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Wisdom

By Ros Williams
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It was the custom that all the people went to the Oracle on the first day of their fifteenth year, when they came of age and took their rightful place in the Universe.

But the Oracle lived out of time and their coming was neither when it seemed nor remembered by them when they had gone.

It was also the custom that those who were to suffer together (for what else is this life but suffering?) came together to receive the wisdom, no matter where they truly were in time.

"I care not," the Oracle would say, "for the passing of time. It is sufficient that I am...."

#

He was tall and broad, one of the strongest of men. "My name," he said, "is Olag Gan," and he waited politely.

"Have you nothing to ask me?" the Oracle said. "Have you no ambitions, no fears?"

"I do not want to presume," Gan said, "but...I would like to be happy. Perhaps that is asking too much?"

"Life is full of hazard and despair," the Oracle said, "but I will not tell you it is impossible." The Oracle looked at the youth with compassion and added gently, "Be careful, Olag Gan. There is that in you which can lead to disaster. You must look to your intellect, which is flawed, and guard against rage. Remember that, when anger boils in you."

"I try," Gan said, "always to be moderate. Sometimes it is not easy."

"For you it will never be easy," the Oracle said. "It is...a problem. Still, go and be happy if you can."

#

She was beautiful and with rich golden hair, but the Oracle saw only the soul. "My name is Jenna Stannis," she said. "I wish to be successful--and content."

"One is doubtful and one is sure," the Oracle said, "but the mirror is dark too soon in your life. Take pleasure while you can, for that may be all there is."

"What do you mean?" she asked, dismayed. "Am I to die before I am old?"

"You are to live until you die," the Oracle said. "That must be enough for any being."

"That's no answer," she cried. "What am I to do?"

"Live," the Oracle said. "Live for now, and enjoy."

#

The third was a child of the Auronar, sweet of nature and brave. "My name is Cally," she said. "I wish to live and die with honour."

"The Auronar do not fear death," the Oracle said, "so the time of your death will not concern you. What do you fear the most?"

"To die alone and silent, and with dishonour is my greatest fear," she said. "Tell me I will escape that fate."

"I can only warn you to learn to be strong," the Oracle said, "so that you may face and conquer your fear."

"Surely," she said, "the Auronar are never alone. We have each other, all our lives. I should not die alone."

"You cannot escape your fate," the Oracle said. "At the end, there is silence and your people are not there. But others may be. You must wait and see."

She left, shaking.

#

She was darkly pretty and pert, and danced up to the Oracle, laughing. "I'm Dayna Mellanby," she declared. "Will you talk to me, Oracle?"

"I'll lecture to you," the Oracle said reprovingly.

"You want me to be reverent? I'm sorry; I'll kneel before you, or bow. What would you like?"

"You'll be still while I talk," the Oracle retorted. "There are others waiting, and you are wasting my time... Still, you are vivacious and intelligent: that is fortunate. What would you ask of me?"

"Challenge, excitement...danger," she said. "And...and friends." Suddenly she was sad. "It is not easy on my planet. We are outcasts, feared and lonely."

"You will find friends," the Oracle said. "And you will find challenge, excitement, danger...as much as you could wish. You will also find death far too soon. Does that surprise you?"

"No," she said, "because there is no danger in safety. I'll take the chance."

#

He was ruthless and sometimes cruel, yet there was much worth in him, the Oracle saw. "My name is Travis," he said flatly. "I won't waste your time long. I doubt if you have much to say to me."

"Tell me why," the Oracle said. "Why should I ignore you?"

"I shall be a soldier," Travis replied, "because it's a steady, sensible career with good prospects. I hope to command, one day. Eventually, I shall die in battle or of some space plague, far from home. I know what to expect."

"It is not as simple as you think," the Oracle said gently. "You will have everything you expect, except peace of mind."

"Peace of mind will come if I do my duty," Travis said. "Nothing else matters but that."

"You will not believe me now," the Oracle said, "but one day peace will leave you and then your twisted mind will make you suffer and all the Galaxy with you. Remember: vengeance is not always sweet."

"I do not understand you," Travis said flatly. "Shall I leave now?"

"Yes," the Oracle said, "for I cannot advise you more. You will do what you must."

#

He was tall and handsome, intelligent, and mature for his years. The Oracle approved of him greatly.

"My name is Deeta Tarrant," he said, "and I ask for nothing except the assurance that I may serve all my days with honour."

"That assurance I can give," the Oracle said. "And also that you will be loved and admired. There will be much joy in your life."

"I thank you," Deeta Tarrant said gravely, and turned to go away.

"But hold," the Oracle said. "There is more, because life is hard. Fate will favour you for a while, but then it will destroy you. Shall I tell you of your death, Deeta Tarrant?"

"No," Deeta Tarrant said. "The one thing that's certain in life is death and it will come soon enough. I will face it with courage--but until then I will not think on it. Keep your words of doom to yourself, Oracle."

#

She was stately and self-assured, even though so young, but the Oracle saw the ruthless ambition which would always drive her. "My name is Servalan," she said, "and I intend to be Empress of all the Universe. Tell me, Oracle, how soon it will be."

"I see the brilliance and the power in you," the Oracle said, "but it will not be easy, your path to total power."

"I know," she replied, "but I am set on it, Oracle."

"Total power corrupts," the Oracle said. "Do you understand that?"

"Yes," she said. "So it will probably corrupt me. I do not care about that. I care only to win, at all costs."

"If you are sure of it, then win you will," the Oracle said.

"I'm so glad, Oracle," Servalan replied silkily, "that you agree with me."

#

She was blonde and cool, and there was a hardness in her eyes, such as the Oracle had rarely seen before. "My name is Soolin," she said, "and I was brutally orphaned, for which I swear vengeance. Do not interfere in my destiny, Oracle."

"The anger in you is so great that you no longer clearly see it," the Oracle said. "There is no salvation for such anger but success."

"All I ask is that I shall succeed," she commented. "I want nothing else of life."

"It is sad," the Oracle said, "to see one so blighted by rage and bitterness that life itself has no meaning but vengeance. Yes, you will succeed, and then you will find companions and some happiness."

"Happiness is pointless," she said coldly. "Life is only pain--I learned that long ago."

"Nonetheless, you will have something before your life is gone," the Oracle said. "You will learn what happiness is, so much as your stunted emotions can understand it, and then you will lose it."

"Well," Soolin said cynically, "that's how life always is. The moment you get what you desire, you find it's only a shadow and it slips away."

"There is little I can teach you," the Oracle said. "Go and do what you must, and when happiness comes, treasure it for what more time there is."

"I might," she said, "if happiness proves something worth having."

#

She was attractive and also disturbingly sensual, yet with a ruthless streak which the Oracle noted carefully. "My name is Sula Anna Grant," she said.

"You name will be different, later," the Oracle replied, "and it will strike fear wherever it is heard. You will luxuriate in your power over men...but power is a two-edged sword. It may turn on you and destroy you. Be careful, Sula Anna Grant, that you do not find power turning to regret."

"I'll worry about that when it happens," Sula said.

"You will be loved, with all the love there is, but all you will give in return is betrayal, even though it breaks your heart."

"I do not understand," she said. "How can I betray, if I love?"

"You will see...oh, yes, you will see. You do not have to understand," the Oracle said. "It will happen."

"Then so be it," she replied. "There is no point in grieving over it beforehand."

"There will be time enough for grieving," the Oracle said. "Later."

#

He was a little gawky, and a little arrogant, but intelligent and cheerful, and the Oracle approved of him well enough. "My name is Del Tarrant," he said. "You saw my brother not so long ago."

"Yes," the Oracle said, remembering.

"I'd like," Del Tarrant continued earnestly, "to be the best Space Pilot the Federation has ever known. I think I can do it."

"You will surely achieve much," the Oracle said, "but it may not be what you expect. Your ambitions will change--but yes, you will go far; and one day you will fly the finest starship the galaxy has ever seen, famed for your skill and admired for your courage."

Del Tarrant's eyes glistened with pride and excitement. "Then I'll be the happiest man in the Universe," he said.

"Yet joy and pain are often one," the Oracle said, "and everything is transient. You will achieve only to lose everything when you believe you hold all you ever wanted. Remember that, when your dreams fade to dust around you."

"Will I care, if I have won everything I ever wanted first? I don't expect to live forever."

"Never assume you will be ready to die," the Oracle said. "Never imagine that death will be welcome when it comes. And never suppose that you can set death aside when it reaches out its bony arms to seize you or when it seizes the one you love. Death is the one tragedy even you will not outrun, pilot."

#

He came to the Oracle warily, nervous and obsequious. "My name is Vila Restal," he said, and waited trembling.

"You should not fear," the Oracle said. "You are one of the bravest I have seen."

"I don't feel brave," Vila said. "I fear almost everything."

"But that is wisdom," the Oracle replied. "You see the danger and turn aside whilst others do not; or, if you go on, you know what you face. What do you fear most, Vila Restal?"

"Insecurity," Vila said. "I want to be safe. I want someone to care for me, and look out for me."

"Well," the Oracle said, "we never have all we want, but there will be those who will look out for you, though the journey you will take with them through time will be fraught with danger."

Vila sighed. "I should have guessed," he said, "that the future will no different to the past."

"Do not despair," the Oracle said. "You are stronger than you think."

#

He was handsome yet cold, and his intelligence was blinding. "My name is Kerr Avon," he said. "I have come here for data. All data is useful."

The Oracle saw his future and shuddered. "Darkness," the Oracle said. "Darkness through all eternity--that is your fate. Betrayal, murder, despair, but also love, for a time, and always great strength and courage. Fame without measure.... None of these are what you want."

"Do you try to frighten me, Oracle?" Avon asked. "Do you tell me that I shall never be content? That may be so, but you will not decide my life before I have even lived it. The future is not immutable."

"Ah," the Oracle said, "you are a formidable intelligence. It is good that you challenge me. Remember my words--but it may be you, of all humanity, can change fate. Do you fear death?"

"No," Avon said, "but I wish to choose the time of my death. I do not ask if that will be allowed, as I do not believe you know."

"Some things are known to me," the Oracle said, "and some things are beyond your choice--or mine."

"That seems a paradox." Avon stared at the Oracle, assessing, calculating. "Do you ever say all you know?" he asked. "Or do you seek to confuse?"

"I seek nothing," the Oracle replied. "I merely am, and I tell--some things."

"I think you care nothing for us. Well, I am not surprised."

"You are too cynical for your years," the Oracle said. "And sometimes you are wrong."

"So--what do you feel for me?" Avon asked. "You predict a terrible future, it seems: my life in ruins, evil, misery. Do you think I fear any of that?"

"No," the Oracle said, "not yet. But you will seek only the truth, and that truth includes the very emotions you now reject. What that truth brings is your fate, and not all will be pain. Go and find some joy also. Go and live your fate."

"I shall do," Avon said shortly, "what I decide, Oracle; and that is not arrogance, that is common sense."

The Oracle laughed.

#

This one came to the Oracle with confidence. "My name is Roj Blake," he said. "My mission I believe is to right the wrongs of the Universe. I do not ask if I can do this, merely if I will succeed so much as I would wish."

"You are so sure," the Oracle said. "Think again, Earthling...on war, on mischance, on betrayal, on those who will oppose you. Think, Earthling...on death."

"All those I can face," Blake said calmly. "And death...we all die, in time."

"Death," the Oracle said again. "Death at the hand of a friend."

"No, not through a friend," Blake said. "I do not believe you, Oracle. And you have not answered my question, even now."

"I say only what I choose, and I will not answer you because there are some things you may not be told," the Oracle replied. "Begone, unbeliever."

But, as Blake walked away, the Oracle called after him, "Yet--you will be renowned throughout the Galaxy, and much loved. That is something, unbeliever."

#

The last who came was no stranger nor applicant either, but an acolyte, and much beloved of the Oracle. "You have heard," the Oracle said, "and you know now what there is to do. It is in your hands, Carnell."

"I must compute the strands of the future, and weave a pattern. I have much to learn, it will be hard and I too will suffer. I am no less human, no more immune to pain than any of them. Does that accord with your teaching?"

"It is exactly so, Carnell."

"But there will be danger, and sometimes I may fail. I know that well, and also that it is time I leave you."

"You do not ask me how it will end?"

"No," Carnell said. "It is not good that we know everything there is, or we will break our hearts trying to change it. It is better to live what we must, and as best we can. I will strive to see the future, but I will only discover the end when it comes. With that I am content."

"You have learned well, Carnell. Go out into the Universe, with my blessing and with my love...my dearest son."

#

So it was they had warning, but the warning availed them little for they could not recall it. The rest, we know.

the end


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