59. A Time to Act
We have sent numerous messages and negotiation requests to your group, all of which you have failed to respond to. This is your final warning. We would like you to know that we have secured a nimp by the name of Pandora Amity, whom you have been seeking for the past several weeks, as we are well aware. We are willing to turn her over to you in exchange for your attendance at a neutral-ground peace talk. Should you fail to reply to this message, or respond in the negative once again, we will be forced to remove all pretense of mercy and exterminate you directly.
- Lady T, Supreme Leader of the Uniters.
Ule presses a palm against his forehead, cupping his broad fingers over his eyes as he rereads the text feed again. He has always suspected that the Uniters would eventually back him into a corner, but he never anticipated that it would be this soon. And worse than that, he now knows that he’s failed in his most crucial operation. They have Pandora Amity. This has become an end game.
Now he has been presented with two choices. If he attends the peace talk, he’ll be agreeing to forfeit himself and everyone in his group in exchange for the nimp, and that would rather defeat the purpose of what they’re trying to do. If he refuses, he’ll make a target of himself and the others, sacrificing his revolution for nothing but a potential bloodbath. He’s seen the Uniters fight, has taken note of their weaponry and had time to realize how many of them there actually are. Logically speaking, he has barely a chance of winning. After all, in the real world, good doesn’t always triumph over evil.
It all comes down to a pair of simple options: definitely survive but live in shame, or probably die and accept defeat with honor.
He sighs and drags his thumb along the screen of his comm, switching functions from text feed to voice feed. He can’t possibly make a decision without the input of the rest of the ILG. Now he has to consult his second-in-command and decide if either path is preferable. Survive or die, survive or die…
When Ule makes the announcement a few hours later, standing at the front of their reserved conference room, he finds himself confronted by a mass of desolate, desperate faces, and the guilt assaults him so strongly that he practically staggers back into his chair. “I’m so sorry,” he is needlessly repeating. “To all of you. I never would have dragged you into this if I’d known thatthiswould be the outcome…”
“But you know how to get out of this, don’t you?” asks someone in a vainly hopeful voice.
“I…I don’t.” He squeezes his eyes shut, his clenched fists resting on the arms of the chair. “I wish I did, but I’m not a miracle worker. I just don’t see any way how we can get out of this.”
“Well, we can’t just surrender to those pawns!” declares a woman sitting nearby – Ara, by the looks of it. “It won’t do us any good to give up in exchange for Pandora, anyway. We need to get her out of their hands!”
“I say we agree to the peace talk and then spring an ambush on them,” proclaims Ule’s second-in-command, a tech specialist imp by the name of Pit. “That way we can get the nimp, and show the Uniters that we’re a force to be reckoned with! They won’t be expecting it if we meet on their terms!”
“I don’t think that you’re giving them enough credit,” mutters Ule. “They’d have to be incredibly foolish to show up to the negotiation unarmed, and somehow, I doubt that they’re that stupid.”
“Well, they’re stupid enough to believe that we’re an imp supremacy movement!” contributes Ara. “There’s hope. There has to be at least some hope…”
“It isn’t worth the risk.” Ule raises himself, slowly and wearily. “I won’t force any of you to stay here. If you want to get out of here now, I can arrange for you to take the next available spacecraft back to Earth. Once you get there, you can meet up with everyone else. It isn’t much of a compensation, but…”
Pit seems genuinely horrified by the notion. “Don’t be ridiculous, Ule! Do you honestly think that we’d leave you here to face the Uniters alone?!”
“I know that I’m staying here!” agrees Ara. She looks around at the other sixty or so imps grouped around the table, her face composed and optimistic. “What about you guys?”
One by one, more voices chime in, joining together to form a chorus of determination.
“We signed up for this ourselves, it’d only be right to see it through.”
“If you’re brave enough to stay here and fight, then the rest of us should be, too!”
“The import thing isn’t whether we live or die, it’s being able to stop the World Gov before their nimp conversion plan gets out of hand!”
“We’re not going anywhere!”
Ule blinks, somewhat thunderstruck. Not even the most timid members of his organization are taking him up on his offer to back out. And after a few initial flickers of debate, their faces no longer reveal a trace of fear. They stand up proudly, lift their chins into the air, and assure him that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that the mission will be a success. It’s more than he ever could have hoped for or expected of them…and for the first time since receiving Lady T’s text feed, he feels that they might have a chance of winning after all.
“You…” He bows his head for a moment, composing himself. “All of you are absolutely insane. And not only that…but you’re absolutely the best group of revolutionaries that any leader could ever ask for.”
The ILG members laugh and cheer, as if they’re attending a pep rally and not a war conference. Ule doesn’t bother trying to destroy their mood. In his experience, a bout of high spirits can be the best tonic for a terrifying situation.
“If you all insist on staying,” he continues, “then by god, we’ll show those Uniters that they can’t hope to control us! Wewillrecover Pandora Amity from them, wewillfight, and we willnotbe defeated!”
“Now,that’sthe Ule that I like to see!” exclaims Pit.
“This is more like it!” cries the woman standing next to Ara. “So, are we going to try to ambush them at the peace talk?”
Ule nods thoughtfully, his thick eyebrows descending as he begins to concentrate. “I’ll send them a message saying that we’ve agreed to meet at their specified location. Once we get in there, we’ll have to keep up the pretense for a little while. The woman at the head of the Uniters, Lady T…she’s quite cunning, and we can’t risk having her find us out. Some of you might know her, actually. Anyone who used to work at Evolutionary Research Associates would recognize her as Launa Teri.”
“Launa Teri is a Uniter now?” demands Ara, scandalized.
“Her name isn’t really Launa Teri, and she’s not just a Uniter. She’s thecreatorof the Uniters. She recruited every soldier by hand, saw to it that they were trained extensively, and then divided them up on missions and sent them after us. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t have a conscience, because she’s a perfect liar. I never would have suspected her of organizing something like this. She even convinced her Uniters that we’re all imp supremacy advocates.” “And they believed it,” someone remarks contemptuously, provoking snickers all around.
“Never underestimate the power of a well-told lie,” says Ule gravely. “We have to handle her with extreme caution, especially if she happens to personally show up to the meeting. For all we know, she could have told her Uniters to ambush us, as well.”
“Their main goal right now is bringing back the peace,” contradicts Pit. “They probably wouldn’t do something like that.”
“Perhaps not. But we still need to be careful.”
“What about that girl you kidnapped the other day?” Ara speaks up again. “Have you heard anything from her?”
“Well, I didn’t exactly leave her with my contact information,” responds Ule dryly. “Perhaps she’s been chewing over what I told her, wondering if maybe the truth has some validity…but probably not. She seemed pretty obdurate. Even if she’s started to doubt the merits of the Uniters, this ambush isn’t going to turn her to our side, that much is for sure.”
Pit shakes his head sadly. “Why is it that people never see it when they’re doing the wrong thing?”
“It isn’t entirely their fault,” replies Ule honestly. “Like I said before, they don’t believe that they’re fighting to combine humans and imps. The wool has been pulled over their eyes completely. It’s a shame, too, because some of them – especially the leaders – could be valuable resources if they joined us. But there’s not much of a chance of that happening. We’re just going to have to press on as we are.”
“Cheer up, sir,” offers Ara. “Maybe they’ll figure out that they’re wrong and rebel against Lady T and come to join us.”
“Yes.” Ule sighs and allows himself a small smile. The ILG might be marching off into a possibly fatal battle, but it’s better to keep a good attitude about it instead of being solemn all the time. “Maybe they will…”