Cat out of the Bag 2.1

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“You’re going to get sick, doing that,” Rick told me.  He picked up my hood and pulled it over my wet hair.

A little petulantly, I pulled it back down.  I glared at him.

Rick, one of the older boys at Lambsbridge, only smiled.  Back when he’d arrived at the orphanage he had taken me for someone much younger.  He’d quickly realized how much I hated it when I wasn’t taken seriously and decided to kill me with kindness.

He looked the part, too.  Where Gordon was big in the athletic sense, Rick was round-chinned, wide-hipped, with a heavy, dense body.  He might have looked like a proper Bruno if his face wasn’t so damned innocent; rosy cheeked, bright eyed and clear-skinned for a fifteen year old.

To the adults, he was cuddly.  To me, he was a nuisance.

“Hey, Gordon, can I grab that extra umbrella?” Rick asked.

Gordon and Helen were walking together, each holding large umbrellas, a herd of the younger orphans walking around them.

“I think Sy would prefer it if you left him alone,” Gordon said.

“Thank you,” I said.  “Yes.”

“He’s going to get sick if he gets this cold and wet.”

“It’s summer,” I pointed out.  “It’s warm rain, and I want to get wet.  I’m changing when I get back anyway.”

“Why would you want to get wet?”

“Why is it any of your business?  My head gets hot, I like to cool down sometimes.”

“Your head gets hot?” Rick asked.  He gave me an indulgent smile.  “I think you’re already feverish, Sy.”

I gave him a very unimpressed look, then ducked around a pair of recent arrivals, aiming to put them between me and Rick.

It didn’t work.  I felt a hand grip my hood, and spun on the spot, slapping at it, harder than was necessary.

It didn’t have much effect, but it made for a loud slap, and the speed with which I’d turned caught eyes.  Other children and a few bystanders on the street were staring, now.  The Lambsbridge group slowed, some stopping altogether.

I stared Rick down, glaring.

“You need to take better care of yourself,” Rick said, in the nicest tone imaginable.

“I can.  I do.  I don’t need you to step in and tell me how,” I said, my voice tight.

“Sy,” Jamie said.

I didn’t move, still staring daggers at Rick.

“I’ve got my hands full with my book and this umbrella, and I need to scratch my nose,” Jamie said.  “Can you give me a hand?”

I turned my back on Rick, and advanced to the front of the group, where Jamie was walking alongside Eliza and Fran, the only two girls around our age that weren’t Helen, and all three of them were carrying large umbrellas to shelter themselves and a few small children from the water.  I reached up and scratched his nose for him.  He scrunched it up suitably, provoking a laugh from some of the smallest children in the herd.

Breaking tension.

“I meant for you to take my umbrella,” he said, but he was smiling a little.  He started walking, and our group started moving again.  I took the umbrella from him, holding it with both hands and falling in step  between him and Fran, prompting a, “Thank you.”

“Put his hood up, Jamie,” Rick said.

I tensed.

“Rick,” Gordon said, “C’mere.”

Gordon’s help served to put Rick at the tail end of the group, while Jamie had me at the front.  The kids in the middle were splashing in puddles.  Altogether, we took up most of the sidewalk and some of the street.

It was the middle of the afternoon, and it was about as far from gloomy as Radham got, with sunlight pushing at but not yet breaking through the clouds overhead.  The rain was warm to the touch, and about half of the people on the street were doing just what I was doing, keeping hoods down and umbrellas away.

Discount the stitched that were here and there, like the group that was leading one large, almost featureless, hairless mammal in the direction of the Academy, and maybe two thirds of the people were enjoying the rain.

Which Rick didn’t seem able to understand.

“He really gets to you, huh?” Jamie asked.

“He should get to everyone,” I said.  “There’s something seriously bent in his head, and the fact that nobody but me understands that is a bigger bother than he is.”

“Rick isn’t a bad guy, he’s just awkward,” Fran said, beside me.

I pulled one hand away from the umbrella to gesture at her, giving Jamie my best ‘see!?‘ look.

“I sort of understand,” Jamie said, gently.  “I do see elements of it.  I also think you exaggerate it to make it something it isn’t.”

“I understand people,” I said, being very careful with my words.  The other orphans did not know who or what we were, and the wrong phrasing could be disastrous.  “I know what makes them tick.  I know how to use that.  I’ve had to know all that, because… of where I came from.  I’ve told you this, and more.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jamie said, just as careful.  He knew what I really meant.  Fran and Eliza were decorous enough not to pry or ask about my past, though I saw them exchange glances between each other.

“Let’s not dwell too much on the bad stuff with the small ones around,” Eliza said.

I shook my head.  “I don’t get Rick.  I can push, I can prod, I can test him, and he doesn’t budge.”

“He knows you just as well as you know him,” Jamie said.  “You’re clever, Sy, but don’t underestimate just how effective the average person is when they’re one hundred percent focused on one thing.”

“He’s one hundred percent focused on me?  And you don’t see what’s wrong with that?”

“Do you blame him?  You met each other on one of your bad days, one of the days when you’re in particularly foul, spiteful moods-”

After an appointment.

“-and forced him to figure out how to deal with you.”

“Which he did,” I muttered.

“Which means he doesn’t give in, he doesn’t change course.  You made your bed, Sy.  Now you get to sleep in it.  Go after people and don’t be surprised if they fight back the best ways they know how.”

I scowled, “If I had a clue, some inkling of what makes a person that fundamentally messed up…”

Sylvester!” Fran rebuked me with enough force that the children we were walking with jumped a little.  “Don’t be unkind!”

“Sorry,” I mumbled, shrinking down a little.  “I’m just saying.  I don’t get him.  I don’t know what adds up to Rick being Rick.”

I know,” Jamie said.  “I know his story.”

I was immediately a puppy, eyes bright, ears perked up.

“And I’m not going to tell you,” Jamie said.  “Ever.”


“Because you’ll use it.  I know you.  Let it lie and deal with it as best as you can.  It’s good for you.”

I fought the urge to smack Jamie with the umbrella I was holding.  I only managed to avoid it by telling myself that Jamie had to have written it down in one of his notebooks.

“It’s not in my diaries, Sy,” Jamie said, quiet.  “Well, it is, but I blotted the words out after you threw the cup at his head, just a bit before Christmas.  I knew you’d look eventually.”

The annoyances of dealing with someone who knew you well enough to predict how you thought.

“I was about to ask if you’d really read his diary,” Fran said, “But then I thought, gosh, silly me, it’s Sylvester.”

I sighed.  I considered hitting the both of them with the umbrella, but then I caught sight of Jamie’s expression.  Light concern, caring.  Gentleness.

Jamie’s so slow he wouldn’t ever get out of the way fast enough.  Not sporting, I told myself.

He moved his book to his other arm and put an arm around my shoulders.

“Can you give Sy and me a moment?  We’re just going to walk ahead a bit,” Jamie said.

“I’ll watch the ankle biters,” Fran said, taking the umbrella from me, holding one in each hand.  I didn’t miss the smile on her face as she said it.

Jamie gave her a curt nod.  We picked up our pace to pull ahead, which wasn’t too much of a problem, considering how slow a collection of five year olds sometimes were.  He moved his book so it was more out of the rain.  I reached over to pull his rain-cloak over it.

It took a minute before we were out of earshot.  We had to circle around a slow-moving obstacle.  The obstacle took the form of a large glass case the size of a coach, a cloth thrown over the top, already soaked with the water that sloshed within.  Live horses were pulling the thing, and the Academy students who weren’t leading the horses were holding formation in a loose circle around the tank, warding off incoming traffic so a coach didn’t crash into the side.

When we were on the other side, I commented, “Rick’s the sort of guy who ends up dressing in his mom’s clothes and smiles as he kills his victims with a knitting needle or something.”

“You’re not going to bait an answer out of me, Sy,” Jamie said.

“Not a knitting needle.  But something inventive,” I mused.  “Common household item.  You’re the one that reads the books.  What item fits?”

“You’re more agitated than usual,” Jamie told me.  “I think high-strung is the term.  I’m guessing it’s Mary?”

I frowned.

“Yeah,” Jamie said.

“You don’t have to act so smug.”

“I’m not being smug,” Jamie said, giving me every indication that he really believed what he was saying.  “Look, it’s been a few weeks.  You have a tendency to want to steer the ship, even if Gordon is supposed to be the one captaining it.  I know you haven’t been that able to steer Mary as much as you’d like, despite your very frequent visits.”

“I told Hayle everything,” I said.  “I-”

Jamie was giving me a look.

Almost everything.  I explained, I got him to agree and get Mary’s oversight to cooperate.  Yet half the time I couldn’t even talk to her, because they were doing stuff with her or with her parents.

Jamie nodded, taking it in, storing it, maybe processing something else, or paging through a set of memories in his head.  “You weren’t that successful when you did see her.  It’s why you’re so insecure now.”

“I’m not insecure.”

“Okay,” Jamie said.  He didn’t sound much like he believed me.

“She did try to kill you,” I pointed out.  “If this goes an ugly way, then she might try again.”

“She came closer to killing you than she did to killing me,” Jamie pointed out.  “Several times, in fact.  If you’re trying to make me join you in the hand-wringing, you’ll have to do better.”

“You’re no fun,” I said.

“I know,” he said.  He squeezed my shoulders.  “I’m a terrible bore.”

“The worst bore.  I have no idea why Fran likes you.”


“She likes you.  Like-like.  The way she acted when we left them behind, I’m sure.”

Now it was Jamie’s turn to look a little bit annoyed and concerned.  Good.  For all he wanted to mock me about wringing my hands over Mary, I knew he’d worry over this.  He’d do the worrying for Fran, I knew, and it wasn’t necessarily a bad sort of worrying, but I felt a little thrill of victory.

“She really likes me?”

“She thinks boring old Jamie is the best.  Let me tell you, if any girl liked me as much as she likes you…” I trailed off.


“I dunno!  I could make them do anything.  Color their hair blue, or spit in Dog’s face, or-”

“Anything,” Jamie said, cutting me off.

“Yeah,” I said, smiling.

“That’s one worry off my mind, at least,” he said.


“I was thinking about you and Mary, and the interplay between the two of you,” Jamie said, stumbling a bit as he tried to explain.  “…few years too early for that, I suppose.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You pick things up quickly,” Jamie said.  “Obviously.  And you picked up human interaction first.  Your word choice, how you express yourself, is sometimes very adult, because of how you used it to craft your persona.”

“Uh huh…” I said, inviting him to go on.

“It’s a relief to see past that and get a glimpse at the you beneath all of it.”

“You’re a butt,” I said.  “That is the real me.”


“Not maybe.  You’re definitely a butt.”

“I meant-”

“That you’re a butt?  You butt?”  I took advantage of how slow he could be to get up to speed, needling him.

He shifted his grip on my shoulders to catch my neck in the crook of his arm, lightly choking me.

I jabbed him in the soft side of his belly, which only made him choke me harder.

Our roughhousing carried on until we caught sight of Mrs. Earles, standing at the corner of the road.

From her reaction, it looked like she’d been looking for us.  Jamie  let go of my neck and the back of my underwear.  I released him, too, and fixed my clothes.

“Where are the others?” she asked.

“Maybe a minute behind,” I said, looking back to check.  “We needed to talk a bit.”

“So it seems,” she said, before reaching down to fix Jamie’s collar.  “Something’s come up?”

“Mary?” I asked, without missing a beat.  “Did something happen?”

“No.  Mary just arrived with her bags.  But she came with company.”

The puppeteer?  No.  Too soon.

“Mr. Hayle?” I asked.  Without missing a breath, I added, “Did he want something?”

“Yes to both questions,” she said.  She was distracted, craning her neck to see if she could spot the others.  “Professor Hayle asked you to meet him at the old stable?  Do you know where that is?”

“Yes,” Jamie said.

“Good, because I don’t.  If you want to go ahead, I can point the others your way.”

“We’ll wait,” I said, at the same time as Jamie’s, “Okay.”

“We’ll wait,” I reaffirmed.  Jamie nodded.

It did take less than a minute for the others to catch up.  When they came into sight, the smallest children picked up speed, stampeding toward Mrs. Earles.  She didn’t bend down to greet them, but reached out to touch a head here and there.

When Gordon and Helen saw us, I pointed down the side street to our right.  Gordon nodded.

It took Helen some work to peel away from the children that had clustered around her.  Not the youngest, the four to six year olds didn’t take to Helen as much, but the girls who were closer to my age, just a step below hers, they tended to idolize her.

While she said goodbyes and gently cut them short as they tried to question her, I had a thought.  “Lillian?”

“Lillian is with Mary,” Mrs. Earles said.

That bothered me.  It was hard to put my finger on why.

I glanced back at Rick, who was looking at our contingent with a curious look in his eye.  He started to follow, but Mrs. Earles served to run interference, ordering him to help her with the children.

I took too much joy in that.

Helen finally caught up, turning her back to everyone but our little group, her expression going flat.

We walked down the side street together.  Toward the old stable, which hadn’t held any proper horses for a long time.  It was a minor landmark, and it was too much of one to be knocked down, too ramshackle to see any use.

“I told Rick to back off,” Gordon said.

“He won’t,” I said.

“Yeah,” Gordon said.  “I figured.  But I thought I’d try.  Wish I could do more.”

“Tell me that you agree he’s bent in the head.”

“He’s bent in the head,” Gordon agreed.

“Thank you!” I said, pointing, looking at Jamie.  “See?”

Jamie stammered, “That’s not- No.  I didn’t say he wasn’t.  I said it’s not-”

“You don’t think he’s the smarmy, too-nice, wear Sy’s entrails as a belt sort of bent,” I said.

“I, uh, no.”

“Just you wait.  If Mrs. Earles catches him licking the bathroom floor again, then-”

“Again?” Jamie cut in.

“See?  Right there.  First place your mind goes isn’t ‘he wouldn’t do that’.  You’re fixating on the ‘again’ part!”

“No,” Gordon said, very calmly, “I think it’s fine to fixate on the ‘again’ part of it.  I think you’re a little over the top on that one.”

“Just you wait,” I warned.

“I’ll wait,” Gordon said.  “Don’t kill him in the meantime.  It’s probably undeserved and it’ll upset Professor Hayle.”

“And not the kind of upset that he usually lets you get away with,” Jamie pointed out.

“I know, I know!”

The trip to the stables didn’t take too long.  The rain gradually increased in intensity, then settled to a light drizzle.  I welcomed it, pushing my hair back.  Jamie had his hood down too now that it was only drizzling, his long hair damp but not wet.  His glasses were speckled with droplets he wasn’t wiping away.

When we arrived, I caught sight of Mary.  Lillian was a short distance away.  Hayle stood by the door of the stables, with Dog and Catcher nearby.  I spotted the Gorger in the stables, sitting on the floor, his forehead as high as the stable door.

Mary looked a little out of her depth, but she was centered enough that she wasn’t letting it show.  I had to infer not from expression or body language, but by the distance between her and Lillian.  I liked that they weren’t standing close together.

Mary was wearing regular clothes for the first time since I’d met her, no Mothmont uniform or patient’s gown, and she had her hair in ribbons, a different configuration than I’d seen at our first meeting.  Her hair was longer, and hadn’t been cut, though it was braided at one side for neatness’ sake.

She acknowledged me with a small smile as I approached, Jamie trailing after me.

Hayle was wearing his black lab coat, a simple shirt and slacks beneath, a folded umbrella at his side.  The overhanging roof above the stable door was shielding him from the rain.  He was talking to Gorger, but his eyes were on us, looking us over, assessing us, his eyes flickering between Mary and me a few times, measuring, much as I’d measured her distance from everyone else.

As Jamie had speculated, I’d modeled much of what I knew and did after other people around me, and I supposed one of those people was Mr. Hayle.

Dog was lying down in mud, very possibly enjoying the cool muck and grime.  His expression was always hard to read, as he didn’t have a proper mouth and the metal fixtures around his face stretched skin and pulled at muscle in ways that made it less intuitive.  Metal shutters that were normally down around the jaw had been raised around the nose, I noted, covering the lower half of his face.  More guarded?

Catcher was still, unmoving, hands in pockets, his mancatcher standing up so it leaned against his elbow.

And the Gorger… well, the Gorger was the Gorger.  Fat and naked, with skin that looked too thick, bugged-out eyes with too-small pupils that moved too slowly drifting lazily over each of us, small, too-puckered lips pursed.  Hayle was talking to him, but he wasn’t reacting or giving any hint that he was even listening.

“The Lambs,” Catcher said.  “It’s been a little while.”

“Just a little while,” I said.  “Doing okay?”

“It’s been worse, Sy,” he replied.

Gordon and Helen had broken away from Jamie and me.  Gordon went straight to Dog.  Where a handshake would do for someone else, Gordon simply reached out to touch the side of Dog’s head, brushing some hair back and away from Dog’s eye.  Something in Dog relaxed the slightest fraction, muscles all down his shoulders and backs easing where they’d been tense.

Lonely thing.

Helen, for her part, was walking more slowly, swaying a little with her hands clasped behind her back, her skirt swishing left and right with each set of steps.  She came to a stop somewhere midway between Gordon and the rest of us, hands still clasped behind her.

The swaying was almost playful, which was very interesting unto itself.  Helen didn’t have a very expressive personality, and any expression she did give was usually for someone else’s benefit.

That raised the question of just who Helen was acting for, here.  I looked over everyone, human and experiment alike, and I couldn’t pin it down.

That made me think it was for her own benefit.  A hint of the personality that Helen was crafting for herself?  An experiment, to see how people she saw as important might react and validate?

She caught me studying her and smiled a little, and it was a naughty smile.

Because Jamie wasn’t the only one who knew me well enough to guess what I was thinking.  Was it for my benefit?

“She’s scary,” Mary murmured.

You’re scary,” I said.

“Well…” Mary said, and from the sound of it, she didn’t have a particularly good retort.

“She’s on your side,” I said.  “Which makes her a good scary, right?”

“Yeah,” Mary said, not sounding convinced.

This very scene was very much Helen’s medium.  It was very much not Mary’s.

It made me feel a great deal more confident in having her join the group.  I hadn’t lost her in the time that Hayle and Lil and all the other Academy people had been poking, prodding, and interrogating her.

I reached out with a hand, touching hers.

She clasped my hand, and the surprising tightness of the hold told me my read on her wasn’t wrong in the slightest.

“Whatever this is about,” Gordon commented, “It’s big.”

Hayle had just finished talking to Gorger.  He turned to face us.  “It’s… potentially problematic.  Other special projects are already working on it.  I wanted to bring you up to speed and make sure you’re communicating effectively.”

“That’s not a problem,” Gordon said, hand still on Dog’s temple.

“I’ll be brief.  This is an all-hands-on-deck situation.  Something got loose in the Academy.  A student project.  Catcher suggested we reach out to you, simply to have more eyes on the scene.”

“If something got loose and they can’t catch it, what makes you think we can?”  Gordon asked.

“We lose nothing by putting ourselves out there to help, and refusing would look bad, when the Academy is this concerned,” Hayle said.  “It was a lose-lose, where standing down would make us look ineffectual, but they weren’t confident you wouldn’t get in the way.  I made our case, and they agreed to let us participate in the hunt, with the proviso that I have you meet some of the other special projects, tell you to communicate, and stress, very carefully, very emphatically, that you are not to get in the way.”

We all nodded, Mary included.

“Don’t nod, Sylvester,” Hayle said.  “I’m directing this largely at you.”

I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.  “I- what?  Why me?”

He didn’t dignify that with an answer.  Instead, he pointed at Mary, “I agreed to your request to let her join.  I’ve indulged you a great many times in the past several years.  I’m asking you to cooperate here.  Please.”

The smile slipped from my face.  I felt Mary squeeze my hand.

“I will,” I said.

He nodded.  “The experiment can’t leave the bounds of the city.  Gorger will be in the wooded outskirts, Dog and Catcher in the city.  We’re operating under the assumption that it’s still somewhere in the Academy, and much of the focus is there.  You’ll be there, and I’ve arranged for you to talk to the culprit.”

“Culprit,” Gordon said.  “That’s an interesting word choice.”

“It’s the right one,” Hayle said.  “This incident was a deliberate one, and it was carried out by a student, who wasn’t operating alone.”

“Is it… them?” I asked, glancing at Mary.  “The group that Percy was working with?”

“We don’t know,” Hayle said.  “We’re following up on some things, but probably not.  I’ve heard others suggest it’s something else.  Whatever the case, word is out about the escaped experiment, and it’s spreading.  People are scared.  A fast resolution is preferred.”

I bit back a sigh and a smartass comment.  He had to jinx it.

“We’re on it,” Gordon said.

“Good,” Hayle said.  “Go.

We moved.  Gorger rising, heaving his massive bulk to a standing position.  Dog and Catcher turned, moving off down a side street as a pair.  The remainder of us, the Lambs and our medic, headed in the direction of the Academy, Hayle following behind.

Mary didn’t let go of my hand the entire way to the Academy.

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97 thoughts on “Cat out of the Bag 2.1

    • I find the second to last paragraph funny, reffering to Lillian as their “medic”, like they are now a combat unit…

      • Though I bet she” be ever so pissed when she learns he lied about what was on the paper. That she didn’t have a control phrase and that Percy really does love her like a daughter.

        • Considering that the letter was meant for her only, we really don’t know how much of that is true. He cares a great deal for his creations, obviously, but I’d definitely say “like a daughter is pushing it”. They’re a means to an end. He cares for them in the same way a soldier might care for his rifle. You treat it well because you depend on it, but it’s there for your safety and survival, never the other way around. If you have to ditch the rifle, you ditch the rifle, with a tear and a farewell.

  1. Typbow thread!

    glass case the side of a coach
    the size of a coach

    at least” he said.
    at least,” he said.

    away from Jamie and I
    away from me and Jamie

    • “It was a lose-lose, where standing down would make us look ineffectual, but they weren’t confident you wouldn’t get us in the way”
      Second “us” shouldn’t be there?

    • in step between
      in step between
      ‘step’ and ‘between’ have two spaces between them – the first is a non-breaking space and the second is a regular space

      Jamie let
      two spaces

      a glimpse at the you beneath
      IMO, clearer as:
      a glimpse at the ‘you’ beneath
      a glimpse at you beneath

      five year olds
      sometimes five-year-olds

      Professor Hayle asked you to meet him at the old stable?
      that’s a statement, should it end in a period?

      Dog and Catcher are referred to without ‘the’; Gorger is referred to with ‘the’, except when Hayle uses ‘Gorger’ at the beginning of a sentence. May be written as intended.

      bugged-out eyes with too-small pupils that moved too slowly drifting lazily over each of us
      IMO, inserting a comma makes this read more naturally:
      bugged-out eyes with too-small pupils that moved too slowly, drifting lazily over each of us

      muscles all down his shoulders and backs easing
      ‘backs’ plural? for a monstrosity of science this may be right, but it looks odd

      it was carried out by a student, who wasn’t operating alone
      IMO, better without the comma:
      it was carried out by a student who wasn’t operating alone

  2. You used my nickname for them! Thanks!

    Also, I see that we’re moving away from the metaphoric chapter titles that Worm and Pact used.

      • Possibly, but Worm and Pact had one or two-word titles that kept with the theme of insects (Worm) and legalese (Pact). Twig had “Taking Root,” but “Cat out of the bag” doesn’t fit with plant terminology, or biological processes, or laboratory procedure. At least as far as I’m aware.

        • Isn’t it like “titles are expressions”?
          At least when I’m head-traducing then they are proverbs/maxims/expressions/whatever ^^

          • I’m going with this. Kind of interesting, having common expressions be the theme for a group that didn’t grow up in an environment where they would learn them

        • With what these laboratories get up to, it’s not too far-fetched for there to be literal cats-in-bags involved somewhere.

          • Mostly kittens. Good, cheap feed for the more carnivorous experiments, and the damn things breed like rabbits, anyway. There’s always a few spare bags of kittens for a hungry abomination in Ratham, yes sir, this is truly the city of the future.

          • Cats always seem to be getting out of bags these days, but what if you were to make the bag out of cats?
            Problem solved.

        • Actually, it is *very* in line with the terminology. Remember, “twig” in this context doesn’t actually mean plant-related. It has to do with clones as well.
          Cat-out-of-the-bag can be refered to as “letting an outsider into an inner circle of knowledge”. Which is VERY in line with cloning and/or biological/lab prodedures. Or the other meaning, which is along the lines of “once the cat’s out of the bad, it can’t be put back in”, can involve twigs quite obviously. Once you break a twig off, you can’t stick it back on (You and I know that you can via grafting, but it’s about as annoying as putting a cat in a bag it just escaped from. Yes, I know from experience how annoying both are….)

          • “Ah, you two have experience with zes cats in ze bags,” he said in an atrocious French accent, “Let me tell you a funny story. Zere waz zis man, and he had trois? I do not remember the word in your language. Tree? Zis man, he had ze trois qats, qatres, how you say it, and he put zem into a bag and rowed zem out into ze middle of ze lake, and he throws zis bag over ze side, un deux trois quatre cinq.” If you speak French, the last five words of that story really make it funny. If you don’t know French, well, that story probably seems really horrific, but don’t worry, it’s not really true, I think. I’m sure no Frenchman would actually throw a bag of cats into a lake. 🙂

          • I’m french and it took me a while to get the punchline… “cinq” and “sink” may be spelled similarly but they sound completely different.

  3. It’s kinda weird to see the orphans acting like, well, regular kids who don’t hunt mad scientists and bioweapons for a living.

  4. Aw, the experiments are friends! That’s pretty cute.

    Sylvester cultivating Mary’s emotional dependence on him continues to be subtly creepy in a good and cute way.

    I like Rick. Primarily because Sy hates him so much and so clearly can’t deal with it at all. He can’t succeed all the time, after all. In fact, I liked that so many people this chapter were on point on their interactions with Sylvester, with Jamie knowing exactly what to do to stop Sy from escalating.

    • I *do* agree with Sy here: Rick is more than creepy, he’s dangerous. Control needs, no interest in other people’s consent, to the point of *physically* trying to force Sy to conform, and from what others said a rather obsessive, unrelenting behavior.
      All he needs is a push.
      On the other side, not that worried because the awareness shared by the Lambs seems enough to take care of him if he turns more than potential threat. In the kind of world they seem to live in, I guess you can’t afford to focus on every potentially dangerous individual, you’d go bonkers 🙂

      • It’s true that it does kind of suck for Sy that Rick is making him feel unsafe in a place that he thinks of as home, but there is some appeal in Sy getting knocked down a peg a few times before he gets to be cool, and it’s interesting to see how he can alienate people-Rick’s focus on Sy seems to be in large part a feud in which I’d wager Sy is giving as good as he gets.

  5. This chapter was both adorable and very creepy.

    Especially the Mary/Sylvester dynamic and Helen in general. I mean, it’s cute that they have *something* as Jamie hinted and confirmed thus far (and also funny that Sy is still a kid in mentality and how Jamke is abig stumbler at words) but I can’t help but second guess Sy’s objective and ideas for Mary.

    Helen is just freaking me out with her maybe-kind of-sort of-probably-possibly fake emotions and personality especially with her reaction to seeing Sy observe her.

    Gordon and Gorge was touching.

    • It was Gordon and Dog though. I like that Dog bears so much resemblance to a dog, it makes his existence just a little bit easier to stomach.

    • I’m trying to figure out if Sly is seemingly jealous of everyone because he actually likes Mary, or just wants to keep her isolated. Either way, not good for Mary.

      I’m also trying to figure out if Helen was actually just screwing with Sy or if she’s trying to pull a long con on the good doctor

      • I’m thinking that it is both. Helen has shown, if not fondness for Sy, at least some interest in him. Moving to help him up after Ibiss floored him stands out. That that was her first instinct strikes me as important.

        There is also the fact that Helen seems on the same kind of wavelength as Sy, picking up on his on-the-fly-plots more often than the others. They both are adept at reading social situations and figuring out what responses a certain action will produce. Sly just uses that information to shake things up and stand out, while Helen uses it to do the opposite and hide in plain sight. I get the feeling that if Helen could express herself she would come off sounding very similar to Sy, at least in terms of social awareness.

        And now I really want to read an interlude from Helen’s PoV

    • I’m thinking that the last two Lambsbridge kids were supposed to moderate the growth of the team and become background intel rather than planning. Without them, Sy’s gone off the rails enough that he’s essentially taking leadership from the supposed leader.

      That or Sy is built to be an usurper from the start.

  6. So there’s an experiment on the loose. And our not-especially-combat-effective kids will be going into its general vicinity and talking to the person who set it loose to begin with.

    Nothing could possibly go wrong.

  7. For some reason, this website just kills Chrome and Dolphin on both my iPhones…

    Again with Sy always having his hair wet. And it’s a bit scary how they just jokingly discuss Sy killing Rick. Or not so jokingly. Also, Sy and Mary, sitting on a tree… S T A Bb- I N G. Or something.

  8. My goodness it feels great to have enough of a break in my study hell to be able to read this even a few hours after update.

  9. On another note, did the fact that Sy left a death trap in his and Jamie’s dorm room ever get addressed?

    Headlines of “School Staff Skewered”, that news is so 3 weeks ago.

  10. I’ve known my fair share of Ricks. That guy who seems nice but off, and just won’t leave you alone. Mostly they were either born again christians, mormons, or slightly mentally handicapped.

  11. A full “let’s all meet in the shady barn” meeting and the whole information about the subject is “Something got loose in the Academy. A student project.”? They should have a bit more information about it.

  12. I find it interesting the the Lambs are on a first-name basis with the other Academy weapon-experiment enforcers. It implies a lot about the nature of their professional relationship. For all that it seems to jealously guard its secrets, maybe it’s not such a bad place to work?

    • It seems to be kind of shot through with academic rivalries, but the experiments don’t seem to hate each other even if their creators might. I get the feeling that we might be building to some kind of AI rebellion?

      • An interesting thought – when the experiments get along with each other but not their creators, the potential for an experiment rebellion does exist.

  13. I like that this chapter is tagged with Rick. I’m really hoping that halfway through the story Sly is proven right and Rick goes on a creepy, Psycho-esque killing spree. Not related to whatever mystery the Lambs are solving at the time, just an incidental thing that occurs at the worst possible moment so that Sy barely has time for an “I told you so.”

  14. Hmmm: looks like Mary is an official orphan, now. Genetically, she may still be her parents’ daughter. But… Seems like her new living arrangement means they’ve kicked the clone to the curb. 😦 You can understand why, though. 😛

  15. Perhaps this is a nursery-rhyme-themed story. Mary and her lamb, that followed her to school, etc. Perhaps in the future we’ll see weaponized bio-birds suddenly explode out of a pie and start snipping people’s noses out. Nursery rhymes, although they are our cultural heritage, are really quite terrifying when you stop and think about most of them.

    Perhaps the cat that’s out of the bag was part of a controlled breeding experiment in the St. Ives portion of the academy (referencing another nursery rhyme)?

  16. This is a universe where they create clones of children who replace the originals in order to assassinate the parents. It’s entirely possible RIck was created and put in the orphanage by someone. His fixation on Sy programmed, rather than being an odd quirk of personality. I think Sy is overreacting a bit, and Gordon/Jamie are downplaying it too much.

    It seems odd to me that there doesn’t seem to be much Academy staff at the orphanage to oversee/protect the Lambs. Especially since the implication is that they’re located far enough off site that regular Academy security isn’t an issue. I mean, the kids do represent quite a bit of money and time investment. Nothing overt, of course, as that would draw attention, but they should be doing something, right?

    • I imagine the expectation is that the Lambs can take care of themselves (and they’re not worth much if they can’t). They seem to be more than loyal enough to not run off as well – weirdly loyal, in fact. This may be an artifact of their age (not about to abandon parental figures), but I’m wondering how much programming went into it as well

    • *it may also be that the orphanage is in fact a branch of the academy – easy access to test subjects for them, funding for the orphanage

  17. Reactions:

    Did Rick actually get caught licking the bathroom floor? From the text, I can’t tell if that was a true statement or not. If so, with the other actions, then I nominate Rick as “most likely to be a serial killer.” If not, the jury (IMO) is still out, but early indications are not good.

    I like the group interactions – they are siblings whether or not they acknowledge it.

    I am unsure as to whether Sy actually cares about Mary. He is clearly manipulating her, but he manipulates everyone.

    “Metal shutters that were normally down around the jaw had been raised around the nose, I noted, covering the lower half of his [Dog’s] face.”
    Reaction to the slime used against them last time.

    Helen. The vat creation learning to act human and not merely mimicking humans, but testing actions and reactions. Creepy. What’s really creepy is that she does it well enough to be an instant favorite with girls of about the same apparent age.

    “The Lambs,” Catcher said. “It’s been a little while.”
    “Catcher suggested we reach out to you”
    The science creations know each other and apparently think well of each other in some way. Interesting.

    “Don’t nod, Sylvester,” Hayle said. “I’m directing this largely at you.”
    Hayle knows Sylvester, alright.

    “You’ll be there [the Academy]”
    Good, we’ll get to see more of its workings.

    “Cat out of the bag”
    Do we get to see a cat-girl? The reason I say that is the loose experiment has to be intelligent in order to avoid being caught by already significant resources, so human DNA seems a likely admixture. And ‘cat’ might be a hint as to another DNA component. On second thought, i don’t want to see a Wildbow cat-girl – there is likely to be something horrific there.

  18. The talk of a Wildbo catgirl has me thinking of the werecats from Scooby Doo on Zombie Island, but instead of just gorelessly sucking the life from their victims, they use their razor sharp claws and teeth to rend flesh and reduce the their prey to bones which they tend use as toothpicks. Imagine the most feral, cannibalistic of werewolves, but based on a wildcat or panther and in a beast/human hybrid state all the time instead of just at the full moon.

  19. Hello, new fan here. I finished my second reading of Worm last month, finished Pact a few days ago, and now I’m finally caught up with Twig. It’ll be nice to smell the roses a bit, reread every chapter, and look at the comments, as compared to just archive-binging.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I really enjoy your work, and I’m working on getting the word out to my friends and family. You’ve probably heard this before, but you really should do the world a favor and start writing professionally. I can picture some people being reluctant to read an unedited web serial (kind of like how some people won’t read fanfiction), and you really deserve to be paid for this kind of effort.

  20. Well I’m impressed. Twig is shaping up nicely. I like the niches the characters are falling into, which is unavoidable, and I liked how this chapter seemed to show everybody’s lighter side. Makes me a little scared of how dark this arc could get… But it’s still completely up in the air. To be more specific, I’m impressed that this is the third good story Wildbow has produced with a very engaging world. It’s cool he’s got this down to a system.

    Question for Wildbow: You said, I believe in your Blog posts, that you got a degree which taught you about writing. What is that called? Or am I totally miss-remembering?
    I like how you command detail. I generally smatter sensory information in my writings, if I’m being hard on myself, but you seem to be using a more measured system. What would you say is the line between overdoing (which I probably lean towards, not excessively of course, I’d like to think I’m an okay writer) and underdoing details? Comments? If not, that’s totally fine. No pressure.

    Other people? Comments?

    • Imagine literally being in your character’s shoes. Wildbow’s characters have been observant in terms of quickly absorbing the setting they enter (noting the stable’s type of structure without going into detail of it) without paying attention to the unneeded details.

      Think about it this way- when you go into work or school or whatever, you probably aren’t aware where the lightswitch is. That isn’t to say you have never seen it- you probably have. Your brain filtered the sensory information to that which it thinks is important to you. When you go into your room, you have had to turn the lightswitch on or off a few times, so your brain becomes aware where it is and deems that information “important”.
      However, there are some things that you do pay attention to that aren’t really important, but you brain thinks is/was at the time. Example- I know that my staircase has an odd number of stairs because of a time where I stubbed my toe and was aware that if I started climbing them with one foot vs the other, I’d feel pain less often. Is that information important? Not really, but my brain thought so at the time.

      Writing is much the same. Your characters (this applies to first or third person as well) will notice certain aspects of a room, city, sidewalk, stranger, and friend while disregarding others, so when you describe things, lean on what they would and/or *should* notice.
      Of course you are going to detail needless things, and of course you are going to leave out some things that your character’s didn’t think important at the time, but that’s okay, as long as you aren’t insane about it.
      The way I was taught was simply- you don’t need to point out a pothole before your character steps in it, but don’t make it seem like the ground is perfect and brand new first, otherwise readers will be as confused and hurt as your character. If you describe it in detail before it gets stepped in, it becomes pointless to have stepped in it in the first place.

      • Between each floor in my work building there are a set of 11 steps and a set of 10 steps, as well as an extra 6 steps from the ground floor up. There are either 4 or 6 steps from the closest food place to the work building. There are 162 steps from work to the closest free parking location.

        I may have just figured out why I am bad at writing.

  21. It would be interesting if a superior creation was created, but had no idea that they were a creation. If they were told, that they were a creation, it would be an identity crisis. That would be awesome!!!!!

  22. Shows how sy really isn’t a moral person when his friends feel they have to remind him not to kill Rick when he trys to care for sy.

  23. Ooh I get the feeling that this is going to be a fun one.

    I’m somewhat intrigued by Gorger, the name would seem to indicate rxtreme omnivore capabilities, possibly somewhat like gluttony from FMA.

    • Slendy doesn’t really do the wide-brimmed hats thingy, doesn’t fit with his nice suit. I pictured him as this really strong, badass outlaw, permanent arrogant smirk included, always with one hand at the hat, cowboy-style. That, or Twisted Fate from LoL.

  24. I feel kinda sorry for Rick. I mean, he could be the crazy transvestite murderer type (not that there’s anything wrong with the transvestite part of that), but I don’t get that vibe. He seems more autistic than…Slaughterhouse Nine-ey.

    • He’s Fay’s tool, it’s part of how she keeps tabs on the Lambs. His brain has been locked from speaking about it, though, which is why he keeps riding Sy, hoping that Sy will figure it out.

  25. Crap, I’m really liking Mary’s character and I’m terrified that something bad might happen to her later @_@

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