I was back in the curved plastic chair surrounded by desks; the one in which Cam had first reprogrammed my Biometric.
Today, the Biometric was the star of the show once again.
Cam leaned in toward one of the screens. “So, this test works the same way as what they used to call a polygraph. The Biometric measures your heart rate and breathing rate, just like it does all the time. We watch that during the test.” His lips quirked. “Bet you didn’t know; that’s actually the function it was named after, and why it kept the name ‘biometric’. It literally means ‘biological measurement’.”
I didn’t care at all, but didn’t want to be rude.
Cam rolled his chair back and pointed to the blue bars and graphs on the screen. “I’ve got your heart rate and breathing rate showing right now, as well as skin conductivity, which is an indicator of perspiration. Now, is all of that an indicator of whether you’re lying? No. Obviously. But it is a really good indicator of stress.”
“And lying causes stress,” I said.
“Right. So does being under the interview process in the first place.” He gave a short laugh. “So the first thing we—or they, or anybody who can access your Biometric—is going to do is ask you some introductory questions. Some of the questions are normal, boring questions like “what did you have for breakfast this morning?” I’m sure you can answer that.”
“I had grain flakes,” I said.
“Yep, that’s a truth,” said Cam. “Barely any change at all.”
“It changed though?” I was confused.
“Well, yeah. Normally just about any question elicits a little stress. But certain types of questions stress people out more. For example, have you ever stolen anything? Ever?”
I couldn’t believe he was actually asking me this on record, with my Biometric hooked up to the computers. “No,” I said quickly.
“Right,” said Cam, and examined my results. “So after the initial questions we start asking the real questions.”
“And you compare the graph to the introductory questions?”
Cam laughed. “Haha, no. We throw the truths out.”
“Huh?” I shook my head, confused. “I thought you’d compare my answers to see if they match a truthful pattern—”
“Nope.” He grinned. “The stealing question? I presumed you would lie about that.”
I didn’t say anything; I had lied but didn’t feel inclined to offer any further details.
“Basically,” said Cam, “We use small lies for a baseline. Any question that gets a milder reaction than your presumed small lies is considered to be truth.”
“And vice versa?” I said.
“Yes. Any reaction that gets an equal or greater reaction than your presumed lies is considered false.”
“That’s very cynical,” I said. “I mean, what if I was telling the truth when I said I’d never stolen anything?”
I gave him a dry look, rebuffed.
He laughed a little. “You see. But anyway, that would mess it all up. Not that it would help you. Telling the truth on the small lie questions actually biases the test against you. Because your threshold for stress is lower, you’re more likely to get a false positive. That’s why, if you really want to beat a Biometric analysis, you should just work yourself up as much as possible during the baseline phase, definitely tell some lies, and then calm down later when they get to the real questions.”
I was thoroughly confused now. “Okay,” I said. “Just maybe write all that down and I’ll read it again later.”
“You got it,” said Cam. “Just remember, a Biometric analysis is pretty easy to beat.”
“You think they’re gonna do that to me?”
“Maybe. They’re going to suspect you based on where you’re from. They’ll almost certainly have some kind of initiation rite or test.”
The idea of an initiation rite did worry me. I’d thought of backing out of this whole scheme a couple times already since signing on, but it was too late now. I was simply going wherever the Settlement sent me. Maybe I could have just said no. The thought passed across my mind like a cloud.
For the rest of the afternoon, Cam worked with me until I could fool the Biometric analysis easily.
Jesse and Cam both greeted me at work the next day. I had known there would be a second training program, but I was surprised that they had both come to my ‘bland desk’ in the Central Tower 11th floor instead of meeting me at the training gym. I had been granted assigned hours in one of the little office rooms in the Central Tower, which was where I had been doing the profile checks. The room was used by others intermittently, and it never really felt like my own.
Today they slipped in through the frosted glass door, Jesse in the lead. Cam shut the door behind them.
“It’s time for you t’ learn noncompliance,” said Jesse. He pushed the rolling table that I’d been using as a desk off to the side of the room.
I stood up and blinked, nonplussed. “Why would DYNTEC want me to learn that? Isn’t compliance a good thing?”
“Normally is,” said Jesse. “Not when yer dealin’ with a cult, though. Y’already know that. You gotta be prepared to… not do things they ask ya to.”
“Like what?” I asked, nervous. “I’m blending in, right? That… that means complying with them, or at least I’d assume so.”
Cam stood behind Jesse, leaning one shoulder against the wall, not looking at me. He seemed quiet today, and I thought this was odd, as he was usually quite talkative.
“’S’right,” said Jesse. “You try. But what if you get caught?”
“I don’t want to get caught,” I said, troubled.
“I hope,” he said quietly, “For your own sake, that’cha don’t. However. If they did, which is possible – they might hurt’cha.”
“I don’t—” I backed up a step, bringing me away from Jesse and closer to Cam. I didn’t like where this was going. I directed my plea to Cam, as Jesse was unassailable. “I don’t want them to hurt me, Cam. I don’t want them to hurt me.”
Cam was silent, and his face was troublingly blank.
“I understand,” said Jesse. “People ‘round here never learn to resist anything. Noncompliance never gets rewarded. There’s good reasons fer that. But that’s why you have to learn now. Because this is one of the rare cases where, in real life… it matters. That’s why you’re goin’ t’ learn it here first,” he said.
“Learn?” I said. “I… I don’t understand. How do you teach someone noncompliance?”
“It’s more of a practical lesson,” said Jesse, and while I was distracted, looking at him, Cam grabbed me from behind.
Before I realized what was happening, Cam had me in a lock. He had grasped my arm and twisted it behind my back. He was in a strong, wide-legged stance and I struggled to keep my balance.
“Whoa, what are you doing?” I burst out, too surprised to resist. “What’s going on? Hey—hey— let go of me. Cam – ow – Cam that hurts, let go of me. What are you doing?”
“You are talking to me,” said Jesse, “not him. He is not here. He only does what I tell him to. If you say, “I’m a spy,” Cam will let you go.”
Cam twisted my arm again a little bit. “Ow!” I said. “I’m a spy.”
He dropped my arms, and I stumbled forward, trying to get my dignity back.
“Let me just be perfectly clear,” said Jesse. “That is not what you are supposed to do.”
And suddenly Cam grabbed me again. This time I struggled reflexively, but he was too strong. I felt a surge of low-grade but building panic.
Wait a second. Are they trying to teach me to resist torture?
[I considered telling him that I was scared, but changed my mind. What did I expect to get out of that? If I didn’t sound scared enough while saying it, he might think that I was trying to manipulate him, but if I did sound scared while saying it, he might grow offended by my refusal to control my emotions while speaking to him. Either way, he’d probably find me a coward.]
“Are you a spy?” asked Jesse.
“No—” I said, and Cam twisted my arm. I went up on my toes, and then down, back. “No, no—” He twisted harder. I gasped air reflexively. “That’s what I’m supposed to say, right?”
“If you say it, he will let you go,” said Jesse.
I felt my bones grind.
“I’m a spy!”
He dropped me and I fell to my knees.
“Incorrect,” said Jesse.
“I don’t understand,” I said, wrapping my arms in front of me in an attempt to delay any further arrest. I tried to stop the tears from coming to my eyes. “How is…is… this productive? This doesn’t make sense.”
Jesse had a mildly disgusted look on his face. “You’re right about one thing,” he said. “This really is pathetic. The Settlement produces such weak-willed citizens.”
I was hurt by the insult, as well as by the pains that still shot from wrist to elbow. And yet, I still managed to register confusion at his willingness to criticize the Settlement in such an undisguised manner.
Jesse’s frown deepened. “But we can do better than this.”
I yelped as Cam grabbed me again by force. The pain lanced up my arm again under his iron grip.
What could I do? This had to be the last time. I couldn’t keep doing this. I would try to hold out as long as Jesse wanted me to.
“No!” I tried to sound determinate.
There were seconds. Maybe minutes. I gasped harder, and the tears sprang to my eyes this time.
I felt my bones grind against each other. This couldn’t be good for me. Had anyone thought about that? I couldn’t go into this mission injured.
“Cam, really—!” The word trailed off into a yelp.
I seemed to have gotten through to him; he finally spoke. “Sorry, Alex. It’s for your own good.”
He had taught me how to swim. But this was so different…
“I told you I’d end up doing worse,” he whispered low enough that only I could hear. I could hear a trace of guilt in his voice. “You should have socked me when you had the chance.”
I struggled uselessly. Pulling away only made it hurt more. I didn’t want to be fair. I just wanted him to be nice to me.
“Cut the chatter,” said Jesse. He walked from side to side, looking at me. Then he looked at Cam. “More.”
Cam was squeezing so hard I thought I could feel the small bones in my wrist shift, but at this I could swear he relaxed a fraction. I couldn’t see his face, but his voice was neutral, almost casual. “Any more and I’m going to break her arm.”
“Did I stutter?” Jesse raised an eyebrow.
Cam’s grip tightened, but he hesitated.
I was, at this point, making a rather irritating noise.
“Do I have to say it again.”
“No!” I yelled at him. Tears rolled down my cheeks. “No, no, nonono…” I wasn’t sure if I was giving Jesse the answer he wanted or begging Cam not to break my arm.
Cam twisted more.
Without warning I was dropped.
Jesse was holding up a hand. “That’s enough,” I heard his voice say, from my position on the floor.
I had gone to my knees immediately, nursing my wrist. It felt awful, like something in it had been sprained, perhaps. But my arm wasn’t broken, most likely. I caught deep breaths, trying to silence myself.
“I think we’ve all learned something today,” said Jesse. “Report to medical at first convenience,” he told me.
I continued to sit, legs folded under me, not looking up, until both of them had left the room.
What had I learned? Noncompliance? I’d complied with Jesse’s instructions on non-compliance. The thought disturbed me.
I wasn’t learning anything, I thought. When “yes” and “no” were both wrong answers, what could you learn? I wasn’t sure. I wondered if that was because there was something wrong with me or if there was something wrong with them. I even, in the depths of my own mind, below my willingness for worded thoughts, despised the entire “program”. All I was learning was that they could and would hurt me and were willing to hurt me for no clear benefit.
Maybe someday some benefit would come out of this. But Jesse’s eyes had been so cold and Cam’s, after he dropped me, had looked so guilty.
Things cooled down between Cam and I for a while after that.