Just a Man
Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Sunlight dimly shines onto the ocean through the hazy sky, filled with the smog of large metal ships. All of them are powered by refined whale-oil, an alternative power source invented out of desperation after all the world’s fossil fuels had been torn from the earth and used up, just like the resources ripped from the now barren rain forests. Solar panels used to serve as a secondary energy source at first, but eventually the constant rise in air pollution tainted the sky and blocked out the sun, rendering them useless. But the sun keeps shining down regardless, dully glistening against the boundless stretches of trash and plastic making up the city at the heart of the Great Pacific garbage patch, Gyro. Built up from the dredges and neglect of an unsustainable world, the city houses thousands of poor souls driven out of their countries and even worse, the ones unlucky enough to be born there.
Gyro hasn’t existed for as long as the other countries around the world, only being born when the garbage patch at the center of the pacific gyre, a large circulating current in the ocean, became solid enough for people to build homes on, if they could even be considered homes. Most were built up from recycled plastics and metals, with only a few having any new materials on them. This was true for almost everything in the city, nothing here was new, only trash created by people the citizens of Gyro would never meet. Though, there is one new building, a whale-oil production and plant named Lese by the citizens of the city. It is built on flotation devices and strapped onto a few solid trash heaps nearby with metal wires. Anyone who could work there would, or else they’d have to scrounge for their food like the rabid dogs living on sections of the garbage patch. Aside from food, they got nothing from working there, as all the revenue produced by the factory went straight to the pockets of the companies outsourcing their labor there.
Dressed in a greenish blue cloak and a gas mask, which was worn by everyone in the city, a man stands below a live whale being hung up in the large metal factory. The walkway he stands on sways as the polluted ocean swirls under the city, causing a nauseating feeling usually drowned out with alcohol. He looks at the others in the room, all wearing their patchwork cloaks made from different colored pieces of metal and plastic and trying to ignore the whale crying out above them. The creature had just been shipped in from one of the clustered whale farms created by a company with the motto “Save the whales.” There, the only sound heard was the sounds of the animals crying out for help, but the world never heard them, and it wouldn’t start now.
The man below the whale looks away as another worker on the other side of the factory pulls a switch that sends an electric shock ripping through the creature, killing it instantly and preparing it for whale-oil extraction. It’s corpse sizzles, creating a foul stench that fills the factory along with thick smoke that pours out the top of the tall chimneys. The workers inside and the few people roaming the city “streets” near the factory ignore the stench, disregarding it as another one of the rotten smells that routinely grace Gyro’s air. Not many in the city remember what clear skies look like, but the ones who do cling strongly to the memory as to not lose hope.
Several ships with whales suspended on hooks across their decks drive up to the factory and unload their shipments while the man clocks out at the end of his shift. He walks out of the building before adjusting his gas mask and putting up the hood of his cloak. He begins down a flattened path of floating metal walkways enclosed on their sides by mounds of trash lined with drooping algae and strands of paper. A few of the mounds are topped with patchwork huts where children jump between the hills and run past the man, all donned with their own gas masks. Other city dwellers sit in the doorways of their shacks in groups, all drinking terrible liquor. In every cup of it floats little bits of plastic or trash, but the people don’t care. Everyone in the city knows they have plenty in them already.
The man continues into a small central hub area full of people walking every which way, some with purpose but many without it, wandering aimlessly just to avoid simply rotting away in the filth. A break in the crowd forms around two men writhing around in the trash without masks or plastic coverings, but the people near them don’t pay them any them too much attention. Living in the city was bound to drive some insane, everyone knew this from the moment they were born into the air of death and defeat surrounding Gyro. More breaks in the swarming city dwellers form near a pack of rabid and diseased dogs tearing apart a corpse buried in a layer of slimy algae and chunks of soggy trash.
Climbing up a trash hill at the other end of the hub, the man makes sure to stay clear of the dogs or any wandering thieves. He makes his way down another pathway passing through a floating piece of large tubing that leads out to a flattened alcove of garbage looking out at the ocean. On a good day, there might be patches of blue water visible, but today, the man only sees the so-called shoreline of brown water swaying with miles of small plastic pieces not thick and stable enough to walk on. He looks out at another peninsula to his right and sees a group of people dressed in black plastic shawls and armed with scrappy guns that shoot out small balls of scraps with pressurized air. These were Gyro’s ocean raiders, the second biggest profession in the city under factory work, and, even better, it wasn’t outsourced labor. Anyone they could reach was their victim, be it whale-oil powered ships or towns and cities on the coast, everyone was equal in their eyes. Not even the residents of Gyro were safe, but they never were, so everyone just does their best to avoid them and pay them no mind as they always do.
The man waits for them to launch off the shore in a small plastic dinghy and take off into the garbage-ridden waters before he continues further along the plastic coast. The ground changes from hard bits of trash into a sludge of algae-covered mush, but people still walk across it with ease. It took practice and time to get the hang of traversing the difficult landscape of Gyro, but all anyone in the city has is time to waste. The man moves through the sludge and towards a tall spiraling trash mound next to countless others, all with holes dug into them to act as separate shelters. He lifts a sheet of seaweed on the mound that covers the entrance into one of the holes acting as his home. Instead of the empty shelter he usually comes home to, he sees a woman hunched over in the corner. She digs through the soft walls, a typical hiding place many residents kept their belongings in. She finds nothing and sighs before turning around to see the man staring back at her.
The woman moves quickly, reaching towards her waist and pulling out a dulled, serrated knife held together with duct tape and wires. She shifts her weight and lunges at the man now backing up out of the shelter. Her knife slashes through his plastic shawl, but doesn’t pierce his skin, instead knocking him back into the sludge. She runs after him, but her foot is caught by the sludge, making her trip into the muck.
Her knife is launched out of her hand into the ground next to the man now recovering from the attack. He grabs the knife and quickly readies it above him, hesitating for only a second as he catches a glimpse of the woman’s desperate and cold eyes from under her gas mask’s eye coverings. He plunges the blade into her back again and again until the woman lays lifeless on in the mush with blood spurting across his cloak. This wasn’t the first time the man had killed, and it wouldn’t be the last. In Gyro, killing someone wasn’t considered wrong, instead it was accepted as a necessity to live. Even the youngest children had been exposed to death and murder, with some of them even being the ones to do it.
The man clutches his chest and falls back into the sludge with a loud squish. He stares at the woman’s body slowly being absorbed by her weight sinking her into the mush. His breathing shakes as he looks down at the blood-covered knife in his hands, and an overwhelming anger begins to overflow inside him followed by a sense of determination. This world wasn’t sustainable-- it needed to be changed. Something, anything that could be done to change it, he would do it. That was his resolution, now being played over and over in his thoughts. However, this resolution quickly falls apart with another glance at the people in their shelters dully looking at the woman’s body sinking into the sludge, of the looming sky polluted with death and disease, of Gyro, the city left to rot. His determination and anger now turned to an aching feeling of uselessness. What could he possibly change in this world? He was just a man after all.
If only he knew that it only took a man, just one voice, to change everything.
Tall turbine-like fans made of dark metal absorb the bright light shining down from the sun while standing in rings throughout the city of Safe Haven. They fiercely spin above the buildings and roads below built out of the same dark metal, making sure that the city would never see a speck of pollution in their blue sky. Though, by keeping the rotten air out, it would push it into the surrounding towns and cities. The government officials, bureaucrats, and billionaires who built them knew this. However, as long as it helped them, the effects didn’t matter. They applied this logic to all their other affairs as well, including but not limited to their whale-oil farms, factories, and refineries and their excavation sites in the rain forests, mostly located in other countries for cheaper labor. Such is the way of the elite in Safe Haven.
One such elite, Dylan Pitt, the proud owner of many whale oil refinery plants at the age of 31, is driven down the streets of the high value residential and commercial districts by his chauffeur sitting in the front of a sharp, silver metal car. Dylan sits on one of the car’s heated leather seats and looks out at the swathes of other vehicles driving next to him. He also watches the hundreds of people roaming the sidewalks and passing through tall skyscrapers with designer shops interwoven between them. The chauffeur pulls the car over next to one of these skyscrapers, the tallest one among them, towering in the skyline, and Dylan gets out along with a few other men and women dressed in suits much simpler than his. They walk with him into the building and travel up in the elevator before reaching one of the top floors.
“Dylan!” Patrick Anderson, co-owner of many of Dylan’s ventures and owner of a colorful suit on par with Dylan’s, also 31 years old, says as he approaches the group.
“What’s happening?” Dylan says happily as the two shake hands.
“Not much-- it’s been a boring day.”
“I’ve been having quite a few of those recently. Maybe we just have too much free time on our hands.”
“Ha! You talk like that’s a bad thing.”
Dylan laughs as he walks further into the office, being followed by Patrick. The two of them knew each other since middle school, and they both followed the same path in life, largely because their rich parents knew each other too and had the same business interests. Once they graduated from the same college that they had both bought their way into, they built up their business from their own garages, with the “small” sum of all their parents’ wealth to support them. Entrepreneurs, they were called, but aside from Dylan having a slight sense for business, they had little intelligence or ideas between them, though they thought they did. They didn’t need to think on their own-- that’s what the people they paid to come up with ideas were for.
Then, with their early investment into whale-oil and purposeful destruction of the solar business to boost sales, they rose to the top of the world. At least that’s what it seems like to Dylan and Patrick who stand in their office and look out amongst the clean city skyline of Safe Haven. They both knew they had achieved a victory built on the back of a deceased world blocked out of their view by the sharp, dark metal walls surrounding the city, dotted with more giant fans and guard posts, but this didn’t bother them.
“All’s well that’s well for me” was a motto they had “come up with” the first year of college, and they still kept it to this day. So, to them, they had beaten the odds, even if they were heavily stacked in their favor and involved climbing up a ladder of corpses.