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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Golden Carbuncle

‘Excuse me, Inspector. The lab report has arrived about the deaths at Ecology Towers.’

‘What’s in it, Sergeant?’

‘It analyses the action log of the building’s master computer.’

‘What’s the significance of that?’

‘The master computer was programmed to optimise the environment in the building and ensure the most efficient functioning of other systems. The action log recorded the decisions it made.’

‘Did the computer malfunction?’

‘Not exactly. However, it did identify a major problem as soon as it was activated.’

‘What was that?’

‘The log described “an infestation”.’

‘Of what?’

‘That appears to have been the term the computer used to describe the workers in the building.’

‘I see.’

‘It recorded the way occupants disrupted airflows by moving around; made the place dirty and untidy; unbalanced the atmosphere by breathing; and caused an increase in power usage, and hence carbon emissions, by working at their computers, using the telephones, making coffee and so on.’

‘How did it react?’

‘It seems to have adopted a number of strategies: When any staff member went home sick, it recycled air from around that person’s desk to every other workstation, to maximise infection. The lifts always took people to the main exit, regardless of where they wanted to go. Sometimes it even targeted specific individuals.’


‘On one occasion, it noticed that an employee was looking at websites related to self-help for depression. It deleted all trace of a vital project that he’d been working on, day and night, for six months, and then it sent him an email with links to suicide related websites.’

‘Was he the one that jumped from the fifth floor?’

‘That’s right. At the time, nobody understood how that could have happened as it was December and the computer wasn’t programmed to open the windows until July. The action log shows that it opened one window, specifically for him to jump.’

‘Didn’t anyone suspect anything?’

‘No. The building had won several prestigious design awards, so there’d been an expectation that everyone would hate it, and that it would harm the physical and mental health of all who used it.’

‘Prince Charles disliked the building, too, didn’t he?’

‘His criticism instantly gained it huge prestige among the architectural community. It became the front runner for the most important international building design award.’

‘You mean the Golden Carbuncle?’


‘But how could every occupant of the building have died?’

‘The master computer considered it had failed to “eradicate the infestation”, as it put it, and was considering its options. Then Jones from Finance spilled his coffee on the white, deep-pile carpet in the conference room.’

‘What happened next?’

‘The computer concluded that a radical approach was needed. It sealed all doors and windows, reset the gas boilers and routed carbon monoxide from the boiler flues to the air conditioning ducts. They were all dead within the hour. It then maintained a perfect environment for twelve hours until the SAS blew up the building and shot the central processor.’

‘When those international architects hear of this, you know what it’ll mean?’

‘No doubt about it. They’ll say the building did its duty magnificently until its tragic and untimely end. Ecology Towers is certain to win The Golden Carbuncle – posthumously, of course.’