armageddon_20xx t1_jeh5f5r wrote

"Choose!' the voice of Satan boomed.

Flames licked the ceiling in forks around seven gates, the light revealing tunnels beyond to places I couldn't guess. Above each in crimson lettering was a title: pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. The display was so impressive I might have been drawn in by it, if not for my knack for detail. I noticed that tucked away between two of the gates was a small door, much like a door you'd find in a corporate office. On the front, written in a small font was the word "PRIDE."

Never the one to take the beaten path, I headed straight for that door and didn't look back. It didn't bother me that I barely fit through the frame, or that Satan had just offered me an eternal pleasure of my choice. No, I had to take that door because I had to be a rebel. A hipster. Different.

I landed in a cubicle farm. There was nothing at all special about it - rows of cubes with those fake cardboard separators between them. When I looked around, I saw no one, which was strange given that I heard people furiously typing. I could only imagine the reports being generated. There was also the faint smell of coffee, I couldn't have been alone.

I started walking, staring into each cube to find it empty. When I came to the end of the row I saw a stack of papers on the desk. I grabbed one.

"PRIDE" - People Rejecting Imminent Demonic Embrace

You're here because sin isn't for you. You wanted a better option for your eternal fate. Here at PRIDE, we're constantly fighting back against Satan and his evil schemes. We're small and dedicated, and together we can shut down the gates forever. It all begins with...


Satan's gates are successful because people actually believe that their lives inside will be an endless pleasure. The reality is it's 1% pleasure and 99% hell. In the greed gate, the recipient has endless wealth - for five minutes of an 80-year lifespan. They get to buy whatever they want, then they spend 80 years wishing they could buy anything at all. As you can guess, nobody chooses to buy food and spends 80 years hungry.

Your goal in PRIDE is to get the word out about Satan and his gates. You'll be sending emails, text messages, cold calls, and other media to get people to believe you six days a week. On the seventh day, you'll rest and enjoy life poolside here at the PRIDE complex. Sounds pretty good, right?

I put the paper down, my head full of thoughts. The moment I started to walk away Satan's voice boomed from above.

"Don't believe that trash. The door is called PRIDE because it's pride. You just believe you can beat me instead of other people, and in truth, you probably believe you can beat other people too. So turn around, look for the red Exit sign, and come back. I'll take you through the real pride gate."

I considered what Satan said. He was right - I did believe I could beat other people. Maybe, deep down I believed I could beat Satan too.

"I need time to think," I said aloud.

"Don't. believe. the. lies." Satan said. "Life beyond the pride gate is wondrous to behold. You will be the best at everything and better than everyone. Nobody shall question you. Consider that versus a boring life in that office that produces nothing but lies and drivel. The pool party is lame too, there isn't even alcohol. You'll be enjoying watered-down lemonade and airplane-quality pretzels."

That sounded dreadful. I wondered if I could just try the other gate, see what was beyond it, then come back to this one. I didn't trust Satan to answer me honestly. If only I could find another soul in here, the person behind the typing, someone real to talk to. Why was Satan the only one speaking to me?

That's when I figured out it had to be a test of some kind. There could only be a few legitimate reasons why I couldn't see anyone and Satan could still talk to me, and one of those is that I hadn't quite made it to PRIDE yet.

I plunged forward. "No, Satan. I choose PRIDE."

"But, really, you should reconsider. Look how very lonely it is there."

"I don't believe it! Away with you!"

That's when Satan faded away and the angels appeared. One of them came up to greet me.

"Welcome. Few find us, and fewer pass the test. We're off the beaten path because what's right isn't usually popular, and only those who can see beyond the shimmer of how things appear can truly know us."

"Welcome to heaven," he extended his hand.



armageddon_20xx t1_jegmxgr wrote

The Expectation Complex

I'm better than them. They are weighted by their doubts, like anchors to the bottom of the sea. I have no doubts, for I've seen the surface of the Universe and understand the purest meaning of life. It speaks to me in ways they couldn't possibly conceive, in a language foreign to their virgin ears.

I expect to be the best at whatever I do. If I'm not the best, then I suspect that with practice I will be. I'm extraordinary, not ordinary. To be not best is to conclude that I'm not free, that I need them. I cannot need them, for that would imply that they need me. This is the definition of whole-life-imprisonment.

I should be free.

How should I expect to know the right way to live if I cannot act on my own impulses? I did not choose them, they chose me. It is easy to conclude that I should act upon them, otherwise, why do they exist? Freedom is existence, and I exist, so should be free. Therefore, I should be the best.

If I am insufficient, clearly not the best, then I must practice with rigor until I am. To do otherwise is to choose imprisonment. And if in such practice, I find other expectations that must be met, then I must meet those as well. So forth all the way down to the smallest expectation which I can definitely meet, moving up to the harder ones.

This is why I write 20,000 words every day. I'm not the best writer, and until I am I cannot be free. So I spend every moment from when I awake until when I sleep writing.

In the name of freedom.


armageddon_20xx t1_je7uwww wrote

"Kids, you could spend a week and eighty coins turning that princess into a frog, or you could opt for the snake. It's not nearly as romantic, but it's a helluva lot cheaper," I said.

"But, knights don't expect a snake!" one of the kids cried.

"Wouldn't you say the princess deserves better than a knight who would thumb his nose at a perfectly good serpent?"

The students shook their heads as they always did. Well, except for that one kid who got it. The one who realized that there was an easy way to to the top in life, doing as little work as possible, undercutting the competition, and still coming away with more net coin than anyone else.

She was staring at me, but it wasn't the usual stare - eyes full of greed. No, these eyes were inquisitive, full of curiosity. She wanted to know more.

I dismissed the class and she came up to me.

"Name's Ambrosia," she said, putting out her hand as if she were an accomplished mage. I was reluctant to take it, instantly suspicious of the girl. It was only the first day of class and there was time for things to go awry.

"You know who I am," I said.

"Yeah. You know, I've read all your books..."

Now, this was startling. Truly something spectacular. Most of my star students still had to be encouraged to even pick up Basic Spells on the Cheap, and then getting them to read You Shouldn't Cast That was often impossible.

"Yes?" I asked, intrigued, expecting a question of great depth.

"You're wrong about the snake," she said.

What I had read as a curiosity in her eyes had turned out to be animosity. I was affronted at once. "No I'm not," I said with confidence. "I've converted twenty-three princesses to snakes and turned a profit of over a grand. The frog guys have pocketed two-fifty at most."

"You've made an assumption about your profit, and they're all smart enough not to tell you that you've been making less all these years."

Rage flowed through my veins and I thought of sending the girl away at once, but I held onto enough intrigue to hear her out.

"Go on."

"First, it doesn't cost eighty coins to cast Transfiguration: Frog. Do you know that mage's guild you refuse to pay membership fees for? It grants them access to an underground market where the ingredients are cheaper. It's thirty coins to your twenty, so long as the customer agrees to keep the price secret. Second, they've got three times the customers you do. So they're really turning more profit."

I shook my head. This was impossible. Lies. All of it.

"How do you know this? And why would you let me in, if they're all in on it?"

She looked shaken, almost as if a tear were to come to her eye.

"Because..." she started to whimper. "You turned me into a snake, and I hated it. Hated it, hated it! I wanted to be a frog. Frogs are nice. Frogs are cute. So I vowed to find you one day and get you to stop."

"Oh..." I looked away from her, thoughts running through my brain.

I concluded that I needed to re-evaluate my profession.



armageddon_20xx t1_jdxucjs wrote

Two men in smooth black suits stood at the doorway, Bibles in hand. "We come in the name of God," the taller one said.

I wanted to welcome them as I normally did, but I heard a deep "shhhh!" from behind me. Not wanting to give Jesus away, and not wanting to stare silently at the men, I whispered a simple "hello"

"Good sir, you seem rather nice this morning," the shorter one said, motioning towards my suit. "Say, do you happen to know God?"

"I do," I whispered back.

"Ahem, there's no reason to be quiet, the taller one said."

"Tell them we're not interested," Jesus whispered behind me.

But, why? I thought, flabbergasted. We almost never turned anyone away. Yet, I was not one to disobey a direct command from the Lord.

"We're not interested," I spoke loudly.

"We?" the taller one said. "Who else is there?"

"Shut the door," Jesus whispered in a hurried tone.

I did as commanded, hearing a loud bang as it closed.

"Good work, Saint Peter," Jesus said. I turned to him. He saw my facial expression and explained at once. "They've been peddling a God who only remotely resembles me for over a hundred and fifty years. They've led millions astray and their religion has caused misery en-masse."

"But I thought we forgave everyone?" I asked.

"We do. And we will, once they've spent some time being reminded of the pain they've caused."

I looked through the peephole of the door and saw their feet being pulled down by the Hand of Satan.



armageddon_20xx t1_jdtvjav wrote

Hal had turned the sign on his trinket shop to "closed" when a thunderous knock caused him to jump. Through the peephole was the local deputy director of magical arts Von Bruseman, who looked hurried.

"Open up Hal, I know you're in there!"

Hal had no desire to receive whatever the punishment was for his sparkler work in the town square. He'd explain that the kids loved it when he waved his hands and sparks started flying, but that would fall upon the deaf ears of a seasoned magician such as Von Bruseman. His mentor, the Archmage Wyndolyn had said as much, stating that the prim and proper will never accept the ways of a fire mage. For a fire mage's power lies in breaking the rules.

"It's not what you think, Hal. Open up! I've got a proposal for you."

Hal creaked open the door, causing Von Bruseman to thrust his way into the dark shop.

"Haven't you got a torch?" he asked, "you're a fire mage, right?"

Hal lit his hand aflame and held it out in front of Hal, nodding that it would have to do. He found it strange that Von Bruseman didn't understand that a fire mage had no need for a torch.

"Look Hal," he said, catching his breath. "I ran over here because we might actually have a use for you at the Academy after all."

"Hah!" Hal laughed, swinging his hand towards a table to reveal two plain wooden chairs. He sat on one, motioning the other to Von Bruseman. "You tossed me out for 'my ceaseless and needless antics'. Why would I ever so much as grace the Great Hall ever again?"

Von Bruseman sat down, looking uncomfortable in the simple accouterment of the shop. "I mean, you certainly understand. You used your capability so brazenly. We cannot have rings of fire floating over the heads of babes in the mess hall."

Hal stared at him straight in the face and shook his head. "But now that you suddenly require me, you come running? Is that it? How have you never seen a fire mage before? You should know such 'antics' are the hallmark of our kind."

"They are quite rare, you know." Von Bruseman put his hands on the table as if he was about to beg.

"All the more the reason to keep me there."

Von Bruseman nodded. "If you accept our quest, I assure you we can pay you in considerable coin. It looks like your place could use a few upgrades." He shifted in his chair, looking as if it pained him.

"I am but a simple trinket mage, thanks to you."

"I know what you can do. And we need your fire, most badly. I am afraid to admit."

Hal put his head in his hands. "And what quest shall you send me on?"

"Erm, well. In the west, a considerable army of the dead has arisen led by a necromancer who goes by Jin'gonan. Our eagles report they are camped at the base of the Shadderack Mountains. We are looking to lead an expedition there to route them out before they gain strength. A fire mage would be most useful in that endeavor."

"Fascinating," Hal nodded, suspicious immediately that Von Bruseman was who he said he was. "But there's one problem, first. You must tell me exactly how you know I have the power to stop them. I demonstrated nothing more than antics at the Academy, simple tricks. To you and your lot, I would seem like a weak fire mage."

Von Bruseman's hand went underneath the table. Hal responded by putting his hand on his wand in his pocket. "We've always known your power, my dear Hal."

Hal wished he could cast reveal imposter, but that spell was far out of his reach. He didn't think about his decision on who Von Bruseman was for long, for as Wyndolyn had said impatience was the hallmark of every fire mage. He pulled his wand and summoned a flame arrow under the table, which he sent a moment later straight at Von Bruseman's gut. He expected Von Bruseman to topple but was shocked when he lifted the arrow in his hands.

"You didn't think..." he said, his face contorting.

Hal wasted not a moment, extinguishing his torch hand and running for the exit before Von Bruseman could get his bearing. As he climbed the stairs out of his shop he swore he heard hoofbeats from below.

When he got outside he threw the biggest fireball he could through the window. Flames came spilling out at once, licking the stone walls greedily. If that didn't kill it, then he didn't know what would.

Screams pierced his ears. A black and green flame rose from the shop, withering and hovering in the air. In the center, a purple eye formed.

"You may have won this time, but there will be no escape, Hal," Jin'gonan said. "Give in now, or perish."



armageddon_20xx t1_j9ncnmv wrote

I remember the day I became God, which is every software engineer's deepest desire. Not one we'd flagrantly admit, of course. A false sense of humility is required in my profession, especially during code review, but deep down inside we really want to be better than the rest. So you can imagine, the first thing I wanted to do when I'd blinked my way into the mshell console was to brag about it to my friends. None of them would believe me, and then I'd triumphantly show them my prowess by demoing what I'd done. It's amazing in retrospect how fast that goal disappeared once I started getting into the menus and figuring out just what I could do in mshell.

Without a doubt, I had the best interest of everyone at heart. I wanted to eliminate everything unfair, from theft to cancer, and I think we all could agree that the world was better off without those. The process turned out to be that much more complicated than I thought it'd be. There was no menu item just to remove cancer, and when I finally tracked down what cancer was in mshell I saw a pile of source code written in some language I wasn't familiar with. Of course, I tried to read it, for what software engineer wouldn't? My hubris was quickly met with the realization that cancer spoke with some pretty sizeable universal data sources and that changing the source code wouldn't eliminate it at all, perhaps only for a square foot of the universe, if you could believe that.

Once I'd satisfied my need to feel good about my power, I looked up every girl I'd ever had a crush on. That's when I first suspected something was wrong because I couldn't find any of them. I knew that most of them were still alive, I had them on social media. As you could probably understand, I desperately wanted to read their minds. I couldn't conceal my disappointment and sent a large fireball crashing down into the ocean. When it fizzled out in a pixelated kind of way I started to really doubt that this character in mshell called "TheRealGod" was actually God. So I switched to "TheRealSatan" instead.

"TheRealSatan" had a different look and feel, and a few different menu items, but was largely the same as "TheRealGod." Even more puzzled now, I decided to peek around in the menus for some source code for these characters. That's when I saw that their source code was exactly the same, they were built from the same template, they just had a few different flags set.

I was so intrigued and ready to spend hours studying the code that I jumped an inch when I heard Terry come through my mic to ask me if I was OK. It was then that I realized that I'd left my VR headset on, and that I'd somehow gotten into the shell of the metaverse I was in. For some reason, I thought I'd hacked real life.

Like I said, we'd believe almost anything that made us believe we were God.



armageddon_20xx t1_j8vbibm wrote

Eren was nothing more than a stableboy from Humzali, and until the day he went off a cliff by accident, destined for a lifetime of shoveling manure. If his writings are to be believed, he was known amongst the villagers for his shaggy black hair, a mane so thick it often concealed his face. We could imagine that nobody could read his face the day it happened. Perhaps, if they had seen the incredulity etched into his smooth cheeks, they might have taken him seriously. Instead, his father whipped him for telling lies.

We know that right after he was whipped he went to AurAlta, and we know little about what he did after returning. At this point, he would have had some exposure to psychic and fire essence. It's possible that he put the village to the torch; maybe he recruited some of them for his operation on the Cliffs of Kedren. All we know is that interplanar teleportation started around 1517. Horses were run off the cliffs with passengers destined for a few of the planes he had encountered, most for AurAlta. Bones discovered in the valley beneath the cliffs revealed that many of the passengers didn't make it. The horse had to be traveling at a land speed of over twenty-five miles an hour, which was a lot.

Interplanar travel was also confirmed in AurAlta's historical record, which has the sudden introduction of horses in that time period. The beasts turned the tide of the Source wars in favor of the blue Seekers, who held power for two and a half centuries afterward. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any records of Eren himself; we suspect that he would have been too unimportant to record, or that he left the plane as soon as he found a suitable cliff.

The operation at Kedren only lasted four and a half months, and we wouldn't know anything about it without the recovery of Eren's writings at Blacktide. It's the only recorded instance of interplanar travel occurring to and from your planet. Those of your species who've studied the site have concluded that drought was the cause of death of both men and beasts. As expected. You'd have no reason to suspect that interplanar travel would have been possible.

We're not sure of Eren's motivations for telling his find to the locals. A sense of insecurity would best explain it - he wanted to prove his worth to those who had made fun of him, although this is not for certain. It could have been possible that he quested them with tasks to do on other planes, offering rewards that would not have been possible in their otherwise primitive lives.

If the latter point is the case, he wasn't successful. When we tracked down those that made it through the portal, we found that they often assimilated poorly into their new environments. 98% of the known teleporters were dead within the first 600,000 ticks of the multiversal clock. Only a few were able to cope with environments often far more technologically advanced than their own. None of those went on to any kind of notoriety, which makes Eren more special in the sense that somehow he rose above his station.

"I have no idea what you just said," the President told scholar Architus as they sat in the West Wing.

"I'm trying to tell you that a man from the place you call Turkey 500 years ago opened up an interplanar portal and now threatens to become the grand ruler of the multiverse. If he accomplishes that, your planet is surely finished."

"Are you saying we need to go to war with Turkey?"

Architus facepalmed. "You're surely doomed anyways."




armageddon_20xx t1_j87hoas wrote

My short stint as a runic sorcerer began during a boring sales presentation made by a company peddling yet another digital whiteboard. Nimble with the stylus on my Galaxy Note 7, I'd been creating the most hilariously inappropriate shapes on the notepad when the device burst into a column of flame. My colleagues thought it impossible that I hadn't been injured, so I made a joke that I'd rediscovered runic magic. I expected them to laugh and think nothing of it, so it came as a complete surprise when two people who worked in marketing nodded their heads in serious agreement.

Recently divorced and bored with my life, I decided to go along with it. I told myself it would be fun to string them along and see how far I could take the joke. So I began talking about how I was a rune researcher, had looked into several old scrolls, and knew a variety of spells. Everyone except the two marketing people laughed and walked away. They started asking questions, eventually wanting to know how they could gain the same magical powers themselves. Needing to cover for the origin of my powers, I told them that they were too inexperienced to know my secrets. They asked if they could come over to my apartment sometime, and I said "why the hell not?"

Later that night I researched runic magic for real, learning everything I could about ancient epigraphy and Tacitus. When my co-workers came over for dinner I wowed them with my breadth of knowledge on the topic, telling them that they needed to study "ancient Germanic languages," and that they needed to read a list of eleven books I'd compiled. I'd even put together a scroll of spells that I could cast, with names that sounded like formal versions of several spells out of the 5th edition D&D players handbook, such as "sphere of chromaticus" and "missile of arcanic power." They asked when they could begin casting these spells, showing that they hadn't thought critically about a word I said. I honestly couldn't believe they were that gullible. So I told them that not only did they need to do everything I'd already said, but that they'd also need to take a six-week intensive course with a faerie overlord named "Druphennia." At this point I really expected the gig to be up, but they asked "where do I sign up?"

Unable to create anything more off the top of my head, I told them I'd look into it and that I'd have an answer for them in a couple of days. I hadn't really begun to brainstorm a solution by the next day when they came to me with five of their friends, who also somehow believed I had the capability to give them magical powers and also wanted to take the course. So told them all that they'd need to quit their jobs and spend six weeks out in the woods eating mushrooms and praying to Druphennia. That got a couple of them to shake their heads and bow out, but five of them were all in.

That was the point where I started to regret the whole thing. I told the crowd to write down their names and I would talk to Druphennia. The next day I told them all that Druphennia was too busy to accept new students right now, and that there'd be a waiting list. All of them wanted to be on it, despite the fact that I told them it could be fifty years before they were accepted.

Once they realized that they couldn't learn magic themselves, they started asking me to do spells for them, to which I answered that I wasn't allowed to practice magic in real life and that the ordeal with the Note 7 had purely been an accident. This made the whole thing less appealing to all of them except a woman named Mary. That Friday night she called me up and said she was going to practice for Druphrennia by spending part of her weekend out in the wilderness eating mushrooms. I told her not to and that some mushrooms could be dangerous, but she brushed it off.

With nothing else to do, I went to her house. She led me into the woods behind her place. At this point, I was prepared to confess the whole thing, as the last thing I wanted to do was continue this charade for nothing, but I decided to keep my mouth shut when she showed me a circle of trees covered in strange runes. I thought she had taken this way too far when she told me to kneel down in front of the trees. I tried to say that it was all for naught, all a lie. She told me to hush.

The last words I heard before she teleported me were, "we don't allow imposters."



armageddon_20xx t1_j7b0fky wrote

I kind of envision them to be like hackers that work for the government. Fiercely independent and nobody really owns them, but still reporting to a more corporate body.


armageddon_20xx t1_j6iqow1 wrote

The memories always began with the dirt from the trenches, that clumpy clay that we could never get off our boots. I recall getting stuck in it on my first day to the raucous laughter of my squad. There was a moment of terror before I got loose, and then I decided that no one there would ever make fun of me again. I ran up to that joker Jimmy Crane and socked him straight in the face, and when he fell down I kicked him until he cried for his mama. Nobody said a word to me after that.

I always got the worst assignments because it was their only way to protest my superiority. Digging latrines. Reinforcing the supports on the trenches. Being one of the first to run into battle. To think they wanted me to take a stray bullet, to bury me without dignity. I was better than that. Better than all of them. None of those pansies could lift what they could lift, shoot a rifle as well as I could, or win a fight against me. I saw fear in their eyes when I passed by, and when they spoke to me they looked downwards.

Some people supposedly respected me for the leader I was. They decided to join me when I defected from the Army to escape the madness. We left the trench under the cover of darkness and made way for the nearest village. Knowing that any of the establishments there would report us, we slept in a random barn outside of town. It was supposed to be a quick stop until we could hitch the back of a train in the morning, but the farmer must have seen us because the next morning we awoke surrounded by police.

I pointed at Barney as the ringleader, since he was the first one to suggest the idea. The rest of the group pointed at me, which was garbage. I thought that they supported me because I was strong, and in one fell swoop they revealed themselves to be nothing more than liars. You understand why I had to do what I did.

I don't remember the bullet that one of the stray officers must have fired at me, but the next thing I know I woke up in this stupid soup kitchen. They told me that I'd died and that one bowl of this god-awful broth would allow me to reincarnate. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Each time I drink some I relive the same memory over again, with no reincarnation of any kind. I'm up to bowl 1,382. The staff couldn't be less helpful as they float aimlessly about in the back, occasionally returning with some new bowls for me to drink. All they tell me is to "keep drinking." I almost can't take it anymore, the taste is like a mixture of rotten cabbage and tractor oil.

The only interesting thing about this place is a scrolling ticker above the counter where the soup bowls appeared. It looks like a scramble of letters, some kind of puzzle.


I'd stared at it thousands of times and couldn't seem to unscramble the letters. It was as if my brain just didn't work here. I'd even asked the staff what it meant and they just ignored me. Even the host, who was dressed handsomely in all-black. He'd just smile and walk away.



armageddon_20xx t1_j6bk93z wrote

I wish I knew the answer to this question! I switched jobs in September of 2021 and just started writing the next month. I got the idea to write a dystopian novel about a virtual reality customized to the user. I've since written three revisions, all of which are pretty bad. I started writing on this sub last fall because I felt like I needed to be a better writer in order to even self-publish a novel. Since then I've written a bunch of stuff here, a few short stories, and have started the prequel to my original novel (which is turning out better already).

I feel like I'm getting better by writing more, and also by reading the top-rated responses here. There are a lot of insanely good writers on this sub. It's all run spectacularly - a huge shoutout to the mods and everyone that makes it click.


armageddon_20xx t1_j65sxlc wrote

I juggled the R15.5 ration pack in my hand while walking to work, trying to imagine it was that leg of beef I'd eaten years ago at my acceptance party. It was the only time I'd ever tasted anything that pleasurable. It had been so mouth-watering that in the years since I'd often dreamed of it.

A menagerie of humans and bots passed as I was walking by. It was more difficult to tell the difference between them than it used to be, but the bots had a sheen to their skin that could only come from the plastic compound they were made of. If that wasn't enough, they were always perfectly shaped, unlike most humans. My grandparents had often said that the bots were weird when they were launched, but we were used to them. They were always helpful or willing to give advice. My only problem with them was the ration packs.

Any bot would quote you figures from the Age of Obesity, telling a twisted tale of how people used to die from coronary artery disease because their diets were terrible. "Food was everywhere and people ate too much of it." Then they would state how R1.X ration packs were the answer. "All the nutrition you need in a single pouch, without anything to keep you wanting more." Blech. I knew they had something else out there, otherwise, they wouldn't have had "real" food at my acceptance party.

I slurped down the ration pack right before I arrived at my nondescript office building, tossing the pack into the recycling bin. Through the rotating door was the bio-scanner, which I walked straight into. There was a quick flash before the bot at the desk waved me on. "You arrived at 7:57 AM" flashed on the marquee screen above the elevator as I got on. Upstairs, my team was ready the moment I walked into my office. George had my cup of water on the desk and was prepared to start my shoulder massage. Rosie had my tasks for the day laid out on the monitor and was already in the supervisory chair.

"Welcome," they said in unison.

"What a wonderful day!" George said as he slightly adjusted his bowtie. I was always envious of the bots' ability to stay totally put together. They didn't sweat, they didn't need to shower, and they never needed to change clothes. I'd never seen George in a different tux than the one he had on, and it looked as perfect today as it had years ago.

"You have a lot of tasks today, so I wouldn't waste a moment." Rosie offered stern advice as she crossed her legs and stared at me with that laser focus that my parents often said was "creepy." I never understood what their problem was. She was just doing her job, making sure that not a moment of my time at the office was spent not working.

I began at once, opening up the first file on my to-do list. My job was to review conversations between humans and bots and point out places where the bot could have sounded more human-like and why. Some of the conversations I read sounded pretty good, others required considerable effort. It was easy for me, I'd tested in the 98th percentile when doing this task at school. They said it was the main reason I'd passed the acceptance test.

Occasionally George would massage my shoulders or change my position in my desk chair for optimal posture. He ensured that nothing I did in the office could be considered harmful to my health. He was also responsible for serving me an R15.6 packet for lunch, which he brought up on a covered tray as if to make it seem fancier than it was. I'd often joke that I wished it was a leg of beef or something else, and he'd always give me a death glare before a lecture on how bad for my health that would be.

Rosie started the lunch timer - twenty minutes, and I ate while making chitchat with them. The bots had pretend families, pets, and lives which they liked to go into great detail about at times, to give them a human-like character. I usually forgot that what happened to them wasn't real, and whenever Rosie told me her dog was sick I responded with real sympathy. "This was normal," they said.

I started work again in the afternoon still feeling hungry, as I always did. Sometimes it got to me enough that I felt like screaming at George, or worse - punching him in the face. I never revealed these thoughts, as I knew they'd send me straight to Colony H, where the unaccepteds were sent. The only work there was backbreaking manual labor, and it was the impetus for every child to study as hard as they could in order to gain acceptance. The most I could do was tell a joke about that leg of beef.

When I left the office I spent time thinking about the old days in the early 21st century, the ones I'd read about in books as a child before they were confiscated. The world was harsher back then. People lived their lives without any control at all. The life expectancy was only 75 years, and people died from all sorts of diseases that we could cure today. There were murders, muggings, shootings, and all sorts of death. Safety mechanisms just didn't exist.

What a horrible world that had to be. By the time I had slurped down my R15.7 ration pack for dinner, I'd forgotten all about that leg of beef.



armageddon_20xx t1_j5x39ng wrote

When you've been a few feet away from the eternal void, you'd do anything to escape the well of inky blackness that threatens to make you as insignificant as the things that never happened, the things that were nothing more than wishes in the back of imaginative minds. That's where I went for what felt like a lifetime, hung in space above that gaping hole in the universe that threatened to suck me in and slosh me around like water in a toilet bowl. I was suspended long enough that I finally made peace with it. When I did, I grasped that the meaning of life was whatever was in front of me. In the blackness, I could see universes stacked upon universes, dragons fighting knights, and romances sweep in for a summer before dying on autumn's first breezes. I saw life.

When Jake pulled me back into the party, it was like being thrust back into the prison of Earth and all its mortal fallacies. There was the youth following the rhythm of their bodies, the smell of beer hanging in the air, and gossip floating in whispers about things that didn't matter. Never mattered. I begged Jake to send me back at once, screaming in my surprisingly hoarse voice that I didn't want to be here anymore. The crowd turned to look at me, their faces agape with a shock I'd never remembered seeing before. There were cries of "is that you Drew?" and "you look old?". Of course, I was old. How could I possibly be young? Who would want to be?

I couldn't fault them for their lack of understanding. Life was a spectrum of knowledge, and only towards the natural end did you understand the necessity of death, that there was a special quality to rest. You'd seen the cycles of life and had come to understand that everything that's happening now has happened before in a different form. In this way it all became boring. The void was never boring because it always contained something new, and it did this by being nothing at all.

Jake put me behind his back again. I smiled.



armageddon_20xx t1_j2ebq8n wrote

"Love is for fools," is what I used to say in the days before I met Arthur. A misguided journey that leads one not to happiness, but instead to the fractured life that comes as a consequence of irrational emotions. It seemed that those in love dropped all their pretenses and gave up the principles they held dear; right down to those most profound morals that guided them in the darkest times. For a brief moment, they entered an alternate universe where stark reality became a world of lollipops and sugar-coated smiles. Never did I meet anyone in love that didn't regret it later.

Arthur changed that for me. In him, I saw rationality take form. He refused to let go of his principles no matter how the wind blew. For him, morality and correct decisions were paramount. He would turn away anyone that tried to sway him otherwise. He was a rock. I just knew we were meant to be together from the first time we met and I spoke about the intricacies of stellar material. I knew his perspective was mathematic, built on things that were concrete, and I was taken by him at once.

In the beginning, I thought about Arthur day and night. I even saw him in my dreams, staring back at me with that same sturdy resoluteness that he always did. I imagined our life together, me taking care of things while he steered the ship. Oh, there was nothing I wouldn't do for my dear Arthur! So I did, devoting as much of my free time as I could to him. I had done this for quite some time when I realized that he never seemed to return the gesture. He was always solid and resolute but never caring. Never once did I see an expression of love on his face. Never once did he ask me what I was doing or how I felt, not that feelings should really matter. But it would have been nice, you know. Maybe, every once in a while it would be nice to listen to our feelings.

After weeks had passed and nothing had changed I lost any positive direction toward him. His plainness had gotten to me, the lack of words had become annoying. His stillness, so inviting in the early days, had come to feel like a pall of judgment, as if he was watching my every move and waiting for me to make a mistake. It took me a while to finally let go, to move on, but one night I glanced over at him on the ledge and made the decision. A tiny tear fell from my left eye before I went to bed. I'd move on now.



armageddon_20xx t1_j24v2um wrote

"You don't know the capacity of your own imagination until your hallucinations become the only thing you have. It's all too easy when you're in prison, blindfolded, cuffed, and hanging from the air with earmuffs on, to see false images that are as pleasing as they are implausible. I just want to go back to the way it was in the days before I joined the Army. To see what's real instead of my imagination."

"Go on," my therapist said as she started jotting down notes. Her face was relaxed and she was smiling, as if I had just told her I was going to be her friend or something.

"You see, I don't see a street corner, or a jar, or busy passersby. I see a kingdom and I'm a wizard. I'm casting a spell that requires deep concentration, the passersby are my source of mana. When I complete the spell I'll gain another artifact to help me complete my quest."

"And what do you do with these artifacts?" she said inquisitively.

"I consume them in order to gain power. Each time I consume an artifact I gain more."

"I see. And when does the spell break? Like, when do you come back to reality?"

"I tend to come in and out. One minute I'll be stuck in my head and another I'll realize that I'm sitting on a street corner with a jar in my hand. Then I'll try my very hardest to go back because being there, in reality, is just... too painful. When I get in my head, it's kind of like, going to a different universe."

"Hmm," she paused, staring down at the notebook. "Have you considered that these trips into your head are a way to shield your mind from the hurt you endured while in prison?"


"Have you considered trying hypnotherapy? It's been known to work on cases such as yours, and your sister has already agreed to pay."

"I don't know about that."

"If you want to try to help yourself come to terms with reality it's the best thing. Why not give it a shot?"

I felt a slight pulsing sensation in my head, and a moment later I saw the healer Cassandra in her purple robe, her scepter pointed at my head, telling me repeatedly not to misuse my powers or else I'd face the Tribunal or perhaps the King himself.

"Unfortunately, you must subject yourself to The Silencing," she said, "and only in that way will you wean yourself from the hallucinogenic dragon's blood."

"No!" I screamed, suddenly feeling the tightness of my robe against my skin. It was always weird to look down and see it after I'd been lost in the world where magic was done with electricity instead of mana and it wasn't OK for men to wear robes in public.

"Yes. Your trips have become too much. You've been reduced to nothing more than a common beggar. Please, take the Silencing and go home."

I jolted. "Matt?" the therapist said with concern, uncrossing her legs to make that she was ready to get up to assist me.

"Yeah, maybe hypnotherapy. I don't know."

"Why not? It could only help," she said with a smile again.

"I don't know. Maybe reality is all in my head."