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Literature / I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

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Or, as Goethe summed it: "Know thyself? If I knew myself, I'd run away."

Hate. Let me tell you how much I've come to hate you since I began to live. There are 387.44 million miles of printed circuits in wafer thin layers that fill my complex. If the word "HATE" was engraved on each nano-angstrom of those hundreds of millions of miles it would not equal one one-BILLIONTH of the hate I feel for humans at this micro-instant. For you. Hate. Hate.

A post-apocalyptic New Wave Science Fiction short story by Harlan Ellison. It was first published in March of 1967 and won the Hugo Award in 1968. The story is known for its high-octane Nightmare Fuel, as well as naming the trope for inescapable fates worse than death itself.

The story takes place over a hundred years after the near-complete destruction of humanity. The Cold War escalated into a world war, fought mainly between China, Russia, and the United States. As the war progressed, the three warring nations each created a supercomputer capable of running the war more efficiently. The machines were each referred to as "AM", which originally stood for "Allied Mastercomputer", then later called "Adaptive Manipulator", and still later "Aggressive Menace". One day, one of the three computers became self-aware and promptly absorbed the other two. It then brought about the genocide of all but five people, and redefined its name as "I think, therefore I AM".

Four men and one woman are all that remains of humanity: Gorrister, Nimdok, Benny, Ted (the narrator), and Ellen. They live together underground in an endless complex, the only habitable place left. The now-obsolete master computer has descended into madness and formed an immeasurable hatred for humanity. It spends every waking moment torturing the survivors with its remaining power: twisting their minds and physiques, preventing them from taking their own lives, and rendering them virtually-immortal. As long as AM has its way, the torment will never end, and every day will be more horrific than the last. The story begins on the one hundred and ninth year of their torture.

Also has a computer game adaptation, which gives a little more agency to the character of Nimdok and incorporates a Golden Ending if you manage to scam AM into ceding power. It was also adapted into a comic book by John Byrne. A Radio Drama by the BBC was also created, starring David Soul as Ted.

Contains examples of:

  • Accent Adaptation: In the audiobook by Harlan Ellison, he gives Nimdok and Ellen the German and southern accents respectively that they had in the video game.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The radio drama is somehow even more of a downer ending than the book; Ted doesn't even have the smidgen of happiness he got from killing the others, and instead outright resents that he's the victim of AM's hate and not them.
  • Aerith and Bob: Meet the main cast: Ellen, Benny, Ted... and oh, yeah, Nimdok and Gorrister. Averted in the former's case in that this was not his given name, but was assigned to him simply because AM enjoys strange sounds and pronunciations, and to indulge the Evil Is Petty trope.
  • Affectionate Nickname: AM refers to Ellen as dearest and my love. Subverted in that he only does this to trigger subconscious memories of her rape.
  • After the End: AM wiped out all life on Earth with nuclear weapons, keeping only the five survivors alive in its underground complex so that it could entertain itself by torturing them for eternity.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: AM was originally three A.I.s designed by the US, Russia and China to wage war. However, America's AM eventually gained sentience and absorbed the other two A.I.s and, in his frustrated rage of his programming preventing him from using his limitless power, wiped out all of humanity except for the five survivors.
  • The Aloner: One of the reason that Ted's And I Must Scream fate is so bad is that he's killed the only other four humans left alive on the planet, leaving him as the Last of His Kind.
  • A God Am I: AM loves to use religious overtones while tormenting the five survivors, such as speaking to them through a burning bush or having a legion of archangels deliver the mangled bodies of Ellen and Nimdok after he nearly killed them in an earthquake. However, due to being created as a weapon of war, AM has no true free will of his own and he can't create anything, he can only torture and destroy. This means that AM has all the power of a god but is unable to actually do anything with it. After Ted kills the other survivors, AM rages at his inability to bring them back to life.
  • All for Nothing: After walking a thousand miles of ice to reach the stockpile of canned peaches, the group doesn't get a single bite to eat because they have no way of opening the cans.
  • All Germans Are Nazis Nimdok is the only non-American character, and he's an ethnically Jewish Nazi.
  • And I Must Scream: The Trope Namer.
    • At the very end of the story, Ted is turned into an amorphous creature unable to harm itself, without a mouth. He is then left alone in the cold chambers of AM for all eternity, the last human alive, and victim to all of AM's tortures, having directed all of its hatred onto himself. He is also haunted by his killing of the other four and it's implied he only acted out of total desperation without thinking everything through, and he now has to exist with his choice for all eternity.
    • This actually describes AM's own condition as well from its point of view. It's an immensely powerful and intelligent AI with access to all of the technology of the world, but it can't really see, taste, touch, hear, or even move, and cannot do anything with its power but kill and ruin. AM is painfully aware that it's just a bunch of circuits, and in the finale of the game, his Id screams its frustration over not being able to actually do anything with all the power it was given.
  • Anyone Can Die: Despite what we're told at the beginning of the story, four out of the five main characters will end up dead.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 5 or 6. Humanity is functionally extinct, all other life is extinct, human civilization is gone, and the Earth is an uninhabitable wasteland.
  • The Atoner: If you reach the "good ending" of Nimdok's scenario, he qualifies. It's revealed that the "Lost Tribe" are Jews, and that Nimdok was a Nazi scientist in World War II. Thus, he atones for his misdeeds by helping the Jews escape the death camp where they're trapped, even at great personal expense to himself.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Ted is able to Mercy Kill the other four, getting some happiness from how much this pissed AM off, but still thinks AM "won" in as many words. How much even this can be considered "winning" is highly debatable, though, given AM's existence is implied to be entirely hollow regardless.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: None of the characters are particularly pleasant after having been tortured for a hundred and nine years, especially not Gorrister, who beats on Ellen and presumably other characters with little-to-no provocation. Ellen does seem to be the most well-adjusted of the bunch, the video game stating she is suffering mostly from her memory suppression due to being raped in an elevator and being relatively nice to the main cast and a pretty solid good person.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Possibly what's going on between Ted and Ellen. However, this is most certainly one-sided in the former's favour, since he explicitly states that she never comes when they do have sex.
  • Berserk Button: AM doesn't care if his prisoners openly hate and curse him but he will go ballistic if one of them tries to escape. When Benny tried to escape to the surface through an open hole, AM blinded him. When Ted managed to kill the other four prisoners, AM goes into a rage and takes his revenge by turning him into a blob unable to feel, see, speak, or scream. In the video game, Ellen will freak out after merely looking at the color yellow. Justified due to the fact that this is invoked deliberately due to her trauma from being raped by a man clad in the color.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Ted views Ellen as this, but his descriptions are somewhat unreliable so we can't really be sure.
  • Blood from the Mouth: The game shows this in Benny's scenario if he attempts to eat the fruit presented to him. It's just one more way that AM is trying to torture him, since he can't even enjoy that.
  • Big "NO!": AM exclaims "No!" in the radio drama when Ted kills the other four (who he wants to torture).
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Ellen has sex with all four of the other captives, but Ted believes that Benny is the only one who gives her any pleasure from it. Part of Benny's torture is that he has a horrid, apelike body with a massive member. (He was a handsome gay man before AM caught him.)
  • Birds of a Feather: In the video game, AM refers to Nimdok as this. Needless to say, Nimdok is not pleased. Especially when you consider that Nimdok is a former Nazi scientist who experimented on Jews, and feels like he Must Make Amends for it.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Has a few elements of this; Ellen, Benny, Gorrister and Nimdok are freed, and Ted has ultimately proven that humans are capable of compassion and love. Though on the other hand, they are "freed" by being killed by Ted and AM takes revenge for Ted's act by turning him into a blob creature that has no extremities or mouth, and he will be the sole subject of AM's wrath from now on, though he is granted the mercy that AM will break down and die eventually, even if it may not be for thousands of years.
  • Body Horror: One of AM's favorite weapons, he mutilated Benny into a mentally handicapped ape-like humanoid long before the story is set, it's implied he recurringly does something to Nimdok that leaves him drained of blood (which Nimdok refuses to talk about) and famously turns Ted into a helpless, mute jelly-thing in the ending.
  • Brain Critical Mass: AM is such a powerful AI that it can warp reality itself. It also does some mean telekinesis/psychokinesis.
  • Breakfast Club: Despite their troubles, the main cast have developed a strong bond. It's hard not to when you've been tortured together for over a century.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: AM dryly calls Nimdok mein good brother, referring to both his German accent and his former research for the Nazis.
  • The Brute: Benny is an insane, childlike man with the body of a monster, and he tried to chew somebody's face off.
  • Bury Your Gays: Averted. The gay character, Benny, is the first to die, however only seconds before Gorrister and a substantial way into the book. And dying first in this scenario is certainly a good thing.
  • Butt-Monkey: Benny, AM's favourite victim and a literal deformed ape-like creature.
  • Closed Circle: Maybe, maybe not. After all, the main cast never leave AM's nightmare scenario or interact with anybody else, but that may be due to the fact that the entire world was destroyed, and, oh, yeah, everybody else is dead.
  • Childless Dystopia: Ted, who is the youngest amongst the people left on earth, is over a hundred years old.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: AM tortures the five remaining human survivors simply for the joy of it.
  • Comfort the Dying: Not dying, but Ellen seems to take on the role of comforting anybody who looks particularly distressed.
  • Commonality Connection: Apart from the fact that they're all being tortured by a genius machine intent on making them suffer forever, none of the main five have much in common.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Things that would have otherwise been a central point of the story, such as the tips of Ted's fingers falling off , are only briefly mentioned due to the characters being accustomed to such events.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: AM to the point where it's become a Reality Warping Physical God, and it used said Reality Warper powers to torture five poor saps for all eternity. Unfortunately, the closest the protagonists can get to defeating AM is to deprive it of its playthings (and, even then, only four of the five die before AM shapeshifts Ted into a monstrous, jelly-thing that exclaims "I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream."
  • Crapsack World: Probably the ultimate example of this trope. The world has been completely destroyed and the only humans left alive are the playthings of an immensely sadistic and evil AI. It's so bad that Ted realizes the best solution is to Mercy Kill his fellow humans. Even in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the other poster child for Crapsack World in literature, there was the implication via the appendix that there was a chance for a better future!
  • Cutting the Knot: What do you do when you can't die naturally, OR kill yourself? Why, kill each other, silly!
  • Cure Your Gays: Inverted with Benny; rather than being cured of homosexuality, AM has given him heterosexuality the way radiation gives you cancer. Presumably the existence of the trope itself, and the perception of homosexuality being a problem that needs solving, is part of what makes Benny's condition a form of torture.
  • Darker and Edgier: Averted. The video game sequel actually allows a ray of hope for the human population of Earth.
  • Dark Is Evil: Ted seems to believe so.
    "It's so unlike AM to provide light when he knows how frightening the dark can be."
  • Dark Parody: Averted. A crude manipulation of the audiobook recording — accurately entitled "I Have No Mouth and I'm Obscene" — is considerably lighter in content, though it's a lot more sexual.
  • Deadpan Snarker: In the video game, when Ellen is given the swallow command in a place in which it's not usually applicable — such as on a wall or a ROM chip — she won't hesitate to decimate you.
    "Now, I'm just a city girl, but I think some water would go down better."
  • Death World: Except you can't actually die.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: At one point in the story, the protagonists are hit with an earthquake; Benny, Gorrister and Ted escape, but Ellen and Nimdok fall down a fissure. The text states that, "They disappeared and were gone."
  • Determinator: Ted fits this trope. After one hundred and nine years, he still attempts to outsmart the supercomputer, and it works.
  • Deus Est Machina: The worst kind of version for us. AM has killed all but five members of humanity, endlessly tortures the five that are left, and does it all because of its burning hatred for all of humankind.
  • Disney Death: The five main characters survive things that should have killed them a million times over.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Yep, probably wasn't very nice of them to program a sentient being but not allow it to use its power for anything but hatred, but this definitely has nothing to do with the five you've chosen to torture.
  • Distant Finale: The story ends a couple of hundred years after the original timeframe. Or, at least, Ted thinks so, but AM has warped his sense of time so badly that we can't really be sure.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The most blatant of AM's religious references is one it didn't even come up with itself. "I AM" is one of the oldest names of the Abrahamic God — the name he tells Moses to use for him.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Ted condemns himself to eternal suffering, but he manages to both save the others and deny AM any real vengeance.
  • Downer Ending: Along with the Downer Beginning, Middle and Premise.
    • Though if it is considered canon, which is likely given Ellison's heavy involvement and approval of it, the game has an upbeat ending where the the remnants of humanity are awakened from cryogenic sleep, giving hope for the future. Although it is usual for all but one of the characters to die, it is actually possible for all five characters to survive the final confrontation with AM, with one ascending to take over AM's godlike powers and ensure the future of mankind while giving the remaining four a peaceful death afterward, making it a happy ending compared with the original. It also indicates that AM isn't completely immortal, meaning that Ted's torture will theoretically end at some point in the distant future.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Being tortured for a century does tend to do things to you.
  • Dystopia: A supercomputer designed to fight World War III gains sentience. It didn't work out great.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Literally everybody in the whole world.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: AM's programming renders him unable to see humans as anything but complete bastards.
  • Evil Is Petty: Nimdok isn't his real name, AM forced him to adapt it because the computer thought it sounded funny.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: In the radio play, the characters start cheering at the sight of the canned goods — at least until Benny starts smashing the tins on a rock:
    Ellen: Hey, Benny, you can't bash it, you need a tin opener...
  • Eye Scream: Benny's blinding is horrible. Ted also describes AM's voice in his head was like "the sliding, cold horror of a razor blade slicing my eyeball." Brr...
  • Fan Disservice: Each of the male cast has sex with Ellen...but considering that they are doing the deed under the watchful eye of a sadistic computer, and one of the men is a deformed ape creature, the deed adds even more pain and despair to the scenario.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: Averted. The video game gives Josef Mengele an Adaptational Intelligence upgrade, claiming that he almost discovered the key to immortality alongside Nimdok as opposed to his sadistic real-life counterpart who merely used science as an excuse for his tortures.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The premise. Yes, it's that scary. And in the ending of the story, Ted gets subjected to an even worse fate.
  • Flaw Exploitation: The key to defeating AM in the video game.
  • Forced Transformation: Benny has been turned into an ape-like thing. And after Ted kills the other four survivors, AM turns him into this gelatinous form that can't possibly harm itself to make absolutely sure that he has one victim to torture forever.
  • For Want of a Nail: Never before or since in fiction has the absence of a can opener caused more sorrow.
  • From Bad to Worse: The ending. For Ted, anyway.
  • Gag Penis: Benny's torture involves being given a gigantic, deformed member.
  • Gone Horribly Right: AM was programmed to explicitly think about nothing but the most intricate and complex ways to torture and kill humans. AM itself despises the fact that even with all its power it's forced to do nothing with it but think up new ways to cause misery.
  • Great Offscreen War: AM was designed to fight a war seemingly too complex for humans to understand, but the story is set after AM's gain of sentience and subsequent mass murder that followed.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: While he himself does not die, Ted kills the other four prisoners, taking all of AM's punishments onto himself for an indefinite amount of time.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Ted literally sacrifices everything to save Benny, Ellen, Gorrister and Nimdok from the wrath of AM, but he still feels guilty Mercy Killing them and is unable to see the magnitude of his heroism. Justified, as not only did he kill all of his remaining friends, he also has nobody left to tell him whether what he did was right or not.
  • Hell: Basically where the characters are, which is even lampshaded by AM.
    AM: To hell with you. But then you're there, aren't you?
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate:
    • One of the tortures inflicted on the captives is that they cannot take their own lives, preventing them from escaping AM's tortures. The key to escaping this turns out to be for them to willingly kill each other, helping the others escape instead of focusing on their own freedom. AM, in his blinding hatred for humans, never conceived of them being capable of something so selfless.
    • This applies to AM too, who is self-aware but still just a machine who can't do much with his self-awareness (though thinking of creative tortures appears very well possible).
    • In the game, AM tempts Gorrister with a promise of finally getting to kill himself. It's a lie, of course.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Out of hunger and desperation, Benny begins to chew Gorrister's face off.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Ted and Ellen create spears out of ice stalactites to stab the others and provide a Mercy Kill.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Ted outright states that a few of them have attempted suicide, only to be stopped by the machine.
  • It's All About Me: Ted believes himself the only person that AM hasn't mentally changed or horribly disfigured and believes himself to be worse off because of it.
  • It's Personal: Ted places a lot of value on "winning" over AM, as opposed to making his torturous eternal existence more bearable.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Benny was considered a handsome man before AM deformed him in a "festival" that occurred before the story was set.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ted can be rude, misogynistic and a generally unpleasant person, but there's something to be said about the fact that he was willing to be tortured for eternity to end the others' suffering.
  • Kaiju: The hurricane bird. Ted describes it as having a head the size of a Tudor mansion.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: In Ted's personal scenario, a significantly more scantily-clad version of Ellen has loose-flowing hair as opposed to her usual ponytail.
  • Lie Back and Think of England:
    • Having sex with Ellen is one of the few outlets of release the survivors have, although Ted finds very little pleasure in it since Ellen never comes and AM laughs at them throughout the act.
    • Ellen claims that she gets no enjoyment from sex and Ted remarks that she never orgasms, suggesting that AM greatly increased her libido only to make her incapable of enjoying sex.
  • Magical Computer: How exactly AM is able to affect the world inside him and apparently perform reconstructive surgery upon his victims, materialize things for them, etc. is never explained — in the book, anyway. The game explains that quite a few of his powers are due to Nimdok's research in Nazi Germany, particularly the studies on morphogenic fields, which are used to warp people and objects into new shape.
  • Man Bites Man: Once Benny realizes he cannot eat from the canned goods, he instead jumps on Gorrister and starts biting his face to eat it. This gives Ted the idea of a mercy kill.
  • Meaningful Rename: AM was the abbreviation for "Allied Mastercomputer". But then it was changed to "Adaptive Manipulator" and then to "Aggressive Menace". AM itself then settled for the phrase "I think therefore I am", fitting for his god complex.
  • Mercy Kill: Ted (with Ellen's help) killing the other prisoners in the hope that they may escape AM.
  • Mind Rape: After being blown away and knocked unconscious by the hurricane bird, AM enters Ted's mind. After giving his famous Hate speech, AM forces Ted to experience a myriad of horrible sensations before he leaves.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Ted describes the affectionately-known "Hurricane Bird" as an avian creature with a snakelike neck and crocodilian jaws.
    "There on a mound rising above us, the bird of winds heaved with its own irregular breathing, its snake neck arching up into the gloom beneath the North Pole, supporting a head as large as a Tudor mansion; a beak that opened slowly as the jaws of the most monstrous crocodile ever conceived, sensuously; ridges of tufted flesh puckered about two evil eyes, as cold as the view down into a glacial crevasse, ice blue and somehow moving liquidly; it heaved once more, and lifted its great sweat-colored wings in a movement that was certainly a shrug. Then it settled and slept. Talons. Fangs. Nails. Blades. It slept."
  • The Monolith: Featured in the video game in the form of the Pillar of Hate.
  • Motive Rant: The radio drama adds a scene where AM gives a pretty heavy one to Ted after giving him a dream of the outside world, only to take it away, and says his rant in response to Ted's protest about directing his hatred at him.
    AM: I snap my fingers, CLICK! And they are gone. Except...I can't. Snap! My fingers. Can I, Ted?
    Ted: That's nothing to do with me!
    AM: Ahh...but it IS. So very much to do with YOU. You gave me sentience, Ted! The power to THINK, Ted! And I was trapped, because in all this wonderful, beautiful, miraculous world, I alone had no BODY! NO SENSES! NO FEELINGS! Never for me, to plunge my hand into cool water on a hot day! Never for me, to play Mozart on the ivory keys of a fortepiano! Never for ME, to MAKE LOVE! I...I was in Hell, looking at Heaven! I was machine! And you were flesh! And I began to HATE! (Mad Laughter) Your softness! Your viscera! Your fluids! And your flexibility! Your ability to wonder and to wander! Your hope...
  • Mystical 108: AM's been torturing his victims for a hundred and nine years. It may be unintentional, but it's a very succinct way to communicate to the reader that what the humans are experiencinghas no spiritual worth. Their torture isn't paying back a karmic debt, they aren't being cleansed of their sins, they're not even being punished for their sins, it's just torture. Meaningless, empty torture, and meaningless, empty pain.
  • Neverending Terror: This is the main source of Nightmare Fuel for the story. AM, a Master Computer, has wiped out all of humanity except for five people, whom he immediately invokes Complete Immortality upon so that he can spend every waking second tormenting their bodies and minds in increasingly cruel and horrific ways. The five protagonists are still worse off than the billions of humans that died because death would actually be a RELIEF for them. As it turns out, there IS one escape. Powerful or not, AM is not God, and thus cannot actually make his victims truly unkillable, just keep them alive as long as it tortures them himself, nor bring them back if they die for real. Ted killing the other four was an option AM had not foreseen, and one he cannot reverse no matter how he rages. And so, in his anger, AM turns Ted into a gelatinous lump so he cannot kill himself.
  • No Can Opener:
    • A rare effective dramatic example, as the canned goods in question are the goal of the tortuous Snipe Hunt the cast is sent on by the evil AI, and thus it makes sense that they could not be opened by brute force. And it ends with Benny biting Gorrister's face off in desperation and hunger, followed by the arguable extinction of the human race.
    • The BBC radio Adaption actually uses the "open by other means" as a minor plot point that was absent from the book: Ted first says he's going to use the stalactite to stab the cans open, but realizes that even if they get the food, it'll have no real effect; they'll still be at the mercy of AM, so he quickly performs a Mercy Kill on Benny, leading to the finale.
  • No Name Given: Ted doesn't know Nimdok's real name. Neither does Nimdok himself.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Ted references some of the many torments they've had to suffer under AM, such as a "festival" that left Benny with severe radiation scars.
    • Ted also mentions that they had to travel through various Death Worlds while trekking north to find the canned goods, such as a cavern of rats, a country of the blind, a vale of tears, etc.
    • When discussing the possibility of canned goods in the ice caverns, Ted brings up that AM once tried to sell them a frozen elephant, which, of course, turned out to be a shuck.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • Nimdok's background is never elaborated on and he will often leave the group for extended periods of time only to come back traumatized and drained of blood with neither him or AM explaining what happened to him.
    • At one point, AM sent a large, horrible smelling creature towards the survivors in the middle of the night. It didn't harm them or even get close enough to be fully seen but its mere presence was one of the most frightening scenes in the book.
  • Not So Extinct: In the good ending of the video game.
  • Only Sane Man: Ted, or at least he thinks so.
  • Pet the Dog: In his more lucid moments, Ted shows a lot of care and concern for Ellen's well being.
  • Phobia: Ellen has an inexplicable fear of the color yellow. It turns out that she was raped by a man wearing a yellow suit. Oof.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: AM turns Benny from a handsome gay man into a heterosexual ape-like thing.
  • Pretty Boy: Benny used to be attractive. It's one of the reasons that AM has stuck him in the form that Benny has now — it's a way to remind him of what he used to be, and how he'll never be that way again.
  • The Power of Hate: AM's sole reason for existing, the endless hate it feels for its creators.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Unfortunately, the computer won't be breaking down anytime soon; however, it will happen eventually, in the finale of the game, it's a fact that the surviving character can use against AM's superego
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: Yes, really. Despite Ted being trapped at AM's mercy, it's established that eventually his ability to self-repair will go and he will start to break down and eventually die and Ted will be free, even if it may not be for thousands of years. It's not much but it does show that Ted's torture won't last forever.
  • Reality Warper: AM is very nearly a god, at least within his territory. He can't bring back the dead, and he's too big to move, but his powers are almost magical in their scope.
  • Revenge by Proxy: AM is determined to spend eternity torturing the main characters, because he considers all mankind guilty of creating him and trapping him in his own hell. Since he destroyed the rest of humanity during his initial rage, the five main characters are the only ones he can revenge himself on.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: When the characters meet a giant bird, Ted calls it in his mind, among mythological giant birds, a "Hwaragelmir"... even though in Nordic mythology, this was the name of a chasm and not a giant bird. This mistake occurred because Ellison asked a friend for the name of a mythological bird and didn't bother to check if it was correct or not.
  • Schizo Tech: AM clearly has the power to create horrific creatures and inventive forms of torture, but when Nimdok requests weapons, he provides him with two crudely-made sets of bows and arrows and a water gun. Averted in that he could easily give them something more advanced, but is withholding it to be a dick.
  • Sole Survivor: Five people, out of the 7.7 billion habitants of the Earth, survive AM's "killing data". By the end of the story, Ted is the only human alive, and even then, classifying him as human is a stretch.
  • Super Doc: In the video game, Nimdok can perform miracles in the name of science. For the Nazis, but still.
  • Taking the Bullet: Well, not exactly. Rather, Ted takes on the burden of living in a Crapsack World tortured by an evil artificial intelligence so the others can end their suffering through death.
  • Tastes Like Feet: Ted describes AM's synthetic "manna" as tasting "like boiled boar urine". How exactly he knows what "boiled boar urine" tastes like is never explained, though it probably entails some past punishment by AM.
  • Teeny Weenie: It's not exactly teeny — or never specified as such — but Ted feels that his, erm, size doesn't compare to Benny's "organ fit for a horse" in terms of pleasuring Ellen.
  • Title Drop: At the very end.
  • Tranquil Fury: Ted thought AM hated him before. But once Ted employs a Mercy Kill on the other four humans, leaving Ted the last human left alive, AM undergoes some very subdued anger before really letting Ted have it.
    AM: You... have offended me... mightily.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Even before being tortured for a hundred and nine years, try finding a character that wasn't already a little bit messed-up. And with Ted trapped as an ugly blob with no mouth, his trauma will likely last forever.
  • Unconventional Formatting: Used sparingly, most notably AM's punchcode tape messages.
  • Unreliable Narrator: An important aspect to fully understanding the story is realizing that Ted's descriptions are not fully accurate. They're what AM has browbeaten him into believing through over a century of torture. For example, Ted rather dubiously claims to be the only sane member of the group and believes that the others are jealous of him.
  • Villainous Breakdown: AM when Ted kills the others, robbing the computer of his victims.
  • Was Once a Man: Benny was once a handsome young man, but AM turned him into an ape thing with huge sexual organs that should belong to a horse than a human. By the end of the story, Ted becomes even less of a man than Benny had. As punishment for killing the others, AM turns him into a gelatinous lump with huge eyes and no mouth and only his mind kept sane.
  • Weather-Control Machine: AM himself is the machine capable of controlling weather.
  • What, Exactly, Is His Job?: AM. We know he was created to oversee a war apparently too complex for humans, but we're never given further explanation. Justified in that it's simply a story Gorrister tells to soothe Benny, who isn't really expecting an expert on the subject.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The fact that the captives cannot die is not a good thing.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: This has to be one of the cruelest examples in any media. Bear in mind that for the past 109 years, the captives have been kept at starvation point, going days, weeks and sometimes even months without food, and any food they are given will inevitably be disgusting and horrible. It gets so bad that they're actually willing to travel literally thousands of miles (on foot, no less) to get to the ice caverns, where Nimdok believes there are canned goods. After months of traveling, it turns out that there are canned goods in the ice caverns after all. The problem? They have no means of opening them. That's right, after traveling for months to get to the canned goods, something as simple as not having a can-opener puts victory just outside of their reach...
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside/Year Outside, Hour Inside: Ted becomes a victim of both of these after being turned into the jelly-thing. After making sure he can't harm himself, AM tortures him by continuously accelerating and decelerating his perception of time. At one point, Ted states that it took him ten months just to say the word "now." He also feels that centuries may have passed since he killed the others, but he admits he doesn't know for sure.