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]


4. Chapter 2: Qualified

Three days later, promotion day arrived.

Preferring to keep his job, Jacob had decided that, no matter how strange and wrong it seemed, the “promotion” was his best choice.

A line formed through the building, starting at the boss’s office where the “skill-enhancement machine” had been set up, and ending near the entrance.

He made sure to be the last in line, just in case there were any complications. That way, maybe he could avoid this strange idea of a promotion, and continue work as usual.

Nicholas had decided to go somewhere closer to the front, having been talking into it by his wife, who was standing with him, as well as his young son, Michael.

A prodigal child if ever Jacob had seen one.

Standing in front of Jacob was an employee he hadn’t met before. He was alone, like Jacob, and was clearly an employee because of his ID badge.

Aware of how long he would be stuck at the back, he chose to strike up conversation with the employee, just to pass the time.

‘It’s going to be a long wait, don’t you think?’ he asked.

The employee turned around and looked at Jacob through thick-rimmed glasses. His pale skin suggested he had lived in the city for a long time, whilst the hairstyle was the kind of thing not seen in that city for a long time. Either he had lived in another city, or just wanted to stand out.

When he didn’t get a reply, Jacob asked again.

‘Yeah. It’s going to be a long wait,’ the employee replied. His accent was not of the city – in fact, it sounded slightly foreign.

‘You’re not from around here, are you?’ Jacob asked, intrigued. It had been a long time since he’d met someone from outside the city.

‘No. I am from Germany,’ the employee replied. ‘This is my first job in this country.’

‘First job, eh? And already being promoted,’ Jacob said, chuckling.

The German laughed with him. ‘Ja. It is a strange thing. In my country, you must work for a long time before a promotion.’

‘That’s usually the case in this country, too,’ Jacob replied. He stopped laughing and became concerned. It really was quite strange.

‘Well I am glad to have this job,’ the employee said, cheerfully.

‘What’s your name?’ Jacob asked, suddenly.

The employee was taken slightly aback, but then smiled. ‘Hans Schmidt.’ He held out his hand and waited.

‘I’m Jacob Lock,’ Jacob replied, shaking Hans’s hand. ‘No family with you?’

Nein. They are back in Germany,’ Hans replied. ‘You?’

Jacob looked at his feet, and was amazed by how quickly Hans read his body language.

‘I am sorry. I did not realise.’

‘It’s not your fault,’ Jacob said, smiling at the German.

Hans smiled back at him and the line started moving.

They took a few steps forward.


‘My friend Nicholas was somewhere near the front,’ Jacob commented.

The line had moved along a fair way, and they were now standing at the bottom of the third flight of stairs, with only one more to climb.

‘Then he will have been promoted,’ Hans said.

‘Yeah. It’s a strange thing, you know. Apparently there’s a machine that makes us all better qualified,’ Jacob explained, remembering what the boss, Mr. Thomson, had said. ‘I hope Nicholas appears soon. I want to know how it went.’

Ja. It would be good to know.’

Jacob smiled at the German, and leaned against the railing. ‘Did you work in Germany before coming here?’

‘Yes,’ Hans replied. ‘I had drei jobs before coming here. First I was a shop clerk, and then I went to college and got a qualification in commerce. I then worked in two places like this, although they were smaller. This is my big break.’

‘Big break?’ Jacob scoffed. ‘Sorry, but here? The company is falling apart.’

‘The company is successful,’ a supervisor robot droned from the bottom of the stairs.

‘The robots are programmed to say that,’ Jacob whispered. ‘I’m hoping I can get these special qualifications and find a better job.’

‘Really?’ Hans asked. ‘The company is…failing? Then why the promotions?’

Jacob shrugged. ‘I really don’t know, but it doesn’t make sense to me.’

‘We shall find out when we get there,’ Hans said, confidently.

Jacob nodded. He was getting along with Hans, and was confident he had found a new friend.

But what good was that if he was going to leave the company?

The line moved again, and they took the steps available to them.


Jacob and Hans had finally reached the boss’s office.

It seemed that people were going in as pairs, and they were the final two left.

‘This is nerve-wracking,’ Hans said, stepping uneasily.

‘You don’t need the toilet do you?’ Jacob joked. They had passed the toilets ten minutes ago and had leaped at the chance.

‘Ha ha. Very funny,’ said Hans. ‘I’m confused, though.’

‘Why?’ Jacob asked.

‘Well…how come we haven’t seen anyone leave the room?’

Jacob started. It was true. No one had left the room. The employees went in and didn’t come out.

Something definitely wasn’t right.

Keeping his panic to himself, Jacob prepared himself to ask a series of questions.

The office door opened and he prepared himself.

‘Next!’ shouted the boss’s voice.

Jacob and Hans walked in, and the boss greeted them with a massive smile.

‘Hello, hello. Are you the last?’ he asked.

Jacob nodded.

‘Wonderful! Now, please take a seat!’ The boss gestured towards a large, spherical machine with two seats in it.

Each seat had a strange looking headrest that seemed to be fitted with a clamp, and a screen hovered a short distance away.

Behind the seats there was a great deal of wiring and, standing to either side of the machine, there were a pair of men in white coats wearing surgical masks.

‘Sir…’ Jacob said uneasily. ‘Why haven’t we seen anyone exit the room?’

‘Excellent question!’ the boss exclaimed. ‘It’s very simple! They used my private elevator and went home! The skill-enhancement will really tire you out!’

Jacob looked at Hans, who was taking a seat to the left. He felt slightly more relaxed now, and decided to sit as well.

Once he was in place the men strapped them to their seats and placed the strange clamps over their heads and lowered the screens.

‘Sir, the machine is overheating. I’m not sure if it can handle this,’ said one of the men.

‘It’s only two more people!’ the boss shouted, not as jovial now. ‘It can handle them! Turn the darn thing on!’

The men in white coats exchanged glances, and then, in simultaneous motion, pulled down on a pair of levers.

The screen in front of Jacob’s eyes sprang to life, and a swirling shape appeared upon it.

He felt mesmerized by it and felt his eyes going heavy. Yet he could not close them. A series of words started to appear on the screen, and he felt compelled to read them.


As the words repeated themselves, Jacob started to believe them, and images came to mind of the building gleaming, and the stock prices climbing, and climbing.

Except the images weren’t in his head.

They were on the screen.

The screen flickered, and Jacob lost concentration.

‘Turn it off!’ a voice shouted, followed by a loud sparking sound.

“No! Just a moment longer!’ a deeper, angry voice yelled. ‘They must believe!’

There was a loud noise and the screen smashed in front of Jacob’s eyes. The clamps released, and Jacob shot out of his chair, disorientated.

He saw Hans doing the same thing, and then blacked out, hitting the floor with a loud, painful thud.

‘Did it work?’ the deep voice asked.

‘To an extent,’ another voice replied.

‘”To an extent?” What do you mean?’ the first voice shouted.

‘They may remember after some time,’ the second replied.

‘Hm. Get them home. In the morning, they’ll be convinced the company is successful,’ the first voice ordered. A series of heavy thuds signalled he was moving away.

The last thing Jacob felt before fully losing consciousness was a pair of hands grabbing his limp body.

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