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O, Time! Hurry not away,
And you, happy hours, stay!
Halt your flight:
That we may savor the fleeting delight
Of these our fairest days!
—Alphonse de Lamartine, "The Lake" (1820)
“I don’t have time!”
Those are the words I fired back at my mother when she asked why I never came to visit.
A swift, irrefutable answer.
“Can’t. No time,” I also replied to a childhood friend who suggested we get together “to catch up and chill.”
They accepted it.
It was the most valid excuse one could give.
But I don’t.
How did it come to this?
For the first time in my life, I am tempted to borrow time.
Except I know the risks.
If I borrow time from someone else, given the exorbitant rates, I know I’ll never manage to pay off the loan.
If I borrow from myself, I might as well be lopping off a piece of my own life—cut time doesn’t grow back.
I take a breath.
Before I do anything, I need to pull myself out of this mire.
Figure out how I fell in to begin with.
Pinpoint the second my used time started exceeding my available time.
Find a way to get back a bit of spare time.
Of course, this will take time.
That I don’t have.
On the Proper Use of Time
When the time comes for you to live, there aren’t enough years.
Time is the most valuable thing, idleness the most dangerous squanderer.
Time misused might as well be time unused.
Time is unfaithful to those who abuse it.
Kill time and it will return the favor.
Don’t make such poor use of your time that you make others unhappy.
Take time while time is, for time will away.
Time passes and man passes with it.
Take care not to spend your time frivolously; no expense in the world is dearer.
The Idle Billionaire
It all started with a proverb: “Time is money.”
Three centuries after Benjamin Franklin uttered those words, they were a revelation to one idle billionaire.
A bigshot tycoon who had run out of whims and was seeking new ways to fill his stretched lifespan.
“What if...?” he thought.
“What if I could possess time the way I possess money?”
The technology to do so, though then in its infancy, already existed.
“What if there were a way to invest time and watch it grow, like we do with money?”
“What if there were a way to subject time to the same kind of speculation?”
In other words, a slightly different way of molding and modeling human relations.
The foundations had already been laid.
Industrial relations amounted to exchanges of skills and time.
A flawed system!
Students invested time to acquire knowledge and skills they could then go on to rent out.
Employees sold time in exchange for subsistence, all while hoping to retain a sufficient amount in the form of vacation or retirement; the rich had time to spare and sell off, though they didn’t wish to part with it; hard manual labor destroyed the bodies of workers. A minor detail.
Husk launched the first time bank and, having bought up all organizational tools, engineered an entire economy around his inventions.
Eighty years later, as two-thirds of the world burned, the rest of us lived under his protection. The era of commodified time had come.
O, Time, gone in a flicker,
Happy hours, wrested away,
Halt the ticker!
Lower your rates, I say:
That we may invest but one minute, one day!
The Time I Don’t Have Is Somewhere Else
It started as a vague hunch.
If I have no time, it’s through no fault of my own.
If I have no time, it’s because it was stolen.
If I have no time, it’s because it’s somewhere else.
It’s because someone has somehow wrested it away from me.
If I so much as uttered that thought aloud, it would probably get me in trouble.
Rare are the entities, human or corporate, with the power to embezzle time.
One simply doesn’t challenge the system.
But now that we have so little time to think such thoughts, our ideas are less closely monitored.
They assume we are too busy to think and they are correct. Yet, our brains aren’t dead—and the odd idle second can give rise to the right questions.
I spend eight hours a day as a salaried employee, issuing and auditing monetary invoices for departments about which I haven’t the faintest idea and for institutions I’ve never heard of.
I have a combined hour and thirty minutes for my three meals and another thirty minutes to devote to community service. I volunteer as a microtranscriptionist: I listen to voice recordings and encode them as best I can. I couldn’t tell you what—or whom—they are for.
I get two night hours and six morning hours of sleep. That leaves me with four hours for seeing friends and family, as well as cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, running errands, minding my health, showering and relaxing.
Every week, I get one half-day off.
Every month, one day.
Every six months, one week.
In theory, at least.
Lately, time has been slipping away and I want to know where it’s going.
I, like everyone else, have heard the rumors about time hackers, but the only name that keeps coming up is Horante, a former executive at one of the first time banks.
Back then, it was money that he embezzled.
In those days, money was the measure of power.
The conversion wasn’t yet complete.
Horante was arrested, paraded around and then sentenced to a life of boredom.
What a waste when you think about it!
Since then, nothing.
Who besides bankers would have the tools to glean other people’s time?
To all pursuits, time must be devoted.
With time and straw, apricots will ripen.
He who has time and hopes for yet more is out of time.
What is not done with time is done against it.
Good things take time.
“With time I shall have you,” said the oak to the pumpkin.
Time is the crucible in which true love is distilled.
He who has time need not hasten.
There is a time for everything—you just need to know how to take it.
The Elixir of Long Life
Even before the Time Era, longevity was a problem.
Unevenly distributed as it was, it provided a rather accurate reflection of social, racial and economic inequalities.
The Whites, the Rich and the Able, quite naturally, lived longer than the other categories.
And yet, it was those very groups who sought to extend life even further—to eternity if possible.
As though those people—men for the most part—were so convinced of their greatness that the prospect of one day ceasing to exist was unthinkable to them.
In reality, their will to immortality more likely stemmed from a selfish desire to abolish all limits.
The six richest men on the planet joined forces to further the cause and fund research aimed at eradicating aging and promoting healthy longevity.
In the event the elixir of long life were discovered, it was to be reserved for them.
One of the men—the oldest and most impulsive among them—decided to bypass research protocols, injecting himself with the first product in development before it had reached the trial stage.
He died of a heart attack.
By the time researchers identified the naked mole-rat as one potential source of a serum, only four billionaires remained, another one having perished in a car accident.
The naked mole-rat serum went through all stages of clinical trials and, despite the delays caused by an investigation into its psychological effects, was eventually approved.
Just one month after receiving a dose of the serum, one of the remaining candidates for near-immortality went down in a helicopter accident.
It was at that point that the others grew suspicious.
Maybe all those accidents involving exceptionally cautious billionaires weren’t accidents. They kept their distance from one another.
Their sole remaining bond was the pledge they had made, their signatures immortalized in ink, to protect their miracle product and ensure no one but them had access to it.
Not even their families.
O, Time which dances
At the edge of the abyss,
Slow your gait, that we may find bliss
While staying in the black.
How Do I Confirm My Hunch?
That numb sensation of loss, a time leak, seconds escaping, slipping between your fingers.
How do you stop it in its tracks, stymie the flow?
How do you hold onto something that’s on the run?
How do you keep in the here and now something the wind has whisked away?
How do I confirm my hunch?
Yesterday I tried to achieve a form of concentration, of mindfulness, that was entirely new to me.
As I listened to my breathing, I became overwhelmed by my sudden awareness of my own respiration.
I just couldn’t let go and allow my vital reflexes to do their thing.
Don’t forget to breathe.
Seeing as I could manipulate the rhythm of this respiratory input-output, I couldn’t expect it to give me a reliable measurement of time.
What about my heartbeat then?
Redirecting my attention from my breathing to my pulse was no easy task.
When at last I succeeded, everything went haywire.
Blood pumping to its own beat.
I will find another way.
And Then There Was One
Milan Husk had stood by impassively as three of his rivals dropped dead. He knew that honesty was not a standard feature of the Perfect Billionaire kit.
To grow his wealth—a fortune made on the backs of those poorer than him and inherited from his ancestors—he’d had to flout a few lofty principles.
So it goes.
How, then, could he be expected to trust others like himself?
Who would trust a pack of wolves that pledged to give up meat?
Husk gave fate a helping hand every now and then—an act of sabotage here, an execution there—always taking care not to reap any discernible benefit.
Whatever it took to prevent word of the secret elixir from getting out.
The scientists behind the serum, rich from one day to the next, left their research positions and the country.
Of the multiple laboratories involved in producing the solution, not one had access to the complete formula. The customers received several vials—one of which was not to be used—and prepared the mixture in the privacy of their own home.
The paranoid Husk trusted his own security protocol, but remained wary of his associates’ precautions.
The other men had agreed to let him store the elixir ingredients, though this left them in a position of dependence and consolidated Husk’s control over the operation.
One member of the billionaire coven, an Englishman, committed suicide. He left a note repenting for the economic inequalities to which his actions had contributed.
A few weeks later, a Saudi billionaire was assassinated by a white supremacist, who then took his own life.
Milan Husk was the last conspirator standing.
It would take a targeted, well-documented investigation to establish the facts—an impossible extravagance amidst the ongoing climate crisis. Besides, not even the sceptics had time to wonder about the unaging billionaire who ensured the survival of Western societies in exchange for the power to manage their citizens’ livable time.
O, Time which controls us,
constrains us, polices us,
Stay your steely scythe,
Which slices through justice—
Let love back into our life!
Slipping Through the Cracks of Time
Is it possible to measure time all while slipping through the cracks of measured time?
I have failed at sensing time in my body, my breath, my heart.
How did people do it before?
I’ve never had time to think about the ones who came before.
Before commodified time.
Before banks and surveillance.
Before the Time Turn.
I’ve never had time for that. But now I am finding time.
Stolen time niched in the cracks of day-to-day life.
Unplugged commutes, restrooms teeming with thoughts, my robotic motions slicing up bits of nothing, gaps.
Every other day, I let the housework slide.
Instead, I lie on the floor, eyes staring up at the ceiling, and I think. Pure elation!
My skin is gently numbed against the cool floor as long-forgotten ideas file by like passing clouds, changing shape as they go.
Catch one—a rare gem—and examine it from every angle.
Pull that string, that endless succession of ideations, and forget time. For a time.
Pull yourself back up, out of the mire. Do so for two or three minutes that feel like an eternity. But then, is the length of a minute really what they say it is?
Sometimes, in these stolen moments, I look through the archives of the Before Time Era network.
I suspect a lot of the data has been outright deleted from the disks, but what remains is enough to get me thinking—and planning my escape.
I want to be able to measure time without relying on the devices and methods monopolized by Husk and his bankers.
And it is there, in the past, no doubt, that I will find these analog chronometers, these not-so-smart watches—or at least the instructions to make my own.
Climate Control in Exchange for Time Control
“Back in our day, winter was winter,” said the older generations.
“Save yourselves while you can!” retorted the younger generations.
The leaders of the world’s biggest economies hadn’t taken climate change seriously.
One after the other, thresholds of no return were crossed and daily life was beginning to show signs of disruption.
Without rhyme or reason, heatwaves gave way to hurricanes which gave way to floods and then arctic cold spells. Farmers struggled to protect their crops from fickle weather and pollution.
Impoverished populations crowded into cities.
Husk had started his longevity treatment.
Rocket launches and moon landings had by now lost their appeal, and, much to his chagrin, the technology for interplanetary relocation was still a long way off.
This being the case, he decided to put a portion of his wealth towards the salvation of his own planet.
After all, he needed a comfortable living environment, as well as people to uphold the economy on which his status depended.
It was around this time that Husk developed a passion for time speculation. So, he killed two birds with one stone.
He promised to finance various governments’ energy transition measures, on condition that they, in turn, adopt his time-control systems.
Switzerland held a vote, Belgium a referendum. France, Spain, Greece and Italy, on the other hand, agreed unconditionally and imposed the decision on their citizens.
Lobbyists helped force legislation through in the United States. Brazil was also among the early adopters. Australia took a bit longer.
Only China, India and Central Africa refused total adherence to the commodified time system, preferring instead to pick and choose the features they would adopt.
Now, Husk didn’t singlehandedly reverse the effects of climate change. But his investments, which spurred other billionaires to follow suit, did provide governments with the means to take action and helped move the issue to the top of the global agenda.
Save agriculture. Be frugal. Go vegan. Buy local. Produce clean energy. Cut waste. These imperatives became second nature, as did the practice of intelligently managing one’s time and depositing any unused time at the bank.
O, Time! O, wild hours!
Halt your pulsation!
Seconds, silence your hammer,
Spare us your merciless clamor.
A Knotted String
Since I can’t seem to figure out how to measure time on my own, I have turned to the archives—or what is left of them.
The men and women from the Before Time Era left a large amount of their data on the network, where it went unexploited. They also used the network to share knowledge and engage in activities that weren’t exclusively profit-driven.
Even though the bankers have cleaned up the old Web, I believe I can find answers from what information remains.
Upon converting my community service time from “microtranscription” to “microarchiving,” I am given instant access to thirty minutes a day of data mining through what I had, up to that point, considered to be a data dump.
The one rule is to leave tags behind as you go.
Ironically, my intrusion into this realm, as yet untouched by the time guardians, robs it of some of its freedom.
I decide to research the history of time measurement.
Not the official history, according to which nothing existed prior to Husk’s exploits.
The unofficial history: the one tucked away in old schoolbooks no one thought to destroy.
I learn that time was not always the same for everyone.
Women’s time and men’s time. Peasants’ time and rulers’ time.
My head spins at the realization that, for a long time, the day/night division was quite sufficient for most people. They didn’t feel the need for millisecond-level precision.
I read history books and excerpts of novels.
I am intrigued to learn about the role of priests.
A thing of the past.
That, too, was replaced by time.
Morning prayer, evening prayer, church bells chiming at noon on Sundays: these were time’s metronomes.
Melting candles and strung beads attested to the passing of seconds, minutes, hours.
Candles don’t exist anymore.
I wouldn’t know how to make one.
So, I try my hand at a rosary. A knotted string.
I’ll need to find prayers.
It takes twenty seconds to say one Hail Mary. So, one minute equals three Hail Marys.
Except I can’t find the exact words of the prayer. Nor of any other. Did people know them by heart?
More likely, everything having to do with religion and rituals has simply been erased.
So, instead, I settle for proverbs, which appear to have a similar function.
But there are so many different proverbs.
I don’t know how long it takes to recite one.
How could I?
Should I count the syllables?
All my free time is funneled into this possibly vain quest.
Perhaps I should see a doctor or a chronopsychologist.
What Time We Have Left
The man who would quickly become known as The Time Master had launched marketing campaigns and allocated generous grants to promote technological innovation around his obsession.
Out of the ensuing flurry of activity, Lifespan was born.
Originally, the time-measuring tool took the form a small medical monitoring device which collected users’ health data to calculate their life expectancy in real time and then display it on a bracelet.
Lifespan 2.0, in turn, was implanted directly under the skin of every citizen, allowing it to draw the biological samples upon which its estimations were based.
As with the original version, a smart bracelet allowed its wearer (as well as anyone within eyeshot of the tiny screen) to view their life expectancy.
The inventors of the device hoped these figures would serve as a wake-up call for users about their own mortality and thus encourage healthier, life-extending behaviors.
The problem was, not everyone aspired to immortality.
Those promises went only partially fulfilled.
Lifespan 3.0, which did away with the smart bracelet and along with it all talk of emancipation and better living, incorporated behavioral data collection into its algorithm.
Users’ life expectancies were shared directly with insurance companies, health clinics, forecasting firms and safety services, as well as all organizations with ties to the banks or a subscription to the Lifespan data package.
Even so, in certain cases, the subcutaneous devices were still paired with external data accessories, or “interfacers.”
Some professionals, such as doctors and security agents, required direct access to Lifespan. Employees in these sectors were given readers.
Tinkerers, chronogades, dissidents and life-worshippers brought the bracelets back into fashion in an effort to make data sampling more transparent and restore people’s power—however meager—over their existence.
O, Time, cobbled and fettled,
Pliers against gears,
In the turn of a screw we meddle,
We storm and attack from the rear,
We count you down to zero.
Of Sand and Water
After my failed rosary experiment, I turn to hourglasses.
Where might I find sand?
What excuse could I give for wanting to buy it?
Could I make an hourglass using food items?
I ask the archives.
I try table salt, coarse salt, iodized salt, sea salt.
Give time a little flavor.
Give flavor a little time.
I have a duration, but what is it?
My gauge is non-existent.
Contingent on too many factors.
What are the dimensions of a grain of salt?
Of the salt shaker, of the hole?
Should I give up or keep looking?
From salt on to water.
Water is a liquid.
So I’ll make a clepsydra: a water clock.
I have all the information I need.
I imagine that water hasn’t changed over the past five thousand years.
A liquid. A volume. A span of time.
At last I can measure my days.
Eleven hours of daytime, ten and three-quarters of nighttime.
The numbers don’t add up. Perhaps I’ve made a mistake?
How do I know?
I’m short on sleep.
Where is my time going to?
Things Time Can Do
Nothing escapes the destructive course of time.
Time heals all wounds.
Time finishes what we don’t.
Time is anger’s medicine.
Time brings change, maturity, forgetting and death.
With time and effort, you can overcome anything.
With time and patience, the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown.
As the rose becomes a rose hip, so too is all with time and by time vanquished.
Where there is time, there is a way.
Gods Have Obligations
At first, Milan Husk was content to be the benefactor of humanity. States expressed their gratitude to him and fan clubs spontaneously formed all across the time-controlled world.
He even inspired visionaries whose new religion entailed worshipping the billionaire and time all at once.
Unfortunately, gods have obligations towards their worshippers and Husk, wary of his flock of fanatics, refused to appear at services of the Church of Found Time.
Soon enough, he shut down the CFT and saw to it that the movement didn’t re-emerge elsewhere.
Disenchanted by his encounter with religion, the Time Master looked into each of the various belief systems of his world and came to the realization that collective religious rituals created the conditions for communities to form and for individuals to turn their backs on profitable and efficient time management.
Prayers, retreats, holidays, saints and celebrations—all of these he perceived as his market rivals.
Of the religions he decided to place under surveillance, several offered pathways to immortality, whether of the soul or the body.
Although, of course, none of the theories they put forward had been proven, their mere existence as alternative beliefs troubled him.
Metempsychosis, eternal life, reincarnation, damnation and salvation were all ways of extending an existence he liked to think was finite.
Indeed, who would engage in time speculation all while harboring the expectation of a life without end?
Husk ultimately decided to wage war on religion by asking member states of the Time Alliance to outlaw the practice.
Holidays, once a mass phenomenon, were now reduced to “days off” allocated to all workers who could “take” them whenever they pleased.
Ceremonies marking life’s biggest events—births, weddings, deaths and so on—became swiftly, efficiently and secularly executed civil procedures.
O, Time, cruel compass,
Your whims you impose,
Greedy hand inching towards us,
Gleaning profits as it goes,
Mind your finery.
In Search of Lost Time
Now that I have confirmation (thanks to the clepsydra sitting in my bathroom) that something is amiss with my time quota, I am at once relieved to be right and consumed with curiosity.
Who is behind this?
I have my suspicions.
How are they doing it?
I have a theory or two.
What I really want to know is how long this has been going on—and on what scale.
I’d also like to know how to resist this thievery.
During my thirty minutes in the archives, I submit multiple queries along these lines—taking care all the same not to sound my desire to revolt too loudly.
I type: “Where does lost time go?” And I smile as I imagine a lost-and-found office where one can go to claim one’s missing time.
Instead of the usual list of hyperlinks—some active, some broken—to long-forgotten resources, a pop-up window opens, covering the archive interface.
They’ve got me, I think, and I realize that the thought doesn’t frighten me.
Whatever happens next will surely be less tedious than my day-to-day life.
The following words appear:
“Warning: You are about to exit the web archive browser. Do you wish to continue?
I click “Yes.”
“You have shown quite an interest in time and time measurement. Are you familiar with Lifespan? Yes/No.”
I click “No.”
“Would you like to know more? Yes/No.”
I click “Yes.”
Don’t Waste a Scarce Resource
Time destroyed is suicide, where more than blood is spilt.
Time poorly spent is time wasted.
What a great waste of time it is not to have time.
There is no hand to catch time.
Those who chase after lost time catch only hot air.
Time and tide wait for no one.
To kill time is not murder, it’s suicide.
Time changes so swiftly that he who laughs in the morning weeps in the evening.
Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that’s the stuff life is made of.
An Improbable Convergence
In the early days, Milan Husk exercised total control over large swaths of humanity. When it came to pledging allegiance to a billionaire whose sole claim to fame up to that point had been a series of selfish decisions, even the sceptics rejoiced over his sudden concern for the planet.
Husk’s time control system seemed a small trade-off given the imminent threats to the very survival of the human race.
Little by little, measures to curb global warming, stop greenhouse gases, reduce atmospheric pollution, cut waste, regulate the climate, etc., set anxious minds at relative ease.
But with time and perspective came misgivings.
When the Time Master took on religions, the despotic peril became even clearer. Controlling time was one thing—a quirky obsession on the face of it. Controlling thoughts and beliefs took the tyranny to the next level.
It was around this time that the opposition began to coalesce.
The first to mobilize were former members of outlawed religious groups, some of whom had gone underground, while others had adapted their rituals to comply with the new order.
Next emerged a multitude of clubs—philosophy, gardening, history, literature—all condoned by the surveillance agencies.
Scientists questioning the very foundations of the Time Turn set up informal networks combining environmental science and human biology, through which they taught critical thinking and scientific method, and encouraged alternative research methods.
Citizens, keen to safeguard their freedoms and foster a better life for all, set out to preserve archives and spaces of independence.
Lastly, defenders of Pluralism, concerned to see every worldview but Husk’s vanish, strove to share other, less linear, less globalized temporal models that accounted for the complexities of time: sequential and simultaneous time, and the possibility of modifying time or even extracting oneself from it via art, meditation or mind-altering substances.
This improbable convergence of protest movements gave rise to organized dissidence.
Rebels took the bulk of their action on the former Web, providing anyone who asked with the tools to decipher the tyranny of time and join the resistance in any way possible.
Confident in his ironclad power, Husk remained unaware of their existence for some time. Then, once informed, moved to stifle their agency.
O, Time which consoles me,
Which shelters me,
By halting its flight:
May the song my dreams intone in the night
Now blossom in full daylight.
A Violation of Authorized Conduct
My heart pounds as I scroll through the story of the device embedded under my skin, in the service of someone other than myself.
I am surprised to find mentions of him in archives going this far back.
Some words are underlined when I hover the cursor over them. I click “Husk.”
I pull up files from the investigation into his longevity.
“Impossible though it may be to uncover evidence and dangerous though it may be to track down the exact location of the serum reserves, Husk’s age and perfect state of preservation give striking credence to our hypothesis.”
I wince at the idea that my lack of time is the result of some man-child’s whims.
“Do you want to go back to the Lifespan page? Yes/No.”
I click “Yes.” I want to know.
Time is running out and I could get disconnected at any time.
I learn that Lifespan hasn’t changed much and that the old interfacers are still available.
But not on the time market.
You have to order them.
“Do you want to...? Yes/No.”
I click yes. How much?
Free? But surely it costs money and time to manufacture them!
“You will help us.”
As I type in my answers, I realize that the form receiving them is sentient.
Someone is speaking directly to me.
“Who are you?”
“Someone like you.”
The Lifespan interfacer is promising. It will notify me in real time of any transactions—time deposits, withdrawals...
“Want to check out the features? Yes/No.”
“Enter your citizen number.”
It isn’t exactly confidential data. We give it out everywhere: stores, designated leisure sites.
And at this point, I’ve already thoroughly violated the rules of authorized conduct.
I type it out.
“Nice to meet you, Éléna. Here’s your average quota of hours for the current month: twenty-one hours per day. You’ll be able to view the full breakdown on your Lifespan interfacer. Let us know when you receive it. Here’s our address. Guard it with your life.”
Time, places and people—all these one must learn.
One always has time for the things one loves.
Use time while you have it; don’t count on the future.
All meticulous work takes time.
Times is a master of all trades.
White men always have a watch, yet never time.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.
In life, one must make time and space for oneself.
Time is what you make of it.
Everything Happens at Just the Right Time
The general public attributed Milan Husk’s unchanging physical appearance over the decades to his economic means.
His monetary and temporal wealth no doubt gave him access to the best health professionals (doctors, skincare specialists, nutritionists, and so on) who kept his body in shape and identical from one speech to the next.
The chronogades subscribed to another explanation and observed Husk attentively.
They kept footage of every one of the billionaire’s speeches and scrutinized each expression, each square millimeter of exposed skin, each vocal inflection, in search of even the subtlest sign of aging.
One dissident group was tasked with monitoring the movement of goods between the Husk fortress and the outside world.
They were led to conclude that the stockpile of a suspected longevity serum was hidden away in the Time Master’s own home.
Going by archival documents, Husk would have been 135 years old. Going by the new system which he himself put in place, he was only 85.
And yet he still looked a man of fifty, with a youthful twinkle and not a wrinkle.
On New Year’s Day of 2106, Husk’s annual semi-holiday speech was, like all those before it, closely scrutinized.
And there it was for all to see: Husk was aging. A crease had appeared at the edge of his mouth and the flesh under his chin was beginning to sag. His voice, analyzed by the spectrogram, was slightly weaker.
Though not particularly ill, Husk was back in the ordinary flow of time.
The monitoring group contacted the supply surveillance network, which confirmed that an order had been logged—then hastily deleted—to a pharmaceutical firm selling anti-aging products with limited effectiveness: collagen, hyaluronic acid and retinol.
They also discovered that he had reached out to independent laboratories all over the world.
It wasn’t hard to draw a conclusion: Husk was running out of his miracle serum.
He had to use his remaining doses sparingly—just enough to get him through until a new batch could be made.
Unfortunately, odds were that, owing to his own precautions and restrictions, the scientific know-how had vanished along with the formula.
The Time Master was growing vulnerable.
Now was the time to swoop in.
It was also the time to shore up the resistance, to speed up experimentation in subjective time generation, to distribute interfaces. To attack.
O, Time, re, mi, fa, sol
La, ti and do, gliding along
Dragging behind you your surroundings
To a rifting rhythm and song,
Your countdown sounding.
Last night I slept ten hours.
Nearly half of my daily quota.
Ten unproductive—or at least not explicitly productive—hours.
I was tired of running, tired of ticking items off my perpetual list, tired of going nowhere on my hamster wheel, faster and faster and faster.
So I let myself sleep in. I let myself fall behind.
I took some time. Nighttime. And I dreamed.
A strange dream that seemed to stretch on for years.
A dream vaster than the night enclosing it.
And in the dream, a disquieting melody. A dizzying melody.
A slow, steady, soothing pulsation.
A heartbeat wrapped in a ribbon of thoughts, an aimless loop, a rousing lullaby.
That lullaby is in my head even now as I wake.
I feel invigorated.
I hum it unconsciously.
It is nothing like the songs they sell us: music to work by, relax by, party by, concentrate by or even make love by.
This music is different.
Its rhythm stutters on and off—a little skip of nothingness.
The last drops in my ten-hour clepsydra trickle down before my eyes.
I check the elapsed time on my Lifespan interfacer.
The display screen on the cheap bracelet is blurry.
I turn on the light to have a better look and can’t believe my eyes.
The screen reads: six hours used.
Surplus: four hours.
First published in Daring Shifts, Clinamen, 2022