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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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6. Chapter 4: Realisation

Jacob and Hans went their separate ways from Nicholas after his outburst, choosing to give him time to relax.

But Jacob decided that, if people were getting angry at the slightest mention of the company doing badly, it would be best to make precautions.

With that in mind, he had taken the sharpest knife he could find from the canteen and hidden it in his lined coat pocket.

He didn’t plan to use it, but he preferred to have it in case he needed it.

As the day went on, more and more things started seeming strange to the two employees, and occasionally they found their vision blurring, and their surroundings changed from bright and welcoming to dark and forbidding, as if they were in a different place.

When discussing these odd events, though, they decided they were just a part of their still-receding hangovers.

‘I must have had a hell of a lot to drink last night,’ Jacob sighed, sitting with his head in his hands. ‘I still have a headache, and these strange…distortions.’ He sighed. ‘Oh well.’

Hans looked at him carefully and smiled. ‘Don’t you find it strange how everyone gets angry when you say something remotely negative about the company?’

Jacob nodded. ‘Yeah. It’s a bit strange. I’ve never known anyone to be so loyal.’ He laughed. ‘I’m sure it’s nothing. Look, I need to go to the toilet. Can you cover me until I get back?’

‘Sure.’

‘Thanks.’ Jacob gave Hans a quick thumbs up and then headed for the elevator. For an odd reason he felt like going to the top floor to use the toilet, even though they were only one floor up.

Regardless, he did what he felt like doing, and was accompanied in the elevator by one of the robots – slimline robots was what they were called – and waited as the elevator doors closed.

‘I swear there only used to be one door,’ he mumbled.

‘There have always been two doors,’ the robot said happily.

Jacob nodded at it, raising both eyebrows, unconvinced.

Something still felt strange.

He reached his chosen floor and walked along the walkway, basking in the sunlight as it hit him. It felt strange, despite the fact it had always happened in the past. Sunlight on the walkway was virtually a constant.

The toilets were, as he remembered, just down the corridor from the boss’s office. When he did find them he didn’t hesitate in entering and heading for the urinal to relieve himself.

Even going to the toilet felt strange. He was sure the urinals shouldn’t have been so shiny and clean – something was wrong, but he couldn’t quite place it.

When he was finished he left the toilets and headed down the corridor. However, he didn’t realise he was going the wrong way until he reached the boss’s office.

‘Silly me,’ he muttered, preparing to turn around.

‘What do you mean, “problems”?’ a voice yelled from inside the office. It was a deep voice, and it rang with anger. ‘All I wanted was for those stupid employees to think of this company as the most successful company! Instead, they get aggressive when someone so much as says the company’s stocks have dropped by point-one percent!’

Intrigued, and mildly confused, Jacob put his ear to the door.

‘But sir! We hadn’t perfected the Brainwash Machine!’ a second voice argued. ‘And you used it on two many people. If it had been used on those last two any longer, they may have died!’

‘Maybe it would be best if they had! They’ve already been questioning their new perspective. That Nicholas fellow told me so!’ the first voice snapped.

‘Nicholas?’ Jacob asked himself.

‘Whatever you do, don’t give any of the employees reason to think what they’re seeing is false!’ the first voice continued. ‘Now get out! I have a company to save!’

Jacob hurried away from the door and to the elevator.

‘I need to tell Hans,’ he told himself. ‘We’re the only ones questioning this.’

‘Questioning what?’ the robot asked.

‘How successful the company is.’

‘The company is successful. Everyone will be promoted,’ said the robot, its voice becoming strangely gravely.

Jacob stared at the robot, and saw it appeared clunkier.

***

‘Hans!’ Jacob shouted as he reached his desk. Looking around quickly he whispered, ‘I think this is all an illusion. We’ve been brainwashed to think the company is successful, but really it’s falling apart.’

‘Falling apart?’ Hans asked, frowning and clenching his fists. He looked down at them and gasped. ‘Oh, God!’

‘We have to be careful, Hans. I think the boss realises we’ve been questioning things. We need to act like this is all normal for a while,’ Jacob explained, sitting down at his desk. ‘Maybe, eventually, whatever they did to us will stop. Until then…we just need to be careful.’

Hans nodded. ‘I agree. Whatever’s going on…we need to keep our heads down.’

‘Yeah. And be careful with Nicholas. He’s been talking to the boss. Telling him about us,’ Jacob added. ‘I can’t believe it, though. I thought he was my best friend.’

‘This company will taste justice for this,’ Hans hissed.

Jacob nodded. ‘Yes. It will.’

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