He put another derelict toaster onto the conveyor belt. He didn’t know many people with a toaster anymore. They were relics, replaced now by the AUTONOM247, an Automated Nourishment Machine. It was a newfangled machine that had every appliance rolled into one and could make you anything you wanted with a single command.
He watched the toaster go down the line to its death, where it would be dismantled and dissolved, then made into fuel or parts for more AUTONOM247s. He picked up another piece of trash from the bins behind him. His robot coworkers did the same. Robot labor was cheap, but in desperate times, he was cheaper.
The next item was a lamp, crushed, that looked like it has been in a child’s room, pink with flowers; then a doll that matched the lamp, its dress torn and stained with something rancid and unidentifiable. Discarded pieces of someone’s childhood.
He tried to focus on the beauty of the job, the fact that he was helping reuse materials to make new things. New things, he thought, that will end up right back here after a few months. His face turned sour at the thought of the waste, but sometimes he took the better finds home. It was against the rules, but they didn’t pay him enough to care.
His calloused hands ached under the thick gloves, his breath labored behind his breathing mask. He didn’t want to look behind him at the endless piles of trash that extended for miles beyond the building, crowding streets and neighborhoods. He was here trying to preserve the Earth while others were mindlessly destroying it. He grumbled to himself about how inconsiderate people could be.
People tended to care less now than they did before because companies were producing more to keep people complacent. It didn’t help that for the upper middle-class, they had the option to just move away from Earth. Go to Mars, or Neptune. For the rest, they had to stay. Like me, he thought.
There was an announcement over the loudspeaker. He was being called into the boss’ office yet again. It was hard to make a quota when you were competing against robots. But, maybe it was time to quit. To go make the world a better place. Have a bigger impact. Make the Earth clean again. Yes, he would just quit and give his boss a piece of his mind about this business.
He marched up the stairs to his boss’ office, full of purpose. Fists clenched, he drew in a deep breath of courage before throwing open the door.
Before he could speak, his boss said they needed to talk. Oh, here it comes, he thought. I’m going to get fired. Maybe he should just be quiet and leave, and hope for a good reference.
Instead, his boss shook his hand. He wasn’t getting fired. He was getting promoted to the marketing manager. Apparently the last one moved to Jupiter, and they were in desperate need. Good talent was hard to come by. Maybe this was his chance to go to Jupiter one day, he thought, and happily accepted the offer. He was going to Jupiter.
Here, his boss said, take this. His boss handed him a new AUTONOM247. A gift for his promotion.
He headed off to his new office with his newfangled thing, still reeking of trash. He didn’t think just then of what he’d have to market.
His new job was to encourage people to consume more so they would throw away more and the company could make more money selling more newfangled things. He thought it was wrong. But then he thought maybe it wasn’t so bad. He was going to Jupiter.
He went home that night with his newfangled thing and made room for it in his kitchen. He threw away his own derelict toaster. He sat back on his used couch and realized he could do with a new couch now. So, he bought a newfangled couch with speakers and holders and foot rests. He threw away the old one. He thought of it going into the landfill, and how it would end up at the factory one day.
It’s okay, he thought. I’m going to Jupiter.