“It’s a state of the art institution, I assure you.”
“That’s what the last architect said,” he returned to the younger man, a look of boredom upon his face.
The younger man flinched. His life depended on meeting the elder’s expectations. Literally. It wouldn’t be the first time the younger man had seen someone murdered for failing, but he prayed he wouldn’t witness such a thing first hand.
“Well,” the elder man continued. “Are you going to show me what you’ve done? Or are you going to stand there staring at me like a frightened pup?”
The younger nodded. “Of course,” he sputtered, turning from his superior to unlock the heavy-steel door. It made not a single sound as it opened.
On the other side a dark room revealed itself. Not an inch of light illuminated what lay in its depths, but the younger man did not hesitate in his entrance into the room. “You’ll find that I followed your instructions exactly,” he explained, the waver now fading from his voice as he explained his handiwork.
The elder man did not respond. He simply followed silently into the dark room, casting his gaze about in the expectation that something should happen. When it didn’t he asked, “are they supposed to sit in the dark?”
“No!” The younger blurted before he caught himself. “Just a moment.” Pulling out a small electronic pad, he tapped the screen to which light exploded into the room, bright as day. The younger man smiled.
The elder remained stoic. He glanced about the room, which didn’t look like a room at all. In fact, it looked as though they’d walked from the underground tunnels out into a bright, sunny field. Casually, the elder man walked through the grass. His black dress shoes glared in contrast to such natural surroundings, yet he didn’t hesitate. He continued towards the empty expanse of field that lay before him.
“Sir,” the younger man called, wandering a few steps behind him. “I wouldn’t-”
Hand outstretched, the elder man bumped into a solid object. It was smooth. It felt like concrete, like the stone that made up the underground tunnels, yet it looked like a real field. “Is the mural really necessary?” He questioned, his eyes scathing over the artwork.
“You requested as life-like as possible,” the younger reminded him, having caught up finally.
“Mm,” the elder man hummed, hardly listening to the younger man at this point. He turned from the wall. His eyes followed it along until a large stone wall butted against the scenery, seeming oddly out of place. “Life-like, yet you keep that wall unpainted?”
The younger man turned, following the elder’s gaze. It led him to the wall that encompassed the door through which they’d come. He gave a nod. “Ah, yes,” he breathed. “We felt it was best if at least one wall was left unpainted. While the subjects will have the illusion of being outdoors, we didn’t want it to go to their heads. Too much of an illusion and they might think it real, might think they’re free, might get thoughts of escape, and that’s how rebellions start.”
The elder man turned to the younger, listening to his words carefully. “Did your researchers tell you that?”
Startled, the younger returned the gaze. “Pardon?”
“That an illusion causes rebellions?”
The younger man swallowed hard, meeting the elder’s gaze despite the churning in his stomach. It took him a moment to find his words again. “Actually no,” he answered, finally. “Hope causes rebellions.” He gave a moment’s pause before adding, “and I was a psychology major at university.”
The elder simply cocked an eyebrow in response.
“I found that I cared little for the problems of others,” the younger returned, turning away casually to glance about the room.
For a moment longer, the elder continued to watch the younger, his face unreadable. “And that, son, is what makes you an asset to the organization.”
It was the closest to praise that the younger had ever received from the elder man and yet he didn’t fluster. He gave a gracious nod and walked away. “The grass is authentic,” he continued, wandering back towards the door, the elder man following this time. “So are the trees. They were designed by our genetics department to require only sunlight and fresh air.”
“Is that so?” The elder man questioned, his hand grazing the bark of a nearby tree.
“Yes,” the younger continued, his voice strong and professional. “The plants are able to combine the oxygen and hydrogen that they absorb from the air to create their own water. This means no water will have to be spared for the room.”
The elder man’s expression cracked slightly as he commented, “impressive.”
The younger did not take the compliment to heart as he continued. “So long as fresh air is filtered in from outside, and the solar panels continue to provide UV Rays, the room is completely self-sustainable and will not require maintenance once the test subjects arrive.”
Having arrived back at the door, the two men face each other.
“This is well done,” the elder man informed the younger without a hint of inflection in his voice. He glanced around the room once more. “At least someone is doing their job.” With that he exited back into the underground tunnels, leaving the younger man to shut off the lights from his portable control panel, a bead of sweat trickling down his brow.