There is background chit-chat going on, as you would expect. Zoe is standing, behind a few others, at the counter of a coffee shop, waiting to make her order. With her long straight dark hair and fairly plain appearance, twenty-eight-year-old Zoe is not exactly a stunner but most guys wouldn’t kick her out of bed on a dark and wet night. She’s presentable, reasonably well groomed, and tall - at around 5 foot ten inches in her flat shoes. With her confident voice and outgoing manner she’s perhaps even a bit sexy, although not overtly so.
She’s rummaging away in her handbag when it comes for her turn to be served. She’s not been waiting that long, just a minute or two. She looks up at the trendy young swarthy man behind the counter who is sporting a neat black moustache and a razor-sharp short beard.
“Oh, eh, do you wanna serve someone else first,” she looks around but there is no-one else now in the queue actually needing served and this puts Zoe on the spot a bit. “…oh, eh, can I get a cappuccino, a short black, no, ah, eh, a long black, can I get a long black with a extra shot, I think I need the caffeine.” she laughs, nervously.
“Chocolate on your cappuccino?” the swarthy man asks, politely, but slightly impatiently.
“Ah, yes, eh, no, sorry, no chocolate. Actually, sorry, can I cancel the long black as well,” she waves her hands about in a flustered manner, “can I get a peppermint tea, coffee is not very good for me …” the server has his hand on his hip and is displaying a mild “rolling of the eyes” expression.
Later that day, Zoe sits with a friend.
“Nothing ever f*ck*ng works out” Zoe informs her friend, in an exasperated manner. Her companion is a ‘motherly’ middle-aged black woman, who is wearing brightly coloured clothing, the kind of woman who looks like she has patience and wisdom in abundance. “It’s like I just f*ck it up, every time.” Zoe continues to harp on.
“Like what” her friend responds, with an unsympathetic look, as if she has heard this all before.
“Like my shitty flat … like the crappy hairdresser … like my goddamn awful job …”
“Change it,” the woman offers advice.
“With a f*ck*ng degree in philosophy?”
"At least you have solid, sensible, eh … reliable Stuart" Zoe’s unruffled friend reassures her. Zoe’s thoughts flip over to her thirty-year-old boyfriend, and him sitting at the dining-table yesterday-evening in his running-gear and trainers, holding a big glass of red wine, of which he has just taken a large mouthful of, while eating the chicken-dinner Zoe has served up for him.
Stuart screws up his face in an exaggerated manner and glares at Zoe. He then spits the wine, he has just gulped, back into the glass. “Red wine, and chicken?” He shakes his head at her, disapprovingly, to indicate that this is just not good enough for him.
Zoe’s thoughts return to the room, and her friend before her. “What about that flirty guy at work?” her best friend asks, with expectance in her tone. Without actually speaking, Zoe gives the lady a look that says, “hmm, no chance”.
Back in the office, Zoe is sitting at her desk. It’s a modern, open-plan, style of workplace, with quite a few desks, in neat rows, and with most of them having flat-screen computers, or laptops sitting on them. There is only a couple of the positions being “manned” at present. Zoe has an open laptop on her desk and, next to that, her Galaxy S9 smart-phone which has a background screen, behind the icons, of a young trendy guy, holding a glass of drink. To the right of these desk-items there is a plain-paper pad. Zoe has a pen out, and she is doodling on the blank pad and drawing a picture of a palm-tree and an ocean with a boat on it. A child’s drawing. Nevertheless, it is taking up all of her concentration.
There are footsteps on the polished floor. She looks up. Her boss is standing there. He’s a self-confident looking guy, of about forty-five, who has a dark jacket on, over a plain light shirt, with no tie. His posture is casual and he has his hands resting in his trouser pockets.
“Zoe,” he says, confidently, “you look bored. Find me a couple of cheap flights to Figari, will you?”
“Em, is it for work?” she asks
“No” her boss says, matter-of-factly, and then he walks off.
Zoe looks over her computer-screen and catches the eye of “flirty-man” a few desks away. He looks about five years younger than her, has black wavy hair, thickset eyebrows, a big moustache, and also a good-looking, square-shaped face, with deep, dark, inviting eyes. And he is not frightened to maintain his friendly gaze. He puts on a gentle, and warm, smile. Zoe welcomes this and gives him a bashful smile back. They both then break eye-contact. Then Zoe’s phone ‘pings’ to alert her of an incoming message. She picks it up, off the desk, and reads the message on the screen.
YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN
Someone you know has recommended you
Zoe touches the screen.
From: Decision-Maker Ltd
Download the Decision-maker app now.
Zoe pauses. She looks up from her phone, over to flirty-man, and gives him a warm smile. And then she presses the DOWNLOAD NOW button.
“Welcome to DECIDER” says the robotic voice of a woman. “We got bored of beating chess grand-masters. Now we’re ready to beat the biggest chess game of all. Life. Our vast database of the good and bad decisions people make, allows us to give you an advantage …”
Over the next few days, the computerised voice asks Zoe a lot of questions to build up her profile. She answers these in her spare moments, while on breaks, or travelling. Now she is lying on her bed at home, clutching a cup of coffee, with her phone next to her, completing the questionnaire by speaking to the phone app.
“My father?” says Zoe to her phone, “He was a great man. Super intelligent. Made us all feel like we were stupid.”
“Great!” says the robot-voice, trying to sound casual and friendly. “Just a few more questions. Would you describe yourself as extroverted or introverted?”
“Extroverted” Zoe answers, without hesitation, but then she adds, “hmm, but kind of introverted in a way, too …” her voice fades as she thinks about it.
The next day, in the coffee shop, just before she heads for the counter, Zoe checks with the Decider app about her upcoming choice.
“DOUBLE ESPRESSO” appears on the screen and is spoken in a robotic tone.
Zoe heads up to the counter, doesn’t even wait to be asked, and says, “Double espresso please” with a big smile on her face.
Zoe is at her laptop, rapidly typing away on the keyboard. Her boss casually walks up to her desk. He stands, with his hands in his pockets, and has a superior look on his face.
“Zoe” he says, “make me coffee.” Zoe carries on typing and doesn’t even look up. “Zoe …” he says, with more tone in his voice.
Zoe looks up at him, with defiant eyes. “I’m not the f*ck*ng intern” she informs him. The boss looks perturbed. He leans over her desk and says, quietly, but with authority, “… a word in my office. Now.” She gives him a “look”. He strides off.
Ping! Zoe’s phone notifies her of an incoming message from the Decider app …
… says the screen message, and the robotic voice.
Now it’s Zoe’s turn to look perturbed. She picks up her phone and speaks into it. “I can’t just resign!”
The app replies: “Failure to accept a decision will result in termination of your account” says the robotic voice.
Zoe stays at her seat and starts to type her resignation letter.
I am writing to you, to resign my position with immediate effect.”
Zoe sits at the other side of the desk to her boss, in his office.
“Zoe…” he says, with a sigh, “…if I’d known you were this unhappy I would have brought forward the planned pay rise and promotion …”
“Planned pay rise?” Zoe says, incredulously.
“Mike’s moving to Reading. You’re taking over his role.” explains her boss. Zoe has her phone in her hand, below the desk level. It pings.
“Reject new offer” says the screen message.
Zoe is walking along the pavement in a residential are, talking into her mobile phone to her boyfriend, who is at his house. It is cold and there is a layer of snow on the cars. She has a long coat on.
“I thought you’d support me on this. I made a decision! What? I’m talking to you now, aren’t I? No. I know. Yes, they’d probably take me back. Yes, yes, okay. Let’s talk about this later, okay?”
The phone in her hand pings.
“Dump Stuart” says the message on the screen.
Zoe arrives at her boyfriends house. Stuart is setting up the table up for a nice meal, and he’s just lighting the tea-candles.
“I need to talk to you” says Zoe, in a stern tone. Stewart doesn’t directly respond. Instead, he strides past her and heads for the kitchen. He comes back out with a lovely bunch of flowers in his hand, and a big smile on his face. He presents the flowers to Zoe.
“What’s all this about?” says Zoe, slightly taken aback. Stewart walks back over to the table, picks up a matchbox and starts to light the candles.
“I just wanted to say sorry” Stewart says, in a conciliatory tone. “I know I don’t appreciate you enough.” Zoe brings the flowers to her face to take in their fragrance. She holds her handbag in her other hand. Zoe still has her coat on. After a short pause Stewart says, causally, while he continues setting up the table. “What do you want to talk about?” Zoe’s eyes are wide, and her pupils are dilated. Stewart’s charm-offensive is having the desired effect on her. She’s caught in a spell. And then her phone pings. She takes it out of her pocket to have a look.
“Dump him” says the message on the screen from the Decider app.
“Stewart I … I just want to be friends.” Zoe says. Stewart looks up from the table he is setting with a surprised, and serious, look on his face.
“Are you going to tell me why?” he says. Zoe walks past him, and right out of the front door. “Wait!” Stewart lets out a gasp of exasperation. “Poisonous f*ck*ng bitch!” he says to himself as he shakes his head in disbelief.
Zoe walks out of Stewart’s house and heads back to her own flat.
In the early hours, while she is only half-sleeping, Zoe is aware of the disembodied and echoing tones of a robotic female voice.
“Relax for 8 minutes … book a holiday in Venice … join a meet-up group … take lessons in Cantonese … work late … walk home … don’t turn around … run … run faster … you’re having a nightmare, wake up …”
Her phone had come on during the night, and was shining on her face, and speaking to her.
Zoe looks at her phone. The message on the screen says:
The next day Zoe is sitting on her bed and using her phone to search for a new job. She has the Decider app on too, to help her with the task.
“Senior project manager at HITEC?” asks Zoe.
“Do not apply” says the app.
“Sales support specialist at XXFS?”
“Do not apply” says the app.
Zoe checks another job advert. “Hey that’s my ex-boss’ job.” she says to the app. “They must be replacing him.”
“Apply” instructs the app voice.
Zoe is not entirely convinced at the advice of the Decider app but she goes ahead anyway and applies for the job of her ex-boss. And now she is sitting on a chair, on a row of four, at her old work-office. Her ex-boss walks out of the interview room. “Thanks then,” says a senior manager, a refined looking woman, with long black hair, in her late thirties. Zoe’s ex-boss, Paul, walks past her, looks unsettled at her being there, but doesn’t acknowledge her.
Zoe’s hand-bag is sitting on her knees and she is leaning forward clutching it, nervously. She gets invited into the room. Zoe gets the job. She moves into her ex-boss’ office. On the whiteboard is says, in bold capitals:
HE WHO DARES WINS
She adds am “S” to the start of the message.
Zoe begins to settle into her new office. Her phone is lying on her desk. It pings.
“Call Lee” it says. Lee is the “flirty-man”.
Zoe invites lee into her office. She asks him over to her place that night. Later, Lee arrives at her flat. There follows a night of passion.
The next day Zoe walks into the coffee shop with supreme confidence. “Long black, extra shots” she commands the barista.
Later on, Zoe struts along, past Lee’s desk at work, as she heads for her office. Lee is sitting at his desk, leaning back on his chair, and flipping through the pages of a magazine. She gives him a knowing look.
Zoe closes the door of her office, sits at the desk, and opens up her laptop. Her mobile phone pings. She picks it up.
“Sack Lee” says the message on screen.
Zoe picks up her phone and speaks into it. “You’re just messing with my head now.”
“Do you wish to terminate your account?” says the app. Zoe doesn’t respond.
Later on, in the early evening, all the office staff have gone. Zoe is walking between the empty desks with the senior manager lady who had given her the job. “So… what brought about the dramatic change?” says the lady.
“Change?” says Zoe.
“Well… four years here and totally unremarkable. Now, all of a sudden, you’re on the board’s “to-do” list.”
It’s a causal talk they are having as Zoe, and her manager are both have a bottle of beer in their hands as they slowly walk around having a confab.
“I decided to get better career advice” says Zoe.
“Lee Carter turned out to be more interesting than we realised, too. He’s been passing trade secrets to the opposition. And, if you hadn’t have fired him we might not have found out. Don’t pretend you didn’t know. Well, I don’t want you wandering off again, do I? I’m offering you Deputy CEO. Think about it.” They clink their bottles together in agreement.
Later, Zoe is sitting at her desk with a grin on her face, as she thinks about the job offer. Her laptop rings to notify her of a new email.
From: Lee Carter
Lee Carter would like to share a video with you.
Lee: “I want my job back or I will email this to everyone.”
Zoe clicks the video link. The content is of their night of passion. The app pings on her phone.
“Agree to meet” it says.
Zoe emails Lee back.
She stays in the building until very late. Now all the main lights are off and Zoe sits in the dark in her personal office. There is only one other person in the building, a cleaner, a man in his early fifties, with shoulder-length grey hair. He’s wandering around emptying waste-bins.
The door opens and Lee walks into the main office floor. Zoe’s phone pings an alert.
“Kill Lee” the app says.
Lee is walking through the dark outer-office floor. Zoe is waiting, in the shadows, in her own office. The pressure now is on her, and the stress shows on her face. Zoe picks up a big pair of scissors and walks out to greet Lee. She raises her arm up, and brings the scissors down with full force, killing Lee outright.
The male cleaner, who is on the same floor, hears a man groaning in the distance. He walks towards the sound. Zoe is beginning to realise what she has just done. There is blood on her hands. She heads to the small bathroom and starts to clean up, in the wash-basin. She is shaking all over, and crying. She looks at her phone for advice. The Decider app is silent. No messages. She attempts to manually log in. Zoe types in SHEWHODARES and her password. The message says:
“Sorry, we couldn’t find an account with that username. Can we help you recover your username?”
Zoe repeatedly taps at her phone but she just keeps getting the same message displayed. She’s locked out of the Decider app.
The male cleaner is nearing where he thought he heard a man groan in pain, and now he can hear a woman sobbing. He slowly shuffles along to Zoe’s office, which is now brightly-lit under stark fluorescent lighting. He looks inside. Zoe is lying on the floor, dead. While he is trying to take-in what he is seeing there is a pinging sound of a phone-alert. He takes out his own phone, from his pocket, to read the message. His phone says:
YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN
Someone you know has recommended you.
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