Zoe never dreamed of working as a time teller. It was a hard job to get in the best of economies, in a recession it was nearly impossible. She responded to the listing on Vocation Finder along with three thousand other candidates not thinking she would be selected. The video interview hadn't gone particularly well from her point of view, she didn't have a good answer for why she wanted to be a time teller except, "I like helping people get the most out of life."
When she got the call from the branch manager of the Time Depot, Mr. Stromborn, she answered the phone still chewing a jelly donut thinking it was a spam call.
"It’s Stromborn, from Mid City Time Depot. We'd like to offer you the Time Teller position!"
"That's....," she swallowed. "Great!" "We'd like you to start first thing Monday morning, 8 am sharp." "I'll be there!" "Oh, and Miss Roberson, make sure you wear a nice pair of shoes."
She drove her Skiff MT into the parking terminal, but the rocket boosters backfired as she landed. A gentleman with a black hat that matched his black mustache exited a shiny new Tesla 360XTO and stared at Zoe's outdated model.
"I've been meaning to get that fixed," Zoe said with embarrassment, which was true. Now that she had a job, she could do all the things she had been meaning to do, like move into one of the new hover homes in High City. She lived in the Lowlands where the rents were low, and the crime was high. Her pod, a half-studio unit, had been broken into twice in the last year alone. Luckily, she had been out when it happened and didn't own anything of value worth stealing besides her media streaming display which was built into the pod wall per government regulations for low-income properties.
Zoe wore a navy dress with a pair of red Astro flats she bought on the Exchange Market for two day-credits which conveniently arrived by express drone twenty minutes later. She knew from the few times she'd been inside a Time Depot as a child, that the Time Teller bar covered most of the body except the feet.
"Ah, I see you made it on time, Miss Roberson," Mr. Stromborn greeted with a suppressed anxiousness. "I'd like to introduce you to the Founder and President of Time Depot, Leonard Warsaw."
Standing next to Zoe was the man with the black mustache and hat.
"I believe we've already met," Leonard Warsaw said. "The only person around here who still drives a Skiff..."
Shame flooded Zoe's face. "It's only temporary until..."
"I love those vintage models. They don't make A-12 thrusters like that anymore. They pack quite a punch!"
Zoe lifted her gaze, realizing she had been looking down like her mother used to do when cleaning houses for families on the other side of the clouds. "It's very nice to meet you, Mr. Warsaw. Thank you so much for this opportunity."
"This is a business not a charity. Work hard and follow the rules or you'll be fired on the spot. Don't make ANY exceptions to the rules or you'll be fired on the spot. Don't make any mistakes or you'll be fired on the spot. You understand?"
"Yes, Mr. Warsaw, that's very clear."
"Lastly, try to stay out of my way or..."
"I'll be fired on the spot?"
"Worse, you'll upset me," Mr. Warsaw gave a wry smile.
"You know, my grandparents had a Skiff..." Mr. Stromborn said, but Mr. Warsaw had already disappeared into his office. "Very well. Let me show you where you'll be working."
They walked to a bar with six separate stations. The bar was suspended in the air by a few steam shoots that blew air down clear tubes, making the bar appear as if it was floating. Five other women around Zoe's age, height, and looks were working behind the floating bar. Each of them wore Astros, so Zoe was relieved she made the last-minute purchase even though they cost her so much time.
"This is Angie, Amy, Abbie, Ashley, and Allie. Ladies, this is Zoe. She's the new teller replacing Angel."
"My middle name's Ann if that helps," Zoe attempted at humor but no one laughed.
"Abbie, can you show Zoe the ropes?"
"I guess," she answered with disinterest, doing little to disguise her annoyance.
"It's pretty easy. Follow the rules printed next to your Time Counter. One, ask to see their ID card first. That weeds out the drifters and free loaders coming in asking for free time. Two, ask if they're here to deposit time or withdraw it. They can only withdraw up to twenty-five years without authorization from Mr. Stromborn. Anything over fifty years requires Mr. Warsaw's sign-off. Company policy requires they have at least one year in their accounts at all times, otherwise we could be held responsible if they expire. People can only deposit time they've earned legally so look for the government time stamp in the corner and the motto in latin, "tempus est pecunia." The counterfeits usually just have the common translation, "time is money," so make sure you look closely, or it will come out of your time. And lastly, if you get into any serious trouble, which I highly doubt you will, push this silver button here. This will automatically notify the Time Cops over on High Street. Any questions?"
"No, I think I understand."
"Good, I'll be right here next to you if you get in over your head."
Zoe's first transactions were straight forward. A young waiter deposited two weeks of time credits into his account which brought his balance to a little over a year and a half. His address was in the Lowlands, so Zoe knew his rent was around 30 day-credits a month like hers. The time he made from tips barely covered his living expenses. He was literally working just to stay alive.
Then there was an older lady with a zebra shawl who withdrew twenty years, leaving her with six hundred and fifty-six years in her account.
Why would one person need that much time? Zoe wondered. Even a nice home in High City wasn't more than sixty years. "Girls weekend in the Upper Atmosphere. I hope this is enough. Last time we spent five years for drinks alone, and it's a crime what they charge in carbon taxes. I'm all for the environment, but why is it the wealthy who have to pay the lion's share?" "Here you go, Ma'am," Zoe said, giving the woman the credits quickly so she didn't have to put up with her any longer than she had to. "Thank you, dear. Here's a tip for your trouble." The woman slid a 24-hour coin credit on the counter and left with the pomp and circumstance expected from someone of her status. After taking a vape break after three hours of standing, Zoe returned to her station. A few moments later, an unkempt man with raggedy clothes and a horrid stench approached her. "I need time. I need more time. Please." "Can I see your ID?" Zoe asked, remembering the first rule. "I don't have an ID. Someone stole it while I was sleeping in Lower Park. Please, I just need time. Any amount will help." Zoe looked at the rules, then shrugged. "I'm sorry. I can't help you without an ID." "I only have three minutes left! Please! Help!" Hearing the commotion, Abbie came over, wrinkled her nose, then motioned to the security guard standing in the front of the depot to assist them. The guard grabbed the man firmly by his arms and escorted him out. "Where's your humanity? I'm going to die! You can't let me die!" the man screamed as he was thrown out onto the street. Mr. Stromborn came over to check on Zoe. "Are you alright, Miss Roberson? I'm sorry you had to deal with that on your first day." "I'm fine, but can't we do anything to help him?" "As Mr. Warsaw says, we're a Time Depot, not a charity. That man's choices led him to where he is. Probably gambled his time away or wasted it on liquor like so many of the low lifes in the Lowlands." "I live in the Lowlands,” Zoe objected. "Oh, well, obviously I don't mean people like you." "I need a break," Zoe said, heading outside. "But you just took one! If Mr. Warsaw sees you..." Zoe stopped. "Mr. Stromborn, have you ever heard the parable of the Time Dilemma in the old teachings?" "No, I'm not a religious man. I don't believe in the old superstitions." "It's a story about a man who is running late for work but sees an injured man on his way. He has already been warned by his boss that the next time he's late, he will lose his job, and he needs the job to feed his family. He has to decide to help the man and lose his job or leave the man to die and keep his job. Do you know what he did?" "Leave the man to die? He has a responsibility to his family. Without the job, they could all starve to death." "In the story, he stops to help the man." Mr. Stromborn gasped. "But it turns out, the man he helped was the son of the company’s CEO where he worked so not only did he keep his job, he was given a promotion and a raise." "I can guarantee you that the drifter outside is not Mr. Warsaw's son!" "Well, he's someone's son." Zoe left the depot and found the man outside begging the passing crowd for spare time. Women clutched their purses and pulled their children away from him. Someone threw a couple second tokens on the ground by the beggar's feet to see him react. The man dropped to the ground gathering the seconds into his hands like they were diamonds. "Sir, take this." Zoe handed the man the 24-hour credit the woman with the zebra shawl had given her. "I'm sorry, I don't have more." The man looked up into Zoe's face like she was God. Then he embraced her. "Thank you, ma'am. You saved my life." The man disappeared into the crowd to live another day. Zoe stood speechless as rocket cars zoomed overhead in and out of High City. When Zoe went back inside, Mr. Warsaw was standing next to Mr. Stromborn with a serious look. "Am I fired, Sir?" she asked. "Heavens no, Miss Roberson. You're exactly the kind of person we need around here," Mr. Warsaw said. "You've reminded me of something invaluable: time is more than a commodity, it's life, and everyone is entitled to life. Stromborn, increase the tellers' pay. Their wages have been stagnate for years. And let's set up scholarships for young people in the Lowlands who haven't been given a lot of time." "But Mr. Warsaw, we aren't a charity. You said so yourself," Mr. Stromborn protested. "Maybe we should be. We could encourage those with more time than they could ever need, to share with those on the verge of expiration. There's no reason we all shouldn’t have time to spend with our loved ones."
A year later, Zoe was promoted to branch manager of the Mid City Time Depot when Mr. Stromborn was let go for upsetting Mr. Warsaw. She earned enough to move into a hover house in High City, but she decided to stay in the Lowlands to help it become revitalized. She made sure Mr. Warsaw made good on his promises and she helped everyone around her get the most out of life.
Shawn Casselberry sees the world in stories. He's written fiction and nonfiction books and has recently published a book of short stories called, "Strange Fire." He's the co-founder/editor for Story Sanctum and lives in the Chicago area with his wife Jen and their introverted dog Colin. You can check out more of his writing at: www.shawncasselberry.com.
photo credit: Aron Visuals