Maggie Barns was late to work. Her intern, Ocean S., waited with his phone for half an hour in Maggie’s office before she got the email. OOO - Family Emergency || Maggie Barns || 2 minutes ago.

Ocean S. sighed and picked up her mug – a big ornate ceramic thing with the tech company’s logo emblazoned and out of place – of coffee. Sliding the glass door closed behind her, Maggie noticed for the first time how the hallway smelled different than Maggie’s office. The hallway smelled faintly of carpet and wood but otherwise totally neutral, all its smell notes smeared horizontally forward and back by people late to meetings. In Maggie’s office the air was still and it smelled, even without her, like her.

It smelled like a person who aggressively embraced her lateness. Someone who encouraged the project managers to schedule two start times for meetings, one much earlier than the second, and to only communicate the earlier start time to her. In practice it meant Maggie would either (1) enthusiastically throw herself into an important-looking meeting she had no business being a part of or (2) not appear at all.

It smelled like garlic, because Maggie cooked halfheartedly and without changing clothes.

It smelled like Maggie’s perfume, which she and thousands of older Russian women wore. Maggie lived in the old Russian part of Brooklyn, where stores were cheerfully and unapologetically decorated with Cyrillic signage. The year was 2029.

Ocean S. plodded toward the espresso machine in the kitchenette. The little pre-measured espresso-bean pouches yelled out trendy new ad copy. “IT… WAS… GNARLY! Yamaha’s Pouches,” read one. “BIG… FAMOUS… CRIMES! Yamaha’s Pouches” // “COMMON… FARM… ANIMALS! Yamaha’s Pouches.” No two pouches seemed to repeat these three-word phrases. It seems either the company had farmed an acre of content interns or paid for an expensive subscription to one of the newer machine-learning APIs.

She read all of them and finally picked one (“UPRIGHT… GORILLA… WARFARE! Yamaha’s Pouches”); she pressed her hands up against the side of the machine where the grinder with Bose Miniaturized Sound-Canceling Technology™ pushed and pulled. It felt like a bird fluttering for warmth and it made her hands dizzy after a while. The coffee tasted and smelled like coffee. She decided she had a crush on her assigned mentor Maggie.