Tooth and Nail – 7.9

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Armed men led me out of the building, with Warren joining them.  We made our way across the more open street, until we were just beyond the point where I’d been made to kneel, a coat over my head.

The Lambs were there, in the shadows, smoke and the rain, the group spaced evenly apart.  I saw them before my escorts did.  The men started, reaching for guns, and it was Warren who stopped them.

Gordon stepped forward.

He was hiding it, but I could see the smouldering anger in his eyes.

“Everything good?” his voice didn’t have a trace of that anger.

A nice vague question, conveying teamwork, expectations, while giving nothing away.

Gordon was a good guy.

“It’s good,” I said.

He nodded before turning his back.  I followed him back into shadows, leaving the men and Warren behind.

Mary, Gordon, Helen, and Hubris knew what was up, and they moved easily from areas of shadow to areas of deeper shadow, or to places where there was more smoke and cover.  The art of disappearing, honed over a long time, for the humans.  For Hubris, I imagined it was training.  I wasn’t positive that dog had the brain of a dog.

Lillian, though, was just walking away.  I could imagine how the onlookers could see her, and I was pretty sure she wasn’t disappearing properly.

I reached out to grab her sleeve, and tugged her into deeper shadows.

We made our way to the nearest tower, then climbed to the roof.

The Brechwell Beast was just close enough to give some cause for worry, but not so close that I was worried about my footing on the roof.

I was one of the last ones up.  I knew what to expect when I reached the top.

Glares, folded arms, concern.

I got out of Lillian’s way as she got off the ladder, and being mid-step on more precarious footing, I wasn’t in a position to dodge as she slapped my arm hard.

“What did you get?” Gordon asked, quiet.  The anger hadn’t really subsided, and he was still talking in that cool, collected way.

“You’re not going to get on my ass, sock me in the face, or anything like that?”

“At this point I’m suspicious you enjoy the reactions,” he said.  “No.  The mission.  What were you going for, and what did you get?”

I frowned.

“Because if you didn’t actually have an objective,” he said, pausing as the Brechwell Beast struck a wall, “I am going to be upset.”

“I wanted to know what they were doing.”

“Do you?”

I nodded.  “Bring the Academy’s knowledge to the masses.  Bring the war to a close with a few final, major events, distracting us from the distribution of very easy to understand texts.  Hurts the Academy in terms of the power gap in what they’re making, in terms of control, in economics, makes for more competition over the resources the Academy wants.”

“No.  We have classes on ethics, procedure,” Lillian said.

Really?” I asked.

“Yes!  Of course!  So much would go wrong so fast, if you just started handing out these books and basic starter kits like the ones they sell to young Academy students.  It would be horrible, Sy.”

“Oh,” I said.  “Because my gut instinct was to maybe not fight as hard as we might otherwise fight, when it comes to this.  I’m not sure, but Fray might be willing to negotiate a trade, here.”

“A trade?” Mary asked.

“A few key players from their side, in exchange for letting this thing happen?”

“Fuck,” Gordon said, under his breath.

My eyebrows went up.  Harsher language than his usual.

“We lost Jamie,” he said.  “Not in the final sense-”

Yes in the final sense,” I said, my voice low.

“Whatever.  However you look at it.  I’m bringing it up even though we’ve been dancing around the topic for months because I don’t want to lose you, Sy.”

“You won’t.  I knew exactly what I was doing.  I know how Fray thinks, I know how to dance on this razor’s edge.  I’m here, aren’t I?”

“You’re here and you’re talking about entertaining her ideas.”

I couldn’t keep meeting his eyes, so I turned away, only to find myself looking at Lillian.  I ran my fingers through my hair, fixing it, as I paced a little.

I came face to face with Mary and stopped in my tracks.

I talked to Percy, I thought.  But I couldn’t say it without it coming across as manipulative.

“What are you doing, Sy?” Gordon asked.

I turned away from Mary to look at him.  “What do you mean?”

“You’ve been acting different all night.  Changing your pattern, increasing the tempo and intensity, making calls and now you’re working against us like you’re trying to keep us off guard?”

“That’s not what I’m trying to do.  But I knew you’d try to stop me-”

“For good reason!” Mary said, startling me.

“I’m here!”  I said.  “I walked in, I walked out.”

“Without the bag?” Mary asked.  “Without the bag with Jamie’s books in it?”

“Oh.  Gosh,” Lillian said, under her breath.

“We’re going back tomorrow,” I said, annoyed.  “We’re going to walk out then too.  With Jamie- ‘s books.  Okay?  We walk away with an idea of what Fray is doing, with an idea of how to counter it or steer it in the right directions.  Mary gets to look Percy in the eye, we confront Fray, and with her preoccupied like she is, trying to juggle two factions and a half-dozen plans, we’ll have her at a disadvantage.  It will be the one and only time, maybe, that we ever have that.”

I looked at each of the Lambs.  I even looked at Gordon’s dang dog, in hopes of seeing a glimmer of understanding.

Gordon approached me.  I could see the anger in his eyes, the frustration.  I steeled myself.

Pretty much expected this since I’d realized I could walk inside those doors down there.

But Gordon didn’t hit me.

When his arms wrapped around me, I wondered if he was intending to simply toss me over the edge of the roof.  The size difference, the strength difference, my chronic low weight, I was willing to bet he could.

“What are you doing, Sy?”

Mary stepped closer, putting a hand on Gordon’s back, her expression unreadable.  Lillian hung back, both hands on her satchel with the medical equipment inside.  Helen was perched on the peak of the roof, slightly above us, staring, more old Helen than new Helen, just for now.

Seeing them, I was choked up in a way that made me feel like I was in the midst of drowning.  I wanted to get out of the hug, to have space, to have a chance to explain, and it didn’t feel like they were giving it to me.

“I’m trying to say it right.  The thing with distributing the books, it’s the second phase of a greater plan.  She’s got another plan.  I think, and maybe Lillian can say if I’m on the right track or not…”

I reached out for help.  Lillian didn’t give any indication she was going to play ball.

“…the work that comes out of the books.  Could it have a signature?  Give everyone the tools to make stitched, to create life, to create the right drugs, grow Warbeasts, I don’t even know, but in a way that sets them apart from the Academy.  Then, when she makes her next move, it’ll be easier to frame the Academy for it, like she did with the sterilization and the chemical leash, because that precedent exists.  She can establish a narrative, at a time when the Academy has less credibility, when it’s damned itself by trying and failing to control the spread of this information.  That the Academy is worse than it is.  The next war comes around, the rebellion is better armed, the Academy is hurting.  Step four drives a wedge into the cracks that become apparent.  I’m not saying this is it, but it’s- don’t you see the scale we’re operating at, here?”

“Sy,” Gordon said.

His tone suggested he wasn’t listening to me at all.

“Let go of me!” I said.  I fought my way free of his arms.   I backed away a few paces.   “Listen to me!”

“I hear you,” he said.  “We all do.”

“I’m right.  This is what I do, this is what I’m for.  I can figure a way forward, find what we need to do to exploit and derail her plan, and this war will be over, no more mice will have to get thrown into vats to make ghosts, people won’t end up conscripted by the Crown and find themselves facing down a cousin of theirs in a gunfight!”

“Probably,” Gordon said.  “But that’s not what we’re talking about.”

“It’s the mission!  It’s what we’re made to do.  I’ve been explaining for something like three or four minutes and we’re not talking about it?”

“No.  We’re not.”

“Because I seem to recall the last time we met Fray, you were thinking about defecting,” I said.  “You were close, too.  If a single snowflake had fallen on your back, it might have been the push you needed.”

The words hung in the air.

Gordon didn’t flinch.  The reaction wasn’t even all that profound with the other Lambs.  A turn of one or two heads, looking at our tallest, strongest member.  Curious looks, but it was almost as if they were wondering what his reaction was, more than they were wondering if it was true.

“I’m not even talking about going that far,” I said.

“Yeah,” Gordon said.  “I hear you.”

“Then what’s the problem!?”

“The problem,” he said, and his voice was quiet, “Is that I’m worried you’re falling apart even more than I am, and I have seams, Sy.”

“I’m here,” I said, my voice low.  “I’ve been in top form tonight.”

“You’ve been in a form, Sy,” he said.  “I’m just not sure it’s yours.”

I could have hit him, if I didn’t know it would be futile.

“What do you want, Gordon?  You’re getting on my case, you’re making me play this dang-blasted guessing game, like I’m supposed to unravel a riddle that isn’t even a riddle.  Tell me what you want me to say or do, and I’ll say or do it.”

“Just tell me, Sy.  What are you doing?”

“Trying to do the mission?  Trying to figure out how to beat a woman that’s smarter and on better footing than I am?  Apparently without the help of my team?”

There was no response.  Mary kept one hand at Gordon’s arm, barely inches separating them.  His dog stood on the other side of him.

“Okay,” I said.  “Forget the mission.  You want me to bare my emotions?  I’m trying to figure out how things work with the group being a different shape, one man down, one dog up, and two more members on the way.  I’ve been worrying ever since the last time we saw Fray that the group might splinter.  Thanks to you, by the way.  You did start that.”


“Is that the answer you’re looking for?  I’m trying to hold things together, that’s all.”

“I think we’ll both know the answer when you give it.  But that doesn’t seem like you’re answering the question.”

I might have screamed in his face, if I didn’t think it would cause problems.

The Brechwell Beast was tearing at another set of houses a short distance away.  Widening the gap made by some of Fray’s explosions, it looked like.

I wondered if any people were dying in the process.

“Sy,” Mary said.

I snapped my head around.

“When you went down there, were you running to, or were you running away?”

“Don’t do this, Mary.  Don’t throw cryptic questions at me and expect answers I don’t have.”

“Because the rush, the recklessness, the fact you’re so adamant about wanting to get this done before the new member arrives… before Jamie arrives-”

“That’s not Jamie,” I said.

“-it seems like you’re running away.  And now you’re talking about working with Fray?”

“Not working with, just not working against as hard as we might.  Everything we’ve done to this point, what has it been for?  Does Fray really hurt the future of the Lambs and the betterment of mankind?  Are we really going to sit here and pretend we like the Academy, the Duke is an all-around stand up guy?”

“I think you’re evading.”

“I evade.  You might as well accuse Helen of acting.”

Gordon spoke up, “I just want a satisfactory answer to the question.  You, someone, just convince me that you’re not losing it, and I’m open to further discussion, whatever you guys want to do.”

“What am I doing?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said.

I threw my arms up, and I started walking away.

My body felt oddly light, and it wasn’t because of the exercise or the fact we hadn’t really eaten since early evening on the train.  The bag of books wasn’t on my back anymore, and the absence made me feel weird, eerily disconnected from the ground at my feet.

Jamie wasn’t at my back.

The others were following me, I knew.  I could have bolted.  Gordon and Mary would have caught me.

I ran my fingers through my hair again, then jammed them into pockets that had only just started to dry out while we were indoors.  Late in the evening, late spring, soaked through, I felt cold to the bone.

I wheeled around.  The others stopped in their tracks, but for Lillian.

I waited patiently as she made her way across to me, carefully striding so one foot was on each side of the gently peaked roof.  She pulled off her coat and extended it to me.

“No,” I said.


“You’re a girl,” I said.

“It’s unisex, Sy.  Nobody’s going to poke fun.”

My finger touched the ring at my thumb.  “I meant you’re a girl, so it wouldn’t be right.”

“I’ll live, Sy.  Just hold my hand so I don’t fall off this roof, okay?  And so I know you won’t run off?”

I nodded.  I was too tired to fight.  The last few minutes of conversation had sapped all the fight from me, and I wasn’t sure I had it in me to even try for flight, either.

“You were going to say something,” Gordon said.  “When you stopped there.”

“Oh,” I said.  “Yeah.  Forgot.”

“What were you going to say?”

“What if I don’t have an answer for you, Gordon?  What if there’s no magic answer that makes sense of what I’m doing in a way that satisfies you?”


I shrugged.  “Well?”

“I don’t know, Sy.  We adapt.”

We adapt.  He said it in a way that made it sound like we were talking about his body failing on him.  A inevitable, growing disability.

“Gimpy boy and his dog and Sylvester end up on the bench, while the new Lambs look after the next few missions?” I asked.  “And then someone else ends up benched, a new Lamb comes out of the Academy and replaces them, and so it goes, until we’re all reminiscing about the old days?  Doing the same tests we did back in day one, testing our cognitive ability as it slips away or our bodies fail?”

“I remember those days,” Gordon said.  “The days we first met, the tests.  I hated those things.”

“I found ways to make it interesting,” I said.

“I know.  You did.  I realized what you were doing after a bit, and then tried to mess you up, or throw a wrench into the works.  Then you made it harder to figure out what sort of games you were playing while we were playing other games, and so it went.”

“Is that what you’re afraid of?” Lillian asked.  “Being benched?  Being replaced?”

“No,” I said.  “No, that’s… not at all it, no offense.  That’s the human condition.  Parent replaced by child, except we won’t ever be parents, so this is a different sort of legacy.  The only thing I’m afraid of is losing you.

I looked at the other Lambs.  “Any of you.”

The Brechwell Beast roared, not so far away.  I watched and listened for a second.

“Sucks,” I said.

Lillian squeezed my hand.

“Always thought it would be you guys falling to pieces and I’d be putting my brilliant mind to task with figuring you out and how to handle it,” I said.  “Goes to show how good I am, if Gordon’s right and there’s some riddle to my behavior I can’t answer.  Can’t even understand myself.”

“If I’m wrong,” Gordon said, “If there’s no complicated riddle to unravel, then that’s worse.  Because you can’t keep going like this.  You can only dance on a razor’s edge for so long.”

“Complicated?  I don’t think it’s complicated.”

All heads turned to Helen.

“Uh, clarify?” Gordon asked.

“Not complicated,” Helen said.  “It’s very simple, I think.”

“No, clarify about what ‘it’ is,” Gordon said.

“Sy is acting,” Helen said.  “He’s playing at being Jamie, and he’s doing a really bad job of it.”

“You might be getting confused,” I said.  “The longer hair, carrying his books around, it’s not an act, it’s a homage.  I don’t know.  A way of keeping him around.”

“It’s an act,” Helen said, firm.  “A bad act, because you don’t have the right tools.  You said you didn’t want to see the Lambs die.  The only thing any of us can do is hold someone in our hearts.  There’s an emptiness when they go, and we fill in that emptiness with memories.  Or drink, or work, or violence, sometimes, but mostly with memories.”

“Poetic,” Mary said.  “Where did you hear that?”

“I’ve been studying!  Ibott says it’s useful for when I’m older and I have to lure in men,” Helen said, smiling.  “But it’s true!  Sy is filling his heart with memories and he has a crummy memory.”

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” Gordon said.

“Yes!  It is!”  Helen drew closer.  “Sylvester is trying to fill the empty space in the group’s heart, too.  He’s doing what he was made to do.  He’s trying to cover for the things that Jamie used to do.  The map, drawn on his shirt, that’s Sy being Sy to give us something that Jamie would have known like that.”

Snap of her fingers for punctuation.

“And walking into Fray’s meeting?” Gordon asked.

“Jamie would have known who the people are and he would have had ideas about what they were doing.  He could have drawn connections.  But Sy knows that if he just walks in and introduces himself, he will get an idea of who people are and what they’re doing.  He can draw connections.”

The others turned their eyes to me.

“It sounds awkward because it is,” Helen said.  “Jamie is probably the worst one of us to try and make up stopgap cover-ups for.  What Sy is trying to do, all the other stuff, like letting the Brechwell Beast out, he’s trying to get control.  Because he’s insecure.”

“Hey,” I said.

Lillian squeezed my hand.

“Control through chaos?” Gordon asked, still staring at me.  “Yeah, that sounds right.”

“It’s not about insecurity, thank you very much,” I said.  “But I don’t know.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to cover the gap that Jamie left.  How to keep things working smoothly, so the group stays effective.”

“You’re doing it,” Helen said.  “In a weird way, but you’re doing it.”

More than I realized?

“The first part, anyway,” Gordon said.

I sighed.

“Jam- the replacement might be coming tomorrow,” Gordon said.  “This thing with Fray, is it you wanting that control?  Impact the world, even secondhand, let them know ‘we’re still here’, ‘we still matter’?”

Even without Jamie?

“It’ll have to happen before he shows,” Gordon said.  “If we decide to do it.  We’ll need to discuss this thoroughly.  Come to a consensus.”

“Then we-”

“In the morning, Sy,” he said.  “We come up with a game plan in the morning.”

We turned and started moving as a group.  There were soldiers and weapons gathering on some rooftops nearby.  They were surrounding the perimeter of Fray’s building.  Some of them had equipment to hook them to the rooftops, with long guns that were screwed into the roofs.

Dog and Catcher were waiting not too far away, with a Wry Man who was slightly hunched over.  The Wry Man was flushed, veins sticking out of his face, and jerked in reaction to the movement of me withdrawing a hand from a clammy pocket.

“Status?” Catcher asked.

“No update,” I said, leaving out any mention of my visit with Fray.  “They’re not budging.”

“They’re talking about mounting an attack.”

I shook my head, “No.  She’s got a maneuver she’s going to pull.  Moment we try, half our soldiers turn on the other half.  I don’t think she plans to leave at all.  Her soldiers in the towers are going to subtly guide the Beast away from her for the meantime, and they’ll be part of the uprising if and when she makes a move.  When the dust clears, she’s the one in charge of Brechwell.”

“How sure are you?” he asked.


He nodded.  He stared off into the distance.

“Don’t attack, then.”

“Bad idea,” I said.

“What do we do?”

“Wait.  Bide our time.  Gives more opportunities for the soldiers in towers to make mistakes.  In daylight, the Beast won’t be guided by any lights from the towers.  With a lucky roll of the dice, he might head in that direction.  Without that lucky roll, the Lambs will make a move.”

Catcher nodded slowly.

“You look tired,” he said.  “Go sleep.”

“You’ve been at this for longer than we have, you were here when we arrived,” I said.

“This is what we do.  We’re watchdogs,” Catcher said.  “You rest so you can do what you do.  Tomorrow.”

I was pacing in the bedroom when the door cracked open.  I stopped in my tracks.



I turned, a little confused.  It was Lillian, wearing the raincoat I’d given back to her.

“Doctor’s visit?” I asked.

“Do you need one?”

I looked at my bandaged hands, then shook my head.

“Then no,” she said.  She closed the door very gently, then put down a bundle and pulled off her raincoat.  “I talked to Mary earlier.  She explained about what Rick was saying.”

“Ah,” I said.  “Rick.  That.”


“Me as some tug of war rope while you and Mary engage in a competition or something to prove something.”

She blinked, looking startled.  “Sy, no.  That’s not-“

“Can we not?  I don’t think I’m in the mood.”

She shook her head, collecting herself.  “You’re in a mood.  Why aren’t you sleeping?”

“Thinking,” I said.  “About tomorrow.”

“Stop thinking.  Relax,” she said.

“Give me something, then.”

“I’m not going to give you something,” she said, sounding exasperated.  She crossed the distance to me, grabbed my arm, and hauled me over to the bed.  She shoved me down onto it.  “Stay.”

“Staying,” I said.

“And don’t look,” she said.  “I didn’t want to come here in a nightgown with all of the soldiers standing guard between here and the other building.”

“It’s my room,” I said, pointedly turning my head to look at her.  “Who are you to make rules about looking or not looking?”

She didn’t have a reply to that, but her face flushed pink.  She began unbuttoning her top.

When things reached the point where I might have seen something, I simply muttered, “Whatever,” and looked away.

“This isn’t a competition,” she told me.  “She encouraged me to come.”

“Sure, in the interest of playing fair,” I said.

“That’s not- stop that!”

“Fine,” I said.  “Mary sleeps nude most of the time she sleeps over, you know.”

Lillian froze.  I could see in my peripheral vision, and turned my head slowly to look her way.  She was holding the nightgown up in a way that protected her modesty, yet to pull it on.

If it’s not a competition on any level, that shouldn’t matter, I thought.  But it is, so you’re considering your options.

“Just kidding,” I said.

“You’re the worst.  You really are.  Look away.”

I did.

Lillian finished pulling the nightgown on.  I climbed under covers and scooted over.  She climbed in next to me.  Where Mary had found a natural configuration beside me, often with her back pressed to me, Lillian curled into me.  She positioned herself lower down, head on my shoulder and chest, arm reaching across my torso, one leg draped over my legs.  The fabric of the nightgown at her knees got in the way, so she hiked it up.

It took her a few seconds to find the exact right position.

“Mary always wear scratchier stuff,” I said.  “Lace and stuff.  This is softer.  It’s nice.”

I plucked at the hem of her nightgown.  She swatted it out of my hand and slapped my chest.

“Go to sleep,” she said.

I lay there, staring at the ceiling.  After a few minutes, she raised her head to look at me.

“What were you even doing?” she asked.

“Normally I’d be reading,” I said.  “but I don’t have the books.”

She nodded, head rubbing against me.  Her breath was warm against my chest.

“Doesn’t it get boring?  Reading the books over and over again?”


She nodded again.

“I miss him too,” she said.  “We got along.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “He was a good guy.”

“I’m really scared about tomorrow.”

“I know,” I said.

Then she didn’t say anything more.

It took me far too long to realize that there was a damp feeling against my chest, little movements.  I shifted position, lifting my head up.


Pulling my shoulder out from under her, I changed position, so I was facing her.  I wiped tears from her cheeks.


She hit me.

“Come on,” I said.  I pulled her head against my chest, and she burrowed close, clinging tighter.

I stroked her hair, over and over, rhythmically, but I was the one who was lulled into sleep.

Alongside the nights I’d had Mary stay over, it was the fifth night of sleep I’d had in two weeks.

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72 thoughts on “Tooth and Nail – 7.9

  1. How intimate.

    Jamie should come back without glasses. Iirc his need for them was a personal choice, as the Academy can fix eyesight fairly easily.

    The Academy can fix anything that made Jamie “Jamie” fairly easily.

  2. Somehow I don’t see sleep deprivation as being very good for Sy in particular, seeing as how the drugs he’s been taking are already wreaking havoc upon that little brain of his.

  3. Aw. Gordon hugging Sy instead of punching him was really cute.

    Poor Sy, feeling like a lump of meat being traded between Mary and Lillian.

    It’s interesting-the major thing keeping Sy from being on Fray’s side is that she’s allied with Percy. What the Ghosts did to the Mice was one of the only times we’ve seen Sy take an emotional, moral stance. And to be fair, the Ghosts remain worse than pretty much anything we’ve seen the Academy do. They singlehandedly lose the Rebellion the moral high ground. I wonder how Sy will use that?

    • Eh. The Academy will employ plagues and sacrifice their human soldiers in mass quantity out of pointless spite. They were in the process of preparing a chemical leash and mass sterilization program. They totally did kidnap and experiment on orphans too.

      In my opinion, the most damming thing about the Academy’s actions is that they happened in peacetime. The Ghosts are an atrocity, but they’re mass-production soldiers for a war the rebels are losing, and making them really does outright require children. That doesn’t really make it right, but I can nevertheless believe that they’ll stop doing it if they win, or at least that the leadership will try to rein Percy in. If the Academy wins, I would be unsurprised if they take up making Ghosts of their own.

      There’s also two factions of rebels, and the atrocities seem mostly confined to the Firebrands. The Spears inducted volunteers for the Plague Men and apparently their combat drug troops. Their rank-and-file will defy orders to protect apparent innocents. They’re on the same side as the Firebrands, roughly, but in no position to control their actions, and the atrocities probably play a major part in the split.

      It also says quite a lot that the Spears make extensive use of modified humans who retain their intelligence. The Academy uses monsters because they can’t trust people, and the Firebrands seem to be in the same boat.

      • Counter eh: Almost nothing is worse than a crap government. But no government is one of the few things in that category. Bad as the Academy is, they keep things vaguely sane. A Hobbesian biopunk nightmare will make people long for the Academy days.

  4. This reinforces Helen as my favorite character. She’s a work of art, and is developing empathic insight by analysis to go with her previous awesome traits!

    • Not sure if empathy. Working out how a target thinks and feels to get a better grasp (‘scuse the pun) on where they’ll be? Isn’t necessarily “empathy”, even though it’s close enough to be sharing rent.😛

    • I think Helen’s thing is better than empathy, because people empathize mostly by comparing with self and mirroring others’ state, so it only works well on similar people.
      Helen analyzes creatures alien to her (humans, other experiments) and uses the knowledge without unnecessary side-effects (like getting caught up in others’ feelings).

  5. “No. We have classes on ethics, procedure,” Lillian said.
    No. We have classes on ethics, procedure
    classes on ethics, procedure
    ethics, procedure


  6. Typo?
    With Jamie- ‘s books -> Extra hyphen.

    Wildbow, god damnit. This chapter is making me want to cry. There’s no big loss, but there are so many emotional bubbles bursting open. And poor Sy, his friends are more concerned than angry at him and he had no idea how to manage that. He was prepared for anything but compassion and understanding.

    I gotta say, I’m pretty surprised no one noticed Sy entering the building, Dog and Catcher in particular, and no one tried anything.

    • I actually think that hyphen was intentional. I think Sy was about to say “with Jamie” and amended it to say “with Jamie’s books.”

    • All the apostrophes have been right single quotation marks, but the sentence Zim references uses a left single quotation mark. Might be that extra space:
      With Jamie- ‘s books.

      Ends with a left double quotation mark instead of a right double quotation mark:
      She blinked, looking startled. “Sy, no. That’s not-“

    • “Mary always wear scratchier
      -“Mary always wears scratchier

      arms. I backed away a few paces. “Listen
      Two triple spaces

      Sy did say earlier this arc that bringing Jamie’s books was the “next best thing”…😦 Really great chapter, though!

  7. God, with how inhuman the lambs usually appear, this is the most emotional chapter yet. There were other chapters with bigger impacts, but this one is the first real display of emotion on this level without the dulling of shock, and it really got me. Top form Wildbow.

  8. One of the best chapters so far! I love it.

    Helen’s point about Sylvester, his conversation with the rest of the group, Lillian desperately trying to cling to him. Gordon was being extremely Gordonish, too! I love the way he’s blunt-insistent-patient with Sy.

    The last scene really made me want to cuddle with somebody.

  9. Jaysus the thought of Sy spending every night just reading Jamie’s books over and over again is just heartbreaking…

    Also awww Helen appears to have genuine emotions of her own, with Sy worrying her enough to prompt her to take action off her own bat.

        • The paranoia with Helen is that you never know when her emotions are genuine, if ever, and when they aren’t. We really need a first person perspective from Helen.

        • “Given the real thing and an indistinguishable fake, which is worth more? The fake is of far greater value. In it deliberate attempt to be real, it is more ‘real’ than the real thing.”

          Helen isn’t quite indistinguishable, but she’s definitely trying.

          • Did not expect a monogatari reference here. And yes Helen is definitely trying, but is the trying for the sake of an act or for the sake of being genuine?

      • Other Lambs have alluded to how Helen doesn’t “want” things the same way humans do, so it’s probably a safe bet that most of the human emotions she exhibits are fake. I guess we’ll see soon how well they pass for the real thing.

        If the Lambs end up defecting, is Helen going to stick with them, or Ibott? So far, she’s appeared pretty unconditionally loyal to him, but since her main selling point is that she’s a perfect actor, it’s hard to really tell. There are probably whole libraries written about the importance of keeping artificial lifeforms leashed, but we’ve seen a couple slip-ups. The snake charmer. Those grass-rats. Percy, in a way.

        Personally, I really want to see Helen go rogue.

        • Helen clearly “wants” something, or she wouldn’t do anything. The big question, to my mind, is whether she sticks with the Lambs to please Ibott, or pleases Ibott to stick with the Lambs. It may be telling that she didn’t make a big push to end up as the Duke’s concubine/bodyguard even though that would please Ibott greatly.

          Or maybe it isn’t Ibott or the Lambs she likes; it’s the missions.

          • No, not the missions. Well, not only those. We’ve seen her hit a different kind of happy when she gets to use her skills, meets new experiments, eats treats, gets improved…

            That happiness feels very simple and natural, and I tend to think it’s her baseline pattern. I’m not a 100% sure about it, since she could be acting out through several layers and nothing she showed so far would be genuine.
            However, given her eventual purpose, I feel like Ibott enforced some guidelines for her character building. Enjoying new experiences seems to be one (probably to help with learning all the important tidbits and getting close to targets).

            The only real question left is, how many licks does it take to get to the core of a delicious Helen Pop ?

      • Idk Helen appears to be designed to essentially be passive and reactive, she follows her orders, picks up on cues and goes with the flow. To decide to make a series of observations and offer emotional support off her own bat suggests to me something more is going on.

        • I would say Helen does have emotions of her own just not like what we have. By her own admission she enjoys the hunt. She is also a sadist. Possibly half feline and half human in her personality. She is a predator. She wants security (food at least). She searches for pleasure (cake + her world view). These are what you would see in most predatory animals. The other side is that she takes intense pleasure in cruelty. She wants to torture he victims for as long as possible because she enjoys is. Saying that it could all be an act but I would think that those traits are real because they would be useful. She also seems to enjoy anything that would enable her to better capture, torture and kill her victims.

      • Just because she’s not human and has (presumably) control over what emotions she is feeling does not mean her emotions are not “real”. If when she says she is sad, this is indeed an unpleasant experience for her, characterized by thinking of negative things, then why would you say that this is a fake emotion?

        • I’ve seen no particular evidence that she necessarily feels the emotions she expresses. That would be fairly counterproductive in an assassin and basically begging for her to defect. I’d call her emotions fake because I don’t believe they impact her actions; she plays the innocent little girl on missions but will casually murder people.

          Some of her displayed emotions may be a reflection of her true emotions through the lens of her fake personality, but it’s hard to say which.

  10. “Doesn’t it get boring? Reading the books over and over again?”

    Well, of course it doesn’t get boring, he is Sy, he can’t remember even the half of it. x3

    …too soon?😡

    On a different note: This whole chapter was heartwrenching.😥 Just that Sy keeps slipping up regarding Jamies presence… I REALLY hope, he gets back those books.😡
    Stray thought, didn’t Jamie write those basically for his new self, so that he would still know about his friends and everything they did? Sooo… Maybe one more reason for Sy to dread the replacements arrival?

    • Maybe getting rid of the books is a way to let the “new Jamie” be a new separate person, rather than a mimicking shadow constantly reopening the wounds of grief.

  11. This is an intervention Sy.

    And the Sy/Lillian shipping is absurdly strong this time. But I think it isn’t a competition between Lillian and Mary at all. They are just trying to keep Sy from cracking apart.

      • If the shippers are competing, let’s keep in civilized. I don’t want to ever have to deal with a crazy shipping war again. Ever.

        But really at this point both Lillian and Mary are co-operating. Sy keeps this up, he’ll end up with both of them in bed. Then he’ll be too warm.

  12. Called it!! Sy is adapting to fill in Jamie’s place, because Ashton.

    (not quite, I was thinking Sy would become the new Caterpillar mobile probe, but I guess this is close enough)

    Maybe, maybe, all the old/original Lambs EXCEPT Sy get benched one by one and Sy acquires each of their skills using Wyvern and then and then he become THE ULTIMATE BRAIN.

  13. So, like, Lillian has a family, somewhere, right? Because that could be an issue if the Lambs ever go rogue. On the other hand, she never talks about them, and wherever they are, they seem to be okay with her becoming essentially a child soldier in exchange for tuition, so she probably isn’t exceptionally close to them?

  14. Fantastic chapter. Of course this usually means something terrible is going to happen on short notice, but hell if I’ll let that spoil the mood.

    Everyone should know that spoons are better than pills to deal with sleeping issues.

  15. Hm. You know, the thought occurs, given how Fray’s plan is basically handing bioweapon kits out to everyone that wants one, that her “saving humanity” might translate to “Killing everyone in the Crown States.” Given, you know, expansionist empire driven by insanity and paranoia who produces WMDs for not real reason beyond just because.

  16. Calling it now: Catcher totally knows the lambs are thinking about turning traitor. He won’t tell anyone, though. He doesn’t want them to, and if he gets the order, he’ll make a best-faith effort to hunt them down and kill them, but he believes they should make their own decisions.

    • There’s certainly something interesting there…. We know Catcher is a) insightful and b) has very good sensory apparati. Then there’s the loose thread of Sy’s worrying about being betrayed by the other experiments… he spent a lot of time thinking about that this arc, so far without any narrative payoff. It might have been just an attempt to illustrate Sy’s mental state, but it could also be foreshadowing (ironic twist: it’s the Lambs that are the betrayers, and the other experiments that are loyal and bring them in?).

      Also, there’s still the open question of who told the Duke about Jamie… We know Catcher knew, and Sy actually told Lilian “They’re good guys… Others aren’t. Be careful.” And there was that weird throwaway remark by Catcher that Sy should talk to Dog about his Jamie problem. Lots of little details, not adding up into a pattern… yet.

  17. This chapter was intense. It got real emotional there. I can already tell this’ll be one of those chapters I’ll keep revisiting. With this, and last chapter’s walk into the lion’s den, I think it’s safe to say I have a new favourite Arc. The problem with that though, is that it’ll inevitably be replaced by Arc 9 when we get to that. This story has only gotten better, which is impressive considering how good it was at the start. I actually reread 1.1 just a little while ago and enjoyed it more than I did the first time round, without context. But yeah, I’m really loving Twig.

  18. You know, I never expected so many ship teases in Wildbow’s works.

    But as long as we, as a community, don’t go to RWBY levels of shipping, I’m fine.

    • RWBY is nothing, try homestuck -_- .

      It helps that the author has a lot of fun playing with shipper’s expectations though. And having more than one type of love.

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