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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 10: Elise’s Breakthrough

All twelve Central Committee members plus Elise and Mira were sitting in their customary circle on the floor inside the decaying warehouse that served as their headquarters, waiting for the Harvey delegation to arrive.

“I’ve been working on those Harvey units ever since we got back, two days now; made a very interesting discovery. The reason we can’t talk to Harvey is because they use different encryption keys to talk to their towers. Each enclave has its own keys coded into the units. So I broke the code. Pretty simple really; they don’t use very sophisticated encryption at all. Then I used the Harvey code in a Joliet unit, and I was able to connect to a Harvey tower. Then I—”

Marco, familiar with Elise’s long technical ramblings, interrupted, “Very nice, Elise. I imagine that gave you quite a lot of personal satisfaction—”

“Marco, you don’t get it. We can communicate with anyone in Harvey or Lakewood or any enclave now. Think about it. We’ve put agents in other enclaves to educate people about the Hayek Manifesto, but until now we could only communicate with them by traveling to the enclave. Now we can communicate by comm. It changes everything. It means we can coordinate activities, work together with other enclaves.”

“Aren’t the Clavenet techies going to figure out we’re doing that and block it?” asked Mira.

“Clavenet personnel already cross-talk among the enclaves. The traffic is encrypted. As long as we keep the volume low, they’ll never notice it; they’ll think it’s their traffic. Plus, they think we’re all uneducated morons, which quite frankly, a lot of clavies are. They don’t know about people like me, so they’ll never suspect we’re talking across enclaves.

“I’m gonna put an app into the phones that cracks the encryption automatically, so it’ll work for any enclave. We should give each enclave maybe five phones they can use to talk across enclaves, no more, to ensure that the traffic level doesn’t raise any alarms.”

A middle-aged, blond, shaggy-haired man, rare for his fair coloration and features, rushed into the room. “Harveys are approaching. At least six trucks. People in the cabs, people in the flatbeds. Maybe thirty people in all.”

Marco’s face lit up with alarm. “Andy, raise an alert Level One right now! Everyone but Mira and my personal guards stay here.” Marco swung his arm, indicating that the guards should follow him, grabbed Mira’s arm and ran toward the entry checkpoint.

Enclave Security personnel were already assembling, weapons in hand, arranging themselves in a standard defensive alignment just in front of the entry point. As they crouched, they pointed their weapons at the Harvey trucks, all of which were stopped in two ragged lines about fifty feet away.

Three people emerged from one of the trucks. As they began walking toward the checkpoint, weaponless and arms held high, four men in second-skin jumped from the flatbed and followed several paces behind, weapons pointed.

“My brothers!” Seraphin shouted. “We are here as invited. We wish no trouble but, in case there is, we brought along some help.”

Marco surged forward, still holding Mira’s arm, until he met them twenty paces in front of the checkpoint. He embraced Seraphin, saying loudly so all could hear, “My brother, you are welcome here. Guards, stand down!”

The Joliet guards slung their automatic rifles over their shoulders and, as soon as they did, Seraphin shouted, “Homos, shoulder your weapons!”

“Follow me, brother,” Marco said. “If you have any others whom you wish to include in our discussion, feel free to bring them also.” He turned back toward the enclave.

They marched silently the short distance to the Committee’s headquarters. Seraphin strode beside Marco followed by five homos, short, squat young men looking like Aztec warriors in second-skin, weapons slung on their shoulders, eyes always in motion. Just before they entered the building, Seraphin said, “And who is the stunning young chica on your arm, Marco?”

“She is my Chief Advisor, Mira. You will find that she is far more than just beautiful.”

Seraphin smiled, revealing his gleaming white teeth. “How lucky a man you are, my brother, to have such a woman in your midst. I must act as my own advisor, sadly; not nearly as stimulating a relationship.”

They joined the waiting Central Committee members on the floor, drank special coffee from a recent raid on a luxury-foods warehouse, exchanged introductions, and slowly eased into the discussion.

“I have interesting news,” Marco began. “We have found a way to communicate by comm among all the enclaves. We can give you a small number of units so that we can stay in touch at all times.”

Seraphin smiled and nodded. “Excellent. But why not give everyone such a comm?”

Elise explained the need to keep the traffic below the level where Clavenet personnel might notice. Seraphin nodded and paused before saying, “Please tell me, what sorts of activities do you see us doing together?”

Mira replied, “We need to infiltrate the military and police. We need to build a better weapons cache. We need to find wealthies who might be sympathetic. We need to organize all the enclaves so we can mount large-scale coordinated actions. We need to—”

“Whoa, Chief Advisor!” Seraphin said with a smile. “So many dreams. I was thinking more along the lines of raiding some of the better-fortified warehouses to get things like large vehicles, weapons we can fight a war with, things like that.”

“If we try to take on the wealthies with weapons, we’ll lose,” Mira said. “We’ve got to win over the military and police first, then we can turn their own protectors on them. It’s how all revolutions are ultimately won.”

“How would you know that, Ms. Chief Advisor?”

“Because I can read!” Mira said, staring hard into Seraphin’s black eyes.

He held her gaze a moment, then turned away. “You make a very good point, chica. We need more than emotions and muscle. We need to be smarter than the wealthies. So, how do we organize a thousand enclaves? How do we win over the military and police? How have those other revolutions you’ve read about done that, Chief Advisor?”

“With communications. We must take over the Clavenet. It goes to all the enclaves. If they see what is happening here, they’ll all join us.”

Kendrick laughed. “What a fantasy! The wealthies know as well as we do that the Clavenet is their most effective tool of oppression. How could we possibly take it over?”

“It has to be subtle, so subtle they’ll never know it even happened,.” Mira said, almost in a whisper.

“Impossible!” Kendrick shouted.

“No, it can be done, with messages so innocent that only those who know the code will understand what they really mean.”

The room became restless. Central Committee members whispered to each other while Seraphin’s face grew pinched and dark. Finally he stood, pacing in a circle around the edge of the seated group. “This is not what I expected. I was hoping for action, bigger raids, not some womanly political intrigue. Why should I take part in this? My men must be kept busy, my people need raids to meet their needs.”

“Keep doing those things, my brother,” Mira said. “But do more also. Past revolutionary movements have provided basic services to the people to win their trust. In our enclave we already feed the poorest and provide medical care. Do you do those things in your enclave?”

“Not the medical care.”

“We will set that up for you. Revolutions are won by amassing overwhelming support. It takes time, patience, resolve.”

Seraphin looked at Marco, and then made eye contact with each Central Committee member. “I’m not seeing any enthusiasm for your ideas here, among your own people.”

“This is new to them also. It will take time. Perhaps I should form a subcommittee to put these ideas in motion. Meanwhile, you men can plan some coordinated raids.”

“That’s better!” Marco said. “Let’s plan some joint actions, get used to working together.”

“That brings us to my question to you of two days past, brother,” Seraphin replied. “Who will lead these coordinated efforts?”

Mira answered, “We should divide the leadership. Joliet seems a natural for leading the political and communications efforts.”

“Yes,” Seraphin said. “And we can lead the rest. Are you good with that, brother Marco?”

“Only the joint actions,” Marco said. “We still rule our own enclaves. And only actions both our Committees have approved.”

“Agreed!” shouted Seraphin. “I propose a raid on the pharmaceutical warehouse just north of our enclave. We’ve been watching it closely. It’s just been restocked, but it is well-protected. We will need a large force.”

Marco grinned with excitement. “Yes! Medicines and recreational drugs are much needed here.”

All the Central Committee members enthusiastically agreed.

“I will use this new comm to keep in touch, brother Marco. We will plan our attack together. I should leave now as I told my forces to act if I did not come back within two hours.”

He stood, but Mira put up her hand.

“Before you go, brother, one favor I ask of you. Allow me to talk to those in your enclave who’ve had contact with the wealthies, who can read, who have special skills, like electronics expertise.”

“Yeah, we have some people like that. Would you like to come in two days time? I can assemble them by then.”

Marco said nothing to her as they walked through the winding, narrow lanes back to their living quarters, speaking only to acknowledge clavies who greeted him as he passed. The late afternoon sun regularly converted their living platform into an oven, prompting Mira to say, as they stood in the open doorway to the decaying factory, “I’m going over to the river until it gets cooler.”

Marco grabbed her shoulder and placed his head against hers, whispering, “If you screw with that bastard when you go there in two days I will kill you! And him too!”

“Have sex with him? Is he a threat to you, big man?” she said sarcastically. “But maybe I should. I can learn a lot more about him if I win his trust. He could tell me all kinds of things we’d never learn otherwise. Meanwhile, I can tell him a lot of lies about us.”

Marco stared at her shaking his head. “Always scheming, always thinking. I’d kill you both anyway.”

“Smart, Genghis Khan! I think that’s called cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

He stared at her for a minute, face twisted in thought. “What does that mean? And what’s a jengis can?”

“It means you’d kill your best advisor and a guy who could help you become more powerful just to satisfy your insane jealousy. If you knew how to read, if you could do more than just shout a few Hayek quotes that Elise taught you, I might be able to have an intelligent conversation with you.”

He shook his head and laughed. “I’m not so stupid, Mira, you’ll see. Go cool off at the river now. I’ve got to spend some time with the security forces.”

She walked the short distance to the river, hardly noticing the rusted remains of equipment, the crumpled structures, the sucking mud, the prickly weeds biting at her legs as she strode and plotted. Yes, it made perfect sense: one of them had to go, and Marco was definitely the stupider of the two. But how to get rid of him? That would require some careful planning.

Proceed to Interlude 1...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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