K. J. Pedersen
I WASTED 1.95RS the night before on cab fare because Matthias-Paulus was too drunk and too stoned to drive me home. 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. 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. He showed up after one. I pretended to be asleep, but wondered where he’d been. That he was with Lukas was a given, but where they were and what they were doing piqued my curiosity.
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 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 a 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. I wasn’t jealous, but I teased her about it. Why do you get a room all to yourself, sister? And I always provided the answer to my own question: Mum always did like you best! That made her mad, but it was all in fun.
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, when puberty brought painful morning erections which demanded attention. 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.... Embarrassed for myself, embarrassed for my brother, I’d tried to put it out of my mind. But it wasn’t the kind of thing one forgets easily.
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, and shouldn’t have had so much to drink either.
All in all though, the shitty movie and certain other incidents aside, Matthias and I had a good time. Some people are mean when they’re drunk, but not Matthias. He was in a good mood, too good a mood, I think. We were wasted, started talking about girls, he got randy, and the more we talked about Ama and Lindi, the randier he got. I got fed up though with the homosexual innuendo and the way he kept implying that I was bisexual myself and that I ‘honestly, deep down,’ really wanted him. The only thing I wanted from him was a ride home. He pouted at that, seemingly annoyed, and it was then I knew he was serious, if drunk. I called a cab. He sulked until the cab arrived, then we bumped fists, and said goodnight.
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, Jóni?”
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.” I could tell there was something he wasn’t telling me.
“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’ 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’ 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’ 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 17when 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. “Lukas’ 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,” he said.
“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 Russian 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 the 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....
* * *
I’ve revised this chapter slightly; I’ve corrected technical stuff, word order, the structure of paragraphs, typos.