Chapter 4: The Decision

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The audible noise that a snap of the fingers makes is a quick sound. It travels from those fingers as a wave of energy, emanating as a conversion of mechanical energy to sound energy which the eardrums pick up after it’s traveled at approximately 660 miles per hour. This means that theoretically, if there were no other sound going on in space, I could snap my fingers, and you, who would for the sake of this example be standing a mile away from me and hear the snap in about 5 seconds. If you’re closer, the time interval decreases dramatically, so much so that it makes normal conversation possible. There is a gap between when someone says something and when you hear it, but the gap is barely detectable. At one foot away. the time lag for sound is nine ten-thousandths of a second. Even transcontinental phone calls only have a lag of a second or two, and that sound is converted to ones and zeroes, converted into electrical pulses, shot out at the speed of light through a mess of cables and switches, and then reversed so you can finally communicate with the customer service representative in Punjab. The ability to network the world has made things once impossible now everyday occurrences.

This is all to say that before you could hear your fingers snap, Jeremy had made his decision.

Saying yes to the job offer gave Jeremy a new sense of freedom. The remaining time in school didn’t matter. The roommates didn’t matter. The girls who would never talk to him didn’t matter. All that mattered was the future.

The month leading up to graduation was a struggle for Jeremy. He still had classes to take, and he hadn’t officially signed any paperwork with Enpen except for that passport application. However, Jennifer called every week to make sure Jeremy was still with the program. She explained that the materials for new hires were somewhat sensitive, because of all of the secrecy surrounding the company. But, as soon as Jeremy graduated, he could start work one week after that day. He could live anywhere he wanted, since he’d be working on the road a lot. All he needed was a cell phone. It all sounded too good for Jeremy. He kept waiting for the other shoe to drop–some version of Allen Funt coming out from behind the wall telling Jeremy it was all a huge joke. But there wasn’t any punchline coming. Instead, Jeremy received a DVD in the mail from Jennifer. It contained copies of forms for Jeremy to fill out, a basic overview of his benefits, and a strange program on it. Jennifer had called ahead to warn Jeremy about the program. “It’s an overview of our organization from top to bottom, but it’s your eyes only. And you only get to view it once. The file can’t be copied onto another computer, and if you try, it will cause the DVD to shatter. It happened to me once when I forgot what I was doing.”

“You’re kidding me, right? This is spy-movie stuff.”

“I wish I were kidding. We try to keep a low profile, and the people who started this were ex-intelligence types, so they compartmentalized as much as possible. You know what you need to know, and the program will tell you what’s going on. Did you attach the little pulse doohickey to your USB port?”

Jeremy looked in the box for said doohickey. “Not yet. What’s this for?”

“It’s a pulse meter. You have to wear it when you start the program in order for the program to work. It does a basic vital function check every so often.”

“What?”

“Oh, it takes your pulse, stuff like that. Nothing invasive.”

“Why?”

“Part of the program that runs is a lie detector test.”

“What!”

“The program will ask you some questions. It’s nothing too personal–just some questions about previous jobs you’ve had. That kind of thing.”

“Isn’t it a little much for a job?”

“I told you about the ex-intelligence guys, right?”

“Yeah.”

“This was one of their things as well. Every employee has to go through it before they start.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. Look, Jer, it’s not that big of a deal. I mean, if you don’t want to do it, then we can just cancel the job offer.”

“No! Don’t do that. I’ll run the program.”

“We’re not a bad company to work for, really. We’re just…quiet.”

“I’ve wondered about that. Why not be more public about what you do?”

“Well, have you ever wondered how magicians do their tricks?”

“Yeah, sometimes.”

“But other times you just like to believe it’s magic, right?”

“Okay, I see where you’re going. ”

“We make magic happen, Jeremy. But it takes a lot to make that happen, and you’re going to get to see a lot of it.”

“I thought it was just auditing companies.”

“At the end of the day, the numbers have to add up, Jeremy. When they don’t, it’s a problem.”

“What happens then?”

“Good question. I can’t answer that until after you start.”

And so the conversations continued, usually politely evasive, throughout the remainder of Jeremy’s days at school. He followed the instructions on connecting the doohickey to his laptop, and ran the program. The first screen was a simple question. “Are you currently watching this with anyone else present (within a four foot radius or likely to be within that radius in the next hour)?” Jeremy didn’t realize that he needed to be alone, so he clicked “No”. The program paused, and a window popped up: “Biometrics indicate a truthful response. Please restart the program when you can be satisfactorily alone.”

After Jeremy made time to be alone and run the program, he felt drained and slightly violated afterward. The questions were not necessarily hard to answer. They were hard to answer truthfully. “Have you ever wanted to beat another person up?” “Have you ever lied to cover up a mistake you made?”

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