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Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

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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 29: Wilhouse Adjusts

He was General Jeffrey Wilhouse now, and everyone in the barracks called him that: “general.” He liked it. And he liked the way Seraphin had been true to his word, quickly locating and transferring his family.

Oh, they didn’t much like their new living arrangement, even though Andy Schultz, the enclave’s Settlement Officer, had found a suite of rooms in one of the newly-renovated factory buildings for them. But when Wilhouse had explained why he’d chosen to side with the rebels, when he’d painted the picture of what being on the losing side really might mean to all of them, his family’s objections had died away.

His conversation with Andy had been a revelation to him. Greater North America soldiers often came from the lower classes, but Andy’s personal story had still shocked him.

Andy and General Wilhouse set out through the narrow, winding lanes of Joliet enclave, heading for the new apartment that Andy had found for him. Wilhouse asked, “So, what led you here, Andy? I’m not a racist, but you look to be of Northern European heritage, not Latin or African-American like most clavies.”

Andy stopped, turned and faced Wilhouse. “You’ll see more people that resemble me, starting about age fifty all the way down to teens. Perhaps you’ve heard of Jiri Lee? He’s fair-complexioned also. Many of us have one thing in common, one thing that drove us to join the revolution. We were recruited by pornography studios and enticed into performing. Some ended up being the kept boys and girls of wealthies. I escaped my keeper when I was sixteen years old.”

“He must have treated you like a dog,” Wilhouse had said.

“I think most people treat their dogs better than I was treated. He had guards watching me twenty-four hours a day. He had me tasered when I looked too long at someone my own age, male or female. He—”

“Andy, I understand.”

“No, I don’t think you do. All of that... the abuse, the isolation, I handled that. But what I couldn’t handle was that the one person I had ever really loved was ripped away from me. We met at the studio and were together for a year. Until I came here and finally found a purpose, it was the best year of my life. I’ll never forgive them for that. Never.”

Wilhouse put an arm around Andy. “You’re right, it’s beyond my experience what happened to you. But now I’m here to help you get your revenge. And you’ve done something for me, too. You’ve made me feel better about my decision.”

Now Wilhouse was learning all he could about the current operation: personnel counts, materiel and armament inventories, command structure, and, most importantly, their strategic plan. That plan impressed him very much. UES never intended to fight some final battle where they would victoriously overrun Washington, D.C.

No, their plan was much more nuanced than that. It was all about small victories in battles where the odds were always stacked in their favor. Then they’d publicize those victories, be sure the soldiers and military leaders still loyal to GNA saw that UES were winners. Every victory would lead to more defections. At some point, the scales would tip as they had in the Californias, and the entire military infrastructure would just slide into their laps.

To support the defection process, Mira and Kendrick Drake had developed a slick video titled, “After the Revolution.” It showed a GNA where everyone made a living wage, had free health care, and enjoyed old-age security with a state pension. But what impressed Wilhouse most of all was that it also portrayed what life in the new GNA would be like for the wealthies. There were no re-education camps, no mass murders, no shamings. The wealthies were shown living in the homes they owned today, doing most of the same things they had been doing, but paying higher taxes and wages.

Then the video turned its attention to military issues. Kendrick’s ominous, dark brown face filled the screen as he told the viewers that UES had no choice but to consider military personnel who fought with GNA to the bitter end to be traitors to the cause of the people. They would be tried and dealt with one by one. Some would be imprisoned but “more serious punishments” might be necessary for others. There was little doubt what he meant.

The video ended by presenting dramatizations of other revolutions: a guillotine repeatedly falling, Lenin promising death to the Russian aristocracy, millions starving in Mao’s China. After each image had been on the screen several seconds, a large red circle with a diagonal red bar appeared, emphasizing that such things would not happen this time. UES wanted to build a new world, not destroy the old one. There would be no mass murders of whole classes of people, no mass confiscations of property. Instead, wealth would be gradually redistributed via taxes, higher wages, and social programs.

* * *

The General was still very concerned about security in Joliet enclave. Seraphin had been vague about how he planned to deal with an air attack, and Wilhouse decided to take the risk of reaching out to some old friends. He started with his immediate superior in the Civil Protection Forces, General Brad Naylor.

“Sir, Wilhouse here.”

The line was silent for at least fifteen seconds. Then, “I don’t talk to traitors.”

“General Naylor, please, give me just a few minutes of your time. I want to explain why I defected, why hundreds of thousands of our soldiers and officers are defecting. Would you like to hear that?”

Naylor’s voice was tight and low. “Yeah, okay. I guess I would.”

“There are two reasons, General. The enlisted personnel aren’t going to risk their necks for the wealthies any more. They see a real alternative now. Every victory convinces more of them. For the officers, well, some of them feel the same as the grunts, but most just want to be sure that they’re wearing the right uniform when the music stops. I’ve always respected you, sir, and I don’t want to see you in a work camp or worse. You really ought to—”

“Wilhouse, it’s all I’ve been thinking about. I see how bad things are, even better than you did. It’s all falling apart. I’m losing people every day. Every day! The Supreme Council is clueless, and now Bain has staged a coup. My county doesn’t even exist any more. What the living hell am I fighting for?”

“Pretty much for Bain now, sir.”

“Oh drop the ‘sir’ crap, Jeff. It’s Brad. So what can I do? How do I get out of this mess?”

“Just what I was calling about, Brad. They’ve made me the overall leader of the UES forces. I’m running the whole show, militarily that is. It’s organized differently here. The military isn’t as powerful as in GNA, but we’re still vital. I could ask you to just drive down here to Joliet and join us, but I have a different idea.

“If you’d feed me information about plans, it would be enormously helpful. I’d make sure the top people here are aware that you’ve come over to us but are working under cover. We’ve got some vulnerabilities I’m very concerned about. Knowing what the GNA military is up to from the upper echelon level would be enormously helpful.”

“We’re talking on an unsecured line right now,” said Naylor. “I’m not so sure—”

“No, Brad, not unsecure. When I called you, an encryption program was downloaded to your phone. We’re talking on an encrypted line. And that app that got downloaded, well the few people left over there who are at all competent in computer issues would never find it.”

Wilhouse could hear the smile in Naylor’s voice. “That’s how you guys have been beating us, isn’t it? You’re just smarter than we are.”

“It’s not ‘we’ and ‘you’, Brad, it’s all ‘we’ now.”

“Yeah.” Naylor was silent a beat. “Okay, I’ve got something for you. I imagine you think that Bain has ordered an attack on Joliet enclave. We — I mean GNA — knows that’s where the UES HQ is. But Bain doesn’t seem to care about that. He’s ordered a surgical covert action against his own office tower in Lake Forest, or what’s left of it.

“Seems there’s a bunker under it that houses Clavenet HQ. Bain is convinced that whoever runs the Clavenet wins the war. He wants to get in there himself, have videos of him heroically retaking the Clavenet and killing that pornstar, Jiri, who’s running it now.”

“Brad, you got any idea when that’s going down?”

“They won’t tell us until it’s time for us to deploy. We’re at high-ready status right now.”

Wilhouse and Naylor talked a few more minutes. Then the General walked out of his newly-painted office, down a corridor of stark white walls and ceiling, to a door labeled “UES Outsourcing Services”. Inside Seraphin was sitting at a low desk, muscles bulging under his black second-skin, his short legs comically dangling below.

“General, how you liking the quarters here? Pretty nice huh? We’re rehabbing about thirty big old factory and warehouse buildings right now and—”

“Sorry to interrupt, but I just got some incredible news.”

Wilhouse told Seraphin everything his former commanding officer had told him, putting in the good word for Naylor also.

“We’ll record his name and info to make sure we know he’s one of us,” said Seraphin. “But sit. Let’s talk about how we gonna counter this attack on Clavenet HQ.”

“I had a thought when I was walking down the corridor,” said Wilhouse. “Maybe, if we do this right, we can force a leadership change.”

Seraphin smiled. “Yeah, you thinkin’ like me now. This attack don’t work without it being a surprise. No surprise, well, anything could happen.”

Over the next hour they developed the outline of a plan. As Wilhouse stood to begin working through the details, Seraphin looked up and met Wilhouse’s eyes. “You beat me to the punch here, bro’. I had some news for you, too.”

“Okay, lay it on me.”

“You know why you had a hundred troops protecting that warehouse?”

“Quite frankly, I thought it was all pretty strange. I’d heard talk of some ‘final defense’, and I thought they might be hiding it there. But where? We’d been in every nook and cranny of that place and all they had was drugs.”

“Yeah.” Seraphin smiled. “Just drugs. Elise found boxes of syringes full of a vaccine along with an instruction sheet. I got the sheet right here. You might want to have a look.”

Proceed to Chapter 30...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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