Ariel, the hero of d4, lived in my head for years and I knew what she could do. She could see into the future. It wasn’t until I began writing her story, however, that I realized how complicated the very idea of precognition is.
I’d already given serious thought to the pros and cons of a fixed future, and I’d thrown out the idea of a predestined universe. Over my adult life I’ve heard compelling arguments that in a universe ruled by cause and effect, the future is as immutable as the past. Perhaps it is. But as long as I’m writing the book, there are going to be surprises and free will in the story, and any bits of prescience will work on the assumption that the future is a probability curve. Guess you could say I can’t write stories any other way.
But it turns out that there are many more vexing questions to consider. How far into the future does she see? Why? How much does she understand about what she sees? Why doesn’t the whole process happen all the time and leave her overwhelmed and unable to function?
To sort some of this out, I researched famous psychics from Casandra and Nostradamus to their more modern counterparts. It seemed like many reduced their input by relying on divination techniques like crystal balls or going into a trance. They willed their visions, and went about a relatively normal life the rest of the time.
I knew that this wasn’t the way Ariel saw the future. In d4 it was going to come at her unbidden. Historically, psychics who experienced unwilling visions almost always had very little extraneous information to help put their data into context. This vagueness is often translated into fiction, and it has certainly made for some great stories over the years, but I knew that I didn’t want to spend half my book writing about Ariel trying to figure out what it was she was seeing. So I decided to approach clairvoyance more like memory. I assumed that a sight or sound or smell could touch off a short video clip in the mind, and that the brain would supply the context much as it would when one remembers, for instance, blowing out the candles on ones twelfth birthday.
That left the question of how far ahead she saw, and in that quandary I found the roots of my story.
Below is an excerpt from d4, taken from the scene when Ariel first meets another person who shares her gifts. Once I wrote the scene below, I had a pretty good idea of how precognition was going to work in the world I was creating.
Ariel stepped off the plane to her first view of the barren rocks mottled with bright colored lichens that make up the tundra. She had never set foot inside of the Arctic Circle before. Tiny flickers and flashes erupted as her boot touched the ground.
My premonitions are stronger here, she noticed with surprise. The cold dry air? The earth’s magnetic field? There had to be a reason. She added it to her list of things to try to figure out later.
While they were waiting for the luggage to be brought into the waiting area of the airport, Ariel wandered off, looking for a bathroom. She turned into an office and noticed a man’s legs sticking out from under a desk.
“Are you okay?” She felt like she should say something.
She heard him chuckle. “No, I’m in serious need of somebody to grab the other end of this wire. One man doing a two man job.” Ariel saw that he was trying to get some sort of computer cable to go up through a small hole in the desk.
“Let me help.” She came over, pulled the cord through and by acquired instinct plugged it into the monitor where it was clearly intended to go.
“Thanks,” he said with appreciation, as he wriggled out from under the desk. Then he noticed that she’d connected the cable. “A helpful tourist and one that knows how to connect hardware.”
“I can manage considerably more than plugging in a monitor,” she laughed. “IT training here, though I don’t use it enough these days. I’m Ariel. Passing through trying to hunt down the ladies room.”
“You came all the way to the arctic to find a place to pee?” he teased.
She rolled her eyes and when he held out his hand she took it without thinking.
“Siarnaq,” he said and Ariel saw a small spark in the air before their hands touched.
Then for a few seconds, neither of them could have said a word if they had wanted to.
For Siarnaq, the images he saw were so much larger than those he was used to—close-up and huge, like looking at something right in front of your face with a pair of binoculars. Amidst the blur of something too big to take in, he knew that he was finally seeing the future from his own lifetime. The prospect filled him with joy, but the images were just so close that he had no way to make any sense of them, The accompanying knowledge in his brain seemed to be coming at him like hundreds of birds chirping. We must not be designed to see what comes in our own lifetime, he reasoned.
To Ariel, the flickers of the distant future went wild in the corners of her brain, like far off flashing lights too remote for her to see the images that they were illuminating. This man matters in a future too far off for me to see, she thought. I wish I could enlarge these images somehow. We must not be able to see past the next several months. I guess that makes sense.
He let go of her hand slowly.
“You’re a seer.” He said it like he knew it for a fact. He studied her red hair, fair skin and blue eyes. She wasn’t of the People, or at least if she had Inuit ancestors they were few indeed. Had he ever met a seer who wasn’t mostly Inuit? He didn’t think so.
“You get visions of the future?” Ariel’s heart was starting to beat louder. She had never expected to be asking this question, much less to be in this situation for a second time in her life.
The Inuit man laughed. “The world is full of seers,” he said.
I had no idea that would be so good to know, she thought.
Siarnaq added gently. “You have a lot to learn. You’re with the tour group?” he asked. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. “Today, they give you time to shop and sight see. Let’s go get a cup of coffee.”
Two of my more useful written sources were:
Clairvoyance August 3, 2009 by Charles Webster Leadbeater. Publisher: Merchant Books ISBN-13: 978-1603862417
Seeing Your Future: A Modern Look at Prophecy and Prediction March, 1990 by John E. Ronner. Publisher: Mamre Pr; First Edition ISBN-13: 978-0932945389.
On a more humorous note, Rational Wiki offers a nice list of predictions about the end of the world (or universe). It sort of puts everything into perspective.