Chapter 5, Page 6

I don’t think the Processor is very happy about this

A cute winged Kalla fanart by Arteopteryx

And, a general grateful shoutout to my Patrons who are single(many?)-handedly allowing me to go full force on the comic right now… speaking of which, who wants another update tomorrow? (me)

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)


  • Shweta


  • Artie O'Dactyl


    But what if the alternative isn’t death? The processor won’t repeat the offer of peaceful assimilation … but what if the alternative is FORCED assimilation?

    • shingworks

      • Shweta

        oh ok in THAT case! *stops worrying*

        oh hey I got an eyefriend!

    • FatesVagrant

      Weeeell it is implied that te mushrooms are effecting Mikes mood so maybe? There mkght be a more extreme version of that.

      • Spark

        Forced transformation into a crustacean

  • Artie O'Dactyl

    By the way, I really like the view of Bex in that first panel!

  • BigDogLittleCat

    What does Mike think of all this?! Is Bex’s example making him rethink his position? He looks so disinterested, like ‘okay, Processor: your turn.’ Cannot wait to find out!

  • Vert

    I wonder whether the processor has any real choice regarding its actions?

  • anameer

    Are Mike’s eyes glowing again? I can’t tell where his pupil is (Is the processor gonna possess him to kill Bex or…)

    Also, reread chapter 4 real quick, and while I can appreciate in this page how Bex refuses to change who she is to accomodate anyone, I find it interesting that despite that she expects everyone else around her to accomodate to her. She expected Levi to join her in her quest, she expected Mike to look for her and wanting to get back to Devotion with her (though tbf I think any of us would expect our human coworker to do that), and she expects the Processor to do as she wants, and she might have expected on some level that her family would be okay with the idea that she’d leave forever…? Either way, it’s a fascinating character, and I’m wondering how her growth will come to be.

    • Ben

      Identity politics, in a word…. rights without responsibilities, demanding acceptance without exercising tolerance, the individual before any OTHER individual…

      • THANK YOU!! This articulates why I chose my ‘blood pressure’ over The News. (For me, medically necessary.)

      • anameer

        Precisely! I also forgot to point out that Bex expects the processor to accept the death of his civilization, and yet Bex can’t accept the idea that this might be the end of the road for her too (honestly in her position, I think I’d just ask to get killed permanently).

        Also for the sake of fairness haha me pointing this out about Bex doesn’t mean I think Mike is a prize or something. Like poor Kalla is worried sick and he hasn’t even gone to talk to her? Not to mention Mike is projecting all his feelings onto Bex, not even trying to understand her point of view.

        Kalla and Levi are the only nice characters lol.

        • Max

          Hers is the only reasonable stance, actually. “I’m not your enemy, but your offer is unacceptable. I’ll do whatever it takes to get out of here, you do whatever you think you must. Attack me and I will attempt to defend myself. IF YOU THINK I NEED TO DIE, I WILL _NOT_ DO _YOUR_ DIRTY WORK _FOR YOU_.”

          • heh

            I totally feel this. I think everyone thinking she’s unreasonable for “demanding acceptance without exercising tolerance” is missing that she has exactly none of the power here and the *processor* took a “my way or the highway” stance first. Nuance goes out the window when compromise involves your partial or total death.

          • Shweta

            but didn’t you know any woman having agency = identity politics, as is a woman of color wanting to exist

            Anyone who sees “identity politics” in something as rich and nuanced as this comic is having self-inflicted reading comprehension issues

          • Shweta

            (ack my snark tag didn’t make it through, probably registered as html, sorry. hope it was clear anyway that I agree with you)

      • DavidJCobb

        Every time I see someone deriding “identity politics,” they’re using the term to imply that refusing to compromise on basic rights and respect is somehow bad. “People want rights without tolerating the folks who oppose those very rights,” the term’s typical users cry.

        Bex’s demands are for safety and body autonomy. She is trapped in a hostile environment that is filled with creatures that are willing and able to tamper with bodies and minds, seemingly with no regard for the safety of those being tampered with. Her desire to escape is perfectly reasonable, as is her refusal to compromise with unsafe people… and criticizing that desire to escape as “identity politics” is certainly in keeping with how the term is always used.

        • Kasia

          *slow clap*

        • awhorl

          Thank you. Yes. Exactly.

        • anameer

          My apologies!! English is not my first language, so I was agreeing with what the person was replying to what I was saying, but I didn’t think to check if “identity politics” was the correct definition that aligned to what he was saying.

          That said the fact that she’s in a hostile environment is one to definitely consider, I was thinking more in line of how she was as a person, in general, but it’s true that being trapped in a void can certainly tamper a person’s way to react to certain things and I had momentarily forgotten about that. So thanks!

      • RedDwarfIV

        I don’t think you understand the meaning of “identity politics”. It is not “one individual before other individuals”. It is “the group before the individual”.

        This conversation seems like a non-sequitur to me.

    • Margaret Hogg

      I honestly don’t think it’s an expectation at getting her way so much as the fact that survival is so central to her character that it never occurred to her that Mike and LeVi would have any reason for not wanting to escape the system.

  • she handled that a lot better than I would’ve, but I guess she’s made it this far huh

    that second to last panel feels like she’s really anticipating death ._.

    • heh

      I love her frankly. Also yes, I reckon so too. You got it.

  • Pixie

    I mean, death seems to not be permanent here… look at Kalla and Levi. And speaking of Levi… he was brought back in a form that definitely made him not useful to the humans (because they couldn’t communicate anymore). So… I could easily see Bex getting killed, but not permanently.

    • Ben

      I don’t believe death is the issue, rather the nature of any possible assimilation

    • Sheridan

      > I mean, death seems to not be permanent here

      As long as you take a dip in the Neural Sea from time to time, death actually seems pretty meaningless here in the System. You’ll be missing some time and a few memories compared to someone who didn’t die, but that’s about it. You’re effectively immortal.

  • Ben

    More please!

  • Catalysis

    “No, i’ll not kill you. Mike will kill you”

  • tatch

    ‘Your move, Processor’

    Mike being Mike as usual
    Love how the mushroom things kinda makes it look like he’s got a crown :P

  • StClair

    “I already have. Three times. I had hoped that this iteration might choose differently. Perhaps the next will.”

    • CosmicStresshead

      *Same-wavelength fistbump*

  • Luces

    Are you sure you’d drawn the right finger?
    I was always defending Bex,but she is basically delivering the message of conquerers:
    Things change because we change them. You have to adapt to our will – no questions allowed!

    • Ben

      That’s the correct finger. Bex is gesturing for emphasis, not to give offence.

    • Margaret Hogg

      She’s not the conqueror here though. She is saying “I have no power here, but I will not be held prisoner, and if I die it will be on my own terms.” She is also is having a good point. If the processor really is an infinite being/system, discovery is inevitable.

  • Ellie

    I’m trying to get some clue to Mike’s position in this through his staging. His body language is very neutral, he’s just standing there and moving his head a bit. In panel 2 he’s looking at the processor, and in panel 6 he’s looked forward a bit so his face is in shadow.

    Face in shadow should be threatening, especially with the question of death in the air, but it doesn’t seem to be for some reason, especially in contrast to Bex’s obvious strength on this page. Maybe because in panel 5 Bex is big and on the right (strong, if I remember film composition correctly), and in panel 6 Mike is small and on the left (weak).

    Also why the heck is Mike staring at the Processor on this whole dang page? Bex is the one doing the talking.

    • Jirenta

      Perhaps he is wondering what the Processor will do. Like a Child looking up to his Parents how they react to a Person or Situation they never / only rarely seen before. Mike´s been quite a while with that Attachments, perhaps this made his Mind even stranger than before.

  • Ellie

    Also way to get that Processor out of your face Bex :D

  • Kuggur

    I am not very impressed with Bex’s negotiating skills.
    She is talking with a powerfull alien AI, that both has its own interests to consider, an all the decision making powerin this situation.
    ” My way or the highway” would not be my strategy…
    Bex shoud not forget that it is not the Processor’s fault she is there in the first place.

    • Pylgrim

      I don’t particularly like Bex, but I respect her and she is in the right here. She has properly identified that the offer of friendly assimilation is not a negotiation, as the Processor clearly has all the power. Their (don’t know what pronoun to use) offer, which is offered as the only alternative is unpalatable to Bex and while I don’t think she particularly wants to die, she also does not want to live like, so she’s not bluffing for a better deal but making a choice, which is the only thing that she has power over.

      • Kuggur

        I am just questioning the prudence of demanding to be “released or killed”, after having walked through a crispy field of bones to talk with an entity that holds all the power over the environment you are in.
        I for one would try to adopt a more flexible attitude, and would do my best to get more information about this AI, or avatar of an uploaded alien or whatever it is she is talking with. I would try to find out if it has any empathy for me at all. That namely seems to be the case, and is completely ignored by the tantrum throwing toddler.
        The processor takes the time to explain its predicament; the huge risk it would take if it would let her go. Not even just for itself but also millions of entities in it. And the offering of what it probably regards as a very generous alternative.( It could have squashed her as an annoying bug)
        Bex’s reaction: ME, ME, ME!

        • Fal

          “The processor takes the time to explain its predicament”
          Not really. Tbh, the processor smells like bullshit to me. They never explained anything -as a scientist, she probably would have understood had he tried to, and it would probably have been way more efficient than trying to guilt-trip her, which is fishy as hell-, just told her everything would die for Some Reason were they to release her.

          And he said he was unable to let her out at the moment, then one page later said he refused to. Which is quite different.

          Bex, on the other hand, knows they’ve been inside her head, and so wouldn’t try to lie (about her sons, or about anything else).

          • Artie O'Dactyl

            > And he said he was unable to let her out at the moment, then one page later said he refused to. Which is quite different.

            I suspect that the Processor lacks what we would call free will. It’s an AI construct, and its programming constrains it — the Processor won’t release her because it CAN’T release her.

        • heh

          I bet bosses love you.

  • I like the angle on the first frame

  • Ben

    So… is Bex some sort of updated representative of Manifest Destiny, inverted in that she is a black African willing to over-ride the interests of others?

    The Processor has just called her out, on her position regarding her actual motives. She hasn’t answered that question.

    • Lauren

      I don’t think Bex is a representative of anything, any more than Mike is a representative for all white people :^)

      Moreover, I am not sure Bex is even able to answer that question–she is a fundamentally selfish person whose past is repeated instances of trying to find a place in the world (as a wife, a mother, a scientist, etc) and finding out halfway through that this is actually not what she wants, or at least getting cold feet, and backpedaling unsuccessfully. She doesn’t KNOW what she wants but is driven to get it anyway.

      I think what she wants is a role in life she feels truly comfortable in, without having to leave the things she loved behind. The processor can give her the first part, but not the second.

      • shingworks

        Yes, I have to keep repeating this over and over: Bex is not a representative of her gender or race any more than Kalla is a representative of all Martians or Mike is a representative of all men or all Norwegian- Americans or all people with big noses or whatever. If you want a fatty metaphor to read into for all the characters, it’s about perceptions of mental health.

        I know it’s distressing for some people to see a black person as an individual and not as message about race and society but that is not and has never been my intent, and I’m sure I’ll be forced to repeat this sentiment a few more times before the comic is over… T__T

        • Lilian


        • What a concept! A black person as an individual, not a symbol! This *is* rare in mass-consumed art, isn’t it?

  • awhorl

    “I know you’ve been inside my head”–did she feel it? What kind of body/spirit invasion is that to endure? Got a name for it? Mike was presented to us as helpless, knocked out, with an injured leg–no apparent threat. We watched him heal, and then be pissy Mike to generous Kalla. That was a completely different way to be introduced to MI. Bex is tight-lipped. Maybe she’s been battling the Processor in her head since the beginning.

    She’s like my Dad. I can speculate forever–what went on in that head? He let so little out. But it’s only speculation when you don’t have all the info, just some of the acting out.

    In a story, you get enough info by the end . . . update hungry!

  • No, Bex, the processor won’t try to kill you.


  • heh

    I love her! She is wonderful.

  • Natalie

    I think Bex is awesome and don’t understand the hatred towards her.

    I wonder if she’s figured out that death doesn’t equal her experience of this stopping in this scenario though :/.

    Also, I’m not sure if death == “upgrades”, maybe I need to reread.

    • Jonas

      Exercising your own strength at the cost of anything else that has a life around you is really not a very smart mindset. It’s exactly the problem that the human species as a whole is struggling with – do we destroy our planet in the name of our own comfort and our own fears, or do we compromise?

      Do we have the right to carelessly walk all over other species that have just as much right to live as we do?

      Bex thinks that she’s naturally the boss, ignoring the right to existence this Martian ecosystem has. It’s always “If you’re in my way, I will smash you.” That makes her look strong as a comic character (strong female character yadda yadda), but it’s a real problematic mindset to have. Like I said, full stone age. BEX SMASH!

      Being threatened and isolated doesn’t make it OK to become an unthinking force of destruction.

      Also, she killed Kalla. People whose first instinct is “kill” just aren’t very likeable. Bex has some serious learning to do.

      • Margaret Hogg

        I honestly haven’t read any of her behavior in the comic as truly thinking she’s the boss. I think she has a strong personal sense of self, and an even stronger survival drive.

        She wasn’t suited to marriage and motherhood, and we don’t really have the backstory on how she started on that path. Her fear when she was pregnant was that she was losing herself in the symbol of “mother” and her response was to panic and run. Her focus on her career was an attempt at reestablishing her individual identity, and she felt threatened when asked to abandon it. Every part of her, from her response to creatures within the system to her initial introduction as a scientist studying alternate sources of food speak to the fact that she’s a survivalist, first and foremost.

        Here she’s again being asked to abandon her identity and become part of a system, and she’d rather fight or die than have that happen. It all reads to me actually as someone who’s pretty insecure in their path or place in the world, but also can’t bring herself to compromise on loss of identity. Maybe her identity is the one thing she’s secure in.

        I also don’t personally take her comments to the system as a threat or “lol I’m gonna come back and conquer you SO HARD” which some other people seem to be commenting on. Like, she’s not claiming manifest destiny, just commenting that hiding and looping infinitely was never going to be a sustainable plan for the processor/Mare. If not Bex, eventually some part of the system would escape or be found by an outside influence that couldn’t be trapped and converted. Mare has a right to live, but does it have the right to trap and force assimilate everything it comes across, just so it won’t ever have to deal with change?

        Anyway, Bex is fascinating and flawed and I love her and this comic.

        • Margaret Hogg

          IDK, this is really interesting to me in relation to anxiety and depression. Kalla and Mike had the “I’ve been here before” talk earlier where they both expressed accepting/staying in the dark place as relief from trying to escape it. So there they kind of represent the same response to trauma. Here the processor is an example of the same approach to self-preservation. Turn in on yourself, hide, loop over and over, don’t make any progress or change anything. Give up and hide in the dark place. The processor is fine with this, and doesn’t want to escape, but it IS hurting others who come in contact with it as a form of self protection. Bex is presenting the completely opposite reaction to emotional trauma: fight and run. Her response isn’t reasonable either, and is just as hurtful to the people around her, but each response does put a light on the other one.

          I guess I respect Bex because my own reaction to depression and anxiety has always been the Mike/Kalla/Processor approach, and I’ve had to work hard to learn to fight or protect myself when it’s actually appropriate to do so. She’s not doing it right but I respect her self preservation.

          • Lilian

            These are cool thoughts.

      • Natalie

        To me, her aggression is a reflection of the environment. She’s on mars, some of the local wildlife were trying to kill her, she needs to eat… I think we’d all kill for survival. I mean it’s that or give up and die. I don’t think many people would be like ‘Hmmm, exactly how much do I deserve to live?’ in that kind of situation. People panic, I think it’s totally normal. It’s why people don’t exit burning buildings in an orderly way. It’s possible that the only reason that Mike hasn’t acted that way is that he hasn’t got much of a survival drive.

        The situation with her kids definitely reveals a flaw, no arguments there. I’m just suprised that people are judgmental about how she’s acting here. She owes the Processor nothing – it’s clearly aggressive towards her and wants to keep her captive here. It’s not even honest about it – it’s plainly manipulating her to not do the only thing she wants to do – and there’s no room for compromise. They want the opposite thing, complying might be helpful if you wanna be sneaky/lie – is that morally preferable? On the other hand, complying might just give the processor more time to alter her, which would be the opposite of helpful. Really, the only option she has is decide to live here forever, or try like hell to get out.

        I can see why people would be sad that Bex killed Kalla and I like Kalla, too. I was like ‘Noooooo, Bex!?!?’ when her killing Kalla was revealed, but I thought how could she possibly know what she’d done?

        A little aside, Bex has no idea/isn’t motivated by this, but she’s probably Kalla’s best bet of escaping, too.

        People are entitled to their opinions of course, I’m just interested in why people feel the way they do, so thanks for the insight.

  • Natalie

    Also, I’m wondering if the processor needs to be fixing someone’s problem in order to “give” them things. Like, maybe they were designed to help the martins down there or something. Super excited to see where this goes!

  • Android 21 3/7

    Eesh these characters are all so complicated. I can see all their points on the issue. I don’t think Bex’s attitude is correct here, but the Processor’s certainly isn’t either.

    Well, LEVi, at least you’ll always be happy and uncomplicated.

    LEVi: Actually, I have father issues from when Mike forced me to die “for my own good”.


    • shingworks


    • Margaret Hogg

      “But look, I can make noises with my tail!”

  • Tad

    Very interesting.

    I agree with Bex on this one. If the Processor has been inside both of their heads, it should know something of how humans work. Mike and Bex’s circumstances are only the beginning. As someone mentioned on the comments for the previous page, this can go one of two ways: let Bex go so that first contact can be peaceful and on Martian terms–or, trap them inside MI, only for later humans to stumble upon it all over again.

    It might take decades, if not a century, but more humans will come to Mars and cities will spring up and eventually someone doing construction will bust right into those caves. But if humans were told of the place, especially scientists, there’s hope that the ecosystem would be preserved and left alone. Hell, given time, humans could provide the resources and the Processor could give them its knowledge so as to terraform Mars to a state suitable for both humans and Wollaria. Win-win!

    • Jonas

      Do the wollaria / the processor want any humans on Mars? Should they have any input on this?

      Are the Martians the natives, and the humans the white settlers? We know how that went. (And ironically, Bex very much represents the white settler mindset here, in that she has zero respect for the existing culture – “sorry about your planet dude but all things end”.) Humanity just isn’t mentally equipped to not ruthlessly conquer whatever it can.

      In your age of martian cities, I can totally see some crazy human terrorist destroying the processor because (insert crazy ideology here). Humans are not a very nice species. Peaceful coexistence is probably a pipe dream.

      • RedDwarfIV

        The Martians seem to be about as advanced in bioengineering as the humans of the story are in technological engineering. They’re not defenceless.

  • Spades

    In the last panel *Mike and The Processor awkwardly glance at each other*

    Hey, Der-shing! Since you’ve seemed to like fanart, there’s this amazing Kallakore scupture on FurAffinity. I thought you had to take a look if you hadn’t already!

  • Bethany Persons

    It’s crazy in this argument how both sides seem reasonable (making extremely valid points) and unreasonable (stubborn to the max). At this point, the outcome has a survival of the strongest vibe. Though given that The Processor literally controls this little world, Bex better hurry, because survival couls get challenging really fast.

  • awhorl

    Funny how we’re cramming this into human models, examples taken from human history, when Kalla and her kind have supposedly been evolving so long that humans are the unintended creatures that sprung up out of their garbage heap. And we might hope that scientists screened for first encounters would deserve the benefit of the doubt–that if they are cracking, then the pressure must be damned straight enough to crack me, or you, or anybody. I’m not feeling very judgmental.

    Bad me–I finally made it to the Patreon page. Will be there often, I promise. And I read a tag line there: Mare Internum: a comic about escaping from dark places. Anybody ever been in a dark place?

  • Some_Douchebag

    I like when competing interests collide.

    • Lilian

      Lol, well doesn’t that just sum things right up.

  • LostYooper

    [Bex attempts to leave chamber like a total bad-ass after monologue]

    In reality

    [Bex scoots out of chamber on ass like an idiot]

    • shingworks

      lol, exactly

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