By CJ Paget
Artwork by Jose Baetas.
A police laser flickers like lightning returning to the clouds, stripping a home-made heli-drone, or perhaps some bird unlucky enough to look like one, from the night sky. Another victory in the battle to keep the citizenry safe from homebrew terrorism, flying paparazzi, or just those bloody pigeons.
Scratched and dented, with out-of-date styling, the van looks like any other knackered courier workhorse, rather than the highly advanced mobile media center it really is. The Gleasons are similarly concealed. George wears a fake moustache, an inflatable cummerbund to give him middle-aged spread, and a disreputable-looking mac. Ferrara wears a blonde wig and a broad headband that hides the designer quantum implant set into her forehead like a third eye. Bug-eyed dark glasses complete her disguise, but then she always wears those: Ferrara sees the future so bright and clear, that she has to wear shades.
Even across the street you can feel the bassline from Club Visible breaking over your face like repeated blows in a sonic pillow-fight. The building is made entirely of transparent carbon polymer, allowing outsiders to view its three levels of dancefloor where people stomp on surfaces tough and transparent as diamond. Swirling lights and holo-art shine through the walls and pattern the surrounding street with color.
"I've got no sniff that anyone else is on this," says Amanda, their engineer. She handles comms, cameras, everything but clairvoyance and looking good on camera.
"Maybe it's not going to happen," says George. "Darling?"
What little can be seen of Ferrara's face is pale and taut. She rests a hand on George's shoulder, as though needing his support to stay upright. She mutters a stream of curses in Spanish: to ears ignorant of the language it might sound like a complex spell. "It's going to happen," she says. But she always says that. "It's close now, very close." She clenches her teeth and growls determinedly, digging nails into her husband's shoulder like she's giving birth and wants him to feel some of the pain. It's not an easy job being a quantum clairvoyant.
"When?" asks George.
"Soon," hisses Ferrara. Then her grip slackens and her head whips around as though she's caught a scent. "That thieving bitch is here!"
All eyes turn to follow her gaze. Fifty yards away in the twilight stands a figure dressed in flowing white: a ghostly lady from a gothic novel. Black hair makes a sharp contrast where it spills over her shoulders. Like Ferrara she wears large dark glasses, but perhaps they're not disguise, for her folded hands rest on a white cane.
"Ferr, dear, stay focused," says George. "How long?"
Her nails sink into his jacket again. "Soon," she says. "Soon. Soon. Soon. Now."
Something changes in Club Visible's riot of lights. A quivering flicker, suggestive of some luminous life-form that's been awoken by the revelry, begins to assert itself in one corner of the second floor.
"Shit," says George, "but that's only a little fire? Maybe we could rush in there and--"
"Rush past the bouncers and all those dancing people?" says Ferrara. "We wouldn't make it. The building contractors saved money by using cheap American carbon-glass." Which she knows because at least half of clairvoyance is just good old-fashioned research. "That whole building is a high-tech tinderbox."
"You sure we're at a safe distance?"
"If anything was going to happen to us I would know."
Some of the people on the second floor have stopped dancing. The flicker strengthens, flares, leaps.
"That's it," says Ferrara.
"Showtime", says George. He shrugs out of his mac and peels off the fake eyebrows and cummerbund. A couple of stilt-legged auto-cameras unfold from the van and take up positions to capture his profile.
Amanda contacts the emergency services first: civic duty and all that. Then she's into the online marketplaces, bidding for satellite time, stating her price in the futures markets for the footage their cameras are about to produce.
The people in the building move as one mass, flowing towards the exits. A monstrous fluid light blossoms up the walls and a swarming, clawing cloud of black spreads over their panicked heads.
"That bitch is already on!" says Ferrara, for the woman-in-white is already speaking to a camera-drone that hovers before her, too low and too close to a living person for the rooftop lasers to pluck it from existence.
Amanda makes a dismissive noise. "She doesn't have my sales contacts, the footage from that drone will be shakey and low quality, and people like to hear their news from a square-jawed male. We've got the brains, Ferr, and George has got the looks, so let's make lots of money. Ready George? And three, two, one."
"This is George Gleason reporting from outside Club Visible--"
Over George's shoulder people begin to tumble out of Club Visible, and with them comes the noise of human panic. The walking cameras shift like nervous storks, adjusting to get the best angle on both George and the chaos behind him. One of them, it will later be discovered, catches a momentary glimpse of Ferrara Gleason striding purposefully away with her hands balled into fists.
The world goes quiet and distant as Ferrara Gleason steps into the noise-cancelling field of the floating camera-drone. She grabs a white-clad arm and pulls, yanking them face-to-face, as she says, "Now look here, Missy, I don't know who you think you are but--"
The sudden motion dislodges the woman's dark glasses and Ferrara is looking into empty sockets where eyes should be, eyelids collapsed
into the hollows. Above and between these empty orbits sits a Qubit Industries quantum implant; a cheap model, but perfectly serviceable. Its 'active' LED shines bright green. Suddenly Ferrara has nothing to say. She picks up the fallen glasses and hands them back.
The woman incongruously polishes her useless glasses on the hem of her white jacket, then puts them back on. "Yes?" she asks.
"Uh," says Ferrara. "I mean-" and before her inner censor can assert itself she's blurted, "What happened to your eyes?"
"Had them taken out," says the woman in white. "They interfere with the sight."
Ferrara takes a step away from her, back into a world of shouts and screaming. The woman in white pursues, the noise-cancelling field coming with her, driving the sound of disaster away. "You're Ferrara Gleason, aren't you? This is an honor. I'm a huge fan."
"Uh, thanks," says Ferrara, reluctantly accepting the offered hand.
"I'm Eliza Mojumdar-Jones. I've followed your career since the case of that poor American boy. You know, the physics prodigy. Tod Lauderdale, wasn't it?"
"Oh. Yes," says Ferrara, in tones like she's heard it before, because she has. "Him." Tod Lauderdale, handsome as Presley, smart as Hawking, and deader than Dean, has been the shadow cast by her career for five years now.
Mojumdar-Jones shakes her head and sighs. "A terrible case. How could someone do those things to another human being? It doesn't bear imagining. And without you, she'd have gotten away with it. The police had nothing. It was you found the evidence that turned the case around. That's when I knew I wanted to get into quantum journalism: I saw the good one could do. I've always wondered something though, why didn't you report her earlier? Before the deed was done, or at least while he was still alive?"
This too, Ferrara has heard before. "Because there was no proof," she says, wearily, "No one listens to a quantum clairvoyant. Even the best of us are only sometimes right, and sometimes isn't enough for the police. And I didn't have a good fix on the location until... until it was too late"
George arrives, a sun-ray of false bonhomie. "What are you girls nattering about?"
"We'd better be going," says Ferrara. "The cops will be here soon."
Eliza Mojumdar-Jones produces a business-card from her pocket, bows and offers it in the Japanese style that's caught on everywhere since the blockbuster _Modern Manners 2.0_. Ferrara hesitates, George steps swiftly in and does the accepting bow. There are always cameras everywhere, and Ferrara has probably already done serious damage to their public image by laying hands on a blind woman.
"If you have any work, anything," says Mojumdar-Jones. "I'm trying to break into the biz."
"And that's why you've been following us, scooping our stories?" says Ferrara.
"Ah. Well, there's no use denying it. I'm desperate. I thought when I got the implant I'd be... but I can't make sense of the chaos. Cutting the optic interference helped. It lets me track you and I've had some small successes, but something's missing. There's something I'm not doing right."
"You're in too much of a hurry," says Ferrara. "It takes patience, practice," she pauses for just a moment, "and talent."
There's a distant wail of sirens, audible even through the noise-cancellation. It's time to go before anyone starts asking difficult questions. Anyways the smell is getting unbearable.
Back to the van Amanda is packing up the walking-drones, singing that Pet Shop Boys song to herself.
Ferrara, still wearing dark glasses and a mood to match, strides into the living room of the Gleason's luxury Chelsea apartment. She's carrying what look like two largish perfume bottles, actually designer vodka, and a pack of painkillers. George looks up from where he lies on the sofa, vigorously thumbing an antique, hand-held games console. His mouth tightens, but he says nothing. He doesn't like Ferrara mixing drink and pharmaceuticals, but knows any discussion will just end with Ferrara's declaration _If anything were going to happen to me, I'd know._ It's not an easy job, being the husband of a quantum clairvoyant. He slides up the sofa, making room for Ferrara to flump exhaustedly onto it. "You okay?" he asks, "Want anything?"
"I'm fine," says Ferrara. "I'm always like this after I push probability," she pours a glass of firewater, throws two tablets into her mouth, forces them down with a swig. "We should give Amanda a bonus at the end of this year. She excelled herself today, brokered a string of great deals. The footage has caught on like... what?"
"Twenty six dead."
"Yes, thank you, I know. I heard them, saw them, felt them, for hours before it happened." She taps the expensive Ansari-Vargas implant that glows in her brow like a caste-mark. "It would have been more if we weren't there to call the emergency services."
George completes a game-level with an 8-bit fanfare that makes Ferrara's teeth itch. She waits for him to say more. She knows there's more coming: not via quantum clairvoyance, but through a decade and a half of marriage.
"The young lady with, um, the dark glasses," says George. "What did you make of her?"
"She's a ghoul," says Ferrara. She mimics the other woman's voice "'How could anyone do those things to another human being? It doesn't bear imagining!' I bet she's imagined it a few times. She's another one with an unhealthy interest in that Lauderdale boy."
"The one with the weird ideas about quantum reality?"
"Yes, but I think she sees him more as 'the fit one that some crazy bitch had in her power for four days until she finally tortured him to death'. She's a ghoul."
"Ferr, people say we're ghouls, that we flock to death and destruction."
Ferrara takes off her shades and massages the bridge of her nose. "Darling, she's had her eyes taken out. That's not normal."
"Hmmm. Would that work?"
George clicks the game off and sets it aside. "Would it work?" he asks. "The eyes thing?"
There's a certain astonishment in Ferrara's voice that tells George he's dancing on dangerous ground. "Yes, you know it would. That's why I wear shades, that's why we have the Reception Room, to block extraneous sensation."
"I've a hunch it works better than anechoic rooms and dark glasses. It shows a certain dedication too, doesn't it? Maybe it would be an idea to bring her onto the team?"
"Over my dead body. George, if we did that we'd practically be endorsing what she's done. We'd be sending the message that plucking out your eyes and stealing other people's leads was the way to get noticed. Mierda, imagine if that caught on!"
"But it already has. She went somewhere and got the operation, someone was prepared to do the operation. I don't doubt it was illegal, but it means the culture is already established. And she implied that she's been tracking us via quantum clairvoyance. That's the kind of thing the police and security forces were trying to use it for, but they got nowhere with it. Yet she has."
"She's lying," says Ferrara. "She's another no-hoper trying to impress."
"What if she's not lying? What if it really lets you see further and clearer? What if it's the future?"
"It takes more than sight to be successful. You heard her, she's not getting anywhere."
"And maybe she never will, maybe she'll never guess your tricks of the trade. But what if after her there's a deluge of eyeless wonders all working to the same goal? Someone will find the secret sooner or later, and then the game will be changed, and we'll lose our edge and won't be able to compete. Then what do we do?"
"We retire," says Ferrara.
"On what? We've no savings."
"Look about you, dear. We're rich. We'll just sell some stuff."
"It's all on credit," says George. "We're in debt."
"But... but we've made a fortune?"
"Yes, and between us, we've spent two."
Ferrara recovers from this shock quickly, folds her arms, and says, "And you've realized this just now? Why? What's changed? This isn't really about money, is it?"
George hesitates like a schoolboy caught in a lie. "There's something else," he admits, "you're working too hard."
"I'm a big girl, George. I can manage a little hard work."
George fishes his phone from a pocket. "You've started talking in your sleep, and doing other things. I've recorded it. Would you like to hear?"
Ferrara stares at the phone and says nothing.
George's thumb moves to press the screen.
"No! I don't want to hear!" snaps Ferrara. She stands and walks to the window, looks out at the endless twinkle of London. Sighs, and asks, "Is it bad?""It's terrifying," says George. "Voices. Languages. I don't understand one tenth of it, and what I do understand scares the shit out of me."
"George, you're too--"
That makes her turn from the window. "I walk?"
"You walk, you talk, two nights ago I woke and you were trying to strangle me."
"Bullshit," says Ferrara. "You've dreamt that."
George thumbs the screen of his phone. The sound that comes out of it is as much animal as human, as much snarl as speech, the language is unrecognizable and ugly, but they both know the voice.
The window thrums as Ferrara instinctively backs away and into it. "Turn it off," she says. "Turn it off!"
George silences it with a sweep of his thumb. "That was another night," he admits. "The night in question you spoke English, after I'd had to wrestle with you for thirty seconds. You were surprisingly strong and determined. Then you woke up and we had this long conversation about it, but I spent the rest of the night sleepless on this sofa because something about that conversation was askew. You remember all this, right?"
"No," says Ferrara, "I don't remember any of it."
"Then who was I talking to all night?"
Ferrara turns away from him, her arms wrapped about her as though cold. George goes over and wraps his arms around her too. "Ferr, we knew this was a danger. You're doing too much, spending too much time with your other selves and picking up too many signals from god-knows-where. We can turn this 'Eliza' woman from a problem into an asset: she gets into the biz like she wants, we get to take some of the load off you. It's win-win for everyone, and I'll sleep more easily."
"George, this is ridiculous. You're twice my size--"
"Ferr, we've got a kitchen full of knives, and a house full of blunt objects. I might never even have woken up."
"But, I wouldn't--"
"I know you wouldn't, dear. But," he holds up the phone in front of her face, "are you sure that the voices I've recorded, are all you?"
"Please, take a seat," says Ferrara, holding open the door of the office they use for official business.
Eliza Mojumdar-Jones makes a small sweeping movement with her white cane, allowing its embedded electronics to scan the room. In some way it passes this information to her, and she walks to one of the chairs and sits in it.
Ferrara brings over two coffees, and says, "First I should apologise for--"
"Don't. I shouldn't have been there. You're right, it was theft. I was justifying it to myself because... Well, quantum physics makes you think you're an observer, and everyone else is just a phenomenon, don't you think?"
"I've never thought about that," says Ferrara, finding herself already off-balance now that her carefully practiced apology isn't required. "Let's get to business. My husband feels that we need a second quantum clairvoyant, that we should take you onto the team--"
"Oh, wow! Really? I'd--"
"But I want to be sure you know the risks and tribulations of the job."
"Risks?" says Eliza. "What risks?"
"What do you know of quantum theory?"
"Uh, well, there's that experiment with electrons going through two slits. They interfere with each other and make a wave-pattern. But even if you only send a single electron through one slit, it behaves like it's still interfering with other electrons, even though it's alone. The best explanation we've got is that the other electrons exist in other worlds, parallel to ours. Or no, not parallel, perpendicular. Well, they're only perpendicular after--"
"Okay, and your implant works, how?"
"It puts my neurons into quantum superposition, so I get snatches of information from my other selves in para- uh, perpen-, well *other* worlds. But some people say it doesn't work at all, that it's all in our heads."
"And practice? What have you done so far? What's your procedure?"
"Just what everyone says. I started meditation before I got the implant. I'm quite good, I can easily go an hour without thinking of anything. Doesn't sound like such an achievement, does it?"
"It doesn't, but it is," says Ferrara, a little impressed. "And then?"
"Well, I got the implant, I did the exercises in the manual, but I don't think they help--"
"They don't. It's all bullshit."
"So now I just go into trance and start picking up impressions from my other selves."
"What kind of impressions?"
"Images, voices, sometimes smells, sometimes just knowledge, just the certainty that something is going to happen. But it doesn't happen, not always, not even that often."
"Ever felt threatened?" asks Ferrara.
"Ah. The griefers. Yes." She shrugs. "But they're just voices."
"The more you do this, the more serious that will become," says Ferrara. "When you turn on the implant, you're opening your brain to something we don't really understand. Some of those you call 'the griefers' are among your other selves: not all versions of us are people we'd want to meet. Some of your other selves will be hateful, towards others and particularly towards themselves, which means towards you. And remember, they know you: everything you are, everything you do, they know your deepest, secret fears. They know the things about yourself that you hide from. Letting them into your head has consequences. Then there are the other voices. The not-yous. No one knows who, what, or where they are, or what their game is. Sometimes it's like cosmic spam, _do this, and you will be rewarded_, sometimes you can get a bit lost from yourself, and it can feel like someone's trying to push you out and take your place. The killer you mentioned, the Lauderdale case, she had a quantum implant."
"Well, yes, but so do lots of people, and they don't kill."
"Female serial killers are rare, so what turned her into one?"
Eliza shrugs. "You know how it is, anything with 'Quantum' in the name attracts weirdos. There's no proof of cause or effect there."
"When you've done this for as long as I have you won't be so sure," says Ferrara. "That's why my husband thinks I need-" she stops short of saying 'help' "-someone else to take the strain. Are you sure you still want this job?"
"Yes. I took my eyes out for it. I can't go back, only forward."
"You shouldn't have done that," says Ferrara.
"I wouldn't be here without it. It gave me the focus that I needed to track you."
"I've not heard of anyone using the sight that way before?" says Ferrara, thinking, hoping, that it's a lie.
"Oh, it's easy. I just focus on the idea of you, and eight times out of ten I get an answer. In an infinitely branching multiverse there's always one of me out there that knows where you are. Or where you'll be."
Ferrara feels the skin on her back tingle. She's not heard of anyone doing this, except maybe that crazy bitch that hunted down Tod Lauderdale. But she tells herself it's better to have someone like Eliza on your side. "Would you be okay with us doing a little exercise?" she asks.
Eliza nods, "Of course."
"I want you to go into trance and tell me any suggestions you get."
"Now?" says Eliza, with a nervous quaver in her voice.
"Yes. Don't worry, it's not a test or anything."
Eliza straightens in her chair, resting her hands on her legs in the 'Egyptian' meditation posture from the first edition of 'Quantum Spirituality for Dummies'. Ferrara can't suppress a smile. "Tell me when you have something," she says.
"I'm getting the screaming, but someone's always screaming, aren't they? That's the way the world is."
"Happy people are quiet people," says Ferrara. "With a quantum implant you can hear one screamer across the whole multiverse. Look for something specific, something that feels close and clear and simple."
Mojumdar-Jones turns her blind gaze to the windows, tilts her head like she's hearing something. "Okay," she says.
"Try to focus on it till it's all there is. Imagine soundproof walls going up between you and everything else, or perhaps imagine that you're working with it in a laboratory glove-box. There's nothing else, nothing but you, and it."
Lines begin to form across Eliza's brow.
"Don't tense," says Ferrara. "Just let everything else fall away, until there's just you, and it."
Eliza's face slackens. Eventually, she nods to indicate she's achieved the required focus.
"Now," says Ferrara. "Push."
"Don't ask questions, just do it," says Ferrara.
Eliza's body tenses. Her head goes down and frown-lines crinkle her brow above her dark glasses. From the windows there comes a sound like a tabla master playing on them: first just a few taps, then an arpeggio of impacts, then a sustained roar.
"That's. Very. Good." says Ferrara, keeping her voice chessboard-flat as she watches water cascade down her windows. "You've really never done this before?"
"What?" says Eliza. "What's happening? Did I just make it rain?" Her voice carries a quiver of panic.
"No," says Ferrara. "It was going to rain, and it wasn't going to rain. It is raining, and it isn't raining. Reality is an infinitely branching rail network, and we are all passengers on it. If you take a train to Brighton instead of Bournemouth, it doesn't mean that Brighton suddenly pops into existence when you arrive. All you have done is chosen to go to Brighton, or Bournemouth. You see a certain outcome. In another existence another you chose snow, or a dust-storm."
"It didn't feel like that."
"The world is not as we feel it to be."
"But then why not just choose to see a world in which you're rich and..." Eliza's voice tails off, "famous?"
"I already did," says Ferrara. "You said you felt there's something you're doing wrong, you weren't getting the story leads you needed to break into the game. Well, this is it, this is the secret."
"But, you could wish yourself to be queen of everything?" says Eliza. "Why chase news when you could... you could. Wow."
Ferrara laughs, and is surprised to hear how forced and high-pitched it sounds. "You can set those fantasies aside. You can only grasp what you can see, and all you can see are hints and glimpses from your other selves in nearby worlds. You've no control over what you get. You could get the numbers for tomorrow's lottery, but you almost certainly won't. That's why it's useless. All that money they put into the research. The police, the military, convinced that this would let them see the future. But you can't get the information you want, and what you get is questionable; might not happen. Quantum clairvoyance is only useful to an opportunist who can put up with a few false leads. Only useful to newshounds."
"But Tod Lauderdale thought--"
"Eliza, I need to know, what is your obsession with this dead boy?"
"Obsession? N-no, it's nothing like that. He just had some interesting ideas. He thought that the particle in the double-slit experiment isn't interacting with other particles in parallel worlds, but is interacting with all the particles in all possible futures. It's like they're fighting to be born, and only one of can win and become real. He didn't think the universe was constantly branching at each decision point, he thought it was being constantly pruned, all possibilities being whittled down to one."
"And no respectable scientists agreed with him. If future states could interfere with quantum events happening now it would be backwards causation in time, and then it's paradoxes all the way down. He was-" Ferrara hesitates before a vast array of possible words, each with their pros and cons. She selects: "- mistaken."
"Some think that's why he was murdered, you know, because of what he was saying. She had an implant after all."
"Eliza, these are conspiracy theories. That woman just let a bad crowd into her head. She wasn't responsible for her own actions. If you're going to get into the biz, you've got to start thinking in terms of provable facts. These weird theories are dangerous."
"Dangerous?" Eliza tilts her head in a pantomime of a sideways look, giving Ferrara the creepy feeling that the other woman can see her perfectly, even without eyes. "How so?"
"What do you think people would do if they thought we were actually causing events, rather then observing them?"
Eliza Mojumdar-Jones turns her black glasses to the rain washing down the windows. She thinks about the question for a while and then answers, "They'd burn us like witches."
"Well?" asks George. He's apparently spent the whole afternoon on the sofa, tapping away on that games console. Ferrara hates the way he wastes his time like that, like he thinks he'll live forever. _Where would you be without me?_ she thinks. But she knows if she says anything he'll just get petulant and start a row. It's not easy being the wife of the husband of a quantum clairvoyant.
"You see that?" says Ferrara, pointing to windows, where the rainstorm still plays its percussion symphony. "She did that."
"So, she's good?" says George.
"Good!? GOOD!? She's terrifying. It should've taken weeks to get her to the point where she's getting real effects; she did it first try."
"Maybe she's naturally talented?"
"It's hardly a thing one can be naturally talented at, is it? I mean there's nothing 'natural' to the job?"
"You think she's lying, that she knows more than she lets on?" He swings his legs off the sofa making space for Ferrara.
"I don't know. I just don't feel comfortable around her."
"Darling, don't you think that's a little-" George sets his face into an expression of distaste. "bigoted?"
"No, darling I don't. She's not a real blind person, she's blind by choice. That's not normal. What if she's lying to us, what if she's pushed probability before?"
George shrugs. "So what?"
"You wanted her on the team because you were worried I was turning into someone else, remember? What if she's already made that mistake? What if one of her other quantum selves has transferred itself into her somehow?"
"Why would they be any worse than the original?""Because they chose to take possession. I mean, that's predatory, right?"
"No, Fer, that's nonsense, and you know it. The talking and sleepwalking and stuff, that's just you picking up transmissions, like a radio. There's no way someone can use quantum effects to permanently swap bodies."
"Then who were you talking to three nights ago? Or did you make all that up?""But it wasn't permanent."
Ferrara adopts a movie-vampire accent. "How do you know zhat, exzactly, darrrling?"
George performs a theatrical shudder. "Brrrr. Let's not go there. But if you're right, and those other voices can move in permanently, then what difference does it make? For all we know she was born evil anyway: there's plenty of nasty people in the world without quantum implants. Even if she's got Cthulhu in her head, she's still just a blind woman, she doesn't have superpowers. The only difference is, I don't share a home, and a life, and a bed with her, and I don't intend to. If anyone's going to run the risk of transdimensional possession, I'd sooner it was her, than you."
"Hmph. There's something to that logic that appeals," says Ferrara, resting her head on his shoulder. "But, do you know what she said when I showed her how to probability-push? She said 'You could wish yourself to be queen of everything'."
"Then why haven't you?" says George. "It's not that I expect to be a kept man, but hell--"
"I can only push probabilities that I can see, things that are close and likely," says Ferrara.
"But you think she can see further?"
"Odin gave up one eye for wisdom, she's given up two. It should have taken weeks to teach her to push, she did it first try. What will she be able to do after a week, a month, a year of practice?"
"Isn't that a good reason to have her on our side?"
"What if she gets to the point where she can just sit at home, and bend probability around her, and make herself queen of everything?"
"It wouldn't make any difference. You're always telling me that. She'd just be choosing to experience a world-line where that happened, and we'd break away into our own futures. Everything happens and doesn't happen. Nothing is real, everything is permitted, right?"
Ferrara doesn't answer immediately, she watches the weather continuing to bully their windows. "Yes," she says, "yes, that's right."
At the threshold of The Reception Room Eliza stops so suddenly that Ferrara nearly walks into the back of her. She waves her white wand, like an insect tasting the air with its antennae. When she says "What is... this?" there's the slightest tremble to her voice, especially on the last word, when she hears how her own voice sounds when it casts no shadows.
Ferrara concludes the seeing-cane uses ultrasonics, and the hatch-work pattern of acoustic baffles that line the walls and ceiling has rendered it blind. "Another trade secret," she says. "We call this 'The Reception Room'. It's an anechoic chamber, it absorbs all sound. This is probably the most silent room in London. A controlled environment improves the chances of picking something up from the multiverse. This is just an exercise to get you used to the procedure, nothing more."
Eliza nods, waves her cane into nothingness, taps it on the floor before her.
"Here, let me guide you," Ferrara takes Eliza's arm, pulling the door shut behind them, unable to keep a certain maternal tone from her voice, unable to resist a secret, gloating satisfaction at the other woman's helplessness, at finally being in charge. "You okay with this?"
"Yes, it's just strange."
"You don't even have to turn on your implant if you don't want to. Just get used to the room." Says Ferrara. She leads Eliza to the couches, where Eliza has to pat the air with her hands, searching for physical contact. Once she's found a couch, Ferrara helps her attach electrodes to her scalp and hands. "These are just to monitor for... anything strange," she says. She climbs onto her own couch, taping electrodes to her own fingers.
"Session five-eight-two," Amanda's voice, coming from the walls, strangely smothered by the room's unique properties. "The code-word is 'Asparagus', shout it loud as you can if you want to end the session. Lights out in five, four, three, two, one."
The lights click off, though this room has been black for Eliza from the start. In the darkness there is only the very faint sound of their own breathing.
After a while Eliza whispers, "can you hear that?"
"It's me," says Ferrara.
"No, someone else."
"I get that all the time," says Ferrara. "The silence plays tricks. You can hear your own heartbeat, yes?"
"In a while you'll be able to hear mine."
After that the talk stops, and silence envelops them like a smothering fist.
Eight minutes later they gasp in synchronous, bodies tensing on the couches.
In the room next door Amanda looks up from bio-monitor displays and says, "George?"
George sets aside his game handheld. "Yes?"
"Something's happening," says Amanda. She points to two oscilloscope-style traces marked 'heartbeat', one at her left hand, one at her right. They're identical.
"Um, they've got the same heartbeat?" says George. "So what?"
"Look at this," says Amanda, rapping a fingernail on another set of identically jagged traces. "Eee Eee Gee. Brain activity."
They wouldn't normally break the silence of the room until Ferrara announced she'd got something, but George breaks procedure, thumbs the intercom button, speaks into the mic: "Fer? Everything alright?"
For a while the only response is the sound of synchronized breath, then it's Eliza who says, "I've got something. An event."
Amanda's hands blur across keyboards, and video projects onto one of the Reception Room's walls. "Eliza, this is a random stream of location images. Say 'match' if you see one that you associate with the event. The algorithms will refine the image stream in response, and zero in on a location."
"Um. I can't."
"Oh, darn, sorry, I forgot--".
"Match," says Ferarra.
"Fer?" says George.
"I-I'm getting it too. It's like... I'm just getting it too."
Other images, algorithmically deduced from the first match, flicker upon the wall. Ferrara calls out "Match. Match... Match," honing the results till the algorithms have fixed a location.
Amanda asks into the intercom mic, "When?"
"Soon." It's two voices speaking perfect synchronous. "Very soon."
"Nature of event?"
"Airliner," comes the chorus.
"Okay," says Amanda. "From the image matches it seems the location is Toronto. No use to us at such short notice. But I might be able to sell the tip on the grapevine."
"New event," says Ferrara.
"So soon? You sure?"
"Yes," and it's that two-tone voice again.
"Nature of Event?"
"Storm. A hurricane."
"Okay, initiating image stream."
"Eliza, you can't even see--"
Ferrara's voice now: "She's right, it was a match."
George reaches over and clicks off the intercom. "What's happening?" he asks.
"Well, I don't know," says Amanda, eyes sparkling, "Some kind of unique entanglement event, something no-one's seen before. They've only been in there minutes and they've already had two matches. This could take us to a new level." She brushes George's hand away, clicks back on the intercom, and resumes cross-referencing the image matches for a location fix.
The intercom crackles with that dual-voice chorus once more. "New event."
"Nature of Event?"
"She's exhausted," says Amanda. "Barely made it into the cab, poor thing. I hope she'll be alright."
"Oh, she'll be alright," says Ferrara. "If anything were going to happen to her, she'd already have seen it."
"What's the matter?" asks Amanda. "You two look like someone died."
George waves to the TV that's playing with the sound off in the corner of the room. "Someone did," he says.
Amanda draws the conclusion from the televised images. "The airliner? So what?"
"I didn't push probability," says Ferrara. "So who did?"
"No one. Any event you foresee has a probability of occurring spontaneously within our world-line anyway, it's normal."
"Whatever happened in the Reception Room today wasn't normal," says George. "It was like the voices that Ferrara sometimes gets."
"Voices?" says Amanda. "What voices?"
"When I put myself into superposition with my other selves," says Ferrara, "I sometimes get other voices on the line. Things that aren't me. I don't talk about it much, but it's been getting worse recently, happening in my sleep."
"That doesn't make sense," says Amanda. "How can you be in neural superposition with anyone but your other selves?"
"What do you think happened in the Reception Room?" asks George. "What did it look like?"
Amanda's lips pull into a thin, compressed line. "Like Ferr and 'Liza were in some kind of entangled state," she admits. "but that's impossible."
"She says she's been using the sight to track our movements," says Ferrara, "that's how she was scooping our stories. That's supposed to be impossible too. She was inside my head today, I felt it. She might have learned things about me, heard my thoughts or seen my memories."
"So what?" asks Amanda. "Surely you don't have anything to hide?"
"Of course I have things to hide, you idiot!" Ferrara turns to her husband and says, "There is the solution to our problems. Snow White here has nothing to hide, so we fit her with an implant and she can do the Reception Room sessions." She goes to the windows to stare down on London. Behind her back, George rolls his eyes at Amanda, who shrugs back: one must make allowances for prima-ballerinas and
"Amanda, I know it's supposed to be impossible, but we all know what we saw today.," says George. "Something weird is happening. This is more than we bargained for."
"And I felt something," says Ferrara without turning from the window. "A vast malignant rage, a suffocating anger. Whatever we've dabbled in here, we've got to stop."
"Look," says Amanda, holding up a placating hand, "I know I'm the junior partner here, and I can see you're all pretty weirded out, but maybe there's something you're forgetting," she produces a sheet of note-paper, holds it up like a holy relic. "Twenty new event leads. Twenty. In a normal session we're lucky to get one; Two and it's break out the champagne. We got twenty today, and most of them are still viable leads." When this gets only a stoney silence, she adds, "You guys do know about the state of your finances, right?"
George Gleason stops at the apex of the hill, his coat flapping in the wind. "Bracing," he says. He consults his GPS-enabled watch and says, "Well, this must be the place. You girls still got the fix?"
"Yes." The response is two-tone, Ferrara's voice slightly deeper that that of Mojumdar-Jones. They turn their heads, sweeping their sunglassed gazes over the view, which strikes George as odd, because Eliza has no eyes, so why is she turning her head like that?
"Yes," they say, "this is the place."
"Do you have to keep doing that?"
"Nevermind." He looks over to Amanda, who shrugs and says, "We'd better walk the site. The light's failing."
They crunch around in circles through long grass and heather. Standard operating procedure: know the site, look for hidden hazards, establish safe ground from which one can report on whatever it is that's going to happen. George's circles gradually get closer to Amanda, and further away from the two clairvoyants. "They're doing the thing again," he says.
"Yep. They're both focused on the same event, it's natural that there'd be some commonality in their responses."
"You think that's all it is?"
"No, but it'll do for now."
"I don't like it. I'd try to snap them out of it, but then--"
"We'd lose the event. Yes. I think this one's a very distant possibility, neither of them could grasp it individually, but working together- George, you do realize, if I'm right, this would give us a big edge in the market."
"And if you're wrong?"
Amanda shrugs. "What's the worst that can happen? Look, that's bare rock over there, should be a safe part of the hill. We can set the camera drones there."
"Look," says George, pointing downhill. There's a clutch of buildings at the bottom of the hillside, just visible in the twilight. Empty on a Sunday, but tomorrow it will be full of young lives.
"Damn fool place to build a school," says Amanda. "This hill is riddled with old mineworks, now all full of methane. It'll pop like a bubble. We'd better just remote operate the drones from a safe distance."
"'Mand," says George, still looking at the dark blocks of the school below them, "do you ever worry about the things that happen when we're around?"
"No. It's going to happen, and not happen. We only chose which world-line we see. Come on George, you know the physics."
"'Cept we don't chose, do we? Ferrara choses."
"Yes, and she drags us along with her."
"Hmm. Amanda, you know the physics better than me, so tell me, how does that bit work, actually?"
"It just does," says Amanda, a little more sharply than might be expected when speaking to her employer. "George, what--"
Sudden as the squawking of startled birds, the sound of raised voices crackles through the air.
"Uh-oh, I don't think they're of one mind anymore," says Amanda. They jog back to the arguing clairvoyants. On arrival, George asks, "What's up?"
Ferrara shouts it, even though they're all standing within reach, "She's dropped the event, pushed it away!"
"I won't let you do this," says Eliza. "I won't. All those people. Children."
"We're not doing anything!" protests Ferrara. "Nothing's happening that doesn't happen anyway. We're only choosing whether we see it and profit from it, or not."
"What if you're wrong?" Eliza asks. "What if the particle going through the slit isn't interacting with its other selves, but is experiencing the pull of multiple possible futures, each fighting to be born? What if there's only one reality, a reality that we're making happen, choosing from possible futures that call back to us?"
"No," says Ferrara. "All the scientists agree--"
"Then why do we get flashes from alternative futures, instead of from alternative nows?" asks Eliza. "Why do they call us 'quantum clairvoyants'?"
Ferrara holds up her hands, showing the blind woman her palms. "You wanted to be a quantum journalist? Well, this is what it takes. Non-events don't sell. Happy endings don't sell. People know what world they want to see on their screens each night, and it's a world of blood and fire. If you want to make it in the biz, then you have to give the public what they want. If you can't, then you're no use to anyone."
"If you're right," says Eliza, "then nothing matters. If you're wrong, then you've committed terrible crimes."
"I've committed nothing," says Ferrara. To the others she says, "We're wasting our time with this crazy bitch. Let's get out of here." She turns and strides back towards where the newsvan is parked. George, protesting, goes after her. Amanda goes to collect Eliza, but Eliza steps away from her proffered hand. She says, "You've always known, haven't you?"
"Okay, whatever," says Amanda, "find your own way home." She strides away after the Gleasons.
"You've all always known, really, haven't you?" Eliza calls after them. "Especially you, Ferrara. I could sense it when we were linked in the Reception Room. That's why a quantum clairvoyant attracts cosmic hate, even from her other selves: that much guilt puts a dent in reality. Just one thing I want to know: Did you push Tod Lauderdale? Did you chose a world where he woke up in that mad bitch's cellar, drugged and bound, helpless while she did those things to him?"
Ferrara stops in her tracks as George catches up with her. "Tod Lauderdale!" she shouts at the sky, before turning back. "Always Tod Lauderdale. Yes, I chose a world-line where the meddling fool was out of the way. He would have set everyone against us with his crazy ideas. What of it? You're obsessed with him. You need to move on from whatever fixation you have on that boy."
"I can't," says Eliza, her voice barely raised now, seemingly carried on the wind. "He was my fiance."
Ferrara gasps, puts a hand to the quantum implant in her brow, mutters some sharp Spanish. George catches her arm, fearful that she's about to faint.
"That's why I got the implant," says Eliza, "That's why I took out my eyes. I thought he'd be out there in other parallel worlds, that I'd get glimpses of him. But it didn't work, because there are no parallel worlds and he's just dead. After that, all I had left was finding you." Then her head goes down, the way it did when she made it rain. George feels his wife's fingernails sink into his arm again, hears the stream of curses as she pushes reality. But her voice is drowned by a deep, rumbling growl that he feels through the soles of his shoes, as though the Earth itself were angry. Then Amanda screams and the Earth moves, and they're all swept into tomorrow's headlines.