Mark immediately turned on the TV and went back to the web, flipping channels and scouring search engines for mentions of the death of the one he'd thought of. After searching for about three hours turned up nothing, he realized that the frantic searching and his whole ordeal had left him exhausted, and he descended into a fitful sleep, upset at having worked himself up so much over something that didn't even work. \n\nWhen he awoke, he nearly had a heart attack. The death of his 'target' was all over the news on every network and news site, and everywhere said the same thing - <i>death by no apparent cause sometime last night</i>. \n\n<b>It had worked.</b>\n\nMark was immediately stricken by a bizzare mixture of regret, revulusion, and fear. \n\n<i>He</i> had done this. \n\n<i>He</i> had killed him. \n\nWould they be able to track it back to him? The news said there was no apparent cause... but then again, since magic was apparently real, who's to say there wasn't some sort of 'magic tracking spell'? And would this even <i>help</i>? He supposed it probably would... after all, not everyone is as depraved as the one he'd killed, but... there was always the chance that despite everything that he'd actually made things <i>worse</i>. \n\nAs Mark sat in his apartment, he felt his fear and regret being replaced by something new - pride. \n\nHe'd done it. \n\nFor better or worse, he'd taken his opportunity to change the world. \n\nAll that was left was seeing the world's reaction. And with all the hope he could muster, he prepared himself to wait, and see what history said of his decision. \n\nWith luck, history would say that on that night, the worst person in the world had died. \n\n<b>The End.</b>\n
Mark was mildly annoyed that someone was ringing this late, but as he walked to the door, he thought maybe it wasn't a salesman - it could be his sister Serafina up to trouble again (she was always stirring things up) or maybe John, his best friend (though that status had fallen into question) with whom he'd recently gotten into a rather nasty fight. As Mark looked down at the small package on his doorstep, he realized that it wasn't a salesman, and it definitely [[wasn't what he expected.|ThePackage]]
Mark hurriedly searched every variation of "worst person in the world", "worst dictator still alive", "world's worst serial killers", and "worst crimes against humanity" he could think of and skimmed a decent selection of articles about a bewildering variety of truly horrible people. After what he deemed an adequate amount of research given the short timeframe, he decided to [[step back and look at his options|ResearchCandidates]].
Mark Michaels, a 27-year old of Italian heritage (although he's lived in the US since he was very young). A tall, 'built' guy with pale skin and short, dark hair, he enjoys video games, sports, and a variety of other things, though not quite as much as the first two. Never thought anything too weird would happen to him, but he's quite wrong there. \n\n[[Back to the Story|Start]]
And that was to decide who the worst person in the world was, and kill them. \n\nPersonally Mark was a big supporter of the death penalty, but he thought that even his sister, a renowned liberal, would agree that certainly The Single Worst Person In The Entire World(TM) deserved to die. After all, if not them, then who? \n\nMark felt a surge of pride and determination after setting himself on this course of action. If (and admittedly, it was something of a big if) this actually worked, he wouldn't just be a hero - he'd be the single biggest hero <i>ever</i>. Of course, he'd be an unsung hero, but he'd rest easy knowing that he had finally done something even topping the heroes of the games he was so fond of. \n\nAfter a few seconds of basking in the glory of his epic plan, he realized something that really should have been obvious to him right away - [[how exactly was he going to figure out who the worst person in the world was?|HowToDoIt]]
<<silently>>\n<<set $SeraPath = "no">>\n<<set $InternetPath = "no">>\n<<set $SecondPass = "no">>\n<<endsilently>>\nIt was a cold early November night. [[Mark|Mark]] was just settling in for another night of video games - alone, unlike usual. Before he'd really gotten started he heard his [[doorbell ring.|doorbell]]
Mark looked at the clock - only a few minutes left. He could hear his heart beating - by this point he was thoroughly convinced that this wasn't a prank but if it <i>was?</i> Well, he had been thoroughly messed with - he couldn't remember the last time he'd been as stressed as he'd been in the last hour and was now - if indeed there had ever been a time that could stand up to this ordeal. \n\n"It's just cutting a string." He saidhalf-heartedly to himself - just making a choice that could make or break the lives of countless people and is going to end up with one person dead at the <i>very least</i>, his thoughts echoed back. \n\n“If only Hitler were still alive." Mark murmured, thinking to himself that he had just said a phrase he'd never thought he would have occasion to utter [["This would be so <i>easy!</i>"|TheOptions]]\n\n\n\n
"So Sera, who do you think is the worst person in the world?" Mark asked, figuring that subtlety was best left to those with quite a bit more time than he currently possessed. \n\nSera's response was far more bitter than Mark had anticipated "Let me guess. It's me? Or John maybe? The arsonist? Seriously Mark, didn't you <i>just</i> apologize? I figured you'd at least be able to last two minutes without saying something aggravating again." \n\nMark quickly backpedaled his statement "No no no no no. Nothing like that - I was just curious as to your opinion, is all. The topic... came up in conversation and I figured you'd like to weigh in." \n\nSerafina stopped to consider Mark's statement for a second, the anger subsiding as quickly as it had appeared. "Well then, if you really want to hear my opinion I'll be happy to share it." \n\nMark silently celebrated a mini-victory in getting his sister to help him out. \n\n[["But first I'm going need a few more specifics."|Specifics]]
"So Sera," Mark began, mentally grasping for something to act as a filler conversation before reaching his actual goal "Out of all the causes you support... which would you say is the most important? The holidays are coming up and I'm thinking of making a donation - and of course I wouldn't dream of doing that without asking you first. You <i>are</i> the expert, after all."\n\nSera seemed a little taken aback for a second, but came back with an upbeat tone "So, my brother's finally looking to do some good in the world. I thought I'd never see the day." \n\n"Hey, I resent that! I do plenty of good, even without making regular donations to charity." Mark wasn't lying - he volunteered fairly often at local hospices, and even his day job involved helping people to some degree. \n\n"Well still, it doesn't hurt to do more." Serafina chuckled, "and you <i>have</i> come to the right person if you want to know how best to spend your money to the make most impact." \n\nMark mostly just pretended to listen as Serafina went over the ins and outs of various charities and aid programs. He made a mental note to donate some money to one of them, and seized the opportunity to ask the question he had started the conversation to ask "So Sera, it seems like a lot of the places you're trying to help have some pretty serious problems... and of course, a donation isn't going to stop someone from doing evil... but who would you say is the one causing the most trouble? That is to say...who do you think is the worst person in the world? Just for conversation's sake, of course." \n\nSerafina stopped for a second and considered the question. "The worst person in the world? That's an interesting question..." she paused for a second before returning a query of her own. \n\n[["But first I'm going need a few more specifics."|Specifics]]\n
Mark had played enough games and seen enough movies to tell you that weird shit like this was more often the lead-in to a horror story than one of exciting adventure - that or he was just way more tired than he realized in which case he was being healthy by denying his delusions. Well, denying them to play video games, but one can only do so much. \n\nAs he played, Mark just couldn't get his mind off the weird box and the freaky...string...thing. It didn't help that he kept getting his ass kicked online. \n\nWalking back over to the box, he hestitated once again. \n\n[[Read the papers first, maybe they'll say what this is all about.|ReadPaper]]\n[[Just go for it and pick up the string.|PickUpString]]
Mark didn't consider himself politically insensitive, but on the other hand, he'd never given much thought to the leadership of foreign countries either. This, he strongly suspected, put him in the same category as most people, as he was pretty sure the only ones with more than passing knowledge of dictators and their comings and goings were activists like his sister. \n\nAfter spending a decent chunk of time, Mark found himself thinking that maybe a single hour <i>was</i> a little short for such a momentous decision after all... although he suspected the time pressure may well have been part of the "experiment". Pushing thoughts of being a subject in a twisted psychological experiment aside, Mark looked over his list. \n\nHe had hastily assembled a "top five", composed of dictators and war criminals he had read about online. Although all the names were at least passingly familiar to him and the crimes ascribed to each were horrible, he felt like maybe killing foreign heads of state without any regard for the country's political system stood a decent chance for doing as much harm as good. After all, what was stopping someone just as bad or worse from stepping in to fill the gap? Then again... Mark did still have <i>some</i> faith in humanity - perhaps killing these horrible dictators would bring peace to an entire war-ravaged nation? \n\nBut he didn't have time to keep pondering forever - he'd just have to trust that the fact-checkers for the articles he had read were right. The list he had assembled was as follows (in no particular order): \n\n[[Omar al-Bashir|Omar_al-Bashir]]\n[[Kim Jong-un|KimJongUn]]\n[[Bashar al-Assad|Bashar]]\n[[Joseph Kony|Kony]]\n[[Robert Mugabe|Mugabe]]\n\n<<if $SecondPass eq "no">>After spending a little time reviewing the candidates he'd assembled once again, he decided that he still had enough time for at least a quick call to Kyle, one of his friends. After all, for something as important as this, certainly it'd be important to get a [[second opinion.|CallKyle]]<<endif>>\n<<if $SecondPass eq "yes">>After spending a little time reviewing the candidates he'd assembled once again, Mark decided it was [[time to make the final decision|FinalDecisionPrep]] <<endif>>
This whole business - thinking about how much the horrors committed by one dictator were "worth" compared to the atrocities of another, deciding which crimes against humanity were the worst, considering the pros and cons of who to <b>kill</b> like they were the merits of characters in a game? Mark hadn't even been at it for an hour and already the whole thing was starting to make him disgusted at himself and more than a little upset. \n\nHe considered that maybe he should just take Murder Industries (the name was definitely not helping) up on their other offer of letting him pretend this all never happened by doing nothing. Then again... if he stood by and squandered his one chance to save potentially thousands - hell, maybe even tens or hundreds of thousands, if not <i>millions</i> of people? Then maybe he would be the <i>real</i> "worst person in the world". \n\n"...Um? Hello?" Kyle called out, as Mark realized he was still on the line.\n\n"Oh! Uh... sorry. Just typing up your awesome opinions. I'm sure to win the argument now! Thanks, man!" Mark replied with an enthusiasm that blurred the line between fake and extremely appreciative. \n\nBefore Kyle could even let out a "you're welcome" Mark hung up the phone, [[leaving him once again with his thoughts, and the box containing the black string.|FinalPrep]]
"Let's hear them - but do me a favor and give me the shortened version. I want to win this argument before the other guys log off." Mark spun his lie a little further so that it helped his real dilemma. \n\n"Of course." Kyle said, and Mark could just see the smirk in his tone. "The worst person in the world... well in what terms are we talking here?" \n\nMark thought for a moment, and figured that since he had already set things up as a hypothetical situation for Kyle, he might as well give him the actual situation so he could best help him analyze it. "Well the actual topic for discussion was 'assuming you were trying to do the most good, if you could kill one person, who would it be?'" \n\nKyle thought it over, mumbling a few things to himself as he thought. "Well, that's a rather different question than the first thing you asked, but I actually like it a bit better - it's clearer for one thing." \n\n"Well, it's not that different." Mark replied "I mean, if you were going to kill one person to help the most people that person would be the worst person in the world, right?" \n\n"Not necessarily." Kyle replied bluntly "Think about it. If you're killing someone and trying to do <i>good</i> by that act, then you're probably going to want to be doing a <i>preventative</i> killing rather than a <i>punitive</i> killing, right?" \n\nMark was <i>pretty</i> sure he knew what those words meant, but figured that this was important enough to ask for clarification. Besides, he'd already asked for Kyle's help, there wasn't any sense in trying to act superior to him now. "What exactly do you mean by that?" \n\n"Well, let's say there's someone who's killed half a billion people, but is on the edge of death. Now, judging purely by their past actions, this person is most likely the worst person in the world. <i>But</i> they're also quite unlikely to commit any future crimes. At the same time, there might be someone who has, to date, not killed anyone but in the future will be responsible for wiping out the entire human race. Now, they haven't done anything <i>yet</i> so it's probably unfair to call them the worst person in the world as of now, but in the long run, they'll be quite a bit worse than the first person. [[See what I mean?|MarkConsiders]]"\n
Robert Mugabe is the president of Zimbabwe. Currently 89 years old and rumored to be suffering from cancer, his government once had the support of its people and the international community, but has since lost it. His government has been accused of the killing and torture of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people, as well as driving his country into massive levels of inflation and unemployment. He has also unlawfully held onto power and restricted delivery of aid to groups and areas that oppose him.\n\n[[Back to the story|ResearchCandidates]]\n
According to the letter, Mark only had one hour to make his decision. Although it wasn't much time at all, Mark actually preferred it this way - he did all his best work at the last minute under a deadline anyway, and this way he wouldn't waste tons of time overthinking things and he wouldn't lament over not having spent enough time if he regretted his decision later. \n\nGiven his limited time, resources, and lack of any particularly useful pre-existing knowledge on the topic, he quickly narrowed his options down to two main paths: \n\n[[Research online, because when has the internet ever steered anyone wrong?|ResearchOnline]]\n\n[[Talk it over with his friends - after all, it would be best to get a few extra opinions and it'd be easy to make it sound like a hypothetical - hell, it might actually BE a hypothetical, after all.|CallSerafina]]\n\n
Mark opened his eyes, and was greeted by an unnerving sight. The two pieces of the string - which were less like string now, and more like a pair of black lightning bolts, shimmered in the air of his apartment. They coiled around each other, moving in ways Mark wasn't sure his brain was able to correctly process. \n\nThe pieces rose into the air, entwining around each other one final time before bolting away near-instantaneously through his roof, and out of view. Until just then, Mark had always had it in the back of his mind that despite the strangeness of the string, of the setup, of everything, that more likely than not, the whole thing <i>was</i> an elaborate prank, as much as he almost wanted it to be real. \n\nHe now knew two things: \n\nIt was real. \n\n[[And he no longer wanted it to be.|DictatorEpilogue]]
Joseph Kony is the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a guerilla group that has operated in Uganda. Kony has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the abduction of tens of thousands of children for use as sex slaves and child soldiers. \n\n[[Back to the story|ResearchCandidates]]
Mark considered the package. It was a small box, and was rather... fancy, for lack of a better word on Mark's part. Mark didn't remember ordering anything, but it <i>was</i> addressed to him, and he doubted it was junk mail from the look of it. Going inside and opening it up, he was disappointed to find a stapled stack of papers, but picking them up, he saw the [[strangest thing|TheString]] at the bottom of the box.
For the next several days, Mark called in sick to work. It wasn't entirely a lie - the whole experience with the 'string' had been far more harrowing that he had anticipated. For those days, Mark spent every waking moment scouring the internet for any evidence that the string had worked. He supposed that ultimately, it was pointless - after all, he didn't know <i>when</i> the person was to die, <i>who</i> it was to be, or even <i>how</i> they would die. \n\nUltimately, his searches proved fruitless, and he resolved himself to not knowing. After all, this <i>had</i> been a danger in making the choice he'd made, and he would have to live with it. \n\nAnd live with it he did. \n\nHe went about his life, unchanged from how it was before, but always with that burning hope that on that night he had done the most heroic act he could think of - \n\nHe had killed the worst person in the world. \n\n<b>The End.</b>
"Hello?" a familiar, upbeat voice emanated from the phone\n\n"Hey Sera." Mark answered apologetically\n\n"'s my least favorite brother." Serafina responded, her cheery tone tone turning instantly acidic\n\n"Well, seeing as I'm your only brother... I guess that makes me your favorite too, huh?" Mark joked, throwing some of Sera's trademark wit back at her. \n\nShe wasn't too pleased. "What do you want, Mark? Just calling up to be a huge dick to me and John again?" \n\nStill sore over their argument, Mark did his best to sound like he sincerely wanted to reconcile - it wasn't too hard, as he had been kind of sick of nursing a grudge for so long "Look Sera... I wanted to apologize for the other day. You and John are entitled to your opinions... even if I diagree with them." \n\n"Damn right we are." Sera responded with a quick defiance that might have surprised John had he not heard it a thousand times before.\n\n"Look, there's no sense letting a little argument stand between us for so long. No hard feelings right?" Mark attempted to sound apologetic \n\n"Well, I don't know if a shouting match followed by having to be thrown out of John's house counts as a 'little argument' but... apology accepted." Serafina was clearly relieved to have the matter settled, and Mark could honestly say he felt the same way... more or less. \n\n"So now that that's over with... did you want something from me like you usually do, or were you calling solely to apologize? Because if you were, I think the corner store's still open - I can buy some lottery tickets." \n\nSerafina's remark was only a little sarcastic. It was true - Mark usually didn't bother to actually <i>call</i> Serafina unless he wanted something - but then again, it wasn't like <i>she</i> never wanted anything from <i>him</i>. \n\nMark stopped to think for a second... how best to segue from his apology into asking for advice on his current predicament? Serafina loved talking about crazy moral hypotheticals, so it shouldn't be <i>too</i> hard, but he didn't exactly have a lot of time here, so he needed to get her talking right away. \n\n[[Just ask her about who the worst person in the world is straight up, apropos of nothing|apropos]]\n\n[[Start a conversation about something else, then work the real question in all subtle-like|subtle]]
Mark was a little flustered by Serafina's question. After all, it was the question he'd been thinking of nonstop ever since he decided he'd try to find the answer to it. \n\n"I'd say the worst person in the world is probably... the worst person in the world." \n\nSerafina looked unamused. "And I thought <i>I</i> was giving a cop-out answer. Seriously, Mark?" \n\nMark thought to himself - if he <i>was</i> allowed to use criteria to pick the worst person, why not just make it easy and have it go for the worst person in the world straight-up? Although... that meant leaving the decision for who the worst person in the world was to a magic string made by a company called "Murder Industries" which, on second thought, seemed like a monumentally bad idea. \n\n"I guess it's not a real answer, but I just don't know. There are a lot of bad people in the world." \n\nSerafina nodded knowingly. "That there are. Well, thanks for the apology, but I've got go." \n\nMark briefly thought about telling Sera to stay on the line so that she could give him more advice, but decided against it - he would have to make his own decision on this one in the end and besides, Sera had given him plenty of advice already. \n\n"Goodbye Sera." \n\n"Bye Mark." Sera hung up the phone and Mark was left once again in the dim light of his apartment. He glanced over at the strange box, still right where he left it on his table. He half thought about opening it up again, to check and see if maybe this whole thing wasn't just his imagination after all, but decided against it - just looking at the black string made him uncomfortable.\n\n<<if $SecondPass eq "no">>[[Mark pondered aloud "Well, I guess I might as well call Kyle and get his opinion too."|CallKyle]]<<endif>>\n<<if $SecondPass eq "yes">> With the call to his sister over with, it was [[time to make the final decision|FinalDecisionPrep]]<<endif>>
Who's the Worst Person in the World?\n
Mark sat and pondered for a good long while. During this time, he read through the other papers attached to the main letter from 'Murder Industries' (who names themselves that?!) In contrast to the rather curt tone of the main letter, the other pages were cluttered bricks of tiny legalese about the exact definition of 'thinking about someone', 'cutting a string', and far more interestingly, about the level to which the "target" (reading that set off a few alarms in Mark's head - were these people assassins?) needed to be described. According to the (rather ridiculous, Mark thought) claims of the papers, the one to be killed could be described specifically by name, or by a collection of traits - the papers claimed the string would be able to find any target defined in absolute terms with 100% accuracy. Mark thought that even purveyors of magic death string should know better than to claim something to be 100% anything, but at the same time, he didn't really feel like he was in a position to question things, even if there was someone to complain to... Which now that he thought about it, [[there might be.|WatchingMe]]
"...either the most prolific uncaught serial killer still alive or the most prolific uncaught rapist still alive. Or maybe the person who's done the most of both combined... to be honest, the thought makes me pretty uncomfortable - but I suppose if they really <i>are</i> the worst person in the whole damn world, then that would be the right reaction. Anyways, I know that's a bit of a cop-out, what with not naming someone specific, but...sometimes I think the worst problems are the ones we don't see."\n\n"No, that's... actually not a bad idea at all." Mark hadn't thought about trying to just straight-up kill "the person who'd done the most crimes of a certain type" but the rules the papers had laid out clearly allowed him to specify someone by those means. The only problem with going for someone that way, instead of a prominent public figure like a dictator, would be that it'd be much harder, if not impossible, to figure out whether the string had actually <i>worked</i>. Which, he supposed wasn't really <i>that</i> much of an issue - after all, if it was fake, it wouldn't work no matter who he used it on, and if it <i>was</i> real, then it'd work regardless of whether he could prove it or not. It wasn't like he planned on taking credit or anything anyway. \n\n[["So, who do <i>you</i> think is the worst person in the world then, Mark?"|MarksOpinion]]\n\n
Kim Jong-un is the Supreme Leader of North Korea, having succeeded his father, notorious dictator Kim Jong-il in December of 2011. Only 30 years old, he's the world's youngest head of state. Has threatened the United States with nuclear attack and continues his country's horrible abuse of its people, which may continue for some time due to his young age. \n\n[[Back to the story|ResearchCandidates]]
<<set $SeraPath = "yes">>Mark struggled to think of someone who would actually provide some meaningful insight into his situation. After all, he didn't exactly have a lot of time to spare. Kyle, a friend he'd known for a while through work, would be a good choice, but he doubted that a call with Kyle would take up his whole time - Kyle tended to shy away from long conversations, although if he got really into a topic he had been known to gush for quite a while. \n\nReluctantly, Mark realized that the one he really needed to call was his sister... Serafina. Normally, he wouldn't have a problem calling up his sister - they got along pretty well, despite having fairly different worldviews. But recently, they'd gotten into a rather big fight over her views on a rather prolific arsonist that had been menacing their town. Maybe he should just keep it local and kill the arsonist? It would certainly make things simpler... but Mark wouldn't let himself waste the potential to do some real, wide-scale good. \n\nAnd if that meant calling up his sister and apologizing? [[Then that was what he was going to do.|SeraPicksUp]]
Omar al-Bashir is the 7th President of Sudan, and is currently 69 years old. Gained power in a coup, suspended his country's constitution, and has been indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes by the International criminal court for his role in the war in Darfur. His army has been responsible for bombing civilians, as well as torturing and massacring non-Arabs. \n\n[[Back to the story|ResearchCandidates]]
Mark picked up the papers. They were on fine quality stock - the kind on which you'd print a resume or an invite to a fancy wedding. Mark looked them over, and felt he should be more incredulous, but the sheer wrongness of the "string" made him far less skeptical than he usually would be.\n\nDear Mr. Mark Michaels: \n\nYou have been selected to test the latest product of Murder Industries. Included with this document is one "String of Life", the product to be tested. \n\nThe specifics of this product are discussed in detail on the following pages, but the basic application is this: cut the string while thinking of someone and that person will die. There is no chance of mistaken identity, and no chance of repercussions for your actions.\n\nThere is no compensation for this test, aside from free usage of the product, and should you wish not to participate, simply do nothing. However, if you do wish to participate, you only have one hour, starting from the ringing of your doorbell to decide how to use the product, after which point the product will be revoked. \n\nMurder Industries is not interested in dictating your use of the product – that is entirely up to you, and the focus of the test. \n\nWe hope that despite only having one chance to use our product, you find its use enriching.\n\nRegards, \n\nMurder Industries \n\nMark's head swam as he wondered when exactly his life had turned into a story from an anime. He would have ignored the letter except that...[[that string...|StringDescription]] \n\nMark sat down in his gaming chair, its cushy form giving him no comfort, [[as he thought about what to do.|WhatToDo]]
For the next several days, Mark spent much of his free time searching the internet for any signs that the string might have worked. He supposed that ultimately, it was pointless - after all, he didn't know <i>when</i> the person was to die, <i>who</i> it was to be, or even <i>how</i> they would die. Maybe if he'd have chosen a different target he'd have at least have had <i>something</i> to go on, but with something as vague as 'the worst person in the world' he really had nowhere to even start looking. \n\nUltimately, his searches proved fruitless, and he resolved himself to not knowing. After all, this <i>had</i> been a danger in making the choice he'd made, and he would have to live with it. \n\nOne month later, Mark had almost succeeded in putting that night out of his mind when the doorbell rang. Mark looked at the clock, and thought that the time looked awfully close to the time when the package had been first delivered to him on that night. As he dismissed it as coincidence and the workings of an overactive imagination, he opened his door to find a letter. Picking it up, he found that it was addressed to him and was from a familiar sender - [[Murder Industries.|FollowUpStudy]]
Mark went about his life. Sometimes he wondered if he had made the right choice that day, but he was always quick to reassure himself that he had. Sure, there was a <i>chance</i> he could have done some good by killing someone that day. But on the other hand, things that looked like unnatural cracks in reality pedaled by companies calling themselves 'Murder Industries' were likely to bring nothing but pure evil and misery to the world. \n\nAt least, that's what would happen in a story, Mark thought. \n\nThe other side of it was that even if it would have been the worst person in the world, and even if he wouldn't have had to have seen it, Mark was happy not to have murder on his conscience. \n\nFrom that day on, Mark kept his eyes open for any more signs of the supernatural, but he never found any. He was somewhat disappointed by this in a sense (even though the experience had been far from 'fun'), but figured that it was only fair. After all, any given person should probably only get one chance to do something truly spectacular. \n\nHe had made his choice, and he stood by it.\n\n<b>The End.</b>
Mark decided that he'd best see what this...<i>thing's</i> deal was up close. After all, if he was imagining things, then it was just string, and if he wasn't, then it was probably literally made of nothing and he'd pass right through it. Pushing thoughts of his hand dissolving in a cascade of shadowy energy to the corner of his brain reserved for fantasies derived from too many games, he picked the string up. \n\nIt felt...weird. Different than what he had expected (although he couldn't pinpoint exactly what that was). It felt somehow both perfectly smooth and dangerously sharp at the same time. He moved it carefully over his hand to avoid being cut (an absurd notion given that he was holding a small length of black string and not, say, a length of razor wire, but this whole thing was rather absurd). \n\nWhatever this string was, one thing was for sure: it definitely wasn't ordinary. After a short time holding the string (he had intended to look at it longer, but its weird soft-sharpness made him more uneasy than he had expected), Mark decided that [[maybe the papers in the box would hold some answers|ReadPaper]].
Mark fell forward, face down onto the floor of his apartment with a dull thud. As blackness rapidly overtook his vision and his mind he heard a dry, old voice speaking in a tone of what he could only categorize as 'fatherly disappointment'. \n\n"You had a lot of potential, but as is so often the case with potential... it was wasted. But don't worry...someone else will carry on your duties in your stead. We can only hope that they have as... kind of intentions as you did. After all... the test isn't over. It never ends." \n\nAnd with that, Mark faded away into death - his last thought that if this was what happened to those who went against him, perhaps the decision to name the head of Murder Industries the worst person in the world was the right one...\n\n<b>The End.</b>
<<set $SecondPass = "yes">>Mark looked at the clock, realizing he hadn't tracked the <i>exact</i> time the doorbell had rung (in his defense, he thought, he hadn't exactly thought it would matter), but he had it close enough to know that he actually had some time left. After quickly congratulating himself on his swiftness so far, he considered what else he might do in his last bit of time before he had to make his final decision. \n\n<<if $SeraPath eq "no">>Mark considered that he probably had enough time to call up his sister and ask her opinion - sure, they didn't always see eye to eye and he had recently been in a fight with her, but he still valued her opinion, and she spent a lot more time thinking about moral issues than he did. [[It couldn't hurt to call her up.|SeraPicksUp]] <<endif>>\n<<if $InternetPath eq "no">>Mark thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to spend some of the last of his time doing some internet research. After all, [[when had the internet ever steered him wrong?|StartOfResearch]]<<endif>>\n
Bashar al-Assad is the president of Syria who was once seen as a potential reformer before cracking down and ordering military action against both rebels and civilians during a recent civil war. The nation-wide death toll has been in the tens of thousands, and his future actions regarding his nation are uncertain.\n\n[[Back to the story|ResearchCandidates]]
Mark considered the options he'd come up with himself, as well as those he had discussed with Kyle and Sera as he grabbed a pair of simple metallic shears from his desk and went to go take the black string from the box. \n\nFirst, he considered the dictators and famous criminals he'd researched. They were all terrible people, certainly, and most of them would likely go on to commit a variety of other atrocities in the coming years. They also had the 'advantage' of being easily verifiable - he could find out for sure whether they were dead or not simply by turning on the news. However... their nature as dictators meant that killing them didn't guarantee anything would actually <i>improve</i>. Furthermore, his research hadn't exactly been exhaustive - while these people most likely committed all the crimes they'd been accused of, there <i>was</i> an (admittedly narrow) chance that they weren't <i>completely</i> terrible people - and he <i>had</i> resolved to find the <i>worst</i> person in the world, after all. \n\nThen, he thought about Kyle's idea of trying to kill someone based on criteria so as to prevent horrible things before they happened. He had been thinking on this one quite a bit since his conversation with Kyle, and figured he could use some legalese-style phrasing so as to prevent his intentions being misinterpreted. Something along the lines of 'The person who, if not killed this way, would go on to cause, directly or indirectly, the most combined murders and/or rapes.' or perhaps 'The person who, if not killed this way, would go on to cause, directly or indirectly, the most damage to the environment.' This was a solid idea, and held a lot of potential for good, but its lack of a proper way to verify that it had actually even <i>happened</i> and its reliance on interpretation and knowledge of the future made Mark quite wary of it.\n\nNext, he considered Serafina's choices when he posed the question to her: either the most prolific uncaught serial killer still alive, the most prolific uncaught rapist still alive, or the one who'd done the most of both combined. This was sort of a hybrid of the last two methods in a sense - it punished past crimes, but by specifying that they're uncaught, it would also presumably prevent future crimes as well. Although it shared the drawbacks of some of the previous options as well, because it was largely punishment instead of prevention and would have no way of being verified.\n\nFinally, he considered a few of more 'off-beat' ideas he'd come up with himself - naming simply "The Worst Person In The World" (which mainly suffered from leaving value judgments in the hands of mysterious, morally questionable magic) or just not using the string at all (for there was always the chance it was a Monkey's Paw type deal and anything he chose would backfire in the worst way possible). \n\nOne last option, he thought of just then, was to kill the one in charge of "Murder Industries". He had a sneaking suspicion that this would be a bad idea, and that even if it worked it would most definitely cause more strife than it fixed. Still, he couldn't help but appreciate the sheer irony of it. \n\nHe looked up at the clock. He must only have a minute or so left, now. [[It was time to make his decision.|FinalDecision]]
Mark opened his eyes, and was greeted by an unnerving sight. The two pieces of the string - which were less like string now, and more like a pair of black lightning bolts, shimmered in the air of his apartment. They coiled around each other, moving in ways Mark wasn't sure his brain was able to correctly process. \n\nThe pieces rose into the air, entwining around each other one final time... before unceremoniously falling down and fading out of existence. \n\nMark wasn't quite sure if it had worked, but since he had no way of knowing what it working was <i>supposed</i> to look like, he supposed that it must have.\n\nLeaning back where he was sitting, Mark realized just how tired the whole thing had made him, and resolved to [[get some sleep|MarkEpilogue]]\n
Mark opened his eyes, and was greeted by an unnerving sight. The two pieces of the string - which were less like string now, and more like a pair of black lightning bolts, shimmered in the air of his apartment. They coiled around each other, moving in ways Mark wasn't sure his brain was able to correctly process. \n\nThe pieces rose into the air, entwining around each other one final time before bolting towards him near-instantaneously...\n\n[[and plunging right into his heart.|MurderIndustriesEpilogue]]
Mark opened his eyes, and put the scissors down. As he went to put the 'string' back into the box, he was surprised to see movement from it. Only it wasn't quite movement - it was almost as if both ends of the string had been lit on fire, except that the sparking flames were as dark and unnatural as the string itself. Not wanting to find out how the strange flames felt, he dropped the string - only to have it float mid-air right where he had let go of it.\n\nAfter just a few seconds more, the dark flames consumed the string and it was gone, as if it never existed. "I guess I wasn't a moment too soon in making my decision... although the outcome would have been the same either way." Mark sighed a long sigh of relief that the whole thing was over with. \n\nPutting the box and the papers (which he half-expected to have vanished as well) away on a dusty shelf, he went back to playing video games, trying his best to [[forget the whole thing had ever happened - because after all, nothing had really <i>happened</i> anyway|NoCutEpilogue]]
The letter claimed that the reason for giving him the string was to test it as a product (the implications of which Mark chose to ignore, for now). If that was the case, then it stood to reason that they'd have to have some way of monitoring his use of it. Mark quickly craned his head around his apartment, eyeing the corners and crevices for any signs of recording devices. He found nothing, but supposed that if the string could read his mind to do its magic, then as long as they were in crazytown, Murder Industries may as well have been able to read his mind too - which was certainly a rather disturbing thought.\n\nBut he supposed that none of that mattered. No, what truly mattered was what he was going to do with this opportunity. Ignoring the possibility it was all an elaborate prank (since in that case he'd lose just an hour of his time, and besides - the string supposedly operated on thoughts, so how would the pranker even get the satisfaction of knowing who he'd chosen?), Mark decided [[there was only one course of action that really made sense.|TheDecision]]
<<set $InternetPath = "yes">>Mark decided the best course of action would be to spend the majority of his time researching online. Besides, most of his friends were busy with something anyway, and he could call them up at the end for a quick opinion. Mark wasn't an expert at internet research by any stretch of the imagination, but [[he did know how to use a search engine|StartOfResearch]]. \n
The phone only had to ring once before Mark could hear Kyle's nasally voice answering. Mark probably should have found it odd that Kyle answered so quickly, but from his experience with Kyle that was pretty typical. Whether this was a sign of a desperate need for attention or a diligent effort to be as prompt as possible, Mark couldn't say. \n\n"What's got you calling at this hour, Mark?" Kyle asked with more than hint of curiosity. \n\n"Well, I was getting into an argument online" Mark lied, "and the topic was rather interesting... I thought I'd call you up and see what your opinion was." \n\nKyle seemed puzzled by this, and for a brief moment Mark was kicking himself over having come up with such a lame lie. But it wasn't long before Kyle came back with "An argument you needed <i>my</i> expert opinion on, eh? Must be important." \n\nMark mentally sighed with relief. He had forgotten just how much Kyle loved both getting to weigh in on outlandish arguments and having his ego stroked - even if it was only implied. Mark decided to amp things up a bit, as he didn't have the time for Kyle's typical long-winded explanations. "Well, me and some other people were having an argument about who's the worst person in the world. And so of course I thought of you..." Mark quickly caught himself, realizing that sounded pretty bad "Not because <i>you're</i> the worst person or anything ridiculous like that, but because I know you're so knowledgeable about world politics and moral theory and that kind of stuff." \n\nKyle was eating it up. He had a bad habit of talking about his 'moral theories' to anyone who would listen and most who wouldn't - and Mark had made it clear several times that he thought Kyle's opinions on morality could go stuff themselves - not because he disliked the opinions particularly (to be honest he hadn't paid enough attention to find out what his opinions even <i>were</i>), but because Kyle would go on about them seemingly endlessly when Mark was trying to get work done. \n\nThinking Mark had finally realized his genius, Kyle settled in for the discussion. "The worst person in the world, eh? An interesting question - [[and I have a few ideas for who it might be."|KylesOpinion]]
"Well, I mean to figure out who the worst person in the world is I guess you'd have to decide how much individual crimes are...'worth'. Is murder worse than rape? How much worse? Does ordering people to commit a crime count the same as doing it yourself? Does it count at all? How about denying people access to the necessities of life? Are we only counting past crimes, or are we trying to account for future ones too?" \n\nMark had to think for a minute. He had briefly thought about a few of the issues Serafina mentioned, but he had kind of been hoping that he would be able to find a "clear winner". But now that he thought about it, it didn't seem like it would be that simple. He supposed when it came to things in the real world, it never was. \n\n"We could spend all day debating over issues like those, but in the end I don't think either of us would be happy with each other, and honestly, who's to say we'd be any closer to the right answer anyway?" \n\nMark's disappointment must have crept into his voice, because Serafina's response had a peppy tone to it "Don't be too sad. It's not like we're the first ones to be unable to decide on a mutually agreeable objective system of morality." \n\nWhen she put it like that, Mark thought, it seemed like finding a perfect choice may have been more of a pipe dream than he originally thought. Still, while the objectively right choice may not be easy to find, there would certainly be plenty of <i>wrong</i> choices - and he needed to make sure that, if he couldn't be completely right, he could at least be as un-wrong as possible. \n\n"Well who would <i>you</i> say is the worst person in the world then, Serafina? I mean, an opinion doesn't have to be objectively right to have weight, after all." \n\n"That's... a surprisingly enlightened view coming from you, Mark." Serafina said, half-appreciatively, half-mockingly. \n\n"Ha ha." Mark's words dripped with sarcasm. \n\n"Well, I might give you a different answer if you gave me a while to think about it, [[but I'd say the worst person in the world is probably...|SerafinasOpinion]]"
At the bottom of the box was what Mark at first thought to be a piece of black string, and he would have thought nothing more of it except wasn't string. Well, it wasn't and it was. Mark almost struggled to comprehend just <i>what</i> exactly he was looking it. It was like a thin, snaking hole in the world, a void that shouldn't be. Mark reached out to pick it up, to feel it and see whether he was imagining things, but then he stopped himself. Was touching this bizzare object a good idea? \n\n[[Pick up the 'string'|PickUpString]]\n[[Read the papers first|ReadPaper]]\n[[Put all this stuff away and go back to playing games|PlayGames]]
Mark opened the box, and grabbed the strange black string. He almost felt like it was writhing around, slicing at reality and leaving black scars in its wake, although he quickly dismissed such notions as fantasy - more out of hope that he was wrong than out of certainty. \n\nGrabbing his shears, he put them over the string, and closed his eyes as he concentrated on the one he was to kill. \n\n[[Omar al-Bashir|DictatorEnding]]\n[[Kim Jong-un|DictatorEnding]]\n[[Bashar al-Assad|DictatorEnding]]\n[[Joseph Kony|DictatorEnding]]\n[[Robert Mugabe|DictatorEnding]]\n[[The person who, if not killed this way, would go on to cause, directly or indirectly, the most combined murders and/or rapes.|NoRevealEnding]]\n[[The person who, if not killed this way, would go on to cause, directly or indirectly, the most damage to the environment.|NoRevealEnding]]\n[[The most prolific uncaught serial killer still alive.|NoRevealEnding]]\n[[The most prolific uncaught rapist still alive.|NoRevealEnding]]\n[[The person who has, combined, performed the most murders and rapes, but is still uncaught.|NoRevealEnding]]\n[[The worst person in the world|MarkEnding]]\n[[The one in charge of Murder Industries|MurderIndustriesEnding]]\n[[No one|NoCutEnding]]\n
Stephen Bretall
Dear Mr. Mark Michaels: \n\nIt has been one month since your participation in the test for the "String of Life". Your actions discovered a flaw in the design of our product, and we commend your creativity in its use. Thanks to you, we’ll be able to make vital improvements on the final incarnation of the design. Unfortunately, your use of the product was not completed as intended. Because of this and because of the ingenuity you displayed in your testing of the “String of Life”, we would like to formally invite you to participate in the testing of another of our fine products. \n\nParticipation is strictly voluntary, however, if you would like to participate, please sign this paper on the line below and put it back on your doorstep within an hour from the time of your doorbell ringing. \n\nUnfortunately, no further details on the product can be revealed at this time, however, you will be generously compensated for your time and effort should you choose to participate. We look forward to seeing how your inventiveness manifests next.\n\nRegards, \n\nMurder Industries \n\nAs Mark finished reading the letter, his stomach dropped. Well, he thought... I wasted my first chance to change the world - might as well try again. \n\nWith a sense of grim foreboding, he signed his name, put the letter on his doorstep, and waited. \n\n<b>To be continued?</b>
Mark considered the implications of a "pre-emptive" killing. From what he'd read of the supplementary papers that came with the string, such a request should be well within its ability - the instructions were quite explicit on what it could do, and something of this nature was even given in one of the examples he'd skimmed over, now that he thought about it. \n\nStill... the concept didn't sit too well with him. He could buy that there was a magic death string, but he wasn't sure he was ready to accept that it could look into the future and accurately determine whether a person who had yet to do anything wrong would be responsible for future crimes. Then again... this was <i>magic</i> he was dealing with - who was he to say what it was capable of? And the chance to avert what could potentially be history's greatest disaster <i>was</i> an enticing thought... \n\n"That's an interesting idea, Kyle." \n\n"It is. And from the sound of it, the others in your argument were thinking along the lines of punishing people for what they'd already done. Which is fine - criminals <i>should</i> be punished after all, but if you're going to be doing the <i>most</i> good by killing only one person, then preventing a disaster is the best way to go, for sure. That is... I'm assuming this is an 'anything goes' situation, right? You don't have to pick someone who could actually be located with normal human tools?" \n\nIt was just like Kyle to make an outlandish assumption like that, but for once, he was actually right "Yeah, this is an anything goes magical death-machine type deal." \n\n"Sweet." Kyle said, sounding somewhat triumphant \n\nThe more Mark thought about it, the more he thought that [[things were not sweet at all.|ConsiderGivingUp]]
Mark opened his eyes, and was greeted by an unnerving sight. The two pieces of the string - which were less like string now, and more like a pair of black lightning bolts, shimmered in the air of his apartment. They coiled around each other, moving in ways Mark wasn't sure his brain was able to correctly process. \n\nThe pieces rose into the air, entwining around each other one final time before bolting away near-instantaneously through his roof, and out of view. Until just then, Mark had always had it in the back of his mind that despite the strangeness of the string, of the setup, of everything, that more likely than not, the whole thing <i>was</i> an elaborate prank, as much as he almost wanted it to be real. \n\nHe now knew two things: \n\nIt was real. \n\n[[And he no longer wanted it to be.|NoRevealEpilogue]]
The string... if that was even what it was. It looked like a cut in the world, a thin crack running through reality itself. Mark had never thought something so small and seemingly inconsequential would freak him out so much. It wasn't that it was really particularly terrifying in and of itself - it was more that it was concrete proof that the world had more to it than Mark had believed - and now that anything was possible, it seemed to Mark that most possibilities were bad. \n\n[[Back to the Story|ReadPaper]]