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Ships in the Night

S.B. Divya is a lover of science, math, and fiction. When she isn't designing high speed communications systems, raising her daughter, scratching the cats, or enjoying dinner with her husband, she writes. Her fiction has appeared in "Daily Science Fiction," and in "Nature." You can read more about her at eff-words.com.

The problem with seeing the future is that you can do nothing to change it. Kuni had figured this out long ago, when she was still a young child. People would ignore you, disbelieve you, or resent you. After enough failed attempts to change the course of events, she stopped trying.
This made it no easier to go about her life. She gained and lost friends, failed exams, fell in love, and had her heart broken. When she went to college and majored in physics, she felt the mathematical beauty of her foresight for the first time. Of course she couldn't change the future. Time was an illusory concept. Everything that was going to happen had already happened, and she was simply another node in the fabric of the universe--along for the ride but with an extra-dimensional view.
The realization led Kuni to change her major to philosophy, and she went on to form her doctoral thesis around the subject. Naturally, this came as no surprise to her.
When Kuni was twenty-seven years old, in the midst of writing her dissertation, she met Isra. Isra was gorgeous: petite, curvaceous, dark hair, thick lashes, and deep brown eyes that were almost black. She was also like Kuni's favorite rock.
Throughout Kuni's life, she had found comfort from objects that changed little through time. The oak tree in her parents' backyard was one. The granite boulder in her grandparents' Kyoto garden was another. The boulder was particularly soothing since it was effectively unchanged on the timescale of Kuni's life. It was a relief for her to cling to its rough surface and let that part of her mind rest.
Isra was like that rock.
Kuni had seen her many times at the Koffee Klatch, where Isra worked. She had foreseen their failed, short-lived relationship, but a silent movie of her own future told her little about the other woman's life.
The first time they touched, hands brushing as Isra handed her a mug of hot chocolate, she saw Isra's future: an unending sameness. Not literally, of course. Isra lived, breathed, moved, took coffee orders, and wiped tables. She went home, had lovers (there was Kuni herself), moved to other towns. But she never changed.
Kuni stood at the pick-up counter, steaming drink in hand, and hoped Isra couldn't see the shock on her face.
"Hi, I'm Kuni," she blurted, trying to cover her confusion.
"What an interesting name," Isra said politely. "Where is it from?"
"It's Japanese, short for Kuniko."
"You don't look Japanese," Isra said. Her smile took the sting from the comment.
"My Dad's from Japan. Mom's Ethiopian. Everyone says I look more like her."
Isra shrugged. "Either way, I think you're beautiful."
A few days later when the moment and the memory aligned, Kuni asked her out, and Isra accepted. They first kissed under a full moon. Isra's lips tasted like cardamom and coffee. Kuni was intoxicated and utterly at peace as she held Isra in her arms.
For two weeks, Kuni enjoyed the romance and avoided the questions, but then it was time. She held Isra's hand as they meandered through the arboretum. Sunlight speckled the ground around them, and the breeze carried the astringent scent of eucalyptus. Birds chittered, and leaves rustled, but they were otherwise alone. No human ears would be privy to this conversation.
"What are you?" Kuni asked.
"What do you mean?" Isra said, sounding puzzled.
Kuni stopped walking, not letting go of the warm fingers entwined with her own, and forced Isra to a halt.
"You never change. You never age, or grow fatter or thinner. You'll never have a gray hair. You just go on and on and on." Kuni's voice faded as she drifted into the bliss of timelessness. "It's wonderful."
Surprise. Suspicion. Doubt. Fear.
Isra had an expressive face.
"How do you know?" she whispered, fingers tightening painfully.
Kuni took a deep breath and said the words aloud for the first time in her life. "I can see the future of anything--or anyone--I touch."
Isra stared at her for a moment and then demanded, "So tell me when mine will end!"
"I don't know," Kuni said, taken aback. "I can't see past my own death."
"You're lying! You're going to kill me!"
"What? No. Don't be crazy. I could never--"
"Please!" Isra released Kuni's hand and grabbed her by the shoulders. "Just do it!" she said, shaking Kuni with all her tiny might.
She pried Isra's hands away as gently as she could. "I'm sorry."
Tears pooled in two sets of dark eyes.
"Go to hell!"
"Why?" Kuni said, her voice raw.
"You really have to ask? I've been alive so long, I can't even remember how I got this way. I'm tired. So incredibly tired."
"I'm sorry," Kuni said again. "I wish there was another way I could help. Stay with me," she pleaded, ignoring the part of her brain that told her the truth, that she would never see Isra again. "Maybe I can make it better--somehow."
Isra sighed. The desperate anger in her face melted into desolation. "You'd be the worst of all. With anyone else, I can fake it. Have a fight, leave, start over. I can pretend to be someone new. I'm even good at lying to myself, but with you? I'd have to face the truth. Every time I looked at you, touched you--no. I can't do it. Good-bye, Kuni."
Isra stood up on her toes and kissed Kuni with a slow, lingering touch of lips on cheek. Kuni's heart ached. She had seen this moment, knew it would come, but it still hurt.
When Isra had gone, Kuni walked over to the pond and found her favorite stone. The great grey slab jutted over the murky water, and she lay down on its sun-warmed surface. For once, she didn't care who saw her or what they thought. For once, life had surprised her, just a little bit, and she held tightly to that feeling. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and imagined the aroma of cardamom and coffee.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Author Comments

This was my first slipstream story, written from a Codex story prompt about someone doing the impossible. I was thinking about a person who could see the future and in what ways that might backfire. This got me wondering about the old question, "What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?" and from there I arrived at this tale of star-crossed romance. As for coffee and cardamom, I thought it was a clever invention of mine, but I recently discovered that it's available in some coffee shops. I encourage you to try it.

- S.B. Divya
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