53. The Day That Dreaming Ends
They were both debating whether or not they should kiss again when someone knocked on the door, effectively making the decision for them.
“Come in,” calls Lai, sighing dramatically as she plows her fingers through the snags and tangles of her hair. “We’ll just have a party in here. Why not?” she mutters under her breath. “I’m not going to have any more privacy anyway.”
The door slides open without a sound, and Ema steps in tentatively. Her blonde hair has been straightened and fastened into a tight ponytail at the nape of her neck, and her whole appearance is astringently clean and neat, almost to an unnatural extent. “How long have you been awake?” she asks quietly, as if afraid of damaging Lai’s fragile nimp hearing.
Lai shrugs noncommittally. “I don’t know. A while, I guess.” She’s not sure how long she and Alec were discussing the Orbital 13 incident, and she doesn’t bother checking now.
Ema clears her throat uncomfortably. “Are you…okay?”
It’s a stupid, inane question, and all three of them know it, but Lai scours herself and discovers that she doesn’t feel much different than she usually does. Despite discovering the truth about her origins, finally learning about Alec’s history, and the possible start of a relationship that have all occurred within hours, her equilibrium has hardly been disturbed. She never thought that she would be so resilient, and she reflects that if she was a heroine in one of her fantasy novels, about now would be the time that she’d be having a crying, screaming breakdown. So she only shrugs again. “I feel just fine,” she replies. “I barely feel anything at all.”
This doesn’t appear to satisfy Ema very much, but she leaves the subject alone for now. “Well, if you’re sure…maybe you can clarify a few things for us.”
“If this is about being a nimp, then I can’t help you. I’ve only known about it for as long as you have, it’s not very clear to me, either – ”
“I know, but I wasn’t going to ask about that. I was talking about what happened when you were kidnapped by the ILG.”
“Oh!” exclaims Lai. “I almost forgot about that!”
Ema arches an eyebrow. “You almost forgot that you werekidnapped?” Her eyes scan analytically over Lai and Alec, noting that they are sitting much closer together than either of them would normally be comfortable with, that their outer legs are almost touching. “…what exactly were you two doing in here?”
“Discussing a matter of the utmost importance,” responds Alec gravely.
“Let’s just stay on the subject,” interrupts Lai hurriedly. “The ILG didn’t really kidnap me. Ule said that he wanted to talk to me, and that’s all he did.”
“They also tied you up and sedated you multiple times,” Ema points out.
“Yeah, because they knew that I’d get the hell out of there if I wasn’t restrained. I would have done the same thing if I wanted to talk to one of them.”
Alec frowns. “You say that the Unit for Leadership Excellence wished to speak with you? What could he hope to gain from such a maneuver?”
“He definitely didn’t say anything that I would have expected from the leader of the ILG. He sounded more like a conspiracy theorist than anything else. First of all, he claimed that they’re not an imp supremacy movement.”
This puts a crimp in the connections Ema has been trying to draw between the current ILG and the one that her former best friend Codi came up with. “Do they really think we’re that gullible? Everybody knows what they’re trying to do. Lady T knows, the media knows, and even the whole World Gov knows. Besides, they’re named the Imps Liberation Group. There’s nothing else they could be!”
“He said that the media and the government are lying about them, because they’re trying to go up against the World Gov’s new plan to turn everyone into nimps. That’s why they’re trying to find Pandora Amity – I mean, me. They want to prove that nimps exist, and that getting turned into one isn’t impossible.”
Alec pauses. “Are they aware of your connection to Pandora Amity, Lai?”
Lai shakes her head immediately. “No. They don’t know anything about that.”
“You are certain of that?”
“I can’t read minds, but yes, I’m pretty sure. I don’t think they would have let me go if they’d known who I was.”
“And they think that the World Gov wants to turn everyone into a nimp?” repeats Ema incredulously. “I thought Ule was supposed to be smart! Why would he believe some insane conspiracy theory like that?”
“According to him,” Lai continues, “it all makes sense, because if everyone was a nimp, then the World Gov would be able to control everything. Population, class status, job distribution, everything.”
“It’s all nonsense,” says Ema, but suddenly she sounds less than sure.
“I’m not saying if it’s right or wrong,” answers Lai, although her tone strongly suggests that she believes the latter option. “That’s just what Ule told me. Oh, and he left a message for you, as well.”
Ema blinks. “A message for me? He doesn’t even know me…”
“He said to tell you that your friend Codi never disappeared, and that he’s actually closer than you think.”
Ema’s eyes become very large, and he entire body becomes rigid.
“That means that he’s in the ILG, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know what it means,” says the older woman, a little snappishly. Then she sucks in a calming breath to steady herself. “I need to think about it.”
Lai nods understandingly. “That’s the least of our problems, anyway. What are we going to do about…the nimp problem?” She gazes down at herself, the overly petite and slender body swathed in the crumpled fabric of a ruined formal gown. Of course, she has the obvious appearance of a sickly, crippled eighteen-year-old who has been frozen in time for the rest of her life. How could she have never noticed it before?
“I don’t know about that, either,” Ema admits. “But Les and I commed Lady T last night, after you fell asleep. She was going to catch the first available spacecraft so that she can come up here and sort things out. Hopefully she’ll arrive soon…”
Lai realizes unhappily that she is most likely going to have to kiss her leadership status goodbye, and probably her position in the Uniters as well. Now that she’s a nimp, Lady T will want to have her under lock and key, and she certainly won’t be allowed to risk herself on the front lines. She internally curses the stupid ILG for rebelling, her stupid parents for abandoning her, and the stupid genitechs who messed up on her design in the first place and thus barred her from ever being able to lead a normal life. It’s a bit of a staggering concept, to think that if just one chromosomal slip had been avoided, she could have been a pampered rich girl who never had to work a day in her life, except maybe to take piano lessons or write an article for her mother’s fashion magazine or help her father organize his antiques around the house. She wonders if somewhere, in an alternate universe, that different life is a reality, and the different Pandora has no idea of what’s befallen her counterpart here.
Don’t even start,she scolds herself.You’ve spent your whole entire life dreaming – well, the past ten years of it, anyway – and look where it’s gotten you! Well, now you know who you are and why you’re like this. You can fight it. Today is the day that dreaming ends.
“I hope that she doesn’t tell me to go back to Earth, because I really, really want to stay here,” she proclaims. “Now more than ever. Everything up here involves me, and I need to be here to see it happen.”
“We’ll see,” responds Ema plainly. “Now, you’d better get dressed. I don’t think that you want to look like a slob for Lady T.”
She strides out testily without waiting for a response, which is very unlike Ema. Lai crosses her arms. “What’s her problem?”
“You have mentioned the forbidden word,” declares Alec.
“She needs to get over that. It’s been almost five years, and it doesn’t even sound like Codi was that good of a friend to her!”
“There are certain people who we discover an inexplicable connection with, no matter how they treat us in return.” Alec makes a sort of electronic gurgling noise, his equivalent of clearing his throat. “Lai…regarding what transpired between us…”
“We should be dating,” she says almost cheerfully, as if it’s the most natural statement in the world.
“We are in the midst of the New War,” he warns her. “There will be little time to engage in the practices of a conventional relationship. Besides, attachments are unfavorable at this time, for if something was to happen to me or to you…”
She shakes her head dismissively. “Nothing will happen. And since when do we need to follow the rules of a ‘conventional relationship?’ We’re not exactly normal people.”
“True,” he concedes.
“So we should be dating. If you’re interested, that is.”
“I am interested.”
“Good!” She springs to her feet and brushes at a sticky patch on her dress, wrinkling her nose. “Well, I’d better get dressed now. There’s a lot I have to do today. I’ll see you later, though.”
He nods, and they hold each other’s gaze for a moment longer before he exits with his usual dignified gait.
As the door slides back into place, Lai falls back on her bed again, needing a moment more to think to herself. She’s never dated someone before, and neither has Alec. The two of them will probably have to tailor the usual procedure until they’re comfortable with it. At least she knows that he has a fairly accurate understanding of her thought processes, and he won’t expect her to be full of sweetness and light all the time.
“Awesome,” she remarks aloud, to no one in particular. “I have a boyfriend.”