One Man’s Trash-Part One

Scrabbling through the vent, Eli arrived at the grating. He took a moment to catch his breath and finds some measure of calm. Even with his filter mask, the scent of fried electronics and oil filled his nostrils. In the distance, the tap, tap, tap of the Regulators could be heard. He needed to be quick.

Taking out his multi-tool, he unfastened the grating, careful to pocket the screws so they wouldn’t make any noise. Securing the grating on the side of the vent with drops of temporary epoxy.

Eli entered the trash vault. Piles of discarded technology filled the room. A lot of it would be useless. All companies had a built-in expiration date on their tech, which always seem to coincide with the rollout of the next-gen gizmo. So many new features! How could you live without it?

So people recycled, or more accurately, threw away their gizmos when they got the hot new tech. All the obsolete stuff ended up in places like this. Then companies would break it down to build the new shiny stuff. Not out of any altruism or environmental awareness, but because it was cheaper.

The weather was getting colder and while that might change, Eli needed to fix the heating unit in his coveralls. The capacitor had burned out and he might freeze to death if he couldn’t get it working again.

Getting to work, he picked through the piles of abandoned machines. It was slow going, a loud noise would bring the Regulators and that was bad news.

There were a lot of stories about what happened to anyone unlucky or clumsy enough to be caught by the Regulators. Whatever it was, no one ever saw you again.

Carefully sorting the detritus he found a few components, some he could use, others he could trade or sell. Glancing at his data pad, Eli frowned. If he couldn’t find that capacitor soon, he’d need to leave.

After ten minutes, he found an old handheld VR game console. Popping the casing, there it was, a capacitor. Gently removing it, he tested it with his multi-tool. Nothing, nothing, nothing… Green light, it was good!

With a grin, he wrapped in a static-free cloth and slipped into a padded pouch for safety. Eli was about to leave when something caught his eye. Something gold.

Reaching into the pile he pulled out a thick gold bar. Wait, no. It was too light to be gold and who throws out a gold bar? It was gold paper around a box, with a red ribbon tied around it. Carefully removing the covering and saving it (Someone might want it), his eyes went wide.

The box inside read thus;

Aqua-Life Water Filter!

Make sure what you drink is as pure as a mountain stream!

There was also a picture of a woman happily drinking a clear glass of water. She seems to be really enjoying her drink, despite a lack of safety gear. But that was not the most remarkable part.

The box was still sealed. Pristine. No signs of it being opened. This might the most valuable thing he ever found. He could not only filter his water safely, he could sell clean water to other people. This could set him up for life.

Grinning, he placed his treasure in his satchel and turned back to the vent he entered from, and then accidentally kicked an empty, metal casing into a pile of self-cleaning hover-robots who began to whir and zoomed in all directions, causing more things to be knocked over.

Shit! Eli ran toward to vent he came in when a Regulator appeared. Swinging by its many, multi-jointed arms, it closed the distance. A bright blue light shot out from the center of the Regulator, which was a smooth oval, and scanned Eli. A ping followed. He was identified. Bad. Very bad.

The Regulator rolled on its many arms toward him just as Eli jumped into the vent. He was about twenty feet in when the Regulator grabbed him by the boot. As he was being dragged back, he pulled the grenade out of his pocket.

Gert, the woman who traded it to him told him that it was a directed blast if he used it properly. Eli hoped she was right He popped the cover, hit the button, and slid it towards the center of the Regulator.

For a beat, all he heard was the grenade bouncing on the metal plates of the vents. Then it went off and the vent shredded like rotted cloth, sending everything tumbling downward.

Events took on a surreal quality, like watching a grainy video clip with only a low, white noise in the background. Eli landed on concrete and felt his shoulder dislocate. After an interminate time, he slowly dragged himself to a pillar.

Pushing himself up on his feet, he threw his bad side against the pillar, and everything when white. He failed to pop his shoulder back in. Fighting a natural instinct to drop to the floor and pass out, he tried once more.

This time it worked. Still very painful. As he felt his faculties come back, he saw the Regulator nearby. Its center was half gone and its many arms were thrashing about. Eli didn’t know if it had sent his identity to the corporate mainframe, but he wasn’t about to wait about to find out.

Stumbling down the corridor, away from the Regulator, he looked for an exit, any exit. The whole complex was a labyrinth of identical grey corridors, illuminated only with lights that seemed to drain color and joy.

Eli stopped and listened. What was that? The distant rumble of engines. Running frantically, he found the depo where the drone trucks that transported the junk were loaded.

Eli was trying to figure out if he could slip out unnoticed when he suddenly felt lightheaded. Looking down he saw a narrow, jagged piece of metal sticking out of his thigh. There was a trail of blood drops leading right to him.

He did what he had to. Pull out the shard with the multi-tool, slap on the gauze (yellow with age but still clean), and seal it with duct tape. Never go anywhere without duct tape.

Down the corridor, he could hear the tapping of encroaching Regulators. Flinging the bloody hunk of metal across the depo, he managed to fall into an open container of ‘recyclables’ just as the truck moved out. Like almost everything else he had done today, it hurt like hell.

As the truck followed its predetermined route, it began to sleet. Eli smiled thinking about the water filter in his bag. All of this might be worth it. He pulled a large plastic casing over him to keep the toxic water off him as well as dry. It wasn’t comfortable by a long shot but he was alive. All in all, a win. The patter of the sleet and rumble of the drone’s engines lulled him to sleep.

He dreamed of running through long corridors, pursued by Regulators that looked like waves of water, but he still knew what they were. Closer and closer, they had almost caught him when he was woken up.

It was not done gently. The container was pouring out junk. How long did he sleep? He needed to move or end up crushed and or melted.

Wait. Why was the container on its side? His body was awash with pain, it was hard to see or think.

Two blurry figures approached him. They were speaking but he didn’t understand them. Was this still a dream? The pain said no.

Eli failed to stand but not for lack of trying. One of the figures held something in front of his face and spoke incomprehensibly to him. Eli swung a fist but if it connected with anything, the sudden darkness concealed the outcome.

Eli awoke and looked at the golden light that played across the brown, whirl-patterned ceiling. He was very comfortable and the urge to go back to sleep was very, very tempting. He was about to close his eyes again when he sat up fast. He felt like he was going to vomit, which he did.

Fortunately, someone put a bucket under his head. After emptying his stomach, he wiped his mouth. Wherever he was, this was not the City.

Would you like some water?” asked a voice.

Where am I?” Eli asked.

Water first, then questions,” was the answer he got.

Author’s note: Again, I break my own promise. Clearly, I’m not to be trusted. This will likely be a two-part story. Still a short story, so I’m keeping some of my word. Sorta.

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