The Numbers Game (short fiction)

No one had been watching.

The recorder hovered over her shoulder, transmitting her every moment to the network. The network computed how interesting she was, and it directed any viewers who might be interested her way.

She’d had zero viewers this morning.

Now she had 4,000. It was insignificant when considering the millions of potential viewers out there. But most of those viewers were watching other people. More interesting people. The most interesting thing she’d ever done was linger at the edge of a very, very long fall.

It was enough to catch the network’s attention, but it would only work once. People who didn’t go through with it were filtered out in the future. She only had one shot at this. She wanted at least 5,000 before she’d go through with it.

In the streets below, people wandered. Everybody was too busy watching someone else, too busy hoping to be watched, to really give a damn about her. Except for the 4,254 viewers, a number slowly rising in her ocular implant.

They offered words of encouragement. Do it already. Aim for that car. You’ve got a minute before I get bored. The endless texts from strangers streamed across her vision, and she hated them. But at least they were watching.



She almost missed the text, buried in the stream. She scrolled back up until she found it, targeted the sender.

You don’t need to do this.

“Why not?” she asked the recorder. “What else is there?”

You need to find that out for yourself.

She laughed, even as she cried. The emotional drama would buy her a few more moments of network attention. But she’d have to jump eventually. And soon.


“Nobody cares,” she said. “Not even me.”

I care.

“Mom? Dad? Is that you?”

No. You don’t know me. I don’t know you. But you don’t know those numbers either.

“Who are you then?”

Just a person. Watching the network. Watching for people like you. Trying to talk them out of throwing away their lives for the numbers on a counter.


“How many have you saved?” she asked.


She laughed. “You’re not very good at this then.”

I think it’s because once they reach the ledge, it’s too late. If I could find them a little earlier, even an hour, I think I could save them.

“So you think I’m going to jump?”

Yes. Probably. But I’m hoping you won’t.

“Then why try?”

Because you’re worth trying for. I don’t know you, but I know that.

She teetered on the edge.


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