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Samples: Face 2

December 7, 2013

The text on the screen changed.

Night 0

One night without festivities, a prelude.

Fifteen days.  Fifteen nights.

Each night, a game.

A festival, a lark.

Prizes and favors to be won by the clever.

Punishment meted out to the dullest.

I struggled to focus, and wound up shutting one eye to clarify my view.

The numbers didn’t add up.  Twelve contestants… one removed each night, for fifteen nights?  With more than one contestant potentially being removed?

“Hey, dumbfucks!  You can’t have twelve contestants and fifteen rounds!,” another voice echoed my thoughts.

“Hey!  I don’t want prizes, I just want to go home!”  Someone else.  “Please take this mask off and let me go home!”

“What do you mean by punishment?” a woman called out.  “We die?”

“No,” I said.  I climbed to my feet, using the bars for support.  I ignored how my hands trembled as I tried to find a grip on the bars at chest-level and fumbled.  I willed it to go away.  I paused for a moment, making sure I had a grip on myself, and then very calmly stated, “That doesn’t make sense.  Unless they plan to bring in others.”

Wolf was standing by the bars, her arms sticking out straight through.  Her mask tapped repeatedly against the bars, as if she could vent that way.  She said, her voice eerily calm, “They intend to kill the losers after the winner is decided.”

That’s not impossible.

The text changed.

Night 0

We anticipate the evening’s entertainment.

Don your masks at day’s end, merry beasts,

to be whisked away to gardens and fields.

The cleverest creature will earn a favor.

To break a rule, or make a rule.

The whimsical nature of the words was at stark odds with our dingy surroundings, imprisonment, and the masks we wore.  I felt a little uneasy.  Maybe that was the point.

My one open eye fixated on the screen. In the periphery of my vision, I could see others approaching the bars of their cell.

Monkey.  He was wearing a glove with metal on it.  Almost a gauntlet.  His brown hair straight was slicked back from the edges of his mask.

A person wearing a fox mask was wearing some kind of shirt that hung well past his hands.  The eyes of his red mask were crescents, with the points facing downward.

Wolf, Rabbit, Fox, Monkey, Spider, and… me.  I touched my mask again.  The short spike was positioned somewhere between where my nose touched the surface of the mask and my mouth, centered.

Was it a beak?

Sparrow?  Crow?

“Break rules?”  Monkey called out.  “What do you mean?”

But the screen changed, and it didn’t answer the question.

Night 0

Beasts slumber in daylight and twilight hours.

A safe place to sleep, to exercise talents,

to set the stage for the night’s events.

An image was displayed below the text.  An overhead view of the city.  Bold lines were drawn along the edges, the area beyond the outlined area shaded dark and blurred.  The sharper, lighter section of the image was a square, three city blocks by three city blocks.  It included stores and a small mall, apartment buildings and a tract of houses.

I recognized the area.  I could spot my apartment, in the corner at the bottom of the image.  My heart was pounding, even as I remained very still.

None of the others spoke, but I could see some of them react.  Tells, as it were.  Monkey shifted his hands, gripping the bars of his cell door a fraction tighter  Rabbit, now kneeling on the floor behind her cell was apparently pretty high strung, almost jumping as she recognized the area.  The little boy with the snake mask leaned to one side of his cell, hugging his arms against his body, stopping, then jamming hands in his pockets.  Different manifestations of nervousness.

I’d bet good money on the idea that we were all from the same general area.

“Th- they’re a-actually letting us go?” Rabbit asked, breaking the silence.

And they expect we’ll be willing to come back, I thought to myself.

Night 0

Clever creatures obey the laws of the land,

The cleverest don’t get caught.

The stupidest beasts are reprimanded at dawn,

and shan’t be invited back.

Those that lose the games or tell tales are dumb beasts,

The ones who don’t play stupider still.

But no beast is so foolish as a dead one.

The nature of this little exercise was becoming clearer.  Over and over, an emphasis on wit.  Two phases.  Night to force our hands, to use us for sport or entertainment.  Bloody, apparently, so violence was in the cards.  Then a day phase to let us rest, sleep or…

I looked around me.

We couldn’t get caught.  That wasn’t to say we weren’t allowed to sabotage each other.  If we needed our masks to enter into the Night phase, then a mask could be taken away.

There was a chance that one of these people might be capable of murder.

The day phase was when we’d search for each other, sabotaging one another to take someone out of the running and remove any need to play in the game that night.  Or, if anyone out there was crazy or desperate enough, the phase where they’d try to kill others.

Night 0

Thus ends our introduction.

A question from each.

A mask floated on the screen, rotating around so that the backside of it was shown, blank and featureless, then slowly turned to face us.  An owl.  The eyes were overlarge, the beak hooked, and the ‘feathers’ crested into points at the edges of the forehead.

There was a series of bangs as the locks for the barred doors came loose.  My eyes traveled over the rest of the crowd.  I could see everyone I’d missed.

I looked for the wearer of the mask, and I found a heavyset man with a large belly.  He wore a blue jumpsuit that wasn’t flattering to look at.

The others I hadn’t yet seen included a tall man, broad shouldered, with light brown skin wore a cat mask, orange-brown with white and black stripes.

A sheep, apparently, a girl, crossed the open space to Spider’s side.

And, finally, a woman, pale, with startlingly vivid tattoos of flowers up her arms.  Her mask was supposed to be a deer or a gazelle, at a glance, but had only stubs for horns.

As near as I could figure it, it was Owl, Wolf, Rabbit, Rat, Spider, Sheep, Fox, Monkey, Cat, Snake and Doe.  And me.

“Hey,” I said, greeting the group to my left.  Rat, Doe and Monkey.  “What mask am I wearing?”

“Does it matter?” Rat asked.  “Damn it.  I just want to get out of this getup and go home and let this stop.”

“I don’t think it’s going to stop that easily,” I said.  “The more information we have, the better.”

“Like the Wolf said, we’re not your allies,” Monkey told me.  “Figure it out for yourself.”

“Right,” I said.  Suspicion.  I could try to find leverage, to coax and wheedle, but I wasn’t sure it was worth it at this juncture.

“Alright, I’m ready to ask,” Owl called out.  “Why the masks?”

Question:  Why masks?

Answer:  To allow Clever beasts to hide in the day.

“Why attach them like this?” Owl asked, but there was no response.  The mask on the screen wasn’t his.

It wasn’t a good answer.  Or, more to the point, it wasn’t a good question.

Wolf’s turn.

“I guess you’re going to tell everyone the answer, which eliminates a bunch of options.  Fine, let’s get it out of the way.  Who are these ‘handlers’?”

Question: Who are the handlers?

Answer: Seventy individuals from twelve enterprises, to assist you and reap fame and fortune from your successes.

The screen flickered, and it showed the series of our masks, one second to each, with a series of symbols beneath, one per sponsor.  It was almost over by the time that I saw my mask, my eye traveling to the list of sponsors, recognizing Sunny, Ascent and Heart, then darting back up to only glimpse the mask itself.

A bird, after all.  A soft brown at the edges and forehead, white elsewhere, with a yellow beak.

A differing number of sponsors to each of us.  Cat had none.  Spider had fifteen.  Most had four to six.

Rabbit’s turn.

Rabbit asked, “Why do you need such clever people?”

Question:  Why do we need clever beasts?

Answer:  To find a worthy winner.

“Fuck,” Wolf said, at the same time the word crossed my mind.

“What?”

We have to be careful what we ask.  It’s going to be as vague as possible, I thought.

Think about what you ask,” Wolf said.

“It wasn’t a bad question.”

Phrase it better.”

Rat’s turn.

“Tell me all the rules,” Rat ordered.

Nothing.

“It has to be a question,” Wolf said.

“What are the rules?”  Rat asked.

“No,” I said.  But it was too late.

Question:  What are the rules?

Answer:  The rules are guidelines,

made to moderate the Day/Night cycles,

and to keep the process manageable.

“I think I’ve figured it out,” Wolf said.  “They do want us to kill each other.  Putting me in here with idiots, so I have to listen to you fuck up.”

“Fuck you,” Rat said.

Snake’s question.

Monkey spoke, “Hey, buddy.  Pick your question carefully.  We can’t keep wasting them.”

“I don’t need help,” Snake said.  “Hey, terminal.  What were the locations of everyone but me, at the time you picked them up?”

The overhead map again, with blinking lights.

It stayed there, on the screen.  I could see my blinking dot.

“Hey, kid.  Why the fuck do you need to know that?”  Wolf asked.  “This doesn’t help our situation.”

But Snake didn’t take his eyes off the screen.  He waited a few moments, then said, “Thank you.”

“You little fuck,” Wolf said.  “You’re going to try something?”

“I wanted to see if there was any pattern,” Snake replied.

A lie, probably.

The next question was Spider’s.  The sheep was kneeling beside his limp form, holding his hands as his fingers and legs periodically twitched and jerked.  They made a stark comparison, with her overdone dress covered in ruffles and lace, young, her hair a white-blonde, curly, cut to a boyish length.

He was half-dressed, elderly, with longer hair, shirtless and wearing pyjama pants.  His mask was the only one with red eyes.

Sheep’s hand swept over his hair, pushing it away from his ‘face’.  “They want you to ask a question.”

“Leave me alone,” he said, his voice weak, but it carried.

When I looked up at the monitor to see, I saw that the next face up there was Fox’s.  There were angry and stunned mutters.

“Damn it,” I muttered, along with them.  He’d passed, likely unintentionally, and we needed answers.

Fox was trying to adjust the sleeves, avoiding eye contact with the people that were warily observing him…  Observing her.  I realized it was a woman, with straight black hair.  The shirt with overlong sleeves was a straightjacket.

“For the record,” Fox said, “The straightjacket is a joke.  Not everyday wear for me.”

“Nobody asked,” the heavyset Owl said.

“Fifteen rounds,” Fox said, “Twelve contestants.  Why?”

Question:  Why?

Answer: Too vague. 

Full answer would exceed scope of this window.

Cannot supply a response.  Please rephrase.

“Why are there more rounds than contestants?”

Question:  Why are there more rounds than contestants?

Answer:  There aren’t.

Cat.

“Can we use the rule-breaking to drop out early without you coming after us to fuck us over?”

Question:  Can a favor be used to drop out

without punishment?

Answer: Yes.

Yes?  I was suspecting a catch.  Too easy.  We win the game in one round and we get to live?

It didn’t fit.  It was one aspect of a lot of things here that didn’t fit.

The Doe.  Deer or gazelle, I was going with the neutral label.

“Okay,” Doe said.  She rubbed her hands together.  “You bastards.  Let’s see… Nine hundred and ninety-nine rounds before this batch, who won?”

“The hell?” Rat asked, but the words were already appearing on the screen.

Question.  Who won 999 games prior to this?

Answer: Cannot supply answer.  Please rephrase.

“Who won five hundred games before this one?”

Question.  Who won 500 games prior to this?

Answer: Cannot supply answer.  Please rephrase.

“Who won two hundred games before this?”

Question.  Who won 200 games prior to this?

Answer: Cannot supply answer.  Please rephrase.

“Who won fifty games before this?”

Question.  Who won 50 games prior to this?

Answer: Cannot supply answer.  Please rephrase.

“Who won fifteen games before this?

Question.  Who won 15 games prior to this?

Answer: Cannot supply answer.  Please rephrase.

“Who won seven games before this?”

Question.  Who won 7 games prior to this?

Answer: Bat.  Sodusco.

Doe nodded.

“Shit,” Wolf muttered.

“I’m good at getting mileage,” Doe said.  “I think that tells us an awful lot, for a two word response.”

The mask that rotated on the screen was mine.  Looking at it in more detail, I still couldn’t guess what kind of bird it was.

Chickadee?  Sparrow?  A hawk would have a hooked beak.

“I’m not much for following orders,” I said.  “Not big on having people decide how I should live.”

“We’re birds of a feather,” Cat said.

“I know I should follow up Doe’s question with something along the same lines, weasel out information, but I’m not really up to playing along.  So here’s my question.  What course of action can we take that’s most beneficial to us and most inconvenient or damning to you?”

Question:  What path would most benefit the beasts while setting us back?

Answer:  Too vague.  Please rephrase.

“Yeah,” I said.  I felt a measure of satisfaction.  The damn thing wasn’t as easy to manipulate as my handlers were, but there were weak points.  “I bet it was too vague.”

“Just ask,” Fox said.  “Some of us want to get home.”

There was restlessness all around.  As one of the last to be asked, I was in a bad spot.  It would be all too easy for them to settle on a target to vent their frustrations at, and this was a bad, bad place to be the designated target.  Especially if this really was something that would extend two weeks.

“What’s the biggest mistake we’ve collectively made so far?”

Question:  What is the biggest mistake made by the beasts?

Answer:  Assuming that dropping out would be beneficial.

“What?” Cat asked.  “I said… fuck, I can’t remember how I phrased it.”

“You asked if they’d come after you,” Snake said.  “Which they won’t, necessarily.”

“Damn it,” Cat said.  “Hey, Monkey, ask it-”

But Monkey was already speaking.  “To come out of this ahead, what course of action should we take in the next bit?”

Question:  Best course of action for the beasts.

Answer:  Study.

You should already know your natural-born talents.

Discover the ones we’ve granted.

Know that talents vary from night to day.

Find the hints already provided to you.

“There’s a running theme, here,” Wolf said.  “But saying they’ve already provided hints?  When?  There’s been the introduction where my handlers said hi, and there was this.  That’s it.”

The last mask rotated on the screen.

“Hey.  Idiot.  Ask a question,” Wolf said.  “I’m done with this.”

“I know.  I’m thinking,” Sheep said, her voice small, as passive as Wolf was aggressive.  “I don’t see a time limit, and this might be our only chance.”

A minute passed.

Some of the others were very blatantly studying each other.  Studying me.  Trying to memorize body types and features.  Doe’s tattoos would be a dead giveaway, for one thing.

And others were less subtle.  Rabbit spoke up, “We can meet.  Right?  We all live in the same area.  If we go to the Rivermouth tea shop on Yonge, noon tomorrow, we could have a signal-“

“And you poison us?” Owl asked.  He was fidgeting, nervous.

“What?  No!”

“Idiotic idea,” Wolf said.  She was more angry than anything.  Like Marlene, in a way, channeling stress into a kind of anger.  She was more casually abrasive, though.

“We’re not friendly,” Monkey said.  “I wouldn’t mind finding a way to make it through this with everyone intact, but that doesn’t mean I trust any of you.  If anything, the fact that you’re here makes me wonder if you aren’t less trustworthy the average people.”

“That’s called projection,” Owl said.

The debate and discussion continued.  In the midst of it, I withdrew my pocket watch from the vest pocket and held it out, catching the light of the spotlight above me.  The light found the lens of Rabbit’s mask.

I saw her head turn a fraction.  I ‘dropped’ the pocketwatch, catching it by the chain, and let it swing for a moment before I caught it.

Would she get the message?

She nodded a little.  When Rat looked her way, she said, “Fine.  I get it.  No meeting.”

A potential ally.  I knew it could be a trap, but I was good at reading people, and Rabbit didn’t seem that cunning to me.  The biggest danger was that someone had caught what I was doing, or that they’d stake out the tea shop.

The sheep had apparently decided what to ask.  “How can we get through this without anyone dying?”

Question:  How to reach the end of Night 15 without any deaths.

Answer:  Don’t kill.

“So it’s possible,” she said.  She sounded genuinely relieved.

But Cat had seemingly found a solution, and it apparently wasn’t so simple.

Owl was reacting.  The eyelids of his mask had flipped shut.  He was blinded.

One by one, the eyes of the other masks closed, all the way around the circle.

The eyelids of my yet-undefined bird mask flipped shut, leaving me in absolute darkness.

Then I smelled that cloying medicinal smell, and perhaps because of drugs lingering in my system, or because the darkness was so deep I couldn’t tell when my eyes were open or shut, I succumbed faster than before.

Back in my apartment, feeling like I hadn’t slept a wink.

I stumbled, making my way out of bed.  I was wearing only boxer briefs, my usual sleeping attire, but I was ninety percent sure they weren’t the clothes I’d worn to bed last night.

Disorientation nearly overwhelmed me.  My recollection of the scene in that odd little prison was so fresh in my mind I was still adjusting from the warped vision.  It all felt surreal, in retrospect.

I had my regular eyes back.  They were the same.  No surgical alterations.

I examined myself in the mirror.  Eyes normal.  Hair a touch greasier from sweating than normal, but…

My fingertips found the points at my hairline where the mask had attached.

Caps, skin tone, were plugged into the holes.  Impossible to see without close investigation.  The spots felt more numb than tender.

I returned to my bedside and opened the drawer.  Sitting there, as though I’d put it away before turning in, was the mask.  Now complete with beak and the transition from white to brown, with tiny feathers painted onto the surface.

I tossed it back into the drawer and then pulled on slacks and an undershirt.

The names and faces were all a jumble.  Too many people at once, too many things to keep track of.

This was reality.  Quiet, still, with only two grieving children to worry about.  I made my way through the apartment, checking windows and doors.  The things I’d unplugged were still unplugged, and everything was locked.

Too many aspects of this didn’t fit.  Something told me it wasn’t necessarily them messing with our heads.  There was a bigger picture at work.

Desperate for a kind of normalcy, I set about preparing breakfast, with a tall mug of coffee, orange juice, and pancakes made from scratch.  I was chopping up fresh fruit when Marlene emerged from the bedroom.

“One minute,” I said.

“I didn’t say I wanted any.”

“Not the time for this, Marlene.”

“I said I don’t want any.  I don’t.”

“Then go back to your room and sleep in.”

“What?”

“Petulance, anger, grieving, whatever else, it’s fine.  I understand,” I said.  “But it’s going to have to wait until I’ve had my coffee.”

“Or?”

It had to be two different things, all at once.  They mingled in an ugly way.  What happened to the kids if I got dragged away at an inopportune time?  What happened if they were used for this nebulous ‘punishment’?

Except there was nowhere for me to send them.  Even if I did send them away, there was no guarantee they wouldn’t be found.

I studied her, the glower, lower in intensity so early in the day.  She was a stranger to me, a face I only knew through a few photos.  I was a stranger to her, had been until only a few days ago.  Still, I felt a kind of fondness.  She was family.

“I don’t know,” I admitted.  “I’ve never really had someone push me to the limit.”

“Never?” she challenged me.

“Not in recent memory.  I’m not saying I’ve never been stressed.  I have.  Believe me, I have.  But I adapt, I’d like to think I go with the flow, that I’m a willow that bends in the wind where an oak would break.  After I’ve had coffee.”

“If that’s true, you’re nothing like dad.  Or mom or me or Leo.  None of us adapt or flow in the wind or whatever.  Kind of the opposite.”

“It’s been a while since I was around family.  Things were ugly when I left, so I made a deliberate effort to change myself.  To put distance between myself and everything I left behind.”

“And now you’re back,” she said.

“Now I’m back,” I answered.  “Maybe at a bad time for you, and apparently at a bad time for me.  But I can face the worst the world has to offer if I move forward with confidence.”

I said the words proudly, clearly, but the memories of those men breaking into my room were crystal clear.

Just the thought made my heart do a quick double-beat.

I managed to keep the doubt off my face, my smile unflinching.  I added, “After I’ve had coffee.”

“I’ve had coffee before.  It tastes like ass,” she said.

“You can be here and be either quiet or pleasant,” I said.  “Or you can go to your room to be negative.  Those are my rules.”

She nodded, but she took a seat at the counter.  She twisted around on her stool to look at the cracked television and blinked twice in succession.  Nothing.  She did the blink again. “It doesn’t work.”

No comment on the fact that she’d been the one to crack the screen.

“It’s not you” I said.  “One sec.”

I checked that things were okay on the stove, and then crossed the room to plug it in.

It was on a moment later, and I could see the three symbols flash across the screen.  Heart, arrow, sun.

Then it returned to a regular channel.  Marlene changed it to a kid’s show.

My ‘handlers’ were there, watching.

I didn’t habitually put my lenses in when I woke up, which made me different from ninety-nine percent of the population in the first world.  I liked to shower early and then put the things in, rather than go back and forth.  I went back and got them.

I wasn’t adverse to technology, but I liked old things and simplicity more than needless complication.  Wearing the lenses often felt like a complication.  Still, I could pry my eyes open and slip them in, watching the little details I’d placed around the apartment coming to life.

Leo was sitting on a stool by the time I got back.  I greeted him, served up the breakfast, then gestured, bringing up a menu for my phone.  Anyone who was wearing lenses that looked at me would see the phone icon near my head.

At a loss for what to dial, I brought up a menu of symbols and selected three close approximations.

How closely were they looking?  How far did this extend, penetrating my day to day life?

“Hello, Wes.  Heart here.”

“Ah, so you are there,” I said.  I smiled a little at the kids as I topped off my orange juice.  “I got your message late last night.  I take it you were upset?”

“We’re not your enemy, Wes.  We’re on your side in this.”

“I don’t know what this is,” I said.  I walked over to the living room, leaving the kids in peace, and started cleaning up more of the mess Marlene had made.  “A game?”

“In a way.”

“I don’t want to play.  What if I decide to sit things out tonight?  Will you do the same thing?”

“If you make us, but then we’re in a bad spot.  You don’t understand everything that’s going on here.”

“What’s going on, then?  Clarify for me.”

“You’re not the contestant, Wes.  There’s a dynamic, there are rules you play by, we get that, but we’re the ones at the helm.  If you cooperate, we both benefit.  If you throw this, then, well, it’s thrown.  You wind up with the worst possible outcome all the same.”

I lowered my voice.  “Or I cooperate and I wind up in the midst of a screwed up situation where people are trying to stab me in the back.”

“We can mitigate that,” she said.  “You reached out to Rabbit, somewhere along the line.  Making alliances with the right people can help you weed out the dangerous ones.  Safety in numbers”

“You’re testing us,” I said.  “All of this, you’re testing us because you want us to meet a certain criteria.  Or because the people running this thing do.  Moving it all towards a singular purpose.  It’s the only thing that makes sense.  Except you’re also making us your enemies.  There are too many things here that don’t make sense.  I need explanations.  Answers.

“Damn it,” I heard her mutter, on the other end.

“What?”

“I can’t give you answers, Wes.”

I can get answers out of you, I thought.

But not now, while her guard was up.

I worked in silence, leaving the line open.

“Wes.  Are you meeting with Rabbit?”

“With the interest of covering all possible bases, yeah.  But I’m still not sure I’m putting on the mask tonight.”

“You’re proving fairly inflexible, for someone who supposedly goes with the flow, bends in the wind,” Heart said.  Her digitized voice was grating to listen to for any length of time.

“Polite of you to let me know you’re eavesdropping,” I said.  “Kidnapping, vague threats, unsolicited surgery, and nebulous promises of possible murder, or setting me up to be murdered… I think I’m allowed to be less flexible than normal.”

“If you force our hand, we’ll do the same thing we did before.”

“Well, that’s good to know.  Thank you for being honest,” I said.

A bit of anger had slipped into my voice.  I saw the kids’ heads turn.  I flashed a bit of a smile at them to put them at ease.

Heart continued, “I hope you don’t make us.  You’ll try to be clever and stop the men that come to take you in, and it still won’t work.  In the worst case scenario, you get injured in the process, and it slows you down enough that you get hurt or killed.”

“Ah, a vote of confidence from the people who picked me.  Remind me again about how you’re my best friend in all of this?”

“Even if you don’t get hurt, our hands will be tied.  We get only a few chances to manipulate things here.  We have three moves, at the start, to help you out, and we’ve used two of them.  I’m genuinely afraid for you if you strip us of any ability to help you.”

I weighed her words.  I was usually pretty good at telling whether people were being honest or not, and I wasn’t getting a dishonest vibe from her.

Then again, voice modulation, and there was the whole kidnapping thing, the invasion of privacy, and the whole laundry list of everything they had pulled me into.

“I can’t figure you out,” I said.

“If it makes you feel any better,” Heart said.  “I’ve been studying you for months, alongside a few others.  I thought I knew you, and… I don’t.  There’s some part of you I’m not getting.”

“That does make me feel better,” I replied.

“You need our help, Wes.  Once people start figuring out how this really works, it’s going to get messy.”

“That so?  I can manage messy.  Sorry, but I’m not really seeing what you can offer me.  Explain the mask thing?”

“We can’t.”

“At least ring me up when trouble’s brewing and someone’s coming my way?”

“We can’t do that either,” Heart said.

In negotiating with people, a good tactic was to ask them questions, already aware of the answer.  I was already fairly sure she wouldn’t be able to follow through.  So I could hammer her on that front.  You’re useless, you’re useless.

It was rather satisfying, in light of everything that had happened.  I wasn’t one to consider myself mean spirited, just the opposite.  But these were special circumstances.

“Then explain the ins and outs of this whole thing?”

“I can’t.  Wes-”

Here was the moment she tried to break the pattern of attack, my cue to move forward.  “You’re telling me you don’t have anything to offer me.  What are you handling, as my handler?”

Every action had an equivalent reaction.  What reaction would I generate, now that I was pressing her on this?

Would she bounce back, desperate to please, or would she fold?  I opened the balcony door and stepped outside, then closed it.

“I- that’s complicated.”

Ah.  She would deflect.

“Three hours until I need to leave for that rendezvous.  I’m willing to sit down and talk it out with you.  We’ll unravel that untangled mess.  I’ll be in a better place, and so will you.  We’ll be on the same page.”

Reasonable, calm, confident.  A steady pressure to drive the point home.  I rubbed my hands to help ward off the cold.

“It’s not that kind of complicated, Wes.”

Repeatedly using my name to try and build a kind of familiarity.

My eyes fell on the city below.  The street was choked with cars, and my lenses showed ads on every flat surface.  There were different channels,each with different focuses, from ones that would show sales in nearby stores to kids’ games that would show monsters wandering around, almost as real as anything else.

In a city this big, each channel would be choked with advertisements.  People earned pennies each time they deleted one, but there were too many automated functions and paid shills who earned more putting the ads up.

One learned to deal with the visual noise, because the other features of the lenses were too convenient, otherwise.  They were rooted in too many things, from access to buildings to phones and shopping.  One learned to look past the ads, until they reached the safety of their homes and could relax.

Which only reminded me that I was talking with the person who had invaded that home.  In more ways than one.

Could I put her off balance?  I could move to the attack.

I spoke slowly, my voice firm.  “Alright.  Let me unravel my untangled mess, then.  I’ve been thrown into a situation that isn’t sitting right, it’s vague and the pieces don’t all fit together.  You picked me for that, right?  You’re the one that’s throwing me into this situation.  Except you’re terrible at this.  You’re obviously new to it, you’re clueless, you don’t have any direction.”

All different ways of saying the same thing.  Continuing along those lines…

“You’re supposed to protect me or help me somehow, but you haven’t said what you do.  You haven’t inspired an iota of confidence.  The screen back there, last night, it said you’re an enterprise.  You’re in this for fame and fortune, but you’re doing nothing to deserve either of the two.”

She cut in.  “It… could have worded that better.  We’re here for research, to help people.  It’s amazing stuff, but we need funds, and-”

“And throwing me to the wolves and spiders and hares is how you do that?  Come on, Heart.  What is this?  You’re a couple of amoral twits with a gimmick startup idea, operating out of your friend’s mom’s garage, and someone tweaks you onto… this?  A bunch of hackers and entrepreneurs orbiting around some screwed up kind of entertainment that’s never going to poke it’s head out of the darkest, scummiest parts of the deepweb?”

“No, Wes.”

If I was completely wrong, she would have sounded more assertive than she did.  She would have been able to follow it up.

Had I struck a chord?  Landed my remarks somewhere in the right neighborhood?

“Let me give you a tip, Heart.  You’re the one that’s supposed to look after me, right?  That’s your job in this.  Scouting me, keeping me in line, whatever?  You want me to like you, but that battle’s already lost.  Change tactics.  You need to be a jerk.  Be rude, be strict.  Threaten me instead of convincing me that stuff’s for my own good.  Act like that arrowhead guy was.”

“You mean Ascent,” she said.

“Him.  Be aggressive, be assertive.  Get my respect through fear and intimidation, if nothing else.  Come on.  Give it a shot.”

“Wes…”  Her voice was soft.

“That was terrible,” I said.  “If you can’t fake your way through some jerkish behavior or come up with an actual offer you can make me, you shouldn’t be on the phone right now.  You need to be rude, even cold.  When I call you, you shouldn’t even pick up unless you’re absolutely, completely confident you’ve got things under control, with a way to strongarm me into doing what you need me to do, or something valuable to offer me.  Right?  I mean, it’s common sense.  You’re my handler, you need to take the reins here.”

She didn’t immediately respond.

Prodding her, I asked, “Do you have something to offer me?  Bait?”

I waited, thoroughly enjoying the silence.

In recommending a plan of attack against myself, the idea was to head her off.  She would inevitably realize that what she was doing wasn’t working.  By cutting her off well ahead of that particular point, I could pressure her.  I could leave her feeling lost and helpless.  I could handle the handler.

In the wake of that, I’d either see her true colors as she found a plan that did work, or at least worked better than this, or she’d fold and I would have leverage over her.  Something I could use to get information or help I otherwise wouldn’t.

“Wes, when you figure out what we set up for you, we’ll be able to work with you.”

“That’s thoroughly unconvincing,” I said, leaning back against the door to the balcony.  “I think maybe you should hang up.  Get your bearings, say something motivational in front of the mirror a couple times, maybe, to build up some confidence.  I’d love to hear a different, bolder, useful Heart the next time we talk.”

Which I wouldn’t, most likely.  Which would make her feel worse, which would apply more pressure.

I listened to a long silence.

The phone’s icon flashed and turned red.  A hang-up.

If she was capable of watching and listening in on me, I couldn’t allow myself a smile.  A lifetime of training allowed me to keep my expression neutral as I let myself back inside and served my breakfast.

“Who was that?” Leo asked.  Guileless.

“Someone who thinks she’s in business with me,” I responded.  “Now, I’m not going to make you guys go to school, given you’re still early into the grieving process, but-”

“I want to go,” Marlene said.  Too quickly.

I hesitated.

“I want to go where Marlene’s going,” Leo said.

He, at least, sounded genuine.

“You’re not going to run away on me, are you?” I asked.  “This is serious, and I’ve got a lot on my plate.”

Besides, I can’t leave the ‘safe’ territory, or unspecified horrible things will happenI can’t drive all the way to Uncle Peter’s to fetch you if you run.

“It’s been a while since I’ve gone, and it has to be better than being here.”  Marlene said.

“Alright,” I said.  “Go wash up and dress.  I’ll call the school to see if I can’t arrange a tour or a quick class assignment.”

Hopefully with enough time for me to meet the Rabbit.

I was late.  I’d dressed down, with a button-up shirt and more moderate shoes, no tie or vest, a jacket folded over one arm.  Even knowing I might have missed her, I took my time, getting in line.

Being in line let me observe.  Rabbit had red hair, but a wig wasn’t impossible.  Nor was a hat.  It was spring.  The others… there were traits I could look out for.  It was more a process of elimination, scanning the crowd.  No kids under thirteen, which removed the possibility of a Snake.  No fat men, so that meant no Owl.

Wolf and Fox were more dangerous.  Too many possibilities for who they could be, but I could scan the collection of people that crowded the tables and counters, and I could eliminate those who were in groups with others, happy, clearly distracted by their own lives and their own things.

I was pretty sure that the others weren’t that good at acting, at slipping into a role.

I found a spot at a counter by the stools, once I had my bacon sandwich and coffee.  The shop’s window showed a scrolling advertisement for the desserts and music.  I withdrew a pocket watch and spun it around with one hand, catching it before it fell.  I ate and drank with my free hand.

“You’re going to break that, if you keep abusing it,” a young woman commented.

“It’s one I keep for more rugged use,” I said.  “I’ve fixed it so many times I could repair it blindfolded.  Rabbit, I presume?”

Rabbit squeezed herself between my neighbor and me, leaning over the counter.  Her hands were trembling, despite her apparent confidence, and the corner of her lip was folded like she was chewing on it.  Her chin-length red hair was in her face, and yet she wasn’t brushing it out of the way.

“Mr. Bird?” she asked.

“It’ll have to do,” I answered.

She nodded, a tight motion.  “Hi, Mr. Bird.  You’re the only one who came.”

“I thought I might be.”

“Have you figured it out?” she asked.

“What?”

“What they did to us?”

I turned my head, studying her.  I could see the fear on her face.

“Invaded our privacy, our homes, they kidnapped us… but you’re not talking about that,” I said.  My eyes fell on her hands, which were still shaking.  “That’s not fear.  That’s a tremor.”

“I was born with that,” she said.  “I’m talking about something else.  But I can’t talk about it here.  They said they’ll punish us if the wrong person hears.”

I nodded.  “Want to go for a walk?”

She bobbed her head, another tight, jerky motion.  Under her breath, she whispered, “F- fuck.”

I took my time getting my jacket and the remains of my lunch together.  We made our way to the door.

She whispered, “Why do you sound as unafraid as I feel afraid, Mr. Bird?”

“Not to worry,” I said.  “I’m very good at faking it.  So good I fool myself sometimes.”

She nodded as we made our way onto the sidewalk.  I pointed to suggest a direction, and she turned.

“I guess that’s your particular talent?” she asked.

“A part of it,” I agreed.

“Lying so well you trick yourself.  Not being afraid when you don’t want to be afraid.  That’s a good talent.  H- how does it hold up when you’re at gunpoint?”

An odd question, odd phrasing and timing.  I glanced at her, and she glanced down, furtive.

Her hands were jammed in her pockets.  The angle, the shape of the resulting bulge…

“I guess we’ll find out, Ms. Rabbit,” I told her.

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From → Sample: Face 2

141 Comments
  1. My instinct here is to swim against the tide. And I do remain skeptical about this one. The whole game thingy is a bit too much externally-imposed motivation. There are hints that there are reasons, that it’s not just arbitrary, but…

    As compared with Peer: I like the protagonist better (as a person, not as a protagonist). Like the setting less. (Not for being SF instead of fantasy; for the arbitrary game thingy, which could just as well be fantasy). I think that a palette-cleanser is a good idea after Worm and I like that Face has a predefined time limit, though.

    Interesting that none of the animals completely rejected the “you are enemies” vibe. I think that if you did this with real people, there would be some who would… unless you specifically selected those who wouldn’t. So I think Monkey’s probably right on that score.

    I think that Wes’s backers didn’t kill the neighbor. Random murder at the outset would not be a good start, especially for characters that aren’t purely adversaries. And there are a lot of hints that once the animals figure out what’s going on, they are expected to sympathize with their sponsors’ motivations somehow.

    • Kim permalink

      Yeah, I don’t like this one.
      You’ve got the smartest, slickest protagonist.
      Not someone to sympathize with in the least.

      Clever, sure…

  2. Madman permalink

    No doubt that Face is better than Peer. I agree with many that Chapter 1 did not quite grab my interest and I was worried you were heading in a raw horror direction, but together with Chapter 2, it now immensely intrigues me and I will definitely read it if you continue. I definitely will not follow Peer– while it was vaguely interesting and I generally enjoy good fantasy, fantasy has been beaten to death by now and it’s very hard to come up with something really novel and interesting, and what we saw of Peer just did not cut it.

    • You know one of my lesser pet peeves? When people say “Fantasy” (or “Science Fiction”) as though it’s one discrete genre, like Romance or Mystery or Action.

      It’s not. Sure, it is often associated with a specific type of story (“The Quest,” going by C. Booker’s Seven Basic Plots), but just as often it’s something else. “Fantasy” is more accurately a setting. A story is fantasy if it has dragons and wizards, whether it’s about a group of hobbits destroying a ring, a dragon rider killing a king, or a pair of elves who fall in love despite stuff common to a genre of books I’ve never read. How do romances usually work, anyways?
      My point is, saying “Fantasy is overused” makes as much sense as saying “Stories set in New York are overused” or “Stories set in the Middle Ages are overused”. Fantasy is a backdrop, not a story.

      Peer’s story doesn’t look to be a lot like any others that come to my mind. More political intrigue, less dragonslaying. Maybe it will end with the death of the magistrades, maybe it will end with redemption, maybe death.

    • I guess the problem is that Peer seems more believable or at least less demanding of suspension of disbelief. The world of Face to this point does not make sense; it’s pseudo cyberpunk / cybernoir but ignores many of the fundamentals of the genre – specifically information flow and connectivity; in a world with the lenses, the whole concept of the game is implausible – too many observers and too much data.

      The more I re-read Face, this less sense it makes. Peer on the other hand seems more internally grounded.

      • Luke Licens permalink

        Data overflow is clearly addressed. People are inundated with data, and learn to tune out what doesn’t apply to them. The game does not apply to them, and actively hides itself. It’s much easier to hide in a crowd than an empty room.

  3. Unmaker permalink

    Some random thoughts, will probably have more when I finish thinking about this.

    This chapter is definitely is getting a second read.

    The response of the game controller is interesting – it is mechanical in some ways but it able to throw out vague hints on the fly. The problem I have with it is that the responses are not consistent with either a human responder or a programmed language parser. Portions of the response are too mechanical in some ways for a human, too fast on the draw for a normal human (augments?), too subtle for a program, too flexible for a program (unless the art is well advanced over our time), etc. It could be a composite system – a language parser / semi-AI with a human making final judgement and modifications, but something feels off.

    One player with a good spatial memory and very little scruples could make a LOT of that map. Even at today’s tech level and available resources the map would narrow identities down a huge amount, and things are clearly well-beyond today’s tech. I bet at least one of the menagerie was the given advantage of photographic recall, or perhaps visual recording.

    I agree with other commenters that the game is being played with the handlers also. The whole setup has the feel of something put together by a highly-intelligent psychopath (uncaring of other people and dangerously manipulative) but the handlers don’t act like that.

    In that vein, the names Heart, Sunny, Ascent, and Box could be from previous versions of the game where different iconography than animal masks were used. It seems quite possible that previous “contestants” become handlers.

    Sodusko? Not an English word, so everyone is assuming it is a name. The biggest mistake possible is to assume that Bat is the name of the previous winner’s mask, instead of that of the previous winner. If that is the case, what is Sodusko?

    Plot twist (very unlikely): Snake is Marlene. “A kid, not much older than Marlene, probably a boy, wearing a black sweatshirt, jeans, and a mask of a… lizard? Snake?” Can you really tell a prepubesent boy from a girl, especially if Snake’s handlers use an intervention to change their beast’s night-time appearance in some way?

    That meeting idea was doomed from the start. How many “contestants” found a way to get into a building near the tea shop and watched from a window? And how many anticipated that reaction and were trying to watch the watchers?

    • Landis963 permalink

      Snake isn’t Marlene. Snake asked his question, after all, and Wesley would have at least found the voice familiar, if he didn’t outright recognize it.

      And Sodusco is a proper noun. Google Translate, iffy though it may be, would have returned something if Sodusco was something other than that. (Also, a google search for “Sodusco” got me a bunch of hits on the Sodus Co-op Nursery School. Yeah.) However, that in itself gives me an idea – it could be the company of the winning sponsor, and their champion’s mask. We’ll have to see if Wesley thinks to search it online. Of course, if it’s an alias, we’re back at square 1.

      • Mjurn permalink

        Sodusco could be a proper noun, but don’t forget, there are sponsors. It’s entirely possible that the player themself wasn’t mentioned at all – “Sodusco” could just be the sponsor of the Bat mask.

    • Kim permalink

      If it’s being done by a psychopath, it’s being done by an EXCEPTIONALLY BORING psychopath.
      Geez Louise.

      Also: Who the hell wants recruits you have to drug to get ’em? Particularly Mr. Bird.
      He’s the type to kill you as soon as possible.

  4. Lost Demiurge permalink

    This one has some serious potential…

  5. GreenGlass permalink

    Goddammit. I’m hooked. I might not even like these characters (the only nice ones currently being the boy, and to a lesser extent, the main character and heart). But I would undoubtedly read this. I want to know what happens. I mean I still think about the characters in the last sample, but this has some hook to it. I would devour this story too if you kept writing it. It is a really good worm substitute, come to think of it. Lots of parallels so far.

    • Kim permalink

      You think the main character is nice? LOL.

    • Khan permalink

      You think the boy is nice?

      Oh, you mean Leo. I was about to say. I really like Snake so far, but he is the opposite of nice. Not someone I would want to get into a death match with.

  6. Jeffery Davis permalink

    I think I’m more intrigued by this than Peer.

  7. DarkDaemon permalink

    Excellent. I love the protagonist, much more than Peer, a bit more than I like Taylor at the beginning of Worm. A little frustrated with the lack of clarity, but the protagonist is as well, so it’s all good. My vote is, so far, for Face.

  8. fuzzyzergling permalink

    Very nice, though personally I still feel Peer was the stronger story.
    I’m getting sort of a Gantz vibe from the whole thing, which I like a lot.

  9. Someguy permalink

    This can work, im reserving judgement tntil the next 2 samples.

  10. A whole bunch of mysterious elements still, but at least this time around we got some answers which was nice. I like with Face is headed. It’s interesting and grabs you right out of the gate. I think this chapter did a very nice job setting the tone — at least, letting giving the readers more of an idea what this Game is all about. Curious for more.

  11. Mrmdubois permalink

    I’m enjoying this.

    I enjoyed Peer too, but this was a little easier to slip into.

  12. VantagePointer permalink

    This story is really grabbing me quickly. I really like the near-future kind-of setting, where it’s advanced enough that it feels interesting and slightly foreign, but close enough to the present that it’s easy to relate.

  13. I’m loving this! It’s like the Most Dangerous Game crossed with the Hunger Games with all the suck taken out. I have my own predictions, but I’ll keep them to myself for a bit. Again, sorry I’m reading these late, Wildbow.

  14. “Like the Wolf said, we’re not your allies,” Monkey told me. “Figure it out for yourself.”
    tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ConflictBall
    They have no reason to fight. Why not get along? Monkey and Wolf are idiots.

    Past that…I haven’t seen anything really interesting that makes me go “This sounds like a good story”. If you write it, I’ll read it, but it’ll be more looking for answers than enjoying the story like Worm was.

    • I’ve just figured out a good way to explain why I like Peer better than Face.

      I want to read both to figure out the story. There’s a difference in what I’m figuring out, though. In Peer, I will be discovering the ending. In Face, I will be discovering the beginning. The former just seems more…satisfying, somehow, less annoying.

      Although how contrived Face has to be to keep the origins in the dark is a pretty big turn-off, too.

  15. koolerkid permalink

    GRAAAAAAH I WANT ANSWERS GRAAAAAAAAAH

    I hate games where I don’t know the rules.

    I think I want to see this continued just so I can figure out how this damn game works.

    • Kim permalink

      There aren’t rules to this game.
      Not yet. They’ll be coming, though.

  16. Unmaker permalink

    OK, the hierarchy:
    Beasts: Individuals within a three block radius selected by their Handlers for the purpose of winning the contest. Beasts know nothing about the contest other than what their handlers told them and what they can pick up by observation. Beasts were apparently selected for wit/intelligence. Beast motivations are a mixed bag: Being left alone is high on the list; striking back at at the handlers / game controllers is a factor for several (protagonist included); and some appear to be already actively playing the game.
    Handlers/Contestants?/Controllers: Small groups of individuals working together (not without friction) to win using their selected Beast. (Is Cat a Handler/Beast hybrid? A shill?) Handlers know many (most?) of the game rules and stakes but are not actually in control of the game. Handlers vary in personality quite a bit, and the ones who are upset about the morality of this are nevertheless strongly enough motivated to go forward anyway.
    Game Controllers: Scarily powerful, amoral organizations – powerful enough to pull this off, coerce the Handlers, prevent the worst reactions of the Beasts from ruining the game (they think), and hide this from the local population and authorities. The implied resources are enormous, which brings up the question of what they get out of it that is commensurate with the expenditure and risk.

    There are clearly invasive mental changes made to the Beasts, which is probably what Rabbit is talking about. Rabbit clearly knows something about them, which means Wes is likely to find out shortly. Even if Rabbit only asks questions he will gather something from the questions.

    Which brings up an interesting idea … kidnapping twelve people with masks on nightly is a risky enterprise – there are too many ways that could be witnessed by a bystander, recorded by the ambient electronics, or noticed by nosy people (or worse, the legal authorities). What if the masks are this world’s first fully-immersive VR? Note that I rate this as a low likelihood since it is clear that physical changes are being done to the environment.

    A distinct possibility is that the installations, either with or without the masks, allow the Game Controllers to puppet the Beasts, which makes the kidnapping easier at least. This could easily be Rabbit’s revelation.

    Along similar lines, and going with the “how the heck do the game controllers get away with it” question, if most of the population wears their lenses most of the time and the Game Controllers can hack the lenses, then they can cover a lot of public stuff, at least from the casual observer.

    Rabbit’s gun is a bad idea for several reasons:
    1) They will be punished for letting others know. Shooting someone in public would bring unwanted attention. Therefore, the gun is essentially a murder/suicide pact in a public location. Anyone who figures this out should resist going into a private location at gunpoint. Anyone who is intelligent and does even a minimal amount of research knows there are far too many eyes/ears even in so called “private” locations for a gunshot to go unnoticed, and that is before taking into account observation by the Handlers and Game Controllers. Therefore, there is apparently no safe location to use the gun.
    2) Raising the stakes in an already volatile situation is dangerous unless you are both willing and able to play with the heightened danger. Rabbit is not apparently such a personality.
    3) The Game Controllers have stated the three-block square during daylight to be a “A safe place to sleep, to exercise talents, to set the stage for the night’s events.” Violating the “safe place” part of that might bring the wrath of the Game Controllers … unless they rate it a clever action.

    So, the handlers only have one more intervention for Wes, and they told him that. So, being the magnificent manipulative mastermind he is, he can get more interventions by threatening to sabotage another Beast unless that Beasts’ handlers use an intervention on his behalf.

    OK, it is blatantly obvious at this point the Face gets two thumbs up from me – it did the most important thing, which is to get me involved and thinking about it.

  17. Sorry but this just bores me it seems just too shallow as an idea and even Wildbow’s quality writing has so far not got me hooked. I will read all the chapters before making up my mind about Face, but at the moment Face just doesn’t grab me enough to feel as if I would want to continue reading it if it becomes a series. I really enjoyed Peer though much more interesting than Face.

  18. AlterAlias permalink

    I’m definitely excited to see this story continue. Who doesn’t love sneaky moral ambiguous people playing high stakes spy vs spy.

  19. Kachajal permalink

    Chapter 1 alone wasn’t the greatest, this one drew me in significantly. So far, I like, but I liked Peer, as well.

  20. I have an idea of what Face is going to be like. I’m glad, since I didn’t get that from Peer. Peer’s Sample had a really cool ending, but I have no idea what the story would go on to become (especially with how swervy the Sample was).

    The lenses seemed to come from out of nowhere. Unless, maybe the lenses were produced from the Wonder Games. If so, I’m anticipating other instances of advanced technology popping up in the story, all produced from Dick. Co.

    I’m hooked mainly by the possibilities of seeing the Masked Ones interact during the day and the sponsors bickering at each other,

  21. Rhodesian permalink

    Awesome Chapter I love it so much 😀

    Face is as good or better than Worm, I havent had one of your chapters grab my attention like this since the Scion interlude.

    Great Work

  22. George Maddux permalink

    So far, I’d like to see a reworking of peer that stretched out the pre-assassination time period to three or four times what you initially planned it. Face could be decent, but it doesn’t excite me.

  23. vali permalink

    I like how the main character interacts with the world and with other people. The characters love of dressing well, the background as an actor, the mask he is forced to wear, and his excellent people skills all add up to an interesting and compelling character. The steel door, hints of past family conflict, his illegal activities, all draw me forward. My biggest concern is the fact that the idea of a deadly game is really old and played out. It makes for a good source of external motivation, and keeps the story moving at a brisk pace, but I am concerned that in the long term, it will lead to a less compelling story. Conflict between people, conflict within the self, these form much more powerful story hooks.

  24. Socks permalink

    Awesome stuff. I’m getting a great vibe- chills sometimes, especially with the answers to the questions. Plot is really grabbing my attention, and the characters are delightful to read about.

  25. Pentatonic permalink

    I really enjoyed this. Once I hit around the middle of this chapter, I had to go back and read from the beginning again to understand better what happened. I like when answers are provided in that manner, making me go back and question earlier interactions, rather than having a slow build up of totally parseable action. It’s one of the things I liked most about Worm- you could read something and think you kind of understood what was happening, but then later it turns out there were 5 other unknown dimensions to the conversation.

    My only concern so far is how impossible it is to write this kind of idea *now* without inspiring thoughts of the Hunger Games. Evil corporate overlords, taking people against their will and putting them in awful (we assume) circumstances, a big gap between living conditions and technology in different parts of the story (the jail vs super high tech lenses), forcing people to fight each other and question their morality, sponsors/helpers that may not really help that much, younger siblings to be protected from the fights, we can assume endurance will come into play… I haven’t even read the books, just saw the first movie and that’s what I thought of starting from once Wes was at the jail.

    It might not be that bad, to have a lot of parallels to a super popular story, but for me, Face will need some more explicit distance from Hunger Games to be truly stellar, in the same way that any story using traditional conceptions of magic is going to draw parallels to Harry Potter. The most obvious difference to me so far is that in the Hunger Games, the contestants knew what was going on from the beginning. Going by the wealth of original ideas Worm had, I know you can do unique very well. Something to keep in mind, maybe. Looking forward to the next chapter!

  26. Mads permalink

    I would read this in a heartbeat. It takes a lot to hook me, but I’m in. Love the possibilities here, and the narratorial voice.

  27. Jay permalink

    I have to be honest, I wasn’t much expecting Face to be one of the interesting ones, but I’m quite intrigued. I may vote for Face after all lol

  28. No One in Particular permalink

    Seems pretty interesting. Don’t really know what else to think of it, as it’s pretty weird, but I like it.

  29. Socks permalink

    You know, on the reread, I don’t know why the ending to this chapter had me so worried. Wes would have to be stupid to come unarmed, and he’s not stupid. Although it’s not like you can just buy a handgun easily in Toronto. But then again, there was some stuff about him being not so legal, and well, no one is that calm about this kind of meeting and being threatened with a gun who hasn’t done some sketchy things.

    • Kim permalink

      Yeah. If he’s calm, that’s because he knows the score.
      He’s at least emotional within his head — and he’s far more upset with the heart/triangle folks than rabbit.

    • Khan permalink

      He already has a gun. It said in the previous chapter that he kept one by his bed.

  30. Even if you don’t end up choosing this one for either the palette-cleanser serial or the longer one, I’d still like to just know what it’s all about, you know? Oof, I’m hooked. Conceptually this feels like cyberpunk Battle Royale but with some animal imagery, which should be awful. Yet somehow, you’ve got me hooked.

    How.

  31. Asmora permalink

    Upon some consideration, I think I might like this one. The first chapter didn’t do a lot for me, but this turned it around greatly. A sort of cyberpunk psychological spy/criminal thriller thing, with taking care of grieving kids thrown in, would be pretty cool. I’m a sucker for cyberpunk. And it seems like it would use a lot of the same strengths as Worm: lots of winning through ratiocination and being observant. I wouldn’t want something that’s TOO similar to Worm, but on the other hand there’s no sense in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. (That may be the only moment in my life that idiom has ever actually been appropriate.)

  32. Very much liking this, agree with the comments that the end of the last chapter made me wary this was going to be a silly kill everyone in an arena type story. This chapter really works though, and I like the idea of a day/night split.
    Comparing the two stories so far, while Peer’s world is interesting I think the story / concept needs a lot of work to be a good read the starting point just feels off. I also feel Peer has a risk of ballooning out into an overcomplicated mess. Whereas with Face I could happily see the story carrying on from here exploring the characters and hopefully getting a good explanation for why the various characters are involved with what is going on being contrasted with his daily life with his two new dependants.

  33. I think this is a a good story, but it took me a bit to get interested. I think with time and being able to see more of it, I’d get into it a lot more. Still really well written and it seems more “grown-up” than Boil. I still think Peer is my top choice, but I’m a fantasy reader, so I’m sortof biased.

  34. Walla permalink

    I like wes, but this setup irritates me tremendously. gonna go with no.

    • Walla permalink

      edit: I really, really like Wes.
      (still don’t like the rest)

  35. Bgbg permalink

    Love the protagonist, hate the bratty sister. Don’t think this will work unless you tone her down or remove her from the equation.

  36. Dark Lord Bob permalink

    I like face the most out of the samples. It has been said before, but it bares some resemblance to Liar Game, and that is a very good thing.

  37. Brian permalink

    I’m hooked.

    The protagonist strikes me as what Taylor Hebert could have been in other circumstances: razor-sharp, collected, and apparently bound by an ethical code that weaves in and out of the law. That’s what I want to read.

  38. ciss permalink

    I like that it is a different type of deathmatch scenario, just as I was counting on. I’ll continue reading if you keep going with this one. 🙂

  39. Megafire permalink

    Well, this was very, very fascinating.

  40. Prodigy_Newling permalink

    So far my vote is for Face over Peer. I didn’t particularly have any attention grabbed by peer at first, and it took a cliffhanger murder fest to get it. Chapter 2 of face definitely grabbed me and I like it so far.

  41. Hm. This has I-want-to-know-what-happens-next-ness going for it.

  42. E73S permalink

    Omygoodness it’s like Battle Royale and Hotline Miami had a love child and Wildbow adopted it.
    I squee’d. I squee’d hard.
    Please keep this going. Please make it a thing. This looks like it could go with Worm and Pact to make a holy trinity of badass writing. I love it.

  43. Caim permalink

    I know I’m very late to the party but I think it’s very promising. You’ll inevitably draw up comparisons to hunger games, battle royale, any number of the survival games stories but I don’t think you should stop it because it’s been done before. Adding your own unique twist and going from there is a great option.

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