Thicker than Water – 14.10

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“Why me?” Mary asked.

Evette lay on the bed, working hard to breathe.  Her vision had cleared up from what it had been, but that only let her see just how extensive the damage was.  In the gloom, tubes ran in and out of Sylvester’s chest, leading to an external heart that lay on the table, pumping its mechanical rhythm.  The heart was flesh and bone, the bone shell encapsulating the upper left quarter and the bottom right.  With every beat, the corners of the two quarters clicked together faintly.

Two men were in the room, a rebellion doctor that stood by the window, smoking, and a soldier who had positioned himself by the door, so he could read by the shaft of light that came in through the crack in the door.

“You’re working on making us available to you again,” Mary said.

“Yes,” Evette murmured.

“You could have picked anyone else for this.  But you picked me.”

“The mission comes first,” Evette said.  “And you won’t lose track of that.”

Mary, faceless and distorted around the edges, standing in the dark, turned her head, taking in the room.

“Right?” Evette prompted Mary.


Mary seemed angry, but Evette wasn’t willing to push it or wonder why.

Better to muster her forces.  Hours were passing, she was supposed to be checking in to rescue Shirley, and instead she was lying in a bed in a dark room with rain pattering against the window.  Men’s voices in other rooms suggested an ongoing discussion between Mauer and his men.  She couldn’t make out the words, or really distinguish Mauer’s voice from the others, but one speaker’s voice definitely set the pace for the others.  There were longer pauses following it as others considered their words, and nobody interrupted or jumped in to add their thoughts to the tail end of any statements.

As discussions went, it was serious and methodical.

Mary spoke, looking in the general direction of the group of men in the other room, “Mauer isn’t cooperating.  I’m not sure there is a mission at this point.”

Evette looked at the shadowy lump that was the mechanical heart.  It didn’t keep as steady a rhythm as she would have liked, and it made her feel particularly out of sorts as she felt her pulse maintain a different course than her thoughts and feelings did.

“All part of the plan,” she murmured.

“No it isn’t,” Mary said.

“Don’t be that way, hon.  You and I, we can learn to dance,” Evette said.  “We could have gotten along.”

“There’s something Sylvester and I share in common,” Mary said.

“Yeah.  Fine.  I get it.”

“If you’d existed, Sylvester wouldn’t have.  I wouldn’t have.”

I get it.  Lordsy.  So you’re keeping me at arm’s length.  Fine.”

“And I’m not going to let you pretend.  No lies.  No disruption.  If we do this, we’re going to do it right.  I can stand separate and do that because there was never going to be a Mary and Evette.  Gordon and Evette?  Yes.  Helen and Evette?  To be sure.  But our stories never converged.  I was a bad seed and you were the problem solver.  At best, you would have killed me.”

“No lies, no disruption.  I can try that.”

“Shirley is a priority.”

“Not that I’m arguing, but I didn’t expect that from you.  You’re not exactly the warmest or softest.”

“I have my weak points.”

“Lillian.  But Lillian isn’t here, nor is she even liable to find out.  I can’t imagine that you’re representative of any part of Sylvester that’s compassionate.  Not given who you are, where you come from, and how you operate.”

“No,” Mary said.  “But we made a promise.  We hold to that.  Sylvester did when he promised Lillian and Emily that he would kill the Baron.”

“And you’re that?” Evette asked.  “That drive?”

“I don’t know,” Mary said.  “I don’t think it’s that cut and dry.  But maybe a part of me doesn’t want to be used by someone I can’t respect.”

“Percy?  No, this is his thought process too.  Him and the Academy.  You represent that too, even going back to the night he shot you in the knee.  I knew my instincts were good when I turned to you.  You won’t let us take any garbage from Mauer, either.  You don’t like being manipulated.”

“We don’t mind being manipulated if it’s someone we respect,” Mary said.

Evette cocked her head to one side.  That line bore some thought.  It was true, in a way, but at this stage, there was nobody they respected and trusted enough.  Could there ever be?  Was it part of why they didn’t want to get involved with Fray?

Did it color their interaction with Mauer?

Looking across the room, she saw the soldier with the book wasn’t reading, but was staring at her.  Was it her little head movement that had drawn his attention?

Mauer’s men were good at what they did.  Alert and effective.

He lowered his lead, facing his book, but she was pretty sure that, in the gloom, he wasn’t taking his eyes off her.  Still watching.

“We’ll need help,” Mary said.  “Work on bringing back the others.”

“Not like I can do anything else,” Evette muttered.

Helen first.  Helen was safe, predictable as an element.  Stable, and relatively unchanging over time.  Her act had become more refined, less like a mask she wore, but the monster beneath the skin was more or less the same.

That monster was angrier now, bloodier, more dangerous.  But more or less the same.  The same measures worked for winning her favor and for staying out of her clutches in the here and now as the measures and safety protocols of four or five years ago.

Jamie was next.  Jamie the younger, the one she’d seen as she had blacked out.  One of the few old memories that Sylvester held onto with any ferocity or clarity.

She was working on Gordon when the door opened.

Mauer stood there.  Two piping hot mugs of tea were in the palm of his oversized hand, which he held with his other hand to keep steady.

“You’re awake,” he observed, as he crossed the room.

“Yes,” she said.

“He’s been awake for some time,” the doctor said.  “He’s been talking to himself under his breath.  Incessantly.”

“Fever?  Infection?”

“No, and no.  Nothing physiological, I don’t think.”


Evette raised her head up to look at Mauer as he came to stand beside her bed.  He took care in lowering a mug of tea to the bedside table, just beside the artificial heart, before lifting the other with his good hand.

“If you would, Mackenzie, would you help him sit up?  I don’t want to speak to someone that’s lying down.”

Silent, the soldier by the door rose to his feet, put his book down, and walked around to the other side of the bed.  He put one arm under each of her armpits and raised her up, propping up pillows behind her.

“Thank you,” Mauer said.  “I’d like to speak to him alone, now.”

“Shall I guard the door?” Mackenzie asked.

“You can.  You can listen in and interrupt if you think I’m in danger.  But give us the illusion of privacy in the meantime,” Mauer said.

The soldier gave him one short nod, then left the room, closing the door behind him.

Evette reached out for the mug, but the handle was too hot to hold.  Mauer had held the cups in the one hand?  Was it supposed to be a show of strength, or did he just not care?

“You know what I’m going to ask,” Mauer said.  “You’ve been talking to yourself, so I would think long and hard before happening to lose your voice now.  I’ll end you if you try to be clever.”

Evette nodded.

“Speak,” Mauer ordered.

“I left West Corinth because I broke from the Lambs.  I came here because one of them, a new Lamb, he’d been taken as a child, and unlike many others, unlike…”

She hesitated.  Would it be see as a trick to imply she wasn’t Sylvester?

“…Me,” she decided, “he remembered details.  He was taken and he remembered what people said.  And what they said was that the children went to Gomer’s Island.  A number of them.  To something called the Block.”

Mauer nodded.

“Strip away everything else I am, everything I’ve been cultivated to be, everything I want to be, and I’m always going to look out for the children.  I’m always going to protect them, and shelter them.  I tried to set something up in West Corinth…”

The ‘I’ here was Sylvester.  Evette wasn’t so invested in it.  It made her sound, she realized, very insincere.

“I hope it works,” she said, without passion.  Maybe the fact she was relying on an artificial heart to live would explain it.

“If you’re trying to distract me-”

“No!” Evette interrupted.  Then, thinking about her position, she softened her voice.  “No.  It’s just, it was my motivation for coming here.  I was intercepted by the nobles.  Brought before the Infante.  Then things spun out.”

“I almost believe you,” Mauer said.  He lifted the tea to his mouth to drink, swallowed as a kind of punctuation, then added, “Almost.”

She reached for the mug at the bedside table.  Still too hot to touch.

“What else do you know?” Mauer asked.

“Not much at all.  It was a lead, a starting point.  I wanted to get away, to focus on something else.  In the last moments, when I thought you finished me for good, I wanted to… to communicate it.  To not let that thread go untied.”

Mauer walked around the bed, over to the window.  With the lights on inside, it would have been hard to make out the world beyond the thick, rain-streaked glass.  He stared out at the dark city, drinking his tea.

He was taking his time to answer.

“You know something about it,” she said.

Mary, Helen, and Jamie all watched the man with keen interest.

“I chased down that thread,” Mauer said.  “That winding road was what led to me meeting with Genevieve Fray in the first place.  Not so long after the mass sterilization and the chemical leash was inflicted on the public.  We found two parts of the same lead and followed it.  Oddly enough, it started with you.

“Me?” Evette asked.

“The Lambs.  You uncovered Percy’s plot to seed the upper class with sleeper agents, children who would be programmed to kill their parents, he fell into Cynthia’s clutches.  Percy found me.  Genevieve found Cynthia.”

Evette nodded.

“From there, we started discussing ideas and priorities.  It eventually led to the meeting at Brechwell.  The one you joined.”

Evette didn’t interject.  She wondered if her selection of Mary had had some prey instinct feeding into it too.  Some subconscious connections pointing to Percy being relevant, and thus Mary being key.

Mauer turned around.  He leaned against the thickest branch that supported the window, and sipped at his tea.

“You appear slated to walk this path, Sylvester Lambsbridge,” Mauer said.  “Every time the topic is raised, you appear as part of the greater picture.”

“Maybe,” Evette said.  She picked up her tea, avoiding the tubes and the beating heart, shifted position, and sipped at it.

“Maybe,” Mauer agreed.

They drank their tea, each thinking about what to say next.  Mauer seemed very relaxed, not inclined to be aggressive or counterattack.  It made her uneasy, because he had seemed agreeable before, before he had turned on her.

Maybe he knew that.

Outside, something screeched.  The screech took on a different sound as the source drew near, moving very quickly, before it flew past the window, making the entire building shudder fractionally.  The screech took on a different tone as the creature started moving away rather than moving closer.

“A small war started somewhere in this country,” Mauer observed, glancing at the window.  “Hundreds or thousands will die because of it.  People will lose loved ones.  The Crown will, if they don’t win outright, at least take an eye for an eye.”

“But you intend to fight that war?  You sacrificed soldiers to kill nobles.”

Mauer drew in a deep breath.  “You’re right.  It seems to be an undeniable reality.  They can never lose.  I thought, if they would kill one of ours for every one of theirs we killed, we could at least ensure we killed their best.  My comrades and soldiers are prepared to fight on that sort of battlefield, with those sorts of rules.  But when it came to Fray, I saw her maneuver against the Academy as a net victory for her.  Do you understand?  I thought perhaps we had a way of hurting them more than they hurt us.  She and I thought that Gomer’s Island was one of the best ways to achieve that.”

“What is it that makes the island special?” Evette asked.

“Imagine that New Amsterdam encapsulates the whole of the Crown States, if you will.  Imagine that it is representative of everything from west coast to east, arctic circle to the southern border.”

“I can do that,” Evette said.  She held her tea in both hands now.

“Gomer’s Island is the rebellion, in the midst of that expanse.  Small, isolated, an ongoing rebuke.  A condensation of the Lughs and Wickerhills, the Sudburys and the Lonshires, a place where the stubborn, the pious, and the recalcitrant reside.  A pocket of resistance.  It has taken many forms over the years, but the name should tell you what it is.  Gomorrah.  It is a heretical place.”

“I don’t understand.”

“New Amsterdam is a contradiction.  It paints itself as one thing while giving evidence to another.  In religion in particular, in a city where the Crown should have more control than anywhere else, it has the most faithful.  Gomorrah is where the faith is so often centered.  They name themselves as a place of sin and wrongness as an ongoing rebuke to the Crown and the Academies.”

“And the Crown allows it?”

“The Crown fosters it.  Gomorrah is a feast laid out for the faithful, with poisoned dishes scattered across the table.  For the starved, and the people are starved, it’s impossible to ignore.  But partaking leaves one vulnerable.”

“And the missing children find their way there?”

“Found.  Genevieve and I followed the thread to its conclusion years ago, and it was a trail that ended in Gomorrah.  I still keep an eye out for any clues that might allow us to pick it up again, any detail we might chase down.  I still hold hope that we could find another way to attack the Crown.”

“There are the children, too,” Evette said.  “The ones that are being preyed on.  That’s more important than finding a way to hurt the Crown.”

“There will be children who suffer for as long as the Crown lives and the workings of the Academies march forward.”

“There will always be a Crown and always be an Academy,” Evette said.

“And we have a circular argument,” Mauer said.  “One I’ve had with myself.  Give me a choice of saving children and hurting the Crown or the Academy, and I’ll choose the latter.  Their abuses and wrongs will cause more harm in the long run.”

There was a bitter, angry note to his voice.

He sounded spent.

Powerful, dangerous, but there was a faint ragged edge to the tail end of his words that suggested he’d talked himself raw over the past day.

“I don’t think I can agree,” Evette said.  She started to speak, then stopped herself.  She had to weigh her words before speaking again.  “Jamie and I spent the winter and some of the spring in Tynewear.”

“Jamie.  He died of plague, according to my intel.”

Evette nodded.

“My condolences.”

She smiled sadly.  The condolences stung, given how Sylvester might well have lost Jamie forever, given how things stood.  He had lost the Lambs.

“We spent our time plotting how best to hurt the Crown.  We weighed plans of attack, and decided our priorities.  Given the choice, I think Sylvester would choose to spare children before he chose to hurt the Crown and Academy.”

“You referred to yourself in the third person again.”

She closed her eyes, cursing to herself.

“Go on,” Mauer said, glossing over the misstep.

“You spared us because you thought we might give you that lead.  We haven’t.”

“You haven’t.”

“You haven’t stayed here, dug, searched, or targeted people.  You haven’t gone door to door, searching for answers.  You said it yourself.  You wrapped up things in pursuing this, and then you went to Brechwell.”

“Nothing so tidy as that, but yes,” Mauer said.

“If it’s so important, then why didn’t you keep looking?”

Mauer didn’t volunteer an answer.

“Or did you make the choice?  Leave that behind, wage your war, eye for an eye, breed your primordials, and start targeting nobles with those guns of yours?”

Mauer tippd his teacup back.  He didn’t stare at Evette, or at anything in particular.  His gaze fixated a distant point.

“Because-” Evette said, before stopping herself.  A doubt in the back of her mind told her to stop talking.  It was a hard voice to listen to.  The phantoms around her weren’t strong enough or complete enough to jump into the discussion and make her stop, either.  “Because those guns, right now, they aren’t helping you much, in the grand scheme of it all.  This is their battlefield.  The costs you’re paying are too great.  They adapt to any challenge they’re faced with.”

She expected him to argue.  To tell her something about how he could adapt too, or about the choice he’d made and the rationale for it.  He was a clever enough man to come up with good reasons, and he was talented enough to frame them in a clever argument.

Instead, however, he simply said, “I can show you.”

Mauer hadn’t joined her in this particular carriage.  The beasts that pulled the carriages were unrecognizable, reminiscent of the primordials, but stable, unchanging.  Simply ugly, irregular, vat-grown life, with the strength of ten mules and mass enough to bully their way through the streets.  Not that Mauer or his people had them do so.  The drive was quiet, dark and placid, navigating a loose tide of carriages, carts, wagons and the rare automobile.

They moved onto a bridge.  The water over the side of the bridge was only darkness, the sky’s canopy obscured by stars.  It was a bridge lit by lamps that were positioned such that they weren’t reflected in the water.  A glowing structure that seemed to cross nothing but void.

Something about the mood changed as they entered another part of the city.

People were outdoors, in the rain, gathered in groups.  The number of Academy-created monsters increased dramatically from the already dramatic totals in New Amsterdam proper, with seemingly no group going unescorted.

Familiar, that.

There were more churches here.  More religious symbols.  On the rarer occasions where a carriage or cart with a lamp mounted on it passed close to a wall, Evette could see the graffiti, and much of it was religious.

A bastion of faith in the heart of the Crown States, but it was an insecure faith.  Mauer had elaborated on it some as they had made their way down the stairs to the carriages, but had refused to provide information or influence her expectations about what was to be found there.

According to Mauer, this area was littered with hidden traps.  Academy agents posed as the faithful and found their way into groups.  There were entire groups that were Academy sponsored, that invited people in, catered to them for months and years, building trust enough to draw in others, before collapsing in on them.  The people were killed or happened to disappear.

The wider streets were brightly lit, with stores and buildings on each side, with one in five being a church.  But their destination was not on a wider street.  They went somewhere where there were few lights at all, where the streets were narrow, and where parked carriages and garbage here and there made them even harder to navigate.

Their destination was a proud looking building, with pillars and broad steps, windows that nearly reached from the floors to the ceilings, and five stories of height.  The carriage stopped.  Evette climbed out, and Mauer climbed out of a second carriage, which had been following.

There were no lights on, so they took the lanterns from the carriages and brought them with them.  Evette walked beside Mauer, the tubing and artificial heart slung over one shoulder and packed into a bookbag she wore.

Mauer’s men opened the front doors, which were unlocked.  They entered the hall proper.

A library without books.

Evette looked around, noting the dust.  It was thick, and none of the weather that had blown in through the cracks in the glass had really disturbed it, except for one hallway that had patterns like sand dunes forming in the stuff.

The shelves formed something of a maze.

“Almost weeks before we arrived, there was an event,” Mauer explained.  “A great many figures were in attendance.  If you saw the Infante and his doctors, and all the other doctors that spend time in his proximity, then you would know what they were like.  Scholarly men and women in their finest dress, many wearing stylized lab coats.  They came here.  Men and women brought trays of food and alcohol.”

Evette looked at the rows an columns of shelving, and the shelves that lay against the wall, to either side of the windows.

“Later in the evening,” Mauer said.  He reached a set of bookshelves that rested against the wall, found a catch, and then hauled on one shelf with his oversized arm, before switching to his good arm to haul on the next shelf.  They swung away, hinges screaming their rusty cries.  “The doors would open.  The partygoers would make their way to the Block.”

The Block was downstairs.  The set of stairs leading down was wider than any of the hallways at Lambsbridge orphanage had been long, leading into a basement.

Evette saw the first of the corpses, lit by the lantern.

She saw the next, all tangled together, arms and ribs interlocking, making it impossible to see where one of the skeletal remains ended and the next began.  Not because they were modified.  No, they had simply been embracing as they’d died, huddled together.  The bodies had collapsed into each other.

Behind Mauer and Evette, Mauer’s men ignited lanterns and lit candles.  Slowly, the area grew lighter.  Slowly, Evette, being sure to keep the light behind her, was able to make out the details.

Bodies littered the area.

Mauer was a man of words, very effective words, but he’d been unable to convey this scene.  It was something he’d needed to show, not tell.

The corpses had dessicated, or been devoured by bugs and by vermin.  There were so many, dropped where they’d stood, crumpled on the floor in awkward positions.

“The Block, based on what I was able to find out,” Mauer said, “Was an event held at this location once every two weeks.  We counted the bodies of at least eighty children and twenty grown adults here.  Our doctors tested the remains and it suggested they were all drugged to be complacent.  One by one, they would have their numbers and ratios rattled off, along with grades for psychology, wellness, nutrition, and more.”

We came from a place like this.  Sylvester did.  Jamie did.

“After each one had their numbers read out, the bidding would start.  They would be dragged away, very frequently to be experimented on.  Modified.  Quotas for the best, the healthiest, the brightest, all were demanded and met.  Money changed hands, and that money went to the Academies and the Crown, with a share going to procurers.  An endless supply of test subjects, fed through this engine.”

Evette looked around.  She could see the bodies, and she could easily imagine it was a hundred.

She could imagine it was more.

“You’re clever enough that I’m sure you can figure out what Genevieve and I figured out,” Mauer said.

The count was wrong, her gut told her.  Then, as she looked at some of the bodies, she realized that there were piles that were misleading.  A pile of two adults could easily look like three children.

But she saw the black fabric of a lab coat, and she moved it, looking closer at the long-decayed corpse, all bone and dried-on tatters of flesh that the mice and rats hadn’t elected to eat.

Academy people had died too?

She looked around at the bodies, and she realized what had unfolded.

“They killed them all,” she said.  “All of the children.  All of the adults.  And then they killed themselves?”

“Yes,” Mauer said.  “The bodies were still cooling when we made our way down here.”

She could look at Mauer, and because he wasn’t trying to hide it, because the pieces were all there, and because he’d hinted at it, she could see how it all came together.

“They killed all of these people, then themselves, all because you came looking?  Burning bridges before you could cross them?”

Yes,” Mauer said, sounding very tired again, even as he tried to put a kind of emphasis on that.

It was, in a word, the end of the story Mauer had been trying to tell her.  The final stroke of the picture he’d painted before her.

“No leads?  No clues?”

“Some,” Mauer said.  “We chased down what we could.  There were two, with one we intended to hold in reserve.”

“In reserve?  Then this trail isn’t cold.”

“It’s very cold, as trails go.” Mauer said.  “There were two people who knew the full story about how this worked, and just why they had a protocol like this in place.  One of the two people was the Duke of Francis.  I put a bullet in him, destroying his brain.  Word from within the Infante’s castle is that he drools and doesn’t eat unless a tube is pushed into his throat.”

“Leaving one person,” Evette concluded.  Her mind caught up, drawing connections.  Whisperings of the word ‘Noble’ found their way from Jamie’s mouth to her ear.  “Oh.”

“The Baron Richmond,” Mauer said.  He knelt, his hands moving in a gesture of supplication before he touched a child’s skull, one that had been picked clean by vermin.  He took a moment, praying silently, then stood.  “You utterly destroyed the man, and with that, you left Genevieve and I with no people to chase, and no people to interrogate.  I’d happily spared him in hopes of getting answers at a later date.  Not so.  I thought I had time to apply pressure on him.”

“Not so,” Evette echoed Mauer.  She felt a damaged, non-functional, broken heart plummet into her stomach.  The false heart in her bag continued to pump away.

Evette looked at Mary, who stared down at the bodies.

“Percy led you here.  He bought from this place, once.”

“He had a friend from the days he attended Radham, who gave him access.  It was a way for him to get the funds he needed to maintain his enterprise.  Given the chance, Genevieve hoped to slip into their ranks and observe things herself.  We never got that far.”

“Sylvester asked the Baron, once, about what happened to the children,” Evette said.

“Did he?  What did the Baron say?”

“The Baron laughed, and took this to his grave.  I think he liked the idea we’d find our way here, and we’d stumble on this scene, or one like it.  Maybe the bodies would still be warm.”

Mauer was only half listening.  One of his men had approached, and now whispered in his ear.

“I have to go,” he said.

Evette nodded.

“It would be hypocritical to blame you for your part in this when I had the other lead killed.  I believe you when you say you want to solve this particular riddle.  My only concern is that you will get in my way.  Swear to me that you won’t, and I’ll leave you here, to make your way.”

Evette couldn’t swear it.  Not without consideration.

She looked down at the sea of bodies, dropped where they stood.

“I want you to comb this place for evidence.  I want you to find what you can, Sylvester.  To share the information, or even covet it for yourself.  Search out answers elsewhere.  Whoever bought from this place years ago has found a new place to go for the purchase of test subjects.  I want you to find them, if you can.  You could do it with my blessing.  I want to let you.  But I need you to promise you won’t get in my way.”

She was being asked to make the choice.

She nodded.  “I won’t.”

“I wish you the best of luck, then.”

She remained in the graveyard, watching as Mauer and his men made their way up the steps to the library.  In a minute, they would be getting into their carriages, riding off to fight the next battle in an unwinnable war.

Evette spoke to her phantoms.  “Two different people were able to find this place, but something was important enough to keep under wraps that they had loyal Academy people kill themselves.”

“It doesn’t add up,” Jamie said.

Evette shook her head.

She moved her hand from behind her back.  Her fingers were crossed.  She uncrossed them.

She looked at each of her phantoms in turn.  She stopped by meeting Mary’s eyes.

“You don’t intend to keep your promise of leaving him alone,” Mary said.

“Not at all,” Evette said.  “Does that bother you?  I know promises are important to you.”

“Promises from the heart are important to me,” Mary said.

Evette nodded.  “Let’s go save Shirley, then.  And see if we can’t get my actual heart working again, without them asking too many questions.”

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70 thoughts on “Thicker than Water – 14.10

  1. And so we have a clear goal again, rather than just stumbling further on the path to self-destruction. I do hope we’re getting Sylvester back, but it feels like a faint hope.

    Also, typo thread.

    Strip away everything else I am, everything I’ve bee cultivated to be,

    been cultivated

    • “You haven’t stayed here, dug, searched, or targeted people. You haven’t gone door to door, searching for answers. You said it yourself. You wrapped up things in pursuing this, and then you went to Tynewear.”

      Should be Lugh instead of Tynewear, otherwise it makes no sense.

    • “the workings of of the Academies”

      “the block”/”the Block”
      Couple instances of each.

      “or even covet if for yourself.”

      Re: “She remained in the graveyard,”
      How do you call the final resting place of someone left unburied ? Surely it’s been done enough times in history that we have a word for it…

  2. Not a lot that can make people preemptively kill themselves (I say themselves cause I assume killing a hundred other people doesn’t even faze them). Though only the Baron and the Duke knew the full story.

    So far we know that the money from selling people went not only to the people who brought them in, but to the Crown. This implies that such selling that doesn’t give a portion to the Crown is frowned upon, but that’s not relevant here.

    What is relevant here is that Percy funded himself this way. He had to get access from a friend of his, and Fray would’ve had to do something similar. And Cynthia has relations to here. Being from the slums, maybe she was once sold here?

    And none of this brainstorming is yielding any results. It’s like an exclusive club or brotherhood, but for acquiring resources, whether it be money or subjects. It has the same partying, same food and drink, maybe the same silly hats.

    But there’s some secret to this process, maybe it’s that the kids are actually soylent green, maybe they’re all religious fanatics, maybe they want to protect the secret of the Infante’s fruity martinis. Who knows.

    • The strange part is that only the Duke and the Baron knew the details, despite being relatively low ranks in terms of absolute importance (especially Richmond, who was essentially a butt monkey nobility-wise).

      Why wouldn’t other high ranking nobles know about the specifics as well ? This is weeeeeird.
      Maybe it’s considered uncouth among them to actually work in that Twig version of flesh trade ?

      • Those were the two who Mauer and Fray knew to know about it, the leads they had. It doesn’t mean no other noble knew. For instance, it doesn’t mean the Infante doesn’t know, or that the Baron and Duke would have kept it a secret from him if he’d tried to find out.

        In fact, since the Block has presumably relocated and not shut down, *some* other Nobles must know about its new location.

        • Now the question is, since Mauer probably expected to get answers out of Richmond through some kind of torture, why not torture some other noble for the same result ?
          I might make it sound easier than actually doing it would be, but it kinda feels like he’s not trying very hard at finding the next noble who knows something.

        • I suspect somebody had to take the operation over at short notice with much chaos and little detailed documentation. Even with enhanced cognition to aid systems analysis, the noble in question will be a relative greenhorn. :/ There’s a major difference between knowing a thing exists (and occasionally seeing parts of the machine up close) and having to get dirty keeping the whole thing chugging. 😐

          This could be both good and bad for Team Wreck Gommer.

  3. Huh. Well Sy you took a great time for your vacation. Least Evette is taking up the slack. Heck she’s even off to save Shirley.

    Still the Crown definitly needs to be humbled a bit. I get tired of hearing how invincible they are, and if you are going to say how someone is unbeatable so much, you kinda have to pay off and have them beaten.

    • Saying something is unbeatable only works if you show they’re unbeatable. If you suddenly beat them, then it looks dishonest. So far, we haven’t seen any substantial gains by the anti-Crown forces to warrant us thinking that they can be beaten, but once we do, then we can start saying they’re actually beatable.

    • The Block sold one or two hundred subjects every two weeks. The US prison population of more than 2 million includes 160,000 people with life sentences. At 100 / week, it would take more than 3000 years to gather 160,000 people.

      Slight difference in scale, there.

    • Less gross!? Being sold into Twigverse slavery to become an experiment is less gross than our world’s best attempt at justice for murderers?

      • … You need to do a bit more research. May I suggest starting with 13th on Netflix and working up from there? After a week, say that again… <_<

        Rehabilitation works better, mate: the whole body of evidence not only suggests that, it jumps up and down yelling it.

        • I feel like you’re saying everything EXCEPT what it is that you object to in this world’s prisons, and have just told me to go research it to find out your point, and why you think it’s worse than the horror-show that is Twig.

          If your point is about you being pro-rehabilitation model of prison, I’m from New Zealand, and we already do that. (I assume you’re American?) A “life sentence” is about 20 years long here.

          • In America, prisons are privately owned, and exist for the purpose of turning a profit. The government pays X, but only a fraction of X gets spent on the prisoners.

            Worse, some corporations have attempted to get quotas on the books, i.e. this prison must remain at at least 75% of capacity, regardless of whether the amount of crime is that high or not.

  4. Killing all the subjects, the men, the women, the children, and even the Doctors as well?!

    This is like a scene from Lovecraft or King. I actually shuddered at the thought.

    Then again, the ability to bring back the dead, create primordial life, and even immortality is around the world here… what could they be hiding here that’s worse than any of that?

    • Slave auction for experimentees is pretty bad, maybe a noble found it distasteful and had the whole thing barred up and gassed. Or maybe that’s me being naive again.

  5. Why is there a secret society of lab rat auctions though? From what ive understood in twig so far is that the academy is pretty open with the human experimentation and slave labour. For example there was that ship of slaves in Lugh, and Sy implied many would be experimented on. Or the convicts in the sub rosa arc. I dont really get what’s the big deal with the secrecy?

    • Percy had connections there? If it’s an underground trade for test subjects and experiment fodder, and it’s a place people like Percy can go to get what they need, then it might not be Academy-approved. That’s the sort of thing that gets the Lambs coming after you.

    • Human experimentation legally requires volunteers in Twigverse. The kids in Lugh “volunteered” because their parents were willing to trade their… service… for some warm meals and the promise that the kids would be provided with the necessities. Even with this low formal hurdle you might actually run out of test subjects. Especially if you’re looking for specific traits in your subjects like in the Lamb project or the Bad Seed project. Even more so if you actually plan to go against the authorities in the end.
      So there’s demand for some… discrete avenues, I guess.

  6. Is anyone keeping track of how many double-crosses Evette and co. racked up so far? I’m counting two betrayals, maybe three if you count turning to Lord Infante in the first place as one.

  7. “They moved onto a bridge. The water over the side of the bridge was only darkness, the sky’s canopy obscured by stars. It was a bridge lit by lamps that were positioned such that they weren’t reflected in the water. A glowing structure that seemed to cross nothing but void.”

    Wildbow, how do you construct vistas like this?

    I really appreciate that you wrote down details, like the lamps, and the canopy, but how do you write the details that all assist your theme? You chose to describe nothing in so much detail until you got to the bridge – a symbol of choice, of crossings, I guess. The collective image of the lights and the black water is very familiar to us, very easy to visualize in the mind’s eye, yet undeniably ominous.

    How do you get these ideas for what to describe, and how to focus on only these bits? Is it just that you’ve read other authors who do this, or that you’ve traveled to a lot of places and noted the most interesting features? Is it just that you’ve written insanely many words, and when you write that many words you pick up on this sort of thing?

    I mean, it’s a small area of the story to focus on, and obviously I’m worried about Sylvester and Mauer and the Block, and those are all brilliant don’t get me wrong.

    But my questions, my curiosity, and my increased respect for you as an author always come from weird places. This week, this bridge was my highlight.

  8. I’m not sure if others have commented on this when it first started happening, and this is a potential spoiler for another Wildbow work so I’ll rot13 it.

    Guvf Rirggr guvat, qbrf vg erzvaq nalbar ryfr bs Ebfr? Creuncf yngre jr’yy svaq bhg gung Fl *vf* Rirggr, gung gur rkcrevzrag qvqa’g snvy naq jnfa’g chg ba gur pubccvat oybpx, vg jnf erchecbfrq.

    Tvira gung nyy znyrf ner ovbybtvpnyyl srznyr va rneyl trfgngvba hagvy gurve obql xvpxf bss gur “znyrvslvat” cebprff (V whfg znqr gung grez hc), V’z fher gur Npnqrzl pbhyq perngr fbzrguvat gung jbhyq qhcyvpngr gung cebprff.

    Fb creuncf nyy bs guvf Rirggr gnxvat bire vf orpnhfr Fl bapr jnf Rirggr?

      • Ab, ab, lbh pbzcyrgryl zvfhaqrefgbbq jung V fnvq. V jnf nggrzcgvat gb sberfgnyy n cbffvoyr bowrpgvba gb gur “Fl ernyyl vf n erchecbfrq Rirggr” gurbel ol rkcynvavat jul Fl vf abj znyr jura Rirggr jnf xabja gb or srznyr. Whfg nf srghfrf pna or gnxra sebz srznyr gb znyr qhevat trfgngvba, V’z fher gur Npnqrzl pna gnxr srznyr jbzra naq onfvpnyyl chg gurz guebhtu gur fnzr cebprff gb znxr gurz ovbybtvpnyyl znyr va nyy frafrf bs gur jbeq.

        • Qbhog vg. Erchecbfvat va znal pnfrf vf guvatf yvxr tevaqvat gur obql vagb fyhfu. Hayrff gurer jnf fbzr fcrpvny pryyf be fbzrguvat gurl arrqrq gb xrrc, gurer vfa’g nal ernfba gb qb vg. Nyfb Fl unf orra nebhaq ybat rabhtu gurer ernyyl jbhyqa’g or zhpu lbh pbhyq pnyy Rirggr bevtvanyyl. Gur cebwrpg jbhyq unir orra nobegrq rneyl rabhtu gung gurer jbhyqa’g unir orra gvzr sbe gur crefbanyvgl gb sbez. Gur guvat gung frrzf gb unir fgbccrq gurz sebz znxvat Rirggr vf gur srne bs jung fur’q or pncnoyr bs jvgu obgu gur fbpvny fxvyyf, naq zrqvpny barf. Erzrzore, guvf Rirggr vf abg npghnyyl ure, vg’f n zragny pbafgehpg. Fl vf gelvat gb rzhyngr gur Ynzof novyvgvrf, ohg fbzr ur whfg pna’g. Ur’yy arire unir Wnzvr’f zrzbel, be Znel’f fxvyy ng zheqre, be Tbeqba’f fgeratgu.

          • “I’ve remained aware of you as you cut a violent and explosive swathe through Tynewear. I read your records and I put good minds to work on analyzing data, about Wyvern and similar drugs, to project forward and to reach conclusions that your doctors wouldn’t have found until five years after you expired.” —Infante, 14.5

            Since we’re on the topic of mysteries surrounding the setting, let’s talk some more about Project Wyvern. People were commenting in previous parts that Sylvester’s expiry date of mid-twenties seemed off, that there could be more to it.

            And then there’s his mental behavior, able to reshape his thought processes to better emulate others, which in itself is remarkable despite its limitations.

            And whatever conclusions Hayle and the others may have (or already have and the Infante’s underestimated someone [hell, what if Fray’s found said conclusions too?] because they’re not nobles) found five years after the fact, the Infante knows NOW. He knows not only what Sy is capable of, but what he’ll be capable of in the future.

            I’m going to throw another guess because we filled up the Memes page on TvTropes, let’s fill up the WMG page.

            The iteratively improved brains Sylvester tried to believe in upon which he ultimately gave up after watching one too many Lambs go? He is that brain. It is him.

            Sylvester? Evette? Doesn’t matter. It never mattered to Hayle. Caterpillar, Chimera, Galatea, all these were proof of concept. The expiration date isn’t for Sylvester, or Evette, or whatever the old kid from the Block was called. Once Project Wyvern embraces its true destiny as a super brain meant to usher in a new age of intellectual wonder and depravity in equal, terrifying measure?

            Come the expiry date, the world as everyone knew it will be gone.

          • warycassowary, don’t buy it. Why would any of these people (Infante, Fray, Hayle) allow an existential threat to walk around freely? The Academy annihilates cities if there’s even a suspicion that someone creates primordials there — a post-singularity mind is even more dangerous than this. They wouldn’t have allowed a seed of it to exist unchecked if at all.
            Moreover, Fray would have probably already created a Singluarity, if it were that easy.

        • You fail Biology forever. That’s just not how developement works. Suggestion: look up various X and Y chromosomal disorders connected with intersex conditions. Have fun. Pay particular attention to which state is the easiest to mess up, even without epigenetic help.

  9. If the people who ran the Block killed themselves because they knew Mauer was coming, why didn’t they call in the army? The Infante’s been dying to know where Mauer is going to be. Why leave this place abandoned so Mauer can visit it again with impunity to show Sy?

    • They knew Mauer was coming, but they didn’t know when. You can’t keep an army on ready alert for a week and not leave visible signs that they’re there — Mauer would have noticed and not sprung the trap.

      Additionally, they left it as a warning for Mauer. “Don’t try this again or all these deaths will happen again, and once again it’ll be all your fault because you were already warned not to go poking your nose in where it isn’t wanted.”

      • Surely they could have at least left a *small* trap that he might not notice? Something human-sized, which would only attack him personally when he showed up, not whatever scouts went in first? A way to collapse the building on him? A scent bomb to track him by?

        I am disappointed in the Academy.

        • Mauer’s unintentionally doing Infante’s work. Every fallen noble that Infante can get his hands on is a talking corpse with information. Infante’s been actively retrieving them. As long as Mauer doesn’t kill Infante, Infante benifits.

          • The Infante calls himself the judge and executioner of all other nobles in the Crown State. He can kill any nobles he wants to himself, he doesn’t need Mauer to do it for him. And he can certainly question nobles on pain of pain or execution.

            Sure, killing many nobles for personal reasons might make him look bad, but probably not as bad as being unable to suppress a noble-killing rebellion, even in New Amsterdam, while being the ranking noble in the States.

        • Why would Infante punish a man (Mauer) so bent on punishing himself that he’ll willing send his beloved soldiers to their deaths in order to kill one other noble?

    • I suspect not much volition for the bulk of even the fairly privileged few who knew what was going to happen. If a noble who has your social network hostage tells you that the whole room and you are going to die in flames by pumping the oil and lighting the match yourself, you proceed to do that. 😐

      It only takes a small group of supervisors to trigger the failsafes almost nobody would consider would be used except as a contagion suppression measure, after all. :/

  10. Is it weird that I’m dissapointed in Mauer? Last chapter he acted very reasonable, 100% Wildbow’s villain. And here… He gives Syvette a new heart (his doctors’ time included), doesn’t question how Silvester survived the meeting with Infante, doesn’t question why Silvester was looking for him straight after that meeting, doesn’t get anything of substance from Syvette but personally escorts him to brand new lead, volunteering more information, and then lets him go. Really, Mauer?

    • He hopes Sylvester would be able to find some clue about the Block he and Fray missed, and he is willing to allow Sy become a threat to him again conditional on this. Rebellion’s situation, or at least Mauer’s perspective on it, is unpleasant enough that this is a good gambit: having Sy at large won’t worsen it considerably, while even a small probability of Sy finding and sharing something about the Block is highly desirable, since it would (somehow) skyrocket Rebellion’s chances.
      I also don’t think Mauer seriously thinks Sy is not going to betray him. He probably just thinks solving the Block would take priority for Sy, and considers it good enough.
      That said, if Sylvette is going to end up killing a shocked Mauer yelling ‘But you promised!’ sometime this arc, I’m going to be dissapointed too.

      • Quite frankly, Twigverse technology is inferior not only to Cauldron technology, but to our technology as well. Why use stitched and ratios? sure, they’d cause some breakthroughs in our universe if we knew them, but they’d be medical. A stiched is not as useful as the machines we use, and prolly can’t operate them.

        plus Gur yrnqrefuvc bs Pnhyqeba jrera’g rknpgyl grpu fniil zvaznkref, yvxr gurl nccrnerq gb or. Pnhyqeba jnf , rffragvnyyl, n fpnz gung hfrq Pbagrffn, Ahzoref zna naq gur funeqf bsRqra gb nccrne zber vagryyvtrag guna vg ernyyl jnf.

  11. I think I hate the Crown more than any other villain Wilbow made, including Gntt .
    Sure, Gntt represented some pretty sick stuff, but he was one person. Other Wilbow evil represent necessity, desire to feed, sadism, stupidity, maddness and even pure evil.

    But the Crown represents corruption, hypocrisy, oppression, pride (in the bad way) and hubris, the worst of man. Even Gntt juvyr fghcvq, cevqrshy naq bccerffvir , jnf shaqnzraqnyyl n cnja, n fghcvq cnja gung oryvrirq ur jnf qbvat tbbq. But the Crown is competent and just believes it can do whatever it wants.

    Jvyobj unf n genpx erpbeq bs xvyyvat n irel fgebat rarzl, ohg abg renqvpngvat uvf jubyr xvaq, but as we’ve seen lots of nobles crash and burn, I hope the Crown follows them before the story ends.

  12. Mauer is getting desperate now, his plan seems to be “hope Evette does something”. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if it worked.

  13. So, what could the hidden truth be… indeed, the scale of the cover-up doesn’t match the impression that’s been left behind. For instance, not very different from the Firstborn state, other than a minor advantage of having children rather than, say, modified adults. Presumably something interesting going on…

    Privately hoping that it involves either brains or ‘Life’ itself (primordial-like things, useful cells…).
    Quite curious to find out what’s intended!

    • The crown is a primordial, the FIRST primordial, and knowing what it’s capable of, refuses to allow another like it to develop freely! After all, the reason they all know how dangerous primordials are is because some must have survived their creators and ran rampant, at least for a while.

      Maybe the crown primordy was treated kindly and nurtured by its creators, and never went on an overt killing spree, and the endgame for all of the academies is to figure out humanity enough to assimilate every

  14. Curious thought, about the Block.

    It’s nothing illegal. I mean yes the Academies would like their children test subjects to have been bought legally, and perhaps if caught they may suffer legal repercussions, but the fact that the doctors killed the subjects then thereafter killed themselves means something more. The Duke made that contingency as he was in control of the plan, not the Baron, mostly because I doubt the Baron would have had the time to assert control over where the Block was.

    So if the Baron, in his power, did not want it found, did not want it traced to him, then something had been done to the children. Perhaps who they were, or how they were procured or something. We don’t know yet, it’s all very interesting.

    I love your worlds Wildbow, and despite everything else I like the Crown and Academy, despite their flaws. Significant flaws yeah, but interesting ones.

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