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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 36: Massacres

Kendrick’s VDTs — Virus Disposal Teams — consisted of two parts. A small group that sought out the dangerous vials, took possession of them, and then boiled them, destroying the virus. A second team stayed on the outskirts of each enclave ready to lock it down in a strict quarantine if the virus somehow escaped. The first two hundred and thirty-six operations went down without a glitch. But then there was Tulsa.

When the VDT broke in on the High Priest of Tulsa, he first claimed he had actually destroyed the Chalice and just hadn’t gotten around to sending in the video. But when the team demanded to see the video, he rushed from the room, tore open the refrigerator, which he had already unlocked for just such a situation, grabbed the vial, and ran outside.

He threw the tall tube of virus into the middle of the street. The glass broke, and three young soldiers looked in horror as a liter of green liquid ran along the pavement. Almost immediately, cars passed over the liquid, and their tires spread it down the road. One of the soldiers radioed the quarantine team, and then they waited.

For two days, nothing happened. Then all three soldiers developed intense flu-like symptoms. On the fourth day, ominous brown patches appeared under their skin, signs of internal bleeding. All were dead by the fifth day.

By that fifth day, there were dozens sick in Tulsa Enclave; by the tenth day, thousands; by the fifteenth day, tens of thousands. And as they sickened and died, they broadcast their plight on social media. The scenes of thousands of dead bodies in the streets shocked the world.

The loss of Tulsa Enclave was terrible, but it at least convinced all the other High Priests to boil their Holy Chalices in accordance with the Authority’s order. And it had another consequence. In the enclaves all over GNA, anger grew — anger that the wealthies had been willing to commit mass murder to protect their way of life.

Begin Clavenet Transmission: Cue Alex Lifeson

We’re in a helicopter above the wealthy zone of East Hampton, New York where mobs from two nearby enclaves have invaded and are wreaking destruction. There are at least twenty houses on fire, and the central business district has been heavily looted. I’ve witnessed six killings from my vantage point — people dragged from their homes and beaten to death. The fires have surely killed more.

At the rocket port on the ocean, frantic wealthies are rushing to their private rocket planes. I’ve counted twelve that have taken off so far. I have now a statement from the President of the Revolutionary Council, Seraphin Ibañez.

Cue video file of Seraphin Ibañez

Yeah, well what do you expect? These wealthies exploit us for years and then, on top of that, we find out they were ready to murder hundreds of millions of us. I’m mad too, bro’. So no, we ain’t gonna shoot our own clavies. They can let off some steam, get it outta their system. It’s all good.

Voice from off-camera: Will you allow the wealthies to escape by rocket plane?

Seraphin Ibañez: Yeah, why not? But we ain’t lettin’ ’em back in, that’s for sure. And we gonna expropriate their property, their financial assets, and their businesses.

Voice from off-camera: What about the video that UES disseminated promising that the wealthies would be safe after the revolution, that their lives would continue as before?

Seraphin Ibañez: Dude, that was before we found out they were planning to massacre us! We gotta protect ourselves now. These wealthies are capable of anything!

The next night, almost every wealthy zone in Greater North America was overrun by angry mobs. By then, most of the wealthies had fled in rocket planes stuffed with family and valuables.

Jiri watched the coverage with mounting horror. This wasn’t what he’d worked for, wasn’t what he could support. He’d seen his house on one of the news reports. The shock of it had been so great that he had hardly been able to breathe. It was nothing more than a smoldering ruin, something you’d see on footage of a war zone. It had focused him, forced him to realize that his former life was at an end. And he’d watched business reports as those investments he hadn’t already sent to the safety of overseas exchanges and banks became worthless. GNA stock markets had crashed almost to zero.

He had relocated to Joliet and was staying in a rotting warehouse that had been shoddily divided into tiny rooms. The day after he’d moved in, he tried to book a rocket plane seat to New Zealand, only to discover that all airports were closed by order of the Revolutionary Council. The day after that, Mira had summoned him to a meeting of the Council.

He walked to the open door of the meeting room, situated on the third floor of one of the renovated factories and peered inside. An animated discussion was in progress and, for almost a minute, no one noticed him. Then Mira looked up, met his eyes, and waved him in. But she never smiled.

After Jiri sat in a chair against the wall, Seraphin produced a gavel and banged it on the table. “So, let’s get back to this, OK? We invited Jiri because he’s gotta know about this change with the Clavenet. Mira, you want to do it?”

Jiri had seen nothing but respect and affection between Mira and Seraphin, but now her face was dark and angry as she stared into her lover’s black eyes. She stood and said, “You’re too much of a coward to do it yourself.” She sat back down.

“OK, Mira. No problem. I can do it,” said Seraphin. He turned to Jiri. “Dude, we appreciate all your help with the Clavenet, but it’s all about messaging now. We think Kendrick’s got a better feel for that. So thanks and all, but like, ah, well, you’re on your own now.”

Jiri looked around the table. He counted eighteen people, all with somber expressions, meeting his eyes, offering no encouragement.

“I see,” said Jiri. “My family is in New Zealand. I think maybe it’s time I—”

Kendrick rose to his feet. “You’re too dangerous. You know too much about us. You stay here while we decide what to do with you!”

“I’m harmless,” said Jiri. “What could I do to hurt any of you?”

Mira stood, walked to the wall, leaned against it, and said, “I agree. There’s no reason to hold him here.”

“If we did let you go, how you gonna get to New Zealand, dude?” asked Seraphin. “We’ve closed all the airports. Probably ain’t gonna open ’em again for a few weeks at least. You don’t have your own rocket plane, do you?”

Mira said, “We can guarantee him safe passage when they do open.”

“Not so fast!” shouted Kendrick. “He’s just going to join up with the GNA exiles down there and stir up trouble for us.”

“Or,” said Jiri, “I could try to convince them to leave you alone. That you have the support of the people. That the old GNA leaders are too incompetent even to find their way back to North America much less—”

“OK! Enough!” shouted Seraphin. “Look, dude, hang tight while we decide what to do.”

Seraphin stared into Jiri’s eyes, then turned to the door, pointing at the same time. Jiri rose and walked slowly into the hall. His heart was racing. His shirt was soaked in sweat. For a moment he let his fear control him, and then he whispered to himself, “I’m not going down without a fight!”

Proceed to Chapter 37...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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