Stitch in Time – 4.12

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Just an hour or so ago, Fray had been giving the order for Warren to attack us, to kill or maim.  Now we were following Warren to where Fray was waiting.  A little upriver from where we’d had our first discussion, near the edge of Kensford, where it bordered the woods.

There was a crowd further down the street.  They were moving toward the Academy with purpose, and we could hear the shouts, though I couldn’t make out the words.

Fray looked genuinely surprised when we turned up.  More surprised than she’d been when we’d turned up near her lab.  She raised one hand to move her hair away from her face, as the wind blew it forcefully in the most inconvenient direction.

It took her a second.  Something fell into place, and she nodded a little.  “You found them, Warren, and you brought them here, because of Wendy.”

Warren nodded.

“If you don’t catch a train soon, you’re going to be stuck here,” Fray informed us.

Now you’re being manipulative,” I said, walking up with my hands in my coat pockets.  I separated from the group and found a tree with a short stone wall built around it to contain the dirt, taking a seat on the corner of the wall, one foot propped up, the other on the ground.  “Setting a time limit?  That’s number one in the manipulation textbook.”

She shook her head.  “What is it they say about a thief being wariest of theft?”

“I never liked that saying.  Thieves deal with thieves as a matter of course.  If I’m going to steal, I’m going to steal from a thief who can’t go to authorities to complain.  It stands to reason that a thief is well justified in being wary.”

“You’re missing the point.”

“I get the point.  I’m a manipulator dealing with manipulators.  And a manipulator is particularly vulnerable to the predations of their cannier counterparts.  But okay, if you want to pretend you’re not setting an artificial time limit to put pressure on us and position yourself better for getting Wendy back, I can play along.”

The other Lambs were taking my lead, spreading out, very casually.  This encounter with Fray was very different from the last one, and very different from my first encounter with her.  We’d lost.  She’d dropped her bombshell, and now, oddly enough, we could relax.

The shouts and screams further down the street rose in volume.  People had torches, which was almost laughable.  It was so iconic for the angry mob, but now that I saw it, I wondered if they intended to set fires, or if they simply needed the light.  How did that even happen?  Did someone have a supply of torches on hand, or did one guy just pipe up and say ‘I know how to make torches!  Just give me a few minutes!’

“You’re smiling,” Fray spoke to me.

I raised my eyebrows, the smile disappearing.

“Do you have a plan, Sylvester?  A way to snare me?  One of you is missing.”

It was Gordon who replied.  “No plan to capture, no snare.  Whatever we did, you have Warren, and he could hurt or kill several of us in retaliation for whatever we did to you.  Not worth it.”

Fray nodded.  It was common sense, really – Warren wouldn’t have brought us if he thought it would hurt Fray.  It said something, though, that she’d asked, bringing things up to sound it out and gauge our reactions.  A hint of insecurity.

If I had to reason it out, I suspected we’d shocked her a little by appearing in the school and forcing her hand.  Forcing her to use Warren, and forcing her to put her plan into action.

“Are you satisfied?” Lillian asked.

“We’ll see,” Fray said, leaning back against the railing that overlooked the river.  “I’m more interested in the long-term.”

“You’ve been at this since you left the detainment center with Warren and Wendy,” I said.

She smiled.  “Have I?”

Gordon spoke, saying, “It’s done.  You won, you don’t have to be coy.”

“I can’t just outright tell you the particulars.  I could lie, but I don’t like doing that.  We’ll both see how far the ripples extend in the coming weeks and months.”

“War,” Mary said, quiet.  “There has to be.”

“I think so,” Fray agreed.  “The Academy crossed lines.  I wanted to change it from within, that didn’t work, so I’m going to force a change from the outside.  War is one way.  Changing minds is another.  There are weak points in the economic backbone, there are weaknesses in the foundations of the Academy’s work… that last one might be a weakness I’m not clever enough to exploit, I have to admit.”

“And you tell us all this with the idea that we’re going to go back and tell Radham Academy what you said, down to the word,” Jamie said.

“I expect you will, Jamie,” Fray said.

“But you’re leaving out the next part.  You’re only getting started,” I said.  “Your real method of attack isn’t one of the ones you just described.  You want us to go and we tell Hayle or Briggs what you said-”

“You mean the duke, not Briggs,” Fray said.

I raised my eyebrows.  “Funny that you know that.”

“It’s not exactly a secret,” she said.

“Sure,” I said, smiling.  “You want us to go to Hayle or the duke, listing off all those different ways you could hurt the Academy, and when they’ve busied themselves frantically working to cover all the bases, you attack us from another angle.”

She shook her head, “Or I expect you’ll say that and I use one of the methods I just named.  The Academy is too big.  Something has to give.  You know full well that you each have expiration dates – Sy wasn’t surprised when I brought it up.  The Academies are an experiment of sorts too.  Just as they’ve done with you, they’re going to keep pushing until something breaks, and then they’ll change things, approach anew with learned lessons fresh in their minds.  I’m not saying this is a dragon that can be slain.  I am saying that it can be trained.  Even if we’re on opposite sides, you can’t disagree with me on that score.”

“Want to try us?” Mary asked.

Man, Mary was in a bad mood.

Odd, considering the fact that I felt fantastic.  I wasn’t happy, exactly, but I’d become caught up in Fray’s flow.  Stagnation was the worst thing, and change was something thrilling.

“You’re smiling again, Sylvester,” Genevieve Fray told me.  “My mental picture of you told me you’d be more upset.”

“Can’t cry over spilled milk,” I said.  “There are better things to occupy my thoughts with.”

“The forced sterilization and enslavement of tens or hundreds of thousands is spilled milk?” Lillian asked, quiet.

“Close enough,” I said.  “We went into this a step behind.  You had the files on us, Fray, you knew who you were dealing with.  You have moles on the inside who are feeding you information and telling you we’re coming.”

“Someone could read that as you being a sore loser, Sylvester,” Fray said.  “We eluded you, so there must be a mole?”

“I’m thinking you know entirely too much, and you know far too much that’s up to date, like about the Duke and the fact that Mary is a Lamb.”

“She was a Lamb in the spring, when I was introduced to your file.”

“A new Lamb, with no guarantee she would work out.  You didn’t know her full capabilities, but you weren’t surprised when she turned up or demonstrated her abilities.  Everything fits better if I assume you have someone in the Academy, passing on details.  An ex-classmate or teacher?  There are a lot of possibilities, especially for a would-be professor.”

“Have to make connections to make it up the ladder,” Gordon said.

“And you told me you took the Wyvern formula to build up your ability to play the political game.  You’re telling me you didn’t cover that base?  Come on,” I said.

Fray shrugged, smiling some.

“You had this decided long before we arrived,” I said, feeling very at ease.  “You had the information on us, and we didn’t have the information on you.”

“They would have showed you my file.”

“The file that doesn’t even mention that you were taking the Wyvern formula until it comes up in the your record of termination?” Jamie asked.  “Your files on us were better than our files on you.”

“As far as I’m concerned,” I said, “This was an introduction.  We’ve said our hellos, we’ve gotten to know each other, just a little bit, Fray, Warren and Wendy meeting the Lambs, and we’re going to meet again.”

“I hope it’s soon,” Fray said.  “The offer for conversation and tea stands.  So does the offer to leave the Academy.  We can work on the expiration dates, I can save Jamie-”

“Stop,” Gordon said, voice hard.  Jamie flinched – I wasn’t sure if it was because of Fray’s words or Gordon’s reaction.

“And I obviously have the means to free you from the chemical leash,” she finished, as if she hadn’t been interrupted.  “I feel like I have to ask again, with most of you present, in light of recent events.”

“Now that you’ve ‘won’,” Mary said.  “You’re offering us a spot on the winning side?”

“I wouldn’t phrase it like that, but yes.”

There was a long pause.  Warren shifted position uncomfortably.  The shouting further down the street was coming and going, but it wasn’t the same group – people were migrating en-masse, either to Dame Cicely’s or away from it.

Odd that people could be going in such different directions and be so similar in how they were thinking.

That thought in mind, I spoke up, simply to say, “I’ve already given you my answer.  No.”

“You’re a believer,” Fray said.  “I’m a skeptic.”

“Something like that,” I said.

“I can’t entice you by saying that my way is the harder road?” she asked, smiling.  “It’s more interesting.

“Hearing you say that is pretty telling,” I said.  “I almost believe you now when you say that you’re not good at manipulating people.”

“Ah well.”

“I’m staying with the Academy,” Jamie said.

Fray nodded, accepting that, but she spoke, “Even knowing that you might never get another chance to leave?”

I saw Jamie tense at that.  Even with his winter clothes on, mittened hands holding his book, I could see the subtle change in body language.

Lillian looked anxious.  She kept looking back between Jamie and Genevieve Fray.

“That’s how it works, isn’t it?” she asked.  “Sooner or later, you can’t know for sure when, they’ll keep what you give them.”

I clenched my hands in my pockets.  This was more convincing than anything she had said to me, specifically.  This was Jamie.  She was completely and utterly right.

Jamie couldn’t be saved, not exactly, but instead of having another year or two with him, I could have six.  Or ten.

“If any of us leave, they take someone else and replace us.  Same idea, another child,” Jamie said, his voice soft.

Fray nodded.  She smiled a little.  “It’s so nice to finally meet you.  I hadn’t imagined you’d be the compassionate sort.  I thought you’d be more stiff.”

Jamie shook his head, but he didn’t say anything.

“Mary?” Fray asked.


“No rationale, no points to debate?” Fray asked.

“No.  You disgust me, I don’t like you.  I don’t like standing here, being in your company.  I can’t imagine staying with you for a while on purpose, unless it’s to take you somewhere where they can put you down,” Mary said.

“Oh my.”

“I’m a Lamb,” Mary said.

Fray nodded.  “Gordon?  Lillian?”

Lillian was the one who answered.  “You have nothing to give me.”

“I could teach you.”

“So can they,” Lillian said.  Simple, firm.

“One-on-one, dedicated-” Fray started.  She stopped as she saw Lillian shaking her head.  “No?”

“I saw what you did with Lady Claire,” Lillian said.  “You have nothing to offer that I’d want to take.  I don’t think you even understand the ramifications of what you did.  People are going to die.  Lots of them, innocents.  People who drank this water and left the city?  Those who were just passing through?”

“People will get hurt,” Fray said.  “But the effects are diluted, they’ll have a few days.  The Academy will respond and get a stopgap measure into place.  Crateloads of pills or train cars of the fluids will go out in every direction.”

“People will die,” Lillian said.  “You said it yourself, there are no guarantees the trains will keep running.”

“The Academy can’t fix the problem.  A simple remedy for the effects of sterilization and the controlling agent would go against their very ethos.  They have to take control where it’s offered.  To survive this, they have to minimize the casualties.  I guarantee you, Lillian, the Academy will find a way to distribute a stopgap measure.  One that lets them keep this system of control in place, however much it hurts them to keep hold of the reins.”

Lillian shook her head.

I thought the debate between the two of them might have continued, but Gordon jumped in, and when he did, my heart skipped a beat.

I could read his body language.

“I talked to Sy about it earlier,” he said.

No, Gordon.

“I told him, if you made the offer to me, I’d accept.”

My heart leaped into my throat.

No.  I was not prepared to lose a Lamb like this.  Not so soon.

As Lillian had done earlier, I looked between Fray and Gordon, suddenly alarmed.

I saw the shock on Fray’s face, too, fleeting, before she masked it.  As Gordon was wont to do, he’d put her off balance.  He had a way of hitting where it hurt.

I saw the brief communication of ideas between them.  Him reading her body language, her reading his.

“That’s changed, I think,” Gordon finally said.  “The way you did this… it’s not a fight I’d want to participate in.  I don’t think I’d- when it comes to you, I don’t think-”

She found the words he was reaching for.  “You don’t think you’d have faith in me?”

“Not after this,” Gordon said, very simply.  I could hear the lie in the words.

“It goes both ways.  If only one Lamb joined me, I feel like it would have to be a double-cross,” she said.

“And it wouldn’t if all of us joined you?” Mary asked.

“If you were in a position to do that, it would be closer to an ambush than a double-cross,” Fray said.

She was distracting, turning the subject away from Gordon.  I could see him staring at her.

The two of them had communicated so much in mere moments.  He’d seen that she wasn’t ready.  Maybe she expected me to jump on board, or she had ideas on how to use Jamie.  Or maybe she had anticipated that when one domino toppled, the rest would, and the Lambs would join her wholesale.  If we were all on board, then we’d stay on board to stay together.  Our earlier discussion on the subject had suggested that we were a package deal, after all.

I couldn’t know for sure.  The interplay had been between them alone.

I wanted to say something, to joke, to step in between them.  I found my throat tight, the words didn’t come.

“Let’s talk about Wendy,” Fray said.

“Let’s,” Gordon said.  “I think we have a train to catch, so let’s not drag this out.”

I saw Warren shift position.

“You have something in mind?” Fray asked.  “I’m not going to turn myself in.”

“No,” Gordon said.  “I’ve been thinking about it, what we could do in the way of transactions, things you might agree to.  My first thought was that you should dismiss Warren.  Let the guy get some help.  He can have Wendy back, it’s clear they care about each other, he can heal.”

“And I’m left without my friend?” Fray asked us.

I found words, though I had to clear my throat to get them through.  “If you refuse, you might lose him anyway.”

Warren folded his arms, drawing attention to him.  He shook his head in a slow, dramatic fashion.

Or not.

“The second option, and this is one I think you could agree to, while keeping it meaningful,” Gordon said, “You take a time out.”

“A time out?”

“One year, you don’t pull anything else.  You don’t attack the Academies, you don’t perpetuate your plans, you don’t form allies, you don’t research for your next scheme.”

Fray frowned.  “That kind of adjustment was not in the cards.  It’s unreasonable.”

“Does Warren think so?” Mary asked.  She’d been watching the big guy.  I imagined she was thinking a lot about what she might be able to do if he picked a fight with us.

Warren didn’t budge.  He was frozen.  Not offering any tells was a tell in this case.

He didn’t see it as unreasonable.

“Three months,” Fray said.  “I don’t attack anyone or unleash anything.  I can gather allies and do research.  I have to, frankly, it would be disingenuous to say otherwise.”

“Six months,” Gordon said.

Fray didn’t look that happy with the idea.  “Four months.”

“Six,” Gordon said.

“A good compromise is something that makes everyone unhappy,” I said.

Fray gave me an unimpressed look.

She had plans.  This throws a wrench into them.  It gives the Academy a chance to recover…

Not much, not enough to undo what she did.  Not with possible civil war on the horizon.

But enough to hurt her.

“A stitched in exchange for time,” Fray said.

“Something like that,” Gordon said.

“I’d offer a handshake to seal the deal,” Fray said, “But I’m not positive you wouldn’t break my leg if I let you get that close.”

“I know about your retractable needles,” Gordon said.  “Sy recapped.  Let’s do without the handshake.”

She nodded.  “Until we meet again, then.”

“Until we meet again,” I said, before Gordon could say it.

I turned to leave, with only Jamie in my field of vision, only Jamie able to see my expression.

Gordon had been willing to go.  It hadn’t been a trick, no joke, no double-cross.  He was the most mature and independent of us, he was the one who felt his mortality, and apparently that outweighed his loyalty to us.

If he’d replied to say something about their next meeting, I wasn’t sure if I could have kept from reacting or saying something.

The next time they met, if something drastic didn’t change, Gordon would go with her.

I twisted around, avoiding looking at Gordon, instead fixating on the woman who was still leaning against the railing, rubbing her hands to keep them warm.

“Go,” she said.  “I’ll be here.  Send Wendy down this street.  But you should leave soon.  If the proverbial fires don’t ignite, then I’m going to start some, and you won’t want to be here.”

“Is the headmaster going to be okay with you starting fires?” Jamie asked.

Genevieve offered him a coy smile.

Bastard deserves what he gets, then.

We left to go get Helen and take our leave from Kensford.

The train came to a stop.  Not Radham, a smaller town.  I watched out the window as the conductor made his way down the steps to approach a man.  My eye traveled to a number of stitched guards at the entrance to the train station.  A surprisingly large number.

Was that smoke coming from within the town?  Were actual fires being started?

The conductor hurried up the stairs.  He addressed the crowd of people at the end of the train car, who were just collecting bags from the rack, or bidding stitched servants to do the collecting.  There was a murmur of conversation, hushed and tense.

Among the Lambs, we exchanged glances.  I averted my eyes from Gordon alone.

Only half of the passengers left.  We watched and waited as the others went to return to their seats, looking anxious.

We were silent even as the conductor approached us, bending down low in that way adults so often did with children.  His voice was low.  “A few problems have come up.  You were getting off at Radham, I believe?”

We nodded as a group.

“The man at the station says that word has come down the wire that a few of the cities and towns along our route are in crisis.  Do you know what that means?”

“We know what that means,” Jamie said.

“Yes, well…” the conductor paused.  “Pinesam, Evensroy, Radham and Berricksville are rioting, on fire, experiments were unleashed, or a combination of the three.  If you’d like, we’ll drop you off somewhere safer, the railroad will help you make accommodations and get in touch with anyone vital.”

“There’s no need,” Gordon said.  “We have to get off at Radham.”

“If you’re sure?  The situation sounds dire.”

“We’re sure,” Gordon said, in a way that brooked no argument.

“Take care, children,” the conductor said.

A moment later, he had moved on to the next grouping of seats.  He recited the same list of cities, informing passengers about the situation.

A full minute passed before Lillian spoke up, “Am I just crazy, or-“

“She didn’t visit Pinesam or Evensroy,” Jamie said.

“Are we sure?  Because-“

“She didn’t,” Jamie said.

Mary was turning a knife over in her hands.  I double checked that none of the train staff or other passengers were in a position to see, then left her to it.  We all had little quirks when we were stressed.

“We already knew she made friends along the way,” I said.

When we returned to Radham, it took a full fifteen minutes for them to let us in the front door.  It hadn’t been easy, with all the people pressing to get in, pushing and shoving to get us out of the way and be the ones to voice their rage and sorrow.

Five minutes of walking to get to the head office.  Lonely, with almost no souls out and about.  Everyone who was awake was elsewhere, working or hiding.

Once we’d reached it, we were left to wait for a full thirty minutes.  The ominous ticking of a clock further down the hallway helped to mark the passage of time.  It was very orderly, stiff, and calm.

In stark contrast, we had a view over the Academy walls, looking out on the sprawl of Radham.  Fires burned here and there, and bodies moved throughout the streets, black and red in contrast to a city that otherwise gleamed the silver-blue of a city in winter.  The sun was only beginning to rise, now.

We were given glasses of water by a student, and I stared long and hard at it before drinking.  I thought of Fray.

I still couldn’t look at Gordon, and I knew he’d noticed.  He knew me and I knew him well enough that we both knew why.  We could communicate on that level just like he could with Fray.  In my restlessness, I’d stood and paced away from the others, walked down the hall to look out other windows and see my city on fire from a variety of angles.

Gordon could have stood and approached, he could have said something, made excuses, shared his thoughts, and I might have forgiven him.

So ironic, considering he’d been the one to spout words about the cohesion of the team.

The rest of us were better now.  We’d reaffirmed our bonds in standing against Fray.  Any fractures were better.  Except for Gordon.

It made me feel sick, it made me angry, it made me feel helpless, and I hated feeling helpless.

When Hayle finally stepped out of the room, I practically wheeled on him, as if I was ready to attack.

“See to your appointments,” he said.  “I’ll debrief you individually, before, during, or after you’ve been looked to.  I have other things to focus on.  Helen?  You’ll find Ibbott in the Bowels.  Lillian, go get some rest.  I’ll send someone to let you know where you’re needed.”

With that, he closed the door in our faces.

It was, coming from a man who had a way of being composed, something of a shock.

We broke away, Lillian and Helen breaking away.

Gordon walked alone, not with us, and he walked faster, leaving us behind.

I exchanged looks with Mary and Jamie.

“What happened?” Mary asked quiet.  “Did I-”

“No,” I said.


“It wasn’t you,” I said.

“We failed.  I failed.  If I hadn’t gotten hurt, if I could have gotten the drop on them, or hunted them after-”

“Like I told Fray, this was our introduction.  We’ll see her again.  This time we know who and what she is.”

Mary nodded.

“You’re going to be okay?  With your appointment?” she asked.

I nodded.  I felt less apprehensive about it than ever, oddly enough.  Dealing with Fray had changed my perspective in some small ways.

“I don’t want to go,” she said.

I raised an eyebrow.  Mary didn’t want to go, when she loved her appointments.  They were a chance to show off, to show her coordination, skill retention, fitness…

“Would it be better if you were in a room near ours?” Jamie asked.

Mary, as a new addition, had her appointments in the tower, but she was on a different floor than we were.

She nodded.  “Feels dumb when you say it out loud, though.”

“Hur hur,” Jamie said, speaking in a ‘dumb’ deeper voice.

She reached past me to give him a playful shove, bumping me in the process.

She’s lonely, and she doesn’t like a ‘loss’She senses something’s wrong, and she wants to be part of the group, in the midst of it.

She was a Lamb, through and through.

When she reached past me to swat at Jamie’s ponytail, or to pull the string from around the base, I put an arm around her.  She stopped, a little confused.

“It’s a hug, dum-dum,” I said.  “Half of one, anyway.”

“I have knives, Sy,” she said, “You don’t get to call someone dum-dum when they have knives.”

But she was smiling.  She messed up my hair.

Jamie and I watched as she took the side hallway, heading to her lab.  Jamie gave her a wave.

I saw how Jamie walked, the way he held his book.

“She didn’t ask how you felt about your appointment,” I noted.

“Nope.  It’s not being poisoned, though.”

I nodded.  “Do you want me to sit and wait?”

He didn’t respond right away, but I did see a nod out of the corner of my eye.

“I can do that,” I said.

Fray got to him.  Talking about the dangers.

We reached Jamie’s laboratory.  Project Caterpillar.

I took the book as he handed it to me.

The doctors were already waiting, and they flocked to him as he entered the room.  I remained in the doorway, watching, too far away to make out words in the jumble of voices, hugging his book to my chest

Jamie disrobed.  He pulled off his sweater and the shirt beneath, then unbuttoned his belt.  It wasn’t that he felt so casual about his nudity here, but more that there was no choice.

The scars and the ridges carried down his entire body.  They were more pronounced along his spine and between his legs, to the point that there was nothing left that was even remotely recognizable.

He half-turned, seeing me looking, and he didn’t flinch, he didn’t hide.  He handed one doctor his glasses, and undid his ponytail.

Switches were flicked.  Lights went on around the room.  Large glass containers were lit up, with gray-pink blobs within.  Brains, the largest as big around as I was tall.  Each one was connected to the next, a chain.

A caterpillar, in a way.  Segmented, promising a future transformation.  Just what that would be remained to be seen, but all I knew was that there wouldn’t be a caterpillar anymore.

Jamie made his way up a slight dias to his throne.  The chair had machinery worked into it, metal blades that weren’t sharp, with bundles of wires running from them, into the first glass tank.

I looked away as they started plugging the individual blades into the slots and gaps in Jamie’s modified, extended spine, along his arms, and beneath his hairline.

I flinched as the switch was thrown, and the lights flickered.

He was giving them all of the information he had gathered, storing it in the tanks.  They would, fingers crossed, give it back, helping him to organize, consolidate, and structure it.

One day, as Fray had said, they wouldn’t be able to give it back.

I turned my back on the scene, my eyes on the fires and the crowds, but I did stay with him for the remainder of the appointment.

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70 thoughts on “Stitch in Time – 4.12

  1. …Oh. Jamie’s not a permanent storage system. He’s a receptacle. They use him to gather data, but everything he learns is stored…ready to be transferred to the next Project Caterpillar.

    No wonder Sy said he wouldn’t expire. He’ll still exist, or at least his memories will…but he’ll just be stored data.

      • Let’s face it, the Academy are bastards. Our heroes are working for the bad guys. I mean I wouldn’t call Frey the good guy, but it’s Magneto vs Apocalypse territory here.

  2. How chilling, and at the same time it make so much sense…a biological data farm…

    On a completely unrelated note, are the little carat symbols that separate sections new? I feel like I haven’t seen then before and they threw me for a loop.

    • Heeey! It’s Maddi. The separators aren’t new. They’ve been here before (e.g. chapter 1.3) and also in previous Wildbow works. It’s just that this story seems to have less jumps than the others?

  3. Extended spine? Would someone please explain to me what that configuration looks like, and why they would need to mess up the area between his legs? I mean, extended spine. You can’t really hide an extra foot of spine on a person.

    • “The scars and the ridges carried down his entire body. They were more pronounced along his spine and between his legs, to the point that there was nothing left that was even remotely recognizable.”

      I wonder if this is Wildbow’s way of saying that on top of having horrific scars all over his body, that Jamie was also emasculated.

      • Yeah, that’s what I took away from that passage. Any idea why that would be necessary for the procedures that Jaime is subjected too?

        • Testosterone has a strong effect on the areas of the brain associated with short and long-term memory during puberty. I would guess that they didn’t want the added hassle of dealing with the extra chemicals when the time came.

  4. Ouch. Though there is hope for Project Butterfly; Jamie could fuse into this setup and become a sentient biocomputer.

  5. Mmm. I’m reminded of the last Enemy chapter, where Fray and Warren are introduced. The person using Warren was working in a similar project to what Jamie is. I wonder what the relationship is.

    I feel bad for Jamie. Can’t they just fix him? Or delete old data? And is he the… first?

    And, Gordon :< Eesh. Don't go too hard on him, Sy. You have also fucked up badly before and he's had to forgive you. I'm worried about the future though.

      • You are right :3 But what I meant to ask was whether Jamie was the first in the caterpillar project, or whether there have been other experiments before him with similar tasks.

        • After I answered I thought that you could have meant that…

          We know that the Lambs was a community project and they were all intended to work as a gestalt (except for Sy, initially). So unless the others are also not the first iterations of their respective project, Jamie is most likely the first caterpillar in that form.
          But that doesn’t mean there were no similiar experiments. That giant brain didn’t appear from nowhere.

          Funny, I always thought they would turn Jamie into an organic computer after he “expired”, and not that he was always a part of.

    • Hard to not be so hard on someone you know will betray you, even if you love him and you feel he is justified.Thats not “fucked up bad” thats “betraying trust”

      Plus, I wouldn’t call “if he apologised to me, I’d probably forgive him” being hard.

      • Grinvader, how did you manage to reply to a comment EARLIER than the original comment? Are you a time-traveller!?

        And yes, I want to convey my outrage, ineffectively!

  6. Oh god. Poor Jaime. So the book is a safeguard, maybe? When they can’t give him his memories back, he’ll make do reading his journals? That’s awful. What’ll even be left of the guy?

    So “Stitch in Time” referred to the trade and, I’m presuming, the phrase “A stitch in time saves nine”. Would that be referring to Fray’s earlier efforts already having won her the game? I feel like I’m missing something else. Guessing that the arc is over now. Really hoping that we get to see in Fray’s perspective for the enemy interlude. I want to know what’s been going on in her head. That plan was insidious.

    And more expiry date clues! Sy seems to expect another year or two with Jaime, the way things currently stand. Back in 2.11, Sy said Gordon would go a year before Jaime, so he really doesn’t have long at all. Can you blame the guy for wanting to jump ship? I’m guessing that Sy has 10 years left, from the way he emphasised it. Still no idea about Mary or Helen, except that Helen is in between Jaime and Sy (I want to say she has six years, but there’s nothing to really base that on). I wonder when we get the new lamb. That was “a year off” in 2.11, which was about half a year ago, I think. So maybe 2 arcs or so till a new lamb?

    Really great stuff.

    • Re: expiry dates
      Helen’s meant to be a femme fatal. Unless they’re looking to target exclusively child molesters, she’s probably got at least ten years left. The flip side of that is, there’s not much call for a femme fatal above the (apparent) age of about 25 – at least, by some standards. Point being, there is a fixed age range for that stuff and she’s unlikely to exhaust it within 6 years.

      Gordon’s meant to be a proof-of-concept. It’s quite possible they’ll be modifying the next generation en masse, he seems like a pretty good template for ‘expensive option’.

      At a certain point Jamie will simply no longer be able to hold all the information he’s collected. He’ll then either be emptied out and disposed of, or be used at the user interface for all his data, being temporarily filled with the information they want recalled. It’s also possible they’ll hollow him out leaving only the essential bits and send him to go collect more. In that case they’ll probably take his book; wouldn’t be useful to have him collect the same info twice

      Sy is a human child who’s been exposed to various toxins, doesn’t seem he was modified heavily, he’ll live a more-or-less average lifespan if the poisons don’t kill him

      • You make a very good point about Helen, I really should have considered that. I suppose the other thing to keep in mind is that Helen’s aging may not follow the norms. Although I can’t imagine her outward appearance changing so fast that she no longer fits into the group easiy. Come to think of it though, the Academy can probably increase the age of the rest of the group any time they want to. I can’t imagine that they’d overly want to do that – throwing more chemicals into your test subjects isn’t exactly great scientific methodology. (Could that be the Briggs’s prepared plan in response to the lambs going public? Having kids in adult bodies, rather than everyone believing that there are adults in children’s bodies? Probably not, but I need a crazy theory to throw out there.)

      • I agree with your point about Helen currently being too young to be a femme fatal (more like a Lolita), but your assumption that she would be too old to be sexy after 25!? I would estimate at LEAST a decade older before she started “losing her looks”.Sexiness has a longer shelf-life than youthfulness.

        I think that Helen’s expiration date would be caused by factors other than her looks.Who knows how her vat-grown body works?

  7. It would be a remarkable twist if a second version of Jaime ended up being the Big Bad for the finale of this story. Caterpillar 1.0 appears to be for data storage and organization only, but if Caterpillar 1.1 introduced critical thinking skills, the resulting person who acts as the receptacle could become a menace of the highest order. If they introduced multiple receptacles and a more streamlined interfacing device, well, that would be something like skynet crossed with resident evil.

      • Some Fridge Horror sauce with that: Sy is putting his faith in Hayle to build a better brain, right? Well… *points at Jaime hooked up to the rest of Caterpillar* He’s basically just hoping for this to be worth something, isn’t he?😦

  8. Typo thread:

    – “We’ll both see how far the ripples extend in the coming weeks and months.” -> We’ll all see (Fray addresses all the Lambs here)

    – ““That’s how it works, isn’t it?” she asked.” -> Lillian asked. (the last person mentioned was Ms. Fray, rather than Lillian)

    – “We were given glasses of water by a student, and I stared long and hard at it before drinking.” -> at mine (singular/plural mixup)

    – “hugging his book to my chest” -> (this sentence has no period, or, more likely, part of the paragraph was cut off)

    And: “I turned my back on the scene, my eyes on the fires and the crowds, but I did stay with him for the remainder of the appointment.” -> Sy is currently in front of Jamie’s lab, so how can he turn his back on sais scene? He couldn’t see it through a window, so he must be reading the book, but we were never told that happened. (So as I said, a paragraph might have been cut off.)

    • Helen? You’ll find Ibbott in the Bowels.

      The good doctor’s name is spelled differently in many places, but I think I found the first mention of his name in 1.7:

      I shrugged. “There are some big names on the other projects. Do you know Doctor Ibott? Of course you know Ibott.”

    • “The file that doesn’t even mention that you were taking the Wyvern formula until it comes up in the your record of termination?” Jamie asked.

  9. So Jamie is a computer, that can connect to a database? And when his operating system gets slow and buggy, they will replace him with a newer model…
    Yup, sounds about right.

    Huh, you know what though, I think that while Sy will try to subtly convince Gordon to stay with the Lambs, when it happens, if it happens, he probably wont try to interfere too much.

    Sy is if anything, adaptable, and he likes having a clever opponent to beat. So Gordon would be a good opponent, since Sy knows him well, but he also knows Sy, so they are a good match. So my current pet theory is that he will just enjoy the new opponent.

    Sy seems to define himself in two ways, one by his opponents, and the second is of course his Lambs. So I think that if a Lamb turns into an opponent, it won’t affect him too negatively. Better Gordan be an opponent, instead of dying too early cus of that expiration date of his.

  10. I liked this. I much prefer conversations between enemies to straight-out action sequences, if only because they give me a better sense that whoever won deservedly won the (verbal) exchange.

    Oh, and the bio computer thing was great. Very ironic given how Warren was turned into a monster, though. I wonder how he’d react to Jamie if he knew about Project Caterpillar.

    I’ll reiterate that I’m still confused by Sy’s weird reasoning for refusing Ms. Fray’s offer. Not trusting *her* is one thing; but believing *in the Academy* is just insane. As far as I can tell, in the story so far, Ms. Fray is the only one who has ever shown genuine respect or affection towards experiments (besides the Lambs, sometimes). The Academy only sees them as disposable prototypes. So yes, I expect them to want to improve the Lamb *projects*, but why would they expend limited resources to try to maintain their broken bases, when they could just remake them, better than ever before?

    On a similar note, why does Sy even trust his own opinion on his matter? He knows that Hayle still often understands him better than Sy himself does; he knows Hayle essentially made him; he knows that Percy’s clone projects all had kill switches, and that they’d been instilled with almost limitless loyalty. Put all that together, and it implies that Sy just can’t trust any of his impulses or rationalisations that make him stay with the Academy. All that said, that doesn’t mean there has to be a better option available.

    In any case, to the extent that Sy is the grey eminence behind the Lambs, his lack of reflection in this area could easily doom them all. Not to mention that Sy thinks *Gordon* is the one who did something he needs to be forgiven for! At least Gordon tried to *do* something about his impending death, while Sy is just living in a dream land…

    (As a final note, don’t take this as criticism of Twig. Rather, I’m saying that Sy is an unreliable narrator for a reason, and that he’s simply wrong here. But nobody asked for perfect characters, so that’s fine.)

    • If sy has been programmed to trust the Academy, he has also been programmed to not question that trust and to not question that lack of questioning.

      • Yeah, I was going to say something similar. Although, I think it would be simpler to tell him and program him not to mind his enforced loyalty, rather than recursively not notice.

    • In a way, Sy doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. In order to rationalize the decision to not join Fray, he’d have to put his trust in the opposite side. The opposite side to her is the Academy, or at least Hayle. Normally you’d think the decision to not join either would be a good option, but in this case he can’t do that without dying.

      Sy already mentioned that he believes in Hayle’s vision, so there’s that.

    • I think that Sy is, at heart, a fanatic. A cynical fanatic, but a fanatic and, worst of all, one that thinks he’s an objective judge of his situation. Hayle has had a good, long time to get his hooks in.

    • Indoctrination man, indoctrination while he’s weak from the effects of his “sessions” while his mind is malleable to “Suggestions” (read: ORDERS) over and over until he justifies such “beliefs” as his own out of faith because he was Designed to be rational.

    • I think that if Sylvester was really programmed to be loyal to the Academy, it would be in his file and Genevieve would mention it (maybe she wouldn’t even bother trying to recruit him). Also, I think Sy had a pretty good look at his files, so he would know too.

    • To be fair, Sy isn’t believing in the Academy as a force of Empathy and Goodness. He knows that the Academy is a power hungry structure that is equal parts amoral and egotistical. He knows that Fray wasn’t lying about helping the Lambs, or that they would have a far better life expectancy with her.

      What Sy does believe in is the Academy’s ability to make scientific advancements. This is an entirely reasonable thing to believe in, considering the fact that Academies have shown significant progress over time. First they came up with the Stitched, then the parasites, and now dozens of different things for different occasions. All Sy really wants them to do is to keep up and expand the Lambs project until they reach the bio singularity.

      What’s interesting and odd about this is that this desire eclipses his loyalty to his friends. The Academy being stable enough to do more brain research is more important to Sy then Jamie lasting longer or Gordon reaching his 80s. I’m not sure if its accurate to say that its more important than his loyalty to the Lambs, because, in a way, that desire *is* loyal to the Lambs- its just loyal to the nebulous future Lambs that haven’t been born yet and never will be if the current ones go AWOL.

    • “Some deny, and you can get stupid-as-hell behaviors from those who see something plain as day but deny it because it conflicts with something they believe.”

      This is from Sy, Taking Root 1.8, I believe.

  11. Jamie/Caterpillar: Nice!

    Curious about the details about why they would be unable to give it back–but, in any case (completely ignoring any ethical and/or emotional issues), /awesome/. I’m extremely happy this has been shown to us.

    I’m also curious about what sort of ‘transformation’ is or will be in the works for the segmented brains… *smiles*

    I was incidentally also fondly reminded of this ‘elephant never forgets’ data storage webcomic strip.

  12. So, in the final paragraph here, it’s Fray talking? I thought it might have been Lillian and couldn’t tell until Sy was recapping later.

    …Jamie tense at that. Even with his winter clothes on, mittened hands holding his book, I could see the subtle change in body language.

    Lillian looked anxious. She kept looking back between Jamie and Genevieve Fray.

    “That’s how it works, isn’t it?” she asked. “Sooner or later, you can’t know for sure when, they’ll keep what you give them.”

  13. Oof. Props to the person who called Jamie being part of a living archive back when the codenames were first revealed. Sorry, I forget who said it specifically.

    It’s very, very interesting that, even though what Gordon said was a lie, he still chose to go through with it. Unless he subtly told Fray something that Sy didn’t pick up on?

  14. “I saw what you did with Lady Claire,” Lillian said. “You have nothing to offer that I’d want to take. I don’t think you even understand the ramifications of what you did. People are going to die. Lots of them, innocents. People who drank this water and left the city? Those who were just passing through?”

    Oh, poor niave Lillian. What do you think happens every time the Crown decides it’s time to start a war and take over a little more of the world? You think nobody gets hurt when they send in the monsters, and the parasites and the viruses so they don’t “lose”? And what do you think was going to happen when the Crown decided it was time to enact this plan themselves? Now their is at least a chance to not all be made slaves then livestock, just so the Crown can have absolute power.

    Interesting that Mary was so vehemently against the idea of leaving the Academy. She’s more loyal to the Lambs than some of the Lambs. Wonder if Percy is one of Frey’s friends?

    • It’s perfectly reasonable for Lilian to not want to be the personal protoge of someone comfortable with justifying mass murder. The Academy might be evil, but at least they’re honest about their evilness. When they start charging to remove the sterility, they’re not going to pretend its anything other then a power grab. When they field The Whelps, they’re not acting like its anything less then a quest to hunt someone down and tear them into itty bitty pieces.

      This is a marked difference from their enemies, who all seem to be all about The Greater Good. Reverend Hayle was okay with manipulating people, so long as it hurt the Academy. Fray was okay with killing people and handing the Academy control, so long as it hurt the Academy. I can’t really blame Lilian for being put off by that.

      Furthermore, the fact that the Academy as a whole is evil doesn’t mean that Lilian, personally, will have to stoop to Bad Things herself in the institution. One of the most notable things about the Sub Rosa arc was that almost nobody was making a weapon for the weapon’s sake. The chimera ratio person was doing basic research. The bug people wanted their project to be used to deliver vaccines. If anything, Fray is more likely then the Academy to force her hand.

      • Admitting your evil does not make you less evil. And when has the Academy admitted their evil? They sure as heck try to present themselves as caring about the public. You know while planning to sterilize them all. Sure their are people trying to do good work and good things in the Academy. And there have been good people trying to do good things in just about every regime in real life that we remember as horrible despotic monsters. That doesn’t make those Regimes good. The people who want to help the common people? They ain’t running things. And their research might well be perveted. Bugs that spread innoculations? Can be used to spread something else. Which is what she had to do to get the funding. The Academies aren’t all one monolithic structure that’s all on the same page, but they are all under the same umbrella and command. And that’s the command that was going to do this stuff eventually anyways.

        Hayle might believe in the better brain, but that doesn’t help all the people the Academy has been using. And yes they’ve been using the populace. For resources for stitched, and labor they needed until they could build something that would do it better. And once they got to that point the Academy was going to phase the obsolete equipment out. Except, it’s not equipment, it’s people.

        Very few good villains go around saying what their doing is bad or wrong. Goals can be noble. But sometimes what determines if what someone is doing is good or evil is how far they are willing to go to achieve it, and how many people they are willing to hurt. Both Frey and the Academy showed they are willing to go very far, and hurt a lot of people. The question now is how many and who’s actually worse?

        • *shrugs*

          The truth of who has the moral high ground is kind of moot. Death is death and blood is blood.

          I think that the only part that Lilian cares about is the fact that working with Fray would get her hands very dirty, very quickly. Working for the Academy makes her complicit with their horrors, but it won’t force her to actively contribute to those horrors.

  15. Seriously, very creepy and calmly disturbing, if that can be a thing. Jamie isn’t actually Project Caterpillar, just a part of it.
    Just… damn.

  16. Yet another great chapter. Probably one of those with tension at its highest. Feel like the last chapter in this arc before the interlude. The last moments where we see Jamie starting his appointment makes me suspect project caterpillar is going to be a huge plot point later in the story

    Having said that, I am wondering why would Jamie be covered in so many scars when it was already made clear that the Academy as the knowledge and resources to perform body modifications without leaving such horrific marks. I get that they need to perform super-invasive surgery on Jamie, but couln’t they “clean up” after the procedures? I mean, when Sy got poured with acid all over him in the beginning of the story, the Academy was able to patch him up with minimum scaring while grafting new skin to is body. The only explanation for Jamie having such scars is due to lazyness from the doctors.

    • The ports need to still be accessible, and short of prosthetics there’s not much one can do with the lack of a penis. Also he doesn’t have the social role in the gestalt that Sy or Gordon (or Helen, really) has, so “cleaning up” is less of a priority. It’s horrible, yes, but I think we can agree that everything the Academy does is at least 75% horrible. And failing to hide one test subject’s surgery scars pales in comparison to turning said test subject into a data collection array.

  17. “I’m not saying this is a dragon that can be slain. I am saying that it can be trained.”
    Ah, but do you know how to train your dragon?
    Sorry for the pun. I blame my dad’s genes.

    Project Caterpillar sounds interesting and neat, in a Bonesaw way. It makes me interested in the details of the others’ projects. Well, I suppose we already have some solid information on what happens with Sy’s appointments and what Helen was designed to do, but I’m interested to learn more about Gordon. Funny, that.

  18. You know what’s annoying? When the villain has very obvious plot armor right at the start. Specially when the hero and the villain are both strategists, it just makes it look stupid and causes the MCs to act out of character.. (They suddenly like her.. Really? And at making a lot of mistakes and is suddenly fine with losing?), This was a painful read, it was a really bad idea to introduce this sue since they’ve been shown at boil and thus became a crowd favorite who can’t be killed. So damn disappointing.

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