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Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

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Chapter 14: The Supreme Council

part 2

Jiri and John walked slowly into the cavernous elevator lobby adjacent to the meeting chamber. As they waited politely while several elevators came and went, Carlo casually approached.

“Hey, dude, how’s it going?” He offered his hand, smiling.

Jiri shook it, as did John. “Good to see you Carlo. I see you landed on your feet, a position on Walters’ staff. Sweet!”

“Yeah, kinda sweet,” he said hesitantly. “There are certain duties I have to perform to keep my job, if you catch my drift. Imagine you’ve got the same deal.”

Jiri shook his head. “No, I finally put a stop to that. I’m married to Lea now. Did you know that?”

Carlo’s surprised look was answer enough, but he said, “No, I didn’t know. Congratulations!” He paused, emotions passing over his face like shadows on a fast-moving train. “Marriage,” he said, the word catching in his throat, “not in the cards for me, I’m afraid.”

An elevator arrived and they crowded in. On the ground floor, Jiri turned to Carlo saying, “Hey, I’ll bet you’re staying at the Embassy. Let’s get out of these costumes, then join me in the bar while we wait for the Council’s decision.”

They rode together in a bus provided for the meeting and were soon sitting at a comfortable table in the bar, the late-afternoon sun streaming through its sidewalk-facing windows. John had begged out, saying he wanted to sleep.

“I love these enhanced cocktails!” Carlo said. “You can get totally wrecked on two drinks.”

Jiri looked at his former co-star, feeling a sudden twinge of sadness. Getting “wrecked” was surely Carlo’s way of coping with the never-ending nightmare of his situation.

“Just what does that mean: enhanced?” Jiri asked, nursing a glass of white wine.

“It’s a drug they add that means you get no hangover and, at the same time, a super high. It’s unbelievable, dude. Try one!”

“No, I like to stay quick on my feet. But go ahead; I can carry you up, if necessary.”

“Yeah, you just might have to.” He was well into his first drink and his demeanor was rapidly changing. “So you told old Bain he couldn’t abuse you any more! How do you get away with that? Why didn’t he throw you out?”

“He thinks I actually do good work. Anyway, I made a lot of money with the Gates. I could stand on my own feet if I had to. I would think you did, too. Why do you put up with that bitch?”

Carlo looked down, grabbed his drink, and drained it in one long gulp. Then he stared into Jiri’s eyes, anger suddenly flaring. “Dude, you got like eighty percent of the proceeds of those videos we made. Didn’t you know that? I was just a piece of furniture. You were the star. Did the videos say, ‘Starring Jiri and Carlo’? No, they only mentioned your name.”

“No, Carlo, really I never knew how they split the money. John told me that the Gates got sixty percent, so you got like twenty percent of forty percent. That’s only eight percent!”

“Bingo!” Carlo shouted, too loud for the quiet afternoon patrons who clustered around only three other tables. “I got screwed, dude! Screwed. Twice, once by you, once by them.”

“By me?”

“In the videos, get it?”

“Oh, yeah, hah, uh, right. So you’re not independent? Is that what you’re saying?”

“That bitch owns me. I gotta do what she wants me to do or I’m back in the goddamned enclave, dude. The enclave!” His voice was rapidly slurring, his wallow into self-pity descending into despair.

“Hey, Carlo, I thought these enhanced cocktails were supposed to make you feel better. Why all the negativity?”

“Negately, negavity,” he mumbled. He could hardly talk, and he’d had just one drink. Jiri became concerned. “Carlo, did you take anything else besides the drug in that drink?”

“Yeah, take this,” he slurred, reaching into his pocket, rummaging around clumsily, pulling his hand out, and dropping something on the floor. Jiri dropped to the floor and grabbed it when it rolled out into plain sight. He recognized the pale blue capsule right away: Soma-K, an expensive, terribly addictive drug, legal for certain conditions but widely abused. This explained Carlo’s financial situation, for even at eight percent, he should have had a substantial savings account.

“Dude, if you’re on these, you’re gonna end up in the enclave for sure. I’m taking you up to your room right now and calling medical.”

“No, no doctors,” he mumbled, but he could put up little resistance. Jiri wrapped Carlo’s arm around his shoulder and walked him to the elevator. He rummaged in Carlo’s pocket, found his room entry card, and dragged the now unconscious Carlo to his room. He stayed with him until medical assistance arrived. The hotel physician, a young man, no more than thirty years old, looking and acting fresh out of medical school, tall, slender, and blond, whistled when Jiri showed him the Soma-K capsule.

“That stuff is poison! He mixed it with an enhanced cocktail? Was he trying to commit suicide?”

“I don’t know him very well; we’re just here together at a meeting.”

“Oh, yes, I know which one you mean.” The doctor injected a solution into Carlo’s buttock. “It’s a large dose, might cause a big bruise. Should stabilize him, but he’s going to be asleep for a while. My guess is he took several of those blue things before he came to the bar.”

* * *

After the doctor left, Jiri found some paper and wrote a note with the number of his new, Clearance Level 1 comm, asking Carlo to contact him as soon as he woke. Then he went to his room and spent a half hour researching Soma-K on the hotel’s comm.

What he found was frightening. Addicts often spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their habit, and even the wealthiest people had been driven to destitution by the drug. While it created a fantastic sense of well-being and acted as a powerful aphrodisiac in both sexes, it mixed poorly with other intoxicants, especially the enhancer popular in alcoholic drinks.

The triple whammy of alcohol, enhancer, and Soma-K was particularly dangerous and had been the direct cause of over five thousand deaths in GNA in just the past year. Breaking the addiction was difficult and required a month in an institution under medical supervision.

Jiri decided he would offer to pay for Carlo’s detox. It was the least he could do for his former co-star. He felt guilty that Carlo had received so little for their videos. He’d had to grit his teeth as much as Jiri had while they were making them.

* * *

He put aside his comm and lay on the bed, falling asleep almost immediately. When the tingling of the comm awakened him, the room was so dark that the only light came from the comm screen, making it easy to find.

“Hello, Jiri here.”

“It’s Bain. We’re finally out. Take a guess what they decided?”

“To do it?” Jiri said hopefully.

“Hah, dream on. They decided not to decide. They appointed a committee to study it. At least they made me the head of the committee.”

“So tell me, Jack, are you really for this idea or against it?”

“Actually, I am convinced. I want to try it. We have nothing to lose. I don’t believe Teresa Walters is right about reforms just causing people to revolt faster. Hey, by the way, she’s been asking about someone. I think it’s Carlo, who used to live in the Gates’ compound. Apparently he’s her plaything now.”

“Yeah, Carlo and I went to the bar together. I think he took an overdose of Soma-K. I got a doctor to him just barely in time.”

Bain was silent for several seconds, then he said in a whisper. “She’s within earshot of me. Better not say anything else.”

“OK, but sooner or later she’s going to find out. Jack, I want to help him. Is there something he could do for us? He’s going insane being her boy toy.”

“I hire skilled, capable people, Jiri. I never thought he was the sharpest pencil in the drawer. I don’t know, maybe something low end, but he’d have to accept a big drop in his standard of living. And if he’s on Soma-K, he’s never even going to pass the drug test.”

“I plan to foot the bill for his detox.”

“If she lets you. She’s probably using the Soma-K as a way to control him. I tell you, Jiri, that woman is evil.”

Jiri smiled at the irony of such a judgment coming from Bain, but for now, his former abuser had become his ally, taken his side, and the stakes were too high to let his desire for revenge sabotage the reforms that he hoped, felt certain, would save his way of life. He remembered again his mother’s words: Your feelings can be your undoing. Keep them under your command, and, with your looks, your intelligence, you will always win.

“You still there, Jiri?” Bain’s voice asked through the comm’s speaker.

“Oh, yeah, Jack, just thinking. I never heard from Carlo. Wonder if he’s OK.”

“Don’t worry about that loser. We need to get on the rocket and head back tonight.”

Bain was certainly giving Jiri ample opportunity to practice his self-control. “Just give me five minutes, Jack, and I’ll meet you in the lobby.”

He knocked loudly on Carlo’s door, then shouted, “Hey Carlo, you up?” but there was no response. He tried again, this time provoking someone two doors down to come into the hall and glare at him. He was just about to give up when he heard a scraping at the door. It opened to a pathetic sight.

Carlo was on his knees, naked, vomit around his mouth and on the floor. The room stank obscenely. Jiri, breathing through his mouth, grabbed him under his arms and sat him on the room’s recliner. He rushed to the bathroom, wetted a towel, and wiped Carlo clean.

“Who can I call to help you, Carlo? I gotta leave like right now.”

He groaned, finally able to mumble, “She’ll help, seen me like this before. Call her.”

Jiri called Bain. “How do I contact Ms. Walters? She needs to attend to Carlo.”

“I see her over by the front desk. I’ll send her up. You need to get down here right now! John and I are waiting for you.”

She arrived a moment later, still in her woolen suit, walking briskly, eyes straight ahead. Never looking at Jiri, she said, “I’ll take it from here, young man. You can go.”

As he stood in the doorway, Jiri shouted back into the room, “Carlo, I’ll pay for your detox. Contact me if you want to do that.”

She whirled and faced him, glaring into his eyes with hate. “Stay out of this, porn star! It’s none of your affair. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of me!”

He walked into the hall, and as he pulled the door closed he turned, facing briefly back into the room, catching just a glimpse of her approaching Carlo, a small blue capsule clearly visible between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand.

Proceed to Chapter 15...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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