"How can I make your morning right?" Katy heard in the background as she was handed a green uniform with matching Glock 9mm.
Zedward, the morning shift manager, gave her a smile and ushered her into the back of the store, which had a locker room, bathroom, an office, and an entrance to the survival shelter should anything breach the store defenses.
"This is your first time with Capital Coffee?" Zed asked, and Katy nodded. After the Panic she had worked mostly helping to rebuild, with some work in cleanup through the areas of the city that still weren't safe to travel. "You're in for a treat, then."
"Great," Katy said, not sure what else to say but wanting to seem chipper, upbeat. From what she had seen up front, Capital Coffee was all about being optimistic, and Katy wanted the job.
"More than great," Zed said, his face grave for a moment as if remembering something, an affliction from the Panic, probably. "But you'll watch your orientation video now, and that should clear things up."
Katy nodded and sat in a chair in the small office, which also housed an old television.
Zed took a DVD and placed it in the player; The Curse of Coffee came up in bold letters on the screen, and Zed stepped out of the room. "I'll be back after it's over," he said, leaving Katy with the movie, which seemed to blend the acting skill of a middle school nativity play with the budget of an after school special. Katy thought of the money and kept watching.
Most of it she knew already, the history of the zombies, the way they had never seemed a threat, the way they shambled, almost waddled through the graveyards and suburban shopping malls of the world. The rare outbreaks were put down fast by people who could simply jog to safety. And everything had been normal, until the Great Spread of Coffee, with three coffee houses on some blocks, and coffee makers in every home. It seemed inevitable, looking back on it now.
No one knew where the zombies first discovered the connection, the video said, showing a guy in a thrift store zombie costume shambling to the counter of a café and being slipped a tall, nonfat mocha. The zombie, acting confused, took the cup, perhaps thinking it was blood or full of brains. The shot zoomed in on his eyes as the coffee hit his lips, the pupils dilating wide and fast. There were screams as the scene went dark, but Katy knew what had happened.
The zombies had learned to run.
After that, outbreaks spiked, no longer from the docile, passive zombies but from fast and athletic terrors. They ran, chased and tackled. Fueled by coffee they threatened everything. Whole cities were swallowed until the supply started running down, dwindling. The Panic set in, everyone turning on the coffee houses, the cafes, the bistros. Homes were burned to destroy the coffee makers inside. Trucks and warehouses were raided, the coffee taken and disposed of. The zombies, without their fuel, calmed, and were once again dealt with.
Katy yawned as the video came to the aftermath, the bans on personal coffee makers, the limits on imports, the death of all the old coffee houses. But despite everything, despite the Panic, people still yearned for their beverage of choice. And Capital Coffee was born, the first government-sponsored coffee house. Outside the building were dozens of soldiers with assault rifles, turrets. Inside every employee was trained how to spot a zombie, how to tell them apart from the typical patron thirsty for a cup of Joe, and how to shoot them in the head with their provided firearm.
"How'd you like the video?" came Zed's voice from the door, and Katy turned to see him standing there, face expectant, hopeful.
"Oh, it was really . . . super," Katy said, hoping it was enough of a step up from great. She smiled. "I can't wait to start."
Zed smiled right back and motioned for her into the locker room. "Well you get changed and we'll start you with one of our more experienced customer fulfillment specialists." He disappeared back into the front.
Before long, Katy found herself standing next to a tall, bored-looking woman named Natalie, who apparently had been working there since it opened.
"How can I make your morning right?" Natalie asked in an excited voice of a man who ordered a large chai latte. Between orders she would turn to Katy and transform, her excitement bleeding away. "Zed's pretty harmless, really, though I think his wife was burned alive in a coffee house during the Panic. Still, better than Karl, the afternoon guy."
"How can I make your morning right?" Natalie asked a new customer, a woman, and punched in the code for the skim milk cappuccino. "Karl's a pig, always trying to catch you alone in the locker room. Just kick him one in the hihoes and you should be fine."
"How can I make your morning right?" Natalie asked, this time of a guy who looked a little out of place, his clothes tattered a bit, his face gray, his eyes vacant. He pointed at a picture of a tall, nonfat mocha. Natalie punched it in.
Katy felt a weight in her stomach, wondered if she should say anything. No one seemed to notice, to care.
"Marge, the late-night manager, she's cool, though if she asks if you want to try her special brew just say no."
The tall, nonfat mocha came out and Natalie slipped it to the man, who rocked a bit where he stood and then reached for the drink. Katy wanted to say something, to do something, but stayed silent, didn't want to seem foolish. The man took the drink to his lips, and she watched his eyes dilate.
Then the screams started.