Prose Header

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 28: A Shocking Discovery

part 1

It would always be remembered as the turning point of the revolution. But Seraphin’s explanation to the Joint Leadership Committee of the Midwest Enclaves was that it was just another action, a way to test Greater North America’s vaunted and supposedly invincible Civil Protection Force.

Despite their victory in the Battle of Lake Forest, United Enclave Services was still far from fully controlling the Midwest region. The Civil Protection Force, in particular, still swore allegiance to Greater North America and controlled strategic territory. The action Seraphin proposed seemed modest at the time, but it led to an amazing discovery.

His plan was to loot the highly-defended Smith-Beckett pharma warehouse outside of Waukegan. It was on the very edge of a residential area and fifty miles from the UES base. For reasons no one understood, at least one hundred regular members of the Greater North America Civil Protection Force, the elite troops of the oppressors, were protecting it.

Seraphin and his commanders had studied everything they could get from former members about the Civil Protection Force: their weapons, tactics, training. Seraphin’s group had amassed a considerable arsenal of stolen equipment, much of it the best and most advanced available, and they had recruited several former Civil Protection Force members. In fact, they even had moles in the force protecting the Smith-Beckett warehouse, moles that could help direct unmanned drones and sabotage the surveillance system when the attack began.

On a clear September morning, over one thousand UES soldiers rolled along interstate highways from the north, south, and west. They came in small groups, in vans commonly used to carry workers into the wealthy zones.

But these were not the vehicles they appeared to be. They were, instead, armored personnel carriers much like the ones used in the raid on Gates Studio, more akin to light tanks. As they approached their target, they drove off the road into cornfields, parked in tree-lined neighborhoods, even took up positions in the warehouse’s visitors’ parking lot just beyond the security perimeter.

In the command van, Seraphin sat amidst an arsenal of electronics, constantly talking with his three quadrant-group leaders. Mira was sitting in the front passenger seat, prepared to monitor the drone feeds.

As the first rosy fingers of dawn appeared on the horizon, Seraphin gave his orders. “Recording drones: deploy!”

Tiny dragonflies drifted upward from trucks in all three of the attack quadrants, rapidly gaining speed as they rose. They would provide continuous visuals of the battle from every possible angle.

“Communications drones: deploy!”

Larger drones rose straight up and deployed their small dishes, providing comm support, encrypted with Elise’s advanced algorithms, which only Seraphin’s troops could use. Seraphin and Mira looked at the four screens that surrounded him, smiling with satisfaction as they admired the clear, detailed, three-dimensional, aerial views of the three attack quadrants and the warehouse.

“North quadrant, commence diversionary attack!”

UES soldiers under the command of Group Leader Jorge Lopez spread along a quarter-mile line, walking south through rolling remnants of recently-harvested cornfields, toward the loading docks of the warehouse. The troops were led by four vans that would be used to break through the flimsy barbed-wire fence. At the same time, missile-carrying drones rose from behind them, heading for the guard towers.

Seraphin and Mira, who had moved to the back of the truck, watched intently as the troops advanced. The drones locked onto their targets; the tiny missiles flashed brightly then rushed from the drones. The first explosions were visible through the windows of the van: bright noiseless flashes, then thumping sounds, five in rapid succession, arriving three seconds later.

Four guard towers crumbled to the ground, followed almost immediately by a large cell-phone tower. The attackers cheered and broke into a run.

“South quadrant, west quadrant, commence attack!”

By now the Civil Protection Force were pouring from the warehouse, all running to the north perimeter, all still unaware of the much larger forces rushing at them from behind and their left.

In the small office above the warehouse floor that acted as the Civil Protection Force command center, chaos reigned. The officers had caught a glimpse of the large force that appeared to the south just before the power suddenly failed. When the backup generators failed to come on, Commander Jeffrey Wilhouse, looked at the dark screens in horror, realized immediately that they’d been sabotaged. Without the guard towers, his forces were completely unable to locate the enemy.

He pulled out his comm, intent on warning the troops rushing north about the attack from their rear, but the screen flashed No service. He stood stone-still, facing the dark screens, considering the situation, ignoring urgent requests for orders.

Finally he turned to the five men and two women in the command center. “I’m not going to lose a hundred good people trying to protect some lousy drugs! I’ll walk out there with a white flag myself and hope they see it. Garcia, try to reach Miles, tell him to surrender.”

“Sir,” Garcia shouted, desperation and anger in his voice, “they’re illiterate clavies. We can cut them to shreds.”

“Did you see the drones, Garcia? The organization, the way they infiltrated us?” Wilhouse replied. “This is something new, something we’re not ready for.” He paused and then asked, “Did anyone get a report off to HQ before we lost all communication?”

No one responded. They were isolated with no hope of assistance. He began looking around the room. “What can I use for a white flag?”

The eighty Civil Protection Force that had rushed to meet the north quadrant attack all lay flat on the prickly remains of cornstalks, half facing north, half facing south, firing as rapidly as they could but having little effect on the hundreds of advancing clavies.

Suddenly the advance stopped, and they heard a voice from the sky, as though it were the voice of God himself, though it was actually just coming from a megaphone drone:

“You are surrounded and outnumbered. Your communications are cut. We do not want to kill you. You are our brothers. Surrender now and make a choice: Return to your barracks and continue to serve the wealthy, or join us and take the wealth for yourselves. Do you really want to lose your life defending some drugs?”

They all stopped firing, and as they did, they saw in the distance, near the loading docks of the warehouse, a solitary soldier in the uniform of their commander, walking slowly toward them, waving a white undershirt tied to a broomstick. Word spread quickly and soon the defenders were rising to their feet, hands over their heads.

In the command van, Seraphin and Mira whooped in triumph. They jumped outside, running in circles, waving their rifles over their heads, firing into the air. Seraphin stopped long enough to order the large empty vans reserved for their loot to pull up to the loading docks.

He and Mira jumped back into their van and directed the driver to meet the man holding the white flag. All around, the UES forces, still holding discipline, surrounded and disarmed the Civil Protection Force, herding them close together and instructing them to lie quietly on the ground.

As Seraphin jumped out of the van, Commander Wilhouse stood rigidly at attention, saying, “Commander Jeffrey Wilhouse surrendering. Our forces are ordered to obey your commands.”

Mira stepped forward until she was quite close to the shamed Commander. “So how did you like our little exercise? Did we surprise you?”

“Of course you did. But we would have defeated you easily if you hadn’t sabotaged our command center.” His eyes never moved and he continued to stand rigidly at attention.

“You would have defeated a thousand troops with full communication support and attack drones? How?”

Commander Wilhouse reconsidered. “Perhaps not. I have a high opinion of my troops; they’re the best we have. But to be outnumbered ten to one and to have no weapons superiority and, in fact, for you to have air superiority, well, perhaps we would have lost even without the sabotage. This unit was deployed to repel a small-scale attack, a few dozen people at most. This was more like a wartime operation.”

“Good analysis,” Mira said, continuing to circle. “So Commander, what would you like to do? I could use a man who’s a real professional, knows when he’s beat and tries to save his troops. That’s how I want to fight. To live for another day, if possible.”

“What force are you inviting me to join, ma’am?”

“The army of the United Enclaves. You might want to think about what we’ve done today. This was just a small taste of our capabilities. We’ve got quite a lot of the military working for us already.”

“I have a wife and three children. How could I join you?”

“Many of our soldiers have families. We take care of each other. We’re already at war. You’re going to have to pick sides, Commander, you’re going to have to make a decision: Which horse are you going to jump on? Because if you choose the wrong horse, you’re probably going to be very, very dead.”

The Commander stood silently, at attention, his eyes pointing straight ahead. Mira stepped away, saying, “By the time we’re done here, you’d better have made up your mind. If you don’t decide, you’ve still made a choice, and that choice is the wealthies.”

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

Home Page