In the future world, everything is quiet and clean. In the town where you used to live, there are empty roads that stretch back and forth, from one house to the next. People sometimes walk across them, busy steps and down-tilted eyes. They have things to do. Often they are going to visit Brian, because they need his advice. He’s an empath. Those are rare these days, and the town is lucky to have one.
Katie, for instance. She needs Brian’s advice. Her husband is upset and she wants to know why. It’s difficult for her when he shouts and sulks. Once she knows what to do, everything will be simpler. Life will settle into regularity once more.
Brian smiles to see her, and with a touch of hesitation she echoes the smile. It feels thick and foreign on her face, and she wonders if she has to smile every time. Happiness is usually something that curls inside her. There’s no reason to express it, not if she can just hold it to herself.
She tells Brian what’s been going on – “He said a lot of things in a very loud voice. I don’t like it, it hurts my ears. Then he walked really fast out of the room and slammed the door. I don’t understand why he’s so loud sometimes, I don’t like noise.”
Brian nods as she speaks, and explains. “He’s angry. If you tell him that in the future you won’t make the same mistake again, he’ll stop being loud.” It is hard for him, to put his vision of the world into terms that the people can understand. He could tell Katie that her husband is angry, that he feels betrayed. That if she says she’s sorry, he will forgive her. But if he told her that she wouldn’t understand and it wouldn’t be true. That husband might be betrayed and angry, but Katie can’t understand it to feel sorry. If she could her husband wouldn’t be able to imagine her remorse, and it would be a useless apology.
There are often little disputes like this, and people come hurrying to Brian so he can tell them how to fix things. It gives him something to do. The story of a bewildered fight unfolds before him again and again, the shrill ring of their voices and the burn of anger spread before him. It falls to him to see these things, to feel the anger.
The main reason for Brian to help is with the problems the town faces as a whole. There are empaths in the government, writing and rewriting the laws. Some of them judge the cases that can’t be decided locally, and some of them run the prison system. When the town has to deal with a crime, or maybe a big decision, they call on Brian.
He always finds it difficult to understand the problem so clearly and be helpless before it. It’s impossible to explain to them why things are happening, and he can’t judge their problems through his understanding. He can try to make the most people happy, which isn’t anything they normally think of. When people need to make a collective decision they often don’t even know where to start.
Brian likes his job. It’s satisfying, and fulfilling. It gives him a sense of having made lives better, of having solved the obstacles to happiness that trip everybody up. It makes him pleased with himself, and very sad. It’s hard to understand why his job is important and know that nobody else does. It’s painful to deal with people’s lives and know that they can’t imagine his own. It’s lonely to be the only person, in a small town of a few thousand people, who feels that much. To feel that deeply. To hurt, and know that nobody else can know possibly that.