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Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Outsmarting Yourself
The acrid stench of tobacco smoke permeated my nostrils, nearly camouflaging the ozone-like scent of an impending timelike curve. Smoke was the second-worst part of the underground fighting profession. The first part was killing other nerds, but that was easier to acclimate to. The smoking gamblers would always underbet a girl, which meant more money for me. They were stupid, but that's why I was in the ring and they weren't.

Unlike the good-old-days of the twenty-first century, the gamblers and fighters here couldn't be more disparate. You don't stand a chance in time-battle unless you're brilliant. Out-think your opponent, and you win: your sequence of actions will murder them. Then go through the motions to complete the loop. You'll probably emerge unscathed, since you can always fake injuries after the fact.

On rare occasion, some muscle-bound punk with a normal IQ and fatal hubris will step in the ring. Those are a snap. Often, two steps of strategy are sufficient to squash them with your timeporter or annihilate them with one of your weapons. Overconfidence kills, so I always use ten at least. Plus, I had an unfair advantage. I was one of a dwindling handful of mathematicians in the world with the ability to intuitively understand how time travel worked. I'd already terminated several of the others.

Battles were weird, but entertaining. Two contestants timeport in on opposite ends of a blastglass-enclosed stage. After emerging from your porter, you have ten seconds to size up the opposition and select three weapons. I usually take a toxic pistol and a concussion grenade for two. Some pistols are fakes. Others shoot bullets or shells. They all look identical from a distance so only the wielder knows. This is important, because the most common strategy is to make it look like you've been killed. You try to cover as many contingencies as possible, so even if it looks like you're dead, you can go back in time and fake it to complete the loop, often with weapons you took off the guy you eliminated.

The real battle happens in the ninety seconds that follow. Two geniuses stare at each other and plan, like Jedi playing chess. After arriving, your porter is time-locked to the end of that ninety second period, which is when electronic betting stops and all hell breaks loose. You can't port in from outside the arena, because it's warded, but if you're clever you can still take action prior to the time limit. I like to go back in time and track my opponent down before the match and do something to weaken them without their knowledge.

This match was different. My timeporter didn't take me to the arena. It took me to a small room with two other timeporters, only one of which was functional, and that one took me here. I should have realized, but I didn't know I was in a mirror match until I saw myself emerge from the other porter. It was a clear setup by the Matchman, that incredibly wealthy fat guy with a facemask. He sat in the bleachers and ran the entire betting ring.

She was just as surprised as I, but asymmetry spread quickly. In mirror matches the curves aren't closed anymore, so literally anything can happen. This meant a significantly higher probability of double fatality. I grabbed a fake toxic pistol, a real one, and a fake concussion grenade (rubber shrapnel). My double selected a pistol, a concussion grenade, and a smoke grenade.

The thinking segment was excruciating. How do you outthink yourself? My twin keeled over onto the mat before the ninety seconds was up, which made it even worse. Did I poison her successfully? Was she faking? It seemed a naive strategy, but I wouldn't do something that dumb, would I? I tried to imagine every contingency, but I failed.

I never noticed that the timeporter that obliterated me was empty.

It took twelve years to execute everyone else who might've had the ability to invent a time machine. I amassed a small fortune in the process. After finally hanging up the fat-man suit, I had to go back in time to invent the technology, but that was trivial.

My wife—the only other person on Earth who knew what I'd done—once asked me if it was hard to kill those two other versions of me. I replied that it wasn't hard, because the bitches deserved to die.

I hope she didn't take that response personally.
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#1 · 1
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher >>Trick_Question

The concept is interesting enough, but the execution is lacking. I mean, the narrative choice you made simply anhilated all the tension that you can feel in a battle. This could've been an epic battle, and you turned it into an almost boring rambling. It is too impersonal, too unconcerned, too distanced, too telly to effectively grab the reader. Everything is explained, there's zilch for the reader to imagine. As a result, we're left at arm's length with the core concept, and the whole story, though being well written and all, has absolutely zero emotional impact.

And because of that, the reveal at the end doesn't even matter much. I'm not really interested in the characters, so yeah, this is a clever twist. I know it, but I don't feel it. It remains a pure intellectual construction, because that's what the whole story comes across as.

I would suggest recasting that from the ground up, make it a battle scene (the battle against the gal's double) and then proceed to the conclusion. As it is written, it just read like a police blotter report.
#2 · 3
· · >>Trick_Question

After finishing it, I'm not quite sure what I just read. As >>Monokeras noted, this fic's priorities seem scrambled... 75% of the story is just exposition, explaining the rules of the battle—and yet we don't see the battle. So what's the point of explaining the rules, then? As is, once we got into explaining the specific weapons our character likes to use, my eyes just glazed over, and any actually important details woven into those paragraphs were lost on me.

That leads to the ending being completely nonsensical for me. Has our narrator been the fat man the whole time? The last two lines imply to me that the narrator's wife is another version of the narrator. Yes? No? Maybe so?

I liked the narrator at the start, what with her confidence about being smarter than the gamblers. But after that, the fic just enters confusion mode. Not sure what's going on.
#3 · 4
· · >>Trick_Question
Amusingly, I think this fic outsmarted itself.

I think you have the skeleton of a good story here, but the middle just gets very confusing very fast. I disagree with Monokeras in some ways... the problem is not that you have too much exposition, and I don't know that having a big fight scene is really the point. The thing is I still don't feel like I understand the basics of what's going on in one of these fights, and that's a problem. I think that's because it's hard to coherently describe the kind of fights you talk about, but sketching some more details would help. And the abrupt death of 1st protagonist is the worst part of it, coming out of nowhere it feels inexplicable rather than shocking.

If I were to try and write this idea, I would probably try to have the fight, and then use what's happening within the fight to explain how the fights work, having the exposition partitioned throughout rather than all coming before. But I just don't know that you can fit the complexity you're working with into a 750 word framework in a way that's elegant. In about double that word limit you'd be fine.
#4 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question
Very solid prose.

That said, I come out of this story, despite you spending a large portion of it explaining these time duels to me, understanding them less than when I started. Like, I -really- don't get it. I can sort of put together that this has some of that dependence on recreating a situation, but I really don't -actually- understand how a fight breaks down, particularly given you can apparently affect things outside the arena. I also don't know what kind of time travel we're dealing with here. The paradoxy kind? The world lines kind? Etc?

Moreover, the end is similarly confusing because of this, since I have -no- idea why there are only 3 of our protag. And, with the specter of time travel assassination raised (as well as a multitude of people capable of doing it) we also have the complex question of how our "protag" succeeds given... well, honestly reality should almost constantly be destroyed by people ALL going back to stop/claim time travel.

I dunno. Maybe I'm missing something? That said, still quite well written.
#5 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question
As with the other commenters, I don't really understand what went on here, and of what I do understand, I think it's very difficult to construct a setting where all these concepts come together and make sense. It is a valiant effort at an extremely complex concept for minis, though. Reminds me a lot of a Hugo-winning Charles Stross story!

I think the biggest missing piece here is the personal drama. Pull back on the exposition and just let us get to know the protagonist and follow her through a time duel. Even a mundane one will work. What we have here is a pro wrestling match, and wrestling lives and dies on the back of its characters! As it stands, not only are the later twists confusing and unnecessary, I don't find myself caring about them because I could never get into the character.

Not a lot else to say. Probably lands somewhere in lower mid, votewise, but it aimed high and I did enjoy it. Time duels and programmed sequence fights are very interesting concepts and I'd certainly love to see this piece reworked. Thanks for writing!
#6 · 2
· · >>Trick_Question
Doing this review on a phone. Ambitious project, but I think this sort of story would lend itself better to a more long form narrative where the story has space to breath. A lot of the finer details that are required for the story to function can be lost here if you're not carefully reading this. The explanation of the rules is ultimately sort of out of the room when considering what is going on in the scene proper. Bogs down the narrative a bit when the majority of these interesting details are ultimately irrelevant. Interesting concept and the ideas themselves are good for potential further exploration.
#7 ·
I love the underlying idea and the concept here is right up my alley, but there's simply no way you can write this story in 750 words. Kudos for trying, but you had to cut so much that it's incomplete for anypony who doesn't coincidentally have your headspace on what's happening. I'm not as bothered by the narration as some of the reviewers, but I agree that the action portion of the story needs more detail to make sense.

If you expand this into a complete story, you'll need to show at least one battle in detail—by which I mean "battle aftermath" because I get the idea about the "battle" portion being invisible. You also need to provide more depth to the "fat man" character. As it is, it's a twist without much depth to it. I suspect (and rather hope) you're going for a self-loathing message at the end, but if you are, it isn't very strong. Adding strain to the relationship at the end of the story would really help to hit that home for me.
#8 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question
I feel that the central idea of this story is pretty interesting: fighting matches that utilize time travel. And to the author's credit, they really do flesh out how the fighters dispatch each other through rather creative ways.

That being said, I feel like too much of the story is constrained to talking about the actual process of the fighting to really let the story shine. Instead of really getting to know the main character, we have to listen to him explain a fictional sport in a way that isn't informative to him as a character and gets rather dull quickly. I also feel like the ending was trying too hard to escape the consequences of the narrative ("Oh, he killed himself and he was the main better all along! So now he's safe and sound!"). If you're going to display a difficult situation, don't make a happy ending come too easily.

4/10, I wrote all of the stories for this write-off round; you are all just my doubles
#9 · 4
Outsmarting Myself Oops

This one's at the bottom of the cut, right where it belongs. I'm surprised it made it there to be honest.

My story's not bad, it just can't be told in 750 words. I did this in the previous contest too! I should go on an idea diet. :derpytongue2:

Thanks to all y'all who commented!

>>Monokeras >>Dubs_Rewatcher >>Ferd Threstle >>AndrewRogue >>Ranmilia >>Cassius >>libertydude

Peace out. :dashcool: