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Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

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Chapter 2: Bain’s Proposal

part 2

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 that 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 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 fell on 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 are 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, one Jiri had never even noticed, behind the main house; an elegant residence hotel 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 he 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. You will know. Yes, this is what she had meant, and yet, if he told her, she might come and take him back, or even turn the Gates in to the police. Did he really want to go back to Lakewood Enclave? He sat and thought, looked at his video screen, the beautiful bed, the cool comfortable room, a refuge from the never-ending blazing heat outside. He pushed the comm into a drawer.

For the next week Jiri performed in two scenes per day, no days off, no choice of partner, though most of the sessions were with Carlo. 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, so he could just watch the account grow daily to numbers that were beyond belief.

Each morning he attended lessons with the other performers, and then moved on to the studios to make more videos. After the seventh straight day of this routine, as he headed down the hall to the communal dining room, he encountered Imelda.

“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 could 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 filtering into his room from the hallway. 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: beautiful, thick blond hair, aquiline, symmetrical face, mesmerizing eyes, everything in perfect proportion. You are nothing short of breathtaking!”

“Please, no,” Jiri pleaded, heart racing, consumed with panic. “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?”

He 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 that 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 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.

“There was a time, hundreds of years ago, when it was fashionable to believe that everyone was equal, that even the poorest person had the same value as the richest. The wealthy of those days tried to create the illusion of that equality, but they were clumsy, and the poor people often revolted. They formed peoples’ republics, or even actual democracies where the wealthy were not always in power.

“It was most unsatisfactory and disruptive for us. We made some mistakes then. For one, we gave everyone an education. How foolish that was! It just created millions of people whose expectations were far beyond their reach. So now we decide who gets educated and things are much better.

“We gave them a free press and the right to speak out and what did they do? They came up with all kinds of goofy, idealistic schemes that involved forcibly taking our money away; things like free health care, old age pensions, minimum wage. So we put a stop to that nonsense too.

“But we gave them something in return: the Clavenet, free entertainment, free news, slanted to our point of view of course, and free telephone communication for the price of a subsidized Comm. They didn’t care much about a free press; after that, it was too expensive.”

Even Jiri could tell that he’d given this speech before, so smoothly it flowed out of him, so nuanced his phrasing, his rhythm. Bain paused, threw his head back, and smiled, as if reminiscing about some happy moment in his past. “And, oh heavens, we were clever about how we took it all away! We made it sound like we were helping them, like we were making their lives better, giving them more freedom. My, they lapped it up!”

Bain stood, put his hands on his hips and said, “But all that’s in the past. Let’s talk about today. How far do you want to go, Jiri? 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?”

Jiri 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!” Jiri’s 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. He 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 wouldn’t 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. 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!”

Proceed to Chapter 3...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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