Lips Sealed 3.1

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The room flooded with light.  I opened my eyes just enough to glimpse Gordon sanding there, curtains in hand.  He was wearing a white Academy uniform, minus the jacket.  He took his time, tying each curtain back with the ribbons that were hooked into the wall.  Past the rain-streaked window, the trees and the leafy branches on buildings were a breadth of colors; mostly red and red-black for the buildings.  The color green was all but gone from the view.

I pulled the covers over my head.

“Up,” he said, tearing the covers off me in one sweep.  “Mary can’t wake you up every day, much as you’d like her to.”

“But I don’t want to go to school!” I groaned, pulling the pillow over my head.


“I don’t care about orders!  I’m the black sheep of the lambs, the rebel, the villain!  I can play hooky!”

“You’re coming,” he said.  “I’ll drag you along in your pyjamas if I have to.”

“I’d make it work,” I mumbled into my pillow.

“I’m betting you’d revel in it.  But you’d stand out, and we’re already on shaky ground there.”

I moved the pillow and looked at him, “You’d sabotage the project?  Reveal us for what we are?”

He looked very casual, leaning on the footboard at the end of Jamie’s empty, neatly-made bed.  He didn’t flinch at the question, but instead asked, “Aren’t you already doing that, trying to skip out on this job?  Professor Briggs said he’d make use of us.  He followed through on his word.  This is our assignment.”

“I didn’t think he meant this!” I said.  “It’s so horribly, awfully, agonizingly boring!”

“It has to end soon.”

“Nuh uh!” I said, flipping over and sitting up a bit.  “We finish and, oh, guess what?  We have to start over!  He’s sinking the project and he’s trying to keep a leash on us.  This pointless busywork is exactly that.”

“I wouldn’t say pointless,” he said.  “If you’re not going to get up because of the project, how about getting up because you don’t want to look like a baby in front of Mary?”


“I can play head games too, Sy.  If you want to whine and throw a tantrum-”

“First of all, that’s not a good head game, if I know you’re playing me.”

“It’ll work,” he said.

“Second of all, I’m not throwing tantrums, you dick.”

“You’re not acting like an adult, either.”

“Yeah?  Are you sure?  Because I think a lot of adults groan and moan behind closed doors.”

“Do you really think those hypothetical adults are the ones you want to turn to as role models?”


“Especially considering that you’re a sponge when it comes to that sort of thing?”

“Yes!  Because the alternative is ending up a tightwad who doesn’t know how to express himself or have fun,” I said, giving him a pointed look.  “If I live to be an adult, then I want to be the kind of adult who skips work and goes and gets drunk and knows how to enjoy the good with all the rest of the murky, bleary day-to-day garbage.  I want to do work that’s exciting and interesting and me.  Not this kind of work!”

“There are times when I don’t understand you at all,” Gordon said.  “But I do know that you don’t want to look like a baby in front of Mary.”

“Stop saying that.”

“Is it getting to you?”

“No,” I lied.

The look he gave me told me he knew I was fibbing.  I wasn’t at my best first thing in the day.

“You and I both know you’re going to get out of bed, you’re just stalling at this point.  You have three seconds before I head down to the breakfast table and casually mention that you’re being a brat and a baby.”

“That’s dirty.  I’m going to get you back for this.”


“I mean it.  I will get you.  Today, even.”

“I know,” he said.  “One.”

I swung my legs over the side of the bed, bringing them down to the floor and standing in the same motion.

When he didn’t react, I flourished a little.

He gave me a short round of clapping, though his expression didn’t change. “Come on.  I don’t trust you not to go back to bed if I leave you alone.”

I grumbled, but I went with.  He clapped a hand on my back as I walked beside him.

“I hate it too,” he said.

“But you don’t hate it enough to do something about it,” I said.

“I’m patient.”

“It’s been three months.  Three!  This is the worst job.”

“I know.”

“Life is short!” I said.

I belatedly realized what I’d said.  I bit my tongue, literally, with enough force that I might have drawn blood.

But he didn’t get angry, and he had gotten angry in the past, when I’d said similar things.  He only sighed out the words, “I know.”

“Sorry,” I said.

He didn’t respond, but clapped a hand on my back instead.

We reached the dining room.  Even with two tables, we couldn’t seat everyone at once.  What tended to happen was that the older kids looked after the youngest, who were given something simple and quick to eat, then moved along with something they could carry with them as they ate.  In the summer, the place of choice was often outside, under the eaves.  Now that it was getting cooler, only a few went out, and the rest were relegated to the stairs and front hall, where dropped bits of toast and fruit were easiest to clean up.

The good stuff was available on a first-come, first-serve basis, which meant I rarely got any bacon or grilled tree jerky.

Jamie, Helen, and Mary were already seated when we arrived at the table.  Jamie and Mary were looking after the little ones.  Jamie’s long hair was wet, combed and parted, and he had drops of water on his glasses, and he was still wearing his pyjamas.  Mary was wearing a cardigan over her nightgown, hair tied back with one ribbon.

Helen, both washed and dressed, like Gordon, was generally disqualified from the breakfast duties.  None of the kids were privy to who or what we were, but somehow, by some clue or cue that I couldn’t figure out, the littlest kids had a way of reacting to Helen like a rabbit might react to a swooping hawk.  If she tried to urge them to eat, they tended to stop doing anything but acting nervous and focusing on her.  She often helped watch the food or turn over the toast, instead.

“You’re up,” Mrs. Earles greeted me.  The food on the stove was only being kept warm, and her focus was more on cleaning up than anything else.

“Good morning, Mrs. Earles,” I said, still half asleep.  “I didn’t get a chance to say last night, but I think your haircut looks nice.”

“You got your hair cut?” Rick asked, twisting around on his bench.

“Just a trim,” Mrs. Earles said.  “And it was very kind of Sylvester to notice and say so.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to turn the stove back on to cook him some bacon.”

“Early bird gets the bacon,” Rick told me, in the most smug manner possible.

Fat bird arrives early enough for the bacon and takes up table space until everyone else is done.

“Wasn’t trying for bacon.  Just saying,” I said.  I collected a bowl and plate, holding them out.  “Oatmeal?”

“Oatmeal,” Mrs. Earles said, plopping a too-generous helping into my bowl.


“Fruit,” she said, using a ladle to deposit mystery fruit on my plate.  Something from the Academy that they were trying on the public of Radham.


“Toast,” she said, reaching over to the side of the oven to grab the long-handled wire setup that had toast trapped within its lattice.  She popped the wire configuration open and dumped the toast onto my plate.

Boring food for a boring day.

“Thank you, Mrs. Earles,” I said.

“Work hard today,” she said.

I gave her a weak smile.

I sat down with the others, making a smaller kid scoot over to give me more room, so I wasn’t forced to take the spot next to Rick.

Mary was sitting beside Helen, and didn’t seem to remember that she was supposed to be afraid of the girl.  Things were bound to go one of two ways as time passed, with Mary’s fear of Helen escalating or dissipating, and it was perhaps a testament to Mary’s character that she’d found a way to take it in stride.  Her focus was more on Ally, a six years old who was staunchly refusing to eat her oatmeal.

“Eat fast,” I chimed in.  “It only gets grosser if you let it get cold.”

“It is cold, and it is gross,” Ally told me, which I’d expected.

I rose up from my seat a little, peered over, and checked her bowl.  I stole it from her.

“Sylvester,” Mrs Earles said.  “No tricks.”

I spooned most of my oatmeal over into Ally’s bowl, then gave her what was left of mine, still hot, noticeably less than she’d had before.  I passed it back to her, then looked at Mrs. Earles, waiting.

She huffed out a sigh, then went back to cleaning dishes.

It was the perfect response, because I could look at Ally and give the girl a wink.

It was clear that she didn’t want to eat, but in this small battle of kid versus adult, I’d sided with her.  She couldn’t refuse now without betraying the covenant of kids everywhere.

Still, she was noticeably sullen as she took to shoveling the oatmeal into her mouth.

“Ready to face the day?” Mary asked, now that she was free of her charge.

“Are you?” I asked.

She made a disgusted face, tongue sticking out.  I smirked, then set to eating, mixing the cold oatmeal in with the hot.

It was pretty quiet as mornings went.  I wasn’t the only one that was feeling a general weariness.  It was visible in Jamie, in Mary, in Gordon to a small degree, and even in Helen; Helen wasn’t putting a lot of energy into acting.  She’d slipped back to her default: smiling, cheery, coy.

“I believe I was the one that mentioned Mrs. Earles’ haircut to you last night,” Jamie commented.

“Uh huh,” I said.  “Did you tell her?”

“No,” Jamie said.

“Joint effort, then,” I said.  “Mrs. Earles?”

“Yes, Sylvester?” she asked, sounding way too tired for the early hour of the day.

“Jamie likes your hair too.”

“Thank you Jamie,” she said, in a way that made it sound routine.  More for the benefit of the littler kids than anything else.

I looked at Jamie.  “See?  Teamwork.”

“Thank you,” he said, but he rolled his eyes.

I ate quick, but as one of the last to the table – Gordon had already eaten before waking me up – I was still one of the last to finish.  Ally finished her oatmeal, which freed Mary to head upstairs to wash and change, with Helen and Jamie a few steps behind.  I’d timed things well enough that I could go up with them.

I looked at Rick, who was still seated.  The look he gave me was a curious one.  Not the usual.

Something had changed.  He was studying me, and I didn’t know why.

I shivered.

We passed Gordon, who was working to manage the kids and help Mrs. Earles.  It would probably be my turn tomorrow, and sleeping in wouldn’t be an option.  Blah.

“You look nice too, Mary,” I commented, quiet.

“I haven’t even washed up.”

“Even so,” I said, shrugging.

“Thank you?”

“You too, Helen, of course, but that’s only natural, right?”

Helen gave me a warm, coy smile that made me shiver in a less-good way.  Then, to make me more uncomfortable, she added,  “Naturally.”

Jamie gave me a curious look.  I nearly missed Helen taking Mary’s hand.

“Come on.  Let’s wash up, and I’ll brush your hair for you,” Helen said.

The look on Mary’s face suggested she wasn’t entirely used to Helen yet.  She said, “I can do it myself.”

“Please.  I get so bored doing my own hair,” Helen said, pleading.  “I want to do yours.”

You don’t get bored at all.  I know for a fact that you can sit and stare at a wall for hours without a problem.

Mary had to know the same thing.  She gave me a helpless look, but all I could do was shrug.

Jamie and I headed to our room, leaving Mary to be dragged to the girl’s washroom by Helen.

“I have no idea what’s going on,” Jamie said.

“Girls are scary,” I said.

“I’m pretty sure that it’s only those two.”

We reached the room, and I went to close the curtains that Gordon had opened because of me.  Idly, I mentioned, “Okay, I don’t want this to be taken the wrong way.”

“Do I do that?  Take things the wrong way?”

“No.  You’re good about that.  But you do get weird about some stuff.”



“Okay.  Say or ask me whatever you’re thinking, and I’ll try not to get weird about it.”

“I wish I was a girl.”

“Do you?”

“Look at what Helen does.  It’s so much easier to manipulate people.  So many more levels of nuance and ways to abuse people’s expectation of you.”

“Uh huh.  You do that well enough as a boy.”

“And if I was a girl, I’d be going to the girl’s washroom right now.”

“Ahhhh, that’s what you were getting at.”

“I could protect Mary from Helen, and I’d be closer to her.  Lillian’s close to her, and Helen’s getting closer to being a real friend of Mary’s.  It’s… what’s the word for building a relationship through closeness?”


“Sure.  Propinquity.  That’s why I think I’d want to be a girl.”

“One of these days, Sy…” he said, trailing off.

“You said you wouldn’t get weird!”

“I’m not getting weird.  I’m trying to decide if I should pity or fear the person you’re going to be in a few years.”

“Pity or fear,” I said, snorting.  “You’ll feel friendship, because we’ll be friends.  We’ll be together.  What’s to pity or fear?”

“You’re assuming we survive that long,” he said.  “And no, that’s not an excuse for you to tell me when my time is supposed to be up.  I won’t ask until Gordon does.”

“I guarantee you,” I said.  “You and I, together.  You’re my best friend.”

I gave Jamie his space, keeping my back turned, while he got dressed.  Reaching into the wardrobe, I pulled out two Academy uniforms on hangers.  Both were badly wrinkled, and one was stained with blood.  I started measuring the two to figure out which one was most wearable.

Cloth rustled against my hand.  I didn’t look, but felt it, then seized it.

Jamie had passed me his spare uniform.  Unwrinkled and clean.

“Might be a little big, but it’s gotta be better than that.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“It’s okay,” he said.  “Best friends, right?  Or chalk it up to teamwork.”

“Yeah,” I said.

White shirt with the Radham emblem on the lapel and sleeve, light gray uniform jacket, dark gray pants.  Socks, shoes.

Same as I’d worn six days a week for months.

I fished my badge out of one pocket, a silver etching of Radham’s coat of arms, backed by a black piece of leather, connected by a buckle at the top so it could flip up.  Both sides of the leather were marked by a script, though general wear and tear had made it hard to read.  Clearance to do what I needed to do

The badge went in a pocket, out of sight.

When we were done, we stepped back out into the hallway, where we waited for Gordon, Helen, and Mary.

“I’m not suited for this,” I said.  “Uniforms, schedules, routine.

“Make a game of it?”

“I’ve made so many games of it,” I said.  “I’ve made games about the games I’ve made of it.”

“I don’t know what to say.  I feel like you’re buttering us up.  You’re being too nice.

“I’m trying not to be an asshole,” I told him.  I had to choose my words carefully to avoid letting details slip to an overhearing ear.  “I’m so god-damned tired of this thing we’re doing at the Academy.  I’m cranky and I’m feeling spiteful, and it’s almost that time of the month.”

Jamie snorted.

“For my appointment,” I whispered.  “And after my appointment I’m going to be worse.  I can’t take much more of this.  Something’s going to break, or give, or something.  I want to make sure I’ve established who my friends are before it happens.”

He reached up and put his hand on my head, mussing up my hair, side-to-side.  I let my head rock with the motion.

The girls emerged, radiant in white, Mary with her hair done up in a slightly different style, two thin braids reaching behind her head, where they met and were tied into place with a ribbon, trailing down at the back.  The rest of her hair was brushed straight.  She was smiling in a way I hadn’t expected.  Whatever magic Helen had worked, this was above and beyond.  Mary looked like an entirely different person, from an emotional standpoint.

“Looks nice,” I said.

She leaned close to Jamie and I, smiling all the while as she whispered, “We figured out how to hide knives in there.  Can you even see them?”

“No,” I said, as Jamie shook his head.

“You would not believe how many weapons I’m carrying right now,” she said, smiling like the cat with the canary.

Jamie and I glanced at each other.  I knew we were thinking the same thing, an echo of our earlier conversation.

Girls are scary.

Lillian met us at the entrance to the Bowels.  She was holding a small stack of files.  Without a word, she joined our rank and file, handing the files to Gordon.

We descended the stairs into the more dangerous laboratories of the Academy.  Gordon passed one file back to us.  “You do one, we do one?”

“Who’s you and we?” Mary asked.

“You and Jamie go with Sy.  Helen, Lillian and I work on this one.”

“Sure,” Mary said.

Odd, that he’d put me together with Mary and Jamie.  Was he going easy on me?  Did he sense that I was close to my limit?  Suggesting I join up with the people I got along with best?

Good guy, that Gordon.

“Two-eighteen,” he said, pointing off to one side.  Two floors deep.

“We’ll be in Three-twelve,” I said.

Our groups parted.

We descended another floor, then went to find the right lab.

Mary knocked on the door.

The man who answered wore a grey coat, and had a patch of skin on his face that was paler than the rest, with a frost-like pattern to how it was discolored and no hair growth on that part of his head, just above and behind the ear.  I was pretty sure that it was from a few decades back, when they were still experimenting with new skin growth.  When I’d had my skin melted off with the Snake Charmer’s special venom, I’d had the newest kind, and it had been uncomfortable for days.  This guy would be that uncomfortable for the rest of his life, very probably.

“I know you,” he said.

“You do?” Mary asked, surprised.

“Word’s getting around.  The audit.

“Where’d you get the word about this audit?” I asked.  “Or that we were the ones doing it?”

He smiled.  “I can’t name names.  But you can’t expect to interview every single notable staff member and project team leader without someone letting something reach the wrong ear.”

I frowned.  Well, that took any potential fun we might have out of this.

“I’ve even heard that you’re a special project yourselves,” he said.

I didn’t give a tell, and I knew Mary wouldn’t either, but he still smiled as if we’d given something away.  Jamie?

“How does that work?” Jamie asked.  “Are we supposed to be killing machines?”

“I’ve heard you’re adults in kid’s bodies.  To catch people off guard.”

Well, they’re wrong, but that’s still a really bad sign.

I spoke up, “Are you going to tell us who you heard that from?”

He shook his head.  “Oddly enough, I don’t think I can remember.”

“Yes.  Very odd,” I said, suppressing a sigh.  “That’s stupid.”

“Stupid, huh?”

“It’s really, really stupid.  It sounds like you don’t even know how the Academy works.  Funding experimental kids.  Is that why they think you’re doing something wrong in that lab of yours?”

The table was successfully turned.  Patchy frowned.  “My work is exemplary.  I’ve been supported every step of the way.”

“Exemplary,” Jamie said, while writing in his notebook, more slowly than usual.

“Show us?” Mary asked.

The man nodded.  He invited us in.

It smelled like a barn inside, which probably wasn’t a bad way of putting it.  The lab was one of the larger ones, but iron bars blocked off one side from the other.  On our side, there were tables and notebooks, slates with equations and notes written out in chalk, and a full set of Ratios by Species.

On the other side, the experiment lurched.  It was five-legged, unbalanced, it had no less than ten heads.  The body was patchwork, some areas feathered, some furred, some scaled.  With every movement, it made a hoarse whine, or a high pitched growl.  It was hard to say.

“Doesn’t look very viable,” I said.

“Not… viable,” Jamie echoed me, penning it down.

“Hold on,” Patches said.  “Do you even grasp the very basics of what we’re doing here?”

“Um, yeah,” I said.  Then I added a lie for good measure, “Our project, like all the other groups going around, is to summarize your projects, take notes, and do reports on them for class.”

When what we’re really doing is scouring the university for Mauer’s moles and spies.  Investigating and interviewing every single damn person who might know something Mauer might be able to use or pass on.

Checking ten to twenty a day, out of thousands of relevant doctors, teachers, students, and staff members.  Six days a week, for three months.

We’d only caught one.

This is my personal hell.

“I’m talking about method,” he said.  “It starts with a goal.”

“Making a weapon,” Mary said.

The doctor gave her a very condescending look.  I prickled a little at that.

“No,” Patches said. “That’s one option.  It’s an easy way to get bonus funding and extensions.  But if someone can contribute to the greater scientific knowledge in a demonstrable way, we can use that.  Right here, we have my study on ratios.  Common lines of thinking are that all sustainable lifeforms naturally fit into certain configurations on the macro or micro scales.  So long as the scale is maintained, or not deviated from too much, the lifeform should survive, even as other life is grafted into it on the micro and macro levels.”

“Doesn’t look very sustainable,” I said.

“Seeing when, where, and why it fails is my goal.  It’s very possible that thousands of doctors and professors around the world are operating under a flawed assumption,” he said.  “In the process, I’ve cataloged whole texts with numbers on the ratios pre- and post- graft.  I have support from four different professors in Radham, and two more in other institutions.”

“File has details on your past,” Jamie said.  “We’re getting a sense of where things stand at present-”

“Four papers and one text published in the last three months,” Patches said, with pride.

“What’s in the future?” Jamie asked.

The creature made a noise, louder than before, a guttural whine.

“Next step in determining sustainability.  I’ll have my creature impregnate itself,” Patches said.  “It’s a chimera, actually two sets of compatible DNA in one creature.  It won’t bear a clone, but a genetically distinct member of its own species, I’m hoping.  If it can carry offspring to term, that’s the last major benchmark in sustainability.”

Jamie nodded, but I noticed his hands as the giveaway, clutching pen and book.

“Any other questions?” I asked Mary and Jamie.

They shook their heads.

We stepped out of the room, and the door was shut firmly behind us.

“Nope,” I said.

“Didn’t get any impressions he was hiding anything,” Mary said.  “He even knew we were investigating on a more official level, didn’t flinch.”

“I was thinking it was more to do with his personality.  That’s a long-term project, ties him in pretty deeply to the academic community.  He had some idea who we were, even.  That’s not someone who gets caught or used by the Shepherd.”

“No,” Mary said.

“What do you think, Jamie?”

“Yeah, you’re right,” he said, absently.

“Okay, I’ll rephrase.  What are you thinking?”

“The animal in there.  What he was talking about.  Doesn’t sit well.”

“Our sensitive soul,” Mary said.  She stepped over and gave Jamie a kiss on the side of the head.  He smiled at her, still clutching his book tight to his body.

“Wuss,” I said.

He hit me with the book.

I amended my statement.  “Nah, I’ll back what Mary said.  I think I get it.  You’re a good person like that.”

He nodded.

We reached the staircase, and started our way back up to Gordon, Helen, and Lillian.

We were only partway up when we saw the woman coming down.

Half-again as tall as a woman should be, she wore clothes that were a part of her, waves of raw-edged, scar-tissue flesh flowing back to cover her hair, wrap around her arms, encircle her legs like a dress, and cover her feet.  Only her face was normal, and it was a very pretty face, though the eyelids were fixed open with staples, and her mouth sealed shut by the same.  Tubes ran out of her cheeks, down from her tear ducts, and out of her ears, while more extended from belly button, each tube feeding out a constant supply of black or bile-yellow fluid.  The tubes themselves disappeared into the folds of the cloth covering.

Her arms were bloody, up to the elbows.  That same blood was splattered all over her front and legs, with droplets on her face.

She made her way down the stairs at a brisk pace, crimson hands clasped in front of her.  We hurried to get out of her way.

We were silent as we watched her continue her herky-jerky descent deeper into the Bowels, perfectly upright throughout, though her head bobbed with each step down she took on the stairwell.

We exchanged glances.

We bolted.  Up the stairs, down the hall.

Jamie knew the room number, though I’d forgotten.  It didn’t matter in the end.  The door was open.

Broken glass was everywhere.  Helen was sitting against the wall, Gordon and Lillian were kneeling over a mangled body, Lillian doing what she could to help the man, though it didn’t look like it was enough.

“Mole?” I asked.

Gordon shook his head.  “But he was hiding something here.  Moment we started asking questions, he panicked.”

“His panic agitated the experiment,” Helen said.  “The experiment agitated his insides with her hands.”

“Please,” Lillian was whispering.  “Please, please, please…”

“I don’t think you can save him,” I said.

“He’s… I wish I could, but that’s not what I’m worried about,” she said.  She looked at me and whispered, “Lockdown.”

A silence followed her word.

“Let’s go,” Gordon said.  “Get out of here before-”

The siren went off.  All through the complex, throughout the Bowels, the lighting shifted.

“Oh,” I said.  I slapped my face with my hand.  “Oh.  Well, you just had to go and jinx it, didn’t you?”

Heavy thuds marked the barricades dropping down.  With the experiment loose as far down as she was, chances were good that they’d only sealed off the exit.

“I’m sorry,” Lillian said, in a small voice.  “I’m really sorry.”

Like we haven’t spent enough time down here already, I thought, as I heard the loudest thud yet, a final, terrible impact, burying us inside.

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95 thoughts on “Lips Sealed 3.1

    • “just enough to glimpse Gordon sanding there” from the first line;
      presumably he’s meant to be standing?

    • ‘She’d slipped back to her default, smiling, cheery, coy.’

      ‘Default’ should have a colon instead of a comma, or else a semicolon.

    • More typos:

      – “I want to do yours. -> no closing quotation mark

      – “Clearance to do what I needed to do” -> no closing period

      – “Five legged” -> Five-legged

      – “while more extended from belly button” -> from her belly button

      – “deeper into the bowels” -> Bowels

      – “throughout the bowels” -> Bowels

    • Or they take out all of the air, or they just keep it sealed off long enough for whatever broke out to starve, etc…

  1. Uh oh….

    Radham has pretty poor bio-containment protocols. All the labs open to a common access area, and if an experiment escapes containment while work is being done on other things by other scientists, you’d basically be killing your scientists along with the escaped experiments if you decided to kill it with fire….

    Unless your scientists could hole up in there with food and wait it out.

    The experiment seems to be:

    1) Derived from a human female
    2) Very strong upper limbs

    May or may not be a weapon, we’ll see.

    • Agreed. You would think at this point that they would have developed better. So, assuming there is a good in-story explanation, what is it?
      Arrogance: Well obviously, my experiments will never be the problem, so why are you bothering me about protocol?
      Inertia: I’m sorry, your revised floor plan and training will interrupt far too much important work for too long. (As well as putting me further from the faculty lounge.)
      (many possible others)

      • The Crown seems to consider the lives of its soldiers as resources of lower value than the stitched or its superweapons. Maybe the risk of monsters escaping, versus the damage they can do to the labs, is just not high enough for the Academy to bother with better (and therefore more expensive) security. They’d be content with occasionally quarantining the Bowels.

        A good analogy: Imagine a country not caring about nuclear fallout or pollution. Nuclear reactors, and nuclear energy, would be *remarkably* cheap in such a situation (no need to contain nuclear fallout, no need for controlled shutdown mechanisms, no need to worry about nuclear waste, etc), provided that the then guaranteed consequences would not befall exclusively that country.

      • It is actually weird, you need ten to twenty years after high school to form a good scientist and you kill him/her because an experiment escaped?
        And loose perhaps decades of scientific development in the process?

        • To be fair there are a bunch of awful scientists… the barrier to entry is higher than that of a laborer, sure, but look at any field and you’ll see supposed experts who really aren’t that bright.

        • Hmm, I think its important to remember supply and demand here. MadScience seems to be the route to prestige and power in the Crown States, so everyone will be applying to join the student -> professor pipeline. We see the desperation with the Snake Charmer.

          Despite rigorous (probably almost lunatic) filtering at the Academy level, they are still going to have LOTS of new students/doctors every year. The established doctors probably resent the up-and-comers. “They aren’t REAL scientists, etc.”.

          Ergo, I wouldn’t be surprised if the (unspoken) understanding is that scientists that are worth a damn use their own experiments/creations to defend themselves. One more filtering mechanism to keep the ranks pure.

      • Natural selection ?
        Weed out the fragile/inefficient projects and the not-quite-smart-enough student body, let the best ones emerge from the facility once lockdown runs out.

        Probably what we’re going to experience in this arc.

        • That might be the reason, but it would be a poor choice on a number of levels. First, there’s the guys who are doing legitimately useful work that is not rapidly weaponizable and who are in a very poor position to fight a rampaging monster. Also, protocol apparently calls for purging entire sections, and either that would kill everyone and everything inside or it isn’t a reliable measure. Granted, they probably only do that if they have something self-replicating or virtually unstoppable loose and would resolve this situation by getting a bunch of warbeasts and armed stitched, but it still means there’s an auto-fail condition for everyone.

          It’s also fairly wasteful. Just because someone isn’t good enough to succeed in this situation doesn’t mean they’re worthless. They might improve with more experience and training, they might be useful support staff, and they need teachers for the feeder schools.

          • I stand by my point:

            First, there’s the guys who are doing legitimately useful work that is not rapidly weaponizable and who are in a very poor position to fight a rampaging monster.

            Those can hide from the danger if they’re smart enough. If the rampaging experiment is so dangerous they can’t hide from it, the Academy will probably choose to kill everyone anyway. No loss.

            Also, protocol apparently calls for purging entire sections, and either that would kill everyone and everything inside or it isn’t a reliable measure.

            It’s a guess, but I expect each experimental chamber’s door to be airtight and fluidproof. The deathstuff probably targets stuff that’s roaming free in the facility, not sitting in a room. Lock yourself in, wait it out, grow some sustenance from basic compounds held in your lab. If you can’t, well, not smart enough.

            It’s also fairly wasteful. Just because someone isn’t good enough to succeed in this situation doesn’t mean they’re worthless. They might improve with more experience and training, they might be useful support staff, and they need teachers for the feeder schools.

            I think you’re underestimating the ruthlessness of the Academy. Working in the Bowels means you could die at any time from something you’re not responsible for. If you can’t deal with that, feel free to find a better job elsewhere. They probably have enough applicants to replace you before you’re out the door.
            Oh, and don’t let it bite your ass on the way out. It’s on a strict vegan diet ever since that one incident.

      • My thinking is they consider this to be good containment protocol. After all, these labs are theoretically full of superweapons fully capable of taking out a single escaped experiment (thus the direct connection to a common hallway). The threat of fire, water or poison gas is simply an excellent motivation for the scientists inside to get the monster under control

        You have to remember they’re building weapons here, for the most part. It’s the same reason army bases aren’t so concerned about someone unhinged getting ahold of a pistol or a rifle – there are a couple hundred people in the building that can deal with the problem

      • One more

        Expense: They’ve got a lot of different experiments going. Properly isolating all of them would be tremendously expensive; many of them are weapons projects and designed to breach defenses.

  2. How was the process supposed to go again? Lock the exits, pump it with poison gas, then drop in Gorger and wait?

  3. Here is what I wonder: They’ve had decent success with these thinking human experiments. Why don’t they try experiments that are smart and make better experiments? What could possibly go wrong?

        • Eh, there’s a lot of points. One is the lack of safety protocols, and excess of mad science, so it seems like something the Academy would do. But it also isn’t instant weapon so its something they might not do to shortsightedness.

          Then there is the fact that it full well seems probably Jamie and Mary are actually paying attention to the science and Mary certainly seems to have a high chance of turning on the Academy.

          Then there is the rebellion who might very well try something that desperate or any of the Academies enemies to leapfrog the Academy. Finally, this is a Wildbow story so the worst possible thing probably will happen.

          So then all those points got wrapped up to make a quip.

          • “this is a Wildbow story so the worst possible thing probably will happen. ”

            Ru,gur fhcrepbzchgre ghearq bhg nyevtug-ba zhygvcyr gvzrf naq sbe zhygvcyr varecergngvbaf bs “ghearq bhg nyevtug”

        • So in summary, unless you think like me something was getting missed. Also there is a 50/50 chance the first “smart” thing the academy makes will be in some “unimportant and safe” area like calculations and engineering and will promptly introduce the academy to nuclear tipped ICMBs.

          • Beware of extrapolating real-world physics to a world that does not run on real-world physics. Nuclear weapons in Twig are conceivable, but Wildbow still has plenty of room to choose whether this setting allows stuff like that.

          • mondesemmel,it seems to me like an expression (whats the most destructive think I can think of from our world that does to exist there?)rather than a 100% prediction.

    • Not sure if “what could possibly go wrong?” is sarcasm or not, but the answer is “a whole lot”.

      IRL we have a lot of researchers worrying about whether very smart AI will actually make decisions that are good for us humans. See for an example.

      • To be fair,cerivbhf rknzcyrf frrz gb cbvag gb Jvyobj guvaxvat vg jbhyq enatr fbzrjurer orgjrra “tbbq” naq “gbb uhzna-yvxr gb fnl”

    • 2 possible answers, off the top of my head:

      1. They are dumb, but not quite that dumb. Its pretty simple to see that initializing super sentience will be the last meaningful decision you get to make. They have experience with their experiments going rogue. Perhaps there is a “no making smart things” rule.

      2. They already did this, the leadership are creations, they just saw no benefits in telling the humans that they weren’t human.

      • 3. They got a case of the smart and decided to make themselves superintelligent instead of creating a new superintelligent species.

        4. They are just now entering the era of being good with brains. Note the problems they’ve been having with stitched brains.

  4. Should be interesting to hear from those who ship Sy/Jaime. I feel like this chapter had good material for that.

    • Resident Sy/Jamie shipper checking in.

      The shipping forecast was indeed extremely good today! Not just the ways in which Sy manipulates Jamie to comfort him (calling him his best friend, instead of family metaphors or appealing to the bond of the Lambs) but in how Jamie recognizes that Sy is manipulating him, and the kindness that he extends regardless. What I like about those two is the way that they know each other very well, warts and all. It’s clear that beneath the emotional manipulation (which is really what he does to everyone, anyway) Sy does care very deeply for Jamie.

      Gordon/Sy made another round up on the shipping charts. In contrast to Sylvester and Jamie, what makes Sy/Gordon is that while they know each other, they are not as comfortable. There’s a certain level on which Gordon is so exasperated by Sy that it occasionally manifests in outright distrust and anger. Where Sy/Jamie’s tension comes from external sources, such as Jamie’s mysterious and likely horrible fate, Gordon/Sy is a much more immediate and intimate sort of tension.

      Of course, I would be remiss if I were to neglect the premier hetero ship. The Sy/Mary shipping forecast continues to trend positively. Sylvester continues his emotional manipulation through kindness, of course, but seems to have largely dropped his more aggressive attempts to force Mary into seeing the Lambs as family, and Mary’s apparently genuine bonds with Lillian, Jamie, and Helen (all of whom are willing and capable of calling Sy out on his Sy-ness) go a long way towards defusing the more uncomfortable, emotionally abusive undertones of their possible relationship by Mary developing emotional connections that are not Sy. That said, it remains to be seen what Sy’s motivations wrt Mary even are.

      As an aside, I was amused by Sy’s commentary on gender roles-girls have so many more attached expectations to subvert, he could make even more people mad. I think if he tried it he’d find it more of a mix. He should choose not to choose.

  5. You’ll feel friendship, because we’ll be friends.

    Insert obligatory “Friendship isn’t an emotion” reference here.

    Mary’s glee at carrying a record amount of weaponry is quite endearing.

      • Well, it’s actually the heel of the shoe. Which was compared to being the shape of a stiletto blade when it first came out. And, how many jokes along the lines of “you could do real damage with one of those” do the heels get? ;P

  6. ‘Grilled tree jerky’: Plant-grown meat? Nice!

    Likewise, the hair-knives scene was heart-warming.
    (A good reveal, first noticing the visual appearance and emotional difference, /then/ revealing the main reason behind it, and the two’s reaction… *smiles*)

    What gives away Helen to the younger children? That looks like an issue that should be taken up with Ibott, a weakness. It’s fine if Sy’s knowledge of her nature results in him being spooked by what he knows is behind her actions, but it’s an issue if there’s something for unrelated people to pick up on.
    …maybe rather than specific things, more an uncanny valley effect of everything that’s only 99.9% or 99.99% right triggering a mental immune response of sorts…

    I want to ask what Jamie was bothered about, but from an ethical/welfare standpoint I can probably understand. That said, that research (ratio testing) sounds really important for that world.

    I wonder what the scar-tissue woman’s developer was hiding…

    (Also, why Rick was studying Sy. What’s going to happen to/with Rick in the long run, I wonder?)

    Looking forward to the other chapters in this arc!

  7. Praise: I enjoyed this chapter *a lot*. I love it when these kids get the chance to be *kids*. Makes for a nice contrast to their typically adult behavior. And there’s a delicious irony in a Wildbow character being *bored*, of all things. What a novelty :p.

    I’m also intrigued at the passage of time – the entirety of Pact must have played out in less time than what casually passed here due to a timeskip. And that’s great! I loved how the conflicts in Worm relentlessly ramped up with barely a moment of respite, but I also love this.

  8. Pshaw, it’s just one frankenwoman strong enough to rearrange a mans chest with her bare hands. Shouldn’t be that much of a problem. Unless something else breaks out. So is Gorger stationed in the Bowels normally, or is he sent in? I mean if he’s down there then this should go much easier.

    Wonder if Gordon’s guy wasn’t doing something he shouldn’t have been. Not saying he’s a mole, rather that he was working using a loved one. Because that always turns out well for mad scientists.

    Speaking of scientists, Patches is a surprisingly good one. Checking to see if what they think is right is actually right.

    • I love the idea of mad scientists with more respect for experiment replication than the real world. Sure, rehashing old research isn’t as sexy, but it does reduce the odds that a mistake results in everyone dying.

    • Yeah, I hate to admit it but can`t find fault in his line of work. Only in his ethics.
      Although … do you know the scientific definition of mouse?
      Mouse is that small furry animal where you inject a new drug and get out a published paper.

      • The guy is actually fairly ethical for Twig world. Seeing as how many of their experiments are people SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE! PEEEOOOOPPPPPLEEEEE! he’s actually pretty ethical since he wasn’t working on a person. Also they know about genetic material. Although do they know about the spiral or traits yet*? Also is genetic material real world or is it lameric evolution?

        *Actually real world traits and self-fertilization do NOT produce clones, so its pretty obvious their knowledge of genetics is either not up to par or their genetics are not the real world.

        • I thought he was freaked out because the scientist called self-replication the last bit of sustainability, while there was a recent reminder that their lives are all limited

    • I believe there was a line in the last arc where they went into the Bowels and Sy called it “Gorger’s Home”, so I imagine he actually lives in it somewhere.

  9. “His panic agitated the experiment,” Helen said. “The experiment agitated his insides with her hands.”

    Hahahaha. I love Helen.

  10. Ooooh, this is a glorious start!

    I’m loving this. This is an awesome world, and a good set of characters thus far. The antagonists as well as the protagonists…

  11. I love this more than pact because the evil here is so banal. The horror is more horrific because it’s just people doing their jobs. It’s like the c.s. Lewis quote, “the greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.”

  12. I feel that there should have been a bit of a “breather” chapter in-between arcs. It’s kind of awkward for it to just jump from one investigation to the next every arc.

    Otherwise, I’m very interested in what’s going on between Helen, Mary, and Sy. Well, more likely what’s going on in Helen’s head.

  13. *total shutdown*

    Laboratory 1 opens, scientist A walks out, laughing and shouting:
    S1: “So you got me! Yes! It was me with the secret project! Wahaha!”
    Laboratory 2 opens, scientist B walks out.
    S2: “Ha! They finally realized what I was cooking up in there, so they sealed us in!”
    Laboratory 3 opens:
    S3: “You fools! It is my experiment they fear! Mine!”
    S1: “Don´t shout so loud, the others will hear you.”
    S2: “Bah! I bet the only ones here without a secret project are those kids there.”

  14. I will graciously take things the “weird” way and say, Sy, don’t you worry. When you are confident about what your self-image is, the Academy will surely have you covered. Be it a boy, a girl, or a literal five-headed dragon.

      • Letting slip the dogs of war to only put them through their paces for 50 laps apiece and then together to check configuration, articulation, group awareness and energy consumption in an empirical set of trials? Are you mad?! 😀

  15. Regarding ethics:
    1. When have ethics ever figured in war? Even today, the US Federal Government has little moral hang-ups about turning those who buy in to pro-military propaganda in to trained killers and using them like disposable pawns in petty political disputes with foreign countries.
    2. Is it really fair to compare Twig-verse scientists with present day standards of ethics in the lab instead of say, the level of ethics that was practiced a century ago?

    • To be precise, due to the shift in technological methods, you should compare Twigverse Academy scientists with our world’s industrial leaders before OSHA was a thing.

      Feels about right.

    • Ethics at a state level are hopelessly distorted, even in our world, by people projecting “personhood” onto them. We map a person attacking a person onto a country attacking another one, but the two don’t even resemble one another from a moral calculus. Ethical judgements on nations tend towards the bizarre as a result.

      When you throw biotech into the mix consequentialism (which is the framework most folks use but don’t admit to using) throws up its hands and reaches for the brandy. Off the top of my head I can think of 4 knotty conundrums. Utility Monsters, improvement of the unwilling, rapid reproducers and the shadow of some sort of bio-based Singularity. There are no doubt more.

      Is the Academy moral? All the deontological systems I know of say “No”. Consquentialism flips a coin and shoots itself in the face.

      • I’m skeptical that consequentialism is the most-used ethical framework. I’d expect something like virtue ethics to prevail over consequentialism.

        Random example: Forgiveness of sin in catholicism – I don’t see how that’s compatible with consequentialism, even if one believes in a god.

  16. Worm was a smart, brilliantly-told story; Pact fundamentally changed the way I look at life at a time when I needed a perspective shift; and Twig is shaping up to be the purest dose of wish fulfillment heroin ever cooked up for me. Crazy biotech? Check. Largely amoral social manipulator as the protagonist? Check. A gang that’s just as smart as the protagonist but in complementary ways? Check.

    I love every single thing about this story. Keep doing what you’re doing.

  17. Sooo…. do the lambs take lunch breaks?

    It sounds like this job takes two or three forevers, and we know that at least MOST of the lambs need to eat food (not sure about helen… she worries me sometimes), and they don’t bring food with them, that we’ve seen. So do they head to the orphanage to grab some food, or does someone bring them something, or do they just eat breakfast and dinner once they are done for the day?

    Also, I love how adorable Mary gets when she talks about weapons.
    And helen’s line about the experiment agitating the guy’s insides was pure epicness

  18. Sy, don’t lament about girls’ supposedly having more expectations to subvert, vis-a-vis gender perceptions – just take that power for yourself. Crossdressing is always an option. I’m sure someone like him could use it to great effect.

  19. Three months is just about exactly enough for thirteen weeks. I’m not sure if that was intentional, but math makes it ominous.
    Speaking of math, something like eighty days of checking people, about fifteen per day, one success, suggests a success rate in the neighborhood of 1/1,200. Less than a tenth of a percent of the University staff is Mauer spies the Lambsbridge kids can find…and something tells me the chance of finding any given spy goes down greatly with each month of continuous searching. Sounds like busywork.

    “His panic agitated the experiment,” Helen said. “The experiment agitated his insides with her hands.”
    Helen, are you developing a sense of humor?

    • “I wish I were a girl so people expected me to be like a girl and so I could be friends with other girls as a girl.”
      I mean, those sound like excellent reasons to want to be a girl to me.

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