61. Uniters Divided
Total and complete uproar.
“She’s completely lost it!”
“I always knew that she was weird, but I never thought that she was insane!”
And then slightly quieter, as if afraid of being detected by their more skeptical peers:
“Do you think that she could be right? Lai has never been into conspiracy theories before…”
“I always did think that Lady T was a little creepy. Maybe…”
“Remember when we were guarding the Amitys’ division? Lai just ran right out the door, and a couple days later, the report came that we weren’t going to be looking for the nimp anymore. I guess it is possible that something could have happened…”
In her quietly threatening way, Lady T is livid. Her teeth are gritted, gleaming like vampire fangs without the sharp points, and the skin around her eyes is stretched taut. She strides up to Lai and clamps her fingers around the young nimp’s wrist before she has a chance to react. “That’s quite enough, Lai!” she hisses. “You should know better than to make such…outlandishclaims!”
Lai smiles nastily. “What’s wrong? You didn’t want your precious secret nimp to reveal herself? Of course you didn’t. Then someone might notice when you make me disappear!”
Lady T’s lips curl back. “Short of a DNA test, there’s no sure-fire way to prove that you are who you say you are. I think it’s much easier to just reach the conclusion that you’re delusional, don’t you agree?”
“You can ask the Amitys,” responds Lai matter-of-factly. “Or my parents, I should say. Anyone can ask them, and they’ll confirm that I used to be their daughter. And theyhatebeing confronted with me! They would lie about it if they could get away with it!”
“And speaking of the Amitys,” contributes Les, folding his arms across his chest, “we heard you threatening them. Me, Lai, and Alec can all bear witness to the fact that you threatened to kill them if they tried to interfere and keep you from taking Lai. And I, for one, am going to back up Lai’s claim. I know that she’s the nimp, she knows it, and you know it to. Playing dumb isn’t going to help you this time,ma’am.”
The confused whispers burst forth into full-out incredulous exclamations. Lai has always been rather strange, and Alec…well, no one quite knows what to think of a surly android like Alec. But Les is their levelheaded leader, and he’s always been one of the most normal members of the community. It holds some weight that he’s vouching truth for this seemingly impossible fact.
The ILG members are no less stunned than the Uniters as they begin to stray from their imprisoned formation and mutter at one another worriedly. Is it possible that they were wrong about their enemies, that the Uniters didn’t even know about who they’re working for and why they’re trying to find the nimp?
But no one is more shocked by this turn of events than Ule.
“Miss Mansen…” he begins slowly. “Or should I say, Miss Amity?”
Lai smirks at him. “‘Lai’ will do just fine.”
“All right. Lai, then.” He takes a wary step towards her, and none of the guards try to restrict him. “Do you understand the impact of what you’ve just done?”
“Of course I do. If I didn’t want to face the consequences, I wouldn’t have done it.”
“How long have you known about this?”
“Remember that night when you kidnapped me and told me the truth about your group? That’s the same night that I found out.”
Ule shakes his head in bewilderment. “What are you planning to do now, then?”
“I’d like to join you. If you’ll let me.”
The response to this is nearly deafening, from both sides. A Uniter joining the ranks of the ILG?! There couldn’t be a more blatant example of treachery!
It only gets worse when Lai spins on her heels and cries out, “And I think that you should, too! Everyone – come with me! Think of the things we could do together! We’ll be unstoppable…and what’s more, both humansandimps will suffer if we don’t do something about this!”
Ule’s chest is heaving. “Any of you are welcome to join me,” he breathes. “If you’re really serious about this, of course…”
“I’ll join,” announces Les. “I’m tired of being a pawn for everyone else. Sure, I’ll be giving up my leadership position, but you know what? I don’t think I’ve got that much authority here, anyway!”
“I shall join as well,” Alec speaks up, drawing attention to himself from within the ranks of identical black figures. “I have been presented with enough evidence to believe in Lady T’s ulterior motives, and to understand that there is far more to the Uniters than was explained in the information we were presented with. I cannot stand for the cause of a society in which free will has been eliminated.” His operational eye flickers downward for a moment. “I have experienced for myself the tragedies which invariably result from a lack of free will.”
“I believe it,” declares one Uniter woman, thrusting her hand into the air. “I always did feel like something was a little bit weird with the Uniters. If this conspiracy thing is really going on, then I want to fight it!”
“Me, too!” adds a man standing nearby.
“Count me in!” someone else exclaims.
Lai glances around in order to gauge Lady T’s reaction to this sudden breach of faith, but the human woman is nowhere in sight.
Gradually, more and more Uniters step forward to pledge their belief in the ILG’s cause, abandoning their positions and walking over to stand beside Lai and Les. It would be an inspiring sight, were it not for the fact that more than half of the imps are still exchanging anxious glances and visibly thinking that everyone around them has gone absolutely insane. Which, to be fair, is still an understandable train of thought.
Les looks over his shoulder hopefully to where Ema is standing, both hands pressed against her mouth. “Ema? Are you coming?” he asks.
She shakes her head tearfully. “Les, howcouldyou!” she cries. “After everything I’ve been through – everything with the ILG and Codi – you’re still going to switch to their side?!”
“I know what I heard, Ema,” answers Les defensively, but doubt flickers across his eyes for a moment. “Besides, I can make my own choices now. We’re not an item anymore, remember?”
Ema opens her mouth, then shuts it.
Ule picks this moment to lumber towards them, his arms folded behind his back in a distinctly businesslike manner. “If it’s Codi that’s giving you second thoughts, Ema,” he states, “then perhaps I can rectify the situation.”
Her eyes narrow bitterly. “He’s a member of your group, isn’t he?!”
“He’s more than just a member. Do you know what happens when an imp ‘disappears’?”
“I do!” pipes up Lai, from a short distance away. “They’re taken and turned into recycled imps, aren’t they?”
“That’s exactly right,” agrees Ule. “Usually a memory wipe is done, either complete or partial. But in Codi’s case, the procedure was rather…shabby. He never really lost those memories, he only lost track of them. Either way, he was made to look entirely different and then shipped off to Settlement 211, where he was purchased by a company for a rather large sum of money. In time, he began to remember where he really came from, but that didn’t upset him. The turning point came when he discovered that his current owner was hiding something…”
Les gasps. “But…that would have to mean that Codi is really – ”
“You!” interrupts Lai, almost gleefully. “Sothat’swhy you decided to call your movement the Imps Liberation Group! Not because you were trying to go up against humanity…but because you remembered the name from when you were still Codi!”
Ule nods affirmatively, allowing a small smile to snake across his mouth. “I probably should have anticipated the trouble that it would cause. Still, I’m surprised that no one figured out who I was sooner. Especially you, Dr. Ema…”
Trembles are vibrating across the surface of Ema’s skin, and her hazel eyes are round and mortified. “That can’t…that isn’t…” she starts, but she’s not able to say that it isn’t possible, because she can see just how logical it is.
“I have missed you, you know,” murmurs Ule. “Even after I figured out who I was, I never got into contact with you; I decided that I had no right to. After all, you were all over the news with your new boyfriend Cade, and I assumed that you wouldn’t want to face the past again. Besides, I was never a particularly good friend. But…” He exhales slowly. “I’m different now, Ema. I’m not the rambunctious little playboy you used to know. Some of it is time, and some of it is my new conditioning. But if you wanted to try being friends again, I wouldn’t hurt you this time…”
All at once, the tremulous crystal containing Ema’s emotions seems to shatter, and she lunges forward. “You’vealreadyhurt me!” she shrieks, grabbing Ule by a fistful of his shirt fabric. “All this time, you could remember me, and you never eventriedto get into contact with me?! You never thought to apologize or let me know that you were okay?”
“It…seemed like a good idea at the time…” He bites his lip guiltily. “I never thought that you’d be worried about me…”
“Of course I was worried about you!” She smacks him across the chest. “We were friends, weren’t we,Codi?! Best friends forever, weren’t we?! Even after you started talking about your anti-human movement, I wasn’t mad at you, I thought that you needed help! That’s why I reported you! And I never thought, never in a million years…!”
“But Ema, we can fix this!” insists Ule. “Come with me – help me make things right! Your friends are already joining, so if you’re not going to do it for me, do it for them! We could finally clear the air, Ema. Think about it…”
“I don’t know.” She steps back, squeezing her eyes shut and shaking her head vigorously. “I…I have to think about this…”
“No time for thinking!” interjects a new voice, and one of the ILG members scrambles up to them. “Sir – sir!”
Ule makes a slight noise of irritation in the back of his throat and swivels to face the imp, who turns out to be Pit, his second-in-command. “What is it? What’s going on now?”
Pit shakily holds up his comm. As a certified technological expert, he not only disabled his communicator’s tracking methods so that it was safe for him to use it, but he also hacked into the Orbital Security databases and rigged it to send him new alerts and updates. Now the screen is covered in technical jargon and complex charts that only he could ever hope to understand, but fortunately, he’s still calm enough to provide an explanation. “I-I just caught wind of an SOS from security!” he sputters. “There’s been an attack on one of the guests! They sent out an emergency comm feed!”
Ule frowns. “An attack? From who? I thought that everyone capable of fighting on this ship was already here!”
“I don’t know who’s behind it, sir. But…” Pit swallows. “The alert is coming from the Amitys’ room.”
Lai’s breath hitches. “Lady T!”
“Lai, what are you talking about?” demands Les, turning to her. “Lady T is…” He trails off upon realizing that Lady T is not in the room and hasn’t been in some time. “Oh, no. You don’t think that she’d…!”
“What am I missing?” asks Ule, his eyes darting back and forth anxiously.
“I think…Lady T is going to punish me. She’s going after my parents,” recites Lai numbly, and she’s surprised by how upsetting the notion seems. After all, her parents abandoned her; she doesn’t owe them anything. But they didn’t exactly ask to get mixed up in the conflict between the ILG and the Uniters, and besides, they’re still her parents…
“What do we do?” gasps Les.
“We go after them,” declares Lai fiercely, and she rushes out into the still-tense crowd, shouting at the top of her lungs:
“Everyone! If you’re going to make a choice, then make it now! We don’t have any more time to lose! Lady T is about to try and kill the Amitysright now, and she’ll get away with it unless we do something! So if you’ve decided to fight for what’s right, then come with me, and everyone else…get out of my way!”
In the blink of an eye, the room surges to separate into two distinct groups.
The ILG members are joined by exactly forty-three former Uniters, increasing their ranks to one hundred and three soldiers. They all swarm together as they follow Lai, who is already dashing for the exit, leaving Les, Ule, and Ema to try and catch up. The rest of the Uniters stay where they are and stiffen, knowing that they should try to stop this betrayal, but lacking order now that all of their leaders have abandoned them. Besides, the odds have now shifted in the ILG’s favor. It’s safer to stand back, at least for now…
The door is closed but unlocked, presumably left that way when Lady T made her escape. Lai bolts through it, and after a moment she becomes aware of Alec, keeping pace at her side. He smirks at her. “I certainly hope that you were not attempting to leave me behind, Lai-unit.”
“Of course not,” she snaps, not really in the mood for joking around.
“We have completed our task relatively well,” he assures her, his expression returning to its usual seriousness. “At any rate, we have managed to sway many of our comrades from Lady T’s grasp.”
“And now Lady T is going to make us pay for that,” she responds. “And since she sees me as the one who started all of this trouble, I’m the one who she’s punishing first…”
“We are aware that she is in the Amity division. We shall arrive in time to stop her.”
Lai shakes her head. “We only know because one of the Amitys managed to send out an emergency feed. We’ll get there before orbital security, but that still leaves Lady T plenty of time to do what she wants. We may already be too late…”