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Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

Table of Contents

Living Standards: synopsis

In a future world marked by extremes of poverty and wealth, 13-year old Jiri has known only poverty. One day, a wealthy woman appears in Jiri’s enclave, the slum he calls home, and offers his mother an unimaginable amount of money for Jiri’s services. Little do Jiri and his mother know what the woman intends, but they accept. As Jiri grows and prospers in his new life, he becomes involved in a dangerous movement that will change his life and everyone else’s as well.

Chapter 12: A Visit to Joliet

“I’d love to see Mira again! But I can’t believe she’s turned into, like, a warlord or something,” Lea said, her voice racing in excitement. “When can we go?”

“Any time,” Jiri said. “But before we do that, I want to ask DeShaun something. I’ve got a hunch...” He stood and walked over to DeShaun’s suite of rooms at the back of their house, a much more modest dwelling than the Gates’, which was less than a mile away, but still large enough to support three live-in staff, his parents in a guest cottage alongside the main house, and provide three bedrooms for any eventual children.

“What do you mean?” asked Lea.

Jiri held up a finger, asking for patience. DeShaun answered the door. His wife and young son stood just behind him.

“Hey, my man, what can I do for you?”

“Come on into the kitchen and talk to us, DeShaun.”

They sat at a counter that separated the cooking area from a dining room. It was an expanse of eight attached bar stools, gleaming in stainless steel against a counter of shining granite.

“So DeShaun, you still keep in touch with people in Maywood Enclave?”

“Oh, yeah, my parents still be alive, and there’s some other relatives. I go over there about once a month.”

“So have there been any interesting developments there lately? You know, like maybe someone new in charge or something?”

DeShaun’s brow knitted and he rubbed his chin. “Yeah, in fact there has been. They got rid of the Enclave Security Force, you know, the government police, and outsourced all the police and fire to some outfit called United Enclave Services. They be a showy bunch, always wearing their second-skin uniforms, wild hair, and all, but they treat everyone good. My family says they really like the change. And yeah, one other thing. They been talking about some manifesto everybody’s reading. You know anything about that?”

Jiri remembered the book Mira had given him. He’d read a few pages, remembered the name of the author. “The Hayek Manifesto perhaps?”

“Yeah, that’s the one! What is that?”

“OK, DeShaun, I know you’re discreet, but about this you have to be more than discreet; you must never admit I told you this.”

“Jiri, you know DeShaun be loyal to you. Never doubt that.”

“OK, that manifesto is a cookbook for revolution. There’s a movement starting to overthrow the wealthies. I should have reported it when I learned about it, but I’m not going to.”

DeShaun smiled. “No need to say why, I understand. And I wasn’t a hundred percent honest with you, I knew what that manifesto was about. Got an earful from my brother last time I visited. They organizing. Gonna get real interesting real soon.”

Jiri turned to Lea. “So it’s true. She really is organizing the enclaves, and it sounds like they’re using this outsourcing business to take over the police forces.”

“Yeah,” DeShaun interrupted. “It was those homos in the second-skin done brought the manifesto into the enclave.”

“Are they gay?” Lea asked.

“Hah, you fell for their little joke,” DeShaun said with a chuckle. “It’s short for homo sapiens, that’s all. They call each other homos, and now everybody calls them that.”

“How’d you like to see Mira again, DeShaun?”

“Definitely, my man, but ain’t no way I be going to Joliet Enclave.”

“She runs the place now; we’ll be honored guests. We’d probably be safer there than we are here.”

DeShaun’s face betrayed skepticism, but he finally agreed to drive them to Joliet. They planned to go as soon as Mira could receive them.

* * *

Two days later, DeShaun stopped the car at the enclave entrance, a large iron gate that swung open from the middle with guardhouses on either side. The enclave ended abruptly at the entrance. Outside the gate was a meadow, swampy in places, that stretched to the horizon bursting with late summer goldenrod and purple loosestrife, split by a winding, two lane, crumbling road. On the other side of the gate was a tumble of tightly packed shacks, small houses, and larger structures in varying stages of decay and disrepair, all former factories or warehouses.

The second-skin clad, short-legged guards directed DeShaun to a place where he could park the car. One of them silently led them into the maze of curving, forking lanes, walking for several minutes through vendor stalls, many selling savory-smelling foods. The lanes were dense with crowds of thin, short, olive-skinned people, shabbily clothed, carrying or pushing bundles, herding children, even sleeping in the middle of the lane.

Around a sharp bend, they emerged into an open space on the far side of which was a striking, three-story house, an old Victorian, freshly painted, sporting new windows and a tile roof, so out of place that it had the effect of a coconut palm gently swaying on a field of deep snow. A dozen or so second-skin clad young men and women stood around the open space, weapons slung over their shoulders, eyes constantly moving.

Their guide saluted the guards, walking ahead of them up the four steps to the front door. The heavy, dark wood door opened, and Mira, dressed only in dark blue second skin, threw open her arms, hugging first Lea, then DeShaun, finally Jiri.

They sat on very old but very clean reupholstered furniture, DeShaun sipping coffee, the others drinking an excellent French Burgundy Mira told them had come from a recent raid. She seemed to already know all about them: their marriage, their new home, Jiri and Lea’s careers, even DeShaun’s recent marriage and child. They peppered her with questions, and she slowly eased into her remarkable story.

“After we first met up with the Harveys, I saw my chance. Seraphin, the Harvey strongman seemed much smarter, much more of a leader than Marco, so I decided to ally with him. I went to Harvey to recruit some of their more educated people into a group I was forming that would start organizing the enclaves, get us to the next level of revolution.

“Seraphin started sleeping with me. He knew Marco would come after him about that, and that I was in danger too, but I wanted to provoke Marco, give Seraphin or me an excuse to take him out. Marco found out about a month after I’d started going over to Harvey. We were standing on the floor of this rotting factory where we lived then when he confronted me.

“‘You cunt!’ he said. ‘I know that greasy Harvey asshole is screwing you. I got my sources, I’m no fool. Now I’m gonna do what I promised to do!’ He reached for his assault rifle. He either had it slung over his shoulder or right next to him all the time. I was ready for him. I centered my balance, whirled, and kicked him hard in the balls. He grunted, surprise wide in his eyes, then doubled over in pain. I tore the rifle from his hand, took two steps back and pointed. ‘You don’t have it in you to kill me, Mira!’ he sneered. ‘Kill or be killed!’ I screamed back at him.

“The guards rushed forward, but I raised the gun at them. They stopped just an instant, and I knew, it had to be right then or never. I pointed it at Marco’s head and pulled the trigger. Well, he didn’t have much of a head after that. The guards raised their guns, but I shouted to them, ‘Who are you guarding? I’m in charge here now. You do what I tell you!’

“It was a moment of great fear. I could have easily died on the spot. But they protected me, accepted my authority, and when I reported what had happened to the Central Committee, the guards backed me up, said I’d acted in self-defense.

“Then I spoke to the enclave leadership. It wasn’t a long speech, but it went right to what they cared about. ‘You can appoint another warlord, or you can put me in charge of the enclave. I’m the only one who knows how to implement the Hayek Manifesto. You’ll all lead better, more secure lives once the enclaves are united and protecting each other.’

“They chose me unanimously. We turned Joliet and Harvey into a single political entity, policed by a unified force. Then I got the idea of the outsourced police force, a way to extend control and bring in a lot of money at the same time. We gave it a nice bland name, United Enclave Services, and we started moving into the nearby enclaves.

“We’re underbidding the government forces, adding to the enclaves we control every month; fifteen now, but it should be fifty a year from now. Every enclave we take over gets a political officer assigned who organizes classes in the Manifesto. Every enclave we control operates the same way, with the same goals. Seraphin commands all the police forces now. Here he is, just coming through the door.”

A short, dark-skinned, bowlegged Aztec in dark blue second skin stepped into the entryway and, seeing Mira’s guests, waved and smiled. “You must be Jiri and Lea,” he said, speaking with a Spanish-tinged clavie accent. He extended a hand to DeShaun, saying, “Seraphin Ibañez, Commander of the United Enclave Services Police Force.”

“DeShaun Jackson, commander of the Lee family automobile.”

Everyone laughed. Jiri and Lea then shook Seraphin’s hand, and he joined them in a glass of wine. Jiri looked closely at him, wondering what Mira could possible see in this short little man. He decided that Seraphin’s face, with it’s sharp, symmetric features and intelligent bright black eyes held at least some charm. But at the same moment he also realized that Mira’s choice of mate was one that had been made by people who coveted authority for thousands of years: Seraphin added to her power.

“This is so strange,” Jiri said, after a few minutes of small talk about improvements Mira had planned for her enclave. “We’re talking like old friends on a visit, yet you two are plotting a revolution, organizing right under the wealthies’ noses, hiding behind the front of a company that outsources police services. Every one of us in this room could be executed! Think about it.”

Mira put down her glass and leaned forward. Her face, slightly obscured by the late afternoon shadows, took on a serious, earnest cast. “Yes, but consider the alternative. The Supreme Council can’t keep the peace much longer. When UES enters an enclave, everyone says the same thing, that security improves, that they feel safer. The system is already crumbling. We’re filling the power vacuum that’s forming. If we don’t do it, someone else will, someone else may in fact already be doing it in other parts of the country that we’re not yet in contact with.”

They talked until the summer sun drifted below the horizon, said their goodbyes, and returned to the crumbled road that led to the Interstate that would take them home. At first, all three of them were silent, then Lea quietly ventured to speak.

“That was a horrible story she told, blowing that guy’s head off, taking over like some thug warlord.”

“Yeah,” Jiri agreed. “Scary. I can’t say I trust her, but people like that, if they feel loyalty to you, they’ll do anything for you. And I think she was right; it was kill or be killed.”

DeShaun pointed the car onto the Interstate, and as they cruised smoothly along, Lea added, “We have a really nice life, Jiri, and we support your parents and DeShaun’s family too. What would it mean to our living standard if Mira’s revolution were successful?”

“I’ve been thinking the same thing, Lea. That’s why I want to persuade Bain to promote some reforms. Revolutions tend to get out of control, go too far. God only knows what could happen, but I doubt it would be good for us, or even for the clavies. Let’s hope for something better.”

Proceed to Chapter 13...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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