K. J. Pedersen
NOVA ANGLIAN LIBERALS were, according to Lindi’s father, responsible for every evil in the AFR. They were responsible for the abundance of pornography and narcotics on the streets. Their agenda served to further sexual deviancy, divorce, homosexuality, bisexuality, godlessness, profanity, and a thorough lack of respect for the Church as an institution, and its leaders. They, like the ‘red republicans’ which followed, were trying to destroy the family, marriage ... hearth and home. How dare they introduce values alien to Liberia? And it was the fault of the Niew Dunham-based media — television, films, books, magazines, commercial advertisements, and so on — that such immoral values were so easily propagated.
Certainly there was a grain of truth to Deacon Nordkvist’s accusations, I thought while perusing a popular society magazine, filled as it was with sexually provocative images.
Sex sells, and so, at once, complicity between liberals, red republicans, and the invisible hand of the capitalist market were blamed by churchmen for the “ugliness of our secular, post-Christian society.”
The media did indeed propagate certain values, namely, constitutional republicanism and free-market capitalism. Political conservatism fastened to cultural liberalism was in their best financial interest, after all, for the profits generated were tremendous. The First Estate, the Church, was merely jealous that they had been supplanted by the Fourth Estate, the Press. Like the Church of old, the media did now enjoy a type of monopoly over public thought and discourse. And the union between media conglomerates was such, with its mishmash of cross-ownership, that it resembled the marital incestuousness of the now defunct royal houses of Europa.
A glossy advertisement for white wine featuring a young woman with breasts as perky as Lindi’s elicited a chuckle for reminding me of my girlfriend, her pious father, and his righteous indignation at the moral state of Sceofeld Academy, our community, and society at large. I wondered if he was aware of the moral state of his own family ... and particularly that of his daughter.
Lindi, the naughty, sensual girl who wanted to keep her virginity intact until marriage, had no problem whatsoever with exploring erotic activity of other sorts on a regular basis. Following our spat on Friday, we had since made up, and I had the love bites to prove it.
Yes ... Deacon Nordkvist’s daughter, the minx.
I thumbed forward a few pages, stopped, went back, and felt color come to my cheeks at what I saw. It was an advertisement for men’s underwear, and explicitly homoerotic. In my lifetime I’d seen, no doubt, hundreds of homoerotic images. Bisexuality was popular, and had been in Nova Anglia since the turn of the century or before, and homosexuality was an accepted peculiarity. Well, that is, most everywhere else in the AFR.
Two young men wearing ‘ερως’-brand briefs knelt upon a bed together in a passionate embrace, one leaning forward against the other, their lips together lightly. Both were fully erect, their cocks strained against the underwear they advertised.
My heart raced as I stared at the picture, not because it was erotic — and it was — but because it reminded me exactly of the moment I had walked into my bedroom to find Johannes and Lukas together. This pose, the embrace of the two models was just like that between Johannes and Lukas, with my brother leaning forward against Lukas, and the only difference being that they were both, when I found them, completely naked. I had never seen my brother with an erection before. It embarrassed me. At the same time, I felt strangely proud of him — or happy for him — that he was in love, even if it was with Lukas. Perhaps it was an odd emotional response, but that was what the discovery had evoked.
Johannes had jumped off the bed, covered himself quickly with both hands, and tried to explain it wasn’t what I thought. Lukas was more casual, and told me not to be angry with Johannes; it wasn’t his fault, after all; it was all Lukas’ idea.
I ducked out quickly, not knowing what to say.
Later that night, after a long walk alone in the dark, I told Johannes it was okay with me that he was that way. I was just embarrassed for having walked in on them.
I ran my fingers slowly over the image.
“Hey, Matti, what’s up?”
I looked up to find Matthias-Paulus about two feet away. He stood across from me in front of the magazine rack at the Folcanstan Bookstore in Acbeorg Mall. Startled, I snapped the magazine shut.
“Hey!” I said. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“What’s that you’re looking at?”
He snatched the magazine out of my hands.
“Give that back,” I protested.
“In a minute,” he said, thumbed through the pages, stopped at the advertisement selling white wine with a generous side order of tits, and smiled with amused approval. “You know, here in Liberia, the censors can pull a magazine off the shelves for this.”
And they could too. Every now and again they attempted to enforce the law too. But the “smut” kept coming back. Churchmen like Deacon Nordkvist were right: The Nova Anglian publishing houses had a powerful monetary interest in overcoming sex-related censorship, and worked tirelessly to circumvent Liberian prudery. (Political censorship, on the other hand, the media took up with keen expertise.)
I grabbed at the magazine again, but he pulled away, and found the picture I’d been looking at.
“And this ... the censors would go wild over this!” He looked up from the picture and gave me his infamous cat-like smirk. “I thought I saw right,” he said. “Now-now, Matti, my boy, I had no idea....” he said with a tone of mock scorn.
I didn’t say anything, embarrassed, and especially so because he was enjoying the whole situation so much.
“It is as fun as it looks,” he commented quietly and returned to me the magazine. “Not quite as fun as with a girl, but still fun.”
I shoved the magazine back onto the racks and wrinkled the cover in my haste. “What are you doing here?” I demanded.
“Don’t sound so pleased to see me, Matti.”
He ignored that, and said, “I’m here with friends. And you?”
“I’m here with my brother and Lukas.”
“My friends — Andreas, Wolfwig, Tórsten — and I are going to have dinner in the food court in a while. Would the three of you care to join us?”
“See you in what ... fifteen, twenty minutes then?”
He grabbed the magazine off the rack again and handed it to me. “I think you should buy it,” he joked. “Something to jerk off to tonight.”
* * *
I found Johannes and Lukas in front of Athletics, a store selling shoes and other athletic wares. Lukas looked pissed. He was talking quickly, gesturing with both hands. They were arguing.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Lukas said and scowled.
Johannes limped toward me. “Nothing’s wrong.”
I looked at them skeptically, both had lowered their eyes, and were staring at their toes. “Listen, want to get to something to eat?” I said. “I ran into Matty-Paulus. He’s here with his friends. He invited us to join them.”
Lukas shrugged. “I’m not really in the mood.” Then he stared violently at Johannes.
“Neither am I,” my brother retaliated.
“Oh, come on! What is wrong with you two? You’ve been fighting all afternoon.” I touched Lukas’ shoulder. “This is the first time you two have been out together for almost a week. Don’t fight. It wasn’t easy sneaking out past Eadmund.”
“We’re not fighting!” Lukas said, and much more loudly than he needed to.
I prodded gently: “You’re cross because you’re hungry. Come on, let’s join our friends — ”
“You’re buying then!”
“Like hell I am, Jóni,” I said.
Lukas relented. “Fine, whatever.”
* * *
We met up with Matthias-Paulus, Tórsten, Andreas and Wolfwig a few minutes later, bumped fists in greetings, bought a huge platter of Mongolian beef and stir-fried vegetables, and shared the meal.
“You know what would go good with this?” Tórsten said.
“Plum wine!” we all said in reply.
“Umeshu plum wine,” Tórsten declared.
Andreas lifted his paper cup and made a face. “Cola is just too weak.”
And so, as we ate and talked, the subject turned, as it somehow always does with boys, to girls and sex. Tórsten informed us Nikki rode his cock the night before for nearly an hour. He gave details which I didn’t care — or need — to hear. Not to be outdone, Andreas told us about his date Saturday night: The girl he was dating at the moment had sucked him off and swallowed.
Matthias-Paulus implied then I was bisexual, and told everyone he’d caught me “staring at a gay underpants advertisement.” They all laughed, except for Johannes, who simply rolled his eyes.
“You know, Matti, maybe Wolfwig can show you how it’s done,” Matthias-Paulus suggested with an evil look. “I hear Andy’s girl isn’t the only one who swallows his — ”
Wolfwig, who was sitting right next to him, slugged his shoulder as hard as he could, and muttered, “Asshole.”
“Fuck, that hurt, man!”
Wolfwig slugged him once more to emphasize the point.
“Fuck yourself, Matty-Paulus,” I said.
Andreas laughed. “Don’t give him any ideas.”
We all laughed again, especially Wolfwig.
Wolfwig Englehardtsón was Alemannian and his Anglisc wasn’t great. They had moved to Liberia, from East Prussia, a few years before. He spoke with a very definite accent and had not yet come to grips with Liberian colloquialisms. Half of the jokes Tórsten, Lukas, or my brother told, he failed to understand. His jokes too were odd. But, for that, somehow it made him all the more likeable. He didn’t play C-ball, but hung out with the guys on the team anyway. No matter, we were all on the A-ball team together.
Physically, Wolfwig was built a lot like Shane, except taller. He stood six-feet two-inches tall, was slender, and wiry. He had blue-gray eyes, long, thick, stick-straight, dark red hair, and a pale complexion. He often grinned self-consciously, shyly, and that gave him an adorable quality that attracted the girls. And apparently Andreas as well.
“We need you tomorrow, Johannes,” Tórsten said and thankfully steered the subject away from sex talk. (Never mind that he started the whole thing.) “Our game against Niew Lifrapol Central Academy is going to be hell without you, man. Pure hell. Their captain is good. Very good. We need you.”
Johannes shook his head. “I’m still hobbling around, brother. I’ve been to the family physician twice already because the pain hasn’t abated.”
“It fucked you up that bad?” Andreas said.
“The doctor assured me the rubber bullet caused no permanent damage,” Johannes said. “But it doesn’t change facts: I can’t walk without limping, much less run.”
Lukas crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. I sensed he felt responsible, in part, for what had happened. Maybe that was why he was in such a bad mood. He felt guilty.
Place the blame where it belongs, Lukas, with the state militia, I thought, recalling what he had told Eadmund nearly a week ago in the jail cell.
They shot Johannes.
* * *
“Why do you always push me away like that?” Lukas demanded.
“Because we’re in public!” my brother said.
They were fighting again. This was getting to be too much.
The mall closed at ten, the parking lot was almost completely deserted, and we were walking alongside the sidewalk and curb towards our car. Lukas had reached to take my brother by the hand, and Johannes had reacted sharply to it.
“You make me so fucking angry, Johannes!” Lukas shouted. “You’re always so ashamed of yourself. For being who you are. For being gay. You tell me you love me, and then ... fuck!” He kicked the curb. “Fucking hell! Goddamn it!”
“Fuck that, Lukas,” my brother replied. “Grow up!”
“Grow up?” Lukas shouted, kicked the curb again, and then stormed off in the opposite direction. Suddenly, he turned and charged at us. His fists were clenched. “Goddamn it!” he cried. There were tears in his eyes. “Goddamn it! Why do you have to be ashamed of yourself, Johannes? Huh? Why?” He was crying.
I had never seen Lukas cry before. “Lukas — ”
He ignored me. “Why do you do this, Jóni?”
For a moment my brother was utterly dumbstruck, and then whispered, “Man, don’t cry — ”
“Do you love me or not?”
“Fuck, you know I do!” My brother put his arms around Lukas, hugged him close, and told him he was sorry. “It’s not that I’m ashamed, Lukas.” He paused. “I’m scared. I don’t want to be shunned.”
We walked to the car together, Lukas and Johannes with their arms around each other’s shoulders, Lukas still sniffling back tears. The two of them got in the back seat together; I drove. As soon as we were on the road, it all came out. Lukas cried and put his head on my brother’s chest.
I watched them in the rearview mirror, tried to offer words of comfort, but again Lukas ignored me. It hurt, bad, because next to Shane, I had no friend I cared for as much. The friendship between Lukas and Johannes had enveloped me as well.
“We’re going to lose the house,” Lukas said.
“No, man,” Johannes said and hugged him tighter. “No you won’t.” Then he kissed Lukas on the top of the head.
“My father faces fines in the tens of thousands,” he cried. “We’re going to lose the house. We’re fucked.” He buried his face against Johannes’ chest tight. “I just know it — my father is going to prison.”
I drove Lukas home in silence, a lump in my throat.
* * *
“Move over, Jóni,” I said, pushed aside the covers, and sat on the edge of his bed. “If you don’t mind, I’ll sleep here again tonight.”
My brother muttered, “Fine,” and moved over enough for me to lie down beside him. “I’m tired.”
“Me too,” I said and slipped between the sheets and blankets.
My shoulder brushed against his, and he said, “Goodnight, brother.”
We laid on our backs, aware of one another, and wanted to talk, I think, to vent our fears, but said nothing more. We were preoccupied with the same worries, but not one word was spoken. In our stead, the whispering winds conversed outside our window.
Sleep did not come easily, for either of us.
Seeing and hearing Lukas bawl had shaken me right to the core.
Johannes, I think, cried beside me. I wasn’t sure though; I didn’t dare look.
* * *
I had a shadow — as always — Christof van der Hoff. As we filed into the locker room from the gymnasium, he walked beside me, and talked on and on about a new simulator game he’d played at an arcade a few days before with two of his friends, friends his own age, fourteen going on fifteen.
“It simulates space flight,” he said. “The controls are just like those aboard the ships of the Anglian Aerospace Command. Well, maybe not exactly, but close. Anyway, the game is in this room, it simulates the bridge of a warship, and there are three player stations. Oh, and there’s a captain’s chair too.” His tone of voice was one of pure excitement. “There’s a station for pilot/navigator; another for tactical, you know, for offensive and defensive systems; and another for general operations, like, uh, engineering, and damage control, and things like that.”
I opened the door to my locker and proceeded to undress, all the while Christof talked and talked.
“It is so incredible, Mattæus,” he said. “These simulators are everywhere, and they’re linked all around the world by connections on the World Network. Anyway, you can join existing battles, or start one.”
“They’ve had simulators like that since the 2010s,” I said.
“Not like these, man; these are state of the art,” he said. “You should see the detail. And the options. In-fucking-credible.”
“What your language,” Jakobus told his brother.
“Uh, yeah, sorry,” Christof said.
“You’ve got to come with me to the 30th Street Arcade to see it, Matti,” he said. “How about today after school?”
“How much does it cost?”
“Well,” he said, “it depends on what type of ship you want to command. It’s about 5RS for a destroyer. 10RS for a heavy cruiser.”
“Ridiculous,” I said. “Too expensive.”
Christof insisted, “But the detail is incredible, man.”
Jakobus spoke up. “Movies, books, television shows ... all these glorifying war and declaring it honorable. I hate it, this rehabilitation of militarism. Didn’t the Anglo-Indian War prove how utterly sick and evil war is?” He turned to Christof. “War is contrary to everything Our Lord Jesucristus stood for, Christof, everything!”
“It’s just a game,” Christof protested.
“Was it just a game what happened last Wednesday? That battle between the Rus and Sinæ? Huh? Scores of people died, Christof. People like you and me. The Rus used an atomic missile, Christof! What if it had gone off course? What if it had come down in a populated area? Thousands, tens of thousands of people could have been vaporized and burned alive!”
“I know, Jaapi” he protested again. “But this is just a game! It isn’t real!”
Even though I agreed fundamentally with what Jakobus had said, he’d killed Christof’s enthusiasm, and I didn’t care the tone of voice. Christof’s face fell at the scolding. I felt genuine empathy for the boy. He hadn’t meant any harm at all.
With a long face, Christof shut up and dressed.
I knew what Jakobus meant by ‘this rehabilitation of militarism’ though. The armed forces had suffered severe public disapproval following the Anglo-Indian War. But after a few years, militarists and nationalists had worked to improve the military’s image, especially in appealing to the next generation. The television was awash with military-related programs aimed at teenagers, and cartoons for younger boys. The cartoons were disgusting in the way that they sanitized and glorified warfare. There were no depictions of fields littered with charred corpses, bodies rent to pieces by shrapnel, there was no gore, no indications at all that war necessarily entailed the loss of life. To have depicted such scenes for children would have constituted a moral outrage, no doubt, but at the same time where was the moral outrage at real murders committed and organized by the State?
At least the Senate’s censure of — and fines levied against — the Sinæ and Rus were steps in the right direction.
* * *
I wanted to be alone.
Jakobus and Christof both made me uncomfortable, and for very different reasons. So I wandered toward the locker room bathroom. Because I didn’t like to shower in public, I’d often go into the bathroom to wash up, my face, chest, arms. Besides, I needed to piss.
Matthias-Paulus followed me in and stood beside me at the urinals.
Well, so much for being alone.
“Hey, Matti,” he said.
“Hey,” I said coolly, still pissed off at him for what he’d said the night before.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see he was checking me out. I glanced to the side too. He was trying to piss with an erection. I finished up in a hurry, and turned to wash up.
Matthias-Paulus was quick, and before I knew better, he’d pushed me against the wall. The tiles were cold on my back; his chest and belly were warm against mine. With one hand he’d caught my arm behind my back, held my wrist, and with the other, pulled his boxer briefs down up front. He pressed his crotch forward and his erection poked at my thigh. Then he grabbed at my cock and rubbed it through my briefs.
His breathing was heavy, hot on my throat, and his stubbly chin scratched at my collar bone. “God, Matti,” he whispered, “you are so fucking hot.”
“What are you doing?” I demanded, and pushed against him
That turned him on, I guess, and he pressed his entire weight against me. He let my wrist go, and reached upwards. He grabbed a fistful of my loose hair, and kissed my throat. He rubbed his body against mine. “Don’t make me stop,” he hissed.
With my free hand, I grabbed him by the balls.
“Take your hand off my cock,” I said.
“But ... I thought you wanted me to,” he said.
“Are you fucking insane?”
“But you were checking me out, man!”
“Only because you were,” I said. “Now take your hand off me.”
His hand lingered.
I reiterated myself by tightening my grip around his balls. “Now.” I applied more and more pressure.
Matthias-Paulus took his hand off my cock and backed away. He looked confused. “Fuck, man, you were sending me signals!”
“You pick up signals from everyone,” I said and walked out.
* * *
“Before long, it’ll be too cold to do this,” Shane said.
It was our lunch hour and Shane, Wulfric, Toby and I made our way to the northeast corner of campus, to the grassy hills and clumps of trees beyond the playing fields. We really were not supposed to go out that way because of its proximity to the primary school where the younger children went. I suppose the administration feared the older kids would pick on the youngsters. Even so, nobody was ever bothered by campus security for such a minor transgression.
We sat beside the stream which meandered its way across campus.
“You’re right,” Wulfric said. “It won’t be long before winter. It always seems to come too soon. I hate winter.”
Shane opened his sack lunch. “You’re coming to the party tonight, right, Matti?”
I nodded, then turned to Wulfric, and said. “Thanks for the invitation.”
“Thank Toby,” he said.
I didn’t know Toby well, but when Shane and Wulfric invited me to eat lunch outdoors, Toby was invited as well. One could often find Toby with Wulfric, that is, when he wasn’t with Kalli Komensky.
He smiled. “Your welcome.”
Toby was a beautiful young man. There really was no other way to describe him. He had perfect features. The shape of his chin, cheekbones, his brow, his nose, lips, jaw ... all perfect. His mane of golden hair shone in the sun like fire. He looked like a model, or an actor. The only defect was that one of his front teeth was crooked. Well, and that his hands and feet were perhaps disproportionately large, given that he stood only six feet tall. It gave him the look of an older puppy dog, all paws.
I was angry with Matthias-Paulus for the endless sexual innuendo, and more so for trying to initiate a sexual encounter in the locker room bathroom. He was always saying I was bisexual. Lukas had accused me of the same thing once. I had never really considered it — despite my boyhood crush on Mikael Lundmark — and yet there I sat staring at the face of this fine young man, thinking he was beautiful.
“You have the address, don’t you?” Toby said.
“It’s in Hohtun,” I said.
He nodded. “You’re brother probably knows the guy — Aodhán mac Aodh — captain of Hohtun Academy’s football team.”
“He probably does,” I said.
“It’s at his house.”
I turned to Shane. He looked awkward in business attire. Every day for the past week he’d worn the same outfit, the tan breeches and vest, the long-sleeved cotton shirt, and stockings. He owned no dress coat to go with it. Every night he washed his clothes. And I knew before long the cuffs would fray.
“What?” Shane asked when our eyes met.
He had crackers, cheese, and an apple for lunch. My eyes must’ve lingered for too long on his slight meal, because he quickly said, “Mum was paid on the fifteenth. But we have to spread things out because my sister’s going to doctor on Monday.” He offered an embarrassed shrug. “Máire’s not feeling well. She’s going in for a physical, and a prenatal check-up ... and, you know, the whole thing.” He paused. “Medical care isn’t cheap, yeah?”
“Is Máire okay?” I asked. “Is the baby going to be okay?”
“I think so,” Shane said. “It’s just that Máire’s always so tired, man.”
Wulfric turned to me. “She looks tired too ... exhausted.”
“Shit,” Toby muttered.
“She’ll be okay, guys,” Shane assured us. “As for everything else ... we’ll just have to spread things out more than usual for the rest of the month.”
“What about the FLNB banknote I gave you?”
“Spent it already,” he said.
He blushed. “Maybe it was stupid of me, but I was pissed.” He unbuttoned his vest, then his shirt, and bared his shoulder.
“A tattoo!” Wulfric said. “Awesome, Shane.”
Toby reached over to touch Shane’s shoulder. “Must’ve hurt,” he said.
Shane winced. “Like a bitch.” He smiled then. “Still does, a little. It itches.”
A red star superimposed with the date 1898 had been tattooed on Shane’s shoulder. It was an obvious reference to the “Red Republic of Eire.” I wasn’t surprised at all by his choice, the Hibernian rebel.
“When did you get it, man?” I asked.
“Saturday,” he said. “After those fuckers broke the strike.”
My mind went back to the strike, the shouts, the gunshots, the falling clubs. I thought of Jaroslav Alekseivich Paovlov who had lost an eye to one rubber bullet and my brother who still couldn’t play ball because of another.
I recalled the way Lukas’ father was beaten before they hauled him up and away, securing his hands with wire.
And then I thought of Lukas bawling in the backseat of our car the night before.
Why did it have to end that way?
“They shot Johannes,” he said. “The fuckers.”
“Please, Shane, I don’t want to talk about it.”
To be continued....
* * *
I’ve edited this chapter some for typos, a SNAFU with the chronology, etc., that I noticed when re-reading it the other day. The next chapter is coming soon. Thanks all for your e-mails. I appreciate them all. I’ve made a .JPG map of the world of the Terran Republic, with its political boundaries, etc. Anyone reading this story that wants a copy, e-mail me at KJPedersenManga@aol.com