Android 9’s spinning wheels were like gears that turned inside everyone’s heads, stimulating their thoughts to churn. As soon as the wheels halted, everyone was snapped out of their respective trances, whether they be thoughts of anticipation, worry, or excitement.
The professor stopped and faced the group of nine, his hands resting in his coat’s pockets and his smile, ever so radiant, sewn onto his face.
“Everyone, please strengthen your foothold and heed caution. We will be descending floors towards the first test. In the meantime, feel free to enlighten your eyes.” The man retrieved his hand from his cozy pocket as he gestured downward.
Everyone subconsciously stared under their feet, yet all they could see was a sea of jade-like porcelain. Before their curious expression could turn questioning, faint tremors could be felt underfoot. On the floor, thin lines became evident, which eventually formed into a square border in which the group was standing.
Jaylin stared upward. The ceiling and floor gradually separated, lengthening the already vast gap that existed between them. Darkness invaded as the floor sank further, leaving an empty square patch of light above.
This reignited a familiar emotion frozen deep within Jaylin— the feeling of being devoured by the endless abyss of darkness known as despair. Jaylin closed his eyes, recollecting himself from the frozen wasteland of gloomy memories.
The instance his eyes reopened, the darkness was replaced by a field of blue. Sparks and lights flashed perpetually, creating a stunning image of an artificial world as opposed to nature’s winsome greenery. Man and machine worked harmoniously as various constructions, tests and experiments were being conducted.
This scene entranced everyone as they stared at the numerous gadgets and devices being created. Unfortunately, a thin, transparent yet sturdy glass barrier separated them from this technological sanctuary.
Gasps rang continuously. Thankfully, space inside the lift was plenty, or else all the oxygen would’ve been sucked away in order to support the group’s over-processing brain. Jaylin’s black pupils reflected a tinge of blue as he took in the scene before him.
Technology: Man’s magic, Jaylin silently thought.
As the lift continued to descend, different scenes followed, just like a roll of film.
The professor turned around to face the group as he briefly explained:
“The ATDR is a busy place so I apologize for not being able to show you around. Furthermore, the technology being developed here, though not top secret, would be better off kept confidential. Although we have done our background checks, and are sure that all of you are patriotic citizens, it is better to be safe than sorry. For now, you are only limited to what you see here. I hope you understand.”
After the professor spoke, disappointment was evident on some people’s faces. However, they quickly regained their spirits, especially the candidates. Compared to the grand opportunity in front of them, what was a little sightseeing?
Before long, the lift came to a stop and melded into the floor below, after which the ceiling expanded to seal the entrance overhead. It was as if nothing happened, but who knew how far into hell’s territory they were now?
Jaylin scanned his surroundings.
Jaylin was inwardly thinking. This place was so spacious that even fitting all the capital’s people inside was not impossible. Jaylin’s body was slightly shivering. Due to being far underground, it could get rather hot. Still, wasn’t this too much air conditioning?
Others were visibly trembling. The combination of both coldness and nervousness was not something most could resist. Echoes rang continuously in the empty hall as the group trodded the sea of white, passing by numerous doors.
Eventually, the professor found the door he was looking for. After opening it for all nine individuals to enter, he followed behind. Of course, the little robotic assistant was not forgotten.
Fortunately, after entering this room it was a bit warmer. The professor invited everyone to take a seat while he went to prepare the tests inside another room. Before he got far he was politely stopped midway by none other than Dr. Fields. His smile was so wide that his glistening gold molar showcased a flashing debut.
Seeing the despicable smile on Dr. Fields’ face, the professor’s face sunk as if melting, revealing his true self. His usually relaxed brows slanted downwards, pushing down on his smile which made it ever so deep and disgusting. It was as if two beasts had a mutual understanding.
“This way, please. It would be rude to keep a guest standing around.” The professor chuckled softly before leading Dr. Fields into his office.
After instructing Android 9 to prepare some coffee, the professor instantly got down to business, after all, time was limited and money was waiting to somersault into his pocket.
Without hesitation, Dr. Fields took out a debit card along with a piece of paper before slamming it into the desk confidently. For him, the phrase ‘money talks’ was a lifestyle.
The professor fixedly stared at the card on the table, however, his hands were still clasped, firmly resting on the table. The negotiations began:
“Dr. Fields, right? You do realize the precarious situation I’m in, don’t you? The matter of the A.C.E program is directly related to the government. It’s not something I can freely mess around with. The most I can do is like blowing a billiard ball to slightly change the trajectory.” As the professor spoke he grabbed two mugs from his desk’s drawers and placed them into a section of Android 9’s cylindrical frame.
“Since you know my name, I’m guessing you know what I want?” Dr. Fields flashed a grin.
“Haha. I have my speculations.” The professor replied, his wide smile always present on his face.
“To make a long story short, my daughter is ranked at the top amongst the country’s best,” when saying this, Dr. Fields wore a rather proud expression, however it quickly turned into hate and loathe, “However that son of a b*tch called Jaylin is currently ranked second, tailing directly behind my daughter by only a few decimals.”
“I see. So you’re afraid that the boy will steal the spot for receiving the most advanced A.I Chip? I understand, after all, even though I only just met you, I can tell that you are a man that throws money at any given opportunity. Supposedly, your daughter hasn’t achieved her current position through her own efforts?”
Dr. Fields slightly frowned in discontent at the professor’s said words. However, he quickly relaxed. Although he secretly aided his daughter’s academic performance, he was only able to increase it by a few points, meaning he still believed he had an outstanding daughter.
After a brief silence, the professor retrieved the two mugs, now filled with lukewarm coffee, out of Android 9’s cylindrical frame. A nutty fragrance perfused the room, and like a delicate woman, seduced the sense organs and stimulated the taste buds.
One was placed on the table in front of Dr. Fields. After taking a sip, his eyes instantly lit up.
High-quality coffee! It was brewed perfectly as well, not inferior to the ones made back at my office. This Professor Blanchard doesn’t have bad tastes at all.
After glancing at his vague reflection in the glistening black coffee, he looked towards Android 9.
“What an interesting robot. By the way, is it safe to keep that thing in here?” A sudden thought arrived in Dr. Fields’ mind so he casually decided to ask.
The professor, who was just about to take a sip of his coffee halted his movements before replying, “No need to worry about Android 9 infringing upon our conversation. It was personally created and programmed by me. The reason why I appointed Android 9 for the position of my secretary and a personal assistant is that robots seek or desire no worldly gain. The most important reason, of course, is for situations like this. No extra salary, fewer risks— it’s a win-win situation, both being for me.”
After finishing his speech, the professor resumed his drinking, moistening his tongue which was slightly desiccated by the dry, cold air.
“Oh? On a personal level, I like human secretaries, preferably females. Business is not the only service they can provide, don’t you know? Haha.” Dr. Fields quipped, letting out a burst of short, crisp laughter.
Although the professor always wore a smiling expression, this time he sneered inwardly, This old man hadn’t seen anything yet. What problem can’t a little science solve? If I rented him one of our recently made ‘special robots’ he would die of cardiac arrest while smiling broadly within the first two days.
Lowering his mug, the professor swiped his hand over his desk and a holographic projection hovered over it.
“I’ll list my terms and conditions bluntly. I can tweak with the boy’s test, making the questions slightly harder than normal. That should give your daughter an advantageous position. Also, there’s a minimal chance that he may score under 90%, automatically failing the qualifications. Any more than that is impossible. Keeping my job is more important than a ‘small’ investment.
The professor intentionally emphasized the word ‘small’ in order to bid for a higher sum in exchange for more quality action.
Dr. Fields’ glabella wrinkled, almost knitting his eyebrows together.
How can this guy be so greedy without even knowing the debit card’s total balance? Was he a scammer in his previous life or am I just being seen as a giant pinata?
“Small?” Dr. Fields’ mustache trembled as his lips twitched slightly, “Excuse my ignorance but do you know the total sum stored in that bank account? For my daughter’s well-being, I’m currently willing to spend two years worth of my savings. As the CEO of a billion-dollar company, the number of zeroes in that account is equivalent to the number of beauties I have, and I dare to say that I currently possess seven mistresses in addition to my wife.”
“Well, I must congratulate Dr. Fields for his future mistress in advance.” The professor replied casually, his smile broadening.
Dr. Fields nearly fainted after staring at that cunning arc hanging on the professor’s mouth.
Is this madman indirectly telling me to increase the bribe? That’s basically ten times the original sum!
The more he thought about it, the more distraught he became. Thinking that all this money was being spent just in order to get rid of a commoner’s competition pained his old heart. If he had more time, he would consider sending someone to assassinate Jaylin rather than bribing a vacuum that was connected to a black hole.
Dr. Fields’ grinding teeth resounded as worm-like veins protruded from his forehead. Clenching the mug in his hand, he downed the rest of its contents with one giant gulp. Hot air surfed atop his breath as he let out an emotion-filled sigh.
“There is also another reason why I wanted to rid Jaylin from the A.C.E program. I have a son, however, he is ranked sixth, meaning he is one rank short of being qualified to receive an A.I Chip. I was originally planning to nobble Jaylin into quitting, therefore giving him a chance, but…”
As Dr. Fields spoke, the professor’s hand swiped across the holographic screen skillfully, bringing up the country’s academic rankings.
1) Mika Fields- 98.67
2) Jaylin Channing- 98.33
3) Marc Anderson- 96.86
4) Kevington Linderhof- 96.34
5) Jerome Holmes- 95.59
6) Omar Fields- 94.21
After briefing himself on the rankings, the professor turned his gaze towards Dr. Fields, waiting on his decision.
Just then, Dr. Fields demeanor turned resolute. He was willing to take the gamble. Taking out a check from his jacket’s pocket, he placed it alongside the debit card.
“Fine,” trying to look away from the huge chunk of flesh he just cut from himself, he continued, “What can I get for this sum?”
The professor’s smile showed no sympathy towards Dr. Fields’ bleeding expression as his originally clasped hands sprang faster than a preying snake before grabbing both the check and debit card.
In addition to his coat pocket’s warmth, there was now an additional sense of satisfaction.
“You’ve made the correct decision. You are truly the smartest man I’ve ever met.” The professor laughed, somewhat sarcastically as he continued, “You won’t be disappointed.”