Leister Zeston looked over the barren landscape, and wondered where all the people were. It seemed an awful waste of space, considering how crowded home was. So much open land, uncluttered, stretching to the horizon. He imagined his two young children, running freely, his wife watching from nearby, a book forgotten in her hands.
It was impossible, of course. And not just because of its single striking landmark. The five mile high, thirty mile wide, man made, mountain of waste.
“Zeston!” Came the imperious call from behind him.
His employer, the newly elected, Senator Gustav Chalerio, was striding towards him. Peter was happily dedicated to the man, and the job. Keeping his master happy, was priority number one.
“Can we get this over with?” Chalerio said.
“Of course sir. Jump in, and we’ll be done in an hour.”
“Fine, this place gives me the willies.”
The silent electric vehicle glided up the road to the waste facility’s administration hut.
“Remind me again, why we have to do this?” Chalerio said.
“This facility is now in your constituency sir, and you care deeply for all of your constituents.” He flipped on the lights, the airborne dust effecting visibility.
“Bullshit. Real reason?”
“Travel expenses sir. In order to justify your very large spend, you need to visit this spot, once every term. With an election coming up, it’s even more important to appear on touch.”
“How many of my precious constituents are here?” Chalerio said.
“Just the one sir.”
The older man sighed as if in pain. “Give me strength! Ok, while I’m on a golden run of dumb questions, why is there only person here and not a thousand or zero.”
Zeston remained cheerful, despite his master surliness. “Well sir, in order to claim the territory, we, the government, need one official as resident inspector of the facility.”
Chalerio waved a hand at the empty, dusty terrain, “What is there to inspect?”
“The waste facility sir. While legally inspected and administered, the government can tax Kaysum Waste Services, an extremely large amount, that can then be directed to worthwhile, life and productivity enhancing projects back home.”
“I love a good tax.”
The vehicle stopped before a small structure, sited before the towering pile of refuse. “Here we are sir. For reference, the inspector is a Ms Sokolov.”
Inside, a wild, shaggy woman awaited them. She seemed unimpressed.
“What?” she said not sitting, or offering them a seat.
The senator assumed his best public face.
“Ms Sokolov, I have heard so much about you! It is an honour to meet you. Are you enjoying your important work here, at this significant outpost of human industrial innovation?”
“Huh?” If impressed, she hid it well.
“As your elected representative I…”
Suddenly, a huge crash was heard from outside, Chalerio and Zeston both jumped, looking about wildly. A long, slowly receding trembling, could be felt through the floor.
Chalerio recovered first, “What was the frazzle-rackin heck was that!”
The woman had not flinched. “Delivery.” she said.
“Of what?” Zeston asked.
She decided he was a simpleton. “Trash.”
“Oh yes of course.” said Zeston. “Lands with quite bang doesn’t it. Then again it comes a long way.”
The woman stared at them both blankly, then turned and went though a door, closing it behind her.
“Good!” said Zeston, “Sir, we can go.”
“Let’s.” said Chalerio scratching his neck absently. “Damn eczema,” he said to no one. “never lets up.”
Back in the vehicle, Zeston said “Would you like the full tour sir? I have done some research and it’s truly amazing. The waste mountain is mined and refined by a fully autonomous, artificial intelligence workforce, before being dispatched back home for reuse.”
“No,” said Chalerio, pulling a silver flask from his coat pocket and taking an enthusiastic slug.
“Yes sir!” said Zeston, happy to call it a day.
The senator passed the flask to Zeston
“Don’t spit back.”
The vehicle trundled slowly over the rocky road. When they were almost back to the ship, the senator twisted in his seat, and looked briefly out the back window.
“So you’re saying this dump we just visited, only exists so we can ship billions of tons of rubbish, down to that forsaken wasteland.”
“Yes,” said Zeston.
“Then mine it back out, and heave it all the way back home again?”
“In a nutshell, sir.”
“What idiot thought this up?”
“We did sir. Well our government. You see, with the vast resources of renewable energy created in the late twenty-first century, hydrogen fuel production became virtually free. This led to transport costs dropping almost to zero. At the same time, we developed a small garbage problem. So, in a very popular move, we shipped it far away where it wouldn’t smell, or take up any room.”
“Then, because of demand for various scarce resource, plastic etc, it became cost effective to mine them back out of the trash, and ship them home again.”
Back on the departing ship, ready for the long flight home. Zeston was going through documents, preparing for the inevitable press conference, but the senator couldn’t settle.
He frowned, thinking hard, his tired mind refocused one last time.
“And that’s it? That’s all we do with the place? Just dump rubbish on it?”
“Yes sir. With the severe crowding, there was a time we considered habitation, but it was more of a fashion. In the end people thought it easier to stay home.”
Later, when both men were asleep, a single sheet of paper slid from Zeston’s lap, and landed gently on the floor.
It was titled “Mars”, and under it in smaller type, “Population: One.”