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Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

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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 27: Coup d’état

As Jackson Bain’s rocket plane touched the landing pad atop the White House, his thoughts were on the near-death experience he had survived just an hour earlier. The revolt was an all-out war now, and he had to unravel the confusing threads that had him allied with the clavies in the west while under attack from them in the center of the country. The enemy — and he clearly saw the Western Enclaves as the enemy — was divided, and it was imperative to do everything possible to nurture that split.

Plainclothes guards surrounded Bain and led him to an elevator. The doors opened to a short, olive-skinned man with a full head of gray hair, dressed in an elegant charcoal suit who stepped forward, grabbed Bain’s hand, and said, “Welcome, Mr. Chief Councilor! We have arranged a suite of rooms for you and—”

Bain had barely touched President Soto’s hand before interrupting. “Soto, what I need from you right now is to disappear. I don’t want you interfering with what I’ve got to do. I’ll be taking over here. We’ve written a speech for you to give declaring that we’re at war and that you’re ceding your powers to me for the duration of the war.”

Soto’s mouth dropped open. He stared at Bain a moment then said, “Mr. Bain, you cannot do this. There is no Constitutional authority for me to step aside, and it is the executive branch that controls the military.”

Bain turned to the guards. “Arrest this man and confine him to the White House living quarters!”

Three of the guards stepped forward, took President Soto’s hands and led him away. No one lifted a finger to protect him.

Bain turned to the three guards still with him. “Lead me to the Oval Office.”

For the next hour, Jackson Bain contacted government leaders, telling them he was in charge and demanding their loyalty. No one complained, nobody refused to pledge allegiance. Just after he’d completed his twelfth call, a guard announced the arrival of General Morrison.

“Mr. Chief Councilor,” said Morrison, “I’ve been informed that you have staged a coup d’etat. This wasn’t a part of our agreement.”

“Just temporary, General. We need unified direction now, and I’ve got full backing to make that happen. Once we win this war, I’ll cede control back to that spineless worm Soto.”

Morrison sat silently a moment. Bain couldn’t read his impassive face, and felt, for just a second, a cold fear. It was too soon to lose Morrison.

Finally, the General spoke. “I fail to see how this move does anything but encourage more eastern garrisons to go over to the other side. And furthermore, Mr. Chief Councilor, I fail to see how our alliance is strengthened by this move.”

Bain stood. “It’s called consolidating power, General. It’s called cutting through the crap. We can spin this, make it look in the media — which I control by the way — as if Soto is calling the shots. We’ll just have to encourage him a bit. He’ll come around.”

Morrison nodded. “Okay, noted. Now, sit down. I want to explain something to you. We didn’t sign up to fight the UES clavies. We signed up to maintain order in our part of the country. What happens east of the Rockies is not our concern.”

“But, General, it is your concern. You’ve got over forty percent of the old GNA army complete with all our weapons. I need that to put down this revolt.”

Morrison shook his head. “I’ve got a better way. Let us work on UES. We’ll talk them into cooperating.”

“Right,” said Bain. “I don’t think you understand something. These people are not looking for a compromise, they’re looking for the complete destruction of our class. This is old-fashioned Marxism dressed up in—”

“Oh cut the crap, Bain! That bull might work on your people but I am not one of your people. I was born a clavie. And all of us know this isn’t the Russian revolution. We’re not Bolsheviks. The Western Enclaves haven’t conducted mass murders of wealthies, and neither will the UES people. But I do know of a few people they plan to take out, and I think you know about that, too.”

Bain looked down, took a deep breath, and said, “Yes, you’re right. This is personal.”

“So, Mr. Bain, are you going to lock me up for disobeying your orders? I can assure you, we’re not going to attack our fellow clavies.”

“No, General,” Bain said. “You know damned well I can’t touch you. It would be all over if the Western Enclaves turned on us.”

“So, stick to the plan. Enjoy your little dictatorship here while you can. Plot against us, try to consolidate your power. All that crap. I know what you’re going to try to do, and we’ve already made our own plans to counter your plots. But if you actually do work with us, aboveboard and on the level, you’ll survive, and so will this country. I’ve gotta go now.”

As soon as the door had closed behind Morrison, Bain rang the Oval Office secretary. “Find me Jiri Lee.”

While he waited, he thought about Morrison’s words. It was really all about stopping UES now. Every garrison, every officer in what was left of his army had to be considering their odds now. They’d all want to be siding with the eventual winner. Every victory by UES would win more of them over. So job one was to win a major battle.

The phone rang. “What do you want, Adolf?” Jiri’s voice dripped sarcasm and resentment.

Bain felt the wind knocked out of him. It was incredible: despite everything, he still loved Jiri, still craved his approval. It was devastating to hear Jiri’s hatred so clearly.

He took a deep breath, then said, “Jiri, I need you here. Please come to Washington. We can still save this.”

“You just want to kill me, Bain. I know too much.”

“No, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t survive knowing I’d done that to you. Please, Jiri, I need you right now.”

“For what?”

“To lead our communications effort. There’s no one better than you for that.”

“To be your Joseph Goebbels? No, I’d rather disseminate the truth, if you don’t mind.”

“How do you propose doing that?”

“Well, right now I’m in the bunker below your building in Lake Forest. I’m running the Clavenet. And we’re disseminating the truth.”

A wave of panic ran through Bain. The wealthies had always survived by completely controlling the flow of information. Without control of the Clavenet, they could never do that. And then another wave of panic swept him. What if they revealed his darkest secret?

“We’ll jam your signal, we’ll counter everything you say, we’ll—”

“Right, Jack, sure. We’ve got some pretty sharp people here, people who know this technology. You won’t stop us. We’ve already been taking control of comm towers throughout the eastern enclaves. Your satellite people came over to us just this week. I suggest you give some thought to the implications of losing control of the Clavenet. That’s really all I have to say to you, Jack. Good luck with the Hitler thing.”

The line went dead. Bain considered calling back, but it was just too undignified. Nonetheless, Jiri had given him an idea. He knew now where the remains of his army had to strike. He had to regain control of the Clavenet, and the place to start was its nerve center in Lake Forest, the very place from where Jiri had called him.

Proceed to Chapter 28...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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