Month 2 of 12 Transient Visitors Teaser Tale by David O’Boyle
I grew up in garbage. Know that, otherwise you won’t understand why I do what I do…why I’m a garbage man…why I’m an Igniter.
Don’t mistake this fact for metaphor.
Back in the day, where we lived, we ate chaff; we drank the offscourings of urbanization; to sleep we burrowed into the deepest mounds of detritus until we hit dissolved organic material for pillow-use. Partners? Our partners were typhoid, cholera; dysentery. Their henchmen, mosquitos and flies, became our default pets, like cats who lap leftover milk from abandoned cereal bowls and afterwards never leave.
Society was okay with me growing up in garbage. They were less okay when a clogged storm drain dampened the socks of a rich man hailing a cab, transforming his expensive Italian shoes into goulashes. When that happened, there was national crises. Lawmakers passed laws. Pundits proclaimed materialism finally finished us.
Initial attempts to rectify the excessive waste problem failed. Efforts amounted to a lot of old wine in new bottles. Ideas like that couldn’t solve this century’s problems. This century needed whiskey, new whiskey in new pot stills. Powerful people resisted change. The more the old ways faced opposition, the more they dug in, first by defending former failures and then by opposing future proposals. Watching the world drown proved easier adrift. Aboard their life boats, barricaded inside their ship cabins, tycoons spooned stockpiles of dry personal flotation devices, and slept.
Natilia Cobaseixer did not.
Instead of sleeping, she founded a company. That company dedicated itself entirely to the Aoehkcibtyv Initiative, an internal program that provided one year of pay to anyone to pursue anything, free of all constraints. Rather appropriately, the name derived from Natalia pressing random keys on her keyboard in answer to the line item on the company’s corporate filing that sked for a name. The made-up name, a word not yet a word, symbolized the goal of the initiative- to figure out solutions to current problems using newly discovered methods.
Ten years later, Earth had a solution to the garbage problem.
Everyone knew it was possible to shoot garbage to the sun. What we didn’t know before the Aoehkcibtyv Initiative was how to do it, and how to do it fast and cheap. Perhaps that’s why the technology that solved all of this was designed for something else. The New Newton, as he came to be called, cared little about garbage or space. He cared about ice cream. More than that, he cared about Appalachian Trail hikers, the main patrons at the ice cream parlor he managed in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Why such a specific target consumer? Harper’s Ferry is the symbolic midpoint of the Appalachian trail. When hikers heading south to Georgia or north to Maine arrive there, they come haggard from woods life, intent on celebrating their achievements outside civilization, inside of it.
While it was common for trail hikers to beeline first for ‘real’ food and drink, their ultimate sense of satisfaction came from their first spoonful of ice cream. There’s something so human about it, so foreign to the wilderness experience, that made it the finest of comfort foods. The New Newton sought to capitalize on those cravings beyond Harper’s Ferry, in the densest pockets of back country on the trail, where ice cream could only be devoured in dreams. Or, in the New Newton’s mind, by rapid drone delivery.
So when another hiking season ended, he submitted his temporary resignation from the ice cream parlor and joined the Aoehkcibtyv Initiative. In looking to give hikers something sweet and cold to get through a day of remote mountaineering, the New Newton stumbled upon renewable propulsion technology. The discovery made his ice cream dreams come true. It also made travel to the sun doable in a day, on the cheap.
I am proud to say that I was the first specialized space garbage man, the first Igniter. Being an Igniter means that I fly the last spaceship on the Earth-to-Sun assembly line before it gets dumped into the great star at the center of our solar system. It’s quite fulfilling, my job. Each time I empty another batch I think about another kid saved from growing up sick, or worse.
Despite the hip title, it’s not the most glorious job. Wages reflect that. It’s also quite dangerous. But not how you’d expect. The sun, nature’s nuclear weapon, is not the main cause of death. Aliens aren’t either. Another menace lurks out here, its origins our own creation:
In the early days of igniting, when both prevention and containment methods were new, we lost so much garbage travelling back and forth between the sun and the earth that an asteroid belt of space debris developed. We also lost a lot of good people. You see, in there, one hit from a washing machine can bring down a whole ship. Gallows humor gets us through. Us as igniters relish in the irony of partnering with a giant ball of fire during a day’s work, and then meet our demise at the hands of a kitchen appliance located 93 million miles away from the nearest Bed Bath and Beyond.
It makes our local union slogan that much more fitting: “Space is a blue-collar place.”