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]


3. Chapter 1: "Promotion"

2 Weeks Earlier

‘What do you mean by that?’ Jacob cried, gazing in shock at the letter he had been given.

‘Exactly what it says,’ said the robot in a gravely voice. ‘You have been promoted.’

Jacob stared at the robot – a cheap model used by Technofirm to supervise the employees – and shook his head. ‘No. This can’t be right. How can the company even afford to promote me?’

‘The company is successful. Everyone shall be promoted,’ the robot replied – a line all of the supervisors had been using since the beginning of the week.

‘Everyone? Really? What’s so special about this promotion?’ Jacob asked, leaning close to the robot.

‘Higher pay. More privileges. Aiding the company.’ The robot said it as if reciting a mantra, and Jacob came to a realisation.

The responses were pre-recorded.

‘What if I reject this promotion?’ he asked.

‘Promotion or redundancy.’

‘Oh, is that so?’ Jacob pocketed the letter and frowned at the robot. ‘I want to talk to the boss.’

‘Follow me,’ the robot said, turning – slowly – on large mechanical feet and clunking its way towards a reinforced elevator.

They got in and as the door was about to close, a skinny, tanned hand stopped it and jumped into the elevator.

‘Ah, Nicholas. How are you?’ Jacob asked upon seeing his tanned friend of three years.

Once he was in, the robot pressed the highest number on the elevator panel. The door closed, and the elevator began its ascent.

‘Confused. I’m going to see the boss,’ Nicholas replied. ‘Everyone is being promoted. Have you heard that? It sounds ridiculous to me.’

‘The company is successful. Everyone shall be promoted,’ the robot repeated.

Jacob sighed and refrained from hitting the robot. ‘It does sound ridiculous. I’m going to see the boss as well. Something doesn’t seem quite right about this.’

‘Especially this whole “the company is successful” business. You know as well as I do that the company’s stocks are crashing,” Nicholas replied. He glared at the robot. ‘Soon they’ll be forced to get rid of these robots, which will actually be a good thing.’

‘The company is successful…’

Jacob placed his hand over the robot’s speaker, silencing it. ‘I would go for redundancy, but you know how hard it is to get jobs with a “fired” mark on your résumé.’

‘I do. It was hard enough to get a job at this failing company,’ Nicholas replied.

‘The company is…’

‘Shut up you heap of junk!’ Jacob snapped.

The elevator dinged and the two employees stepped out – relieved – followed by the robot. They waited for the robot to move in front and lead the way to the boss’s office.

It was a short walk along the dark walkway – who knew it was possible to build a skyscraper in the constant shadow of other skyscrapers? Even the glass structure of the building – brought on by the neo-natural movement that had led to tree-shaped buildings being constructed – did nothing to illuminate it. It just let more shadow into the building.

The robot knocked on the metal door, leaving a slight dent.

‘Damn robots don’t know their own strength,’ Nicholas muttered.

Jacob chuckled at this truth, and listened.

‘Enter!’ a gruff voice shouted from within.

The robot opened the door and led the employees into a large office that was largely empty but for a couple of empty bookshelves – the purpose of them was unclear, as books had been fully replaced by e-books a year ago – and the boss’s desk at the far end of the room.

‘You think he had to sell his property to stop the company collapsing?’ Nicholas whispered.

Jacob stifled a smile and nodded. ‘Definitely.’

The boss was facing away from them when they reached the desk, staring out at the city. After a moment he turned in his chair and faced the employees.

It was the first time Jacob had seen the boss, and he was shocked to see an old man with no hair and a bushy white moustache. He was a large man, as well, virtually overflowing in the chair. His gaze was piercing, and Jacob felt his throat go dry.

‘What do you want?’ the boss asked. His voice was deep and unforgiving.

‘We wanted to ask you about the promotions,’ Nicholas replied, noticing Jacob’s uneasiness.

The boss’s countenance suddenly changed and a smile spread across his face. ‘The promotions, you say? Well, let me tell you, they’re revolutionary! Due to the company’s success we’ve managed to invest in a device that will improve the skills of all employees, giving them qualifications they couldn’t dream of!’ He leaned forward and beamed at the employees. ‘And as a reward for your good work here…’ The boss squeezed out of the chair and stood behind the pair. ‘Your families will also be given this…gift. Your families will be qualified for the most wonderful jobs at this company!’

‘And this is compulsory?’ Jacob asked, regaining his voice.

‘Yes! Otherwise you won’t be qualified enough to work here!’ the boss shouted excitedly. ‘It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!’

Eager to leave the room, Jacob stood up. ‘It was a pleasure to meet you, sir, but I should get back to work.’ He smiled and outstretched his hand. ‘I look forward to this promotion,’ he lied.

‘Come and speak to me anytime!’ the boss replied, almost cheering, and shaking Jacob’s hand. ‘Tell your family.’

Jacob nodded, not mentioning that he had no family left, his wife and son having died in a train collision ten years ago – he was sure the company should have it on record, but he didn’t bring it up. He wanted out of the office.

Once outside – thankfully without being followed by the robot – Jacob stood for a moment, taking deep breaths.

He was still suspicious about the promotion. The company was not successful. It was crumbling.

And a skill-enhancing machine?

Something wasn’t right about this, and Jacob was determined to work it out.

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