Lamb (Arc 15)

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“I wonder how the mayor is going to handle this,” Mabel said.  “Or how the Academy is going to handle it.  Most of the students rioted, then disappeared.”

Jessie, tired, closed her eyes, to better reduce the burden of information.  In the back of her mind, she anchored the three segments of phrase.  Key anchors were mayor, Academy, student.  Orderly threads connected these anchors to the current date and time, to prior conversation, putting each idea in a line.

Two days after his one year anniversary with the Lambs, Jamie had used the first available set of quiet days and post-appointment adjustment period to re-catalogue all of his memories, going through every last one in turn.  The one year anniversary was a massive anchor unto itself, and in lieu of a system prescribed by his doctors, Jamie had shifted to a more symbolic series of subcategories.  The hand signals used by the Lambs.  They had started off simple, covering a variety of bases, and in Jamie’s mind, every last one had had a color, a general shape, and a lot of the vocabulary, spacings and timings of events were similar within a color or key gesture.

The old system of his own doctor’s design had been thrown out, the new system implemented.  It was something Jamie had done several times.  Jessie had hoped that by adopting Jamie’s system and holding to it instead of revising it, she might extend her own life.

Not so.

Wonder was inspiration, which fell into the mind gesture.  Mind was three fingers together.  Mind became different things depending on context, the rigidity of fingers changed.  Three fingers up tall, all touching, was hard thinking, maths, Academy science, logic, cold analysis.  Bring the fingers down and it became soft, abstract thinking, which often became one of two different things if the thumb was in front or behind the three fingers.  Interpersonal thinking for the former, inspired or artistic thinking for the latter.

Of the most basic signs, each one flowed into the other.  Each one assigned a color, it allowed colors to blur or mix, for categorizations to find shades of color alongside the general shape of the signs, for easy identification.

Mayor was the anchor, marked turquoise-wonder at the outset, yellow-manipulation at the end.  Within, words fell into place, transcribed exactly, as music notes might be, with sound and emphasis.  Each of those details had emphasis of their own.

She collected every detail she needed to be able to recall the statement in exacting detail.  She did it with the next segment, a fainter turquoise echo of the prior statement with less emphasis marks and strong connection to the prior segment, as if the statement was an extended punctuation mark trailing on after the previous statement, a different anchor set two fifths of the way into it.  The third statement was tinted red.  The closed fist, aggression and violence, force and impetus.

All three segments were sorted in this meticulous detail.  Three cards on a vast bookshelf.  Records extended back to the day that she had woken up in the stone throne, connected to the caterpillar system, set in place with a card with a tab that indicated Mabel.

Other parts of Jessie’s mind in her skull, shoulders, and along her spine were muted so long as her eyes were shut.  The parts that would track Mabel’s facial expressions and keep things in parallel with the transcription of words, environment, and Jessie’s ongoing awareness of her own physical state.

Threads interconnected it all, stitching it together into a cohesive thing.  Up and down and left and right were chronological elements as she explored her own catalogue, forward and back were her own focus, with one or two things taking priority while other things were pushed further back on a given shelf.

If her mind was a painstaking record system, the threads were cobwebs that sprawled across it, divorced from the chronological and the focal.  Three individual lobes and sub-systems tracked ongoing events in detail – it should have been four, but one had been damaged when Sylvester cut too close to her spine while removing the plague.  Five more systems managed the threads.  Without these, she would record the memories but be left unable to access them.  Again, it should have been six threading areas of her brain, but Sylvester’s efforts had left her gutted in a way.

She wouldn’t ever tell him, because that would be gutting him, and it wouldn’t help anything.  The reason she emphasized timing so much as of late was because she was using the implanted lobe that maintained pacing as a crutch for systems that had been grievously wounded.

“They’ll start with damage control,” Sylvester said.  “They’ll paint you all as villains, as best they can.  It won’t work very well.  All the students who stayed are voices the Academy will need to suppress.  Parents and family members will come, wondering where their children are, some will find their children stayed, and others will find that their children ran off with the circus.  Efforts to stir the pot will be complicated by the rumors that I’ve kidnapped a great many of you.”

Eleven cards were sorted in the span of eleven eyeblinks, faster than Sylvester could talk.  She opened her eyes to watch Rudy, Possum, and Mabel.  Other parts of her brain snapped into operation, tracking the visual details.

“You didn’t need to do that,” Rudy said.

Threads connected the transcribed statement to Rudy’s expression.  The underlying, natural operation was likely as sophisticated as Sylvester’s was, but actually using that knowledge was harder than that.  It required her to stop and analyze, and it required her to know what to analyze in the first place.

The cobwebs clarified rather than obscured.  She could see things by the way the cobwebs sprawled, and she could peer through the cobwebs to see the anchors they were tied to.

In this, in how her brain worked, she created a kind of sentiment.

She could look back at Mabel’s words and connect it to things Mabel had said before.  She could see the densities of threads, the zig-zagging shapes they made as they touched on things elsewhere, where those zig-zagging shapes dipped low or high, or seemed more scattered.  A glance at an unusual pattern highlighted the anchors, highlighted key expressions at the time, still images of Mabel’s face at the time the statements were made.  Jessie could look closer and see the exact transcript, the placements of light and shadow, temperature and her own posture at the moments in question.

“It makes sense to do it,” Sylvester said.  “The fact is that not all of us are going to stay.  The initial gleam will wear off.  If I burned the bridge, the people who no longer had a reason to be here but were forced to stay would be resentful.  It hurts more than it helps.”

The other students in the car nodded at that.

“We’ll let them go that easy?” Rudy asked.  “You know they’ll just go and report on our locations and activities, right?”

“We’ll be moving a few times,” Sylvester said.  “If we’re going to lose people, we should lose them during the moves.  I suppose Jessie and I won’t be very open about where we’re going, just to protect all of us.”

Jessie could cross check her records.  This was something she had seen a few times while they were recruiting the gang leaders, Pierre, Samuel, and Shirley.  He was always so mindful of the exit routes.  When someone joined, he was careful to leave them a way out, to always remind them they could go.

He sent them on their way with prosperity, where he could.  The ones who betrayed, he gutted.

This all tied back to Sylvester’s own experience with the Lambs.

“You might be being a little cynical,” Jessie said.  She found a number of memories where Sylvester had followed this pattern.  “More than a little, when it comes to recruits and extending trust.”

“I’m fine extending trust, I’m also fine covering our bases.”

“You know what I mean,” Jessie said.  “You’re being uncharacteristically wary.”

“I’m always wary.  I’m being uncharacteristically conservative, though.  Are you saying we shouldn’t extend trust?  Or are you saying we shouldn’t cover our bases?”

“I think you might be being a little cynical,” Jessie said, not letting herself be caught by this particular trap.  “Past experience coloring your present opinions when it comes to recruitment.”

“You’re thinking of Clay.”

“I’m not thinking of Clay,” Jessie said.  “I’m thinking of you.”

Sylvester leaned back.  He exhaled slowly.  “Fair.  I didn’t think about that.”

“Yep.”

“Now I’m bummed out.”

Jessie ignored that.  “We recruited an army.  If you try to micromanage it, you’ll end up too caught up keeping things in working order to properly plot.”

Sylvester rubbed his chin, then ventured, “We might extend it to a trusted few, so there’s less reason for others to worry we’re playing things too close to the vest.”

“Trusted few?” Mabel asked.

“You three, barring any surprises in the next little while,” Sylvester said.  “But I think my assessment of you three is pretty good.  Things are going to change, as we get underway.  People who found their way to leadership of student groups might be replaced by others.  Neck has his talents, but I don’t know if he’ll stay top delinquent boy.  Ralph is gone, and you’re liable to be the new leader of the Greenhouse Gang.”

“You say it just like that?” Mabel asked.  “I didn’t hold any special position in the group.  There are people who spent more time there than I did.”

“I’m good at reading people,” Sylvester said.  “I like the read I get on you.  I have no reason to think you won’t naturally find your place at the head of that particular contingent.”

“I’m not as sure as you are,” Mabel said.  “I know the Greenhouse Gang better than you do.”

“Maybe,” Sylvester said.  The way he said it suggested he was framing his thoughts.  He looked like he was enjoying himself.

Threads.  Jessie checked past records, taking it all in, searching out cases where the threads zig-zagged in a similar way to this one.  She took note of his face, thinking in the background to compare his expression now to similar cases.  That was background.  Her focus was on the pattern.

His analytical ability challenged, he brought it to the fore.

Sylvester talking to the gang leaders in late fall, three days into their stay in Laureas.  Picking someone, seemingly at random, coming up with a dozen details.

Sylvester at the herbalist’s in Tynewear.  The man had been condescending, pricking Sylvester’s pride.  Sylvester had gone on the attack, showing just how much of the herbalist’s trade that he understood.

Sylvester talking to Lillian.  An early memory for Jessie, in the grand scheme of things.  One week after the Brechwell incident, Fray and her contingent of rebellion leaders, which Jamie hadn’t participated in, she had gone with Ashton for their proper introduction to the Lambs.  In the period of time following, Lillian had been low, a teacher uncooperative with allowing her to do a lab project she had missed.  He had given her less time than he had given others, and she had done worse as a consequence.  Sylvester had reassured to encourage.

There were two other examples that Jessie found and quickly touched on to verify another trend she had noticed.  In all but one of the examples, Sylvester followed a similar pattern.  Jessie had no idea if it was instinctive or calculated.  He started with the blunt details.  Visual things, clues he’d spotted and could point to.  He moved on to weaker arguments that were hard to shoot down, then finished strong, with deep, powerful insights into things he had no right to know.

“You’ve got a good attention to details,” he said.  “You knew my name and background, knew out who I was, and only one other person managed that today, and she was in the background during one of my other jobs.  You knew how devastating I’m purported to be.”

Jessie groaned slightly to herself, both because her suspicion was wrong and because of the ‘devastating’ malarkey.

“Jessie knows too, obviously,” Sylvester said.

Jessie asked, “You are aware that the ‘devastating’ thing was bait?  A signal to you from the Lambs?  They were trying to get a response out of you, and you fell for it hook, line, and sinker.”

“Is that a fact?”

“Not a definitive one,” Jessie said.  She looked over her glasses at him, to better see him clearly, without the filter that blurred the most minor details out of the world while lowering the burden on her memory.  “But I wanted to rain on your parade a little, before you got too much of a parade going.”

“How sweet, looking after me, pruning my ego.”

“Someone has to,” Jessie said.  She poked him.  He played up his response to the poke in his side, acting as if it had been harder than it was.

“I didn’t buy it for a second.  You’re going to have to step up your game if you’re going to start pruning me.”

“I’ll have to outsource and make sure every single one of our new recruits know not to take you seriously.”

Sylvester turned his attention to Mabel.  “Ignore Jessie, please.  Except don’t actually, because she’s as key a member of this team as I am.  For now, let’s focus on why I think you’re so critical for the Greenhouse gang.”

Sylvester ducked his head down.  His arms rested on his knees as he sat beside Lillian, close enough he could have reached across her right shoulder to tap her left shoulder if he could.

“I want you to forget about all that for a moment, okay?  Forget Professor Moron.  Listen to me.  When you joined the team, I wasn’t that happy about it.  For reasons.  Because we had a good dynamic going without you.  You successfully changed my mind.  That’s not to be understated.”

“I feel a tad self conscious about this,” Mabel said.  There were others in the train car.  Most were engaged in their own conversations, but they were keeping an ear out for what Sylvester was saying.

“Be self conscious in a good way.  The Greenhouse Gang is full of very dedicated, clever students, who have a good eye for watching their backs.  When you stood up to Ralph, you naturally secured your position, understand?  You made sure you communicated unambiguously.  That’s going to go a long, long way with that small group of students and with all the others like them.  You need to trust me on this.  I’m not the type to lie about this sort of thing.”

“I’m under the impression, from what the posters said, from what you’ve said, and what you’ve demonstrated, that you’re something of a charlatan and a liar.  Proudly so.”

“I’m a good reader of people.  You still managed to surprise me.  That puts you in a special class of people who I really want to keep close at hand.”

“You change your mind like other people change clothes, you dunce.  That’s the point of Wyvern,” Lillian said.

“It is, but how many people affect a serious, lasting, meaningful change in my brain?  Who gets to take up that limited real estate and memory capacity?  You earned your dang place on the team, despite every single one of my doubts about you, understand?”

Lillian didn’t have a ready answer to that.

Mabel fell silent, thinking over the words.

Sylvester lowered his voice.  “You helped me out last night.  It might have made all the difference, giving me the strength to tackle a situation I was dreading.  If I’d been more tired?  More irritable?  Things might have played out differently.”

Lillian nodded.

“I want to surround myself with smart people.  Because I really like smart, capable people.  Especially those who surprise me and those who are going to back me up when it counts.”

“If you wanted capable people, Beattle might be the wrong place to look,” another student commented.

Bullshit,” Sylvester said.  “I’m over the dang moon with some of the people that grabbed my attention earlier today.  They’ve been lifesavers already.”

He moved his hand in what could have been interpreted as a gesture in the direction of Mabel, Rudy, and Possum.

“They made today easier.  That counts for something.”

The parallels were there.  The way Sylvester talked to Lillian, the way he talked to Mabel.

Jessie could think back, pick from an ocean-vast collection of Sylvester expressions, covering a range.  From there, it was a process of cutting it down.  Every expression had a shorthand code to help with the recording and retrieval.  She could simply think ‘is it more intense an expression than this midrange one or is it less’, and prune half of the list.  After a few discards, she was in a set range.

It was the original Jamie’s system.  He’d written about it in books, along with mnemonics from the early days.  Sylvester’s lopsided smile was ‘sinew’.  Eschewing vowels, it had the letters to indicate strong-neutral-weak in intensity, for left corner, lips themselves, and right corner.

There was too much for Jessie to find her way through her own overcrowded mind without some shorthand.

If the extrapolation to Jamie’s written records was correct, Sylvester might already be interested in Mabel to the same extent he was interested in Lillian, once.  The timing would be the last available book that the original Jamie had written in.  Not the last available entry, but an entry eight days prior.

Sylvester had finished talking to Lillian.  He had reaffirmed her place in the world.  Said in as many words that she should pay less attention to the outside world, inviting her to listen to him and give his words a special weight.  He had rewarded the confidence in him by giving her the chance to refute a small point of argument, then strengthened his argument and built her up as a hero of the moment.

Jamie saw how Lillian’s body language had changed.  She had relaxed quite a bit.

They sat together, backs to the front of the couch, not actually sitting on the couch itself.  It was half-littered with children’s things.

“Are you going back to your dorm tonight?”

“Why is that even a question?  Where else am I supposed to go?”

“Mary’s got an appointment, she might sleep over in the lab or get in really late.  Jamie’s going back for checkups.”

“Oh, I get it,” Lillian said.

“From your tone, I’m not sure you do.”

“I can see right through you, you know,” Lillian said.

“Oh, can you now?”

“If I-” Lillian started.  Then she lowered her voice.  “If I assume what happened that night in Brechwell happens tonight-“

Jamie, reading a book in the other room, barely overhearing but putting the pieces together all the same, felt a lurch of surprise.  Something not in the books, something that confounded his understanding of the Lambs and where things stood.

“-you’ll laugh at me and say you meant I should stay in Mary’s bed and wait for her.  And if I assume Mary’s bed, you’ll-“

He wondered if he should get up and leave, or make his presence more known.

“I’ll what?” Sylvester asked.

“Call me dumb and tease me for missing the point,” she said.  “I don’t know.”

“Seems like you put a whole lot more attention into the first thought, climbing into my bed, than you put into the second thought, staying over with Mary.”

“You’re horrible!”

“And you’re wrong, Lil.  Very wrong.  Because you called yourself dumb, for one thing, and because you thought for a second that I would use that night against you.  Never.  You’re not my enemy.  Not since you saved Mary.  I can be a jerk, but I will not go after you when you’ve had a bad day and you’re lonely.  I will not punish you-“

Then he dropped his voice.

Jamie only caught the sound of his name.  Not his own name, but Sylvester had said ‘Jamie’.

Analysis of this memory fragment had suggested Sylvester had said something akin to, ‘if you need closeness while you’re missing Jamie.’

Jamie, at mention of his name, stirred.  He caught a glimpse of Sylvester touching Lillian’s cheek, wiping away one tear.

He felt like an intruder.  He passed out of the dining room and into the kitchen, past Frances, who was picking through a plate of crackers, probably while -intentionally- eavesdropping on Sylvester and Lillian.  She wouldn’t have caught all or even some of it.

“Jamie,” Sylvester called out, from the other room.

Jamie approached the sitting room again.

“I’m sorry if we disturbed your reading by talking,” Lillian said.

A comparison of memories suggested her cheeks had been wiped dry.  A comparison of other memories suggested Sylvester had had his handkerchief in another pocket before he’d sat down with Lillian to talk about Professor Morehen.

“You didn’t disturb me any,” Jamie said.

“I was wondering what you were planning for the rest of the night.”

“Oh,” Jamie said.  He recalled the conversation.  He chose his answer carefully.  “I’m procrastinating on going back for my appointment.  I was going to make sure Ashton is getting settled, and then maybe have tea before leaving at the last possible minute.”

Jamie recalled dorm schedules and times, then quickly added,  “Ten thirty?  I could walk you back if you’d like, Lillian.  Or if you really wanted, I could walk you back sooner than that.”

His heart pounded in his chest.  His skin felt tight around his connection scars.

He wanted to do the right thing, he wasn’t sure what the right thing was.  He wanted to leave the door open for Lillian to choose what she wanted.  If there was any bias, he wanted her to be closer to Sylvester.

There was no reason for her to feel lonely or feel like the interloper among the tighter-knit Lambs.  Not in the way Jamie so poignantly felt now.

“That’s late,” Lillian said.  “I think I’ll stay the night, I’ll wait for Mary or something.”

“Or something,” Sylvester said.

Lillian turned a little pink at that.  Rather than give Sylvester more fuel, she turned, “I’m going to go steal something of Mary’s to wear.”

She went upstairs.

Left there with only Jamie, Sylvester looked as uncomfortable and disconnected from things as he’d looked comfortable with Lillian.

Sylvester rubbed the back of his neck, and he didn’t make eye contact.

“Thank you,” Sylvester said.  The pause was a little too long before he said, “For looking after Ashton, for being helpful.”

It felt like there was a chasm between them.

How was Jamie supposed to say he was thankful too, for the call out, the chance to close the gap just a fraction?

“Thank you,” he said.  He injected a pause of similar length.  “For taking care of our medic.”

“Yeah,” Sylvester said.

To compare memories, snapshots of images, Sylvester earlier, Sylvester while talking to Lillian, Sylvester now, it was akin to the diagrams and disease progression photos in books about poison and disease.  It was as if every moment in Jamie’s company was a half percentage point or so of Sylvester diminishing, the joy leaking out of him, the grief welling up.

“I’m going to go see to my tea.  Would you want some?  Would Lillian?”

“J- hey,” Sylvester said, abrupt.

Jamie stopped mid-step.

“You could blow off your appointment.  Stay over, like Lillian is.  Kids might make some noise, first thing, but…”

Sylvester couldn’t even meet Jamie’s eyes as he said it.  It cost more than half of a percentage point of Sylvester to even voice the offer and entertain the idea of it.

“No,” Jamie said, even as it killed him to put it into words.  “Focus on Lillian for now.  She had a bad day.”

It killed him just a little more to see Sylvester’s relief at that.

It was a lonely, sad, beautiful memory.  Jessie, in reliving it, sorting things out in her head, had started to drift off.

The conversation was ongoing.  She could tell where she had started to nod off and where she’d been more lucid by how much she had transcribed to memory.

“-goes back to what I was saying about surrounding myself with capable, intelligent people,” Sylvester was saying.  “We get you lot an education.  That means finding capable back-alley doctors and ex-professors to teach you.”

“The problem,” Jessie said, “Is that the kind of capable, back-alley professor who would work with rebellion have been snapped up by various rebellion factions and are working elsewhere.”

“That is an eminently solvable dilemma,” Sylvester said.  “Also, you’re awake.  Lift your rear end up.”

“My rear end?” Jessie asked.

But she did as she’d been instructed.

Sylvester slid a heavy coat underneath her.  The coat, pulled from nearby luggage, was suede trimmed with fur.  For colder weather.

“Turns out an uninsulated train car is cold at this time of year,” Sylvester said.  As Jessie straightened out her legs, Sylvester folded the coat around them.  He got another bit of clothing out and set it behind Jessie, giving her a cushion.  He draped a third, lighter coat over her as a blanket of sorts.  “Sleep if you need to sleep.  It’s been a long day.”

Jessie nodded.  The contrast to the memory was a stark one that left her a little speechless.

Sylvester turned to Rudy, Possum, and Mabel, as if nothing had happened.  “If you want it, if you’re less interested in the learning and more interested in the doing, that can be arranged too.  Be a part of the inner circle, kind of.”

Ah, so this was where they were in the current pattern.  The bargain, the negotiation past boundaries with an offer of greater intimacy.  An invite to bed, an invitation to the inner circle.

Then… the next step in the pattern would be for Sylvester to physically test those boundaries.  Would he get up soon?  His foot wasn’t far from Mabel’s.  A light kick?  A tap?

Watching, she settled down, sitting less and lying down more, the padding behind her serving as a pillow.  More memories threatened to rise up and pull her into a deep sleep, nothing like what the machine could do, in organizing and strengthening the threads, making the connections shorter, and keeping the worst tangles of threads from getting too weighty and potentially pulling material down with them.

When and if that happened, it would be like that memory on the second of February in Tynewear, when she had taken an alternate route after buying food.  In that memory, there was a building face, and the details of that building face were absent where they had once been recorded in detail

Dropped at some point in the last week, while she had been distracted with the imminent plan to steal Fray’s plan.

Jessie waited to see if Sylvester would continue his game of almost-flirting to the extent of physical back and forth with Mabel.  A physical intimacy, even if it was boot tapping boot, gauging how much she might let him in.

Jessie had never really known jealousy, not until that day Lillian had been captured and brought to the top of the tower.  She didn’t experience it now.  This, with Sylvester making her warm, was nice and welcome.

“I want to learn and be a part of any decision making, especially if I’m looking after the Greenhousers.  If that’s possible, that is.”

“Well, Mabel, if you try that and manage it, you’ll redouble my belief that you’re the kind of smart, capable person I want near me.”

Mabel wasn’t one to blush, but she did look pleased at the prospect.

Not quite a physical and minute extension of intimacy, but in his easy verbal jousts, he’d inched closer.  No surprise there.  Even the fact that he seemed oblivious to the fact that he was saying exactly what he needed to say to win Mabel over wasn’t so surprising.  He could be so dense sometimes.

No, the real surprise was Sylvester’s hand reaching down and taking Jessie’s.  He kept talking, as if nothing had happened.

“I want the strong students to make the weakest better.  No more competition,” Sylvester said.  “We’re all in this together.  You teach each other what you know, and Jessie and I are going to get all of you some teachers.  Some here and there will stand out from the rest.  Jessie and I can be teachers to them.  That’s the beginning.”

“What’s the middle?” Rudy asked.

“Taking on nobles.  Not picking fights like we’ve been doing, not the reckless, mad attacks.  I want to take them on on our playing field.  Lambsbridge and Ewesmont playing field.  I want to know what makes them tick, and then I want to take them apart.  The Beattle students are what shape the playing field.  Coordinated work.”

Sylvester was so excited at the prospects.  He looked happy.

She could cross check.  She could find similar expressions.

Sylvester sat in the window in their apartment in Tynewear.  He had a mug of a favorite tea and a plate of favorite cookies with him.  The tea was only available every few weeks and in short supply, while the cookies were often sold out.  A new piece of music played on the music machine.  Sylvester had had a good night with his stealing and fencing, and he had spent nearly all of it on luxuries and small amenities.

Music ticked over to a new piece, and as it got underway, he twisted in his seat, nearly spilling his tea.  He looked at Jamie and, smiling wide, excited, he indicated the music player, not speaking for fear of disturbing this sound he liked so much.

No.  At the root of that moment was being at peace, not being truly happy.

Sylvester and Lillian, together in the morning in Lugh.  Before Gordon had died.

No.  Animal comforts, but not joy.

There were other moments, but as Jessie followed the threads and looked for patterns in this hard to capture emotion, one that couldn’t be taken as a set of facial expressions and broken down into a ‘minnow’ or a ‘sussex’, she had a feeling about where that pattern pointed.

Sylvester could barely contain himself.

“Do it, do it, do it,” Sylvester chanted.

“Do not do it!” Gordon roared.

Children of the orphanage dogpiled Gordon, fighting to drag him to the ground.  An eight year old boy with a mischievous gleam in his eye to match Sylvester’s danced on the spot.

“Grab his leg.  Push on the back of his knee,” Sylvester said.  “Tickle him!”

“Do not give them advice!  I will murder you, Sylvester!  I know of ways to dispose of bodies!”

It was ten children aged five to twelve against one Gordon.  Gordon was winning.

Sylvester stepped forward.  “Gordon.  For too long, you’ve made fun of my fighting skills.  I challenge you.”

“Not the time!”

“It has to be now.  En garde, sir!”

“Drop dead, Sylvester!  Jamie, help me!”

“Don’t help him,” Sylvester said.  “I’ll give you my dessert tonight.”

“Tempting.  I might just take you up on that.”

“Mary!”

“I don’t think I’d normally interfere on a fair fight, but this doesn’t look fair,” Mary said.

“I’ve been plotting this duel for too long,” Sylvester declared, raising his voice to be heard over shouting children.  “Mary, I will tell them about the hearts.”

“Perhaps the fight is fair after all,” Mary decided.

“You are the worst girlfriend!” Gordon said.

Sylvester added his strength to the group of children.  Slowly, Gordon was pushed to the ground.

“Helen.  Back me up.  I will buy you cake.”

“I don’t think Sylvester would forgive me if I interfered,” Helen said.

“I won’t forgive you if you don’t interfere!”

“I’ll buy you more cake,” Sylvester said.

“He’ll buy me more cake.”

“Lillian,” Gordon tried.  A last ditch effort.

“Why am I the last person you ask?”

“Please.”

It was Lillian who jumped to the rescue.  Sylvester, holding Gordon down, stuck out a foot to interfere, trying to stall her.

The mischievous younger boy approached Gordon, dropped trou, and began to lower his bare rear end toward Gordon’s face.

In a last ditch effort, a desperation move, Gordon raised his body up, and he nipped at the younger boy’s butt cheek.

To no avail.  The boy jumped five feet in the air, yes, but the fart was provoked by the bite, not prevented.

The successful assault and the combined imagery of a little boy farting and shooting straight up in the air at the same time saw the entire room collapse into laughter.  Only Gordon stood tall, all fury and intimidation, which made others laugh all the harder.

The moment at the end there, that was the closest match to Sylvester’s expression now.

Considering that he didn’t have the Lambs and might not ever have them again, it was every bit the success Jessie had hoped for.

“And the final stage,” Sylvester said, “much like the middle stage and the late-middle stage, and the late-late middle stage, is the very careful but monumental toppling of a King.”

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