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The Oracle

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James Turnbull



The furious pounding at my door woke me from a dream I couldn't remember. I grunted, my eyes fluttering to see nothing but the darkness within my simple cottage. It took a few moments for my mind to bring itself fully awake, having been so rudely summoned from its dream state. The frantic pounding didn't stop. I pushed aside my bed sheets, willing my body to sit up. Everything felt as if in a fog, even more so than normal.

“Just a moment!” I finally managed to call out to the person banging on my door. The banging did stop, but that didn't stop the problem of it still being the middle of the night. The embers from the night's cooking fire cast a faint glow upon my home, which finally gave my eyes enough light that they would consent to seeing around them.

I stood, stopping only to slide an under dress over my naked form. I stepped around my scrying table, taking care not to bump it in the darkness. The last thing I needed were my tools taking umbrage at being disturbed. I moved quickly to the heavy wooden door of my cottage, pulling aside the locking bar with a quick motion.

The man that greeted me on the stoop of my apartment was a small, nervous man dressed in casual jeans and a t-shirt from a rock band about which I'd never heard. His eyes constantly darted about, and he jumped at every noise. His dark brown eyes had deep circles underneath them, leaving me to wonder when he'd last slept and if he'd banged on my door in the middle of the night for the sole purpose of spreading his misery. It seemed unlikely, since I could see one of my business cards in his hand. It wasn't the first midnight reading I'd done, but it was the first that hadn't called ahead for an appointment. I knew I shouldn't have put my address on the thing.

“Guin Lawson?” The man's voice grated my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. I pulled my robe more tightly around my body, feeling vaguely uncomfortable.

“Yeah. Can I help you with something?” I tried not to sound too angry. The man was likely going to offer me money, and I needed money to pay my rent.

“I'm sorry I didn't call...I kind of found your card by accident and it's an emergency. Can...uh...can I come in?” He glanced behind him, as if worried someone was coming after him. It seemed unnecessary, since the stairs leading up to my apartment were rusted and would creak horribly if someone so much as breathed on them heavily.

“As soon as you tell me what you need from me, of course.” While I lived in a bad part of town, I wasn't actually worried about anything untoward happening to me. I was an oracle, and bad things tended to happen to those who would harm oracles. I just wanted to know what he wanted out of me before I agreed to a job.

“I...think I've got a ghost stalking me.” He spoke with the utmost of seriousness. I looked into his face for a moment, trying to judge if he was lying. The twitch told me no, so I sighed and stepped aside to allow him entry.

He stepped in, the bio-sensors emitting a series of beeps and clicks that informed me that my guest had three different contagious diseases. I doubted the correctness of this information, as my apartment's bio-sensors had been on the fritz since I moved in and my landlord had yet to repair them. I shut the door, and pointed to my table.

“Sit down, please. Would you like something to drink?” I moved into my kitchen, hoping that my food replicator was in working order. Supposedly the repair man had been by earlier today, but then many repairs had supposedly occurred that had not in actuality. It made me wonder what would happen if I supposedly paid my rent in a similar manner.

“Uh, no, no thanks. I just, kinda, want to get this over with, you know?” He moved to one of the chairs I had sitting next to my work table, and sat down. The chair immediately began to hiss as it adjusted to his shape and weight, causing him to jolt in surprise.

Why he would be surprised was beyond me. Auto-adjusting chairs had been around for so long, I'd picked mine up from a re-sale store.

I jammed at buttons on my food replicator, and sighed with relief as a cup of coffee materialized. I grabbed it by the handle, blew on the liquid, and took a sip. My relief died when the taste of warmed mud hit my tongue, and I put the cup back in the replicator with a grunt.

“So. Ghost. Start from the beginning, if you would?” I moved from the kitchen towards my work table, the carpet feeling odd under my bare feet. I couldn't put my finger on what, precisely, felt so odd about it. I only knew that it felt a way it shouldn't, and things feeling ways they shouldn't was something I noticed as a profession.

If I had to place my finger on it, it felt as though the carpet under my feet wasn't actually mine. Which was ridiculous. I ignored the feeling, and went back to paying attention to my client.

“Oh, yes!” He sat up in his chair, the chair hissing again as it adjusted for his new posture. “It all started a week ago. My uncle died, and he left me his house. I was pretty much the only family he had left, you see...”

“So you think your uncle is haunting you?” I asked as I sat in a chair across from him. My own chair hissed as it adjusted around me, and I couldn't help but smile at one of the few working things in my apartment.

“No...at least, I don't think so. I just...well, let me finish. So, I was going through his house, finding his old belongings, you know, the usual kind of thing you do when you inherit a house.” He shifted in his seat, clearly stifling a yawn. “Well, in the back of a closet, I found a section of the floor that was loose. Being a curious type, I pried the floorboard up. I found this...”

He reached into his pocket, and pulled free a pendant connected to a thin, golden chain. He offered it out to me, and I took it, bringing it close to my face to inspect it carefully.

The faint glow of the embers gave me little detail, though the pendant reflected the light easily. I could see, in the center of the jewelry, a small red gemstone. I sighed heavily, getting up from my seat to reach for a lantern.

Though why I would need a lantern, I couldn't fathom. The electricity in my apartment went out on occasion, but this was not one of those occasions. The pendant seemed warm within my hand, and I gave it another careful look. It was old, its years of existence subtly calling out to me, resonating its age within my mind. If I had to guess, I'd say it was far older than anything within my apartment.

Perhaps even old enough to have existed before my scrying tools. Certainly old enough to have existed before any of the gadgetry that made up the modern life. I wondered if the bio-sensors would be able to pick up the metal content of the thing, and decided against it. If I wanted to scan it, I decided, it would be better to get my tools than rely on improperly functioning furniture.

“Ever since then, I've been having strange dreams. I'll be....I'll be just walking along, and then suddenly everything is different. It's like...it's like I'm a thousand years ago, or a couple of hundred, or...I don't know. And every time, there's this figure that's following me. It's like...I'm sorry. I can't remember him too well, I just...I know it was the same person.” The man sighed heavily, slumping in his chair.

For my part, I sat back down and set the pendant in front of me. I wondered for a moment why my chair wasn't hissing and adjusting, and then wondered why I would wonder such a thing. Wooden chairs weren't known for hissing.

“How did you hear of me?” I asked cautiously. I made my home in the midst of the woods for a reason, after all. There were those who would wish harm on an oracle.

“An old woman. In town...the apothecary. I was purchasing a potion to help me sleep, and she got me to talk about what was wrong. Then she suggested you. I...I'm sorry if I came suddenly, I just...” His head drooped in apology, causing me to sigh softly.

“You were fearful and hopeful I could help. I understand.” My understanding didn't stop me from yawning and stretching, however, before continuing. “It might seem crass, but...well, this is my job. Do you have gold. ...Uh, money. I mean money.” I couldn't figure out why I'd asked for gold. The bank wanted actual cash in my account before it would guaranty my check.

“Oh, yes. I'm sorry...how much?” The man reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet.

“Well, that depends fairly heavily on exactly what I have to do. I'll look into your problem here and now for three hundred nuyen, and we can go from there.” I reached in front of me and pulled the velvet cloth away from my crystal ball. I tried to move with ritual, but the hissing of the chair destroyed the air of solemnity I was trying to create.

The man pulled three bills out of his wallet, and tossed them onto the table. I reached out, and gently touched my fingers to the glittering sphere that sat before me. As always, the thrum of magic was warm under my fingertips, and it caused me to shiver softly. I pushed the feeling aside, instead focusing on the man and what sat around him spiritually.

The world became white with brightness, the light exploding around me to fill my vision. This was new to me. The spiritual world was strange, and certainly played by its own rules, but viewing it was never cause for an explosion of brightness.

It took several moments before I could see anything, and then I could see only the outline of a figure. I couldn't tell if the figure was male or female, I couldn't tell the shape of the figure's clothing, I couldn't even so much as tell if the figure was human or simply human shaped.

“Save me...” the words floated into my mind. I recognized spirit speak, but this was even stranger than normal. The weight of the spirit's words was heavy, and I searched for some way to make the burden lighter.

“Save me...” the words echoed again, heavy still but less so.

“Save me...” I finally managed to pry my fingers away from my crystal ball, and the world reverted back to my dimly lit cottage.  Cottage? Where was my apartment?

“What did you find?” The man across from me asked, a frantic tone to his voice. I looked up, wondering when he'd changed clothes before realizing he'd done no such thing. Except I knew that he had, because he'd worn jeans and a t-shirt when I'd first seen him. Now he looked as though he belonged in a Renaissance festival.

No, I told myself. His clothing was normal, and I was suffering fits from scrying. It wasn't the first time such a thing had happened, and it certainly wouldn't be the last. Still, it all seemed so strange. My cottage felt off-kilter, as though I didn't belong there. Where would I belong otherwise? I wanted coffee, but my food replicator was still on the fritz. What was a food replicator and why would my cottage have such a thing?

“...Well?” He asked again, and I realized I'd said nothing for quite some time.

“I'm...not certain,” I finally responded. I was telling the truth, too. Some spirit needed to be saved, but from what? From when? I couldn't tell if the spirit was calling to me from the present, or from some far flung future.

The pendant caught my attention, and I reached out to take it.  The light changed in the room as I picked it up, and I could see it more clearly. Why had the light changed? Because the apartment lights were brighter than the embers of a dying fire, I answered myself. Why I thought I'd been looking at the pendant with the embers of a fire, I couldn't say.

“Aren't you an oracle? Your business card says oracle...” the man said, fear causing his voice to tremble.

“Calm down, I know what my business card says. I was the one who had the things holo-etched. The problem is that your issue is a lot stranger than being stalked by a ghost. Tell me about your uncle.” I got up from my chair, ignoring the thing's hissing as I moved for my more mundane tools. They couldn't be relied on in the case of magic, but they could give me a good starting point.

“I didn't really know much about him,” the man said as I opened my closet door. “I think he was a jeweler. I know he collected antiques, he had hundreds of old bottles and bits of furniture in his house.”

My closet was full of clothing and shoes, but not my toolbox. What toolbox, I asked myself. The toolbox where I kept my scanners. I didn't have scanners. Yes I did. I argued with myself in that vein for about a minute before deciding it was pointless. I didn't even have a closet, let alone a box specifically for my tools. I moved to the trunk where I kept my clothes and ritual items, and pushed the lid open.

“I do recall hearing that his casting tools were made by a known diabolist, but I brushed that aside as hearsay.” The man shrugged, adjusting his tunic with a nervous hand. “He made good jewelry, and was something of a private person. You know how people speak of private people.”

I certainly did. Of course, I kept my privacy because I truly did perform feats of magic. I found my knife, and moved back to my work table. I set the pendant down in front of me, held my left hand over it, and jabbed the tip of my knife into my index finger. As always, I hissed in pain as I drew blood. The blood dripped from my finger onto the pendant, and I stared at it as I set my knife aside.

“....A steak knife?” The man asked, confusion in his voice.

“Something wrong with a steak knife?” I asked, my gaze never wavering from the pendant. Eventually, the interaction of the pendant's magical resonance and my own would begin giving me information. I hoped.

“I just...expected something a little more...fancy?”

“Magic's less about fancy than you'd expect,” I responded. “More about just knowing what you're doing. Fancy tools are for souls that haven't traveled long enough with their power.”

Finally, the intermingling resonances began to give me information. I could practically taste the magics of time built into the thing, which explained the weight of the spirit's words. It also explained, at least in some small amount, exactly what was going on.

I stood from my chair, pushing the metal folding thing back from the table as I did so. I needed my tools, only my tools weren't in this apartment. The idea of “this apartment” still felt strange, but I was positive that it was the correct one. The question was how to move from this apartment to...my apartment in the future? Douglas Adams had been right. Verb tense was the hardest part of time travel.

I moved to the closet again, only to find that I had no closet. The apartment was once again my one room cottage. I turned back towards my work table, peering at the pendant with a furrowed brow.  As I suspected, the pendant had caused the shift. I could feel it in the way my finger throbbed. The question was how to control the shift, and to what end.

“Have you figured out the problem, then?” The man asked, his voice hopeful.

“...Part of it, at least. The pendant appears to be causing your issues by shifting your awareness through time. You, being a non-magical soul, could merely dream the shifts.” I sighed, looking to the spot where my closet should be. It was instead a shelf with several books.

“So how do I fix it?” The man was clearly hopeful.

“I'm still working on that,” I responded. If the pendant was shifting my awareness in time, was it doing so randomly? It was possible, though I didn't have the tools to tell.

“But...you're an oracle! You're supposed to know these things!”  The man nearly cried with frustration. I felt his pain.

“Yes, but I'm young currently. If you'd come to me with this problem in a thousand years, I'd have the tools with which to deal with it. As it sits, I'm having to flail about.” The frustration was good, though. I knew it would help me, if I could merely focus. I closed my eyes and took a breath, willing myself forward.

To my delight, it worked. When I opened my eyes, I found myself in front of my closet door. I touched it gently, and it slid open with a small burst of air. I reached inside and grabbed my tool box, before moving quickly back to my work table.

“Instead of whining, you could help me by telling me what you're seeing while we talk,” I told the man as I set my toolbox down.

“I'm not whining! And I'm...I dunno. Watching you move around and do stuff, I guess.” He really did seem to believe that, and it would coincide with how the shifts had been happening. Had he really not been noticing it? Of course he hadn't. I'd already told him why.

I opened my toolbox, reaching my non-punctured hand inside. I reached by instinct for the chronometer, flipping it on. It hummed softly as it came to life, and the read out began displaying information. Originally designed to keep time quickly and efficiently no matter how far past the central atomic clock one went, chronometers tended to go a little wonky when in the presence of time affecting magics.

This one could be correctly described as going insane. It kept flashing times and dates from throughout history, which told me that the spell was certainly powerful enough to be causing such a massive shift. That didn't give me information on how to control it, though. That hardly mattered, since I was more interested in how to stop it. I put my chronometer back in the box, and pulled out my metal scanner. The device would let me know the consistency of the metal, which I hoped would tell me the rest of what I needed to know.

As suspected, the pendent was made from a mixture of gold and iron. Not a very common alloy. The pendant was still a gold color, however. That alone was curious, but the real strange part was that the red gem in the center was unreadable. That only happened under one circumstance.

“Your uncle's casting tools. What were they made from?” I looked at the man sternly, hoping to indicate that he shouldn't lie to me.

“My uncle's what? He didn't have any casting tools...my uncle was a programmer.” He shifted in his seat, wincing at the hiss. It reminded me that I really should look into getting some newer chairs.

“But you said...no. You in the past said your uncle was a jeweler. Dammit. Did you still find this at your uncle's house?” I held the pendant up to indicate it.

“...Of course I did. I told you, in the closet while I was looking through his antiques and such.” The man seemed confused by my question. He would be confused, since I had switched times again and had no clue what his end of the conversation had been. I growled softly.

“Ok, what did I just ask you?” I had to get a handle on what he was hearing.

“You asked me about my uncle's casting tools. They were made of silver and iron.” The man seemed nearly eager to answer the question, his excitement evident even in the dim light of the embers. I'd shifted again.

Still, I had the information I needed. Silver and iron tools, a pendent made of gold and iron with a gem that could not be identified. This pendant was a capturing device. Such items were often used by diabolists to hold a human soul, as a gift used to appease a demon. Getting the soul out was often a hassle, involving quests or discovering the trick.

Thankfully, the trick in this case had fallen in my lap. I could come up with only one reason why a time shift would accompany the creation. I stood to my feet, and moved away from the table towards my chest. I shifted through my clothing until my fingers found what they sought. I wrapped my fingers around it, and pulled free a heavy hammer.

“...What are you doing?” The man asked, fear in his voice. I looked up from my junk drawer, giving him a light shrug.

“Gotta break the pendant. Don't worry, I'm at least pretty sure it'll fix your problem. Of course, I'm probably gonna charge you another five hundred bucks.” I moved to the center of my apartment, sitting on my knees. I set the pendant in front of me, and gripped the hammer tightly.

“A thousand nuyen?! For breaking a old piece of jewelry?!” The man seemed horrified as I set the sonic-disruption device.

“Do you want to keep being harassed by the dreams? Or would you rather I fix the problem you brought to me at two in the morning?” My tone gave every indication that I would take no argument. I was the oracle, he was the man who rung my bell in the middle of the night.  He seemed to understand, sitting back in his chair as he dug through his wallet again.

I finished programming the sonic disruptor, and pointed it at the pendant. The hammer felt heavy as I swung it down towards the pendant, and as the head hit the jewelry it shattered all over my wooden floor. Bits of metal and shards of jewel flew into the crevices of the rough wood, and the place exploded in a bright whiteness.

As before, the whiteness faded just enough to allow me to see a figure. I could make out more details this time, though not by much.  The figure was male, its clothes even older than the oldest I could remember. His eyes were hollow, though his lips turned up in a light smile.

“Thank you, oracle.” The spirit's words echoed in my mind, still with the heavy weight. Now I understood what I'd been feeling in the spirit's speech. Being bound for all eternity would weigh down anyone.

The figure faded away, and the brightness faded away. The memories that were not yet mine to have began to fade within my mind, but that didn't bother me. I was young still, I would have time to experience future lives.

“...Did that fix it?” The man asked, his voice heavy with hope and fear. I turned to look at him, unable to hide my smile.

“It did. The spirit shall trouble you no more. Now, if it's not too much trouble, I would ask for you to leave the gold and leave me be. The night is late, and I would like to return to my slumber.” I pushed myself to my feet, and moved towards the door. The man stood to his feet, and dumped his purse on the table before heading out.

Once the man was out in the dark night, I shut and barred the door. I moved to the gold he'd left, inspecting the amount carefully. The odd thought of paying my rent floated through my mind, but I abandoned it easily. The tax collectors rarely bothered me so deep in the woods.


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2012-06-12 06:08:41
Wow, well done! Loved the ending.




This story has been viewed: 1772 times.

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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
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