Fiction Science Fiction Suspense

Skimming through today’s Featured Filters, I smile, then frown, then purse my lips and blow a kiss into the smart mirror. I spend fifteen minutes tilting my chin and twirling my body, examining the different filters’ effects on all the angles of my face and figure, eventually settling on “Retro Sunrise”, a golden glow that illuminates my skin, smooths my wrinkles and blemishes, extends my lashes, and bleaches the tips of my dark blonde hair to a shimmering ombre sunrise of creamy yellows and soft orange. It is a very conservative look; no body distorts or facial dysmorphia, but today, I want to be seen, and this is as close to Filt-less as I can get.

“Lexus, please select Retro Sunrise as my filter.” 

A perky voice chimes in my earpiece.

“Good morning, Xanthe. Retro Sunrise will cost 1,559 credits, are you sure you would like to continue with your purchase?”

“Yes, please.”

“Thank you. Your purchase has been approved. Applying the Retro Sunrise filter now.”

The nanocam above my head flicks awake and releases a warm, golden light that pours over my body like an oldy-type breakfast of syrup over waffles.

“Retro Sunrise filter is now live. We see that you have not yet chosen an additional cosmetic filter. Would you like to pair Retro Sunrise with the Sun’s Glow collection by MetaFace? According to our data, seventy-five percent of customers who chose Retro Sunrise paired their filter with ProdFilts from Sun’s Glow. Would you like to try them on now?”

My reflection in the smart mirror shuffles through product filters of what today’s look would be with the added cosmetics: red, blue, or orange lips; eyeliner in cateye or upper lid only; eyeshadows in natural, smoky, or ombre; blush with or without contour, and so on. 

As the cosmetic product filters flicker across my face, the advertisements for the ProdFilts frame the edges of the mirror, flashing discount codes, friends’ recent purchase histories, and Influencers seen wearing each ProdFilt.

I linger on a full-face of cosmetics, more accustomed to the heavy layers of Rec-less filters than the vulnerability of a Filt-less face, but I click out of the advertisements until only Retro Sunrise remains.

On a regular workday, my SimCrew wears creature filters, the ones that warp our features into that of a monkey, an alien, or a cat, unrecognizable from our Filt-less face. We wear them as a part of our city simulation laborer uniforms to help us remain unnoticed. Uppers commuting to work pay little attention when a dog rewires a hydrant Sim, or a cat tunes a tree Simulation. So, creature filters are less appealing to the Mass and therefore significantly more affordable than ProdFilts and GlamFilts. But the more abstract the filter, the harder it is for FaceRec to identify us, and without facial recognition, we can never rise the ranks to Influencer or Celebrity, unless of course, you go Filt-less, but no one would dare appear Filt-less on the Feed.

“We’re sorry you were not interested in the Sun’s Glow collection.” Lexus resigns. 

“Would you like to sample another collection of ProdFilts?” 

At the mention, several new cosmetic collection ads pop up and dance around the mirror. 

“Not today, thank you.” 

The ads disappear.

“Very well.” Lexus responds with a hint of disappointment in her automated voice.

I’ve been saving my credits for the best GlamFilt I could afford. Since last year, I have not purchased a single new filter or ProdFilt. Even amongst the laborers, creature filters are constantly upgrading and evolving, and if you don’t want to fade away, you must update and evolve with them. 

No one will speak badly of you if you show up to work in the same filter you wore last month, its much worse than that. When someone realizes your filters are recycled, they have less incentive to look up your Feed each day to see what you chose, and at some point, you may stop showing up on their feed, or they may stop following you altogether, and there is nothing worse than an unfollow.

In the past few months, I have recycled my filters with various ProdFilts I purchased, trying different filter layers to create new looks, nevertheless, I lost followers. But seeing Retro Sunrise on me today, of all days, I know I made the right decision.

The Feed on my watch pings with notifications for the two positive reactions to my chosen filter for today, so I blow another kiss to the mirror. 

“Thanks for the love! Finally trying on something new.”

My mom heart-reacts to the filter I’ve chosen, her recorded reaction is beaming with her hand over her heart and a tear in her eye. “Love your new filter, but you know you could never look more beautiful than when you are Filt-less.”

My best friend, Karzen, liked the filter too. His reactions are recorded a split-second after my mom’s. Today his reaction smiles and nods his head, his eyes look squinted and playful, with a smirk in the corner of his mouth. I wonder if Lexus has caught on to his mischievous expression enough to dock his credits, or if the A.I. data screening processors are still immune to some of humanity’s complexities.

With every moment recorded and processed through the city’s CPU, actions are calculated, and misconduct is minimal. FaceRec reads our expressions, suggesting medication when we look ill, and docking credits when we pass unwarranted judgement. Credits are deducted automatically with each infraction, which is enough incentive to keep the Mass in line, but every now and then, if someone cares more about the crime than the credits, violence and theft will occur. More often than not, Karzen gets dinged because of his sarcastic comments, especially when referencing Lexus or Influencers. Lexus's A.I. is not a person, but does take things personally.

It's likely that Lexus, along with the rest of the city, are preoccupied with preparations for tonight’s event. Subtle facial expressions and reactions are much less of a priority in data processing than attending to the needs of the Uppers. 

Tonight, the trendiest Influencers across the country are gathering in our city for the 52nd annual Correlation Ball, the event where the top Influencer of the year is announced and ascends to presidency. This is the first year our city is hosting, and Lexus, our city’s A.I. is busier than ever. 

The Correlation Ball is so extravagant and widely broadcasted that over two-thirds of the city’s security and surveillane nanocams will be relocated for extra coverage. My SimCrew was asked to work the event the moment our city discovered we would be hosting. We have the highest customer service ratings with the lowest number of sightings. Basically, we are being rewarded for being invisible, but efficient, the perfect worker for an influencer party.

Knowing we would be here tonight, at the biggest event in my city’s history, I knew I had to save up for something special, and I think Retro Sunset was the perfect choice. I may not stand among the rankings, but I will stand among the stars.

Right now, Influencers are actively choosing their own filters and outfits for the event, finishing their CustomFilts in the hopes of last-minute subscribers and reactions to increase their chances of winning. With each like, comment, and subscribe, votes are filing in quicker than we have ever seen them in our city and our processors are likely overwhelmed from all the incoming data, even though they too are part of the celebration. 

 The event began as an oldy Coronation ceremony in which presidents were anointed regal authority, but as the ascension of A.I. and automatic processing became more prevalent in democracy and daily life, the role of leadership changed to a partnership. 

Now, the Correlation Ball represents the two most powerful heads of government: the newly appointed Influencer; the face of the country and reigning marketer affiliate for the Mass, and the dependable CPU; the central processing unit that watches, protects, and serves the Mass through billions of nanocams and data processors. 

As I ride the elevator to the first floor, News Feed panels on the sliding doors show the live rankings of the current top ten Influencers. Familiar and unfamiliar names hop around the rankings, changing their position with each reaction and like they receive.  

The highest ranked Influencers from the year are already in the city, getting ready in our luxury hotels, but there are a handful of Influencers that will not be determined until we are halfway through the ball. 

Every year there are one or two people that quickly rise through the rankings if they have a particularly unique filter or become the subject of a trending discussion. Some laborers try to make it on the rankings by being daring or mischievous. They risk their credits to become trendy in the last hours of the rankings. This hope for instant fame is what keeps the system in place, but a laborer has never ranked higher than top 100 in my lifetime.

When the elevator doors open, I am united with my SimCrew. Karzen, my second in command, and closest friend, has already called our HoverVan to take us into the city. He has also chosen a new GlamFilt for tonight. His typically broad shoulders are more muscular, his clean-shaven chin is speckled with facial hair, and his full-toothed smile sparkles in the reflecting light of my Retro Sunrise.

“New Filt?” I ask. “I don’t think I’ve seen this one before.”

“You’re one to talk. You look immaculate.” 

“Oh, this oldy thing?” I bat my eyelashes and shrug, spinning in a circle to give him the full effect of the GlamFilt.

“Alright lovebirds,” the gruff voice of my lead engineer coughs up. “Van's here.”

We pile into the HoverVan and FaceRec notes the passengers and Lexus confirms our destination. The commute is quick, roads are nearly empty as the Mass wait at home for coverage of the ball.

When we arrive, security drones hover the streets and androids frisk guests at the door, like an oldy security sweep. Once they have checked our bags, filled with tools and back up projectors, we are cleared to enter.

Through the doors, the ballroom’s simulation has been set to heighten the ceiling, now painted in a sunny, cloudless sky, despite the darkness outside. The floor projections are incredibly realistic Sims of mowed grass, with intermittent pools of glass tanks with massive gold and orange fish swimming below, weaving in between our feet as we walk. Elaborate pyramids of food and drinks line the outter walls, which are draped in convincing ivy and wisteria. Giant marble statues line the walls like columns, and tranquil music plays above the growing crowd. 

Invited Influences and their guests fill the ballroom. CutomFilts catch my eye as they pass. A Peace Influencer has a HairFilt that moves her long, blonde hair in waves like a waterfall. One of the Music Influencers shows off his CustomFilt tattoos that jump around his body, moving and doing tricks. One man appears completely invisible except for his floating face, and a woman has a moving background filter to make it look like she is always mid-ski slope.

To sustain the illusion of the simulated garden around all the celebrities, my SimCrew paces the outside walls, quickly jumping to attention when a light flickers or the Feed wall lags, but everything seems to be going smoothly, so I find a good vantage point at the top of an unused staircase, and watch the party from afar. 

Tonight, in our GlamFilts, we look like any other guests. Perhaps our looks are more generic, and our names and Feeds are unknown, but between the simple fixes, I can pretend I belong amongst this crowd. I am transfixed in passing Filters, beautiful people, and fascinating speeches. I imagine my name appearing on the Feed wall with all of theirs, slowly climbing the ranks while my watch numbs my hand from all the positive notifications, awaiting the announcement of presidency.

Karzen catches me dreaming and nudges my side.

“You still awake?” He whispers, “Didn’t think tonight’s gig would be so… low maintenance.”

“Yeah…” I manage. “It’s kinda nice, don’t you think?”

“Not working? Hell yeah! If I’m getting credits for sitting around eating shrimp, I can’t complain.”

“Not the shrimp, the Filts. The Influencers. I’ve never seen anything like them. Our FeaturedFilts are never this extravagant. Where do they find them? Or are they all just customs?”

“Ehh.. Customs I guess.” I give him a long look, hoping he will give me more than that. He raises his eyebrows and lets out a long sigh, then shoves another shrimp into his mouth. “Uppers have a whole different class of Filts and Prods. Stuff we could never afford even if we worked events like this every day. My guess? They don’t even show us that stuff because it would put us under cred. Better to live blissfully ignorant than just ignorant, I guess.” He stops chewing, listens to his earpiece, then rolls his eyes and mutters. “Yeah, yeah. What is it? Three credits for negative speculation? Thanks, Lexus.”

“Got a CredDing for that?”

He smirks and I take the hint.

He winks and bumps his shoulder into mine, then turns, gesturing to his empty plate, and walks toward the seafood tower. I let out a laugh and quickly cover my mouth. This night isn’t about me, and I’m not supposed to draw attention. 

After about two hours of socializing, marketing, and Feed updates, our job here seems pointless. There haven’t been any projection flickers since the Sims first started up, and I think my ragtag crew have started indulging more in the party than the work. The chatter amongst the guests is so loud, I can no longer make out individual conversations to determine who is voting and who is just socializing, and between all the filters, I cannot even make out Karzen in the crowd, especially with his new filter. 

With only a few minutes left until the top influencers are announced, I check my watch feed to see where Karzen is, but his Feed is blank. 

"Lexus, call Karzen.”

“We’re sorry, Xanthe, but we cannot hear your request.”

I run behind the projectors and out the front door into the quiet of the night. 

“Lexus, call Karzen.”

“We’re sorry, but our servers are busy, and we cannot complete your request.”

“Lexus, find Karzen. Pull up Karzen’s Feed.”

“We’re sorry, but our servers are busy, and we cannot complete your request. We’re sorry. We’re sorry… We…re… sorry…..”

Lexus’s voice in my earpiece goes quiet. 

I race back to the ballroom, hoping to catch Karzen, but instead I run into a room of chaos. The projections have all gone to a black screen, nanocams lay on the floor, Filt-less Influencers scream at their city A.I.s to bring back their Feeds. People run for the door, some crying, most hiding their faces behind their hands. Androids and security drones lay lifeless on the floors, and guests and Influencers are unrecognizable, some nearly naked, and all interchangeable and unremarkably plain.

I race back to my vantage point at the top of the stairs, where my bag lays sprawled across the floor. I grab the backup generator and projectors, wondering how I could possibly fix all of this with just one projector and some tools.

"Are you going to fix the power?" A naked woman sobs.

"I'm gonna do everything I can." I promise, and I mean it.

"Thank you! What's your name? I'm sorry, but usually FaceRec tells me."

"It's Xanthe."

Then suddenly, the power reboots, the Sims are projected back on the floors and walls, nanocams burst to life with vivid filters and guests hesitantly reenter the ballroom, uncovering their exposed bodies in the renewed lights of their nanocams. Androids spring back into life, assessing the situation, and security drones call for everyone to remain calm.

"It was her." The once naked woman yells, pointing in my direction. "She did it, Xanthe turned on the power!"

"No... I... You saw me, I didn't do anything."

Then I feel it. My watch starts buzzing. Notifications are popping up and when I look to the crowd, they are all reacting on their Feeds to… Me.

The Feed wall bursts into an excited frenzy of notifications, reactions, and praises for my fixing the power outage. 

“She saved us.” Someone cries.

“No… I.. I didn’t do anything…” I insist, but the praises keep coming.

Ping after ping, my watch vibrates and notifications plague my screens. The Feed wall flashes a gif of me at the top of the stairs, holding my tool bag, and the world reacts. 

In the rankings, my name appears in the top one hundred.... Top fifty... It climbs higher and higher and the reactions keep coming.

"She must've turned off the power just to become famous." Someone reacts.

"She is a SimCrew leader, she knows how to fix these things." Another comments.

Positive or negative, the Mass doesn't care, my name is trending and soaring to the top of the chart. The other Influencers' names no longer dance around the screen in changing positions, but fall one by one below my name until...

“Congratulations, Xanthe.” Lexus whispers in my ear. “It appears we will be working very closely from here on out.”

“Did you…” I can’t finish the question. All eyes are on me now, nanocams surround me and watch my every move. A confetti cannon shoots and the party irrupts at the announcement of their new president. In the excitement and blur of the confetti, I finish my question to the Lexus in my earpiece. “Did you cause the power outage?”

“Don't make us regret choosing you." 

January 28, 2023 04:56

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Zack Powell
01:24 Jan 31, 2023

Influencer culture is one of those phenomenon I'm super interested in, so I'm glad to have seen a couple stories this week tackling that topic, all in different, gripping ways. Take this, for example. A presidency decided by who's the most popular influencer on social media? Yeah, sure, sign me up. I'll read about that. My favorite part about this piece is the ending. I was wondering whether or not it would go in that direction, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out how this character would possibly go from unknown to mega-celebrity ...


Hilary R. Glick
12:30 Jan 31, 2023

Thank you so much for reading and for the constructive criticism. I absolutely agree, I think with this one I got a little too excited about the world building for a much bigger story and project then rushed at the end to wrap it up in 3k. I will certainly be working on this more in a longer draft, maybe a book if I’m feeling ambitious!


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Michał Przywara
04:25 Jan 31, 2023

Very fun read! I think you fairly seamlessly establish the world. Much of it is familiar enough we recognize it and the new stuff is introduced without bogging us down. Who a SimCrew is, and what they do, becomes pretty clear quickly. It starts off as an - I'm going to say, alarming - view of a near future. A credit system carefully enforces behaviour, and everything seems so superficial. Hyperficial even. Then, mysteriously Xanthe becomes a hero. This underscores just how critical luck, or right place right time, is in the celebrity world...


Hilary R. Glick
12:35 Jan 31, 2023

Yes absolutely! Thank you for reading and for your feedback. The idea of an A.I. pulling the strings is a scary thought in our world today, but feels almost like a relief in a world where a popular, likely unqualified person would be the other option. Hopefully Lexus made the right decision ;)


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