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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 9: Meeting the Harveys

The raiding party left their quiet electric trucks a quarter mile up the road, guarded by three youths who had recently joined the Committee’s Enclave Safety Unit. Marco and Elise walked ahead while Mira followed close behind with six of their best foot soldiers, experienced marksmen, well-drilled to respond quickly and decisively to many possible battle scenarios.

The moonless night was sultry and windless; swampy ground squished beneath their feet as they carefully approached the warehouse, located in a river valley in which ran a canal once used to transport goods but now too shallow most of the year.

The warehouse loomed ever closer, a giant, dark, low rectangle with sharp corners, windowless, featureless except for a row of loading docks on the side they were approaching. One of the overhead doors was open, and the inert form of a man lying on his side, an assault rifle beside him, faded into focus as they reached the outer edge of the parking lot.

They needed to know where every guard was, so they could take each one out. Any survivor would raise an alarm which would bring a police response in fewer than five minutes. But if no alarm were raised, they’d have at least three hours to ransack the warehouse before workers began arriving in the morning.

Elise took out her heat seeker, a remarkably sensitive device capable of detecting animal heat signatures from a thousand yards. She slowly swung her arm across the profile of the building, creating a detailed map that showed where the other guards were resting. They were scattered to the four corners, ideal for the raiders, because they could easily shoot one guard without alerting another. It was looking easy.

Marco pointed to each figure on the screen and then to one of the marksmen, giving him his assignment. There was always the chance that another guard might be lurking where the heat signal was blocked. Their earlier reconnaissance had never detected more than five guards, but they’d have to search the building thoroughly before loading their loot.

With only one way in, they’d have to secure the open truck dock first. A single shot from close range jerked the sleeping guard’s head. Dark fluid trickled from his head; he would not be causing any trouble.

They jumped onto the concrete platform, each marksman running toward his corner of the warehouse. Mira, Elise, and Marco walked purposefully inside. They would stay together as they searched, each holding a heat seeker, each sweeping a third of the space they moved through.

The three entered an enormous cavern lit brightly by long fixtures emitting bright reddish-white light high overhead. They dangled from a filigree of slender, metallic beams and conduit. The walls appeared to be nothing more than flimsy corrugated aluminum, the floor an expanse of smooth, clean concrete that stretched for hundreds of feet to their left, a much shorter distance to their right.

It was a well-maintained warehouse, everything seemed to be in its place, especially the boxes stored on tall rows of shelves that stretched along razor-straight rows that narrowed almost to a point in the distance. Just inside the loading dock door were four large pallets stacked high with boxes that appeared ready for shipment. Two forklifts rested nearby, waiting to load the pallets onto the next truck that pulled up to the dock.

They walked up and down rows and, as they did, the marksmen reported in to Marco. The guards had offered no resistance, and reconnaissance had detected no one else. Marco lifted his comm to his mouth and called the youths guarding the vehicles, ordering them to move to the dock.

Meanwhile, Elise scurried about the building, scrawling X’s on boxes she’d chosen as their loot. It was all going so smoothly that Mira thought it was a little boring. Marco began handing the marked loot down to the youths loading the vehicles. Suddenly his comm, on speaker, crackled to life.

“Marco, northwest corner door reporting. Movement in swamp, group coming this way.”

The loading dock faced south, so whoever was approaching would never have been spotted if Marco had not posted the sentries at all corners. “Everyone, stop!” Marco commanded. He pointed to the youths loading the vehicles. “You guys, take the corners of the building. Elise and Mira, take cover.”

“I’m coming with you!” Mira shouted. He shrugged and jumped down to the ground, carefully hugging the building until he could see around the corner, toward the northwest. Mira cautiously imitated him, only a step behind. At first all she could see was movement, but as they came closer, six human shapes came into focus, crouching, wearing backpacks, carrying weapons.

Marco whispered to her, “Damn, just our luck. Another raiding party. Moonless night. Perfect choice, of course.”

She smiled. This wasn’t going to be boring much longer.

Marco, using his comm, ordered the marksmen to aim but not shoot. Then he fired a warning shot in the air when the raiders seemed close enough to hear his voice. They immediately responded with a volley of fire that dented the warehouse but did no other damage.

“Brothers!” Marco shouted when the volley ended. “Don’t shoot at your fellow clavies!”

From the distance a voice responded, “Prove you are brothers.”

Marco shouted into the night, “Hayek, Chapter 2: The accumulation of wealth is a crime greater than the torture of innocent children.”

There was a moment of silence, and then a voice shouted from the dark marsh, “We send you an emissary under white flag. If he is harmed, we will fight you to the death.”

Marco shouted, “Let him be unarmed. I will meet him a hundred yards in your direction, so all can see.”

Marco handed Mira his assault rifle, grinning and saying, “I knew those missionaries we sent into the nearby enclaves would pay off for us at some point!”

“You seem so confident!” Mira said. “Why wouldn’t they just shoot you?”

“Because they’re sitting ducks out there, and we’re protected, that’s why!”

She lay low against the building, her torso bent to the right so that she could point the rifle toward the raiders, her belly flat against the stones that surrounded the warehouse. She doubted they could see her, but she could see the approaching raider clearly. He walked with his hands in the air, a piece of white cloth tied around his forehead, lying limply in the windless, heavy air.

Marco walked confidently, hands also above his head, until the came together. Marco offered his hand. They shook hands and then embraced. The raider said something softly, prompting Marco to reply loudly, “Speak up, brother, so all of us can hear you! We come from Joliet enclave to enrich our stores of comms. I imagine you are doing the same?”

The first filaments of dawn light made their appearance along the eastern horizon, and Mira could see the raider better now. He was a head shorter than Marco, dark-skinned, bow-legged but muscular. His bright white teeth flashed whenever they caught a sliver of light.

“I am Seraphin Ibañez, head of the Hayek Committee of Harvey Enclave.”

Marco embraced him again. “Marco Estrada, brother, Committee Chairperson, Joliet Enclave. I see the Hayek Manfesto guides you also.”

“Yes, we’ve used it to organize the enclave, and are still driving out the wealthies’ running dogs.”

“We are a little ahead of you there,” Marco replied. “They stay away from our enclave.”

“Let us chat further later, brother,” the raider shouted. “Now we must empty this warehouse before daybreak. Let’s work together and fairly divide the take!”

“Agreed!” shouted Marco. “In fact, we’ll let you take most of the stuff. We just want some of the boxes we’ve marked.”

The Harvey raiders stood and cheered, then began running. From the warehouse, the Joliet group cheered back. Within minutes they had met, shaking hands, embracing, exchanging names.

Two Harvey trucks rolled up to the dock, small, well-worn electrics of a classic small pickup design that had survived for over twenty years. Elise had already segregated the boxes she wanted. Marco, after leaping upon the dock’s cement slab, generously waved his hand at the interior of the warehouse, saying to Seraphin, “Those are all yours, brother.”

Four Harvey clavies now stood in the dock door, looking very much as though they could be from Joliet, olive-skinned, black-haired mestizos, none much more than six inches over five feet, all wearing scavenged second-skin suits, the preferred garb of clavie raiders everywhere.

Second-skin was a spandex-like fabric so strong that no knife could penetrate it, yet cooling on the hottest days, and warming on the rare cooler nights. While the Joliet clavies preferred their second-skin in a deep blue, the Harveys were partial to the starkest black.

The trucks were soon full and pulled away. The sun had risen one diameter above the horizon. It was time to go. Marco grabbed Seraphin’s shoulder as he opened the door of a truck.

“Brother Seraphin, come and visit us. We should talk about working together. Think of all we could do if we could join forces.”

Seraphin stood for several seconds, nothing moving but his darting eyes. “Brother Marco, a great idea, and Hayek says that we must always work together, for the wealthies do everything to keep us separated and at war among ourselves. But I must consider your idea. Can I visit you in two days?”

“Sure, I’ll alert our sentries so they’ll know you’re coming.”

“Think, brother Marco, until we meet. Think on this: who will lead such a united effort? How can we trust each other? These are important questions. When I return, I’ll bring some of my homos for security. Be sure your sentries know of this.”

Marco’s face filled with confusion. “Homos? What are you saying....”

Seraphin laughed, bending over and coughing with the intensity of his amusement. “What did Hayek say, brother Marco? ‘Homophobia and racism are tools of the wealthy to keep us from uniting.’ So we call our security forces homos, for homo sapien, you know. But it also gets Hayek’s lesson across. Is good, no?”

Now Marco joined the laughter. “Very clever, my brother! We’re going to get along just fine. See you in two days!”

The Joliet trucks rolled over the soft terrain and onto the empty road. In the cramped cabin, Marco had the window, Mira sat in the middle, and one of the new youths drove. Mira looked over at Marco. “He’s right, you know. Either you or he is going to have to take orders from the other. How are you going to figure that out?”

Marco grinned. “Well, mighty ninja, just like it’s always been done: with a fight to the death!”

Mira shook her head sadly. “You think small, Marco. All a fight to the death is gonna accomplish is division. The loser enclave will just undermine the winner. We’ll be fighting each other, just like the wealthies want us to.”

“Do you think I’m going to take orders from that greasy asshole?” Marco shouted at her. The driver snuck a look at him prompting Marco to add, “Keep your eyes on the road, little boy!”

“Why not?” Mira said with a conspiratorial smile. “The deal you offer him is that you continue to run your enclave and he continues to run his. But he leads coordinated efforts. Everything we do together gets put to a vote of our combined Central Committees. Each Central Committee has the same number of members. Then, if he screws up, which he probably will, you push him out, after you’ve learned from his mistakes.”

Marco rubbed his chin, his eyes flickering in thought. “Hmmm, Mira, you’re onto something there. Thinking a few moves ahead. So I should just propose this idea to him?”

“No, no, you’ve got to make it look like it was his idea.”

“How do I do that?”

“You don’t. You have me in the room with you, say I’m your chief advisor or something. I’ll do it.”

They slowly passed through the enclave’s entry checkpoint as Marco grinning broadly, arm around Mira, said, “You know, I’m just beginning to fully appreciate you, Chief Advisor Mira!”

Proceed to Chapter 10...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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