Chapter 8 – The Instrument of Improbability (Part II)

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He ducked out of the room and Casey sat down heavily in a chair across from where Brad stood. He rolled his eyes and put both hands on the table.

“Do you really think that I’m behind the fact this is still going on?”

Casey leaned forward. “Give me a reason why I shouldn’t think you’d keep trying to cheat?” she said. “You started this whole thing, after all. I wouldn’t have gone along with you the first time if I wasn’t so desperate not to fail Professor Heinrich’s class.”

“Mr. Wright hasn’t been lying when he said he’s not doing it,” Elaine said from where she tapped away at the laptop. “I believe that once I’m able to model your cheat, he will be vindicated. All evidence is pointing to it being an independent effect.”

“How do you know?”

Frog rapped on the table. “She’s got a truth detector on her phone,” she said. “It’s been running ever since we cornered Larry back in the stairwell. If Elaine says Brad isn’t lying, chances are he’s not, her system is very hard to beat.”

Casey leaned back. She still looked unconvinced but for the moment seemed content to stay her objections.

“Do you have the materials with you still?” Elaine asked Frog.

“But of course,” her friend said, pulling a folder out of her backpack. It bulged with the number of papers in it, which had been separated by dividers with colored tabs protruding from them. She handed the folder over to Elaine, who took it, pulled it open, and began to collate the papers within into distinct piles in front of her on the table. When she finished, she topped each stack with a differently colored separator.

Larry slid into the room weighted down by a towering stack of heavy-looking journals. He staggered the short distance from the door to the table and they splashed down onto the surface amidst a thundering wash of pages. Casey shook her head and Brad sighed as Larry apologized profusely and rushed to pull them back into some semblance of order.

As Larry went about collecting the crashed remains, Elaine started placing the papers on the table.

“In order to determine the effect, I am going to have to model it,” she said. “That means I’m going to have to test you. I have complied a series of quizzes based on the classes each of you are taking into six tests that will take you approximately twenty three minutes each to complete. With each subsequent round of tests I will have certain people leave the room. For control, Frog and I will also take the test along with you in several iterations.”

Brad frowned and thumped his finger on the table. “I hope this will prove to everyone that I’m not behind this. I don’t want to get anyone into trouble again. If it’s true that it still looks like we’re cheating, it could reflect very badly on me as well.”

“I can do you one better,” Elaine said. “I have a relationship with the Dean of Engineering now. As I am tasked with investigating cheating across the different colleges, I will be able to add to my report that I investigated the ongoing anomaly of your grades and report that it doesn’t involve any actual cheating. That should get all three of you off the hook. Is that sufficient to establish your cooperation?”

“As if we have anything to do in the next three hours anyway,” Brad said.

“Attaboy,” Frog said.

Larry sat at the far side of the table and resumed looking confused.

Casey just shrugged. “Bring it on.”

“Excellent,” Elaine said. “Frog will now give each of you two No. 2 pencils to record your test data with…” She paused for a moment and furrowed her brow. “Unless any of you have a talisman writing utensil or something else you always take with you to tests? As that would be good information to know now.”

All three of her subjects shook their heads in the negative. Frog set the pencils next to each of the participants—including Elaine and herself—and then sat down holding them like a knife-and-fork at a dinner.

She nodded. “Then we shall begin,” she said, spinning her finger along the surface of the Enoch’s screen. “The room is about to feel very stuffy, like there’s several hundred people in here with you. Please ignore the sensation—it’s part of the simulation process.”

Her finger turned a wheel on the screen from unlocked to locked and algorithms within the phone sprang into action. The phone detected each person in the room and generated thousands of varied astral reflections of them sitting only dimensions away. The reflections actuated carefully crafted echoes of their personalities and behaviors cast off by every thought in their minds. Just as Elaine had warned, the room suddenly felt as if it were spilling over with people as the constellation of minds became aware of the tests in front of them and began to get to work.

Elaine cracked open her own test, read the first question, and went to work.

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