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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.

Part III: Revolution

“When the laboring classes finally rise up against the ruling class, then the true colors of the masters are on display: the ruthlessness, the brutality, the determination to crush a population fifty times greater than theirs back into submission. It is at this time that the laboring classes must maintain discipline, not sink to the level of their oppressors, and most of all, must present their vision for the better world that comes after the revolution is won.” — Hayek Manifesto, Chapter 6

Chapter 22: Staging the Attack

Jiri jumped out of his car and ran through the entry foyer into the salon. He paused, even though he was late, and his family was surely already gathered around the immense dining room table beyond the salon. Still, he took a few seconds to look around.

The room was full of comfortable furniture dominated by a wall-sized screen hanging across from the designer couch where he had spent hours playing his favorite games; where he, Lea, and his parents had enjoyed concerts and special entertainments never available on comms. It was always comfortably cool inside, something else he knew he would miss terribly. He took a deep breath.

Maybe they all should just flee, live in the villa he had bought in Queenstown, the Aspen-like ski resort in New Zealand that he, Lea, and his parents loved to visit twice every year, once to ski on snow that had actually fallen from the sky, and once to experience the austral summer. It tempted him; it tempted him a lot. But no, that fairy-tale period of their lives was over, and it was time to tell everyone why.

Jiri walked slowly into the dining room and sat down at the table. “I wanted us to all meet together because I have some very important news.” He looked around the table at Lea, his mother and father, both now feeble but still alert; DeShaun and Keesha, dependent on him as an employer, their son asleep in their attached apartment. He felt a terrible weight of responsibility, a desire to ignore Mira’s warning and hope for the best. His heart told him to do nothing, but his head said he had to act.

“You’ve all seen the comm reports, how Bain has taken dictatorial powers.”

“Shouldn’t that be good for us?” Lea asked. “You’re like his right-hand man. You work with him all the time. Surely he’ll need you more than ever now.”

DeShaun shook his head slowly, and Jiri replied, “No, Lea, I don’t think so. In fact, I think he’s probably going to try to kill me.”

She gasped, as did his mother. Before he could continue, DeShaun said, “I do believe that’s exactly right. The man has a dark past, and he’s gonna have to make sure that nobody he molested can ever talk about it. Plus, he knows how smart Jiri is, and that he’s got ties to Mira. He’ll want to take Jiri out pretty soon, I’d say, before Jiri starts helping those revolutionaries.”

“I don’t understand,” his mother said. “The comm said that the revolutionaries are in an alliance with Bain.”

“That’s the Western Enclave Union, Mom, not the local gang here. They’re called United Enclave Services, and they refused to join the alliance. That’s why I gathered you here tonight. They’re going to be coming here very soon, to pay you back for supplying them all those foot soldiers.”

“I didn’t realize you knew about that,” Lea whispered.

“Of course I did; Mira told me, and I didn’t mind at all. You did the right thing. She’s making sure you’re all protected from Bain, and she wants me to work for them in their Joliet headquarters.”

“Son,” said his father, “you’ve got that villa in Queenstown. We’ve all been to it. We could all live there until this blows over.”

“Yeah, I’ve thought a lot about that. It would be best if you, Mom, and Lea went there; and DeShaun’s family, too, if you want to go; but I’ve got to stay here and fight. I’m not going to New Zealand.”

“Oh, Jiri, I don’t want to be apart from you!” Lea said, tears filling her eyes. “Please, forget about Bain. Evil always seems to win in the end, why try to fight it?”

“Because it’s my turn to try to make a better world. Because I swore a solemn oath to myself that when the time came, I would do whatever I could to take out Bain and his whole evil class. If I flee to New Zealand, I’ll hate myself until the day I die.”

“Ain’t no way we gonna go hide in New Zealand,” DeShaun said. “We gonna join in and fight these bastards. We already talked it over when we saw the news reports about Bain.” Keesha nodded her agreement.

“You’ve got a young child. How can you do that?” Jiri asked.

“They told me, the kids that came back here to thank us, they told me that there’s nurseries in Joliet, that everybody takes care of each other there, that it’s like one big family. It’ll be OK. You’ll see, Jiri, if you go there too.”

“Why don’t we just stay here and wait to see what happens?” Jiri’s mother said. “This is all just jumping the gun, if you ask me.”

Jiri looked at her, memories flooding him until he was, for a moment, unable to speak. He thought about how pretty she had been when he was little, how the illness that had almost killed her had grayed her hair, stooped her back, aged her twenty years in the course of only five. She’d recovered once the Gates’ money had provided the means for them to pay for medical care, but the scars would always show. Her face wore a mask of perpetual sadness now, but in her eyes he still saw the resolve, the love of life, the incredible tenacity she’d passed on to him. He rubbed his face and continued.

“I’m tempted just to stay here, Mom, but that’s not an option. You see, tomorrow, at the latest, maybe even tonight, the UES troops are going to come here and set up to use our house as a staging site. They’re running an operation. Mira won’t tell me what it is.”

“They gonna take out the Gates place!” DeShaun whispered.

“Could be, but we don’t know that. Anyway, we don’t want to be here, whatever they do. Could be a lot of shooting. Could be some things happening that you really don’t want to see.”

They stared at each other, realizing at last that Jiri was right, that they had to leave.

“I’ve bought tickets for all of you on a rocket plane to Auckland. It leaves O’Hare at noon tomorrow. You need to be on that plane.”

“Don’t stay!” Lea pleaded. “Please, join us, fight Bain another way. You’ll be safe in New Zealand. You can tell the world about him from there.”

“That’s what I’d like you to do, Lea: expose Bain once you get there. You don’t need to do much packing; you’ve all got clothing and electronics at the villa. Your passports are in order; I checked. I’ve transferred most of our funds to our New Zealand bank. There’s nothing to stop you. When Bain is gone, I’ll join you.”

Bright lights swept into their eyes through the large, street-facing dining room windows. Jiri ran to the door, looking out to see three labor vans, the stretched delivery vehicles used to ferry workers to and from the enclaves, parking in their driveway. The door of the nearest one opened, and Mira jumped down, striding up to him with confident steps. She hugged him fiercely and planted a long kiss on his lips.

“Hey, Lea’s just inside...”

“Don’t worry,” she whispered. “We’re here to protect you tonight. What have you decided?”

He stood, still in her embrace, looking beyond her midnight-black hair to see a half of a moon staring at him, peeking through dense trees, casting pale shadows. Frogs croaked and whistled. A soft warm breeze touched his cheek. Once again fear and doubt splashed over him. He so wanted to never leave this place, this home he’d paid for with his beauty and his dignity.

Lea and DeShaun appeared at the doorway, then took slow steps toward Mira and Jiri.

“Hey, Lea, DeShaun, nice to see you!” Mira shouted. She rushed over and hugged them both. “We’re going to set up here for the night. What are your plans?”

Jiri told her that his parents and Lea would be going to the airport in the morning. “No problem,” Mira assured him. “So you’re staying, DeShaun?”

“Yeah, we got to do our part. Keesha and I ain’t interested in hiding out halfway around the world.”

“Great, we’ll have plenty to do for you,” Mira assured him.

Lea stepped between Mira and Jiri saying, “I want Jiri to come with me, Mira. We need to be together.”

“That’s up to Jiri to decide. We’ll do whatever he wants.”

“I’m staying,” Jiri said, not a grain of doubt in his voice. “I’ll join Lea in New Zealand once I’ve settled things with Bain.”

Mira smiled, unable to hide her pleasure. “We’ll take care of him, Lea, he’ll be fine.”

“Come on!” Lea shouted, anger thick in her voice. “You’re gonna fight a revolution and he’ll be fine? What a joke!”

Jiri wrapped his arm around Lea’s waist and hugged her tightly. “Come on yourself. Your plane could crash, you could get hit by a car. Life is uncertain. In the end, we have to do what matters to us, to live a purposeful life, not a life cowering in fear. I’ll come to you soon, I promise.”

She nodded, wiping the tears that trickled down her face. A wave of unbearable sadness engulfed him. They’d seen each other almost every day since that hot afternoon he’d left the enclave in Imelda’s black limousine. It would be so unimaginably strange, so terribly lonely to be far away from her.

“So, OK, Mira, tell me, you gonna hit the Gates’ place, right?” DeShaun asked.

A smile grew on her face that quickly evolved into resolve. “I’ve waited ten years for this moment,” she whispered, teeth clenched. “I don’t intend to pass up this chance. Bain told Imelda to leave, one of the runaways overheard him, but she was still there two hours ago; some of the performers tweet us regular updates. She can’t leave now, this house is on the only road out and we’re watching it closely.”

“Unless she escapes with a boat on the lake,” DeShaun suggested.

“Got that covered, too. We’ve got a boat out there, lights off, just offshore. They’ll dock in the morning and we’ll hit the compound from both sides.”

“It’s all about Imelda for you, isn’t it?” Lea asked.

“Yeah,” Mira said, a faraway look in her eyes. “All about Imelda.”

“Hey, you gonna go in there with those labor vans?” DeShaun wondered. “They pretty flimsy.”

Mira gave him a conspiratorial smile. “Oh, you don’t know what we do to those things. They’re tanks, really. Heavily armored, special tires, super-strong suspension. They can plow through just about anything.”

They walked inside and sat in the parlor, while Mira’s support troops set up positions around the house.

“Mira, doesn’t Bain think you’re taking orders from the Western Enclaves leadership?” Jiri asked. “If you hit the Gates, it’s going to be pretty clear that you’re not in the alliance.”

“Exactly what I want. We need to keep him off balance before he finds a way to re-establish control of the army. Right now he can’t give an order with any assurance it’ll be carried out. If we join the alliance, our supporters in the army are likely to go back over to the other side. They’d see it as their only option. But if they see we’re still resisting, they’ll stay with us.”

“So you don’t think he’ll retaliate after this raid?”

“Right now, he can’t. All he’s got behind him is the Lake Forest police, his Praetorian Guard. The Western Enclave commander assured me that his command wouldn’t move against us.”

“I sure hope you’re right!” Jiri said. “Because if you aren’t, if those people in the army aren’t really with us...”

Mira stood. “I’m going to rejoin the troops for the night. Trust me, I’m right. I don’t take crazy risks. You’ll see.”

Proceed to Chapter 23...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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