Hey! It looks like you're new here. You might want to check out the introduction.

To Those at the End · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
Show rules for this event
Time-Traveling Salesman Problem
“… so, sir, you could get away from it all with a timecation.”

The salesman’s presentation device displays company-watermarked photographs and footage from all across the timestream.

“A week in any old residence? Or months through a century’s beginning? What about years taking part in a historical turning point?”

His graying-beard prospect fires a watery chuckle. “Like being a Communist rebel in that October Revolution? No thanks.”

“Some people actually plan their suicides around that: dying with honor instead of straight-up killing themselves.”

“Now you’re just talking to yourself.” Prospect’s fingers tap on the counter. “Let’s cut to it: future’s off-limits?”

“This is the future. Nothing’s past this.” What, you’ve been living under a rock?

“Fine. I’ll take your cheapest plan then.” His strained fingers stroke the beard. “Some staycation in a 1950s Scottish suburb, I guess.”

A blank blink from the salesman before reverting to a standard smile. “Always appreciate a man who’s done his research.”

“Right. Anyway, I go by real money, so….”

The prospect reaches for his jacket pocket.

Blue and red lights stop by the entrance, sirens loud and clear.

Surroundings come clear for the salesman: the bar’s spooked customers, breaking TV news of a terrorist in the area, a politician railing against chrono-emigration on another screen.

“Can’t believe they’re this early,” mutters the prospect. Actually, that jacket can hide a knife….

The salesman’s eyes shift. “You can use your money card if you want to be quick and discreet, sir.”

But the door slams open and the police arrive. Amid screams and canned orders, officers aim at the prospect. “You have an unregistered time signature! Surrender or we will use force!”

To disassociate from the suspect, the salesman slowly stands up.

Only for the prospect to clutch his arm. “You’ll thank me later, kid.”

Guns blaze, but the two men disappear in a flash.

His watch tells him the truth: a thousand years into the future, beyond the global time stasis.

The salesman sits on his poor bed, gazing around in the underground shelter. Blood-stained walls smell like corpses.

A hand opens the door. It’s the prospect, wearing the same jacket but a different, slashing, smile. “How’s my younger self doing?”

The salesman brandishes an icy glare. “I didn’t know I would become a psychopath.”

“It’s to keep you safe.” He throws a newspaper at his face. “Your time’s got nothing but population booms. Send your babies everywhen until it's so entangled, they’re afraid they are everywhen… except they don’t know….”

“Don’t know what?”

The prospect chuckles slower, calculated. “We’re the only people out there. Everyone’s a time traveler. Either they keep it secret or got memory wiped.”

“You must be crazy. The crisis is bad but it couldn’t be that bad. Besides, how do you know all this?”

That slasher smile again on his face. “By my bootstraps.”


This time, the chuckle is guttural. “You don’t get it, do you? Bootstrap paradox. I tell you the truth, then you grow up to tell it to your younger self. The truth exists; just never made. Can’t guard against that.”

“Next you’ll tell me unicorns exist because of that bootstrap junk!”

“Look, you—“

The salesman grabs his pistol from his own jacket, sets it against his own head.

“Bring me back or else!”

“You fool! You’ll cause a paradox!”

“I’m stuck in the future thanks to you, and whether we’re really just looping ourselves through history… hey, I’m breaking that loop for you.

“I’ll grow up to be some sadist like you?” Finger touches the trigger. “Not on my watch. You’ll never torture me!”

“No, you—!”

The salesman pulls the trigger.

No bullets loaded.

His future self approaches the stunned salesman with a smile. Takes out a blindfold and some handcuffs.

“I knew that would happen, kid.”

The salesman struggles in his chair, all tied up. Racing in his veins, personality-altering serum.

The prospect presses the microphone, watching through a window with a clock ticking to midnight. “You just can’t fight the paradox. Let time take its course.”

For the next few minutes, he watches his younger self writhe, skin paling as the serum completes its work.

The salesman falls over on his chair, unconscious with a bang.

Blood drips down his nose.

The prospect pales as he watches. “Wait. That wasn’t supposed to—“


« Prev   3   Next »
#1 · 1
· · >>Comma Typer
So I really like the quirky, darkly surreal tone of this piece. It kind of reminds me of something like an X-Files episode, or maybe those sequences in Half Life 2 with the G-Man stops time to talk to Gordon Freeman.

Now, from a prose standpoint, I think it's worth noting that this was a little exhausting for me to read. Consider that nearly every paragraph in the story has two or three single-claused sentences, and that almost all of the dialogue is structured very similarly. These kinds of short, punchy sentences can be used to signal moments of higher energy since they come across as interjectory to the reader, but when the entire piece is composed like this, it can really wash out the reader's attention.

I also think its worth noting that from a payoff perspective, this story didn't quite satisfy me. The first two scenes seem to be spending a lot of time and effort to make us (1) question the apparent circumstances (2) seriously consider the prospect's explanation for the state of the world, and (3) make us wonder how the state of the world/time got to the point it has. It basically signals to the reader that it is very important to understand the exact logistics of how time travel works in this universe.

Then, the conclusion seems to throw all of that out the window. The temporal paradox really makes questioning the state of the world a moot point, and since we don't know how this paradox even occurred in what originally seemed to be a stable time loop, our investment in trying to understand the rules of time travel in this universe feel wasted. In fact, the very last bit with the reference to simulation takes us into an entirely different trope/genre of sci-fi altogether, and I didn't come away feeling that it satisfied the expectations that the story's first half sets up.

I feel like I might be missing a very important point here, because the way it is right now, I almost feel like I have been punished for trying to put effort into understanding the time-loop mechanics. So unless your intention was purely to disorient the reader and subvert expectations, I think it's worth giving a little reconsideration towards exactly how you want your payoff to work.

Thank you for submitting!
#2 ·
In which time is weird.

You get an A for effort on the premise. Time vacations and weaponizing (or pretending to weaponize?—considering how convoluted this is) the bootstrap paradox? Yes.

Everything else? Despite having three or four scenes, the pacing is still inappropriately lightning fast. While there is much merit into dumping the reader straight into the action, not enough detail has been explained to the reader. We aren't given enough time to get into the mind of the salesman or the prospect or even just easing into the bar or otherwise the wider world. The end result comes off as a short story with too much stripped away so it can fit the word count instead of an actual minific, which is concerning when most of the other stories in this round come close to the upper word count too.

Then there's the twist or, rather, the three twists. That there are three twists in a story with fewer than 750 words is dangerous since you don't have enough space to flesh all three of them out to good effect. A better strategy would have been to focus on one of the three twists and let the other two twists either appear in the beginning to help set the mood or otherwise mentioned off-hand so that they will feel important but not too important that the story is building up to them.

Another downside to this is the dialogue. There seems to be too much of it, and the reason why is because a lot of it is unnecessary. Maybe it's an attempt to build the two characters up, but you rely on dialogue too much, almost as a crutch, to beef the story's premise up. Indirectly quote some of the lines and cut the scenes down so that it's just the important bits of dialogue that will definitely make an impact or set the mood and then you'll be golden.

Overall, it's a good idea on paper, but it's all done below average. I won't be surprised if it's at the bottom of the pack.
#3 ·
· · >>Comma Typer
Huh? What?

Something I liked:

When I first read "Time-Traveling Salesman Problem," I think I liked it more on the basis of what it reminded me of, as opposed to what I actually received as the story. You see, I'm 99% sure the author has read some of the works of Robert Heinlein, specifically because the pace of this thing and how it deals out exposition reminds me of "All You Zombies," although if we're talking time-travel paradoxes then it has much more in common with another famous Heinlein story about time travel, "By His Bootstraps." As a pastiche, it does a fine job, although I'll be getting into the shortcomings in a second. I like how there's no BS, no excessive descriptions of scenery, no distractions aside from this very minimalist yet very convoluted tale about a man screwing over his past self. Or maybe his future self? Well...

Something I didn't like:

Heinlein's style is very punchy and dense, but trying to emulate said style in 750 words or less is likely to end in failure, or at the very least unintended confusion. This is a very confusing story, and not in a way that's necessarily interesting as I look more into it. You introduce an inviting premise with taking "timecations" right off the bat, which is great, and then you reveal that the prospect and the salesman are the same person (somehow?), okay. But as Comma said, there are three twists (at least!), and not only are they so tightly packed together, they honestly don't seem to make sense half the time. I'm still not exactly sure how the bootstrap paradox is being invoked here, more so because exposition is being packed into so tight a space that I can't keep up with the connections. And then there's the ending, which simply doesn't work for me. How does this work? Who is even supposed to be reading the notification at the end? What did we learn from this? I don't know.

Verdict: Gripping at first, and with an admirable mission statement (as a Heinlein fan), but I don't think the author thought through how many words would be needed to make this story add up.
#4 ·
· · >>Comma Typer
I had a hard time with this one. There's a lot of science and terminology that sails way over my head. It's definitely dark and well thought out, but I just have a hard time following what's happening. I think I'm supposed to side with the past salesman but I really don't. In fact I find it hard to get behind the actions of either character.

I also don't get what happened at the end there. I mean, I see where you're going with the twist, but the execution just feels odd and rough. I would have preferred if the past salesman had just succeeded in offing himself with the gun because as it stands, I don't see what the future salesman was trying to accomplish. Still, not bad though.
#5 ·
· · >>Comma Typer
Jesus Christ, I’m sorry, I stopped midway. This is too difficult from me to follow, I don’t get what the point is, and really time travel stories now rile me up. The trope is threadbare, I’m cloyed with them.

I’ll abstain, so your story does not suffer from my knee-jerk reaction.
#6 ·

I would like to thank you all for this round and for the feedback on this story! Looking back on it, I honestly feel like this could've been written on a drinking spree even though I didn't drink any alcohol during the making of this story. (I did drink some coffee though and I began the story at night.)

I don't have much to say about specific criticisms because I believe that all of them hit the nail on the head as to why this story is disappointing. It deserves the place it's gotten on the rankings. I'll just do my best to provide further commentary in broad strokes:

I said in my last rodeo back in the Ot round/Belshazzar that I've realized my gimmick of harping so much on a theme that the story ends up suffering. With this story, it's beginning to come to light that that might be a very ingrained habit which will take time and practice to truly banish. I was obsessed with the idea of super casual time travel, with the end of time being some kind of post-game over sort of world, and I wanted to harp a lot on the cool time travel ideas in my head (and, to be truthful, I would like to wow people with "Woah! Time travel!") However, it turns out that I might've spoken too much and ended up making an extremely condensed story with too many twists and turns that they don't end up as surprising—more like exhausting.

I have mentioned in the chat that I was not so well-versed in sci-fi as the others. To be honest, I think that should've tipped me off that I've bitten off more than I could chew by trying to tackle a time travel topic for a contest in which I have 24 hours to make a story on. While I had the general story idea in my head, it turns out I did not have time to make the story world's logic behind it sensible: I do not understand what a time stasis means other than the surface meaning, and while I know what a bootstrap paradox is, I don't think I was able to communicate the implications of weaponizing it (or that maybe the future salesman or "future salesman" is just bluffing) properly.

To go back to the gimmick thing: gimmicks killed the story. I like the idea of someone weaponizing the bootstrap paradox. I like the idea of time vacations. I like the idea of someone's past and future selves arguing with each other. I like the idea of simulated reality like what they have in The Matrix. The problem is, they may make for good stories on their own, but squishing these central ideas together in a 750-word story is just asking for trouble—this I have realized too late.

Another thing I also realized is how fast-paced this story is, even comapred to most other stories almost hitting the upper word limit like this. In hindsight, this could be me overcorrecting advice I've received on my previous entry, Belshazzar, back in the Ot round: that, in Belshazzar, I had too much description or worldbuilding details. Coupled with the aforementioned gimmick problem, I ended up packing way too much pace and story into the story, for lack of a better term.

Overall, thank you for reading and reviewing this story which, I apologize, isn't all up to snuff. I will do my best to learn from this and use these lessons and insights to craft better tales. Again, thank you and see you soon! :)