Author : David Barber

The boy grew tired of scrubbing crud. He wiped his nose, streaking chlorophyll across one cheek.

The green boomed and bust. The man knew this. Booms, you tapped off the extra green. Busts, you dumped the crud into the recycler and started with fresh green. But the tank had to be clean first. The boy knew this now.

Tell me about when they threw things away.

The man roused himself, focused on the boy.

I mean, where did they throw them to?

The world was bigger. They just left them somewhere else.


His apprentice asked lots of questions and the man kept explaining but the boy just wasn’t very bright. People said IQ had dropped. Some by-product that was building up in the closed loop. Or getting low. Nobody knew. Nobody even knew how to find out. Some said it was nonsense, but then the stupid would say that.

What did they throw away?

Everything. They had so much they just picked up a new one.

The boy sort of understood new. Each daymeal was new. It might be yeaststick or krill cake. Sometimes it was vegetables. Vegetables was best. The boy knew this. It was the notion of something being wasted he didn’t get.

Like stuff, he suggested.

Stuff was the irreducible exhausted residue left over. Recyclers wouldn’t touch it. Not now anyway. Lots of strains had gone weak.

No, said the man irritably, Not like stuff. What do we do with stuff?

The boy sniffed. Another flu going around. Chairs, he said. Shoes.

Furniture that bent. Cups that sagged when hot. They stored bricks of stuff in case somebody came up with a use for it.

Nobody wants stuff to be to wasted do they?

The boy shook his head.

Alright. Say a man has a worn-out shoe.

Couldn’t he mend it any more?

I don’t think they mended much. They’d take the shoe and… just bury it somewhere.

But where’s the new shoe come from?

Hard to explain a world full of things and empty of people.

They made it out of things that hadn’t been used before.

The boy wiped his nose again, unconvinced.

Look, said the man, impatient now. They took things from the pile they hadn’t used yet and when they’d used them up, they threw them on another pile. Alright?

The man didn’t hit the boy much but he was getting angry again. The boy couldn’t get past that first pile getting smaller. Best he said nothing.

Nightmeal was krill cake. Another baby had died in their corridor. This new flu mainly hit the young. People watched silently as they did the recycling. Only the mother tried to interfere.

The man usually read until his eyes got tired. There was talk of tithing books again. Cellulose for the bulk feedstock. But the man knew it was iron and magnesium the green needed. Grumbling, he looked everywhere for his book.

The clean tank waited to be seeded with fresh green tomorrow. The boy settled down behind it and thought hard about waste.

Something not put in the recycler. He tried to see what that meant. You could tear it up and scatter it. But that was just mulching. You could even eat it and it still wouldn’t be wasted.

It took hours to move blocks of stuff, bury the book deep and cover it up again. He’d thrown the book away.

He said it out loud. He’d wasted it. The boy tasted what it was like to be selfish.

In years to come, he remembered that was how the end began.

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