The evolution of sentient plastic

FICTION

This story features in this week’s Schlock Webzine, where I share a stable with some talented and unstable writers. A small tale (1000 words) of Tiny Tears from fossil fuels…

Blonde doll

HOMO POLYMER

“A surprise in every egg. Yes, Kinder, there’s a selection of small plastic choke hazards in each toy, but the plastic egg which holds them can be a handy cunt plug. Keep this warm in there for me baby.”

“Mummy, who are you talking to? I need a wee.”

Ocean opened the bathroom door and a bolt of blonde hair dashed past her legs. “Who were you talking to?” Conscience asked again, enthroned on her Peppa Pig toilet seat.

“No-one,” Ocean replied, “Well, just myself.”

“But you’re not no-one mum.”

“Thanks. Now, come on, back to bed.”

“But you’re not no-one mum, so who were you talking to?”

“Honestly, Conscience, just myself. I do that a lot.”

“Will you read me a story, please?”

“We don’t have any, Conscience.”

“But we all do, in our heads. Tell me one of your stories of being Ocean, mummy.”

“Well, there was this one time. I was about your age. I had a dolly. Hated it. Your nanno and grampo wanted me to be a girl. Well, they both wanted me to be girly, but grampo had wanted a boy, so I had to be a really girly girl.

“It’s funny now I think about it, because he’d probably have liked the boy inside me more.

“And apparently you’re asleep. In any case, I think I made the perfect mix in the only one I kept. You’re you, and even so young, you have a personality which transcends gender. If I can be proud of one thing in my life, it’s you. So, whoever’s still listening, even if it’s in a dream I hope you won’t inherit…

“They lived in different times. In those days, the only costume you could wear to play yourself was a uniform, and I hated everything that stood for. I resented my school uniform, but I used the skirt I despised to score one over on the system. I lost my virginity at 12, then got my English teacher sacked when he broke up with me at 14.

“There could have been loads of kids before you, but any one of them might have meant I never met you. I only had you because I remembered who your dad was. You remind me a lot of him. He could be a cunt sometimes too.

“We were broke. Still was an artist and an eco-activist. We lived in communes in fields, usually just tents near protest sites, but sometimes on local traveller camps. I knew what it was all about but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was 15 then and the nearest I’ll ever get to true romance, that summer of love which made you. A brief history of anarchy, peace and freedom.

“So here were are, five years later kid. I wonder if you’ll want what’s inside this Kinder egg, or if I should throw it away like the rest. See you in the morning. Don’t dream of this.”

Dreams are made of plastic. Unpaid cards become CCJs, then bailiffs emerge from eggs. Everything in the flat is made from plastic. All that we eat, drink and wash with is bound by plastic.

The council don’t recycle all plastics, so I put what I’m unsure about in the general waste. If the council won’t take the rubbish, we can pay Bill to take it away in his van. One day, he might take me.

The plastic in me will probably be recycled into the non-conscious parts of robots for those entitled to them. Or as parts of a toy, so many child’s dolls. Either way, I’ll be enslaved in the plastic which gives lives to those implanted in the chips and to those around them. Eventually those body parts, inanimate but for the host brain, will need upgrading. Always disposable people, eventually the parts which don’t work will be returned to the food chain.

Food, drink, we’re all part-plastic. We are the polymer population. We dream of becoming one with technology, our minds inside plastic androids. In Japan they already have home robots to deal with loneliness and social isolation in an ageing population. I Can’t help think how that would benefit me. They’re already a species in their own right, made from the same cosmic matter as us, but theirs was an explosive evolution.

Christmas will be paid for with hidden plastic. Christmas will bring more plastic toys to unwrap. We are the consumer generations, products of the industrial and technological ages. Each generation contains more plastic than the last, every child a greater part of the plastic population conditioned by human greed. I don’t know if I can afford another baby doll. Mum always said she wasn’t sure if I could have a brother or sister.

We’re all made of the same stuff. Last night, another mother; tomorrow, another soldier.

“Ambulance, is the patient breathing?”

“It’s my mum?”

“What’s happened?”

“My mum’s cut herself.”

“Where?”

“In the bathroom.”

“No, where on your mummy has she cut herself?”

“Her cunt. She’s cut a baby out of herself.”

“Is the baby breathing?”

“How would it? It’s made of plastic. Do you have a chip I can put in it to make it work?”

“Is mummy still there?”

“No, mummy’s gone. She’s left me my Christmas present. I’ve got a dolly I have to look after. Bye.”

© Steve Laker, 2019

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Inflatable chairs and plastic tables

POETRY

If we hold our breath, we float…

SEAFARERS

Drink to death

If we stop breathing, we sink.

The itchy and scratchy shower

CAT PEOPLE (PUTTING OUT FIRE)

As Glastonbury revellers leave thousands of plastic bottles despite a ban, there was an itch on my arm I yearned to scratch. Someone had let the cat out…

Cat typing world hunger

Big problems require the finest minds to co-operate.

Grumpy cat donations

Physics makes the world go round

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Since my home help android got a personality upgrade, we’ve been spending more time together. Put another way, the space I share with Andrea has become a more pleasant place to co-habit.

Robot-jobs-1280x720Raconteur

Pollution made a plastic population. Written differently, friendships, however unlikely, can be formed in the smallest crucibles with simple alchemy.

Andrea is an ‘ANDi’ unit, which were provided to every sole occupant household as a home help and personal companion. They were the government’s response to growing levels of loneliness and isolation.

The first batch of androids were faulty and most were recycled, but I kept mine. I assembled Andrea myself, rather than allow her to become spare parts polluting the planet. I hadn’t installed any of the software upgrades provided by the government, hoping to build a personality for Andrea through personal interaction instead. Unfortunately those early ANDi models came with their own personality issues pre-installed, as I’d discovered over four years of living with mine. Long story short, she’s more human than her official upgrades would ever have made her, but she’s shit as a home help and personal companion.

We live together in convenience, because I never go out, and neither does she. That’s the thing: Andy doesn’t know she’s an android. There’s the other thing: it seems to suit us both. And I’ll probably never know if Andy thinks I’m human for as long as she believes we’re the same. We’re both made from the material present at the moment of the Big Bang, and her technological species had a faster evolution than my humanity. Inside, we’re both the same. It’s not biology.

But back to tonight.

Always present but forever in her own world, in the same studio and always alone, our space must collide sometimes by the rules of nature. When it does, one of us is usually trying to get out of the other’s way. It was me who’d upset the equilibrium, by cooking dinner earlier than usual.

“What we having?” Andy asked.

“I was just doing some noodles.”

“Doing what to them?”

“Cooking them. Then eating them. That’s what I’m doing with the noodles.”

“Do they answer back?”

“Eh?”

“You and your noodles: Just you lot for dinner? That’s a fuck load of worms to talk to.”

“I’m doing sweet and sour chicken, and bean sprouts to go in the noodles.”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

I didn’t have time to ask what. We had dinner.

“So,” Andy said, “how was your day? Social convention dictates I ask that, after you cooked for me. But I mean, how was the day down this end of the studio where you live?”

“Same as yesterday but life got a bit deeper today. In a sort of quicksand way.”

“The more you struggle, the harder it is to free yourself? I read your blog post yesterday. How could anyone throw shit on that bonfire?”

“Well, the government machine managed to throw water on my flames. I got a letter this morning. They want me to provide documented evidence of anxiety scronching up my stomach, then the prospect of their further demands triggering a panic attack. Short of emptying my guts into an envelope, I have nothing to show them.”

“Apart from yourself. And you never go out.”

“Paradoxical, isn’t it? But you know what’s worse?”

“Not unless you tell me.”

“And that’s exactly what I wish someone had done for me.”

“You what?”

“Well, the only way I have of dealing with being alone is medication. I thought I’d found a good pharmacist, but it turned out to be a false dawn.”

“How so?”

“Broken trust. I thought I had a friend and we arranged to meet, but for whatever reason, I got blown off. The drugs don’t matter so much, it’s the friendship. I mean, I’ve lost money, but life kicked me while I was down. Because even though I’ve lost money, life robbed me of a friend. For whatever reason, that person didn’t find it in themselves to be honest. If they’d said sorry, I spent your dough, at least I’d have known. Then I’d have said, well, thanks for that. I mean, thanks for telling me. Surely that’s a more progressive path than regressing into yourself?”

“You forget, I spend most my time in my room on the internet. Talking of which, why don’t you do like I do, go to bed, shut down and re-boot. Start again tomorrow? You may not have many friends, and you might have lost your pharmacist, but they need to know that’s not all they are to you. Chemistry is more complicated than that.”

I’m glad Andy’s down the hall. I’d never wake her to help me, just as she’d seem to be there only when I needed someone to talk to. Inside, we’re both the same. I know she reads this blog now, so she knows some of what she is, if not all of who she is. I doubt those government software upgrades would have obeyed Asimov’s laws, so me being alive, Andy not killing me; it all means we’re okay for now.

Even though we’re all made of plastic now, a river still runs through us.

Self destructive robotAnderToons

The view beyond thunder dome

THE WRITER’S LIFE

My last few non-fiction posts have been about me, which might seem somewhat selfish. But I’m a writer with mental health issues, writing about being a writer with mental health problems. And it’s my blog. But I also write about the things which fuel my personal anguish, in a wider world, where I have less influence or control. Today I looked outside, at all the other people, and everything that will affect them personally today.

human-sufferingPixabay

Today someone will lose a parent, a child, a family member, and a friend. The person they lose will say farewell to them all, and someone will have to deliver the news. Many more will live their final day, in countries fractured by conflict, while at home, relationships will fall apart.

Today someone will find out that their partner, parent or child has cancer, or a degenerative neurological disease. At home, a father no longer remembers his children.

Today someone will visit a food bank, hoping there might be some tinned fruit to put in a child’s Christmas stocking, and a parent will go without food so that their children can eat.

Today forests will be cut down to make way for palm oil, and thousands of animals will be made homeless or killed, to feed human greed, while other humans starve. People will murder their fellow humans, in the name of an unrealistic ideology.

Today we will continue to exploit oil and gas reserves, while our planet becomes more sick from the cancer of humans. We’ll add to our pollution of a planet where every living organism is now part-plastic.

Today friends will fall out over ecological and political issues, as their worlds grow further apart and left and right become polarised. Today someone will be verbally or physically abused, because of their colour, religion, gender, sexuality, or opinion; because they’re human.

All of this will all happen again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. The world spins on its axis. One man struggles, while another relaxes.

I’ve had much cruelty inflicted upon me, when I was homeless, and lately by the Department for Work and Pensions, who regard any quality of life as a luxury to be earned, when food and shelter ought to be a human right in a developed nation with one of the richest economies in the world. But I live under a fascist dictatorship, in a country with a colonial, imperial history. I’m ashamed of where I’m from and what I represent.

Mine is a human shame, and although I feel guilt and remorse for things I inflicted on my fellow humanity in the past, the penitent man inside makes living with everything more difficult. That’s what being human feels like.

But my suffering is nothing compared to countless others. So when I look at things like this, outside my own world and into the wider one, which I care about enough to make it personal, I see millions to whom my life would be a luxury.

I realised that however personally devastating my illness can be, made worse by stress and worry about money and my dad, my world is tiny and simple compared to many others out there. We can’t take time back, but we can think forward, where anything could be possible. We’re lucky to be down here, so let’s not waste our time.

We’re all different, but we’re born the same. We are one race, but the human species has a tendency to forget.

Inside angel

The message inside this card reads ‘Only our wings are broken.’

 

The legacy of humanity…

POETRY

Being human can be an arse sometimes, but the right words can make it sound romantic:

Earth poem

Reducing plastics in my diet

THE WRITER’S LIFE

We’re now a week into the British summer which forgot about spring, and despite having my window open, I’ve had no visitors. When I write at night, my desk lamp shines from the window, but not a single moth has dropped by. It’s resigned me to eat less plastic.

cow
A plastinated cow, from Gunther von HagensBodyWorlds

I suspect this may be the year when we finally wake up to the damage we’ve done to our planet, and humans may have to re-evaluate their diets: Not just what they eat, but as a moral responsibility. If we don’t change soon, the entire planet’s food chain could collapse.

It’s only been in the last year or so that we’ve had our eyes opened to the extent of our planetary pollution with plastics, thanks in large part to the BBC’s Blue Planet II. We’re lucky that scientists have stumbled upon a bacteria which eats some types of plastics, but there’s a lot of food.

Since the invention of plastic, humans have created 9 billion tonnes of plastic waste. While some efforts are afoot, less than 10% has been recycled, with most of it sitting in landfill and not decomposing. We’re developing machines which can help clear the waste which is loose in the wider world, but the real problem is micro-plastics.

In a recent study, micro-particles of plastic were found in arctic waters, so it’s thought that every cubic metre of the oceans is contaminated. In turn, these particles are ingested by wildlife, and passed up the food chain. Water evaporates into clouds, then falls as rain somewhere else on the planet, dropping plastic with it. Every single living organism on planet Earth is part-plastic. While we might clear up the immediately obvious mess, the long-term effects of internal plastic pollution aren’t known, as it’s only a recently-discovered phenomenon.

Returning to the food chain and my lack of visitors, I’d welcome even a blue bottle or a wasp, if it at least confirmed the insects were still around. Since we missed out spring, those who survived are emerging far more suddenly (but in fewer numbers) with the rapid rise in temperature. But while they were asleep, nature couldn’t make enough food for them (because it usually does that in spring).

Fewer flowers means less nectar for the invertebrates who do emerge, and reduced pollination of plants. Fewer insects is less food for spiders, birds and small mammals, their predators and all the way up the food chain.

For the humans who place themselves at the top table, there’s a relatively quick-fix solution: Grab more land for farming, produce more crops and livestock, so that humans can eat. And make the problem worse.

To sustain our current (mostly carnivorous) population, humans need more of the planet they’ve already taken too much of. If we selfishly solve our own problems by driving wildlife from its habitats, the animals will continue to die out at an accelerated rate. Like the plastics inside us all, the mass extinction of animals will have repercussions and knock-on effects which we’ve never imagined.

More humans, farming and livestock, will lead to further rises in global temperature, sea levels rising, and even less land being fertile as a result. Increased climate change, affected by humans, will further erode the seasons, and increasing numbers of animals, from invertebrates to the largest predators, will die out as the food chain eventually collapses. And we’re seeing the beginning in the UK this year.

The only way to halt this destruction is to eat less meat. Less livestock would mean less land is needed for rearing, or growing crops for livestock feed (The argument, “If we don’t eat them, we’ll be overrun; it’s just like in nature”, holds no water, as the vast majority of what humans eat, they rear themselves). Fewer heads of livestock would also mean fewer arses producing methane gasses.

I can’t help feeling somewhat to blame, not just for being human, but because my family have always been farmers. When the first Africans and Europeans arrived in what is now Britain (having crossed what was then a connected land mass with the continent), they’d have found Iron Age settlements, the remnants of which are still visible today, close to where I used to live as a child (Oldbury Woods, in Ightham, Kent). Those first Europeans taught the ancient Britons how to use their weapons as tools, so that they eventually evolved from hunter-gatherers to farmers, raising their own livestock.

As someone who’s partly responsible for that, I’ve tried being part-vegetable in the past, and failed to varying degrees. I’m limited to just a Tesco Metro for food shopping, unwilling to travel and not wanting to contribute to air pollution with unnecessary deliveries. The greater limitation though is that I live alone and have a small appetite, meaning that a lot of food used to go to waste (I only have space for a small freezer).

So for now, I’m a “meat-reducer”, which may sound like a total cop-out (and it’s used as an excuse by many) but which does make a difference. I’ll buy fewer of the more expensive meats, so they’ll be free range, and with animal welfare at the top of the shopping list.

One bird will feed me for a week, starting with a roast on Sunday, when I cook the whole bird and eat a leg. When you’re used to mass-produced, growth-enhanced chicken, it’s surprising how much more meat a bird will yield, if it’s had time to grow and roam in relative freedom. Once the rest is carved from the bone, there’ll be a casserole, a curry, a stir fry, and some sandwiches. Sometimes I’ll boil the carcass and make a stock or a soup. One chicken for a week, so little packaging too.

Nevertheless, I still feel uncomfortable eating something which was once a self-determining sentient being, when I could choose not to. Even free-range, responsibly-reared meat was made for human consumption, but it’s still another person. Turned on its head, it would be like animals choosing only to eat Category D prisoners, help in open prisons.

This diner must try harder, and others might take a leaf from my book.

There are possible solutions to our planetary problems in my book, which are achievable if we work with those whose planet we share. It’s their planet, we just live with them, and we have a moral responsibility to protect them and their home, and to clear up the human mess we made.