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THE NEXT GENERATION
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- 1ˢᵗ place $200
- 2ⁿᵈ place $100
- 3ʳᵈ place $50
It was, in fact, a Tuesday. The eating room announced it as she stumbled her way into it. It said “Good morning, Samantha! It is a Tuesday, and today your breakfast is: Whole-Grain Berry Paste!” Samantha despised the voice, both for its chipper attitude at such an early hour and for its decision for her ‘nutritious and well-balanced meal.’ Every meal tasted almost the same, but she liked berry the least. She couldn’t afford any better, unfortunately. That, in her opinion, would be a waste of time.
It was raining outside, just like it did every Tuesday and Thursday. Samantha rather liked the rain. It gave her an excuse to feel miserable about everything. Everything looked dreary, and even though her clothes on Tuesdays and Thursdays were waterproof and she was therefore comfortably dry, she still found that the darkened sky made everything seem just about as awful as work was going to be.
Not everyone found the weather to be awful, however. Samantha turned and scowled as a younger person ran past, decisively stomping in every puddle he could find on his way to the learning building. She had, at one point, been as young in the mind as he was, it was only logical, but she could neither remember it nor relate to the pesky young person. Few people could. That was probably why the young people were all taught by robots until they were old enough to just be people.
She arrived at work at precisely 6:25. This was good, as late minutes cost double minutes, and if there was one thing that Samantha hated, it was wasted time. She sighed and went over to the lab. Her co-worker, Arnold, was early. This irritated Samantha, as she believed Arnold was an idiot who had slipped through the system. Arnold probably thought the same thing about her, Samantha pondered, as she logged into her work screen. That is, assuming he could think. Her screen showed a clock in the top right corner. The rest of it was filled with data about the creatures she had to analyze that day.
The first specimen was a female, aged 4 years and 6 days. The data said that she was excelling in Math, but doing rather poorly at writing. Samantha sighed, and hit the red button that said “No” on it. On to the next creature.
The next one was a male, aged 7 years and 137 days. He was doing average in all subjects equally, but hadn’t shown promise in any creative endeavor. No.
Another one was female. 8 years, 242 days. Could program well, but lacked certain social skills. No.
Male. 3 years, 145 days. Visual analysis tests showed he was colorblind. No.
Male. 9 years, 12 days. He was exceptional in science and math, and showed notable interest in the field of biology. Samantha’s hand hovered over the “No” button out of habit, but puzzled over this entry a little while longer, reading more data, slightly irate at the fact that this one would take more than the few seconds normally required. He was decent at writing and had written a few feeble attempts at stories. The system needed more biologists, though, so that’s what he would be taught if he became a young person. She sighed and hit the green “yes” button before pausing and looking over at Arnold to see how he was doing with the assignments.
Her mouth dropped open slightly as she looked over his screen. He had said “yes” to everyone! He really was an idiot. Samantha would report him for it, but reports took too long. She looked back to her screen to find that she was done with the sorting portion of her work. The clock and her task manager stated that it was now time to inform the creatures of their results. This was the part that Samantha hated most. Thankfully, Arnold did a different task after this, so she wouldn’t have to be around him. Good. His stupidity might be contagious.
She made her way to the announcing lab. Why they didn’t have robots do this part, Samantha never could figure out. It was always unpleasant, and always made her feel oddly guilty, as though she had stepped on a particularly less ugly bug. And, much to her loathing, her boss was there. Pasty, perky Catherine. She was always quoting things like “The system only works if you do your best, every day” and “Do non-essential things on your own, non-work time!” Arnold thought Catherine was inspiring. Samantha thought Catherine was a waste of her time, not that she would say that aloud.
She sighed and got to work, trying to ignore the feeling of Catherine looming over her shoulder. Looking down, Samantha noticed that she only had three creatures to inform. That was wonderful. The sooner she finished this, the sooner she could eat her lunch at the eating room at the lab. She cleared her throat before turning on the microphone. The wall in front of her turned transparent, activating the one-way glass. She was thankful it was a specimen she did not recognize; it made everything much easier.
“Your results have been analyzed by a team of people who specialize in understanding the system’s requirements and needs. Unfortunately, you did not meet the requirements to achieve young personhood. You will-”
The creature in the room started to sob uncontrollably, curling up into a pathetic ball. What a miserably common way to interrupt. Samantha continued, speaking louder in order to be heard over the weeping.
“You will be sent to a time factory, where you will spend a short time in luxury and comfort before you will be harvested for your remaining time.”
Samantha looked back to see her boss quirking an eyebrow at her, before quickly adding, “We in the system wish you a pleasant stay and a wonderful life. Have-” She coughed, looking anywhere but the inconsolable specimen. “Have a nice day.”
The creature was gently dragged out of the room as Samantha turned back once again to see her boss smiling contentedly. It was very disappointing that that one had acted so immaturely, but then again, what did she expect from a ten-year-old?
Tapping on the screen, Samantha began the next announcement. The second creature, a female, took the news rather admirably, keeping her tears to a minimum and even giving a curt nod to the wall that she and her boss were seated behind. Samantha was almost disappointed that she didn’t recognize this one either. It would have been nice to know why eight analyzing people had given her a “no.” Well, it didn’t matter. She was only eleven and some odd days, and her remaining time would be used well.
The third one, a male, was rather angry as he slouched in. She recognized him as the first person she had analyzed that morning, and found that she didn’t feel particularly bad that she had given him his eighth and final “no.” He barely let Samantha get through her announcement before he spat at her wall, practically livid. “What right,” he snarled, “do you have to kill me?”
Samantha paused, before swiping her screen. This wasn’t part of the script. The script covered questions about the factory, and even the odd instance of ‘thank you for your consideration,’ but not such an inconsiderate inquiry.
She looked back on her boss, who made the universal ‘fix this mess right now’ gesture. Samantha cleared her throat. “We don’t kill anyone. In the factory, you will be harvested for your remaining lifetime. It is painless, I am told, and you will live in absolute comfort and ecstasy while you wait your turn. There’s absolutely nothing to worry about.” Really, the nerve of some of the creatures! Why did so many of them get so upset? They were doing the people a service, and should be honored by doing their part!
The angry little creature stomped and kicked the ground in her direction, making Samantha wonder if he could somehow see through the wall to her, or if he was just guessing. That hadn’t been on the report, so she assumed the latter. “It’s killing, no matter how you put it. You guys are nothing but monsters! Why would the system want me to die? I knew every answer for the math evaluation!”
She glared at the wall, wishing that she had been correct in her first guess and the creature could see through it. If he could, he would surely shrink at the irritated yet professional glare she gave him. “Perhaps it was because of your immature temper. While your math evaluation was satisfactory, it was sadly not enough to redeem you.”
The pathetic thing was not as ashamed at that fact as Samantha though he should have been. Instead, he seemed to only get angrier. “You are all monsters! You’re not people! You’re murderers!”
“Hold your tongue, you insolent specimen!” Samantha snapped coldly, before remembering that her boss was watching her. She gulped and looked back, to Catherine’s disapproving gaze.
“And, um, have a nice day.” Samantha clicked off the mic before she could stay anything else stupid. The door opened, and the miserable creature was dragged out of the room, shrieking insults at the wall, his voice echoing around the chamber. Satisfied, Samantha spun around in her chair, only to find herself face-to-face with her boss.
With one look, Samantha knew she was in trouble. Her loss of control could only mean a fine, in the only currency that anyone ever took seriously anymore. She trembled as Catherine shook her head before storming out. This could mean a week, maybe even a week and a half, given to one of the other workers as part of their yearly salary, paid in years. The company allowance for the factory’s supply of time was great, but it never hurt to save time and recycle an unfortunate employee’s punishment.
She knew the risk of what she had done, of course. Angering one of the less fortunate creatures could lead to them starting an uprising at the factory. It wasn’t a common occurrence, but it still cost the factory a great deal of resources, and the peacekeepers had to be called in to put an end to the annoying disruption. While the revolution was always quenched, a few of them usually found a way to escape from the comfort and luxury of the time factory.
Some of the escapees were caught and brought back to live their last days in wonderful prosperity and joy, but an annoying couple managed to find refuge with other escapees, and lived on the outskirts of society. Outcasts and renegades, they were the only cause of crime in the otherwise perfect society. The thought of it made Samantha shudder. They lived in the wasted areas, around the landfills, near the furnaces and recyclers. Why would they choose that over the comfort and calm of the factory? It made no sense at all.
Some of them, horrifyingly enough, lived to be people-aged, and a disturbing number of reports mentioned that a few of the packs of creatures had discovered how the factory harvested time, and would jump random people on the streets to try to avenge the miscreants’ lost time, stealing every second from the poor person. Samantha found these time thieves terrifying, and wish they would just stick to stealing jewelry or green paper, much like the stories of older ages had described.
But she couldn’t let the thought of those horrid monster-creatures take up a precious second more of her time, because time was not a thing to be squandered over unpleasant thoughts. Samantha took a deep breath and tried her best to get through the rest of her day without an incident. Most of her work turned out to be filing and sorting information, anyway, and it proved easy enough to stay out of her boss’s way. It was mind-bogglingly tedious, but important, and Samantha was proud that she was helping the people with something so necessary.
Thankfully, Catherine was a sensible person, and would follow common procedure wait until after she left work to file the complaint against her. Perhaps, once she thought of the best possible wording, Samantha could explain what happened to her on the way to their living complexes. Then Catherine, annoying and foolish as she may be, would understand her point of view, and it would be like it never happened.
Samantha almost smiled at that thought before remembering it was Tuesday, and therefore a day to be unhappy.
She muttered to herself as she searched the rainy streets after work. Catherine was proving very difficult to track down. She pushed her way through the crowd of waterproof people, looking for the most annoyingly cheery person she could, and… there! Samantha surged forward, trying to reach her boss. She waved her hands in a manner that would otherwise be considered undignified and a waste of energy, trying to get her boss’s attention. When that failed, she began saying Catherine’s name, quietly at first, so as not to disturb the crowd around her, but then louder and louder once she got no response. Ah! Catherine had heard her last call, practically a yell, and had stopped, frozen in place. Perhaps all this could be fixed, and her sentence could be reduced, or even eliminated altogether. Perhaps-
Catherine turned around slowly to look at Samantha. Her cheeks seemed streaked with tears, but that was most likely just the rain. Samantha’s hurried walk slowed to a halt as she looked into her boss’s eyes. Something didn’t seem right, they looked empty, far more empty than a person’s should. Her lips trembled, as though she was trying to say something, but Samantha heard nothing over the pounding rain and thumps of footsteps of stranger people. She could only stare in shock as Catherine slumped over, gracelessly crumpling onto the pavement.
Behind her stood a boy, about the age of the young person she had seen on her way to work. The specimen met Samantha’s gaze, then looked around at everyone else who had stopped to gape. His mouth, lips cracked from obvious neglect, quirked into a lopsided smile. His clothes were torn and far too large for a creature like him, for he clearly wasn’t a person. He didn’t look right, or refined, or even pretty enough to be selected. He must have been one of those time thieves she had heard about!
He waved his hand slightly, which held some mechanical device that looked painfully sharp and dangerous. At the end of it was a claw-like mechanism that glistened with the blood of her former boss. The machine clanked and whirred to itself. Inside a glassy container at the end of the device, something thin and wispy swirled. It made her head ache to look at, though Samantha couldn’t quite place why. Something was just wrong about it. What was that? Was that… time?
The not-person must have stolen her boss’s time! Members of the crowd were beginning to take a step back with shouts of alarm, praying that they weren’t the boy’s next target. The boy didn’t seem all too concerned by the reaction of the crowd. In fact, he seemed almost pleased. Was he proud of the heinous act that he had committed? Samantha couldn’t tell, and she didn’t get the chance to ask him. With a carefree grin, he ran through the crowd, strange machine in tow. The people parted for him in shock.
The moment afterward hung in the air awkwardly, like a torn-apart microspider’s web taking its sweet time to flutter to the ground below. Eventually, though, the onlookers went on with their lives, efficiently ignoring the crumpled form of the woman whose time was brutally stolen from her. Samantha jerked her gaze from Catherine, and looked around. People were no longer staring. They were walking away, getting on with their lives. It was as though nothing had ever happened.
Samantha watched the other people, her eyes flickering between the still form of her now-former boss and the reactions of others. The few that still lingered shook their heads at the corpse on the ground before continuing on their way. One person she heard even muttered “What a pity, she had so much life left to live.” She took a deep breath, tore her gaze away from Catherine, and walked towards her living complex. The body would be collected, burned, and recycled.
It wasn’t really her business to think too much about it. Catherine would be replaced. Samantha’s mistake would be forgotten forever. The only witness to her anger now was a funny little angry creature who would be harvested with the rest of the non-people. It wasn’t worth thinking about, or even noting.
It was probably not even worth reporting. Someone else would, surely. There had been many witnesses, and it was too awkward of a topic to think about, the whole time-thief business. If there was one in her city, there were bound to be more on the outskirts, but… no. Samantha cleared her mind and stepped up to the door in drippy waterproof shoes. It opened for her with a content hiss, and she made her way to the elevator. Worrying about what could happen, and what could be, would take far too long.
And if there was one thing Samantha hated, it was wasted time.
Ohmygosh, I loved this story. The setting invites so many questions, the government is so evil but in a completely understandable way and it's not another cookie-cutter Orwellian Future, it's something really creative and new. I love everything about this.
I mean, I guess the story isn't all that great, but I would kill to get to play around in that setting with Star Trek or Doctor Who. Or Rick and Morty, even.
Like, why do people need to steal time? If they can manipulate temporal energy like this, what other kind of inventions are a part of this world? Did time break somehow? Or maybe it will break and they get turned into statues and it's an origin for the Weeping Angels.
It's already been made into a movie. Called "In Time."
This story is like someone sprinkled the Milgram Experiment and Kitty Genovese Syndrome over a fanfic of In Time and poured some generic polished dystopian syrup on top.
I don't really feel like there was much of a story here. There was one character, and she didn't have much of it.
I'm going to judge this story the same way I judge Black Mirror episodes: That is, on whether or not the premise is believable. Unfortunately, I can't say it is.
This is the mark that a lot of dystopian sci-fi's tend to miss with me: I don't like reading stories of people being cruel in the future, I like being in bed, clutching my pillow as the credits roll, and whispering to myself: holy hell, if we developed this specific technology, humanity would totally do these things.
This story unfortunately also doesn't hit that mark with me. But again, I'm only seeing 3,000 words of it. So maybe the answers to all of my questions are somewhere in your brain still. Questions like...
-What exactly is the difference between a young person and a creature? Their appearances are never really described.
-Why does nobody give a single shit about the creatures? It has to be more than just getting people to call them "creature". They're children for god's sake.
-Why exactly is everyone playing along here? There's allusion to an oppressive government, but not really what it controls, except time. This whole situation is fucked up! Why hasn't there been any revolts from the more fortunate? It doesn't sound like the police can harvest time all willy-nilly like the renegades can—they have to get people in a factory first.
-Where do the creatures come from? Where are their parents?
But as of right now there's no indication you have an answer for these things.
Premise aside, I also found the story to be rather dry. It's the string of unbroken, same-length paragraphs with very little dialogue, that are constantly telling me everything that Samantha is feeling (though it's not very much), and throwing information that doesn't seem important to the story (like the organized weather or Sam's opinion on the days of the week) that makes it hard to be engaged.
I'm sorry that this story has fallen flat for me, Author. But I hope this comment has been helpful. Thanks for submitting and good luck in the contest!
The biggest problem with this story is how empty the protagonist is – I’m not really given much reason to care one way or another about them, and I’m not given much of a sense about how empty their society is on the whole, as the only other two people we actually see much of seem to be much less empty than the protagonist is. As such, while the system is clearly dehumanizing, I’m not given a clear idea of whether the protagonist is normal, or abnormal, within the context of the system – both her boss and coworker appeared to show much more care than Samantha does, which makes me question whether Samantha is normal or abnormal, and whether or not our view of society through her eyes is normal or abnormal.