NOTE TO TOOLS OF THE CHURCH: I know this isn't funny or even religiously instructive but it is what I saw and for gospelly reasons I have to include it here. Interesting premise. Wish it was funnier.
By Salvatore Fladabosco
Episode 1 - Sal meets Cassie
“It’s just a few minutes more” the salesman told me. I hate it when these boogers try to upsell you. All I wanted was a decent car that wouldn’t cost me hours to drive. I didn’t care about steering wheel covers, blue headlights or the new elimination units that make it so you can drive all day without stopping. All I want decent transportation that doesn’t cost three years of your life. I settled for a pink car for 1, 200, 442 minutes.
I don’t think you will like Clark either.
I knew that Anson Bard Clark loved to cook and had made a pile of time doing it. Piles and piles. He cooked for one of the most time profitable restaurants there is, known all across the country for the fine, creative food and the incredible cost.
The piles of time allowed Clark to quit cooking and take a job with the Office of Time, where, as he said, the pay sucks but the perks are good, so good.
It was almost 100 years ago that Clark quit cooking at the Clock Tavern Cafe to take the post of Time Control Officer. His pay was cut from 2,000 hours a year to less than 150. As a cook he lost 6,760 hours of life a year (plus 26 if there was a leap day). As a TCO he lost 8,615 hours a year, plus any leap day adjustments.
I was sitting across from Clark at his desk where he was doing some pretty fancy calculating on my account. He controlled the most important thing in my life and he did it so casually I hated him for it.
“All I can do is give you the proper number,” he groaned at me, scribbling furiously. I knew he was lying but I couldn’t say anything. Say the wrong thing to a TCO and you could die in minutes. If they like you you could live for eons.
“Mr. Clark, pardon my noticing but it doesn’t look like you have given me credit for the time I worked at the banquets when I was cooking. There should be extra pay hours for almost 200 times I worked.”
“Hold it! I see where the error is!” Clark almost jumped up with fake joy. “I’ll put the banquet hours in Section 14!” I knew what that meant. I had to give half of them to my TCO as a tip. Don’t tip and they can simply erase the hours and you die that much sooner.
“Thank you Mr. Clark! You have been so good to me. I hope your family gets rich and has health!” I tried to sound as thankful as I could then got the hell out before he changed his mind.
The long walk home, the disgust, the ego-crushing fact that this dweeb controlled how long I lived. Stopped in the local 420-660 store and handed the cashier my list. She was obviously a short timer. I could tell by her wide-eyed stare, the quick, darting frightened moves. She tried to smile but all the muscles of her face just twitched.
“What do you mean?” she replied. It was almost a joke that when someone didn’t answer the question of how long? it meant they were close to going.
“Sorry, I’ll just take my stuff.”
“That will be 2 hours, 42 minutes and 18 seconds. The Gluco-Protein bars are on sale this week. That saved you 10 minutes. Thank you for shopping at 420-660.”
Joy. The food for my week cost me almost three hours of my life. I took the groceries from the security lock, threw an exaggerated fake kiss to the short timer and wished her well. I could hear her sobbing as I walked out. You get used to it.
I live on Horus Street, one of the nice neighborhoods in Maelzel Valley, a historic town on the Left Coast of America. There was hardly any property crime even in the poorest places these days, since you couldn’t literally steal someone’s time. What are you going to do, hold a snub-nose to someone’s gut and tell them to give you some minutes? It might be a few seconds you’ll never get back but it won’t change your Life Account.
I ran up the four flights of stairs, checking my pulse and respiration rate when I got into my apartment. I took out the osmo water and filled a pot with exactly one half liter. 3 seconds later when it got to boiling I dropped in two blocks of spinach, a tablespoon of pond algae and a teaspoon of bong water. I boiled it for exactly 22 seconds, poured into an instacool cup and swallowed it down as fast as I could.
I did 20 quick push ups, each calculated to burn 8.4 calories.
When I saw Cassie behind the security wall and liked her immediately. She had one of those smiles that said ‘you are going to like me’ and she had the kind of body that made men wonder.
Big brown eyes and shortish auburn hair, she looked like a warm meadow on a spring day. I really wanted to call her but in addition to the time I would spend hating myself if she turned me down, it would cost me over a minute to call her even if I was fast.
Ever since the Time Control office took over all electronic communications the prices have been going up. A minute may not seem expensive but it adds up.
Of course there is a clause in the law that allows TCOs to communicate for free, as they have such important business.
Damn the cost, I wanted to call Cassie.
“Hi, this is Cassie, make it fast.”
“My name is Sal. I saw you at work and you smiled at me. I would like to spend some time with you. Yes or no?”
“Yes. Meet me at the sundial.”
Meeting at the sundial meant that she wanted to see me face to face and as tradition held we would meet at sundown the next day at the sundial. If she didn’t like me she will tell me in the traditional way, by staring at her wrist clock. If she liked me she would grab me by the arm and drag me to a restaurant.
If she liked me and I agreed (which I am likely to cuz I called her) we could be legally commingled and create kids the very next day.
I sat down and dreamed about what Cassie and I might do together for 64 seconds.
A minute may not seem expensive but it adds up.
The next day seemed to take forever. I arrived at the steakhouse and got on my checkered pants, chef’s jacket and my toque. I had the biggest toque in the city. It took me 4 minutes to get dressed.
I couldn’t stop dreaming of Cassie. I imagined her soft lips tracing lines down my neck, her soft body fitting so rightly next to mine. I’d take her to China one minute, gazing at the cities where millions of people used to live. Then to Austria and we lazily floated down the Morava river, the hills green beyond belief and castles guarding all the towns.
I’d cook a soft boiled egg, put it on a plate, garnish it with pre-cut tomato and basil, sling it on the server line then dream of Cassie. I’d take her to Istanbul and we’d pretend to pray in the great mosque at sundown.
In between throwing together sandwiches I’d dream of impregnating her the old fashioned way (against her wishes probably) and would last 12 seconds.
I went to the barber and spent 32 minutes on appearance. Got my hair rearranged, nails cleaned and clipped, clothes retailored and my mouth cleaned. I took over 4 minutes. 4 minutes? Do they think I just skip through my day? Hurry the hell up or I’ll go somewhere else next time.
And I hate the retailoring machines. I was trying to imagine sharing a meal with Cassie. It would have taken less than a minute but it’s hard to concentrate when the machine is taking in the crotch a little and it gets the cloth positioned, cut and stitched in less then a second.
At least they had a transfer machine so I could get Cassie a quick gift. It’s always tough to figure out how much to give on a first date. 2 minutes seems like you are cheap and uninterested. 10 minutes makes her think you are trying to buy her. I settled on 6 minutes and printed out the receipt. The time was now hers.
I ran to the sundial, a piece of surrealistic historical art. You can almost sort of tell what time it is if you know how, but it doesn’t list days, or months or even what year it is. How did those people live? Seeing the sundial makes some people sentimental for the days we used money but only for a second.
Cassie was wearing a blue and pink dress and I could tell she didn’t bother to get it retailored. She shook my hand but she looked up when she did it, a classic inefficiency that told me she wasn’t terribly interested. I felt a knot in my stomach and tried not to grimace as I handed her the receipt.
“Oh, thank you, what a lovely, meaningful gift.” She didn't bother to look at it.
“You know you are worth it and it is my pleasure.” It was not a nice gift anyway. I knew she wouldn't bother to look.
The dance had started and she was leading. “Shall we go dine?”
These words were said thousands of times a day when first dates happened. If I had misspoken a word of it she would have every right to leave and to sue me for the minutes I spent with her.
There was a Foodery right across the street so we skipped over to it and rang the bell. A worker in overalls opened the door and we ran in. There was an empty table across the room and the doorman shoved us towards it, running with us until we fell into the seats. Before we could look up he was back at the door.
“Shall we start our ten minutes now?” I asked Cassie, eager to show her my talking skills.
“No, let’s wait until after we order.”
I stuck my TC card into the table slot and ordered for both of us. I hit the red FOOD button in the middle of the table. Nothing happened. I was shocked because a problem with your TC card could fuck your life up forever - if you lived that long. I hit the button again and with much relief I heard it answer “food for 2” and within a minute we had our meals in front of us.
Cassie looked so desirable to me. She had little blondish red hairs on her face. The ones on her lips made a mustache so slight and so pale you could only see it from up close and it just made her look that much softer. She was staring up at the ceiling chomping her seaweed and it was breaking my heart.
“The ten minutes starts now.” There, I said it, I took control and now she had not choice. Ten minutes was the traditional amount of time dates spent deciding if they wanted to continue the date or move on.
We spent two minutes on the usual stuff. Parents, historical family religions, car colors, etc. Then silence.
The big question was so hard to ask but meant so much. If I told her I had 24,177,600 minutes and she only had one or two million, it would mean marrying her would average out to 12 million and I would lose half of my life immediately. “Cassie, I have 24177600 minutes.” I was proud and expected her to stop looking at the ceiling.
Without looking down she said, “I have 308,999.”
That was it. No sadness, no stress, no cry to help her out or any kind of negative emotion. The corners of her kissable lips were curving up and it was killing me.
“Why are you happy?”
“I have to tell you, Sal, that I have met someone who wants to have dinner with me tomorrow.”
“You mean he was willing to wait a whole day?”
”Yep, and he knew I was going out with you.”
I knew what that meant. Either the guy was really rich or - oh no! a TCO. I hated them more than ever now.