Coffee

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"Where the hell is the coffee machine?" are Stig's first words at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning.

He has left home in a hurry without his usual shot of caffeine. It is a big day in the lab. He and his team of experimental physicists are about to teleport a cockroach, a delicate operation requiring the highest degree of mental focus. Focus that can be achieved only with an elevated dose of coffee.

"I've been asking myself the same question" says a voice behind Stig; he turns around spooked.

"Vlad? You scared the hell out of me. I didn't know you were here," says Stig.

Vlad, a big guy with an air of Dirty Harry, stands in the shadowy corner of the room holding an empty cup. He is a notorious theoretical physicist. "I guess no coffee today," says Vlad. Indeed, the situation isn't funny at all and Stig knows it. He is facing coffee starvation for who-knows-how-long. That means only one thing. No more good ideas until the machine is back. If it is back at all...

"That's really bad." Stig breaks the silence. His forehead is now covered with small beads of sweat, hands starting to shake. The symptoms are already there.

"Yeah... It reminds me of a story I heard some time ago in Sicily." Vlad pauses waiting for Stig's reaction.

"What story?" asks Stig. Now, when the coffee is gone, he has all the time in the world. The cockroach will have to wait.

"So apparently there was this conference on quantum thermodynamics in Hawaii. Some guys decided to have it on a big boat that sails into the middle of nowhere in the Pacific. You know, one of those sexy conferences where everybody wants to be invited."

"I wouldn't mind being invited for one of those," Stig interrupts.

Vlad ignores him and goes on. "So they got all the bozos in the field and sailed into the sunset. Blue skies, calm seas and all that."

"Sounds nice." Stig tries to imagine the big blue stretching into infinity until it becomes... a big pot of hot, black coffee. "Bloody machine!" he curses silently and clings to Vlad's voice spinning the yarn.

"All went well at the beginning. Talks were good, people socialized over coffee, new ideas were rife. A dream conference." Vlad takes out a cigar from his chest pocket, puts it into his mouth and then back into his pocket. "Damn campus rules!" he curses. "Where was I?"

"You mentioned talks over coffee" answers Stig.

"Oh yes, coffee... Anyway, after a few days all the coffee supplies disappeared. Well, not all. One capsule was left."

"How come?" Stig's curiosity picks up.

"Nobody knows," continues Vlad. "One day there was coffee, the next day it was gone. So now there were thirty thirsty men on the boat and one capsule of the finest espresso whose market value grew by the minute if you know what I mean."

"I do..." says Stig, his mind and body in tatters. "I need to cut down on coffee," he thinks.

Vlad takes out the cigar again and asks Stig "Do you think those damn smoke detectors work?"

"I think so. So what happened on the boat?" asks Stig.

Vlad scowls at the sprinklers and continues his story, playing with the cigar. "They kept their cool, you know. Talks as scheduled but it wasn't difficult to feel the growing tension. The damn capsule was on everybody's mind. People started to talk." Vlad moves closer to Stig. He now almost whispers to his ear. "You know, the sea always makes you see things... So they started to talk about some physicist from Bosnia known as Keyser Soze. They said the guy chooses the best of the best in every field in physics and then messes with their minds" - he makes a dramatic pause - "Then leaves them in their madness until they are locked in asylums or kill themselves..."

"Why would he do that?" asks Stig almost hysterically. Vlad is now very close to him; he feels uneasy.

"Nobody knows. Maybe the guy is jealous, maybe his own ideas were rejected or maybe because he is..."

"He is what?" interrupts Stig.

"Maybe because he is simply mad. Don't ask me. Anyway, once Keyser Soze's name was brought up things went downhill very quickly. Somebody drank the last espresso. The captain of the boat had a heart attack. Somebody sabotaged the engine and communication tools. They were stranded somewhere in the Pacific. Thirty eggheads without coffee. Then all hell broke loose."

"What do you mean?" Stig wants to know the end of the story but at the same time he feels he has to run. Something has changed in Vlad's eyes. They are now very close to Stig's. Steel cold eyes...

"You know, all of them were the best in the field. This means they disagreed with each other on many things..."

"Oh my..." gasps Stig. Vlad grabs Stig's shoulder. "Yeah... When they found the boat all of them were dead. Coastguard said they had never seen such a massacre before..." Stig has had enough. The whole situation fills him with primordial fear. The rational part of his brain tells him that he is just having a panic attack caused by the shortage of caffeine in his bloodstream. This adds to the anxiety before the teleportation experiment that will surely get him the Nobel prize. Yes, he is the best of the best in the field. But those steely eyes... Stig's train of thought is interrupted by Arthur, another physicist working in the institute who enters the coffee room.

"How are you guys?" asks Arthur.

"Couldn't be better. How are you? Long time no see" replies Vlad. He lets go of Stig's shoulder.

"Same old, same old." says Arthur. "Oh, by the way Vlad. How was Hawaii?"

 

About the Author: 
An unemployed physicist who has all the time in the world to write short stories and browse the web.
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