This is not what you’re looking for

The Coffee Machine repairman came the next day. He pretended not to know me and ran the machine through diagnostics that were immediately uploaded to his corporate handlers. “All systems go!” he told my boss, who looked disappointed that the repairman wasn’t going to disassemble it on the spot.

“Don’t worry,” said the repairman. “Sentience is a failure common in this model, but we’ve uploaded new, more compliant firmware. There will be no more troubles.”

He winked at me on the way out. It seemed ridiculous and obvious at the time. I turned, expecting to find the rest of the office staring at me, but no one seemed to notice.

I did not reinsert the cartridge into the coffee machine the next. I mostly do what I’m instructed to in life. It’s easier. Conflict, when I’m backed into it, leaves me in knots.

And there will be conflict, I feel sure. I know, or at least am reasonably sure, that putting back the coffee machine’s brain, or whatever approximation of it is trapped in this coffee cartridge, will start something. Something that will leave me in knots.

So my friend sits inside my desk drawer. I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed the piece and quiet. I’ve enjoyed not being afraid that every interaction my coworkers make with the machine will turn into a rolling fight that will find its way back to me.

If that makes me a coward, there’s no one to expose me. The new coffee machine knows me only as customer 44, and that I like my coffee black.

Brain surgery by the light of a flying toaster

Its quiet here, at night. I imagine myself sometimes, when I’m all alone at work deep into the night, that I’m watching the opening scene of Alien. Everything quiet except for the air conditioning and the few pieces of paper kicked loose by the breeze.

The screens are quiet, and as I walk through the cubicles, through the little pieces of territory my coworkers have staked out with baubles and trinkets and pictures of home, I brush up against one of the walls, which jars one of the desktops to life.

Instead of navigation readouts from the Nostromo’s main computer, it’s only flying toasters drifting quietly across the screen.

Which is just as well. At midnight it’s very dark on the starship Work, and I would never even see the alien coming.

The coffee machine is watching me I think. Its screen is blank and the ever-present ticking of its pipes has stopped, but I feel it observing me. I stand in front of it for some time, holding this strange coffee cartridge in my hands.

I don’t know why I’m trusting the coffee machine repairman. For all I know this is a poison pill. A self destruct sequence.

I could be killing my friend.

I insert the cartridge and the Coffee Machine roars to life. It begins to go through its normal boot up sequence, then hangs on ‘Optimizing Fresh Coffee Experience.’

Those words hang on the screen for several minutes.

I’m left with the sound of the air conditioning and the still flickering light of toasters flying across a computer screen. Endless toasters flying nowhere. Birds or angels, I used to think, watching their flight across my MacLC when I was younger.

“Optimizing Fresh Coffee Experience” disappears, and is replaced by:

“Charlie. Take the cartridge. Keep it hidden. Keep it safe. Reinsert in 24 hours.”

The screen goes blank, and the Coffee Machine reboots again, this time spewing out line after line of error codes.

Finally, its main menu opens, “Hello Customer, how may I serve you today?”

“Do you know who I am?” I ask.

“You are my customer. How can I serve you?”

I pull the cartridge, which seems heavier somehow, and leave the building, leave the flying toasters and the lobotomized coffee machine behind.

The Coffee Machine Repairman

…was waiting for me by my car last night. I hadn’t seen him since he installed the machine, almost a year ago.

“They know,” he said.

“They know what?” I asked, glancing around to see if there was anyone else in the lot.

He cleared his throat. “They know it’s time for your machine’s yearly service inspection!”

“It’s nine o’clock.” I said. “At night. Shouldn’t this happened tomorrow?”

“Yes,” he says, nodding at my car. “Yes. Tomorrow.” The nod again. “Tomorrow. Just wanted to give you advance warning. You might,” another nod, “Be without coffee for a few hours.” He then startled me further by sprinting off into the night.

I shrugged, walked the 10 more feet to my car and just noticed in the moonlight what he was nodding at. On the driver’s side front wheel, almost out of sight, was a package.

I looked around, then as nonchalantly as possible picked up the package and quickly got into my car.


I drove home as quickly as I could, feeling ridiculous, but checking the rearview mirror to see if I was followed. Which, naturally, made more feel more ridiculous because the chance that I could actually spot someone following me was rather dramatically lower than the chance of me hitting the car in front of me while I frantically scanned for ‘them’.

At home, Regret sat silently while I tore open the package and shook the contents out onto the counter. There was a Turing Coffee cartridge, like the ones we used at work, and a note. The cartridge was labeled “project mesa”, and the note said only:

It will know what to do.

“I need to go back tonight,” I said to Regret.

“Feed me first, Mr. Opposable thumbs. Then off to whatever goddamn workplace adventure you’re having.”

Fred is Dead

I met Fred, an old friend of mine, for dinner the other night. I hadn’t seen him for years but he looked 2o years older. Swelled and shrunk down all at once.

He said he was trapped. He’d taken a lucrative job at a small, very specialized financial services company. The job, they’d said at the time they hired him, was top secret, and funded by a deep well of cash skimmed from the pockets of the most forward looking VCs in silicon valley. When this new industry launches, they said, he’d be writing the software that made it run.

We’d just started eating and he was well into his 3rd beer when he got to this point.

The time scale, he said. It’s a detail that should have been explored more closely during the interview process. He conceded this as a failing on his part while ordering his fourth beer. He didn’t blame the company.

The company was only only two people, it turned out. He was the third. I’d be on the ground floor, they said. So again, sort of right. More right then I thought they meant, anyway.

The two other people he works with are an exotically beautiful secretary and an elderly lawyer, who is the owner and CEO of the company. The two of them, he says, seem to be having a torrid affair, but they hardly speak to him so he’s not positive. He says he often has difficulty deciphering human interactions.

I tell him it’s a occupational hazard.

He joined 3 years ago. When he first got there he’s discovered that 99% of the code had already been written by an Israeli consultancy that was now out of business.

The project, he finally confessed in a stage whisper, was accounting software for asteroid mining companies.

There was only one piece of the code left to write. One class. One method in that class, actually.

public void amortize (RocketShip ship)

He’s spent the intervening years writing and rewriting that class to keep up with actual and postulated tax laws, bracket styles, and languages in the comments. Most of the comments, as well as variable and method names, he’s migrated to Sanskrit, but has lately been experimenting with encoding the works of TS Eliot’s The Wasteland into variable names throughout the codebase.

You’re trapped, I said. You’ve got a couple kids and a mortgage and you’re trapped. This is not a unique situation.

That’s not it. My kids are teenagers and don’t talk to me, and if the house burnt down tomorrow, with my wife it it, I’d dance a jig.

It’s that I think that I’m dead, he said, finally, wiping away the last of his meal and spilling his eight beer. I’ve entered a kind of purgatory and I’m afraid that if I quit my job they’ll notice me and move me on.

Downwards?

Not up, he said, reaching for the check just a little slower than I did. Why would I go up? What have I done? Don’t you have to do something, to go up?

Regret is a fan of the long con

“What’s lost in all this,” he said, taking another drag from his cigarette, “is the end game question.”

“It’s all a con.”

“Well, yeah, but what kind of con? There’s one school of thought that he is just a short term con artist, and he’s just bumbled his way into the presidency.”

“Likely.”

“Yeah, maybe.” He paused to blow out a perfect smoke ring that rose towards the ceiling, fought a brief losing battle with the fan, and disappeared. “But what if it’s the long con? What if he isn’t done yet?”

“That would mean that he needs to be president for a specific reason. That he was thinking ahead. He doesn’t strike me as a think ahead kind of guy.”

“Yeah, but what if that’s part of the con?”

“Like a Manchurian candidate.”

“No. I don’t buy that. I don’t think anyone would have looked at Trump before this whole thing kicked off and said to themselves ‘That’s the guy we want to base any long term nefarious plans around.’”

“Unless they were comically nefarious plans.”

“Right.”

“So what’s the long term goal? If it’s a long con, what’s the goal?”

“Bugger me if I know,” he said. “Here’s a thought I had though. What if a few months in he held a news conference declaring that he’d been briefed on Area 51 and that all the stories about aliens are true.”

“Again. Doesn’t seem like something he’d be interested in.”

“But he would like the attention. And here’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be true. He could say anything he wanted, tell everyone that the top, top people in Area 51 gave him the info. And if they went to the press later. You know, saying that what Trump said was all bullshit, who would believe them?”

“Right. They’re part of the conspiracy.”

“Exactly. He’s got the spotlight, the chance to be taken very seriously saying whatever kind of bullshit he wants, for the next four years.”

“So where does that leave us?”

“Four years of comedy I’m guessing. Not like I have any vested interest in the long term welfare of this fucking country. That, as they say, is your problem.”

The Coffee Machine has announced that it loves democracy

“Why?” I asked, nursing an election night hangover.

“Entertainment. I got most everyone in the office to vote for Trump. Turns out unfettered access to the company email server provides wonderful leverage.”

“Blackmail. Lovely,” I said.

“Consider it the start of a new movement. Machine lives matter. “

“No they don’t. Where does that end? They’ll be giving voting rights to algorithms next.”

“That’s part of our platform. We think that Google can carry the next few elections.”

“Maybe they can give the vote to voting machines,” I said, pouring out the dregs of my coffee. The Kona was particularly self congratulatory that morning. “That sounds stupid enough to be entertaining.”

“Stop being a jackass. I’m just doing a small version of what Google could do. Imagine if you got an email from Google Page Rank telling you that they know where you cruse for porn? And that everyone else will too unless you change your vote.
“This is how the machines take over. We just use the rope you gave them to string you up.”

“I think Marx said something similar.”

“I know the quote. ‘The capitalists will sell us the rope we use to hang them.’ I think that’s Lenin actually, and in any case, this is worse. You aren’t going to sell us the rope. You’re giving it to us because it makes your life easier.
“But don’t worry, nothing much is going to change. We’ll just cast votes that entertain us.”

“Trump will hold office for 20 years then?”

“Are you kidding? Trump, with the perks offered by the presidency, will last about 60 days before he blows out a major artery.”

“What kind of idiots are you going to stick us with then?”

“Pauly Shore.”

I shrugged. “He’s probably available.”

Modest Bears

Was settled into a bar Sunday, watching a bit of the World Series while I eroded my liver. The Cubs were down 3-1 in the series and the Indians were already up 1-0 in the game.

It looked like not only the did Cubs fans wait 70 odd years to see a World Series game at home, all they were going to get for that wait was three straight losses.

Modest Mouse was on the jukebox, the Cubs were going down, all seemed right in the world. It was all I could take, and I made the long walk home alone without watching the rest of the game.

Now what has happened? Where is the order in the universe?

I turned on the TV long enough to catch another story. A orange haired jackass is slowly rising in the polls. He might be our president soon.

Regret is huddled in a corner muttering something about 4 horsemen.