We return now to the adventures of Agent E...
We'd been stuck in the same room for weeks, months...maybe years. Always They forced us to do the same tasks, stacking contradictory knowledge into a pyramid of confusion. Always They forced us to examine the Numbers, the omnipresent, omnipotent Numbers. The undercurrent of their presence ruled our thoughts, our words, our calculators. They left us one option of escape, but the consequences that followed would leave indelible marks, marks that sent even the bravest reeling. Fools took the easy way out and tried to brush it off. Fools tried with only half their hearts and failed, earning, in the end, only suffering.
I was one of the misfortunate thousands who had to suffer through the Numbers.
My line of work calls for a cool, calm, and collected demeanor. I'm never allowed to show my true feelings, no matter how strong my emotions may be. There are always people depending on me, always lives at stake, dangling from the thread of my false bravado. I can't crack. But that doesn't stop me from being afraid.
As I approached the building, the building with the Numbers, my stomach twisted into knots more tangled than the pretzel I wished I'd eaten. The structure stood like an iron sentinel, challenging my confidence. I wavered. What was a simple agent against something so terrifying? Something that not only managed to snare countless hostages, but could keep them placid and obedient for months at a time? I shook my head. I couldn't let Them sense my fear. I had a mission to complete.
I threw open the double doors and strode into The Room.
The Room boiled, full and brimming over with tension, the roiling nervousness eating away at our minds. I wanted to reach out, reassure the frightened people that it would be alright, that after today we wouldn't have anything to be scared of anymore. The calculators couldn't hurt us. I stared at the machine in my hands, craving reassurance. The machine stared back, its exterior blank and cold. I swallowed. The calculators couldn't hurt us.
They handed us papers, each sheet whiter and more sickening than the last. Scattered laughter did little to mask the curling scent of fear and spiking heart rates. I was silent. I had to focus; if I didn't... Well. If I didn't, then the calculators wouldn't be the only thing to fear.
Silence fell. The frantic scratching of lead on parchment, the clicking of keys, the occasional whispered curse word: those weren't noises. Those were the tangible outworkings of our numbed minds, a mere outworking of the Numbers. They were a curse of The Room. Nothing more.
Someone stood up. They gathered their papers, their pencils, their calculators, and strode to the front of the room. Then they did the unthinkable, the unimaginable: they handed over their paper and left. Hope sparked in my heart, and I bent over the paper with renewed fervor. I could get out of this alive.
Soon enough, I completed my task and surrendered it to our all-seeing overseer, then fled. I wouldn't know know if I'd succeeded or failed for weeks, months even. But I felt sure that I hadn't hoped, hadn't believed, hadn't suffered for nothing. The Numbers hadn't wholly claimed me yet.
Later the truth would unmask itself, crashing in clearer than daybreak and washing my mind of its fear. My doubt slipped away, and I allowed myself one tiny smirk, one little exhibition of triumph.
I smiled knowing I'd passed Probability and Statistics.