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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 horrific aspect of World War 1, 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.
- 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 was bloated and dis-formed 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.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Sarek, obviously.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: After Cosima rejects the truth that Sarek helped murder her husband.
- Fatherland: Sarek lives and operates primarily in a region of vaguely Germanic/Eastern European culture.
- It Will Never Catch On: Sarek is laughed at by a revolutionary early in the story, who finds the idea of being a professional arms dealer absurd.
- Love Triangle: Between Sarek and Janos over Cosima.
- 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.
- 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, he drinks the Disintegrol and his insides explode.
- Mega Corp: 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.
- War for Fun and Profit: While Sarek doesn't really start any wars for profit, they pop up naturally on their own, his trade certainly fosters the paranoid militarization that come with the threat of war.
- 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.