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Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

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Chapter 26: Lea Escapes

As Jiri was pulling the van into the long, semi-circular roadway that fronted the departure gates at O’Hare, he sensed something was wrong. There was a lot of activity for so early in the morning, and police were thick on the ground.

“They’re attacking downtown Lake Forest!” Lea cried, peering intently at the news app on her comm.

Jiri pulled to the curb and looked over Lea’s shoulder at the beautifully rendered, three-dimensional images of explosions along the same route he liked to walk during lunchtime. He saw two bodies lying in dark liquid pools next to his favorite takeout restaurant.

He turned, unable to watch any longer, and took in a deep breath, trying to accept that it was really happening, that the streets he had walked on almost every day for the past five years had transformed into places of fear and death, that he’d shared a bottle of wine and friendly conversation with the people now directing the destruction of his adopted home, that the woman who was leading the attackers had once been the girl with whom he had shared his first sexual experience.

He crept the car to the doorway for the line to their rocket plane. “Get on the first rocket you can. You can change those tickets for an earlier flight. Do it, if you can get seats!”

Seconds later, they were all standing on the sidewalk. Tears were streaming down Lea’s face, and his parents were holding their luggage, faces grim. Jiri ran around the front of the car and squeezed Lea fiercely. “I’ll see you in Queenstown no later than December. I promise!”

“Six months! Please, come with us. Leave the car here, just come!” Lea sobbed and clung to his shirt.

He sighed, tempted one last time, overwhelmed with sadness and fear. They stood motionless, embracing for over a minute. Then a police car rushed up, screeching to a stop. “Get this vehicle out of here or we’ll push it out of the way!”

“I’ve got to go now. Call me when you’re behind security!”

He broke free, touched both parents on their shoulders, pecked his mother on the cheek, jumped into the car, and drove away.

“Where we gonna go now?” DeShaun asked, still sitting in the back with Keesha and their son, whom they’d named after Jiri.

“Good question. Let’s find a place to pull over and see what’s being reported.”

Jiri drove down an almost deserted Interstate until he had reached a point where he knew he could get both the Clavenet and Bain’s Cablefox network. He exited and parked in the decaying lot of a long-abandoned bigbox discount store. He brought up the Clavenet on the special comm that Mira had given him, and Cablefox on his official, high-security comm.

The Cablefox feed no longer was reporting the attack. It gave the impression that this was just another normal day. There was the briefest mention of a disturbance in downtown Lake Forest, and then the chirpy, busty, blonde former porn star host, a woman he’d met at the Gates’ studios when she was just fourteen, launched into a segment about the poor quality of domestic help.

The Clavenet app flashed into life with the full-screen face of Seraphin Ibañez talking to Cablefox reporter Alex Lifeson, Bain’s most well-known on-the-scene personality. That Lifeson was broadcasting on the Clavenet was alone astounding, but that he was interviewing Seraphin was doubly shocking.

“Yeah, so like they didn’t put up much resistance at all, Alex. We want everyone in Lake Forest to know that we don’t want nobody to get hurt. Please go home, take the day off. We gonna consolidate our command and control here. All remaining police, please report to the Police Administration Building. We gonna give you your going-forward orders. Our team is moving into the underground command bunker. I expect the remaining elements of the GNA army could counterattack, but not for a few days. So chill, have a beer. We’ll let you know if it gets dangerous, but I’m not thinkin’ it will.”

“Mr. Ibañez,” Lifeson asked using his hard-hitting reporter voice, “how can people possibly go back to their lives now? What will happen to their jobs, their property?”

“We ain’t gonna hurt nobody, dude. Just relax. We want the economy to continue, we want people to keep going to the store, doing their jobs. You’ll be paying more taxes; that’s the only difference you wealthies will notice. We gonna run this place like the California enclaves; same thing.”

“But tell us, Mr. Ibañez, how did you win so easily? How did you get control of the Midwest armies?”

“I’m tellin’ you, dude, ain’t nobody likes you wealthies. The army is ninety-nine percent clavies, and even the officers are mostly clavies. We been talkin’ to ’em for two years, and when they saw what happened this morning, they called us and gave us their support.”

“Do you have any word on the fate of Supreme Councilor Bain?”

“We saw his rocket plane take off from his HQ building. Almost shot down the son of a bitch, too!”

“Uh, Mr. Ibañez if I could interrupt, let’s not use that kind of language—”

“Hey, dude, I’m your boss now, so chill!”

Lifeson paused a moment, took a deep breath and continued. “We have reports that he is on his way to Washington to meet with the Supreme Council and newly appointed military chief Morrison.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Seraphin waved his hand as though he were repelling an annoying insect. “We’ll deal with him soon enough.”

Jiri had moved into the back of the vehicle so DeShaun and Keesha could watch too. DeShaun looked up as the interview continued and asked, “How they sayin’ all this stuff on the Clavenet? Ain’t no way Bain would allow that!”

“I don’t think Bain is running the Clavenet any more,” Keesha suggested.

“That’s the only possible explanation,” Jiri agreed. “There’s a broadcast facility in the basement of the Bain Enterprises building. It has generator backup power. The UES must have taken it over.”

The image on the comm screen disappeared and a message appeared: Incoming call. Sister Mira Alvarez.

“Mira, what’s going on?”

“It’s the beginning of the revolution, Jiri! It’s really happening! We’ve won the first battle. Where are you right now?”

“We’re on the road, somewhere around Bensenville, watching the feeds from the Clavenet and Cablefox.”

“So you saw Seraphin on the Clavenet? Pretty cool, eh?”

“Yeah, he could use a little polish, but it surely went down great in the enclaves.”

“Cablefox started out showing the attack, but now they’re trying to pretend nothing happened. So we’ve put the Clavenet signal onto the wealthies’ band so Lake Forest can get it, too. They’ll know what’s going on soon enough. Jiri, are your parents and Lea okay?”

“Yeah, got them to the airport, but I haven’t heard from them yet. I hope they got on an earlier rocket.”

“Whatever you do, don’t go back home. I’m afraid your house is full of Gates’ performers; there’s no place for you or DeShaun’s family to stay. We’re going to set up here in Lake Forest. If you drive down to Joliet, I’ll have Andy there set you up with a place to live. You can’t miss him, he’s one of the few blond, blue-eyed guys in the place.”

“Mira, I can help you with the Clavenet, I should head over there instead.”

She was silent a moment. “You’re right. You’re the obvious choice for our Chief of Communications. Why don’t you come here? You can let DeShaun take your car back to Joliet then.”

“You’ve got to know that Bain is going to mount an attack. He could bomb Joliet. A lot of people could get killed.”

“I know. We’re working on Air Force support. There are several bases in this region that are under the same command structure that defected to us but, of course, the local officers may choose to stay with GNA. It’s going to take a few days to sort out. We’re going to have to do some horse-trading.”

The screen lit up with another incoming call message. “Mira, call from Lea. Got to go.”

“Lea, are you safe?”

“Yes, we’re fine, beyond security. Took forever, so many people here. We’re boarding now. This one stops in Honolulu, so we won’t actually get there any earlier, but it gets us out of here sooner.”

He sighed, feeling an enormous weight lift from him. “God, I’m happy to hear that! DeShaun and Keesha are going to Joliet. I’m heading for downtown Lake Forest. Going to run communications for UES.”

“Be careful, Jiri!”

“I’ll be in that command bunker under Bain Communication HQ. Took a tour of it once. Over a hundred people can live there, and it’s impervious to anything short of a large-megaton nuclear bomb. I plan to spend most of my time in there.”

Proceed to Interlude 2...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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