Bleeding Edge – 8.2

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The wind was strong, and even if it wasn’t for the chilly breeze, the water was bound to be cold.  The people on the beach weren’t going any further than getting their ankles wet, and even the ones who sat on blankets and wore swimsuits seemed to be using towels and blankets for added warmth.  I imagined it was fine so long as there was sunlight, but the wind whipped the gray clouds overhead across the sky and the sunlight was intermittent.

I saw Lillian shiver, though she was trying not to show it.  I shrugged off my jacket, and draped it over her bare legs, where her skirt didn’t reach down far enough.

“Thank you, Sy.”

I nodded, hugging my knees as we sat together on the slope that led down to the beach.  Lillian moved a bit closer and rested her head on my shoulder.

“Five minutes,” I said.

“Hm?” she raised up her head.

I reached over with my free arm and pulled her head back into position against my shoulder.  “Five minutes.  Then you should scoot over.  I think the Gages are the type that would think less of you if they saw you like this.  The twits.  We don’t want a repeat of the incident in the office.  Or the time you slept over, last month, or the-”

“Okay, Sy.  Okay.  Shhh.  Don’t ruin a nice moment.”

Jamie looked up at us and smiled, almost smirking.  I shooed at him, and he turned forward again.

The profile of face and neck, the hair, the work in the notebook, I recognized that person.  Then I remembered that it wasn’t him, and I felt a pang of loss.  My best friend.  I missed his talents when things were active and hectic and there was something to be done, and this new Jamie helped bridge the gap.  But when things were quiet, I missed him, and the new Jamie hurt rather than help when it came to that.

I could see some of the drawing he was doing.  Fine lines, wispy, each line assured and careful, more akin to the basic outlining a painter might do in ink before applying watercolor than anything else.  A different hand and style than the Jamie I knew.  He was drawing the boats, further down, and some of the ships he was drawing had long ago left the harbor.

Boats moved this way and that, like one of the puzzles Mr. Hayle had given us back in the day, until certain boats could slip through.

I thought of the child in the cage we’d seen on our way in.  Was she already on her way out, aboard a ship?

I didn’t like the idea, and I didn’t like that acting on it would ruin things for Lil.  Unless…

“Having second thoughts?” I asked.

Jamie looked up from the drawing.  Lillian looked up at me.

“The runaway.  It sounds like she had good reasons for leaving home.  Being pushed into marriage with a noble?”

“The Baron, no less,” Jamie said.  “The Duke got started early in terms of military strategy and leadership.  The Baron?  Sixty-four nobles would have to die before he got his shot at the Crown, possibly sixty-five if the Infante of Crown Hispana gets a younger sibling this year.  The Baron is closer to the Gages in social rank than to the Duke.  Five steps below the Duke, four steps above the Gages.  Few opportunities, few reasons to go out and do things.”

“He’s festered,” I said, my voice low.  “Gone stagnant.  Cabin fever, but his life is the cabin.  Nothing to do with himself but resent that he can’t climb higher and turn mean.”

Jamie gave me a nod of confirmation.  I could see Lillian wince.

“I’m not going to mince words,” I said.

“Could you?” Lillian asked.  “Really, about the mincing words thing.  I know the Lambs have dilemmas all the time, I know it’s hard, and you guys make the calls.  In Brechwell I made my voice heard, gave my input when I thought you were crossing a line or acting without all the information.  But… why can’t this be easy?  Can you help me make this easier?”

She’d lifted her head up from my shoulder, and pulled away a bit.  She still looked a little cold.

“You wanted to be a professor,” I said.  “This isn’t the last tough call you’re going to have to make.  I could lie to you, and take action on my own, and it would take the weight off your shoulders.  I could make decisions for you.  But I don’t think doing any of that would be making you the best Lillian you can be.”

“I’m fifteen, Sy.  These are decisions an adult would have a hard time with.”

“Fifteen is adult.  It’s been adult for a long time, to a lot of people,” I said.  “Fifteen or sixteen is when people have historically gotten married.  It’s when kids have finished school and gone to work, if they didn’t start sooner.  Don’t let that school of yours convince yourself that childhood somehow lasts until you’re older.”

“I’m not sure I’m ready.”

“Then let this opportunity slip by,” I said.  “I’d say no harm no foul, but it will hurt you.  Now, you’re not competing against any of your peers, because you are stellar and special.  But you’ll end up competing against the students who are eighteen to twenty now.  You’re going to find yourself in much the same position Fray was in when she was considered for a professor’s position.  If those eighteen year olds are making the hard calls now while you’re holding back, you’ll fall behind.”

“It almost sounds like you’re trying to convince me to go ahead with this.”

“Do you think I would?”

“No.  Which is why it sounds weird, coming from your lips.”

I looked back and over in the direction of the Gage’s home to make sure they weren’t approaching.  This would be a bad conversation to have someone overhear.

“I want to help the Lambs, Lil.  I want to help the people and the experiments who can’t speak for themselves, the children, the mice among foxes, even those mice who don’t know what that scratching means.  I’m on the fence about this too, but it’s because, on one hand, I want to help now, even if it’s a small thing, helping one person.  But on the other hand, I want to help you.  Because I think, I hope, that you as a professor will help more people in the long run.”

“Even if that’s a journey that starts with this?  Capturing someone that’s escaped a bad situation and a… horrible family, and sending her back?”

“It’s your lead, Lil.  This is your mission, first and foremost.  I don’t think we should sabotage the job, but it’s up to you, how hard you really want to try.  We could get her back to her family, but do it late.  It wouldn’t reflect so well on the Gages, it wouldn’t give you the same opportunities, but it would probably rest easier on all of our consciences.”

Lillian made a face, scowling at no one thing in particular.

“It’s your call.  We back you.”

“Yep,” Jamie said, dead sincere.

“I know I should thank you, but…” Lillian trailed off, then sighed.

I rubbed her back.

Gordon and Hubris were making their way down the dirt path that separated the yellow-grass covered slope from the beach.  He had one thing of luggage behind him, a smaller case set on top of it, and a third slung over his shoulder, resting against his back.  Hubris was strutting with the handle of one luggage case in his jaws.

That dope.  He was supposed to be walking the dog, not carrying stuff.

I might have gotten up to help, but he’d chosen to take on that particular burden, and I really didn’t want to.

Gordon’s approach made me miss the Lambs that weren’t present.

Jamie foremost among them.  I looked at the person sitting further down the hill and felt another twinge of recognition, followed by the stab of loss.

Having a bad memory sucked, sometimes.

“Jamie,” I said.


“Can I have a piece of paper?”

He opened his book, flipped it over, using a finger to hold his page, and tore out the last page.  He had to crawl a couple of feet up the hill and extend his arm, while I had to do much the same, reaching down, before I had the paper.

“Need a pen?”

“I’ve got one, thanks.”

“Scheme?” Lillian asked.

“No scheme.  I was going to write Mary a letter.  We know where she is, right?”

“Yep,” Jamie said.  “She’s at-”

“Tell me later.  I won’t remember between now and when I address this.  Just wanted to get in touch, let her know where we’re at, what’s going on.  Make it so she doesn’t feel so alone.  Because being with Helen and Ashton, who are good company but not the best for actual conversation, and then there’s the new guy whatshisname-”

“Duncan,” Jamie and Lillian said at the same time.

“-who doesn’t have a doctorly name, it’s gotta be a little isolating,” I said.

“It probably is,” Lillian said.

“Unless you don’t want me to?  If it would be weird, me writing a girl a letter, when we’re sort of, you know-”

“You’re not writing a girl a letter.  You’re writing Mary a letter.  My best friend.  Are you honestly telling me that the clever Sylvester is this clueless when it comes to things like this?”

“The clever Sylvester is new to this sort of thing,” I said.  “He’s got some of it figured out, but other parts, he just wants to not screw up too badly.”

“He’s doing fine,” Lillian said.  “Mostly.”

“Mostly?” I asked.  I moved the pen over to the other hand, reached up, and tugged at her hair, where it hung in front of her ear.

Lillian swatted at my hand.  I saw her turn her head, looking for the Gages, then she leaned in and gave me a quick peck on the cheek.

“Stop smiling like that,” she said, jabbing me with a finger.

“I’m not,” I said, while suppressing a smile.  “I am going to start this letter with ‘Dear Mary, Lillian is telling lies and abusing me with pokes and prods.'”

“Don’t.  You saying that is going to make her miss us more.”

“True.  And we might as well edit it so it’s fine if someone gets their hands on it.  Like the Gages, who we’ll have to ask to mail it for us.”

“Yeah,” Lillian said.

“Dear Mary.  Miss you.”

“That’s nice,” Lillian said.  Jamie nodded.

Gordon joined us.  He settled down a short distance from Jamie, at the foot of the hill, setting down the bags.

“Hey Gordon,” I said.

“Hi, Sylvester.”

“How’s that heart of yours doing?  Pounding?  Feeling a twinge?”

“I’m fine.”

“Because exertion like that, especially dumb, muleheaded exertion, for no reason at all, can’t imagine it’s that good for you.”

“I’m fine, Sy.  No pain.  Hubris isn’t telling me there’s anything he senses that I don’t.”

I looked at the dog.  “And what happens if he says it isn’t, halfway here?  Are we supposed to come look for you, or do the Gages find you?  Because it reflects badly, you know, and you were being snobby earlier about how we’re all in this for Lillian and you had her back when I don’t.”

“I’m fine, Sy.  I’m strong.  The luggage has wheels.  It’s not a problem.”

“Uh huh,” I said.  “Right.”

“Right,” he said.

“The letter,” Lillian told me.

I reached over, and rubbed her thigh through the fabric of my jacket.

“Anything you want to add, Gordon?  Letter to Mary,” I said.

“Tell her I’ll practice.  I’ll land thirty-six out of thirty-nine, next time she gives me lessons.”

“Knife throwing?” Jamie asked.


“Land…” I said speaking very slowly.  “Twenty out of thirty-nine.”

“Thirty-six,” Gordon said.

“Right, twenty-six,” I said, as I wrote down thirty-six.

“Hubris.  Kill him,” Gordon said.

Hubris, panting from pulling the luggage, raised his head to look at me, hackles rising, teeth bared.  He got to his feet, and he snarled.  Lillian moved a little, just beside me, ready to throw herself out of the way.

“You’re such a faker, mutt,” I said, very casually.

The hackles went down, he closed his mouth, then flopped over onto his side.

I was nearly done the letter when a ship in the harbor blew its horn.  I looked up and out and thought again of the kid in the cage.

It made me think of the conversation with Lillian, the cost, the gamble.  How many small injustices did I have to let slide, to commit a greater justice?

I turned my head to look at Lillian, studying her.

She was the one who was going to outlive even me.  Not that I was going to live that long.

Had to do this right.  Build her up, make her strong, keep her happy and healthy.

Mary was more fragile in some ways, I was worse for Mary, but the damage done would be so short term.  Lillian would, extenuating circumstances aside, be an enduring presence in the world.

She noticed me looking.

“What?” she asked.  She flushed a little.

“This thing, right here.  Whatever we’re calling this job.  You have it in you to do it right.  But it’s going to be tough.”

“I got the gist of that,” Lillian said.  She turned to Gordon, “We were talking earlier about the moral dilemmas.”

“It’s your mission, you make the call,” Gordon said.

I gestured toward him.  See?  See?

“I know,” Lillian said.

“For the next part, I’m going to take lead.  Because I think we can find a middle ground, where there is one to be found.  I want you to pay attention.  Start thinking along these lines.  Looking for the less obvious roads.  If it’s the only thing I can teach you, let me teach you this much.”

She gave me a somber nod.

I finished up the letter, keeping to general topics.  The content of the letter didn’t matter – it was the fact it was being sent that mattered most, that she was being remembered.

We watched the ships for a little longer.  Idly, I reached up and tugged her hair again.

She licked her lips, glancing back over her shoulder, and jumped a little.

I looked.  It was the Gages.  Everard and Adelaide.

The Lambs stood.

“Everything alright?” Everard asked.  I didn’t get the impression he’d seen me pull Lillian’s hair, or that he’d understood what he’d seen.  No wry look in his eyes, no puzzlement, nothing in his tone.

“Yes, sir,” Lillian said.

“We’ve found a boat.  You’ll go from this harbor to the one in Lugh, sooner than you would if you reached out to your Academy.”

Antsy to get us going.

“Yes, sir,” Lillian said.

“I’ll show you to the appropriate ship.”

“If it’s no trouble, could you tell us about your daughter while you do?” Gordon asked.

Everard Gage blinked, a little surprised.

“If we’re expected to find her, we should know what we can about her, sir.  Age, appearance, name, interests, personality.”

“I see,” Everard said.  He looked faintly uncomfortable.  He gestured for us to walk.

The Lambs moved down the hill to the luggage, collecting it, before catching up with the others.  I saw Lillian heading over to grab the case with her things, and shooed her off.  She could go empty handed.

I gave it to the mutt, instead.  He gave me an annoyed look, but took the handle between his teeth.

“She’s a good girl,” Adelaide said.  “Until this… flight of fancy.  She’s always done well in her lessons, though it took some convincing for some.”

“Which ones, ma’am?”

“I’d have to ask the tutors to remind myself, but there’s no time for that, is there?  There was an instrument she wasn’t fond of.  It might have been the violin,” Adelaide decided.  Then doubt crossed that young woman’s face.  “Or was that dancing?  It was the same teacher.  The fellow from Eire.”

“It might have been the dancing she took issue with,” Everard said.  “She wasn’t graceful.”

“Is there something she particularly enjoyed?” Gordon tried.  “In food, drink, treats, entertainment, hobbies?  Types of people she spent time with?”

I saw the look on the parents’ faces, as if they were utterly lost in the face of the simplest questions. If we pushed too much further, we risked offending them.

They barely knew their own daughter.

“Would it be better to ask the tutors, then get in touch with us by letter?” I asked.

“Perhaps,” Everard said.

It wasn’t a statement that should have ended the line of questioning, but it did.  The others had sensed much of what I had, or had taken my cue, because they weren’t pressing any further.

“Her looks?” I asked.

“Oh, she’s a pretty girl,” Adelaide said.  “Blonde, but she always wore her hair in that modern style, all curls, tight against the head.  I don’t know if she still will, it’s so much trouble to upkeep.  Not a problem at home-”

She went on at length about her daughter’s physical attributes, the particulars of dress, fashion, style, what looked good on her daughter, grace… I tuned out much of it.  Jamie would remember the key points.

The people’s ramp up to the docks wasn’t so far away from where we’d been sitting.  We made our way up, our footing swaying as a wagon cart made its way down.

The docks weren’t extensive, but they were nearly as crowded as the harbor was with boats.  People were moving things from ship to dock.  Construction material.  Building homes from scratch was expensive and the materials were so often acquired from elsewhere.  When you were going that far, why not go a step further and have the best wood, the nicest marble and stone?

I looked over the decks of the ships, searching, studying.


The wagon cart, with a cage build into it.  The cage was empty, but the crowd of people matched.  Young and old, roughly half of them natives of the Crown States.  The other half were mixed, some white, some black, some Asian.  There were kids and youths in the group.  No chains bound them, but from the way they held themselves, the adults in particular, they might as well have had seven stone worth of shackles binding them from neck to wrist to ankle.

No, the monster that accompanied them was the shackle.  If they tried to run, it would get them, sure as anything.  There had probably been a hapless example.  Or there would be, when one of them worked up the courage to act.

Adelaide was still talking.  I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity.

“Lillian,” I murmured, putting a hand on Lillian’s shoulder, leaning close.  I spoke in her ear, just loud enough to be heard by others without being understood, keeping in mind that Adelaide or Everard might have had their hearing improved.  “That thing I was mentioning earlier, we really should…”

Adelaide had trailed off.  She glanced back at us.

“Is there a problem?” she asked.

“It’s minor, ma’am,” I said, “We would work it out ourselves, but in terms of doing this operation as well as it can be done-”

Her eyebrows went up, concern, irritation.

“Clothes, ma’am,” I said.  I pointed at the people on the ship.  “They’re slaves?”

“Indentured workers,” she said, archly.

Of course.

“Whatever you need, let’s get it over with, the captain is waiting,” Everard said.

Just like that, we were onto the deck of the boat with the slaves.

“If I may?” I asked Everard.

He gestured at me.  I was free to handle this.

“Captain,” I spoke to the man who gave off the impression he was in charge.  He certainly seemed like he was working least and worrying the most.

“Boy?” he asked.  Then he took note of Everard Gage, and closer look of my clothing.  “How can I help you?”

“The indentured servants.   Can I ask what happened?”

“Nonpayment of taxes,” he said, indicating the natives.  “Crime.  Those two families, a question of debts, purchased by the Crown.”

“Working off their sentences and debts to the Crown?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

“Even the children?”

“Except for that little criminal, yes,” he said.  He indicated one boy with pale hair that stood up in every direction.  One of the boy’s arms was shorter than the other.

Even the children, institutionalized and made to work to pay off the family debts.  Sins of the father.

“Where are they bound?”

“Would be Key Isle,” Jamie said.

“Key Isle eventually.”

“But you stop in Lugh first?” I asked.

I saw him hesitate.

It was only a guess, but it was an educated one.  I wondered if Lugh was the type of place that bred freedom fighters who would pay top dollar to free people from the Crown and get recruits, or if it was a question of business, offloading assets that ate more food and got more sickly the longer they were on a boat.  It would be nice to know, because it would inform how we approached a strange city.

I stepped closer to the child that I’d seen in the back of the wagon.  A girl, two or so years younger than me.  Maybe older, but shrunken from malnutrition.  I was brusque, checking her clothes, touching her hair.  She shrank back and I grabbed her firmly.  “Stop that.”

She froze, and looked up at her father, who wore a defeated expression, barely seeming to care about any of this.

“What’s this about?” Everard asked.

I leaned close to the girl, holding her hair to my nose.  While close, I murmured under my breath, “Say yes.”

She wore a puzzled expression as I backed away.  She started to speak, and I stuck a finger up, pressing it against her mouth.  I looked at the captain.  “How much?”

“Hm?  To buy?” he asked.  “Debt for that family is two thousand.  That one’s five thousand, the criminals are working for five years at a dollar a day, if I remember right.  Some for ten years, that one and that one.”

I pulled my finger away, pointing at the girl.  I asked her, “Do you know Lugh?  Have you been?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Good,” I said.  I turned to Everard.  “I want to buy them, sir.  Pay their debts and take them on.  All of the children of the debtors, the child criminal, and the parents as well.  It’s extra ears on the ground, we can wear their clothes off the boat, so we don’t draw too much attention.”

“You don’t have the means of disguising yourself already?”  Everard asked.

Yes, of course we do.

I grabbed the girl’s shirtfront, and sniffed it.  “It smells like the seaside, sir.  Sometimes we deal with people who have enhanced senses.  Smelling like we belong is critical.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Everard said.  “If that’s what you need to do, then do it.  We’ll see about convincing the captain of the boat you’re taking.”

“Do you have the wallet?” I asked Gordon, gesturing subtly at the same time.

“No, it’s in one of the bags.  I’ll get it.”

Everard made a ‘tsk’ sound, then said, “Captain, do you know who I am?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Gage.”

“I’ll pay you the next time you’re in this port.  You know I’m good for my word.”

“Yes sir,” the Captain said, trying too hard to avoid smiling.  He put his hands on the shoulders of different members of the group I’d pointed out, speaking to his pet monster, murmured orders.  Telling it not to act, to let them go.  He’d gotten a grotesquely good deal on this, I suspected.  “You have the means of controlling them?”

“We’ll manage,” I said.

“Mm hmm,” he said, in a very ‘it’s your funeral’ way.

Nine people ended up coming, six children and three adults, two men and a woman, roughly half the group black, the other half white.

I didn’t see Everard’s negotiation with the captain, but I did see the captain give the order to move one set of crates off the ship and onto the dock.  Making room.

I kept quiet and stayed focused, avoiding the puzzled glances of the parents and the children until the ship was underway.  Everard Gage and Adelaide Gage stood on the docks, watching us as the crew freed the ship from the dock.  There was probably a nautical term for it.  Unmoored?

“You’re free,” I murmured, to the little girl, gripping the ship railing and staring out over the water.  Lillian was standing right beside me, Jamie behind me.  “After you help us in Lugh, but you’re free.  Debt is paid.”

“Why?” she asked.

I didn’t answer.  The ship started moving.

“Before this is done,” I said to the little girl, “After things settle down and you find a home, you need to learn to fend for yourself, to be clever and be strong.  Because whatever your parents did to get into debt that bad, they’re going to do it again.”

I turned my head, meeting her eyes.

I saw a resigned look, one that suggested she’d long since accepted that she was doomed to rise and fall as her parents did.

“The next time, you can’t get caught when they do.  You have to be able to manage on your own.  Because I’m betting that one of the stops between Lugh and Key Isle is an Academy.”

“There isn’t,” Jamie said.

“Okay,” I said.  “Then they keep you at Key Isle until you know just how miserable existence is there, and then they tell you that you can leave, have your debt cleared, if only you accept doing some work for the Academy.  They’ll test something on you, and you’ll take that deal.  You’ll wish you hadn’t.”

She nodded.

“Go wait with your family below deck.  If there’s too many of us, the captain is going to get annoyed.”

She nodded again, then scampered off.

I liked her.

The ship rose and fell with waves.  Hubris’ claws skittered momentarily on the deck.

“Was that what happened to you?” Lillian asked, quiet.  “With the debt, working for the Academy?”

“Don’t know,” I said.  “Wouldn’t remember if it was.”

She nodded.  She took my hand.

“But it could’ve been what happened,” I said.  “Which is reason enough.”

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87 thoughts on “Bleeding Edge – 8.2

  1. Had to do this right. Build her up, make her strong, keep her happy and healthy.

    Dunno why, but that bothers me a lot. Feels more manipulative (of either himself or Lil) than sweet, coming from Sy. Or, no, perhaps not that. I think it’d be that I wouldn’t want a partner who thinks they need to shape me, even if it’s for the better. Because, it probably wouldn’t be for the better, and it’d make me feel inferior?

    I wonder where on Earth are these guys heading. And where they departed from. I’d love to see a map.

    • Sy’s increasingly focused on “legacy.” Lillian is a Lamb without an expiration date. I think in a way he’s come to see her as not only his personal legacy but the one who’ll take care of the next generation of Lambs. Which means that he is, naturally, balancing treating her like an object with treating her as Lillian, because Sy is sort of awful at not being a manipulative little brat.

      • He can’t exactly help it: he has rather pushed his brain to work at constant Machiavellian machination speeds (well, in the short term variety, at least). To shift gears would need a lot of sessions, as well as dropping himself and the Lambs in hot water with the Academy when he wouldn’t be up to their spec anymore. :/

        The plus-side is, he’s definitely not seeing her as an interloper anymore. Woo? I don’t know which is worse, actually: Sy pushing to outright ruin your day, or him trying to shore you up in ways you’ve not quite consented to. Both could easily be just as aggravating, if in different ways. 😛

    • Yeah. For the most part, everything before that was sweet and heartwarming. It was a slight change of pace.

      What I’m focusing more on, though, is the Mary line, and how it all relates to the “greater good” thing he’s got going on. I’m not sure I quite understand it, but it doesn’t sound particularly pure-hearted (at least in the context of the relationship).

      Although I do think all of this comes along with/ on top of good reasons to be in the relationship. More self-rationalization and unavoidable scheming, rather than being the sole reason he’s doing what he’s doing.

      • I do feel that a lot of the way Sy talks about relationships is rationalization; trying to fit something new and scary into something he understands. It’s still pretty creepy though >.<

        • No arguments there. Really, creepy biopunk children is sort of the premise of this whole thing.

          I am second guessing myself a little about Sy’s motivations. I feel like it’s possible I’m not being particularly objective with it, given how much I’m enjoying the Sy/Lillian relationship s far (and besides, anything involving Sy should be third and fourth guessed just on principle).

          • >No arguments there. Really, creepy biopunk children is sort of the premise of this whole thing.

            Creepy biopunk teenagers, now. They’re 15-16 by now.

          • More 13-15, by my count. The story started early spring 1921, and we’re somewhere in the autumn of 1923 now.

            Considering Sy was “nearly twelve” in Sub Rosa (autumn 1921), he should be close-ish to 14 by now. Given Lil was 13 in 1.1, she’d probably be closer to 16 than 15 now. Gordon should be a little over 14 and a half, (in 1.1 he’d turned 12 a month ago). I think Jaime’s younger than Sy (from a conversation at the end of the sub rosa arc) and he was mentioned as 13 when he came back 3-6 moths ago. Helen and Mary (and Ashton) are weird.

            Makes me wonder how much time the story is going to cover. I’ve sprt of always assumed we’d see something close to a decade… which is still actually possible, if we continue to see 6 months and 9 month gaps (obviously depending on how many arcs there are), which I’d guess we will.

        • About that ‘shaping Lillian’ thing… Isn’t that basically an extension of Sys usual modus operandi to make sure his Lamb-family is safe? Lillian is the only one he won’t be able to protect anymore at some point because he will have expired. (Fatalistic or realistic?) So he has to make sure she can either protect herself or she won’t be in danger at all. I don’t think this has to do with his relationship with Lillian. At least not in his mind. He’s not shaping her for his personal tastes but showing her the paths open to her. And yeah, it still feels pretty manipulative. But I guess this distinction would be quite important to Sy.

          On a different note, I just noticed how much Lillian has changed from her first appearance. (And I’m kind of amazed by it.) She was scared, annoyed, not really part of the group and not really accepted… Now she’s still scared sometimes and still annoyed but for very different reasons; and she’s in a relationship with Sylvester, Mary is her best friend and she is LEADING the lambs on a mission. Character development galore! ❤ I hope you are proud of what your little girl has become, Wildbow. :p

    • It is kinda sad, it is kinda funny, but the way he is built he literally can NOT be not manipulative, because he can see the effects his actions and words have on people’s psyche.

      Best he can do is manipulate people towards what he sees as a better future.

      • Iunno, I’d kind of beg to differ. I’m a terrible manipulator, but I have some not awful understanding of how people work, and I make a very big attempt to be aware of the effect my actions have on people.

        I avoid being manipulative by avoiding those actions that feel as such, or otherwise, I try to tell people how I feel, what my intentions are and what I try to achieve. I know that telling people what you truly are thinking affects how they will act, and thus can be seen as manipulative, but emotions aside, I’m also giving people a clearer picture upon which to act.

        • I guess the difference is, I know the effect my words have on people. Rather than try to influence people for my benefit, I prefer to let them decide, with full knowledge, what they’ll do, even if nothing bad or sad would have happened had I pulled some strings. I know I’d want that myself.

          Not that I actually do that all the time, or even half of the time. But you can understand people very well and avoid being manipulative.

        • Try doing that with Sy’s kind of a brain. Remember, his power is kinda creating a deficiency in some of his processes to bolster others. Plus , he is bred to not think manipulation is a bad thing, anyway.

      • I would argue that, to some extent, all human interaction is manipulation. We just don’t consciously manipulate people. The different between education and brainwashing is whether you agree with the teaching more than anything else, and any action or statement can change someone’s mind or actions significantly. Sy just assesses people actively constantly, so he knows how his actions will cause people to react and that there is no meaningful and safe way of interacting, so he is trying to make her better and more independent, rather than worse and dependent.

        • No, the difference between “education” and “brainwashing” (do note that brainwashing nowadays is called education sometimes, and that things are mixed deopending on country, school and teacher) is that education gives you the tools to think for yourself and question what you are taught, or teaches you mediums of more efficient communication rather than ideas (language, maths, music sheets)while brainwashing teaches you ideas you can’t question (though it may, too, teach you more efficient modes of communication), it puts you into a paradigm without giving you the tools to escape. Sure, education passes down ideas too, but it stretches that they are not gospel, and can be disagreed with, if you have sound logic and arguments, some of the aforementioned tools it should teach.

          Mind you, the way manipulation works for Sy, manipulating someone to educate him is possible and the only way for him to do so, actually.

  2. And the list of reasons to run away just keep on growing… When neither of your parents can remember what you like or don’t like and have no idea who you hang out with (or who you just say you hang out with), yet wax lyrical about your looks… it’s probably a good idea to bail ASAP. Even without the Baron looming on the horizon. 😛

    Children as accessories… *shudders*

    • That split happens rather commonly in old noble families where upbringing and parenthood are largely or completely dissociated – the parents hardly spoke to their offspring, only did so for mostly functional reasons, and expected silent acquiescence out of them in return. The kids were taken care of by the wet nurse, nanny & preceptors. Their personal tastes and interests had no importance, taken as frivolity and harshly dealt with if they distracted from the enforced education.

      Case in point, the Gages didn’t even tell the Lambs what their daughter is named. I’m sure snooping around asking for a ‘Ms Gage’ instead of ‘Margaret’ or whatever she’s called (Mildred ? hehehe) won’t raise any suspicions at all. Sea-smelling slave clothes will totes be enough to conceal the Lambs’ arrival.

      • That’s the thing: the Gages are wannabes. They’re not nobles: just hopeful upper-middle-class bordering on whatever upper-class is just below “Sir” and “Lady”. Heck, the Baron is almost on the bottom rung of the nobility, himself.

        And, I don’t think the nobles familiar ties here work quite like that, either… considering the amount of tinkering they have done to them. 😛

        In short: they’re playing by a book of etiquette and comportment that may not exist quite as they think it does. <_< It doesn't matter either way: it sucks to be a kid like that if few other people are playing the game.

    • Yeah, it makes me think Sy’s hopes for Lil-as-a-professor being able to change anything without being a Fray 2.0 are kind of unrealistic. In the best case scenario she might make life slightly less bad for the experiments at whatever academy she ends up working in, and maybe for the surrounding population if she’s influential.

      Still, the Lil-Sy moments had me constantly squeeing. They work great as a couple, it’s so cute.

      • For what it’s worth, Sy has never shown more than basic empathy towards non-experiments. Of course he cares about people and doesn’t want to hurt people, but his main, true and only objectives are the well-being of the Lambs and experiments in general.

        So, Lil could certainly do that.

        • Lil becoming a professor under the current system will only find it a hell of her predecessors’ making; Under the Crown ALL the Academies are ruled by their experiments re-labeled “The Aristocracy”.

        • Don’t forget the children. The Mice and now the ones on that ship. Might be some projecting himself on others thing as suggested at the end of the chapter, but Sy caring for other children is kind of becoming a theme. This might be me over-interpreting this… But it feels a bit catcher-in-the-rye-like, with the cliff being the academy. Basically a catcher who crawled out of the chasm he wants to protect others from.

  3. Well Sy does have a soft spot for kids. I wonder if that is all him, or if Lillian’s influence plays a part too. Like how it influenced Mary to want to see Percy ended. Poor Lillian. I don’t think she’s gonna like it the higher she goes.

    • He has always had that soft spot though, even from the onset when you think about it… The first mission was to kill the snake charmer for killing kids, mice and foxes is obviously the best recent example too, but ultimately all of the Lambs have a problem with killing children. It seems to be the biggest way to get on all of their bad sides, except Helen… Eating her cake is clearly the best way to get on her bad side.

    • Nah, i liked worm’s bulliyng scnenes better than the cape action scnenes. That made worm kind of awfull for me, but then i realized Taylor is basically the ultimate cape bully.
      I think of wildbow’s fictions and lores as flavour text for rather grand tales of social transitions. From the roles or tags of others (in some sort of higher status or otherwise) to fredoom from this things. But more importantly what you have to let go to archive this.

      What sy wants to do and how is much different from Taylor’s and Blake’s, the puzzle is solving itself to us whit all the interactions whit. The lambs.

    • I think enjoying displays of affection and caring more than violent conflict would be the sign of a healthy person, not “weird”. Obviously the conflict needs to exist for us to be engaged in the story, but the real reward is seeing the characters happy.

  4. I want more world details. The only major difference between Wormverse and Earth was the powers. Explaining just how powers worked was enough of an exposition.

    This is not so for Twig. Unlike Worm or Pact, this is an altogether grander vision. This world only exists within your mind. In order to understand it, I will need far more expositions on how things work than those two.

    What powers their trains? How do plants not destroy symbiote buildings with their growth? What started the war? Do stitched need to eat? If so, how do they offset the load of Death not being the end of that particular mouth to feed? If not, where do they get their energy? Is it from the soul? How much do Twigverse peeps understand about the soul, can they harness it?

    Take advantage of this delving into the slums to point out normal, everyday things a Twig would not think twice about, like the shambling cleaning zombies, or the state that humanity can descend to, the things they’re willing to eat for example, when medicine has advanced this far. The world still seems a little one-dimensional to me, not fleshed out (heh).

    I’m thrilled at the addition of the little girl. She can be a different way of seeing the world, for us. I hope she’s a little naive, and asks all sorts of questions about this world that is clearly not Earth, and yet, I only have the vaguest idea of why and how.

    New arc. No Engineer here, so no need to censor.

      • Every time I see people joking about WB censoring stuff I have no idea what they’re talking about and I feel left out 😦 What is this about an engineer? Or I guess WB would just censor any explanation of it….

        • As I understand it, this is about an experiment the Lambs met in the previous arc, called “The Engineer”. But for some reason (maybe a slip-up by Wildbow himself? Dunno… :S) he had an alternative name. Had more to do with engines than with the manipulation of exhaust on cars, if you catch my drift. Can’t be more specific for obvious reasons. People found that kind of funny, they called him by his alternative name in the comments, Wildbow wasn’t THAT happy about it… or he felt mischievous… or he was like “I do NOT make mistakes! Eradicate ALL of the evidence!”… or there was another reason altogether. The ways of the Wildbow are mysterious. Aaaaaaaand so he started censoring it. End of story. Welcome to our tinfoil-hat-group. 😀

    • I guess I can at least answer some of those. Most of it wasn’t directly mentioned, but it would make sense, giving the setting and the overall mood of the story… You’re free to disagree with me on every count, though.^^
      First, the thing with the houses. I think they just kill the plant (with chemicals for example) once it reaches the shape it is supposed to grow into. Building houses out of dead wood IS kind of common even in twigverse, I guess.^^
      For the stitched, I think it was mentioned in the Mr. Whiskers/Mauer arc (could also have been the Esprit de Corpse arc), that stitched have circuits inside them so they are basically powered by electricity. The energy source could be a battery of sorts. This would eliminate the need for eating/feeding them, too. I guess.
      I have no idea how their trains work but if I had to guess, I’d put my money on good old steam power. So… basically coal.
      About the war… Which one are you asking about? There’s the civil war Crown vs rebels, there’s the war Crown States vs Mexico where Mauer fought and lost his arm (Interlude arc 2) and there are probably several more I just can’t remember right now.^^
      The thing with the soul is interesting though, since we know that there is in fact still a church. Mauer was a referend, after all…
      Last point, I think you’re wrong about this not being earth. The existences of Mexico and India are confirmed after all; and if this wasn’t earth at all, there wouldn’t be any reason for wildbow to include an existing country. Or two of them.^^ I guess this is indeed an alternative version of our world like wormverse. Worm had a deviation point in 1982, the year when Scion first appeared and powers started to emerge; we’re talking about 30 years of developement from that point until the start of Worm. Twigverse has a much earlier deviation point. The story is set in the 1920s. Most common theory for the deviation point is 1818, when Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley published “Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus”. In Twigverse it would have been an scientific essay and not a novel. The sometimes mentioned ratios which the academy uses for its experiments where discovered by someone named Wollstone after all… And Frankenstein’s Monster would have been the world’s first stitched.

      Keep in mind, most of that is me filling in the gaps myself, most of this isn’t really confirmed.

        • I’m thinking the point of divergence was probably earlier since I believe it’s implied that the states lost the US revolutionary war because the Crown had stitched.

          • The biotech turnpoint was early 19th century, decades after the revolution was over.
            The british empire likely reconquered the US after losing that war, since they were the only ones with that new technology.

      • Hey Sethur

        Dead plants don’t grow poison leaves

        Batteries make sense, I guess, but how did the first stitched come to be? How old are batteries anyway?

        I think steam too, but… I don’t know! My point exactly!

        I want to know how this world war (WW1 in Twigverse?) started.

        And finally, definitely an alternate earth. But Worm and Pact might as well be our world if we got powers a decade ago or worked magic. This is a whole different animal, a much larger deviation. Hence, more worldbuilding is necessary.

        • I assume that they genetically program the buildings to stop growing when they’re the right shape and size. Either explicitly or with some shutdown trigger if they want variation.

          The identified point of divergence is that Mary Shelley restored the dead to life rather than writing a story about someone doing it. They’re electrically powered.

      • Turn point is implied by mention of “Wallace’s ratios” to be around 1823-1913, the lifetime of Alfred Russell Wallace, the guy who came up with natural selection and inspired Darwin.

        • Wollstone’s Nine Ratios, actually. But natural selection is called Wallace’s Law in the Twigverse.
          It’s actually the first one mentioned, way back in chapter 1. Voltiac Horses are mentioned in chapter 2, as well.

  5. Was just thinking, we treat the Lambs as semi-villainous as if it is because they are Academy experiments. But suppose the Academy had chosen the Mice, unmodified, as their spies instead? The Mice would be less capable, but would they be more moral? Even without owing allegiance to the Academy, are the Mice any more moral, or merely more cautious? Twigworld is a dangerous, scary place for everyone; so are the Lambs really so different from the typical child in Radham apart from their additional capability?

    • I think we treat the Lambs as semi-villainous because the establishing scene we got of them was disposing of a mad scientist in perhaps the worst way possible given what we knew at the time and nothing we’ve seen since then has knocked that picture out of alignment any. (Of course, now that we know more, it’s become a bit more nuanced, but still)

  6. Batteries are pretty old apparently, and human bodies technically don’t need that much current to run. So all stitched have a battery in them? Is it huge like the old ones, or has the pressing need for them led to much faster development in smaller, more efficient cells?

  7. So, just to share a bit of pathetic personal turmoil, my boyfriend broke up with me around the time this new Jamie showed up. Despite that, we have both tried to remain both good friends and try to maintain proximity. Me perhaps more than they. It really feels like I’m talking to a different person, and having to let go of the idea of the person I loved so much, perhaps for their best. These chapters with Jamie have been terribly heavy on me, double u bee :<

    • So, two friends wave from either side of a narrow creek. Planting their feet, they fall forward and catch one other. Their embrace is warm, and their reflections are joyful.

      Then comes the rain, and the creek widens. The two friends hold on until their feet slip. At the last moment, they push away.

      The one who is most saddened to lose their embrace, he gathers blankets and kindling and soon is warm. The one who is most saddened to see their reflections part, he searches the water and catches a chill.

      I wouldn’t dare wish away your sadness, but I hope you stay warm, Zim.

  8. Another small typo:
    > But when things were quiet, I missed him, and the new Jamie *hurt rather than help* when it came to that.

    I think it should read hurt rather than help*ed*

  9. ““Fifteen or sixteen is when people have historically gotten married”

    Wait what? This is kind of an out of time comment right? Historically is then no? People got married at 15 and 16 then…

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