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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 20: The King of North America

Two weeks after the Supreme Council meeting that Jiri had attended, the Council met again. This time, they did so entirely in person, no teleconferencing allowed. Because all staff were forbidden entry, the meeting began without ceremony.

Chairman Greene started. “Councilors, I have called you to this emergency closed session due to disturbing news from the west. As some of you already know, the situation in the California district is becoming untenable. General Peart, could you please elaborate.”

Peart was a large man, well over six feet, solid and muscular, but gray in the temples, bespectacled, and distinguished. Bain noticed that today he seemed unusually unkempt. His thick hair, undoubtedly chemically maintained, was disheveled. He was wearing casual civilian clothes, something Bain had never seen him do and a violation of the unspoken dress code of the Council. His eyes spoke of sleepless nights, and they darted from left to right as he rose to speak.

“I’ll keep it short. We’ve lost command and control in California district. The local chain of command has gone over to the clavies along with all the troops. The equipment we had based in that jurisdiction — and I mean all of it — is lost. That’s everything from airplanes to missiles, to bombs, to every kind of weapon we have.

“As you know, we had major bases in Alto California, Baja California, and Nevada: Navy, Air Force, Special Forces, Army, all of them. Forty percent of our hardware is in the revolutionaries’ hands, and some of our best officers are working for them now.”

Teresa Walters shot to her feet. “This is a shocking failure of your command, General. I demand your resignation immed—”

“Wait a minute,” Bain interrupted. “You can’t pin this on him, Teresa. General Peart has done everything he could to stop this. We’re at fault for not seeing this coming. That’s why this body exists: to lead, and we’ve all done a crappy job of leading. I’ll not be a party to any scapegoating.”

William Beckett, the artificially youthful Pharma CEO stood. “Instead of beating up on the General, let’s talk about our options. Maybe it’s time to give them a demonstration of our final defense.”

General Peart looked up and shook his head. “I’ll not be a party to that. Slaughtering millions of defenseless people is not something I’m willing to put my name on.”

“But we can limit the damage to the Los Angeles and San Francisco enclaves, General. Just think how effective a lesson it could teach!” Beckett spoke with a childlike eagerness.

“Yes,” Hebert DuPuis added, his voice filled with sarcasm. “I’m for that. Teach them a lesson they’ll never forget because they’ll all be dead!” He laughed diabolically like a movie villain.

Jackson Bain said nothing, but his mind worked furiously. He silently rehearsed what he needed to say as the others talked, finally inserting himself during a brief lull.

“Councilors, once we deploy the weapon, everyone will know about it; it will have no further surprise value. Then, all the revolutionaries’ efforts will be diverted to defeating it. No, we can deploy it only on a massive scale or not at all. I see no middle ground. It is a last resort, and we are far from being defeated.

“Yes, we have lost some territory, but this could be an opportunity for us if we play our cards right. Let’s implement the reforms my protégé recommended at the last meeting. Then, when life improves for the clavies, they’ll see they’re much better off under our rule than under some chaotic revolution.”

Teresa Walters’ face contorted into a contemptuous sneer. “Not so simple, Bain. The clavies are being very careful in California District. They’re letting the wealthy continue to operate, admittedly with much more onerous taxes. In fact, they’re implementing the very reforms you proposed, and many more, paying for them with unsustainable taxes. We need to hang on, harass them militarily, wear them down, isolate them. Before long, their economy will collapse, and we can just walk right back in.”

“When?” Bain asked. “In twenty years? By then, we’ll all be killed. The revolution will have spread. You forget how vulnerable we are everywhere. We’ve lost a huge part of our tax base. We’ve got to stop the bleeding now. Let’s face it: we can’t trust our own army. We’ve lost control of it.”

“Thanks to our incompetent Chief of the Military!” Walters snarled.

Peart stood. “OK, that’s enough. You can consider this my resignation. My rocket plane is on the roof. I’m getting out of this madhouse. You can reach me at my Cashmere Hills home in Christchurch. I intend to formally request political asylum from the New Zealand government.”

The General turned and walked slowly, with dignity, to the door, opened it, and disappeared. No one spoke to dissuade him, no one rushed to try to stop him. The room was silent for the longest two minutes Bain had ever experienced. He looked around the room at the downcast eyes, the fear obvious in all of them, even Walters. Now was the time to strike. He stood and walked slowly to the presentation podium.

“Councilors, we cannot drift any longer, the time has come to act. We are paralyzed by argument and ridiculous politics. We need strong leadership. I can provide that leadership. Let me explain why.

“During the past two years I have established a communication channel with revolutionary groups in the West and Midwest. I have come to an agreement with some of them, an agreement to share power so that together we can improve the lot of the clavies. They have agreed that, if I can gain control of the Supreme Council, they will work with us, through me, rather than fight us. Grant me emergency powers to implement my reform program now. Give me one year. During that time there will be no votes on policy, no infighting, no disagreement. We will continue to meet, continue to discuss, but my word will be final.

“If you do this, your safety will be guaranteed. If you do not, I will walk out of this room and join the revolution. Your inability to lead will surely be your death sentence.”

“I will not willingly cede my power to a child molester!” Walters shouted.

“Oh, is the pot calling the kettle black, Ms. Walters? Do you wish to inform this entire body about the young man you first visited when he was fourteen at the Gates’ pornography studios? Would you like to explain how you use Soma-K to keep him as your personal sex slave? Would you like...”

“Enough!” She slammed her fist on the table. “Your perverted liaisons with boys are well-known to most of us, Bain. You are in no position to judge me.”

“But there’s a big difference between us, Ms. Walters. I help those boys, give them a start in the world. You enslave your victims with horrible drugs. What you’re doing is a crime, and I’ve got videos and testimony sufficient to put you in prison for the rest of your life.”

“What drivel! You’re as much a criminal as I am, Bain!”

“But there’s one other difference between us, Ms. Walters. I’ve gone through the trouble of actually assembling the evidence and going to the District Attorney.”

Bain took his comm off the table and spoke into it. “Commence operation.” The door burst open and four Public Safety officers, sidearms in their hands, ran into the room, positioning themselves around Walters. The largest and oldest of them said, “You are under arrest, Ms. Walters. The warrant is officially sworn and available for your review in Lake Forest Public Safety Headquarters. Come with us.”

Her eyes desperately surveyed the cowering Councilors as the officer took her arm. “Will no one stand in my defense! I am a member of the Supreme Council. You can override this arrest! Do it!”

They all seemed very interested in the table, no one daring to make eye contact. The officers dragged her out the door, it slammed, and the silence continued for another minute before DuPuis spoke.

“Jack, uh, well, this is a pretty serious thing you’re proposing. I need proof that you’re in touch with the revolutionaries. This could all be a lot of bluster on your part.”

“Point taken,” Bain agreed. “Remember our California District Commander, General Morrison?”

“Yes!” Chairperson Greene’s eyes lit up. “He and I were great friends in college, and we stayed in touch until last year when he just sort of dropped off the face of the earth.”

“That’s because he joined the revolution, Tony,” Bain said. “But you can rekindle your friendship, because I’m going to call him right now.”

Bain attached his comm to a speaker outlet and pressed some keys. After three tones, a man’s voice said, “James Morrison, Major General, Western Enclaves Union.”

Bain indicated that Greene should speak. “Jim, is it really you?”

“Is that Tony Greene I hear?” Morrison said with obvious pleasure in his voice. “So sorry I had to go underground, Tony but, hey, how did you track me down?”

“Would you happen to know Councilor Bain, Jim?”

“Oh, yes, been talking to him a lot lately. That guy really knows how to play both sides of the fence, let me tell you—”

“Ah, Jim, he’s listening in to this conversation right now.”

Bain chuckled. “No offense, General; in fact, I’m delighted that you said just that, because it’s what I’ve been telling these folks, and now they surely must believe it.”

“OK, Mr. Bain, if you’re not offended, I’m relieved. Am I on speaker to the whole Council?”

“All but two who seem to have removed themselves from this body. General, I’ve made my proposal to the Council, the one we discussed last week with the Western Enclave Union leaders.”

“Oh, yes. Councilors, I realize that you feel like you’re talking to the enemy right now, and in fact, you could be. But if you go along with Mr. Bain, we’ll all be working together again. If not, I’ve got to tell you that there’s no way we can avoid an all-out civil war, and if that happens, well, I came over to the other side for a reason: I’m about as sure as an experienced military man like me can be, that we can beat you.”

Beckett rose to his feet and rushed the nearest microphone. “We can kill every last one of you, General Morrison, are you aware of that?”

“Well, that must be the Council’s own pharmacist, Mr. Beckett.” The mockery in Morrison’s voice was unmistakable. “Do you really think we’re unaware of the final defense, Mr. Beckett? Do you really think we don’t know how to counter it?”

“There is no way for you to counter it!” shouted Beckett.

“If that’s what you think, why don’t you direct it at us then, Mr. Beckett? Then, when we neutralize it, your quiver will be empty. You’ll be in no position at all to bargain, and your barbarity will be exposed for all to see. Are you willing to take that chance?”

Once again the meeting fell into total silence.

“Is the line still open?” asked Morrison.

“Yes, General,” Bain said. “But I’m going to cut it now so we can get to a vote. I’ll be in touch soon.”

Bain sat, directing an inquisitive look at Chairman Greene.

“Is there any further discussion on this issue?” Greene asked.

No one said a word.

Bain waited a respectable amount of time and then rose. “I do hereby move that all powers currently given to the Supreme Council be granted to me personally for a period of one year. Do I hear a second?”

“Second,” Chairman Greene meekly croaked.

The vote was ten to nothing. Jackson Bain smiled with the serenity of the conqueror. He was the king of North America.

Proceed to Chapter 21...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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