Writing Contest - Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia - WINNER!

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Writing Contest - Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia - WINNER!

Postby Kate » Mon Nov 13, 2017 11:51 pm

Hello everyone!

Please discuss the contest entries here! When the contest is over, the entries will be moved here and should show up above the discussion. Remember, constructive criticism is good, but please keep it constructive and kind. A big thank you to everyone who participated and helped to make this a wonderful event!

And we have a winner! The Vault, by IamNotCreepy, with 12 votes!

IamNotCreepy wrote:I came up with the idea for this story 10 years ago when I realized how much of the things I learned in school I had already forgotten. I just needed some proper motivation to actually write it.


The vote totals were as follows:

The Vault by IamNotCreepy - 12
Deep Breaths by KleinerKiller - 9
The Trader by sunglasses - 9
Red Paper by FaceTheCitizen - 8
Juicebox by CarrieVS - 5
The Center Circle by JamishT - 5
Special by octoberpumpkin - 2

Y'all did a fantastic job, this was a great turnout and a great group of stories! Thank you so much for participating! Everyone please go ahead and thumb with abandon in this thread!
  • 14

JT's Art Thread - JamesT's awesome stuff.
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Title: Sheepwoman

Deep Breaths

Postby KleinerKiller » Mon Nov 13, 2017 11:54 pm

Two more people died on the street today. Two that I could see, at least.

They died fighting each other, fists bloody, skin bruised all over, shards of teeth glimmering as they were swept up. When I passed by the site afterward, no one could say what set them off. Few ever can, after the fact. Money, love, old grudges left to fester – all those quaint causes for violence died with the other ninety-eight percent. A lot of the time, the combatants barely know each other. But the fights break out nonetheless.

And when you get in a fight, you become either agitated or fearful. You put up defenses, swing for your own attacks, try to tackle and roll and tear at your opponent’s face. Inevitably, invariably, you try to kill, because there is never a reason not to, hasn’t been since the last world. And you try, however pointlessly, to survive. Your heart rate quickens, which leads to a quicker blood flow. You sweat. You taste copper. Your eyes redden. Your breathing… hastens.

And when that happens, you’re only fighting for the privilege of the last few seconds.

Within two minutes, I watched my local unit surround the pair, standing out only by the silvery gleam of their personal oxygen tanks and a few corners of armor catching the crystals’ light. The screaming started and stopped, as it always does, but still I saw one try to bring a whitening fist down on the other as the breath was stolen from him. It was over quickly, too quickly. We have it down to a science.

And I watched two bodies, now shrunken and bloodless and crinkled like worn foil, be swept off the street and taken to the pumps for recycling. And with the path clear, I began to walk to work.

I can still remember when the last world ended and the next began. So many of us expected a bang, a war, a great immolation or pandemic or unstoppable rot. When it was found that the oxygen was simply disappearing, drifting away from the shrinking atmosphere as if it were the most natural thing in the world for those molecules to do, few believed it. The idea that we could no longer be safe in our bubble, that the plants we relied on to turn carbon dioxide into the breath of life had abruptly ceased to do so, that the end of the human millennia would come with a silent suffocation… Not many took it well.

Most laughed it off. Those who believed began to point fingers in the same old debates, blaming this side or that, coming up with crackpot theories as to reversing the process no one could even pin down the start of. Only a relative few worked toward our survival. As the lucky man who happened to be 2076’s U.S. Speaker of House, I was one of those few.

We oversaw the swift construction of new technologies, new ways to pressurize an environment and conserve oxygen that had apparently lost its ability to be recycled en masse even by our most advanced means. The monetary cost was incalculable, the resource cost even more so. The most fiscally irresponsible government since the fall of the Kims, we were called. The public burned us in effigy.

And then that public started coughing and choking and forcing their breaths, and all of a sudden the protests quieted.

By the time the project was finished, only two percent of humanity had made it into the new world: Extant, a vast domed city with as much spare oxygen as the world’s collapsing governments could supply. We watched, hundreds of millions strong, as the hands of the atmosphere finally collapsed the Earth’s throat. As horribly slow as it was, it was over almost too quickly. Ninety-eight percent of humanity died in two minutes. You can only hold your breath for so long.

The laws of Extant, we thought, were the fairest alternative to death. Oxygen is a commodity, and its use is monitored. A counter connected to each resident’s respiratory system marks the total amount of breath they can still take until they sleep, taking into account the breathing patterns of the mandated sleep cycle. Exceed the limit and defy the warnings, and a signal is sent to your local law enforcement unit. If you’re going to be a hindrance to humanity’s survival in life, then the oxygen in your body must be a boon to humanity’s survival in death, and your remains will join the rest as organic pumps meant to strain what little oxygen out of carbon dioxide we possibly can.

The citizens, to their credit, learned to adjust quickly. Successfully controlling breaths to avoid hitting the limit became the one and only dominating focus. Anything that required more respiration fell swiftly out of favor. Most forms of entertainment and sports vanished, exercise grew increasingly rare, and sex is almost unheard of these days. The last natural births took place within the first few months; the people of Extant – my wife and newborn son, for example – quickly processed that natural birth leads to a lot of heavy breathing that quickly surpasses the limit, and a natural child’s gasps and screams must not be exempt for the sake of the greater good.

The next generation is emerging from test tubes and vats, sperm and ovum and stem cells all gathered from recycled violators, the resultant youths pale and silent and slow-breathing. We still call them human.

Nothing is wasted. There are no electronics in Extant other than the absolute necessities in the monitoring devices and receivers, because we could never create a circuit perfectly impervious to a potential spark, and any spark is a potential flame – the enemy of oxygen conservation. For the same reason, we have no firearms, no chemical-reaction-based devices, no natural or artificial light sources aside from the luminescent crystals. Anything that turns pure air to smoke is grounds for immediate execution and recycling, leaving most of the populace, myself included, with only knives for whatever self-defense is necessary. There is nothing here but pumps, pipes, and methodical work. The only goal is survival and longevity. Until the day you decide to throw a punch, each second of existence is its own objective.

I work in Extant’s command spire, where central governing takes place and the pumps strenuously creating new oxygen at a few molecules per minute are controlled and maintained. At least, I did work here, before I walked to work, stabbed the Prime Councilman in the skull half a dozen times, and turned the pump control room into a sealed vacuum without alerting the workers inside. Six minutes ago, though, I was a member of the ruling Council, tasked with overseeing the law enforcement units throughout Extant and creating new policies to make them more efficient at catching and recycling. I was exempt from some laws, but not many. Even the Prime Councilman, whoever is chosen as such monthly to take complete command of Extant’s functions, cannot be completely exempt. The Council’s sole purpose is to ensure that the human species continues to exist for one more day, and up until this point, it has been successful in this regard.

And then today, after my street was swept free of shriveled bodies, I walked to the command spire, entered the current Prime Councilman’s office, and stabbed him six times in the head and neck before recycling all oxygen from the pump room ahead of schedule. I was hoping it would be harder to do, either physically or psychologically, but it’s been a pretty casual process so far.

All that’s left is to open up all of the city’s pressure and recycling overrides, cycle the oxygen back into the pump room, head down there, and do what needs to be done. By the count I was running since this morning, it should take about four minutes for the rest of the Council to know where I am. It should take less than that for the air to realize there’s a gaping hole in this godforsaken bubble and start rushing out.

We tried, at least. I really think we tried our best.

I input all of the necessary commands and start to make my way to the pump room. If I succeed, if I’m not struck down on the way so Extant continues on for however long it can, I hope that the Council realize what’s happening and why as their windpipes close up and their lungs spasm. I hope that every worker and every law enforcer in every building in every district realizes the same. I hope that whoever else is still fighting on the streets and waiting for the recyclers to come looks up to this spire and, in their last minutes, drops their fists and starts to suck in the sweet oxygen that our ancestors took for granted.

But I also know that I’m the eighth person on the Council to try this, and that the machines always get back up and running in the end. There are protocols for people like me, and every time someone subverts those protocols, it’s the job of the others to draft up more efficient ones. I helped with this task seven times before, each time having passed by the bent and drained corpse of a colleague who tried to sneak in or attack or destroy or sabotage or poison or otherwise fulfill the same goal. It hasn’t mattered. Extant was made just to keep existing. The Council is set up just to keep existing. Humanity evolved just to keep existing, no matter what.

So I’m not holding my breath.
  • 6

KK's Review Thread

KK's Descent Into Tartarus

KEEP FIGHTING FOR NET NEUTRALITY
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The Trader

Postby sunglasses » Mon Nov 13, 2017 11:55 pm

The war was over.

Long had the battles raged, the fires burned, and drones delivered mechanical death from the sky. That was long ago. How long? She was unsure. She had long since stopped measuring the passage of time beyond her immediate future. It all blended together.

She shuffled down the highway, her old chemistry goggles on her face. Helped to block all the ash and soot in this area. Some towns still burned. Just like Centralia. No one thought there might be coal under the towns around here.

Like anyone was thinking when they started the war. She chuckled grimly to herself. The laughter was muffled, as she had a cheap little dust mask on. Helped to breath, kept out the soot some. She had tried using respirators she found in an old hardware store, but it didn’t work for long. Wasn’t as comfortable, either.

A bright pink Disney princess fleece blanket (SPECIAL $5-PERFECT GIFT) that she had found in a Rite Aid was fashioned around her head as makeshift shemagh. Made her easy to spot for her regulars.

She pushed the cart in front of her. It was once a food cart. One that might have sold hot dogs back then. Might have been shiny once. Now it was soot covered. Except for two spots on the side that she kept wiped off. Spots that she had spray painted ‘TRADE."

In the wells that once held hot dogs, water, condiments, and buns now held various items she had found. Hygiene products, socks, blankets, seeds. Anything she had found, she added to the cart.

Her own pack was strapped to her back. Its thick straps cut into the bulky overcoat she wore. Bed roll, water tablets, water, pigeon jerky. Her pack items weren’t for trade. Everyone who had met her on the road knew this-or soon did. And it was a painful lesson to learn.

She squinted. There appeared to be more smoke ahead. Purposeful. Probably a campfire or fire place. She checked her map. This wasn’t on the route before. She pushed her cart slowly towards the source.

There was a shabby tent, next to a poorly tended campfire. A lanky, bearded man was heating up water (only half full of ash) in a tin can. He stood up as she approached.

He did not speak at first. Rather, he pointed a gun straight at her. Her speech about being a trader died in her throat as he barked questions.

“Well? Which one were you? Which side?! Are you one of the damn hard g’s? HUH HUH?! You bastards started all this. Just should have admitted it was soft g, but NOOO had to be firm about it,” he gestured with the gun as he ranted.

She realized it was rusty. Unlikely to still work. Looked like he hadn’t cleaned it in a while-if it was even his gun. Decision made.

She rushed him and nailed him right in the stomach with her shoulder. He tripped over his own feet and fell backwards. Arms wheelbarrowing as he tried to catch his balance. Never letting go of the gun. His head cracked on the ground.

She walked back to her cart and grabbed the crowbar and stood over him. Blood mixed with soot and dirt under his head. It squished under her boots. She knelt down next to him.

“It is stupid to continue drawing the line over the thing that killed so many of us. That started the war. But, if you must know before you die- hard G. I’ve always been hard G,” she whispered to him. Then she taught him a painful, and final lesson.

She rolled up the ratty tent. Took the rusted gun. His boots were worn-but someone might want them. Into the not shiny cart they went. Double checked her map. The Johnson cabin was a mile up the road or so. They always had dried meat to trade and would offer her a meal for any tales she had. But she’d keep this tale to herself.

She worked her tongue between her few remaining teeth. Why people still fought over the pronunciation of ‘gif’ she did not know.

She pushed her cart along the road.
  • 8

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Zevran wrote:Magic can kill. Knives can kill. Even small children launched at great speeds can kill.
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Title: The Speaker of Horrors.

Red Paper

Postby FaceTheCitizen » Mon Nov 13, 2017 11:56 pm

“Red!” Her grandmother cried. The elderly woman looked under the bed, in the closets, even under the rug, searching for the young princess. “Child, where are you? Your lessons are in an hour.”

Red stifled her giggles. The six year old heir to the throne hid on top of a dresser, a red blanket draped over her, using the infallible child logic of “if I can’t see them, they can’t see me.”

She waited until her grandmother left the room to jump down and open her window. She sang and several birds of various colors responded to her voice, flocking to her, joining in on the singing. Especially one cardinal named Scarlet, who landed on her shoulder.

Red turned to walk away, but stopped when her eyes fell on a forest a few miles away from the castle. A dark forest, home to a cruel and evil wolf that ate anyone that entered his domain.

She put that thought out of her mind. Time to play! Red skipped into the hallway, singing and dancing, the birds flying around her.

She stopped when she heard hushed voices. She reached the corner of the hallway and peeked around it.

It was her parents, the King and Queen, speaking to a man Red had never seen before. He was a strange man, his dark hair slicked back, wearing strange clothes she’s never seen before. A small, gray mouse rested on his shoulder.

Her father led the man to a room. Red waited until they went inside, then shooed the birds away, leaving only Scarlet on her shoulder.

“Keep an eye out,” Red whispered. The cardinal saluted with his wing.

Red pressed herself against the wall, ear against the door.

“I thought we had a deal, King of Mice,” her father said.

“We still do,” the man said. “But we may have to delay it.”

“Delay it?” her mother asked. Red didn’t miss the hint of relief in her mother’s voice.

“Yes. The situation is...troubling. It requires my immediate and undivided attention. In the meantime, you now have a lot more time on your hands.”

“Not that I’m ungrateful,” her father began, “but this trouble...is it this so-called White plague I keep hearing about?”

“It is.”

“I suspected as such. What is it?”

“It’s not a plague, for starters. It’s not a curse, either. I don’t know what it is, exactly, but it’s removing the color from this world.”

“Not just the color,” her mother spoke. “According to our neighboring kingdoms it turns anything it touches into paper.”

“Yes.”

“I’ve heard stories,” her father spoke. “People seeing their bodies turn to white paper, their limbs tearing apart. Not just people, either. Buildings, trees, animals. Do you know what is happening, Mouse King?”

It sounded accusatory.

A pause. One long enough that Red wondered if the conversation had ended.

The King of Mice spoke. “Sabotage. Or at least that’s what I suspect.”

“Sabotage,” her father repeated in disbelief.

“As powerful as I am, King Royce, I am no god. I require help, so I have countless assistants under me. There is a possibility one of my helpers is sabotaging me. Doing this to undo everything I worked hard to achieve.”

“Everything?” her mother asked. “Including...us?”

“I don’t know. The White hasn’t been spotted here. Regardless, be on your guard. Watch for signs of this White destruction in your kingdom. To make your lives easier, I took the liberty to ask the Wolf to cease hostilities and act as a scout and guard for your borders.I hope you tell your army to cease hunting it.”

“I will,” her father said. “It’s strange. Seeing this vile creature as an ally.”

“Trust me, it feels the same way about you.”

“And...this postponement of our deal. How long?”

“I don’t know. I hate to admit this, but I do not know how long this will take to fix. Best to treat everyday as if it’s the last, my king and queen, just in case. Teach your daughter to do good.”

“Princess!” Her grandmother whispered harshly.

Red and Scarlet jumped. The elderly woman grabbed her by the arm and dragged her away.

Scarlet was always a bad scout.

“How many times do I have to tell you? Do not spy on your parents during important meetings!”

“But grandma,” Red squirmed against her grandmother’s firm grip. “Who is that man?”

“Nobody you need to know, Princess. Now come. It’s time for your archery lesson.”




Everything was dead.

Red stepped through the village, doing her best to avoid eye contact with the villagers. So many people nowadays are desperate, others at the brink of madness, itching for any excuse spill blood, theirs or others. The town itself wasn’t in great shape either. Doors were broken or even completely ripped out of their hinges, roofs collapsed, and some of the buildings were nothing more than burned out husks. The trees were devoid of plant life, and many were dead and barren.

But the ruin and the despair wasn’t what frightened her. What did scare her were the missing colors.

The sky above her had patches of White splattered across the night sky. These same patches of white appeared on the ground, on trees, on houses, grass, and animals. Some of the people had the White on their bodies. It didn’t discriminate; children, the elderly, the pregnant, the sick, and the healthy all had it, on their arms, legs, backs, chests, and faces.

If the sun was up, you’d see the White on it as well, the color of the star muted.

It was as if the color of the world was draining. Even if the White wasn’t present, colors were muted. They weren’t as bright or as vibrant as before.

Nobody knew what it was. It wasn’t contagious, she knew that much. But there was no discernible pattern to whom or what received this strange phenomenon. Many scholars and sorcerers gave their theories on what it was. A curse. A divine plague. A disease. But whatever it was, it was destroying the world.

And there was no way to stop it.

Red touched a white spot on a tree. As expected, it felt like paper.

It was paper. Soon, the White that replaced this tree’s bark will shred, tearing the tree apart. The same went for the people with the White. Sooner or later, whether by accident or because the weight of their body parts, the paper that replaced their skin and bones will tear, separating whatever body part altered by the affliction.

It would be very painful. Sometimes fatal.

This exact scenario was repeated everywhere else. This world, once beautiful and vast and scary and sacred was a shadow of a shadow of its former self.

Just like Red. She wasn’t a child anymore, but a woman. Gone were the fine dresses and expensive jewelry. Now she looked like a hunter, with her boots, her leather pants, a quiver of deadly arrows and her bow. Her chestnut brown hair, once silky and beautiful, was cut short in a utilitarian way. Her green eyes had lost their youthful energy and innocent spirit, replaced by rage and fatigue.

Her blood red hood and cloak was incongruent with the pragmatic clothes she wore, and it was something that stood out in this land of ash and paper and death, but she didn’t care. Maybe she wanted to be found.

She didn’t care much anymore.

The Wolf behind her snorted.

“Relax,” she told him. The giant Wolf stood behind her, fur as black as the night, or blacker than the night, thanks to the White infecting the sky, its eyes an eerie yellow. It was a little emaciated; food was harder to come by these days and the creature needed to eat a lot. “I’ll get you something to eat.”

Funny how things worked out. The beast used to be her enemy. Now it was one of her greatest allies.

She found a barn that was reasonably intact and snuck in. Dusty, dirty, but shelter nonetheless. Better than sleeping outside on the cold, hard ground, exposed to the elements and to any potential predator, both animal and human.

The Wolf slept on the hay and ate two rabbits Red gave him. She climbed up to the hayloft, hoping to sleep

A letter fell out of her bag as she dumped the bag and her weapons on the floor. She picked it up and sat on a stack of hay, taking great care to unfold it. She read it so many times the paper was on the verge of ripping it apart.

The letter was from her grandmother, written a few months before everything fell apart.

That was five years ago.

“Dearest Grandchild,

I understand you worry about me and wish for me to leave the kingdom, but I cannot. As Queen Regent, I must do all I can to preserve our lands. I know you resent the fact I sent you away to land untouched by the White, but I also know if you fell to this curse, then it would be disastrous. You are destined for better things and if you are gone, then all hope is truly lost.

I already lost my son. I cannot lose you. If I do, then I will be lost as well.

I understand your concerns. The White Destruction is spreading. The kingdom to the west has fallen. The Sultan of the desert lands died and his kingdom is not faring well either. Our food supply has been decimated by this curse, turned to inedible paper. My best soldier has it on his knees and arms and he can’t fight anymore, lest his limbs tear like paper. I fear the worst has yet to come.

As a result, so much conflict has begun. Bandits, criminals, cruel sorcerers to take advantage of the chaos.

Many say the world is ending. I hope they are wrong.

There’s no need to worry, my dear Red. I know things will work out soon. Please be patient. Please be safe. Please ally yourself with the Wolf. Prepare yourself to rule as Queen.

Just wait and everything will work out.

Be wary of mice.

With love,

Queen Regent Rosalina."


Red carefully folded the letter and placed it in her bag. She lay on the hay, using her red cloak as a blanket. She didn’t cry herself to sleep. She hasn’t shed tears in years.

She only thought of reaching the castle. Her home. Maybe, just maybe, her grandmother was still alive.

Maybe.




She reached her home the next day.

The castle grounds were empty. The White was here, too. On the walls, on the grass.

On the corpses.

Red didn’t stop to take it all in. She entered the castle, ignoring that feeling in her gut telling her what she didn’t want to hear. Ignoring the White on the castle walls.

She instructed the Wolf to stay near the ballroom. She ran up the stairs, ran towards her grandmother’s wing of the castle, coughing as dust disturbed by her running flew to her face.

She stopped before a closed door. Her grandmother’s room.

She took a deep breath and opened the door. She knew it was inevitable, but she still dared to hope.

Pointless, in the end.

A corpse lay on her grandmother’s bed, arms folded across her chest, clad in her grandmother’s favorite red dress. There was White on the remains and most of the corpse had degenerated into shreds of paper. On top of the corpse’s folded arms was the corpse of a cardinal. Half of it was nothing more but moldy paper.

The White was a cruel thing. It takes everything and gives nothing back. She knew this. She always knew this.

Yet she was angry she had nothing left to mourn.




Red took her time to walk down the stairs. She walked toward the Wolf and put her hands on its muzzle, petting it.

“You can have me,” she said. “Nourish yourself. Make it quick when you deliver the final blow. Please.”

The Wolf nodded.

“Just…” She took a second to collect herself. “Give me a minute. To say goodbye to this place.”

The Wolf nodded again.

Red walked away, heading towards the ballroom, dropping her red cloak to the ground, the impact stirring up enough dust to drown in. There was no White in the ballroom, oddly enough.

It at least gave her that.

She remembered the times she spent here. With her family, her friends.

It was as if the people burst forth from her memories, men in suits and women in ball gowns, dancing to the music of her kingdom’s best orchestra. Red no longer wore her dirty and worn-down clothes, but a red flowing dress, the hem of her skirt stopping a few inches from the ground, a black sash wrapped around her waist to accentuate her figure, her chestnut brown hair done in a beautiful bun, her golden crown resting on her head.

Male suitors vied for her attention: sons of nobles, each one handsome, each one looking to move up in the world. She danced with every single one, flirting innocently with them, as she was an innocent once upon a time. She left her potential suitors to dance with her grandmother, the two singing to the music, laughing, her grandmother giving her opinions on which noble was the most handsome, much to Red’s embarrassment.

She was having so much fun, she didn’t notice her father approaching her.

Her father, a red headed man, large and imposing, yet his face gentle, his body language relaxed. Red approached her father and the two of them danced, slowly, in the center of the ballroom, the eyes of every single person, noble and servant alike, watching them. Her mother, not far from them, clasped her hands in front of her, smiling.

In this, she was a young woman, still idealistic, the White destruction a distant threat, her parents still healthy, her grandmother still alive.

Then the memory ended and Red was alone in the empty ballroom, covered in grime and dust.

But she wasn’t alone.

The wolf was there, still and lifeless, and next to the wolf was the man she spied on speaking to her parents all those years ago, with his small, gray mouse sitting on his shoulder.

“King of Mice,” Red said.

“Hello Red,” the King said. “We need to talk.”

“Okay.” Red remained cautious of the man. “Let’s talk. Who are you?”

“I am the King of Mice. I’m your creator.”

“Excuse me? My father is-”

“This world, the people in it, you...you are creations. My creations.”

Red stomped toward him. “If you think this is a game, I-”

He waited until she was in arm’s reach and placed his hand on her head.

She was no longer in the castle. She was no longer in her world.

She was in the King’s head.

The King of Mice, wearing his gray business suit, stepped inside the room. Red sat on top of a table, naked, her lifeless eyes staring into space as men and women moved around her. One man in a painter’s smock painted her hair from a paper White to chestnut brown.

“Mr. Mick,” one of the men in a painter’s smock noticed him. “Do you need anything, sir?”

“How is Red doing?” Mr. Mick asked.

“Excellent, sir. We tested her movements and reflexes and she’s in excellent condition.”

Another artist spoke. “Tomorrow we will start her singing lessons.”

“Sir,” another one of his painters spoke up. But she wasn’t just any other painter. She was his student, his protege, a young woman with white and black hair. Vi. “If I may ask, why paint her hair brown? Why not red?”

Mr. Mick answered, “I feel that is too predictable. Besides, brown hair is more noticeable under her red hood.”

“Her nickname would make more sense if she had red hair, sir,” Vi said. Mr. Mick looked at her and found her body language to be tense. Rigid.

Spoiling for a fight.

“We’ll discuss it later. As for now: how’s the Wolf?”

Red gasped as the King released her, the visions fading. She fell to her knees, gagging, gasping for air.

“No,” she gasped.

“Yes,” the King of Mice said.

“It can’t be.” She cried for the first time in years. “It’s a trick.”

“It’s not.”

He was right. She hated to admit it, but he was right.

She’s nothing more than a forgery. This world, her life, her parents…

Lies.

“Why?”

“I come from a world that treasures narratives. I created stories to entertain people and I became a success, a legend. But I dreamed of bigger things. I wasn’t satisfied with making movies or television shows. I wanted something else. So I created worlds. Your world. All to tell a story. To manufacture happiness. To build an empire.”

“I’m...a character? For a story? All of the pain I suffered? The losses? The White? Manufactured?”

“That wasn’t planned. Your story was a retelling of a famous fable. This? This was the work of an angry student of mine.”

She figured out who it was. “That woman in the vision. Vi.”

“Yes. She and I...we had a falling out. She felt I was losing my original vision for this world. She called me a sell out. She wanted to take my company in a different direction. I refused and she decided to ruin everything I worked for. She started the process that led to the colors of this world to fade, to return this world and its inhabitants back to paper. She did this behind my back for years. By the time I figured out it was her, it was too late.”

“All of this...because of a grudge?”

“I’m sorry.”

“If you’re so powerful, why not fix it? Find a solution! Stop the White!”

“You overestimate my power. I can create life, yes, but do you know how long it takes? It took me months to create you, Red. Months to create your parents, your bird, and years to build your kingdom. And even then, I had help from many assistants. I can’t snap my fingers and stop the paper plague. I wish I can, but I can’t. There are limits to my power.”

“So it’s hopeless?”

“For this world, yes.”

“This world?”

“There is a choice,” the Mouse King said. “A chance for a new beginning.”

Red didn’t dare get her hopes up. “What is it?”

“I can pluck you from this world and place you in mine, temporarily. Your memories will be wiped, giving you a clean slate, a fresh new start. You will join other creations of mine, keeping each other safe, until I finish creating the new world. Once the new world is moved, you will be moved there, a princess once again, a brand new kingdom with brand new subjects.”

He said it as if it was nothing. Erasing her memories, as if they were a mistake on a page, wiped clean for new sentences. A brand new world, only for him to make the same mistakes?

“How can you be so...cavalier about this?”

“I’m not. The loss of this world pains me.”

“Does it?” she growled.

The King said nothing.

“And this world? What happens to it?”

“I will abandon it. I can’t save it. I can’t stop or undo the White.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s all I can do.”

“This is my home and you’re-” she choked. She took a deep breath and tried again. “You’re abandoning it.”

“What other choice do I have? I can’t fix this. Vi disappeared after I discovered her machinations, taking the secret of the White’s process with her. This world is dead, Red. I’m sorry. The loss pains me, but I can’t save this realm.”

Red stood up and aimed an arrow at his neck. A strike to a vital area. He’ll bleed to death in seconds.

“I can bring back your family.”

Red paused. She looked at the King. “What?”

“Not a true resurrection. But I can recreate them. The same memories, same personality, same attributes. Not a single thing changed. Your father, your mother, your bird, your grandmother. All of them. Alive and well.”

Her family, alive. Her father, keeping her safe. Her mother, teaching her archery. Her grandmother, holding her, safe and warm. Scarlet, singing her to sleep.

It sounded too good to be true.

But still…

Before she came to a decision, she asked one more question. A question that haunted her for years. “Years ago, my parents discussed a deal with you. What was it?”

He sighed. “In order to power my magic, to ensure a kingdom’s future, there must be a sacrifice and royal blood is a powerful currency. Your parents would willingly sacrifice themselves to ensure your future and your kingdom’s future. I would make the deaths look accidental. You would’ve become an orphan. And in return, you would’ve ruled over a prosperous nation, and it would’ve remained that way for all of eternity. This is a price I ask of many others. I’m sure you know of Snow White’s parents dying when she was young. Or Cinderella’s. The same thing would’ve happened to you. But even all the sacrifices in the world couldn’t stop the white.”

Red drew the arrow back, aiming it at his heart. One blow. That’s all it would take. To kill this monster. To kill this false god. To kill this monster.

Even if it meant a nasty death. Even if it meant dooming this realm’s surviving inhabitants. Even if it meant never seeing her family again.


Even if…



She dropped her weapons. She was so tired.

“We have a deal,” Red said. “Take me.” She swallowed a lump in her throat. “Please.”

“All you have to do...is sing.”

She sang. The same song she used to call her birds. She continued singing even as the man put his hands on her head.

Everything went black.




The King of Mice stepped back as Red became utterly silent and still. He stood before her as his assistants entered through portals, carrying tools and machinery. He didn’t budge as his employees gently laid Red on a stretcher.

He did move when they brought her over to their world. He accompanied her across the studio, not worrying about the Wolf, as it would be carried in by a crane. He stepped in a room with her and watched as they moved her from the stretcher to a bed. She wasn’t alone. His other creations lay on other beds, equally still and lifeless.

Pied Piper. Cinderella. Snow White. Snow Queen. Gepetto. Rapunzel. Prince Charming. Aladdin. The Beast. Sleeping Beauty. Jack. Hansel, but no Gretel. Others.

He closed Red’s eyes. “Forgive me.”




Red’s cell phone alarm woke her up. She groaned as she hit the snooze button, hoping to fall back asleep. But her roommate had other ideas.

“Wake up, Red!”

Red groaned. “Leave me alone, Cindy!”

“Today is Al’s birthday and we’re throwing a surprise party. Get up!.”

“It’s eight in the morning. Go away!”

“But we have to plan the party!”

“Why? Jack’s planning it.”

“Jack dropped the ball. And nobody plans a party like you!”

“Okay, okay,” Red sat up. Just let me shower first.”

Red showered, got dressed, and ate breakfeast, all the while her roommate hurrying her along.

“I’ll meet you in the car,” she told Cindy, exasperated.

Cindy left, leaving Red alone to finish up. She combed her red hair into a semblance of order, put it in a bun, and went out the door.

As she left the apartment, a small gray mouse, hiding underneath the table, watched them leave. It squeaked before it crawled into a hole.
  • 6

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The Vault

Postby IamNotCreepy » Mon Nov 13, 2017 11:59 pm

When someone used to tell me a secret, I’d say that I was putting that information in “the Vault”. If only my mind was so secure. It feels more like a container with a slow leak, and I am powerless to stop it.

“Time’s arrow neither stands still nor reverses. It merely marches forward.” Who was it that said that? I guess I’ll never know.

It’s been almost five years since I’ve had access to the internet, or a book, and another ten since I was in college. I didn’t realize how much I had come to depend on the internet as another brain, like an external hard drive that I could access at will.

In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time in college studying and less time partying. I wish I had made an effort to learn things outside of what was necessary for day-to-day life. Of course, if I had known the world was going to end, there are a lot of things I would have done differently.

But here I am now, in the Vault. Saved by sheer dumb luck, I am now serving what amounts to a life sentence without possibility for parole. If I had paid better attention in science classes, I could probably tell you how long it would take for the radiation to clear, but again hindsight is my enemy.

Enemy. Enemy. Know your enemy. Sun Tzu (is that how you spell it?). The Art of War. I better write it down before I forget.

These last five years have been just like that, a blur of free association and cramped hands. Being the last (adult) person is a burden that can’t be expressed in words. Well, I guess there are maybe words out there that would be appropriate, but I don’t know what they are, and I never will, unless they surface from deep within my subconscious.

That subconscious is a tricky thing. I once sat for an hour trying to remember that one President who was assassinated. I only remembered his name randomly some time later when contemplating how I used to hate Mondays, back when the days of the week actually meant anything. And now I am thinking about how I’ll never have lasagna again.

And that’s more or less how I’ve spent all of my free time, when I’m not tending to the plants, tinkering with machines, and teaching the kids. Sure, the automatons do a majority of the work, but I feel like everything needs the “human touch,” so I tried to be as involved as possible.

Besides, sitting around trying to remember things all day is very tedious. It is for a good cause, of course. Probably. The entirety of all the knowledge of mankind since the dawn of time now rests on my shoulders. No pressure, right?

I didn’t exactly ask to be in this position. I mean, I guess I technically did request the assignment, but things took a weird turn. And I want to stress that this was not my fault.

Long before this mess all started, there was this thing called the Global Seed Vault that was up there near Sweden or something. Somewhere cold. It was meant to preserve seeds from every kind of plant in case they went extinct and needed to be brought back.

This was supposed to be like that, only holding a different kind of seed (pun very much intended). It was built underground at a location was chosen not for the temperature, but due to global politics and the major amount of convenient geothermal energy there. The official name was – I don’t quite remember, but they shoehorned a cute acronym onto it. Anyway, everyone just called it the Vault.

It was meant to ensure the survival of the human race in the event of a global catastrophe, natural or otherwise. They held a lottery from people all around the world to ensure the diversity of the species. They also took the genetic material from the best and brightest in the areas of science, music, art, and business. The material was tested for defects so that no inheritable diseases would make it into the new world.

Things were looking good for the project. It had broad appeal from around the world. Major corporations donated resources and technology just for the honor of taking part. The Vault was outfitted with the best in renewable energy, robotics, hydroponics, and cryogenics. It was built to withstand the worst humanity could do to itself.

The Vault could keep a small but stable population going indefinitely. In addition to having huge water and food reserves, it could recycle waste, harvest the plants, and even grow the embryos in the artificial wombs, all done automatically with little human input.

And it was all set to include a digital archive filled with the works of literature from every language and corner of the world, textbooks on any topic you could want, encyclopedias, music, television shows, movies – basically everything you would need to propagate the sum of human culture into perpetuity. And it was my job to install it. I know on the surface this looks bad, but again, I swear it’s not my fault.

Yes, I did technically break in to the Vault when I wasn’t supposed to be there, but that’s beside the point. In fact, if I hadn’t broken in, the archive wouldn’t have been installed regardless. I would be dead, and the embryos would just be sitting there indefinitely with no one to get things going.

So it all started when I left home to buy a pack of cigarettes. Cigarettes were … a kind of special treat. My wife wasn’t crazy about how often I had been “treating” myself, but she understood the immense pressure I was under at work trying to get the Vault completed. Everything was up and running, including the cryo storage of the embryos, but we were having trouble getting the archive to work. It seemed to be a hardware issue, and every time we tried to hook it up, the server got fried, and all the data was lost.

It had been another long day of trying to fix things. We had just finished dinner, and my wife watched our son while I stepped out. Upon my arrival at the corner gas station, however, I realized my wallet was missing. After mentally retracing my steps, I realized I had left it at work. In the Vault.

Normally, I would just forget about it, but I really needed a cigarette. The latest archive server was all set and in place, but we didn’t want to hook it up until we were sure it wouldn’t get fried. For some reason, my boss kept insisting that this was somehow my fault. I was worried I was going to get canned.

This put me under a lot of pressure, and I was definitely not thinking clearly. So, I did something kind of stupid. I decided to break in to the Vault to get my wallet. I wouldn’t have to bust in like a burglar, but no one was allowed in after hours.

Now, the obvious question here is why I decided to do that instead of going back home and getting money from my wife. I would like to say that this was a rational decision based on the fact that she probably didn’t have cash on her, and I needed my wallet anyway, but the truth of the matter was that I was stressed, tired, and just not really in my right mind. I guess it all worked out in the end (for me at least).

It was a short drive over to the facility. I was expecting to have to park outside the gate and jump over the fence, but surprisingly, the gate was open, so I was able to just drive in and park. I thought I was going to have to talk my way past the guard at the security door, but there was no one there. That was definitely odd.

I let myself in and made my way in to the Vault entrance proper. The Vault seal would close automatically in the event of a pending nuclear attack, but otherwise it always remained open. As I entered, I heard noises coming from the Server room nearby. I crept silently along the wall and peeked my head in.

Standing over the archive server was my boss. I was so shocked to see him that without thinking, I called out to him and asked him what he was doing. He whirled around to look at me, and I could see a hammer in his hand. His face had a guilty look like he had gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

He tried to play it off like he had come in after-hours to try to get things finished, but once I took a couple of steps toward him I could see that something was seriously wrong. The server itself looked intact, but where it was supposed to connect to was a mess. The metal frame had been ripped apart, with several jagged pieces sticking out, and there were internal components that had been smashed. The shock must have been obvious on my face, because that’s when he lunged towards me.

I tried to dodge out of the way, but he was too quick. I barely had time to throw my off-hand up at the last second to shield my head from the hammer. I felt a crushing pain in my forearm, and everything went blurry. My vision quickly cleared, only to see him raising his arm to strike another blow. I ducked my head down and rammed the shoulder of my non-injured arm into his chest. This threw him off-balance enough to give me an opening. I kneed him in the groin as hard as I could, causing him to drop the hammer next to the metal frame.

We both dove to the ground, but he got his hands on the hammer first. Before he could move, I grabbed it using my good arm and tried to wrench it from his grasp. We pulled on it back and forth for a brief moment, but my one arm was no match for his two. He pulled it from my hand, and I fell flat on my back.

And then with another strike, I felt my ankle being crushed. The pain was so great I blacked out for a few seconds. The first thing I saw when I came to was him leaping on top of me to finish the job. Out of pure instinct, I brought up my good arm and leg and used his momentum to flip him over my head. I heard a sickening crunch and a gasp.

I propped myself on my hand and turned around. He had landed on one of the jagged pieces of metal that had been ripped from the base of the frame. It was sticking out of his chest. He was wheezing, and a cough sprayed blood out of his mouth.

I took a second to catch my breath, and I pulled myself up to face him. As the adrenaline started to wear off, I realized what had been going on these past months, but I couldn’t fathom why he would do it. Why on earth would he want to sabotage the archive? So I asked him.

Between labored breaths, he told me, “The children need to know the truth, not these lies.” I wanted to ask him what he meant, but before I could reply, a loud siren started blaring, and I felt a low rumble coming from the direction of the Vault opening.

I started to limp out of the room to see what was going on, but a raspy laugh behind me froze me in my place.

“It’s too late. I may not fulfill my role as the Messenger, but my compatriots have not failed. This world will burn.” He said it with such hatred. I always thought my boss was a little odd, but I could hardly believe it was the same person I had been working with all this time. I looked back at him just in time to see his chest stop heaving and his eyes glaze over.

I turned back around and slowly dragged my useless leg along out of the room. I approached the Vault opening in time to see the seal lock into place. That didn’t make sense. I only had a moment to consider the ramifications of what this could mean before it felt like the whole world rocked around me.

I was thrown from my feet and hit my head against the handrail on the way down. I found myself once again on my back. I thought I had blacked out again too, but the lights flickered back on as the Vault’s generators kicked in.

It took all of the mental fortitude I had not to lose it in that moment. I tried not to think about what might or might not have happened. I needed to keep it together long enough to get to the Communications room. I could find some answers there.

I slowly and painfully pulled myself up. There was a sharp pain on the side of my head. I touched the spot where it had hit the handrail, and my hand came back with the warm stickiness of blood. I felt like I was going to vomit.

I knew if I was going to figure out what was going on, I was going to have to get moving. I shuffled along the corridor, using the handrail to steady myself and keep from collapsing on the ground.

While the Server room was conveniently located near the entrance, the Comm room was unfortunately several floors down. The elevator would do the hardest part for me, but it was still a long walk there, and once on the correct floor, a long walk to where I was going.

I tried my hardest not to think about anything. Not about the pain in my body, not about seeing someone die in front of me, not about what could have prompted the Vault door to seal. I instead focused on dragging myself along. I focused on staying upright.

Looking back, that whole walk is now nothing but a blur, but at the time it seemed like an eternity. Broken and exhausted, I finally reached the door to the Comm room. I turned the handle and opened the door. I had only been in the room once prior, and that was before any of the equipment had been installed. I am pretty technologically inclined, but now just looking at all the equipment there made me feel a little overwhelmed.

I decided to start with the easiest and most familiar device. I walked over to the television monitor, which was hooked up to a powerful underground antenna, and turned it on. Any broadcast channels for at least a hundred miles should have come through, but there was nothing but static.

So I tried the next best thing, the radio. No matter how I tuned it, again just static. Phone line dead, too. I turned on the ham radio and played around with it, but I had only seen one used in movies. I’m pretty sure I was using it correctly, but still all I got was static.

That was not a good sign. The local radio, phone, and TV could be out for a number of reasons, but from my understanding the ham radio should still have worked. It wasn’t dependent on any local towers. That meant that there must have been some serious interference.

I remembered someone mentioning a hard line set up to ensure the continuity of government operations in the event of a catastrophe. I just didn’t know what form that would take. I looked around the room and found a computer terminal that seemed a likely candidate.

I booted it up and breathed a sigh of relief when it wasn’t password-protected. After fiddling with some of the settings, I was able to connect to the network. There were other sites already online and hoping someone was able to make it into the Vault before it sealed.

Things were worse than I had feared. Several cities, including the one above me, had been the victim of a coordinated nuclear attack. Everyone I knew and loved, gone in an instant. Suddenly, the weight of all the events of the last hour finally hit me. I collapsed on the ground, sobbing uncontrollably.

When I finally put myself back together, I reached out to the others on the network for more information. The remnants of the government were still trying to piece together who did it and why, but they were promising swift retribution with “a proportional response”.

With the destruction and radiation above me, I was stuck here until they could figure a way to get me out. At least, that was the thought, until things got much, much worse. Over the coming weeks, tensions rose as the government pointed fingers at all of the usual suspects.

There was talk about striking back at a number of countries and groups, but before we actually did anything about it, one of them decided it was better to strike first. That’s when everything descended into chaos.

Long-held alliances broke, with every country looking out for their own interests. The nuclear powers started utilizing their arsenals, each one in turn gambling that no one else after them would risk using another nuke, like history’s shittiest game of “hot potato”.

As things got worse, the other sites on the network one-by-one started to disconnect suddenly. They were supposed to be safe from nuclear attacks, but a determined strike team could get through.

In the first days after the strike, the others on the network had walked me through treating my injuries, including what was likely a concussion. Now, with it becoming clear that the outside world would not survive the chaos and destruction, I received instructions on ensuring the Vault was ready to perform its duty. Fortunately, everything was designed to be idiot-proof and work more or less automatically.

Before the last site went offline, they gave me final instructions on removing the embryos from cryo storage and activating the artificial wombs. They advised me to start off small, with just two boys and two girls. And then they entrusted the future of mankind into my hands.

And so the human race will survive, but on my terms. The kids are already talking and just beginning to learn how to read and write. I am preparing for them to take over and raise the future generations once I am gone. Obviously, as part of that, I want them to have access to all of the information contained in the archive.

It’s still sitting there in the Server room, not connected and not touched, since that night. It seems to be completely intact, but the system it was supposed to be installed into was smashed into pieces.

A couple of years back, I fixed things up as best I could, but I have never attempted to actually hook it up. The previous sabotages fried the whole system as soon as things were connected, so I may only get one shot to get it right.

It took me almost a year recreating the plans from memory and repairing things to the best of my ability. I took extra care, but who knows if it will work? In my downtime, I started writing down all of the things I could remember that were important to me, that wouldn’t be there in the archive – stories about my life, my wife, my son.

Once that well ran dry, I decided to write down other things in case I failed at repairing the archive, from the sacred to the mundane, detailing anything that could be of use to future generations, and many things that I knew wouldn’t be but I felt still needed to be preserved.

Then one day, I had finished all I could on the archive. I stood there in the Server room, but I couldn’t bring myself to activate it. I kept putting it off, setting arbitrary milestones that I would just blow by. I would make excuses and justifications for no one but myself. After a while, I became more afraid that it would work than it wouldn’t. Afraid that all of my work would be for nothing. So I kept on writing.

And just like that, five years had passed in the blink of an eye. I now have piles of notebooks just like this one filled with my near-illegible scrawl, and I don’t know if they’ll ever be used. But I have pushed through, day by day, searching every little nook and cranny in my mind for a new scrap of information.

It’s getting harder and harder. I feel like I’m running out of things to write, and the details are getting fuzzier. Memory fades, and the things I have lost may be gone forever. Every time this happens, it feels like a small piece of me dies.

My 12th grade English teacher, Mr. Palmer, said that life could be described as a series of epiphanies, where you are constantly learning or discovering something new about life. He also described these epiphanies as losses of innocence. You gain new insight into how the world works, but it comes at a cost. Your old world view dies to make way for the new one.

In a way, everything that has happened has been this on a grand scale. The old world has died, and it’s being replaced by a new one.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this, and I think I finally understand what my boss was trying to accomplish. I can think of a number of terror groups and cults that would want to reshape the world in their own image and would be willing to go to great lengths to accomplish it. Even if it meant instigating the end of the world. But they didn’t account for me and my dumb luck.

The cruel irony, of course, is that I have spent years dealing with the temptation to do what they tried to. Should I whitewash history? Make it more palatable? Do I erase the existence of religions and beliefs that I disagree with? The future of the world rests not just on my memory, but my character. I am in a position of unparalleled power and influence. My word is the gospel truth, and I can change history to suit my whims.

But every time I feel tempted to change things, I think back to what got me into this mess. I don’t want to be like them. The truth is not subjective, and I don’t have a right to try to cover it up. “The truth shall set you free,” and all that. That was from the Bible, right?

I hardly ever feel tempted to change things anymore, but that might just be because my writing has slowed to a crawl. I’m tired of all of this, and my work is seeing diminishing returns. The kids are getting older, and I’d rather spend my time with them. The things I’ve written down for them will be useful for the future, but it will be for nothing if I don’t teach them to be decent human beings. Otherwise it will be just a matter of time before society breaks down again.

I think I’m finally ready to connect the archive server. If I can give the future generations a better chance to survive, who am I to let my pride get in the way? And if I fail, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ve already seen the end of the world.
  • 8

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Special

Postby octoberpumpkin » Tue Nov 14, 2017 12:02 am

The dirt path I walked along was intertwined with so much unfettered foliage that I lost track of it at times. Weeds crawled over each other, flowers bloomed all around me, and there were trees as far as the eye could see. This was a wild world, a world untouched by humans. The only trace of them left were in the dilapidated ruins at the end of the path; massive, rusty structures overcome by plant life, slowly rotting into the ground.
As I approached my destination I found myself holding my breath, almost as if I expected the ruins to blow away if I were to exhale. I paused to calm my nerves but my excitement was clear as day. With shaky hands, I opened my canteen and took a large swig of water. I was in no short supply, there was a river not far off. I poured some of the water on my face, gasping for breath as the cold hit me, reminding me that this was, in fact, real. I didn’t bother to wiping my face; the heavy summer heart made it unnecessary to do so. The air was thick and all around me were sounds of the wild. I heard the grass rustle beside the path but I was unafraid. I picked up my bag and finished my trek to the ruins, the remnants of a civilization long gone.
I arrived at my destination as the sun was beginning to set. The bright red sun was visually striking against the rusted pieces of metal showing under thick layers of ivy. I knocked on one of the metal beams. It was hard. Dead. Some of the rust pealed off under my knuckles. I touched the flaky substance and watched it crumble easily. It was almost intimidating to think how these huge, powerful structures once housed hundreds of humans. Young, old, big, small, they lived their lives in these structures, raising families, arguing, enjoying meals together. Now, it was crumbling in the palm of my hand. I found a rock nearby and threw it at the exposed metal. It made a sharp clunking sound as it struck. My eyes lit up at the beautiful sounds. I searched around me almost instantly finding my goal: a much larger area of exposed metal. It stood there, only a short distance way, jutting in to the bright crimson sky. I was positively giddy as I ran over, thinking of all of the humans that came before me, living their lives in these very spots. How many did it take to build this structure? How long did it take? What was it like way back when this was new? All of these thoughts rushed through my head in the span of a few seconds before I found myself tumbling towards the ground, my foot having snagged on a tree route. As I fell I saw a rock. And then there was darkness.
“Wake up, dear,” came a robotic voice beside me. I opened my eyes to find my Waifu-bot in full maid attire, ineffectively dusting the mantle beside the couch. I stretched and sat up. Waifu-bot came and gave me a cold, metal kiss on the forehead. “I made your favourite dinner!” she declared triumphantly, “Pancakes!” She did a small cheering motion and an unpleasant squeal came from her hinges. I realized that I needed to oil her.
The sun was setting fast, soon it would be night. It would be time for me to do my job. “Not tonight, dear,” I told Waifu-bot, standing triumphantly in front of my window overlooking the smoggy city below. “I have work to do.” I brushed my pompadour back and threw on my leather jacket. It was time… to ride.
As I drove down the ill-kept streets of what remained of New York City, I thought back to my dream. A dream of a pure world, one uncorrupted by the Nuclear War of 2342. A world where I could go out in the daylight and see the sun shining. A world without a green sky, without all of this disease. But that was not my world, that was not reality. After driving through the destroyed city, I stopped at a small convenience store. There was a bum hanging right outside, begging for oxygen. He pleaded with passers-by, swearing he was almost out. No one cared, oxygen was too expensive to waste on these bums. Our Overlord’s voice could be heard on loudspeaker all across the city. I heard a sickening wheezing coming from somewhere down the street. It was full night now and the streetlights emitted a sickening glow. No stars could be seen over the smoke cover and ash rained down around us. We were used to it. I pulled my oxygen tank off of my bike and headed inside.
The door gave a small jingle when I opened it. A man stood behind the counter, his eyes fixed on me. He knew what I was here for.
“One pack of cigs,” I said, throwing my gloves down on the counter.
“Be careful,” he warned. “Those’ll kill ya.”
Before I knew what was happening, he had drawn his pistol and began shooting. I had expected this. I was a professional. I expertly dodged the bullets, pulled out my katana, and slashed the gun in his hand. He backed off, knocking over a shelf in his panic, and trembled before me. As he slid to the ground, cowering and begging for his life, I saw a small puddle of pee emerge. I laughed. I had all of the power here. He was nothing. He was weak and powerless. Weak and powerless. Weak and p-p-p-p-p-wwwww----------------------------------------------------------------------
“Piece of shit,” screamed the stranger, throwing the helmet to the ground. “I didn’t fucking pay all of this fucking money just to have this piece of shit VR set break on me!”
“Mommy, what’s wrong with him?” I asked. She ushered me along past his house.
“Don’t you worry about him, dear,” she reassured me, “He’s just one of those freaks obsessed with human culture.” She scoffed, grabbing my tentacle in hers. “They lost the war,” I heard her mumble under her breath, “I don’t know why some people can’t move past that.”
“Why do so many use those headsets, mommy? Why do they want to be humans?”
“I don’t know, K!hayhhy)jak. I don’t know. I think they just want to feel special.” I didn’t quite understand what she meant, but I let it go. I couldn’t help but think that sometimes, everyone just wants to feel a little special.
  • 6

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Juicebox

Postby CarrieVS » Tue Nov 14, 2017 2:54 am

Bailey lay on the floor in a foetal position, wrapped in a blanket. He didn’t move or open his eyes as he said “I need food,” in a quiet voice.

“Already?”

“Do I look,” he said between panting breaths, “like I stuff. My face when. I don’t need to?” Cecil didn’t respond. “I’m not asking for anything nutritious. Or tasty. Just calories, like you agreed. Or I dial this down. It was part of the price.”

“Just feed him, C,” said the coder, from the settee above him. She also lay motionless, apart from her hands, covered by blankets. Like Bailey, a cable snaked from the port in her arm to the adapter brick. But she didn’t sound breathless: she wasn’t overclocking.

“Fine. You want anything, Em?” The coder hadn’t been introduced to Bailey: she might have been Emma, or Emmanuelle, or what did it matter? It was the man who was paying him, and she wanted his output, not his input. Every word he spoke was a heartbeat not feeding her power-hungry machine.



“Cheese puffs. That good enough for you?”

“Uhuh.” Bailey waited. He didn’t hear his employer move. “If you bring it to me, I don’t have to get up.”

“What’m I paying you for, to wait on you hand and foot?”

Imbecile. His head swam as he sat up suddenly and his heart rate spiked in the moment of lag before the throttling software reduced the power output. The computer beeped once as it began drawing power from the battery.

“One hundred and ninety-five beats per minute. Fifty percent more than MitoGen and Government agreed was a nice, safe limit. More I move, less spark for your buck. Up to you.” He reached with one thin arm for the orange foil packet.

“Does the smart mouth cost extra?”

“Not as much as grid.” It had been dark for hours already and there wasn’t much wind; Cecil snorted. Bailey lay down again, crunching handfuls of brightly dyed corn puffs. Silently, the battery began to charge again.



Bailey leaned against the door as he fumbled for his keys.

“S’alright, just me,” he called out softly, and although there was no answer he caught a faint stirring on the far side of the room. He reached for the candle and matchbox he knew were on the right-hand side of the door.

“How you doing?” He half collapsed into the plastic chair beside the bed.

Nikk, from her slightly foetid nest of blankets, smiled weakly, then frowned, “You’ve been overclocking.”

“Puts food on the table. Speaking of, I’ll heat something up in a minute – just let me get my breath.”

“Bailey.” Her voice was weary. She knew his answer.

“I’m careful. I always stay below two hundred. Can’t get work juiceboxing if you won’t do go higher than they’d go themselves. I’m young enough to handle it.”

“You’ll end up like me and if you’re lucky some young sod who thinks he can handle it will be selling his heart to put food on the table for you.” She closed her eyes again.

Bailey shrugged. “Beats starving.” He got up with a groan of tiredness and carried the candle across to the kitchenette on the other side of the room.
  • 5

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The Center Circle

Postby JamishT » Tue Nov 14, 2017 6:23 am

A shrill whistle cut through the night air, startling Maybelline awake. She lifted her head and looked toward the sound, her mind chugging through the muddled signals and slowly making sense of them. Smoke rose a brady away, the light from the fire just a small prick in early dawn, just to the left of the rising Enbesea.
"My, that is quite the smoky flame, Mayb," her grandfather, Amex, commented from her doorway, "the ancients would say it's about a hundred yards away, but the smoke seems like a much larger fire is happening."
"Yes, Grandpa, but what do you think is burning? I haven't smelled anything, but that whistle woke me up faster than the Enbesea ever has!"
"Ah, child, that is a terrible crime being done."
"A terrible crime? Like in the time of the ancients?" She knew that her grandfather loved to speak about the ancients, those whose time and cultures he had studied for decades. He claimed they were descendants of an important ancient, Daniel Lawrence Whitney, who was the most popular entertainer before the Equifax Era began. He had told Maybelline about how something (or some things?) called finances had collapsed and crushed people and nations, then, out of anger, the nations crushed each other. Grandpa Amex had seen with his own eyes the sheets of records from that era, with images of angry men launching tubes at other countries, just to have the action returned. He had seen the moving images with silent people screaming, explosions, small animals playing, and animations showing how the ancients saw the invisible world. He said they played over and over, with no stop in sight.
"Perhaps," Amex stroked his bare chin thoughtfully, "I suppose that they would call this "draining the account", but that's not quite right, because those Polys are being burned, not stolen."
"Draining? Did the ancients' money melt like ours?"
"No, Mayb, they had paper money, but they also used a lot of metaphors. Do you know what metaphors are?"
"Grandpa, I'm 8, I know what metaphors are! I even know that the Embesea was a big metaphor back then!"
"Oh do you?" he chuckled, "And what was it a metaphor of?"
"Hope?"
"That's right, child. They put it in the corner of some of their moving images in the beginning of the Eqi Era. One of the moving images that makes noise is said to have described it as Enbesea," he raised a finger to accentuate his next point, "But, another shows it going down, and describes it as a "sunset", so we are not sure what they called the Enbesea."
"Who is going to help those people?" Maybelline's attention had turned back to the fire.
"I don't know. It doesn't take much for life savings to be reduced to little. Such is life when the most valuable thing is so flammable, I suppose."

Later that day, Maybelline walked alongside her mother toward the Center Circle. Their pinkies were interlocked and their feet bare, to communicate that they weren't threatening nor wealthy. In Mayb's mind, she was a fierce warrior, with crates of gleaming Polys, but she understood that even if true, she would have to act the same to protect herself. Unless she was as terrifying and skilled as an ancient Nochil Savage. Then those who crawled the trenches along the path would cower in fear of her and her mother rather than the leering and jeering they did now. She remembered the time her mother told her that those monstrous people who pounced on anyone who strayed from the path wished they could live as she did. They didn't have shelter like she did, they didn't have a Center Circle where they could buy things or earn Polys. They made their life work by destroying others. The Center Circle was a place to attempt to live like the ancients; where haggling didn't involve punching and biting, a good deal wasn't a lack of fingers shoved down your throat, and prices weren't in days of resulting pain.
"Mama, what are we getting today?"
"I don't know, Mayb, I hope it's something good though."
"I hope we get a boy!"
"You want one of those?" her mother scoffed, "I don't want a boy in the house, your grandpa is enough of them for me."
"But I like Grandpa."
"Mayb, I love him, but I don't want to pay Keebler any more than I already am. She's having to spend longer and longer with Grandpa already."
"If we get a boy, he'll need Keebler too?"
"Of course, Maybelline, every boy needs someone like Keebler every day, or else he's going to end up like the Crawlers."
"Is that why Grandpa has her? He doesn't seem like he could be like those."
"If he didn't have her help, I think he would be okay for a while. A few days, a week at most. Keebler comes every day because he's one of the oldest people around, and the birther mothers think that means their babies will live longer."
"What does Keebler have to do with the birthing mothers?"
"Oh you'll understand later, Mayb. Besides, look at that!" Her mother was pointing at a glass box with a small animal clawing at the sides. "What if we eat that tomorrow night?"
"Grandpa says the ancients used to let those live with them." Maybelline shook her head.
"Just because the ancients used to let perfectly good meals live with them, ah, here's something." She held up a stick draped in cloth to Maybelline's scrunched face. "Oh silly, this is for when it gets cold. The ancients called it clothes, I think."
"I don't want another clothes, and we still call it clothes, Mama."
"I know, silly, how about this? We could use a new box for our Polys." she opened and shut the dark brown solid box a few times. "It has room for when we find more!"
"Someday I'm gonna go find that island of Poly that the ancients made. Grandpa says it's out there."
"I think your Grandpa is out there sometimes!"
"He says that back then, they thought Polys were supposed to thrown out. They called it the Great Specific Garbage Patch."
"No, darling, it was Pacific, not Specific. They called one of oceans the Pacific."
"Oh. Well I'm going to go there one day, and then I'll have more Poly's than anyone!"

Maybelline leaned on the railing, letting the mist from shattering waves spray on her, and a particularly large drop snapped her out of her memories. It had been about ten years since that day in the Center Circle, and eight since a Crawler decided that her mother was too old. Maybelline had decided then to pursue the island of Polys, against Grandpa Amex's fierce protests. He thought she should stay and help the Center Circle expand. To help bring at least their part of the world back to the time of the ancients, but his pleas weren't enough. She convinced him to only shake his head at her sometimes by promising to look for any other people like them.
"There must be someone out there who has found the way to live as the ancients, Mayb. If you find them, that will be more worth than all the Polys!" he had yelled from his room while she packed her things in hers. The words still rang in her head every day. They were with her as she sprinted down the path to the Center Circle. As she rode in the Power Mobile with the hard-faced woman she now called Caption, just as the ancients had called those in control of their boats, or so she said. Maybelline knew it was actually "Captain", but she didn't want to become like the others who had questioned her.
"What do you see?" came the expected shout from the bridge.
"The sea, the sea!" Maybelline responded.
"The sea, the sea!" the lookout across the boat responded. She was taller than Maybelline, with a shock of blue hair swaying in the wind. She went by Wonka, but, like everyone on the boat, that wasn't her real name. Maybelline chose an ancient name for herself, someone who had been a hero in the Equifax Era, Janet Ellen. Maybelline had only faint memories of Wonka from her childhood. She knew they had been at the Center Circle together before, but that was the most detail she could recall. It was a good thing, since the less they knew of each other, the less dangerous they were to each other. Conversation was minimal on the boat; the activities of watching the horizon and fishing filled the time when they weren't in their cabins. The cabins had been shared, until the number of crew members dwindled to allow each to have her own. Maybelline's former roommate had involuntarily left behind her journal, and Maybelline had now read it several times through. She felt bad the first time, but the woman she knew on the boat as PierWon and in her journal as Hershey was gone forever, so what did it matter? Her writing was entertaining, besides some of the things she said about Maybelline. It didn't matter. What mattered was the mass that appeared on the horizon. Maybelline grabbed her telescope and strained to make out any details she could.
"What do you see?" the Caption was standing beside her. Maybelline hadn't heard her approach and she jolted in response, "I'm not sure, Caption!"
"WELL GET SURE, JANET ELLEN!"
"It's a ship, Caption!" Maybelline could see people the vessel that seems to grow without stopping. "It's a large boat, Caption." Before she could say more, the Caption snatched the small telescope from her hands.
"Oh Elon, they're tall," the Caption said quietly before turning to yell, "Pick up your weapons and get ready to fight, women!" The resulting chaos was soon over, since the approaching vessel was powered by something other than the wind and was beside them in what seemed to be an instant. Maybelline hadn't even moved from her lookout perch, affording her an unblocked view of the Caption's hardened face and confrontational stance. Her view of those on the larger ship was also clear, and she saw their crew was made up of both men and women, all dressed in puffy blue pants and tight grey long-sleeved shirts. How they were able to make clothing that looked so similar to each other was beyond Maybelline, but she assumed it was simply another sign that their society was far more advanced than hers. A tall blonde woman who wore an additional brightly colored vest and hat stood slowly with hands outstretched. She yelled something to them, but in a guttural language that frightened Maybelline. She looked to the Caption, who was standing in the same firm stance, but her face showed confusion and fear for a moment before hardening again. "We will not be blocked from looking for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch! Move out of our way!" the Caption shook her fist at the apparent captain of the ship. The apparent captain seemed to recognize the name of their goal.
"Great Pacific Garbage Patch?" the blonde yelled back, to the Caption's nod. "Yes, that is what we are looking for, now move out of our way!" the Caption pointed in the directions she wished they would move. In her other hand, she waved the blowgun she usually kept in its holster on her belt. A loud snap rang out and the Caption immediately collapsed, eliciting screams from both boats. Maybelline looked down at the Caption and was unable to keep steady at the sight of the blood spurting from the gaping hole in her neck. She stumbled as she turned back to the larger vessel and fell to the deck as an even taller man stepped up beside the blonde captain holding a metal tube that seemed to sprout other tubes and thicken at one end. He pointed the thinner end at Maybelline, and she instinctively cried out and curled away from it, expecting her life to be ended right then and there. She felt her boat bump into the larger ship and heard a clatter like something metallic falling on the deck. She looked toward the noise; the excess of a chain ladder made a small pile on the deck, and her eyes followed the ladder up to the blonde captain motioning for Maybelline to come to her. The man still had his tube aimed at her, causing Maybelline to choose staying in place. The blonde captain spoke something to the man, and he lowered his tube and swung it away from Maybelline. She felt she had no choice but to ascend that metal ladder, and when she reached the top, two crew members grabbed her arms and hauled her aboard. Collapsing to the deck, she put her hands over her head, hoping that whatever was about happen would be quick. She felt a foot prodding her side, and she looked to the source, the blonde captain. The captain's open left hand seemed to hover over Maybelline, who clumsily got to her feet with some help from that offered hand. The captain turned her toward the smaller boat and talking in her harsh-sounding language, gestured from the remaining crew to her. Maybelline nodded and yelled down, "Women, come up the ladder! Don't fight them, just come up here!"
After a few long seconds of silence, Wonka came out from behind a stack of crates and cautiously approached the ladder. As she swung her legs over the side of the larger ship, a dart hit one of the crew members assisting her. He grabbed his bicep and cried out, causing the man with the tube to raise it again and fire flashed from its end. Maybelline looked toward the boat, as a former shipmate stumbled over the railing and splashed into the water. Wonka tackled Maybelline to the deck, both screaming as the strange crew yelled and gestured wildly. The crew member who had been hit was splayed on the deck as well, his mouth already foaming and his tears bloody. More darts flew up, striking the side of the bridge harmlessly. The strange captain and crew were crouched against the side of the bridge, away from the smaller boat. Suddenly the larger boat was moving, and it was gaining speed quickly. Maybelline had never felt such power or speed, the terror of it caused her to stay down on the deck. She was still able to watch her old boat and crew shrink into the distance. As her old boat became little more than a speck on the horizon, the new boat slowed to a stop. Several of the new crew members approached the dead crew member; suddenly, Maybelline realized that they likely didn't know about spepsi, the poison that was on the tip of dart still in his arm. She rushed to kneel by his head and waved the crew away. The crew seemed ready to rush her, and the man with the tube aimed it at her. She frantically motioned to the foam still sliding from his lips and mimed touching it, then mimed death. "Don't touch him, you will die!" Wonka spoke out, joining in the miming, "The foaming is poisonous!"
"Die?" came the response from a crew member.
"Yes, you will die like him!" Maybelline emphatically nodded. The crew member, a short redheaded woman that Maybelline guessed was around the same age as herself, spoke to the captain who turned and seemingly relayed the message to the rest of the small crowd that had gathered. The man with the tube lowered it and backed up several steps, as did the rest of the crew. The redhead gasped and ran down into the hull of the ship, followed by another crew member. Maybelline didn't know what to do next, since she didn't have anything to lift the corpse to safely dispose it. She heard footsteps and looked to see the other crew member holding a black bag of some sort. He held it out to her, and when she took hold of it, she was shocked to discover it was made of Polys.
"That is more Polys than I've ever seen!" Wonka whispered.
"I know, it's crazy! I've never seen it this thin either. Do you think they want us to put him in here?"
"Maybe it's an honor to bury someone in something so expensive?"
"Yeah, maybe. And it will protect them from the spepsi." Maybelline turned the bag over, looking for an opening, "Oh blerg, Wonka! It has a zipper like the ancients had!"
"What's a zipper?" Wonka crouched beside her looking at the strip of metal in wonder.
"It's like magic is what it is," Maybelline breathed as she opened the bag, eliciting a gasp from Wonka. Maybelline looked to the captain who pointed at the corpse, then to the bag. With a confirmation mime, Wonka confirmed the message. "Yeah, Janet Ellen, she wants him in the bag."
"Well. I guess we have to do it. She's our captain now."
"Don't you mean caption?"
"No, that's a mistranslation of the term. The ancients said captain, not caption."
"Huh, I guess you know more than I thought."
"I have all kinds of surprises, Wonka."
"My name is actually Guyco."
"Oh. My name is actually Maybelline." The two shared a smile as they carefully slid the man into the bag, hoping to avoid making contact with him. It was mainly the foam they were worried about, but they had both heard stories of simple skin contact leading to death as well. Maybelline let Guyco close the bag, allowing her to experience the zipper. The redhead was back now, offering Guyco an old-looking book, if Maybelline recalled what a book looked like correctly.
"Mayb! What is this? This thing has all kinds of words on here!" She exclaimed as Maybelline stood to take a look at it. It was a book, and she could recognize many words on the cover.
"B. M. W. 3 Series? H..haynes? Owners Workshop Manual? Includes roadside repairs and...mot? Test checks. I don't know what this book is about, but it's in our language, Guyco. Well, at least mostly."
"Do you think we could somehow use it to communicate?" Guyco responded while she opened the book, "There's a ton more words in here!" The redhead held out her hands toward the book, and Guyco returned the book. The redhead opened the book toward the middle, then again toward the back. She held the book out to the pair again. All eyes were on Maybelline as she took the book back, putting her fingers in the same places that the crewmember had hers. Maybelline felt something rise within her for the first time in a long time. It was hope. Both pages were identical, besides the languages they were written in. She pointed at a word on one page, as she turned to stand beside the redhead. "Seat."
"Sattel", the redhead said pointing at the same word on the other page.
"Steering wheel!" Guyco exclaimed.
"Lenkrad!" the redhead then pointed to herself, "Angela."
"Angela." Maybelline responded while pointing at the nodding crew member before pointing at herself, "Maybelline."
"Guyco."
"Maybelline, Guyco." Angela pointed at them as she said their names to strong nods and smiles. Angela opened the book again and pointed at a word, and allowed Maybelline to find the corresponding word.
"Find?"
"Find. Find Garbage Patch." Angela said haltingly.
"Yes!"
"Ja?"
"Ja." Maybelline said, looking out to the deep red Enbesea sinking below the horizon.
  • 6

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Re: Writing Contest - Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia - VOTING OPEN

Postby IamNotCreepy » Tue Nov 14, 2017 7:28 pm

A couple of questions. Is the story order randomized for different people? When I am not logged in, the stories show up in a different order.

Also, will we be able to see which stories have how many votes, and who voted for which stories?
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Re: Writing Contest - Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia - VOTING OPEN

Postby sunglasses » Tue Nov 14, 2017 8:02 pm

You normally can't see who has what votes until the end of voting. You can't see who voted for whom (to my knowledge).
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Re: Writing Contest - Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia - VOTING OPEN

Postby Marcuse » Tue Nov 14, 2017 8:51 pm

The stories are randomised, and it's set to your account. So if you open it up, the RNG is set and the stories will always appear in that order for your account. It will be different for every account.

Sunny is correct, the stories scores are hidden until the end to prevent people snowballing on a popular work.
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Re: Writing Contest - Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia - VOTING OPEN

Postby KleinerKiller » Tue Nov 14, 2017 9:59 pm

Red Paper

I really enjoyed this one, even though it was slightly longer than I feel it needed to be. The White Plague is creepy as hell, and the twist is well-implemented. I'm not sure how well it fits the "dystopia" part of the theme, though -- while it seems like a really shitty situation, I associate a dystopia with something more expansive and concrete.

Juicebox

Opposite to "Red Paper", I just wanted this one to be a bit longer. I had to reread it to understand it completely because it was so sparse, and while I found it really interesting in the end, I wish I knew a bit more of the context and how it all worked. It's a good story, and brevity is an oft-neglected virtue, but I would really like to see the author extend and develop it into something great.

The Trader

All praise or criticism I could offer it has been swept away by the twist, which kind of perplexed me to the point that I almost thought I was still asleep and having a fever dream about this contest. It made me chuckle, at least.

Deep Breaths

A little heavier on description than plot, and probably could have been developed more, but I appreciated how disturbing the ideas are and how what little plot there is wraps up.

The Center Circle

This one started off making me smirk when I realized what was going on, and then started to make me kind of depressed for how terribly plausible it is. Great job making a frequently used and pretty amusing idea still hit, author. The biggest problem wasn't with the writing, but the fact that there were so few breaks and such long walls of text, which made it tougher to read some parts toward the end.

The Vault

Top marks; my favorite story of the bunch by far. It may not be wholly untrodden territory, but it's written naturally, it has room for both tension and a bit of levity, and the ending is thought-provoking in exactly the way I love. I don't have a lot to say other than that.

Special

Aside from the wall of text problem, I liked this one. I caught onto what was going on once the words "Waifu-bot" were processed, but I still enjoyed it. Solid read.
  • 10

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Re: Writing Contest - Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia - VOTING OPEN

Postby Marcuse » Tue Nov 14, 2017 11:37 pm

Given I didn't manage to submit anything for the theme I suggested, the least I can do is give some feedback. I have to say from the off that I enjoyed them all, and any criticisms are given only in the context of me thinking this crop of stories is generally very good. Presented in the order I read them in.

The Trader

The opening to this has a super duper Fallout feel to it. I don't think that's a bad thing because it placed me into the scene very quickly. I liked the twist to it, it's a very TCS thing to have the end of the world caused by something so dumb but funny and I think it lends this one a humour that the others don't have.

Red Paper

Man, this one. I have to say I think the premise of this one is my absolute favourite of all of them. Taking princess stories and turning them into a nightmare plague controlled by an enigmatic king of mice is both innovative and engaging, and the presentation of the character Red was really nice. I liked the stuff about how she wasn't actually redheaded and how it kind of fits better that way (though the material pointing that out was a bit on the nose). I think if I had to criticise this, it's that it somewhat began to collapse under the weight of its own plot by the end, and some things weren't really important that could have been cut out.

Juicebox

I hear tell that some people didn't get what was happening in this one. I can honestly say I got what it intended from the off, but I think its held back by that not being as intuitive as it could have been. With the piece being so short it kind of begs for further development, and that does hold it back a bit. Overall though it's an interesting contribution.

Deep Breaths

I enjoyed the premise of this one. I think it suffers greatly from being not much more than a (well written, in depth) description of the premise though. It's mostly missing a current plot to grab me as a reader.

The Vault

This one is a pretty long piece about something only tangentially related to the character and the plot. I was really interested in the idea of a single person, wholly unsuited to the task, raising vat grown children in a sealed vault and trying to remember the past. What we got was a long description of how he came to be there, which I was much less interested in. Not that it's not well written, but it focuses on elements of the story that hamper my personal interest in it.

Special

This one had a cute fakeout with the VR but really it was still post apocalypse anyway. It was pretty short and didn't do too much to establish what the real post-human world was like, but for what it was I thought it was good.

The Center Circle

This one has a really strong internal logic driving it, which makes it at once very alien and definitely fitting the feel of a post-apocalyptic misunderstanding of contemporary culture. On the other hand, it at times was difficult to understand, and I felt like some compromise to the ignorant reader might have helped me to understand the intention of what was being delivered. By the time I got to the end, I was a bit confused with what was going on, but I liked it as far as I understood it.
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Re: Writing Contest - Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia - VOTING OPEN

Postby sunglasses » Wed Nov 15, 2017 12:15 am

I do like that the vault incorporated the dad leaving the house to get a pack of smokes
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Re: Writing Contest - Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia - VOTING OPEN

Postby Kivutar » Wed Nov 15, 2017 1:28 am

Is it against the rules for someone to explain "Juicebox?" It was cool but I'm very confused.
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