63. Best Friends Forever
Lionel is brought to the Security Center for questioning, along with Lai and several other soldiers. Their accounts are varied, but they add up in a believable way. Lionel explains that Lady T threatened him and his wife before, but he makes no mention of the Uniters, the ILG, or the fact that Lai is his daughter. Everyone unanimously testifies that Lady T is the one who shot Loretta. And since Lady T was found at the scene of the crime with a gun in her hand and several people pointing accusingly at her, she should be tried and convicted without a hitch.
But she won’t be.
Lionel and Lai discuss it when they meet after the interrogations, after they watch Loretta being carried off under a white sheet to a medical spacecraft so that she can be sent back to Earth. Both of them feel blank and apathetic, and far less devastated than they should. Neither is really sure what to do now.
“Lady T will get out of it, you know,” says Lai. “She’s an official government agent. She has a ton of contacts. All she has to do is call up the right person, and all of a sudden she’ll be pardoned for acting in self-defense or something, and then she’ll make sure that all of us rogue Uniters have our names put on the public enemy list. Authorities will be after me from all sides soon enough. I won’t be able to go home.” It makes her a little sad, to think that she’ll be permanently leaving all semblance of normality behind. She won’t be able to work at a regular job again, or play on her keyboard, or see her owner Felix, or have a place to call home.
For no reason, she begins thinking of the day that the ILG launched their siege, and how mere hours before her life changed forever, she saw a violator of the Keep Public Secular act meet his untimely demise beneath the wheels of a freighter groundcraft. The pulverized remnants of his body now bring to mind her last glimpse of Loretta, and she can’t help but shiver. Loretta Amity was her mother, after all, and no matter what Lai may think of her now, she wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for her.
And if it wasn’t for Lai, Loretta wouldn’t be dead…but nothing good can come out of thinking that way.
Lionel is silent for a while. “I’ve been thinking,” he finally speaks up. “I called down to Earth and hired people to get my old division tidied up. There’s not much point in me staying up here anymore.”
Lai nods, unsurprised. “Good. You should get away from the conflict.”
“I didn’t say anything about getting away from the conflict.”
She turns to him, lifting her eyebrows curiously.
“I know that you don’t have anywhere to go right now,” he continues, “especially if you’re about to be labeled as a fugitive. So since you’re…well, my daughter…I think it would only be right if I offered you and your friends a place to stay in my division. You’d be safe there, for a little while, anyway.”
She flicks her eyes back and forth, not quite sure what to make of this offer. “…what do you mean by ‘me and my friends?’”
“Well, obviously I can’t accommodate all one hundred of you, or however many there are, but I don’t see anything wrong with taking three or four of the people closest to you along for the ride. I know that even you must have some especially close friends and family.”
Lai imagines living out the next chunk of her life alongside Alec, Les, Ema, and maybe Ule was well, bunking down in the Amity division as they try plot out their next move against the nimp supporters. It certainly isn’t a perfect situation, and it probably isn’t even ideal, but it is the best option available to her at the moment. However…
“I need to talk to Ule about it,” she answers carefully. “He might have an emergency backup plan already.”
Lionel nods understandingly (Lai explained to him earlier about the true purposes of the ILG and the Uniters). “I figured you’d say that. But no matter what he tells you, remember that my offer still stands. It’s the least I can do.”
And then they exchange a sad glance, knowing that the least that Lionel Amity can do isn’t very much at all, and it’s only a very tiny step in the direction of healing the history between them. After all, father and daughter or not, he still abandoned her, and there’s no force in the universe that can change that.
When Lai recounts her father’s offer to Ule, he doesn’t accept or reject it right away. Rather, he stands almost perfectly still in front of her, pensively rubbing his forehead. “I had originally intended for us to make our escape for one of my designated safe areas,” he states. “But now that I think about it, it might be wise for us to split up.”
“It will make us harder to find,” Lai agrees. “Especially considering that you and the original ILG are already wanted criminals, and the rest of us will be soon.”
“Which is precisely why I think that only you and some of your group members should go with Mr. Amity. That way, you’ll be safer for a longer period of time. If me or any of my men go, we could compromise everything when the authorities come banging down the door to find us.”
“I guess…” Lai presses her lips together thoughtfully. “I’ll take Alec, Ema, and Les with me. After all, we’re practically a family, and we work together all the time. We’ll be able to cook up a plan while we’re in hiding, you see if we don’t.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt it.” He smiles briefly at her. “Why don’t you tell them the plan, and the four of you – well, five, counting Mr. Amity – can leave as soon as possible. I’ll take good care of everyone else, and we’ll be in touch soon.”
She frowns at him. “Um, how? If you so much as touch a communication device, the authorities will swarm on you like bees.”
“I have methods,” he assures her. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a loose end that I need to tie up…”
Ule assumes correctly that Ema will probably be in her cabin, so he walks to the previously forbidden zone of Squadron 3 Faction B’s community suite. The entire area is nearly empty when he arrives there; the Uniter loyalists must have heard about Lady T’s incapacitation and scrambled to get back to Earth before they could be convicted as well. Only the imps who have now switched to his group are still milling around. The door to Ema’s room is open, and he peers into find her meticulously folding clothes, tucking each one within the confines of her suitcase as if precious diamonds have been woven into the fabric.
“Getting ready to go?” he asks quietly, leaning in the doorway.
She flinches slightly, her head snapping around to face her intruder. Upon seeing his face, her eyes narrow. “I’m not going with you,Ule,” she snaps testily. “I’m leaving under my own steam.”
“But you should stay with the group. I’m already thinking of a backup plan, and Mr. Amity offered you a spot with – ”
Her nostrils flare. “Imeanthat I’m not going to be part of your group, not in a million years. I don’t owe you anything. And you already have plenty of new recruits, so it doesn’t have much impact that I’ve decided to quit, does it?” She slams the lid of the suitcase down in order to emphasize her point.
He stares. “But…I don’t understand. I thought you were a leader, trying to fight for the good of the world. I thought you wanted to fix things!”
“I only joined the Uniters to find some closure after what you did to me. I felt that I was practically required to go up against anything labeled ‘ILG.’ Well, now I know what happened to you and what you’re trying to do, and I’ve decided that it’s not worth stressing over. I have plenty of other, morereliablefriends, and I don’t need you anymore. You were never a very good friend, anyway.”
“If I could say the same thing about you!” he growls. “Aren’t you the one who always told me that ‘there’s no such thing as an irredeemable person?’”
“I never said that you were irredeemable. I just think that it would be better for both of us if we go our separate ways.”
“You’re backing out.”
“No. I’m just choosing not to participate.”
“At a time like this, it’s the same thing!”
Her eyes seem to spark furiously. “You can’tforcepeople to take part in this war you’re waging, Ule! Then you’d be no better than the supposed enemies who you’re trying to fight!”
Ule clenches his fists, unsure of why this “rejection” is stinging him so much. “Fine, then,” he spits. “I wouldn’t want a coward like you in my ranks, anyway!”
She lifts one rigid finger in the direction of the exit. “Get out.”
“Oh, I’ve offended you now! Excuse me, I forgot that you always had to be perfect when it comes to everything. You’re not cowardly, you’re just wiser than us all, isn’t that right? Your decision always has to be the right one, because you’re apsychologist, and of course you know about everything better than anyone!”
“Get out!” she repeats, fire rising in her voice.
He turns and stomps away, disgusted. Just before the door is unceremoniously slammed shut behind him, he hears her shout, “You don’t know anything about me anymore, Codi. Stop pretending that you do!”
His breath hisses harshly between his gritted teeth, and it continues to do so long after he arrives back at his cabin.
Lai has already gathered her clothes from where they were strewn across chair backs or in delivery bins returned from laundry service, and the rest of her personal belongings are safely stowed away. The spacecraft fight that will return her to Earth leaves in just over two hours. Now she has decided that the most productive use of her time is to stretch out on the rumpled sheets of her bed and write in Notebook Number Three.
For the first time, she is writing nonfiction instead of fiction, but that doesn’t make her story any less interesting. She has a lot to cover, from her very first trip to the Amity division, to the beginning of her relationship with Alec, to her shifting paradigms of the ILG and Lady T’s not-so-final fate. She avoids phrasing things as if the story is over, because she knows that it isn’t. Who knows what challenges she will be facing in the upcoming days and weeks? When she returns home with Mr. Amity, she might be able to unlock more memories of her past, and her new status as an ILG member ensures that she will have a hand in determining the future. Ule has even offered to make her a leader.
As her pen moves in frantic scribbles and whorls across the page, someone knocks quietly on her door. “Come in,” she calls, finishing a sentence before she finally looks up from her work.
When she does look up, who should be standing there but Ema, with a tired look in her eyes and a suitcase resting beside her leg. “Hi,” she says, trying for a smile and not quite succeeding.
“Hello, Ema,” answers Lai mildly, pushing herself into a sitting position as she closes the cover of her notebook. She doesn’t like anyone to catch a glimpse of her works before they’re completed.
Ema deserts her suitcase and comes to sit down on the edge of the bed, staring down at her lips. “I came to say good-bye,” she finally speaks up.
Lai blinks. “What? Is everyone else leaving already? I thought that you were coming with me and Mr. Amity!”
“I’m not coming with you or going with them, Lai. I’ve decided that I don’t want to be a part of this fight anymore.”
“You’rewhat?!” demands Lai. “Ema, this is important! This could impact the whole world! Why are you just giving up?”
“I never wanted to fight,” Ema replies plainly. “At first I felt that I had to, but I don’t feel that way anymore. I just don’t believe that the World Gov would really plot to turn the entire population into nimps.”
Lai crosses her arms. “No, you don’twantto believe it,” she corrects tartly. “I know you better than that, Ema. You always want to see the good in everything, and all you can see in this situation is badness, so you won’t let yourself believe that it’s true.”
“Maybe you should come along with me,” continues Ema, as if she hadn’t heard. “I’m going to be travelling a lot, I think. I’ll see the world, visit other continents, check out all of the museums and monuments. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? I know that you like adventures, and old-fashioned things…”
“Leaving is not an option,” Lai declares. “Not for me, anyway. I wouldn’t dream of walking out when there’s so much to be done!”
“But you’re not doing any of this because you feel it’s your duty or because you think it’s right, are you? You just want to do it because it’s exciting, and because once the whole world knows you’re the nimp, you’ll be famous beyond compare. So maybe you should think carefully, Lai…are you certain that you’re making the right choice?”
Unperturbed, Lai simply says, “This is theonlychoice, Ema. The only choice I’ve ever made. For my entire life, people have been picking decisions for me. I didn’t choose to become a nimp, and I didn’t really even choose to become a Uniter. This time, I’m going to have a say in my own destiny. Fate won’t be yanking me around anymore.”
Ema’s eyes are sad, but accepting. “I thought you might say something like that, but it never hurts to ask. Well…goodbye, then. I’m not sure when I’ll be seeing you next. I wish you the best of luck, and I really hope that you don’t regret this.”
“And I hope that you don’t regret it, either,” responds Lai, although personally she hopes that Ema will become so wracked with guilt that she has no choice but to return.
Ema leans over and envelopes the younger girl in an awkward hug, and Lai stiffens and doesn’t even think to return the gesture. As they separate, both of them are well aware of the impact that their different paths will have. As of now, they are no longer best friends, and probably not even friends anymore.How strange,Ema thinks,that I predicted that it would be jealousy that would do our friendship in. I don’t think that Lai even has the capacity to feel jealousy. Even if she did, she’d never be envious of me. She thinks of herself much too highly for that.
Lai can feel the emotional bonds between them almost physically disintegrating, crumbling away into powder and molecules of air. The sensation makes her a bit wistful and nostalgic, but she isn’t sorry, not really. The ties binding her to Ema were not very strong, and besides, now she won’t have anyone to try and diagnose her with imaginary personality disorders, or tell her that she’s being immature and absentminded. Losing a friend has revitalized her spirit instead of dampening it.
For the first time in she-can’t-remember-how-long, she feels free.