Dog Eat Dog – 18.5

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Professor Ferres was a fantastic actress.  In some ways we had lucked out in picking her.  In other ways, that sword had two edges, and it made for some dangerous handling.  We’d hit her where it hurt, and the metaphorical sword was being drawn out now.

She acted like nothing was wrong as her favored students started their work in lab one.  Her favored students minus one, of course.

It was a beautiful thing, from a certain perspective.  I’d grown up around Helen, and I was strongly suspicious that Ibbot had been inspired by Professor Ferres when he had designed our winsome, woesome Lamb.  Long exposure to Helen, years of my own earnest attempts at acting and being up against some of the best around gave me a deep appreciation for Ferres’ act.  The face that betrayed nothing, the fact that she could smile and act as though nothing was wrong when she was battered, bruised, and tired?

Even if I hadn’t had an agenda, it might’ve been worth doing this just to see how someone capable approached the problem.

That, and I did have reservations about targeting a youth.  Betty was almost our age, but there were groups of mice that might have taken her in, had her circumstances of birth been different.  Pressure and the fact that I really didn’t like Betty had helped me cross my personal line in the sand and break my own rules on this.

Ferres didn’t miss a beat as she gave instructions, “The grafts for Itsy Bitsy are in the cold room.  Alvin, would you prepare to take Betty’s position in the surgical theater in case she doesn’t turn up?  I’ll send someone to check on her the moment I’m free.”

Not one glance toward Jessie or me.  It was good, considering that she had to suspect.

Jessie was talking numbers, rattling off equations as the others talked.  For all that Betty had complained that I didn’t belong here, there were no loud complaints about Jessie.  She hadn’t earned her place in the way that Betty, Alvin, Leland, Wilbert, and the other favored students had.  She’d dealt with no grueling tests, she hadn’t had to prove herself, but she was holding up her end now that we were here.  Everything she did was strictly by the book.  Literally.

Ferres continued to give instructions.  I was focusing almost the entirety of my attention on her while she was working to ignore Jessie and I.  I was noticing the tics and the tells, the little catches.  It had been day after day of being drugged overnight, of paralyzing chemicals, tense muscles, bedsores or tubsores, fatigue, and insufficient food.  Pressure, tension, dehumanization and likely a fair amount of fear as well.  All while doing an eerily good job of acting as if nothing was wrong.

“Leland, Wilbert, you’ve been mulling over the nightmare for two days now.  I’ve tried to be patient, but I need you two to step it up.”

“Yes, Professor, of course.”

“If you haven’t found a working solution by the end of the day, I’ll be taking you off that project and doing it myself, and I won’t be happy about it,” Ferres said.

Jessie started gesturing as she talked, punctuating reams of ratios and ten-syllable compound names with hand movements.

I’d already noticed what Jessie was tipping me off to.  Ferres was speaking faster, more aggressively.

It was minor, hard to pin down, but when it came to a formidable character like Ferres’, I was willing to take any cue I could.  With a grain of salt.

“We’ve been weighing a few ideas.  We could rush it, but you said you’d rather it was done well than fast.”

“I did say that,” Ferres said.  She paused, and her demeanor shifted slightly.  “What’s troubling you?  Carbon chain boundary?”

“I think we’re covered on that front.  It’s the fuel injection.  Leland thinks if we provide the fuel by way of channels in the shoulder and let it flow back, scar tissue and other buildup will block it.  I was suggesting a stronger scapular floor for fiercer contractions, push through the buildup, but Leland worries it would be too spurty.”

“I think you’re both right,” the Professor said.  “It wouldn’t do to have our antagonist spray flaming ejaculate all over our juvenile audience, and it could be quite the spurt if we tried to counteract the full buildup.”

“I, uh, yes Professor.  We agree.”

“How long would it perform?”

“Ten to fifteen minutes.”

“We’ll need twice that if we’re to hold to the script.  Two-line regimen of G.H.I., increase its diet, standing guard in case it becomes hostile.  Excise the upper portions of the ventral serratus if you have to to make room.”

“Room for?” Wilbert asked.

“You tell me,” Ferres said.  “Go for a walk, find Betty, figure out how she’s doing, and have three good ideas in mind by the time you’re back.”

Wilbert straightened.  “The girl’s dormitory?  But-”

“If anyone asks, I sent you.  Now don’t tarry.”

Wilbert nodded.  His departure fell just short of a proper run from the premises.  Academy students were sometimes like pigeons.  When one student scrammed, others would take off too out of herd mentality.  Looking silly for running on a thousand occasions was a fair tradeoff for the one time it meant getting a headstart against an ominous, onrushing cloud of gas or cloud of insects loaded to bear with fun drugs.  It was a rule in periods of peace to avoid running wherever possible.

Professor Ferres continued to assign tasks and lay out everything that needed to be done, keeping tabs on the various projects and suggesting adjustments.  Jessie gestured again, and I took note of the gesture.  Jessie was keeping time, marking the fact that Ferres was much quicker to do this than she had been on previous days and weeks.  Ferres was rushing, because she wanted to move on to other things.  To me and to her favored student, little miss Betty.

I walked over to the table at the far side of the circular room.  There were four exits to the room, with two being staircases on either side, one being access to the cells and storage rooms, and the last one being the access to the operating theater.

The table was closest to the operating theater, and I could see Alvin laying spider-limbs as long as my arms out on one table.  One of the children in the cells would be put under and go under the knife.  Lillian stood by the table, and her stare was accusatory.

I looked away from her and turned my attention to the papers on the table.  Each set of papers was bundled together into contained booklets, titles inked out on the front pages.  Names of the experiments.  Bo Peep, Itsy Bitsy, Poll Parrot.  There were others I hadn’t recognized right off.  The three youngest children that Helen had been snuggling with would be the three blind mice, after their surgeries were done.  One young lady would become the unicorn.

The books had terminology, codes, and shorthand throughout, and I could only deduce some of it.  Instilled instinct, compulsion, chemical triggers, training.  The individual lines, passages and behaviors were ranked by importance, reinforced by various factors.

If it was wholly up to the experiments doing what they were supposed to in order to enact their play, then making them stitched would have been enough.  But there were other factors.  These weren’t actors meant to play out a series of shows and stories the audience had seen countless times before.

They were toys.  The audience would interact, step in, and change the course of events.  Ferres was designing the various characters to appeal to a swathe of tastes and age groups.  That meant countless bases needed to be covered.  If the young master’s cousin found Bo Peep to their liking and wanted to play at tea with the girl, then Bo Peep was to oblige.

“You’ve taken my student, I gather?” Ferres asked.

I paged through Bo Peep’s file, not looking up.  Red pen had been used to label and mark out pages.  The section was simply titled ‘Story 3b.2: The Wolf Wins’.  The notes were scattered in intent, written by Ferres for Ferres, referencing people she had met and what she knew about the young master’s family.

“If you take all of them, then people will wonder.  It hurts you more than it hurts me,” the Professor said.

If there was a lull in the night’s entertainment, then the Big Bad Wolf would rouse and stalk its prey.  Red Riding Hood would be stalked by the wolf, which would speak and taunt her while staying out of sight.   Children in attendance could decide the outcome, by intervening, by cheering for one side.  The needed verbal cues, tones, and situational cues were marked out clearly, mapping out how this would come to pass.

If the young lads cheered for it, then there would be violence.  The Wolf would be emboldened, would close in, and Red Riding Hood would die a theatrical, gruesome, and very real death.  Then, depending on the collective response to that, other antagonists would step in while the wolf retreated to the background, having raised the stakes for the evening and kindled imagination, or the wolf would even take center stage, picking off characters one by one.  Bo Peep was number two to die, if the young boy at the center of the party willed it.

Red Riding Hood’s emotions would be very real in the midst of it all.  So would Bo Peep’s, if the party took that particular course.

Ferres wasn’t willing to discount that possibility, and she was putting considerable effort into planning for it, making sure the Big Bad Wolf was something that could be ridden.

I’d sat back and watched things for some time now, the idle bystander while Jessie and the other students worked on this project.  I’d read these scripts enough to have a general sense of the web of interactions and narratives that played out across them.  There were stories for grand violence, stories for intrigue, stories for heroism and valor, for being the gentleman that saved damsels in distress.  Ferres’ focus was to ensure that the young man at the center of the party received his highlight moment, whatever he chose to do.

“Are you ignoring me to get a rise out of me?” Ferres asked.

“No,” I said.  “I’m ignoring you because my attention is elsewhere.  The thing about having a shoddy memory is that I can put a book down and pick it up later and read it as if I’d never read it before.  Every time I read through these, I pick up something new.”

“I revise them regularly.  That might play a part.”

“It might,” I agreed.  I put the booklet down, letting it fall to the table with a slap of paper on wood.

Now that my attention was fully on her, Ferres seemed oddly composed.

She really wanted to push me on this, to ask about Betty, but she didn’t want to give up the appearance of power by asking a question she knew full well I wasn’t going to answer.  It would be groveling.

Still, I’d expected to see more weakness in her, a glimmer of something.

Why the rush through morning preparations then?  Why hurry through her tasks with other students if she wasn’t hurrying to any place in particular?  I’d expected a more heated confrontation, one where she might even have raised her voice at me.

“It started as something far smaller,” Ferres said.  “One scene, a speaking lion for a young girl who loved lions.  Child’s play, in both senses of the word.  But every prominent aristocrat wanted to top the last, grander displays, more involvement.  I received funding for my Academies and I was able to pursue the kind of work I wanted to do most.”

“At the expense of children,” I said, my voice low, “And let’s not pretend all of the children you bought off the Block were volunteers, whatever you told your students.”

“Very few were, I imagine.”

“Means to an end?”

“If the young master and his friends are bloodthirsty or if their military fathers egg them on, then they might call for blood and be applauded for it, and that will be the evening.  But it’s by no means a sure thing.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Sure, whatever.”

“You don’t have to listen to me.  If you don’t like my answer, you’re in a position of power over me.  You could tell me to change my stance, you could threaten me or hurt me for saying something you disagree with.  Whatever you imagine.”

“I’m hardly going to do that,” I said.

“You’ve done it countless times over the past several weeks,” she said.

“Indirect hurt,” I said.  “I feel like actively slapping you or putting you in screws is a little bit too brutish for me.”

“Such a gentleman,” she said, and there was enough venom in those three words that some people on the other end of the room caught it and glanced our way.

“All of this can end, all you have to do is tell Jessie and I how to contact certain prominent professors and nobles, and help us keep abreast of any changes or developments in the big picture.  We’ll handle the rest.”

“Oh, I’ve little doubt you will, young sir,” she said.  “But the moment I tell you that, then I cease being useful to you.  You’ll infect my Academy with black wood and ships won’t even come to port if they think their hulls might suffer.  I’ll be one step among a dozen that see you do grievous damage to the Academy.”

“You’ll fall on the sword, suffer for the good of Academy and Crown?”

“I’ll endure,” she said.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said.  “You keep saying that.”

She smiled.

Again, that look.  The calm in the face of the storm, from someone with very little to reach out and grab hold of.  I’d pushed her and I’d taken away a vital handhold, very possibly her favorite student of the now, and as weary as she was, her emotions frayed, she wasn’t faltering.

She should have been given more pause by this.  It was concerning, because she should have come across as more unsteady.  But something about her demeanor in this moment made me think that yes, I’d been right that she was fond of her student Betty.  Yes, this had bothered her.  Yet I harbored a suspicion that if I made her entire Academy and every soul in it disappear, she would still hold fast.

I was beginning to grow suspicious of why, now.

“Itsy Bitsy Spider needs his grafts,” she said.  “If you wanted, you could exert your power, twist my arm, and spare him the procedure.”

“I do want,” I said.

“But?” she asked.

“No but,” I said.  “Spare him.  Postpone it.”

Again, she smiled slightly.

Why was this a win in her book?  People would wonder, and wondering with the right voices finding the right ear would unspool everything for Jessie and I.  It was Jessie and I making a play against her and seeing her refuse to budge, while she made a miniscule power play and she made me concede ground.

A small price if it helped Itsy Bitsy.  I’d have to let others slide.  I knew that.  It would blow our cover and the whole ruse if we refused all operations and activities on Ferres’ part.

But right now I wanted to focus on Ferres and the current dilemma.

“Did someone mess up drug doses?” I heard the question from the far end of the room.

It was Leland.

“Why do you ask?” Ferres asked, stepping away from me and the table with the scripts.

“The cast members are dead quiet,” Leland said.  “I thought they had actually died, but they’re awake, they’re at the cell doors, and they’re just watching while I get them water.”

“Leave it be,” I said, under my breath.

I didn’t miss the fractional pause before Ferres replied to Leland, saying, “Leave it be.  I’ll check on them shortly.”

“It’s creepy,” Leland said.

“Focus on the nightmare, Leland,” Ferres said.  “I expect more, better answers from you than from your partner in crime, who should be coming back with at least three ideas.”

“Yes, Professor.”

Betty’s kidnapping had barely made Ferres miss a step.

Ferres grew distracted with the activities of the others, who were working on the nightmare and the giant.  She was in the middle of the room and in Jessie’s earshot, so I deemed the situation calm enough to exchange words with Jessie.

“She’s got something,” I said.

“Something?” Jessie asked.

“Ferres.  She’s got a card up her sleeve.  It’s the only thing I can think of that accounts for just how hard she is to crack.  I’m trying to play her as if she’s got only a few handholds left and she’s acting like she’s fine.”

“She could be very good at lying.”

“Or she’s got a card,” I said.  “Both are equally worrying.”

“What card could she possibly have that she wouldn’t have already played?” Jessie asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “But if you’ll have a look-see…”

I turned to look through the glass at the stairs.  I’d noticed the people and the general commotion.

“…our card is playing out now.”

It was Wilbert, returning from his excursion to the girl’s dormitory.

Jessie and I hung at the periphery of the group as they approached.  Wilbert’s expression was severe.

“She left,” Wilbert said.  “She drugged her roommate to avoid any commotion, packed her things, and left in the dead of night.”

“Into the wasteland?” Ferres asked.

“By one of the postal ships,” Wilbert said.  “We don’t know how she got on, but she seemed confident she could if she needed to, going by the letter.”

“Do you have it?” Ferres asked.

Wilbert handed it over.

“What a shame,” the Professor said.  “A damn shame, with the worst possible timing.”

The effect was more profound on the other favored students than it was on Ferres.  Jessie and I stood close to one another, and we watched as she spoke, we watched her move, and we even saw her eyes grow moist.  Ferres as the warm individual.  Unlike Helen, I fully expected that the warm, living, emotional face was the real one, the cold persona the mask.

But emotions weren’t a weakness, not always.  Ferres wasn’t budging at all, and it was proving to be her best asset.

“They want to talk to you in the post area,” Wilbert said.

There we go, I thought.

“I’ll see to that.  Talk with Leland, get your plan straight.  I expect a thought out plan by the time I’m back.”

“I’ll come,” I decided.  My speaking drew several glares of the hostile ‘we didn’t ask’ variety.  I returned them with a smug smile.

The stairwell was full as students hurried to their morning classes.  I spotted Evette, and I saw Lillian again.  I saw a glimpse of Mauer, and I saw a multitude of friendly faces.  Students and workers seeded here and there.

“You’ve taken over the post system?” the professor asked.  “Is the plan to send poisoned envelopes to major figures?”

I remained silent, walking with her.

We were in the central building of the Academy, the core of the reclining woman’s torso.  The Academy’s post office was a short trip.

Getting service once we were there, even with one half of ‘we’ being the Professor, well, that was a different story.  We had to wait for the last of the mail to be hauled up by stitched crews and the one post worker on duty.

Rather than shove paper forms and the like for Professor Ferres to sign, the post worker simply opened the side gate and let us into the back.  The benefits of access.

I closed the door behind me as I stood in the entryway to the mail room.  Parcels and stacks of mail were already partially sorted, and stitched workers picked through mail before deciding where it was supposed to go.

It was a tableau of sorts, a scene where laborers worked and gave the illusion that they were doing something that they had been doing five minutes ago and would be doing every five minutes for years to come, if they were given a chance.  They sorted mail, questioned obstacles, and played it safe.

Sitting in one corner was the cage.  A young lady slept a drugged dream within it, her face a touch swollen.

“Is that supposed to be Betty?” the headmistress asked.

“We changed her hair and face,” I said.  “It wouldn’t do if the others recognized her.”

“Others?” Ferres asked.

“Your favored students.  Betty’s old colleagues,” I said.  “You had a fit of inspiration, didn’t you?  You’ll tell them you’re adding a new character to your performance.”

I wasn’t wholly sure, but I saw the first real crack in Ferres’ performance at that.  She covered it up well, but doing so necessitated looking away from me, hiding her expression for a moment.

“She likes fairies,” I said.  “Possible prey for the nightmare or the wolf, do you think?  Or for a smashing by a giant, for a visceral impact.”

I saw Ferres shake her head slightly.

“Don’t worry, Professor,” I said.  “Remember what you said.  The audience might call for blood, but that’s by no means a sure thing.  She could be fine.”

The crack ran deeper.

I saw the defeat reach her shoulders, as the strength in them subsided.  I wasn’t sure if she had properly let her guard down or surrendered a stray thought while she’d been our captive.  The momentary slump marked an occasion where I knew I had her.

Why then did I still feel she had a strategy to play?  One that she was so determined to hold back that she would surrender before she would use it?  An ominous backdrop for our ploy coming together.

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56 thoughts on “Dog Eat Dog – 18.5

  1. Ok, i have troubles following. Does she run some kind of freak show for nobilities with her child experiments or what?

    • Not so much Nobles as the general aristocracy. And not so much a freak show as fairy tales, but with meaningful audience participation. They decide the course of the story, no matter how bloody or brutal it gets.

    • It’s all being put in place for one little boys birthday party, after that the kid-experiments will probably be either be dissected, recycled into something new for the next party, kept by the nobles or already dead.

      • I imagine that, before rebels and plagues and such monopolized her mental energy, Ferres sometimes stares at her fairy tales and tries to figure out how her talent got wasted on this tripe. Children’s entertainment, even for the most powerful families in the world, can’t be how Ferres expected to spend her career.

    • Sy’s crossing so many lines in regards to Betty though. Maybe all Ferres is after is the moral victory where Sy turns into his own worst enemy.

      • They’re running out of time and need results. I’m not averse to him turning their own horribleness on themselves. The only way they’ll truly grasp the evil of what their doing is if they experience it themselves. Lesson learned.

        • Um, no? Ferres is a sick fuck, and betty is complicit to a degree, but no way does anyone deserve that. Betty didn’t even seem to grasp the full implications of what ferres was doing- she seemed to think the kids would survive and be memory wiped. Also Sy said she was younger than him so she is what… 14? 15? If they’d have just killed her it would be one thing, but to be stripped of her identity, tourtered by her friends and mentor, and killed in a bloody and humiliating way? Just no. Provided he isn’t bluffing, I’m as disgusted at Sy and Jessie as I am with Ferres.

          • Yeah, but Ferres can stop this at any time. All Sy wants is information. If she decides to submit one of her favorite young students to horrible experimentation and to be a Noble’s plaything rather than give Sy the information he asked for then what does that say about her?

            Granted, Betty’s age makes me uncomfortable, but I feel like the ball’s in Ferres court. Time to see how much the Academy really means to her.

  2. So why did sy and jessi assume the huge woman entwined through the school isn’t alive? I am betting that is her trump card.

    • Its also why she doesn’t want to use it. Using it will definitely give her a leg up, but it will forever destroy her school and there would be no point in rebuilding it in the same spot… leaving her without a powerbase, and even if they gave her another school, it would be subject to more oversight than she had before sy and jessi showed up.

      • “All I wanna do is conceal that I grew
        A giant woman, a giant woman.
        All I wanna see is some way I can be free
        Without that woman.

        “Oh, I know it’d be great, that she just can’t wait,
        To stretch her arms and unbind her tethers.
        If I gave her a chance she would do a huge dance,
        Because she is a giant child.

        “While I would succeed in this endeavor,
        It could destroy my prospects forever.
        So if it were me, I’d make sure they don’t see
        A giant woman, a giant woman.
        All I wanna do is conceal that I grew
        A giant woman.”

    • I don’t think there is a huge woman? I think the buildings are built to resemble a large connected reclining woman.

  3. I think of all the people in this webserial, I hate Ferres the most.
    The Baron had a bit of Freudian mental issues, with the whole “Never going to be important as a Bastard noble”
    But Ferres… She takes the slippery slope to a whole new level.

    Speaking of slippery slope…
    I understand why St is acting like this, but…
    I’m hoping we don’t have a case of “He who hunts monsters”, because I’m starting to lose sight of why Sy is the one we are supposed to cheer for.

    • You’re never supposed to cheer for anyone in wildbow stories. We pick our favourites using subjective criteria, morality be damned.

      • Speak for yourself. Personally, I think that Mauer is a surprisingly good person, given the world’s state and his personal history. I agree with his reasoning regarding morality, and think that all his actions are mostly justified, given the information available to him.
        He did endanger the survival of civilization back in Lugh, but I’m not sure it’s an unambigously bad thing, in Twig’s world.

      • I’d say Dragon still holds the record for the genuinely nicest person in a Wildbow story. She didn’t really have a choice for most of her life, but it still counts.

        And to play Sylvester’s Advocate for a moment, he isn’t as much sending a child for cruel medical experiments, as he is selecting which child gets the cruel medical experiments that were going to happen anyway. There’s a dozen kids or so already in for the same treatment, with many more likely to follow. Betty might be more aware of what’s going on, but can her capacity for suffering really be THAT much greater? Is receiving involuntary surgery from people you know so much more horrible than receiving involuntary surgery from strangers, for no discernible reason? Why, it’s quite likely Sy will allow her to be heavily drugged and largely unaware of what’s being done to her, at least until they cut away her mind. Can’t let her communicate with the students.

        • But sy isn’t swapping betty in the place of another child, he’s ADDING betty to the play. So instead of x amount of kids being mutilated and murdered, it’s x+1. And I really don’t get why people think betty deserves this. There is a reason in real life we don’t punish teenagers to the same extent as adults. They’re easier to manipulate and lie to due to sheer inexperience, and even though betty must have known something was wrong here, she DID think the kids were volunteers, and she DID think they’d survive. Does she deserve to be punished? Sure. But literally no one deserves this.

          Though I haven’t discounted that sy is bluffing. Though if he is, it’s a stupid bluff, because ferres is too determined to back down just for betty’s sake.

      • What you are doing is called false equivalence- you assume that because there are very few whites (Dragon, the Horse) and very few blacks, they are all the same.

        But there are shades and shades of grey. I’d take any of the rebel factions as an alternative to the crown, and any of the other rebel factions as an alternative to Cynthia. From there, it is a tossup. Mauer is the most principled, but he plays a losing war. Fray plays to win, but is willing to throw anything under the bus. Sy tries to hold a balance, but this doesn’t always result in gaining both, as the result of losing both tends to happen.

        Still, the Crown/Academy is -1000, Cynthia is -100, and Sy/ Fray/Mauer range from -50 to +5 depending on your disposition, so you’d damn well cheer against the Crown and for one of the last 3.

        Grey and Grey doesn’t mean all are equal.

        • Nah, what I meant is that wildbow’s stories bring enough characters that we can end up cheering for anyone, even an obviously ‘evil’ guy because they’re interesting to us. Hence morality ultimately doesn’t matter.
          There’s no objective reason for that preference, it’s linked to how well-fleshed they are and how they resonate with each reader, and you can’t force everyone to like the same things you do.

          Each grey is definitely unique, and I like #7 because it reminds me of chocolate cake with honey-caramelised almonds, even if it’s pretty damn darker than some others.

    • Wildbow’s characters have a habit of making sense.

      I’m genuinely curious *why* Ferres has chosen this route to be the area of her research – I understand that patronage is the way you move forward in the Academy’s political landscape in the Twigverse, and I understand of course that as a woman her options outside artistry are a bit limited, even as progressive as things are compared to our past timeline.

      However, Ferres seems eminently capable. I don’t understand how a mind like hers could be reduced to this sort of thing, unless she genuinely enjoys torture…which we’ve seen little inkling that she does.

      While all professors have twisted logic in their expectations for the world, I’m genuinely curious how all this makes sense in her head. Someone who is kind (for a professor) to her students, who enjoys art, and who doesn’t see the contradiction when it comes to torturing children, who finds torturing them to be an art?

      The fact that her students don’t see the children as art, but as just projects, is also weird.

      In general, I feel like there is a lot that already isn’t coming together from the presentation of these characters due to our limited POV, then you add in Sy’s obvious anger and desire to destroy this woman, and it becomes hard to get a solid picture.

      For the record, I don’t think a solid picture would justify what Ferres is doing.

      But what I *am* saying is that I’m too confused by Ferres to hate her yet. I don’t think Wildbow does caricatures of evil, not exactly, but Ferres does seem to be a bit of a caricature, justifying what she’s doing as “fine because I’m a sociopath”, sorta.

      I’m also not sure why the other Lambs are letting Sy go ahead with this portion of the plan. Does “breaking” Ferres even truly help them out in the long run, or is Sy being particularly sadistic? Standard interrogation protocol involves making the subject feel safer with you than with their side, or to at least feel that you aren’t a monster.

      If Ferres ever feels she has the moral high ground and that she can’t get free, she could be more dangerous than someone who plots against them but is unwilling to act because she thinks they’re also unwilling to act. Cornered beasts and all that.

      • Ferres explained what’s going on:

        “It started as something far smaller,” Ferres said. “One scene, a speaking lion for a young girl who loved lions. Child’s play, in both senses of the word. But every prominent aristocrat wanted to top the last, grander displays, more involvement. I received funding for my Academies and I was able to pursue the kind of work I wanted to do most.”

        She started with something small and relatively harmless. People with money liked it and wanted more, and it escalated. A lot.

        • Banality of evil. She ended up with a job. Powerful people said it was okay. She did so because maybe by doing this she could do something better. And eventually all those little lies she told herself weren’t neccisary anymore.

        • Sure. She seems like…I don’t know. Most professors seem like smart people with ambitions. If this job was something she didn’t want, or something that she wanted to put less emphasis on, I feel like there would be ways to do it. Perhaps she could talk about influencing nobles with the entertainment, proposing a psychological study.

          Give any of the Lambs a job they don’t quite like, and they tend to bend the parameters til it fits their modus operandi. Sylvester is perhaps built *best* for bending, given Wyvern, but in general I feel like professors should have this ability too. Fray, Mauer, Hayle, Berger, Arandt, and co. all seemed remarkably flexible under various strained and coerced forms of employment. Ferres going along with the “banality of evil” feels like there is more going on.

          Sy has detected this “there is more going on” too, but the difference is our focus.

          Sy sees it as “what weapons does she have to use against us”. I’m more focused on “why is this project so important to *you*, Professor Ferres?”

          Of course, the answer could just be banal. It doesn’t fit though, with how competent all these professors are at their own political machinations. I definitely get the impression that they can shape their own destiny a bit more than Ferres has here. I’m not saying they can defy nobility and expect to get away with it – merely that there is room between the black and the white.

          • There’s a real possibility that she wanted the OTHER end of black coat service and wanted to to work on the slick custom tuner cars of humanity, the nobles.

  4. Sweet mother of God, that turn around. I did think it was as simple as Sy whisking that poor girl away, on the other side of that black no-man’s-land.

    So here’s the real question, Seelie or Unseelie?

    • Betty seems like she would be Seelie. Unseelie seems to chaotic for her tastes.

      But my opinion might be biased because I’ve read a fantasy series of novels where the Seelie were more arrogant and cruel to the main character than the Unseelie. I have a lingering bad impression…

      • Betty is all things arrogant and cruel while not being aware of the terrible consequences her ‘tricks’ would cause.
        104% Seelie, Titania-grade.

  5. Sy just took what they were doing to others and made it personal.
    Now it would not be an unknown in the operation table, but a person that Ferres knows and loves.
    Changes everything.
    Now, what does Ferres have in reserve?

  6. Is it me or it’s kinda weird how Sy talks about violence and blackmail and putting the screw on the professor, out in the open? One of those students could have enhanced hearing, or really, any of the thousands of tricks the Academy invented to spy on people.

  7. Twig takes place around the same time Walt Disney got started in our world, and Disney’s more Family Friendly renditions of classic Fairy Tales have long since overshadowed their much darker source material, but I find myself wondering: did the shift from Fairies as eldritch beings who see humans as mere playthings to fairies as adorable creatures that are friendly at best and mischievious at worse and the general rewrite of Fairy Tales to be lighter and fluffier start with Disney, or did it occur earlier enough that the shift might’ve occurred in Twigverse as well? In other words, are the Fairies Betty was apparently fangirling over in her spare time the Faeries of old legend or the Fairies of modern children’s stories?

    • I’m not a fairy tale scholar, but I’m pretty sure the taming of fairy tales started before Disney, in the late Victorian era if not earlier. Andrew Lang’s Fairy Book anthologies had retellings aimed at children, a lot less gruesome than the Brothers Grimm or Perrault or other earlier folklorists’ collections.

  8. What I find most karmic is that, technically, Ferres does nothing she hasn’t done or wouldn’t do in the future, she just does it at someone she knows , someone arguably more guilty than most of her victims, and she could just stop doing it. It is all Ferres fault though and though, and this may help her wake up from her hypocrisy.

    Frankly, I do not think Sy crossed an important line, though that may be a Batman scenario (Batman refuses to kill even the Joker because he fears he couldn’t stop once he crossed thaat line once, even if ye was justified on that one time). He just gave two hypocrites perspective, and his scheme may end up saving a more innocent child, should the predicted “bloodbath” happen. Now, I am not saying his action was good, just not darker grey that what he normally commits: he is still in the lighter grey scale compared to Twigverse at large, and this action won’t really push him from that point. Killing an innocent so that he’d have more time to talk was far worse an action.

    Though what such a concession will do to his mind is another story…

  9. My take on guilt/responsibility in the Twig universe:
    Degree of GUILT = AWARENESS of situation – extent of ACTION taken to change situation

    So by this equation Dr. Ferres looks very guilty and Sy practically guiltless; however, the equation says nothing about justice, mercy or sanity. Nothing about ethics, good or evil, either.

    Dr. Ferres is GUILTY in this situation; she is also cruel/callous, arrogant/vain and selfish/entitled. Sy is NOT GUILTY in this situation; he’s also cruel/vicious, vindictive/arrogant and envious/entitled.

    Questions of guilt/responsibilty don’t seem to be a useful metric when comparing Dr. Ferres and Sy — or heroes and villains in Wildbow’s stories generally.

  10. It’s been a while since Twig has made me think about the increase in sensation that top of the line doctors can grant people there. Maybe Nobles are made with combat ability priorities, but perhaps some of them spent for greater longer orgasms instead.
    The Wolf Wins <–This is precisely my top favorite pick of which play I could watch of any of these artistic characters, I could blush with "It's about time" joy. Seeing Ferris do something I feel is "for great justice" tells me that I'm evil, but I only consider myself different.

  11. This won’t break Ferres, she’s too good at that, but it may force her to spring her trump cArd earlier than usual. It’s a very Sy thing to do, to make a controlled detonation now instead of waiting for it to blow.

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