Author: David P Rogers

They met in the coffee shop by accident, which in itself was odd. Neither of them ever did anything unplanned. Or so Fayt thought. But even Mort had to take an occasional break, and neither of them was omniscient. They got coffee and sat by the window.

“You changed the spelling of your name,” he noted, looking at the name tag pinned to her tunic.

“I like F-A-Y-T,” she said, pronouncing the letters individually. “Seems pretentious, I know, but few choices make a difference in the outcome of things, big-picture-wise, so I figure you have your fun where you can.”

“Are you kidding?” Mort said. “You should see the people I have to deal with. Smokers with cancer and heart attacks. Drunks crashing into trees, driving off bridges. People who get stoned and play with firearms. Choices matter.”

“I do see those people.” Fayt said, tapping her name tag. “I see everybody. Did you forget? And I never said choices don’t matter. I said they don’t all change the big picture. I pay attention to fate-of-the-world choices, and I veto them, if necessary. Most of them, anyway. A few get by me. But the smokers–how many trivial decisions do they make, just on the day they die? A dozen? A hundred? A thousand? Toast or fruit. Brown shoes or black. Subway or bus. No difference. Not my concern what they do about the little stuff. I could intervene–it’s my job and my right, but I figure, let them have their fun. Either way, you’ll know where to find them when the time comes, right?”

Mort sipped and nodded. “I always do.” He paused. “I’m afraid I have bad news,” he went on. “Your department is being downsized.” An eavesdropper might have thought he said it abruptly, almost rudely. He’d been in business long enough to know there was no mercy in dragging things out.

Fayt sighed. “This little meeting was no accident, was it?

“I’m afraid not.”

“How many am I losing?”

“This time, it’s your whole department.”

“But who will guide the big decisions? The ones that have to come out a certain way in order for everything else to fall in line?”

“Higher echelons have decided to give randomness a chance. Anyway, let’s face it–you’ve been understaffed since before the Renaissance. The Protestant Reformation, humans figuring out they’re not the center of the universe, the invention of microchips and digital electronic computers, space travel–all of those came way sooner than they were supposed to.”

“Which would never have happened if my budgeting and staffing requests had been met.” Fayt added another packet of sugar to her coffee and stirred. “Yet the world continues to turn.”

“Precisely. The world spins on. That fact is the premise for some of the higher-ups to argue you are not needed at all. Humans can do well or badly without so much input from outside.” Mort caught the flash in her eye and hastily added, “I don’t agree. But, like you, I follow orders. Nobody up there cares what I say. Or think. Not as long as I do my job.”

“Your job–what about my job?” She stared at him, noted the unblinking blue-green eyes, and shifted her gaze out the window. Traffic and pedestrians went blissfully about their busy little lives, as if each were indispensable. “Oh,” she said at last. “Right. Well, I do appreciate a nice bit of irony.”

Mort nodded. “A couple of centuries ago, you’d have seen it coming and made sure to be on the other side of the planet right now.”

“Maybe I am slowing down. Remember Julius Caesar, and Napoleon’s return from exile, and the Kennedy boys? We danced our way through those, you and I. It was a perfect waltz.”

“Yep. The coordination was precise, down to the second. Nobody on either of our teams missed a beat.”

“Just . . . make it fast, okay? For old time’s sake?”

Mort nodded. He owed that much to his oldest friend.