K. J. Pedersen
“HAVE YOU EVER been there?” Matthias-Paulus asked me as we laid back together on the hood of his car, our backs against the windshield, and gazed upward at the sky, clouds, and moon which reappeared every now and then. It had rained — drizzled really — but the cloud cover was still heavy across the bay, over Niew Lifrapol.
He pointed to the sky, lazily, drunk and stoned as he was. “To the moon.”
I shook my head. “Never.”
“I have. When I was eleven.” He reached for the joint which I’d half finished. He puffed at it, held the smoke in his lungs for a long while, and then exhaled with a satisfied sigh. “I don’t know if there is a God or not, Matti, but seen from orbit, the Earth itself has a kind of divine majesty.” He turned to me. “You have been in orbit, haven’t you?”
“You mean other than right this second?” I said and took the joint back from him pointedly.
He laughed. “Don’t kid. Seriously, have you?”
“Not even when you go to Scandia to visit your mum’s family?” he said. “You don’t take a space plane?”
“Too expensive really,” I said. “Regular passenger jets suffice.”
Matthias-Paulus leaned back again and stared at the moon. “You don’t know then.” He shook his head. “It’s so fucking beautiful, the Earth. The blues, greens, browns, greys, the thick, white streams and patches of clouds. The continents and oceans. The sun viewed at the edge of the Earth, through the atmosphere. So fucking beautiful.”
“I’m sure,” I said, having seen hundreds of pictures, films, and holographic displays.
“We went to the moon on a modified space plane, the larger class,” he said. “It was awesome.”
I knew he’d been to the moon, of course; he’d said so a million times. And yet it was a story he never bored himself telling. He was drunk; he was stoned; he was happy. I wasn’t about to interrupt him. I felt light-headed and very amicable myself.
“As you accelerate out of the Earth’s gravitational pull, it feels like you’re being pressed down upon by the hand of God,” he said.
“He’s good at that; the clergy is even better.”
Matthias-Paulus laughed. “You’re blasphemous, Matti.... Always have been.” He chuckled for a moment, and then continued, “And then, suddenly, in orbit, you lose all sensation of weight. Your arms rise. It’s an indescribable feeling.” He laughed again. “No, no, wait. I take that back. Have you ever dreamed you were falling?”
“That’s what it feels like,” he said. “Well ... almost....”
He turned to me once again and grinned.
“Sounds ... interesting,” I said.
“I wonder what it would be like to have sex in orbit ... naked and weightless and rutting like a couple of dogs,” he said and bumped his foot against mine.
I shook my head and laughed at that. “You fucking pervert....”
“Something we might try,” he added. “You know you want to, boy-fucker.”
“Yeah, right, Matty-Paulus, in your dreams perhaps.”
He sat up and leaned toward me. “Have you ever done it with a guy?”
So that’s where this conversation was headed! I should have known — he was being a little bit too friendly. “Not exactly,” I muttered.
“What do you mean by ‘not exactly’?” he said.
“None of your business.” I was getting cross. “Finish your story.”
“You are bisexual!” he declared. “Just like me, man.”
“I am not.” I sat up. “Now shut up about that and tell me the rest of your story, man.”
He put his hand on my thigh. “At the very least then, Matti, tell me, have you ever kissed a guy?”
I jumped off the hood of the car. “That does it,” I said. “I’m going home.”
He rolled his eyes and challenged me then: “You’re going to walk?”
“No,” I said and tapped the face of my watch. “Call the Bay Cab Company.”
Matthias-Paulus jumped off the hood of the car. “No, Matti. Come on, man. I was just kidding. Don’t go home.”
“It’s getting late anyway,” I said and then told the dispatcher where to send a cab and where I was going.
I stood and waited for the cab. All the while, Matthias-Paulus sulked. We didn’t say anything to each other the whole time.
“You have no sense of humor,” he said finally when the cab arrived to pick me up.
I didn’t reply; I wasn’t going to play his game.
“Don’t be mad,” he said suddenly before I got to the cab.
I ignored him and reached the cab’s door handle.
“Go on then; fuck off.”
I rolled my eyes.
He leaned against the cab to prevent me from opening the door. He repeated then, more insistently: “Don’t be mad, man. Okay?”
“You’re wasted, Matty-Paulus,” I said. “And I not mad; just tired.”
“Whatever,” he said with obvious annoyance and let me open the door.
I got into the cab’s back seat. From out of the corner of my eye, I saw Matthias-Paulus lift his middle finger in my direction as the cab started down the road away from his house.
It was after midnight when the cab dropped me off. I had the driver stop about half a block down the street from my house because I didn’t want to make any more noise than I had to. The fare came to 1.95RS. I handed the driver two wadded up FLNB banknotes — a nice tip, I thought — and walked back to the house.
I crept inside through the back door, just in case my father was still up, and went up to my room only to find Johannes wasn’t about. I undressed, crawled into bed, and fought off the powerful, demanding urge to sleep. I wanted to be awake when my brother returned home. That he was with Lukas was a given, but where they were and what they were doing piqued my curiosity. He showed up after one. I pretended to be asleep and watched him through half-closed eyes. He undressed and got into his own bed, turned onto his side, and went to sleep
I surrendered myself then, slipped under the pleasant waves of intoxication, and slept.
* * *
Johannes was a morning person, but because he came in so late last night, I was the first up. I really hated getting up in the morning. Sometimes, Johannes would literally have to drag me out of bed, and push me toward the bathroom. I liked to take long, hot showers to rouse myself fully, but it was cut short (a mere fifteen minutes) when Johannes rapped on the door and told me to get out.
Our house was large, not as large as many in the neighborhood, but still good-sized, with a full kitchen and dining room, an entrance hall, study, living room, and family room downstairs. Upstairs were the three bedrooms, a small guest room, the library, and an open living space overlooking the entrance hall. The bedrooms were very large, with spacious attached bathrooms. Johannes and I shared one room, but because Elisabet was away at the University, Susanna had the room they formerly shared all to herself.
The truth was, I liked sharing a room with Johannes. First off, the bedroom’s spaciousness gave both of us our own area. He did his thing, kept to his own business, and I did the same. When we little, if it was windy out or there was a thunder storm, we’d sleep together. We stopped sleeping together on ‘scary nights’ at about twelve-years-old, thirteen maybe, with the arrival of puberty. Now whenever a thunder clap jarred me from sleep in the middle of the night, or the howling wind evoked irrational, childish fears, it was comforting to hear my brother’s steady breathing on the other side of the room. On the other hand, sharing a room made finding sexual relief difficult because I hated to jerk-off in the shower, and much preferred to do it in bed. Also, sharing a room had caused the circumstance which revealed my brother’s homosexuality. I walked in on my brother and Lukas, they were naked in one another’s arms, kissing hungrily.... I put the image out of my mind.
I rapped on the bathroom door. “Johannes, hurry up,” I said. He’d been in there for only three or four minutes, but I was going to get even with him for cutting my shower short. “I’ve got to piss!”
“Hold your water then!”
“Take your hand off your — ”
I laughed, and said, “Just kidding,” and heard him laughing over the sound of the shower too.
I sat down at the desk, turned on my computer pad, called up my trigonometry text and tried to finish my homework. I used the stylus, touched it to the screen, and scrolled through the music channels until I found something I liked. Then I turned my attention again to the assignment. The figures were all a blur. I was still tired. I really shouldn’t have stayed out so late with Matthias-Paulus. I shouldn’t have had so much to drink either.
All in all though, the shitty movie and certain other incidents aside, Matthias-Paulus and I had a good time. Some people are mean when they’re drunk, but not Matthias-Paulus.
Johannes stepped out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist a few moments later. He yawned and stretched. He looked tired. No, not just tired, harried.
“Are you feeling okay, Johan?”
He nodded and yawned once more.
The music was interrupted, and a somber-sounding voice replaced it: “Proconsul Grimwoldson has declared martial law in Corpus Christi.”
Johannes looked at me with widened eyes, and I turned the volume up a notch or two.
“Responding to demands to maintain civil order and to protect lives and property, the proconsul has declared a state of emergency in the capital.
“The Liberian Republican Guard was ordered this morning at seven-fifteen to break the ongoing strikes and to enforce the public safety measures passed by the Liberian Landsthing and Senate during their Special Session last week.
“General Philipson — twice decorated for valor as a lieutenant during the Anglo-Indian War — has been appointed by the proconsul to lead the city through this crisis.
“Following Proconsul Grimwoldson’s declaration this morning, AFR First Consul Ceolwulfson stated in his own address to the nation that the Liberian government has the full support of the federal government in its actions to break the strike which has caused wide-spread economic calamity throughout the AFR. With his authorization given, federal troops will be made available if needed.
“Little resistance was offered by striking workers in Corpus Christi, and there have been, so far, no reports of violent eruptions, neither at the waterfront nor in the warehousing districts of Sancti Petri and Sancti Bartholomæi. Nevertheless, members of the ISW resisted the arrest of the union’s leading representative, Bryan mac Phoil. The striking workers were quickly dispersed by the Republican Guard. Several other representatives and delegates, primarily of the ISW and FSW, were arrested for disrupting local, national, and international commerce, and for inciting public disorder.
“Proconsul Grimwoldson is meeting now with his advisors, the Industrial and Commercial Relations Committee, and commanders of the State militia to determine what further actions to take. He will address the public at noon.
“Again, a state of emergency has been declared, and the capital has been placed under Martial Law.”
“Martial law?” Johannes asked. “No way.”
“It’s just like mum said — the government would crack down if the strikes in the major ports of the AFR weren’t settled quickly.”
“After only one week?” Johannes said.
“What did we expect,” I said, “that the demands of the unions might fall on sympathetic ears?”
“Shit,” Johannes said. “No way this is happening.”
“Corpus Christi is the second busiest port in the AFR, Johannes. The strikes there have cost the Cyningestun Capital Group nearly seven million RS. And the combined cost of the strikes throughout the AFR have come to nearly fifty million RS. Of course the State would crack down! The State doesn’t recognize Labor’s right to strike, only Capital’s right to close factories, warehouses, harbors, docks, farms, and businesses.”
“What about the strike across the bay? Do you think martial law will be declared in Niew Lifrapol too?” he asked.
“Maybe.” I thought about it for a moment. “But I doubt it.”
“Grimwoldson is making an example of the ISW in Corpus Christi to break the strikes elsewhere. Arresting Bryan mac Phoil and the others was a deliberate act. It was meant to send a message to striking workers everywhere: The State will not tolerate disobedience,” I said. “But then again, you never know. A martial law decree here is a possibility.” I paused again for a moment, then went on, “Listen, Lukas’s father is one of the most outspoken WCLW delegates in Liberia — ”
“That’s why I’m so upset,” he said.
“Then you know he is under investigation by the Department of Commerce, and even by the Federal Security Bureau.”
He shook his head. “No. If that was true, then Lukas would have told me.”
“It is true, brother,” I insisted.
“Where did you hear it?”
“Well, Shane and I were discussing — ”
“Oh, yeah, right,” he said, “take the Little Revolutionist’s word for it.”
“Don’t call him that,” I said.
“Look, Shane is a smart guy, and his heart is in the right place,” my brother said, “but he’s politically naive. I mean, Jesucristus, Matti, he thinks the Democratic Revolution is right around the corner. Didn’t he say that as soon as the revolution comes, he’d be the first to join the Peoples’s Militia? And this was before his father died.”
“I know he’s prone to hyperbole, Johannes,” I said. “He always has been.”
“He repeats everything he reads in the Red Republic.”
“That is not true,” I said.
“Then how does he ‘know’ this about Lukas’s father?”
I cleared my throat, and replied, “It was published in Wednesday’s Red Republic.” Then I quickly added, “But more than that, it’s part of the public record. Look it up for yourself. Go to the Liberian Vital Statistics and Public Records site on the Network. I did right after I read the article. Shane and I looked it up together when I spent the night on Wednesday. A criminal complaint was filed against him by the Board of Directors of the Æthelbaldson-Herewic Capital Group on September 20th. That was well before the WCLW took strike action. Following that, there were documents filed to initiate the investigation. And they are cross-referenced with those from the federal government.”
“I’ll take your word for it. I don’t have the 20RS to pay to look it up for myself,” Johannes said. Then he said after a long moment, “Did you know the Liberian Republican Guard was called out last night to the Niew Lifrapol shipyards?”
I shook my head.
“It happened around midnight. I was there,” he said. “We were leaving Dock 17 when the first mobile infantry units arrived.”
“So that’s where you were last night.” I ran my hands back through my hair. “Like I said, martial law probably will not be declared up here, but the message is clear nevertheless. The strike is to end immediately.”
“Shit,” Johannes said. “And Lukas’s father is at the center of things up here.”
* * *
Shane intercepted me in front of my trigonometry class. His brown eyes were afire. “Did you hear?”
“Yeah, of course,” I said. “Martial law has been declared in Corpus Christi.”
He shook his head. “No. Not that. By now everyone has heard about that.”
“Then what?” I said.
“Do you remember when we were out on the porch the other night talking?” he said. “Remember watching the sky and that sudden, brilliant flash of light, and the streaks?”
“Yeah, the meteor shower — ”
“Those weren’t meteors, Matti,” he said. “Those were aerospace fighters. What we saw was a battle in high orbit. It was a battle between the Rus and Sinæ. That first flash, that white fireball, it wasn’t a meteor exploding in the upper atmosphere at all. It was a low-yield atomic missile. It struck the Sinitic frigate Hainan;” he said and snapped his fingers, “completely incinerated it. All the other streaks and flashes were high-yield conventional missiles and aerospace fighters being consumed in flames.”
“When did you hear this?”
“Late last night,” he said. “All yesterday throughout the unofficial and underground news networks, the story was being repeated. It was all over the World Network. That’s where I saw it. There were pictures and a three-second long film of a Ruthenian aerospace fighter being eviscerated by a laser. Apparently there were plenty of non-military telescopes that witnessed the event too. By this morning the story reached official news desks, and it was reported in the Liberian Tribune. It was buried in an article on page three.”
He nodded. “Buried.”
“Is there any news about the political situation between Sinæ and the Rus following the battle?”
“Officially, both governments are denying that the incident ever occurred,” Shane said. “The Terran Republic’s president, First Consul Akinori Fujii called for an investigation early yesterday morning before any of this became news. But according to Fujii, the Rus, Sinæ, and now the AFR are trying to obstruct the investigation by withholding all military intelligence gathered before, during, and after the battle.”
“I don’t know.” Shane shook his head. “But think of the timing ... do you really believe the declaration of martial law was just a coincidence?”
I saw exactly what Shane was getting at. “The government is producing warships at Corpus Christi, just as they are here in Niew Lifrapol,” I said.
“Right,” he said. “And outside of the capital, in the industrial suburb of Sancti Petri, there is an aerospace factory which has the capacity to turn out a new fighter every twelve hours. The warehouse district there also stores military hardware, and not just the consumer goods which pass through port. The workers at the aerospace plant and the warehouses joined the strike just after their comrades at the shipyards walked out last week.”
“So that is why First Consul Ceolwulfson was so eager to supply federal troops to assist Proconsul Grimwoldson,” I said. “He’s afraid the AFR will be dragged into this internecine conflict.”
Shane said, “That’s what I’m thinking too.”
“Fuck, it just doesn’t make any sense though. Why would the AFR try to obstruct the Republic’s investigation then?”
* * *
To be continued....