I gave myself an hour and 1000 words to run with it; I got it--1000 on the nose, after a smidge of editing.
“...and the thing is,” he said, eyes wide behind bottle-glass-lensed glasses, “is that you just can't know the future until it's just, just right there, and you're experiencing it.”
She tapped a manicured fingernail against the door jamb impatiently, waiting for the rambling philosophical treatise to end. “Mm hmm. And so far, you've told me absolutely nothing I couldn't figure out on my own.” She glanced behind her into her apartment, where her laptop and approximately fifty creative writing portfolios sat, waiting to be graded. Time was ticking away; didn't take an oracle to see that much. “What are you trying to sell? Pot or salvation?”
He looked indignant. “Ma'am, I'm not trying to sell you anything but comfort,” sounding for all the world like a bad pick-up artist.
“That's it.” She started to push the door shut, but he put his foot in the way, a ragged Converse sneaker with the laces untied. She had seen the same fashion sensibility in the freshmen she taught and quickly learned to typecast. Were he in college, he would be a philosophy major, a rambling would-be poet, or some other specialization that prepared him for a lucrative career in food service or retail. Or door-to-door sales. She'd never considered that possibility.
“Ma'am, listen to me. Just listen. I've got no sales. I've got no bad intentions. I've got nothing for you but answers—if you want them. Here.” He backed up, hands in the air in the universal language that said, “See? No harm.” In his left hand was a business card, looking for all the world like a home injet-and-cardstock production. It probably was.
Suspiciously, she took it. “What's this, a psychic service?”
“No, ma'am. Look Forward to the Future Enterprises is a service, free of charge for your first visit—”
“You are trying to sell me something.”
“Not technically, ma'am.”
She snorted but was by this time curious about the spiel.
“As I was saying, Look Forward to the Future--”
“You come up with that name?”
“No, ma'am, my friend did.”
“Ah. Continue.” She studied him over her own glasses, a stare that she knew to be effective in the classroom setting, a look that said, “get to your point, and stop holding up class with your inane chatter.”
“Ahem. As I was saying, we at, well, our business, will ask you a detailed survey of questions regarding important life decisions, restaurant-ordering habits, daily routine details, and such--”
“So I give over all this important information for what?” She could just see the details being turned over to a kindly Nigerian gentleman, the same one who had offered to deposit $1000 dollars in her bank account just the other day.
“We input all of this into a computer program that I've written.”
Interesting, she thought. Not a philosopher but a programmer, or perhaps a new hybrid—the philosophical programmer.
“Once the data is in the computer, you can ask questions about future concerns—job security, relationship prospects, even financial security. This gets factored in with other data, computing your general demographic statistics and relevant details like overall regional and job market trends to predict, with approximately 90% accuracy, the probable results.”
“That's a very confident assessment.”
“Humans are creatures of habit, ma'am. Even when they seem to fly off the cuff, it's usually part of an overall pattern of thought and behavior.” He straightened up, and without the slight slouch and downward stare, he passed for a confident young man. An eccentric one, but no longer likely a pothead. “A man doesn't just wake up one morning and stab his wife for no apparent reason; he's probably a passive-aggressive person, prone to letting the small things like a nagging wife, a soul-sucking job with tenuous security, a receding hairline—all those little stresses—just build and build until it has to go somewhere. He wakes up one morning, she says it's about time he rolled out of bed, and WHAM, he snaps. It wasn't random; it was inevitable.”
“So it was his fate, then, to become a murderer? Could your computer tell you all that?” Fate or free will—that timeless question so many of her students tried to grapple with to varying degrees of sophistication in their writing.
“Not precisely as such, no,” he admitted. “However, we could have calculated a high likelihood of violent behavior based on a series of small incidents, marital habits, job market fluctuations that lead to more intensive demands of employees, and even factored in health issues like his rising blood pressure.”
“That's... intriguing.” And frankly, a little disturbing, and even a little, dare she say, futuristic—no doubt, given the remotest possibility of accuracy with such technology, law enforcement agencies would love to have access to the findings, all, of course, in the name of the public good. “Interesting,” she said, more to herself than to the persistent salesman.
He returned to the original pitch. “Yes, many people find it so. And many of them don't like our findings. But we don't intend to sugarcoat the future. In fact, you'll find that a major feature separating us from the so-called psychics and fortune-tellers is the very way we don't shy away from unpleasantries. Should someone decide to proceed with the full services, we consider it our highest duty not to mislead. What we predict isn't a fate that is wholly inevitable—in fact, by making people aware of the possibility of their future actions, we sometimes found that we could avert the more... violent possibilities. A recent client recently sought treatment for bipolar disorder after having been off meds for six months, based on our findings.”
“Fascinating. I will consider it.”
“Thank you, ma'am. That's all we ask.”
With a nod, he turned and left.
She returned to the empty apartment, discarding the flimsy “business card.”
A minute later, she uncrumpled it, tucking it in her purse. Maybe.