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Dead Men Do Tell Tales · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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“Excuse me.” After a moment, Tahira cleared her throat. “I’m here to die.”

The receptionist at the front desk fiddled with her computer for a moment. “Well, you have an appointment in… twelve years and six months, but if you want to die right now, I’m sure we can pencil you in.”

“Now would be good, thanks.”

She was told to take a seat. The waiting room had bad coffee and magazines describing different method of suicide, but she had time to neither drink nor read. As has been true throughout human history, the reaper was very accommodating.

He lead her back to a small office in the rear of the building. A bureaucrat’s office, with filing cabinets, an old computer, a tape recorder, and a ceiling fan that only squeaked a little bit. They went through the pleasantries, scanning her face, scanning her ID, checking her DNA, unambiguously confirming who she was, and verifying in legal terms that yes she really did want to die.

“Very well,” said the reaper, pressing the red switch on his recorder. “Beginning interview, case #8776234-98-AK-234, subject is Tahira Aliel who has requested early termination. Due to the advanced date of her termination, her replacement is not yet assigned. So let’s begin there. Tahira, do you have any preference on who replaces you?”

“I’d um…” Tahira fiddled with her hands. “Can she look like me?”

“Of course. Do you want her to look exactly like you? ‘Clone’ isn't technically accurate, but we can make her nearly identical.”

“Um. Not quite. I always felt… short. It bothered me sometimes. More than it should. I think she’d have a…” Tahira struggled for the words, “happier life if she was taller. Maybe two inches taller?”

“Just like you, but two inches taller. Anything else physical you’d like to change? Weight, build, figure, athleticism, anything?”


“Great. Then let’s move on to essential life experiences. As you know, when she joins society, she will be twenty-two years of age. It takes roughly eight years worth of memories to teach her the basics -- walking, language, courtesy, etc -- which leaves you with a maximum of fourteen years of memories to pick. Where do you want to begin?”

After a long silence, Tahira said, “College.”

“All of college?”

“No. No. Just… the classes. I liked studying history, but I didn’t… well. I liked my friends. But they weren’t good for me.” Tahira licked her lips. “Can you make up some friends? People who encouraged her?”

“Sure. Anything more specific than that?”

“My friends in college were selfish. Clever, fun to be around, charming people, but… selfish. It changed me as a person.” She looked down at her lap, twisting her hands. “Make her friends just really good people. Like… um. Yeah. Is that specific enough?”

“We can work with it.” Her reaper showed no response to her emotional distress, his hands folded, his face blank. “We have an archive of memories from other people, and they’re keyword searchable. ‘Good person’ and ‘Inspiring’ are subjective, but she’ll get memories of friends that are tagged with those keywords at least.”

“Okay. That works. Um… let’s talk about my parents next.” She lifted her head to stare at him. “Because, I don’t want her to have any of that. None of it. And actually, I have a specific request. I have a friend named Leo, and his family, they were just… so nice. Could I have his memories?”

“Different gender, they’ll have to be heavily artificially edited.”

“That’s fine.”

It went on like that for some time, until she’d picked fourteen years worth of memories, highlighting what in her life was worth preserving, and what wasn't. She said she didn’t care how she went, as long as it was painless.

So they took her out behind the processing annex, and shot her in the back of the head.

Several months later, two technicians opened a hatch on the side of a glass tank. A great deal of sticky fluid poured out onto a grate on the floor, and then upon that grate fell an unconscious woman.

She was a lot like Tahira. Younger, of course, and two inches taller. She regained consciousness quickly, and with the help of the two technicians, stumbled to her feet.

“Where am I?” she asked. Then she saw the tank, the grate, her naked body. “Oh fuck, am I new?”

“Indeed,” said the technician, “welcome to life.”

They scheduled her appointment with the reaper before she left.
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#1 ·
With the She-Ra rounds dead and the poetry rounds lightly populated, I might as well wander into an original mini round.

I'm immediately put in mind of Futurama's suicide booths. Or various Star Trek incarnations—the simulated war deaths in "A Taste of Armageddon" and the ritual suicides in a culture with a maximum allowable lifespan in "Half a Life."

A number of editing misses early on have me wondering if this was written in haste, like "describing different method of suicide" and "He lead her back to a small office."

There's an odd conceit here, that the person gets to exercise some control over their replacement. As a world-building thing I just have to accept to get into the story, that's fine, but the format isn't allowing you the space to really make that feel deep-seated. Like why does she care that making the new her a little taller would lead to her being happier? It's not going to benefit Tahira in any way, not even in a sense of things being better for her children. And there's not any background for why the society is set up this way. Maybe it just always has been? With the reapers, sure, but not designing replacements, as that wouldn't be a technology they always had. This is kind of key for me: "Her reaper showed no response to her emotional distress." She sure doesn't seem to be in any distress. She's in a situation where it's plausible someone might be (particularly if I had the context of her life specifically or the culture at large), but besides her occasional trailing off and admission of a few seemingly unpleasant memories, she doesn't come across as upset. Sell that more through her behavior.

There's something else that's going on here that could be rather clever. I don't know whether it's intentional. But if her experience is the norm, at least in terms of how these deaths are carried out, then these memories of hers that she wants to change for her replacement may not have actually happened. Not to her, anyway. Yet she seems so certain of it. Do these people know that? Does Tahira know if she actually started life at 10 or 16 or 25 or whatever? She may be remembering a childhood that never happened. Though through all the comments the reaper is making about his database, it's curious that he doesn't say anything to the effect of compiling stats on whether she liked them. Kind of an Amazon reviews thing. That last bit makes me think it's not something you planned this way, but it's an interesting thing to think about.

And I don't understand what has the woman at the end so upset. Just that she has to go through tedious acclimation training now, maybe?

All told, this is a cool take on a concept that's been done similarly before, but it's hard to get it to work in this short a format. I feel like it either needed more fleshing out of the world context, or more focus on the actual emotions, so I really believe this woman is as troubled as the one offhand sentence assures me she is. I do like the starkness of her death and the way the reaper is so matter-of-fact about it. It's reasonable he would be. That leads me to wonder if the reapers are the administrators of this world, or if they're just in a symbiotic relationship with it.
#2 ·
WOAH this is a ton to unpack. I absolutely loved this. The style is perfectly pithy, and the "took her out back" line reads like a shot in the head. That is the high point for me, literarily speaking. All this amazing technology, cloning, the grim reaper, replacement lives, coding memories, then--boom, take her out back like Old Yeller.

Really well done! Thank you for sharing!
#3 ·
Honorable Mention:
“Excuse me.” After a moment, Tahira cleared her throat. “I’m here to die.”

Feels almost unfair to highlight the opening line, because it implies that the story peaks early, but this is quite the kicker of an opener. Tahira is quickly established as a relatable character, young, troubled, sort of emotionally disturbed, and who can blame her for wanting to head out the door of life early? But of course the question of replacement is where this becomes a science-fantasy yarn, with a great deal of ambiguity added to the mix.

This is an unusual method for someone to commit suicide and "be reborn," as it were. We get to know a good deal about Tahira, and we get the impression that she had a depressing life in adolescence, although some things don't quite add up to me. For one, her request for a change in height. And why only two inches? If I was 5'9" (which I am), and I wanted to grow taller, I would wanna be like 6'2" or something. A noticeable change. Nobody gives a hoot about the difference between a 5'9" man and a 5'11" man. And also, I have to wonder about the logistics of these rebirths. They're not called clones, even though they basically are (in the wacky sci-fi sense of the word), and for some reason the reapers have assigned death dates for people. I'm not sure how that works. Is it like the expiration dates in Blade Runner but for ordinary people?

Even so, with all my questions, this is certainly one of the more enjoyable entries. It's stoic, dryly humorous, kind of sad, and gives us a glimpse at a macabre world that seems to walk the line between fantasy and science fiction. The opening and ending sections in particular are juicy to read.
#4 ·
Want to read more about this world. Wonder why Tahira wanted to check out before her time. Neat story!