Two men gave the career presentation that day. The first was young and handsome, but his twisted half-smile made him look like he was fighting the urge to fall to his knees and curse his fate. He wore a black hat with a spike like a video game character. But aside from those afflictions, he was the type of man who normally made us students pay attention.
Unfortunately, the other man did the talking and there was nothing to say about him other than dour. I was surprised the old man didn’t yell at us in that thundercloud voice of his. I heard that teachers used to yell, in the old days before they were screened for pleasantness and approachability.
The man began by explaining how the job mattered to humanity and I was shocked. Humanity? No one talked about humanity anymore. The idea of doing something to benefit anyone other than yourself and your nation was antiquated, but he definitely said humanity and was talking about the entire globe. The dour representative talked about the significance of humanity for nearly thirty seconds before the teacher interrupted him.
“I think, Mr., er, Kenning,” she said with the open smile that had earned her a job at the front of the class, “that the students are more interested in hearing the US Psychic Attributes of your job.”
The tension went out of the room and I realized that the other students had been staring at each other in confusion when the man spoke of humanity. The representative with the pointed hat was staring at me.
“Yes, well, the attributes are harsh but the job is essential to the survival of humanity.”
The teacher opened her mouth as if to remind him not to mention humanity but he waved his hand at her in dismissal and her mouth snapped shut, face frozen in a smile. I wondered if she was angry, or even capable of being angry. Angry teachers made mistakes, and emotions clouded memory and judgment. Teachers were chosen because they could recite facts to the students without getting distracted, so it was likely she had never felt anger before in her life.
“The first is Solitude.”
One of the students, James, snickered. “There goes that career.”
The dour man ignored him. “You will always be alone, even when you are surrounded by people you love. Sometimes this will lead to despair, sometimes to passion, sometimes to dedication.”
“The second attribute is Untimely Death.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” James said, a little louder now.
“No matter when you die, whether young or old, with or without accomplishments, there will be more you have left to do.”
The teacher seemed to have gotten over the insult of being silenced and raised her hand boldly, almost impudently.
“Forgive me, but are any of the attributes positive? And if not, why are you wasting my students’ time?”
The class cheered. The man with the pointed hat continued to watch me.
“Of course,” the dour man said, the thunder in his voice quaking. “The Psychic Attributes always include one positive to cancel out the negatives. I start with the negatives because this job is serious, and not for the faint of heart. The third attribute is a Small Measure of Satisfaction.”
The room was silent for a moment.
“How is that positive?” I asked.
The man with the pointed hat answered. His voice was silky and melodic, turning his sentences into poetry effortlessly.
“Fame and Fortune are possible, but unlikely. You will have doubts and fears. But sometimes, you will have a Small Measure of Satisfaction and you will be honored by your place in humanity’s advancement.”
The students murmured in confusion and the presentation ended. After class I found the two presenters waiting. When the man with the hat saw me, he waved me over. I obeyed with a sense of dread.
“You never said what the job was,” I said.
“It is a much maligned career. But the government has recognized the need for us and has finally granted us permission to recruit. Are you willing to accept the attributes of Solitude, Untimely Death, and a Small Measure of Satisfaction?”
“From what you described about Solitude, I think I already have that. And all deaths are untimely for the person dying, aren’t they? As for Satisfaction, well, I’d like Fame. But if what you’re saying is true, then this job would be helping humanity. Maybe I won’t see the direct results like I want, but at least I would sometimes know that I’m helping.”
The man with the hat nodded and his half-smile became a full-smile. “We are Creatives. We are artists, poets, mathematicians, writers; we are those who peer at humanity and the universe and attempt to perceive the underlying structure and share it with others. Without us, humanity would never advance. You understand, don’t you?”
I did. I thought of my teacher and her fake smiles and placid acceptance of life. I wanted to challenge her to think, I realized. I wanted to give her something that made her uncomfortable and made her realize that life was not perfect, that life could not be easily explained.
In all likelihood she would never see it. Work by Creatives was banned because of its incendiary nature. But maybe in a few years, or a few decades, the teacher would be on the web and see my name on a story. Maybe, against her better judgment, she would read it. And maybe her life would change. I would never know, of course, and I began to realize just how small the Small Measure of Satisfaction would be. But if I could touch even one person, my life would have a meaning dearer to me than any other career I could imagine.
“A writer,” I said. “I want to be a writer.”
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