No One Won
The big little man came into the hospital a little after midnight, through a side door, cursing the hour, or the whole expedition. Traffic had been bad, and he wasn’t a man used to traffic.
“Damn off-the-books consultations.” He grizzled at one of the two Secret Service men flanking him. “Stupid damn provincial nut-houses.” He snapped at the hospital administrator, by way of greeting.
“With all due respect, Mr Secretary, I have to ask that you contain yourself to more considerate language. Our patients are all in their rooms, but we try to keep terms like ‘nut-house’ under wraps when in areas where they might overhear. Some of them are quite vulnerable to such terminology.”
“Fine, fine.” The politician waved the man away impatiently. “I apologise. Let’s just get this over with.”
The group of men walked deserted corridors for a few minutes, until finally arriving at a small hallway, at which point the administrator stopped, and indicated a door with a tiny square window set into the upper half.
“We’re here.” He said in a low voice. “It’s a small room. Will you be taking your men in with you?”
“Will I need them?”
“Your predecessor preferred to speak to him alone.”
“Hah!” The older man grunted. “It’s that damn fool Cohen’s fault that I’m even here. Ridiculous standing arrangements. Is there any nut that man left unturned?”
“Well, sir, I believe he found Mr Fractus’ counsel invaluable. Your mileage may vary.” The administrator cautioned. “There are a couple of pieces of information that may serve you well, when you speak to him, though.”
The visitor swung himself out of his jacket, and handed it to the administrator, who accepted it without a word.
“Go on, then, and we’ll get this over with.”
“First, the patient isn’t, by any objective measurements that we have tried to apply, actually insane. Or even really ill. Unlike most of our clients, he came here under his own volition, and stays in our care voluntarily.”
“How is that not a sign of sickness?”
“He says he benefits from the calm. He is lucid and rational in interview sessions, and at those times he tells the doctors that the lack of intrusion of external data from the outside world suits him. And he is very, very rich, so the hospital benefits a lot from his patronage.”
“Yes, Mr Secretary. Incredibly so.”
“So, why did I have to bring foreign money?”
“Ah, well, he finds it reassuring. He says that American notes provide no challenge.” He nudged his glassed back onto the bridge of his nose. “I believe he made his money through investment. That’s the other thing, sir. You will be tempted, by his manner, and the surroundings, to see him in a certain way, so I should mention this, and assure you that I say it without prejudice.”
“Spit it out, man.”
“He is always right, Mr Secretary. Always.”
Mr Fractus sat there, looking for all the world like a normal middle-aged olive-skinned American, wearing his own clothes, and unrestrained. The politician felt mildly ridiculous for deciding on having his accompanying agents present – this man didn’t carry himself like a clear and present danger. If anything, he seemed decidedly unimpressed by his esteemed visitor. This made that visitor uncomfortably conscious of the fact that the two huge Secret Service agents just made the room feel crowded, and sending them outside now would just send confused signals.
The subject of the visit sat, apparently ignorant of the anxiety his guest was feeling, examining one of the British Sterling notes on the table in front of him.
“‘Aitch Aye’, hmm,” he read, “and then ‘five-six-two-nine-one-one-three-two’. Mid range, mid nineties. I wonder where you’ve been.” He pocketed the notes, hands moving under the table for a moment, and the politician flinched as he felt the men behind him tense up. Embarrassing, is what it was. “We know where you’ve ended up. Later for you.” Said Fractus, oblivious.
“Mr Fractus, do you know who I am?” Said the politician, a little impatient.
“Of course, Mr Secretary. We don’t get the news forced down our throats like we would in the outside world, but we aren’t completely cut off in here.” He smiled.
“Well, so you understand that I’m a very busy man?” Returning the smile, but not as easily.
“Certainly. I don’t need any special insight to know that you think this might be a wasted trip. You’d have to be an idiot not to at least consider the possibility. This is a mental hospital, after all.”
“I’m glad we’re on the same page. So, tell me, why am I here? Why should I listen to you?”
“Why shouldn’t you, is a better question.” Fractus replied. “Don’t worry, I won’t keep you. We’ll talk for longer next time.”
“Certainly. You’ll be back by Fall.”
“So… you’re some sort of psychic, huh?” The politician snorted, settling back into the uncomfortable plastic hospital chair, ready to stand and leave.
“Not at all, Mr Secretary. I’m just well acquainted with the fact that there are things we don’t know, and that embracing that can suddenly make all sorts of possibilities reveal themselves to us.” He leaned forward, elbows on the table. This made the older man stay seated, on the backfoot.
“I have the largest intelligence community in God’s known universe putting data on my desk once an hour, twenty four hours a day. What the fuck is it you think I don’t know?”
Fractus sat back, and relaxed.
“I didn’t mean to offend you. But you need to set yourself free from certainty. Chaos is your friend.”
“Chaos? You are nuts. Nothing comes out of nowhere, and everything happens for a reason.” But he was hooked. This guy had irritated him to the point where he had to hear what he had to say.
“Chaos isn’t what people think. Chaos doesn’t contradict cause-and-effect, it proves it. It’s just not within the human condition to accept that we’re too big and clumsy to comprehend the level at which it’s happening.”
“And this is your big insight? That we can’t know how things happen?” He pushed forward, hands clenched at the edge of the table. “That’s why I’m here in the middle of the night?”
“No. You’re here in the middle of the night because some time very soon, somebody is going to kill an awful lot of Americans.”
That tension was back in the two giant agents, but now the politician felt it too.
“Is that a threat?” He said coldly to the calm and supposedly sane billionaire across the table.
“Of course not.” He said, matter-of-fact, but the tension remained.
“Then what are you talking about?”
“At some point in the next six months, likely toward the end of summer, there is going to be an attack on one of your cities – North East, I think. The target is going to be picked for maximum cultural and economic impact. I think New York. Maybe in the subway.”
“You’re insane! Why the hell would anyone do that? How the hell can you know that?”
“Same answer to both questions. It’s going to happen because, when you take a broad enough view, and squint at the data instead of looking too closely at details, it looks like it’s probably going to happen. In a couple of years we can talk about the economy crashing, but right now this is more pressing. Someone is going to do it because it’s time for someone to want to do it, and the conditions are right for them to be able to.”
“This is nonsense. You’re talking nonsense. And probably committing treason just by suggesting it.”
“Mr Secretary, I’m not asking for anything in return for this insight. I’m just telling you because it seems like something that it would be useful for you to know.”
“So, if I believe you, how do I stop it?”
“You don’t. This isn’t fortune telling. The world doesn’t run on rails. I haven’t got a window on the future. I’m just too good at squinting at the data.”
“Insane. Insane. Why does it happen, then? What possible reasoning is there for this terrible thing you’re not quite able to put your finger on?”
“You might as well ask where a river starts. At the source of the river, or at the ocean? Or in the rain or the thunder? You can always go back further, and it doesn’t matter anyway. You can’t cut off the source of something that’s already happened.”
Finally, the politician had had enough. He got up abruptly, throwing his guards, who hadn’t been watching him because they were so focused on the patient, into disarray.
“This is a waste of my time. You’re lucky I don’t throw you in prison.”
“I don’t take that personally, Mr Secretary. If I’m wrong – and I’m not happy about the knowledge that I’m not – than I’m sorry that I wasted your time. And if I’m right, well, you can call on me any time. I won’t bear a grudge.” He stayed sitting there, hands flat on the table, not surprised by his visitor’s outburst at all.
Halfway out the door, the old man turned.
“If you’re right,” he asked Mr Fractus, “and I don’t think you are, but if you are, and this thing happens, and we can’t stop it, what am I supposed to do?”
“Well, that’s a good question.” The calm and maybe-crazy man replied, like a proud parent fielding a particularly incisive query. “You could react a bunch of different ways, Mr Secretary. Some of them will distinguish you as a good man, and others may haunt this country for decades to come.” He left that hanging there for a moment, as the politician sagged under the weight of it. “You should take comfort in the fact that whatever you do do, you were always going to, though. How you handle the hard years ahead is hardwired into you, sir.”
The little big man left. He didn’t look comforted at all.
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