Global GabBle

Heart of DarkRoast


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 rain. 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, an 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 the 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.

CoffeaCorp Coffee Factory

Reports from these 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, only disillusioned silence. I did learn he produces more tons of beans than any other 10 Viceroys combined, and he drinks exclusively XXX-FRENCH~R74 SMALL BATCH.

Perhaps the most toxic, mind altering, caffeinated coffee humanity has ever crafted. The mold in the center of each individual ground bean contains the same amount of caffeine as an espresso shot, 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, 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 trillion 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 and fat with foamed milk to absorb any more fear mongering about Kurtz. It was time to find the Viceroy.

I needed to know if certain rumors were true. Did he release a genetically designed plague eliminating whole populations of competing villagers? 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. Off the books payment had to be made to the pit crew preparing our dirigible 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 coffee stained clouds and morning commute as automated workers arrived in automated vehicles the city below became as hectic as my mind started to calm.

I perused the Planet-Wide Fact-Book, a nifty tourist guide given out by The Intergalactic Monetary Fund, explaining the significance of this planet and its role in the interstellar economy.

Exoplanet Rubiaceae Coffea 2148K is about 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 plants anywhere, in any universe. Although near every varietal is grown, including a delicious 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. The crew treated this as a typical occurrence, and we descended with no great hazard. The vessel I commissioned, The White Rose, lacked safety equipment, and I did not see a back up ballon, so no matter how gently, we were still technically crashing into the treetops. I grasped the railing tight as the ship’s Captain Aaron “BlackHole” Lavelle guided us through the scrape of treetops and luckily to a clear spot on the ground, not too far from 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 path through the tangled vegetation. With help from the ship’s life drone, circling above 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 with a coffee bean rub, enjoyed an alcoholic 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 White Rose took 10 days. An excruciating wait. Parts were drone delivered 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. Bots were being marched out in droves toward work camps deep in the jungles. Enhanced muscle bean bag throwers, tall and gangly pickers, bug eyed sorters all going different ways.

Two shocks brought home the reality of conditions on the ground near the end of my waiting on repairs. The first occurred one afternoon during a lunch where I had to seek cover under a hail of bullets. A raiding militia fired into the crowds and market on 5th street and during the chaos began abducting worker bots, which i’ve learned are then pressed into service to fight in territorial scraps that break out regularly between competing Viceroys. I wondered if these were militias under Kurtz’s control.

The next incident happened the night before we were able to lift off and out of New Kathmandu. Shell shocked and disfigured robots from Viceroy Black’s Mountain Rangers straggled into town. The war ravaged bots displayed signs of torture and reprogramming. Hunks of artificial flesh dangled from their metal frames smelling like burnt coffee and meat. Reminding me of the steak I had for lunch days before.

Memories replayed from a survivor’s CPU showed the instance over 100 robotic soldiers under Black’s command were massacred and dissembled ritualistically in the jungle by robomilitamen bearing Kurtz’s banner. Fires stilled burned in the solider’s memory banks. I know it felt pain.

After ten days stuck in New Kathmandu, The White Rose was ready for the air.

A usually quiet logistical hub, the small Aeroport and shipping hubs have been stressed to capacity lately as large numbers of machine parts and specialists have 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 Black.

Before we ascended from NK Aeroport hanger 17, the last of the supplies were loaded aboard, the balloons were tripled checked to ensure a safe voyage and we were on the way to Inner Station. Captain Levelle returned to the helm, and the balloonists mate, an android named Norman, took to the ropes.

I spoke with the balloonist mate about the incidents I witnessed on the ground, and Norman stated its 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.

As I paid the 3x customs fees and prepared for launch, a mysterious Chinese Taikonaut 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 Taikonaut, who would only identify himself as Alfred, 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 Taikonaut‘s statement. “Alfred” 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 slinking into shadows, 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 New Jamaica Blue, considered to be the most rare and exquisite coffee beans in the entire multiverse. The White Rose 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 ship.

Norman the balloonist was struck center mass by a spear tipped with forged titanium, a huge gash in his chest erupted and he ceased function instantly. Flames washed over the deck 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 questions. A conch sounded immediately and all aggression stopped. Soon an envoy came aboard the burning ship, we were diplomatically greeted, and I was brought down to his palace barge for a formal interview over dinner.

Sitting across from the man I had heard so much about, the man that had been built up, analyzed endlessly, written about, 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, pale, powdery, eyes as watery ocean worlds yet unexplored.

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 combatant’s heads on spikes around his camp. He did not deny committing atrocities. He did not deny anything.

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 time were ripe on his mind. He knew he was going die. He looked dead already.

We were sharing a glass of brandy, and he was fading into oblivion. He began to pontificate on the Romans, and on Caesar crossing the Rubicon.

Finally, he said “I’m dying. Ask your question.”

I ignored his pain, Was this your freewill? Were you ever a good man? Do things really have to be this way? Does it matter?

I asked as many as i could in a row and let him pick his channel. 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, and he spoke his final words. His ocean eyes rolled back into his head. He was gone. 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 White Rose, and after few hours were able to lift off from a nearby clearing.

The ballon voyage back to the Capital city of Robusto took another 10 days. Departing from the Interplanetary Transit Hub, my starship took just 10 hours to get back to Earth.

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.

Daniel Voss is an awesome artist:

Chinua’s Perspective – Click the man to find out what he thought.

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