The sky left new treasure for Devon last night. She’s up at dawn, running past Mum’s slumped form at the kitchen table. Her nose wrinkles; she turns away and calls old Toby to “Follow me, lazybones!” Out the back door, its springs thump right on Toby’s nose.

“Oops! Sorry, boy.”

She opens it for him, then down the steps they go, into the jungle. The garden was never pristine, not with Devon around to kick balls into bushes, swing from trees, and scuff up grass playing chase. Now it’s a weed-strewn thicket, rabbit runs duck under rhododendrons, and a rusty wheelbarrow lies on its side by the shattered greenhouse. Toby sniffs, pretending he can still catch a thing or two, but both he and the rabbits know that’s a lie.

Devon heads to the wheelbarrow, gesturing Toby to leave the runs alone. “Come on, help me instead,” she says.

A glance at the kitchen window shows no Mum watching, so she steers her barrow unsteadily through the bushes and lifts up the back fence panel. There’s just enough space to push through, though the cracking wood snags her t-shirt. Toby shoves between her legs, then together they dash over the neighbour’s field, avoiding cow pats and the nosy beasts, to the wood. It’s more of a small copse, but to Devon, it could be Sherwood Forest. If only Robin Hood lived there.

Last night she’d heard a rumble, seen a bright tear in the sky as flames poured down over the horizon. Creeping past Mum, asleep on the sofa, she’d watched the muted news. People in fluoro doused fires, put up tape, kept people away the way they always did. Just a bit of debris, they’d said, and carted it off. But Devon had seen the other one fall, too. The dark, tumbling shape tore through the air like a missile, heading straight towards the wood. This one had lit no fire but the one inside her.

She sends Toby hunting. It doesn’t take long: space objects have a certain smell, she thinks. The treasure is in the centre of its own mini crater, dirt kicked up all around, crushed branches and singed greenery signposting its location. Devon grins and wrestles the destruction aside.

“What do you reckon it was?” she asks Toby, who wags his tail. Something in a nearby tree distracts him, but Devon has eyes only for the burned-up, twisted wreck. Carefully, and with no little effort, she levers the thing into her barrow. Eyeing it from all angles, she considers. “No one will miss it,” she tells Toby. No one ever does.

Then it’s back through the woods, across the field—the weight making it harder now—and into the garden to her secret stash. The treasure joins its fellows, collected over the past months. She thinks Robin Hood would be impressed. Or worried.

She’s piecing them into a monument for her school’s annual Recycled Art Competition. This year’s theme: The Future.

Her sculpture’s title: Your Past.

Over-exposed / false-colour image of junk outside, grass nearby
Image by Lew Holzman on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Header image by John Flannery at Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Computer-generated estimate of trackable space debris orbiting the Earth. Most is clustered closer to the planet.

Space Debris

The US Space Surveillance Network tracks more than 27,000 artificial objects in orbit above the Earth… and these are just the objects large enough to be tracked. Hundreds of millions more pieces are estimated to be orbiting the Earth right now. This debris represents hazards to manned spacecraft, robotic missions, and orbiting equipment currently in use. Larger pieces can even fall to Earth – and have done, at a rate of an average of one catalogued piece per day for the past 50 years. See the ARES Orbital Debris Program for more details.

Image: NASA (2005)

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