Chapter 4, Page 46


As usual, I’m enjoying the “who do we like/ dislike more” discourse, thank you for keeping it respectful. It was my hope and intention for the reader (you~) to form an opinion, so I’m glad that you’re doing that.

Like a lot of you, I’m sure, I get annoyed at plots that could be resolved through simple communication. You think to yourself “ugh you stupid fuckers just TALK already,” like it’s so easy. But then in real life there’s a ton of reasons why you wouldn’t want to talk or listen…. Insecurity, or disrespect, or the fear that you felt a genuine emotion over baseless assumptions… idk

Yet another social media thing; if you’re using Mastadon.[whatever], you can find me there at shingworks. Not abandoning my Twitter, but I’m enjoying the peace and quiet at this Nazi-free alternative. I recommend it for anyone looking for a more peaceful online hangout space.


  • Zuzi

    Jesus Christ Micheal, can you just calm the fuck down for one second? Please?

  • Tairais

    Oof, Michael. My poor dude.

  • Glavos

    Mike has no chill today.

    • Ford Prefect

      The root of all suffering is the giving of fucks.

  • Seva

    I’m super confused. Didn’t he want to leave a few pages ago??

    • shingworks

      yes, last chapter, I guess he changed his mind

      • grahamf

        Brain toasters will do that

        • Android 21 3/7

          Yeah. Once you go brain toast, you never go back.

          Hey, anyone got a kidney butter churner? This brain toast needs something.

          • Kent

            No, but I have a lung jam-maker.

          • Tadrix

            Ouch. Sounds awfully painful.

      • BigDogLittleCat

        And the chapter before that, and the one before that, and….

        IIRC: he started trying to leave Mars quite permanently; then when threatened with being shipped back to Earth, he seemed to prefer staying; talking to Bex at the station, he changed his mind again, about something; then he flipped some other direction when they landed down in the pit; [not even gonna try to remember his mood swings]; yelled at Kalla for not wanted to get out (poor Kalla, sulking in her bath); then when travelling with Kalla *to escape* seemed to grow to *like being here*; then Bex killed Kalla;
        and I suspect that erased any doubt and cemented his decision: the hell with the human race who seem to him to cause only hurt and destruction, he will find happiness as a Martian.

        I think. Frankly, poor Mike’s head is such a mess I wouldn’t bet on his not changing his mind again.

    • comespm

      Yes, he wanted to leave not long ago in the story’s time.

      Seems to me like he fell under the spell of the processor, once he found it, and the glowing eyes (plus the head fungus) are most likely a clue of it.

      Bex better be careful, now that she is close to the processor too.

  • Jojo

    Oh man. Mike seems altered. I like the faint glow to his eyes in the least panel. I wonder if the organisms are somewhat corrective for his condition. I mean, an unhealthy host doesn’t sustain a parasite very long.

    • McDoom

      Seems to be the same glow that’s coming off the big swirly pool of water that the camera’s kinda floating around (I don’t know proper camera movement terms).

      • Jojo

        There could be a connection for sure.

      • Storel

        Could just be a reflection — the water’s glow reflecting in his eyes.

  • tatch

    ‘How can there be peace for any of US while you’re still here?’

    Not sure if Mike is saying that because he considers himself part of the system, it’s just a copy of Mike or some other reason. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it makes her tick and doubt him too.

    • Jac

      I guess he’s been integrated?

  • Edmund

    He’s in the system. I know this is probably not what is going on, but he is in the system.

    The ease of which one system could produce different Mikes strikes me as very easy. Food for thought. Minds don’t strike me as hard to change in such a closed ecosystem.

    • BigDogLittleCat

      I’m fully expecting to find out that the Mike who woke up after falling into the pit was a Processor-created reconstruction of the Mike who fell into the pit.
      Now I’m wondering if this Mike is the same Mike who ran into the sea after he saw Bex had killed Kalla?

  • Artie O'Dactyl

    I still suspect that this isn’t the first time around for either of them. I wonder how much time has passed on the surface?

    Hmm. Could some of those crunchy bones on the ground be from previous iterations of Bex?

    • Shweta

      Why would a copy of Bex have not been recognized by the system, though? That makes me think it’s her first time round at least…

    • Ford Prefect

      I don’t think either of them have died yet, because Mike’s growths have been progressing pretty steadily. I’d expect a cloned Mike to already be optimized for the fullest integration with the system possible within a given time frame. IE, either new & more pervasive growths coinciding with the creation of his anatomy; Or newer growths, less developed, if he were made as a fresh copy & then re-seeded with symbiotes.

      The same way genetically identical twins don’t have identical fingerprints, I’d expect a clone-Mike’s growths to develop in subtly different patterns.

  • Shunka Warakin

    They are both correct, within the context of their experiences (assuming we trust Mike to be telling the truth about the Processor).

    Mike has begun adapting to the closed system (in part because it adapted him, yes) and other than this encounter with Bex, he seems like he’s been a little bit more mellow as time has gone on.

    Heck, maybe the Processor is using Thighfriend and the Headcabbage to gently adjust Mike’s moods.

    Bex has treated the system as hostile (which is understandable from her perspective) and that would definitely be a problem in a closed system.

    Mike could BE less hostile, but he’s probably more than a little bit afraid of Bex and her judgement: Bex has proven herself quite capable of killing, and after talking to the Processor Mike is probably more than aware that he isn’t exactly human, anymore.

    …And he may be perfectly happy with that.

    Either way, Bex wants to go, Mike has decided to stay. They’re talking past/at each other rather than to each other.

    Maybe the Processor can bridge this communication gap.

    In any case, I think they’re both acting reasonably in their own perspectives.

    (This does not stop me from wanting to sit them down with mugs of hot tea and try to get them to talk it through.)

    • Edmund

      An excellent summary of the matter

  • DukeBG

    I like this page

  • HyruleSymbol

    I have a feeling that’s not Mike, but the Porcessor in disguise having the memories and stuff of Mike but not actually him (mostly because his eyes are seemingly glowing)

    • BigDogLittleCat

      Me too. Just a suspicion.
      If it is the Processor using “Mike” to get Bex inside it, I think we can say goodbye to Bex. If the Processor’s goal is to maintain a peaceful closed system, letting Bex go would be counter-productive, as it would result in a flood of these curious primates.

  • Manuel

    1. “I get annoyed at plots that could be resolved through simple communication.” Thank you! Please say it again for the people in the back!

    2. Congrats for! You rule!

    3. Proposed storyline from hereon: She leaves, everyone is happy, the end :D

    • Shweta

      I fail to see any problem with (3)

      Except if this is the processor, an it’s this hostile, what does it want here?

      • Vert

        Well, if I were smart enough to run a closed system for billions of years, I’d also be smart enough to know that letting a member of an intelligent, impulsive, and above all *inquisitive* species return to their fellows above-ground is a move likely to make it *not* a closed system for much longer.

        It “talked” to LEVi, and LEVi wound up on a lake bottom, smashed to pieces. It “talked” to Mike, who was so determined to leave, and now Mike wants to stay. Now it wants to “talk” to Bex. I don’t think she’ll take kindly to the attempt.

        • Shweta

          Didn’t see this earlier, sorry for resurrecting it now – but wow yeah that’s compelling.

          Though I’m not convinced Mike was sure what he wanted earlier. Or maybe ever.

  • gerbil

    I really like mike. I think automatically jumping to “oh no, he’s been corrupted by the system!” is kind of lazy? Like, that sort of humans-good, aliens-bad xenophobic attitude is very “normal sci-fi plot motivation” and doesn’t seem like the kind of thing we should expect here.

    • Linebyline

      Generally, having a fungus in your brain that changes your thoughts and behaviors is a bad thing.

      Further, we know that the processor’s job is to keep its system going, and that it views individuals as replaceable, and therefore disposable, components. (Lots of Kalla bones lying around.) I don’t know if the processor has an opinion on whether an exact copy of a person is ontologically the same person, but if someone else (say, Bex?) didn’t think so, I don’t think we have any reason to believe the processor would care or treat that person as any less disposable.

      Consequently, I see no evidence that the processor values free will or would have any qualms about rewiring Mike to make him “decide” whatever it wants him to decide.

      That doesn’t prove anything, of course. It’s all speculation and extrapolation. This could very well be an overall positive thing, at least from Mike’s perspective. I just haven’t seen anything sufficiently compelling to override the default “fungus taking over your brain is bad” assumption.

      • Shunka Warakin

        Now that’s a deep look at it.

        The processor is running an ecosystem. Things die in ecosystems. That’s part of how it works. In an artificial or consciously-husbandried ecosystem, great efforts are made to preserve critical elements and to “weed out” harmful ones which affect the balance. To the Processor, individuality may well be less critical than affect.

        I will also offer this: in most societies, drugs which alter brain chemistry are perfectly permissible and positive when prescribed by a professional with the intent of healing. We don’t know that the fungus is doing anything at all to Mike’s brain.

        But I do feel like he’s being calmer about this conversation than he would have thirty pages ago. Not ‘calm,’ but ‘calmer.’

        • Linebyline

          Yeah, that’s a totally valid take. I’ve seen the fungus-as-antidepressant idea floated around a few times, and it’s entirely plausible.

          I mean, I don’t think the processor sees helping Mike as an end in itself, but it could easily be that “heal Mike’s depression” is an easier or otherwise preferable way to accomplish its goals than “rewire Mike’s brain so he wants to do whatever I want him to do.”

          After all, it has no qualms about handing out other beneficial improvements, like letting Mike breathe water.

          But I do think that the processor’s apparent apathy combined with the “BRAIN FUNGUS == BAD” knee-jerk reaction (which, again, I think has some validity) is where all this “OH NO MIKE” reaction is coming from.

    • BigDogLittleCat

      I also don’t see the need for any influence by the Processor. Given Mike’s mental history, what he says here makes perfect sense.
      He was all over the map before he got down here. He doesn’t need the Processor to change his mind for him.

      • Edmund

        And really, if his mind has been made up to become a part of the system, his mind has decided to enter a setup where he stays alive.

        That is a remarkable improvement from the start of the comic. I suppose there’s potential for this to become a tangle of individual agency versus keeping someone alive, too.

  • Pylgrim

    I can see how each of them has a valid argument YET is being a dick about it. That said, I’m still on Mike’s side. I can totally see how a life of quiet resignation into peaceful but stagnant and isolating acceptance is not everybody’s cup of tea, but if threatening or enacting violence on others (even if they are not really trying to force you to stay) is the only way you can figure to escape, you don’t have my sympathy.

    Mike still has ways to go, but he has definitely grown during his time in the System. Bex has killed an innocent creature, her paranoia impeded her from saving the life of another and her ruthless determination keeps pushing away friends and potential helpers. Not once she has allowed such thread of events give her pause or reflection–the only time she finally crumbled down for a bit was at the weight of her own hardship, not at the enormity of what her actions or reactions revealed about herself.

    • Asterai

      As much as I think she should have been hesitant to kill the megafauna in an strange new ecosystem, I don’t think we can say she intentionally killed a person, nor do I think killing an “innocent creature” is that bad a thing. That’s nature. Everyone needs to eat. Everyone needs to not be eaten.

      And you really can’t blame her for boiling the water. Really. That’s How-Not-To-Die-Of-Dysentery 101; it is not paranoia. That decision was probably justified by the actual facts for other reasons; I don’t think Bex wants to be a permanent fixture here and I’m not sure the processor would let her leave once it had a backup. She tried to help the longworm thing, but it didn’t work. That wasn’t a character flaw; that was acting her best judgment on incomplete information.

      And yeah, she hasn’t stopped and monologued to herself, but (1) she is still fighting for her life and needs to keep moving and (2) we don’t know what’s going on in her head and (3) at no point has she had a companion that it would make sense for her to explain her thoughts to. So I think we really need to reserve judgment about her thought processes here.

      • Zach

        She has too met a kind and intelligent companion, and she put him on a leash!

        Accident or no, she hasn’t even acknowledged that she killed Kalla, and she had no reason to set the death traps besides fearing the worm people. They never attacked her.

        Also, I’d like to introduce you to vegetarianism, the much more safe and efficient way to get nutrition from alien lands. There is enough to keep Kalla fed.

        • BigDogLittleCat

          The worm people kept trying to obtain body parts from her. “Please give us one of your fingers” is a threatening sounding request and she had no idea when it might stop being a “request.”

          We know Levi is kind and intelligent, but from Bex’s perspective he’s an AI that got transferred from a machine into a local crustacean thing. None of that compells her to spill her guts to him. She focused on survival.

          Vegetarianism is neither safe nor efficient when in survival mode. Flora and fungus are much more likely to be poisonous than fauna, and flesh is easier to digest and yields a much greater energy return than vegetable matter. There’s a reason herbivores spend all their waking hours eating and have evolved much more complex digestive system.
          If someone lost in the wilderness tried to survive off a vegetarian diet, they’d have to spend all their time searching for food, without time or energy to effectively prepare shelter or tools, much less find their way to safety.
          If you can’t hunt, you’re far more likely to starve or die of exposure before you reach safety.

          With all she’s going through, “hey, I murdered a sentient creature” is mental burden she can’t afford right now. Especially as she learned she “murdered” someone when that someone, alive and well and apparently not fussed about having been “murdered” told her so. Her brain probably shut that mindfuck right down immediately as something it couldn’t deal with.

          Mike might look good next to Bex by not killing Martian fauna, but Mike *wanted to die* when he fell in. He never went into survival mode. He met Kalla before he got around to caring about surviving, and it seems he is obtaining sustenance from his Martian add-ons as he apparently doesn’t need to eat as much as Bex does.
          Their completely different mental states when they got lost explain why Bex has killed and Mike has not. It’s about survival, not character.

          • Zach

            Bex failing to see LEVI as a person should be alarming all on it’s own.

            I thought of that, but having the time to make a dumpling means the raw starch for it must be easy to come by…?

            Either way, charging things bigger than you isn’t smart. If you’re stuck in an African jungle, you doing ask yourself how you’re going to catch an elephant.

          • Pylgrim

            This is a good analysis, but I believe that it is /also/ about character. Today’s strip actually shows that. Bex is a woman capable of leaving her kids behind to follow her dreams, which is unfathomable to Mike. Bex easily falls into the “kill if that’s what it takes to survive” while Mike would happily lie down his life, though more out of self-loathing than compassion.

            Neither attitudes are inherently moral or immoral, but taking the time to reflect on what’s happening and change, grow if necessary is, on the other hand, something laudable. Mike has done some of that while Bex has done none.

            I do get your point, though. Circumstances may override the need for introspection and personal growth. If given the unfortunate choice to make either of these characters an army leader against an invading force, Bex would be the only logical pick.

        • Alan

          Kalla isn’t a vegetarian. She eats the species that Levi became, and almost made a meal out of him.

          Perhaps that was the processors intent?

  • Weirderthanweird

    Hmmm… A lot of the comments have theorized that either that’s not Mike or that he’s been corrupted. If the processor is behind it, then is it possible it wants to talk to Bex in order to corrupt her, too? They can’t have peace while she’s still here, but there are multiple ways to interpret that. Maybe the processor intends to take over her mind.

  • Kyle

    I mean, I know Mike is supposed to be an intelligent guy, but he really hasn’t shown an ounce of sane rational thought this whole time, and now all of a sudden he’s espousing this philosophy?

    I think maybe there should have been a little more development of his intellectual side, because my impression of him before now was more that he was a flailing madman, not an intelligent but disturbed individual.

    On the other hand, Bex has taken a hyper-rational “frontiersman” approach, considering everything a threat until proven otherwise. This really seems like the smart thing to do, given the situation, but it accentuates the very human problem of xenophobia.

    It will be interesting to see how their two stories play out. Will Bex learn to accept a place in the system? Will Michael realize that this is no place for him? Either way, the system will be permanently altered…

    • James

      It’s rational to treat things as a *potential* threat…
      It’s decidedly POOR frontiersmanship to attack unprovoked.
      Mike has had a few vocal outbursts and made some poor self-preservation choices when angry; Bex on the other hand has left a trail of corpses, most of which were actively trying to communicate at the time.

      • BigDogLittleCat

        Who all in that trail of corpses was actively trying to communicate with Bex?
        The thrips are non-sentient, and Kalla looks for them as food. She suggested Mike eat Threvi, remember.

        Kalla certainly wasn’t trying to communicate with her. (Bex didn’t kill Kalla because Kall was a threat. Kalla was a huge source of food, which Bex needed because she’d already eaten most of the thrips.)

        And the worm person was caught in a defensive trap Bex set to protect herself from them because their “communication” was asking her for body parts. If that worm person had respected her wishes to not give it one of her digits, it would still be alive. It forced the issue and tried to force its way in, after she loudly and repeatedly warned it not to. You cannot blame Bex for its death.

        It’s untrue and unfair to talk as if Bex is a serial murderer.

        • James

          That was a lot of unsupported assertions and leaps of logic in one place. My statement stands:

          Bex has killed more than can be justified by practicality.

          It is a gross exageration to call her “a serial murderer” which is why I didn’t, I just contradicted the unsupported notion that her behaviour has been sensible and justified.

          • BigDogLittleCat

            To quote: “Bex on the other hand has left a trail of corpses, most of which were actively trying to comminicate at the time.”

            The thrips: not trying to communicate. Killed for food.
            Kalla: not trying to communicate- didn’t even know Bex was there. Killed for food.
            Worm person: trying to communicate; specifically asking Bex to give them a body part. Killed when it ignored Bex’s requests that it leave her alone and warnings that she had defenses. Instead of backing off, it kept trying to get a piece of Bex’s body, and walked into a defensive trap.

            Every death but one was for food, and that one was caused by their walking into a trap they’d been warned was there. How much hunting for food was beyond what was practical? Building a trap to keep out alien creatures who kept trying to get a “sample”?

  • ThreadWeaver

    “Here I am king! The mycelium majestic! Behold my beard and fungal crown!”

    Sorry. It’s just looking more and more like a crown to me every time I see it.

    • Rana

      Agreed. There’s a decided faerie king vibe about him right now.

  • KE

    What makes mastadon nazi-free? Aren’t nazis on every social media platform these days?

    • shingworks

      They’re specifically not allowed in the TOS, which is a breath of fresh air.

    • Most of the servers take an anti-Nazi stance. And the few servers that don’t are generally silenced by the others. So people can call for genocide on some Mastodon servers without being banned, but those servers don’t get to participate in the larger community. (Just like you can send spam from your own email server, but it doesn’t mean anyone will see it — your server will get blocked real quick.)

  • Mr. Casual

    It doesn’t seem to me that the processor influences minds, other than by individual creatures normalizing to the situation they’re in. Kalla, for example, can still be quite troubled by what she’s been through, and even showed a bit of frustration toward her fate. Seems to me if the processor could influence people, it would eliminate that.

    And so far, we haven’t seen it create duplicates of a thing until that thing is dead. So unless Mike has met a terrible fate somewhere, I think this is still Mike.

    Mike was suicidal, so his erratic behavior is pretty understandable. Maybe he’s “come through the other side”, so to speak. Gotten so low that he’s reached a new plane of understanding, and it’s allowing him to accept this new existence.

    • Linebyline

      That’s a good point.

      Kalla didn’t have headcabbage or glowing eyes, though, so Mike might be an exception.

    • Shunka_Warakin

      I’m going to theorize for no good reason that maybe the Processor operates on a sort of a ‘minimal interference’ model.

      Making Mike feel more comfortable by balancing his brain chemistry is significantly easier than trying to reprogram how he thinks/what he thinks about different things, I’d imagine. At least as much as our own science understands the brain.

      As for _why_ the processor might keep Mike around (or any human) it is encountering an alien civilization and biology. The one requires alert understanding, the other is a potential source of diversity and alternative biological solutions to problems which might be useful for strengthening its preserved ecosystem, in the long run.

      So if the processor is conscious, having a human around to gently poke and prod at makes a sort of sense. On the other hand, a hostile, destructive human is a problem and not so easily tolerated.

      • Edmund

        You’re talking about it as if the processor considers Mike a novel plugin for it’s sum of code.

        I like your thinking.

  • Cricket

    From what I have gathered so far, I ‘think’ Mike may have found simplicity and transparency. By accepting his acclimation into this closed ecosystem there is little to hide and nothing to fear. Prior to his entrance of the Cave, he didn’t “click” with other humans, feared or attacked what others thought or said without his knowledge and it is because we Humans aren’t simple, transparent, upfront beings, that makes his apprehension towards those back at home base all the more apparent.

    This closed ecosystem has allowed him to adapt and acclimate and accept him as part of this environment; maybe deep down Mike knew he wouldn’t be able to leave and accepted this fact?


  • Shunka Warakin

    Additional thought to the pod-people theorists:

    If Mike was killed, and the Processor re-created him, why would it re-create him with his parasites unless it valued his individuality and considered them a part of his subjective experience? If it was capable of more gross direct editing, wouldn’t it just do so as part of its re-creation process?

    • Asterai

      I think it’s been pretty clear that his toasters are not parasites but symbiotes. We know thighfriend helps him breathe; we can speculate that the face-fungus is tweaking his brain chemistry, for better or for worse. So if the processor wants to re-create a viable, stable copy of Mike, that copy will need the same symbiotes.

      It might be more telling that the symbiotes are in the same locations as they were last we saw Mike, but then it may not. As part of the illusion of continuity, the processor may have just put them in the same locations.

      • Shunka_Warakin

        At that point, we’re pushing awfully close to brain-in-a-jar levels of ‘we can’t really know!’

        I prefer to avoid that because it feels like a sort of a cheap explanation, and Shing has never struck me as the sort to hinge a story on a flimsy excuse.

        (Shing, please forgive me if I’m wrong.)

  • Nicolas

    Oh man. I love the general vibe this scene gives to the story. The living, conscious, closed ecosystem is a science fiction idea I love to see used in stories.

  • Lucas

    Time to take a big ol’ chill pill, everyone.

  • sweet_gardenia

    Mike: Sorry Bex. There’s not mushroom in this closed system for you….

    • BigDogLittleCat

      I see what you did there.

  • Crazyjerseygirl

    I like all the different theories! I also love that two very flawed people are the stars of this show.
    That said, something is up. Last we saw mike, he had convinced Kalli to keep trying to escape the system. Now he’s just ok with living there?
    Somethings up. Don’t know what, but it’s something!
    (Amazing Work as usual btw, I don’t comment much but I found The Meek ages ago, before The Hiatus and have been hooked ever since!)

    • Ben

      But IS Bex a “very flawed person”? We know Mike is; he has exhibited severe personal flaws from his introduction, and has a severe personal trauma in his backstory which we know a good deal about.

      The only thing we REALLY know about Bex is that she had, at some fairly recent time (given her apparent age) a relationship which lasted long enough to produce and raise at least two children to the apparent age of 8 to 10 years. She appears to have abandoned that relationship to come to Mars, but that’s implied by Mike, who is an unreliable narrator in that sense.

      • Ben

        Revisiting Chapter 1, Bex DOES specifically refer to her sons in the present tense, and specifically refers to “letting people know she has arrived safely” so we must assume that those people exist, and regard the relationship as ongoing.

        That doesn’t rule out a “big reveal” of some sort about Bex’ backstory, but Occam’s Razor doesn’t support that at present.

    • BigDogLittleCat

      My money says that Bex’s killing of Kalla smashed into his brain how much he hates humans.

  • Kuggur

    What makes me suspicious of the main human characters (as in they might not be the originals) is their lack of amazement, wonder and awe regarding their discovery of this closed system containing an alien intelligence and his/hers/its constructs. Not something you see every day to put ut mildly!
    They take it strangely “matter of fact” like. Certainly Mike, but I think Bex is also rather stoic about her surroundings.

    • Linebyline

      We didn’t really see what Bex was up to when she got down here. My impression is that any wonderment Bex had for the environment went away real quick when that environment started trying to kill her.

      Mike had an attitude that I think I can reasonably paraphrase as, “Oh, look, yet another thing trying to screw me over.”

      • BigDogLittleCat

        Plus, wonderment and wtf are expensive luxuries when you’re fighting for survival.
        And Bex is a scientist whose specialty is in survival technology. She came up here to try to make Mars self-sustaining by creating a source of food production.
        This is right in her professional mission.

        And yeah, Mike was oh, fuck me.

  • CharlieBoi

    I’ve been curious about this for a while now, but with the fungus on Mike’s face, is it growing OUT of his eye socket? Or just overtop of it? Both seem rather unpleasant

  • Roo

    No Mike you’re supposed to be chasing the sun again remember? :[

  • CharlesW81

    I don’t know who or what the processor is… But I suspect it’s gone insane.

    My thoughts go back to the things which called him by name while he slept above the shores. Like the other systems, it’s almost certainly living but likely capable of much more intelligent thought. With an order to maintain the system and balance being required, I could easily imagine it extrapolating on that over time and loosing whatever mind it has

  • Lilian

    “Like a lot of you, I’m sure, I get annoyed at plots that could be resolved through simple communication. You think to yourself “ugh you stupid fuckers just TALK already,” like it’s so easy. But then in real life there’s a ton of reasons why you wouldn’t want to talk or listen…. Insecurity, or disrespect, or the fear that you felt a genuine emotion over baseless assumptions… idk”

    Eyup. I’m afraid a lot of conflicts break down to misunderstandings.

    • Linebyline

      True, but I think it’s a matter of degree. There are misunderstandings like this one where they probably could resolve things (at least to a large degree) by sitting down and talking things out, but there are perfectly legitimate reasons that it would be hard for them to get to that point, and even then it won’t solve everything.

      Then you have the typical “eavesdropped on the wrong half of a sentence” or “We are keeping secrets from each other for no good reason because INTRIGUE!!1” conflicts common in poor-to-mediocre stories. (Or the “We are flipping out over something trivial for no reason because the author wants conflict here” that characterized my adolescent attempts at fanfic.)

      Another wrinkle is that realistic interactions don’t always make engaging stories. Being in the thick of a disagreement, your choices make sense to you. Being an audience member who can see both sides and see how lame the excuses are, but not feeling the emotions yourself, it can be pretty frustrating.

      • BigDogLittleCat

        Welcome to the Operaverse.
        Everyone in opera is batshit crazy.

    • Phil

      It’s much, much worse than that, I’m afraid. “Misunderstanding” is just the tip of the human iceberg.

      With the help and encouragements of family, friends, and Society in general, we silly intelligences often stake our very identities on positions and propositions. Because such positions and propositions are often unconstrained by anything resembling reality, they can be highly variable from one group/person to the next.

      In a sufficiently diverse population, this makes conflicts inevitable. How such conflicts play out will depend on the personalities involved, and the stakes they assign to them.

      Conflicts can easily get out of hand when they’re intertwined with our sense of identity. Discussion, understanding, and growth then become incredibly painful, because (intentionally or not) it equates “accepting a new viewpoint” with “the death of the self.” And most folks are willing to go to very great lengths to preserve their sense of self. *Avoiding* communication, even one-way communication, is the instinctive reaction in this case.

      It’s self-preservation, after all.

      Example: the “only” below:
      “The only reason I’m here right now is to take you to the Processor.”

      Mike is tolerating communicating with Bex, barely, but that is only so that he never has to communicate with her again. Her very presence threatens his sense of self. And that’s already been threatened quite a lot…

      • Phil

        Point being, that such interactions are far from “unrealistic”. We see much more extreme examples in the news every day.

  • huhm, I am very worried

  • Ben

    If the Processor is capable of creating successive iterations of a conscious, self-aware entity which retains key parts of the former entity without, necessarily, BEING that entity physically (hence the recreated Kalla not requiring the bones strewn around, or the bone used by Bex earlier) AND it can re-embody conscious entities into entirely new shapes (LeVi being transformed from a robot to a crustacean), AND it can create whole physical bodies (specifically here, Kalla(n’, then it’s pointless to speculate about Mike.

    Clarke’s Third Law is in full operation.

    One important difference is that Kalla(n) (where (n) denotes the current incarnation of Kalla) appears to have “core” memories of that identity, and knows that (s)he spends long periods oblivious or in some sort of suspension, but doesn’t retain memories specific to the previous incarnation – ie, Kalla(n+1) isn’t a direct continuation of Kalla(n) – whereas Levi(2) appears to retain direct continuation of memories of Levi(1).

    So I’m currently working on the assumption that we are seeing Mike(1) undergoing a process of evolution while the Processor defines Mike(n) and his role in the system, and we will see Mike(n) in due course.

  • Ooo I only just noticed the growths happening under Mike’s suit (maybe even fusing him with his suit? ohoho).

  • Vert

    Mike said that the only thing that matters is whether we have control over our own lives, and he doesn’t anymore; the processor is clearly influencing him. It’s all his paranoid fears come true.

    If he’s still capable of realizing that, and someone points it out to him, he’s going to be *pissed*.

  • Alan

    Surely the processor knows that if Bex leaves, its not going to be a closed system for long.

  • James

    It’s an interesting gender-role swap now that I think about it… in works of fiction (classic sci-fi especially) it is usually the male who indulges in excessive pre-emptive violence… and those arguing for trying to communicate FIRST are usually shown to be unmasculine and futilely wrong.
    Here instead we have big brawny male character in the “emotionally unstable but peacemaker” role, AND a woman character in the “trigger happy kill-em-all” role.
    For ultimate subversion of these tropes, Bex needs to be right all along and drag a screaming and crying Mike away from the Puppet-Masters ;-)

    • JJ

      Did you notice you can switch the letters to “gender swole rap”?

  • BigDogLittleCat

    Now I’m wondering when Bex will think back to chapter 4 pg 35, when Kalla, the biggest strongest thing Bex has seen down here, showed she is afraid of the Processor *and* told her that she’d already looked for Mike at the Processor and he’s not there.

    You know, if I saw someone like Kalla was afraid of the Processor, I’d have second thoughts.

    So why *is* Mike at the Processor? Did he get killed and rebooted? Or did he come looking for Kalla?
    In any event, what’s up with hanging around for a chat with the Processor? If he’s as acclimated as he seems to be, why would he want/need to talk to it. Wouldn’t he just get on with being a peaceful Martian? If he wants to just grok into the system, *talking* about it won’t help. And hanging out with the Processor seems a very unMartian thing to do, considering Kalla’s afraid of the damn thing. (But that could just be Kalla, given her head seems about as messed up as his.)

    Does he not know Kalla is alive? He sure acts like he believes she’s dead, but by now he should know better. Or did the Processor lie and tell him Kalla couldn’t be rebooted?
    Or is he mad at Bex because Kalla is his friend and he is mad she got killed even if she didn’t stay dead?

    I think this is why I’m not sure this is Mike and not the Processor pulling a stunt. He says what I would expect Mike to say under these circumstances, but the circumstances don’t seem to make sense.

  • LanceDance

    What, nazis? Whats about them?

  • Kuggur

    Whatever the outcome, I really hope all the mysteries are going to be resolved before the end.
    I start to get tired of ” open endings” which make me suspicious of the author ( just to be clear, I am not meaning you Shing!).
    It is not one thing to conjure up an intriguing mysterious puzzle, another to give a reasonable explanation for it. When it is not given it often ( not always, sometimes it works) just seems to be because there simply never was one. Remember that series “Lost”? Yeah, like that.

  • Jazhara7

    In that last image, he looks like a Faun. He’s turning into Doug Jones in “Pan’s Labyrinth” (as the Faun, not the pale man. Oh gods, not the pale man.)!

    • Sheridan

      His headcabbage reminds me of the Minbari.

  • strannik

    not so much water in the history of mars : “Granular flows at recurring slope lineae on Mars indicate a limited role for liquid water” from Nature Geocience.

  • Younicorn

    Glowy-ish eyes mean something’s wrooong pls don’t let Mike die

  • Biev

    But Mike, if you let her leave she’ll blab!

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