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When the Decision & Order finally comes in, I’m sitting cross-legged on my office stool in Sector 1981 in the Warehouse, typing out a complete and exhaustive list of Renaissance watercolour artists on my Combined PC/Mac 3.5 million-Air€ (oh, the AppleSoft folks think they’re so clever these days), earbuds in and listening to David Bowie’s ‘Golden Years’.

It’s the first song on my morning playlist. I’m not officially awake until the song finishes.

A window labelled ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ pops up on my screen, flashing aggressively. I stare at it, still bleary-eyed, and groan just a little. It’s not even 8 a.m. — not that the timing would make much difference.

I resent being told what to do. It’s not a recent thing. When I was three years old, my mother told me to eat my peas. I took a fistful of those green vegetables and chucked them at her head. And, despite all that self-improvement mumbo-jumbo they try to spoon-feed us during our formative years, people don’t really change all that much. The fact that I’ve risen in the ranks of our Glorious Warehouse Overlords and now hold the position that I do … well, I’m just as astonished as you are.

And what a lauded position it is. If I had a door to my office, it would read Chief Officer of Filtered Content for the Global Data Conglomerate. They said it would look good on my résumé. They made me a plaque and gave me a 0.00025% euroyenbitcoin raise.

“CONFIDENTIAL!” The screen blinks with urgency.

I click on the file icon that’s centred in the window, but I’m thwarted immediately. A second window pops up asking for the access code.

I don’t have it. Handwritten for security and changed daily, it’s posted in the common room at the other end of the Warehouse, past all the glorified adding machines and servers that form this whirring, humming, data-destroying House of Horrors around me.

With a shake of my head — annoyed that my tranquil, morning list-making has been commandeered by superiors with god-complexes — I hop off my stool.


Bill, the janitor, is in the common room drinking a soda and watching old cartoons, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote stuff, stretched out on the sofa like a lizard in the sun. I tell him to get his muddy boots off the furniture.

“Jeez, Maryanne, which side of the bed did you wake up on?” he counters, before reminding me that he’s the one who has to clean it up, anyway.

I’m digging through announcements on the cluttered bulletin board. When I find it, I rip it off its pin and hold it up in Bill’s direction.

“Oh!” He immediately twists to a sitting position, terribly curious. “Do you know what they’ve decided?”

“Not yet,” I gun-point at the access code, yet to be uploaded.

The rotary phone in the common room starts ringing, and Bill jumps at the sound. He probably doesn’t know what it is. It’s a throwback antique that would be impossible to filter out. But believe me, they’ve tried. At one time or another, they’ve tried to filter out everything.

I pick up the receiver, “Yeah?”

“It’s been over 20 minutes. Why haven’t you implemented the new filter?” comes a testy voice on the other end.

“I had to get the access code,” I reply, just as testy. “You didn’t give me any warning. Last I heard …”

“Well, hurry up, Maryanne.” The voice hangs up as soon as they add, “You’re late.”

Bill raises his eyebrows as I set the phone down, “Did they say …?”

“No.” But it’s all so predictable. A roadrunner, a coyote, a cliff and some TNT. It’s not that hard to figure out the ending.

On my way out, I scoop up Bill’s Coke 3000 and take a long drink before tossing the empty can in a wastepaper basket. I grimace, wondering again who thought it was a good idea to filter out the existence of cane sugar.

“Hey!” Bill protests, but I’m already out the door and trudging back to Sector 1981.


The Warehouse is a ghost town. Most of the Sectors are completely unsupervised these days. Budget cuts and mysterious personnel disappearances have become a little too routine. That’s always a danger when you work somewhere built on pure information — even more so when the most basic information has become bootleg.

Back at my desk, I type in the code: th3rav3nISthewritingd3sk

The central window on my home page melts into the background and a new window takes its place, in faux parchment, sporting an obnoxious gold seal.


Order & Decision:


Storage of Prior Filtered Content Has Reached Maximum Level.

Servers At Peak Capacity.

Purge To Begin Immediately. Start in Section 42.

Note: New Primary Filter added to all purged/illegal content (and those in possession of said purged/illegal content) as its existence will now be impossible to confirm or deny.

“Fine,” I mutter to myself. It’s not a hard thing. A few passes over the touchpad and it’s done.

If you think I hesitate, don’t be silly. Didn’t you read the Stanley Milgram study? No? Sorry, you’re right. That one got filtered out early. Well, that’s the way it goes sometimes. You win some, you lose some. If you’re the coyote, you lose them all.

I pop my earbuds in, restart the playlist — they can pry ‘Golden Years’ from my cold, dead hands —and resume my list of Renaissance watercolour artists.

All the Renaissance watercolour artists, the famous, the obscure, the good, the bad, the prodigies, the hacks. To be composed off-network, printed out and collected in boxes marked as white rubber gloves and herbal tea, stored somewhere down in the locked boiler room of Sector 451, with various other files of which I can neither confirm nor deny existence.

Like I said, I don’t like to be told what to do. And it’s not a recent thing.

The story behind the story

Table of Contents

Gretchen Tessmer reveals the inspiration behind Contrariwise.

I wrote a version of this story back in 2016-ish, vaguely inspired by my observations on the sudden (well, it seemed sudden at the time) change of tone in Social Media Land and the Internet in general. Things were getting … intense. Less Wild West and more Wonderland, if that makes any sense?

At the same time, there was all this talk of data collection and how these companies might use and abuse our information in the future, oh my. To feed their fancy and ravenous AI machines, I presume? But I remember a vivid image of a woman breezed into my head — her earbuds in, her mood slightly sour, sitting in the middle of a huge warehouse of servers, making lists with a pen and paper.

So I wrote this story and sent it out to a couple of places. Then I decided it was nonsense and trunked it. And then, recently, I pulled it back out of the trunk, drank some tea, painted some roses red, and decided that it was kind of fun after all. Contrariwise, it was always fun and I was being silly.

Ugh to peas though. No offence to those who love those little vegetables, but I still can’t stand them.

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