Lamb to the Slaughter – 6.1

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Jamie walked down the hallway while reading a book.  I tackled him, throwing my arms around him, pinning his arms to their sides.  Mary joined me, clapping a hand over his mouth, her other hand making sure he didn’t drop his book.


“Shh,” Mary said.  “We need your eyes.”


We led him over to the window.  Helen was already standing by the window with Lillian.  We were on the second floor of Claret Hall, overlooking one of the grassy open spaces where students were eating their lunches, most doing it while looking over papers, making notes, or having discussions.  Always working, working, working.

A canopy of slanted glass panes set between interwoven branches directed the rainwater onto stylized grates, with the water disappearing into some underground reservoir.  There was a steady patter of rain, but it was also a hot summer day, making for the kind of humidity where clothing stuck to the body.  Gordon was there, sitting on a bench beneath a tree, unfolded paper on his knee, a partially eaten sandwich in hand.  Shipman was on the other end of the short bench, arm’s length from Gordon.  Brown bottles of Sassafras Beer had been placed on top of Shipman’s papers as a kind of paperweight.  Meeting for lunch, between their individual tasks.

“You’re better at lipreading than I am,” Mary said.

“Why am I lipreading?”

“Because,” I said.  “Their breakup has been a long time coming.  I want to know which of them makes the call.”

“That’s perverse,” Jamie said.

“Come onnn!” Lillian said.

“Come onnnn!” Helen echoed her.

Down on the bench, Gordon raised his head, looking around.  He’d heard us.

I shushed the others, then told Jamie, “If we know, we can tailor how we respond to him.”

Mary nodded enthusiastically.

“Or,” Jamie pointed out, “We can let him decide how and when he wants to let us know.”

“They’re talking,” Lillian said.  She grabbed Mary’s arm.  “Mary, Mary.”

“I’m looking,” Mary said.  “I’m watching.”

Jamie sighed.  He didn’t walk away, though.

“I’ve been thinking,” Mary recited, her voice deeper.

Shipman looked at Gordon.

Mary switched to her ‘Shipman’ voice, “The way you said the maids-”

“That,” Jamie corrected.  “Makes.”

“-makes me think it’s important,” Mary finished.  “You asked to eat lunch with me for a- reason.”

“Good,” Jamie observed.

I would have thought he’d forgotten that he’d been objecting just moments ago, but he wasn’t one to forget.

“I respect you a lot,” Mary said in ‘Gordon voice’, then switched for Shipman.  “Gordon…”

She trailed off, apparently struggling to figure out the words.

“I’m a big girl,” Jamie said.  “I know what you’re going to say, there’s no need to try and soften the blow.”

“Sorry,” Mary said, Gordon voice.

“I feel like you and me together has been more apologies than…” Jamie said.  Shipman had paused, hesitating.  Jamie resumed a moment after she did.  “I don’t know the right word.  But a relationship should be about being secure with one another and not having to apologize.  There should be that security.”

“Yeah,” Mary said.  “I wanted this to be a positive thing for both of us, but it doesn’t feel that way.”

They were taking turns now.  Mary for Gordon and Jamie for Shipman.

“This is going a lot better than I thought it would,” I remarked.

“Shh,” Lillian shushed me.

“It’s to your credit,” Shipman/Jamie said, “I didn’t think this would be anything serious.  You saved me, back in the dungeons, with Sub Rosa.  I was curious about you and your friends and I thought I’d humor you, but I actually liked you quite a bit.”

“Past tense.”

“I’ve never been good at talking to people.  I’m good at my work.  That’s what I do.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” Gordon/Mary said.

Gordon leaned back against the tree behind the bench.

“When you went to Whitney, I shouldn’t have gone with you,” Shipman/Jamie said.

“Do you think so?”

“Too much time around each other, woke me up to how different we were.  The world you lived in.  If I’d been ignorant, we could have stayed together.”

“We still wouldn’t have been a perfect fit.  Only difference is it would have taken us longer to figure out,” Gordon/Mary said.

“Maybe that’s true.  So is that it?  We’re over?”

“I’d like to work with you in the future.  I respect the work you do.”

Shipman reached over, touching Gordon’s cheek.

“Something something fatter girl?  Her head was turned,” Jamie said.

“You know how to flatter a girl,” I guessed.

“And now she’s saying, ‘If you find another girl and she needs a reference, send her my way?”

“What?” I asked.

“I don’t think relationships work that way, Gladys,” Gordon/Mary said.  “And they’re laughing.”

They were.

“This is going a lot better than I thought it would,” I remarked.

“You sound glad,” Jamie said.

“I am.  Really.  I thought Gordon would charge the problem head-on, offend Gladys, and this whole thing would end in tears.”

“You don’t give him enough slack,” Mary said.  “You haven’t for a while now.”

“I’m just saying.  Gordon is a problem solver.  When he solves problems, he does it in ways that keep that problem solved.  Hammer through the brainpan, broken legs, smashed glass…  even social problems, he likes his firm solutions.  His handling of this is a lot more delicate than I would have expected.”

“We’re all evolving,” Lillian remarked.

It was a strange statement, coming from the only one of us who wasn’t augmented, altered, or inhuman.

Gordon raised his bottle of beer and clinked it with Gladys’.  The pair weren’t smiling, but they weren’t upset either.

“What are the rules for this?” Mary said, in her Gordon voice.  “Breaking up?”

“What do you mean?”

“We can be civil to each other, say hi when we cross paths?”

“See?” I said.  “Firm, solid solutions.  Making sure everything is settled.  Very Gordon.”

“Shh!” Lillian shushed me.

“Yes,” Shipman/Jamie said.  “We can be civil.”

“Stay in touch?”


“And, if there’s someone else, somewhere down the road, there won’t be any…”

“Hurt feelings,” Jamie supplied.

Gladys was smiling.  “Do you already have your eyes on another girl, sir?”

“No.  But I want to make the most…” Mary started.  She hesitated.  “…of the time I have, and I don’t want to hurt you or anyone else if I happen to move on more quickly.”

Shipman reached out, touching Gordon’s face.

The group was quiet.  Shipman and Gordon talked for a solid ten or fifteen seconds, and there was no translation via. lipreading.

My heart felt uncomfortably weighty in my chest.

It wasn’t just the words, the idea behind what he’d said.  That he’d told her, that he’d changed the mood to do it?  He’d been holding on to that.  He’d needed to express himself, share that, and he had chosen Shipman over the rest of us, to do it.

I saw Shipman’s body language change.  She was using her hands more, and her volume had raised a fraction.

“Wait, what’s she saying?”

Mary had a hand to her face.

“She said she might introduce him to someone, what kind of girl does he like?” Jamie said.  “He said he wanted someone more mature.”

I slapped my hand to my own face.

“She was asking him what he means by that, she’s two years older than him, he said two and a half, she said she wanted to know what he meant, was she immature?”

“Gordon, Gordon, Gordon,” I said.

“He says no, that’s not what he meant.  He meant he would be more interested in someone who knew how to handle themselves in a situation like we had in Westmore, and now they’re arguing.  I don’t really feel comfortable trying to figure out exactly what they’re saying.”

“He was doing so well,” I said.

“Guess we’re not evolving that much after all?” Lillian asked.

“We are,” I said.  “But… journey of a thousand steps, I guess.”

Shipman stood up, snatched up her drink and the papers she’d brought with her, letting Gordon’s drink fall to the ground.  She turned on her heels and stalked off.  Gordon remained sitting.

“Sad thing is, he’s a brilliant guy,” I said.

“Mm hmm,” Mary made a sound of agreement.

“We’re all idiots, when it comes to first romances,” Helen said.

Every head present turned to face her, a little caught off guard at the profound statement, coming from Helen of all people.

“Speaking from experience, Helen?” Jamie asked, very carefully.

“Nope!  No romance here, and there never will be.  Instead, I get the-”

“Stop,” I said, putting my hands out to mash her mouth shut, both of my palms pressing against the lower half of her face.  “No.  Don’t finish that statement.”

Her eyebrows furrowed into a frown.

“Because it’s going to be weird and disconcerting,” I told her.  “Let the rest of us live in ignorance.”

She nodded.

I released her mouth.

Down on the bench, Gordon picked up his fallen drink, wiped dirt from the glass, then tipped it back to finish it off.  He folded up the paper he’d wrapped his sandwich in and set it aside with the bottle, one hand resting on it to keep it from blowing away.  He heaved out a deep, profound sigh.

A moment later, he reached out to touch his thigh.  He rubbed it, hard, as if he was trying to rub the bone beneath the muscle, then doubled over a little, expression changing, eyes shut, jaw clenched.

I turned my back to the window, and Jamie did the same.  I saw Mary staring, and touched her arm, steering her away.

Too personal.

“I should help him,” Lillian said.

“Nothing you can do,” Jamie said.  “He’d be more upset that you came to help than thankful.”

I nodded.

“It’s my job to look after you.  All of you.”

“Leaving him be is looking after him,” I told her.  “With Gordon, if he doesn’t ask for help, he’ll resent it.”

“That’s stupid,” Lillian said.

I shrugged.

“He’ll get looked after during his next appointment,” Jamie said.

“Whatever,” Lillian said.

“He’s going,” Helen observed.  She was right.  Gordon was limping just a little, but he seemed able to walk it off, or at least pretend it wasn’t a problem.  By the time he reached the end of the field, his umbrella going up to shield him from the rain as he passed from under the canopy, he was walking normally.

“Let’s catch up with him.  Drag him out to the city,” I said.

There was no argument.  We moved as a group, down the hallway, passing the occasional student.  People were wearing their summer uniforms, but even the people proudest of their lab coats and the prestige those coats afforded them had doffed the things, leaving them in offices and dorm rooms.

Passing outside, though, the heat was like a physical wave of water, except this wave smelled like hospitals, blood, and that vague pungent smell of fresh manure.  The opposite of refreshing, really.  It made me feel disgusting the moment it swept over me.

“Blahhh,” Jamie said.

I nodded.

We walked the gauntlet, no less than five different experiments sniffing, touching, or waving digits at each of us.  Prehensile limbs, antennae, and long-fingered hands gave us each a thorough search.  One limb snaked through the armhole of my shirt, before sliding down my back, sweeping sweat free.

“Ow,” Mary said, as long fingers tugged at a knife she’d worked into her hair.  “Careful, you.”

Other fingers from the same lumpy figure poked at knives resting flat against the small of her back, the outlines just barely exposed by the humidity-soaked clothing.

“I’m reaching for a badge,” she said, moving slowly, talking to the Academy student who was overseeing the things.  She raised the badge, to show the man.

“Let them on through,” he said, sounding disinterested.

The morass of various creatures that had investigated us were quick to listen.  I wondered if they had human brains in there, or if someone had gone to the effort of making a nonhuman brain that understood speech.

We walked, and half of us didn’t flip up our hoods or raise umbrellas.  I was part of that half.  It was so humid that I figured I’d be dripping anyway, and at least the rainwater was a cleaner dripping.

Hot as it was, the Academy was far from sluggish.  People milled this way and that, hurrying, all with things to do.  The population was different, too.  Before Fray’s war had erupted, there had been perhaps a ten to one ratio of ordinary people to experiments or stitched, not counting ourselves.  Now it felt like half-and-half.  Unlike Dame Cicely’s, however, there were two discrete groups.  It wasn’t student paired with experiment, but whole groups of experiments, weapons of war, and regiments of stitched, churned out and ready to be carted off somewhere.  Specially constructed wagons carried the resources that would go toward making more.  Cart upon cart of food for feeding the newest and greatest weapons of war.  The students were cogs in this machine, heads down, their thoughts on their work and the expectations of their superiors.

We walked with purpose too, but our goal was to find Gordon before he went and disappeared off on his own.

“There,” Mary said.

Gordon was walking, oblivious to the rest of reality.  We caught up with him, falling into formation, walking as a group in the most natural way imaginable.  He arched an eyebrow as he looked at me, to his left, and Mary to his right.

“Appointments?” he asked.

“Not yet,” Lillian said.  “Sorry.”

“Why would you be sorry?” he asked.

“Um.  Because I know you probably want to get back to work.”

“Getting away wouldn’t be so bad,” he said.  “Maybe some place by water, where we can swim in this kind of heat.”

“That sounds nice,” Mary said.  “We’d need swim clothes.”

“We’re going into the town,” I said.  “Want to come with?”

“Sure,” he said.

We reversed direction, to pass around Claret Hall.  The concentration of experiments and idle weapons of war was even greater, and the air was heavy with smells that I couldn’t entirely place.

The Duke was there, and as royalty, he was surrounded by a guard of sorts.  The gauntlet of creatures investigating each and every person that came or went was part of it.  Some of the weapons were top of the line, too.  Two giants were sitting on either side of the door.  Skinless, with three or four layers of muscle and bone set atop one another, with gaps suggesting what lay beneath.   Humanoid warbeasts, capable of using weapons.  Probably from another Academy.  They didn’t move much, probably to reduce the amount of resources they consumed.

As we approached the gate beside the Hedge, we were subjected to another battery of searches.  As the tentacles and prehensile noses stretched toward her, Mary heaved out a sigh.

For my part, I got the one with a sense of humor.  It prodded at my face, repeatedly, apparently aiming for my nose and eye.  I squinted and tilted my head a few times, dodging the pokes.

I couldn’t begrudge it that, though.  If the roles were reversed, I would have annoyed people all I could, knowing there was nothing they could do about it.

I snapped my teeth as it got too close, again.  As the experiment overseer rose from his seat, I drew my badge.

He waved us on through, the search ending prematurely.

“So glad I got these,” I said.  “Aren’t you glad I got these?”

“You’re glossing over the amount of trouble those badges caused us, when you picked them,” Gordon said.

“But,” I said.  “Short term trouble, long term gain.  Seriously, how much trouble have these badges spared us?”

“Uh huh,” Gordon said.  “That doesn’t make up for it.”

“Does too.”

He reached out for me, probably to muss up my hair, but I dodged his hand.

Normally he would’ve got me anyway.  He didn’t.  Slower to move.  Was his leg still bothering him?

I made a mental note of that.

We made our way down the path, past Lambsbridge Orphanage, and into the city proper.

It, too, had changed over the months we’d been away.  With a given job taking weeks or months, a brief visit back home to report in, then another job taking weeks or months, we’d only really seen glimpses of the transition.  Now we were back, there was no job waiting for us, and we had more of a chance to take it in.

If there was a fifty-fifty split of people to experiments in Radham Academy, it was even more pronounced in the city.  An experiment on every corner, armed, uniformed stitched walking the streets in pairs, and more choking the street itself.  Some buildings had been torn down or retrofitted, the new buildings grown for expediency’s sake, leafless branches still spearing up and out, the building features themselves vague: too-narrow windows, lumpy protrusions around where the doors had been set in.  It was thick material, clumsy in construction, but it was durable.

Military emplacements, placed at regular intervals.

The Academy was often described as being laid out like a living thing.  The spread of Radham around it was little different.  But this was a living thing which was trying to anticipate an attack from within.  An uprising, sabotage, revolt.  How did a body protect against such things?  Antibodies.

The effect on the city was oppressive – no doubt intended.  Should there be another Mauer-like issue, Radham was fully prepared to squash it.  But there was such a thing as an overactive immune system.  The body could rebel.  Things could start falling apart.  The system originally meant to protect the body could destroy it.

“Where are we going?” Gordon asked.

“I’m open to whatever,” I said, “But I thought we could visit an old haunt.”

“I thought you were up to something,” Gordon said.

“What?  Who?  Me?  No.”

“You have this way about you when you’re being sly, Sy.”

“Damnable lies.  I know that psychological trick.  You convince someone they have a tell, and they work so hard to reverse it that they develop one.  I’m pretty sure I told you about that, even.”

“Yeah, uh huh.”

“Uh huh,” I mimicked him.  “Nope, you’re wrong.  There are other reasons for this.”

“Yeah?  I break up with a girl and before I even figure out how I feel about it, you guys come out of the woodwork to show me special attention?”

“Yeah,” I said.

He narrowed his eyes at me.

“You broke up with Gladys?” Lillian asked, feigning surprise.  I don’t think she could have sounded less convincing if she’d spoken in a monotone.

Gordon gave me a knowing look this time.

“Hey, Lil,” I said.

“Don’t call me that.”

“Your fault he knows we know.  I’m obliged to punish you,” I said.

“What?  No.”

“Something slimy down the back of your shirt, maybe?”


“Or an ice cube in your underpants, Lil?”

“What?  No!  I don’t even know how you would, but no!  Don’t you dare.”

“Or something in your ear…”

“Gordon,” Lillian said, “Don’t let him.”

“I’m just really fascinated by the insight into how Sy thinks,” Jamie said, his voice dry.  “It’s all very physical torments, two out of three for getting under Lillian’s clothes, no less.”

“That’s fascinating,” Gordon said.

“Wait,” I said, “Hold up.  “We’re tormenting Lil here, not me.”

The discussion continued, with a lot of back and forth and everyone getting their turn as the one made fun of.  We were interrupted as we had to pass through a waypoint to get from one district to another.  Another brief search and questioning.  A mark made in a book.

Into the shims.  The more dilapidated end of Radham.

“Same old markings,” Gordon said, touching a wall.  The wood had been carved with a triangle, given two eyes and two circles for ears.

“Nostalgic,” I said.

“What does it mean?” Lillian asked.

“Safe spot for the young,” Gordon said.  “Every generation or so, you’ll get a group that look after each other, not as an organized thing, but it’ll just happen.  Because there’s too many kids who don’t have a good reason to go home and they have to spend their time with someone.  Every other generation or so, you’ll get someone who ‘makes it’.  Who has a shop or a house or something and they aren’t hard up for cash, and who looks after kids.  The mouse is for places like that, or for groups that’ll look after you if you’re young.”

Lillian nodded.  She’d left her hood down, and her hair was wet.  She brought her hands up to tuck wet hair behind her ears.

“Three triangles for a fox,” Gordon gestured at the corner of one building, near to the ground.  There were two such markings there.  “Is the fox.  That’s not one you used to see very often, and you’d never see it in pairs.  Usually people would work together, deal with it, and the only fox mark you’d see would be crossed out.”

“There was one earlier, too,” Jamie said.  “By the waypoint.”

“What’s the fox?” Lillian asked.

“The fox preys on the mouse,” I said.

Lillian’s eyes widened.

The rain was worse here, kind of.  It wasn’t that it was technically heavier rain or anything, but the buildings didn’t necessarily have gutters, the water streamed off of the rooftops, and it spattered as it landed in puddles, where the water hadn’t drained completely.

The houses were dilapidated, falling to pieces, many uninhabitable.  Even the poor had started migrating toward the city center, leaving the edges a little lonelier.

Jamie pointed, indicating another fox scratched into a doorframe.  I nodded.

We came to a stop.

“Hey!” Gordon shouted.  “Buttholes!”

There was a pause.

A window opened, on the second floor of a building across the street.  A boy about our age poked his head out.  “What, dickstink?”

“How about a hello, huh?  Open the door,” Gordon said.

The kid smirked, then pulled his head back inside.  I heard him give an order to another kid.  A few seconds later, the door opened.

“This is meant as a bit of a treat to you, Mary,” I said.

She arched an eyebrow.

“Show you a bit of what Gordon and I used to do, back in the day,” I said.

“I like that,” she said, smiling.  She folded up her umbrella.

We passed into the house.  There were three kids on the ground floor, and an older, shirtless boy at the top of the stairs.  I recognized Thom, and the young Daisy.  The house was scattered with knick-knacks and detritus.  I was being polite, given that it was ninety percent trash.

“And,” I added, under my breath, “I thought you might like to get some tips on lockpicking, among other things.”

Her eyes lit up.  She gave me a happy little wiggle of the shoulders.

We made our way up the stairs, to a floor of the house that had little more than scattered bedding without beds, blankets, and discarded clothes.

“Long time, Gordon,” the shirtless boy said.  “Hi Helen.”

Helen gave him a wave.

“Craig,” Gordon said.  He threw an arm around Craig’s shoulders in a half-hug, Craig doing the same.

“Hi,” Lillian said, as the blonde girl Daisy approached.  She was seven or eight, if I had to guess.  Not that anyone had ever known or cared about Daisy’s birthday, to keep track.

Daisy ignored Lillian, talking to me instead.  “I’ve been keeping an ear out.”

“That’s good.”

“I can tell you who’s who, now, and what happened with the Byron Boys, and how Miss E is sleeping with the pastor’s sister,” Daisy said.

“You gotta ask for cash before you drop tidbits like that.”

“Setting the hook,” Daisy said, looking up at me.  “Like you told me.  There’s enough more that I’m not worried.”

“Alright, fair.  Hook’s set,” I said.  “Curiosity piqued.  But give me a bit to get caught up before I start grilling you.  I don’t want to pay for information I can pick up for free.”

She made a face.

There were several more kids on the upper floor – six in all.  A card game was underway.  Most were just staying in the darker corners, enduring the heat.  Many heads turned as Helen came up the stairs.

Thom came up the stairs behind us.  I clapped a hand on his shoulder as he passed me.  He’d helped me get my hands on the others’ files, back around the time we’d dealt with the snake charmer.  He’d helped me many other times, besides.

“Someone’s going to break out the old practice locks for this pretty girl to learn lockpicking,” I said, indicating Mary.  “And they’re going to do it for free.”

“That so?” a boy I didn’t know asked.

“She’ll show you a cool knife trick,” I said.  “After she’s learned something.”

He mulled it over for a second, then waved her over, lifting up the bench under the window to pull out some stuff.

The rest found their places, Helen watching the card game, distracting both of the players.  Lillian stuck closer to me, while Jamie found a seat, pulling out the book we’d interrupted him from reading earlier.

I started to fill Lillian in on particulars.  Rules, expectations, groups, with Daisy nodding along and enjoying being able to offer her own input, while being very miffed at Lillian being there at the same time.

I was distracted from my explanation as I overheard Gordon talking with Craig in a low voice.

“Girl troubles,” Gordon said.

“I know those troubles,” Craig said.

Gordon smiled.  He looked more at ease than I’d seen him in a while.

“You’ve got other troubles?” Gordon asked.

Of course he’d find other work to do.  It’s not like we get a proper day off.

“Lots,” Craig said.  “Be more specific.”

“Last I was aware, you had a lot more kids up here, that was half a year ago.”

“Ah,” Craig said.  “Yeah.”

“It’s not because of the waypoints or anything, is it?  Kids being unable to get from there to here, because of curfews and checkpoints and all that?  There’s something else going on.”

Jamie was looking up from his book, watching.  Most of the others were distracted.

“I saw four foxes scratched into the scenery on the way here,” Gordon said.  “Kids in here, not out and about?”

Craig nodded.

“Who’re you hiding from?”

Craig made a face.

There were more ears listening, now.

“Come on,” Gordon said.  “Out with it.”

“It’s awkward, given you are who you are,” Craig said.  “Don’t know if I should.  Don’t want to hurt our ongoing relationship.”

Gordon punched Craig, hard, in the arm.

“Try again,” Gordon said.

Craig frowned.  “The Academy.  Pretty sure it’s the Academy.  Picking off the little ones.  They go, they don’t come back, they don’t turn up at that Orphanage of yours.”

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108 thoughts on “Lamb to the Slaughter – 6.1

    • They were promised another sibling. Did you think she’d be made out of sugar, spice, and everything nice?

      …That, or Gordon’s breaking down ahead of schedule, and they’re building a replacement.

  1. Sassafras makes me think of Adventure Time.

    Plenty I want to say about this chapter, but I’ll read it again first.

    As for the title: no, wildbow! Don’t do it! :O

    • Who said a lamb would be the one slaughtered? There is a duke here just waiting to be killed, especially as the targeting of the kids only started after he arrived.

      Besides, it’s only a matter of time before Gordon decides to go rogue as he has discussed turning traitor to the academy twice now and what is the academy gonna do? Kill him faster?

      • My concern would be more that Sy seems to have brutally powerful protector instinct towards people he considers to be his tribe. Mostly, that’s the Lambs, but if his mouse club qualifies and the Academy has acted against those? Oh boy. A certain Lamb could get into mood for some judicious slaughter and face-burning.

  2. Wait, wait, wait.

    This implies that the Academy wasn’t preying on street kids up until recently. That’s an impressive level of restraint, considering the Academy.

  3. I have a feeling that this is the arc where our Lambs will turn against the Academy.

    Pacing wise, the espirt de corpse arc served as an excellent respite from Fray and her machinations. But now Gordon’s expiration date is looming,no longer something abstract. Sy and the rest of the group can see their friend falling apart before their eyes. One of the major things tying Gordon to the academy is gone (Shipman).

    Now they’re stealing children off the streets, children that Sy and the first of the Lambs know personally.

    Shit’s going to go down.

    • Children disappearing and boosted security features with voice recognition and a penchant for pranks? Um.

      I’m hoping not. 😐 After all, it could be some other cadre of mad scientists… 😛

    • Not to mention that if we follow the pattern of all the Enemy chapters, which each feature a different Academy experiment, the Lambs were the featured experiments in the previous one. This provides the perfect pivot for future Enemy chapters, if Wildbow starts telling them from the Academy’s perspective.

  4. I really like the way the breakup was written… Sneaky devious and cute… Plus you know that the lambs couldn’t help themselves and wanna witness it.

    Also, I like Sy’s censorship of Helen, even if Helen only is gonna proclaim her love of cake and how she wants it deep inside her as quickly as possible so it leaves her gasping in delight.

    • Last time, she talked about how she wanted people to spill over into one another and knit together physically and mentally, so we can wholly give ourselves to mindless hedonism. I was reminded of that demon planet we briefly glimpsed in Pact.

      She’s into cake, yes, but in a deeply disturbing context. 😛

  5. ‘Instead, I get the’- Aw, I wanted to know how that ends.

    Having no job waiting for them doesn’t look like a good thing, if it’s an indication that the higher-ups don’t think they would be useful…

    My first guess is that someone is sneakily using small children as raw material without others’ knowing. Interesting if that’s not the case, whether it’s the Academy or someone else pretending to be.

  6. So I’m a little confused. Clearly the rebel forces consider The Lambs to be a very powerful weapon, we’ve seen evidence this opinion is somewhat held by Academy forces as well, and presumably their track record speaks to their abilities. I understand that the Academy wants to develop more and better versions of the members, and presumably funding has gone up due to the potential The Lambs have demonstrated.

    However, why would they just let the current Lambs deteriorate and die off, rather than try to preserve them? In engineering, it makes sense to create a new version and let the prototype deteriorate, but that’s because you completely control the design of the finished product, and can create something almost entirely identical to the prototype. While the development of living beings’ bodies is mostly predictable, (perhaps pretty much perfectly predictable in this universe) their skills, personalities, team dynamic, and in general the development of anything heavily relying on the mind and their experiences is much harder to predict. There are no guarantees the new versions will be as effective a team, and there’s a training period to attain the necessary skills. Even if only from the perspective of their offensive potential, you’d think they’d invest some more money and resources in keeping what is clearly working pretty well as a functioning unit.

    I can think of a few reasons for this. Perhaps the ones who are close enough to see this don’t have enough clout (given that many of the experiments are much more like engineering products, with experience and mental development playing a very small role in overall development, the attitude makes sense generally). Maybe they want to get data on the deterioration of the prototype Lambs and value this more than their continued contribution (e.g. this could be reasonable if they’re making dozens or hundreds of Lamb teams). Or it could be I’m not noticing something important, or misinterpreting the situation.

    • When Jamie goes he’ll be gone, it’ll be catastrophic failure of his weird biology when his brain doesn’t come back so there is no saving him when he goes.
      As for the others, they might just think it’s a waste of resources. Like building a new stitched is easier then refurbishing an old one.

    • I thought it was implied when we found out how Jamie’s treatment worked that the next generation of lambs would be different beasts altogether.

      Not another Jamie but a better one with brand new features, presumably involving those giant brains in jars that are backing up all the knowledge he accumulates.

      If the lambs aren’t prototypes but rather stage one of their respective projects then i can see why they’d let them deteriorate, its not that they don’t value what they have but rather that the future stages hold much more promise than the earlier ones.

      Even if that’s not true there’s also the problem of how the academy operates, they aren’t interested in preservation, only progress.

      • That would probably explain why Sy’s going to outlast them. His ability to ‘respec’ with the Wyvern formula would give him the most staying power, as well as simply being a further test of just how far they can push it before a person breaks entirely.

        • Well that, and because sy’s not really an original. He’s just the control group for the wyvern formula, which has been around a lot longer than he has.
          They have known for a long time how to produce mental adaptability/agility that the wyvern produces, but the initially used him to see how much they can push it to make it as efficient as possible. They already had an idea of the limits for various poisons, and no longer are using him as a test to see “how much is too much”, but are now (thanks to hayle) trying to see how someone growing up on the formula turns out, as that’s when the brain is at its most malleable… plus they needed a “bandaid” to patch up the weaknesses of the lambs after losing two of the five really early on.

          Jamie and Gordon are the first of their kind, and the first application of those theories. Sy, not so much. He was far from the first to be on poisons for mental benefits, but may have been the first to be on THAT particular concoction.

    • Honestly, I think they’re worried the Lambs would turn against them if they’re left to develop too much. Worries not entirely unfounded, given the way Gordon’s been going.

    • Few reasons. Mostly cost and benefit.
      The lamb project already half failed, with three out of five surviving the first few years of being alive, and Sylvester was just a band aid to fill in the gaps. The only reason they keep up appointments is because they are useful. The appointments are what’s keeping Gordon alive, fine tuning his parts to mitigate the rejection.
      Not sure what Helen’s appointments do….
      So at least for Gordon, they are trying to prolong their lives, just not putting too many resources into it.

      Also because of what you said about seeing HOW they deteriorate is very valuable info. Both in what happens, and how they react. If it makes Sylvester mentally unstable or psychopathic, for example, then they can know how to prolonge the lifespan as well as the usefulness (no point making them live longer if they go crazy anyways),or if they need to off the next Sylvester before he or she gets to that point for obvious reasons (another fray only with an unstable mind).

      And lastly, because they don’t actually know what will happen. It’s the first they’ve done experiments like these and all the expiration dates and things like that are guesses and estimations. Going by what sy said to Gordon earlier, his body shouldnt be breaking down this quickly at all, and he made a mental note of his leg possibly still hurting because going by the estimated time frame, the phantom pain should have subsided by then.
      So they need to actually see what happens, how it happens, and why it happens to prevent it for next time.

      No point trying to prevent their breakdown if you don’t know how they will breakdown for sure and don’t know why. They need this data or they might mess up next time and wind up accelerating the deterioration

      So the costs are too high to expand their lifespan compared to their rewards, and the reward of that data is worth more than the cost of not knowing how to save the next batch.

      And yeah, they probably do intend on making whole squads of lambs in the future once they work out the links. Plus with the data Mary provides (the mix of natural growth and accelerated), they can hope to make armies of fully mature lambs with their own unique dynamics in each team (there was no real reason the ear guy, phlegm or something, became a poison guy rather than another speciality, so its possible to have the same types of experiments do totally different things), exactly as you said about not being able to fully control personalities and whatnot

      • I think they used children because they are more malleable. If so, then it would only make sense to at least let them grow into their potential prime physically before offing them, right?

        • Not really. Malleable is one reason, yes, but if that were all- they would chemically age them like the lambs thought the puppeteer did for his kids.

          There’s a lot of reasons to use kids. For one- they want to make specialized experiments, and hayle is focused on brains and various applications. The lambs (sy excluded, originally) were just different ways to tackle that particular issue.
          Which is also why they didn’t create any of them besides helen- they just altered actual humans.

          Each lamb (besides helen) is totally human and is just augmented or altered in different ways, which is the intent of the lambsbridge project (one of them, most likely).

          This is a test through and through. Seeing how they react to their expirations is one of the many things they need to test. The lambs are not the finished product, and never will be- they are the initial test, the first of their kind.

          It’s not a matter of letting them grow into their potential prime before offing them at all. It’s a matter of letting nature run its course. The expiration dates are like how long it will take for something to rust- it’s something that will happen in a semi-predictable timeline that they will not and should not prolong before seeing what happens when the machine rusts or when they break down.
          They currently have no plans at all to off the kids (as long as they keep validating the resources they use), but poisoning sy’s brain will make it cease to function after time, gordon’s parts from every part of him will not be able to function after some time- much like any stitch let alone a LIVING stitch, and jamie’s mental data including his personality won’t always come back in the way it is supposed to.
          Things this are INEVITABLE and will happen unless they do something different. But they aren’t sure at all where to start doing things differently because they aren’t sure how the expiration will happen in each lamb. They need to see them reach those points and study it to prevent it, otherwise they’ll just make things worse, or fail to stop it.

          Granted, fray probably knows, but she’s a lot better than most, and that was before taking the wyvern formula….

      • You know why nuclear reactors are so safe these days? Because of all the reactors that were tested to destruction. At the Idaho test area, one of the test sites destroyed some 55 reactors. What if we stop doing this, what if we sped up that, what if we didn’t stop those?

        They learned many valuable lessons from testing to destruction, some of which they were able to use when three mile island happened. And then they went back to testing.

        I imagine the Academy is interested in doing much the same things.

      • You make a number of good points. In particular, I somehow didn’t make the connection that their appointments include low-cost maintenance, even though it was mentioned in this chapter with Gordon and after Sub Rosa with Jamie. I also misremembered the conversation with Fray–I somehow came away with the impression that the solutions to their problems were costly but not incredibly hard, which is not what was conveyed. Her statement was more like ‘I think I can fix you guys because I, alone, am as good as full teams, though it’s hard and I don’t have a solution yet’. I’m no longer experiencing cognitive dissonance, thanks 🙂

  7. Am I going to be the first to call it? Yeee! Evette.

    Everything about this chapter is perfect. Except for the title. Don’t you dare kill any lambs D: Please ;~; The banner is also perfect. I think it really is my favourite, despite how much I love Blake’s look.

    I loved the break-up scene. They were acting so natural, and it was interesting to see Lillian urging Jamie to do the lip reading. I also imagined the entire conversation in my head with really high and low-pitched voices.

    I really want to hear what Helen has got to say :< Damnit, Sy. And I was equally as terrified about the implication of Helen having experience in romance.

    I'm interested in the grown buildings. How do they grow without leaves? Or do they shed or have their leaves cut over time? It's a plant after all, it needs energy to grow. I also wonder if you could spread a disease around the buildings of a city. Even if they are dead trees, maybe a plague of sorts?

    Hey, what can I say. Mice are tasty~

    • Typo biplane:
      I tackled him, throwing my arms around him, pinning his arms to their sides.
      Gender mismatch? I assume it’s meant to say “his sides” unless you meant the sides of the arms, but I’m not sure how that’d work.

      and he had chosen Shipman over the rest of us, to do it.
      I think the comma is unnecessary.

      “Is the fox.”
      I’m not sure if that’s meant to be a name or if there was a sentence that got cut.

      • “The Duke was there, and as royalty, he was surrounded by a guard of sorts.”
        The comma should be moved from before and to after and. “as royalty” is a parenthetical thought, set apart by comments. It’s not a list like, “The Duke lied, and then he died.” The “core” is, “The Duke was there and he was surrounded by a guard of sorts” with “as royalty” explaining why.

      • “Shipman and Gordon talked for a solid ten or fifteen seconds, and there was no translation via. lipreading”

        Unnecessary period after via

      • ““Three triangles for a fox,” Gordon gestured at the corner of one building, near to the ground. There were two such markings there. “Is the fox.””

        Maybe, “Three triangles”…”Is the fox”
        or “Three triangles for a fox,”…”like those”

      • More typos:

        – “before he went and disappeared off on his own” -> “went off on his own” or similar

        – “It was thick material, clumsy in construction, but it was durable.” -> “but durable”

        – “How did a body protect against such things?” -> “protect itself” or “defend”


        – “Probably from another Academy. They didn’t move much, probably to reduce the amount of resources they consumed.” -> “probably” is repeated

        – “Who has a shop or a house or something and they aren’t hard up for cash, and who looks after kids.” – (the “they” here is somewhat weird in combination with the singular “looks”)

        – “back around the time we’d dealt with the snake charmer” -> IIRC the Lambs typically capitalize words like “snake charmer”

  8. With the children abduction, I get the feeling the Academy intends (or is considering) mass producing the Lambs project.

    I mean in the end the Lambs are prototypes, and they have proved their efficiency. Mass production is the next step, especially considering they aren’t that hard to replace; Sy just needs Wyvern dosing, Jamie is an extension of the Caterpillar databank, Gordon is living stitched, Helen is vat grown… with abundance of war orphans and army funds, creating more units seem likely.

    With that title and Gordon’s death flags, I expect at least one Lamb to bite the dust in the near future. I’m awaiting what’s in store next.

    • sy probably hard to duplicate. wyvern serum strengthen something while weaken something else. could be seen on how different fray and sy tackling problem.

      the easiest to make probably helen and mary. gordon, sy and jamie is human augmentation. probably hard to find someone that could live after those process and work like their theory suggest.

    • I’m hesitant to say mass-production of Lambs, since so many of their strategies rely on people not expecting the children to be the enemy, and since they don’t seem to have replicated Gorger, Catcher, etc. The Lambs aren’t great wartime weapons either – long time to set up, lots of maintenance required, can be offed with a single bullet.
      The most useful members in wartime are probably Mary and Helen as assassins, and they’re both vat-grown.
      Possible for Gordons to be soldiers, too, but from what I understand making a Gordon requires huge amounts of raw materials, maintenance, training. Doesn’t seem worth it to have a platoon of them.
      It’s possible they’d make more Sys and Jamies to be spies or students, but again they take a long time to set up.

      If I had to guess I’d say it’s tied into the problems with keeping the population subdued, and the fact that it’s now been a few months since everyone was made infertile. I’m thinking a foster/spy system, Academy gets to play the good guys by getting these orphans homes and by vetting potential parents, and all the while the kids are reporting on them.

    • Cake broke up with her. It didn’t like that when she bit it, it wasn’t playful but to eat. Don’t worry, they’re smoothing things over.

  9. Typo:
    >“Three triangles for a fox,” Gordon gestured at the corner of one building, near to the ground. There were two such markings there. “Is the fox. That’s not one you used to see very often, and you’d never see it in pairs. Usually people would work together, deal with it, and the only fox mark you’d see would be crossed out.”

    Repetition of three triangles being the fox.

  10. Just from the title, I would have said Gordon’s about to die. After reading it I wonder: Who’s the bait to be “slaughtered”

  11. Yep, nothing ominous about this arc title.

    So what does Helen do, instead of romance?

    So This was a chapter with Sy trying to get in Lillian’s clothes. Next one should be Mary’s turn.

    Almost had an amicable breakup there Gordon.

    This was a great breather chapter. It was nice to see the Lambs acting in a fairly normal manner, and not doing something horrible.

    Surely the Academy wouldn’t harm the local Urchins in their own territory, using them for experiments, and parts and other such immoral and unethical things! Oh who am I kidding, we’ll be lucky if they are doing something as nice as chopping them up for parts for Gordon 2.0.

    • We don’t know what is involved with the other replacement Lambs, either. :/

      I worry that, like with Gordon, there could be pinickety organ selection going on: that would mean a lot of “leftovers” for side projects. Like, say, security features. :/

      • Actually, now that i think about it, it’s almost definite that they had to hack apart a LOT of gifted children to make Gordon. After all, he’s child-sized, isn’t he?

  12. The fact that the lambs ship one another, and have joined the readers in rejecting Shipman / Gordon, is kind of perfect.

    Also, I’m hereby calling that the Lamb who is slaughtered this episode is not Gordon, but instead Jamie!

    • I’m pretty sure that Sy, at least, rejected Gordman (as I hereby dub it) earlier than the readers. Seeing as he rejected it before the end of the chapter where it was introduced.
      My prediction is that Gordon is going to be recycled as spare parts for Evette, with his skills being implanted into her and what working parts that remain being incorporated into he new body.

    • What if wildbow’s just messing with us? Taking into consideration the comments in the last arc and thinking “Oh ho! I know what will totally mindfuck these guys!”

  13. > I wondered if they had human brains in there, or if someone had gone to the effort of making a nonhuman brain that understood speech.

    I, uh, I’m pretty sure Sy has been walking alongside one this whole time. Hasn’t he? I was under the impression that no part of Helen was human, which means she has to have a non-human brain, and she seems to understand speech pretty well!

    • I don’t understand what you’re saying. Helen is one single project constituting years of work and resources. She is a significant investment. On the other hand, the sentry creatures are new and were produced quickly. Evidently creating a brain from scratch that works mostly like a human brain would is a lot more expensive than simply taking a brain or cobbling one together from other brains. Which makes sense

      Sy is just musing on whether they took the effort and expense to create a brain, or just re-purposed one.

    • Who says it has to understand speech? When I tell my dog to lie down it does so immediately without understanding a word of English.
      On the other hand, my cat just flips me off, but I’m pretty sure it understands English just fine.

    • Ah, but Helen is a special project that had a lot of time and resources going into her. She would have had time to learn human speech. The security things are presumibly pretty quickly made compared to her.

    • Maybe it depends on where they get the raw materials… Is vat grown flesh originally human? Cow? Unicorn? Centaur? Cthulu?

      Is it easier to morph a human blueprint into a weird monstrosity or to interface a brain with a monstrosity? I think we need to be able to review an academy textbook to find out for certain. Or ask Lillian, maybe jamie

  14. Macabre thoughts running through my brain after this chapter. I think it’s a combination of the arc title and the banner art on the voting page.
    I shall attempt to shield ye from the worst of these :).
    Or just look out for my blood-splattered avatar and skip those comments, for your own good.

  15. Not sure if Helen’s romance is a Chekhov’s Gun with real significance or just a throwaway gag at this point.

    Ominous title is ominous.

    I will say this: with Gordon winding down due to phantom limbs and locked joints or whatever it is, could they repurpose his brain at all? Implant it in a healthier body, for example, or at least transfer memories over. He has a tone of useful development, as Sy has noted. No way the Academy is going to miss that.

    Also confused about why he isn’t having an appointment about this issue since they appear to be in “down-time”. Is it time-based, even when an obvious problem crops up?

    • His brain is also a mishmash jumble of others. If his body is breaking down, his mind will as well, in fact a lot of his pains are from his brain (or from OTHER’S brains, technically) thinking it is still attached to its host body and rejecting foreign body parts… which is, the rest of him

      So salvaging that wouldn’t be helpful. Since putting his brain in another body is pretty much what they’re doing now, it’s just the new body is a mix of body parts. Would have the same issue, more likely. But I feel like downloading skills and memories is kinda the finished product of project Caterpillar/Jamie. Which would be AWESOME, to have the lambs re-downloaded into new bodies and never truly die…

      Not sure why they didn’t have an appointment. We don’t know how long they’ve been back from the westmore incident, or if they’ve had one since they got back. I would expect them to have had at least one since they were gone for a long time, but then again the whole shipman thing would have had to have happened soon after getting back so I have no idea. I guess the staff is just more concerned with the more “practical” war machines and superweapons to use time and energy on the lambs appointments?
      No idea.

      Not really entirely time-based, (because then sy wouldn’t have had back-to-back ones when he ran away some time ago) and so far it’s been right after a mission for obvious reasons (like downloading jamie’s memories, sy’s need for poison to stay mentally sharp, or gordon’s repair work… not sure what helen does), so it’s most likely because the lambs’ doctors are busy working on other work…. other work likely involving the disappearing kids…

      • Sign-in, delivery of info, quick assessments, paperwork generated and processed and schedules getting shuffled to fit appointments in. These things do take a few hours.

        Gordon did arrive under his own steam and lucid. He’s therefore not giving off “operate on me right this second” vibes, and they probably do have to look through preliminary test results to work out what they might need to actually do during this next one. *shrugs*

        • But we still don’t know how long they’ve been there. Long enough to get changed and for jamie to get a new book, sure, but they could have been there for hours, or even a few days (probably not a week though).

          They’ve been gone for a very long time, operating sooner rather than later is the optimal thing to do, as appointments used to be a monthly thing, but they’ve been out in the field for months at a time.

          But you make a good point about prelim tests to see what all needs to be done. Didn’t even think of that- thanks!

    • I’m guessing Helen’s thing is another reference to her original Femme Fatal design – she’s more likely to invoke things like lust and fear for use than complicated things like romance.

      Gordon’s condition reminds me of what stroke victims get – correct signal goes out, but it gets all scrambled up and lost before it gets where it needs to go. Coupled with how Sy said he’s got nothing to worry about yet, I’m wondering if he got brain damage at some point, rather than this being part of his expected deterioration.
      -and yeah, as others have said, that means the problem is in his brain

      !what if the missing kids are going to supply the material to repair him!
      -would explain why no appointment

  16. Finally, caught up.

    Well… I’d write my opinion about this, but seince we are so close to update, I’d rather do it on the next chapter’s comments.

  17. I really, really wish this line had been a few paragraphs:

    The discussion continued, with a lot of back and forth and everyone getting their turn as the one made fun of.

    I want to see how people make fun of Mary and Jamie and Helen (people who aren’t Sy at least)

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