Black Sheep – 13.3 (Lamb)

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“-making a run for it,” Lara recited.

Duncan’s arms were folded, and his leg jiggled with the anxiety he was clearly feeling.  “Do you want us to help?  We’re not really fighters, but if you need a distraction so you can deal with them, I could provide that.  Send my dogs in, maybe.  I’d rather have you guys than my-”

Lara interrupted, “Mary: no.”

Duncan tapped his finger against his arm, thinking.

Lara spoke into the silence. “Mary: Sylvester’s going to be watching you.  He wouldn’t pledge to protect you and then take his eyes off you to see where these hired hands were going.  Lillian adds: he might have help.”

Duncan nodded.  “The rabbit.  Sylvester’s partner.”

“Mary: Exactly.”

Emmett remained silent, listening to the ongoing dialogue.  The other Lambs had been attacked.  Now the others were running, while a small army of thugs was chasing them down.

Duncan looked concerned.  Abby was hugging Quinton, but she seemed to be okay so long as she was able to do that.  Ashton seemed entirely unconcerned, which was reassuring to Emmett.

Lara, though, was shaking.  The distraction of passing on the messages wasn’t enough.

He knew what that was like.  He’d once been in a place where he was one small push from breaking down completely.  He had once been fragile.

He wished he knew what to do for Lara.  He didn’t feel fragile anymore, and he didn’t want anyone else to feel that way either.

“I think we’re on the same page.  Do you want us to stay close, just in case?”

“Mary: not too close.  Stay in range so we can talk.  But I don’t want you getting caught in this.”

“Got it.  We’re going to do what we can.  Get our attention if you need anything.”

“Lillian: thank you, Duncan.”

“That’s enough.  Thank you, Lara,” Duncan said.

“Oh.  I transcribed the first part of that,” Lara said.

“That’s fine,” Duncan said.  They had stepped into a sectioned off area beside a store, where outdoor fixtures and gardening things had been stowed outdoors for customers to look at, much of it chained to fixtures so it couldn’t be readily stolen.  Three stone walls and a gate surrounded the display area, which kept them out of view of any spying eyes.

Duncan leaned against the wall, between a fountain and a wheelbarrow loaded with Academy-designed plants, his arms still folded.  He seemed lost in thought.

Duncan, Emmett was coming to understand, was very good at what he did.  But he wasn’t very good at this.  Emmett had spent more time around doctors than he had spent around his parents, and he found himself sorting them into groups.  Duncan wasn’t in any of the good groups.  Neither was Lillian, as far as he was concerned.

Then again, Emmett couldn’t think of many people he did like that weren’t weaker than him.  He liked Abby, Lara, and Nora.  He was on the fence about Ashton, who he liked but didn’t trust.

Lara was hunched over, sitting on a crate.  Her hands, ensconced and hidden by her long sleeves, were clumsily clutching at each other through the fabric.

Emmett wanted to say something, but he never knew what to say.  He remained silent.

“Lara,” Ashton said.

Lara froze.

“It’s okay,” Ashton said.  He reached for her hands, and put his hand over top of them.  “The Lambs are very good at what they do.  There’s no need to worry.  Your sister is safer with them with enemies around than we are here with no enemies.”

Lara remained frozen, staring down at Ashton’s hand.  She ventured, “…doesn’t make me feel better.  Now I’m worried for different reasons.”

“It’s fine,” Duncan said.  “Look, it’s nearly time to turn in.  I want to stay available, and I’d like to make some headway before we go to sleep for the night.”

“I don’t really sleep,” Lara pointed out.  “I have to be awake to give and send communications, so they engineered the need for sleep out of me.  I con-”

“I know,” Duncan said, stopping her.  “I’ve read your file.  I know.  I understand, okay?”

“Okay,” Lara said, dropping her eyes.  “Every night I sit in the dark while everyone else is asleep, hearing all the creaks of the buildings and the noises from outside.  I imagine the worst.  They engineered the fear into me, like they engineered the sleep out.  I’m not as afraid of the dark, because I can see in the dark, just a little, but-”

Lara,” Duncan said.

Lara went quiet.

Emmett shifted his stance, restless.

Duncan reminded him of Professor Gosse, the second professor to look after him.  Not a bad man, exactly, not a stupid man, but sometimes careless.  Every time Duncan spoke, a small part of Emmett worried it would be a careless sort of speaking, and one of the others would get hurt.

“You talk with your sister, don’t you?” Duncan asked.

“Sometimes,” Lara said, quiet.  “But we’re not supposed to do it unless we have to.  We’re supposed to keep our ears and our eyes open for danger.”

“I’m assuming you’re talking with her more than you’re supposed to,” Duncan said.

Lara went silent.

“I’m not going to report you or make you stop,” Duncan said, sounding impatient.  “I just want to understand the tools I’m working with.”

“I talk with her most of the night,” Lara confessed.

Emmett, given the choice, might have told her to lie.  Because Doctors lied, and Duncan and Doctor Gosse were of a type to lie more than most.

“That’s fine,” Duncan said, and Emmett had no idea if he was lying or telling the truth.  “You’ll have your sister to talk to, and, because we’re on a mission, we’ll be sleeping in shifts.  Each member of our group here will spend an hour or two awake, sitting with you, and keeping an eye and an ear out for trouble.  If you’re not talking to your sister, you can talk to them or to me.  Provided you’re also keeping watch.”

“Okay,” Lara said.

While Duncan was talking, Ashton was working.  Lara seemed to be calming down.

Emmett let himself relax a little.  He wondered momentarily if the fact that he was relaxing had anything to do with Ashton.

“Plan is same as the old plan, with a few changes.  We’ll walk around the neighborhood, get a feeling for what we’re dealing with and see if there are any opportunities to gather information.”

Emmett nodded alongside the others, Lara excepted.  She seemed distracted.

She was thinking about Nora, no doubt.

“Emmett,” Abby spoke, as Duncan led the way out of the enclosure.  Emmett looked down at the girl.  Quinton was asleep on her lap.

“Can you take him?” she asked.  “I don’t think I can carry him without waking him up.”

Emmett nodded, reaching.  The lamb roused some as it was transferred into his arms, then stretched, poking into the muscles of his stomach and his ribs.  It settled down in the cradle of his arms.

Abby, meanwhile, picked up speed to catch up with the others, casting a backward glance at Emmett.

He liked Quinton too, and found himself counting the creature alongside Abby and Lara.  The lamb reminded him of the distant past.  Of being a great deal younger, of being very weak and having a hard time moving around, with an indistinct, furry, strong companion that would sit with him and stare out the window.  His childhood dog that he couldn’t remember the name of, a big creature with messy black fur that had shed everywhere.

The similarities between Quinton and his old dog were few to none, but they were there, they were loyal, and they were warm.

He hadn’t had much warmth in his life, and he didn’t feel like he could ask for it from any of his new companions.

Abby appeared in front of him, reached up above her eye level, and gripped the end of the sleeve of his shirt, up near his bicep.  She tugged him off course.

No, on course.  He’d been focusing too much on Quinton, lagging behind.  Now Abby led him to the others.

What would others think, seeing this?  It was late, but there were people out on the street.  Some were organized into groups, which Duncan had surmised was a kind of organization of members of the neighborhood.  An effort to be proactive in looking out for fire and for trouble.  Others were escaping from the stifling heat indoors and enjoying the breeze, talking with neighbors and family members.

He looked back to see if the little girl leading the very large little boy was drawing any attention.

It wasn’t, except from one set of eyes.  Emmett stopped in his tracks, trying to confirm what he’d seen, but the figure was already turning, disappearing toward the back of a crowd.  As Abby kept walking and he stopped, her hand slipped from his sleeve.



“You saw something,” Abby said.

Emmett nodded.


He nodded again, even though he wasn’t entirely sure.  It was such an odd mental image, Sylvester brazenly walking through the crowd toward their group, when they were the ones who were hunting him.

It had been a glimpse, nothing more.

He was caught between wanting to chase and wanting to catch up with the others.

Abby reached up, taking his sleeve, and tugged.

She wanted to go to the others.


He let her lead, glancing back to look for Sylvester.  Nothing.

They had to jog to catch up with the others.  Duncan had stopped.  Lara perked up on seeing them.  Ashton was holding one of her sleeves.

“What happened?” Duncan asked.

“Sylvester,” Abby said.  “Emmett saw him.”

Duncan looked at Emmett.  “You did?”

Reluctantly, Emmett opened his mouth and said, “I think.”

“Okay,” Duncan said.  “That’s… good, I think.  Keep an eye out.”

Emmett nodded.  He didn’t miss the fact that Duncan was letting out the slack on the leashes that led to his tentacle-dogs, giving them more room to move.

Duncan and his tentacle-dogs led the way, while Emmett watched the rear, Abby staying near him.  Ashton and Lara remained in the center of the group, where Lara seemed most secure.

They carried out the original plan, doing a quick circuit of the neighborhood, with the building they were staying in somewhere near the center of the loop.  The building was one of Bergewall’s dormitories, but maintained more vacancies than most due to its distance from the building.

They were nearly finished closing the circuit, with no more Sylvester sightings, when a voice called out.  “You!  Children!”

The group came to a stop.  It was an older woman standing in a doorway, smoking a cigarette, who had called to them.

“Hello,” Abby said.

“Hello, little one.  You shouldn’t be out like this.”

“We heard there was some trouble,” Duncan said.

“Most of the local children have gone into hiding, or been sent out of the city,” the woman said.  “Why on earth are you out?  At night, even?  Taking your work out for a walk?”

“Yes,” Duncan said.  He smiled.  “Something like that.”

“You’re asking for trouble,” she said.  She paused, “Odd-looking bunch, that.”

“We are, and they are,” Duncan said.

“The little red haired one is nice looking enough.  I don’t suppose he spits acid or anything of the sort?”

Duncan reached forward, giving Ashton a light push on the shoulder.  Ashton approached the stairs, smiling.  He spoke, “No, ma’am.”

“Polite,” she observed.  “Are you an experiment too?”

“Yes ma’am, and I try.  I learned a lot from the Good Simon books.”

“I read those to my children and grandchildren,” the woman said.  She lifted her cigarette to her lips and puffed.  “My eldest grandchild asked for them to be read one after the other.  I wanted to slap the self-righteous smirk off the Simon character’s face by the fifth read.”

“Oh,” Ashton said.  His expression went carefully blank.

“Don’t envy you, having to learn from those books.”

“I like the books,” Ashton said.  “And I like Good Simon.”

“Oh?” the woman asked.  She paused, realizing what she’d just said.  “Sorry.”

“I don’t like cigarettes, either,” Ashton said.

Emmett saw Duncan react to that, turning his head to look this way and that, searching for spying eyes.

“Well I do,” the woman said.  “So if you don’t like them, then you can scurry along.”

“I wanted to ask you more things,” Ashton said, stepping closer.  “About the children, and the gangs, and the danger.  Please.”

Off to the side, Duncan looked at the back of his hand, like he was looking at his watch.

“I was enjoying a nice, quiet evening smoke,” the woman said.  “Now it’s not as nice, and it’s not as quiet.  You want to take my cigarette away from me too?  Scurry off.”

“I know, I understand,” Ashton said.  “But you have children and grandchildren.  You would want them to be safe, don’t you?  Can’t you tell us more?”

“If you’re trying to manipulate me, then you’re going to have to try harder than that,” she said, stiffening.

“I’m sorry,” Duncan said.  He smiled.  “We’re trying to socialize it.  Ashton there is a remarkable work of art, but he’s sensitive at times.  And he’s sensitive to smoke.”

“For something with ‘ash’ in its name, I find that ironic,” the woman said.  Duncan chuckled.

Then he reached into a back pocket and withdrew a carton of cigarettes.  He held it up between two fingers.  “Put it out so you don’t hurt him, tell us something about what areas to stay clear of, and I’ll resupply you.”

The woman moved her head to see better, and Duncan adjusted the angle he held the package, to better show.

“Not my brand,” she said, sour.

“Offer stands,” Duncan said, not budging.

She dropped her cigarette, and she stepped on it.

“Thank you,” Ashton said.

“Uh huh.  I’m doing this for the cigarettes, not you.”

“Thank you all the same,” Ashton said.

Emmett felt like it wasn’t quite the tone Ashton should be striking.  That if he thought back to the boys and girls he used to go to school with, it would have seemed too ‘teacher’s pet’ or goody-two-shoes.

Then again, Ashton reveled in being the goody-two-shoes.

“I see you’re still very polite, even after I was snooty,” the woman said.  “If only all the doctors in the world took such care with their work.  We might not have this runaway plague.”

“Yes ma’am.  I meant to ask, are your children safe?”

“My children are old, Ashton.  My grandchildren were sent to live with their aunt and uncle on the outskirts of the city.”

“I see,” Ashton said.  “I hope they’re okay.”

“I’m sure they will be,” the woman said.

“You said the other children are in hiding.  Do you know where they went?”

“I don’t,” the woman said.  She leaned against the railing that stood beside her front steps.  “I don’t pay much attention to the ones I’m not related to.”

“You called out to us to warn us,” Ashton said, earnest.  “I think you pay more attention to us than you pretend.”

“Perhaps,” the woman said.  She allowed Ashton a small smile.

“We’re trying to find people,” Ashton said.  “Do you know who is after the children?”

“They call him the Devil.  Dangerous one.  Rumor was the fires were his fault.  Something like that.  Now his people are roaming here and there.  Knocking on doors of houses where children are known to live.  Thankfully, virtually all of them were evacuated.”

“Virtually?” Emmett asked, abrupt.  As with almost any time he spoke, it seemed to surprise the people around him.

“Yes.  A few were picked up here and there.  They returned to their parents shortly after.  The taxes we pay to the Crown seem to be supplying us with a strong hand of law, if nothing else.”

“Some else,” Ashton said.  “Like me.  And my friends.”

“I suppose so,” the woman said, smiling despite herself.

Emmett felt secret relief that it seemed nobody had been hurt.

“I think, and this isn’t a very good piece of information, but in the interest of helping you as much as I can…” the woman said, trailing off.

Ashton smiled, and the woman smiled back.

“…There’s a place where the local children congregate.  Mostly vagrant children, I think.  They call it the ‘yard’.  It sits at the one o’clock position on the western lake, if you want to walk the perimeter.”

“That’s very useful,” Ashton said.  “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome, Ashton,” she said.

“We should go,” Duncan said.

“Okay,” Ashton said.  “Thank you, miss.”

Duncan tossed Ashton the carton.  Ashton handed it to the woman.

“Thank you, little sir,” she said.

They left the woman behind, and continued on their way.

“You’re a dangerous creature,” Duncan observed, covering his mouth, “And I just gave up the cigarettes that are supposed to be a countermeasure to you, if I run out of the pills.”

“You can get more,” Ashton said.

“I have more in my luggage.  That’s not the point.”

“What’s the point?” Ashton asked.

“The point is that it’s inconvenient, I’m tired, and I want to grouse,” Duncan said.  He raised his hand to his mouth, yawning, and Emmett could only barely hear the words on Duncan’s part.  “And I want to mislead him.”


Emmett gathered the true intention of that little discussion.  Working to get the woman to extinguish her cigarettes, dropping hints.  Duncan wanted to pretend weakness where none existed.

Emmett wondered how effective it would be.  In the brief moments where he’d been in the room while Mary and Lillian talked about Sylvester, they kept describing him as being virtually impossible to outmaneuver.

As the Duncan and Ashton pair continued their conversation, Emmett felt a tug at his arm.  Abby was putting a hand on his arm and walking on her tiptoes to see Quinton sleeping.

“He likes you,” she whispered.

Emmett nodded.  Up until now, he’d only acted as a pillow to Quinton.

To Abby, the shared bond with Quinton had become something else.  The three little ones were all the same height and they had an interplay.  Ashton reassured both, while Emmett needed none of that.  They were all vat children, and Emmett had once been an ordinary, if ill boy.

He had been small for his age, and sickly, to the point that his mother alone couldn’t care for him.  In the end, faced with endless costs for his care on the one hand, and a promise of payment from the Academy on the other, they had decided to sell him.

That was, he was fairly sure, a common experience for most of them.  Not for Duncan, and not so much for Ashton, but for the two girls.  Being alone.  Now forged into a group.  It wasn’t the case with the primary group of Lambs.  They had been a group from the beginning.

Except now they weren’t.  Sylvester was the enemy now.

“I think the Lambs-” Lara started.

“Shh,” Duncan cut her off, raising a hand.

She flinched at the sound and the hand, and Emmett could feel his proverbial hackles raise at that.  Protective instinct.  Had he not been holding Quinton, he might have seized Duncan’s wrist.

He was aware of how strong he was.  He had spent a full year learning to use this body, and he had only had it for two, really.  They had taken his head, his spine, his ribs, and many organs from his torso, and they had transplanted it into a body.  He had two ribcages, one nestled in the other, and now his original form and the healthy body he’d been given grew in concert.  The body still felt alien, on a level, and he’d had to take so many tests and undergo so much therapy that he’d had to develop an innate sense of his physical power, condensed into one form.  Every movement was easy, and that included breaking things, be it a fork or a human wrist.

Duncan didn’t even seem to notice what Emmett was doing, or the reaction he’d gotten from Emmett or from Lara.

He didn’t seem to notice the significance that Emmett carefully handed off Quinton to Abby, so his hands would be free if he needed to act.

“Shh,” Duncan said, firmly.  “We don’t talk about what any of you are capable of.  For all we know, he’s listening.”

“Yes,” Lara said.

“Is it important?”

“No,” Lara said.

“Good,” Duncan said.  He sighed.  “If it’s important, we’ll take a detour and get somewhere safe to discuss it, where we can be reasonably sure we won’t be overheard.  Information is at a premium here.”

Lara nodded.

She flinched slightly as Duncan lowered the hand he’d held up.

Emmett watched for a moment later before making himself react.  His body was more adult than his head was, sometimes.  He knew the rushes of hormones and emotion were sometimes over the top.  But he’d found his peace, at some point between when he’d thought he was going to die and the two years where he’d worked at grasping this new life he’d been given.  He was secure, mostly, and for the most part, he could put those feelings away.

But he’d seen the bad doctors.  The malicious and evil ones, which weren’t anything like Lillian and Duncan, and he’d seen the ones who had been unable to see the forests for the trees.  He was on guard.

Duncan declared, “We can put off seeing the other children at the yard until tomorrow.  For now, we’ll finish this patrol, and we’ll get settled for the night.  All of this paranoia about Sylvester is likely for nothing.  He showed himself earlier, but with Sylvester, when you assume or expect something, the opposite is usually in the works.  He probably wanted us to be on the lookout, while he’s busy interfering with the others.  Draws your attention one way, then hits you from the other.”

No sooner was he done speaking than a small dark object bounced off of Duncan’s head.

“Lords!” Duncan cussed, one hand going to his head.

“Duncan,” Ashton said, backing away and pointing.

The small dark object was now billowing into a visible cloud of smoke or gas.  A grenade or canister.  Duncan backed away from it, but in the doing, wasn’t wholly able to keep his pets away from it.  One of them ran through the cloud, then dropped to the road.  The other panicked, hurling itself to one side, pulling Duncan off balance.

“He’s here!” Ashton called out.

The cloud was spreading, and Emmett noted another, just off to the side.  Between the two, they had cut off their ability to progress further down the street.

What had Duncan just said?  Draws your attention one way, then hits you-

Emmett wheeled around.

He saw the fabled rabbit that had been moving ahead of them, dropping gifts off.  A man, taller than a man should be, thin to the point that it looked like he should break under his own weight, with modified arms, legs, and feet, with the head of an oversized rabbit in place of his own.

The rabbit stared with bloodshot eyes that pointed in slightly different directions as it half-walked, half-ran across the street behind them, letting go of more canisters.  They hadn’t even started to smoke by the time the rabbit had picked up speed and carried on his way.

“Son of a bitch!” Duncan said.

Canisters of gas ahead of them, canisters behind, and buildings on either side.  Boxed in.

The gas was blowing into the box, too.

“Sylvester!” Duncan called out.

“Calm down,” came the voice, from the other side of the smoke.  A young man’s voice, not fully mature.  “I’m just here to talk.  Worst the gas will do is knock you out and give you a bad headache.”

“I’m not here to negotiate or give you any information, Sylvester,” Duncan said, raising his voice.

“Neither am I, Duncan,” Sylvester said.  “Matter of fact, I’m not even here to talk to you.  I’m here to introduce myself to them.  The little ones.”

The little ones.

Emmett bent down, seized Abby by the ribs, and lifted her up.  She was holding Quinton, who had woken to the raised voices and was now bleating.  Emmett set her down so she was sitting on his shoulders.

Poor Lara was quaking, not sure where to look or what to do.

He made sure she knew what he was doing before he picked her up too, lifting her up and out of the way of the smoke.  She clutched at him, face buried into his shoulder, shaking like a leaf, and in the midst of the hug, she stabbed and gouged him a half-dozen times.

He reached for Ashton, but Ashton shook his head.

“I’m okay,” Ashton said.  “I have good filters.”

Emmett nodded.

“-you’re going to come back with us!” Duncan called out.

“You’re so tiresome,” Sylvester said.  “Here’s the deal, Duncan.  I want you to shut up.  So either you sit in the corner and stay quiet, or I’ll start tossing the remainder of my grenades at you.  Then you’ll have to decide.  Do you stay where you are and get knocked out, wake up with a vicious hangover, or do you retreat to where they are, betray your shiny new team, and ensure that nobody wins, I have to do this again at a later date, and all of you get bad headaches?”

“What if I call your bluff?” Duncan asked.  “How many of these things can you have?”

Emmett could hear the clink of the small object against a solid surface.

“Ah,” Duncan said.

Duncan could have retreated, but he remained where he was as the cloud expanded, covering one corner of the ‘box’ that Sylvester had created.

There was a long pause, then a sound of footsteps, very deliberately working at being audible footsteps.  Theater.

“Sort of glad he didn’t move back toward you guys.  I can’t throw quite that far, and I had only the one grenade left.  The Witch had limited stocks of stuff,” Sylvester said.

Emmett tried to track the voice.  It was possible to throw something, aiming to hit Sylvester, but he wasn’t sure it was a good idea, and he would have had to put the girls down and in the way of the gas.

“I suppose the spokesman for the group will be Ashton, huh?” Sylvester asked.  “Hi Ashton.”

He was standing in the midst of the noxious cloud.  His silhouette was briefly visible, now and then.  Shorter than Duncan, taller than the three experiments that Emmett was standing by.

“Hi Sylvester,” Ashton said.

“Bringing you guys into play was a good move.  Because I can’t leave you alone.  And they know it.  Now I’m trying to figure out what to do with you all.”

“Come stand next to me and breathe deeply,” Ashton said.

There was a pause, then a light cough.  “Are you actually developing a sense of humor, Ashton?”

“No,” Ashton said.  “But I saw you ask Duncan politely and it worked, so I thought I would try it and see what happened.”

“I’m not going to do that, Ashton.”


“I don’t suppose any of you would be up for negotiation?” Sylvester asked.  “I’ve been watching you.  I know half of you can’t stand Duncan and the other half of you don’t feel at home here.

“I can stand Duncan, and I like it here,” Ashton said.

“There’s overlap,” Sylvester said.


“I’m just floating the idea.  Planting the seeds in your heads.  There’s got to be a better way.  A way that Abby gets all the animals she could want, and Lara gets to feel safe.  A way that Emmett gets to have the rest of you.”

Emmett felt Lara clutch him tighter at the mention of her name, claws digging past fabric and into his shoulder and side.

“You left me out,” Ashton said.

“You can stand Duncan, and you like it here, remember?” Sylvester asked.

“Oh.  Ok.”

Emmett spoke, without realizing he’d meant to.  “That isn’t what I want.  Them.  That’s not what I need.”

“Emmett?” Sylvester asked.  “You sound younger than you look.  It’s nice to meet you.”

Emmett didn’t respond to the pleasantry.

“What do you want, Emmett?” Sylvester asked.  “I can’t promise the world, but I can’t just see them raise up another generation of Lambs, fake or not, and let it be without at least offering.”

“I want to negotiate, like you said,” Emmett said.

Excellent,” Sylvester said.  His voice was coming from over where Duncan was.  “Where do we start?  What do you want, Emmett?”

Emmett was not a boy of many words.  He’d gotten out of the habit of talking, after years of being sick and years of isolation, being stuck in a lab with nobody to talk to but the doctors who asked him things about his condition and nothing else.

He took a long moment to think carefully about what he wanted to say next.  Whether the others would agree with this, even though they had discussed it before.

He had been a major transplant to an artificial body.  There hadn’t been much to do while he grew up, in a sleepy, specialist Academy, so they had given him every test under the sun.  When Professor Hayle started looking for the special cases, the unique brains, his scoring had been just high enough to get a cursory look.  There hadn’t been many to pick from, as evidenced by the collection of Abby, and he’d been brought along to round out this secondary group.

A benefit of being quiet was that one could listen, and he’d listened.  He had been there while they had discussed strategy, all the individual tools and tricks.  It had started, according to Mary, back in Radham.  A woman who knew Sylvester and the other Lambs had appeared to deliver a note.  The Lambs had talked to her.

And when they had talked about something that the woman had shared with them, that might be useful as leverage, he had taken a risk, and he had shared a detail.

Now he would share it with Sylvester.

“I was sick, once,” he said.  “They gave me a new body.”

“They gave me a new brain, kind of,” Sylvester quipped, as if this was the most casual conversation in the world.

“Yes,” Emmett said.  “Before they did that, they gave you a drug, to wipe away your memories.  But for me, my situation was bad.  I had to get surgery right away, or I would have died.”

There was silence, now.  No quip, no casual conversation.

Sylvester had already followed this thread to its logical conclusion.

“They gave me the drug after, but it wasn’t enough.  I remember things,” Emmett said.  “And these things relate to what the other Lambs have told me.  You, me, Mary Cobourn, the boy who was put together like a living stitched-”

“Gordon,” came the voice.

“-and Jamie, and countless others.  You asked the Baron where the children go.  It seemed to matter to you.” Emmett said.  “I was almost one of them.  I can tell you what I remember, that all the rest of you don’t.”

There was no response.

“We can negotiate,” Emmett said, to the darkness and the clouds of poison. “I’ll hear your offer.”

Sylvester didn’t make one.  Minutes passed, and the gas began to dissipate.  When it was all gone, so was the rogue Lamb.

Emmett nodded to himself.  I’ll hear your offer when you’re ready to make it.

He looked at Ashton, who stood to one side, looking intrigued at the goings-on.

He crossed to where Duncan had collapsed, still holding Lara against his chest and bearing Abby and Quinton on his shoulders and head, respectively.

Duncan’s face had been painted on with ink during the conversation.  ‘Wanker’ had been drawn across his forehead, the end of his nose was now blue, the space between nose and lips and his lips painted to make him look like a cat or a dog.

Bending down, careful not to drop those he already held, he set down Abby, and scooped up Duncan and the fallen dogs.

“Time for bed?” Abby asked.

Emmett nodded, letting Abby and Quinton lead the way to their dormitory.

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89 thoughts on “Black Sheep – 13.3 (Lamb)

    • Plan is same as the old plan, with a few changes. -Duncan

      Is Duncan the type to leave out words?

      Shorter than Duncan, taller than the three experiments that Emmett was standing by.
      – Two of them are on top of him.

      “I don’t suppose any of you would be up for negotiation?” Sylvester asked. “I’ve been watching you. I know half of you can’t stand Duncan and the other half of you don’t feel at home here.
      -missing end quotation

      his frenulum and lips painted to make him look like a cat or a dog.
      ~The facial frenulum is inside the mouth.

    • “You asked the Baron where the children go. It seemed to matter to you.”
      -Is Emett implying he was there, listening? Should it be ‘seems’?

    • Not a typo, but:

      “They had stepped into a sectioned off area beside a store, where outdoor fixtures and gardening things had been stowed outdoors for customers to look at, much of it chained to fixtures so it couldn’t be readily stolen. ”

      – fixtures used twice referring to different things, is kind of awkward

    • “his frenulum and lips painted to make him look like a cat or a dog”
      – you mean philtrum. The frenulum is inside the mouth and not visible.

  1. It’s really interesting watching Sy’s tricks from the outside. Singling people out, building a rapport, and just generally being manipulative.. And the mind games and endless second guessing is off the charts.

    I really want to know what’s going through Sy’s head right now, after hearing that. The Lambs definitely have at least a little bit of leverage over him to work with now.

    • Definitely something Sy wants to know about. The mystery of Sy’s origins is one that’s been around since the beginning of the story. Normally in a novel it would be a much bigger deal but Sy doesn’t seem to think or talk about much, so I assume he didn’t care that much. Although, there was that time he told Lillian about why he saved those indentured people back in Lugh. Maybe it affects his character more than he lets on and it’s the reason he’s so fixated on children. I assume (and Sylvester probably assumes) that he was just some unremarkable and poor kid that got captured or sold to the academy.

      • Definitely. Sy cares very deeply for children (in his own way). The fact that he absconded mid-conversation with the new Lambs (are they technically “Lambs”?), instead of pushing his advantage says a lot. He was, I’m presuming, very shaken up by that revelation, and now needs to do some rethinking.

        And the Lambs now know that Sy wants what Emmet has, which makes him at least a little bit predictable (assuming Ashton or someone reveals what happened in the inevitable debriefing).

        Come to think of it, that debriefing and seeing all the reactions to Sy should be great (especially all the first impressions). I love seeing how the main character is perceived by others. Every mention of Sy’s name this arc is fun to see.

        • If Lara didn’t have the presence of mind to transmit that conversation to Nora, I will be highly disapproving of the fear instinct programming the doctors put into those two.

    • Emmett wasn’t there, he heard about Sy’s question from the Lambs. The Lambs heard about it from Emily. Emily’s in Radham at Sy’s suggestion so that she could deliver his message to the Lambs.

      • It’s the way the sentence was phrased. Someone saying ‘You seemed to be X’ is generally implying they were present at the time. Emmett wasn’t there, though.

  2. We pretty much already know Emily is the woman that sent Sy’s letter to the Lambs/talked with the Lambs. It’s confirmed in this chapter because she is the only one to hear Sy ask the Baron where the children went. If Emmett remembers his time in that ‘place’, and he remembers so many Lambs, it raises so many questions. The Mary Cobourn mentioned by Emmett is the original one, not the clone that we know, right? Is there a place where all the children the Academy experiments on are sent, since Emmett remembers the Lambs but was ultimately sent to a different Academy? If this place is where the children stay before getting their memories wiped, why would Emmett remember Gordon, since Gordon was made and not modified? If it’s a place where children go after they’ve been modified or made, why don’t any of the Lambs remember Emmett?

    It’s pretty cool to see how easily Emmett turned the tables on Sylvester. Sylvester wanted Emmett to tell him what Emmett wants and then manipulate him from there. Instead, Emmett tells Sy that he has information Sylvester wants. Buyer and seller swap places.

    Damn Sylvester was pretty harsh on Duncan. He really doesn’t like him. I can totally imagine him doodling on Duncan’s face in the middle of the gas while talking to Emmett. I’m surprised he didn’t do something relating to chickens though, that’d definitely send a message through 😀

    • I read that section not as Emmett remembering all of the other Lambs, but instead him listing names of the other Lambs who most likely passed through the same area, where they “send the children”. If he actually had memories of each Lamb passing through there, that would be incredible, and it would also mean that he was there for a long time before they wiped his memory, which would be very odd.

      As a side note, if these are actually memories of the other Lambs, how is Mary Cobourn there? Her clone was the product of a rogue doctor, if I’m not mistaken; I was under the impression that he simply disposed of her body, or recycled her meat to be used in the clone process. If she actually got sent somewhere (so Lamb Mary could replace her), does that open up the possibility that she might be alive still?

      • Yes, Emmett was saying he had memories of the area the children get sent to because he didn’t get wiped thoroughly enough…Sy would love to have that information so he can go there and do something about it.

        He is not saying he remembers THEM (the Lambs) at the place specifically.

      • Come to think of it… we only have the Lambs and their doctors words for how old they really are, don’t we?

        I mean, it probably isn’t likely they’ll end up being older/younger than they thought, but still.

    • Well, a boy with Gordon’s face would have been there. How much else of him ended up Gordon is a different question. But yeah, I agree he’s not literally saying he saw them all, I’m pretty sure the timing is all off. The original Mary would have been there years later.

  3. Oh my. Emmett just dangled the one piece of bait that Sy would be willing to risk it all for. Are we sure he’s not a fisherman?

    And the ammount of fucks given by the New Lambs about Duncan getting vandelized? Zero. Also Emmett had him pegged.

  4. Poor Duncan. He just can’t win. He’s under attack on three different sides and doesn’t even know what he’s doing wrong half the time. Duncan might be the most relatable character wildbow has ever created. For me at least.

    • Same here.
      He’s one of very few characters in this story that I could see myself getting along with on a personal level.

      • I don’t think Duncan lacks empathy. What we see is just someone who hasn’t grown up as part of a strictly close-knit team being introduced to situations where he’s forced to play the part with kids who have trusted and worked with each other forever, and others who are just really hard to manage. Put any of us in the same position and we wouldn’t do any better.

        What really trips him up is his initiative. He’s conditioned to try to take the lead in an academical context where you can always rethink your position. On the battlefield that makes him both intellectualize things, confusing himself, AND act impulsively to try and get ahead of anything that could take away his control of the situation, resulting in mistakes and him looking like an ass.

        The key thing about the Lambs is that they’re supposed to play off each other and remain flexible. Lilian got in young enough to adapt to that and Mary already had experience plus a personal need to be part of a group. But Duncan’s ingrained priority is to work towards singular goals and always try to put himself forward among his peers which just doesn’t translate to practical teamwork without the experience to back it up. He’d have been better off by fading more into the background, observing and supplying the team as necessary the way Emmett is doing and Lilian used to. But he can’t, because Hayle expects him to be the groups’s leash. He really is very relatable.

        • If not a lack of empathy, then selfish ambition. Note that he never gives a second thought to betraying the team to their superiors. He sees the lambs and any other project he’s given as stepping stones to his goal of running an academy or becoming a noble’s doctor. He doesn’t truly see them as friends. And that’s the problem. Your last paragraph touches on some of that.

          • He never betrays his team to their superiors, in his mind they’re all on the same side and he’s far more used to bringing important things to adults’ attention for brownie points than keeping secrets from them to potentially earn brownie points with colleagues whom he barely understand. He doesn’t see the others as friends because he can’t relate to them most of the time even though he’s trying. Duncan isn’t the problem, the problem is the fundamentally impossible position he’s been put in. As I said, nobody reading these stories would do any better.

          • I think I would, but I’d probably be so angry with the Academy that I wouldn’t get the chance. I’m not the sort of person who can kill without a strong moral reason, either.
            On the other hand, I’d be fascinated by their handsigns, their science, and their methodology. If they were working against the Academy and the Crown instead of for them, I think I’d get along really well with them. Assuming I didn’t annoy Sy too much.

  5. I was really hoping he’d leave Duncan alone. What does it say that I was more concerned for him than for Sy? Well, not that much, since I’ve always felt my liking for Sy to be wavering at parts (not a bad thing all told though). But god damn it, Duncan is just getting shit from everyone.

    Like, I get it, it fits with what Sy would do and Duncan’s inexperienced to handle it… but it’s like, almost (*almost*) predictable. I’m not sure if there’s a trope for it, but I tend to see it a lot in some fictions where the new guy/differing opinion person is given the humiliation conga (is that what it’s called?) or treated like dirt for not being with the main cast in ways.

    Again it all fits with what Sy would do, since he’s a bastard, but the Lambs have done it to Duncan as well and now his new group seems to dislike him as well…

    I don’t know. It’s only the third chapter, so maybe things will be different, but I’m left feeling uneasy as to how things will continue.

    • It’s not so much a trope as it is common psychology. You have a tight nit group that works well with each other and shares a common bond. Then a newcomer joins who is constantly snitching to the boss and generally only cares about himself. He’s not going to endear himself very well.

      In the military we call them Blue Falcons, Which is basically an alternative to “buddy fucker”.

    • If no-one likes you, it’s probably due to your actions. The major event we saw with Duncan was him screwing over the lambs to get a leg up. Then he tries to pretend that’s not what he’s doing. It’s like Rick, Sy tells him, he doesn’t like Rick, because Rick is pretending to be something he isn’t. Duncan is the same, same as the professor Emmett mentions.

  6. It’s frustrating to see how poorly Duncan is treated even though he does nothing wrong. That goes for both story and comments.

          • Sy has done a lot more morally wrong things than that. He’s gotten better since he started wearing that ring, but even now he doesn’t think about other people’s pain that much. Remember when a cart driver offered to take one of the lambs to a hospital since they were pretending to be hurt and they shoved him out, ran him over, and left him in a city filled with flaying spiders?

            They are not nice people.

      • Yeah, but Lillian was at least treated nicer in the comments.

        And the other lambs also seemed to be more welcoming to her. It was mostly Sy and not the whole team that gave her a hard time.

  7. ” Not a bad man, exactly, not a stupid man, but sometimes careless. Every time Duncan spoke, a small part of Emmett worried it would be a careless sort of speaking, and one of the others would get hurt.”

    I know that feeling Emmett. That feeling of someone about to say something STUPID and problem causing.

    Also, I’m thinking Emmett could be some sort of recycled Gordon, Or maybe even Rick. The former would explain the dog and Lambs in his memory.

    • Duncan doesn’t cause problems with his carelessness, he’s just bad at solving them when they crop up(which leads to Sy being able to easily destroy him by simply setting a bunch of hurdles in front of Duncan and letting him trip of his own accord), and he’s not particularly able to understand inhuman psyches like Lillian can, which leads to him alienating the experiments.

      • Actually….. he does…. it was stated in the first chapter of this arc how he accidentally grabbed Abby’s ponytail because he didn’t want her going to investigate something. He was careless with his actions and caused her pain.

      • He’s also not good at handling experiment-folks. Like, at all.
        He considers them almost openly as tools and expects of them to follow orders as trained soldiers would, despite knowing they come from delicate not-entirely-successful brain-related projects.
        That might work for dumb beasts, but not with people.

        He’s courteous enough when things are going as he wants them to, but as soon as there’s some divergence he completely foregoes their respective sensibilities. He also sucks at having plan Bs for those instances, which should be the largest part of the work when leading a freshly assembled party of experiments.

        Isn’t this the second time Emmett explicitely held off from hurting him in a few hours ?
        Not even sure he’d learn a lesson that way, really. Would probably blame the violent experiment unable to respect his authority or something.

        Quite the poor leader in the current situation.

        • While grabbing Abby’s ponytail definitely was a mistake, silencing someone who’s about to utter important information with a raised hand and a “Sssh” is hardly inappropriate, and if Emmett truly hurt him for that, he would have been right to blame him for that.

          But you’re totally right with Duncan sucking at Plan Bs.

          • Appropriate for a human, maybe (the second shush was rather condescending in that regard). He keeps forgetting he’s the only one around.

            He admitted to hurting Abby because it was obvious enough. He didn’t notice his sudden gesture and noise scaring Lara, or Emmett’s reaction to that. As long as he doesn’t notice, he cannot adapt his interactions.
            Oh well, we’ll see how bad it gets before it gets worse.

            Sylvester’s next ‘message’ could feature a broomstick glued to a blind donkey.

    • The similarities between him and Gordon occured to me too, but I imagine its more like he’s based off some of research behind Griffin than actually containing anything that was physically Gordon. For some reason my mind jumped to that random kid who appears in the first chapter. Do not ask why.

    • I don’t think he’s rick. Emmett mentions being small and sick, and Rick most definitly was not. And the other Lambs would have recognized him or caught on if he had been sent post op to the orphanage.

      • Emmett’s head and some major organs were transplanted into another body. It might have actually been Rick’s body Emmett got transplanted to. Keep in mind the theory has absolutely no proof besides the fact that Emmett’s body is big.

  8. Ok, Emmett definitely seems interesting. Probably my favourite out of the new lambs so far. Also, I like how Sy set up the encounter. I really love seeing protagonists from other viewpoints, but im glad he wasnt just running rings around the little lambs. I wonder if we’ll find out where Sy came from?

  9. I don’t much care for Emmet, but Duncan is getting better and better by the chapter! I think he might be one of my favourite characters by the time this is over.

  10. Giving you props for character depth in this chapter, Wildbow. Dunno if it was the PoV or what, but all the characters came through very clearly in this one.

  11. You know…. It’s kinda funny. People hate on Duncan a lot and then people stick up for him. But people also hate on Sy all the time and people just seem to accept it as normal. As I see it, one of my biggest problems with Duncan is I’m noticing little to no personal growth. He just keeps making the same mistakes. Sylvester however IS in-fact growing as a person. And given his shorter life-span…. growing quite quickly. Sylvester is a lot like Skitter/Weaver where he’s done bad things for good reasons and is still finding his way, while Duncan just seems to stagnate. I believe Duncan has the POTENTIAL to be a great character, but he’s just wasting it.

    • Oh…. and I know some of you might point to how Duncan let himself get gassed instead of screwing over the entire group…. but that wasn’t really a choice. Sylvester QUITE CLEARLY outlined how if Duncan didn’t do as he wanted he wouldn’t just be admitting he didn’t care about the others, he would be actively spiting them to get a worse result for all involved to only for the same thing to happen to him anyway. Duncan may be careless but he’s not stupid; This wasn’t a choice.

      • I think the main reason Duncan isn’t showing much signs of personal growth is because he’s been shoved into a situation where he isn’t wanted with high stakes and where everyone is extremely quick to shut him down.

        Not to say that some of this isn’t warranted or necessary, personal growth is by no means achieved without challenge. It just seems like Duncan is the kind of person who needs a few weeks to really chew through an idea or situation before he can really start to grow instead of being forced and berated into the growth. Unfortunately Duncan doesn’t have a few weeks to introspect and navel-gaze, he has to do it all on the fly while dealing with his current situation.

          • Also, Duncan is there only for a comparative limited amount of time with much less focus, while Sy is obviously the focus and to top of that explicitly moldable, so it isn’t surprising that Duncan shows much less growth than Sy so far.

    • I think that part of the reason for Duncan’s lack of growth is that he has, so far as we know, mostly been going through “business as usual”. He’s spent a bit of time around the Lambs, but not enough to really think of them as people. (The Lambs didn’t seem to be trying to help.)

      I wonder what people would think of Lillian if we’d first seen her through a few arcs of her early months.

  12. “They carried out the original plan, doing a quick circuit of the neighborhood, with the building they were staying in somewhere near the center of the loop. The building was one of Bergewall’s dormitories, but maintained more vacancies than most due to its distance from the building.”

    Bergewall is obviously a typo, but even with it corrected to West Corinth, the second sentence makes no sense to me due to the second “building” – the building was distant from the building?

  13. No matter if you like Duncan or not, you have to admire that Wildbow manages to create a character that can stir so many feelings in the comments!

  14. I’m confused on something. How does Sylvester know who all of the fake Lambs are already? He only just laid eyes on them, what, a couple hours ago? Where did he get all this information so quickly?

    • Sy’s been following and listening to Team B[ait] for a while, most likely. They didn’t exactly use very good code or anything.

  15. I like Emmett. He’s one of those characters who keep Wildbow’s stuff out of the ludicrous pits of grimdark by being a decent human being through and through*. He’s too kind for this profession.

    *Not that they’re the only feature which does so.

  16. >Emmett nodded, reaching. The lamb roused some as it was transferred into his arms, then stretched, poking into the muscles of his stomach and his ribs. It settled down in the cradle of his arms.<

    At first I read that as Emmett having some kind of absorption ability or being able to manipulate or open up his body, with the lamb now nesting inside of him.

  17. Sylvester in the shadows like that is such a treat. I’m sure he was thinking of how cool/threatening he’d look while in the middle of noxious, knock out gas.

    Duncan is an interesting character who I personally dislike because of his rudeness to the biological superweapons, his inability to adapt and what him making such careless mistakes. I understand why he does it and to an extent I empathize. However someone can be interesting, someone can evoke empathy, while still being annoying.

    To that extent I’ve always supported or really liked Sylvester since chapter 1. His ruthlessness and, heh, devastating intelligence makes him incredibly interesting, at least for me. I’d probably cheer Sylvester on regardless of moral considerations.

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