HEART OF DARKROAST
SADE ACHEBE REPORTING FROM PLANET RUBIACEAE; A WORLD OF AUTOMATED COFFEE PLANTATIONS GONE AWRY…
Languishing on the top deck of the Balloon-Battleship Richard Branson, I listened to stories being passed casually among the other passengers awaiting their imminent arrival to Planet Rubiaceae’s capital city, Robusto. Talk ranged from the amount of expected port traffic and nasty border agents, to the local’s complaints about taxes, quotas, and shipping delays. No one discussed the weather because it hardly changes. It’s a hothouse year round. The humid air on this world of coffee plantations stinks of French Roasted beans. And all that can be seen from the Branson’s cruising height is a dense jungle canopy of chocolate colored coffee plants, and the shimmering green to red gradient of their GMO berries growing ripe on schedule every 3 weeks. As soon as we landed I was to make my way into Rubiaceae’s lush inner-continental rainforest. Known to colonists as New Amazon, the jungle remains vastly unexplored by humans. I was sent on this expedition to conduct a face to face interview with Viceroy Kurtz, the notorious intergalactic coffee trader with questionable methodology, and a penchant for reclusivity.
Wild claims abound about Viceroy Kurtz. His varietal coffee bean blends are the best selling in every galaxy. Some native alien tribes are said to have taken him for a God as he descended onto the planet in his private CoffeaCorp Rocket Harvester, an interstellar vehicle so impressive the natives can be forgiven their mistake. Employees who spoke with me off the record at the CoffeaCorp headquarters in downtown Robusto tell a darker tale. Reports from insiders say the man CoffeaCorp put in charge of their largest supply station has lost control. I asked my source more about the man personally, but I wasn’t given an answer. I learned only he produces more tons of beans than any other 4 Viceroys combined, and he drinks exclusively XXX-FRENCH~R74 SMALL BATCH coffee. Perhaps the most toxic, mind altering, caffeinated coffee humanity has ever crafted. A single ground bean contains the same amount of caffeine as a shot of espresso, as well having the same hallucinogenic effect as small magic mushroom cap. The bean is outlawed on Earth and most other exoplanets.
Kurtz is the Viceroy of New Conilon, an expansive Economic Freedom Zone over 153,000 square miles large consisting of farms, small villages, and winding supply routes. The fertile region produces enough coffee beans to caffeinate the entire population of Earth for centuries. New Conilon’s estimated export reached 2.9 Trillon cups of coffee last Earth year, helping CoffeaCorp bank a reported 10 Trillion USNA Greenback Coins. Speaking with locals as I traversed the busy city of Robusto, I grew too buzzed on lattes and flat whites to absorb any more fear mongering about Kurtz. It was time to find the man and get his side of the story. Did he release a genetically designed plague eliminating whole populations of competing villages? Did he really put all those severed heads, human and non-human alike, on spikes? The only place in Robusto to launch a Balloonship is Suleyman Aga Aeroport. After paying three times the normal rate because I didn’t book a month in advance, I was able to commission a ship of my own. Payments had to be made to the pit crew preparing our launch as well. Suleyman Aga Aeroport is luxurious inside, gold ceilings, holo displays everywhere, and an old fashion flipboard click clacking to display arrival and departure times. I was headed to New Conilon’s Inner Station. Lifting off above the morning commute as automated workers arrived in automated vehicles, the city below became as hectic as my mind.
In an effort to calm myself I perused the Planet-Wide Fact-Book, a nifty tourist guide given out en mass by The Intergalatic Monetary Fund explaining the significance of this planet and its role in the interstellar economy. Exoplanet Rubiaceae Coffea 2148K is the same size as Mars, it’s atmosphere a near match to Earth, and due to sheer galactic luck it has the exact right range of humidity, moisture, temperature, and soil content to produce the finest coffee in any universe. Although near every variety is grown, including a variant of Jamaica Blue, CoffeaCorp majorly exports Robusta. WIKIPEDIA INTERLUDE::: Robusta is easier to care for and has a greater crop yield than C. arabica, so is cheaper to produce. Roasted Robusta beans produce a strong, full-bodied coffee with a distinctive earthy flavor, but usually with more bitterness than Arabica due to its pyrazine content. Since Arabica beans are believed to have smoother taste with less acidity and a richer flavor, they are often considered superior, while the harsher Robusta beans are mostly used as a filler in lower-grade coffee blends. However, the powerful flavor can be desirable in a blend to give it perceived “strength” and “finish”, noticeably in Italian coffee culture. Good-quality Robusta beans are used in traditional Italian espresso blends, at about 10–15%, to provide a full-bodied taste and a better foam head (known as crema). It is besides used as a stimulant, diuretic, antioxidant, antipyretic and relieves spasmodic asthma. But I digress.
A balloon bag burst midway through my journey toward Kurtz. Losing altitude fast, I found myself clinging to the ships guardrail as we hurtled toward the vast jungle below. The vessel I commissioned, The Pirate’s Knob, was crash landed safely by Sky Captain Aaron “BlackHole” Lavelle into a marsh near the local enclave of New Kathmandu. Lavelle is a veteran of the Tall Trees War, the military action that claimed this planet in the name of humanity 3 decades earlier. Missing a leg, but a master with a machete, the Captain hacked us a way through the tangled vegetation. With help from the ships life drone for navigation we emerged from the rainforest to find Kathmandu’s red triangle roofs and choked footpaths. Following some harvester androids back into the market square I ate a heavy lunch of synthetic steak cooked in a coffee bean rub, enjoyed a coffee fruit cocktail, and immediately after set about the task of salvaging my Balloonship and preparing my questions for Viceroy Kurtz.
Rebuilding and retrofitting The Pirate’s Knob took 10 days. An excruciating wait. Parts were droned in from all corners of Rubiaceae, Customs Officials had to be bribed, and robotic repairman were leased to complete the reconstruction. While contracting for the robotic workmen at the New Kathmandu Labor Bureau, I discovered it possible to rent every variety of mechanical, sentient, obedient underling. Sexbots were marched out in droves toward work camps deep in the jungles. Enhanced muscle fruit picker and sorter bots were shuffling along the sticky floors toward factories in town. During one afternoon procuring a talented balloonists mate, I had to seek cover during a raid of militiabots firing into the crowds on 5th street. The raiders were capturing workerbots to fight in the territorial scraps that break out regularly between competing Viceroys. No word as to if these militiabots were under Kurtz’s command. My new balloonists mate had stated his belief that some of the androids inside and around Robusto were sympathetic to Kurtz, viewing him as a possible Moses figure who could free them from their current bonded labor.
A usually quiet logistical hub, New Kathmandu’s small Aeroport and shipping hubs have been stressed to capacity lately as machine parts and specialists have all been passing through, reports have it that Viceroy Kurtz has begun constructing a SuperWeapon in the New Conilon jungles to threaten his neighboring Economic Freedom Zone run by a Viceroy Merrimount. Shell shocked robots from Merrimounts Mountain Rangers straggled into town during our stay. The war ravaged bots displayed signs of torture and reprogramming. Hunks of artificial flesh still left dangling from their metal frames smells like burnt coffee and meat, like the steak I had had for lunch days before. Memories replayed from a survivor’s CPU showed the instance over 100 robotic soldiers under Merrimount’s command were massacred and dissembled ritualistically in the jungle by robomilitamen bearing Kurtz’s banner. Fires stilled burned in the robo solider’s memory banks. I know it felt pain. After ten days stuck in New Kathmandu, The Pirate’s Knob was once again ready for the air.
Before we ascended from NK Aeroport hanger 17, the last of the supplies were loaded aboard, and the balloons were tripled checked to ensure a safe voyage the rest of the way to Inner Station. Sky Captain Levelle returned to the helm, and the new balloonists mate, an android named Norman, took to the ropes. As I paid the 3x customs fees and prepared for launch, a mysterious Russian Cosmonaut approached me with news of Kurtz and a pinpoint to his location. Dressed in a clunky old spacesuit painted like a Hawaiian luau shirt, this Cosmonaut, who would only be identify as Igor, began to profess his love for the Viceroy from New Conilon. He wished to be quoted, saying, “Eons from now, when we all shrink down to the great atom, Kurtz will have known the answer. He told me. He told me I can’t tell. Humanity has to find the answer for itself or it must perish. He said we don’t have much time.” At this time I cannot speculate as to the meaning behind the Russian’s statement. “Igor” provided his quote and GPS coordinates to Kurtz’s stronghold. He began to ramble about how CoffeaCorp hitmen were after Kurtz, himself, and he said even I should watch my back. Before I could offer him a ride out of New Kathmandu, he was gone, muttering all the way out of the hanger. We lifted at 9am Rubiaceae time, the peak brewing hour, and the air itself tasted like a strong espresso as we broke through the caramel colored clouds.
Inner Station appeared on the horizon the following morning. I could sense the ominous presence of Kurtz watching us approach. Farming skyscrapers poked out above the jungle canopy abutting a small lake, inside these skyfarms Kurtz produced the finest Jamaica Blue, considered to be the most rare and exquisite coffee beans in the entire multiverse. The Pirate’s knob came broadside to dock, finding a mooring mast attached to a skyfarm. Normally used during harvest season to steady the baler and large hauler ships, Kurtz had converted the mast to a diplomatic port of entry, with equivalent security measures. As soon as the rope was secure around the mast a barrage of spears and laser fire pelted the Pirate’s Knob. Norman the balloonist was struck center mass in his chest by a spear tipped with forged titanium, dying instantly. Flames erupted as the Balloonship began to be firebombed. I ran to the bow and shouted toward the jungle mist, toward Kurtz, that I only wanted to ask him 1 question. Only 1. A conch sounded immediately and all aggression ceased. Soon an envoy came aboard the ship, we were greeted and I was brought down for a formal interview over dinner.
Sitting across from the man I had heard so much about, the man that had been built up in my head, that I had analyzed endlessly on my journey here, I began to realize he was beyond comprehension and I may have wasted my time. A candle on the table between us flickered. He looked like an atrocious phantom. Yet, Kurtz questioned my motives before I could ever question his, and every point I made he would refute with some genocidal historical precedent. He did not deny skewering enemy combatants heads on spikes around his camp. He did not deny committing atrocities. He simply stated he was doing the logical thing, using the best tactics, completing his mission and filling his quotas. He was “exterminating the brutes” and producing exquisite results for his “community”, said Kurtz. As I interviewed him a Rubiaceain woman stared from across the dock while we dined on the open lake aboard his barge. One of his wives I was told. Kurtz has fathered an unknown number of children while on planet, and the thoughts of his descendants running amok in a few years were ripe on his mind. He knew he was going die. He looked as if he already did.
We were sharing a glass of brandy, and he looked as if he was fading into oblivion. He began to pontificate on the Romans, and on Caesar crossing the Rubicon. He said I’m dying. I ignored his pain and I asked my question. What happened out here Kurtz, you were a good man weren’t you? But, as the Viceroy pondered and took his last sip of brandy, his pupils grew wide and his mouth stretched like a clown. He looked over my shoulder as if seeing someone else in the room, he spoke his final syllables and his eyes rolled back into his head. It was over, Kurtz was dead. I wrote his last words on the palm of my hand and prayed the ink would not run in the humidity.
After helping his minions prepare a funeral pyre aboard his barge, the body of Viceroy Kurtz was lite aflame in a spectacular ceremony on the little lake near Inner Station. The now widow who I saw standing at the dock asked Captain Lavelle and myself to stay. The Captain nearly took up her offer but thought better of the suggestion. We were helped to patch the Pirate’s Knob and lifted from a nearby clearing. It only took 2 days to get back to Earth once we ballooned out of the jungle back to Robusto. Now back at work, the difference between my office and the damp coffee stained world of Kurtz is palpable. As I file this dispatch about Planet Rubiaceae, I realize I don’t know what to say. Is there a difference between civilization and darkness? How thin is that line that separates the two? Am I any better than Kurtz, was he better than me? I think I know the answer to the question I posed to him now, and I think I can share Viceroy Kurtz’s last words. He spoke your name.
Sade Achebe disconnecting…
RUB , CLICK <PRESS>, ON BRANDO’S BOMBASTIC BALDNESS AND IMMERSE YOURSELF IN AN IMMENSE HEART OF DARKNESS
Chinua’s Perspective – Click the man to find out what he thought.
Mr. Demarco, Thank you for providing a soundtrack.