Is life without love a life worth living at all? This question rings in my mind from the moment I wake up each morning. We live in a society that is conditioned to believe we need the company of that “special someone” in order to feel validated with ourselves. I am not free of that conditioning, and neither are you. How are we to know who that special someone is? We could go our entire lives never meeting them it would seem.

Maybe, it’s a lot less convoluted than we think… Perhaps it could be as simple as being put into the right circumstances to fall in love with anyone. I would have thought it was preposterous that any two people could fall in love regardless of similarities or differences, until I met my current wife. This culture isn’t without its “Ups” just as it is not without its “Downs”. Don’t worry, my story isn’t going to be some bland philosophical thesis about the issues and merits of our society. I don’t know why I’m even writing this or if it will ever be read and regarded with belief. All I know is that I have to tell someone, maybe as a warning or just a way to pointlessly vent. Most names have been redacted or changed to protect anonymity.

It started when I was a young man of twenty two. I had just moved out to the city away from my parents and I was working two jobs to support a half-assedly built apartment unit. My days had a simple routine; waking up to a beautiful city scape obscured by the impoverished buildings blocking it from shining through. Yes, unfortunately, I was among the many youthful adults who lived in low standards due to their own stubborn need of independence. This was fine with me, I was a minimalist and did not want for much.

Upon waking I would indulge myself with a serving of eggs and bacon heaped onto a plate that was more than likely unwashed from two days prior. I ran the dishes every three days, but, I did not have many dishes to wash. I would then look at the clock halfway through my meal to find that I was going to be late to work. I’d hurriedly get ready by showering and shaving, then I would loudly parade out of the front door as my footsteps loudly echoed on the hardwood flooring. This would cause my neighbors below to wake in a frenzy and I’d be bombarded with obscenities as I was leaving my apartment building. This was the type of man I was, dis-organized and often late to important things.

The taxi service in the city of New York is always the best method of travel if you need to get somewhere fast, I was a regular customer. My typical “Cab-Man” as I called him, Hashim, would always be waiting outside of my apartment building. Knowing with keen foresight that I would be out momentarily in need of his assistance. In a way, our friendship was great. He had a reliable customer daily and I had reduced rates and pleasurable conversation in the mornings.

On this day, Hashim and I had a very unusual exchange in comparison to our normal mundane “The weather is looking nice lately”’s. He had told me that he never saw me with any women and that was unusual for a man my age in good health and physical condition. I laughed and informed him I barely had the time to masturbate much less find women to date. He looked at me quizzically, unsure whether to laugh or feel sorry for me as we pulled to a stop, and then handed me a piece of paper. I stuffed it into my pocket without looking and ran into my company’s building knowing I was just barely making it on time.

I approached the front desk to punch in to work and was told to report to Mr. Glosen’s office as he had specifically requested me. This day was getting stranger and stranger. Working in the accounting department, I flew under the radar often and that was how I preferred it. I will not divulge the name of the corporation I work for to protect my anonymity. I navigated the labyrinth of cubicles to the great windowed door that sat in the middle of the room. The young, pretty receptionist that everyone in the department knew was blowing our boss gave me a sly smile and buzzed me in.

Robert Glosen sat with his legs crossed on his desk and his hands arched together as he leaned back in his large and luxurious leather high-backed office chair. His black hair matted slick with the obscene amounts of hair-gel he used to maintain his proper business-like hairstyle. The tacky suits he wore were always the worst, cheap things that nobody had the gall to tell him looked cheap. He gestured for me to sit down and spoke to me in an authoritative voice.

“You’ve had a stellar track-record with this company, don’t you think it’s due time you gained some recognition for it?” He smiled at me as he glanced over at the giant screen that housed his computing unit.

“Gerald, I’m going to be honest with you because you don’t say snide things behind my back like the rest of these morons at the company. I’m moving up to corporate and have been instructed to appoint an ambitious individual to take my position. I’ve been watching you for a long time and I think your credentials and the work you’re doing here is fantastic. In short, I want to offer you my job and I want you to strongly consider it. You’ll be paid more, and you won’t have to work that second job at that shitty burger joint to pay your rent.”

My look of shock only served to further amuse him. “Oh yes, I know about what you do in your off-hours away from here. I told you, I’ve been watching you for a long time. This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for and you’ve earned it. You can take this contract and sign it if you want to move on to bigger and brighter things. I have things to discuss with my receptionist, so get the fuck out of here.” He laughed as I sheepishly walked out. The receptionist winked at me and then entered his office.

Enthused as I was, I walked quietly to my desk and immediately signed the document, then texted my other boss to inform them that the next time I came in would be to collect my final paycheck. I began browsing the web knowing I would not have to do this desk jockey work much longer, the contract is effective immediately upon reaching corporate. This was going to be the best day of my life, looking back, it could also be considered one of the most fatal mistakes I had ever made. I remembered that Hashim had handed me a piece of paper and began digging in my laptop bag for it.

The paper had a website URL written on it, I don’t know if the website still exists today, but I’ve never been able to find it after the events that transpired. It was called “Connect Two”, and the slogan on the website said “Meet the love of your life on our new social experimentation program that shatters everything you thought you knew about attraction.” Curiously, I signed up. I figured I didn’t have much to lose given that I could check the website before I went to bed and set up dates here and there when I had spare time. I’d have more of that since I quit my second job in lieu of my new promotion. I uploaded some pictures of myself, updated my bio and clicked the “Match Me” button. It then logged me out of the website which surprised me a little bit. Whenever I would try to log in, it simply said “We are compiling your match’s information! Please come back in a few hours!”

I decided to just leave it be and finished my normal tasks of calculations and finances. Before leaving I made sure to stop into Mr. Glosen’s office and hand him the signed document. He smiled and shook my hand, “Welcome to the start of a new life, Gerald.” I was quite eager to take up my new position.

“Take the weekend off, paid of course; my treat to my new successor. Oh, and stop by that joint ‘Employees Only’ on Hudson St. tonight for some drinks with me and a few of the people you’ll be dealing with in your new position. Again, this is my treat, and your first task as the District Manager. See you there at 9.” I walked out smiling like a giddy boy who had just received a new video-game console for Christmas.

Hashim was waiting outside for me as per usual and smiled at me when I entered the cab. We exchanged pleasantries, I informed him I was heading straight home due to receiving a new promotion, and I mentioned to him that I had registered for that website, in the process of waiting on a match. He looked at me in the mirror and smiled brightly, told me he’d give me free rides for a month if I didn’t get a hit from this in a week. I laughed and said that was a pretty bold bet that I wouldn’t mind taking. I tipped him handsomely and informed him that I would require his services in three hours time to take me to a bar and that I may need him again after I was drunk and unable to return home by myself. He gave me his personal cellphone number and told me to call him at any time.

I walked up the stairs to my apartment building and opened the door. My neighbors were being rowdy again, I simply ignored it and proceeded up to my second story apartment. I turned the key to my door and had an overwhelming urge to check that dating website before I began my “clean-up ritual”. I approached my computer desk in the living room which was furnished with two large screens and my laptop in the middle. I had always loved having a nice computer over having television. I logged into my desktop and checked my email then typed in the website’s URL.

This time, I logged in with no problems. A picture of a beautiful young professional looking woman with blonde hair and green eyes stared out at me. “We have matched you with Sierra! Click here to find out more information!” I clicked with intrigue, curious to know more about this vixen. I was shocked to find that we had absolutely none of the same interests whatsoever. I thought this might be some kind of faulty website or that it was relatively new and thus lacking a member base. I scrolled down the page to attempt to find a new match.

There was only one button on the page besides her information, “Schedule a meet-up?” and underneath it in parentheses “(Don’t worry, we’ll handle the place and time for you!)” The website was odd, but I figured I didn’t have anything to lose by clicking the button. I had never used a dating website before, so I figured they were all weird like this. I could always back out and not go if something did pop up, right? In hindsight, I don’t fully regret my choice, but I sometimes wish I never clicked that button. A message popped up, “Great! We’ll set it up, see you soon!” and then logged me out once again.

I slid my chair back and checked the time, the clock read 6:38. I still had to shower and eat before my night of drinking and debauchery with the big-wigs. I decided it’d be better to secure food first and I ordered a pizza, then hopped in the shower quickly. I got out of the shower to hear knocking and paid the delivery boy while in a towel, then proceeded to gorge myself on a couple of slices before dressing in the flashiest business-casual attire I owned. I looked good, and I’m not usually too self-absorbed, but, I felt I deserved a bit of confidence after the great day I had. I checked the time, 7:49. I decided to go check the website only to find that I couldn’t log in once again.

Who designs a website that locks out the user from browsing other matches? Something just seemed weird about the way they designed it so I decided to do some snooping. Connect Two’s method was created by a psychologist named Dr. Martin Van Glahn. Not too much info about him came up on a brief google search, so I simply shut my computer down and proceeded to dial Hashim’s number on my cellphone. He picked up quickly, after the second ring.

“Gerald? I’ll be there right away.” he said and then immediately hung up. That was slightly odd considering he knew who was calling instantly, but I shrugged it off and figured he didn’t socialize much. I walked outside and he was there in ten minutes smiling as usual. He asked me where I was headed and I gave him the address to the bar. Hashim seemed quiet tonight, the only question he asked me was “Did you schedule a meetup with your match?” to which I nodded yes. He grinned slightly then focused back on the road.

He grabbed my arm as I was walking away from his window to enter the bar and said, “Call me when you are done, I don’t want you walking home drunk, even if you get strapped for cash.” I nodded and proceeded into the bar. He sat there staring at me for a moment before driving off. I entered and Mr. Glosen waved me over to his table where a few older gentlemen sat laughing. Glosen had two pretty females cuddling up to him in the booth.

“Gerald! I’d like to introduce you to Harry Lipcasiwicz, the Litigation manager for our-your branch. He wrote the contract for your promotion,” he said to me with a cigar between his lips, still wearing the cheap suit I had seen him in earlier. Was it possible to tell your boss he looked like a mafia-era henchman? I didn't think that would score me too many points. Harry eyed me up and down, a well dressed man who had the undeniable cocky look of a lawyer who knew his shit.

“Hi, Gerald. It will be a pleasure to work with you directly.” Harry held out his hand and I shook it. His grip was steel compared to my rather frail accountant hands. He smelled of cinnamon when he spoke; which discomforted me. I had hoped I would not have to work with him too often. Something about him creeped me out.

“And next to him is William Newman, the largest private shareholder.” Glosen said, I sized him up, he did look incredibly wealthy. For Christ's sakes he had a tiger fur fucking coat. His sunglasses indoors only served to further complete the Mob-Boss look he was going for.

He lit an expensive looking cigarette and said “How do you do?” in a Russian accent that completely contradicted his name. I shook his hand as well. His hands were a tad bit clammy, or perhaps I was just a nitpicker. I was too paranoid at those times, although I probably should have been moreso paranoid.

“Finally, this is Dr. Martin Van Glahn, he’s in charge of telling our company what our consumers and clients want from us.” I recoiled a little bit at the name. He smiled at me and glanced at his watch. I didn’t want to mention the fact that I was using a dating site as a means of securing a partner so I thought better to leave that one alone. We sat and conversed about past conquests and drank an incredibly unhealthy amount of alcohol. Dr. Van Glahn stared at me most of the night, and didn’t seem too interested in drinking. I assume he was analyzing me as a psychologist would. He stood up and walked out with only a nod.

Mr. Glosen turned to me and said, “Gerald you’ve had quite a bit to drink, perhaps it’s time for you to get home. The last thing you want is to leave a drunken impression on your fellow managers and stockholders.” and he was absolutely correct. I stood up and dialed Hashim’s number.

“Gerald? I’m waiting outside,” he said, and then immediately hung up. I was feeling quite wobbly from the drinks, although I didn’t think I drank that much. I could probably just nap on the way home and Hashim would wake me up. I know what you’re thinking, why didn’t red flags go off in my head at the fact that he was outside already and everything else that was transpiring around me? The easiest answer would be alcoholic consumption. I stumbled out to his car and fell in the back seat.

“I see you’ve enjoyed yourself, this is good. You’ve got some big things coming your way Gerald and I’m glad to be your friend.” He smiled at me in the overhead visor. I could feel myself slipping out of consciousness.

In slurred words, “Hasthim wayyke me uhp when we get theruh,” I said to him and he laughed. He said something indistinctly that was drowned out by the blackness engulfing my mind. I drifted off to sleep...

Whiteroom by nedrox-d6vg73l

“Gerald, wake up,” a loud voice said to me. My head was pounding at this point.

“Gerald, we need you to wake up so we can proceed with the schedule.” I opened my eyes to see an overwhelming amount of white. A large mirror was touching the ceiling and running along the wall over the steel-plated door.

“Good! You’re doing fantastic, now you’re probably wondering where you are. I will not divulge that information to you, more will become clear as you proceed with the experiment. I can tell you this; that mirror actually only allows you to see yourself but we can see every move you make from our observation deck here. You probably also noticed the fact that you are in a king sized bed and your conditions are quite luxurious, we’ve renovated the room to be a full live in shelter for the duration of the experiment. There’s also some headache medicine and a glass of water on the table, I’d like you to be fully aware of everything that is going on.” I walked over to the dining table, swallowed the advil, and downed the water. I noticed a separate room that said “restroom” built in to the room. There was also a kitchen that appeared fully stocked. All utensils, however, were plastic.

“What is this? Who are you and how did I get here?” I screamed. Observing my surroundings only served to further discomfort me. The voice was almost layered over as if he was using a voice changer. I tried to retrace my steps and only served to give myself more of a headache.

“In due time, Gerald. This is the experiment, and you are one of our test subjects. Mr. Black, please bring the other test subject in.” The intercom clicked off and the door to the room began opening slowly. I quickly ran over to it and was shoved back by a large man leading a tied up woman with a bag over her head in the room. He was wearing a mask and threw her on the floor. He then exited the room and the door shut behind him.

“I’d like you to untie her, Gerald. Please do so at once.” I stayed right where I was glaring up at the mirror. The intercom buzzed.

“Gerald, we do not have all day. The quicker you learn to comply with our requests and follow the experiment’s schedule the sooner you will be able to return home as a changed man.” I sighed and walked over to the trembling woman and undid the bindings around her ankles. She began kicking out at me and I stumbled back.

“Gerald, we’ve instructed you to untie her, don’t keep us waiting.”

“Yeah I’m trying to, but you saw how she was kicking me as if I’m one of the people who captured her.” I passive-aggressively stated back. This fucking guy was infuriating. He had the nerve to bark orders when he was failing to even tell me what this god damn experiment was.

“Gerald, this is part of the experiment. She knows nothing going on, the same as you.” I gritted my teeth and then inched my way over to her, I thought better this time of having her kick me so I kneeled down on top of her legs. I instantly felt a huge struggle beneath me.

“Do not kick me, I don’t know who you are or why we are here, I am not doing this. I’m just going to untie you and we’re going to figure out what this is all for.” the struggling slowly ceased. I untied her hands and then stepped back away from the woman.

“Good, Gerald. Now for the next few hours you two will socialize among yourselves. We’ll be back to the test soon after this respite. Talk to you soon, do try to be awake this time.” The intercom clicked off and my attention turned to the woman now standing up and taking the covering off of her head. Her green eyes shined from beneath her long blonde hair. The connection dawned on me at the same moment as her eyes widened on me.

“Sierra? That’s your name right?” Her mouth was still gagged, so she took the rag from her mouth and threw it on the floor. The pictures of her didn't fully do her beauty justice. She had an innocent gaze that could make a man feel insignificant beneath her.

“You brought me here, didn’t you? Why are you doing this? I want to go home.” She sank to her knees and began crying.

“I don’t know how we got here, I told you that. I just know whoever is calling the shots up there isn’t going to give us answers unless we go with whatever ‘experiment’ he’s conducting.” I went over to Sierra who was lying in the fetal position, and tried to reach an arm around to rub her back.

She slapped my hand, “Don’t fucking touch me! I don’t know anything about you besides what I saw on that stupid fucking dating website! For all I know, you’re just torturing me before you rape me!” I shrank back in horror.

“I would never do that! I just want to get out of here, Sierra. We need to work together in order to do that. Whatever they have planned for this experiment, we’re clearly in this as a team.” She looked up teary eyed.

“I still don’t know if I can trust you but I don’t see another way. Please just let me go home, Gerald.” I recoiled even more at the sudden sadness in her voice, the pleading desperation.

“We’re both going to get out of here, but we need to figure out what’s going on first. Whoever is in charge up there isn’t going to let us go until we find out.” she stood up and walked to the other chair directly across from where I was sitting at the dining table and motioned me to sit down.

“Okay, so we need to retrace what brought us here. If I sit here crying I’m not going to understand anything going on. My name is Sierra, and I am an attorney at a major law-firm in New York by the name of [REDACTED]. I rarely have time for dating and I was referred to this website by a co-worker of mine named Sylvia, she said she met her husband through this. I digress. I logged in and made my profile and then a few hours later you came up as a match. Admittedly, I tried to exit out of the match and find a new one, however, only one button presented itself. I went out to dinner with my co-worker and her husband’s friends. I woke up here and was instructed to comply to their orders which I resisted at first. They tied me up and here we are.” She was fidgeting with a bracelet on her wrist the entire time, glancing directly in my eyes.

“Most of what you’ve said applies to me as well, obviously I am Gerald. I am now the district manager of [REDACTED] and I also live in New York. I shut myself into my apartment most of the time as I rarely have socialization respites. A cab driver named Hashim handed me a piece of paper and told me to check out this website because he never saw me with any women. The same case applied, I tried to decline the match as well but I figured it was worth a shot and I had nothing to lose. I went out for drinks with my boss and a few other high-ups in my company and then walked out to Hashim’s cab. I woke up here and I’ve been told about as much as you have.” I clenched my hands as I retraced the events of the day, it all seemed like it fit together somehow. I conveniently got a promotion on the same day as I logged into that site, and then everything that transpired afterwards brought me to the room.

“Are you hungry, Gerald? I don’t want to eat any of the shit they’re giving to us but I don’t see any reason for us to starve.” I nodded and she got up and checked the fridge. She began preparing a meal for us and thoughts started swimming through the oceans of my mind. Hashim was the one who brought me to this place ultimately, and Sylvia was who brought her here in return. I of course, had no way of knowing if Hashim was even his real name. I had never seen his license or questioned his introduction. I had never questioned his intentions after knowing him for months and developing the habit of friendly chit-chat with him. In fact, I looked forward to our pleasantries.

None of this seemed to make sense, but if I wanted answers I’d have to wait and find out what exactly this was. The only connection me and Sierra had, was that we both didn’t want to be here and it started when we signed up for that fucking website. I smelled good food in front of me, Sierra sat across from me and smiled sadly.

“They seem to have given us pretty good food, so that’s a plus.” She laughed heartily. It was refreshing to see someone laugh in a situation like this. Suddenly, I began laughing too, I laughed to the point of tears and then I broke down and started crying. It had all hit me at once, I could trust nobody around me, there was no telling who was in on this.

There was also a television with a couch staring at it on the wall to the right of us, the bed lay behind me, the bathroom behind the television on the wall, and the kitchen to the left. The mirror perched over the door directly in front of the bed menacingly. Sierra turned the television on and walked me over to the couch where she patted my back.

“Hey, you’re supposed to be the collected one. We just have to be patient.” Sierra said, and as if on cue the intercom buzzed on.

“Gerald, that was refreshing to watch a fit young man break down into tears. I promise you, that you will be broken in far worse ways before this experiment is through. We are going to begin with the testing phase. You’ll notice two buttons under the dining room table. I want you both to sit down in the chairs.”

I looked up and said simply, “Fuck you.” Sierra gazed at the mirror menacingly alongside me.

“Gerald, that’s not very nice. You’d think you’d be more grateful to the people that set you up with your match,” the voice projected into my head. That was it, he confirmed the connection.

I rose up from the couch. “You didn’t give either of us a choice to back out of being matched together, we’re unwilling captives in your experiment. I promise you that the police will come looking,” I said to him, I felt my courage deplete when all that returned was a laugh.

“The police are well aware of the experiment, Gerald. You’re wasting time, we have both of your families in custody. Do as I instructed, sit down at the table.” I rose unwillingly and sat at the table, Sierra sat across from me.

“Now, as I have said… Oh! Mind me, I forgot my manners. You can call me V. The question I have to ask you is how far you will be willing to go to protect yourself when another is in harm’s way. It’s a question that many philosophers and psychologists have posed over the years. Look around you at everyone in this world, selfishness permeates our society. I’m getting ahead of myself, my apologies again. Anyways, those two buttons are a mechanism. One of you must press the button to send a shock to the other person that will be incredibly painful. If you do not comply, we will shock both of you and it will be moreso painful. They work in conjunction with one another, only one button can be active at a time. You have ten minutes to decide which one is going to be shocked and if you rise from the chairs we are going to execute one of your family members at random. Don’t keep us waiting for long.”

This sick bastard named V was making sure that one of us felt pain. I looked into Sierra’s eyes and she quickly looked away from mine. We had to talk this out, after all there was no telling how strong the shock was. It could leave us with a crippling debilitation and we had no way of knowing what would happen.

I spoke up, “Sierra, they’re toying with us. There’s no way of proving that they have our family members, so if we rise from the chairs, then we may be able to avoid this.”

A video projection appeared on the mirror of our family members tied up with guns pointed to their heads. “We assure you, Gerald, we have no reason to lie to you. Eight minutes, clock is ticking.” The intercom clicked off and the video cut out. I looked at Sierra, she didn’t seem fragile by any means. The simple press of a button would just send a jolt to her. If I didn’t press it, then we’d both be shocked. I could see her shaking and unwilling to move.

“Gerald, I’m going to press the button, I’m sorry.” and then a loud buzz reverberated through the room. A light flashed inside the table on her side and V laughed over the intercom.

“That was excellent! Well done, Sierra. We can proceed to the next phase. Socialization respite is granted. We will resume testing after some well-deserved rest for your troubles.” I had not been shocked. This sadistic fuck was toying with our heads, and Sierra let it work.

She looked shaken up by the entire thing and suddenly shrank away from me as if I terrified her. “Hey, Sierra… It’s okay. I was thinking about doing the same thing, you just reacted quicker. There’s some deeper meaning behind these tests, and I doubt next time will be pain-free.” She looked up teary eyed.

“I’m so sorry, Gerald. I only thought of myself and my family. I just want to go home.” She stood from her seated position and walked over to the bed. She began crying and punching at the pillows. I suddenly had an idea.

“V, I want to meet face to face with the man that is orchestrating this entire situation. I will comply to being restrained during this, I will not resist,” I said, to which I did not get a response.

“Did you hear me you sick fuck? I want to talk to you man to man, or do you not have the balls to face me when a thick layer of glass is removed from the equation?” I heard a slight disturbance over the loudspeaker mounted on the wall.

“In due time, Gerald. You should pay more attention to your partner in this ordeal, she seems to be in duress,” he ended the transmission with a chuckle.

I turned to Sierra, sobbing on the bed and sat next to her.

“Shhh, Sierra. Everything is going to be okay, we are going to make it out of this.” Although I had begun to doubt my own words.

She rose her head and grabbed my arm. “You need to sleep, Gerald. That couch is too small for either of us to sleep on. They designed this room to push us together. Lay with me, it’s okay you don’t have to cater to me.” being a young man in the modern 21st century I was quite eager to lay with a beautiful woman, even if she had been ready to do bodily harm to me only 10 minutes prior. I laid with my back to hers and slept.

“Wake up, both of you,” V said over the loudspeaker. I awoke with Sierra resting her head on my arm which was draped on her side of the bed. I moved my arm and stood up.

“You’ll find changes of clothes in the dresser beside your bed. I’d also recommend showering, I can smell you from up here Gerald!” I glared at him, or at that point the mirror.

“We commence the experiment in three hours.” The room seemed different, The dresser was a new addition, and a man watched us through a visor on the door. I grabbed a change of clothes in the form of a white t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants as well as a change of underwear and fresh socks.

I walked over to the bathroom and entered, I had only just then realized that I had not urinated in over 24 hours. I pissed Christ’s yellow blood into the white Holy Grail. I noticed one thing immediately, there was no door and the mirror was looking directly in. The shower faced the door, as did the toilet. They were monitoring my every move. A sarcastically bright idea dawned on me, I had no shame of exhibitionism.

“Sierra, stay in there. I’m going to give them a show.” then I disrobed and entered the shower, which was clear paned glass that did not fog up. I then began scrubbing myself, and that led to touching myself. I went through great lengths to ensure that I was fully exposed to the mirror as my middle finger stared at the onlookers and I relieved myself.

A grin still on my face I stepped out and got dressed. Sierra was in bed with the covers pulled over her face. “Something wrong?” I asked as the man’s eyes still observed us.

“They broadcasted everything you just did on that mirror and showed armed men forcing our families to watch, even the children.” She blushed and hid her face.

“V, go fuck yourself,” I said aloud.

“Don’t play card-games with a man that never breaks his poker-face, Gerald,” V said over the intercom and then cut off the mic.

“Sierra if you want I can block the door while you shower with the blanket so you aren’t exposed to them. I’m sorry, I thought I was pulling a ‘fuck you’ move. I didn’t think he was recording everything,” I said embarrassed. She shook her head and laughed.

“Gerald, don’t you get it? We’re just a game to them, our lives don’t mean anything to these people. It’s foolish logic to believe they aren’t keeping records of our every move. Please do block the door, and don’t peek. It’s bad enough that I saw what I did. Do not pull another stunt like that again, my 13 year old sister watched everything.”  I picked up the blanket and stood at the door with it completely obscuring vision as she showered. She emerged clean and radiant in a white gown. “How long do we have now?” she asked.

A panel moved from the wall above the kitchen counter and a digital timer counted down from an hour and a half. “Well, I guess that answers our question,” she said and hurriedly moved to the kitchen to make food.

“Sierra, I can make breakfast this time. Go sit down and watch TV or something.” I cooked eggs and bacon, and they were absolutely delicious. We ate them quickly. Then a buzzer rang.

“Right, Phase 2 of the experiment is simple. All around us dangers lurk behind every corner. If you have the means to stop these dangers and throw away your moral convictions to protect another, would you do it? What exactly is morality? Where is the right, and where is the wrong in the actions of harming another to save one? These are the questions I want you to think about when we proceed. Now it’s quite simple, my associate outside of the door is going to enter the room. He does not know either of you and his daughter is on the line to encourage him to proceed with these actions. He is not directly associated with our team and is just as scared as you are. His name is Henry. He is armed with a knife, and there is a gun on your table. This man is going to enter this room and attempt to kill one of you. But, only one of you must die. If you fail to save the person being attacked by him, then he will kill the other person and you will be free to go home. You may begin.”

We both ran to the table at that instant and reached for the gun as the man came charging in with his knife. Then, Sierra did something foolish. She tried to reason with him. The foolishness of that comes with the fact that a man is defending his daughter’s life. He was upon her in an instant and I had the gun. I screamed at him to stop as Sierra struggled with the knife in this large man’s grip. I didn’t know whether to shoot or not. Could I kill a man who was only trying to protect the life of his daughter for this woman I had just met?

“Gerald, help me!” Sierra screamed in a labored voice. If I didn’t act she was going to die, he was going to overpower her. I was struggling between what was right to do in this situation, I didn’t know which was the right path.

I took a deep breath, “I’m sorry for this,” I whispered. I aimed at his head, closed my eyes, and pulled the trigger.

“Henry you may stop and proceed out of the room, nicely done.” I didn’t want to open my eyes, had I missed? “Gerald you did splendidly, Sierra you may rise from the floor.” The only words running through my head were, “Thank God.” She looked just as perplexed as I did. I shrugged my shoulders and she mouthed the words “Thank you” to me.

“You’re probably questioning why none of you lay on the floor dead, the gun was loaded. I assure you, couldn’t you hear the bang? However, the gun was loaded with blanks. I didn’t think you’d have it in you to pull the trigger, Gerald,” V said mockingly.

“I see, so Henry was never going to kill either of us. I’m beginning to see how you work, V,” I retorted back.

“Oh, that… He was actually instructed to kill one of you, had you not pulled the trigger Sierra would be dead on the floor and you’d be returning home with the knowledge that you failed. Phase 2 is completed, rest time is granted.”

“Wait, I have a question for you. This room and everything in it is extremely advanced. Who is funding something like this? Surely that must be something you can tell me," I pondered.

“Unfortunately, our benefactor has chosen to not be named. He is a private investor who dabbles in numerous things.and never reveals just how much he has or who he is. Now, I have pressing matters to attend to with other test subjects. Ciao, Gerald.” His answer had left me with more questions than answers, he mentioned other test subjects which lead me to question just how large this operation is. Could Bill Gates be funding this? It seemed likely with the technology they had on hand.

“Are you okay Sierra?” I asked sympathetically.

“I could be asking you the same thing, you were prepared to kill a man to save my life. I’m not sure if I should be frightened by you or safe in your presence. I almost died, Gerald and both of us are fucked up enough to harm one another.” I crouched besides her and grabbed her by the chin to make her look into my eyes.

“You didn’t die, if I wanted to kill you I would have shot at you, and I have no intentions of harming you,” I stated with a solemn tone.

A flood of relief washed over her face. She began to stand at that moment. “Well you’re in luck champ, I don’t have any intentions of harming you. I owe you my life, Gerald.” I went over to the couch and turned on the television set. If nothing else, this could at least somewhat supplement a desire for the outside world. Sierra prepared a meal behind me and then we sat watching mindless comedy movies on Netflix (yes this fucking room had Netflix, the irony right?) as we ate. We laughed and talked, trying to displace the events of the past two days from our minds.

Sierra grabbed my hand and led me to the bed. “I can’t fall asleep in this fucking place without you,” she said and then proceeded to nuzzle into my chest as we drifted off to sleep. Which, of course was the only fleeting escape we had. Needless to say, it was interrupted by the usual routine.

“Wake up,” V said over the loudspeaker. The room had changed again in our sleep, We both got up, dressed, showered, ate and then watched the clock tick down to signify the beginning of phase 3. Lord only knows what fucked up scenario he had planned this time. Sierra asked a question that had been ringing in my mind about my escort here.

“Mr. V, was Sylvia ever actually my friend and if so, was that her actual name?” the same thing could be asked about Hashim in my case.

“Friendship is complicated to put a measure on, am I certain that she wished the best for you? Of course. Is her name legitimate? Absolutely not. In both your cases, the people that invited you to our experiment are a part of our organization. However, that does not mean they are not your friend. Your problem is that you are thinking of this in a negative light, when in reality you don’t even know the purpose of our experiment. Who are you to say that their intentions towards you were necessarily wrong? Again I pose the question to you, what is morality?” Another cryptic statement from V.

“You’re talking in riddles, and circling the question. Stop fucking with us,” I said bluntly.

“Perhaps I am speaking in riddles, but I by no means am avoiding giving you an answer.”

“So, can you tell us the name of your organization V?” Sierra asked him sweetly with a vindictive underlying tone.

“I’m afraid I cannot, I can however tell you that we have been around for a very long time and have witnessed countless events of history. This experiment is history in the making, my dear. Buckle up and enjoy the ride,” V said laughing.

“You’re sick,” Sierra said coldly.

“Perhaps I am, but we’ve wasted enough time on frivolous banter, The next phase of the experiment is underway, and I have more questions to pose to you. Throughout this experiment you’ve learned that selfishness can only lead to self harm, as we witnessed with Sierra’s breakdown after pressing the button. You’ve also learned that sometimes morality is a tad bit skewed, and the right option isn’t always presented on a silver platter. Now I have to ask, would you sit idly by while a person suffered if you could end it by taking their pain onto yourself? On a more psychological level, if you knew you would experience pain that could lead to your death, would you take that pain with the blind faith that they would do the same for you? Now, the game has changed a tad bit. Your chairs are actually electrocuted, and the buttons have a different function. At random I will pick who gets electrocuted first, if you sustain this for too long your heart will stop beating and you will die. Your buttons are rigged to take the electric charge from the other person, sparing them, but in turn throwing you in the limelight. You’ll notice the chairs also have metal fasteners on the belt line to prevent you from moving for the duration of this segment. Please take a seat.”

I looked over at her, “I’m not going to let you die, Sierra.” and proceeded to take my seat. The metal fastener clamped around my waist. Sierra sat directly across from me. We waited in silence for the next part of the experiment to launch. Suddenly her body began convulsing and she began screaming in pain. I hesitated to press the button, this shock was powerful enough to kill me and there was no guarantee that she would do the same for me. If nothing else, however, I have always been a man of my word. You can imagine what I did, I pressed the button.

Movies depict being electrocuted as something that is controlled, and you see crazy prisoners at the chair laughing and cursing their executioners. The truth of the matter is this: when you have a high voltage streaming through your body, you’re lucky to be able to say anything intelligible or coherent. It doesn’t just hurt, it hurts a fucking lot. I writhed in agony for what seemed like ages, tears blurred my vision, and then I heard Sierra screaming as my body slowly began to rest.

She had pressed the button, but I needed a short cool-down period. So I watched helplessly as she struggled and yelled bloody murder with the knowledge that if I hit that button too soon I would die. Her screams still haunt me to this day. I pressed the button, and it didn’t feel any better than the first time. My vision began to black out and I knew death was coming to take me when the voltage suddenly stopped. I didn’t hear Sierra screaming too so I guessed that this was the conclusion of the test.

“You both performed marvelously, I want you to feel proud of yourselves. You were willing to take the pain to save one another’s lives. It’s almost poetic really, this experiment is proving to be a fruitful success. I can’t wait for you to see what we have planned next,” V said. I was still breathing heavily.

“You’re fucking cold-hearted, V.” I felt like a participant in the movie Saw at that point.

“Is it really any more cruel than the harshities that the world throws upon us every day? You’re working together to keep yourselves and more importantly each other alive. I don’t think it’s cold-hearted to put you in situations that you wouldn’t otherwise think about.” he said to me.

“You’re doing this for vanity, don’t try to sugarcoat it you demented fuck,” Sierra said aloud.

“Perhaps, or perhaps there is some greater meaning that you are missing here. Regardless, Phase 3 is concluded and you have earned a rest period. No, I do not feel like answering any questions.” The intercom clicked off and the fasteners came undone. Sierra and I rose and stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity, and then jumped into each other’s arms, weeping uncontrollably.

“We’re almost done, Sierra. I can feel it,” I said hoping I was right.

“Gerald, you didn’t let me die. You really are a good man, I’m sorry I doubted you.” That’s when it happened, we began to kiss. We didn’t practice reproduction while they watched, but we kissed throughout the night. The last thoughts before drifting to sleep as she lay on my chest, were that I was falling in love.

“Rise and shine, lovebirds!” V said cheerily. Admittedly, looking back. Sometimes I liked V. His mind was twisted, but he was absolutely brilliant and sarcastic. Perhaps I was suffering Stockholm syndrome though. We readied ourselves for whatever cruelty lied before us.

“V, how many damn phases do you have to this test?” I asked.

Amused, he said “That’s for me to know and you to find out, so lets begin phase 4!” V seemed to be in a good mood today, which had meant I had just cause to be worried.

“Right, for this segment of the test we are going to separate you two. Now I have watched you both grow closer together so I’m sure you’re dreading being apart at this point. However, this is very crucial, remember phase 1? This is going to be a tad bit similar. You are not going to be electrocuted. I want you to ask yourselves if you are willing to destroy another person emotionally in order to save their life. So, I will not tell you the rest until after you are separated, Mr. Black, please retrieve Gerald and bring him to the second testing room.”

The door opened and Mr. Black motioned for me to follow, another masked person passed us in the hallway with someone who had a bag over their head and threw them in the room where Sierra lay in wait. Mr. Black and I entered the room where a woman sat before me, restrained to the chair. A gun lay on the table.

“Now, Gerald. This is a recording that is being broadcast to both yours and Sierra’s room to ensure timing is on par. Of course, it is modified for both of your ends. Before you is a woman who could very well save Sierra’s life, if she stops breathing. This woman is her mother. I want you to kill her. If you do not comply, I will send an electric charge to Sierra’s chair killing her, likewise goes for her. You have 2 minutes to make your decision before I pull the plug on the operation. Please proceed.”

I was horrified. I had to kill Sierra’s mother in order to keep her alive. If the same was in return then that meant my father was in the room with Sierra. The thought dawned on me however that he has a habit of setting up psychologically disturbing scenarios with no intention of killing anyone in the process.

I grinned, picked up the gun and spoke loudly. “You enjoy these games don’t you?” I cocked it and pointed it directly at Sierra’s mother, confident that I had just discovered the flaw in his system. Her head exploded in a spray of red when I pulled the trigger. The sight still haunts me to this day.

After two minutes I was not dead. That meant that Sierra had killed my father. I still wonder if she had the same idea in her mind that she was “breaking the system” so to speak.

“Mr. Black please clean the rooms and then return Gerald to Sierra for debriefing.” I sat there mortified staring at my hands as her mother’s slumped body was removed from the room. I waited in the confines of my mind, screaming in agony among the silence. He returned and led me back to Sierra who was in no better condition.

“I have no words for you, V,” I said.

“Okay, I have to confess. I may have lied about the whole mother/father scenario. Those were death row inmates and you carried out their execution. However, it did serve two purposes. One, you proved that you’d be willing to remove anyone that stood in the way of each other living. Two, you realized that I am absolutely serious about the possibility that either of you could die at any moment in this experiment. You only have one more phase to go. You should really be proud of the breakthrough you’re making for science.”

“V, you just made us become killers. We have now taken lives in the process of this fucked up game of yours and you expect us to be proud? Take a look in the mirror and realize how many sinners are willing to cast stones at the unjust,” I said darkly.

He responded, “I don’t view purging the world of a child rapist and a serial killer responsible for many deaths in her confinement as taking rightful lives. They made their choice and you carried out the act. Now, Phase 4 is concluded and you may have your rest period.”

“Wait, I have a question. How are the police on board with this for two un-consenting adults to be subject to a degree of psychological torments?” I asked V hoping to catch him in a lie.

“Tell me, Gerald… Did you review the conditions on the contract for your promotion that must be met before you could be granted the title of your position? Sierra, did you review the ledger you had to sign upon entering the dining establishment with Sylvia?” It dawned on me then that I had not reviewed the contract at all. I had mindlessly signed it without reading a single thing it said.

“Next time, be sure to read the fine print. Sierra, I’m more surprised by you, after all… You are an attorney.” We both sat there silently staring down at the ground. This was our own damn fault and we both knew it. Everything was connected and that dawned on me at that moment. Mr. Glosen was involved then, as he had handed me the contract. The person who wrote the contract was Harry Lipcasiwicz, and the person who brought me here was Hashim. William Newman would be the only one with extensive resources necessary to fund something like this, which just leaves one major detail I had overlooked.

“Dr. Martin Van Glahn, let me ask you another question. At what point did you think training people to be able to kill for one another and then releasing them into the world that you live in would be a good idea?” I asked hoping to stun him with the revealing of his name. The mirror cleared and became glass.

“Well done, Gerald. You seem to have put together the pieces! I applaud you, however.. What makes you think that both of you are going to leave here alive?” That bastard was right in front of me and I had sat with him, drank right next to him. I decided at that moment that I was going to kill him. Not only him, I was going to kill all of them.

The mirror turned back into a mirror and the intercom fell silent with that last cryptic remark.

Sierra looked at me and whispered “Does he really mean that? Is one or both of us going to die?”

I looked at her and said “I don’t know, but I do know one thing. This entire ordeal has been structured to bring us together. It’s done just that. Whatever happens tomorrow, I want you to know that I’ve fallen in love with you and I don’t understand why.” she looked at me and kissed me. We did make love that night, while those fuckers watched. It was kind of hot in a way.

“Well, I suppose I don’t have to visit the internet to watch mature content anymore. Don't worry, this one wasn't broadcasted to your families,” Dr. Van Glahn said.

“Now then, I regret to inform you that only one of you can survive this ordeal. Our organization has decided that it would be a liability to send you both out into the world granted your previous statement, Gerald. Since you’re so bold I’m giving you the choice of who it is. If you do not comply, the room will fill with toxic gas and both of you will die. On the table is a gun with a single bullet. Pick it up and make your choice. You have three minutes to say goodbye to Sierra, since one way or another it will be the last time you see her. Proceed.”

I could see tears in her eyes. She grabbed my hands and said “Gerald, I want you to live a long life, I told you I owed mine to you. I didn’t say it before, but I love you too and I wouldn’t want to live in a world without you after everything we’ve been through.” I burst into tears and kissed her passionately. You can automatically assume that I lived through the ordeal given that I’m writing this now, 6 years after the fact.

I picked up the gun and said to her. “I’m sorry, Sierra. You have more to live for than I do.” I pointed the gun at my head and pulled the trigger. The door burst open and the men and our families entered the room.

Dr. Martin clapped me on the back and said, “Well done, we didn’t think you’d have it in you. The experiment was a success, were you pleased with the Connect Two experience?” The following happened in a matter of seconds.

I didn’t think. I had an unloaded gun in my hands, and I repeatedly bashed him in the face with it until he didn’t move. Everyone in the room screamed in horror, but nobody could possibly argue my actions. No charges could be made against me due to the extenuating circumstances of the "experiment". What of the others that were involved?  That’s a story for another day, but remember, I am a man of my word. Me and Sierra lived happily ever after with our fucked up minds caused by a fucked up union. The moral of the story?

Love is not defined by set attractions that you yourself have. Superficiality and the image of the perfect person does not exist. You could fall in love with anyone if placed into the correct conditions, and I found that out in the cruelest way imaginable.