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A failing company brainwashes its employees and their families into thinking that the company is well known and blossoming. Only two employees have avoided the brainwashing, and must survive in a company full of misguided employees who, through a brainwashing error, will react aggressively to anyone who tells them the company is falling apart... [ENTRY TO THE VORTEX COMPETITION]

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5. Chapter 3: Awakening

Jacob woke with a pounding headache, and turned to face his plant.

If there was one thing in the world that kept him calm when something confused him or stressed him out, it was William.

He had named the plant after his son. He had loved his son more than anything else, and naming a plant after him just made it seem like he was always there.

‘What happened to me last night, William?’ he asked. He knew there would be no reply, but it comforted him.

He sat up slowly, and saw his work clothes hanging on his wardrobe – somewhere he never put them.

‘Did I get drunk last night?’ he asked himself. ‘I never hang up my clothes when I’m sober.’ Confused, he changed out of his pyjamas – which he had no recollection of putting on – and put on his work clothes ready for a good day.

‘You know, son. It’s good to work at such a successful company,’ Jacob said, pouring himself some cereal. The words rolled off his tongue casually, but it felt strange to say them, as if he had been saying the opposite for a long time.He kn

But it was true, wasn’t it? Technofirm was one of the most successful companies in the city, financing hundreds of technological research facilities.

His brain aching at his confusion, Jacob put aside his clashing thoughts and ate his cereal.

‘I met a nice German fellow yesterday,’ Jacob said addressing William. ‘You would have liked him.’

Once he finished his breakfast he put the bowl in the sink and took a short sniff of the fresh oxygen from William’s leaf. ‘You always make my day better,’ he said before heading out the door.

***

Jacob approached the gleaming white structure of Technofirm Central.

It looked odd, but it had always been white. A bright place in a dark world. Shrugging off the strange ideas his mind was giving him of a dark building in the shadow of other skyscrapers he headed for the entrance.

As he entered the building the robot doorman gave him a wave.

‘Good morning, Mr. Lock. Have a nice day,’ it said in a chipper, synthetic voice that, although annoying if heard every day, was much friendlier than the old-model robots.

‘Good morning,’ Jacob replied.

He went to the sign-in desk and placed his hand on the handprint scanner, which logged him into the system, showing he had arrived at work – on time as usual.

Heading towards his desk, he ran into Nicholas.

‘Good morning,’ Nicholas said, cheerfully. ‘That was quite a night. I can’t remember much of it, but I woke up this morning feeling a bit down, but strangely happy.’

Jacob laughed. ‘So did I. It was strange. My clothes were actually hanging up on the wardrobe. I never hang them up.’

Nicholas smiled. ‘My son was so happy that I’m still working here. Best company in the world, right?’

Jacob nodded, though was unsure. Best company? It was successful, sure, but the best? Nonetheless, he agreed. ‘I need to get to my desk,’ he said, smiling. ‘Speak later, okay?’

Nicholas nodded and headed off in the opposite direction.

Glad to have seen his friend after the night he could not recall, Jacob headed to his desk. When he sat down, he saw Hans sitting at the desk to his left.

‘Good morning, Hans,’ he said, smiling.

‘Good morning, Jacob. Quite a night, wasn’t it,’ Hans replied, grinning.

‘Yeah. I can’t remember much of it, though,’ Jacob said. ‘Do you?’

‘I get the feeling I passed out at some point, but I’m not sure. Also, I keep getting these weird feelings that what I know to be true isn’t.’ Hans shrugged. ‘I’m sure it’s nothing.’

‘I had that too!’ Jacob exclaimed. ‘I had this feeling that Technofirm isn’t as successful as we think.’

‘Of course it’s successful!’ Hans snapped. He leant back in shock. ‘Sorry. I don’t know what came over me.’

‘It’s okay,’ Jacob replied. ‘I keep getting the feeling there’s something wrong with the robots, too. I keep thinking of the older models.’

Hans shrugged. ‘Well everyone went out drinking last night, it seems. No one remembers why or what happened, but everyone feels great.’

‘Really?’

Ja.’

Jacob sighed. ‘Time for a wonderful day,’ he said.

This time…it felt stranger.

***

When lunch break began Jacob and Hans joined up with Nicholas and went to the canteen.

Nicholas had never spoken to Hans before, and the two soon engaged in conversation.

Eventually they turned their attention back to Jacob, who had sat silently eating his lunch.

‘I love working here,’ Nicholas said, leaning back in his seat, grinning from ear to ear.

‘Yeah. Me too,’ Jacob replied, though with less enthusiasm.

Hans nodded and smiled, but also seemed less enthusiastic.

‘Most successful company in the city,’ Nicholas continued. ‘No. The world!’

‘I know it is,’ Hans replied. ‘But I keep feeling – like you did, Jacob – that it’s not as successful as we think.’

Jacob frowned at Hans, feeling strangely defensive of the company. He felt like he was reacting in a similar way to how Hans reacted when he said a similar thing.

Nicholas, however, reacted quite violently.

‘Less successful than it seems?’ he cried, punching the table and standing up. ‘This company is at the top! How dare you say it’s not?’

‘Nicholas, calm down!’ Jacob snapped. In order to calm his friend down, he manufactured an explanation. ‘I think he’s been watching the news too much. You know the propaganda used by the other companies.’

Nicholas sat down. ‘You’re…you’re right. Sorry, Hans.’

‘It’s okay,’ Hans replied.

Jacob, glad the altercation was over, took a bite of his lunch. ‘You know. I almost feel like the food has improved.’

‘It’s always been wonderful,’ Nicholas muttered.

Jacob nodded, though was unconvinced.

Something wasn’t right.

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