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E - Everyone

Conics Unfortunately: 68

by Ventomology

Ellipse woke up to the hollow ring of someone knocking on her door. She peeled her eyes open, glanced around the room, and groaned. Right. She was back on the Andra-Media satellite.

“Give me a minute!” she croaked.

The knocking kept going. Somehow, it was more annoying than getting dragged out of bed by the boys. Or maybe that was the nostalgia talking. With another long groan, Ellipse threw off her blankets and rolled out of bed. She glanced down at her clothes and found her white t-shirt horribly wrinkled. She should have put on pajamas last night.

Despite her bedraggled appearance, she dragged herself to the door and hit the button to open it.

A guard stood outside, dressed in the usual black kevlar, and she held a box and a small pile of white clothes in her arms. “You’re supposed to wear these.”

Ellipse scowled. “What if they do not fit?”

“One-size-fits-all,” the guard replied, holding out the clothes.

First of all, one-size-fits-all was a lie, and everyone knew that. Second, Ellipse felt reasonably sure that box held a new watch. She opened her arms, let the guard hand everything over, and tried not to let anything fall to the ground, though it would be nice if she could break that new watch.

“You’re to put everything you’re wearing right now in the trash,” the guard added. “I’ll be back in forty-five minutes.”

Ellipse grunted noncommittally and stepped back. “Sure,” she said. And then the guard walked away, and the door closed.

Ellipse glanced down at the pile in her arms, then at the trash chute next to her desk, and then noticed that she had an exacto knife in one of her pencil holders. She had seen Tejal fiddle with her watch before; she could pull off a little switcheroo.

Excited to be doing something rebellious, Ellipse dumped her new clothes on the bed and dashed to her desk. She slid off her old watch and opened up the box with the new one, and then nabbed her knife. Biting her lip in concentration, she slipped the sharp edge into the crack between the screen and the back cover of her new watch, and then peeled away the cover to reveal the circuitry inside. She grinned. This was actually pretty easy. Ellipse opened up her old watch, switched the covers, and then dropped the new one into the trash chute.

She admired her handiwork—the white cover was annoying, but she could ignore it—and then rushed to clean up and present herself as the perfect little songwriter she once was.

The white clothes fit alright. Ellipse’s trainers would say otherwise, because showing leg muscle was about as bad as having a healthy bit of fat, but really the jumper looked fine. If anything, Ellipse thought she looked like the normal girls she had seen in New York. She smiled at that.

After one last look-over, she heard the guard knock again, and Ellipse took a deep breath. Whatever happened, she would be fine.

Four hours later, she was not fine. The time spent banging away at a piano in one of the sound studios had been fine. It had been great, even. Ellipse’s fingers were rusty, but it was invigorating to be able to play more than one note at the same time again, and the richness of the sound still reverberated in her ears. Her brain kept fussing that some of what she had played sounded like garbage nonsense in Trade Siren, but her ears appreciated the music at least. She could work out kinks in the siren translation later anyways.

Lunch and dance practice were terrible. Gato food, for all that it worked wonders as a slimming agent in earthlings, tasted bland. And even though Ellipse had felt full after eating, her stomach already growled, unsatisfied with what little substance it had pulled out.

She sat on the floor, chest heaving, with her legs almost stretched into a center splits and some skinny blonde man she had never met pushing down on her back with his foot.

“Gosh,” he said, sounding entirely too squeaky and hyped, “you’re really out of shape Elliott. That year away did a number on you!”

Ellipse tried to ignore the way her clothes, damp with sweat, clung to her skin, especially around where the trainer had his foot on her back. She wanted to take a shower. She wanted ice cream or some other kind of real Earth food. Her stomach rumbled, and the trainer pressed harder. Ellipse felt her hamstrings go tight.

“Let’s go!” the man shouted. “You’re not flexible enough until you’re flat on the ground like a pancake! Woo hoo!”

That was entirely too much pep. Ellipse half wanted to reach around and topple the guy. But she restrained herself and tried to straighten her back out. If nothing else, at least she would come out of her time here slightly more limber.

When the trainer had enough of stretching, they moved into acrobatics, and Ellipse found herself terribly thankful for all that bathroom-scrubbing. She caught glimpses of her figure in the mirror as she practiced handstands and backbends, and her shoulders rippled with muscle as she held herself up. They had not looked that strong before.

Blondie wore a pained look as he watched, like he could not decide if the new bulk was a good thing or not, because on the one hand, she could accomplish cooler flips with that muscle. On the other hand, earthling intergalactic superstars were supposed to fit the still-prevalent standards of earthling beauty that demanded smallness.

Ellipse received a granola bar afterwards, and she ate it in the dance studio while Blondie talked to the guard from earlier. They talked as if she was not there, and Ellipse encouraged them by sitting on the ground, back towards the pair. Still gnawing on her granola, she made her face go slack and listless and watched them in the mirrors.

All four walls were covered mirrors, so nothing done in this room was beyond Ellipse’s view, even with her back turned. The guard handed over a few sheets of paper with columns of numbers on them, which Ellipse decided was her training regime, and the trainer glanced over the sheet with a loud hum.

“Is that how they want to present her?” he asked. “I mean, why not go for something more lively? She has all the skills for something more in the k-pop line of things. Andra is already more western.”

“Don’t shoot the messenger,” the guard mumbled.

Blondie looked over his shoulder at Ellipse, and she immediately dropped her eyes to the ground to ensure he did not figure out she had been watching. “I mean, I get that she’s never been the super cutesy type, but I’ve seen her in publicity training. She wouldn’t be awful with that angle. And, well, it helps that she’s more Asian-looking than Andra.”

The guard shifted into a more casual stance. “Just follow the program, dude. I don’t even want to think about that girl doing cutesy k-pop stuff. She’s so quiet and gloomy outside of the whole songwriting thing.”

Squinting at the papers, the trainer scowled. “More cardio it is, I guess. Darn. I was hoping to get her back into hardcore dance moves. She’s so much better at that than Andra.”

“Perks of starting them young, I know.” The guard stepped around Blondie and put a hand on her hip. “Hey Elliott. Finish your granola already. You have a knowledge retention test in like five minutes.”

The granola might be the last thing Ellipse ate for hours, and she wanted to save it, but a harsh look from the guard had her scrambling to stuff the whole bar into her mouth. She stood up and stretched her shoulders, and then followed the guard from the room.

As she padded down the curving, metal hallway, Ellipse thought about how the boys had seen her. She was quiet and gloomy here, or at least she had been before, and the publicity team wanted her to adopt a stage persona that did not stretch too far from that, if the trainer’s words were anything to go by. And then she considered something new: how did she want others to see her? Whatever message she put into the world with Tejal and Focci’s invention, it would decide the universe’s first impression of the returned Elliott Bei.

The guard opened a door to a dimly lit room with a single computer and gestured for Ellipse to walk inside. As the door slid shut, the guard followed her inside and took a seat behind her. “I think this is supposed to last like two hours. When you’re done you get dinner.”

Pursing her lips, Ellipse looked to the computer, and then back at the guard. She looked less intimidating when lit by the blue light of the computer screen. Somehow the blue softed the sharp bones in the guard’s face.

“Come on,” the guard groaned. “Just get on with it.”

Ellipse sat and tapped the icon in the center of the screen to start the test.

It was grueling. Ellipse got a few physics questions that she definitely had not known before meeting the boys, but aside from that, she felt stupid after each subsequent question. She felt certain she had gotten very few right, and her head ached from staring at the screen for so long. Her stomach was crying again, because the granola had not been enough food.

She ignored the final scores when they popped up, too tired to even glance at another number. Her eyes kept fluttering shut, and she let her feet drag as the guard pushed her back into the hallway. Hopefully, Ellipse would never have to go back into that tiny room, though she suspected she would do her homeschooling there.

“You look like death,” the guard commented. “Do you want to stop by a bathroom to wash up?”

Yes. Please. Ellipse nodded and tried to look as pitiful as possible.

“The next one we pass, you can go in.” And then the guard moved forward, and Ellipse trudged after.

It was not long before the guard shooed Ellipse into a bathroom. Ellipse admired the white tiles and sparkling mirrors and silently thanked the excellent janitors who kept the place up. She had never managed to get the fold generator bathrooms so clean.

Fingers aching, she turned on a faucet and leaned over. She splashed a bit of water over her face and blinked at her reflection. Ugh, she really did look bad. Her eyes were dull already, slightly sunken into their sockets. It might have just been the lights, but her skin was greyish instead of bright and tanned. Ellipse sniffled, bent over, and splashed her face again.

It would be the same thing tomorrow.

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Thu Jun 14, 2018 1:15 am
TheSilverFox wrote a review...

“You’re to put everything you’re wearing right now in the trash,” the guard added. “I’ll be back in forty-five minutes."

Since there's no grammar or spelling issues, I can focus on my RAAAAAAGE

Hrrrrng a very good, very infuriating chapter. The flow and pacing account for the tedium of Ellipse's routine while emphasizing how much it wears her down. And really, they do wonders at conveying the sense that Ellipse is in a glass prison. The piano may be exceptional (especially compared to something like my 95-year-old upright), the bathroom floors may be spotless, and the guard may show some sympathy for Ellipse in letting her wash up. Still, the whole experience is just so demeaning and undignified. They - Andra-Media - don't want Ellipse; they want her musical talent, her acute understanding of languages, and her appearance. The "best" parts of her, in other words. They're willing to stifle her, prod her into a strict exercise and education system, and starve her to make her a perfect star. Suddenly, Andra's willingness to seize control of the company makes a lot more sense (which is impressive, 'cause I agreed with Andra's goal from the start). Even the extremeness of Andra's plan, I get the impression, derives from having spent a damn long part of their life in these conditions. I'm still going to blame Andra for throwing Ellipse out into the world without a friend and without warning, not to mention instigating at least one economic crisis that likely damaged the lives of plenty of innocent people. But yeah, I can see why Andra did it.

It would be nice if there was something else I could say beyond angry ranting, but grrrrr Andra-Media is awful. The two lines that best demonstrate one of the most disturbing undercurrents of the company's training are the ones about leg muscle and beauty standards. Human attitudes certainly haven't shifted with time, and that's irritating. Because, well, Andra and Ellipse are sort of being sexualized by the company, aren't they? And that feels gross, to say the least. The focus of whatever style they want Ellipse to emulate over the k-pop contributes to that impression, since the conversation between the trainer and the guard breaks down Ellipse's skills and personality in an extremely clinical way. She can dance well, but her aesthetic and quiet mood don't line up with the energetic, cheery k-pop attitude. And speaking of cheery, that's what I hate most about the guard and the trainer. They're nice and hyperactive, respectively, and I almost want to like them. But then I have to remember that hey, they're helping keep Ellipse in a terrible situation, and honestly making it all the worse. Yeahh the contradiction between their attitude and actions is one of the best executed parts of the chapter, since it fills me up with a lot of rage.

Well, all in all, this is a fantastic chapter! The way you establish mood and tone in Ellipse's silence and sense of misery is exceptional, though the mood and tone themselves are heartbreaking and infuriating. Hopefully Ellipse can break her out of her cage soon, or at least find some stones to chuck at the walls. Well done!

Ventomology says...

Yeeess. I did my job well. Plot-completeness-wise it's basically all downhill from here. Except maybe the last chapter.


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Tue Jun 05, 2018 11:54 pm
BiscuitsLeGuin wrote a review...

Hey, I feel like I started reviewing this yesterday and then forgot about it so I may be cutting it fine for Team Tortoise but let's give it a shot!


The knocking kept going. Somehow, it was more annoying than getting dragged out of bed by the boys. Or maybe that was the nostalgia talking

I think this would be more affecting without the last sentence spelling it out.

Second, Ellipse felt reasonably sure that box held a new watch.

In what way is that relevant...?

Ellipse’s trainers would say otherwise, because showing leg muscle was about as bad as having a healthy bit of fat

Oh my god that is such a good, quick summary of the ridiculous things we ask of people.

On the other hand, earthling intergalactic superstars were supposed to fit the still-prevalent standards of earthling beauty that demanded smallness.

This I think was slightly less perfect. I think it would be more cutting if you used something more subtle to throw shade at culture - eg "to fit the earthling image of a petite beauty."

“Hey Elliott. Finish your granola already. You have a knowledge retention test in like five minutes.”

This seems altogether too familiar for someone who seems to be in a very formal, detached role.

It would be the same thing tomorrow.

YES. That is the kind of desolate heart-wrenching cliffhanger you want in a chapter of a story that is apparently nearing its end.


I think my favourite thing about this that you mentioned Tejal and Focci just enough for me to be thinking about them all the way through but little enough for me to actually feel like I miss them. And I do, I miss them so much, so very very much. That probably looks like review padding but I cannot express how much I love those characters.

I don't have much to say in the overall section other than compliments (such as how you're breaking my heart), but I think it's interesting to note that I had more nit-picks than usual. This probably isn't surprising, given the speed you wrote this at, but I just wanted to draw your attention to the fact that this chapter has quite a few more stylistic issues of the kind I have highlighted than your chapters usually do.

Hope this helps,
Biscuits :)

Ventomology says...

Ugh yeah. The LMS blizzard is killing me, and I was hardcore studying for finals while I wrote last week. I just got home yesterday after finishing up with school for this year, so that's why it took me a bit to respond. We'll see how this week goes?

I wouldn't put too much pressure on yourself - this is basically a very long word war at this point, and we always say of word wars that you should never worry about quality until you're editing the entire thing. You've come this far with the contest, I would prioritise quantity over quality at this point since clearly you usually know what you're doing.

You can do this!!

(also hope your finals went well)

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Sun Jun 03, 2018 1:38 pm
BlueAfrica wrote a review...

“Gosh,” he said, sounding entirely too squeaky and hyped, “you’re really out of shape Elliott. That year away did a number on you!”

I just want to punch all of them, although at least later on this guy sounds somewhat appreciative of her muscle. How, HOW is having all this muscle being "out of shape???" UGH.

“Let’s go!” the man shouted. “You’re not flexible enough until you’re flat on the ground like a pancake! Woo hoo!”

Shouldn't someone who's working with her on stretches understand that you need to build up to being able to stretch??? Never make this man a yoga instructor. He'll be all, "You need to bend further!!!" instead of realizing that you're only supposed to go as far as you can comfortably and build up to bending/stretching/twisting further.

But then later we see that he's kind of got his own idea of what to do with her, which seems to play more off how she's built now than what Andra-Media intends for her. Sadly, their word will doubtless be the final one on the matter.

Man, this whole chapter is heartbreaking. Because Ellipse is already less snippy and sarcastic than usual - which I realize is partially an act, because she's supposed to be the defeated bounty target who was finally caught and returned. But it feels like it's at least partially real, too: she knows what to expect, she's been here before, she's been starved and pushed physically and dolled up and turned into whatever Andra-Media wants and now she's putting herself in that position voluntarily to take them down. Tbh all the showmanship and trying to turn her into Something Else makes me think of what she said back when she and Tejal first met: "Elliot Bei never even existed."

Like, she was kind of telling the truth there, yeah? She might actually be Elliot Bei, but the version of her that Andra-Media put out and wanted back was just that, their version of her.

And then through this entire installment I just kept thinking about how she grew up this way and how janitorial work was better to her, because at least she had freedom and could present herself more or less how she wanted (provided she did it in a way that didn't end with her getting caught by bounty hunters). It's so sad to think of little baby Ellipse going through all this crap.

I hope their plan gets to work soon, because this place will kill her.

Ventomology says...

Ooh, I was thinking I'd have to remove that never-existing line, but you just brought that back really well. That might be a thing to do more of in draft 2?

BlueAfrica says...

Maaaaybe, but not too much. I think it could easily be overdone if you focused on it more.

A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.
— Markus Zusak, The Book Thief