The Lie Predictor [1]

Lights flashed past the window like the slots on a game of chance. The train shifted, and the riders gripped their handholds, absorbed in thought as they jostled against one another.

Ella was oblivious to the light-show and the reflection dancing on the walls. If she had taken a moment to focus she would have been bombarded with advertisements stretched several hundred meters to make up for the clip that the train moved at. Hardly anyone glanced at the walls outside, yet someone was paying a hefty sum for the impressions that the billboards imprinted. Studies had shown that it only took one 1/16th of a second for an advertisement to work — less than the time between breaths. Lose focus for just a moment and the signs became money well spent.

The train was a daily pilgrimage for those who lived in the urban communities outside of the industrial center. An exploding population had catalyzed growth outward and upward, and soon only corporations and Government could afford the prime real estate at the heart of the metropolitan. The train stopped frequently, and people shuffled on and off, making their way to the surface where they bustled to their final destination. For those who so much time was spent in commute, little thought was given to anything but the ground in front of them.

Ella sat quietly, with her hands folded in her lap as she considered the day’s events. She was headed to the city center for an interview and dressed the part: a pressed white shirt, smart black pants and shoes to match. Only 23, she looked much younger due to her complexion and the slight furrow that appeared above her brow that appeared when she was thinking (like she was now).

3 weeks ago the letter had appeared on the doorstep informing her that she had been selected to move onto the next round of interviews for the role at the Government. Her classmates were jealous, her parents were proud, and she was ecstatic. A flurry of activity had commenced as she prepared her materials and practiced her introductions and background over and over in her bedroom mirror. This morning she had woken up early and gotten to the station with plenty of time to ensure that she would not be late. It was now that she was reflecting on the journey when a growing noise roused her from her reverie.

A man was approaching her seat with hands outstretched. In his grip was a cup that rattled with a few forlorn bills placed strategically at the top. Around his neck he wore a handwritten sign that read:

Forgive me Lord for I shall sin

He was repeating a mantra that seemed to be more for his own sake than to win favor from onlookers.

“Spare change, ma’am. Anything helps — I’m one of those you know. I don’t feel bad but you know what they say — it’s never wrong so I’ve got to keep an eye on myself. S’cuse me, thank you —”

The majority of the train’s inhabitants did their best to ignore him, but as he approached Ella she felt a pang of sympathy. Fishing in her pocket produced a handful of change that had been given to her at the turnstile. She extended her hand and dropped the change into his cup where it landed with a thump. He paused and looked at her before continuing, his murmured voice fading underneath the sound of the trains squealing brakes.

Suddenly claustrophobic, she gathered her belongings and prepared to de-board as the doors opened. The trip to the surface was uneventful and when she broke into the open air she was immediately thrust into a crowd of people moving with fevered intent. Taking a moment to get her bearings, she eyed the imposing building that was her destination and started on her way.

The interview process was known to be grueling, and less than 1 in 10 hopeful applicants were chosen to be Ambassadors to the public. It required a complete forfeiture of privacy as they methodically combed through your personal data and messages to identify any hint of wrongdoing. Since a young age Ella had declared her intention to join the rank and file of the Government Ambassadors and had carefully avoided anything that would taint her chances of being selected.

This had meant a nonexistent friend circle and a carefully curated education that avoided anything remotely close to radical thought. Throughout high school and college she focused on her studies, volunteered on the weekends, and abstained from any alcohol or drugs.

The result was Ella: a quiet girl that offended no one and was quickly forgotten after being introduced. This suited her just fine — a life in the Government meant the luxuries associated with the Upper Echelon, and an escape from the quiet suburban upbringing of her youth.

Her feet carried her through the ordered streets and she found herself standing at the base of a large marble plaque that read:

Building Our Future

An imposing set of double doors stood next to the pillar and above it shone a polished orb. Approaching the doors, Ella addressed the orb and announced in a small voice, “Ella McCarthy, Applicant.”

Silence.

She cleared her throat, and repeated her introduction.

The orb hung unmoving.

“Please … I’m here for an interview.”

Ella was considering how to proceed when she felt the ground reverberate under her feet. A crack appeared in the flawless marble and the doors swung open, seemingly of their own accord. Darkness beckoned, and she hesitated for only a moment before entering. Her figure was quickly swallowed and the doors shut with finality.

Almost imperceptibly, and without passerby to witness, no one saw the orb blink as Ella disappeared into the building.