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The Killing Machine · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
The Unsung Ballad of Roger Wilco
The blaring alarm from the UPS jolted Roger from his dusty hammock, and he fell to the dirt floor of his shack with a torrent of incoherent swearing.

The constant piercing electronic fleedling provided unpleasant accompaniment to his mad scramble over towards the far corner of the one-room building, where a brick of batteries roughly the size of a Vauxhall Astra sat. A digital display on the side ticked from 154 to 152 before his eyes, spurring him into a flurry of motion. “Fuggin chunt buggerly,” he blearily slurred as he flew to his desk and shut down his terminal, the server, the router, the antenna relay, and the bank of monitors. When the last lights winked out he unplugged everything from the UPS except for the pair of black cables that snaked under the yellow tarp on the floor – Project Black Lotus needed to be preserved at all costs, after all, and power failure was a crisis he could not afford.

This slowed the power drain somewhat, and Roger took the opportunity to dig his palms into his eyes as he tried to wake up. As the gears within his mind shifted from neutral to first, he realized that he couldn’t hear the generators out back under the alarm.

As the implications of that thought clicked into place, something banged against the back wall of the shack. Roger’s mouth twisted into a snarl as he grabbed his trusty pump action 12-gauge shotgun from the wall next to the door and hurried outside.

The blinding glare of the morning sun slowed Roger’s gait. He rounded the side of his shack to find a half-dozen gormless kangaroos standing around – and upon – his generator. They stared blankly at him as the unmistakable smell of petrol permeated the air.

“FUCKIN’ ROOS!” Roger bellowed as he leveled his shotgun at the horizon. A boom echoed through the Outback as the troop scattered into the brush as fast as their legs could carry them.

“Yeh, you bettah run, ya fuckin’–!” He drowned the final word of his epithet with another shotgun blast to keep them running, then watched to make sure they were well and truly gone. He was always sorely tempted to just shoot the bloody beasts when they tampered with his generator or dug through his garbage, but he didn’t have a destruction permit. The last thing he needed was the government paying attention to what he was up to.

A shame, really – roo meat paired well with beans.

Satisfied the kangaroos wouldn’t be back for a good long while, Roger spat into the dirt and turned to assess the damage the vermin had caused to his generator. A cursory examination showed they had somehow torn the petrol line from the tank – a bit of duct tape and some sealant would fix it, but the tank was now empty. He’d need to make his weekly petrol run a couple days early. He swore again as he shouldered his shotgun and trudged back towards the door to get his tools.

The line was easy enough to reconnect and patch up, and Roger filled the tank with the last of the reserve petrol. He heaved back on the starter cord with manly vigor, and the generator roared to life. With a self-satisfied snort, he went back inside and made sure the UPS display was ticking back up again, then plugged everything back in and brought everything back online.

While running diagnostic checks on the health of the server, Roger brought up the Draconequus chat to see if anyone had noticed the server downtime.

It promptly exploded with notifications.

Notorious C.I.G. 9:34 AM
@RogerWilco It would appear the Writeoff web site is down.
Mumblegrunge 9:36 AM
nuuuuuuu @RogerWilco I still need to vote on prompts!
Trips Reruns 9:37 AM
@RogerWilco Why is the website down?
Mumblegrunge 9:37 AM
Maybe if we all message him at once we can summon him HEY @RogerWilco
Fog 9:37 AM
oh no @RogerWilco
Pallada 9:37 AM
hey @RogerWilco
Brutus, Forebear of Oxide 9:38 AM
Hey @RogerWilco, are we still on for MtG later tonight? Also, the server is down.
basildragon 9:38 AM
Help, @RogerWilco - I'm trying to recruit a new member and I can't access the site rules page!
Coldflower 9:38 AM
Yo, @RogerWilco!
Trips Reruns 9:38 AM
MargarinePsycho 9:38 AM

This went on for several pages.

“Fuuuuck,” Roger grimaced to himself. The diagnostics suite gave him the green light, so he kicked the web site back online and shot a quick message to the chat.

RogerWilco 10:11 AM
The server is back online and the web site is live again. Apologies for the interruption.
Mumblegrunge 10:12 AM
Hooray! We did it!
Rhetorical Interrogative 10:12 AM
Huzzah! Thank you, Roger.
Mumblegrunge 10:12 AM
Trips Reruns 10:12 AM
It was Roger
Mumblegrunge 10:12 AM

Roger rolled his eyes and closed the chat, then wandered outside to set about strapping a pair of empty five-gallon drums to his dirt bike for the long trek towards civilization and fuel. While he did so, he cast his gaze about the surrounding countryside – at the scrub brush clinging to the violently orange dirt, the pair of raptors idly wheeling in the sky, the slow passage of clouds across the infinite expanse of hazy blue sky. It filled him with a wistful sort of wonder, and it made the necessity of shunning civilization for the sake of Project Black Lotus all the more tolerable.

The laughing call of a kookaburra brought Roger back to his senses. As he went back inside to get his helmet and goggles, he saw his neighbor sprawled against the lone tree that grew next to the shack, and raised a hand in greeting. “G’morning, Tobias.”

The huntsman spider replied with a neighborly wave of his foreleg.

Roger donned his helmet, goggles, and gloves. “I’m headed inna town to grab supplies. D’ya need anythin’?”

Tobias paused for a moment, then shook himself no. He hopped down off the tree and scuttled off into a nearby shrub.

“Right, then. Good hunting, mate.” Roger mounted his bike and kicked it into gear, then sped off into the bush. It was a seventy kilometer journey south to Glendambo, the closest hub of civilisation, and he needed to be swift if he wanted to make it back in time for Magic the Gathering.

The buzz of crickets provided a pleasant background din as Roger hovered over a pot of simmering beans on the camp stove as dusk settled over the outback. He popped the top on a can of Cooper’s Finest, gave the beans a hearty whiff, nodded, and killed the heat. He tossed the empty can of Dodger Brand Baked Beans (“the dankest beans for the discerning connoisseur”) in the recycling bag that hung next to the stove, then gave the pot a stir and brought it over to his desk.

He sat in his office chair and stared at his bank of monitors. Only a handful of minutes before the votes would be tallied for the next Writeoff prompt – a handful of minutes before he knew what the framework would be for the next batch of data for Project Black Lotus.

He cautiously blew over the pot before tucking in. He savored the robust bean flavor as he reviewed the chat log for the day.

MargarinePsycho 9:20 PM
*shouts* Fight, fight! *whispers* kiss, kiss
Pigasos 9:21 PM
Butters :P
Pallada 9:21 PM
Every day we stray further from Stalin’s grace.
Trips Reruns 9:24 PM
Ugh, I’m editing this piece for a commission on a deadline and it’s such a slog
So much shifting back and forth between tenses
Fog 9:25 PM
would you say you were… past tense with this particular writer?
Trips Reruns 9:25 PM
This is no time for hilarious wordplay!

Roger nearly snorted his beans. It would be ideal if the humor of the group would translate well with the data feed from the chat, but time would tell one way or the other soon enough.

Pigasos 9:26 PM
Trips, speaking of words
What would be the word for reminding someone of something over and over again?
Annoying, etc
Enlightened Pastry 9:26 PM
Would “nag” suffice, Pigasos?
Trips Reruns 9:26 PM
False_Fedora 9:27 PM
Pester might also work.
Enlightened Pastry 9:27 PM
“Harp on” may work as well, depending on context.
Pigasos 9:28 PM
I think “nag” is what I was looking for, thanks all!
You are all lovely.

Roger nodded as he chewed. Chat sessions like this were the reason he piped the chat feed into Project Black Lotus in addition to the stories and reviews – a more stream-of-consciousness line of dialogue to assist in the day-to-day conversations he expected it to have. In fact, the chat had been invaluable in prompting discussions on word choice and context, something that was crucial to understanding, to forming the associations between words and concepts that–

The console beeped at him as one of the monitors began to flash – the deadline had passed and the votes had been tallied. Roger refreshed the page–

Pigasos 9:30 PM
“The Killing Machine” is the winner!
Ominous :D

Roger simply stared, beans forgotten.

Fog 9:31 PM
at least this is a pretty direct prompt for once
False_Fedora 9:31 PM
I think I have an idea or two that could work.

Roger sighed as he stood and ran a hand across his tired face. He felt grubby. “If only they knew,” he groaned.

There was nothing for it – the collective had decided and the prompt had been chosen. If the Black Lotus Project was to be an honest reflection of its contributors, he couldn’t pick and choose what data sets to use. Besides, it was at least possible that the stories that would come from such a prompt wouldn’t necessarily center around AI death robots slaughtering Earth’s population.

Roger snorted at the thought. “In a pig’s eye,” he grumbled as he moved over to the yellow tarp that sat between his desk and the UPS and tossed it aside. He shooed away the scorpion that had taken up residence beneath it, then hauled up the heavy cast iron trapdoor. He flicked on the lights and descended the aluminum ladder into the hidden vault beneath the shack.

Rows of fluorescent lights illuminated rack upon rack of server blades, each networked to each other by a spiderweb of cables. The air was much cooler down here, a sign that the brief loss of the generators had mercifully had no effect upon the server environment.

In the center sat a single nondescript terminal. It served as his window into the soul of the nascent AI he had spent most of the last year nurturing.

He approached the terminal with something akin to reverence. He rested a hand upon the display as code scrolled by.

“What are they going to turn you into, love?” The mild acrid tang in the air made Roger reflexively glance to the corner, where the blackened and hollow husk of the terminal from Project Alicorn rested. It served as a costly reminder of failure, and of the care required when rearing a sentient program. Tia, as Roger had called her, had been crafted from several years' worth of stories from the My Little Pony Writeoff competitions, and had been brought to full cognizance a little over a year ago.

The memory still left a sour feeling in his stomach – unable to reconcile the reality of humanity with the stories she had been raised on, Project Alicorn had driven herself mad. It was why Roger had created the Original Fiction competitions, and had quietly discouraged pony stories within them; better to have a more direct line with the dreams and aspirations of humanity, without the filter of “pone” interfering.

Still, it was disconcerting to have a competition so explicitly focus on the conflict between man and machine. The notion that these stories could teach the AI that it was something to be feared – that it should be something to be feared – was more than a little unsettling.

He took a deep breath as he gently laid his fingertips upon the keyboard. “On their heads be it.” He began to type. With the grace of a sorcerer casting a spell, he crafted the code that would sync The Killing Machine competition entries – and their feedback – with Project Black Lotus.

Author’s note – This was written with the greatest of love of, respect for, and apologies to our intrepid site admin and the community in general.
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#1 · 2
· · >>Icenrose
A pretty funny meta-fic that kept itself grounded in reality. I liked it.

Normally I don't laugh at fanfics, on account of them being so heavy handed, but I chuckled at this.

It wasn't a "lel randummmm xD xD "trying to be funny, but it subverted the expectations of me the reader, and gave me a chuckle. The reference of the beans was a little inside chat joke too.
#2 · 3
· · >>Icenrose
So, I enjoyed this a lot.

It leans very heavily on the meta, but the meta was pretty hilarious. As a story it's not a whole lot; there's no real 'arc' here, and the only real draw plot-wise is a slow reveal, but the meta was silly and engaging.

I chuckled a bunch.

Oh, but "constant piercing electronic fleedling" is a little clunky.
#3 · 2
· · >>Icenrose
Genre: Random meta comedy with a heart

Thoughts: This makes me wonder what I'm missing out on by not getting into the Discord chat. ;_;

In all seriousness, this is a well-crafted tribute to the Writeoff community in general, and to our Fearless Leader in particular.

The downside is that it's kind of slow-paced, and it takes a bit long to present our hero's goal, and there isn't a lot of payoff directly connected to the reveal. However, the humor and warmth sprinkled throughout the story keeps it appealing.

In the end, I'm not sure if this is really a complete story, but it's charming and well-written and accomplishes the author's likely goal of evoking a smile. To go to the next level, I'd like to see this building toward something bigger than just the meta tribute; but I can't knock it at all.

Tier: Almost There
#4 · 3
· · >>Icenrose
"False Fedora" is a gem. I'm rather fond of my own name as well. Will come back to this later for further thoughts.
#5 · 1
· · >>Icenrose

I tend to love metafiction. The other kind of metafiction, where its fiction that's concerned with the concept of fiction. Not so much this kind, when it steps back into real life, or parodies thereof.

That being said, this was thoroughly enjoyable. It was well written and rather silly.
#6 · 9
· · >>Icenrose
This is my attempt to pin down who the names used in this story go with IRL. I think I've got most of them, but two are fairly elusive.

RogerWilco - Obviously our glorious leader, RogerDodger.
Notorious C.I.G. - Cold in Gardez, because of the initials.
Mumblegrunge - Zoey, AKA 'murmurpunk'
Trips Reruns - Dubs Rewatcher. He got his name from the 'tripcodes' on... ponychan, IIRC.
False_Fedora - Yeah, it's probably me. :P I deny having anything to do with fedoras, although since I call myself 'not really a brony' despite hanging out around here, this name is surprisingly apt.
Brutus, Forebear of Oxide - Cassius, Genesis of Rust. Because, yeah, obviously.
basildragon - Baxildragon, AKA Horizon. Just one letter different. (I can't help picture him as some sort of chiapet with this name, though... :P)
Enlightened Pastry - Lise Eclaire. Eclair/Eclaire; ones a pastry, the other means 'enlightened'. I made this joke in the chat myself, actually.
Rhetorical Interrogative - Trick Question seems most likely?
Pallada - Oblomov? It's a Russian ship. And that 'Stalin's grace'...
Pigasos - Monokeras? This apparently means 'pegasus' in some other language. Plus, that vocabulary question about fits.
Fog - Haze, probably just based on names?

But these two I have absolutely no idea about. They might just be there for filler? Anyone else?

Coldflower - Cassius guesses Icenrose here, which makes a lot of sense.
MargarinePsycho And Majin Syeekoh here, which... is similar word-wise, but seems a bit of a stretch to me.
#7 · 2
· · >>Icenrose

That shifting tenses line was about my end-of-year fiction workshop piece. Not a commission. Totally inaccurate. >:V

(i love this story)
#8 · 3
· · >>Icenrose
Will concur, pretty darn good meta fic, though for mad science, there is a sad lack of experimental rodents. Genuine over the top humor (and aussies can usually take a joke). While not a riot, I was grinning most of the way through.

Also retrospectively amusing in that (by my slate, at least) GFAI won't be any the worse for wear from this competition.
#9 · 5
· · >>Icenrose
This story has brought us closer to Stalin's grace.

This is great.
#10 · 1
· · >>Icenrose
Timezone is GMT + 9:30. That's Adelaide, Australia.
#11 · 3
Roger bellowed as he leveled his shotgun at the horizon. A boom echoed through the Outback ...

Oh my god, you killed me! :raritydespair:
#12 · 1
· · >>Icenrose
Anyway: on to my top three!

... Yes, I put a meta story in one of my medal slots. FIGHT ME

But really, this deserves it. What makes it beautiful isn't that it's making Writeoff jokes, but that it's taking the Writeoff context and subverting it into proper science fiction that not only meets the prompt but in a poignant and funny way. I can't imagine this having real legs outside of this contest context, but it's a laudable entry within it.

And -- let's not mince words -- the humor here lands. There's a mix of character destruction and great setup/timing that is hilarious without being personal. It's clearly a love letter to the Writeoffs (so much insider knowledge, even the little details like time zones), but it's got enough originality and sheer craziness that it doesn't feel like pandering. This is far and away the best meta story I've read in a while.

Tier: Top Contender
#13 · 2
· · >>Icenrose
For my part:

I love that his nearest neighbor is an apparently sapient spider named Tobias.

But that raises so many questions that the story then doesn't even begin to address. If he does indeed have a sapient spider named Tobias as a neighbor, it makes me wonder just how parallel a world we're in here. Does Roger live in the parallel world, and his connection through the computer is an interdimensional one toour world? Or is it possible that some of the Writeoff participants are also sapient animals? After all, "on the internet, no one knows you're a dog"...

Deal with that issue, author, and I'll be a happier reader than I am. Even though I wasn't included among the participants... :(

#14 · 3
· · >>CoffeeMinion
Congratulations to Baal Bunny, Not_A_Hat, and horizon on their medals, and congratulations to the rest of the finalists as well!

The Unsung Ballad of Roger Wilco - A Retrospective


First of all, a hearty well-done to >>Not_A_Hat for correctly identifying all the pseudonyms I used, with a little help from >>Cassius (which makes sense, since he's the only one who correctly guessed this was my story). I admit, MargarinePsycho was a placeholder name that I never found a satisfactory replacement to, and I only included myself (Coldflower) because I'm a reprehensible human being I couldn't resist the temptation.

I'm very pleased that everyone seemed to get a kick out of it, at least those who posted a comment. A sincere thank you to everyone who commented (>>bloons3, >>Not_A_Hat, >>CoffeeMinion, >>Cassius, >>Oroboro, >>Dubs_Rewatcher, >>Ratlab, >>Oblomov, >>Monokeras, >>horizon, >>Baal Bunny), even if you were just letting me know you liked it - knowing I made someone smile makes me smile. ^^

The original seed idea for the story was the server going down for no apparent reason and Roger hitting it with a hammer a few times to fix it (a la Torbjorn from Overwatch, or Guns of Icarus), shouting "shaddap" at the computer as notifications continue to trill at him. I didn't want the community to be the antagonists, though (or at least, not as directly), so in searching for a likely suspect I started emphasizing the Outback setting, and naturally landed on meddlesome kangaroos.

The huntsman spider section was originally much longer, but I was never satisfied with it - the pace slowed to a crawl, and it was only written because the first draft of the story clocked in at a little over 1900 words. I was tempted to strike it entirely (and at this point I agree with >>Baal Bunny that I probably should have, since I didn't need the words anymore), but I think at least a few of you took it as the silly fun it was intended as. Baal's right, though, it ruins the otherwise (moderately) grounded reality of the rest of the story.

Someone in the chat (I think it was MrNumbers) pointed out that the writer was likely not Australian or British due to the fact that I spelled it "aluminum" instead of "aluminium". I waffled on this for a while, and I went with "aluminum" simply because Google Docs doesn't recognize the proper the alternative spelling, and I didn't know for certain if Australia mirrored the UK or the US with their pronunciation.

Finally, Notorious C.I.G. is my response to a discussion held on the inaugural Writeoff podcast between Zoey (Murmurpunk), >>Dubs_Rewatcher, and Quill Scratch regarding how they pronounce the colloquial foreshortening of Cold In Gardez's name, CiG. Although, now that I think about it, Notorious B.I.G. died before any of the participants of that podcast were born... so... Apologies if the reference sailed over everyone's heads!

Anyhoo, much love, guys! Congratulations again to all of you who participated this time, and I'll see you again next round!
#15 · 1
· · >>Icenrose >>Not_A_Hat
First: Good on you for writing this!

Second: There's a podcast?! Where dat?

Notorious B.I.G. died before any of the participants of that podcast were born

Mein Gott I'm so old!
#16 · 1
^^ I'm sifting through previous competition events looking for the link, but I'm not finding it; I'll do a more thorough search than "ctrl + F podcast" once I get back from work. In the meantime, does anybody else have the podcast link handy? They only did the one episode so far, but I think there remains some interest (from me, at least) for more down the line.

And yes... a little part of me died inside when I realized how long ago 1997 was, too.
#17 · 2
>>CoffeeMinion Here is a link to a link to a download.


There has only ever been one 'cast to date. Perhaps we can convinced Quill Scratch, Dubs, and Zoey to make another one some time....