Wither, Ch5

Last time on Wither, the wedding.


When the evening is at last through, I languish on the bed in my white slip while Deirdre rubs my sore feet.

What I find most interesting here is there’s no resentment for being in high heels the entire time, which is why she’s in so much pain now. She’s just grateful for the luxury of a massage afterward.

It should also be mentioned that Deirdre is a little girl who’s probably been up and on her feet since much earlier than Rhine was, and probably doing work most of that time. But the book just goes on about how great the massage is.

Then there’s another interesting bit:

Here’s what Rhine says:

“So how does this wedding night work? Does he choose us in a lineup? Drug us with sleeping gas? Pool the three of us into one bed?”

She sounds anxious about what’s about to happen, doesn’t she?

Well, not exactly. Here’s the full bit: I’m so relaxed that I just let the words come out, so beyond worrying about being classy at this point, “So how does this wedding night work? Does he choose us in a lineup? Drug us with sleeping gas? Pool the three of us into one bed?”

So no. She’s just impatient to find out what marriage actually involves, but she hasn’t been mentioning S-E-X because good classy girls don’t talk about it. She goes on to say that her little servantgirl isn’t “offended” by Rhine’s “crassness” in saying this. Because that’s the only issue with going on, Rhine referencing S-E-X things out loud.

Anyway, turns out Linden won’t “consummate” things tonight. He’ll wait for his current wife to die before raping the replacements.

“He’s very in love with her,” she tells me wistfully.

It’s so sweet and tragic! Oh, poor Linden! Let’s all sit quietly and think about how very, very hard it is to be him.

And indeed, Linden doesn’t show up so she falls asleep. The book continues to not report any actual feelings on her part, and I have a steadily worsening sense this is not avoiding her panicking about rape but because the author thinks it’d be crass for her to admit she wants to have sex with him.

I think that’s a cause of a lot of disconnect. There’s the unspoken idea that women aren’t allowed to want sex, therefore it doesn’t matter what kind of sex it is. If she married someone willingly, it would be playing out the same way. The book is able to acknowledge that there’s a horrible power imbalance (sleeping gas, for example) but because women can’t consent at all, it just doesn’t matter.

Then in the early morning someone opens the door. It’s him.

I want to ignore him and pretend that I’m still asleep, but I think the terrified pounding of my heart must be audible across the room.

You might think that’s a reasonable sentence. Nope! She’s not terrified her rapist has shown up.

It’s irrational, but I still think a creaking door will mean Gatherers coming to shoot me in the head or steal me away.

It’s just she’s so traumatized by the people who kidnapped her that she’s scared of the sound of opening doors. Because he paid people to kidnap her and murder the other girls she was with, and now she’s terrified by anything that makes her think of them! Anyway point is she’s fine with it being Linden showing up to fuck her, she’s just “irrationally” nervous.

But I guess his original wife isn’t dead yet, because he just tells her to get dressed in something warm.

To his credit, he leaves the room so I can get dressed in private.

Later, to his credit, Linden didn’t kick a puppy. He followed this up by not pushing anyone down the stairs.

She’s led outside to see a koi pond.

She’s told they’re from Japan, and asked if she knows what that is. We learn something of the level of schooling. Their school was in a church (…because regular schools exploded?) and very few children attended.

Mostly we were the children of first generations, like my brother and me, who had been raised to value education even if we’ll die without a chance to use it.

Well.

In the comments I was speculating on how a society like this could function at all, and I based my guess around reading. Reading is the best way to transmit information. With the death rate, you can’t rely on a teacher being around for the full period of educating a student. But only one person needs to write down the directions for something, and it can be referred back to if a person is only partially trained and hasn’t memorized everything. And it’s much easier to maintain a population of reading teachers than teachers for each various skill they’ll need.

Education in general is vital. People don’t have the time to pick stuff up on the job. You’d want intensive job training to get people to be functional workers for the rest of their life. America is a large country that relies on enormous amounts of transportation, so it needs people to run the trucks and boats and trains. The younger your workers are, the more vital it is you give them proper training.

What strikes me most here is just how aggressively people are refusing to adapt. Either people orphan their kids young and they run around stealing scraps to eat, or they send their kids in to get a traditional education designed just to take up time so the kids won’t get into trouble.

I think I’d find this more plausible if the ages were dropped further and the original gens were practically immortal. Also, if there was robot everything to keep things running. In those circumstances, I could see the first gens viewing the second gens solely as children and never considering doing anything to actually train them for the new world.

But in that case you’d think they’d focus more on caring for the second gens…

Hm. You could get something weird if it was still possible to make first gens, but say, only men. So they need to keep up the numbers of second gen models because they don’t have artificial womb capability, but that’s the only thing any of them are actually used for. The world then is populated by first gens doing all the halfway skilled labor and semi-feral second gens – the first gens have no time to care for the kids because they’re busy running everything else. But even still it’s a better idea to feed them than have them running around stealing.

It’s very hard to figure out a setting where this would ever be happening, basically.

And the school had an orphan or two with dreams of becoming an actor, who wanted to learn enough reading to memorize scripts.

Except there are no movies. We know there aren’t any because the only thing the TV shows is job listings and rich parties. So what, plays? There’s no way plays can be viable when shops can’t even get customers.

All we were taught of geography was that the world had once been made up of seven continents and several countries, but a third world war demolished all but North America, the continent with the most advanced technology. The damage was so catastrophic that all that remains of the rest of the world is ocean and uninhabitable islands so tiny that they can’t even be seen from space.

That’s not how things work. I’m going to assume that the reason “the most advanced technology” saved America is that’s how they spun us blowing everyone up first. It’s not possible with bombs, but I think I remember there was some movie where we had an earthquake device and it led to them having to go to the earth’s core to restart it. I’m hazy on the exact details of the nonsense. Anyway, I’m going to say that what probably happened is we got an earthquake device and we used it to level everything. Somehow, we did this before the rest of the world nuked us, so I guess we hit everywhere simultaneously. Doesn’t China or someone have satellites with nukes? Maybe we shot them down simultaneously too. And somehow we got every single island, because I guess whoever was in charge hates birds and coral reefs. And somehow Canada was fine about this. Or maybe we just couldn’t hurt them without hitting ourselves but they couldn’t do anything but quietly hate us afterward. Or maybe we annexed them.

And…I don’t know how you could take out Mexico completely without hitting the states on the border, so maybe we just took out most of that and annexed the remainder. But I’m pretty sure the states down there would rather get blown up than let Mexicans into the country, they’re kind of assholes about the whole thing.

But I’m pretty sure even if we assume a magic earthquake gun that hits everywhere, the amount of damage you’d have to do to the continents to actually get them below sea level would cause massive volcanic everything. Also it would take tons of energy. As in literally. Energy doesn’t come from nowhere, earthquakes happen because of energy slowly building up in the rock over long periods of time. It just wouldn’t make sense to keep smashing things until they were actually underwater. Also, this would end up raising the overall sea level, so both Manhattan and Florida would be underwater without the ice caps needing to melt.

Also why the hell would you take out Antarctica? I mean, what, do you just hate penguins that much? You felt like the ten scientists there were getting too uppity with their “research” and “learning about the world”?

Anyway because she had first gen parents her dad had an altas of the world that showed her pictures, the internet apparently being one of those things that stopped existing. She liked the pictures of Japan, and her brother liked the pictures of Africa,

A koi wriggles past me and disappears into the depth, and all I can think is that my father would have been so happy to see it.

The disaster took out koi? Look, I know people pay stupid amounts of money for fancy ones, but they’re just jumped up carp, and the prices have more to do with how slowly they grow and people being picky. The main issues in actually owning them are how much water they need.

He shows her the sunrise and says it’s wonderful to see a new day and be healthy.

I can see sadness in his green eyes. I don’t trust it.
How can I, when this is the man who paid the Gatherers so he could have me for the last years of my life? When the blood of those other girls in the van is on his hands?

Well, that’s a reasonable statement. It’s a shame it’s taken this long to get there. And she continues to sit quietly. At least her reasoning is that she needs to make him trust her, but it’d be nice if we actually saw this revulsion she’s supposedly biting down, instead of occasional interjections.

my wedding band burns in a twist of light.
I hate the thing. It took all my willpower last night not to flush it down the toilet.

Like this, for example. It didn’t. We see her last night, and all that happened was her lying in bed getting a footrub, asking if Linden would show up, and then going to sleep.

He asks if she knows anything else about the world. She lies and says she doesn’t, so he tells her stuff. He finally says Rose is the one who taught him this stuff, then says she can go.

After that the girls are all left to their own devices, but they’re trapped on the single floor which is just their rooms and a library. In her reading she mentions the polar icecaps are also gone and also because of warfare. So not only was every other continent blasted underwater, but also the ice caps are gone, yet somehow Florida and Manhattan are still there.

Somehow, the girls mostly avoid each other.

Sometimes Jenna will take a couch beside me and look up from her novel to ask me what I’m reading. Her voice is timid, and when I look at her, she flinches like I might hit her. But beneath that timorousness there’s something more, the remains of a broken person who had once been assured, strong, brave. Her eyes are often bleary and misting with tears.

Rhine doesn’t know anything more because apparently she makes no overtures of her own. She’s able to recognize that Jenna is miserable and scared, but that’s the end of it. I guess she’s supposed to be handed Good Person points for recognizing Jenna’s broken but used to have conventionally valued personality traits despite not actually doing shit.

Cecily complains that the orphanage didn’t do a good job teaching her to read. She’ll sit studiously at one of the tables with a book and sometimes spell a word out loud, waiting impatiently for me to pronounce it and sometimes tell her what it means. Though she is only thirteen, her favorite reads are all about childbirth and pregnancy.
But for all her shortcomings

That’s not really a shortcoming. That’s being a curious thirteen year old girl. This book is getting really creepy about things – it is perfectly normal for a thirteen year old girl to be excited about getting married or having a kid. That doesn’t mean either of those things are things they should do. It doesn’t mean it’s okay to do those things to them because they were asking for it by having bad judgment.

Anyway, her good point is she’s good at music. There’s a piano (that makes holograms as you play it) and she likes to play songs. Rhine says she’s very different doing this than how she acts other times, like when she throws silverware at the attendants who cross her on the wrong day, which, considering that kids often have reasons for acting out and the circumstances she’s in, is hard to view as the surprising contradiction the book presents it as. It’s just very depressing.

There’s also a hologram television that plays simple videogames, all just direct simulations of the real world.

I wonder if my new husband grew up in this way—trapped within this sprawling mansion, with only illusions to teach him about the world.

There has been absolutely no sign of that, Rhine. He’s male, he’s born to the family instead of a kidnapped victim, he can go where he pleases. If nothing else, you know he’s not trapped because he left the place just fine to pick you out of that lineup. Remember the lineup? The only possible reason to think this is that you’re dropping into Stockholm again.

She spends her other time trying to find an exit. Apparently there’s absolutely no staircase, just the elevator, and Rhine raises the reasonable point that this is a fire hazard. She wonders what would happen, if they’d just all die, even the beloved Rose.

One day she pries open the elevator shaft with an umbrella.

Even if I only got as far as the floor below me, I might be able to find an open window, or a staircase.
It’s the word might that makes me hesitate.

So she doesn’t go.

She keeps making excuses not to do things. And as I find myself saying over and over, yes, it’s possible for this to be how someone would act. But the book doesn’t seem to be presenting it from a character perspective. There’s no sign here we’re meant to see this as Rhine being unwilling to take risks and insisting on waiting for the perfect opportunity.

Especially because of how minor her attempt is. She showed some good initiative by prying the doors open, but then faced with an actual way off the floor, she freezes up. Is there a maintenance ladder on the side anywhere she could climb safely, without worrying about the elevator crushing her? How about trying to figure out if the elevators have a schedule and there’s a safe period by listening for the elevator. Or if she can’t hear anything… the girls are no longer locked in their rooms at night, but there must be some time of day when most of the servants sleep, or at least when they’re not traveling around. When are the dead hours?

This book isn’t presenting her as an ordinary girl cowed by her circumstances. It keeps telling us she’s the defiant heroine.

Instead, Rose finds her there and asks if she’s thinking of killing herself.

she’s smiling. “It’s all right,” she says. “I won’t tell on you. I understand.”

She tells Rhine the only reason she’d be given an umbrella is if Linden means to take her outside.

Outside. I never thought the word could make my stomach flip-flop like this. It’s one of the small freedoms I’ve had all my life, and now I’d do anything to have it back.

Much like her hesitation with the elevator, this seems to be foretelling her not actually taking advantage of being allowed out for fear of losing the privilege. What bothers me most is that this seems to not be directly acknowledged. It’s just sort of being snuck in over time to ensure she doesn’t really escape successfully, lest our gothic romance come to an abrupt end.

This is honestly an important thing to consider. She can’t wait forever for the perfect opportunity, but if she takes the first slim chance she’ll probably fail.

Only, and this is one of the many issues with the book’s format, her reason for constant hesitation is that she’s afraid they’ll realize she wants to escape. But everyone already knows. That’s why everything is locked. She isn’t allowed outside because they think she’s a good prisoner who won’t run, she’s allowed outside because Linden wants someone to listen to his voice and isn’t going to take precautions that inconvenience his whims. Every scrap of freedom she has, every chink in her prison, is there for Linden’s convenience. It has nothing to do with her.

“But are the elevators the only way outside?” I say.
“Forget about the elevators,” Rose says. “Your husband is your only way outside.”

Well. That’s dismal. There’s the sense throughout this that women just don’t have rights, the way this sort of thing just comes so naturally to the characters. Yet it’s never explicitly stated either, which makes it seem uncomfortably like this is supposed to be more closely based on our world.

Rhine asks what about a fire. Rose says that wives are a big monetary investment and Vaughn must have paid extra for Rhine’s eyes in particular because he’s super into genetics, even though Vaughn wasn’t even there at the time and it seemed like a spur of the moment choice by Linden. Anyway, Vaughn is all powerful and can make sure they’re safe no matter what, even though society is falling apart.

They go back to Rose’s room. Rhine asked if Rose once tried to escape too. And Rose says it doesn’t matter.

Was she bred to be Linden’s bride? Or was she once resistant to it?

But she said the orange trees were her dad’s. So presumably she’s from a rich family too.

Rose starts explaining that once she’s dead, Rhine will be the favorite and Linden will take her out, anywhere she wants to go.

“Not anywhere,” I say. “Not home.”

Why wouldn’t he? Apparently the only reason she wants to leave is that she’s trapped there. Why would going to New York be out of the question, or bringing her brother there? Rose avoids the issue and says Rhine needs to accept this is her home.

Rhine explains that she’s Rose’s favorite – Rose doesn’t bother with the other wives at all.

Cecily has asked me more than once why I bother getting to know Linden’s dying wife. “She’s going to die, and then he’ll focus on us more,” she says, like it’s something to look forward to.

Cecily is a thirteen year old girl who’s been thoroughly brainwashed into wanting to be Linden’s wife, and also she’s locked up with no one to interact with but two other girls who avoid her and a dying woman who ignores her, so I feel like she gets a pass for any of this.

And remember, despite the fact that she was apparently willing to be a bride, she was still in that truck. She knows the only reason she isn’t dead like the rest is that Linden picked her. Is it any surprise she’s desperate for Linden’s attention? Rhine is years older and she’s still constantly thinking the gatherers will come back and kill her.

It disgusts me that Rose’s life is so meaningless to her, but it’s not very different from the things my brother said about the orphan we found frozen to death on our porch last winter.

Note she specifies her brother. This is because Rhine is a pure and loving soul who was deeply hurt by the dead body, but not so much she did anything like actually insisting they let the kids in. Although we’re told they’re twins, her brother is constantly calling the shots. The book also insists he’s bigger and stronger than she is even when they’re kids, despite the fact thirteen year old girls are generally bigger than their male peers. He’s the one who’s behind every harsh decision they make.

She says maybe caring will help now, because she’ll learn things from Rose she can use.

The issue of Rose’s status is cleared up. Her parents were first generation and probably rich people who were close friends of Vaughn. They died somehow, much like Rhine’s parents, and so Vaughn took her.

She tells me that Linden’s mother—Housemaster Vaughn’s younger, second wife—died in childbirth with Linden.

Ah, childbirth, most narratively deadly of all. I think the recognition that pregnancy is actually a pretty dangerous thing is important, but this kind of thing somehow accomplishes the opposite, normalizing it until it’s almost flippant. “Oh, she died in childbirth” as if it was something unforeseen and unpreventable, and not the end result of a completely preventable condition.

Can you even have abortions in this world? Was this a risky pregnancy and he just didn’t care and forced her to have a kid anyway?

Well, perhaps I’m being judgmental. Apparently, Vaughn spent the next twenty years researching to save his son’s life and refusing to marry again, which could suggest he honestly loved the woman a great deal. He’s a prominent doctor. I’d complain that the obscenely wealthy generally didn’t get there by actual work, but in this case it’s easily explained as him becoming a doctor because it’s simply what he thought was important. Also he’s a super geneticist even though hospital doctoring and being a genetic researcher aren’t the same thing..

Rhine tells us her parents had a pair of freaky deformed twin babies who died extra young before they had her and her brother.

Genetic abnormalities like this are rare, given the perfection of the first generations, but they do happen.

From the sounds of it, it’s her parents that should have been abducted, they were the ones spitting out mutants.

Finally, one day Rhine asks how Rose can stand Linden remarrying with her still alive.

I felt it was obvious – she’s obviously dealing with her death by concerning herself with making sure things will be okay with her gone, in this case trying to talk the girl who looks like her into being in love with the guy she’s in love with. Which is weird, but I find the general principle very refreshing from a romantic standpoint, since love is generally portrayed in a very grasping, jealous manner.

But then it gets very, very bad.

“I asked him to. I convinced him it will be easier, with new wives already in the house.”

She asked him to find girls to kidnap and rape.

Because it’d make things easier on him.

This actually has a lot of real world precedent. There’s been various cases where a guy’s wife helps him find women to rape and torture. It’s not completely clear why they do this, but it certainly happens.

“Besides, he was starting to get teased in the social circles. Most House Governors have at least three wives, sometimes seven—one for every day of the week.”

Besides, he was getting teased. And isn’t that what matters? His feelings?

Rhine doesn’t react to this. Or at least, not to the realization that Rose, who she’s come to view as her friend, is behind the murder of a dozen girls and her own kidnapping. She just thinks that Rose’s efforts to make Rhine her replacement aren’t going to do any good, that Rhine won’t love Linden and Linden will never love Rhine like he does Rose.

But that’s really nothing compared to the fact Rose orchestrated the mass kidnapping and murder of girls so that Linden could rape the prettiest ones.

22 Comments

  1. Colme says:
    “The damage was so catastrophic that all that remains of the rest of
    the world is ocean and uninhabitable islands so tiny that they can’t
    even be seen from space.”
    This is my favourite line out of this book so far. The implication being that someone decided that the hundreds of nukes necessary to literally wipe Siberia and Antarctica off the map were better utilized there than the United States. I’d attribute it to unreliable narrator, but that would be giving the book too much credit.
    1
    1. Colme says:
      I actually went ahead and asked the author about this on Facebook since I fund it so funny. She (or whoever runs her Facebook) said: “Hi Eric – Wither is book 1 of 3. If you want the answer, you’ll have to read on.”
      1. Farla says:
        So that’s where the badfic authors are getting their “read the rest of the story!!!!!!!!” excuses. Because obviously it’s not a mistake, it’s a mystery!

        (The only possible explanation is that the whole thing’s a lie, but that’s stupid because none of the first gens should be so stupid as to believe something so impossible.)

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        1. Veracs says:
           Hm… Well if it is a question that’s answered later, it seems like a pretty reasonable response to say so. For instance, if the narrative is unreliable and the initial knowledge of a situation is mistaken.

          Then again, there’s no real reason to not to give the actual explanation rather than to just tell people to keep reading.

          1. Farla says:
            But it’s not about delaying the explanation, it’s that the book gives no clue there’s supposed to be an explanation. At best, that means the writer failed to get across that we aren’t meant to take it at face value. At worst, and it’s usually at worst, the author didn’t even realize the problem, but now that people point it out they’ll stick a patch on top – and the patch will be as bad or worse, since they don’t know what they’re doing (as shown by making the plot hole in the first place).
    2. Farla says:
      Also every single island and sandbar. I suspect the author had no idea just how tiny something has to be these days before satellites can’t see it from space.
      1
      1. Niesse says:
        She could have meant “with the naked eye” but that just makes “uninhabitable” nonsense, because there’s plenty of islands that small that support people. They don’t even have to be particularly fertile: they’re islands, you can fish!
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  2. Gen says:
    The awful thing is that, at least at this point, it seems like most of the world was destroyed simply because it was inconvenient for the author to have to deal with other countries in the worldbuilding.  
    1
    1. Farla says:
      I could actually sort of give that to her – the superbabies beggar belief just when it comes to rolling them out throughout America, and cutting the human race down to just this continent makes things more desperate.

      But it’s so fucking stupid how she did it, and she doesn’t seem to care that billions of people were wiped out in the process, the tragedy is just that white Americans can’t go shiny exotic places.

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  3. Niesse says:
    [the author thinks it’d be crass for her to admit she wants to have sex with him.]

    Oh god. I was wondering how the author would be able to keep skirting around the rape issue when the actual rape happened, but it’s going to be not-rape-if-you-enjoy-it, isn’t it?

    Or she’ll be Stockholm syndromed into consenting, which message-wise is much the same thing.

    [(Enormous worldbuilding fail)]

    Alternatively, the rest of the world has closed itself off from America to stop the genetic engineering virus spreading, and what Rhine was taught was wrong. I just can’t bring myself to believe that the US would earthquake bomb Australia after we spent all that time sucking up to them.

    Did the everyone-who-isn’t-American genocide happen before or after the genetic engineering, or is it not clear?

    [I think I remember there was some movie where we had an earthquake device and it led to them having to go to the earth’s core to restart it]

    The Core! Great bad movie. I highly reccommend it to everyone who appreciates good fun sciencefail. (Ooh, you should do a Let’s Watch of it. Can it be on the next poll?)

    1
    1. starling-night says:
      We even let their soldiers train here, dammit! What did we do wrong?!
      1
      1. Niesse says:
        You too? Australians represent!

        It really gets to me because we usually survive the apocalypse.

        1
        1. Farla says:
          I bet we killed everyone who had socialized health care.

          This is taking place in the future. In the future, even uninhabited islands have gotten socialized health care before America.

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          1. purplekitte says:
            Even birds had socialized health care before America. Fucking birds.
            1
      2. Farla says:
        Your fucking kangaroos.
        1. Niesse says:
          No, the crocodiles!

          Your scientists got the super-immune-system genes from our crocodiles, and then you killed us to keep it a secret. Truth.

        2. cecamire says:
          That’s new. Most people go straight for the Redback or the Funnelweb or the White-tail the blue-ringed octopus or the taipan or the Brown or the Tiger snakes or the Irukandji or stonefish or the box jellyfish or our fucking stinging trees. (You can walk through a forest and accidentally brush one and be in incredible pain… or you can walk through a forest and not touch one and be in incredible pain because they are continuously shedding their stinging hairs… or you can walk through a forest that a tree had lived in hundreds of years ago and be in incredible pain because the stinging hairs still work hundreds of years later.)
          2
          1. starling-night says:
            No, America’s worse. Come on, they have guns, and Republicans!
            1
            1. Farla says:
              And Republicans all come with guns.

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              Reply
          2. Farla says:
            Those things are what you deserve for not being American. We’re fine with other countries being a giant horrorshow.

            Your kangaroos are so fucking smug though. And they steal our keys! Fucking kangaroos.

    2. Farla says:
      The worst thing is it’s like she comes pre-Stockholmed, so the book isn’t even showing her mysteriously give in in a way that could be read as Stockholm kicking in. She’s constantly making excuses for why guys are secretly nice.
      Alternatively, the rest of the world has closed itself off from America to stop the genetic engineering virus spreading, and what Rhine was taught was wrong.

      The problem with that reasoning is that if the other countries tried to quarantine us, we’d invade them for it. Also in general the only thing that keeps us from nuking the world is that we’d die too. Once a critical mass of our military feel depressed or fatalistic, the world burns.

      The Core! Great bad movie. I highly reccommend it to everyone who appreciates good fun sciencefail. (Ooh, you should do a Let’s Watch of it. Can it be on the next poll?)

      I think I saw large chunks already and I just remember a lot of magma and then it ended. I’m not a geologist so it was easier to not pay attention and I have a good tolerance for nonsense as long as it’s proper technobabble. “The thinamabob will protect us from the heat!” Okay, person in a lab coat! “Magnets mess up the thingamabob!” Oh no, person in a lab coat! I sure hope you can rewire the wogglybob to stop the magnets! All I ask is people don’t use words that mean things and I’m happy.

      2
  4. Farla says:
    I bet killed everyone who had socialized health care.

    This is taking place in the future. In the future, even uninhabited islands have gotten socialized health care before America.

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