The beat-up old coffee maker is making more noise than coffee. Brewing time has stretched to almost ten minutes. I might have to get a new one soon, but for as long as my coffee comes out hot, I’ll keep using this thing. I don’t mind the break. As I lean against the counter, breathing in the scent of fresh coffee and massaging some life back into my numb fingers, I hear the front door open and slam shut.
“Joe? I’m making coffee, want some?”
My roommate walks in and looks at me with his usual condescending expression. He’s holding a box under his arm. Of course he is. When is Joe ever not buying new stuff?
“Keep your peasants brew,” he says with his nose high in the air. “I have this.”
And of course he has the best and newest everything, because nothing else is good enough for Joe. Not for the first time I wonder why he even bothered with roommates in some mundane apartment. He obviously feels too good for an arrangement like this. Either dear old dad insisted, or he needs someone to belittle.
“What’s that?” I ask. Not that I care. But I still have a couple of minutes before my coffee is done and Joe is going to tell me all about it anyway, might as well play along.
“Oh, nothing. Just the most advanced technology known to man,” he nonchalantly replies. “So cutting edge, it’s not even in production yet. I have one of only ten in existence. This bad boy makes use of nano-tech and has an AI.”
“AI?” I respond, dubious. I’m pretty sure true AI doesn’t exists yet, much less nanotechnology. Joe mistakes my doubt for ignorance.
“That’s artificial intelligence. Thinking computers. It’s going to be the way of the future, you know.” he explains proudly.
“Uh-huh,” I mumble. Internally I shrug. Someone scammed Joe out of his money. Serves him right. Meanwhile my coffee finished brewing. I pour the steaming liquid in a cup. When I’m about to walk past Joe, I notice he took his cutting edge gizmo out of the box. Even though I want to ignore him and his new purchase and deny him the chance to brag some more, I can’t help but laugh and comment. “That’s a coffee maker! You got us a new coffee maker?”
Joe sniffs. “Us? I wouldn’t let you touch this if you paid me.”
I roll my eyes and turn away. I should have known.
Seeing that he’s about to lose his audience, Joe quickly explains more about the coffee maker. “This goes between my keyboard and computer. It recognizes keystrokes. Anytime my typing pace drops, it will make me a cup of coffee, increasing my productivity. I will be able to finish all my term papers this weekend, thanks to this wonderful invention.”
His comment stops me in my tracks. “Wait, hold up,” I turn back to face him. “All your term papers? You mean for every subject?” I see him beaming at me, so I’m assuming I’m right. I squint at him. “How far along are you?”
“Starting right now.”
That’s what I thought. For as long as I know him, Joe has always been the worst sort of procrastinator. I shake my head. “You’re going to die of caffeine poisoning.”
I see Joe’s face drop. He briefly glances at his fancy new machine. “That’s not a thing,” he counters, but his voice has lost some of its confidence.
“Pretty sure it is, dude. Caffeine is a drug. Too much of it will give you heart rhythm issues.” I tell him nonchalantly as I walk back to my room, steaming cup of coffee in hand. Part of me is loving this. As arrogant as Joe is, he won’t dare contradict me. I am taking biology, he isn’t.
I dive back into my own term paper hell. I’m not the fastest typist — more of a index-finger-picker — and even though I have been working steadily for two weeks, I still have a lot of work ahead of me. The last thing I need is Joe distracting me. Try as I might, I can’t get the concept of a coffee maker that knows when you’re in need of a cup out of my head. I am ninety percent sure the Joe’s gadget doesn’t really work, but you know, on the off chance that it does…that would be amazing. About two hours later I decide to take another break and check up on Joe and his fantastic machine.
“How’s it going?” I ask as I open the door to Joe’s room.
Joe turns towards me, looking a little jittery. “Great!” he chirps.
Like he said, the coffee maker stands on his desk, between his keyboard and his computer. But also, a cable is coming from the coffee maker and disappears under Joe’s shirt. I point to it. “What the hell is that?”
“Oh. I thought about what you said. And you’re right. So I programmed the AI to monitor my heart rhythm, just in case.”
“You programmed the AI yourself?” I ask, slightly alarmed at the thought Joe is messing with technology that shouldn’t even exist yet.
“Relax,” Joe smiles, “I’m a information technology major, remember? I know what I’m doing.” He turns towards me to give me his trademark conceited look. Almost instantly the coffee maker starts beeping and hot, dark liquid starts dripping into a cup. “Oops. No time for chatting. I have to get back to work.” Joe says, turning back to his screen.
I back up into the hallway and quietly close the door. Yeah, the gadget seems to work, but something about it is deeply unsettling. There’s a weird manic quality to to Joe I’ve never seen before. I go into the kitchen to seek the comfort of my own, beat up, slow coffee maker.
I spend the rest of the night huddled over my keyboard. I tell myself it’s because I have so much work left to do, but really, I don’t want to go out there and check on Joe. There’s a feeling in the pit of my stomach things are wrong with him. I want no part of it. Not my circus, not my monkeys. But shaking it off is hard.
It’s well past midnight when I get up to use the bathroom. As I pass Joe’s door I can hear frantic ticking of keyboard keys. A shiver runs down my spine. That sort of frenzy can’t be healthy. I force myself to ignore it.
Right in front of the bathroom, I almost fall flat on my face. In the dark I had not seen some weird tube on the ground. That isn’t supposed to be here, what the hell? The tube is going under the door of the bathroom. I carefully open it. Without going inside, I bend forward and feel for the light switch. This tube is going all the way across the floor and disappears into the toilet bowl. Still standing in the doorway I turn around. I already know where it’s going, I just don’t want to believe it.
I follow the tube back to Joe’s room. The frantic typing is still going on. With my heart beating in my ears, I knock on his door. Joe yells: “What?” in an angry, harried voice.
A large part of me just wants to scurry back to my own room and ignore whatever is going on here. Instead I slowly open the door to Joe’s room and peek inside. Like I expected, the tube disappears into Joe’s lap. I don’t know if I should be more concerned or disgusted.
“Dude, did you seriously rig up a piss-tube to the toilet?”
Joe doesn’t turn around. His typing doesn’t even slow. “The AI did it. Pissing takes too long.” He responds in quick, chopped sentences.
“What do you mean the AI did it?” I ask.
“Fuck off and let me work!” Joe screams.
Startled, I slam the door to his room closed. I don’t want to go anywhere near the toilet and that insane tube thing, which I am pretty certain was made by nanobots. Where else would Joe get a rubber hose at this hour? But I do still have to go. With no time to debate myself, I walk into the kitchen and piss in the kitchen sink. Of course I’m not proud of this behavior, but what else was I supposed to do?
Back in my room I make sure my own work is saved and turn my computer off. I have to work tomorrow, I really need to get some rest. But sleep does not come easy. I keep tossing and turning, before finally falling asleep.
I wake up feeling like shit. If there ever is a morning depending on coffee, this is it. In the hall, the first thing I notice is that the dreaded tube is still there. Typing noises are still coming from Joe’s room. It seems like he really did stay up all night working. I am still concerned, still disgusted, but by now I am also in awe that he is actually doing what he said he would do. That might be the first time in the years I have known him. Joe’s usual modus operandi is to flake out.
I stumble into the kitchen to feed my trusted coffee maker. Within seconds it starts its familiar, bubbly serenade. I breath deeply, grateful I am smelling fresh coffee — and not piss after last night. While I wait on my morning coffee, I might as well see how Joe is doing. I can’t just leave for work. I would hate myself forever if something is wrong with Joe and I just never bothered to look.
Like last night, I decide to knock on the door before entering. I brace myself, expecting to get yelled at again. But there’s no response from Joe. He’s not sleeping, I still hear the ticking of keyboard keys. Maybe he’s so caught up in his work, he didn’t hear me? I knock again, a bit louder this time. “Joe?”
When I still get no response I open the door to Joe’s room. He’s sitting turned to his computer screen, his back towards me. “Joe?” I ask again, hesitantly. I walk slowly towards him. I can now hear the coffee maker softly humming. But something is different. The cup the brewed coffee is supposed to drip into, is gone. A tube, similar to the one running to the bathroom is attached to the machine. And this one goes up. To Joe’s face. He is still typing like a madman.
I’m beyond concerned now. I’m actually scared to see what is going on. Very slowly, I walk around his chair and stand next to his desk so I can look at his face. The tube goes into his mouth, kept there by little clamps that dig into his cheeks. In the glow of the computer monitor I can see where the skin bled a little.
“Joe? What the hell is this?” I ask. I try to be calm but my voice breaks and I can hardly get the words out.
Joe makes a fast gesture with his hand towards the monitor. I look at it and can see him type out feeding tube on the screen. As quickly as the words appear, he deletes them again and continues typing whatever midterm he is currently working on.
“What the fuck, dude?” I breathe. On the screen I can see him type drinking took too much time. Before the words have a chance to sink in, they disappear again. I start shaking my head in disbelieve.
“Joe, You have to stop this,” I plead with him. “Ask for an extension or something. This isn’t right.”
No. I can do this.
“Jesus, have you seen yourself? You look like something out of a bad horror movie. Just stop. This isn’t worth it.”
I can’t fail the year. Dad will disown me.
There it is. The one thing Joe fears most. Getting cut off from his daddy’s fortune. Having to live like a regular person. There’s so much messed up in this guy’s head, I can’t even begin to understand. I know I will never convince him to change his course of action. “Fuck!” For a fraction of a second the clicking of the keys stop. Then they start up again and the words everything will be all right appear on the screen. I can feel tears stinging behind my eyes. “I hope so, man. I hope so,” I whisper and give his shoulder a quick squeeze.
I get myself to the electronics store where I work. I have no idea how I got here, but I find myself wandering the aisles aimlessly, so I must have made it somehow. It’s impossible to get the freak show Joe has turned into out of my mind. It’s so bad, I have started doubting it really happened the way I remember it. Nobody would really do that to himself, would they?
Later in the morning one of my class mates comes in. Bobby is a good kid. Always helpful, always cheerful. He’s got a good head on his shoulders too. We might not be good friends, but we’re always friendly. He notices my distress the moment he gets a look of my face. I know his concern is genuine, but I can’t bring myself to explain what I saw this morning before leaving for work. I will sound like a raving lunatic if I even try. Instead I take a deep breath and lay one trembling hand on his shoulder. “I’m fine. But can you do me one huge favor? Can you go check up on Joe?” I give him the house keys from my pocket. “Please?”
Bobby looks at me with a mixture of pity and suspicion and fear. He probably thinks I have snapped under academic pressure. I can’t say I blame him. Hell, I will be so relieved if it turns out all of this is simply in my head. Some weird-ass psychosis that can be treated with the correct amount of pills. That would be fucking awesome. And I will totally understand if Bobby decides not to go look at Joe but takes me to the nuthouse instead.
But Bobby takes the keys and nods. “Yeah, sure, man. I will do that. And I will call you when I get there. Okay?” he says in a soothing voice.
“Yes, yes. Thank you” I squeak.
“No problem. Take it easy.”
I try to resume my job, without much success. Twenty minutes later my phone rings. Caller ID says it’s Bobby. My fingers are ice cold and my heart is pounding in my ears as I accept the call. “H..hello?”
The voice on the other side of the line is twisted with pure fear and panic. “Oh shit! Oh hell! Get the fuck back here!” Bobby’s scream blows out the speakers, making it hard to hear the words, but I understand exactly what he’s saying. It’s like a bucket of ice water is dumped over me. I don’t even bother to inform my boss, I just run out of the store in full sprint.
When I reach my building, the warbled wail of multiple sirens are catching up behind me. Bobby is standing on the sidewalk, visibly shaking. I don’t say anything, I just bolt up the stairs. Things can not have gotten worse than they were this morning. It just can’t be.
Oh, but things are worse. So much worse. When I see the scene in Joe’s room I am so shocked, I turn to puke in the corner. With my stomach now empty, all I can do is stare. Joe is slumped back in his chair. Aside from the tube in his mouth there is now tubing going into his eyes as well. The tubes attached to his eye sockets seem to flash slightly. The part of my mind not frozen in horror coldly informs me it’s probably optic fibers feeding Joe the monitor output. It’s hard to believe Joe is still alive, but the thing in the desk chair is still breathing. There is no ticking of keyboard keys anymore. The keyboard is now covered in small versions of the nanobot tubes, going from each key to one of each of Joe’s fingers. The fingers are still twitching. And words are still appearing on the computer monitor.
KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME
Author‘s note: I started this story at Where Angels Fear’s request. It sat unfinished in my drafts folder for too long. Honestly, it pained me to make a coffee maker the villain of my story. I finally put on my big girl panties and finished the thing. I am pretty happy with how it came out, but please, don’t blame the coffee maker.