Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Homebrew Dystopian Fiction: The Hold-Up

“Here, take ‘em, enjoy yourself.” I said matter-of-factly.  Well, I have to admit there was some sarcasm in there, but what could I do, the guy was trying to take my keys and drive off with my truck.  Despite my inner awareness that this wasn’t going to end his way, there is only so much I can hide on the emotional front.  

“You’ll never get it started.”

“Why is that?” he asked, eyes narrowing.

“Because it doesn’t run on gasoline” I replied, again matter-of-factly.  “You’ll never get it started” I repeated.

“What does it run on, batteries?”

“Wood gas.”

“What’s wood gas?”  His voice had dropped an octave.  He was obviously trying to intimidate me and betraying building frustration.  Not to be outdone, my command of the situation allowed me a healthy measure of patience.  He wasn’t going anywhere in my truck.  I think he was beginning to figure that out.  But he had to figure out if I was lying before he could move on to other possible exploits.

“What’s wood gas?”  His voice was still low, unnaturally low and quiet because it wasn’t his usual timbre.

“Wood gas is a gas that comes from wood when you burn it without enough oxygen and in the right conditions in a closed environment.  The flammable parts are hydrogen and carbon monoxide.”

“What if I just make you start it for me?”

“Look, it’s not like you can just saunter out into the street, hop in and start ‘er up.  It doesn’t work that way.  It takes about five minutes and in that time, you’ll be attracting a lot of attention.  I always do.  There’s lots of questions.  People are going to be a little leery of someone standing over my shoulder with a gun.  Even after I do get it going, I have to adjust the fuel/air ratio to make it go.”  I was exaggerating a little bit.  It did take a few minutes, it does attract attention, and I do have to adjust the fuel/air ratio, but once I get it going, it’s relatively easy to drive.  While I’m not a fan of lying, I’m less concerned about omitting a few facts when I’m on the stereotypical wrong end of a firearm.

He began to look a little distressed now.  He glanced around suspiciously as if looking for someone eavesdropping on our conversation.  Times were tough and I can only imagine he was a little hungry.   Gas was wobbling around $12 per gallon.  But it was still available.  Peak oil was finally firmly upon us.  The growing economies of China and India had been consuming fuel at an ever increasing rate.  Where once their consumption was a small sliver of the pie, now it had been trying to overlap other slices.  If you know anything about pie charts, you know that isn’t how it works.

We were in bad shape.  I mean, we were still in shape, but it wasn’t the shape we wanted to be in for sure.  Other countries had the jump on us.  Fully accustomed to $12 gas, many European countries and their democratic socialist governments were able to more rapidly shift their economic reliance to non-oil based fuels.  We have a lot of natural gas, but we weren’t ready for the switch. 

We only had some tens of thousands of electric cars, about the same in natural gas, and probably only a few dozen wood gas vehicles.  Fortunately, mine was one of them.  Since I was a kid, I wanted to live off grid.  It was not only a hobby, but a goal to go off grid, and the last tie to the grid was that liquid fuel, inexpensive, dense, and convenient.  Then I discovered wood gas.  It’s not nearly as dense so it’s better suited for stationary applications like generators or tractors, but it is easily adapted to on-the-road vehicles if you’re willing to give up about half your horse power and a third of your cargo space.  But more than anything, it’s cheap.  One pound of wood will get you over a mile and you can get over five thousand miles on a cord.  I was on the ball.  I had embraced the technology before it was necessary and now I was doing okay whilst many were hurting for fuel.

“In that case, give me your money.”

“I’m driving a pickup that runs on wood, what makes you think I have any money?”

He raised the gun to my face.

“Alright.  Here.”  I pulled out my wallet and upon opening it, extracted a wrinkled twenty dollar bill that looked as though it had gone through the wash.  I handed it to him.  “That’s all I got on me.  It’s yours.  If you had asked without the gun, you would have gotten the same thing without the lesson in biofuels.  I keep it in there for just such occasions as this.”

“Fair enough” he said, “I don’t have any bullets anyway.”

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