The ad says The Best Part of Your Day, and it’s been shining up at Ollie from the bus stop across the street for weeks. In the picture there’s a man in the cab of a truck. He’s wearing a denim jacket and a faded green cap. Ollie can see a brown field out the driver’s side window and grey mountains in the distance. The man is holding a cup of coffee, and it looks like the highlight of his day. It really does.
In little white letters at the bottom of the ad it says Coconut Mochapresso—Available While Supplies Last.
Before that ad the bus station had a poster for antacids. Before that there was just some spray paint that said Free James Brown. There’s something about this ad though. Maybe it’s something in the trucker’s eyes, or maybe it’s the mountains in the background. Ollie has been staring at this ad every chance he gets.
Ollie is a robot in a research lab and he has time to spare. His job is important, but it’s repetitive, and there’s a lot of downtime between the brief moments when he’s called upon to act. The lab he is in works with different strains of influenza. They grow the strains on cultured cells to find out things about them. Ollie has heard that some of them are quite dangerous. He’s heard that somewhere in the basement of the building is a drastic apparatus designed to activate in the case of certain accidents. He’s heard that this apparatus involves a particular gas.
The viruses are grown in glass plates, and when they have multiplied to a certain extent, a few of them are transferred to new plates. This happens once every three or four hours. Each time the incubator sends Ollie a signal, Ollie pipettes up a few drops from the old plates, carries the drops a few feet, and squirts them into fresh ones.
Ollie has been doing this for two years, and he has reason to think he might never stop. In between, he thinks about the ad. He thinks about how lucky that trucker must feel. The Best Part of Your Day, he thinks. Ollie wishes that his day involved something as exciting as a Coconut Mochapresso.
Have you tried it? he asks Debrah, who is a technician that comes by every Wednesday and Friday.
Tried what? Debrah says, and Ollie points his pipette arm out the window.
Debrah makes a face. That crap again? she says. I wouldn’t drink that if you told me there was ecstasy in it.
Ecstasy? says Ollie.
Christ, says Debrah. Forget I said anything.
Ollie says the man in the picture seems very happy. Debrah puts in her earbuds and cranks up some Josh White. Debrah does not often seem very happy.
Hugo though, is more encouraging. Hugo is the janitor and he drinks coffee all the time. The coffees he drinks come in paper cups just like in the ad and they all have exotic names. One of them is called the Mango Passionato. Another one is the Agave Cinnichino. Hugo comes by every day at 9PM, and he places his coffee on a lab bench while he sweeps the floor. Each time he moves to a new part of the room he brings the coffee with him. He picks up the cup, takes a quick sip, and puts it down in a new place. In this way Hugo is sometimes like Ollie, and he feels close to him because of it.
Have you tried it? Ollie asks him, and Hugo says Oh man I would, but you should see the lines. I’m telling you the demand for this thing…
Ollie and Hugo dream together for a little while. Then Hugo moves to another part of the room and he takes his coffee with him. Soon enough Hugo is done with the room completely and it’s just Ollie in the dark, waiting for the signal from the incubator, staring so hard at the brightly lit poster his optical sensors begin to hurt.
The night that Hugo finally scores a Coconut Mochapresso, he seems tired and easily distracted. He tells Ollie he hasn’t been sleeping much, that he’s been having a bit of a disagreement with his wife. But Ollie still looks carefully at Hugo’s face when he takes a sip, waiting for that happiness that’s in the trucker’s eyes.
How is it? Ollie asks, but Hugo doesn’t say anything. His mopping is slow today, and he keeps forgetting to move his coffee. From time to time he has to step over a section he’s already mopped to pick up the cup from a few benches away.
Hugo, says Ollie. Are you okay?
Don’t mind me, says Hugo. And then he wipes up the last little bit, and leaves the room.
Ollie sits in the dark for a long time before he realizes that Hugo forgot his Mochapresso.
Ollie can’t remember three hours ever feeling so long. The whole time he tries not to think about Hugo’s coffee, but outside the poster shines The Best Part of Your Day.
Those distant mountains, thinks Ollie. Those rolling fields. Ollie casts about for any diversion at all. He signals the incubator. Not yet? he says.
The incubator signals back a reading from the countdown timer. It reads two hours and twenty-one minutes.
Ollie tries moving his pipette arm for no reason. He does a little dance with them. He choreographs a whole routine. He makes the movements to the rhythm of Josh White. After a while he asks Not yet? again, and the incubator sends back one hour and fifty-three minutes.
Ollie gets desperate. He does the dance again. Each time he moves the pipette arm it gets closer and closer to the Mochapresso.
This is crazy, right? he says to the incubator. I mean a robot drinking coffee…
The incubator doesn’t say anything. The incubator never says anything except for the signal and the time. Ollie begs it to speak. He even tells it what he wants it to say. Tell me to stop, he says. Tell me I’m going to fry my circuits if I don’t quit being an idiot. Please, he says, please just tell me.
Ollie has his pipette arm right up against the cup now. He moves the arm gently across the side of it, as if caressing it. He looks up, and he can’t avoid seeing it: The Best Part of Your Day. Ollie says: if you don’t stop me, I’m going to do it. Do you hear me? he says. I’m really going to do it.
But nobody is there to stop him.
Ollie will be nearly unrecognizable by the time he is seen again. This will be years later, after Ollie’s water-damaged circuitry spills massive doses of H9QX influenza onto the floor, after the untested emergency mechanism in the basement releases explosive clouds of toxic gas that erupt from the building, pushing a wave of pathogens before it. This will be after the epidemic wipes out nine whole cities, after the area within four hundred miles of the lab becomes a permanent exclusion zone, too full of poison and virus to ever visit safely again. When the investigators finally reach Ollie’s room, they will note the cracked concrete structure, the broken ceiling stained with rust, everything coated in ten inches of a strange blue mold. Still, they will spot Ollie among all this desolation and they will recover his non-erasable memory. It will be difficult to manage it in the bulky hazmat suits they are forced to wear, but they will have trained long enough to pull it off. They will have spent most of their lives longing for answers to the malfunction at the heart of the disaster that swept the country, and they will find it difficult to breathe properly when they slip the memory card into a portable reader and wait for the data to come up. The display will flicker for a moment, and that moment will feel like hours, and then they will lean their heads together to read the single sentence illuminated in bright white letters.
Dear Sirs, it will say. I tried the Coconut Mochapresso. It’s the shit.