October 31, 2035. 7:15 AM.
It’s a typical Bushwick morning: like most days, the highway is already backed up with hovercars stacked 10 rows high. Crowds of people scurry off to work, grabbing coffee and bacneggnchzsaltpeprketchup along the way. It’s funny, I always thought I would be able to sense when tragedy was about to strike—like there would surely be this palpable tension in the air, foreboding of the chaos to come.
“Hello, Mx. Arielle. Your usual?” beeps RoBarista Kevin, as I enter my daily spot. “Wi-Fi-enabled robot baristas with AI,” I muse to myself. “What will they think of next?”
It truly was convenient, though—I mean, robot baristas around the world all connected to the cloud, meaning I could walk into any random shop in the world and the bots would know my order. And they were friendly enough, always eager to make small talk. I suppose people weren’t quite ready to give up that “human” element but were all the same tired of paying double for actual humans. I bet cafe profits have skyrocketed, too, without the cost of payroll.
“Yep, the usual,” I respond. I see the gears turn behind Kevin’s eyestalk, presumably loading the rest of my data and preparing a response.
“How was the wedding?” Jeremy beeps. Damn, these bots are good. Last weekend was my best friend’s wedding, which I’d briefly mentioned to a RoBarista in a shop near my office.
“It was great, yeah. Thanks. How much is it?”
“One latte with lab-grown coffee. That’ll be $2.50, please, Mx. Arielle.” Gears turning, and two beeps as a light on Kevin’s chest indicates where I should tap my phone to pay.
As I turn toward the handoff, an ear-piercing tone emerges in unison from every device in the room. “Breaking News,” beeps a mechanical voice. “Konnekt International is reporting Global Wi-Fi outages—I repeat, Global Wi-Fi outages. Robot elements may experience minor glitches. Please remain calm as we work to restore service. Thank you for choosing Konnekt— keeping the world connected, one happy human at a time.”
Silence, then hushed voices and a loud click. I reach for the door, only to find it locked. As if in response, an agonized human scream fills the air. The crowd turns on a dime, collectively taking in the gory scene before us in a moment of stunned silence.
My heart stops. Just steps away from where I’m standing, a severed arm is sprawled across the floor, the screamer crouched over it, gasping for air in between bouts of gut-wrenching sobs. Across the counter, RoBarista Jennifer is grinning and dripping in blood while attempting to jam a mangled human torso through a Malhkönig grinder.
I feel a burning at the back of my throat as bile rises up from my stomach. Dropped jaws at once segue into blood-curdling screams as a mob of patrons flees from this horror show, making a beeline for the door.
“Your beverage will be ready shortly,” Jennifer beeps eerily as the sound of steaming liquid screeches through the air. Moments later, they begin to glide toward the crowd, and out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of the beverage they’re holding: a white paper cup filled to the brim with bright red liquid, blackening as it drips down the sides, and a long finger curled over the edge.
“Here’s your latte, Mx. Joseph,” Jennifer beeps as one patron, presumably Joseph, cowers in terror near the door.
Chaos ensues as a panicked crowd collectively notices Jennifer drawing near. A crash, and the glass window on my right suddenly shatters as a fire extinguisher soars into the street.
The crowd rushes out through panes of broken glass, and in one horrifying instant, we realize our terror has not been in isolation. Up and down the block, hordes of RoBaristas gleefully chase panicked customers to deliver cups of piping hot blood, likely extracted from whichever poor soul happened to be nearest at the time of the Wi-Fi disaster.
Another ear-piercing tone and a robotic voice blares at us from all sides. “Attention: Robot elements are experiencing a technical malfunction. Please remain calm and return to your homes. Thank you for choosing Konnekt—keeping the world connected, one happy human at a time.”
I bolt the half block to my building, pushing through a veritable mob scene in the streets. My heart pounds as I rummage through my bag, locating my keys with just moments to spare as a RoBarista crashes into the lobby behind me. I turn the knob, stumbling across the threshold into my apartment and barricading the door with a dresser. As I enter, I notice my TV has been turned on remotely.
“Breaking News! After being disconnected from Wi-Fi, RoBaristas around the world have turned on their beloved patrons. We are now receiving reports of at least ten thousand deaths and quickly rising, from Milan all the way to New York. Scientists are convening as we speak to understand how and why a global Wi-Fi outage would cause such a bloody scene, and are working rapidly to find a solution. To all of you out there—stay in your homes, away from windows and doors, and skip your morning coffee—I repeat, skip your morning coffee.”
April 16, 2036. 5:30 AM.
I roll over in my bunk bed and stare at my phone. 5:30 AM. Too early to be awake.
It’s been six months since the RoBaristas went rogue, and most of us who survived the initial attacks have been bunkered three stories underground since then. The latest numbers estimate that nearly 1/3 of the global human population has been wiped out, and of course, our capitalist society is trying to put a positive spin on that. “We had an overpopulation problem,” I once heard Jeremy Besroz say on a live broadcast. Cold and callous, every last billionaire.
A moment later, my phone beeps as an alert flashes across my screen. “Wi-Fi restored,” it reads, in bright red letters.
“Oh, thank god,” I think. “I can’t live another day off Folger’s.”
Arielle Rebekah is a freelance journalist and creator of Trans and Caffeinated. Read more Arielle Rebekah for Sprudge.