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technology

What We Leave Behind

by Val Nolan

After work we dig out our rubber boots, pull on our gloves, and we go down to the river to haul up old bollards and dredge garbage out of the watercourse. At the weekends we cycle to the beach with friends. There we fill crates with empty soda bottles and deflated balloons and all the wreckage from a summer’s worth of barbecues and picnics. One year we spent our vacation high in the mountains, bagging up the abandoned tents and beer cans and excrement which obstructs every corner of the base camps. Another time we dove into the ocean to strain endless resin pellets and flip-flops and discarded toothbrushes from its soupy depths.  

Some days we pause to look down on our ruined world from the vantage of the Moon, from lunar toss zones marked by bleached white flags and strewn with preposterous golf balls, empty film magazines, old boots, and bags full of faeces and vomit. We pick our way through used urine collection systems cocked crooked in the dust. We collect wet-wipes abandoned to geological time. Then we gaze upwards again through the polarising filters of long-discarded cameras. We consider a Mars strewn with tattered Bigelow modules and deliberately de-orbited relays, deflated air-beds and sleeping bags frozen in contorted solitude, decommissioned science stations, twisted aerials, plastic cutlery, and equipment abandoned in position.

Even more waste floats in the Jovian cloudtops. Snack packets and candy wrappers and flimsy shopping bags taken wing on supersonic jet streams. Here the plastic yokes of six-packs entangle the smaller animals of this atmosphere, choking them, constraining their buoyancy sacs and causing them to fall far below the level at which they can be rescued, down into the dark where they are crushed into diamonds and then into dust. In the oceans of Europa too, all the strange amphipods and vast leviathans have ingested polystyrene beads and packing peanuts. Fibres and particles now riddle their hindguts and what passes for their intestines. We can no longer remove this material. It is in their blood the way it is in ours.

Even the rings of Saturn are strewn with trash. EVA tethers and pallet assemblies, florescent plastic wigs and human sanitary products. Below this vast unrecyclable arch, discarded fishing gear and lines and abandoned bait bags drift on the hydrocarbon lakes of Titan. There are forgotten baskets and beachballs and mannequin heads. There are swimming donuts and pool noodles. There are ghost nets so vast that they are visible from orbit. There are lone sandals or parasols or bucket-like shapes which no one can identify for sure. Everywhere there are plastic bags of all colours and dimensions bearing the logos of long dead corporations.

This far from the sun, anything photodegradable will last for thousands upon thousands of years. This leaves Neptune a microplastic smog which poisons the filter feeders who need its gasses to survive. On Triton we find continents of used stretch wrap shipped out from Earth to be disposed of in landfills on the edge of space. When we reach Pluto, we find whole regios blanketed by transverse dunes of coffee pods. We discover the coasts of its subsurface seas are buried in disintegrated barrels and fragmented salad domes and the cellulose acetate of a trillion cigarette filters. We weep at how its heart is forever clogged with plastic.

And so we work in teams with litter-pickers to gather what we can. Filling sacks and then upcycled transportation racks. Eventually gathering megatonnes of anthropogenic debris to form huge rubble-pile objects in the Kuiper Belt. We find old zero-g ballpoints and sex toys left behind by lonely astronauts. We find clouds of refuse ejected from interplanetary cruises. Beyond them again, banners and streamers discarded after music festivals and left drift through space like exhausted comets. Finally, at the edges of the termination shock, silent vuvuzelas tumbling end-over-end like the grand old ships in the science fiction we used to dream about.

Here we take a moment to affirm our resolve. Then we go on: outwards to stars circled by single-use planets where we retrieve thermoplastic frames thrown out by colonists who botched their settlement designs. We hold collections for used spacesuit components and old sun visors and bottle caps (always more bottle caps). We hold rallies to clean-up worlds unseen by human eyes and yet somehow strewn with human waste. We petition to outlaw autonomous self-replicators designed to transform whole solar systems into virgin polymers for weaving future habitats or clamshell packaging for burger cartons and descent stages.

We see that the interstellar medium is filled with swirling vortices of sippy cups and cracked shampoo bottles and the broken limbs of androids rendered obsolete by advances in synthetic biology. All we can do is keep gathering this trash. All we can do is keep rocketing home sledloads of anything that can be reused and consigning the rest to the solar incinerators. The work is difficult, but we know we can pace the leading edge of humanity’s colonial wave, right to the boundaries of the Great Galactic Garbage Patch. Dig out your rubber boots and pull on your gloves. Come and help us make this right.

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Bio:

Val Nolan lectures on genre fiction and creative writing at Aberystwyth University. His stories have appeared in The Year’s Best Science FictionInterzoneUnidentified Funny Objects, and been shortlisted for the Sturgeon Award. His academic work has appeared in Science Fiction Studies and Foundation.

How to Check if Your Peacekeeper-2000 Is Loaded

by David F. Shultz

Congratulations on your purchase of a fully-licensed Peacekeeper-2000 from Interplanetary Defense Innovations, LLC. The PK2Ktactical squad assault machinegun features fully automatic plasma discharge effective to 800 meters, built-in grenade launcher compatible with the full line of IDI minicell cartridges (please see attached ordering form 2A for tactical grenade options), and the artificial intelligence SmartKill(TM) system. The PK2K is your total peacekeeping solution.

Loyalty, duty, honor, purpose. IDI understands what it means to be a soldier. For more than three-hundred years IDI has provided peacekeeping solutions, combining cutting-edge developments in military science and technology from across the galaxy. We stood with the Terrans on Ceta-Gamma. We were there for the uprising on Ares-6. We are the leading supplier of armaments for the Alpha-Quadrant Allegiance, the only manufacturer approved by both the Cerulean Empire and the Legion of the Fallen, and the official sponsor of Captain Kelly Donovan and the Freedom Brigade. We are now proud to offer the PK2K assault model as our flagship assault weapon for close quarters combat.

You need a weapon that’s as reliable as you are, that’s as much a part of you as you are a part of your people (or faction). Whether you are a brave freedom fighter defending your homeworld of Yll’Risa from villainous imperial tyrants, or a noble soldier of the empire pacifying the terrorist rebel scum of Yll’Risa, IDI has solutions for your peacekeeping needs.

The PK2K is equipped with biometric fingerprinting to ensure that your trusted weapon does not fall into enemy hands. This is your weapon—it’s a part of you. If the PK2K does not recognize its user, it will discharge the fusion cartridge through our patented KILLoWATT system, neutralizing all threats within a radius of five meters. Upon initial activation, please follow calibration procedures to ensure the PK2K syncs with your identity. In accordance with standard assault weapon good practices, please ensure that your weapon is safely secured when not in your possession. IDI is not liable for any injuries and/or deaths to owner, family, squad members, or others as a result of accidental activations of the KILLoWATT system due to negligence of the owner or failure to follow weapon protocol as outlined in the full terms of your license.

Thanks to our AI SmartKill(TM) system, you don’t even need to pull the trigger — in Kill Assist mode, the weapon will discharge automatically during sweeps to maximize tactical advantage and lethality when directed towards legitimate combatants. The AI recognizes targets, accepts strategic orders from command, coordinates activity across squads, and maximizes the effectiveness of your unit, firing when you’ve got the perfect shot. The SmartKill system automatically tracks confirmed kills, facilitating strategic planning and promotion decisions. To reduce friendly fire incidents, your PK2K comes packaged with four IDI Friendly Forces ID chips (please see attached ordering form 2C for additional squad tag options).

Owing to our state-of-the-art power system, you never need to check if your PK2K is loaded! IDI‘s microfusion cartridge revolutionizes the industry, ensuring your weapon is always ready to serve — the ideal firearm for the ideal fighter. The cartridge is to a weapon what a warrior is to their country: indispensable. That’s why we’ve designed the PK2K cartridge with a microfusion reactor for maximum reliability, providing a usage of 20+ years under proper conditions, and a life-time replacement guarantee. If at any time your fusion cartridge is operating below performance specifications, simply return the damaged or malfunctioning unit for safe disposal and IDI will provide a replacement. You never need to worry about spent cartridges again.

As a licensed PK2K owner, you are eligible for our Galaxy Hero rewards program, which awards free equipment and supplies based on individual and squad standings in the SmartKill performance ladder. Simply activate the SmartKill system, and your confirmed kills will automatically place you and your squad in the competitive ladder. IDI is proud to recognize soldiers and squads for outstanding performance in the field. Don’t just be a hero—be a Galaxy Hero!

The PK2K model is affiliated with the Trans-Galactic Bounty Program. As a licensed owner, you may opt-in to the TGBP in order to earn galactic credits and bonus rewards. Your weapon will be updated with bounty data, including locations, targets, and credit values. If the SmartKill system is active, your PK2K’s legitimate target list will include active bounties, so you can begin supplementing your income with freelance work and improve your ranking in the Galaxy Hero ladder. IDI is here to help you do what you do best.

Thanks to myriad industry and government partnerships, IDI is able to offer extended support to licensed veteran users of any series-1 IDI ground-level product, including the PK2K. If you have been afflicted during the course of your service by PTSD, loss of limbs, death, or any approved ailment specified in form 17-D, you may be eligible for credit assistance. Simply submit forms 16 A-through-D to their respective organizations’ appropriate channels or representatives. Void where prohibited by law. Additional limitations and restrictions may apply. Consult your organization’s relevant information services or human resources representative for locally applicable rules and regulations.

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Bio:

David F. Shultz writes speculative fiction from Toronto, Canada, where he manages the 600-member Toronto Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers group, and is lead editor at TDotSpec. His over-fifty published works are featured or forthcoming through publishers such as Diabolical Plots and Third Flatiron. David holds degrees in cognitive science, philosophy, law, and education. Author webpage: davidfshultz.com/about