Chapter 4, Page 36


First, some very nice fanart some folks gave me for my bday the other day :] A crabcake by CB Webb, some party friends by Lora, and this super cool Grand Prismatic Mike by PerfectTea. Thanks guys XD

I’ll try for one more update this week in addition to another Meek update, so hopefully new page soon! From Friday to Sunday I will be in Portland as a guest of Rose City Comic Con at table D1. My pins shipped out today so crossing fingers I’ll have some of the new Thrip and Collumai pins to debut in time for the con!

And again, my work is still nominated for an Ignatz, and despite everyone letting me know that I don’t have a chance, I’ll just keep asking that you keep me in mind for your vote if you are going to be attending SPX this year :] Thank you!!


  • AGV

    *Treasure Planet flashbacks intensify*

    I mean, he have been with Kalla for weeks or even months, and he met you the other day

    Also, rude much?

    • anton

      Straightforwardness saves time. :3

  • Karyl

    LEVI speaking truth to Power eh? GO Levi!

  • Tassit

    “It’s not you, it’s me.”

    • anton

      “Honestly it’s a bit of both of us, but since I got a buddy friend here you’re on your own.”

  • Linebyline

    In fairness to Threvi, Kalla is pretty nifty.

    • spooks

      i mean, sorry, but i like kalla more too

      • Luces

        Me too!

  • Rhapsha

    When the robot you created decides it would rather hang out with anyone else.

    Let’s be fair here Bex, given Levi’s current form, one could argue that you had very little to do with his creation.

    • Nyzer

      Uh. Bex had absolutely nothing at all to do with his creation.

      • Kent

        I think Rhapsha is pointing out that LEVi’s more thrip than robot now. By “you” they meant the people who originally made him.

        • Rhapsha

          Yah, that was my original intention. I was not very clear with my words though. Thank you for helping.

  • Leon

    LEVi: “Also, the processor is a horrible tentacled monster that’s going to eat you. Do you want me to draw you a map?”

    • George the archon

      The deadliness of the processor _has_ been emphasised to Bex. You’re right, this shouldn’t really be a total be a total surprise.
      (And add in: “I’ve died at least once, I don’t appear to be a slave to my directives anymore, and I rather like living. And I maybe prefer the person who doesn’t default to keeping me trapped under a net/on a leash”)

      • George the archon

        (Can we pretend my second sentence there was actually coherent, and read “You’re right, this shouldn’t really be a total surprise.” without the repetition, deviation or repetition? (sic)
        Thanks :) )

        • SomeUnregPunk

          I didn’t even notice the problem until you brought it up. I wonder how many others also didn’t notice it.

          • Prophet Zarquon

            I didn’t.

  • Bradford

    Levi needs to learn the art of the white lie.

  • ObservantWolf

    Levi’s an honest critter, I can appreciate that!

  • Pintsize

    OMG, Bex’ facial expression in the 5th panel is just perfect. Mere millimeters away from utter emotional breakdown.

  • David

    … but down here, Levi doesn’t have to be a slave anymore.

    In all fairness Bex, how would you feel if someone led *you* around on a leash? Would you want to be their friend?

    • shingworks

      In all fairness, is Mike that much better?

      • David

        If I had to choose someone to hang out with, it would be Mike, rather than Bex. I hear what you’re saying though- they’re each messed up in their own unique way.

        • shingworks

          Messed up, and I wouldn’t want to be friends with either person terribly badly, but I guess it’s slim pickin’s for ex-robots and aliens down in the Mare

          • There’s a country song in there just waiting to be written.

      • Nyzer

        Mike Assumed Direct Control once, to protect Levi (even if only from his own delusions). The two also have a lengthy history together, which Levi seems to regard as very positive. Bex, so far, has kept Levi confined or leashed the whole time, and told him very little. So, from Levi’s perspective, as far as we readers have seen? Definitely yes.

        From our perspective… well, the last we saw of Mike showed him as adapting decently well, befriending Kallakore, and seemingly without having any attacks of paranoia. Bex hasn’t really had that moment yet; she’s still lying about or hiding quite a few things. She certainly seems more stable, but we still don’t know what set Mike off before the fall – now that he’s away from the colony, he no longer seems paranoid or suicidal, suggesting that it’s maybe not a mental disorder or that it doesn’t trigger without extreme stress?

        • David

          In other words, maybe the company really was doing some shady stuff and Mike couldn’t cope with it? That sounds very possible to me.

          Another thought I’ve had is that maybe Kalla really isn’t their friend. Maybe she’s a part of the machinery, designed to keep visitors from leaving.

          • anton

            My experience is that people who are depressed or suicidal generally go trough a sort of re-invigorated stage of some kind after they either tried to kill themselves and failed or went trough a near-death experience.

          • anton

            I’m an oaf, I put my e-mail in the name box in three fricking posts here. Would he/she who moderates the comment section kindly remove these comments? My sincere apologies and thanks!

          • shingworks

            no prob, just changed them all to “Anton!”

          • anton


      • poot

        Mike has a thighfriend.

        • shingworks

          Hmm, true

      • Ponyhome

        Only better in the eyes of LEVI. He seems quite smitten with Michael, despite all his flaws. And Kallakore is his best friend in the whole, er, cavern.

  • CharlesW81


    I feel like this is REALLY going to hit some nerve for Bex.

    My bet is her children said something similar about liking their father more than Bex.

    • JJ

      Twisting the knife in Bex’ heart, with gusto.

  • Indedipal

    Has it been established before this that Kallacore’s female? I always wondered how everyone else (outside of the comic) knew… Has it been mentioned and I missed it, or it was “word of god”?

    • shingworks

      LEVi used the pronoun to Bex here, but I might have mentioned it a few times on Patreon or whatnot because I’m lazy and forgot, haha.

      • Pylgrim

        That cat was let out of the bag here in the comments months ago, albeit mostly, accidentally :) It’s all good, though, it was a nice little something for your more enfranchised readers.

      • CharlesW81

        I half recall some part of the dialogue between Kalla and Mike also establishing her as female, but I think I discovered it was adjusted at some later point.

      • David

        Der-shing first mentioned it here in the comments, but I think she said that Kalla’s gender wasn’t really important to the story.

    • Ponyhome

      One of the things that has always amused me about the construction of alien species is that the concepts of gender would be anything that humans could comprehend (or that all planets would even evolve similar gender patterns). Even on earth, many species have the ability to swap gender depending on need. So Kallakore being a “she” might be a bit of a slippery concept in any case.

      • shingworks

        Haha, yeah, Kalla is one of two “female” genders in her species, in the sense that both of those genders are capable of giving birth.

    • Kallakore is Greek for Beautiful Maiden. Also, note the name of the chapter in which she is introduced. Lately, the gender-specific pronoun has been used, and finally Levi-thrip just blurts it out,

  • Alan

    We all like Kalla more, Bex. Mike’s insane, you’re a jerk, and Kalla is just a lonely Martian.

  • Corbie

    Whoa, Threvi, low hit. Bex appears to be caught in the conflict between being herself and being not alone. Kalla basically made her an offer and even regarded her, the scientist, as such. Yet Kalla won’t go to the processor. Bex, who has never given up her own goals, will go even if a part of her screams not to leave Threvi the child. Among these two, it could be simply parting ways, but “I like someone else better” brings up all her actual or assumed wrongs.
    Enough of my rambling, I’m hyped to find out about this complex mess of conflicts and how they’ll work out err, what they’ll lead to.

    • Ellie

      Whoa, that’s a cool point! I hadn’t thought about the implications of Levi being programmed as a child and Bex’s whole backstory. BET IT’S NOT COINCIDENCE.

  • Happy

    Aaand the consequences of programming a child really sink in when its brain is no longer bound to obey orders

    • shingworks

      Haha, real organic kids are just as brutal, I think XD I distinctly remember telling my aunt she couldn’t come into the jumpy house because she was too fat and she would pop it, and was confused when I was told that was not nice. TERRIBLE

      • David

        That was two weeks ago, wasn’t it?

        • shingworks

          I wish I had a jumpy house 2 weeks ago

          • Vert

            I found out that they’ll rent them out to *anyone*. They don’t even check if you’re a kid first or anything, all they want is money!

  • Pylgrim

    Bex, sorry to say, we all do.

    Also, while that was a nice little (unintended) burn, I wish he had said something more poignant to her “you were supposed to help people”, like “I have found that ‘people’ are not exclusively humans”.

    • shingworks

      lol, he’s not that deep

  • Ellie

    Poor Bex. :( I don’t know how much of this is intended, but I’m a ladyfolk in STEM, and what we know of Bex’s backstory and how she’s been treated by characters resonates with a lot of background noise in my field. There are these double-edged expectations of masculine attitudes you need to have, but still carry out “””female””” emotional labor and community building tasks.

    When I read this story, Bex is trying to pioneer amazing science or not die and everyone keeps butting in with questions about why she isn’t taking care of other people. None of the characters we have seen interact with her seem to take her all that seriously, with the exception maybe of Levi, and now he’s ditching her.

    Bex obviously isn’t perfect, but even that sentiment shows that we seem to expect her to be.

    • shingworks

      Yeah, you’re reading it correctly! So far I think her actions have been fairly practical… taking small samples, not trusting the words of the inhabitants of a hostile environment, having a plan for both offense and defense and for achieving long-term goals. She hasn’t done anything outright cruel, but I think the bulk of readers see her as an unlikeable person, even though Mike has so far been by comparison antagonistic, unmotivated, distracted, and hasn’t been overly-concerned about making sure she’s okay. I’m interested in seeing how reader response changes as we get more story~

      • CharlesW81

        She’s been very stand-offish

        I mean, Mike has been an incredible arse, but he and Kalla have also been able to empathise on some very deep levels with each other and understand each other’s failings. LEVi knew Mike for several years from memory but it’s possible as a newer generation it’s been less than that. Never-the-less I’d easily imagine LEVi having many great memories with Mike when he was taking his medications and of better mental state. He probably only saw Mike in a similar state to the present for a month or so.

        • Uggala

          Hmm. I’m one of those guys who really don’t like Bex, and it isn’t the “stand-offish”. Didn’t like her too much on her first appearance (why, i can’t specify), but what made me really dislike her where the flashbacks about her pregnancy.

          Successful, has a hubby, getting a child, “whine whine my career, whine whine” – Then why the hell did she get one (no, TWO!) in the first place when she’s so afraid of the consequences!? My mother’s quite similar, always wailing about the “men” (in a nicely disgusted intonation) and how shit her life has been because of them. And when she unloads about the why its always the same: She wanted to do something, her asshole husband says “no”, she quietly complies instead of telling him to go to hell. Always being the nice girl, always doing what the “society” “expects” of her, despite the fact that these expectations killed her happiness. In addition she always picked the idiots (i never understood what she saw in the latest one), but all men are shit. Yadda, yadda, yadda, drama, whine, wail, the world’s so unfair, wail, whine – So convenient to shift the blame away from one self instead of just admitting that you’ve made some very bad choices in your life. And running away from everything like Bex did is even worse.

          Mike is much more relateable to me. Yeah, he’s been an ass, and i don’t think i’d go along very well with him in real life either – But the things he was going through? Not exactly his choice. You don’t have that kind of freedom as a kid.

          In essence, there are people who got served shit since their childhook (like Mike, like me) and have to prevail somehow, and there are people who have everything (like my Mother, like Bex) but ruin it by constantly serving shit to themselves. And boy do i loathe the latter.

          • Lynne

            I dunno, man, I kind of read Bex’s story so far as being less whiny, and more overwhelmed. Have you ever tried to be something you weren’t? I’ll use an example: there’s a transgender person I know who spent most of his life trying very, very hard to be a girl. It’s what was expected of him by his family, his friends, society; it’s even what he expected of himself. I’m not gonna get into gender roles or any of that because it’s not relevant, but the point is that he felt an immense pressure to live a life that made him very unhappy.

            That’s what I drew from Bex’s little snip of backstory: for some reason or another, she felt an immense pressure to be a mother and have children. For some reason or another, she tried very hard! My interpretation of everything we’ve seen of her so far is that she tried very hard to be a mother, and that she’s fully aware of her failure to live up to her own/other’s standards. Having kids, from the little background we’ve gotten so far, seems to have been a pretty poor decision on her part, but a lot of people make some pretty poor decisions in their lives, and a lot of people aren’t strong enough to say no to such intense social pressure. That doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to regret their decisions.

            I think what makes Mike so much easier to sympathize with than Bex is that Mike has, so far, been much more emotionally open. He’s basically a giant gaping asshole, but there’s no hiding, no lying. We can see his insecurities and fears clearly. Bex, so far, has been closed off and contained. She’s much more reserved, and we’ve seen relatively little of her compared to the other characters, and I think that makes her harder to sympathise with (at this point in the story).

          • Uggala

            I can’t reply directly to Lynne (Button missing), so i’ll reply to myself:

            Hmm. Good point. I may be biased due to the experiences with my mother. The “expected” concept still doesn’t sit right with me. I honestly fail to understand the social pressure thing. You’re unhappy? Think about why you’re unhappy. Then try to do something that makes you happy. If you fail, sit back and think again, try something else. It’s far from easy, but just… vegetating to make other people happy… i have no concept for that. If people don’t like you because you don’t act towards some stupid society standards? They’re not worth your time. …hmmm. But i may be biased here too. I’m quite the Pariah when it comes to social connections, and while it isn’t exactly a walk in the part (my instincts are still those of a herd animal), i’ve learned to deal with this a long time ago, even turn it into a strength in many situations. So severing connections with those that are not good to oneself might be a lot easier for me to do than for other people. Hmmm. Still. The “expected” concept irks me. Quite the sore spot for me actually when i think about it. Maybe its plain old envy from the herd animal in me? Hah, i have to think about that.

            “I think what makes Mike so much easier to sympathize with than Bex is that Mike has, so far, been much more emotionally open. He’s basically a giant gaping asshole, but there’s no hiding, no lying. We can see his insecurities and fears clearly.”

            Haha, “basically”? ;) He IS, and a very smelly one too. Yet one still feels for him for exactly the reasons you described. Another reason for this is the way he is being an asshole. I’m not sure on how to describe this, but there are people who are “actively” assholes (like Bullys) and people who are “passively” so, and i count Mike in the latter one. All his verbal bowel movements are due to him being triggered in some way – He doesn’t plan to be an asshole, he just explodes due to something he can’t take anymore, with the difficulty that he gets triggered very very easily and very very often due to his messed up life and pent up stress. Regarding Bex: I might misjudge her. Time will tell.

          • shingworks

            I get hit pretty hard by the societal expectations thing, in my experience at least it’s been strongly tied to cultural/ gender/ family norms, and privilege… I’m an oldest child, not from a modern western cultural background, and also expected to be deferential (similar to Bex). I could see how someone without this background might find the concept of invisible pressures annoying, ie “why don’t you just do what you want vs complain about expectations,” but oftentimes the price you pay is being shunned from family and peers, constantly made fun of or looked at with derision, denied certain jobs or whatever, being exposed to violence (and worse), etc. Not necessarily from bad choices even, just from trying to live a life that feels true to you. Quick example, compare the general idea of [a man who has a lot of sex] to [a woman who has a lot of sex]… same basic action, different society expectations, so our programmed response is often very different, possibly deadly. And imo all moral judgements on harmless things like this are a waste of time… but yeah, there are definitely people who place the blame on others for their problems, but there are also many people of various minority statuses who lose everything in order to pursue what feels true to them.
            Interested in seeing if you revise or reinforce your view as the story progresses~

          • shingworks

            Sorry, was thinking about your comment some more XD You assumed she was running away from her life, but what if she’s boldly choosing to do what she wants, regardless of the consequences or expectations of others? Wouldn’t she be a brave pariah too, in that case?

          • Margaret Hogg

            It’s possible she had the career before the husband and children. It’s possible she didn’t see herself marrying and having children, but there was a large amount of family/social pressure to do so, so even though she had a career for herself, when she found someone she liked she gave in to the pressure of following the traditional path as well, tried to do both, and got overwhelmed. It’s really surprising how strong (and often subliminal) these pressures are. I see Bex being overwhelmed by family as not much different from Mike being overwhelmed by the expectation to be mentally healthy, happy, and successful. They’re both running away, in their own way. It sucks that Bex running away has affected her family that way, but if Mike had succeeded in committing suicide in the first chapter, he no doubt would have left people behind as well.

          • Lynne

            Additional thought: giving up and leaving isn’t always a sign of weakness. Sometimes it’s the best decision for everyone. It’s awful for children to have to face the question “did mom leave because she didn’t love me?” But I also think it’s even more damaging to live with someone who looks at you with regret and resentment. Bex and her husband might even have decided together that this was the best decision. I imagine that her inability to be satisfied with simply being a mother weighed heavily on her.

            Although, it’s also entirely possible that Bex’s decision was a happy one supported enthusiastically by a family expecting to video chat her all the time and hear all about her bug farm. Maybe they’re even going to join her on Mars when the colony gets going! (Happy endings are Der-shing’s signature style, right??)

          • BigDogLittleCat

            I think you don’t understand how society’s perception of a woman’s existence changes when she becomes pregnant and has children: From society’s view she almost ceases to exist as an individual and is thereafter viewed through the “mother” lens, not as her own person. I don’t mean judging her as a good mother or a bad; I mean she is no longer who she *is*; she is only her *role.*
            That doesn’t happen to men: they still have an existence independent of “father.”
            This is not “being a mother is hard.” It’s “being a mother is all you are.”
            Bex wasn’t whining- she was suffering an existential crisis, realizing people were not going to see *Bex* anymore, only the mother.

            I’m sorry you had the rotten experience you did. That really sucks and of course affects how you see things. May I offer jedi hugs?

          • Tadrix

            There is such thing as involvement. I’ll change genders to at least try to be fair, since people tend to think about gender-based discrimination and what not.

            So here’s this lad, let’s call him Bert. He graduates academy, picks up some useful skills and a couple of STEM disciplines, then joins the Mars to Stay program. His life, his decisions, all is good so far.

            Now, what if, while studying, he got someone pregnant, didn’t divorce, found family, and THEN, having a wife and little children, engaged in Mars to Stay program? I don’t think many people would see it as something good. Abandoning your family and children almost never would be considered as such. In opposite, it’s generally seen as treachery. (And there are good historical reasons for that too.)

            Now, consider Bex. What she did is basically the same. Yes, it could strike someone as even worse, since she is the mother, but, such sentiments aside, this isn’t a situation where men are entitled to boldly go and women are supposed to stay, nursing little children and tending to other people. This is considered a bad thing to do regardless of gender.

      • Ellie

        Yeah!! I think I find myself rooting for Mike because of those opening pages. When a story starts with a hammer strike like that on page #1, when they start that low, I want to see them climb and get out of it, somehow. And when I see them that broken right out of the gate, as I reader I am a lot more tolerant of the kind of behavior that I would never put up with in a million years from a real person.

        Bex’s first impression on the other hand was the info about her kids, and in our society’s mind one of the worst things a woman can be is a negligent parent. We don’t like it in men either, but I see lots of stories of angsty absentee antihero fathers where it’s sort of a tragic backstory thing. Women abandoning their kids is seen as monstrous, aberrant, and they’ll be lucky to be dead of an overdose by the time the story starts.

        It’s been a tremendous pleasure to see some of these themes explored, with Bex in particular. Being a woman is really hard! It’s fascinating to see a female character trying to succeed in a man’s field, which is a well-known and important story, while having committed one of the worst female crimes.

        …Obviously, this topic inspires passion in me. ^^* So thanks for telling it with so much skill!!!

      • Margaret Hogg

        I love Bex, personally. From the moment we met her, I liked her, and even after learning that she left her children, it just makes me more and more interested in learning her whole story. I mean, I don’t think all that she’s done is necessarily “right” or “good” and I’m not rooting for her against any of the other characters, but I think she’s an amazing character. Thanks again for this story!

        • Corbie

          Heh, I so back that. :)
          Bex is an awesome character tackling a serious and still terribly silent problem in the modern world. Usually characters meant to do that aren’t characters any more, individuals, even if they are fictional, and thereby they produce a new double-standard instead of pointing out the problems.
          Anyways, I like Mike just as much, and I relate with both of them. I also think Mike ain’t no jerk. His situation isn’t one that makes being the nice guy easy. One could say that she should have taken his meds, but … hey, these specific meds have been sent to him by the very people who just gave him the chop and told him he’s worthless for them. Just for a start of his emotional-sand-trap journey.
          And there’s a very curious point: she’s exactly not the motherly type and would not constantly edge along Mike’s past family problems and what they mean to him.

      • David

        I am willing to entertain the idea that she will become a more likeable character as the story goes on. We’ve seen more of Mike’s back story, so we understand why he acts like a jerk.

        I don’t recall anyone being particularly unfair to her, or placing unreasonable expectations on her. My recollection of her husband is that he was loving and supportive. Is that inaccurate?

        • Nyzer

          It’s partly accurate; however, the subtext to their interaction in that flashback was that he kept pushing her towards motherhood (though, notably, not away from work) and was constantly trying to encourage her and tell her she’d be just as good at motherhood as she was at her job.
          And that he was a bit fed up with her worry that she wouldn’t be able to balance motherhood and her career.

          One way to interpret that is that she was NOT ready for motherhood, but decided to try at least partly on her husband’s behalf… and that she regretted that decision even before the kid was born.

          Also, her fears and worries may very well have been justified in the end. And while trying new things isn’t inherently bad, you can’t just go and say “yeah, motherhood didn’t work out, let’s scrap that idea now” and go back to the way things were with no consequences. Meaning that her husband’s encouragement made things worse for her, not better.

          I mean, it looks like she loves her kids, that they all get along well enough, and there’s a possibility they even support her decision to become a permanent colonist – but that alone doesn’t make you a good mother. Kind of like how very close friends still might make horrible roommates.

      • Retterhardt

        I’ve actually seen Bex as likable throughout the comic. I liked her when we first meet her because she has a good smile and is working on being friendly with her new coworkers and trying to learn the unspoken rules of her new workplace. Then later, in the cave, she is just doing what she has to to survive. When Bex kills Kalla I was very upset, because I had an emotional connection to Kalla, but I felt like I could not really blame Bex for what she did. Bex did not know that Kalla is sentient, and she was just trying to survive.

        I actually quite relate to Bex. She is careful, cautious. She does not tell everything about herself, which may make her seem closed-off in certain situations, but keeps her safe, too (not just in the cave, but also in a work environment). Bex is like me in that way. Her actions, to me, seem very reasonable, if sometimes brutal out of (at least apparent) necessity.

        I am therefore interested to read in the comments that some people perceive Bex as whiny about being a mother, and bringing her problems on herself. I read her conflict, instead, as a sort of existential dread. It’s hard to explain, but I think it’s like this: she’s not afraid of failing as a mother (as her husband seems to think), but rather she’s afraid that the act of becoming a mother, itself, will negate all the rest of the work that she has done. As a scientist, she is a massive amount of human resource all balled up in one person: all that education, all that research, all that work experience. Then she’ll become a mother–and then what? What was all of that education for, if all she will be is a mother? Maybe a mother with an education, or a mother with a research background, or a mother with work experience–but a mother as her primary state of being. It is not true that she will be a mother above all else–because she will still also be a scientist, and she will still also be herself, her own person, Bex. But that is how she sees herself, and how she sees motherhood. If the people around her are used to seeing being a mother as the most important part of the identities of women with children (even if this perspective is only subconscious), then probably Bex has also internalized this way of seeing things. This perspective has been engrained in her by her society, and therefore she cannot escape it, even in her own mind.

        But she would like to escape it–her mind is rebelling against this overbearing idea of motherhood. She doesn’t know what to think about having cultivated all the massive amount of human-resource-that-is-herself as a scientist, a researcher, and a person, and then doing something completely different that uses none of that skill or preparation. For example, in her flashback (, she says, “I feel like I’m dying./ Once the baby’s here, what happens to me?/ Where do I go?” The question “Where do *I* go,” with emphasis on the “I,” seems to indicate that Bex feels that having a baby (becoming a mother) will subsume her identity. But she is conflicted, because besides feeling like she is losing herself to motherhood, neither can she comfortably assume the identity of “mother.” Therefore, here in the transition stage (while she is still pregnant), she feels like she is dying: once the baby is born, she will have died, her previous identity having been taken from her. The two identities, “Bex” and “Mother” are, in her mind, mutually exclusive. She cannot be both; she can only be one or the other. But here comes a paradox: once the baby is born, she cannot be herself; yet as the human being that is herself, she cannot be a mother. Therefore, when the baby is born she will fall into a black hole of non-identity. Who is she if she is None of the Above? Who can she be? What does she do?

        Did Bex bring her unhappiness upon herself? Probably not. Especially assuming an engrained way of thinking, Bex might not even have seen it coming. She might have always expected to or wanted to have kids, and never thought she would run up against such a dilemma of identity.

        I didn’t want to talk so much about Bex as a mother, since women very often get reduced to who they are as mothers, sexual beings, etc., and it is incredibly frustrating and annoying. But I wanted to think through some of the issues raised in other comments, partly to make my own way of thinking about Bex clearer to myself, and partly because I wanted to look specifically at the expression of Bex’s anxiety: how is she anxious, and why, and what is she going through?

        While her anxiety is specific to her pregnancy, the feeling itself and the motivation and questions behind it are more universal. I relate to Bex’s anxiety, or maybe I see my own anxiety in hers. Her situation is very different from mine, but I, too, am about to embark on a new stage of my life, in which almost everything that I have been working on up to this point will become mere background to my daily mode of existence. I see it rushing toward me, and I feel caught, trapped in place. What do I do now? What will I do when I reach that point? Who will I be? Where will I fit in?

        So I both like Bex as a character, and find her relatable.

        • BigDogLittleCat

          You nailed it.

        • Lilian Stoltzfus

          This is a good comment. I have found things likeable and unlikeable about both Mike and Bex.

          It speaks well of Shing’s abilities as a writer. Her characters aren’t simply pure white protagonists. They’re complicated, messy human beings.

        • Lilian Stoltzfus

          Good comment. I’m less inclined to take the third wave feminist interpretation of gender theory, but I find likeable and unlikeable things about Mike and Bex both.

          And I’d sooner hang out with Bex. She’s stable. Mentally ill people are experiencing very real pain – I’ve been there – but they are absolutely exhausting to be around and can cause you just as much pain in the process. Especially when you care about them.

          But part of Shing’s brilliance as a writer is her ability to create characters with actual complexity. Neither of them are perfect protagonists. Neither of them have made perfectly good choices. Both of them are wrestling with very real internal struggles. It’s excellent character creation.

      • Nyzer

        I wouldn’t say she’s unlikable, just that she’s still in the standoffish phase Mike was for the start of his time in Mare.

        And the readers haven’t really seen her personal struggles to the same degree we have with Mike, so she has fewer sympathy/pity points.

        Then there’s the whole “she drove Mike to flee from the viewpoint role by butchering Kallakore” angle, that probably doesn’t help much :P

      • Ponyhome

        Her likability with the fans was sorely impaired by that whole “bludgeoning Kallakore to death and chopping up her body” thing. So unfair…

      • Sal

        Just for the record. I like Bex. She’s been practical, careful and she’s also made the best decisions she possibly could with too little information.

        As for her personal struggles, they’re deep and though she’s not forthcoming about it, there’s a thread to follow and it makes sense.

        I really hope she makes it.

    • corvideye

      I liked her quite a bit at first in how she didn’t get too put off by Michael’s weirdness, and focused on the immediate practical necessities. My current dislike of her is entirely about her repeatedly bludgeoning sentient creatures who (as far as I can tell, anyway) haven’t harmed her. On the other hand, anyone could get freaked out in these bizarre circumstances and find themselves doing things they would never have considered…

      • shingworks

        Reminder that up until the opening of the chapter, they were attacking her with enough regularity that she could set a timer by it~

      • Margaret Hogg

        Aside from the environment being hostile, I also saw some kind of foreshadowing for her reactions in her chosen career. She’s developing alternate food sources for hostile environments. She’s obviously got an interest in survival and that kind of goes with scavenging. It makes sense that when thrown into a strange surrounding, her first priorities would be to protect herself, find water, and find food.

        • shingworks

          lol, Mike’s first priority: throw only means of communication into lake, take off helmet

          • Margaret Hogg

            …break leg, drink strange water, talk to strangers.

          • shingworks

            amass as many body friends as possible!!!

          • Tadrix

            It’s not like he can be choosy abut drinking water…

          • Nyzer

            Well, Bex was smart enough to boil hers first.

          • Fawnet

            Was Mike crew on the Prometheus before this story?

        • Lilian

          Yeah, I can’t say I’m all that appalled by her choice to kill Kalla. Survival in a hostile environment is not given to stopping to check whether the bizarre, potentially hostile creatures in it are sentient.

          Besides, sentience doesn’t have a bearing on hostility.

          Bex is far from perfect. However, she is stable and pragmatic. She’s survived down here like a boss. I may be wrong, but in normal social circumstances she seems pleasant and upbeat. Fun even.

          Mike is likable in his own weird way. But broody, mentally wobbly folks are not easy to be around. At all.

    • Dejitaru Rena

      I feel sympathy for Mike, but Bex I can definitely empathize with more. I’m happily unattached and I thought I escaped various pressures by letting time pass. But now I’m hearing: “When are you going to marry?” “When you have kids, you’ll…”

      I’m in a diverse office, and some ladies are comfortable talking about of the double-standards on us, how we get stuck being viewed as mothers only. (Outside the office, one family member persistently verbalizes their internalized misogyny and frames questions as if entering the workforce was only in order to find a male partner.)

      That look on Bex’s face in her backstory really got to me. And now child-mind Levi rejecting her. Just. Ow.

      • Ponyhome

        But Bex already had kids. If she had signed on to lead a development team in an eighteen year project, then walked away after a few years to pursue something else because it looked more intellectually challenging, she’d be considered a flake and unreliable. But if the development project is living human beings, walking out in the middle is considered being “strong and self-actualizing.”

        • Matías

          The point is: why should others bring about a judgement about her character and to stand by that judgement? Do they (or we) know enough of her internal struggle to realise what is happening and why? It’s not much easier to simply accept what’s happening and try to help instead of assigning a moral value to every action another person has? I mean, on a very general sense…

  • BigDogLittleCat

    Bex is going to totally lose it when she learns that the Processor is organic.

    But that will be nothing compared to when she learns that the Processor recreates people who have died. As we saw in her interlude, loss of self is a big issue for her, and whether the recreated person is really the person is a existential rabbit hole. Is the Mike she met on the beach actually *Mike* or was it merely a copy of him? When she learns that recreated people have no knowledge of their death and recreation, she’ll be faced with the question of whether she is even herself, or is she just a copy of herself?

    I have a feeling Mike might come out of this with his sanity more intact than Bex.

    • Intile

      Personally I think the original Bex did die and this is a copy.

      • BigDogLittleCat

        I’m on the fence on that question, but am leaning toward did-not-die. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s never definitively answered and Bex has to live with this hole in her psyche.

        • Calica

          I don’t think the Processor recreates inorganic technology, and Bex and Mike still have their original suits.

          Then again, Bex’s adaptations are apparently internal, not bolted on like Mike’s; so who knows?

  • brokenidealist

    I love all of this great discussion about the story and character development, so I feel a little guilty commenting on something else… thanks to close up in panel 5, this is the first time I’ve noticed the spots on the side of Bex’s face. Could just be dirt from when Bex was lying on that side of her face after being caught mid-fall by Kalla, but I have a feeling that eventually Bex will be sporting a Martian face mod like Mike. (Or did I miss a discussion about this on previous pages?)

    • shingworks

      You can go back a few pages, those spots have been there since she woke up :O

      • Tadrix

        Ah, I see, Bex is starting to make body friends too. :)

  • Margaret Hogg

    I mean Kalla IS less likely to eat him.

    Oh wait. Nevermind.

  • Ambs!

    It’s easy to villainize Bex because we already know a lot of things she doesn’t- I agree that she’s being held to a pretty unfair standard.

    As someone who also suffers from mental illness, I also feel a certain amount of protectiveness towards Mike.

    But come on, everyone. Out of the 3, who WOULDN’T choose Kalla? Her adorable smile alone puts her leagues above the other two haha.

    • Linebyline

      She does have a nice laugh, doesn’t she?

    • DukeBG

      >Her adorable smile alone puts her leagues above


  • Jirenta

    Perhaps both Kalla and Threvi are scared of/by the Processor because of it not just recreates people, but HAS to kill them before (either due to circumstances like a huge fall/Accident or more direct measures)?

    I never thought of that possibility before, yet somehow it occurs me now. I could be totally wrong, tough.

    About Bex:
    Given the Circumstances, she is the best Mother she can be. We do not know why exactly she left for Mars, leaving her Family on Earth. We also do not know -yet- when and if they planned to reunite once the Colonist Time is over. And she has so many pictures and pleasant memorys of her Family on the Base. If she wouldn´t care about them, this wouldn´t be.
    Like other Commenters also notet, she startet her joerney in this Cave confused, and scared. This worm-like Creatures did attack her constantly, she took Kalla for one of them – or their friend/companion – and therefore slaugthered her out of fear of beeing slaughtered by Kalla. Which Kalla would not had done, yet she did not know at that time. From what the Readers know, it´s easy to judge. Bex´s Point of View is indeed different.

  • ikabubu

    As much as I would like to contribute to the “Bex Analysis” discourse, I digress.
    Instead, I’ll bring up something I can’t unsee: the last image of Bex looks like she’s biting her tongue. I had to do a double-take on that.

  • Mech

    I feel like people are giving Bex too much credit. I recognize that she’s in a high-stress situation, but looking at her decisions I don’t see much to sympathize with.

    1. Kallakore: This creature was totally alien to Bex and she didn’t even bother to determine its sapience or intent. This is basically murdering a human in the woods because yesterday you survived a wolf attack.

    2. Levi: So now you’ve encountered an example of alien life which is evidently sapient and friendly. Bex’s initial response is to cage and leash it.

    • Linebyline

      To be fair, she apparently hadn’t been able to understand the various critters until recently (unless I’m really remembering something wrong) so it’s possible that any attempts to determine if Kalla was friend or foe would have come back “N/A; large critter making nonsense sounds.”

      Okay, there’s a couple issues with that: First, Bex is smart enough to know that Martians probably don’t speak English even if they are sapient. Second, Kalla *does* speak English.

      However, let’s not forget that the Martians’ aggressive data-gathering looked very much like attacking even after she understood them, so if that’s what Bex has been used to, she may have decided to play it safe and interpret whatever interaction she got out of Kalla as hostile, and justified attacking as pre-emptive self-defense.

      As for Levi, I assume the leash is more like those toddler leashes so he doesn’t get lost (though those toddler leashes freak me out, so that may still be a valid point). Still, leaving him under the net the entire time was a bit mean. I don’t really have a defense for that other than “Cut her some slack, she’s really freaked out right now.” Your mileage will vary as to how valid that is.

      Bex is certainly not wholly innocent, and I can’t even entirely disagree that some people are a bit overzealous in rushing to her defense. But let’s not go too far the other direction, either.

      After all, this is basically a comic about broken people in weird situations making not-always-very-good decisions based on not nearly enough information.

      Well, that, and space fungus.

      • Mech

        I think we’re more or less in agreement. To me it just seems that Bex makes some very questionable calls. One of which unfortunately made her a murderer.

        Bex of all people should know not to just kill your way through an alien ecosystem.

        Do you think that the readers opinions of Bex are colored by the fact that the Processor exists to bring people back?

        Either way she’s definitely an interesting character and I look forward to learning more about her backstory.

        • Nyzer

          I don’t know if people’s opinions are colored too badly by Processor resurrection; in GoT where plot armor was many times rarer than expected, several primary/secondary characters committed fairly despicable acts and still ended up viewed decently well by the fanbase.

          It’s got more to do with the fact that Bex wasn’t “killing her way through an alien ecosystem” at all. She was covering her home base area; don’t forget that Kallakore mentioned that “this beach is emptier than usual lately”, or that Bex mentioned she’d been under constant attack since she got there. Her “kill approaching aliens first and ask questions later” plan is hardly flawed; under what grounds should she have expected an English-speaking, peaceful sentient to walk right up to her beach? She apparently had to do a LOT of killing before the processor decided to finally give her a translator (if that’s how it went).
          And don’t forget that even the beings approaching her to learn about her were going to cut off her body parts because they believed she’d regrow them!

          Her killing Kalla wasn’t something to hate her for or even to berate her for being stupid about. It was a tragic mistake made by someone thrown into a “kill or be killed” scenario with no obvious end.

          • Sheridan

            I had no real opinion on Bex prior to the cave-in. We hadn’t seen enough of her character for me to form one.
            The next time we see her she’s butchering Kalla. Without any context, I immediately developed a dislike for her, since like many other readers I’d developed an emotional attachment to our wonderful Armshark. There was, it seemed, no logical reason for her to ambush a creature *much* larger than her, in its own habitat, that wasn’t acting agressively towards her.
            We later learn that Bex’s experience in the caverns has been one where everything is either trying to kill her or appears to be trying to kill her (by rather assertive, regular attempts to borrow some fingers for data analysis), which puts her actions towards Kalla into a new light.
            So I’m pretty much back to my original feelings toward her, which are neither negative nor positive.
            Mike on the other hand, having followed him for three chapters, is a gold-plated arsehole but even he has reasons for that and his experience with Kalla is bringing him back on a more even keel.

        • Linebyline

          I think reader opinion of Bex is colored by a lot of things. Knowing (or assuming) that Kalla has plot armor may be part of it, but then so is knowing that Bex didn’t know about the plot armor.

          There’s the fact that it was an ambush, and we knew Kalla was minding her own business but didn’t know (at the time) that she’d been under constant (apparent) attack, but there’s also the fact that she was clearly in surviving-a-hostile-environment mode, and now we *do* know that the locals were routinely trying to dismember her.

          I hate to jump on the “attribute people’s negative opinions to sexism” bandwagon, I think cultural expectations of femininity and motherhood play a role: Some feel like she abondoned her kids to chase her dreams, and others like her because she’s defying a convention they see as harmful.

          And then we have the opinions we had of Mike and Bex before they fell: Mike was the POV character for most of the comic and we were already more or less sympathizing with him by the time he met Bex, who fuond herself in something approaching a “friendly antagonist” role. Then again, Bex was clearly the more likable of the two, and if she’s an antagonist, it’s because Mike is antagonizing her.

          There’s a whole lot going on here, and I think the differing opinions largely boil down to different readers giving different weights to each of these elements.

  • SomeUnregPunk

    I like this comic. It’s like watching A-holes learning what hubris means.

  • ikabubu

    A damaged gay man asks a woman pioneering in space if “she’s a good mother.”

    When someone asks me what Mare Internum is about, I tell them:
    “Finding life on Mars is difficult, because it’s about facing yourself.”

    I’d pat Dershing on the back in gratitude. It’s given me a lot to think about, without providing answers, and with only a few characters.

    This is good science fiction.

    • JJ

      (‘Not straight’ does not necessarily mean ‘gay’ …)

    • Sheridan

      I’d pat DSH on the back too, because while on the surface* this is a sci-fi story about finding life on Mars, it’s also got deeper levels* which revolve around themes like self-identity, societal expectation, and mental health.

      *because they’re underground, geddit?! I’ll show myself out.

  • Gillian

    Hey, so

    I am really late on the uptake. But, it’s the sea right?

    That’s what’s allowing them to communicate? That makes a lot of sense, because that’s why they can talk underwater. I thought that it was just that Levi taught Kalla english, but it’s not, because they wouldn’t be able to communicate on an audible level like that, Kalla probably can’t like, even make some of the words we use given her mouth structure (human language require a lot of lip movement). What I don’t quite understand is why Michael and Kalla can’t talk to Levi. Maybe the processor made it so they couldn’t so they would stop causing so much trouble. Mike said he had a dream prior to this, where they went to meet one. But wouldn’t he also make it so Michael and Kalla can’t communicate? The only reason I can think of is that the processor is (1 – really lazy (2 is only worried about levi specifically, because he has the maps.

    Does this even make sense? I feel like I must be missing something…

    • Lynne

      Two weeks after your comment…

      I think you’ve got a pretty good grasp of it; the bit you’re stuck on is the mystery that hasn’t been explained to the audience yet. Kalla learned English from LEVi (I assume her English is understandable, but that she probably doesn’t vocalize the same way humans do; maybe her species is capable of parrot-like mimicry), which is how she can communicate with Mike. Kalla can speak underwater presumably as an inherent trait of her species, and Mike presumably as a result of his respiratory enhancements. For some unknown reason, neither of them are connected to the neural sea, which is why they can’t understand LEVi or communicate with other creatures.

      How and why Bex is now connected, but Mike and Kalla aren’t, hasn’t been explained yet.

  • tresfort

    Personally I feel that Bex is trying to exercise control over her own environments, but does not consider the choice of tools she could use to do this, or the consequences of her actions (in relation to something else than herself, as opposed to another person or ideal). I think her approach to the alien ecosystem is similar to her approach to the human society. She’s not letting stuff stop her, and she’s effective at it. Lacks in finesse, experience and thinking are made up by her lack of breaks (or more likely a manual override on her breaks) and ability to force herself through scruples, even if it means crying and regrets later.
    To me, it feels a bit like for Bex the only acceptable way of influencing the world is to make decisions about herself and her actions. She’s not deliberately trying to influence the “external” world, negotiate, test, push the boundaries. I feel she’s making decisions and carries them out, regardless of the consequences.
    Strong, but heavy handed. Doesn’t notice nuances about the surrounding world.

    If she’s going to be a dynamic character*, I’m curious where she’s headed to. Or if any of what I’ve written has merit.

    *Or is she already? I don’t think so, I have a feeling she’s acting totally consistently throughout the timeline of the story.

  • Ilmari

    Wow, I am surprised to find that Bex still has so many detractors… I find her a really sympathetic character to be honest, not to mention admirable for her accomplishments to date. And she’s been acting pretty rational thus far, far more than most would under the pressures she’s faced! Sure she “killed” Kallakore, which was clearly wrong, but assuming that she was assaulted by the creeps in the sea like Michael was, a smash-on-sight policy is at least something _very_ human.

  • RedMix

    We all like Kalla more

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