Strange Horizons magazine has recently successfully completed its annual fund drive. It was a near thing, coming up to the last few hours. Donation-funded fiction is a risky thing, but it works for Strange Horizons in part because they keep bringing us stories like this one from D J Muir.
As she waves the heating coils to life under the cauldron, and sets the teapots and cups on their trays, she worries what today will bring. Like the Tyrant seeking out her talents, this worry is something new. Since her mother died five years ago, Jinli has never had to worry about the future—at least, not the short future, the few-days-ahead future—because when she thinks forward she can direct her thoughts to a time and place and see it with absolute clarity.
Only this afternoon is a storm of fragments which fly like snowflakes in a blizzard, a broken whiteout time. She can hear, see, smell, touch nothing. And when she thinks of tomorrow, she sees fractured images, as though each shard of a broken screen were playing a different vid, and she hears shattered soundtracks screech like sirens. There will be a tomorrow; but for the first time, what tomorrow will be she cannot say.
The last clear moment she foresees is this afternoon. She sees the Tyrant, the bald crown of his head gleaming, and he will be asking her father to bring her out, and then everything dissolves.
Only a few people know that Jinli can see futures. Only she knows that today she cannot.
Her father enters the kitchen smiling, come to fetch more cups to set on the tables. He and the Tyrant are of an age, but his hair is still thick and black; the teahouse has aged him less than the conquest of worlds has weighed on his former comrade. Father has lived a gentle life in the years between.
“Father,” says Jinli, “you will need the hao ryl this afternoon. He will be coming today, and he will want to play.”
She doesn’t have to say who he is; Father knows, and his smile fades a little.