Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3

conclusion


Early the next morning, Claudia once again knocked on his door. “Jiri, I want you to meet someone. This is John Chester. You’ve seen him at meals.”

John was a man so average-looking that Jiri had hardly noticed him: tall, middle-aged, balding, not in the best shape but not fat either, pasty-faced, wearing a scruffy grey tee shirt and baggy shorts, sporting a prairie of black hair on his arms and legs.

“Hey, guy,” John said. “I want to show you something. It’s a real opportunity for you. A way for you to make a lot more money than you’re making now.”

He was holding a tablet. He turned it to face toward Jiri and pushed a button. There on the beautiful, three-dimensional screen was Mira’s bedroom. On the bed were Jiri and Carlo going at it.

“We test-marketed it last night on our net sites and it went through the roof! Through the roof! They love both of you. People want more. You could be a star. You could be making thousands of dollars a week. I’m not kidding!”

“You, you mean you’ve been making videos of me in there? With Mira too?” He was breathless with fear and confusion. This couldn’t be happening. His mother had been right, they just wanted to use him.

“Of course, that’s what we do here. That’s how the Gates make their money. There’s a lot of money in this part of the business, the really young part, I mean. But those videos with you and Mira were just so-so, they didn’t get a big response. You’ll get some cash out of them, but nothing spectacular. You and Carlo, though, well... wow! You guys just jump out of the screen together. It’s really something special. We’ve got to make more videos while the market is begging for them.”

“But... but I don’t want to be a porno star. No, I won’t do it anymore.”

Claudia, who had been standing outside his door, walked back into the room, shaking her head. She sat beside him on the bed, wrapped her arm around his slender waist, turning him toward a floor-to-ceiling mirror on the wall beside his bed.

“Jiri, my beautiful friend. Why do you think we chose you? Look in this mirror. You are one in a million, maybe one in a hundred million. You will be compensated. In fact, I have in my hand right here the money for the videos you made in the past week. Take it, count it.”

He did. Three thousand six hundred dollars. He knew that his father was lucky to earn in a year what he held in his hand. It was all going too fast. He didn’t know what to do.

Claudia smiled and used her most motherly voice. “You don’t have to decide right this minute. Why don’t you just keep doing it for now? You can stop later. Every day you do it, you make more money. And it’s all yours. Nobody can take it from you. We won’t ask you to do any more work around here. You’re a star now. You need to be treated like one.”

“I could still live here? I would still get my lessons?”

“Until you’re twenty years old. I promise. We’ll sign a contract. Carlo has a contract already. Talk to him about it. By the time you’re twenty, and that’s just seven years away, you’ll be one of us, you’ll be able to make your own way in the Wealthy zone.”

Carlo told him it was all true, that they could make fantastic amounts of money doing porno, that he had a guarantee that the lessons would continue. But Jiri couldn’t understand the economics.

“We get the net for free in the enclave. The porno videos are there already, no extra charge. Where does the money come from to pay us?”

Carlo laughed derisively. “You don’t know anything, dude. The Clavenet is free, sure, but clavies just get the crap. It’s all videos — propaganda they call news, ads, and low-grade porno made by and for illiterate clavies. We’re making the good stuff that the Wealthies buy on their net. It goes all over the world. The top stars make enough money to become Wealthies themselves. That’s what could happen to us. You gotta keep doing it, dude. You got the look the Wealthies go for. You’ll have it for a few years at most. It’s now or never.”

Jiri thought a minute. “But my family could see it. I don’t want them to know I’m a porno star.”

Carlo dropped onto the bed, his hands over his face. “Oh my God, you are so hopeless. I just told you that the clavies never see this stuff. It’s on a net they can’t get. And if you think your family wouldn’t love you to be a big porno star, wow, you’re too lame for words.”

Jiri stared into space, thinking about the bleak life facing him if he went back to the enclave, and the unpleasant prospect of having sex with Carlo many more times if he stayed. “Do you, like, uh get into, you know...”

“Spit it out nerd! Do I like having sex with you? No! So what? It can make us both a lot of money. Grow up!”

Jiri felt a strange relief in knowing that Carlo didn’t like it any more than he did, that they shared the same burden. “OK, I get it. I’ll do it.”

Carlo leapt to his feet and smiled. “Glad that’s settled. Time to get you into the South Wing.”

* * *

The South Wing was where the real stars lived. It was actually a separate building behind the main house; an elegant dormitory of twenty rooms populated by twelve girls and eight boys. They all treated him with great deference, as if he really were a star. None of them looked older than fifteen.

As Jiri sat on the bed of his new, even larger, even more elegant room in the South Wing, he stared at his comm, thinking about what his mother had said. Is he going to become your plaything? Yes, this is what she had meant, and yet, if he told her, she might come and take him back, or even report the Gates to the police. Did he really want to go back to Lakewood Enclave?

Jiri sat and thought, looked at his video screen, the beautiful bed, the cool comfortable room, a refuge from the never-ending blazing heat outside. And then the comm rang. His mother’s face appeared on the screen.

“How are things, Jiri? Are they still treating you well?”

“Of course, Mama. It’s wonderful here. They’re treating me like I’m a prince. I’ve got a bigger room now, and I’ve learned so much that I can read the news feeds on their net.”

“Why, that’s wonderful! We’re getting the money every week just like they promised, and it’s really helping. This has been good for all of us. God bless you, my son!”

They talked a few minutes more, and then he rang off and pushed the comm into a drawer.

For the next week, Jiri performed in two scenes per day, no days off, most of the sessions with Carlo. Like his academic subjects, acting came easily to him. The director said he was a natural, someone who just had a feel for convincing the camera of his enthusiasm, arousal, and desire, never revealing even a hint of the emptiness and boredom he really felt.

Every morning, John showed him an accounting of his take from the previous evening. They’d set up a bank account for him. He had no immediate need for money; he could just watch the account grow daily to numbers that were beyond belief. After the sixth straight day of his new routine, as he was walking down the hall to the communal dining room, he encountered Claudia.

“I see you are adapting well, Jiri. You should take tomorrow off. I want you to have some quiet time. Besides, a special person would like to visit you alone in your room this evening.”

He gasped, fearing what that might mean. “Please, I need to just rest.”

“He will be most kind to you. Just let him visit you. Then you can decide what you want to do.”

* * *

After eating he fell into a deep sleep. Suddenly someone was gently shaking him. He opened his eyes to dim light from the hallway filtering into his dark room. He followed the arm that shook his shoulder to the face of Governor Bain, smiling warmly.

“Sorry to wake you, beautiful, but it’s time we got to know each other a little better.”

Fear overwhelmed him. He jumped to his feet, naked, and rushed toward the door. But Bain was too fast, catching him around the waist. “My, look at you. You are nothing short of breathtaking.”

“Please, no,” Jiri pleaded, eyes wide, heart racing. “I just want to sleep. Come another time.”

Bain placed his hands on each of Jiri’s hips, turned him back to the bed and sat him down.

“Just listen to me for a minute, and then you can decide what to do. Is that OK?”

Jiri sighed with resignation. The Wealthies never threatened, never commanded; they just persisted. “Yeah, OK, I guess I’ll listen.”

“Jiri, we don’t choose boys and girls from the enclaves out of the goodness of our hearts. We need to train some of you to support us, but we also crave pleasures that we can’t provide to ourselves, pleasures only beautiful young people like you can provide.

“Your life was destined for nothing. Now you have an opportunity. Give us what we want now, and in return, you’ll have a lifetime of living better than ninety-five percent of the ten billion people in this world. That’s the offer we make to all we choose.”

“I can’t do it, it’s too much!” Tears streamed down Jiri’s face, he shook uncontrollably.

Bain painted a sad, knowing look onto his face. “So many boys and girls say that but, when they understand the facts, most of them make the right choice. Let me explain a few things to you, OK?”

Jiri took a deep breath and nodded.

“Tell me something: how many kids your age did you know in Lakewood Enclave who were going to school?”

“Well, nobody.”

“Right. There’s no school for Clavies. There’s only one way to improve your life, and it’s right in front of you, right now.”

“Yeah, I guess I knew that.”

“So how far do you want to go? You could end up like Lea or DeShaun. They’re servants. They get bossed around, they do what they’re told to do. Is that good enough for you?”

He sat mute, confused, unsure which answer Bain was expecting.

“I’ll answer for you. No! You’re special. You’re beautiful. You’re really smart. You could be as successful as I am. I mean it. Now, do you think that people like me get successful by saying no to opportunity? Even if it causes them a little discomfort, even if they have to do things that go against their nature?”

“I don’t know! I’m just a kid from Lakewood Enclave. I don’t know what to do!” His eyes welled up in tears, he collapsed onto the bed in a fetal ball, sobbing.

Bain sidled beside him, wrapped his arm around Jiri and spoke softly into his ear.

“Of course you don’t know what to do. I understand. This is such a foreign place to you. So let me help you. I’ll tell you what to do, guide you through our world, get you started in a profession when you’re a little older. You’ll never go wrong, plus you’ll have a powerful friend anyone would envy. I can take you a long way, and all you have to do is make me happy. It’s easy. Trust me.”

“You’ll hurt me!”

“Never! I would never hurt you. I’m in love with you. How could I hurt you?”

Jiri popped up to a sitting position, shocked by Bain’s proclamation of love. He looked into the man’s eyes. They revealed adoration, hope, lust, nothing more. Jiri thought about his parents, about how much he could help them. He thought about returning to Lakewood Enclave and the empty life waiting for him there.

At that moment he understood. They’d led him to this point, made his choice inevitable. He’d been groomed for Bain like a dog trained to help the blind. He had all the skills he needed now; he’d learned them acting in porno videos.

He met Bain’s eyes. “You said I could be as successful as you. You’re a powerful man, aren’t you?”

Bain’s face lit up with pride. “Yes, I am, Jiri. And someday you could be a powerful man too. But you don’t get there by being afraid, you don’t get there by refusing a good deal.”

“Your ads on the Clavenet said that your opponent solicited those boys for sex, but that was a lie, wasn’t it? It was you.”

Bain’s smile turned sheepish. “You really are smart, aren’t you! Here’s my first lesson for you, Jiri: the truth is for losers. Be a winner like me.”

In a flash Jiri saw the path he had to take. Bain’s words had clarified everything. Jiri wasn’t going to be a loser. He’d use his acting skills to create the illusion of love that Bain needed. And he wouldn’t walk away from such an opportunity like a loser would. The Governor was powerful, but he was in love. Jiri felt sure that he could exploit that love, encourage it, and milk it to get what he wanted.

He wiped away his tears, painted his face in a shy smile, extended his hand, lowered his head, and spoke the line he’d been taught for his videos, the line he had learned to recite with conviction. “Take me, my lover!”


Copyright © 2015 by Bill Kowaleski

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