Esprit de Corpse – 5.15

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“Turn your face up,” Lillian told me.

I did.

She rinsed out my eyes with something.  Liquid streamed down past my temples and ears and the back of my neck.

“Blink, lots.”

I did.

“It’s not helping.”

“Keep blinking,” she said.

I did.  Gradually, the world became clearer.

I gave her a thumbs up.

“Let me know when blinking stops working,” she said.

“We need to focus on Gordon and Mary,” I said.

“We need to win this,” one of the men who’d been with the Brigadier spoke, “We’re being overrun.”

“I’m pretty sure the plague men are immune to poisons, parasites, and diseases,” I said, still blinking.  “They have the firepower to gun down your monsters, and they’re zealous.  Stitched are falling faster than they should, and your specialists, rank-and-file and officers are getting intimidated.”

“This isn’t news.”

“Making sure everyone knows what’s what.  I don’t know what you’ve been doing, cooped up in here.”

“Waging a war.”

“And being overrun,” I echoed him.

It was the Brigadier who stepped in to speak.  “I have to ask.  Was it you who set the fires?”

“No,” I lied.  “They happened.  We used them once they began.  Spread them further.  We felt it was important to divert them, make sure they didn’t have safe ground to fall back to.”

“I see.”

“Sorry,” I said.  “It was a judgment call on our part, seeing how and where they were moving.  I understand if you don’t want to work with me any further.”

I could make out the individual slats of the boards in the arching ceiling, now.

“I don’t think we have any other choice,” the Brigadier said, and there was a curious tone to his voice, as if he’d caught me in the lie, and he was hinting he had, while trying to keep his men from grasping that fact.

I gestured at Lillian, and she rinsed my eyes again.

This time, as I blinked, I lowered my head, looking around.

Helen was sitting on the edge of the table with the maps, close to the fireplace, her feet in Jamie’s lap.  Shipman was sitting at the far end of the table.  The men were all standing.

I wiped at my eyes and temples with my hands, then ran my fingers through my wet hair to get the worst of the cleansing agent out.

I looked down at Melancholy.

“You opened your wound again,” Lillian noted.

I looked down at my side.  The cold rain had washed away a surprising amount of the blood.  There were traces, though, a blob of pinker fabric.

I pulled my raincoat closed.  “We’re surrounded, on the defensive, we have two key people who need immediate attention, and if they find out Melancholy here is dead, then her orders to keep certain individuals alive stop holding water.”

My attention turned momentarily to the Brigadier as I hopped down from the edge of his desk and walked over to Melancholy’s body.  One of the commanding officers was standing over it, another was at the window, peering out.

“You’ve summed it up,” the Brigadier said.  “We need solutions.”

He was being more curt than before.  Had we disappointed?  Or was something else bothering him?

“Thinking,” I said.  “Believe me, I know we need solutions.  Two people I care about dearly are out there, and I don’t know if they’re alive or dead.  The sooner we can get to them, the better.”

I rifled through Melancholy’s pockets, patting her down.  Everything I pulled out found its way to the floor.  Three rings that might have been wedding bands, except they were the wrong metal, threads, buttons, two torn patches with what looked to be cloth badges on them, two photographs, of all things, badly exposed, showing very normal people.  There were also things I expected: a pen, a flask of alcohol, two knives, a tube of something that smelled foul, and three pieces of paper.  The firebombs she’d taken from Gordon were on her belt.

The mementos caught me off guard.  This was a person with keepsakes and history.  People she kept photos of, both men.

I took the belt of firebombs, unbuckling it, and collected the pieces of paper, along with Melancholy’s pen.

After a moment’s hesitation, I grabbed one of the three rings.  Steel, dark, but it had been polished bright where it had been rubbed.  It was a hair too large on my finger, so I moved it to my thumb.

“-the fireplace?” Helen was asking.  I’d been slightly out of earshot.

“Hm?” I asked.

“Up the fireplace.  Escape route.”

“Possibly.  There are no guarantees you won’t be shot when you pop out the top, or that you have any place to go if you aren’t shot,” the Brigadier said.  He gauged the size of the chimney.  “You children could squeeze through, but your escape route doesn’t help any of the rest of us.”

Helen’s face was devoid of compassion as she took in that sentence and continued to stare at him.  He looked away first.

I slapped the papers down in front of Jamie.  Helen craned her head around to look at it.

“What’re these?” Jamie asked.

“Letters in Melancholy’s possession.  Her handwriting.”

He groaned a little, head bowing.

“Can you?”

“I can try,” he said.

“Explain,” the Brigadier said.  His men were looking more antsy, now.

“Forgery,” I said.  “We have some of Melancholy’s handwriting.  Someone in their leadership.”

“There’s a lot wrong with that idea,” the Brigadier said.

Still so negative.  Still curt.  He was upset.  It felt disconnected from the idea that he was losing this battle.  If it had been connected, he would’ve been more vocal during some parts of the conversation thus far, and less vocal during other parts.

“What am I writing?” Jamie asked.

“Brigadier Tylor, sir,” I said, choosing the full title to try and curry favor with the man.  “You get to be Melancholy.  She’s not the direct leader, but she’s next best thing, and she’s in the field, here.  Her orders supercede most others.”

“I can’t order a retreat.  They wouldn’t believe it.”

“Probably not,” I said.

“Unless-” Lillian started.

Heads turned, and she fell silent.

“Go on,” I urged her.


I nodded slowly.

“Westmore doesn’t have a superweapon,” one of the officers said.  “They have to know it doesn’t.  They controlled the city for a long period of time.  They interrogated captives, kept prisoners.  I imagine they tortured and drugged those prisoners.”

I nodded slowly.  “Ordering a retreat and claiming we have a mysterious superweapon is pushing it.  Jamie.  First order.  Written to the vanguard, the front line.  Furthest up.”

“That would be the northwestern point,” the Brigadier commented.  One of the commanders nodded.

“Georgie Madsen,” Jamie said.  “Probably.”

“Go for it,” I said.

“How do you know that?” Shipman asked.  “That it’s him?”

“I read a lot of the correspondence and paperwork that passed over the enemy’s desk, while I was babysitting Ames,” Jamie said.  He was already writing.  “Madsen is the best fit.  Young officer, eager, aggressive.  Had a wife, they were expecting, his wife lost the baby.  He blames the drug for the loss, and now the sterility throws a wry stitch into things, because they can’t try again.  He’s angry.”

“That’s not how it works,” Lillian said.  “The drug.”

“Doesn’t matter, because it matters to him, and it gives him a reason to push to be at the front,” I said.  “Officer Madsen gets a letter from Melancholy.  There’s a superweapon in the mines, with caches of weapons.  Leave a skeleton crew to man the front, other units are coming to reinforce his position shortly, get to the mine shaft by that one gate-”

“Southeastern gate,” Jamie said.

“Have him send some people down.  Even if the superweapon is a hoax, the cache is almost a certainty.  Paranoia on the Crown’s part, after the near-shortage before.”

“Tying them up,” the Brigadier said.

I nodded with vigor.

I was anxious.  I wanted to be gone, and this maneuver wouldn’t be fast.

“Second letter,” I said.

“West gate.  They have to be there,” the Brigadier said.  “They want an escape route with the fires burning behind them, they don’t want to pass us and then get attacked from behind.  It’s the only logical point.”

“Combat fires in the southwestern position,” I said.  “Madsen’s group is secure at the northwest and is being reinforced as we speak.”

The brigadier nodded.  Jamie nodded too.

“Third note.”

“I can only write so much at once,” Jamie said.

“To the command here.  To be passed on to their superior officers.  Melancholy has finished with her task here.  She has Tylor.  Send two coaches, have two men collect the injured children at… damn it.  We were close to here.  Within earshot to hear people shouting about the firefight here.  Plague men came directly at us from…”

“Which direction, Sy?” Jamie asked, voice soft.

“Between the last fires we set and, it had to be a bend in the road, the way foot traffic was.”

“Hereabouts?” Jamie asked, pointing at the map.

I looked, trying to gauge.

“Thereabouts,” I said.  “He and the children are to be brought back here and put in the coaches.  Prisoners of war, and children of important figures.”

“That’s almost a bigger stretch than ‘the rebellion forces should collectively retreat,” Jamie said.  “Almost.”

“Our safety was guaranteed in exchange for information about the weapons in the mine,” I said.

Jamie nodded.

“They may not buy it,” the Brigadier said.  “These missives coming from here?  Having us escorted into the coaches with the assassin remaining behind, unseen?”

“I have an idea,” I said, while still pontificating on what that idea entailed.

Jamie wrote with Melancholy’s pen.  He passed the first paper to me, immediately starting on the second.

The handwriting matched perfectly.  There were individual letters that weren’t in any of her notes, but there were the florid, angular capital letters, even the way the crisp handwriting got messier for words further down the page, as if she’d lost patience with the neat handwriting style and started scribbling out the words instead.  A habit in both of the papers I’d given Jamie.

“Keep in mind,” I said, “If her handwriting gets gradually sloppier, that’s going to carry over across the three messages.  If they check it, we don’t want that little oddity to raise alarm bells.  Prey instinct.”

Without looking up, Jamie crumpled up the paper he was writing on and started on a second.  “This is not a strength of mine, Sy.  I haven’t practiced it.”

“Do your best,” I said.  “Helen.”

Helen beamed a smile at me.

“You’re Melancholy, for our little task here.”

“Wow,” she said, smiling wider.  “How does that work?”

“Well, for one thing, we can be glad her hair covers so much of her face,” I said.

She nodded.  “I’ll need a knife.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” the Brigadier said.

“You will,” I told him.  “Knife?”

He hesitated.

Still that aura of negativity.  Doubt.

“Please, sir.  We’re short on time.  Even if for your own preservation, we can’t have Melancholy’s meeting with you extend too long.”

The man lifted a foot, and pulled a combat knife from the side of his boot.  He extended it handle-first.

I took it.

“Lillian,” I said.

Lillian trotted to catch up with Helen and I.

“You want to cut off her hair?” Lillian asked.

“In a manner of speaking,” I said.  “I figure it’s easier to maintain her hairstyle if we just take it all in one go.”

Lillian blanched a little.

I smiled at her.  “What?  You’ve poisoned people.  You’ve seen people die.  This is cake.”

Helen made an amused little sound.  I handed her the knife, and she bent down.

She proceeded to scalp our assassin, knife following the hairline.

In the doing, she revealed Melancholy’s eyes.  A little milky in color, with sockets that looked too splayed out, the ridges of cheekbone and brow too accented.  She might have looked skeletal, but it was more that her skeleton was an odd shape.  Her jawline, too, was strange.  Akin to a snake’s.

Something about it, the large eyes, the disproportionate features, the odd shape of her head, minus half of her scalp, it made me think of a newborn baby.  Blind, orally focused, agape, face twisted in emotion she wouldn’t be able to express again.

Hadn’t she said something about how we were all brought into the world?

She’d been more focused on the relationships than on the fact that we came into the world bloody and powerless, though.

I rotated the ring around my thumb with one finger as I looked down at her.

“Bloody,” Helen observed.  “Wouldn’t do if I had blood running down my face.”

“Rinse it,” I told her.  “Lillian, use some powder or something, get the bleeding to stop.  Then makeup.  This is your chance to shine.”

“What makes you think I have makeup?”

“You’ve been wearing some.  You were wearing it at the school the last time I saw you there.  I know you have something to cover up bruises and cuts.  Unless you were a twit and used it all up.”

Lillian sighed, exasperated.  “You’re a real charmer, Sy.”

“I know you’re not a twit, Lil,” I said.  “I just really want to help Gordon and Mary.”

She nodded.  “Me too.”

We were pulling it all together.  There was just one thing we needed.

I looked at the fireplace tender, and I felt a moment of doubt.


“Shipman,” I said.

She looked a little wary as she turned her full attention to me.

“Why do I have a bad feeling about this?”

“You’re learning,” Jamie murmured, still writing.  He’d scrapped two drafts since Helen started scalping.

“We need legs for our new Melancholy.”

It was a bad joke in stage plays, one child atop another’s shoulders, trying to be an adult.  But Melancholy had a heavy black raincoat, and Helen was an actress.  She already wore Melancholy’s scalp.

“You’ve got a hump,” I observed.

Helen contorted, shifting position.

“Pressure, ow, pressure!” Shipman raised her voice a little.

“Shh!” I hissed.  “You can damn well cope.”

“She’s digging individual toes in between my ribs for a foothold.  I’m allowed to say it hurts!”

“Bring your knees in,” I said.

The bits poking out beneath the armpit receded.

“Better,” Shipman said.

“Don’t care,” I said.

“Too tall,” Jamie observed.

Helen dropped her height an inch.

“Too short,” Jamie said.

Helen raised her head a half-inch.

Exemplary control over her own body.  Not perfect, but enough to make the difference.  To sell this in a way that wouldn’t normally work.

“You need the mouth,” I said.

“I don’t have the teeth, and I can’t do the voice,” Helen said.  “Unless you want to get a file?”

“Ibott would kill us,” I said.  “Don’t talk, don’t open your mouth.”

She nodded.

Then she pulled at muscles in her face.  A rictus grin, too-wide, until it looked like her mouth would tear open.

It wasn’t perfect.  The nose was wrong.

But people didn’t look at noses.

“Officers, Brigadier,” I said.  “Kneel.”

I could tell the instruction didn’t go over well.  These weren’t men who had knelt for anyone but the Crown.

I got a kind of perverse joy out of it, watching as they knelt.

“In a line,” I said.  “That pissed-off look on your faces?  Keep it.”

They arranged their positions, so they were all in a line, down the center of the room.  Jamie, Lillian, and the firetender took up position just in front of them.

‘Melancholy’ and I approached the door.  Shipman was slow, carrying Helen.  She didn’t complain any further, though.

“Good girl,” Helen purred.  “Keep going.”

“I don’t need the encouragement,” Shipman said.

“Pat on the head for you,” Helen said.

I opened the door a little, caught it with my foot, and then kicked it open, trying to make it look more like ‘Melancholy’ had opened it than I had.

She stood in the doorway, so the door remained propped open, and I threw myself forward, stumbling to the point of nearly falling down the stairs.

The people on the street were far enough away they’d infer I’d been pushed or kicked.

I looked at the Academy forces at the walls on either side, defending the position, ready to open fire.  I moved my head as if I was looking past everyone and everything, blind.

“Soldiers?  If you’re there, throw down your guns,” I said.

I could see them hesitate.

“That’s an order!  Throw them down!” Tylor bellowed, from inside.

As I walked down the stairs, I could hear the guns being dropped to the ground.

That sound and the presence of Melancholy in the doorway lent me an air of legitimacy.

I stumbled down the stairs, missing the occasional step, and trying to step down to another step when I reached a short landing.  I made my way down to the street.

“Someone in charge?” I asked.  “The assassin sent me.  Someone?  Anyone?”

The mail was snatched out of my hands.  A plague man had it.  He had pocks and boils breaking up tattoos on his neck and hands, military tattoos.  The sort that almost counted as medals people gave themselves, or to memorialize the dead.

Don’t read it.  Don’t read the others’ letters.

“What are these?”

“She said, um, one for you, and then one for Madsen, and one for the forces at the west gate.  Orders from the top.”

The man made a face.  I saw only through my peripheral vision, as my ‘blind’ gaze stared a hole through his chest.

He didn’t like Melancholy, I realized.

Funny how it worked.

“Is she coming down to join the rest of us?” the man asked.

“I only- I was told to bring the letters.  I can’t see what’s going on,” I said.

He opened one of the letters, then hunched over.  “Damn rain.  Ink’s running.”

I remained silent.

“The senior officers are being taken as prisoners of war,” he said.  He turned his head.  “Two coaches.  We’re going to be rid of the ugly bitch, and not a moment too soon.  Send runners with these letters to Madsen and Hughey.”

Gordon and Mary, I thought.

He wasn’t giving the order to go and find them.

The simple, stupid reality of humans.  There was only so much they could process.  We’d given them too much information to dwell on.

He’d completely glossed over that part.

If I said anything else, it put everything in jeopardy.  Gave them cause to be suspicious, to pay attention to me, the lowly messenger…

I swallowed hard.

Had to take the risk.

“My friends,” I said.  “They were with me, and she hurt them.  She said, Tylor made her promise to help them.”

I stared at the ground as I said it.  Hoping, hoping.

“Mm,” the man said.  A single syllable response.  Not even a word.

I had a knife and I had a firebomb.  If it came down to it, I’d stab him and make a break for it, using fire to delay pursuers.

I wasn’t sure what I’d do at that point, but I couldn’t do nothing.

Come on.  Basic sense.  You can’t go against her deal with Tylor, or you jeopardize everything.

“Vic.  Head over in the direction of the bank.  Opposite end of the street, behind the houses.  If the fires aren’t too bad.  Bring someone to help carry.  Supposed to be two injured kids.  Related to bigwig doctors.”

I sagged in relief.

Relief or no, I didn’t say or do anything to draw attention to myself.  The rain poured down, battering the paper the plague man held gripped in his fist.  Gunshots and explosions sounded off to the north end of the city.

The fighting had stopped here, but the war hadn’t left the area.  The air smelled like smoke and blood, and there were more people staring off into space than there were people talking.  Everyone in their own individual worlds.

I could remember seeing that look in the plague men’s eyes back in the city.  A part of them missing, perhaps.  Was it a casualty of the transformation, or of previous battles?

What did it mean, to be so changed?  They’d become the perfect soldiers for this ugly battlefield, but it was a change that made it awfully hard to go home, when all was said and done.

I’d talked about the importance of the fact that these people wanted to fight.  They wanted justice and revenge.  The Academy forces didn’t want either.  They wanted to return to their ordinary lives.  It made a difference, when push came to shove.

Was there a chance that these men who had been made into soldiers would want to keep fighting, when ordinary, sane people would want the war to end?

We’d never identified the doctor responsible for creating these transformations.  He was likely to be elsewhere, making more.

An awful lot of men with little to look forward to, except the expectation of death and blood.

I stood and waited in the rain, shivering, until the coaches arrived.  Two men perched on the back, each holding on with one hand, their other hands wrapped around Gordon and Mary, respectively.

Mary’s eyes were open, and her expression changed as she saw me.  Gordon was moving, but very weakly.

I allowed myself to feel relief, finally, but I didn’t let it show.

Three commanding officers, the Brigadier, and all of the Lambs found their way into the coaches, hands and ankles bound.  Two plague men rode up top of each coach, and another was inside the cab of one of the other coaches, but there was room on the bench.  I was the last one into the crowded space of the first coach’s interior.

Well, not the last one.

Melancholy made her way down the stairs.  I didn’t stare, instead turning away as she drew ever nearer, but I imagined the challenge.  Shipman, not the largest of us, but sixteen nonetheless, with a burden on her back and shoulders, walking down wet stairs.

One stumble, one fall, and the ruse was ended.

I reached out for Mary’s hair, and stroked it, pushing it out of the way of her face.

She smiled at me, her eyes half-lidded.

There was a slight collision as ‘Melancholy’ reached the door.

“You’re not riding up top?” the plague man who’d taken the letter asked.

She couldn’t talk, not without revealing her voice, or the fact that her teeth were normal.

Instead, she chanced a look in his direction, giving him a better view of her face.

A sneer of contempt.

She lurched into the cab of the coach.  The door slammed behind her.  The other coach’s door slammed as well.

I didn’t dare breathe, my ears peeled for any sign that they’d realized or started to doubt matters.  That they were angry and would start an argument.

The door was closed, and all was silent, but for Gordon’s labored breathing.

Were we free and clear?

My heart pounded.

The coach set to moving.

Free and clear.

We stopped at a fork in the road.

The able-bodied officers of the Academy’s forces hauled the plague men out of the vehicle, leaving them at the side of the road.  Even with many of us being children, we’d had the weight of numbers in a cramped space.  After that, the ones up top had been caught and either strangled or shot.

I watched how Jamie stared down at the bodies.  But we had other things to focus on.

“You know the way?” I asked the Brigadier.

“Of course.”

Jamie spoke, not taking his eyes off the dead plague men, “Back around the side roads, up to the north end of Westmore.  You can appear at the rear of our own forces, and lead them with knowledge of what the enemy is likely doing.  Their forces will have been pulled back from the front.  You can flank and destroy, then use the momentum.”

“Or command a retreat,” the Brigadier said.

I raised my eyebrows in surprise.

“I haven’t decided,” he admitted.  “We’ll see.  I don’t think Westmore is salvageable.  But it may not be for them, either.”

I nodded.

There was a pause.

Nothing more to be said, except-

He extended a hand.

Again, my eyebrows went up.

“You made the best of a bad situation,” he told me.  About the best compliment I could get, given the circumstances.

I took his hand and shook it.

“We’ll be going now,” he said, moving over to the other coach, which was already slightly turned to the northernmost road in the fork.  “Lost time is life spent.  Especially in wartime.”

“It won’t always be,” I said.

He gave me a sad half-smile.

“I really believe it won’t be,” I said.

“That there won’t be war, or that we’ll one day have time to spare?” he asked.

“Is there an answer I can give that will make you stop giving me that pitying, condescending look?” I asked.  Then I remembered, “Sir?”

“Good luck,” he said, with a kind of finality.

I nodded.

The words were on the tip of my tongue.  I wanted to ask, but I didn’t dare.  Yet I knew that having no answer would bother me for a long time.

Why were you upset that we rescued you?

“You too,” was all I said.

I climbed into the other coach.  An officer rode on top, wearing a plague man’s hat ad coat.  He was the only one not going with the Brigadier, and he kicked things into motion.

I settled in next to Mary, and let my hand rest on her forehead.  She was a little too warm.  Opposite me, Gordon had his head in Shipman’s lap, feet on Jamie’s.

“Was just tellin’ the others,” she said, sleepily.  “Our misadventures.  Wish we’d done better.”

“We did pretty well, circumstances allowing,” I said.  “We’ll wrap this up neatly.”

“If that sniper who shot you doesn’t get us,” she mumbled.

I looked up, in the direction of the coach driver.  My finger rotated the ring at my thumb.  “He’ll be fine.  Flying enemy colors.”

“Sure,” she said.

“Is this really how we want to operate?” Jamie asked.

“Hm?” I asked.

“Killing those who show mercy and heal us, abusing the terms of surrender, wearing enemy colors?”

“And hair!” Helen said.  She was at Mary’s feet, the hair in her lap.

Yeah,” I said.  “I mean, isn’t it?  We do what we have to, to make this work.  I don’t know where you’d draw the lines, otherwise.”

“I think you know where the line is, Sy,” Jamie said.  “I think you deliberately choose to cross it.  Sometimes when you don’t have to.”

“I like that side of him,” Mary said, sleepy, thoroughly under the effects of the painkillers. “I like Sy.”

“I like him too,” Jamie said, voice firm, “But I think you’re a bad influence on him.  You and Gordon both.”

Mary snorted.

“I mean it.  I don’t know that I like what Sy becomes, when he’s with you two.”

“I’m not that suggestible,” I said.

“You are the exemplar of suggestibility,” Jamie said.  “It’s your strongest trait.  You absorb and you learn more effectively than any of us.  I know because I know exactly what’s happened in the past.  I know who you’re with when your behavior changes.  I see the patterns.”

“Using my suggestion against me?” I asked.  I’d told him to watch for trends.

“To your benefit, Sy,” he said.  “Not against you.”

The rest of the coach was so very quiet.  Everyone was hanging on to every word, and nobody was jumping in, to defend me, or in the case of Gordon or Mary, to defend themselves.

I nodded.  “So I’m just a composite of influences around me.”

“No,” he said.  “There are definitely things that make you you.  Some I’ve puzzled out.  Some I haven’t.”

“Ah,” I said.

“Your earnestness.  Your hope.”

“Sure,” I said.  “Give me a few years, I’ll turn as sour as any adult.”

“Your eagerness to sacrifice yourself for the benefit of others.”

“That’s not how I’d put it.”

“And, as I’m reminded with the plan to off the rebellion doctor, your insistence on attacking the people who are kindest to you.”

I shrugged.  I’d deflected the last two comments, but I felt like I couldn’t with this one, without being dismissive of the weight it seemed to carry with Jamie.

He was too gentle a soul.

“I’m suggestible, like you said,” I said, eyes on Jamie’s knees.  “My oldest memories are of days and weeks of people consoling me, telling me it’s going to be fine.  I’m so brave, I’m so kind.  They’ll give me things.  I just have to stop crying, stop struggling, stop making trouble.”

I raised my hands, gesturing, “Kindness, then unbearable pain.  Kindness, unbearable pain.  You can do that to a slug and it’s going to leave a lasting impression.  People are kind to me, then horribleness follows.  No.  I’m done with that.  I know what lies beneath the surface.”

Mary, head still in my lap, reached up and gave my arm a rub.

Lillian’s eyes were shiny.

Shipman, in stark contrast, looked like she wanted to be far, far away from here.  Her attention was outside the window.  Even with Gordon’s head in her lap, she didn’t look like she was connected or present at all.

Their relationship was over.  I knew it.  The war, or Gordon’s actions, or the danger, something had driven a wedge.

“But we’re kind to you, Sy,” Jamie said.  “Aren’t we?”

“You are,” I said, without hesitation.  “But-“

I’d started speaking again, somehow in the expectation that someone would jump in and finish the sentence for me.  Then I realized I didn’t want them to.

“But?” Lillian asked.

“But we aren’t people?” Jamie asked.

“That’s not what I meant.  It sounds wrong, like it’s being twisted around to mean the opposite of what it means.  You’re…”

I floundered.  It was a rare thing for me.

“You’re better than people?”

My heart was cold in my chest.  I felt like I’d somehow stumbled on the worst combination of words to say, and I’d put everything in jeopardy.

Nobody was talking.  Body language was weird.

Jamie rose from his seat.

He crossed to my side, then nudged for me to move over.  Mary and I did a little bit of reshuffling to make room.  Even so, he was a touch squeezed between me and the door.

“Do that more,” Jamie said.

“Compliment you?  Talk about your superiority?”

“Be upfront.  Say what Sy is thinking.”

There was no way to say anything to that.  It would have felt forced.  I was left mute, only able to nod.

He elbowed me, then turned his attention to Mary.  “Didn’t make you too uncomfortable?”

“Nope,” she said.

He reached over and began fixing her hair, pushing it out of her face.

“You going to be good to go?” I asked.

“I’ve fixed what I could, but breaks are breaks,” Lillian said.  “No hard exertion.”

“I’m good to go,” Gordon said.  He worked his way to a sitting position, making use of the space Jamie had vacated to move his legs.

His hand was trembling.  Phantom pains, again?  It shouldn’t have been so soon.

“I’m not very fast, but I can help,” Mary said.

I nodded.

It was cozy, squeezed up against Jamie, Mary’s head in my lap, the others around me.  I almost could have fallen asleep.

But as I looked out the window, I could see Whitney.

I reached out past Jamie’s face and knocked on the glass.

The coach slowed, then stopped.

We slowly made our way out of the coach, many of us hurt, offering help where we could.  Only Shipman remained behind, with the driver.  She avoided our gaze.

We had a job to finish.  Westmore was a wash.  Even if our forces won every fight that followed, it would be chalked off as a loss.  A detriment to the Crown.

But the rebellion wasn’t in a position to commit halfheartedly, and Cynthia hadn’t been in or around the tents where I’d been brought for treatment.  She was still in Whitney.


Barely illuminated by the rising sun, we made our way down toward the city.

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122 thoughts on “Esprit de Corpse – 5.15

    • Comment because I like reading them. If only real books came with such wrong (and those two genius right) predictions between chapters.
      On a related note, triple-digit comments last chapter, woop.

    • “I have an idea,” I said, while still pontificating on what that idea entailed.

      Pontificating implies Sy was (annoyingly and vocally) expressing his views, instead of thinking. I’d suggest ‘ruminating’ but I don’t like the word, sounds like a cow is doing the thinking.

    • More typos:

      – “That’s almost a bigger stretch than ‘the rebellion forces should collectively retreat,” -> (should have another ‘ somewhere)

      – “Even if for your own preservation, we can’t have Melancholy’s meeting with you extend too long.” -> “Even if it’s”

      – “Was just tellin’ the others,” she said, sleepily. -> “Mary said” (the last girl mentioned was Shipman)

      Other stuff:

      – “I sagged in relief. Relief or no, I didn’t say or do anything to draw attention to myself.” -> (not quite paradoxical, but still somewhat weird)

  1. Excellent chapter.

    As always, good to see the Lambs being really racist.

    The Brigadier’s a lovely example (regardless of whether he’s working for another side); the man’s intelligent, competent, and he understands how Sy works. And Sy *hates* him for it, because no normal human should be capable of doing so.

    They can have normal friendly conversations with other experiments like Gorger, Dog, and Catcher, but every interaction with basic people is a conflict with all options on the table. Because after all, they aren’t really PROPER people.

      • Probably meant “speciesist”, but the Lambs are… kinda human. It’s a weird place to be. But they, especially Sy, are pretty prejudiced against baseline humans, vanilla mortals. Sy respects the preacher, Cynthia, anyone scarred and marked, but he despises the Brigadier. My guess is because he can empathize and recognize people who have been through unfixable trauma, something that changes them and marks then for life. And anyone who hasn’t he feels has never really been tested, hasn’t really ever become their true selves because they’ve never been pushed past their limits, forced past the point of failure and endurance.

        Just a theory.

        • I think he hates the Brigadier because he’s nice to them and as Jamie pointed out this chapter, Sy doesn’t trust/like people that are nice to him. Mauer and Cynthia are different because they’re enemies and challenge him.

        • Classist: the Lambs (and other experiments) get dehumanized as things to be used as others wish, but in a classist way. After all, it doesn’t matter who they were or what race they came from before they got tinkered with.:/

          Stitched: the bottom of the pile. -_-

    • That’s pretty unfair to Sy.

      Sy doesn’t dislike the Brigadier for being intelligent, competent, or understanding how he works. He has shown respect for these traits in people time and time again – heck, he all but has a crush on Reverend Mauer because of it. As Jamie noted in the chapter, Sy dislikes people who are kind to him.

      You’re also trying to unload all of Sy’s issues onto the rest of the Lambs. Gordon has no issue trying to establish a relationship with the normal human Shipman, and Jamie, Mary, and Helen haven’t displayed any anti-normal bias. I assume Lil has no baggage, being a normal human herself.

      All of this isn’t to say that Sy doesn’t have a bias towards experiments or The Lambs. He does, but I don’t think it’s a severe as you’re making it out to be.

      Even if it was as severe as you’re making it out to be, it would be very understandable. Sy has spent his entire existence as some sort of fourth class pseudo-citizen working as an expendable operative for an organization that doesn’t inherently value his life…and you say that he’s the one that doesn’t view others as proper people?

      It’s a miracle he manages to empathize with Lil, let alone random strangers. We should applaud every scrap of humanity Sy has managed to scrape together for himself, and not begrudge him the comfort he finds in being around others experiments.

      • Good points. Begs the question, though, why he would take the fact of Academy scientists being horrible out on the world, then regularly (and, IIRC, voluntarily,) make his appointments.

        • Flowers for Algernon

          Once you’ve had it, you just can’t handle not having it anymore. That’s why he went back when he ran away the first time. It’s why he always goes back. Nobody like to feel themselves get stupider.

          • He’s an addict on top of everything else. Not just the being smarter, also the being able to show off. To say, “I outsmarted them, I was cleaver and I was right.”

            Sy and the Lambs were made to be different, better than normal people. The thing is, that means he thinks he is more… Right? Trying to think of a good word. More valid in his worldview maybe. It’s like Khan in Star Trek. Making him a superior man made him feel superior to other men.

        • It’s not really a conscious decision on his part to dislike people who are nice to him. It’s basically a Pavlovian response at this point. He doesn’t “take it out on the world”, he takes it out on anyone who is nice to him (including the Brigadier, who works for the Academy).

          He makes his appointments because, as mentioned, he’s an addict. But besides that, these are memories from when he was really young, which is when he was being stress-tested much harder. IIRC, they eased up on the appointments after he became part of the Lambs. He’s also immune to most poisons now, so there’s probably a whole lot less crap done to him nowadays.

      • And also, in my opinion, Sy isn’t the only one getting influenced. I think Gordon used to be less deadly and more cautious. Mary’s the same, but Helen is adding psychological warfare to her repertoire now. And Lilian didn’t use to hold doctors hostage with her info.
        When you think you pattern Sy, SY PATTERN YOU.

  2. I don’t know if anyone else has already guessed this, but I’m pretty sure Percy’s the one that made the Plague Men.

    Once the Lambs find out about Percy working for the rebellion though, I’m still iffy on whether Mary will defect back to Percy. She’s had a year and a bit to become part of the Lambs but Percy still is her creator and if she realizes Sy lied about him to get her to join well…

    The rebellion also lied to Percy about Mary dying so idk if he’ll stay with them either. Well, there’s always Fray.

    • Doesn’t look like his field. Plague Men are modifications of humans, not clones. There are lot of immune system modifications, while he specializes on minds. I’d guess they’re not his creations at least for the most part.

      • I agree it doesn’t look like his field but certain comments he made in the Enemies chapter got me thinking.

        “I’d like to think I’m making soldiers rather than recruiting them,” Percy said.

        “I’d hoped to discard [Percy], but he has a damnable way of making himself essential.”

        Percy is ‘making’ soldiers even though his official job is ‘recruiting’. The line would make sense if he was in charge of making the Plague Men and it would make him an essential member of the rebellion.

  3. I think i understand sly’s strange belief in the academy when they treat him and the lamb like tools. Sly has belief in the monsters that the academy create not the humans that run it.

    He hopes that they will create a monster that they can not control, that will surpass and rise above humans.

    • I don’t think so, I think he just has a belief that humans should be made better and that is what the academy is doing with the lambs. He doesn’t want a violent take over of the academy cause then they can’t keep incrementally and slowly making humans better. Of course, the way that the academy goes about making humans better is brutal and short and is not a way for anyone to get much serenity.

      • The problem is while the Academy makes people physically better, that doesn’t mean better people. Like I said elsewhere, like Khan from Star Trek.

        • Well, the academy makes monsters, both literally and in curating their successors. Why wouldn’t they wanna create a better class of mad scientist? (The lambs are just ahead of the curve)

  4. Well, everyone lives. I can only assume this means Melancholy had plans for them, because otherwise why??
    And as for their recent dickishness, it WAS conditioning! Dammit Sy, I feel for you a little, but never go anywhere without Jamie again.

    Looking forward to the interlude. Who should be featured?

    • I still cannot but stress out that every interlude thus far also showed off a Radham special project for the first time, without failure.

      Show us the Radham superweapon. Now that other projects are named and numbered, and shit has hit the fan.

      • You might as well just start addressing all of your comments to someone, I don’t think you’ve managed to post an actual reply to the person you were replying to more than once or twice.

      • Was this meant in response to the Flowers for Algernon post? Because I have multiple posts here, but that one seems to make the most sense. I think you were saying that you drink to become stupider?

        I could understand a person drinking because they want their inhibitions lowered, because you might be shy or overly self conscious normally, but I don’t understand why you’d want to feel yourself getting stupider. That road leads to manslaughter charges from drunk driving, to getting fired after saying a little too much to the head boss at a work party, to no longer being welcome at family weddings. I mean, when you get stupid, you start making stupid decisions, and those are what are really going to haunt you down the road. Perhaps you could explain why you would want to feel yourself getting stupider? I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. I was referring to the somewhat degenerative effects that can come when a person ages and lets themselves stagnate. I don’t understand the drinking reference.

  5. I’m not happy with this outcome. Why the hell are Gordon and Mary alive, while Melancholy is dead? Melancholy, a born and bred assassin, left two people to die without making sure that would actually happen?! When medicine is so advanced that people can be essentially resurrected? That’s idiotic, uncharacteristic, and wouldn’t have happened if the story were told from her POV. (Incidentally, that’s been one of my common complaints in Pact, and the reason why I’d prefer to see more interludes – I have the strong impression that your antagonists become much smarter when they’re given the chance to explain themselves from their perspective.)

    I know Twig isn’t aiming to have the same tone as Worm, but this is a trap you fell into multiple times in Pact: if you put your characters into sufficiently hopeless situations, then the outcome should just be hopeless, i.e. death. Pact’s Blake encountered 20+ situations where he should have just died and yet survived for no good reason. Similarly, Gordon and Mary have no business being alive any longer.

    I don’t know where the story is going from here, but it would have benefited hugely if Melancholy had actually done what she’d threatened to do. This would have simultaneously punished Sy for the monstrosity of killing innocents and violating laws of war. Instead, our merry band of charming monsters has defected against all rules of society and decency, and *nobody* has punished them for it. Without parent figures, the Lamb children can only learn from experience. And now experience has taught them, against all common sense and probability, that they can do whatever they want without ever being punished for it.

    I’m all for writing evil protagonists, but only if they’re held to the same standards as everyone else. But there’s a major double-standard here – the Lambs killed two of Melancholy’s comrades without hesitation, and yet Melancholy *somehow* reacted differently when the same option was presented to her…

    • This is still just Arc 5. I’d like to know the main characters a little better, before they all die a horrifying and pointless death.

      Espacially Gordon. I hate him and I don’t know why. So, before he’s gonna kick the bucket, he needs at least his own POV chapter, for my own, sick and twisted joy of watching him die..

      • If the main characters are to *deserve* their survival, they mustn’t be put into situations they cannot survive without Plot Armor so obvious that it requires capital letters.

        • One reason they could be alive: orders. Dangerous weapons aimed at you or not, the Lambs are also the equivalent of high-spec prototypes. With Mad Scientists at the helm of biological warfare, are you really all that surprised to see standing orders to capture the enemy’s murder-bots, preferably alive, for study and retroengineering, if possible?

          • Of course I’m surprised – and unconvinced. We *saw* the standing orders, and the standing orders were to be wary of children, to the point that Cynthia almost had them killed on sight (before inexplicably deciding not to). Then Melancholy and the sniper tried to kill them *again*, and Sy nearly died. Yet somehow, Melancholy doesn’t strike the killing blow this time?

          • And? You’ve never heard of conflicting operational guidelines and orders? The general trend would be “grab the tech so we can look at it” — even a genuine, clearly worded “kill on sight” order would be mitigated by the unspoken weight of years of “You clod! I wanted that to study!” undercutting it.:/

          • Every single enemy acted consistently in going out of their way to only disable and not kill the lambs? Despite the exposition of the same order being given regarding the general, this is clearly plot armor and not consistent writing at all.



    • I see your point. The main characters aren’t sympathetic enough to be able to escape certain death without raising flags. There are only so many times you can pull someone out of a fire without being burnt and that number is less if you begin to suspect that the world could be better with them in the fire. I don’t think that being burnt necessarily constitutes dying but in this story it would be the harshest thing you could do the Sy and the lambs with interesting ramifications and would force character growth. I’d miss anyone who’d die and be upset but I don’t think it’d be bad for the story, especially as it’d make death more real for, say gordon, if someone in their close group kicked.
      I just don’t feel these emotionally blunted, morally dubious, child soldiers have a lot of stakes in what they are doing except their own lives and it’s hard to believe the hand isn’t rigged for them when they never lose their stake.

      • > The main characters aren’t sympathetic enough to be able to escape certain death without raising flags.

        There is no such thing as a character I like so much that I want to see them survive without proper justification. In fact, such survival makes me like them (and equally importantly, reading about them) less!

        One reason is reputation – Blake in Pact developed a (in my mind wholly undeserved) in-story reputation of having an accurate instinct and being a phenomenal and scrappy fighter who could survive anything. Similarly, Sy and Gordon *will* claim reputation points for surviving a war – even though the only story that could possibly make sense is the one in which Gordon died.

        Characters that credibly overcome adversity experience credible growth, and makes me respect them more. Characters that incredibly overcome adversity make me respect them less.

        • I don’t disagree, I’m just saying that it is a lot easier to look over inexplicable survival when you are much more loathe for the character to die (villains included).

          I think your last paragraph sums it up nicely though.

        • One thing to note, Mel’s had the better part of a day or so to muse over what Sy said to her earlier. It’s likely she empathized with him and decided to ‘rescue’ the lambs from the academy. (Sy had time to do some work on her in the previous chapter. that phrase was oddly horrifying to type)

    • As much as i think it would be anticlimactic for Mary to die so early, I can’t help but agree with this. Gordon has less excuse.

      I don’t know how Sy can deal with loss… How will it affect his work?

      Plot Armour would be great to be toned down for the group… Sy Excepted of course.


      And the biggest issue with Plot Armor in this case is that when it’s time for them to die, it shall lose a lot of the impact as well, because clearly only the plot is capable of killing them.

      In a story so steeped in death, this is disappointing. When I saw this story has multiple protagonists one of the first thoughts I’d had is that finally I shall see some impactful deaths. Say what you will, it’s a powerful device. Up till this chapter I still thought so. Now I’m not so sure.

      Gordon doesn’t look so good, though. Not that I wish him badly.

      • I don’t think it’s just plot armour: take Gordon. A living stitched: an apex of stitched construction techniques. You’d want to vivisect that puppy and run as many tests as possible to find out how they did all that, so you can use it in your own work!

        Jaime? There will be clues as to how to build a more successful brain bank from him! Helen? Wow: an Ibbott construction to learn from! Mary: a fairly successful infiltrator clone with adaptive learning — what clues can be found there to build on? And, Sy: learning about Wyvren using your own resources, beholden to nobody else’s agendas or biases would be a critical strategic advantage.

        Even Lillian has value: she knows a lot about them all…

        • Plot Armor no jutsu is alright i guess. Even more so, because no major villain (hero??) died so far.
          Mauer lives, Percy lives, Fray lives.

          I think it fits into the narrative. If Gordon would’ve died in this Arc, then all the talk about his expiration date and even the phantom pains, would’ve been just a red herring. A death from expiring is more impactful, then being knife’d to death.

          • I strongly disagree. I think if he had died here it would have shocked us all, and had us thinking of the expiry dates as a ‘best case scenario’ instead of ‘the order the characters leave the story’. Imagine the impact! We’d be terrified for them all, they really might not make it to their own funerals!

          • You can stitch dead organs together all day, and you have yourself a snazzy, normal construct. Gordon isn’t that kind of stitched, though. Enhanced transplantee?

            Either way: the key to him is that the core didn’t die, first. You’d get more info picking him apart from the outside, in while he’s still ticking… >_<

    • This objection seems a bit forced. The assertion that Melancholy leaving Mary and Gordon alive indicates idiocy on her part is on shaky ground, and yet you use pivot from it to explain that the story would be improved by the deaths of 2 protagonists at the hands of an antagonist that dies in the next episode?

      Melancholy’s priority was not enforcing your “just world” sensibilities by punishing Gordon and Mary for sins she didn’t know or care about. For all the talk of “assassins” that the Lambs put on them, the humors seem more like troubleshooters. Even if they were explicit killers, the Lambs were not their target. Their mission was victory for the rebellion. Their prior experience was working for the Academy, the ruling power. That experience would lead to a “disabled = dead” mindset. Sure, she could go back and cut the blind dying children into pieces, but why? Her side is winning the battle, they will just end up captured or killed anyway, she’s onto the next objective.

      I feel as though the statement that you are cool with evil protagonists sort of misses the point. Are you cool with treacherous protagonists? This isn’t a story about a brute ogre who pits strength against strength and does nasty things when he wins. Its about a set of diabolical imps who pit strength against weakness and abuse the compact of civilization, laughing all the while.

      This isn’t worm, with endless arguments about the protagonist’s morality. In the very first arc the protagonists feed someone to a monster and laugh about it. In this chapter Helen scalps someone and laughs about it. Yearning for optimal foes to appear and punish the protags for their wickedness strikes me as reading against the story, rather than with it. If you don’t accept the premise that these protagonists deserve your support (because they are the protagonists) as they prop up a tottering dictatorship through lies and murder you are in for a rough time.

      • Melancholy’s priority was not enforcing your “just world” sensibilities by punishing Gordon and Mary for sins she didn’t know or care about. For all the talk of “assassins” that the Lambs put on them, the humors seem more like troubleshooters. Even if they were explicit killers, the Lambs were not their target.

        What? Reread last chapter – Melancholy *specifically* wanted to kill the Lambs as revenge for killing her own comrades: “Before you accept. There’s another term. You give over the children to me. They die. Payment for me losing mine.”

        That line was one of the best parts of that chapter!

        The Lambs and the Humors are mirror one another – they’re two groups of people / monsters who care about hardly anything than one another. So it makes perfect sense, both from a karmic “just world” notion, and from Melancholy’s in-story goals, for her to punish the Lambs for killing her fellow Humors. That’s what makes it so galling that Melancholy is dead while Gordon and Mary are alive.

        • It could also be that she was lying to the general so that she could get the kids alive (for experiments, research, whatever) and the academy wouldn’t think to look for them again.

          On the other hand, if she really wants them alive she would have made arrangements with the plague men or whatever to take them into custody.

        • Have you heard of the Swordsman’s fallacy? Introduce a character and say they are a competent swordsman, then put them in a fight. If they ever get stabbed then the audience can cry BS. After all it would have been optimal to block, and you said they were competent. If they don’t get stabbed the audience can cry Plot Armor, since if the opponent is a competent swordsman wouldn’t they have disengaged? After all, it would have been better to strike than to be blocked.

          Similarly Mel took down the blinded, poisoned children and left them to bleed out in the rain. They played no further part in the events of her life. Yes, OptimalMel would have hobbled back over and set them on fire (before cutting Sy’s tongue out and poisoning him), or cut their corpses apart, or whatever, but that’s not really a priority for her. She also probably wouldn’t have gone into the Brigadier’s structure, or, heck, been an assassin. Not butchering the kids it left a slim chance that Sy might escape, get back and save them, but so what? If they got saved Mel would most likely be dead.

          The line you quote is delivered to the Brigadier. She’s telling the Academy that it has to pay, not the Lambs. They are just gloves the Academy wears when its killing, and its payment for her buddies dying is to lose a useful tool. She doesn’t care that the Lambs suffer, she seems indifferent to their state beyond a casual contempt. Their death isn’t an end, its a means to an end (the humor’s continued safety). This talk of “punish the Lambs” is in your head. its about punishing the academy. She doesn’t care about the Lambs (aside from the usual antagonist rancor) beyond them being a danger to her and her crew.

          • Would it have been easier to go for the lethal hard takedown or to disable them? Plus, if Mel disabled them, they survive for 15 minutes of bleeding out and fire surrounding them without either being killed… It kinda pushes credulity cause when in dire straits previously they fight tooth and nail even when close to death so death or a hairs breadth away is the only way to keep them down.

            Mind you, Gordon might have just stayed down due to him being pragmatic and knowing he is completely overpowered. Mary would go down swinging as hard as possible though.

      • People! She threw poison gas at them! Her companion shot Sy! Two of her brothers were killed by the Lambs! To decide that these are the conditions and tactics in play when someone is attempting to take you prisoner… requires Plot Justification.
        Currently I’m working with the assumption that she (for some reason) was after Lilian. Unlikely, I know, but she threw lethal gas at Sy, Helen, and Jamie. Shot Sy, too (her brother did). She had Gordon and Mary in her clutches (and Sy, too). Did not apprehend them.
        What, she wanted the full set, at once? It would have made sense to return for the others later, and count her lucky stars that hey, these three I had (improbably, considering my methods and what even my superiors know they cost me) been ordered to bring in alive – here are half of them! Behind enemy lines! I’ll deliver these ones first, and if I have to, hold them hostage to get the others!
        What I will not do is leave them here ‘crippled’ (reading this chapter it seems more like she bopped them on the head, they’re invading an enemy stronghold as we speak) and promptly return Sy.

    • You know, not everyone survive being stabbed or shot and left in the middle of the street.
      Also, I get the feeling that Melancholy was in a hurry.
      About leaving war prisoners alive: nope, I’ve read a tale from the time of Johan D’Ark once that made it clear that nobles were kept alive for ransom, not normal troops.
      The lambs were incidental, the job was to keep the Brigadier alive, even to simplify future negotiations since the rebellion doens’t really expect to win.

    • Mel viewed them as not a threat anymore, and was correct in that viewpoint. At which point she reacted the exact same as the Lambs did in the past with the snake charmer, namely allowing the victim the pleasure of suffering as long a possible, and leaving herself the option of coming back later to add more pain to the equation. Whatever she did, whether it was gutting them or hamstringing, or what; Mary and Gordon were no longer a threat. She has more work to do and they’ll die eventually.

      Additionally, do you think Sy would have co operated with her if she just killed them? Conversely, do you think if the positions were reversed she’d have co operated with Sy if he was taking her captive with the possibility of getting her team mates medical attention and some future slim chance they could pull a prisoner escape out of their ass versus if Sy just killed her friends?

      Now, if we’re assuming that Mel doesn’t care about making the enemies that killed half of her friends suffer, then the proper course of action on her part would have been to kill all three of them, then and there. If Mel is in fact this ‘perfect assassin’ without emotions that puts efficiently completing the mission above all other concerns, then the only logical course of action would have been to kill Sy, go back and put half an inch of freedom in Gordon’s and Mary’s heads, then proceed to the meeting with the BG.

      • She didn’t gut or hamstring them. Reading the end of the chapter, sounds like she at best broke a couple of bones. They are all walking to Whitney right now, so there was no aspect of ‘crippling’ them. No one’s getting carried.
        And yes, I think if their positions were reversed, Sy would have killed her. Refer: this chapter.

    • Melancholy was in the middle of trying to win a battle in a city that is on fire. Killing people who are captured or incapacitated was very low on her priority list.

      • The reason I usually dislike this type of argument in particular is that it seems asymmetric. Protagonists essentially always have time for this kind of thing. Despite the war in this very arc, the Lambs always took the time to take care of obvious risks (including e.g. creating fake!Melancholy), so why should the antagonists be any different?
        Put differently, we’ve never seen the Lambs blunder like this. Would you defend them if the roles were reversed?

        And don’t forget Melancholy’s personal grudge against the Lambs. Revenge didn’t seem like a low priority for her.

        (On a separate note, Gordon and Mary are already well enough that the Lambs are going on the offensive now (!), so I’d say they weren’t even properly incapacitated.)

    • My take was that she needed for Sy to have hope of rescuing them in order to assure his cooperation, in order to kill *all* the Lambs, rather than just three.

  6. Also, how do these notions fit together?

    1. “They interrogated captives, kept prisoners. I imagine they tortured and drugged those prisoners.”

    2. “He and the children are to be brought back here and put in the coaches. Prisoners of war, and children of important figures.”

    3. Cynthia warned the rebellion side about children.

    4. Sy’s war crime last chapter.

    So the Academy side thinks the rebellion tortures their prisoners. Simultaneously, the Academy thinks the rebellion thinks they treat their prisoners of war properly?! _And_ the Academy side thinks everyone will ignore Cynthia’s smart warning, which happened repeatedly (is there a better reason than that antagonists must be sufficiently incompetent for the protagonists to win?). *And* the Academy side thinks it can commit war crimes without being punished for it.

    This doesn’t seem like a coherent perspective. Put yourselves in the shoes of the rebellion – how can this possibly describe you?

    • Gotta agree with Mondsemmel here. The Lambs really only got away because of repeated instances of Bond Villain Stupidity. Not to mention at this point the rebellion is really, way, way, way more sympathetic as a whole than the Academy and the Crown.

    • Okay, a few things to address here. First off, soldiers captured in battle and political prisoners taken in a deal are NOT the same thing. The former have little value outside of the information they can provide, while the latter are taken specifically BECAUSE they have value as bargaining chips, and therefore are taken better care of. No inconsistency here.

      Secondly, I imagine that most of the soldiers are taking the children warning about as seriously as you might expect, i.e., it’s a sound warning in theory but you aren’t actually going to just murder every child that you see on sight, because kids are a natural soft spot for basically everyone and the rebellion is trying to think of themselves as better and less monstrous than the Academy. And there’s all the more reason to let the warning slide in this chapter, where direct orders from the murderously dangerous monster with command status who is also right there on-site (Melancholy) supersedes a more vague warning from the boss that isn’t on-site (and whose orders Melancholy is theoretically taking into account).

      As for the war crimes, we’re talking about the Academy. They very clearly have no concept of war crimes. We’ve seen how they wage war, we’ve seen how they treat criminals, and we’ve seen how much they care about civilians (or even allies) that get in the way. As might be expected of a biopunk setting, no shits are given about the sanctity of human life. What Sy did to the doctor sounds bad for people with actual morals (Jamie and Lil, for instance), but barely even registers on a blip compared to standard Academy processes. (Also, nobody on the enemy side even knows about Sy’s “war crime”, given that he killed everyone and set the whole area on fire.)

    • I have to agree with you, but possibly the standards for treating prisoners or what is war crime has changed. And highly possible is that they don’t know that Sy was behind the war crime last chapter.
      Maybe extracting information from prisoners is okay in this world., even with extreme methods. The new standard for prisoners of war could be “Don’t kill them or turn them into monsters.”

      Also, maybe the rebellion deliberately chose to act like that, because acting otherwise would be to be like the Academy they rebel against.

    • Why do you insist on making these hard, final judgements right now? The only thing really clear is that rational people can disagree about the same set of facts.

      Anyway I don’t think you can possibly judge a story until you’ve read the whole thing. Things that don’t seem to make sense in the beginning sometimes make perfect sense in retrospect.

    • Cynthia wants them dead. Other rebel leaders want them dead. But they can’t issue a wide “kill all children that you see, at any time, ever” order to all the rebels. And the Lambs could go show up at about any city, or change their appearance. So, standing order is, any children found, send them under guard to rebel leadership.

  7. So Gordon and Mary are bad influences, Jamie and Lilly good influences, and Helen is Helen.

    Well so much for Gordon and Shipman. That’s one less thing holding him back from defecting to Frey.

    I wonder if Sy got stuck around actually good people for long enough what would happen?

    I also half see the Lambs taking over the Crown states by the end of everything.

    • “I wonder if Sy got stuck around actually good people for long enough what would happen?”

      A sharp decline in good people. A likely increase of good people corpses, though.

        • What good person would want to live forever? I mean, I’m not particularly bad, but I wanna live forever so I can rule over everything (and not die, too). And before you point out “unkillable” is not “immortal”, you can totally kill someone by waiting until ageing kills them, right?

          • Well, the whole point of heaven is that you’re living forever, albeit in a different state.

            Yes, you can wait until age kills a person. George Burns said that he’d gotten rid of all his enemies by doing this.

          • Who wants to live forever?
            While invulnerability would be my favorite superpower and the prospect of a long life would be great, to be really immortal would be a fate worse than death to me. And I think I’m pretty far from a good person.

          • @Veldorn

            Oh, oh, I do, I do!
            Living forever means you gotta make some changes over time. You’ll abandon your current self at some point, then you’ll abandon that, and so on… But I rather keep thinking than not be. Besides, considering how technologically advanced you’d have to be to live “forever” or forever, you could probably make your own worlds to keep you entertained, make smaller versions of yourself, wipe out your mind and start anew…

          • @ Zim

            That was a rhetorical question…(and a Trope).
            That bears the question, if you change so much, how much of you is really still you? Or did you become something that just vaguely resembles your past self? Would that be really immortality if you are a different person? There’s something consoling in dying as yourself.
            Also imagine the possibilities of being caught in a catastrophe like a landslide and being trapped there forever, unable to die (and think of the day the sun becomes a red giant, or worse, the heat death of the universe).

            While I must admit there’s alot to see in the world which I don’t want to miss, I always would want the possibility of a way out.

  8. Is this the last chapter of the arc? The arrival at Whitney makes it feel like the arc is still ongoing, in spite of being already 15 chapters long.

    • The rebel leadership is lightly guarded. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to go and attach these kick me signs to all of their backs so that they feel compelled to kick each other to death. If you are caught, we will proceed to run away from you rapidly with Yakety Sax playing. Good Luck

  9. Oooh, I hope we get Enemy from Sanguine’s perspective. I was hoping for one from Melancholy, but Helen murdered her adorably, so Sanguine it is.

    • I hope so too. No matter what others are saying in the thread above me, she probably would have killed them at the first chance she got. I need to understand why she didn’t.

  10. From the 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (Protocol I):

    Article 37. – Prohibition of perfidy

    1. It is prohibited to kill, injure, or capture an adversary by resort to perfidy. Acts inviting the confidence of an adversary to lead him to believe that he is entitled to, or is obliged to accord, protection under the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, with intent to betray that confidence, shall constitute perfidy. The following acts are examples of perfidy:
    (a) The feigning of an intent to negotiate under a flag of truce or of a surrender;
    (b) The feigning of an incapacitation by wounds or sickness;
    (c) The feigning of civilian, non-combatant status; and
    (d) The feigning of protected status by the use of signs, emblems or uniforms of the United Nations or of neutral or other States not Parties to the conflict.
    2. Ruses of war are not prohibited. Such ruses are acts which are intended to mislead an adversary or to induce him to act recklessly but which infringe no rule of international law applicable in armed conflict and which are not perfidious because they do not invite the confidence of an adversary with respect to protection under that law. The following are examples of such ruses: the use of camouflage, decoys, mock operations and disinformation.

    • Turns out we thought of banning perfidy much earlier than 1977:

      The 1907 Hague Convention IV – The Laws and Customs of War on Land, Article 23 includes:

      In addition to the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially forbidden….(b) To kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;….(f) To make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag, or of the military insignia and military uniform of the enemy.

      From the 400 BCE Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata: “One should not assail someone in distress, neither to scare him nor to defeat him.”

      • “What’s that ? I can’t hear you over the noise of these soldiers being crushed under 50 tons of rabid warbeast stampede.”

        … is probably what peacekeepers get when they try to enforce those guidelines.

      • In the twigverse, additional clauses would probably have been required like:

        “… cloning… ”
        “… reanimation of deceased personell, with intent to deceive… ”
        “… the skinning, and subsequent donning of the skin of, war combatants, with intent to deceive… “

      • Nice research… I especially like the Sanskrit reference : )

        Unfortunately it’s only 1921, and I’m not even sure if the Hague even exists anymore or if it got flattened by a enormous cow made of wood who someone tried to launch over the moon.

        I think the rules for war in this universe are more along the lines of “all is fair in love and war” than “countries coming together to ban things to make war less hellish.” Plus those rules are more of guidelines for the academy anyway.

        When you make monsters is it so strange that what you are making is but a reflection of yourself?

  11. For the sake of the minority opinion – I like the Academy and want them to succeed against the rebellion. I’d also want them to change a lot in how they operate, both on the inside and the outside. Right now the villain seems to be the Crown.

    • I don’t much like rebellion, Academy, or Crown. The rebellions feel too ill-considered and are lead by nasty people, the Academies are too willing to go too far and don’t seem that good at considering efficiency, and the Crown…well, it’s been a bit of a non-entity in the story, but I’m inherently prejudiced against sprawling empires which fund things like the Academy.

      I’m focused more on the characters than the institutions. I want the Academies to win, because that’s the best for our dear Lambs.

  12. “I don’t think we have any other choice,” the Brigadier said, and there was a curious tone to his voice, as if he’d caught me in the lie, and he was hinting he had, while trying to keep his men from grasping that fact.

    “You made the best of a bad situation,” he told me. About the best compliment I could get, given the circumstances.

    Have I mentioned that I like the Brigadier?

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