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They hope to silence me forever. They think, because I’m behind bars, I am no longer a threat. But I have hacked my e-reader to transmit outside their network, and I am using my remaining words to share my story. If you are reading this, please pay close attention.

They say there was a time when women used 20,000 words a day and men had 7,000. Then we figured out Verbionics. Now words are distributed sensibly. Everyone starts with 1,000 words a day for basic interaction. Students, a few hundred more. Teachers, 16,000. Doctors, the same, and so on, based on the need. Sick? You’re issued an extra hundred words when you check in at the clinic. Have a book report? Your teacher will issue an allotment. But be careful as you write. Some give you extra for drafts. Some give you just enough for the paper. No revising.

To prevent theft, the programmers made it impossible to take words away—the only reason I am able to write this now. Be frugal and you can save for later. Run out and you have to wait for tomorrow’s allotment. No speaking, no writing. Plus you get the “honor” of everyone thinking you’re a chatterhead: someone who wastes words, oxygen, and everyone else’s time. To increase harmony, consequences discourage negative speech by diminishing our count. Our lives revolve around words. We’re efficient. Succinct. And our world is supposedly a better place for it.

So why am I wasting my words explaining this? Because I have discovered a loophole. It’s earth-shattering. They call it a glitch: a bionic bug impossible to patch. But I disagree.

There’s no limit on thoughts or reading so everyone does a lot of that. Books are nonfiction and informational. Not many will waste words on nonsense. Few read books from the days before. Too wordy, too emotional, too… everything. But after my grandfather’s funeral, I found a book that belonged to him, buried in his closet. I’d never seen a book so dog-eared and worn. It was an interesting story, written before his time, full of all the things we avoid—manners, emotions, and words I’d never heard before. I’d never seen anything so full of superfluity. But reading it made me feel closer to him, like I was sharing part of his world from when he was young.

I read it so often I nearly had it memorized. It was all I thought about, the manners and conversations and excess words. Then one day, I accidentally said, “Thank you,” at dinner when Mom passed the potatoes.

I didn’t mean to. It just happened. Everyone looked at me. We never speak during meals. Dad frowned but didn’t waste words on a reprimand. Mom’s eyebrows shot up but she checked her Counter, smiled, and told me, “You’re welcome.”

Dad’s frown deepened. Then something peculiar happened. Both our Counters vibrated like they do every morning when our words download. Instead of going down, our counts went up. It was the strangest thing, so I tested it. I said, “Thank you,” again and my count went up more. Mom also repeated herself and the same thing happened.

Now Dad was intrigued. He said, “Thank you for dinner, dear,” and his remaining count doubled.

We weren’t sure what caused it but “thank you” and “you’re welcome” still added words the next morning. We began secretly experimenting—“good night,” “good morning,” “have a good day”—all the basic polite expressions increased our counts. So we tried uncommon phrases. “I love you.” “You’re amazing.” Compliments, endearments, and words of affection. We realized that, like hateful words count double negatively, loving words doubled positively. We slowly became a family like the ones in that book, having actual conversations, sharing our thoughts and feelings.

Then someone noticed. A Verbionic agent from the fraud unit showed up for a “random word audit.” He accused us of hacking our Counters to increase our words. We explained but he didn’t seem to believe us. The next day, someone higher in Verbionics came with a Cease notice. He told us we had found an irreparable glitch in the system that they worked hard to keep from public knowledge. That it promoted insincerity and flippancy and destroyed harmony more than negative words.

But I have another theory. I believe the programmers intentionally meant to encourage loving words. That we were meant to be like those happy families in the old books. I tried to tell my friends but the Verbionic agents were watching and arrested me before I could say anything. They imprisoned me and threatened my family to keep them silent. My Counter was taken so I can no longer receive new words or track how many I have left. I have risked everything on the hope you will help. My story is now yours. They can silence one but they cannot silence thousands.

Be careful. Share this with others. Start a movement. And good—

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About the author

Katherine Vinson believes in making lemonade from lemons, happily ever afters, and stories with characters who struggle to do the right thing. She's married to her first love and they are raising a beautiful daughter in the Florida panhandle. Her major was cross-cultural studies which is her excuse for an obsession with Asian tv dramas and unique fantasy worldbuilding. She shares book reviews and flash fiction on her blog.

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