04 January 2013


By Curtis C. Chen

"Nobody died," I said for what felt like the hundredth time.

"And that's your criterion, is it?" the examiner barked from the other side of the desk. "You destroyed an entire city block and blew the cover of everyone in your support team, but hey, there were no actual fatalities, so let's chalk that one up in the 'win' column?"

I shifted in my amazingly uncomfortable wooden chair. "All I'm saying is, it was just a training simulation. A computer-generated exercise. What's the big fuss?"

"What's the—!" The examiner's face cycled through three distinct shades of red before he shook his head. "These simulations are how we evaluate your potential to be a field agent."

"Yeah, but I knew it was a simulation, didn't I? I mean, to be really effective, shouldn't you put me in a dangerous situation which I believe is real, to see how I would actually behave?"

The examiner frowned at me. "You're suggesting that we deceive our people in order to evaluate them?"

I shrugged. "I'm just saying, knowing that it's a simulation, knowing that the stakes aren't real, diminishes my motivation."

"Oh, I see," the examiner said. "So we should use a different standard to evaluate your performance. You're just that special, is that what you're saying?"

"Well, I am—"

The examiner's fist smashed against the desktop. "I'm only going to say this once. Nobody is so extraordinary that the enemy will not kill him. Nobody is so singular that he can survive a bullet fired into his skull at point blank range.

"Our ranks and titles only matter within these walls. Out there in the field, it doesn't matter who you are. It only matters what you can do. And before we send you off, we need to know what you're capable of and what your limits are. Is that clear?"

I nodded.

"Nobody gets special treatment," he said. "If you can't summon the wherewithal to do your best in training, I have no confidence that you'll perform any better in an actual life-or-death situation where you need to make split-second decisions."

"So you're not going to let me try again?"

For a moment, I thought the examiner's eyes might pop out of his head. "You are dismissed. I'll send a full evaluation report to your supervisor by the end of the day."

"Right." I stood up, reached into my pocket, and pulled out the jump drive I'd pocketed during the sim.

It hadn't been easy, finding the correct computer-controlled holo-character and then lifting the tiny prize off him, but demolishing the building had provoked an appropriate flight response in all the chars except my target. I would never have done it in the real world, but I knew how to beat a computer game.

"Will you be wanting this back, then?" I asked.

I could almost see smoke escaping from the examiner's ears, and only months of training kept me from smirking as he snatched the drive from between my fingers.


Image: Apple store covent garden by Andy Lederer, August, 2010