“How do you like the soup?” he heard her say. “It’s quite good,” he lied. He slurped another spoonful, wincing. “Really?” she said quizzically. “I…uh, yes. I quite, uh…like it,” he stammered, avoiding her glare. “Are you sure? Your response seemed rather hesitant?” she said leaning over the Formica table he was seated at. “I’d say it’s a three,” he said staring into the bowl, refusing to meet her eyes. “A three? Interesting, very interesting,” she backed away from the table, turning to the mirror that covered the opposite wall, “You see a three, to me anyways, would be neutral as far as liking or disliking goes. A four would be quite good and a five, well a five would be very good, great even. Wouldn’t you agree?” she said looking at her reflection in the mirror, adjusting her glasses. “Yes I suppose so,” he agreed.
“Of course that’s assuming we are working on a scale of one to five.”
“We are. I mean I was.”
“Well good, we are on the same page then.”
“So what would you say you disliked about the soup,” she said turning from the mirror, “You know, what would you like to change.” He looked up not seeing her. Lost in his own thoughts. He felt a bead of sweat trail down his side. “I suppose you could, maybe use more salt,” he said. “More salt? Quite an observation. Anything else?” she questioned with a look of mild amusement. He nervously fidgeted with an electrode secured to his temple. “Don’t touch those,” she screeched slamming her fist on the table. He jumped. His heart was racing. “You do not touch those,” she said. He was frozen in shock. “They are quite important. It’s the only way to get your neural read-outs,” she flashed an empty smile at him. “Of course there are other more invasive ways to collect neural data, but we wouldn’t want to resort to them, now would we?” she said with a playful laugh. He did not laugh.
He closed his eyes and tried to take a breath. This is not happening. This is not happening. He repeated to himself. This is not working the voice in his head replied.
“So you didn’t like the amount of salt in the soup. What did you like?” she said, slowly pacing behind him. He calmed himself and looked once more at the soup. The soup sat there giving him no hints.
“I enjoyed the tarragon.”
“There was no tarragon.”
“Was it thyme, then?”
“Please. You tasted no thyme.”
She lunged at him grabbing his collar, shaking him violently. The table rattled. The soup crashed to the floor. “Why do say this shit to me?” she yelled. She ripped the data read-outs from the machine attached to his electrodes. She began cramming the paper into his mouth. “Lies, lies,” she repeated, “Eat your lies.” He tried to scream. Nothing came out. Tears welled up in his eyes.
A green light came on in the corner of the room. She stopped. Stepping back she straightened her lab coat. “Thank you Mr. Johnson for participating in Campbell’s neuromarketing research. Please see the receptionist in the lobby to collect your compensation.”
He looked around at the room now glowing green. He pulled the electrodes from his face one by one. The sweat on his brow had loosened them. He stood not looking at her and walked to the door. His legs felt unsteady under him. By the time he reached the reception desk he had regained his composure. The girl smiled and handed him an envelope that had “Mr. Johnson” scrawled across the front.
He felt hungry. He did not feel like soup.