Castle Roland


by Rilbur


Chapter 2

Published: 8 Apr 14


Copyright © 2012 - 2015 by Rilbur and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.

All Rights Reserved

"Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty." Madame de Stael

Tuesday Nov 6, 2012, 09:45 EST

Charleston, West Virginia

Resistance LogoMat glanced up at the clock again. Philosophy wasn't exactly his favorite subject, but he did enjoy the mental exercises Professor Morales put them through. And with less than five minutes left to class, the professor should be getting ready to give one more.

"Alright then, we're almost out of time," Professor Morales announced. "Everyone here should be familiar with the American Revolution. What makes the rebellion against the British government legally different from, as an example, the South's rebellion against the Federal government in the 1860s?" he asked. "Anyone?"

Another student raised their hand. "The British government was repressive, and didn't include any representation of the colonists?"

"True enough, as far as it goes," Professor Morales nodded. "But it was still the government. The colonists set clear limits they didn't want breached; the South set equally clear limits. The colonists were placed under what they perceived as intolerable pressure, but so was the South. And in the end, both groups chose to try and sever the legal bonds between themselves and their government."

"The colonists were fighting for freedom, not the right to own slaves?" another student raised their hand to volunteer.

Mat nodded with the rest of the class. That was a good, strong point.

"Not to burst your bubble, but the colonists all practiced slavery," Professor Morales disagreed. "Even George Washington owned slaves, and it was accepted as the natural condition of the negroid race. And what's more, we're discussing legality, not morality. The moral differences, I will concede, were incredible, but today we need to focus on the legal issues."

Mat hesitantly raised his hand. It was preposterous, but...

"Yes, Mr. Peterson, what insight do you bring today?" Professor Morales asked.

"The difference between them was that the colonists managed to bring better arguments to bear for independence than the South managed," Mat suggested.

"Are you implying that might makes right, boy?" Professor Morales asked, intrigued.

"Might makes power, sir," Mat disagreed. "I'm saying that there was no legal difference between the two, only that one group managed to make it stick."

"So what gave them their right?" the professor asked. "What gave them the right to cast their government aside and form a new one?"

"The right of the gun," Mat said firmly. "The right to do what they felt was their duty."

"So you're saying that there is no legal difference between the two? That Lincoln should have let the South go?" Professor Morales asked.

"That's a false argument, sir," Mat countered as he saw face after face begin to light up around him. "You could as easily extend that argument the other way, that the colonists should have remained part of Britain. The rebels held no legal right to rebel, while the government had the right to insist they obey its laws."

"So legally, they're the same exact thing?" Professor Morales asked. "Surely you aren't trying to imply that both rebellions were equally justified?"

"Sir, you yourself pointed out that the moral and ethical differences were night and day," Mat shrugged. "The legal differences were nonexistent, but legality doesn't exist in a vacuum. The law is designed to help justice, but it is not justice in and of itself."

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner," Professor Morales announced, smiling. "I want five hundred words from all of you, explaining in your own logic, what Mat has laid out so clearly for all of us. Find arguments for, find arguments against, and we will discuss it on Thursday. Mat will have the dubious pleasure of proctoring that discussion when we start class."

Mat smiled. Proctoring was in many ways easier than writing the essay would be, and worth twice as much credit. All he had to do was successfully insure that any point represented in any of the students' papers was given a fair chance to be brought up. "Oh, and before you get too smug, Mathew, I'd like one thousand words from you regarding the Declaration of Independence's philosophical implications, as they relate to this discussion. You missed a rather critical point or two. Class dismissed."

The sudden flurry of everyone shoving books in bags, slamming laptops shut, and generally making ready to make like a tree and leaf surrounded Mat as he groaned. He'd planned ahead better than most, and was able to pack up quickly, but his momentary hesitation at discovering that he'd ladled more work on himself slowed him. He had to force his way through the mass of people to catch his friend Harry. "Hey, Harry, got a moment?" Mat asked.

"I gotta rush to my next class," Harry answered, his small hands dancing as he continued to pack up his laptop.

"We can talk on the way," Mat offered.

"What's up?" Harry asked, pushing his glasses back on his nose as he looked up. He pulled the strap of his laptop case over his head and started walking.

"You spend a lot of time on the net, right?" Mat asked, hurrying to keep up with his friend.

"I'm a computer nerd," Harry laughed. "A grade-A geek with extensive knowledge of everything computer. Internet time is a requirement to maintain my position in the Nerd Club."

"I heard from someone that some files got put out on the net yesterday," Mat tried to ease his way into the conversation.

"Files get put on the internet all the time," Harry answered nervously. "What about it?"

"I want copies of these files, but supposedly there are government filters in place to keep me from getting them," Mat answered.

"Damnit," Harry muttered under his breath. "In here." Next thing he knew, Mat was being drawn into a small study room.

"Listen, I don't know what you heard, or when you heard it, or even why you heard it," Harry told Mat. "Don't go digging into those files. They're dangerous. Just drop it and move on."

"I'd like to know the truth," Mat responded. "Is that too much to ask for?"

Harry laughed bitterly. "The truth. It's a crock. Just drop it. Please, trust me. I don't want you to-" Harry cut himself off and shook his head. "Just drop it, alright?"

"What's wrong?" Mat asked. Harry wasn't just being standoffish, he was actively nervous.

"Listen, just drop the entire subject and walk away while you can," Harry begged. "Please."

"I'm not dropping anything," Mat said firmly. "What is wrong?"

Harry sighed, "Nothing. Just let me head to class."

"Nuh-uh," Mat shook his head. "Come on, tell me."

"Nothing is wrong," Harry complained, pulling a marker out of his bag. "I gotta get to class." Harry held a single finger to his lips then opened the door long enough to poke his head out.

With a series of swift strokes, Harry wrote out a quick sentence on a handy whiteboard. 'Pull phone battery out.'

Mat opened his mouth to ask why, but Harry urgently tapped his lips with his finger in reminder. Mat pulled his phone out of his pocket and yanked the battery. He looked up at Harry questioningly, holding the two pieces in his hands.

"To answer your question," Harry sighed, "one of the documents indicates that they can listen in through cell phones, unless you yank the battery. And that's the least of the crap that I managed to download before TOR went down."

"TOR?" Mat asked, confused.

"Nevermind," Harry shook his head. "Simply put, the government can't tell I downloaded any of it. Once they figured out how much data was out there, they smashed half the internet to try and shut down the data flow. Nobody noticed because all the 'official' channels still work, more or less. But those same channels are corrupted. I don't know how they did it, but they must have compromised a root CA somewhere."

"What does California have to do with anything?" Mat asked, confused.

Harry sighed. "Nothing. Root CA is nerdspeak regarding internet stuff. Basically, though I didn't see any documents covering it, for the government to do what it's clearly doing, it had to have bypassed certain security measures that protect people on the internet. The only way to do that would be to successfully take over certain super-computers. Not too difficult when you're the US Government and can walk in with a search warrant, I imagine."

"I only understand about every third word of that," Mat laughed.

"As much as I like you, dude, you really are an idiot when it comes to tech," Harry shook his head. "Basically, anywhere on the East Coast you can't connect to the internet in a way that the government can't monitor. From what I hear, the further west you go the weaker the government's control gets. But here, here we're in the center of Ashwood's power. And if he figures out I was distributing some of those files-" Harry's teeth clicked together as a pained expression crossed his face. "Me and my big mouth," he whispered.

"I kinda figured," Mat shrugged. "You wouldn't just sit around. So let's do something. If we can't get them out over the internet, burn CD's and hand them out."

"That would last all of about ten seconds before the police showed up and arrested us," Harry growled. "I actually asked Dad about that. He wasn't particularly happy to admit that he's been asked to keep an eye out for 'traitors' distributing 'seditious materials'. And when I hinted that I might know something about it, he more or less ordered me to keep my head down."

Mat blinked in surprise. "He should be at the front of the line to get that stuff out there!"

Harry shrugged, "He may be the Chief of Police, but he wants to keep his job, too."

"There has to be something we can do," Mat growled.

"Yes, there is," Harry nodded. "I went to the polling station and voted. With any luck, we can keep our heads down and still be free of him. And when President Bryce takes office, ex-President Ashwood is going to have a very, very bad day."

Mat shook his head. "Somehow, I don't see it being that easy," he said distantly. "If half of what I heard is true, Ashwood is going to know that he's in for jail time, if not worse."

Harry shrugged. "Yeah, but what can he do? I mean, once he's voted out, he's out."

Mat frowned. "I don't know," he shook his head. "After class today, I think we should talk with your father."

"Dad's going to be busy all day," Harry shook his head. "He always is on election day. He won't come home until long after the polls close."

"Then we'll have to stay up late," Mat shrugged. "I think we need to talk to him. Actually, I need to talk to him about something else, anyway."

"He's going to tell you to keep your head down," Harry prophesied.

"Not everything revolves around Ashwood," Mat pointed out. "In fact, I want to talk to him about something else entirely." Something about that statement left Mat feeling vaguely uneasy. Some detail he'd missed.

Shrugging it off, Mat frowned down at his phone. "I think I'll leave the battery out until I get home. I forgot to charge it last night, so the battery was low anyway."

Harry shrugged. "If they were listening, we're probably screwed anyway. Pulling the battery out was probably a red flag, or will be before long."

Mat shoved the phone in one pocket, and the battery in another. "I'll find you after class."

Harry shrugged. "Whatever," he commented as he opened the door and slipped out. Mat looked around the room for a moment, and quickly erased the white board before following his friend out the door.

Tuesday Nov 6, 2012, 011:48 EST

Charleston, West Virginia

"To be, or not to be, that is the question:" Samuel recited from memory, absentmindedly smoothing his mid-length brown hair back to keep it out of his equally brown eyes. "Whether tis' nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune, Or to take Arms against an Ocean-"

"Brrrz, wrong," Mat cut him off. "Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles."

"Gaaah," Samuel snatched the book out of Mathew's hands. "I did not think this would be that hard!"

Mathew laughed. Despite the many stresses of the day, he was glad he'd agreed to help his friends study for their Shakespeare class. If nothing else, it managed to keep his mind completely away from the confrontation he was planning for tonight. "You're the one who wanted to take a class on Shakespeare. I told you it was a bad idea, but nooooo," Mathew taunted him.

"Oh give over," Kayla laughed. "You may have warned us, but I don't see you reciting this stuff, either."

"Is that a challenge, good lady?" Mat asked, grinning.

"Oh please, like you have any of this crap memorized," she laughed, showing her pearly white teeth.

"Act 1, Scene 3, Polonius speaks to Laertes," Mat says softly. "Wanna take that back before I humiliate you with it?"

Kayla flipped her copy of Hamlet to the offending section. "Whenever you're ready, monsieur," she taunted him.

"And these few precepts in thy memory, Look thou character," Mat stood and took a step back to give himself room to gesture without hitting anyone. "Give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportioned thought his act. Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar. Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried, grapple them unto your soul with hoops of steel, but do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new-hatched unfledged comrade. Beware of entrance into quarrel, but being in, bear to't that the opposed may beware of thee. Give every man thy ear, but few..." Mat hesitated for a moment. "But few thy voice," he continued, his voice vaguely thoughtful. As he continued, his voice grew firmer and more confident again. "Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement. Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, but not expressed in fancy. Rich, not gaudy, for the apparel oft proclaims the man, and they in France of the best rank and station are of a most select and generous chief in that. Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry." Mat let his voice rise up to a climax as he reached the familiar end. "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."

Mat took a small half bow. "Polonius' advice to his son Laertes, upon the occasion of the latter's departure.

"He tricked you Kayla," Samuel giggled. "You know how he gets on certain subjects."

"And what exactly does that mean?" Mat asked, mildly testy.

"When it comes to fathers and sons, you get a tad bit insane," Ralph pointed out. "Hell, probably half the reason you're willing to help us so much is because we've been assigned speeches from Hamlet. That's got a huge father-son vibe going on."

Mat winced. "I have my reasons."

"I have my reasons," Ralf repeated snarkily. "One of these days, I'd love to meet your old man. He must be a real piece of work to leave you in such a mess about him."

Mat took a deep breath. "I seriously never told you guys?" he asked, just to double check. Though given how hard it sometimes was for him to even think of his father, it probably shouldn't be a surprise that he'd never told them. 'Oh, yeah, by the way, the reason I get so pissed off about "minor" crap is because I have daddy issues from when he died in the line of duty'.

"Told us what?" Kayla laughed. "When it comes to your family, you worship your grandmother, hate your mother for not being there, and never, ever, ever discuss your father."

"He was a cop," Mat said softly.

"He's retired, then? What does he-" Ralph's face took on a pained look. "Oh. Oh damn. Sorry."

"Well, now I feel like crap," Sam dropped his book on the table. "No wonder you memorized that particular speech."

"I'm sorry guys, I shouldn't have brought it up," Mat shook his head. "Real downer of a-"

"The hell you shouldn't," Kayla reached over to grab him by the hand and yank him back to the couch. "We're friends. You don't need to hide that kinda shit from us."

"Gee, that leaves me wondering what kinda shit he should hide," Ralf quipped, only to be smacked by Samuel. "Hey, watch it!"

After a quick glare at Ralf, Kayla turned back to Mat. "The only way we can avoid hitting your buttons is if you tell us what they are. Otherwise we're going to hit them and march on without realizing we need to apologize."

"Apologize for what?" Mat asked. "It's not like you guys go running around ranting about how stupid it is for fathers to get themselves killed or anything."

Kayla rolled her eyes. "Given the jokes we've made about certain deadbeat dads," she glanced over at Ralf, who rolled his eyes, "it's not unreasonable to assume we've been offensive once or twice. We wouldn't have done that if we'd known. Heck, think about last week when we talked about what we'd like to do to Ralf's sperm donor."

"And that's just it," Mat snapped. "Why? Why shouldn't you make a crack about tying his deadbeat dad to the axle of your car and going for a long drive? The bastard deserves it!"

"And the reason you got upset at the joke the first time is because you'd have traded any dad for no dad, right?" she asked.

"No, actually," Mat shook his head. "I'd just had dinner the previous night with the detective responsible for investigating someone doing something similar to an eight year old girl."

"Oh-kay, I think we're done here," Samuel winced.

"Yeah," Kayla shook her head, looking sick. "That's rather... I mean..." She raised a hand to her mouth as if to hold something back as she broke off.

Mat shrugged. "Hey, I told you guys at the time not to worry about it. I was very careful not to bring up why for a reason."

"To study or not to study, that is the question," Samuel orated. "Whether tis nobler to have a horrible time discussing our parental issues, or flunk out of our freakin' classes and confirm them."

Kayla laughed, and Mat leaned back, glad for the change in subject. "Fine, fine, my turn. Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 4."

"Also one of my favorites," Mat commented idly. "Shutting up now," he raised his hands in surrender as she glared at him. Letting her gaze linger threateningly, she started again. Hearing one of Hamlet's rather bloody soliloquies recited by a person glaring at him was an interesting experience. And of course, the ending turned the glare from a mild threat to an outright oath of violence if he so much as dared speak up.

Mat clapped. "Best performance ever!" he told her.

"I'll give him that one," Ralf laughed. "You looked like you wanted to rip him a new one then and there! If Cladius had heard that, he would have died of fright and saved Hamlet the trouble!"

"Thank you," Kayla bowed, grinning. "Maybe I'll even pass the stupid class."

"Hey, it could be worse," Ralf pointed out. "You could be stuck with me and Mat in linguistics, and listening to Professor Brown tell us all about dialects. She's actually expecting us to learn to use double negatives properly."

"What? That don't make no sense!" Sam quipped, causing Kayla to crack up laughing.

"Minus five points for failing to properly utilize the vernacular," Ralf recited snootily. "While Appalachian English does utilize the construct known as a double negative, that does not mean that any double negative is considered acceptable."

"Actually," Mat smiled, "I think that was right. Insofar as double negatives are ever right."

"I'd think you, of all people, would appreciate the value of a double negative," Kayla smiled.

"What's that mean?" Mat asked.

"Oh, Professor Brown never mentioned that historically, double negatives were proper English?" Kayla smiled. "Way back in the day, anyway. They only really started falling out of use around the fifteen hundreds if I recall."

"Seriously?" Mat asked, surprised.

"Heck, Professor Webb mentioned that," Sam snapped his fingers. "Mat, you'd consider Shakespeare the prime example of English, right?"

"Shakespeare is, perhaps, the best writer of English who has ever lived," Mat nodded. "What's that got to do with anything?"

"Even he used the double negative," Kayla nodded.

"Oh, I forgot about that," Ralf winced.

"Oh BS," Mat threw his copy of Hamlet at her. "Show me one double negative."

Kayla opened up her backpack and pulled out another book and quickly flipped through it. "Ah, here it is. 'Nor I looked not for'. See?"

Mat read the line quickly and then tossed the book back carelessly. "Fine, Fine! Shakespeare used a double negative. It's still not proper English! I don't care if it used to be proper, it ain't no more!"

Everyone laughed at Mat's quip, then fell for a moment into uneasy silence. "Alright, let's get back to work," Mat told them. "Sam, I think you need to give it another try. From the top, Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet speaks."

"DO I have to?" Sam pouted. "Fine, fine. Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet speaks."

Mat kept most of his attention on Sam's recital, but some small corner of his mind kept turning. Give every man thy ear he'd done well enough, but perhaps he should consider who he gave his voice to some more.

Tuesday Nov 6, 2012, 19:53 EST

Charleston, West Virginia

Mat didn't exactly sit by the TV all day to watch the news, but he'd kept a close eye on the election results as they rolled in. Things started out poorly, with Ashwood gaining a huge lead across most of the East Coast. But as time passed, things began to change. The further west you went, the less support Ashwood held, and things began to turn the other way.

Oddly, however, no one that Mat had oh-so-cautiously talked to had heard about Ashwood's crimes, or at least they were pretending not to have. Ashwood's assassination attempt was a great conversation starter, but no one had heard about anything else. Or if they had heard, they were determined not to admit to it.

Still, despite the curtain of silence around Ashwood's crimes, by the time the polls were getting ready to close, Mat felt fairly optimistic about the election. Other than the East Coast, Ashwood essentially wasn't going to carry a single state, though Arizona and New Mexico were looking a little iffy.

So Mat was able to force himself to stay in a fairly good mood right up until the moment he had to go hunting to find Harry.

"I don't think we need to drive out to talk to my dad, do you?" Harry asked plaintively as Mat walked him to the car.

"I need to talk to him, one way or another," Mat said firmly. "And the polls are supposed to close any minute now, so he should be home by the time we get there."

"Can't you just call him on the phone?" Harry suggested.

Mat opened his mouth to admit that he could, but hesitated. "This needs to be done face to face," he said after a moment's thought.

Harry sighed and got in the car. A moment later, Mat had it in gear and they were driving off. "I don't know why I need to come along for you to talk to him," Harry complained.

"Are you going to bitch all the way to the house?" Mat asked.

Harry considered the question for a moment. "If I say yes, will you pull over and let me out?"

Mat snorted and flipped on the radio.

"Fine, be that way," Harry pouted as Mat fiddled with the dial, looking for a news channel. "Damn it, you don't really need me for this."

Mat hesitated, then flipped the radio off. "Yes, I do," he said after a moment. "You're my best friend, and I probably should have told you already."

"Told me what?" Harry asked.

Mat took a deep breath. "You know about the videos my father left for me."

"Yeah," Harry nodded. "You got them every year on your birthday, well, until this year. What about them?"

"Your father called me this year, asked me how I was doing," Mat sighed.


"Hey son," Mr. Knight said, "Happy Birthday."

"Mr Knight!" Mat replied. "Thank you, and it's a pleasure to hear from you. You coming out to the school today?"

"No son, I've got work to do," Mr. Knight chuckled. "I'm glad I'm not going to have to arrange having someone 'accidentally' bump into you this year, though."

"Sir?" Mat asked, confused.

"I just wanted to call and see how you were doing. Your father was a good man, and he always did want me to make sure you had the help you needed, when you needed it," Mr. Knight told him. "Left quite a bit of trust in me."

Mat wasn't certain if the man was trying to imply what it sounded like he was implying. "From what I recall, you were his best friend," Mat replied after a moment.

"I was. Only reason I'm not your godfather is because your mother wanted someone else for the position," Mr. Knight reminisced. "So, everything going well?"

"As well as could be expected, sir," Mat replied. "I'm looking forward to dinner with my family tonight. Mother was able to get leave and intends to attend."

"In that case, I intend to stay well away from your house," Mr. Knight chuckled. "Thanks for the warning."

"I have to admit to wondering who is going to deliver a video this year," Mat said after a moment. "If anyone."

"You're nineteen boy. An adult in the eyes of the law, minus a few minor details like alcohol," Mr. Knight pointed out. "Your father could hardly record a video for every year you would ever live. Once you hit college, even a prophet would have a hard time guessing which way you'd jump. I imagine last year's video covered everything you really needed to know about college life."

"There's so much more though," Mat said softly, pained.

"I know. There are so many things he'd want to tell you, so many times he'd want to be there for you," Mr. Knight sounded equally pained. "Please, even if you've moved away, you're still... I'm still here. I made a promise to your father, to watch over you in his stead. That promise won't expire because you turned eighteen. Or nineteen, or twenty one, or fifty. It's a lifetime commitment."

"Thank you, sir," Mat sighed. "I just... I miss him."

"That's only natural," Mr. Knight chuckled. "Listen, I need to go soon. I left my present with your grandmother the other day, she should have it for you when you see her."

"You didn't need to, sir," Mat protested.

"Yes, yes I did," Mr. Knight insisted. "I'll call you later. Bye Mat."

"Bye sir," Mat said softly as the line went dead.


"OK, so there aren't any more videos," Harry asked, confused. "You already told me that, more or less."

"More or less, but I didn't tell you that your father was the one who told me they were over with. I believed him, too," Mat said evenly. "Never so much as crossed my mind that he might lie."

Harry laughed. "Oh, that's a good one. Him? Lie? As if!"

"Yeah, that was my position," Mat forced his voice to evenness. "Until last night. When Gran was shocked to discover that the video for my nineteenth birthday hadn't been handed over, and gave me the backup copy Dad left with her."

Harry's laughter stopped mid-chuckle as he froze. Slowly, he turned his head to face Mat. "Are you saying," he began. "Are you trying to imply-" He shook his head in disbelief. "He wouldn't. He couldn't."

"I didn't put all the pieces together right away," Mat continued after a moment's silence, voice taking on the slightest of edges. "At first, I was too shocked over finding out there was a video. Then there was the news this morning. Then I talked to you after class, and so on." The edge grew sharper as Mat continued. "He doesn't lie. He doesn't deceive. He doesn't trick or utilize falsehood. Ever. Not in his personal life. He recognizes them as necessary tools in an interrogation, but loathes them as concepts. Concepts he would never, in a million years, deign to utilize."

The knife edge had grown razor sharp as Mat sneered out the last sentence with a low growl. "I don't believe it." Harry shook his head. "There has to be another explanation."

"And that's why I need you," Mat admitted, getting the red hot coals of his rage under control again. "I'm too close. This is personal. I need to borrow your control."

"Borrow my control?" Harry asked, confused.

"You know my temper," Mat said slowly. "Sometimes it burns hot and fast."

"Most of the time, more like," Harry laughed. "You'll blow up and then five seconds later you'll have calmed yourself down and apologized."

"My father once told me that the hot flame burns fast, but the cold flame burns thoroughly," Mat said. "I was only a kid at the time, I didn't really understand why he talked about that when he was chewing me out for not holding my temper. It was as I grew older that I began to understand what he was really warning me over."

"Huh?" Harry was clearly perplexed.

"My temper usually flares up fast and hard, and I throttle it back," Mat told him. "But the hot flame burns fast and uses up all it's fuel too quickly. The cold flame lasts, and burns ever so much more finely. My temper didn't flare this time. That's why I need you. It isn't a hot rage that has me so worried I left my pocket knife at home."

Harry looked at him like he went crazy. "You never leave that knife behind."

"Almost never," Mat nodded. "There are times I don't trust myself."

Harry shook his head. "You're the original Mr. Control. Other than shouting at someone for a second or two, you haven't lost your temper since before middle school."

"Because I learned what dad meant when he told me the cold flame scared him, Harry," Mat told him. "You remember how I reacted when Andrew McClarence got away?"

"Only you would define five years in jail as 'getting away'," Harry said softly. "But yeah. I expected you to rant and rave but you just sat there, glaring at the man. When the judge tried to get your attention..." Harry shivered. "If looks could kill, you dropped an atom bomb on that court."

"Until today, that was the only time I ever really felt what Dad called the cold fire," Mat admitted, haunted. "He felt it more than I did. He worked as a cop, he saw so much. Me, I'm just a kid. Sheltered. I hear news, but it's all second hand. But that one taste of it was enough to scare me. I understood why Dad was so worried. If I'd been able to bring my pocket knife with me to court that day, Andrew McClarence wouldn't have lived to walk away. Only my mother's grip on my arm kept me from trying to do it bare handed."

The old rage curdled Mat's stomach. It had taken him years to learn to reach past it. He hadn't forgiven McClarence. His grudge against the man would last until Judgement Day itself, if not beyond. But he'd given up the cold hatred that went with it. He'd allowed it to grow into a festering sickness that had almost claimed his soul, but eventually he'd learned to set it aside, and now the taste of it sickened him.

Silence reigned in the car for a while. "You aren't that angry at Dad, are you?" Harry asked softly.

"McClarence was just trying to get out of a ticket for a red light," Mat said, voice dangerously soft. "He didn't have anything against me or Dad, it was just bad luck that he lost control of his car. If I'm right about your father, he deliberately lied to me. Hurt me. Betrayed my trust, my father's trust."

Mat relaxed his hands on the wheel before his knuckles turned white, and took a deep calming breath. "I'm reserving judgement. I could be wrong. And he deserves a chance to explain. With you there, I'll have a reminder not to listen to my anger. To let him explain. To walk away if I need to."

Harry didn't say anything, letting the silence sit. "And I should mention," Mat added, just to break the silence, "that if he really did destroy the disc to keep it out of my hands I'm not walking away until after I've decked him."

Harry snorted. "If he really did do that to you, you're going to have to wait in line. I have greater claim."

"How the hell do you think that?" Mat roared.

"He hurt you and your Dad. He hurt my friend, and my uncle. And he betrayed me by betraying the principles he tried to raise me by," Harry shrugged. "Two versus three."

"Your logic is hard to beat," Mat admitted after a moment's struggle. "I'd submit that having yourself hurt has priority over having your friend hurt, however."

"And exactly what logic would that be?" Harry snorted. "As I recall, you always were more violent when someone picked on me than you. After all, when someone hurts you, well, they just hurt you. When someone picks on me, however..."

"They hurt me and my friend," Mat growled. "I was what, six years old when I made that argument?"

"Eight, as a matter of fact. We didn't meet Tommy until third grade," Harry pointed out smugly. "So, you want to talk to my father about your yearly birthday video, and you want me as a chaperone. Why didn't you just say so?"

Mat reached over and fiddled with the radio dial. "Lets see what the news has to say about the election," he changed the topic quickly.

Tuesday Nov 6, 2012, 20:15 EST

Cabin Creek, West Virginia

The silence in the car pressed down on Mat. He'd turned the engine off a minute earlier, but neither he nor Harry had made any move to get out.

"I'm still not sure I believe he would have done that to you," Harry said eventually.

"I don't know that I believe it, either," Mat admitted. "The idea makes me so angry, but it's kinda hard to believe."

"It's not too late to turn around. He won't even know we were here," Harry suggested.

"I already told Gran that I'd be dropping by again tonight," Mat shook his head. "I'm committed."

"Doesn't mean you have to shove me in the deep end with you," Harry complained. "He was royally pissed at me when I dropped by to talk yesterday."

"If you're going to chicken out, you might as well start walking back to school," Mat suggested. "It's only about a years walk that-a-way."

"More like a month if I cut cross-country," Harry snorted. "A week, tops!"

"Still going to miss a lot of classes," Mat smiled. "Come on. Lets go in."

Lights glared in their eyes as a car turned a corner ahead. "Dad still isn't home, we can just turn around," Harry pointed out.

"Actually, I think that ship has already sailed," Mat pointed at the lights coming up the road towards them. "Isn't that your Dad's car?"

"Oh damn," Harry sagged back into his chair. "Hide me in your trunk?"

The oncoming car slowed as it approached, and Harry almost seemed to moan as the glare reduced to the point where his father's car could be clearly seen. "I'm so dead," Harry complained.

"I'll protect you," Mat laughed as the car swung around behind them and pulled into the driveway. They could hear the sound of the garage door opening even through the closed windows and doors of the car. "Come on," Mat opened his door, "before he closes the garage."

For all his trepidation, Harry followed Mat's lead instantly.

Mr. Knight almost growled as the two of them walked up to the garage. "I should have known," he snapped as he slammed his car door shut. "Come inside. It's cold out."

Mr. Knight shepherded them in the door to the house before he hit the button to close the garage door. Walking past them, he went into the kitchen and pulled a tall bottle out of a cupboard. "You two idiots have no idea how much trouble you could be getting yourselves into if you don't shut up and cover your asses," Mr Knight growled as he pulled out a shot glass.

"While we will certainly be discussing the political situation at some point this night," Mat growled back, "that's not where we're starting." Mat reached down his shirt and pulled out a DVD case. "Recognize this?" he hissed, dropping it on the counter.

The large 19 marked on the opaque plastic wasn't much of a title, but it was enough to make Mr. Knight wince and pull out a second shot glass. He looked over at his son for a long moment before pulling out a third glass. "I assume you drink whiskey," he said after a moment. "I think we'll all need a glass or two tonight."

"You do recognize it," Mat managed to force out as his vision blurred. "Why?" he demanded.

"Drink," Mr. Knight ordered firmly, wrapping Mat's fingers around a glass. "Drink!" he repeated, forcing Mat's hand up.

The liquid smoke swirled around his mouth, full of flavor and aroma as it burned it's way down his gullet to form a bonfire in his guts. It hurt, but the physical sensation helped pull him back into reality, where he realized he'd been sat down in an armchair.

"You OK, son?" Mr. Knight asked, concerned.

Mat held his glass up to the light, as if admiring the whiskey left in it. Mr. Knight recognized it as a stalling tactic and picked up his glass before getting up from his knee in front of Mat. Unfortunately, his usual recliner was occupied, and a single raised eyebrow from Harry caused Mr. Knight to detour away.

Mat couldn't count the number of times he and Harry had sat on the couch together, explaining themselves to Mr. Knight as he sat in that recliner. Or receiving a lecture. Or otherwise being told that they'd disappointed the man.

Taking that chair, directly denying it to his father, was a message. Harry wasn't usually quite that direct about expressing his displeasure with things, but Mat approved. "You never answered my question," Mat's voice was a rasp as Mr. Knight sat gingerly on the couch. "Why?"

Mr. Knight sipped his whiskey gingerly. "I promised your father to look out for you," he said softly. "I don't know a lot. Just bits and pieces, whispered around the edges. I'm not... I'm not exactly part of anything, you understand, but I've been tapped to be so when the time comes. It's not the kind of thing you refuse. Not if you want to keep on breathing. Not if you want your family to continue breathing. Not sure why they needed me so desperately, Police Chief's are a dime a dozen to the feds, but-"

"We aren't talking about current events, Father," Harry cut his father off, voice firm. "We're talking about the DVD."

"So am I," Mr. Knight responded evenly. "Do you know what was on that disc, son?"

Harry looked over at Mat with a single raised eyebrow. Even in his current state, Mat could put two and two together readily enough. "He wants us to keep our heads down. Dad's orders were exactly the opposite."

"He trusted me to not only deliver them to you, but to judge when to change the pace of delivery," Mr. Knight ground out. "He always thought in terms of moving early. Never thought that the reverse might be needed."

"How many DVDs are there, really?" Mat asked.

Mr. Knight looked away. "Two," he answered after a moment. "Two more messages through time," he sighed. "There's also another disk that has an entire index of things. For when your mom dies, your gran dies, you get engaged or married, a severe breakup, your first child. He planned a thousand and one events, times when you might need his words, times when he needed to give you words. I almost gave you one of them when Cheryl broke up with you after the prom, but..." Mr. Knight shook his head. "You weren't that broken up about it, not really."

"It hurt," Mat agreed, "but if she hadn't done it, I'd have. We agreed to wait until after the prom, just so we'd have dates. Someone we knew, trusted, and kinda liked. We weren't... We weren't right, and we knew it. But we were right enough for that."

Mr. Knight nodded. "It showed. You moped a little, but... There was something about you, something around the edges. The relationship was broken, but you weren't. I decided you didn't need the video, that it wasn't time yet. Just like your father trusted me to."

"So you decided not to deliver this year's video," Mat continued for him. "Thinking that was what my father trusted you for."

Mr. Knight seemed to shrink. "I had to. I knew what was on each of those tapes. This isn't the right time for them."

"It's the only time for them," Harry snapped back before Mat could. "Can't you see that Dad? Are you so blind you can't understand that the time you need to cause trouble is the very times it's most dangerous? The very fact that it might be dangerous is why it has to be done!"

Mr. Knight didn't bother sipping the rest of his glass. He slammed it back in a gulp, as if to choke back what sounded suspiciously like a sob. "I couldn't do that," he whispered roughly.

Mat took a gentle sip of his own glass. The warm liquid didn't burn as much this time, or maybe he was simply managing to sip smaller amounts. Like liquid smoke it trailed down his mouth, leaving behind flavor that burned pleasantly. No wonder Mr. Knight liked it so much. The one time a barely teenaged Mat and Harry had managed to steal some, they'd almost thrown up from trying to gulp it instead of sip.

Concentrating on the drink helped him avoid another thought, but it managed to batter its way through anyway. If someone had told him before hand that he'd see Mr. Knight humbled and broken like this, he would have denied it outright. It was impossible. The man was a pillar of strength and certainty. To see him like this was horrifying, and explained why the man had done what he'd done. Rage didn't vanish, but any urge, any need to act on that rage vanished like fog before the noonday sun.

"Forgiveness will be a long time coming," Mat almost whispered, "but I think I understand and sympathize with why you did it, sir."

"Thank you," Mr. Knight nodded gratefully. "I just-"

"Doesn't mean I agree with it," Mat cut him off harshly. "I understand why, I sympathize with your emotions, but I don't agree. It was wrong, and I think you're having such a hard time because you know it."

Mr. Knight took an angry breath to retort, then paused, and let it out slowly.

"Maybe," he conceded. "But I submit that if your father were alive, today, he would never have told you to stick your head into trouble."

"If my father were alive, today," Mat growled, "he'd be too busy leading the way to have time to tell me to do it. If he were alive today, he'd have seen how well I did in my classes last year, and given that advice long since. If he were alive, he'd be kicking your ass for cowardice!"

"How dare you," Mr. Knight hissed, so angry he couldn't get his voice far above a whisper. He pulled himself to his feet and glared at Mat. "You do not address me in that tone, boy!"

"Sit down," Harry ordered, voice pitched just above his father's. "And that was out of line, Mat," he added. "However justified."

"Justified?!" Mr. Knight roared, swinging to turn his glare on his son.

"Sit down!" Harry repeated himself, each word a sharp explosion of sound. Mat actually looked at his friend, and realized that Harry hadn't lost a single ounce of nervousness. He'd simply drawn on the lessons he'd learned in his drama and speech courses to help hide his nervousness. So far, so good, but what moral authority Harry was pulling together would crack and fail if his father figured it out.

Despite his own emotions and the alcohol that was already working its way through his system, Mat realized that would be a bad thing. That moral authority was probably the only thing keeping him and Mr. Knight from going at each other at this point. Coward the man may have proven himself, but he was twenty years Mat's senior and was trained to handle himself in a fight. The only way Mat would be able to hold his own would be to go at the man full bore, and even now he didn't want to do that.

Before Mat could force his rage and alcohol clouded mind to find a solution, Mr. Knight broke the tension by obeying his son. "Now apologize," Harry looked straight at Mat.

"Like hell I will!" Mat roared, not even realizing that he was mimicking Mr. Knight by jumping to his feet in a rage.

"Yes you will!" Harry ordered, voice pitched low. "He's proven time and time again that he's willing to put his life on the line for this community, for you, for me, for your father. Or have you forgotten who saved your father's life when you were eight?"

Anger thrummed in Mat's body for a long moment as Harry stared at him. Finally, Mat took a deep breath and felt the anger leech out of his body. "His actions, his recent actions that is, are that of a coward. I will not apologize for labeling them such. But perhaps I was over hasty in labeling him a coward."

"Was there an apology in there?" Harry asked.

"Enough of one," Mr. Knight cut in. "He has a point. I let my fear control me. But not fear for myself. Fear for my son. My sons, birth and adopted. And since they explicitly mentioned you, Mat, I suspect they may have targeted your grandmother, or your mother."

Mat felt Mr. Knight's words impact him like ice water thrown in his face, cooling off the rage he felt at the man even as they reignited another rage. His own death he could tolerate. He wasn't quite sure he believed anyone could pull it off, but the notion was one he could accept. His mother? His grandmother? If Ashwood had truly contemplated that, if his men had truly threatened that, then Mat could understand why Mr. Knight might have flinched. Mat didn't think he would have flinched, but he could understand it.

And by extension, he began to understand why threatening Harry or Mat would have the same reaction on Mr. Knight.

"I think we'd better begin discussing the political situation, then," Mat heard himself saying.

"Not a lot to say at this point," Mr. Knight sighed. "I know they want to know about any seditious or traitorous talk, defined as anything against Ashwood. They wanted me to avoid enforcing election laws, too, but there wasn't much there for me to do. The poll workers mostly handled that themselves, right down to reminding a couple of people that they aren't supposed to push one candidate or the other. One of those actually turned into a fistfight when a voter called Ashwood a murdering bastard, and the poll worker tried to shut him up. I tossed both of them into jail to cool it off." Mr. Knight shrugged. "Something is up, but other than asking me to keep people away from Camp Dawson, which is something I'd do anyway, there's not a lot to say. And most of that is stuff you could figure out for yourselves pretty quickly."

"I'm sure you know something," Mat told him.

"I kept as far out of it as I could," Mr Knight shrugged. "Dead men don't tell tales, but neither do men as don't know any tales to tell."

Mat sighed. "Fine then," he leaned back. If there wasn't anything to know, there wasn't anything to know. "I didn't tell Gran why I was coming up to talk to you, but she's a smart woman and probably had a few guesses of her own. Either way, I've been ordered to bring you along with me for a late dinner, since you probably haven't had a chance to eat yet."

"You didn't mention dinner," Harry said, face suddenly animated. "What kind?"

"Something about her signature meatloaf," Mat shrugged, resisting the urge to laugh as Mr. Knight suddenly looked very interested. "Oh, and some potatoes au gratin."

"And you made us wait here for them?" Harry jumped to his feet.

"It's going to be an uncomfortable walk," Mr. Knight mourned.

"We'll just take the car," Harry suggested.

"Unfortunately, none of us are safe to drive," Mr. Knight frowned at him. "I know it doesn't feel like it, but whiskey is hard liquor and you are intoxicated. So am I."

Harry leaned over and picked up his filled glass of whiskey from the little table beside the recliner. "Here, why don't you have mine Dad."

Mr Knight took the glass bemusedly, and then started laughing. "Alright then, time to face the music... Again." He gulped the glass down in a quick swallow. "She called me this morning, you know. Wanted me to come over for a 'quick chat'. Somehow, now that I know that she gave you that DVD, I suspect she wasn't planning for it to be an easy chat." Mr. Knight shrugged. "Oh well. Her meatloaf is better any day than reheated pot roast," he added as he headed for his bedroom. "Just let me change out of my uniform and we can go."

Previous ChapterNext Chapter