Chapter 5, Page 7

I promise you, the characters are just as torn about this as you guys are… preserve the future-less tomb of a dead world? or destroy it all for a few insignificant, imperfect people? And most importantly, what does Thrip have to say about all of this

In other news, a terrible drawing

And, another grateful shoutout to my Patrons who are letting this comic update so frequently! I could not do any of my comics without you.

That said, do you think I can reach a full week of five updates? Tune in tomorrow to find out B]

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)


  • Teslaverian

    This comic never ceases to amaze me

  • The Wing

    I can’t even pick a side in this dilemma. I’ve decided not to even try. I’ll let these guys decide the value of their own lives. :(

    • tatch

      Yeah, they’ll sort it out themselves. Probably. Maybe. Who knows.

      (How fun would it be that a search team finds them now :D – or at least finds the ‘sanctuary’)

  • Fabhar

    Hey, hey. Guess what, Mr. Computer Water. Something *already* violated your sanctuary from without. *Two* somethings. And you’ve just been chatting them up. Did you even consider that the *other* somethings might go hunting for them?

    • Bethany Persons

      Three somethings, though everyonr thought Levi was lost

  • Jonas

    Well, despite all the ethical problems, this comic is definitely special and dear to my heart. I’m just curious how Shing is going to resolve all this.

  • ObservantWolf

    Hey, Mike finally gets a flower! Sure it’s a re-gifted rejected gift, but still! That ‘sensible Martian body’ comment is worrisome, sounds like the processor is going to kill Bex’ current incarnation! Wonder how set its programming is?

  • Lilian

    Not a fan of objective morality, are we, Processor.

    …please don’t force upon Bex a sensible Martian body.

    • Max

      I have a feeling that forcing _anything_ on Bex is the quickest way to end up with everything _razed_ to the ground around here – and regardless of how powerful it actually is, the Processor is making a humongous mistake believing himself omnipotent and in perfect control…

      • hkmaly

        There are two ways how to solve conflict: One is by communication, compromise etc. Other is complete annihilation of one side. The processor doesn’t want to communicate with humans. Sure, it might seem understandable given our track records, but … is the processor sure it can annihilate (or assimilate) all people on Earth? If not, HE will be annihilated. It’s just question of time.

  • Bottas Heimfe

    I’m starting to not like the Processor. he seems like a real dick. if he doesn’t want to let her out, and she doesn’t want to stay, the processor should just kill her. that’s better than being forced to agree.

    • Daniel

      I wouldn’t think it wants to. It seems to me that the processor is only focused on protecting life, not by killing either, but purely by keeping everything as simple as possible and balanced.

      The Processor, as I see it, doesn’t seem to see death as an option, let alone an alternative. It won’t let its world die, but it won’t kill Bex or anyone else, and it probably doesn’t consider anyone or anything’s death an option to consider (probably easier to think that way when you can endlessly respawn people).

      Very small-minded, but ultimately pacifistic.

    • Margaret Hogg

      In a way I think it thinks it’s doing the most ethical thing? But fails to understand that some creatures value autonomy. Kalla obviously has some thoughts about it at by this point.

  • Artie O'Dactyl

    Y’know, I don’t see Bex in the circle any more. Did she walk away? Was she … absorbed?

    And I repeat my previous comment. The processor is insane.

    • Margaret Hogg

      The slant in the background is the crevice they came in through. She just left through it.

  • Roo

    Kallakore wanted to escape multiple times, and it sounds like the Processor killed her again and again, for…what? Kalla’s part of the outside world, belongs on Mars, what reasoning could the Processor have for not letting her free when she’s been desperately trying to escape for so long, long before even humans ever showed up to pose a threat? Seems to me like the Processor might be using the ‘protect the remaining bit of the planet’ logic as justification to maintain its stranglehold control and sense of power over the system it runs. I feel almost sorry for it, since such a thought process might stem from trying to maintain the last vestiges of a doomed planet, but still, I think its intentions might be stemming form a much darker place than it purports.

    • Catalysis

      You guys forgot, that Mars is a dead airless rock. There’s no escape, just nowhere to go.

  • Artie O'Dactyl

    The Processor is at least three billion years old. A solitary human that old would be desperately lonely; a human would have run out of things to think about long, long ago. The mere fact that the Processor doesn’t want anyone else to know of its existence would make it insane by our standards.

    As an AI it probably doesn’t have any choice other than to continue to execute its original instructions, whether those instructions make any sense or not.

    • Kyle

      Man, I think you’re underestimating the Martian technology here. The processor likely contains the consciousness of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of Kallakore’s species. (They’re being stored in the sea!) So technically it’s not alone, and it’s not really an AI by our standards, since it’s an actual biological creature. I think it can make up its own mind in the same way that any individual can.

  • Luces

    There are so many creative people among us – any idea how Bex would look like in a “sensible martian body”?

    (Hope you don’t feel I’d overstepped, Der-Shing!)

    • Shunka_Warakin



      And ready to punch some Processor snoot.

      • shingworks

        Hey now, you stay away from that snoot

        • Rabid Lemur

          I’ma boop that snoot. The processor ain’t the boss of me!

          • shingworks

            *crabification process initiated*

    • Bradford

      I think the smaller of two martian female types. Or maybe a needle fish.

  • If Mare Internum is such a perfectly closed system how have at least four outsiders gotten in? If there’s a way in, there’s a way out.

    I love AI that is trying to be beneficial but doesn’t really understand people and how they live and think. To the Processor, maybe trying to change someone’s mind by reconstructing their entire physiology is as normal and unobjectionable as changing someone’s mind through debate. Why should it care about petty human feelings when an entire human life is just a blip in its four billion year lifespan?

    I’m also reminded of the WAU from the video game SOMA, an artificial intelligence tasked with preservation of human life, but with ideas about what constitutes “human life” that most humans might not agree with.

    • Ben

      The cave roof collapsed…. the Processor obviously can’t control that

  • Glavos

    I’m starting to see why Kalla doesn’t like the processor.

  • Kuggur

    I think it would be very difficult to judge or even understand something utter alien as the processor with human standards or criteria. It is not human. I don’t think it’s behavior upp til now qualifies it as “a dick”…:)

    • R Coots

      Exactly. Judging a non-human thing by human standards is problematic.

  • Kuggur

    I am a bit shocked to see you describe this as a “future-less tomb of a dead world” Der Shing…
    I had such high hopes for these uploaded(?)aliens :D

    • awhorl

      It’s a “dark place” . . . and we knew from the first that whatever the Processor thought it was doing, when LEVI first arrived, Kalla had been trying to leave (repeated failed interviews with the Processor) and was depressed because she was isolated–she had no friend. That alone meant that the Processor was failing at their job.

      LEVI was Kalla’s only friend, so why did the Processor turn them into a thripp, not a wollarian (even an eternal child)? Threvi couldn’t talk to Kalla anymore after that–Kalla was thrust deeper into mourning even while Threvi was madly chirping at her.

      When our travelers arrived, the Processor had a thing going for depression, it seems to me. They could have solved the problem for Kalla and specifically and deliberately didn’t.

      What, Kalla and LEVI go off chatting happily while the Processor can go wash the dishes, take out the garbage, and feel rotten about the bad news about the sun that LEVI may have known? Nuh-uh.

      The Processor is not in a good mental place. Mike, you push back. NOW.

    • shingworks

      I love them too XD but honestly, Kalla is the alien equivalent of the last passenger pigeon

  • awhorl

    I just reread Margaret Hogg’s comment yesterday and reference to the “I’ve been here before” conversation:

    Kalla says she doesn’t really belong there!

    But wait. Wollaria built MI as a “sanctuary” presumably for themselves as well as other Martian life forms. But Kalla doesn’t belong . . . why? Because she needs to be in a group? In a place where she matures, reproduces if possible, grows old and dies naturally?

    Where she can see the sun?

    • awhorl

      Operative word: hope?

  • corvideye

    Hmm, I get the feeling Mike is about to rebel against the Program.

  • FatesVagrant

    Oh screw you Mike. He’s the one who got her into this in first place but he give a damn until the kids are involved. We all know once you’re a Mom, you’re not person anymore, you exist to serve your kids and your husband and nothing else.

    • shingworks

      Yeah I think we can all agree he’s been a bit of a dick

    • Margaret Hogg

      Exactly Bex’s motherhood fears, too… and honestly a lot of fan hate on Bex has been that she’s selfish for not becoming that model of mother. (I’m sure the lovely commenters don’t mean or think of it to that extent, but what of men who leave their family at home home on a life-risking scientific adventure? Aldrin and Armstrong both had families when they stepped on the moon.) I understand why it especially matters to Mike, but yeah. :\ More than a little dickishness from him.

      • Android 21 3/7

        In Aldrin and Armstrong’s case, they would either die at some point during the moon voyage or they’d return from it. And they did return from it. Bex chose to be among the first permanent residents on Mars, meaning the kids could expect to never see her in person again even if she did survive the journey unless they chose to go to Mars themselves when they were adults. That is what makes some of us upset with Bex’s decision. Going to Mars in of itself is not the problem, it’s the decision to physically remove herself from her children’s lives in the process of doing so.

  • awhorl

    Sigh. Teachable moment so big it dare not be named. The way out of the abyss is for the angry person who can’t stop being a son and the angry person who is also a mom to uh try a different perspective? I choke on it: team up? care enough for each other to work together and (cringe) see the light? (Bex hauling Mike out willy nilly is not exactly what I mean since she never asked him first; Mike sarcastically waiting for the Processor to fix everything up for Bex also doesn’t quite cut it. They have to . . . talk.)

    Also, yes, Thripp needs to weigh in. Dream scenario: Pinocchio-Thripp gets to be a Real Boy, and all three come out to find that the surface has bloomed in the meantime and the wollaria have recolonized. You see why I am not the ghost writer here. Sigh again.

  • HousePet

    I feel sorry for the Processor. It appears its programming was deficient in how to handle unexpected (and reasonably expected) situations. If its task was to preserve the biosphere for eternity, it was given a task it can’t accomplish.

    Major patch needed.

    And I’m pretty sure that Thrip says “Thrip thrip” about this…

  • Geena Beth White

    I totally love this Web Comic! Keep em’ coming!

  • Geena Beth White

    this is one of the most interesting Web Comics in existence!

  • Mike didn’t really want a flower; he just wanted to be *offered* a flower!

    • I’m currently re-reading the comic from the beginning. The earlier parts where Mike was the focus I didn’t remember very well, things seemed somewhat different from what I remembered. But once Bex became the focus, those parts were totally familiar. Of course, it may be because I’m reading a bunch of pages at once instead of one at a time when I first read them.

      And the author’s summary in the comments hits home this time, even if it didn’t the first time I read the comic: “preserve the future-less tomb of a dead world? or destroy it all for a few insignificant, imperfect people?”

      Is this remains of Martian life worth preserving as the processor intends to preserve it? Or is it just on life-support until somebody pulls the plug? Isn’t living the point of having life? Not just simple or mere survival?

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