Lips Sealed 3.10

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I reached Helen.  She hung from one hand, still holding Gladys, looking abjectly unconcerned with the immense drop below her.  Wrist had dislocated from elbow, which had dislocated from shoulder.  The skin stretched, and muscles stood out in odd ways in the space between the bones.  Not that her bones were the usual sort.

Because of the way the arm and shoulder were stretched so thin, her face was contorted, the skin pulled down toward one side of her neck.

“Did we get her?”

“Exactly right,” I said, quiet, bending down.  “Line, hook, and sinker.”

I took hold of her wrist with both hands.

“You’re not strong enough, Sy,” she said.  She craned her head around.  “Help is coming.  They’ll help us up.”

The people who had lowered Gladys down, Gladys’ partner included, coming down the stairs from the level above.

“Bring them down to me and Jamie?” I asked.

“Okay, Sy,” Helen said.

I abandoned her.  Down the stairs.  My legs were tired, my brain was exhausted, my whole body ached from what had to be the lingering effects of getting shocked, and all of the pent-up emotions were dissolving into something approximating exhaustion.  My hair stuck to my forehead, my clothing stuck to my back.  My knees were rubbed raw from the way they’d rubbed against the sweat-damp uniform slacks.  My skin prickled where I’d rubbed it with the chemical stuff.

There was no big plot to focus on now.  I was Sylvester and nothing more.  I wanted every one of my fellow Lambs to be okay, and nothing more.

By the time I reached Jamie, some of the people from downstairs were already making their way up.  A few were clustered around him.  Others were standing at the ready, with improvised weapons in hand.  Shirts had been pulled off to double as headcovers, cloth was wrapped around hands, and still, they had to fight to keep the bugs off.

My thought processes and feelings were horribly confused as I wrapped my head around the scene.  They wouldn’t be doing that if he was dead, so he was okay.  Heart soaring.  But he was hurt.  Ugly feeling in my middle.  And, perhaps the hardest thing to process, I wanted to be the person by his side, helping him.  Resentment and anger.  The feelings mingled and it felt bad.

It must have shown on my face, because expressions changed as people saw me drawing nearer.

Jamie’s breathing was ragged, audible from several feet away.

If you idiots hadn’t tipped off the monster, Jamie would be okay, I thought.

“He’s a tough one,” a man told me.  He had his sweater and a shirt pulled up in such a way that only his eyes were visible, but the skin around those eyes was black.  His lab coat was buttoned up to the chin, cinched tight with a tie.  A black man in a lab coat – an oddity in the Academy.  “He’s breathing on his own, and that says something.”

I nodded, mute.

“You should cover up,” the man said, all business.

“I did,” I told him.  “Covered myself with kerosene.  Bugs don’t like it, neither do the, uh, things on the walls.”

“This boy too?”


“Him too?”


“Thought he smelled off.  You know kerosene will burn you, smeared on like that?”

“Diluted,” I lied.  Jamie’s had been diluted, Helen hadn’t cared at all about the strength of the stuff, and it was slow to really get to me.

“You look flushed.  If you-”

“I don’t care about me,” I cut him off, before adding, “Sir.”

I gave a pointed look to Jamie, to make it absolutely clear where my concerns were.

“Pupils are dilating.  He follows my finger with his eyes.  But his heartbeat isn’t strong, breathing is taking work.  The bleeding at the side of his head makes me worry about a cranial bleed.  Spiderweb crack of the skull, complete shoulder break, several rib, arm, and pelvis fractures.  His stomach is firm.”

“Firm is good?”

“Firm suggests internal bleeding.”

He had a stern, matter-of-fact way of delivering the bad news.  Combined with his skin color, and I could guess his history.  Black soldier, with duties of a field medic, possibly because of things he’d picked up from his father, or another family member.  When things had gone poorly, the medics had received advanced training.

Much as was the case with the women who’d worked at the Academy during wartime, the Academy had decided that even if someone was black, knowledge was knowledge.

That he was here in the Bowels now, that was notable.  That he was the one looking after Jamie, that was something else altogether.  People who’d had to fight for power so often set everything but their work aside, even decency and kindness.

Sub Rosa was one such person, I suspected.

“He’s going to need surgery,” the man said.  “I’m doing it right here.  I don’t like the idea of moving him, with this many breaks.”

I nodded.

In a very serious, low tone, he told me, “It isn’t going to be pretty.”

“I’ve seen worse,” I said, in that same tone.


It was Jamie.

“She’s gone, Jamie.  Helen and I got her.”

That turned heads.  Fuck it.

Sy.  I talked to her… I told her lies,” he said.  His voice was reedy.

“I know, Jamie.  I was there for the start of it.”

No.  I… kept talking… wasn’t thinking… not straight… rambling… lies.”

“I’m not following.”

Stupid lies… contradicting… myself… she knew… she listened… stroked my face…

“She hurt you,” I said.

Don’t think…” he said, but he didn’t find the word or the breath to finish the statement.

“She hurt you on purpose, Jamie.”

I saw her fall…

“I told you, Jamie, she’s gone.”

Started out… telling her about… her dream… things she might have wanted… but after… was… ugh… hurts.”

“Words can wait, son,” the doctor who was sitting with Jamie said.

Jamie continued, oblivious.  “Was telling… her… about my dreams… things I wanted… things… never told… anyone.

“You did good, Jamie.”

She… was gentleMade me comfo… comfortable.  Without hurting…

He was still on that?

The fingers of his good hand twitched.  I reached out to take it.

He panted, as if speaking had meant he lost more air than he took in, even with the ragged gasping breaths, and he needed to refill the reserves.

I thought back through what Jamie had said, trying to find the main thrust of it.

“You reached deep,” I murmured.  “To her, and inside yourself, in order to survive, and to help us survive.  You were hurting, your defenses were down.  The same thing happens with people who are kept as prisoners of war, or kidnapping victims.”

“No.  She was…”

“Sub Rosa was bad, Jamie.  She hurt an awful lot of people, and when it came down to it, she went after Shipman, and that was how we beat her.”

“Went… after?”

“Yes,” I said.


“No,” I said.  Then I realized what Jamie was saying.  It wasn’t concern for Shipman’s welfare, or for Gordon, who liked the girl.

He was trying to gauge whether his estimation of Sub Rosa had been right or wrong.

I opened my mouth to revise my statement, to clarify, but Jamie cracked his eye open in that same moment.  It was barely open at all, squinting against light and pain, and it was so bloodshot it made me think of Sub Rosa’s eye socket, filled with clotted blood.

Don’t… lie, Sy,” he told me.

Even in this state, he had enough of a sense of me to gauge that I was venturing into the territory of dishonesty.  For his sake, to soothe his conscience, but I’d been on the cliff.

I shut my mouth, holding back the lie, and gave his fingers a light squeeze.

We sat for a good minute.

I didn’t like how things sat.  Jamie was squirming more, and I wasn’t sure it was physical pain.  Much as I’d suggested, his defenses were low.  This, lying in a broken heap on the staircase, was Jamie laid bare.

I’d done nothing to assuage his worries.

“Down there, Sub Rosa killed people, right?”

“Yes,” the doctor said.

“What did she have you doing?”

“The wall came apart.  We were pulling out slabs.  There were crates at the back.”


“Explosives.  Sticks of dynamite, stacked high, inside the wall.”

“Did she want to bring this whole place down?” I asked.

“Who knows?”

A bystander spoke up,  “I wouldn’t think it’s that easy.  There are mechanisms in place.  Sand, water.  There’d be damage, but…”

But she knows this place too well, I thought.  She would know the dynamite wouldn’t necessarily do the trick, and the Academy wouldn’t store enough dynamite to destroy the Bowels.

“Maybe blowing an escape route out of here,” I said.  “Or setting a trap for when they opened the seal and came down here.”

No,” Jamie wheezed.

I looked at him.

“No.  Walled up… tunnel… I think.  Layout of… Academy, only…  one place… she could go… ow, ow.”

“One place?”

“This deep?… Radham’s monster…”

There were murmurs.

Jamie wasn’t being discreet, but he had an excuse, and I was beyond the point of caring.

Radham’s monster.  Sleeping away in a chamber beneath the Academy.

“Did she intend to wake it up and destroy Radham?  Or was she risking waking it up to get out?”

“Don’t… know.”


I watched Jamie breathing, worrying he might stop at any moment.  He was squirming less than before.  I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but I hoped that his conscience regarding Sub Rosa was clearer, and that he’d been reminded what she’d been.

Which wasn’t to say that who she was and what we’d faced weren’t entirely different things.

A fresh group of people began making their way up the stairs, carrying tools and kits.

“If you stay there, you can’t do anything, you can’t move, you cannot get in the way,” the black doctor told me.  “No matter how bad it looks, or how violent we seem to be acting.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I’ve seen worse, really.”

“Sy, was it?”

“Sylvester.  Sy or Sly to friends.”

“Sylvester, then.  Sit tight.  We’ll do what we can.”

I watched as they got all the tools ready, kit and kaboodle all laid out.  There were murmurs from the bystanders, all Academy trained, commenting on what should be done first, where the priorities were, approaches and methods.  Yet it was this man who’d stepped forward to help Jamie.

I wondered how much there was at play in that.  Was it the sort of thing where people thought that blame might be laid at the feet of a doctor who tried and failed to save Jamie?

There was a refuge in thinking about that sort of thing.  The mechanisms at work inside people’s heads.

This was a man who stood alone.

“Doctor,” I said.  “If you save him, you can call me Sy.”

He didn’t take his eyes off Jamie, but he murmured, “Willard D.”

I made a mental note, not that my mental notes were reliable.

I saw Willard’s hands go to the buttons at Jamie’s collar.

“Everyone else,” I said, “If you don’t have something to contribute, get lost.  It’s still dangerous, and enough stings from those bugs will stop your heart.  Go to your labs, close the doors, and block any openings.”

The warning was enough to scare most off.  Only a few lingered, out of ego or curiosity.

I watched as Jamie’s uniform was alternately unbuttoned and cut away.  The scars were on full display.

Willard looked up at me.

“Don’t cut across the scars,” I said.

“Can I ask what they are?”

“Classified,” I said.  “I don’t think you have permission to know.”

“Looks like I signed on for quite a task, then,” he said.

I watched him making the initial incisions in Jamie’s belly.  My eye didn’t leave that scalpel, until I felt a hand on my hair.

Helen, sitting on the stair above me.  She’d mostly fixed her arm, but the wrist hung limp and there were light bruises.

She stroked my hair again.

I returned my eyes to the scalpel, as if I could will it to be steady.

The agreement had been to take turns watching Jamie.  When this had been decided, Gordon, Gladys, Lillian, and Mary had insisted that they be the ones to watch, as they’d slept through the finale with Sub Rosa.

I lay my side with a rolled up lab coat for a pillow, another lab coat draped over me, lying on the floor of the lab where the others had dozed off, now free to rest and recuperate, exhausted to the bone, but instead I’d spent hours watching the rise and fall of Jamie’s chest, and watching Mary.

Mary’s watch had been spent sharpening a knives, until Gordon muttered something rude at her.  After that, she’d taken to coiling the remainder of the razor wire, unwinding it, then fixing it, over and over.

I watched through half-lidded eyes as she suddenly rose, walked over to the clock on the desk, lit a fresh candle, positioned the case around the new candle to reduce the light, then went to rouse Lillian.  Without compunction, Mary took the space Lillian had been using to sleep, makeshift pillow and the fire blanket both.

Lillian didn’t fidget.  She didn’t read or pace or do much of anything.  A few times she rose from her seat, she checked on Jamie, then returned to her perch on the stool.

About thirty minutes in, I heard her making small sounds.

Thirty-five minutes in, I roused.  In the gloom, I approached her and put my arms around her.  She started squirming, trying to wipe away tears, but I shifted my grip to hug her tighter, holding her arms to her side.

“One of the worst things that could have happened to you happened yesterday,” I whispered in her ear.  “You made it, Lil.”


“Lil.  You made it, and you did well.

“I didn’t.”

“I’d be the first person to tell you if you didn’t,” I said.  “Right?”

She made a small incoherent sound that might have been reluctant agreement.

“You did well.  Carry that with you.  You faced your worst fear… now leave it behind,” I told her, voice soft, with cadence, soothing.  “Today, you made great strides toward being the very awesome Lil-the-adult you’re going to become.”

She nodded, the back of her head rubbing against my chest.

“Come on,” I whispered.  “Over here.”

I led her to the spot where I’d been lying down.  She obeyed, wiping again at her face now that I wasn’t keeping her from doing it.  I’d meant it to be a kind of permission to keep crying, but she’d gone and stopped.  Silly.

“Lie down,” I whispered.

“I’m on watch,” she whispered, in an even quieter voice.

“I’m not sleeping anyway,” I said.  “Lie down, rest easy.  You’ll wake up tomorrow, and this whole thing with me being nice will have been a dream.”

She let out a hiccup of a giggle, then wiped at her face again, but she did lie down.

I helped her fix the lab coat blanket, then sat down, my back to her stomach, arms around my knees, watching Jamie.

For his part, he watched me.  He’d seen it all.

I’d chosen a position, unfortunately, that didn’t give me a good view of the clock on the desk.  I didn’t want to move for fear of disturbing Lillian, so I stayed where I was.

The hours passed in a vague, dreamlike way.  I didn’t once come close to nodding off, sitting there listening to the pattern of breathing from the six Lambs.

I sat there watching, as Gordon and Gladys roused together, taking a seat on the table opposite me, and spent a while watching together.  I gave him a little wave, to let him know I was awake, and he waved back.

I could have gone to sleep, knowing they were on watch, but I didn’t.  I might have done it or pretended to do it to give them privacy, but as much as I liked Gordon, I didn’t like Gladys enough to go to the trouble.  They talked amongst themselves, confiding, Gordon keeping the periodic chuckle quiet.

There was no way to track time, but by the movement of the candlelight and shadows, I might have guessed it was two or so hours later that we felt the tremor.

Every sleeping individual stirred awake as it built in intensity, making the room rumble.

Gordon stood, crossed the room, and flicked the light switch.  The lights that came on were the ordinary ones, not the emergency ones.

“Gorger passed on word, I guess,” Gordon said.  “Problem solved.  The released experiments have been caught or contained.  They’re letting us out.”

There were nods and people rubbing at eyes in response.

“We should wait, there are going to be a lot of people rushing to get out.” Helen said.  She looked far less disheveled than someone who had just been sleeping was supposed to look.  She had minimal bed hair, and her clothes weren’t even that much more wrinkled.

I could imagine the pushing and shoving at the top of the staircase.

“Still sitting tight,” I said.  I looked at the others, and saw Mary’s hair.  She did have messy hair.  I grinned and pointed.

She smiled back, and set to trying to fix it.  Apparently a comb and ribbons were part of her arsenal, tucked away on her person.

“It’s too bad,” he said.  “Feels like it’s been too long.  I’m looking forward to some fresh air.”

I wasn’t the only one to nod agreement.

There was a knock at the door.  Gordon, sitting by the door, opened it without rising from his perch.  When he saw who it was, he stood so he could open it wider.

“Gladys?” Gladys’ coworker asked.  “I’m going.  If you want to come?”

Gladys glanced at Gordon, then nodded at the woman.

“I’ll walk you to the edge of the crowd,” Gordon said, glancing back at us.  “And report back to these guys about how things look.”

“Sure,” Helen said, brightly.  “Have fun!”

Gordon smiled, then left with the two doctors.

I watched the door slowly swing closed.  Mary craned her neck, shifting over from her seat on the stool to match the movement of the door, looking, and I saw her eyes momentarily light up, legs kicking in excitement.

“What?” Lillian whispered.

Mary pursed her lips in a kiss, and I felt my heart sink.

As if to symbolize something, like entombment, the door shut with a woof of air, sealing by way of a tight fit and sheer weight.

“Not a fan,” I said.

“Of Gladys?” Mary asked, still smiling a little.

“Of them.  As a pair.  I don’t get it.”

“He got his moment as the knight in shining armor,” Helen said.  “I bet he’s the kind of boy that likes that idea.  But I think she’s more appreciative of the fact that he explained things after.  She seems like the type that’s ignored relationships in favor of work.  He must have found a chink in the armor, awakened that interest.”

“Are you miss Cupid now?” I asked.  “You pay attention to this sort of thing?”

“I prefer Aphrodite,” Helen said, still smiling.  “And I’m working on it.”

I shook my head.

“Grumpy this morning,” Jamie muttered.  He was awake, but he hadn’t roused.

“Jealous?” Mary asked.

I wheeled on her.

She grinned, showing me all of her tiny perfect white teeth.

“Uh, no,” I said.  “Definitely not.  Not on any level.  I’d take Sub Rosa on a date before I took Shipman, and I’m not jealous of her for having Gordon because I’m a guy and Gordon is most definitely not a girl.  No and nope.”

“But she’s taking him away from the group,” Lillian said, behind me.  “It’s okay to be jealous of that.”

“I’m not jealous!”

Jamie slowly, painfully reached out, his fingers and hand extending toward my foot.  I put the toe of my shoe further out in his direction.

He gave it a pat.  “There there.  There there.”

“I’d hit you if I wasn’t worried it would kill you.”

“There there.”

I shook my head, resolving to ignore Jamie.  “Is this a long term thing?  Him and her?  How does that work?”

“We’ll find out and we’ll figure it out,” Mary said.

Ugh,” I said.  “You can.  I’m going to live in happy little Sylvestertown, where this isn’t a thing.”

“He’s growing up, our golden hero,” Helen said.

I shook my head.  “First one of us to reach that point, I guess.”

The moment of silence that followed the statement caught me off guard.

“Which point?” Mary asked.

“Liking someone?” I asked, back, a little confused.

“No,” Jamie said, softly, head down against his pillow, eyes closed.

“No,” Mary said.

“No?” Lillian said, uncertainly.

“Gordon’s a late bloomer, all things considered,” Helen said.

All eyes fell on me.  The latest of bloomers, it seemed.

No,” I said.  “No way.  That’s not fair!”

“You’re one of the youngest of us, and you’re a boy,” Helen said.  “Don’t worry.  Your time will come.”

“You’re all a bunch of dirty liars, you’re doing this to mess with me!”

“He is grumpy,” Mary commented.

“There there,” Jamie said, patting my foot again.

I pulled it away, and mimed like I was going to kick him in the head.  It prompted the softest of laughs, which became a hacking coughing fit.

The door opened.  Gordon.  He gave Jamie a concerned look.

“Way is clear,” he reported.

We started getting ourselves pulled together, the people who’d slept without shoes pulling them on.  I hadn’t taken mine off, and helped Gordon with Jamie.  I was actually a better choice than some of the girls, because I was short enough that he could put an arm around my shoulders without reaching up and over.

Once we were all sorted, Gordon told the girls to go ahead and make sure nobody would jostle or bump us.

Our movement as a trio was excruciatingly slow, and I knew it would be worse once we reached the stairs.

As we hobbled and limped forward, trying not to jar Jamie too much, Jamie spoke up.  “Sy.”

“Hm?” I grunted.

“Based on recent events, I think you’re- ah!  You’re in good shape.”

“Mmf,” I grunted, again.  “How so?”

“I’ve seen the better side of you.  You don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Mm,” I grunted, bearing as much weight as I could while trying to keep Jamie from bobbing up and down.

“Her crying was annoying me,” I said.

“Hm?” Jamie made an inquisitive sound.  “Ah.  I’m sure.”

As a group, Jamie now in a wheelchair, we met Hayle and Briggs.  Rather than going to them, we’d apparently earned the right to have them come to us, a short distance from the exit to the Bowels.

The leaves were bright, the rain light, and the sun even penetrated the clouds to a degree.

“Gorger communicated that you played a big role in this,” Briggs said.

“Sy, Helen, and Jamie, toward the end,” Gordon said.

“Jamie,” Briggs said.  He gave Jamie a once-over.  “There’s an operating room waiting.  You can go.  I’m sure the others will catch you up.”

“No,” Jamie said.

“You’d rather stay?”

“I…” Jamie made a face.  “I forgot something.  Missed something.  I need an appointment.”

I saw his hand shake as he moved it toward his book.

“I see.  Appointment first, then operation?”

Jamie nodded, a movement made jerky by nervousness and anxiety.

Rather than make him keep reaching, I stepped close.  I took the battered book I’d recovered while he’d been getting set up in his wheelchair and checked over.

Jamie smiled.

Briggs signaled someone, and they approached to wheel Jamie away.

I watched him go, a sick feeling in my middle.

His appointments were worse than mine, in a way.

“In his absence,” Briggs said, “I’d like written reports from each of you on the incident.”

There were a few suppressed groans, mine was one.

“It’s a third strike in the last year,” Briggs said.  “I’ve already been told there will be changes.  Radham Academy’s underground laboratories will be refurbished and redone entirely.  Radham Academy’s staff will be overhauled.”

I felt a note of alarm.  I looked in Hayle’s direction.

“Rest assured, Professor Hayle will retain his post,” Briggs said.  “However, I will not.”

My eyebrows went up.

“The sentiment across the Crown States is that there is something brewing, and apparently I am unfit to lead the Academy through it.  It may be right,” Briggs said.

I didn’t miss the hint of bitterness in his voice.

This was a demotion he would never recover from.

“Radham will be looked after by a Duke, I believe the man is sixteenth in line for the Crown, and he has led armies in war,” Hayle said, looking at me.  “If I actually have to convey to you why you are not to get on his bad side, I’ve failed on multiple levels.”

“I understand,” I said.

“I really hope you do,” he said.

“The transition period will be difficult,” Briggs said.  “At Professor Hayle’s recommendation, I’m assigning you a task in the meantime.  A task for which you’ll need these.”

He reached into a deep lab coat pocket and retrieved a small bottle.  He shook it, making the pills rattle.  Though the glass was thick, I could tell that the pills were a deep purple.

“This is the same material we feed into the rain and the drinking water,” he said.  “Without it, you’ll find yourself quickly sickening and dying.”

“We’re leaving Radham?” Gordon asked.

With a time limit, I thought.  Only so many pills.

“As soon as Jamie is out of the hospital and you’ve each had your appointments,” Hayle told us.

“What for?” Mary asked.

“This time, we’re dealing with a young woman on the run,” Briggs told us.  “She was one of several in line to become a professor, a young one, and a woman, no less.  When she didn’t get her position, we had to take measures, given the knowledge she’d picked up.  A brief incarceration, then work in the underground labs until an opportunity came up.”

“She was a prisoner,” Gordon said.

“With emphasis on ‘was’, Gordon,” Briggs said.  “She escaped, with the head of another prisoner.  Her name is Genevieve Fray, and she has a deep grudge against the Academy.”

“Okay,” Gordon said.  “We find her, we stop her.”

“I would very much like you to do that,” Briggs said, “But there’s another concern at play.”

He turned his eyes to me.

“What?” I asked, confused.

“To make sure everyone is on the same page,” Hayle said, “Mary, I know you don’t know the full details about the other projects, unless they’ve told you things they shouldn’t.”

We had.

“Sylvester was an extension of an existing project, one that used minute amounts of chemicals and poisons to maintain and stimulate brain liquidity.  Faster learning, faster adaptation, more connections.  Many students opt into this program, taking small amounts.  Sylvester was a stress test for the program, to discover the effective maximums and breaking point.”

I swallowed hard.

This wasn’t news to me, but…

“With his inclusion to the Lambs, we stopped pushing as hard as we were.  We left things be as they were, and another Academy took on the task of testing the limits of the Wyvern project,” Hayle said.

“Miss Fray was someone who benefited from what we thought were small doses.  Part of the reason for her loss of professorship was that she was manufacturing her own doses, for herself.  We discovered this, among other things, and thought her too dangerous.”

“When you say she’s manufacturing her own doses,” I said, “Is she taking as much as me, or…”

“We don’t know,” Hayle said.

“She’s angry at the Academy, her brain is working very much like yours does, Sylvester, and she’s running.  We have a dim idea of where she is, but she’s proven too evasive for Dog and Catcher.  You need to find her, and you need to do it fast.”

I nodded.

But my brain was only fixated on one thing.

I have a sister.

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93 thoughts on “Lips Sealed 3.10

  1. Typo thread!

    Big block of shit formatting from “I wasn’t the only one to nod agreement.” to “””Mm,” I grunted, bearing as much weight as I could while trying to keep Jamie from bobbing up and down.” Is this what you deal with every night? Man, WordPress sucks.

    Also just wanted to point out that this story is amazing thus far. Thanks for everything, Wildbow. I eagerly await more every night!

    • – [“I did,” I told him. “Covered myself with kerosene. Bugs don’t like it, neither do the, uh, things on the walls.”
      “This boy too?”
      “Him too?”
      “Yeah.”] – Repetition of same idea.

      – I lay my side with a rolled up lab coat for a pillow

      – Mary’s watch had been spent sharpening a knives,

      – [I didn’t once come close to nodding off, sitting there listening to the pattern of breathing from the six Lambs.] – Six? Including himself, or including Gladys?

      – I’d take Sub Rosa on a date before I took Shipman – I’d take Shipman?

    • “Wrist had dislocated from elbow, which had dislocated from shoulder.”

      I’m not sure that’s the best way to phrase that. The wrist isn’t connected to the elbow, but rather the forearm, or the radius and whatever other bones inside. If I dislocate my wrist, my forearm is still connected to the elbow and I can move it without trouble (unless I am getting my anatomy wrong?). Similarly, the elbow isn’t connected to the shoulder.

    • included, coming down
      -included, were coming down

      “No. She was…”
      “Went… after?”
      “No. Walled up… tunnel… I think. Layout of… Academy, only… one place… she could go… ow, ow.
      “This deep?… Radham’s monster…”
      “Don’t… know.”
      -Those five lines by Jamie weren’t italicized.

    • Not a typo per se, but an ambiguous “garden-path” sentence.
      > I took the battered book I’d recovered while he’d been getting set up in his wheelchair and checked over.

    • Not sure if typo, but several of Jamie’s lines aren’t italicised when the others are, like:
      “No. Walled up… tunnel… I think. Layout of… Academy, only… one place… she could go… ow, ow.”

    • Typos:

      – “to maintain and stimulate brain liquidity” -> “brain liquidity” would presumably kill you…

      – “The people who had lowered Gladys down, Gladys’ partner included, coming down the stairs from the level above.” -> were coming down

      – “I lay my side with a rolled up lab coat for a pillow, another lab coat draped over me, lying on the floor of the lab” – seems like part of the sentence is redundant (e.g. both “lay” and “lying”)

      Before the paragraph beginning with “I watched Jamie breathing”, there’s an empty line.

      Another potential anachronism: “Classified” – I’d presume the meaning you’re going for hadn’t yet been invented in the ~1920s.

      • I thought ‘liquidity’ as in assets/flexibility, not actual fluids in your head (although, a healthy amount of CSF would still be necessary).

      • ‘Liquidity’: Probably what we’d call ‘Plasticity’ in our world, except with a different metaphor (liquidness rather than plasticness) having become mainstream. (We talk about brain/synaptic plasticity, which likewise would probably be fatal if literal.)

    • sharpening a knives –> ‘a knife’, or ‘knives’

      I asked, back, a little confused. –> don’t think there should be a comma between ‘asked’ and ‘back’

  2. This chapter was lovely.

    What a lovely, lovely chapter.


    Sy’s stubborn heart of gold is touching and hilarious. I hope to see more of it.

    So, is this the young lady that Boil started out centred around, modified? I hope so.

    • Honestly glad to hear she was kicked out and detained for reasons besides a sub-par science project.

      Really interesting to hear about the chemicals in the water. That’s pretty sick, wide scale population control like that. They could kill entire cities

    • Thank you for mentioning the Boil connection. I’m fairly certain I squeed when I read it.
      I kind of hope she has a head friend…

  3. Well, looks like we may know who we’ll hear from in the interlude (unless Gladys or one of her associates is an enemy?). It’ll be interesting to see if Fray was involved in what happened with Sub Rosa.

  4. Too many good things to mention in this chapter.

    So I’ll just say that it’s a weird feeling knowing that I read about Fay previously and seeing her as a possible antagonist. Don’t know the exact word to describe it, but it’s like a weird form of deja vu.

    And it seems my half-assed guess on Sub-Rosa may or may not be backed by Jaime. Poor guy.

    Wonderfully written moment with Sy and Lily Bow, very well done. The bonding with the Lambs was kind of messed up with the blocks of text and lack of spacing, but I liked Jaimies lines the best.

    I do hope we see more of Willard. And good old fashioned racism, almost forgot this was 1920’s!

  5. Wait, so is the world outside the city so toxic from war/soft science that you constantly have to take medicine to combat it? Or has Radham intentionally poisoned the city and constantly feeds them the antidote as a means of control (eg its a bad idea to run away with academy knowledge if you don’t have the antidote)? Or or or, is it something that only affects the Lambs? Why is no one more concerned about this?

    • It sounds like they decided that their experiments needed a chemical leash to keep them from running too far. Which is sensible, because if the Lambs went renegade they could cause exponentially more trouble if they reached a center of government rather than staying within the confines of Radham.

      • I’m not entirely sure… this is what’s going on. While Radham is powerful and it can do whatever it very well pleases, introducing a drug into all of the rain and water bodies in and around the city seems like a nightmare to keep the few experiments they have in use under their leash. It’s not as though having the experiments come every X days at a minimum to the Academy to give them their drugs wouldn’t achieve the same effect. And if a chemical leash is a strategy the Academy uses, they must already have a set infrastructure in order to feed all the experiments that don’t see the outside world. Though … on the other hand, I guess that’s why they contaminate the water supplies.

        In any case, if the actual reason is to keep the populace under control, it makes a mess off emigration in the city. At least we know why it rains in Radham so much.

        • Assuming Genevieve is also fleeing from Radham, the chemical is probably not normally used as a leash for the average populace. It’s probably a mental suppressant, that the Lamb’s bodies use as a vital supplement. It keeps the population docile, and, because the Lamb’s metabolize it, they both aren’t affected by it and dependent on it. It sounds like something the Academy, or rather Hayle, would do: use an already existing program to further the goals of an ancillary one.

          • Mary would be affected by it if that were the case. Probably some immuno-booster, coupled with a plague on the outside of the Academy towns, given Briggs’ terminology. Assuming of course that he’s telling the truth.

    • I’m guessing it’s something they set up for all their experiments to prevent them from escaping the boundaries of the city. Why they put the counteragent in all of the water instead of regularly handing it out at the Academy eludes me.

      • They do want the experiments to have a certain amount of independence, I think, and making them reliant upon a scheduled dose is really just asking for trouble and attaching a significant time limit. And if it’s a chemical independence that they can induce, not just built in, then it may well be extended to other Academy members who are high-ranking, to prevent people from stealing Academy secrets and running for it…

      • Or the pills could simply be placebos given how they actively try to prevent Jamie from reading Academy books and learn Latin. Much cheaper and less complicated than city-wide environmental chemical leashes.

      • Allowing a steady and regular access of those pills to their experiments means one of them could hoard the pills and attempt an extended escape. Putting it in the water solves two problems: it ensures regular access of the chemical to the people/experiments they don’t want escaping, and it makes it significantly harder to stock up and transport without pipelines or something equally ridiculous. People drink about a gallon of water a day, but the average size person can only carry so many gallons.

        It’s pretty clever, especially if each of the cities uses a different chemical.

    • Why would they fill the entire water supply/rain with it if it’s just for experiments?

      These probably aren’t the case, but just a couple of fun theories.

      Theory 1: Some experiment at some point in the past went terribly wrong, and most of the country is filled with some sort of disease (or multiple diseases). (Or maybe it was done on purpose, who knows). The way they have dealt with this is providing the cure in the drinking supply so people won’t be affected by it. But leave a settlement, and you’ll start to succumb to the disease(s). This forces most people to live in and around cities.

      The hole in this is, with how advanced their knowledge of biology is, shouldn’t they be able to just make people immune? Maybe they do with most people, but not the experiments, in order to keep them in line?

      Theory 2: This isn’t something that affects the whole country, but rather some sort of experiment/measure specifically in Radham town (was that the name of the town too, or just the Academy? I forget). They put some sort of substance in the water that causes the users to develop a fatal dependency on it over time. Possibly because they don’t want anyone to leave.

      The hole in this theory is that, with the way people acted in Arc 2, I would think there would be resistance against this from the people if they knew, and for something like this to work, people would have to know and be accepting of it. Otherwise anyone that leaves the town would start dropping dead and no one would know why (until people start putting the pieces together).

  6. Also… isn’t Gladys much older than Gordon? He’s only 12 or so correct?

    I can’t recall, but I suppose if Lilian is that young and already in an impressive state of affairs, I must have misjudged Gladys’s age.

    • Gordon’s probably quite tall and well-built for his age. Also, it’s not like they’re talking about full-blown intimate relationships, just falling in love.

  7. Jaaaaaaaaaaamie!!! You liiiive❤ I'm happy and moved by that. I also like how flustered Sy got. While I doubt the relationship between Sy and Jamie will ever go further than that of friends or siblings, I really hope someone in-story will quip about them.

    This was a wonderful chapter. Is wrapped everything up neatly, and I appreciate that the Lambs earnt having their superiors come to them. I can't help but feel bad for Sub Rosa, though. She was a cold-blooded murderer, but well, that doesn't make her evil per se, and it doesn't mean she wasn't confused and conflicted. I wonder what's her story.

    • Love doesn’t necessarily equal sex. All of the Lambs love each other. Most don’t fancy sex with each other. That Sy loves Jamie isn’t necessarily an indicator of either homo or hetero sexuality.

      • And sex doesn’t necessarily equal wishing to have a romantic relationship with someone. All of the lambs don’t love each other in this particular manner. I would presume? But, yeah😛

        • Bingo. This is what I’ve been saying. Just liking him cause they want to be a couple would cheapen the depth of Jamie and Sy’s relationship. And Sy made it pretty clear sounding that he’s hetero this chapter. Love comes in many forms. Most aren’t romantic.

          • You can’t stop the ship, Aname. You should see the Worm fanfic. There’s a recent one heavy on Rune/Shadow Stalker.

          • Lots of people who aren’t straight say things that make it pretty clear they are. Just saying.

            That said, Sy’s eleven. While that’s plenty old enough to develop crushes, I’ve never heard of an eleven-year-old in a true romantic relationship. That won’t stop me from shipping it, but the ship doesn’t have to stipulate that they get together *now*.

  8. I suspect the Duke’ll be an incompetent, spoiled fool. Leading the Crown’s armies doesn’t sound too impressive when the Crown’s only tactical/strategic moves appear to be “USE SUPERWEAPON” followed by zerg rush of human and stitched troops, instead of any truly innovative tactics or strategy.

    And Fray makes an appearance. If the backstory in Boil carries over, then Fray was making her own doses because her drug rations were getting stolen, and the reason she was kicked out was partly due to sabotage by other students. Will any bonus interludes feature her POV?

    • I don’t expect wildbow to go with the incompetent leader trope. We’ve seen first-hand how much more interesting stories get when those in charge are solidly genre savvy.

      Plus I seriously doubt the twigverse’s Crown is lenient on its modern nobility. It’s probably closer to Dune’s spartan upbringings to survive such a cutthroat world.

    • As far as we’ve seen, this world is so brutally competitive I’m surprised they don’t choose their janitors by gladiatorial deathmatch. If this noble fellow managed to keep that title for any length of time, he’s probably the most competent person available for the job.

      Well… we’ve not actually seen any janitors yet, so maybe they do?

  9. I find it interesting how Sy immediately jumps to “sister” to describe Genevieve, when he’s previously rejected sibling designations for the Lambs. She’s overdosing on the same drugs as he is, of course, but she’s not exactly connected, is she? He’s a kid who’s been having his brain cut open ever since he was born, she’s benefiting from the discoveries that were made possible in part by his use as a stress-tester. It’s especially weird because, previously, the only people Sy had let himself identify with so openly (in his own mind, of course. I’m pretty sure at this point that he’s thoroughly deceiving himself about his own empathy for normal people to prevent himself from getting too messed up by the horrible stuff he does for a living) have been other experiments, people who presumably didn’t have a choice…This suggests that he’s basically extending his definitions around “people I can care about” to people who’ve been modified and who have been hurt by the academy.

    • He probably feels he has more in common with her than with the Lambs since she’s basically running off the same experiment he is. Sy wasn’t originally going to be with the Lambs, they just brought him in to fill a hole. This person would have more in common with him than the Lambs would.

      Which makes me worry for Mary. Or maybe I should be more worried about Sy?

      • He also considers Mary a sister experiment, too — for many good reasons, even though she had nothing to do with the Academy. Lillian is now getting into “cousin” range, thanks to some of the mental shocks she’s going through knocking her out of the “normal” range, even though she’s no biological experiment.

        Sure, Gwen’s choosen to OD on the same chemicals as him to be different, so shares that. She’s also not going to be neurotypical by any stretch of the imagination anymore, so naturally counts as a “self-experiment: Wyrm — sister”.😉

  10. He had a stern, matter-of-fact way of delivering the bad news. Combined with his skin color, and I could guess his history. Black soldier, with duties of a field medic, possibly because of things he’d picked up from his father, or another family member. When things had gone poorly, the medics had received advanced training.

    Much as was the case with the women who’d worked at the Academy during wartime, the Academy had decided that even if someone was black, knowledge was knowledge.

    I wonder how exactly things went poorly. It apparently involved biological weaponry if the field medics needed advanced training, but it’s not clear if the Academy had weapons malfunctions or if someone else was using them too.

  11. The relationship between Gordon and Shipman seems a little strange… Wasn’t Lillian supposed to be the oldest at 13? And Gordon was 12 if I remember right. If Shipman is 16, that’s an extremely awkward age difference. If I’m wrong on any of the ages, anyone please feel free to correct me.

    Fray is back! I thought the name was familiar and went to look up Boil, and its really disappointing to see it was taken down. But it seems other commenters have confirmed that Fray was the Boil protagonist, so it’ll be interesting to see how her character is ported from Boil to Twig, and what kind of differences there are.

  12. Ah, so we learn the details of the Wyvern project. What I find most interesting is that, while the treatments improve thinking, he essentially have no direction. The reason he joined the Lambs and how he helps is not due to any planning on his creator’s part, but on his own inclinations. That just makes him more awesome!

    Sub Rosa had some mercy, enough apparently to avoid killing a crippled child, but not enough to avoid crippling him in the first place. I wonder how much of her original mind was there. Was it like her conscious decision making was diminished, and she was running on whims?

    Also, Sy is a total softy. The way he analyzes and talks to William, the way he assured Lillian (even if he insists on using Lil), and how he watches Jamie are all very sweet and kind. Also, the scene where he’s the last to find someone he likes is very cute, even if it does damage the likelihood of Sy>Jamie. Jamie>Sy is still going strong though! “There, there.”

    Jamie is really dutiful, or perhaps he understands that having the appointment will reduce the surgery, since while they cut him open the first time, they might fix some stuff while they’re augmenting him. Do you think they’ve invented x-ray or ultrasounds, or some way of seeing what’s going on inside of him?

    As to the leadership change, I feel as if the Duke will probably be easier to manipulate than Briggs. The Duke sounds like someone unused to working with children, as the Lambs appear to be, and will experience some difficulty adjusting. Sy will probably be able to work something out from him using that dissonance(!).

    As to Genevieve Fray, I’m going to assume that she’s the same person from the preview. If she is, it’ll be interesting to see what’s changed, if anything, and if the preview can be considered canon. Wildbow?

    Anyway, she’s a sister to Sy in more than one way, though I doubt that they’ll actually develop a familial relationship. Sy does tend to think in terms of family a lot, like how he said that Sub Rosa was Gorger’s father, and how he saw Percy’s paternal relationship with Mary.

    • Oh, and I think Brigg’s replacement is Wildbow’s blatant subversion of his typical escalation. Brigg’s method of testing experiments (testing, breaking, and then improving) is very similar to the progression in Worm. While in Pact, vg jnf zbfgyl whfg oernxvat jvgubhg n jubyr ybg bs vzcebivat, here the firing of Briggs and the insertion of someone who fights wars, rather than battles, may indicate that Twig is going for a long term engagement, without the constant stress of Worm.

      • I think that the closest analogue to Worm here is that working for Briggs is like jbexvat sbe Pbvy. I’m a _lot_ more for that than for the Pact approach to escalation. So I’m not sure how to feel about the Duke, if he’s going to treat the Lambs substantially differently.

    • My guess is that the preview was Wildbow’s early attempt at worldbuilding, and not everything will have survived. Rather like, if I recall correctly, some earlier short stories influenced characters in Worm.

      My guess is that the Genevieve from the preview is a prototype for this one, but not the same person. Really interested in meeting her, and seeing if she has any of the revolutionary ambitions of her inspiration!

      • *ahem* And my HOPE is that people will ignore the fact that I started two paragraphs with almost exactly the same sentence. Sorry about that, not enough sleep. ‘-_-

  13. Awesome. This little calm interludes focusing on the lambs are possibly my favourite parts of the story. The conversation about blooming was great. Very funny.

    I’ve been wondering for a while if Sy’s personality has been ‘manufactured’ on any level, incidentally or otherwise.Jaime’s comment about “you don’t have anything to worry about” is reminding me of Sy’s earlier references to becoming more ‘monstrous’, from when he was counter-interrogating Mary. Despite his objections I’m pretty sure he helped Lillian out of the goodness of his own heart. The fact that he was worried about disturbing her seems to support this.Sly you little softie. Although I do find it interesting that he calls her “Lil” but thinks of her as “Lillian”.

    I’m excited for this next arc. If she’s Sy’s “sister” it sounds like we’re going to learn a lot more about our little protagonist. As well, his seeming emotional connection to her should be interesting, considering he normally doesn’t have overly much concern for those outside the Lambs. Plus, a chance to see more of the world in general. Good stuff all around.

    I wonder why professors are deemed allowable to possess the knowledge they have. Almost inherently apparently, considering that the reason Frey was locked away was because there wasn’t a position available.Do they have commensurate restrictions?

    Also, Fray escaped “with the HEAD of another prisoner”? Typo, or just super hardcore?

  14. Another outstanding chapter, as usual.
    A question on continuity: the last chapter ends with Sy looking down and seeing Helen, but ends “I wasted no time in heading to Jamie’s side”. When we open this chapter, Sy talks to Helen first before going to Jamie. Should last chapter have been going to Helen’s side?

  15. I’m curious to see if Sy’s “sister” will prove a route to get the Lambs out from the Academy’s thumb. Someone who is qualified to be a professor and taken a personal interest is the workings of the brain to improve herself seems like someone who might be able to perform the maintenance the Lambs require. And if she thinks like Sy, that’d be awfully interesting.

    I kind of doubt this will happen though because I’m not sure there’s been a enough set-up for them to defect yet, we haven’t had Mary interact with her “father” since she joined the Academy for that cup of drama, and Sy understands people enough I don’t expect him to trust her just because she’s his “sister”.

  16. “Liking someone?” I asked, back, a little confused.

    “No,” Jamie said, softly, head down against his pillow, eyes closed.

    “No,” Mary said.

    “No?” Lillian said, uncertainly.
    Is Lillian trying to decide if she likes Sy or not?

    • Maybe. She could just be uncertain in general, or could just be deciding whether the question was directed at her or not. She’s probably not used to the word ‘us’ including her when Sy says it.

  17. OH snap, I hate that you took what I said last chapter and proved it again! It’s like seeing someone fly over everyone’s heads and land a slam dunk, and then the very next play they hit a threepointer from the other side of the court.

    In other words, damn you have skills!

  18. I really enjoyed this chapter. I’m having a hard time repressing squeals about Gene’s (future) presence.

    Lambs vs. Gene has so much potential, it’s going to be great.

  19. *ahem*


    (So curious about how much are actual differences from Boil and how much are them misrepresenting her… and about the last part, whether Sy’s strong loyalty to even unborn people in his ‘group’ is applying stronger to another person like himself… also glad to have the further explanation about the Ox-equivalent!)

    (I don’t know if I would describe it as ‘shipping’ or not, but I really like seeing Sy and Lillian interacting together in this way.)

  20. This is a great example of what I’ve taken to calling the Wildbow Principle: any antagonist or side character that gets more than a few lines should be interesting enough that they could have a story devoted to their point of view.Mauer is a good example, and Genevieve Fray, for those who’ve read Boil, is a great one.

    Wildbow, I’m curious as to your process in that regard. Did you already have a version of the Lambs in mind when drafting Boil, but while building the world you decided that the story would be more interesting from their perspective? How did they grow to become the protagonists? Did they develop along with the world, or did either the characters or the world of Twig develop first?

  21. This is a good wrap up of this Arc, a bit of knowing the interactions between our protagonists, a bit of information and world building glimpsed, and heart warming moments.

    Wildbow you’re just freakin awesome.

    You saw what you lacked in Pact and improved and fixed it.

  22. This was my favorite arc so far, Wildbow. As usual, great job.

    One thing I noticed is that Twig has more episodic arcs than your other previous serials. What I mean is, each arc is kind of like a mission that the Lambs undertake, in which the outcome of each arc do not explicitly follow the events of the previous one; they seem more independent from each other than in Worm or Pact.

    Another small detail I also noticed is that all the arcs published so far are getting to have the same number of chapters.

    Also, given that Sub Rosa is (apperantly) deceased, I wonder who is going to be the character for the interlude of this arc. I wonder if it is going to be Gladys, since she is connected to Sub Rosa’s creator.

  23. So does this mean we get to see Genevieve and Sy have this massive battle of intellects next arc, while the other Lambs get to see what it’s like for someone to rip them apart using chaos and cognitive dissonance as weapons? Because that would be awesome.

    Seriously though, it’ll be interesting to see how Genevieve applies her talents differently than Sy. It seems unlikely that they’d use the same strategies, given how broad their abilities are. I also wonder how she gets past the one major side effect of the Wyvern project that we’ve heard of so far (namely, poor memory retention). Sy seems to work around it by relying on the other Lambs, particularly Jamie, but Genevieve strikes me as a loner, and memory is a crucial skill for any renegade Bonesaw-lite.

    • She’s got her own helper, remember. Wouldn’t surprise me if she tweaked Will a bit to cover her weaknesses while they were ahead.

      And with that, I get the feeling we’ll meet an older Genevieve in this story, maybe a few years’s worth ?

  24. I love the friendship moments between the Lambs. Its chapters like these where there is no danger and it’s just character interactions that really stick with me the most.

    You really get a sence that the Lambs all love and trust each other dispite all their bickering. Its hard to ship Sy with only one character, he has great chemistry with more than one.

  25. Jamie slowly, painfully reached out, his fingers and hand extending toward my foot. I put the toe of my shoe further out in his direction.
    He gave it a pat. “There there. There there.”
    “I’d hit you if I wasn’t worried it would kill you.”
    “There there.”

    “There there,” Jamie said, patting my foot again.
    I pulled it away, and mimed like I was going to kick him in the head. It prompted the softest of laughs, which became a hacking coughing fit.

    Sy’s rubbing off on Jaime. Hopefully, the reverse will happen some more…

    I have a sister.
    Your sense of priorities never fails to amaze, Sy…

  26. Hmm, I note that, while everyone’s squeeing over Fray, it was actually revealed that Sy has two siblings. There’s another Wyvern stress test out there…

  27. Wow! This is one of the most intense story arcs I’ve ever read. Was literally on the edge of my seat throughout. The team seemed to be thwarted at every turn and couldn’t catch a lucky break. It truly felt like a Alien-esque horror-action story. Great job.

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