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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 21: The Revolution Fractures

“If you think I’m going to take orders from Bain, you are totally out of your minds!” Mira spat at the 3-D screen that filled one wall of United Enclave Services’ headquarters teleconference room, situated in one of the newly renovated Joliet warehouses. Also at the table were Seraphin and five other members of the United Enclaves Leadership Council.

“Now, now, Ms. Alvarez, please don’t overreact. We’ve just been informed that he’s been given absolute power and, in return, he’s promised to implement major reforms. These will help all of us. It’s what we’re fighting for, isn’t it?” General Morrison’s face nearly filled the monstrous screen, allowing them to see that others were at the table in Los Angeles with him, but not who they were.

“Maybe it’s what you Californians are fighting for, but we’re fighting to destroy the oppressors. As long as they’re in charge, they’re going to grind us down with their boot heels.”

“You Midwesterners take that Hayek Manifesto all too seriously. Let’s be happy with what we’ve won. At least give it a chance.”

Mira could contain herself no longer. She stood and began pacing around the long, rectangular table.

“You, General Morrison, are a product of the wealthies’ propaganda that you mistakenly think of as education. You must never have learned how revolutions played out in the past, and you have no clue what happens once all power falls into the hands of a single member of the ruling class.”

Morrison adopted a tone of reasonable patience. “Now, Ms. Alvarez, he’s given us his assurance, and if he doesn’t do it, we will absolutely carry out our threat of civil war.”

“By the time you realize you’ve been duped, he’ll have arranged things so you’re in no position to start anything. This is what he’s going to do, my sadly naïve general. He’s going to first consolidate his power, probably by murdering members of the Supreme Council he sees as a danger to his power, then he’s going to murder anyone else who could hurt him.

“And then he’s going to purge the military, make it stronger, lure some of your leaders back into the fold. He’s not just going to implement reforms like some starry-eyed idealist, that’s the one thing you can bet on for sure.”

Morrison stared at the camera, shook his head and said, “I still think we need to give him a chance.”

Seraphin now spoke. “General, our UES Police regiments, really a covert army, are full of former porn performers that we rescued from the studios around here. To those guys Bain is a demon, he’s the devil himself. He abused so many of our guys, and even those who weren’t abused by him know him by reputation. Ain’t no way they’d follow us if we told them we were taking orders from Bain.”

“I don’t understand something,” Morrison replied. “My sources tell me that United Enclave Services was in regular contact with Bain, that he fed you a lot of information about the Council.”

“He’s been playing both sides,” Mira said. “Weakening the Greater North American army was part of his plan to take power. We played along, compromised a lot of officers. Now that he’s in power, he’s gonna try to get us to work with him and, if we do, he’ll find ways to weaken us. We’re the biggest threat to him now.”

The high-definition, 3-D screen vividly displayed the doubt and fear in General Morrison’s face. He had been quite a handsome man once, thought Mira. You could still see the facial symmetry, the piercing blue eyes, and high cheekbones.

He hadn’t been of that class of people who could afford the skin and hair treatments that maintained youthful beauty into one’s sixth decade. The wrinkles, jowls, receding hairline, and skin discoloration that the oversized screen unmercifully exaggerated hid his former good looks from all but the most careful observer.

He’d been silent for nearly thirty seconds when he finally said, “Your arguments are persuasive. I’ve studied ancient Rome, Hitler’s rise to power, even the rise of the current ruling class, and I know what you mean. I’m going to play along with him for now, but I also won’t lift a finger to stop you. Do what you want; we’ll say we’re too far away to help. At the first sign of any attempt to eliminate those who could threaten him, we’ll drop the alliance. I’ll make sure everyone out here is on the same page about that.”

They talked a few more minutes about coordinating intelligence before they signed off and cut the link. Mira stepped into the hallway, which still smelled of fresh paint. As Seraphin and two other UES Council members approached her, she put up her hand saying, “I need a couple minutes of privacy before we talk.”

She ducked into the women’s bathroom, bolted the door, and pulled out her secure comm. She’d tried to reach Jiri three times now and was getting very concerned, but this time he answered.

“Hey, Mira, got your messages but things are kinda crazy around here.”

“Jiri, just listen. You’ve got to get out of the country right now. Bain is going to kill you. He’s been given dictatorial powers by the Supreme Council. You know too much about him. You’re a real threat.”

“No, I can’t believe that. We get along well now; he depends on me.”

“Are you willing to bet your life on those feelings? Don’t talk to him, tell him nothing. Just get out.”

There was a long silence. She waited, knowing he needed a moment to come to terms with what she’d said.

“What about Lea, my parents, DeShaun?”

“Take Lea if you can. Your parents and DeShaun aren’t important to him.”

“Well, I can’t just jump in the car and go to New Zealand.”

“Steal his rocket plane. It’s always fueled sufficiently to go anywhere in the world. Throw a few changes of clothing in a bag and go now!

“There’s another possibility.”

“You still don’t believe me—”

“No, I do. But I’m not running away from him. I want to join you, add my talents to the resistance. You are still resisting him, aren’t you?”

“The Western Enclaves Union is allied with him, but it won’t last. We let them know we’re not playing their game. That means that he’s gonna try to wipe us out as soon as he regains control of the army. We’ve got to make sure he doesn’t regain that control.”

“Are you sure this phone is secure? I really wonder—”

“Trust me, Elise wrote the cyphers herself. She’s studied Schneier and all the other great cryptographers. There’s no way anyone is listening to us.”

“OK, how are you going to keep him from regaining control?”

“By continuing to harass him.”

“Coordination is going to be a problem. He knows about the ad campaign on the Clavenet.”

“Hah!” Mira said. “I told him it was a small business initiative, that we needed a little help to create good jobs in the enclaves. He’s for that of course because he wants to pacify the enclaves.”

“OK, how can we help?”

“The first step is to stay right where you are, but don’t go into work. Call in sick. In two days, we’ll bring you back here.”

“But you said I needed to leave right now.”

“We’ll be guarding you. He won’t be able to touch you. We’re organizing an action in your neighborhood. Your house will be a staging site. Can’t say any more. Hang tight. Bye for now.”

Jiri had little doubt what their action would be. If he helped them, he’d be supporting something he deeply believed was evil but, if he didn’t help them, he could be helping Bain become entrenched as a dictator. It was an awful choice, a choice he had to make that evening.

Proceed to Chapter 22...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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