Popular fiction would have you believe that you can beat the polygraph. Do not try. The machine accurately measures physical agitation. Anxiety when paired with an answer in the absence of additional stimuli indicates likely deception. With training, you can generate responses to innocent answers and minimize your response when lying, rendering your entire session a garbled mess. Such trickery is obvious to the trained operator and will arouse suspicion. Your objective is not to beat the machine.
"Is your full legal name Gwendolyn Ivana ar-Rahmani DeGrace?"
In the small basement room, I sat in an oversized chair whose vinyl covering had started to crack with age. A blood pressure cuff dug into my right arm, making my fingers tingle. Electrodes were clipped to my index and ring fingers. Underneath the pad that I was sitting on, I knew that some sort of sensor was measuring whether or not I was clenching my sphincter. A camera in the ceiling was trained on my face, watching me blink. A band wrapped around my chest, not tightly, but I could feel it when I breathed.
Because I’d been instructed to, I tried not to notice. Because I was an actual human being, I couldn’t not notice. It was like someone telling you not to think about pink elephants while looking at a pink elephant.
According to Gavin - a.k.a. Sir Gawain, but like me he seemed to prefer his birth name - I was just supposed to pretend like we were having a nice conversation.
"Do you usually breathe like that?" he'd asked, as we were getting started.
"Staring at my chest, huh?" I tried not to breathe, and then realized that was wrong, and then tried to breathe naturally.
Naturally, I failed.
Gavin had laughed, though. He was affable and easygoing, or at least that was the persona he'd adopted for our interview. "Just relax," he told me. "I'm here to help you resolve any questions that people might have about who you are and why you're here. After the last few days, we all need a few extra assurances. You are who you are, so this should be a piece of cake. And you can rest assured that you can trust everyone in New Camelot, since they’ve all been through this. It’s for your benefit as much as it is for ours.”
He was short and slightly plump, with thick sausage fingers and a hairline creeping up over the midpoint of his skull. His suit fit badly, but as if he'd lost weight, not gained it. His eyes were shrewd, and dark.
He had explained that, while he was asking questions, I should keep my eyes relaxed and forward. I should answer "yes" or "no" to every question, without delay. "Don't think," he instructed, "just react."
I screwed up right out of the gate. "That's me," I laughed nervously in response to him asking about my name. Then I sucked a breath, scrunched my face, started sweating, and clenched my sphincter all at once. Not to try to beat the machine... apparently a total spastic seizure was my way of saying "oops".
"Just stick to 'yes' and 'no'," he reminded me, toneless. "Let's try again. Is your full legal name Gwendolyn Ivana ar-Rahmani DeGrace?"
"Yes," I said, as evenly as possible.
"Were you born in Syria?" he asked.
"No," I replied, stopping myself from elaborating.
"Are we in the United States right now?"
"Yes," I answered.
"Are you the personification of Guinevere of Camelot?"
"Yes," I repeated. Did I say that too fast? Is my heart beating funny?
A long moment passed.
The same toneless voice. "Before yesterday, had you ever had any contact with Kay Moira Tanner, also known as 'Moriarty'?"
"Did you set fire to the Diogenes Club yesterday?"
I sucked in a breath involuntarily. “No,” I gritted.
“Do you know who did it?”
“Did approximately two hundred people die as a result of the fire?”
”Do you regret their deaths?”
There was a long pause, longer than before. Then, "Are you a member of, or aware of, any plot to undermine King Arthur or any of his knights?"
"No," I breathed.
Your objective is to beat the man. You will adopt a layered defense of awkward truths that you honestly wish to conceal. If trying to hide your whereabouts of the prior evening, your first response should be a bald-faced lie: you did not leave the house. The interviewer will turn off the machine, and commence to questioning you about your evening. Mistrust everything he says or asks: he is trying to keep you talking. The more you talk, the more you admit. He will beat you, but it must not be too easy for him.
"All riiiight," he said, after a while. "We're done. Any of those questions make you nervous?"
You tell me, pal. Isn’t that your job?
"I wasn't expecting you to ask about last night," I said instead. "I had nightmares. It's still a little fresh."
Also, now he had me on video saying that I knew who started that fire, and that I didn't regret it. Just in case he needed it. Bastard.
"Anything else?" The blood pressure cuff hissed out as it deflated, and I flexed my hand instinctively. I hadn't realized how cold it had become.
"Honestly, I'm still a little fuzzy on the whole 'Guinevere' thing. Part of me gets it, and part of it still seems crazy to me."
I regretted it as soon as I said it - it would just give him something to latch onto, something that I actually wanted to hide. He came over and removed the electrodes from my fingers, and unclasped the strap on my chest. He stepped back and sat down on a stool across from me. Studying my face, he prompted, "You had a bit of a reaction to the questions about Moriarty, and about plotting."
But I was telling the truth about Moriarty! Expecting him to elaborate on the actual lie I'd just told, this threw me, and I scrambled to try to figure out why I might have reacted to the question.
"I... I've got no idea why I had a reaction about Moriarty. I only met her yesterday morning."
"Well," he responded, leaning forward on the stool, "something about the question bothered you. What do you think it was?"
There was the fact that Moriarty had killed my father last night. There was that. You could probably stab me and get less of a reaction than that name provoked.
But of course I couldn't say that. Damn. I had thought the thing that I needed to hide was Holmes! I had nothing prepped for this. I was on dangerous ground here.
“Moriarty tried to kill me yesterday. Even though Kay Tanner died, Moriarty is still out there. You can't say that name to me and not expect me to tense up."
"But that's not the question," he objected. "All I'm asking is whether or not you'd met her before yesterday. Had you?"
"No!" I insisted. "I mean, she apparently worked at my dad's office as an intern or something, so it's possible that I might have bumped into her at some point, but I hadn't ever interacted with her before yesterday."
He frowned. I was obviously not cooperating. "Have you ever gone to an office party or something like that? Might you have met her then?"
"I met her yesterday," I insisted. "I already told you, she's kind of traumatizing. Your machine is lying to you."
His frown reached impressive depths. "What were you thinking about when I asked that question?"
"Thinking about? I wasn't thinking anything."
"You showed a pretty big reaction when I asked it. You were thinking about something. If you can't give me something better than that, there's not much I can do to resolve that question. It's an important one. I can help you if you work with me. What were you thinking about?"
Was he even listening? "I wasn't thinking anything. I had a reaction. I have no idea what this is about, except for exactly what I've told you already."
"We can try again."
Once more, he hooked me up to the machine. "Is your full legal name Gwendolyn Ivana ar-Rahmani DeGrace?"
This time through, I managed not to fumble any answers, but I was jittery. When the Moriarty question came up again, I felt the adrenaline surge of a fight or flight response. What the hell was I supposed to do? Now I was keyed up on that question even before he asked it.
He didn't stop at the plotting question this time. "Before yesterday, were you aware of the existence of Personae?”
I was thrown yet again. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. They asked the same questions over and over, so they had a baseline for comparison between sessions.
I waited for another question, and was rewarded. "Have you ever been physically present in the vicinity of a drone strike?"
I swallowed. "Yes," I answered.
He let me go with this. As he was taking the equipment off, I asked, "What were those last two questions all about? I thought we were doing this by the book."
“Watson suggested them."
I looked up at the camera and shivered. Watson was watching? And feeding questions to Gavin? “You’re getting your marching orders from a machine?”
Gavin shrugged. "Arthur okayed it. And it had some interesting questions. You saw a drone strike?"
I tamped down the memory that threatened as ever to drown me. "Yes. None of your business."
"I hardly think you're in the position to--"
"None. Of. Your. Fucking. Business. Quote me on that." The fight or flight response was back with a vengeance.
He stiffened. "That's not going to go very well for you."
Ooh, came a voice inside me. He didn't like it when you did that.
It sounded like a kid. I'd had Holmes' voice in my head before, but this certainly wasn't him. What the hell--?
"Did I fucking stutter?" I asked, channeling Vivian from the scene yesterday in the Library. I was immediately surprised at myself. I hadn't meant to say that.
Haw, this'll be a hoot!
Gavin grimaced. "No. You were perfectly clear."
I had a flash of insight. "And I'll bet my reaction to that question looked a lot like my reaction to the Moriarty question, too, didn't it?" He nodded silently. "Well, there's no reason I'd lie about being at a drone strike. So maybe I'm telling the truth about Moriarty, too. I get this really visceral reaction to things that have tried to kill me. Can’t control it.”
"I'm from Yemen, genius. Do the math."
His lips were tight. "Fine. I'll note your responses in my report. You also had a reaction to the question about knowing of Personae. Let's talk about that in the context of the questions about Guinevere and about a plot to overthrow New Camelot. To me, that all looks like an infiltrator. You knew about Personae, you're not Guinevere, and you're here to do us harm. But I'm a suspicious guy. Tell me where I'm wrong."
Suddenly, I remembered Holmes' file. Mistrust everything he says or asks: he is trying to keep you talking. The more you talk, the more you admit. Holmes had explained Gavin’s hounding me about the Moriarty question before I'd ever heard it, and I just hadn’t two and two together: maybe there had been a response, or maybe there hadn’t, but the machine's output didn't matter. This was about the interview.
The question had thrown me, got me talking. I hadn't given up much, though, because it was so off-base: there was nothing at all relevant to give up. The question had gotten me riled. Now I was either going to fight, or going to break. *He will beat you, but it must not be too easy for him. *
We'll see about that, Mr. Holmes.
"When I was still in Yemen, I met somebody who told me that I was a princess. He was so clear in his description of it all, I remembered it. It wasn't until years later, after I came to America, that I recognized the Guinevere story. It totally weirded me out. I couldn't stop reading, and everything clicked with my life so perfectly. I used to fantasize about what I'd do if I were Guinevere, how I'd make it all different. So yeah, maybe I 'plotted' about how I wouldn't fuck things up like the original had done. You can be goddamn sure I'm not going to sleep with Lancelot. Ask me that one."
He looked skeptically at me. "But you said you didn't know about Personae before yesterday."
"I didn't know the term. I didn't know that they were real. But I had some clues."
"Okay, what if we changed the question a little? How about, 'Before yesterday, were you aware of any information that connected real people to characters in literature?' Would that work?"
The kid's voice again. Booo-ring. I liked it better when he was mad at you.
"What about if we took this exam and shoved it up Watson's electronic ass?" I spat, without meaning to. Once more I was shocked at the words coming out of my mouth: they weren’t mine. “Would that work?"
I saw Gavin flush. Uh-oh. Who was this kid, and what was he getting me into?
I'm Tom, he said. Did you think that Cleo was the only one in here?
Gavin's posture didn't change. "Do you know what happens if we don't resolve these questions? No Camelot for you. We've got procedures for a reason. We can't give the keys to the kingdom to someone that we can't trust." He leaned in. "And if you don't have us, who's going to save you the next time Moriarty comes for you?"
I sure hoped that Tom knew what he was doing.
"You're so full of shit," I laughed at him. "First of all, nobody in New Camelot helped me out last night with anything more than a ride home. I beat a room full of two hundred Moriarty’s, and saved your asses at the same time. Where does Camelot stand? Moriarty's murdered two of your people in as many days. I'd say my score card looks a little better than yours."
He tried to interrupt, but I raised my voice and put my hand up. "And I've talked to Doyle about the Camelot that you're building. You need a Guinevere. You can't go without one, and that's me. Watson found me - you're not saying it's wrong, are you? If you don't clear me to join up, you guys are screwed. I walk out of here with a clean report or you're back to square zero. So let's fucking get this over with, shall we?" I stood up.
"Sit down," he ordered, red in the face. "Sit. The fuck. Down."
I didn't move. Smoothly, he slid a hand behind his back. It returned filled with a semiautomatic pistol. He pointed it at my chest.
"Sit. Down. Now."
My lip curled, but I sat. I felt a childlike glee inside, though. I'd pushed him and he'd gone right over the top. I could manipulate him right back. If he didn't kill me, anyway.
The gun didn't waver as he walked around to the equipment bank. "This room is soundproof. I don't even need a silencer. Arthur likes you well enough, but with all due respect he's a sap. There's a reason that I'm in charge of security."
The barrel of the pistol looked much larger than the nine or ten millimeters that it really was. It loomed wide. I kept my hands frozen in place and turned only my head as he moved.
He unwound a string from a file folder with his free hand, and then tossed it into my lap. "Go ahead," he instructed. "Do you think that Gwen Drake - formerly Gwen Phillips - was the first Guinevere we lined up for Arthur?"
My blood ran cold as my hands eased the folder open. It contained a short dossier. The first things I noticed were photos of a woman in her late twenties, with short brown hair and a warm smile. The name read "Gretchen Elizabeth McNamara". There was other information, and a long, folded sheet that looked like a heart rate monitor - the polygraph printout. Certain areas were circled, with numbers written next to them. Gretchen had clearly messed up on several questions: there were large changes in the readout that even I could see.
My breath caught at the second set of photos. This room, the one I was in right now. The furniture was in the same spot. The cracks on the arm of the chair matched exactly. There was a body in the chair, a white sheet draped over it. Bloodstains were showing through the sheet at chest-level, and I could see a woman's leg peeking out from under the covering.
They'd killed her! For not answering honestly, or for something... they murdered her, right her in this very room, in this... very... chair...
Oh, come on! You used to be Sherlock Holmes! Don't tell me you're going to fall for that. You can't kid a kidder.
I squirmed a bit in the seat to let my back feel the chair behind me. I remembered as I'd sat down, I had noticed cracks in the fabric, and my shifting confirmed this. But there weren't bullet holes. This chair was the exact one that was in these photos, but if so, where were the huge holes that would have been in the back? They'd have replaced the chair if they had actually killed someone in it. If they hadn't, at a minimum they'd have had to replace the back, and they wouldn't have reupholstered it with aged vinyl.
It was a setup! Mistrust everything, Holmes had admonished. Man, he had not been wrong!
You're smarter than you look, lady.
I pretended to study the photos as I considered. Gavin started off playing friendly, and when I played dumb, he got cold. Then when I pushed back, questioning the need for the whole affair, he upped the ante again. He had planned for me to try to walk away, and had an answer for it - one that had taken elaborate prep work. I could call his bluff now, but what would happen if I did? Had he gone to the trouble of faking a murder just to accept being stumped if I figured it out? I doubted it. No, Gavin had more backup plans. He could do this all day long, and if I thought things were unpleasant now...
But what could he do to me, really? If he was faking it when it came to killing me, odds were good that he wasn't actually going to hurt me, either. I'd make an enemy if I embarrassed him, but I was pretty sure we were already past that.
You will confess. Do so as fully and honestly as possible, because he knows how to look for this as well. Hide only what you must, and one thing more. No one trusts a first confession, because the confessor always seeks to hide the most nefarious truth. Give him something to dig for, to uncover, something that excites him. He wants to break you, to master you. Give him that sense of satisfaction. He will not stop, of course, but once he has something sinister, he can believe how upset you are at being violated, like all his previous conquests. He has seen your shame before.
"Are you going to kill me?" I whispered.
"Maybe," he snapped. "Are you ready to talk yet?"
I was. Here was the problem: I now knew that Gavin wasn't going to kill me.
Hey, said Tom, I've got this. Holmes doesn't know lying like I do.
"Yeah," I whispered. "I'll tell you everything."
You can now conceal the detail that must remain hidden, and do so plausibly. His machine is useless because you are upset; repeated asking of the question naturally upsets you. You must now give him trivial minutiae, the most petty of crimes, in a desperate attempt to show your good faith. Shower him with venal sins, that the mortal one may hide in their flickering shadows.
Good strategy, Sherlock. Tom had some other ideas.
I took a breath. "My real name is Gladiola Putresca Fantanesca Bumbovitch. I come from another world. We plan to colonize and settle your planet, which is plentiful with the menfolk who can birth our squidlings. The High Galactic Overlord--"
Gavin's face got redder, all the way out to his ears. "You think this is a joke?" He cocked the pistol and a round ejected from the chamber. "This thing is loaded and I am a hair's breadth from using it on you. I know how to make sure that nobody asks too many questions. 'Terrorist sleeper' sound like a good epitaph?"
"No, I swear!" I plead. "Hook me up again. I'll tell you the truth. Your Earth machine will show you."
"Fine," he spat. "Have it your way. One unusual twitch on the readout and I'm blowing your head off."
What do you think he's got loaded in that thing? Tom mused. Some kind of sleeper round? I sure hope he loaded the right magazine. I'd be really embarrassed to be wrong about this.
Oh, this kid was a riot.
Don't worry so much! He's painted himself into a corner, threatening to kill you when he's sure you have to lie. Look at him: he's sweating. He doesn't know what he's going to do next.
Tom was right. But not knowing what the guy with the gun was going to do next wasn't comforting. In a practiced flash, Gavin had hooked me up and was back at the controls.
"Is your full legal name Gwendolyn Ivana ar-Rahmani DeGrace?"
"No," I replied.
Gavin paused for longer than I was used to. He didn't shoot me. "Is... is your full legal name... Gladys..."
"Gladiola Putresca Fantanesca Bumbovitch. Yes."
"Were... you born in Syria?" he asked.
"Were you born... on Earth?" "No."
"Are we in the United States right now?" "Yes."
"Are you the personification of Guinevere of Camelot?" "No."
He stood up. "How... how are you doing this?" he cried. "There's not a damn blip!"
I turned and looked him in the eye. I was filled with a queenly fury. By god, I was Guinevere, and I would not be treated this way.
On some level, I knew that wasn't true. But that level wasn't listening right now. Tom could lie to anyone... even me.
"Do it again. Start over. Do it all. Do it right." I ordered. Before he even realized what he was doing, Gavin sat and obeyed.
"Is your full legal name Gwendolyn Ivana ar-Rahmani DeGrace?" "No."
"Were you born in Syria?" "Yes."
"Are we in the United States right now?" "No."
"Are you the personification of Guinevere of Camelot?" "No."
"Before yesterday, had you ever had any contact with Kay Moira Tanner, also known as 'Moriarty'?" "Yes."
"Did you set fire to the Diogenes Club yesterday?" “Yes.”
“Do you know who did it?” “Me, you idiot. Are you even listening? Keep going.”
“Did… did approximately two hundred people die as a result of the fire?” “No.”
”Do you regret their deaths?” “Yes.”
"Are you a member of, or aware of, any plot to undermine King Arthur or any of his knights?" "Yes."
"Before yesterday, were you aware of the existence of Personae?” "Yes."
"Have you ever been physically present in the vicinity of a drone strike?" "No."
He was silent for a long time. I went ahead and unhooked myself. Standing, I looked down on where he still sat. The pistol was in his hand, but it was resting limp on the table.
"Go ahead and ask," I commanded. I didn't just say it: it was an order.
"I've given this exam a thousand times, to Personae and bit players. Elders. I've never seen anyone do that. You had no reaction to any of the questions. None. How did you do it?"
"I am Guinevere of Camelot," I answered imperiously. "I am at my prime when I am betraying a trust. Arthur himself believed me every single time, through all our many lives. No one knows my mind unless I will it. Your little machine won't work on me. Now," my eyes flashed, "kneel before your Queen."
Oh, this kid was good. Slowly, Gavin slid out of the chair. He had just enough sense to leave the pistol on the table. He went down on one knee, and bowed his head.
"My Queen," he whispered.
"Rise, Sir Gawain," I responded, and he obeyed. "Look me in the eyes. Good. Do you doubt me now?"
"No, my lady."
"Good. See to it that Arthur knows." I turned.
"Ah... my lady?"
I did not turn back to face him. "Yes?"
He huffed a breath. "He left something for you. For... after."
I held out my hand, still not turning. My regal displeasure hadn't quite spent its wroth. A small envelope slid into my hand, and I pushed my way out of the room without further notice.
I made it around the corner before doing the happy dance. I didn't know what was happening, but the impish prince of liars had just walked me through that lie detector test with flying colors. I could probably have gotten Gavin to go whitewash a fence if I'd wanted. If Tom Sawyer could fool himself into thinking his own toe hurt, he could fool my body into suppressing the reaction that the polygraph expected. And boy howdy, had he!
"Boy howdy"? I would never say that.