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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 24: Mira’s Revenge

Noise and the lights roused Jiri and Lea from a fitful sleep. One by one, the labor vans rolled out of their driveway and into the road, heading toward the lake, toward the Gates’ residence.

Lea pulled back the curtain in time to see them pull into the road. “It’s four in the morning. I thought they were going to start later.”

“Something must have happened,” said Jiri. “You guys all have your bags ready, right?”

“Yeah, but...”

“Let’s wake the others and get you to the airport now. We can’t wait around here any longer.”

Just then a searchlight passed over the house, briefly illuminating their bedroom. He could hear the chopping noise of a helicopter overhead.

“That’s why they’re acting! Police helicopter. Someone must have discovered the plan and tipped off the police.”

Jiri quickly rounded up DeShaun’s family and his parents and piled them and their luggage into his large passenger van. They hadn’t gone a mile when they saw the road blocked ahead of them. Perhaps a dozen helmeted Lake Forest police, guns raised, stood in the roadway.

“Hi,” Jiri said to the policeman leaning into the driver’s side window. “Early flight. We need to get to the airport.”

Two police officers, one on each side, shone lights into the vehicle, exploring it from front to back. Jiri chose to present his Bain Enterprises employment card when they asked for identification.

“Oh, Mr. Lee, our apologies for detaining you,” the officer at the window said. “By all means, you’re free to go.”

From the back window, DeShaun had been watching the police helicopter as it hovered low on the horizon, right over the spot he would have estimated as the location of the Gates residence. Now a door opened and what looked like a rope snaked out of it toward the ground.

DeShaun tapped Keesha on the shoulder and pointed to the scene. As he did, a bright streak rocketed toward the chopper, collided with it, and created a flash followed by streamers of light spreading in all directions. Three seconds later the sound reached them, a deafening bang followed by a rolling roar.

They were barely fifty yards beyond the checkpoint, but Jiri stopped and jumped out of the van, looking first at the sky, then back down the road. The police were all watching the sky but holding their position. He quickly jumped back in the van and sped away.

“We’ve got to get as far away from here as possible. They’re going to be closing the roads soon. We’ve probably got fifteen minutes to get to the Interstate. After that, no one can possibly know where we came from.”

He tore through deserted streets to the nearest entrance, relieved when they were safely cruising toward the airport on the almost empty Interstate.

* * *

As Mira calmly directed activity in the command van, she heard the helicopter, then saw its outline on the radar view. Seraphin had insisted on surface-to-air missiles, warning that helicopters might be deployed. Mira had laughed at him. Now she looked in his direction sheepishly. “You were right. I’m never gonna doubt you again, bro’!”

His grin filled his face. “You should listen to me more often! Well, good we did bring ’em. I’m homing in now. Let’s slow down and make sure the debris don’t hit us.”

Serraphin ordered the vans to stop, then locked onto the target and launched the missile. They cheered when the chopper exploded.

“Wow, look at that! Just when they start the rescue operation. That bitch gotta know she’s done for now!”

Mira shouted into the command microphone. “Going to Plan Two, Plan Two. Assume a large police force. We’ll have to fight our way out.”

The early June sun was rising, and the night was already softening as the lead van crashed through the iron gates, hardly slowing down until it reached the front door. Eduardo was standing in the open entryway, Imelda just behind them in the grasp of two members of the home security contingent.

Behind Imelda, the dawn light was now sufficient to reveal the UES ferry, visible through lake-facing windows in the back of the house, docked at the Gates’ deep water pier, labor vans rolling out of its bay.

Mira stepped into the three-story foyer, looking to her left and right, remembering the two years of her life in this house, the humiliation of her expulsion, the vow she’d made while locked in the taxi taking her to Joliet. She intended to make the most of this moment, but it also had to serve a larger purpose. Imelda would be her Exhibit A for the degeneration of the wealthies.

“Put her in my van, in the cage we brought along!” Mira directed Eduardo. “And scan her for communications devices. She might even have one up her twat!”

“Just kill me right here, in my house!” Imelda shouted. “Get it over with.”

“Hah, bitch! No way. You gonna suffer for a while.”

Mira turned to Seraphin who stood just behind her. “How’s it going with the performers?”

Seraphin, eyes down, talked into his earpiece, then looked up at her. “They only found fifteen of them. They’re in two vans, heading for the Lee residence.”

“So he’s in it with you, eh?” Imelda spat. “Probably where all our runaways went. I’d suspected that.”

“Yeah, Lea’s been rescuing them for years, bitch. Now we gonna rescue you!”

“What do you mean?”

“You gonna get re-educated Imelda. I’m doing it personally. We gonna be real close friends for a while.”

Mira turned again to Eduardo. “Be sure she sees the house burning. Let’s get out of here. Set the fire!”

“What about my husband?” Imelda shouted as Eduardo dragged her to the van. “What did you do with him?”

Mira grinned. “Seraphin, they got the husband yet?”

“Yeah, I’ll have him brought out.”

A moment later, two UES soldiers appeared at the head of the spiral stairway, dragging a limp body. They pushed it down the stairs roughly. It rolled, stopping at a curve halfway down. They ran down the stairs and dragged it to the entryway, dropping it at her feet.

Imelda could see the large holes in his chest and temple oozing only a little coagulating blood, the lifeless, open eyes, the cold gray pallor of his face. Her defiance broke down. Overwhelmed with grief, she fell to her knees, sobbing loudly.

“Cut the blubbering, bitch!” Mira ordered. “Get her in the van now.”

“Why, why Claudio?” Imelda implored through her tears as they pushed her into the cage, barely big enough for her to stand and turn around in. “Kill me now! My life is over!”

“We killed him just for you, dearie,” mocked Mira. “To make you suffer. I saw how fond of him you were when I lived here. And you’re fond of this nice big house of yours, too, aren’t you? So fond of it you couldn’t leave, even when Bain warned you. Now you can watch it burn!”

As the vans rolled onto the road, Mira ordered the command van to stay behind long enough for Imelda to watch as the flames quickly rose and consumed the home she’d been unable to abandon. The cage was pressed up against the rear window, Imelda’s eyelids were propped open with tape, her head held in a sling. She had no choice but to watch as the lifestyle she’d created by exploiting and defiling the children of the poor came to a fiery end.

As Mira stared at Imelda, Seraphin’s earpiece crackled with field reports. Police roadblocks were up at the expected places, small, highly vulnerable groups of police were scattered along the route, and the remaining Lake Forest helicopter was foolishly in the air. Designed for police work and without any effective military countermeasures, it was a sitting duck for their two remaining surface-to-air missiles. There was no way that the police could know about the dozens of drones that dissident military personnel had delivered to UES over the past year, but they would soon find out.

Once dawn had broken, Seraphin had ordered the release of tiny surveillance drones; dragonflies they all called them. Not much bigger than a small songbird, these eyes in the sky now painted a beautiful three-dimensional picture of the entire escape route. He could see exactly where police were deployed, their weapons, even the roadblocks far down the Interstate where other police departments had joined the fight.

“Any news about the GNA army, Seraphin?” Mira asked, now beside him as they rolled through the deserted, early morning residential streets of Lake Forest.

“So far so good. Our people at Great Lakes barracks say there’s no unusual activity at all.”

Over the next half hour, they broke through two roadblocks, the second only a quarter-mile from downtown Lake Forest. Their intention was to put a scare into the locals, to induce the police guarding the Interstate entrances to abandon their posts and rush to protect the high-value assets in downtown Lake Forest.

By six o’clock, twenty-five vans had massed on the edge of downtown. Three vans in the front sporting retractable laser cannons began firing into the tall, downtown buildings. Mira grabbed a communications microphone as the firing began.

“Be sure to put some holes in that giant, crescent-shaped building. That’s where Bain’s offices and living quarters are. I want to give that bastard a good scare!”

Within seconds she could see puffs of smoke erupt from the building on her command screen. As the smoke cleared, large, ragged holes appeared.

“Yeah!” shouted Mira. “Bain’s gonna know we’re not his allies now!”

Seraphin had been watching the escape routes closely on two screens. The police at the Interstate entrances were rushing to their vehicles. “Deploy attack drones along route 60!” he shouted into his microphone.

Two minutes later, their screens showed the police cars, foolishly packed into a single tight group of over twenty vehicles, speeding along route 60. Flashes of light and thick clouds of smoke appeared, completely obscuring the view.

Seraphin’s hands stayed tightly clenched as he waited for the smoke to clear, then he let out a huge whoop. The police cars appeared from the smoke, all motionless, mangled, torn, scattered as far as two hundred yards off the road.

He turned one of the dragonfly’s cameras to get a view farther down the road, toward Lake Forest. It showed deserted pavement, not a single police vehicle anywhere. The city of Lake Forest was defenseless. They could loot it, destroy it, or spare it as they pleased.

Proceed to Chapter 25...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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