Here’s the story that my brother and I wrote in two days for – they’re accepting submissions until midnight tonight, Pacific time. The website has more explanations of the premise and such. So, without further ado…


by Jessica Rose Marcotte and Michael J. Marcotte

Much like the First World War, the Third began because of one man’s death – only he died after the war was over. The machine was never wrong.

The death machine changed the way people planned for the future. Once the machine came into widespread usage, some companies began selling death statistics to other corporations, and not just the ones you would expect, like insurance dealers, but also stock market giants, pharmaceutical companies, and even weapons manufacturers. And most people didn’t doubt that the governments of the world were also keeping tabs.

Some companies made a killing by following death trends. For example, when the projected death rate from tuberculosis in Asian countries dropped dramatically, it was assumed that a cure was on its way. Investments in companies such as Berger Pharmaceuticals, the holders of the patent for the Tb-rex vaccine, skyrocketed. The ultimate result was total inoculation of Asian populations within a few years. The investments gave Berger Pharm the extra capital needed to further develop the vaccine and go into full production. Other companies saw their stock plummet. The increase in deaths related to one car company’s best seller was just by chance, but it was enough to cause massive loss of consumer confidence. They went bankrupt. The Japanese CEO of the company listed at number three on the Fortune 500 received karoshi as his death slip, and took a sick leave. While he was gone, things went to hell and he ended up working himself up to a heart attack trying to clean up the mess.

When it was discovered that death slips were being turned to a profit, there was widespread public outcry. Ultimately, most governments passed laws outlawing the practice or instituting informed consent laws, but nobody reads the EULA. The practice continued discretely, and the government continued collecting information for “census” purposes. Those with access to this information couldn’t unlearn what they saw, and they couldn’t help but be influenced by it – policies were coming into being with full consciousness of what the death machine predicted.

If certain negative patterns emerged, the government did what it could to break them. When some death slips for mad cow cropped up in the same region, the government was able to trace it back to a single farm. Unfortunately, the meat had already been distributed and consumed. A call back was issued and advisories put into place but for some, the predictions had already been made. The machine was never wrong.

The first signs of trouble were an increase in violent deaths. The real trouble started when whole generations were suddenly receiving slips that said: shot, bullet, shrapnel, blood loss, dismemberment, grenade, artillery, tactical nuclear strike. At first, analysts predicted an increase in gang violence or terrorism, and assumed that those who had received nuclear slips would be killed by slipping on their child’s video game, or some irony of that nature. No one wanted to mention the elephant gun in the room. To predict a war would be tantamount to ensuring one.

Senator Gordon McRae had always been puzzled by his death prediction. He never knew quite what it meant, but its exotic sound meant that he avoided international travel and never ate foreign foods. These were all the precautions that he could think to take. At a relatively young age, McRae landed a position on the country’s defense council. When he was appointed to the council, the chairman introduced him by praising his capabilities for decisive action, his easy manner with the public, and his wonderful barbecues. Now that he was on the council, the senator had access to the Death Slip Registry. The pattern was obvious to anyone who cared to look, but Senator McRae, like the others, kept silent.

That is, until his death came to stare him in the face. He never expected to find his death written up in a classified military document. His death was to come then, from a piece of foreign military equipment, SNIGENDE VABEN, whatever that meant. Part of McRae thought that if he could manage to destroy the means of his death, he could stave it off, but deep down, he knew that the best he could do was revenge. The machine was never wrong.

Once McRae broached the subject, war was on everyone’s lips. The already-inflated defense budget could only grow. Other nations took note, and the new arms’ race began. The death slips became an increasingly important source of intel.

For his work on the future war effort, McRae was made minister of defense. It was at his urging that the first strike on an enemy sub was authorized when it strayed too close to a military installment in the territory of an allied nation.

War was declared, and analysts were already watching the Death Slip Registry to see when it would end.  Those soldiers whose slips projected death in action were often passed over for promotion so as not to waste training resources. Civilians with the word “bomb” or “explosive” on their slip were tracked, and attacks were predicted where a significant number of them gathered together. The government was thankful that most people still kept their results private, and fortunately no one grew suspicious of their placement of defenses.

The war was both brutal and slow-moving. At first, the conflict was limited to just the two nations, but by the end of it, twenty-three countries were involved in the conflict. Countries kept drawing their allies into the fight. The problem was, everyone knew that the war would still continue because of the Death Slip Registry statistics, but nobody was completely clear on why. At some points in the war, countries were choosing their bombing targets based on where there were people that were supposed to die from bombings. McRae’s policies were those that destroyed the most enemy supply bases as possible without harming the citizens. This made him popular in the press as a practical but humane strategist. Most engagements ended with both sides retreating, with no land or resources changing hands. Pundits continually railed against the futility of the war, and politicians kept promising withdrawals – but the war went on.

After ten years, the first significant break in predicted war deaths occurred. Judging by the ages of the slip holders, the war could not go on much longer than ten more years. Once the break in war deaths happened, serious peace talks began. It was after the first nuclear strike, and any vestigial romance that war held which was not killed in the first engagements was now gone for good. Twenty possible years of war weighed heavy. McRae knew that one day an enemy weapon would kill him, and with that in mind he was intent on making the enemy regret their future audacity – but the push for peace was overwhelming. McRae chose his political life over his projected death. If the war was over, an enemy weapon seemed unlikely to get him any time soon. The war ended.

One year to the day that peace was declared, a ceremony was held in the nation’s capital to celebrate. Senator McRae, now plain old Gordon McRae since he had retired, was getting a real hero’s welcome, and would be receiving a medal later that afternoon. Right then, he was enjoying a burger off the barbecue – not quite as good as his. In the year since the war had ended, his fear of death had abated. He was spending time with his grandchildren, when he and his wife weren’t taking their little drives to other towns and looking at antiques and buying roadside jam from little old ladies. He realized now that his war had been even emptier than he first realized – there must be something else called ‘SNIGENDE VABEN’ – something that had nothing to do with an enemy weapon. Even with peace declared, he couldn’t quite get the word ‘enemy’ out of his vocabulary, where it had become firmly entrenched in twelve years of war. It had taken him about an hour and a half just to finish his first beer, what with one citizen after another coming up to shake his hand, to get a look at the face of the war. He greeted them all, thanked them each for coming out.

“Senator McRae!”

Gordon turned with his greasy burger in hand, looking for something to wipe himself on so that he’d be ready for the inevitable handshake. He considered it part of his duty to make sure no one came away with a bad feeling about today. He deeply regretted the lives lost – and felt deeply blessed that his wasn’t one of them. He chatted with the man who had just walked up, asking about what he did for a living, and had he known anyone that had been lost in the conflicts. They were good openers – everyone had a job and knew someone that had died. The man told him about his son – eighteen years old – of course. When the boy received a slip with the word napalm on it, he had thought long and hard before first joining his local chapter of cadets and then joining up the day that he turned eighteen. He had died saving his entire company.

An announcement came over the park’s PA asking people to gather for the Peace ceremony, which would begin in half an hour. It was at this ceremony that Gordon would be receiving a medal for service to his country. He thanked the man for his son’s sacrifice and went to get his suit jacket from a nearby picnic table.

Once he was sitting on the podium, Gordon felt incredibly warm and well-fed. The sky was in fine form for the aerial show, which would begin in a few moments. The planes were just taking to the air – when Gordon spotted the lead planes, he got to his feet in wonder. An old enemy plane was leading the formation alongside one of their own – a symbol of the bonds of peace forged between all the nations involved in the war. McRae knew the plane – knew, in fact, just about everything about it, including the codename used during its development. He had no idea what the name meant in translation. He did know that for him it meant death.

It wasn’t three minutes into the show when the prototype stalled, the red smoke that it had been trailing behind it now engulfing the body in a cloud. It was the only cloud in the sky. McRae felt his left arm go numb, and his vision blurred. He could not run as the craft barreled down through the sky towards him.


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