need humans because they reproduce.”
“Yes, we do. But do you understand that breeding is more or lessthe only reason why we need humans now?Every other job could be easily taken over by imps. So certain people in power have started thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if you could combine the organic quality of a human with the controllability of an imp? Certain upper-class humanoids would be allowed to reproduce, and the population would still remain stable, because life spans would be so much longer. Everyone would be predestined from birth to complete a certain job. It would be the ultimate model of efficiency, but we’d lose freedom in the process. Nevertheless, the World Gov is now mostly in favor of putting humans and imps together, as one species. And when you put humans and imps together, what do you get?”
“Nimps.” Lai’s eyes widen as the meaning of his words slowly comes into focus. “So, basically what you’re telling me is that the government wants to turn nimps into something besides urban legends and conspiracy theories?”
“Now you’re catching on.” Ule nods approvingly. “The World Gov has decided that the species gap between humans and imps has become obsolete, and as with anything that’s out of date, they plan to upgrade. Pretty soon humans and imps will both be phased out of existence in favor of a single, unified, and highly regulated species. That’s why we need Pandora Amity as proof. That’s why they experimented on her in the first place.
“They don’t just want to create nimps…they wanteveryoneto become nimps.”