In Line for Coffee - By Howard Schneider

There were a dozen people ahead of me but only one barista. As a complicated order echoed around the shop, I accepted the fact it would be a long wait. I took out my phone to check for messages. But before I got to the first one, I heard my name ring out behind me. I turned to see an old friend approaching from the front door, through which she had just entered. “Oh my god! GG4545.”

“What a surprise,” she cried as we embraced in a brief hug. “It’s so good to see you. It’s been ages. How are you? You look great. Didn’t you just have a baby?” 

“It’s good to see you, too,” I said. “And yes, I did. Three weeks ago. A girl. You look good yourself. What have you been up to?”

“Still teaching at the university . . . same old-same old . . . you know how it goes. Oh yeah–congratulations on passing the two-week keep-or-reject test. So, tell me all about her. What’s her name?”

“Well, we pretty much knew she would pass, but it’s a relief to have it behind us. You never know for sure about hard-to-detect defects until the comprehensives are done. We named her after AZ4321’s paternal grandmother, PA65000. She’s as cute as a bug and already walking and talking. I think she’ll be a fast learner.”

“Oh, I just love that name, it’s just lovely,” GG4545 said. Then, after a moment of silence, she said, “Tell me, how was your pregnancy? KK1700 and I are thinking about starting a family, but I’m scared to death. I can’t miss too much work because the competition for tenure slots is fierce. The administration is always looking for any reason to get rid of senior staff so they can hire younger and cheaper replacements.”

“That’s terrible,” I said. “To be perfectly honest, my pregnancy was the worst two weeks of my life. This accelerated fetal development does save a lot of time, but it’s rough on our bodies. If you’re anything like me, you’d probably have to take some time off. I did, but my boss is pretty lenient about pregnancy leave. You know how government jobs are. Once you’re in, you’re in for good, unless you really screw up, and I’m not gonna do that.” 

“My friend, VD6644, you remember her, don’t you? Tall brunette, about six-two. She said the same thing—she had a bad time, and to make it even worse, her baby was rejected at the two-week exam and recycled. She said she and her mate, ZX1011, are going to adopt one of those refugee kids from the Sector Elimination Program.”

“I remember meeting her at a party you gave several years ago.” I replied. “Please tell her I said Hello. I hope it works out for them. Those kids do need homes, but it would be a challenge to take one in. Some of those alien creatures are really weird. Speaking of which, there will be a new bunch arriving soon from a planet called Earth. It’s been decided to eliminate that entire sector. The crazy inhabitants of that place contaminated their entire solar system.”

“Isn’t that the planet where the people nearly polluted themselves out of existence?” GG4545 interjected. “And weren’t they always having wars and then spread untreatable virus disease everywhere? Covid-19 or some-such name?

“God, what a bunch of idiots they must be. Their planet’s on the verge of collapsing. If you ask me, I say it’s about time the Galactic Commission took action.”

“Yeah. I agree. But you know what’s so funny about that?” I replied.

“No. What?” she asked.

“That’s where this coffee shop got its start,” I said, pointing at the sign on the back wall.

GG4545 glanced at the sign and read the words out loud. “Starbucks. Serving Seattle’s best coffee for over 200 galactic years.”

“So at least Earth will leave something of value as a legacy,” I said. “It’s just sad that coffee’s the only thing it’ll be remembered for.”

We turned away from staring at the sign when we heard the barista ask, “What’ll it be, ladies. Our special today is caramel-mocha cappuccino with double whipped cream.”





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