Lamb to the Slaughter – 6.8

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They circled like vultures.  I counted six in total that were in plain view.  All with effective reflexes and spatial awareness.  The screeching as we were circled was mine, however, a scrape of blade against glass, back and forth, a staccato nails-on-a-blackboard noise that made the little hairs on my arms and neck stand on end.

It was giving them pause, but I could read their body language now that I could track them consistently.  They were building up confidence to attack.  They’d seen one of their own die, and the noise of blade on glass was screwing with their senses.  I imagined it was like being thrust from the bright world into darkness for the very first time.

The thought of darkness made me glance at Mary, who was being worked on by Lillian.  I really didn’t like the expression on Lillian’s face.

Focus, I told myself.  Adrenaline went a long way in helping me to pull my thoughts together.  The edges around the thoughts felt sharper and the details more crisp.  I felt more like myself, I could touch on a thought in the middle of a running stream of consciousness and that thought was crystal clear.

I tested the knife in my hand, judging its weight.

I’d practiced some, one didn’t spend more than a year in Mary’s company without trying it out, but the benefits of practice had been questionable.  I’d pick it up after four or five throws, then I’d actually be pretty good, landing about three in four thereafter.  Then I’d try again the next night, and I’d need a few throws worth of practice again.

The women started, making motions like they were going to attack.

‘Feintwas my immediate thought.

Catcher reacted all the same.  The butt end of his weapon slapped out.  he struck a window, hard enough to shatter it, the glass breaking, the crash sharp enough to give our attackers pause.

Not that they’d been going anywhere, not really.

Still, it was opportunity.

I threw, roughly the same time Jamie did.

Our targets didn’t even move.  The knives went flying off, far from being on target.  Jamie’s went straight over his target’s head by at least a foot.

“We’re doomed,” Mary’s voice was faint.

“Don’t need commentary!” I said.

“Wasting good knives,” she said.

“Shush!” I told her.

“Jamie,” Mary said.  “Your arms are shorter than mine are.  Release later.”

“Got it,” Jamie said.

“What about me?” I asked.

“I’ve given you advice… hunnred times,” she mumbled.  “Waste.”

I really didn’t like how fast she was dropping off, here.

The women moved, I scratched glass with the tool, and they halted.  I tried throwing again.

My target didn’t even dodge, for the second time.  Jamie’s did, but I doubted he’d been on target.

That was what I was telling myself.  No way was Jamie going to be better than me at this and get to be the hero.

They made a move to approach, and I scratched the glass again.  I figured they were feinting or uncertain, but I wanted to tell them off all the same.  Warn them, feed that uncertainty.

My damn hands were shaking.  It wasn’t helping my accuracy or concentration.

Jamie, Helen and I weren’t strong.  Catcher was, but Catcher was guarding Lillian and Mary.  Each of the ghosts was capable and dangerous.

When our ghostly vultures swooped in, I didn’t think much of our chances.

It was too easy to let my thoughts run away.  I wasn’t someone who won fights.  At best, I helped find the road to victory.

“No, no, no,” Lillian said.  Her voice was breaking.  “Please, Mary, no.”

In my peripheral vision, I could see Mary drawing closer to the ground.  Catcher let her slump down, easing the drop by slowly relaxing his hold on her.  Lillian did much of the work in draping Mary out alongside the gutter at the base of a storefront.

My hand tightened on the knife’s handle.  As I turned away, I sensed movement, and moved to react.

Three of them were closing the distance, using our collective distraction as an opportunity.  Two women with blonde hair and a brunette, drawing in close, fast enough I wasn’t sure I’d get my arms up in time.

Catcher acted.  His weapon reached for one of the blondes, who immediately reversed direction, backing away out of range.  He wasn’t striking at her, however.  His weapon reached further, and one of the jutting spikes touched the wrought-iron railing I’d pointed out earlier.

Swiping violently away from the enemy, he dragged metal against metal, eliciting a screech that made my vision waver.  The two attackers stopped in their tracks, momentarily stunned or disoriented.

I saw opportunity and went for it, knife in hand, the rest of the string of knives dangling, stabbing.

She backhanded the wrist of my knife hand, hard. I didn’t make contact, and the entire string of knives fell from my hand.  I reached out to catch it in the middle with my other hand, which still held the round blade, simultaneously trying to grab at her wrist with the hand she’d just disarmed.

I realized, around the time I sort of failed at both, that I was doing exactly what Gordon always accused me of.  Trying to do too many things at once.  The disarmed hand was still smarting from the blow and was slow to move.  I didn’t get a grip on her wrist.

The hand that was grabbing the mess of knives and wire did grab what I was going for, but there were more sharp edges and lengths of wire than there were things to properly grip, and I only got the middle of the length.  Wires cut into the webbing between four different fingers as I got a grip on the knife handle between my middle and ring finger.

There was no time to adjust, or move, or do different, or even to make sure the wire wasn’t wrapped around my hand in a way that would make any action on my part hurt me more than it hurt her.  I whipped the twin lengths at her upper body and face.

I grazed her.  I felt the impact, I saw her flinch, before she retreated well out of my reach.  Superficial damage.  She didn’t make a sound as she reeled, face twisting, one eye closed, a lick of crimson at one cheek.

Small as it was, it was perhaps my greatest victory in an out-and-out fight yet.

I had to think like they thought, connect the dots, figure out how they operated and mess with that.  This was an unrefined project, untested in a combat situation.  They weren’t soldiers.  They were assassins, and they were still raw enough and new enough to the world that the unfamiliar could put them off balance.  The jangle of blades and the nature of my attack had been strange to her.

Strange enough to get the blades a half-inch closer to her face and upper chest.

Jamie and Helen were together, dealing with the other one.  She stood close enough that Jamie should have been able to swing and make contact, even with her being as fast as she was, but it wasn’t happening.  He tried, she stepped away, and she kicked him, hard enough that he stumbled into the storefront behind us.

Helen maneuvered to corner the woman, keeping one eye out to the side and behind her for any surprise or flank attacks, but the woman easily danced to one side, putting Jamie between herself and Helen, before stepping back a fraction to avoid a furtive slash.

Jamie and Helen were getting further from the rest of us as they tried to keep their distance from their assailant.  I wanted to shout something, a warning, but I couldn’t afford to take my attention off the one I’d just injured.

I adjusted my grip on the wires and blades, trying to make sure I was in a position to respond if she lunged for me, and probably failing.  I had to work to get one wire out of the webbing where it had bitten down between my index finger and thumb.

Blood ran down my hand and dripped from my fingertips as I gripped the ring.  I swiped it against the window, and the blonde woman in front of me lunged.  Again, I swung the tangle of wires and knives in her direction.

Too quick, for how slow she was on the approach.  I finished swinging the moment before she got close.

Her palm thrust out, slapping my forehead, driving my head back into the window with enough force that it cracked.  The effect on my vision was about the same as what they were probably experiencing when I scraped the glass.  Distortion, no strange colors or sights, but a momentary loss of the ability to put the pieces together.

She held my head against the broken edges of the window, gripping my head hard enough to bend it back, tilting my chin up.

Her other hand went up like she was going to slap me across the face, but I could see the blade, flat against her palm, held between two fingers.  It was my throat, not my face, that she intended to strike.

Efficient, almost surgical execution.

I kicked at her legs.  She was able to avoid the worst of it, pulling her legs back out of my way, while adding to the press of my head against glass, jagged shards like a half dozen individual knives cutting me.

Catcher acted once more.  Another swipe at the railing, fierce, this time swinging forward, simultaneously swiping at the three of the women who were surrounding him.  They would be trying to find an avenue to get past Catcher and attack Lillian and Mary.

It was a distraction, and I saw my attacker wince, but she didn’t let up the pressure on me.

Catcher hadn’t stopped moving, however.  He’d pulled another weapon from his coat.  The woman who held me released me, stepping back to preserve herself.

And my foot, which had been kicking at her, went up, the toe hooking under the front of her dress.  As she tried to back up and evade the incoming attack, I caught her.  She stumbled a little, I was hauled back and away from the window, feeling the glass slash me as I was hauled past it.

She slashed at the fabric to sever it and free herself, but the delay cost her a half second’s time and a moment of her attention.  Catcher’s weapon, akin to a bear-trap on a leash, slapped against the side of her face.  It bit deep.

She didn’t make a sound as he hauled on the cord.  She clutched blindly at the contraption, but the teeth had sunken in, and she didn’t have the leverage to remove it.  Blood welled out around the edges of the trap’s teeth, too slick for her to get a grip on the metal.

All but one of the women around us were backing off, now.  Helen had the other blonde in her grip, the two of them on the ground, Jamie stepping on the woman’s head, knives in hand, watching Helen’s back.  Catcher’s distraction had been well timed.

I could see how the women were watching the one in the bear trap.

I could feel it in my teeth, the harshness that cut through the humid air.  A sound I couldn’t quite perceive.  Different from what Catcher had described as a cacophony.

She’s screaming.

She was stumbling left, then right, hands scrabbling in a futile fashion, and she was utterly silent, but for the clack of the metal ring that was attached to the cord, banging against bloodstained steel.  She reached the limit of her movement, the teeth pulling against flesh, and her entire body arched and spasmed with pain.

“Helen,” Catcher said.

“Yes?  Is Mary okay?”

“No.  Finish fast,” Catcher said.

I swallowed hard.  Catcher’s ‘No’ hit me harder than I’d expected.

“Aw.  I never get to take my time.”

Catcher was silent, studying the enemy.

“Please, Helen,” I said.  “Next time, I promise.  But this is serious.  Do it for Mary?”

“I wasn’t going to say no,” Helen said.  “Move your foot, Jamie.”

Off to my left, Helen moved.  Cartilage and bone snapped and ground together as Helen strained, a torture rack in human form.  I imagined I could hear the silent scream from Helen’s victim as her arms were stretched out and to either side, like a bird.  Helen’s body shifted, bones standing out in strange ways against skin or the fabric of her clothes, a biological equivalent to a spring or mechanism being set, a trigger cocked.  Her hands bit deep enough into skin that I wondered if she was squeezing muscle aside to press against bone.  Flesh between fingers was bulging like it might pop.

Then Helen readjusted.  It was a sudden, violent movement, the twist of a constrictor snake seizing its prey all at once, contorting itself in knots in a sudden, spasmodic way.  Her body could move like that, but the body of the victim that was securely in her grip couldn’t.  The wet sounds and the crunch of bone and gristle against more bone and gristle seemed to go on forever.

Helen hadn’t done anything but twist and wrench, but she was still bloody as she picked herself up and off of her victim.  Her bones were still in weird places, like she had a feline or a lizard’s skeleton inside a little girl’s skin, the limbs too long, the shoulders oddly skewed.  She sagged under her own weight, her muscle structure not lending itself well to standing upright.  Slowly, piece by piece, she pulled herself back into a more normal configuration.

The ghosts were utterly still, standing a fair distance away.

Catcher’s captive grew ever more feeble, before sinking to her knees.  She hit ground more violently than Mary had, bear-trap first, a sharp impact that didn’t make her move or flinch at all.  Passed out.

Catcher used one hand to reel her in as he spoke, a sharp order cutting into the silence, “Stop talking.  Listen.”

Rain pattered down around us.  I chanced a look at Mary and Lillian.  Lillian was moving so frantically, and Mary wasn’t moving at all.

“If you want to pick this fight, we will win,” Catcher said.  “And the next time, Helen there will have the leeway to draw it out, to make it hurt-”


“-And I will use some of my best tricks and tools, to make you wish you had her attention instead of mine.”

Helen gave Catcher an annoyed look.

“You hurt one of ours,” Catcher said.  “I’m being merciful, because I’m going to give you a chance to run.  Leave the area.  Go in any direction but that one.”

He pointed in the general direction of Percy.

“Don’t try to be clever, tr- I told you to stop talking.

I could see the tension in his stance.  He looked around him, and as he did, I cocked my head to one side, to get his attention.  His eye fell on me as he finished reeling up the chain, the body dragged to his feet.  He stepped on her throat and hauled the bear-trap-ish thing up and away.  It pulled free, taking generous handfuls of flesh with it, and snapped the rest of the way closed.

He held his hand at his side in a very deliberate way.

“Don’t double back,” he said.  “Don’t try to trick us, or notify anyone.  If you’re good about this, if you-”

He stopped.  His finger twitched.

I scraped the blade across the glass, hard.  The women reacted.

Stop talking, I thought to myself.  Listen.

“Ahem,” Catcher said.  “If you’re good about this, I’ll offer the same chance to any of your sisters who get in our way, and give a quick death to those who can’t or won’t leave.”

The scene was still.  I felt the heat and the exhaustion of our exertion now more than I had during, even with the rain running down my hair and face.  A glance at my shoulder suggested I was losing a lot of blood, even considering that the water running through it all was making it seem like more.

I didn’t feel it, at least.

Go,” Catcher said.

The women moved, each heading straight for the nearest piece of cover.

We collectively waited a full three seconds after they had disappeared before turning our attention to Lillian and Mary.

“You’re hurt,” Jamie told me, as he rushed to my side.

“Mary’s hurt,” I said.  “Lillian needs to focus on her.”

“I can devote some attention to you,” Jamie said.  “Because you look like you need something.”

We collectively made our way to Mary and Lillian.  Jamie grabbed some cloth and handed it to me, pressing it down against my scalp.  He gestured to Helen, who was probably the worst person present to have my damaged scalp firmly in her grip, and had her keep pressure on the wound.

Lillian looked like panic had overtaken her.  She was struggling, fumbling.

Jamie knelt down by Lillian, asking, “How is she?”

Lillian sounded like she was on the verge of tears, her voice wobbled, “She got stabbed right through the middle.  In the front and out the back.  Organs were perforated.  She’s not good, Jamie.”

“Fix her,” I said.

“I’m not- it’s not that easy, Sy.”

“It’s your job to keep us alive.  If you fail at this the first real time that’s in question, I’m not sure why we keep you around.”

She set her jaw.  It looked like she had tears in her eyes, now.

“Wow, Sy.”

“You have the ability.  But if you don’t have the capability, well…”

“You’re such a penis, Sy.”

“And you’re a good doctor,” I said.

“In training,” she said.

“Who has studied this garbage.”

“Believe it or not, Sy, I’m only fourteen, and I haven’t gotten around to actual surgery.  And I’m in the field, too, without an operating room or all the tools.  I’m thinking we should try transporting her to a clinic.  If we can get Dog to carry her, I think I can keep her going long enough.”

“Excuses,” I told her, “and cowardice.  Why go that route when you can be the surer thing?  I think you’re lying to yourself and to us, because you’re scared.”

“Of course I’m scared!” she said, her voice too high.

Mary’s chest wasn’t even rising and falling like normal, her breaths were so shallow.  Lillian stabbed Mary in the chest with a needle, depressing it.

Lil’s voice returned to a more normal level, “I’m being realistic.”

Mary’s breathing picked up as the injection took hold, though it still wasn’t great.

“You’re being a wuss.  You know what Gordon keeps telling me?” I asked her.  “Every time I lose a fight, which I do a lot?  You have to make a move, or the world will move against you.  Take action, be brave, and leave no doubt that you exist.  There’s too many people for any of us to fall into the background.  Above all, trust your instincts, because you’re better than you think.  You are better than you think, Lil, and I’m saying that as the person who was your biggest critic, back in the day.”

Her smile was a grim one.

I continued, “You’ve started fixing her up, you’ve patched up the holes, best I can figure it out, now stop making excuses and get to work, you wuss.  She’s supposed to be your best friend.”

“If you’re implying-”

“I’m implying!” I raised my voice.  “If you wimp out on this and you let Mary die, then I’m going to forgive you… eventually.  We all are.  Crap happens!  But you?  I know people and I know you, and I know that your fears drive and define you.  If you give up here, you will never find your way back from it to become a proper doctor, and you are never, ever, ever going to forgive yourself for it.”

Her face screwed up as she looked at me.  Fresh tears were squeezed out, running down her cheeks.  She raised her arms to try and wipe at the tears with her forearms, but they were streaked with blood.  She let her arms drop, before emptying a bottle of powder onto her hand and daubing it around the edge of the wound.   Her attention fixed on Mary.

Jamie offered a handkerchief, reaching out to dab at Lillian’s eyes and cheeks.

“Thank you, Jamie,” she said.  “Sy?  Remember when I called you a penis?  I was being kind.  You’re the runt of penises.”

“For the record, I agree with Sy,” Jamie said.  He knelt beside Lillian.  “Don’t focus on what you can’t do.  I know you know the stuff.  You’ve read up on it, even if you haven’t practiced it.”

Lillian shook her head.  Small, nervous shakes.

“There’s an acronym, to get you started.  The order in which you do this,” Jamie said.

Lillian’s nervousness seemed to drop away as shock took hold.  She looked at Jamie.

“You know the steps,” Jamie said.  “First step?  A.”

“Assess,” she said.  “Jamie, you’re-”

Focus,” I told her, fully aware of the hypocrisy.  Catcher was standing over us, on guard, pole in hand.  I knew he was observing and listening.

I knew the gamble Jamie was making.

“Assess,” she said, again, focusing.

“You’ve assessed,” Jamie said.  “You know what the problem is.  Next.”


“You’ve laid the table as best as you’re going to get it,” Jamie said, his voice soft.  “If you need the tools, I’ll hand them to you.  You’re surgeon, I’m assistant.  Next step?”


“You skipped a step,” Jamie said, without missing a beat.

“Keep.  Keep… I- I don’t think there’s-”

“You have the tools,” Jamie said.  “She needs blood to replace what she’s lost, and she’s going to need a lot.  You know our blood types.”

“My blood is poison,” I commented.

“I don’t even have blood, like you guys do,” Helen said.

“You can’t be my assistant and give blood,” Lillian said, but she was already prepping the tubing and needle.

“We’ll make it work,” Jamie said.  “Catcher is a universal donor.  Probably not wholly good for Mary, considering what he’s got running in his veins, but if he’s willing, I imagine his blood is better than not having enough blood.”

Lillian nodded.  She started the heavier, scarier work, Jamie talking her through it all, keeping her on track.

Even the best doctors had a hard time operating on loved ones.

It was a full ten minutes before Lillian didn’t need Jamie’s help, handing her bottles and the like.  Jamie stepped away, grabbing the stuff needed to fix my head.  He began tending to my scalp, while trying to keep the tubing that fed blood to Mary in place.

Timid, quiet Jamie, becoming a force in his own right.

Jamie managed to offer me a small smile as I studied him.  Lillian wasn’t panicking anymore.  I allowed myself to feel relieved.  It wasn’t spoken aloud, because nobody here wanted to jinx us like that.

Lillian’s work continued, with the tubing moving from Jamie to Catcher, so the man could supply some blood.  The minutes that followed were a little more tense, as Mary started to dip in condition.  More drugs and chemicals were injected into the tubing, to offset and counteract the cocktail that Catcher’s blood was dumping into her system.

A good forty minutes passed.  I watched Lillian more than I watched Mary, because the tension in her neck and shoulders was a better indicator than the bloody mess that Lillian was digging through.  Jamie’s handkerchief, previously used to wipe up Lillian’s tears, was now being used to swipe out the blood in the way.  Lillian’s hands were inside the wound as she worked blind, periodically asking Jamie for numbers, which he rattled off.

Catcher made no comment.

Jamie was working on the cuts to my hand and Lillian’s neck and shoulders were showing less and less tension when Mary finally stirred.

“Welcome back,” I said.

“Did we win?” she asked.

“Because that’s our priority, huh?” I asked.  “Yes.  Sort of.  We scared them off.”

“Okay,” she said.  “Help me up.”

“Um!” Lillian said.  “Not yet.”

“We’re going to lose him,” Mary said.

“You’ve been lying there for an hour while Lillian’s been fixing you.  Another five or ten minutes won’t hurt.”

Mary obediently let her head down to rest on the hard surface of the road.

“Do you want painkiller?” Lillian asked.

“Would it mess up my perception, if we run into Percy?” Mary asked.

“You really need to get your priorities straight,” I said.  “You almost died.”

“I agree with Sy.  For once,” Lillian said.  “You shouldn’t be running after Percy.”

I stuck the toe of my foot out to poke Lillian in the butt cheek.  She gave me an offended look.

And Mary said Lillian liked being teased?  Hmph.

“I don’t want to let him go,” Mary said.

It was a weird phrasing, one that could be taken two ways.  I remained silent.

“I believe Dog and Gordon are with the man,” Catcher said.  “I don’t know the context, but it’s the only reason they wouldn’t have caught up with us already.”

“With him in a good way or a bad way?” Helen asked.

“It wouldn’t be a bad way,” Catcher said.

“They could be dead,” I said.  Death was on my mind, with Mary’s close call.

Catcher turned his head to give me a sharp look.

“Or not,” I said.  “Scratch that, ignore me.”

“I trust Dog.  You should trust Gordon.”

“Okay,” I said.  Too chipper a response.  It came off as false, which it was.  I envied Catcher his ability to trust his partner as absolutely as he did.

“If he’s there, and Dog and Gordon are with him, then no painkillers,” Mary said.

Or should I have pitied him?  Did he really have no choice in the matter?  Was doubt dangerous enough that it could cost them at a critical moment?

Lillian finished.  She leaned back, and Mary reached down to pull her shirt down.  The expression in her face suggested she was momentarily regretting the lack of painkillers.

Now can I stand?” she asked.

“Yes,” Lillian said.  “You are going to need a proper look from a doctor.”

“After.  We meet up with the others first,” Mary said.

I didn’t let it show, but a part of me recoiled at the re-emergence of this stitched-like Mary, so fixated on one thing, so detached.  That it came when she was weak, wobbly, and her defenses stripped away was concerning.

Catcher and Jamie helped Mary to stand.  She pulled her clothing back into order, picking for a moment at the back of her dress, which was soaked through with blood, from the shoulderblades to mid-calf.  She looked annoyed.

My attention fell on Lillian, who was still kneeling by the patch of road that had Mary’s blood soaked into it.

I reached down and gave Lillian a pat on the head.  “That’s a good doctor.  Who’s a good girl?”

Lillian rolled her eyes, tried to stand, and I held her down.

“You’re a good girl, yes you are!” I cooed.

“I have sharp tools, Sy, and I’m right at eye level to stab you where it hurts.”

“That’s the fifth time today you’ve made reference to that part of Sy,” Jamie said.

Fifth?” I asked, intrigued.  I shifted position to better keep my hand on Lillian’s head, keeping her from standing.  “Do tell.”

“Ah, no.  Some of that was said when you were out of earshot.  It would be telling.”

“Aw,” I said.

Now Lillian was turning pink, which was fun.  Jamie smiled.

“Let me up, Sy,” Lillian said, flushed.

“Say please.”

“Is this worth the risk of being stabbed?”

“It totally is.  Say please.”


“Now say you’re the best little doctor in all of Radham.”

“I am the best doctor-”

Little doctor.”

She reached for a scalpel that lay on the street, I stepped on it before she could pick it up.

“I am the best doctor in all of Radham,” she said.  “That’s all you get from me.”

I let her go.  “So long as you admit it.”

Her face was even pinker as I let her up.  I swiftly backed away before she could kick me.  I wasn’t sure, but I thought she might be smiling as she picked up the tools.

Mission accomplished.

Now for the true task at hand.

We didn’t move very fast.  Mary probably did need the painkiller, but was too proud to admit it, and Catcher’s legs were feeling the pain from where they’d been slashed.  Both he and Jamie had given a generous amount of blood.  Lillian and I helped a wobbly Jamie and Mary, while Catcher used his weapon as a staff to help keep himself steady.

Our destination was three streets down, and we didn’t see one of the ghosts en route.

Catcher pushed open the doors.

Glass tanks lined the walls of what had once been a storehouse.  The glass was broken, the bodies within cast to the ground, not yet fully formed.  Fine, fishlike spears of bone riddled the interiors of each body, almost hair-thin.

Gordon and Catcher were with three children.  I recognized the girl who had been taken earlier in the day, swaddled in a blanket, her hair wet.  It wasn’t enough children.  My eyes fell on the bodies from the tanks.


This would be all we could recover.  The rest of the children were gone.

“Everything okay?” Gordon asked.

“Took a hit, Lillian had to patch Mary up,” I said.

Mary visibly rankled at that.  To be so close to home, in a matter of speaking, and have her called out on a failure… a mistake on my part.

As we drew closer, I could see around a desk.  A smear of blood.  At the base of the wall, Percy was propped up.  One arm and both legs broken.

“Ended up charging through.  Took him down, broke the vats, the ghosts put up a brief fight, then called for a retreat,” Gordon explained, one hand going out to pat Dog’s side.  Dog nodded slowly.

“The retreat part might have been related to us,” I said.  “Hard to say.  We’re going to have to hunt them down.  But hey, you got Percy!”

“Ah,” Gordon said, and he sounded a little crestfallen, his expression falling as well.  He looked over at the man.  “About that.”

Mary crossed the distance.  She approached the man, and stopped as he turned his head to look at her.

“No,” she said.

“Yeah,” Gordon said.  “I’m sorry.”

It was an empty look, devoid of recognition.

“Best Dog and I can figure,” Gordon said, “If you’re going to run two or five or ten different matching projects all in different cities, you can’t do it yourself.  You need one clone to oversee the growth of the rest.  And if you’re going to go that far-”

Mary’s knees gave out.  She sank slowly to the ground, kneeling ten feet in front of Percy.

“You might as well clone yourself?” I asked.

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92 thoughts on “Lamb to the Slaughter – 6.8

  1. Typo thread:
    (Sorry if this is getting old, punctuation is something of an obsession)

    Ends with a left single quotation mark instead of a right single quotation mark:
    ‘Feint‘ was my immediate thought.

    • She let her arms drop, before emptying a bottle of powder onto her hand and daubing it around the edge of the wound. Her attention fixed on Mary.
      -around the edge of the wound, her attention fixed on Mary.
      -Or just triple space?

  2. I’ll be honest, that wasn’t a very inspiring speech.

    Brutally honest about what Sy’s feeling (like, say, /eventually/ forgiving Lillian if she couldn’t save Mary) and effective (though Jaimie seemed to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back) yes.

    Glad we get to see more into Lillian’s mindset, sad that it was short and under such dire circumstances.

    It seems the Wolves were more loyal to themselves than Perseus (Percy 2)

    • And why wouldn’t they be? Perseus was just a glorified meat robot programmed to make other, different meat robots. The Wolves as a group are much more important than a single clone who’s only real purpose was to oversee the creation of more Wolves.

      As a side note, as soon as the Wolves disappeared I thought it was really strange that they would just abandon Percy like that. The clone reveal was a perfect, and in hindsight somewhat obvious, answer to that half-formed thought. Well done, Wildbow.

  3. Damn, I love chapters like these. Effort bearing fruits. Multi-Percy can’t even dent that kind of mood.

    I keep getting more and more curious about Helen’s internal systems. Not that we’ll ever get any insight on them. Oh well ~

    • I’m also fascinated by Helen’s…unconventional biology.
      I would trade my ability to sleep for more information. I think, I’m not gonna need it anymore after I learn more about her.

  4. I wonder how many Plurelcys there are and how many towns they have invaded. Also, where is the original?
    Well, good to have everyone upright and living at least… So far anyway…

  5. I should really have seen that coming.

    The glass was broken, the bodies within cast to the ground, not yet fully formed. Fine, fishlike spears of bone riddled the interiors of each body, almost hair-thin.

    I’m feeling living bombs with bone shrapnel.

    • Nah, this bone mesh was used as matrix to develop clones from the ‘raw material’, probably proteic paste made from the kids (if they reused the tissue without some sort of breakdown, they wouldn’t be clones).
      Wild guess – a tiny core is probably cloned the usual way, and then it’s put in contact with the body-shaped paste, which it hooks into and molds further into a proper humanoid.
      Feels like a mix of Mary and Helen when I put it like that, except the ‘central program’ followed by the core to generate tissues is normal human DNA (whereas Ibott certainly had other inspirations while crafting Helen).

      • “probably proteic paste made from the kids” doesn’t make sense: if it’s destroyed cells and is basically really just proteins and amino acids, you can get this nutritive brine from other sources with much less risk compared to harvesting humans; and you can also harvest large humans instead of small humans to maximize mass per harvest.

        Here’s a thought though: it can be induced stem cells subject to control of some kind of a core seed which then uses those cells to construct required tissues. The product would not be a clone – rather a chimera – but this way you could produce things very fast if you overcame the obvious and really hard problems involved)

        Another option is a remodelling, using kids’ tissues and cells to basically construct clones of same said kids out of kids’ own tissues for whatever infiltration jobs needed. Though in this case, all you really need is a good brainwashing, so ideally you would do this only to the kid’s brain, in vivo, or subsections thereof.

        It would be interesting if we could dissect the killed ghosts/wolves to see if they’re really clones or induced stem cell chimerae. The implications of chimeric remodelling tech would be pretty brutal, given how this basically allows you to recycle your compatible and obsolete bio units into whatever other bio units you need in a matter of days. “Here we had zerglings, but now we need to blow up a duke, so we’ve morphed them into banelings overnight”.

        There are non-biotech explanations for this percy harvesting kids (aside from kicking the puppy). Sy remarked in the previous chapter that “the net was made for us”. Lambs have made some high-profile showings-up, so Percy might have gotten to know that Mary is alive, and harvesting kids was just a ploy to get Lambs’ attention to lure them in (for whatever purpose) OR to lure them *away* from whatever else he’s doing in Radham at this exact time.

        Alternatively, a different agent with in-depth knowledge of the Lambs and capable of improbably perfect planning could have used that knowledge to set up a custom trap for Lambs using a clone percy merely as bait; again, either as a main course, or as a distraction.

        • Anyawy; even if you’re making things out of induced stem cells, it doesn’t make sense to harvest different-sex kids to manufacture same-sex adults. The cause for kids-harvesting should not be “making more Wolves”; it’s almost definitely something else.

          Here’s a creepy one: using similar-size and similar-build kids to manufacture Lamb replicas filled with whatever nasty that pleases you.

          • Oh, oh! And if that something nasty manages to trigger a shit-storm by, say, killing the Duke, then you *also* have a nice chance of turning Lambs into outlaws! Disabling or converting that nasty superweapon away from Academy’s hands.

  6. What is the point of you, Lillian? You have one job.

    I know that’s harsh, and I shouldn’t expect her to perform under such conditions. She’s a doctor, but she’s not a Doctor…meaning that she doesn’t embody her role in the group the same way the other Lambs were designed to embody theirs. She is not going to be hyper-competent within her niche.

    Actually, perhaps that’s part of why she doesn’t believe in herself. She’s surrounded by these uber-children, and even in the area she’s supposed to excel at she’s just plain old adequate Lil. She’s going to feel pretty inferior. Mix in all of the other factors arrayed against her in this situation, and her inability to save Mary without having her hand held is understandable.

    But, fairly or unfairly, I’m still massively disappointed in her. The next time a Lamb is bleeding out I’m going to need her to rise to the occasion.

    • I think you’re giving Lillian way too little credit. I think Lillian is supposed to be somewhat of a prodigy. She’s fourteen and seems to be able to converse with many other Doctors (twice her age) reasonably intelligently, even if she isn’t necessarily better than them. (her comments during the autopsy on Phlegm seem to indicate at least as much knowledge as the examining Doctor with regards to that particular kind of creature)

      Besides that, people often tend towards performing roughly around the level of their peers. I think at least some of The Lambs has rubbed off on her, as she performed better than any normal 14 year old could reasonably be expected to. As Sy notes, it’s not generally easy for Doctors to operate on loved ones in the best of times. That is, without having recently been panicked about being about to die, watching your best friend get stabbed almost to death, trying to tune out the horrible screeching and sounds of combat around you that will determine whether you will be alive within an hour…
      while you examine and try to stabilize your dying best friend in an unfamiliar environment where you have few of the standard resources available to, and have to think at least somewhat outside of the box to acquire the necessary resources to perform the surgery in the first place… (your mind is probably not going to be in a good place to come up with even simple ideas after the anxiety and grief hit)
      and you have to rely on knowledge you *know* is untested, so you’ll feel even more terrible about her death if you screw up… (no pressure or anything, you just might kill your best friend if you try and fail, and you’re unsure if you have good reason to expect success)
      and you’re fourteen years old.

      A typical 14 year old is nowhere close to being able to handle all that, even while being guided. They’d be beyond reason, panicking, crying, and maybe throwing up, up until they pass out from exhaustion. Hell, most adults wouldn’t be in a much better state. Probably even most doctors would have a hard time with all that, going by reactions we’ve seen during the Sub Rosa arc, the surgery on Phlegm, and the Sanguine interlude when the Lambs attack. (I imagine doctors don’t typically go into combat) The only reason Lillian could handle it is that she’s been with the Lambs for so long, not only giving her a guide for how to act in these situations, (we all emulate others like Sy, it’s just usually less pronounced) but exposing her to a ton of similar situations, inuring her to the violence, fear, and anxiety. I don’t think Sy is using empty flattery her when he praises her afterwards–she really did do well. He coud be exaggerating, of course, but she might really *be* the best *little* (14 year old) doctor in Radham, or at least in the running.

      • …I did point out that it was harsh and unfair of me to expect Lillian to perform under such conditions – and the fact that she eventually did says volumes. I don’t know what conditions she could have possibly been expecting at this point in her Lamb career, though: she is always going to be operating on loved ones, she’s probably never going to be in a fully stocked hospital, and she’s certainly not going to be bandaging up scraped knees.

        I also think you give her too much credit. Yes, she’s a prodigy, she’s intelligent, and she’s picked up a few positive traits from hanging around the Lambs. None of that matters. At the end of the day, her function is to put broken Lambs back together. You are the doctor. The patient is bleeding out. Can you save them, yes or no?

        Lillian came damn close to answering no, which is simply not good enough.

        • Why, though? She would have been wrong, as demonstrated, but it is a doctor’s duty to recognise when something is beyond their ability FOR the sake of the patient. If you can’t fix ’em, get ’em in a hospital. It’s not as though fixing a hole through someone’s body is easy, even in Twigverse, even under the best of circumstanses.

          • She failed at her duty, then, because she incorrectly assessed Mary’s injuries as being beyond her abilities. Sy called her the surer thing, and she was. Lil was panicking, and if she had her way they would have gone the less optimal route of transporting her to a clinic.

          • However, at the time Mary’s injuries were above Lillian’s skill level. She was panicking, which is natural and she recognized that in herself. It’s great that Sy was able to help her out mentally but Lillian didn’t know that was going to happen.

        • I’m not sure I understand.. is your problem that she wasn’t correct in analyzing the situation and whether she could fix Mary? Because almost *no one* is really that capable of analyzing the probabilities of various consequences to different paths when shaken, which she clearly was (for very good reasons, as I’ve said). I think that the vast majority of people are pretty terrible at it even when not shaken, actually. It takes a whole lot of experience and/or training to weigh various decisions and their consequences with any degree of accuracy, and it’s much harder to do it when you’re not in a stable frame of mind.

          And besides that, her analysis might even have been *right*, if not for Jamie calming her down and helping give her ideas. She was shaken enough that she had trouble with the parts of an acronym I’m sure she knows by heart, (she missed a step, and Jamie corrected her) she didn’t think that she could acquire blood for Mary, and there were probably a number of other things that either Jamie had to help with or she had to calm down enough to see. If she hadn’t calmed down, Jamie/Catcher hadn’t provided blood, and Jamie hadn’t helped with the process, I think Mary most likely would’ve died under Lillian’s needle. Considering she had literally zero actual experience at real surgery, it would’ve been incredibly likely that her mental state would’ve interfered with her doing it correctly. And it’s not like she’d somehow find a way to calm down all on her own when proceeding with her first actual surgery ever.. on her best friend.. where a small mistake could kill her. So again, it seems reasonable to assume that her decision would’ve been the correct one, absent outside influence.

          Lastly, she *has* been doing her job. She has fixed up some Lamb or other in every single arc so far, and in most of them someone would’ve died without her help (or I suppose some other prepared doctor’s help). It was commented in Esprit de Corpse 5.7 that Lillian did more than Shipman (which I take to mean that she was faster, more efficient, and generally better at fixing them up than Shipman). This is the first time she’s faced such a hard decision, (that we’ve seen) and it was under pretty massive pressure. She wasn’t sure of her abilities, and worried that either she’d hurt more than help or end up doing little enough that it would’ve been better to bring Mary to the hospital in the first place. It’s not like her options were “do nothing” or “do something that will help”–her options were “try to help by getting her to professionals who know what they’re doing and are not shaken” or “try to help by attempting to do the surgery myself”. She had legitimate reasons to think that bringing Mary to a hospital ASAP was the best course of action to take, even if she was ultimately wrong. Your analysis can be pretty much perfect and still give you the wrong conclusion if you don’t have the right information.

          To reiterate, (at the risk of belaboring my points)
          1) People are rarely able to properly estimate the probabilities associated with potential avenues for achieving some goal, especially when shaken.
          2) I’m not even convinced her analysis was that off, given her knowledge of the situation. I’m also not convinced that Sy alone could’ve calmed Lillian down and/or helped her with the surgery; I think Mary probably would have died without Jamie helping Lillian do the surgery.
          3) She’s done her job very well up till now, so she isn’t bad at her job. The correct decision to make in that situation was definitely not obvious.

          Looking back over this and your posts, I kind of get the feeling I’m talking past you.. (not addressing your concerns) I don’t really see how your statements outline a problem with Lillian. Could you clarify what your problem with her is, exactly?

          • Yes, we may be talking past each other.

            I should note that I like Lillian as a character, and have no issue with her actions from an out of story perspective. It makes sense that she wouldn’t be able to do this surgery without having her hand held.

            I’m criticizing her from an in-universe perspective. The Lambs aren’t war machines in a traditional sense, so they’re looking to avoid straight fights if they can. Most missions, they’re going to just need minor patching up. Lillian isn’t for when things go right, she’s for when things go wrong. When she’s called upon to heal the Lambs, this is generally what it’s going to look like. However unfair it is to ask Lillian – to ask anyone – to perform under such conditions, this is her job.

            Example: It is normally unreasonable to expect people to run into burning buildings. If someone is a firefighter, however, we can reasonably expect them to do so. Furthermore, we can reasonably expect them handle running into burning buildings without panicking unduly.

            If facing a situation that is well within the umbrella of ‘your job’ causes you to lose the capacity to deal with that situation, then you lack the ability to do your job and arguably should not be trusted to hold that position. I feel that, even if this situation was not part of the initial description of her job as it was explained to her, Lillian has more than enough experience with the Lambs to understand what it truly entails.

            1) This is true. I think that Lillian shouldn’t have been shaken to the extent that it affected her ability to assess medical situation. Following off of that:

            2) Lillian knows, or should know, everything that Jamie does about medicine. She might need to ask Catcher’s blood type, but that should have been the extent of it. If she didn’t panic, she would’ve been able to use her knowledge and skills to save Mary.

            I like characters who know what their limits are, what they can handle, and what they cannot. It’s a large part of what I liked about Amy from Worm (if you’ve read it). If Lillian indeed realized she was panicking too much to provide proper medical care to Mary, I can still only give her 1/10th of a ‘know thyself’ point for it. If she truly knew herself, she would’ve known she had the knowledge and skill to save Mary…furthermore, she would’ve known beforehand that she would panic in these sorts of situations, and could not adequately perform her role within the Lambs.

            3) I disagree. She has patched them up, but this is the first time a Lamb has really been at death’s door and in Lillian’s care: “It’s your job to keep us alive. If you fail at this the first real time that’s in question, I’m not sure why we keep you around.”

            Sy’s being as harsh as I am, but I think he’s being truthful.

          • I disagree about your analysis of the situation. Sy lies all the time, and in this case, he was telling mostly-truths and *trying to get her riled up* to shake her out of her bad mental state. Sy specifically noted that she was panicking, and then took action to help her not be in that state, but his approach to nearly every situation is to rile someone up. Being angry is much better than being shell-shocked, so he riled her up.

            Furthermore, here’s a list of her doing her job that we’ve actually read about explicitly: she kept Sy from death’s door on the very first chapter (without her, he almost certainly *would’ve* died from the acid. The fact that he probably counted on her being able to help him is inconsequential) She helped Helen after the eel-like creatures used tentacles to completely mess up her face (though it’s unclear exactly how much help she needed, since Helen is not really human). She helped Mary after she was hit by a stool thrown by an 8-foot tall monster with shoulders as broad as Sy is tall, after which she could barely move (couldn’t throw knives or walk quickly, at least, and had “agonized” look on her face). She helped Sy not die after he got shot by a gun firing ridiculously sized bullets and helped Jamie and Helen recover from the poison gas they inhaled, (which might’ve contained something flesh-eating) then later in the same mission patched up Sy, Mary, and Gordon from poison gas blinding them, (and closed Sy’s stomach wound again) and fixed Mary and Gordon after they were nearly killed by Melacholy.
            All of that is to say that I think Lillian has *definitely* been doing her job and keeping them alive when they’re at death’s door.

            Having the knowledge and skill to do something does not indicate you are likely to be able to do it under pressure. Tons of people have trouble with tests, and it’s not as though they just aren’t trying. Lillian has consistenly performed very well in the past, and her ability is only being brought into question now, in this situation where it seemed like it’d take a miracle to save Mary *and* Lillian was not in the right mental state to even attempt a fix. Leaving aside whether she made the right call with the knowledge she had, even assuming she made the wrong call with her knowledge of the situation, it’s *reasonable* to think that people who are shell-shocked and panicking will make bad calls.. it’s not the fault of the person for making the call, except insofar as it would’ve been reasonable for them to *not be shell-shocked in the first place*. I’ve argued it’s actually kind of amazing she held up as well as she did, and I wouldn’t have have fully faulted her if she’d been panicked beyond help.

            So, leaving aside whether she made the right call, whether she should’ve been panicked at all, and whether she had been doing her job up until this point.. I seriously doubt that they could find someone more skilled than Lillian to join the group, (and I imagine any transition could easily destroy the group dynamic anyway) and I can’t imagine that anyone they’d find would’ve been able to handle the stress any better without a ridiculous amount of training.. maybe a teenaged veteran combat medic or something? Who also has Doctor-level skills? Sure, she had to be led by the hand, but the fact remains that she *did the work*, which, as you say, is her job. As someone else said, the fact that she was able to patch someone up on the street with limited tools after multiple organs in their center of mass were perforated and they’ve bled out to the point of unconsciousness… is insane, and indicates she might be a wizard. I’m doubtful they could find anyone else who could do the same, and even if they did, I have no reason to believe they’d even want to join (and The Lambs wouldn’t be too keen on such a transition, either). Again, I think Sy was being more truthful afterwards, where he told her that she was the best little doctor in Radham.

          • Just to and some other thought to the discussion… I think Sy is outright lying about not keeping Lillian. They got no choice but to keep her; regardless of her performance. They have three other options: 1) going without medical support at all, which is out of the question for obvious reasons.
            2) letting Jamie take over, which would require him to read medical texts, which the academy does NOT want or
            3) going with some sort of Doc who has more experience and routine in treating major injuries. Quite likely, this Doc would be quite a bit older and therefore he or she would limit the effectiveness of the Lambs. Or could not join them on most missions which would defeat the purpose. Plus, Sy drove the last grown up care-taker out of business as soon as he had the chance. She was not a Doc, but it was quite clear that Sy would not work with non-Lambs for an extended amount of time.
            Therefore, Lillian is the best option there is… Not optimal, I’ll give you that, but… Plus, she is not the first Lamb to endanger her companions well-being through a personal fuck-up. Gordon did so in the Sub Rosa Arc, with Shipman and, well, there is Sy…

      • She didn’t so much rise to the occasion as she was dragged and pushed to meet it. As Sy puts it: “You have the ability. But if you don’t have the capability, well…”

        If Mary life was left in Lillian’s unheld hands, I’m really not sure what her fate would’ve been. Once more, I know I’m being harsh, but I expect better from her.

        • Lil MAY deserve extra credit here: the method used here has been proven to be ineffective in real life: IIRC Europe used to believe in giving as much care as possible at the scene of the incident. Then they failed to save Princess Di, and the continent switched to the (already statistically superior) U.S. philosophy of getting injury victims to a hospital ASAP and saving them there. Obv. There is more in play in the twigverse than IRL.

          • That depends. It’s often potentially dangerous to move injured people and first aid training often advises not moving them unless in an immediately dangerous situation. EMTs have the training and equipment to transport patients safely. The Lambs could potentially have killed Mary trying, and they’d have to deal with checkpoints, doctors diverted to weapons development, and hospitals overfilled with war casualties before she started getting actual treatment.

          • Sure, I’m not denying any of those complications, but I think there may be some confusion about “moving her” i.e. from the middle of the room, to somewhere with cover, and “transporting her” to a central hospital prepared for treating severe traumas.

            You don’t need EMT training to learn how to move a potential spinal injury — I learned how (only as an absolute last resort) in a wilderness first responder class. It was a risky maneuver, since it would have to be performed without knowing the full extent of the damage, but in the wilderness, you might not have another option (that includes “waiting for help”).

  7. Huh. Of course the mad scientist would ply his skills on himself, why wouldn’t he. I’m more surprised it wasn’t enhanced in some way.

    The lack of recognition on seeing Mary at least shows it doesn’t have all his memories. Can’t say anything about all his smarts, the clones probably understand at least as much about cloning as he does.

    That got disastrous quickly. Percy basically went S-class all by himself.

    • If Lillian spills these beans, she’ll get much, much worse than a pat on the head and some playful buttpokes.

      No idea if Catcher is a liability or not. He’s friendly, but we don’t know his entire situation.

      • Lillian likely already knows about Jamie’s medical knowledge. She was the one who took care of Sy after Jamie already patched him up. Given that she’s been included in discussions about defection and treason, I think the Lambs all trust her.

        • I don’t think Lillian knew. She was shocked as soon as Jamie revealed his knowledge. But I doubt she’ll tell the Academy, or at least Sy doesn’t; he seemed much more concerned about Catcher’s reaction than Lillian’s. As for Catcher, well, he could be a concern… hope they won’t have to kill him or something, he’s pretty cool.

  8. I don’t really see a reason to clone Percy. His greatest power is probably his training and knowledge, and he’s probably not able to transmit his memories into a clone. It would probably take years before the clone is ready to act as a leader. Maybe it’s just Wolves imprinted on his appearance. But then some plastic surgery on the Academy side would mess them up. Probably I’m just wrong about his tech, though.

    • We know info can be transferred with stuff like Caterpillar. Its possible the clones all have some basic knowledge imprinted on them. Also if the assassins are trained to follow Percy, making the head clone Percy could be useful.

    • I think you underestimate how casual you can be about sci fi cloning. It isn’t that there’s no reason to clone Percy, its that there isn’t any reason not to.

      Double Percy may not have the memories or skills, but neither does random hireling. As long as you have to teach someone anyway, might as well be a blank slate you can make loyal.

      • The thing I like about Twig is that it registers as a “hard” sci-fi for me. That is, they don’t explain stuff, but I haven’t yet seen a lot of impossibilities. And then cloning a person just gives you a newborn. They may be a talented newborn, and a fast-growing one, but they still need a few years to learn about human society. Fighting may be simpler, a one-year old dog can already be trained as a fighter (probably, I’ve never actually trained fighting dogs), so instilling this type of instincts for a “brain department” person may be possible. Understanding of humans… I’m skeptical.

    • I’m pretty sure he’s upgraded his tech since making Mary. The Wolves couldn’t have been taught from mental infancy in the time available; they must have had some skills imprinted or they’d still be learning to walk and understand English. Obviously the technology must have some limits or they’d be perfect at everything and have slaughtered everyone with no difficulty, but it could very well extend to transferring medical skills.

  9. This chapter has everything: ship teases, Sy being a troll, the Lambs and Catcher showing why they’re superweapons, a hook for the next chapter and some good old character drama.

    Gotta love Helen and Catcher’s fighting style.

  10. “I don’t even have blood, like you guys do,” Helen said.

    Really? Because Helen was bleeding in the Bad Seeds Case, when she got stabbed.

    • The blood she has “isn’t like” the blood they have. My guess is she’s cold-blooded or something along those lines.

      I’m far more curious about Sy’s blood being poison. Does this imply some sort of immunity to poison? Because I can totally see him playing the iocane powder game.

      • Wasn’t his immunity to poison stated multiple times as an explicit (unitentional? maybe yes, maybe not) beneficial side-effect of the Wyvern project?

        Frey is also probably immune.

        • Didn’t Frey use poison gas once to knock everyone except herself and Sy out? I think it was when they confronted her at the water reservoir.

          • In arealistic universe, immunity to poison =/= immunity to alll poisons. If there was anyone whowould know what poisons the wyvern treatment doesn’t give immunity to, its Frey.

          • Yeah, but she was affected too, so it’s only logical that she would choose a poison that she is immunge against, and so would be Sy.

      • He may just be talking about Wyvern itself. Sy has had years to get accumulated to the level he’s at and the scientists are using him to find the breaking point of Wyvern. It might be too much for someone with no tolerance to have at once.

  11. To help myself navigate this giant story I’m going to briefly take notes on each plot line, or rather each chekhovs gun waiting for resolution

    Overarching background plotline: the crown, the war

    Jamie: secretly more capable than he’s supposed to be
    Gordan: considering defection, soon to wear out
    Mary: eventual confrontation with Percy near inevitable
    Sy: a million shipteases. He almost certainly has some major long term plans that he’s never bothered narrating. He may have some subtle mental controls he’s unaware of.
    Helen and Lillian have not had major plot teases, yet, that I’m aware of.

    In addition, multiple villains have been revealed with implicit promises that they will be returning and playing a major role in the future, most notable Fray, the former contender for main character.

    I still don’t understand the actual plot underlying all the mini plots, but that reminds me of my situation during large stretches of Worm, so I’m okay with waiting patiently.

  12. I’m starting to wonder if Lillian is herself an experiment. An unaltered, but mentally gifted human surrounded by modified humans and artificial lifeforms in her age bracket who are engineered to be superlative at a given skill to see how well being surrounded by excellence helps the unaltered human achieve their full potential.

    As for blood, I imagine interspecies blood transfusions probably aren’t a great idea even between closely related species, and it’s well-established that the only thing human about Helen is her default appearance(hell, I doubt her species would even fit under the Primate classification if given a full taxonomy). Transfusions between Helen and the other lambs would probably be akin to trying to transfuse blood between a human and a cat. As for Sy’s poison comment: Wasn’t it mentioned that Wyvern was a cocktail of poisons in sufficiently low doses to not be lethal? As long as Sy’s been on the stuff, I can imagine his blood has build-ups of stuff that his body has had time to build-up an immunity too that would be at or near lethal concentrations for someone who’s never taken Wyvern.

    As for the Amry of Percies, the clones would need to know how to operate and maintain the equipment, but could probably accomplish their task even if completely ignorant to the underlying technology, similar to how one doesn’t need to know how a computer works to use one or how a car works to drive one. In theory, Percy and his clone army would all need Caterpillar like modifications for Percy to efficiently teach his clones more than the bare minimum they need for their job in a reasonable amount of time.

    • Given that Percy quite clearly has Academy-level support (from the last bonus chapter he was in), we can probably assume he’s at least able to imitate anything we’ve seen them do so far. If clone Percys would require a backup brain databank to function, then that could only mean Percy has a backup brain databank.

  13. Percy performed Number 1 of the villain tricks: Never fight yourself, if you can send someone expandable.
    I’m now thinking, with his relation to the Lambs and especially Mary, his ability to multiply himself, his grudge against the Academy and his connection to the title, Percy will achieve the biological Singularity and be the final villain of Twig.

    • Well, there’s one point to be made, though. You can’t fight the post-singularity mind. It better than you at everything. It better at strategy, it better at tactic, it better at manipulation. It can guess your position and tools at your disposal, it sees trumps up your sleeve and understands them better than you. It sees its own weakness which you could exploit and can fix them all. It can convince you, it can deceive you, it can perfectly predict you, your actions and, if given at least some sensors, your thoughts. And it thinks magnitudes faster than you.
      I would say its like a grapple with Contessa, but it’s far, far worse.
      Whoever first achives the Singularity wins, no exceptions.

      • You know, that sounds exactly at what the villain says right after getting on a new power level and is now boasting.
        If you would now say. “There’s no way you can defeat me now. I’m invincible!” you’re defeat would be 100% certain.

        And does the Singularity finally allows one to understand the grappling rules? That would be truly a superior mind.

        • Yup, the biggest difference between this villain and the post-singularity mind is that the post-singularity mind is correct.

          • That remind’s me of a quote in Freefall, where a villain says about the hero, that she is the most dangerous kind of criminal, the one who thinks she is right when she’s wrong. When asked what the difference between him and her is, he answers: “The difference is, I am right!”

            Sweet, sweet Hubris.

      • Worse than fighting Contessa? While grammatically and syntactically correct, I’m not certain that sentence has any meaning.

        Reminds me of the excellent scene in year 3 of Super Powereds where gur whvprq greebevfgf ner nggnpxvat Ynaqre, naq gur tvey jub guvaxf fur’f n tbq pbzrf hc ntnvafg Mreb.

  14. I’ve been thinking it for a while, but Jaime is totally the Lamb you want on your side, if you can only pick one. In this chapter alone he goes from being pretty decent at knife throwing, solely by virtue of remembering how others do it, to being able to guide a trained(ish) doctor through an operation using only piecemeal knowledge. And really, the only way he’s moving is upwards – the more knowledge he absorbs, the more useful/dangerous he is. (Until his expiration, possibly 😦 ).

    • The world is lucky that jamie is nice…

      It would have been very easy for him to snowball his knowledge into some projects of his own to find out everything the brilliant minds of the academy know… and then singlehandedly make something way out of reach of academy minds…

      Jaime might be the cause of the future sy wants to see come to pass.

  15. I had wondered why the doctors of this world didn’t go in for heavy self-alteration. I suppose multiply cloning yourself would count, too.

    • It’s certainly possible, but not very likely. Mary was from a set of experiments that needed to be taught even the most basic of skills. The Percy clones are almost certainly born preprogrammed with certain skills and behavior, much like the Wolves. This shows a definite progression of skills and ability.

      If Percy Prime were a clone, shouldn’t he have already known about making clones with imprinted skills?

  16. I have to say that I really liked this chapter, more so than usual, as my favourite one in the arc so far. Helen is creepy, and still just as lovely as ever. And I am now very worried about Jamie, especially considering we’re most likely not at the end of the arc yet, and the arc title… *appreciative nod to Lillian’s skills*

    I kept a closer eye on Sy this time, and in doing so it becomes so obvious that he’s somewhat fixated on Mary, and he’s not at his peak anymore, yet the unreliable narrator still sounds very reliable while reading… Wildbow does that fantastically. And amusing how Sy just happens to omit how far off target he was, only mentioning that Jamie was very far off. He seriously needs an appointment, but it’s fun reading him like this, and watching him change! He seems to be slightly losing it in a sleep-deprived fashion. I’ll have to re-read everything again! 😀

  17. The post-singularity mind is smarter than any human by definition, but that doesn’t make it a god. It’s not omniscient; it cannot make accurate predictions without accurate data. It cannot predict your actions without allocating sufficient computational resources, and those are finite. It’s not omnipotent; it only has the resources it’s been able to obtain. It can manipulate you, but only if it can communicate with you. And even if it can pick the best possible outcome, it’s still only picking from the list of possible outcomes.

  18. I can only think that -this- is what the cloning Tinker from Worm would have been like if he’d been a little more on the ball. I dislike Percy as a person, but the man has moxie and I respect the lengths he’s willing to go to. Great opponent.

    Holy shit Mary almost dying was scary.

  19. Aside note, man I’m glad I’m two years behind. I’m going through these faster than is probably good for me since I’m likely to catch up before it’s all over.

    Ah, it’s like the good old days with Worm and Pact after catching up. Wildbow, I love and hate you, same as always.

  20. Lillian could’ve just sucked it up and said she was the best little doctor in all of Radham. It should be easy to do with anti- polygraph test tricks, by thinking she’s the one of the only “little doctors” in Radham, thus having few competition for first place.

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