Methane Wars: A Fable — Chapter Ten

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Selling contraband is like an addiction: you don’t just walk away. To make it worse I knew Alvarez didn’t want to lose a good distributor, especially not one who worked for FemCad.

And Alverez had ideas. He was very motivated. If FemCad was going to clamp down on Black Gas he would find something else to peddle. Hell, Alverez wanted them to clamp down on one more thing and then another and another. The more FemCad clamped down the more its bureaucracy would choke on itself.

I went to Alverez. “I want out,” I said. “It’s getting too risky.”

“I know,” said Alverez. He was not surprised. “Lots of dealers are getting skittish. I understand. But I have a proposition for you. A new product. A whole new trade. A product meant to shut down the source. If you don’t pass methane during your quota testing, you don’t have a quota. Think of the allure. Think of the market.”



This was where a good chemist would come in handy. In fact, this is where a good chemist formerly employed by a pharmaceutical company did come in handy.

Over the counter supplements to help control bloating or excessive gas had existed for years in varying degrees of effectiveness. In the first year of methane collection their sales skyrocketed. I presume they worked well enough since FemCad procured an executive order to halt production and ban sales of these products. They didn’t want a Prohibition Era problem: the one where doctors were allowed to write prescriptions for the medical use of alcohol. No exceptions. Not even health exceptions. All stores, all warehouses were emptied of the product. It was now contraband. Federal felony to distribute.

Some smuggling did occur, but either there were not enough supplies or there wasn’t enough money in it. A good chemist could go across the border and with some backing begin manufacturing one of these former gas prevention supplements, but FemCad could test for it. No one wanted to sink capital into something people were afraid to use.

The concept was alluring, though. Like the Holy Grail. If Alverez was willing to risk sinking money into developing a new formula that could not be detected, he must have believed the reward was enormous. And so the smugglers became biotech entrepreneurs.

“A lot of money was spent,” Alverez said. “Top notch equipment, top notch chemists. Test subjects. Everything done right.”Apparently someone got it right.

Alverez wanted me to traffic “Anti-Matter,” the street name for this new anti-gas formula. The pitch was easy. You used Anti-Matter in the weeks approaching your annual gas quota test. I don’t know how it worked (something about gas being reabsorbed or some such thing) but apparently it shut down almost all gas release. Alverez claimed it was undetectable with existing tests. That was the ticket.

Like all drugs, it had some serious side effects with long term use. The way Alverez explained it was that your gas wasn’t being released but instead being absorbed back into your body as toxins. That was a serious problem. I guess the toxins were stored in your fat and muscle. Alverez warned that prolonged usage would probably kill you. Two weeks on it, no more. I don’t want to know how he tested this. You definitely went on a detox program when you were done.

You would take Anti-Matter before your annual test. You would score really low and have a very small quota. After your quota test you stopped taking Anti-Matter and producing gas again. This is where freedom came in. You only had to wear your collection unit until you met your quota.

This was back to selling freedom. I was in. The sales model differed from Black Gas since people would only need Anti-Matter once a year. But that kind of freedom wasn’t cheap so enough doses to duck your test would cost you dearly. Profit margins were better too, since there was no equipment to deal with.

So now I actually had become a drug trafficker. I didn’t feel sleazy. I didn’t feel felonious, though by definition I certainly was. I felt even more like a freedom fighter. I sold liberty.

Business began slowly. I was selling something you had to buy on faith. I could provide no proof that it worked, that it wouldn’t kill you. You had to wait and see. And there was no money back guarantee. You didn’t guarantee contraband.

Anti-Matter did work. Apparently it worked well. And word of mouth works very well. I couldn’t vouch for the health risks. I did feel bad about that. I gave fair warning and instructions. Word spread and spread. Business boomed. Not just for me but for everyone. Alverez was mad with money. This was ‘80s cocaine smuggling money.

I knew it was big when newspapers started to cover it. I knew it was big when FemCad began making outrageous proclamations about it. “New dangerous drug! Hundreds dead!”

Thousands of people had used Anti-Matter to lower their quotas. Six months after Alverez put it on the market, FemCad announced the first significant monthly decline in collection volumes. With distribution channels just gearing up even FemCad could see their collection efforts coming to a grinding halt if they did nothing. Anti-Matter was its own worst enemy. It was too successful.

Yes, FemCad hated Anti-Matter. At first they just issued proclamations warning people that not only was it not legal but that it was extremely dangerous to your health. Proclamations indicating that it contained all sorts of nasty chemicals, many of which were potentially lethal. They were certainly right about the risk, though I suspect the details were less than accurate.

Nonetheless, as with most such proclamations there was no effect on the trade and consumption of Anti-Matter. People wanted freedom. Anti-Matter was freedom.

So when the proclamations did not work, FemCad did the natural thing and swayed the President into issuing an executive order that set significant penalties for trading and consuming Anti-Matter. Consumption was a federal misdemeanor. Selling and manufacturing were federal felonies. The penalty: Life in prison. Tribunals were set up to speed the convictions. Hordes of FemCad goons were hired to hunt the traffickers down.

FemCad goons had extensive powers granted to them by the executive order. Suspension of rules around warrants, wire tapping, search and seizure. They were not messing around. Elliot Ness would’ve been proud.

For users of Anti-Matter the penalty was life-time probation and the permanent version of the collection unit. You could not take it off. To make sure you provided your share of methane, you were issued a state-controlled diet. You were not allowed to consume anything FemCad didn’t provide you. This diet was courtesy of on-going FemCad research to maximize methane production through the appropriate diet. They needed test subjects and here was a captive, if not willing, population. They would extract their quarts of methane one way or another.

Catching a dealer selling Anti-Matter was a pretty straight forward case, just like prosecuting narcotics dealers. Proving a user consumed Anti-Matter was another story. Since they couldn’t find it in your system, they couldn’t prove it. There was always entrapment but too much of that would become a public relations nightmare.

FemCad claimed they had developed tests to detect it, but the timing of that seemed a bit too convenient. So they tested. And convicted. Word on the street was that FemCad monitored known traffickers, tagged buyers who subsequently scored lower than previous quotas and then fabricated tests to nail the conviction. But you couldn’t entrap everyone. They could, however, make you afraid.

About joegergen

To evoke a smile. That's all. Author of "Methane Wars: A Fable" and "Lear's Fool" as well as various poems and some these painting things as well.
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