Divers
Yoss (José Miguel Sánchez Gómez)
(Translation: Daniel W. Koon)


        For some sociologists, the best measure of a culture’s civilization is the distance it can maintain from its own excrement.
        For some ecologists, the best measure of a culture’s civilization is the degree to which it can recycle its own excrement.
        For some individuals, the best measure of a culture’s civilization is the excrement’s availability to be put to further use.
        These are the divers.
        They are not unique to Earth.
        They are not a consequence of The Contact.
        They seem to have existed always: among the Sumerians and Egyptians as well as among the Greeks and Romans, there have always been human beings who have lived by making use of (recycling, one could say) the trash which other human beings produce.
        They have also been known as ragmen and scavengers and have been called many other names besides. Theirs is one of the most ancient of trades (some would say cults) in the world. In reality, they do not live off the trash, but off the useful things and repairable things that other people throw away as trash, because these others have no ethic of saving, or mechanical aptitude, or time.
        Today's throw-away society wastes a large amount of labor in the form of objects that almost still function. But it is easier and more economical to produce new ones than to repair the old. Even if, as in the case of Earth, the replacements have to be imported from stars hundreds of light years away.
        Of course, the divers don’t see it that way.
        And maybe that is why the Earth is so full of divers today.
       
        They rummage in the dumpsters looking for pieces of wood, scraps of rare metals, bits of machinery, computer circuit cards that no longer function, fragments of discarded robotic systems. They find something of interest in almost anything.
        They eat and dress with the food and clothes thrown out by fussier people. The discards are good enough for them.
        They resemble beings from another world: distracted, indifferent to the gangs of hoods who laugh at their bad odor and their ragged clothes. Distracted by the difficult art of distinguishing between the real garbage and that which can still be used. Some mutter strange singsongs as they pick through the dumpsters with dexterous fingers, taking certain things and leaving others, according to criteria known only to them. Finally they leave, with their light step and their multiple bags jammed with their treasures, seeking another trash-covered gold mine where they can gather up another harvest of wonders.
       
        There are two principal classes of divers.
        The first, those who sell their finds to the small scrap dealers. They are no more than divers who have decided to work wholesale and have thus climbed a step upward in the pyramid of the morbid ecology of the trash heap.
        These divers, who still recognize the significance of money, sometimes live in small cubicles, watch their holoNet programs on their tiny holoScreens, follow the Voxl matches... They still have one foot in the world, even if they mumble about their lost days of glory and dream of an impossible tomorrow. People can still understand these divers. However disgusting and low paying, what they do is still a job.
       
        The other divers are quite different.
        They never sell anything to the scrap dealers. They prefer to keep their discoveries for themselves. And then, in their shelters under bridges, or in some dark alley, they assemble, tie, solder, stack pieces of old computers with scraps of broken and rusty pipe, bits of the lining of rockets, with upholstery pulled out of aerobuses. And they always smile as they work, as if looking beyond the discards they manipulate so lovingly. They sweat, laboring for hours upon hours, with hope in their eyes, and at the end they always carefully set aside their results and their efforts and begin again with a new assembly.
        No one knows whether they think they are creating art. Some dealers have expressed interest in selling the exotic and chaotic contraptions of these divers as “installations”, but to the sophisticated Xenoid population their trash simply is not compatible with the concept of art. Period. No one knows whether they actually believe that their strange Frankensteins will ever function in any manner whatsoever. Or in what manner they would ever expect them to. As vengeance machines that would banish the Xenoids once and for all and return the planet to the Earthlings? Or as doomsday machines that would simply destroy all civilization, humankind even, in order to wash away the trash and the shame and that another species, maybe primate. maybe not, would be able to start over again from scratch? Or maybe they see their creations as a great leap forward in Earth's rickety technology, throwing off the yoke of Xenoid domination once and for all.
       
        No one knows... and very few care to find out. Or have the time to bother. There are more important matters. Like earning a living. Like surviving. But the divers continue, indefatigable, joining pieces, looking for pieces, muttering their incomprehensible singsongs, forgotten by the world.
        Sometimes one of them disappears, a very old one. You simply don’t see him any more, and it is almost as if he has returned to the bosom of his beloved garbage. But there are always younger ones who arrive to take his place. With skin less wrinkled, with more teeth in their gums, but with the same lost gaze... strangely luminous.
        Most people pass them by and sadly shake their head. Sometimes they stop the rough gangs from beating them and robbing their “treasures”, and they mutter “Poor fools.” They pretend to ignore the divers, but always with a strange expression on their face.
        Could it be that, somehow, they realize that the divers possess something which they themselves have lost for ever?
       
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