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Literature / Comrade Death

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"He has become a universal provider in the realms of the macabre. He endows hospitals and asylums, and fills them up. Not only does he build orphanages: he even provides the orphans."

"Comrade Death" is a 1944 short story by British author Gerald Kersh.

Hector Sarek is an early 20th century professional salesman who once sold tractors and plows. His company bought by the Kreiger weapons firm, he starts a new career as a professional arms dealer. Despite ridicule from his first customer and his "friends", Cosima and Janos, he makes a critically important sale of the newly developed machine gun by stealing the demonstration from a competitor. His career builds and he makes quite a name for himself, eventually becoming the head of Krieger, now the world's only weapons company.

Forty years later, Sarek is a bitter, old, and very evil man with far too much power, wealth, and worse yet, respect. The most terrible aspect of World War I, chemical weapons, have been embraced by Sarek and Krieger sinks its monumental wealth into research and development. The story reaches its horrifying conclusion as Sarek meets to discuss business with the Dictator, Herr Feuerbauch...

This story provides examples of:

  • Arms Dealer: Sarek once sold farming equipment and when his company changed focus to weapons he became a professional arms dealer. He rises to the top and Kreiger develops a monopoly on the arms market.
  • Body Horror: Dr. Krok in the Under World. He accidentally came into contact with a single trivially small drop of the new poison he was working on. His body swelled until he resembled a hippopotamus in the shape of a man, with bulging red eyes, his nose having been swallowed by his monstrous face, and no teeth. Had the drop been larger his body would have dissolved into liquid.
  • Bullet Hole Spelling: An Arms Dealer for the Circonflex machine gun demonstrates his revolutionary new weapon by drawing the letter "K" in a wall with sustained gunfire. The "K" was meant to be the buyer's initial, but his rival Sarek bribes his band to play during his sales pitch and claims it stands for his Kreiger company.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Sarek by the end. He worked his way up through the ranks in Kreiger and became the head of the company. Wars are now fought entirely for his benefit as Kreiger makes all the weapons in the world.
  • Death by Irony: Sarek is killed by the masterpiece chemical weapon bearing his name, so perfect that it can't even be contained and stored.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: After Cosima rejects the truth that Sarek helped murder her husband. She truly believes that Sarek is a good man and feels guilty over being unable to help Janos. Sarek expected Cosima to hate him after letting her husband die, but not her delusional pity that he's trying to "punish himself" over a man he hated.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Early in the story, Sarek is laughed at by a revolutionary who finds the idea of being a professional arms dealer absurd.
  • Kaiserreich: Sarek lives and operates primarily in a region of vaguely Germanic/Eastern European culture.
  • Love Triangle: Between Sarek and Janos over Cosima early in the story.
  • Loud of War: Sarek hijacks a competitor's sales demonstration by bribing his band to drown out his speech with an obnoxious military march.
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: The Under World, Kreiger's massive subterranean chemical weapons research facility.
  • Made of Explodium: Oil of Disintegration, aka Disintegrol, is this concept bottled and weaponized. Anything exposed to Disinegrol becomes a powerful explosive and almost immediately detonates. A pin prick to a worker's hand blows him to bits.
  • Meaningful Name: "Feuerbauch" means "fire belly" in German, at the end he drinks the Disintegrol and his insides explode.
  • MegaCorp: At some point around or during World War 1, the world's weapon manufacturers merge under the Krieger name. Afterwards, wars are fought entirely with Krieger-equipped armies.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Sarek refuses to help his rival Janos when he is arrested as a spy and pending execution.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Sarek is based on real life arms dealer Basil Zaharoff, known for shady practices and being depicted in fiction. Feuerbauch is Hitler—or perhaps what Hitler wanted to be: an intimidating blond-haired, blue-eyed giant.
  • Playing Both Sides: In South America Sarek sells weapons to Gaudeama, underdog in a brewing conflict, in exchange for resource rights. He then sells arms to their enemy, Contrabono, claiming the Gaudema armament comes from a rival company, immorally paid for with resource rights. It shows again later in the story, selling Rozma new gas masks to protect against Feuerbauch's new gas, then minutes later promising a newer gas to Feuerbauch to defeat Rozma's masks.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Sarek before his Moral Event Horizon. His company made farm equipment so his job was to sell farm equipment. His company now makes guns and so he now sells guns.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Sarek's obsession for Cosima. After Janos is executed in South America, Sarek tries to convince Cosima to marry him. All he wants is his trophy wife and he even argues that she should marry him for his money to raise her children. Her rejection and delusional pity is what pushes Sarek over the edge from an arms dealer to the evil warmongering businessman he becomes.
  • War for Fun and Profit: While Sarek doesn't personally start any wars for profit, he exploits them to his advantage. In the end Kreiger has the monopoly on all weapons manufacturing, so all wars benefit Sarek and his business practices only fosters paranoid militarization that leads to further wars.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Cosima. She flat out refuses to see Sarek for what he really is. He confesses to abandoning her husband to die, and later refuses to save her grandson from going to war, and both times she dismisses his spite as being concealed guilt and claims he would have helped if it had been in his power to do so.