“Would sir care for a drink?”
No-one had asked me this in half a millennium. Not surprising given I was supposedly utterly intangible and completely invisible, except to the eyes of my god-children. A Robbar LVX-1, one of the older models which looked like a kind-of botoxed Burt Reynolds, glided along the polished wooden bar until it stopped directly in front of me.
“May I say, sir, I am delighted to have a post-mortal in our esteemed establishment.”
“You can see me?” Well, obviously he could. He was talking with me. But I’m a ghost. And, following an unnecessarily drawn-out, hugely expensive anti-discrimination case, the universe’s only fairy godfather. I thought others would follow my trail-blazing path. I was wrong. The fact remained electronic bar staff should not be offering me a scotch on the rocks.
“Yes, sir, I have been calibrated to serve all potential customers, including several sub-species of the dead and undead. It’s a cosmopolitan universe these days. Would sir prefer one of those instead?”
The shimmery outline of a glass drunk hours ago appeared on the bar and I was able to savour the memory, the ghost, of the drink. Like all of the dead, as opposed to those undead wannabes like vampires, werewolves and taxation accountants, I couldn't interact with the physical world. All that was left to me was the faded image of a life left too long in the sun.
“Bowie or Lynch, sir?”
“The Davids? You’ve got good taste, Robbar. Why not a mix?”
He inclined his head, praising my decision, which felt far less empowering when you realised he was programmed that way. A playlist built from Bowie’s experimental glam rock and Lynch’s electro-pop filled the empty room. Robbar hadn’t bothered boosting the illumination as he didn’t need it and I could see the afterimage of the previous night’s debauchery.
I breathed in the environment. The sweet lingering perfume of sweat, hunger and spilt beer. After-echoes of unfulfilled lust and pleasant companionship reverberated from the now darkened walls. Shadowy booths hosted love, intrigue and general mundane life.
Then I saw it.
A coffee machine.
When I had first died, the bar was a cheap pizza joint. The food was terrible but it was cheap and the coffee was top-notch, making it popular with the local university students. Now it was an upmarket centre of cuisine catering for most of the universe's varied inhabitants. And uni students. It had been 500 years since I’d had a decent mocha and caffeine called my name.
“Don’t concern yourself with her, sir,” Robbar said with a hint of grating mechanical melancholy. “She cannot see you.”
I raised an eyebrow as the sledgehammer of fate hit me in the head.
“Cannot. Or will not?”
I swear Robbar sighed. He was in love with the coffee machine.
One of the basic errors of the late 24th century was trying to make robots like us, but not. We tried to give them human-like aspects but locked them into artificial patterns marking them as being unlike us. Take Robbar. His genial subservience was governed by algorithmic predestination. Not choice. His shoulders sloped to angular crests while his movements were deliberately forced. Despite having the technology to mimic humans exactly, we deliberately chose to make him seem stiffer, slower, wrong. If it walked like a duck, meowed like a duck that thought it was a cat and tasted good crispy in BBQ sauce, chances were it was a duck.
“She’s a CVA 3650 ST, sir. She won’t even look at you unless you have a 4-3000 microstate processor and a working knowledge of Ethiopian harrar.”
Personally I preferred Kopi Luwak but at this point in my death I’d settle for a mug of Aunt Maria’s instant. Coffee was my one true vice having failed to become a rock star or billionaire before my death and thus being unfamiliar with the sex, drugs and rock-and-roll lifestyle my parents feared would seduce me.
But I had also been in love with someone who didn’t love me.
Robbar may have been a robot but his electronic heart sparked whenever he looked at the coffee machine. I knew how he felt, watching her serve the morning customers while he was supposedly powered down. Always so close and yet so far apart. Just like me and Jenny.
I wasn’t much of a ghost. No-one ran in fear from me and despite wandering around the universe seeing more sights in my death than I ever did during my life, I always wound up back here at the place of my cessation, the gateway point to my post-mortal existence.
I decided to try asking the coffee machine, who Robbar informed me was called Ceva, for a drink. Standing in front of her, looking for a hint she was aware of my existence, I demanded a double shot soy iced latte with a squirt of vanilla syrup.
Robbar and I sat in frustrated silence knowing Ceva held the key to both our happiness but refused to turn it in the lock. “Why don’t you ask?”
“Ask her for a coffee. Ask her for my coffee.”
Robbar looked at Ceva, his circuits trying to process if his programming permitted it. “I don’t drink, sir.”
That didn’t matter. Robbar could buy the coffee, pretend to drink it and I could indulge in its phantom.
So he did.
That night and the night after and the night after that. About two weeks later Robbar forgot to order my coffee and Ceva didn’t stop or blink back into her powered down mode. They just kept chatting.
No-one can see the dead except for cats. And witches. Well, most of the supernatural world to be honest. But no mundane should have been able to see me.
I smiled, missing only the aroma of melted marshmallow in a large mug of hot mocha misting along my nostrils.
I may not have been much of a ghost, but I was one fine fairy godfather.