by Erik Koht

"They though it was going to be a rodent exterminator or something like that." Ann-Mary explained, "So it was not easy for me to get the type of education I needed."

Professor Dale rifled through Ann-Mary's documents laying before him on his desk. The sum total of her CV, diplomas, certificates and predictions painted an interesting but contradictory picture of the young lady seated in the visitor's chair in his cubicle. She did have her college degree - just as the want-ad had stipulated - but she had trod a meandering path on her way to attaining the diploma.

"The stars foretold that I was going to kill a thousand rats," Ann-Mary continued, "so my parents demanded that anything I did had to be relevant to that. "As you can see I've completed courses in biology, chemistry, toxicology..."

"...and behavioural psychology, too, I see," added the Professor. "With your level of specialisation, I dare say you are well qualified to do away with armies of rats."

"While other kids got video games and roller blades for Christmas, I got rat effigies, traps and cheese. For good measure they even gave me a flute," she laughed, indicating that she was just making it up. "They let me draw and paint, that's what I wanted, though the stars didn't support my desires. On my own initiative I have taken classes in colour theory, art history and aesthetics." Ann-Mary straightened her back and said with a voice full of honest conviction: "Sir, I know I'm well qualified for this job!"

The grey-haired professor glanced at Ann-Mary over the rim of his glasses. "We ignore predetermination at our peril, young lady, as I am sure you have been told many times. Thanks to the precision we have attained in this field, people are able to prepare for their mission in life with certitude." It hadn't been like that in the old days, the professor recalled. "When I was a kid, they just made horoscopes out of thin air or with the aid of ancient charts. It just wasn't real. People paid good money for a laugh. You could get bogus predictions just by stepping on the bathroom scales or cracking a fortune cookie."

"Still, you were free, we who have lived with precision predetermination all our lives, feel we are being hampered in many ways. The predictions are being interpreted too narrowly," Ann-Marry countered, feeling the professor wanted her honest opinion. "I mean, Sir, can you really picture me chasing rats all over town?"

The professor chuckled. "I'd have to agree, I can't quite see it either. You are right, those predictions are being interpreted too narrowly, perhaps from lack of understanding. There is always room for imaginative interpretations. Things can be correctly foretold but still come out in ways that amaze us. At least this time, things seems to be heading for a logical resolution."

"You mean, you're giving me the position?" Ann-Mary dared hope.

"Of course, my dear, it's been foretold right here" the professor jabbed a pudgy finger at the pile of papers, smiling. "Our labs have a budget of a thousand rats for these cosmetics experiments. One hundred would not be conclusive, a million we can't afford. On the other hand, the mascara and night-creme experiments may require some cats and dogs, too. I hope this doesn't contradict some part of your confidential predictions?"

Ann-Mary beamed. "No, not at all, sir! There is nothing saying I can't do experiments on other kinds of animals. Only the rat figure was pre-pred." She knew this was the job she was made for. Cosmetics and body care lotions meant she could work with colours and styles. Injecting animals with toxins just came with the territory.

Things did not turn out as Ann-Mary and the professor planned. As fate would have it, the professor suffered a major stroke and the cosmetic experiments were cancelled before they even got started. A year later she went to Venice to work as a painter on a restoration project after the city suffered yet another devastating flooding. She climbed high on the scaffolding with her brushes and powdery pigments, painstakingly recreating sacred frescos. It was lonely work, thus at first no one noticed that she was gone. A week went by before they started looking for her. Eventually, they did find her. It seems she had fallen off the high scaffolding and into the basement crypt. We knew that she survived the fall, though she suffered many broken bones. We know this, because around what little remained of her we also found the bones of a thousand rats. She had defended herself valiantly using only what she had at hand, her brushes, scraper and poisonous pigments. Maybe even the class in behavioural psychology had been of some use to her.

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