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No Prompt! Have Fun! · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
A low buzz at the base of my skull woke me up. I swore and rubbed my eyes, then checked the map. I was almost home, fifteen minutes earlier than planned, which meant even less sleep than I had dared to hope for. I briefly metabolized the news. I got them through a small pill of information already sliced and digested by my extended ego. It was a nice summary about what had happened to the world during my return from the airport.

The Mexican Gulf Algae Bloom was still out of control. A small start-up had promised to use some engineered phagocytes to eat it away. I looked over the specifics, called bullshit and bet against them. In a couple of hours I would know if my next sabbatical would be longer this time.

Investments in Florida continued to fall. Business were fleeing left and right before the next super-storm could raze their facilities to the ground. I felt a small tingle and followed my gut and one of my agents. They led me to a paper by a think thank of the Delhi Technological University about weatherproofing industrial areas in Tamil Nadu. It looked vaguely promising and it deserved a couple of dedicated instances of my analyst programs to compile me a report.

A new traffic management algorithm had gone live and cut down the already rare jams to almost nothing in the hour it had been running. There was the culprit of my missing sleep. I considered briefly if my current discomfort was outweighed by some long term benefits for me. The complexity of the answer was way above what I was currently inclined to invest into getting it.

I opened my eyes and looked out of the window. Glowing fungi decorated the condos. Two old hags scratched the growths from the windowsills where they had began to stretch beyond the planned limits. A girl and her dog sat on the sidewalk brokering options for the next street festival. The exposed interface to get them was nice and clever. While I thought about putting a bit of money in the local market I saw my HUD distort and flicker for a second. I popped a handful of glucose pills and chewed them down. That was a bad omen. The dog hurled some insults at me as I failed to buy anything. I still marked the the girl as someone to keep an eye on, she seemed smart.

The car drove on and finally, ten minutes later, halted in front of the barriers before my block. I reached across the seats to grab my backpack and my baseball bat. Baseball has been a solved game for almost a decade, there wasn't a league worth more than a couple of bucks anymore, and yet the sales of bats never went down.

I stood in the street and breathed in deeply. Rain, concrete, compost and ozone, I had missed my city. I looked around, the car had turned around and left. Living in a drone-free quarter meant I had to walk the last half a mile. It was worth the gain in privacy.

The streets were almost empty, 8 P.M. was a shitty time to walk around my neighborhood. The day activity had ended half an hour before, the night people would start to crawl out of their apartments only in another hour. Which meant out there there it was just my lucky self and a menacing financial corporation with its white-collar slaves.

Wall Street had died under a group of musicians full of synesthesia inducing drugs outperforming them in every field. What nobody expected was that the corporations would survive and thrive on the street-level, preying on the old gangs and supplanting them.

I gripped my bat with both hands and moved on. I could see a couple of middle managers in the back behind the six paper pushers that glared in my direction. I almost felt them evaluating the risk/reward ratio on ganging up on me. I activated my own agents and let them churn out an analysis of my own. They would overpower me but I was certain to break at least a couple of legs and maybe a skull in the process. I sent them the document along with a couple of quotes of nearby health-care services.

There was some other downside in living in a drone-free area. They backed off, I walked faster.

I reached the door of my condo without further incidents. As I entered the smell of mass produced protein paste and cabbage assaulted my nose. It really was good to be home. The white walls, the polished linoleum floor, the cameras and Ari sleeping in his old armchair were a sight for sore eyes.

I climbed the stairs and saw two Laras hanging out in the corridor. My HUD played tricks again and I had to stop and shake my head.

"Are you alright?" I looked up and saw one of the Laras coming to me. This node was a new one, the face tattoo had still red borders, but I knew the collective well enough to not be baffled anymore by the gallery of bodies.

"It's nothing. I seem to be kinda low on sugar. Had a shitty flight a couple of hours ago." I smiled at her.

Lara nodded. "OK, but promise to call up if you need anything. Will you come to dinner tomorrow?"

I checked up my calendar. There was nothing about it. "Uh, yeah, why not? Where?"

She briefly looked in the distance, then shrugged. "The Laras Downtown have harvested some fresh produce, the cell in Talleen Tower got a delivery of fish and the Laras in the 46th have assembled a new food-printer. I'll mail you the addresses."

Mail, ugh, could have given me a clay tablet. I never understood their obstinacy in living in a separate network. I would need to connect with them somehow. "Fresh produce sounds nice. I will certainly come."

I waved as I walked down the corridor and reached my door. I entered my apartment, closed the door behind me, threw my backpack in one direction, my bat in the other and sighed. A principle of headache pulsed weakly behind my eyes. Home greeted me, I felt the warm embrace and the eagerness of it helping me to relax. I had few things I cared for, my old sofa, my coffee-maker, my ukulele and Home. Having those things with me made me feel safe.

The TV turned on and I swore. I had smashed the fucking trap before I left last time. The cable company homunculi must have somehow crawled inside again to fix it. I would have words with Ari. What good is a janitor with a potato gun if he can't keep away the maintenance of the Idiot box?

Sounds and images assaulted me, bypassing some of the guards I had put on in the years. A storm of images flickered, some too fast to be perceived consciously, and I began to feel aroused. That was all that was left of the entertainment giants of the past. Making people horny and then making them feel guilty about it. Sex and death played on the screen. I reached behind myself, grabbed the coat-hanger and threw it at the TV set. It bounced off.

"Fuck me." I walked to my bat, picked it up, went to the screaming screen and began to hit it. Each hit I landed triggered a wave of nausea. Their defenses had become better. I gritted my teeth and kept at it. After what felt an eternity the glass cracked. The nausea disappeared and I could let out my full frustration. Pictures flashed before my eyes, I saw a white room, I saw a little boy in an alley curled on the floor. Then it became silent and I stood over the broken device with a damaged bat. I would have to buy a new one, but that wasn't what worried me. I didn't remember that images, I didn't know where they came from.

I threw the bat on the wrecked TV, Home would clean up later, and let myself down on the sofa. Something wasn't right, I felt it. I tried to understand what, prodded Home to give me a check-up and then discovered that there was an entire chunk of my extended Ego I couldn't access.

Home tried to get my attention, there was something it wanted me to see. It had summoned Kerberos, and the safeguard snarled at something. Then I blacked out.

I am a son of the Great Sun Prophet. I stand with my brothers side by side and look up at his glory. Every time I see him I feel bliss and safety. Each one of us is his child, each of us will bring his light into this world of darkness and corruption. My hands grip the rifle, I smile. The Sun, the eye of the Prime Mover, shines down on us. For years we had to crawl in the darkness and hide, but now we are ready. He stands on the roof of the city hall and looks down on us. He looks at me, I can feel it, I am happy. When he speaks his words are like honey. I repeat his gospel. Tears flow down my cheeks, I am one with him and my brothers. Each truth spoken gives me strength, each verse brings me closer to the Prime Mover. I am lucky. I am more blessed than all those poor souls that came before me. We will bring the blessing everywhere, we will save the world.

I woke up sweating and shivering. Kerberos was gnawing at the edge of my consciousness, it was painful. Home was speaking but I couldn't understand it, something bad had happened.

I stood up, I had to do something.

I tried to access Home through my administrator channel, but it refused to answer. That was worrying.

I stumbled to the switch-box in the kitchen. The whispering became more insistent. Urgency overcame me, Kerberos was barking.

I almost fell on my way there. I grabbed the border of the workbench and pulled me on. I reached the switch-box, opened it and turned the main connection off. And then there was blessed silence. Too much silence.

A bit calmer, I looked back at the board. I considered briefly how to proceed, what I would have to do. Enlightenment struck me unexpected, I needed to go out and mingle with others. I needed other people. I carefully reestablished connections to the outside. Home was ill and that would need to be checked, but it could wait. I loved Home and would have to find a way to reconnect as administrator somehow to share... something.

It would have to wait.

The world flowed again, I latched on the local networks and looked at what I could do this evening. It was hard. For some reason a part of me was sleeping behind Kerberos. The watchdog had taken it as he had bitten me. That too would have to wait.

I smiled as I found the perfect situation to commune with others. Commune? Why had I used that word? Not important. No No. Important was to go out. There would be a block party in three hours. Night People were out then. Maybe even Laras, Laras were important. Couldn't wait for tomorrow. I had also to give something to someone. Couldn't remember what, not important.

I needed food now. Had to be full of energy for later. I walked to the fridge. Protein bars and sugar. Good food. Good energy.

I wolfed down the dinner and felt better. Something was blinking, some alert. I had to take a nap, more parts of my Ego were shutting down, I was becoming more stupid, that wouldn't do. I went back to the sofa and flopped down on it. Nap was good. I had to remind myself of something. I wrote a note and left it. The blinking insisted on authorizing something, I wanted it to go away and so I said yes.

I crouch down behind the remnants of a wall. The acrid smoke burns my lungs, but I know I can carry on, the blessing will make me strong. The Sun Prophet said so. He whispers to me even now, he keeps me strong despite the machines of the Crawler In The Dark and his hordes. I turn to my brother, he lays at my side. The enemy had been trying to snatch him away, and so he had decided to leave for the Glowing After. What was left of his head was frozen in an expression of bliss. It was alright, the Sun Prophet had told him that he had fought enough. The Sun Prophet loved us, the idea of losing us to the Crawler In The Dark was too painful for him. I smiled. I would continue to bring the blessing to this world with the certainty that if the enemy was about to get me I could leave with a clear conscience. I pull out the magazine and put it away. I will take the weapon of my brother, he doesn't need it anymore. I close my eyes and commune with the others, I can see the enemy. His horrid machines, the hateful grin on the faces of his troops. Two of them are trying to surprise me. They sneak surrounded by their mechanical servants. Swarms of cold, dead eyes. I weep briefly for the souls of those who will never join me and my brothers, but there is nothing I can do about that. Maybe once the world is free there will be a way to save them, but not now. I carefully move a bit to the side and lean out of my cover.

I opened my eyes and felt the vertigo. It took me almost a minute before I understood where I was. I checked the time, 10:23 P.M.

Some of my agents were clamoring for my attention. I felt incomplete, I was still locked out from a part of myself and Home was silent.

It seemed like the Delhi Report was a bit of a bust, nothing that could be applied directly to the situation in Florida. Still, there were some reference I could follow. I didn't feel like I would manage to do that now, so I thought about setting someone else on it. I forwarded it to a friend in Iceland. Not doing the work alone would cut into my gain on the issue, but a part of the reward was better than nothing at all.

I tried to review the past few hours. The recording of my arrival Home was damaged and scrambled and I remembered only short flashes. There was the chance to recover it anyway with some good memory-forensic software. It would take time. I rose from the sofa and looked around. The TV was smashed, that at least was positive. I also had left a note for myself.

Home is ill, Kerberos is ill. Do not turn on.

That wasn't exactly encouraging. An infected Home was bad news and sanitizing it would cut into my budget.

I walked into the kitchen and opened the cabinet with my backup server. I turned it on, loaded my memories and started a recovery program. It would take half a day but I could probably get those hours back.

I went to the fridge and took an energy drink. I briefly wondered why I had used the note and not something more informative, but then I felt that it wasn't important. An alert came up, I had to leave soon to go to the party. The reason I had to go was not really clear, but it was another minor quibble I decided to ignore.

There was something strange, but I couldn't figure out what.

I had to leave. I had to go out.


I... another alert, something from the parts of my Ego I couldn't reach. I would ignore it.

No, that wasn't right.

I... I...

I look down at the little boy laying on the stretcher. My estimation is between eight and twelve years of age, malnutrition makes it difficult to pinpoint it exactly. My hands are covered in blood, my sense of smell is burned out. I burned it out this morning. A horrible mess of cables and circuitry sticks out from the back of his head. The borders are infected, there's not much time. For all its primitive nature, that modded bootleg copy of Malaysian cognitive enhancement is freakishly effective at contrasting the mix of anesthetic drugs that keeps the boy from trying to kill me and blow out his brains. I grab the surgery robot and connect to it. I flex scalpels and saws, I have to be fast to save this child. I felt anger rising at the thought of what the Sun Prophet was doing. That wouldn't do now. I have to be detached. Drugs flood my system, I feel calm, my attention is focused on the job ahead. Once I will finish that it will take years of therapy to give the boy a semblance of normalcy and to remove a decade of chemical manipulation. That wasn't important now. My sharp fingers descend on the child.

I threw up razors in an alley. My throat burned, my stomach was cramped in a knot of pain. I thought I saw some blood in the puddle of half digested food on the pavement before me.

I leaned on the wall and sled down. I shivered and held my head. It was pulsating, I had lost another part of my Ego, cut off behind some kind of barrier. Warnings flashed all over my vision. I couldn't find the strength to look at them. I couldn't commune.

I sobbed, then cleaned my mouth with a sleeve. The pain slowly faded. I tried to access glands and drugs I didn't have. I had to be strong for the Sun.

As I calmed down a bit of strength returned to my limbs. I stood up. I had to reach the party, it was close, just another block.

I left the alley with unsteady steps, the streets had begun to fill with people. I wanted to preach, but there were not enough of them. The party, that was the right place.

I stumbled on. I was happy. I was fulfilling a very important mission.

More warnings flashed. They were annoying. I waved my hands to make them go away. They didn't go away.

At the party I would preach.

A lot of people would hear the word of the Sun.

A lot would be saved.

I saw the soldiers of the Crawler In The Dark. All black armor and glass hiding their hateful faces. Swarms of machines around them. Whirring above me. I ran.

I look at the courier in front of me. Well fed, nice woman, her eyes are calm. My hands are clean, my sense of smell is still burned out, yet the stench of blood and pus permeates everything. She doesn't smile, that's good. In the ruins of Manila there's nothing that deserves a smile.

I put forward two memory packs and say, "These are the collected experiences of two field medics and of a soldier. This—" I put another memory pack on the table "—are the experiences we could extract from the children we got before they blew their brains out."

She takes the packs and looks me in the eyes. "Did you save them?"

I sigh, bile is rising from my stomach. "We tried. We succeeded a few times. We will continue to try. Bring the memories to the States. I don't care how you'll show them to the people, I know only that they must know what happens here."

She weighs the packs in her hands. As if she could feel what's inside. I can see greed in her eyes now. "Importing experiences from War-zones is illegal."

"And I don't give a fuck about that. We can't continue to do this alone, we need more medics, we need more drugs, we need some decent software." I sigh and rub my eyes. "We also pay you well enough, so quit the haggling and do your job."

She shrugs and pulls a cable out of arm. She connects it to the first pack.

I pull out the last of the packs and put it in front of her. "And this are my memories. Do whatever you need to do to bring some help to us." I cut the connect—.

I hear voices. I slowly drift back to wakefulness.

I lay on something soft, I smell disinfectant and chlorine. I want to open my eyes but can't. I want to speak but don't remember how to do it.

The voices discuss something. I think they talk about me. I feel parts of myself reconnecting to me. I feel becoming smarter.

"Well sergeant, you caught her just in time. We can probably save at least half of her personality with all the backups you found at her place. We also managed to clean her."

"Nice. Now tell me what she had, because for the love of God I swear I never saw something like that."

"Some kind of malware. I had never seen this type, but after we checked her movements of the last weeks we could track it down to the Philippines. She caught it there probably. A colleague at the CDC says it was some kind of weapon used for indoctrination. She was a walking war-crime."


"Nasty piece of software, tries to infect large groupings of people and remains hidden until it has a chance to strike. Her defenses somehow messed it up, so it wasn't as effective as it could have been."

"Shit. Do we have to expect more of them?"

"I hope not, they will screen the airports for it now that we know what to look for. And we have begun to develop some countermeasures to inoculate into the networks. How did you catch her?"

"She called us. That stuff must have triggered some alarms and a part of her Ego reached out. We were way down her emergency call-list. Will the damage be permanent?"

"As I said, we will recover about half of her personality. Depending on the data we get from her home we may infer even more. The problem is only that we lost most of what was in her at the moment. She carried a lot of different memory sets."


"We may never know, we had to scrub them."

I feel unease at that. I have no idea why. Then an alert appears, I have managed to reconnect to some of my agents.

It seems I had won some kind of bet.
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#1 · 4
· · >>Orbiting_kettle
This story was rather disorienting.

I did like your world building; it was interesting, and gave good illusion of depth in most parts, although the bits with wall street and the 'corps seemed pretty… hand-wavy, honestly. A bit too cyberpunk and out there for the serious grounding you seemed to be going for. The bits where the MC dealt with their 'extended ego' were interesting, and pulled me in fairly well, while also giving a sense of the setting… somewhat.

On the more disorienting side… because this is all very strange, I had a hard time envisioning anything in the MC's vicinity clearly. Add to that the HUD and mental effects layered overtop, and I really struggled to picture much of anything that was going on.

Add to that multiple unreliable narrator first-person-perspective viewpoints along with memory corruption, deletion, copying, and couriering, and I was… well, very nearly completely lost on who was what and what they were doing and why I should care about any of the word-things happening, no matter how interesting the sci-fi might have been. The gist of what I could grasp was something about a cyberweapon attacking the MC? But that's… well, that's about the only thing I could concretely feel I actually understood from this story.

She (and I had no idea there was a 'she' involved until very nearly the end) might also be the courier? And there's something about a bet that shows up at the very end, but it's never mentioned beforehand, as far as I can tell, although there's this recurring bit about an analysis that's mailed to a guy in Iceland…

Honestly, Author, I don't even know. This story seems ambitious, and what I can grasp seems fairly well done, for what it is. Unfortunately, I'm just a bit too lost and disoriented by some of your choices to really feel I have a good grasp on it. Excellent effort, but I think your reach has exceeded your grasp here. That's better than the reverse, in my opinion, but still problematic in its own way.

Oh, and if you haven't read John C. Wright's "Golden Age" trilogy, consider taking a look. They deal with this same sort of computer/mental ideas, and your MC's plight reminded me of the psychological plot that goes on in the first one. They're good stuff.
#2 · 2
· · >>Bradel >>Orbiting_kettle
Good heavens, Cordyceps as malware? This may actually give me nightmares.

I really like the world you paint here, Writer - it feels realistic, as though this could well be where we are a generation or two from now. I'm still vague on the economy - is the protagonist simply placing a wager, or actually investing in a future/commodity for an idea? Ultimately, it has little impact on the story, but it was something that I was trying to suss out all the same.

I could tell that you put some effort into reflecting the sectioning off of parts of the protagonist's Ego within the way the narrative is conveyed, and it shows. The degrading sentence structure, the lost trains of thought, serve to reinforce what's going on.

I could tell that the line breaks were sectioning off other memories and were not a natural part of the protagonist's consciousness, but it wasn't immediately clear that each memory came from a separate person. In fact, for me, it wasn't clear that they were memories at all - at first I thought it was some form of brainwashing on the part of the white collar corporations, so recently villainized and at the forefront of my mind. A new form of advertising, perhaps. I was able to piece it together by the end, with no small amount of help from the last memory, but I think the story would flow better if it were clearer that the protagonist was actually experiencing someone else's memories. You may want to more firmly delineate the protagonist's sense of self (for example, her gender) from the memories that are invading her psyche.

All told, this is a really cool concept, Writer, and your worldbuilding created a pretty definite sense of place (I particularly liked the Laras, once I figured out what their deal was). Tell us a bit more about the viewpoint we're sharing earlier on, and this story will truly shine.

Final Thought: Not Looking Forward to Being Too Old for Brain Interfaces
#3 · 1
· · >>Orbiting_kettle

I'm finding this one very hard to review. I suppose your root problem is that you've got a lot going on here, between the narrative styles, the complex cyberbiopunk world, and the offscreen war. By itself, that's something I admire, but here it doesn't quite hang together.

There's nothing for the reader to hold on to – as soon as we start to get used to the barrage of future-shock terms, something even weirder happens, and we're at sea again.

What could be something for the reader to hang on to? A good character, for one. Your current character is very flat – I had no sense of her personality beyond a sort of generic professional stress. She doesn't seem to relate to the world with any depth – but with the revelation at the end, it looks like there's plenty in this world to relate to. And you could always do double duty – by foreshadowing those traits which reveal her decision at the end.

What else? If you don't go in for character, some forward motion might work. All she does here is get home, arrange a party, pass out a lot. It didn't really compel me to read onwards. A plot other than the mystery might help.

Okay, I'm coming dangerously close to telling you how you should write, so I'll drop that and sign off with a couple of things I did like:

The tense changes for the segments. This is a great way to add structure the reader can use, without being too hamfisted about it.

Some of the ideas at the start, when you get away from the generic cyberpunk stuff, were pretty cool. I'd like to see a few more of them spread around.
#4 · 2
· · >>Baal Bunny >>Orbiting_kettle
I got them through a small pill of information already sliced and digested by my extended ego.

This would be wonderfully poetic... if I didn't have a suspicion that it's literal. D:

Starting out, I'm going to assume that this techno-capitalist wasteland is the result of what happens when we fail to curb the Meme infection before it spins out of control. One day you're on Tumblr, sharing your rare Pepes with the begging populace—and the next you're staring out your window at a talking dog and the eight-year-old shareholder who leashes him.

Some comma splices:
Baseball has been a solved game for almost a decade, there wasn't a league worth more than a couple of bucks anymore, and yet the sales of bats never went down.

Those commas should be emdashes. Also it's a weird tense change.
The streets were almost empty, 8 P.M. was a shitty time to walk around my neighborhood.

Comma should be a semicolon.

I loved the scene of our protag threatening the gang of bankers with strongly worded letters.

Ari sleeping in his old armchair were a sight for sore eyes.


A principle of headache pulsed weakly behind my eyes.

Not sure what this means.

The Sun Prophet section was good—and would be even better if it weren't for the comma splice in the last sentence :V

There's so many terms and names here that go undefined. That's not necessarily a problem, but it becomes a problem when they're not given the proper context that would allow us to infer what they are. As such, the confusing terminology makes a lot of paragraphs that rely on them a slog to read.

Is the Sun Prophet JOHN CENA? Doge?

Watch out for an overuse of 'to be' verbs. There's lots of spots where they can be substituted for stronger, more active verb forms.

Is... is it possible to burn out your sense of smell?
Oh, wait, these guys are robots maybe?

Okay, so what I'm taking from this is that our protag used to be a member of a theocratic militia, but after a bunch of children died, decided to donate his memory to a nurse (for some reason)? And now, years later, the memories are returning, torturing him and reverting him to his past ways.

Hrm... not terrible. Honestly, I think the biggest problems here stem from the prose. The jargon really clouds up everything, and confuses what plot there is. Also, the dialogue sounds pretty stilted and unnatural. All in all, I'd say this needs a good run-through by a line-by-line editor to clean up the prose.
#5 · 3
· · >>Orbiting_kettle
This is one of those stories:

Where I feel like I should've taken different classes in college if I wanted to pick up on everything that's going on. The title, for instance: I'm sure it means something, but I have no idea what that something is.

But then the whole concept of "the singularity" has never appealed to me. I mean, I don't even have a cell phone, and I still have a hard time successfully walking from room to room with all the distractions modern day life throws at me. And by "modern life," I mean "shoelaces"...

As for possibly useful comments, that my interpretation of the events here is so different from >>Dubs_Rewatcher's should tell you that things aren't exactly clear. For my part, I'm seeing two sets of memory downloads slapped into our unnamed narrator's head: one from the Sun Prophet's follower and one from a doctor working in the ruins of Manila. That just a guess, though, and if that's really what's happening, I'd like to see that emphasized more fully. 'Cause then you could have the conflict between the two sets of messages--kill people vs. save people--at the center of the story as they fight it out in our narrator's brain. I also would've like to have know that our narrator was female back at the beginning of the story, and I was wondering what Kerberos is. Anti-virus software for the brain? 'Cause if that's the case, I'd like to suggest that it's agents from the anti-virus company who call in the actual authorities at the end.

Another good story here!
#6 · 3
· · >>Orbiting_kettle
I'm using horizon's HORSE rating system, which you can learn more about here.

18 – /ˈmiːm/

I'm definitely a fan of the information density at the start here, though I think you've set the learning curve a little more steeply than I'd recommend. In particular, that third sentence (with the map) really throws me off because it's assuming a lot of information about things like method of travel that is nowhere on display before that point. The sentence structure gets a little clunky through repetition, and I think you could make the information pill section a bit more active. I know I'm being very nitpicky here, but you're setting yourself up with some excellent ideas in that first paragraph and if you're looking to shop this story around, I think you're going to get a lot of mileage out of polishing the first few paragraphs here until they're fluid and crystal clear.

Damn, man, this is good. I'm about five paragraphs here, and you're really hitting this out of the park with some very subtle, specific word choices: agents, instances. You're getting some tremendous buy-in out of me with these words. Whoever wrote this, good job.

"Hags" feels off to me. It's carrying a lot of unearned character information that throws me out of perspective a hair, and with this learning curve I feel like I need to be really focused. I think it's especially worth pointing this out, though, because I think this marks a thing you could potentially be doing better in your lead-in. I said I liked the word choice; that's because it's carrying a lot of setting information. It's not carrying a whole lot of character information yet, though, and if I've got one complaint with the start of this story, it's that the perspective character feels like a blank slate. I'm seeing her interact with her environment, but I don't have much sense of who she is aside from "a person who's habitually using betting markets"—and the text seems to strongly imply that that's so normative that it's not really good character information in this setting. Anyway, point being, think about editing this first section to get some more character content out of your words. It's going to boost the value here.

Actually, while I'm still on about the intro, you might consider paring down some of these sentences for readability—again because of the learning curve. I think the more attention you can leave for the reader to apply to learning your setting fast, the more it's going to pay off down the line.

Baseball has been a solved game? Okay, that throws me. This world has to be a lot more alien than I'm giving it credit for, if a sport can be a solved game. Frankly, I don't really buy it and I don't know that this line is capable of not throwing me without considerably more justification (which probably isn't worth it).

Spotting a number of grammar and usage type issues here, but you should be able to pick those up when you start editing.

The characterization is getting fairly cliche here, and some of that is word and sentence choice again. The clay tablets bit and the Idiot box bit (why capital-I?) both fall in that bin. I connected with the ideas and the setting early on, but you're starting to lose me on character and plot as the novelty of the world wears off. I haven't found any compelling reason for hanging out with these people. (Writeoff Note: check out "To Make a Choice" for how to stick good character work in the middle of an idea story.)

Skipped on to the end. It's pretty rare for me to read a story that I think genuinely needs to be longer, but this is one of them. I like a lot of the ideas on display here, but (as I've been saying) I think this would benefit from a slower learning curve instead of the fusillade you've got going. Also, I think you need to do some more character establishment before we get into the meat of the story. I know, strong words, "you need to do"—but I genuinely think this is a must on this story. One of the biggest weaknesses here is that we never get much sense of who this is happening to. I get that you may want to keep it that way so we can hit the reveal at the end, but I still think you can give us a lot more than you're giving us. We don't need character backstory, but we do need character personality—especially if we're supposed to feel any impact with the fact that much of that personality may not be coming back.

There's a lot of potential here, but I feel like a lot of it is getting squandered with some loose execution. I think this could be a really great story after you've done some editing. That said, at the moment this winds up being a miss for me. I'll be curious to know what happens to this after the Writeoff ends.

HORSE: ▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉
TIER: Almost There
#7 · 2
I want to say, Author, that I think you're getting some excellent feedback on this story. I've just gone through and read the reviews, and I think you're I agree with just about everything people are picking at. I want to highlight, in particular, >>Icenrose's discussion of the line breaks. That's a thing I didn't think about, but I think focusing in on those some more is some very good advice.

Anyway, good luck with this one!
#8 · 1
· · >>Orbiting_kettle
You have way too many comma splices. I'm sure that I used to use them all the time, but at some point I conditioned myself to learn what they are and how to spot them, and now I can never not notice them. Definitely a priority when you start proofreading this.

But I like where this is going. It's an introduction to a setting that feels different from the usual, and even though some of the little details you introduce seem implausible, most of them are at least surprising. (The exception being TV shows as malware. We live in an age where there is more good TV than ever before, so future fics like this have to really sell me on that trend reversing.)

I can see why the other reviewers would say that this is too confusing, but after a second read-through I get the gist of it. I'm willing to reread certain novels immediately (everyone go check out The Traitor Baru Cormorant), so a short story is nothing, really. So far this needs the least work out of all the stories I've read.

This story is very good. (8/10)
#9 ·
This was a very convoluted story. Quite clever in places, but I think it choked on its own convolutions at times. There just wasn’t enough grounding for a lot of it to have its impact, and so while this was a roller coaster ride, I was never really fully engaged because I always felt like I was just a bit too distant to connect.

This was pretty neat in many ways, but I think that it was bursting a bit at the seams to the point where some stuff was leaking out. So, promising ideas, but the sheer level of convolution here made it hard to connect.
#10 ·
I stopped pretty quickly and went down to the reviews to see if this was worth drudging through, because the start was just so confusing and unfocused. This does not only, but partly come down to paragraph construction (I'd recommend reading this blog post from Cold in Gardez, I believe it'll benefit your writing a lot.)

That said, once I got to finish the story, I like the concept and the world, but I think it would lend itself better to a full length novel than a short story.
#11 · 1
· · >>Orbiting_kettle
Apparently my random number generator is trying to wreck me, saving the two most literally brain-breaking stories until the end of my review list. :V

Like Forehead, this has got great worldbuilding working for it, though this is more Snow Crash than Blade Runner. But this fortunately never reached the peak incomprehensibility that Forehead did, and unfortunately never quite hit that a-ha moment that made everything fall into place. After gnawing at it for a while I'm pretty confident that the narrator is the courier we see in third person in the next to last scene, but this might be stronger if that's more explicitly stated — perhaps even in the first scene as foreshadowing. (It's never mentioned that she was out of the states on a business trip, and all of the financial work she does is a big red herring concealing her actual job. It seems artificial to hide what she does for a living when the whole story's in such tight first person.)

The Sun King stuff feels … hm. Out of place. Given its nature as an infectious thought-agent, "out of place" is the effect you want, but it's not quite out of place in the right context. It's so disconnected from the rest of the narrative. You do signal the transition from perception into memory, but it's way buried (and badly red-herringed to the TV he's beating up) and I totally missed it until reread:
"Fuck me." I walked to my bat, picked it up, went to the screaming screen and began to hit it. Each hit I landed triggered a wave of nausea. Their defenses had become better. I gritted my teeth and kept at it. After what felt an eternity the glass cracked. The nausea disappeared and I could let out my full frustration. Pictures flashed before my eyes, I saw a white room, I saw a little boy in an alley curled on the floor. Then it became silent and I stood over the broken device with a damaged bat. I would have to buy a new one, but that wasn't what worried me. I didn't remember that images, I didn't know where they came from.

The bit about Home and Kerberos going on alert, and then later the writing about why not to trust them, also comes across as really unclear.

Consider rewriting the implanted-memory sections here to not be memories — see if you can pull off that perceptual switch without actually changing the stimuli from the outside world, so the readers have a continuous experience instead of jumping back and forth between different plot threads. I'm not sure that would work but it's certainly worth trying.

That last line though. Excellent. This is fighting with Forehead for second place on my slate; it's not quite as ambitious but I feel like it executes better.

Tier: Solid
#12 · 1
· · >>Orbiting_kettle
I’m firmly in the confused camp on this one, and honestly, I kinda struggled to finish it. At first I put it down to just being tired yesterday when I first tried to read it, but revisiting it again today, fully awake… well, it was still disorientating, and not necessarily in ways which I feel were intentional (I think Not_A_Hat has some good stuff to say on this matter).

And yet even though it didn’t work for me on a narrative level, I nevertheless found myself fascinated by the world that you’ve created – there’s no shortage of incredibly cool ideas in here! It’s a story which I really do think would benefit from being longer, and giving the reader more time both to process the plot and savour the world-building.
#13 · 5
Time for a retrospective.

I'm glad the story has been appreciated even with all its issues.

Regarding the story structure I seem to have done the same error I often do. I have done a lot of world building (more than what is seen in the story) and neglected the characters themselves. Sooner or later I shall learn. I'll also have to remember that before I do horrible things to my characters I'll have to let the readers care about them.

Regarding the grammar issues, comma splices and so on, there really are no excuses. I should have learned at this point.

Now for the most evident failings. Tons of relative important information that got lost between my head and the readers.

-I had pulled out from the first memory segment a detail that I thought would be too emotionally manipulative to state plainly. The fact that the soldiers of the Sun Prophet are children. The idea was to let that sink in later when the medic tried to remove the implant, but the clues got lost in the multitude of other details.

-That the MC was suffering memory contamination from the packages she was carrying and the malware she caught. This problem has a pretty clear solution. I should have stated her job at the beginning and I probably should have her react to the flashbacks. The malware was telling her to ignore the hints that something was wrong, but I should have pointed out the discrepancies.

-A better description of the world around the MC. For all its strangeness I should have put in a few more relatable situations and references.

-The bitter ending really didn't come through. The war rages on, the memories are lost, help won't arrive, the MC suffered a devastating personality damage but hey, she won the bet and made a lot of money.

-The bit about finance being out of the hand of the old corporations was quite important to explain how the world worked, but it became an almost throw away paragraph lost among the other stuff.

Nothing much to say, I see that it was way too confusing, which is a cardinal sin when someone tries to use complex ideas. I really need to reorganize the story.

She (and I had no idea there was a 'she' involved until very nearly the end) might also be the courier? And there's something about a bet that shows up at the very end, but it's never mentioned beforehand, as far as I can tell, although there's this recurring bit about an analysis that's mailed to a guy in Iceland…

The bet was the one about the Start-up not succeeding in keeping the Mexican Gulf algae bloom under control. It should have been a pointer to the fact that the MC is calculating and analytic.

I may need to find a way to better explain the Laras. It is always complicated when the Character perceives experiences as mundane when they are alien for the readers. As for the bet, I was thinking more along the line of buying shares in the current crisis management agency (which in case of failure of the start-up would enter the fray again) and other investments that capitalize on the idea of failure.

>>Scramblers and Shadows
I really have to take the lesson about character to the heart.

You can burn out the receptors you have in your nose. If you use the right chemicals and don't cauterize the wounds they should regrow in a month. I will apparently also need some pre-readers to tell me when I use too much jargon. I was sure I avoided most of it but I was clearly wrong.

>>Baal Bunny
The memories need a bit more of a sense of place, if even just to allow the reader to distinguish between the MC's memories and the carried ones.

Trading is pretty normative in the setting. Once production of physical goods is mostly automated and everyone and their dogs (literally) are connected then trading and services become commonplace.

As for baseball being a solved game, see it this way. We have good statistics about baseball, and you can buy a chip with 8 integrated sensors (today, in our reality) for 2.4$ if you buy at least a thousand. Give it two decades and we will have enough forecasting power to make 80% of the games boring and completely predictable. You can't have a league with only the remaining games that may or may not be moderately interesting.

TV content is great today, the medium itself on the other hand is losing terrain, mainly among the younger population. Here I envision that almost all content producers changed medium, and that Television itself survives thanks to a legal loophole. Not sure if expanding on this point will add anything to the story.

Glad you liked it. I adored your story.

I really need to clear up my act here. Glad the world was intriguing if confusing.

Thanks again to all the reviewers, you helped a lot and I really appreciate the time you've taken.