#FridayFlash: All That Glistens Is Not Garbage

All That Glistens Is Not Garbage

by Tony Noland

He was down to his last aluminum can. There was no point in checking to see if the garbage truck held any more; he'd long since catalogued everything, from the cans and bottles to the pizza boxes and banana peels. Now, after everything, he was going to be short by about a hundred grams.

No, it was impossible. He wouldn't accept it. There HAD to be a way!

With the suns at his back, he went out away from camp, stomping over the sand dunes until he came to the Alkali Sea. The foamy surface undulated, refracting both the blue-white light and the reddish light into a lavender iridescence. He stood well back from the coastline. There were no stones to skip across the "water", only hard plates of crystallized sodium hydroxide. He wished he could skip some stones.


Could he cannibalize the multivariate transceiver? Maybe make the brane oscillation coil thinner and use some of the copper to make up the difference? No, that wasn't it. He'd had to hand-wrap the coils with wire from the engine wiring harness of the garbage truck. The rest of the wire came from an old stereo, a floor lamp and three clock radios that had been in the load. A dozen different thicknesses and who knew how many different alloys... he'd had to build in molecular collapse margins of almost twenty percent. Anything less and it would just transsubstantiate into lead when - not if, but WHEN - he got a bounceback signal that he could calibrate with.

He needed another hundred grams of aluminum, but from where? Every aluminum can had already gone into the solar smelter, along with the brake lines of the truck, the support clips from the windshield wipers, the brackets on the headliner and every other bit of aluminum scrap he could find. Melted down, it would have come to less than half of what he needed for a warp core. Thank god for that old lawn chair!

Still, though, the warp core didn't do him any good without the nimbus rods to make it collapse in on itself. He kicked at the sand, wishing for the thousandth time that this dimension had allowed some kind of vegetation to grow nearby. Even though it was supremely unlikely that a metal-accumulating organism would evolve in an environment that wouldn't have just killed him outright, something, anything to break up the monotonous landscape would have been welcome.

The electrode plates in the battery? No, they were lead. The piston rings? No, they were carbon steel. The lifters? The grounding strap? The fuel injectors? The glowplugs?

He stomped back to camp and scowled at the truck, his arms crossed. It was still essentially intact, even though he'd been pulling it to pieces as he built his lifeboat. If he'd had heavy tools to work with, things would have been different. Unfortunately, when the terrorists set off their dimension-fracture bomb, he'd been hiding behind a garbage truck, not a fully equipped hyperspace tool shed.

Small pieces of steel plate littered the sand. With what was in the truck's tool box, he'd been able to make do, but any heavy cutting or welding was impossible, let alone any nanomolecular fabrication. Glass bottles ground into parabolic lenses gave him the solar smelter; that and the exercise bike-windmill was as much concentrated energy as he was going to get.

He looked at the teleportation rig. Was there anything there that would help? Any corner he hadn't already cut dangerously close? Hyperspace orientation mesh, gravity simulator, klein bottle reflector, waveguide radiator...


The radiator fins were aluminum, but he couldn't risk sacrificing it. He needed the radiator to cool the plasma arc waveguides. If he'd had a welding torch, he could have cut the radiator in half, since it was oversized for the job. After all, it was designed to cool the garbage truck's massive engine. However, while he could use the wire cutters and the pliers to tear the radiator flow pipes apart, he had no way of sweating the joints back together. He had to leave it as is.


With a sudden inspiration, he bent over the radiator. Carefully, he fitted the needlenose pliers onto one of the cooling fins and rocked it back and forth. It took almost a minute, but the sliver of aluminum broke off and fell onto the sand. He picked it up. It was too light to even estimate its weight, but it was aluminum.

He smiled. One down, a thousand to go. He fitted the pliers to the radiator again and got to work, pulling every other fin.

Maybe it would be enough, or maybe he'd still be grams short and have to think of something else. One way or another, though, he was going home. And as soon as he got back to his lab, he was going find those terrorists, no matter where in the multiverse they were hiding. He would make sure they regretted the day they decided to assassinate the Emperor's chief science officer!

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Beautiful. I wonder what he's been eating all this time. Garbage? YUCK!!!!

    This is one of those stories that could easily be expanded.

  2. FAR: I actually had a whole section where he used glass bottles to trap the biting flies that swarm every night. They are his only source of food. Dried flies and water from a crude atmospheric condenser... yum, yum.

    Interestingly, someone else just told me that this story would have benefited from another thousand words to flesh it out.

  3. I'm going to agree with your anonymous tipper. This intrigued me, but I understand the plight of flash, so much cramming. Check glow pugs in your manuscript there.

    And I still love your powers of description.

  4. Love that determination in the face of near-impossible odds.

    Don't take away the glow pugs though! Where exactly do they fit on the engine? ;P

  5. Love that determination in the face of near-impossible odds.

    Don't take away the glow pugs though! Where exactly do they fit on the engine? ;P

  6. What an ingenious of garbage! LOL And flies really don't sound all that appetizing.

  7. One man's garbage is another man's treasure! A good story, I hope he get's it to work!

    Nice descriptive writing, even if I didn't understand all the tech stuff - I still understood ^__^ Cool Sic Fi

  8. Brilliant.

    As much as I enjoyed it, that sound you hear is much of the scientific description going over my head!

    But then, I loved "Primer", despite not understanding much of what they were talking about!

    Also, I hope he doesn't need a "number 2"...

  9. Carrie: I'm glad you liked the descriptions. I guess I wanted to make this about his plight and what he was doing to escape, deliberately glossing over the backstory of how he got there. Maybe I'll compromise and add in another 300 words. (Typo correct, btw - thanks!)

    WA_side: Gasoline engines need a spark to ignite the gas/air mixture. Diesel engines ignite the diesel/air mixture solely by compression, so they don't need a spark. However, the ignition is facilitated by some heat, hence the glowplugs. These are basically just pieces of hot wire, like in a toaster.

    Even in a world with dimension-fracturing technowizardry, garbage trucks still run on diesel.

    Sonia: Yeah, the flies ended up being so disgusting that they were distracting from the main thrust of it. That's why I cut them. However, I was aware of the logistical difficulty of "what did he eat?"

    Helen: Thanks, Helen! Don't worry... I didn't understand half this science gobbledygook either!

    Jack Holt: I'm glad you liked it, Jack! I watched "Primer" and got confused about 2/3 of the way through it. The filmmaker said he wanted to parallel the confusion the characters must have felt while dealing with time travel. I would counter that you can show someone being confused without deliberately trying to lose the audience.

  10. Superb writing! You rendered all the little technical facts prosaically beautiful--that is a difficult thing to pull off.

  11. Did anyone else find this funny? Tony, your story put a big smile on my face! I could just see your mind working through the ream of made-up science fiction gobbledy-gook ... I mean, it was like Star Wars met Star Trek met Planet of the Apes, only engrossing! Hugely entertaining and I'm not a sci-fi kind of gal.
    Glow-pugs- what happens when the family pet gets into radioactive garbage.

  12. I agree with Larry, so many of your stories are full-blown novels in disguise.. always a joy to read your robust, muscular and highly articulate stories Tony!

  13. Is he going to wander around the parking lot jacking one gram of aluminum at a time? I guess it would be fair in the pursuit of monolithic vengeance.

  14. I love dogged determination and that's the defining characteristic of your character - until he gets the opportunity to allow the revenge side loose, that is.

    I must agree, "...a fully equipped hyperspace tool shed..." would have been so much more convenient. But wouldn't have allowed for this inventive tale.

    There's poignancy in "He wished he could skip some stones." - a very nice touch, Tony.

  15. Cathy: Did anyone else find this funny? I certainly hope so!

    Tom Gillespie: I agree with Larry, so many of your stories are full-blown novels in disguise.. always a joy to read your robust, muscular and highly articulate stories Tony! I blush, sir! I blush!

    John Wiswell: If any other vehicles had been sucked into this alternate dimension along with him and the garbage truck, he'd be all over them. In fact, I originally had a limousine dropped onto this sand dune along with the truck, but it got too cumbersome to keep everything straight.

    KjM: Thanks, Kevin! The skipping stones was something I liked, too. That, and the desire to see some kind of plant life to break up the monotony of the surroundings.

  16. This one reads like the opening to something much bigger; it made me curious about everything...where is the protagonist, how did he get there, what's gonna happen next? Definitely has a great hook to it.

  17. Very well written. Oddly enough, in reading it it felt like I was about to begin an intriguing RPG. I agree with the others, this one needs more!

  18. Intriguing bit of flash. Science to the rescue!

  19. It sounds like the makings of a mad genius to me--he escapes, returns under alias and proceeds to pick apart the terrorist regime.

  20. I'm sure MacGuyver would be proud. Sounds like he needs the A-Team though.

    Brilliant descriptions, as always.

  21. The way you use descriptions is inspirational - I particulalrly liked the paprargraph "The foamy surface undulated, refracting both the blue-white light and the reddish light into a lavender iridescence..."
    I agree this could be expanded but keeping it compact like it is for a flash works just as well - nice work

  22. Thanks for all the comments, guys! I'm glad you all liked it, and think it could be built into something more. Maybe someday....


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