It All Comes Back
A short story by
'Why me? It's always me! Why not Juno for a change, she's
easily big enough!'
Martha Coleman looked over at the boy, realising that his
flushed face and set jaw were more about the action
developing on the wall-screen in front of him than the
possible unfairness of the task she'd set him. Watching his
life-size twin, dressed in late twenty-first century
battle-armour and about to decapitate his opponent with a
sweeping bolt of fire, she sighed and held up her palms in
'All right Apollo, you can finish your game first – as long
as it's no more than fifteen minutes. Okay?'
Glancing over at her daughter's half-completed jungle scene
on the opposite wall, Martha watched a huge green snake
untwine itself from a branch and lower its coils centimetre
by centimetre towards an animal grazing beneath it. White
stripes were appearing one by one on the latter's quivering
torso, and Martha gazed in fascination as the zebra’s head
jerked upright, its newly arrived nostrils twitching in
fear. In a way her son was right, she decided, observing the
fierce concentration in the girl's bright blue eyes. The
eight year-old was indeed big enough to do a bit more around
the place. Not that there was much to do though, she
thought, gazing around at the comfortably arranged,
spotlessly clean room. The house-bots did everything now,
and much more efficiently than a mere human.
With the single exception, of course, of the garbage-bot.
Owing to a combination of overwork and obsolete technology,
it spent most of its time nowadays reclining outside in the
sunshine. Martha frowned. Scratching itself, if she had
correctly interpreted the last action she'd caught the
simian-like, well-muscled creature performing. As if she'd
read her mother's mind, Juno said: 'If we lived in town like
Monica does, we wouldn't need a gar-bot. They just throw
everything down the chute. I don’t know why you and Daddy
made us come out here in the first place.'
'Oh, come on honey, we've been through that a thousand
times. We came out to the country for the fresh air, the
greenery – you have to make some sacrifices for that.'
'Greenery? Oh, you mean the lawn. A green carpet with bugs
in it! As for the air, it's fresher in here than it is
'That's because... oh, you know the reasons,' Martha said,
exasperated. The simple truth was that, since the last farms
had been forced to give way to their factory equivalents, a
necessity caused by a cascading death-rate and the
consequent rise in demand for food, the only remaining green
areas were the tiny, expensive lawns that 'country-dwellers'
valued so highly. The atmosphere that encircled the planet
was no longer maintained by plant-life but by its industrial
equivalent, and its filtered remnants had the chilled, dead
taste of the air-conditioning of two hundred years ago.
Juno sighed and turned away from her screen, her voice
abandoning its sarcasm.
'Oh, I know, mum. And it’s not that bad here really, I
suppose.' She frowned. 'But I was thinking – where does our
garbage actually end up? I mean, I know it goes into the
skip and then the air-trucks take it away – but where to?
I've often wondered.'
Pleased to have the temporary attention of at least one of
her off-spring, Martha walked over and sat down beside her
'Nice jungle,' she said, nodding at the screen. 'Scary
snake. Surely you learnt about that in school, though, Joon?
The trucks take it to one of the centres where it's loaded
on to the Inter-stellars, and the Inters take it to the
nearest black hole. It only takes about a day now, I think,
with that new what-d’you-call-it drive.'
'Ghan Drive, mum. Everybody knows that. I'd forgotten about
the b-hole thing, though. How come the ships don't get
pulled in? I thought everything did.'
'That's easy, stoopid,' came a voice from the other side of
the room. 'Soon as they sense the pull, they just release
their loads and come home.'
'So? What happens to it then, smarty?' demanded Juno.
'Yes, what does?' echoed Martha, 'and don't call your sister
'And don't call me Polly, mum, for crap's sake. It's bad
enough at school. The answer is that nobody really knows,
even now.' The boy’s eyes flickered continually over the
screen, his thought-synapses causing his likeness to leap
nimbly over a fire-breathing demon, turn abruptly and
vaporise it with a quick puff of green light. 'Some people
still come up with the old parallel-universe thing, but
there's never been any real evidence for it. Me, I think all
the mass and energy that's dragged in is simply absorbed,
expanding the b-hole minutely each time.'
'Okay Pol ... Apollo. Since you're so smart, can you tell me
the name of the b-hole in question?' his mother asked with a
'Easy. Ranks-Corfina, quadrant three-one-oh. Smallest known
to man, but one of the oldest. About seventeen L-Y's away.'
'Hmm.' Martha thought a moment. 'But why bother taking the
garbage so far? Why don't they simply fire it at the sun?
Wouldn't it just burn up?'
'Because,' said Apollo, his eyes rolling, 'It's against the
law to dump anything inside the Solar System. Everybody
knows ... oh, bugger it, I'm killed! That's all your fault!'
His mother smiled her satisfaction. 'Good. Now, how about
As they watched the scowling boy depart, dragging a loaded
plastic hover-sled behind him, Juno's exquisitely
proportioned little face, product of a long perfected
gene-cycle, looked questioningly up at her mother. 'Mum,
what's recycling, then?'
Martha frowned. 'Recycling? Well, I think that comes from
the time when they ran out of places to put the garbage. It
had to be ... used again, somehow. Yes, I think they had to
separate the different types – like plastic, glass and food
waste – and use them all again.'
'Use them again? Yuck!'
'Well, I’m sure they cleaned it all up first. I'm talking
back in the last century – even the twentieth, maybe. It was
a big problem for them then, I think.'
Juno shivered. 'Well, I'm glad I wasn't around then. Imagine
having to re-use everything. It's disgusting!'
'It is to us, but you have to remember that everything used
to cost a fortune once. If it wasn't for cold-fusion and the
solar ...' Martha paused, tilting her head. 'What's that
noise? Did you hear something, Joon?'
'What noise? Oh, it must be raining.'
'No ...' said her mother slowly. 'It's Wednesday. It only
rains on Thursday afternoons. Unless ...'
Her words were cut off as Apollo burst into the house. The
twelve year-old was panting hard and his eyes seemed about
to burst from their sockets.
'Mum!' he yelled. 'There's stuff coming out of the sky! All
kinds of stuff!'
As he spoke there was a loud crash outside and all three
ducked instinctively. Clutching her children to her, Martha
stared out of the window to witness a strange snow falling
across the grey, factory-filled horizon – a snow made up of
objects in a variety of shapes and sizes, many of which she
recognised. Floating waves of coloured plastic swirled
around a torrent of cascading bottles, cans and television
screens. Battered vehicles – air-cars, scooters, sledges and
trucks – hurtled downwards to explode on contact with
streets and forecourts, their fragments screaming away like
bullets. Martha jumped as a thick green liquid splattered
against the sil-plast surface in front of her, the mess
causing the self-cleaning window unit to whine and hiss with
effort. Then, as the air began to fill with a rank stink of
death and decay, something heavy landed close to the house,
shaking its walls and floor with the vehemence of an
Aroused from her terrified funk by her children's screams,
Martha swung around in time to witness a huge shard of glass
slip magically through the soft material of the ceiling,
transforming itself into a million shining arrowheads as it
hit the ground a second later. Her body crying out in pain
and her mind reeling in fear and confusion, she struggled to
enclose her children still deeper within her torn and
But then, as their house exploded into a thousand pieces,
neither Martha Coleman nor her children had any sense
remaining with which to identify the choking mix of ancient
garbage that replaced it; a century of discarded detritus
whose constituents melded in a terrible familiarity with the
flesh and blood of the humans, before burying itself over
and again, layer after layer, hour after hour, until the day
came when a kind of peace would return to planet Earth; a
silent, wind-swept peace in which no life stirred under a
new and constant twilight.