(Read the previous scenes here.)
“There are three kinds of lies,” Professor Madison said on the first day of class, right after introducing herself and making sure everyone was in the correct lecture hall. “Lies, damned lies, and prophecy.”
My eyebrows rose. That wasn’t the sort of thing you expected to hear out of the woman teaching your intro divination course.
“Prophecy seems popular,” she went on, drifting across the hall’s stage. Clearly this was a performance she’d given countless times, but she still seemed to enjoy it. “Even before First Manifestation, people went to palm-readers and card-readers and crystal ball-gazers, newspaper horoscopes—you name it. But most of them didn’t do it because they wanted to know what the future really held. They did it because they wanted to be told that the future was going to be all right. Or to have someone read, not their stars, but the unspoken cues they were giving off, and tell them what they couldn’t quite tell themselves. Divination as therapy.
“For many of them, it worked just fine. But First Manifestation came and went, and suddenly the world had an abundance of psychics with scientifically-verifiable abilities. One woman—she went by the name Madame Blavatsky, but legally she was Melinda Blake—assumed the fortune-telling industry was about to take off in an enormous way, and made quite a clever bid to be its impresario. But what happened?”
I’d done a book report on Madame Blavatsky 2.0 for a biography project in sixth grade. I was already grinning before Professor Madison said, “The bottom fell out—and how. Oh, charlatans could stay in business; they went on as they always had. But either there’s some truth to the theory that Krauss rating and a talent for lying are inversely related, or these new seers, still overwhelmed by their abilities, didn’t want to lie. They told what they saw—which was not what people wanted to hear—and Ms. Blake’s grand scheme crashed before it went anywhere.”
That led Madison into the ethics of professional divinatory work, and from there to an overview of the different categories within the field. I didn’t bother taking notes. Divination had always been my strongest gift, ever since my own manifestation, and I’d devoured everything I could read or watch on the subject. I was only in this class because it was a requirement, and Welton didn’t let people test out of it. The real meat was going to be in the upper-level courses, the ones for which this was a prerequisite—and in the work I did on my own time.
Madison apparently had the same thought on her mind. Near the end of class, she unclipped the microphone from her collar and beckoned a student forward to take it. I recognized the girl: it was Akila, the one who’d given me my key when I arrived at Shushunova. She’d slipped into the lecture hall while I wasn’t looking.
“Thanks, professor,” Akila said, and faced the room. “I just wanted to take a moment to let you all know about the Divination Club. It’s one of a few student organizations sponsored by the various departments, to give you a safe space to practice your skills outside of class.” She grinned. “Well, we’re not as dangerous as the pyros, but it’s still a fun social group. We run demos of divination systems you may not be familiar with, and if you’re interested, you can get somebody to show you the basics. So it’s a good way to test the waters before you decide to take a whole class on the subject. And it’s great for finding somebody to do a reading for you. Our intro meeting is tomorrow night, 8 p.m. in Linwood; I hope to see a lot of you there. I’ll stick around for a few minutes after class, if you have any questions.”
Professor Madison took the microphone back and nodded her thanks to Akila. “Whether you intend to go on in this field or not, I recommend taking advantage of the Divination Club’s readers for any question that touches on matters personal to you. Even an experienced psychic has difficulty reading clearly for herself; your own feelings and preconceptions cloud your interpretation.
“And that brings us back to the words I said at the beginning of class. Lies, damned lies, and prophecy. Who can tell me why I said that?”
So it hadn’t just been a clever line, something memorable to get our attention in the first lecture. Several of raised our hands. Madison pointed at someone behind me. “Because we might be wrong about the meaning of what we’ve seen,” a guy said.
“True, but incomplete. What else?”
Some of the hands went down. I kept mine up. A girl off to my left was called on, and said, “Because there are still fakers out there.”
“Also true, but not what I meant—and we’ll be discussing ways to minimize that danger.” Madison scanned the room. “Any more guesses?”
Was I the only person here who recognized the line, and knew what it meant? She was paraphrasing Mark Twain, who supposedly was quoting Benjamin Disraeli. There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Madison pointed at me. I cleared my throat and said, “Because prophecy is rarely specific, so you can twist it around to support lots of different arguments—just like statistics. Whether you’re doing it on purpose or not. And besides, nothing’s carved in stone. Just because you see it doesn’t mean it will happen.”
The professor nodded. “Contrary to what most non-specialists think, the point of divination is not to find some fixed truth. The point is to open your eyes to possibility, and to help yourself think ahead. Think on that, and I’ll see you Wednesday.”
I was sitting near the middle of the row, and had to wait for the flood to clear before I could get out and head for the doors at the top of the lecture hall. Akila was still there, fielding one last question. I caught her eye and smiled. By her return grin, she remembered me. “8 p.m. in Linwood?” I said. “I’ll see you there. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for me this year.”
(“Welcome to Welton” is a series of teaser scenes. Teasers for what? The answer to that, my friends, is coming on September 18th. Check back each weekday for a new scene!)