Britain, the not-too-distant future. Idir is sitting the British Citizenship Test. He wants his family to belong.
Twenty-five questions to determine their fate. Twenty-five chances to impress. When the test takes an unexpected and tragic turn, Idir is handed the power of life and death. How do you value a life when all you have is multiple choice?
Award-winning author Sylvain Neuvel explores an immigration dystopia in The Test—available February 12th from Tor.com Publishing.
Warning: The following excerpt depicts gun violence.
The Life in the United Kingdom Test
Question 1: Who is the patron saint of Wales and on which date is his feast day?
I know the answer! It’s Saint David, on March first. I met Tidir, my wife, on March first. It is our meeting anniversary. I remember that day. She came in for a root canal and I fell in love. Not with her—I didn’t know who she was and she didn’t exactly talk a lot with the mouth prop on. I fell in love with her teeth. She had striped canines. Horizontal discolouration of the enamel, right down the middle. Her teeth look like Neapolitan ice cream. Neapolitan cuspids. I knew right away.
We met again in a café weeks later. I asked if I could sit with her, and she said yes. A month later, we were married. If you ask her why she married me, she’ll say she was in pain before she met me and I made it go away. I did fix her tooth. The rest of it runs deeper than I can reach. She’s been through a lot. It’s for her that we had to leave.
We celebrate our meeting day more than we do our wedding anniversary. We both chose to get married, but that root canal, that was the will of Allah. I decorate the house, cover the kitchen floor with rose petals. Sometimes I use tulips, but I don’t tell her. I make my Fesenjān, if I can find nice pomegranates. Our first year in London, our neighbour asked if we were celebrating Saint David’s day. He’s from Wales. I think that was supposed to be a joke, but we have been best friends ever since. Now we celebrate together. Fesenjān and Welsh rarebit. This question is a sign. This is going to be a great day!
It didn’t start so well. They gave me a physical when we first arrived. I hate physicals. I have no problem with needles if I’m the one holding the syringe, but I get queasy staring at the receiving end. It was over quickly, though, and then they took us here. Wow. You say immigration office and I think grey building, bad lighting, yellowed walls. I imagined taking the test on an old school desk with chewed pieces of gum underneath. This place feels like a fancy hotel. Gorgeous lobby. Absolutely gorgeous. Old meets new, stainless steel and mahogany. They had the same paper slippers we used at my practice in Teheran. Tidir doesn’t like those, but I do. I like the feel of the floor on my toes. It was still early and we all got a fresh pair from the clean pile.
There was an Asian man screaming at the receptionist when we walked in. He called her a racist, kept saying she stole money from him, gave him less change than what he was owed. I told him he was being impolite and sent him on his way. He may have been right, about the change that is. When I paid the fifty pound fee for the test, the receptionist gave me back a twenty pound note instead of a ten. I had to explain her mistake to her twice before she took it back. I almost told her it was a tip. I didn’t. These people have no sense of humour whatsoever. It must be a requirement for working at Immigration. Hello! My name is Idir Jalil, this is my wife Tidir.… Nothing. Not even a smile. Idir and Tidir. That usually gets us a chuckle, at least. Not here. I did not give up. You can change the world with one smile. Do you know the difference between a customs officer and a dentist? There isn’t one. They both do cavity searches. No sense of humour, I tell you. There was a redheaded man in the waiting room who made a crude joke about the receptionist’s cleavage. His joke wasn’t funny, but I have a lot of good dentist jokes. What does the dentist of the year get? A little plaque.… They showed me to the test room.
What a room! Wooden desks with fancy data pads. The chair… this chair is more comfortable than any chair I have ever sat in. It is decided. After the test I will find out where they purchased it and I will get that chair for myself. The room is small—there are only four desks—but there are windows all around and it feels very open. I can see Tidir in the waiting room. I can see my son, Ramzi, and my daughter, Salma. It was nice of them to come. My wife said it was the least they could do since I am the only one taking the test. Only men. Only between the ages of sixteen and forty-five. She said it was unfair. I told her it was a blessing. I do not care what their motivations are; it is a simple matter of probabilities. I heard that one in three people fails the test. If that is true and I alone am required to pass, our family has a sixty-six percent chance at citizenship. If two of us are tested, then the odds go down to forty-three percent. She said I was naive. I do not see what is naive about mathematics. The world is what you make of it, I told her. She smiled.
Question 2: A lot of people carve lanterns out of ______ and put a candle inside of them during Halloween.
Ramzi would like this question. He loves Halloween. That is probably his favourite thing about England. He starts talking about his costume months in advance, as early as July. He’ll change his mind a dozen times and we always end up making it at the last minute. He was a space pirate last year. Ramzi was one year old when we left Teheran, so he doesn’t remember, but we did have Halloween in Iran. We’d walk by houses and hear music in the basement, see someone wearing a mask through the window. Teenagers, always. Too brazen to fear the Basij, too young to realize how much they should. People have been accused of witchcraft, satanism for merely attending such parties. We never saw any pumpkins, though. Ramzi asks us for one every year. We said yes and bought one, once, made pumpkin pie with the insides. We hated it, all of us. We make costumes for the children, but we do not buy pumpkins anymore. It feels wrong to waste a beautiful giant fruit. It is a fruit, is it not? It has seeds.… Things with seeds are—
—How long do we have?
What? My test neighbour is talking to me. I am fairly certain we are not allowed to talk, mister. I wore a baseball cap for my citizenship test. Then again, this is the same man who came through the door exactly as I was walking in and pushed me aside. I shouldn’t be too surprised. I will not answer him.
—For the test. How long do we have?
Please stop talking, mister. It says right at the top. You have forty-five minutes to complete the test.
—Do you know?
Fine! I will tell you.
—We have forty-five minutes.
There. I said it. Now stop talking before—
—Sir. There is no talking during the test.
That voice came through the speakers. But he— No, I will not get upset. He is just nervous. He is. His leg is shaking. If I were unsure about how long we have, I would also want to know. Now I have told him and he feels better. That is well worth being scolded by the attendant. Life is what you make of it. This is a good day.
Question 3: Taking public transportation is good for the environment. True or false?
A city question. People who talk a lot about the environment are always the ones living the farthest away from nature. True. Public transportation is indeed better than driving… That is what they mean. It must be. That question is poorly worded. How could no one have noticed that? Walking is a lot better for the environment than public transportation, and so is riding a bicycle. Perhaps this is a new question. Deep breath. Stop overthinking, Idir. The answer is true.
Tidir and I do not own a car. Neither of us likes to drive. I wish I could say we walk everywhere to save the planet, but the truth is we are both horrible drivers. People keep telling me how bad the air is in London. Worse than Beijing, they say. I tell them they should be happy it still looks like air. In Teheran, we spent the better part of winter cutting through brown haze, thick dark clouds of sulphur dioxide—lots of things that end in -xide—asbestos, even rubber. Who wants to breathe in rubber? They say it is because the gasoline is so bad. I doubt there is asbestos in gasoline.
Question 4: King Richard III of the House of York was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field in what year?
I should leave a note for question 3. Hmmm, there is no room for notes. It is fine. It is fine. The Battle of Bosworth Field was fought in… 1485. I am positive. That is the answer. I wonder who writes these questions. How will knowing this make me a better member of British society? We have been living in London for five years. My son has no memory of Iran and my daughter was born here. We have been asked why we hate freedom, told to go back to the desert many times—I tell them I hear Dasht-e Kavir is breathtaking but I have never been. It is true—but not once has anyone asked me about famous battles of the fifteenth century. Maybe I should bring it up.
I have a feeling only the people taking this test know the answer to that question. What could anyone possibly do with that information? It would have come in handy in, say, 1485, if one were travelling the country. Darling, perhaps Bosworth Field is not the best spot for a picnic today. The horses are fine. I think we should keep trotting. I should not—
Seriously? Mr. Baseball Cap spilled his coffee on his desk. No reaction. He is just sitting there, looking at the mess. Do something!… Stop judging, Idir. Get up and help the man… There are to be some napkins near the coffee machine. Where are they? There. That should be enough.
—Here you go, sir. Let me help you.
—Oh, thanks. I’m just… really nervous.
Why was I so quick to judge this man? I must be nervous, myself. There is a lesson to be learned here. We are all more alike than we think.
Question 5: The “Gunners” is the nickname of which Premier League football club?
Finally, something useful.
They should make this whole test about football. Sports bring people together like nothing else. It might be even truer here than it was in Teheran. Our neighbour took me to the pub a few weeks after we met. I was hesitant at first. A lot of Iranians will drink alcohol—we did on occasion—but doing it in public does not come naturally. I figured the people who would object were not likely to be in a pub, and I said yes. I loved the ambiance. People singing and cheering. We were standing near the bar watching the Arsenal. I don’t remember who they were playing. I was too self-conscious to openly celebrate, but when the Gunners scored, this hulking giant of man grabbed me by the shoulders and squeezed me like a sponge. It was the first time I felt like I belonged, like I was truly welcome. There have been other times since, many of them, but there was something special about that game.
I wish— What was that noise? It sounded like a gunshot. That was a gunshot. Most people don’t know what a gunshot sounds like. It sounds like a garbage container being closed hard, like someone popping a plastic bag, anything but a gunshot. Most people don’t know that, until they do. Then it is impossible not to recognize it. Why would anyone fire a gun at the immigration office?
Oh. There are… four, no, five men coming in; I can see them through the window—large men. They are all wearing ski masks—black, black combat fatigues. They have tactical vests. And guns. They have… lots of guns, automatic weapons. Are they soldiers? They look exactly like the IRGC forces in Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. All black. Daunting. I suppose they look exactly like any special forces. They could be British, SAS perhaps. This could be some sort of exercise? I hope—They are entering the waiting room. My family!
Everyone is getting on their knees. TIDIR! NO! DO NOT GET NEAR MY CHILDREN! Please, Tidir, do as they say. This is not an exercise. No. No. No. NO! How is this happening? Tidir… Tidir will be okay. She knows what to do. Stay silent. Don’t draw attention to yourself.
One of them is coming this way. He’s entering the test room.
—Everyone! On your knees! Now!
I am! I am on my knees. I have been here before. I have been thrown to the ground and I have felt the tip of their guns on the back of my neck. I have been through this and I have survived. We will survive. All of us. Someone will come. Someone will come and save us all.
—I said now!
What? Who isn’t complying? Come on, Mr. Baseball Cap, do what he says! You will get yourself killed. You’ll get someone else killed! No! Don’t talk to them!
—What is this? What do you want with us? We don’t—
That sound again, only much louder. They shot him! Vay Khoda, they shot him! A loud thump. Mr. Baseball Cap is falling to the ground. Everyone is screaming. What should I do? Should I look? I have to look, raise my head slowly. No sudden movement. That is what they told me in Teheran. He’s holding his leg. The dark stain on the wooden floor is growing rapidly. If they hit the artery, he will bleed out in minutes. Someone has to help him or he’ll die.
Everyone has stopped screaming. Everyone but him. I will need something to stop the bleeding. My shirt. I can untie my shirt now, while I’m kneeling. Maybe someone else will— Maybe they— What am I thinking? That man will not help, he’s the one who shot him. I’m the only one who can help. I am taking off my shirt. I’ll stay close to the ground with my head down. There is so much blood. Mr. Baseball Cap is looking at me. I see so many emotions. Pain. Fear. I don’t want to die. Distress. Please help me. Despair. I will do what I can.
—Hey! You! What are you doing?
—Please don’t shoot! Please! I’m just going to tie this around his leg.… There. That’s it. It’s done.
—Get back over there!
I fear my heart will burst out of my chest. Look at the floor, Idir. Move away from him and keep looking at the floor. I hope he lives. He’ll need medical attention soon. A real tourniquet would give him time. This, my shirt, it’s not tight enough. It will slow the bleeding down a bit, but not much. I can’t say for certain, but my guess is he has minutes, not hours. But he is alive for now. That is what matters. I’m alive. Tidir is alive. My children are alive.
This can’t be happening to us, not again. This is what we ran away from. Guns and impunity. This is why we’re here. Men with guns knocking at the door in the middle of the night. Kneeling. Always kneeling. Watching her leave, not knowing if she was coming back. Ramzi crying for his mother, too young to understand why he gets a plastic bottle instead of a breast. Mommy will be back soon. She always came back. Always with the same look on her face. Resilience. She never talked about what they did to her. There was nothing to gain, a lot to lose. She didn’t want it to change the way I looked at her. Tidir was a journalist, and a good one at that. Some pain came with the territory, but she felt guilty for making us share it. There are days when I regret not getting her to stop, not even trying. Not many, but some. Now she’s kneeling again. She’s calm. She knows this. She’ll do what she needs to do to protect our children.
—Everyone! It seems we have a good Samaritan among us.
That voice is coming from across the window. It’s louder than before. I could not make out what anyone was saying a moment ago.
—You! Samaritan! Look at me!
He’s banging on the window. Is he talking to me? Don’t draw attention to yourself. That is what they told me. He is talking to me, standing behind the glass to my left. No one else is speaking. Deference. He must be the man in charge. He is smaller than the rest of them. There is a holstered pistol on his belt, nothing in his hands. Everyone else is holding a weapon.
—I said look at me!
I am looking at him, but I can’t hold his stare. I have to say something. He singled me out because I helped the man in the baseball cap. He saw defiance. I put my head down again. Submission.
—I just… I tried to stop the bleeding.
That was a mistake. I shouldn’t talk. I should do nothing.
—Do I look shy?
What? Don’t answer that. Nothing good can come of this.
—I asked you a question, Samaritan. Do I look shy to you?
—I’m sorry. I don’t—
—Timid! Shy! Insecure! It’s a simple question. DO. I. LOOK. SHY?
It’s a trap. I know. He knows that I know. He also knows I have no choice but to walk into it. He is testing me.
—No, sir. I’m sorry.
—You’re sorry that I don’t look shy? Never mind that. Are you in control?
He wants me to panic. I can’t.
—Of this situation. Are you in control here? Are you in charge?
—Then who is?
—You are, sir. You’re in charge.
He is the man in charge. He wanted me to know.
—Then If I’m in control, and I don’t, as you said, look timid or insecure, don’t you think I would have asked if I wanted you to stop the bleeding? You, my friend, are meddling in shit that doesn’t concern you.
Defiance. Stop it, Idir.
—Like hell you’re not!
—I won’t do anything else, sir, I promise.
—Oh, but you will. You will if I tell you to! See, you chose to help that man. You made a decision. It wasn’t yours to make and you know it. I know you do, you look like an intelligent man.
—Don’t interrupt me, Samaritan! You even said it! “You are, sir. You’re in charge.” That tells me you understand the hierarchy. And yet! And yet, you made that decision for me.
Have I done this? Have I gotten myself here? There’s nothing I can say, no good answer. I might die today, and I don’t know if it was inevitable or if I inched myself into it, one small mistake after the other. Don’t draw attention to yourself. That is what they told me. It’s too late for that. My head is spinning, thoughts going through my mind faster than I can catch them.
There’s a television set in the waiting room behind the man in charge. No sound. I can’t hear it through the window if there is. I see the building we’re in. It’s a helicopter shot. Dozens of police cars. Tactical teams. We must be on every channel. I can’t read the text at the bottom of the screen. Tidir is still on her knees facing the floor; so are the kids. Good. She must know he’s talking to me. I hope she doesn’t do anything. She won’t. She’s smarter than I am. I bet she could read the small print if she were in this room. Tidir has the best eyesight. She can read street signs before I even know there is a street sign. She finds even the smallest toy parts Ramzi leaves behind. More aerial shots of the building. “Terrorism” in bold white letters, big enough even for me to see. I hope no one dies because of me. I’ve started a chain of events I can’t seem to stop. Please let no one else suffer for it.
—I tell you what, Samaritan. I have a phone call to make, but I’ll get back to you in a sec. Don’t worry.
I am worried, but it feels good to have his eyes off me. He must be talking to the police. I can’t hear the words, but he’s probably making demands. It does not matter at this point. Either they’ll surrender—that seems unlikely—or tactical teams will storm in and fire at everything that moves. People will get shot. Bad people, good people. Collateral damage. One thing is for sure, they will not meet their demands. They will negotiate—that could last for days—get the man in charge to release a few hostages if they can. That is what we are, now. Hostages. They will show good will, send some food, but in the end they will come in and people will die. I think I just heard him say “fifteen minutes.”
—Every fifteen minutes! You hear me!
I do. I wonder if he was shouting to the people on the phone or if this was for our benefit. If it was, it seems pointless. Everyone here is already as scared as they can be. He’s established his dominance, now what? All I can do is wait. There is no way out of this room, only the door I came in through. Even if there were, I could not leave without my family and the man in charge is standing five feet away from them. He is in control.
—Samaritan! I told you I wouldn’t forget about you!
What does he want with me?
—Samaritan! Look at me when I’m talking to you! What are you here for? Why are you in this room? Did they punish you because you stuck your nose where it didn’t belong like you did with me?
Maybe I can do some good. Maybe if he focuses all his attention on me, everyone else will be safe. My family will be safe.
—I didn’t. I’m… I’m here for a test.
—A test?! What kind of test?
—Ci… A citizenship test.
—Citizenship! That’s right! You’re a fucking immigrant! Where are you from?
This is my chance. I cannot fade into the background anymore, but I can try to become human again. Right now, I am only a hostage to him, a means to an end. Dehumanized. If I share some personal things…
—You’re from Irak!
—Iran, Irak… You’re a Muslim, aren’t you? Why’d you come here?
—We were… Our lives were in danger.
—Our lives… You have a family?
—Yes, sir. They came with me.
—Let me get this straight. You leave your country because… you’re in danger. You take your wife, your kids? Kids plural?
—Yes, sir. Two of them.
—Good for you. You get them out of Iran and you come to this place, and now you’re here, today, for a fucking citizenship test. Wow. That’s messed up. That is some bad fucking luck, my friend! How’s it going?
—The test. How is it going so far?
—Is it easy? Is it hard? Come on, Samaritan! I’ve got time. Let’s get you through that test!
I don’t know why is he’s doing this. There’s nothing genuine about him, nothing good.
—I’m trying to help you here! Are you going to refuse my help?
It does not matter why he is doing it. He is not hurting anyone while he’s talking to me.
—No, sir. Thank you, sir.
—There. Gratitude. That’s what I like to hear. What’s the next question?
—I… It’s on the desk, sir.
—Then get the fuck up and go back to your desk! We don’t have all day!
He had that man shot because he wouldn’t get down. Now he wants me to get up. Do what he says, Idir. Everything will be fine. I will not sit on the chair. I’ll just kneel in front of the desk and swipe left to the next screen.
—Yes, sir. It’s… I’m at question six.
—Six! How many are there?
—Twenty-five. This is question six of twenty-five.
—Shit. That’s a lot. We better hurry then. What’s the question?
—How old was Mary Stuart when she became Queen of Scotland?
—That’s the question?
—What kind of question is that? Why do you need to know that to be a citizen. I don’t know that!
—There are lots of historical questions, sir.
—That is the question, sir. How old was Mary Stuart when she became Queen of Scotland?
—What’s the fucking answer?
—Oh. I don’t know.
I am much too scared to think, but I really don’t know the answer. If I did, I might not have told him. I don’t think I should. The last thing I want is to sound like a know-it-all.
—You don’t know?
—No, sir. I don’t.
—Is it multiple choice or open answer?
—There are four… four answers to choose from: One week old. One month old. One year old. Five years old.
—None of these make sense. Does anyone know? Anyone?
Please let no one answer. Please. Keep him focused on me.
—People! Wake the fuck up! Samaritan here is going to flunk his test if no one answers!
—Six days. She was six days old.
Who said that? It came from inside the test room. One of his men behind me.
—Six days old! Are you sure?
—Look at you, smarty-pants! That makes no sense, though. Six days old… What would she do? There ya go, lads! The baby pooped! Let’s sack York!
Does he expect us to laugh at his jokes? Let him speak, Idir. Let him speak all he wants. The longer this takes, the better chance we have. The police might come in.
—All right, Samaritan, one down. What’s the next one?
—Question seven. Which… Which stories are associated with—
—Oh oh! I’m afraid we’re out of time, Samaritan.… Get up.
—Get up! I help you, now you help me. That’s how it works.… I said get up! Good, come here.
We are standing two feet from each other, only a window between us. He’s staring at me. I won’t stare back. I’ll keep looking at the floor. For a second, I saw… There’s something wrong about the way he looked at me. There’s no… emotion, nothing in his eyes. I think I made a mistake. Humanizing myself won’t change a thing. That man is a psychopath. He could not care less if I’m a person or not.
—You! Get up. Over here.
Who is he talking to? He’s not looking at me anymore, the man in charge. He’s helping someone off the floor. The redheaded man, I’ve seen him before. He was sitting in the corner when we came into the waiting room. He made that crude joke about the receptionist. He’s wearing a suit, probably his one suit. I did not notice before, but it’s a size too small and his shoes are worn. He looks about my age, maybe a bit older. Late forties.
—Who do we have behind door number one? What’s your name, sir? Oh, don’t be shy.
—You can look up, everyone.
He wants all of us to see this, whatever this is.
—And what do you do for a living, Graham?
—There’s no crying at this game, Graham. Just tell me what you do.
—I’m an accountant.
—Sorry about that, Graham. But all right. Aaaand… you. Fatty. Get up.
That kid looks so scared. He’s not a kid, he must be in his late twenties, but he looks… pink skin, a little round. Soft, mostly. He’s wearing a powder blue sweater, cashmere maybe. Looks expensive.
—And what’s your name, fat boy?
—What is it with the crying?! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. You’re not fat, you’re just… What the fuck is your name, kid?
—Andrew. Andrew Shaw.
—And how do you spend your days, Andrew Andrew Shaw?
—I make… I make designer—
—Never mind. I don’t wanna know… Samaritan! Are you ready?
He’s rubbing his hands. He’s proud of himself. I don’t know where this is going, but I want it to end.
—Ready for what? What do you want from me?
—I’m glad you asked… I was on the phone a little while ago with the powers that be, and I asked them for… things. Different things. They didn’t like that, my asking for things. That’s understandable. I hate it, too, when people ask. Call me lazy, but I don’t like doing things, in general. I hate taking out the garbage, but I do. I do it because my whole flat will stink if I don’t. I don’t particularly like to eat. It’s a shame, I know, but I don’t. Obviously, I have to. I don’t like stopping at red lights, but I do—I’m a very safe driver—because the police will stop me if I don’t. You understand what I’m saying? I need motivation to do things.
The man in the blue sweater wants to get back on the floor.
—No! No! No! Get your—I was gonna say fat again, sorry. Get your ass back up, Andrew Andrew Shaw. This is for your benefit, too. Where was I? Oh yes. The police, the government, they also need motivation to do things, so… I provided some. I told them that I would kill one person every fifteen minutes if I they didn’t do what I asked them to do… Oh, and it’s been fifteen minutes. And they didn’t do what I asked them to do.
—Please don’t do that. Please—
That’s why he picked me. He wants to kill me in front of everyone! I don’t want to die. Not like this, not in front of my children.
—Samaritan! I’m not gonna kill you! Look at you, all shaky and shit! What kind of asshole would I be, helping you with that test, if I put a bullet in your head halfway through? No, I’m not gonna kill you. I’m gonna kill who you tell me to!
I don’t know what he’s saying. There has to be a way to stop this.
—You don’t need to kill anyone, sir. There’s no need for that. I can talk to them, tell them—
—Tell them what? That I’m going to kill someone? I already told them that. Are you someone important? Do you think you’re more important than me?
—No, sir. I’m not. I don’t.
—That’s what I thought. Now who’ll it be?
—Be what? I don’t understand.
—Who. Do. You. Want. Me. To. Kill? Do you have a hearing problem, Samaritan?
—I—No. I don’t want you to kill anyone.
—Sure you do! You wanted to make decisions for me—you didn’t think I forgot about that, did you?—well, now’s your chance. You can either pick Graham, the accountant—
—No, not me! Please, sir!
The redhead. He wants to kill the redhead.
—Shut the fuck up, Graham. Or Andrew Andrew Shaw and his designer shit. Your choice.
He wants to kill the redhead or the kid. I don’t know what he expects from me. I won’t do what he asks.
—I won’t do that. I won’t choose.
—God damn it, Samaritan! THERE ARE RULES! Tell me what the rules are.
—The rules! Oh, you haven’t heard the rules yet, have you? My fault! I apologize. It’s just—there’s a lot going through my mind right now. You know how it is. Anyway, here are the rules. Every fifteen minutes, I pick two people and you tell me which one to kill. I kill that person. Simple enough!
—I told you. I won’t do that. I’ll do everything you want, but not that.
—Oh, come on! I’m doing the hard part. I’m the one with the gun. We can switch if you want, but I tell you: I’d rather be in your shoes. You just pick someone. It’s a simple thing. Door number one, or door number two. That’s it! You just tell me who to kill, and I do it… OR… I forgot about that part. It’s kind of important. OR, I kill them both.… See! You’re saving someone, really.… Who’ll it be? Older guy with boring job, or fatty here with really bad taste in clothes. Is that fucking cashmere?
—I won’t choose.
—I can’t. I can’t tell you to kill someone.
—What do you mean, you can’t? You can’t just now, or like ever?
—Yes ever? Like on principle?
—That’s bullshit! Like, if someone’s holding a gun and he’ll kill two people unless I tell him to kill one of them I won’t do it? That’s not a principle. That’s just… some shit you came up with right now. Come on! Stop wasting my time.
—I’m sorry, sir. I—
—Now you’re just pissing me off. I’m going to make this easy on you, Samaritan. I’m going to count to three, then I’ll pull the trigger if I don’t have an answer. Did you get that? One, two, three, then they die.
—Here we go. One.
The hostages are looking at me, not him. I can’t look at them. They look at me like I’m really deciding which one of them will live. I’m not. I can’t help them. He’s in control, not me. He’s taunting me, messing with my head. He just wants to know if I’ll do it or not. I won’t. I’m not a killer. I won’t make that choice.
He won’t do it. He won’t.… Even if he does, even if he kills them both. That’s him, not me. I’m not responsible for this. It’s his choice. Not mine. He wants to kill people. I choose love. I choose life.
—Three. Did I say on three? Oh, fuck it.
The sound of bodies hitting the floor. I can’t look.
Excerpted from The Test, copyright © 2019 by Sylvain Neuvel