Chapter 5, Page 4

Getting owned by some jumped-up water, not a good look


Hugo Noms are opening soon to previously-registered Worldcon Members, and if you’d consider nominating the eligible chapter from 2017, I would be extremely grateful.

I’ll be keeping this image up as long as this diaphanous dream drifts within me (ie until noms open/ close)

Next page up tomorrow night~ see you then



  • Becky

    wow now what will she do? to be confronted with your own lies

  • Spark

    Yikes, gonna need some water for that burn… oh wait

    • Sheridan

      I lol’d.

  • …ow.

  • Stickman

    Is that how Bex was understanding everybody? The processor being in her head?

    • Manabi

      I still think there’s a good chance Mike and Bex both died in the fall down into Mare Internum, and what we’ve been seeing is the processor’s _recreation_ of them. That would explain the processor’s first two statements in panel 1: Her body received the processor’s when the processor recreated her body as a living being; and the processor explored her mind while recreating her as a living being.

      • Octavarium

        Except that wouldn’t explain why Mike can’t understand what Thrip says (or chirps?) and why only Bex does. Oooorrr, only she died and was recreated. Not Mike.

        • Manabi

          Or the processor didn’t want Mike to understand Thrip, because Mike was the one hunting for Levi. And could be the same with Kalla, the processor didn’t want her to understand Thrip because she befriended Levi. (My guess here would be the processor felt either was a threat to LeviThrip/Mike wanting to escape. Keeping Mare Internum closed does appear to be a high priority for the processor.)

          I will admit that doesn’t explain why the processor would let Bex understand Thrip, unless it was to lead to this exact situation where the processor forces Bex to realize she’s a destroyer.

          • Octavarium

            Hmmm… that seems plausible. Bex needed to be guided to the processor (and I guess coercive driving wasn’t an option). So she allowed Bex and Threvi to communicate, only “to lead to this exact situation”.

        • dreampiper

          Perhaps Bex died, and Mike, who we saw go through the streams, survived, but needed Thrip friend to survive, hence his body is becoming ‘programmed’ that way.

  • ObservantWolf

    Well, at least the Processor seems to be laying everything out on the table! (or is it? Wouldn’t the syringe-fish that apparently tried to kill Mike have been under control of the Processor? Hmm… Does it view humanity as destroyers based on sampling these two?)

    • shingworks

      Hey now, they weren’t trying to kill anyone, they were just after some of those sweet, sweet somatic fluids

      • sweet_gardenia

        Mmmm organic raw somatic fluids *slorp*

      • Vert

        While injecting their sweet, sweet deadly neurotoxin.

      • October

        So effing selfish, Rebekah. Wouldn’t even share a non-essential digit.

  • BigDogLittleCat

    Makes you wonder what the Processor has said to Kalla to make her afraid of it?

    Assuming the Processor is telling the truth (and not trying to gaslight her), looks like Bex has deserved some of the criticism from the commentariat.
    But in her defense, the noodly worm guys did seem to be attacking her and it did seem the rest of her kills were for food, so it’s a bit unfair.

    • bellsnwhistles

      Yeah, tbh I’m seeing the Processor’s comments as its own slanted opinion of her actions. Even if it’s seen all of them, it can only judge as itself. Hell, since it saw them as her, maybe it got her feelings about them too – her guilt – and, without further frame of reference, judged off that feeling. It doesn’t have to be the work’s opinion. I kinda like this thing being just another creature with principles and viewpoints all its own. I’d expect subversion of cliches from Der-shing Helmet, and “alien god-creature” sure is done.

      • bellsnwhistles

        God fucking damn it, autocorrect. Helmet? HELMET?

        • shingworks

          Usually I stealth edit typos but I’m keeping this one because the outrage is funnier XD

          • bellsnwhistles

            Hehehehehe. (Aw man, you responded! Eeee!)

      • Manabi

        But did Bex feel guilt at killing Kalla? She doesn’t seem to be expressing any here, just excuses. (They attacked me! I’m a scientist!) I’m honestly not sure she did.

        • Vert

          If Bex wasn’t aware of Kalla’s sapience, then her only crime was ignorance. A crime shared by Madame Processor, no less.

      • Shweta

        Same! The processor can take samples, no harm, but Bex taking critters that attacked her as samples makes her a destroyer?

        Mike’s response to threats has been to run away, that works well for the processor; but it’s not inherently better than fighting back.

        Also all the processor can possibly know is that Bex has been called selfish and fears it’s true — the claim of an omniscient perspective here is pure gaslighting even if it happened on some crumbs of truth in the … heh, process :D

    • John

      No way the processor is being honest. It’s contradicting itself, equivocating between preference, strategy, and logical possibility.

  • Gov

    Starting to genuinely feel afraid for the safety of the Processor and the rest of the Martian life. Mike seems fairly alright with this arrangement, but Bex always seems to find a way to destroy anything that stands against her.

    Here’s to hoping that both sides are still standing at the end of all this!

  • Rev

    I love how the Processor isn’t falling for her “but my sons need me” BS.

    Not that I dislike Bex, because as a character she’s interesting. It’s not very often that you see in media a woman who is, by all counts, likely been pressured to motherhood by society and not magically turned into the perfect parent who would do anything for her children.

    Some people are selfish, some people want to live for themselves, and focus on their own careers, and that’s okay. But that’s also why those people shouldn’t be parents. I actually feel sorry for Bex, if anything.

    • MGin

      This. I’m actually pretty satisfied with Shing’s treatment of everyone’s arc so far. She isn’t at all condescending to her characters.

      Their pasts are a good tool when it comes to understanding why they are the way they are, but they still retain responsibility for it.
      Relatable as their situations might be, being a victim of circumstance doesn’t immediately strip you of *all* agency, and you can still be a dick even with the weight of the world on your shoulders. After all, past a certain point, how you react to the world around you starts being more of a decision than a reflex.

      Good thing is, once you notice, you can build upon it and grow, and I have feeling that’s the direction they’re heading.

      I like it.

      • Lilian


    • Mork

      The Processor said Bex is selfish, so it MUST be true

  • ouranos

    TFW you need water for your burn but it’s the water that burned you.

    • Linebyline

      Look on the bright side: Mike’s probably got an aloe plant growing on him somewhere.

      • Manabi

        Or inside him, could be tricky to get to.

  • Retterhardt

    I am so excited to find out the ending! If this were a novel I would have my nose about an inch from the page and be reading each page in about .5 seconds right about now.

  • MGin

    I miss Kalla.

    I know it doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but here’s hoping she’ll show up again before the end.

  • Solanuma

    From the perspective of the processor Bex can be a genuine threat to the system. If she makes it back and tells the crew that Mike is trapped alive down there they will try to retrieve him.

    • Bethany

      If she makes it back, whether Mike is alive or dead, the others will want to study and investigate, because a living ocean is just not what they expected at all.

      • RedDwarfIV

        On the other hand, Planetary Protection Policy is a thing. Preserving alien life in its natural state. Just knowing that life exists, and existed, on Mars (and that Earth life came from Mars) would be points of massive scientific import. So maybe we couldn’t send more people to Mare Internum for fear of wrecking the ecosystem, but just knowing its there is a massive game-changer.

  • awhorl

    This is just the beginning of the evangelistic work over. There is more to come. Remember that this started with the offer of a sunflower. Why would the Great Defender offer a place in the Safety Zone for Martian Life to the Great Destroyer whose mind is All Wrong? If Bex had faltered and agreed to stay, how could her motives have satisfied the Defender that is characterized here? As she is, Bex just doesn’t fit. To stay, she has to change–either willingly, or by force.

    The tension is ramped up, all right. I do sympathize with the commenter who is skeptical that organic material that was built or has been re-processed can be called “life” rather than AI. What a question! What does that make the re-processed Kalla? And I am not limiting my compassion for LEVI because they’ve been given a processed body. Mike has been adorned with symbiotic Martian AI-life from the start. And now Bex is officially under water. Wow what a knot,

    Oh, and it’s Bex’s turn to dust off the term “scientist” and see if she can explain it to the lab samples in a positive light.

    • JJ

      Yeah I currently think there might be a difference in categorisation between Kalla, who explained the animals as biological machines, and this processor, who might consider them life worth protecting.
      My next question is: initially, Kalla mentioned that there are several processors – do they all agree?

  • Luces

    Must be hard to find yourself before a tribunal – thumps down! – when you thought to be simply on an expedition.
    On the other hand, the system has just proved her to be a threat to all around. It wouldn’t need much to silence her once and for all…

  • Esn

    Mike is being uncharacteristically chill.

    Makes me a little disappointed that we didn’t get to hear what what he and the processor originally talked about.

    Also, Bex is being a little… low-EQ? Why isn’t she at all trying to reason with the processor to convince it that letting her go could be a good idea *for the processor*? (e.g. “it’s only a matter of time until our people discover you, it’s best to start out with good relations”) Instead it’s all about “I MUST do this, I don’t CARE what anyone else thinks!” Which can be admirable, but maybe not very smart when you’re standing before a powerful judge?

    I guess Mike and Bex are both rather low-EQ in their own unique ways…

    • Glavos

      The term you’re looking for is IQ and it doesn’t really dictate a peesons behavior or personality. Just because your a scientist doesn’t mean you’ll make great life choices, in fact many don’t.

      • Esn
      • shingworks

        I think EQ means emotional intelligence, in which case yeah they are both very smart people, but are not so great at interpersonal interactions at times (something I noticed in a lot of my academically intelligent acquaintances)

    • anameer

      I suppose that’s where the whole “you are driven by selfishness” accusation comes in.

      And to be fair to Bex, if I was in a situation where I was being confronted by an entity that somehow knows who I am and is telling me there’s no way out to the life I had, I’d have a hard time to remembering to be polite too.

      • Esn

        Politeness isn’t the point; the point is getting what you want by appealing to the self-interest of those who have the power to grant it to you. That is, by convincing them that it’s a good idea FOR THEM. Politeness can help by getting them to listen calmly to your proposal, but the real trick is to make a convincing case that appeals to someone else’s perspective. It doesn’t seem like either Bex or Mike are particularly skilled at this.

  • AGV

    Yeah, but is the Processor aware that earthlings are just starting to collonize Mars?

    Like, even if humans ignored them (aganist all odds) and the martians fought to maintain their place, what are the odds of they being able to reclaim their home planet if humans take it over?

    Wouldn’t they have a better opportunity to keep or share their home if they came out instead of just existing on a hole for all eternity?

    While Bex might be acting out of selfishness, wouldn’t it be better if they tried to help her leave?

    • Kayldera

      The processor had access to Levi, so it should have a pretty decent idea of what the humans on the surface are up to.

    • Vert

      I’d say the odds are in the processor’s favor, given its apparently godlike control over biology and its own environment. We’re talking about an entity with the ability to design and fabricate life forms from scratch, as well as repair massive breaches in its chamber very, very quickly, which means it can operate at massive scales when necessary. It would be simplicity itself for such an entity to defend itself against almost any incursion short of nuclear attack, and it could probably wipe the surface of all life before we could mount any sort of defense.

      I wouldn’t bet against it.

      • Some_Douchebag

        So why can’t it devise a way to send Bex home that won’t disrupt it’s ecosystem? (Answer: It totally can. It just refuses to for some ominous reason.)

        • Vert

          Because any reappearance of Bex to the human world at this point would arouse suspicion. She’s been gone longer than her suit could possibly have kept her alive, no matter how many miracles you line up to explain it. If the processor is appropriately paranoid it will regard her return as an unacceptable level of risk, no matter how cleverly it hides its existence.

      • hkmaly

        Yes, the processor can likely defend against anything short of nuclear attack. Except nuclear attack is EXACTLY what it gets if it attacks the colony and wipe all humans from surface without explanation.

  • LostYooper

    I think we might see a bit of a freak out from Mike. He seemed OK with staying in the Mare for all eternity the first time he met with the Processor, but I think after being told he HAS to stay is going to strike a nerve with him. He wants to be in control of his life and his future, being told he can’t leave goes against that. Just an opinion, I am excited to see where we go from here.

  • sweet_gardenia

    the processor is all like

    “you sit on a throne of LIESSSS ”

    Serious comment though….good lord. I love how complex Mike and Bex are, your characterization of them is just plain gorgeous! I know a lot of folks have swooned over the art (it is very swoonworthy!) but kudos to the writing in this comic as well. It has been spot on outstanding all the way through

    • Lilian

      Yes, Shing’s characters knock this comic out of the park.

  • Tim F

    As a scientist myself, I rate the CPU’s assessment as…fair. The subjects of research don’t generally have the highest opinion of research. To add, destructive studies are more ok when your subject is plentiful/common. You’d never casually collect specimens that might be critically endangered. I give her credit for enthusiasm but an oversight board definitely would have shut her down. Especially the moment international – interplanetary! – relations became a factor. This is a diplomatic incident, Bex. Try diplomacy.

    • Shweta

      Except, she’d already killed these specimens either for food or in self defense.

      They attacked her.

      Everything the processor claims she is doing, it is also doing.

      • shingworks

        ding ding ding

        • awhorl

          I thought that they looked alike in panels 2 and 3. The Processor looks more like Bex than like Kalla. Way more like Bex.

      • Lilian

        Yeah, I can’t say I understand the resistance Bex gets for hacking out her survival. People hunted and killed and fought back in the day, folks. Predator and prey cycle and all that. Western sensibilities against such violence are wonderful, but they’re also kind of unusual.

    • Sheridan

      > You’d never casually collect specimens that might be critically endangered.

      Not anymore, anyway.

  • Lilian

    I wonder if the Processor’s conclusions in the first two panels are more drawn from Bex’s own interpretation of her choices than from objective data.

    In other words, is the Processor actually telling Bex what she feels about herself?

  • Mustachio

    Did the Processor make Kalla in its own image? They look a lot alike. Perhaps Kalla’s people were the original Martians, and they built the Processor?

    • shingworks

      They’re both in the same species, but the different genders/ subgenders have morphological differences.

      • chyro

        When they say “all women are goddesses”, I didn’t realize it was to be taken literally.

  • Kodak

    I just found this webcomic two days ago, read through the whole thing in one sitting, loved every single thing and have recommended it (with warnings) to several friends, and I’m just really happy to see Bex getting some hard character development at the hands of what basically amounts to martian science god.

  • Jonas

    well, good. That needed to be said. I’m sure Bex can be a decent person, but no one is above criticism. She did kill Kalla after all, and I don’t think anyone believes Kalla wanted to hurt her.

    Michael is underreacting, while Bex is severely overreacting. She was going full Stone Age. There is some interesting psychology to under- and overreacting people. I’m sure it will all make sense eventually.

    And if she really was trying to bring home bodies for science, she deserves to be kicked around a little more.

    It’s seriously time for Michael to face some uncomfortable truths, though, as well.

    • awhorl

      Kalla found the bodies for science in Bex’s backpack and was bringing her another one as a gift when Bex woke up.

  • The Walkin Dude

    And then, to further illustrate its point, it started blasting Hotel California over the PA system

  • Alan

    And now Bex does what Bex does best! SMASH!

    This cannot end well.

  • Indedipal

    I’m glad the processor is addressing the very thing that has bugged me about Bex from day one… the woman is self-centered AF.

    Now, though, I’m super-tenterhooks to see how the processor handles the situation. Will there be bones involved? and Whose…?

  • Jess

    Can I just say congrats to Der-Shing for writing a woman who (arguably) regrets having children? It’s SUCH a taboo topic but it goes hand in hand with the social pressure to be a mother. I have so much sympathy for Bex, flaws and all.

    Also I agree with some other commenters that we should not regard the Processor’s assessment of the situation as infallible.

    • Margaret Hogg

      Yesss I agree, love this comic.

  • awhorl

    Thanks to Tim F for commenting about ethics in research. How does one gather samples? Or resist taking home a piece of the gingerbread house just to prove that one’s story is not insane babbling? Who knew it would say “ouch, put that back”?

    I just can’t jump on the “Bad Bex” Bandwagon because Der-Shing is soooo good at showing moral corruption in the expressions and postures of her characters. Bex has trouble with emotional intelligence, sure, and she angers easily, but most of the time we’ve seen her looking bewildered, or aching, or trying to get her balance. The Processor’s list of bad characteristics doesn’t resonate for me with a set of frames and facial expressions I can recall that make me say–aha! yes, right on, Processor. This describes Luca, maybe, but not Bex.

    (I bet the screed she’s hearing is intended to soften her up.)

    Perhaps the point is that in the ramped up emotional atmosphere, they both are sharpening–refusing to see complexity or grey areas. Bex can be “nice” and still destroy; she is also young and deserves the chance that all young people should have to continue growing in a congenial, natural environment. Youth often makes wrong choices; that’s no news (and a mom with a ten year old is young! let Ancient One assure you). Putting her in the slammer, regardless of how delightfully it is managed, is not necessarily the best thing for her.

    • Shweta

      Yes!!! All of this.

    • Lilian

      I can get behind the spirit of this comment, oh Ancient One.

      I think part of Shing’s writing genius is that there are genuine nuances to her characters. They’re all flawed, but they also have redeemable/admirable qualities and do admirable things. There are reasons to sympathize with Bex and reasons to sympathize with Mike. There are reasons to disagree with Bex and reasons to disagree with Mike. All of these things can be simultaneously true.

      Sure, there are heroes and villains in her stories, but they’re not %100 “good” or %100 “bad”. It takes work to create characters like that.

  • JJ

    While we’re all raving about Bex getting pwnd for being self-centered and destructive, anybody care to go into how creepy that processor is? She dunked Bex in a way indiscriminable from threatening to drown her, penetrated her mind, wanted to collect body parts from her, started growing stuff on her face, and now patronisingly promises to “care for her” if she keeps quiet and behaves – but she’s gonna stay locked up in the basement anyway.

    • Shweta

      Right? The processor is probably built to maintain the existence so it might not realize that that desire — keeping it unchanged no matter what any intelligences in it want, bringing entities back to life as eternal samples — is… Selfish.

  • Shweta

    The processor violates agency like it deserves to, so basically it’s calling bex uppity.

    And it terrifies kalla.

    I do not like the processor.

  • Some_Douchebag

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a “destroyer”.

  • Whachamacallit

    Hmmm, I ended up looking back at the beginning of this comic, and I noticed that we never see Bex call her sons. I just assumed that Bex called them off panel, but the fact Michael explicitly asks Bex if she’s call them yet is making me think that she didn’t bother.

    Of course, it could be to off paneling.

    • awhorl

      Or she could have, in her grief, decided that confusing the issue by countermanding their father was a bad parenting move. If he said that one was adjusting already and the other was having a tough time, calling them when he was against it was stirring something up when she wouldn’t be there to help with the consequences. If the boys loved her and showed their grief to their father, and he was against the call in the first place, then she would have done something . . . uh oh . . . good for herself, but not for anyone else in the family.

      • Whachamacallit

        Hey man, all I talked about was whether Bex called her sons at the beginning. I didn’t even insinuate the reasoning for it, that was all on you.

        • awhorl

          Sorry. You said “didn’t bother.” Maybe it was a decision, and not a bad one. We weren’t told anything.

  • Some_Douchebag

    Here is what I think Bex should do, and what I would do in her position:

    1) Accept the processor’s terms. After all, there’s no way to fight it.

    2) Some time later, ask it through an intermediary for some way to brew or produce alcohol, to help adjusting to this new life.

    3) Hoard alcohol for a long-ass time, distilling and concentrating it if possible.

    4) Pour all of it into the Mare Internum.

    • Some_Douchebag

      Secondary scheme: Save some of the processor’s “pure” water in a sterile jar, to take back to Earth and possibly reverse-engineer.

    • Some_Douchebag

      Yet another possibility, since it cares about its “survivors”:

      “We could help you propagate, you fool.”

  • Natalie

    Just re-read and got up to date after not checking the updates for a while and :OOO so much has happened!

    I like Bex. Of course she isn’t perfect, but I like her and I don’t think she deserves what’s being said to her. I think it’s intended to have a certain effect, and I think the creepy martian AI doing it might have its own motives beyond protecting the system.

    I’m really wondering what Mikes been up to recently and whether the processor managed to give him what he needed. He seems to be acting differently…

    Exciting :)

  • awhorl

    I know one thing for sure. I am going back to read John Donne. It’s been a while. And I’ll never hear that line from Shakespeare in the same way again. I thank you forEVER for that!

  • Joel

    I really like this (artificial intelligence?) caretaker entity. It has its priorities right!

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