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Bitter Oracle - Chapter 4 – Faustian Pact

by papillote

Now that we have met our main character (read chapters 2 and 3), let's find out what Stephen Carlin has been up to since the Prologue.

People didn’t become doctors by accident. Stephen Carlin had always deluded himself that his choice had been motivated by a willingness to help others. Maybe it was more like an incapacity to ask for help. As he waited outside his best friend’s office, he felt like he was about to get his nails pulled out.

“Mr. Griffith will see you now,” the secretary told him and opened the door for him.

“Thank you,” he mumbled as he blew past her.

“Stephen!” Peter rose from behind his huge desk. “I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Sorry. I should have called ahead.”

“Don’t be stupid. Come on, sit down.”

Carlin sat on the edge of his seat, somehow feeling like he was likely to run to the door at some point. The impulse strengthened when Peter’s sharp eyes ran up, then down Stephen. They narrowed, and he stopped smiling. “What’s wrong? You look a wreck.”

Stephen stroked a hand down his face, feeling every bit said wreck. He barely slept at all, he often forgot to eat – or shower. Whenever his exhausted body tried to shut down, he remembered the deadline he was running against, or he drew an energy boost from his growing fascination with his new subject matter.

“I’ve got a problem.”

“Oh. What’s going on?”

Something – maybe disappointment – filled Peter’s eyes. He probably expected that another friend had come begging for a hand-out.

He was right.

“It’s Berenice. She…She’s dying.”

Carlin buried his face in his hands. His eyes burnt, but no tears came out.

“My God, Stephen, what’s wrong with her?”

Stephen’s face went warm. The scientist in him knew there was no shame in it but, all the same, Trances weren’t like episodes of another illness. They caused unease, fear, disgust. He shrugged away his friend’s hand on his shoulder. “The night of the Nobel Prize-” Maybe it was irrational, but he was angry at the Prize. “-she had a Trance.”

“Jesus…I’m sorry. I don’t suppose there is any hope?” Peter asked.

Stephen let his silence speak for itself. Slowly, he raised his head until his eyes met his friend’s. “Do you still believe I can change the world?”

Peter Griffith sat in his chair again, on the other side of the desk, composure slowly coming back to normal. Gravely, he replied, “Yes, I’ll always believe that.”

“Well, I think I can find a cure.”

“To the Sight?! You think you can cure Oracles?!” Disbelief warred with compassion on his face, then some other, unnamed emotion joined in the mix, and he quickly glanced around, as if afraid someone could have heard. He leaned over the desk and, in a deliberately lowered voice, he asked, “Do you really think that’s possible? Can you do it?”

“Oh, given time, I can. But I don’t have much time.”

“You…” Peter faltered, then his eyes darkened when he realized why the deadline. “Sure. What can I do? What do you need?”

“Money. Means. Complete confidentiality.”

“Of course, a cure would be priceless.”

“That’s not the issue,” Stephen replied, dreading the next words out of his mouth. “I need confidentiality because of the shortcuts I might have to take regarding methodology.”

“Methodology,” Peter repeated, and sat back. He clearly knew what that meant. “Illegal or simply unethical?”


Silence fell between them. Stephen Carlin started chewing on his lips. He had to bite back the urge to apologize, explain, something like, “I realize I’m asking you to take a huge risk.”, or “I’m already getting promising results.”, or “I know what I’m doing.” He didn’t say any of that. He hated whiners and over-explainers. Peter did too.

At long last, though, he felt compelled to break the silence, “You’d…”

Peter raised a hand, interrupting him. “I’m thinking. Just give me a minute.”

“Of course.”

Peter swung to his feet and started pacing around the office. “You know I trust you, admire you.”

“I feel the same.”

“You say you can do it and I believe you, but it’s my company’s money I’d be risking on that. And if you break the law, I’ll be just as liable. I’ve got responsibilities toward my board, my family, my employees.”

“I know,” Stephen acknowledged, and braced himself for rejection.

And Peter paced back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth. “But if you can do it, God, that’d be a game changer. They’d forgive about everything for a cure. The possible benefits…” He paused, looked pained. “I don’t mean to sound insensitive, I understand that those are crass motives, compared to your daughter’s life, but those are motives I can pitch to a board.”

“I understand. And you’re right.” Stephen shrugged. “There is a lot of money to make here. Over a million people worldwide.”

“Let’s say I’m ready to give you an agreement in principle. The Griffin Group would have to own all your researches and all you produce.”

Something deflated inside Stephen. “Yes.”

“You’d have to work on the premises we’ll make available to you.”


“With personnel we’d provide, and you’d only get to vet.”


Peter took his seat again. “Alright,” he said, every bit the confident CEO. “What do you need? I want a list. Money, personnel, equipment, facilities.”

Back to Bitter and her one-night stand in Chapter 5.

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564 Reviews

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Reviews: 564

Wed Jul 21, 2021 6:24 pm
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MailicedeNamedy wrote a review...

Hi papillote,

Mailice here with a short review! :D

First of all I have to say that I really like the fact that you always do a kind of recap at the beginning and end of each chapter. I think it gives you a better overview when you switch between the protagonists.

There is always the danger that when you change the character from one chapter to another, the writing style doesn't change. Especially when it goes from a first person narrator to a neutral narrator. I found it a relief to see that you left out the details that Bitter would probably have observed in this case. Of course, the focus was also on Stephen and a possible rescue of his daughter, but I still liked that you took a different step here.

I liked the conversation. It had a good tone and I liked that you could read out that both men trust each other, even if they both live in different areas of the capitalist world. I also thought it was a good thing to include the chapter about Stephen now, because after all there was still that cliffhanger from the first chapter and as a reader I continued to have that in the back of my mind.

I thought you switched between Stephen and Carlin very frequently. I think at least in the narrative you should keep it to one name, preferably the family name, so as not to confuse the reader. I thought a few times that it was still part of a dialogue when I suddenly read Stephen instead of Carlin.

I thought the conversation was too rushed towards the end. I think you could maybe expand on that a bit more. You made it clear at the beginning that Stephen was desperate, and this desperation changed into hope and determination during the chapter. I would have liked to see this change of feeling in more detail as the conversation went on.

Other points that caught my eye:

"What's wrong? You look a wreck."

I think there's a "like" missing here between "look" and "a".

Peter Griffith sat in his chair again, on the other side of the desk, composure slowly coming back to normal. Gravely, he replied,

Here it would read better if you wrote "behind the desk" rather than "on the other side".

"You say you can do it and I believe you, but it's my company's money I'd be risking on that. And if you break the law, I'll be just as liable. I've got responsibilities towards my board, my family, my employees."

I really like the way you've portrayed Griffith here. He is a realist who is not blinded by power or money, but is open to new ideas that can mean progress. And yet he also thinks of his employees. I also like the point that he puts his family before the employees.

I found it to be a great developed chapter with good points and a continuing exciting story.

Have fun writing!


papillote says...

Thank you for the review, Mailice. It's always a nice little surprise to come home from work and read one. Your advice's especially helpful since english isn't my first language and I don't really have a feel for normal, everyday conversations. Thanks

When I read it, I don't really notice that English is not your first language. I think especially in conversations (English is not my first language either) there are two layers, the "realistic approach" in whatever language and the "insert things that are common in the foreign language". (It sounded better explained in my head than here. :D) Did you write the story in your language for the first time or did you start writing it in English right away?

papillote says...

No, I wrote it in english. It was fun, but maybe it was a mistake. My english isn't good enough to do justice to the story, and I've got about 25 chapters to translate to french now -_-' What's your first language?

But that's heavy-handed, to consider it a mistake. I think when you write something in a foreign language, you can only improve. If you claim that you don't do justice for the story, I'm even more interested to see what changes when it's in French. It's certainly exciting to see the differences in it. I'm a German speaker, btw, (but I'm also fluent in French; I had it for over 10 years at school).

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Fri Jun 08, 2018 11:16 am
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ExOmelas wrote a review...

Hey, like Iggy I also have no nit-picks, so that's great!

I do have a question. Is the conclusion I'm meant to draw from the timing of the Nobel night that this was in some way related to the beginning of the existence of Oracles? It sounds like that's what you're getting at but given that I'm on the fourth chapter now that probably is an element of world-building I ought to know. I can understand why you wouldn't tell me for suspense reasons, but I think it would make more sense to have in the first chapter some hint that this was the beginning of Oracle-ness and then in this chapter to release me from my by now three chapter wish for explanation.

Pretty much everything else works perfectly in this chapter. This doesn't connect directly to Bit's chapters but honestly it would probably be too on-the-nose if it did. The characters are re-introduced well and it's really interesting to see their fall from the peak of their lives the last time I saw them. Maybe a little bit more about what their work situation is (Stephen was worried about losing class time last we saw him, I think?) so that would satisfy some questions that are a little bit left hanging from the first chapter, but what you have is interesting enough so that's not urgent.

The only other question I have is some curiosity about why the Stephen chapters are way way shorter than the Bit chapters xD

Hope this helps,
Biscuits :)

papillote says...

Nop, Stephen has nothing to do with the beginning of the existence of Oracles. He's trying to find a cure because his daughter is one. The "Stephen" pieces are very short because...Hm, suspense.

ExOmelas says...

Ohhh okay, I guess I'm just imposing plot tropes on it xD

Also looking at the next Bit chapter I take back what I said about chapter length anyway :P

papillote says...

Hehe, I'm trying to be more mindful of chapter length, but it feels like I'm writing scenes, rather than chapters. Feels weird.

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212 Reviews

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Sun Apr 01, 2018 7:23 pm
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EverLight wrote a review...

1. What I liked
I loved how you bring Jesus into the story. I also loved the suspence.
2. Clearity & Plot
The plot's fine the problem is I really don't exactly get where Oracles come in.
3. Characters & Character develoupment
One thing I did notice though is that somehow you didn't seem to give the characters a personality. Of course that might come later, however I also didn't catch anything I could relate to. You might want to consider adding some humaness to them.
4. Over all
Good job I loved it. I hope you were not bothered by this.
Great job keep up the good work.

papillote says...

Thanks for the review. I'm glad you liked the chapter. It's very short, so you'd have to read the rest of the story to get a better understanding of the characters and of what an Oracle is.
I'm glad you enjoyed Jesus's cameo appearance in this chapter.

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Sun Apr 01, 2018 6:59 am
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Iggy wrote a review...

Hi there! Just dropping by for a quick review. :) I hope you don't mind, but I haven't read any of the previous chapters, so I'll be giving you a review just based on this chapter alone.

Okay, wow! I have absolutely no nitpicks with this. None at all. I know that isn't very helpful, but I seriously have nothing to complain about. This was really interesting and I definitely want to read more of this! I might just come back for future installments because this has an interesting plot and I love the tone and pace you have set. You are doing an amazing job here and everything in this chapter was just perfect to me. Great dialogue between the characters, great character development, great pacing, great plot telling, great imagery, just... great. xD

I seriously enjoyed reading every second of this chapter and I look forward to reading more! I hope this review helped, even though it wasn't very constructive, haha! Honestly, though, I have nothing to critique, because I can't find anything wrong with this chapter. Great job. I can't wait to read more. :)

- Iggs

papillote says...

Thanks, I'm not going to complain about you liking the chapter. :D
I hope you like the rest of the story.
Thank you for taking the time to review this.

"He looks like a turtle who's been through the Vietnam war."
— SirenCymbaline the Kiwi