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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 2: Bain’s Proposal

part 1

During the next days Jiri was introduced to many people, almost all of them adults, all of them pleasant and encouraging. The only other person he saw who was close to his age was handsome, athletic Carlo, who seemed to always be in the middle of something. He’d pass by Jiri, say, “Hey, bro’” and be gone.

By the fifth day, a routine had set in. He woke early, roused by Mira or Lea, set the table, and then acted as a waiter and busboy during breakfast. There had been twelve at the morning meal each day. They seemed interested in him, studying him closely when they thought he wouldn’t notice their stares but turning quickly away when he flashed them a smile.

After breakfast, he decided to take a chance and venture some questions of Mira and Lea as they cleared the table. “Who are all these people?” he asked softly, trying to sound only mildly interested.

Mira giggled. “You know, Imelda and that guy she sits next to is her husband, Claudio. Then the others, well, you’ll get to know them soon enough.”

“Are they staying here?”

“They leave in the evening and come back in the morning. They work here, but they aren’t servants like us.”

Lea looked severely at Mira, then turned to Jiri. “Don’t ask too many questions. You’ve got a good thing going here. You start your reading lessons today. You’d never learn to read in that enclave you came from. Just do what you’re told, and it will all become clear.”

“But can I ask just one more thing? Why can’t I bump my friends on my comm? I call, I text, I tweet their numbers, but nothing gets through, and I’m not getting their feeds either.”

“The Clavenet doesn’t come out here,” Lea explained, “but your comm was set up to allow calls to and from your parents. It’s the same for all of us.”

“But I’m cut off from all my friends!”

“Well, if that bothers you so much, just tell Imelda to have DeShaun take you back home,” said Lea in her snottiest tone.

After the breakfast cleaning was done, he retreated to his room, but he’d barely lain down on his bed when Imelda tapped on his door.

“Jiri, we have a special guest today, and he would like to meet you.”

She stepped aside and a man entered the room. He was tall, athletic, tanned, middle-aged, with very neat hair that was mostly black with just a few flecks of gray. He looked familiar. Jiri wondered how that could be possible.

“Hello, young man. You are as handsome as Imelda told me! I hope you will enjoy a very long stay here. We will teach you many things and, when you are an adult, you will be able to function in our world, and at the same time help your family.”

“Uh, well, thanks,” Jiri said hesitantly. “So you’re saying that you’re kinda like preparing me to work with you wealthies?”

The man threw his head back and laughed. “That’s one way of putting it. You know, since all the public schools were closed, since the middle class pretty much disappeared, we wealthies, as you call us, have had a hard time hiring people who can perform important tasks for us. We have to go into your enclaves and recruit our supporting cast. But it works out well. We get just as many as we need, no excess of over-educated peasants who might cause us trouble.”

“What do you mean by ‘supporting cast’?”

“Now that’s a very good question.“ He spoke like a politician, oily and glib. “If you’re just average in your lessons, you can work as a driver, security man, gardener, things like that. But if you do very well in your studies, then you can get a much better position as perhaps a lawyer or doctor or manager.”

“But why did you choose me?”

The man paused a moment, as though he needed to find just the right words. “Well, we can tell a lot just by looking at someone, by observing how someone walks, talks, carries himself. We’re seldom wrong. You’ll see very soon.”

The answer made little sense to Jiri, but now he knew where he’d seen that face. The voice had given him away. He was Jackson Bain, the Governor of Illinois. He’d seen the many campaign videos on the net just a few months earlier, and he’d sat in the makeshift neighborhood market and heard representatives of both candidates talk during the late summer campaign. After Bain and Imelda left his room, his mind wandered back to that evening.

The representative for the other candidate spoke first. His words moved everyone very much. He talked about how the rich exploited all the people in Lakewood Enclave, paying them next to nothing, giving them no education, no health care, not even decent sewers. He talked about how wonderful it was out in the wealthy zone, how they had everything there. Why should we put up with that? His candidate would change all that. He would give everyone real sewers, higher wages, free healthcare, an education. All the things they didn’t get now.

Everybody thought that was great. Everybody cheered. Then Bain’s representative stood up. “Yes,” he said, “It sure would be wonderful if we could all be wealthy. But that’s not how the world works. There are so many people, there aren’t enough good things for all of them. So some must be wealthy and some poor.

“Do you think the wealthy are just going to give away everything? No, they’ll fight to keep what they have, and they can make things a lot worse for everyone. You think things are bad? You may not know this, because most of you can’t read, but not that many years ago, the jobs you are doing today were being done by people in India, China, and other places really far away. Why? Because there were unions, and they made the wealthies pay your grandfathers and grandmothers too much. So the wealthies just moved all the jobs away, and then nobody had anything.

“Some of you are old enough to remember the stories your grandparents told you about the starvation, the horrible riots. Do you really want to go back to those days? We live in a peaceful country now, and the money you make is all yours.

“If our opponent is elected, he says he’ll give you free health care. Well, do you really think that it’s free? Someone has to pay for it. They’re just going to start making you pay taxes like in the bad old days. Then you’ll earn a hundred dollars in a week but only keep fifty. Is that what you want?”

After the meeting, every video on the net seemed to be about how things needed to stay the same, about how if Bain were not elected, everyone would have to give half their money away, and all the jobs would move back to India and China.

Jiri never even heard anything more about Bain’s opponent until a few days before the election when a series of videos appeared, exposing how Bain’s opponent had solicited twelve-year old boys for sex. There were videos of boys describing the attempted seductions, the threats, the offers of money. So it was hardly a surprise when Bain was declared the winner by a wide margin.

And now Jiri had actually met the man! And he, like everyone else, had called Jiri handsome. It seemed a little strange how concerned they were with his looks, but perhaps that was how wealthies thought.

A week passed. Jiri now spent much of the morning in lessons: reading, arithmetic, world geography, science. It was exciting and rewarding, and everyone said that he was doing extraordinarily well. He could hardly wait for his lessons, and did all the homework eagerly.

While he still called his mother on his comm every day and had even taken her on several virtual tours of his new home, he felt more and more that he could never go back, that he was committed to his new standard of living. After his last morning lesson, on a hot, midsummer day that he’d barely noticed in his cool, climate-controlled environment, Mira came up to him in the hall.

“Hey, Jiri, could you come to my room for a minute?”

She spoke in a seductive, beckoning way that excited him, and the very short cut-off jeans and skimpy halter top she wore excited him even more. He was very happy to follow her. She closed the door as they entered and pushed him onto the bed, flopping on top of him.

“It’s time we got to know each other better, don’t you think?” she whispered, suddenly breathing heavily. She tore at his clothes and within a minute they were naked.

“I’ve wanted to do this since I first saw you!” he whispered, overcome with excitement that almost made him forget that he really had no idea what he was doing. She quickly set his mind at ease.

“Just do what I tell you. First, turn your body to the right, just a little more, there, good.”

“Shouldn’t we close the curtains? It’s awful bright in here.”

“No, I like the light, just do as I say.”

For the next half hour she directed him through a comprehensive series of sexual positions and activities. He loved every minute of it, though he had trouble understanding why he always had to be facing a certain way, or holding her leg up, or repositioning himself. But he was having way too much fun to give it much thought.

She seduced him for six straight days, every day a little differently, but always thrilling. On the seventh day she surprised him. When they entered her room, Jiri brimming with excited expectation, Carlo lay on the bed, naked. She gave Jiri a shove, trying to get him on the bed with Carlo.

“I want to watch you do it with Carlo. He’ll guide you just like I did.”

He felt the wind knocked out of him. Barely able to speak he whispered, “But I don’t want to do it with Carlo. I want you.”

“Don’t be silly. Carlo’s been hot for you since you got here. We all take care of each other here. Don’t be different.”

Carlo smiled and beckoned to him. “Come on, dude, it’ll be fun. You’ve got to try it before you say you don’t like it.”

Jiri took a deep breath and lay on the bed. Carlo seemed to be having a great time and kept telling him to get into it, make it seem like he was enjoying it. He endured but was glad when it was over.

Early the next morning, Imelda 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: middle-aged, balding, not in the best shape but not fat either; pasty faced, wearing a scruffy grey tee shirt and baggy shorts, displaying a prairie of 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. Jiri and Carlo were on the bed, 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.”

Imelda had been standing outside his door listening. She now walked back into the room, shaking her head, sat beside him on the bed, wrapped her arm around his slender waist, and turned 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. He counted three thousand six hundred dollars. His father made at best one hundred dollars per week if he worked all six days. He was lucky to make in a year what Jiri held in his hand. It was all going too fast, he didn’t know what to do.

Imelda, seeing his confusion, 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. You won’t have 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.”

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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