Once a roadrunner feared it was running out of road. Not that it could actually see the end of the road coming. Out here in the wide-open spaces, the land stretched away mile after mile as it always had. And with it the roadrunner’s own course, unchecked all the way to the horizon. There, in the hazy union of earth and sky, it might be imagined to continue on forever. Nor was the roadrunner in any danger of ever being cut off by the wily coyote that had been in constant pursuit of it. Quite the contrary. They had long ago come to an agreement that both speed and perseverance were attributes to be honored and preserved, worthy complements of one other. In recognition of this, the roadrunner would never move so swiftly as to leave its pursuer humiliated in the dust, and the coyote would always pull back just when one of its stratagems might be on the point of success, letting its prey escape with a gallant nod. Thus neither one of them was prepared for the threatened end to their arrangement posed by news that a computer software company was developing a program called “Predestination.” The great benefit of “Predestination,” the company’s publicity grandly announced, “will be to predict where you are going based on where you’ve been in the past and plot out your coming itinerary to match whatever the software has determined you desire. You’ll be amazed!” Appalled was more like it, the roadrunner thought. Having the rest of your life made predictable, being told your future was at most a rearrangement of your past and what you’d experienced was what you wanted to experience again and again, running in circles till you dropped—were they nuts? Why have these wide-open spaces then, where no path was determined or denied? If you didn’t want the freedom to change directions in a flash and head somewhere unimagined before, why start out in the first place? Were 360 degrees too many to deal with? Too few, as far as the roadrunner was concerned. Each degree must have a thousand unexplored miles within it and ten thousand potential destinations. Allowing yourself to be steered to one over all the others was a convenience? Or was it instead a submission to the eventual programming of independence? After which, to choose your own path would be judged the same as getting lost? The coyote too was distressed by the news, for if the roadrunner’s freedom of choice was reduced to a software list of suggestions, what would happen to the creativity of its own designs to catch the bird? Because it had taken a detour to find just the thing for some elaborate trap years ago, would the assumption be that it had nothing else in mind now or tomorrow? That the continual inventiveness on which it had prided itself was no more than another sequence of zeros and ones in a computer? With these misgivings in their minds, the roadrunner looked at the coyote and the coyote looked at the roadrunner. What lay ahead for them, each wondered? Should they attempt to continue as before? Would their old agreement still have its reassurance that if left to their own powers, they would always find a way to carry on? Or was their world now “predestined” to be a much smaller, much duller place? “First move’s up to you, partner,” the coyote ventured with a catch in its voice. But the roadrunner, scanning nervously the shrinking distances and the vanishing sky, just stood there, as if stopped dead in its tracks.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans