Coffee Leak

Krzysztof “Tomash” Drewniak

Tomash — 2299

There were places in the System that the newly-uploaded tended to wander into, thanks to the self-reinforcing nature of “X Best Sims To Check Out When You’re New” articles and the finite set of recommendations the default tutorial construct drew from.

This led to the System Emergency Response Group doing their collective best to have someone hovering around the newbie hotspots. They weren’t necessarily full perisystem technicians, with all the rights and privileges etc etc, but could talk people through fixing “Help, I forked weird!” or “Help, everything’s black and white!” or the like, and someone really new might not know they could call SERG or think to do it.

Currently, Tomash was watching the Alley Cat. He’d taken a small table near the middle of the indoor seating and had draped his vest — the token he put on to activate his systech powers — over the back of the chair. He alternated between reading a book (the report on a gravity shatter incident from six months back) and munching on a croissant. This wasn’t one of his usual haunts, as he still wasn’t much of a coffee person, but he’d offered to take the watch over because he didn’t have a lot of other plans that evening.

It was a nice, quiet day. The conversation around Tomash was a low buzz of noise. Suddenly, his ears twitched towards a loud crack, followed by the hiss of steam. Then, a scream.

Tomash’s gaze followed his ears. With a thought, his vest undraped itself from his chair and put itself on, its side buckles closing automagically. The world began to shimmer, each object before him hinting at the existence of debugging information hiding just below the surface if he needed it.

He dropped the report he was reading, not bothering to dematerialize or close it, and hurried towards the noises. “Make stasis sim,” he muttered before he even fully registered what he was looking at — a coffee mug that was making pressure-cooker noises and had some sort of barrier over its top. That barrier was meant to be invisible, but it still had the faint glow of a physics-altering area to his tech’s sight.

He pointed at the mug. “Move to Tech Stasis#4f552c06,” he commanded it, and it did so.

With the immediate problem out of the way, Tomash took a look at the man who’d been sitting at the table. That arm didn’t look good. The rest of the man seemed fine, though. He looked older than most on the System, with his white hair that didn’t see a lot of intentional grooming, and clothes that felt thrown together with little care for style. A very professor-y look.

The man — Dr. Diego Rodriguez, the System informed Tomash — was staring at him. He’d only uploaded a few hours ago, so it wasn’t surprising that a bipedal dog who’d just made his coffee disappear would throw him off. Especially if said dog had a black vest, meant to emulate a working dog’s harness, that declared him to be a “Perisystem Technician” in large white letters. (The smaller “Do Not Pet” note underneath was both traditional and sometimes necessary.)

“Sir,” Tomash said.

No immediate response. Still, the safeties hadn’t kicked in, so he had to at least be conscious.

“Dr. Rodriguez,” Tomash tried again.

“Huh?” asked the professor.

“I need you to fork please, Dr. Rodriguez.”


“Like in the tutorial, where you made a copy of yourself.”

“I…my arm…”

“Exactly,” Tomash said. “That’ll clear up when you fork.”

Dr. Rodriguez looked confused.

“Ok, so, think about there being another copy of you, your fork, standing next to me. They’re unhurt, but, other than that, they’re you like you are right now.”


“In a moment, I’ll need you to breathe in deep and start really thinking about a reality where that fork exists, holding it in your mind as best you can. Then, I’ll count you down from three. Once I’m done counting, you’ll breathe out, and, as you do that, you’ll make that world where you’re forked happen. Can you do that?”

“I…ow fuck fuck fuck my arm!”

“It’s OK, we’re fixing it. Now, breathe in,”

Dr. Rodriguez took a shaky breath.

“And three…two…one…fork. Fork now.”

Dr. Rodriguez forked. A new instance of him, whose upper arm was right as rain, appeared next to Tomash.

“Now,” Tomash said to the first Dr. Rodriguez. “You’ve got a fork, and so your arm’s fine. I know it hurts, but there’s a you who’s patched up standing right in front of you. Please quit in favor of your fork.”

The rootward Dr. Rodriguez didn’t need much prompting. He remembered how quitting out felt from the tutorial, and the shock was starting to wear off. So, he disappeared, leaving just one of him in the coffee shop.

“What happened?” a dazed Dr. Rodriguez asked Tomash. “I — who are you?”

“I’m Tomash,” the dog said, holding out a paw.

“Diego,” the old man said, accepting the handshake. “I’m not in trouble, am I?”

“No, definitely not,” Tomash said. “But I’d like to hear more about how that happened. Mind heading to a debrief room with me?”

I’d like to know what happened, so sure!”

“Ok, Perisystem Ops#Debrief 23, please,” Tomash said before he disappeared.

Diego followed a moment later, after he’d remembered that he just had to say he wanted to go there with intention. The room was a wide space, filled with a collection of chairs, desks, and couches all arranged to face towards a large window that faced out into a black nothing. Tomash had seated himself at a central desk, and Diego sank into a nearby recliner.

Tomash waved a paw, and the view out of the window changed. The place they were looking at was still a black void, but now it had Dr. Rodriguez’s coffee floating in mid-air, a snapshot of a jet of steam coming out the crack in its side.

“…How’s my coffee levitating?” the professor asked.

“I chucked it into a stasis sim — physics doesn’t evolve forward in those. They’re useful for figuring out what’s happening to something.”

“So…they kill you when you step in?” Dr. Rodriguez asked, looking at Tomash.

Tomash shook his head. “Nah, instances — our minds — run on a different system. If you put yourself in a stasis sim, you get this really weird ‘brain inhabiting a statue’ feeling until you decide to leave. I’m not a fan, but there’s people who do stasis meditation.”

“Huh,” Dr. Rodriguez. “Can you make time run backwards?”

“Yep, I saw this really cool exhibit where — hold on, we’re getting distracted. What happened right before,” Tomash gestured at the window, “that?”

“Well, I’d gotten lost in thought, and my coffee was cold, and I decided to try the System out, so I said…weird, I can remember it exactly…‘I want my coffee to get as hot as it can and I don’t want heat escaping out the top.’”

“That’d explain the physics plane,” Tomash said.

“The physics plane?”

Tomash tapped a finger on his desk, and Dr. Rodriguez could see a thin disk of something clearly virtual sitting on top of the mug. “It’s an invisible bit of space that changes how matter behaves. This one’s…” strings of text floated above the plane, completely impenetrable to Diego, “… a perfect lid for gases, Interesting that that’s what you got.”

“So, completely airtight mug,” Dr. Rodriguez commented, staring off into space. “That shouldn’t have…”

“Can I ask what you did before uploading?” Tomash said.

“Theoretical physics,” Diego said. “I uploaded because I needed more time to think.”

Tomash was starting to get an idea. “While your coffee was getting cold, what were you thinking about?”

“What sort of impossible stuff you might be able to create here. Like, will the System let me make the land of intro exams where there’s no friction and no air resistance? What’s that got to do with the coffee?”

“The System’s really good at picking up on intent, including subconscious intent.”

“Wait, so, when I wanted my coffee heated up,” Diego said, standing, “all the stuff I was thinking about bled through somehow, and I ended up with really hot coffee, which would mean…airtight lid —”

Tomash looked at the sim, and rotated the view to show the coffee. “Yeah, 352 Celsius in there, huh, —”

“— only liquid under very high pressure…did I just make a coffee bomb?” Dr. Rodriguez asked, horrified. “On my first day?”

Tomash looked over at Dr. Rodriguez. “Looks like the mug cracked first, so…that could’ve gone worse.”

“So how do I not do that? I could’ve hurt someone!”

”All I can say is that you might want to deliberately think about standard physics when you’re doing environmental changes, at least until you get the hang of it. That and get some lab space — you know anyone at the universities?”

“Not really?” Diego said. “We’ve swapped emails, but…y’all don’t show up to conferences easily, so it’s hard to make connections up here.”

“Well, I can try to make some introductions,” Tomash said, offering a handshake. Diego stood up to accept. “Welcome to the System, Professor. We’re glad to have you.”

There was an awkward pause. “Now what? Is there a hearing?”

“Nah. I should probably write this up, but that’s me, not you. So let’s head back?” Tomash suggested. “I need to keep an eye on the place to make sure no one’s made more coffee bombs, and you’ll need a new coffee.”

“If you say so,” Diego said cautiously. “I’d think they’d be pretty unhappy with me after,” he gestured towards the timeless mug.

“Nah, they know this stuff happens sometimes. You’re good.” Tomash said.

“Still,” Dr. Rodriguez said. “After you.”

Tomash stepped back into the Alley Cat, where someone had already reset the table and floor back to default while he’d been out.

The professor followed suit soon after. He walked up to the counter sheepishly. “Could I get another coffee?” he asked. “Mine…exploded.”

“Sure thing,” the barista said. “And it’s no trouble, really, I already cleaned up. Exploding coffee’s a new one for me, but it’s not a lot worse than folks levitating their coffee and dropping it back in a panic.”

That was oddly reassuring. Diego took his coffee and went to sit down, intending to actually drink the thing this time. He glanced over to Tomash’s table. The dog had taken his vest off, and was now writing something.

“I wonder if all my days here will be this weird,” he said to himself, taking a sip. “It’d be interesting, that’s for sure.”

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