I sigh and shake my drat head at the failures as I close the submissions
|# ? Aug 26, 2019 11:55|
|# ? Sep 25, 2021 07:41|
I've fired up the ol' wood chipper, and I'm feeding your stories into it one by one live in Obliterati's Week 361 Livecrits!
e: I have now finished turning your stories to mulch, your crit is there
Obliterati fucked around with this message at 21:36 on Aug 26, 2019
|# ? Aug 26, 2019 15:56|
God’s Chosen Vessel
|# ? Aug 26, 2019 21:49|
Week 368 results!
There are weeks where I toss out a weird prompt and TD surprises me with creative or clever interpretations of the subject. This was not one of those weeks. Before I hand out these results, let it be known that the judges were largely opposed in their preferences, but it wasn't even a lively sort of opposition—the judge chamber felt sluggish and despairing, like an opium den. If I had my way, both the win and the loss would go to the hot wings I ate earlier today, because those are most certainly going to have a longer-lasting effect on my mind and body.
[at this point i rubbed my eyes not realizing there was still a little residual wing spiciness on my hand gently caress]
Winner: Barnaby Profane wins because this world is hell and life is suffering, and laughing at the butt sounds was the closest i came to a meaningful emotional experience this week.
HMs: Antivehicular wrote an efficient apocalyptic tale; Chairchucker wrote a sweet, simple portrait of fleeting inspiration.
DM: Toaster Beef you had an interesting premise but totally sidestepped the emotional meat of your own piece.
Loser: Simon, everything your story described could be categorized as "sad but true"—but sometimes the truth isn't enough. I appreciate that you tackled a very contemporary problem, but your characters needed a little more nuance.
that ALL my crits for this week will be up before 11:59PM PST on 8/27
|# ? Aug 27, 2019 11:03|
TD 369 -- Nothing But A Number
“If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6, and 9, then you would have the key to the universe.” -- Nikola Tesla, noted number enthusiast
Numbers: what are they? What are they good for? Are they overrated or underrated? Let’s find out, in this week’s Thunderdome!
Your stories this week will be set in a world where everyone has a Number floating above their head. How you choose to work with that constraint is up to you -- it could signify age, wealth, number of toes, hit points, etc. If you’d like for me to assign a meaning for The Number, toxx when you sign up and I’ll hand out flash rules.
Rules: the usual, no fanfic, keep it in your pants, no gdocs, etc.
Word Count: 1369 words
Signup Deadline: August 30, 2359 PST
Submission Deadline: September 1, 2359 PST
1. Barnaby Profane
2. Fuschia Tude
1. Black Griffon
2. Toaster Beef
4. Pepe Silvia Browne
6. Anomalous Blowout
Barnaby Profane fucked around with this message at 08:45 on Aug 31, 2019
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|# ? Aug 27, 2019 14:33|
There can be only one. In your world, when two individuals with the same Number encounter one another, tradition dictates that they must engage in a mortal contest.
The Number indicates the remaining number of seconds in a person's life. It is almost never wrong.
|# ? Aug 27, 2019 15:15|
(USER WAS BANNED FOR THIS POST)
|# ? Aug 27, 2019 16:04|
|# ? Aug 27, 2019 18:42|
|# ? Aug 27, 2019 18:50|
In your world, everyone has a floating circular halo above their head. In your story, a main character's halo turns into a one.
|# ? Aug 27, 2019 18:51|
In your world, the Number changes so quickly that people perceive it simply as a blurry sort of aura. Your story focuses on scientists developing cameras with nigh-infinitessimal shutter speeds.
|# ? Aug 27, 2019 18:55|
Crits for week 368
Crimea - Lottery Face
The first line of prose, about the teeth, will be bothering me (in a good way) for a long time. Specifically, the detail about how the smell at the back of the victim’s mouth fills that room. It’s so delightfully particular; I wondered, briefly, if I’d lobbed a softball to an actual serial killer ha ha ha please don’t kill me i love your work. The POV here is a pretty convincingly unhinged, though I feel like fiction contains a glut of serial killers who believe themselves to be misunderstood artists.
In terms of the scenario: I think you missed an opportunity with this prompt. In this case, the serial killer’s choice to let go of murder is externally imposed by the police, who seem to contain or represent ‘Jackrabbit’. I was left feeling curious about what sorts of internal, self-imposed motivations might cause a serial killer to lay down their chains and flechettes and go straight. Most of us, serial killer or no, can be forced by some authority to change our ways, but what is more interesting to me is the ways in which people effect change within themselves.
Doctor Zero - Terras Astraea Reliquit
Not gonna lie, I was ready to roll my eyes at the maudlin opening, when the story coyly lets us believe Doctor Virgil is mourning a deceased wife or daughter or somesuch. When I realized Astraea was in fact a star-bound android, my tolerance for this piece increased by roughly 80%. That said, I think you needed to compress this into even more of a singular moment—the moment when Doctor Virgil drops the music box back into Astraea’s vessel. You could’ve started the story with the music box in his hands, having been given to him by his creation. I really like the ending of this story because the music box is kind of a nice metaphor for what she’s going to face out among the stars: she will have to fix her own music box, as it were. There won’t be a ‘dad’ to do it for her. That, to me, is the most affecting aspect of the story.
You seem a little unsure with metaphors. In the opening, you’ve got lots of watery stuff going on; a torrent of emotions rushing to the surface, having been submerged. That gave me pause because when I think of a torrent, I think of the movement of the water itself, not something submerged IN the water. So, are the emotions the torrent? Or are they submerged, carried by the torrent, then finally permitted to come up for air? But then they’re also threatening to wash him away? But then you evoke Sisyphus, whose whole deal is pushing a rock up a hill—nothing to do with fending off submerged torrents of emotions.
This might seem like petty nitpicking, but this was the opening of your story, and my first reaction was to raise an eyebrow at the metaphor. Metaphors have to be internally consistent or you risk distracting the reader with visuals they can’t easily parse.
Another example comes in the second paragraph:
She looks up, her face chill and unmoving like a winter night when your breath makes great clouds of billowing white, and her eyes are aurorae flickering against the frozen blackness of the sky.
The bit I bolded is a distraction that takes away from an otherwise elegant description of this beautiful, inhuman face. Without that bit, this is a lovely-rear end visual.
Anyway, I like the feelings in this piece, but I think you built too long of an on-ramp to the meat of this story (on-ramp to meat? That’s a terrible metaphor, smdh).
Toasterbeef - Reaching
In the few moments that elapsed between my completion of this story and the genesis of my first thoughts about this story, I didn't hate it. There’s a driving feeling to this piece, an emotional thrust that initially rushed me past the story’s flaws. You definitely chose to challenge yourself by adding a scifi element to the story and going just a little bit conceptual with it, though I will give you credit for limiting yourself to one concept (headmate wife), and giving me a surprising take on your prompt. The problem is, the wife is the emotional fulcrum of this story. Her death, and subsequent cyberdeath, are the driving force behind the narrator’s feelings and actions (insofar as he takes any action). But all we get from her is “omg baby whats happening” which doesn’t give us any insight into the connection between she and the narrator. If I was someone’s dead brainwife and I knew I was about to have Me.exe deleted, I would be saying the most meaningful poo poo my virtual brain could conceive of. I think a better way to approach this scene would have been to give the spouses a chance to have one last, private conversation and show us how the bond between them looks in this final, devastating moment.
The ending seems to imply the narrator decides to go out violently (“I’ll be with you soon” + the final line). I found myself wondering if his headwife knew his intentions and what her feelings were about that. I think you had the opportunity to play with something really interesting, emotionally. Would his wife approve of his choice to effectively end his own life in an act of violence? If she didn’t support it, would the fact of her artificiality cause him to give her objections less weight? Is she less “real,” and so easier to let go of? Or does losing her twice galvanize him? I dunno! The story is very diffuse in its focus; there’s some scifi stuff, some griping about Jonas, some sad-but-true criticism of medicine as an industry. But this story is definitely emotionally-driven, which means you needed to have honed in a lot more tightly on the bond between husband and wife, whether or not headwife was “real” in any meaningful sense.
Chairchucker - That You Wanted to See Fly
Like other stories, this piece could really have started at the end—the moment when Wilson looks at his bird-muse and realizes he’s caged it a beat too long. I think your premise is very good; inspiration by its nature is ephemeral, but we often behave like it’s something we should be able to possess indefinitely. But so okay, how do you compress the events that brought about Wilson and Charlie’s relationship into a smaller span of time? Instead of writing out the little history between them, maybe have Wilson look around his studio and observe his various paintings in relation to various points in he and Charlie’s relationship. IE “that was the river sketch from just after he’d first found Charlie, splayed out in a broken pile of feathers on the walkway” or somesuch.
Your last line cracked me up.
Thranguy - Dandelion Petals
This story is striving so hard for poignance but I didn’t get a convincing sense of either loss or surrender from the subject of the piece. I can believe that a victim of alzheimers or dementia might arrive at a place of surrender within themselves, the understanding that they are a shell playing a part for the benefit of those left behind. But this is too...graceful? I’m not sure how to put it. The beginning, the bit where the requisite “first memory” is mentioned, is sort of a fakeout—degenerative illness is not a goblin with whom we can bargain. Fair enough, and it’s a sufficiently cruel metaphor. But after that point, the story-camera kinda just pans around the reality of memory loss and end-of-life helplessness; I don’t actually have a sense for how grandpa really feels about losing his first memory, just that he’s coming to accept that he is on the steep downslope and his condition will only leave him more and more fragmented.
It’s a good portrait, but as a moment of letting go or giving up, it doesn’t quite scratch my itch.
Simply Simon - The Invitation
Any story that uses the word “healslut” with full knowledge of the context and culture surrounding that term is taking a risk. I sort of like that you saved that bit for the end, because if you’d opened with ‘healslut’ I think that would’ve diverted my attention from Claire’s feelings about stuff and focused instead on how Extremely Online these characters are.
I think the biggest issue with this piece is how strawman-like all the characters seem. The gamer guys are toxic and gross, Claire is meek and acquiescent right up until she’s had enough—and I’m glad that she does ultimately get fed up! It’s not that what you’re describing is inaccurate, but each character behaves exactly how we’d expect them to behave according to gamer/healslut tropes. I absolutely do not need Gavin, for example, to be more sympathetic, but I would like him to have a bit more nuance; maybe he even truly believes he understands Claire, and is genuinely a good guy for bringing her into the fold. As it is, he just reads like a boilerplate turd.
I wanted to know more about how/why Claire puts up with this! It’s not enough to suggest a character has low self-esteem; it goes without saying she undervalues herself. I wanted to know more about why she holds herself in such low regard, even if you only spend a line or two on that exploration.
Pepe Silvia Browne - Free to a Good Home
This is an okay piece. It kinda misses the intention of the prompt, though; this is more about the events leading up to Rupert’s surrender, and not as much about the actual *moment*, though the last line of the piece is pretty good. I would have preferred a piece of about half this length that focuses on the sensory input and feelings surrounding the handing-over of Rupert the Bad Dog. I think you could have implied the whole backstory in a few lines, or by showing some small, problematic behavior on Rupert’s part—basically, you gave us the whole iceberg when we only needed the tip.
I’m still not sure whether or not the narrator’s infirm state is due to Rupert; I don’t think so, I think the narrator would’ve been confined to a chair and etc regardless, which would certainly make it harder to handle a borderline feral dog. But the way the information is presented implies that the narrator’s medical condition might have had something to do with Rupert. And honestly, you shouldn’t be distracting me with these details anyway! Yes, the history of the situation is important, but that history can be implied by the moment of surrender.
Antivehicular - Second Martyrdom
Thank you SO MUCH for not feeling the need to dump 300 more words of worldbuilding into this piece. You didn’t waste my time telling me the particulars of your apocalypse, though no doubt it would have been precious and unique and special. But you did exactly what I asked and focused instead on this tiny, gossamer-thin moment in what I’m sure could be a fascinating speculative scenario.
If I were you I’d be like “what the hell, if i was good enough to HM why am I runner-up to a fart story??” and that is a very normal and legit question. I think it’s because this story presents a very dire situation, but there’s no tangible urgency to it. Like, why is this particular season the one wherein Hodges is like “well shoot, i guess this bright-rear end window is probably a liability”? The narration suggests she has been holed up here a while, and it’s not like there are baddies charging over the hills with flaming torches, so this decision, while beautifully conveyed, seems to arise from nowhere. It makes sense as a thing to do, but for the purposes of this prompt, I think I was craving some sort of ticking clock element to this story—something more acute than the nebulous threat of raiders.
Fleta Mcgurn - Acceptance
This needed to be about 250 words long. It needed to depict the moment Tanner is walking into the euthenasia facility: give me the smells, the sights, the sounds. Describe the faces of the other people who’ve Given Up. You can still wait until the end to actually tell us it’s a euthenasia facility, but you needed to ditch most of the beginning. I don’t need to see Tanner walking away from his family to know he’s a family man, that’s pretty easy to imply in passing.
I think you had the right idea, describing the lightness and freedom he feels upon Giving Up. The problem is you spend a couple hundred words telling us why our greedy consumer society is frivolous and self-annihilating, but again, that’s something you can nod to in a single line.
As with many stories this week, you needed to basically get rid of your “on-ramp” to the moment of surrender.
Anomalous Blowout - The Crossing
Kudos to being among the minority of people who did what I asked! This piece moves at the speed of feelings; there is no question this is a Moment.
This crit is going to suck because it boils down to basically one thing: the metaphors were layered on too thick. It’s interesting because typically I associate your writing with a lot of concrete visuals and emotional realism (and don’t get me wrong, the emotions in this piece are real and convincing), so it was neat to see you showing off your range. That said, I spent a lot more time trying to map the whole Aggamemnon metaphor onto this moment than I did picturing what was actually happening in real-time, if that makes sense (this could be me being dumb as a reader though, i admittedly struggle with more poetic prose). I think you needed a metaphor with a fewer moving parts, or you needed to expend a few more words to ground me in the reality of the scene.
Barnaby Profane - God’s Chosen Vessel
This is a hard choice to defend. It’s a story about a big fart, unleashed during one of the most well-known compositional conceits in all of experimental music. But!! But!! There are subtleties. What won me over was not actually the fart, or the narrator’s languishing in the “why me?” of it all. No. It was the moment at the very end when the camera pans over to the pianist, who is sitting at the piano, apparently enduring the fart as part of the 4’33” experience.
I kinda wish you’d messed around with that element of the scene, tbh. The whole goal of 4’33” is to explore music as a space wherein any sounds contribute to the composition. It would’ve been even funnier to have the stuffy concert patrons visibly struggle to stay zen about the fart, because that’s the point of the song. Having them all stampede out of the room because of a butt smell is amusing, but I think you legitimately missed a chance to poke fun at art and art consumption!
Steeltoedsneakers - Bye Barry
I wish you’d had time to develop this more. When you’re in a hurry, you tend to favor sparse description, I’ve noticed. I love the feeling of this piece—the comingling of loss and compassion on the part of the defunct imaginary friend was pretty effective. This story never really sets its feet down in an image or setting, though; some of that is implied with the pillow fort and racing BMX bikes, but I think I needed at least one image, and a little more sensory description. Even if it’s just something about how the pillow fort had started to smell like stinky boy instead of little kid, or something like that.
I appreciate that you chose to tell this story from the perspective of the imaginary friend, too! I wasn’t expecting that approach.
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|# ? Aug 28, 2019 06:41|
A crit of Three things I remember happening by Sebmojo
You agreed to do a crit swap with me, Sebmojo. A swap.
the gently caress
is my crit,
|# ? Aug 28, 2019 09:07|
Thanks for the crits!!
|# ? Aug 28, 2019 10:56|
i love your work
Oh really, wiseguy? You love my work so much prepare to receive some more of it. I challenge you to a Brawl, and this time I won't get depressed and not do it and have to pay the spine tax.
In fact, this time the stakes have never been higher. Everyone knows real happiness and success is a zero-sum game. If I win this brawl, my depression gets cured. If you win, your depression gets cured. It's a statistical likelihood you have depression but in case you don't please catch depression by the deadline so this bit works.
|# ? Aug 28, 2019 22:57|
Oh really, wiseguy? You love my work so much prepare to receive some more of it. I challenge you to a Brawl, and this time I won't get depressed and not do it and have to pay the spine tax.
I'm the guy who
|# ? Aug 28, 2019 23:07|
I will judge this and the prompt will be: What is left to do after the war is over and we are all content at last.
up to 2000 words, due 15 September 2019 at 2359 PST
|# ? Aug 28, 2019 23:21|
Also I'll to finish my outstanding crits (this week and yoru's one plus any that kaishai reminds me about in her role as the Phosphor-Eyed Arbiter of Sins) by, hrm, 31 sept 2359 pst.
|# ? Aug 28, 2019 23:23|
I’ve had a stupid busy couple weeks and prefer to post crits that are in depth and actually helpful rather than the current 3-4 line blurbs I have. to post Dick Week crits by midnight NZT Sept 9th.
|# ? Aug 29, 2019 01:37|
The Number of sign ups is currently 6. This is a Sad Number.
The Number of judges is currently 1. This is an Incorrect Number.
Number must go Up.
|# ? Aug 30, 2019 05:43|
The Number of sign ups is currently 6. This is a Sad Number.
|# ? Aug 30, 2019 06:33|
I'll also judge!
Now more people write, dammit
|# ? Aug 30, 2019 06:36|
I can't come up with a good meaning for my number so in and please assign me a flash.
|# ? Aug 30, 2019 11:18|
I can't come up with a good meaning for my number so in and please assign me a flash.
The Number represents the tally of a person's encounters with Death that they have survived.
|# ? Aug 30, 2019 13:20|
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|# ? Aug 31, 2019 01:29|
Gotta bow out this week, regrettably.
|# ? Aug 31, 2019 02:43|
Sign-ups have closed.
The Number of Judges is Three.
The Number of Entrants is Nine.
These are Pleasing Numbers.
|# ? Aug 31, 2019 08:47|
First lot of crits from last week.
I liked the sort of 70s experiment feel of this, just harlan ellisoning it out into new frontiers of grotesquerie, but I’m not sure it cashes all th cheques it writes, and it might have worked better without quite as much grand guignol eyeball popping? It’s implicit in the format i guess but while you manage to nail the strong crazy and the sense impressions, it’s a little hollow like a murder cookie. Not terrible tho.
Terras Astraea Reliquit
Sysiphisian is apparently a level 100 night elf druid on the Khadgar server, what it isn’t is the process of endlessly attempting an onerous task that’s sisyphean, no need to thank me ur vocabulary is my business. That said, I’m also not sure what the point of the first para is, you’re not being particularly heightened or poetic in the rest of it, just a little purple. The story as a whole, well, it suffers from being one note - robot waifu leaving, owner/bf sad. There’s a nice metaphor in the broken music box, but I think it could have been more central e.g. by starting with it, really leaning into it. I found this a bit tiresome overall because it’s really just telling us over and over how sad it is that hot robot lady is (effectively) dying. We get it. Statement received.
I bounced off this one a little when I first read it, I think because it buries the actual reality of what’s happening a little deeper than (e.g.) the last one, but actually it works ok. It’s an instructive parallel with the previous one, actually, as they’re essentially the same story. I like this one a lot more because it actually makes it into more of conflict - the thing is happening against his wishes, and there are actions he wants to but will not take, and there’s a lot more reasonably interesting detail about their relationship to flesh it out. The words are solid too, finding their quasi noir groove right from the first line. I’m not sure about the poss shooting rampage at the end, it’s a little crude, but I guess you get away with it by just hinting at the possibility.
That you wanted to see fly
This is a really nice piece that just says the words it needs to say and then sits back on the porch and enjoys the feeling of the air on its face. I like the space it leaves for what our protag might have in their lives that means they need to go on long riverside walks. I also like the complcated, fuzzy point you’re making about constraints and how we use others. That said, not keen on the final line - it’s classic chucker toss off (and yeah the joke is that writers have just that problem), but the story would have been better with another ending i think?
I liked this more than my co judges but i think that may have been mainly the quality of the words, which is high as usual. Or maybe it was just your description of learning to read because man the moment I clicked on about Tiger in the Grass is still clear as a bell in my head. But actually, I still stan for this tight little wordslab for how it straddles the gap between rumpelstiltskin and alzheimers.
I liked this when I read it, because for all it’s very on the nose, it’s precisely and thoughtfully articulated. The issue is that you’re so anxious to make everything as clear as it can be that there’s no room to inhabit the story. The prompt is for a single moment, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a small moment, and you definitely achieve the assemblage of straws that made this camel back break, but there’s nothing very interesting in what she does. All you can do is give us what we expect or what we don’t expect and this is the former = person realises people are all infinitely assholes, leaves them.
Free to a good home
Again, this is actually a better example of the ‘kicking an rear end in a top hat to the curb’ genre. I like the way the complex implicit character of your protag is revealed through how they deal with the dog, and the dog is great - i can see his pale eyes in my head. You also (and this is the first story that’s done this) nail the ending - with all my might is such a great, surprising phrase to tie to that simple action, and it draws attention to the leash as metaphor.
|# ? Aug 31, 2019 22:35|
This is a nice snippet of post apocalypse with a clear point and well deployed words, and I’m not sure why the impact stops at my eyes and doesn’t go any further. Possibly it’s because there’s not much to give contours to the protagonist? She just an old lady in a church, hanging out. Ditto with the antagonists, they’re vaguely described fallout 3 raiders. I think the metaphor in the stained glass window and what she does to it is potent and quite beautiful, but this story doesn’t quite manage to pay it off. Also the final line is, idk - light? I can imagine it would have landed better if the church had been some kind of metaphor for her, giving us a clearer idea of what the final destuction actually means to her. Not bad work though.
Bland title aside, this has a lot to like in it. There’s something really potent in the notion of giving up, a sneaky suspicion at the back of the head that it might be the easiest way, and this story takes that head on in a pleasingly bold way. I also like all the well-drawn, if borderline cliche details of his family. I agree with my co judges that the end is where it falls down, though. I like the idea of the Given Up just walking the streets like Invisibles, throwing them into the societally approved long snooze bucket seems cheap and a bit dull.
This is a beautiful latticework word engine, but I think I agree with my judge buds that it gets in its own way with the intricacy of the interlocking metaphors, so we’re left admiring the craft but feeling a bit unmoved. There are just too many ups and downs of perspective to hold onto, from bird to ship to the gods to huge crowds to snakes to stone, so while there’s a strong sense of the mythic in the mundance, it’s not quite a satisfying whole.
God’s chosen vessel
So this is the mythical funny-story-winning-thnderdoom, and you know what? It’s ok. There was a degree of ennui in the judge chambers, not gonna lie, but there was also no debate that this was a story that set out to outline a particular series of events and by gosh it did it, and sometimes that’s worth celebrating. To be more specific, I like the jaunty tone and accumulation of details. Not sure the religious aspect quite lands, but it’s not for want of trying. As I think another judge mentioned, an interesting thing about 4’33” is that it’s not really about silence - it’s all the noises that aren’t silence that happen during the piece. The relevance of which, I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader.
This was an early candidate for HM but got horsetraded away, and I still like it because it sets a simple small target and hits it with precision. It’s also another one of the ‘protag says good bye to their special person’ stories that we had a swaggle of this week, but it’s firmly in the good side of that grouping. The repetition of ‘i don’t know’ is an effective device, and the ending where it’s turned around is nice if maybe justttt the right side of cheesy. You also teeter on that line with the descriptions of little hearts beating hotly ect ect, but overall I still like this a lot, gj.
|# ? Sep 1, 2019 04:24|
348 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW
This is basically ok, as a bunch of nice sense impressions, but it didn't hang as a story because it doesn't know what it wants to achieve.
|# ? Sep 1, 2019 06:23|
Spent some time in the hospital this week, so I'm just not going to have time to finish up the piece I was working on. Gotta take the fail.
|# ? Sep 1, 2019 18:32|
In your world, the Number changes so quickly that people perceive it simply as a blurry sort of aura. Your story focuses on scientists developing cameras with nigh-infinitessimal shutter speeds.
Dr. Vorka, The Atmos, and Gus
"Of all the mysteries which have plagued humanity, there are two which are undeniably responsible for shaping the state of the world at large. The first, of course, is 'Which God should we worship?'" Dr. Dennis Vorka was pleased with the small chuckle this elicited from the crowd of tech-bros. "The second is the reason I've come to speak to you today, and one whose answer may soon be within our grasp."
The doctor lifted his arms to the heavens, each hand skirting the edges of the blue and white fog which swirled in a long thin cloud above his head. The Atmos.
"What the hell is THIS thing?"
The crowd erupted into laughter and applause. Gus watched his hero with admiration from the back of the cafeteria-turned-lecture-hall. He'd been fascinated with Dr. Vorka's research since he'd first started researching the Atmos in high school.
For others, Gus's interest in the Atmos seemed to be an unhealthy fixation. To Gus, it was the only thing worth learning about. He did not understand how some were able to wake up each morning, brush their teeth in the mirror, and not be constantly aware of the giant unanswered question floating above their heads.
"For the Egyptians, it was the rope that connected each man to the afterlife," Dr. Vorka continued. "The ancient Chinese believed each Atmos contained the spirits of one's ancestors which would protect and guide the individual. Jesus Christ and his followers claimed it was 'Holy Smoke' from Empyrean, placed in each man by God himself."
These were the myths about the Atmos that each child was taught, asked about on a standardized test, and then vaguely remembered for the rest of their lives. But Gus was not satisfied to learn these stories and put his curiosities away. He wanted to know about the realities of the Atmos. What physical properties had been measured from it? Did it react to any stimuli? Could a human continue to live without one?
It was his high school librarian who had set him on a path to where he was now when she recommended Dr. Vorka's seminal work, "The Atmos: Deciphering The Ever Present Cloud." Despite being an academic text, Gus pored over the figures and analyses inside with an enthusiasm most teen boys reserve for comic books and pornography. Page after page, chapter after chapter, a single idea was reinforced in Gus's mind: "This is what I want to do with my life."
"Today, our understanding comes from a slightly more secular standpoint," Vorka said with a smirk, again drawing a short wave of laughter from the room. "Over the past 40 years, the team of researchers we've assembled has spent millions of manhours investigating each aspect of the physical phenomenon which manifests above the heads of every human being on the planet."
Vorka paused to scan the crowd, and made eye contact with Gus as he announced, "I am proud to say that we may have found something more substantial than 'Holy Smoke.'" A screen lowered from the ceiling.
Over the past five years, Gus had been working under a special division of Vorka's facilities dedicated to capturing images of the Atmos. Due to limitations in technology, it was nearly always photographed as a semitransparent blur. Only at the highest of commercially available shutter speeds was the cloud able to be represented as the elusive, continually shifting mass seen by the human eye. And in this, the division found their answer.
The camera is merely a simulation of the eye. What the camera captures in a series of thousands of separate images, the brain receives as an unbroken stream of information. Where the camera's ability is restrained by its light-detecting sensors, the eye's is similarly restrained by the brain which processes the information.
To Gus, the solution was obvious.
Those team members whose stomachs turned during the initial development of the interface were quickly replaced with more qualified biological engineers. After tests using the eyes of other species proved unfruitful, the vast quantity of "donor" eyes needed were routed through back channels to avoid arising suspicion. After two years, the team had successfully created an interface for receiving digital information through an optic nerve. In two more, they'd developed a process for growing bio-cameras with capabilities beyond those of the human eye. And after endless retoolings and trials and patches, they'd created something which captured images at speeds no purely digital sensor could match.
In those images, Gus did not see the typical translucent blue haze above his head. He saw digits, ten of them at a time, different in each frame. At 100,000 frames per second, 500,000 frames per second, and 1,000,000 frames per second, there seemed to be no difference. Even with the outstanding progress they'd made, the bio-camera was still too slow for the number to be the same in two consecutive frames.
The results were quite unsettling to Gus. After dedicating his life to the pursuit of this mystery, he found himself at the entrance of yet another rabbit-hole to dive into. He didn't know if he was prepared to start asking an entirely new set of questions about the Atmos: What did the numbers signify? How fast were they changing? The utility of letting go of these questions altogether and being only vaguely aware of some spiritual explanation had become readily apparent to him. That was until he presented his team's results to Dr. Vorka himself.
Vorka was ecstatic with the images. He immediately demanded to tour the lab and get photographed himself. "Of all the research we've done here, all the avenues that have been explored, you've discovered something entirely new," he told Gus. "We've wasted fortunes on studying the Atmos under different conditions. We've restricted subjects to all meat diets, dosed them with illicit substances, put them under extreme physical duress. All to see if we could detect some change in that cloud above them. Terabytes of data recorded and cataloged, never to be touched again. And here you are with your little eyeball camera, to show us that we didn't even know what we were looking at."
Having his work praised by his idol put any doubts in Gus's mind at ease. He knew failure waited for him if he tried attaining a state of content agnosticism towards the Atmos. That path had been closed off long ago for him. The questions were there to be answered. He was doing what he wanted to do with his life.
Gus even proposed a new path forward to Vorka, a form of data collection for their continued research.
As Vorka finished the presentation on the bio-camera, the screen rolled back up into the ceiling.
"Obviously, the Atmos is not the only application for this breakthrough. I'm thrilled at the potential benefits this partnership may yield for us both. By miniaturizing and incorporating the bio-camera into the design of your devices, you'll not only have unparalleled image quality, you'll be able to offer your customers something none of your competitors can," Vorka explained. "The chance to see what's actually happening above their heads."
|# ? Sep 1, 2019 23:09|
Maggie came into my office, arms crossed, wearing one of those hats that billowed black steam in a fuzzy funnel above her head. She frowned and adjusted the brim of her hat, one hand on the plush armchair across from my desk. “You can’t be the doctor,” she said.
“What makes you say that?” I gestured for her to sit down, reached into my desk’s cabinet, and took out a bottle of Scotch.
She blinked. I knew from her application that she was in her mid-thirties, but the gauntness beneath her eyes, the sallowness in her skin, made her look much older. The hat covered what seemed like a homemade buzzcut.
“You’d hide your own number,” she said. “With whatever you do, or with one of these hats, or – well, something. You wouldn’t just proclaim it. Especially if you’re at Five.” Still, she took a seat, and eyed the bottle of Scotch. I obliged and poured her a glass.
“Five shameful acts,” I said. “How do you feel about that?”
“You’re so young.” She downed the Scotch at once, and I refilled her glass. If we proceeded with the Reduction, Maggie would need to be thoroughly sloshed, and I suspected she had a high tolerance.
“Maybe I just have a low tolerance for shame,” I said. The cat, the girlfriend, the father, the fire, the gun. I downed my own Scotch and refilled my glass, topped Maggie off. “Where’d you get the hat?”
Maggie didn’t answer right away. “I’m a teacher,” she said, at last. “Second grade. The parents look at you funny if you’re not at zero. Nearly got fired from my last job after a concerned parent made noise to the school board, but the background check came up clean. I left anyway, though. They’d find something to pin on me. Anyway, moved to Milwaukee, and I guess the principal had a hard time finding Zeroes, because he started requiring that we all wear these hats last year.”
I smiled. “I see a lot of teachers,” I said, as Maggie drank. I’d seen one earlier that morning; a real marathon session, a man who was at Three (the peanuts, the camera, the friend), whose Reduction, despite my hard work, could only take him down to Two (the camera, the friend).
“I’ll need you to take the hat off, Maggie.”
“You have my paperwork.” She poured her own refill this time.
“I know what you’ve put down. But I won’t know if the Reduction is working unless I can clearly see your number.”
Maggie steepled her hands. I knew she was thinking about leaving. Sometimes people did exactly that – just walked right on out, once you pushed just a little bit. I never blamed anyone. The whole process was ugly, revolting, like stripping flesh from a limb. But Maggie acquiesced, taking off the hat and laying it on the ground, where a wisp of black smoke continued to gush out. “I can’t turn it off,” she murmured, looking down at the spewing hat.
“I remember,” I said, eying her Number, keeping my face neutral, “that, when I was in school, my teachers would always complain about extra credit. They’d say that people who needed it would never take advantage of it, and it was always the kids that were hovering around perfect grades that would snap it right up.”
“You know there’s only one Number that matters. If you’re not at Zero–”
“You’re garbage,” I said brightly. Of course Maggie was a One. Ones were always desperate for Reductions, and they were always the hardest to Reduce. Once you reached Two, or Three, you’d want to save a bit of face. Beyond that? No one really saw a difference between a Four or a Five. And if you were Ten or more, you were probably just dramatic.
Maggie cleared her throat. “Well, anyway,” she said. “You can start whenever you’re ready.”
I just put my hand on my cheek and looked at her until she shifted in her chair. “You know how this works,” I said. “You’re in the driver’s seat. I’ll give you directions when you need them, but you’ll have to hit the gas. Do you know your shameful act, Maggie?”
“I killed my daughter.”
She steepled her hands again, looking back and forth between the discarded, billowing hat, and my face. I kept my face stony, a mask. “How old was she?”
“Four months.” The baby. “I left her with my brother while I went to a loving casino – where I lost five hundred dollars, by the way, which I shouldn’t care about but it still stings – and when I came back she was face-down and – you know what? – I didn’t even notice! Not until the next morning, where–” She downed her remaining scotch. I didn’t refill it for her, this time.
“Sounds like your brother’s shameful act.”
“He’s at Zero,” Maggie said flatly.
“If you watch the news, there’s war criminals at Zero.”
“It’s all...” She waved a hand. “Well, they have mirrors and lighting working for them. Like this loving thing.” She kicked at the hat, still producing its tarry steam. “Or, who knows, maybe they go in for weekly Reductions. Maybe you Reduce them.”
“Do you know how Reduction works?” I asked her.
“Yeah, you shift the blame to someone else, or confuse people enough about the details of whatever happened, and boom – you’re more shameless than you used to be. Guess it didn’t work for you, though. Five. That’s a lot, you know?”
The cat, the girlfriend, the father, the fire, the gun. I pushed that to the side, but I couldn’t help it – she’d nicked me with that. “We definitely try to help people self-Reduce. To see things in a clearer, less distorted light. But I can tell you’re too smart for that,” I said.
Maggie was squinting at me, searching for irony. “I’ve gone over it a thousand times,” she said. “Whatever the examiner said–”
“You killed her.”
She looked up again, one of her hands clenched, her eyes wide; half you understand me and half how dare you.
“You were too busy blowing your savings to make sure your baby was breathing. That’s it, we’re done here.”
I poured another tall glass of Scotch and drank it all myself. Maggie stood up. “What the gently caress do they pay you for?”
“People who deserve it get a Reduction. But not degenerates like you. Not if you’d rather drink and gamble and throw your only child at your shithead brother, and then come back and not even check on her. I mean, who does that?”
A pallor had come upon Maggie, one evident even on her sallow skin. Above her head, her Number had begun to flicker, between a One and a Zero, and her eyes were fixed over my head, both of her hands clenched.
“Admit it – you’d been just hoping that something like this would happen. Without a baby, you could lose five hundred dollars every night, not just the ones where Harold gives in babysitting. That baby could have just vanished at any time, and I’d be happy.”
And there it was – Maggie’s One became that nice round satisfying Zero, and, in the reflection of her horrified and fascinated eyes, I knew that my Number had just become a Six.
“That’s it?” she said.
“You should go.”
The cat, the girlfriend, the father, the fire, the gun, the baby. The baby was going to be another one of my bugbears; hard to purge, once I’d gotten in there. But I could try.
She stared for a long moment, her mouth opening like she wanted to say something, before she bent down, picked the hat up off the floor, and turned around, leaving a trail of black steam in her wake.
|# ? Sep 2, 2019 03:17|
A Definitive Classification of the Peoples of Boria According to the Numbers That Float Above Their Heads, Volume LXVI, pp 98-100
4216. Migrants from the burning south untouched by the taint of cannibalism.
4217. Veterans of campaigns overseas who did not kill any of the Nation's enemies during their service.
4218. Invisible persons, including ghosts that were never a live person.
4219. Merchants who traffic in amber, jade, or petrified ebony.
4220. Former confidantes of First Citizen Derecus.
4221. Bad poets.
4222. People who have survived a murder attempt by their spouses.
4223. Winners of championship matches of wrestling, backgammon, or bicycle racing.
4224. Citizens with undisclosed knowledge of counter-revolutionary organization.
4225. Artists who disproportionately employ shades of blue.
4226. Persons with more than ten children.
4227. People who falsely claim to have conversed with angels.
4228. Farmers of root vegetables
4229. Hoarders of silver, fine porcelain, or silicon trinkets
4230. The only citizen to have this number in their cloud does not appear to have any interesting properties other than their other numbers, 532 (People older than thirty years) and 11254 (People who failed to complete college). It is currently disputed as to whether she has an unknown rare property or if 4330 encodes uninterestigness itself.
4232. Those befriended by birds.
4233. Seekers of petty revenge.
4234. Apparently duplicative of 2155, people protesting their innocence at the gallows. Some scholars suggest that one affixes to those actually innocent and the other to the guilty. They cannot agree as to which is which among themselves. Mainstream scholarship instead holds that false accusations are so rare that those cases must be one of the too-rare-to-categirize numbers and these two must have some other distinction between them. Dr. Janis Cloudscape has suggested that 4334 is for those guilty of additional serious crimes unknown to the people's justice, which is the best hypothesis proposed so far.
4236. People with the skills and knowledge required to make a perfect omelette, a perfect martini, or both.
4237. Musicians who have independently re-invented the melody of a lost song from the doomed age.
4238. Those who have planted a tree that went on to bear fruit.
4239. The completely color-blind.
4240. Those who recognize a number in the cloud above someone that has informed them that they are being lied to.
4241. People who have been deceived by a malicious ghost.
4242. Destroyers of regressive art.
4243. People with severe allergic reactions to bee stings.
4244. People who have at any time been completely lost in a forest.
4245. Those who have talked a friend or relative out of taking their own life.
4246. Members of outlawed religious sects.
4247. People who owe debts to a ghost.
4248. Those fluent in three distinct languages.
4249. Heroes of the revolution.
4250. Constables and other law enforcement officers who have turned vigilante.
4251. Dishonest playwrights.
4252. Security guards who have been worked at a distillery.
4253. Doctors who have not completed their bondservice.
4254. People who have damaged their vision by looking directly at a solar eclipse.
4255. Those who have spoken or written slurs or other forbidden words in the last year.
4256. Salvagers who have retrieved from doomed era ruins items highly treasured by ghosts.
4257. The family of the First Citizen; second cousins and nearer relations.
4258. Those who were invited guests at a royal wedding, not counting any of the Eskaline Pretenders as true eastern royalty.
4259. Elders, beyond fifty years, who possess and unmistakable child-like beauty.
4262. Unlicensed barbers and beauticians
4263. Those who have changed their legal name
4264. Bearers of a tattoo hidden beneath clothes
4265. Diplomats from nations that exist only in exile.
4266. The recently unlucky.
4267. Those who understand the fundamentals of nuclear physics.
4268. People who have in the last week spent time contemplating a reflection in still lake-water.
4269. Those who can navigate by sextant.
4260. Sculptors who work in wax, ice, or glass.
4261. Signatories of the Trans-Pacific Compact.
4262. People who have a sibling they have not spoken to in more than a year.
4263. Anyone who has ever worn the devil mask at a masquerade.
4264. Bigamists, including those in group contract marriages.
4265. Elementary school teachers.
4266. People currently being impersonated.
4267. Victims of skullduggery.
4268. Malingerers on campaign.
4269. Lovers of ghosts who recoiled in horror when told what would be required to reunite them with their lover after death.
4270. Classified under general order kappa gamma gamma.
4271. Coral gardeners.
4272. Lawyers under surveillance.
4273. People who have had limbs replace or re-attached by military surgeons.
4274. Those suffering from a severe headache.
4275. Those currently making love in a position such that their partner cannot see their cloud of numbers and fantasizing about another person.
4276. People who could be replaced in their daily labours by a Mechanical Turk or a well-trained capuchin monkey.
4277. Lighters of major forest fires.
4278. Sailors who have yet to cross the equator and propitiate Father Neptune.
4280. Those painfully suppressing flatus.
4281. Couriers in the chain that delivered the previous First Citizen's brain, frozen in sugar-and-gluten infused gelatin, from the Citadel to the Necropolis.
4282. Those who have seen an elephant, alligator, or hyena.
4283. People witnessing the Aurora Borealis and experiencing an intimacy with the tremendous and awesome breadth of space and time.
|# ? Sep 2, 2019 03:19|
|# ? Sep 25, 2021 07:41|
The number of brushes with Death a person has had.
Joseph couldn’t see the number, not from his vantage point outside Laura’s house, but its pale, softly-illuminated digits glowed like a beacon in his mind. He had to protect the Number Girls, just like Dad had taught him when he was very small.
Laura was sleeping now. She didn’t know Joseph was her guardian, didn’t know he watched over her in the night. She had no idea the sacrifices he made. To her, he was just the quiet guy who ran the front desk at Apex Fitness. Sometimes he sold her a bottle of water when she forgot hers. Sometimes he made her smile. But mostly he watched her, tried to pinpoint who it was who wanted to hurt her.
There were a lot of jerks at the gym. Muscle-choked bros who were only there to bother the nice girls. One of those assholes was causing Laura’s number to creep slowly upward, and when Joseph found out who it was, they’d be sorry.
He cranked the car’s A/C to full blast, hoping the cold would keep him awake. He shivered in his t-shirt and sat up a little, slapping at his cheek to urge any tiny bit of consciousness back into his system. His eyelids drooped. Sleep deprivation threatened to turn his thoughts to sludge. But he would not abandon her.
Laura’s number ticked upward slower on nights when Joseph slept outside. He hadn’t caught sight of the predator yet, but they were out there somewhere. And they knew not to come around when Joseph was there.
If he didn’t watch after her, she was going to die.
The thought snapped him more sharply awake than any slap could. He slipped his fingers into his hoodie, caressed the smooth polymer body of the Glock hidden there.
Nothing would hurt Laura on his watch.
He dreams of her laugh and her soft, kind voice and the way she smiles when he helps her on the machines and the way her skin must feel and the way she’ll thank him when he can finally work up the nerve to explain. Her number beckons him like a lighthouse, and soon she’ll be safe—
He hated himself for falling asleep. Stupid, stupid. Another slap. But he caught a glimpse of her in the window in the morning, and that made it all worthwhile.
She came in to use the treadmill on Friday morning, wearing a t-shirt with a little panda on the front. 2760 glowed above her head, one of the highest numbers he’d ever seen on anyone. How had she done it? How had she dodged death this many times?
Who’s trying to hurt you? he wanted to ask.
“I like your shirt,” he mumbled instead.
By the time she’d finished her run, it read 2762.
Joseph scoured the faces of everyone in the cardio room. Nobody seemed to be looking at Laura. She jogged down the stairs and refilled her water bottle, and when she shrugged on her coat, her number ticked up to 2763.
Joseph opened up the sign-in software and consulted the names of every man who’d keyed in that afternoon. He spent the rest of his shift googling them all, snooping on their Facebook profiles to see if anyone looked suspicious. When his manager asked him to lock up, he muttered an okay without even looking up.
The only thing that jarred him out of it was hearing her voice.
He looked at the clock. It was after closing, 11:20pm. What was Laura doing here?
She rounded the corner, lit from above by a big glowing 2765.
“So sorry,” she said. “I think I left my wallet in the changing rooms. Is it too late to look?”
Joseph stammered. Nothing resembling words came out. Laura blessed him with a smile and took that as permission, slipping past him toward the locker rooms.
Joseph’s heart jackhammered in his chest. Finally, he had his chance. He could sit her down, explain to her, give her the same talk his father had given him when he was young. He’d never gotten close enough to a Number Girl to tell her before, to explain—
Laura returned from the locker room, her shoulders slumped. “Nobody handed in a red suede wallet today, did they?” she asked.
The number above her head ticked up to 2766.
Joseph flinched back as though she’d slapped him. How was she in danger now? There was nobody else around. The gym was empty, he was sure of it. He looked all around the common room just to be sure.
“Um.” Laura cleared her throat. “Did you hear me? I just—”
“Yes, your wallet.” Joseph’s teeth clenched. His jaw spasmed. He puppeted his body, forced his mouth to say normal person words and his face to make normal person expressions while his mind raced, terrified and confused.
“Nobody’s… handed a-anything in,” he said.
Laura nodded slowly. Her eyes met his, in a hesitant sort of way. She took a step backward from the desk.
It was him. Joseph’s mouth went dry. The world spun around him like he was drunk. He gripped the edge of the desk in a vain attempt to steady himself, a drunk sailor in a sinking ship. That couldn’t be. It didn’t make sense. He’d never hurt her.
“I’m gonna… go…” Laura said, slowly backpedalling away.
“Wait!” Joseph lurched toward her, hands outstretched. He had to explain. He couldn’t let her leave like this. She seemed so unsettled, so scared, scared of him when all he’d done was watch after her.
“No,” Laura said, still moving for the door. “I’m gonna go. It’s okay. Just… call me if someone finds my wallet.”
And before Joseph could stop her—he realised, numb with horror, that he’d put an arm up in preparation to stop her—she’d slipped out the door. And she didn’t walk to her car, she ran.
“gently caress.” Joseph leapt back from the door like it was on fire. “gently caress gently caress gently caress.”
All he was trying to do was look after her, to protect her from the real danger, whoever or whatever it was.
But he’d seen it in his body language, in the way his arm swept up to stop her. In the way he’d tried to bar her from running.
He watched her car recede. He let her go. And he didn’t visit her street that night, worried that his very presence might somehow endanger her. He couldn’t hurt a Number Girl. His father would never forgive him.
Instead, he drove to the bridge. He hesitated for a long while, watching water rush by beneath him. Water ran in a straight line, carried by gravity to its inevitable destination. Water was kind of like fate, in that way. Kind of like the Number Girls.
Joseph missed his father. He sniffled as he walked to the safety railing, ashamed that he couldn’t quite suppress the urge to cry.
He threw the pistol over the side, watched it tumble and disappear into the churning rapids. Before he hurt Laura. Before he disappointed Dad.
If he was the reason her number leapt upward, the best thing to do was to disappear.
Laura Welsh stared down at the phone in her hand, hovering her finger over the ‘call’ button.
She felt bad reporting Joe to the managers at Apex Fitness. He was a nice enough guy, just a little awkward. Or so she’d thought. She’d told her mom everything that happened when she went to look for her wallet, the way he’d all but tried to lock her in the building.
Just the memory of it set her pulse pounding. Christ, she was lucky to get out when she did.
Beneath layers of skin and muscle and bone, Laura’s heart quickened. Blood coursed through her superior vena cava, starved for oxygen, and filled the ventricle chambers of her heart.
The ventricles contracted. For now, her deformed tricuspid valve did its job. Nestled below her sternum, Laura’s heart kept beating. Freshly oxygenated blood flooded through her veins, carried along on its inexorable currents.
Above her head, a number she couldn’t see increased by 1.
|# ? Sep 2, 2019 06:47|