49. Past and Present
“I don’t believe you,” says Lai evenly.
“Believe whatever you want to believe, but that’s the truth,” Ule insists stubbornly. “That’s what my group is fighting against…and that’s what your army is fighting for.”
“Wrong!” she proclaims. “Our only mission is to stopyou. That’s what Lady T said, and I’d might as well be a mutineer if I didn’t believe her.”
“The woman who calls herself Lady T is a radical supporter of the nimp movement,” he contradicts fiercely. “She lied to you. She knows exactly what we’re doing, but she’s convinced everyone that we’re an imp supremacy group so that they’ll want to see us brought to justice. Then her plan can commence unimpeded. Why else do you think you’re called the ‘Uniters?’ You’re going tounitehumans and imps so closely that both groups will cease to exist!”
“If you’re going to lecture me on names, then take a look at yourselves,” she challenges. “You’re the Imps Liberation Group. Aren’t you trying to liberateimps from the tyrannical rule of humans?”
“No, we’re trying to liberate everyone. We could have just as easily been the Humans Liberation Group, but I went with the ILG for a few reasons. First, my union is mostly comprised of people who I know personally, which means only imps. We’re a lot smaller than the media would have you believe, you know. Second, the World Gov employs only humans, so to say that it’s imps who are doing the liberating seems a bit more appropriate. And third…” His lips twitch slightly. “I have a slight nostalgic connection to the name ‘Imps Liberation Group.’”
“That’s the name that Codi came up with after the Imp Morality Conflict,” declares Lai. “Ema told me about it.”
“Amazing,” he breathes. “She hasn’t forgotten any of that?” He clears his throat and straightens up, facing her again. “Tell Dr. Ema that her friend Codi never disappeared, and in fact, he might be closer than she thinks.”
“He’s a member of your group, isn’t he?”
“Make sure that you tell everyone else in the Uniters what I’ve revealed to you tonight,” he continues, ignoring her question. “I don’t want it to be any big secret.”
She scowls. “It might not be a secret, but it’s a whole pack of lies.”
“It isn’t, but I can’t force you to believe anything. All I can do is remind you that if you look hard enough at the past, the path of the present will follow.” Ule clambers to his feet. “And with all of that said, I think it’s about time that I sent you back.”
“I’m assuming that you’re not just going to let me go.”
“No,” he agrees, and he makes a discreet hand signal. One of his associates strides into the room quickly. The imp is a woman dressed in regular clothes who, like her boss, is disappointingly ordinary, lacking the evil vibe that Lai had imagined.
“Sir?” she asks.
“Get me a pricker and a dosage of sedative, please, Ara,” instructs Ule. “And send in three guards so that I may have our guest properly escorted to her suite.”
Lai mutters an oath. “Yeah, right. Some guest.”
She is more exhausted and defeated than she’s letting on. Anyone who knows her well would be able to spot the telltale slump of her shoulders and the dullness coming over her eyes. Imps and humans, nimps and governments, past and present…it’s too much to take in at once. She finds herself wishing that she had a paper book to distract herself with, so that she could leave reality behind for a little while.
It is almost a relief when she feels the momentary sting of the pricker against her skin, allowing her to slump down into nothingness for the third time that night.
It is well past midnight when four Uniters discover Lai wandering unsteadily through the corridors some distance from the Amitys’ cabin, staggering on her feet and seeming groggy and confused. They quickly lead her back to her cabin and send for Cade and Ema, who have been out looking for her along with Alec. The Uniters’ resident Medical Emergency Doctor, Med, is also summoned.
The other leaders come running, and they throw a barrage of nervous and excited questions at Lai as she sits on the bed in her cabin, allowing Med to examine her. At the very least, she is lucid enough to adequately answer their queries, although her words often come out thick and slightly muddled.
“Wherewereyou?!” demands Ema. “We must have searched everywhere on the Orbital! We thought the ILG had gotten you!”
“They…did get me,” replies Lai ploddingly. “But they…let me go.”
Les frowns. “Why would they do that?”
“What did they want with you?”
“To tell me lots of…crazy talk.”
“Crazy talk? Like what?”
“I’ll tell you later. Tomorrow, maybe. When I feel better. Don’t feel so well…”
Med pronounces Lai physically unharmed, professing that her grogginess is being caused by a mild sedative that must have been injected into her by the ILG members. “The medicine is used as a calming agent, mostly,” he explains. “But I think that they used it so that she wouldn’t remember the way back from their headquarters. They wouldn’t want to make it easy for us to find them, after all.”
Lai dozes off while Med is in the process of packing up his equipment, and Ema puts her to bed without bothering to undress her. None of the other Uniters have been told about what is happening, but behind closed doors in all three suites, whispered rumors are beginning to germinate like seeds of poison ivy.
“Ema, I think that we need to talk about this,” declares Les. “As leaders.”
Ema nods hesitantly. She has a very expressive face, and it is easy to see the multiple worries competing for domination across her brow and forehead. “I feel like we should have someone sit in here with Lai, though. Just in case something happens…”
“I shall watch over her,” Alec volunteers. “I know that it is imperative that the both of you are able to reach a conclusion. Our situation is becoming increasingly complicated, and there seems to be no end in sight.”
Ema nods in relieved agreement. “Thank you very much, Alec. We won’t be long. And you know that you can comm Med if you need to for any reason.”
Alec dips his head reassuringly and takes up a chair, where he plans to remain all night. He calls his energy statistics into his line of vision, just to confirm that he has enough battery life to last him for the next few hours, and settles in with a restful body but a troubled mind.
Meanwhile, Les and Ema retreat to Ema’s cabin, where they hold the least awkward conversation that they’ve had in days. Of course, that’s because the mounting conflict with the ILG has all but obliterated their regard for their personal lives. In this moment, they are wholly and completely Uniters, dedicated to nothing but their mission.
“This is going to mean serious consequences for Lai,” says Ema.
“I know,” replies Les, kneading the patch of skin between his eyebrows. “Do you think that the ILG knows that she’s…?”
“I don’t think so,” answers Ema after some consideration. “Otherwise, they never would have let her go.”
“How arewegoing to let her go? She has to be protected, every time she fights, there’s a chance that they’ll know who she is and go after her. She’d be making a nice target of herself…”
“But she isn’t just some object that we can lock in a safe. Nimp or not, Lai is still a person.”
They bat around several potential strategies, but nothing they can think of seems safe or workable. Finally, they come to the conclusion that they knew they’d arrive at from the start.
“We need to talk to Lady T,” Les decides. “She’s the only one who might know what to do.”
Ema sighs. “I guess so,” she submits. “I’ll comm her.”
“Won’t she be asleep right now?”
“I don’t know. Do you think that woman ever sleeps?”
She leaves the room, and Les can’t prevent himself from staring after her. A minute later she reenters, with a comm in her hand and a grim resignation in her eyes.
“She’s on her way.”