Enemy (Arc 7 – Boys)

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“Here we go again,” Sylvester said.

Ashton stared at the boy, uncomprehending.  Here we go again?  What did he mean?

He said a lot of things that were hard to puzzle out.

Understanding was important, the people back home kept saying.  Had to learn, had to study.  Ashton was here to study by experiencing.  But Ashton had more questions than there was time to ask.  If he started asking then he might never stop.  Jamie didn’t mind, but Jamie wasn’t the only person here.  The train car was packed with people, and people that listened to Ashton speak for too long had a way of acting funny and getting concerned.

Then he had to make them less concerned.

But that was a problem too, Jamie said.

Click click click click.  Hard shoes tapped the floor of the train car.

Here we go again, Ashton realized.  It was the woman again.  He turned his head, looking up, just as she came into view.  She was tall and pale and had dark hair.  She was more like the pictures of pretty ladies they had shown Ashton than the pictures of the ugly people.  That was a hard thing to figure out.  If he paid too much attention to what made people pretty, the parts of the face, then he still made mistakes.

Jamie had figured that out first, after watching Ashton’s class on people, faces, and acting.  Jamie had found a medical textbook and showed it to Ashton, and Ashton had called the woman in that book pretty.  That upset a lot of people.  They asked him questions and Jamie said that the way her face was shaped, the shape of her eye, the look of her eyebrows, nose and mouth all seemed right.

But the drawing of the woman in the book had a problem with the eye.  The woman here had no scar on her face, no missing parts, no pocks or poxes.  She looked young and smooth and wore makeup with a uniform that meant she was a member of the staff.

She put a hand on Ashton’s head as she leaned in between the two benches the Lambs sat on.  “Can I get you anything?”

“No,” Gordon said, sounding tired.

“We have biscuits in the staff’s car.”

“You’ve mentioned the biscuits,” Gordon said.  “No thank you.”

“Something to drink?”

“No,” Gordon said, firmly.  “Thank you.  We need some privacy, please.”

“The train arrives shortly.”

“Thank you,” he said, for the hundredth time.”

“I’ll give you a hand when you step off the train.”

“No need.  Thank you.”

“No need,” Ashton echoed Gordon, voice soft.  He was bad at controlling his volume for different situations, so he spoke quietly just to be sure.  Most people listened when he talked.

The woman walked away.  Ashton stared at her, watching her go.

“What’s that,” Sylvester asked.  “Thirty times?”

“Thirty-one.  Close,” Jamie said.

“Bully for me,” Sylvester said.

“You need to learn some control, Ash,” Gordon said.

“Okay,” Ashton said.  “It’s a problem?”

“It’s annoying,” Mary said.  “We’re supposed to be covert.  Having people flocking to us?  Not covert.”

“I could push her away.”

“Don’t,” Jamie said.

“I think that would be a horrible idea,” Jamie said.  “Look.”

Ashton stared at the point of Jamie’s finger.

“No,” Jamie said.  His expression and tone were patient.  Ashton remembered that lesson.  “Imagine a line, drawn along my arm and out past the point my finger extends, where does that line go?”

Ashton knew his brain didn’t work like a human’s did.  When he imagined something new, he had to work to do it, and the things he imagined overwrote the things he saw.  The line appeared, red because Ashton preferred the color red.  He followed it, head turning, and had to work to correct it so it was mostly straight.

Sitting across the aisle was a family.  The two younger children and the mom were staring at the Lambs.  The mom raised her hand in a small wave, smiling.  Behind the family was a window, looking out on fields and trees.  An orchard.

“I’m pointing at the family.”

Ashton nodded.  Nodding was the thing people did when they wanted to say ‘yes’ or to agree, but didn’t want to say something.  He was supposed to nod if he would say yes more than twice in a very short time, which was often when he was getting a lot of instructions.  He wasn’t supposed to talk too much until he learned how conversations worked, so he’d chosen to nod.

“If you try to make people go away, it makes them feel uneasy, scared, sick, or angry,” Jamie said, his voice quieter than before.  Jamie’s hand had gone back to his lap, and the red line that stretched out from his fingertip was pointed at the train car wall under the window.  “If you do that in this train car, where people have been breathing you in for a long time…?”

Ashton looked around.

“Chaos and panic?” Sylvester suggested.

“Yes,” Jamie said.  “I was asking Ashton, though, because it was a teachable moment.”

“Ah, right.”

Chaos and panic.

Ashton watched as people all around him started getting up from their seats, hitting each other, pushing, trying to get away.  He could hear them as they made noise.  They weren’t real people, only his imagination, and he wasn’t good at imagining people.  The blood-stained pictures in his mind’s eye were distorted, the faces weren’t symmetrical – that was the part about the one-eyed woman’s face that the acting teacher had explained was important – and some had only one eye, or eyes in the wrong place, or stretched out black circles for mouths.

He’d seen a lot of blood spatters during and after the fighting in Brechwell.  The organ structures in his head, described as coral-like in appearance by one of his doctors, were busy calling those images from his memories, painting them around the train car.  Sometimes the scale was wrong, or it was the wrong angle, against the wrong surface.

But he was supposed to practice, and it was pretty enough to look at, so he let the images and the spatters and the dead bodies keep overlapping, even though none of it made sense anymore.

Jamie was talking, he realized.  He made the imagined-hallucinated screams stop so he could understand.

“-when he gets more control.”

“Nuanced,” Sylvester said.

“We hope,” Jamie said.

Ashton nodded.  He wasn’t wholly sure that he understood what they were saying, but sitting still and doing nothing bothered people sometimes.  Jamie said he was supposed to practice when and how he spoke and participated, even if he got it wrong, but only with the Lambs.

“It’s interesting,” Sylvester said.  “Figuring out how to move this particular game piece, with all of the inherent problems it brings to the picture.”

“Game pieces?” Lillian asked.  “Is that how you see us?”

“Only when we’re playing a game, Lil,” Sylvester said.  He looked to one side and then groaned.

Click click click click…

“I have mints in my purse, if you’d like-”

“No,” Gordon said.  “Thank you, miss.”

“Okay, I just thought you should know the train is stopping now.”

“Thank you,” Gordon said.

“I’ll help you with your bags.”

“No need.  Thank you.”

Ashton turned his head to look up at the woman.  His imagination had the father from across the aisle swing the smallest of the children by one ankle, the head cracking open against the back of Ashton’s seat.  Blood flew into the woman’s face.  She didn’t move or flinch.

That was false.

He was supposed to practice.  He imagined it happening again, her expression changing.  What were the right emotions?  Disgust and fear.  The two put together, what was it?  Horror.

He watched the scene replay, over and over, trying to piece it together until it looked like something that should happen.

“Ashton,” Gordon said.  “Pay attention.”

Ashton realized the woman was gone.  The scene broke down into constituent parts, those parts scattering.  He turned back to Jamie.

“Don’t forget your umbrella,” Gordon said.

“Don’t open it until we’re out of the train car,” Jamie corrected.

Ashton bent down and picked up his umbrella.  The others were getting their coats on.  He didn’t have one, because using an umbrella was easier than remembering how to get dressed in a way that didn’t draw attention.

“Try to focus, okay?  I know you and Jamie aren’t facing the same danger as the rest of us, but what comes next matters.”

Ashton nodded.

Focus.  He stopped practicing.  The images went away, one by one.  He looked across the aisle, and the images there went away too.

The train stopped before he was finished.

The Lambs made their way out, grabbing their bags from the compartment by the door.  The man at the bottom of the stairs down to the train platform helped each of them, smiling at Ashton as Ashton stared up at him.

There was a group waiting for them.  Ashton’s doctors were among them.  The department heads, the new Academy Headmaster, Professor Hayle, Professor Ibott, and a number of others Ashton didn’t recognize stood at a point just past the exit from the station.

“Hoo boy,” Gordon said.

Ashton watched the family that had been across the aisle walk past.  The youngest child’s head was imagined-hallucinated to be broken apart from when his head had been smashed against the back of the seat, contents leaking out.  Brains were gray but they looked pink when seen fresh because of the blood in and on them.  Ashton left the little boy like he was, because it was pretty, and because red was his favorite color.



Gordon’s hand reached down to find Hubris’ head.  He gave it a pat and a scratch, more for his own security than for Hubris.  Mary stood beside him.  That was security of another sort.

Scares like this were bad for his heart.

“Lord Duke, Lord, Headmaster, esteemed professors,” Gordon greeted the committee in his best guess at order of hierarchy.  There was a new noble as part of the group, and Gordon didn’t recognize the man.

The Duke and the new noble were wearing hunting clothes, pants clinging to their legs, long jackets.  The noble in the Duke’s company was younger, no older than eighteen, as far as age could be estimated by appearance when a noble was concerned.  He had a pointed, jutting chin, stood tall at seven feet, narrow and long-necked.  A swan turned human.  Graceful, imperious, and, Gordon knew, swans were absolute bastards when met face to face.

Like the Duke, the man’s hair was long and golden, but his hair was straight and flowed straight down his back, more supple than hair should be.  He wore a checkered scarf in yellow and black.  His teeth, as he smiled, seemed wrong somehow, too uniform and white, and his fingers were especially long, poking out of the embroidered sleeve of a hunting jacket.  The nails were long and sharp, and the fingers were marked with jewelry.

He wore a sword, Gordon noted.  Noble anatomy, modified to be stronger, faster, inhuman by most measures.  Gordon couldn’t say why, but he had the vague sense that the man could and would draw and use that sword to dispatch anyone who insulted him.

Sylvester would be able to say why he gave off that impression, Gordon knew.  All Gordon had in this situation were his instincts.  He’d heard of the mad nobles, the dangerous ones, and this one felt more dangerous than even the Duke.

Please don’t talk, SylvesterDon’t say anything.

“This is the Baron Richmond,” the Duke said.  “A cousin.  We were near Brechwell when we heard of the situation in Brechwell.  Genevieve Fray spotted and effectively cornered.”

Lower in status than the Duke by six orders of nobility, Gordon estimated.  He wouldn’t speak out of turn.  That was good.  Gordon could imagine the man establishing his presence through violence and the making of examples.

“Walk with us,” the Duke said.  “Your bags will be looked after.”

Gordon’s, “Yes, my lord,” joined a number of others.

He didn’t even wait to see if the Lambs listened.  The Baron fell in step beside the Duke with no trouble.  The pair walked fast enough that their retinue and the other professors had to work to keep up.  For the Lambs, especially the smaller ones, Ashton and Sylvester, that was doubly difficult.

The crowd parted, people already had their heads and eyes toward the ground.  As the Duke advanced, people of all social classes dropped to their knees on the damp road.  It was as though an invisible wave preceded him, knocking people down.

“Who have we lost to her side?” the Duke asked.  He didn’t turn around.

The Baron was watching over one shoulder.  Gordon felt uneasy.

“Out of the superweapons, Dog and Catcher, to be sure, my lord.  Petey was confirmed.  Most of the rest, but we can’t be sure who,” Gordon said.

“The Baron has been arguing that you’re more liability than asset,” the Duke said.  “We don’t know where the Lambs stand.”

“The Baron is wrong,” Sylvester said, adding a belated, “My lord.”

Gordon momentarily closed his eyes.  Hearing Sylvester speak, even before the sentence was finished, had Gordon’s heart skipping a beat.  Cognitively, he knew Sylvester had gauged the situation and no doubt gauged it well.  But there was no room for even small errors, not here.

The Baron had a dangerous look in his eye, but he hadn’t spoken.

“Do you think so?” the Duke asked.

“Yes, my lord,” Sylvester said.

“I said much the same thing.”

“Yes, my lord,” Sylvester said.  Gordon could hear the note of smug satisfaction in Sylvester’s voice.

Provided we decide you’re trustworthy,” the Duke said.  “You’ll give your report to the professors, the Baron and I will look over the written transcripts, and we’ll give the final judgments.”

“Yes, my lord,” Gordon said, before Sylvester could speak.  He couldn’t let Sylvester take command of this conversation.

“My sisters will want to participate as well,” the Baron said.

“Do you think so?” the Duke asked.

“They’ve been so bored, and have complained about being left out of the hunting trip.”

“Very well, the twins as well.”

The twins.  The words were akin to a bell in Gordon’s memory.

Gordon had heard of the twins.  To be exact, he’d heard about them in the context of the mad nobles.  On the flip side, mention of mad nobles as a general topic invariably meant mention of the twins.

“Little Helen, I think the Baron, Baronets and I would enjoy your company after all is said and done, should you be cleared of wrongdoing or dissent.  You and Professor Ibbot shall join us.”

“Yes, my lord,” Helen said, curtsying without slowing so much it mattered.

“I’m honored, my lord,” Ibott squawked.

“Yes, yes,” the Duke said, sounding annoyed the man had spoken.

“If they aren’t cleared of wrongdoing, we should have them join us for company all the same,” the Baron said, still staring at Sylvester.  “As I said, my sisters have been bored.”

“I wonder if I haven’t read a fairy tale about something like that,” the Duke said.  “It seems unwise to invite a group of assassins over for company and amusement, especially if they’ve been proven as traitors.”

“One at a time, then.  Or send their creators in with them.”


Gordon could see Ibott react to that.

Hubris touched his nose to Gordon’s hand.

Gordon’s heart was thumping.  It was a limping struggle, one side stronger than the other.

By all rights, he should have stopped walking and let it calm down and find its rhythm again.  He kept up the pace.

“That in mind, I would recommend we err on the more conservative side of things,” the Baron said.

The Duke, still leading the group as they walked up to the Academy, smiled at that.  “I’d ask if you meant conservative in the sense of preserving more of our Academy’s hard work, or conservative in avoiding potential traitors in our midst, but it would be a rhetorical question, dear Richmond.”

“I’ll be paying close attention to the verdict,” the Baron said.  “If I’m dissatisfied with the result, I’ll see that corrections are made.”

If he doesn’t get the guilty verdict, then heads roll.  Or whatever he and his sisters do to amuse themselves.  The Baron was a mad one too, then.

That would make for a fairly emotional discussion.  Some of the people in the meeting that were discussing whether the Lambs were too dangerous or not were in danger regardless of what happened.

Jory, Gordon’s head doctor, glanced back, offering a worried look.  He was one of them.

No trust.  Mary got along with her doctors, at least to the point of being able to have conversations.  Jamie did too.  Had and still did, presumably.  Sylvester… didn’t get along with most.  But Gordon’s team was a big one.  The conversations had been limited to small talk, a duty that seemed to be rotated between staff members to the point that little familiarity was established.

“Tell us,” the Duke said.  “A prelude to the interrogations.  What did you accomplish?”

“We know her plan, my Lord,” Sylvester said.

“The creator of the Ghosts is dead, my Lord,” Gordon said.

“That would be my creator,” Mary said.

“Mary had a strong hand in how that unfolded.  We couldn’t have done it without her,” Gordon said.  “With that settled, we can hope they don’t have the resources to keep developing and improving on that project, which we know was tying up our resources.  With luck, the project might die altogether.”

“And Fray herself?” the Duke asked.

“We didn’t have the manpower to stop her ourselves, with our forces distracted and other experiments turning coat, but we were able to make a last minute maneuver and steer the city’s superweapon her way.  A number of her people were injured.”

“Was Genevieve Fray?”

“No reports of such, Lord Duke.  She has Avis, wearing wings, as well as a brute of a man in her company, they could have scaled to a safer height or forced their way through a set of doors or a window.  We were talking about it earlier, but it didn’t sound as if she was successful in forming the alliance between the different factions,” Gordon said.


This was where he bent the truth.  He didn’t have the deserved reputation of a liar that Sylvester did.  He had the undeserved reputation as the honest one.

“Lord Duke,” Gordon said.  “In part, our actions disrupted the already tenuous negotiations between Genevieve Fray and Cynthia.  Cynthia split off to charge through the Academy’s lines.  Mauer’s side was displeased with how things were going before that, we killed one of his lieutenants, something that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t come to Fray’s meeting, and our final move, delivered with the Brechwell Beast, primarily hurt Mauer’s elite group of soldiers and may have even hurt Mauer himself.”

“You believe he’ll be at odds with her?”

“I believe, my lord,” Gordon said, “that he won’t be as sympathetic to her as he might be if things had played out otherwise.”

“And here I’d actually thought I had to invite my cousin to visit in order to hear someone tell me so very little of substance with so many words,” the Duke said.

“You wound me,” the Baron said.  The Duke smiled, but it was faintly derisive.  Gordon wondered if even close friendships in the Duke’s world were combative and bitter.

Hubris nudged Gordon’s hand again.

It’s okay, boy.

“I’m sorry to be vague, my lord,” Gordon said.  His heart hitched, and he bit back a gasp.  “I’m aware that if I’m too specific, and something contradicts the specifics, it will look bad.”

“Very true.  I have missed the Lambs.  I so often find I have to hunt for intellectual company, even among professors and supposed geniuses.”

“Yes, my lord,” Gordon said.  “Thank you.”

They were approaching the Academy gates now.  The armed guard at the gate parted, the gates opening as that invisible wave of presence extended out to touch it.

“We’ll be taking our leave.  I did promise Baron Richmond a hunt today, we’ll be visiting the underground labs to see what can be loosed.  Keep the Lambs separate, watch for their hand-signs, see to their appointments after or during, so we can be sure they won’t coordinate or correct one another’s stories.  Though I imagine they would have already, were they lying.”

“Yes, my lord,” Sylvester said.

Both the Duke and the Baron looked back at Sylvester.  Most of the Professors did too, the ones with their lives on the line looking aghast.

“If we were lying, my lord,” Sy said.  “We’re not.”

“You are very fortunate you amuse me, Sylvester,” the Duke said, sounding far from amused.

Then the Duke was gone, talking to the Baron as they walked.  The group remained where it was, the crowd that had parted remained still, almost as if it was in shock, unsure if it was safe to resume going about their day.

“Indoors,” the new Headmaster spoke.  “No talking.  It’s bad enough some of my superweapons have turned, I’m not about to lose my head, or half of my staff.  Radham Academy has to recover from this.  We do this perfectly, giving the Baron no excuse to target us.”

It wouldn’t matter, Gordon knew.

Claret Hall wasn’t far from the entrance.  Some staff broke away to look after other business.  The Lambs weren’t among them.

Gordon’s left hand went to his chest, rubbing at the sternum, as if he could somehow massage what lay within.  It wasn’t settling.

Beside him, Mary took his other hand.  It was only when he felt the warmth of her hand that he realized how cold he’d gotten.

His interaction with her had happened so gradually he wasn’t sure when it had unfolded.  She’d started expressing interest some time after he’d broken it off with Shipman, through little gestures, going out of her way to spend time with him, to practice, showing him her knife throwing so he could improve his own.

He’d stayed at arm’s length, because he knew Sylvester had feelings of his own for the girl, as well as a kind of possessive attachment.  With anyone else, there might have been problems, but she’d kept him at arm’s length, too.

It had just been that.  A pretty girl, regularly in his company.

But then Sy had started paying more attention to Lillian, and Gordon knew there was some manipulation there, Sy playing some matchmaking game, providing signals.  Gordon had let it be what it was and stopped worrying about hurting their friendship.

Then this thing with Percy, and Mary had drawn close.

It was awfully easy to let her.  All the rational reasons not to were suddenly very hard to bring up.  She wasn’t some common girl, he could never stand the usual girls, not the ones nearer his own age at Lambsbridge, not the ones he’d seen associating with the mice, not the pretty ones at Mothmont.

He liked Mary like he still liked Shipman.  Both were girls who demanded a special kind of respect, instead of being content to receive ordinary respect.  Smart, dangerous, strong in their individual ways.  But all of that was dressed up in girl.  Not girlishness or femininity, but in the distilled reality of girl.  He wanted to see more of them, hear them speak, touch them, taste them as he kissed them.  The way Mary’s skirt moved as she walked made him feel like he’d just stepped outside to sun and fresh air, after years and years of rain and Radham air that smelled like smoke, blood, and manure.

Helen’s explanation of her own desires were scarily in line with his own when put forward as an allegory for how strong his own feelings sometimes were.  What had she said?  ‘Feel every part of them with every part of myself?’

He glanced at her.  She gestured.  StrengthCourage.

“None of that,” someone barked, behind them.”

Mary lowered her hand.  She smiled at him.

They would get through this.  Looking at her like this, he could appreciate why people drew together, formed pairs, even with all of the difficulties of being in a relationship.

He imagined her face, contorted with a special kind of grief as she looked down on his body.

His desires and the new feeling of guilt joined the anxiety of the moment, the imminent questioning.  The feelings didn’t mingle or mix, but remained discrete.  A jigsaw set of emotions for a jigsaw body made of individual pieces that just so happened to be put together.

The Lambs were so similar in that way.  The distinctions between each were clear.  Yet the Lambs were to be split up.

The symbolic parallel gave him an uneasy feeling, as the Lambs were invited to sit on either side of the hallway, more than ten feet of space separating one Lamb from the next.  The doctors and groups of doctors positioned themselves to better block line of sight.

He spent so much of his time worrying, these days.  It would be so nice to stop dreading what came next and just focus on the present.  The closer Mary was to him at a given point in time, the more he felt like he could do that.  Probably why he’d been dwelling on her so much in the last few minutes.

“Sylvester first,” Hayle suggested.  “I somehow feel like we’ll want to take what he says and keep it in mind as each of the other Lambs speak.”

So much worrying.

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74 thoughts on “Enemy (Arc 7 – Boys)

  1. Somehow thought I was going to do all of the Lambs’s perspective in one interlude, because I’m a dolt, then as Gordon’s part got longer, I started thinking about dropping some of the Lambs, doing only a select few.

    Then I decided to hell with it. Let’s do the boys in one chapter, and the girls in the next (Friday’s). It’s not like this arc isn’t too long already.

    I wanted to write the Lambs’ P.o.v. and this felt like a good time to touch base, what with the focus coming onto the Lambs and the dynamic shifting here and there.

  2. So they decided to make a social manipulator and they… made one with autism.

    I can only imagine someone got fired over that and Ibott has been relentlessly mocking everyone involved.

    • I also notice two things about this chapter: It is labelled Enemy, and Jamie2.0 does not have a perspective in it. Those can both be taken multiple ways.

    • A very “d’oh” moment when the penny dropped, I guess. Sure, he’s great at spotting g things… good luck with the complete picture. 😛

      Ashton desperately needs both Jaime and Sy to actually function as intended. :/

    • Ibott would keep VERY quiet about it, I guess. Helen would have been very similar to Ashton in the early stages. She just learned to put up an act. But underneath? Just remember the ‘utopia talk’. Not so different from Ashton mentally experimenting what he could do and what the consequences of his actions might be. Plus, Helen was pretty homocidal. I think she mentioned somewhere that her very first impulse in life was to hug her creators. And we all know that this would result in a lethal amount of cuteness overload. And broken necks, twisted bones and contorted muscles. Ashton at least seems more… well… passive. 😀 Btw, I hope we’ll get some Helen/Ashton dialoge soon. A discussion between those two might be glorious.

      • Yeah, but there’s a very big difference between “does not have typical human emotions” and “is designed as a social manipulator, has mental processes resembling symptoms of a disorder most famous for making social interaction extremely hard”. The hallucinatory simulated potential consequences of actions thing is just a weird quirk in practical terms, but not being able to read facial expressions is kind of important for literally his purpose in existence.

        • True, but isn’t Helen also supposed to grow into a social manipulator? Although with a very different approach… Ashtons state of mind is far from ideal for his role, you’re certainly right about that. But I think he’ll learn like Helen did. He got Jamie and Sy to teach him and Helen and Gordon to imitate, after all. If he ever reaches that level and aquires more fine control over his abilities, he’ll be stellar. He just needs time and role models. Maybe more time than intended by the academy, though. At least that’s what I think.^^

          • I guess that depends on whether he can meaningfully be described as having autism* or if he has a nonhuman mind that develops differently from a human mind and presently resembles autism. The former isn’t going to go away; working with Sy and Jamie and learning specific rules for interpreting faces and deliberately keeping his voice low are all appropriate ways of managing it, but he’s never going to get to being a perfect social manipulator.

            Then again, that might be on purpose. Means the Academy can keep him from manipulating his handlers by giving them the antidote. They may have decided one Sy is quite enough.

            *to my knowledge the imagination overwriting perception thing is not associated with autism, but the stuff that gives him trouble with social interaction is.

          • Ashton also can be thought of as a facilitator of other people’s manipulation. If he can make everyone more friendly or more foe-ey, that’s plenty useful for one of the other Lambs to take advantage of, whether he himself understands why or not. Just teach him Hot/Cold and let Sy tell him what to do.

        • He doesn’t really need to know what a target is feeling. It’s irrelevant when he can force them to feel whatever he wants them to.
          Also, it means it’s probably impossible to manipulate Ashton, he doesn’t feel or respond in a recognisable fashion.

          • His power isn’t that convenient; he’s not capable of total mental control. While he gets to alter people’s emotions, if he doesn’t properly understand them he won’t be able to predict what they’ll do, and it will significantly hamper him before his pheromones take full effect.

            It’s also not going to make him immune to manipulation. He’s got recognizable human emotions, he just doesn’t express them in the typical fashion.

      • That lady in the train made about twenty attempts to treat Ashton to sweets. Imagine how much cake he could bring Helen, he’d be the best little bro ever.

          • Well, yes, but it doesn’t have “Hell” in it. And I don’t think I’d like to see the demons the two of them would make.

            Assuming they’re fertile, I mean.

          • Even assuming they are, Mary is different species and not even a primate. You can breed different species if they are close enough genetically, sometimes, but Helen is not that close to a human apart from being able to pass as one, so its like crossbreeding a monkey with a cat: not gonna work, reproductively, at least.

            Unless Helen’t creator made an extra effort to make her cross-fertile with humans for cover reasons. But then, Ashton has the exact same problems , as he is not human either, according to Sy’s fflashbacks.

    • It probably helps that he doesn’t have to understand what his targets feel, he can brute-force it and make them feel what he wants. But he’s definitely built for a gestalt rather than individual work.

    • They did, indeed, and in fact Ashton’s circumstances are substantially more severe than autism: austistic individuals still HAVE empathy; they simply have difficulty in establishing that empathic connection through social cues alone.

      As a result of this apparent shortcoming — in the long term — it will be much like the benefit Helen derives from her own lack of humanity. He will gain an intellectual understanding of human interactions, without the vulnerability of engagement or empathy. He won’t be compromised by any sort of feeling of connection or similarity to the people he influences. Instead, he will be able to perceive the world clearly, mold that image into the shape he wants, and then make that change a reality through his pheromones.

      • Actually, don’t underestimate the amount of feedback info and nuance a working sympathy-empathy set of processes gives you. There’s a reason why there’s a rainbow: the highly empathic types have advantages and weaknesses the antisocial don’t. And, visa versa. There’s a reason clever high functioning types learn to use empathic people as walking litmus paper to bounce off — and, a clever empathic finds somebody to provide a little distance. 😉

        Ashton is very screwed if he can’t read well enough or fast enough to survive the next week with two nobles in play and, by the look of it, getting isolated from both Jaime and Sy from the starting gate. Nobles I suspect don’t react to his pheromones in anything like ways he’d expect. He’s got a very steep learning curve ahead with a cliff that butts directly against a blue-ringed octopus tank with multiple residents. 😐

  3. “Jamie had figured that out first, after watching Ashton’s class on people, faces, and acting. Jamie had found a medical textbook and showed it to Ashton”

    Jamie found a textbook? And the professors didn’t notice? Or is he allowed to read textbooks now? Only simple ones?

    Oh no :< Jamie and Ashton will become best bros, like Jamie and Sy once were ;~;

    Ashton really likes blood. I wonder why? Would it have anything to do with the way he was created? And that's creepy :< For what it's worth, though, I think everyone has fantasies of bashing the heads of children sometimes. I wonder if he can slip, though? Make people fight each other because he was lost in thought.

    The Duke hair's straight? Iunno why, but that's cool. I like him more now (he still isn't forgiven because of Jamie ;~;). Also, while I have no doubt the Baron is just following the Duke's lead in the conversation, and the Duke would suggest the same things the Baron said, the Baron really is sadistic.

    HAAAAAAAAAAAAYLE NOOOO. You gotta help the Lambs, your head is also on the line!

    • Dukes outrank barons by quite a lot: the Baron is pushing his luck in the dialogue. Probably more than Sy does around the guy… mind you, Sy isn’t a cousin. The Duke can break Sy into tiny bits without the rest of the family going ballistic. 😛

      • I missed a section there: the whole Duke, Baron, Helen, Gordon and Sy interaction boiled down to the Duke carefully not ordering the Lambs to find a way to off his obnoxious cousins without him looking bad or they’re all toast. And, Sy basically telling him he could have picked a better week — and, dude: how not-subtle can you get? 😛

        • At the expense of indirectly proving a point about me not being subtle, I am not sure what you mean D: (I spent a while writing a comment about what I thought you were referring to, and I just realised that’s probably not it xP)

          Regarding the Duke’s intentions, wow! I like that a lot, it didn’t cross my mind once. I can’t imagine why the Duke would want to kill his cousin, and not have it done by now, but otherwise it seems pretty appropriate. I’d like to see that happen.

          • Probably several reasons… not least “awkward family gatherings”. But, if your dumbass cousin gets himself and his twin sisters killed because they messed around with superweapons in ways they were explicitly warned not to… Well, how is it my fault the idiot got what he deserved? Besides, it was this kind of mismanagement on his end which created the uprising in the first place… (he and the twins were probably the Nobles who pushed Avis and a few other Rebels becoming what they did — not bright). 🙂

          • WRT: Duke’s intentions:

            How messed up would that be if the Duke himself was subtly orchestrating some or all of the enemy groups because he’s realized some of the stuff that the academy is doing is totally messed up and largely due to his cousins’ insanity, or perhaps because he thinks the academy has gained too much power & needs to be taken down a peg or 2.

      • I get the feeling that breaking any member of the Royal Family will make 20-25% of the family (secretly) pleased with you, this Baron more than most.
        Of course, the Duke would probably still end up pissing off more powerful people than he makes happy. (Narrowly.)

  4. When I realised who this was going to focus on, I was as excited for a chapter as I’ve ever been. More. What a perfect way to finish off what’s been my favourite arc so far. Pretty much every chapter since Sy first met with the rebels has fallen into the “excellent” range to a differing extent, IMO.

    Ashton’s a little disturbing, with all the power over people he has, and his complete lack of understanding on how to apply it, or why. And the fascination with blood and death (the “red” line got really creepy) doesn’t help.

    Gordon continues to be great. Although the inside of his head isn’t quite how I imagined it. He’s… less certain than I pictured, maybe? In fairness, this is a unique and dangerous situation and I imagine a non-stop awareness of your own mortality wouldn’t exactly do wonders for your nerves. For me, every mention of his heart had mine in my throat. Really not looking forward to when Gordon dies.

    Aside from those two, I always love getting a look at the main character from an outside perspective, seeing how the world sees them.

    Really looking forward to the girls PoV next chapter.

  5. 1.x: Percy vs Dog&Catcher
    2.x: Mauer vs the Stitched
    3.x: Fray vs Whelps
    4.x: Godwin vs Hangman
    5.x: Sanguine vs Lambs
    6.x: Avis vs Duke
    7.x: Lambs vs Nobles

    The inversion, it is intriguing, yes?

  6. I really really really want to see how nobles would lookif their absolute power and authority broke down. It would show their tre colours. Oh well, not happening soon …. or maybe at all.

  7. A thought on the enemy title:

    Perhaps since Sylvester is the POV character for the normal story, enemy only pertains to Sylvester’s enemies. Perhaps Gordon is still loyal to the academy and, after what happened with Jamie, Sylvester is not any more. Or perhaps vice versa. Or perhaps enemy refers to the academy’s enemies. My $0.02

  8. I think I like the nobles. Not as people, obviously, but as characters.

    I didn’t really like the last few chapters, and I’ve been trying to think of why. I mean, they were okay, but just not as good as some of the earlier ones. I think part of it is that the enemies have been sort of lackluster. The intra-party banter between the lambs has been written great, but Fray and Mauer don’t feel nearly as interesting. Might be some strange kind of power creep at play here. Wildbow’s got me hooked on the Endbringers and demons, and now people and creatures just don’t seem threatening unless they can destroy cities just by existing. The Lambs have spent quite a bit of time in mortal danger, but they still seem to be on something approaching equal footing with their foes. They’re not completely overwhelmed.

    The nobles, though, are different. Everyone treats the Duke as some kind of unstoppable force of nature, because that’s pretty much what he is. The personification of the Crown States, augmented with everything the brightest minds of the Academies could manage, and wielding all the military and economic power the Crown usually throws at its enemies. The only winning move is to stay the hell out of his way. He’s not really even opposing the Lambs right now, he’s just warping the whole playing field with his mere presence!

    In short, the nobles are OP and I want to see more of them in the future.

    • Might be some strange kind of power creep at play here. Wildbow’s got me hooked on the Endbringers and demons, and now people and creatures just don’t seem threatening unless they can destroy cities just by existing.
      Technically, that’s spectacle creep.
      But yeah, I can see that making this seem less important. I don’t personally see it that way, but I can understand that some people would.

  9. So if the teams split up, Gordon & Mary (the 2 fighers) would be on separate teams, as would Sy and Ashton (The social manipulators).

    Jamie could make up for Lil’s medical knowledge & Helen and Jamie seem best equipped to teach him what he needs to know.

    Now that we know Gordon & Ashton are the enemy boys, I expect the teams will look something like:

    Gordon, Ashton, Helen, Jamie
    Mary, Sy, Lillian

    Or possibly

    Gordon, Ashton, Helen, Lillian
    Mary, Sy, Jamie

    Ashton and Gordon under enemies. I expect this means whichever group doesn’t have Lil will end up betraying the academy… Are the lambs going to end up fighting each other soon?

    • Mary/Sy/Lillian is Team Love Triangle, but Mary/Sy/Jaime brings Jaime back into the light of day. I’m not sure which I’d like more…

  10. Enemy chapter… interesting.

    Ashton’s doesn’t really have much in the way of alliances, but he seems to like New Jamie, on the grounds that Jamie is kinda nice to him and easy to work with. Gordon’s primary concern seems to be the health and safety of the Lambs, above all else. We know that Gordon’s loyalty to the Academy is very weak at best, seeing as how he was willing to defect to Fray when she was first introduced.

    So I have to conclude that the Enemies aren’t Sy’s enemies- Gordon cares about him and Ashton has no real ties against him. Instead, I’m thinking that the Enemy is either for the Academy’s enemies, or the Crown’s enemies. One of the two.

    Ashton would be a terrible solo operative, but he’s a ridiculously good compliment for Sy- even if he can only manage making people feel afraid on command, it would still vastly improve Sy’s arsenal. The mental projection thing could work as a pretty accurate way of calculation if he gets good at it. The only major problem is going to be communication; if he figure out pointing, then the rather abstract hand sign system is going to be completely useless. That said, it should be relatively easy for Sy to adapt to what Ashton needs in terms of verbal explanations, especially since he has Jamie Two to explain.

    His mental state… On one hand, he doesn’t seem to like violence itself so much as the bi products of it, which is better then it could have been. On the other hand, that utter lack of empathy might really hurt the Lambs. Then again, I do notice that he left the Lambs out of his Super Violence Simulation Fantasy. So maybe he does kind of like them in a sort of distant “They’re not allowed to get hurt” way?

    Gordon…hmmm. He’s not doing as well as Sy thinks he is. And he cares for the Lambs a lot. As expected, a good 50% of his POV can be summed up as “Dammit Sy”. And I’m too tired to dissect the Sy – Baron Interaction, but I will later.

    • Duke-Sy-Baron. Apparently, the Duke puts Sy somewhere above his darling, ever-beloved cousin in the picking-stuff-up stakes. And, isn’t slow at noting when Sy is being a not-overly-careful wisearse back — well; duh. 😛

      We’ll have to see how slow Cousin Wrong Style of Cray-Cray actually is, though. Because, I doubt his augments allow for a complete dimbat. :\

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