Monday, January 20, 2014

Sensitivity to Initial Conditions

"You're going to fail without me," Bao Yu said.

It was not quite what I had expected. The best and brightest of all my students didn't take her eyes off the rare hummingbird we were tracking, which now flirted with a distant pomegranate tree and looking very likely to fly off. I reluctantly dropped my binoculars and turned to face the girl.

"What evidence do you have to make this prediction?" She really is my very best and brightest, and the last of two students that remained. I would lose them both very soon, the first because he would graduate, and this one standing beside me… I had not yet worked out a prediction that met my satisfaction.

"You're going to fail and it's going to kill you," she said, still watching the hummingbird. She finally put down her binoculars and turned towards me, all 52 inches and 12 and a half years of her.

"I would help you, Lăoshī," she said.

Feigning disinterest I turned to look back at the tree, but of course the bird was gone.

"Again, you have not cited any evidence. What are the variables?" I scanned the sky, not so much searching for the hummingbird as hiding the disappointment that was settling on my face.

Predictive analysis can be a calm yet compelling business, very unlike the physical distresses this girl unwittingly craved. It requires unfailing patience. One must objectively observe vast quantities of observable data and, when the puny human brain needs further assistance, have the advantage of decades-long training to search and assess the abundance of invisible information. Then - and only then can one meticulously build a rational simulation, with a ruthlessness to expel any and all lines of prediction that may be unstable and refutable no matter how much you adore them. Otherwise, the Board of Inquiry will drop your rating again and again until you find yourself teaching in some backwards village.

I smoothed the features of my face before turning back to my youngest pupil.

"The bird has flown," I said. She remained silent and looking expectantly up at me.

"We shall go back to the classroom and there you will prepare your arguments." I turned and walked towards our bicycles, knowing within a minuscule margin of error that she would dutifully follow and our subsequent ride would be filled with silence.

"If you won't let me help you then I'm not going back to school," she yelled after me. I was already several paces away and stopped mid-stride. I quickly reassembled the various lines I had calculated, and the one that felt the strongest led off in a direction that blurred and grew dim. I needed more evidence.

I turned and slowly walked back to the girl, my brain ricocheting through all the memories I had of her and accessing yet again all the careful analysis available from the Board psychologists. I mentally kicked myself for missing this very likeliest of responses.

"Explain," I said, looking down at her. She took time to settle her thoughts by settling herself on the ground and crossing her legs over each other. I did likewise, mirroring her position.

"You spend a great deal of time within the interface," she began. "You send my brother and I on erratic errands, yet each thing you have us retrieve is from the early days of the movement."

"History lessons," I said.

"Those errands have lessened in the past few days." She paused a moment, then went on.

"The walls of your rooms are covered with maps."

"Geography lessons."

"Ancient maps that do not represent the present time."

I remained silent. She pursed her lips and squinted her eyes.

"You have only two students and are not advertising for more."

For this, I had a well-prepared statement.

"I am old and ready to retire when your teachings are complete," I said.

"Bah!" She jumped up from the ground and paced around me as I sat quietly and patiently waiting for her next citation. She stood behind me to do so, with a hushed and reverent voice.

"You have exhaustively researched the lives of each of the missing Predictive Analysts, and you intend to find them. You are doing this to prove that you are what you once were, the most exacting and accurate PA to have ever graced the Republic."

I appreciated her compliment, more so her correct prediction from such little evidence. How she had arrived at this conclusion I did not yet understand. I assumed she was able to access my personal history, of which the Board had tightly locked up in an encrypted vault that even I could not peruse.

She is much better with technology than I had been at her age, but I know a truth that she does not. I am a product of my time just as much as she is of hers, and my timeline is much longer.

I stood and turned once again to face her, surprised to see the moisture on her cheeks. For this very reason alone I decided to let her help me, even as the shadows swallowed my most desired future for her.

"Ai nyu," I said as I wiped the tears from her face, "as you wish."

She smiled a tentative smile, then looked to the ground in embarrassment. I took her hand and we walked back to our bicycles.

In these quiet movements, I worried for the meaning of her tears. Were they of joy or fear? I do not know. In my own mix of emotions I realized that she could predict far better than I how it would end for the both of us.

<word count: 947>

Sources (partial):


Parabolic Muse said...

Oh, I was so happy to see a new entry here that I am commenting before I even read it!

Parabolic Muse said...

Well, now I'm filled with curiosity.
You keep doing that!

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful story. It's elegantly written, like a little self contained gift.
I don't think I want it to go any further. Perfect just as it is.