I was hoping to wait and see if my piece was chosen for display as part of the art gallery that I recently attended, but that is of course taking longer than anticipated, and my anticipation won’t allow for me to delay any longer. So here is the short piece I wrote in response to visiting the art gallery.
By Nathan R. Payne
Remnants. Detritus. Refuse. These were the words commonly used to describe the rare bits and pieces to come out of the sludge. Savone preferred words like treasure, and relic, but he was antiquated like that. As it was he currently held the latest piece to have moved him; a scrap-thin bit of torn paper wrinkled to the point of softening.
His finger traced the blue letters he knew to be there, a sharp ‘L’…an elegant ‘e’.
The idle motion of his finger soothed his ragged nerves as he waited in the pretentious room decorated with harsh neon facades. The floor dazzled an array of greens as another occupant walked across the room disappearing behind the false wall in the back.
Savone wondered what color the floor would display when it was he who was exiting toward the foreboding back room. Would it be the same electric blue that had greeted him? Or would it match his mood with a frenzied yellow?
Sludge defined every aspect of life these days. He worked it, governments held it, and black market dealers frequented the slums to sling it for exorbitant prices. It could be said that sludge was the fuel that kept life as everyone knew it moving, but Savone had other ideas. Somewhere deep in his gut he knew that life would continue. What else could scrap papers, worn boots, and a fake animal stuffed with cotton mean?
These bits and pieces, they were what kept him going. Even if he had to come to a hole like ‘reNUDE’ to feel better about himself, he at least had the memory of each scrap he managed to sneak out of the work site. The white coat lab technicians—men and women he was supposed to believe only measured and calculated the quality of sludge to come out from beneath the barriers he broke— kept a close eye on him, but every once in a while the machine would mysteriously act up, and he would have to move closer to the augur and “work” on it. The ruse could not last forever, they would catch him sooner or later, but Savone did not want to think about that. Not now. Not ever.
A phantom harmonic rang out from the back room announcing Savone’s turn to enter, and his glands restricted in his throat drying out his mouth with anticipation. As he walked the floor lit up yellow, but it was the yellow of excitement, not concern.
Euphoria lightened his every step, and the false wall led him around two sharp curves. Leaving behind the light show that was the front room, the back room mimicked the bright lights with its own sickening display of emitted darkness. It was a new technology. Diodes consumed light rather than produced it, and in this room the heavy use of these diodes gave the room a wavering haze that distorted the senses. At the center of it a man sat behind a large desk. His face was indeterminate, but that was how it always was.
Savone approached the desk, reached again into his pocket, and pulled out the paper he had scavenged from work. Laying it on the desk was all he needed to do, and the man produced a small bag tied tight around three black rocks of crystalline sludge. A hard swallow burned the portion of Savone’s throat just above his adam’s apple, and then slid down below. His hand reached out to grasp the little bag.
“What is this Savone? The third time you’ve come here?”
His hand stopped midair, his fingers itching to clutch the fine plastic and hard nuggets wrapped inside, “Yeah. Third time.”
“Remind me, what have you brought so far?”
“Boots and some doll-like animal thing. Come on,” Savone said, desire burning past his normal restraint, “I brought you a remnant, now give me the goods.”
It was a bold move. He had stepped out-of-bounds with just a few words and already he was wishing he could take them back.
The proffered hand retracted back across the desk, “And what do you bring me today?”
“Paper. With words. I don’t know, maybe a logo or something.”
“What does it read?” the man with the hidden face said.
“And what do you think that means?”
The earthcracking tools Savone used to break open the barriers covering the sludge had nothing on the pounding heart in his chest. Savone wanted nothing more than to get his rocks and be out of here, and yet here he was being asked by a cryptic man about a cryptic paper.
“I don’t know,” Savone spat, “This shit I keep bringing you is clearly trash. The stuff left behind from another time that has survived the centuries wrapped up in little nuggets of plastic. I don’t know what you want with them anyway so why don’t you just let me have what I came for and let me get out of here.”
Savone was leaning over the desk now, the man’s dark face so near he was surprised he still could not discern even an angle of nose or a setting of eyes.
“I ask because it is important what you think,” the dark man said, “You work so close to it all day. It permeates your life more than any of the middle men like me, and even the governments who run a world centered on the stuff do not know it as well as you do. You alone get to see firsthand what this stuff is, what it is truly like. That is why I keep paying you so handsomely, I want to see you come back Savone…I need you to. So let me tell you what I am doing with all the pieces you, and all the other Sludge Diggers, bring me.”
Savone listened in rapt attention as the man went on to tell him just exactly what it was that Savone had been contributing to over the last year, and when the man was finished speaking Savone could only think of one word—Legacy.