Castle Roland


by Rilbur


Chapter 4

Published: 8 Apr 14


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

All Rights Reserved

"Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives." Ronald Reagan

Wednesday Nov 7, 2012, 18:32

Charleston, West Virginia

Resistance LogoMat was prepared for the lobby to be a bit busier than usual. Active discussion, maybe a bit of shouting as people argued. What he had not imagined finding was an incipient riot. On one side of the room, Kayla led a shouting match with nearly two thirds of the people there standing beside her. On the other, a half dozen people shouted back, slowly moving closer to each other with their backs to the wall.

Without a single thought, Mat borrowed a page from his father's book. "What the bloody hell is going on here?" he bellowed at the top of his considerable lungs. As loud as the shouting already going on was, Mat was louder. Say what you will for parents in military and police services, Mat had been shouted at by experts on more than one occasion, and had learned a few of the tricks.

As loud as he was, his voice didn't exactly cut through the noise to get everyone's attention. But he got enough attention, and the shouting rapidly died down as people looked over at him. "I dislike repeating myself," Mat growled into the quiet. "What is going on?"

"That bitch-" one of the half-dozen men near the door began.

"Bitch?!" Kayla cut him off angrily. "Come over here and-"

"Enough!" Mat cut her off, then turned to face the other man. "I don't know who you are," Mat told him, "but you will keep a civil tongue in your head, or I will have you ejected from this building."

"You can't do that," the man sneered. "My father-"

"You don't live here," Mat cut him off. "I know everyone who lives in this building. You aren't one of them. And you're busy insulting Kayla, who could kick you out herself. All I have to do is go knock on an RA's door and you'll be out of here so fast your head spins, even if they have to call the cops to make it happen. And with Kayla and me here, they won't have to. So don't tempt me. Civil tongue. Or else."

The man's eyes bulged. "You can't talk to me that way!"

"Strange," Mat said wryly, "I thought I just did."

"I'm going to report you if you keep this up!" the man retorted.

Mat yawned theatrically. "Sure. You do that."

"Stop this Mat!" Someone shouted, shouldering her way past the man. As soon as Mat saw the shoulder length ginger hair, he knew exactly who it had to be, even before he saw her deep blue eyes.

"Sarah," Mat inclined his head gently. "What a surprise."

"You know this clod?" the man asked her.

"Yes," she said softly. "I believe you came here to tell him what a mistake he made."

"Oh," he smiled at her. "This is the mud-clod who broke your heart." The man turned to face Mat, face harsher. "I definitely need to have words with you," he said, voice low but pointed. He took two steps forward before Kayla cut him off.

"You're not going to touch one hair on his head," she told him angrily. "That slut-"

Mat cringed as the man slapped her, then started looking for cover. This wasn't going to be pretty. Mat would have preferred it if she'd let him fight his own battles, but as soon as the idiot tried to strike her, the rules changed. Mat was not even stupid enough to try and take over now. Forest Gump would be smarter than that! Kayla slowly turned her face back to face the man. "You get one and only one free hit," she told him, voice dangerously calm. "Next time, I won't be so nice."

"Don't call my sister a slut!" the man snarled.

Sister. Oh hell, Mat swore internally. This was not good. This was very not good.

"The fact that you are defending your sister's so-called 'honor' is the only reason I didn't put you through that wall," Kayla told him. "I will make certain allowances."

"'So called honor?' What exactly does that mean?" the man growled.

"It means that your sister is a lying, conniving, sorry sack of shit," Kayla replied. "It means that despite your protestations to the contrary, she was the one pushing a sexual relationship while Mat was trying for something more romantic and traditional, saving himself for marriage. It means that your sister is the one who tried to make him jealous by going after his roommate. It means-"

"Stop lying!" the man screamed, winding up to slap Kayla again. When he swung, Kayla caught him by the wrist and held him. "What the hell?" the man tried to jerk loose.

"Men have a natural advantage in upper body strength," Kayla recited. "That advantage, while significant, is no match for dedicated gym time designed to maximize fitness. One of the first lessons my sensei made me memorize, though he was actually more focused on the fact that if a man spends any significant amount of time in the gym, I'm unlikely to be able to match him for strength."

"You calling Brad weak?" one of the other men blazed, stepping forward.

"Hardly," Kayla sneered. "Only lazy."

"Bitch!" Brad sneered, trying to punch her.

Kayla, in addition to being strong, was fast as a bat out of hell. Mat couldn't even follow her as she moved, until finally she had Brad on the floor, one wrist pulled up to the small of his back, right beside where her knee was placed.

"One wrong move from any of you, and I'll dislocate his shoulder," she warned the other boys he'd brought with him for backup. They raised their hands and backed away. They glanced at each other, clearly confused at how a guuurl had managed to do this to them. They were the guys! The alpha males! She couldn't be doing this to them! She couldn't!

"Bitch!" Sarah screeched, stepping forward.

Letting Kayla fight her own battles was one thing. Letting her fight his, unsupported, was more than Mat could handle. "Enough!" he roared, stepping forward. His roar was enough to stall things until he could get between Kayla and Sarah. "Your brother was stupid enough to try and hit her," he warned Sarah. "He rather deserves the humiliation he gets in return." Like brother, like sister. Mat had expected the slap, however, and leaned back out of range and let it slide past him. Sarah, not expecting to hit thin air, managed to overbalance and fell on her rump. "Rather like you earned that pratfall," Mat added.

"You, you, you big meanie!" she wailed, turning on the waterworks.

Last time, Mat hadn't been prepared for that. This time, he'd had three weeks of his friends telling him what an idiot he was, three weeks to think over everything she'd ever done. Three weeks to realize she really was a conniving, lying bitch. More than that, something about the last few days had changed him. Hurting her feelings just didn't matter as much as it might have forty-eight hours earlier. President Ashwood's efforts at tyranny made her unimportant. Petty, even.

"Pull the other one, it's got bells on," Mat laughed. Indifference she could twist into making him seem an insensitive clod. Anger she could use to convince everyone else that he was abusive. Pity she could use to control him, unless he let it turn to indifference. But instinctively he knew that laughter was the right course. Laughter made her look ridiculous, gave him the upper hand.

"What?" she gaped, not even trying to get up. "Don't be cruel!" she pouted, holding a hand out to him in silent demand.

"I have absolutely no intention of being cruel," Mat told her, aware of the audience. At the very least, the public perception of cruelty wasn't any part of his plans. He needed to defuse this situation, not wind it up further. "But you're a big girl, capable of cleaning up your own messes if you put your mind to it. As opposed to digging the hole deeper."

His statement ended the snickers and returned the gang she'd brought with her to silent hostility, but that didn't bother Mat. So long as the hostility remained silent, it wasn't going to be a problem, and he'd already defused the incipient riot anyway. So long as Kayla didn't set her mind on riling them back up, it shouldn't turn into a fist fight.

"Kayla, perhaps I should speak to Brad myself," Mat commented without turning around. "Perhaps, if he promises to behave, you'll let him up and we can head into one of the study rooms for a quiet chat."

"I'm not sure I trust his promise," Kayla replied.

"And yet you're going to take it anyway," Mat said with absolute assurance, even as he crossed his big toes over their neighbors. After all, crossing his fingers would be rather visible.

"Fine," she growled. "But he has to at least sound sincere."

Mat took a deep breath, prepared to argue, but just blew it out instead. There wasn't much point. She wouldn't let herself be budged further.

"Well?" she asked.

"Fine," Brad snarled.

"Fine, what?" she asked again, voice filled with sweet reason.

"Fine, I'll talk to the bast-ah!" Brad's sentence ended in an involuntary gasp of pain.

"I believe the word 'nice' was bandied at one point," she commented.

"Kayla!" Mat snapped. "Sincere was all you asked for."

"Nicely sincere," she replied. "I don't think I'd trust a promise made to a 'bast-ah'." While Brad's friends didn't laugh at her imitation, the students gathered in the room most certainly did.

"Kayla, I'm trying to get out of this without starting a fight," Mat pointed out. "Win or lose, it would be more trouble than it's worth, especially since-" Mat broke off, unsure how to phrase this. "Especially since there are so many other things we should concern ourselves with. Tests, studies, papers, the daily drudge of student life."

"Oh fine," she complained. "You were saying something?"

"I'll behave," Brad grunted, clearly still in pain. "I'll talk to the man like a nice boy."

"Thank you," Mat turned around. "Now, help him to his feet Kayla. Nicely."

Kayla glared at Mat, then let go of Brad and stepped away. Annoyed, Mat stepped forward and helped Brad finish getting up. "Come on," Mat jerked his head at one of the study rooms, then led the way without looking behind to see if Brad followed. Once at the door, he gestured for Brad to precede him, then closed the door behind himself. "Please, take a seat," Mat gestured at a small couch, taking the armchair opposite it. 'Study' rooms had a strange lack of tables, unless someone had dragged one in from the lobby lately.

"Please, sit," Mat gestured at the couch again. Brad just glared at him. Mat considered making it an order, but instead just shrugged. "Suit yourself," he said instead. "Now, let's try settling this like men, not squabbling ten-year-old boys. What did you come here to talk to me about?"

"You used my sister, then dumped her out like the trash!" Brad snarled, stepping towards Mat.

Mat let every last trace of congeniality drop from his face and body language. "You gave your word to behave," he said flatly. "You didn't specify like a five-year-old boy, and the assumption was you meant 'like a man'. Are you breaking that promise?"

Brad took a deep breath and stepped back. "No," he said after a moment, sitting on the couch.

"Very good," Mat murmured. "So, you believe that I treated your sister in an inappropriate manner."

"Yes!" Brad snapped.

"So what do you want me to do about it? Take her back?" Mat asked.

"Duh," Brad snorted. "You can't just use a girl and dump her!"

Mat smiled. "Just to be clear, by 'used' you mean I had sex with her."

"Just take her back, she loves you for whatever stupid reason," Brad snarled.

"Calmly, calmly," Mat told him reassuringly. "Now, let's move on. There are two possibilities here we need to discuss. The first possibility is that your sister was telling the truth. Down that path, you're trying to force a callous asshole back into a relationship he didn't want. I'm sure you've known a few asses over the years. What do you think they'd do? Act nicely, or beat her up?"

"If you lay a finger on her-" Brad sex to his feet.

"I think I've made my point," Mat said with a smile after realizing Brad wasn't going to finish the threat. "So, if she's telling the truth, then this was a rather stupid exercise to begin with. You should just convince her to get over me."

Mat made a gesture with his hands as if tossing something away. "And, of course, you'll probably want to beat me up before you leave. You brought five of your friends with you. A good number. A strong number. But I have three times that many boys here to back me up. And that's not counting the girls. After what Kayla did, I don't think we should forget to count them, should we?" Mat hesitated a moment, then dug the knife in deeper. "In case you don't know her name, Kayla would be the one who took you down as easily as a toddler finishes off a cookie jar, and without having to worry about mommy catching her with her hand in said jar."

Brad sat back down, slowly. "So, to summarize, if your sister is telling the truth, this was the stupidest move you could possibly have made."

"Having made that point, let's move on. The second possibility is that your sister is a liar. And let's be clear, unlike what Kayla said, I don't think your sister is a slut. She has an agenda of some sort, but a slut is just after sex. Sex may be part of Sarah's agenda, but its only part. A tool, not the goal."

"I don't know what her goal is," Mat shrugged. "But she wants me wrapped around her finger however she can get me there. Why, I don't know. But if we think about this path, you're trying to tie a man who did nothing dishonorable to a lying, manipulative..." Mat hesitated. "Let's just use the word 'girl', but if you think about it as if she weren't your sister, I'm sure another word would come to mind."

Mat leaned forward. "Now let me ask you a question. No, not a question, a favor. Think about the past. Has your sister been a paragon of virtue her entire life? Liars tend to tell lies, and those who speak the truth tend to avoid them when they can. In your experience, well, I'm sure you've seen the type of person your sister is."

Brad took a deep breath, then seemed to think. "She did have a tendency to lie to get herself out of trouble," he admitted. "And to connive to get what she wanted."

"I think you need a few minutes alone to think," Mat stood up.

Brad laughed. "You mean a few minutes to stew in how stupid I was."

"No," Mat shook his head as he walked for the door. "Blood is thicker than water."

Brad was right behind him as Mat stepped back out into the lobby. One look at Kayla staring down the gang Brad had brought with him had Mat shaking his head in exasperation. "Can't I leave you alone for two minutes?" he complained, causing all six of them to look over at him. The tension vanished as they seemed to slouch, and Mat halfway expected one of them to start whistling innocently.

"Of course you can," she smiled at him. "The boys and I were just... discussing physical fitness."

The five guys nodded amiably, idiotic smiles plastered all over their faces.

"We're leaving," Brad ordered harshly, pushing past Mat.

"But brother-" Sarah whined, then half-yelped as Brad snagged her arm and yanked her around

"We'll talk at home," Brad snapped, dragging her out the door with him.

Mat walked to the door and watched the rest of the gang minus one drift off. The last one just looked at Kayla with stars in his eyes. "Is she seeing anyone?" he asked when he turned a moment later to leave.

"Kayla?!" Mat choked back a laugh.

"Yeah, her," the guy said with a dreamy smile.

For a moment Mat didn't understand, then he managed to connect two plus two to get four and had to choke down the urge to gag at the thought of anyone or anything finding Kayla's antics appealing. It took all kinds to make a world, but this was absurd. "I don't believe anyone is that foolish," Mat muttered.

"Foolish?" the guy snapped, hands twitching forward as if to wring Mat's neck.

"A poor choice of words," Mat said soothingly. "I imagine some people might find her attitude appealing, but I don't."

"Oh," the guy smiled. "So she's available?"

"Yeah," Mat managed to agree.

"Rob!" Brad snapped from the distance. "We're leaving!"

"Coming, boss!" Rob shouted back, finally leaving.

Mat waited until the door had closed, then turned to rejoin the crowd.

"Not one word!" he ordered Kayla, who was looking speculatively at the departing goon.

"Wouldn't dream of it," she smiled. "You need two. Cute and butt."

Mat groaned and dropped his face into his hands as everyone laughed. "I didn't need to hear that," he laughed.

"What brought you and Harry out here in such a hurry anyways," someone asked. Mat looked over at Harry, who was already setting his laptop up.

"I guess you guys missed the news?" he asked. Kayla winced.

"Actually, we were watching it for a while," Kayla told him. "We got interrupted by that idiot. Why, was there something interesting on?"

"Oh, you could say that," Mat agreed. "Harry and I turned it on while we were studying, since you told us they'd interviewed you. We could hardly miss your dulcet tones coming from the TV, after all."

Everyone laughed, even as Mat felt his face grow hard. "What we saw, though, was... was..." He shook his head.

"Ready when you are, Mat!" Harry called, queuing up the recording he'd made.

"Thankfully, we recorded the entire show," Mat continued. "We figured someone might like a little memento, and Harry got a special TV card so he could put clips up on Youtube. Hit play, Harry."

"And now the six o'clock news!" the TV announced.

"Oh shoot," Harry laughed. "One second," he fiddled with the laptop, skipping the recording forward. He overshot slightly, then managed to get it back to the right moment.

Mat didn't watch. Didn't listen. He'd already done that too much today. Instead, he observed the crowd. Momentary confusion, disbelief, and a growing tide of anger. In some it was weak, and he mentally dismissed those. But in some, he saw a rage to echo his own. He'd need them soon enough. They weren't going to stand around and wait for the situation to develop further on its own. It was time to start shaping this situation. Making this clip public was a start, but it was only a start.

"Bastards," someone hissed. "Those bastards!"

"Precisely," Mat agreed, pitching his voice to carry. "I don't know about any of you. Frankly, I don't care about what you think. I'm not going to stand for this. First the attempted assassination against former President Bryce. Now this. What's next?"

Mat felt his mind racing forward again. Earlier, as things had begun, he'd had the sense that he'd known the shape of things to come. That he could tell exactly how the chips would fall. "I'll tell you what's next," he continued as the vision took shape in his mind. "Things have gone too far. Neither side can back down. Neither side will back down. Starting sometime tomorrow, there are going to be protests. Then there will be counter-protests. Then counter-counter protests. Eventually, within two, three days, four at the outside, someone is going to do something stupid. The protests will turn violent. They always do."

One by one, he looked each of the men and women he'd marked as fighters in the eye, calling to them. "We have to keep those protests going. Those protests are going to give Congress the fuel they need to call for impeachment proceedings. Those protests -- our protests! -- are going to hang a noose around Ashwood's neck and kick his feet out from under him. They'll be the final push off the side of the ship, so the anchor he's tied to his own feet can carry him down to the deeps."

Conscious of every eye on him, Mat pushed forward to the front of the room, still talking. He very carefully didn't wipe the trace of spittle away from the corner of his lip. The spittle was probably invisible, but wiping it would be quite obvious. "Congress will impeach the bastard, try him, and convict his sorry ass. His vice president should step into the Oval Office, and try to continue on with business as usual. Except he's too close to the presidency. Someone will find evidence connecting him to things, and he will be impeached right next to Ashwood."

There was a small stage under the TV, and Mat stepped up onto it, the lessons he'd learned in speech coming to the fore. "Once they're impeached, they'll have no choice. They can let themselves be charged, tried, convicted and be dragged down by the weight of hatred. Or they can risk it all, and continue their gamble."

Like a clear path, the future unfolded before Mat. "They'll give the order," he said more softly, forcing everyone in the room to strain to hear him. They leaned in, unable to help themselves as he continued to weave his verbal spell. "God damn their souls. They'll find a pretext to ignore Congress. They'll order the military in. Some idiots will obey," Mat's voice grew haunted. He tried to stop it, to keep it firm if soft, but it wasn't going to obey. "Some won't. Some will fight back. Soldier fighting soldier, friend fighting friend, brother fighting brother."

Mat wiped away the tear trickling its slow way down the right side of his face. "It'll be civil war. A short civil war, but civil war," he told everyone sadly. "We've come too far. Ashwood isn't that stupid. He has to have at least some of the military on his side. It'll take time, maybe two or three months, for Congress to move. By the time Congress acts, he'll be ready. He'll have dismissed genuinely loyal officers and replaced them with his cronies. He'll have already begun that process, and knowing what's coming he can only accelerate it."

"And there's only one thing we can do in response," Mat told everyone, letting his voice grow in volume. "Prepare. Push the protests, push them hard. Use them to network, to prepare, to find others and prepare them." Mat concentrated not just on his words, but the syllables that formed them. Forced each syllable out, each word out, with a sharp, staccato precision that made it that much more powerful. "Figure out where we can get weapons and quietly, quietly, get our hands on them. And when Ashwood makes his own move..." Mat held his hand out, palm up, and slowly closed it as if gripping something and slowly crushing it to dust. For the finish, he lowered his voice out to a conversational tone. "We'll be ready to help the legitimate authorities crush his treason."

The room was silent. Mat smiled, gently. "But the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Harry will get you copies of the video you just saw. Put them on Youtube. Put them on Facebook. Put them on your blogs. And most importantly: share them with your friends. Share them with your family. Get the news out there."

Mat jumped nearly a foot in the air, completely and utterly startled as Harry's laptop, amplified by the TV speakers behind Mat, began loudly broadcasting an air raid siren.

"Shit, sorry," Harry apologized. "That's my overheating alarm." The look Harry shot at Mat as he said that was strange, like he was trying to communicate something. "The friends we were talking to earlier showed me how to set it up, but I guess we forgot to limit the volume," Harry added in response to Mat's puzzled look.

Friends? Mat's confusion cleared up in an instant. "We'll have to talk to them," Mat nodded. "I think they may owe me a new pair of pants."

The room laughed at that. Mat looked across them and nodded. "While I change said pants, you guys should probably get ready. Start with some research. Figure out where on campus we can hold this, and how many can attend. Others, work on how many people you can browbeat into attending and when you can get them there. I want to start this first thing tomorrow. Be ready to browbeat, bully, and otherwise enforce your will. You aren't asking people to come. You're telling them to get their asses out. Protest starts at 8:30AM. Sharp! If need be, it'll just be us in this room. We'll skip classes. We'll skip meals. We'll all need new pants before the day is out. But we'll get it done."

Some people began shifting backwards, looking for a way out. Mat smiled at them. "If you want to leave now and forget you ever heard anything, feel free. Just remember it's your own fault when the tyrant's boot comes down on your neck. You had a chance to stop things. You threw it away."

Half of them wouldn't be there anymore by the time Mat got back. He knew it. They knew it. But that should keep at least half of them. Besides, he really could use a new pair of briefs.

Harry quickly disconnected his laptop and followed Mat as he walked back to his room. "Get yourself set up on my desk," Mat ordered, opening his dresser and grabbing a new set of briefs.

"You really pissed your pants?" Harry laughed.

Mat shrugged. "I actually need to go soon, and that was very loud," he defended himself. "And it was only a few drops, just enough to make things uncomfortable."

Mat and Harry had changed in front of each other hundreds of times, so Mat didn't waste any time stripping out of his thankfully still dry pants and uncomfortably damp briefs. A quick check showed the briefs had absorbed all the moisture, so he just pulled the new ones on and redid his pants. "So, if I understood you, your 'friends' wanted a word?"

"Yeah," Harry nodded. "There's actually a video of some kind going out. Ready?"

"Sure," Mat nodded. Harry hit a few buttons on his keyboard, and his laptop's screen dissolved into static. When the screen finally resolved into a picture, it showed a silhouetted figure sitting behind a desk. When the figure spoke, the voice was masked, preventing them from identifying so much the gender of the speaker. Of course, given the screen name 'Queen B' it was probably a female. Probably.

"Hello to all of those within the Kingdom that are listening. This message is being sent out to the entire Kingdom, but will disappear in four hours time. Please listen carefully, what I am about to tell you is the truth, and we can prove it."

"Several days ago, the internet was flooded with government documents, detailing the illegal and immoral acts that the current administration is involved with. We have seen how they have systematically disabled the freedom of the internet, how they are blocking certain things from being accessed, especially anything that might make them look bad."

"We created the underground net to combat this exact thing. Information should be available to all. Knowledge is power, power to be had by anyone who wants it. We shall never allow certain people to decide what we can and cannot know." Her voice grew louder and angrier as she continued, "That is for us to decide, not some red taped politician!" She slammed her closed fist against her desk in anger, then took a few seconds to calm down. "We have uncovered some of the plans that President Ashwood has in place to keep power even though he lost the election. Yes. We know about Operation Starshine. While we don't know all the details, we know enough."

"I have a warning to everyone on the East Coast, especially near Orlando and Newark. Both of those cities have gone completely dark. We have no idea what is happening in either city. If you are near them, get away. If somehow you are in those cities, and see this, let us know what's going on."

She paused again, this time, everyone could hear her sigh deeply. When she continued, people could hear the emotion in her voice even through the voice disguise she had going. "Please do not put yourselves in harm's way. We have seen what happened in Breckenridge, Texas. We have seen how the federal agents there shot their own people to start the massacre. These monsters will do ANYTHING. Please do not let them hurt you."

She paused, and stood up behind the desk. "We can not allow this to stand! We can not sit back and do nothing while these politicians, and their agents, trample our God given rights. I urge everyone that can hear this. If you have the ability, fight. We don't know exactly what is going to happen next, but we know more is coming. Already communications are becoming spotty at best all over the eastern half of the country. Stay safe, and if you can, fight. Fight the oppressive rule that is coming to this great country. Fight as if your life depends on it, because I will guarantee you that it does. Hundreds of innocent children's lives have already been lost, and that is just the start."

She sighed as she sat back down. "Many of you cannot fight though, and I understand that. Many people are already starting to flee from the east. But where will you go? I have heard about a small town in Washington State. A small town that has seen what is coming, and is preparing. They are preparing for hundreds if not thousands of refugees to come to them. The town is called Kettle Falls. It is a small town full of true American Patriots that are doing what they can. If you need a place, and you can get there, they will help you."

She stood up again, this time she stood up strong and proud. "To all of those within my kingdom. I have never given a decree before, knowing full well that the Underground Net is based on freedom, not decree. However, now I am giving a decree. I am decreeing that we are now at war! War against those that would kill our children to retain power! War against those that will try to intimidate and break the spirit of this country for their own gain!"

"President Elect Bryce... I am sure at some point you will see this. I want you to understand one thing very clearly. For this moment we are allies. We will help you however we can. However, the moment you step out of line. The moment you allow yourself to be corrupted by power and greed the way the current administration has been, we will no longer be allies. To quote a song my son likes, 'Isn't it funny what power and money can do to the soul of a man?'"

"We may be scattered, but we are organized, and we will not go quietly into the night. We will not be intimidated and quieted by the bullies in power. We will fight, and we will be known. Our voices will not be silenced, nor will we cower in fear. Ashwood has roused a sleeping dragon, and this dragon will not sleep until our foe is vanquished. Rise up my knights, rise up my Kingdom, now we fight!"

The silhouetted figure faded from the screen only to be replaced by a large dragon, standing on a mountain top, its wings spread wide, while it belched a gout of fire high into the air. It then flapped its huge wings, and took to the air.

Once the video finished, the program automatically closed itself and Harry's laptop began whirring and beeping. "The program was set up to automatically delete itself after finishing the video," Harry said. "The system is automatically writing over the disk sectors where the video was stored. All ones, then all zeros. Won't leave a single trace on my drive if anyone inspects it."

"Paranoid," Mat muttered. "What was that Operation Sunshine she mentioned?"

"I think it was Starshine, and I don't know," Harry shrugged. "I'll go and poke around on the internet a bit."

"You do that," Mat nodded. "Oh, hey, have they yanked the video yet?"

"Let me check," Harry turned on the TV.

"Damn," Mat laughed. "They still haven't pulled it?"

Harry began to grin, despite the sickening scenes of carnage beginning to unfold on the TV. "I have an idea," he laughed, quickly typing something on his screen.

"Oh, perfect," Mat grinned back. "Just perfect. Do it."

A minute later, the computer began to speak as Harry fine-tuned the text-to-speech results. "Thank you for watching this broadcast. We now return you to the feed of bovine post-digestive product provided by the mass media as approved by Asswood."

Mat began howling in laughter as Harry cursed angrily. "Of all the things for Microsoft Sam to screw up! Oh. I typed it in wrong."

Mat laughed. "I like it, keep it!"

"Seriously?" Harry asked, grinning himself. "I thought you wanted to be more serious."

"Yeah, well, I wasn't expecting the chance to get a nice Parthian shot in," Mat grinned back. "Do it."

"Alright, uploading the commands now," Harry managed between gales of laughter. "There. Just in time, the current repetition of the feed should end in about thirty seconds."

"I wish I could see 'Asswood's' face in a few minutes," Mat giggled. Forcing himself to sober up, he shook his head and turned to leave. "I'm going to go back to work out front."

"What are you planning to do?" Harry asked, stifling his own laughter.

"I'm going to get a protest going," Mat shrugged. "Then, I'm going to distribute those disks you need to start burning. I'll send someone back for them in four or five minutes."

"I'll be in my room, I need my blanks," Harry nodded. "Good luck."

"Thanks," Mat smiled, then opened the door and stepped through. The sound in the lobby was growing louder, he could hear it the instant he stepped into the hallway. Not just louder, angrier too. If there had been enough people there, Mat would have said that they were one step short of a riot.

Smiling, Mat considered how best to push them that extra step. After, of course, he visited the restroom.

Wednesday Nov 7, 2012, 18:48

Charleston, West Virginia

"President Ashwood wants a briefing ten minutes ago!" a staffer snarled out of Colonel Bishop's phone.

"Sir, at this time, we don't have any additional information," Colonel Bishop said evenly, fingering his collar. It seemed to have shrunk three sizes in the last half hour.

"What do you mean, you 'don't have any additional information'?" the staffer screamed. He hadn't even had the courtesy to introduce himself, and it was all Colonel Bishop could do to refrain from pointing that out. A caller ID of 'Presidential Office' was enough to check his normal response to being harangued by unidentified callers.

"We sent the initial notice only twenty minutes ago, Sir," Colonel Bishop explained, "shortly after the unauthorized signal was detected. Our initial focus was on shutting the signal down, not identifying it. We've had less than fifteen minutes to begin analysis, and that analysis has yet to reveal anything that I haven't already told you. Someone, somehow, hijacked a local cable company's hardware and overrode their video feed. We're in the process of identifying the source of the hijack, but so far all we can tell is that it was somewhere upstream of the routers stored in the local university. Whoever did this is good, sir."

"In fifteen minutes, that's all you've managed?!" the staffer screamed.

"Sir, we've confirmed that the voice on the video was so heavily edited as to render it unidentifiable by normal means. Initial analysis of the video shows no flaws that can be used to attack its credibility, but I've got several experts working that angle now. We've cut the unauthorized feed by ordering the source IP disconnected from the network, but doing so severed the command and control feed it was transmitting. It appears that without that command feed, the node the hacker co-opted reverted itself to standard functioning. We're going to have to go through every local piece of hardware, and on a device by device basis examine them for any signs of tampering."

"So why did you cut the command node out?" the staffer demanded.

"Because the initial orders, which I was informed came directly from the White House, was to shut the feed down immediately and at any cost," Bishop replied. "Sir."

The staffer hesitated. Gotcha, Bishop smirked. This staffer was either afraid of whoever had given the order, or had given it themselves. Too bad he couldn't think of a way to twist that knife further. "By cutting the feed, we were able to minimize the damage done, even if it does leave us vulnerable to a repeat. But a repeat is going to take them time to stage Sir, and they're just about out of time. I've already got units prepping for tomorrow's activities, and the last schedule I was sent showed the power going out in less than three hours. Once the power goes down, we have all the time in the world to prep defenses. If these bastards try it again, I plan to be ready to track the command and control feed instantly. My techs will identify both the source and destination nodes, and I will have teams ready to physically seize control of them on a moment's notice."

"Understood," the staffer responded thoughtfully. "Get a better report up here ASAP."

"Sir, yes sir," Colonel Bishop replied just before a small click informed him that he'd been hung up on.

He slammed the handset down on its cradle so hard he wound up with a mass of long, sharp, jagged splinters. Snarling, he turned and slightly more gently pressed a control on his intercom. "Mary, get Jackson up here!"

"Yes Colonel Bishop," she replied cheerfully. "Would you like me to prepare some coffee?"

"Yes," he snapped. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to be civil. "Thank you for offering, Mary. And while you're at it, you could tell IT they can expect a very angry colonel in about twenty minutes. Feel free to play up my temper as much as you would like. I fully intend to be bringing the wrath of god down on them. Remind them that shit flows downhill, and I just got a shat on by a staffer at the White House."

"Will they be needing hip-waders or snorkels, sir?" she asked.

"Oh, snorkels, definitely snorkels," Bishop laughed. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, sir," she replied. Bishop clicked the intercom off, smiling. It was too bad he couldn't fully trust his secretary. She was good, really good, but she hadn't passed the necessary background checks. He'd known her for years and had flat-out refused to replace her without better cause than 'possible subversive leanings', but he had no choice but to start cutting her out of the loop on some things. Which meant that come tomorrow morning, something was going to go wrong. No matter how many aides or attaches he assigned himself, they just couldn't handle things as well as she could. She was a God-given miracle that he thanked the Lord for every single day, but even she couldn't prevent disasters when she didn't know what was going on.

Still, even if she couldn't help with the secret missions he'd been running lately, she at least kept everything else running as smoothly as possible. Bishop started back on the mountain of paperwork on his desk. Even during an emergency, he still had to sign off on hundreds of documents, ranging from approving Private Mendoza's maternity leave -- like anyone was stupid enough to take an eight month pregnant woman into a combat zone! -- to the expenditure report on replacing the MRE's they'd recently issued to the troops.

His intercom buzzed until he depressed a switch. "Captain Jackson here to see you," Mary told him. "Shall I send him in?"

"Yes, thank you," Bishop ordered.

Almost half a second after he'd turned the intercom off, the door to his office swung ponderously open as Mary led the Captain in, carefully managing a tray filled with cookies, donuts, and all the necessary accoutrements to the pot of coffee she carried in one hand.

As if by magic, she had a section on his desk cleared out in moments, then wafted away with the contents of his outbox almost before he'd had time to stand up and offer to help her with her burdens.

"That is one impressive secretary, sir," Captain Jackson commented.

"Tell me about it," Colonel Bishop agreed, shaking his head as the door closed. He carefully let his right hand lean on the intercom panel, turning it on. "I thank God every single day for the blessings he gives me, and she's always right at the top of the list." He leaned back and sat, pulling his hand away from the intercom before she could try and respond. "Please, sit," he gestured to one of the chairs on the other side of the desk. "Help yourself to some coffee," he added, pouring himself a mug.

After the initial pleasantries were finished, Colonel Bishop checked his intercom panel to insure that the office's security measures were active. "I'm sure you're aware of the illegal broadcast that was made?" he asked.

"Yes sir," Captain Jackson nodded sharply. "I've been talking to the men who saw it. Most of them are ready and willing to believe the party line, once we deliver it. A few will need convincing."

"I'm concerned about the possible necessity of extreme measures," Colonel Bishop said carefully. "Bryce and his terrorist friends have been slowly but carefully ramping up their campaign of terror and disinformation for a while now. Most people could be excused for not noticing, but this recent, rapid elevation may pay unexpected dividends for them if we aren't prepared to answer them forcefully."

"I made the exact point to several men earlier," Captain Jackson nodded sharply. "We're not preparing to take over power and communications systems without good reason, our goal is to be able to respond instantly if Bryce tries to move against them. Our contingency plans to seize the facilities are aimed at returning control of them to rightful authorities on the one hand, or secure them against imminent terrorist attack on the other."

"I'm about to say something that cannot be repeated outside this room," Colonel Bishop prefaced his orders. "The time will come when you can repeat it to the troops, but for now, officially speaking, this conversation never happened. We discussed troop readiness only."

"Sir, yes sir," Captain Jackson nodded sharply.

"Intelligence reports indicate that Bryce is preparing to launch a coup," Bishop lied. "We've had reports that he's been gathering arms and preparing for resistance for quite a while, but things are coming to a head now. He faked the election results, and intends to press forward before evidence can be presented to the public as to how. He intends to present it as President Ashwood attempting to run a coup. He will support his statements by using a variety of terrorist attacks against targets across the United States. We've identified one such target in the local area. You will need to deploy a platoon on extremely short notice to a farmhouse just outside of town. Buried somewhere on that property, we're working on getting exact coordinates, is a crate filled with sarin gas precursors. It's not live gas, but in the right hands, with a ready supply of common chemicals, they can be used to mix large quantities of the gas in very short order."

Captain Jackson hissed angrily. "I'd suggest using fourth platoon," he said after a moment's thought. "They didn't do as well in the last chemical warfare readiness drill, but they're the best we have at finding things others don't want hidden. Possibly augment them with Sergeant Sutton's squad from first platoon; the man is a genius at seeing possible clues."

"I'll leave the exact disposition in your capable hands," Bishop smiled. "In a few hours, I'm going to need second platoon ready to move. Consider this a preliminary warning that we're activating the contingency plans covering local power stations. We believe that the chemical precursors you're being sent to capture are what's left after a large batch of gas was created. That gas, according to reliable reports, has been distributed throughout the city. City police located one of the dispersal units Bryce planned to use, and it has a distinct vulnerability. It's designed to activate after the power goes out, but the egg-heads in Washington discovered that the on-board software has a secondary criteria. It'll only go off if the power outage is after ten PM tonight. If we take the power out earlier than that, the devices will be rendered inert while we search for them."

Captain Jackson blinked in surprise. "We'll need to take the power grid offline in the area," he thought to himself. "Not sure how that could be done, it's designed to remain intact even in the event of a given substation failing."

"Any one substation could be worked around," Bishop agreed. "You're going to send second and first platoons out to seize every local substation and begin an orderly shutdown. Third platoon will move out to support and defend the various police stations and their associated armories. We need a clean sweep or this won't work. Even a brown out may be enough power to let the devices trigger when the power goes completely."

Jackson nodded. "I'll get the troops ready to move."

Bishop shook his head. "No. We have reason to believe there is a leak somewhere. Actually, thanks to Facebook and Twitter we're quite certain that most of your troops could unintentionally leak information. This has to come at them cold. When you leave, Mary will have a list of soldiers you need to discuss operational security and social media with. A long list, nearly two thirds of Charlie company."

Jackson winced. "I had no idea it was that bad sir," he apologized. "I'll have a long discussion with the entire company on the matter."

"You do that," Bishop nodded sharply. "The fact remains, however, that we can't afford to let Bryce know that we know. For now, the information stream needs to remain unchanged. If our troops suddenly stop twittering their showers and facebooking their assignments, it might wave a red flag. On the other hand, a massive power outage like this will make news, and they'll attribute the drop to that, not troop movements."

Jackson nodded. "I understand sir."

"You can let your sergeants know, but the rest of your troops can't so much as be hinted at that something is happening," Bishop continued. "It'll have to come at them cold. Just keep drilling them, hard. You've got good excuses because they aren't performing satisfactorily yet. Lose your temper, or if you like just point out my temper is frayed and you don't want me any more pissed off. I'm about to go throw a shit storm at the tech geeks, so you've got plenty of excuse to avoid my attention. Frankly, I don't care what excuse you use so long as it sounds real and doesn't reveal anything it shouldn't."

"Of course sir," Jackson nodded.

"Under normal circumstances, I'd have you go through Mary for any additional support or comments," Bishop sighed. "Unfortunately, Mrs. Fletcher did not pass the last security inspection with flying colors. She is not authorized to know anything about this mission. If you need any form of support or clarification, you'll have to come directly to me. She's aware of the security issues, and will pass you through directly if you require it."

"Yes sir," Jackson nodded again.

"Dismissed!" Bishop snapped.

"Sir!" Jackson stood up, saluted, and marched out.

Wednesday Nov 7, 2012, 18:52

Charleston, West Virginia

The first thing Mat noticed as he walked into the lobby was the news going full blast, the anchor reporter disclaiming any and all responsibility for the 'terrorist propaganda' that had temporarily overridden the station's signal. The only reason he noticed it first was because someone had cranked the volume up to max, the only way it could be heard over the room filled with college boys laughing their heads off, college girls giggling, and a few reactions in between.

Kayla, as was her usual wont, fell in with the guys and was laughing so hard she actually managed to fall on the floor, unable to stand upright.

"What's so funny?" Mat asked Ralph, maintaining a straight face.

"Well, first those hackers called the President 'Asswood'," Ralph sobered up long enough to say, "then the signal cut back to the news anchor, who was right in the middle of saying, 'You know, that Asswood crack is actually kind of clever - what do you mean we're live!' He then let a couple of profanities before returning to his, ah, 'regularly scheduled serving of bullshit'."

Mat couldn't help rejoining the general hilarity. They couldn't have managed this on purpose if they'd tried, but the news anchor's slip was just the icing on the cake. Sure, it'd piss Asswood off to no end, but damn it was hilarious. They'd just really better hope that no one could track it back to them.

Still, time to take ample advantage of the opening they'd managed to make. And having made that opening, they needed to take full and public advantage of it. Mat knew damned well that the best approach to hiding anything was the purloined letter approach. No one would pay too much attention to something they already knew all about. Don't hide, shout at the top of your lungs! Nothing was so ignorable as someone actually trying to get your attention.

The general hilarity gradually died down, and Mat raised his hands to get everyone's attention. "All right ladies and gentlemen," he managed to shout without giggling himself, "now that we've had our regularly scheduled dosage of clowning around and making asses of ourselves-"

The room dissolved into laughter, and Mat visibly winced at his deliberately unfortunate choice of words. "All right, all right!" he shouted again, regaining their attention. "I will strive to avoid any other word choices that might draw undue attention to the rather humorous moment just past, but please try to focus. If you keep this up, you're going to wind up needing to change your pants, too."

Again, the room dissolved into laughter. Mat and Harry had managed to bring them right to the cusp of a riot, but that was as far as they were really willing to go. While he was in the restroom, Mat had experienced an epiphany. If he wanted to get these people involved, really involved, he needed to back them off from that limit, calm them down a little, then wind them back up. Rinse, wash, and repeat.

And if he wanted to stand half a chance at controlling what was about to happen, he desperately needed to get them thinking in terms of him being their leader. He proposed, they disposed. If he didn't get that set early, they'd break apart into a thousand separate groups. Sure, that was better than them not doing anything at all, but they needed to work together if they were going to affect any real change. Whatever else happened, today's events proved that the United States was going to have a civil war. Mat refused to just sit back and let that happen. He couldn't stop the war. At this point, even Jack Bryce and President Ashwood probably couldn't stop it, even if they wanted to. And they probably didn't. Bryce might mourn the loss of life, but he'd understand that it was vitally necessary to slap Ashwood down. And Ashwood... Ashwood wasn't going to accept anything that didn't leave him in total control.

Today's events had solidified Mat's position, removing any and all doubts from his mind. Say what you would about Bryce, but there was no way he could have tolerated the events Mat had seen on the feed off the internet. And no way he could have actually gotten the forces in position without being detected by Ashwood.

"Now that all of you have regained control of yourselves," Mat said sternly as the laughter died out, "let's start getting some work done. Who here has any experience with protests, or organizing a rally?"

Three hands raised in the crowd, and Mat winced. Oh well, if that's all he had to work with that's all he had to work with. "Alright, get over here. Everyone else, keep pushing the news out. Email and phone are your best bets for now. Save your Twitter and Facebook accounts for a little later."

"Mathew Peterson," Mat introduced himself to the three who drifted over. "Jacob, right?" he asked the one he vaguely knew.

"Jacob Jackson," the guy replied, offering his hand. Mat took it firmly, looking the man in the eyes and trying to impress the face into his memory.

"Alexander Cabot," the second introduced himself, offering his hand. He didn't quite meet Mat's gaze, but his grip was firm. Not shy then.

"Jeremy Dewitt," the third introduced himself firmly, meeting Mat's eyes with an angry glare.

Mat matched the glare without flinching as he took Jeremy's hand. "Glad to meet you," he said evenly.

"Oh, this isn't the first time we've encountered one another," Jeremy almost growled back.

"I'm sorry," Mat shook his head. "I really don't have a clue what you're talking about."

"You wouldn't," Jeremy snapped. "After all-"

"Jeremy-" Alexander said placatingly, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder.

Jeremy shrugged the hand off angrily. "December, 2010. Just before winter break."

"Sorry, not ringing any bells," Mat narrowed his eyes. "I was on the football team, did we play or something?"

Jeremy's body was so tense with anger he seemed to vibrate in place. "You really don't remember. You don't have a fucking clue!"

"He didn't exactly get a good look at our faces then," Alexander pointed out. "He and his friends weren't interested in introductions."

"Okay, I think I'm going to wander off for a minute," Jacob said, looking back and forth between the three of them. "Let you guys work this out privately."

"Oh no," Jeremy said, voice as smooth as honey, "please, stay. That way we'll have a witness this time."

Oh. Shit. Mat never really met the guy after the first time. Everything had been handled at a distance, by family and police. Mat and his friends had scraped by because there weren't any witnesses, but neither mother nor Gran were particularly amused. Mother hadn't had a chance to express her displeasure until long after, but Gran... Mat may have been seventeen, but his ass still smarted from that particular beating.

She might have approved of the sentiments, but breaking the law was still breaking the law. Besides, the real, true, Christian way to handle the situation would have been by witnessing, not by dropping the fags, head first, into a handy pair of trash cans. The only reason Mat and his friends weren't forced to come forward was because their families didn't want their lives ruined by a reasonable moment of disgust, even if their expression of that disgust was somewhat immature.

"I should have apologized then," Mat said softly, painfully, eyes firmly on his own feet. "But the DA was making noises about hate crimes and none of us wanted to go to jail."

"Jail?" Jeremy hissed. "You were worried about jail?"

"It was immature and hateful of me to do what I did," Mat continued. "I cannot beg your pardon for it. I just can't. I should, God help me, but I can't."

"Because it was right?" Jeremy sneered.

"Because it was so very, very wrong," Mat looked up. It was hard. Oh God it was hard. But Jeremy deserved that much. "It was wrong, and I am so sorry."

"You're sorry," Jeremy said, almost shocked. "We were stuck there, in those cans, for over an hour, and you're sorry?"

"An hour?" Mat asked, aghast. "We figured you'd knock yourselves loose pretty quickly."

"The trashcans had cement bottoms to make sure no one could tip them over," Jeremy growled. "We had to wait for someone to help us out. Stuck, upside-down, in the trash."

"I'm sorry," Mat said, spreading his hands. "There's nothing else I can do to make it right but apologize. As I said, we would have done it sooner, but with the DA making noises about hate crimes..."

"Bah," Jeremy snorted. "What, six months public service?"

"With the hate crimes enhancement, it would have counted as a felony," Mat growled back. "We'd have gone to jail for five years. At least."

Jeremy blinked in surprise. "Five years?" he asked.

"At least," Mat nodded. "You didn't know?"

Jeremy shook his head. "No. I was pissed, but..." Jeremy seemed to struggle with himself. "As angry as I was, I knew it was just a... high school prank," he shrugged. "I wanted you guys punished, but not that badly."

Jeremy's statement made Mat hang his head again. "I'm sorry," he repeated. "God as my witness, if I could undo my actions I would. They were wrong. You may be faggots, but I had no right to do what I did."

"It's one thing to apologize, it's another to insult us while apologizing," Alexander snarled. "If you're going to do this, don't you think you should do it right?"

Mat's head shot up for a moment, then he dropped it again. "I'm sorry," he repeated uselessly. "I apologize for my actions, I apologize for my choice of language."

"And the attitude?" Alexander demanded.

Mat raised his chin just enough to meet Alexander's eyes. "That's where I draw the line," he said softly. "What I did was wrong. Why I did it was right. You and your... actions are a sin against God. No decent Christian could do anything but challenge them. How I challenged them was wrong, but the challenging was not."

"So if I were to pull Jeremy around and give him a nice wet one on the lips?" Alexander asked.

"I'd walk away," Mat forced himself to say. His statement hung in the air for a long moment before Alexander nodded.

"Then on my part, I forgive you your actions," he told Mat. "Your attitude, your beliefs, are your own. You have the right to those beliefs, so long as you recognize our right to ours."

"That," Mat managed to force out, "is correct. In both directions."

"And if you were to turn the clock back," Alexander asked, "what would you do when your friends decided to dump us in the trash?"

Mat forced himself to unclench his fists. "I never should have helped them," he whispered. "God it would have been hard, but I should have stopped them." He had to work his mouth for a moment before he could force it to continue. "Stood against them. Fought them if need be."

"That's not exactly an answer," Jeremy snapped.

"No, it's not," Mat agreed more loudly. "But it's the best I can manage and still be honest."

"Once we figured out who you were," Alexander said softly, "we did some research. We could have pressed harder with the cops, insisted they bring you in by name, but we decided not to. Antagonizing the cops wouldn't do us any good, and the first thing that came up when we started researching you was your father."

"Huh?" Mat asked, confused. What did his father have to do with this?

"Your father was a cop, your mother is in the Navy," Alexander told him. "You hate gays. It's written in every twitch of your body, every last line of your face as you talk to us, do you realize that? But I see something else there. Something beyond the shame."

"What would that be?" Mat asked, not even aware of the harsh edge in his voice until he'd already finished the sentence.

"Conflict," Alexander nodded. "You're at war with yourself, aren't you?"

Damnit, Mat had had enough of being psychoanalyzed today! It was bad enough when his roommate did it, but for these fags to jump in on the bandwagon was more than he could stand. "What of it?" he snarled.

"For someone who was just apologizing, you sure seem ready to pound us back into the ground," Jeremy commented, moving closer to his boyfriend.

Mat unclenched his fists and forced himself to a semblance of calm. It wasn't much of one, but the fag was right. No. If he was going to avoid his past mistakes, he had to start with his thoughts. The gay... The boy... The guy was right.

"I've had an extremely rough day," Mat managed to say evenly. "My father's murderer is about to be out on parole, and there is probably jack squat I can do about it. Add in the news, and then this, and I think a degree of emotion is reasonable."

"A degree of emotion, but you've also shown a degree of control," Alexander said firmly. "For my part, I've forgiven you. I even forgive you your attitudes, because despite your inability to say it, I believe I know exactly what you'd do if given a chance to do things over."

"How can you know what I'd do?" Mat asked angrily.

"Because the man who brought that news clip out here, and then promptly manipulated everyone in the room into following him, is a man who believes in honor, and rule of law. You couldn't have done what you did without that firm, bedrock belief," Alexander told him. "I could feel it all the way to the back of the room. You didn't wind us around your fingers, you wound us around your honor, and force of character. A good enough actor could have pulled that off, maybe, but you aren't that good an actor. If you were, you wouldn't be giving away as much as you are right now. And that same honor, that same belief in the rule of law, wouldn't give you much room to maneuver, would it?"

Mat took a deep breath, forcing himself not to take a step forward. "I don't like people telling me what I would and would not do."

"Are you saying I'm wrong?" Alexander asked.

No, he wasn't wrong. That's what pissed Mat off so much. How could this complete stranger know him better than he knew himself? "You were right all along, Alex," Jeremy sighed. "I just can't say it though."

"I love you," Alexander said, pulling Jeremy close. "You don't have to say it. I just think it would be better for you if you did."

Their heads touched together, foreheads pressing. It wasn't a kiss, just a moment of quiet intimacy that would have been perfectly natural if they weren't both men. It was enough to make Mat's stomach churn, despite the equally sickening stab of jealously he felt. He wished he could have someone he trusted like that. Some part of him ached for it. That's one of the reasons he hadn't felt too bad over loosing Sarah, he'd come to realize that she'd never be that for him.

"I think we need to get to work," Mat said.

"No," Jeremy said, voice more firm. "There's something I need to do first."

The two of them disentangled, and Jeremy turned to face Mat squarely, meeting his eyes with a pained gaze. He struggled with himself for a long moment, then the words tumbled out in an incomprehensible rush. "Iforivu."

"What?" Mat asked. "Sorry, I didn't catch that."

Jeremy swallowed, took a deep breath, and finally managed to say the words more clearly. "I forgive you."

"Thank you," Mat replied. "Thank both of you," he looked at Alexander. "I forgot to say that earlier. I will... I will strive to be worthy of your forgiveness."

Alexander nodded, gravely.

"Does that mean we can get to work?" Jacob asked.

"Yes," Mat nodded, glad for the excuse to change the subject. "I want your opinions. How do we get more people to attend, how do we get more attention, how do we do this more effectively. Any advice you have, I want."

"Some of my friends from the GSA would probably be of use," Jeremy commented. "And I could get some more support from the campus gay club."

Mat turned his head to snap out a derisive 'hell no,' but he managed to stop before actually saying anything. The idea of having anything more to do with... with... with homosexuals was disgusting.

But he'd chosen to align himself with Bryce. Not Ashwood. And that meant accepting Bryce's policies. "Thank you," he managed to say instead.

As the conversation continued, Mat found his mind dwelling less on the mechanics of the planned protest, and more on Jeremy's actions. The boy had struggled hard to forgive Mat. Fought with himself until he'd managed an action that, clearly, he'd found almost impossible. Mat was trying to change how he behaved towards them, but somehow... somehow it felt imbalanced. What the right balance was, Mat didn't know. But he realized that something had been set in motion that night. Several somethings, really, but the one that had to do with Jeremy and his boyfriend weighed more heavily in his thoughts, all out of proportion to its real importance.

Thursday Nov 8, 2012, 03:18

White House, Washington D. C.

President Ashwood took the report from the staffer with a total neutral expression. At the same time his young Cyber Security expert rolled his eyes and took down the information as fast as the staffer could speak it.

Finally, once the report was fully given, President Ashwood pushed back from his desk and glanced over at his new Cyber Security Director, "So, what is your take?"

The young man glanced over, "Someone was a total idiot. Whoever gave the order to shut it down without first giving me a shot at back tracing it probably let the hackers slide right through our fingertips again. I have a good signature from the attacks on our hub in Breckenridge and even have pinpointed areas where they had to be operating out of."

"If I had been given time we could have narrowed down how they work even further."

The Staffer looked over at the young man with a quizzical stare, "How in the name of god do you know it was the same people?"

"I don't, but it would have only taken me a few seconds to figure that part out and since someone once again punched through our security, and there are damned few who could, it stands to reason it was the same team, or one just like it. We know they are getting information out of the country somehow, and if someone would have thought it over, this would have been the perfect opportunity to find the outlet and shut it down or even monitor it. But now we are in the same spot I was left in when someone pulled the plug in Austin."

Ashwood held up his hand silencing both the staffer and his Cyber Security Director. "Don't take me down this road again. Just don't. If I hear this argument played out one more time I am going to snap the neck of someone and leave them on the floor as a quadriplegic until he or she dies of thirst."

President Ashwood paused, the fact he was not showing outward anger as normal scared the crap out of the staffer because this was not the man he was expecting to deal with. This man was colder and infinitely more dangerous since there was no way to guess what was going on behind the eyes he saw boring into his very soul.

Finally Ashwood stood and moved over to the door. He looked back at the staffer with a voice devoid of any emotion. "So tell me, Ollie, who bypassed my orders to shunt all cyber security issues to my boy here?" He then nodded at the Cyber Security Director. "Just tell me who and show me a way it can be verified."

The staffer gulped deeply, "The order came down from General Schmidt's office up in Delaware. The orders came through by radio and I personally relayed them to Burl O'Henry for review."

Ashwood held up his hand, cutting the staffer off then let out a long breath. "Once again my plans are being fucked up because someone didn't send an alert to the head of my Cyber Security. In this case some jackass in Dover Air Force Base, a place I personally transferred people into and out of. Then, to make this cluster fuck even worse, the order was passed on like it was someone taking a leak. Well the piss was taken on me this time and I have had enough of it."

He moved over to the staffer, put his arm over the man's shoulder and whispered into the guy's ear, "Ollie, go get me the radio report log and the log of you handing the message to O'Henry. If I have said documents in my hand by the time on my desk clock hits three thirty you will live and I'll give you a job a bit more important than shuttling information around. If you don't... well, I don't think you want to know what I have in mind if you don't."

The clock read 0326 when the staffer returned with all the required information. Ashwood looked it over and nodded, "Well done, Ollie. It's all here just like you said. From now on, you are in charge of the radio room and making sure all information gets shunted to who needs it. Your job, your very existence, is to get information to my boy here whenever it seems like a good idea to do so without overloading him. But first, you need to send a team to Burl O'Henry's house. Release a few of the prisoners early, make sure they are the type who will enjoy a little recreation with his wife and kids during their first hours of freedom. Make sure they get there and make sure no one responds to help. As for good ole Burl, have a couple of my best Secret Service agents fold him until he fits into a foot locker, lock it, and drop it off a bridge somewhere with really cold water running underneath it."

Clergyman Oliver McBride gave a sharp nod and didn't let a trace of a smile touch his lips as he left. Behind him, Ashwood turned to his Cyber Security Director and boasted, "That will teach these idiots that not even the FBI, my FBI, can ignore my orders, or worse yet approve of others doing so!"

The boy replied, "Too bad you gave Burl's older daughter to a bunch of thugs, though. She had a nice ass."

As the staffer turned to close the door, he caught Ashwood's derisive laugh, "I'll find you a nice piece of ass, just keep the wolves off of me."

The staffer detoured into the bathroom and sent a simple text to a number listed as his wife's, 'promotion, will not be home, tell our son Paul to aim high the door is now open.'

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