“Go ahead, have a seat on the couch.”
The doctor strode across the room, doing her best to ensure the door made as small a clack noise as possible as it latched. That was an old trick her advisor had taught her back in graduate school: close the door softly so the patient doesn’t feel trapped. Yes, shut the door to maintain privacy, but not so loud as to bring up unsettling memories of locked childhood rooms or images of prison and institutional cell doors slamming shut. The patient should always know that they are in control of their own actions, and free to come and go as they please. Turning back into the room, Dr. Tremblay admired once again the view her office provided. From her fifth floor window, she could see the river running around the building, out into the park that surrounded it, and you could just barely glimpse the city beyond. Another advisor tip: the more you make your sessions resemble the outdoors, the more the patient will view their problems as the consequent of natural causes, and less like an affliction. Plus, it just looked good.
She rounded the couch and sat on her own chair across from the young man. He looked sheepish, turning his baseball cap over in his hands in a constant fidget. His eyes were trained on the carpet in front of him. So much for the view.
“What brings you in…” Her eyes flit down to the form in front of her, “...Jay? What can I do for you?” She smiled and leaned forward, showing her palms in an educated signal of openness.
“Right, yeah I’ve never been to a shrink before.” He slumped the slightest bit lower on the couch, chin still tucked to his chest. His voice coming out in a bare murmur. “Didn’t really know where else to go. But when I told my buddy about what I was thinking, well he told me I was crazy so... figured I might as well check.”
“Please, Jay, I don’t like to use words like that here. Words like ‘crazy’. Those kinds of pejoratives can be really damaging, not least of all to the healing process. And more often than not, they’re not accurate in the first place.” Dr. Tremblay clasped her hands together and bent down slightly, using her body language to try to pry the young man’s gaze from the floor. “I assure you Jay, you are not crazy. Now, please tell me, what is it that you’ve been thinking, that has you so troubled?”
“I know everything that’s ever happened and I know everything that ever will happen.” He said.
Goddamn, that is crazy, Dr. Tremblay thought, settling back in her chair. “...Everything? How do you mean you know everything?”
“I mean, like, all of it. I don’t know how I know it, ‘cause I never learned all of it or anything, especially the future stuff. It just somehow ended up in my head.”
“Well, certainly this seems easy enough to disprove,” she reached back and grabbed a notepad and pen off of a table near the window. “I will write a number down on this paper, and you tell me what you think it is.” On the pad she wrote a small ‘9’ in the corner.
“Right… I forgot.” Jay put his palm to his forehead, squeezing his eyes in apparent embarrassment. “See, I don’t just know the answer outright or anything. But if you ask me a yes-or-no question about it I’ll know the answer.”
“A yes-or-no question? About what number I’ve written?”
“Is it a four?”
“No, definitely not.”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
For the next thirty minutes they continued in this manner, with the doctor writing down a random number and prattling off another random series of numbers to a metronome of “no”s, until she arrived at the written number, to which Jay would invariably respond with in the affirmative. Eventually Dr. Tremblay began to suspect that it must be some trick involving numbers, so she switched, now listing off animals, street names, celebrities. The results were all the same.
“How is this possible?” She said, growing exasperated at the game. “How do you know when you are right?”
“I don’t know... When I hear a question phrased the right way, the answer just kinda comes to me. And I have to say it, I can’t lie about it or anything. Like, if you flipped a coin just now, you wouldn’t know whether it was going to come up heads or tails. But once it was sitting on the table, done and flipped, you wouldn’t be able to argue with what you saw. Even though you didn’t know what it was gonna be before you flipped it. Of course, maybe that’s a bad example,” Jay said, scratching the top of his head. “‘Cause if you asked me before you flipped I would know.”
Without a word, Dr. Tremblay stood up, walked over to her desk, and reached into the drawer where she kept the change she saved for when one of the other psychologists went for a coffee run. She grabbed a quarter and held it aloft.
“When I flip this, will it come up heads?”
Tails it was, and so they continued for another statistically improbably long sequence wherein Jay predicted the outcome of every coin toss. Finally Dr. Tremblay returned to her chair, sat down with a heavy thud, and took her own turn now to slump in her seat, studying the carpet.
“Was my mother’s name Margaret?”
“Do I have just one sibling?”
“Was I the favourite child?”
Silence. Dr. Tremblay’s eyes darted up from the carpet and she thrust her finger accusingly at Jay.
“Aha! Did I find a question for which you don’t know the answer?”
“No, it’s just… I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
The doctor collapsed back into the chair, defeated.
“Let me make a few calls. You are beyond me.”
“Do you prefer milk and sugar, or just black?” The sergeant asked, carafe in hand, hovering over the tiny table in the corner of the concrete room. Sarge’s commanding officer had given him that tip, before his first interrogation: offering a drink made the prisoner just that little bit indebted towards you, and they’d start from a position of feeling like they owe you something. Now, this wasn’t a true interrogation, and the Oracle wasn’t a traditional prisoner per se, but when faced with unfamiliar situations, Sarge was wont to fall back on old habits.
“Black is fine, sir.”
Sarge filled two of the little styrofoam cups near to the brim with the thin-looking, oily coffee. Usually he preferred at least a splash as milk in his, but he couldn’t rightfully do that now that the Oracle had ordered his black. Another tip from the old CO: never let the enemy see you rely on a crutch that they don’t need. He grabbed both cups and turned, placing one on the desk in front of the Oracle, careful not to bump the monitor or either of the two large buttons which sat to either side. The other cup he kept, dwarfed in his giant hand as he sat on the small foldout chair which had been placed adjacent to the desk. Sarge reached to the floor and pulled his briefcase up and onto his lap. The Oracle remained facing forward with both palms on the desk, as a new question popped up on the monitor. Sarge didn’t have a chance to finish reading it over his shoulder before the Oracle had lifted a hand and pressed the rightmost button. YES.
“Hey, you can take a break from the Questions for now Oracle. I’ve got the rank to interrupt you, and this will be important.”
The man at the desk pushed off from the desk, turning in his chair to face Sarge head on.
“Jay. My name is Jay. And will this take time out of my Military allotment? I’m supposed to start Science Questions in an hour. I think it’s astronomy today.”
“Right, Jay. Nice meeting you. I’m sure the schedulers will sort all that out. Hey, can you answer this for my kid, is Pluto really not a planet? You know what, nevermind. As for our meeting now, I’ve got permission to ask you a couple questions.” He began to fumble in his jacket for the paperwork to prove it, when the Oracle waved a hand, interrupting him.
“Don’t worry about finding proof. I asked myself and got it already.”
“Ahh. Of course. That’s... easier.” Sarge said, feeling suddenly very exposed in this tiny bunker.
“What I’m here to talk to you about is highly confidential, and integral to the security of this nation. That is why we didn’t send the questions through the regular channel.” Sarge gestured towards the monitor.
“We have reason to believe that there are groups of individuals who have become disillusioned with this direction that this country has taken. Our intel reports that increasingly, young people in these groups are becoming more radicalized, and that they provide a threat to the established order of things.” He reached into the briefcase and pulled out a stack of photographs of different faces, fanning them out in front of the Oracle. “What we would like from you is to tell us whether there is a likelihood that any of these individuals will act as leaders of a revolutionary movement.”
“I don’t deal in probabilities. They either will or they won’t.” Jay said, with a tone that suggested that this was the most obvious of things. As if the sergeant had asked to tell him the probability that the lights were on in the room around them..
“Yes, fine. Don’t get smart with me. You know what I mean. Point out the revolutionaries, and you can get back to your Questions about planets or whatever it is they have you working on.”
Jay stayed sitting back in his chair, turning only his head slightly to look at the glossy photos laid out in front of him.
“And what if I don’t want to?”
Sarge’s face reddened, and he leaned forward aggressively in his chair, sloshing coffee against the inside his thighs.
“You know damn well what happens if you disobey a direct order. Might I remind you that you are an asset of the state, and due to the God-given gift that you have, you do not have the luxury to pick-and-choose when you wish to shake your little Magic 8 ball and give us the answers we need. The world has questions, and whether you like it or not, you appear to have the answers. So go ahead son, start shaking.”
Jay’s shoulders slumped, and he glanced again at the set of photos. After a moment, he limply pointed out three of the individuals.
“Those ones.” He said, his voice barely audible even in the tiny room. “They’re the ones you want.”
“Perfect, that’s all I need.” The sergeant marked the three photos, and began to pack up his things into the briefcase. “You’ve done a great service to your country.”
As he closed his briefcase and turned to leave, Jay looked up at him.
“Sir, do you think that they’re wrong? Those kids. Do you think they really pose a danger? Do they deserve whatever’s coming to them?”
Sarge paused, his hand on the doorknob.
“If you’re so smart, why don’t you ask yourself and find out?”
“I already did, sir. I wanted to hear your answer.”
Alone at last, Jay half-sat, half-collapsed on the bed in the corner of his cell. He refused to call it a room, given that he couldn’t leave. The days they had him working kept getting longer and longer, and the list of Questions to be answered grew faster than he could answer them. Staring up at the ceiling he practiced taking deep breaths. Deep inhale through the nose, and release through the mouth. When he was a kid he’d used to get so anxious about going to school, and his mother had taught him that as a way to center himself, and get his heart rate down. He wondered what she was doing now, taking care not to wonder so explicitly as to be given an answer. He preferred to maintain ignorance in some areas.
Laboriously, Jay held himself up long enough to undress, before crawling into bed. The large LED clock in the corner of the room told him it was nearing midnight, and he knew his shift tomorrow started at 0700 sharp. He had another full day, 14 or 15 hours at least, reading and answering questions. In the beginning, he’d been excited by it, especially the days with lots of Science Questions. He’d always been a curious child, but he’d never done particularly well in school, so it was exciting to feel like he was a part of something cutting-edge. But the questions came through so quickly he didn’t have even a moment to celebrate that there really was life on Mars before having to answer whether the newly developed diabetes medication was more effective than the old one. He simply didn’t have the time to enjoy his own Answers. And lately, most of his Questions came from Politics and Military, which he didn’t like at all. He couldn’t even remember the last day he had a Philosophy Question.
Despite how tired he was, Jay knew he needed to spend at least some time on his nightly ritual. He rolled to face the wall and pulled the blanket and mattress away slightly, revealing the markings he had made earlier. To the untrained eye, they might appear as accidental scratches, but Jay did the mental work to translate them from the code he had created, to remind himself where he had left off. He was tired, so it took him three attempts, but finally he deciphered the symbols. He rolled onto his back and stared again at the blank ceiling, before breaking the silence with a hushed whisper:
“Will I die on November 20, 2041?”
A feeling of negation flowed all over him. A feeling he had been so familiar with his whole life, he considered it like a sibling. It was blue like the ripest blueberry, heavy like a thousand stones. It told him: No.
“Will I die on November 21, 2041?”
The tide receded, before washing over him again. No.
“Will I die on November 22, 2041?”
Warm, red, and bright, the Yes feeling bloomed, blotting out the tide of No. Jay remained completely still. He had been asking this same Question so many days… How many days? He had begun to be lulled by the rhythm of the blue. A part of him had wondered if maybe he never would die. Maybe it was another quirk, like his ability to answer all these questions. Maybe he would outlive the sun. Apparently not. He could have asked directly, “Will I die?” but that direct of a question always seemed too frightening, too ambitious to ask. Now that he had the answer, the second question, the one he’d really want answered, stuck in his throat. His heart beat so loud in his chest, he worried the guards outside the door might hear it. He pressed both hands to his chest, as if that might stifle the noise. Quietly, his voice barely loud enough to reach his own ears, he asked the question he had spent weeks formulating:
“When I die on November 22, 2041, will my self, soul, or consciousness continue on somewhere else?”
At first he thought he felt the blue rising up, lapping at his toes, and he began to feel deflated. But after a moment he felt a warmth, mingling with the blue, suffusing the whole feeling with a familiar glow. And yet, this was something new. Finally, Jay allowed himself to take it all in and he finally realized what this was. Purple. He poked and prodded at the feeling, seeking to find whether it was just a new flavour of No or Yes. It wasn’t. It was neither. This was a new thing entirely. He held the Purple aloft and spun it around, admiring it from all angles.
Jay felt a smile draw across his face, and tired as he was he felt like dancing. For once in his life, he didn’t have all the Answers. He had uncertainty, perhaps even ambiguity. Suddenly, the prospect of a full day of Questions tomorrow seemed much lighter, knowing that he had this new friend. That night Jay slept peacefully, certain only that he would not outlive the sun.