“The Best Barista in a Time of Spiders Who are Addicted to the Rush of Caffeine”
by Cate Covert
I stopped by the coffee shop to grab a triple-shot espresso and unexpectedly found my new life’s calling. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m TSgt SpecOps, Joseph A. Mangione. My friends call me Jam.
I had finished my re-up ACDUTRA (active duty training) just before the accident, ready for the sixth SpecOps assignment of my career.
If my cornea surgery hadn’t failed, I never would have agreed to the laser replacement for my right eye.
The laser was non-lethal, but I had to sign a waiver. S.F. docs ordered me to keep it covered unless I used it so I don’t blind anyone.
There was that psych eval and six weeks of post-op counseling. Space Force had to sign off because it was their invention—plus I agreed to be their test monkey because I’m their property, and had no choice.
Now, I’m indefinitely inactive. The VA sees me for free, for what that’s worth. I have received a monthly stipend since it happened on the job. The money isn’t enough for anyone who doesn’t want to live out the remainder of his half-seeing life in his parent’s basement.
It turns out I wasn’t cool with the basement, and there was this after-market laser add-on—just point and shoot, using my brain: lethal and barely legal. I wanted it, and since I couldn’t ride anymore, I cut my losses and sold my Ducati Multistrada V4 motorcycle—a present to myself with my sign-on bonus and a quarter of a year’s pay.
But the laser was “smart;” if I can lead a target with my good eye, I can shoot it—no problem with my aim. The question was: How could I get a job with it?
As I said, I stopped by the coffee shop to grab a triple-shot espresso and unexpectedly found my new life’s calling.
Jamie was serving. She kept looking around and shaking her head. I asked her if everything was okay (as if I could do anything about it if it weren’t).
She whispered, “Spiders. A new wave just arrived from down south. I’m supposed to serve them and stay out of their way: Treaty and all. But I’m afraid. I’ll quit if they start any more trouble in this store.”
She straightened herself up and said, “What’s it going to be this morning, Jam?”
Chuckling because she finally got up the nerve to use my nickname, I smiled and said, “Make it the usual triple, and I’ll have a maple bar—to go.”
As she started my order, I thought about the Spiders—a derogatory term. Space Force issued me a copy of the treaty with humans that the Space-Invader-ish off-worlders recently signed, though who can read their thin scrawl? They might as well have drawn an “X,” but now they have rights? Unacceptable.
Webs were a public threat; the Treaty explicitly prohibited Spiders from building them in places within 1000 meters of any human. O.V.U.M. (Off-world Visitor Unity Management)—the Space Force’s special Inspectors and Guards—team acted as enforcers. Their job was to arrest and euthanize any spider found violating the Treaty with web-play. O.V.U.M tolerated most other actions in the interest of peace.
The Spider drones were the worst economic threat, looting us with impunity. These slave-class workers would burn a large-ish hole through an outside wall and line up to loot the bulk coffee bins; each would scoop the roasted beans into the bags on their legs until they could barely move. One left, and the next one crept forward to repeat the process. They were steady and in no hurry.
The Masters—now they were a different problem. They were male and female. The males were easy to spot—weak, smaller than the females, about three feet tall. They were mainly passive and nonviolent, but they were the worst coffee addicts: sometimes purchasing as many cups as they could carry (in multi-drink holders) but remaining able to walk.
I couldn’t blame them since they became short-timers once they reached “bachelor” status. Still, I could think of better ways to prepare for making my new bride a widow than to get drunk. Spiders got high on caffeine, so they were supposed to return to their nests before consuming it. Occasionally a male would start drinking on his way out the door and cause a scene. If an O.V.U.M. officer were present, the spider would receive a citation or a compulsory ride “home.”
The Spider queens were dangerous and often arrogant, though I don’t know what they thought they had that humans didn’t—besides a poisonous, fiery jet stream, eight disgustingly hairy legs, and webs. They were four feet tall, give or take, and they had to maneuver to get into the restaurant door—weird but elegant in a shivery kind of way.
Sometimes a queen came into the store to browse the lineup and choose her mate before he got his coffee. No self-respecting male resisted since he would die in shame on the spot. It was better to go, spawn the next gen with his new “wife,” and become their dear departed dad; at least he would retain his dignity in their yearly memorial.
I heard Jamie gasp and turned to see what she was looking at. A queen had just picked up an unfortunate prospective mate out on the sidewalk and started to drag him off when a second queen must have objected.
The first queen dropped her groom and faced the challenger. It was an oddly quiet, quaking fight – a standoff for the time it took the injured male to drag himself away on five legs.
Suddenly the first queen emitted a loud screech and started throwing webs at the second, who wasn’t having it and returned fire. A human passerby didn’t run away fast enough and got tangled in a web, causing the first queen to try to withdraw—she must have realized her mistake.
The entire lineup of males broke up in the melee, and some had run off, unnerved by the graphic reminder of their impending doom.
The second queen took advantage of the first queen’s hesitation and grabbed a male spider that had just emerged from the door of the coffee shop. She tried to haul him off, but the human hanging from her backside kept screaming.
I jumped into it, figuring it was better to do something now and suffer the consequences later. I yelled for the last male spider to clear the doorway and was right behind it as we exited the shop. He cut left; I cut right.
The first queen was halfway down the block; I ran to the front of the second queen and yelled, “Stop where you are, or I’ll shoot!”
“Human,” she croaked angrily. “Do you feel like burning today? Get out of my way. I am within my rights to carry off my mate!”
I boomed, “Not with that man you’re dragging behind you! I said ‘Stop!’” But she didn’t. That’s when I shot her with my laser and killed her. The pool of muck that poured from the queen’s rapidly deflating abdomen threatened to drown her accidental human captive, so I burned the web that held him and dragged him to safety.
By the time an ambulance arrived, we had quite a crowd. An Inspector asked me six times to repeat my story, and I finally got fed up and went back into the coffee shop, where Jamie was standing by the door, unsteady, with a pasty look on her face.
“You okay?” I moved closer in case she fainted.
“I quit,” she shivered out the words just as the manager walked in.
“Hey! You can’t quit!” The guy didn’t seem to notice all the mess on the sidewalk in front of his store.
Jamie walked out.
The manager lamented, “She was the last applicant for the season! Those damned spiders, how’s a guy supposed to make a living with them robbing us blind and causing scenes?!”
That Inspector walked in and handed me a slip of paper. “You’re activated.”
“What?!” I grabbed the paper. There was a number to text. I was to report to Space Force HQ the following day at 0800.
It turned out that Spiders were most likely to misbehave or break the law when drunk, and because of some new fines imposed for public disorder, the coffee shop was the perfect honeypot to weed out those caffeine-addicted-treaty-breaking multi-legged horrors without fear or reprisal.
I had to register my lethal laser upgrade—those guys probably made a killing off the resulting government contract—and got back on the payroll.
So, here I am, moonlighting, with the permission of the Space Force. Jamie’s back, and I think she likes me. And that’s how I got the job of O.V.U.M. Peacekeeper—a barista in a coffee shop—making the world safer from the caffeine-addicted off-worlders known as Spiders, one latte at a time.
Cate Covert hails from sunny Idaho, U.S.A. She has been telling stories since she could talk. Cate has been a Christian pastor and teacher for 25 years, speaking, teaching, and writing bible class curricula. She is a gardener and amateur herbalist, plays guitar and piano, and loves baking bread and making beaded jewelry. Most of all, Cate Covert loves to engage her reading and listening audiences. You can read her frequent inspirational writings, poetry, flash fiction, and humorous stories at Cate Covert on Chadashah.org or her Inspirational essays and bible studies at Pastora Cate’s Corner on Substack.