“The Inexorable Finger of Fate” (short story) by Dmitri Bilenkin
English Publication History: The Uncertainty Principle (Macmillan, 1978)
Original: Russian (Неумолимый перст судьбы), 1974
Translated by Antonina W. Bouis, 1978
Synopsis: On the eve of 25 July, a bank teller received an innocuous radio transmission that identifies itself from the next day. The man shakes off most of his doubt, pins it down to poor radio management, but the next day sees himself steadily building angst. The radio had told of a bank robbery around noon, so he suspiciously eyes all events that lead up to noon in the light of the forthcoming robbery. When his superiors leave the bank, two men suddenly walk through the door. Having known of the encounter, the man is more of a fidgety mess than a panicked teller.
Analysis: Humans aren’t the only animal to feel emotions, but some may be unique to us; for example: regret and foreboding, both of which need a complex concept of time to express. Foreboding is interesting because it’s an emotion that deals with something that hasn’t even happened yet, which is purely based on prediction and/or experience. What the bank teller in “The Inexorable Finger of Fate” experiences is just that: fear for what is to come; however, his information is only partial. If he hadn’t known of the situation, would he have changes his reaction to it? His expectation could alter his reaction, which it does, indeed.
It’s a little like giving a public speech. Most of us–not including myself, as I savor the showmanship–fear giving a speech in front of a large crowd. Suppose two situation: 1) You were told the day before that you’d give a speech. Would you be a nervous wreck just before the speech and while giving it? 2) The speech duty is sprung on you at the moment. Would you play it by ear, nonchalantly?
The bank teller torments himself with the knowledge of the robbery; every minor detail to his day at the bank is added happenstance. Other remark on his nervousness, which he doesn’t acknowledge while steeping in fear.
Review: This is another amusing time paradox story akin to Bilenkin’s own “The Uncertainty Principle“, albeit much briefer and with a shorter jab at the conclusion, which surely aims to entertain rather than trigger deep thought.