K. J. Pedersen
NOTHING CAME TOGETHER on the field that afternoon during C-ball practice. The usual, unspoken communication between Lukas and I was off — way off. We misread each other’s signals. His mind was somewhere else: It was with his father at the docks and shipyards in Niew Lifrapol. Matthias-Paulus was playing too aggressively. Tórsten’s mind too was somewhere else, but that, I’m sure, had something to do with Nikki Marii. Markus was in an uncooperative mood; he was sulking. Who knew why? Godric was sluggish. It seemed only Andreas, who usually sat on the bench (because he was smaller than the rest of us — 5' 9" and 155 pounds), was consistently on the ball.
A C-ball match lasts for one hour and ten minutes, that is, two thirty-minute halves, and a ten-minute halftime. The rule was that the ball needed to remain in motion at all times. That could be chaotic with the ball constantly changing hands, being passed back and forth, kicked around, and physically wrested away. In order to keep the players from injuring one another, each team was permitted two two-minute timeouts per half, and if someone did “significantly” injure another, the team on which the offending player was part automatically lost the match. It usually acted as a break against certain overly aggressive impulses and players. Nevertheless, Matthias was wild on the field that afternoon, and eventually the coach called practice off short.
“What is it with you people?” the coach demanded as we huddled about him off to one side of the field. “Is there something in the air today? Matty-Paulus you are a fuck-up — has anyone ever told you that before?”
“First you fuck-up in class this morning — that nonsense with tackling Mattæus Kirkagárd, and that stupid rivalry you have with him to maintain your precious image was just unbelievable — and now its just more of the same ego-stroking all over again.”
So coach had noticed it too. Why Matthias was threatened by my brother was really beyond me. I mean, Mattæus didn’t play C-ball at all, and was merely a competent A-ball player. Matthias, on the other hand, was excellent. So good, he kept me on my toes. Obviously, whatever was up between the two of them had nothing to do with sports.
The coach continued in his rant against Matthias: “Am I going to have to keep you on the bench tomorrow during our game against Hohtun?”
Then he turned his attention to Markus. “What is going on with you, Marky? Sulking? Like a spoiled child? What’s up with that?”
Markus curled his lip.
The coach snorted angrily. He sounded thoroughly disgusted. “Check your attitude, Eiriksson, you’re wearing my patience thin.”
“Come on, Coach,” Godric said. “Lighten up. It’s been a long day. We’re all tired.”
“Yes, I can certainly see that you are,” he said. Then he turned to Lukas and I. “And what is with you two?”
“It’s nothing,” I said. “It’s my fault.”
He looked at Lukas. “And?”
“It’s nothing,” Lukas replied.
The coach scratched his eyebrow and let out a heavy sigh. “Well, whatever.” He scratched his eyebrow again. “It’s a good thing Hohtun Academy has probably the worst football team in North Lancascir. Because if that wasn’t the case, and you play tomorrow against them like you’ve practiced today, a clean-up crew would be needed for hauling your corpses off the field.”
“Yeah, coach, what a pep-talk,” Markus said.
“Listen, Marky, don’t make things worse than they already are,” Andreas said.
“Go to hell, Andy,” Markus said and turned up his middle finger at him.
Coach said, “Shower. Get dressed. Go home. All of you.” He was disgusted with every one of us. “And unless you intend to win tomorrow, don’t come back.”
We filed into the locker room together. I walked beside Lukas. He didn’t have much to say. Matthias was quiet too. He was down, but I knew he wouldn’t stay down for long, so I didn’t pay him much attention. Markus was swearing, and saying again and again how the coach was an incompetent ‘piece of shit.’ Godric yawned, his eyes were red, blood-shot.
“You really shouldn’t smoke that shit before practice,” Andreas said.
“Andy, grow up. It was just a couple of joints,” Godric replied. “That’s all.”
“So that’s what that was all about,” I said. “If you have to get high, Godric, do it on your own time, not on ours.”
My brother, Lukas and I smoked hashish occasionally too, socially. It wasn’t such a big deal, but I never came to school, practice — or anywhere else I had an obligation — stoned.
I pulled off my football jersey and shorts and stuffed them into my locker. I applied deodorant under each arm. I sat down on the bench between the banks of lockers for a few moments to cool down.
Half of the guys showered, half didn’t. I was one of the shy ones. My brother was the same way, shy, modest. Maybe it the way we were raised, and being unconsciously indoctrinated with our father’s rigid, prudish views on human sexuality. He just didn’t seem to understand that sexual responsibility was one thing, while sexual repression was another. I was, myself, still trying to rid myself of the painful emotional stripes his diatribes against homosexuals and teenage mothers left.
Lukas stripped off and headed toward the showers without a second thought. He didn’t even bother with a towel, he just went.
Godric saw where my eyes were. “Cute ass, huh?” he said quietly as he moved toward the showers, a towel around his waist.
“I wasn’t — ”
“Don’t be ashamed — it’s no big deal,” he said.
Strangely enough, for all of his sexual dalliances — heterosexual and homosexual — Matthias too was shy about being naked in public. (He occasionally had sex with Lukas, I knew, and from what I understood he was, like me, shy in the bedroom too.) As soon as he stripped off his football clothes, he put on his jeans.
“Why are you in such a hurry?” I asked. “You have a hot date?”
“Yeah,” he said. Then he gave me this look, it was self-satisfied, and totally arrogant. “Yeah, Johannes, I have a hot date alright.” He grabbed his crotch. “With your brother.”
I turned up my middle finger at him.
“Is that an invitation?”
He sat next to me on the bench. “Just kidding,” he said finally. “Seriously though, I am going be hanging out with your brother tonight.”
I rolled my eyes. “Good for you.”
“We’ll probably go to a movie,” he said. Then he brought his fingers to his lips as if smoking a joint. “Maybe we’ll smoke some herb ... talk about how many hot, easy girls go here to Sceofeld.”
Matthias nodded. He often bragged about his sexual adventures with Ama, but his exploits weren’t limited to his girlfriend. From what I had gathered in listening to him for the last couples of years, he had at least eight girls pleasure him sexually, mutual masturbation mostly, though he enjoyed ‘a good titty-fuck’ every now and then too. When it came to his homosexual adventures however, he was much more subtle. He didn’t brag; he dropped hints. He was a strange fellow. On one hand, he was very sexual, and on the other, he was shy. I liked him for it too, it made me feel comfortable with my own shyness. I wasn’t alone; I wasn’t weird; there were others like me.
“What happened this morning?” I asked.
“You mean ... what coach was talking about?”
“Nothing,” he said, and pulled on his T-shirt. “Matti and I were just horsing around.”
“What is it with you and my brother?”
“Don’t rake me over the coals, Johannes.” He was suddenly angry. “It’s none of your business.”
I didn’t understand his reaction; I was stunned. “Matty, c’mon — ”
“It’s nothing to you.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it.”
He put on his shoes and got up from the bench.
“Matty — ”
He turned up his middle finger at me and left the locker room.
Damn, what was that all about?
* * *
After Lukas showered and dressed, we went out to the parking lot together. Andreas was with us. Clouds had gathered out to the west, over the ocean, and they were headed inland.
“You think it’s going to storm like it did early this morning?” Andreas said.
“I hope not,” Lukas said. “My father’s out in the weather.”
The car Matti and I owned together was an old ‘62 Phoenix. (It ran well enough for its age though.) Lukas and Andreas usually caught a ride with me. Neither had their own car. Andreas’ family owned a single car. Lukas’ family owned two, an old work truck for his father, a sedan for his mother. In our household we had three cars, my father’s, a ‘73 Merit, a large — but sleek — cruiser, with a leather and hand-finished wood interior; my mother’s ‘68 Spirit, a relatively inexpensive compact; and the car my brother and I shared, the old Phoenix. In a way, it was kind of obscene that our family owned three cars considering less than thirty percent of households owned even one. Often those who did own autos though, owned several. Markus had his own car, his nineteen-year-old brother had one as well, and so did his sixteen-year-old sister, his mother, and his father — five members of the family, five cars.
Lukas turned on the radio, found the station he liked best (it’s a good thing we had the same taste in music), and rolled down the window as we left the parking lot. He was still lost in thought.
Andreas was quiet too, stung over how poorly practice went, though he mentioned he would like finally to be able to play in a real game tomorrow instead of just watch from the bench.
“I’ll see what we can do,” I said to him. “I’ll talk to coach about it tomorrow, Andy.” He was in the backseat and I could see him grin in the mirror at that.
Andreas lived to the south and east of the academy, so I had to make a loop up to his house — a small, older home right on the edge of a very upscale neighborhood — to drop him off, and then back down toward Lukas’ neighborhood.
Lukas was still preoccupied. So, I started the conversation. I had to get it off my chest anyway. I told him everything that occurred the night before, what my father said, and told him everything I’d told Mattæus before school.
“So what if your father knows?” Lukas said finally. “I’ve had it. To hell with him! Let him feed me to the wolves; I don’t fucking care anymore. I love you, Johannes. And as far as I’m concerned, let the whole world know it!”
That made me angry. I wasn’t ready for people to know; I was scared. “Then I suppose you’ve told your parents, right?”
“No,” he said.
“Why not? Are you afraid of how they might react?”
“Don’t mock me,” he said.
“Well then, how would they react?”
“My mum might be a little upset,” he said evenly. “She might be disappointed that I’m not interested in finding a woman to make babies with — that I’m not interested in carrying on the family line — but she loves me, Jóni. And my father ... well, he’s open-minded, like your mum. He’d accept it as a matter of fact.”
“Talk is cheap.” That was a stupid thing for me to say. Fuck!
“Fine! You want me to tell my parents, huh? I will. As soon as the strike is resolved, and my father isn’t under such great stress, then I’ll tell my parents that I’m a boy-fucker. Is that okay with you, Johannes? Because I will tell them if you want me to,” he said. “But this concerns you as well. You’re my boyfriend. When I tell them, you are going to be right there by my side!”
I backed away from things as fast as I could: “No — ”
“Yes! You and I are in this together.”
“I don’t want you to tell your parents at all,” I said. “It isn’t any of their business. It’s ours. Nobody else’s.”
“I’m tired of hiding,” he said. “I’m tired of not being able to express my affection for you around people that I love — my family. I have the right to be exuberant about what we have. If I was heterosexual, would I have to hide how I feel about having a girlfriend? No! So why should I hide my feelings for you?”
“That’s the whole problem, Lukas: You don’t hide your feelings. That’s why my father suspects the truth.”
“Like I said: To hell with Eadmund! I’ll tell him to his face how I feel about you, and if he shits his pants, then that’s just too fucking bad!”
“Let’s not fight, Luki!”
“No, let’s not,” he said. “And let’s not be ashamed of our love for each other either!”
He was angry; I was angry. It was our first fight. Well, sure, we’d fought as friends, but it was our first fight as lovers. I felt like shit, and I knew he felt the same way. But both of us had our pride too. We drove the rest of the way toward his house in silence. Finally, I pulled up in his driveway.
“Well, here we are,” I said. “See you tomorrow.”
Lukas turned to me. “Oh no, Johannes Josef, you’re not getting off that easily!”
“What do you mean?”
He touched my hand lightly. “Come inside,” he said with a faint, gentle smile. “Help me make dinner. Eat here with us tonight.”
“Okay,” I said.
The two of us went into the house and straight to the kitchen. We pulled down pots and utensils, took food from the refrigerator, and started to prepare dinner. We knew his mum would soon be home, and as soon as she saw we’d started dinner, she’d join us in its preparation. That’s just the way it was in Lukas’ house.
“Inga,” Lukas called up the stairs. “You home?”
“Yeah,” came the replied. “Faina’s here with me.”
“Your throat is feeling better then?”
“Yes, I went to school today!”
She attended a union school funded jointly by members of the WCLW and the Christian Workers’ Community (CWC).
“Then how about you two come down here and help with dinner.”
A few moments later eight-year-old Inga and her friend Faina came downstairs to set the table.
It was an efficient operation, everyone working together. Aside from Shane mac Cormac’s family, I knew of no other as loving, as open, as supporting as Lukas’. I was jealous. And no matter how close Mattæus, Elisabet, Susanna, mum and I were, it wasn’t complete. Our father wasn’t part of the family; he kept himself on the outside. Always had. And now the troubles between my mother and father were too great to bridge.
Lukas’ was raised right from the very beginning knowing that he had equal rights and equal responsibilities in the family. Everybody helped make meals, clean dishes, do the laundry, clean the house, maintain the yard. As soon as Lukas was old enough to take responsibility, he was expected to. His space was his, the way he managed his room was his business, but common areas were maintained in a way they all agreed upon. (Inga was old enough now to participate in the work and the decision-making process.) That meant the yard, living room, kitchen, dining area, study, and downstairs bathroom were always spotless. On the other hand, like most other boys (my brother and I included), Lukas left his bedroom very often a mess. Likewise, his parents let him govern his own life, even when it meant making mistakes. He had no curfew, but it was expected that he would not harm either himself, the family, or others with careless or irresponsible acts. His parents believed only children raised in a free environment could truly be expected to behave ethically and responsibly as adults. From what I’d seen in Lukas, I believed they were probably correct.
Lukas’ mother, Sigrid, came home upset, wouldn’t talk about it, helped us prepare dinner, but ate upstairs in her room.
“What’s wrong with your mum?” I asked finally.
“She’s worried about my father too,” Lukas said.
As soon as we placed all the food on the table, Lukas came up to me, put his arms around me, drew me near — even though Inga and Faina were right there in the dining area with us — and laid his head on my shoulder. Seeing that, Inga came over and put her arms around both of us just above the waist.
“Fa’r will be okay, Luki,” she said. (Fa’r was simply a contraction of the Scandian word fader — father.) “Won’t he?”
Lukas didn’t say anything.
I pat Inga’s head. “Yes, Inga, he will.” Then I put my arms around Lukas and hugged him. “Things will be okay, Lukas,” I said. “They will, you’ll see.”
* * *
It was after seven when I finally got home. Mattæus was sitting on the sofa in the living room to the right of the entrance hall. The television was on, but he was reading, as usual. The title was written in Hellenic letters: Κονφεδερατσιια. The book was Russian though, not Grecian. While most of the peoples of Europa had adopted the Latin script, the Slavic peoples had, for the most part, adopted the Hellenic script. It was the most visible remnant of the ancient Schism between Roma and Byzantium, West and East. My brother had been studying Russian for the last year now, and had become proficient enough to read and write it. Like my mother and her father, Matti had a real gift there.
“What’s that?” I asked, then sat down on the sofa beside him after pushing his feet aside. He liked to lounge about, feet up.
“The Russian libertarian Arkadi Arkadeivich Petrov really needs to be read in his own language,” Mattæus said.
I took the book from him and flipped through it slowly. “How can you read this, Matti? I’m still having trouble with Grecian!”
“Russian is hard,” he said. “The Germanic languages are so much easier than the Slavic.”
Mattæus spoke Anglian, Scandian (including the Northern dialects), Alemannian, Francian, and Frisian — all were Germanic languages — fluently. He could read, write, and speak adequately well Latin (all three major dialects, Italian, ‘Iberian,’ and ‘Gallic’). And he could read and write Gaelic (both Hibernian and Caledonian), Grecian, and now Russian. On the other hand, I spoke Anglian and Scandian, a little Latin, and was just now learning Grecian.
“So,” I said slowly, “I hear you have a ‘hot date’ with Matthias this evening.”
“Yeah, he wishes,” Mattæus said and rolled his eyes. He looked at his watch. “Actually, he should be here in a few minutes.”
“When did you two get so buddy-buddy?” I asked. “When was the last time you two did anything together?”
“A year ago? Almost a year and a half ago, actually. We went camping with Tórsten and Markus. That was a waste of time. The first night out Markus got so drunk he threw up everywhere!”
“Markus has never been able to hold down anything stronger than watery beer,” I said.
“Just like Shane,” Matti said. “Shane drinks too much, and then winds up puking it all up.”
“Well enough, I suppose.”
“Is he finally getting over ... you know?”
Matti nodded. “I guess. He still won’t talk about what happened to his father, but, yeah, he’s better than he was last winter.”
“So, what’s new with the clan Mac Cormac?”
“Máire’s pregnant. She’s about seven months along.” Matti chuckled. “That baby must be huge! You should see her belly.” Matti indicated how big she was by holding his hands out from his own stomach.
“Shane says she’s exhausted all the time,” he said. “She was working, you know, to help the family, but she had to quit.”
“That sucks,” I said.
“Things are really hard for them right now,” Matti continued. “It’s a good thing Cormac had connections, you know. It helped Martha get an okay job. You know those office buildings on 40th Street and Middle Avenue?
“That’s where she works,” he said. “And even though they lost the house, Cormac was friends with the owner of the apartments where they are. That apartment of theirs is only costing them 65RS monthly.”
“That is cheap, all things considered,” I said.
“And it comes with utilities.” he said. “Even so, Martha only makes 116RS a month. She took out a loan to pay Shane’s tuition, that costs ‘em another 22RS a month. So, they have to rely on church welfare to make ends meet.”
The doorbell rang.
“Ah, that must be Matthias-Paulus,” I said.
“Yeah. Probably.” He didn’t make a move to get the door, and just took his book back from me.
“I guess I’ll get the door then,” I said.
“Knock yourself out.”
“Don’t sound so excited.”
I went into the entrance hall and answered the door. Matthias stood on the front porch.
“Hey, Johannes, sorry about earlier,” he said immediately. “We’re still brothers, yeah?”
We bumped our fists together. “Always, man.”
“In the living room.”
Matthias came inside and looked. “There he is with his nose in a book.” He laughed. “Unbelievable, isn’t it?”
“For all the reading he does, for as quick as his mind is, for all that, he’s still a shitty student,” Matthias said. “What is his grade average, 75?”
I shook my head. “66, I think.”
“No shit. Mine’s 68.”
“School just doesn’t agree with him,” I said. “Never has.”
We walked into the living room.
“Hey, brother, Wudeforde’s here,” I said.
“Sshhh,” he said. He was sitting on the edge of the couch now, watching the television.
There was a report on about the labor disputes in the AFR and all across the world. It sounded like a scuffle between workers, strike-breakers, and scabs had erupted in the Liberian port city of Sæham æt Eoforwic on the Gulf of Anthilia. There was footage of rocks and bottles being thrown, fist fights, smoke grenades going off.
“Please, turn the television off,” I said. “I don’t want to see it.”
“I hope Lukas’ father calls an end to the strike,” Matthias said. “We don’t need that kind of chaos here in Niew Lifrapol Bay area.”
“What we don’t need is greedy firms like Æthelbaldson-Herewic cutting wages,” Mattæus said.
“We’re in a recession,” Matthias replied. “The strike is hurting the economy. Lukas’ father needs to call off the strike.”
“You don’t understand what’s going on down there, Matthias,” I said. “Even if he wanted to, Lukas’ father couldn’t call off the strike. The WCLW is a democratic union. There is no hierarchy. Lukas’ father is a delegate, a local delegate, nothing more. The majority of members called this strike — at the local level, and at the confederation level — and only a majority can call it off.”
“Delegate, union official, what’s the difference?” Matthias said.
My brother replied immediately, “Libertarian Workers decide their course of action themselves, directly, not through representatives and union officials. Action is taken from the bottom up. Delegates, such as Lukas’ father, simply relay information from the locals to others in the union — to other locals or confederations of locals — or to those outside the union, as in their negotiations with Capital.”
“Listen, I understand why they’re on strike. Their wages have been cut, and so they’re fighting for a restoration of pay. If they have money to spend, then the economy can pull itself out of this recession. They need money in order to buy things, which will cause a demand for new things to be produced, thus a need for new employees to be hired, and so on,” Matthias said. “But a strike hurts the economy generally by stopping production and interfering with the movement of goods. And it’s chaotic.”
“Strike action is taken so Labor is heard loud and clear,” Mattæus said. “You just got through saying basically that supply should rise to meet demand, right?”
“But it never will unless that demand is registered in the first place. Thus the need for an occasional strike. A strike guarantees that Labor’s demands are known.”
“But if there wasn’t such tension between Labor and Capital, then — ”
“Then what?” I said. “There is tension between the two because Labor is subordinated to Capital, Matthias. Where there is an inequality in power, there is always political tension. That is a fact.”
“Okay then. Take, for example, my father. He pays a fair wage. Always has. He feels it’s his responsibility to pay his employees well. The thing is, he doesn’t have to pay above the average competitive wage at all. If he didn’t, we’d be better off. But he does.”
“Your father isn’t alone in that,” I said. “There a plenty of capitalists — large and small — who take a personal interest in the welfare of their employees. Of course, there are plenty who don’t.”
“But if they did then there wouldn’t be such awful tension,” Matthias said.
“Tell me, Matthias, are you a republican or a monarchist?” Mattæus asked suddenly.
“A republican, of course,” he said. “We had a revolution against the King of Anglia, after all. The revolution spread. The people of Anglia agreed with us, removed the king from the throne, and set up their own republic, just as we had.”
“Because people shouldn’t be subjects of a king; they should be citizens of a republic. I mean, really, did the King of Anglia give my great-great-how-many-ever-times-great-grandfather life? Certainly not. Why should he have been subject to His Majesty’s authority then?”
“Okay then, what about the fact that the great majority of the citizens of the Republic have no right to vote. They need to meet a certain property or income requirement to become enfranchised — ”
“I know where you are going with this, Matti. And I agree with you completely. It was immoral — unconscionable even — that universal suffrage was abolished. I agree that our country needs again to become a democratic republic.”
“Amen to that,” I said.
“Well, yes. Certainly,” my brother said. “But the restoration of democratic-republicanism isn’t what I’m trying to get at here. There is an underlying principle which is at the heart of the matter.” He paused for a moment. “Matthias, back in the days when Anglians were the subjects of kings and bound to fiefs and their lords — when they labored under the yoke of a titular nobility — were there benevolent kings and upstanding lords?”
“I suppose. Yes,” he said. “King Æschere VI comes to mind. He was decent man who reformed the laws. He was, by all accounts, a good king.”
“True,” my brother said. “So, if we were guaranteed upright kings, men of good-will, like Æschere VI, would you prefer monarchial government to republican government?”
“Because the fundamental nature of monarchy and feudalism remains unchanged. The king is still sovereign, and the people are still subjects. And most individuals are still bound to a fief and their lord.”
“And that is entirely why libertarians oppose not only monarchy and theocracy, but also aristocratic-republicanism — oligarchy — and capitalism,” Mattæus said. “Niew Lifrapol is effectively a fief. A fief appropriate to our liberal, republican era, but a fief nonetheless. Sixty-four percent of all the property in the city is owned by either the Æthelbaldson Foundation or the Æthelbaldson-Herewic Capital Group. And with both firms the majority and plurality of stocks, respectively, are owned by a single man, Æthelred Æthelbaldson.”
Matthias seemed to think about this for a moment. “So what? That’s the way things are.” He paused. “Besides the WCLW is too radical; they ask too much.”
“They are only asking for their rights as human beings,” I said. “They are asking for their dignity not only as working men and women, but as citizens. Poverty undermines human dignity!”
“The unions are always demanding too much money,” Matthias protested.
“You really don’t understand libertarians at all.” Mattæus crossed his arms over his chest. “Their struggle — our struggle — isn’t just about better pay. It’s about the freedom to act — both as an individual and as a social being. It is about the right to make decisions for ourselves which concern our own lives, and to make, together — as equals — the decisions which concern our lives collectively. The libertarian ideal is Social Democracy; the social democratic ideal is Liberty,” he said. “Cicero said it best, ‘Freedom is participation in power.’”
* * *
It was after eleven and Mattæus still wasn’t back. I was sure, by now, Matthias and my brother were stoned and/or drunk out their minds. I was tired, didn’t want to wait up for him, so I took off my clothes and wristwatch, brushed my teeth, and went to bed.
A moment later my watch chirped — a incoming call. I stumbled out of bed in the darkness and grabbed my watch off the dresser.
“Jóni, get up, brother.”
“Yeah, it’s me,” he said. “Go out onto your balcony.”
“Okay.” I tugged on my jeans.
“Don’t rush me.” I walked out onto the balcony and looked over the edge. There Lukas was on the lawn. He waved at me. I waved back. “Hey, what’s going on?”
“I’m coming up,” he said and disconnected.
A moment later, he scrambled up onto the balcony with me. He punched my shoulder and then we bumped fists. “Hey, Jóni, get a shirt on.”
“Is your brother here?”
“I was hoping he was.”
“I was hoping both of you would come with me,” he said.
“Come on, get dressed.” He pushed me into the bedroom. “I need you to come with me.”
“Where?” I asked again.
“Into Niew Lifrapol,” he said. “I’ve got to talk to my father, and I don’t want to go alone.”
* * *
The first thing I noticed was the armored personnel carrier at the gates leading to Dock 17 and the Niew Lifrapol Shipyard immediately to the north. There was a man wearing a helmet and body-armor standing in the back of the vehicle behind a swivel-mounted machine gun. There were armed men, many of them too were in body-armor, others carried clear, hardened-plastic body-shields. These were the security forces the Æthelbaldson-Herewic Capital Group had called out to end the strike: Oxnaford Services, Inc. Two days ago — the last time I had come out here with Lukas to see his father — the armored car and machine gun wasn’t there. On the other hand, they’d brandished their rifles and nightsticks right from the beginning.
Oxnaford had a reputation for the violence they employed in breaking strikes. Almost two hundred years ago now, around the turn of the 19th Century and into the first years of the 20th, they’d broken strikes with rifles and bayonets while the government turned a blind eye. By the middle of the 20th Century, Labor gained rights, elected representatives to the Landsthing — and even to the Senate — so Oxnaford was left with nothing more to do than provide security guards to watch over country clubs and mansions. After the 1990s though, with the unions broken by decades of anti-labor demagoguery and democratic-republicanism “discredited,” they found themselves providing police services, and were back to breaking strikes. I knew this from history books (though the texts at school barely mentioned the discord between Labor and Capital at all) and discussions with my mother and grandfather. But this, tonight, was the real thing.
Lukas parked his mother’s car about a block away from the dock under a street lamp, stepped out, and approached the strikers. I followed at his side. To be honest, I was scared. There were hundreds of men in two opposing columns. The private security forces had guns, but I was sure some of the strikers were armed as well. Almost twenty years had passed since shots between workers and strike-breakers had been exchanged. And even that was during the politically charged years of the Anglo-Indian War.
Nevertheless the tensions and simmering discontent was pervasive. Rumors spread and fear skulked just under the surface of national life since May. My mother had likened it all to a kind of “social nausea” in a recent article she wrote for Freedom & Fellowship. It wasn’t just the labor disputes which had erupted around the world, but the messy international affairs between the Terran Republic’s constituent states as well. Sinæ, the AFR’s former enemy, now closest ally, and the Rus were at odds over rights to the Lena River and the precise border between the two countries in Iakutia. Trade disputes, increased military spending, erratic profits, falling wages, widespread unemployment ... all were signs of trouble. It seemed the Republic was coming apart at the seams. There was even talk among hawks and nationalists in the Senate of civil war. Simultaneously, the alarmist media squawked that “Social Revolution” was on the lips of “red republicans” (a broad term in and of itself, referring to the Left and everything from state socialists, and social democrats, to mutualists and libertarians). These pundits demanded in their editorials that the government needed to “come down hard” on the leaders of “radical unions” for “sowing the seeds of class warfare in the fertile soil of economic recession.”
Well, talk is talk, and hawks always favor war as a means to settle difficult matters; it was their sickly manner and approach to Statecraft. Besides, we all knew eventually cooler heads — be they Conservatives or Liberals — in the Senate would prevail. Talk of social revolution too was limited to a few firebrands who yearned to relive the Francian Democratic Revolution of 1901. In truth, “red republicans” of all sorts, reform-minded Christian socialists, social democrats, actual members of the Red Republican Party, mutualists, and libertarians, such as my mother and Lukas’ father, believed these issues and troubles were the pains of oligarchy inflicted upon the public at large, and it was finally time for the democratic ideal to reassert itself. Twenty years ago it may have premature to speak of a democratic-republic, much less stateless Social Democracy, my mother often wistfully said, but now was the time.
This was an election year in the AFR. New representatives to the Landsthing would be elected soon and would take their seats next year, in January. The Democratic-Republican Party was running a strong campaign, and though it had few elected officials in the AFR, it was becoming increasingly popular with the lower middle-class because economic conditions were threatening their livelihoods, and thus their enfranchisement. There were also going to be elections in December throughout Terra Nova, Africa, and the Levant. And there were demands everywhere the political process be opened to all citizens of the Terran Republic; that property requirements prerequisite to obtaining the political franchise be dropped. Universal suffrage was on the lips the working-classes, not social revolution. The battles for liberty and democracy would be won on the picket line, and then at the ballot box, not from behind the barricades!
Lukas turned to me. The look on his face told me he saw and understood my apprehensions about coming here, tonight, with him. “Sorry, man,” he said suddenly, “but I didn’t want to come alone.”
“I know.” I quickened my pace so we walked together, nearly shoulder to shoulder. But shit, I was still scared.
Many of the strikers held signs demanding a workweek no longer than forty hours. It was this demand which really was at the heart of the strike despite recent pay cuts. The struggle over the number of hours in the workweek had been central to most strikes since 2002, when the Godfrithson Labor Act of 1927 had been struck down as an unconstitutional infringement upon private property rights. Since then, a sixty-hour work week wasn’t atypical. Others held signs demanding that Æthelbaldson-Herewic rescind the decision and action made during the summer that pay be cut between ten and fifteen percent. The newest hires received the worst cuts.
In just another six hours the strike would be a week old. Lukas was obviously very worried about his father, and had been all day. Honestly, so was I. There had not been any outbreaks of violence either here in Niew Lifrapol, nor in Corpus Christi, Nyhavn, Niew Dunham, but a scuffle had broken out at Sæham æt Eoforwic earlier in the evening. Fourteen workers were arrested, several were injured, though, fortunately, there were no serious injuries. Because the strikes were still going strong it was hinted at in the television report Mattæus, Matthias, and I saw, the Liberian proconsul was going to act if negotiations did not resolve matters soon.
“Father!” Lukas called out suddenly.
His father was standing across from a well-groomed man in business attire — the breeches, vest and a dress coat — who was accompanied by two Oxnaford men, and an attendant who carried his greatcoat. Grundtvig didn’t turn when Lukas called, and we approached cautiously. Many of the workers we passed were younger than we were, as young as fourteen. I knew a few of them too because I was such a regular guest at Lukas’ house that I had attended, with them, meetings of Local 5 even though I didn’t work even an after school job, and wasn’t a member of the union. Sometimes they came just to talk to his father.
One of the boys, a bright-eyed lad, grabbed Lukas by the elbow and grinned at him.
“Jaroslav Alekseivich!” Lukas said and put his arm around the boy’s shoulders.
“You came!” Jaroslav said.
Lukas nodded enthusiastically. “My father needs me here.”
An older man stepped up beside Jaroslav. “Lukas, you really shouldn’t be here,” he said. “The Liberian Republican Guard has been called.”
“Just a few minutes ago. That man there.” He pointed to the man standing across from Lukas’ father. “That’s Herra Kristoffersson, one of the corporate lawyers. He came here to demand that we either return to work in the morning and accept his offer, or the militia would be called to remove us from this property. We voted; we refused him. And so, he’s summoned the State’s war-dogs.”
“What was the offer?”
“That the pay cuts be put off again until the beginning of next quarter and reduced from ten to fifteen percent to five to ten percent.”
Lukas’ father had recently been elected as a delegate of the World Confederation of Libertarian Workers, Niew Lifrapol Local 5. He was a machinist by profession. Actually, he was a “man-of-all-trades.” Like Lukas’ mother, who made the real money in their family as the chief editor of a ladies’ magazine, he had a University education, but had always preferred to ‘work with his hands.’ It was a figure of speech considering most of his work was done at a computer terminal. Still, it was the creative process he referred to and enjoyed. This wasn’t the first time he’d been elected as a delegate to WCLW, and he was well liked.
“Do you know how long it will take before the troops arrive?” Lukas asked.
“No more than thirty minutes,” he said. “Like I said, Lukas, you really should go home.”
“I need to be here with my father.”
The man put his hand on the top Jaroslav’s head and ruffed his hair proudly, affectionately. He smiled at Lukas. “Like my own son here, you’re a good-hearted boy — a fine son — but Grundtvig can take care of himself.”
Lukas nodded his acknowledgment, but pressed on toward his father anyway. As we approached, I could hear Grundtvig and the lawyer arguing.
I heard Grundtvig say, “This company has a responsibility to its employees. The Anglian federal government would not have those ships at all if it weren’t for the men who work for Æthelbaldson-Herewic. These men need a wage adequate to live on.”
“That is why the Board of Directors has agreed to this offer.”
“Most of the younger men and new hires working for this firm do not make enough to even pay the rents common for a one-bedroom apartment in Niew Lifrapol. With the steady increase in rents since ‘71, they now average 55RS, and the new hires typically take home only 54RS monthly. Even the median income — for experienced labor — was only 110RS before this reckless act on the part of the Board of Directors. Since then, it has been reduced to 99!” Lukas’ father gestured with his hands, as he often did when excited. “So if we take this offer, we delay the cuts only until January. And then the median changes to 104.50RS? That is still a marked reduction considering the poverty this city is experiencing as result of — ”
“The general economy is depressed. We are in the middle of a recession, and therefore you should all concern yourselves with thrift,” the lawyer said interrupting Grundtvig. “Æthelbaldson-Herewic is experiencing a financial crisis, as you well know, and this action was taken to ensure the long-term profitability of the firm.”
“You speak of thrift? Last quarter a profit of 1.4 million RS was reported,” Grundtvig said. “Perhaps the Board of Directors would have acted better to reinvest those profits, to ‘ensure the long-term profitability of the firm’ rather than paying them out as dividends!”
“Overall, profits are down,” he said. “The offer stands: Postponed and reduced pay cuts. I recommend that the union accepts this offer. Because right now you are trespassing on private property, Grundtvig Vilhjalmarsson. Either return to work under this offer, as an agreement, or leave.”
“You know perfectly well the members of this union will not accept any offer that does not include a reduction in the number of hours to be worked.”
“This criminal syndicate, the WCLW, has no right to dictate terms to the rightful owners of this property, Herra Vilhjalmarsson. Do I make myself clear? We do not recognize the WCLW, ISW, CWC, nor any of the other syndicates.” With that Herra Kristoffersson turned toward the Oxnaford men, was enveloped in the security they guaranteed, and returned to his car.
The clouds above let loose and soon the fine mist of rain became a steady drizzle.
Grundtvig shook his head at Herra Kristoffersson, then faced us. “What are you doing here, Lukas?”
“I was worried about you. So’s mum.”
“Does Sigrid know you’re here?”
“No, I slipped out after mum went to bed.”
“Do Johannes’ parents know he’s here?” A stern look came over Grundtvig’s face.
Lukas shook his head, and I said nothing.
“You know Herra Kirkagárd’s political position, how he feels about unions generally, and this strike action specifically,” he said. “He most certainly would not approve of you bringing Johannes here, Lukas!”
“My mother would though,” I said.
“Johannes, I know, but you really don’t understand the situation Lukas has put you in by bringing you here. You’re a minor!”
“Father, a good number of the boys who work with you are two and three years younger than we are!” He pointed out toward the workers, probably a quarter of them were boys, twenty or younger. “Look at them!”
“They’re employed here; their livelihoods are on the line, Lukas. The repeal of industrial child labor laws was an obscenity to begin with, but they are here nevertheless. This is their concern too!”
“But when Jóni came with me the other day — ”
“It was in the afternoon, well before the curfew.”
“But I asked Johannes to come with me tonight too.”
“Obviously.” Then he smiled gently. “Good, supportive friends are important, I understand that, but....” He paused. “Listen, boys, it’s nearly midnight. Go on home, Lukas. I have things to do here.”
“Let me stay.”
“Look, I do not want you here, son.”
He put his hands on Lukas’ shoulders. “The Liberian Republican Guard — ”
“Has been called out. I know that already. Jaroslav’s father, Aleksei Paovlov, told me just a few moments ago. It doesn’t matter. They aren’t going to shoot us, are they? We have every right to assemble. The freedom of assembly and speech is guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.”
“But we are not free to assemble on private property, Luki,” he said. “And no, they aren’t going to shoot us. But they can use other forceful methods to remove us regardless.”
“Father, please — ”
“Go home,” he said. “I don’t believe things are going to get out of hand, but this is a dangerous situation nonetheless. If there is an escalation of tensions, and an eruption, I don’t want to see either of you hit by rubber bullets, clubbed, stunned, gassed. Please, do as I ask.”
Lukas hesitated for a moment too long, and Grundtvig led us aside. He said in a hushed voice, “If it were up to me, I’d let this entire matter drop. Do you know what we’re building here?”
He nodded. “Missile cruisers, the Liberia and the Eagle. What the hell for? Because the Alemannians and Rus are making noise on the other side of the Atlantic, threatening tariffs, and to obstruct the flow of capital across their borders? Or because the Sinæ and Rus are having a tiff over the Lena River?” He scratched his bearded jaw. “That our government should even consider increasing the military’s budget at a time like this, during a recession, when unemployment has reached the highest level since before you were even born ... it’s idiocy. There are other matters that need attention. Especially when fifteen percent of the population is chronically malnourished. Fields in Nova Mercia lay fallow because there is no profit to be made in growing food, even though there is need. The infrastructure in the cities is collapsing.”
The roads we drove on to get here were all fine, as was the Niew Lifrapol-Acbeorg Bridge, but they were also privately owned by either the Æthelbaldson Foundation, the Wurthingas Foundation, or by the Æthelbaldson-Herewic Capital Group. Together they effectively owned not only the Niew Lifrapol Bay area, but most of North Lancascir too. But beyond the streets in the primary commercial districts and the posh neighborhoods to the east of the bay, such as Sceofeld and Lifrapol æt Acbeorg, the roads were pocked. In some neighborhoods, they were so bad they’d been reduced to rubble upon packed dirt. Water and sewage treatment, garbage collection, electrical power ... all of these had been neglected except in the areas where citizens with the franchise lived, worked, and did business. That twenty percent of the population lived quite well. Living among them in Sceofeld as I did, it was difficult to comprehend the degradation — even squalor — of some of the slums of Niew Lifrapol.
“If it wasn’t for the fact these men need their jobs, I’d have suggested we leave Æthelred Æthelbaldson, his sons, and the hornet’s nest of lawyers to build the cruisers themselves, and quit en masse.”
“But you said you liked working as a machinist,” Lukas said.
“And I do,” Grundtvig replied. “When we were producing freighters — and even luxury yachts — it was fine. But to contribute to producing the means of destruction? How can I be a party to it, Luki?”
A worried look passed over Lukas’ face; his tongue was tied; he didn’t know how to reply.
“I’ve made a commitment to these men, my friends and fellow workers, to serve as a delegate for the union,” Grundtvig said. “But I’ve had as much as I can stand. We’re beating our head against a wall. The law is plain: We do not have the right to interfere with commerce, at any level, by taking strike action. Herra Kristoffersson was quite correct in saying that we are trespassing.”
The sound of despair in his father’s voice caught me off guard. He was always ready to stand up for himself and for his friends and comrades. I knew right then there were things he wasn’t saying. Things were worse than he’d let on to. Lukas was crestfallen.
“Go on, Lukas,” he said. “I’ll come home later.”
Reluctantly, Lukas did as he was asked.
To be continued....