3743 words (14 minute read)

One Man’s Trash (excerpt)

Mitch grunted as he heaved his camera bag onto the table, then paused, considering whether he should dig out an extra battery or two. Yeah, he thought wearily, who knows, I might actually get some real work done today…

He really didn’t feel like going, which wasn’t a big surprise; he hadn’t really felt like doing much of anything since Genevieve died. The thing is, he had asked his realtor to set up this photo shoot over two years ago, and when Luke Cianno had called last week to tell him the owner of the building had finally agreed, Mitch had found it very difficult to say no. Still, feeling like he did today, he was sorely tempted to call it all off.

C’mon, Mitch old boy, he told himself, rubbing a hand across his face, you can do this. And this is a really good opportunity — might be just what you need right now…

After a fortifying deep breath, Mitch stumbled into the living room and began pushing aside the various items and boxes which now resided there. As he reached between the couch and a pile of old coats, he caught sight of his stormtrooper helmet perched atop a vacuum cleaner in the corner. Both helmet and vacuum were covered with a thick layer of dust. Frowning, he pulled a shallow box out from beneath the couch and retrieved a few spare camera batteries. Hmm … are these even charged? He turned one over in his hand, then wondered where his charger might be. He had an old one in the car, but these batteries were a different make, part of the large equipment purchase he had made with Genevieve’s small insurance claim. He felt a sudden pang of anxiety, chastising himself for not having put this equipment to good use over the past year; the insurance money had been like a gift from Genevieve, and he had squandered it on a bunch of stuff that mostly sat idle while he dragged his ass around the house feeling sorry for himself …

Alright, quit it, he thought, you’re doing something now, aren’t you? Stuffing the batteries into his pocket (fuck it, they probably had some charge on them), Mitch lurched back into the kitchen. Meanwhile Bonkers had come downstairs was now sitting by the side door. He whined softly when Mitch looked at him.

Mitch paused, then grabbed the camera bag and wrestled it over his shoulder. On his way to the door he reached down and gave the little dog a pat. “I know, Buddy,” he said, his voice hitching ever so slightly, “ I miss her too.”

***

Mitch placed the camera bag onto the back seat, then looked up at Ron, who had come scurrying over the second he had seen his neighbour exit the front door.

“Sorry Ron,” Mitch said, dusting off his hands, “what were you saying? Something about someone at my door?”

Ron leaned forward breathlessly. “Yeah, some guy with short red hair was knocking at your door. I asked him if I could help him, and he left.”

Mitch sighed. “Yeah, Ron, that was a friend of mine. He called me last night and told me he had dropped by.”

“Yeah, well, he sure took off in a hurry when he saw me.”

That’s because you’re an annoying fucking prick. “Yeah, like I said, he’s a friend of mine, so it’s all good.”

“Oh, yeah, ok.”

Mitch closed the back door, then walked around to the driver’s side of his little Datsun. He paused with his hand on the door. He really wanted to tell his neighbour to leave his friends alone, but he just didn’t have the energy to get into it right now. “Okay then, I gotta go.”

“Yeah, okay. See ya. You going to take some pictures?”

“Yeah, I’m actually kind of in a hurry.”

“Oh, yeah. So you got a new job? I know you haven’t been working in a while.”

Mitch flinched just a bit, his stomach tightening. “No, no,” he replied lamely, “Just a photo shoot.”

“Oh, so a freelance thing — that must be some good money, eh?”

“No, no, it’s … well, just for me. I might have a show or something …

“Oh yeah? Whereabouts? I can probably help you find some good galleries.” Ron wiped sweat from his brow, then puffed his chest out a little. “I know a lot of people in the Exchange District. They can probably help you with arranging your photos and marketing and all that.”

“Look, Ron,” Mitch said, opening the car door, “Thanks, but I really gotta go, okay?”

“Oh, yeah, sure.” His neighbour smiled a little as he peeked into the car’s back window. “I haven’t seen that bag before. Is that new?”

Oh, for fuck’s sake, Mitch thought, one foot still on the pavement, would you please just fucking go away…

“No, no,” he replied, trying his best not to lose his temper, “I’ve had that for a while. But anyway, I really, really gotta go.”

“Yeah, yeah, have a good day,” his neighbour said as Mitch quickly closed the door. As Mitch drove off, Ron called out from the driveway, “I’ll watch your place while you’re gone!”

Just fucking great.

***

Mitch peered through the camera’s viewfinder, then leaned back and tightened the knob on the tripod. It was swelteringly hot in the abandoned bridge factory, and sweat dripped freely from his forehead, running into his eyes. He wiped his face with his sleeve, then leaned forward once more and pressed the shutter release. The screen immediately went dead.

Ah, shit… Near tears, Mitch closed his eyes and took a few calming breaths. Things were not going well at all.

It had turned out that the extra batteries he had brought with had not been charged at all. Even worse, the battery in his camera had been nearly dead on arrival, despite the fact that he had checked it the night before (or at least he thought he had …) Though he had been sorely tempted to just leave, Mitch had dug out his recharger and gone out into the parking lot, where he had plugged the device into a power port in his car. While it charged, he had taken some time to wander around the building, trying to get a sense of what he would shoot. His mood had been uplifted slightly as he saw the wonderful array of broken-down, beautifully rusted and generally gargantuan pieces of equipment strewn across the gigantic space. His joy had been quickly squashed, however, as he caught sight of a small sign next to the washrooms outlining proper protocol when working around Orgabot technology.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake …” he had mumbled to himself, completely disheartened; he had been quite certain beforehand that Sovereign Bridge Works has been one of the few large manufacturers who had not jumped on the organic robotics bandwagon. If he had known that they had had anything to do with this reproachful technology, he would never had tried to set up the shoot. After a few minutes of moping around in misery, he had finally decided to go ahead and take some shots, then figure out what to do with them later. Truth was, he had rationalized, this could actually turn into something positive; maybe he could do a show focussing on the moral issues surrounding human brain harvesting, or he could get all artsy and contrast the beauty of the abandoned machinery with the potential horrors of organic robotics. Feeling cautiously optimistic, Mitch had retrieved his now fully-charged battery, and has begun taking photos.

And now, after only forty hot, sweaty and generally unproductive minutes, his freshly-charged battery had decided to take a crap.

After a few more deep breaths, Mitch switched the camera off, took the battery out, put it back in and reset the device’s logic board, hoping the problem might actually be with the software. As the camera went through its start-up routine, Mitch mopped the sweat off his forehead, then glanced at the real estate agent standing by the huge double doors about ten yards away.

Luke Cianno, Winnipeg’s one and only “Golfing Realtor”, was quietly poking around on his digital pad. The owner of the building had only agreed to let Mitch in if the Luke stayed with him the whole time. Of course, the realtor had been more than happy to come along, for a fee. Perhaps sensing that he was being watched, Mr. Cianno looked up from his work. “How’s it going?” he asked.

Mitch shrugged dejectedly. “Oh, you know … It’s going, I guess.”

Luke smiled, then nodded and glanced at his watch.

Yeah, yeah, fucking relax, Mitch thought, frowning. The guy had agreed to stay at least three hours, and here he was less than an hour into it, getting all impatient on him. And he was fucking getting paid, no less!

Sighing, Mitch turned back to his camera. In all fairness, he couldn’t really blame Luke for being impatient; standing around in a hot building watching a depressed photographer struggle with his equipment could hardly be called fun. Leaning forward, he held his breath and pushed the shutter release once more.

Once again the screen went dead.

Swearing vehemently under his breath, Mitch strode angrily away from his camera. This whole thing was turning out to be a major disaster. His only option now, if he really wanted to continue, that is, would be to get in his car and go home to pick up his other charger. Of course he would have to explain to Mr. Golfing Realtor why he was leaving. Even worse, he would have to negotiate some extra time, as the round trip would take over an hour. If only he had fucking gotten his shit together and found the charger before leaving …

Mitch’s stomach tightened as he recalled the anxiety he had felt while purchasing the new equipment; grief-stricken and depressed, he had pushed himself to get the gear, hoping it would help set him on track to a better work situation and ultimately a more positive frame of mind. After a few weeks of sweaty palms and stomach problems, he had finally gotten his stuff sorted out, then had promptly set the equipment aside and sunk into a deep, all-encompassing pit of misery. And now here he was, on the verge of putting it to good use when …

A small gasping sob escaped his lips as he was suddenly overcome by despair. Embarrassed to be seen in such a state, he rushed into a nearby washroom, where he proceeded to squat in a corner and cry uncontrollably for at least five minutes. When the worst of the storm had passed, he stood up and tried to collect himself. A few moments later, having fully realized that today’s endeavour was a lost cause, he walked out of the washroom and wandered around the space, hoping to collect himself a little more before talking to Luke.

As he walked around the factory, a pleasant kind of peaceful exhaustion washed over Mitch’s body, as much from the emotional release as from the fact that he no longer had to worry about this particular project. Sure he was disappointed, but at the same time he was fully aware that dealing with the whole organic robot issue was probably more than he could handle right now. This was probably for the best.

Actually smiling a little, Mitch decided to wander around a little longer and simply enjoy the beautiful, neglected machinery around him. He slowly made his way across the factory floor, pausing here and there to inspect the workings of a particular piece of equipment, or to poke his head into the various offices and storage rooms scattered here and there throughout the building.

He paused by a large pile of wreckage about fifty feet away from where he had left his camera. It appeared to be the remains of some sort of support structure; large steel beams lay piled atop one another at odd angles, bits of sheet metal and tubing poking out here and there. Mitch kneeled by the heap and sighed; this would have actually made a pretty good shot. One one end of the pile three beams intersected, creating a small triangular opening through which interesting bits of equipment could be seen; this would have made a nice focal point, and with a shallow depth of field he could …

Mitch blinked, then got on his hands and knees and peered more closely at the stuff in the opening. Barely visible amidst a tangle of cables and metal mesh was a series of cogged wheels, connected by some sort of track. He reached in and pushed some debris aside, exposing a rectangular box above the wheels. Though the metal was rusted and filthy, he could just make out the letters “anobo”, and part of a logo.

Mitch jumped to his feet, then spun to look at the real estate guy by the door. Once again Luke Cianno caught his gaze, and raised his eyebrows inquiringly. “You find something interesting?” Luke asked.

“No!” Mitch blurted, nearly beside himself with shock and excitement, not to mention just a little bit of horror. “No, just … you know. Thought I found a good composition here, but …” He giggled once, then waved his hands. “But, nah … Not so great after all. Brain fart I guess. Ha ha.” Mitch quickly stepped away from the debris and went back to his camera. His mind racing, he pretended to fiddle with the settings.

Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit, he thought as he randomly pushed buttons and twiddled knobs, What the fuck should I do now?

Though organic robots were incredibly common these days, they were very strictly regulated; employees of companies which used them were all required to sign complex confidentiality agreements, the breaching of which usually resulted in severe legal penalties. No phones or cameras of any kind were allowed onto the property. Only highly-trained, rigorously-screened technicians were allowed to operate and service the robots, and anyone else who even got too close to them could easily loose their job. Needless to say, the odds of finding one beneath a pile of debris in an abandoned factory were pretty much nil. Yet Mitch had no doubt whatsoever; the device pinned under the beams was a full-fledged, honest-to-goodness organic robot, human brain and all.

Mitch took a deep, shaky breath, then pulled his shirt up and dried his face. He knew he couldn’t just walk away from this; finding something of this magnitude and not reporting could very possibly get you a one-way ticket to the shitty end of the legal system. Not that he would want to walk away; this was too great an opportunity. Imagine setting up an art show, promising beautiful, thought-provoking images of a ruined, wasted bastion of modern infrastructure, only to unveil photos of an actual organic robot, a combination of technology and human life, recklessly abandoned like so much trash. He would be instantly famous. Of course, he might have to enjoy that fame in prison …

Mitch chewed his lip, trying not to look in the direction of his discovery. He had to figure out a way to take these photos without attracting the realtor’s attention. That shouldn’t be too hard, though, as long as he didn’t focus solely on that area; he would have to take some shots elsewhere to cover his tracks. Of course, that meant he did, after all, need to go home for a charger.

Mitch looked at his watch. It was now one forty-two. Luke had agreed to accompany him from one till four. Even if Mitch went straight home and back, he would be left with only fifteen minutes shooting time.

Mitch chewed his lip for a moment, then pressed the camera’s shutter a few times before heaving a large, and what he hoped was a believable, sigh. When he turned, Luke was looking at him.

Mitch waved and trotted over. “Say, Luke,” he said, “I really hate to ask this, but … well, I’m having some trouble with my equipment, and I’m gonna have to go back to get something. Do you think it would be possible for you to stay a while longer than four?”

Luke frowned. “Ooh,” he said, looking down at his pad, “I don’t think that’s going to work for me. I’m meeting another client at four-thirty.”

“Ah, shit,” Mitch said, shuffling his feet. “That really sucks. It’s just … I’ve been waiting so long to get into here, and I haven’t really gotten many shots yet.”

“Oh, well, I’m sorry. I really can’t miss this meeting.”

Mitch put his hand in his pocket and fiddled with his keys. “Well, yeah,” he said, chewing his lip, “I guess not. But do you think you might be able to postpone it for a while? Maybe ask them if they can meet with you a little later?” He felt a sudden lump in his throat; today had already been a disaster emotionally, and now the fear of missing this opportunity mixed with the shame he felt begging for the realtor’s help threatened to trigger another breakdown. He grit his teeth and looked away.

“Well, I could ask, but I’d really rather not. These clients are coming in from out of town …”

Mitch sighed shakily, then turned back to face the realtor. “Oh, okay, I understand. It’s just … I don’t suppose you could let me stay while you’re gone?” He flinched slightly as Luke looked away, frowning. “It’s, it’s just that—well, I’ve been …” Mitch’s voice wavered as his bottom lip began to tremble. Unable to continue, he turned around and stared into the distance.

After a moment of awkward silence, Luke asked, “You don’t think you’ve got enough to work with?”

Still facing the other way, Mitch replied quietly. “Well, no, not really … I’ve been spending most of my time planning shots and setting things up and experimenting, so …” He shook his head. “Well, I guess maybe this just wasn’t meant to be.” He turned toward Luke and tried to smile. “It’s alright. I’ll just pack up, and we can both get out of here. I’ll still pay you, of course.”

Luke was silent as Mitch walked over to his camera and removed it from the tripod. Feeling utterly defeated, he chastised himself for even thinking something this big could happen for him; even if he had gotten the extra time, something else would have gone wrong. Besides, why would he want to get into something as messy and complicated as the whole bio robot thing? No, the best thing to do now was to just report his find and be done with it. Of course, he should probably tell Luke. Maybe try to be casual and say something like, “Before we leave, what do you think this thing is?”, something that would make it seem like Mitch didn’t yet realize what he had found …

“Listen, Mitch,” Luke said, interrupting his train of thought, “I’ll tell you what. I’m really not supposed to do this, but if you promise me you won’t tell anyone I’ll just leave the key with you, and you can let yourself in when you get back.”

Mitch turned around and blinked. “Really?” he blurted. “I mean, yeah, yeah, that’d be great!”

“Of course I’ll have to come back here and get the key from you after my meeting.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, of course! I’ll pay you for the extra time, whatever you think is fair.”

“Well,” Luke replied, his face showing a mixture of sympathy and annoyance, “We can worry about that later. Just promise me you won’t tell anyone.”

“No, no, of course not.”

“Alright then, why don’t we just leave now, I’ll lock the door then you can take the key and go.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mitch said excitedly, “I’ll just get my—oh, no I guess I can just leave my stuff here.” He paused and looked up at the realtor with a mixture of joy and embarrassment. “Thanks a lot, Luke, I really appreciate this.”

Luke put his arm on Mitch’s shoulder and led him through the huge double doors. “I know, Mitch. I know.”

***

Mitch gripped the key in his pocket, then glanced at the security camera above the door. Though there were no little blinking lights that he could see, he was sure the thing must be on; the owners certainly didn’t want anyone breaking in and stealing stuff for scrap, or whatever. This wasn’t a problem, though; he had permission to be here. The tricky part would be inside, where he wanted to get shots of the robot without being caught on camera. Then again, as long as nobody watched the videos until after his show, he would be alright. Or, for that matter, if he took shots without exposing the robot to the cameras, then they could watch the videos all they wanted — all they would see would be a tired, depressed photographer sweating over his camera. Hell, who knows, there might not even be any functioning cameras left inside; he had seen the security room earlier, and everything had looked shut down.

Mitch blinked, then glanced back up at the camera. Of course, I’ll probably end up in jail after my show, camera or no camera...

“Fuck!” he hissed through clenched teeth. “Just stop it!” He had been going over these points all the way home and back, his thoughts bouncing back and forth in his head, crashing into each other; he had changed his mind a dozen times before once again pulling into the factory’s parking lot, and was now utterly drained. Head buzzing, eyes burning, hands sweating, he jabbed the key into the lock and opened the huge doors.