Lips Sealed 3.8

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“Depending on who was part of our trio here, I’d adjust my strategy,” I voiced my thoughts aloud.  “If it were Gordon and Mary, I’d talk to them about battle plans, where we could get weapons, stuff we could improvise.  I’d turn my own talents toward finding and putting together something that would buy the two of them an opportunity.  If it was Lillian that was part of the group, either of them, and me, I’d have Lillian use her knowledge of science stuff to do the finding, and I’d be a distraction, while Gordon could be point man.”

“Uh huh,” Jamie said.

The hallway was dark.  The bugs were everywhere, but they weren’t landing on us, as far as I could tell.  We also lacked any strange guests.  The wall-crawlers hadn’t followed us up this far.

“And with us?” Helen asked.

“You’re intimately familiar with the Bowels, Jamie remembers the past interviews we’ve done?”  I made it a question, directed at Jamie.

“I remember what I was told about.  I sat in on half the interviews we’ve done, I glanced over some of the files for the other half.  Seventy five percent?  Give or take?”

“How many labs is that, that you’re aware of?”

“Two hundred and two.”

“How many labs are you unfamiliar with?” I asked.

“Ninety eight.  Two were unoccupied.”

I nodded.  “We’re armed with knowledge.  The trick is to find out how to use that knowledge.”

She’s armed with knowledge, too,” Helen said.  “She knows more than I do about this place.  I don’t think we can beat her that way.”

“No,” I said.  “But let’s keep our eyes open for opportunity.  I don’t suppose there’s anything we could access or cut that would let us shut down an area without actually being in that area?”

Helen shook her head.  “Things were built like they were built in case of invasion.  If the enemy or enemy agents came in and tried to get at some of the labs to obtain tools to use against the Academy, those within could drop the ceiling and seal things off.”

“What about the mechanisms upstairs, then?  They have to be able to raise the stone blocks after.”

“Teams of stitched at a wheel, and a switchboard,” Helen said.  “Need the right configuration on the board for a given tunnel, or it locks up when you order the stitched to turn the wheel, and only certain individuals can order the stitched.”

“One way to stop Sub Rosa for good would be to follow her into one of the hallways, get to one of the panels where she reworked the security, and undo that work.  Seal ourselves in with her.”

“No,” Jamie said.

“It’s an option,” I said.  “Depending on how Gorger is doing, we could do that, sacrifice one of us to remove her from play, then let Gorger clean up the bugs and the wall-crawlers.”

“No,” he said, more forcefully.  “Do I need to list reasons, Sy?  I know you’d want to be the one to sacrifice yourself for us, and I’m not willing to let you do that.  If one of us dies, we grow weaker as a group.  Whatever comes tomorrow, or next week, next month, next year… we need everyone.  I expect that every single one of us is preparing on some level for what you’ve talked about.  The expiration dates.  You most of all, Sly.”

“I don’t know if I’ve been preparing,” Helen said.  “But I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

“That’s what I meant,” Jamie said.  “Just like with any problem, when things start going south, we’ll each approach it from our individual angles, we’ll support each other’s strengths and shore up each other’s weaknesses.  But everyone, anyone that we lose, that weakens us.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I can see that.”

“We’re not losing anyone,” Jamie said, and his voice was tight.  “Not if there’s a chance of saving them.  You’re not sacrificing yourself for the sake of the rest of us.  Especially when it’s not guaranteed to work.”

His voice cracked a little, and I didn’t think it was puberty.

For once, I didn’t have a ready reply.  The emotion he was exhibiting, it made it hard to say something, when I wouldn’t be able to match it or acknowledge it.

It was Helen who leaned close and gave Jamie a peck on the cheek, leaving behind a kiss mark of the powder Lillian had used mixed with the chemicals we’d covered ourselves in.  A pale version of the mark lipstick might leave.  I saw the tightness disappear from his shoulders in response to that simple gesture.  The tension was broken, and I was free to comment and speak.

“What about manipulating some sap into doing it for us?” I asked.

“God, Sy, really?” he asked, incredulous.

But I was already cracking a grin.  I saw Jamie shake his head, but he allowed himself a smile.

I’d lightened things up a little.  That paved the way for more serious discussion.  Jamie was more sensitive than the rest of us.  He had the least blood on his hands, next to Lillian.

“You’ve been holding that in for a while,” I said, no longer poking fun at him.  “What you said before.”

“Just a little while,” he said.  “It’s been worse for the past bit.  Past hour, I guess.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Seeing you almost die?”

“I’ve almost died loads of times,” I said, cavalier.

“That’s not the first time you’ve said that,” he said.

“Uh huh.  Because it’s true.”

“It’s not the first time you’ve said it, and yet you said it differently here,” Jamie said.  “I just thought back to all the other times, your expression, your body language, your tone-


“You said it in a different way because you feel different about it.  This time was different, it was closer.  You know it, I know it.”

I chewed on that for a bit, as we headed to the stairs again.  When we reached the staircase itself, I stopped.  We needed to decide where to go and what to do, but with Jamie feeling emotional and the current topic of conversation, I doubted I could get him to let things lie.

No, that was a fib.  I could get him to let things be, but no matter how gently I did it, I would be dropping a conversation that was critically important to Jamie.  I would be acting evasive, and that would hurt him, given the situation.

“Yeah,” I admitted.  “I came closer than ever.  For a second or two, I knew there was nothing I could do, and I was okay with it.”

“I experience that moment sometimes,” Helen said.  “When I’m strangling someone to death, I see it in their eyes, I hear it in the noises they’re making, when they stop straining for breath.  I feel it in how they fight and twitch and struggle.”

“I don’t ever want to experience that moment again,” I said.  I looked at Jamie.  “Believe me.”

“I believe you,” he said.

I nodded.  I could have changed the topic, hurried us along, but…

“Our friends are unconscious, and I nearly died.  Is that why you’re wound so tight right now?”

Jamie made a face, raising a hand to fix his goggles.  It didn’t look like he was planning on responding.

“I told you my inner thoughts,” I prodded him.

“Yeah,” he said.  For a second, I wasn’t sure if he was admitting that he was wound tight, or if there was more to it.  There was more to it, apparently, because he said, “I didn’t recognize Sub Rosa.”

I frowned.

“I recognize everyone, Sy.  I’ve walked by that picture that Gladys mentioned…”

He trailed off.

“Jamie?” I asked, and I felt genuinely worried.  It was a weird place to stop talking, and he wasn’t immune to the stings.  Not that I was, but still.

“Sixteen times,” he said.  “I’ve walked by it sixteen times.  I looked Sub Rosa directly in the eyes, several times.  The connection didn’t happen.”

I nodded, putting a hand on his shoulder.

I wasn’t sure what to say.

“I haven’t talked about it before, because Gordon really doesn’t like it being brought up, but I do know how I probably expire.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’m supposed to remember things, Sy.  And now we’re down here, and I know I’m supposed to be thinking things through, sorting through all the maps and details about the labs, all the paperwork I glipmsed, to piece together a plan or find a way out, but all I can think about is… I’m supposed to remember things.”

My hand on his shoulder became a hug.  He was clutching his book, so he didn’t return it, his knuckles jabbing at my chest as I squeezed him as tight as he could bear.

When I pulled away, I saw that Helen was stroking his hair, patting him like a dog.

“Nothing we can do about that right now,” I said.

“I know.”

“We need to figure out a plan of attack,” I said.

“I know,” he said.  Helen nodded.

“Where are you at, in terms of thinking through the options with the labs you’ve seen or read about?”

“I’m going over it a second time, more in depth,” he said.  “I’m not finding much.”

“The paperwork, about Sub Rosa?  Do any people the creator has worked with work down here?  On similar projects, even?”

Jamie shook his head.

“Fast response.”

“I already considered it.”

“Damn,” I said.  “That leaves us three options.”

“What options?”

“Option one is that we knock on doors.  Visit all the labs you don’t remember reading about, hope there’s a weapon, tool, or threat there that we can use.”

“Shot in the dark,” Helen said.

I nodded.  “Option two is that we turn to you, Helen.  If this place was prepared for wartime, it’s not inconceivable that there could be secret tunnels, defenses, or stockpiles that might help in the event that the Bowels were attacked.”

“Not inconceivable,” Helen said.  “But if those things existed, Sub Rosa would know about them.  I don’t.”

I frowned.  That was a spooky thing to consider.  Sub Rosa with access to weapons and secret tunnels.

“What’s option three?” Jamie asked.

“Option three depends on you being a little less clever than you are,” I said.

Less clever?” Jamie asked.

I nodded.

“This isn’t going to go over well with the Academy,” Jamie commented.

“Probably not,” I agreed.

“It’s not even guaranteed to work.”

“No,” I agreed.  “No guarantees.”

I took the stairs two at a time.  Helen followed.  Jamie was a bit slower, relying on the railing to keep himself steady as he tried to match the pace.

A pack of wall-crawlers surrounded us, many on the walls, and we kept making our way up, helping to put more of them behind us.

“It’s a shame we didn’t have paint,” Helen commented.


“Bright colors.  Most things know that you don’t eat the bright colored animals.  Bees, poisonous frogs, caterpillars…  We could have helped ourselves out by painting our skin.”

“Doesn’t help with stealth, and we might need to be sneaky,” I said.

“Might,” Helen agreed.  “But those things hurt.  I’d rather get caught and deal with that than have ten of them grab me.”


They dropped down around us, reaching out to grab the railings, and to grab us.

It stung like a hundred bee stings, and I stumbled, falling onto the stairs I’d been ascending.

But it stung the creature, too.  The tendrils didn’t cover much of my arm at all before they retracted, the creature pulling away, backing off, snorting and honking violently, like some bastard offspring of a goose, pig, and cow.

I screamed at it, a sound not nearly as good as Helen’s hiss earlier, but I wanted to drive the point home, bully these things.

The others were receiving the same reaction.  The creatures that had attacked them retreated, making an unearthly series of violent noises.

Helen lunged out, grabbing the one that had attacked her.  It struggled, tendrils automatically going out, then pulling back just as fast.  She heaved it toward the gap in the railing.

Tendrils surrounded the railing.

Helen kicked out, catching it in the stomach with her foot.  Its feet flailed, but it was just small enough it couldn’t find purchase.  It held on by the tendrils alone.

Helen screamed in its face, then pressed the back of her hand to the stem of the tendrils.

The creature made more noise, squealing, squawking, kicking harder.  Tendrils went out, touched her leg, and retreated.

When the pain became too much, it retracted the tendrils that were holding the railing.

Without hands or feet to grab with, it dropped down the length of the shaft.

All of the creatures near us backed away a fraction.

Helen turned her attention to a smaller one, probably looking to make another example, driving the point home.  But my focus was on the largest of them, the tension in its arms, and the way that it had retreated less than the others.

It wasn’t courage alone.  This one was the leader of the pack.  Or if it hadn’t been, it had been promoted with the demise of the one Helen had sent to the bottom floor.

“Helen,” I said.

“Yes, Sy?” she asked.  Her hands were out to her side, painted fingernails spread out.

“Three o’clock.”

No sooner were the words out of my mouth, than she reached out and grabbed the big one.

It fought harder than its predecessor had, legs catching the railing, hands flailing, striking out with both hands, neither one getting any particular surface area with the reflexive reaction to the chemicals.

Helen ducked down, grabbed its ankles, and hauled it down.  The tendrils resisted, holding on firmly.

I lunged forward, and slammed my left hand down on the tendrils, probably doing more damage to my hand than to the tendrils.

Still, the tendrils retracted, and Helen had her opportunity.  She hauled down on the leg, almost tearing the creature off, but it grabbed on with both hands, and snapped at her face.

She didn’t brook such nonsense.  She caught the thing around the neck, then twisted it back and around.

Once she had her grip on the necessary parts, it was essentially over.

The creature was pulled against the railing, genitalia sticking straight out, something resembling the inside of a conch shell, though it protruded.  Hermaphroditic.

It struggled.  Helen screamed at it, and briefly tightened her grip, twisting it further, then relaxed.

She held it like that.

I’d expected her to kill it.  But she wasn’t.  While she had the biggest of the group, the rest were holding back, waiting and watching.

She let it try struggling a few more times.  Each time, she screamed at it and twisted its limbs a little more.  On the third time, she bit it on the ribs, then hauled it off and away, heaving it over to the exterior wall to our left.

It started to scramble away.  She made a start toward it, screaming once, and it froze.

It looked at me, and she screamed at it.

It was all hunched over now, tendrils spread out about as far as it seemed they could go.

Helen bent low, one hand going automatically to her skirt, pressing it down, the polite way of avoiding flashing people when bending down, the other hand going around the creature’s throat.

It started to react, and it got another sharp screaming sound from Helen.  It stopped, all limbs touching ground, simply accepting having its throat held.

She had it firmly in her grip, and it was nothing to do with her muscles or hands.

She pointed, then shoved it down the stairs.  It didn’t tumble, but it did move.  The remainder of the pack moved in the same direction, and one got too close to Helen.  She made a lunging motion at it, screaming, and it scrambled over to the wall to get away, over, and to the remainder of its pack.

We started back up the stairs.  The wall-crawlers went in the other direction, down.

“I thought you were going to keep him for a pet,” I commented.

“I’m not allowed pets,” Helen said.

“I meant more in the sense that you’d take over the pack, then we’d have a few soldiers to use against Sub Rosa.”

“Wouldn’t work,” Helen said.  “Too slow, getting from here to there while trying to keep them in line.”

“Then why not toss him?”

“They’re social.  They communicate, I think.  It might help, having them communicating to the others, telling them we’re dangerous.”

“Hm,” Jamie said.

“Don’t you think so?” Helen asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Interesting that you’re thinking along those lines, though,” I told her.

She gave me a smile and a curtsey at that.  “To be interesting is the highest of compliments when coming from you, sir Sylvester.”

I smiled back.

“I’m bleeding,” Jamie said.  “You are too, Sy.”

I felt the back of my neck, where I’d been touched, and my fingers came away crimson.

“Here,” Helen said.  She handed me the jar of powder Lillian had been using.

Rather than use the dabbing sponge, I reached in, grabbed some, and slapped it on the general area where it was sore, before handing it to Jamie.

Onward, upward.

Third floor.

We made our way through, my eyes following the number of each lab.

Twenty-two, I thought.

We reached the lab, and I pounded on the door.  It swung lightly ajar at that.

“If this turns out badly, I’m going to be silently judging you,” Jamie said.  “While we die, anyway.”

“Noted,” I said.

I ventured into the lab, and scanned the surroundings.  A small size, as labs went, ten paces by ten paces in size.

The counter on one end of the room featured a glass tube, capped with metal at both ends, the two caps held together by a locking mechanism.  Crimson fluid swirled within.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Gas.  One more weapon for the Academy created weapons of war to use on the enemies of the Crown,” Jamie said.

I nodded.

“It won’t stop her.  It might distract or weaken her, but that’s only going to buy us a chance,” Jamie told me.

I nodded.

“And, I feel the need to stress this, we’re not immune.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.  I looked at the fluid.  “I get that.”

Jamie had been searching through every memory of paperwork and every interview he’d participated in, to figure out what we might be able to use against Sub Rosa.  Things that might hurt her or set her back.

But he was too clever a boy.  He searched through his head, but he did it with rules.  He didn’t allow himself to consider weapons that were as likely or more likely to hurt us than to hurt Sub Rosa.

This was one such weapon, the size of two paint cans, stacked one on top of the other.

While Jamie and I talked, Helen was going through cabinets.  I joined her in doing the same.

We found two more canisters, much like the first, but the fluids inside were crystal clear.

I looked to Jamie.

“Water,” he said.

My face fell.

“But we can use it,” he said.

I smiled.  “How?”

“It’s a dispersal system.  We’re filling the air with a thick gas, diluted with water vapor.  We use these, we dilute it further, but we make the cloud bigger.”

Decreasing the chance we miss.

The mental pictures were becoming clear in my mind’s eye.  This wouldn’t kill her, it wouldn’t even hurt her that badly.

If it touched us, if we screwed up, then it would hurt us badly, if it didn’t kill us outright.

My struggles with Sub Rosa thus far had been because she’d been implacable, unstoppable.

Now I had the means to push and pull.  I had the strings with which I could move Sub Rosa, for the briefest time.

But what play to enact with the puppet, for the greatest effect?

“What are you thinking?” Jamie asked.

“What exactly does this stuff do?”

“Flesh eating virus,” Jamie said.



I looked at the red tube with a newfound respect.

“Don’t drop it,” he said.

“I won’t.”

“You could.  In fact, I think I’ll take it, just to be sure.”

“I won’t drop it!”

“Let me have it.  You can hold my book.”

“No.  I wanna be the one to unleash the flesh-eating plague!”

“I’ll hand it over when it’s time, but I don’t want you unleashing it on us.”

“I won’t!”

“Not intentionally, but-”

“Boys,” Helen said.

Our heads turned.

“I’m taking it,” she said.  “I’m physically incapable of dropping it by accident.”

“But-” I started.

“Carry the other ones, please,” she told us.

“But…” I said, trailing off.  She met my puppy dog eyes with that infuriating, cute little smile of hers.

I walked to the cabinet with the canisters of water, then grabbed the first.

I was sweaty, and I had the powder on my hand, which hurt traction rather than helping it.  The glass case tipped over and clunked hard against the floor.

“Shut up,” I said.

“I didn’t say anything,” Jamie said, in the smuggest of tones.

“It didn’t break, anyway.”

“Uh huh,” Jamie said.

“Shut up,” I told him, again, before grabbing the thing and heaving it up and off the ground.

Jamie considered a moment, then left his book behind, taking the thing in both hands.

“We have the means of moving Sub Rosa the way we need her to move,” I said.  “We could bring her up.  With the right tools, we might even be able to send her down.  We can make her stand still…”


“We don’t have the means of stopping her, when it comes down to it,” I said.

Therein lay the rub.

A person was only technically dead when their heart stopped, but even that definition was vague, because the Academy had kept people alive without hearts in their chests, using machines to pump.

Heart and brain.  When one or both ceased to function, Sub Rosa stopped.

We lacked the tools to destroy either.  There might be guns here and there, but that relied on luck.  Severing the brainstem, or striking the heart, through the armor-like layer of the cocoon.

“Ideas, Sy?” Jamie asked.

“Some,” I said.  “It depends on things.”

“That’s amazingly vague,” he said.

“I’m feeling inspired by some of the villains from the dime store novels,” I told him.  “We need to think big.”


“How mad do you think Gordon would be if I used Shipman as bait?”

“He likes her,” Helen said.

“I don’t think he fully grasps it,” Jamie commented, “But yeah.”

“Yeah.  That’s why I’m asking,” I said.

Jamie nodded.  “He’d probably forgive you, but…”

“But he’d be mad,” I said.  And what we’re not saying is that time is limited.  Do I really want months or years of time with Gordon to be eaten up with him upset at me?


“It’s something Sub Rosa wants,” I said.  But we can work around it.  We should drop these off and scout.  See where she is and what she’s doing.”

There were nods from the two.

This felt doable.  The lack of a means to deliver a sure killing blow was a big hole in the plan, but one that could be worked around.

The possibilities that unfolded in my mind were good ones, fun ones.

Ones that people would remember.

We carried the glass canisters halfway down, to the fifth floor, and we left them at the exit of the hallway, just by the stairs.

Slowly, we crept down, past the swarm of bugs who refused to land on us, past the black wall crawlers, who snorted and honked, while refusing to draw near.  Warning sounds, I presumed, passed from one group to the next.

Social creatures.

Past the sixth floor.  A whole section of railing and stairway was broken.  From the fight between Sub Rosa and Gorger.

From the bodies in the hallway, though, I could assume that Gorger hadn’t gone into the hallway.  If he had, he would have scraped them against the floor.

Down another floor.  Seventh.  The way was locked, the door broken, but not broken away.  Gorger hadn’t gone there either, and I doubted he would have left Sub Rosa to her own devices.

Down to the eighth floor.

Bottom floor.

Sub Rosa was there.  People in lab coats were working to tear away wall panels, while she stood there, a metal spike extended in their general direction.  Another cluster of people in lab coats was gathered against the wall, huddled together.  Twenty, thirty, maybe forty.

Gorger lay against the opposite wall.  He breathed, but he was limp, the fight gone out of him.

He’d lost to Sub Rosa, who had been his father in a way.  Yes, she was female, but she’d had a fatherlike role in his creation, providing the seed and the means for the man to become the monster, and now she had struck him down.

We couldn’t use the gas like this.

“We need to use Shipman, to draw her up,” I whispered.

There was no response from either of the others.  They were studying the scene.

Are they making a way out?  Or is this like something I suggested to Helen?  A weapon cache?  A tunnel?  A last-ditch measure?

On the broad bottom of the shaft, a doctor happened to look up, and saw us.  I could just barely see the whites of her eyes.

She gestured.  Telling us to run, maybe.

Rescuing the children.

She gestured again.

“Let’s go,” I whispered.  My legs were already feeling like lead, from so much travel up and down stairs in short time.  I had the information I needed to put a plan in action.

But my memory wasn’t good.  Just to be safe, I looked back, ready to commit the scene to memory, so I could better move the pieces when it came down to it.

It was only that last glance that let me see the subtle events unfold.

The gesturing movement, urging us to run, it had been seen by others in the crowd.  Many of them looked up at us.

Sub Rosa, watching over the crowd out of the corner of her eye, turned.  Not all of the heads were fast to look away or distract.

She followed their gaze, and she saw us.

It seemed she was still angry.  She moved, as fast as she was able, ascending the stairs.


At least we won’t have a problem baiting her upstairs.

Problem was, I now had zero minutes to pull off a serious deathtrap I’d expected to take ten or twenty.

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80 thoughts on “Lips Sealed 3.8

    • Yeah, seriously. We’re getting beaten by a lot of votes. Two days ago, the vote gap is almost a hundred. So everyone, please vote.

        • I know that the odds of it are actually probably pretty good, but I know so few other people named Bart (0), it’s weird to see you comment (here and on Super Powereds).

  1. It’s nice to see Helen center stage. I’m hoping we get a bit more off this, because at the moment I’d say she’s the most mysterious of the lambs. In terms of other mysteries it seems that Gordon possibly won’t be expiring for a couple of years, which I’m glad for. I was thinking he had months left.

    “I wanna be the one to unleash the flesh-eating plague!” That line was a complete gem.

    I’ve been wondering about tech levels in this world. We’ve heard about toasters and automobiles, but not radios (which got BIG around 1923). It would make a certain amount of sense to me if the rest of the sciences were left behind in favour of biology. Are there any technological holes people have noticed?

      • More typos:

        – “I’m going over it a second time, more in depth” -> in-depth

        – “I’d expected her to kill it. But she wasn’t.” -> But she didn’t.

        – “To be interesting is the highest of compliments when coming from you, sir Sylvester.” -> To be called interesting; Sir?

        – “from so much travel up and down stairs in short time.” -> in a short time

        Other things:

        – “The paperwork, about Sub Rosa? Do any people the creator has worked with work down here?” -> would be much clearer as “her creator”

        – “They dropped down around us, reaching out to grab the railings, and to grab us. It stung like a hundred bee stings, and I stumbled, falling onto the stairs I’d been ascending. But it stung the creature, too.” – several mixed articles & unclear sentences

        – “the polite way of avoiding flashing people when bending down” -> I’d assume people didn’t call it “flashing” at the time, and would use something else like “to protect her modesty” or something

      • “Gas. One more weapon for the Academy created weapons of war to use on the enemies of the Crown,” Jamie said.
        -This sentence needs to be rearranged or pruned.

        “It’s something Sub Rosa wants,” I said. But we can work around it. We should drop these off and scout. See where she is and what she’s doing.”

  2. I’m soooooo shipping Sy/Jamie. I mean, “I know you’d want to be the one to sacrifice yourself for us, and I’m not willing to let you do that.” Also, his voice totally cracked with emotion. I’m sure that some of that was him worrying about his own brain, but I don’t think that you can argue that he would make that display if it was any other Lamb who was going to die. Or at least, not as emotionally.

    Anyway, onto analysis. Helen seems to have knowledge of prey instinct and the food chain, for being an artificial creature. I wonder if she absorbed it from following Ibbot around, or if that was something she was specifically taught. I’m still not entirely sure what her purpose is. She’s not the muscle of the group; at least, not yet. She has an extremely strong grip, extreme control over all of her actions, even the normally subconscious ones, and has learned non-verbal cues. She’s not extremely fast or dangerous, at least, to non-humans. And to regular humans, they’re all pretty dangerous, given the right situation. You know, I’m leaning towards honeypot, using her looks and knowledge to get close, and then get a tight grip. Also fits with Galatea.

    Jamie seems to breaking, but it’s a bit early if they still have years to go. Anyway, Jamie acts as an information repository and dispenser for the group, almost like a computer. For example, he’s searching through the large database of experiments using varying key words and criteria. If that’s not a search engine, than I don’t know what is. Reading from his project name Caterpillar, I wonder what he’s doing with this data. Is he supposed to turn into a butterfly eventually? In that case, wouldn’t it make sense if he was gathering nutrients, that would then be used to build a cocoon and from the cocoon would emerge the adult? Or, rather, the data is the caterpillar, Jamie is the cocoon, and some other experiment that will use the data is the butterfly. On the other hand, Jamie might be a silk worm, in which he takes plant fiber and turns it into valuable materials, to be gathered and processed by humans. I like this framework better, because it fits how he’s used by Sy and also how he’s so physically fragile, and can’t do a whole lot by himself.

    Sy is named Wyvern, and from what we’ve seen, he can think about multiple processes quickly, can absorb affectations and ways of thinking, and can follow and utilize complex patterns aka chaos. Also, he’s been treated with substance tolerance and can function without food for a week without extreme visible detriment. He was also Hayle’s pet project, and an added-on element of the Lambs. If he’s been developing tolerances to poison, I think that they eventually want him to use poison, like keep it in his body and then dose people, perhaps through contact or proximity. He’s also good with people, but that may just be because he’s good with complex workings, and people are the most complex thing there is. He mainly causes dissonance and sows chaos. I think that he was meant as a foreign agent, to cause unrest amongst enemies of the Academy and other nations. The Lambs were created as a domestic defender, as Dog, Catcher, and Gorger were. Sy was not, which follows that he was not created to defend, but to attack. Which is what he’s good at doing, in a psychological way.

    Anyway, predictions on what happens next. They’ll probably start running up, but none of them have skills suited to slowing Sub Rosa down. They’ll probably depend on the other escaped experiments to do that, except the bugs aren’t weaponized and the tendril-creatures are vulnerable to pain. I expect Helen will goad them into attacking her, giving them enough time to reach a lab. Sy will probably talk to her, now that he knows something about her. And we’ll see how they survive!

    • Jamie, to me, feels a lot like the heart of the Lambs. He’s sweet, kind, sympathetic…he binds together the disparate and often conflicting personalities at work by being a good kid. He gets on with Lillian and makes sure to include her, Helen seems to genuinely care for him in her own way, Gordon trusts him, and even Mary has grown fond of his empathy. And I do think he likely loves them all back and if any of them died it would be devastating, so we might see similar displays if it were anyone else being all suicidal.

      But yeah, Sy/Jamie all the way.

  3. “It stung like a hundred bee stings, and I stumbled, falling onto the stairs I’d been ascending.

    But it stung the creature, too

    Is Sy poisonous?

      • I think the powder is to heal them. But they said they were going to find something caustic to put on their skin to not get stung before they headed down.

  4. Another great chapter! Loved the interplay between the ‘kids’. Looking forward how they will solve this. I wonder how long the rest will be asleep for.

  5. Okay I’m just going to say it. The one true ship for Twig is Lambs X Lambs. I mean all the lambs with all the lambs. Unconventional, sure, but honestly that’s how I see it.

    So if the Lambs take down a threat that beat Gorger, is that worth getting the over sibling reactivated?

    Is it just me or does the number of comments keep going down? I mean I have problems with getting the page to load, so that’s why I don’t comment as much as I used to, but it seems like in general they’ve dropped.

    • They’ve been holding steady in the forty to sixty numbers for the last while, from what I have observed. Generally there are spikes on the more “exciting” chapters, with slumps on the more world building heavy ones. Not a formal analysis, of course, just an impression.

      • It just seems like in general the comments for Wildbow’s works have been going down. Granted they also pick up as the story goes on.

    • When you said “beat Gorger” it made me realize that Sub Rosa did just that. She didn’t kill him, I wonder why? It could be residual fondness from when she was alive, but it could also be something more sinister.

      • Probably the same reason Mary and gordon didn’t kill sub rosa- she can’t kill gorger, but she can cause him enough pain to make him completely unwilling to fight her anymore.

        He was built to be indestructible, it’s just the spike passes his defenses and still hurts him, but just as the fire and bullets hurt Sub Rosa, that doesn’t mean she can kill Gorger.

        Besides, seeing gorger not even attempting to fight anymore is probably a better fear-weapon than just seeing gorger dead, the same way the nightmare-creatures were more afraid of helen torturing the boss and letting him go so he can run away, rather than killing him like she did with the other.

    • Re: comments

      Yeah, it seems down from the heyday of Pact and Worm, but I don’t keep exact counts, so that is impression rather than fact. It is strange what gets comments and what doesn’t – one of the ones that continues to astound me is, which is a web comic that updates biweekly and regularly gets 500+ comments per update.

  6. I just realized. This arc is Die Hard in the Bowels. Except with added spice because the
    “terrorists” are all mad science experiments.

  7. I’m glad to see Helen is getting more screen time, I find I’m always surprised at how human she can be (despite how feral she was through most of this chapter, which I also enjoyed). I’m so used to her being passive, it’s nice to see her show some initiative, naybe that’s a thing she only does in small groups or perhaps when Gordon’s not around? Good chapter 🙂

  8. Great Chapter! Loved that Helen spoke more than 2 sentences in that one. Loved that Jamie is totally in love with Sy (no homo) and loved to see them fight over the flesh-eating plague 😀

    But u know what? I can’t stand those cliffhangers anymore!!!!! I thought that Worm and Pact could help me build up a resistance, but it didn’t work!
    The long hours till the next update, those agonizing seconds, when I refresh the page over and over again…

    Can sombody help me?

  9. I really would appreciate it if, after this ordeal, Helen actually does get to keep one of those “nightmares” (as gordon calls them) as a pet. Preferably the leader so she can make use of their sociability.
    It would be awesome, seeing her cute, adorable smile as she ordered her pet to tear off someone’s skin in pretty little patterns, giggling all the while.

    ….Helen scares me, and the fact I’m loving the crap out of her is scaring me even more.

  10. The memory… interesting. Is Jamie really starting to expire? Is this timing consistent with the date that Sy saw? Or is there a different reason why the scientists recognised Rosa and Jamie didn’t, despite seeing the painting..? (After hearing about the painting, did he recognise her from the painting belatedly?) Hmm.

    • Gordon is apparently first, so probably not. Though I find it interesting that he apparently hasn’t actually forgotten because he knows how many times he’s walked past the picture. It seems more likely to be a problem with his ability to make connections between pieces of information. It might be a very early sign of his memory going, with him having enough memories stored it’s starting to overwhelm his ability to sort through all of them. Or possibly it’s a long-term problem that only now became apparent, where he’s good at storing memories but not at drawing conclusions from them. Now that I think about it, he hasn’t been very good at applying his memories unprompted. For instance, he didn’t tell them what was behind the doors Sub Rosa was breaking into, he didn’t tell them where they could get weapons potentially effective against her until asked, and until they actually started fighting he didn’t tell them about Sub Rosa’s cocoon.

      • I disagree that Jamie hasn’t been using his knowledge unprompted. In the previous case, Jamie got that list of names completely independently. We just don’t see him think all this through, since he’s always thinking.

        As for your points, when Sub Rosa was breaking into rooms, they were all under the watch of the convicts, whom they didn’t want to disturb. He also stated that he was thinking about ways to kill Sub Rosa, but couldn’t find any that weren’t also extremely dangerous to the Lambs. And the only time that he would have had an opportunity to talk about Sub Rosa’s cocoon would be before they started running away, and they already knew that they couldn’t kill her with the tools they had at that point, so the discussion was better spent on other options.

  11. Jamie’s memory has probably been tampered with, that’s my bet. Figures they’d keep him clear of the sensitive intel.

    Helen… Oh man, the more I see her getting badass, the more I like it. Always had a softspot for monsters that look human, and know it.

    And yeah, the squabbling over who gets to carry the death-canister made me laugh. Mods or not, monsters or no, they’re still kids. It’s awesome!

    • Tampering with Jamie’s memory would actually be a great explanation! It’s sort of like how, in Worm, Gnggyrgnyr pbhyqa’g svther bhg nobhg gur jbezf tvivat cbjref gb rirelbar hagvy fur sbezrq cngujnlf nebhaq gur zragny oybpx. The professors might have placed a similar mental block in Jamie’s mind, thought to prevent him from realizing what, I’m not sure. Most likely this was a peripheral effect, not the main purpose.

      • I’d run with that. Or, he internalized a simple misdirection and put more weight on it than he should have: if you’ve been encouraged to link “retired” to “gone”, you may be slow to connect faces when you bump into “not gone”.

        In short: Jaime’s info on a lot of the Academy’s supplied data is probably skewd… and, he’s only just noticing some of this, but misunderstanding the root cause. For whatever reason. He may need Sy’s to cobble together an independent diagnostic system. Trusting his handlers for this may not be a good move. :/

  12. So, I feel obligated to point out that the most obvious reason for Jamie to not make a connection between Sub Rosa and and the Administrator is because there was no connection to be made. In that case, Sub Rosa wouldn’t be the Administrator, but someone else who people think is the Administrator, likely because the Administrator ordered them to spread rumors to that effect.

    But in that case, where’s the Administrator? Where did she go? What is she doing? Is Sub Rosa a security drill of her own design?

    The shipping is strong with this one. I dearly hope you know what you’re doing Wildbow, because if you mess this up you’re fandom is going to catch fire.

    • The other possibility is that the Administrator is the one buried within Sub Rosa, and Sub Rosa herself is independent enough that the connection isn’t there.

      • Let’s see if I got this straight. You think that the Administrator, who oversaw the construction of the Bowels and was adamant about security, trained someone in the ways to disable the Bowel’s defenses, had that person be made into Sub Rosa, faked her own accident, and then let Sub Rosa run around, destroying the Bowels?

        …Yeah, I don’t think that’s likely. Multiple people recognized Sub Rosa as the Administrator, and then she immediately silenced them, or tried to, implying that she didn’t want them to talk about it. Not to mention that the Administrator probably wouldn’t disable her own Academy’s defenses unless she, herself, had a bone to pick. It sounds like, prior to the accident, she had a lot of power, and seemed pretty happy with herself. Also, Jamie seems to verify that Sub Rosa is the Administrator, even if in hindsight.

        The most likely answer is the simplest one. There are too many uncontrolled variables for the Administrator to fake becoming Sub Rosa. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Shipman was an agent that was used to turn the Administrator into a weapon.

        • If Sub Rosa is connected to the nervous system of the individual protected within, then the original body that SR was constructed from wouldn’t have to possess that knowledge. This outcome is consistent with observations — SR would *effectively* be the Administrator, but distinct. A sort of biological “power armor,” if you would.

          Nothing requires the Administrator’s accident to have been staged. We don’t know the full story. And I wouldn’t be surprised if she does indeed have a bone to pick. The two points may even be related — that is, her accident and her vendetta could derive from the same cause. Or they may be distinct, and waking up connected to Sub Rosa gave her an opportunity to act in a way that she couldn’t have previously. People don’t normally become overbearing control freaks just because they like the power. Usually it stems from dissatisfaction with something leading to a deep-seated need to correct it, which in the extreme will develop into psychosis. It’s ENTIRELY possible that the Administrator has had complaints about how things were run for a very long time and that her policies were a symptom of her need to fix that.

          That said, I’m not banking on being correct; I don’t assign particularly high confidence to this theory. But I think it’s a POSSIBLE explanation for what we see. The only issue is SR’s face; I can drum up some possible explanations for people’s reactions to seeing her, but nothing I feel confident about.

        • Remember, from what we’ve heard the Administrator isn’t just a security freak, she’s an egotistical security freak. If she wants the Bowels to be as impregnable as possible, than no, it doesn’t make sense to attack it. However, if what she wants is for her agenda to be followed, than attacking could get her what she wants easily. Security is definitely going to be tighter from now on, regardless of the ultimate result of Sub Rosa’s rampage.

          On top of that, it kind of sounds like her stint as Administrator was spent doing everything she could to apocalypse proof the Bowels. If she’s not worried about security in general, so much as a specific threat that hasn’t shown up yet, than forcing security upgrades through whatever means she has available to her makes perfect sense- so long as the breach is repaired before whatever-it-is attacks, than the instilled paranoia would more than make up for the immediate consequences.

          …Oh, and if Jamie’s memory is being censored, that kind of implies that there’s more to the Administrator/ Sub Rosa thing than just that. Annoyances becoming lab rats is not an uncommon thing in the Academy, and it certainly wouldn’t be a secret major enough to mess with random projects over.

          …Actually, there’s an even more basic problem than that. Why would Jamie have memories about the Administrator that need censoring in the first place? There’s no way that a random painting could be that important…

  13. Some people have commented on Jamie and how he might turn into a wonderful butterfly. I think his final state might be completely different. Many of the younger people may not remember libraries before computers. Losing a card from the card catalog meant the book was effectively lost within the library. And searching for terms was a serious pain in the butt. I would hazard a guess that an information retrieval unit like Jamie is meant to eventually be a human Google, a human library system. My guess is that his final state is to be a brain-in-a-box. They obviously don’t care for his body, and the way he’s saying that he’s searching for particular terms, and the search safeguards that seem built in make me wonder a bit whether he’ll end up just like Sub Rosa. Maybe he’s the “active” component of the Sub Rosa project.

  14. Got busy and then got distracted reading done other stuff I found and then deciding to try my hand at some writing (I was inspired by you Wildbow, thank you). So I haven’t read twig in a few weeks. I just have to say that this arc is really really good. It’s serious, fast paced and tricks you into thinking it’s a mystery right before throwing you into a ton of skin-of-the-teeth action. And yet, it’s also hilarious.

    Maybe I just need to be patient and devour in larger chunks in the future, or maybe this arc really is that good, but I would put this into one of my favorite arcs that you’ve ever written. And that’s saying something considering the monster-of-the-week felt pretty bland until we learned she’s a previous supervisor. Thanks for the great writing once again. All in all, I could easily see Twig being my new favorite story from you. In a paltry three arcs you’ve managed to delight and surprise me over and over again. Worm will always have a place in my heart, and Twig isn’t long enough to have the investment to actually be my favorite yet, but It’s increasingly looking like it will be.

    I also must say, with over a month of writing I have managed to produce just under what you do on one of your easy weeks. And I found that I love writing, so I’ve been doing it lot. I understood how impressive your pace was as a reader just by comparing it to other serial novels I read. Now I can appreciate it as a writer. Wow. Thanks for being the inspiration that pushed me to start developing a skill I had long fantasized having. I doubt I’ll ever use it for anything but enjoyment, but I’m so happy with myself. It’s just one of those things that I know younger me would be proud of now me, and that really makes a person feel good.

    Anyway, thanks again for everything. Sorry for any typos, I’m writing this on a phone!

    • Hey, Turnip,

      I really appreciate this kind of feedback.

      Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Find your pace and build up that writing muscle. It gets easier – remember that I was writing 1500-3000 word chapters at the outset of Worm.

  15. Uhhh…. if JAMIE can’t make the connection that Sub Rosa is the admin chick and doesn’t see the resemblance, then how in the actual HELL can everyone else notice and recognize who Sub Rosa is/was literally at first glance?

      • No. I don’t. What are you talking about? What point?
        Even after the fact, everyone still agrees that sub rosa is the admin chick. Even up to the latest released chapter. No one, not even sy, nor jamie after this, has questioned it.

        I don’t see the point you are referring to.

        • No,the point of Jamie feeling so bad is that he couldn’t connect the two facts.That he couldn’t recognise her.

        • The point was, either I can’t comment because you are stubbornly commenting back here instead of the latest post so that I can avoid spoilers, or Jamie’s memories are being filtered. Why wouldn’t the Academy want him to remember?

          Also, storyeater, you’re obviously reading through and aren’t up to the present yet. Hurry and read so I can stop ignoring your comments.

          • I usually read really quicly,but since I read Pact,I have slowed down….because I do not 3wanna catch up and wait for new chapters.

          • He’s saying that rather than wait for the latest chapter to be published, he’d rather wait back in the middle somewhere. Possibly it doesn’t feel so much like waiting.

  16. I’m still confused about how Sub Rosa escaped in the first place. How was it caused by Shipman’s panic? It seems like a random incident, and not really consistent with Sub Rosa’s intelligent agenda. Was she waiting for a moment’s inattention? Then how was she secured? Half of the team was there, and they don’t seem to dwell on that at all.

  17. I was reading really slowly for some reason,despite loving this,and I wondered why.Then I realized:i do not want to catch up and have to wait.

    • Same here. Loving the story, but reading in big chunks tends to takes the fun out of it. I take my time reading the comments, and hope I don’t catch up until arc 5 is done :p

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