Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Glass future


A time to reflect.

متوفر باللغة العربية

The waitress seems reluctant to come over, pretending not to see us, even though I've tried to catch her eye several times. We'd ordered our omelettes 40 minutes ago. How long does it take to crack a few eggs into a hot pan?

“Do you think she's post-human?” I whisper to my husband. She looks too good to be real.

Caleb glances over. “Maybe. She's very pretty, but mods are so subtle, it's difficult to see who's human and who's not.”

I wonder what such an attractive looking woman is doing working in a low-rent place like this, a greasy-spoon cafe in a habitat on the edge of Rhea.

We'd booked into the habitat's motel last night. It reeked of overenthusiastic, grandiose plans for the future that would never come true. At dinner, I'd watched the motel's guests. I knew them, their small-time liaisons and their wild plans. They didn't want much, just enough to be able to turn up on their home habitat and impress the ones who stayed behind, impress the ones who said they'd never amount to anything. They all ended up here, or someplace like it, scrabbling for success, trying to make a splash in an over-crowded system. This was a place for people who'd never escape the gravity well of their own failures.

Credit: JACEY

It was a sad place to end a marriage.

“Is she ever going to come over?” I ask.

Caleb says: “I see that we will get the omelettes. They'll be ... disappointing.”

I smile. Caleb has a sense of humour about his gift. Even now, when he knows what I'm about to do, he still keeps cracking jokes.

I take a deep breath and say: “I want a divorce.” I wait a moment to see if he's going to make things easier on me. He doesn't say anything. I don't blame him. “I'm so sorry, Caleb.”

“So am I.” He stares out of the window. “We're on opposite sides of the reflection, Alice. You knew that when you married me.”

I look at his reflection in the metal glass window. Caleb was a designer baby. A person designed for space. The multiple copies of his genome in each cell protect him against ionizing radiation. But modding is always erratic. There's no way to predict how changes to the genome will affect the body — or the mind. Multiple-genome people, like Caleb, develop unusual connections in their brains. Precognition. They remember their future. And all of them are unable to pass the mirror test. They can see their reflections, but they can't recognize themselves. Caleb hasn't got the self-awareness that most human babies develop at 18 months. That used to fascinate me, that lack of self. It seemed so strange, so exotic; now I find it sad. When love turns to pity, it's time to end the relationship. Caleb didn't deserve my pity.

I look beyond Caleb's reflection to the habitat's garden. Gardens don't thrive in space. The light collected from the solar foils and retransmitted to the plants is wrong. Earth plants either wither and die or they go wild. The habitat's garden was overgrown and mutated. Swathes of honeysuckle, with enormous monstrous blooms, smothered everything. “It's a pretty lousy garden.”

“All these mutants should be cut away,” says Caleb. “I'm designing Zen gardens for the Oort habitats, swirls of pebbles, low maintenance.” A heartbeat later, he says: “Why do you want a divorce, Alice?”

He was going to make me say everything. “I've met somebody else, while you were working on the Oort Cloud project.” Caleb's an architect, very much in demand in the ongoing push of colonization.

“Did you?” The note of surprise in his voice is convincing. Caleb's good at pretending to be something other than what he is. Every moment he swims in the seas of his future. Even when he met me, he must have known that one day we'd be here. Poor Caleb. No wonder most precogs end up in hospital, overburdened by the nature of their gifts, or more specifically, overwhelmed by the fact that they're unable to change anything they see. “And you love him?”

“I do. I'm going to move in with him. I'm sorry, Caleb.”

“I know.”

The waitress comes over. She places two plates of greasy omelette on the table. She looks at Caleb, her violet eyes widening in recognition. Caleb's famous. There aren't too many functioning precogs in the system. Every now and again, someone will put out a documentary about him, usually spurious, about how he's refusing to use his precognition to help people. It doesn't work like that. The future's set. No amount of foreknowledge will change anything.

“Thank you,” I say, trying to dismiss her. Just because I don't want him, doesn't mean that I want anybody else to have him.

The waitress lingers at a nearby table, straightening the place settings, wondering how she can attract him, thinking that a knowledge of her future might bring her an advantage — just like I did when I met Caleb. She's looking for her future, wanting to use Caleb, not realizing that the only thing we, on this side of the mirror, will ever have are reflections.

“We'll keep in touch, Caleb,” I say.

“No, we won't. Goodbye, Alice.” He leaves the table, walks over to the waitress. He says something that makes her laugh.

I walk out of the cafe, stepping into my future, my unseen and unknowable future, without him.

Author information



Additional information

Follow Futures on Twitter at and on Facebook at

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Walker, D. Glass future. Nature 490, 576 (2012).

Download citation


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing