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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 25: Lake Forest Falls

(Begin Cablefox transmission. Cue Alex Lifeson.) “Hello, everyone, this is Alex Lifeson reporting for Cablefox in downtown Lake Forest, Illinois. It’s an amazing and unprecedented scene here. Large explosions have torn holes into a number of downtown buildings. As you can see, the Bain Enterprises headquarters has been particularly hard hit.

“Reports are circulating that a fleet of labor vans carrying clavie guerrillas positioned at the edge of downtown is behind these attacks, and unsubstantiated information we’re just now receiving says that a large house on the lake, long owned by Gates’ Studios, a video producer, is on fire. There are casualties, as you can see here.

“Jerry, point it down at these bleeding people. See, these people are lying on the street, not moving. We can’t tell how badly injured they are.

(Pause. Camera shakes.) “Did you hear that? Another explosion! And now we can see the vans! Jerry, can you pan over there? Yes, you can see them now. They’ve got something on top of them, maybe rocket launchers, maybe laser cannons. This has got to be some kind of major attack by revolutionaries! Right here in Greater North America! Who would have ever thought it could happen here?”

The video feed abruptly turned black.

At the upper point of the crescent-shaped Bain International Building, Jackson Bain was angrily directing coverage of the shocking attack. “Shut that asshole up! We don’t want to spin this as a revolution! It’s just some minor disturbance.”

He grabbed another comm, pressing on the same contact key for the third time in the past five minutes. “When is this worthless bureaucrat going to wake up? Ah, General Morrison, finally got you up from your beauty sleep.”

“It’s four in the morning here, Mr. Chief Councilor. What can I do for you?”

“Your goddamned clavies are attacking downtown Lake Forest. What the hell is going on, Morrison?”

“We have no control over them. We only command armies west of the Rockies, Mr. Chief Councilor. You know that.”

“I need the troops stationed at Great Lakes to handle this, Morrison. Now! The police can’t fight a war! They have no idea how to take on an army. They’re making a mess of things out there.”

“Well, Mr. Chief Councilor, ever since General Peart resigned, we’ve had no effective control over the Midwest armies. In fact, my feeling is that UES really has more command and control than we do.”

“Point taken. I am hereby appointing you Chief of Staff of the GNA army, Morrison. Take back control! Make it happen!”

“Uh, thank you, sir, I will get right to it.”

Another hard jolt rocked the building. The lights darkened, only Bain’s battery-powered comms worked. He touched the contact for Lake Forest Police Chief Susan Thacker, but there was no response. He had no idea how many police personnel were left. He realized he could be in imminent danger of capture.

He scrolled down to reporter Alex Lifeson’s contact. “Lifeson, what do you see out there?”

“You cocksucker!” Lifeson spat. “You cut me off while I was reporting the most important event of our lives. I’m not telling you a goddamned thing.”

“Alex, come on, think of the bigger picture. We don’t want to panic everyone!”

“Right! I have a suggestion, Mr. Leader of the Western Hemisphere. Come down here yourself and see what’s going on! Your security team’s about all that’s left of any law and order. Oh, and by the way, the center part of your building is engulfed in flames, so maybe you’d better not take the stairs. Just jump!”

The line went dead.

He could smell the smoke now, creeping out of the ventilation shaft above his head. He ran into the hallway, commanded four members of the Supreme Council Security Force to accompany him, and ran up the stairs to the roof. His rocket plane, always fully fueled, was sitting on its pad, its nose pointing in the only direction left that offered any hope of escape.

He waved the security guards aboard and followed them. One minute later, the plane shot above the city. Bain looked down to a shrinking scene that he found hard to accept as real. People on foot and in cars were streaming to the north, away from the massed UES vans. Smoke was rising from dozens of buildings, and bodies lay motionless on the sidewalks.

Suddenly he heard a rush of air, saw a bright streak of light flash by him, and felt a loud, rumbling explosion. The rocket plane bucked and began spinning, losing altitude. But its magnificent stability control mechanism engaged, righting it and setting it back on course. His automated avoidance system had fooled the primitive missile, but it had exploded very close by. He prayed there would not be another one.

One of his comms chimed. “General Morrison, sir! I’ve been informed by the Commander of Great Lakes Garrison that they’ve gone over to UES. Lake Forest Police are effectively neutralized. You’d better get out of there. UES controls Lake Forest and most of the Illinois-Wisconsin zone. You’re in real danger of capture.”

“I’m in the rocket, heading for Washington. Thanks for the update, Morrison. Can you get yourself to Washington ASAP? We need to regroup.”

“Yes, sir, of course. I’m on my way.”

The rocket plane leveled off and rushed east. Bain looked down at Lake Michigan. He’d seen it a thousand times, and always it had given him a sense of comfort, a feeling that he was almost home. Now, for the first time, he saw it as the boundary of a nation, the divide between what was left of the country he controlled and enemy territory.

Proceed to Chapter 26...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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