‘Hey Mike, pass me that cloth, I’ve got mayo on the keyboard.’ John held his sandwich away from the console while white dripped from in between the brown bread. The machine he worked at was part of a control system for robots and other machinery, large crane like arms that pieced together parts of vehicle bodies and welded them together.
‘Sure.’ Mike put down a magazine he was reading and picked up a cloth on a bench near to him. He tossed the material to John, across the noisy factory floor.
John placed his sandwich down onto the opened wrapper and caught the cloth, wiping his hands and then the console. ‘Cheers mate.’ He watched as Mike went back to reading. ‘What’s that?’
Mike turned it over and peaked at the front cover, it was ripped off. ‘No idea.’
‘The cover’s gone.’ He showed off the tear down the stapled spine.
‘Oh. What’re you reading about then?’ John asked, just before taking a bite of his sandwich.
‘Some global warming article, the most interesting thing in here. The rest is television and music, mostly.’
‘You like that kind of stuff, don’t you?’ He spoke through his eating. ‘Science and shit, politics.’
‘Yeah. Don’t you?’ Mike questioned.
John tapped two buttons at the console while answering, some mayonnaise was smeared into the raised surface that edged the keyboard. ‘Not really. I can’t be arsed with all that.’
‘Oh.’ Mike replied, putting the magazine down and stepping to his station, another console that controlled automatic welders. ‘You probably should be.’
‘What makes you say that?’ John’s interest was piqued.
‘Well, we’re living on a dying planet, John.’
‘What!?’ John turned from his console.
‘We’re living on a dying planet.’
John laughed. ‘What do you mean, you morbid sounding cunt?’
Mike laughed too, but continued to work. ‘Think of it like this: when you’re born, when you come to life, you pretty much start dying. But it’s a slow death, taking… What? Seventy years on average?’
John didn’t like to think about it. ‘I suppose…’
‘The same goes for everything. Every animal is born and dies. Every tree. Every rock forms and eventually crumbles under the sea or the wind. Stars are formed and they come to a point where they can’t give any more and they explode. They go supernova.’ Mike swallowed, John did not like the feeling brought on by the pause. ‘Earth will run its course too.’
‘Bloody hell mate…’ John shook his head. ‘I come here to earn money, not for this dire shit.’
The floor went quiet, at least from voices. John tried to work on, but his head swam with the new ideas that Mike had impregnated his mind with. His curiosity won over his silence.
‘OK, so why should I be so concerned?’ He asked.
Mike answered. ‘The world is one of limited resources, do you agree?’ John nodded and Mike continued after. ‘To get to the level of technology we have in this day and age, it’s taken a lot of resources. Some renewable resources, some not.
‘The most important resource however, oil, takes millions of years to form. We can’t renew what we’ve used, or reuse what we’ve used. Once we burn it up, or turn it into plastic, or whatever, it’s pretty much gone. Though people are working on the plastic issue… Anyway, modern civilisation hasn’t been able to progress in such a small amount of time without the use of oil. With it, we’ve come on leaps and bounds in the last hundred years.’
‘And we’ve already hit peak oil.’
‘Peak oil? What’s that?’
‘Umm. It’s when we’ve hit the highest rate of extraction of the resource, this being oil, and the rate of production goes into decline. Until it’s gone.’ Mike could make out the confused look on John’s face. He adjusted his explanation. ‘Think of oil production like a roller coaster.’
‘You go up the hill, and when you reach the top-‘
‘There’s nowhere else to go but down. I get you.’ John finished for Mike. ‘We should be fine though, we’ve got nuclear power and wind and water and whatever else people are using these days. Solar!’
‘Yeah, but they all rely on the use of oil. We use oil for transporting fuel and materials, transporting people, transporting food, making building materials and goods. That oil even goes into making the equipment for solar and wind and water energy. Once we can no longer build those things or maintain them, without oil, we can’t continue to create electricity.’
‘Fucking hell. So what, you’re saying that we don’t have enough oil to progress any more as a species?’
‘No, we should be OK.’
‘Unless we fuck up now, as a species, and knock ourselves back into the Stone Age.’
‘The Stone Age?!’
‘OK, that’s over exaggerating. Say even one hundred years back in our progress.’
‘I see, the oil would run out before we can get passed the current state we’re in now.’
‘Shit, that’s morbid as hell, Mike.’
‘What’re the chances of it happening though? Of us fucking up so bad that we can’t develop any more?’
‘I’ve got no idea. But it could happen, through natural disasters, nuclear war. Christ, maybe even a meteor smacking us in the arse. That’s why you should be interested, why you should care. We only have one shot at this, people need to be doing their part.’
‘Yeah..’ Said John.
Again both men went quiet, one working and one mulling over the conversation in his head. John tried to focus, but the theme and idea was firmly planted in his mind. After five minutes the conversation resumed.
‘So what if we do screw up, what happens then?’
Mike looked up from his console, staring at the factory ceiling high above them. ‘We live, we laugh, we die, and the cycle repeats.’
‘Up until some mass extinction event wipes us out. Maybe a pandemic, maybe the sun expands and our oceans boil and our atmosphere burns.’
‘For fuck’s sake Mike, you don’t have to go into that much detail. I want to sleep tonight!’
‘Even so, we’ve still got a chance.’
‘A chance? What kind of chance?’
‘Outside interven… You mean?’
‘Yeah.’ John smiled.
‘That’s pretty far out there.’
‘I suppose.’ The idea quickly grew on Mike. ‘Actually, yeah.’ He nodded and smirked subtly. The theme had gone from one of helplessness to one of hope, though a distant hope. It did not last.
‘Though…’ Said John.
‘That brings me onto Fermi’s Paradox.’
‘Fermi’s Paradox, or the Silence of the Universe.’ John coughed. ‘Fermi is the guy who came up with the idea. That the galaxy contains billions of stars that are older than our sun, and each star has the potential to be home to ancient planets, planets just like Earth. And those planets had the chance to evolve life, people and societies much more mature than humans.’
‘OK, what’s the paradox?’
‘Why haven’t any of these ancient, possibly super advanced civilisations made contact with us? Where are the signals, the probes or the spaceships? If there’s the possibility that they exist, why aren’t we seeing or hearing from them? They’ve had more than enough time.’
John waited for an answer, none came. ‘And?’
‘And what? That’s it, that’s the paradox.’
‘Well, what do you think?’
‘Good question.’ He followed with his response immediately. ‘I think there were too many aliens saying “I can’t be arsed with all that”. And the poor bastards never managed to get off their dying fucking planets before they ran out of resources.’
Experimental Shorts are works based outside of the writer’s normal scope of genre and ideas, conceptualised and written in under twenty minutes.