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.”