Enemy (Arc 3)

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“Is Mr. Howell expecting you?” the stitched asked.

Warren stared.  There were so few of the stitched in Pontiac, and they were the sort of thing that was ignored and people who used them were looked down on.  Pontiac was still a city in the Crown’s dominion, but it was a good distance from any of the Academies and there wasn’t much love for the Academy’s work there.

Now he was home, and a dead man stood in his father’s entryway, dressed in a footman’s clothing.  Warren glanced back over his shoulder at his companion, Harry, who quirked an eyebrow in response.  Harry’s sandy-hair was tucked beneath a cap, and he wasn’t clean-shaven, unfortunately.  They’d stepped right off the train and made their way straight there.  Warren had decided to shave while braving the periodic bumps and jostles of the carriage, and had made out with only one nick at his jaw.

“I’m his son,” Warren finally managed, still a little dumbstruck.  “I sent a telegram ahead, he should be expecting me.”

“This way, sir,” he told me, stepping back and gesturing.

The stitched in Pontiac hadn’t been so well made.  They were haulers, dirty and covered up with heavy clothes and caps, they did the dangerous work until they overheated and fried.  Even before the overheating, though, they were rarely able to speak more than one slurred word at a time.  Warren had always avoided them.

It walked just a little bit stiffly.  Harry fell into step beside Warren, exaggerating the stitched’s gait.  Warren elbowed him, hard, and Harry resumed walking normally, still maintaining a shit-eating grin.

On a good day, Harry was such a character.  On a bad one, he was incorrigible.

Warren hoped Harry could lose the smirk soon.  The were just now approaching the sitting room.

The manservant opened the double doors, and Warren’s hopes were dashed.

The sitting room itself was as he remembered it.  There were three sets of arching double doors opening to the outside, partially made of glass, a large window, and more archways that hid slightly recessed bookshelves.  The hardcover books had gold lettering, some faded more than others.  The furniture was ornate, some of which had been antiques when his grandfather had been young.

His father and another man stood in the middle of the sitting room, beside what looked to be an eighteen year old girl in a state of undress from the waist up, only a brassiere covering her.

Warren’s father looked at him with a moment’s surprise, then smiled.  Harry’s grin was ear to ear, positively delighting in Warren’s situation.


“Warren!” his father said, approaching.  “So good to see you!”

Warren accepted the hug stiffly, not quite sure what to do.  His father was a tall man, but he’d dropped some weight, and felt surprisingly frail under Warren’s arms.  His father was from Cardiff, tall, dark, and surprisingly genial for how grim he could look.

His mother, not yet present, was short, but of brawny English-speaking German stock.  Warren had been blessed with the best traits of both, putting him above average in height and of a respectable solid build, and years at university had put some muscle on his frame.

“You look different,” his father said.

“I feel different,” Warren said, trying not to look at the elephant in the room.

His father smiled.

“It’s been a long time, Warren,” the other man in the room said.

Warren paid attention to him for the first time, an old man with a very thick beard and a white lab coat.

“Doctor Pegram?  You’re rightIt’s been forever.”

“Not since you were small.  I watched you grow up, and now your father tells me you’ve just finished your studies?”

“Halfway across the Crown States, Doctor, yes.  I’ve been learning about machines and machinery,” Warren said, feeling a little embarrassed at the admission.

“Good on you.  Not enough young people working with the hard sciences.  It’s all chemicals and biology, ratios and balances instead of numbers and calculations,” the doctor said, gesturing at himself.  “Why machines, Warren?”

“I, uh, always liked cars, sir,” Warren said.  His eye flickered toward the woman.

The doctor smiled.  “Don’t mind her.”

“It’s rather hard not to,” he admitted.

“Ah, of course,” his father said, “Wendy, get dressed, please.”

The woman moved, and immediately Warren recognized her as a stitched.  The movements were slightly off.  Her scars, however, were so faint that they only appeared in the right light, light pink and faintly reflective.

When she raised her hands up to pull her hair out from beneath her shirt, he saw how there was a piece of metal embedded into the side of her neck, back near the spine.

“She’s yours?”

“Yes.  She cleans and runs small errands.  She requires a little bit more care when instructions are given,

“I’ve been gone five years, and when I return, you’re employing stitched?”

“Times change, son.  All the arable land surrounding Radham is being co-opted by the Academy.  I manage the farms and farmers as best I can, to give them work, but the Academy grows bigger, stronger, better crops.  Blight doesn’t touch their plants, and they use stitched labor.  I have to make concessions if I want to compete.”

Warren glanced again at Harry, worried it was too sensitive a discussion when they had a guest.  Two, if Dr. Pegram was included.

“It’s alright, Warren.  There were a few bad years, but we’re managing well enough.  Using stitched for the field work was a hard choice, it meant turning some laborers away, but…”

The man sighed.

“No other choice?”

“No good ones.  I forgot what it might look like to someone coming at this from an objective standpoint, I don’t think of them as anything more than tools.”

Warren nodded.  He felt uncomfortable with the notion, but he couldn’t put his finger on why, or how he might fix it.  Instead, he changed the subject.

“I almost forgot.  Father, Dr. Pegram, this is Harry, my friend from school.  Harry, this is my father, Mr. Clifford Howell, and Dr. Pegram, the man who pulled me into this world and looked after me for the first ten or twelve years after that.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Howell, Dr. Pegram,” Harry said.  He stepped forward, hand extended.

“Is Harry only visiting Radham?” Warren’s father asked.

“I’m here to stay, as a matter of fact.  Warren and I are starting our own business, building and fixing up cars.”

“I was top of my class in the building,” Warren said.  “Harry’s grades were… less stellar, but he’s a salesman through and through, and he knows just where we can get started.”

“Excellent,” his father said.  “Might have some competition from the academy.  There’s something to be said for the carriages we’re all used to.”

“There’s something to be said for cars, too,” Harry said.

Warren half-turned as he saw a movement in the doorway.  His mother.  Smiling, he met her halfway and wrapped her in a hug.

She had to raise herself up on her toes to touch his face, and she put one hand on him to steady herself as she plucked the cap off his head.  “No hats indoors.”

“Sorry, mother,” Warren said, a little abashed to be talked to like a little boy while Harry was around.  He saw Harry snatch the cap from his own head, lightning quick.

“Sit, please,” his mother said.  “Wendy.”

The stitched girl turned.

“Fill the teapot with the boiling water from the stove, I’ve already got teabags in there.  And, let me see-”

“Don’t count me among your guests,” the doctor said.  “You’ve already been so hospitable, and I’m on my way out the door.”

“Four cups, then, Wendy.  Farewell, Doctor,” she said, giving the man a brief hug.

They settled themselves on armchairs and couches that had been positioned around the little coffee table.

The small talk never happened.  Warren’s father sat, giving him a peculiar look, then squinted.


“You look different, Warren.  I thought it might be your hair, or your brow, but…”

Warren felt his heart skip a beat as his father circled the table.  The grip on Warren’s chin was surprisingly strong and fierce as his father forced his head up at an angle, so he was looking up at the man.

No geniality now.  Only the grim.

“Your eyes.”

“Ah, heh,” Warren said.  “Harry convinced me.”

“It’s true, I did.”

Blue?” his father asked, no humor in his tone.

“My vision is sharper, too.  The change in color from brown was purely cosmetic.”

“It looks wrong,” his father said, and there was something in his voice that made Warren feel deeply uncomfortable.

“Clifford,” his mother said.  “Don’t make mountains out of molehills.”

“This isn’t a molehill, if my suspicions are right.  Or are you going to tell me this will go away on its own.”

“It’s permanent, father.”

“It was a lark, sir,” Harry said.  “I convinced him it was cheaper to change his eyes than to buy eyeglasses every few years.”

“Changed how?” the man’s words had a hollowness to them.  “Torn out and swapped in with another man’s?”

“They rewrote the language that determines how my eyes should be,” Warren said.

Warren’s father let go of his chin as if he’d been burned.

“I know you’re more conservative, father, but if you’re employing stitched-”

“This and that are two very different things.”

“It’s a very minor change.”

Harry chimed in, “An attractive one.  I told him it would get him all the girls, an ice blue stare, but-”

Please,” Warren’s father said, in the gentleman’s way of saying something polite while declaring that Harry might get struck if he kept talking.

Harry dutifully shut up.

“I’ve heard about this,” the older man said.  “Rewriting our very being.  I’ve heard the concerns.  It carries forward, Warren.  When you have a child, there is a very good chance it will have the same sort of eyes.  This alien blueness.”

“I… yes.  I’ve heard that,” Warren said.  The blueness was a remark on the deepness of the blue.  Most had a pale blue color to their eyes, but Warren had elected for a shade and hue that was closer to what might be found on a flower.

A moment’s decision, after drinking with Harry and several other friends.  A lark, as Harry had suggested.

“Clifford,” Warren’s mother said, standing and reaching out.  But the man was so filled with repressed anger that she seemed to hesitate to approach.

“Father,” Warren said, trying to use the moment, “It’s easily changed back.  Same process.  A needle in the arm, and a few weeks to adjust.”

“Oh?” his father asked.  “Do you have the, what do you call it, the language, the script of your eyes as they once were?  Or are you simply trying to mime the old color?  A guess on the part of whatever doctor you subject yourself to?  How is that different?”

“You make it sound like the end of the world!”

“It’s the end of us!” his father said, suddenly shouting.

The statement seemed to bring everything in the room to a standstill.

The stitched girl stood in the doorway with tea on a tray.  Her head was bowed, and the plates on the platter rattled as her hands shook.

Warren’s mother flew to the stitched girl’s side, to console and to take the tray, the murmured words indistinct.

“The end of us?” Warren asked.

“You’re the product of your mother and I, as we’re the product of those who came before.  But any child you have now will be a product of you, your wife, and the Academy’s work.  We don’t yet know how these little things will carry forward, or if there will be long term repercussions, for you or your children.  Such a stupid thing.”

The word was like a slap.  Stupid.

“It’s minor.  Nothing of importance in the grand scheme of it all,” Warren said, a little more obstinate now.

“It’s important to me.  Do you understand?  You’ve tainted the bloodline.  You’re not truly my son anymore, not in full.”

If the word ‘stupid’ had been a slap, this was a strike to the gut.  Warren felt all of the tension that had built up over the argument now seizing him.  In shock, he was no longer sure how to move or properly think.

“Warren,” Harry said, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder.  “Perhaps we should go.”

“That might be a good idea,” Warren’s father said.

Warren nodded, dumb.  He looked at his mother, on the other side of the room, still consoling the stitched girl.

He and Harry left, Warren more stiff than either of the stitched had been.  Down the long hallway, past the stairs, and out the door, into bright sunlight.  Radham was just on the horizon, past the patchwork white-brown and white of snow-dusted farmland, ringed by buildings that spewed dark fumes into the air.  A perpetual raincloud hung over the city.

“Warren,” his mother said, behind him.

He turned.

She pressed a slip of paper into his hand.

He looked down at it, too caught up in a storm of emotion to process it.

“Money.  To get you off the ground and tide you over the first year or so, if you’re frugal.  It was intended as a graduation present from me to you.  It is a graduation present.”

“Thank you,” he said, but he still felt adrift, confused.

“I’ll talk to him, Warren.  He cares, but he’s had to adapt so much so quickly, this caught him off guard, so soon after he’d already made monumental sacrifices.  Send us another telegram so we know where you are, so I can reunite you two when he’s calmed down.”

“Will he?” Warren asked.

“He will,” she said.  She gave his arm a squeeze.

He nodded, but the wound still felt raw.

“Take Wendy and the carriage.  Go where you need to today, to get yourself situated and run any errands.  Wendy can help you, and she can do a surprising amount of carrying.  Send them back tomorrow, if you can.  She knows how to use the carriage and how to ask for directions if she needs them.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, eyeing the young stitched dubiously.

“She needs it, frankly.  Her disposition always improves after a good carriage ride.  It would be a favor.”

Warren nodded.  His mother was lying, but perhaps she wanted to keep an eye on him.  Not an entirely bad thing.

“Look after him, Wendy,” Warren’s mother said.  “Do as he asks, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Let’s go,” Harry said, a hand on Warren’s shoulder.  He used the hand to guide Warren into the horse-driven carriage.

Warren sat and stared blankly at the wall.  He blinked as Harry slammed the door, then again as Harry sat across from him.

“Let’s go,” Harry said.  “I think you’re in dire need of an unhealthy amount of drink.”


Every morning, it was the same.  Replaying the discussion with his father, fragments of memory about the afternoon and evening that had followed.  Drinking, meeting Harry’s friends in Radham.

Some had altered themselves, more than very blue eyes.  A girl with horns, a young man who had added muscle to himself.  Among Warren and the other students in Pontiac, Harry had been the roughest around the edges, too clever for his own good, always a little disheveled.

Harry’s friends in Radham were a dozen long strides in that same direction.  Smart as a whip, all of them, but not in the academic sense.  Quick to insult, joke, jibe.  Warren hadn’t been able to keep up, especially as the drinks had added up.

He remembered blood, and he wrested his thoughts away from that particular sequence of events.

He tried to raise a hand to his face, and felt it move, felt the air against it, the shift of muscles.  But the sensation folded on itself, the sensations continuing onward in his psyche until they had dissolved into smoke.

Every morning, it was like this.  Discovering how badly things had gone, one way or another.

It was the movement in the corner of his eye that usually did it, or movement in front of him, sleep-bleary eyes making out the general shape of the surroundings.

Waking up like this might never become routine.  Perhaps because it was too far removed from the reality he understood.  Perhaps because he didn’t want to realize.  Waking up in confusion, with a dawning feeling of horror, that was better.  It was best, all things considered.  It hinted at how low his expectations should be.

There was no dawning feeling of horror in the pit of his stomach.

He didn’t feel sweat run down his back.

His hands didn’t clench.

His toes didn’t curl.

His heartbeat didn’t pick up in speed.

His blood didn’t run cold.

None of those things were, not anymore.

He turned his head, and it was difficult.  He had a limited amount of mobility, and the skin pulled tight with even a small turn.

The surroundings were dark, lit only by a slice of light that cut between curtains.  It looked to be a cellar or a basement.  One he had seen every morning for the last week.

It was the smallest of blessings that things changed locations once every week or two.  A change of scenery.

As his eyes focused, he saw the movements.  Shapes in his immediate peripheral vision, and in front of him.  Tubes, wires, and heads.

Heads without bodies, hair shorn, mounted on a piece of metal, tubes running into the spaces and mounts, giving blood, hydration and nutrients, drawing everything else out.

They moved, jaws opening wide, teeth clacking, the ones that weren’t asleep in the midst of a silent, mad rage.

He opened his mouth to speak, and the air didn’t come as he bid it.  The only tongue that moved was the one his mind conjured up, made of smoke.  His tongue had been removed a long while ago.  Too easy to bite it off and attempt to bleed out or choke.

The thought provoked the flurry of images he’d tried so hard to push out of his mind.

He remembered himself, partying with Harry and Harry’s friends.

He remembered seeing them talking among themselves, every time he came out of the washroom, or every time he found himself occupied with something or someone.  Furtive talks.  He’d imagined them discussing his situation at home, his father’s rage, and he’d deliberately ignored it, drinking more.

He remembered how, late in the evening, when it had been just them, Harry’s friends had grabbed him.

Harry had helped himself to the note that would let him access the money, then he had given the signal.

The group had lifted Warren up, then tipped him over.

He’d dropped several stories.  He remembered seeing Wendy on landing.  She and the carriage had been just outside the building.

When he’d woken up, it had been like this.

Body ruined, head salvaged, kept indefinitely on life support.

He stared through bleary eyes as a man pushed a curtain aside, where the curtain served in place of a door.  Disheveled, with a thick beard, the man wore no lab coat.  He looked more like someone who might be found sleeping at the side of the road, a bottle in hand.

“Tea,” the man said.  “The usual.  Then brush their hair and sponge them off.”

“Yes sir,” Wendy was heard to say.

Warren had only a glimpse of the stitched as she went about her day.  Left untended, she was fidgeting more, anxious.  Something about dealing with the heads left her more concerned each time, and her poor condition was part of it.

Had Warren been able to speak, he would have insisted she be taken care of, or sent back where she came from.

He doubted he would be heard.  No man that could do this had any mercy in him.

The man approached the table, and though he couldn’t breathe, Warren could smell the rank odor of the man.  He saw the man reach out and stroke the hair of one of the heads.

“Good morning, my pretties,” the man said.  He consulted a notebook.  “Thinking Machine project, version three, day… hm.  Day fifty-three.”

Warren stared.

It wasn’t the numbers that mattered, the number of days or even the implication that there had been two versions before this.

The horror that he experienced, a frustrated horror that had nowhere to go but his head, nothing to do but compound itself, was because of the words ‘good morning’.

Twelve to sixteen hours before sleep could claim him again.

Warren started screaming, twisting, face contorting, best as he was able, though no sound came out.


Sweat ran down his brow.  He felt the coolness of the water as his scalp was gently dabbed.

Wendy fidgeted.  She’d been maintained, but it had been a rough job, and had left deep scars in her flesh, where before there had been only faint ones.  The ongoing damage to her strange psyche was something else altogether.

“I’m supposed to watch over you,” she said.  “Madam said so.  I very much look forward to going home, as soon as you give the word.  This place is dark and…”

She leaned close, as if to share a secret.

“…I don’t like the dark, sir.”

Warren did his best to nod, a sympathetic look on his face.

“I have a teddy bear I hug when it’s dark.  It was a gift.  I know I’m a young lady now, but it does make me feel better,” she said.

He nodded, though it made his jaw and neck hurt.  His brain felt fried.  Wires ran in and out of his skull, connecting to the others, and several times a day, the thinking machine was put in use.  The machine would play out a long stuttering series of clicks, the madman who’d put him down here would make a few notes, then take them with him as he walked into another part of the building, peering at them and scratching his head.

“I don’t think I know how to go back,” Wendy said.  “I’m supposed to get directions to the Ossuary, then I go down… I can’t remember the road.  Then… I can’t remember what comes next.”

Every day, she talked to him.  Most days, she said the same things.  When her pattern changed, it was because she was breaking down, running too hot.  What he hadn’t picked up from idle curiosity before, back in Pontiac, he’d learned from the madman’s occasional comments.

Warren held onto this, but he wasn’t sure why.  A part of him hoped she would snap, go crazy, and end all of this, or murder the madman.  Stitched did that, didn’t they?  Or was that rumor, heard in a city that didn’t like stitched?

A part of him hoped she would leave, forgetting that she had to look after him.

And, running contrary to that, a part of him feared her leaving, above all else.

He was supposed to have lost his mind by now.  He already had, to a degree, and the memories he pulled up now and again were too real, dreamlike, while his dreams were indistinguishable from memory, or they simply brought him back here.

He was being drugged, he suspected, to keep him from panicking or having a stroke, but he still panicked with regularity, his thoughts looping over and over.  Sometimes hours passed in the blink of an eye, like that, and sometimes what felt like hours of mad panic were only as long as it took the madman to leave, cook, eat, and return.

“I miss music,” Wendy said.  “There’s this tune, it plays in my head, and it goes, ba ba ba, ba ba, ba ba ba…”

A body with only a partial brain, and a head without a body, Warren still had the phantom sensations of movements or feelings his body might have experienced, and he’d learned that, unburied by fever and stress, Wendy had phantom traces of an identity, complete with memories.

Silently, with all the focus he could bring to bear, he scrawled promises on his brain with a permanence that he might use to etch words on stone tablets.

To make amends, to show gratitude, because he couldn’t bring himself to pray and he needed to do something of magnitude to have an iota of vision for the future, he promised her a teddy bear, he promised her her music…


The cell door slammed shut.  He stirred to wakefulness, blinking, though he hadn’t been asleep.  Reality and dream blended in together, now.

He was fantasizing, or dreaming.  The madman having his world turned upside down, screaming about the loss of his life’s work, the thinking machine.

Men of the law arresting the madman, then approaching the board, where three of the original nine heads were still functional, the number of wires tripled to compensate.


No.  The smells and tastes and touches…

Wendy was standing beside him, stroking his hair.

“It’s going to be okay,” she said.

He didn’t dare hope.  Easier to think he was still in the basement, and that reality had slipped away entirely.

He realized that someone was staring at him.  The world seemed so distorted.  He was higher up than he was used to, almost five feet off the ground.

He’d once been six feet tall, he remembered.  That life felt so far away.

The person in the cell was a young woman, not much older than he was.  Or older than he’d been.  He wasn’t sure he was a he anymore.

His thoughts were rambling, he knew.

Her hair was black, a contrast to Wendy’s blonde hair, cut straight, and tucked behind one ear, while it obscured the other.  Her eyes were narrow and dark, her mouth curved in a light smile, painted crimson.

She wore a lab coat, he realized.

He looked away, bothered.  The science, the doctors, all of it, he’d seen what it came to, in the end.

Not just what he’d experienced, but Wendy.

So many horrors, so many lines crossed.

He couldn’t turn his head away, not really, but he averted his eyes, watching the officers patrolling the room.  Half of it was desks, half of it was cells, a single row with one occupant per cell.

He was good at letting time slip by, now.  He knew the techniques.  Count the cracks, count the bars.  Study the people.  The guards, their habits, their way of dress.

There were so many new sensations and things to experience that he wasn’t able to process it all.  He was free, but he wasn’t sure what that entailed.  He didn’t dare hope for one thing or the other, out of fear that if he hoped for death and got a second chance instead, or vice versa, it might break him.

The clang of the cell door opening was startling.  He’d been watching the people, but the people had taken action without him noticing.  There was a man in a grey coat in the cell in front of him, with guards gathered loosely around.

“You’ll be getting these injections twice a day for a week.  You know what these do, Ms. Fray.”

“You want to make me forget.”


“Even if it does damage to other parts of my mind in the process.”

“Nothing has been proven on that front.”

She made a scoffing sound.  She sounded so cavalier.  Did she not realize what the Academy’s people were capable of doing?  Even without a lab coat, the madman and his thinking machine had been the Academy’s doing.

Warren had had enough time to puzzle that much out.

“If you do this, you can go to the underground laboratories, you can work on projects, live in dorms…”

“A half life.  I made my bid for professorship, I failed, and you take half of everything.”

“Some people would kill for this much.”

“Or carry out a crazed experiment in their basement with limited resources?  Trying to make nine heads think as one?” Ms. Fray asked.

“Even that.”

“No.  I’ll take a lifetime of imprisonment if it means keeping my brain.”

“You don’t get a choice, Ms. Fray.”

“I can tell you that I took a dose of the Wyvern formula just this morning.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Contraindicated.  Don’t tell me you got your grey coat without knowing what contraindicated means.”

“I know what it means.  I’ve never heard of the formula, and quite frankly, after having read your files, I suspect you’re lying, to delay the inevitable.”

“Ask Professor Hayle.  He’ll know.”

There was a pause.  Then, “Lock her up.  Watch her.  I’ll be back later this evening after I’ve confirmed.”

Warren watched as the guards and the doctor in the grey coat vacated the cell.  The door clanged shut, making Wendy flinch, and they went about their way, the grey-coat exiting through the door at the far end of the building.

Long minutes passed.  Ms. Fray paced, leaned against the bars to peer further into the building, and alternately watched Wendy, watched Warren, and studied the guards.

Some time had passed before she cleared her throat, standing straighter.

Within the cell, the woman raised a finger to crimson lips.

Wendy did the same, echoing the gesture.

The cell was equipped with a toilet behind a short barrier, intended for privacy.  Ms. Fray approached the toilet, then bent over it, hand going to her throat.

Warren still felt like this was all a dream.  Too surreal.

He saw Ms. Fray stand up, now with a writhing tentacle coming out of her mouth.  She gripped the tentacles, grunting and making choking sounds, as she hauled it out, excruciating inch by excruciating inch.

It took a minute and a half, by Warren’s estimation, before she’d retrieved the entire thing.  It coiled and uncoiled, tentacles reaching out and wrapping around her hands and forearms.

“What are you grunting and moaning about?” a guard asked.

But as the guard reached the cell, Ms. Fray was sitting on the toilet, the tentacled horror pinned between her back and the toilet’s tank, blocked from view by the barrier.

The guard shook her head, turned, and walked away.

Ms. Fray reached under her dress.

Warren averted his eyes, horrified.

He heard a titter.

When he looked up, she had what looked to be a large piece of glass.  No more tentacles.  From the speed with which she’d acted, he suspected it had been tucked into the band.

Again, she raised a finger to her mouth, the universal gesture for silence.  This time, however, she had a piece of glass in her hand, and the tentacle-thing held behind her back.

The second guard paced down the building, then headed back up toward Ms. Fray.

The moment he passed by the cell, she reached out, and the tentacles did as well, snaring him by the head and throat, pulling him tight against the bars.

“Feel that?” Ms. Fray asked.

“Mmph,” the guard said.

“Then don’t touch your pistol.”

The other guard had heard the crash of skull against bars.  The woman approached at a half-run from the far end of the building.

“Keys,” Ms. Fray said, calm.  “You can reach the door.  Work fast.  If she gets here before the door is open, I’m going to cut your throat so my pet is free to stop her.”

The guard fumbled, keys rattling.  He reached up, holding the keys at an awkward angle to see which one he was selecting.

The key went into the lock.  He turned it, and the door came open.

Ms. Fray hauled him in a touch deeper, then gripped the sliding door, hauling it open.  With the man’s head between the bars, the sliding door caught him in the side of the head or the neck.

Warren saw the other guard approaching at a swift run.

She rounded the corner, standing back this time, pistol raised.

Ms. Fray was crouched, the other guard’s pistol in hand, tentacles coiling at one side.

The woman guard had to take the time to figure out what was going on, the position of her target, and adjust before pulling, aiming between the bars.

Ms. Fray only had to pull the trigger as soon as the moving target came into view.

Three shots, in quick succession.

Covered in a light spattering of blood, Ms. Fray stepped out of her cell.

“You.  You saw what I just did,” she said.  “I’m going to keep doing it, over and over, in ways both dramatic and subtle.  You can come with me and help, or you can stay here and be at their mercy.”

“Me?” Wendy asked.


Warren blinked.

Mercy doesn’t exist.

“I’ve got to go.  They’ll have heard shots.  Yes or no, do you want revenge?”

He thought of Harry.

He thought of the Madman.

He nodded.

She reached out to scoop him up.  Wendy got in the way.

Warren rolled his eyes over to Wendy, then back to Ms. Fray, then to Wendy.

“You too, then.  Bring him.”

Wendy nodded.

Ms. Fray collected the keys.  She walked backward, facing Warren, pointing at the cells.

He looked.

A stranger.  Another stranger.  Empty.  A stranger.

The madman.

He must have given some tell.  Another shot from the pistol rang out.  The madman died, a shot through the head.

The gun twirled on Ms. Fray’s finger as she turned her back on Warren and his stitched friend, marching for the exit.


The creature squealed as it died, crushed under a meaty fist.  Bird, bug and reptile blended together, it was the size of a large dog, and surprisingly hard to kill.

Warren stretched, then heaved out a heavy breath.

“Is it safe?” Ms. Fray asked.

“Yes,” Wendy said.

Ms. Fray opened the door and stepped out of the washroom.  She looked down at the stain in disgust.  “Whelps.  One of the Academy’s weapons.”

Warren nodded.

“If there’s one here, there’ll be more.  They have our scent.  We’re relocating.”

Warren nodded, again.

Ms. Fray led the way, but she usually did.  She always walked briskly, she rarely held back, if she was even capable, and she expected everyone else to keep up.

Not that Warren had much difficulty.  He was taller than he’d been with his original body, to the point he almost had to bend double to get through the door.

The city swirled with snow.  Mad creatures and doctors were everywhere, and he felt his head hurt as he glanced at each.  It wasn’t a pleasant place, this, but it was good for camouflage.  Ms. Fray and Warren looked entirely normal walking down the street.

“I keep expecting them to lose interest, but they up the ante each time.  Academy investigators, monsters, The Hangman, Dog and Catcher… now the Whelps.  They really, really want me,” she said.

Warren nodded.

He saw a movement out of the corner of his eye.

Stray cat.  He might not have seen it if it weren’t for his sharp eyes.

A second later, a fanged beak snapped out, consuming half of the cat.  A tongue snaked around the rest, and hauled it into the creature’s gullet.

Another whelp.

“I saw it too,” Genevieve said.  She gave him a pat on the arm, where his striped sweater was rolled up to the elbow.  His forearm was bigger around than her upper body, his fist large enough that when he held Wendy’s hand, it consumed the hand and most of her forearm.  “It won’t come out into the daylight.”

His strength and new body was of her design.  She’d asked what he’d wanted, and with a writing implement in his temporary hand, he’d scrawled out a simple word.  ‘Strength’.

He didn’t trust his sanity, but he trusted his mind.  It had always been sharp.  The only flaw had been that it had been too trusting.  No longer.

Now he had a body to match the mind.

They approached the train station, amid a light snowfall.  Ms. Fray led the way toward a side street.  If they were catching a train, they’d hitch a ride in a car carrying crates or hay, so witnesses wouldn’t be able to report on them.  It had bought them some time in the past.

She put a hand to his chest, stopping mid-stride.  He had to go to some effort to stop fast enough.  Had he been any slower, he might have forced her wrist or arm backward and snapped them.

She didn’t seem to notice or care.  Her eyes were on the train station across the street.

Passengers were getting off.  Young, old, many of them women and girls attending the local women’s Academy.  A small school, but popular.  Many a father conceded to his daughter’s wishes to study, but insisted on something like this.  A quiet, safe town and an unthreatening learning environment.

“There,” Genevieve said.  “They got off a few seconds ago.”

He watched.

“The Lambs,” she said.

He frowned, then realized she was talking about the children.  Just on the verge of adolescence, all six of them, they walked with purpose, working their way through the gaps in the crowd.

“They finally caught up,” she said.  “This is good.”

He glanced at her.

“Change of plans,” she said.  “We’re staying.”

103 thoughts on “Enemy (Arc 3)

  1. I cannot put into words how excited I am about this coming arc. So I’m not even going to try. Just… super excited.

  2. I’m delighted to see Genevieve and Warren again, though I wasn’t expecting them to be the enemy. I’m excited to see where this goes.

  3. Genevieve might be able to replicate the purple stuff that the Lambs need to survive. There might be awesome teaming in the future.

    • Agreed. I’m looking for a team up here. Quite a bit odd the Lambs haven’t even considered rebellion up till now.

  4. I can feel the hype!

    A big change from what was previously shown, but Ms. Fray seems very cavalier about killing(?) three people. People who wanted her brainwashed and kept as a prisoner, yes, but still she didn’t waste any time.

    A side effect of the Wyvern Project?

    Either way, she’s pretty damn smart if she’d been capable of escaping every single one of those Academy hunters.

    Don’t know how I feel about Wendy, besides general pity. It sems that Warren hasn’t been given a voice yet, so she’s merely sticking with him out of orders. Poor thing.

    Warren… his life is hell. Christ dude, who did piss off to end up on the short end of that stick? Good thing Fray was kind enough to offer you a new chance.

    Finally: Heh, tentacles. Warren, the implication of what you assumed Fray was doing… well if I saw her vomit up a Splatoon Mascot, I’d be worried too.

  5. Excellent. Let the games begin.

    The few differences are quite interesting to think about – Gene feels a bit more… ruthless ? Didn’t even reveal her spurs this time around. Wendy balances it out with her apparent weakness/fragility. Willarren’s modification switched from hair to eyes, I suppose because it was less noticeable and allowed the initial scene to unfold at a better pace.

    Anyway, I welcome them back. Been a while.

    Looking forward to Dolores’ progress, too.

    • See! I knew it felt familiar, the head thing, the squid thing, I just couldn’t put my finger on it! In hindsight I can’t believe I couldn’t see it coming from miles away! I love Wildbow for reconnecting us with Boil in this way!

  6. Wow, this was great. The first section felt somewhat underwhelming at first, but having read the entire chapter, it made perfect sense as a setup for what follows.

    Also, Ms. Fray is great. Here’s hoping she’ll be able to offer the Lambs what they want more than anything – namely, a future.

    • Her sleeves are particularly full of funsies. I am reminded of a certain movie…

      “10ccs of neurotoxin…”
      “Ow ow ow… Gah! Live jellyfish tentacles…”
      “Rubber chicken…”
      “Little to the left. That’s it.”
      pulls weird layers of muscle tissue and bone casings “… I dunno.”
      “Multi-purpose retractable bone syringes…”
      “I’ve never seen those before in my life.”
      “I have a permit for that.”
      “… Picture of Briggs’ wife.”

  7. Excellent prose this chapter. It’s really getting a different feel to it than your earlier titles. A little reminiscent of period works

  8. It just me, or is Fray building her own lambs?

    Fray = Sy. Warren = Jamie (body may add shades of Gordon). Wendy = a kind of Helen

    • Bit of a stretch there to be honest. Gene is definitely a counterpart to Sy but Warren and Wendy are very different to any of the lambs.

      I’m sure Helen would be offended by the comparison to Wendy. She’s not nearly as emotional or flighty as a stitched and far more scary.

      • When dealing with Wyverns, clutching is expected?

        It’s definitely not a perfect comparison, we shall have to wait and see how they operate I guess

  9. As usual, I love how each Enemy chapter feels distinct from each other and the rest of the story.

    I’m a bit sad that we didn’t get more info on Sub Rosa. Maybe later?

    Random thoughts:
    Harry, why? :< You seemed cool. It seems that genetics _are_ a thing in this world. Also glad to see some people care about mechanics, though I want more physicists! I think Sy will have a conflict of interest going on, and I wonder what Gene's goals are.

    Finally, I say Wildbow has a thing against cats. First, a whole litter of kitties gets eaten. Then Sy calls them jerks. Now another cat gets eaten. Poor kitten mittens! What did they ever do to you! (I'm just joking around)

  10. OMGOMGOMG… I fell in love with Fray.

    Wildbow is really awesome with making antagonists. I mean, Percy’s a little bit okay, the shepherd I can feel sympathy with, subrosa, I felt pity, and Fray, here’s to hoping she’ll be more a main character.

    • It’ll be nice to see some who can match wits with Sy. Seems other readers like the idea of a Fray + lambs team-up. I’d prefer for her to be his Moriarty. Sy needs a nemesis.

      Also, Wildbow had better be nice to Wendy! She’s a sweet little abomination unto God and I don’t want anything bad to happen to her 😦

      • Just because they are enemies today doesn’t mean they won’t be allies eventually, after the shit inevitably hits the fan.

    • The beginning of this chapter was the kinda thing that gives me night mares, the sinking feeling in my gut, the cold sweat… By the end of it i was literally bouncing in my seat with poorly suppressed excitement.
      Easily the best chapter so far.

  11. Interesting with this not being from Frey’s POV. Keeps her motives more enigmatic and unclear. We don’t know if we should be supporting her like in Boil, or if she’s just bad. Honestly I hope she isn’t compleatly off the deep end, since I liked her in Boil.

    And again I am reminded that I do not like the Crown and it’s rule. Needs to be humbled if not dismantled. Clearly Human Rights are not a thing.

    • To be fair, our world wasn’t so high-and-mighty with human rights in the early 20th century. The Jungle was written in 1906, and everything that happened in that book happened in real factories (though I’m not sure if it ever all happened at the same factory at the same time).

    • I just want them to team up and take down the world. And replace it with a utopia of course because that’ll totally happen in a wildbow story…….

  12. As with everyone else, I’m really excited for this chapter! The main thing that sticks out is that we first see our Enemy, not through Sy or the Lambs, but through her ally, someone sympathetic to her. In addition to the fact that she’s starting out as an Enemy, this makes me think that she will become an ally, or a greater antagonist. Her role in Twig seems to be more pivotal than the others, because her skills are emphasized, she bears similarities to our main character, and because she’s the one who chooses how to engage with the Lambs, rather than the other way around.

    Other notes: A quick timeline, is that the first chapter, Taking Root, took place in the spring. A few weeks later, Cat out of the Bag happened, probably in late spring. Three months later, so late summer, we have Lips Sealed, and now, in winter, the Lambs meet with Genevieve. So, Jamie took at most 6 months to recover from being hit by Sub Rosa, assuming that they found the pair on their first try.

    Next point, is that Genevieve seems to differ in very important ways from her Boil version. There, she used tranquilizers and had experimented on herself in order to avoid killing other people as test subjects. Here, she’s using brute force with her tentacles and easily killing people. The most important difference, or fact, to keep in mind is that she was going to be a professor, and has most, if not all, of the knowledge that comes with that.

    And, as the world at large, it’s nice to see acknowledgment of other sciences rather than just biology. Also, the fact that they can work with genetics and phenotypes, and have already greatly used retroviruses, is interesting.

    • The ruthlessness could be tied to the fact that in Boil, Fray had reason to suspect that her drugs were being stolen and diluted by her rivals. Here, she’s not only her fair share of Wyvern formula, she’s been manufacturing extra doses for herself.

  13. Glad to see our friend from Boil back. As usual, the outsider’s perspective is drastically different from what we see in first person.

    Notable change, in this version the thinking machine was made by a rogue agent, while in Boil their creation seemed to be Academy sponsored. A hint of things to come perhaps? Or a fact that hasn’t yet been revealed?
    I’m (still) thinking the Academy encourages people to experiment using their own means and arrests them once there’s results to be reaped. Curious about the parallels to the Snake in the first chapter and the Whelps now.

    I’m left wondering how much of this Harry could have actually planned. I could see him perhaps befriending a rich kid with the intention of taking advantage of him, but to have a pre-prepared signal? An established means of getting rid of the still breathing body? Without knowing beforehand that the meeting with his dad would yield anything? Seems off…

    Also, parallels to Warren and the pack beast encountered in 1.2

    Finally, Sy never got hit badge back–

    • No, I think Ms. Fray was trying to tell our bodyless friend that the madman was similar to her: after being e.g. passed over for professorship, and possibly being given similar medicine / poison to remove his memories of sensitive information, he went rogue. Even his madness might stem from that.
      (Also, IIRC the Snake Charmer was another Academy person gone rogue.)n

      • Wasn’t there a bit about the Snake charmer where he went on about having to “prove [his] skill” to get in, but there begin very few (legal) ways to do it, so he was forced to do the whole monster-experiment-hidden-in-warehouse thing? I sort of assumed he was a prospective student and not yet affiliated with the academy (we already know that the academy is very picky and/or requires lots of cash tuition from Percy’s whole history). They might have even let him live or rewarded him if he had pulled it off and it had not let his experiment kill and eat that dude, which was why they sent the lambs in.

    • Glad to see our friend from Boil back. As usual, the outsider’s perspective is drastically different from what we see in first person.
      Thought experiment—what would Taylor, Blake, and Sy look like from the outside? We got a glimpse of Taylor from the POV of her enemies and civilians, but we only saw how she looked to her friends a few times, and I don’t remember comparable scenes for Blake or Sy.

  14. It occurs to me that the Crowns greatest fear should be someone doing for the mechanical sciences what Wollestone did for the biological. Then we’d have Mecha vs Kaiju.

    Honestly the Crown is already pretty close to being the villians in a super robot show.

  15. I think I missed something, exactly what happened to Warren from spring onward. I know his ‘friend’ Harry stole his money but I’m unsure what happened afterward.

    Also I haven’t read Boil in more than a year and can’t find it online so I’m not sure of the similarities and differences between Twig and Boil. Can someone help me out please?

    • Harry and his friends stole Warren’s money, and then they threw Warren out the window where he essentially fell to his death. Except dying isn’t that easy in Twigverse, so someone took his broken body and kept what was still usable, i.e. his head. And then a madman used his head as part of his Thinking Machine, an apparatus supposed to connect multiple heads / brains. Sounds to me like a working version would essentially be a bio computer.

  16. This is my favorite out of the 3 interludes. Didn’t got to read Boil, so I am surprised to find that these are the final versions of the characters used in that snippet.

    I do have some confusions though. I didn’t completely understood why were Warren and Genevive sharing a scene. Are they both in a prison cell? If so, why are Warren and Wendy there? Shouldn’t Warren be in some kind of infermery waiting to be either euthanized or given a new body by the Academy?

    I also didn’t quite understood what part Harry played in Warren’s predicament. Was he an acomplice with the madman?

    • Just read the comment by mondesemmel above, and now I understand Harry’s part. Still confused by the first scene with both Warren and Genevive, though.

          • She had to submit to a dose of an amnesia drug, and she rejected that option due to possible unknown side effects on her brain and or cognition. This tells us how much she values her Wyvern enhancements.

  17. Yay!

    Most of the main reactions I could write down would be redundant; this time around, I’m wondering more if word ever gets to his mother about what happened to him. Also, I’m wondering a lot about what Gene’s bid for professorship actually consisted of. I can understand the several projects including the tentacled organism in Boil, and this can still be explained by if she has the same tendency to explore several directions of interest instead of excluding all but one, but what was she doing at the time that was worthy of a professorship candidate, other than the secret Wyvern formula synthesis..?

    I’m hoping that her methods and motivations are different, but still make sense and can be respected, rather than her personality just being human scum instead.
    (That is, I would have made different decisions in the Boil Gene’s shoes, but I liked the way that she made them. The perspective is different and so I can’t see from within Twig Gene’s head, but I hope that it’s as /interesting/ in there, ideally without much revenge or hypocrisy. …Hmm, come to think of it (when thinking about her possible motivations) a pure ‘want to keep living’ self-interest could be refreshing after the last few targets affected by emotional chips on theri shoulders and/or self-justifications about the danger of the Academies. Whatever her driving motivation, I hope that it’s one that was present /before/ the bid failed, rather than purely in reaction to her failure. Survival, or accomplishing something by whatever means available, rather than becoming convinced that the Academy needs to be stopped /after/ suffering at its hands…)

  18. This was an excellent capstone to an excellent arc.

    I guess a lot of people are assuming Genie and the Lambs will team up because Genie was the protagonist of the Boil sample. I’m not so sure. Twig Genie is quite different from Biol Genie, most notably in her kill count, so I’m not sure how much “carries over.”

    More deeply, though, I don’t actually see a reason for the Lambs to rebel against the Academy. First, they (or at least Sy, Helen, Gordon, and Jamie) appear to be dependent on the Academy for their continued functioning, if Jamie’s request for an appointment last chapter is any indication. Second, even if this could be solved somehow…seriously, why would they?

    The Academy is not a nice place. It’s part of a system that’s literally trying to take over the world. At the same time, though, their monopoly of scientific knowledge is the only thing stopping there from being even more people like Percy, or entities like Sub-Rosa, running around. The core issue is not them; the core issue is that Wollstone’s breakthroughs have made it possible for just about anyone to create a superhuman monster, assuming they know how to do it. The Academy’s knowledge monopoly causes a lot of issues, but I don’t see a good alternative. Certainly I wouldn’t trust the likes of Percy (who kidnaps and sells children) or Mauer (who has to keep fighting to feel alive) to set up an alternative.

    All that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lambs end up opposed to the Academy by the end. But something major is going to have to happen for that to come to pass.

    • The Lambs are motivated by personal bonds, not politics. I could see Jaime maybe making a decision based on ideology, but none of the others (not even Gordon, though he might seem like it.)

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if she winds up an Adjunct Professor or something similar underneath Hayle that supervises the Lambs in the field. She was planning on becoming a PI in Boil, right? That’s pretty much what the Lambs do here; investigation work for the Academy. Besides, it’s like Sy said way back at the beginning of Arc 2: they need an adult to work to their fullest potential.

    • I suspect that part of why everyone wants them to team up is because its practically the only option that won’t end in tears. Gene is crafty, cautious, and fairly ruthless. As an enemy, she could very easily inflict a lot of damage on the Lambs, especially because she clearly has some sort of scheme involving them. On the boring end of the scale, that suggests some nasty traps in the Lambs future. On the bad end of the scale….She’s a rogue mad scientist hopped up on mind steroids. It’s more of a question of what she *can’t* do them.

      On top of that, Sy has already decided that she’s family. Any situation that results in Gene’s death is going to be hard on him.

      • I’m not so sure. Sy… has issues killing unnecessarily.. bur it’ll probably take jus one betrayal for his thoughts to turn to how to take her out.
        if he can 😀

  19. I’d like to hear more about how the economy works in the crown states work. Does using stitched labour for almost everything near the academies, reduce worker migration? Do they only allow border migration at a rate to replenish their corpse supply? Can stitched do better assembly line work (a la Ford Motors) or better textile workers?

    I doubt workers rights got very far in this universe, once Academies put the threat of stitched over everyone’s heads.

    This was a great chapter for giving us a glimpse at the social order outside what the Lambs live day to day.

  20. This was easily the best chapter of the book for me, ratcheting up and exploiting the wrongness factor inherent in everything the academy does. The chapter that makes me think Twig has as much potential awesome as Worms. Dont get me wrong, great job so far, very much enjoying it, but in this chapter I see the amazing yet controlled mayhem I saw in, for example, your Slaughterhouse Six chapters.

  21. …Wait a minute.

    Warren talks about how he’s no longer too trusting, but he’s also following Gene’s orders without question. He definitely owes Gene one for the body and the prison break, but that sort of blind loyalty still seems at odds with his stated sentiment of mistrust. Gene clearly knows a lot more than she’s telling him, here, but there’s no indication that he’s frustrated with it.

    • Just because someone has acknowledged a personal flaw doesn’t necessarily imply that the flaw has actually been fixed. Most of us have something of a blind spot when it comes to ourselves.

  22. “It’s important to me. Do you understand? You’ve tainted the bloodline. You’re not truly my son anymore, not in full.”
    Now, that is making mountains out of a molehill. Anyone who thinks a few genes make any great difference in the relationship between parent and child shouldn’t ever be the former, for the sake of the latter.

    Anyways. I decided to look at the differences between this Interlude’s “Fray” and Boil’s Bowles.
    * Bowles shows a concern for the well-being of others, whether pigs or hypothetical human subjects. And, of course, the whole “killed the guards” thing.
    * Fray managed to smuggle in a shard of glass, indicating either lax security, no betraying roommate, or that Fray is just a lot better at smuggling things.
    * Dolores seems stronger. Did Fray make the modifications she talked about in Boil 1?
    * Fray doesn’t seem interested in being a PI, though we don’t see much of her plans in this chapter.

    While I’m at it, differences between Boil and Pact in general.
    * America, not the Crown States.
    * The Academy seems to house a wider range of students, agewise. Was there no Mothmont at that stage?
    * Drugs of various sorts seem more common in Boil than Twig. Maybe pharmaceutical technology comparatively lagged behind in the latter? Perhaps the Wyvern project would lead to the ox in Boil?
    * Mass-produced people (clones with prebuilt personalities?). I mean, we haven’t seen them not existing in Twig, but…
    * The “Stroke of God’s Hand” paragraph in the second chapter suggests that there were some biopunkey developments in the 1600s, which might indicate that biotechnology got started earlier in Boil than Twig. (Related: See two points above.)
    * Modified people seem a good bit more common. If not, they’re certainly mentioned more often. On the other hand, new species of creatures seem rarer—just Dolores and “one chimerical creation that had gotten loose at some point”.
    * The Universities of Boil seem more independent from the government—competitors, not tools.

  23. I just barely started this chapter (first time through Twig), and I wonder hiw common *brassieres* were (as a distinct undergarment, separate from corsets, chemises, or combinations) in 1921? I always thought of bras as more 1920s ish, though I don’t really know undergarment history.

    never mind, Wikipedia lists modern ones as 1914ish, and a world of “stitched” humans and women seem to have more political power, I guess women’s sufferage and other first-wave feminism (and garments for enhanced mobility) came even earlier. Decided to keep this comment here just to note that, as a reader, it was a tiuch jarring, and I was unsure if it was meant to indicate a difference from out world or not.

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