Worst Case Scenario
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Worst Case Scenario

"Assume that everything I've told you is true."

"What's the worst case scenario?"

It's my job to answer that question; it's been my job for the past 22 years. I've been asked that same question by everyone from tobacco company executives to defense contractors. My life and livelihood depended on giving them the right answers. This one had degraded into nonsense; this "doctor" was screwing around and I couldn't understand why. The situation he had laid out was absurd — the whole interview was absurd — but I was once more being paid good money to answer that question even if the question and consequent answers didn't make a lot of sense.

"Doctor, at that point things would be bad. You would have lost containment entirely, everyone who could stop the spread would be dead, and over the next 24 hours everyone within a hundred miles would be at risk. But at that point, the worst case scenario is that reestablishing containment is the least of your worries because a previously undiscovered deep space object was just detected coming out of our observational blind spot behind the sun on a collision course with earth, leaving us only a few hours to come to terms with our inevitable destruction. That's always the worst case scenario."

You know what they say - garbage in, garbage out.

"It's been done. September 1992. One of my junior researchers assigned to the L3 observatory spotted it with a good two weeks' notice. That was the day the observatory paid for itself. It could have been bad, but we took a few notes for next time and went about our business.

"If you'll excuse me for a minute, I'll be right back with something for you."

He had to be screwing with me. But nobody with the security clearance he had provided would bring me in just to screw around. The nondisclosure agreements he had signed to get me in here had been drawn up by some of the world's best lawyers, this wasn't for anyone else's amusement. Bits and pieces of memories in the back of my mind started to come together. I tried to remember what I had heard on the news, 1994, mass casualty incident at Mill Cove, officials blamed an outbreak of a strain of Avian flu that was thought to have been extinct.

I have to give him credit, he's planted enough doubt in my mind that I was starting to question what I knew to have happened. But my imagination was running wild and I had broken into a cold sweat by the time he came back. He slid three folders over to me and asked me to read each one carefully and let him know when I was done. I took about ten minutes poring over details of each. For what they were paying me, I'd figured I'd play along. I looked back up and he spoke again, "Same question. Assuming these files are true, what's the worst case scenario?"

I handed him the first of the folders and said, "This one is easy. Don't let anyone touch it without gloves. Put it in a locker somewhere and don't let people have the key. That's it, it can't do anything if it's locked in a box. Your worst case scenario is that someone doesn't think it's dangerous and tries to play with it."

I thumbed through the second folder again and handed it to him. I responded, "This one's a bit more touchy. Keep it away from people, and require people assigned to it run any decisions by someone off-site. The worst case is that you let people start to empathize and let it out."

I slid the third folder across the desk and managed to keep a straight face. This one was a stupid joke, some kind of test that a psychology degree dropout would come up with to make sure you're thinking outside the box. "Doctor, this is not something you're prepared to deal with; it's an out-of-context problem straight out of a science fiction writer's mind. You can't contain it because it figures out what you're doing and breaks out. Every time you try to do something about it, it gets stronger. One day you're going to try something outrageous and it's going to outsmart you, then it's going to kill you. Then it's going to kill everything else it can. Then someday a few billion years from now, when lightning strikes a pool of mud and some sort of primitive self-replicating molecule forms, it's going to find and destroy that. This thing is the worst case scenario.

"Do you have any more questions?"

"No, Mr. Hanford, I'd like to offer you a job with The Foundation."

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