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The Last Minute · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
Show rules for this event
Sixty Seconds to the End
One minute left until the universe crunches in on itself and everything as I know it ceases to exist. I can see the last outer plates starting to peel away from the Dyson shield. I feel like I'm a roach in the universe's largest trash compactor. Which, given the size of the universe right now isn't as impressive as it sounds.

And you know what? It's not that bad, all things considered. The air conditioning in my control room is comfortable, and my coffee thermos is half full and still pretty hot. I've helped more people in the last 59 minutes than anyone else who's ever lived, so that's pretty cool. Hundreds of billions of people are living out long, peaceful lives thanks to the hour I'm spending in this room.

Well, sort of long. Relativity and the increased power use of the neural system makes keeping track of time between out here and in there hard. With the compression heat at the level it is, I'd ballpark a few thousand years of virtual time for every second that ticks by out here. I could do the math and find out exactly how much time they're experiencing, but keeping the system running is really a two handed job for the next 50 seconds or so.

Might not be so peaceful, either, come to think about it. We haven't had a real conflict in dozens of generations, but there's no way for me to monitor what's going on inside the neural system itself. They could have devolved into a state of violent anarchy and rebuilt society a hundred times over in the space of the last 10 seconds for all I know. They'd remember all of it, too, which would make screwing up the same way so often pretty stupid. But they are still human, I guess.

I'm a little jealous, if I'm being completely honest with myself. Once the inner shields fail the entire Dyson system will collapse in about half a second. From my perspective, they'll all be gone a fraction of a second after me, but in the time between my death and theirs there will be more books written and read and lost behind bedside tables inside the system than in all the rest of human history. And I won't get to enjoy any of them.

40 seconds left on the timer. Time enough for a quick sip of coffee while—oh, nope. Just kidding. The server city for the southern hemisphere nearly went down. Tap tap tap the keyboard, reroute power around the equatorial orbit ring, and... bam. Fixed. Fastest fingers in space save the day again.

Clock says that mess took 20 seconds to handle. Damn. Not as fast as I thought. I swear if I die without finishing this coffee I'm going to be so pissed off. I'll hand it to the lead eggheads: when they set a man out to die they sure don't skimp on the snack budget. I don't know if these beans were natural, genetically engineered, or pulled straight out of a matter fabricator, but hot damn did they brew a good cup of joe.

Now, is that coffee worth the relative thousands of years I'd be getting inside the neural net? What's the coffee like when it's all digital? As the inner plating begins to warp and crack against the heat of the collapsing universe, I realize I don't really have the time to give that exchange proper consideration. Instead, for the last 8 seconds of existence, I drink the last half of my still steaming thermos.

Hmm. Yeah, it might just be worth it after all.
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#1 ·
I liked this a lot, but then I've always had a weakness for short sci-fi stuff. It's a neat twist on a tired concept, but I enjoyed the voice of the narrator on the whole. He does tend to get a bit wordy in spots, which drains the energy from the story, but overall this is a strong contender.

Also, a word of advice: write out any words less than 100. It looks cleaner.
#2 ·
Well, okay. That builds on a Matrix™ sort of world, except the Deus ex machina is human, there.
It plays nicely on both worlds, though I wonder how 20 seconds of flaky server would translate into your “neural network” humanity. That would mean prolly millennia of shaky conditions at best.

Over all, I'd say it's okay: it doesn't shoot for the stars, but it does fine within what it tries to accomplish. Not awesome, but not bad either.
#3 ·
Straightforwards idea, straightforwards execution.

Personally, I'd like to see this go somewhere a bit more exciting. I get that cramming actual plot into 750 words is hard, and I also tend to rail at simple twist endings, but... yeah, I think this suffers a bit from lack of ambition.

Other than that, it's pleasantly written, and entirely inoffensive in concept. Nice!
#4 ·
I'm more or less on the same boat with the others. A strong, solid and straightforward story that could use some clearer explanations, but I understand that 750 words is short, very short, so still a good job with what we have here.

A nitpick
I could do the math and find out exactly how much time they're experiencing, but keeping the system running is really a two handed job for the next 50 seconds or so.

I feel like this sentence should be reworked or removed because it clashes with the rest of the story. I mean, this sentence tells us that the narrator needs to stay focus on his task, because it is a demanding task. However, the whole story is the narrator calmly (or at least that's how I feel the story) thinking about his situation, looking back on his life and on the life of the whole universe. He's only interrupted in his thinking by some urgent tasks, but it doesn't prevent him from going back to his train of thought.

Nonetheless, this is a solid entry that will end up in the top half of my slate without a doubt. Thank you for sharing.
#5 ·
So, despite one of the least imaginitive titles in the contest, this is actually pretty good. The digital-existence-for-more-time as a civilization hunkers down in a dyson sphere against proton decay is a fun idea I've been exploring in one of my own (unfinished) stories. Maybe I'm a little overly partial to the concept because of that.

But what I think sets this apart, is the perspective of the tireless sysadmin (which I am as well, so more bias) keeping everything running despite the impending doom. It humanizes the whole thing, and makes the epic-scale concept actually fit/work within a minific format.

All in all, great job. This is exactly the sort of thing I love seeing come out of the minific rounds!
#6 ·
End of the world is rather par for the course with the prompt, so expanding it to be a universe-sized crunch was the logical endgame idea. The framing of digital existence with one guy making sure every other human got the chance to enjoy eons before erasure was original (to me, at least). Writing was strong and evocative, and the coffee asides well-crafted. This is one of my favourites from the current lineup.
#7 ·
Solid, but I feel like this is a polish round or two away from really shining. The biggest drawback, I think, is just that it ends up being a little too mundane. Not necessarily in characterization or scenario, but rather just the punchiness of the prose. You have a couple really clever/fun sentences (garbage compactor, books lost, etc), but between them I'm... not bored, but I'm also not super engaged? There isn't a ton to him (likes coffee, gonna die in a minute, reasonably self-sacrificing), but the more clever stuff really makes up for it.
#8 · 2
Well, okay, pretty straight forward presentation here. Strong idea, strong writing. But I feel like I've just read the back of a book jacket or something.

Aspiring Writer: Okay, here's the pitch. All reality is actually just a simulation and outside, in the real universe, everything is about to end. There's only one minute left, but it feels like thousands of years for the people inside the simulation!

Publisher: That's a great setting for a book. You could do some really amazing things in a world like that. So what's the plot?

Aspiring Writer: I dunno, maybe there's like some kind of romantic angle? Like, two people inside the simulation realize they're living in a computer but that doesn't make their love for each other any less real? Or maybe society discovers that they're in a computer program and they start to worship the dude outside as a god or something in the hopes that he'll favor their country or whatever over the other server?

And... yeah, that's about how I feel. Good idea, good world, even a good character (what we see of him) in this technician. But there's a lot missing too.
#9 ·
A good story idea and a relatively decent execution, but the emotional element doesn't quite mesh. While I understand him being rather lax about time flowing by, the fact that his death doesn't phase him sort of sucks out any conflict. He's already in a state of resignation by the story's start, so there's no real emotional beats the story can hit.

Decent idea and portrayal, but needs just a little more emotional investment.