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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 16: An Advertising Campaign

Hot, but most days were hot. It was just more noticeable when Jiri chose to walk to lunch. Once per week, when the weather service made it rain, the dry, baking heat became sultry, oppressive, tropical. Older people claimed that in addition to snow around Christmas, there had once been long stretches of time when the weather was cool and comfortable.

Jiri, who’s studies had never included meteorology or the climatic history of Earth, wondered why it had been so much cooler then. With his mind lost in such thoughts as he walked along the crowded sidewalks, the sudden tug at the back of his shirt was especially jarring.

He spun around and saw a young woman in a Wealth Bank pantsuit, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat ringed in flowers, her face covered by oversized sunglasses revealing only two crescents of olive skin.

“Sir, you dropped this!” she said before pushing him gently to the brick facing of a convenience store while shoving a small metal box into his hand. She stuck her face in his ear and whispered, “When you turn it on, it will give you instructions. Memorize them. They’ll never appear again.”

Before he could say a word, she turned and disappeared into the crowd. He looked down at the comm in his hand. It wasn’t any brand sold in the wealthy zone. In fact it looked homemade, the edges rough and ill-fitting, scratches where the faceplate had been crudely screwed to the base.

He quickly dropped it in his pocket, got his takeout lunch, and returned to his office. It was a quiet day and almost everyone was out. He closed the door to his office and turned the blinds on the floor-to-ceiling windows that formed the hallway wall.

The comm had only one button. He pushed it and a message quickly appeared on its four-by-six inch screen.

This device will act like any wealthy-zone comm unless you enter the following code immediately after startup: 7520/3\749#

After entering this code, this device can be used to contact specific comms in liberated enclaves. This message will be purged from this device in two minutes. MEMORIZE THE CODE

He took the full two minutes to stare at the code, allowing it to extinguish itself. As the message vanished, a keyboard appeared on the touch screen. He entered the code. A list of three contacts appeared:

Sister Mira Alvarez
Brother Seraphin Ibañez
Brother Kendrick Drake

He touched the contact for Mira and she responded within seconds. “So you’ve got it working. You’ll need to use this one to talk to us now that they’ve given you that bugged high-security one.”

“Mira,” Jiri asked, incredulous, “how could you know already? We just got back last night, only the councilors and a few of their staff know about my new clearance level.”

“There you go,” she said. “The list of suspects is short. Detective Lee should have no trouble solving the mystery. Better keep your new toy well hidden at home. They could stop and search you any time. Got to go...”

“Wait. Do you know about Quebec, Arizona...”

“Yes, same source. And good luck saving Carlo. That witch has no intention of letting him go.”

The comm went dead. How could she know so much? Was Carlo feeding her information? It seemed the most likely source, but he’d left Carlo desperately sick in his hotel room. There was no time for further thought on the matter, he had a meeting.

* * *

As he entered the conference room, he saw that he was the last to arrive. John Chester sat in his usual place and, on the opposite side of the table, sat three short, Aztec-looking young men, dark blue second-skin peeking out through the holes and tears in their scruffy, khaki pants and unbuttoned work shirts.

“Hey, dude, I’m Jaime Cordoba,” said the one in the middle, extending his hand but not standing. The other two sat impassively, studying the table.

“I’ve been informed of your program, gentlemen,” Jiri began. “Please begin your presentation.”

Jaime did all of the talking, though he occasionally consulted with the other two in Spanish. He presented a plan for a series of fifteen-minute dramas paid for by advertising that the same group created.

He played one of the dramas. He showed two of the ads. In his wrap-up Jaime emphasized, “We need to place these dramas in time slots one week before showing, and the advertising in slots we determine with 48-hour lead time.”

“That’s highly irregular,” John said. “We usually decide the placement.”

“You guys think you know the enclaves, but you don’t. These are enclave-produced dramas and ads. The products we’re advertising are enclave-produced. For this to work we’ve gotta put the content where we think it fits.”

Jiri understood what he had to do. “John is right, of course, but this is a very intriguing and creative plan you gentlemen have. The video you showed us was really good, and the ads look professional. Let’s give this a try, John. They’re offering us a good financial package, and the dramas are short enough to program in pretty easily. I’d like to see how well this works.”

All three of the visitors smiled broadly, convincing Jiri that they really did understand English. They concluded the deal quickly and were on their way, leaving Jiri and John alone.

“Well, you sure seemed to take to those guys,” John said suspiciously. “No complaints about their clothing this time.”

“John, you were at the Supreme Council meeting yesterday; you know what’s going on. We need to start treating clavies as equals. You never know how things are going to work out.”

“I really don’t want to take sides if I can help it,” John confided. “Since you took me away from the Gates, I’ve got my self-respect back. I’m not wealthy, but I can hold my head high. A revolution? I have no idea where that would leave me.”

“I don’t want that to happen either but, if it does, I want them to remember I didn’t stand in their way.”

Just then, Bain walked by in the hall. He saw Jiri through the wall of conference room windows and motioned for him to come out.

“Let’s go into my office.” He closed the door and indicated that Jiri should sit.

“Was there anything said in that room yesterday that got you thinking, ‘What did that mean?’”

“Well... oh, yes, one thing: DuPuis said something about a final defense. I was going to ask you about that.”

“Yes, thought you might. Did you say anything to Lea last night about it?”

“No, your question jostled my memory about it just now.”

“Good. Word of advice. Forget about it. It’s top secret. Suffice it to say that if our backs are really against the wall, we’ve got something that should stop them in their tracks.”

“Some secret weapon?”

“Like I said, forget it. If it ever gets out that you mentioned it to anyone, you’ll spend the rest of your life someplace where you’ll have no chance to tell anyone anything. And that includes Lea.”

“OK, forgotten.” He took a deep breath. There was nothing worse than knowing that a terrible secret existed but not knowing what it was. “Any updates from yesterday?”

“Several. Chairperson Greene tells me we only have four solid votes for reform, and four solid votes against. The usual wafflers are angling for some kind of compromise that gets them something they want. Beckett, the pharma rep, wants several drugs fast-tracked. But those drugs have all had problems in early trials and could kill people if released too soon.

“Peart, the army rep, wants us to ban all outsource contracts and increase military pay. If we do that, we won’t have the money for all the reforms.

“Chairperson Greene wants both reforms and a crackdown. He calls it the carrot and stick approach. If we don’t give those three what they want, they won’t support the reforms. On top of that, the Walters witch has been contacting all the Councilors, advising them to shoot this down, saying they’re digging their own graves. She’s pushing for a quick up-or-down vote.”

“I don’t believe this!” Jiri said. “Faced with all the evidence that their world is crumbling around them, they act like there’s no problem, like this is just another idea to used as a bargaining chip.”

“They don’t believe it can actually happen. They never step outside their insulated little world.”

“Do you?” Jiri asked, looking intently into Bain’s eyes.

Bain smiled and pushed his chair back. “You don’t know much about me at all. Yes, you know about my weakness for young boys, but there’s a lot you don’t know. If this revolution really does happen, you’re going to be very surprised.

“By the way, did a certain group of clavies ever approach you about placing some short videos and ads according to a very specific schedule they wanted to set themselves?”

“Why yes, that was my last meeting.”

“And what did you decide?”

“I thought it was an innovative idea. We’ll try it out for a while.”

Bain nodded, smiled, stood and waved his hand. “That’s all, I’ve got a lot to do this afternoon.”

Jiri walked into the hall, confused, wondering just what game Bain was playing, whose side he was really on.

Proceed to Chapter 17...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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