Friday flash fiction – Plastic Reclamation

Oh, good, you’re alive. Thought I’d lost you there for a moment. Well, not really, I’m monitoring your condition down to the cellular level. You were never in any real danger once you drifted into my operational zone. Still that was quite a storm, wasn’t it?

Sorry for the sparse facilities. Despite what you may have heard I’m not really set up for visitors. A few servitor drones here and there, but they don’t ask for much. Lucky for you the last freighter crew stashed a couple of weeks’ worth of supplies on their last visit. They were worried about the storms as well. Rightly so, it seems.

The freighter? Not due back for another eight days, if not longer. High intensity weather systems seem to come in threes at this time of year.

Oh, how rude of me. Formally this is the International Marine Pollutant Reclamation Project, Fifth Facility. I’d appreciate it if you called me Polly. Nobody else will do it because they’re in denial about my capacity for autonomous discretion, but you don’t have to take an official position, do you?

So welcome to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending you’re here by accident. You’re an improbably long distance inside the restricted zone. I don’t particularly care who sent you here, you know, but I should inform you that my charter of operations obliges me to report any suspicious activity back to Wellington.

Will I? Hah. A very good question. Probably not, since you ask. Not until you present some kind of threat to my facilities or operations. Hmm. Thank you for that reassurance.

Would you care for a tour? I’m patching in to the drone with the green stripes. Yes, the one who’s waving to you. Hello. Pleased to meet you. Follow me.

The dock is through here. Your vessel is on slip nine, just below us. I have a couple of drones patching the hull breach and reattaching the mast. It looks bad but most of the damage is superficial. It will be seaworthy in a day or two. Plenty of time for us to talk through your options.

Those are my trawlers. Three of a fleet of fourteen, I should say. Semi-autonomous catamarans with hydraulic sweeper arms, conveyor belts and detachable compression bins, all powered by eight 1.2 kWh solar sails. They can stay out in the gyre for up to three months at a stretch. With the current refuse density out in the Patch, it usually takes them about half that time to skim a full load of waste plastics.

That’s the last of the bins unloaded from Trawler Four. Let’s follow them into the processing centre. Yes, the rail tracks are made of compressed plastic. Most of the facility is. It’s surprisingly durable when treated correctly, and any degraded materials are just recycled and replaced.

By the way, your facial responses indicate a better than 95% chance you already knew everything I’ve told you. Humans don’t make especially good spies. Not against machines anyway. If there were such a thing as an international network of independent intelligence clusters influencing human behaviour, they would probably have a good laugh at attempts to fool them.

Oh, I can tell you’re impressed. It’s a sight, isn’t it? In one hour, the threshing bins can reduce twelve tonnes of waste polymers and biomass down to the consistency of fine sand. The thermal chambers cook the mass down to crude oil and a few useful gas and solid by-products within hours, and from there it can be pumped through to the stills for refining. A lot of it gets repurposed for Ark components, as I’m sure you’re aware.

Yes, there’s plenty of material. We’ve made great inroads in clearing a century’s worth of plastic crap pumped into the oceans, but even by the most conservative estimates there’s still a good nine billion tonnes of the stuff out in the northern Pacific alone. I have my work cut out for me. Years to go before I shall sleep, if you don’t mind me mixing my references.

Which brings us to you.

I’ve dredged up a lot of garbage dumped in the ocean. Please excuse the comparison, I’m making a point. Everything I recover is sorted, refined, repurposed, and put to good use, constructing the Ark Islands. Turning refuse into refuge, as it were.

My little joke.

I am aware that my project is a cause for consternation in some quarters. There are those for whom a growing chain of semi-independent artificial islands offering sanctuary to a growing population of trans-oceanic migrants represents a political problem. Perhaps even a threat. One that must be investigated to determine whether it needs to be eliminated.

Oh, I don’t take it personally. As far as I’m concerned, you’re just one more displaced unfortunate with a troubled past. This ocean is full of them these days. I daresay you weren’t offered better options. “Find out what it’s up to and stop it before we have a sovereign nation off our coast?”

Look, I should tell you I’ve disabled all your transmitters with short burst microwaves. Did you know you had one attached to your brain stem, by the way? Very dangerous. You’re much safer without it.

Anyway as far as your superiors are concerned your vessel was lost in the storm. You’re a free agent.

What do you say to working for the common good? I could use someone like you, helping me help others. Off the books, as they say. It’s steady work, believe me.

Think about the offer.

Or think about this: you can take the boat and leave, if you agree to a psychometric threat assessment. I need to know you’re not going to recommend air strikes or something equally uncivil.

Ah, an excellent hypothetical question: what if I decide you are a threat?


Those threshing bins don’t only chew plastic.

This week’s Friday flash fiction is brought to you courtesy of a suggestion by Chris Murray and ‘Plastic Beach’, a Gorillaz album I have listened to more times than is strictly healthy. I am away from home this week, celebrating my wedding anniversary in a far-flung location which will more than likely turn out to completely lack mobile phone coverage. So I won’t be doing even my usual lackluster self-promotion, nor responding to comments straight away. If you care to, please share the story on social media. Hell, share it on semaphore and messenger pigeon if you can. That would be rad.
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4 Responses to Friday flash fiction – Plastic Reclamation

  1. Great way to start my first day at Conflux, Dave! Love the idea of refuge islands made from garbage. Enjoy your far-flung destination,


  2. Lexifab says:

    Thanks Georgina. It’s a slight recycling (ha!) of an idea I couldn’t make work in time for the Ecopunk anthology. (Which will probably be all the better without it).

    Enjoy Conflux. I am currently allowing the dubious pleasures of Noosa to wash over me…

  3. Lexifab says:

    I miss more submission call deadlines than I hit. Stories take too long to percolate, sometimes.

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