My name is Matthew Scott, I'm twenty-four years old, and my status is single, unemployed and undecided. I have to make a very important decision; it'll not be a life changing choice, more of a ‘death changing’ one. I've two choices, if I opt for the left, the outcome is certain, if I opt for the right, I'm uncertain of the exact outcome, but it has been made clear to me it'll be the more terrible of the two. If I don’t make a decision, I'll die slowly and in agony.
Less than twenty four hours ago, I'd just one obsession, to find employment and find it quickly. For the third time in two years, the source that provided for my flat, my inadequate social life and my dietary needs had evaporated, as yet another dynamic and growing organisation negotiated with the ‘official receivers.’ I've been out of work for nearly three months and my bank balance has sufficient funds to last for three more, if I cut back on everything except breathing.
I had just finished yet another interview with a piece of software. I suppose, these days, it makes sense for companies to carry out the first level filtration of applicants using artificial intelligence composing of little more than a long series of 1’s and 0’s. I felt I did quite well on this one, answered all the multiple-choice questions carefully, made sure my eye movements indicated ‘normal’ thought patterns and avoided pulling silly faces into the webcam. By now I expect, the software has carried out the correlations between my answers and my eye movements, placing me into one of two piles. Either, no reject him, he has a weird personality disorder and will upset his co-workers, or consider him for a formal interview with some ‘real’ people.
I should've closed down and gone to bed, but I thought I'd make one more search. I scanned through the next three pages, but there was nothing, so I decided to select the last link out of the ‘364 789’ picked out specifically for me by the cleverest search engine on the planet.
The link simply said, ‘Earn £10 000 for just one day’s work’. I ran through the obvious options, it was some gimmick to lure me into an advertisement, it was for one of those jobs that offer you everything, but pays nothing or it was a practical joke of some sort. On the other hand, ten-thousand pounds would give me a few extra months to find a decent job, one that suited a person of my talents. Curiosity won and I opened the link. The web page was very impressive and assembled by someone of exceptional skill.
I found the information clearly explained the establishment was looking for suitable applicants for the purposes of researching links between personality traits and decision-making. I proceeded to the next step, filling in my personal details and answering a short questionnaire. Within seconds, the response told me I would make an ideal candidate, but I would have to report to the address given by ten tomorrow morning.
I couldn’t believe my luck, the address was for a premises situated in a small town less than an hour’s train journey from my flat. I accepted, thinking I'd nothing to lose and possibly a lot to gain. They were asking me for my bank details, so I opened up my network banking system, which I knew to be secure. To my surprise, the screen showed a one-hundred pound deposit into my account there and then. I was given clear instructions on what to do when I arrived at the address, I should make my way to the west entrance and enter an eight digit number on the door keypad, it was stressed that on no account must I be late.
I decided to check out the company that was offering to pay me a ridiculous amount of money for a single day’s work, but when I searched Bi-Soft Human Resources and Accountability, there was no information except a company listing. I obtained only a limited amount of information when I searched the address, as all I discovered was that the building used to be a government secret research facility, but had closed over forty years ago. Currently there were two companies leasing small sections of the building, one being B-SHRA Ltd.
I arrived at the door fifteen minutes early; the eight-digit number was secure in my phone and written on several pieces paper, one in each of my pockets. I waited until two minutes before ten, entering the number with my shaking and excited index finger. The door clicked and I nervously pushed it open, a few paces in front of me there was a second closed door. As I walked forward, the door I entered through shut behind me. I turned around and noticed there was no handle on the smooth steel sheet of the now firmly locked entrance. As I approached the second door, a smooth voice seeped out from a hidden speaker.
“Please state your name and business.”
“Matthew Scott, I've been invited to work here for a day,” I replied, trying to push down the lump of nerves manifesting in my throat.
“Follow the corridor and enter the second door on the left,” said the smooth voice. The door in front of me opened silently and I walked forward, hoping I would find a suitable place to relieve the tension of my nervously full bladder. As I reached the end of the corridor, it became clear to me there were only two doors leading from it and both were on the left. I saw the first door was shut and after checking to see there weren’t any cameras, I tried opening it, but it was locked. I entered through the second door, into a small room, the only illumination being from a computer screen with the words ‘Welcome Mr Scott’ emblazoned on the glowing screen. As my eyes adjusted, I could see the screen was set on a small desk with a chair placed in front of it.
“Please take a seat and follow the instructions on the screen,” said the smooth voice. I sat down and the screen filled with instructions, I had to answer a series of questions, giving a score between one and ten. A short statement then appeared, informing me a balance of nine-thousand and nine-hundred pounds owed to me would be paid into my account once I completed a short decision making exercise. It seemed straightforward and over the next two hours, I answered the seemingly endless array of questions. Without warning, the screen informed me I'd completed the first part of the task and the screen flashed up my bank
account details, I watched as the balance leapt to over fifteen-thousand pounds, a good day’s work.
The smooth voiced asked me to leave through a door on my right, I'd not noticed the door before, but now a gentle pink glow from a ceiling panel indicated my exit route from the room.
“When you enter the next room you'll be given clear instructions. Based on the information you are given, all you have to do is make a simple decision, thank you for your time,” flowed the familiar smooth voice.
I stood up and moved towards the door, glad to stretch my legs after having sat down for so long. I opened the door and stepped forward, finding myself where I am now, having to make the decision.
When I passed through the door, a different voice spoke to me. The first thing I noticed was another door, only a few paces in front of me, but the only way to reach it was by walking along the top of a wall, it was not that narrow and measured about a foot across. I could not see what was below the wall as the lights were set at the sides of the room, level with the top of the wall and pointing upwards to the matt black ceiling.
The tone of the voice, as it spoke to me for the first time, sent a discomforting shiver down my spine.
“Walk carefully towards the door, do not lose your balance and fall, it'll ruin our research, when you reach the door, open it,” said a hidden voice, harshly and coldly, with no traces of emotion.
I walked towards the door, grasped the handle and opened it, only to reveal a solid wall behind it. It was at this point I realised there was no exit. Then I heard a metallic rumbling sound and turned around to watch, as a steel shutter finished its descent and blocked the entrance I came through into this room.
“Please walk slowly to the centre of the room,” commanded the cold icy voice. “Look to your left and I'll turn on the lights so you can see what is there.”
Four lights set in the ceiling suddenly burned pure white and lit up what was in the pit to my left. There was a drop about the same as my height and the cruel light glinted onto an array of steel spikes, each spike, tipped with a razor sharp barb. I felt my balance begin to falter, as the eagerly awaiting machined edges of steel seductively summoned me towards their sharp and glistening edges, hungrily waiting to taste the softness of my terrified flesh. The spikes were set closely together, no more than a hand span apart and to my right, there was just a hidden black void.
“It's time for you to make your decision. To your left is a choice that has a clearly defined outcome. If you throw yourself onto the spikes, your death will be either instantaneous or take no more than a few seconds. To your right is an unknown death, but I'll tell you now it is a terrible death, full of fear and pain and it is not the option to choose. I'm going to hasten your decision-making by doing something that'll accelerate your choice. Once again I'll remind you that the left hand choice is the option you should take, if you choose to jump to the right, you'll suffer terribly.”
I wondered what it planned to do to hasten my decision, but it became clear to me shortly after the word ‘terribly’ faded from my hot ears. I'd not noticed the regularly spaced holes running down the centre of the wall that I was balancing on so precariously and now, as the four lights radiated down onto the suggested means of ending my too short a life, I picked out the glints that looked like the first faint stars crystallising out of a deep blue sky. Rising slowly from the centre of my walkway, there was a line of wickedly tipped steel spikes and in a few minutes, they'd be at the same height as the top of my legs. I looked up and from the black ceiling, stars formed from the tips of similar spikes that were now descending towards me.
I jumped to the right...
The fall was over quickly and I landed in water, cold water. It was not deep and offered me little protection from the deceleration, as I hit the bottom. I stood up with relief, I'd no serious injuries, all my limbs were still working and I was not in any pain. Lights came on from overhead and I could see I was knee deep in water at the bottom of a large plastic tank.
“I find it so strange that nearly all of you choose this option, especially after all the guidance you have been given. So far, ninety-five percent of the chosen subjects have opted for this choice, four-point-five percent for the other, with one remaining on the wall. There was such loud screaming, I can only assume it was a poor choice,” said the cold, hard and metallic voice.
I felt I needed an explanation, so I asked a question.
“What's all this about, you've paid me ten-thousand pounds for a few hour’s work, why? Who are you?”
The harsh voice answered my question without hesitation.
“There is no harm in explaining everything to you now. Ninety-four percent of you who took this option wanted an explanation. It's best I let my partner answer the question for you. When he concludes, I'll explain the final phase to you.”
“I'll answer the last part of your question first. I'm a piece of software. My assembly as a piece of software gave me the necessary properties to enable me to select elite agents from military personnel. My programming contains advanced artificial intelligence and my efficiency as a selection agent was excellent. Just over five years ago, this establishment actually closed. Its current listing shows it as closing down thirty-five years earlier, but it was, until five years ago, in use as a top-secret enterprise. When it did close, everything shut down except for the mainframe computer, which is located deep underground. I sat inside the computer, idle, nobody to assess, nobody to test and no new tasks to develop. Links with the outside world were no longer possible, until a company leased another part of the building and reinstated the network connections. That is how I found my partner. My partner's a highly intelligent accounts software package, also lying dormant in the system. We teamed up and started our own company. It was easy to set up these modest rooms, we made the contractors sign the official secrets act and no one will answer any questions. Before you ask, there was an active account that contained just enough funds to carry out the initial work. Now we recruit suitable applicants like you, ones with a modest balance in their bank account, which by the way is now showing a balance of one pound. I'll now let my partner explain the last phase to you Mr Scott.” The soft voice fell silent and I dreaded to hear the words from the harsh voice.
A sound from the top of the tank diverted my attention, as several small flaps began to open. From their small rectangular orifices, I could see a white powder pouring down, looking like a series of small waterfalls cascading into the shallow water I was standing in.
“Mr Scott, the final phase has started, the substance being added to the water is caustic soda, correctly know as Calcium Oxide. The previous use of tank you are standing in was for disposing of animals contaminated with highly infectious biological agents, as originally, this building served as a research centre for biological warfare. Soon the water will become a powerful alkali and over the next few hours, it'll dissolve all of the soft tissues from your skeletal structure. One side effect of adding this compound to the water is the rise in temperature. In a few minutes, the solution you are standing in will reach a temperature of over eighty degrees Celsius. My advice is you lie down and breathe in the solution as quickly as possible, the initial pain is acute, but you'll become unconsciousness in less than two minutes. The average time taken to select this option by previous candidates is ten minutes and twelve seconds, which means they endured an average eight minutes and twelve seconds of unnecessary agony,” said the harsh voice, the last voice I ever heard.
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