For a few moments, nobody said anything. The only sounds to be heard were Tiresias’ moans of pain, a red line soaking through his wizard robe like he was the wrong answer, and the winding down of Baby Julie’s tears. Quite appropriately, she had already forgotten what had made her so upset. Green match flames danced on the tips of her little fingers.
Everyone in the barn was looking at the infant in her mother’s arms. Except for Fred Barnes. He was looking at Drew. “Son, why didn’t ya tell us?”
He scratched the back of his neck, before admitting, shamefaced “Me and Sophia didn’t know how you would take us. I think, in the back of my head, I thought you and Mum… yeah.”
The couple expected rage and indignation, but all they got from the elder Barnes was a look of total and complete heartbreak. “I’m sorry you were ever able to get that into your head.”
Arnold had yet to figure what exactly he had watched, but he knew he felt just a little less alone in the world.
Żywie was trying to tend to Tiresias’ injury, but he was weakly scrambling away from her. “Keep her away!” he almost screamed. “Don’t let her touch me!”
Lawrence was already back on his feet, his face corpse-pale. His hands were shaking, the right still coated in gold. There was something off in his song, too. It sounded rushed.
“Are you alright, sir?” Allison asked, forgetting herself.
“Myriad, how did he know your old name?”
The current of attention suddenly shifted to the girl. Gravity remembered her ice-ring. “I-I snuck out. After the thing with the big kids. I found AU, and we talked—”
Her world went white, and she was sprawled in the hay. Her first thought was that Ophelia had clapped again. Then she felt herself being pulled to her feet by her hair. She screamed.
“You ungrateful cow!” Another blow across her face with his gold-encrusted hand. “I take you out of that hole! I feed you all the knowledge mankind has to—”
Angela, Basil, and Drew pried Lawrence off the little girl.
“That’s enough, Laurie!” Basilisk shouted, grappling against the old man’s struggles.
Angela managed to get off a glare at the South African. “Is this how he treats children?”
Dazed, Allison wandered over to Eliza. “Żywie… my me hurts.”
Before the healer could do anything, Lawrence broke free of his human restraints. Ineffectively brushing of his suit, he said “Fine. If she’s too good for a thrashing, then it’s the Quiet Room for her.”
Allison felt herself being roughly pulled along by the wrist. People were shouting things behind her, but right then she couldn’t fit the words together in her head. Wet, cold grass changed to wood and then to carpet beneath her bare feet.
Self-awareness only returned when she was shoved into a dark, bare room; one she hadn’t seen the inside of her entire time at the school. The walls looked like black marble, the veins and fissures of grey and white only accentuating the darkness they ran through. She turned to look at Lawrence looming in the doorway. “What—”
“The Quiet Room, Myriad,” he said, his voice toneless and businesslike. “The Physician set it up for us. Supposed to cut posthumans off from their powers. A bit hit and miss, but it seems to work well with links.” He started sliding door shut. “I think an overnight stay is more than appropriate, don’t you?”
The door closed with a sound like an airlock sealing, a thin line of light around its frame going dark like a path in sand being blown away.
Pitch-black silence. Complete and utter silence. Unheard of silence: like everyone and everything in the world had died the moment the door shut. Including Allison. She couldn’t even hear her own song.
Her breathing quickened. Soon she was hammering on the door, shouting after her teacher. “Lawrence! Something’s wrong!” She slid down against the door till she was sitting on the floor. “I can’t hear anything.”
No response. It didn’t sound like there was even any place for the sound to go. It was as if the confines of her universe had collapsed to a few square feet. In some ways it had.
The memory of David’s song was already fading from Allison’s mind, hastened away by fear and the stabbing pain in her left eye and both her hands. Her ice-dress was falling apart, melting into the too-warm stone of the floor. The room was an oven, and the feeling of water on her skin made it worse. The darkness was thickening, weighing down on the little girl like the deepest, hottest ocean, as though the water droplets were contaminating the black. She thought she could hear the sea gurgling in her ears.
Except it wasn’t. Without the songs, there was nothing to drown out the breath of the world.
All the Barnes bar Arnold sat in Lawrence’s study. After their youngest member banished AU—and Lawrence had dragged Allison off to God knows where—her uncle had been hurried to bed with all the other children, and Basil and Żywie were left the Sisyphean task of settling dozens of scared, confused children down to sleep. Angela hoped the two teachers were braced for nightmares and wet beds. The good doctor had then begged them join him in his office, to discuss what had brought them to his school. The Barnes had hoped Mrs. Gillespie, or even Melusine or Miss Fletcher might join them, but instead they got Tiresias, standing in the corner like a sad wizard’s coat rack.
Lawrence had poured everyone a tumbler of scotch, but nobody was touching them—except Tiresias. Lawrence was tapping his fingers on his desk. “You seem to know a lot about us, Mr. and Mrs Barnes.”
“Is that a problem?” Fred asked tersely.
Lawrence graced them with a sad smile. “I wish it wasn’t, Mr. Barnes, but you and your family should know how much hate there is for children like your son. You’ll understand why we value our privacy.”
Sophia looked long and hard at the old man. She looked down at her daughter, squirming in her arms, then back at him. “Excuse me, Doctor,” she said. “I think there’s bigger things we should be talking about.”
Lawrence raised an eyebrow. “Such as?”
“Where you dragged Allison springs to mind,” said Angela.
Lawrence waved his recently freed hand. “I’ve put Myriad in the Quiet Room to think about her actions for the night. She’ll be let out in the morning, I assure you.”
“That doesn’t tell us anything,” Sophie retorted. “What is the Quiet Room? You said you were keeping her in it overnight? Does it have a bed… a toilet?”
“Young lady, how I discipline my students is my—”
“Discipline?” She looked at her husband and in-laws in disbelief. “You punched a little girl in the side of the head! With a metal fist! Twice! ”
Lawrence nodded with some contrition. “That was regrettable. Children should associate a caretaker’s hand with affection, not punishment.”
Sophia shook her head. “For God’s sake! She could have blood on the brain or something!”
“Our Żywie will see to her. Now, I have to ask, how did you know my staff’s names?”
“He wrote home to us, like every boy away at school,” Angela answered, her tone final. “And I don’t think you understand what that looked like, Doctor.”
“The fact of the matter is, Mrs Barnes, Myriad is one of my students, and how I choose to handle her is my business.”
“We’ve known that little girl a lot longer than you have,” said Fred. “And I bloody well hope we’d be asking these questions even if we didn’t!”
“And then there’s the things Chen said,” continued his wife. “You didn’t seem very surprised by them.”
Lawrence narrowed his eyes at the couple. “AU would have said anything to get you on his side.”
“I don’t think I was crucial to his plans.”
“The man had clearly lost his mind.”
“A lot of my mates have lost their minds at one point or another,” said Fred. “There was usually a reason.”
“And what set him off after he gave up?” Drew added.
“Clearly he wanted to get closer to me.”
Angela scoffed. “You were buried to your neck in the ground, with molten metal ready to pour down onto your head. He was plenty close to you.”
Drew scowled. “I think I’d be a mite more worked up if someone accused me of molesting my kids.”
Lawrence just stared at them.
“And then there’s the girls,” Fred said. “I mean, when I first spotted them, I sort of just assumed one of the older lads was a real bounder. But all three of them? At once?”
“We can discuss these questions after we’ve resolved the matter at hand. When did you start receiving—”
Fred slammed his fist down on the desk. “We’re not talking about the notes!”
Lawrence started. “Now look here. I didn’t want to be so blunt, but your presence here has been nothing but disruptive, even forgiving you hitchhiker. You’ve dredged up old emotions in the children, and set Elsewhere’s adjustment back by months at the very least!”
“His name is Arnold!” bellowed his father.
Lawrence leaned back in his chair, sighing. “Listen, I’m usually not in the position to offer it, but it is only fair that parents receive some compensation for letting their children go. I do not extend this offer often, but Żywie’s regenerative capabilities are second to none. If you promise to leave us in peace, and have Elsewhere swear not to send anymore of these letters, you can return home fully intact.”
Imagination and the English language both failed Frederick Barnes. He spat in Lawrence’s face.
The headmaster removed a handkerchief from his front pocket and wiped away the sputum. “I’ll take that as a no, then.”
Angela headed towards the door, her family following close behind her.
“Leaving, are we?” asked Lawrence.
Angela stopped briefly. “That we are, Doctor Lawrence. And we’re taking our son.”
“Are you now?”
“And the little girl, too!” insisted Sophia.
“Very well. Do you want any of my other students while you’re at it?” He tilted his head towards the esper. “You up for a trip down south, Tiresias?”
The psychic shrugged.
“We’ll ruddy well take all of them if we have to,” said Fred.
Tiresias stepped around Lawrence’s desk, placing himself between the Barnes and the door.
Fred wheeled up to the man. “You can stay.”
Tiresias placed two fingers on the veteran’s forehead and pushed him backward a few inches. Immediately, Angela went to slap the man, but he caught her arm, which went limp in his grip. The telepath was stronger than he looked.
“Let’s not go doing anything stupid,” he sighed. He moved closer to Sophie and Julia. “Cute kid you have there.” He pulled the ring of keys he used to bait Ophelia from his pocket, jangling them.
Julia giggled, there was a whoosh, and Tiresias’ hand was empty. He closed his palm. “I really should have thought that through. Mind if I hold her?”
Sophia went stiff. “I-I guess.”
Drew gaped at her, but said nothing as Tiresias took the baby into his arms. Julia didn’t seem to mind, though, gurgling happily up at the man.
Tiresias grinned. “It’s a shame, really.”
“What is?” Sophia asked.
“Well, there’s the sanctioning laws to think about. And there have to be eyes on your family now. These things run in the blood.” He traced a shape with his fingertip on the baby’s forehead.
“They-they wouldn’t,” Sophia stammered. “She isn’t even weaned.”
“They would, I’m sorry to say,” said Lawrence. “I’ve seen some of the asylum crèches. I wouldn’t say they meet the standards of our nursery. Love and care are things I doubt you can economise, but the DDHA gives it their all.”
There was no room left for surprise in Angela’s family, but Lawrence did blink.
“I was merely making an observation, Mrs Barnes.”
“You know exactly what you’re doing!” she spat. “If you’re going to be a brute, at least be honest with yourself!”
“I assure you, if someone reported your granddaughter, as is their legal duty—”
“If you reported her!” Angela screamed. “Stop wheedling about it and say it!”
Lawrence shrugged. “Well, one must render unto Caesar…”
Mrs Barnes tried to think of a scriptural rebuttal, then realized the futility of it. Sophia was struggling to hold back tears by now. “You really would, wouldn’t you? Tear a baby out of her mother’s arms?”
“That would be a job for the soldiers, my dear.” He slid some Institute stationary across the desk. “Leave. Tonight, before the boy wakes up.”
“And you’re expecting us to write what?” Fred said, looking like he was struggling beneath loop upon loop of chains.
“That there is to be no more letter-smuggling, to you or anyone else. I shudder to think of the ‘services’ he might have been providing the other children.”
“And why would we do that?” Fred growled.
“The DDHA?” suggested Tiresias, still gently rocking Julia. “You could say they’re keeping tabs on you. It’s probably even true. I can’t imagine them being alright with note-passing.”
Lawrence glanced at his student and nodded. “That works.”
Angela stood there in the middle of the room for a long while, trying to figure out some way out of their situation. She ran the maths of grabbing Arnold—and Allison, if they could manage it—and legging it. There was no way it could turn out well either for them or the children, not when they were running from a rich man with government connections and a small army of supers. Sophia was weeping now. So was Drew.
Angela walked back to the desk, and picked up the pen. “I should have let Chen get on with it.”
Lawrence watched the Barnes filter out of his office with a touch of regret. Remarkable woman, he thought as Angela slammed the door behind her. He might have tried to hire her on, if there weren’t the attachment issues with Elsewhere to consider, or that husband of hers. Still, he had her genes.
“Is your conscience ever tested, Tiresias? By the things we must do for your kind?”
The psychic broke out a cold, pale smile. “Mine would, sir, were it human.” He headed out the door himself. “Night,” he called back.
Lawrence finally took a hard gulp of his whiskey. The Barnes girl had been almost on point about one thing. He had miscalculated his approach to his newest students.
It would be rectified.
It was impossible for Allison to know when or if she slept in the Quiet Room. There was no light either way, and dreams wandered back and forth as they pleased. Sometimes, she thought she heard snatches of music, but found nothing except her own shallow breathing. Other times, she swore she could hear Elsa laughing at her in the dark.
Then there were moments when the darkness flickered, revealing a barren, arctic landscape, peopled by faceless men with bloodless hands. She was almost grateful when the dark returned.
She no longer feared the thing that breathed in the dark. There was a familiarity to it, and it was the closest thing she had to proof that life still existed.
Please talk to me.
Allison was beyond tears. They’d all been cried hours before. In all that time, she hadn’t moved from the door. She had this idea that, as soon as she could no longer feel that crease in the wall, she would never be able to find it again.
There was a click. A tinny, weary voice filled the room. “Allison, we really need to push on here.”
The girl looked up from the slightly more textured darkness of her knees. “…Dr. Carter?” She had almost forgotten that colourless tormenter’s name.
Another click, and a sigh. “Don’t be cheeky, Allison. My voice isn’t that hard to place.”
It really would have been, if not for that unmistakable blend of boredom and numb fear.
“Sorry s-sir,” she said tentatively. “Um, why are you here?”
“You know full well why both us are here, young girl. You’re being tested.”
Oh. That explained some things. She was still at McClare. The Institute—Lawrence, the Watercolours, AU and everything else—must’ve been a long daydream. She managed to find new tears at the thought of David and the others not being real, but just managed to choke them down.
There were still a few questions, like the silence, or where her clothes had gone. Was that why the room was so dark? And why did her head hurt so much?
“You’re gonna make me play a piano I can’t see, aren’t you?” she moaned.
“…No,” said Dr. Carter, sounding baffled. “What would be the point?”
There was a point, she wondered to herself. “So what’s the test?”
There was a long time before the next click. “Isn’t it obvious? How do you get out this room?”
“I don’t know!” she whined.
“Well, there is a first for everything,” the doctor said dryly. “At least try to work it out.”
She gave it a try. What else was there to do?
Pick the lock?
There was no lock.
Start a fire so they have to let me out?
Chancy, and what did she even have to burn?
Talk Dr. Carter into letting me go?
It hadn’t worked the first five times.
Break my head open on the walls?
Barring the pain, she could find no flaw in that plan.
Click. “Look,” said Dr. Carter, clearly frustrated. “I’m just going to tell you the answer so I can go home, hmm? You sit there and wait for the grown ups to decide to let you out. Again.”
A blade of light split the darkness. It terrified Allison, driving her to the other end of the room, curling in on herself. “Stop-please-don’t-you’re hurting her!”
“Myriad?” Żywie said, running over to her. She tried to coax the girl from her fetal position. “Shh, it’s all over. Let me get a look at you.”
Allison unfurled slowly, Żywie wincing when she saw the ugly, purple bruise that dominated the right side of her face. Her knuckles were raw and bloody.
More importantly, though, the songs were playing again, warming the air and making her feel a real person again. The pain was still there, but the songs offered relief from that, too. She reached out for the nearest one:
She knew herself, inside and out. Pulses sparked between nerve-endings; blood pumped fast and angry in her veins; cells divided and died off as her body went about the business of living and growing up. And it was all awaiting her orders.
She quieted the pain in her head and knuckles, ordering the cuts and scrapes to close, without the half measures of scabs and scar tissue. Someone who was watching closely—which Żywie very much was—would have seen the colour in her bruise begin to visibly fade.
Myriad locked eyes with the healer. “It works on yourself?” she whispered.
“…Yes,” she admitted.
“But then how are you—”
“We’ll talk about that later, little one. Let’s not linger in this room.” She removed her cloak, wrapping it around the little girl. The healer looked almost indecent in Myriad’s eyes, standing there in her plain blue slacks and white frilled blouse, no different from any mere natural woman.
She led Myriad through the hallways by the hand, her cape trailing after the child like a bridal train. “Lawrence wants to talk to you, Elsewhere, and Billy— ” she sighed, “—Growltiger, I mean.” She felt Myriad’s hand tighten around her fingers. She looked down at the girl. “Last night was… out of line. But I swear to you, child, that isn’t Lawrence. We all were under a lot of stress, and I’ll be right there with you.”
Myriad nodded mutely, wondering why Lawrence wanted to speak to Billy as well. Did he do something she didn’t know about?
The boys were waiting for them at the threshold in their pyjamas. They made Billy look like a refugee from an especially twee picture book, but that was hard to avoid in the best of circumstances. He had his arm around Elsewhere’s shoulder, trying to comfort without treading on his pride or pricking his skin with his claws. Going by the frosted panes in the front door, the sun hadn’t even risen yet.
Elsewhere hugged Myriad as soon as she was in range, soon joined by Billy. They clung together for some time.
“You were in the Quiet Room?” Billy asked.
“Was it bad?”
“Yeah. Where’s your mummy and daddy and all them?”
“They’re-they’re gone.” Myriad could hear anger diffusing her friend’s sorrow. “Didn’t even say goodbye.” The weeping returned in earnest. “They said I’m not allowed to send them notes anymore, and that they won’t read them even if I do!” The hug was the only reason he didn’t hit something. “I hate them!”
Żywie shushed him, pulling the boy into her arms. “No you don’t. This was nothing to do with you. Your family was only thinking about your little niece. We’ll set up a more secure way for you and your parents to talk, I promise.”
She hated lying to the children.
The four of them ventured out into the morning, still so dark it could have been midnight, all the bleariness banished from their bones by curiosity.
“You get to wear Zy’s cape?” Billy enthused as they trod through the cool grass. “So cool.”
Żywie smiled, savouring it as long as she could. “You want a cloak, Growly?” Much as she still contested the Naming, she couldn’t deny it made the child happy. “I’m more than willing to share.”
That prospect kept Billy well and truly distracted till they reached the nursery.
Lawrence was waiting for them inside. He was sitting in a wooden chair, gently rocking Chorus’ cradle. He wasn’t alone: Reverb, Stratogale, and Ex-Nihilo were milling about the place—looking out the windows, or studying their nails, or watching the babies sleep. Anything except look at the three newest students.
Lawrence saw how Myriad flinched at the sight of him. “It’s alright, child, you’ve had your lashes. That’s not what you’re here for. You too, Elsewhere.”
“You’re-you’re not gonna hit me? Because of the notes?”
Lawrence shook his head. “I believe, given how that turned out for you, that the crime is its own punishment in this instance.”
Elsewhere was about to break back down, but he felt Żywie’s steadying hands on his shoulders. “Don’t draw this out, Lawrence. We’re all very tired.”’
“You’re very right, old girl.” Lawrence rose from his chair. “I’m afraid, children, that we haven’t been completely open with you three. We’re always careful about the timing of this conversation with new students.”
“The big girls are pregnant, aren’t they?” said Myriad.
The nursery scoffed bitterly.
Really? You didn’t know? That big magic brain of yours, and you didn’t know?
“She’s a little girl, Reverb,” sighed Stratogale.
She has eyes! She saw us packing on the pounds for months, and it never occurred to her that we might be expecting? Where did she think the babies came from?
Myriad’s fingers were sore. “The asylums…”
Lawrence shook his head. “Maybe someday, if they acquire an infant that needs to be here. But this crop”—he swept an arm over the line of cots—“all born here, at the Institute.”
Billy quirked. He was still somewhat unclear on how babies came about, but he knew that this wasn’t how it usually went. “…Were they by accident?”
“Not at all, Growltiger,” Lawrence said, smiling.
Myriad stuttered, eyes darting between the older girls. “But-but they’re kids.”
“Baseline cultures, I find, have interesting ideas about where the borders of childhood and maturity lie.” A chuckle. “Oh, we argue back and forth about it: ‘Is a woman eighteen or twenty-one?’ and all that. But the truth is, a well-fed girl-child in the right conditions may be fertile at eleven, and be able to safely deliver a child not a year later.”
Żywie shot the older man a look.
Acknowledging it with a nod, Lawrence clarified, “Of course, we don’t cut it that fine here at the Institute. Your average Australian girl is more than ready to have a baby at fourteen or fifteen. The hardships of underage pregnancy are all matters of social condemnation and a lack of support for the mothers. Obviously, neither of those are problems here. These babies are growing up with the love of dozens of brothers and sisters, and just as many parents. And as for complications in the pregnancies themselves, well, Żywie’s on the job.”
The healer said nothing, just as she had the night of the caning.
There was something wrong with the situation that Elsewhere couldn’t find words for. He settled on his mother’s all-purpose objection:
“Lawrence… this doesn’t sound very Christian.”
Lawrence laughed. “Oh, boy, I very much admire your mother—owe her my life, I’d wager—but she definitely clings to some very quaint ideas.”
Elsewhere remembered he was supposed to be hating his mother. “Oh.”
There was one thing Myriad didn’t quite understand yet. “Um, who’re the daddies?”
“Chant, Chorus, and Spitfire were all fathered by Linus,” answered Lawrence. “The advantage of being the first adolescent boy on campus.”
I still don’t know how you and Linus got a firework baby, Reverb said, addressing Ex-Nihilo.
“The mysteries your kind still throw us,” Lawrence said wistfully. “All the children our young ladies are carrying at the moment have Gwydion for a father. Should produce interesting results.”
“What about Ophelia?” asked Myriad.
“Tiresias,” Stratogale declared flatly. “My daughter’s father was Tiresias.”
Myriad tried to imagine that. She was far too successful. “But he’s—”
Lawrence cut her off. “I know what it must look like on first glance, but I had to talk Tiresias into it. Yes, the age-gap is there, but it’s not as though they’re married. Just making the next generation a little finer. And you’ve seen the boy with Ophelia. Fatherhood—much as I wish to avoid such exclusive attachments—brings out the best in him.” Another chuckle. “Make of that what you will.”
“Um, excuse me, sir?”
“Not sir, Growltiger, ‘Lawrence’.”
“Sorry. Lawrence, why do we need babies?”
Lawrence’s smile faded. With little ceremony, he pulled off both his gloves.
His hands were as hairless as a child’s, the skin crisscrossed with countless faint, white scars, and ridges where it had split, only to lose its way as it healed.
Even Billy realized what he was looking at. Myriad was horrified. Couldn’t Żywie have healed those burns?
Of course she could have.
“I have seen men burn a child like you. Ordinary men. Fathers and shopkeepers. Kind men.” He laughed at his youthful ignorance. “The human race is a cancerous old miser, who’s only clinging to life to deny his children their inheritance. My kind isn’t going to hand your race what you deserve until they realize how inevitable you truly are. Numbers sure aren’t going to work against that.” A mystical cast fell over his features. “And if you children are capable of such wonders spontaneously, imagine what we would gain by breeding for miracles.”
Myriad said, “Does this mean… one day… we’ll…”
Lawrence tried not to look at Growltiger. “Yes, one day your own children will sleep in this nursery.”
Eliza clapped her hands. “Well, now that that’s over and done with, I think it’s time for you children to head back to bed. I think we could all use a few more hours sleep.”
She started to usher the younger children out the door, but Myriad ducked out from under her arms. “Ah, Żywie, could I ask Lawrence one more thing?”
“You never need permission to ask me anything, Myriad,” said Lawrence.
Eliza hoped to God the girl wasn’t going to ask the question she knew she would.
Myriad took a deep breath. “When I’m big, who do think I’ll… have them with?”
Lawrence’s eyes lit up. Finally, a forward thinking young girl. “Well, first of all, I’m not forcing monogmany on your kind, so you can look forward to plenty of interesting combinations. If we’re talking about first couplings, I’ve been speculating on the possibilities of you and Maelstrom, seeing how well you two get on.”
When Myriad awoke, milky, washed out blue light flooded the dormitory, the kind of early morning gleam that couldn’t decide if it was moonlight or sunlight. For a few happy seconds, she couldn’t recall anything of the last night. She snuggled into Billy’s fur and pulled Elsewhere in closer.
Then she remembered why they had sought each other’s comfort.
Someone was singing; quietly, hardly above a whisper. She glanced towards its source, trying to move her head as little as possible.
“Garibaldi fu ferito, fu ferito ad una gamba…” Tiresias was making his way up the row of hammocks. As he passed each one, he briefly touched its occupants. It didn’t seem to matter where—the forehead, a hand, a foot—so long as there was bare skin. His pace was casual, almost cheerful. Sometimes, he even skipped.
“Garibaldi che comanda, che comanda il battaglion…”
Myriad screwed her eyes shut as he drew nearer. She felt the hammock sway lightly, before her fringe was parted by Tiresias dragging his finger across her brow.
She kept her eyes closed until she heard the clatter of the door shutting. She sat up, looking around the dorm.
Her lips moved of their own will. “I know you’re awake, Allison1.”
1. The old woman with a young face pulls a cigarette out of her Dunhill packet, its artful packaging long since replaced by plain grey cardboard and grim pictures of too-small infants warrened with tubes. With a well practised gesture, she lights it with a match. She never could get the hang of those stubby, modern lighters, she says. I ask how she of all people can justify such a habit to herself. “Better carcinogens have tried and failed,” she tells me. “I suppose you’re going to ask the question? All you hungry journalists do. My answer drifts with the decades, but right now, I think it was the night when Chen came home, when I started to realize the Institute was a cult.”
-“The New Humans: A Biographical History” edited by Dr. Bartholomew Finch ↩
17 thoughts on “Chapter Twenty-Two: The Quiet Room”
And that’s “Kindred” done with! Hope you all enjoyed the first arc of “The New Humans”, would love to hear you opinions on the first part as a whole before we head into Part Two: Titanomachy.
…Well, that seems way too cheerful considering what just happened.
Well. That is certainly a thing.
I’ve been growing progressively less comfortable with Lawrence for some time. Now it’s utterly clear Allison and the kids have a new awful place to escape from.
It’s a good twist. As seen by my feeling really conflicted and confused, even a time after reading it. Nicely set up, to. AU isn’t exactly a hero, but then neither are the Institute.
The single footnote (I’d thought last chapter you didn’t want to break up the aciton, and here was too engrossed to quickly notice) actually summed it up really well. New names, complete isolation from the rest of the world, possible brainwashing, and now all this: an anti-power solitary chamber, and a breeding program. It is a cult, and one we the readers didn’t cotton on to until our noses were rubbed in it.
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Cards on the table, Henry explained the story to me as the X-men, but a cult.
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And here people thought I was reacting to Worm.
Is now the right time to mention one of my inspirations was “X-Mansion”?
Lawrence is so creepy. The calm way he lays his plan out is so unsettling. I’m really curious to see where it goes from here.
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Glad to hear. Kind of wondering how many people had already guessed and were just humouring me.
I don’t have as much to say on this one.
Obligatory: It’s long, consider splitting it, there are some good dramatic ‘bangs’ to separate a few splits, such as the ‘it would be rectified’ line. I just don’t really like switching perspectives mid-chapter, I think. It really takes me out of the text.
The beginning is rough and it left me a touch disorientated (on a re-read it made more sense, so it might just have been me but I’m including it just in case), but the confrontation in Lawrence’s study was much stronger and I’d say it’s the best part of the update, perhaps tied with the ending. I liked Myriad’s little bookending with the reappearance of Carter and the piano, but it wasn’t as strong as the bits with Lawrence. He shines in this chapter, and I say this as someone who didn’t think much of him initially.
That final footnote is /really good/, too.
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While you’re being all constructive critique, do you think the reveal was seeded enough?
For me, the shit with the cane was enough; didn’t really trust the dude from that point on and was just kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
That’s a harder question. It was definitely seeded, but the enough qualifier is one I’ll have to think on. For now, it doesn’t come out of left field or feel cheap — so, I’d say, enough. I remember there was chapter… I wish I could remember the one in particular… where I thought there was more going on with Lawrence. I’ll try to track down which one it was.
I see that Lawrence wasn’t Xavier, but actually Chief from Doom Patrol.
Or Hargreaves from Umbrella Academy, we’re spoiled for choice. Or for that matter Xavier after the 50th dark secret reveal.
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What? Xavier? Secret Reveal? Why do you speak nonsense, Wizard?
(I know what you mean, but like “Hydra Cap”, I won’t acknowledge it.)
I mean, dude’s lobotomized kids, had whole secret teams of X-Men he sent to their deaths, formulated elaborate assassination protocols…
The start was pretty bad and while next chapter improved a lot it has been downhill from there, I have been increasingly leery of where things were going but I have no interest in reading about a cult based on brainwashing and rape for the purpose of self-aggrandizement and genocide.
Still thank you for making clear where this story was going so I don’t further waste my time, have fun writing and whoever is reading too.
I’m sorry if the story has become uncomfortable for you, but I’m glad you gave it a chance. I hope you reconsider, but if not, fair enough. If it’s any cover, things don’t go great for Lawrence.