Chapter 1 - Part 1

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"Hello Ishmael, you may call me Lianne, please be seated."

She was gorgeous, her clothes expensive. She had a fascinator on the left side of her head. Every woman under thirty seemed to be wearing one. Lots of coloured silks and brightly coloured feathers. All fake simulated fabrics of course, but even her fascinator probably cost more than he'd earned the previous year. Ish did as he was told; he sat in the comfortable looking chair.

"Thank you for seeing me." He said.

There was a screen on her desk; everyone had a screen, even the guy at the corner store. Lianne was ignoring her screen for now, reading his application form. His spider scrawl handwriting looked even worse upside down.

"You left several questions unanswered Ishmael." She said. "Not compulsory questions, but here at Fifth West we like to get to know the people we hire."

He felt like telling her he'd avoided questions he thought were inappropriate, but he really did want the job. Lianne picked up a pen and aimed it at the first empty box on his form.

"What do you like to be called Ishmael ? What do your friends call you ?"

"Everyone calls me Ishmael, even my mum. My girlfriend Pandora calls me Ish, but only her."

No good, Lianne had written Ish in the box and was turning the pages to find the next empty box.

"Good Ish, that brings me to another question you ignored. Out of order, but we can come back to the others. You never put any names in the current relationships box. I'll put in Pandora, any others ?"

"Is this really necessary ?" He asked. "It all seems so....... Intrusive."

Lianne put her pen down and sat back, smiling at him as she did so. A really nice smile, but she was way out of his league, and anyway.....There was Pandora, his best friend and lover.

"We do things different here Ish." Said Lianne. "I can't think of many organisations who'd look twice at your résumé, but we don't work like that at Fifth West. Most companies use AI to scan job applications and choose suitable candidates to interview. We actually sell the software and tech, though we don't use it ourselves."

"That must put people off buying it." He said

"You'd think so, but it doesn't. With so much litigation over what is and isn't considered relevant questions to ask, it's far simpler for companies to automate the whole dreadful process. All CVs now look the same of course, vacancies filled with grey people who have no..... Spark. Here at Fifth West, we do it differently."

"Do you get sued ?"

"Sometimes Ish, but we have very good lawyers.... Now, any other current relationships ?"

"No, just Pandora."

"What do you call her ?"

Ish was distracted by seeing a DaHu sitting at another desk, talking to another Fifth West interviewer. He was seeing more damaged humans now, far more than he had as a child. Then he thought of then as demons and monsters. Now he knew it was all some kind of hallucination. At eighteen he'd obtained his medical records.

'Hallucinations bordering on psychosis, brought on by extreme anxiety, cause unknown. Condition responded well to medication, with full remission at the age of nine.'

There had been no remission, he'd just learned how to hide his reactions to the demons and pretend he was normal. They'd told him adults would never understand. A particularly vivid hallucination had told him to pretend he was no longer seeing things. Ish often wondered what a psychiatrist would make of that.

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