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Sample: Boil 1

December 10, 2013

I reached out with one hand, and ten needles sank into the pig’s soft flesh, eliciting murderous screams.  Loud.  It thrashed against its bondage.

Sorry, pig.

“Mr. Bowles, if you please?” Mr. Hayworth spoke.  Not a question, per se.

The young student, an attractive young man in uniform, moved the turntable that the pig was caught on.  The animal’s screams continued as it continued to struggle against the arrangement of metal bars that held it in place.

The injection area now faced away from me, leaving me unable to see the progression.  I was nervous, my mouth dry.  My leg kept wanting to bounce up and down, which would have been unsightly.

Three men, only one of whom I knew, sat at the long table opposite me.  They watched me, and they watched the pig.  The thick tome of pages I had carefully typed out sat before them, untouched.

An older man without a wrinkle on his face gestured at my hand.  I held it up.  Each finger nail had two spurs of bone extending from the sides.  He nodded, then looked down at a piece of paper, frowning as he scribbled something down.

The pig’s squealing abruptly died down.  It would be dead now.  More frowns from the table across me.  They didn’t look impressed.

Had it taken too long?

Had one of the injection sites failed to take?  If I’d succeeded, then there should be five patches of flesh turning color.  This would indicate the injections had been delivered successfully.  Most settled for one injection site and a dye.  For drama, and to show the full breadth of what I was doing, I had gone for practical application.  De-oxygenization, extracellular distortion with high biliruben levels, enzymes to rebind the hemoglobin and break up the capillaries, bacteria to hyperoxidize, as well as a hemorrhagic.

I had set the bar high for myself, in this.  I put my odds at one in forty.  I’d doubled down on each dose, but even so…

Still with my hand raised, I retracted the spurs.  I clasped my hands in front of me before they could start shaking.

“You have three colors,” Professor Hayworth finally said.  He was the only one I knew on this committee.  Unfortunately.  He had light blond hair and he hadn’t even taken off his coat before sitting down, and he toyed with his fountain pen as though distracted or bored.  “Blanched blue flesh, orange with boils, purple bruising… and I believe more bruising.”

“If you’ll please wait?” I asked, even as I felt a cold hand close around my heart.  No, no, no.

“Ah.  I think I see another,” another professor said.  The youngest of the three, he looked no older than thirty.  Not that looks indicated much.  “Green, a touch faint, but distinct.”

Faint?  I’d tested the hyperoxidizer and hemorrhagic any number of times.  Was it the pig’s fault?  Was it from a different farm?  Did it have thicker skin?

“With the demonstration over, we can begin the questioning,” the older professor said.  There wasn’t a waver in his voice.  He didn’t sound old. Only his hair and a poor posture betrayed his real age.

“Yes, professor,” I said.

“What was your source material?” the youngest professor asked.

An easy question.  Something to help me get my bearings.  “Shelley’s third codex.”

“What is the mechanism?”  the old professor again.

“Telescoping series of bone, forming taps, drawn out of the body by synovial fluids in a hydraulic mechanism.  When the bone is fully extended and pressure is placed on the taps, the channel is opened to force the fluids out.”

“Mechanical, then?”

“Yes, professor.”

“You showed mechanical work last year as well,” Professor Hayworth said.  “In fact, there was a great deal that was similar to this.  Telescoping.”

“I did, professor.”

“Professor Pruitt was on that committee, if I recall.  He had a car he was fancying.  He was in a phase of fetishizing machinery, which may be the only reason that project passed muster.”

“You could be right, professor,” I said.  I was being rude, suggesting he might be wrong, but I wasn’t sure how else to respond, and I couldn’t be silent.  I wasn’t about to agree.

“Shelf life?”  the young professor asked.

I was maybe falling a touch in love with him.  He was making this easier, asking the questions I wanted them to ask.  “Lifetime.  Nothing should need replacing, barring a needle breaking in a struggle, and even then it should be easy enough.  The cartridges can be refilled by use of a syringe.”

“Where are the cartridges?” the old professor again.

“Within the proximal phalanx of the respective finger,” I said, tapping the longest bone of my middle finger.

“Show me?  The fingers, not the cartridges.”

I did, extending my hand with fingers down.  He gestured, and I turned my hand around, fanning out my fingers, then closing them.

“No scars,” the young professor said, approving.

Some young ladies were wooed by poems and flowers.  He had inadvertently targeted my weak point, my science.  I smiled a little, curtsying just a bit before I remembered where I was.  “No, professor.  I’d like to say it’s because I’m talented in that respect, but the cartridges are easy to install.”

“I imagine you still have the blemishes on your arms?”  Hayworth asked, almost casual.  As if it were a non-sequitur.

Joy squashed.  Dash it all.  “Yes, professor.  I’ve treated them.  You would have to look carefully to see.”

“Roll up your sleeve, please?” he asked.

Not the subject of this particular discussion, but I couldn’t exactly refuse.  I unbuttoned my shirt at the wrist, then rolled it up.  Stretch marks ran across my skin, only really visible in the wrong light.

The young professor looked too, of course.  I wanted to hide.  There was no need to keep my arm up this long, I’d done as I was asked.  Yet I held firm.  I had made mistakes and I would face them.

Even with everything on the line.

“I don’t have to look carefully to see,” Hayworth said.  “Don’t lie to us, Miss Fray.”

“Yes, professor,” I responded, more offended than chastised.

“This student,” Hayworth went on, for the benefit of the others at the table, “chose to demonstrate her first year project using augmentations to her own body, as she’s doing today.  There are a wealth of individuals in the lower class who will gladly serve as a test subject in exchange for some free care.  Something looked at, something removed, or perhaps some cosmetic attention.  To demonstrate a project using yourself indicates confidence.  Being wrong in the face of that confidence indicates exceedingly poor judgement.  The scars suggest your last project was poorly thought out.”

I momentarily wished Hayworth and the pig could have traded places before this started.

“Hayworth isn’t entirely wrong, we have a great many facilities at our disposal,” the older professor agreed.  “Something to keep in mind.  Let me ask, with such small cartridges, the doses must be small?”

“I used a high concentration,” I said.  “I could do the same to twenty pigs.”

The old professor’s eyebrows raised.  Wrinkles appeared in places that shouldn’t have them, with the uncharacteristic change in his appearance.

“With only four out of five doses working?” Hayworth asked.

“My tests showed all five doses working reliably,” I said.  True, but it felt like an excuse, given the situation.

“A correspondingly high chance of self-contamination, then, with this high concentration dose, and the risk of breakage?”

Could I stab myself?  Or would I infect myself with the poisons or drugs I’d loaded into the cartridges?

“The telescope structure is strong enough I wouldn’t fuss, Professor.” I said.  “The only sort of impact that would put me at risk would be the sort that broke every bone in my hand.”

“A risk, nonetheless,” Hayworth said.

“I know many students who carry volatile chemicals and pathogens on their person.  Any impact that could break a hand could break a bottle they carry.”

The older professor frowned.  “I recommend that you do not let the carelessness of other students lower your own standards, Miss Fray.”

I bit my tongue instead, taking a second.

“Yes, professor,” I finally said.  I even managed to sound proper.

“Market?” the young one asked me.

Another question I was glad to answer.  “Upper class women.  Even lower class women would find it appealing, and the turnaround to produce components is short.  It’s discreet, convenient, easily added once and then forgotten, with no maintenance.  It serves as a means of self defense when out and unaccompanied.  If accosted, they can scratch or inject their assailant.  Our nation’s spies could use them as well, if the situation warranted.”

“Interesting thought, and not a traditional direction,” the young professor said.

“Because it’s a poor direction to take,” Hayworth said.  “Proper young ladies put a priority on appearance.  What message does it send, if a young lady conceals hooks and barbs all over her person?”

“If you would allow me to speak from the perspective of a young lady…” I said.

“I would rather answer your other point.  Please.  Remember you are in a university setting, Miss Fray, and we cannot speak out of turn, or this will devolve into chaos.  You think spies should use these devices to poison America’s enemies?  When the world is on guard against this very thing, in this burgeoning new age?  An actual syringe can be destroyed or discarded after use.  If a spy was searched thoroughly, someone would surely notice the holes in their fingertips.”

An actual syringe can be found readily before use.  “The holes are miniscule, professor.”

“Miniscule holes can still be detected.  My biggest problem, Miss Fray, is the scope of this project,” Hayworth went on.  “Many of your fellow students make a term project out of something more grandiose.  Developing a new lifeform to a certain life stage, a new manner of voltaic life, a pathogen.  What you demonstrate here would be an interesting feature, a detail in another, grander project.”

“I seem to recall you stating that small things can be the most dangerous.  I believe it was in my second class ever, you were one of the professors who spoke.”

“Are you giving me lip, Miss Fray?”

“No, professor,” I said, my voice tense.  “I’m trying to argue the merit of my work.  This is the point of the annual dissertation?”

“If you’re going to be disrespectful, you can step out of the room, and we’ll conclude this without you.”

I pursed my lips.  I can’t afford to fail here.  “Yes, professor.  I’m sorry.”

“Many of our students are here from a young age.  Some exceptional students join us at a later date.  Some less exceptional students join us at a later date, by virtue of luck or happenstance.  I believe you’re one of the latter cases.”

“I only joined two years ago, professor.”

“Sometimes this happens,” Hayworth said, and he sounded unnervingly soft spoken.  “A clever student has an idea, but it’s not one they can prepare in the span of a year.  They take one small aspect of the project, then try to build a dissertation around it.  Sometimes this works.  They scrape by, some geniuses pass with flying colors, and then they stun the committee with their results the following year.  More often, it doesn’t do well because it’s a mere three months of work, when we’re expecting the sum of ten.”

The younger professor wasn’t speaking up.  He hadn’t, not since he saw my arm.

Hayworth continued.  “Tell me, Ms. Fray.  Do you have a hidden project in the wings?”

“I have three other projects that were near completion.”

“Any unifying theme?  Can you tie them together?”

“No, professor.”

“There are no extracurricular activities in your record, as I understand it.  Have I been misinformed?  Have you been working in the libraries, with sales, military, sticks, or the clean up details?”

No time.  “No, professor.”

“Is there anything to add?  Something to add, justifying your use of University resources?”

I paid tuition.  In a roundabout way.  I earned my scholarship, and that money went to you.  Money in exchange for resources.

Very reluctantly, I said, “No, professor.  Nothing to add.”

“I see.  Thank you, Ms. Fray.  If you would return to your residence, someone will be along shortly to inform you about our decision.”

“Thank you,” I responded, not feeling grateful at all.  I headed to the door, giving the table a sidelong glance.

The rumor among the students was that if at least two of the committee members went straight to the paperwork when the meeting ended, then you were in the clear.

None of them even glanced at it.

Sorry, pig, that you had to die for the sake of that.

Other students glanced at me as I strode down the hallway.  The students ranged from ten to twenty-five.  Five boys to every girl.  Dozens.  The vast majority of them had a weariness about them.  Most would be getting a minimum of sleep, trying to wrap up their projects and type out an outline that covered every base.  Some were in the company of voltaic creations or their dissertation projects.  Animals with augmentations and a handful of people with augmentations as well.

I was done.  Career over before it started.  Four and a half years of intensive tutoring with ex-students, preparing my admissions project, six months in-school bringing the idea I had conceptualized to life, two years spent here.

I couldn’t help but feel a kind of resentment over the youngest students that were milling in the hallways.  The ones with families that could afford to send them here from an early age.  They would inject themselves with ox, a way of keeping their brains flexible, free associating easily.  They had been dosing themselves with other substances to stave off the need for sleep for days, to make the most of their time.  By the time I had stepped through the front doors and faced the option of doing the same, they had been dosing themselves for so long they were immune or used to the side effects.

I had started out behind and I had never caught up.

Or, better to say, they had started out ahead.

I loved the building, with the gleaming tile floors and the brown stone walls.  It was warm and just a little disorganized in layout, like a living thing should be.  Crawling with ivy.  The residential buildings that sprawled around the foot of the University were more like the roots of the superstructure than anything else.

It was big, somehow overbearing and every few years, the work done here would touch the world beyond.

It would have been easy to use a human test subject.  I could have gone overboard, taken more risks with safety and the cosmetics of it.  It would have hurt me in terms of marketing, perhaps been a bit of a gamble, but I could have been more dramatic.  It was, I suspected, what many other students had done.

I could have, but I hadn’t.  I had seen a few too many of those test subjects coming through the University.  There was a small but noticeable discrepancy between the number who were brought in for the experiments and the number that left.  Small, only a handful each year, but still enough to note.

There was also another concern that nagged at me, but it was more abstract.  The idea that we were so eager to take risks for the sake of a successful, attention-getting dissertation and then summarily hurrying to rush our ideas out the door to potential buyers… I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of that.

In more ways than one, I had been safe.  The self-experimentation was the smallest risk I could have taken.

I returned to my residence room, and my eyes roved over the other projects.  In a tank, Dolores swam, undulating periodically.  Somewhere between an octopus and a jellyfish, she had an open ring for a head.  Smarter than most would consider.  model hands sat on another dresser, carved of wood, with various components arranged on or around them.  The one in front had sections carved and cut off to hold the other spurs I’d made.  Another had the ink reservoir in the palm, as I did in my left hand.

I rolled up my left sleeve and put my arm in Dolores’ tank.

The ring encircled my upper arm.  I withdrew both my arm and Dolores from the tank, letting her four arms wrap around my arm, wrist and hand.  My roommate, still ensconced in her bedcovers, grumbled, annoyed, at the slight splash I’d made.  She would be sleeping off the cocktails of cocaine and other substances she had used to get through her dissertation.  She had passed.

I gave both Dolores and my arm a patdown with a handtowel to dry them, then adjusted Dolores so that one of her oblong eyes were visible.

I pointed, and she reached out with a prehensile limb, seized the book, and pulled it back to me.  It wasn’t strong, and there was a floppiness to the arm that I had hoped to have corrected by now.  Not enough cartilage.

I picked a sugar cube out of a bowl and stroked it along her skin.  I pointed again.

Wrong target.  I splayed out my fingers to stop her, then tried again.  When she was right, I rewarded her with more sugar.  By the time we had a rhythm going, I didn’t need the sugar anymore.  Only an occasional stroke of her head.

If I had four more months here, I could have made a second Dolores, learning from the mistakes of the first.  Or I might have tried something more basic, surgery to restructure her internal makeup.  Shorter, stronger limbs?

I began picking up the various pieces of my room, with Dolores’ help.

“You’re back already, Genie?” Claire, my roommate,  mumbled.  She was still bundled up in her covers, with them over her head and tucked under her legs, but she’d at least turned over to face me.

“Yes.”

She was able to read things from my body language and tone.  Her voice was a little hoarse as she said, “I’m sorry.”

“I won’t hold my scholarship unless they all pass me, and they won’t all pass me.”

“I’m sorry,” she said again. “You could reach out to your parents?  One year of tuition, do better next year?”

I wasn’t sure I would, and that wasn’t an option anyways.  How nice, that she could suggest it in so cavalier a fashion.

She groaned a little.  It wasn’t for my sake, but for hers.

“Would you like anything?” I asked.  “Water?  Food?”

“Yes.  But you should ignore me.  Be selfish, Genie.  If you’re right about them not passing you, they’ll come and ask you to leave, and you’ll only be able to bring what you can pack in two minutes.  Hurry and get yourself set.”

I nodded.  “Thank you.”

She was being nice, even while under the weather.  She had always been nice.

Why did I feel uneasy, thinking that?

She spoke, but her eyes were screwed shut, and she tugged the blanket over her head.  “People are going to ask what happened.  There are a few of them who like you.  They will think I had something to do with it.”

“They have no reason to blame you.”

“What should I tell them?”

“That I love this.  The work.  The learning.  The creation.  It’s everything else that I hate.  The people, for one thing.  I like new ideas too much to stick to one for the dissertation.  That’s where I went wrong.”

There was more, but complaining about the elite students and the advantages they had from attending at a young age wouldn’t go over well with Claire.  She was one of them.

“I guess you’re going home?”

I nodded, but it was a lie.

No home to go to.  Not really.  My family’s fortunes weren’t doing so well.  I had hoped to finish over three more years and then work for the academy, taking my cut from selling research and projects to support my family.

“Can I give you a tip?” she asked.  “A big tip that you positively cannot tell anyone I gave you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Keep Dolores.  Hide her.  They’ll confiscate anything they can find, but they won’t dare touch you.”

I stared down at the little lifeform, with her pink and gray blotches.  Not my work, not entirely.  I had made it with an upperclassman who had dropped out, just as I was about to.

“Alright,” I said.

I gathered my clothes from the drawers, folding them and placing them with my luggage.

When the knock at the door came, I was nearly done.  Only my library books remained, along with some of the booklets that I’d been given when I arrived.

My uniform, too.  I had worked too hard for too long to take it off now.  Dolores lightly squeezed my arm beneath my uniform shirt.

It was the young professor.  I invited him in.

“It is entirely too late in the day for a young lady to be abed,” he said, his voice stern.  “You would do well to study at the library, if you want to maintain your standing.”

Lethargic, tense, doing a poor job of hiding her scowl, Claire rose from bed, brushed her skirt and hair into a semblance of tidiness, standing awkwardly by her bedside.

My heart pounded.

“Genevieve Fray.  I’m sorry,” he said.

I nodded, wholly unsurprised.

There was a kind of relief, mingled with frustration and anger.  I was out from under a pressure that had weighed on me since my second week in the University, but I didn’t want to be.

I had spent a full third of my life working towards this, and now I was done?

“You will need to turn in your uniform, keys, and you must leave everything behind in your workshop, to be cleaned up by other parties.  With no notes in the pathogens or invasive species files, I understand there’s nothing you need to oversee?”

“No, professor.”

“You’ve read and understand the procedures for exit?”

“Yes, professor.”

“I’ll take you to the sticks now.  You will need to remove your uniform.”

“Alright,” I said, feeling a lump swelling in my chest.

I collected the change of clothes from my belongings and stepped into the washroom.

The professor and Claire were talking in low tones.  He was stern, she was quiet.  I heard his voice drop in volume by one notch.

Confiding something?  I felt a twist in my stomach.

Of course.

I took my time getting dressed, thinking.  A white calf-length dress, a thick red belt around the waist, a blouse with a froth of lace as the sleeves and neck, and a red tie for my short black hair.

I turned my attention to Dolores, who I had placed in the sink’s basin.  I jabbed her with one of my ‘spurs’, and watched as she slowly stopped moving.

My only real friend, here.

By the time I stepped out, the professor was looking somewhat impatient.  I handed him my folded uniform.  As he took the folded garment, he could see my bandaged fingertips, a little blood marking the cloth.

“The components?”

I held out my other hand, showing him the little horns of bone.

“In the wastebin,” he said.

I did as he asked.

“Thank you,” he said.  “We should be going.”

Before we could get on our way, Claire hugged me.

I could feel her tense.

When she broke away, I was smiling.  Her eyes dropped to my arm.  I could see her brow momentarily furrow in confusion, her gaze darting to the washroom.

I smiled a little wider.  “You’ve been ever so kind.  Somewhere down the line, I’ll owe you one.”

No Dolores.

The professor was kind enough to take the biggest piece of luggage for me, leaving me to carry two small bags.

The residences were on the street level, and exit was too quick, too soon.

We passed the military building on our way through the gardens.  The color was startling, the birds garish, the flowers so bright and varied they looked like something artificial, especially with the overcast sky and light rain that fell around us.

I had always preferred English style gardens, where things ran wild, more than a little messy, but in a good way.

An distinguished building like the University deserved something more natural.  Which was ironic, given the focus.

We entered the city.  There was nothing natural about it.  A stark contrast, dingy and gray, with roads that were brown and gouged with wet tracks and holes disguised by puddles.  Shit piled in the street, here and there.

There were crowds of ordinary people, with the uncommon oddity among them.  For every thirty people, there was a voltaic man or woman.  I could safely assume that there were probably more than twice that number, given how well the more recent ones were made, with their stitches and scars hidden by hairline and clothing.

I saw a single voltaic horse, pulling a wagon, alongside the other ordinary horses and wagons on the street, and two cars.  A beast of burden that outlast even the doped horses on the streets.  The voltaic beast had flesh sown together patchwork from two different horses, at a glance, with metal studs where it might be plugged into a wall during a lightning storm.

Three ‘Roses’, two ‘Lilies’ and a ‘Violet’, alongside a ‘Hawk’ and two ‘Colts’.  The women were dressed well, considering the climate and surroundings, their immodest dresses in colors that matched their names.  Red, pink and violet.  They smiled and flirted with passerbys with painted lips while the narrow ‘Hawk’ and two hulking ‘Colts’  unloaded boxes and luggage from a wagon.

A Rose, utterly identical to her sister just as the two Lilies and two Colts matched, cooed at the young professor as we passed them.  Her sister echoed her.

The professor’s neck and shoulders were rigid as we passed.  I clasped my hands behind my back, and he glanced down at me.  “Hands in sight, Ms. Fray.”

More oddities.  Men too muscled to be natural.  People who didn’t quite look right, their faces too smooth, their hair colors one step beyond the ordinary, too red or blond.  Uncanny, more than anything.

I counted myself lucky that there were no corpse collectors.  The smell was always atrocious, and the rare scene where someone decided to sell their bodies – a dime for a pound of flesh – was grisly.  I had worked in every type of lab, but it was typically animals that screamed, not people.

“Many students start working in the periphery of the University when they fail to graduate.  Some are too ashamed to return home,” the professor said.  He gave me a pointed look.

“I can’t imagine working in some back alley laboratory,” I admitted.

“I have escorted many students to the sticks in my time as a professor, and virtually every student said similar things.  Yet the number of people performing illegal, clumsy science and medicine in the area continues to increase.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

He led me to a building I had only seen in passing, on my brief trips through town.  The station.

Officers glanced at me as I was led through the building, but I didn’t warrant more than a second look.

“That way,” the chief said, looking up from his desk.  A bulldog of a man, to look at him.  “They’re all full on this end.”

The cells.  A final indignity.

Brilliance took only the right person, the right time and place, and diligence.  Two such individuals had made places like the University a possibility.

To take that brilliance and catalyze it, stirring all of society, there was a need for war.  War to unite.  War to demand the very best.

We’d finished one war, bringing us to this point.  Rumors stirred of another, on the horizon.  Nobody spoke openly of it, but the professors told the complete story with grim silences and the odd intensity that caught them in certain areas.  The dissertations were only one such area.  Certain classes, certain departments…

An arms race, and we students were the means.  We knew it, even if we did not speak of it.

In a way, my disappointment at my failure was a disappointment that I would not be able to serve my country.  I had wanted to do what I loved, to support my mother, support my country… it had felt right.

To be locked in a cell because I knew too many dangerous details to be allowed to find my own way home was wrong.

Still, I didn’t complain as the door slid shut.

My father had always counseled pragmatism.

My father, I couldn’t help but note, had failed, gone bankrupt, and hanged himself.  There was only my mother, living with family.

“Best of luck,” the professor said.

“I never got your name,” I said.

“Donald Newall.”

“Professor Newall.  Thank you for answering.”

“I hope I never see you in front of the court, Fray.  It would be a crying shame if you were caught up in something dodgy.  We’ve had too many go down that road already.”

“I know,” I said.  I wasn’t sure what else was appropriate.

With that said, he left.  The rain was falling harder outside.

I rested my head against the bars, eyes closed, listening.

He had stopped to exchange brief words with the chief.

My suspicions were right.

As cells went, these special quarters were cozy.  Inoffensive.  Proper beds, dressers, sinks and a stall for the toilet.  It was eerily quiet, with only the occasional set of footsteps or the scribbling of a hard pen nib to disturb the peace.  None of the prisoners talked.

Everything and everyone was docile and quiet.  I remained still, ignoring my slowly churning stomach, and I trained my hearing on the footsteps, listening.

When the captain approached, I knew it was him, from the volume and the way the sound approached.

He held a syringe.

Keeping me quiet, like all of the others.  Just like the University provided the ox, the materials for tweaking our doses, so we could stay up and keep working.  Keep feeding them ideas that they could sell, feed them ideas that would give them a critical edge in the war, as the voltaic people had helped decide the first.

“For your information, you’ll be searched while you’re under.  My wife will do the deed.  I’ve run her through it enough times she knows what to look for.”

“Alright,” I said, still feeling a little uncomfortable.

Pragmatism above all else.

If I was going to rebel or argue, this wasn’t the place to do it.

“You should know the drill, if you read your material.  You step out of line once, you get dosed with something that slows you down,” he said, tapping his head.  “If they don’t outright take something out of that skull of yours.  You do something criminal or practice your work without approval from your University, same deal.”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“Best you remove anything offending, or tell me now, so we might take measures.”

“Okay,” I said. “Just the ink bladder.  My left palm, here.  I couldn’t remove it before I had to go.”

The lies came easily.

He nodded, following my instructions to drain the bladder of the ink.  He took my offered arm to jab me with the syringe.

I didn’t sleep, but time and reality became decidedly fuzzy instead.

He eased me down onto the bed, and I reclined.

The scenes that played out were incoherent.  The captain’s wife visited, and sure enough, a screen was erected at the cell door, and I was patted down.  What made it weird was that in my dazed state, I couldn’t help but see her as the captain, dressed in drag.  Jowls.

No Dolores, and they didn’t find the spurs in my left hand, even as they stretched and bent each finger until I mumbled in pain.

They removed the bandages on the other hand, and noted the incisions beside and beneath each fingernail.  He tried a few more times to eject the spurs.

When I was dressed once more, I couldn’t help but smile wanly a bit in my dazed state.

I’d been right.  Miniscule.  Ten sets of spurs in place.

I was not leaving without something to mark my time at the University.

It was dark when the next person was brought in.

His mouth opened like a fish on dry land.  I only caught a glimpse, dreamlike, as two officers walked by the door, carrying him.  A head with thick black hair and a standard life support rig, complete with a heart that could beat outside the body, and two jars of blood, each with a filter.  Brass gears spun in jerking starts and stops as the heart beat.

“Found him in a basement.  He matches the description you gave us earlier.”

“The tourist?”  The captain’s voice.

“Yeah.  Him.  What’s the story?”

The chief explained, “Guy was visiting home after a few years away, business partner in tow.  His family kicked him out.  We get witnesses showing up, telling us a guy hit the pavement with a spatter.  Would think it’s him taking the easy way out, but it was the Scarfellow’s place.”

“Business partner has shady connections, you think?”

The chief said, “Apparently everyone thinks, but he was gone, and so was the body.”

“Damn collectors.  We found him hooked up to a thinking machine.  They were probably signaled, because they took everything they could with them.  I thought we’d get him to the University, see if we can’t get him speaking before we tried questioning him here, but they’re too busy, they say.  He’ll keep for a while.”

“Put him at the end of the row.  He can share a cell with anyone that’s not a damn student,” the chief said.

I blinked slowly, and I counted footsteps, tracking who was coming and when.

The lights went out.

I could move a little by the late evening, though without much strength.  One of the officers on duty visited me, jabbing me with another needle, his other hand holding a dozen more.

By early morning, I could move a little once more.  This time, I jabbed myself with one set of spurs on my left hand.

The remainder of the symptoms cleared.  I retracted the spurs, waiting to hear the sound of footsteps.

I made my way to the washroom stall of my cell, crawling inside, and knelt before the toilet.

I drew in a deep breath, I used my finger to provoke my gag reflex.

It took three tries to produce anything.  Already, I was feeling short on breath.

One tentacle.  My throat caught, and I gagged for real.

“Ma’am?” one guard asked.

Don’t come in.

“They test that shit on themselves.  Changes the entire brain or body, but mostly they do it to get sleep,” a guard said.  “But there’s always going to be something ugly that follows.”

I pulled that ‘something ugly’ from my mouth and throat, using both hands.  Dolores landed in my lap.  I bent over the toilet and threw up for real, simultaneously trying to gasp for breath.

“We drugged ’em.  How’s she up?”

“‘Bout time we re-drug them.  It will be wearing off.”

I was damp with sweat, my back drenched, where I’d been lying in the same position too long.  I had Dolores, and I had the spurs.  I had telescoping arms, but they weren’t in working order.  I’d stopped using them when a misfire had stretched the skin of my arms.

Hiding Dolores in my shirt, I crawled across the floor, then lay down on the cool tile.

Disabling the guards was easy.  A poke with a fingernail, an injection of tranquilizer.  When the second approached, I caught his leg with Dolores’ limb, then jabbed him with one of their own needles.  He shouted and fought, standing and kicking me in the stomach, but the drug took hold.

I’d counted footsteps.  But one could be sleeping.  I waited to hear a response.

Nobody was awake enough to hear.

Using the keys, I opened the door.  I staggered across the prison.  Making my way down the hall.

My roommate had sabotaged me.  I had little doubt.  She’d told me to keep Dolores and then told the professor I had her.  It had clicked the moment I’d heard her whispering.

I supposed she didn’t feel the need to be as subtle as before when I was on my way out.

I stopped by the head.  I could see his eyes, frantic, confused.

“You want revenge?” I asked.  “Blink once for yes.”

He blinked.

“Good.  I help you first, then you help me with my thing.  Something a little bigger.”

Three blinks.

“Two blinks for no.  What’s three?”

His eyes moved down, slowly roved over the machine that gave him life.

“I’ll get you a body, too.  Might be a bit crude, but it’s better than anyone else can give you.  Sound like a deal?”

He blinked once.

I hefted the life support machine under one arm, his head dangling from cords over the back of my shoulder.

Free for the first time in my life, I stepped out into the rain and the darkness.

 

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From → Sample: Boil 1

236 Comments
  1. At first glance, I like this one best so far. I’d like to see more though, and there’s still one more set to look at.

  2. alteralias permalink

    I was enjoying Face and I felt like Peer could go interesting places but Boil has just grabbed me. I really hope this is the story you decide to go with.
    Of course that said each story has had me more interested than the last so who knows what the next few weeks might bring.

  3. I personally needed to force reading Peer a time or two and did, because it was written by the author of Warm. While Face didn’t catch my interest, it didn’t feel the need to stop reading either.

    Boil – I enjoyed reading. It’s a catchy story that grabbed me despite the pig at its start 🙂

    I don’t think Gene is flat character. I’ve got a lot more depth from her than the last two protagonists.

    About the escape. In a world, where they could prison and drug you for indefinite time because of “national security”, you have little if any personal rights and any of the shots forced on you could “slow” you permanently waiting could have steep price..

    Its stands to reason that any new works of Wildbow, while original won’t grow in vacuum. After reading Worm for years it will be easier finding similarities, even when they aren’t there.

    About Girl Genius.. after reading about it in the comments to this sample, I tried reading it.. and after couple of dozen pages it still fell flat.. Maybe it will grow on me with time, maybe its the format but I it falls well short from Boil for me.

    • Devin permalink

      Girl genius is boring. Don’t waste your time. The only reason comparisons came up was because of setting.

      • GG isn’t that bad. Well, okay, on a week-to-week basis, the story moves slow, but an archive binge is neat.

        …I’m starting to wonder why they made it a webcomic, actually. It doesn’t transition well.

      • Reveen permalink

        Because Phil Foglio absolutely MUST draw curvy women, at any cost.

      • I figure they were in the process of uploading Buck Godot and What’s New and just figured ‘why not’. I started on Girl Genius from the books, and it definitely works better as a collected volume than as a couple pages a week. Plus the first volume is definitely the dullest, so somebody just starting out with no idea what’s to come is likely to drop it.

    • sidcypher permalink

      Oh, that’s nice.
      I’m glad to see Boil all the way in the lead.

      • Devin permalink

        Well the poll IS on the boil page, but yeah it seemed that way from the comments. I’ve only seen a few people who outright dislike this story. I prefer face, but think this is interesting too.

  4. Kim permalink

    I think this is the first one I actively wouldn’t read.
    It feels — painful, and too true to life.

  5. Shoal permalink

    yes yes yes this is amazing

  6. And here … we … go.

  7. nomananisland permalink

    I’m not ever going to convince someone who likes biopunk or steampunk that the genre is a dull subset of sci-fi. It is dull to me, which is a purely subjective reaction based on my reading education and experience. There are plenty of people who don’t like comics, but I appreciate them because they were a big part of my childhood. I have no similar affectionate memory for “punk”, so it doesn’t appeal.

    However, I feel the need to point out the significant difference for me between the “handwavy” nature of both comics and punk. In my experience, punk handwaves its science for the sake of a “cool” setting, and loose “industry vs individual” metaphors, overlapping with “science vs nature”. It substitutes tropes and setting expectations for original characterization, appealing to nostalgia.

    Superheroes handwave for characterization – the Hulk is anger personified, Superman is the ideal altruist, Batman fear returned upon the criminal, Spiderman an ingenius man personifying his talent through an ingenius animal. Ironman has many metaphors about science and tools and the purposes humanity puts them to and the consequences they have. The genre has a greater connection to symbolism and metaphor in relation to characterization.

    Worm subverts the standard superhero tropes by having a female protagonist who chooses “villainy” to ultimately be heroic, over and over again surprising other characters and the audience. However, what’s more impressive is that Wildbow created dozens of characters and linked power, personality, symbolism and role in creative and consistent ways. There hasn’t been that much condensed creativity with superheroes since the 60s with Lee and Kirby – and Wildbow is one person!

    I don’t see punk as broad enough to create that many inventive characters of symbolic quality, and so the handwavy science becomes less interesting. It seems like an unnecessary accessory – like Rob Liefeld’s tendency to draw “cool” costumes with extra pockets. Superpowers are characterization and plot elements, whereas punk features seem setting based and thus uninteresting.

    I find it interesting that Frankenstein is cited as inspiring “punk” – it seems like the only impressive example of the genre’s key characteristics, because it originated them. However, it incorporates horror, gothic and science-fiction into a psychologically compelling tale with intriguing parallels with Mary Shelley’s real life.

    The rest of the genre seems largely derivative after that work of art – I would like to see a literary, compelling example, but I haven’t yet. I would be open to suggestions.

    By contrast, comics continually evolve. Kingdom Come is vastly superior to Action Comics #1 and Watchmen surpasses the Golden Age. Batman Year One was better than Bob Kane.

    I think Boil could be a fine story, it just doesn’t intrigue me as much as the others (which had their own pros and cons). I do find it more similar to Worm, and it could easily be epic in length, and I’ve stated previously that I’d like to see a small scale intimate story to contrast, and clear the palette.

    I weirdly don’t want another marathon of a story right now.

  8. Louise Watson-Carver permalink

    I enjoyed “Boil” most out of the three samples; it was the only one that wasn’t an effort to read.

    I struggled through “Peer”, finding it tedious and too “busy” with irrelevant details. It didn’t hold my interest at all, with its simultaneously apathetic and conflicted protagonist, and his minimal connections with the other, slightly more interesting characters — though many of those were interesting in an antagonistic or annoying way, as in “I really hope that character gets hers.”

    Yeah, zero identification with protagonist or any of the others. I felt only a strong, abiding sense of distaste for the sample. And the abrupt, inexplicable “end-of-the-nation” twist only emphasised that distaste…. Please don’t choose to continue this one.

    I *did* like “Face”; interesting story, interesting protagonist, possibly interesting world, but it was a demanding read. So much information about the world and the protagonist was *needed* to explain what was happening, where and why — and the readers didn’t get any! Info was doled out so sparingly that frustration, rather than eagerness, became this reader’s dominant response. Constantly demanding the reader make mental insertions or speculations as they read slows down the experience, and interferes with the “narrative dream.”

    So in addition to the lack of detail and connected with it, “Face” suffers from narrative-induced poor pacing

    I was pleased the writer included the rather visceral scene of the mask’s attachment — it gave the reader a sudden idea of the stakes, and the limits of what the adversaries might do — though the protagonist’s overall lack of reaction was frustrating. I also applaud the writer for avoiding the “Peer” trap of resorting to info-dumping and endless irrelevant details… but there has to be something in-between. Information-loading and parsimony each have their own risks, and “Face” has problems establishing its place in the continuum of detail; not only in a world-building sense but in a character-building sense as well. It’s most notable with the protagonist, but also with his neighbour/friend and his younger siblings.

    I do agree with some of the other posters that the premise is rather far-fetched, and yes, this could easily become a stale, too-predictable plot… but despite its problems, it *kept* me reading. No, the experience wasn’t an unalloyed pleasure, but I read the sample and I thought about it. Please, if you choose to continue with this sample, do a partial re-write to add a little detail to the characters and world.

    “Boil” was a quick and easy read. I enjoyed the sample, and once I’d finished, found myself wondering whether there was any more to read yet. Since I didn’t notice any narrative strain over more detail vs less detail, my guess is that the writer found the balance there, that in-between point on the continuum. Well done!

    Something in the story’s setting reminded me of the pre-Great War period. Reading the sample, I got the impression that this was not the “now” of modern day, but I got an equally strong impression that this was *not* post WWII (the 1940s and ’50s)… and not the Victorian era. The mood seems wrong for the former, especially since many of those now living would have been involved in the War, or had parents or grandparents who were — and the diction, social habits and presence of a *female* at a major university are all wrong for the Victorian period, without more explanation about how this world’s eras differ from our own, or some intimation of *why*.

    Of course, this is all based on just the first sample of “Boil”, and there’s ample time and opportunity to further flesh out this world’s history. 😉 It certainly got me asking questions!

    I have to admit, I don’t like the protagonist. Oh, she’s both interesting and engaging, she is sympathetic and comprehensible and I don’t have any trouble with the writer writing first-person as a female character. Thus far she seems consistent and reliable. So what’s the problem?

    (Not really a digression; please bear with me.)

    I don’t like her because the first-person narration reminds me too strongly of a character I despise; Taylor Hebert in “Worm”.

    Yes, I did read “Worm.” I read the whole thing, and I’m very impressed with Wildbow’s ideas, the *scope* of them and their consistency, the way they make sense internally and externally, and even in the superhero genre, avoid resorting to hand-waving or techno-babble. I’m staggered by the *amount* of writing he’s done and the speed with which he’s done it — and continues to do it. He has the makings of a wonderful writer… but *I* think he needs practice, particularly in pacing, and in writing major characters.

    The characters in “Worm” that I actually liked — Weld, Golem, Aegis, Sveta, Clockblocker, Gregor the Snail — were lower-powered or minor characters, or infrequently-appearing. The more powerful or more major characters that I liked were Dragon and Defiant, Marquis and Regent; all less-frequently appearing characters, outside the main narrative (and in Regent’s case, dead). Yes, I preferred characters on whom Wildbow focused *less*… which I suspect indicates some difficulties realising the characters, or conveying them to readers.

    The “Worm” characters I *loathed*? Taylor; manipulative, paranoid, psychotic and a hypocrite, convinced she knew better than anyone/everyone else about *everything*, even when past events argued against it. Unaccountably well-liked, even when it made no narrative sense for a character to like (or forgive) her, as with Bitch.

    Tattletale; smug, self-assured know-it-all with delusions of grandeur. I found her intensely annoying.

    Imp; juvenile, unwilling to moderate her behaviour, regardless of circumstances. I found her insufferable. Towards the end of the story I was cringing every time she opened her mouth.

    Bitch; inconsistent in description and realisation. I found her a non-entity, and non-entity pretty much describes Grue, too.

    These were supposed to be the central characters; if not heroic, then at least sympathetic or comprehensible. I could find no common ground with any of the Undersiders as written; I understand they were supposed to be anti-heroes, but I found identification with any of the them impossible. I detested, despised or dismissed all of them but Regent, and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t what Wildbow was aiming for.

    I like Genevieve Fray of “Boil”, but because her format reminds me of Taylor, I am uneasy, suspicious of the character and just waiting for her to begin taking unaccountable, nonsensical and never-explained actions which somehow amazingly succeed. I’d very much like to see Wildbow continue with “Boil”, but personally, I’m afraid Fray will turn into a Taylor clone… and for me at least that is a VERY BAD THING.

    • Devin permalink

      Funny. I loved both tattletale and imp for exactly the reasons you hated them.

      • Reveen permalink

        I know right? You list off all those qualities like they’re bad things.

    • Glassware permalink

      Wait, you hated Taylor more than Regent, the apathetic rapist and murderer? That’s weird.

      In general readers don’t tend to agree with you, I think. There’s dislike for Taylor, but not for all the reasons you describe. The Undersiders are pretty much the only ones that “like” her, for example, and she and Rachel had an enjoyable character arc together. Even if you dislike her, hating all the female Undersiders is a bit strange.

      Although I loved both the characters you liked and the characters you hated, so perhaps I’m not qualified to judge your opinions.

      • Glassware permalink

        Actually, the character work in general was the thing I enjoyed the most about Worm. The end of the world plotline and the setting concept (mostly the former) I could take or leave, but the characters are what kept me coming back at midnight every Monday, Friday, and occasionally Wednesday.

    • AVR permalink

      I liked a slightly different set of Worm’s characters, but I agree that there were problems with Taylor. The protagonist here seems enough like Taylor that the character might not seem distinct from her too.

      Even with that, this was the first sample where I enjoyed the story. For all her faults it’s possible to identify with Taylor and it’s the same with Genie.

  9. Pearce permalink

    Honestly, I liked them all – they just all come with drawbacks. Like I said, I didn’t like the third person narrative for Caspar but he was cool in the end. I enjoyed Face a LOT, I thought that if you went the way I was thinking the people interactions were going to make me giggle with delight. This so far is a little hard to grasp and jumps right into the action. I think it’ll be really defining to me what happens next for Boil, if it’s impressive or really awesome I can rank it among face. So far Face seems to be the easiest to slide into – reader wise.

  10. Petra permalink

    I’m torn between Boil and Face. Boil is the sample that worked best, I think, at least from what we’ve seen so far. But Face is the story that gripped me the most. I do feel like I couldn’t get a real feel for Fray so far, but it’s early yet. I’m left wondering why her roommate would have wanted to get her in trouble when she was already on her way out. Did she really hate her so much that she wanted her chemically lobotomized? That’s… a pretty strong level of hate, especially if Fray didn’t suspect it until it was almost too late.

    • Likely she was trying to improve her own standing at the university; showing her loyalty by catching somebody trying to smuggle out state secrets perhaps, or trying to improve the impression she left on the young professor who had otherwise been very unimpressed by her sleeping to noon.

      • The way I read it she just figured out her Roommate sabotaged her all along, not just at the end as she was leaving. That is why she said:

        I supposed she didn’t feel the need to be as subtle as before when I was on my way out.

        That implies that she figured out that her Roommate had been sabotaging her all along for if this had been the first time why would she even mention the need to be subtle before?

  11. Pentatonic permalink

    Just based on this one chapter, I don’t like this one as much as Face. I think that’s mainly just the genre. Biopunk falls a bit flat for me among the various types of fantasy. Also, she swallowed and regurgitated a slimy tentacle thing. I have trouble getting excited about new possibilities in body modification. I don’t enjoy gore or horror scenes- they’re something I have to slog through, trying not to miss details that will be relevant later in the story. Also, she swallowed and regurgitated a slimy tentacle thing. I will still read it if you stick with Boil, but I don’t look forward to it as much. But! A one chapter decision doesn’t really mean all that much, so, ultimate judgement reserved until later. But she did swallow and regurgitate a slimy tentacle thing.

    I gagged. There is still a lump in my throat. I need water and images of cute fluffy animals very definitely not being eaten. I will settle for cats. I hear the internet is good for that.

    • Hee. That didn’t bother me nearly as much as the involuntary invasive neurosurgery in Face. The masks have clearly been wired into the wearer’s visual cortex, and were implied to do other, messier things to facilitate the “gifts” given to the players. In comparison to people poking around in my brain, the thought of swallowing a few tentacles is relatively pleasant.

      • hxka permalink

        > The masks have clearly been wired into the wearer’s visual cortex
        Um, no. This is a possibility, but a set of four mirrors would be much simplier.

      • AlterAlias permalink

        Given the established AR lenses in setting wouldn’t it be more likely the visual distortions are caused by some extension of that technology?

  12. Chiro permalink

    Actually, in hindsight, I’m surprised they didn’t think to check to see if she’d swallowed anything. I mean, people have been hiding things in body cavities for a long time, surely she’s not the first person to think of swallowing contraband?

    • How would they check? A jellyfish-analogue inside a human isn’t going to show up on any sensor based on density, material, or electromagnetics, so the only way I could think of them finding it is if they cut her open. Or, just kept her drugged in the holding cell, unable to regurgitate, until whatever was inside would have been digested, absorbed, or passed out of the system. The only way for this kind of thing to happen is if a student managed to create a form of contraband which was not harmful to themself and immune to the extreme conditions of the human stomach, while simultaneously being able to revive themself from the drugs before time was up. Anybody less clever than genie would have been detected, failed, or died in the attempt so they likely thought they didn’t have much to worry about.

      • dpara permalink

        I think it would almost certainly show up on ultra sound.. but I am rather certain that also requires computers (or at least that it is not possible to build ultra sound scanner with high enough resolution without a computer).

        Now that I think of it are there computers/electricity(>=transistors) in the setting?
        Because DNA sequencing is a pretty hefty computing project, mmh unless by good fortune this universe stumbled on a good way to sequence longer sequences early in their research.

      • They mentioned hooking a voltaic horse up to a lightning storm, so I’d guess they know the basics of electricity but can’t generate it in large quantities and likely don’t have many fine scale applications for it. There was quite a while in history when electricity was seen as somewhere between a toy for aristocrats and a magical solution to everything up to the spark of life itself, and Boil’s setting seems to be based on that.

        In any case, very unlikely to be computers. But ultrasonics would work if they had the gear and they knew what they were looking for, so I suppose it’s a question of whether anybody has applied sufficiently mad SCIENCE! to the problem of building such a device without computing capability. Given the novelty of cars and disdain for mechanics, my first guess would be no but the value as a diagnostic sensor might outweigh other issues…

      • Chiro permalink

        Induce vomiting, I guess.

      • dpara permalink

        I think one could make quite an alright amount of electricity from electric eels.

        But with high enough sophistication in neural networking many computer applications can likely be replaced, imagine the job description “Ms Office trainer”, “I train neural networks to run as Ms Office”.. mmh Savant in a jar.

        Maybe one can make an an analog ultra sound scanner by using an machine akin to high-frequency-speaker-under-a-plate-with-sand-on-it where the plate is the offending body part.

        ..After some reading, creating of ultra sound is quite fascinating..finally a use for piezoelectricity (sarcasm).

  13. That Guy permalink

    Oh I like this. I like this a lot.

  14. thyrfa permalink

    I like this one more than peer, but face is still by far my favorite. Face just grabbed me like worm did, something that peer failed completely to do, and Boil just isn’t quite as good.

  15. I have to agree that Face is way more intriguing than Boil. There is an immediate sense of mystery and tension in Face, while this feels duller and more meandering.

  16. I like Boil much better than Face and Peer. I didn’t like Face at all and never read the second chapter since the story, to me, was just the retelling of the TV series LOST with real masks instead of rhetorical ones to hide who the people really were mixed with a book I read long ago about a group of people forced to kill each other on a deserted island as part of a game.

    • dpara permalink

      I daresay the genre is kinda saturated:
      Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, The Condemned, The Tournament, Avengers Arena, Suicide Island *
      Face’s main character seems the most interesting but eh the genre.

      *Okok, I admit I didn’t know of all of them before I looked.

      • Mayhem permalink

        Fate/Zero
        Fate/Stay Night
        Future Diary
        Danganronpa: Academy of Hope and High School Students of Despair
        Togainu no Chi
        …..there are more but I can’t think of them off the top of my head.

      • Mayhem permalink

        also a wildly popular anime involving magical girls–buuuuuut the fact that this is the setup is a huge spoiler.

  17. Now this is interesting, I want more.

  18. colm permalink

    So far ive liked Peer the most with Face a close second. Boil i could take or leave.

    Boballab, Face was familiar ground because that the stock opening for a thriller.

  19. Lune permalink

    Woot! Mad science! Looks awesome. 🙂

  20. Russell permalink

    They just keep getting better and better.

  21. Ben permalink

    At the moment I’d go with Face, not because it is my favorite genre but because it caters to your strong suits in writing. I think in Fantasy and Sci-Fi there are two distinct styles of stories. Due to my reading experiences in Sci-Fi I will call them the Russian and the American version. The American one is a form of Drama, a story to be told it is set in a fictional world but the story would work just as well in our world Star-Wars would be a great example for it Luke could have just as well been a medieval knight or a WWII resistance fighter, the point is the story, the drama and the character interaction. The “Russian” way and I will call it that mainly due to Lem and other Udssr writers, was to explore an Idea and try to answer the What-If’s. Obviously every good story has elements of both. However there seems to be a limited amount of archetype stories and in a time of marketability and wide audience appeal we get bombarded with the same and same stories over and over again because too many are afraid of the risk of trying out a new idea. That said I enjoy Worm most when you pitted Taylor against a seeming invincible enemy and then worked out how to beat him with bugs ( or even better butterflies). You took that idea of “What if we had superpowers” and worked every angle of it “where could they came from”, “How would they be used”, “which ones could be powerful if you looked outside of the marvel/ DC scope” etc. the Interludes gave us the ability to look at it from different perspectives, because the idea was too broad for a single character to see.
    In my eyes this worked so well, because you limited yourself to a minimum of world building. Earth Bet only differed in that single idea from our world, so you didn’t have to spend chapters and chapters explaining the setting, yet it never felt like hand waving details away.
    What I would be afraid of in Peer and Boil so far, is that there needs to be a lot of World building before you can even begin dissecting an idea. Peer in particular seem especially poised to become a pure story driven LotR clone and I think you are so much better then that. The core of most of the Russian style stories is, that there is a single cause for the difference to our world. A single Point of “If this happens all the rest would follow”, in Worm that Point of deviation was the alien life form. I know that this was not the main focus of the Story but it made it memorable, because it tied all the strings together and allowed you to let your characters ask all the “How does this work?” questions that the audience does. In turn we as the audience had to suspend our disbelieve only in the smallest of ways.
    I fear this to be extreme hard in Boil and impossible in Peer. It is also the reason I highly anticipate Pact, though that is not my genre at all, but you have the exceptional ability to tie your world, not just your story together.
    If you end up doing Peer or Boil, I would recommend a short History / Introduction first, in Peer a simple time line and maybe a Map would do wonders so we know the kind of Kingdom we are in which Kith there are and how the relationships used to be. Boil seems to have a pre-WWI flair where somewhere during the civil war the “voltaic-creatures” where invented and some Biological-genius made alchemy a true thing. So a little explanation of when what and who would help. These things would not be spoilers, but would help us identify with the main characters because we would get a glimpse of the knowledge they all see as trivial, which would mean that a history in Boil would be filled with propaganda. I think an example of good “pre-story history” would be the Elder Scroll Games books, as in the books you find in the world that tell you about the history. the land, the people etc.
    Those are just my thoughts on your story writing. Best of luck with your further writing, in any case I will be reading

    • I think what you consider American vs Russian styles of Sci-Fi actually depend a lot more on the particular medium. You gave the example of “Star Wars” which is a movie. Movies and television are a great medium for conveying images and action, less so for conveying ideas than the written word. And yes, TV Science fiction tends to be more visual/drama-based than concept-based (although there are exceptions, including the original “The Outer Limits” which quite often was just the TV version of contemporary SF short fiction).

      As a matter of interest, what American SF have you read?

  22. I’m not gonna write a big essay on it, but here. I will read anything you write. However, I am not as big a fan of this genre as I am of the other two stories. I would definitely go with Face as my favorite, though that’s just personal.

  23. Kytin permalink

    When I commented on Peer, I said it was good, but I was hoping for great.
    This is great.

  24. I liked this a lot.
    “consider. model hands” Missing caps.
    “An distinguished building” A.
    “burden that outlast even” That would outlast?

  25. Sengachi permalink

    Boil seems very interesting. It will take a while to see if it has the same kind of potential as Worm, but it grabbed me much more strongly than Peer or Face.

  26. I think I would like there to be slightly more description earlier — something to give a picture of the protagonist, for example.

    • It’s Wildbow. 😛

      But yeah. I think I was a third of the way before I realised the protagonist was female. And that was *after* the line “I was maybe falling a touch in love with him. He was making this easier, asking the questions I wanted them to ask.” – which made it hard to tell if that was just an exaggeration for effect, or maybe saying something about the protagonist’s sexuality.

  27. This chapter made me gag a little, and I mean that as a compliment.

    Joking aside, I did like this chapter. It was probably my least favorite of the three–with Face being my favorite. But I think that’s just because jerk professors hit too close to home. (Also, I think the reason I rarely like the very beginnings of your stories is because they always start with a moment of the protagonist being incredibly embarrassed/demeaned. I guess that bothers me.)

    By the end, when the protag escaped with Dolores and a head, I was pretty intrigued.

  28. Didn’t like Face, liked Peer, like Boil best so far. Steampunk is maybe overdone but the possible exploration of bioethics and biotech is a good twist and the genre is certainly popular for a reason: it’s timely and relevant and fun!

  29. Love this one so far.

  30. Khan permalink

    I actually really, really love this. I hope it wasn’t because of the “Taylorish” comments that made you change protagonists – this was honestly so relatable for me as a college student, and I think a number of people in your college student demographic audience would feel the same way. The protagonist here really doesn’t feel like Taylor – she’s a lot spunkier, more vibrant, more colorful, has this really intense fighting attitude… I guess Taylor could grow up to be her, but we saw Taylor at a really low point in her life, and even when she left that place she was still more pragmatic and thoughtful than gutsy like this proper young lady here. Taylor also reacted to unfair authority differently – she didn’t sass them or anything. Okay, sorry. You already know all of this. I guess I’m just incredibly happy that you made such an awesome protagonist and disappointed that people had a knee-jerk “she’s like Taylor” reaction, but Sy turned out to be pretty cool, so no hard feelings.

    Did you continue this before starting Twig? Will you ever post the unfinished version of this, like you did with Guts and glory?

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