The Trash

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
40 years ago humans started blasting all their trash off-planet. A few weeks ago, trash started falling from the sky, but it doesn't look anything like what was sent away. Is the trash first contact with an alien race or our own refuse come back to choke the planet? As humanity rushes to find out which they may learn another lesson, that we are their own worst enemy.

Submitted: January 03, 2019

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Submitted: January 03, 2019

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I.

Time is short. The great weeding is upon us. Others are tossing valuables into the trash in hopes of preserving their legacies. All I have worth saving are my memories and the answer to a question about the strange life we once led. But in order to understand the answer you must first understand the question and in order to understand the question, you must know how we got here.

II.

No one knows precisely when the trash started falling from the sky. Our ancestors did not pay garbage the same attention that we do now, so for all anyone knows, we spent decades blasting rubbish off-planet, only to have it boomerang back to Earth to be collected and rocketed into space again. That is of course if you believe the trash that falls from the sky is our refuse returning to us, which is an opinion I do not share.

III.

The first person to make a stink about the trash was Dikenzie Lopez of Marlboro, Wyoming. According to the marker outside her home, on April 18, 2075, Mrs. Lopez found a food wrapper on her front lawn that frightened her so badly she called the FBI about it. When she reached the operator at the Cheyenne Field Office, she described the wrapper as a silver sheet covered with strange black markings which she believed were either Chinese or Russian characters. Mrs. Lopez speculated that it was a message to sleeper agents inside the USA, activating them to start a new world war.

The operator suggested that Mrs. Lopez place her garbage in the nearest trash capsule and not bother the FBI about it again. Mrs. Lopez refused to destroy “the evidence”, and promised to call back. Mrs. Lopez kept her word and phoned the FBI every day for two months until the Chief himself promised to send an agent to her home.

IV.

According to the report that Agent Marlo Holden filed, the moment he parked his black Camaro in front of Mrs. Lopez’s farmhouse, she shot off her porch like it was on fire. Agent Holden wrote that he unholstered, but did not aim, his weapon as she sprinted toward him, dragging a cloud of dust behind her, and waving a ziplock bag above her head.

“It’s Russian ain’t it?” Mrs. Lopez asked as Agent Holden scrutinized the wrapper through the cloudy ziplock bag. No matter how he turned it, he could not make sense of the black squares, rhomboids, and triangles that adorned the silver sheet.

“I don’t know what it is but I’ll ask the boys in the lab,” he said which satisfied Mrs. Lopez enough that she gave him the wrapper on his promise that he would update her once he got the lab results from HQ. When Agent Holden returned to the Field Office, he filed his report, then he shoved the wrapper into his desk where he promptly forgot about it.

***

Agent Holden was reminded of the wrapper three months later when an Agent from the San Francisco Field Office, called him with a question about strange trash after having been gifted his own strange wrapper him by an old hippy. He wondered what kind of headway Holden had made in the time since his report was filed. I do not know what explanation Agent Holden gave Agent Wilson, but I assume it was a lie.

A week later both wrappers were headed to Langley, Virginia, to have their compositions analyzed and their symbols translated. The San Francisco sample made it to Virginia, but Mrs. Lopez’s wrapper was intercepted before it arrived at the lab. In now either sits encased in bulletproof glass at the High Church of Floatology in Oklahoma City where I last saw it, or it has been placed in the garbage with our other holy relics.

V.

Once FBI scientists got their gloved hands on the San Francisco sample they photographed the sheet from every angle, then destroyed it by making a series of very precise clippings, with very precise scissors, which were presumably crafted very precisely. After that, then subjected the clippings to fire, ice, acid, lasers, and centrifuges until they disintegrated to atoms.

For all their destruction, the scientist learned very little. The wrapper was primarily made of carbon and contained toxic levels of mercury, otherwise, it was unremarkable. The translators fared worse than the scientists. After a year, the combined power of several supercomputers and the Bureau’s best linguists failed to make any sense of the symbols beyond noting their simple geometry.

An official FBI report was released several months later to an interested public because while the FBI was investigating their sample, trash had begun falling from the sky with more frequency and in greater amounts. Though heavily redacted, the report made the FBI’s findings clear. According to them, the refuse originated on Earth and had been sent to space in trash tubes, where it had been perverted by nearly four decades of radiation, before inexplicably returning home.

To that, I say, Phooey!

VI.

After the report, the whole world took notice of the trash. With strong public interest in the garbage and samples freely available, major universities launched independent studies to check the FBI’s findings. Drowsy undergraduates, under the loose supervision of their professors, subjected the garbage to a range of attacks and got roughly the same results as the FBI. They published hundreds of more papers about their research anyway.

When funding to test the composition of the wrappers dried up, scientists focussed on its method of return instead. To account for the trash’s quick round trip through space, they were forced to simplify their models of gravity and constrict the bounds of the universe, which they were happy to do because it made math much easier for them. They then invented new equations to explain the chemical transformations that turned food wrappers into toxic waste. Best of all for themselves, the scientists formed new branches of science like Gravo-Romulology and Chemo-Radio-Transmutation which required new departments be installed in major universities to be headed by them and their assistants. Once enshrined in academia, the department heads got agents and appeared on TV talk shows to explain their findings to a hungry public. Some became minor celebrities. One dated a model.

VII.

Though the public was generally satisfied with the academics’ explanations at first, they grew restless when science failed to stop the trash from piling up in the streets.

The garbage had left the Earth in an orderly fashion, compacted into steel containers, attached to giant rockets, then blasted deep into space; but it came back as a flaming mess. The wildfires were uncontrollable. Cities burned and smoke blackened the sky, which caused tornadoes though we never learned why because the scientists were singularly focussed on the trash. But the time governments got depressed and stopped counting, property damage from the trash was in the trillions.

Some blamed God for the disasters and church attendance spiked for a time until a series mega-churches caught fire and trapped their congregations inside. The faithful reasoned that if they were going to die in a burning building anyway, it might as well be their house, so they stayed home.

VIII.

When there was nothing left to burn, the trash piled up in the streets and, since the economy was in shambles, some people took an interest in deciphering the symbols as a means of passing the time. The few hobbyists who claimed they had cracked the code never survived any scrutiny, but usually made the news a few times before they were found out as frauds.

Some ate the trash as a form of penance. They all died of mercury poisoning. Others covered their windows with the shiny silver sheets in hopes of keeping out evil. They also died of mercury poisoning but did so more slowly.

No matter how much trash was collected, or how much mental energy was expended, humanity remained, as ignorant as ever. Dr. Florence Frost, Chair of Gravo-Romolology at Harvard summed up humanity’s plight with a question, the same query I hope to answer for you. “What happens when you give a gorilla a newspaper?”

IX.

Eventually, global citizens got tired of seeking to understand the trash and demanded its removal instead. When government did not move quickly enough, citizens gathered truckloads of garbage and dumped it on the lawn of the nearest politician. Our elected leaders declared “The Great Dumping” to be an act of war and declared martial law.

As soldiers patrolled our smoldering streets, governments limped into action. The US spent months planning and executing Operation Blast Off, which consisted of raking up more trash, compacting it into bigger tubes, attaching those tubes to more powerful rockets, and blasting them deeper into space.

The Russians added nukes to their trash tubes, hoping to vaporize their waste and thus prevent its return. Unfortunately, they failed to account for the added strain of the nuclear payloads on their rockets, and their tubes detonated in low orbit, destroying most of Earth’s satellites.

The British filled a trash tube with Beatles gold records and blasted it into space, hoping to expand their cultural reach in the galaxy.

Certain countries, used to living with refuse, hardly noticed the trash and did nothing.

The boldest plan was announced by Chinese Premier Shin Pao, who, in a press conference, introduced two teams of scientists who had agreed to undertake suicide missions in order to identify the mechanism of the trash’s return. After introducing his cosmonauts, Premier Pao displayed the clear tubes that would house them on their journey through the cosmos and the notepads his government expected to pluck off their corpses when they returned. For a time, we held onto the grim hope that one day we would understand.

X.

While we waited for answers and stared up at the sky, we did what we had always done, and filled that sky with Gods. Space Christianity came first. For all its bulk and age, The Bible proved to be a remarkably flexible document. Within a few years of the trash’s arrival, savvy preachers, like Reverend Penelope Morris of Knoxville, Tennessee, had invented new gospels which told of Jesus’s journey through the galaxy following his crucifixion and resurrection here on Earth. The Newest Testament recounted the Savior’s battled with Space Satan as he sought God, the Father, in the Crab Nebula. In his struggles, Space Jesus was assisted by a diverse team of intergalactic apostles, all of which were available as action figures, in the church gift shop.

Those, like me, who prefer science to witchcraft joined together in the Church of Floatology. We know God as an indifferent cosmic gardener who fathered our race eons ago as he journeyed through the galaxy spreading seeds. Now that we have grown, he is coming back to weed the unworthy and harvest his crop.

Whenever Floatologists and Space Christians met there were problems. They called us blasphemers, we called them fools. We both regret the blood our disagreements have shed, though it was unavoidable if our gospels are to be believed. Soil needs to be fertilized after all.

We might have gone on fighting until the end, but we called a truce when the Chinese cosmonauts returned.

XI.

That was six months ago, five years after they left Earth. The world rejoiced as the Chinese tracked down the capsules and transported them back to Bejing. The general feeling of hope was best summed up by Canadian Prime Minister, Herbert Flynn, who said, “With knowledge, we can act.” However we were slow to learn, and even slower to act.

After a week, enthusiasm faded. Premier Pao refused to release the cosmonauts’ notebooks or to allow foreign scientists to examine their bodies. When he announced his decision at a press conference, some viewers noted that he and several high ranking members of his staff were glowing blue. Two days later, Premier Pao, his family, and several high ranking members of the Communist Party were quarantined. Three days later they were all dead.

The new Premier, General Ting, preached drastic action. He had the cosmonauts exhumed and burned along with the recently deceased, but cremation only spread the infection further. Within a month, half of China’s population was either blue or dead. In the confusion of the pandemic, photos of the cosmonauts’ notebooks were leaked to the press. When we saw them, we all recognized the writing but could not read it. Black triangles, rhomboids, and rectangles filled each page.

Following the outbreak of blue sickness in China, India became the most populous country on Earth, having ignored the trash and thus avoided involvement in global schemes to reduce or understand it. Once Indian leaders found this out, they invaded Pakistan.

Soon, other countries followed suit and the world descended into the global fracas that Mrs. Lopez had feared when she first brought her wrapper to the FBI’s attention. Ghana attacked Ethiopia, Belgium swiped at France, and the Russians took a shot at all of Eastern Europe. The North Americans banded together to keep the South Americans out. The Central Americans were caught in the middle so they fought amongst themselves. The Chinese closed ranks and threatened Japan than if they so much as looked across the East Sea they would be bombed into oblivion. The Japanese invaded England instead, taking them completely by surprise.

The garbage kept falling as war raged. It soaked up our blood and blanketed our dead. It allowed many of us to forget, but both God and I know what we have planted below.

XII.

After five months of fighting, we made a peace we do not anticipate enjoying. Nothing grows here anymore.

Last week, astronomers at every major university agreed that a massive projectile is headed for Earth. They expect it will make impact within a day. The scientists call it an “Extinction Level Event”. They are spending the time they have left arguing about whether it is an asteroid of a massive ball of trash.

Some think God will save us and pray all day. I wish I shared their optimism. I doubt there is anything worth harvesting in this barren land. Were I in charge, I would pull us out at the root and sow new seeds.

XIII.

That is what we were. Perhaps we did not deserve the life that was given to us. Perhaps we will not deserve the life that comes next. I am sure to the universe, either outcome is no great matter. There are other seeds out there somewhere, I know. I hope you have grown better than we did.

Before I am pruned by the cosmic gardener I would like to share with you the answer to Dr. Frost’s question in hopes it may aid you in your time of need. It is a knowledge which we have discovered through much suffering, so pay it due attention. What happens when you give a gorilla a newspaper? It does not learn to read, no matter how much you wish it would. It simply tears the thing to shreds. That is our nature. Beware.

 


© Copyright 2019 Ben Stearns. All rights reserved.

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