Murder the First. [Superficial charm. Absence of delusions or nervousness. Lack of remorse or shame.]
In the chilly dark, M spots her coming out of the Frying Pan Public House, 207 Brick Lane, at 1:07 am, observes her from a cautious distance in her telltale “jolly” black bonnet as she traipses down to Wilmott’s, 18th Thrawl Street, and M is sure she’s the target.
The woman is not the only tipsy “unfortunate” looking to sell her services for three pence—the price of a tall glass of gin—on this cold night of August 31st, 1888. She’s not even the only one with a black bonnet. Other similarly dressed prostitutes frequent these streets. In fact, M herself is wearing a bonnet and playing the part of a “fallen woman.” Twice she has been approached by ruddy-cheeked men, first perplexed then angered by her retreat, which a part of her regrets. (How would it have felt? M wonders. But then, what would her observers have made of such unprofessionalism?) Yet despite the clusters of inebriated women, M is convinced that the woman in her sights is Mary Ann Nichols—Polly—, whom M has studied in great detail. Everything about her fits the profile.
Polly is five feet three inches tall, forty-two years old but younger-looking, her dark complexion marred by a small forehead scar and cratered by saucy brown eyes. Her forehead is covered by unkempt, dark-brown hair going grey, and her teeth—those still in place—are discoloring. Polly is clad in two petticoats, a reddish-brown ulster with seven large brass buttons and a brown linsey frock and white chest flannel. And, of course, completing the outfit is the black straw bonnet trimmed in black velvet, the bonnet Polly believes will turn her fate around.
So well has M familiarized herself with Polly that her first glimpse of her feels like seeing a long-lost friend (the admittedly rare breed of acquaintance one will shortly stab to death). Recognition sparks giddiness in M, a sense of wild possibility. Polly has no idea who M is, of course, and doesn’t look at her at all, but M doesn’t take it personally. The relationship may be entirely one-sided right now, but during the next two hours Polly will get to know M in the most intimate terms possible.
M walks from Wilmott’s to grime-coated Whitechapel High Street, and there she hovers near the corner of Obsorn Street. Polly appears at 2:22 am, right on schedule, and clearly the worse for wear. She’s alone. Very drunk. Her friend Ellen Holland materializes from a nearby street, as though out of thin air. M is close enough to overhear them, but not so close that they notice or care. Ellen is on her way home. Polly asks her what she’s been doing, and Ellen, somewhat evasively, tells her she went to see the effect of the fire that broke out in the morning at Shadwell Dry Dock. Perhaps, M speculates, the destruction visible in the fire’s wake speaks to Ellen as a metaphor for her own life. Polly and Ellen speak for eight minutes, during which time Polly sneezes once and Ellen, after deep coughing, spits onto the street twice. M remembers reading that bronchial disease is the main cause of death in Whitechapel at this time, and she can feel the smog’s wispy fingers reaching into her chest. Total realism. She suppresses the urge to cough. The clock at St. Mary’s, across the road, strikes at 2:30 am. M shivers at its sound, intrinsically beautiful and solemn, in this instance an inimitable chime of imminent doom. Then Ellen is on her way, and Polly staggers down Whitechapel Road, M discretely tailing her. After several unproductive encounters with men in which she hears Polly cackle and slobber, M sees that they have wended their way to Buck’s Row, which for much of its cobbled length is narrow and gloomy. They are now a short distance from Bethnal Green.
It’s 3:17 am.
That gives M about twenty minutes.
M doesn’t believe she’ll need more than sixteen, but it’s best not to be overconfident.
M smiles and approaches Polly. She calls out to her, interrupting whatever drink-fueled dream Polly is entertaining as she leans against the side of a doss-house, clumsily holding up her petticoats to reveal thighs as pale and gibbous as the moon.
“’Ow d’yer know me name?” Polly inquires, swinging towards M.
“A creature as pretty as you? It would be difficult to forget.” M steps closer now, only a foot away.
Polly straightens and leans forward. “You sound funny, like a Yank. ’Ave we met?”
“Your fame precedes you,” M says, turning towards the building, drawing Polly in sideways.
Polly laughs. “My fame!” she repeats. “Or my name?” She laughs again, a bright warm laugh that sputters into a cough.
“I can help you achieve that fame,” M says. “I can help you take your place in the history books. Give me your hand.”
Polly steps back tentatively, but M proffers her hand, and on her fingertips is her secret weapon: sparkling nail polish with an intricate pattern of golden dots framing the side of each nail.
“So pretty,” Polly whispers. “N’vr seen anythin’ like ’em!”
Polly takes M’s hand, and M feels a surge at the contact, that brush of skin on skin, each of them clammy, but for different reasons.
“And look at my other one,” M says, pulling Polly into the looming shadows, and as Polly cocks her head to study the fast-moving hand she sees too late the flash of a long, narrow knife’s blade.
M is quick, efficient, in this as in every other aspect of her life. She cuts Polly’s throat and blood gushes out. Polly’s legs twitch and M catches her, smoothly, gracefully, like both of them have rehearsed this, which in a twisted way is true. Then M carries Polly forward a few steps, until they are right across the entrance to a stable yard—Mr. Brown’s stables.
This is to be Polly’s final resting place.
M sets her down with practiced ease, careful not to inadvertently create bruises where none should be. As blood continues to pour from Polly’s throat, she believes she can make out Polly trying to say something, but the raspy sound dies amidst the gargles.
M pauses a moment and looks into Polly’s eyes. They stare at her in piercing mute pain, asking the one unanswered—unanswerable—question. “You want to know why it had to be you, don’t you?” M says, caressing Polly’s hair as though it were a doll’s. “That’s a mystery we’re bound to share. I don’t know why any more than you do. But it happened before, and now it’s happening again.”
Polly’s breathing is rapid and irregular. She tries to struggle up but M easily holds her down. “We’re almost finished,” she says encouragingly. “You’re doing splendidly. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
The light from the street lamp on the opposite end of the street is poor. No one has walked by. M feels confident. Polly’s wide eyes now stare up at someplace beyond M. She lapses into unconsciousness. M cuts her neck again, causing fresh blood to spurt forth, making it look like an attempted decapitation. Then she rolls up Polly’s petticoats—one grey wool, the other flannel—up to her waist and stabs her twice, methodically, cleanly, in the vagina. Blood sluices down her legs, warm and slick, drenching Polly’s black ribbed woolen stockings, dripping from her men’s side spring boots, off their cut uppers and down their steel-tipped heels.
M then slashes Polly’s abdomen with rapid, forceful swings of her sharp knife.
Crouching, she observes her handiwork.
A few minor touches remain.
She changes the angle of Polly’s body on the footway, so that Polly now lies lengthways along it, then delicately tilts Polly’s head towards the east and places her cooling left hand in contact with the gate. M opens both of Polly’s clenched fists and extends her legs apart.
This is how Polly is to be found.
Yes. Very good.
M is satisfied with her performance.
The Daily Star will sensationalize M’s act with a feature story titled, “A REVOLTING MURDER/ANOTHER WOMAN FOUND HORRIBLY MUTILATED IN WHITECHAPEL/GHASTLY CRIMES BY A MANIAC,” a story containing a long paragraph about “The Ghastliness Of This Cut,” claiming that two deep slashes in the abdomen could only be “The Deed Of A Maniac.” It might have been true the first time, but it is nonsense now. M is no maniac, and though trembling from the physical effort and the intensity of her attention to detail, she feels strong. In control. She has given it her all. Let them evaluate all they want. She’s sure that she will be chosen over her rivals, and she’s ready to claim her reward.
M stands up, takes a final look, and walks away, heading in the opposite direction of the cart driver who is to find Polly—not quite dead, but beyond salvation—on the filthy cobblestones in precisely three minutes, her immobile body looking from a distance like nothing more than a tarpaulin.
Murder the Second. [Antisocial behavior without apparent compunction. Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations.]
Pasty skin, plump round cheeks.
Unsmiling now as in the picture from 1869, the year of Annie and John Chapman’s wedding.
It takes J a few minutes to convince himself it’s her. She’s put on weight since the photograph, and she stoops. Her attire is correct: black figured jacket down to her knees, a brown bodice, a black skirt and a pair of lace boots.
Then J notices the bruise over her right temple and it seals the deal.
He knows that two more bruises, each thumb-sized—sustained during Annie’s recent fight with her friend Eliza Cooper—darken the fore part of the top of her chest. J is sure they’re there, though he can’t see them yet.
He’ll see them soon enough.
J glances around. Crossingham’s, 35 Dorset Street. Four small floors for one hundred and fourteen occupants (J has barely studied for this but he has a sharp memory for numbers). Dark Annie is sharing a pint of beer with William Stevens, a painter. J is busy being nobody about two feet behind them. He pretends to be distracted but nothing is lost on him. He finds a lot about this place and time surprising. That’s the result of a choice, of course, to not immerse himself in extensive prep. A calculated risk. J prefers to operate by instinct. Live in the moment, not according to some baroque script. He’ll succeed by demonstrating his ability to improvise.
The furniture is uncomfortable, half-rotted wood. Everything decrepit. Smells repulsive. A stench wafts up from the cellar. J imagines a pit full of shit, the only sanitation this place can afford. Windows are broken, covered with old rags. For some time J fixes his gaze on a patch of wall from which hangs soiled paper, and he watches strings of vermin disappear behind it.
Nobody seems to mind the squalor, the stench, the bugs. It’s warm here. Fire in the grate. There’s company, or at least warm bodies. Drinks. Laughter, some.
And pills. Annie has a little box of them. She’s placed them on the table, and William is looking at her with an expression of dumb concern, worried but not wanting responsibility. She must be sick, J figures. Lungs, probably. (Then he remembers: The membranes of Annie’s brain are also diseased, but that will only be discovered later). It’s her illness, more than alcohol consumption, that explains her awful appearance, her bloatedness, wheezing. She and the painter talk. Drink. Talk. He reaches for the pill box, she pulls it back. The box breaks. She fetches a scrap of envelope from the kitchen floor to mend it or to transfer its contents—J is close enough to see the red splotch of a postmark on it. He checks the time. 12:31 am. About four and a half hours left.
J licks his lips.
J moves from one stool to another. Legs itch; probably lice from a mattress fragment opposite the stool.
Ten minutes pass.
Now the painter takes off.
Four minutes later Annie returns.
She looks around, frowning.
Then she heads out again.
J downs the rest of his beer and follows her.
The night smog and smell of nearby urine are a welcome relief from the previous miasma.
Dark Annie enters Little Paternoster Row, and that’s when J realizes she’s being followed by someone besides him. J ducks into a side-street and allows the pursuer to pass him.
John Evans, he somehow recalls. Funny that, another J. Night watchman. Sent after Annie by Crossingham’s deputy Timothy Donovan. J rolls the names off his tongue. They sound fictional, like liquor brands. He’s impressed himself by remembering them.
Then J sees Annie turn towards Christ Church. John Evans is momentarily distracted by someone else he knows. By the time he resumes his trek Annie is gone, and he desists.
J passes him.
He makes a sharp left the first chance he has on Church Street and his legs eat up the two blocks to Hanbury Street with appetite. A fornicating couple on the corner opposite the Ten Bells Public House pay no heed to the rapid clip of his boots. He returns the favor, fixing his eyes straight ahead.
And now here he is, at Hanbury Street, and there she is.
Dark Annie, about to become so much darker.
She seems to be in a kind of daze, confused. She seems to want to say something to a man coming out of No. 29, but the man has a hard time understanding her slurred speech. J keeps his distance. Annie heads off toward the corner. Good time for J to study No. 29’s back yard. His playground-to-be.
The building, located on the north side of the street, is three floors. It was once used by weavers—J’s brain keeps tossing up nuggets—but steam power did away with the hand loom and the building was converted into dwellings. Grot now. Like the neighbors’. Yellow paint peeling, like a venereal disease on skin. “Mrs. A. Richardson, packing case-maker” in cadaverous white letters above a single front door.
He steps through the door.
Hallway ahead. Staircase on the left, on the right a passage twenty-five feet long, one foot wide. In he goes. Leads to a rear door.
Bare floorboards. Creaky, but he redistributes his weight, pulls himself in. Vigilance. Stealth. Undetected he advances.
Rear door is unlocked. Swings open into a yard.
Two steps down into it.
One, two. Buckle my shoe.
Yard is small, fourteen square feet maybe. Patches of bare earth and uneven stone paving. Close wooden palings, about five and a half feet high, fencing it off on both sides from the adjoining yards. He peeks over. Next door is No. 27. No one around—yet. They’ll get a good view later.
In the far left-hand corner, opposite the back door, a woodshed. Convenient. Won’t go to waste.
On the right there’s a lavatory. Privy, these people call it. It will see some real private things tonight, J thinks.
He turns around. Fence is rotting but will hold.
J rehearses his actions, pushing against an imaginary Annie, anticipating the confrontation. Mentally prepares himself to be scratched, maybe bitten. Knife is in his jacket pocket. He looks inside the shed, calculating. Good. Room enough.
Then he sits on the upper of the two steps and imagines himself dissolving into his surroundings. Very still, inconspicuous, black clothes against blackness of night. Calm. Centered in on something profound, immaterial, an unknowable something at the core of him.
Time passes, maybe minutes, maybe a couple of hours. He’s not anxious.
Reverie singing in his brain, future as melody. Bright, wealthy vision beckoning to him. Glowing singsong of recognition. Of the power he deserves and will be awarded. Respect. Applause. Hearty congratulations. He will rise, alone. Jealous co-workers, and above all the rivals in this final trial, will acknowledge his superiority, concede defeat. More applause. And then another sound, less pleasant—her voice. Pricking J’s fantasy. A moment of resentful dejection on J’s part and then he tenses, feels himself become wired with anticipation.
Quick; retreats into the darkness of the hallway; presses himself flat against the wall; holds his breath, feels his ribcage lock down, tight against the skin of his chest.
Dark Annie approaching.
He can hear her breath now, ragged, besotted, sick.
In she comes.
Five steps and he swoops down and envelops her, his strong hand clamped down on her mouth, other arm on her neck, shoving her body forward while he jolts back her head, into the yard they stumble.
The struggle is ferocious, as he expected, but he settles into it like a runner at the outset of a marathon. Detached, relentless. She claws at him, she gyrates with improbable torque, bends under him, gets out the word, “No,” and amused he pushes her hard, and she reels back, trips on those two steps, but he catches her, it would be no fun if she were to careen back and split her skull, then what would be left for him to do?
The rest of it—once he pulls out the knife as he shoves her upright, grabs her by the chin and cuts into her neck, unsparingly—goes by in a kind of white daze and it seems to last very long and much to his surprise it never makes him sick or even gag and by the end of it she is a mangled bloody mess.
There are moments during the cutting that he wonders what his friends will say. With profound relief, he remembers he has none, only people who think of him as a friend but have no idea what he really thinks of them.
Blood is on the back wall of the house, smeared on the wooden palings, rapidly clotting. J rests Annie’s left arm on her left breast, right arm lying down on her right side, her head towards the house, feet towards the woodshed, leaves her skirts raised. Part of her small intestines, which have slipped from J’s hands several times after excising them from her—an incredibly annoying incident, this slipping, that provokes his peevishness—he drops down and piles them up by her right side, above her right shoulder, connected to the still-internal remnants. There are three, maybe four scratches, below her lower jaw, on her left side, running in the direction opposite the incisions in her throat. And bruising. Plenty of bruising from their little dance.
But this is merely his visible handiwork, and quite incomplete, for J is taking some souvenirs with him, as per his instructions.
They weigh heavy in his black, blood-moistened bag.
The sun, up soon. By 6 am Annie’s mutilated corpse will be found.
Time for a discreet exit.
Hoisting the bag that contains Annie’s uterus, a section of her vagina and bladder, J marches nimbly out of the courtyard and back into Hanbury street, all of which will soon fade around him, to be replaced by a much more welcoming though no less toxic reality.
He’s ready for it.
Murders the Third and Fourth. [A disregard for laws and social mores. A disregard for the rights of others. Private life impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated. A tendency to display violent behavior.]
The mantra plays inside K’s head with numbing regularity:
The ripper is you.
But the hammer’s head of these words clanging against K’s consciousness is not the clean, ringing chord of a victory blow; more like the dissonant tone of a hollow strike. Maybe, K wonders, it’s because the words themselves are hollow.
Perhaps not only the words.
Maybe she’s hollow too.
Don’t doubt yourself! That’s part of the test.
A test that is no longer an abstraction, no longer a complex set of theoretical parameters and protocols to review in a Spartan, air-conditioned room with bright lights and recessed sensor panels. The test is very much a reality now, one that has swirled into existence all around K at the prodding of one of her supervisor’s commands, mystifying her for the first few instants with its overwhelming sensory detail. Your body is not really here, K reminds herself. Useless. Her body is a slave to her brain, and her brain believes that it is here, in the dwindling hours of Sunday the 29th of September, 1888, in Whitechapel, London, and so for all intents and purposes she is here.
Also referred to as The Abyss.
K walks down Berner Street, takes a look at Dutfield’s Yard, shivers, keeps going. Her next stop is Mitre Square, Aldgate, in the City of London. When she reaches this destination another tremor passes through her, this time more severe.
These are the two places where K is supposed to do her work: the slaughter of Elizabeth Stride—born in Sweden with the name of Elisabeth Gustafsdotter and nicknamed Long Liz, Annie Fitzgerald, Epileptic Annie, Hippy Lip Annie and Mother Gum— and Catherine Eddowes, alias Kate Kelly or Kate Conway.
The infamous double event.
Stride’s body is to be discovered shortly after 1 am, in a courtyard off Berner Street, at the rear gate leading to the International Working Men’s Club. Her throat will be slashed, but there will be no further mutilations, implying an interruption in the killer’s work. Sadismus interruptus, K thinks.
Eddowes, in her black straw bonnet trimmed with green and black velvet, is to die less than an hour later, on her way from the Bishopsgate police station to her lodging house on Flower and Dean Street. Eddowes will suffer. Her throat will be cut all the way to the bone; her face will be slashed; as will her pelvic area and stomach be pierced and gutted, intestines yanked out and cast over her right shoulder and left arm, uterus and left kidney gluttonously removed.
What was going through the Ripper’s mind on that night? K asks herself. It’s a relevant question because his mindset should be hers. She should be recreating his matrix of thought within her own mind.
The ripper is you.
The words are weaker than before. Not so much a hammer now as pelting rain.
Unfocused, K lets her legs decide where she’ll go next. A short time later she’s in an area south of Whitechapel High Street that some call “Little Odessa,” dominated, they claim, by Jewish “greeners.” Wentworth Street, Old Montague Street, other places in the environs form a Jewish ghetto. To K’s untrained eye these streets look, save for the Jewish writing on some of the signs, much like the rest. Elizabeth Stride’s lodging-house deputy, Elizabeth Tanner, will claim that Stride often performed cleaning work for the Jews; Michael Kidney, a waterside laborer whom Stride met and began living with in 1885, will state that she could speak Yiddish. Everything K sees begins to remind her of Stride or Eddowes in one way or another.
The effect deepens. The more K journeys in the night, the more the places around her become a web of associations, a topography of icons and imprints of what she knows has happened and will happen again, this time at K’s own hands. She drags herself back to Berner street, circles the neighborhood a few times, touring Fairclough Street, Sander Street, Batty Street, Christian Street, on and on. She stops at the places where Stride will be sighted by William Marshall, James Brown, Israel Schwartz, Matthew Packer. She visits the Beehive Public House, seeking out some ineluctable quality in the air, some predestination of violence. She finds only people going about their somewhat drunken business.
The ripper is you.
Now the words feel small enough, light enough, to fight against. What if this is what they’re looking for after all? Not blind obedience but thoughtful dissent. Independent thinking.
K has the power to change the story. Every national daily and weekly reported the Ripper’s heinous deeds in excruciating detail. The decadence spread, fanning morbid interest wherever the news travelled, all the way across Europe. One graphic image showed the victims lying on their backs, divided by a torn paper edge that simulated the effect of a knife penetrating the human body. But K can choose to undo all this, at least in this world. Let them live. Let them shuffle through this recreation of their arduous, violent, disease-infested lives for as long as she’s here.
K sits at the Nelson Beer House.
Is that Stride who just walked by?
K decides. She will do as she pleases.
And she pleases to do nothing.
Stride continues on her merry route.
Are approbatory notes hastily being made, K wonders a few moments later, recommendations and decisions whispered in the observation center? She is showing them that she is capable of going her own way, after all.
And that’s why she believes they’ll promote her and not one of her lame, sir-yes-sir rivals.
Murder the Fifth. [Pathological egocentricity and inability to love. General poverty in major affective reactions.]
A solitary gas lamp, mounted on the wall opposite Mary Jane Kelly’s room, lights Miller’s Court behind the house at 26 Dorset Street. C stands there under its dim glow catching her breath, visualizing herself doing what she needs to do in the next few minutes. Not easy. Nope. But then, nothing worth doing ever is.
On the way here C has darted past two pubs on Dorset Street: on the commercial street end she’s jogged past the Britannia, a beer house in which Annie Chapman, a victim assigned to one of M’s rivals, was drinking on the night of her death, and in the middle of the street C has hurried by the ancient Blue Coat Boy. At the other end is the Horn of Plenty, which she would like to have visited—but no time. C has also passed Thomas Bowyer’s home at No. 37 and John McCarthy’s Shop at No. 27, places of interest to her but which again must remain unexplored. Her entry into this Whitechapel “rookerie” on November 9th, 1888, has apparently been planned to measure her stress tolerance in a way she wasn’t warned about. Twenty-four year old Mary Jane Kelly dies inside her dingy bedroom at 3:42 am, and C found herself here at 3:32 am, barely giving her enough time to figure out her exact location and get to the appropriate place. Breathe, C tells herself. In and out. You’re here now. You’re ready. In. Out.
The whole situation is messed up, though, no matter how she looks at it. The plan called for her to be inside the lodging hours ago, to secure an invitation from Kelly into her room. Now C is going to have to force her way in. She sighs and pries the door to 13 Miller’s Court open with one of her pocket tools.
How can she be expected to conduct the symphony of bodily destruction her notes call for with what little time remains? C hovers outside Kelly’s room, angry, frustrated. Her heart flutters in a weird arrhythmia. To remove Kelly’s viscera and heart, to cut away the flesh from her thighs, to thoroughly flay her, attempt a decapitation, slice off both of her breasts, lop off her nose and arrange her abdominal organs on the bedside table, these aren’t tasks C can rush! They require balance, planning, a fine attunement of inner and outer forces.
C feels light-headed.
Get on with it.
In and out.
But she doesn’t feel prepared.
She reaches out to touch the door handle, heart in overdrive—
And then everything goes black.
The Chairman glances in quick succession at each of the four candidates sitting at the conference room table, ensuring he has their undivided attention. He needn’t have bothered. An asteroid could be laying waste to the beautiful skyscrapers visible through the room’s tinted window and none of the candidates would experience the slightest distraction.
The Chairman, smiling with his grey eyes, his short gray hair perfectly parted to one side, is a study in manicured composure, practiced affability. His beige suit jacket is plain except for a single gold pin adorning the right lapel, a one-of-a-kind corporate emblem and memento of his years of tireless service.
“You have all done extraordinarily well,” the Chairman begins, and though the words may be rehearsed, he sounds genuinely thrilled when he speaks them. That same thrill passes through the candidates now, an invisible electric eel darting from person to person. “Only once before in my career—some fifty years ago now—have I seen this level of commitment and dedication from job applicants.” He doesn’t bother to describe the occasion he’s alluding to, which some of the candidates automatically assume was the selection process that led to the Chairman himself being hired into the company. “Only one of you is being selected for the role of Mergers and Acquisitions Executive Officer, but all of you have demonstrated remarkable tenacity, and those of you not chosen can still look forward to plenty of other exciting opportunities within our senior leadership team.”
Now the Chairman turns to his right and channels his full attention on Ciara. “You faced perhaps the most challenging version of the assessment, and you acquitted yourself impressively,” the Chairman says. Then he pauses, a cataclysmic interruption of reality for Ciara. “Unfortunately, you were competitively outperformed.” The world has resumed but Ciara no longer feels like she’s a part of it. “My lead interview specialists will walk you through the technical details of your stress test and your results. You should be proud. I look forward to our next interaction.”
That’s it. Ciara’s dismissal. Two months of the most grueling, nerve-shattering interviewing she’s ever experienced have come to a screeching halt with the curt nod of a slim man in his sixties, old enough to be her father, whose attention is already fixed on the next candidate.
“One question if I may,” Ciara asks, rising, pale.
The Chairman raises an eyebrow.
“My simulation ended before I had a chance to complete the mission,” she says. “I was wondering...”
“We anticipated your system might react poorly to what was forthcoming.”
“But—I wasn’t given the chance to show that—I mean—” She stops herself, blushing.
“Thank you,” the Chairman says in a soft voice.
She turns around and leaves the conference room.
The Chairman turns to his left. “Karam, your results indicate excellent originality of thought. However, my interview leads deemed that you strayed too far outside the required parameters. I’m sure we’ll be running into each other again soon.”
The Chairman never runs into anyone, of course, save those whose paths he has carefully orchestrated to cross. “Thank you for the opportunity,” Karam says, her voice steady. She bows once, rises, and leaves.
“That leaves only you too, Myriam and Jacob. You represent the cream of the crop. The absolute elite. I’m confident that either of you could fully handle the responsibilities of the imminent takeover of Visio Sigma, which will represent this company’s largest acquisition yet.”
Myriam nods, while Jacob is still. They both know the takeover will be a hostile one. Their selection process has been expertly designed to determine that they have the right skills for such a demanding—yet delicate—situation.
For a moment the Chairman says nothing further, and the candidates begin to wonder if perhaps they are both, somehow, being chosen for the role.
But no. It is another little test.
Myriam has leaned forward several millimeters, unable to contain her curiosity. Jacob hasn’t moved. The winner is implicit in these responses.
“Myriam,” the Chairman says, and her world unravels around her at the mention of the single, calmly-spoken word, a word that should be familiar and evocative of her but instead sounds like three foreign syllables indecipherably strung together. The bloodrush in her ears is so intense during the next few seconds she can barely make out the Chairman’s words. “Your absence of delusions or nervousness during the test were unparalleled. Your lack of remorse or shame were equally outstanding. However, based on the level of your preparation before the evaluation, we were hoping you’d achieve even higher scores. My tech staff will walk you through the details. Thank you so much for your interest in this position, and I look forward to tracking your progress through our senior team.”
Myriam stands up, face expressionless, and walks away.
“Jacob Tesija, congratulations. I hereby formally offer you the position of Mergers and Acquisitions Executive Officer.”
The Chairman stands and extends his hand. Jacob likewise stands and shakes it. “I accept,” he says, as they both sit back down.
The Chairman appears contemplative for an instant, then stares directly into Jacob’s black eyes. “I realize this psychometric evaluation was extremely taxing, and is likely the most, ah, unique ocular-rift simulation you’ll ever experience in a professional environment. But we needed to be sure that we had the right person for the job. Someone whose unwavering focus and ability to single-mindedly execute on our vision was never in question. You possess every skill we’ve been looking for. I’m positive you’ll manage this twenty-seven billion dollar takeover flawlessly. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we’re lucky to have you.”
Jacob allows himself a smile. Something he has been holding back comes to him then: the experience of cutting into Dark Annie’s neck, and everything that followed that initial slice. In the test he passed through the carnage in a strange white daze, a denial, himself but not himself, observer and participant but neither. Now that changes. His actions buffet and penetrate him. Jacob relives every moment in graphic detail, and this time he is not disconnected, not depersonalized in the slightest. This is him, and this is what he’s done. The sensations wash over his body like baptismal waters. He can hardly contain the ecstasy of what it signifies about his abilities, his potential.
Unchained—that’s what he is.
“I’m ready,” Jacob says.