By Stephen Johnson
Forward-looking, as it was called, was not fortune telling. There was nothing mystical about it. It was merely an immersive, interactive experience in which the user observed how the world will look in a certain amount of years, based on observations of the world as it is and has been. It was a science, some declared, but with a disclaimer to the service that read, "predictions do not account for technological, astronomical, environmental or sociological anomalies," others said the whole future-seeing business was entirely unreliable. But businessmen still used forward-looking to gauge markets, and the fashion savvy used them to stay ahead of trends, and all of this enough to gain the unreliable branch of science credibility with Will McNiel. Thus it was with no suspicion that he entered a forward-looking studio when he did.
Will had come to the realization that going to a forward-looking studio was one of those experiences that everyone has to have at least once in their life – like riding a roller coaster, or going to a concert. He didn't put much thought into choosing the one he did, but made the decision suddenly while in passing. There was the studio, and he had the time along with a good mood to encourage spontaneity Will doubted his decision only slightly when the owner of the studio, a man in his early thirties with hair giving more ground to his forehead than seemed appropriate, handed Will a pair of ridiculously red goggles and instructed him to put them on. Will did, and he felt ridiculous.
The future was surprisingly predictable on all accounts. Computers got smaller and faster. Cars got sleeker and shinier, but still didn't fly. Nations still waged war for reasons that no one could fully and satisfactorily define. The global population still debated over impending disasters that threatened the future of humanity. Will was unimpressed. Until he saw himself, that is. And not only himself, but a girl as well. She had brown hair, electric blue eyes, and a smile that dominated every feature of her face. And she was smiling because of Will. And he was smiling because of her. Because he loved her. They were deeply in love, more that Will had imagined two people could be in love. It was very beautiful.
Then the goggles came off.
"What did you think of the future?" the studio owner asked.
"Not so impressive?"
"It was different," Will admitted. "I have a question about someone I saw in there."
"All characters in the simulation are fictional," the owner warned. "just some spice so people don't think there was some kind of disaster or the rapture."
"But it was a girl who was with me," Will said. "It was pretty specific."
"Forward-looking doesn't – it can't go into specifics." The owner massaged his chin slowly and his eyes explored their periphery. "Unless there is some new data. Every once in a while, the circumstances line up just right so that the probability of an individual becoming very important is greater than ninety percent."
"There's a ninety percent chance that I'll be important?" Will asked incredulously.
"Or the girl. And then you'd be important for being with her. Did she look familiar? Was it the girl of your dreams?"
"Not at all. On either account."
"She must have a very nice personality," the owner mused.
"I didn't say she was ugly," said Will. "Just not who I-" that was getting a bit personal with a stranger, and he didn't want to be 'that guy'.
"Well our time is up," the owner hinted without subtlety. "Best of luck to you with this girl. Maybe I'll see you in the tabloids!" He stretched his lips into a cheery grin and waved Will out of the studio.
Over the next several days, when Will was out in public, he found himself looking for the girl with brown hair and electric blue eyes and that heart-breaking smile. There were plenty of girls with brown hair, fewer with blue eyes, though none had the same spark, and not one girl had that smile. He did not tell his friends about the future he saw, and did not refuse them as they helped him find the occasional date. Most of the girls that were interested in him, he would have found interesting as well, and most likely more so. But none were the girl he loved, so he politely declined further interaction.
It was more difficult with his neighbor, Allison Mayweather. He saw her almost every day, and had even made an effort to arrange a chance meeting from time to time. But she too was not the girl he loved, and so time accumulated into greater and greater increments, and Allison Mayweather became Allison Hardy, and Will remained alone but full of hope. After all, he had seen the girl he loved.
A passing decade held twenty-six dates which presented Will McNiel with eleven women that were lovely and nice, seven that were just lovely, six that were just nice, and two that fit neither description. None was the girl that Will was looking for. He had even once, in confidence, described the girl he had seen to a trustworthy friend, but that extra pair of eyes still did not find what Will had seen before. Finally it occurred to Will to visit the forward-looking studio again. He wanted to see the girl he loved Even if it wasn't real, and he wanted to see her loving him.
Will waited as the studio owner, now with most of his hair given in to the advances of his forehead, finished with another customer. As he waited, he could not help but over-hear the conversation in the adjacent room.
"There was a girl in there," the customer said.
"All characters are fictional," the owner warned.
"She had brown hair, brilliant blue eyes, and an amazing smile!" the customer said.
"She sounds very nice," the owner said.
She was nice, Will thought with a frigid shiver that didn't quite leave his chest. That was his girl. Was. And suddenly the whole room was cold and the air too thick. Or was the air hot and thin?
"We'll be in love!" the customer said.
"Best of luck to you with the girl," and the owner ushered the young man out of his studio.
By then Will was gone. He learned what he had come to know. The woman he loved had left him, and it no longer mattered what the future saw. And it broke his heart that he would never know what it was he would do to make her leave him.