For those who like people-watching - or rather, alien-watching.

Art by  Jackie Graham

The doors to the Pioneer open at hour seven of sunlight and stay open until nighttime. The jets and ships that come from other planets don’t even start rolling in until hour nine, but that’s who we are. We’re the pioneers who established the first cafe on Pluto. Well, let’s make a correction: my boss is the pioneer. I just happen to work here.

“Oh, you’re that human!” You might say. And you’re right. For better or worse, I spend my time serving caffeine every single day to aliens of all shapes, ages, sizes, colors.... you get the picture. “Why is it called the Pioneer, then?” You might ask. Honestly, I’m not too sure, other than that my boss wanted it to sound cool. What do I think? I would say it was a good decision on my boss’s part to have not named the place after Pluto, because then intergalactic relations would have been a messy part of business. Mercury is still so bitter about how we made it back into the solar system classification that it recently considered limiting the number of visitor ships to Pluto. It didn’t happen, obviously, but my boss swears that it would have stalled some of the regulars from coming in had we been named after the Plutonians. I kept my mouth shut about Earth’s history and how we have smaller nations within our planet that fight each other all the time, bickering for power - somehow, all of it seemed so tiny and insignificant in comparison.

Speaking of Plutonians, they’re always our earliest customers of the day. They’re mostly small in stature - adults might come up to my waist, if they’re lucky to have had a growth spurt - and purple in color. Their voices have a certain ring and echo to them that others can recognize from a mile away.

There is one Plutonian in particular that comes into our shop around the beginning of the long day. He’s in a rare form of gelatin, a little different from the others - a purple blob, really, if I choose to be crude about it. It’s impossible for him to drink coffee, so he orders our standard 10 cm x 10 cm caffeine cube in a set of three. Recently, he has been a little more conversational and has been asking me what it’s like to have flesh and teeth.

“How does it feel to be able to taste? A tongue, you call it?” he says, while a gelatinous arm surfaces from his body and gestures in the air according to his will.

I shrug. “It’s pretty neat, I guess.” In my mind, I’m thinking: what wouldn’t I give to never chew again? What wouldn’t I give to be a blob one day, to not have to swallow anything? The thoughts go in and out of my mind as I watch him absorb the caffeine cubes into his body one by one, before I realize that having my own taste buds is indeed a blessing. It’s what makes me so different from many of my customers that I serve daily, and if anything, my humanity is what makes me, me.

.

Another patron of the Pioneer that comes by on a regular basis is a tall, almost humanoid visitor from Jupiter. She always patiently stands by the counter while waiting for her order, so I try to make conversations with her here and there. For some inexplicable reason, one of the few things I know about Jupiter is Europa, so I sneak it into the conversation one day in the spirit of good customer service.

“I went on a school field trip to Europa once,” I say, drying off a glass cup with a freshly washed, clean piece of cloth. I set it down with a clink and wait for a response.

She gives me the tiniest of nods and says nothing. For a while I wonder if I mentioned too popular of a tourist destination that it doesn’t resonate with her organic life on Jupiter at all. I shrug it off and try to put the cup on the top shelf next to me. I don’t get it there in one go because I’m not tall enough. How embarrassing, I think to myself. I bite my lip and try again.

Then, a green arm shows up out of nowhere and takes the cup from my hand. My eyes trace the arm to its owner and it belongs to the same visitor. She nods again, but upwards this time as if to ask me, top shelf?

It’s a little bit of a weird routine, but she does the same thing for me now every time she visits. It must be nice to have limbs that stretch so far like rubber, I ponder, as I stare down at my stepladder. What wouldn’t I give to be able to never use this thing again? I could reach anything if I were that stretchy. 

Then again, if I were a green alien from Jupiter with arms that could span a mile long, what fun would it be working here? One of my biggest “perks,” if you want to call it that, is that I’m one of the few humans all the way out here in Pluto who knows a lot about how every species imaginable gets caffeine through their system to get their days started. And if all of that means I have to use a stupid stepladder to reach the impossibly high top shelf, then I’m willing to do it.

What can I say? My boss is truly blessed to have me.

.

The third regular customer I see the most is the man of steel who hails from the coldest planet of our solar system, Uranus. What’s incredible about this guy is that he’s from Earth, just like me, and used to be made of flesh and bone - just like me! How do I explain? Let me tell you what he told me, because I have a feeling you won’t believe me otherwise.

What I notice is that he’s usually a cranky customer, so he rarely greets me even though I’m smiling at the counter. I’m used to unfriendly customers and having to sound chipper regardless, so I swallow my self-respect for five minutes and cheerfully give him the coffee he orders. Usually he just grunts and walks away to the coldest corner that we have - the Ice Corner, reserved for those who are used to colder and harsher temperatures than inside Pluto’s weather-resistant dome - except one day, he gives me a peculiar comment that makes me think twice.

As soon as he takes the coffee from me, he mutters something along the lines of, “Reminds me of Earth’s coffee. I grew up there, you know, before I was like… this.” He then points to his metal body before leaving the counter area, leaving me with my mouth hanging open like an idiot.

He hasn’t given me too many chances to ask him more about it since then. It doesn’t help that he drops by the Pioneer at the busiest hours - around hour fourteen, right after the first day feast that most Plutonians take part in. I hardly get an opportunity to chat with him because of that, but something tells me that he intends to keep it that way. As far as I know, the steel men and women of Uranus are still able to simulate something close to taste using bionic sensors in their mouths, so it’s good to know that someone who used to be human can enjoy a good cup of coffee that I, another human being, made. A human turning into a steel cyborg - that was the stuff of “made up” superheroes during the time of my ancestors. Not anymore, though. It really seems like anything and everything is possible in this day and age.

.

I usually head home after ten hours at work to catch some sleep. My boss, who is thankfully a native Plutonian who can manage to stay awake during the entire day, lets me go and have my regular “human sleep.” When I moved here a couple years back, it felt super strange to go to bed when the sun was out, six times in a single day - or week, as we call it on Earth - but I adapted to it pretty quickly. A lot of people, humans and aliens alike, wonder what made me move out of my comfort zone on Earth to all the way out here. To this day, as I pull the blanket covers over my eyes to head to sleep, I’m not entirely sure why. All I wanted back then was a grand adventure, so going furthest from Earth to a (re)classified planet seemed like the right choice. Sprinkle my knowledge about coffee on top, and boom, I was a perfect fit for the Pioneer.

Learning to get into the same rhythm as my boss was one thing, but getting to meet all these people from other planets was truly something else. I mean, what did I expect? Of course I’m going to meet aliens that people on Earth usually know through pictures during intergalactic visits, or see in alien-restricted areas. The freedom of everyone from all planets walking about Pluto is still one of my favorite things in the world - we’re so freaked out by the unknown back on Earth sometimes. I mean, how can you say that you’re truly accepting of different species if you don’t trust any of them enough to go wherever they please? Anyway, getting to see the others up close, telling them about Earth, and exchanging stories has been groundbreaking for me. Hell, I should write a book about this and use it to educate people back home. “Aliens” aren’t that weird - with the universal translator being adopted for regular use, you can really tell that the nature of life doesn’t change very much from planet to planet. Kindness and love can also exist outside of Earth’s boundaries.

Who knows, maybe one day I’ll return home for good and settle down with another human being as my family desires. But for now, I’m perfectly content being the only human barista at the Pioneer cafe. Not only do I spark hope in young Earthlings who manage to visit, but I’m also a special and unique voice here.

Mind you, I’m not the only human on Pluto. There are some business owners here and there. It’s just that I find it challenging to see someone in a similar position as me. Actually, that reminds me - my boss did say that he could hire me an assistant, if I wanted. I’m going to have to see if anybody else back home is willing to take the same leap I took…

All right - enough bedside musings. Good night (day).