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.

Part II: Reform

The Wealthy ensure the servitude of the laboring class by paying wages that support only the lowest level of subsistence. Their goal is always to keep workers too tired and too lacking in free time to organize. But this strategy can succeed only as long as unemployment is minimal while, at the same time, the supply of labor is slightly greater than the demand for it. It is a delicate balance that cannot be maintained indefinitely. — Hayek Manifesto, Chapter 2

Chapter 8: Joliet Enclave


For the first few days, Mira lived on the street, using her sarcastic tongue to repel unwelcome attention, sleeping on piles of filthy rags and eating rotting garbage, always paying for the privilege with her youthful body. During the days she sought out her family, the same people she had derisively rejected, imperiously ignored while she lived in Lake Forest.

But their shelter was gone, and no one near its old location knew anything about them. There was nothing but now in the enclave, and what had happened three years ago was buried as deeply as the bones of a Cretaceous dinosaur.

On the fourth day, the Committee found her and, once they heard her story, how she had been used and then thrown in the trash by the wealthies, they welcomed her. She adopted their ideology eagerly, so bitter was her hatred, so intense was her determination for revenge.

The Committee ensured her safety, gave her food and shelter, and, most importantly, gave her a purpose, a mission in life that matched her personal goals perfectly. She was completely committed, a true believer whose dedication and steely resolve did not go unnoticed. Within a year she had moved up in the ranks, first to a Block Captain, and then, after two more years, to a District Commander.

The Committee was the law in Joliet Enclave. There was no disagreement from the forces of the wealthies, not the police, nor the National Guard who were frequently forced to keep the peace in other enclaves, but never in Joliet, where all remained calm as long as all wealthies and their running dogs — meaning law enforcement personnel — stayed out.

The Committee lived according to the Hayek Manifesto, a statement of the rights of all unpropertied people to seize the assets of the wealthy and redistribute those assets until all were equal. Marco had told her that the name Hayek was a very old inside joke but, over the years, everyone had forgotten what the joke was. The real name of the Manifesto’s author had been lost in the turbulence and illiteracy of enclave culture.

Mira didn’t much care who Hayek had been; she only wanted to use his namesake manifesto as her justification for pillaging the Gates’ property. She wouldn’t let herself die before that happened. While she waited for the revolution, she had taken Marco as a lover, assuring her security by being the mate of the Committee’s Chairperson, a title which, in Marco’s case, was a euphemism for strongman.

On a hot spring night, a night like any other from March through October, she sat on the floor in a circle of twelve people in a derelict factory, a place where many thousands of tractors, backhoes, and graders had been assembled in a long-vanished time, whose windows had ceased to keep out the wind and rain generations ago, but which served well as the Committee’s meeting place; after all, plush quarters were for degenerate wealthies.

LED lighting strips dangled dangerously from exposed electrical wiring, brightly illuminating the filthy, crumbling space while creating a bizarre study in contrasts between new and obsolete technologies. It was Tuesday night, the weekly strategy session, and they had just finished the more mundane business associated with running the enclave.

“OK,” Marco began. “Elise proposes that we raid the Clavenet warehouse in Lockport. Elise, explain.”

“That warehouse holds comm units for all the enclaves in the area,” said Elise, speaking softly as she always did.

She was only two years older than Mira, and just as slender. But her dirty, bedraggled hair, obsession with all things electronic, fearsome reputation as a martial arts master, and loose-fitting overalls — her signature clothing style that never varied — had led most of the young men in the Committee to treat her more like one of the boys, a stark contrast to their aggressive pursuit of more attractive women like Mira.

“We’ve talked for years about spreading the Hayek Manifesto to other enclaves. If I could get my hands on some comms for other enclaves, maybe I could figure out how to patch us into those enclaves, so that we could communicate with them.

“Right now, our comms only work inside this enclave. The wealthies do that on purpose to isolate us. If we could communicate with any enclave, imagine the things we could do!”

“We could coordinate attacks, we could mobilize millions of people!” Kendrick Drake said excitedly. Kendrick was, like Mira, a District Commander, African-American, built like a nose tackle and at least as strong, no more than thirty years old.

“You get it, Kendrick!” Elise responded. “We’ll need to take out five guards. They’re pathetic. We scouted them last week: retirees, weapons have their safeties on, I doubt they know how to use them. On the last reconnaissance, two of them were sleeping.”

“Hit them about four in the morning,” Marco said. “Just before dawn, when they’re the most tired.”

The other District Commanders, all members of the Central Committee, agreed. Marco would lead the raid as usual, but Mira demanded, “I want to go too! It’s time I learned how to do these raids.”

Marco’s face warmed into his sneering smile. “Well, little kitten, you must be bored!”

“Don’t call me that, asshole!” she shot back. “I’m going, end of discussion.”

Marco waved his hand around the room. “Any objections?”

No one said a word. It was best to stay out of Marco’s personal life, especially after he’d been treated with anything less than fawning respect. He intimidated as much with his looks as his actions: large, intense, almost-black eyes, a bushy, sometimes-trimmed beard, black as midnight, full head of long hair flowing down his thick neck, eyebrows as bushy as his beard.

He was big but not at all fat: just over six feet with tree trunks for legs and forearms like Popeye’s. He never lost his temper in public, but he wasn’t hesitant about grabbing the assault rifle always slung over his back and blowing holes into someone who threatened him. Mira had seen him do that three times already.

The meeting broke up around midnight according to the sometimes-reliable time displayed on Mira’s comm. Marco wrapped his powerful, hairy arm around her as they walked the short distance back to their squatter apartment overlooking the stinking river, almost dry already, though it was only March. They wound through narrow lanes lined with tiny houses built of scavenged materials, many looking as though they could fall over with the slightest wind.

People filled the lanes, some walking, some sitting, some standing at carts selling savory foods that created a cacophony of scents, ever evolving as they walked along. Many of the vendors enthusiastically greeted Marco, usually saying, “Hola, Marco protector!” for it had been the Committee that had stopped the endless robberies of the vendors, that had finally brought some level of peace and security to the people who made their living on the street.

As they climbed the rusted metal stairs up to their living space, Mira often wondered when, not whether, its floor would crash through. The building had to be two hundred years old, and while it had once been a solidly constructed factory, she could see the rusted, deteriorating beams that held it together every time they walked inside.

Marco had strung wiring from the enclave’s electricity service into their living space, an aerie that had probably served as a management office at once time. From their platform above the massive, factory floor, Mira looked down on a moldy, fetid wasteland littered with rusted, crumbling machines, fallen plaster, rat droppings, dust, and other things that were nothing but mysterious shapes to her.

In shadowy corners she could see Marco’s personal guards; at least five of them were always on duty, assault rifles slung over their shoulders, belts bristling with other weapons she couldn’t identify. Their weapons came from clavies who’d joined the army, posted at a nearby munitions storage facility.

The guards followed Marco everywhere, and she, herself, had seen two times when they’d repelled an attack, once by a rival who had hoped to rule the enclave himself, once by a jealous former girlfriend whose target had been Mira.

As soon as they closed the door of their living space, Marco turned to her and hissed, “You called me an asshole in front of the entire Central Committee! How dare you!”

“I told you I don’t like your suck-ass names for me, dude! I meant it!”

“I’m gonna teach you to be nice to me, right now!”

She took a step back and smiled. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

He laughed derisively but she persisted. “You know what I’ve been doing during the day while you walk your rounds in the enclave?”

“No.”

“Good, attack me and you’ll find out.”

He moved toward her slowly, arms at his side, ready, she knew, to throw a punch. She assumed the defensive posture that Elise had taught her, on the balls of her feet, angled for maximum power. His arm flashed at her, and at the same instant, her leg swung, pivoting perfectly from her balance point, striking him hard in the face.

His arm hit nothing but air, flailing uselessly, worsening his clumsy fall. He hit the hard metal floor nose-first. She took two steps away and shouted, “Come on, pussy! Can’t even beat up your girlfriend?”

He rose slowly to his feet, blood flowing from his nose, his eye swollen where her foot had struck, smiling.

“Nice, Mira, nice! I’m impressed. No more ‘little kitten’ for you. Now I’m gonna call you my mighty ninja! Who taught you that?”

“Who else? Elise. And I’m still just learning. She says I need another year to even have a chance of beating her.”

“I believe it. There was a time she did something very similar to me. Well, well, this changes everything.”

“Kick me out if you’d rather live with a punching bag, Marco. I can take care of myself now.”

“No, no, mighty ninja. It just makes you hotter than ever. All that power in that tight little body! Now you can be useful, help out on raids.”

She would never really trust him; he could turn on her at any moment. But it wouldn’t be long, she knew, before she wouldn’t need him anymore. When that day arrived, she’d have everything in place to shove him out of her way forever.


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Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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