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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 33: Abdication

Never had there been a Supreme Council meeting as chaotic as this. The remaining staff were in attendance, but they numbered only ten young men and women in total. Despite staff presence, the remaining Council members were shouting at each other, talking of nothing but the final defense, in a complete breach of security.

With Teresa Walters murdered, General Peart in exile, and Bain in captivity, the Council now totaled nine: nine people unaccustomed to fear, nine people who had never had to make a life-or-death decision. But the time for such decisions was now, and there were, in fact, two decisions they had to make: one was about their own necks, the other about the final defense.

Pharmaceutical king William Beckett walked to the front of the table, stood directly behind the seated Chairman, waved his arms and shouted, “We have to make a decision NOW about the final defense. My vote is to alert the cult centers for an immediate release.”

Rebecca Stewart stood. She was shaking, not as the result of her hundred and four years, but from anger and fear. “What we need to do is negotiate with the revolutionaries. We need to get out of North America. Now! They can block our escape. We have no choice but to deal with them. We use the final defense as a negotiating tool, nothing more. We only unleash it if our lives are in immediate danger.”

Charles DuPuis, fatter than ever, remained seated. He took a deep breath and shouted, “No! Kill them first. Exploit the confusion to escape. It’s safer for us.”

A voice rose from behind the long rectangular table. “What about us? Will you kill us, too?”

All the councilors turned, shocked. Never had a staff member spoken up before.

Someone illuminated the normally darkened staff area to reveal a young woman as the speaker. She added, “And what about our families, our children? Will they die when you release this ‘final defense’?”

“Now,” said Beckett, “there are only so many vaccine doses, and many of those were taken in a raid by the clavies. We probably don’t have enough for your families.”

“Protection of staff was voted down many years ago,” said DuPuis. “No point discussing it now. I say we vote right now on releasing the final defense.”

While the Council had been talking, four of the young male staffers had been huddling in a corner. They now broke into two teams of two each. One ran toward DuPuis, the other toward Beckett. They knocked both councilors to the floor. A young man pinned each councilor to the floor while another wrapped his hands around the man’s neck and squeezed.

Chairman Greene gasped and pushed the panic button under the table. Four armed guards entered but, when they saw what was happening, they smiled and leaned against the wall.

“Stop them!” shouted Greene. “This is murder! You must stop it!”

One of the guards laughed. “Murder you say? We heard everything out there in the hall. You want to kill us, our families, all of us. When they’re through choking the life out of those two councilors, we’ll clear the staff out of this room and then mow you all down.”

“Before you do that,” said Rebecca Stewart, her voice calm and even, “you need to know something. That virus is under the control of almost a thousand cells of a cult we created to protect it and spread it if the time ever came. They depend on regular, coded communication from an Authority — that’s us. If they don’t hear from us at the appointed time, their instructions are to release the virus. Kill us and you ensure the release of the virus.”

“You’re lying,” said the guard. “I say we kill them all anyway.”

Another guard shook his head. “Wait,” he said. “What if she’s telling the truth?”

Chairman Greene now spoke. “Gentlemen, I understand why you’d want to kill us. Allow me to propose something. I’m old friends with one of the leaders of the clavie army. Let me try to contact him and ask him to guarantee our safe passage. If he does that, I’ll give him the communication codes that the cult cells use, and he can instruct them to destroy the virus. All they have to do is drop the vials in boiling water. It’s easy.”

The four assassins stood, one by one. In pairs, they dragged the lifeless bodies of DuPuis and Beckett into the hallway. The remaining seven councilors watched, eyes wide, mouths open.

Antonio Greene instructed his comm to try to contact General Morrison. After a very tense five minutes, Morrison’s face appeared on the large screen opposite Greene.

“What’s up, Tony? Hear you guys are in some trouble out there.”

“You could say that, Jim. Fact is, we’re having a serious discussion about deploying the final solution. You know what that is?”

“Sure, the leaders in UES just contacted me about that,” said Morrison, his voice and face suddenly deadly serious. “Damned stupid of you to even talk about it. It would be a death sentence for you, too.”

“Some disagreement on that, Jim. But not why I called you. There’s seven of us left now. We want to get out of North America. We’re willing to give you control of the final defense if you guarantee us safe passage.”

“Morrison ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. “Well, Tony, you’re in D.C., and that’s under the control of UES, not us. So I’d better patch in General Wilhouse and Seraphin Ibañez. They’re in charge out there.”

There were several more minutes of funereal silence in the Council Chamber while the connections were made. The screen was now divided in half. On the right, the Councilors could see a meeting room where Seraphin and Wilhouse sat at a large table. There were others at the table also, including the familiar face of Jiri Lee, whom they knew as a Clavenet personality and staff assistant to Councilor Bain.

After Morrison provided background, Seraphin said, “Sure, we’ll let you escape, but first we gotta have every single vial of that virus. Every one.”

“The final defense has been under my supervision,” said Antonio Greene as he typed on his computer. “I’m forwarding you an inventory sheet now. It provides the exact GPS coordinates of every vial. Next, you’ll get the encryption keys to—”

“Wait!” shouted Councilor Stewart. “Don’t just send them everything. What if they don’t do as they’ve promised?”

“Hah!” said Seraphin. “As we speak, troops from the D.C. garrison are surrounding your building. The roof has been secured. There’ll be no quick escapes in your rockets. You gonna have to trust us, miss, because we’re holding all the cards.”

Proceed to Chapter 34...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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