James stopped scraping and put his trowel down in the muck.
â€œWho was Sturgeon, anyway?â€
â€œDunno,â€ piped Alex, still elbow-deep in the Heap. â€œNever wiki’d it; we can take a look when we get back down-town and into the cloud.â€
Two weeks outside corporate Britain, and James still hadn’t adjusted to not being online wherever he went. Alex had told him that once he had some local credit, he could pay a monkey to revalidate his ID on the satellites. But for now, while he tried to build enough credit to get himself settled and independent, he had to make do with the municipal net down-town.
Outside of town â€” out here on the Heap – he had to make do with Alex, who knew a lot of practical stuff about staying afloat in New Southsea. Getting that information was tricky, though; the kid’s mind darted like an evening mosquito.
â€œSo,â€ said James, â€œwhat’s this law, then?â€
Alex looked up at James, flicked something small at him, and grinned. â€œNinety percent of everything is crap!â€
James picked up the bit and brushed the mud from it. â€œThis Sturgeon was a scavver as well, then?â€ he asked.
â€œNah, not a scavver. I think he was from before we needed scavving. Or maybe not before we needed it, but before we were forced into it, get me?â€
â€œSure,â€ lied James.
â€œAnyway, don’t matter who he was â€” he’s just some guy the Old Booker goes on about when he’s teaching me to read,â€ said Alex. â€œWaves around at all them piles of old books he’s got, shouts about Sturgeon’s Law. Usually after he’s been up to the stills on his roof. He’s funny, those times; not like some drinkers.â€
James looked down at the thing Alex had thrown at him; a muddied slice of aluminium no bigger than his thumbnail, with holes and grooves cut and folded into it.
â€œSo what have old books got do with scavving, then?â€
â€œWell, this is my theory, not the Old Booker’s,â€ said Alex, still digging. â€œBut I borrowed it from him, and he got it from this Sturgeon guy. See, the Booker says ninety percent of all books are crap. But here’s the thing â€” two different people will pick a different ten percent as the good stuff. See?â€
â€œStill lost, kid.â€
â€œAh, it’s easy. Look â€” scav is like the books. One guy looks, sees ninety percent crap, takes the good ten, yeah? But another guy looks, and he sees his ten percent in the ninety the other guy left behind.â€
â€œSo you’re trying to say that everything out here is almost worthless, but almost all of it is worth something to somebody?â€
â€œBang on, professor! Like that in your hand; TwenCen ringpulls, from drink containers. Tiny, hard to find â€” but pure ally. And I know a guy who’ll pay three credits per hundred, ’cause they’re just the right size and shape for some engine part he makes for the boaters.â€
Three credits was enough to keep a man afloat for half a week, James knew. Not living the high life, but well clear of starvation and charity. â€œSo I need to look out for these ringpulls, then? Is that it?â€
The kid sat back for a moment. â€œNah, you’re not seeing it yet â€” you gotta look out for everything, especially at first. That’s the thing â€” if you wanna work the Heap, you don’t need to learn the Heap, beyond knowing which bits’ll kill you and which won’t.â€
He leaned back over his little pit and started scraping again. â€œYou gotta learn the market back in town, man. That’s why we don’t work too late out here, see? Gotta get back in time for some biz.â€
James stared at Alex: a grubby teenager with a false leg digging through a hill of compacted waste, who supported himself and his mother by unearthing junk and selling it on. A far cry from the cannibal anarchists James had seen on the arcology newsfeeds.
â€œCome on, man, dig!â€ called Alex. â€œFind one ringpull, maybe find lots more in the same area. I can’t give you everything I find; me mum would kill me.â€
James picked up his borrowed trowel, and started scraping.
[ Yeah, someone’s been reading a lot of Bruce Sterling, both fiction and non-fiction. And an extra VCTB gold star to anyone who realised we’re back in New Southsea where “The Mud-crab” was set – I think it’s time I started mining all the ideas I’ve built up about the place. Gotta be a few hundred ringpulls in there somewhere, I’m thinking. 🙂 ]