Cut to the Quick – 11.6

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“Catcher’s friends are going to be on us any minute now,” Jamie said.

“Okay,” I said.

“Whatever this is, it looks bad.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I looked around.  “I’m thinking Fray.”

“How?  Why?”

“How is… I don’t know.  Prepared well in advance, co-opted from someone who specializes in this sort of thing, or maybe it was inspired by the primordials.  Lillian said something about the primordials being a way to inspire some really out-there research.”

“That’s the how.  What’s the why?”

“Forcing the nobles’ hands?  They want to use the new guns to take down the nobles, and we haven’t heard anything about that.  Maybe the idea is to bait them out?”

“Doesn’t seem like Fray,” Jamie said.

“Lugh was her fault,” I said.  “People died.  A lot more could have.”

“Yes,” Jamie said.  “But it doesn’t seem like her, does it?  She might justify what she did in Lugh by saying that the people would have picked a fight and gotten wiped out sooner or later.  But this… I’ve never talked to her, Sy.  The old Jamie did, but that was only in passing.  I don’t know her, so I only have the outside context, mostly secondhand.”


“Catcher said that Fray believes in humanity.  Yes, she got us awfully close to an ugly end, but… does this really feel like something that she would do in service of humanity?”

“Power and control drive the Academy and Crown, but they’re losing their grip on both of those things-”

“I’m not sure about that,” Jamie said.  “Yes, they’ve lost what any other country, power, organization, whatever, would see as a grave loss, but considering what they hold and what they have, I’m not sure it’s more than a drop in the bucket.”

“Conceded,” I said.  “Where was I?  Power, control, Academy, Crown.  Right.  Mauer wants to defeat the Academy and win over the people, and, I dunno, I think back to our first move.  We rallied the people in favor of the Academy, turned them against him.”

“The major players are are striving for one thing, and accomplishing the other?  So Fray is striving to save humanity and is now willing to destroy it?”

“Maybe,” I said.  “Maybe this is Mauer.  But it’s big on a scale that seems Frayish.”

“That I’ll agree with,” Jamie said.

“I want to be a major player,” I said.  I was focused now, still riding the rush from the jailbreak and the intrigue of the quarantine.  I moved with energy, thinking hard while my mind’s eye and my mind’s voice were addressing Jamie, the forefront of my brain almost absentminded, speaking on impulse.  “I want to have minions.  People who follow my orders, look up to me, kiss my shoes and call me sir.”

“Really now.”

“Yeahhh,” I said, drawing out the word.  My detached forebrain was taking point, daydreaming aloud.  “No more just picking up random Jacks and Jills from among Mauer’s expendable troops, or recruiting random prisoners and crossing my fingers.  I want to hand pick.  I want my enemies to go out of their way to invite me to things like the moot at Brechwell.  To have to consider me as a factor in everything they do.”

I glanced at Jamie, who was giving me a bemused look.

“And we,” I said, “will be a force to be reckoned with.  I don’t want to speak for you, but if you want your boots kissed-”


“Or whatever.  I think you and me, we could look dapper as all-get-out with some suits and the right furnishings.  Me sitting in the chair, you sitting on the edge of the desk, as Peabody the hired thug walks in.  The intimidation in his eyes as we both look at him.”


I shrugged.  “We’ll find a Peabody.”

“I like how your brain works, Sy.”

“Thank you, Jamie.”

“Let’s turn that brain to more effective things.”

“Already turned.  We’re on course,” I said.  “This is familiar territory.”

“Is it now?”

“When you’re taking your pre-sleep nap late at night, and I’m making sure we have enough for our ever-absent uncle to pay our rent to our dear landlord, I pass through this area on my way back.”

“Your fence.”

One of my fences.  It took me a few weeks to figure out which of the local fences talk to each other, so I don’t corner myself if I try to play them against each other in a bidding war over whatever I happened to help myself to, and I found out that it’s a pretty close-knit community here.  I had to go pretty far afield.”

“Pretty far afield to the near-center of Tynewear?”

“Exactly,” I said.

“You told me about Jackson near the Marina, and the old man-”

I groaned aloud.  “Don’t do that.  Don’t pick apart things I said to you forever ago that I don’t even remember saying, and draw conclusions.”

Jamie touched my shoulder, making me stop, turn, and face him.  I took a glance around for trouble before meeting his eyes.  He spoke, “I’m going to assume from how you worded things that you have at least three fences you’re playing off each other.  If you’d had only two, you would’ve emphasized different words.”

“I mightn’t’ve!”

“I know how you approach things, Sy.  There’s a third, and this one probably isn’t the old man.  Have you avoided mentioning him on purpose?”

“Yes sir,” I said, adopting a hangdog look.


“Because this one is creepy,” I said.

“He’s creepy.”


“We’ve handled creepy.”

“He’s a different sort of creepy.”

Jamie gave me a long, stern look.

“But this is our best move right now,” I said.  “He likes me.”

Jamie considered for a moment, then relented.  “Okay.”

We picked up our speed, walking briskly.  The streets were dotted with people who seemed completely lost.  People who had routines, jobs, and roles who were being told to stay put, who didn’t know what to do with themselves.

I strongly suspected that Jamie and I were odd in that we’d forged a kind of home here, however temporary it might be.  People here didn’t bake a treat in their kitchen.  They went over to a fancy pants shop with crystal and wood filigree windows and they bought something.  They didn’t rest or entertain at home.  They sought out bars where they could tranquilize themselves with drink and shows where they could entertain themselves with dance, theater and music.  Even in the less well-to-do boatyards, people went out to drink.  Rich and poor, it felt like most people didn’t truly know the comfort and softness of their own beds, because they were blackout drunk when they collapsed into those beds and hung over when they rose from them.

Hyperbole, to be sure, but it was an attitude that played into how so many people were milling around as if every impulse in their brains pushed them to go somewhere and do something, and they were being expected to stay put.

We navigated our way to a house.  Tall and narrow, it was made narrower still by being divided into thirds, with one third being a shop.  Engravings, etchings, fittings and custom work.  The ‘custom work’ would be in the capacity of a back-alley doctor unless a member of the police or the Academy stopped in, in which case the question would be met with innocent stares and talk of jewelry.

A bell jingled as I opened the door.  I let Jamie go in first, looking back to make sure we weren’t being followed.  I didn’t want to bring trouble to anyone’s door, not when we needed friends.

“Wow,” Jamie said, taking in the shop.  Everything within was beautiful, and all put together, it was something otherworldly.  Crystal, gold, fine woodwork, silver, jewels and more were arranged around us.  A great deal of it was tagged, with names and no address.  Even the tags had gold lettering.

Responding to the bell, a man made his way into the shop from the adjoining house.  He saw me and beamed.  Like Jamie, he wore his hair long, but the hair hung down one side of his face.  He decorated himself not with jewelry, but with tools and kits.  The breast of his jacket had a leather case with a row of fine watchmaker’s tools on display.  At his collarbone, like a pendant, was a jeweler’s lens, evocative of some large gemstone.  He was twenty or so and brimmed with youthful energy, yet he seemed to have all of the confidence of a much older man.  Rather than an older man who’d made himself look younger, I instead deemed him a young man with a great deal of natural ability and talent.

He moved behind his counter, neatly setting things aside, so the space was clear, then rested his hands on the counter, leaning forward.

“Hello, Jer,” I said.

“Simon,” he said.  He continued to smile, unable to sit still.  “Quarantine, hm?”

“Looks like a plague,” I said.  “A bad one.”

He made a face, the smile faltering.  He glanced at Jamie, then back to me, eyebrow quirking.

“We can talk freely,” I said.

“Oh good,” he said, breathing an audible sigh of relief.  “Do you have anything for me?”

“So greedy, Jer.”

“I am!” he said, without shame.  “I try to indulge in every single sin that I can, and greed, obviously, is foremost among them.  Do you have anything?”

“I don’t,” I said.

He deflated a little, then rallied.  He smiled, and it was mischievous.  “I thought perhaps you were going to offer me the… boy?”

“Boy,” Jamie confirmed.

“No,” I said, “He’s mine.”

Jer threw up his hands in surrender, as if he might be seen as wanting to put up a fight, in the wrong light.  “Not that I’d be interested.  My eyes are only for girls, and I like my girls perfect… and older.”

“I know, Jer,” I said.  I wasn’t going to encourage him.  “Listen, we’re in trouble.”

The dash of humor in his expression disappeared.  Now serious, he straightened, withdrawing his hands from the midpoint of the counter to the edge, gripping it.  “What sort?”

“Bounty hunters,” I said.

“You have a bounty?” he asked, surprised, then immediately changed tacks.  “Of course you have a bounty, you productive little rascal.  We can’t have that!  It makes my evening when you pay your visits.  If you were dead or captured, you’d never visit me again.”

I nodded.

“Which bounty hunter is it?”

“Dog,” I said, “And Catcher.”

“Two of them!  Sounds vaguely familiar, and… not local?”

“And a woman with blond hair and modified hands,” I added.

“A ghost, actually,” Jamie clarified.  “One of Percy’s.  I remember my, uh, friend’s sketches of their faces.”

I shot him a look.  “Really?”

“Or someone used one for raw materials and copied the face,” Jamie said, shrugging.  “I don’t know.”

“Ghost with modified hands, then, and two Brunos, and there were others,” I said.

“There’ll be more, if Catcher wasn’t fibbing,” Jamie said.  “Soon, too.  Savvy ones will be keeping an eye out for where their competition is going.  More bloodthirsty bounty hunters.”

I nodded my agreement.

“Ah huh,” Jer said.  He frowned.  “I suppose they’ve realized it’s not really two or three different burglars that are raiding homes at night, sometimes even when residents are sleeping inside?”

“Something like that,” I said.  “I don’t suppose you know a quick way out of Tynewear?  By water or tunnel?”

Jer shook his head.

Didn’t think so.  “Then we need tools and weapons, and the jailors relieved me of my wallet, which I didn’t happen to pick up.  Not that it had much in it.  Whatever you’re willing to offer, I need it on credit.”

“Ah, Simon, my friend.  You’re lucky I’m fond of you.  I’m a little less fond of you now that I’m suspicious these people are after you for a good reason.  Perhaps you got your hands on something that other people valued very highly, and that something somehow didn’t cross my counter, even for consideration?”

“Nothing like that, don’t worry,” I said.  “Just murders.”

“Ah,” Jer said.  He nodded, as if this was matter of fact.  There was humor to his voice as he repeated, “Just murders.”

Abruptly, he turned.  His hand smacked a bell that hung behind the counter.  I saw Jamie tense.

“It’s fine,” I said.

“Yes,” Jer said.  “Only the tea bell.”

“Ah,” Jamie said.

“I adore elegance,” Jer said.  “If I were to offer you something from my personal stock, it would be along the lines of…”

He knelt behind his counter.  He was just tall enough that I could see the top of his head.  “This.  And this.  I suppose I can part with this, too.”

To say Jer was dedicated to elegance was something of an understatement.  The guns he kept behind the counter, which were likely only ever seen by thugs looking to rob him, if anyone, were as ornate as any jewelry, crusted with silver leaf, engraved from the tip of the barrel to the base of the grip.  The long knife was so fancy that I wondered if it would even service in combat.

Going by Jamie’s look, he might have thought the same thing.

“That’s generous of you,” I said.  “But I was hoping for something a little less beautiful and something…”

“Uglier?” Jamie suggested.

“Uglier,” Jer restated, as if he needed to frame the idea in his head.

“Something that could make a mess,” I said.  “Tidy and beautiful won’t work.  Those pistols, I could empty both of them into Catcher, reload, empty them into him again, then take two minutes of time with that knife while he stood still and let me work on him, and once my time was up, he would arrest me and drag me off.  Dog is bigger, tougher.”

The knife thing was only true because it looked so horribly inefficient.  Bits curled off from the sides, which limited how deep I could get it, and the fancy handle would make it hard to swing with any force.  Even the pommel was pointed, so I couldn’t press against it with one hand while thrusting with the other, to help drive it home.

“Ah,” Jer said.  “There is one thing.”

“One thing would be excellent,” I said.  “Whatever it is.”

“Except I promised it to someone else.  It passed into my hands, and I’ve yet to tell that someone else that I have it in stock…”

Jer’s stitched servant entered the room.  She reminded me of Fray’s stitched girl, whatever her name had been.  Like Fray’s stitched, the seams and actual stitches were hidden, where sheer skill hadn’t hidden them entirely.  She was beautiful, and dressed in a way that accented that beauty without being vulgar.  She didn’t look like a lady of the evening.  She looked like a woman who any man might be happy to have on his arm at some fancy event.  High quality and expensive.

Relegated to serving tea.  She set down the tray with the kettle and lone cup.

“Thank you, darling,” Jer said.  The word got a genuine-seeming smile in response.  Automatically, as if he’d forgotten we were present, he touched her chin to angle her head and kissed her.

The kiss alone might have made me uncomfortable, considering that the woman was dead, but the look in her eyes, as she stared off into points unknown, her eyes darting left and then right, as if possessed of a different sort of life than the one that controlled her mouth as she very automatically kissed her owner…

He stepped back and away and waved her off in the same moment, returning his attention to us.

“Tea?” he asked. He raised his hand from beneath the counter, holding a faintly dusty cup.

“No thank you,” Jamie said, very curt.

“No, but thank you,” I said, echoing Jamie with somewhat more courtesy.  “We’re in a hurry.”

Jer nodded, using a handkerchief to clean the cup.  “Lock the shop door, then come around the counter.”

I touched Jamie’s shoulder, pushing him lightly toward the counter, as I turned to go lock the door.  I quickly set the locks before reversing course, joining Jamie as we went behind the counter.

Jer was dragging a hidden panel out from the base of the shelf.  The glass display of jewelry and leather bits appeared to sit on a wooden base, and the wooden base had a drawer.

He stepped back to let us investigate.

Cushioned by hay, there were six different sorts of explosive packed into the box.  Grenades, smoke, landmines, mines with cords, and other, heavier ones buried further down.  They might, judging by the shape, have been rockets.

Jer prepared his tea, stirring by way of teaspoon as he emptied the kettle into the cup.

“I’m willing to negotiate,” I said.

“I certainly hope you are, Simon.  You two can walk away with what you can carry.  In exchange, should you do business in Tynewear again, you’ll come to me.  I’m your fence.”

“And if I don’t do business in Tynewear again?”

“Then you’re likely dead, and you can consider this my generous contribution to your funerals.”

He was giving me a complete pass.  He had to know I was leaving town, but he was handing me what had to be a nice payoff, on account of established reputation alone.

“Alright,” I said.  “And if we happen to leave the city, I’ll find a way to make my gratitude known.”

“Just so,” Jer said.  It was the right response.  We both had a sense of how the other operated.

“A bag?” I asked, looking up at Jer.

He had messenger bags, like the ones paperboys in Tynewear used, all leather and fanciness, only it came from Jer’s custom shop, so the leather was engraved and made all the more stylish.  It might have cost a whole twenty or thirty dollars to get, if I was any other customer.

I took the mines, grenades, and what I took to be smoke grenades.

“Collector’s items,” Jer said, “From the great war for the Crown States.  Safe to handle, but no guarantees they’ll fire.  Valuable.  Try to appreciate their historical and financial value as you actively use them.”

His smile was a faintly pained one.

“I will.  Goodbye, Jer,” I said.

“Goodbye, Simon,” he said.

I bumped into the door as I tried to haul it open and step outside, only belatedly realizing I’d locked it.  I tried to maintain a hair of dignity as I led the way outside.

We were about ten steps away when Jamie came to a stop.  I turned around to look at him.

“Do you think it would draw too much attention if I turned around and threw one of these explosives through his shop window and over that counter?” Jamie asked me, his eyes focused down at his satchel.

I didn’t respond right away.  I had to take a second to study him, looking him up and down, taking in the little details.

“It’s not like you,” I said, measuring my words carefully, “To say something that vehement.”

Vehement wasn’t the right word.  But it somehow fit the situation.  Jamie, so very calm, was saying something so uncharacteristically violent.

“I know,” Jamie said.

“Because of the stitched?”

“There was something behind her eyes, Sy.”

“Yeah,” I said.  My voice soft.  “Yeah.  Some of the newer models are more capable, less of the brain cut and burned away.”

“I won’t ever forget that look-”

“I know,” I said, quick, cutting him off.  “I know.  It’s part of the reason I didn’t invite you to come by.  Even with that in mind, I didn’t think you’d react that intensely.”

“She’s a shell, Sy.  They tampered with her head, they took her old identity.  They emptied her out.  But she still has something there, buried there.  Maybe it’s trying to surface.  Maybe it never will, and that idea’s horrifying.  Maybe it will, and that idea is worse.”

“I know,” I said.

“I have- not nightmares, I sleep too deeply for real nightmares, but it comes to mind, I worry, I think about worst case scenarios.  What might happen further down the line.  Some of those scenarios look an awful lot like that woman did.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I drew in a deep breath, and stood straighter.  “Yeah.”

Jamie glanced back, in the direction of the shop.

There wasn’t anything new to see there.  It was a little mannerism that I didn’t put my finger on until I actually saw him deviate from it, that Jamie wasn’t one to look back.  He didn’t need to validate or double check things.

“It doesn’t bother you?” he asked.

“I bent my brain until it didn’t.  We needed to pay our way, and it wasn’t smooth sailing, at first.  And once I bent my head in the right direction… I guess I really didn’t think too much about it.”

“Except you knew it would bother me.”

“Yeah.  I think I knew it bothered me,” I said.  I thumbed at the ring at my finger.

Jamie nodded.

“You’re not going to be able to put this behind you,” I said.  “Let it go?  No, that’s the wrong wording, I’m not saying you shou-”

“I know what you mean,” Jamie said.  “No, I can’t put things behind me.  I carry them.  I don’t let anything go.  I can forgive, I can change my mind, when presented with new information, but there’s nothing there I ever want to be able to forgive or change my mind about.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I know what you’re about to do,” he said.  “It’s decided, just like that?”

“Yeah,” I said.  I turned around, and walked back to the shop.  I pushed the door open, slowly, up until the bell above the door dinged.

“Hm?” Jer made an inquisitive sound.  He was kneeling behind the display, rearranging some pieces.  “Simon!  Did you forget something?”

I reached into the messenger bag, grabbed a grenade, and pulled a pin.

He moved without a moment’s hesitation, dashing for the house.

He reversed course as I threw the grenade past the open doorway, into the room he’d been heading into, scrambling back so fast that he fell over.

The explosion was eminently satisfying, to all of the senses, from the smell of smoke to the noise, to the tactile feeling as it cracked and then woofed through the bones of the house and shop.  Jewelry and crystal throughout Jer’s shop tinkled.

That deals with any stitched servants in the kitchen.

I’d neglected to mention to Jamie that there was more than one.  He didn’t need or want to know.

Jer went for his gun.  I went for the next grenade, pulling the pin and lobbing it so it went high.  It bounced off of the glass top of the display case, over the counter.  I’d expected it to fall into the display case, where it would be harder to grab and throw back.  Instead, it landed on the far side, clattering over the floor.

Jer didn’t aim his gun at me.  He only stared, saying something I couldn’t make out, as I backed swiftly away, gaining more speed as I went.

The explosives we’d left in the hay-lined crate were right beside where the grenade had landed, and the resulting combination made for an explosion was a sight to behold, rolling across the ground floor and partway up through the second floor affecting the neighbor to the right of his house, and taking out at least one of the supports.  The entire house buckled in the middle part, creaking, sagging, and threatening to fall.  Instead, the fall seemed to be slow but insistent, like the grains of sand through an hourglass.

I stopped running as I caught up with Jamie, falling in step with him as we walked away from the scene.

“Thank you,” Jamie said.

“Of course,” I said.

“Don’t keep things from me, Sy.”

“I’ll keep a lot of things from you,” I said.  I thought of the plurality of haunted stitched.  “It’s how I operate.”

He gave me a very displeased look.

“But I won’t keep matters of conscience from you,” I said.  “I promise.”

“Thank you,” he said, in a very perfunctory way, apparently satisfied.  He glanced back at the building, as clusters of people walked past us to see what had just happened.  Some shouted of fire and the need for water.

Others, I saw, were hanging back.  I wondered if any were sick and hiding it.

“I know I asked for it, but this is going to draw attention.  They’ll be right on top of us any second now.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Let ’em come.  This is our territory, twice over.  We’ve been here for months, getting the lay of the land, and, in my preferred way of doing things, the box is thoroughly shaken.”

“And we have the means of shaking it further,” Jamie said, patting the messenger bag at his side, his chin raising a notch.  He pointed.  “This way.”

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111 thoughts on “Cut to the Quick – 11.6

    • What makes a terrorist a villain, really? the fact he actively targets innocents in order to create feelings of terror to the populance. Otherwise, he is no different than a guerilla fighter or/and a rebel.Not necessarily a hero, but not necessarily a villain. I haven’t seen Sy even target innocents, though he might consider them side casualties. Contrast with real terrorist attacks that have no real high value “target”, unless you can consider the feelings of the populance a high value target.

        • yeah -_- . A terrorist’s main purpose is terror, extreme political activists or freedom fighters that strike VALID STRATEGICAL JUSTIFIEDTARGETS instead of simply spreading uncertainty by atr\tacking RANDOM or SYMBOLIC TARGETS may be villains, but they are not terrorists.You can make the argument a psyhological attack is valid or strategical, but its certainly not justified. All of Sy’s target are justified.

          • I value and admire the distinction you draw between “valid and strategic” and “justified”.

        • Perhaps not. But the mobile locked in syndrome deserves to either be taken to a hospital or be mercy killed. If the guy doesn’t allow it, well… necessary casualties.

          Thats assuming the guy didn’t cause it in the first place (including indirect causing, such as buying it specifically for it being like that, supporting the bussiness that did it).

          Also, even though I make moral judgements, I am on the opinion no one DESERVES to be killed. They deserve a rehabilation, perhaps, and being made a better person, or being lockedup all their lives, not miserable, but ynable to cause harm. But some people NEED to be killed, not due to morality, but because you can’t put them in the situation I mentioned above without having other people getting harmed.Such as a soldier of the oppressors in a rebellion, even if he is a pretty evil man, or a hostage taker, or a terrorist sometimes.

          • That’s my view on the matter also.
            Jer was polite, he certainly didn’t axiomatically deserve death, but killing him was the only expedient solution to a problem he was causing, and the value in keeping him alive wasn’t worth the harm of leaving him in power.

    • entirely likable, if you’re assuming the girl was dead before she was turned into a stitched.

      read it again.

      • Not at all likeable if he knew she was concious and ordered her that way, even if she was dead before. And her eyes show she didn’t like it, and the girls in the kitchen show it wasn’t one random stiched. Read again.

    • When Jamie, his substitute conscience, wants someone dead…Sy kills them. I wonder if he’d do this for any other Lamb? Maybe Lillian.

      This is especially interesting because it coexists with Sy making trouble for himself by sparing the guard last chapter. Sy can be merciful, up to a point, but there is a limit, and sometimes Sy seems to think he needs other people to tell him where the limit is. He relies on the morality of others because his own tends to be so malleable.

      • He might have killed someone if Gordon asked. But Mary is to prone to stabbing for dealing with things, and Helen wants to give hugs, and Sy knows this about them. He can trust Lillian and Jamie to only want people dead for good reasons.

        • Actually, he did it for Mary already, negotiating to have her maker killed at her request.

          And he trusts Helen’s judgement, even though the morality underlying that judgement is a simulation of human morality. I’m pretty sure he’d kill someone at her direction.

          I don’t think anything comes before the Lambs, for Sy. Even abandoning them was done as part of a strategic plan, with his promises to them and their own, continued safety as the end goals.

  1. Aw, Sy murders people when they make Jamie upset. How nice of him. These two are gonna tear stuff up.

    Poor Jamie. The burden of a perfect memory. I really hope he can find a way to live with the ever increasing weight…I don’t want to meet Jamie 3.0.

    The improvements to the Stitched making them even more people like is just horrible enough to make sense and fit the setting.

  2. I also kind of want to see Jamie and Sy rule a criminal empire with a bunch of loyal thugs. Here’s hoping for a happy ending!

    • Foregone conclusion: the rash is going to put paid to any initial criminal empire moves either could make. Neither of them seem to realise just yet how flipping dangerous it is, and they’re in a better position than most to know thanks to that poor sod they saw in the pokey.

      Should they join the dots as to what it actually is *glances at Jaime*… Well, I think Mauer is going to get the blame quite solidly put on him. <_<

    • Hey, I wouldn’t mind seeing Sy in charge of an organization! Bring in all the Lambs, sitting around their ominous meeting Table! Lillian rocking her Black Coat! Helen wondering why the cake hasn’t been served yet! Ashton being all off!

    • The guy bought, paid top dollar for and, purely for personal gratification and taste, used a top-of-the-line stitched who was in some, small way somewhat self-aware and probably not happy with the arrangement.

      In short, whoever she was wasn’t entirely dead and gone… and, what was left had been stuck in hell thanks to a pre-order, a warrantee and a guarantee of aesthetic and functional quality, or your money back. 😦

      • I think the bigger issue was the fact that he seemed to be buying women to turn into these stitched in that horrible half-aware manner, actively causing these people torment if they ever realized their situation. Dude was a twisted man.

  3. Well Jer was creepy. Though I was thinking he was going to be a pedo and hitting on Sy, not molesting a stitched. And the newer stitch are getting more aware? Fuck that’s horrible.

    Oh and Sy is a little off about the plague’s origins. Yeah indirectly Frey and Maur’s fault, but really it’s the wrath of God.

    Oh and the crown still isn’t really hurt by all the rebellion? Fuck. Fuck them assholes.

  4. For Jer that was not a bug being exploited… That was a Feature.

    Note how Sy mentioned that his crimes were ‘just a few murders’ to Jer…

    Conclusion: That stitched girl was Not he first he’d had this done to and may have even been hand picked by him alive to suffer that. I’m fairly sure that THAT was what Jamie was reacting to.

  5. Sy leading a criminal empire is a funny thought. Him trying to open the locked door is even funnier.

    That came kinda to a surprise. I really liked Jer, even though at first I suspected him to be a pedophile. He had a way to be memorable. Killing someone who supported them without any payment just for some more self-aware stitched? That somehow contrasts their previous moral standard.

    • Not really, both Jamie’s were altruistic, and Sy mostly mirrored the other Lambs in his morality… and now he only has Jamie.

      • Sy’s developing morality seems heavily based on not hurting people who are young or who otherwise have limited choice in being there fighting him, like the patriotic guard he spared last chapter. Jer? Jer was polite to Sy, they had a good working relationship, Sy could ignore his more awful qualities…but he doesn’t fall into those categories.

      • How altruistic is it to kill someone who just helped you without a compensation. I understand that he was bothered by the stitched, but that was cold anyway.

        For Sy that fits though. Still somewhat hypocritical.

        • Altruism doesn’t really cover paying someone back, so much as it does helping others selflessly. Sy and Jamie made their prospects worse with this particular murder, but Jamie (and perhaps Sy, once he’s bent his brain to fit a little more) view it as an altruistic act to keep him from abusing more stitched. As far as the golden rule goes it’s pretty nasty, of course…

          • How selfless was that act really? I mean, Sy did it to their own detriment, but to the benefit of a friend. But it was kind of a emotional reaction, more because Jamie didn’t like it then any prospect of making the world better.

        • See , thats one of the most ancient moral dillemas in humanity:

          honourable behaviour vs world bettering behaviour.

          One centers arount keeping your word, showing gratitude to those that helped you, etc.

          The other centers around making the world, and other people’s lives better (or, failing that, delivering mercy kills).

          Ideally both should be kept, but its not always possible.

          • Did that act really make the world better? I mean, he was a fence, so I doubt that he himself worked on making the world progressively better. But I also doubt that the stitched were alone his work or that they are so much worse in comparison to what everyone else does.

            So, it wasn’t really a world bettering behavior, more of an emotional reaction.

          • “he was on the fence” no, not really, he repressed his desires with Wyvern in order to forget the long term and think the even longer term (and Jamie). In fact, most of his worst actions seem to be done via wyvern repression.
            “I also doubt that the stitched were alone his work” this seems like a pretty custom job, one less customer means a few less victims.
            “or that they are so much worse in comparison to what everyone else does.” you want to recycle your dead? morbid, but not villainous. You want to kill people so you can make more zombie slaves? dark, probaby villainous, but incomparable to the sheer vileness of TRAPPING PEOPLE IN A “AND I MUST SCREAM” STATE SIMPLY BECAUSE YOU ENJOY IT. Even the Duke was better, he at least got information out of it. And note that they went after the Baron for LESSER shown on screen sadistic tendencies.

          • First of all, I didn’t say he was on the fence, he was a fence, referring to Jer and his occupation. You know, a fence like the criminal?

            You only assume that they are a custom job, there isn’t any indication for or against it and if we’re going with Wendy, Warren’s stitched girl, stitched with higher mental functions aren’t that rare.

            Are they really trapped in such a scenario or not, the only indication for anything is that their eyes seemed a bit abnormal. And the Baron wanted to lobotomize an entire orphanage just to spite Sy, that’s far worse on the scale then a few ambigious stitched.

          • “shown on screen” I know he has lots worse, including the ones he talks about onscreen.

            But seriously, the implications here are so strong you can’t miss them. Wendy didn’t have that spark, even if she had some feelings, and you can argue one is an accident, but not a whole household.

          • I have yet to see any real-world situation be improved by a blind adherence to “honor”. There are practical values to being known to be honorable — but rira va Cnpg, crbcyr jvgu cbjref pubfr gb yvr be oernx gurve jbeq she n fhssvpvragyl ynetr nqinagntr. And when “honor” comes up in opposition to morality[*], the only reason I’ve ever seen people let “honor” win is personal pride.

            Also…as another great author (Lois McMaster Bujold — if you haven’t read her work, grab a copy of “Cordelia’s Honor” or “The Curse of Chalion” and settle in for a wild(bow-quality) ride) once wrote, “The problem with vows of the form ‘Death before dishonor!’ is that, eventually, they divide the world into two kinds of people — the dead and the dishonoured.”

      • Sure, but it isn’t like our “heroes” have any moral high ground, after everything they did or witnessed others doing.

        • I think the implication here is that he had girls kidnapped alive and then turned into those.
          They aren’t normal stitched, they have been stitched alive.

          • I’m not so sure, Wendy, Warren’s stitched servant seemed also far more conscious then the other ones and she was just a servant to a farmer.

        • Wut? wut? wut? wut?

          Even if we take the worst possible interpretation of their every action, they are not 1/10th as fucked up as that.Heck,the Baron hasn’t done anything as fucked up onscreen (though he threatened to do so).And if we take the best, they are just genuine heroes with social programming baggage that have every right for moral high ground at least against Jer.

          I think it just that society is predisposed to like certain qualities, and if a villain has this virtues then he is likeable and lovable even if he creates his shoes from still aware but unable to communicate babies. Its the only way I can see people claiming creepy rapist free will stealer Jer is equal to byronic hero socially programmed well meaning Sy, whose only trait that can conceivably be seen as selfish (if you squint)is putting certain friends and IDEALS HE THIINKS WILL PROGRESS THE WORLD above other people . People who may be decent, but tend to not be innocent (yes, I am including the soldier and doctor that saved them. To this day, killing two decent men to save their and their fellow lambs lifes is the Lamb’s biggest sin, and it comes not from sheer self presentation, but from altruism for the other lambs too.Every other major player, as well as some minor ones, have done worse, and sme might still be justified n doing so,)

          • The Baron had regularly kidnapped children for some unknown, but I bet not beneficial, purpose. The Baron threatened to lobotomize an entire orphanage, and I don’t doubt a second he would’ve gone through with it. He nailed people down and left them starve in the church, just for the sake it.

            There’s no indication that Jer is a “free will stealer”, and Sy may often say he’s wanting the world to progress, but his position and view are clearly biased through his own perspective. Sy commited a bunch of atrocities, often against people he claims are monsters, but he himself is somehow justified in acting that way because he admits what he does is horrible? That’s thin ice, at best.

            Just look at Helen and Mary, both are brutal and remorseless killers whose only redeeming feature is that they are part of the lambs. Still Sy would commit countless more atrocities just to protect him. Just because they are his friends, he’s willing to go to great lengths for them. May that be one of the qualities that you said make him likeable, no matter what evil he does?

          • “the Baron”: shown onscreen, not being told about on screen (even for him). We know he is a worst sadist.(and I’d argue nailing people in the church is better than what Jer did, but lobotomizing an orphanage is on par, if not worse).

            “no indication Jer is a free will stealer” yeah, he is at least a buyer of one, who constantly rapes people trapped in their own bodies. Anything else and you are on denial .

            “Sy commited a bunch of atrocities” none included an “I must Scream” fate. Sy may be comparable to Fray, or Mauer, or even the Duke who act for what they think is the greater good, but he certainly isn’t comparable to the Baron or Jer, or the Twins, or even dr Ibbot.

            “he somehow is justified” no, not necessarily, but if he is unjustified, it stems from ignorance or cultural programming, not from pride, refusal to accept one’s mistakes or hedonism. I’ll agree, one person with good intentions may cause more damage than one with evil, but unless you are a consequentialist (in which case, you should still root for Sy) this matter matters most for an explicity MORAL judgement.Yeah, there are some knight templars who are monstrous despite having “good” intentions, but that comes often from enforcing double standards hypocrisy on their moral, something having to do either with insanity or pride.

            “Helen and Mary both are brutal and remorseless killers whose only redeeming feature is that they are part of the lambs”

            Mary? you mean the person who’d protect children at all costs and then try to play it off as something else? the person who killed her father figure for that same reason? The person who tries to play a brutal killer, but has never bruttally killed an innocent? that Mary?she may be more brutally grey than most of the lambs, but Frey doesn’t care about children, and Frey has 10 times better a moral high ground than f*****g Jer at least.Mary is clearly not the monster you try to portrait her as\

            As for Helen, you aredoing a moral judgement to an alien mindset, an alien mindset that, despite its alieness, is still loyal to its friends and never killed an innocent no matte how much she’d like too? That Helen? Paarthunax she ain’t, but she clearly is a moral being with utterly alien urges she tries to conquer, as opposed to, say, an utterly human being that is a total sadist. Even if we assume she only controls herself for the sake of friendship (which last interlude confirmed she felt) and orders, Jer is still worse cuz he is human, and because he targets”the weak” rather than “the strong”

          • Well, we don’t really know if they are really trapped in their bodies. Yes, there an implication based on a glimmer in the eye, but that’s rather weak evidence, because once again more intelligent stitched like Wendy are nothing new to this world.

            And didn’t Sy just force the Baron in such a scenario, with driving him insane and rendering his mind imprisoned in his body? He basically just did the same thing that you accuse Jer of. Okay, the baron deserved it, but we neither know anything about the stitched’s origin or their exact nature.

            What are you even trying to tell me with saying with Sy being unjustified through ignorance or social programming? He’s clearly an unreliable narrator by now.

            Mary was also introduced by poisoning an entire school and killed except for children ruthlessly many more. Also, Frey wanted to spread Academy knowledge which by an estimation from Lilian (I at least think it was Lilian?) would kill 90% of the population, so you’re seriously telling me, that even if the people are trapped in the stitched, that would be worse then the death of millions?

            For Helen, that’s exactly my point. She’s an alien monster with an urge to kill. She’s not really different then many of the other warbeasts, only far more sophisticated. Would Sy really hesistate to spare them too?

          • “weak evidence” not weak enough for ,not 1, but 2 geniuses to think its bad.

            Also, on more intelligent stiched, I just thought of this: more intelligent stiched CAN ACTUALLY ACT THEIR LIMITED INTELLIGENCE, NOT JUST SHOW IT THROUGH THEIR EYES.The stiched Jer had clearly couldn’t act its feelings. So there you have it, its different from it merely being a “more intelligent stiched.”

            I am not gonna say that the difference is “the Baron deserved it”, as nobody deserves it. The difference is that while a) the Baron was dangerous to others in b) sadistic and not just murderous ways, they c) had no other way to neutralise him. It is c that has the most weight, though without either a or b or some replacement of it it would be villainous too.Meanwhile, unless you mean to tell me all these stiched are actually an unkillable type of fungi (no, nobles will not cut it, Sy and Maryy couldn’t finish the Baron off after incapicatng him due to limited time, not incapability if the Baron was practically unconcious) then Jer is still a monster, who clearly acts out of hedonism. Even if all these persons are serial killers (very unlikely) its still just to assuage his morality though he’d be a litle better.

            “What are you even trying to tell me with saying with Sy being unjustified through ignorance or social programming?” That he was well intentioned. To answer a latter point, unless you are a consequentialist, thats also what makes people like Frey better than people like the Baron, even though sometimes people like Frey can create more suffering than people like the Baron.And if you are a consequentalist, you should till root for Sy for he took down some people who caused , and would cause again, suffering sand stopped many actions that would do so too, both of which pale in front to what he inflicted.

            ” He’s clearly an unreliable narrator” not the unreliable narrator that lies to the aujdience. The unreliable narrator that can be lied to, and that may lie to himself. The story, though, makes him being a hopeless altruist and well intentioned pretty damn clear.

            Mary was also introduced by poisoning an entire school and killed except for children ruthlessly many more” yeah, but that was Percy’s conditioning (more on conditioning later). I won’t say that everyone she killed after joining the lambs deserved it, because they did not only kill people that did, but no one of them was outright innocent, and many of them were casualties to stopping worse stufffor happening. Overall, she isn’t a brutal monster, and even though she may fall under the “evil” alignment (though I’d classify her as lawful neutral, being a mostly selfish indivindual with a strict code of honour , not really killing because she enjoys it even though she does… that applies to Helen too, look at that) she is still miles above Jer.

            “that even if the people are trapped in the stitched, that would be worse then the death of millions?” First of all, probably billions. Secondly, we are arguing morality, not actions, as many actions, even genocide, can be done in genuinely good intentions.Thirdly, these persons will die free and unviolated: the taking of physical liberty and rape are often portraied as fates worse than death, and while the second isn’t necessarily, the first is.Finally, once again, hedonism vs (maybe misguided) necessity. The secondis more moral than the first, unless you genuinely should know better, and not Frey, nor Mauer, nor Sy , and I’d argue not even the Baron had chances to know better.We see what such a chance amounts too hen Sy’s vision of the hpe for the future crumbled, with the final straw being not the Academy’s villainy or callousness, but THE ACADEMY STIFFLING ITS OWN HOPE , LILIAN.It requires something that targets the centre of the morality to stop one’s social programming from making excuses.Its also what drove Mary away from Percy, her previous misgivings couldn’t do that.Hypocrisy comes when even that doesn’t shake it.

            “She’s not really different then many of the other warbeasts, only far more sophisticated” I’d stop right there and point out that a being with the ability to reason is very different for a being without it. For one, the first can, as Helen did, develop reason based feelings, such as “I do not want to kill the lambs, they are my friends” and, more importantly, morality, even if its desires are alien.Point of reference, the last interlude.

            ” Would Sy really hesistate to spare them too?” Sy doesn’t hesitate to spare people he LIKES or who are decent when the situation calls for it. But when he has a choice (which is rare)? well, he spared Dog and Catcher.And Mary.

          • storryeater, your comment really makes me feel the lack of a “like” button in these comments. “It’s the only way I can see people claiming creepy rapist free will stealer Jer is equal to byronic hero socially programmed well meaning Sy…” Yeah. What you said.

            Also, I want to give props to Wildbow for something: for a writer of worlds with this overwhelming degree of consent violation, near-absolute power, and general horror baked into them, Wildbow has done an *amazing* job of avoiding toxic tropes like “rape as character development”, “rape as the standard marker of a villain”, “rape as the default torture”, and, hell, just “rape as the go-to source of horror”. Wildbow, thank you for your careful and nuanced handling of something that so many, many authors get painfully wrong.

  6. Gotta say killing Jer is a little eh.

    Yeah he’s a bit unsettling and… questionable, but without pay or coercion he did help Sy and Jamie out a good deal. Combined with his politeness the whole thing is just a bit… disappointing?

    Ah well. Kudos to our wonderful author for making such an intriguing one-shot character. Even more for not going with the obvious pedo route. Perhaps he would be a good choice for a world building interlude chapter?

  7. This chapter really gave me mixed feelings. Writing is incredible as always. I don’t know what the “morally right” thing to do in this situation would be. I mean, the guy just helped you out for free… to go blow him up with his own grenades seems pretty dickish. At the same time, he was definitely a creeper.

    As time goes on, I’m starting to view Sy more and more as a bad guy. It’s hard to not sympathize with the viewpoint character, but there are these little flashes where his thinking is just so … alien. Really excited to see where this one goes.

  8. Sounds like stitched have reached the nadir of the uncanny valley. Not sure if this counts as mercy kills for Jir’s stitched house staff.

    As for Sy’s morality, honestly, I’d argue he counted as a villain protagonist almost from the beginning. Hell, I’m not sure anyone aside from Lillian who’s had more than a bit part can really be called virtuous without an asterisk.

    • I honestly think that Sy seems to be on a meandering path towards “being a decent person” and has been for a while, and might by the end even count as a “hero.” He’s grown up a lot, he’s admitted to himself that he doesn’t actually like being a bad guy, he’s gotten himself out of the awful situation with the Academy…

      • Yeah, but this is Wildbow. He can have all the emotional development in the world, it’s not gonna help when he becomes part of a biological monster doomsday device or whatever the max-level escalation on this setting is.

    • How about both Jamies?

      And as for him being a “villain”…. what I dislike most is people judging others highly and mightily, when the people in question had either very different cultural upbringing (yes, it is an excuse) or had to face hard, non everyday decisions, perhaps in a harsher world. And Sy had both oof these problems. Overall, since the beggining of Twig most of Sy’s actions were deeply altruistic, and while he placed tiers to this altruism (Lamba>the ones he consider victims/unable to fight>him>others) , he consistently tried to make the world a better place, nd his failures can, at worst, be attributed to cultural disonance. I’d argue even killing that soldier and doctor was mostly to save the other lambs.

      But I can get a different viewpoint. What I cannot get is calling someone a villain for saving people from a long, excruciating “And I must scream fate”, not only be mercy kill but bylimiting future victims, and calling the guy who did that a villain simply because… the guy he kiled was a gentleman who liked him in a non creepy way?

      One of the worst things society does today is bringing real life villains at the same level with heroes by showcasing that the former have positive qualities too (and God forbid a villain having more than a few cookie cutter positive qualities that make him, at best , more competent) and that the later have a few negative qualities too (and God forbit them from having any flaws other than being mildly stupid/annoying).

      This permeates most stories: most stories either have a cookie cutter morality (including some dark ones, like Berserk, not that I dislike Berserk, its just that saying it has genuinely complex morality is laughable) or a moral relativism when no one is better (or, if he is, dies early) and maybe a few guys are worse.

      I like Wilbow because his morality is more complex: even if Sy is a honourable bastard and Jer is honourable and friendly, you can tell the hero from the villain because you can see who strives to give a better life to others (even if he does so inneficiently, but thats cultural) vs who only cares about himself and creates suffering out of selfishness.

      In conclusion, Sy is, at worst, a Byronic hero while Jer is, at best, a Noble Villain.And any morality that thinks Sy shouldn’t bite the hand that fed him in this situation, just plain and simple places ones own complacency and calmness over others. I can get that, it does not make one a villain, or even a nonhero. But calling Sy a villain for that is too much

      • What I actually really like about this scene is how it works when coupled with Sy sparing Random Patriotic Guard last chapter. He didn’t know Random Patriotic Guard, has no reason to think fondly of him, and Random Patriotic Guard was antagonistic and hostile towards him, but Sy made sure to show him mercy-whereas here, with someone he knows and whom he can interact with on a friendly level, Sy is without mercy and straight-up murders Jer because he was morally repugnant and Jamie needed some closure.

        • “Sy is without mercy and straight-up murders Jer because he was morally repugnant and Jamie needed some closure.”

          Sy is without mercy and straight-up murders Jer because Jamie needed some closure. FIFY. If it was different, why would sy wait?

          • Because Sy’s wyvern makes him more pragmatic, and while Jer is a monster, Sy wanted his services (possibly even after that last visit) more than he wanted to kill him, both to help him and Jamie escape and to go after bigger fish? Him not killing Jer because he compertalized his feelings with Wyvern is outright stated.

  9. I’m not sure if this is actually the case, but it seems like Sy keeps on forgetting small things more and more as time goes on. I can’t help but wonder if this is going to be really relevant later on. I could imagine a scenario where Sy’s memory is almost useless, and he has to rely entirely on Jamie (who happens to have a perfect memory and is also solely paired up with him.) Really excited to see where the story will go.

  10. I… I liked Jer.
    He was polite and was… oh.
    He was kind to Sy, giving him the free explosives. Damn.
    Especially since having a stitched is hardly a crime, not his fault what happened to the woman. Probably. He just made Jamie uncomfortable.
    Sy definitely models his morality to match the people he’s with.

    • Yeah, but it was not about keeping stitched, it was about keeping aware self slaves that looked like ones. And its made clear, by Sy talking about the ones in the kitchen, that this was NOT just one stiched who happened to have more awareness, but a specific kink of the guy.

      • Is it just me who really got the feeling he didn’t buy them as stitched?
        His initial remarks about Jamie and the parts about the servant’s identity being “carved away” make me think she wasn’t a corpse turned stitched, but rather a person who was killed by stitching her.

        • I feel like that’s probably beyond his capacity to arrange; if fairly aware stitched were relatively easy to make they’d probably be seeing military use, especially with the Rebellion’s frequent efforts to separate stitched from living handlers with snipers or poison gas. They’re probably new-model servant stitched like Wendy that he bought on the market. What he’s doing is still very messed up compared to other buyers, though, since they want smarter stitched who can follow more complex orders and don’t need to be as closely supervised rather than because they enjoy tormenting intelligent beings.

          I think his initial remarks about Jamie imply that he’s in the sex trafficking business generally and routinely buys underage boys for resale.

          • Oh jeeze, the creepy rapist part actually made me completely overlook the implication that he was involved in human trafficking. So many layers of awful beneath that polite, friendly persona.

          • Yeah, that or people wanting to make Sy look better by making up awful stuff about people he kills. Probably the first one.

    • “I thought perhaps you were going to offer me the… boy?”

      “Boy,” Jamie confirmed.

      “No,” I said, “He’s mine.”

      Jer threw up his hands in surrender, as if he might be seen as wanting to put up a fight, in the wrong light. “Not that I’d be interested. My eyes are only for girls, and I like my girls perfect… and older.”

      he picked them when they were alive.

      If they’d died naturally, he’d only be a step or two worse than anyone using stitched for anything… but they didn’t.

  11. Jer was really easy to imagine cinematically and I think that is why people seem to latch onto his short-lived character. The things he does, specifically repeating “just murder” with humor pulls people in. Very interesting chapter and well written, as always wildbow.

  12. If you ever break out into truly mainstream fame, I suspect some future generation of SJWs will say this was where you showed you were a necrophobic shitlord who thought people with alternate lifestyles didn’t deserve to exist.

    • Hopefully future generations won’t be in support of pedophilia. Unless you think SJW(who I agree if they are dumb can sometimes be pedantical and only interested in stirring outrage) encouraging a world free of racism and sexism are the same as people who support pedos.

      • SJWs were never logical persons who were truly in favour of progressive thinking. They have ranted literally against everything. The are in part the reason for illogical laws and for the resurgence of the far right (good ol’humanity: one extreme doesn’t fit you? lets go to the other)

        SJW was always a condescing term, as it refered to this kind of people, not genuinely progressive ones who would truly make humanity better. Even though the term could be better- I do not see the issue with fighting for social justice- the way language evolves doesn’t always make sense.

  13. ^I hope you aren’t conflating pedophilia with child molestation. Because I’m all for leaving well-behaved pedophiles alone and giving at-risk pedophiles the treatment they need to not cross the line. I’m okay with locking up the molesters were they can’t hurt anyone but their fellow molesters, but comdemning someone for inappropriate urges they never act on is just wrong.

    As for Jir, I’d say most of his sins are rather ambiguous. He likely deals in stuff that would be blackmarket under any government aside from insanely libertarian, might be involved in human trafficking, and acts on necrophilic urges, but the extent of any of these is almost entirely up to the reader’s interpretation, as is the level of self-awareness his stitched staff has(They may be fully aware with freewill stripped away or they may just be fairly sophisticated automata).

  14. This seems… evil, of the lambs. Trying to judge the moral weight of keeping stitched by a look in their eyes and the assumption that it indicates some tortured locked-in consciousness.

    I’ve a background in neuroscience, and vegetative patients are notorious for prompting interpretations of presence and awareness in untrained onlookers. I wouldn’t (necessarily) expect Jamie and Sy to know that sort of thing, but I’d expect them to realize the uncertainty of their impression and not murder someone while destroying the might-be-consciousnesses they’re trying to protect on account of it. Frankly, they seem as reactionary to this subtle new development in stitched technology as father of the the living-head guy – Fray’s helper – was to the original technology. And far more violent about expressing it.

  15. I feel disturbed about Sy’s betrayal of Jer, partially yes because it was a dick move, but also because he could have been a potential asset in the city. And how soon do you think it would take for people to connect the dots that dear old Simon forebombing jer’s house gets out to other criminal
    Elements? Bad for business that.

    Then again once Jamie said he wanted him to die it was a foregone conclusion. Curse you Jamie! You and your functional moral compass!

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