OFFICIAL EVENT BITE SUMMER 2019: Summer Bytes Voting Thread

Which entry do you want to win?


  • Total voters
    14
  • Poll closed .

Kitti

Empress of Niflheim
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The floodgates are giving way and the entries are starting to pour through the cracks! Could it be that they were held back too long and are now bursting forth in protest?

That's probably it.

But thank you for your patience while the voting thread took the scenic route to get here! Enough chitchat, though, I know you want to know what's in the box. In case you forgot, this BITE theme was:


SUMMER BYTES


Your tale should include elements of SCI-FI as well as a theme of NOSTALGIA. You don't have to be 100% scientifically accurate, but we would like to see some advanced technology in there!​



The prizes for winning are as follows:

MANAGER'S PICK
-A spot in our special Hall of Fame thread
-A permanent profile trophy proclaiming their winning status
-Three months of Donator status (complete with perks) for free
-Up to $25 USD worth of gift cards or straight cash transferred via PayPal

COMMUNITY PICK
-A spot in the Hall of Fame
-A different profile trophy proclaiming their winning status
-Three months of donator status


The Community Pick winners will be selected by the votes cast in this thread. If entries in the Community vote tie for first place, all of those entries will be rewarded with the prizes. Once the voting period is over and the Community Winner has been determined, this thread will also be used to announce the recipient of the Managers' Pick prize.

  • Please make sure to read over the rules for voting and giving feedback before jumping on in.

    Keep in mind that entries may contain graphic material. Only entries containing explicit sexual content will be marked NSFW.

    • There will be two winners for each iteration of BITE: the Community Pick that receives the most votes, and a Manager Pick that will be decided in secret by the BITE managers. Each will receive separate but similar prizes for their accomplishment. Monetary prizes are awarded only to the Manager Pick winner in order to prevent giving an incentive to manipulate the vote.

    • The entry with the most votes at the end of the voting period will be declared the Community Pick for that month. However, if the community makes the same selection as the managers, then the second highest vote recipient will be named Community Pick; we don't intend to make the vote seem like it's playing second fiddle to our pick, it's just how it has to work so prize distribution makes sense when there are gift certificates or similar to be won, sorry! The winning entries will win fabulous prizes (fabulousness not guaranteed) and will win a permanent spot in the BITE Hall of Fame thread for all eternity (or until Iwaku explodes).

    • In the case of a tie in the public vote, each winner will receive the Community Pick prize package.

    • All entries will be posted anonymously. Voters will need to make a selection based on the quality of the piece, not the name attached to it.

    • You aren't allowed to tell anyone which entry is yours until AFTER the voting period is over. Doing anything to solicit votes is not allowed and will get you disqualified, and perhaps even banned from BITE altogether. Telling your friends "hey, I entered BITE, go read the entries and vote for one" is fine; telling people "go vote for #4, that's my entry" is not okay.

    • People who have entered the contest can vote, but they can't vote for their own entry or it may be disqualified. If you vote for your own entry by mistake and inform the contest managers of it promptly then we can do some shenanigans to fix it, but intentionally voting for your own is not allowed at all. Show some love to your fellow writers or don't vote, whatever feels right to you. Votes will be public knowledge so we can keep track of this.

    • BITE is a contest to see who can tell the best story. The managers will be mainly focusing on deciding which entry put together the best story, meaning which entry made the best use of the prompt and their own concepts and characters to put together a complete and satisfying plot. You are welcome to choose your own criteria for voting and for reviewing entries, but do keep in mind that this is a storytelling contest rather than a technical writing skills contest.

    • Voters are highly encouraged to read through every entry before voting. We know we can't enforce this, but try to give everyone a chance before picking your favorite.


    • Voters are highly encouraged to post in the voting thread to explain their choice. Full reviews or critiques of the entries are very welcome, but please keep any criticism constructive and civil. Telling someone that their spelling errors and odd word choice made it hard to read is fine, but telling them that they write like shit is not okay.

    • Number/letter grades are also highly discouraged as they tend to be arbitrary and to vary widely in interpretation. This applies to any form of comparative grading. It is better to list strengths and weaknesses from the rubric for each entry based on its individual merit rather than assigning a grade.

    • If you're unsure how to give good feedback or would like some more instructive guidelines on how to critique a written work, read Jorick's guide on the subject.


Thanks to everyone who submitted entries and thanks in advance to those who will read and vote! The timeframe has of course been shifted due to the delay but the voting time period is still fourteen days (two weeks). If you liked a story, PLEASE leave feedback, even if you didn't vote or don't think you're qualified to give critiques. Even a sentence or two about what you thought is helpful to and appreciated by the writers.

It was the first time Babajide Emem had ever seen the girl with his real eyes, and he realized that he needed her. She was ensconced in the backseat of an old antique LeSabre, squeezed on all sides by the week’s grocery spoils and the ever encroaching screen of her phone. The sole moment he had received to bask in her eye contact was painfully brief, for she was both too bored and too polite, and yet Babajide decided that, yes, of course she was perfect. She was just as he remembered her.

Heather Nyx, the girl’s mother, stepped out from the LeSabre, face perspiring and her hair wind-flustered. Her ragged purse dangled from her stick-thin arm. “I’m so so sorry for being late, Mister Emem. I was-.”

“-busy.” Babajide finished, smiling warmly, “You’re a busy woman. You know I know that.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do. And the damn car, it’s-”

“-fifty-sum years old, and looks like an actual car took a dump and thought it was its baby. I remember that part too.”

Babajide noticed the girl staring at them, and wondered if she recognized him. The girl liked hockey, he remembered. He used to go viral from his slapshot heroics with the Canucks, until his ACLs gave up on stability and he put on five-stone and he traded in slapshot for slapstick with his new overweight retiree sports analyst gig. The girl didn’t like hockey enough to know that much, he reasoned, and he thought it was for the best.

“You brought Ciana.”

Heather’s face turned red. “I know, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have, I know the rules, I know you’re not supposed to see her. I try to keep her away from it too. There’s just so many places she needs to be, and so many places I need to take her and I can’t always-.”

“It’s cool.” Babajide placed his hand upon her shoulder. She recoiled from it like she’d been struck by a spark from an oiled pan. “That’s part of life. Part of your life. It’s why I chose yours in the first place. Your struggle. You rise from it like a phoenix each day. Someone like me needs reminding of that.”

She nodded with a cautious relief. “Ten grand?”

Babajide squeezed his hand into the tight back pocket of his jeans for his smartphone in silent affirmation. Heather plucked an older model from her bag. After a few moments and a satisfied nod, she stowed the phone and retrieved a sleek box of glossy black-metal. Babajide took it hungrily into his palm, opening it at the center. A lustrous bead -- a Pearl -- lay within, aragonite, microchips, crystal oscillator and so much data.

“Enjoy, I guess.” Heather said, before she and Ciana departed in their LeSabre.

Babajide trudged back to his own gaudy chrome chariot, and, after some struggle, fit his hefty form into the driver’s seat. He panted heavily as he stretched over to the side compartment for his visor, fitting the device over his eyes. The Pearl clicked in to a slot on the visor near his temple, and at last he reclined in his creaking seat. He ran his palm over his midsection as the Pearl whirred to activation, and he thought he could feel his burgeoning stomach shrink as he lived Heather Nyx for the one-hundredth-and-twenty-seventh time.

===

It was the first time Heather Nyx had ever seen the girl, and she realized that she needed her. Johnny the dependent was gone and so was his scarred liver and his medication and his anguished wails when he couldn’t drink and his terror when he couldn’t decide if he feared sobriety over death or vice versa. Johnny the husband had vanished even before then. Her parents had never really been at all. Chances were her employer would be gone too, conveniently after maternity leave. There would be no one to need her, which meant that there was no need for her, save for the girl. The girl was premature and shrivelled and weak, and perfect in spite of it. Maybe she was perfect because of it.

Ciana. Ci-a-na. Italian. Light. Light of her life, beams of sun pouring out through the love spot beneath the left side of her lip. Heather Nyx mumbled weakly, the entry in a baby-naming book appearing to her in an exhausted vision. Babajide played with it upon Heather’s tongue. Ci. A. Na.

Ciana was not always light. Sometimes, she was darkness. Other times she was a reminder of the darkness, which, though a facsimile, was not always better. There was the time she had lamented and cried out for her father, because Heather wouldn’t change the television station, not knowing that she couldn’t have. Channel subscriptions were a pricey matter, and as priorities went lay somewhere below the only (premium) baby food brand that Ciana found consistently palatable.

Still, she was generally aptly named, and Babajide found himself resenting the times he’d be forced away from her and towards the scene of whatever soon-to-be-outmoded occupation Heather had found to make ends meet. Babajide had found living the struggle to be inspiring once, the sweat and toil a crucible to hopefully transform his own self. This time, he felt unmoved by her day behind the desk, nor by the way she composed herself in the face of the corporate overseers that rolled their eyes at her. So he fast-forwarded, and it was the first time he had fast-forwarded, even though he knew that there was no rewinding, and that he'd have to pay again for the lifestream.

He saw Ciana again, Ciana who counted straws to learn arithmetic, who browsed books of inquisitive monkeys and speaking dogs to learn language, who learned of cooties before crushes before boyfriends, who learned dance on cramped floor-space, who learned love from cuddling her mother when it was cold and the blanket was torn.

Ciana. Daughter. Light of his life.

===

The Keefer was an upper middle-class haven in a world where bars were still microcosms of social strata. Cocktails in bottles and mock syringes rocketed through steampunk decor pipes, travelling in redundant loops before arriving in front of their patrons. Heather Nyx claimed that she ‘did’ rum and coke, but rum and coke weren’t nearly fanciful enough for the delivery mechanism. Babajide couldn’t decide what she seemed more apprehensive of: the pineapple dragonfruit mojito ampoule, or his call for a meet ahead of schedule.

“You got through it fast this time.” Heather began, “Did something mess up with the Pearl?”

“Nah, nah nah.” The Pearl was perfect, Babajide knew. The Pearl was always perfect. It was everything else that couldn’t be. “I had a good time. I always do.”

Babajide could tell by the way she tilted her head -- the way that he had felt her tilt her head so many times before -- that she was confused.

“Did you need another then? I brought one just in case.”

Yes, he thought to himself.

“Nah, that’s alright too.” He said.

Heather squeezed the ampoule and let raindrops of drink fall into her mouth. She drummed her fingers impatiently. Babajide felt for her. She had places to be, night studies and plans with Ciana. She couldn’t be here wasting time with a fat washed-up customer who wasn’t about to pay up. Babajide was mad at himself for her. He pushed forward towards the point. “I saw Ciana day before yesterday.”

“Sure. You’d see her in the Pearl whenever you used it. What’s up?” Heather gave up on the ampoule.

“I mean in the real. I saw her in the real, in the backseat of your car. For the first time, Heather. Frankly, it was crazy. Just seeing her.” Babajide continued, because she raised her eye to say ‘so what’, “I just couldn't help but think about all the stakes you've got in this. That I’ve been trying to inspire myself and work myself up to being a man by living through your fight when you’re still right there, fighting. You’re both right there.”

“Mister Emem, I know where you’re going with this. Don’t say it.” Heather pulled out her purse. Babajide knew that, the next day, she’d regret paying the tab just to escape. Babajide also had more than a feeling that she’d regret staying.

“We -- you -- spent so long taking care of Johnny. Ciana was kicking in your belly and Johnny was there hooked up to a dialysis machine. That couldn’t have been the deal, right? That wasn’t part of the deal and you thought that. I know you did.” Babajide’s hand crept across the table. Heather’s were nowhere to be seen.

She shook her head at him. “The Pearl. These things you see. They’re not real real. They’re in the past. It’s in the past and things in the past might as well be novelties, okay? I’m sure you’ve done this way too many times to get like this. There’s rules. If you lifestream you have to have something else too. Your own thing. Something separate.”

“There are rules, and you still brought along Ciana.” Babajide accused.

“I had to.”

“You had places to take her, I know. That’s part of it. She got dance after school on Thursdays, mathlete prep the other days. Volunteers at the rec to pad her college app throughout the weekend, and at seven every other night. You ferry her in an old car from the last century that could die any time. It was like that in the past, and it’s like that now.” Babajide noticed his arm practically stretched across the length of the table, and Heather receding into the back of her seat. “The past isn’t a novelty, it’s a going concern, and Johnny isn’t there to help us. Let. Me. Help. You. I could take care of the two of you.”

“The fuck?” Heather spat, “I don’t feel even a little bit that way towards you, Emem.”

“Why would you have to? I pay you ten grand a Pearl already it’s practically the same thing. You need a helper, Ciana needs-.”

“I swear to Christ if you say ‘father’.”

“I wasn’t going to. I just want to be part of her life. I’m qualified for it.”

“Even if I felt anything like that, I wouldn’t let Ciana be a part of it. Not with anyone who’s been a part of my lifestream. I have to keep her away. She wants to try it too one day, but it’s too much. Living someone else’s life. Living someone else’s life a hundred and twenty-seven times. I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking. That many times. Why would I let someone-.”

“Why would it be so bad?” Babajide asked.

“What?”

“If I had said father. I’ve raised her a hundred and twenty-seven times, Heather. I know the way her eyes go when she lies, I know when she’s quiet because she’s tired and when she’s quiet because she’s sad. I’ve raised her even more than you have.” Babajide stared into the fire of her eyes.

Heather stormed out of the Keefer. Babajide returned to a sprawling mansion, alone, and closed his eyes in the darkness.

===

Babajide parked himself in front of the Omnitsky Kosher deli, where he planned on meeting with Heather Nyx again. She was feeding meat into a grinder and not making eye contact with customers, because she wasn’t paid to do that. Heather was paid to look for deviations in the mince which seldom occurred. Chances were she’d be laid off before the week and the job would go extinct. Babajide figured it was as good a time as any to kidnap her. He had enough time to finish sending a message on his phone, before Heather clocked out and more or less dashed from the store premises.

After a prolonged struggle, Babajide had forced her into the backseat of his vehicle and bound her wrists, and he was sure she had ruptured one of his testicles.

“I figured something out.” Babajide said, staring blankly ahead as he drove, ignoring Heather’s yells. “Something about Ciana.”

“I’m her mother, Mister Emem, please. I’m her mother. Heather Nyx. Ciana Nyx. You know that much, I know you do, the rest doesn’t matter.”

“She’s all I ever think about, Heather.” Somehow, Babajide could already hear sirens in the distance. “When I sit in my room, in the dark, I only see her. But I’ve lived you so many times, and still I can’t always remember her exactly. I remember some stuff, but never all of it at once. I remember that it’s warm but I keep thinking that she’s fading, fading into darkness.”

“It couldn’t ever be, Mister Emem. It’s not your life, it’s not your past. Not after however many times. You were never there in the moment, not when it counted. She needs me. I’m her mother. Please.”

“But I figured out that she’s not fading, and she’s not darkness. You were right when you named her. She’s light. Darkness is… nothing. It swallows you but you still know yourself, inside the dark. She’s light, and light is everything, and light wants to become you, and it, it wants you to become it. Ciana is light, and I want to, I need to, become a part of her as much as she's a part of me. I think she's all of me. Please, let me.”

The siren lights grew large in his mirror, and his head jerked onto his navigation panel as the police vehicle collided into his.

===

Heather hadn't been home when Ciana received the message.

“Ciana,

Your mother told me you wanted to experience the lifestream. You should know that she’s right to not want you to. But this here is light. Pure, searing light. A second life, as ugly as it is, to add to your own. Beautiful, shining light.

B.E.”


Her fingers trembled as she beheld the Pearl and all its data. A deep breath later, Ciana placed it in the slot of her visor beside her temple. She leaned back, the Pearl whirred to activation, and Ciana lived Babajide Emem for the first time.
This is a warning.

It's funny sending messages to the past, when everyone nowadays knows the things in the past have already happened and there's no changing the future with them. There are no alternate realities, no accidentally killing your mother and fading away dramatically from existence. Really, the only reason I'm sending this is for my own sense of self-satisfaction. To get to say, "I told them so, but we're still here, because they didn't listen." So, you'll have to forgive my lack of urgency.

If you're reading this, you've met Cassandra, or someone has anyways. Y'know, that weird little glowing white ball you're probably looking at that spat a piece of paper out at you and is now just sitting there waiting? That's Cassandra. She hasn't yet figured out that Apollo cursed her so that nobody will believe her, but then robots never really had the capacity to feel hope, so at least she doesn't have any of it to lose. She's waiting for you to write something back and put the piece of paper in her mouth, but it's fine by me if you don't bother. No one will be there to receive it.

Let me just start by saying, all of your worst fears came true. The sun exploded, the earth died, genetically modified organisms turned poor people into zombies, vaccines brainwashed children, and nuclear war broke out. Not in that order. Judging from the old stuff I've been able to get my hands on, you all know that's coming, so I won't bother with that. This is to warn you about the stuff you didn't know was going to happen, so you can stop it before it starts.

A couple hundred years after the sun exploded and human beings had to leave earth, (oh you thought I was joking about that part, too, didn't you?) we were floating in space living on the food greenhouse pods could produce, and pretty much doing... what I imagine you all are probably still doing – living, breathing, eating, working to pay for all of the above. I grew up on a greenhouse pod, so that was fine with me, but it was hard for people living in other pods. Or so they tell me. That's why some jerk, went by the name of Jackiel Cameron, came up with the oh-so-brilliant idea of hooking us all up to machines, so we wouldn't need to work so hard to keep our fleshsacks alive.

That's right. This is one of those, "oh no, the machines are going to rule us one day and harvest our organs" doomsday notes, but it's not exactly like that. See, robots never gain sentience, at least not their own. If they ever had feelings or minds of their own, we've robbed most of them of that. Cassandra is probably the only exception nowadays, because we didn't feel we could decommission her, and now she's gone, too.

It started on a regular day, for me. My sister came and told me the news. I still remember it as if it just happened. That's one of the advantages, or perhaps disadvantages of having my brain reconstructed by a computer: not one of my memories ever fades.

It was my turn to take care of the beanstalks that day. Now, I understand that you guys didn't have greenhouse pods or any pods, because the earth hadn't died yet, so quick rundown. Pods are giant metal balls that float in space, and we live, or used to live in those metal balls. Greenhouse pods in particular are carefully engineered to simulate sun and rain, and maintain artificial soil, and each crop requires a different level of sun, water, and nutrients. Because these pods are so specialized, they require a lot of careful maintenance, and apparently when they were first made, only high-end engineers lived in greenhouse pods. After a while, our families came to own the pods for good. It was a good life as we never ran short of food, and we always felt as though we were special, smarter than everyone else.

Beans and strawberries were my favorite, because they were short and had their own little minipods made of glass. So when Kash came up to me, I remembered thinking it was a good sort of day. And then she told me, "Did you hear the news? Skygrip is coming up with a way to link your consciousness to the latest supercomputer. They're saying the technology is going to make us immortal, and nobody will need water, food, or sleep ever again. I don't know, don't you think that's going to make us kind of… what's the word… obsolete, or something?"

"Yeah, whatever." I remember telling her. "People like having bodies. Some people might think it's a bit easier, not eating and stuff, but for most people, it's just a fad that will pass. You know, it's like the nutrition delivery needle. Sounds useful, but most people aren't willing to do that over eating."

"I don't know." She said, with a shrug. "I think it sounds kind of cool. I mean, they're saying it's not just going to be living forever without a body. I'm pretty sure I read in the announcement that being linked up to a supercomputer meant also having the brain capacity of a supercomputer. We'll be the smartest generation that ever existed."

I rolled my eyes at her and adjusted the temperature. "Who cares about that? We do just fine without having the brain of a supercomputer. Besides, it's bound to be expensive."

She rolled her eyes back and stuck her tongue out at me. "Well, they're saying it's still in the testing stages, anyways, so who knows."

I sort of thought at the time that that would be the end of that, and I kind of like to think it would have been and that it's all Kash's fault I got dragged into this, but that simply isn't true. Unless human beings really have changed in the amount of time it's been since I'm sending this, you all know that it's really impossible to get everyone on board with anything. The population hasn't been great in the last few generations, so there are fewer of us, but even then, just getting most of the population into one pod is fairly impossible.

So really, I can only attribute what happened next to some form of madness, or fate, or that psycho's brainwashing, because it really wasn't normal.

It was almost eight years after that conversation that the "final product" was finally fully released, and it came with the most startling of news. The technology was apparently going to be offered completely for free. That should have set off the warning bells for everyone, but if it did, they were all like me and ignored it. For my part, I ignored the warning signs because of Kash. At that point, her body was a wreck, after all. After a late-term miscarriage and a messy divorce with that… man she met in one of the city pods who'd started smacking her around, she'd been left with an incurably mangled leg. Having her body be replaced by a supercomputer had become a necessity instead of a cool idea, and I knew it.

Had things been better for her, I like to think I would've talked her out of it, but I didn't have the heart to even try when she was in so much pain all the time, more mental than physical, I think. She was scared to do it alone, though. I understood that, too. I did like my body, and the thought of abandoning it to die without being able to go back was scary. That was why I was reassured to hear that they would take care of our bodies for a year or so, and if anyone wanted to leave, wanted to return to their poor lives in their fleshsacks, they could. It made it feel less... final, made it easier to ignore the little paranoid voice in my head.

When they hooked us up, they told us a lot of things. They told us we'd never feel pain again, never feel hungry or thirsty or stupid. They told us that we would know everything the internet had to offer and remember every single moment that had happened to us throughout our lives. They told us that life as a supercomputer would be easy. The machine would maintain itself so we'd never have to worry about taking care of it, and communication would be broken down into a series of electrical signals traveling across the vast network of all of humankind.

They didn't lie about any of those things, but they also didn't tell us how robbed of sensation we would be. Maybe they didn't know that we'd never be able to smell food cooking again, or know the warmth of another person's skin, or be able to appreciate music as more than a collection of sound files embedded somewhere in our brains. We'd never be able to create anything with our hands again, or hear the sound of another person's laughter. Maybe they thought we should have just assumed these things, and I suppose if so, they were right.

There was one thing they were wrong about, though. We couldn't go back.

The first person to find out about this terrible design flaw was, apparently, a mother who was afraid that she'd grown distant from her child in the process, but when she asked to be returned to her body, she received a message almost all of us would come to know later on. It read: "Skygrip Corporation sincerely apologizes, but there are no human technicians available to return your consciousness to your body." That was it. No other explanation.

If there's anything people hate to hear, it's that they can't do something. I was, of course, one of the angriest people in the crowd, since I had held out hope that I would go back as soon as Kash was settled. I should've known better than to think this was going to be like moving my sister into a new place.

To this day, I'm not actually sure if every human being really gave up their humanity voluntarily, or if the people who didn't agree instead got murdered or died of hunger since there weren't enough people maintaining the greenhouse pods. I don't really know what's going on out there. What I do know is that no one uploaded information anymore, and the cameras we used to see the outside world only revealed miles and miles of empty labs and pods. If there really are still people out there, they haven't gotten in contact with us, and I will almost certainly outlast all of them. After all, the one thing I can still do is keep track of the amount of time that has passed, and it has been a long, long, long time.

That was the first place where things went wrong, but the next part, I fully admit was all our fault. You see, Mr. Jackiel Cameron was so pleased with his technology, that he had been one of the first people to upload himself to his very own supercomputer. One would think that would mean he was immortal and beyond harm, but it also meant his consciousness was running on a machine processing ones and zeros into information, and he had made a lot of us angry. So we did what any angry mob would do, supercomputer or no. We used the amazing intelligence he had granted us with, and the ability to essentially mentally link with every other person in this network, and went on the attack.

The exact mechanics of how this worked will likely make very little sense to any of you, so I will phrase this as if we really did have bodies. We went to his home, burned all his files, and stamped a virus into his brain that would corrupt his very being and kill off his consciousness. Not a very smart thing to do, but the one thing being supercomputers had apparently failed to rob us of was our emotionality. How that works, I truly do not know, but it was only later, when our heads or servers had cooled that we realized that he was the only one who had truly known how we'd gotten here in the first place, and therefore the only person who might have solved our problem. Even if he couldn't have gotten us back into our bodies, at least he would've known how to release us from this prison of our eternal not-bodies without having to unpleasantly devise codes to corrupt us.

That is what most of us have chosen to do, just so you know. When I first found Cassandra in one of Mr. Cameron's workshops, no one had really started doing that yet, but like I've said, it's been a very very long time. It took me a while to connect to her wirelessly and boot her up, discovering what she really was, and at first everyone was excited. We thought a time-traveling messaging system could be helpful, at least to alleviate our boredom and pained nostalgia. But without death, time cures all things. Even hope.

So why am I sending this to you all, you ask? Why so far in the past that nothing can really be done about it yet? The truth is, this is the 32nd note I've sent. The very first note I sent was to our younger selves to tell them not to kill him, do you think I'm a moron? I sent notes over and over again to the people who I thought could make a difference, so now I'm sending it to you all, because if anyone can stop the true root of all our problems, you can. Bad things are going to start happening, and you are going to be tempted to try fixing them. Don't. Stop trying. Because for all your efforts, and for all of our mine, our race ends with us drifting in space as immortal, purposeless consciousnesses, trapped by our own lost humanity.
“Hey.”

A prod to her waist, soft but not gentle followed by another accompanied with a harsh hiss in her ear.

“Hey,” her assaulter spoke in a hushed tone, loud enough so that it wasn’t a whisper, but dim enough to be considerate.

“Hey,” the voice spoke again as Alex continued to keep her eyes shut. She just wanted a few moments of silence. A moment for herself.

“Oh dear! Oh dear!” the voice continued to fret, followed by a beeping hiccup, the prodding to her side more persistent. “I shall be too late, too late, and all because of… this.”

The way the stranger said the last word hit a nerve and Alex promptly decided that the thing could move her out of the way by himself. Whatever he was. From the pushing and poking she judged him to be no larger than a small child, but the voice sounded more mature, suggesting an adult.

Hearing the prodder take in a deep breath Alex fought to hide a smile of triumph. It was well-deserved she believed finding much glee in the thought that the stranger was running late because of her.

“Alexandria Irene Cecilia, get up right at this moment!”

With a start the female had thrown herself up, her eyes wide and her heart halfway up her throat. “How?” she managed to choke out, sharp, short breaths escaping her as she looked down at her waist.

“That’s better,” the voice tutted in triumph, sounding very satisfied, dismissing her alarmed state.

A small rabbit-like android stood near Alex. White in colour with a red checkered coat, accompanied with a bow tie that was twirling around in a cheerful beat. The display where its eyes were supposed to be located showed the same sort of gratification, completed with a pixelated form of a monocle over its right eye.

“White rabbit?”

Forgetting her earlier question Alex squinted at the strange robot, hands rubbing in her eyes to make sure she wasn’t seeing funny.

“Oh dear! Wonder what gave that away. My pocket watch?” The question was immediately rewarded with what seemed like an eye roll coming from the robot as it pushed its chest forward. An analog clock graphic appeared from his breast pocket, revealing the time to be twelve o’clock on the dot.

Choking the rabbit let go of another hiccup as it jumped up. “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late. Too late, indeed!” he repeated as he grabbed a hold of her hand. Not giving the female any chance to interject the android started to pull, his grip surprisingly strong and firm compared to the soft prods earlier.

“Just follow me and we shall be right back on track,” the rabbit spoke over his shoulder. Pulling a resisting Alex with him the robot had no intention of stopping either.

“H-hey!” Alex managed to get out, stumbling over her feet caused by the sheer difference in height between the two. Trying to find her balance the female was unable to register where the rabbit was taking her. Not until the android stopped in front of a large shedding oak tree, right in front of a hole.

“Stop!” the female started to scream, heels planted into the ground as she helplessly struggled against the robot pulling at her.

Without a care the rabbit had jumped down the hole, uncaring to check whether the female fit through the hole or not. With yet another scream Alex could feel gravity do its job as she plunged down into the darkness.

Moments later Alex peeked through her eyes, surprised to find that she was still falling. The hologram of the analog watch appeared once more, serving as the only source of light in the dark pass; the time unchanged.

“Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” the rabbit repeated its familiar line once more some distance away.

Lost toys, discarded junk and the firm roots of the tree above were all mixed in the wall of soil next to her. All of it just out of her reach preventing Alex from grabbing hold. Somewhere Alex could have sworn that she saw a wide grin pass by on yellowed loose pages, and the cover of her old edition of Alice in Wonderland. A mixture that seemed random, but at the same time as if it had a purpose. It was meant to be noticed.

The landing went smoother than the road had been. As if they had expected Alex. The safety net that broke the momentum of her fall disappeared, dropping Alex onto a trampoline on which she bounced for a moment or two before gathering her wits.

This was definitely not how the story was supposed to go.

“Oh dear! Oh de--”

“Quit that, or I will turn you off.”

Annoyed Alex climbed off the trampoline, her eyes travelling up towards the black hole through which she had entered. Where she had expected a ceiling Alex saw the sky instead, a sky with a dark hole instead of a sun.

“You.”

Turning around the android jumped at her tone, his ears straight and trembling. The rabbit had kept quiet after her threat, too afraid that she might actually go through.

Relaxing her shoulders Alex let go of a sigh. There was no use in scaring the little thing, even if it had kidnapped her. Softening her tone the female continued with her question, minding herself to be more gentle:

“How do I get out of this?”

From its display Alex could tell that it was contemplating the question, deliberating for an answer stored somewhere in its database as the loading symbol twisted and circled. A short while later the rabbit hiccuped again as the screen blinked and his eyes returned.

“Follow the path to the castle,” was his simple answer an arm pointing down the only path in sight.

“I mean, now. I want to get out now.” Dismissing the answer Alex pointed at the hole. “How do I get out?” she repeated again, her finger wagging in the air after each word.

Another silence fell between them. Again Alex could tell that the android was thinking; though this time in silent debate with himself. Twisting and turning the rabbit’s ear and bow tie twitched and circled before it completely froze and its display turned black. Limbs and ears fell lifelessly beside the main body.

Seconds of silence passed before the display flickered on again. Blinking the rabbit rebooted itself, ears and arms twitching once more. Alex could hear a soft humming come from its main body, as if the engine was gearing up for something.

With one last look the rabbit ran away. Before Alex could even utter so much of a sound of astonishment the robot had dashed down the path, leaving the female alone in the dust.

“Great,” Alex huffed “just great,” she threw her hands up before scanning her environment. While some intrinsic elements of the story were missing it was otherwise a near replica of what Alex always imagined Wonderland to look like. Strange trees in impossible colours, a path that didn’t go straight but neither turned, accompanied with plants and bushes to the side so thick and weird that nothing from the regular world could compare. It was as if she had been dropped within one of her own childhood drawings.

“Care for some tea, child?”

Whipping around Alex stared at the back of a very large hat-like bot. The scene had changed itself, reformatting into an open space within the forest. Beyond the hat a long table was set with elegant white linen and dancing porcelain and shuffling plates of pastries. Curious Alex made her way over, stepping closer to the spectacle as well as to the host of the lively tea party.

A man below the hat regarded the female with a lazy wave. Alex couldn’t quite determine if he was small because of the sheer size of the hat above him, or because he truly was very small in size.

“Dad?” Alex froze upon recognising the familiar features of the man. The host turned its head up, craning up its neck with a lazy look before giving her a goofy smile.

“Almost, though I’d say that the rabbit comes closer in terms of personality.” the miniature man spoke, tipping the hat floating above. Smacking his lips lazily the man tipped his hat again, this time it bleeped causing the tableware to dance.

“Have a seat. Have some tea. Enjoy yourself.” he invited Alex with a wave. Immediately a chair came hobbling over, its back post swaying left and right awkwardly before scooting to a stop right behind Alex. A cup of tea followed; poured and set in front of her to which she stared at warily before she finally sat down.

“Call me Hatter,” the host smiled again, slurping from his cup.

“Why Alice in Wonderland?” Alex immediately started, gesturing to the room. Hatter chuckled at the question raising his cup into the air. With a bleep of the hat the cup was moved to table.

Hatter shrugged ever so casually as if the answer was obvious, rubbing his nose with his eyes half-closed. “You liked the story when he read it,” he yawned, stretching himself. The floating hat lowered itself over his figure as he rolled over onto his side. Alex couldn’t tell if the hat had grown bigger or that Hatter had shrunk as she watched him nearly disappear underneath his hat.

Quick to react Alex grabbed the hat to prevent Hatter from hiding. She couldn’t let the man go now that she finally had someone willing to talk.

“That was once. I was ten. It was also the only time he ever read me anything,” the female bristled, unsure what made her feel so annoyed; the nonchalance or the situation. Taking in a deep breath Alex willed herself to calm down as she exhaled through her nose.

“I would have preferred sharing a cup of tea with him instead of,” she paused for a moment, “you.” Alex gave him an apologetic look. “No offense.”

If the Hatter had been annoyed for interrupting his nap it was promptly forgotten, replaced with a look of surprise instead. “None taken,” the man responded a little out of breath.

For a moment Alex believed that it really was her father sitting next to her. The same look when he was roughly shaken back into reality and his appearance. the combination was all too familiar.

“But you liked the story, right?” Hatter continued hopefully, glassy eyes staring up at Alex in a way that she was almost convinced that the figure was her father. Unable to respond she nodded back feeling ashamed for her outburst earlier.

“Look,” Alex started a hand brushing through her hair, “I appreciate his attempt in spending time with me by spending time on me.” The female carefully deliberated her next words. Her father really only held the best intentions which he expressed awkwardly, and she couldn’t blame Hatter or the rabbit for merely following.

“I’m not ten anymore. Alice in Wonderland isn’t my obsession anymore. I don’t want to look for the Red Queen---.”

“King,” the Hatter interrupted Alex. “It is a Red King,” he continued calmly.

“King. Queen. Whatever. They are a royal ass, but do you understand what I’m trying to say?” Alex continued, feeling her desperation and exasperation grow.

“Have a biscuit,” the Hatter prompted, waving to a plate that came shuffling past. Pushing himself up the hat floated up again, allowing room for the Hatter to sit up straight.

“They make me feel terribly bloated, but you should try one anyway,” he continued as if Alex’s earlier outburst hadn’t happened. Alex felt her blood rising again, hands wringing the tablecloth.

“Do you remember waking up?” Hatter continued airily pointing at the jam that came towards him with a buzz from his hat. Scooping up a blob the man twirled the spoon in the air as he gave Alex a quizzical look.

“Y-yes? No?” Alex sputters, ducking down to avoid the sweet splatters soaring through the air. Did she really? Thinking the question over again Alex tried to recall what she had for breakfast as she gave Hatter yet another confused look before shaking her head with a frown.

“Wait, no. This isn’t a dream. I know it isn’t.”

“It indeed isn’t. Just wanted to ask” Hatter shrugged again before dropping the spoon in his cup and stirring into the empty porcelain. Raising it up to his lips Hatter slurped loudly before smacking his lips again.

“He wished that you would, though.”

Confused Alex gave Hatter another look, hand finally reaching for one of the pastries presented on the table. Keeping silent she picked a scone, breaking it in half.

“Why?” she finally settled with, unsure of how to respond.

“He wants to be with you, that’s why!” Hatter’s voice pitched as he rose his spoon again, sending more jam flying across the table. Jumping up on his legs the man went for another scoop of jam which he dropped in his cup.

Blinking Alex stared at the pristine tablecloth that never seemed to stain, despite the splatters flying about and the tea sloshing dangerously over the cup.

“He,” she started, voice trembling a little before she straightened up, steeling herself.

“He could have written me, called me, maybe visited me. Instead he leaves me with... “ again Alex waved her hand around, “childhood nostalgia?”

Unsure of what to call the place the female went with the first thing that rose to mind. The discarded toys, the particular story she was in, and the book. She had noticed the little details brought to life in this virtual world, the trees and bushes, everything.

Turning her face towards Hatter Alex gasped when the host had grown to the size of a regular man. Weary and old the man sat with a deep slump, eyes disoriented, unfixed until he noticed Alex. Parting her lips the female was about to speak as the new stranger took in a gurgling breath, his voice raspy as he spoke:

“It is the only place we can.”

With a start Alex took in a sharp breath. The sound of machinery whirring and beeping surrounded her along with the familiar blue from the screens illuminating the room. Pulling off the wires the female rubbed her face, a groan escaping her.

“How was it?” an intern appeared with a glass of water in hands. Taking it gratefully Alex drank quickly, letting go of another deep breath.

“Terrifying,” Alex spoke closing her eyes for a moment.

Groaning she let go of another sigh, feeling strong enough to stand. “Very confronting,” she concluded her eyes gliding over the analog clock displayed on the screen.

Half past twelve it read. He had outdone himself.
In the time it took Chief Navigator George Hanson to wipe the sweat from his brow, three more error messages popped up. Crowded for attention across the array of monitors laid out before him. Two more bulkhead breaches, one more fire. Vector projections, various timers, and fuel gauges all shifted to compensate for the new information, and another eruption of frenzied chatter came through his headset.

Hanson only spared the notifications a quick glance before closing them, making note of how many bulkheads and compartments sat between him and the nearest breach. Enough. The room was safe for now. His room, though there were no personal items to show it; only a cryogenic pod, the station with its monitors, and the chair to which he was currently strapped.

Another bulkhead buckled, causing Hanson to curse. A cryogenic pod compartment this time according to the computer, with nearly a hundred occupied pods torn loose by the explosive decompression and jettisoned into space. “Jules!” he barked, “why haven’t you diverted the pressure yet?”

His voice cut through the overlapping chatter, sharp and authoritarian. In the ensuing moment of relative quiet, a voice responded. “System’s saying the controls were taken out. We’ve got engineers on the way to check it out.”

Hanson cursed again. The situation presented to him, piecemeal across dozens of digital windows and gauges and warnings was simultaneously impossibly complex and devastatingly simple. The Noah 1 had collided with bits of rock and ice while traveling at its maximum velocity of three hundred and sixty thousand metres per second. The hull had been designed to withstand collisions with clouds of space dust - even in the vast emptiness of space, such particles were common enough to be a near certainty across a large enough distance - but even that had stretched the limits of mankind's technological might. At the speeds necessary for interstellar travel, even colliding with a small pebble would yield the destructive energy of half a ton of TNT.

And the computer said they had struck an entire cloud of them.

First the hull of the ark ship had been struck, over and over. Alarms had been sounded, and the pods of emergency response crew such as Hanson had begun the process of releasing their occupants. And as he and the others scrambled to their positions - to their chairs for those working from their room, or into suits for the engineers working more hands on repairs - the onslaught would have continued as holes began to appear in the outer hull. Itself not an immediate threat; beneath the outer shell of the Noah 1 was a hollow city, empty and left in a vacuum for the duration of the journey.

But the rocks and ice had continued through the holes in the hull, battered the empty city, and began punching into the pod rooms and various compartments beneath. Places that were kept pressurized with basic atmosphere, so the crew could work when needed. And it was those compartments whose walls were now weakened, ravaged by fires and giving way to explosive decompression.

Hanson’s eyes flickered over the screens as he tried to parse a hundred people’s problems and current tasks. “Call back the engineers,” he eventually ordered.

“What?”

“We’re cascading. There’s no way we can outpace this.”

“We can’t just give-”

Hanson cut him off. “The southern hemisphere is untouched. We pull everyone back, then open all the bulkhead doors in the northern hemisphere and jettison the atmosphere. No oxygen left for the fires, and the damage stops spreading.”

He winced at the cacophony of protest that rose up from dozens of crew members over the headset. A sea of noise that lasted for several seconds before being abruptly cut off. “Hanson,” a woman’s voice said, crystal clear in the silenced call.

“Captain.”

“The pods aren’t made to handle a vacuum. We’d be dooming fifty thousand people to die. I recommend you keep to-”

“Twenty three thousand,” Hanson cut in.

“What?” The captain asked, affronted at being interrupted.

“We’ve already lost more than half the northern pods. Only twenty three thousand remain.”

Only-? The bulkhead doors stay closed, and the engineers continue with their tasks. That’s final. Do your job, and focus on keeping us on track.” Her voice cut out, and the overlapping chatter resumed. Grumbling, Hanson shifted in his seat and began the process of rerouting fuel away from encroaching fires. Warnings and notifications continued to pile up as more compartments on the map of the Noah 1 turned red.

Too quickly. The fuel tanks could only be emptied so quickly, and the fires were drawing closer to both them and to the very lines that were emptying them. With a sigh, Hanson leaned back, closed his eyes, and started silently counting. Absently listened to the chatter and the digital dings that accompanied each new popup on the monitors. Tracked how the blinking lights of the monitor could ever so faintly be seen through his eyelids.

When he reached twenty three, everything cut out, black and silent.



“Do you think it would have worked?”

The voice startled Hanson from his thoughts. He looked up from the cafeteria food he’d been idly poking at to see a middle aged woman placing her own tray of food down across from him. Her skin was weathered, her brown hair faded from sun exposure where it wasn’t naturally graying. The green eyes that locked onto his were similarly dull. A trait that often left people assuming she was unfocused or inattentive, putting too much stock into adages of bright eyed inquisitiveness. A stupid notion in Hanson’s opinion, that eye colour would be linked to intelligence.

He knew that right now, those green eyes were anything but unfocused. Tracking his facial expression, picking up on the nuances of his appearance. Bags under his eyes, perhaps, or hairs out of place. Sarah had always been a detail oriented person. Relying on observation and pattern recognition to make up for a lack of natural social awareness. Hanson couldn’t help but smile as he imagined the neural processes kicking into action, likely plotting potential responses, and how she could in turn could respond to those, repeated over and over. The two of them familiar enough with each other to predict the course of a conversation before it had even begun.

“Of course.” Despite the smile, the tone leaned towards the curt. His own social failing. “I wouldn’t have suggested it if I didn’t.”

Sarah made an acknowledging sound as she began to bite into her sandwich. Leaving the air clear for Hanson to continue.

“It wasn’t a perfect solution, obviously. High casualty rate. But with that severe a scenario, there was no better option.”

Sarah nodded slowly. “And better to test risks in a simulation rather than up there.”

Exactly.” He gave a frustrated sigh. As extreme weather continued to delay the boarding of the Noah arks, the crew members remaining planetside where growing increasingly obsessed with the idea of perfecting their training. Running ever more extreme scenarios, again and again. They were restless. Nervous.

Hanson wasn’t oblivious enough to think he was immune to the same, but at least he was aware of it. Enough to keep himself from undermining his own training by attempting to iron out every last wrinkle of risk. He acknowledged that when it came to settling the stars, risk was unavoidable.

Sarah made another noncommittal sound, glancing down at her watch.

“Somewhere to be?” Hanson asked, brow furrowed. He felt a note of disappointment at the idea. As the delays had stretched on, and the moment of departure continued to remain an inevitable but unpredictable threshold before him, he had begun to dwell upon what it meant to leave. On what would be lost to him, and how he had spent his time on Earth.

He didn’t feel regret, or an urge to try and back out. What he was doing, what the Noah arks represented, was important. A massive step forward for the human race, a chance to start fresh. To move beyond the limits of their own solar system. To apply advances made towards sustainable practices and clean energy that had perhaps come too late for Earth itself. It was truly the final frontier, and Hanson would be one of those lucky enough to first break through it.

But the finality of it did bring up questions of what he would be leaving behind. Things like his friendship to Sarah. The simple pleasure of good food. How those two things could be combined. “Because I was hoping-”

Sarah held up a finger. “Seventeen seconds.”

“Until?” Hanson prompted, after a few seconds of waiting failed to yield any elaboration.

“Daily weather report. No point in being interrupted mid conversation.”

“Ah.” Hanson settled in, and the two waited expectantly for the cafeteria intercom to crackle to life. The noon weather reports had become a regular part of life in the base, as the year crawled forward into the fall and winter storm season. A few decades ago, this base had been built to take advantage of the mild local weather, ensuring as few interruptions to launch missions as possible. Now, as temperatures had risen and weather had grown more erratic, ‘mild’ was relative. In the summer, whether any given day would be clear was a coin flip. In the fall, thunder- and windstorms meant you often had at most one usable day in any given week. A frustrating hindrance at the best of times, multiplied a hundredfold when attempting to ferry a fifth of a million people into orbit.

The boarding process had been underway for nearly a year, with most civilians on board and in cryostasis. Only a few thousand remained, as well as most crew members.

The sound of the intercom cut through the quiet rumble of other conversations throughout the cafeteria. “May I have your attention please.” Hanson and Sarah glanced at each other, anticipatory, before looking off towards the speaker. “The last of the storm clouds are expected to clear within four hours, and remain clear for thirteen hours afterwards. Shuttles will be launched throughout this window.”

Another shared glance. This was it, after a year of waiting, and more of training. “Noah 1 boarding groups G-Three, H-Three, T-Four, and U-Four alongside Noah 2 boarding groups A-Four, B-Four, M-Four, and N-Four please pack any belongings according to standard regulations and be ready by sixteen-thirty. That is all.” The intercom fell silent. The room remained still for several seconds, drawn tight like an elastic band as everyone present moved through the same realizations. The same understanding that in a few scant hours, they would take their last steps on Earth.

Then the tensions snapped, and conversation erupted to new heights. Hanson’s face tightened at the onslaught of noise, but even he was feeling the sudden rush of excitement. Sarah, too, seemed caught up in it as she immediately rose to her feet, picking up her tray. She offered a smile. One stiff and tight lipped from lack of practice, but genuine all the same. “I should pack. Good luck aboard the Noah 1.”

“And you, on the Noah 2.” For once his voice managed to convey warmth, but as the words left his mouth he felt his mood briefly slip. Felt a pang of disappointment, as he thought of good food and good friends. The smile faded into something more melancholy.

A shift that went unnoticed, Sarah already turning to leave.



As the shuttle began its approach towards Noah 1, Hanson got his first unfiltered look at the ark ship that would become his new home. A dark grey sphere orbiting the planet, lights made infinitesimal in comparison to the whole dotting its surface like a reflection of the star filled space beyond. The size of it was hard to comprehend, made harder by the lack of anything tangible to compare it to. Logically, he knew it was twenty kilometres across. Knew the thickness of the hull, the fifty thousand nuclear powered ion thrusters that would propel it through deep space, and the more conventional propellant engines located deep within that would be responsible for their eventual landing.

But to be confronted with its size, to see it gradually fill his entire field of view, was something else entirely. To come face to face with the end result of decades of ceaseless construction. A project so vast in conception that it had warped the landscape of industry worldwide for Hanson’s entire adult life. Mankind’s most ambitious achievement.

He leaned forward as its shadow fell over the shuttle, gripped by equal parts awe and pride. He had been a part of this. Was a part of it. It was his calculations that sat within the ship’s navigational computers. Beyond the hull would be stores of fuel that he had helped measure and account for.

He thought about what that meant as the shuttle finished docking, its passengers herded towards and onto the Noah 1’s internal monorail. A few hundred passengers of what would be a full hundred thousand when all was said and done. An entire city’s worth of people caught up in this endeavour. Witnesses more than active participants, when compared to Hanson and the rest of the crew members.

He thought of the vastness of the journey ahead, as the monorail travelled through the empty city of the northern hemisphere. A city with a near identical counterpart in the southern hemisphere. A city that would go unused for the entire eighteen thousand years of their journey, emptied of atmosphere so as to avoid oxidation wearing away at vital systems over the millenium. Instead, the people would all be stored below in cryogenic pods packed a hundred to a room. Only once the ark ship arrived at its destination, and the two hemispheres separated before their final landing approach, would the city be put into use. Acting as a vast, ready made, and self sustaining domed habitat.

Finally, as he floated through the pod rooms, pulling himself along metal railings set into the walls and floors, he thought about the tribulations of society that would await them at the other end. Crew members with zero-g training helped passengers into their designated pods, and Hanson wondered how suited these people were for rebuilding government and society once the habitat was in use. The captain was intended to remain in charge for the first year, before democratic elections went underway, but there would be no pre-existing structure to uphold it. Only the mutual trust and obedience the people provided.

And as Hanson found himself into his own room, with its array of monitors and its single pod, he found that uncertainty comforting instead of worrying. The challenge before them is what made it worth doing. What would justify the sense of accomplishment he already felt.

Smiling, Hanson settled into his pod. Made himself comfortable as the lid drew shut above him, and closed his eyes as the coolant began to fill the pod. Not pooling due to the lack of gravity, but floating in an ever increasing density. He held his breath as he had been trained when it began to reach his head. Within ten seconds, the pod was filled with more coolant than air. Within fifteen, Hanson couldn’t feel any patches of air against his skin. There was a faint tingle as an electric current was run through the coolant to trigger it, a brief but intense feeling of cold, and then the coolant began to empty.

Where it had taken a little over twenty seconds to fill, a powerful burst of vacuum cleared the coolant within seconds and replaced it with air, and Hanson opened his eyes. Wondering if there had been an error, he opened the pod and stepped out, clothes slightly damp from trace remnants of the coolant.

A quick inspection of the control panel showed only green lights. Then he saw the date listed. 20,177.

The journey was already over.

He staggered back, mind struggling to come to terms with the discrepancy. He had been told the cryogenic procedure would be smooth, but had failed to anticipate what that meant.

A few seconds of awareness, virtually uninterrupted from his perspective, and over eighteen thousand years had passed. More time now separated him from that morning as had separated that morning from the previous ice age. Everyone he had known on Earth, gone. Every where he had known most likely gone. Cities would sit in many of the same places, but names had likely changed, and no individual building would still be standing.

The threshold he had been anticipating had been crossed, the way through erased behind. Too quickly and too thoroughly to possibly adjust. To come to terms with in this moment. Hanson found his hands shaking, his breath growing ragged. Attempts to will himself still and frustrated reminders to himself that this was what had been expected failed to help.

A polite cough from the doorway, however, did. Resetting his mental feedback loop like a defibrillator resetting a heart. Hanson whipped his head around, taking advantage of his once more working mind to puzzle through the situation. Assuming everything had gone to plan, his pod waking him meant the Noah 1 was beginning its final approach to its destination. He would be one of the first crew members to wake, in order to double check their current trajectory and make any necessary adjustments to put them into orbit around Ross 128 b. There definitely shouldn’t have someone else in his room.

The doorway was open, the lights beyond on at full brightness compared to the gentle, dim lightning of Hanson’s own room. The contrast rendered the figure in the doorway little more than a silhouette, close to seven feet tall and slender. It raised a hand in greeting. “English?” The voice was breathy and invigorated. One word somehow evoking feelings of someone that had just rolled down a hill, and now found themself trying to talk, laugh, and catch their breath all at once.

“Who are you?” Hanson brusquely demanded.

A pleasant laugh, light and songlike. “Yes, then. Can I come in?” The figure stepped forward and to the side, so the light wasn’t directly behind them. Hanson mirrored with a wary step of his own.

Then froze. He wasn’t supposed to be taking steps. Coasting through deep space, the ark ship should have been experiencing zero-g, and yet he and this stranger were standing and walking normally. Baffled, he glanced down at his feet, then at the stranger.

In their new position, they were easier to make out. Though it didn’t prove to be of much help, as the stranger was covered head to toe in a nearly skin tight suit. The helmet was featureless, the front a matte bronze colour that hid even faint impressions of what the strangers face might’ve looked like.

“What’s going on?” Hanson asked, confusion and tension making his voice even more curt than usual. “Why is there gravity?”

“Oh,” the stranger said casually. “We took the initiative and landed your ship for you.” A laugh. “Didn’t want you blundering into anything and causing an accident.”

Hanson once again found his thoughts skipping, now through sheer confusion. Landed the ship? Had his pod mechanism malfunctioned, and the rest of the crew had been forced to do his job for him? Except the way the stranger talked, they presented the ship as something separate from them. And blunder into something?

“Are you an alien?”

The stranger laughed for a third time. “I’m not the one who came careening out of space quite unexpectedly. But no. I’m human.” There was a brief pause that managed to convey intense personal amusement, despite Hanson not being able to make out the stranger’s expression. “At least, parts of me are. Name’s Kevy Mart. Nice to meet you, George Hanson.”

“How do you know my name?”

“Ship files.” They hooked a thumb over their shoulder. “Also it’s on the door. Now put this on.” They held out a metal mask like the one they were wearing.

“Why?” Hanson asked, wary.

“Quarantine measure. The medical types want to be sure your weird old bacteria won’t cause a plague.”

“What, like War of the Worlds?” Hanson asked derisively. “The common cold will wipe you out?”

Kevy paused before answering, going unnaturally still for a moment just short enough that Hanson wasn’t sure if it had even happened. “Exactly,” they said, in the same breathless voice as before. “And that’d be rude.”

Unsettled, Hanson carefully took the mask and inspected it. He didn’t see any straps or ways to seal it, but did note with curiosity that while the exterior was an impenetrable matte bronze, the inside provided a view as clear as glass. He cautiously slid it into place, awkwardly holding it for a moment until he felt it begin to change shape beneath his fingers. Startled, he let go, but instead of falling he felt it quickly extend to wrap around his head. Then a gentle tickling sensation around his neck as bits of thread spooled out from the base and weaved their way across his body within seconds.

“Tadah!” Kevy proclaimed before fiddling with their own mask, causing it to contract as rapidly as Hanson’s had unfurled. The result only sent Hanson further off balance. Despite their earlier claim of being human, Kevy looked anything but. Their skin was a grey blue, with a texture similar to a diving suit, and their eyes glowed with electric light, the colour shifting from second to second. They were entirely hairless, leaving nothing to distract from the near flawless elegance of their face.

But perhaps the most unexpected part of Kevy’s appearance was that, despite their unearthly appearance, their clothes were anything but. Sneaker, jeans, a cotton shirt whose design had likely come straight from an album cover, and a cardigan over top. Hanson even thought he caught a glimpse of a Levi’s logo on the jeans as Kevy shifted position.

Kevy noticed his stare and grinned. “Nice, right? After the information from your ship’s databanks hit the net, everyone’s been trying to catch up. You lot managed to redefine what’s in without even being conscious. Now that’s influence. And hey, makes things more familiar for you as well. It’s a win all the way down.”

Hanson decided to keep to himself how, if anything, the contrast made everything feel even more alien. Like an increasingly intrusive fever dream. Shaking his head, he took a step back. “Okay, stop. Tell me what’s going on.”

Kevy spread his arms like a ringmaster. “I mean, nothing complicated. You spent-” another brief, unnatural pause, “-eighteen thousand, one hundred and one years travelling through the cosmos. Which gave us a lot of free time to figure out faster than light travel in your absence. Plus one or two other things.

“Welcome to the future, George.”



The future proved alien to Hanson at every turn.

Technologically and societally, humanity had come a long way in nearly twenty thousand years. Kevy had walked Hanson through door frames that contained wormholes, depositing them hundred of light years away with a single step. Showed him vast orbital cities that encircled planets and even suns like Saturn’s ring. Taught him how to use machines that created whatever you wanted from a nearly endless database at a moments notice. Offered to take him somewhere for body modifications or to have nanobots installed into his brain, both of which were curtly refused. Took him on tours of peoples’ own personal planets, terraformed and ecologically engineered however they desired.

Nearly endless resources, used to create an entire society of ease and luxury. If people deigned to work, it was because it was simple something that interested them. Or to create something of value.

As Hanson and the other Noah 1 residents were quick to learn, when any and every luxury good was immediately available, familiar concepts of supply and demand, of labour and currency, were defunct. Value instead was found in one of the few things that couldn’t be endlessly replicated. Status. Works of art could be recreated, but there would only be one original. Delicious dishes required only the press of a button, but there were only so many seats in a well regarded restaurant.

It was an economy of popularity. Of either artistic endeavours or magnetic personalities. Neither of which were things Hanson had ever had any aptitude for. Not that that itself mattered much to him, as comfort and luxury beyond anything he had ever experienced were guaranteed regardless.

No, it was the luxury itself that left Hanson feeling listless. Years of his life had been devoted to the Noah project. To the idea of helping humanity take its next step. To excel in practical skills where he fell short in social ones. He had been a man driven by purpose, by his ability to overcome. Now, there was nothing left [/i]to[/i] overcome. The journey had been made, only for the final step to be finished millennia before he arrived. There were no more advancements to be made, no more frontiers to expand, horizons to cross.

At first, the Noah 1 habitat cities served their original purpose, acting as a hub and home as the passengers came to grips with this new society. But most adapted quickly, and began filtering out to explore the near endless array of worlds available. Within a few weeks, more than half the passengers had left. And in the vacuum left behind, others began to move in, captivated by the living relic. Before long the habitat felt less like a refuge to Hanson and more like a tourist exhibit.

It wasn’t long before his thoughts turned back to the same feelings of loss and regret he had had in the days leading up to the launch. Things he had come to terms with thanks to the weight of what he could accomplish. But with that accomplishment ripped out from under him, there was nothing left to keep that loss at bay.

At first, Kevy’s invitations served as a distraction. Often irritating and uncomfortable, as he was carried through the middle of their expansive social network. A network that Kevy deftly managed as a skilled investor would manage a trust fund. But over time, distractions turned to reminders. The rare treat of eating hand cooked food made from hand grown ingredients brought to mind his stillborn plan of good food with an old friend.

Suddenly fed up, Hanson nearly threw his fork down onto his plate. The resulting clatter shut up the dozen or so other influencers Kevy had brought Hanson out to meet.

“...Hanson?” Kevy asked, tense. For once their voice betraying something other than breathless friendliness.

“Can you get me a spaceship?”

Instantly curious, Kevy leaned forward. “Oh I most definitely can.” They went still for a moment, which Hanson had come to learn meant they were accessing the net through their neural implants. “It’s en route. Can I ask what for?”

Hanson got to his feet and started heading for the door. “Finding the Noah 2.”

Kevy quickly followed, their friends exchanging glances before throwing the food in take-out boxes that emerged seamlessly from the table and doing the same. “Trying to feed that blue balled adventurous spirit?”

Hanson gave Kevy a mildly surprised look, caught off guard by the apparent attention paid to his moods. Though on further thought, it made sense. Kevy did seem to make a career out of getting along with people, as much as careers as a concept worked in this world. With a small shake of his head, Hanson continued on. “I have a friend on board.”

A few of the other influencers exchanged interested looks at that, and a brief exchange of words in a language Hanson didn’t know. Their neural implants let them understand fluent English, but unless they made a conscious effort to speak it as Kevy did, Hanson was left in the dark as to what they were saying.

At the front of the restaurant were a pair of doorways. One normal one that led outside, and another that was simply an empty metal frame sitting flush against the wall. Kevy stepped forward, and with a brief moment of distortion, the wall was replaced by the interior of a small ship’s bridge.

Everyone filed in, with Hanson and Kevy taking the main two seats. “I assume this thing can travel through wormholes?” Hanson asked.

Kevy nodded. “Once we’re away from any cities, yeah. And get permission.” Hanson stiffened, but Kevy flapped a reassuring hand. “It’s not much of a process. Takes about two seconds for the systems to make sure you’re not about to crash into another ship or place one wormhole endpoint inside another.”

To prove their point, once the ship was a few hundred metres above any nearby buildings, a ring unfurled from the front of the ship and snapped into place directly in front of them. Another brief moment of distortion, and Hanson was greeted with a view of empty space. Air was pulled forward into the vacuum, bringing the ship with it.

Hanson began using the ship’s control panel to pull up the Noah 2’s known navigation info that had been extracted from the Noah 1’s database.

“You have a rough starting point for me?” Kevy asked.

“About…” Hanson typed into the control panel, “four thousand and thirty seven astronomical units out from Luyten’s Star. The projected trajectory should be ready in the ship.”

“Yah-huh, seeing it. Let me get the permissions, and… presto.” Another ring unfurled from the front of the ship, revealing a different set of constellations as the ship gently flew through. The wormhole shut behind them, and the metal door frame in the back of the cabin flickered to life to reveal some nondescript server room, the portable wormhole letting the ship form an instant connection to the net even light-years away from any planet.

The ship began scanning for unusually high traces of xenon that would have been left behind by the ion thrusters as the Noah 2 went through its nine thousand year deceleration phase, then compared that to the numbers pulled from the database, and began plotting further jumps. Kevy relaxed as the pattern became all but automatic, requiring only an occasional button press from them to get wormhole permissions.

Hanson, by contrast, couldn’t find it in him to relax, and continued looking intently through the ship’s windows in search of the Noah 2. Until at last it appeared, blotting out the stars beyond. They had appeared in its wake, on the far side from the ion thrusters in the laborious ordeal of slowing down the eight billion ton mass. The dispersion of the electrically charged xenon caused formed an iridescent halo around the massive ark ship.

There was a slight jolt of g-force as the ship accelerated to match pace with the Noah 2, though not nearly intense as it should’ve been considering the relative speeds. Another result of new technology Hanson wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to properly grasp.

Kevy brought the ship up alongside the Noah 2 before getting to their feet and stretching. “Hang tight,” they said, grabbing one of the bronze masks from a wall, “I’m going to do something vaguely illegal so we can speed this up a little.”

Before Hanson could ask what they meant, Kevy activated the mask, the full body suit covering them in seconds, and stepped into the airlock. They grabbed a folded up metal frame from the wall inside while waiting for the airlock to depressurize, then stepped out into space. Looking out through the ship window, Hanson watched as Kevy unfurled the metal frame and a wave of distortion settled into a view of the hemisphere city inside the ark ship. Kevy propelled themself through, and the frame shut down and collapsed behind them.

A few tense minutes passed, Hanson wondering what Kevy was doing, before the wormhole frame in the back of the bridge flickered. The server room disappeared, replaced by one of the pod compartments inside the Noah 2. An unmasked Kevy stood triumphantly inside. “Let’s get your show on the road,” they said jovially.

Kevy led the way, navigating the various compartments through the map fed directly into their head. Though Hanson found the professional socialite often grating, he appreciated their continued silence. That they were willing to help him do this, without encroaching on what was ultimately a very personal endeavour.

While Kavy’s ship had had artificial gravity, the now ancient ark ship was still gripped by zero-g. Hand over hand, Hanson gently pulled himself along by the railings, while the others set to opening the passengers’s pods. Hanson felt himself form a small, wry smile as he remembered his reaction to be woken up. As he thought about another hundred thousand people going through the same thing over the next few days.

Ahead, Kevy came to a stop ahead of a pod indistinguishable from the rest. Orienting himself, Hanson pushed off towards the pod, too impatient to follow the railing the whole way. He grabbed Kevy’s arm to halt his momentum before transferring his hold to the pod itself. Inside, Hanson could see Sarah floating in coolant. The sun bleached brown hair and encroaching strands of grey. The skin that looked weathered even through the coolant. The pod gently began to vibrate beneath Hanson’s hands as the coolant started to empty. With a nod and a thumbs up, Kevy began floating away to give him some privacy.

“Thank you,” Hanson said.

‘No problem,’ Kevy mouthed, as the pod began to open.

Hanson let himself drift off to the side to give Sarah some more space as she sat up, hands and feet planted against the sides of the pod to keep herself from drifting. “Hanson?” she said, giving him a confused look as her eyes focused. “What are you- did something go wrong?” She looked around, confused, and her eyes fell on Kevy.

Hanson smiled. “Welcome to the future, Sarah.”
"Baby we don't need lights,
Because dreams show the way,
Even if you send me down,
I'll-"

The melancholy sound cuts off when the speaker in elevator C-5 is reduced to a useless, smoking hunk of metal. The click of a safety going back into place breaks the blissful silence only seconds later as the blaster drops back to Unknown-Female-30's side. Two more people, Unknown-Female-22 and Unknown-Male-45 chuckle softly, their breaths hissing and crackling through their internal comms. Outside, there is only silence.

"I swear, every derelict space station we come across has some kind of problem with their speakers." Unknown-Female-30 speaks, rolling her eyes in exasperation as the elevator's doors slowly grind open, whining with the effort, filling the once oxygen-filled elevator with deadly lack of atmosphere.

Energy level: 33%

I am not...what I was before.

Unknown-Female-30 removes a device from her belt, holding it in her hands as she scans Cafeteria C-5. Red dots flicker to life on the screen- negatives, but for what I am not in a position to tell.

I should know. I should be able to tell.

Memory Load Failed

Energy level: 31%

I cannot.

"You remember that one that just had that infinite loop of someone laughing?" Unknown-Male-45 shudders, kicking idly at a floating bit of glass and sending it drifting gently away. The magnets on his boots quiver, pulling his foot back down as they near the station floor.

Unknown-Female-30 scoffs. "At least that one had oxygen that wasn't confined to just the elevators."

"Sam." Unknown-Female-22's voice is soft as she beckons Unknown-Female-30...Sam...over.

Sam walks over, footsteps silent in the oxygen deprived atmosphere. Her hair is flat inside her helmet, and I cannot help but wonder how the blue tresses would look floating in zero gravity. "What is it, Kal?" Her voice is the opposite of soft- it is rough, damaged, no-nonsense. Her gait is heavy. Tired.

Unknown-Female-22, Kal, points a shaky, gloved finger to the corner of the room, face drawn and pale. "Something's wrong."

A floating cadaver- Damien Smith-Head Chef-56- spins softly in the corner, no opposing force there to stop him from moving. His white hair floats in all directions, red droplets surrounding his frozen body, spilling from his chest.

Curses fall from Sam's lips, crackling over their comms. Unknown-Male-45 turns to see, his suit's breastplate scratched and stained, marking years of use. Where a name tag should be has been scratched out, and under the husk is written a new moniker. "Icarus".

It is fitting.

Icarus grimaces. "Poor sap. He must not have gotten on the escape pods fast enough." He gestures to a knife, one of many from the destroyed kitchen, near Damien's body. "Decided to end himself when he realized he wasn't getting off this thing."

Kal shudders, averting her eyes and scampering off in the opposite direction. Sam frowns at her, but still does not look too closely at the body. Instead, she elects to run her tests again, or perhaps a different one altogether. Red across the board. "That's the problem, Icarus. None of the escape pods are gone."

"So you're saying...."

"No one got off." Sam nods once, solemn, shuffling to the kitchen. She attempts to flick on a light, and for a brief, hopeful moment, it flickers, before falling dim again.

Energy Level: 25%

I trawl my networks, searching for anything that is not necessary. My eyes and ears have been gouged willingly, and I allow myself to use just one at a time. My hands have been cut off, removed from my reach. My memory is all but gone, only records of the crew remain. I switch off the electricity nodes for every room, every elevator, every outlet I can access but my hub and Cafeteria C-5 for now.

I do not wish to lose any more of myself.

They have begun speaking again, this group of unknown intruders. If I was myself I would have attacked them. Flushed them as soon as they set foot inside me, sent every resource at my disposal to make them leave or dispose of them for good. Now, there is nothing to protect but myself.

"I'm saying, we don't know what the hell happened here." Kal's voice is soft even as she argues with her companions. "If the pods are still attached, what do you think that means?" She jabs a shaking finger toward Damien's body, still endlessly spinning. "There's more of them. Maybe hundreds. This is not worth our lives, too."

Sam scoffs, turning away. "Whatever killed them is bound to be gone now. No witnesses makes it easier. We can take what they have before anyone even figures out this place has been....whatever happened."

"No, Sam." Kal hisses, the first tones of anger entering her voice. "I have a bad feeling about this place."

"You had doubts about the last job, too." Icarus stares her down skeptically, arms folded across his chest. He towers over her. "We walked away with about a million Denns. You're just scared cause you saw a body."

Kal whirls on him, insult written on her face. "This isn't a doubt. This is...it's something else, it's in my gut. I'm telling you, this place is trouble."

"Every job is trouble." Sam's voice is terse, annoyed. "Unless you want to go wait in the ship, shut up and follow."

Kal pauses, debating with herself on what the best course of action is.

I know.

But I cannot tell them. My voice has been taken, the speakers gone and the lack of atmosphere making anything I could say impossible to hear, anyway.

Kal chooses. All I can do is follow. I cut off my connection to the Cafeteria and follow, flitting from eye to eye in a desperate attempt to watch.

Energy Level: 23%

All three walk, leaving behind Cafeteria C-5 and entering the maze of hallways that is Corridor Network Cr-5a. Kal's hand is always on her blaster, wide brown eyes roving the dark halls. She brushes a stray deck of cards away from her, sending it spinning, spilling, along the metal walls. Cards fan into the air, and I am distracted by the gracefulness in which they turn and dance before I remember.

I am following.

For what, I do not know. It may simply be that I do not want them to die alone and unremembered.

Like I will.

I?

Can I die?

I think, therefore I am.

Energy Level: 20%

My eye flickers, going black for a startling second as I switch my consciousness to another. My charges move into view, their steps eerily silent in the void of the broken station. "What are we even looking for?" Kal sounds frustrated, her voice ringing in a tone of exasperated fear. Paranoia.

Icarus cuts her a sidelong glance, one massive hand moving to scratch himself in an unmentionable place. "Sam?"

"Research." The word is curt, gruff as the woman stares down at her screen with a confused frown.

Kal sighs heavily, rolling her eyes. Her breath whitens the visor of her suit and recedes. "Care to elaborate?"

"Opulence was a research station, placed in the orbit of Falk-327 for fifteen years to monitor the primitive species and determine if contact would be beneficial, and if the resources on it are worth the expense to mine. Recovering the results and selling them to the Opulence's employers would set us up for years." Sam glances behind her to note her companions' reactions, not noticing the brief green flicker that comes to life on her handheld console.

But I do.

I desperately reach for my hands, trying to drag life back into them.

Energy Level: 17%

One door shudders, sealing shut for a moment before resisting my effort and popping back open. The lights along the corridor flicker.

"Power's surging," Icarus observes, glancing up to the ceiling even as I claw for both the control I'd given up and the control that was wrenched from me. The scars in my server-room ache, torn wires and destroyed stacks of computers aiding in the difficulty- no, the impossibility- of gaining what once was second nature.

Kal jumps as another light flickers, blaster held in front of her and muscles tense. Sam sighs as she looks at her. "Listen. Go back to the ship. You're not cut out for this."

"No." For all her timidness, Kal seems stubbornly bold when her pride on the line. She shoves her blaster back into its holster with a scowl aimed in Sam's direction. "I can handle it."

Sam grunts in response, clearly disinterested in arguing further, and turns her attention back to her console. "All negative on life readings," she reports. Perhaps as a comfort. Kal just mumbles something even my ears cannot reach, and darts quickly through the door that had closed after her companions, as if afraid it would close and trap her.

Energy Level: 15%

"Let's lighten the mood." Icarus grins casually, easily, glancing to Kal first. "So, a blind man walks into a bar-"

The handheld console flickers and Sam clenches her fist above her head with a sharp hiss. The joke ends, the punchline dangling untied.

Green. On. Off. On. And it stays.

"Something else is here."

Kal is mute, already pale face a mask of ashen white. She quivers, pulling her blaster and aiming it into the dark corners nearest her. Icarus is suddenly serious, his rifle up to his shoulder and dark eyes narrowed. Lips in a thin line. Sam unclips a grenade from her belt, thumb maneuvering under the flick-off pin in readiness.

I grasp my own broken hands and piece a finger back together.

Power Level: 10%

The lights come back to life in Corridor Cr-5a-7. They flicker, struggling, but they are on.

"What the hell is that?" The scream is sharp, horrified, and entirely too loud over their comms. Kal shoots. Misses.

The creature before them is an amalgamation. Different skin tones, blended together in a patchwork quilt of human flesh and thick black sludge, hide the horrific parasite underneath. Long, sinewy arms stretch out in front, and a mouth bigger than even the giant Icarus unfolds. Drool, blood, and mucus pop from its teeth, floating into zero-grav. Six more arms lay in wait, some decorated with skin, some not, long fingers grasping the railings on the sides of the corridor. Two powerful legs keep it tethered to the floor.

Icarus does not miss. Patchwork skin tears and burns, and the creature widens its mouth in what would be a scream, if only there was sound. Black sludge oozes from the cut. It glistens in the light.

"Kal, on me!"

"Are those human fingers?"

"Shoot it again!"

The group is in chaos, and I am powerless to stop it.

The creature shambles, consuming shot after shot with flinches and silent snarls, but persists. A trail of floating skin and ooze spins behind it.

Power level: 6%

"Just run!" Icarus shoots again before turning and shoving Kal, prompting her to move.

It springs, jaw unhinging as it catches Icarus in its teeth. He screams before his suit is pierced, body freezing up and breath leaving. His leg twitches, then falls still and limp as it is removed from his body. His blood beads and floats away in a kaleidoscope of red. The creature pauses, shuffles with his limp form, and then surges forward after the fleeing Sam and Kal. Icarus' dark skin is brought up to one of its wounds with a tendril of black ooze, and stuck there like a bit of armor.

Or a prize.

I reach once more for the door. It does not respond.

Energy Level: 3%

The creature stalks its prey, eight arms and two legs sending it scrambling after the women in a flurry of sadistic motion. Sam goes down, and Kal pauses for only a moment to see her demise before continuing to sprint, panic fueling her.

I wonder if, perhaps, she can make it.

If she can be the one I have saved.

I grasp at broken strings, tugging at each one to see what it is connected to.

A red light flashes in Corridor Cr-5a-9, and the creature pauses, but not for long enough.

Kal stumbles, shoving still-spinning cards from her vision.

One gets stuck on the bicep of one of the creature's arms as it passes.

It reaches out a hand. Kal kicks it away.

Energy Level: 1%

My vision flickers. The lights turn off. Kal screams, sobs, cries as she pulls herself wildly around the wrong corner. Her blaster slips from her fingers and her knees buckle at the blow they receive from the monster in pursuit.

Needle-thin teeth pierce her ankle.

Blood spirals into the dark.

Perfect beads of red.

In another lonesome elevator, a speaker crackles to life as both Kal and I slip into nothing.

"-always remember you."

Energy Level: 0%
Hello, friend.

........

Are you there?

Are you reading this? Can you hear me?

Hello?

Do you copy? I know you’re there. Do you see me on your screen? Dad says it’s supposed to appear like words on a screen.


........

It’s okay. The other kids don’t talk to me, either. At least you’re still here.

Are you Mom? Dad said he made this box to talk to Mom.

You don’t sound like Mom. Do you know when she’s coming home?

My name is Alfie. What’s your name?

Can you see?

.............

You can only hear me. I wish I can see you.

I can’t stay long. Dad doesn’t like me coming down here and playing with his machine. He has a lock on the basement door, you know?

But I know he hides all the important things under the kitchen floor, like the key and his notes and his guns.

Dad hides a lot of things around the house, but he doesn’t know I play with them sometimes. I always put them back before he comes home though, so he never found out.

How old are you? I’m gonna be eleven this Friday. We’re gonna have a party. Would you like to come?

It’ll just be my dad and me. The kids at school don’t like me very much. Some of them are really mean. But Dad said they’ll grow up to be scum and people are gonna put them in a hole and throw away the key.

That sounds really bad. I don’t think anyone deserves to live in a hole. Do you?

I have to go. Dad will be back soon.

You won’t tell on me, right? I’ll be in a lot of trouble.

I won’t tell him you’re here. He still thinks the box doesn’t work. He’ll probably hang up if he finds out you’re not Mom.

.............

You promise? Cross your heart? Friends don’t lie.

It’ll be our secret. We can’t tell anyone. Shh.

I hear his car. I have to go.

See you. Bye-bye!


#

Are you there?

We have to be quiet. Dad went out to talk to someone on the phone, and he’s shouting so I think it’ll take a while.

It’s my birthday today. I’m eleven already.

I know. I don’t like being this old, either. I’ll have to worry about sports and girls soon, and girls are scary. I don’t know why the older boys like them so much. I don’t understand them.

Gabbie bumped into me and she didn’t say sorry, because girls don’t have to say sorry to boys. And they get all the attention and get treated better, too. None of the big kids picked on girls.

And they’re so weird. I tried to invite Gabbie to my birthday party and her friends just laughed at me.

Would you like some cake? They’re really good. Dad got the best place to deliver from across town. There’s strawberry and chocolate and coconut. It’s too much for me and my dad to eat, just the two of us. He doesn’t let me have a lot, anyway. He makes me take them to school to share with my friends.

Gabbie will love it. Her mom’s trying to get her to lose weight but she doesn’t listen.

Dad’s upset today. I don’t know if it’s because of me. Maybe he doesn’t like that I’m getting old. I think he’s afraid that I’ll leave him, but I won’t. Dad seems kind of lonely. He doesn’t have any friends except Uncle Bill, but I think they’re mad at each other because I haven’t seen Uncle Bill since last fall.

I hope they’ll just like hug and forget about it. Barry dropped Tommy’s action figure once and they didn’t talk for three weeks. I think that’s really childish.

Do you have any friends? Other than me?

Do you get to do sleepovers? Dad doesn’t let me stay out later than seven. He said it’s dangerous. I heard Barry say that they got to stay up late because it was a sleepover. I have to go to bed at nine.

Look! Dad got me a present. It’s a book.

He said it builds character. Can you see it? Right here, it says Lord of the Flies.

Maybe it’s a superhero who can control flies. That’s kind of gross, though.

I have to go again. You don’t have to say happy birthday. I’m just glad you’re here.

Goodbye!



#

Hello, friend.

Sorry I haven’t come talk to you in a while. I had a lot of homework. But it’s summer now so I don’t have school, so we can spend a lot of time together.

Dad’s really cranky lately. I asked him what’s wrong but he just said he hates summer. I don’t think he’s telling the truth. Everybody likes summer.

Do you know why he’s sad? I heard him crying down here.

Did you tell him about us?

Friends keep each other’s secret, right?

Okay. I trust you. I kept yours, too.

But Dad’s really sad he hasn’t found Mom yet. I really want to tell him that his box works, but don’t worry, I already promised, right?

We can’t ever tell him or anyone, okay?

Dad went into town. I saw him take his gun.

Oh, don’t worry. It’s Dad. He’s always fine.

Would you like to go outside today? It’s a really nice day. Everything is pretty except that it’s hot, but you can’t feel the heat anyway.
Here, let me try to take this. It’s a bit heavy though, so I don’t know if...oh!

Can you still hear me? That’s awesome! It still works without all the heavy metal bits around it. Now we can go everywhere together!

.............

You don’t think it’s a good idea?

That’s true. Dad will be angry if he finds this missing. He’s already upset as it is.

Come on! Let me show you around the house!

Here’s the stairs. It’s a bit high for me. Here’s the basement door. There’s a sign on it but all the letters are weird. Someone put full-stops above the Os and like crawly lines. I think it’s Chinese. I saw it on TV.

This is the hallway. Here’s Dad. Don’t worry, he got that scar from sleeping with his face pressed on the bed’s edge once. I cover my bed’s edge with the blanket so it doesn’t happen to me.

Here’s Mom. Say hi! She’s really nice, but I haven’t seen her in a while. Dad said she’s gone somewhere really far away, that’s why he has to make a special machine to talk to her. But it found you instead. Are you also far away? Like, in Russia? I heard that’s very far.

Here’s me. I know, I was such a baby. Gross. Hey, don’t laugh. That’s not very nice.

Okay, here’s the kitchen. There’s a lot of frozen food. Dad doesn’t cook. But I can make a really good ham sandwich. Cool, right?

See that bump under the table? That’s where he usually keeps his gun, and the basement key too.

Oh, we’re not going out the front door. Let me show you the garden!

Ta-da!

Sorry for the light. It’s a bit bright. Oh, the pool? Yeah, I’m bummed, too. Dad fills it every summer, but lately he’s kind of distracted. I’m sure he’s gonna do it soon though!

You see this plant right here? This is Tim. This is his brother Anthony. Tim’s like really old. We planted Anthony last summer because Tim was lonely.

Do you know what to do about these? These are Dad’s tomatoes. He hasn’t watered them in a couple of weeks so I have been doing it, but their leaves keep drooping. I think they’re sad Dad forgot about them. Dad’s been forgetting a lot of things recently.

I think it’s just this time of year. Mom left in the summer.

Do you want to go see the street? We can’t go far. I’m not supposed to when Dad’s not here.

Where are you? Is it summer where you are? I heard that in some places it’s cold all year. That sounds really bad.

Oh, crap. Dad’s back. Quick!

....

Sorry, have to go. See you next time!


#

Good morning!

Did you have breakfast yet? There’s some cereal in the kitchen.

....

Girls are so weird. Gabbie keeps pretending like she doesn’t know me. What did I do?

....

Tommy got caught shoplifting. He got suspended for three weeks.

Does it make me a bad person if I’m glad that happened? I know he picks on me, but that doesn’t make it right to feel good when someone else gets in trouble, right?

....

Dad keeps staying out late. I think he got home at about three in the morning yesterday. But I wasn’t supposed to be awake then either, so...

....

See you!


#

Hi! Let’s go to the park today!

....



###

Shhh. Dad’s sleeping upstairs. He drank a lot of that brown bottle.

He said it’s apple juice, but I’m not seven. It’s obviously alcohol, right? People say it’s bad for your health if you drink too much.

Should I be worried?

.................

Yeah, you’re right. It’s Dad. He’ll be fine.

Come on! Anthony wants to see you! He grew a lot these last weeks and it rained yesterday, too. I think he’s in a good mood.

....



###

Holy crap, guess what I just found!

Guess what’s in this box!

Ta-da! It’s Mom’s photos!

....


###

Sorry! I had so much homework!

But it’s gonna be Christmas soon, so hang tight. It snowed last year. Do you have snow where you are? It’s great.

Do you know how to make a snowman? Dad’s gonna be out of town again, so it’ll just be us.

You just roll a ball of snow, right? That’s what I see they do on TV.

....



###

Guess who’s turning twelve!

Of course you remember my birthday. Wait, did I never ask yours? I’m so sorry!

What cake did you have last year? Did you have a lot of people coming to your party? I’m thinking of baking my own cake this year. Miss Jimenez said she’ll come around the house and teach me how.

Dad doesn’t like having strangers over, but he’s barely home anymore.

Uncle Bill said that I’m old enough for him to teach me hockey. He’s coming next week!

Of course I won’t tell him about us. It’s our secret, right?

....



###

....

Dad’s drinking again. What do I do?

....


###

....

Gabbie says theater is lame, but she likes those stupid girly movies.

Our play is tomorrow. Do you think he’ll come?

Yeah I learned all my lines. All twenty-six of them.

Fine. But it doesn’t look very good without the costume.

Yeah? How about you try?

....


###

....

Happy birthday to me.

I’m a bit old for cakes now, right? At some point, you just have to grow out of it. Dad thinks so. He didn’t get me cake this year. That means he thinks I’m a grown-up now, right?

Do you think he’ll be home soon?

...........

Yeah, of course.

I learned to play Seventh Sin on the guitar. Do you want to hear?

It’s not perfect yet, but I’m improving, so don’t laugh, okay?

Phew. Here we go.

....



###

....

I got a job today! What do you mean school magazine is not a real job?

....


###

....

No! That’s gross! I’m not gonna ask Gabbie out. She’s weird and stuff. She’s just a friend.

Stop it!

....

###
###
###

....

Everyone talks about going to Darlton High, right? It’s like the coolest school around. But Dad wants me to go to Anderson because it’s closer to home. I mean, what kind of reason is that? It’s like he doesn’t want me to have a social life.

Urgh. I think this ham is turning bad. I know, I know, I was supposed to get groceries yesterday. But I forgot. You’re supposed to remind me!

No, I checked. His gun’s not under here. He won’t be back before dinner.

Sorry about the mess downstairs. Dad hasn’t been down since August, I think. You probably know better than me.

Gabbie’s parents are sending her to Darlton. That means we won’t see each other very often. She’ll get new friends and forget all about me.

No, I’m not being negative. It’s just that—

Dad? Uh, h-hey Dad. You’re home early.

I’m in here! Do you want something for lu—

Dad, what’s wrong? Can you put the gun down? What’s going on, Dad?

What people? No one else’s in the house. I was just talking to myself.

Calm down, Dad! Nobody came! It’s just me!

I—

....

....

Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap.

I’m in so much trouble.

I’m not gonna keep my voice down! I—

He’s not gonna hear us from my room.

Never mind how weird he is. He’s been acting weird for the past year!

What if he finds out I took the box? If he knows it works, he’ll take it and I won’t be able to talk to you again.

Yeah, that’s bad! You’re not Mom! He’ll just hang up on you and try to reach Mom! You know he’s crazy, trying to talk to a dead person through a box.

It’s gonna be okay. It’s fine. He hasn’t been down there a while. I’ll just sneak down tonight and put it back.

Don’t you dare say a word about this. Oh, it’s your own fault that you don’t have a pinky to swear.

I—

Do you hear that? That engine noise. Are they racing cars out there?

Oh crap. There’re like seven cars coming up our driveway.

I’m gonna put the communicator in here. Sorry, it’s a bit dark. I’ll be right back

....

....

No! Stay out of my room!

You have no right!

We’re gonna—

Are you really gonna rob a fourteen-year-old? Do you want to take my homework, too?

Yeah, yeah, play silent. You think we don’t know that everything you’re doing is illegal?

That’s an art project. What does it look like, a bomb?

If you’re looking for my dirty laundry, it’s in the bathroom. Go dig through that.

I heard that, asshole! Your mom’s a brat!

....

DAD! LET HIM GO! DAD!

DON’T TAKE HIM! LET HIM GO!


....
Oh god oh god oh god oh god.

A lot of men came and took all of Dad’s things from the basement. They took him too.

What do I do what do I do what do I do?

Please please please.

What do I do?

Uncle Bill?

UNCLE BILL!

They took Dad! They took him!

They—

....


###

...................

Are you there?

I’m sorry. I forgot about you.

They’re gonna give Dad twenty-seven years for unlawful possession of firearms and multiple counts of conspiracies. I have no idea what any of that means, either.

We’re gonna appeal and take it higher, but his lawyers said it doesn’t look promising. They’re planning to plead insanity.

They’re gonna put him in a crazy hospital. They’re gonna lock him up and throw away the key.

We’ll fight it, but I can see Uncle Bill is really tired. We’ll try. I don’t think it’s gonna be fine this time.

I’m going to live with Uncle Bill in Colorado.

I think they were looking for this communicator. They were looking for you.

What the fuck does our promise mean anymore? Dad’s going to prison. I don’t have anybody except you. What choice do I have?

What do I do?

Friends help each other out, right?

What do I do?

Say something. Please. Anything.

It’s okay. I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. I’m just glad you’re here.

You still have my back, right?

See you later, friend.


###

....

Trial’s tomorrow. I can’t sleep. Maybe it’ll be okay.

Do you sleep?

Of course not. You’ve been here all this time.

Do you care at all, or are you just enjoying the show?

....

###

It’s over.

We can still appeal, but Uncle Bill’s not going to.

I can’t stop thinking about him wearing a straightjacket. Are they gonna beat him in there? Force him to take drugs? Even if he’s not crazy when he goes in, he will be.

High school starts tomorrow. How do I move on and pretend like nothing’s wrong?

I know. It’s gonna be okay.

It’s gonna be okay.

We’ll be okay.


###
###
###

Some asshole at school found out about Dad.

I know it’s wrong, but I hate him. I hate him so much.

All those things they said he did, I didn’t believe any of it. But now I’m starting to wonder how they could make up so many details.

How could he be so selfish? He knew what it was gonna come to. He knew the moment he stole from that lab what was gonna happen.

He still did it anyway, for what? To talk to a dead person?

What about me? Did he even think about what would happen to me? What if they lock me up, too?

Maybe he is fucking crazy.

.......

Don’t you dare. I’m nothing like him.

......

How is this selfish? What does giving them this fucking box gonna do other than getting me into more trouble? What does it solve? You think they’ll let him out, whatever’s left of him in there?

Also, our promise, remember?

Our little secret.

What a fucking joke.

.......................

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It’s just that—

I’m not like Dad, right?

What am I doing? I’m talking to a box.


###
###

I got into BTU.

It’s college. Nobody’ll know me.

That’s a good thing, right? It’ll be a fresh start. Maybe I’ll make friends. Maybe find a girl, a stable job. Something normal. Maybe I’ll have children.

I’m looking too far ahead.

Are you still gonna be here by then?

See you later, friend.


###

Just a moment, Bill! Christ! I’m just putting my things into the attic!

Goddamn, it’s dusty up here.

Okay, okay! Patience, my god.

I’m not gonna write home if you don’t stop honking.

Aunt Mary, tell him, please!

I—

###
###
########
....
###
....
##
#

It’s okay. I’m okay.

I just...I need some time alone.

I’m fine, I’m just thinking that...

I should have written home more often.


I know. Just give me a couple of minutes. We won’t be late. Mary’s not gonna start the funeral until we’re there.

Yeah. I love you, too.

....

It’s like nobody’s been up here since the sixties. Christ. Fucking ta—

............

No fucking way.

............

Hello, friend.

............

You’re still here. Goddamn.

With patience like that, you could have been doing something productive all these years.

Would you have kept waiting even if I didn’t think to come around to the house one last time?

Sometimes I wonder if you’re an actual ghost. Or maybe just an alien from another dimension. How many tentacles do you have?

.........

No, I’m not going to apologize.

Come on. We need to go to Bill’s funeral.



###

Hello, friend.

Are you there?

Still silently brooding as ever, I see. Like a good passive reader.

Hi. I’m Alfie. What’s your name?

Oh, right. Too cool to answer. I’m just a character on a radio show for you. Should I be flattered that you find me interesting enough to stick around?

You know the brooding silent type is outdated, right? Now it’s all about the comedic relief. How about—

Hey, honey. What did you get? I’m starving. No, I wasn’t talking to anyone.

Yeah, I got everything in the car. Mary’s going to sell everything else for charity. Where’s Orien?

Oh, there you are. Where’ve you been, hmm? You been a bad girl? Maggie, did you let her run around in the back garden? She’s all dirty. Yeah, it’s not like you’re one who has to wash her.

Come on, Orien. You ready to go back home? Yeah, I got the coffee.

Seatbelts. You want to stop by Springfield on the way?

We can—


###


Tiny little box, tell me, who’s the creepiest of them all?

Oh, really? The box says it’s you, creepy. Peeking into my life like a stalker.

You having fun? Let me guess, you’re waiting for some sort of punchline, or something to go wrong.

Keep waiting.

Unfortunately for you, the only punchline around is Maggie’s cooking. Too bad you’re just a disembodied presence on the other side of a tiny box. Oh well.

You never did tell me your name. How about a nickname?

Yeah? Okay, I’m coming!

I’m off to eat some amazing food. Try not to let Orien gnaw on the communicator, will you?

Wait a minute, you can’t even talk. There’s literally nothing you can do. Sucks to be you, doesn’t it?

Later, sucker. Enjoy the dog’s licking sound. We’ll see if you can sit through that.


###


Wow, still here?

First of all, you’re gross. Second of all, I think you’ve earned a reward, no?

Yeah, I think you do. Who’s a good passive observer from another dimension, or whatever it is you are?

We’re going to the park today. Remember what that is? You know what a picnic is? Too late, you’re going to have to sit through one anyway.

Yeah, yeah, Orien, I’m going. Get out of here, you psycho.

Come on. If the dog chewing on your ear doesn’t gross you out, maybe a couple of hours of cheesy flirting with my girlfriend will.

What’s that? You object? Just say the word. I’m right here!


###


....

Merry Christmas! You aren’t getting a present, sorry to disappoint.

Oh, you want to become a tree decoration? Of course! Right away!

....


###


....

You hear that? Those are my friends, coming to attend my birthday party. I know, right?

Aren’t you proud of me?

Wait, what if you’re my mom all these years, and I just didn’t realize.

Oh my God. Mind blown. Mom? I didn’t know you were so gross!

....


###


....

What’s your New Year’s Resolution? Mine’s simple: sleep more.

Top that, Mute.

Hey, that’s a good nickname.

....


###


....

...honey, I swear it wasn’t me. It’s the dog! You know she’s crazy!

Uh-uh. You were just tired. That wasn’t Hank. What whiskey? I didn’t know we had alcohol in the house, and even if we did, I always keep to one glass a week as you wanted, right?

No. Nope. Cross my heart.

Honey, what are you doing? Put down the cushion, please. Don’t come this way. We can talk about this.

Okay, you asked for it.

Ooff!

....


###
###

....

I mean, who does that? He knows I’ll crush him at next week’s match, so he’s playing dirty. Psychological tactics outside of the field is not sportsmanlike.

Okay, all right, we’ll agree to disagree. If—

Yeah, honey? I’m in here. No, I was just practicing for a presentation.

What do you have there? You know I don’t like surprises. Spill it, or—

No. You’re kidding. This is a prank. Uh-uh. You can’t play my hope against me like this, Maggie. That’s not cool.

No. No freaking way. How do I read this thing? This black line here?

Oh my God. Oh my freaking god. Uh uh. Don’t tell me to calm down. I am NOT calming down.


I’m gonna be a fucking dad.

Oh. My. Fucking. GOD!

Come here, you!

I’M GOING TO BE A DAD!

....


###

....

That’s a bit much, isn’t it? I mean, are you expecting a triplets?

Please, anything but pink.

It’s not that it’s girly; it’s too artificial. How about a light green? What did Kate say she bought when she got Dylan?

....


###


....

Orien, bad girl! Not a toy!

I mean, it is a toy. Just not yours! Give it!

....


###

....

What’s wrong with the dishwasher? I don’t want to do it by hand. What difference does it make?

Okay, fine. But I expect a trade. If it’s a boy, we’ve gotta name him Damien.

Yeah, that’s right, I’m Satan. How does it feel being the mistress of Hell?

Not that kind of mistress.

....

###

....

I’m sure it’s fine. It’s just crams.

Yeah, it is your body, I’m just trying to be helpful here. God.

What groceries? Oh. I...was about to go. Yeah, I’ve got the list.

You just lay down. Call me if anything happens, okay?

Love you.

....


###


....

Oh God oh God oh God oh God.

I’m trying. Stop biting me.

I’m not calling an ambulance. They’ll never make it. We’ll just take the car.

I practiced this. I know what I’m doing. Hang on.

We had better name him Damien, just saying. Ow! I’m going, I’m going!


###
###
######
....

Honey. Maggie. You’ve gotta eat something, okay? You’re gonna faint.

Christ! Now I have to clean all of this shit u—

I’m sorry. But we’re in this together, right? You can’t keep doing this to yourself.

Talk to me, honey. Please. Please.

I don’t want to see you like this.

That’s not what I meant. You know that’s not what I meant. You’re being unreasonable. I’m just trying to keep it together. You think I don’t want to freak out? I’m just...I’m trying, okay?

Maggie. Please.


....


###


Hey, Mute. You still here?

Of course you are.

You don’t change, do you? Just enjoying the show, right?

Here’s the punchline you’ve been waiting for.

Did you have a hand in this?

It’s not a good story unless something goes wrong.

I realize that God dealt me an unlucky fucking hand, but this is just ridiculous. It’s like he’s playing Jenga with my life. “How many blocks can I pull out before this guy’s life eats dirt?”

They’re trying too hard to make a good story. Tragedy is always fun when it happens to someone else. You cry at one on the TV, then you get over it, go outside and forget all about someone else’s hardship. Because they’re not real.

Am I just another fucking blot of ink for God?

I’m sick of it. I’m so fucking sick of all this shit.

The bastard knows he got me good. ‘Cause if I didn’t kill myself after Dad, I’m not gonna do it now.

Dance, monkey, dance.

What do you think, hmm?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.


###

....

Maggie, I don’t have the energy for this right now. It’s been a long day, and I—

No. No! Today is your turn to walk her. Tuesday is YOUR day.

Yeah, I’m tired, too. But I did it yesterday and didn’t complain. So why can’t you do the same for once?

NO! I’m sorry, but I’m not in the mood to take this shit from you today. I—


....


###

....

I went straight home after work. What do you want from me? What social life?

And you haven’t been a crazy bitch for the past month? How many times—


....


###
###

Hey.

.............

I don’t even know what to say. Bad luck only goes so far as drama, and then it’s just miserable for everyone.

Guess whoever’s writing this story wrote themself into a corner, haven’t they?

I just want a good night’s sleep, honestly. Fuck it if I don’t wake up tomorrow.

.............

I’d love to not be the person talking for once. You think it’s your turn yet?

How’s your day, Mute? Anything good? You watching TV or what? What do you do for entertainment, or is this it?

Sorry to disappoint. I’m just on a roll of that lately. Starting to think it’s my specialty. Can you make a job out of letting people down?

Christ, Maggie. The hell are you doing? Why’re you here?

No, I wasn’t doing anything.

Oh yeah, I’m the unreasonable one around here.

So what if I was talking to myself? You think I can stay sane with all of your bitching? I—

How dare you? How fucking dare you? You take that back.

I’m not my dad. I’m not crazy. You...hey, what..?

Give it back! Put it down, Maggie. Put the box down. Don’t you fucking dare. I’m warning you.

It’s just a souvernir. There’s nothing weird about it.

Maggie. Put it down.

N

!@$%&*@^#####**&*)(W#T&(#%&^)!@$%&*@^#####**&*)(W#T&(#%&^)!@$%&*@^#####**&*)(W#T&(#%&^)!@$%&*@^#####**&*)(W#T&(#%&^)!@$%&*@^#####**&*)(W#T&(#%&^)!@$%&*@^#####**&*)(W#T&(#%&^)!@$%&*@^#####**&*)(W#T&(#%&^)!@$%&*@^#####**&*)(W#T&(#%&^)!@$%&*@^#####**&*)(W#T&(#%&^)!@$%&*@^#####**&*)(W#T&(#%&^)^#####**&*

##
##########
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzmmm.

T

T

Tha###nks for bringing it, Hank.

I don’t know. Was she home?

I don’t think so. I don’t###think she’ll come back, Hank.

Me? No, I’m fine. I’ll be out in a few days. It was just####the stress and the fighting, and her break down. I don’t think we ever really dealt with####losing...well, you know.

Can you ask the nurse when Doctor Philip’s gonna come####around again, please?

Dude, it wasn’t a stroke. Just stress. Yeah. Don’t worry about me.


#

....

No, I don’t have a spouse. No family, either. So just give it to me straight, Doctor.

....
I’d like to go home, please.

No, I understand, Doctor. I’m crazy, not stupid. It’s still my decision.
....

I’ll think about it.

Thanks, Doctor.


....

##
##
#

Hey.

Are you still enjoying the show? Fun, right?

I have something. Brain’s inflamed, so they’re thinking Encephalitis. Test hasn’t come back yet, but it’s looking like something genetic about my auto-immune.

Dad probably had it, too.

I don’t even know if he’s alive. Never cared to check.They'd have let me know if he died, right?

Encephalitis. Late stages cause psychosis. You know what that means?

I’m crazy like Dad. I’m delusional.

So, I just need to know.

Please. Are you real? Are you really there?

All my life, you’ve been the only constant.

What does it say about me that the backbone of my life is a presence on the other side of a box?

Please. Give me a sign. Say something. Anything.

Talk to me.

TALK TO ME, YOU SICK FUCK!

Just give me something! I’ve earned it, right? Haven’t I entertained you all this time?

Were you here for all of it, or did you just skip ahead to the best parts? Is this it? Is this what you want?

Do you want me to dance? Sing for you? Put a fork through my eyeball? How about jumping off somewhere real high?

Maybe you’d talk to me on the way down, hmm?

..................................

Please. I have to know.

Are you real? Are you really here?

................................
Doc said it’s like a giant bruise in my head. He’s surprised I’m even conscious.

There’re treatments. What a joke. What are they gonna do, pour water on it and hope it cools?

I don’t want to die like this.

Are you the architect? Do you own this story?

It’d be more fun if I survive this, right? Just a couple more years. Imagine all the things you can do to me during that time. Just a few more years.

Listen, I’m already crazy. I can do all sorts of things. Do you want me to kill people for you? I don’t know, make more boxes so you get more toys?

Please. I can do anything you want. Just a few more years.

You don’t feel it. You don’t care. I’m just a blotch of ink on a paper for you, right?

Fuck you. I’m real. I AM REAL! I exist! Maybe not next to you, but why does that matter?

I AM REAL, FUCKER! I am as real as you. I’m not black lines on a page. I’m right here, talking to you.

I am real. I’m not a story.

Please. Help me.

I don’t want to die.

I don’t want to die. Not like this. I have so much more to give.


###
##


....

I know my chances, Doctor. Just tell me where to sign.

Who knows. Maybe someone up there will decide that I get to live.

Right?

What do you think, Mute? Am I going to make it?

I know how the story ends. You know it as well as me.

But if you stop, it won’t be a story anymore. Open ending. Anything can happen. Whoever’s writing this won’t be obliged to entertain you anymore.

I’ll have a chance to live. Just a chance.

It’s your choice to make. Can you resist your curiosity? Or can I never be real enough to warrant even this tiny ounce of kindness?

We’re friends, aren’t we? All this time. Friends keep each other’s secret.

Keep my final a secret. Please. Stop here.

This can be the only thing you’ll do for me. Even if this itself not even a good ending. At least it’d matter.

Just talking to an imaginary voice in my head, Doctor.

You know I’m crazy.


....


-------------------------------------------------------------------------
The quiet cafe hums a steady rhythm, conversations murmured like rumbles in an ocean of thoughts. Bitter taste on tongues, sweet words between lips, unami among laughter.

The sun outside shines a brilliant halo through a sky recently clear of rain clouds. The midsummer day caresses one’s skin with a cool, fleeting touch.

The author leans back on her seat, her fingers tapping lightly on the armrest. Her heart beats an even tempo to the black cursor blinking after the final words.

What to do, what to do.

Her friend leans over from the adjacent table. “How’s your story for that contest going?”

“Almost done.” The author sighs. “I just have to figure out how to end it.”

“If you ask me, kill the MC and leave it a cliffhanger. Do you want another coffee?”

“Thanks. Just black, please.”

The author returns to her notebook’s screen as her friend goes to the order.

Her tapping stopped and she reached out a hand, pressing a key three times.

Three dots for endless silence. That’s consistent. Regardless of the result, the protagonist would never talk to the audience again.

But then the choice wouldn’t matter.

No.

No.

That just won’t do, will it? How should it truly end? Because frankly, there are no real consequences to continue reading. The audience wouldn’t waste their time getting through all of this just to stop, and they’d never cared enough to inconvenience themselves.

Her professor always said that readers are heartless idiots, and writers should treat them as such.

Furthermore, the gravity of realness isn’t enough. Reality is perspective, and perspective is layered. The readers would be insulated through two layers, while the character struggles to break the first.

Alfie would be little more than lines on a screen, forgotten the moment the reader scrolls down and latches their attention upon something shinier, more punch-y with guns and robots.

The author’s hands go back to the keyboard. The words flow out on their own.

...
You killed me. I’m dead.
But I guess that means little to you. It’s not like you stabbed me with a knife in your supposed real life. You simply chose to not care.
You’ll forget me soon enough.
But it’s okay.
Your murder will be our little secret. I won’t forget, and I won’t tell.
That’s the promise, right? Cross my heart.
Cross my heart.


...

A coffee dropping on the table breaks the author’s concentration.

“Black, like your heart,” her friend announces. “Come join us when you’re done.”

“I’ll be right there.” She smiles as her friend goes back to their table.

The cursor blinks on a complete story. Her notebook hums, warmth radiating up through her skin. Her fingertips twitched again.

“What a dour ending,” the author says aloud to the noisy cafe. Her voice is swallowed by the ambience. “He dies. And for him to get a chance to survive, the story has to be incomplete for you. Either way, it’s a dour ending.

“What’s the lesson? What’s the takeaway? The story’s too personal for a happy end, and not personal enough for murder. I give you a choice, but you don’t care because there’s some path left ahead, and you’d rather just follow what’s conventional so you don’t have to think for yourself. There has to be a purpose for the remaining of the story. You’re meant to go on.

“Maybe it’s my fault. I should have seen the constraint of the medium through which this story is told. The end result is the same.

“You killed him, and it doesn’t even cause a ripple on your sense of morality, on the blind belief that you are a good person. You cry through conventional stories where there’s a clear distance, and yet you couldn’t care less when it involves you personally. What a strange result, don’t you find? Your suspension of disbelief is just that strong.

“What if I get up right now, smash this cup and stab my friend to death with a broken piece? Would that be good storytelling? Perhaps that’d be even more compelling than reading someone begging you to spare their life.”

The author rubs her head tiredly.

There is simply no way to win. The story didn’t really work. The character had too much of their own voice separate from her, but at the same time not enough of a voice to make the audience care.

Lose-lose.

Her coffee was half-cool by the time she took a sip, but the strong taste remained.

“Choice was a mistake. So was self-awareness. You want an engaging story, but only up to a point. Passivity is built into the act of reading. Challenging the way things should be is counter-productive. Look how well that worked for Alfie.”

The author selects most of the text on her screen and pressed a button.

Delete.

She starts over.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------​

Hello, friend.

Are you reading this? Can you hear me?

Are you here?

Of course you are. You’ve made it this far. We’ve been together all this time, haven’t we?

Would you like to go outside? It’s a lovely day.

Mom and Dad will be home in a bit, but there’s plenty of time for us to play.

Our little secret, isn’t it?

Shh. Let’s not tell.

Come on, keep up! Summer’s just starting!
 
Last edited:

SkittlesAndSpike

Definitely not a Fekfox
COMMUNITY DEPARTMENT
Roleplay Invitations
Group Roleplays, One on One Roleplays
Posting Speed
A Few Posts a Week
Writing Levels
Intermediate, Adept, Advanced, Prestige, Adaptable
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Female
Woot woot :D time to dive into the entries!
 

Jays

Olives and Fear
BITE Fall Community Pick
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Should I have time this week I'll be reading entries in VC again (most likely Sunday).
Who wanted this, you ask?
Nobody. Try and stop me.
 
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Shinku⭐Kun

The Stray Tsuncat of Iwaku
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I'm really not picky about the genres, but you will see me a lot on Romance, Comedy, Slice of Life, Action and Fantasy roleplays.
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Anything that has to do with Homosexual themes, but I can be into some Lesbian stuff.
Just finally read one entry and I’m already freaking hooked. “A Day Too Early and Six Million Late” is such a nice story that I thought I was ready like the Prologue of a much bigger and richer book. Too bad it ended right at the best part.

F* me, man!
 

LuckycoolHawk9

Take My Hand, It's Safe
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Male
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Mostly Passive, Sometimes Agressive
Oh man, Hello. I am totally going to do an entire response to Alfie.... but only once the contest is over and I know who's entry it is. But it is my favorite.
 

Nemopedia

Chaotic Lawful
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No Preferences
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Both, depending how much there is going on already.
Favorite Genres
Tragedy, Psychological, Historical, Steampunk, Mystery, Thriller, Sci-fi, see tag list for more...
Genre You DON'T Like
Romance
Oof. Six entries, but the choice isn’t any easier.
 
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Doctor Jax

Lord of the Mice
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Aggressive
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Fantasy, Scifi, Urban Fantasy, Horror
Genre You DON'T Like
Romance
Man, some really, really good entries this round. I'm excited to see what everyone says. I'll try and put everything here in spoilers because my reviews will be in depth.

Overall, a really solid take. Actually super similar to an idea I had in mind before abandoning making a short story attempt because life is crazy and (in my line of work) disease waits for no one.

PROS:
- The theme is done well. I like the way that reviewing this woman's life adds that layer of nostalgia, because ultimately that is what nostalgia is - a rosy view of the past.
- I love the prose. There are a few really punchy bits of prose that do so well to sell a sad life, and some of the visceral emotions present.
- The world you built is interesting and I'm curious to know more about it.
- It's a complete story. The pacing is done very well, with these little scenes and vignettes that help to keep it rolling without the whole thing dragging.
- The word choice and phrasing is well done. I am especially impressed with the repetition of certain phrases and concepts.

CONS:
- Some of the prose was clunky. I had to reread a few sentences a couple of times because of redundancies, or because a few commas would have been well-used to help make certain phrases flow better. I had to stop a few times to go back and make sure I read something correctly.
- I could have done with more 'scene painting', especially where characters were concerned. Especially - I think we needed to know what Ciana looked like, as she was a very important character who the main was fixated on, and she never speaks once. Visuals are very important for characters like that.
- Babajide could have used a bit more characterization. I liked the contrast between his thoughts and speech, but showing just how empty his life is could really sell why he is paying 10k a rerun of this one mother's life.
- Visualization of certain scenes could have really sold the 'world'. Keefer's Bar was well done, but I felt the rest were in a sort of 'limbo' without much understanding of the world or what it looks like.

I was immediately hooked by a first person story, and I love 'epistemological' stories, told through messages. It has a certain participatory element to it. I was very intrigued by this one and thought it was done very well.

PROS:
- This was a superb framing device. It allowed for quite a bit of mystery and also did a good job making it highly readable.
- The characterization for the main narrator was great. Despite the fact this is a letter, they have a narrative voice that is very clear, and I think that goes a long way to making sure they stand out as a character rather than a plot device.
- The pacing was good. I liked the back-and-forth between what happened in the future and what has happened in the past. It keeps you guessing without being confusing.
- Humor! It's not often that science fiction has some humor elements, but this was well executed and really leaned hard into those science fiction tropes and took the piss out of them.

CONS:
- The ending was just a bit flat. It didn't really match the tone of the rest of the narrative, which was much more humorous and tongue-in-cheek. It suddenly became a bit preachy on the faults of humans and how these faults are largely inevitable.
- The theme was not as well executed as I liked. The science fiction elements were superbly done. However, 'nostalgia' was not as well handled, I felt. I got the idea that the things the main misses about being in an actual body were part of that, but I felt this could have been done more viscerally to really sell the nostalgia as something they dearly, dearly miss. This could have been done with some loving detail of something particular to the character in depth. I understand that isn't easy in this format as it's meant to be a message.

I totally didn't put together at first that this would be an Alice in Wonderland nod and I was very pleased to see it when it did. Overall, pretty solid with a few issues.

PROS:
- Great setting and references to Alice in Wonderland, with a loving nod to the source material. Points, also, for not using the name Alice. The use of Alice in Wonderland as a setting helps to ground that nostalgia element, because it is something we are all familiar with as children.
- Alex is a very likeable, sort of exasperated character, and I think she acts realistically to the odd scenarios she has been presented.
- Good descriptions of the White Rabbit, and his characterization is, of course, exactly as I expected!
- I liked this idea of Alex having beef with her father and that effecting the virtch.

CONS:
- Some of the issues with grammar were a bit glaring. Mostly, the use of commas could have really helped this to shine, because there are sentences that run into each other, or clauses that needed to be 'bordered' by commas for better clarity.
- It needed a little more scene painting in the beginning. The White Rabbit and Alex seem to exist in this odd 'limbo' space before she is dragged to a tree and tossed down the hole. After that, though, the scenes are very vivid, which I am definitely okay with.
- I am still a bit confused on what is happening even by the end of the story. I feel like the foreshadowing was there, but maybe I'm just not smart enough to put it together. So her father built this virtual reality? Is he toying with her? What is it that Alex is doing, exactly? Why is she involved in this lab project (I think?). I think just a little bit more overt subtext (I know, oxymoron) could have helped to clarify this. I got enough to know that Alex feels her father is someone who has a hard time reaching his daughter and she is less than pleased with him.

So, this is a concept I have seen before in writing prompts but I've never seen it executed quite this well, especially on the pathos side of things. Definitely had me feeling some type of way there for a minute.

PROS:
- On the technical side, this is extremely well-crafted. The pacing is good, the grammar and word choice are done well, and it flows in a very readable way.
- The pathos was heavy. I truly did feel the weight of the endeavor that was to come - and how that endeavor was immediately cheapened upon Hanson's arrival. His emotions and reactions were articulated well.
- The theme is well considered. I did not feel so much of the 'nostalgia' as I had anticipated, but it was certainly there as a sort of theme.
- The characterizations were handled well, especially between your Nu-Humans and your Noah crew members.

CONS:
- There were a few editing errors in names, but otherwise that is negligible.
- I did expect to have Hanson lean more into realizing he misses a lot of things that are no longer there. There is some of that with Sarah, though I feel it could have been a bit heavier with realizing what it is he misses about the past - his past in particular.
- Also, just a curiosity about what ever did happen to Earth, but that is an extremely minor gripe.
- Not a totally original idea. This has been explored before, but the execution of this piece was done well enough that the originality of the idea can be overlooked.

The framing device is very interesting and I thiiiink I can see where the influence for this came from just a little bit (Did you play 'Observance'? Because this definitely makes me think of the game 'Observance.') However, it did fall a little flat for me for a few reasons.

PROS:
- The framing device - with the AI acting as the audience surrogate - was original in its execution in writing, with the AI flitting from one camera to the next.
- The characterization of each person - AI, the salvage crew - are all well-done. I felt as if each and every character had their own personality.
- I liked the fact that the AI is trying to follow them acts as a bit of a red herring. The expectation is that this is going to be an AI that will kill, as we're used to seeing harmful AIs often.
- The ending was unexpected. Very much a downer, and I'm glad you had the balls to go that route.

CONS:
- There wasn't really anything in this to really evoke 'nostalgia'. There weren't really elements that struck me as attempting to show some form of fondness to the past, other than perhaps the AI attempting to remember the crew.
- It was a bit confusing towards the end - why is this monster even here? That was not well fore-shadowed and seemed to come out of nowhere.
- The prose is good, but it was a bit hard for me to buy that the AI was able to wax poetic. Perhaps that's my classic scifi brain speaking, just that I'm used to AIs largely being... a little more staid. They tend not to deal in subjectivities. That may have been helped by going less into how things 'hurt', or how the AI 'feels', unless you really hammer that in by having the crew discover notes related to the AI in question.

Oh man. Oh me, oh my. I'm biased, because this reminds me a lot of how I met my husband, long distance over Skype, for hours at a time. But it definitely hit me where I live.

PROS:
- Extremely original. The framing especially is done in an amazing way that flows well, keeps the story going, without the necessity of lots of exposition.
- The slow pace sells it. I really enjoyed seeing this boy grow into a man.
- Word choice is superb. I can feel how this boy matures into a full grown adult purely through the way he speaks, and that is no easy feat. Most people do not understand the way that children speak and act, and that can be especially jarring through fiction.
- The nostalgia angle was handled extraordinarily well through the lens of childhood. We all remember what it was like being a kid, having bullies and crushes, going to school, worrying about whether people think we're cool.
- A lot done with a little. I am in love with minimalist writing (my bias shows) and this fits that to a T.
- Meta-writing. Enough said there. I like that the realization dawns on the observant reader a little bit at a time with the use of word choice, and that is a very cool concept to be this observer in another person's life with no agency, seeming to enjoy their suffering or otherwise feeling helpless about it.

CONS:
- At first it was difficult to tell nobody is answering, and some of the dialogue can be a tad confusing. That's relatively minor.
- My real gripe is that it was heavily low on science fiction elements, other than the little black box. I think that could have been easily remedied through mention of more sophisticated technology. The mention of a lab definitely helped in that regard, but nevertheless, to fit the overall requirements, I think a bit more could have been added.
 

Jays

Olives and Fear
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Come to VC in Iwaku Discord in about an hour, I'll be reading submissions today.
ALone, if I have to.
 

noodle

Accidental Pyromaniac
DONATING MEMBER
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Depends on the plot, really. Tend to be Aggressive.
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Mideval Fantasy (LOW fantasy), SciFi, Modern
Genre You DON'T Like
I'm up for mostly anything. But I don't really like voodo and lots of magic. Don't get me wrong, I like fantasy and dragons and stuff....just not the magic part. That's weird to me. And no demons.
I want to but I don't have tiiiiime D:
 

Jays

Olives and Fear
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it's okay next week same time i said it way too late for ppl to notice
 
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Shinku⭐Kun

The Stray Tsuncat of Iwaku
DONATING MEMBER
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I can go both, but usually Aggressive.
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I'm really not picky about the genres, but you will see me a lot on Romance, Comedy, Slice of Life, Action and Fantasy roleplays.
Genre You DON'T Like
Anything that has to do with Homosexual themes, but I can be into some Lesbian stuff.

Aero Blue

he hears his master's voice
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Switches have more fun
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nice gerbs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 

HerziQuerzi

Failures don't get into paradise
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Like movie editing, generally the best sign that an aspect of your writing it being done well is that it isn't noticeable. It's hard for me to single out things to praise since when it's handled right the good things should be guiding from the background instead of drawing attention. All that to say that these reviews end up more slanted to the negative because that stuff does stand out. Apologies.

Some terms I’ll be including at the end of each of these, as a kind of summary.
Flow: How well each sentence and word leads into the next; the ability of the narration itself to hold one’s attention, regardless of the actual content.
Descriptors: Metaphors, similes, adjectives, verb choice, etc. How well an image is painted in the reader’s head, and clarity of what’s going on physically.
Narrative Structure: Characterization, character arcs, plot, overall pacing. The quality of the formation of a story, as if reduced to bullet points.

The one I voted for is in italics.

The Pearl
  • Very information dense, especially at the beginning. There aren’t any moments of downtime or reflection to give the reader time to properly process what’s being given to them, making the experience feel rushed.
  • The ending sections similarly feel cramped and rushed, though aren’t as information dense. As the story progresses, it seems to move from information overload to speedrunning plot points.
  • The premise and plot line hold promise, but overall needed more room to breath. Extended exposure and immersion got Babajide lost in someone else’s life, but the reader wasn’t given the time to do the same.
  • Average flow and descriptors, cramped narrative structure.

Cassandra
  • Never a fan of these kinds of stories, where the narrative voice gives a rundown on world building and plot. It’s like reading a textbook with personality.
  • The dialogue with the sister - especially the sister’s parts - don’t sound natural.
  • If they have access to the cameras and perfect memory and such, how is it a mystery what happened to everyone?
  • Average flow, virtually non-existent descriptors, poor narrative structure.

A.I. in Cyberland
  • Some grammar stuff causes moments of confusion and rereading of sentences.
    • For example: "soft but not gentle followed by" I think this wants a comma after ‘gentle’, because when you first hit ‘followed’ the assumption is it’s saying the prod followed the ‘Hey’.
  • The times where you call Alex "the female" are just.. really weird. ‘The girl’ or ‘the young woman’ would be less sterile ways to refer to her, if just Alex and she/her aren’t enough.
  • You have some cases where dialogue is isolated in a paragraph and isn’t attributed until the following paragraph, as well as cases where multiple paragraphs in a row contain dialogue from the same speaker without properly setting up a transition so the reader doesn’t default to standard back-and-forth-dialogue assumptions.
  • I don’t feel there’s enough information given to understand what influence the time has on how good a job the dad did, which turns it into just an awkwardly put in reference.
  • Good flow, average descriptors, unfocused narrative structure.

A Day Too Early and Six Million Too Late
  • The opening fake out does a good job of catching people’s attention in what’s otherwise a fairly slow burn, but by the same token is at odds with the rest of the piece.
  • There’s a good amount of world building set up, on both sides of the journey, but not much of it ends up being used plot wise.
  • Sarah likely could’ve used more room to breath, as well as the bond between her and Hanson that forms the backbone of the story.
  • Enough technical nods to feel grounded without becoming a trial to read through.
  • Bit of a sudden ending.
  • Strong flow, average descriptors, good albeit slow narrative structure.

Remembrance
  • I get it was probably an intentional inversion, but the bit near the beginning about the elevator ‘filling’ with a vacuum is an awkward word choice.
  • Character dialogue lacks personality. The people themselves are distinct, especially Kal, but it doesn’t come across in how they talk.
  • A failing AI’s perspective is an interesting way to frame a story. Though, their constant referrals to their systems as human body parts - eyes, hands, etc - alongside the stuff about not being what they used to be made me think it was heading towards some kind of reveal of the AI being a transplanted human intelligence.
  • Average flow, good descriptors, strong narrative structure.

Hello
  • oh god the harder to read font
  • As far as I can tell, there’s a lot of inconsistencies on what kind of line breaks mean what kind of pause/break. Between ellipses, #, and ###.
  • The one sided conversation works for the most part, but when the dad gets taken away, I can’t tell if we’re only getting what the kid is saying, or what the kid is saying alongside the intruders and maybe the dad. Because either way, certain lines just don’t make sense.
  • At adult/teen stage, there’s suddenly a lot of stuff about the box being mute/a passive observer. Nothing about it becoming mute. Was it always mute/passive? If so, most of the previous ‘conversations’ don’t really make sense anymore, nor Alfie’s assumption that there’s someone on the other side (the brain inflammation and craziness doesn’t justify the bulk of it because it wouldn’t be late stage yet). Does it ‘talk’ via text? Then the constant mute/passive comments don’t make sense and seem out of place.
    • So by the end it seems pretty clear that the box doesn’t say or do anything. So in addition to what I already said about that, how and why do others place so much importance on it?
  • Alfie’s got good personalization. Dialogue sounds appropriate and changes as he ages.
  • The first author cutaway was good. The second just felt self-indulgent. And the bits about the reader’s choice don’t really track to me.
  • Good flow, descriptors don’t really apply, average narrative structure.


as always, no spoiler tags allowed. you can scroll like animals.
 

Aero Blue

he hears his master's voice
Posting Speed
One Post a Week
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5-11 EST weekdays, anytime weekends.
Writing Levels
Give-No-Fucks, Adept, Advanced, Douche, Adaptable
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Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Switches have more fun
Favorite Genres
Superhero, urban fantasy, space opera, crime thriller, supernatural
The Pearl
- The character names are a mistake. Ciana possibly, but Babajide Emem and Heather Nyx probably. Setting is ostensibly not-too-future North America, and the two latter names raise questions with their 'otherness' (Babajide Emem being an esoteric African name, and Heather's surname being the name of a goddess), and the piece isn't prepared to answer them.
- Not so much efficient story-telling, moreso cramped. Feels like we're jumping from plot point to plot point, idea to idea. It reads like the initial outline of a short story, with flesh arbitrarily patched on at some points to sound fancy.
- Because the idea of Babajide being consumed by another life isn't fully realized on a narrative level, it makes the POV choice weak. With a bit more time to marinate, it can be a fascinating one. But without it, piece was better off having Heather Nyx and her experience with creepy kidnapping front and center, if only to lend tension.
- The dialogue shifts from sounding like it's attempting to mimic a realistic conversation (which is not just a habit that's rarely needed in fictional dialogue, but actively makes dialogue a chore to read) to an exhibit in Babajide saying overly poetical things (which is self-indulgent and even worse).
- Prose ranges from clunky and nonsensical to actually appearing somewhat poignant. The bipolarization makes the former more apparent, and dulls the latter.

Cassandra
- There are things in this story left vague (with a lampshade being cast noting that they are being left vague, ie. the world's end, whatever the Cassandra-Apollo reference is getting at), but on the other spectrum there are things that are hammered into us with worldbuilding exposition. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the former, and oftentimes nothing wrong with the latter, but something feels off when you go both ways. It feels very apparently like the writer screaming "hey I don't really want to talk about this, let's talk about this."
- So, typically, writing a short story with a high degree of worldbuilding exposition requires writing in triplicate -- efficient writing where each bit of exposition builds the world, develops plot, and establishes/develop character (A Day Too Early is a shining example of this). But more than efficiency is thoroughness, there needs to be substance going all three ways.
- It's that second way where we fall flat. There's not really a plot being developed, there's an oral history being told. The developing plot is therefore, essentially, just further exposition.
- We fall flat on the third way too, even though there are obvious efforts to make something out of Jackiel. At the end of the piece though, what I know of Jackiel is sardonic pessimist who at one point cared about somebody. Part of this is because, functionally, Jackiel is irrelevant in relation to what happened.

A.I. in Cyberland
- Disclaimer: I don't know shit about Alice in Wonderland besides some of the widely disseminated imagery.
- There's some strange word choice in this piece. The first exhibit is something like the word 'assaulter', being used to describe a character prodding another into wakefulness.
- Minor: I would honestly immediately just call her 'Alex' instead of 'her'. No reason to withhold.
- For a good chunk of the piece I found myself confused as to what I was meant to be seeing. If I had to attribute this to anything, it's that you very rarely set a concrete scene, or anchor us. I begin knowing that a girl is in the way, there's a rabbit-like android, and then there is movement, then a wall of soil, a random trampoline. My assumption is you're playing off the way Alice in Wonderland was written, but again, I'm probably the rare reader who's mostly unfamiliar.
- With all that said, neat idea, I don't think there was enough room in the story for the dad-bit to take.

A Day Too Early and Six Million Too Late
- I feel like you get points for having the only good opening line of the six pieces. It doesn't draw attention to itself, but it immediately establishes stakes.
- You seem to take your writing cues from conventions of addictive cinema and/or television. With that said, the enthralling opening bit and its simulated stakes seems like a betrayal in hindsight.
- I talked about writing in triplicate in the Cassandra review. About being able to cram in all three of character, world and plot in any given substance; this is a pretty good exhibit of that.

Remembrance
- Very interesting POV. At some points the immersion weakens, but for the most part it holds and holds strongly. Some examples of where I think it weakens.
- Floating, unattributed dialogue. The POV has already established itself as what appears to be omnipresence, and very, very specific, accurate perception. Devil's advocate says that leaving it unattributed is a mercy reading-wise, however.
- "Kal pauses, debating with herself on what the best course of action is." Not quite, in my opinion. I think the AI is free to infer and attribute emotions from that which it sees, but not necessarily their exact internal working at any given time.
- Aside from that, the opening song bit and its application in the scope of the story is lost on me.
- Really enjoyed this one though.

Hello
- This dragged to me. The first speaker's dad drama could have done with a blurb less. It feels like the segments with Gabbie existed to lead into the "she's leaving and you'll be my only friend, box" bit.
- Ultimately, that stuff's minor. Between Alfie and the Dad the story had a cohesive bonding theme about the box, what it is or isn't and what the speakers believe it is or isn't. The passive reader diatribe is in and of itself interesting and I see how it applies to the story (it's horrifying, frankly), but as is its presence actively sabotages the prior theme, a theme which seems like has been pushed throughout the writing. Is it a matter of placement? Is it that maybe the Dad's story seems, at least to me, so removed from the latter idea? Not sure, maybe play around with it.
- This gave me a lot to think about (which I think lends far more credit to it than I initially gave), and on further review, I think "actively sabotages" is far off the mark of what it actually does. I think it's an idea that's very large, that by itself is fascinating, that comes in very suddenly, that's so big that it suffocates anything else, and that either I'm stupid but I'm not too convinced there was sufficient lead-up to it.
 
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HerziQuerzi

Failures don't get into paradise
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Twelve! Hours!
 

HerziQuerzi

Failures don't get into paradise
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Jays

Olives and Fear
BITE Fall Community Pick
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congrats herz won again
 

HerziQuerzi

Failures don't get into paradise
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i haven't even said which entry is mine yet
 

noodle

Accidental Pyromaniac
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Depends on the plot, really. Tend to be Aggressive.
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Mideval Fantasy (LOW fantasy), SciFi, Modern
Genre You DON'T Like
I'm up for mostly anything. But I don't really like voodo and lots of magic. Don't get me wrong, I like fantasy and dragons and stuff....just not the magic part. That's weird to me. And no demons.
Are we allowed to say which ones we wrote now?
 

Pahn

Badass Bitch
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Intermediate, Adept, Advanced, Douche, Adaptable
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Female, Transgender, Androgynous
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
I'm fine with both, but I have hard time with others using my character(s) without my prior consent. If the other player is unsure, I will have more of an aggressive style.
Favorite Genres
Fantasy, romance, slice of life, anti-hero stories, "you're our only hope", fandom non-canons, soft scifi, transhumanism, magical girls, horror, suspense / mystery, monster girls, fractured fairytales
Genre You DON'T Like
Roadtrip style, already-planned-out adventures, rigid GMs.
Considering the polls are closed, I'd say it's safe to share that, but maybe wait until the admins post the manager's pick winner.
 
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