Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

Table of Contents

Chapter 28: A Shocking Discovery

part 2

As they loaded the trucks with drugs, as they collected the mercifully few injured and the five dead, political officers walked through the Civil Protection Force, trying to recruit them, but also assuring them that they would be set free if they chose not to join the clavies.

The GNA Civil Protection Force were an elite, proud unit, but they had seen the impressive display of organization and firepower, too. By the time the vans filled up to leave, they were bulging with forty defectors, including the four moles who had sabotaged the power.

Their biggest prize was Commander Wilhouse, who had been impressed by the professionalism of the attack, who knew how weak the GNA military really was. And he wanted to live to see his children grow up. He sat in the command truck with Seraphin and Mira as they sped along the interstate, marveling at the ease with which the United Enclave forces could move unmolested, replaying the thoughts that had led to his defection.

The signs had become more and more apparent to him: the frequent meetings about ways to restore discipline, about how to counter the political meetings taking place in the barracks, about the clavie recruits who, even after the arduous basic training and indoctrination, still were caught hoarding weapons they intended to pass on to unspecified militias.

Most ominously, he had come to realize that his soldiers’ loyalties were not clear, that he didn’t know whom he could trust and whom he couldn’t, a fact of which he had been unable to convince his superiors. It was an intolerable way to operate, and the disastrous defeat he had just endured convinced him how out of touch his superiors were, and how fatal that could be to his own future.

“I assume you have a plan for fighting your way back to your base if you had to?” Wilhouse said to Seraphin.

“Yes, Commander, absolutely we do. I think you might be seeing some of it before we get home.”

Wilhouse nodded. “Where are we going?”

Mira spoke. “Joliet Enclave. We’ll put you in housing appropriate for your rank, and we’ll work on getting your family here. I’ve already called ahead. It shouldn’t be more than a day before we get you back together with them. I suppose you realize that we’re going to put you right to work, because your former employers will be mounting an all-out attack on us very soon.”

“Been thinking about that. How do you win that battle?”

Seraphin smiled and said, “The army in this sector is deeply infiltrated. We’ve already begun running ads for a particular brand of laundry soap on the Clavenet. When the ads start running at exactly seven-fifteen in the morning and evening and say, ‘You can’t beat it in cold water,’ they’ll execute a plan that will completely disrupt the attack.”

“I guess I don’t have to ask how you’ll know when the attack is imminent,” Wilhouse said, his admiration for their thoroughness growing ever greater.

“Their top people can’t say a word without us knowing about it, Commander.” Seraphin’s grin, lit in the shifting light of the van, was frightening.

Jeffrey Wilhouse felt he had made a pact with the devil but, at the same time, he knew that he had been working for another devil who was perhaps even more willing than the clavies to dispose of him when he was no longer useful.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, wishing with all his heart that this day had never happened, that he could continue living with the illusion of his former orderly existence.

Seraphin broke his reverie saying, “You know what? You gonna be our first general. We need a guy can run the whole army better than I can. You’re that guy.”

“I’ll do my best, but I have to say, Mr. Ibañez, you’ve done pretty damned well up to now.”

A warning light flashed on one of the middle monitoring screens. Seraphin and Mira quickly pushed their heads close, expanding the image. “Drones coming in from the east,” Seraphin announced blandly. He pushed two buttons. “Countermeasures deployed.”

Wilhouse watched the screens as best he could between two heads. He saw four tiny dots rapidly approaching and growing in size, then six air-defense drones, one of the best and latest models. They rose above the trucks.

He realized that for such clear views to be possible at least some of the recording and communications drones that had been launched at the beginning of the attack must be following the trucks back to Joliet. The defense drones flashed brightly, launching their tiny missiles at the four oncoming drones. Seconds later they exploded silently in rapid succession.

Seraphin turned to Wilhouse shaking his head. “You guys make good stuff! At this rate, we’re not going to lose a single drone on this mission!”

“We were always good at hardware,” sighed Wilhouse. “Not so good on the politics.”

Three miles from the enclave entrance, just before their turnoff from the interstate, a half-hearted roadblock came into view. There were four police cars blocking all but one lane, letting other vehicles through while officers peered into the passing cars and trucks, guns drawn.

Seraphin barked orders into his ear-mounted microphone. They increased their speed, pushing vehicles aside as they approached the narrow spot created by the squad cars. By now, three armored vans were charging ahead abreast, directly into the blockade, bullets bouncing from their armor, side-mounted guns returning fire, bearing down on the shooting officers who, at the last second, scattered into the low ditch beyond the shoulder.

The trucks slammed into the police cars, pushing them violently aside, parts flying, glass shredding and scattering everywhere. In a second, they were through, accelerating away.

Wilhouse peered intently through the rear window in time to catch a glimpse of officers lying motionless on the pavement and car parts scattered everywhere. Seconds later. they were bumping along the broken pavement of the decaying road that led through the marshes to Joliet Enclave.

“What a pathetic piece of trash roadblock,” shouted Seraphin. “You couldn’t stop a bank robber with that!”

Wilhouse silently agreed. If this attack didn’t convince the GNA’s leaders that they were up against a serious, formidable enemy, the revolution would be won quickly.

He may have been promoted to general, but Jeffrey Wilhouse arrived in Joliet Enclave deeply depressed and frightened. The shabbiness of the place shocked him. He and his family had lived in military housing adjacent to the wealthy zone for many years, enjoying many of the benefits of being wealthy but without the expenses.

Mira led him to a barracks in a gigantic, abandoned warehouse that had been cleaned up but still looked precariously close to crumbling. He wondered how the enclave could survive an artillery bombardment or an attack from the air. The flimsy structures would collapse and burn easily. The occupants needed time to get more dug in and harden their defenses. It seemed to him that their only real defense at present was infiltration that he dearly hoped would be able to sabotage any immediate GNA attacks.

He looked around at the simple, open barracks, blankets serving to separate one family from the next, dirty children wandering happily throughout, the smells of dozens of cooking dinners intermingling. He took a deep breath, and resigned himself to his fate.

* * *

As Wilhouse settled into his new home, Elise scrambled from one pile of boxes to the next. She and two eager teenage helpers, boys who had recently run away from pornography studios, wiry and slight but surprisingly strong, had unloaded over five hundred boxes and were now trying to organize them into categories.

They worked in one of the growing number of restored warehouses, facilities that sported new walls, windows, and cooling systems. Elise had insisted on this building, arguing that the medical supplies needed a controlled environment. They had succeeded in identifying all but twelve of the boxes by midnight. She realized she would have to rip one of the identical containers open and explore the contents to figure out what was inside.

The box was really a long wooden crate, marked TOP SECRET and sporting an unusual seal she had never seen before. When she ripped the seal apart, it spurted black ink onto her hands. Wow, she thought, Like those markers they put in stolen bags of money at the bank. Must be something really important in here.

With the seal removed, she pried off the top. Inside were rows of syringes sealed in hard plastic containers. A single sheet of paper lay across the top of them, filled from top to bottom in tiny printing.

INSTRUCTIONS

Only authorized personnel may be vaccinated. All vaccine candidates must present authorization which must be checked against Supreme Council data vault authorization level 1.

Use form 1022-300 (below) to record all vaccinations. Scan the form into the Supreme Council secure medical data vault immediately. Any failure to follow instructions is punishable by life imprisonment.

Anti-1022 vaccine protects against the artificial viral life form Kassigrene-1022 for a period of at least thirty years, possibly more. Kassigrene-1022 is a virulent, airborne virus which infects and kills only human beings within five days of infection.

During its three-day incubation period it becomes progressively more contagious. Early symptoms are similar to influenza, but during the last day, the victim bleeds internally as blood vessels begin to lose their integrity and disintegrate.

The virus can live for up to two days outside a human host — depending on moisture and temperature conditions — or indefinitely when stored at minus two degrees Celsius on an appropriate nutrient base. Unvaccinated populations will experience up to 98% loss of life upon release of this agent.

Dosage is appropriate for anyone over the age of 12 and under 150 kilograms. Sensitivity to eggs requires that Type-II vaccine be used instead. A single dose is sufficient to ensure immunity.

Form 1022-300 follows.

Elise read the sheet over and over again. What did it mean by “upon release of this agent?” Why would such an agent ever be released? Why were twelve crates, each containing one thousand doses, needed? She decided that she had better consult Mira.

“The vaccines are for important people,” Mira said, “people whose medical records are in the Supreme Council data vault. If they intended to protect everyone, there would be warehouses full of these, like for influenza vaccines. This is something more confined, maybe just a threat to people living in the wealthy zone, or maybe traveling somewhere like Africa?”

“Then what about ‘upon release of this agent’?” wondered Elise.

“Yes, what about that?” Mira stared at the sheet, trying to make sense of it. “And it says it’s an artificial life form, not some epidemic somewhere...”

Elise’s eyes widened as she had a terrible thought. “Mira, what if it’s biological warfare? What if they’re inoculating themselves so that they could release some terrible killer virus in the enclaves if we threatened them?”

“I don’t know. They depend on our labor. If 98% of us were dead, it would make their lives pretty difficult.”

Elise shook her head. “They could just bring in people from Africa or India, or someplace like that, repopulate the country after they’d killed us all. There’d be a rough period, sure, but they’d be rid of all us pesky revolutionaries.”

“Wouldn’t the virus kill those people, too?”

“No!” Elise replied. “It only lasts two days outside a human host unless it’s stored in very special conditions.” She pointed to the relevant section of the page.

“I see.” Mira turned away, her eyes moving in thought. “Kendrick told me about something Andy found, a strange box protected by a secret cult. I wonder...”


Proceed to Chapter 29...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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