Lionel Amity is in his room, seated on the edge of the bed, with a battered paperback novel resting in his lap. He is not reading it, or even absently toying with the frayed cover and pages. He is concentrating very hard on trying to forget.
It isn’t working very well, and two intertwined thoughts still rise to prominence in his mind: his daughter hates him now, and she is in danger. He wonders if she knows that he always cared for her when she was a little girl, despite himself and despite her condition, writing her melodies on the piano and reading her picture books. But even if those memories still exist in her patchwork mind, they’ve probably been beaten out by the much stronger recollections of how he and Loretta abandoned her. Nothing can make up for the lies she’s been fed during the past decade of her life.
On top of that, her well-being and possibly even her life are now at risk, under assault by the despotic reign of Lady T. He should be doing something about it, but he can’t without thrusting himself into her crosshairs. Can he really stand to be that selfish? Does he have another option besides leaving Lai to fend for herself?
As he ponders this, sounds begin to emanate from the front room. First a rap on the door, then scuffling footsteps, and then his wife’s startled exclamation of, “Oh! It’s you!”
Another voice responds to her, low and deliberate, the words unclear. Loretta seems to break into a slight panic. “No…what are you – no!”
Lionel’s brow crinkles, and he walks over to open the bedroom door. The scene playing out behind it is enough to give pause even to someone as unaffected as him.
His wife is backed against the couch with a hand clasped over her heart, pasty white and trembling. In front of her is the woman called Lady T, and she is holding a gun out in front of her grimly. She doesn’t look happy, but she isn’t particularly calm or fearless, either. The business end of her gun is leveled directly at Loretta’s chest.
Her eyes swing towards him, but her hands remain locked and still. “How nice of you to join us, Mr. Amity,” she states tonelessly.
Lionel is frozen. He know that he should probably slam the door shut, but he can only focus on not getting shot. And it’s enough of a shock in the first place to see a gun here, a weapon that never should have gotten past orbital security…
“What are you doing?” he asks bluntly. His voice sounds bizarrely unimpeded, even to him.
“Your daughter has developed quite the independent streak,” she replies, and mercifully, she lowers the gun. “Too much for comfort, in fact. I tried my hardest to lead her away from it, but she’s still gotten it into her head that I’m actually evil, or some nonsense like that. I’m surprised at her, to say the least.” And she reaches up and pulls the glasses away from her face.
Lionel stiffens. He remembers that when he first saw her, he experienced a flash of familiarity, but only now does he finally realize where he’s seen her before. “You’re Dr. Tamara!” he exclaims.
“Yes,” she agrees, crushing the flimsy glasses in her palm – it’s obvious now that they were fakes, since she can clearly see just fine without them. She allows the twisted frames to slip between her fingers and drop to the floor.
He shakes his head, still trying to process all of this. “Wait a minute, let me get this straight…youdidknow that Lai was the nimp.”
She gazes at him as if he’s a moron for not realizing this before. “Of course I did. I knew from the very beginning. Apparently I’m a good enough actress that absolutely no one was able to figure that out.”
“But I don’t understand. You still sent her here to question us, even though you already knew where Pandora Amity was…”
“You wouldn’t understand it,” she sniffs. “But I’ll try to put it in layman’s terms. If you want someone to trust you, you have to provide them comfort and emotional support. That’s why trust usually takes such a long time to form. Most people aren’t stricken by horribly tragic events every day, so if you try to form a bond with an average person, it grows slowly. So when I found myself pressed for time, I decided to create a few opportunities on my own.”
“You were expecting that Lai would be crushed when she found out about where she came from,” he realizes aloud. “Then you’d be able to take advantage of her weakness and make her disappear while she was emotionally compromised…”
“Now you’re catching on,” she says dryly. “Unfortunately, I was the one who ended up compromised, because she took the news far, far too well. Unnaturally well, in fact. Maybe she inherited something from you besides a love of antiques and old books, hmm?”
Fire and ice rise up in his cheeks. “How do you know about my – ”
“It’s fairly obvious. Perhaps you should look into stronger medication. But never mind that now.” And she aims her sleek, shiny gun at Loretta again.
Loretta releases a choked scream, and Lionel forces himself to move forward. “Wait!” he cries, desperately trying to stall for a little while longer. “How exactly is killing us going to help you gain Lai’s trust?”
Lady T peers over at him with disinterest. “When it comes to getting someone to do your bidding, the next best thing to trust is fear.” And then, without pausing to hear a rebuttal, she pulls the trigger.
There are some weapons in this day and age that are still only able to cause death after a lot of spilled blood and enough time for a farewell speech, and then there are some that are much more high-tech can kill someone before the victim even realizes that they’ve been hit. Lady T’s gun is one of the latter kind. Whatever projectiles she’s loaded into it are both lethal and instant, because Loretta collapses against the couch instantly, without even another moment in which to scream again. There’s no fanfare about it, no majesty, just a brief flash and a quiet clicking sound as the bullet is deployed.
Lionel watches in awe until Loretta hits the ground; then the spell is broken, and he rushes toward her, even though he knows that there’s no point. Even from the doorway, his wife’s now-glassy eyes are fully visible.
“Loretta…” he says quietly, and almost cringes at the lack of sadness in his voice. This is yet another prominent example of a time that he should be reacting or something, and yet he feels nothing at all.
He kneels at his wife’s side and bows his head. Lady T, who only has a back view of him, might think that he is grieving briefly, but in reality he’s fumbling for his comm as discreetly as possible. With only split seconds in which to find help, he sends out a default emergency feed. The ruthless psychopath looming over him right now might notice if he took the time to discuss the situation with a live dispatcher.
He finishes pretending to mourn and turns to Lady T, finding himself at least able to look and feel genuinely afraid. “You’re going to kill me now, aren’t you?”
“I might not,” she answers simply. “After all,youaren’t a big-mouthed, know-it-all conspiracy theorist. If I tell you to keep quiet, you might actually listen to me.”
“I’m supposed to keep quiet about the fact that you just murdered my wife?” he protests.
She runs a finger along her gun nonchalantly. “Oh, come now, Mr. Amity. She clearly didn’t mean very much to you. Besides, ‘murder’ is such a hash word.”
“But it’s the truth,” he insists stubbornly. “And no matter what I may have felt for Loretta, murder is illegal! I don’t care if youarea government official, you can’t expect to get away with this!”
Her eyes, now even more menacing without the protective veil of her glasses, flash angrily at him. “Watch me.”
“Iamwatching you,” contributes a new voice from the still-open door to the cabin. “And what I’m seeing tells me that Mr. Amity is right. You’ve just committed a horrible crime, plain and simple.”
Lionel’s heart seems to seize momentarily. His first, fleeting thought is,the authorities!But that can’t be right, because while security can move quickly, he’s never known them to be that fast. And after a second, his brain informs him that the voice is familiar, and tells him exactly where he’s heard it before.
Sure enough, the hallway outside of his cabin is now filled with over a hundred imps, plus one lone nimp who stands at the front with her hands on her hips. Lai looks less than pleased and altogether unimpressed. Behind her, Lionel recognizes the three other imps who questioned him and Loretta a few nights ago, alongside the first man who visited his room and asked about his daughter, and a whole host of other improved faces. Most of them are gripping the handles of weapons, and they all look royally pissed off. All in all, there’s no way that Lady T stands a chance against them, and she knows it, too.
“You’re a bit late to the party, my dear,” she says tartly, her nose wrinkling.
“I am not your dear,” Lai snaps back. Although she doesn’t show it, it takes her a moment to completely identify Lady T. The human woman’s dark face looks strangely empty without her glasses. Of course, someone who endorses changing the entire human race into one controlled species clearly isn’t dead-set against “improvements” in the way that she originally professed. That must have been just another lie to make her seem more innocent.
“No, I can see that you’re not. Your life would have been so much easier if you were.” Lady T clutches her gun almost protectively and jabs a long, elegant finger at Loretta’s body. “Thatis the result of your traitorous actions, Pandora. Because of how selfish and narcissistic you’ve been,your motheris dead. You just seem to have a talent for forcing me into things that I really don’t want to do. So bravo, Miss Amity. I congratulate you.”
“My name is Lai Mansen,” responds Lai unflinchingly. “Not Pandora Amity. And I’m not the traitor, you are. You want to micromanage every person on the planet, while I’m just trying to do the right thing!”
Lady T grits her teeth in frustration. “If you hate conspiracy theorists so much, then why do you sound so much like one?! I am not an evil dictator, and I am not trying to enslave humanity. I’m sick and tired of people who treat every single beneficial advancement like it’s the end of the world, simply because it’s different!”
Lai springs forward and produces her stunner, which she holds mere centimeters from Lady T’s neck. It’s set to a low charge right now, but if it’s turned up and pressed against her unarmored throat, the attack will be lethal.
“Give me a reason not to kill you,” declares Lai, like an action hero in a campy movie.
“Because two bodies and a weapon with fingerprints on it will have you arrested for two murders, not one,” responds Lady T with a level smirk. “And because if it wasn’t for me, you’d be nothing more than a hollow mind in a weak, drooling body.”
Lai hesitates. Her hand wavers. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she claims, but her uncertainty is clear.
Lionel convinces his paralyzed throat to produce words just then. “She’s Dr. Tamara, Lai. She’s the genitech who turned you into a nimp.”
Lai’s eyes widen, and her muscles are gripped by an almost visible tension as she contemplates whether or not it’s worth it to kill Lady T. She never has the opportunity to make the choice, because all of a sudden, Alec rests his hand on her shoulder. “Security is about to arrive,” he mutters in her ear. “I would advise you to alter your appearance so that you appear as innocent as possible.”
Her head snaps around, and she observes that the ILG members and former Uniters alike are all turning their uniforms back into regular street clothes. She quickly conceals her stunner and plunges her hand into a pressure-release pocket, taking a few generous steps back from Lady T as she feels the sleek armor converting into a synthetic wool dress.
Before Lady T has a chance to react, a burly Orbital Security Officer sticks his head through the door. “What’s going on in here?” he demands gruffly.
Lai opens her eyes wide and points at Lady T with mock fear. “I saw her kill a human lady!” she cries, very convincingly.
“My wife,” adds Lionel Amity, gaping at Lady T in exactly the way that is expected of him. “This madwoman just murdered my wife!”
The soldiers all mill about and try their best to look like random witnesses, as if they were just passing by and only stopped to see the commotion going on. More guards and officers pour into the room, along with paramedics and medical workers, and soon things become muddled in a jumbled swirl of bodies and activity. Lai barely catches a glimpse of Loretta’s body being carried out and transported to the medical wing, which is presumably where the corpse will stay until it can be sent to a mortuary on Earth. And she also watches as Lady T is escorted out by no less than four armed guards. The human woman is glaring bitterly down at her feet, and not a single word passes her lips as she is hustled through the door.
But she doesn’t need to do anything to make Lai understand that this is not over, and that the two of them will meet again.