The Fruit Fly and the Nymph of Time

This entry is part 22 of 26 in the series Mythology of the Modern World

Another Monday, and another explanation of how the world works, behind the scenes. And, as with so many of these ‘things,’ we’re clearing out the backlog of topics from… well, 2007. I feel like I should be tracking things with Gantt charts.

Today, thankfully, we have a twofer. Two separate questions can be merged together into one tale. The first question was asked by… um… ‘burning.’ Which… makes me hope someone extinguished him and/or her between then and now, or else we’ll have to answer this question for ‘ash.’ The second question comes to us via old friend of many of our endeavors hight Goblinpaladin.

burning’s question is:

Why do we all get so annoyed when another driver drives below the posted speed limit? How does “maximum legal speed” get transformed into “minimum polite speed?”

and Goblinpaladin’s is:

I don’t have a specific question formulated, but: Tell us a story about Procrastination. The Lord of the realm. Why it is tied to stress and also relaxation. Something. Anything.

Two questions. Procrastination and speed. Politeness in the moment being determined by rulebreaking, versus putting things off until everything becomes stressful.

As it turns out, these are related concepts, as you’ll see after the break. It’s a long one, so hunker down.

*** *** *** ***

The Fruit Fly and the Nymph of Time

 

Time is a fluid thing in the world behind the worlds, as I’m sure you already know. For some of the spirits that exist throughout the metaphysical cosmos, time can be measured in eons. Gaia, the Earth Mother, Goddess and spirit, Locus and constant alike, Unifying Being of All the Earth in Every Way, for example, treats two hundred and fifty thousand years as we reckon them the way you or I treat an hour. Honestly, the entirety of human civilization has taken place in that block of time between her getting up, having a shower, and drinking her first cup of coffee. In a few ‘hours,’ she’s probably going to go to the doctor’s to have a weird rash looked at. As said rash consists of all our buildings and homes and communities and stuff, I would advise fearing the coming of the flood of topical ointment, but as we’ve got around five million years before she’ll even be sitting in the waiting room, we can probably put it off for a bit.

But then, we’re discussing ‘putting it off for a bit,’ today, aren’t we? And you thought this was a digression.

If Gaia sees the universe in geological terms, fruit flies see the universe and time in the ticks of the second hand. Drosophila melanogaster, the so-called ‘common fruit fly,’ has a lifespan of just thirty days — assuming they’re lucky. Now, in biological terms out here in the real world, that means they go through birth, reproduction and death very quickly, and do so in the insectine way we’ve come to expect and love.

Behind the scenes, however, is a very different story. Because what seems like a simple biological fact to you and I… is a lifetime to the fruit fly himself. Everything that fruit fly hopes and dreams about has to be accomplished in those thirty days. And don’t kid yourself — a fruit fly has hopes and dreams, just like we do. They have families, and careers, and a society to express all of those things in.

Time means something very, very different to fruit flies. For a human being, an average lifespan is twenty eight thousand days. More or less. Give or take. Just ride with me here.

This means that for all intents and purposes, a fruit fly lives his life nine hundred and eighty eight times faster than a human.

We pause for a moment to let the math majors in the audience wince, shake their heads and go get another cup of coffee. We understand. Indulge us, please.

For every sixteen and a half minutes you get in your life, a fruit fly gets a single second. A single day you spend consumes more than two years and eight months of that fruit fly’s. A single seven day week to you and me is enough time for a fruit fly to be born, raised, and educated straight into nearly his sophomore year of college.

It’s a pretty shocking ratio, really. And it’s made all the more shocking when you consider their society progresses as quickly as our own society progresses… but nine hundred and eighty eight times faster. What does that mean? Well, there have been approximately 200 generations in the six thousand years (more or less) of recorded human history. That’s right. 200 generations, each around thirty years long. My own Generation X was marked by births between (roughly) 1968 to 1998, for example. Depending on how it’s defined, anyhow.

For fruit flies? The period of time where we had two hundred generations pass had 197600 generations go by. One full generation every 11 days. Call it 33 generations a year. For perspectives’ sake, that would put their Baby Boom generation in and around 3986 B.C.E. Of course, the advertising demographics of fruit fly society kept catering to them for weeks after that. Dumb fruit fly baby boomers.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that fruit flies are among the most advanced civilizations the Earth has ever known. And as such, their wisdom and technology are both coveted by less advanced species. Honestly, if the fruit flies hadn’t developed their own version of Star Trek’s Prime Directive long before humanity climbed out of Olduvai Gorge, we would likely just be long lived work beasts in the lowest strata of their society.

Though, thinking about it… humanity has cultivated the fruit they need to survive and breed. So… you know. That. But I digress.

As we said, the other species and spirits of the Backworlds often covet the knowledge and technology that the fruit flies have accrued over the staggeringly long history they’ve had compared to other civilizations. However, it’s by no means easy to convince the fruit flies to collaborate on a project of any sort — they recognize full well that the technology they possess is far too advanced for primitive cultures, and that almost every other culture is… well… primitive. However, there are spirits that can manage the process, because they can approximate the fruit flies’ perspective. The Aeons — the angelic presence of the celestial spheres — for example. Or three-second Charlie, who if anything can beat the fruit flies at their own game. Or, with enough time and effort, the anaelae — the nymphs of time.

Nymphs and spirits are everywhere, of course, and embody most of everything. Everyone knows about the dryads of the trees or the neriads of the waters, for example. Less famous are the numisma of currency and the like. Still, no matter how famous or obscure a given type of spirit may be, they’re there and they’re necessary for keeping the world moving. So it is with the anaelae, who craft each second and each hour, and weave the ropes that pull us through the weeks and months. Anaelae work closely together, binding together time in a way everyone can understand, from any perspective.

And, the same way that a dryad can travel through trees to get from one place to the next without necessarily passing through the space between them, anaelae can travel from one moment to the next with a minimum of effort. Which, to be honest, breeds a certain… lackadaisical attitude towards….

Well, towards everything.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to Diminuendo Hanna.

Diminuendo was still a junior anaelid. She’d done most of her work on Thursday next — a relatively junior time as these things go. And she was pretty happy there — honestly, you could usually push anything you needed to do for Thursday next until Wednesdayish — maybe even Early Thursday, and what did it matter? It would get done. If need be, you jump back a moment or three and Bob’s your uncle, right? She was nice enough. Easy to get along with. Liked to burn one out back while on break, and share while she was at it. Her life was just fine. The last thing she wanted was a promotion.

You see where we’re going with this, right?

“You see,” her supervisor, Staccato O’Reilly was saying, “we’re getting a lot of pressure from upstairs. It seems to them that we could automate a lot of what we’re doing?”

“Oh….kay,” Dimi said. “What does this have to do with me?”

Staccato steepled her hands in front of her face, leaning back behind her desk. “Well, you’ve been doing well enough Thursday Next, but… I don’t know. You don’t seem really… challenged to me.”

“And… that’s a bad thing? I mean, you said it yourself. I’m doing well, right?”

“Right, but do you really think you’re growing in the job?”

Dimi arched her eyebrow. “Why do I need to ‘grow’ in the job? I mean, it’s a job. I do it. I go home. I watch cartoons. Sometime after that I work again. Why isn’t that enough?”

Staccato shrugged. “Doesn’t really matter. I floated your name to the up-and-ups over this automation project, and they liked the sound. You’re pretty much already committed.”

Dimi stared. “But… I don’t want–

“–to keep working at this job which, even after this project you can essentially fax your work in without anyone giving a crap, but instead have to go out and get a real job that involves showing up on time every day? Is that what you’re saying? Because that’s what I’m hearing, Dimi.” Staccato leaned forward. “Or am I hearing wrong?”

Dimi blinked. “No. No, I’ll do the… automation… thing.”

“Good.”

“Why… are you being such a jerk about this?”

Staccato shrugged. “I’m pretty drunk right now. You were my last ‘thing’ today and, y’know, show up to the bar with a cheap beer buzz, don’t pay too much to keep it going, right?”

“Oh, yeah. Cool. So what do I–”

“Here’s the thing. Handcrafting is all fine and good for moments, or even blocks of time, but we’re getting killed when we assemble them for years. Half of them don’t fit, the other half wear out too fast. Quality control’s getting a bit slipshod, so if we automate the assembly and get some kind of… I don’t know… compensating… thing… to balance the pieces as they go together? That would be great.”

“Compensating ‘thing?’ How am I possibly supposed to work with that?”

Staccato shrugged. “Ask the fruit flies.”

Dimi blinked again. “Seriously? I have a meeting with the fruit flies over this?”

“Thursday next, yeah.” Staccato half-smiled. “Think you can make that?”

“You bet!” Dimi paused. “Wait — do you mean make the meeting or actually make the next ‘Thursday next,’ because see right now–”

“I know! That’s your job right now but the meeting’s your next job! That’s awesome, right?”

“It is!”

“Cool — wanna get nachos and jello shooters?”

“Well yeah.

Needless to say, Thursday next rolled along, and it was in fact Dimi’s last creation. I’d love to say she put extra effort into it to make it her best one ever, but to be honest she barely even got it done, and it was a little late regardless. Which, you know — no big deal. We’ve all had Thursdays like that — one more wouldn’t make any difference.

However, it meant she got into the office of Fruit Fly Temporal Engineering and Mechanics… well, perhaps a teensy bit late.

The receptionist looked up. “Yes?” she said, in clipped tones — always hard to do when you’re an insect, but she managed.

“Diminuendo Hanna,” she said, a bit out of breath. “I had a two o’clock with Mister T’ka?”

The fruit fly looked over at the clock. “It’s two-thirty-five,” she said.

“Yeah, yeah, I know — but see things were running over and then traffic was–”

“You don’t understand, miss. It’s two-thirty-five… by external time.”

“Huh? Oh, right, right. Yeah. I had to moment-shift to get here, and that–”

“Miss Hanna. Your appointment was almost a month ago.”

Dimi blinked. “What? But… but I’m synced up to your time! We’re having a conversation!”

“You’re synced now. You weren’t until you got here.”

“I’m… I’m sorry. Look, can he see me now?”

The receptionist sighed. “You understand how this works, right? Your office made this appointment with the firm years ago, by our standards. We didn’t even know who would have Mr. T’ka’s job at that point. You can’t just come waltzing in a month later and expect we’re going to be able to accomodate you.” She opened her schedule. “I have something…” she checked it over. “Right. He can see you at three thirty in six weeks time.”

“What? You can’t fit me in before that?”

“Be happy I could fit you in then, miss.

Dimi sighed, and left. “Fine.”

Well, the home office wasn’t particularly happy, but Dimi had some vacation time saved up, so she just took it easy — ate a lot of cereal, enjoyed her life… generally took it easy. But she also set her alarm, because obviously she wasn’t going to blow this again. And yeah, she usually waited until the last minute, but hey — this time she didn’t have to do anything but show up, so waiting to the last minute was no big deal, since she could just slip right in at that last moment and boom, there she was.

“Hi!” she said, cheerfully, as she landed in the office. “I’m here and I’m right on time!”

The receptionist looked up. He didn’t look a thing like the last receptionist. Among other things, he was male. And his hair was styled differently. “And… you are?”

“Diminuendo Hanna! I have a three p.m. with Mister T’ka!”

The receptionist cocked his head. “With… who, now?”

“Mister T’ka! Research and development? He’s the head? I’m with the Anaelae?”

The receptionist squinted. “Amadeus T’ca is the head of R&D. Hold on. Let me do some checking.” He typed a bit. “Hm. Database correlates between T’ka and Anaelae… got it. Ahhhh! I see where the confusion was. You had to reschedule, right?”

“Yeah, for six weeks later.”

“Riiiight. Oh, honey. I see the problem. We meant six weeks in our timeframe. You misinterpreted and came back after six weeks in external time. You missed your appointment by… mm. Around a hundred and fifteen years?”

“…one hundred and fifteen years?

“…yeeeeah. Mister T’ka’s dead. Long time ago, really.”

“…I… I can’t… I can’t go back… but… I….”

“Oh, calm down, calm down. Just sit in the chair and relax. Let me make a call, all right?” The receptionist touched the panel, opening up a holographic window that resolved into a telephone icon. “Can you believe we’re still using these?” he asked Dimi. “And us Research and Development! Right — hang on… hey, Mandy, it’s Stu. Yeah, not too bad, thanks. Look, how’s your day looking? Really? Because you won’t believe this. There’s a Diminuendo Hanna here — she’s from the anaelae– yes, that automation project they bid us like… a hundred twenty years ago. Well, she’s from external time and there was a mixup– yes! Exactly! Like a hundred years late to a reschedule, can you believe it? Look, can you possibly… oh, thanks! I’ll let her know.”

Dimi stared as the receptionist finished his call, the holoconstruct fading. “Okay, he’ll see you. He says to wait here while he looks up the specs of the project. Be done in a jiff.”

“Oh… um… thank you. Thank you so much! I know — I mean I feel so–”

“Oh, don’t even worry about it. Truuust me. These things happen all the time.”

“Really?”

“Well, I’m sure they would. We don’t actually let a lot of externals in. Anyway, take a seat. He may be a few.”

Dimi sat down, breathing deeply. One hundred and fifteen years? How could she–”

“Miss Hanna?”

Dimi jumped. A middle-aged fruit fly was standing before her, a glowing ball floating off to the side. “Yes?”

“Hi — Mandy T’co. Nice to meet you!” He grinned, offering a hand. “Sorry you had to wait so long — talk about an obscure project! C’mon — let’s go up to my office.”

Dimi shook his hand, standing. “Thanks… I… thanks….” She followed as he walked.

“I’ll be honest — it’s a fascinating project. Full automation of assembly of temporal units into a coherent whole, with the units themselves not really uniform — lots of baffles needed. A shim in time saves nine months, right? Hah! Sorry. Anyway — they did a lot of prelim work back in the day, but honestly — I think we need to throw it all out. You should see the trash they were going to offer you. Bearskins and stone knives, really. We’ve worked out a lot of kinks. Please, have a seat– Je’tha! Don’t poke your head in there!”

Dimi’s head was spinning as they entered the glass sphere overlooking the expansive Fruit Fly city that served as T’co’s office. The aforementioned Je’tha looked to be about eight years old, and he jumped back from the gleaming crystal computer whose cabinet she had just opened. “Sorry!” she shouted. “I just– I–”

“No worries, hon, but Daddy’s busy.” He looked at Dimi. “Take your pupa to work day. He’s the apple of my eye — which is great because he was born in one! An apple, I mean. Cortland. Good texture. Gives us hope for the future. Now.” The glowing sphere seemed to expand into a shining clockwork machine. “Here’s what they were working on. Now, I know. It looks horrible. That’s because it is. I figure we’ll need to tighten it up here and here… and of course get rid of these assemblies. We do all this transsolid state now, so it’ll get efficiency up… anyway. I think we can get all this in under budget if you can get us some specifications.”

“Spuh… specifications?”

“Well sure! We’re working from ballpark figures. We’re going to need the tolerances. How long will it take to get some decent specifications? Just ranges — obviously you can’t be too precise, but–”

“How… long?” She broke a sweat. “I’ll have to call… um… an office and get that sent over, but that could take… days. Days out there! External days!”

T’co chuckled. “Well, this time we’ll just plan for that. Trust me — when we do work with the external world, we know how it goes. Tell you what…” The gleaming prototype blueprints reformed into a calendar app. “Will three external days be enough? Or should we make it four, just to be safe?”

“What — no, three! Three will be fine! But… but that’ll be–”

“Just over eight years. Trust me, it’ll give us a chance to get some somewhat more modern specs in place anyway. You tell your people everything’s going fine here, and we’ll see you then, all right?”

“All… all right. And thank you!”

“No problem.” He chuckled. “Just try not to be late, all right?”

Dimi was relieved. And when she got home, she celebrated — especially since she knew full well they could put the information together in a day — two at the most. So there would be no problem getting there on time. And that meant she could actually relax. She could even take day one off — get a little ‘Dimi’ time in.

Of course, as you’ll recall, her first meeting had been on Thursday next. Her next meeting was six weeks later, which is to say also a thursday. So when she got up on day two, having kicked backed and enjoyed herself on day one… she called in–

“–have reached the engineering records department. We are closed. Our office is open Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm, or any associated moments. If you’d like to leave a message–”

“…no….” Dimi said. “…no no no no no no no. You have to be there! You have to be there! I have an appointment! I have to get them these things tomorrow! You can’t… you… can’t….”

Monday they told her they could get the materials together for tuesday. Sadly there were delays, so they didn’t get them until wednesday–

Dimi burst into the office, a briefcase full of specs in her hands. “I’m here! I’m here! Tell Mister T’co I’ve got the plans! I know I’m late but…”

The receptionist smiled a bittersweet, kind smile. He had been in his mid-twenties when she last came into this office. Now he was close to forty years old. “Oh honey-child,” he said. “I remember you. Just as freaked out then as now. And let’s see…” gleaming lights seemed to rise off his carapace, forming numbers that blurred by. “…just six years late this time. Oh hon you’re getting better.” He chuckled. “Mister T’co doesn’t really handle the day to day of this sort of thing any more but I’m sure he’ll want to see you. Even at the time he was all like ‘you know we won’t see her until years too late, Stu,’ and I said ‘oh I know but she’s got something about her–’ okay, I braincast him. Have a seat.”

Mister T’co’s office was now several floors up, and the furniture seemed to be made out of light. He stood as Stu led Dimi into his office. “Di… deh… Decrescendo? Am I pronouncing that right?”

“Diminuendo, sir. I… I’m sorry I–”

He laughed. Though he was pushing sixty now and had put on weight, Mister T’co was clearly still as good natured. “Oh, I figured something like that would happen. Made some money off a bet– didn’t I, Stu?”

“Oh, I’m the worst bettor on Earth. You know that.”

“Sure sure. Best receptionist we have — we keep trying to promote him–”

“Oh, no way, Mandy! Nuh uh. I like my nice, easy life, thank you. I leave work at work and enjoy myself.”

“Hah! Of course. Let’s see what you brought me.”

The two of them worked for several hours. “…think this is looking pretty good,” Mandy — he had insisted Dimi call him Mandy — was saying. “Still, we’re probably going to have to put in a lot more time together.”

“Oh, sure. I’m happy to– wait.”

“Wait?”

“Um… I’m still on external time outside of here. Can I stay somewhere in the city?”

“Stay? Oh good Lord no. Sorry, but you’re only cleared for this building and you can’t be here after hours. Actually being in our city would expose you to so much of our society your primitive mind isn’t ready to comprehend that it might drive you mad! Mad I tell you! No. We’ll just have to rigidly schedule our time together.”

“Oh… yeah.” She took a deep breath. “I’m… clearly not good with that, Mister T’co–”

“Mandy! Please, call me Mandy.”

“–Mandy. Right. Look, even if I leave here and only sleep for eight hours, and then take the trans-moment expressway, that’ll still mean–”

“Three hundred twenty nine days, here. I know.”

“And that’s if I’m on time. If I’m even a little late, that’ll push it past a year and–”

“Dimi… Dimi Dimi Dimi. Calm down. Calm down. Yes, you have a problem. You procrastinate. You clearly like doing that. And that’s fine — but clearly you’re going to need help. Hm. You know, I have an idea.” He concentrated, lights shimmering around his head.

“What is–”

“Shh — I’m on the ‘path.” The shimmer brightened and then went out. “All right. My son’s just finished at Drosophila A&M and honestly, I’ve been trying to find some way to get him in here. The economy’s brutal for young fruit flies right now. He’ll meet you downstairs.”

“Meet me? To do what?”

“He’s going to go with you!” Mandy grinned. “It’s perfect. He’ll go with you and help you keep on schedule until we get this system built. Hopefully it won’t take that long, and it’ll let him rack up some seniority in the company before needing to be assigned to something else.

“Oh. Um… okay. So… you’ll get him a hotel room near–”

“What? No. He’ll stay with you! It’ll be great. Now get out of here. Oh, and make sure you sign out with Stu.”

Dimi felt her head kind of swimming, but she went along with it. After all, she’d had enough trouble before now. She didn’t want to make any waves. A few days of this would be just fine, right?

She made it to the bottom floor and walked out into the lobby. Stu was talking to a fruit fly in his early twenties. “–anyway, I’d bet that she would be on time. That’s me. So trusting. But your dad– oh, there she is! Dimi! This is Je’tha T’co. Je’tha, this is Diminuendo Hanna.”

Dimi blinked. The eight year old pupa she’d seen just last week was now a twenty-two year old man. Handsome and strong, albeit in a fruit-flyish sort of way. “Hey there,” he said. “I guess I’m going to be your alarm clock.” He didn’t sound too enthusiastic.

“Um… yeah. Just ’till we get this project done. It shouldn’t take too long.”

Je’tha stared at her.

“…I mean, it should only be a few days….”

Je’tha kept staring at her.

“Oh Christ, can we just go.”

“Delighted.”

The pair pulled out, driving along the transmoment highway. Dimi had a Zephyr, which was a pretty decent car for someone her age — sporty, in a windswept sort of way, but still getting decent temporal milage. She had her music on, the window down, and cruised along the road low and slow.

“What are you doing?”

She looked over at Je’tha. “What do you mean?”

“I mean what is this? Do you spent this much of your life driving?

“It’s not so bad. My old commute was nothing, but even this one — it’s, you know, like an hour.”

“An hour? You’re not even going the speed limit.”

“Well… of course not. That’s the fastest you’re allowed to go. See, we’re in a sixty-five, so if you stick to fifty five or so, there’s no way there can be a problem. Besides — there’s no rush. We’ll get there in plenty of time.”

“Plenty of time? You already said this will take an hour. Can’t you just go faster?

“Jesus — what is your problem?”

“My problem? Don’t you understand anything? I should be doing something with my life, not wasting my best years with you.”

“It’s just a freaking commute.”

“Whatever. I’m going to get some sleep.”

“You do that.” She watched him recline his seat a little, and took a deep breath as she kept driving.

“Jesus — we aren’t there yet?”

“What? Come on, you said you were going to get some sleep!”

“I did. I got, like, a full night’s sleep. Don’t you get it — your commute’s two weeks long. You could shave days off that if you’d just speed up! And do you have anything to eat in this car? I’m starving.”

“God. Fine — we can hit a convenience store and stock up–”

“Convenience store? Oh no. No no no. Grocery store. I’m not going to live for weeks at a time on Cheetos and energy drinks.”

“Fine. God — you were the one in a hurry!”

They stocked up, boxes upon boxes of food for the car. Sanitary issues were handled by– look, you know what? We’re not going there. Just assume it was all right. And of course, they eventually made it to Dimi’s apartment.

“…this. This is what I’m spending the rest of the year in.” Je’tha shook his head. “It’s like I’m a missionary to an termite mound or something.”

“Oh shut up. It’s just well lived in.” She looked around. All right, it was messy — but she hadn’t been expecting company, now had she? She took her time, and began scooping up clothes. “Get another nap, will you?”

“Forget naps. Will you just go to bed so you can get up and we can go back home?

“Dude. Relax. We’ll leave bright and early at eight, all right?”

“It’s seven p.m. now. If you’d just go to bed and get your eight freaking hours of coma in, we could be out of here by three thirty!”

“Yeah — that’s not going to happen. Now. Sit on the couch, and chill. I’m going to grab a shower.”

The shower took about a half-hour, all told. Dimi liked to take long, luxuriant showers. Well, okay. She liked to take even longer baths, but she expected her houseguest wouldn’t be able to handle that. She wrapped a towel around herself — he’d just have to cope, she figured — and headed out to go to her room and change–

Dimi froze.

The apartment was immaculate. And Je’tha was sleeping on her couch.

“What… did you do?

Je’tha sat bolt upright. “What? I– oh. It’s you.”

“Don’t give me that. What did you do?”

“Don’t give me that. I’ve been in this hellhole for days. Maybe you’re content to leave it a mess, but me? No way.”

Dimi rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

“Don’t you ‘whatever’ me!” He followed her as she walked.

“Hey — I’m going to go change.”

“I don’t care. I… you….”

“Oh, what now?”

“…I need someone to talk to.”

Dimi paused. “What?”

“I need someone to talk to, all right? It’s been… like I said, it’s been days, and I went out for walks but I don’t know anyone and everything so… static out there… and so mostly I’ve been watching T.V. and… just… can’t we talk for a while?”

Dimi looked at him. “Yeah. C’mon in. And don’t look while I get dressed.”

“Thanks. Just… thanks.”

She took a deep breath as they went into her bedroom. That, at least, he hadn’t cleaned. She grabbed clothes and changed after making sure he was looking away. “Look, I’m really sorry about all this, Je’tha. I know… it’s not… what you would want.”

“Yeah, well… Dad’s pretty worried I won’t get in with a good company.” He shrugged. “That matters a lot to his generation, y’know? I mean, after the war there was such a surge in population, everyone grabbed jobs where they could, and these days my generation can barely find stuff as a result–”

“There was a war?”

“Huh? Well, yeah, like fifty years ago.”

Dimi laughed softly. “Your people fought a war in between my appointments.”

Je’tha paused, and laughed. “Yeah, they did. God, I keep forgetting you’re so old.

Dimi smirked. “Me? I’m, like, your age.”

“Not hardly. How old are you?”

“Twenty-three.”

“Twenty-three in external years.” He looked up, figuring. “So… by my peoples’ reckoning, you were born… twenty eight thousand years ago. God, no wonder you can’t get it through your head how long everything you do takes.”

“Twenty-eight thousand years. And to me… you were just a kid last week. And next week….”

“Next week by your weeks I’ll be middle aged, and the week after that–”

Dimi shivered. “Maybe… I will get some sleep.”

“Oh — I’m sorry–”

“No no. I don’t mean you have to leave. It’s just… I’m beginning to see why you’re in such a rush. If we don’t get all this done soon… you’ll spend your whole twenties….”

“In your apartment. Something like that.”

“All right. While I’m working with your Dad tomorrow–”

“Next year.”

“–whatever. Find stuff to keep yourself occupied tomorrow night.”

“What? How?

“I dunno. Get a fruitfly MMO or something. Or prep to write a book or something.”

“Heh. Maybe.” He looked out her window. “You know the funny thing?”

“What?”

“I’m on the payroll now. I’m literally going to get a full year’s pay to hang around your apartment. I can even expense my food.”

Dimi giggled. “You just described my dream job.”

“Your dream, my nightmare.” He turned back to look at her, grinning. “What a year, huh?”

“Yeah.”

Dimi wasn’t sure when she fell asleep. All she knew was Je’tha was shaking her. “Come on,” he said, urgently. “We have to get going.”

“Wha… what time is it?”

“Six thirty.”

“What? We were going to leave at–”

She paused, looking at the fruit fly.

His hair had changed — it was longer now. His build had shifted — clearly he had spent a good amount of time exercising while she slept. He looked pretty much the same, sure, but still….

And then Dimi put her finger on it. He really was almost a year older than when they had left the city.

“Right. Lemme make coffee–”

“Made some.”

“‘Course you did. Let’s get going. Man, I hope we get this done in a day or two.”

You hope that?”

As it turned out, they didn’t get the project done in a day or two. There were a lot of potential hitches to work out, and then even after they were apparently resolved the prototypes didn’t work. It was a truly complicated project, after all, and even though a full year passed between all-day work sessions for Dimi and Mandy T’co, those years were still full of the R&D needed to make a system like this work.

And during it all, Je’tha rode to and from work with Dimi, and spent the night in her apartment. Each night they talked until she had to sleep, and then he shook her awake every morning, about another year older. They would make it back to the city, and there would be yet more changes….

Finally, on day nine, the pair walked into the office.

Stu was still at the front desk, a jaunty man in late middle age. He had pictures of his family and partner floating behind him. “There you are, you two — god, look at you, Je’tha. What are you, thirty, now?”

“Thirty-one,” Je’tha said, softly. Almost a decade of his life had been devoted to keeping Dimi on time.

“Amazing. Well, go up, go up! Big day, right!”

“They’re ready to deliver?” Dimi asked.

“What? Oh — yeah, of course! But that’s not what I mean! It’s Mandy’s big retirement party! He held it off until you could be here, Je’tha!”

“Retirement?” Je’tha looked stunned.

“Well sure! Do the math.” He grinned. “Go on — get in the elevator.”

The pair rode up — very up, as Mandy had been promoted again during all this — together. “He’s retiring,” Je’tha said, softly.

“Yes,” Dimi said, as softly.

“He’s retired. I’m in my thirties. And I don’t even know another fruit fly my age. Much less a woman.” Je’tha shook his head. “My God, I’ve wasted my life.”

“I…” Dimi looked away. “I hope I…”

“I don’t mean that. I mean, okay, I kinda hated you for a few years, but I got over it. Very over it.” He sighed. “And for you, it’s barely been a–”

“You want to get married, Je’tha?”

Je’tha blinked, and pushed the elevator stop button. A buzzer sounded — some things didn’t change even after millennia of design. For the record, the music was also “the Girl from Ipanema,” but that didn’t matter.

“You want to marry me?” He finally asked.

Dimi looked back, and smiled softly. “You’ve been stuck with me since you were twenty-two. If you want to keep it going, I’m good with that.”

Je’tha swallowed. “I’d like that.”

“Okay then.”

The retirement party was good, and became an impromptu engagement party as well. Dimi met the rest of Je’tha’s sizable family, and the party went quite late. The project was formally delivered — and for the record, worked flawlessly, using principles no anaelae could ever decipher, but after it went into use the flow of time from one piece to the next went smoothly, even when the pieces didn’t fit together all that well.

Close to the end of the party, Mandy cornered Dimi. He was old now, his remaining hair white, but he remained jovial as always. “You’re marrying my son,” he said.

“Yes, Mandy.”

“Do you love him?”

She looked back at Je’tha, who was talking to his mother. “I love him enough to marry him.”

Mandy nodded. “After all… after a couple of weeks….”

“Yeah.” She folded her arms. “My own laziness, my own leaving things to the last minute… they ended up costing him years of his life. If I can make him happy… really happy… then….”

“Then two or three weeks isn’t much to ask, is it? I understand.” Mandy leaned over, kissing Dimi on her forehead. “Take care of him, Diminuendo.”

And that’s all I’ll say about the marriage of Je’tha and Diminuendo T’co. It was a happy one, from what I understand — oh, they had their arguments, and their joys, but for Je’tha it was a wonderful life — every moment savored. Somewhere in there, he learned to take it easy. He didn’t bother going back to the city — at the same time, he remained on the payroll. It was no hardship — the anaelae paid astronomical amounts of money for the device, so paying off Je’tha was no big deal. So, the pair had plenty of money through it all. As for Dimi — she took a leave of absence. They did some traveling – admittedly not very far as you and I would consider it, but from Je’tha’s point of view an overnight camping trip was a once in a lifetime safari.

And then, a few weeks later, it was over. And some time after that, Dimi went back to work. She was considered a tremendous success, even with the earlier stumbling, and as a result she was able to get put all the way up to the Three-Day Weekend — a plum assignment. Her work was more diligent than most. Some people said that she worked too hard — she couldn’t let herself relax and enjoy life. From her point of view, of course, she was still given to procrastinating, but that point of view had changed.

In one sense, Dimi and Je’tha had no children. Oh, they probably could have. Spirits aren’t like you or I — we anthropomorphize them, but their nature isn’t like ours. But it wasn’t what they were looking for, and Dimi wouldn’t have been interested in kids who she would so outlive anyway. But after their marriage, a new spirit appeared. They were called the Ezgadae — beautiful male and female spirits, with shimmering skin and gorgeous wings, glistening crystal, like some kind of fly’s, buzzing with speed as they moved from place to place. The Ezgadae were the nymphs of journeys — whether one speaks of a literal trip, or the metaphorical journey one undertakes with any task. And it was said their nature was conflicted — or even bipolar. On the one hand, they could enjoy taking their time — relaxing, letting themselves get under the gun before they went into high. On the other hand, they could be desperately impatient.

So every now and then, you may find yourself letting things go until the last minute before getting started on a trip, or a project, or what have you, and you may love the feeling — the almost delicious laziness. And at the same time, when you actually get going, you won’t be able to keep yourself under the limits normally set. You’ll stay up too late, driving to get things done. Or you’ll get behind the wheel, and you won’t be able to imagine driving below the speed limit.

And even if the Ezgad of your specific journey is relaxed, remember that every other driver on the road has an Ezgad whispering into their ear as well… and they’re not going to be relaxed. So if you go 58 in a 65, expect to be blown past, and expect a few choice insults as well.

And when you’re going 80 miles an hour to make it to an appointment because you left an hour after you should, remember for a moment Dimi and Je’tha. Remember their time together, and the love they found. And remember that if Je’tha were next to you, he’d be demanding you go ninety instead.

But that said? Don’t. Fruit flies can fly, after all. Car crashes are no big deal to them. Also, buckle up. Seriously. Don’t be that guy.

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  • cDave

    My favorite of the new ones so far.

    I think that’s because it’s the most plot driven one.

    I love the feeling that we’re exploring the logic of the interactions between two different timelines, that so completely don’t make sense if you stop to think about it. Willing suspension of disbelief, emphasis on willing.

    I felt kind of sad for Je’tha when Dimi was speaking to Mandy. And then I thought of the (…googling…) W H Auden line:
    “If equal affection cannot be, Let the more loving one be me.” And felt better again.

    • Eric Burns-White

      When detailing myth, one often has to accept the impossible as commonplace. Suspension of disbelief may occasionally require bungie ties to keep it up there.

      As for sad… well, we know the myths are fully back when ‘bittersweet’ is the order of the day, right?

      • ubersoft

        “Bittersweet” described the ones that ended *well*. The others usually involved someone being turned into an animal and then being torn apart by dogs.

  • Eric Burns-White

    Notes:

    The anaelae are named for Anael, also called Haniel, Hamiel, Onoel and lots of other names in various works going back through the middle ages. One of the Angels of Creation, and probably the biggest name Archangel you’ve never heard of. His name was combined with Uriel to become “Ariel” in The Tempest. Temporally, Anael was the angelic ruler of Friday, as well as several hours of each day, according to various sources.

    Aeons, on the other hand, are high order celestial powers — one of the highest orders of angels and often believed to be among the first created beings, and actual emanations of God. I had thought of using them in place of the anaelae, but decided that would do the Aeons a disservice and bring too much baggage to the nymphs of time.

    A nymph, for those who came in late, is the spirit of a given type of natural phenomenon — trees for dryads and so forth — as listed above. I like filling in the nymphly gaps, though they could have lots of other names in the daemon ranks. However, I went specifically with a nymph in this case because a standard immature form of an insect is called a nymph. Though I’m no expert, it seems that rather than going through a pupal stage (though I mention pupa above) fruit flies go from larva to nymph, molting straight into a form resembling an adult fruit fly. As a secondary element to this, in one sense Dimi molts her less responsible self during the course of her unusual courtship and marriage, implying both she and Je’tha matured the same way during their time together.

    The anaelae seem to be named generally after musical terms, which to me reflects their nature better than naming them after straight temporal units. The anaelae craft the moments of time, after all, and in so doing make them fast or slow, loud or soft, depending on the circumstances. A diminuendo is a dynamic where something that is loud grows soft over the course of the phrase. I think that describes Dimi pretty well.

    The Ezgadae actually refer to ‘Ezgadi,’ a relatively obscure angel from Hermetic Qabalaic literature. He is generally invoked in rituals meant to ensure the successful completion of journeys.

    This was a 6,000 word myth that could as easily have been 12,000 words. I would have loved to detail the discussions Dimi and Je’tha had over the course of their nine day courtship. I would have liked more room to discuss the fabulous device that the Fruit Flies made for the analae, to better connect the ropes of time. I would have liked to have shown the crafting of a moment, and other means of traveling from moment to moment (and show why Dimi couldn’t just duck back to when she was supposed to have arrived, but how not going straight to the moment of her next meeting underscored her procrastination). I could have done a few thousand words on the Ezgadae themselves — they got the shaft. But, this one was kind of too long as it was.

    Thanks as always!

    • Eric Burns-White

      One last note — Stu was actually based on a fellow I knew back in Ithaca, New York. He was probably the happiest guy I’d met, and one of the kinder folks anyone had met. Though Stu in the story aged along with the rest of the fruit flies, the guy he’s based on is frozen in my memory. I hope wherever he is now, he’s still having that much fun.