Taking Root 1.2

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Gordon had one arm, while Lillian was dividing her focus between supporting my other arm, keeping us moving and trying to examine me.  It made for some uncomfortable stumbling and fumbling around, including some grazing touches of the burns, but I didn’t want her to stop doing any of it.  I bit my tongue and inside cheek and endured it, blinking my eyes to try to generate the tears I needed to clear my vision.  I was mostly effective.

Jamie was waiting outside, his book under one arm, our shoes and boots in the other hand.  All the laces had been tied together, making for only one knot that he had to hold to carry them all.

The bundle dropped from his fingers and landed in a puddle.  I spotted my left shoe, on its side in the puddle.

“You’re hurt!” Jamie said.

“You just got my shoe wet,” I said.  I started to point, then winced as skin pulled where the enzymes had eaten away a spot on my arm.  I held back a cry of pain.  My arms had taken the brunt of it.  There wasn’t a spot on the back of my arms where I could have laid a hand flat without touching something the enzymes had devoured.  Some of the burns eclipsed my hands in size, and my arms weren’t large.  My skin looked like a sock that was as much holes as it was fabric, and the flesh beneath was angry, a scalded red, with blood seeping out from crevices.

More burns on a similar scale speckled my neck, one cheek, my side, my legs, and one foot.  My clothes had absorbed the worst of it, elsewhere, only droplets reaching through.

“I saw through the window, but I didn’t realize how bad it was,” Jamie said.  “I thought you all had everything in hand, but then Sy fell, and I wasn’t sure if I should go for help-”

“My shoe,” I commented, managing to point this time around.  Fixating on one thing made it easier to handle the pain.  The wounds themselves didn’t hurt, but the edges burned like fire.

“Sy didn’t fall.  He took a fall.  Wording,” Gordon said.

Jamie’s expression switched from confusion to an accusing glance.  Thinking that Gordon might be wrong didn’t even cross his mind.

“Why?” Jamie asked.  “You got yourself badly hurt, you twit.”

“Did I?” I tried to exaggerate the surprise in my voice, and all the pain-relief chemicals that my body was dosing me with made me sound even more exaggerated, my voice almost breaking.  I added some sarcasm for good measure, “Oh.  I hadn’t noticed.  Thank you.”

Lillian spoke up, “It’s nothing too dangerous.  I don’t like some of these spots on your side, but I don’t think you’re going to die from it.  Not soon.”

“Not soon.  That’s the best we can hope for,” I said.

Jamie looked closer at one of the wounds.  With Gordon still supporting me and both Jamie and Lillian fussing, there were a few more accidental touches of the burns.  One of the touches didn’t actually hurt so much, but I played it up, flinching and letting a gasp out, if only to get them to stop.

“Don’t let him distract you,” Gordon said.  “He’s trying to dodge the ‘why’ question.”

“I’m trying to hurry this along,” I said.  “Priorities.  Can I get medical attention?  Pretty please?”

“Still dodging the question,” Gordon observed.

“Let’s go,” I said.  “Wait.  Jamie needs to pick up my shoe, which is getting soaked through, then we can go.  Maybe since Jamie won’t stop touching me to make sure I’m okay, Jamie and Lillian can make sure I walk okay?”

Gordon looked me over, suspicious.  “You’ll tell us on the way, then?”

“Assuming there’s something to tell,” I said.  I felt the burning at my wrist get worse, and my little noise of pain wasn’t intentional.  I reached for my wrist, and Lillian slapped my hand away like I was a kid going for the cookie jar.  For her benefit, I said, “Hurts.”

Good,” she said, sounding like a cross between the bossy older sister and a schoolteacher.  “Maybe you won’t do that again.”

She wiped at my arm, clearing away blood where it had welled out from the center of the burn.  Where the blood had run through the edges of the scar, the trickle had left a faint pink line.  Spreading the enzyme around.

“Sy,” Gordon said.

“Gordon,” I cut him off.

There was a pause.  I hesitated to call it tension.  He wanted me to come to my senses, I wanted to wait long enough for his concern for my well being to override his curiosity, which was bound to happen sooner or later.  Tension implied something being stretched to a limit, but we were both being patient.

I felt the burning sensation at my side getting worse.  From a six to a seven on the scale, and I was the one who caved, in the end.

“I promise I’ll tell you after,” I said.

He seemed to consider, rolling his head to one side, then the other.

“Fine.  Jamie, take over?” Gordon said.  “Seems to want you for some reason.”

“Jamie is shorter, I don’t have to stand on my tip toes while he’s holding me up,” I explained.

Gordon transferred his hold on me to Jamie, who had to transfer his hold on his book to the other arm.

“And he’s nicer,” I added.  Jamie rolled his eyes.

“Did you lock the windows?” Gordon asked, ignoring me.  The question was aimed at Helen, who had emerged from the door behind us.

I turned my head to see Helen’s nod.  She and Gordon worked to slide the door closed.  The movement of the wheel through the rut spat water at our legs.

“Let’s hope it stays put,” Gordon said.

“I thought we decided that it wouldn’t go anywhere after eating,” Lillian said.  “Carnivore eating habits.  Hunt or scavenge, eat, rest, rouse, repeat.”

“It was hungry enough to eat two meals.  Probably going through a final growth spurt,” I said.  “Let’s not rule anything out.”

“Okay,” Lillian said, right beside me, and I was genuinely surprised at the note of anxiety in her voice, how it had cut the word short.  “We can leave now.”

Very nearly but not a question.  A plea?

I suspected it was fear, but that suspicion sat askew in my head.  Lillian had experience with that stuff.  She’d had hands on experience with creatures and experiments at the Academy.  More restrained than that one had been, but the idea of the unrestrained experiment wasn’t enough to justify the thought.  It was probably well fed enough that it would ignore any meal that didn’t walk right into its open mouth.

Or lay there struggling as the snake charmer had.

There we are, I thought.  The snake charmer.  I could remember Lillian shielding her eyes.  The anxiety had more to do with the reminder of the man and the way he’d left this world.  If he had left it.  There was a chance he was still in there, alive and slowly dissolving.

Gordon had collected the bundle of shoes but hadn’t handed them out.  Which was fine.  My feet were muddy, and I had a burn on the top of my foot that would have made wearing the shoes hard.  The burn announced its presence every time I stepped in a puddle.

It wasn’t a particularly short walk back, and I was content to keep my mouth shut.  If I started talking, I might have started grunting or making noises in response to the pain.  If I started whimpering, then Gordon might have started reminding me that I’d done this to myself.

Instead, I focused on the future.  The snake charmer had been handled.  Were questions possible?  What about my injuries?

“We’re close to King,” Jamie said, interrupting my thoughts.  I realized Helen and Gordon were talking, with Gordon doing the lion’s share.  I’d tuned it out.

“Yeah,” I noted.

“Busy street means head down,” Jamie said, very patient.  He tugged on the front of my hood, so it could shroud my face in shadow.  “Hood down.  We don’t want your face to scare the locals any more than usual.”

I couldn’t help but smile wide at that.

The main street was framed on both sides by taller buildings, a great many of them being apartments.  People sat on steps beneath the overhang of their porches, smoking, and the occasional light glowed from within rooms above.

The plant growth that supported the structures reached overhead to meet and mesh.  An arch, to introduce us to the main street proper.  King Street.  It was a thick crowd, even in the late afternoon, the sun setting.  Men and women in raincoats, with umbrellas, walking on either side of the road.

Lillian and Jamie stopped supporting me quite so much.  I started to teeter over a bit, and Jamie caught me at roughly the same point I stuck a leg out to catch my balance myself.  I hadn’t realized how heavily I’d been leaning on the others, or how dizzy I felt.

Horses pulling coaches outnumbered cars at a nine to one ratio.  Of those horses drawing coaches, only one in five were truly alive.  The remainder were stitched, their hides patchwork, seams joined by thick black thread or by metal staples with burns where they touched flesh.  Were I able to see beneath the heavy raincoats, I would have seen the thick metal bolts that had been screwed into points down their spines.

Live horses were an affectation, really.  There was a convenience to them, as they didn’t suffer from the water in this city where it always rained, they could be taken out hunting, and they had personalities.  A horse could be a member of one’s family.  There was a lot to like.

But the stitched horses, voltaic horses if you asked someone who knew what they were talking about, they were cheap, they didn’t get tired, and rather than food, they could be kept going by connecting wires to the bolts on their backs and waiting.  When a stitched horse had done its work for the day, it could be placed in what amounted to a long closet.

There were no rules for the road, but everyone found their way.  Most people here knew most others.  A lack of courtesy today could be paid by a lack of cooperation from others tomorrow.  That wasn’t to say there weren’t idiots or disagreeable types who others paid no mind to, but it largely worked.

Like the branches and plant growth, it amounted to a planned chaos.  The exact shape and character of branches couldn’t be decided in advance, but the key elements were given attention, the problematic ones pruned.  The squat apartment buildings didn’t have room for even stitched horses, which meant every essential service had been put within walking distance.  Pubs, grocers, tailors, barbers and the like.

I raised my eyes.  Looking down the length of King, I could see it rise at a gradual incline, until it touched the perimeter of the Academy itself.  Radham Academy, to be specific.  All things flowed from it, all things flowed to it.  I imagined the same went for any Academy.  Stick one somewhere, and people would collect to it like flies to a carcass.  The advances and work that went hand in hand with an Academy would bleed out in a very similar way.  First to the city as a whole, then to surrounding regions.

Jamie grabbed the tip of my hood and tugged down, forcing me to look at the ground in front of me.  I’d been showing too much of my face.

We moved as a huddle, and with our heads down and hoods up, we weren’t much different from half of the streets’ occupants.  My burns didn’t earn me a second glance, because I scarcely warranted a first one.  I suspected that Gordon had chosen where he stood with the idea of shielding me from others’ sight, for added assurance.

I liked the thought.  It made me wonder if any other people in the crowd were in similar straits.

Ahead of us, a large shape loomed.  It looked like the offspring of a deer or rabbit might, if their offspring was squeezed out too early.  No larger than one of the cars on the street, it was pink, with stretched skin, the translucent eyelids appearing bruised with how they let some of the darkness of the black eyeballs beneath leak through.  Its head sat crooked, forcing it to see the way forward with only one of its two wide set eyes.  Its mouth hung open.

Most prominent, however, were the legs.  Not much thicker around than my leg, half again as long as the tallest man on the sidewalk was tall, the four legs ended in points, a single claw to each leg.  Saddlebags were strapped to saddlebags to form chains that draped the thing like a peculiar sort of jewelry.

As the coaches and cars on the road made way and cooperated, so did the people on the sidewalk.  This however, was motivated by discomfort and fear.  Men and women gave the thing almost the entire sidewalk to itself.

A woman led it on a fine chain, holding an umbrella overhead, though the creature’s mass already helped shelter her from the rain.  She was barely entering into her twilight years, but only the pale color of her once-blonde hair suggested as much.  Her face and body were young, and her clothes looked expensive, though they tended toward the simple.

I very nearly tipped over again, as Jamie let go of me and stepped forward to obscure the woman’s view of me.

Feeling as wobbly as I did was more than a little concerning, and a delay was the last thing I wanted.

“Hello Mrs. Thetford,” Helen greeted the woman, smiling.

“Helen,” Mrs. Thetford said, tugging on the chain to make her packbeast stop in its tracks.  Her expression changed from an easy smile to shock.  “Look at you!  You look like something the cat dragged in!”

How apt, I thought.

“It’s Sylvester’s fault,” Helen said.  “He pushed me and I got wet.”

Of course she invents a lie that makes me look bad.  I made a point of hanging my head, to better conceal my injuries.  I could see the crowd passing around and to either side of us.

“Sylvester, for shame,” Mrs. Thetford said, and she used my name as a rebuke, and the way she said ‘shame’ even made me feel a bit abashed over the deed I hadn’t committed.  “You really should be nicer to girls.”

“He really should,” Helen said, and her tone was perfect.  Just a little bit smug, chiding, but not so much of either that Mrs. Thetford would think less of her.

“And you,” Mrs. Thetford said, reaching under Helen’s hood to comb Helen’s hair back with long fingernails.  “You should give some thought to keeping better company.  I know you’re loyal to your so-called brothers and sisters, but you could do so well if you devoted some time to others.  Your caregivers have very nearly polished you into a diamond, and it would warm my heart to see you finish the transformation.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Helen said, smiling, pretending to be a little shy.  Not a lot, but enough to be humble.  “It means a lot that you think so well of me.”

“If you decide that you would like to become more of a lady, I would be more than happy to introduce you to some people who could teach you the finer points.  Music, dancing, etiquette.  The same goes for you, Gordon.  You’re evidence that Helen here isn’t a simple fluke.  It would take more doing, but I think we could turn you into a proper gentleman with some tutoring.”

“I might take you up on that offer, ma’am,” Gordon said.

“Do!  You should,” the older woman said.  She brushed Helen’s cheek with her fingers.  “You’re a dear.  I would have you for myself, if I hadn’t already had my fill of raising children.”

“For now, if it’s alright, I’ll have to content myself with getting home before it’s dark.  I’m looking forward to getting dry again,” Helen said, sticking me with a look.

“Of course!  Now I feel bad for keeping you.  You know where to find me if you would like those lessons.”

We hurried on.  Rather than take the long route around to the sides, we passed under and between the legs of the packbeast that was carrying Mrs. Thetford’s shopping.

By the time we’d flowed back into the crowd, almost invisible, Helen’s expression had gone flat again, her eyes cold.  The smile was gone.

She saw me looking.

“Are you upset?” she asked.

“Why would I be upset?”

“I blamed you.”

“I always get blamed.  I’m used to it.”

She seemed to take that at face value.

I might have pursued conversation, but it would have been purely for self gratification, and I was feeling less and less like talking.  My brain had apparently decided that the easiest way to handle what I was feeling was to declare that all of me hurt, and certain parts of me hurt enough that I was reconsidering my ‘one to ten’ scale of pain.  If I focused on any one part of me too much, it quickened.

All of that in mind, I was very glad to see the orphanage.

The building was perched in an odd spot, beside a creek and a stone bridge that was thick with grown-in vegetation. The land by the riverbed was stony, uneven, and threatened to be damp, discouraging building efforts, but the building itself had been here long before the Academy, serving as a home for shepherds when Radham had only been a few buildings set around a crossroads.

That it had withstood the test of time was either pure luck, or the person who had mortared the stones together had known what they were doing.

One floor tall, with a stone exterior, it lacked the reinforcing growths that marked so many nearby structures.  The only wood came from a tree in the backyard.  A short stone wall encircled the property, only three feet tall, and the height both served as a way of keeping the smallest children on the property and was paradoxically welcoming.  I couldn’t approach it without wanting to hop up onto it.

Toward the back of the property, I could see that Ralph Stein was in the process of walking the top of the wall.  The route went from the right side of the gate, over to the right of the house, alongside the riverbank, around the back of the house, under the tricky bit where the tree’s branches hung over, up the left side of the house, and then over to the left side of the gate.  All on the weather-rounded, uneven stones that made up the wall’s top, virtually always in the rain.

My focus wasn’t on that.

My focus was on the black coach parked to the left of the house, beneath the overhang in the roof.  The horses were wearing black raincoats, utterly still.  Their driver stood beside them, smoking.

My eye didn’t leave them as we made our way down the steps that had been set into the slope.  Each one of the stone stairs had seen enough traffic and years that they’d been reshaped, as if buckling faintly under thousands of footfalls.

Gordon pushed open the door.  Lillian and Jamie helped me through.

We stopped in our tracks at the sight of a man in the front hallway.

If it had a brain and a nervous system, the parts could be used for making a stitch, or voltaic creature.  The quality of that stitched was indicated by the placement of the stitches that gave them their name.  Poorer work or a stitched that had been ‘repaired’ often involved joins in visible or inconvenient places.  Across the face, or across the joints, where they interfered with function.  A good stitch had the joins and scars kept just out of sight, under the chin, or in places where clothes could cover the work.

The figure that stood guard by the door was the most human-like stitched I’d ever seen.  Tall, broad-shouldered, the parts had been selected for size and raw power.  But for stitches visible just past the cuffs of his jacket, I might not have known.  He wore a suit under a hooded raincoat and carried a pistol at his hip.

He was, in two short words, a problem.

I smelled tea, and I heard very little commotion.  If I hadn’t seen the coach outside, I could have put two and two together to figure out that we had a guest.

“That would be the children,” Mrs. Earles said.

The others properly put away hoods, cloaks, shoes and boots before toweling their feet to a reasonable state of clean and dry.  Lillian bent down and had me lift up my feet one by one to dry them.

“Thank you,” I murmured.

“It’s what I’m here for,” she murmured back.

One by one, we headed around the corner from the front hall, into the sitting room.  The room itself had homey touches, and was very much Mrs. Earles.  It was her perch in the evenings, the part she made her home.  The knick-knacks and decorative carvings, still, were placed well out of reach of errant hands, on the mantlepiece above the blazing fireplace and on various shelves and bookshelves.

My eyes scanned the shelves and bookshelves.  Searching.

Mrs. Earles didn’t give off the image of someone who ran an orphanage.  She’d struck me more as the assistant to that sort of someone.  Managing one child had a way of turning women into mothers, wearing away at certain things while exaggerating others.  Even with help, managing sixteen should have pushed her to an extreme in some respect.  Something in the vein of a tyrant or a defeated woman, a woman who turned to vice to escape stresses, or a saint.  But she wasn’t any of those things.

A part of me wanted to think of her as a mother, but she wasn’t.  She didn’t pretend to be.  She ran Lambsbridge, she kept us fed and sheltered, and she was quick to use the threat of a smack to keep us in line.  Even though I’d been a recipient more than once, I could appreciate that she didn’t hesitate in that respect.  I had to live with fifteen others, and if they were allowed to run rampant, I faced more grief than I did dealing with the occasional rap to the knuckles.

Mr. Hayle, by that same token, was almost but not quite my father.

He frowned as he saw me, immediately taking in details that more than a hundred people in the busier part of the city had failed to spot.

“I’ll make sure you don’t have eavesdroppers,” Mrs. Earles said, disappearing.

“Thank you,” Mr. Hayle said, without turning to look at her.

We stood in the entry to the sitting room, while he examined each of us, silent.

He was an older man.  Sixty or so, as far as anyone’s age could be pinned down with certainty.  He hadn’t prettied himself up or taken advantage of Radham Academy’s resources to remove wrinkles or revitalize his hair.  His hair was grey and waxed back away from his face, and his wrinkles cut so deep into his face that I could have imagined them as cross-hatching done with a scalpel.  He wore a doctor’s coat indoors, the fabric thick, dyed black so that it wouldn’t show any blood stains.  His gloves had been pulled off, and the ends were sticking out of one pocket.  A collection of files were already tucked under one arm.

“The other children are accounted for.  I’ll be in the kitchen, where I can intercept anyone coming your way,” Mrs. Earles said.

“Thank you,” he said.

She retreated, leaving us alone.

“I was planning on a longer meeting,” Mr. Hayle said.  “To look at Sylvester, he might not be able to stand for the duration.  Is he stable?”

“I’m stable,” I said, at the same time Lillian said, “He is.”

Mr. Hayle frowned.  “What happened to you?  No.  Hold off on that.  If you’re stable, let’s cover the essentials.  Tell me, how was it?”

Gordon answered.  “Our target’s second experiment is in one of the warehouses, off to the southeast of King.  Sleeping off a meal, we’re hoping.  It’s there, with all of the notes.  As for the target, he’s…”

“In his experiment,” I said, managing a smile.

Mr. Hayle didn’t smile back.  “I don’t understand.  Clarify?”

“Dead,” Gordon said.  “Swallowed.”


We collectively uttered a chorus of ‘nos’ and shook our heads.  I glanced at the back of Jamie’s head, saw the faintest hesitation before he joined us in shaking his head.

“What happened to Sylvester?”

“The snake charm- ah, our target, he arrived, forcing us to hide.  He found me in my hiding spot, purely by chance, and took me hostage.  Sylvester distracted him, and was splashed with-”

“Enzymes,” I said.

“Splashed with enzymes, during the altercation that followed.”

“I did what I could,” Lillian said, “Neutralized the spread with counteragents our target had on hand.”

Mr. Hayle nodded.  “Good.  Lillian, I believe this marks your third assignment with the group?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Would you do another?”

I didn’t miss the hesitation on Lillian’s part.

I tried to view things through her eyes.  Seeing the man get swallowed.  The horror.

“I would, sir,” she decided.

“Good.  You’ll continue to have my support at the Academy, then.  If you don’t find all doors are open and all resources available to you, let me know.  Your tuition will continue to be waived.”

“Thank you sir.”

“That takes care of the, ah, what did you call him?  The snake charmer?  Now, unless there’s anything else, I should look after Sylvester there.”

There was a jumble of ‘no sir’s from the others.

He crossed the room, and the others were quick to get out of his way.  I used the opportunity to move to one side, further into the sitting room, and scanned the shelves.


Mrs. Earles didn’t keep matches close to the fireplace, and she didn’t keep them where the smaller children could get them.

Even for me, it would require that I stand on my toes and reach high overhead.

The problems that came with being small.

Mr. Hayle was talking while he found and put on his boots.  “I do want to have a longer discussion.  I’ll need to rearrange my evening, which will take me at least an hour.  Add the time it takes to deliver Sylvester… hm, it would be late.  Too late?”

“The younger children will be in bed.  I could ask Mrs. Earles,” Gordon said.

“No.  I’ll be by in the morning.  I only considered tonight because I thought you’d want to know how Sylvester was.  I can send someone your way, if you’re willing to keep an eye out the window for them.  A quiet, short visit to pass on word.”

“Please, sir,” Gordon said, sounding far more solemn than I’d have expected.

“I’ll see to it.  Thank you for another job well done.  Sylvester?”

I was out of time.

With a wall between myself and Mr. Hayle, each of the others positioned to see, I reached up to the shelf, and felt my burns stretch, eliciting a tearing sensation, and a fresh renewal of pain.

I closed my fingers around the matchbook, then collapsed against the wall, panting.


“Moved too fast,” I said.

Mr. Hayle gave me a sincere look of concern as he did up the buttons of his coat and took his umbrella from his stitched bodyguard.

“Let’s get you looked after,” he said.  He paused.  “No shoes?”

“Burn on my foot,” I said.

“Carry on, then.”

I discovered that stopping and then moving again was quite possibly the worst thing I could have done.  Every burn felt fresh.  The movement of my arm was the worst of it.  The stitched bodyguard helped me, even going so far as to lift me bodily to my seat.  All the same, by the time we reached the coach, I was sweating bullets from pain alone.

The coach’s interior was red, the windows stained to reduce the light that came in, and something that looked like a glowing orange minnow swam in a bowl overhead, casting light on the interior.

The driver steered the stitched horses around.  Before long, we were on King Street, heading for the Academy.

“It’s rare that I have a chance to talk with one of you,” Mr. Hayle said.  “Can I see your arm?”

I offered it.  He probed the edges of the injury.

“I suspect you’ll resist, out of loyalty to your… brothers and sisters?  Is that how you think of them?”

“Friends.  Gang,” I said.  I swallowed hard.  “Sometimes I think of them as siblings.  What am I resisting?”

“Giving me information.  Can you tell me if they’re doing alright?”

“Yes,” I said.  “They’re doing everything they’re supposed to do.”

“Is that so?  Something tells me you wouldn’t tell me if they weren’t.”

I smiled a little.  “What makes you think that?”

“I’ve watched you grow up these past few years.  I’d like to think I know you.”

I nodded.  I forbade myself from looking outside the window.

“Not up to talking?”

“Not sure what to say, sir.”

“Tell me about the snake charmer.”

“Yes sir.  Um-”

A crash shook the coach.

I could hear shouts.  Mr. Hayle’s coach came to an awkward stop, lurching, then jerking to the left before finally going still.

He twisted in his seat, and slid a panel to one side.  “John?”

There was a pause.  The driver replied, “Water.  Knocked me off my seat.  One of the voltaic horses got drenched.  It’s gone quiet.”

“Water?”  Mr. Hayle asked.  He frowned.  “I’ll be right out.”

I remained where I was, very much in pain after the sudden movements.

“Douglas,” Mr. Hayle said.  “Look after Sylvester.  Be ready to come outside at a moment’s notice.”

“I understand,” Douglas said, the words clumsy in a way that was hard to define.  Too precise, the local accent rounded off at the edges.  I suspected it would be worse if it was a more unfamiliar phrase.

The door of the coach closed.

One, two, three.

I forced myself to sit up.

I opened my eyes.

Naturally, going outside, Mr. Hayle hadn’t taken his paperwork.

When problem solving, the simplest answer shouldn’t be discounted.

I reached for the files.

The bodyguard reached out, blocking my hand with his.

“That is not yours,” he said.  The words were clumsier than his ‘I understand.’

If it was a human bodyguard, and not one that had died and been reanimated, rendered very simple and loyal in operation, I suspected I could have manipulated him or sent him out of the coach.

Stitched were easier in some ways, harder in others.

I pulled the matches out of my pocket.

I struck it.

He didn’t flinch.

I blinked.

Reduced to very primal, simple function, they were supposed to have reactions to fire.  Nine times out of ten, it was fear.  One time out of ten, it was violent and destructive rage.

The quality of this stitched was top notch.  Had Mr. Hayle or the person he bought the stitched from somehow solved the problem?

“Put that out,” the stitched told me.

I reached out, bringing the match closer to him.

He didn’t move.

“Put that out,” he said, more firmly.

I moved my hand, and he remained where he was.

No, the problem hadn’t been fixed.  But they’d found a step forward.

He was frozen.

I’d hoped to distract and disturb him enough that he’d forget his instructions and let me snatch up the files.  This, however, worked.  Still holding the match up, the whole of his attention focused on it, I grabbed the stack of folders.

I returned to my seat.

Before I could open the folders, the door opened.

Mr. Hayle studied me, his expression blank.

I froze, caught red handed.  Well, the red hand was the burn, but-

“And it all makes sense,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Sylvester,” he said, climbing up into the coach and taking his seat, “You know why I made you.”

“Yes sir.”

“Each of you.  My colleagues in other departments have made weapons, monsters, they’ve made viruses and more, with the understanding that there may very well be a need for these weapons.”

“Yes sir,” I said.

“My focus, as you very well know, is on,” he reached over, and he tapped me on the forehead.  “The brain.”

“And I was dumb just now,” I said.  “Failed project?”

“No,” he said.  “No.  I made you.  Like I said, I know you.”

“If it helps, I’m starting to believe you, sir.”

“It would be stupid of me to make you for a purpose and not expect you to fulfill that purpose.  Mistakes here and there are to be expected, and your mistake here was expecting me to be dumb.  You’re still developing, and each of you are still being refined in your own ways.”

I nodded.

“Why didn’t you ask for the files?” he asked me.

“Because you might have said no, and you would have known I wanted them,” I said.  “And because I think people are more genuine when you catch them off balance.”

He nodded.

“Something to keep in mind,” he said.  “And I suppose I’m getting too predictable, if you were able to arrange this.”

“Yes sir,” I said.

“Take a look,” he said.

For a telling second, I thought the files would be empty, that he might have checkmated me.

But I paged through them, and I found them filled with pages of data, notes, design, and more.

Helen, project Galatea.

Jamie, project Caterpillar.

Gordon, project Griffon.

Sylvester, project Wyvern

I found the fourth file.  The one I’d wanted.

I glanced over the first page, then closed it, nodding.

“Why?” Mr. Hayle asked.  “All that for a glance?”

“Yes sir.”

“What, specifically?”

“Expiration dates, sir.”

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215 thoughts on “Taking Root 1.2

    • Could be either/both.

      Galetea: A perfect statue. Helen is the one who maintained a statue-like calm while hiding

      Caterpiller: Obviously associated with potential future transformation.

      Griffon: Heraldic symbol associated with strength and bravery. Gordon seems to be the leader

      Wyvern: In heraldry, valor or protection

        • Galatea was a statue that was brought to life. An artificial girl. It also inspired the play Pygmilion/My Fair Lady. About someone giving lessions to a low class street woman to make her a proper lady.

      • In mythology, gryphons are magical beasts, fierce guardians of that which they treasure. They occasionally served as steeds to great heroes, but more often they tried to rip the hero’s face off when they messed with something they shouldn’t have.

        Wyverns are usually considered a variant of dragons, and have all of the associated symbolism, good and bad. However, they are usually considered both less intelligent and more gregarious then their scaly cousins (Wyverns are known to nest together, while dragons typically roost alone.) Notably, wyverns are usually considered poisonous, with a dangerous bite and a venomous tail.

        Galatea was a statue brought to life by the gods after its creator fell in love with it and prayed to said gods to meet someone like the statue.

        Caterpillars have obvious associations with rebirth, renewal, and also untapped potential.

        All of these reference the biopunk science behind their creation- Gryphons and Wyverns are hybrid creatures, chimeras in the biological sense. Galatea was created, and caterpillars change form

    • King street (twice)
      King Street

      A woman led it on a fine chain, holding an umbrella overhead, though the creature’s .
      doesn’t make sense – sentence ended early?

      The one that stood guard by the door was so convincing as a human as I’d ever seen.
      the construction is awkward – looks like Frankensteined phrases 😉

      but apparently the variant form is increasing: http://grammarist.com/spelling/passerbys-or-passersby/

      dumb You’re
      dumb. You’re

      I glanced it over
      more commonly I glanced over it

      • “Expiration date” is US English.
        “Expiry date” is British English.

        I see wildbow has now changed it to “expiration” in the text… and not that this works on votes, but I’d vote for “expiry”.

        We don’t know what country this is in — we may never know — but “expiration date” suddenly jolted me into the US. “Expiry” keeps it vague (I’m not sure what an American a century ago would have used).

        It’s still pretty obvious what it means, regardless, even to US readers who haven’t yet encountered the word.

        • “Expir” really only fits “expiration” in the US. I understood what it meant, and just figured “expiry date” was some weird Twigism that wildbow had created.

      • I was really confused reading this comment, but then I remembered that not everyone is Canadian.

        Expiry date is what is usually said, but expiration date means the same thing.

    • Mrs. Earles said, disappearing
      Missing a period, and she disappears again a few sentences down.

      As for the snake charmer, he’s…”
      Should Gordon be saying this? He corrects himself from saying the snake charmer a few lines down( “The snake charm- ah, our target, )

    • I liked to imagine a tyrant or a defeated woman, a woman who turned to vice to escape stresses or a saint.

      “Stresses of a saint” perhaps?

    • _”There wasn’t a spot on the back of my arms where I could have laid a hand flat without touching something the enzymes had devoured.”_

      _”Like the branches and plant growth, it amounted to a planned chaos.”_
      It isn’t clear what precisely amounted to chaos.

        • Precisely. You must write either there were spots (the whole arm, pretty much) where the enzymes had devoured, or there weren’t spots where the enzymes hadn’t devoured. These don’t work: “there were spots where the enzymes hadn’t devoured” and “there weren’t spots where the enzymes had devoured.

    • I’m confused as to whether “I was mostly effective.” was a typo or not, it could be “It was mostly effective.”

  1. Ok, that was interesting. Also, are they stitched or something? And they are all experiments. This is developing very differently than I expected.

  2. Hmm… Well they aren’t stitched given their talking and other abilities, but they have at least a little aversion to water given the last chapter. Most likely just whatever modification into already existing people, though I have no idea why they would have expiry dates then. And no wonder Lillian is considered an outsider given that she’s not a mutant…

    • I’m thinking stitched are reanimated corpses, while these guys are vat grown. Quite possibly they’re also susceptible to shorting out, but are more watertight.

    • > they have at least a little aversion to water given the last chapter.

      Because they covere themselves in wax to keep the catsnake from smelling them, and wore raincoats when it was raining outside?

      I don’t see it.

      • Well they have an expiration date. Meaning a point at which they will no longer be any good. In this case I would assume that’s when they are expected to die. Modifying orphans to die like that would sorta be just as bad as outright killing them. So I’m guessing they are artificial in nature. I imagine expiration dates are common with stiched and voltic organisms. Can only keep reanimated tissues going so long. Though in this case they do seem to not be reanimated corpses so much as artificial creations. Like KittyConda in the last chapter.

  3. Sylvester’s disdainful opinion of the stitched takes on an interesting shade with the reveal that he is, himself, just a more intelligent type of experiment. He’s not afraid of them, but he’s very careful to depersonalize them.

    We only saw four files this time, but the sixteen total, and the fact that Hayles refers to sisters, plural, suggests that every child is in some way one of his experiments. Except Lillian, who is a potential apprentice and healbot for his experiments. Of course the Victorian orphanage is a mad science lab in disguise.

  4. It seems like they might be a new, experimental kind of stitched, one with a focus on replication of humans, rather than improvement. So far this is looking to be a very promising story. Keep up the good work wildbow!

  5. Hrm. Doesn’t seem like they’re stitched – lack of stitches, for one, and for another he wasn’t affected by the fire he used to distract the stitched chauffeur. Cloned to order, perhaps? Blade Runner style replicants?

  6. Very interesting. . .

    I like Helen. She has a nice mask.

    Like the branches and plant growth, it amounted to a planned chaos. The exact shape and character of branches couldn’t be decided in advance, but the key elements were given attention, the problematic ones pruned

    I feel like this is significant, as if there is some relation to that passage and Twig. Then again, perhaps this is the unnoteworty observation of a man that really needs some sleep. Gotta think about that later.

  7. I think that it’s being made abundantly clear that Twig is gonna need a team of fan artists to bring forth all of the wonderful creatures and chimeras Wildbow designs.

    Artists of Twig, Unite!

  8. So the crew has regular body and stitched brains, concealed by their hair? I doubt they have stitches on their body, too noticeable and obvious.

    I just realized Twig doesn’t have a tagline. Ideas?

  9. So I’m trying to work out what they are.
    He’s not a stitched, as far as I can tell (he needs to eat, no reacting to fire, he can speak etc.), but he has an odd reaction to water – wore wax on his face but had but had no problem getting his feet wet. Maybe because the work done on him involves his brain and therefore head? And he has a scar on his arm – normal or surgical? I’m going to guess normal.
    I wondered at one point if Sy was bred or grown, but the fact that he’s in an orphange makes me more inclined to believe that Hayle found some vulnerable orphanand cut them a deal to allow him to experiment on them (although the expiry date thing throws a wrench in this theory). Plus he mentions having seen them grow over “a few years”. What, if anything did he then offer in order to turn them into espionage super-spys?
    So many questions.

      • If it was to stop the smell, they would have had to cover their whole bodies in wax, not just their heads. Also, the group never confirmed that, it was the snake charmer guessing.

        • It was pretty much confirmed, because the cat snake couldn’t smell them, where he normally would be able to. You can’t attribute that to any special nature they have because Jillian couldn’t be detected either.

    • I’m thinking that what these kids are are normal orphans who were used as experimental subjects for a new procedure of creating artificial minds.

      “My focus, as you very well know, is on,” he reached over, and he tapped me on the forehead. “The brain.”

      My guess is that he replaced their brains with home grown/stitched brains.

  10. Hmmm… the altered children did not react to the snake charmer getting eaten, except in a clinical way. They apparently have a completely human appearance. “My colleagues in other departments have made weapons.” I think that Mr. Hayle has made some weapons of his own, whether he thinks of it that way or not. Creatures who look like children but are psychopaths that he controls would be a weapon indeed, suited for infiltration, assassination, and information gathering. And at least Sly and perhaps all of them are smart – Sly got injured so he would be taken for a ride and set up a diversion on the ride so that he could get to the files. As part of the plan, Sly took the matches to deal with the stiched.

    And it appears we are keeping with the Pact-like theme of cebgntbavfgf nyernql qbbzrq gb qvr.

    • I wouldn’t be so quick to mark them off as psychopaths. Helen might be, but the others act human even when they’re around each other (the gang’s concern, Sly’s skirt-peek and Lil’s annoyance at it), whereas Helen puts the mask on whenever she can. Definitely something different about her.

      • Lilian is human. As Sy notices, she got upset at seeing the snake charmer being eaten, unlike the other kids. Mr. Hayle doesn’t even think of asking them whether they want to do other jobs.

        • Just because they grew up being acclimated to terrible things happening to “targets” doesn’t mean they are psychopaths. Jamie at least clearly doesn’t seem to be and neither does Gordon, really. Judgement’s still out on on Helen and Sy but, regarding the latter, I don’t think Wildbow will want to write a whole story with a psychopathic viewpoint protagonist.

  11. I think it’s noteworthy that we’re 2 Chapters in and there still hasn’t been a hopeless cliffhanger chapter ending for the main characters. =)

  12. – I find it amusing that one of the “essential services” that the apartment buildings need is a pub. Not saying that’s wrong, it’s just funny.

    – There’s something wonderful about Wildbow’s city descriptions. I feel like I’m briefly reading a sociological work, when he talks about the flow of things — the rhythm of the city. Makes me wonder if he’s read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.

    – Strange that Mrs. Thetford would go through all the trouble of making herself look young, only to not dye her hair? For a second I was wondering if this was a technology thing, but Sly later says that it’s possible to “revitalize” hair, so I’m assuming not.

    – A black doctor’s suit is clever, and I’m kind of surprised we don’t do that here. I wonder if real-world doctor’s outfits are purposefully white for psychological reasons, or maybe even so the doctor can see when he’s touched something bloody.

    – Interesting that Mr. Hayle seems to think the kids see each other as siblings, but Sly sees them as a gang, or group of friends. Hayle says he knows them well, but if that’s the case, why does he seem to stumble when asking how they see themselves? After years of knowing them, shouldn’t he have figured that one out? Of course, Mrs. Thetford also refers to them as brothers and sisters, so there might be something more going on there. (Maybe it’s just a reference to the fact that they were made together?) Heck, Sly’s self-definition could be rapidly changing. We haven’t seen much evidence to support that, but his curiosity about his expiry date and his willingness to get splashed with enzyme seem to point towards a strange sense of self. He’s definitely thinking about death, if nothing else.

    – A bit tired, so I’m not going to go through all of them right now, but a wyvern is a dragon-esque creature, often depicted in English heraldry. Its barbed tail makes it look a bit chimeric, kind of like the griffon. Both creatures can also fly. Galatea and a caterpillar, on the other hand, are creatures that transform from one state to the other.

    – This serial does feel like a reaction to Pact, but in a cool way. The stakes were already very high the last time, but here Wildbow is just slowly establishing stuff, letting the prose perambulate until it stumbles onto the next bit of plot. The description of Ralph Stein walking across the wall was particularly nice. I don’t know how to put it, but it felt relaxing. Like we’re seeing a world get built before our eyes. Of course, the wall could later become very important. But for now it just feels like scene-setting.

  13. Neat, liking Sy more, interested in Helen in particular. Feeling more sure I will enjoy Twig, was easier to read and get what I was reading

  14. Ah, so the kids (minus Lillian) are experiments.

    Mutants to be a bit general, possibly with their own unique mental traits if Hayles admittence of his specialty is true.

  15. So, are stitched literally just robot reanimations? They act that way, there’s the whole wires and charging thing, and the water would kind of make sense there. But then, would that make it special for Sly and his friends to simply be living stitched? But they don’t really have an aversion to water (Sy steps in a puddle), though they did wear wax on their faces (brain-stitched?).

    So far I’m hearing clones, vat babies, mutated orphans, or brain-stitched, and I’m leaning the most toward the first two. Hayle did say he made them (which suggests either of the two), but Sy also said Hayle was “almost, but not quite” his father” (which suggests clones), but he’s also hesitant to call them his siblings (which suggests…I dunno, for some reason I thought it suggested not-clones, so vat babies). Well, whatever they are, they’re mutants.

    The project names are interesting, but that’s already been discussed.

    Lil is an outsider because she’s not a mutant. Nice.

    You know what my question is, though? How have these kids been around for so long, knowing what they are, and not wondered about their expiry dates until now? It makes you wonder just how old they really are. Or something equally (or likely more) intelligent. I dunno man, I need to sleep.

    • Well, we don’t know exactly how long they’ve been around, and how long they’ve known what they are.

      Also, they might not have realized that there was such a thing as expiry dates for them.

  16. Wildbow, you might want to make your Tobwebfiction vote link go directly to the Twig vote page. Right now it just goes to the main page, and I can’t find Twig on there yet. Or is that the reason you haven’t created a direct voting link?

  17. Like others have said, I think Sy and the others aren’t quite stitched, but are still experiments of some sort that have to avoid water on their heads or something. And now we know why Sy has gone to the trouble of the boy last chapter, as well as getting burned and everything: to try to find out when he would die. Maybe the stitched have a significantly shorter lifespan than normal humans, or after a certain time period they start to decay, but unlikely since they’re alive, I think. Sy didn’t seem too concerned after seeing the date, but that probably means that he’s controlling any emotions, which they all seem to do really well (looking forward to seeing more of Helen!).
    This seems more like Worm than it does Pact in the sense that the world’s already there for the characters, and we’re just being shown more of it as the story goes on, whereas in Pact, the protagonist is still finding out about the world along with us. I have to say, I prefer this style more…

    Also, what happened to the match? It’s held up at the stitched, then isn’t mentioned.

    • The stitched have a fear of fire, either they cower from it or fly into a rage, either way Sy could use the opportunity to get to the files

  18. Soo…

    The stitched horses and body guard sound like flesh golems on every point, up to and including being charged with electricity. A weakness to water is both logical and new though, oddly enough. Battery-powered Frankensteinian monsters, in a town that never stops raining. I’m surprised they caught on so well.

    Dr. Hayle made our protagonists, eh? Made them in the same manner the late snake charmer made his monster, maybe? But with an emphasis on mind over body, and a human appearance. I wonder if he stuck any unusual tricks in them, or are Sylvester’s toes just naturally that strong from repeated exercising? Assuming he’s alive enough to develop his muscles, that is.

    Stitched being weak to fire is interesting, especially in a city with so much water. Fire affects their minds, and water affects their bodies. Very interedasting.

    And what was that about a car? Sy mentioned a car at one point. Old-school cars that just weren’t as reliable as horses, maybe?

    • It’s 1921 according to the about page. Years after the Model T came out, and when cars started being mass produced and were made affordable to the middle class.

      On the other hand, voltaic horses might directly compete with them due to having all the functionality with less of the inconvenience of a real horse, and being more familiar to people than a car. The competition might have even stunted the development of the automobile.

    • If you think about it, flames are hypnotic, dangerous and a very primal, reflexive fear. If frontal lobe functions are usually subdued in stitches, it’d explain the donkey work the hippocampus and other parts of the temporal lobes have to put in. 🙂

    • The climbing Syl does is entirely plausible for a baseline human child as long as he’s had plenty of practice.
      I’ve seen twelve year olds do tougher.

      • We were crazy those days. I remember jumping from a roof to another with my short legs in places where I’d now shit myself.

  19. Man. This world feels a lot more fleshed-out than the last time we saw it (excuse the pun.) Plus, I feel like the character has a more immediate conflict, what with the obvious social stigma associated with being a revenant in any genre.

  20. “people would collect to it like flies to a carcass”
    That’s such a dark analogy. Sylvester thinks darkly. Not much else to comment, but I am really liking the story so far. Completely different from your two previous works.

    • Well, we don’t necessarily know if they have an expiration date yet. Just that Sylvester was looking for one.

      I mean yeah, they probably do because this is Wildbow, but just saying.

    • We’re all fated to die really. It’s just our expiration dates are generally quite late (but not late enough for certain views)

      • From Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings”:

        You’ll have to face it, the endings are the same however you slice it. Don’t be deluded by any
        other endings, they’re all fake, either deliberately fake, with malicious intent to deceive, or just
        motivated by excessive optimism if not by downright sentimentality.
        The only authentic ending is the one provided here:
        John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die.
        So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun. True connoisseurs, however, are known
        to favor the stretch in between, since it’s the hardest to do anything with.
        That’s about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what
        and a what and a what.
        Now try How and Why.

        • How they die makes a huge difference. Did they live a long and full life? Did John go crazy and murder Mary? Did they sacrifice themselves for the good of others? Were they killed when knifed by some nutjob after the story was resolved because the writer was some dumbass who thinks happy endings have no depth? It makes a difference. If the ending doesn’t matter because they die in the end, then in the end what did it matter?

          The destination is important. It may not be where it looked like it was going to be when it started, but eventually you end up somewhere. And it needs to have a sense of fuffilement, of meaning. A bad ending can retroactively taint a story, robbing it of meaning and enjoyment. But the ending also has to fit for the story that was told.

  21. You know – most casts in most stories are ‘fated to die’ in this sense. Even plain old humans have an expiration date, mostly just not a fixed one.

  22. I would just like to say that I called it.

    Also, there is no way there’s no connection between the four elements required for life and the four protagonists here. Starting to think this may be the Twig version of the four humours. No thoughts on who is what yet, though.

    • Helen- galatea- nitrogen, inert, doesn’t react
      Gordon- griffon- carbon, solid, dependable
      Jamie- caterpillar- oxygen, catalyst, causes change, reactive
      Sy- wyvern- hydrogen, flammable, volatile, connection with flying

  23. This all strikes me as an imminent biotec-singularity type situation. Engineering smarter people who in turn engineer even smarter people and so on.

    All tough I wonder how the biotech manipulation is achieved. :/

    • Probably the old fashioned way. Magic.

      I’m only half joking. Part of the reason DNA wasn’t figured out sooner and genetic engineering is still young is because the means to detect and manipulate genes wasn’t invented yet.

      • True. There’s only so much you can infer from breeding before you have to actually look at the stuff to see what’s going on and how to manipulate it.

        I’m imagining a few possibilities here: either this is an alternate universe/timeline type setting where certain discoveries happened in a different order or well ahead of schedule, or this is an alternate universe/timeline type setting where certain limiting factors to progress were not in place, or this is a fantastical setting where the otherwise impossible can occur.

        In the first case, all it would take is one abnormally brilliant person to dramatically affect the direction and development of the world. This seems to be what the first chapter describes when it talks about whoever that great mind is. The second case would require an entire civilization to *not* be opposed to certain types of scientific progress that are… ahem… contrary to their beliefs. This would suggest a radically different culture from our own, which is still likely given that we haven’t seen anything outside this one city yet. For the third, if this were a fantastical type setting then creating artificial lifeforms could be no more difficult than putting a car or computer together. Get some spare parts, wire them together, zap them a bit to get the juices flowing, and suddenly you’re a daddy to a new baby monster.

        Of course, there’s nothing saying Twig can’t be all three. And that may actually be more likely unless Wildbow is secretly a super-duper genius and just hasn’t told us yet.

  24. So they are artificial lifeforms, apparently made for spying and espionage. And they may have a limited lifespan. We’re going to be getting philosophical here aren’t we?

    So is it too early to start shipping?

  25. Somehow I need to think of Promethean: The Created with the different project names. Even one type of Promethean is called Galateids.
    That chapter let’s me look at the orphans in a new light.

    And also… *looks at stopwatch* two chapters and it’s clear that our heroes are doomed.
    Must be a new record.

          • To know your time of death is probably always a heavy burden to know.

            And if they have an date in their files, it’s probably sooner than your normal expiration date. And in this world you can maybe be bonesaw’d to expand your life

          • It turns out that exercise may not simply get you more fit and thus make you live longer by avoiding the ills and troubles commonly associated with obesity, it may literally make you live longer: http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/09/108886/lifestyle-changes-may-lengthen-telomeres-measure-cell-aging A good regular exercise program might quite possibly length your telomeres. The rest of this post is a quote from that article:

            For five years, the researchers followed 35 men with localized, early-stage prostate cancer to explore the relationship between comprehensive lifestyle changes, and telomere length and telomerase activity. All the men were engaged in active surveillance, which involves closely monitoring a patient’s condition through screening and biopsies.

            Ten of the patients embarked on lifestyle changes that included: a plant-based diet (high in fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains, and low in fat and refined carbohydrates); moderate exercise (walking 30 minutes a day, six days a week); stress reduction (gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation). They also participated in weekly group support.

            They were compared to the other 25 study participants who were not asked to make major lifestyle changes.

            The group that made the lifestyle changes experienced a “significant” increase in telomere length of approximately 10 percent. Further, the more people changed their behavior by adhering to the recommended lifestyle program, the more dramatic their improvements in telomere length, the scientists learned.

            By contrast, the men in the control group who were not asked to alter their lifestyle had measurably shorter telomeres – nearly 3 percent shorter – when the five-year study ended. Telomere length usually decreases over time.

  26. “You got yourself badly hurt, you twit.”
    “Did I?” I tried to exaggerate the surprise in my voice, and all the pain-relief chemicals that my body was dosing me with made me sound even more exaggerated, my voice almost breaking. I added some sarcasm for good measure, “Oh. I hadn’t noticed. Thank you.”

    I’m glad Sy is narrating.

    “It’s Sylvester’s fault,” Helen said. “He pushed me and I got wet.”
    Of course she invents a lie that makes me look bad.

    And I thought I’d like Helen.

  27. This setting suddenly looks like Blade-Runner with Cyberpunk replaced with Biopunk. it has replicants with expiration dates, It’s constantly raining and has a corrupt power structures.
    Plus, this Mr. Hayles seems the type to say “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?”
    P.s. Genevieve Fray is going to turn up in one of the interludes, mark my words.

    • The end of the chapter is such a huge Blade Runner reference that I can’t think of Sy and the gang as anything other that replicants.

  28. Nice!

    I especially liked the part about the doctor’s coat (in contrast with our customs).

    When the coach set off for the Academy with Sy (pronounced ‘Sih’, ‘Sea’ or ‘Sigh’..?) holding matches, the pieces we saw came together in a misunderstanding–I misconstrued it as there being something flammable like alcohol in the ‘rain barrel’, and him intending to set the whole coach ablaze. In retrospect, the part about aiming for the horses didn’t match that hypothesis, though I put it down to making it a more plausible task for if ‘water’. …and now, rereading, I now understand fully why he needed a matchbook, those passages the primary reason rather than a consequence… yes. Pleasant!

    I second the above note about the ‘disappearing’/’retreated’ duality (leaving twice).

    Quite curious about the differences between the four, and what was done on the brain by Hayle.

    Having your own file (not to mention those of the others) and not taking the time to look through it more thoroughly–that I find difficult to fathom. This might have something to do with fatalism relating to the expiration date, but even then one would think that the rest of the information would be useful for whatever it is he wants to do before that expiration date… unless all the useful bits require specialised knowledge that would stop him from getting any use out of them… hmm.

    Happy if there’s longer-than-human lifespans or life-extension means in here somewhere (maybe aided by whatever was done to his brain?). A little unhappy if Sy is another fated-to-die-young protagonist like Blake[ pretty much was].

    …what is Jamie’s significance, I wonder… hmm…

    • ” especially liked the part about the doctor’s coat (in contrast with our customs).”

      The interesting thing is that it’s to hide the bloodstains. A large part of the white coats is that dirt and blood show up on them, and it makes it easier for a doctor to know they need to wash their clothes and not spread germs. I noted in Boil how certain technologies might be stifled by the advent of early biotech. It seems like laundry might be one. Funny in a way, since all the electricity needed to run the voltics you’d think someone would have looked for other aplications and invented the washing machine.

      We’re at the 3rd Wildbow serial. We’ve reached the point where we can start seeing the patterns in Wildbow’s writing style. Depending on what happens to Sly we’ll be able to start getting a good idea for what happens to Wildbow protagonists in the end, if their is a constant trend.

      • Obgu Gnlybe naq Oynxr frrzrq yvxr gurl jrer trggvat xvyyrq bss va gur ynfg puncgre bs gurve erfcrpgvir fgbel, naq gura jr svaq va gur svany rcvybthr gung gurl yvir ba. Vs Jvyqobj chyyf bss gur fnzr guvat jvgu Fl, by Pact’s rule of three, we have a very strong pattern, which I hope does not come to happen in Twig too, since it would make things predictable.

        • The way I see it there are gjb guvatf ur pbhyq qb. Rvgure xvyy Fl bss sbe erny, be abg znxr vg ybbx yvxr ur’f qbbzrq gb n gentvp zvfrenoyr qrngu nf ur tvirf hc rirelguvat ur vf gb fnir rirelguvat naq gura fhoireg vg.

          • Rina jnf oybja hc gb or n ovt oveq, naq Oynxr erznexrq ubj Rina unq orra tebjvat zber “hapyrna” fvapr ur fubhyq unir qvrq/zbirq ba jura Oynxr qvrq, ohg ur unqa’g orpnhfr ur’q sbetbggra nobhg vg. Ng gur raq jr fnj n ovttre qvegl oveq gbhpurq ol gur nolff, naq n fznyyre oveq jub frrzrq yrff vagryyvtrag gb zr. V vagrecergrq gung nf “Rina vf gur ovttre oveq, naq gur fznyyre oveq vf uvf fcneebj bssfcevat, jvgu fbzr bs Rina’f uhzna vagryyvtrapr ohg fgvyy va n oveq’ obql”, abg “Oynxr vf abj n fcneebj”.

        • Fvtavsvpnagyl, juvyr jvgu Oynxr gur nccnerag shgvyvgl bs gelvat gb fheivir frg va fbzrjurer nebhaq gur zvqqyr–naq jnfa’g urycrq ol gung ur jnf pbafgnagyl svtugvat whfg gb abg tb haqre–hagvy gur irel raq Gnlybe ybbxrq nf gubhtu fur unq n punapr gb fheivir naq pbzr bhg gur bgure raq bs jungrire fur jrag hc ntnvafg. Rira jura vg jnf gbhtu, gurer jnfa’g n srryvat bs shgvyvgl (hagvy gur irel raq qhevat gur oevatvat qbja bs gur svany obff). Nyfb, jvgu ure gurer jrer nyfb gur uvtu cbvagf, gur gvzrf jura fur qvq fbzr tbbq, tbg fbzr fgnovyvgl, pnzr hc ba gbc naq tbg gb evqr gur jnir sbe n yvggyr juvyr (hagvy gur arkg guerng) vafgrnq bs vzzrqvngryl trggvat qenttrq onpx qbja ntnva. Bapr jnf svar, ohg n frpbaq ercyvpnag-yvxr ‘Lbh’er tbvat gb qvr fbba jvgubhg rira gur ubcr bs qbvat fbzrguvat nobhg vg’ fb fbba jbhyq or qrcerffvat. N fpurzre trggvat uvf gnybaf vagb gur Npnqrzl va beqre gb ryringr uvzfrys naq uvf sevraqf gb n zber creznarag rkvfgrapr–gung V pna trg oruvaq.

          That said, there are of course other permutations that I would be very excited by (possibly the most exciting ones ones that I haven’t even imagined yet).

      • Washing machines for the home (and to a lesser extent, modern industrial/commercial laundry), was developed mostly because of economic pressures resulting from the fact that paying human labor was often the most expensive part of running a household (or a business).

        Widespread use of electricity doesn’t produce the trappings of convenience culture (or even advances in industrial machinery), unless securing leisure time (for the middle classes) and cutting labor costs (for the capitalists) become driving forces in a society. Neither of those forces are likely to be as strong in this setting as in others, given the availability of stitched labor.

        • Upper class proffessions have been taking their clothes to the laundry for longer than home washing machines have been around. And it wouldn’t change the fundimental reasons why doctors wear white.

          • Presumably they have _amazing_ anti-pathogen technology, or at least immune system control (in order to be able to put parts from different bodies together without graft rejection or death from infection). This brings us back full circle (with the thick, dark clothing) to back before surgical cleanliness was a thing, and surgeons typically wore butcher’s aprons to protect their clothing underneath.

          • Yeah. Doctors wear white because the easiest way to get the bloodstains out of your clothes is to bleach your clothes. That also has the side effect of making your clothes super white, if they weren’t that way to begin with

        • “Widespread use of electricity produces advances in industrial machinery, because cutting costs is always a driving force in a society.” There, fixed it for you. 🙂

          • Mind, that only happens if advances in industrial machinery would actually cut costs. Hero of Alexandria wrote about a functional steam engine in the first century AD, but nothing came of it, and they made some truly massive water-powered mills on rare occasion but mostly didn’t use water power. The general conclusion of historians is that Rome just had such a massive supply of slaves that machinery cost more than labor.

            So it’s quite possible that stitched are cheap enough it’s more efficient to buy more stitched than to get machinery that reduces labor requirements. And even if that wouldn’t be true with modern technology, it could easily keep people from investing in developing technology to that point.

          • I’ll guarantee you that cutting costs is not always a driving force in a society. I’d bet you a diner. In fact, I’d bet you one diner, and then an entirely separate but equal diner. Sure, they may do better business if only one building had to be crewed and maintained, but there are other things that drive people than economics and reason.

  29. …huh. Hayle makes a point of saying that the others researched weapons, which was juxtaposed with his research on the brain. Kidna implies that he didn’t actually make Sy and co. as just a set of espionage tools like I first thought. That’s just another set of weaponry, after all. But then why did he make them? What’s their purpose, in the grand scheme of things?

    …Hayle says he works on the mind, and that Sy’s actions were predictable because he was fulfilling his programmed function. It can’t be just information gathering, otherwise he would have read the whole file. The focus was on expiration dates, when they would be guarenteed to die. Protecting himself and his fellow experiments, maybe looking for a way to circumvent it, keep everyone alive?

    …Actually, now that I think about it, all of Sy’s group have been really, really protective of each other in their own ways. Gordon was furious when Sy hurt himself, Jamie was worried to the point of being utterly flabergasted. Gordon protected Sy from view. Helen is the quietest, but even she seemed concerned when she thought that Sy might be mad at her. I would say that the entire group was engineered to keep itself alive, the individual members contributing in their own ways to make each other last as long as possible.

    With that in mind, I really, really want to know what their expiration dates are. Is it close? Far off? Do they have one at all? And what happens when they hit them? Clone degeneration is a well known thing, in and out of fiction, but the entire situation is strange enough that their expiration might be something more esorteric then their bodies wearing out.

    • Interesting points Nidhogg. Now why do people make weapons? I wonder if WW1 is still going to happen in this timeline. And maybe I’ve been missreading Hayle’s motives. My first thought was he was working on spies and sabatuers, but maybe this is more of a phsycological study?

      • Well, I doubt that whatever they’re for is just a proof of concept, or a study. The way that their roles play off of each other suggests that Hayle knew what he was doing when he made them. And you don’t make throw away research competent enough to slit your throat, which they may well manage, if they and Hayle don’t see eye to eye. I think that Hayle definitely had something in mind when he made them, but I don’t think that it’s anything as simple as a set of spies or sabtuers (though that’s probably how he justifies their existence to the academy.). It’s probably something bigger, more complicated then that. Maybe it’s a way to make people more likely to survive this world, where anaconda-cats and worse are common. Maybe it’s a way to derail the Academy system and the associated tyranny. Maybe it’s a way to avoid or survive a war, because you are absoultely right on that count, they are gearing up for a Bonesaw war.

        Right now, Hayle doesn’t seem to be a villain. His questions to Sy sound a bit like data gathering, but he isn’t particularly cruel, or anything. Some of his lines, though… It sounds like he’s trying to justify himself to Sy, and that rings all sorts of warning bells. Still, it doesn’t sound like he’s out for world domination, so there’s that.

        You’re right about the focus on weaponry, and the possibility of a world war. There’s this unquestioned atmosphere here, that the best, most common sort of research is in the field of weaponry. It’s gotten to the point where it seems like all of the non-weaponry advances aren’t really happening very fast, they’re just kind of trickling down as benefical side effects of weapon research. That attitude doesn’t come from nowhere. In fact, the only real world equivalent to it that I can think of was the attitude in the middle of the cold war, where paranoia was rampant.

      • If it’s 1921, shouldn’t the Great War have happened already? I was actually wondering the other day how Stitched soldiers would have affected trench warfare. I imagine that much worse things than chlorine gas were used, too. Pretty chilling, the more I think about it.

        On the other hand, I’m not even sure we’re looking at a universe all that parallel to ours… If the point of divergence is a century back like the About page suggests, WW1 may not have ever happened.

        • It’ll depend on how much things divereged, and how much the political situation was changed. A lot of the alliences and rivalries that caused WW1 had roots going back centuries. Europe was a powederkeg by the time the match that was the archduke’s assaination lit it.

          • The continued use of horses suggests a pre-World War I setting, and the use of electric horses would also support the usage of electric cars. They share a power source with electric horses. It’s easy to see how society could go back and forth from one to the other. It helps that, if that proves to be the case, electric cars were invented in 1880, had a heyday, and then people stopped producing them in 1920.

  30. “Expiration Dates sir”
    Stone cold. I assume that since he looked for that information, he wants to do something about it, I suppose I’m guessing the date is sooner rather than later too.

    So far I am not disappointed with the creativity going into the creations. I’m certainly intrigued as to what the details of the projects are.

    I feel that so far you’ve captured quite well the combination of humanity and inhumanity such creations as the children would have. Also silly Mrs. Thetford, it isn’t any good to try and be elegant yourself and have an inelegant bagbeast.

    Though, I suppose finding makers who create elegant voltaic beings is quite difficult. There might even be those who believe that the creations shouldn’t be elegant or natural looking. That they should be obvious.

  31. 1.1’s tags say “Sy”, this one’s say “Sylvester”.

    “My skin looked like a nylon stocking that was as much run as it was fabric…” IRL, nylon was apparently invented in the 1930s. Intentional anachronism?

    • Nylon is essentially a pseudo-protein. In a world where bioscience emerged earlier than other technologies, I wouldn’t be surprised about its existence. The weirder part is that it’s still called Nylon, really… Although, the Dupont R&D was founded in 1903, so largely possible.

      I predict a healthy amount of disbelief suspension will help through most of these points.

  32. I find myself wondering about what happened to the Church in this setting. Scientific advancement has a way of damaging it’s influence, but it always stays and recovers, usually pushing back (think cloning, stem cell research, evolution etc). But a great mind unraveling the underpinnings of life itself? Reversing death, creating life, *immortality*? I imagine the Church was broken by too much sciency stuff, coming too fast, and either reduced to an uninportant underworld bunch of cultists saying the Academies will doom us all (and the mad ramblers may be right on that one, how crazy is THAT) *or* it dramatically changed the dogmas to stay on the good side of the blooming powers.

    My theory is that they tried the second option *after* brutally persecuting the Great Mind during the first years of her\his\its research, and it was too late to change team later, so the first scenario came to be. I’m problably wrong, but, with the information given, those are my two cents.

    I’d love to see either an atheist society, some stange new religion or a stitched version of catholicism being portrayed.

    About the chapter proper, well, uh… I don’t know what is going on and will keep to my unrelated drug-trip musings while the world and the situation aren’t defined~

  33. Well! With the first chapter you had my interest.

    Now you have my full attention.

    Mmm. Do androids dream of voltaic sheep, I wonder? 🙂

  34. Nice turn at the end.

    The background is still broken for me, in case you think it’s fixed. The image starts repeating horizontally once I stretch the window past 2/3 of the screen width (1080×1920). Using Chrome, if that’s useful.

  35. WELL. I probably should have seen that coming, but nope. Once again, we have a rather inhuman main character, and I have to say, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve really enjoyed the worldbuilding so far, and am looking forward to more.

  36. “There were no rules for the road, but everyone found their way. Most people here knew most others. A lack of courtesy today could be paid by a lack of cooperation from others tomorrow. That wasn’t to say there weren’t idiots or disagreeable types who others paid no mind to, but it largely worked.”

    For some reason, this phrase, as well as the setting in general, makes me think of Bioshock. Something tells me that if that’s the way the city’s laws work, eventually Wildbow is going to throw in someone who just doesn’t give a fuck and will kill half the city with stitched horses that deliberately run over pedestrians.

  37. First chance I have had all weekend and while the first chapter was all well and good, I am now invested in what happens to these characters. “Not quite a father” indeed.

  38. I really like the way that Helen expressed concern for other while not showing any emotion, and it was the emoting Helen that was fake. I get the impression that the work that’s been done on her brain did something to tone down the unconscious emotional cues that everyone shows, so that she could learn to fake them instead.

    • The perfect woman would of course always show sympathy and mother your wounds… at least according to the probably mythos of the time, when the “Red Cross Nurse” archetype of the semi-recent Boer War, etc., was strongly embedded in the popular conscience. Thus, Helen would always feel prompted to display such. This doesn’t necessarily mean that such prompted emoting is necessarily “real”, though.

      • This does bring up the question of what is “real” caring. For example, if she is designed to prevent her team mates from dying, is that the same thing as caring for them? Very philosophical stuff.

        • Not really. Just start hurting them in non-lethal ways. If she objects, she cares. If not, she only cares about their lives. I like to call this method “Occam’s Razor”.

          • Well, then hold still! Or at least let me mount the .50 cal.

            In all seriousness, your method would probably work. We’d have to monitor her for some reaction, though. She might be like X-23 or Hanna and keep her emotions well-hidden.

          • “Just start hurting them in non-lethal ways. If she objects, she cares. If not, she only cares about their lives.” Hurting them in non-lethal ways can still reduce their effectiveness, whether from injury/inability to react, or a possible distraction at the wrong time. It’s inefficient to not object about that.

  39. And the world expands. Interesting issues with all the tech. I’m curious about how the church and governments rule on their creation. Obviously there are big benefits, but most would want to have some control or oversight. If home made viruses are already a thing in preparation for a possible future war, you just know there will be a big accident/outbreak at some point somewhere. Then governments might try to limit certain things. Depends on how much political power the academics have. But if world war 1 does happen with homemade viruses, monsters, stiched super solidiers, poison gas, and machine guns….the war might end just from having no one left to fight it.

    • But if world war 1 does happen with homemade viruses, monsters, stiched super solidiers, poison gas, and machine guns….the war might end just from having no one left to fight it.

      Wasn’t it mentioned in Boil Gung n ovt ernfba sbe wbvavat gur npnqrzl jnf gb freir lbhe pbhagel ol pbzvat hc jvgu rkcrevzragf gung pna or hfrq qhevat jne? I could be misremembering, though.

  40. The first chapter left me intrigued, but nabgure cebgntbavfg ybbfvat obql cnegf jnf n ovg ercrgvgvir.
    Now, seeing it all as a complex plot, I am really hooked.

  41. Ah, a world of altering creatures. Sounds like somebody’s involved in some beastiology. Then again, he’s got something like that in mind for Helen, seeing as Galatea is a story of a man who bones a sculpture he made. Those Greeks made some exquisite and realistic work. I guess that’s what happens when you can’t masturbate to porn until you’ve sculpted it.

    Oh, thorry thir. My accthent’th not correct for thitth world. I thould have thaid “mathturbate”. You thee, it’th important to get the thtitcheth correct when replathing body partth. \

    Good on the academy for having so many doomsday weapons locked away. It’s important to keep those handy in case you need to stand your ground or go hunting. Look out, my giant acid-spitting winged hydra! That deer’s coming right for us!

  42. The world building here is slowly ramping up, which is great, introducing elements one by one. The stitch idea is cool and should be fun to explore through the chapters. The ending hook also gave me goosebumps. The tone of the story is pretty dark and full of intrigue, and there’s definitely an overall “punk”ish feeling to the story. Nicely done.

  43. ok,new information.What follows is my not cannon,but imo highly plausible, guesses:

    “stiches”does not refer to everyone who had some genetic manipulation done to him,only to the ones who come from the dead.

    As the doctror claims to want to create minds,I am sure that the children’s minds are all,in some way,different,more specialized or even superior to normal people.I think their missions are not espionage,but rather either profitable test runs,or ways for them to gather experience,Guesses on how their minds are different,based on hints,but noton something definite:

    Gordon:He exudes raw charisma and leadership,everybody likes him because he knows how to make everybody admire him.

    Jeremie:He can store information,being a living library.

    Helen:She can separate her feelings from her actions (or she could be a simple sociopath,but if I was a mad brain scientist I would find this either boring or dangerous for a follower).Either way,she is created as the perfect liar ,the bluffer.

    Sylvester:The planner,the one who can use information optimally to achieve optimal results.His way of thinking is magnificent bastardy,and he always thinks many steps ahead.

    Their brains either have not reached the final state of ability,need ability to grow,or are tested,which is the reason of the missions.They are probably much more advanced mentally than average children.

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