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 40: Evasive Measures


Bain met Jiri at end of the corridor.

“I see you got out,” said Jiri. “I love what you’ve done with your hair!”

“OK, enough. I can’t tell you how ridiculous I feel in this frilly gown. I’ve never worn anything like this in my life!” Bain looked down. “What do you have there?”

“This bag is yours.” Jiri handed Bain Mira’s large cloth bag with the weaponry. “When we get outside the enclave, we’ll take out those weapons. I’ve charged them, and they’re ready to fire.”

Bain looked down into the bag. His eyes got big. “God, the reality of it is hitting me. We’re going to have to shoot our way onto that plane.”

Jiri nodded. “I’ll carry this suitcase. Put your arm around me like we’re lovers going out into the fields for a bit of privacy. I see it all the time. The guards are used to it.”

Bain wrapped his arm around Jiri’s waist and said, “Thank heavens you’re a little taller than me. Won’t draw as much attention.”

They walked slowly through the deserted secure zone. “Where are the guards?” asked Jiri.

“Seven o’clock,” said Bain. “They take their evening meal very seriously.”

They wound through lanes of vendors and walkers toward a small footpath that led outside the enclave. One vendor recognized Jiri, who had been a regular customer since he’d moved to the enclave, often buying the vendor’s excellent tacos. The vendor shouted, “Hey, amigo, you can do better than that puta!

Jiri laughed and waved to him, then turned to Bain and said, “The disguise is working!”

Now they were on the footpath, walking directly to the edge of the enclave. There was no fence, nor other barrier, but the dense warren of lanes, shacks and shoddy structures ended abruptly, as though a giant bulldozer had scraped the land clear of structures beyond the enclave boundary. They stepped off the packed-dirt lane onto prairie grass, looked up, and saw the rocket pad in the distance, directly in front of them. A guard was standing at each corner of the large square pad.

Jiri directed Bain to lie in the tall grass. When they were well-hidden, he pulled out the rifles. “I took a good look at these. They’re state of the art. You can fire a stun beam all the way from here. We don’t need to kill the guards. They’ll be stunned for ten to fifteen minutes.”

Bain nodded and whispered, “That’s plenty of time. But I’m no marksman.”

“No problem,” said Jiri. “Look through the scope, get your target in the crosshairs, and push this button below the trigger. It will direct the stun beam right at what’s in the crosshairs. But we’ve got to do it fast. You take the two closer ones, I’ll move up and to the left and take the ones on the far side of the platform.”

“We should fire on a signal,” said Bain.

“I’ll whistle like this,” said Jiri. He then produced a sound that was convincingly birdlike.

“Wow!” said Bain. “Another one of your talents.”

Jiri smiled, turned, and started crawling toward the platform.

Bain centered the crosshairs on his target. When he heard the whistle, he pressed the button. His gun bucked some, throwing him to the side, but his guard fell and, an instant later, Jiri’s first guard fell also.

But the other two guards turned and quickly assessed the situation. Before Bain could get the second target in his crosshairs, the guard had dropped to the ground. Jiri’s guard only made it to his knees before he fell, stunned by Jiri’s second shot. Bain pressed the button, but the guard moved at the same moment and the beam only singed grass.

Now the greatest danger was that the remaining guard would alert others. Bain could see him clawing for his radio. Just as the guard put the radio to his mouth, he froze and went limp. Jiri had taken him out.

Bain could see Jiri stand and begin running toward the launch pad. He scrambled to his feet and followed close behind.

When they reached the rocket plane, Bain turned and looked back at the enclave entrance. He saw no indication that they’d been noticed.

“Jiri, we’ll be ready to go in two minutes. Those guards at the gate will surely hear the startup sequence. But there’s nothing I can do about that.”

“They’re more than two minutes away,” said Jiri. “We’re committed now. Do it.”

They placed Jiri’s suitcase in the luggage compartment, lifted the bag of weapons into the cabin, and scrambled in. As Bain flipped levers and turned dials, he talked.

“This is a military rocket plane they gave me when I joined the Supreme Council. It has much more lift than any commercial model. It goes higher and faster too. And it has military grade defense features. I used some of those when I escaped from Lake Forest. We might have to use even more of them this timel; UES has the entire GNA arsenal at its disposal now.”

As he talked, the sound of the engines increased. Even with the door sealed, it was very loud. Jiri looked nervously in the direction of the enclave gate. About one minute into the startup sequence, he saw the guards pointing toward the rocket pad.

“They’re on to us, Jack. How much longer?”

“Another minute.”

A guard was talking into his comm. The others began running toward the rocket pad.

“Approaching fast! Jack, we’ve got to go.”

“You can’t rush these things, Jiri. Thrust has to build to escape velocity.” Jiri could barely hear him over the roar of the plane.

The rocket plane shuddered and began to lift off the ground. Bain pushed a throttle, and suddenly they were pressed into their seats. Jiri could hardly move, but he felt relief.

“Don’t relax yet!” shouted Bain. “They just launched a surface-to-air missile!”

Never had Jiri felt such panic. He thought about Lea, about how desperately he wanted to see her again. He looked down and saw a contrail rapidly approaching. He swallowed hard to avoid vomiting. Fear overwhelmed him.

But when he looked over at Bain, he saw nothing but calm determination. Bain’s eyes were locked on what appeared to be a radar screen that showed the approaching missile. He shouted, “Hold onto those restraints above your head. We’re about to ride a bucking bronco!”

And then he shouted, “Engage evasive measures!”

Bucking bronco hardly began to describe what happened next. Jiri was violently tossed about in his seat. He lost all sense of up, down, left, or right. The view outside his window changed from blue sky, to horizon, to the ground below, and back to blue sky, again and again. At first it looked and felt like they were falling, then the rocket thrust hard and he was pressed into his seat.

Now he could see the missile. It seemed so close. Then he heard Bain say, “Deploy diversion measures!”

Out the window, Jiri saw a shower of silver and gold confetti spewing from the plane, engulfing the missile. At the same time the engine cut out completely. The missile disappeared above them. Seconds later the plane shook, then a second after that he heard a loud boom. The rocket engine re-engaged, and they began rising again.

“Full throttle to suborbital altitude!” shouted Bain.

Now Jiri was pressed into his seat more than ever while the rocket plane screeched so loudly that all conversation was impossible. He could barely lift his hand in front of his face. He felt a tremendous weight pressing on his chest, constricting his breathing. He sucked in air as hard as he could, and kept doing it for a full minute before the engine suddenly quieted and the weight lifted off him.

“Whoa!” shouted Bain. “That was close! Blew off another one! Those missiles are no match for this plane!”

“Are we safe now?” asked Jiri, still gasping for air.

Bain looked at the instrument display. “I think so. We’re too high for any of their missiles to reach us. When we reach full suborbital altitude, we’re a hundred percent safe.”

“What was all that? The confetti, the engine cutting out?”

“The metal confetti confuses the missile’s radar. The engine cutting out gives the missile no heat signature to home in on. Just as it got near us, we disappeared as far as that missile was concerned. They’re programmed to explode when that happens, but since we’d abruptly lost altitude, we were far enough away to avoid any damage.”

“Jack, all I can say is I’m glad I took you along!”

Bain smiled. He put a hand on Jiri’s shoulder and said, “It’s a privilege to help you. You know, Jiri, I’ve done some bad things in my life. I hope I can start over. I hope these are the first moments of me starting over.”

Jiri patted Bain’s hand, then looked out the window. The sky was a dark purple, and he could see the curvature of the earth below. He pointed.

Bain looked and sighed. “Puts it all into perspective, doesn’t it? How small we are, how insignificant are our schemes and plans, our fears, our hatreds.”

“What’s happened to you, Jack? Is this an act, or are you for real?”

“I don’t know,” said Bain. “It feels real. It’s what I’m thinking now. Right this second I have no ambitions, no desires. I just want to be in this moment.”

“Jack,” said Jiri, “I’m willing to move on, willing to take life from here, but I’m not willing to forgive you.”

Bain stared into Jiri’s eyes. He nodded, and Jiri could see tears welling up. “No, I wouldn’t expect that. I said I’d done some bad things, things you don’t even know about—”

“Like Teresa Walters?” Jiri interrupted.

“Yeah, among others.”

“And I’m not willing to cover for you, either. I’ll testify against you if I’m asked to. That video we made with Carlo exposed a lot of your crimes to the world. I’m not sure the authorities in New Zealand will protect you from extradition.”

“They’re very clear about not supporting the revolution,” said Bain.

“Right, but times change. A few weeks, or maybe a few years from now, you could be on a plane back to Washington. You’re never going to be in the clear, Jack.”

“All the more reason to enjoy the present.”

“Yeah,” Jiri sighed. “Nothing is black and white. I’ve hated you so long, and now you’ve almost surely saved my life. How do I deal with all of that?”

They were silent a long moment. Bain took a deep breath, exhaled, then took another. “Jiri, about that video.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m worried about it. It’s one thing to accept refugees from a revolution, but it’s another thing to—”

“Jack,” Jiri interrupted, “let’s not get into that now. Let’s just deal with what’s in front of us.”

Bain nodded, turned away, and sighed.

The plane leveled and as it did, they floated, almost weightless, in their restraints. Jiri had experienced it before, on their many trips to his home in New Zealand, and it was always a calming experience. The engine cut out and they coasted in complete silence.

Neither spoke for over half an hour until Bain addressed the radio. “Calling Auckland approach.”

A clear, static-free voice responded, “Auckland approach, go ahead.”

“Two asylum seekers in Panther type six rocket plane code XCF2145. Permission to land requested.”

There was a long moment of silence. “From Greater North America?”

“Affirmative.”

“Sending landing coordinates. We will guide you in to our refugee port.”

“So I wouldn’t have had to land it?” asked Jiri.

“Not this time. They’ll do all the work for us. It ensures that we land where they want us to land, not at the commercial airport.”

As gravity returned, as the sky brightened and objects on the ground began to be discernible, Bain turned to Jiri and said, “It’s likely that it will take a lot longer to process me than it will to process you. Don’t wait for me. Go ahead. I’m just going to get a hotel room in Auckland and decide what to do tomorrow after some rest.”

“Let me know where you end up.”

“Definitely.” Bain took a breath. “I’d like to come visit you down there sometime, if you’re good with that.”

“Yeah, I don’t know. Give it some time; okay, Jack?”

Jiri turned away then turned back to Bain. “Before we leave the plane, I’ll try to find some clothes in my suitcase for you. You don’t want to present yourself to immigration with that wig and dress!”

* * *

Jiri and Bain were escorted from their plane to a cavernous waiting area, an arena with perhaps ten thousand stadium seats. It was far from full, but did hold perhaps a thousand people who looked less like refugees and more like a crowd waiting to enter a charity ball. Because Jiri already owned property in New Zealand, and in fact possessed a re-entry visa, he was quickly processed.

The guns did create a small delay. Jiri explained truthfully why they were in the plane, but still he was not allowed to keep them. After two hours he walked out of the arena, down a long corridor and into the main commercial terminal. It was early evening, and though he was tired, he was also eager to see his family. There was a late flight to Queenstown he was able to get on.

In the waiting area, he called Lea. “You’ll never guess where I am!”

“It had better be Auckland!”

“You are the lucky winner. It wasn’t easy, Lea, but I’ll tell you all of that when I get there. I didn’t come alone. Bain helped me escape.”

“You took Bain with you? Why? I’d think you’d rather put a bullet in him.”

“I’ve seen so much vengeance, Lea, so much violence. I’m sick of it. I’m not adding to it. Bain has lost a lot: his business, his dignity, his freedom. Yes, he’s still got lots of money stashed away where he can access it now that he’s out of GNA but, you know, he helped me a lot. More than anyone else ever has. I’m not saying I’ve forgotten what he’s done, or that I’ve forgiven him. I’m just saying that I’m turning the page.”

She was silent a moment then said, “You’re right. It’s easy to get even, easy to nurture hate. It takes a stronger person to just move on. You really are somebody special. And you know, I felt your strength that first moment we met, in Imelda Gates’ kitchen: you wolfing down food and me guessing that you had to be a Lakewood boy.”

He couldn’t speak for a moment, overcome by emotion. Finally, he took a deep breath and said, “Yes, that really was the first moment we met, wasn’t it? I was so scared, but so excited, so hopeful too. What a ride it’s been!”


Proceed to Chapter 41...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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