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Byproduct.

by Kirill Sakharov

The city is visible from here. The gleaming metallic infection upon the surrounding empty landscape could almost be seen to grow outwards, engulfing the desolate meadows, the abandoned suburbs and the wilting forests. The city line could not be missed, it was so clear, with the protective metal rooftops shining sunlight back towards David while everything outside the Line just ate up the light and consumed it for itself. It was especially visible at this time of the day, for even though the sun was still up, all the lights on this side of the city were turned on, for the skyline prevented any light from reaching the populace.
Hardly anyone ever saw what David was seeing right now. The city from Outside was a sight reserved for the maniacs. Outside offered no protection, no trace of society, no food and no shelter. One just wouldn’t have a reason to go Outside. Travel between cities was now fully aerial or maglev. There was nothing Outside except a pretty view of the city and that could just as easily be acquired by browsing the vast storage of information available to everyone. And the view, while pretty, was disgusting in what it represented. For it truly looked like an infection on the dying surroundings, with the millions of habitants just conforming to the expectations their environment has of them. They don’t dare say anything about their displeasures of their monotone lives. They need someone to speak for them! I am a maniac. David cracked back to full awareness with that thought. He kept running away from Boston as he looked over his shoulder. There was the reason.
The dark brown clouds over Boston served as the constant reminder of why things were this way. David was on a mission against those clouds. They were man made. They seemed like a necessary evil, but they would get to where he is just in time. They were the reason David was running.
“How DO they do it?! Hot damn!” “Let me guess, another one?” “Third one today, we hardly get this many in a month, but the runners have been that much more frequent and all the cities report the same thing…the cities we talk to anyways.” “I mean, should we even try to arrest him? I just don’t see the point. It’ll end up the same anyways in the end. If we arrest him the courts convict him of treason and fry him. Or we can not arrest him and fry him ourselves.” “Jack, if I hear that bullshit ever again, I swear I’m reporting you. We don’t play God around here, the government and the courts do. Your dumbass conversations only waste time. Now get in".
Officer Jack Haroshi hated going out of the city, yet he knew it was his job. He and his partner lifted up to a safe altitude and started the chase. The Line always hit Jack like a ton of bricks, every time he left the City. As he left the boundary of civilization, the decay of the inefficient life showed itself. Everything was so separate, not…unified. Now it is all dead. People were forced to realize the best way of life is as a whole, completely amalgamated, because that was the only option presented with the Byproduct and all… Jack’s partner, meanwhile, gave him a scornful look, for Jack had that, disconnected from the world, daydreaming look on his face. Even in such a disconnected state, Jack still knew how to fly the helicopter though.
David took another look over his shoulder. Yes, he was also running from that. The sun had completely set now and the glaring lights of the helicopter gave off its position several miles in advance. The rendezvous point was not so far from here anyways. He would make it. He just has to keep running, no matter how much his lungs hurt. He would take a warm shower, get some warm clothes, and meet some warm people. The pilots of the helicopter don’t understand that, or else they would have left him alone. They don’t understand anything! If they could just grasp what he was setting out to do, they would personally give him a ride to the hideaway. But as far as they know, they are perfectly content now and change is not something that their lives prescribe for happiness. He knows though, he knows.
“There’s the infrared!” “Shining him as we speak.” “What a fast guy, you think we can even afford to get out and try to arrest him? I mean, geez, he pretty damn fast. I don’t think we can catch him.” “Everything by the protocol.” “Okay, okay we just have to land pretty close.” It was the last option, but David did not want to take chances with his safety. He will need a pick up. One phone call will arrange that.
“I’m landing…he’s about fifty yards away, it will be a good workout.” “Wait, there’s another infrared signature closing in. Going about 80 miles per hour, it has to be a vehicle, coming from the northwest.” “Alright, we’re down. Jack you stay between the vehicle and the runner, I try to bag the guy. Shoot the vehicle if their rendezvous is successful.” “Got it!” As the helicopter engines stopped David could hear the Jeep come closer to him. He could also hear footsteps. The two cops split up. One is after the pickup and the other after him. He can’t just stand there now. David resumed running, alongside Spy Pond, where there used to be a bike path. David was pretty damn sure that he is the first person to take a run on this path in a long time. Luckily David was sure that the odds look to be in his favor. First he heard the screaming engine of the pickup, then he heard a sound even more encouraging, the sound of rain. David ran into the remnants of the Boys and Girls Club and sat near the rendezvous point.
About thirty yards away from David, near the entrance of the Boy and Girls Club, Jack was swearing at the weather.
“You know we can’t risk it!” the transmission from his partner ringed in his ears. Yes, Jack had to comply. On the way back they discussed the fact that if the acid storm had not started they would have gotten him, that it always happens like this and there is nothing they can do about it. In twenty minutes, they got back to the station, at the end of their shift. Both of them were physically and mentally exhausted, so neither of them wasted time in punching out, changing and starting for home.
David, however, was as far away from home by now as he will ever be, and still getting farther from it with every second. His pickup, an old Jeep, was taking the long route to avoid the storm. Out the window David saw the lightning, the rain, and he also saw the decaying and abandoned civilization. This is what I am trying to stop.
David was walking down through the main tunnel to the Administrative Center with his sister Sheila the next morning.
“That’s right, believe it or not, things were not always like this.” “Alright, maybe that is easier to see, I mean there are remnants of civilization outside the city, I cannot deny that, the buildings had to get there somehow, but what I can’t wrap my me mind around is the fact that petroleum was produced naturally. I mean how the heck did it occur by itself? It is way too complex to be produced naturally… and how could all this civilization outside the city develop without suffering through tall the ill effects of the byproduct?” David could never get tired of explaining this, just because it was refreshing to spread the truth.
“You are making too many assumptions, my dear sister. First off, do you think civilization always used petroleum? No, in fact, the only method of transportation the humans used was foot or riding on the back of a horse…” “A what?” “It was a very mobile animal related to the cattle we breed today for consumption. Of course it is extinct now, since there is no use for it.” “How did we go from horse to airplanes in five hundred years though, why did we even bother with horses?” “Okay, well here is another lesson for you. Human progress so far has been exponential. We had to start somewhere, and if it is exponential we will spend more time on the previous step than we will on the next.” It looked as if Sheila was going to interrupt but David pressed on.
“Yes, I know, and this is exactly what I am trying to get to. Why would we stay on airplanes for more than three hundred years when it took us about one hundred to move on from cars. Something happened…” “So you are saying, and correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re saying that petroleum was produced naturally and it did not have any byproducts about three hundred years ago?” the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Gomez, asked David.
David, unphased by being put on the spotlight and completely confident in himself and his answers, answered. “No, I believe there must have been a period in time when such petroleum had to used, or else some things in history just won’t connect. In fact, in my search through the files, I managed to find a pretty specific description of what happened.” “Well, we are all here and I don’t know about the others but you have my interest piqued.” David, sitting in the middle of the conference table, went on with his speech. He had delivered it many times before and had every fact committed to memory by this point.
“You see, all this, or actually, most of this natural petroleum came from this region then called the Middle East, which I am pretty sure now, is the region northeast of Africa. Before we knew how to produce the petroleum we use today, such a naturally occurring resource was infinitely valuable. Many conflicts were centered around it and many sovereign states, including the United States battled for control of this resource. Now since it caused that much conflict, and there were suspicions that it was going to last only a few more decades, a suspicion that I believe was and is still wrong, but anyways those factors urged on the progress that we say in that time and the development of the new petroleum. This new petroleum was hailed as the saving grace of humanity and looked to bring peace and prosperity. As we all know that did not happen…” “Did the byproduct not worry them at all?” Gomez asked as unemotionally as he could.
“…I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t know about the byproduct, maybe they just didn’t care, maybe they underestimated its effects. I just don’t know, but it doesn’t matter, we are here to correct that mistake.” Karim, David’s new Arabic speaking partner, nodded his head. He had a lot of respect for David due to David’s old reputation and his newly acquired fame among the member of the Underground for the proposed solution to, well… everything.
David’s first step was to actually find this byproduct-less petroleum, and he needed Karim to show him around the area and to talk to the natives.
“And anyways, if we pull this off, the effects will not show themselves until the end of our lifetime, but they will be amazing. We will finally we able to not live like insects and come out of the cities and people will be somewhat united when that many less barriers divide everyone. Basically we will reverse the social impact of the acid rain. Most importantly I want to be able to just walk outside when I’m sixty and be outside the city, and lie down on a patch of grass…” “Hey, I’m with a on everything but our train’s here.” David had to turn his consciousness to reality to hear the upcoming train roaring towards them. It was slowing down. All they needed to do is latch themselves on.
“Okay, he said third car, remember?” David didn’t answer, mainly because he was scared for his life. He only did this twice in his life before, and he would probably never get used to it. The train lights were almost blinding now. Here comes the first car. No more light now but and intense wind, he has to hold on to the rail…car number two almost done Karim just threw his out…there it goes…stand up, and here we go! About 3 g’s pulled on David’s body as he got on the train. Just as he did an emergency door opened. He and Karim got in, and instantly mixed in with the crowd. It will be Boston for two days, and then a plane to Cairo.
Yes, the pyramids would always be there. David is always pleased to see the remnants of civilization outside the city, especially ones from so long ago. After landing they had to stay in their apartments for two weeks before attempting a run from the city. Acid storms don’t occur as often here as they do in Boston but one did come eventually and two hours before it was about to hit Cairo they made their trip through the public transit system, to the last stop. Took the 45 minute walk through the sewer system, and were outside about forty minutes before the storm. All of it went smoothly. In a couple days they were already out of Africa. Refreshing themselves at two Underground bases along the way they had traveled for two straight weeks.
“We are probably in the territory formerly known as Saudi Arabia by now” then after a long pause Karim continued, “My ancestors were from here.” They kept walking along the desert, until coming to an intersection in the road.
“The one pointing to the left says Jerusalem, the one pointing straight says Baghdad.” Karim read off, as he himself knew he should not being in either of those places. David nodded and they kept walking straight. Maybe, as long as he is seeking the truth, David would visit the other city sometime as well.
They did not notice it, but the closer they go the more radiation was pounding their skin, until they were about two miles away and were exposed to about twenty times more radiation.
“Maybe we will find something here. We have to make it quick, more than two days and we become exposed to too much radiation.” This was one of the ghost cities scattered around the Earth. Only this was one of two that actually was big enough to keep existing. Jerusalem was the other one. They stopped being populated because of the two 22nd century atomic explosions. Both men knew that but they did not know the details. Nobody did, except select few.
They were in a palace when Karim screamed from one room to the other, “I think this is what we’re looking for!” Out of breath David ran in, saw the three sets of maps and charts, one in English, one in Chinese, and one in Arabic. Petroleum plants output report for 2015.
On phone call later Gomez initiated the attack on Boston. The defenses were broken down almost immediately, like most times. Several planes were dispatched to all the major sites on the map, with newly developed drilling machines and other equipment.
“I hope this is the right path to take.” David sighed into the phone.
“Trust me it is. We have handicapped the world’s artificial petroleum production by now and we are actually making allies. New York, Philadelphia, Washington and even Mexico City say that they are with us. Yes we might have made many enemies, and initiated a new set of conflicts, but we ultimately bonding every city and already moving things back to normal.” Gomez, the new mayor of Boston replied.
“Again, I hope you are right. Just tell those cities to hurry up though.” “The planes are in the air.” David hung up. Walked outside the heavily coated nylon tent, and was met with the sound of war. Rounds being fired by tanks, distant screams, bombs dropping. A flak charge detonated nearby and a fragment flew by his head. All David did was shake his head in disapproval. It is going to be a long lifetime, but maybe something good will come out of it.

Originally submitted at Jul. 05, 2005; 9:07

Nov. 16, 2017; 09:16 EST

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