Lamb (Arc 11)

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“Calipers, measurement… twenty five point four.”

Duncan moved the calipers.  His ‘dog’ startled a little at the movement.  The thin tentacles that formed its head and extended down its back and sides drew in, coiling, ready to reach out.  He had to stop moving for a moment, waiting.

Why had it done that?

Did it perceive the calipers as a weapon?

Keeping his head and body still, he moved only his left hand as he wrote on the back of a page in his notebook.  Caliper reaction, Ano#3.  Does it see calipers as claw/bite?  Instinctive or learned?  If former, what aspect of chimera provided?  Will that impact training?  If latter, where did it learn?

The familiar scratching of the pen seemed to relax number three.  He put the pen down and reached into his open drawer for a treat, handing it over.

The experiment had no head, only a wreath of tentacles, and it used five of the tentacles to feed the treat into the gaping, toothless hole in the center.  That gave Duncan the opportunity to take a measurement of the legs.

“Forty-three nineteen for leg length.  Shoulder breadth to leg converts to…” he paused.  “One point seven.  Perfect for Wollstone ratio five.  The Branck pattern swap must have worked.”

He noted everything down as he said it.

“Are you going to be calm if I try to measure one of your primary tentacles, number three?”

The experiment slowly tensed as he moved the calipers closer to its head.

“Relax,” he said.  “Be calm.  You know me.  I’m where you get your food, right?”

He smiled at the experiment, even though it didn’t see by conventional means, and wouldn’t understand the expression if it did.

“Calm,” he said, “Calm…”

A sharp knock at the door startled him and the experiment both.

He pulled away, but the tentacles were already reaching out.  One caught him by the chin, another by an ear.  A third managed to find anchorage in a tuft of hair.

Calipers dropped, he gripped the edge of the table, bracing himself, to avoid being pulled closer to the bars.  His feet moved out to the table legs, bracing there as well.  Once that was done, he managed to move a hand out, fumbling for the tranquilizer needle.

“Be calm,” he said.

A second knock sounded.  He could feel the experiment startle, the jerk vibrating down the length of each tentacle.

Four seconds had passed, but it felt like a hundred.  His abdominal muscles were already crying out for mercy, as his entire body fought to resist the insistent tug of a creature a third of his size.

Once the syringe was in the right place, he brought it around to what he’d termed the creature’s collar, the rim of denser tissues and muscle that bridged the bases of the tentacles and the creature’s shoulders.

The movement might have startled the experiment, because he felt another tentacle seize his wrist.  It pulled his wrist in closer, winding the tentacle around the arm for a better grip as it did so.  Not a bad thing, except the jerk of movement made him stab the bars of the cage instead of the creature.  The syringe slipped from his hand.

A moment later, it hauled his head just a little closer, reasserted its grip, then hauled his head the rest of the way in.  All at once, there was only darkness, no air, and the tight muscles of the collar gripping him around the chin and neck.

Blind, he had to fight to get into a position where he could fumble around with his one free hand.  He was already blacking out, and knew it had to do with the pressure on his carotid.

Join the Lambs as a peripheral member and on-site medic, die in a lab at home.

He felt a euphoric rush, his thoughts scattering.  He took it to be the ‘light’ he’d heard talk of, the surge of chemicals that was bestowed in the moments before death and oblivion.

But it wasn’t that.  The grip on him had been relaxed.  The euphoria was blood and breath returning to him.  He hauled himself free, surprised at how weak he felt, and gripped the desk and a nearby windowsill to steady himself.

It took him nearly forty seconds to get his bearings.  He realized someone was in the room with him.  A good foot shorter than he was, with red hair neatly looked after.  Not a person, a Lamb.

“Ash-” he said.  He stopped mid-word, still gasping for breath and wincing at the pain at his throat.

“Ashton.  My name is Ashton, not Ash.”

“Yes.  You’re right,” he said.  “How silly of me.  You knocked, I take it?”

“Yes.  I was told to always knock.  It’s polite.”

“Not always,” Duncan said.  “Not if you’re on a mission, am I right?”

“Yes.  I suppose that makes sense.”

Duncan managed a smile.  Ashton mimicked the smile with one of his own, and this one actually looked genuine.

“Good smile,” Duncan praised the experiment.  Training it wasn’t so different from training the likes of chimera number three.  He did hope the end result wouldn’t be so dangerous for him.

Chimera number three, he noted, had relaxed considerably, as if it had been tranquilized after all.  Duncan didn’t protest as Ashton reached into the cage and gently pushed at the chimera.  At the push, it sat, then lay down, before lying down, letting its tentacles go limp.

Duncan swallowed hard, then, at seeing someone walk past the open door to his little lab, he walked over and closed the door.

“No need for that,” Ashton said.  He smiled again.  “I’m being careful.  Only pushing it out in this direction.”

“You’re getting better,” Duncan observed.  His voice was hoarse.  How very obnoxious.

Ashton nodded.

“Good job.  I like that your smiles are different from one another.  Helen has been working with you, hasn’t she?”


“Good.  That’s really good,” Duncan said.  He slumped against the wall, then raised his hand, looking at the back of it.

A small smile crept across his face.

“Your control is very good, but it’s not perfect,” he said.  He showed Ashton the back of his hand.  He watched a very practiced look of puzzlement pass over Ashton’s features as the experiment examined the faint stripe of blue that had appeared.

Duncan crossed the room, to his chimera number three, and put his hand nearer the cage.  The blue took roughly four seconds to intensify, but it did intensify, until it looked like a stripe of paint.

Ashton stared, silent.  The young experiment raised a fist, moving it closer, then opened it very suddenly, fingers splayed.

It took about two seconds for the red stripe to appear, next to the blue.  There was something of a pattern as it solidified into a paint-like stripe of color, coloring the points the spores had hit first or in higher concentrations.

Chimera number three reacted, the tentacles coiling as it began to work to stand again.

“Away from the experiment, if you want to keep testing,” Duncan said.  He moved away from the cage, and Ashton followed.  He tapped his hand, “This is a little pet project.  I altered some bacteria that the Academy uses for detecting invisible gases, and primed them to respond to your spores.  You remember when I asked for the samples?”

Ashton nodded.  He did the motion with his hand again.


Another motion, again, with no response after a few seconds.  The red and blue were fading, Duncan was pleased to note.

A fifth gesture, a movement of Ashton’s hands, and the blue and yellow stripes illuminated.

“Which was that?” Duncan asked.

Ashton was quiet, staring.

“Ashton, pay attention,” Duncan ordered.  Once he had the experiment’s attention he asked again.  “Which spore did you just use?”


“That shouldn’t have lit up the blue.  Something to correct.  But it’s neat, isn’t it?”

Again, Ashton was quiet.

Duncan moved his hand.  Ashton’s head turned to track the motion of the hand, like a dog might do with a good bone that still had some meat on it.  Duncan moved his hand left, right, down, then up, until the little experiment could no longer see the patch of color.  The little experiment stood on his tiptoes, straining to see, until he lost his balance and stumbled.

He drew a handkerchief from his lab coat pocket and scrubbed the back of his hand until the colors were muddied and nearly gone.  A few rainbow traces remained.

Ashton stared at the hand, looking around a little as if he was wondering where the color had gone.  Then he met Duncan’s eyes.

“I want some, please, Duncan.  Can I have some?”

“It’s very unusual for you to want anything material, Ashton.  Usually you want changes to your environment, and even then, it’s pretty mild, like wanting to be warmer, or wanting a fire.”

Ashton nodded.

“It’s very interesting to have some feedback about what you’re doing, isn’t it?  More than just people acting different?”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Ashton said, very simply.  “I asked politely.  I didn’t huff and puff at you, because I can’t, but I asked politely and people are supposed to do what you ask if you ask nicely and if you’re being reasonable.  Am I being unreasonable?”

“You’re not being unreasonable.  Where did huff and puff come from?”  Duncan asked.  “Wait.  Don’t tell me.  Helen?”

“Helen, yes.  If I’m not being unreasonable, then can I please-”

“I might be able to give you some,” Duncan said, cutting the experiment off.  “I’ll give some to your doctors, and if they say it’s okay, either they can give you extras, or I can quickly whip up some vials for you and the other Lambs.  How’s that?”

“That is very good,” Ashton said.  “I think that sounds very reasonable.  Except-”

Ashton terminated in the middle of a sentence.  He moved his head a little, staring off into space.  His expression did change to suggest what was going through his head, which was an improvement from a few months ago.

“What are you thinking?”

“I would like more than ‘some vials’, please, Duncan,” Ashton said.

Duncan chuckled, then winced, rubbing at his throat.  “Do you want a bathtub filled with the stuff?”

“I would like… a paint can.  Maybe more than one paint can.  I don’t know how many I would need.  But I would like enough for my room.  I want my room to change colors for me.”

“Ah.”  Environmental change after all.  But thinking more about the future!  Duncan smiled, “I think that would be a bad idea.  It would be hard to explain to the others at Lambsbridge.”

Ashton nodded.

So interesting.  A human child that was the same age that Ashton was might throw a tantrum, if something they wanted was taken away, but the little experiment was so complacent.  No complaint, no grudges, no upset.  He wondered why the color was so fascinating, or what process was going on in the experiment’s head.

“I’ll make you a deal, though,” Duncan said.  “If your doctors say it’s okay, I’ll paint my lab here.  You can do everything you like while you’re here, visiting me.  But- but!”

He held up a finger, to make it absolutely clear.

Ashton’s lips moved, echoing the word subvocally.  But.

“You have to help me train my chimeras here.  With your spores.  It can be practice.”


So easily accepting.  Duncan looked at his caged chimera.  It was still lethargic.

“I almost became one of the twenty-three,” Duncan mused to himself.


“Students, a year, who get killed by their own work.  The number is really lower than that, but there were four straight years where it was something like twenty-three, twenty-three, twenty-two, then twenty-three again, so the number stuck.  Saying I was almost one of the nineteen doesn’t have the same cachet,” Duncan said.  He knew he sounded more amused and confident than he should have.  But the nice thing about being around this particular experiment was that it didn’t really matter.  No judgment here.

“That was a dumb thing to almost do,” Ashton said, and the judgment was ten times as heavy as it might otherwise have been, coming from a mouth so innocent.

Duncan pursed his lips, walked to the door, and opened it.  He pointed to the sign mounted beneath the number plate.  “What does this say?”

“Do not disturb.”

“That means no knocking or loud noises, okay?”


“Good.  Remember that.  Because it’s important.  Alright?”

“Alright.  Yes.”

Somewhat satisfied that he’d salvaged his pride and pointed out the reality that it would have been Ashton’s fault for breaking the rules, more than his own fault, Duncan asked, “Now, you came here for a reason, didn’t you?”


“What do you need?” Duncan asked, patient.

“I don’t need anything.  But a woman in very nice clothes with a bodyguard and another man with her stopped by Lambsbridge.  Ms. Earles answered the door, then she called for me.  I was upstairs, looking out the window-”

Duncan gestured for the experiment to hurry up.  He watched as Ashton stopped, pausing, as if he needed a moment to process and think about what he was supposed to be hurrying up to.

To his credit, he was a lot faster in making the leap than he had been when Duncan first joined the team.  “The woman wanted to talk to a Lamb.  To Lillian, but Lillian wasn’t there and neither were Mary or Helen.  I talked to her and she gave me this, and this.”

Ashton held an envelope and a slip of paper.  Duncan took both, looked at the slip, saw an address pointing to somewhere in the Sticks, then unfolded the paper from the envelope.

While he read, Ashton talked, “I tried to find the others, but Lillian wasn’t in her room, and I got shouted at for being in the girl’s dormitory.  Then I made them calmer and happier to see me.  Then they were hugging me like Helen does and telling me I was adorable like Helen does, and they were messing up my hair, which I had to keep fixing.”

Duncan nodded, taking in the mental image.  He might have embellished it by imagining that some of the girls had been on their way to and from the showers, or the like.

“I envy you,” he said, more to himself than anything.

Ashton gave him a puzzled look.

“Nevermind,” Duncan said.  No longer distracted by the mental images, he reread the note, actually taking in the contents.


Sylvester, no doubt.  That meant that Duncan had to figure out how to handle this.

“We’ll take it straight to the headmaster,” Duncan said, firmly.  “He’ll figure out the best way forward.”

“I was going to ask you where Lillian and Helen and Mary were,” Ashton said.  “Because they should read the note.”

“No,” Duncan said.  “Nevermind what the lady told you to do, okay?  She was a pawn of Sylvester’s.”

Ashton frowned.

“Come on,” Duncan said.  Time would be of the essence, if he wanted this to move along smoothly.  He suspected things would go more smoothly if the Academy handled it from the start.

He secured the chimera’s cage, unhitching the sections of the lid so they would fold down, forming impenetrable barriers with air holes rather than the bars with spaces between, latched it, then unhitched it from his desk, moving it over to the corner of his lab where three more of the cages sat.

Quickly, he snatched up the vials with the spore-sensitive bacteria in them, and slid them into a pocket.  He checked he had his wallet and keys, then made his way out of the lab, ushering Ashton out before locking up.  He turned the ‘do not disturb’ sign around and wrote in chalk on the backside.  Absent.  Academy business.  Live experiments within.

That last bit was more for the snoops and saboteurs in the Academy ranks than for anything else.

His lab was prime real estate, on the top floor of the newly revamped dungeon.  Not too many stairs to climb, and less worries about accidentally setting off ever-more-dangerous security features, like the doctors and professors downstairs had to deal with.

Claret Hall wasn’t far.  He walked briskly and trusted Ashton to keep up.

“You saw my experiment, didn’t you?”

“Yes.  I’ve seen it before, when it was in the vat, too.  I’ve been to your lab before.”

“Yes.  With the other Lambs.  Listen, silly question, but I’m very interested in how you answer.  I feel like it might give me insight into how your brain works.”


“If I told you I wanted to give a name to that experiment, which I’m currently calling anonymous chimera number three, what name would you give it?”

“Patriot.”  Without missing a beat.

Ashton’s speed left Duncan dumbfounded.  He mentally groped for an explanation, then for the words to express how staggered he was at the sheer speed of the response, and finally gave up.

“Did you already think of that name?”


“Then why Patriot, Ashton?”

“Because Patriot is Good Simon’s dog’s name,” Ashton said.

“Good Simon?”  Every answer left him a little more off balance.  He checked his hand, to be sure that he wasn’t getting ‘huffed and puffed’, as Ashton and Helen had termed it, but there were no spores active enough to paint the streaks of chemical.  He’d daubed the stuff on when he’d taken his morning pills for resisting Ashton’s influence.

“Good Simon is from ‘Good Simon Says’, it’s a book series.  Simon is a good boy and does things right, he’s faithful, true and obedient, and he listens well.  He’s polite.  Whatever Simon does right, Seth does wrong.  Because Seth is bad.  Sometimes there are other characters, like Sadie, who is mean and angry, or Sable, who works with animals, and there are lessons with-”

“I know the books,” Duncan said, cutting Ashton off.  They were part of a series that taught about social mores, emotions, and patriotism to the Crown.  The books were popular with very young children, those with social disabilities, and, apparently, experiments who were learning those same things from scratch.  “You like the books?”

Ashton paused.  Again, that slight stall before the response.  Improving, but still there.  “I like the way they look on the bookshelf in the lab, and in my room at Lambsbridge, and in the living room at Lambsbridge.  The spines have nice colors and have the character’s faces on them.  The third book has Patriot’s face on it.”

Again with the focus on environment.  So many other questions.  Duncan was momentarily paralyzed by them.  He settled for, “You chose it because my chimera is dog-like?”

“Yes.  Because it’s part dog.”

“How did you know that there was dog in- no, nevermind.”

“I will,” Ashton said, quiet.

Duncan gave up, rather than subject himself to more confusion.  He silently tallied up an unwitting victory for Ashton.

He did allow himself one observation, however.  He glanced at the head of neatly-parted red hair that moved up and down as Ashton walked quickly at his side.

“Good Simon parts his hair, doesn’t he?”

Ashton nodded.  “Good grooming is a very important thing.”

They were silent as he opened the door to Claret Hall, and silent for the first stretch within.

Duncan recognized a face, and waved at a doctor, beckoning.  One of Ashton’s.  He did his best to remember the man’s name.

“Duncan!” the man greeted him.  “Hello Ashton.”

“Hello doctor,” Ashton said, obediently.

“You’ve got a bruise around your neck, Duncan.”

“Almost twenty-threed myself,” Duncan admitted.  He saw the man’s expression change.  “Well, not really, it was Ashton’s fault.”

“I disturbed,” Ashton said.

The man looked like he had questions.  Duncan cut him off at the punch.

“I’d share, but we’re in a bit of a hurry… George?” Duncan asked, making it a question.

“Yes.  That’s alright.  Any reason you waved me down in the midst of this hurry?”

Duncan smiled, drawing the vials out of his pocket.  “Make you a bet.”

“A bet, hm?”

“Figure out what these do, then figure out how to fix the blue-yellow.  I’m busy with my student project.  If you can give me the answer, I’ll bring you guys a lab dinner every night for a weekend.”

“And if we can’t?  We bring you dinner for a weekend?”

“A straight week,” Duncan said.

“Doesn’t seem fair.  A weekend if we win, a week if we fail.”

“But you’ll do it because you’re curious,” Duncan said.  “And you can take turns.”

“Sure, Duncan.  Maybe I’ll make it an internal bet.  Even if we succeed, whoever figures it out last has to deliver to you for a weekend, and if none of us do, we deliver for a week?”

“Perfect.  Want a hint?”

“For myself or for the group?”

“You decide.  Might be a bit of a red herring, though.”


“Ashton likes it.  He really likes it.”

“I really like it,” Ashton echoed.

That got a quirk of an eyebrow in response.

“I might know what this is, we might have done something like it,” the man said.

“Maybe,” Duncan said, shifting his weight from foot to foot, “If so, we’ll compare notes later?  I designed it for more rugged field use, and I know I’m giving you a hint there.”

“Deal, and you look like you’re raring to go to wherever you’re going.  Don’t let me keep you.”

Duncan saluted.

“You’re a good lad, Duncan,” George told him.

“And you do good work, George,” Duncan said, by way of parting, setting a hand on Ashton’s shoulder.  That got him a smile from the doctor.

He walked away feeling upbeat, considering the message in his pocket.

Others felt trepidation in approaching the headmaster’s office.  Duncan felt triumphant.  He’d achieved a measure of status, a level of access.  He was able to approach the secretary and have her recognize him.  A thousand people came and went through those doors, and he was a recognizable face.

“Is the headmaster in?” he asked.

“He is.  He asked for some peace and quiet.”

“Emergency.  Not a big one.  Small emergency, if there’s such a thing?”

“If this winds up being frivolous, then it won’t look good for you.  He values his thinking time.”

Duncan was already shaking his head.  “Small emergency.  He’ll be happy to hear.”

The secretary picked up her phone, pressing a button on the side.  There was a pause.

“It’s Duncan and Ashton,” she said, into the device.  “Small emergency, he says.”

Another pause, and then she hung up.  She gestured for him to go inside.

Duncan silently marveled, not just at the technology of the phone, but at the sheer brass tacks of it all.  He could understand investing in phone technology to talk to people in other cities faster than mail, birds, or telegraph could, but to do it for someone in the next room?

The room had been refurbished, but improvements were still ongoing.  Nine out of ten pieces of furniture in the room had been replaced with ones that had a personal touch.  A tree now stood in the corner by the window, its leaves crimson, reaching over the desk.  At the other end of the room were tables and desks enough to seat thirty people.  Nobody sat there now.

“Headmaster Hayle,” Duncan greeted the man at the desk.  The man was older, his hair cut short and well styled.  He wore his black lab coat with medals on it like someone who had been born to professorhood.  It was hard to picture the stern figure as a mere doctor or student.

“Duncan.  Hello, Ashton, I would thank you for staying at the door, please.  I haven’t taken pills today, as I didn’t expect you.”

“Yes sir,” Ashton responded.  He hung back as Duncan advanced.

“Small emergency?” the Headmaster asked.

Duncan nodded.  He fished out the paper from the envelope and handed it over.

He watched as the headmaster read it over.

He saw the headmaster lean back in his chair.

“Years of work down the drain.  Project Caterpillar, lost to plague.”

“Yes, sir.”

Hayle made a face, frowning.  He started to crumple the paper, then stopped, setting it down on the table.  He very firmly dropped a fist down on it, raised it up, and brought it down again, repeating the process almost absently, as if he could use the light hits to beat it down into its proper, uncrumpled form.

Duncan waited patiently.

“The problem, when it comes to Sylvester, is that you have to see things from multiple angles.  It so quickly becomes a headache.  Misdirection, deception, taunts, deflection, and other forms of manipulation.  The things that aren’t said.”

“Yes, sir.”

“How did the letter arrive?”

“Delivered, by a pawn of Sylvester,” Duncan said.  “Ashton received it and brought it to me.  He was instructed to take it to the other Lambs, but I told him we’d come here first.”

The headmaster didn’t move at that, but he did punch one hand into an open palm, both of his elbows on the table, then leaned forward.  “I hope you never experience this feeling, Duncan, that any move you make will be the wrong move, while you have the weight of an entire Academy and Academy city resting on your shoulders.”

“Yes sir, I hope I’m spared that as well.  I’m sorry you have to endure it.”

“In your opinion, if I sent the other Lambs out, would they come back?”

Duncan had to muse on that for a moment.  Reluctantly, he said, “If I was forced to give an answer, I would say yes.”

“That is my feeling as well.  Sylvester is slippery, and up until now, our best odds at finding him lay in finding a pair of adolescent boys who fit the description and stuck to each other like glue.  Now we’re left looking for one alone.  One who has changed behavior and approach, apparently.”

A finger tapped the paper.

“Yes sir.”

“I’ve got five new projects in the works, pursuing what I’ve managed to convince the Academy are worthwhile approaches to Academy science, investing in the brain, but they’re nascent enough the risk isn’t worth it.  That leaves me with one project that I could use to find Sylvester.  Yet I feel as if this is a taunt.  He’s claiming to be off balance and mourning, what better a time to capture him, am I right?  All I have to do is send the Lambs to track him down.”

“Yes sir.”

“It feels too crafted.  The Caterpillar project is deceased.  Sylvester is ill and grieving.  He plans to go out with a dramatic flourish.  The threat is implicit.  Whatever option I choose, I face a potential issue.  Either I play into his hands, or I stand by and do nothing while he… flourishes.”

Worried about repeating the ‘yes sir’ too many times, Duncan remained silent.

“Take this as a lesson, Duncan.  Faced with no right answers, kindness is rarely the worst of them.  I want you to go to the other Lambs.  Tell them to get their things together.  You’ll all start tracking down Sylvester immediately.  Assuming he left Tynewear recently, there are only so many stops on the line that are open right now.”

“Yes sir,” Duncan said.

“Tell them that Jamie has died,” the headmaster instructed, “Let them know that I know they are grieving, I do not truly expect results this time.  They should feel him out, test the waters, and focus more on getting a sense of his agenda and his current plan of action than about getting him.  I fear the latter would play into his trap.”

“That, uh, brings two questions to mind, sir.”

“Do ask.”

“The other Lambs can be… singular in their focus.  Mary is particularly so, and Helen is too, in her own unique way.  I don’t think they’d settle for feeling around the edges when the direct route is there.”

“You’re not wrong.  Steer them in the right direction where you can.  Knowing Sylvester, he wants the Lambs.  I’m willing to make the gamble that I may lose one, two, or three fifths of you, in exchange for clues about what he’s up to, and I’d rather avoid pushing them too hard, out of fear of pushing them away.  Reconnaissance.  No push.  Stress this.”

Duncan nodded.

“The second thing?” the headmaster asked.

“Ah.  That.  Almost forgot.  What Sylvester says… he’s a liar.  He could be misleading us.”

“He could,” the headmaster admitted.  “But my gut feeling is he wouldn’t.”

“He wouldn’t?”

“I might be falling victim to him being one move ahead, but to convince his friends that their friend and teammate is dead, when he isn’t?  That would take a particular sort of self-serving cruelty, wouldn’t it?”

“Based on what I saw and knew of Sylvester…”

“It is hard to imagine,” the headmaster contradicted Duncan before he could get the full sentence out.  “We won’t rule anything out, but for now, you can tell them.”

Duncan nodded.

“A lot of pressure,” the headmaster said.

Duncan nodded again.

“How is your student project going?”

“It’s going quite well.  I’m weeks ahead of my class.  Viable life, I can set the ratios myself.  I’m already making notes on the brain stage.  Not having to rent out or wait my turn for lab space helps.”

“Good to hear. I won’t ask about the mark on your neck.”

Duncan smiled sheepishly.  “Thank you sir.”

Keep that in mind as you go talk to the Lambs.  Helen is with her Professor, and I know that Lillian is in lab 2-A, likely with Mary in her company.  Be ready to leave before the day is out.”

Duncan nodded.  He’d have to pack a bag.  He wondered if he should bring his most obedient chimeras.

The headmaster held up a finger, looking down at the paper as he copied it down, then swiveled in his chair to hold it up to the light of his window.  He swiveled back around, then tore off the paper he’d transcribed the letter’s contents onto.

“Secret messages, sir?”

“None that I’ve seen so far, but I do have to wonder.  I’ll give you the copy rather than the original, to be safe,” the headmaster said.  “Thank you for coming to me.”

“Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given me, sir,” Duncan said.

With a short nod of acknowledgement, he turned and made his way out of the room.  He opened the door, holding it for Ashton, and noted a faint hue on the back of his hand as he did.

He closed the door behind him.

“Thank you,” he told the secretary, in a low voice, as he passed her.

“You’re very welcome,” she said.  “Just doing my job.”

The added very was so important to Duncan, as was the short conversation and talk of the contest with Ashton’s supervisor.  He buzzed with the thrill of the little victories and successes, that he’d left both people smiling, and that he’d achieved everything he wanted to achieve in the process.  Thriving in the Academy was a question of politics as much as it was science.  He’d been good at the science side of things from the time he was little.  Being able to tell himself he was laying the groundwork for the political side of things thrilled him.

He exited Claret Hall, Ashton at his side, and they made their way back to the dungeon.

“Ashton,” he said.  “Can you do me a favor?”


“Do you know where Professor Ibott’s lab is?  And can you find your way to lab 2-A?”

“I do, and I can.”

“Can you get Helen and bring her to Lillian’s lab?  I had a bad experience with her professor, and I’d rather steer clear until he forgets my face.”

“That’s fine.  I like Helen, and I like getting to walk with her and talk with her.”

Maybe the very first ‘like’ that wasn’t rooted in something environmental that Ashton had mentioned since arriving in his lab.

“I like the hugs, too,” Ashton said.  “She hugs me a lot, and my head or my face gets squeezed against her chest, and it’s soft.”

“I envy you so damn much,” Duncan murmured, under his breath.  Helen’s good points were why he’d gotten on Ibott’s bad side.  He’d been invited to the irritable professor’s lab, with the idea that Duncan would learn the particulars of Helen’s anatomy in case she needed field care.

That had involved Helen partially disrobing so she could be opened up.  Given that Helen was an experiment that looked like a sixteen year old girl, and given that she was attractive enough to shame ninety-nine out of a hundred of even the augmented girls in the western Crown States, Duncan had reacted like any other adolescent male might.  He wasn’t entirely sure, but Helen might have noticed and made the agony of the situation more agonizing by giving him sly looks, small smiles, and choosing certain postures.

Bad luck, that Ibott had noticed that Duncan was as stiff as a cold stitched while midway through the process of opening up the experiment’s ribcage.  The man had taken Duncan to be a peculiar sort of pervert, when it had simply been a particularly stubborn stiffness from earlier.

The small man’s words still rang in his ears, and his face burned at the memory of the situation.  A man he’d admired and hoped to impress had condemned him and threatened to alter parts of him beyond recognition.

Best to steer clear of that particular lab for the time being.  That was one instance that hadn’t been good politics.

“You envy me,” Ashton said, as if processing the idea, searching for a conclusion or way to parse it.

“Hm?” Duncan asked, pulled out of reminiscing and back to reality.  Then he remembered.  “Hmm.  Yeah.”

After a few moments thought, he added, “And don’t mention that envy to anyone.”

Ashton nodded.

He clapped a hand on Ashton’s shoulder.

They made their way down to the labs and split up.  He approached Lillian’s lab, 2-A, a floor below his own lab, which was actually a considerable distance, and he stopped at the door.

Why did he feel trepidation?  In virtually every other situation, he felt so capable, like he was ahead of the pack.  But here…

No ‘do not disturb’ sign.  No notices or warnings.

He knocked.

He heard the reply, almost impossible to make out through the thick door.  A ‘come in’.

It was an expansive lab.  More expansive than his own.  Clay models of bodies, arms, legs, and bodies were set up along one side, some with bone skeletons modeled in white to contrast the flesh-tone clay.  There were vats of flesh and tables with disembodied parts strewn out.  Various drafts of Lillian’s exo-suit, all taking up three-quarters of the lab.  Lillian wore only a camisole and a doctor’s apron, her lab coat around her waist with the arms tied.  A hairband kept the hair out of her eyes as she worked.

In the other one-quarter of the lab, Mary had arranged something.  Pillars and targets, all suspended at various points.

As Duncan watched, Mary threw a knife.  It moved in mid air, turning a relatively sharp left, before slicing along the length of a target that sat with its edge facing Mary.  It clattered along the ground.

Mary’s expression didn’t change as she flicked her hand and arm.  The knife reversed course, moving around a pillar, then, with another movement, skidding across the floor to her, where she stopped it with one foot.

She used her hands to carefully catch the length of razor wire that was bound to the knife, centered herself, and then threw again.  He caught the follow-up motion this time.

Throwing and manipulating the wire so it would catch at the pillar and force a change of direction for the knife.  The knife sank into the very edge of the target.  Mary froze, watching, waiting, until the knife came loose of its own accord.  With grim determination on her face, she reeled it in again.

She was teaching herself to throw knives around corners.  Or the wire could slit one throat while the knife flew into another person’s face.

“Come to spy on my work?” Lillian asked.  The tone was light, not accusatory.

“If I was going to spy on someone or sabotage someone, which I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t pick you.  You’re liable to find your way to the top of the class, sabotage or not.”

“Of course,” Lillian said.  “How’s your project coming.”

“Almost got twenty-threed,” he said.

“You didn’t,” she said.

“Ashton’s fault.”

“Your fault,” Lillian said, eyes on her work.  Her hands made wet, squelching sounds.  “There are always more precautions you can take.”

He opened his mouth to protest, then closed it.

The knife slashed the target but didn’t sink in.  Mary reeled it in.

“She’s been at that for hours,” Lillian observed.

“It’s fun, learning something new,” Mary said.

“To your peculiar mind,” Lillian said.  “I haven’t seen a smile cross your face since you started.”

“I’ll smile when I can land five out of five.  I’ll do it before the end of the day.”

“I believe you,” Lillian said.  She even sounded sincere.  She returned her attention to Duncan, “We’ve been talking about going shopping.  In the interest of team-building, would you like to come along?”

Duncan’s response was cut short.  Ashton ran into the room like the mounted legions of hell were after him, scrambling so fast that even his walking shoes slid on the floor.  He made a beeline for Mary’s maze of pillars and targets.

Helen followed him into the room.  She moved more like a jungle cat, with confidence and easy, graceful movements.  The sight of her filled Duncan with very complicated feelings ranging from terror to awe and, again, that stirring of adolescent feelings that anyone would feel when faced with something that looked like a perfect girl, and that only made him feel more terror.

Ever since the incident with Ibott, he’d felt like he was her prey.  He’d shown a moment of weakness, and now there was no escape.

He was already reciting Wollstone’s ratios in his head, so as to avoid another moment of bad politics, as he’d come to term it, when Helen tackled Ashton to the ground.  She squirmed around on top of him, pinning him by weight rather than by grip, and smothered his neck and face with kisses.

He couldn’t help but imagine himself in Ashton’s situation, and that didn’t do anything to improve his situation.

Not just reciting Wollstone’s ratios then.  He started the chemical conversions and listing conversion methods in his head.

A glance at his hand showed a red, yellow, and faint blue bar.  Assuming the blue was a false positive, then at least Ashton was enjoying himself.  All an act, he told himself, some charade the two familiar, not dissimilar experiments had concocted between them.

“We have a job,” Duncan announced.

Helen, mercifully, stopped messing around.

He had their attention.

“Sylvester,” Lillian said, as if it was already known.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“Timing feels right.  It’s felt right for a while now, but when my mom came into my room three years ago and sat on the corner of my bed, I knew right away it was my grandmother.  That she’d died.  I know this like I knew that.”

“Yeah,” Duncan said.  He drew in a breath, then said, “Listen… the headmaster said this is low pressure.  We’re going into this as a reconnaissance job, to figure out what Sylvester is doing.  We can fail.  If we do this right, the headmaster will okay a more serious job, and relax restrictions on the Lambs.”

“He’s desperate,” Mary said.  “Spooked, even.  We’re leaving soon, I take it?”

“Looks like we’ll be out and about for a while, a few likely cities to check out,” Duncan confirmed.

“Help me get ready?” Lillian asked Mary.  She pulled off her apron.  She moved over to a side table, and began collecting straps and assorted items and trinkets.  A tooth, earrings, scalpels, syringes, vials, and packets of paper.  She held up a round band.

“What’s all that?” Duncan asked.

“This?” Lillian replied.  “Is a garter.  These things are preparations.  Whatever Sylvester is up to, he’ll be anticipating us, but we’ve been anticipating him too, right?”

“Ah, yes,” Duncan agreed.

Lillian shifted position, hands on her hips.  Mary matched it, arms folded, both of them staring him down.

Had they read his mind?  Did they know there was something he hadn’t yet shared?

It was such a hard topic to broach.

Lillian gestured, pointing down, and making a small circle with her finger.

“I thought I’d learned all of the gestures, but that one’s lost on me,” Duncan said.

“Garter.  Read between the lines.  We’re getting our weapons and tools on and getting changed in the process.  Turn around, sir.”

Ah.  Not a gesture, then.

Flushing, he turned his back to the pair.

He heard rustling, and began reciting Wollstone’s ratios in his head again.  In the meantime, Helen sauntered around, walking slowly, hands behind her back, skirt swaying, taunting, stalking.

He shut his eyes, and heard an amused sound from the experiment.

Females were terrifying.  At least Ashton was an ally.

“Bringing your work?” he asked, conversationally.

“Yes.  The arms, at least.  I’ve got a compact version I can use.  It’ll help.  You?”

“I was thinking about it.  But I’ve got to go to my lab and figure out how to transport it, and I’ve got to go to my dorm room to get clothes, get packed.”

“How long?” Mary asked, voice sharp.

“Thirty minutes?  Forty?  I don’t know.  No more than an hour, I imagine.”

“I’ll be ready to leave in two minutes,” Mary said.  “I have a bag stowed here.”

“Same,” Lillian said.  “Maybe as many as five.  I’ve got to figure out how to get some of this on.  Can you help me attach this to my skirt, Mary?  Thank you.”

Duncan flushed a little, not at any lustful feelings, but at the rebuke.  His pride was pricked.  He hadn’t known he would need to be ready to go so soon.

“Lillian commands the team while we’re outside of combat or confrontation,” Mary stated, like it was fact.  “I’ll handle orders while we’re in combat.”

“Yes,” Helen said.  Ashton echoed her.

“We know his weak points, but he’ll have adapted.  Don’t take anything for granted, he may have adjusted his parameters,” Lillian said.  “Jamie is problematic for other reasons, but I don’t know how he’ll come into play.  I think of what he did in Lugh, the skills he demonstrated, and he was very good at some things.  If he’s practiced at all, he could be dangerous.  Skilled in a very different way from Sylvester.  Inflexible, but supremely reliable in whatever action he’s taking.”

A sick feeling welled in Duncan’s gut.  Why hadn’t he mentioned the death earlier?

Because he actually liked the Lambs, even the ones that terrified him, and he knew how this news would be received.

But every second he waited made it worse.

He almost said something, but then Mary beat him to it.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what Jamie brings to the table.”

“Um!” Duncan cut in.  His voice caught.

“Jamie is dead,” Ashton said.

The conversation died with those words, and all of the energy that had filled the room became something cold and empty.

“That,” Duncan said, feebly.  He fumbled in his pocket, suddenly clumsy, collecting the paper.  “A woman dropped this off, earlier, Ashton brought it to me-”

The paper was snatched out of his hand the moment it was free of his pocket.  He turned to look, and it was Lillian.  Disheveled in fashion with some buttons remaining to be done up, but still clothed, she stared down at the page, the short message.

Jamie died to the red plague.  I’m managing, but I’m not handling it well.  Seeing things, talking to ghosts of people who are alive.  I thought you should know what happened.  This may be my goodbye, depending.  The anger won’t die.  I’m hoping that a monumental action with some dramatic flourish will make for a good send off.  -S

Lillians hands shook.  Calmly, almost mechanically, she passed on the papers to Mary.

Then, in the next heartbeat, she was a fury.  She struck him, then shoved him, then shoved him again.

“You told Hayle before you told us!?”

Life was so good, he felt so triumphant, so secure, up until the Lambs became involved.  Every bad moment in the past year had been some involvement with the Lambs.  Twenty-threeing himself, Ibott, nearly dying a half-dozen times…

“I thought-”

His protest was cut off by the tears he saw in her eyes.

“You prat!  You’re the worst!”

“It made sense!”

“No!” Lillian shouted, her voice raw.  She pushed him again.  “No!  No it doesn’t!  We’re supposed to trust and rely on each other!  Even if Sylvester ran, he still understood that on a level, and I have no doubt he thought he was helping us on some level, or he at least thought about us every step of the way!  Jamie understood too- it’s why he left!”

“Ashton agreed,” Duncan protested.  He backed up enough that he wasn’t being assaulted.  “And telling the headmaster first meant he went easy on us, like I said before, this being only reconnaissance, mild penalties for failure.”

“I didn’t agree,” Ashton said.  “I didn’t disagree.  I thought we should tell the Lambs first.”

“Because the woman told you to.”

“No,” Ashton said.  “That’s what you said, not what I said.  I thought we should tell the other Lambs because the Lambs should know first.  Jamie mattered most to them.  Us.  I liked Jamie.  He helped me a lot early on.”

“You’re an idiot,” Lillian said, voice raw.  “This was important, on so many levels.  You got what Hayle was willing to give us, not what we could’ve taken.  We’ve been waiting months, and everything about what we do and how the Academy handles us depended on who got to make the first move, on how.”

“Information,” Mary said, simply.  There was no anger or bitterness in her voice, only a firm, horrible coldness.  “Control of information.  The only power we have is the power we take for ourselves.  There are few things more important to being a Lamb than coordinating.  Being able to trust one another.  Being able to discuss, be on the same page, and handle things as a group.  You handled this alone.”

“I handled it with the group in mind.  I know Sylvester got some discretion to take leaps and do things on behalf of the group without coordinating, I know you get some discretion.  What about me?  Do I need to pass some imaginary metric before I get some leeway?  I’m a Lamb!”

“You are not a Lamb,” Lillian retorted.  She seemed to startle.  “And oh my god, I’ve become Sylvester from four years ago.”

Duncan seized on the opportunity, “You railed about how unfair that was, how he treated you when you were new.”

He startled as he felt hands on his shoulders.  He startled more when he realized, by process of elimination, that it was Helen.

“The difference,” Helen said, calmly, sweetly, “Is that Lillian never claimed to be a Lamb.  She earned her place.”

“I kind of did claim,” Lillian said, bitterly.

“Not like that,” Helen said.  The gentle, diplomatic tone cut like a knife.  “And you never broke our trust.”

Lillian pressed her lips together firmly, dropping her head in some faint semblance of a nod.

Duncan shrugged his way free, backing away a few paces, so he could look at all of the Lambs.  “Fine.  I made a mistake.  Are you saying none of you did, when you were new?”

He could see them react to that, and braced himself for a fresh barrage of criticism.  That feeling of being horribly out of his depth had swelled, and now he felt like he was drowning.  He’d never felt so out of place, as a cog in the machine.

So many things hinged on this, on his participation in the program.  He couldn’t lose this.

“Let’s stop here,” Lillian said, eyes on the ground, barely restraining the emotion in her voice.  “Jamie’s dead.  I don’t want this to be how I remember the day I learned that.  Why don’t you go and get ready, Duncan?  Since it sounds like you’ll need some time and we won’t be able to leave right away.  Get your pets, get yourself sorted out, and get your head in the game.  I’m not criticizing you when I say that you’re the weakest link, you’re new, you’re inexperienced, and you’re not augmented.  He’ll target that.  Be ready.”

Duncan riled a bit at that, but bit his tongue.

“I’m the next weakest link,” Lillian said, as if to soften the impact of that last statement. “He’ll target me too.  There’s no pride or shame in that.  It’s the nature of this particular confrontation.”

“I’m surprised you’re even inviting me along,” Duncan said, “Given all of this, my mistake.”

It was Mary who responded.  “Like Lillian said.  You’re new, inexperienced, and not augmented.  He’ll target that.”

“Especially because he never liked you,” Helen added.

“I’m bait?”

“Are you complaining?”

He shook his head.  He set his jaw, and said, “However I can help.”

“Thank you,” Lillian said.

“Then I’ll take my leave,” he said, stiff, and turned to leave.  Indignation and frustration welled in his chest, and he suppressed it.  This job was important.  It was hell, difficult, dangerous, and entirely not his element, but he couldn’t back down now.  Better to endure, survive it, and achieve something better in the future.

Angry, bitter, he stopped where he was, just outside the door, for a breather, so nobody would see him so emotional.  The door sat slightly ajar beside him.

He could overhear, past the noise of water rushing through the walls, and the dull thuds throughout the complex.

“He just ruined so many opportunities,” Lillian said.  “Ways to put ourselves in a better situation, sell our merits to the powers above, and get resources.  It’s like he doesn’t understand.  He raised himself to a better position, rather than help the Lambs.  How are we supposed to trust that?”

“He doesn’t understand,” Mary said.  “Even you had to learn.  I had to.  This is a tricky thing to manage, where we scrape out handholds.  Take a deep breath.”

A pause.

“I don’t feel better.  This was different from the mistakes you and I made while we learned.”

“I know.  But we’re all different.  Now, let’s focus on the positives.”

“They’re alive,” Helen said.

“They’re alive?” Ashton’s voice could be heard.

“Sy wouldn’t tell us like that,” Lillian said.  “It’s maneuvering.  Giving us the information to spread or leak as we need to.”

They sounded so certain.

Was this what they were talking about?  Coordination?

Mary said, “It offers the added benefit of getting the bounty hunters off his trail, which he doesn’t want and we don’t want.  If Hayle wants the loose end tied up, he has to use in-house resources.  We’re sent to chase him.”

“Probably rollicking good fun for him.  The little bastard,” Lillian added.

“Probably,” Mary said.

There was more talk, about logistics, about getting things together, and what would work best for dealing with Sylvester.  Duncan barely heard any of it.

His pride stung.  He felt bitter.

The paper in his pocket with the address on it.  He still had it.

He could take it to the headmaster.  Another tidbit of information, one that might lead back to Sylvester.  A sick feeling stirred in his gut at the feeling.

Instead, he turned around.  He opened the door.

He could see the reaction as they saw him.  Only Helen was stone-faced.  She should have heard him.  Had the ambient noise misled her, or had she simply not listened?

Nobody asked the question, ‘did you overhear?’  ‘did you eavesdrop?’.

He reached into his pocket, and withdrew the slip of paper with the address.  He handed it to Helen, who was closest.

“Oh.  The address of the woman who brought the letter,” Ashton said.

Duncan could see eyes light up at that.  A morsel of information, but it was important.

“It won’t lead back to Sylvester,” Duncan said.  “He wouldn’t leave a trail like that.”

“Everything he does at this stage, he does for a reason,” Mary said.  “Including sending the letter to us, not to the Academy.  Just so it’s clear why we were upset.  This?  This matters.”

“Thank you,” Lillian said.  She still looked angry.  To think she’d once been a friend of his.  “This is a big step forward.”

I gave it to you because Ashton might have told you about it at some point.

The only reason I didn’t give it to the headmaster is because I was too preoccupied, and forgot.

“Thank you,” he said.  He couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes.  “I’ll go get ready.”

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179 thoughts on “Lamb (Arc 11)

    • The least slimy thing was Patriot, the poor dear. <_< Duncan: almost Boris Johnson levels of proficiency. 😛

      Seriously, Helen needs to take that poor mite under her wing, too, should Duncan get to finish messing up… if only to teach proper torture rack techniques. And, how to careful huggles. And, playing dead right.

  1. The moment Duncan started to blame Ashton for his almost-death I began thinking “No, it was your fault. What kind of idiot puts himself in a situation where having someone knock on your door could kill you? Because, as Ashton just showed, it /will/ happen eventually. Safety is not arranging a situation where your experiment is /unlikely/ to attack you, it is arranging a situation where your experiment is /unable/ to attack you. And then for each precaution you’ve already taken, taking another superfluous precaution because safety margins are important and the thing which kills you is always what you don’t see coming. Idiot. I bet Lillian doesn’t think like that.”

    And my mental tirade at Duncan had just started to wind down when … ‘“Your fault,” Lillian said.’

    It was glorious.

    • Duncan gives the impression of someone who doesn’t quite realize how much he owes his position to other people.

      “Weakest link” would be an understatement. He’s more like a point of failure, and one that ain’t passing the stress test.

    • Honestly, in a lower stakes situation, Duncan would easily be someone I think many of the readers here would be more willing to befriend or be sympathetic to.

      His thought process isn’t foreign to me, and he isn’t just thinking about himself – he is genuinely trying to figure things out for the Lambs’ sake, even if they don’t see that. The main issue is that he doesn’t think of them as a group of tight-knit friends. He sees them as a lab unit, as a political unit, and reacts to them as would be appropriate in such a context.

      As for his whole issue with spreading the blame around, I think that’s a fairly intuitive response when you’re used to working solo and are thrust in a group where you have poor dynamics. I’ve had that intuitive response before, myself, though I imagine I act upon it less explicitly than Duncan does.

      He’s also far more confident and assertive than Lillian was, so it isn’t like he is unexpectedly terribad. As for wanting to rage at him for stupidity…well…I’ve wanted to have a rant at nearly all of the characters by this point XD

      • Oh, no, the reason I was raging at him wasn’t because of his group dynamics, it’s because I know a ton of engineers who are convinced that physicists (me) don’t care enough about excessive safety margins and feel the need to drum safety protocol into me on a regular basis.

        Spreading the blame around for a failure in something you designed is absolute anathema to engineers. If someone else could cause your design to fail, it’s not their fault for taking that particular action, it’s /your/ fault for creating a design where that failure was even possible.

        And “sitting within attack range of a potentially murderous and jumpy test subject with no way to save yourself if it does decide to attack you for whatever reason” is definitely a faulty design.

        • Engineers are awesome. People don’t even realize how many thousands of lives are saved all the time by engineers just quietly doing a routine safety check or quality control. It’s like being a firefighter before the huge explosion.

  2. I’m not sure if I can deal with the scene in which Sy and Lillian meet back up for the first time. A part of me hopes it will go well and chipper, and the rest of me reminds that part that it’s a Wildbow story.

    • “How’s your project coming.”
      There probably should be a question mark at the end, rather than a period.

    • At the push, it sat, then lay down, before lying down, letting its tentacles go limp.
      ->Lay down, before lying down???

      Keep that in mind as you go talk to the Lambs.
      -> Keep what in mind? Also, missing a starting quotation mark.

    • Keep that in mind as you go talk to the Lambs. Helen is with her Professor, and I know that Lillian is in lab 2-A, likely with Mary in her company. Be ready to leave before the day is out.”

      Probably should be speech marks before Hale talks.

    • Clay models of bodies, arms, legs, and bodies
      (“bodies” twice)

      line starting:
      Keep that in mind as you go talk to the Lambs
      is missing the opening quote mark.

    • Also, Wildbow, fix table of contents.
      11.03 was listed as a chapter of Arc 10.
      Link to 10.x leads to 11.03’s page.
      The link to 11.14 is nonexistent.

    • “He caught the follow-up motion this time.”
      Should be she, considering the sentence is referring to Mary throwing knives around.

  3. Wow. Sy and Jamie are going to devour this moron.

    He gets angry when Lillian chastises him for obvious reasons, breaks the trust of his allies, all for political points. He stops considering Lillian a friend or ally when her comments are wholly justified.

    To use a metaphor, he’s a base politician trying to act in a situation where a statesman or visionary is necessary, simply to keep up. Lillian grew into the role. Given his ego and lack of awareness…I doubt he could accomplish the same if he somehow lasted four years.

    I’d actually place bets that he does not survive the recon mission.

    • He probably will survive this mission just because he’s so foul, keeping him alive will be another way for wildbow to torture us.

      Everything about him is repugnant.

      • The vehemence in that final assertion is a bit startling. He’s no more repugnant than Hermione was when she was introduced, or Ron during some of his insecure moments, or most of the superheroes appearing in the Marvel films when they are in arguments and being stubborn. He’s hardly a horrible character, and I’ve definitely seen folks who talk and act like him and befriended them without much consequence to the overall quality of my inter-human relationships.

        • Agreed, jacuzziant. I don’t particularly care for Duncan, but I don’t understand the vitriol being aimed at him. He was doing what he thought was best for the Lambs, and now that he’s been shown a better way, I think it’s quite likely that he learns his lesson and does better in the future. He’s already on the cusp of making that change, as he showed by giving the Lambs the address. His motivation for doing that isn’t there yet, but give him time.

          • I think it’s because we all love the Lambs, and his thought process with lines like “Duncan praised the experiment. Training it wasn’t so different from training the likes of chimera number three” make it sound like he doesn’t even see them as human

  4. Note… this fool didn’t just put himself in a situation where he could die by his own work. He did it while not even considering the simplest way of dealing with the entire thing which ANY lamb would have thought of first… who can help me do this right?

    … ie he didn’t ask for a little backup and trust that the others could/would help. He isn’t integrated into the team, to the extent where the team itself can be a danger to him because of his own actions.

    Ashton almost accidentallying him there is perfect proof of this.

    • To be fair about 23 students a year get themselves killed like that. Which says a lot about the academy. High on book smarts, low on common sense.

      • Even lower on pounding in basic lab safety. I bet he things goggles are for diving. 😛

        Seriously, Lillian, even at her naive start, wouldn’t have got into that situation thanks to her habit of redundancies. :/

        • Lillian had other issues. Assertiveness, being *able* to act independently, and having confidence that her proposals were worthwhile. She may have excelled at things Duncan is horrible at, but she was just as out-of-her-depth to begin with, from a totally different direction. She whined an awful lot and was unwilling to suggest ideas, a fact I think we gloss over as readers because she has shown so much growth as a character, and all of it in ways Sylvester approves of.

          • Didn’t say she wasn’t out of her depth. Or was flawless. Heck, she can still be Miss Priss to incredible amounts.

            But, you’d not catch her thinking of any of the Lambs as “the experiment” while talking to them. :/ For starters.

          • She was 13, mind you. Duncan having less extraordinary early teen years will prove to be a major handicap.

  5. I’m surprised Lillian said “oh my god”. Being in an Academy I would have thought she’d be in the habit of not mentioning god.

    • I’m not a believer myself, but it’s actually hard to grant impact to expressions without either major swearwords or referring to a god you couldn’t care less about.

      And Lillian doesn’t swear much, if any.

      • Thing is, religion has a very weak cultural hold in this world.

        As an atheist, I say “oh my god” because everyone says “oh my god”. And why does everyone say “oh my god”? Because it’s such a strong aspect of many cultures, including that in which I learnt English.

        All that said, the Academy and Crown (in its current state) are not THAT old, so it’s hard to get rid of those cultural memes.

  6. Well, that was unbelievably incompetent of the Lambs. Start talking about something you wish to hide from a person who just walked out the door, without either waiting for a few minutes or verifying that this person really left? That is bad enough in itself, but do it immediately after this person proved to be untrustworthy? Are they getting sloppy without Sylvester to keep them on their toes?
    Unless it was a test, to see if Duncan defect again?

    • Or they are playing him. Remember he had his back turned. And the lambs have a hand code. Hell maybe the Lambs played even more than that. Maybe the did get the letter first, but pretended not to. Oh man, is this what having to deal with Sy is like?

      • So you’re implying that Ashton did managed to pass the letter to the rest of the Lambs first, they discussed it, and decided to test Duncan, to see if, given opportunity, he will cooperate with them or defect to authority? And then did it again?
        On the one hand, that seems like needlessly complicated plot.
        On the other hand, if we look closely, it is almost pure iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, with which the Lambs are familiar (was mentioned in chapter 3.04).
        So it’s possible.

    • Duncan did bring up the point that Helen most definitely would have known that he never walked away from the door. Either Helen was testing Duncan, being able to read expressions and subtle body language (as she had to learn everything about it) to see if he would reveal what he was subconsciously hiding, or all the Lambs were.

    • Or it was done because it made the most narrative sense. The lambs wouldn’t bring Duncan into that conversation after he blundered so he had to eavesdrop. Makes sense to me.

      • I thought about that too, about narrative reasons. But I don’t see Wildbow doing it. It was far too uncharacteristically careless of the Lambs, especially of Helen. The only reason they might truly act that way is if they all pick up an Idiot Ball, and Wildbow hates those and takes offense if someone implies he uses them.
        Even if the scene is here for narrative reasons, there also should be a sound in-universe explanation for it.

    • I imagine Duncan is what the majority of students are like. Ambitious, proud and selfish. In this world and especially in the Academy survival of the fittest rules over everything and unless you become as self-serving as Duncan is, you won’t make it. Of course, Lillian is a unique exception to this. Duncan’s still very inexperienced and hasn’t had nearly as much time with the rest of the Lambs to build rapport. If I were in his shoes, I could see myself doing things very similarly.

      That being said, he’s still a prat.

      • I think Duncan is… a kid. Not the nicest of them, but far from the douchiest of them. He’s been a lamb for a while, but certainly not long. He hasn’t had to endure what most of the other lambs have had to endure, and his heart isn’t in it.

        Dunno. He certainly doesn’t fit within the Lambs, but I find it unlikely any of us commenters would do any better, for similar or different reasons than him.

        • True… But, he’s also messing around with the fundamental building blocks of life with all the lab security of an after-school debate club. A “Do Not Disturb” sign is… Well… really? Or the hastily scribbled “security” feature of pointing out you’ve got live experiments in there? In a place where that will actually be read as “please come in and snoop — but, be a bit careful”. *slaps head*

          • Seeing that, I know exactly what I would do: send in live experiments to snoop on the live experiments.

          • *Shrug* Building blocks of life? Big deal. Messing with them has been a part of this world for many, many decades. People grow complacent with them, it seems perfectly natural to not take extreme measures for every little experiment.

          • The attitude of a fingerless, constantly coughing, squinting, strangely glittering and slightly bleeding chemist, ladies and gents. Stand well back; you don’t know where it’s been, or what’s on the coat. XD

      • I think X has the gist of it but there are a few other things to keep in mind. The academy is composed of ruthless individuals who will screw each other over without a second thought if it has the CHANCE of helping them out. For example in the sample of Boil (work twig is based on) Fray’s roommate screwed her over just to look good in front of another professor. Those are the type of people at the academy. Lillian is an exception to this rule. Why? She wasn’t born with a silver spoon shoved up her ass. Lillian isn’t from a wealthy family (it’s why she needed a scholarship to study in the first place). On top of that she earned her place in the academy purely by skill alone, something the other students rarely do as the academy is as much political as scientific. She was more understanding, driven, and compassionate than the common student which gave her the ability to adapt into the Lambs.

    • Yeah. It’s more a difference in methodology. Lambs help each other, share information and work as a team. Academy students are each struggling alone to get to the top, sacrificing everything on the way. When Lillian asks Duncan if he’s come to snoop on her research, he actually considers the question. That’s how the world works, to him. If he got someone to help him with his chimeras, he’d have to spend every moment worrying about betrayal.

      That might actually be why a lot of readers seem to hate him. 🙂 He’s a bad person in a very mundane and relatable way. Not evil, like some other characters we’ve seen, just going along with the evil flow. A reminder of what bastards ordinary people easily become, when they aren’t given incentives to be otherwise. Duncan is you. Duncan is humanity.

      I think he might be redeemable, if he gives it a bit of effort. He shows some genuine self-awareness at the end. He knows how utterly he’s betrayed the lambs, and he feels bad about it. That’s a start.

    • He’s a new character, introduced in a scene that isn’t relaxing, but always tense. He’s male, which makes it somewhat more acceptable to ridicule than if he were female. His traits aren’t typical “wimp” traits either, but are rather a product of poorly timed assertiveness and boldness…what could easily be the product of ego and arrogance.

      Basically, Wildbow crafted Duncan in a unique way so that all of his traits are ones that are easy to criticize without guilt. He has traits you might associate with a politician or an ornery boss, rather than Lillian, who had equally damning traits but which were all associated with someone more shy or pathetic, so there is a feeling of sympathy even as you find her incompetent.

      Note too that Duncan specifically thinks of the Lambs as experiments, and is under heavy pressure when interacting with them. This is subtle, but notably different from most POV folks we’ve read.

      Narratively, Duncan is *primed* to be a hated character, carefully built that way by a cunning author. And most of the readers are falling readily into that mood 🙂

      • Yeah, the cards are stacked against Duncan. Not only is his personality working against him, but the team composition of the Lambs is too.

        The members of the team are drastically different from when Lillian joined. Even if she wasn’t accepted at first, she had Gordon, Sy and Jamie v1.0 to help shape her into who she is today.

        Who does Duncan get? He gets the two inhuman vat babies, Mary with her single-minded ruthlessness and Lillian, who’s just a human. None of them have the same interest in group cohesiveness that Sy and Gordon had. Even if Sy didn’t like the guy, I think he would have foreseen all the possible problems and helped Duncan integrate. Gordon would have done the same, and in a nicer way, and Jamie 2.0 would have at least provided a moderating voice. Now that those three are all gone, Duncan’s got a rough starting hand to work with.

        • “Gordon would have done the same, and in a nicer way” See, Sy! Gordon’s memory is being lost, just like you said! People are only remembering the superficial charm, and not his inner bastard!

    • It’s not that I think Duncan is an evil student. It’s that I think he’s an unsafe student, which can potentially be even worse.

      Seriously, what fool thinks “stand within striking range of fidgety murder-experiment with no plan for saving myself if it attacks me” is safe?

  7. Bloody hell Helen’s supposed to be 16 now? It’s been 4 years since Lillian first joined the Lambs? At this point has how long has Sy been away from the Lambs, approaching a year? I really need a timeline with the Lambs’ estimated ages to get the arcs into perspective.

    Jamie’s been away from the academy for so long with none of his ‘appointments’. I may be wrong, but I was under the impression that he would break down if he didn’t get an appointment after a few months. I wonder how he’s holding up.

    I love how the Lambs immediately picked up on Jamie still being alive. The upcoming Lamb civil war is going to be so interesting. Both sides know the ins and outs of everything about each other. It’ll be the mental abilities of Sy + Jamie against the more physical abilities of the rest of them. My money’s on Sy, since he’s probably busy recruiting henchmen to make up for the lack of manpower. Then again, I’m half certain that nobody is going to win; this is all going to end in tears.

    • “I really need a timeline with the Lambs’ estimated ages to get the arcs into perspective.”

      Timeline, from Wildbow’s comment on reddit:
      First year: Arc 1 – Spring; Arc 2 – Summer; Arc 3 – Fall; Arc 4 – Winter.
      Second year: Arc 5 – Spring; Arc 6 – Summer.
      Third year: Arc 7 – Spring; Arc 8 – Fall; Arc 9 – Winter; Arc 10 – Winter.
      Fourth year: Arc 11 – Spring.

      Ages of Lambs at the start of the story, from my personal research:
      Sylvester – 11 (3.09, Sy’s words); Gordon – 12 (1.01, Sy’s narration); Helen – 13* (11.x); Jamie – 11-12 (estimated); Lillian – 13 (1.01, Sy’s narration); Mary – 12* (1.08, Gordon’s words).
      Duncan is same age as Lillian, I think, so 13.

      Ashton, as he was introduced in arc 7, was 14* years old, I think.

      Do the rest of the math for yourself.

  8. Keep that in mind as you go talk to the Lambs. Helen is with her Professor, and I know that Lillian is in lab 2-A, likely with Mary in her company. Be ready to leave before the day is out.”

    No opening “

  9. I don’t know if I love or hate this chapter. I also don’t know why but I absolutely despise Duncan, more than I’ve hated any other character in my memory. It’s weird since there’s nothing he’s done that seems really bad or anything but I somehow just hate him so much.

    • Ctrl+f “He’s a new character, introduced in a scene that isn’t relaxing, but always tense.” – it’s part of a comment I wrote above.

      It might be helpful.

  10. Ahaha. Duncan… he sounds like the stereotypical anime boy. I find it rather amusing. He just wants to have girls around him 24/7.

    Also, HAYLE! Oh my goodness you got a heck of a promotion. An unexpected one, at that. He’s always had lots of power within the Academy, but I wasn’t expecting him to manage to position himself that well, especially given that two of his experiments committed high treason. Good on him, though. I like him still.

    Poor Duncan, he’s so out of his depth. Also, he totally deserved to be scolded for almost getting himself killed.

    • Yeah, I wonder how it happened too. Did we know who was headmaster when Sy defected (apart that it was not Hayle)?

      My best guess for the reason for the promotion is a combination of the red plague killing some important people, opening slots for promotions, and Lilian being instrumental in handling the crisis.

      • “Did we know who was headmaster when Sy defected (apart that it was not Hayle)?”
        Nobody, I imagine.
        The Duke was supposed to be in charge of Radham Academy, or so Briggs said in 3.10. He died just before Sylvester’s defection, .

      • It also seems that the greater Academy has seen a lot of merit in brain projects. Maybe Sy killing off the baron Richmond and all his sisters impressed them somewhat – in which case Sy is indirectly responsible for giving more power to Hayle.

        • Wait, what? How does the Academy see merit in working with the brain? I got the complete opposite impression, that the Academy at large is dubious about experiments focused on brain improvements. The headmaster in this very chapter said the same, did he not?

          • Going from one old experiment mostly retained for field operations with limited apparent interest in following up on the research paths to five new ones under production during war and a massive plague outbreak is a pretty big shift, though probably probationary.

    • Then the average person sucks. I dislike Duncan for the same reason I disliked Weaver post-Alexandria: he has personality traits that I really don’t like seeing in other people, that I really hate seeing in myself and try to avoid.

      In Duncan’s case, the problem is not about his failures, but the way he reacts to them. His first thought after almost getting killed in his own lab is not “What should I do/have done differently”, it’s “How can I frame this as not being my fault”. After breaching the Lambs’ trust (which kind of makes sense, as he’s more of their liaison/overseer than their peer, the role Lillian was supposed to have), he does not apologize or stand his ground, he tries to deflect the blame on Ash and paint the Lambs’ complaints as unreasonable.

      It’s not that black and white, and I think he does try to make amends sometimes, but on the whole he has this narcissistic aura of “I am always right and must kindly tolerate other people for not being like me” which is probably why so many readers dislike him.

      • I think it’s fair to dislike him. But a good number of the people commenting about him treat him like the scorn of the Earth, despite having failures that most of us have, especially at his age.

        It would be great that he learn to be more humble and drop the narcissistic act, and he needs to go through some bad experiences for that to happen first (like getting scolded by Lil after almost dying), but he will have lots of time (hopefully) to learn to be a better person. Not everything about him is repugnant, or despicable.

        Iunno. I guess from the Lambs’ points of view he truly is all those things. He is actively or passively getting in their way right now, for something incredibly important to them, and Duncan could have more empathy towards them. But at the same time, he is not a Lamb. It is at least a bit unreasonable (but not very unreasonable) to expect him to have the same goals as the Lambs.

        • Just because a character isn’t real doesn’t mean it isn’t good to give them the benefit of the doubt and try to be nice to them, is basically how I feel. It is my fear that that fixation in a character’s flaws can just as easily creep up in real life.

        • Most likely outcome of next arc: Duncan stops being an asshole, experiences a ton of character growth, and then dies shortly afterwards for absolutely no good reason and achieving nothing with his death.

        • I think I actually pity him more than hate him. His naivety would get bruised under any circumstances, but he’s like a particularly clueless Meat Boy running at a particularly challenging wall. With other people tied to him, whether he realises it or not. <_<

          Not short: this isn't going to be pretty. -_- And, he'll be oh so surprised the whole while. *rolls eyes*

      • I get the feeling part of the reason he was so quick to blame Ashton is that almost twenty-threeing yourself is not good for your career prospects.

      • The vast majority of people react defensively to perceived attacks, or even do so to pre-empt perceived threat of attacks. It takes a rare mindset and self-awareness to be able to stop yourself, think about it and accept the blame in a situation that happens without any preparatory time. I know that even though I’ve been specifically training myself to avoid such, and I am naturally an introspective person, I still lapse into trying to shift blame or play down an issue sometimes when confronted by my failures suddenly.

        Now, if Duncan doesn’t actually think about things later and improve his safety measures, that would be a problem.

  11. Alright, enough griping about the fool. Lets do something more fun & play “How would You design Lillian’s exo-suit”!

    Here’s mine:-

    Visual Aesthetic: Guyver Female

    Information Warfare Capabilities: Firefly Bio-luminescence & Cicada/unpalatable moth stridulation aka Flashbang package.

    Stealth Capabilities: Chameleon guanine nanocrystal lattice, effective on both normal & infra-red vision.

    Mobility Capabilities: Retractable gecko setae on hands & feet to traverse even vertical surfaces when required.

    Armour Capabilities: Pseudo-Noble bone/insect chitin.

    Field Medic Capabilities: Generate & secrete honey for burn treatment & silk for bandages & stitching thread.

    Weapons: Elecric Eel Bioelectrogenesis when in melee & Bombardier beetle hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide farting when running away.

  12. “You are not a Lamb,” Lillian retorted. She seemed to startle. “And oh my god, I’ve become Sylvester from four years ago.”
    Oh I got a chuckle out of that. I can only imagine the creeping horror the realization made Lillian feel. Now how we just need for Sy to somehow find out she said that. He’d tease her soo badly.

    By the way, anyone else think the Lambs used hand signs to talk while Duncan’s back was turned?

      • Same. They were clearly playing/testing him at the end there.

        He still needs to learn the most important part of being a Lamb… is absolute trust in the other lambs. It’s pretty much the most important building block towards their insanely seamless social machine.

      • “You’re an idiot,” Lillian said, voice raw. “This was important, on so many levels. You got what Hayle was willing to give us, not what we could’ve taken. We’ve been waiting months, and everything about what we do and how the Academy handles us depended on who got to make the first move, on how.”

        Took me a bit, but I finally realized what that reminded me of. Back when Sy pushed for the badges with the old headmaster, and Hayle pointed out his clumsily doing that could have hurt efforts to get Ashton or Evette restarted.

        HMMMNNN…. It’d be interesting if once Sy gets some resources, he does try to make Evette.

      • Omg! I just remembered! The Reason they call him Sy isn’t because his name is Sylvester, bur because his first cover name was Simon! Lol! I wonder if his first time undercover inspired an author to right a series of books about a very proper young boy he happened to run into! Oh lord, that would be priceless!

          • That would have been taking creative liscense. After all, you can’t have a stand-up pillar of society with messy hair. ^_^

          • Or maybe it was so he wouldn’t be liable for using a persons likeness and name without permission. After all… if you think the lawyers in OUR world are soulless abominations that are ready to burst at the seems, then you should see the ones in the Twigverse. ^_^

    • Damn, there should be an edit button.

      “like Sadie, who is mean and angry,”… not really, she is very friendly and good, except from the times she goes borderline yandere for Lars -_-

  13. Very visceral chapter. Except, the character is aiming to be an Academy doctor, so that makes it kind of funny. I wonder if his experiment is really wholly his, or if he’s basing it off work from other people.

    This would be the first perspective chapter from a character who isn’t augmented in some way, or excels in some area of expertise, or is at least super objective and rational about everything, right? The first fairly normal person, a common student, I guess. I think the hint here is that Duncan isn’t terribly abnormal for the run-of-the-mill Academy student, and that the Academy probably encourages that sort of thing.

  14. Am I… am I the only person who thought what the Lambs were saying was wrong, here? That they shouldn’t be selective in what information they share for the sake of personal gain, and that it’s selfish even when they’re doing it for their group? Because they treat their group as an extension of themselves, like parts of a greater whole. Duncan might not be the best suited for the position he’s in (not remotely), but them accusing him of using information for personal gain is massively hypocritical.

    Also, if you have spies who aren’t telling you everything they know in the hopes that they can barter it for something better, you don’t have spies. You have enemy assets in your house, putting a steadily increasing cost on necessary information and slowly shifting the balance in your enemy’s favor.

    • The Lambs are definitely in the wrong with regards to long-term power, but I think that what they said, considering that this is about Sylvester, and the way they said it (Mary in particular) were very in-character and rational for them.

      Also, if you think of this as narrative construction, I think the particular way the dialogue was structured was to give readers more insight into how Duncan deals with conflict. That scene was far more about Duncan’s reaction, I think, than necessarily whether the Lambs were in the right or wrong.

    • Lamb-morality is very ingroup vs. outgroup. Our boy is out group, but is only just figuring that out. The ‘right’ thing for the outside world to do is kneel before them to have its throat slit. The ‘right’ thing for the ingroup to do is whatever they want.

      Duncan doesn’t get the right to use information to increase his status with the bosses, but Helen gets the right to get him in trouble with Ibott etc. Same crew that slaughtered a doctor who was trying to help them.

      It’s a pretty common kids dynamic, simple pecking order setup. Popular kids can do no wrong, dweebs can do no right. The Lambs of the past probably would have been better about this, but losing Gordon has really hurt that.

    • So you’re saying that since the ties that bond them are close enough for them to think of the group as an extension of themselves, then they’re acting for personal gain by prioritizing the Lambs first? I suppose in theory that makes sense, but in practice they *are* separate individuals that make up a group, working towards its betterment. Even if Duncan isn’t acknowledged as a member, he’s on the roster.

    • The Lambs have been enemy assets working for the Academy for a long time now. At one point Gordon scolded Sy for trash-talking about the King, and said something like, “We can get away with talking about treason, we *can’t* get away with blasphemy.” Then they proceeded to LEAD THE REBEL FACTIONS OUT OF A CROWN AMBUSH to get Jamie’s books back and save their skins. They’re more like mercenaries with a permanent government contract that actual government agents at this point.

  15. Duncan’s a good character. A teenage boy, in over his head, making bad decisions for understandable reasons.

    I actually like the guy, because I’ve been in his shoes. That said, his flaws are irritating. He’s a liability to the Lambs right now, and it’s quite clear the jury’s still out on him as far as they’re concerned.

    I like how he recognizes Helen as the deadliest trap in the room, but still can’t control his hormones. Smart enough to realize how dumb he’s being, but stuck. Good ol’ Helen, working as intended!

    The most sympathetic quality to me was Duncan showing Ashton the color-changing pigment, and getting Ashton some of the stuff. “Hey, I made this with you in mind! Sure, you can have some. It’s special stuff that only you can use!” Then he went and bartered more of it for self-serving reasons, but still, the spark was there.

    Whether or not it’ll kindle is another story. He’s got a lot of growing to do, and I honestly don’t know if he’ll get the chance to do it.

  16. Man, I actually really feel for Duncan. Working with the Lambs from this perspective “almost” feels toxic, especially from the viewpoint of a character who had to work by himself for most of life, and now has to deal with all the baggage they have.

    He’s not even a horrible person. He’s just… “a” person who’s never had to handle these types of scenarios.

    I’m rooting for you Duncan. Somehow.

    • Not to mention he was the one who started his time with the Lambs with the Ashton/Helen/Mary team. That’s not exactly a great lineup to teach you about the likability and humanity of the Lambs.

      One of the few descriptions we have of that time is Helen’s report: “Duncan got the worst of it…” Mary tried to lead the group like the Bad Seeds, and “[s]he got frustrated, like I said. So she paired me with Ashton and she tormented poor Duncan, demanding he keep up” (10.2). Or, in Duncan’s words: “I, haha, I really didn’t expect the kind of education I ended up getting, on our last job. Not until I joined the army, or visited a slaughterhouse for raw materials” (10.3).

  17. I don’t really hate Duncan; he’s annoying and incompetent but hardly a monster. Lilian’s absolutely right that nearly getting killed was his own fault; either he should have used a cage it can’t get tentacles through, or if that wasn’t possible while measuring he should have sedated it before doing anything else in tentacle range. But hell, the things I’ve seen sixteen-year-old kids do with power tools. Then he went to Hayle before he went to the Lambs, which is what he’s supposed to do because Hayle is in charge and all.

    I wonder exactly what the purpose of his experiment is; it’s some kind of hybrid and I guess designed for combat, but apparently not very controllable. Odd that he isn’t working on something brain-related given his connection to Hayle, but I guess that’s pretty cutting-edge.

    Also, Hayle is Headmaster now; I wonder how that happened. He wasn’t exactly in the best of positions even before two members of his star experiment ditched and committed high treason. The obvious guess would be plague, but if that cleared out a large chunk of the staff they’d probably have burned the Academy to the ground. Likewise, since the plague is still raging out of control throughout the Crown States, I’d think anyone instrumental in stamping it out would be drafted to help the quarantine forces. I suppose it’s possible that shortly after it reached Radham the previous Headmaster got infected or had a breakdown and Hayle wound up coordinating the plague response and was promoted for his actions during the crisis.

    • I thought the best bit of Lillian’s putdown was that her room didn’t have a “do not disturb” sign on the door. Anyone can knock. Duncan knocks. It isn’t dangerous to her (or, it is implied, any decent doctor) if a passerby knocks on a door.

        • The lambs are live experiments, no? And certainly more dangerous than a tentacle-dog. I think it’s a sign of her stronger confidence and ability; even if someone sneaks in and sabotages her, she knows she can recover and win anyway.

    • I wonder how things are going plague-wise overall. Radham is apparently considered clear of it, since the Lambs go between the orphanage and the Academy with apparent ease and visitors can reach the orphanage, indicating that they aren’t in quarantine lockdown at the moment. On the large scale, it’s apparently raging out of control to the point that torching half the city and leaving another fifth to be overrun constitutes things going well. But the rail system is apparently still operating for civilian use, since Sy could have gone to multiple places via rail rather than just going to a fixed evacuation point. And not just the evacuation trains, since there’s no mention of making special preparations for the Lambs to go after him. Which seems rather odd; I’d think they’d have just totally locked down all traffic except for critical supplies and military movements.

      It’s also strange that they’d devote resources to evacuating overrun cities before blocking it from reaching new cities. That feels like something they’d do in anticipation of a complete collapse; evacuating people to quarantine bases while they’ve still got the logistics capacity to run trains. But then they just sent everyone but the orphans to cities that are still operational. So I’m thinking they’ve already got all their slots for adults spoken for and are planning to have a much more compliant civilian population for the next generation. In terms of general experiment fodder, the take from the rescue missions can’t be comparable to the losses from seeing extra cities overrun unless they’re expecting to lose them all anyway.

      Actually, I just realized there’s an even more terrifying possibility: they may be doing the rescuing to boost public morale. And if the Academy is worried about public morale, everyone is in really deep shit.

      • My hypothesis is that controlled evacuations from quarantine zones is standard Academy procedure, and Sylvester doesn’t know that, either because he’s biased against them or because he hasn’t been involved in a quarantine before (not sure that makes sense, though).

        Rescuing people from quarantine zones makes a lot of sense on short and long term, for the same reason shooting the potentially infected on sight The-Last-Of-Us-style is stupid: helping people encourages them to cooperate with the authorities. People are much less likely to hide their symptoms or try to break out of quarantine if they know the Academy is going to try to cure them. When the Academy did show up as this merciless “kill everyone on sight” force in Lugh, people started to fight back, which was a minor contribution to letting the Red Tide loose. And if the plague spreads to a lot of cities, the Academy will want to make a strong precedent that, if you’re trapped in a contaminated city, your best bet is to stay safe and wait for the Crows to show up.

        • I rather doubt that they usually do things quite the way they did in Tynewear. Their standard procedure is probably to just lock the place down until a cure is available, then come in and distribute it. If they burn a city, they most likely consider the risk of evacuating people unacceptable in most cases. The Red Tide is anomalous because it infects people and also grows as a plant, so they need to destroy the buildings to be rid of it, but they haven’t managed to stop it from spreading between cities yet and it seems like the crows would be better-employed sweeping contaminated districts of cities that haven’t been overrun instead of going in to evacuate and torch City Zero and send the people they recover to other cities that could very easily be lost as well in the near future. And there’s always the risk that something could go wrong during the evacuation and contaminate one of the trains.

  18. Interesting to see that Duncan is no more loyal to the Lambs now than he was before. And Ashton is growing up to be a real h- um, that is, a real Casanova.

  19. Honestly, I’m not seeing these horrible flaws people are seeing in Duncan.
    He seems like a pretty nice, level-headed guy.

    Actually, he’s one of the most pleasant people who’s head we’ve been in, in my opinion.

  20. Oh and do we also want to mention that Mary can now throw Knives around corners or use wires to choke people if she misses… Which will be on purpose so she can choke people.

    And it’s interesting she uses the clay models in Lillian’s lab for practice. I wonder if Lillian is also using Mary to see how the suit handles attacks?

  21. Ok. So. I’ve noticed the disagreement on Duncans moral faculties (how could you not?) and have decided to weigh in.

    The way I see it, this chapter (like so many others) can be read a few different ways.
    How I read it was that Duncan is very self-serving and dangerous to the team. At the end i felt like he was building a form of resentment for the Lambs for how they reacted. If this is the case then I wish to posit a theory.
    … if the lambs function together as one organism, then I believe Sy to be the sub-conscious mind, voice, danger-sense, and nose of the group.
    The nose, because it seems without him they are unable to smell this traitorous sack of shit right in front of them.
    Also if this is the case, then I hope Sylvester lights him on fire and leave the still burning remains in front of the Academies main gate… and yes, i just suggested Sy leave a flaming bag of shit on the Academies door-step.

    However, as i am not one of the Lambs, (and as such subject to error) I could be wrong, and Duncan could be a character to be pitied and whose growth should be encouraged. I believe that many disliked him from his original introduction because it felt like he was trying to replace Gordon and we were getting a chance to feel how Sy does about Jamie 2.0.

    If this is the case, i strongly hope he grows and matures into a fine character, and maybe even an official Lamb.

  22. Honestly I don’t see what all the hate for Duncan is about. He’s nothing special sure, that’s all. He’s human. A bad match for the lambs at this point in time? Definitely. A bad or even incompetent person? Not at all. lots of room to grow and learn from mistakes of course, but not completely self-destructive.

    • We’re not worried about whether or not he’s SELF-destructive, but whether or not he’s LAMB-destructive.

  23. Uh oh, I just realized something. Duncan is a hormonal teenage boy. No worse really than the average teenage boy. But Sy’s first minion is a attractive young prostitute. I’d be surprised if that doesn’t come into play.

  24. With a short nod of acknowledgement, he turned and made his way out of the room. He opened the door, holding it for Ashton, and noted a faint hue on the back of his hand as he did.

    Nothing wrong with that sentence, just wanted to remark that I think Ashton was up to some shenanigans just there. My suspicion is furthered by the fact that the Principal hadn’t taken his pills yet that day. I wonder what Ashton made him feel?

    Also, NOT a fan of how Duncan keeps dehumanizing all of the experiment kids, and sexualizing all of the girls around him. You’re a DOCTOR, Duncan. Or trying to be one, anyways.

  25. Oh, I just noticed. They have the perfect Lamb recruit. Now they can have Helen, Ashton, Mary, Lillian, and anonymous chimera number three. ^_^ I bet Sy would love him.

  26. Definitely not a fan of the way Duncan kept dehumanizing the experiment kids and assuming that he already knows everything about how they think, sexualizing all of the girls around him into coy, manipulative minxes who like to torture him, and refuses to take any blame for his faulty actions. He doesn’t seem to realize how hard it is to be a Lamb. You have to scrape and claw for every bit of power you can get or else the Academy will just be telling you what to do forever about everything.

    • “…or else the Academy will just be telling you what to do forever about everything.”

      This comment made me realize, Duncan is a guy who doesn’t think to set up proper safety procedures, ones that should have been obvious. He’s not ready to think and make decisions on his own, so he’s content letting the Academy do his thinking for him. Of course he wouldn’t think beyond that!

      • I kinda hope he gets a chance with Helen. I would love to see him get her special brand of “love”.
        *cackles maniacally*

        • To be honest, I don’t think she’d be all that into him. Sure, it’s fun to torment somebody when they’re in range, especially as they’re practically wearing a sign saying “kick me, I’m a noob” on their backs, but he’s not really a interesting-fun challenge/ puzzle/ game/ plaything. 😛

          Worse, his threat level isn’t intrinsic to his skill-set, but more down to the errors he can make with his lack of experience. :/

  27. Wow but do people hate this guy!

    He seems perfectly adapted to me… the definition of well-adjusted. I would go so far as to say that he doesn’t even fall below the mid-point on morality by today’s standards (so far). Blaming other people? That’s just basic. Looking out for yourself? That’s a given. He risks his life for his career on a daily basis, why would he prioritise other people over his own ambition when he doesn’t even value his own life enough to forgo it? Especially when the object of his blame is an actual monster with no relatable sense of pride to offend…

    He just seems like a naive kid. What was he? 16? I was that way and worse when I was 16. Wildbow’s likes to start from the ground up in building characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns into a real asset.

    • I get what you’re trying to say, I do. But i feel you are missing something. I think Duncan is supposed to be a juxtaposition. The Lambs are supposed to represent, not necessarily the best of humanity, but at least what humanity could become. That is people working together in near perfect unison to accomplish a goal. Sure they mock, and tease, and squable… but those are just things that make life interesting, and at the end of the day they put aside their differences and get the job done.
      Where-as I believe Duncan is supposed to represent everything wrong with the Academies world. He puts himself first, even when it’s a detriment to the people who are supposed to be his teammates and seems to view them as less than human. What’s more, is I don’t think he even realizes that he’s doing it, that’s just how you’re raised to think in the Academies world. He might not be all that bad of a guy. Hell, he might even be a good guy who’s just going with the flow to survive…
      But as Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

    • Also… just because he’s different, and doesn’t quite understand the world in the same way you do, doesn’t make Ashton a monster. It just means he needs a little extra teaching and care. That DEFINITELY doesn’t give you any reason to call him a monster when he’s not completely at fault. He just didn’t understand.

      You wouldn’t call a mentally handicapped person a monster, so what makes it ok to call mentally handicapped person with super-powers that.
      He has no ill intent, no malice. What makes him a monster? Or do you mean by Academy standards?

      • Yeah he stands in contrast to what the lambs represent. But that shouldn’t draw this level of ire IMO. People seem offended by the notion of his existence.

        As for Ash, I mean that in the same way a psychopath is a monster, Ash is a monster. He seems to not have a theory of mind (obsession with controlling his environment derived from seeing human interaction as an environmental interaction). People are to be used towards ends, with no value placed on the interest of the individual in question. Add to that the hallucination level imagination in service to sprucing up his surrounds with corpses… I would call a person with a mental handicap a monster if they were monstrous, and people would know what I meant. It’s not that I hold it against him, it just seems crazy to me that people are up in arms about someone being ambitious when you have someone like Ash or Helen around who are largely accepted?

        • Ah, ok. Wasn’t sure. Yup. You’re right on that. Honestly, I despised Duncan at first, but I feel that was because i felt like he might come to threaten any remaining relationship Sy has with Lillian. But i eventually realized that i was being stupid. Now I’m just worried that he might not improve like he needs to.
          That part at the end where he seems to seethe at the fact they chastised him. That makes me worry he might let that anger grow and become an enemy to the Lambs.
          All we can do is wait and see.

  28. Just gonna point out a funny thing. While it feels as though most commenters have it in for Duncan, only two comments are completely negative, and most comments show some amount of support for Duncan. Maybe it’s residual from when he was first introduced? I think people were more negative then.

    • Hold on… i just realized… if this is a recon mission… then why does Duncan need to bring the hair-triggered murder-beast?

      • Because there is approximately a 0% chance that a recon mission to find Sy during a plague and ongoing civil war won’t go incredibly wrong in some fashion.

        • True, true. But he’s supposed to be the one who makes sure it DOESN’T go wrong. Where-as bringing Patriot seems like it could only instigate things.

  29. Personally, I like Duncan, at least as he’s portrayed here(can’t say I remember much of his earlier appearances).

    Not sure why he didn’t tranquilize the Chimera he was taking measurements of unless he was attempting to train the creature at the same time, but he did have tranquilizer at the ready and only needed a save from Ashton because the chimera disabled Duncan before he could use the tranquilizer. Since we know every little about Duncan’s earlier experience on this project, it’s quite possible that the safety measures he had in place had previously proved sufficient(true story from personal experience: I only invested in a pair of wire mesh gloves for working with X-acto knives after stabbing my thumb through a pair of what I thought were sufficiently tough work gloves). Also, I could totally see the academy not offering instruction on lab safety on the grounds that anyone who can’t prevent themselves being 23’d isn’t academy material.

    Duncan went a little far in blaming Ashton, especially since Duncan was apparently aware that sounds could startle the creature, but it seemed to me that Duncan did a decent job trying to teach Ashton more about human behavior, and internal dehumanization aside, Duncan does seem to be genuinely interested in figuring out Ashton’s thought processes and how Ashton’s pheromones work, and I can’t say I blame Duncan for deciding to send the indicator bacteria through proper channels instead of handing them straight to Ashton, nor can I find fault in the friendly wager between almost colleagues when he handed a sample to one of Ashton’s doctors.

    Going to see Hayle first was the wrong call from a Lamb-centric standpoint, but makes sense for someone whose loyalties are obviously more to the academy than the Lambs at this time.

    Also, I totally agree with Duncan’s envy of Ashton. Every girl not on the pills are in trouble if Ashton ever undergoes Puberty and becomes a hormonal teenager, even more so than if Sy ever undergoes puberty. Granted, even if Ashton is physically mid-teens likethe other lambs, he’s probably closer to a human preschooler mentally and has no idea how a normal human male teen would interpret girls fawning over him.

    Hmm… I’m starting to notice parallels between the remaining lambs and Team Sy:
    Sy and Ashton are both Manipulators, albeit with very different methods. They’re both also quite clueless about sex but could be quite dangerous if they ever grow a libido.
    Jamie and Lillian are both hyper knowledgeable and capable field medics.
    The girl from the brothel(I’m not much better than Sy at remembering names) persumably has sex appeal and with the proper training could use that in a vain similar to what Helen was disigned for.
    Therefore, what Sy needs most is a Mary, and while I like Duncan, I do have to agree he’s a long way from being an asset in the field.

    • Isn’t Ashton less close to a human than Helen? Like possibly an ambulatory tree? I don’t know if it’s even possible for him to have a sex drive as we know it.

    • He me might not actually need a Mary. If Duncan is enough of a detriment in the field or if he throws off the teams coordination enough, he could effectively negate one of the Lambs in terms of usefulness.

  30. I really like how Duncan has a lot of potential as a character, either to get a lot better or a lot worse.

    The lack of self-awareness and self-criticism could obviously make him escalate from being merely a very poor match for the Lambs to being genuinely loathsome, but his inability to meet anyone’s eyes at the end while receiving praise he knows he doesn’t deserve shows that he does have a conscience, so could get better.

    However, I suspect his cardinal sin (certainly in such an unforgiving world) will be his thoughtlessness; in addition to his lack of safety with his experiments and taking the note to Hayle without considering how the rest of the Lambs would react, he also forgets to tell Hayle the address of the woman who brought the letter, and forgets to tell the Lambs that Jamie’s supposedly dead.
    He’s also so self-congratulatory over the “very” from Hayle’s secretary, without considering that Ashton standing quite close by for several minutes might explain her friendliness, and likewise thinks he’s doing well with the Academy politics when he could barely remember the name of a colleague who he then tries to charm.
    Also, even when he mentally notes that Hayle completely contradicts his opinion of Sy before he gets a chance to voice it, he doesn’t consider revising his opinion, even when, unlike the Lambs, Hayle is more likely to be able to make an objective assessment of Sy’s character.

    Far more than any moral failings he might have, it’ll be stupidity that gets him and the Lambs killed, so for all their sakes, let’s hope he takes the (probably very humiliating) upcoming lessons to heart.

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