Coffee the next morning turned out awful.
For starters, Bitsy was almost late. She got up on time, of course, the way you always do because the dream feed autosyncs with the alarm and eases you to the end of your dream just in time for the buzzer. The problem was, the dream just wouldn't quit after she woke up. The whole time she was getting out of bed, emptying her recycling bin in the toilet, and showering, reality kept fading out and Bitsy kept fading into echoes from the dream feed, with her imagination cut-and-pasting random images from the night across her vision in place of the wallpaper or the shower tiles or even the mirror when she went to blow her hair dry.
One minute she'd be sitting on the can, letting her systems evacuate the processed food from the day before, and the next thing she knew, she and Cord would be swimming in a pool-sized vat of cream, or maybe it was soy milk.
Suddenly, pow, she looked up and there was only ten minutes left on the clock before she needed to get on the train, and her teeth still weren't brushed.
Which meant she had to run to the elevator and then squirm for it to arrive and then squirm some more when it stopped to let more people on from every floor and then run through the lobby and down the street and down the stairs and through the turnstile and over to her platform and just barely through the doors before they shut and the train whisked away. So then there she was, panting and sweaty and probably with her hair all out of whack. The Asian girl with the makeup-application glitch looked at her a little funny, and her knees almost buckled on her. Oh, Loj. I look so awful even she can tell. And then she panicked even more: What's the makeup girl doing on the train? Our normal train isn't for half an hour -- did I lose 30 minutes somehow? Am I already late for coffee?
Then she remembered it was Wednesday, and the makeup-glitch girl was never on the train on Wednesdays. She must take this earlier one instead. Maybe she meets someone for coffee every Wednesday.
But even after confirming the time on her watch she could hardly catch her breath the whole train-ride through. When the doors opened at her stop, she was sure Cord wouldn't be there, that she'd screwed something up somehow and missed him.
Even worse, once she spotted him, it didn't flutter her heart upward, it made it sink instead. His face held this blank look before he saw her, and once his eyes turned her way, the smile he gave her looked pinched, like he'd forced a reload and it hadn't quite gotten there. Then, instead of dreamy spotlights on both of them and a miraculous aisle through the crowd for them to approach each other, Bitsy had to bump and jostle through the same ordinary stream of people cutting across her path as any other day at the station.
"Uh, hi, good morning," she said when he met her halfway.
"Not entirely," he replied, giving his head an eh tilt back and forth. "But it's getting better now. Come on, let's get our coffee."
They moved together through the crowd toward the nearest kiosk. Bitsy felt awkward.
Do I ask what the matter is? What if it's a Real problem, and he doesn't want to say? She gave herself a mental kick. Well then he won't say, but at least he'll know you're concerned, right?
"What got you off to a bad start?" she asked. "I almost missed my train. I bet I look a mess."
They made it to the coffee line and he glanced at her with those brown eyes. "You look great. I just had an appointment later this morning, and they dropped-signal on me." He looked up at the menu for a minute, still seeming distracted. Then he frowned, maybe at himself, and turned again and smiled at her. "I'm glad you didn't miss your train. That would have really been a rotten start to my day."
Smiling back, she thought, Ask what the appointment was. No, that's nosy. Ask about where he works. No, that's nosy too.
"I work at Sitemapson Lincorporated, in the recursive accounts department of traffic tracking," she said. Oh, great. Yawn. "Not that there's anything to say about it."
"Well, there's got to be something to say about it."
She shrugged, wishing she'd asked what kind of coffee he liked instead.
"It's stable, I guess. Never any shortage of traffic to be tracked."
"Or accounts to be recursed, I assume."
She laughed. The line wasn't moving. Some guy at the front seemed to be having trouble making up his mind what to order.
Cord went on. "So what got you into traffic tracking?"
What a weird question. Her eyebrows tried to squeeze down, and she tried to keep them from squeezing. "You know, the usual. I came off the line at the factory like most folks, without any special ambitions or goals. So I went to an assignment house, gave them a chip of my childhood simories and simucation, and the next day they told me there was a position at Sitemapson."
Cord nodded like what she said made perfect sense, which of course it did. But he also looked like it made him think about something else, which why would it? Only about ten percent of androids got the itch to do something particular with their lives from the simories installed at the factory. Surely no one would come pre-programmed with an urgent desire to go into traffic tracking, so obviously she'd gone to the assignment house. He shouldn't have needed to ask.
Then she realized, He's Real. He never had a chip of simories to hand over -- nobody Real would. They must all choose what they're going to do for a living. Or maybe they don't have to work at anything unless they want to.
The line took a step forward. Thank Loj!
"What kind of coffee do you like?" she asked before anything else dumb could come out of her mouth.
"Mocha with a ton of sugar," he said. "How about you?"
For the first time since the morning before, she remembered that she didn't really like coffee and hadn't given a second's thought to what she would order. "Uh, I usually just get the crud from the break room. If I'm going to have coffee. Maybe I should be more adventurous."
What's that mean, 'Hmm'? I'm cabling everything up. What a doohickey. She opened her mouth, hoping it would help her think of something to say. It didn't, and in another second she would look like an idiot with her mouth hanging open. But luckily the line moved again, and Cord looked away as he stepped forward, and then it turned out he had his own something to say.
"So what do you do, when you're not tracking traffic?"
Oh no. "You don't want to hear. I have the most boring life ever."
He laughed. "It can't be the most boring ever. Yesterday you got hot coffee spilled on you. That's not boring."
"I don't know. I read a lot. And watch old holos."
Anything I can find about the old days. When there were still people. Should she? Would he like the fact that she had a fixation about Real people? Or would it scare him off?
His phone chimed before she could decide what to say. Taking it out with an apologetic look, he read the screen and grimaced and answered it.
"Cord here. Yes. No, not yet." The line moved some more. "That fell through. I know. No, seriously, they left me hanging. I don't know, I don't think it was ... look, I can't talk about this right now, I'm having coffee with someone. Ten? Yeah, I can be there at ten. Yeah. Okay, goodbye."
He shook his head and put the phone away. "Sorry. One of my colleagues wanting an update."
Is he Real too? "It didn't sound like a very happy call."
A shrug. "Work."
Suddenly, they were at the counter and the barista was asking what they wanted.
Ack! "Two mochas with gobs of sugar!"
She blurted it out and stood staring at the counter guy like he was a door guard at the Department of Evil and she was a holo hero trying an old password to get in and destroy his super-villain boss's super-death weapon.
Oh shorts, there's more than one stage to the password ...
"Uh," she said, looking at Cord, "that must have been a tera you spilled on me yesterday? I mean, that I made you spill?"
"Yeah." It came out as much a laugh as an affirmation.
"One tera and one ..." Chip. No way can I get a giga down. Maybe not even a mega. But will it be too obvious how much I hate coffee if I get a kilo? "... and one mega."
She stole a glance at Cord, sure he saw right through her. But he was glancing down at his phone, half out of his pocket and telling him something that brought out another frown.
I guess it's not all autoflow being Real, she thought, turning away so he wouldn't see her seeing him looking at his phone. The coffee guy told her the price and asked for her credit chip, which she handed over.
"Name?" he asked, with the chip extended back to her after a swipe across the reader.
"Sugar and stuff's around the corner."
They stepped out of the ordering line and moved over to the hanging-around-for-coffee-to-be-ready cluster near the corner of the kiosk. She could see the cream and sugar stand now, with androids pouring sweetener and half-and-half into their steaming paper cups. Cord's phone had disappeared back into his pocket.
"So ..." She started the word in hopes it would lead to an idea of something to say. Come on, come on ... "Do you get coffee here every day?"
He shook his head. "I'm all over town, depending on what my calendar looks like. Sometimes I even travel out of town."
"Out of town!" Bitsy blinked. "Wow, that must be exciting."
Cord shrugged. "Maybe not as much as you'd think."
"Where do you go? Out to the mines or refineries? To the agro districts?" Oh my gosh, I shouldn't have asked that. Maybe out of town is where all the Real people live.
But Cord just said, "Sometimes."
Wanting to stop herself but not able to, she asked, "What's it like out there?"
He looked apologetic. "I hate to say it, but it's boring. Pretty much exactly like the holos -- robots doing a bunch of work, nobody around but tour groups and the occasional inspector."
Her mouth opened again, but this time she managed to shut it. Then she opened it again, but before she managed to say anything from behind her came:
"Ah!" She just about jumped out of her skin.
"One tera mocha, one mega mocha!"
Oh. The coffee.
They got their cups, Cord's towering over hers, both of them steaming through the little sippy holes in the lids. An unusually wide guy stood square in front of the sugar and creamer stand, not adding anything to his coffee, just stirring and blowing on it and sniffing of it like that was going to tell him whether he'd gotten it sweet enough or creamy enough or both. Ordinarily, Bitsy would not have said anything. But at this point if she didn't say anything to the coffee-blocking dude, she'd have to say something to Cord, and she had no idea what that would be.
"Yeah, um, excuse me, sir? Could we get to the cream and sugar? Please?"
He looked at her, but didn't say anything, since his mouth was apparently too busy blowing across the lip of his cup. But he did move a step to the left, so that he only blocked three-quarters of the counter instead of all of it. She thought, So rude! at him, but didn't say it. And then she realized it was kind of okay, since now there was no way she and Cord would both fit at the stand, giving her still more time to think of things to say.
So what exactly takes you out of town? No, if it's a Real thing, that would be bad. What if I say I've never been to the outskirts, but when I was a kid, we had our lottery number come up and got to spend three days in the Parklands? Factory, this stuff still tastes bad -- how much sugar do you have to put in it? Yeah, the Parklands ... no, no, stupid, why would he care about some implant memories? He's Real. But I could ask if he's ever been ...
She finally got her mocha to where it tasted bearable, like sugary milk with just a touch of burnt dirt thrown in. The wide guy was still stirring and blowing and sipping, so she squeezed around him and let Cord into the spot she'd just left. While he fixed his tera up, she looked around for a table.
Her eyes scanned the little seating area, left, right, left, a little farther left -- oh, no.
Stepping into the end of the line, not more than a half-dozen meters away, was Gigory from work.
a poem for my studly love hunk!
2 years ago