THE PSYCHOMETRIC MAN
Robert Blair ate lunch and watched the interview on a large screen. The interview, which was taking place in the next room, had reached one of its preordained crisis points.
“But will I get the pay rise?”
The young woman, whose name for today was Sally, leaned forward. Her expression of barely subdued fury was clearly visible on Robert’s screen.
“I-I don’t have the information with me at present…” said the interviewer, Graham Milne.
Robert shook his head. This was a bad move on Milne’s part. Although he did not know it, Milne was being carefully tested to see if he would fit in with the Company’s new management structure. If he didn’t, it was Robert’s job to kill him.
He belonged to an assessment group, which was hired by various corporations to test and then deal with employees during the unending process of corporate evolution. This particular test presented the ‘candidate’ with a difficult employee. Very few candidates actually passed and Robert had been very busy recently.
‘Sally’ became more irate.
“But you must know!” she shouted.
Milne began to get annoyed.
“Really?” he said. “How?”
“Because you’re holding the monthly report!”
Milne shuffled paper.
“Well?” demanded Sally.
Milne scrutinised the documents. Sally scrutinised Milne. Eventually, Milne looked up.
“You haven’t got a pay rise,” he said.
“What?” said Sally.
Robert chuckled. This was one of his favourite bits; Sally (or Vera or Karen) always went convincingly over the top. Robert had no idea who she really was; by the time he arrived, Sally had always stormed from the room. Robert wondered if she knew what happened next.
Graham Milne was clearly struggling with an urge to sack the girl on the spot but to his credit, he restrained himself. Robert decided that this interview could get interesting after all.
“I’m very sorry you’ve had such a bad experience with the company Sally,” said Milne. “I’d like to try and help you all I can.”
Sally, about to explode again, abruptly decided against it.
“Perhaps,” continued Milne as he made a note, “We can arrange something from the departmental funds to cover you until the next pay review.”
Robert had never met the Assessors. He did not mind; they had kept him employed for over ten years now. He enjoyed a fairly luxurious lifestyle, with virtually unlimited credit and a very high status factor. He also owned an unusually large living area, the walls, ceiling and floor of which were lined with artificial grass.
He finished eating and pushed the tray to one side. He took the gun out and checked it. There were other means of dispatching people, such as booby-trapped chairs, drugs and ‘accidents’. However, shooting was the simplest and most reliable: ‘taking death to the customer’ as an uncharacteristically humorous memo from the Assessors had once pointed out. Milne might still survive; Robert was paid either way.
“I wondered if it had anything to do with certain … radical views I have always held,” said Sally.
Milne smiled indulgently.
“Oh?” he said.
“There are still open spaces.”
Heresy indeed! There were no open spaces; people, religious fanatics usually, spent their lives searching for these mythical zones. Robert thought the quests were hopelessly naïve because there was just one building now and it covered the entire planet.
Milne almost fell off his chair. Robert sighed.
“Open spaces! Are you mad?”
Sally jumped up.
“Mad?” she cried. “How dare you!”
Milne stared at her. He thought for a moment and shook his head. Sally’s rage made her breathe heavily, the sound transmitted clearly to Robert in the next room. Milne seemed to reduce himself slightly in stature as if to present a smaller target. The body language worked and Sally’s breathing quietened.
Clever, thought Robert.
After a moment Milne smiled.
“Please sit down,” he said. “I’ve never heard anyone actually say that before. I haven’t got an opinion about it either way. I sort of just know we’re not meant to discuss it for some reason. I don’t know why. It’s just… the system I suppose.”
Sally looked confused; she clearly hadn’t expected Milne to be so accommodating and Robert hadn’t either. The question of open spaces, in which you could actually see the sky, was increasingly contentious.
In the past, the nation’s leaders wanted to offer the prospect as a germ of hope in an overcrowded, claustrophobic and increasingly impoverished society. However, the single building that now extended over every landmass and ocean had used up all resources. Food was adapted from mined minerals and air was pumped in from somewhere but nobody know how or where from. People’s disappointment as they searched through the cramped chambers to find yet another dead end was becoming ever harder to control.
As a result, open spaces become taboo by government decree. The Assessors and their operatives, like Robert, were one of the few growth industries. Increasingly, their remit was less change management and more population control.
Like Sally, Robert wasn’t sure what to do. Sally cocked her head slightly. A hidden comms device must have relayed a message to her. She left the room without a word. Milne sat in his seat, his expression perplexed.
Robert’s screen superimposed the word DISPATCH over his view of the office. Robert got up, released the safety catch on the gun and pressed the door control.
Nothing happened. Robert frowned. On the screen Milne threw some papers in a bin and got up. Robert switched the door to manual and tried to push it open. It jammed. Robert saw Milne pause as he listened.
The situation was now out of control; the candidate must never know what was about to happen.
Annoyed, Robert shoved the door harder. It creaked and Milne spun around. Robert wondered if he’d try to make a run for it. There was no way out; the exit from Milne’s office would be sealed by now.
Robert kicked the door and it budged slightly. Finally he shot the lock off and burst into the room. A shard of metal from the shattered lock caught on the sleeve of his suit. The sleeve tore and the gun was jerked from Robert’s hand. The weapon clattered to the floor and its silencer fell off.
Milne stared at Robert, who pulled his arm free with a slow rip of quality fabric. Milne did not try and run. His expression was sad and ironic. Robert looked at Milne and then at the gun on the floor between them.
“What’s the matter?” said Milne, “Aren’t you used to shooting people in the face?”
For the first time in years, Robert felt guilty.
“It’s the heart I go for, usually,” he said eventually, feeling stupid and cowardly.
He had convinced himself it was a mercy the people he killed didn’t see him. There was some truth in that but it also meant he never had to look into their eyes. He swallowed. Milne looked at the gun like he was about to go for it. Robert, his reflexes faster, snatched the weapon up. He screwed the silencer back on. His hands shook.
“Shame about the door,” said Milne.
Humiliated, Robert tried to think of something to say that would make these circumstances acceptable to Graham Milne.
“It’s just … the system,” said Robert.
“That’s what I said to Sally,” replied Milne.
Robert shot him just as he finished the sentence.
The bullet had no effect on Milne at all. He continued to watch Robert, who stared at his gun in confusion.
“Dispatch,” said Milne.
Robert heard the door behind him slide softly open…