THE PROBLEM WITH FORTUNE-TELLING
by Tari Gwaemir
Crawford meditates on the disadvantages of foresight.
Every talent has a drawback, muses Crawford, as he idly picks out a cigarette. The lighter flares briefly in the shadows where he waits, invisible except for a glimmer of lenses, and fades to a dull red ember. He inhales, and for the moment, he can concentrate on the present, savoring the bitter taste of nicotine in his mouth.
Every talent has a drawback, its fatal flaw, and indeed, the psychic is the perfect tragic hero: it is hubris, after all, a challenge to the gods, to possess more-than-human powers. And in the end--Crawford exhales slowly, watching the smoke escape his lips as if he has swallowed fire--he is undone by that violation of the natural order.
Schuldich dances on the edge of delirium, his own indistinct thoughts dissolving into the mental incoherence that muddies human minds. Nagi grows thinner everyday, his body burning from his flesh the energy he expends in exerting mind over matter. Farfarello--well, Farfarello was mad, is mad and will be mad, in saecula saeculorum.
But of all these sins, the gods find precognition the most offensive. To Crawford, that is obvious: he knows, with the certainty of a man who is never wrong, that he pays the highest toll, the worst penance. Apollo is dead--perhaps he never existed--and the oracles are mockeries. To see the future is to rebel against Time, that ultimate tyrant, and foresight or no, the rebellion fails again and again.
When Crawford sees the future, he does not see a single definite outcome, or even the most probable one. God does play dice, and the universe is not deterministic. When Crawford sees the future, he sees the weighted sum of all possibilities, overlaid upon one another--the cat crossing the street is both alive, dead, ill, nonexistent, flat, five-dimensional, tabby, calico, purple. Of course, if a car is approaching, the cat he sees is more dead than alive, but nevertheless, in his mind, a second before the brakes scream, the cat is both.
It takes a strange sort of mind to make sense of such bizarre hybrid visions, but as anyone knows, Crawford does not have an ordinary or scrutable mind. He has learned to filter through the images--a kind of mental squint to sharpen and focus his blurry second sight--and the future becomes particularly clear in moments of high stimulation, which fortunately coincides precisely with the situations when his talent is most useful. On the other hand, that means that while his reflexes are superb, as he fights he witnesses his death a thousand times. At the end of every victory, he is always slightly surprised to find himself still alive.
With a predictable opponent, like Fujimiya, who uses the katana in the most classical style of iaido, the death scenes become rather repetitive, and Crawford can quickly dodge the blade, secure with his usual smile of all-knowing superiority. Unfortunately, Kudou, who will attack in the next five minutes, not only wields an unconventional weapon but also has the temerity to be creative in its use. Fighting him is disorienting, to say the least, and Crawford finds himself inhaling deeply to remain grounded in the present. In the corner of his eye, he can see the wire come to wrap around his throat, slice through his abdomen, dislocate his arm, hang him by the ankles, cut across his eyes, bind his body until his spine snaps...
He lets out the smoke in a deep, shuddering breath. Kudou hasn't even arrived yet, and already Crawford finds himself on edge. He smiles, and the future grows more and more unfocused. Kudou dying before he has a chance to spin his wire, Kudou tripping over an uneven crack in the sidewalk, Kudou attacked by a feral alley dog, Kudou killing him silently by strangulation, Kudou breaking down in tears, Kudou kissing him in a savage embrace, Kudou throwing up poison, Kudou never born at all...Crawford sees it all in one terrible, mangled memory, although none of it has happened yet, and most of it will never happen at all.
He concentrates on the cigarette, and the image fades, slowly, like the smoke in the darkness. Breathe, Crawford thinks, and for a few precious moments, he and Time relax in a temporary ceasefire.
The cigarette in his fingers suddenly falls apart into halves, and Crawford, startled, feels the wet sting of blood on his palm. The present shatters. Somewhere, between the endless confusion of images that swamp him, he manages to hear a voice saying, "That's the problem with fortune-telling, Schwarz. Knowing the future doesn't mean you can escape it. In the end, you too will die."
His foresight clears a little in the ensuing rage, and Crawford, as he dodges the whiplike attacks, can only laugh.