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Hot Coffee (or, Everything I Know About Time Travel I Learned From The Internet)





Astro Layssen sat back at the table in the bustling coffee house and wondered how many times he'd been here already.

You always like to imagine that your favourites never change, but of course the rose-tinted glasses can hide the details. The photo on the wall, for instance, showed an open viewscape of fields of coffee beans, instead of the old black-and-white shot of two people (who had probably never met each other before) laughing as old friends over steaming cups that he remembered them putting in later. The striking new red and orange fabric had not yet been brought in to replace to old and patched upholstery. The extremely harassed-looking barista-waiter was definitely a retro addition. Someone shouted in the corner for two vanilla americanos and Astro smiled. Details come and go, you can't avoid that - but the soul of the place hadn't changed. Just like he remembered.

He took a deep drink of his decaf and let it warm his insides. Hey, he'd earned it. After two weeks on The Middle Of Nowhere, he was due a break. There had been a lot to do and see on the vast floating island while he had been there, but it also hadn't been the most comfortable - or odour-free - place to visit. And even with the technological transport advancements of the twenty-ninth century the Continental governments were still struggling supplying luxuries like coffee to the floating cities. This, to Astro, was simply unacceptable. What was the point of hot running water, he thought to himself as he took another sip, if you couldn't make a decent strong brew with it? That was society right there - any pig could wallow in a hot spring, but it took human invention to take something one had simply found and create something with it.

There had been nothing for it. Seeking the creature comforts of something a bit closer to home, he had taken himself back several centuries to where issues of population and supply-and-demand hadn't created such severe shortages in the first place. Much better. It wasn't just the vast availability of many of life's greatest amenities that he liked about this century - it was also the simple feeling of homecoming.

Of course, the issue of human creativity was not a new one to him. Not since his perilous escape from the Goldman Creations lab five hundred years from now when someone had stupidly raised the issue of creativity with one of the prototype robots, and the robot hadn't taken kindly to it. He'd nearly lost his eyebrows and use of an arm trying to get away from an army of existentially thwarted, dangerously damaged android staff with just a small ray gun and his ever-present Sclopan- sorry, Swiss army knife. So much for taking the chance to explore the labs of one of the planet's most revolutionary robotics companies, he thought to himself bitterly as he ignored the passing barista. And they'd accepted his strange, unfamiliar nature so well, too. You know what they say for adventurous types: If you get in through the door, expect to leave via the window.

But then without creativity this train of thought wouldn't be happening now, would it? Neither would this drink, Astro thought with a casual swig. He'd never have had the chance to come back here as it was in this state after growing up, if it wasn't for a little creativity on his part.

And they said it was impossible. What do they know? Astro was proud of a lot of things - his escape from Goldman Creations, his standoff with the Nohen clan warriors in feudal China, his impeccable taste in leather jackets -, but the tennis ball-sized device clipped to his belt was the peak of everything. This pocket time machine was the key to the world, and he had made it himself. He was going to see everything that there was to see now - no matter when or where it was. Of course, he thought, the prospects of various forms of danger from doing so were immensely high. Approaching certainty, in fact, if you simply kept it up for long enough.

Astro smiled, a strangely mischievous smile for a grown man. That was fine by him. There was no point in a holiday if nothing exciting happened on it, of course. After all - as he relished the opportunity to drop a catchphrase -, it wasn't as if he didn't have time for it.

On his hip the device buzzed momentarily, then settled. Must be picking up some strange readings, Astro thought. He'd check it out later.


---



Astro Layssen sat back at the table in the bustling coffee house and wondered how many times he had been here already.

The first times had been a rough experience, so it was nice use his new tech to access something a little more homely. Indeed, as Astro poured double espresso on the knot in his stomach, he took a deep breath and peace washed over him. Wonderful. He had come to this coffee shop when he was a kid, buying bottles of pop, biscuits and, if he'd been good, a Fudge Chill Deluxe. Those were the good old days. So why not come back to them?

It had been hard to believe the time machine would even work. The first time it nearly didn't, leaving him trapped in the Paleolithic Era at a very nasty moment before the flux widget had ungubbed itself. But that was the thing. No-one had taken a description that involved words like 'ungubbed' seriously. The person who posted the stupid article about 'flux widgets' online probably hadn't taken it seriously. Even though they'd included a 'How To Build your Own Widget In You're spare Time From Things In your House' section at the bottom. It was all silly fun, really. You can say anything on the Internet, so long as no-one's getting hurt by it.

Astro Layssen had built a flux widget in his spare time using things in his house, one day when he was bored of job-hunting. No-one had told him not to. Or to not follow the links to similar articles and build those too.

Certainly no-one had told him that all these gizmos would go together into a whole.

Someone was shouting something about vanilla americanos, the barista who seemed to be on his last wits practically tripping over Astro's chair in the rush. Astro sighed, adjusting his tatty outdoor jacket and slipping a tip for the waiter under his plate (poor sod had earned it). Honestly, he thought as he inspected the worn waterproofing, why was he still wearing this thing? It had survived the couple of time trips he'd taken so far, yes, but was it really going to keep up if he was going to make a hobby of this sort of thing? Maybe he should try a new look. He looked a bit washed-out in general right now, to be honest.

But he didn't feel it. The time machine at his hip was working perfectly. Maybe because it hadn't been used much yet it was still holding up, but that was fine by him for now. Now he was using it for some genuine leisure, literally returning to the days of his youth. 2021 never dies. And this shop looked exactly the same, he nodded with a contented smile. Screw waiting for interview calls and handing out his CV for companies. The timestream had better be ready for him, because he was about to dive into it two feet first. He smiled, and took another sip of espresso. So much to see, so... much time to see it in.

Maybe he should drop by home and pick up his Swiss Army Knife before leaving again. It was bound to come in useful at some point.


---


Astro Layssen sat back at the table in the bustling coffee house and wondered how many times he had been here already.

It seemed like a good gravitation point. He had been to this point, this time, these four-dimensional co-ordinates enough times to know that here he was safe. Here he could finally rest. An oasis of respite, in a timeline of eternal upheaval. When you find the entire universe, the entire universe can find you too. With plans to do terrible, terrible things to you. And sometimes that's a lot of people to run away from.

Besides, they did extremely good brownie slices.

The barista hurried over with one of the aforementioned and a pot of the strongest coffee they had (albeit decaf. Life is hard enough without your heart going funny too). Astro nodded and reminded himself to leave a tip, preferably in a currency that was in circulation yet. The barista just smiled rushed off, a look of deep concern on his face. Well to be fair, how many times did he get customers like Astro? Sat here in his last, torn-up leather jacket, looking like he'd been dragged through a hedge backwards and then a machine lab forwards. Which had happened - Dr. Horodyonik had been more big on death rays than he had been on customer service -, although that was all both a long time ago and not for another eight hundred years. Or maybe he could just see the look in Astro's eyes. I don't blame him for rushing off then, Astro thought as he slowly ran a hand through his greying hair. Time hadn't been kind to him.

A thought crossed his mind at high speed and he paused, and looked around. For some reason, he felt like something important was about to happen. Or had happened, in his personal past. How many times had he been here before? He remembered being sent here... and coming here to do something big one time... was that later in the conventional future? He shifted his weight, and decided to keep his eyes open for anything. After the affair in the colony of psychic Hrogans, it was getting heard to recall any of his early memories in detail.

Ah... what an adventure that one had been...

But also terrifying. One stray thought around those creatures and you'd never think straight again. Jacon Dolos had been extremely helpful to him that time... in the good old days...

Astro looked down at his boot, and immediately looked away again. He could still see it in his mind, having to kick Jacon when he was down to stop him getting back up again. It's hard fighting a fellow time-traveller. It's harder fighting one who used to be your friend, before something in his past and Astro's future had evidently torn them apart. Forcibly. Astro sighed, suddenly not in the mood for a drink. He'd had to do things he wasn't proud of. The world is a vast place, exponentially so when you multiply it through time as well. Which meant you gradually became more and more likely to find part of it that wants you personally dead. Poor Jacon. The hardest part was that at some point he was going to have to experience this terrible rift-forming event from his side.

Sometimes he wondered if this life was for him at all. This rotten life of constant hard decisions, of having to mind the timeline with every step, of seeing the things you love as what didn't want to see them become or know they once were. And yet...

And yet...

Discovery. Adventure. Going where no man had gone before. The many wonderful and beautiful sights of the universe, the sheer brilliance of the world's creations. Astro took a deep drink of his coffe, and there it was again. He had ridden out much worse storms than this before now. He always told himself, he knew, he always told himself that this next trip would be the last...

But he knows that he lies, every time.

It wasn't as if he didn't have time for it.


---


Astro Layssen looked across the tables in the bustling coffee house and wondered how many times he was going to be here.

He'd never have thought this job was so difficult. Not even the waiting for an intervention, he thought to himself. Just pretending to be a barista! Waiters already do a hard job! He rushed across the cafe at the bidding of his orders list and, nearly tripping over the feet of the older customer at the table, served up a neat brownie slice and a pot of decaf coffee. His hand barely shook as he laid the plates down. Could they tell? Could they tell what was wrong with him? He knew this was a coffee house he liked to come back to (in all senses of the word), but that was no need for concern in itself. Just so long as the people he was waiting for were here. And then all he needed was the perfect timing to tip the scales of his life and keep history smooth.

He dashed behind the counter again. Busy, busy. He was parallel-processing. He was spotting vantage points and taking drinks orders. The real barista on duty today had been very happy about the prospect of someone covering his shift for him, just once. No wonder. Perhaps this had been a good disguise for a time when he had cosmic-level jitters. What better than an unsuspecting member of staff who looks tired and harassed all the time anyway!

He rooted under the counter for a tall latte glass and his hand brushed against the medium-sized device on his hip. Was he... was he even in the right time for it? Had he missed the crucial event by a few days? A few hours? No. He remembered it. He - that is, the other him - was safe now, but this was the point where the stranger had stepped in to save him. Now it was time to be that stranger.

There was some comfort, in that he knew it would work. Firstly, he had been there when it had worked the first time. And secondly, if he had had to come back and try again, there would be another version of him here disguised as a waiter.

A voice in the corner of the room shouted for two caramel americanos and Astro nearly slapped himself. He'd nearly forgotten! How was he meant to keep track of orders when he was also trying to save his own life?! He brewed up as quickly as he could-

Something caught his eye. 'Excuse me, sir, you can't put your feet on the furniture.' The kid at the table scowled back at him, but did as he was told reluctantly.

Astro brewed up as quickly as he could and took the americanos over to the table in the corner. Three men in identical jackets, which Astro had learnt to recognise as a sign of trouble even before the whole time travel thing, barely looked up as he bore their drinks to them with precision balance. A token 'Thanks' escaped one of their mouths and Astro bobbed a grateful nod before running off again. Ah, yes, now he remembered. He was in the right place and the right time. The little microphone behind the counter desk would do everything he needed.

All that he required now... was the right window of opportunity.


---


Astro Layssen sat on edge at the table in the bustling coffee house and wondered how many times he'd been here already.

How many times had he come, relaxing in peace and security? How many times had he had the leisure, before the adventures turned sour and the exploring became the running? And now he was here, glancing into every face and sipping his iced tea in an attempt to steady his nerves. As if that would manage do it. Astro had always danced on the edge of danger, but now he had danced with someone who insists on leading. This is not something that you can solve with a Sclopan Knife Set, a rackish smile and a throwaway one-liner. Let alone that stupid catchphrase he used to peddle.

The problem with something that keeps working is that eventually you push it a little further than is safe. That point had been the thirty-fourth century. Beyond that... when he closed his eyes, he could still see it. The darkness, the bleakness, the permanently crushing weight. And the inevitability. That there was no escape. The Leaders controlled everything you did and saw everything you see in the thirty-fourth century. It was the best way to keep an unmanageable population down, they claimed. They also claimed that light interrogation was character-building.

The last thing they would want, then, was people who could build a flux widget in their spare time from things in their house and escaping.

He pinched his brow and gritted his teeth instantly. Ugh, why had he even thought that phrase? Ever since he had put those devices from the Internet into a functioning personal time machine he had been approaching that moment. When he had arrived, and seen the terrible things as he has seen. He hadn't wanted to know that kind of thing could happen. Much less that it was going to.

For a while, he'd very nearly fallen in line with the rest of the populace. Too close. That was he knew he had to run, before he was too fragile to take the step. The problem was, they had followed him.

Astro used dusting the sleeve of his battered leather jacket as an excuse to look around nervously. They could be here. They could be right here. No wonder his drink wasn't helping. They could be right here. Control of what people know is essential to any dystopia, and he knew far too much. They would be here soon, if they weren't here already.

He hated time travel. You couldn't help anyone with it. You couldn't bend the timestream to pre-prevent disaster. All you could do was find an endless series of disasters. Oh, there had been moments of beauty too, moments of incredible wonder... but those happened to ordinary people too, more often than they realised. He hadn't needed time travel to find those. Just the trouble... and the danger.

Drink up, Astro. Or they'll find you.


---


'Two caramel americanos,' Astro Layssen called out brusquely, and wondered offhand how many times he had been here already. Not that it mattered. The mission mattered. Astro adjusted his dark glasses and let his hands drop, one brushing past the person time machine and the other past the 250 watt-calibre pistol tucked into the holster on his belt. One touch of that weapon and this entire worthless coffee joint would be a pile of plasma-sizzling wreckage. That is, unless a suitable target was in the way.

And there he was. Over in the corner, trying to look calm. Sipping his iced tea as if Astro and his two companions couldn't see him, as if they hadn't been locked onto his position for several twenty-first century days now. Foolish. No-one could escape The Leaders. Once you came under their guidance, you were in for life. This is what Astro knew. No matter how far you tried to run - even if you ran through time itself. The Leaders always found out, and routed out. Once you were in, you were in for life. Cessation of one logically lead to cessation of the other.

A nervous-looking waiter brought the drinks they'd ordered over. 'Thanks,' Astro said without any gratitude whatsoever. Blindly, the waiter bobbed a nervous nod and then hurried off again behind the counter. But he wasn't important. Astro looked a slow drink of his coffee, since he'd ordered a drink to blend in anyway, and for a second warm nostalgia flooded over him. He suppressed it efficiently. That had nothing to do with this. And the target had made a move.

Astro stood up, not caring who turned their heads. 'Boys,' he said to the men in black on either side of his seat. 'Let's move.'


---


Arnold Layssen sat back at the table in the bustling coffee house and wondered how many times he'd been here already.

Dad had told him to come up to his office after school until he'd finished work, but that he could stop off - briefly, mind you, and take your phone with you - in the coffee house on Fagan St. on the way and get a drink. Arnold had suspected this kind of afternoon would happen again at some point soon, so he'd been saving some spare change for it. Dad might not have been very happy that Arnold was getting a full Fudge Chill Deluxe today, but then Dad didn't know, so... he'd got away with it. And besides, it was nearly the summer holidays.

Arnold sighed. His backpack was weighed down under his double homework and music from his saxophone lessons, let alone the weight of this weird feeling he got whenever Sophie Jameson from the next class over smiled at him. But he was heavy enough already, he thought to himself, drinking his drink through a straw noisily. It wasn't his family that was the issue, no, never. He loved his parents. He didn't even mind that occasionally he'd have to wait for them to finish work after school ended, because they were grownups with important jobs - and anyway, they generally arranged somewhere to meet like the office, so they were hardly abandoning him. But he just... he, Arnold, didn't know what he wanted to become.

His parents had said this was fine. The teachers had said this was fine. There's time, they said. You can give it a bit of thought when you start narrowing down your subjects in a few years' time. Arnold knew this in general, of course. He knew and was ok with the idea that he could get a job in, oh, teaching or gardening or being Prime Minister or something like that.

What Arnold wanted to do was go on adventures.

His teacher had suggested on that basis that he become a fantasy writer. He'd thought about it.

But he wanted-

'Excuse me, sir, you can't put your feet on the furniture.'

Arnold scowled at the barista, but did as he was told anyway.

But he wanted the adventure to happen to him. Something exciting. Something big. Something so out of the ordinary it approached him at a right angle (right? ...yeah, right angle, that was it). He wanted to do something that whisked him right off his feet. He didn't really know how to describe it to his friends, but he wanted to see everything. And take all the knocks and bumps and crazy stuff that happened as he looked, because that just made it more fun!

It was a shame that wasn't happening any day soon.

Once you're an adult, he thought to himself. Grownups have all sorts of time to do exciting things. Then again, Mum and Dad spent a lot of time on things like work, so he wasn't going to sprint there immediately. But... he slurped his drink again, and dreamed of a star that would land in his back garden to whisk him into the depths of space, or the secret world conspiracy he would find just browsing his e-mails one day in the future. Anything. One day, he promised himself in that way twelve-year-olds do. One day, the adventure would begin. But it was just so far away!

He was going to have to do something about the name 'Arnold' by that point, too. I mean, come on. That doesn't scream adventurer at all.


---


Astro got up to leave. It had been good to be back. It had been good to have a real drink. It had been good to be a free man, even just for twenty minutes. But now he had to go. Keep moving. Someday, he'd throw off the scent that The Leaders' musclemen had tracked to find him. But he had to evade them until then, while he searched for the escape route.

Or in this case, caught his breath. He had to rest at some point to run some more. This place hadn't changed a day since his memories of childhood, no matter what anyone said. He wanted to treasure that, even if just in his mind. An oasis of backup calm. It gave him strength to keep going.

Astro got up and walked out towards the large glass doors, past the barista fiddling with the microphone used for the shop announcements, past the sofa chairs with their old upholstery and a man in a leather jacket coolly sipping decaf, trying to look like he wasn't trying. It didn't matter whether he strode or not - busy businessmen strode out of coffee houses to get to work all the time...

A man in a black outfit intercepted his trajectory before he reached the door and started fumbling with the handle, trying to get the door to unstick. Astro dropped into position behind him, waiting as calmly as he could and trying not to draw attention by barging through. He was clearly having trouble, after all - no matter how this guy tugged and shunted, the sliding door would just not...

It was an outwards-opening door, Astro remembered in an instant, and knew that this man also knew this too.

A hand landed on his shoulder.

He turned into the motion but another person on his right grabbed his arm and pinned it to his side before he could throw the punch. Slowly, shifting only at the discretion of his handlers, he turned his head to see his assailant. Two men in identical black outfits stood before him, one holding his shoulder and one pinning his arm. The third one, he knew, was the one behind him.

'Do not call for help,' the man touching his shoulder said emotionlessly. 'Submit yourself and we will treat you kinder.'

'You've been hearing that all your life,' Astro growled in as much defiance as he could muster. Stupid. As if he could have got away with it. He had been a childish fool to even think he had the time to just take out on things like this.

'The Leaders' power is absolute,' the other man said equally flatly as the first removed his grasp on Astro's shoulder. 'This includes over time itself. You are trying to subvert their will, which is a severely punishable offence.'

'Because I know of something better.' Astro was trying not to let his rising fear show. He couldn't warp away with this man holding him, he couldn't. 'I know that the world does not have to be that way, and I want to stay in a time where it isn't. Look around you. What do you see?'

'That doesn't matter,' the first man said. 'We have found you, and are now going to return you. That is all.'

'You'll have to kill me first.'

The first man blinked once. 'So be it.'

'In front of all these people?'

'They don't matter.'

Astro's hands clenched into fists, even though he knew it was over. He was one person against three, and he hadn't fought in a long time. These people were professionals, and had trained and prepared explicitly for this and knew all about him. He knew nothing about them. He was going to die. He was going to die and no-one was even going to know about it - who mattered.

The first man took off his hat and raised his hand firmly. Astro braced himself, one arm ready-

The sound of the house's tannoy microphone cut clear through the moment, piercing the background noise of the shop. 'Could Astro Layssen please report to the main service counter immediately. We have found your personal belongings. Thank you.'

As every single head in the coffee house turned towards the main service counter (except for one, who had just had a brilliant idea), Astro punched the man in front of him with his left hand, turned and shoulder-barged through the third man and the door behind him, ran out into the road fumbling with his time device and disappeared into thin air.
This is a silly, throwaway thing, but I actually really enjoyed it. I think I had the idea for the last few parts first, and then constructed the rest around it. But I actually enjoyed writing this as well as creating it, which to be honest I had kind of lost my handle on lately. I did it in chunks, and got through it when I wanted to. It works much better than rigidly trying to write a certain amount of time every night, even if it may have been finished slower that way.

This is a one-off, so I have no current plans to use the character for anything else at the moment. I'm certainly not averse to the prospect, though. He was a lot of fun to write
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:iconyellowfire7:
yellowfire7 Featured By Owner Nov 3, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Oh, I get it.  He's the only person in the coffee house.  They're all him.  I caught that at the barrista's point of view.

With so many instances in the coffee house, it was a little hard to see how they connected.  I was expected some detail from each of them to come together at the end, but it seems that this is not that kind of story; it is mainly a progression, not a convergence, even if Astro keeps coming back.
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:iconman-in-crowd-4:
Man-in-crowd-4 Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2016
Really? The plan was actually for that to become apparent only at the very end. Still, better than it not coming through at all! ^^;

And yeah, it's a progression, but the idea is that you can see how they're all linked ie. by all being the same person. And that came through at least, so I'm generally very happy with this. Maybe a bit long-winded in places, but that's something to learn from.
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:iconyellowfire7:
yellowfire7 Featured By Owner Nov 19, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Really?  I was wondering if I was supposed to have figured out it earlier.  :dummy:  Of course, because I had that idea that it was all supposed to tie together somehow, I was already looking for similar details between the different perspectives.  It would be interesting to know when different people put the pieces together.
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:iconman-in-crowd-4:
Man-in-crowd-4 Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2016
It actually would, yeah. I'm planning to set up a Wordpress for my non fan-fic stuff, so I'll be interested in what people make of it there.
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:iconyellowfire7:
yellowfire7 Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Let me know when it's up!
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:iconman-in-crowd-4:
Man-in-crowd-4 Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2016
Should be very soon! As in I've been delaying all my dA stuff while I get things ready. ^^; Aren't I meant to be an admin or something?
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:iconcatequin:
Catequin Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Interesting read. I guess that is one of the benefits of a time machine, to indulge in nostalgia for past eras. That almost the entirety of the story took place in Astro's head gave a very isolated feeling to the story... 

The only real criticism I could come up with is that, at times, certain scenes dragged a bit.
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:iconman-in-crowd-4:
Man-in-crowd-4 Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2016
Thank you very much. And yeah, dragging is my main problem. I overly-write things sometimes, and I'm trying to get better at not doing it. But still, glad it worked overall!
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:iconcatequin:
Catequin Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Indeed, it did work. Also, good to know your weaknesses.
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:iconman-in-crowd-4:
Man-in-crowd-4 Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2016
Thanks very much.
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