Cat out of the Bag 2.7

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“Good evening, reverend,” Mary said.

The Shepherd smiled, for perhaps the first time since I’d seen him.  It was disconcerting, especially considering our somewhat precarious situation.  Smiles meant things, and a rare smile boded ill.

“Come in, please.  I’m glad to see you, Mary, you’ve been on my thoughts in recent months.  Are these your…?”

“Friends,” she said.

Good, keep it simple.

“And you are?” the man asked, directing his attention to Lacey and Cecil.

“Teachers,” Lacey said, following Mary’s lead.

“I had a great many conversations with your father, Mary, and your education was one of the topics.”

“He didn’t tell me about that.”

“He wouldn’t, I don’t think,” the Shepherd said.  “That’s not the image I have of him.  You spent quite some time here when you were small.”

“I did, but my memory of then isn’t so good.”

“No?  I would have thought otherwise.”

“I… daydreamed, mostly.  When I think to back then, I think of the games I played in my head.  The church seems smaller than it was.”

“Well, I can’t help but take a small amount of offense at that,” the Shepherd said.  “We put some work into expanding it.  It was quite a trial, even.  The men I answer to tend to think a church in Radham a lost cause.”

I wanted so badly to help her, but I couldn’t.

Jamie must have felt even worse in that regard.  Jamie probably knew what the remodel had been, and the actual year and seasons it had taken place.

Mary defaulted to silence.  A terrible, awkward, damning silence.

“A small amount of offense,” the Shepherd said, offering her a smile.  “You’re not so different from your father.  Will you join me for a conversation?  With your chaperone and friends, of course?  Things are fairly quiet right now, and I’m hoping a few more people arrive or come back inside before I give Mr. Gill the stage to address everyone and quiet their fears.”

“I, um,” Mary said.

I gave her hand a squeeze.

“That could be nice?” she ventured.

The Shepherd smiled.  “Come, then.  We’ll have some tea and a bite to eat, if your teachers are fine with that?”

“Yes,” Cecil said, a little too quickly.  Then, as if to compensate, “that would be fine.”

The Shepherd smiled at that, as if enjoying a private joke.  “I’ll show you the way, then.  It’s foul out there, in more ways than one, and creature comforts go a long way.”

We were lead down the aisle, through an open set of double doors at one side of the church.  To look at it, going by the coat by the door and the sets of shoes, Mauer lived in the building, and this intermediate area between the area that was open to the public and the living area was something of an office.

It was a more private place to meet people, from what I gathered.  There was even a door leading from the little office to the outside, so people could come and meet him here directly.  I noted the presence of little stones at the base of the door, too small to be the type to hold it open.  Not that people tended to leave doors open in rainy Radham.

Not solely a place of business, the space felt a touch too staged to be a proper part of his home, either.  A dark red military jacket, trimmed in gold cord, sat behind glass, within a fair sized frame.  A smaller frame of the same make held three badges and an emblem from his old military company.  They were here for the sake of others, not for Mauer, I suspected.  The way the cabinet to Mauer’s left was laid out, he didn’t have a good view of either.  We, finding seats in chairs and benches on the far side of his desk, had a clear view of both.

There were other things and keepsakes too, better placed for Mauer to see.  Photos of him with family as a child, when he was about our age, black, white, and blurry.  A professionally taken, expanded photo of a relative wearing a baseball jersey, mid-pitch.  A cross, however, took center stage behind his chair.  Worn, beaten and battered, with chips of paint missing, revealing pale, old wood beneath.

It was a stark contrast to this very put-together man with his bronze-red hair so neat, yet I fully, one-hundred percent believed that the cross was his, not the church’s.  A family keepsake, perhaps.

He’d just finished filling his kettle with water from a pitcher, and had turned a little heated plate on.  Half-turning, he’d caught me looking at the cross.

“I’m guessing you’re not one to attend church,” he said.

“Most don’t, do they?” I asked.  “Especially people our age?”

“No.  Not in Radham, at least until bad things start happening,” Mauer said.  He leaned a little to one side to look through the doors to the church proper, where the crowd was still getting sorted out, gathering in groups and talking in low tones.  “As we see tonight.”

‘Bad things’.

To me, it sounded like a tepid way of referring to the escaped experiments, but to a real child of my age, coming from a man of authority, it could be reassuring in a way.  Acknowledging and downplaying the problem.

I found myself wondering what process was at work behind his words.  Did he tailor them to his audience with intent, thoughts flying to pick the best one for each situation, or did he do it naturally?

“It sounds like you’re trying to guilt him into attending church more,” Cecil said.

“One of my jobs,” Mauer said, smiling at Cecil.  “You’ll have to forgive me.”

Cecil gave him a tight smile in response.

Awkward.  Cecil was not the right man for this job.  I should have been more specific.

“Mary,” the Shepherd said, taking it in stride, “Your father and I had long debates about your attendance at Mothmont.  I don’t see it as confidential, as many of the debates were in public forums, more as friends than as council.  When he took up the accounting job for the mayor, he became too busy.  I think I asked what became of you, but memory fails me.”

“I did go to Mothmont,” Mary said.

“Past tense?”

“Yes sir,” she said.

He waved his hand.  “Trust me, I’ve heard the word ‘sir’ enough for one lifetime.  ‘Father’ works, but I’m not too fond of that either.  When you said past-”

“Aren’t titles and symbols important for a reverend?” she asked.  “Oh, I’m sorry, Father, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

It was interesting, seeing how Mary’s mind worked when she was put on the spot.  This wasn’t her focus or specialty.  She wasn’t an actor, and for much of her relatively short existence, she’d been raised to emulate one role, possibly for one audience, her parents.

But Mary wasn’t foolish or stupid.  Even the ‘sir’ could have been intentional, turning the discussion back on the Shepherd.  Now she was putting the focus back on him.

Not the tactic I would have chosen, but it was a good tactic.  Almost attacking him, in a sense, not letting him return a strike.

“The symbols aren’t so important to me, not in that way,” the Shepherd said.  He looked very at ease as the kettle started whistling.  He poured it into a waiting teapot and deposited some teabags.  “I believe in simple and fundamental truths.  I’ve seen people in my position try to give counsel to the suffering with fancy words and high concepts, with symbols and rituals.  It felt hollow, and I told myself I wouldn’t do that to others.”

“What are you doing, then?” Cecil asked.

Holy hell, Cecil, would you shut up?

It wasn’t the words alone, but the tone that he’d given them.  Accusatory.

It was Gordon that sprung to the rescue.  “Is it okay if I don’t have tea and treats?”

“Me either?” Lillian asked.  A little too fast.  Gordon might have prodded or signaled her, if I had to guess.

“Ah,” Cecil said.  “Yes, I think it would be.”

Gordon sprung up from his seat, retreating, Lillian following right after.

I saw what he was doing and started to formulate a way to communicate it to Lacey when she spoke.  “Charles.  You should watch them and make sure they don’t get into trouble.”

I couldn’t see it, which meant the Shepherd couldn’t see it either, but it was very possible that Lacey had given Cecil a wink to drive the point home.

“I think I should.  If you’ll excuse me,” Cecil said.  “I’m sorry father, but I would love to have tea and a discussion another time.”

“Of course,” the Reverend said.  “Three less cups of tea, then?

He brought the teapot over to his desk, then retrieved cups from the cabinet.  “People are scared.  The rest of you are all right?  Don’t feel obligated to stay for Mary’s sake.”

“I’m quite alright,” Helen said.  She offered him a winning smile.  “Tea would be lovely.”

“You just want the treats that he’s serving with the tea,” I teased her.

Helen’s expression shifted, a touch of momentary outrage, suppressed, consternation, composure.

My statement was partially intended to augment Helen’s mask, and partially in hopes that I could maintain the distraction, draw things out further so that Cecil’s accusatory question could more easily be forgotten.

“Yes,” she admitted.  Then, delayed, as if she’d just remembered, “Please.”

All for the benefit of the Reverend.

“Fruit cake?” he asked.

Helen’s smile widened.  “Please.”

For a man that professed to have little interest in ritual, the tea was most definitely one.  Serving tea to a group all the more so: asking what everyone wanted, portioning out the cake on little saucers with individual forks, and handing them out.

And in all of that, there were no clues as to how he’d grown so good at manipulating the masses.

“What’s going to happen?” I asked, before he’d finished portioning out the cake and gotten settled, ready to focus wholly on the discussion.  Taking the initiative, much as Mary had fought to maintain it, just minutes ago.

“I think that depends wholly on the Academy,” the Shepherd said.  He turned the fancy little tea spoon from his tea over in his hands.  “Four experiments got loose in the span of one day.  I have to wonder how it even happened, if some safeguard failed.  God willing, we’ll only need to stay safe until they’ve cleaned up their mess.”

Can’t clean up experiments that only escaped in rumor, I thought.

“What if it doesn’t stop?” I asked, but what I was really asking was, what if you keep up these rumors?  Stir people up into a frenzy?

“Then I suppose Mary will be counting on you to protect her,” the Shepherd said.

I wasn’t left at a loss for words terribly often.  The Shepherd had managed it.  My mouth sat open.

“I caught a glimpse of you two holding hands, seeing inside the crook of your teacher’s elbow,” the Shepherd said.  He finished doling out the saucers of cake, then took a seat, stirring his tea with a small, thin-handled spoon.  “You’re asking these questions out of concern for her welfare?”

“I am,” I finally managed.  My mind was racing.  He’d noticed that detail.  What else had he seen?

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Sid,” I told him.

“You’re going to grow up to be a good man, Sid.  Mary is lucky to have you.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so I focused on my tea, instead.  The saucer of cake sat in my lap, and I held the teacup with both hands, raising it to my mouth.

He might have taken it for embarrassment, but I was taking the time to think, free of further poking and prodding from our Shepherd.

I wasn’t missing the fact that I was losing in this verbal battle, and I wasn’t positive our man was even playing.

“We got off track earlier,” he said.  “What led you to leave Mothmont, Mary?”

“There was an incident.  Children got sick, the school was closed.  I talked to my parents, and they thought I would be safer elsewhere.”

“With your lovely teacher here.  Miss?”

“Lindsey,” Lacey said.

“Are you teaching the students in hopes that they will attend the Academy, then?” the Shepherd asked.

“I- no.  They’re free to make that choice, but that’s not our goal.  After the incident at Mothmont, we’re even downplaying it, for the parents’ benefit.”

The Shepherd nodded, but he had a concerned look on his face.

“Is that wrong?” Lacey asked.

The Shepherd sipped at his tea, then put his cup down.  No response was forthcoming.


He let out a sigh.  “When I was small, younger than these children are now, my father was a soldier.  He served in the American War.  The young men were all told how important the war was.  They were given all sorts of reasons.  Patriotism, principle, faith.  Their value as men was entirely dependent on how willing they were to die for their country.  How others valued them, and how they valued themselves.”

“My father was too young to participate, but he remembered what it was like,” Lacey said.

“On one side, men, shooting, dying, panicking.  On the other side, rank and file of stitched soldier.  Utterly obedient, each capable of getting up after being shot, needing only quick repair work before they were ready to see the field again.  Two or three times as strong as any soldier on my father’s side.  They had weaknesses, yes, but they had more strengths.”

He seemed to realize who he was talking to, and frowned.  “I’m sorry, I had a train of thought, and was musing aloud.  Am I scaring the children?”

I shook my head, joining Jamie, Helen, and Mary.  Jamie ventured, “It’s interesting.”

“I thought of my father, then myself, and looking at the younger generation, hearing how their education progresses, it got me thinking.”

“I want to hear,” I said, with the blithe eagerness that only a child could get away with.

“Mmm.  I’ll leave out details.  The Crown won, as they win virtually every war.  America lost.  I reached the age my father had been when he’d been convinced to go to war, but no reasons were given when they gave me a rifle and jacket.  See over there?”

The Shepherd stood.  He made his way around the desk, past Mary’s knees and mine, to reach the frame where his jacket was hung.

The moment his back was turned, Mary leaned forward.  A deft movement of her hand over his cup of tea, and the powder was deposited from the hollow of her smallest fingernail to the tea.  She picked up the spoon and stirred, not letting the spoon touch the edges of the cup and clink, then set it back in place, at the same angle it had been.

Lacey gave Mary a long, hard look.  It seemed to take apparent effort to compose herself.

A good thing that the Reverend didn’t turn around.  Oblivious, he tapped the glass, “Unlike my father’s, my jacket had a crown on the sleeve.  My war was longer and uglier.  I hope you understand if I don’t go into the details.”

It was Jamie who spoke up.  “Your father’s war was lost with brute strength.  The strength of stitched against men.  Your war was won with…”

“Abominations,” the Shepherd said.  He turned around, making his way back to his seat.  “Yes.  How exceptionally well put.”

“I read something like it in a book,” Jamie said, hugging his notebook.  “I like books.”

The Shepherd smiled.  “I do too.”

“Are you afraid of what war these children might see?” Lacey asked.

“No, Mrs. Lindsey.  That is not my greatest fear,” the Shepherd said.  “A fear, but not the greatest by far.”

“I’m afraid you’ve lost me, Father.”

The Shepherd was settling into his chair, mouth opening to respond, when I saw the reaction.  A momentary hesitation, while his eyes rested on his cup.

“Yes,” he said, finding his stride again.  “It seems I have.  I’m sorry.  My thoughts are elsewhere.  I think we may have to cut this short, it’s about time Mr. Gill and I address the room.”

“It’s okay,” Mary said.

“I’m sorry to dwell on your education, Mary.  I spend time worrying about the next generation, and after interacting with your father as much as I did, you’re one of the faces that spring to mind.”

Mary nodded.

“Thank you very much for the cake, Father,” Helen said.

“You’re very welcome,” he said.  “You children are welcome any time, to talk about anything.  There may even be cake waiting for you when you do.”

“Thank you!” Helen said, smiling.

“Provided you have permission from your teacher or parents to partake,” he said.

Helen’s face fell a little.

“I appreciate you humoring me, I hope I didn’t bore,” he said.  We shook our heads.  “If anyone asks, I’ll be out in a minute, no less.”

“Father,” I said, right away.


“You said that your fear wasn’t so much that we’d fight in a war worse than the one you fought in, but you didn’t say what your fear really was.”

“It’s complex and silly,” he said.  “It wouldn’t make much sense, trust me.  Taken the wrong way, it might even offend.”

“Please?” I asked.

“Please?” Jamie asked, chiming in.

The Shepherd looked surprisingly weary, looking at us, collecting the first of the dishes we’d left behind.  He seemed to weigh his options a little.

“Please,” Mary said.  “We’re not as dull as you might think.”

He startled a little at that, then gave her an appraising look.

“My greatest concern, Mary Cobourn,” he said, “is that there won’t be an opportunity for you to fight at all.”

Leaving us with that terminal dose of irony, he turned away, collecting the dishes.

From the time he’d returned to his chair to the time he saw us out the door of his homey little office, he hadn’t touched his tea.

Glancing over my shoulder, I could see through the open door as he quickly stacked saucers and gathered the scattered cups we’d left behind.  All went to the counter by his little heating plate and kettle, likely to be washed at a later time.

I saw him carry one cup to the same counter, clearly heavier than the others.  He unlatched his window, removed something from the top of the window, opened the window and tossed out the contents.

“Lacey,” I said.

She gave me an annoyed look.  “Don’t call me like a dog.”

“Find Cecil,” I said.  “Gordon or Lillian would work too.  Whatever they’ve been up to, we should get caught up.”

“Say please?” she asked.

“Time is really of the essence,” I said.  That was apparently enough to send her on her way.  To her back, I added, “Fetch.”

She stopped in her tracks, apparently decided it wasn’t worth it, and headed off again.

“You’re a jerk,” Jamie commented.

“He knew,” I said.  “The Shepherd.  Something tipped him off.”

“I did it right,” Mary said, under her breath.

“Apparently not,” I said.  “Plus side is, I think he blames Lacey.  He seemed eager to invite us back, but not so much for our teacher.”

Mary looked annoyed, apparently not even hearing what I was saying.  “The tea shouldn’t have even been swirling by the time he returned to it.  The powder didn’t change the color, I even moved the spoon back.”

“No,” Jamie said.

No?” Mary asked.

“No.  It wasn’t the same when you put it back,” Jamie said.  “I’m thinking back, and the spoon was upside down.  It was rightside up when you put it back.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Mary said.  “How would you even tell until you took the spoon out?”

“They were nice spoons, maybe with marks on the underside of the handles,” I said.  “Something you said at the beginning tipped him off.  I think he took it to mean she’d been brainwashed or the Academy had its hooks in her.  He took a sudden interest in your welfare.  While getting into a protective mindset, he got into a defensive one too.  Got a bit more cautious.  Prey instinct, maybe.  Probably not, but maybe.”

“Sensing something wrong from clues he didn’t even consciously take in,” Helen said.

I nodded.  “If I had to guess, he’s been especially wary ever since the war ended.  He had coins or something stacked in a certain order above every door or window he doesn’t tend to leave open.  Stones left at the base of the door, so he knows if it’s been opened.  Everything in a place, to the point where he knows if anything’s been tampered with.”

“Why?” Mary asked.

“Because he’s paranoid, and rightly so,” I said.

“The war he fought in had parasites,” Jamie said.  “The worst ones paralyzed a man, left him screaming so the Crown soldiers could collect them and turn them into stitched.  Or just left them to scream themselves raw and die from exposure.  I can’t blame him for being careful with his tea.”

“Those weren’t the worst ones,” Helen murmured.  “I’ve seen some of the ones people don’t talk about without clearance.”

“Lovely,” I said.  “But we’re getting off topic.  Our concern is the Shepherd.”

“He didn’t have much to say about what he had planned,” Jamie said.

“No,” I said.  “But we did get a good chance to study him as a person, and we have a sense about his motivations now.  That bit at the end.”

“Assuming you think he’s genuine,” Mary said.

“I do,” I said.  I thought for a second.  “Are we sure this guy isn’t an experiment?”

“Why?” Jamie asked.

“Because, ugh.  He’s better at manipulating groups than any of us.  I’d say I’m better at him at one-on-one stuff, but he did throw me off with that one line.”

“That was funny,” Jamie said.  I elbowed him.

“He’s sharp, too,” I said.

“When Ibott gives me lessons,” Helen said, “He sometimes warns me not to underestimate people.  Humans did some amazing things over the years.  Geniuses pop up now and again, people with exceptional natural ability, or those with talent.”

“He’s just an incredible person?” Mary asked.  “One in a million?”

I respect him,” I said.  “I’m a little spooked at the idea of what he might do if we let him keep this up.”

“You respect him, but you want to stop him?” Mary asked.

“I respected you,” I said.  “I still do, all the more.”

That cut that argument short.  It seemed to stun her a little, put her on her heels.

I was learning little tidbits about Mary, and one was that she didn’t like to fail.  This was where we differed.  She valued the execution, while I liked getting a reaction out of people, even if it was in an indirect way, through some lesson I’d given Jamie.  When her execution wasn’t enough, she got cranky.  Same as I did, when I failed to budge people.  Rick being first and foremost among them.

“You did good,” I told her, taking her hand.  “Problem is, he did better.  We underestimated him.  I thought he set things up so that the people around him were all perfectly arranged, a chess board with every piece trapped.  But he does it with his environment too.”

Lacey was coming back with Cecil and Lillian.

“What do we do?” Mary asked.

The others reached us.  Gordon was absent.

“What did I miss?” Cecil asked.

I ignored him.  I asked Lillian, “Where’s Gordon?”

“On the roof.  He said to wave, and he’d make an entrance.”

I took a look around.  The building was only two stories high, but it had been expanded, like the Shepherd had said.

On the roof, yet able to see us if we waved?

My eye fell on one of the stained glass windows.

Good old Gordon.  He’d remembered what I’d said.

Taking the chess board and making an opponent’s move for him.

“Did he take anything?” I asked.  “Ask for supplies?”

“Soap and a scalpel,” Lillian said.

I had no idea what Gordon was doing with soap and a scalpel, but I was so excited at the prospect of finding out that I could barely sit still.  I grinned.

“Let’s let Gordon enjoy the spotlight,” I said.  “This plays well into what I was thinking.”

“And what were you thinking?” Jamie asked.

“Right now?  Lacey, get close to the altar.  Everyone else?  Spread out.  The Reverend is going to want to assert control, keep everything in position.  But as Mary demonstrated, he’s not so good if he’s kept on the defensive.  Spread the word that there are riots happening elsewhere.”

“I can do that,” Cecil said.

“No,” I said.  “You have the most important job.”


“Run to the nearest telephone, as fast as you can,” I told him.  “Get word to the Academy.  Tell them there’s a riot happening here.”

“This is not the clean and tidy Hayle wanted,” Jamie reminded me.

“It will be,” I said.  “Trust me.”

Gordon didn’t trust you,” Jamie said.

“I think he and I are on the same page here,” I said.

Everyone moved to their assigned spots.  Locations and positions.

Reverend Mauer had set up his own board.  Now we were setting up ours.

I gave Cecil a few minutes, watched each of the others.

The Shepherd and Gill were talking, and Gill made his way to the stage.

I saw the Shepherd looking over the crowd.  He saw me.

I gave him a wave.

Two seconds passed.  I supposed Gordon needed a running start.

He came crashing through the stained glass window behind the altar, head over heels, clearing a good distance.  The landing was violent, clipping the edge of the stage.

The marks on his arms and body, scalpel-carved, looked like the gouges of claws.  He was covered in a mucus-like slime.  Soap.

Lacey was the one at his side.  She helped him sit up.

He found his breath.

“The things are attacking!” he screamed.

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65 thoughts on “Cat out of the Bag 2.7

    • “Of course,” the Reverend said.  “Three less cups of tea, then?
      The Shepherd shook his head…

      Bit of confusion here, as it seemed like the Reverend was answering the Sheppard, who are the same person.

    • “Something you said at the beginning tipped him off. I think he took it to mean she’d been brainwashed or the Academy had its hooks in her. He took a sudden interest in your welfare.”

      Mixups between “you” and “your” vs. “she” and “her”.

    • “… I’d say I’m better at him at one-on-one stuff, but he did throw me off with that one line.”
      …better than him…

    • It’s his tactic of “shake the box so you can see the beetles’ reactions.” Gordon faked an attack by “the things,” others are scattered around to foment riot, Cecil’s there to bring the Academy swooping down on the church, and Sly is supremely positioned to watch our dear Shepherd’s every move. Anything he does, well, next chapter will be enlightening.

        • That would depend on the Shepherd, now wouldn’t it? >:)

          More seriously, if we’re forcing an end early, he probably hopes the Academy will squash the riot before it spills onto the street.

        • Because there isn’t really a monster. So the riot happens, escaping the Shepard’s control, and then the Academy swoops in and announces they’ve taken care of the monster.

  1. The role change-ups are interesting: Sy knocked for a loop (his preferable tactic turned on him) and Gordon taking on the role of person who starts the human billiard balls in motion. Besides the obvious (starting a riot and making the Shepherd’s move for him, and far too early) it is not clear what the end game is here.

  2. This chapter made me supremely uncomfortable. So far, our gang has only gone after people I think we could all agree are “bad”, for they have orchestrated the death of others and done other immoral things. Our reverend also fits in that category, but as opposed to the Puppeteer or the Snake Charmer (did I get that right?), he seems like a very normal, nice person. Not only that, I wouldn’t be as quick to judge his actions as I would with the prior two. The Snake Charmer did it for personal gain, the Puppeteer did it mostly for revenge of sorts; the Reverend is trying to take the very scary and powerful Academy down a notch.

    So… Yeah. The Reverend is still a murderer and yaddha yaddha yaddha, but it’s the first time I, personally, feel as though our protagonists aren’t so much the good guys.

    I was also a bit startled at the line about Sid and Mary 😛 Totally out of the blue.

    • Two more quick comments. I can’t help but think of Cecil Palmer from Welcome to Nightvale all the way through the chapter. Alas, our Cecil here is nowhere as charming. And man, Gordon is a total badass, cutting himself for the sake of the act.

    • And just to be perfectly clear, when I say the chapter made me uncomfortable, I don’t mean it was bad. Rather, that I experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance between what I thought of the Lambs (vigilantes, who have gone after creepy murderers) and how we see them act here (plotting to murder someone who seems like a very likable, nice person with maybe reasonable motives behind his actions).

      • One can be likable and nice and have reasonable motives, and still be an enemy. Not to mention, I wouldn’t put it past Hayle for a second to not kill “underperforming” Lambs. Or even ones that piss him off.

      • Just because you fight bad people, that doesn’t automatically make you good. The lambs are the protagonists, but it was clear to me long ago that they are not good guys. They work for the academy, and the academy are not very nice at all.

        • That said,the Lambs have no choice,so I wouldn’t say they are the bad guys,However,in an “academy vs Sheperd”match,I root for the Sheperd.

          • Because I think the Academy IS the bad guys,though I wouldn’t blame innocent experiments forced to execute its orders.

    • Well, our protagonists are currently on the side of the world-conquering Crown, and they’re currently trying to stop a rebel. In Star Wars terms, they’re currently with the Galactic Empire, fighting on the side of Darth Vader against the Rebel Alliance.

      But that must and will change eventually.

    • It’s increasingly clear that the gang are not particularly nice people, don’t do particularly nice things, and don’t work for nice bosses. That many of the people they’ve gone after aren’t that nice either doesn’t change the fact that they’re essentially enforcers for an ominous, violent organization. It’s interesting to see their knowing disregard of the issues the Shepherd brings up: it seems they know very well the sorts of things that the Academies do, that they understand the motivations behind his behavior, and that they don’t pause for a moment in figuring out to deal with the situation.

      Their not-quite-human nature is great, too; they remind me perhaps a bit of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or Bladerunner. That Sid’s response to the Shepherd outwitting them is to express disbelief that he’s human, that Helen’s response is the sort of thing a moderate racist might have said, and all the ways they treat humans in the story with a casual disdain, condescension and disinterest really indicates that they tend not to identify well with humans, and see them as distinctly inferior. It may well be that the things the Shepherd considers abominations are creatures that the gang respect and care about a great deal more than they do the humans around them.

  3. So enemies on two fronts:-

    1. The Also-Rans’ whom disdain Academy Standards and Elitism &
    2. The Disaffected who see and feel their standing social/societal roles reduced to being fodder for “Vat-gineered” creations a-d seek to halt that slide.

    More enemies will pop up as the Academy seeks to put out these fires. Given that they are the tumorous consequences of Academies’ socio-cultural impact, they can rot in it.

  4. Nice! I’m enjoying a lot the different strengths of the characters!
    (Mary’s offense’s perfectionism falls short of and so loses to the Shepard’s defence’s perfectionism, caught by Jamie’s observation’s perfectionism… if the gestalt could be turned into a telepathy hive mind somehow they might be invincible–or might get bogged down in so much thinking that they’d become unable to fight like Sy.)

    Regarding the last character, quite curious about the long-term dynamic between Sy and Gordon, whether they’ll keep going forward working well together or whether the relationship between them will eventually break down completely (due to Sy planning without adequate consideration of consequences, Gordon not cooperating with Sy’s planning, or both…).

    Suspicious that the Shepard fully knows Mary’s nature. Quite conceivable that he’s one of the group introduced in 1.x; rather odd that they wouldn’t have contacted such an influential and motivated person, given that their goals seem to coincide (maybe?).
    –Speaking of which, the Shepard is hopefully against the Crown controlling the world rather than against world peace in general. Or he might be against any one country controlling the world, compared to many countries diversely coexisting…

    (Reviewing 1.x, no direct mention of someone who might seem to be the Shepard, but I do become curious about what motivated the former Professor.)

    I also find myself wondering if the girl at the back in the image at the top of the site is Lillian or Mary. My default guess is Lillian, assuming it refers to the start of the story, but if something happened to Lillian then the meaning could change. I dislike trying to predict possible developments from such a thing, though (and in any case am significantly interested in Lillian’s future emotional interactions with the other characters).

    I find myself wonder what city-killing biological weapons and countermeasures the Academy has stored away somewhere. We’ve heard a lot about its macroscopic creations, but not so much until this chapter about the microscopic ones.

    Ahh, and of course, I wonder about how it all _began_, the start of all this exciting mad science within Crown territories (and nowhere else? –Though was it that other countries have similar technology now..?), before there were any Academies as known at present.

    • >I find myself wonder what city-killing biological weapons and countermeasures the Academy has stored away somewhere. We’ve heard a lot about its macroscopic creations, but not so much until this chapter about the microscopic ones.

      Were the parasites they were talking about in this chapter microscopic? I assumed that they were macroscopic, sort of like headcrabs.

      • Since they mention being wary of a disturbed cup of tea, I expect some parasites were small enough to be concealed in one, so inch-sized.

        Swallow one, it stings your tongue with a muscle relaxant so you can’t enunciate properly or at all to warn your surroundings. Then burrow in the pharynx to reach the spine. Meat puppet time !

  5. What I find interesting is the Reverends line “My greatest concern, Mary Coburn,” he said, “is that there won’t be an opportunity for you to fight at all.” How to interpret that. Personally what popped into my head is that the world will be so dominated by the Crown that rebellion is impossible. Or that the crown decides to either make people more tractable, or replace them with something that is.

    • I just figured as the scienece stepped up you would end up with mind control stuff. Prasites are one thing, but what about an airborne virus? You breathe it in and on some signal by the enemy you become incapable of agression.

      Or a variant of pretty much anything here:

      warning, creepy shit.

    • It’s also important to ask weather or not he’s aware of her nature as a clone. He seems to have a pretty good information network, so its possible that he’s aware that she was replaced. If he’s working with the group from 1.x, the possibility of him knowing goes up.

      If he knows Mary is a clone, the implication is kind of sad: that the Academy will kill her before she ever gets a chance to resist, or even figure out that she might want to resist.

      From a general perspective, not getting to fight at all implies a calamity that is either too fast too fight against or too strong to resist. For the first, some of the nastier bioweapons around could certainly epidemic everything to death fairly quickly. Anything above a certain grade of lethality, basically. For the second interpertation… there has been an entire generation’s worth of warfare research since the Reverend’s generation, and the focus has, most distinctly, been on the warfare part of the research. Think about it. Radham isn’t implied to be anything special, and the all of the projects we’ve seen have been local affairs. The likes of Gorgor and Dog and Catcher are small fry. They’re the smallest of the small fry, considering the fact that we haven’t even seen the black box projects of this random university town.

      With that in mind, its more then possible to assume that anything serious getting loosed would be a death sentence, no matter how much it likes to take with its victims.

      It also brings up a third possible conclusion.

      The Academy is so focused on warfare research that it’s almost ridiculous. Nothing that doesn’t have a direct military application is allowed, ever. That sort of mentality is not something that happens unless you have a dire threat looming overhead.

      What is the Academy so afraid of?

      • The Academy is definitely being driven by some sort of outside pressure. With the information that the Crown States were conquered in “The American War,” I remain convinced that the empire is the British Empire-but then there’s the mention of the Indian Empire, existing at least a decade prior. Now, the Indian Empire may just be a client state of the British (And might just be referencing the British Raj) but if not, it means that one of the single most populated areas of the planet has broken away from an empire who was really not at all fond of people breaking away from it and indulged in some quite impressive atrocities which could lead to retaliation in kind, with enough access to the Crown knowledge base to try to create a race of slaves wholesale. That’s not exactly a good sign for an empire that has conquered based on scientific ability.

      • >What is the Academy so afraid of?
        A very good question. Wildbow’s previous works had plenty of world-ending threats, but most of the time they were so threatening mostly because they were completely beyond any kind of conventional military response.
        Although I do find it amusing to imagine Academy’s vat-grown horrors trying to take on something like Ur or the Simurgh.

        • To be fair- this is still only the second arc. [spoilers redacted]

          Seems like if the academy is already worried at this early in the game, imagine what it’s going to escalate to…

    • I was thinking that warfare would be so ingrained with stitched that there would be no humans fighting on either side of a war. Sorta like if world war 3 was fought with robots on both sides. Terminator and the Matrix does this, kinda, with one side of the war containing no humans; here there’d be people developing the stitched, but nobody actually on the field. Heck, if you count experiments like Sy as not human, you could have artificial tacticians and stuff, or even artificial professors. This world is very close to having autonomous warfare.

  6. I find myself interested in how the Shepard co-opt ed Jamie’s line. I have a feeling it was meant to end in ‘brains’, thus making a brains against brawn comparison and subtly set up attending the academy as the end goal of any person’s career – likely they teach all of history like that.

    I’m also interested in how the Shepard described the sequence of events that sent him to war. Sounds as if the draft is in full force in the Crown States, or at least it was. Academy students are probably protected

    Who else suspects the Crown originated in Canada? Darn author favoritism

    • Why did it originate in canada, and not britain?
      Wait… Actually that makes sense. Current-year is 1921, and the bio-science-boom began a little more than a century ago, which would have been too late to have been the american-revolutionary war the one with stitched. At least, not a significant number of stitched…

  7. The “escaped” (with badges) “things” (the Lambs) are attacking with spoonfuls, scalpel, soap and stagecraft. Oh what fun!

    Chapter 1.7 had “Mary Elizabeth Coburn”, 2.6 “Mary Cobourn”, and now 2.7 “Mary Coburn” again. I guess Coburn wins.

    Speaking of names, Sly has picked a good one.

  8. This is impressive. Considering the way this is going perhaps granting the lambs some beastly minions would be prudent, that way they wont have to cut themselves up, and possibly serve as distractions.

  9. The non-crown nations have to have at least WW1 “hard” tech, if they’ve been holding off the Crown. From what Walter said, it can be extrapolated that the non-crown nations are currently holding off the crown successfully, since no-one would want to defect to a nation that is in real danger of being conquered by the nation you defected from. Knowledge diffuses out, and there must be non-crown spies trying to steal biotech info from the academies, even with Dog and Catcher style enforcement on the loose.

  10. A very enjoyable chapter. In it we have a question of whether the Reverend is out-Sying Sy or just a decent and honest fella’. We also have a crazy wtf plan beginning (that’s just the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that makes sense). I don’t know if it was intentional, but there’s just a feeling that the Reverend is in control the whole conversation, not just when he notices the spoon. Like he knows exactly who they are and is turning them to his purpose the whole time. Just really enjoyable to read, thanks (again) for being a great author.

  11. I wonder whether Sy is doing what a late game Gnlybe qvq va Jbez. Ol gur raq bs gur svtug jvgu Fpvba, fur creprvirq rirelbar nf na rarzl. Fl zvtug or qbvat gur fnzr gb n yrffre qrterr, frrvat qrprvg jurer gurer vf abar.

    • It would be interesting, but I think that he’s been consistently pointed at actual enemies enough that any psychological flaws of that nature wouldn’t matter much.

  12. The Shepherd has managed to put the Lambs in their place in this round of Social Kung fu.

    But can they Take him down a notch in Round 2?

  13. You did a good job in writing the reverend in that I find it impossible to dislike him despite knowing that he has a talent for manipulation. Then I think back on how his actions led to people dying and I dislike him again but person to person interaction and he seems like a genuinely caring person, the perfect sort to be a reverend. Then it gets back to how clever is he in his manipulations and is he actually a sociopath or just so firm in his convictions the ends justify the means. Smart enemies are fun ones.

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