It was 2:48 on a Thursday when the Office of Astrology formally disbanded. The battered doors of their little brick building opened for the last time, and sent men in robes and hats spilling out into the early afternoon. For a moment, it was all noise and confusion. The Office had employed nearly a hundred people and now most of them stood on the lawn outside, blinking owlishly in the daylight.
They had all known this moment was coming, of course. It had first been predicted six months and two years ago by the speculative finances department, who foresaw and abrupt and total pay cut in the near future. News of this had sent the astrologers into a tizzy. Formal complaints were filed. News agencies were reached. A sit-in was held, during which the astrologers continued to scribble down predictions and file quarterly reports, changing nothing in their daily routine except for occasionally stopping to chant slogans together. Congress watched in puzzlement. After a few weeks, convinced that they had made their point, the astrologers stopped.
In hindsight, some of them wondered if they had begun their protest too early.
Two years and five months later, during a national budget review, the Office of Astrology came up in a list of programs that could be cut without repercussion. It topped the Department of Dowsing and Waterfinding, the Mothman Tourism Initiative, and public education. There wasn't much of an outcry. While people still enjoyed writing to the Office of Astrology for advice, the replies they received seldom contained the answer they were looking for.
There were still memorials, of course. News anchors remarked that it was the end of an era while flags fluttered in the background. A small fund for a farewell party was scraped together at the office, but its only attendees stayed for a few quiet minutes, filling their plates with food, before shuffling back to their astrolabes to get some real work done.
On the day the axe fell, there were a few policemen waiting outside in case things got rowdy. Some of them would later comment to friends and family that it was like herding lost sheep. Astrologers milled about the lawn and parking lot, stopping every so often to glance hopefully back at the office. Some plodded to the street to hail cabs, while others started down the block to where the fast food restaurants were hiring.
Most of them, however, just lingered on the lawn, waiting for things to change back.
Seeing that there wasn't anything else to be done, the Chief Astrologer and his staff went out for coffee. They studied the heavens and consulted their charts, then picked a little downtown cafe that had only thirteen minutes left to remain in business.
The other patrons there were perhaps a little surprised when the old men filed in, cutting in front of the line and ordering two-dollar refillables, but some of the customers had been following the news. One old woman gave the Head of Premonitions a sympathetic look before hastening away. Outside, the manager discreetly took down the 'help wanted' sign.
"Why do you think it is," asked the Head of Divinations, taking a careful sip of his latte "that no one wants to hear the future? We predicted that bubble bursting, after all, and also that thing with the race dogs."
The Head of Premonitions shrugged. "It's not like they have anyone telling them to care about that kind of stuff. When's the last time you saw a commercial for the future? It's all tablets and fast cars and medicine instead." He despondently dipped a biscotti in his Colombian roast, swishing it back and forth in the murky fluid.
"But who's going to warn them about the flooding, or the embargo in Tibet?"
"I think they'll muddle through. They always have." The Chief Astrologer raised his short cup to his lips, pondered it disapprovingly, and set it back on the table. "It's not like they really need mysteries anymore."
The other astrologers nodded sadly.
A short time later, ignorant of the gas leaking from the stove, one of the employees stepped out back for a quick cigarette break. He flicked his lighter once, twice, and made the morning papers.