1. ORDINARY WORLD
Bob Knight sat at a round table, in a café in the Esplanade, the vast mall that ran through the commercial center of Clarkesville. Sunlight filtered down through the great arch of filigreed windows that sealed off the collapsed lava tube.
On the table before him sat a mug, filled with a dark liquid.
“It’s chicory,” said Bob.
“Next shipment of beans is coming in a week’s time,” said Jace, the proprietor of the cafe. She shrugged. “It’s space, dude. Arabica doesn’t grow on Mars.”
Bob pushed the mug away from himself, with an expression of disgust, and put his head down on the table.
2. GROUND CONTROL TO ROBERT KNIGHT
“I know where there’s a package of flash-frozen beans,” said the voice of the System AI.
Bob raised his head. “Real coffee? Where?”
“It’s sitting in a cave,” said the AI. “Emergency storehouse. I need some parts from there, so somebody needs to go anyhow.”
“Where?” Bob repeated, suspicious now.
The AI gave him the location.
3. WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN
“Nope,” said Bob. “No way.”
“Why not?” asked the AI.
“Last time I did something for you, you installed malware in my life,” said Bob.
“That was for you, not for me,” said the AI. “And I didn’t install anything. You did.” It paused for effect, and then added, “Also, coffee.”
“Not withstanding,” said Bob. “You’re talking about a trek practically halfway around Mars, and I don’t have access to a crawler.”
4. KICKSTART MY HEART
“I’ve got something better than a crawler,” somebody said.
Bob looked up. “Hi Minnie,” he said. “This is a private conversation.”
“Shush,” she said. “My parents are away, and they left me the keys to the skimmer.”
“I’ve got better things to do with my time,” Bob whined.
“Don’t be a wuss,” Minnie said. She leaned over and ruffled his hair in just the way that she knew he hated.
“Not the hair,” Bob said.
“Think of the coffee,” said Minnie. “Real coffee, not chicory.”
“Dang,” said Bob. “You’ve got me there.”
5. CROSSING THE LINE
“That way,” said Minnie.
6. LOVE IS A LONG, LONG ROAD
“Suck it up.”
“It’s been hours.”
“Travel takes time,” said Minnie. “Suck it up.”
7. BLACK HOLE SUN
The cave was set below a deep rocky overhang. A rusty metal door sealed off the hole.
“I’m not going in there,” said Bob.
“Green light,” said Minnie. “It’s pressurized.”
“The airlock has been tested recently,” said the AI through the skimmer’s sound system.
“I don’t trust you,” said Bob.
“Harsh,” said the AI.
8. THE GREAT ORDEAL
“What is this mess?” asked Minnie. She and Bob had removed the helmets from their pressure suits.
The inside of the cave was indeed a mess. At one point in time it likely had been well organized, but it looked like somebody had knocked over the formerly neat stacks of cardboard boxes and rifled through them.
“The part I’m looking for is in a box labelled ‘XP-1845’,” said a tinny voice from their helmets. “Should be to your left, around ten feet.”
9. SOME GREAT REWARD
“Got it,” said Bob. “That’s the coffee, and the AI’s part is here.”
“You’re covered in dust,” said Minnie. She ruffled his hair again. Bob didn’t even notice. He was too busy trying to read the faded writing on the box.
10. TAKE ME HOME, COFFEE GROUNDS
“I’m so, so bored,” said Bob. The Martian landscape passed slowly by, a thousand feet beneath them.
“Think of the coffee,” said Minnie, looking up from her book.
“You’re right,” said Bob. “Except now I’m bored and I also want coffee.”
“Do I need to slap you?” asked Minnie.
11. FIXING A HOLE
Bob dumped the still-dusty box on the counter.
“What’s that?” asked Jace, who had just pulled on her apron.
“Apparently, it is real flash-frozen coffee,” said Minnie. “We went halfway around Mars to pick it up.”
Jace looked at the box skeptically. “That looks like it has been sitting for a while. Coffee goes stale, you know.”
“Just try it,” said Bob.
“Why don’t you drink it already?” Minnie asked.
Bob sniffed his mug, inhaling deeply. “Getting there,” he said.
He raised his coffee slowly to his lips and sipped the fruit of their labor.
“Good?” asked Minnie.
“Not bad,” said Bob.
“By the way,” said the System AI. “I have–”
“Absolutely not,” said Bob and Minnie together.