This story was inspired by my current Year 11 English class. There are some dedicated coffee drinkers in there and we recently had a chat about the perfomance enhancing qualities of coffee. I told them my two favourite phrases about coffee. 1. Coffee is survival juice. 2. A yawn is a silent scream for coffee. This sci-fi story is my entry for the semi-finals of the NYC midnight flash fiction competition, but I wanted to have some fun with it and come up with a story that had a life outside of the writitng competiton. This one is more like Hitchhiker’s Guide than hard sci-fi and I tried to go big and silly, instead of technical and detailed.
Synopsis: surviving on a hostile alien planet is hard, but doing it without coffee is impossible.
Carlo was abducted by aliens before his morning coffee. He could remember opening the front door to a strange sound, a rush of air and then waking up in some sort of padded shipping container. Groggy, he came-to with discomfort and a lingering coffee craving. His lungs felt heavy, but he checked himself and found he was breathing normally. There was no chrome gadgetry in here like in those 90s films, no sterile probing labs or superior biomechanical lifeforms standing over him. Instead, Carlo turned to see a fleshy yellow creature twitching and taking a series of rapid breaths. On the other side an almost human looking creature with overly long arms was shaking and making a series of wet, sucking sounds. There were seven of them in total; Carlo, the yellow lumpy thing, the long arm thing and four other creatures united by a few common features; they were all breathing and each had variations on limbs, ears, eyes, and mouths. None looked exactly human, but they weren’t far off.
The container shuddered to a standstill. They had arrived, but where? Why? A high-pitched siren screeched inside the vessel and one rectangular wall fell away to reveal a large green oasis encircled by tropical-looking trees with buttress roots and large leaves. The sky behind was a pale mauve and Carlo blinked at the majestic beauty of the vista. The other creatures were manoeuvring their way from the vessel to get away from the siren and Carlo did the same.
He found his large feet and legs gave him an advantage on the soft ground, and he stepped over the yellow lumpy thing which was now having obvious end-of-life convulsions on the grass. When the creature stopped moving, the others looked on in shock as a mass of white tentacle-shaped worms emerged with razor teeth, ingested the creature, and retreated beneath the soil again in a matter of seconds.
Another siren sounded and a series of bright orange holographic arrows appeared, marking a path through the trees. Despite his pounding head and hatred for running, Carlo did not need any more encouragement to put some distance between himself and those flesh-eating worms. The other creatures had the same idea. A smallish humanoid with long legs and pink skin darted ahead and disappeared into the jungle and the long-armed creature broke into a four-legged run and loped off in second place, with Carlo in third.
The jungle was humid and Carlo was trying to remember what he’d learnt in science class. There were plants, steam and the worms signalled a food chain. The fact he was breathing was an indicator of an atmosphere. The trees looked exaggerated and cartoon-like, similar to what he imagined the Cambrian era was like on Earth.
He arrived at the edge of a lake where a large holographic display map flickered to life in front of him. It showed the orange arrows dancing in a line across a series of images: a lake, a grassy expanse and ending at a big stone circle. Get to the stone circle? Survive? Was he in some kind of tournament? Kneeling at the water’s edge, Carlo noticed it was sightly purple with little pops of effervescence. He tentatively cupped some to his mouth and while it wasn’t coffee, it had a slightly sweet, satiny mouth feel that quenched his thirst. He waited for the skin on his hands to peel off, or his insides to dissolve but they didn’t. He set about fashioning himself a crude dinghy from some broken jungle branches and lashed it together with vines, pleased to have opposable thumbs. He couldn’t risk drowning, but didn’t trust the craft, so he used it as a buoyancy device. Behind him, one of the larger humanoids had gotten a short way across the lake before slipping under the surface. A series of splashes followed and then silence as it disappeared under the water. Carlo kicked harder and dragged himself panting onto the safety of the bank.
His legs were tiring as he emerged into the grassland. The mauve sky was tinged with pinks and reds and again he had a flashback to Science class, reading about the savannahs of prehistoric earth. A group of herd animals that looked like goat giraffes registered his presence before returning to their foraging. They were standing on their hind legs, attempting to reach the waxy fruit of a plant with oval-shaped leaves. But why was this scene so familiar? Then he remembered. He’d been waiting for a triple shot espresso, reading about the history of coffee. Ethiopian goat herders noticed their animals were friskier after nibbling on the red berries from a sub-tropical plant. And now, on this alien planet, he found himself gazing at a dense grove of oversized coffee plants, groaning with ripe red beans. With the promise of coffee providing fresh clarity, Carlo knew what he had to do.
From a distant galaxy the scene was watched by millions. The stone circle had one opening, and a holographic finish line glowed across it. A humanoid with long arms was seen approaching with labored movements followed by a second creature, pink and limping. But then, as if out of nowhere came the thundering of heavy cloven hooves in the mud. On the animal’s back was a sub-species of humanoid many had discredited as too lazy to survive, let alone win the tournament. He had one arm around the animal’s neck, and in the other he clutched a huge branch laden with bright red berries. A grin was stretched across his face and red juice was running down his chin as he burst across the finish line. Holographic victory lights went whizzing above his triumphant head.
That was the day a superior slave species was discovered. Not only had the human survived in an ecosystem not conducive to highly-evolved intelligent lifeforms, but he had managed to identify what was to become the most lucrative plant crop in the history of the universe.