I don’t hesitate when I hear Kate’s plea for me to head for the Control Room. In spite of what I’m seeing play out before me in front of the blast doors, I know that I must drop everything to respond to this summons. I’m presently not on any surveillance cameras, so I’d better appear pretty quickly or they’re going to wonder where I am.
I run along the corridor making sure that I don’t draw the attention of the man at the entrance. Whatever he’s doing, it will have to remain a secret to me for now. Like so many other things in this place. I check the surveillance cameras and fortunately the first one to be active is just next to the bathroom area.
I sneak through the door quietly, open my trousers and flies, then rush out again, as if I’ve been in the loo all this time and I’m just rushing out. I make a big deal of fastening my trousers and zip in front of the first active camera. A bit of overacting never did anybody any harm. I don’t want that guy in the entrance to be rumbled, whatever it is that he’s up to can only benefit Mum. Unless Kate really does have some bad news for me. I’m about to find out, I’ve taken the lift to Level 2 and I’ve finally arrived at the Control Room. At Kate’s request, I haven’t been in here yet, so I’m interested to get a glimpse of this Red Zone area. I half expect the BioMetrics pad not to allow me access, but the doors open and once again I am allowed to enter without challenge.
What an amazing place. The museum-like Control Room of the previous day had been quite comical to me. Old shop mannequins dressed in dusty uniforms had been placed around massive maps on walls, dodgy old equipment and wooden desks which looked as if they’d come out of a Victorian classroom. It’s amazing to think in the Cold War bunker that such ridiculous looking technology would have been used in the aftermath of something that had pretty well destroyed the entire world.
But this Control Room is quite remarkable. It’s as if somebody has gathered the coolest tech that you could possibly imagine – and even some that it might be a stretch to imagine – and placed it all in this room. Knowing the Government, they’d spend all that money on the equipment and forget to install the Wi-Fi. Throughout the Control Room there are uniformed bunker staff, sitting at brightly lit consoles, performing all manner of complex-looking operations using mainly hand gestures.
Kate is there to meet me and can see the look of obvious awe on my face. ‘This is amazing, Kate!’ I exclaim, forgetting momentarily why I am here. ‘What’s the news on Mum?’ I ask, recovering from the visual assault of such a mass of wonderful technology.
‘Well Dan, we have managed to locate your mother in the area beyond the bunker,’ she begins.
‘Nothing I don’t know already,’ I think to myself.
‘She was located in the upper area of the cottage,’ continues Kate, with a look of complete earnestness.
Okay, now you’ve got my attention. Last time I saw Mum, she was just outside the bunker doors.
‘We have this visual verification, Dan,’ she carries on, moving towards a screen to her right. Kate moves the screen in my direction so that I can see it clearly. ‘Using special cameras, we are able to see through the darkness into the areas immediately around the bunker,’ she explains. ‘Your mother is currently in stasis in the cottage above us. She’s completely unharmed and her life signs are all normal.’
She has my complete and utter attention now.
‘Dan, I’m sorry but your mum will have to stay there until our mission is completed. Once the bunker doors are closed, they must remain that way until clearance is given.’
Now I know that Kate is deceiving me. Whatever that man is doing at the bunker entrance, Kate knows nothing about it. She either believes that the bunker doors can’t be opened or she’s knowingly lying to me. How do I know that she’s lying? Well, the figure pictured on Kate’s screen has Mum’s face, but is wearing a skirt, fleece and T-shirt. The face is Mum’s. But the clothes are not.
Kate has just tried to deceive me with a photo edit. It’s very well done, of course. Whoever that is on the floor of the cottage, it’s not my mum. But Kate obviously wants me think that it is. Maybe she just wants to stop me worrying. Perhaps it’s just not a priority for her. However, she doesn’t know what I know.
At this precise moment, the man who should be sitting at the empty workstation right in front of me is in the process of retrieving her from beyond the bunker doors. How do I know? Because on the vacant workstation is a photo of him, his wife and his kids. They look nice, they’re all having fun. These people have obviously been allowed to bring mementos with them into this bunker. And next to the photo of his family is something else that must be very important to him. It’s a photo of the man I just left in the corridor, youthful and dressed in a military uniform. And standing next to him, much younger and as I’ve never seen her before is my mum.
This had never happened before. Zero-97/4 and Zero-98/4 had shown themselves to be completely exceptional. But they had ended up with casualties. This was going to cause problems for the program.
She was the one who realized it first. In an exchange that took an instant, she showed him what they would have to do to beat this situation. It was an exceptional and extraordinary action. Any of the test subjects who’d made it this far behaved with complete consistency when faced with enormous, massive and sudden stress. When confronted with imminent violence and the possibility of death, after complete disorientation and a total and immediate change of situation, with terrible and impossible decisions having to be made in a ridiculously short time. 99.9 percent of the test subjects who’d reached this stage did the same thing every time. They made the only decision that you can in these circumstances. ‘Kill me’ they would say, sometimes both of the test subjects at exactly the same time. The lasers would fire, but the test subjects would be stunned, not killed.
But Zero-97/4 and Zero-98/4 had messed it up completely. Nobody had chosen as they had chosen in that ten seconds of fear, adrenalin and panic. All of the test subjects would be able to act logically, selflessly and unilaterally. Ordinary people, under stress, but doing the right thing. Saving the people they loved most, making the sacrifice that they knew they must. In the face of massively conflicting and confusing information.
But Zero-97/4 and Zero-98/4 had done something so clever that in all the tests that had been carried out, nobody else had even thought of it. Most of them had given themselves up for dead. Zero-97/4 and Zero-98/4 had seen another way out in what they thought were the final ten seconds of their lives. There was no need to accept certain death. They’d seen what the lasers could do, most people thought that was their only option. But it wasn’t.
She’d seen it first, and he’d accepted it a moment later. If they shot each other they could potentially buy more time. It was the only way they could give themselves a chance. They would need to make it look good, and of course it would be painful.
We define who we are in moments of greatest stress. And they weren’t getting out of this any other way. He was more accustomed to the weaponry. He knew that he would need to shoot somewhere near the stomach, not directly at it, but to the side. Not to kill, not to maim, but to make it look convincing. To buy time, in case they were rescued, in case they could escape in some other way. She was not so accustomed to the weaponry. Basic training had not entailed shooting real people. This was the first time she’d shot into flesh. She had meant to shoot for the shoulder, close enough to make it look like a heart wound with all that blood.
She misfired and shot him in the head. As she fell to the ground in excruciating pain, she knew that she’d probably killed him. As she glided into unconsciousness those were her final thoughts. Neither of them knew that this was just another simulation. The entire exercise had been repeated hundreds of times.
It was so well rehearsed and they were so certain of the outcomes that nobody had ever thought that one of these specially selected candidates would ever shoot each other. In statistical terms it was impossible … or, to be more accurate, completely improbable. There would be massive fallout over this. They’d have to cover it up, make sure she was removed from the Army, placed out of harm’s way. It was she who’d triggered the impossible outcome. He was less dangerous to the program, her colluding partner. If he lived through this, he’d be able to stay.
As events unfolded, both of them lived, precisely as they’d gambled when they’d taken that impossible decision to avoid the deadly lasers and to shoot each other. In the impossible scenario in which they’d been placed, they had gambled correctly. They had outwitted certain death, even though that threat was not actually real. In so doing they had caused damage to each other that would never have occurred in any other circumstances. He had received trauma to the brain and would spend many months in hospital, firstly on life support, then in rehabilitation.
He would fully recover and go on to serve in the Army and enjoy a remarkable career, until being made redundant many years later. She would recover too, more quickly than him, but she would carry with her a lasting injury through life as a result of the bullet wound that she received.
At the age of nineteen, she discovered that she would never be able to have her own children as a consequence of the wound that she’d received on that day.