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Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

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Chapter 32: The Attack on Clavenet HQ

Jiri awoke to vibrations and the muffled sounds of explosions. His sleeping quarters lay buried three floors below the main underground level where Clavenet operations were housed. The twenty or so people who lived there called it the Caverns, and it was an apt description of what was really a highly fortified bunker divided into tiny rooms, just big enough for a bed and table, linked to central dining and bathroom facilities.

Andy Schultz rushed into Jiri’s sleeping cubicle just as all of the emergency lighting flashed on. “We’re under attack! Stay here. It won’t be easy for them to get us down here. Emergency communication is set up in the mess hall.”

Jiri, still groggy, said, “Andy, why are you here?”

“Seraphin sent me over a few hours ago. I think he knew this was coming.”

Andy continued down the corridor, waking everyone. Jiri looked at his comm. It was 4:12 a.m. As he stared at the screen, it lit up with an incoming call from Mira.

“Jiri, Bain’s Civil Protection Forces are dropping down on Lake Forest. They’re trying to take over the Clavenet. Stay where you are, we have a plan.”

“Mira, I need to get up there and show them we’re still broadcasting!”

“Jiri, no!” Mira spoke in the voice she usually reserved for soldiers to whom she was giving orders. But he ignored her, rushed to the elevator, and ascended to the Clavenet level.

There he could hear gunfire, and the explosions were much louder. Through the window of News Studio number 1, he could see Alex Lifeson, wearing a white terrycloth bathrobe, broadcasting, taking reports of what was going on at the surface level from night-vision drones and the UES Squad Leaders. Jiri turned on the speaker.

“Now breaching the underground parking ramp,” shouted Lifeson. “It’ll be carnage down there, a shooting gallery. UES forces are well-positioned along that ramp...”

Alex paused, placing a hand on his earpiece. Then: “I’ve just heard that the United Enclave force protecting the ramps leading to our facility have defected to GNA! Bain’s forces have a clear path to us! I’ll broadcast as long as I can.”

Jiri looked around but saw only technicians rushing for the elevator to the lower levels. Where were the UES troops he’d depended on to protect Clavenet HQ? How could this be happening?

In less than a minute, the steel door to the Clavenet Studios level burst open and armed, helmeted soldiers in black uniforms poured in. Upon seeing Jiri, they abruptly stopped. One came forward, placing his chin almost against Jiri’s. He stared closely into Jiri’s eyes and said, “Jiri Lee?”

“In person.”

“Jiri Lee, you are under arrest. Men, detain him in the news studio after Lifeson, there, reports his capture.”

The soldier had never broken eye contact with Jiri. Now he said, “General Bradley Naylor, GNA Civil Protection Forces. A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lee.”

Jiri thought it a strange thing to say, perhaps Naylor’s idea of humor. But then Naylor added in a whisper, “Just sit tight in there. You’re about to give the performance of your career.”

Naylor turned and looked back at his men. “Parker, tell Bain it’s safe for him to come down.”

Jiri and Alex Lifeson were shoulder to shoulder in the tiny broadcast studio. Lifeson continued to talk, describing the scene around them. Then he paused a moment and turned to Jiri with an inquisitive look. Jiri nodded.

“Next to me right now is Jiri Lee, who has just been arrested by General Bradley Naylor, the leader of this assault on Clavenet HQ. Jiri, what are your thoughts right now?”

“Alex, I’m confused. Why did our people defect to Bain’s forces? I don’t get it. It—”

The door to the studio burst open and General Naylor poked his head in. “Cut the feed right now, Lifeson! That’s an order.”

Alex turned to the control panel and pushed three buttons. “Planning to feed the people more lies? It won’t work now that they’ve heard the truth.”

“Hang in there, both of you,” said Naylor. “When the time comes, you’ll know what to do.”

The security camera feeds into Studio 1 continued to operate as Jiri and Alex sat silently. Jiri, scanning the three small monitor screens, noticed a black military car coming down the ramp. It stopped at the door to the Clavenet complex.

The car door opened, and Jackson Bain strode confidently through the steel doorway. Jiri caught a glimpse of a smirk as Bain disappeared from the camera’s view.

Naylor called his men to attention. A moment later, the door opened and Bain walked in, clad comically in camouflage fatigues, as though he were a real military man. His eyes first met Naylor’s. He saluted the General, then scanned the room. His eyes abruptly stopped when they landed on Jiri.

“Get Lifeson out of there. Take him out to the parking ramp and shoot him, right now. Leave Jiri there. I’ll join him in the studio.”

Bain entered the studio and sat next to Jiri. In the tight quarters his face was only inches away. “Can anyone hear us?” Bain asked.

Jiri turned and scanned the control panel. He flipped a switch and said, “We’re totally cut off now. Nobody can hear anything we say.”

When his eyes had scanned the control panel, Jiri had noticed something on the small screen showing the security camera pointed at the steel entrance door to Clavenet HQ. Alex Lifeson was leaning against the concrete wall immediately adjacent to the door, smiling. He seemed to be sharing a joke with the two soldiers who had taken him out to be shot. Jiri turned his eyes to Bain, concerned Bain would notice, but from where he sat, Bain’s view was blocked by Jiri’s body.

“Jiri,” Bain said, his voice low and almost pleading, “I know how you feel about me. But think about your family. Aren’t they better off with you alive?”

Jiri stared hard into Bain’s eyes. “They’re in New Zealand, Jack, out of your reach.”

“That was smart, sending them there. You’re so intelligent, such an asset. Don’t you know what happens after a peoples’ revolution? The first thing they do is round up people like you and me and shoot them. You’re not one of them, regardless of how much you helped.”

“I lived the first twelve years of my life in an enclave, Jack. I am one of them.”

“Well, then so am I. Mariana Gates took me from Palatine Enclave when I was thirteen.”

Jiri’s couldn’t hide his surprise. “I thought you were the son of—”

“He adopted me. As I had once hoped to do for you.”

“I seem to remember reading that he died when you were only eighteen.”

“Yes,” Bain said. “I was thrust into my role at a young age, but I made it work. That’s why I knew I could trust you to do a good job at such a young age, because I’d done it. We’re a lot alike, you and me. Think about it.”

“I’m not a child molester! I see that as a big difference between us, Jack.”

Bain lowered his head and shifted in his chair. His movement brought the security camera screen into his field of view. Bain stared at the image of Alex Lifeson bantering with the guards who should have already shot him by now.

“What the... Jiri, give me a comm link to that doorway.”

“No, Jack. You want me to cooperate with you, you spare Lifeson. Otherwise you’ll have to kill me to get to this control panel.”

Bain sat, his eyes flickering. Then he said, “Okay, open the link and I’ll tell them to let him go. Then you set up a Clavenet-wide news bulletin. You’re going to announce that I’ve retaken the Clavenet, and you’re working for me now.”

Jiri nodded, turned to the panel and flipped two switches. “Just talk, they’ll hear you.”

“Let Lifeson go,” said Bain. “That’s an order.”

Jiri could see the guards look up at the camera. They saluted with broad grins on their faces. Suddenly it was all clear to Jiri. He understood the role he needed to play now. It was vital that he not tip off Bain to what was happening. He quickly shut off the camera and began working the control panel.

“I’ve just put out the standard emergency override for all Clavenet programming. In ten seconds, all screens will see the inside of this studio.”

Jiri had also turned on the speakers outside the studio, and he could see General Naylor position himself before the studio door. A red light flashed inside the studio and a voice counted down, “Five, four, three, two, one, speak.”

“This is Jiri Lee broadcasting from Clavenet Central in Lake Forest, Illinois. With me is Chief Councilor and Acting President Jackson Bain. He has an announcement.”

At that moment, Naylor pulled open the door, stepped into the cramped studio, and placed the barrel of his assault rifle against Bain’s head.

“Get that thing off of me!” Bain said in an annoyed voice.

“Jackson Bain, you are under arrest for crimes against the people of Greater North America,” shouted Naylor. “I act under the authority of General Jeffrey Wilhouse of the United Enclaves.”

Jiri, broadcasting to every Clavenet comm in North America, said, “The United Enclaves have just captured Jackson Bain, the criminal who has claimed to be the leader of GNA. General Naylor, what will you be doing with your prisoner?”

Naylor looked at the camera lens. “Well, Mr. Lee, we’ll be taking him down the hall here where we’ll discuss whether to execute him now or imprison him.”

Jiri responded, “Fellow clavies, use your voting app to decide Bain’s fate. Yes means execute, no means prison.”

Naylor grabbed Bain under the right shoulder while another soldier took Bain’s left shoulder, they lifted him to a standing position and dragged him into the hall. Bain’s feet were limp, his face expressionless. His eyes pointed toward the ceiling.

Jiri followed as the soldiers dragged Bain to the same room where Alex Lifeson had recently interviewed Carlo. The soldiers roughly dropped Bain into a chair. At the table were Seraphin, Lifeson, Mira, and General Wilhouse. Naylor took a seat next to Wilhouse who heartily shook his hand. The men smiled broadly but said nothing.

Bain’s eyes came back to life. He scanned the room, then focused on Naylor. “You’re the worst kind of traitor, Naylor, a goddamned mole.”

Wilhouse laughed. “Who’s the traitor here? Who staged a coup and become the Emperor of North America?”

“I had to do it,” Bain said through clenched teeth. “Everyone else on the Council was shaking in their boots. There were no leaders. Would you call President Soto a leader?”

There was a knock on the door. Jiri, nearest, stood and opened it. Andy Schultz stood in the doorway and said breathlessly, “Eight to one in favor of execution. Over ten million votes cast already. All major military units are pledging support to us. It’s over!”

Bain’s head turned sharply toward Andy. He stared, and then stood. “Jaden?” he said. “Could it be you?”

All eyes turned to Andy. “Jaden?” asked Jiri.

Andy stepped into the room and slowly closed the door. He leaned against it, his face a blend of sadness and embarrassment. With his eyes locked on Bain’s, he spoke in a voice barely audible, “A long time ago, Jack and I both had different names. He was Jack Williams then, and I was Jaden Schultz. We spent a year together at the Gates’ studios. Then a guy named Bain came and took Jack away.”

Andy’s eyes narrowed, anger crept into his voice. “You never contacted me after that, Jack. Never a text, a call, nothing. You ignored all my attempts to communicate.”

“He wouldn’t let me! I was cut off. Jaden, please forgive me!”

Andy shook his head. “That was a long time ago, Jack. It really doesn’t matter now. But I saw what you became. You’ve led a very public life, after all. I’m glad, really, that we got separated. It would have been a lot tougher to discover what a monster you were while I was still in love with you.”

“I looked for you, Jaden. Once I was finally free of him, I looked, I tried to find you. Where were you?”

“I had joined the Committee by then. I was in Joliet Enclave, so no, you would have never found me.”

Seraphin waved his hand and said, “Dudes, it’s real nice that the lovebirds have reunited after all these years, but we got some business to conduct.”

“And just who are you, little guy?” Bain asked, defiance in his voice.

Seraphin’s grin revealed his sparkling white teeth. “Right this minute, dude, I’m the Jefe of GNA. Entiendes?

“You defeated me?”

“Hey, don’t take it so hard. You guys been as good as gone for years. I just stuck the fork in it.”

Bain face broke into a smile. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Except for one not-so-small problem.”

“What could that be?” asked Wilhouse.

“When that image of me being arrested went out to every comm in GNA, it met the criteria we’d set for something we’d planned as a last resort. I saw that propaganda video you made saying that we wealthies would do just fine in your new workers’ paradise, but I always knew it was bull.

“You see, no matter what you guys may say, the reality is that once you take power, you always massacre the wealthy class. So those of us who understand human nature and have the most to lose — namely our lives — created a failsafe. You should be hearing about it very soon.”

Memories flooded Jiri’s mind. Memories of his first elevator ride, of a pretty young receptionist, of a doctor forcing a needle into his arm. “Bio-weapon!” he shouted.

“Yeah, we know about it, Jiri,” said Wilhouse. “We found some crates of vaccine meant to protect wealthies from the virus. But we don’t have nearly enough to save even a fraction of the people in GNA.”

“That’s right,” said Bain. “Only about a million doses were ever manufactured. Once it’s released, we’ll survive, but the clavies won’t.”

“The army has all come over to us,” said Wilhouse. “Who’s going to release it?”

“Oh, we never trusted the army with it,” Bain said. “Who’s in the army? Clavies mostly. No, we established a secret society to guard the virus. There are cells in every enclave of any size, almost a thousand in all.”

“So you’ll go down in history as the biggest mass murderer of them all, Jack?” asked Jiri. “Is that your legacy?”

“It’s not up to me. The Supreme Council is what the cult members know as the Authority. When the Council gives the word, they’ll perform a ritual they’ve been practicing for generations. Of course, they don’t know what that ritual accomplishes. They don’t know it leads them to a painful death.”

Seraphin rubbed his chin then stood and faced Bain. “Okay, you’ve just bought your life — for now. We gonna lock you up in Joliet. Andy?”

“Yes, Seraphin?”

“Get some guards and drive this piece of garbage back to Joliet. Put him in the cell next to that Gates woman.”

“What are you thinking?” asked Jiri.

“Time to deal with the Supreme Council,” said Seraphin. “Except for maybe a Praetorian Guard, they got nobody to protect them. To keep them from authorizing release of that virus, maybe we gotta give them safe passage to their villas in other countries or whatever.”

Mira had been staring at Seraphin. She smiled and asked, “Praetorian Guard?”

“Yeah, I listen to you, Mira. You told me all about Rome, remember? It was real interesting. And you told me about revolutions, what happens afterward. That’s what we gotta talk about now. How to avoid the mistakes those dudes in the past made, and how to learn from what they did right. So let’s get at it soon as Andy takes Bain outta here.”

“Seraphin,” said Wilhouse. “first priority has to be dealing with this plague they’re about to unleash. Perhaps we should get General Morrison of the Western Enclaves on the comm. He’s an old friend of Chairman Greene.”

Seraphin grinned. “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s do that.”

Proceed to Chapter 33...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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