Alec has never envisioned himself as one to take an interest in romantic relationships, as he has always privately believed that love is nothing but a byproduct of base instincts. He is asexual in every sense of the word, so physical attraction is meaningless to him. Ema always insisted that there was such a thing as genuine romance, but as he had never experienced even an inkling of this for himself, he was unable to completely believe her.
But now he finds himself wondering what the real shock of the day is: that Lai is the nimp, that the ILG is claiming that they aren’t an imp supremacy movement, or that he is apparentlydatingsomeone now.
He stares somberly at his reflection in the mirror and wonders what in the world could have ever compelled Lai to kiss him, anddirectly after she learned that he is a murderer, no less. A gesture like that really means something coming from her, since she typically acts is if people are covered in spikes when they try to touch her. Then again, so does he.
He admits to himself that ever since the ILG’s siege of Settlement 211, he has been gradually warming to her by degrees. Their emotional and mental states are much more similar than he would have anticipated, almost as if they are opposite sides of a single personality coin. She is more organic than he is, more passionate, more confident. And he is more organized, logical, and analytical than her. They’re not opposites, but their similarities and differences complement one another. Neither of them has ever been in a relationship like this before, so it should be a learning experience for them both.
When he hears someone knocking forcefully on the door to his cabin, he already knows that it’s her…but when she enters, she is much more cool and serious than he was expecting.
“If I asked you to do something with me, but you’d get in a lot of trouble for it if you were caught, would you do it?” she inquires.
Alec blinks. “I suppose it would depend on what you are aspiring to accomplish.”
“Lady T is going to talk to the Amitys, and I think I should hear what she has to say to them.”
He frowns. “You do not trust Lady T’s judgment?”
“I asked myself that question, and the answer is no, I don’t. I’ve been obeying her because she’s my superior, and I was happy when she made me a leader, of course. But I don’t really trust her, and I guess I never have. I always felt like she was way too interested in me during training, always asking me personal questions and putting her hands on my shoulders like we’d known each other forever.” Lai lifts her chin slightly. “I don’t like being touched.”
“No, you do not,” he agrees.
“And just now, when I was talking to her…she kept calling me Pandora. But for all the time she’s known me, I’ve been Lai. Why would she suddenly start referring to me by the name my parents gave me? Until yesterday, I didn’t even know that I had parents!”
“You could not possibly be implying that she was always aware that you are the nimp.”
“Was I being too subtle?”
“What intentions could she have for withholding such information? She is devoted to eliminating the threat of the ILG, and to send one hundred of her Uniters here on a fool’s quest would be a waste of valuable time…”
Lai spreads her hands out in front of her. “I’m not saying that she’slying,exactly. But I feel like there’s something she’s not telling us. That’s why I want to hear what she says to my parents. She might tell them something that she wouldn’t say to you or me.”
“And if I refuse to accompany you?”
She stares at him challengingly. “Then I’ll go alone.”
“How exactly do you intend to eavesdrop?”
“I’ll sneak in and hide, if I can, or I’ll just listen at the door. I have good ears. It shouldn’t be too hard to hear what they’re saying.”
“That is very illogical and disorganized thinking, Lai. I am surprised at you.”
“And you have a better idea?”
“I may, but then again, I have not yet agreed to go with you.”
“You’re not fooling anybody, Alec,” she declares. “I know that you’re coming with me. I only asked to be polite. Now, what’s this alleged better plan of yours?”
Alec rolls his eye, wondering what it must be like to feel so sure of oneself all the time. Then again, ever since they became involved in this conflict, Lai has become very devoted to obtaining what she wants at any cost. Her current desires can only be fulfilled if she becomes a temporary rebel, and she is more than willing to let that happen.
“In order for my idea to work, we shall need to convince Les to assist us, as well. He has certain skills that deem him a necessary asset.”
“Okay, but we have to hurry up, or else Lady T will already be done talking to them by the time we get there!”
And with that, she scampers out of his cabin, leaving him to resign himself to her leadership and quickly stride after her.
“You want me to dowhat, exactly?”
“We would be most grateful if you would acquire one of this orbital’s temporary security codes for our use,” explains Alec again. “We shall not use them to inflict harm upon anyone, cause property damage, or aid us in any illegal acts, and if we are discovered, we will decline to state that you had any involvement with us.”
“We just need your help this once, Les,” adds Lai. “And we’ll forget the codes as soon as we’re done with…this thing that we’re doing.”
Les’s face flickers between worry and suspicion. “I can’t be too surprised that Lai is asking me to hack something for her own benefit. But Alec, the supreme rule follower, wants me to do this as well? I never thought I’d see the day!”
“Drastic times call for drastic measures,” responds Alec gravely.
“What exactly are these times that are so drastic that they require me to hack into the orbital database?”
“We need to listen in on a conversation we weren’t invited to,” says Lai. “And Alec says that he has a good way to do that.”
“There are ventilation access passages between every floor of the orbital,” Alec contributes. “Anyone possessing knowledge of the ship’s layout, as I do, would be able to successfully infiltrate most any room. It is only a matter of locating the correct area, and the vents shall do the rest, as they do conduct sound quite excellently.”
“And you want me to get you an access code so that you can get into these passages?” asks Les incredulously.
Lai and Alec nod in unison.
“Won’t we get into a lot of trouble for doing something like that?”
“Les,” sighs Lai harshly. “You’re acting like a little kid afraid of getting a time-out. We’re all adults here. If we want to find something out, then we just…go find it out!”
“Yeah, and there’s still consequences, no matter what age you are!”
“No one is forcing you to do this – ” Alec starts.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m going to do it.” Les heaves a sigh, and his fingers lightly brush against the electric trigger in his pocket. “I prefer not to use my searching skills to hack, but I know that I’m good at it. I’ll have it for you in five minutes. All I want in return is for you two to take me along with you to…wherever it is that you’re going to spy.”
“What?” Lai’s eyebrows flatten unhappily; it’s clear that she doesn’t want Les around to slow her mission down. “But then if we get caught, you’ll be blamed as well!”
“I know that, but I’ll take the risk.” He laughs shortly. “I think that’s really what I need, some risk. I’m supposed to be the brave leader, and look at me – I’m just as spineless now as I was as a Cleanup Assistant and Dirt Exterminator. It’s not much, but I’ll at least need a little courage if we’re going to eavesdrop on the ILG…”
“We have said nothing indicating that the Imps Liberation Group is our target,” states Alec.
Les’s round eyes widen slightly. “Well, aren’t they?”
Lai shakes her head.
“Then who…” Les trails off and presses his lips together, as if he’s suddenly unsure whether or not he really wants a response to his question.
Lai speaks up, confirming his suspicion. “Something tells me that you’re not going to like it….”
The security surrounding the duct doors is nothing too formidable. After all, who in their right mind would want to break into a dusty old ventilation passageway? There’s nothing to take and nothing to see, only metal surfaces that occasionally need washing and vents built into the ceilings of guest rooms, barred off by filters that are changed once every month.
They locate a door situated in a remote back corridor, and Alec and Lai keep a watch while Les punches in the override code he’s recovered with slightly trembling fingers. “Spying on Lady T,” he mutters under his breath. “She’s going to have us for this.”
The door slides open with surprising ease, as if eager to usher in its new inhabitants. Les sighs nervously; despite himself, he was holding out hope that the process might take longer. “What do we do if we run into a real employee up there?” he asks.
Alec shrugs. “We will simply have to maintain hope that the Amitys’ filter is not scheduled to be changed today.”
“We need to hurryup,” interrupts Lai. “We’re running out of time!” She pushes past both of them and takes the lead as they enter the dingy abyss behind the doorway.
In order to access the vent, they have to climb a set of stairs, an experience that all three of them are mostly unfamiliar with. They are used to stairs being those things that are used as emergency backup in case the elevator is inoperable, not as a primary method of transportation. But they manage just fine and are deposited into a rectangular tunnel, reinforced by metal plating covering every surface, made into less of a labyrinth by hastily printed signs dangling at the mouth of each turn-off. “To Boiler Maintenance 3A,” “To Rooms 3000-3499,” “To Rooms 3500-3999”…
“This is where they keep all of the machinery and stuff,” realizes Lai, her voice bouncing erratically and fragmenting into indistinguishable vowels and consonants. “Up here, where none of the guests will ever see it.”
“And it’s easier to hear you up here, soshhh,” urges Les.
“Sorr-ee,” she whispers.
The passage is high enough to stand upright in, even for the rather tall Alec. His operational eye drills into the darkness as he tries to get his bearings and deduce what direction to head in. Finally, he lifts one white-gloved finger and points. “That way,” he states quietly. “Make sure that you step softly. We do not have far to go…”