Angel Land

Angel Land

Victor J. Banis

Price: $5.99

Late in the 21st Century--ravaged by the deadly Sept virus, the one time United States has disintegrated into The Fundamental Christian Territories, where Catholics, Baptists and Jews are registered as heretics, and gays are herded into walled ghettos: the Zones of Perversion. Harvey Milk Walton, a runner, finds his way to the ghetto in Angel Land, oldest of the territories, where a legend says that his long ago martyred namesake will return one day to lead his people to freedom--but even to speak of freedom, of leaving the FTC, is punishable by death. In a crumbling totalitarian society, where evil masquerades as piety, two men fall in love, and begin to dream of escape from Angel Land.
PUBLISHED BY: ManLove Romance Press
CATEGORIES: ManLove, Romantic Fiction



COPYRIGHT Victor J. Banis/2008
It was a typical arrest room, like every arrest room I'd ever seen, bare and sterile except for a bowl of roses, incongruously red and lush, on the Elder's desk. Elder Johnson, his little brass plaque informed me. The roses, perfuming the air, and a fat black spider with squiggly purple markings on his back and hair-thin legs, laboriously making his way up the front of the desk. I named him Wilbur because I had once known a Wilbur with funny markings on his back and scrawny legs as well, who liked to climb on things. Wilbur, you dumb cluck, I told him, you show up on top of that desk and he's going to smash you faster than you could eat a fly. Undeterred by my advice, Wilbur plodded stubbornly upward on those skinny legs. "I object to the breath test," I said aloud. "I wasn't asked for permission." Of course no permission was required. I knew that and so did he. Rather than point out the obvious, Elder Johnson gave a flick of his latex-clad hand-no risk of infection for the Elder-and one of the Jackboots who had brought me there stepped forward (the tall, humpy one hanging halfway to his knees; maybe if I hadn't stared so openly when he came around the corner...nah, wishful thinking. These guys loved the thrill of the hunt, and everyone knew they had quotas). It took one violent yank to rip open my gray silk sleeve and reveal the green star above my wrist. "Name?" Elder Johnson asked again. He couldn't have been more patient, more polite. You'd hardly have thought he was dealing with life or death issues here. My life or death, of course, not his. That makes a difference. "Harvey. Harvey Walton." Somehow I managed to keep my voice normal-sounding. Normal was the operative word here. For certain I didn't want to lisp. "Middle name?" "Milk. Harvey Milk Walton." "Are you trying to be funny, Mr. Walton?" He looked at some point well over my head. I willed myself calm. You could get through this yet, I told myself. Or, you might turn into an angel, sprout wings, and fly out of here. All things considered, the latter was more likely. "No," I said, "I wasn't. I was named for - " "I am familiar with the name," he interrupted me. Actually, I was impressed: not many of our own people know any of our history. Finding a Fundie who did was about as rare as a virgin in the Boy Scouts, as my old Auntie used to say. "Number?" "I don't have one yet." Which he could see for himself. My wrist was bare above the green star. Rare, but not unheard of. The territories were nothing if not inefficient. "You are aware, Harvey Milk Walton, it is forbidden for any sexual pervert to be outside the Zone of Perversion without a pass. Subject will be delivered immediately to Camp Falwell in the Southern sector, there to be given a choice of rehabilitation - " "Brain washing." I said it without thinking, and bit a mental tongue. Big Mouth. "Entirely voluntary...or, the Lord's work." Slave labor. But at least this time I had the sense to keep my trap shut. I was already deep into the doo-doo. I really didn't need to make it any worse. "Unrepentant perverts can, at the Church's discretion, be sent directly to their reward," he reminded me. Still polite. Still no expression. "Do you have anything further to say?" He shifted papers on his desk. They rustled loudly in the pause. Splinters of light glinted from the gold watch on his wrist. I cleared my throat. "I want to be returned to the ghetto." I could see this didn't please him but at this point, I had nothing to lose. They said no one came home from Camp Falwell. "It's in Church canon. A stray can be reprimanded and returned to his home in the ghetto. For a first offense." "If the Hearing Elder so chooses. If you have a home in the Zone of Perversion, Mr. Walton, for which you should be ever grateful to the generosity of the Church, why were you in the healthy zone?" "I - I just wanted to see what it was like. I hadn't been outside for years." "If you volunteered for rehab, if you came to be certified, you could share the outside world with the born heterosexuals. Completely free." Which really was not true, though I wasn't inclined to argue the point with him at just this moment. Rehabs could move around outside, that was true, but free? For one thing, and I counted it an important one thing, they were banned from any kind of sexual activity, be it top or bottom, sucker or suckee, homo or hetero, poz or neggie, man or beast, or any other variation you can think of, including the five-fingered lover. First violation sent you to your reward. There weren't any second violations. You call that freedom? "The Church," he went on, "is nothing if not forgiving." "Yes." I tried to think of any argument that might sway him. He didn't look entirely evil, whatever that looked like. Well, all right, if he weren't a Fundie, if I didn't loathe all Fundies as a matter of principle, I'd have said he was as cute as a bug's ear. A smallish man, five eight maybe, five nine, slim, thirty or so, the typical polished noggin (if all hair dressers were, you know, the only safe hair was no hair.) When he set his mouth to look firm, as he did now, it just looked pouty. And, did I see a hint of kindness in those gray-green eyes or was that wishful thinking? They were people too, weren't they, just like us? Though I supposed he wouldn't welcome that remark. "Yes? Do you mean to say you want to volunteer for rehab?" His pen poised over a sheet of paper, ready to pounce. "No, I meant, yes, the Church is indeed forgiving. But, yes, I certainly want to consider rehab. I would like to think it over, however. It's a big decision, isn't it? I respectfully ask to be returned to the ghetto. The Zone," I corrected myself hastily. They didn't like that word, ghetto. "The Zone of Perversion." An eyebrow tilted upward again. "You ask in whose name?" I recognized this gambit for what it was. I wasn't going to be caught on that technicality. "My own name," I said. "Harvey Milk Walton." "No father, no son, no holy spirit?" I said, quickly, firmly, "I'm not Catholic." Ostensibly, the heretical religious-Catholics, Jews, Baptists et al-were free, but everyone knew that was a crock of butter. In actual practice, they too were registered, their religious services restricted, travel within the territories restricted, travel outside the territories forbidden under pain of death. And everyone knew that Catholic and Queer was a one-way ticket to slave labor. "No religion at all." That wasn't exactly true: I was a devout believer in the religion of Look-Out-For-Number-One, but that wasn't going to buy me a prayer of a chance. I could see him pondering my fate. I held my breath. Elder Johnson took a form from a stack atop his desk, scribbled on it, and in a sepulchral voice intoned, "Citizen Walton, as Duty Elder in the pastorate of Angel Land, in the Fundamental Christian Territories, it is my decision that you be returned to your proper domicile within the Zone of Perversion. It is also my duty to inform you that should you again be found astray without proper authorization you shall be sent without appeal to whatever Camp the presiding Elder of the Day may choose or, at the Elder's discretion, sent directly to your reward. Sign here." Which meant I wasn't going to Camp Falwell. I let the breath out and leaned over the desk to sign the form without reading it. A cannon boomed in the distance. They fired them regularly to dispel the "vapors," as if the Sept virus flitted about on the breeze like swarms of gnats. The lights flickered and dimmed. More Fundie efficiency, I thought sarcastically, but I kept that thought to myself also. I took advantage of the temporary dimness to palm one of those red roses; no reason, except I thought he had more than he needed. Wilbur had almost reached the top of the desk and in the same motion I flicked him to the floor. I figured he'd have a headache from the fall but that was better than the Big Goodbye. Take your web and walk, Wilbur. "Take Citizen Walton home." The Elder handed the signed form to one of the Jackboots. As he did so he looked directly at me, and our eyes met for the first time. His mouth opened as if he were going to say something more, but whatever it had been, he thought better of it and turned abruptly back to his keyboard. A beam of sunlight threw itself recklessly through the window at the same moment, so that for an instant he was framed in it, like those ancient insects forever encased in their coffins of amber. Something flashed across my mind like a sunbeam, too: a spark of intuition, a warning perhaps, but it was gone before I could grab hold of it. Had he realized belatedly who I was? By now, surely a report must have crossed his desk. Was he memorizing my face? Had I made an enemy in Elder Johnson? I sincerely hoped the answers were no. As much as I hated Elder Johnson-he was a Fundie, you were supposed to hate Fundies-I feared him even more. Fundies and elephants never forget. That was another of my Auntie's sayings. But everybody knows it. I HAD BEEN betrayed by the weather. The weather, and that gray silk shirt, beautiful though it had been. And I was careless, lost in a sense of freedom, fascinated by the face of the legendary Angel Land. Yes, it was shabby. Odiferous piles of garbage lay uncollected on street corners and here and there were souvenirs of the Great Quake: walls and porches, even an entire building fallen into rubble and left unrepaired. Apparently things ran no better here than they did back in Eden. Still, I found it beautiful in a way difficult to describe. For one thing, I've always had a passion for history, and it was like stepping back in time to see the houses they called The Victorians-named for victory in some old battle. With their faded pinks and greens and yellows and their elaborate trim half eaten away they were like dowagers from another age, decked out in musty finery. You almost had to fight your way through the crowds that filled the streets-it seemed to me, fresh from Eden, like nearly solid walls of people, clad in every possible shade of gray and black: businessmen, and shoppers, and tourists, you didn't often see tourists in Eden. A sign outside the tellies touted something called "Heaven Only Knows, The Number One Reality Information Show." A line waited to get inside, so it must have been good, but I wanted to be outside, shoving match or no shoving match. Even the stench excited me. The air was sooty with smoke from the smudge pots (those pesky gnats again). Street grime and sweat assaulted the nostrils, and now and then a whiff of what Auntie used to call Oh Dick Alone. And that garbage, of course, but I was so keyed up, I didn't mind any of it. Street vendors sold almost everything you could imagine. You heard, "Fresh Fish," and "Apples, just picked apples," and "New baked bread. Sourdough bread." That fish smelled to me like it had been too long among the land dwellers, but the aroma of the bread made my mouth water. I bought a crust, warm and crunchy, and chewed on it as I wandered. It had a sweet-sour taste like nothing I had eaten before, and it was delicious. Or maybe it was just that I hadn't eaten since yesterday-a potent seasoning. The black marketeers did a thriving business in the alleys, mostly pre-Fundie goods, which is to say, before the Church took over all manufacturing. I even saw Coca-Colas, real ones in the old red cans. I've heard of people hoarding those like fine wines. And all kinds of clothes. One man held a pair of old-fashioned jeans, the blue ones, and said, over and over, like a mechanical toy, "Pre-Fundenim, pre-Fundenim." There were real toys, too, dolls with curly yellow hair, and wagons, and wind-up things. Nobody made that stuff anymore. It wasn't good for the kids, they said. And in one dusty doorway I found a display of flesh-colored plastic shafts that vibrated and that, so the rat-eyed merchant explained, were meant to substitute for, well, you know-but, personally, show me the real thing and I'll get it to vibrate, no batteries required. I'd have gotten those jeans except I didn't have much cash and I figured I'd need that. Anyway, it wasn't a good idea to hang around the black market too long, you never knew when the police might show up and they were the last thing I needed. I thought at one point they had spotted me. A pair of black-booted, black-hatted Lay Workers muscled their way through the crowds in my direction, stun guns at ready. Before I could react, though, a man just behind me shouted, "Free Marin," and took off, zigging and zagging around people. They chased him around a corner. I would have liked to trip the Lays, to slow them down. I didn't know what a Marin was, let alone a free one, but I knew all about Lays, and anybody running from them was probably my kind of people, but I didn't dare attract attention and I couldn't help a sigh of relief when they were out of sight. Once, from the corner of my eye, I thought I saw an automobile, a flash of crimson in a distant intersection, but it was gone before I could get close enough for a real look. Of all the jewels of antiquity, none fascinated me more than those, the automobiles, songs of freedom sculpted into metal. People had once driven themselves in them, even ordinary people apparently, going where and when they wanted. I could scarcely imagine the exhilaration, the sense of freedom that must have brought them. As a boy, I had lain awake many a night, seeing myself seated behind the round wheels they used to pilot them, streaking down an endless highway into a realm of unbridled imagination. They still existed, I think, transportation maybe for the Lord High Potentates. Everyone else rode the Stratoway, if they were lucky and flush, or they traveled like me, by the "gam tram" as we called it. Oh, there were the Med Vees-the white Medical Facility Vehicles with the red X painted on the sides. And of course, the Collection Vans, like the great filthy thing that lumbered past, farting clouds of smelly black smoke that made the air still more fetid, and moving only slightly faster than the milling pedestrians, but freedom wasn't what came to mind when you saw them. Or at any rate, it was a different kind of freedom. So, yes, I was all bug-eyed and mouth agape, and careless. There was that gray silk shirt, too. I had set out early, when the fog spilled over the hilltops like the ghost of some ancient ocean, but by midday the fog had burned off to the usual brown and cloudless sky and the dawn chill had soared to a steamy eighty-eight degrees. I might as well have worn a lavender sombrero as a long sleeved pullover. Not that it probably made much difference. Sooner or later I was bound to get caught. There were legends about individuals who passed indefinitely but I had never known any. As a means of identification the virus was unbeatable. Breath checks were random, they could happen anytime, anywhere: at the tellies, on the Stratoway, even, as it happened to me, on a street corner, where another couple of Lays caught me by surprise, gawking at what looked like an oversized flashlight in somebody's tights. If you ask me, just showing something like that ought to be illegal, when you were forbidden to do anything about it. It took exactly three seconds to detect the virus, and I was on my way to that meeting with Elder Johnson. You might conceal the tattoo. There was no hiding Sept.

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