Bitter Pill – 15.14

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We walked a distance away from the building, and as Fray indicated a direction, I didn’t object.

“Terms and expectations,” she said.  She walked with her hands in her pockets.  Her jacket was buttoned up to the point that the collar touched her chin.  Her bearing was confident enough that it didn’t seem to bother her, where others might have found it got in the way.

“Terms and expectations?”

“For our discussion here,” she said.

“Ah,” I said.  I paused.  “Do we need those?”

“First of all, I’m not leading you into a trap as we speak.  I have no intention of harming you, misleading you, taking action against your… burgeoning faction, or allowing others to do so.  That’s not how I operate,” she said.

“I’ve gathered as much.”

“And I would appreciate if you didn’t wrap up your business here by severely inconveniencing me.”

“Ah,” I said.  “For someone as secure as you are, I’m surprised you’re that worried.”

“The Lambs are on their way, Sylvester.  They’ll be in the city before the day is out.  They’ll likely be mired in your business and mine before midnight, given the chance.”

I blinked, then began working things through in my head.  Jessie would have a better idea of timing, train schedules.  Then there were permutations: how the Lambs interacted with the wounded and dying Beattle Academy and the Horse that led it, the vectors by which they would trace their way to Jessie and me, their methods, the likelihood of attack, their interactions with local gangs, the stray children, the students, the truths and lies they could tell those same students and stray children…

And Fray, with their interactions with her, and everything that could unfold from that.

“I’m still surprised you’re that concerned.  Were we really such a nuisance for you before?”

“The Lambs were more predictable before, and one is right here, walking and talking with me, less predictable than he once was.  Obviously, given how today went.  What’s the old adage?  You don’t have to outrun the bear…”

“You have to outrun the slowest member of your camping troupe.  You’re afraid I’ll hamstring you and leave you as a nice, tied-up present for the Lambs, to better cover my retreat.

“And to better their circumstance,” she said.

Before she’d even brought up the bear analogy, I’d had the mental image of Fray in a locked room lingering in one corner of my brain.  She’d been banging on the door, while I said something witty and watched the Lambs approach at a run through the window.  I hadn’t decided on the witty thing to say, so the thought had been unfinished, a scattered image waiting to be rounded out.

Reluctantly, I banished the thought from my head.

“I’ll play along,” I said.  “No using you as bait for the bear.  Assuming you’re playing fair too.”

“I’ll play fair and try to make the concession worth your while,” she said.  She blew into her hands and rubbed them together.

My thoughts were on the Lambs, now.  It took some effort to compartmentalize them, and to keep thoughts from sprawling out from those individual points.  Too tempting, too complicated, too distracting.

Fray was my focus now.

I glanced at her hands as she rubbed them together.

She caught me looking.  “Syringes built into my fingers.  It affected my circulation and my extremities run a hair colder than normal.”

“Well maybe you shouldn’t hide syringes in your fingers, then.”

A part of me wanted to get a rise out of her, to see if she could be made flustered, and if any insights could be gleaned.

“I was pleased to see Jamie,” she said.

I gave her a sidelong glance.

“Whatever his or her name is now.”

“Her,” I said.  “Jessie.”

“I was pleased,” she repeated herself, affirming the fact.  “I really believed it when I read that Jamie had died.”

“That was the intention,” I said.

“Of course,” she said.  Then, abrupt, she said, “You’ve grown.”

This was a side of her I’d forgotten, as Fray had devolved into a greater series of schemes.  Of plots and things I had to account for, a lifeform that had been stitched together in the background, extending its reach and producing plague here and primordials there, nudging rebel groups into life.

I’d nearly forgotten I could talk to her and she could put me off balance so adroitly.  Possibly without even meaning to.

“Was a tense moment, back there,” I said.  “Thought I might not grow at all, but it happened.  I’m still short for my age.”

“You’ve grown in other ways,” she said.  “How you function, how you approach the world.”

“And you haven’t?” I asked.

“The last few years have felt like a blur.  I’ve been working on things, I’m still setting the stage for what I want to do in the future, and the weeks melt into the months, and months melt into seasons.  Time passes quickly.  I’m not sure how much I’ve changed in the meantime.”

“I’m not sure either,” I said.  “I saw a glimpse of something ugly during our first meeting, and I’m not sure if that brute of a woman that sterilized twenty-five million Crown citizens and hooked them on the water supply is the same that made the primordials or started the spread of the plague of ravage.”

“That wasn’t me,” she said.

I raised an eyebrow.  “Which?”

“The ravage.  Red plague, reminiscence, whatever you want to call it.  I wasn’t responsible.”

I stopped in my tracks.  She progressed a few more steps, stopped, and turned to face me.

“Really,” she said.

I studied her, looking for any clues in body language.  She wasn’t a proficient liar, but she was guarded.  Some of it had to do with how she kept a part of herself at bay, a weapon hidden beneath the clothes, that wasn’t a blue ringed octopus named Dolores.

“Talk to me about it,” I told her.

“I studied the plague.  Because I did think I might be able to use it, find the source, or disable it and leverage the cure for my agenda.  It’s elegant.  Elegant enough that we probably already know the name of the culprit.  ‘We’ being the doctors and scientists of the Academy.  He’ll be one of the geniuses, on par with Helen’s creator, Professor Ibbot.  I would actually like to find him, because I think he has an agenda.”

“An agenda?”

“The plague has spread far, far further than they’re willing to admit, Sylvester,” Fray said.  “There’s a part and parcel of it that remains dormant for nine to seventeen days.  The plague has erupted in Mauer’s wake and Cynthia’s wake for some time.  After violent confrontations, including the one you witnessed in New Amsterdam, we see outbreaks.  It looked like human agents, trying to make a point, pin something on Mauer.”

“Looked like?  But it isn’t.  It’s part of the design.”

“It’s punitive.  Rebels appear and fight for a city, and in the aftermath, hours, days, or two weeks later, the plague hits.  It likes the taste of battlefields, fresh or old, it flourishes, and it spreads like a wildfire, carpeting the area.”

“People are going to catch on, and when they do… the rebellion will become something they fear.  Is this the Crown?”

“I don’t know,” Fray said.  “But I’m keeping my lips sealed.  I’m waiting for the Crown to find someone to fight with that isn’t the rebellion.  Because if a cure emerges… or if the flowers don’t bloom in the wake of their battles, then it was likely them.”

“What if it isn’t the Crown?”

“If the Crown wages the war and the cure doesn’t emerge, if the plague is indiscriminate and follows them, then it’s someone else’s play.  Someone that might hold a high rank who also has an agenda of aggressive peace, even if that peace means that countless millions die or are succumbed to quarantine.  If every war means plague follows, with everyone losing the city they fought for, war loses its flavor, even for the Crown.  Things settle into an ugly stasis, with nobody making more ground, and the plague still erupts now and again as people accidentally activate the necessary trigger elements.  We get regular reminders that it exists, until such a time that it’s cured and eliminated.”

My mind ticked over the permutations, the ways it might have unfolded, with this new information.

“If that person with that agenda exists, I need to find them.”

“What if that’s not the agenda?” I asked her.  “What if we don’t settle down into a kind of peace?  What if we’re not capable?”

“Then it’s all the more punitive, isn’t it?  It might be a punishment that takes decades or centuries to recover from, if we ever recover fully from it,” Fray said.  “It would be all the more important that I find the person responsible, because he won’t stop here.  We need the answers he can provide, whatever his motivations.”

“What if they aren’t around anymore?  What if he fled to other parts of the world?”

“I don’t know, Sylvester.”

“Is this the part where you ask me to help you?  You’ve outlined the stakes, something we should all be concerned about, and now’s the part where you say that the best and brightest are Crown and Academy, that they’re people you can’t access, and you need me to infiltrate and help you access and figure out who it might be?”

“No, Sylvester.  I wouldn’t know the first place to start looking.  Keep your eyes open.  Communicate with me.  Communicate with everyone, frankly, short of telling people that this is a plague that primes itself on blood, ash, and burnt gunpowder, among other things.  Because telling them-”

“-Will kill any and all rebellions.  Including mine.  I can’t use my shiny new rebellion for anything bloody, or it’ll spread plague?  Fine.  I don’t plan to kill more than a handful of people anyway.”

“Sylvester,” Fray said.  “This is only one thing at play.  It’s a minor thing, but it’s significant.  I wanted to talk to you about what you found in New Amsterdam.  The Block.”

Which you supposedly knew about from the beginning.

“Out with it, then,” I said.

“Can we walk?” she asked.  She sounded exasperated.  “It’s chilly, and we’re standing in the middle of the street, talking at each other.  At least if we’re walking, there’s a semblance of camaraderie.”

“No traps?  You’re not trying to get me away from my people so the Lambs or the Academy can raid them?”

She sounded even more exasperated.  “Your short-term memory shouldn’t be that bad, Sylvester.  No.  I pledge that to you.  I wanted to turn the students of Beattle into a force for a reason.  If they’re yours, then it’s a distant second to what I hoped for, but it’s still preferable to them being captured or destroyed.  Really.”

I stared her down, trying to find the angle.

“What did you hope to use them for?”

“That would be telling, Sylvester.”

“More than just taking a bite out of the Academy.  You had a plan.  Was it more primordials?”

“The student body knows full well what that involves, and they would buck and rebel if I pushed for it.  I wanted to loosen the Crown’s hold.  An underground Academy that could then disseminate a greater number of back-alley doctors across the Crown states.  I was going to equip them with the truth as I understand it.”

“What you were looking for with Mauer?” I asked.  “What you supposedly knew all along?”

She gestured, indicating that we should walk.

I reluctantly started walking.  She walked beside me, rubbing her hands for a moment before sticking them into her pocket.

“I put the pieces together very early on.  Where students go, the rise of nobles, where other professors go, and where I was slated to go, should I want to work in service to nobles.  The investigation into my background, the teams of doctors poring over my work, to my Wyvern-altered mind, there were systems behind the systems.  I think they knew I knew, they felt I was too clever for what they wanted.  I happened to be looking at the Lambs and what was happening behind the scenes when someone higher up turned their attention to me.  Before I knew it, I was no longer a consideration.  The Wyvern business came out soon after.”

I studied her.  “There’s more to it, isn’t there?”

“Indiscretions,” she said.  “I was not perfect, and Wyvern was the sanitized, widely-recognized part of it.  But every student gets involved in the politics to some degree, the backstabbing, the behind-the-scenes dealings.  All of that is beside the point.  The point is that you’ve stumbled on what I stumbled onto.”

“That the nobles aren’t anything more than glorified experiments.”

“Yes,” Fray said.  She said it in such a way that I knew there was no surprise.  She had known.

“If the word gets out, the myth will be shattered.  People will be disgusted with them.  It will taint everything the nobles touch.  Legitimacy, their seeming immortality, their grace, their power and control.”

“Absolutely,” Fray said.

“Yet you decided not to use that information.  And it wasn’t because the timing was wrong.”

We walked, and we crossed from empty street to a busier one with some crowd.  Fray indicated a turn, looping back in the direction we’d come.  I obliged.

“Did you think they wouldn’t cover their weakness, Sylvester?  I put other pieces together.  I was uniquely positioned to see the greater chessboard.  My grave concern is that you are the most dangerous element possible.  Smart enough to see the truth, yet not informed enough to see that for any piece we could take, the cost is far, far too great, and reckless enough that you might take that piece regardless.”

“Flattering,” I said.  “Uniformed Sylvester.”

“You’re focusing on the wrong aspect of this.”

“Then please, inform me,” I said.

“You’re already informed, Sylvester.  This is where the recklessness comes into play.  You know exactly what the reality is.  It’s a common saying among anyone from families at dinner tables to rebellion leaders to members of the Academy.  The Crown does not lose.”

“There’s a first time for everything.”

“This wouldn’t be the first time, Sylvester.  I’m sure this has happened.  Other people, groups, and nations have devised the means by which to deliver fatal blows, in times where the Crown was younger and more vulnerable, when events conspired against it.  It isn’t easy to grow an empire, so soon after the upheaval required for the Crown to become what it is now, so soon after the rise of the Academies and everything they meant.  There have been other opportunities.”

“Yet the Crown doesn’t lose?” I asked.

“It feels wrong, doesn’t it?  Or when you consider the sheer power of the biological science and the military at the Crown’s disposal, yet pay mind to the fact that the Crown has only seized a quarter of the world?”

“They move slowly, establish their Academies, secure every region before moving on.”

“Absolutely, they do.  But Sylvester, there’s more to it.  There are regions, places I’ve borne witness to, which are sealed off.  They use things like the same cloud seeding we see at Radham, only to ensure death rather than parcel out leashes.  They use grown walls like you no doubt saw at Tynewear, only far taller, and they flood the areas on the other side with biological agents, parasites, and weapons.  They tell people that these were the places where disasters happened.  That this is why only the Academy can be trusted with the knowledge the Academy disseminates.”

I looked over at Fray.  She seemed somber.

“The Academy is the sorest of losers, Sylvester.  They suggested to us that the places they showed us were several of a handful.  I have reason to believe they number in the hundreds.  Places where primordials were loosed, where academies were reclaimed, knowledge disseminated, weapons turned against the Crown and Academy…”

“Places where people spoke of secrets that could cause irreparable harm to the Academy.”

“Yes, Sylvester.”

I fell silent.

“They have laid waste to continents, in whole or in part.  If they can’t win, then they ensure nobody can.  If they rule a world that they’ve reduced to a half the normal size, they still rule.  Given science and sufficient time, they can fix what they leveled.  When they do, the world will be theirs.  Unopposed.  The Infante, the Judge, is someone who oftentimes handles these sorts of decisions.  Even nobles like the Duke are rightly terrified of what he might decide.”

“Just like that,” I said.

“You can’t ever speak of what you’ve learned, Sylvester.  The revelations might outpace the wrath and ruin, but only to the coasts.  You will see exactly the kinds of results you desire, a breaking of the nobility’s back, and then they will use countermeasures.”

I stared off into the distance.

I looked off to the side, at the other Lambs, who were gathered around us.  For an instant, I wasn’t sure if they were my hallucinations.  Even as I looked at Evette, I wasn’t wholly sure.

I ran my fingers through my hair.

“I’m sorry,” Fray said.  “But this is the nature of the enemy I’m trying to fight.  They’re a threat which can’t be dealt too heavy a blow.  They must be battered until cracks become visible, and only then can wedges be set into place.  Then the wedges are tapped.  From the global scale they look down on things at, the taps seem comparatively minor.  You and I know the end result of that.  I even read something in your case files, about the use of makeshift wedges to topple a bookshelf and give your doctors a headache.”

I shook my head.

She sounded like she was coaxing me.  Trying to sell me on this plan.  Inviting me in, making it sound familiar.

It sounded more manipulative than anything I’d known her to do, and that was a manipulation that might have stemmed from genuine fear.

“I suppose you wouldn’t remember,” she said.  “It stuck with me.  I felt as if I got to know you when I read that in the file.  I thought at the time about having tea with you.  Something I’m still hoping for, to be honest.  I would like to be on the same side, to have tea with you before you go, before the Lambs arrive.  With Jessie too.  We could talk about more minor things.  If you knew of a cafe nearby, I would enjoy the chance to warm up these hands of mine and get to know you two better.”

I looked at her, dumbfounded.  I felt like I was in the middle of the sea, drowning, momentarily not sure which way was up.  Who was this person I was talking to?  I still couldn’t keep my footing while talking to her, and I still wasn’t wholly sure if she was this guileless by design or by intent.

“No,” I said.  Too blunt.  I softened it with a, “No thank you.  I should be getting back to my nascent rebellion.  I have students to look after.”

“I understand,” she said.  She rubbed her hands together, blowing on them, then worked one of the hands, as if the fingers were stiff.  “Could I walk back with you?”

I weighed the option.  I badly wanted to think, and I suspected I wouldn’t get another chance between leaving Fray and getting my rebellion settled.

But she’d been fair, and there were still points to cover.

“Alright,” I said.

The countless thoughts that were thrumming through my head redoubled, as I tried to juggle particulars of the rebellion with my processing of what Fray had told me.

“This is a battle we can win, Sylvester.  If you even wanted to stay with me for a little while, I could help you get your rebellion situated, introduce you to some people, show you some things.  I wouldn’t interfere.  You could do with them as you wished.  But let me show you where to best create the cracks.”

I didn’t want to give an answer, tempting as it was, when I wasn’t sure what to do.  I didn’t want to not answer either, because that showed insecurity and weakness, and I didn’t want to bare my neck to Fray on that level.

“Give me a way of contacting you,” I said.  “I’ll get back to you on that.”

Fray extended a hand, holding a card she’d pulled from one coat pocket.  I hesitated before taking it, and she shifted her grip, holding one corner between two knuckles, so no theoretical syringes could snap out and drug me.  She took hold of her sleeve and twisted it so Dolores couldn’t reach through.

I casually swiped the card out of the air, checked it, and pocketed it.

Jessie and I had found out how to gravely injure the Crown.  We had a gun pointed to their heads.  The problem was that the report of the gunshot would bring an avalanche or rockslide down on our head, or the spark would ignite the gas that thickened the air here.

Fray and I kept on walking, back toward the hotel where my rebellion was set up.  My thoughts grew more agitated as I considered the situation.  I reached for a pocket and withdrew a half-collapsed box of cigarettes.  “Want one?  Warm up some?”

She shook her head.  “No.  But it’s curious seeing you smoke like that.  A part of me still imagines you as a boy years younger, standing by the snow-dusted railing, looking out over the water.”

“You said something back then.  You asked me if I was a slave.”

“I talked to you about several things.  Your enslavement to the Academy was one.  Your beliefs were another.  When I said you had grown, I meant it.  You’ve found your way forward.”

Have I though?  I can’t pull the trigger.  I’m still cowed by the Academy and Crown.  My beliefs…

“Thank you for saying so,” I said, with false congeniality, gesturing with a cigarette between my fingers.

“There are more pleasant habits, however,” she said.  “Healthier ones.”

I shrugged and lit one with a match.  “I figure I don’t have that long on this world anyway.  My brain will reach its limit with the drugs I’ve injected into myself, and something will give.  A bit more poison doesn’t hurt.  If you have an expiration date anything like mine, then the same philosophy should extend to you.”

“Yes, I’ll pay the price for taking Wyvern eventually, but I have a lot to do, and giving up even one percent of my time feels like a shame.”

I mulled that over, thinking about what my future looked like.  I’d glimpsed it back at New Amsterdam, when Evette had taken the reins.

My mind caught on one word in what she’d said.

I glanced at her, quirking an eyebrow.  “Eventually?

“The deployment of Wyvern on you was different from my own deployment, Sylvester.  Mine was more focused, partially because of my age, partially by my design.  The benefits and consequences more narrowly defined.”

I drew a deep breath of smoke, not quite sure what to say to that.

“Does that bother you?” she asked.  “There are tradeoffs.  I’m not capable of the same improvisation you are.  I may dig deeper into other areas.  I get less benefit than you do, I suspect.”

“That’s not why it bothers me, exactly.  I thought we were more similar than that,” I said.  “That you started from near the same point I did and you walked to a different destination.”

“Does it really matter?”

‘There’s an experiment I talked to once.  They talked about how lonely it was, being the only one.  The divide that separates the likes of them or the likes of me from the ordinary Jacks and Jills.  So there was this thought, always lingering, that, hey, at least Genevieve Fray is out there.  There are commonalities.  We’re not related by blood, but at least we inject the same agony-inducing poisons into our brains on a regular basis.  Common ground, ahoy!”

I’d raised my voice a little at the end there, jogging my arm for emphasis.

“I never really thought of myself as an experiment, Sylvester.  The woman who faced me in the mirror was always a doctor, first and foremost.”

I nodded.  I drew in a breath, then said, “Maybe I see myself as an experiment because I was started young.  It’s always been my identity.”

“I would think the Lambs were your identity,” she said.

“I knew about our expiration dates within a few months of being old and learned enough to obtain and read my own file.  It’s all intermingled.  Part and parcel.  I sat there in that lab with the file in front of me, and I wrote down the words that were too long to understand.  Then I went, and I looked them up, or I asked Jamie.  Then I’d piece it together, or I’d remember the definitions and go back to the files and I’d try to decipher it all.”

I puffed for a second.  Fray didn’t speak, so I went on, “I grew up around the orphans.  I know for a fact that when ordinary kids were the age I was then, they’re still capable of being convinced that eating dirt is a good idea, or they’ll maybe sometimes once in a blue moon still pee their pants.  Or maybe that’s just orphans with their issues.”

“I imagine the point still stands.”

Point is,” I said, picking up the word and the general thrust of her statement and making it mine, “I was young as dangit when I sat on the floor of that lab and read my file by candlelight and tried desperately to figure out if there was any other possible way to read it, that didn’t say that by the time I was nineteen, twenty, or twenty-one, I was bound to be stark raving mad.  Trying really hard not to imagine my older self, unable to distinguish reality from fiction, nonverbal, whimpering at the darkness.  Unable to remember anything moment to moment, except maybe that he once had people close to him and that they’re gone.”

“I read your file before fleeing the Academy, Sylvester.  It didn’t go into quite that much depth on the last point.”

“I was nine!”  I raised my voice.  I’d surprised myself as much as I had surprised her.

Under Fray’s coat sleeve, Dolores stirred at the disturbance.  Tentacles reached out, wrapping at her fingers.

I composed myself while she calmed the octopus that lurked under her clothing.

“I might have been seven or eight, even,” I said, calm again, no hint of the anger, “It’s hard to tell, with my growth stunted as it was.  But I’m not stupid, and I’ve had time to mull it over.  It was pretty dang formative, Genevieve.”

“Of course.”

“Twenty years, Genevieve, give or take, with seven to nine of those years already spent.  Twenty years, and then as the months go by, you start thinking… well, ho, taking Wyvern once every month?  I’m out of commission for nearly a week, aren’t I?  Sometimes less, sometimes more, but it averages out that way, especially when you account for time spent in the labs, getting blood drawn.  Time doing the tests or interviewing with my disgruntled doctors or the too-nice redhead who smiles and acts nice to make up for the fact that she’s read the same dang file I have and she wants to downplay those same things that keeps ten year old me staring up at the ceiling at night.  Ten year old me grows to resent them, even damn well hating them for what they represent.”

I was gesticulating a little too much, cigarette between my fingers.  I put it back.

“A quarter of your time lost to the labs and the injections.”

“Exactly!  Ten year old me goes through the weeks and the months and he isn’t exactly one for mental accounting of numbers, but that deadline is there, always looming, and he can’t help but feel like he has only so much time, and he’s losing some of it.  And somewhere along the way, it clicks.  You get what I’m saying?”

“Best you finish your thought.”

“This ten year old, his mind runs on multiple tracks, he’s good at juggling a few lines of thought at once, and there’s been this persistent one that’s been ticking around in the back, that he can’t quite riddle out.  How can they do this?  How can they fucking justify it?  And despite not being a mental calculation type, two thoughts connect.  Twenty years, minus twenty five percent, give or take, and you have fifteen.  That’s thought one.  Then he thinks back to how they’ll handle the tormented, lonely young man who talks to his hallucinations, and he imagines sedation, a last batch of experiments on him, to squeeze out the last bit of usefulness, and then one final dose, before they give him merciful oblivion.  What am I describing, Fray?  Gets fifteen years if lucky, then a mercy killing?”

“A dog.”

A dog!  I’m treated no fucking better than a dog, not given any more years, kept on a leash.  I realized that pretty early on too, eh Fray?  Are you starting to get it?  How this plays out?  How I arrived to the conclusion that no, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scoundrel, I’m not a charlatan or a child genius or a protector of mice or any of that.  At the start and end of the day, I’m an experiment.  So I’m glad for you, Fray, if you’re free to see yourself as a doctor.  How good for you, there.  Do tell me the difference, with you getting the care of a talented wyvern-augmented professor to help you along every step of the way, while I got students working on a side project.  Let me know what this means for you.  How many years do you really have left?”

“I talked of cracks and wedges before, Sylvester.  You’re asking me to place the wedge between us.”

“That’s an answer unto itself, you know.”

“It is,” she admitted.  “If you must know, I’ll see another five to seven years.”

“No, no, there’s a rule, isn’t there?” I asked.  “With diagnoses.  Terminal ones.  They marked it out on the charts for the Lambs with the expiration dates, so this was a lesson I learned pretty damn early.  Part of a formative memory here, and I try to hold on to those.  Given predictions on Academy advancement, for every seven tenths of a year you last, you get more time.  It inflates the expiration dates.  Your ticker due to go in three years?  Now it’s four, because medicine advances that fast.  Now, the dates the Lambs got already account for that.  But you?  I feel like you’re being disingenuous.”

“Five.  A heart due to fail in three conventional years with non-Academy medical aid can last five with the Academy’s help.  There are diminishing returns, but it folds into itself too if you reach certain benchmarks.  There are other factors, advancements I’m keeping my eye on.  My estimation is that I’ll suffer the true effects of Wyvern in eight to eleven years.”

I chuckled.  “Listen to that.  If you started a new kid on Wyvern, same regimen I got, he might expire at the same time you do.  A whole ‘nother lifetime.”


“No,” I said.  I extended my finger.  “No.  Fuck you, Fray.  You don’t get to claim the rights and wisdom of being doctor and experiment both.  You don’t get to be the savior.  You’re as bad as any of them, because if the cards had fallen down differently, if you hadn’t been caught looking too hard at things they wanted to keep secret, you’d be one of them.  And you probably would have gotten your damn tea party with the Lambsbridge Orphans, and I probably would have enjoyed it!  Hell, it might have been everything I needed for me to stay with the Lambs and stay at the Academy, having a like mind, Helen getting that tea party you seem so set on, and if you could work half the miracles you seem set on promising, you could have saved Jamie and Gordon.  Perfect!  Hunky dory!”

“Sylvester, that’s not-”

Don’t,” I said, sharp enough to cut her off.  “Don’t talk.”

She fell silent.

My eye stung where tears had welled out to touch the slice at my lower eyelid.

“You don’t get to tell me to heel, Fray,” I said.  “You’re no different from the ones who made me and the ones who condoned me, so you don’t get any more say than they do.  Now, I’m going to consider matters.  I’ll think about this threat of retaliation, but I’ll make the decision, and I’ll probably make a decision you won’t be happy with.  You’ll put up with it, because I’m a reality no different than the primordial you created and put out there.  The only difference is that I slipped the leash.”

She clenched a fist.  I could see that her hand really was stiff.

She could deal.  She had another decade to deal with it and a thousand other minor inconveniences that naturally came about during the spans of sanity, life, and companionship.

“I can make better use of your army of students than you can, Fray.  I’ve got no time left to be scared, for myself or for others.  I’ve got no time to be stonewalled or told no by people who have no right to say boo to me.  You call the Crown a sore loser?”

I spread my arms, chuckling.  I gestured at myself.

“Sylvester,” she said.  “No.”

“They say a dog resembles its master.”

“I’ll bargain with you,” she said.

“You’ll try.  I’m not backing down on this.”

“The accommodations for your new army.  I was going to arrange for you to have them from the time  asked you to go on this walk with me.  I’ll give you what you need to take care of them.  Because I meant what I said.”

“Gracious of you,” I said.

“As for the actual bargain, the Lambs are coming within the hour.  They’ll arrive before the vehicle you’ll want to take to leave Laureas does.  Give me time to get affairs in order-”

“Time to work against me?” I asked.

“I have no bloody idea,” she said.  “I don’t know what to do with you.  I hardly know what to say, because I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing and make you more upset.  But give me a few months, tend to your new rebellion faction.  I’ll give you Warren and all of the resources I planned to use to safely and discreetly make my exit from this city with hundreds of students in tow, just for the day.”

I thought about it.

I shook my head.

“What do you want, then?  I can give you attention.  Buy you a few months, maybe years.”

“No,” I said.  “Could you revive the caterpillar project from scratch?”

I watched her eyes move.

“That’s a no, then?”

“Sylvester,” she said.  “You were going to look after the Beattle rebellion regardless.  You’d be trading a few words and a restriction on schedule for everything you need.”

“Nah,” I said.  I looked past Fray at the Lambs who were witnessing the scene.  I extended an arm, gesturing at them.  “I’ve got to look after them, don’t I?”

Fray turned her head.

“There’s nobody there.”

“The Lambs, Fray.  They’re there.  If you’re going to start making concessions to me, for the way you and others have treated me, you owe the rest of the Lambs something too, don’t you?”

“You said-”

“I said I wouldn’t render you bait for the bear.  I’m not.  I’m telling you to make a damn sacrifice for once.  Show me you can actually follow through for once, when it counts.  Voluntarily hand yourself over.  It’ll be a nice checkmark in their files.  Something that pacifies the higher-ups, keeps the Lambs project running smoothly.”

She was silent.  I finally got to see her flustered, agitated.

“It’s your choice, Fray.  Only you, me, and Jessie will know you made it.  You stated the stakes yourself.  You can go, turn yourself in, let them lock the restraints on.  Tell them whatever you want, tell the Academy that I know things, and use that information to stave off whatever treatment they have planned for you.  That’s fine, but you’ll be theirs.  Or don’t go, and spend every day dreading that everything and everyone you like and care about might be taken from you by a force beyond your control.”

“You have no idea what you’re really doing,” she said.

“You wanted time, Fray?  You really believe in this threat?  Convince me.  These are the terms.  The accommodations for my army of students, Warren’s help, and you, waiting politely on that platform when the Lambs emerge from their train.”

Previous                                                                                                                    Next

85 thoughts on “Bitter Pill – 15.14

  1. This is pretty crazy. I get Sy’s anger and frustration, but man, I’m not sure this is the right path. Need some time to think on it.

  2. Shit, Sy you sound dangerously close to wanting to see the world burn in retaliation for what they did to you. I’d at least run things by Jessie here.

    This chapter really was the best so far of the arc in my opinion. All the stuff with gathering the students felt like ground we’d tread repeatedly before, without moving anything forward. It kinda felt like filler.

    Oh and nobody has figured out where the red plague actually came from.

    • It’s easy to dismiss the unimaginable.
      Now, if Mauer told Genevieve everything he knew and assumed about God, she might be able to link the two. They probably didn’t speak of it much while searching the Block together… or maybe he lied.

    • I’m pretty sure that Jessie already knows what Sy’s doing. They came up with the plan together. The plan has ALWAYS been to make Them pay for ruining the Lambs’ lives.

      Excuse me while I go cry myself to sleep…

  3. I have to wonder how Fray’s actual plan is supposed to work. So far she’s given the crown more chemical control over its citizens, and how does that make the crown act nicer, exactly? And she’s distributed books, and her plan for the student body here was to spread illicit medical knowledge around the country. That at least makes sense, because if everybody has Academy science the population becomes harder to control. But it contradicts the chemical control, and it also contradicts her statement in this chapter that “only the Academy can be trusted with the knowledge the Academy disseminates.”

    Also, I forget what Fray’s role in the primordials was. I had thought that was mostly Mauer. What did Fray do there? If Fray was behind the primordials, I don’t see how that fits into her plan, either. The end results of the primordials were that a city was destroyed. (also the red plague was released, which she couldn’t have foreseen, so it doesn’t count for her motivation). The noble-killing guns were not because of the primordials and could have been deployed at any time. Why did Fray want the crown to destroy Lugh? Something about forcing the crown to show its brutality? Except that from what she’s said in this chapter, the crown has a rich history of unleashing apocalypses to contain problems, so what does one more apocalypse on the pile do?

    If I were in Fray’s position, I’d dose half the members of the rebellion with high dose Wyvern, whoever is willing, and give them science books, and disperse them among the crown states. Their orders would be to recruit others, dose them with Wyvern, and give them science books too. Wyvern is apparently a cheap path to flexible genius, and would enable the subjects to make sense of their science books quickly, as well as helping them to evade capture and discovery and do other useful things. The result would be an uncontrollable population, able to make tons of experiments capable of challenging the nobles, as well as perform other subversive activities. As long as the Wyvern subjects are dispersed widely enough, the nobles couldn’t use city-wide destruction to contain them, without destroying their entire empire.

    • Wyvern is also self destructive, so people who hope to live a long and happy life aren’t likely to go along with it. Maur might be able to convince a bunch of people, but those people wouldn’t be able to convince others in turn.

      • There are always desperate folks. People are willing to make themselves into Brunos, despite the shortened lifespans. There would be crime bosses or wannabe crime bosses or just angry desperate people who would take it.

        Also: here’s another plan. What about the 75% of the world that isn’t the crown states yet? Send agents into that to distribute information, wyvern, and books. The crown would have a much harder time clamping down on agents outside its borders, and the governments of the non-crown-states would be less equipped to handle the rebellion agents, and also perhaps would even help the agents, considering the alternative is to be conquered by the crown.

        • The problem with leveraging the 75% of the world that isn’t the crown states is that the Academy and the Crown tend towards the scorched earth, flip-the-table kinds of strategies, is Fray’s argument.

        • Fray almost directly says the Crown has experience continental-scale exterminatus.

          I think the implication here is that the reason Crown only controls 25% of the world is because they already turned much of the rest into human-free territory. Which means you cannot get the world to declare world war on the Crown. Maybe you could when Mauer was soldiering.

          The piece where “only Academy can be trusted with Academy science” is what Academy says to explain the tiny pockets of scorched earth within their controlled territory. Someone figures out the nobles thing? Exterminate city, blame on primordials.

          I see very little reason for Fray to not kill Sylvester immediately. Perhaps Jessie knowing the thing as well? But then Fray has read the files. Jessie has not much time left either before she becomes a non-threat.

          Fray is also a master planner, so it would be somewhat out of character for her to come to Sylvester completely unprepared for him being as uncooperative as he has been previously. She says she can’t improvise as much as Sylvester can, but she certainly had improvised all their previous encounters with sufficient leverage to walk away safely.

          I’ve been withholding comments on this arc because it’s been looking like something horrible is in order. Everything was going way too smooth all the while Sylvester was missing critical pieces of info – like who exactly were those “academy spooks” who stalked Avis, what were the Lambs doing, etc.

          Condemning the continent to extermination because of a temper tantrum sounds like almost the appropriately horrible thing, but according to nominative determinism, i think this ends with one of the key characters taking the pills with the leash drug. And only then continental genocide.

          • Continental genocide makes a lot of sense. I’ve been noting to myself that the Twig world has been feeling very ‘small’: aside from 1 Japanese accountant and a few references to East Asia, despite science & politics & rebellion all being international enterprises by nature, you would get the impression that the only places which exist are North America and Europe/UK. But if South America/Africa/India/Australia etc have all been ‘quarantined’, and either destroyed altogether or reduced to the stone age, then that would explain the near-total silence.

  4. So that’s why Fray didn’t tell Mauer about the nobles. He’d use it.

    Similarly to Sy, really. All the rebellion leadership is convinced the others are going at it fundamentally wrong. Gene wants to chip away, Mauer is waging a long war. Sy thinks he can kill the Crown with a single blow given preparation. Who even knows what Cynthia thinks.

  5. So, Godmordial created the plague to kill humanity based on what it knew of them, and all it knew was war, death, spite, blood, and hate. That’s interesting.

      • And, specifically tailored it in such a way to dog Mauer, too. Some very complex thinking took place in a very shirt space if time.

        I suspect this was a communal, last ditch, replanted over months scenario fir the whole group, tweaked at the last minute to hit Mauer and all he fights for. :/

    • It’s unconfirmed if there really is anything about war that causes the plague to spread, or if it’s just that Cynthia/Mauer bring it with them, or if it’s the crown deliberately seeding it where Cynthia/Mauer have been, to discourage rebellion. We’ve seen the plague begin to flower in living subjects, and be transmitted among living subjects, so it doesn’t seem to require corpses to reproduce.

        • … as part of a speech where she blames the plague on Professor Ibbot. I don’t think the information Fray gives about the plague can be trusted. Also, Fray didn’t actually go out and say that blood, ash, and burnt gunpowder had anything to do with plague; she simply told Sy not to tell anyone that they did. A subtle distinction, but she may be using it to lie without technically lying. After all, her agenda in the conversation is to get Sy to not start bloody disruptive battles with the crown.

          • The plague is leftover primordial. Remember how the primordial was digging into flowers and trying to change part of itself to survive… just as it “died”? i believe it even said it had left seeds in the earth… Plus its first big appearance was something with a lot of connection to the sea, and the primordial appeared to have decoded fish before it tried to use the plant.

            I am not sure how it is spreading, but I am certain its the primordial getting its revenge for how it was treated. Recall that sy even said as he was cutting it out that it seemed to be punishing removal with pain and actively trying to get away from the knife.

            I kept wondering if it was actually trying to kill them, rather than find a suitable symbiotic host so it could grow intelligence again. C’est la vie, still a monster.

      • I think that the plague has spread in the air worldwilde or atleast continent wise, and it activates if cerrtain events occur like, the spillingg of many blood or the increase stacking levels of stress or anger in a population.

    • It’s an interesting parallel between the plague created as a revenge by the primordial, and Sy’s intention to cause the biggest, most devastating kamikaze death he can manage.

        • It’s pretty worrying when the devastatingly intelligent Sylvester Lambsbridge, terrorist, is considering trying to outdo an act of God (the primordial) for vengeance.

          But, yes, I’m very grateful that he’s trying NOT to accidentally hurt the main population….

  6. typo thread:
    ‘There’s an experiment I talked to once. They talked about how lonely it was, being the only one. The divide that separates the likes of them or the likes of me from the ordinary Jacks and Jills. So there was this thought, always lingering, that, hey, at least Genevieve Fray is out there. There are commonalities. We’re not related by blood, but at least we inject the same agony-inducing poisons into our brains on a regular basis. Common ground, ahoy!”
    Opening quotation mark is an apostrophe.

    I was going to arrange for you to have them from the time asked you to go on this walk with me.
    There should be an “I” between “time” and “asked” unless Fray was that affected by the cold or the conversation.

    • “You have to outrun the slowest member of your camping troupe. You’re afraid I’ll hamstring you and leave you as a nice, tied-up present for the Lambs, to better cover my retreat.
      – Missing end quotation mark.

  7. I wonder, with the revelation that they’ve sundered entire continents…

    Is there an actual Asian Empire out there they are fighting, or is it just pocketed rebellions?

    God, hundreds of places… Who knows what the ocean looks like now.

  8. Interesting… I’m getting a big “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia” vibe here; on one hand, it does answer the question of why a world-spanning empire with extremely advanced technology, and a strong united industry hasn’t taken over the entire world yet”; the answer would be that they have, but they’re still decontaminating it.

    On the other hand, why the hell haven’t we heard of this before? The Academy so far has been awful at covering things up. And a continent-sized (or even country-sized) quarantined wasteland seems like a really, really hard thing to hide.

    Honestly, I’m a bit worried that this is going to become Twig’s cauldron: a nonsensical secret conspiracy that breaks an otherwise realistic and coherent world.

    • Just tell them that it’s foreign lands and they hate you so they’ve covered it with miles of parasites, poison gas, and really tall walls. Or limit it to areas outside public perception. Blow up Africa, India, Russia (damn Sleeper), South America. Spin control. Tell them the enemy did it. Or things got out of hand. Or like the Block, kill everyone. Hard to misinterpret lots of dead bodies as anything but that the Crown is absolute.

    • “And a continent-sized (or even country-sized) quarantined wasteland seems like a really, really hard thing to hide.”

      Except they aren’t covering up the fact that it’s a quarantined wasteland. They’re only covering up the fact that it was intentionally done.

      Hey, so sorry about Australia, but some idiot “accidentally” released this super-deadly virus. We had to sterilize the whole place rather than risk it spreading. And if you ignore all warnings and go there, you’ll find a sterile wasteland and maybe evidence of a super-deadly virus. Just like we said you would. Of course, we can’t let you leave alive; you might have picked up that virus. But even if you escape us, what are you going to say? We were telling the truth about the condition of that area.

  9. WMG time. Fray’s not bait for the bear. It’s for the Lambs.

    Sy mentioned once he could’ve convinced everyone to abandon the Academy with him if he wanted. The Lambs take in Fray, and Sy springs his trap, ties up Lillian (again) and everyone else, and flips them on the Academy after convincing them all that the world’s fucked them over, and their only choice left is to watch the world burn.

    It’d reunite the Lambs, wouldn’t it?

    (But seriously this chapter holy shit. Taylor and Blake tried to play the hero, and look where it got them. Call it perverse, but I kinda wanna see Sy end up destroying the world.)

    • I know this won’t happen, but I would love for this story to end with sy and the lambs having caused this earth to have been self-destructed and a gate opens and there stands a powerless skitter and a new gatemaker – who say something witty and invite the gang back to their earth cause the gate will close in less than 60 seconds.

      Worm 2 becomes the tale of Skitter and the new gatemaker traveling from earth to earth finding survivors and writing the stories / histories of each land.

  10. I decided to have a little fun and model the Red Plague in Plague Inc. Disease type Fungus, started in Central Asia, transmission Blood 1 and Blood 2, symptoms Rash, Sweating, Skin Lesions, Necrosis (bodies contagious after death), Hemorrhagic Shock, Internal Haemorrhaging, Haemophilia, and Anemia, then spent all remaining DNA on spores.

    3,684,647,837 people dead in the span of 19 months, even without any kind of antibiotic resistance or heat/cold tolerance. Yikes.

  11. Hey guys, to anyone who frequents tvtropes, the twig page is badly in need of updating. I know it’s where wigglebird gets a lot of his readership, so im just throwing this out here, cause I think its important. (I might do regular reminders, like the voting)

  12. Interesting. Its what he does… when he isn’t sure, he creates chaos to see what is real and what is artifice. I didn’t, but I should have seen it coming after the 3rd time sylvester thought about how he didn’t know for sure what shew as thinking.

    Thank you 🙂

  13. Okay, I’ll admit to bring totally confused. This whole reveal, where the nobles are actually just ordinary people turned into glorifies experiments. How is this a surprise anyone? What else could they have been?
    The only thing I can see causing trouble is that they’ve been kidnapping normal kids to make more nobles instead of doing it the ‘traditional’ way, in which case… so what? I’m just honestly not seeing why this is being treated as some dark secret that could threaten the nobilities control, or even why it’s a surprise to anyone in universe.

    • rot13
      gur gbc yriry frperg vf gung gurer vf ab fhpu guvat nf n aboyr. Jungrire gurl’er qbvat gb orpbzr fhcre-cbjrerq crbcyrf, vg fgrevyvmrf gurz. znlor gung’f ba checbfr, be znlor gungf n fvqr rssrpg. gurl’ir cvgpurq gurzfryirf nf tbqf nzbat ghegyrf gung cnff ba gurve vzzbegny yvarntr gb gurve puvyqera, jura gur ernyvgl vf gung gurl pna’g unir xvqf. naq orpnhfr gurl pna’g unir xvqf, gurl’ir frg hc guvf haqretebhaq zrng znexrg sbe puvyqera. xvqf trg qvfnccrnerq, fbzr bs gurz ner yvgrenyyl fbyq sbe cnegf, fbzr bs gurz ner fbyq nf rkcrevzrag sbqqre sbe jungrire fpvragvfgf arrq, naq gur orfg bs gur orfg ner fryrpgrq gb ‘orpbzr’ aboyrf.

      Gb gel gb pbzcner gb bhe jbeyq/havirefr, guvf jbhyq or yvxr nyy gur znwbe npnqrzvp vafgvghgvbaf pbyyhqvat jvgu nyy gur zrzoref bs pbaterff naq zbfg bgure gbc yriry .tbi crbcyr, va n puvyq xvqanccvat evat gung rvgure uneirfgf gurve betnaf be fryyf gur xvqf gb fpvrapr ynof qbvat rdhny be jbefr guna jung gur wncnarfr be anmvf qvq; naq cvpxvat gur orfg xvqf gb zvaq jvcr naq genva gurz gb orpbzr gur arkg trarengvba bs fhcre-cbyvgvpvnaf nf gurve ‘puvyqera’.

      v guvax senl’f eriryngvba vf rira qnexre – gurl unira’g whfg fnpevsvprq pvgvrf gb fgnl va cbjre – gurl’ir qrfgeblrq pbagvaragf gb pehfu eroryyvbaf.

    • It undermines the legitimacy of a line of leadership extending back since before Wollstone. The Crown has people who are loyal and who recognize or believe in the blood-given right to rule. There’s the idea that these people were the cream of the crop to begin with, in breeding and wealth, in esteem and in talent, and then they were made better by cutting edge science. There’s a system in place, and you can trust that even if you fear the nobles, there’s a reason they’re there and it makes sense. People accept this.

      The emphasis here is on ‘glorified’, on the fact that it was a farce and it was a lie that was sold to the people. You start talking about the fact that the nobles were actually homeless children and orphans, and now people start wondering. On the ground level, people start asking ‘what right do you have to rule over me?’ and the answer no longer has anything to do with legitimacy or right or breeding or establishment, because none of those things exist anymore. The only establishment that people see now is a lot of question marks and shadiness. What else are they lying about? How deep does this farce extend?

      The answer to the question ‘what right do you have to rule over me’ becomes and remains ‘we’re already in charge and we’ll destroy you if you don’t relent to our rule’. The former part (being in charge) doesn’t sit easy and is subject to change, and the threat of destruction isn’t something you can hold over people’s heads in perpetuity. You need to show you’re willing to deliver to remind people, or it loses its cachet.

      In easier to explain terms, you’re moving away from a balance of fear and respect to solely fear. A lot of the unknown (again, not getting the full story of what’s happening behind the scenes) and a lot of perceived monsters in charge, both in terms of how they came about and what they are. A culture of respect invites people to rise up. A culture of fear stifles.

      That’s at the ground level.

      Higher up, you get more people who have passing or intermittent dealings with the Crown. These are people who are wrapped up in the romance and the idea of legitimacy, and the ideas of blood and breeding. They’re the nobles hands, and their eagerness to be a part of things and to maintain a facade of their own plays nicely with the nobles’ image… until you reveal the truth. Do they keep obeying orders and instructions? Sure. Do they keep jumping through hoops to play along, weave their way into the fantasy and romance of these hyper-beautiful, awe-inspiring leaders, and go out of their way to make life easier in hopes of accolades and attention? Not so much. Not with nearly the same sentiments. So the likes of the Gages (Candida/Emily’s parents) shift stances, keep their heads down, do what they’re supposed to do, and the nobles have less of a grasp. And there are thousands upon thousands who are like the Gages. Some of whom might provide vital information or handle currency or otherwise. It’s a lot of incremental losses that have a way of snowballing.

      There’s more, to do with doctors, and the sentiments of the Academy people who rise to certain positions, and balance of power, but that’s a whole other thing.

      There’s even more, to do with the nobles. Who don’t all even know what they are, and the effect on them.

      You’re saying the Emperor has no clothes and that the emperor and the entire court knew. Taking the gleam out of the crown itself, changing the image into a tarnished, twisted thing, not an established part of the Crown’s respected background and culture. The nobles as described were organic, then augmented. There’s nothing organic about the picture this paints.

      • I understand the intention of the reveal, my problem is that its based on the assumption that society n Twig allows the nobles to rule out of respect. That the general populace somehow never realised that the nobility are just normal people who have been massively genetically altered, and just assumed they were inherently better than them. Maybe I’ve misread or need to reread, but I cant remember seeing anything in the story that suggests the nobles ever ruled through anything other than threat of force. The genetically engineered super-humans who rule the world are still genetically engineered super-humans who rule the world, it’s just that they’re not all related? Based on the culture and society we’ve seen, I just can’t see this as being the earth shattering revelation it’s being treated as.

        Sure the fact that they’re kidnapping children is bad, but based on the average noble we’ve seen in story, if I was a citizen in Twig my reaction would be “Yup. Sounds like something those asshole would do.”. It removes some of their mystique, but functionally, what in Twig’s world is gonna change? Hell, it wouldn’t even take much to turn this around and gain a nice new carrot for them to dangle. ‘Work hard and obey your betters and one day you might be just like us’… there’s a comment about capitalism in there somewhere, but that’s besides the point.

        Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m loving this arc and the story in general. It’s just that whenever this particular plot point comes up I feel like its being treated dramatically out of proportion to how important it is, based on what I’ve seen of society in Twig.

        • IMO, you’re looking at the situation like someone living in a democratic/republic society would, where a leader rules by ability and popular choice. For a lot of people in monarchies, it’s an “unspoken truth” that the noble family in charge are the best suited for the task of ruling, whether or not the evidence backs it up, and this is never questioned outside truly extenuating circumstances. Such as… their association with the noble family being in question.

          Are you from America? Imagine it this way: at one point, there was this big debacle about President Obama maybe not being from America, and people got pissed. A sizeable number of people weren’t willing to follow a non-American president and threatened rebellion. Similar to a monarchy, there’s an “unspoken truth” in America that only an American is best suited for the task of presidency, even in a country where the leaders are chosen by popular vote and supposed ability.

        • I have to disagree for a couple of reasons.
          1) Realizing the nobility and especially the king did not have a divine right to rule reduce the power of those groups in france and england. Later when the peasants realized they werent really “noble” at all, those “nobles” lost their heads. Never understimate institutionalized fear in combination with institutionalized respect to keep huge numbers of people in check.

          2) Old style kings and queens ruled through fear and threat of force anytime their power was questioned… it worked until they lost the respect of the people, then violence simply enflamed their subjects.

          3) The few nobles who know react so strongly in all this it becomes a weakness. Its hard to manipulate someone who doesnt care about me, but give me someone who hates me and I will have them doing my dishes (angrily) the whole time believing its their idea and will make me sad somehow.

          Unreasoning fear or at least fear that leads to indiscriminate destruction is a huge leash to lead them by. Tell on them? Ha!! Rather create what appears to be a thousand small leaks of information and capitalize on their sudden chaos of thought and predictable actions.

          Lastly, much of the coverup probably has less to do with the people and everything to do with the nobles. Notice in the interludes how the nobles are well aware of “how close to the throne” they are. In a world of experiments, that entire political game falls apart. It falls apart badly as we saw when Rome ran into succession problems. suddenly every general with a bit of power and an ego realizes they can become the king/emperor/consule/whatever. Notice the nobles all share massive, nearly debilitating egos. Sy even used that to his advantage a few times…

          So in a post secret world, the nobles shred themselves and their empire, famine, disease, horrific weapons only hinted about so far.

          This secret seems small, but the Infante is highly intelligent to treat it like a deadly threat. Keep in mind, he even showed sy some compassion. I could see some nobles like him keeping things together for a mix of personal interest and what small flame of humanity they have left.

          This story is amazing and the politics are pretty badass 🙂

        • I agree with you there. That the nobles are not blood related just seems too much of a minor thing besides all the other things that are publically known. In the end, they are still super-humans that could slaughter armies on their own.

          Especially I don’t see why People like the Gages would be less likely to stay loyal. I would have thought the opposite. They were already willing to do dangerous experiments to improve their standing. The revelation that not only they can improve their social rank, but literally become nobles should thrill them.

          • Suggested homework: look into both the divine right of kings and the pharaonic model. 🙂 Start with Wikipedia and move on from their links and cited sources to meander your way around a few critical analyses of The Prince, but do keep Hobbes’ Leviathan in mind.

            Enjoy the hours of meander. 🙂 Oh, you might want to knock on towards discussions on Locke, Law, Rousseau and Hume, too. Always good to round the corners out with. Would suggest Voltaire for when the wheels fall off, but Candide is not for the faint hearted. :/ If you do tackle Candide without running out of tissues… you might want to hit Brecht. But, you will need tissues. And, possibly, Prozac. 😛

          • True, Brechtt is more cry-worthy than Wilbow, but thats the discloaimer you should have started in this comment section, if you wanted anyone to take your warnings about tear jerkers seriously.

          • I’m already well familiar with the Divinge Right, with Leviathan and many others that go in the direction of this subject. And history in general, and so I know that practical reasons always win out beside more philosophical reasons.

            Especially, as here the philosophical reasons are rather thin, as the divine right stops applying as much if one faction has leaders that can probably wipe out whole town with their bare hands.

            Also, I suggest using less smileys and give out some more context for your recommendations as this comes off as somewhat condescending.

          • I use emoticons a lot, not to be condescending or anything. Mostly because I find the benefits outlay the costs: Not everybody online can pick emotional subtext up through text alone.

            Also, a habit I picked up in the 90s: old dogs don’t unlearn tricks easily. Also, I have CFS which occasionally means clouding of consciousness and that means variously and shiftingly impaired cognitive functions, such as in the processes involved in lexical production.

            In short: it ain’t about deliberately hurting or belittling you, mate. *hugs*

  14. I read this chapter right after waking up, and I had a full rant planned in my head. But I was sleepy and decided it wasn’t worth it, so I went back to bed.

    I’d just like to say, fuck off, Sy. What even is your goal with all this rebellion. It’s not to help the Lambs or Jessie, and I question whether it is for anyone’s but your sake, if you are willing to so quickly bet a country’s lives. It feels as though you are a rabid dog trying to bite its master.

    • Or maybe Sy is suspicious that this is a ploy from Fray and it’s his way of smoking her out. But it doesn’t sit well with me because I see three very obvious scenarios (out of I guess many more). One is that Fray isn’t lying, and she turns herself in, weakening the rebellion greatly. Two is that Fray isn’t lying, but refuses to turn herself in. Sy will then put the country and risk and make an enemy out of Fray. Three is that Fray /is/ lying, and so refuses to turn herself in, straining their already feeble relationship.

    • I agree Sy is completely aimless, but I also think it can be blamed on some severe sanity slippage. He is just trying to get revenge on the academy. (Doesn’t explain why Jessie is going along with it, but then again we haven’t seen her or jamies persective yet, and I wonder at the reason for that.)

      My theory? In the end Jessie has to be the one to stop the crazy loose cannon that is Sy. And we will all be crying.

  15. A lot to say about this chapter.

    First, I don’t see why the reveal of the nobles would be such a big thing? It isn’t like they were very popular to begin with, which would be taken away. Also, wouldn’t it be easier for the nobles to create clones/children from scratch instead of kidnapping them?

    Next is Sy’s anger, I’m actually surprised. I can understand that one would be angry if they were treated like their life had no worth…but it isn’t like Sy treated himself better. He constantly put himself in harm’s way, continued to use Wyvern and is basically a death seeker that wants to do as much damage as possible before perishing.

  16. That bargain that Sy proposed in the end of this chapter is absolutely unreasonable and insulting. It has no reward for Fray to grab it. I mean c’m on – if you surrender to the Crown docs while being alive – and in a next few months you will end like Avis. Or maybe worse.

    Yes Sy is not in his right mind (he is in Evettes) but duh. That’s just crude and ineffective.

    ‘Insult’ of that proposal is breaking a lot of nice.

    Strategic implications of Sy’s faction that has a same niche as Fray – is that now those two rebel factions will start bickering which will weaken both of them. Crown wins from that…

    Also if Fray by some godsblessed miracle accepts his offer and give her all to revival of Catterpillar project on the side of Academy + Crowns – she will become a mere doctor. It would be a tragedy such an awesome and destructively capable mastermind will be taken out of story of trashing world of Twig in creative and interesting ways.

    So, it is just my personal opinion, but that proposal is something I really don’t like.

    But otherwise this chapter is interesting. It was very interesting to see at last why Sy was in especially bastardly mood after his appointments. But his ‘tick’ of disliking that ‘d’-word turns him into a type of person which quite… disgusting.

  17. Something felt off about Fray’s description of the Crown. It’s late in this time zone so I’m not sure if I should trust my precise instincts, but I think I know what’s up. After all the effort of Sy’s quest making the nobles and Academies and everyone working for them seem like humans with neat tricks but also flaws and weaknesses, we see Fray describe them and their Crown as a nigh-omnipotent force of nature, like an Endbringer or a big demon or something. But that doesn’t really fit what we saw before.
    Am I making sense?

  18. Logically speaking, what the Crown does to ensure control and dominance makes sense. Horrifying, amoral and completely fucked up, but logical. Sy knows this shoots his plan down, causing him to be frustrated, and this results in Frey misjudging him completely, causing him to force this ultimatum.

    Tragic. This could have been played better on both sides but ultimately Frry just never understood Sylvester, not really, and that comes back to bite her in the Dolores.

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