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The Killing Machine · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
Papak looked up from the plate filled with dolma—little balls of rice and lamb enveloped in green leaves—to the tall,young man standing in front of his table. The clean shaved newcomer was pale and wore an expensive black suit. His brown hair was cut short following the fashion that was so predominant among both the old and the new money of Baku. A light scarf around his throat was the only thing that distinguished him from the many other people that enjoyed the warm summer night.

The man pointed at the free chair and said, "May I sit?"

Papak picked a ball with two fingers and said, "Depends, do I know you?"

The man smiled and Papak shivered. "You may be the one that knows me most."

He popped the dolma in his mouth and began to chew. He gestured the man to go on, then took the glass of wine and drank. He never took his eyes away from the man as he sat down and gestured to the waiter.

The night was filled with the sound of traffic and tourists. A steady breeze blew from the Caspian Sea over the walls of the old City, while in the distance the images of fire projected on the curved steel and glass surfaces of the Flame Towers danced over the Azeri capital. Papak took his napkin and cleaned his fingers. "You are late."

The man looked briefly up to the waiter that had just arrived. "Ayran please." After the waiter left he turned to Papak and said, "I'm never late. But I admit it took me longer than usual to find a way here. By the way, why here?"

Papak shrugged then looked over the plaza. Dozens of tourists were still milling around, taking photos and enjoying the evening air after a hot day. The Maiden Tower, thick and solid like a fortification ought to be, stood tall and illuminated by carefully placed spotlights. At a first look it seemed almost unchanged in its long years of vigilance, yet he could see all the little traces of time and the efforts made to mask them. "Maybe I'm a bit nostalgic. Sometimes it feels good to relive some past memories. And I also think it may be apt, seeing as we are repeating this farce again today as we did all those years ago."

"I don't know about how it feels reliving memories, but yes, I can see how this place may be the right one." The man chuckled. "And you are being unusually verbose. And a bit bitter. You know that we don't have to do this, right?"

"You would like that, wouldn't you?" Papak sneered at the man. "I don't give up, Angra Mainyu, I never have and won't now."

"Oh, I didn't hear that name in a long time. You are really feeling nostalgic." The waiter returned and put a glass full of yogurt in front of Angra Mainyu. As the waiter left the man took the glass and drank. "Ah, that hit the spot. Where was I?"

Papak took another ball and pointed with it at Angra Mainyu. "You were rambling about me being nostalgic." He bit down on it and chewed slowly.

"Right. Well, the point is I would probably be a bit sad if you gave up. I find this little game delightful. I even keep far away from you between our meetings so that you can surprise me. I always played it straight with you, can you believe that?"

"No, but that's not important." Papak sipped from his wine. "Why the scarf and why the ayran? You don't need either of them."

Angra Mainyu put two finger at his neck and pulled the scarf aside. A thick bruise ran around his throat. "It took me a while to climb down, and you can't really pretend for me to parade around with this and a black suit. There's a reason I prefer when people go for poison. As for the ayran"—he grinned as he pulled at the scarf tightening it again—"I like to confuse the coroners."

His glass emptied, Papak took the bottle of wine and filled it up again. "If there's something they learned to do over time, then that is better alcohol." He raised his glass. "This is one of the reasons I never regretted our deal."

"That may be one reason, the other is that you are a wonderful specimen of amorality. Lesser individuals would have balked under the price ages ago."

Papak took a sip from his glass and looked over the people milling around the plaza. "Because they are weak. That didn't change and never will."

Angra Mainyu finished his drink and said, "Well, back to business. What do you have for me this time? Let me guess." He leaned a bit back and looked at Papak, at his tailored brown suit, at the polished shoes, the golden watch. "Seems you went for the respectable path this time, at least for your appearance. We are in an open, public place so you are not a notorious criminal. I don't see any bodyguards, which seems to exclude nowadays being a politician." He brought a hand to his chin and looked up.

Drumming with his fingers on the table, Papak shifted on his chair. "How long do you want to continue with this charade?"

"You are no fun, and now I thought that after all this time we had built some kind of relationship. Sometimes I like a bit of showmanship too." Angra Mainyu sighed. "Well then, go on, what do you, Papak of Istakhr, offer me for another twelve hundred moons on this earth?"

Papak leaned back and mumbled, "Took you long enough." He cleared his throat as an unnatural silence fell upon the plaza. People froze mid step and the temperature dropped. "I offer you ten thousand lives. Each died only for this sacrifice. I offer you this for twelve hundred more moons on this earth."

Angra Mainyu raised an eyebrow. "Let me see this offer, then I shall decide if I will accept them. Where shall we go so that you can show them to me?"

"Oh, I will show them all here." Papak moved the plate with the food aside and leaned down. He pulled up a leather briefcase, opened it and took out a tablet. He passed it to Angra Mainyu. "Here, each dead documented in detail. You will find that it's quite exhaustive."

The silence was lifted and people began to move again. A warm wind blew the cold away.

Angra Mainyu took the tablet. "This I'll have to see."

Time passed, the plaza emptied.

"This are all deaths during industrial accidents or because some kind of poisoning through pollution." Angra Mainyu put down the tablet. All traces of levity had disappeared from his expression. "Did you decide to end your existence and thought this would somehow be amusing?"

"Nothing of the kind. As I said, each dead was only for this sacrifice."

Angra Mainyu bowed forward. "Explain."

Papak picked up his glass and drank, then leaned against the back of his chair. "Times changed. The first time I offered my reign, the second the memory of my glory, the third time my love. Well, you remember them."

"Indeed I do. Your third offering was one of the sweetest." Angra Mainyu grinned. "I still don't understand."

"This things I can't offer anymore. I cannot create a new legend worth of an offering, memories became too long for that. I can't offer a reign, as those can't be conquered simply with blood and bronze today. I can't offer you love, as I have not loved anything for centuries."

"The cult you created for your eighteenth offering was a nice idea."

"And would you accept another one?"

Angra Mainyu drummed with his fingers on the table. "Probably not. It would really depend but I don't think you could outdo yourself." He hit with his hand on the table. "I see your point. Very well, color me intrigued about what you have done this time."

"I became rich. There was a considerable amount of gold left over from the last time, so I created a company. In time I had interests all over the world. Mines, factories, I think even some kind of newspapers." Papak grinned as he leaned forward and tapped with his finger on the tablet. "Each and every death her was caused by something I expressively ordered. Each cause was something that cost me money and could have been done in a safer and cheaper way. None of the deaths would have happened if not for the sacrifice. The blood of nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine people drip from the company. All of them for you."

"You said you offered me ten thousand. Where is the last one?"

"Well, I thought you wouldn't simply accept a mountain of dead." Papak opened the briefcase again and pulled out another tablet. He put it on the table in front of him and pointed at it. "Right here. I wanted to offer it directly in front of you."

"Another accident waiting to happen? A last poor soul whose life will be snuffed out for this world to suffer more under you?" Angra Mainyu smiled. "Even considering you haven't offered me fresh blood in quite a while it still isn't all that interesting. I can accept it for the sake of tradition, but—"

"Oh no, this is something akin to me. One of the few beings strong enough to maybe do what I do. And I created it." Papak chuckled. "You see, I hadn't anything to do with the company for fifteen years. It runs alone, has his own desires and his own personality. It is as alive as anybody else." He glanced over the plaza, then snorted. "It's probably more alive than anyone else here except for myself."

"You claim to have created life?" Angra Mainyu stared at Papak unblinking. "Prove it."

"It's all on the tablet. Look at the last fifteen years. I swear upon my name and my life that I have not done anything for the whole time."

"Your name already belongs to me, as for your life we shall see." Angra Mainyu picked up the tablet and began to read.

The plaza emptied. Tourist disappeared, other patrons left. The waiter came but a glare from Papak sent him scurrying back without a word.

The clock hit three in the morning.

Angra Mainyu put the tablet down, leaned against the back of his chair and began to laugh. His laughter bounced from the windows covering them in ice. It resonated between the walls and the alleys, blackening stone and corroding metal. Nightmares haunted the city and raced from dream to dream leaving a trail of fear and desperation.

Papak smiled satisfied as the laughter pandered out. The waiter laid in fetal position near the entrance of the restaurant, foaming from the mouth.

"I admit you surprised me. I never would have taught that this day would come, but here it is." He slapped his hand on his thigh. "Today I accept the sacrifice of something even more abstract than myself. I have only a question, how do you kill it? Because from what I have seen it is more vast than many nations."

"It is." Papak tapped on the tablet in front of him. "And for that reason I poisoned my child many decades ago. I grew and educated it and I did the same with its enemies. Here is a bundle of documents that will bring it all down. The moment I send them those who want the downfall will stab it and let it bleed to death. It will be my last sacrifice, something created to die, something that would never have existed if not for me to live another twelve hundred moons. So, do you want to wield the dagger?"

Angra Mainyu looked at the tablet, then shook his head. "As tempting as that is, it's your sacrifice, it's your role to kill it." He looked up at the sky. "And you will have to do it before dawn. You are not trying to leave the responsibility to me, are you?"

With a swipe Papak activated the tablet, tapped a couple of times on the screen, then passed it to Angra Mainyu. "Done, you can follow its slow agony here if you want."

"I will. This promises to be interesting. Will you not stay here with me?"

"No, the pact is sealed, it's time for me to have a new life." Papak looked at the waiter laying motionless at the door of the restaurant, while the flickering of flames could be seen from the kitchen inside. "There is a war in the south. There is always a war, and that's always a good way to emerge in the world again as someone new."

Without looking up from the tablet Angra Mainyu said, "Then go and have fun. See you in a century, friend. Oh, and prepare another surprise like this one please. I've rarely been this delighted in the last three hundred years."

Papak stood up, opened the knot of his tie and pulled it off. He threw it down and stretched. "See you in a century." He walked to the Maiden Tower and put a hand on the walls. Then he turned around and disappeared in the night, flames rising from the restaurant while Angra Mainyu sat at a table, quietly chuckling to himself.
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#1 · 2
· · >>Orbiting_kettle

Thoughts: There was a long build-up to the "What do you offer..." line, during which I felt like the conversation was rambling and a bit unclear about who was saying what, and why it mattered. But that line? That's good stuff. It's electrifying when a line like that shows up and grabs you. I might suggest starting the story there, on the principle of "start late, end early." I also love how it pays off that line at the end, with the imagery of the waiter and the fire... though to be honest, I have no clue how what they did with the tablets made that happen to the waiter.

Also... the tablets... given the kind of guys these appear to be, were some of them stone, or were all of them iPads? IMO this matters a lot; it'd be a beautiful, rich detail to have some be stone. (The one at the end definitely needs to be an iPad, but the rest...)

I loved the heaviness of the tone of the central conversation here, and the concept about these guys making deals, and the descriptions--when they were used--were strong and evocative. However, I ultimately feel like this suffers from a lack of clarity about what the guys were talking about toward the end. There's a difference between effective world-building and just dropping cool-sounding hints about more going on in the background; and unfortunately I didn't feel like there was quite enough here to flesh-out those hints.

Also, I see how the title likely relates to the story, but I feel like there was missed potential for either humor or drama by not making that connection stronger.

Tier: Upper-end of "Needs Work"
#2 · 1
I had to google some names for this story. How dare you make me learn about things that aren't already a part of the collective consciousness of western culture!

I liked this story. Interesting imagery, and some delightfully amoral and self serving machinations on display. Corporations are evil enough as it is without being specifically set up to cause the deaths of a bunch of people for the sole purpose of continuing immortality, only to then self destruct in a hailstorm of red tape and bureaucracy.
#3 ·
I enjoyed this one. It seemed crisp on the whole; straightforwards in concept and execution, and well handled in that manner. I do feel that it was a bit simplistic; there were no plot twists or anything, just a kinda set-up and delivery, but it's well enough done that i didn't feel that held the story back a whole lot. The background you've got here was interesting enough to keep me reading despite that.

It's perhaps nothing jaw-dropping? However, it's solid for what it is.
#4 · 1
This was a clever premise, I liked how you approached the prompt. The weaving of banter, plot and background description are well executed.

The characters seemed consistent, though we didn't see many sides of them. The prose seemed awkwardly phrased, sometimes, though. For example:
"Because they are weak. That didn't change<hasn't changed> and never will."
"You see, I hadn't<haven't had> anything to do with the company for fifteen years."

I was in the google-after-reading camp, and while things rolled along well enough, the meaning of the names was nice to learn and it was certainly less confusing once I confirmed that ayran was a yogurt drink, and not a nazi-associated race.

While not spellbinding, this story has a nice premise, and it plays out over a nicely textured scene. It suffers from the aforementioned grammar niggles, but is overall solid.
#5 · 1
· · >>horizon
Audit - A+ - Another reason why I don’t think I’ll ever hit Top Three on the writeoff again (but will keep trying) Despite being a plebeian from the middle of the US, the foreign intrigue and fluid nature of this story just drew me in and held me entranced. Each of the top three votes on my slate made me read them twice, and this one I could read again and again. I may even try to make a Celestia themed story based on this concept.
#6 ·
· · >>Orbiting_kettle
I really don't have much to say about this one, other than kudos for a story well written, and for having passed my Companions watermark. No major complaints from beginning to end. At least not above a nitpick level -- it was a little weird for me to start the story with a description of dolmas, for example, but that's because I come from Greek ancestry and know exactly what they are, and I'm sure the rest of your readers appreciated the description.

Nice touch to give us a deal-with-the-devil story that gave us something besides the Judeo-Christian devil. Angra Mainyu is the Zoroastrian spirit of evil, more or less. Interestingly enough, Papak also appears to be a historical figure from the same mythology! (Search this page for his name.) And speaking of Angra, here's a fun piece of trivia, according to Wikipedia:

Angra Mainyu chose to be evil: "It is not that I cannot create anything good, but that I will not." And to prove this, he created the peacock.

What kept this from scoring higher is not that anything's missing here, but that everything which passed it felt like it had bigger or more exciting ideas. This one's got a really memorable central premise, but the worldbuilding's pretty tightly focused, and aside from little hints (like the restaurant food or the towers) this feels a little grey against the vivid settings of my top three.

Tier: Demon Peacock Top Contender
#7 · 1
· · >>georg
I may even try to make a Celestia themed story based on this concept.

I am now desperately curious as to whether you mean playing this idea straight (Celestia has some sort of demonic immortality pact requiring painful sacrifice e.g. having her sister betray her), or whether you mean subverting it in a pony direction (Celestia's immortality comes from, say, the Tree of Harmony, and every 1200 moons she has to give it a "sacrifice" of having brought ponykind closer to the principles of harmony). Either way, you have my attention.
#8 ·

That's a very strong start: It rolls directly into the middle of an interesting situation, while weaving in just enough information about setting. Ah, they know each other. A minor point, but skilfully revealed.

A couple of minor nitpicks:

He popped the dolma in his mouth and began to chew. It's a little confusing to start a sentence with “He” when your scene has two male characters, and both have equal prominence in the previous paragraph. I worked it out, of course, but this isn't the sort thing I should have to work out.

At a first look it seemed almost unchanged in its long years of vigilance, yet he could see all the little traces of time and the efforts made to mask them. This would work so much better with the addition of some concrete details.

It seems fairly obvious by this point that they're immortals of some kind. Again, this information is provided delicately but effectively.

The tablet is a computer tablet? Perhaps that was easy to work out, but I wish you'd mentioned so at the start. I was thrown off for a while.

Having reached the end of it though, I find I have little in the way of further comments. It's a good scene, very skilfully executed, and a nice mix of ancient rites with modernity.

And yet, something about it isn't entirely satisfying. I took a while to think about this, and overnight the ideas coalesced: First, the final twist of oh, a corporation is a person falls a little flat. Second, I'm not enthused about this plundering of Zoroastrian mythology to add a bit of glamour to two otherwise archetypal characters. And third … well, archetypal in my view is just a fancy way of saying shallow. There's very little humanity in this story. Not even hidden behind alienated prose as in Morlock. And that, for me, counts as a problem problem.

Still, I find this goes to the top of my slate for technical execution. A frustrating choice, but I can do no better.
#9 · 1
More of a Free Will vs Fate type of thing, sacrifices made to protect her little ponies up to and including her sister's decision to face off against Nightmare in a fight which she lost. Fate is fickle, capricious, and other hard to spell words, while Celestia wants only to see her ponies grow and learn without bottling them up and keeping the ability to make decisions away from them because they could decide incorrectly. Fate is a bitch who comes to your child's crib and declares she will prick her thumb with a spindle and fall into an eternal sleep. Somebody really needs to buck that twit in the face, and Celestia has the hooves for it. :) Another reason why I like the Writeoff site: it gives me ideas.
#10 · 3
So, time for my retrospective on Audit. I admit it got a better reception than I expected, but that only conforms that I have no idea how well my stories will perform. It also netted me my third "Most Controversial" badge ( :yay:) for original fiction, which seems to be a clue that my stories are either hit or miss, heavily depending on the reader.

I admit I thought at the beginning to use a classical setup of a Deal With the Devil, but then I decided against it. The reason came from the fact that the Devil's motivation is to screw one over, which means that hose kind of stories play out as one of the parties being tricked in some way. That was not what I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell a story about an amoral and inhuman immortal continuing his existence and upholding his part of the deal. So I thought about using some invented concept or some modern fictional entity, like a personification of Entropy. Those lacked the powerful baggage attached to mythological entities rooted in our culture (and despite it being not very famous, Zoroastrianism is very deeply embedded in our collective consciousness). So I went for a religion I knew a bit and with a couple of traits that matched my requirements. Angra Mainyu is an evil spirit without an interest in gaining souls (there's no eternal damnation, all souls will sooner or later be purified) and with the right mental attitude and the right interests in for being part of the deal.

The location I've chosen was Baku because it gave me the idea of being a city very much on the edge between ancient history and runaway modernity. It has a very peculiar atmosphere that matched quite well the tale I wanted to tell. It was also in the right part of the world to be a good anchor for the characters, so I went for that. With a bit of hindsight I can see how this should have been communicated better. The city should have been a character, but I missed to use it in any way that wasn't window dressing. So, my bad there.

As for the characters being inhuman, well, that was what I wanted. What I maybe missed instead was someone to give a human point of view or a comparison to the monstrosity. Maybe the waiter could have been that. This is probably the point I will mostly think about and see if I can or should improve here.

Also... the tablets... given the kind of guys these appear to be, were some of them stone, or were all of them iPads? IMO this matters a lot; it'd be a beautiful, rich detail to have some be stone. (The one at the end definitely needs to be an iPad, but the rest...)

While this idea is spectacular I see some logistical problems in documenting 9999 deaths on stone tablets. I should probably have been clearer on this point.

Angra Mainyu chose to be evil: "It is not that I cannot create anything good, but that I will not." And to prove this, he created the peacock.

And the poor Yazidis have to still suffer under the consequences of, among a lot of other things, that piece of mythology.