Castle Roland


by Rilbur


Chapter 7

Published: 8 Apr 14


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

All Rights Reserved

Resistance LogoBy the time Mat, Kayla, and Rob had reached the front door the library, a solid knot of the volunteers had already arrived. Not all of them were armed, but Mat nodded with satisfaction at the number that were. The agent provocateurs had probably wanted to use their weapons to give their riot teeth, a justification to brutally put it down, but instead they were going to give Mat a chance to spike their plans.

Then he noticed a tall, silver-haired man who most definitely was not one of the volunteers. "Who are you?" Mat demanded, eying the military uniform with more than an ounce of distrust.

"Lieutenant Colonel Abraham Williams," the man nodded sharply, "Commanding Officer of the Air Force ROTC Unit."

"Let me be clear, Lieutenant Colonel Williams," Mat replied sharply. "Are you with those idiots out there?"

Williams' face grew flinty. "They've opened fire on civilians without warning or provocation," he replied, voice flat. "Do you really think-"

"Answer the question," Mat cut him off. "Are. You. With. Them?"

"No," Williams answered just as sharply. "And to answer your next question, if any of them happen to be former students of mine, I'm going to be more than happy to put a bullet through their head. Not that that's likely, as those are Army units, not Air Force."

Mat hadn't actually gotten that far ahead, but he nodded sharply. "I'm going to assume you noticed that we were a co-ordinated group. My next question was going to be about whether you wanted to help us, but I'd say you answered that as well. Are you armed?"

"No," Williams shook his head. "If you can get me to the armory, I can arm you and your men."

"What armory?" Mat asked.

Williams smiled coldly. "The ROTC building happens to have an armory attached, as well as a shooting range. Only a unit's worth of rifles and pistols, but all the ammunition you could possibly need. And a limited selection of body armor. And I should mention that every last student was ordered to report in this morning, right after the martial law declaration went out. I wanted them on hand in case we were ordered to provide support."

Mat didn't snap his pistol up into the man's face, but it was a close call. "You would support Asswood's orders?" he growled.

"Until he is properly removed from office, he remains my Commander in Chief," Williams replied levelly. "I will obey any and all legal orders he cares to give."

"Like shooting unarmed civilians?" Mat's voice just about dripped sarcasm.

Williams voice was glacial as he replied, "As I already stated, if any of my students are participating in this, I will shoot them myself. These soldiers are following illegal orders. It is their responsibility, and certainly the responsibility of their officers, to reject any order that is illegal or immoral."

Mat nodded sharply. "My apologies."

"Accepted," Williams turned to look over the group. "The soldier's aren't moving in very quickly. I suspect they don't have the numbers they need."

"I also arranged a distraction," Mat added. "Some of our group are on the other side of the soldier's line. They've begun harassing the soldiers, trying to draw them out of position."

"You have communications outside of the bottle?" Williams asked, eyebrow raising. He pulled out a hand radio. "I lost contact with my unit shortly before this crowd flashed over into a riot." Mat frowned at it for a moment, then noticed Harry charging up, bag of goodies slung over one shoulder and laptop tucked under an armpit.

"Harry, he's lost contact with the ROTC Unit. Any chance of us getting him back in touch?" Mat asked.

Harry shook his head. "Not a chance. Military has jammers out. Simple hand radios won't work. You need something capable of hopping frequencies to bypass the jammers."

"I don't necessarily need to contact them myself," Williams offered. "Get one of your men to run over to the unit. We can get reinforcements that way."

Harry abruptly turned sideways, hand reaching up to his ear in the reflexive move of anyone trying to listen to an earphone. "Shit," he swore softly. "Can you get out?"

"What's wrong?" Mat asked. Harry waved him off for a moment.

"Understood. We'll see what we can do." Harry looked up at Mat, eyes haunted. "Your diversionary tactic worked," he said sadly. "They must have pulled at least a squad off the main stopper. They flanked our guys to the north, managed to take most of them out. There's one guy left alive, and he's hiding in a classroom. The squad is still sweeping the area, he believes they'll find him in a few minutes."

Mat didn't even need to think, he simply slammed his fingers together, activating broadcast mode. "This is Mat to all personnel outside the bottle, be aware the soldiers are counter-attacking," he snarled. "Maneuver for space, be prepared for flanking attacks. Fallback. I say again, fallback. You are only doing your job if you're alive. Play tag, just remember that if you're tagged it, you're going to come down with a very nasty case of dead." Mat turned to face Williams. "The ROTC building is to the east, right? Near the admin building?"

Williams nodded sharply. "From the sounds of it, I'm going to guess that we aren't getting a runner out that way."

"That would be correct," Mat said testily. For a bare moment he hesitated, but the die was already cast. There wasn't any point in hesitating. "Someone give this man a weapon. As soon as we've got the wounded stashed into the library, we're going to head out. Harry, put me in touch with Ralph."

"He's right there," Harry pointed at the library door, which was standing open.

Two of the volunteers began hobbling their way to the door. One had a nasty gash on his forehead, but he was still helping the other walk. From the looks of it, the second one had probably sprained his ankle.

"Harry, get inside," Mat ordered.

"No," Harry said firmly. "You might be better with a rifle, but we both know I'm better with pistols."

"I need communications more than I need another shooter," Mat argued.

"And you'll still have it," Harry handed his precious laptop off to one of the volunteers. "I taught them how to run the system, just in case I needed to take a leak. They can keep it running for a few minutes." Mat turned and looked at one of the volunteers. "Weapon!" he demanded. The volunteer handed it over without a second thought.

"What?" Ralph shrieked, seeing Harry arm himself. "What are you doing?" Ralph charged out. "Dammit, get inside the library."

"No," Harry replied firmly. "Mat needs me."

"Dammit, all of you just get your asses in the library," Ralph tried to order. "We can hide out, avoid the soldiers until this is over."

"No," Harry told him firmly. "I'm not abandoning Mat like that, and he's not going to quit. Not now that he's got the bit between his teeth."

"You're going to get yourselves killed!" Ralph complained.

"In all probability, over a hundred people have already gotten themselves killed," Mat told him. "A few more won't add too much to that toll, but if we can break this bottle, we can save more than we've lost."

Ralph worked his jaw angrily for a moment, then nodded. "Fine," he snarled. "Be that way." He looked at Harry for a long moment, then spun on his heel and stalked off.

"All right, either arm up or head into the library," Mat ordered. "We're moving out. No time for a detail explanation of how to fight, but take cover when you can, aim your shots instead of shooting wildly, and keep moving. Just keep moving, never stand still for more than the second or two you need to aim your own shots. And spread out. If we keep too tight, a shot that misses its target could still find somebody else. Chain of Command is me, Colonel Williams, then Harry. If all three of us are down, do your best and just keep moving forward. Our objective is to break this bottle by knocking out the squad covering it. If we succeed, somebody call it in through the comm net. Get as much of the crowd out as you can."

Mat sighed. "I suppose now is when I should come up with some famous last words, but nothing comes to mind that seems appropriate. So lets just go show them what real Americans are made of." Without waiting for a response, Mat broke into a run. Rounding the corner at a sprint, he felt reality slow down around him. Even as a bullet whizzed past his ear he ducked behind a piece of sculpture and took careful aim. The pistol's jerk in his hand came as almost a surprise, but one of the soldiers fell backwards, blood streaming from the ruin that used to be his throat. Bullets swept past Mat, raking into the volunteers following him, and he took advantage of the momentary distraction to charge forward again. The hail of fire hesitated a moment, and before it could refocus on him he was kneeling behind a planter, the pistol in his hand bellowing its defiant roar again.

Harry didn't bother with cover. He charged past Mat, face set in grim determination as his pistol reached out like a finger of death. Mat was already lining up his next shot, but he saw the effect's of Harry's fire as the enemy ranks began to break. Mat's pistol barked one last time, hitting his target, but he already knew he couldn't count that kill. Harry had beat him to it.

Only twelve soldiers had been assigned to guard the garden north of the Library. In less than ten seconds that entire squad had been all but wiped out. Mat would later claim two kills, and Harry reluctantly admit to five. The rest were spread amongst the entire squad of volunteers, no one able to say for sure who had killed how many. Colonel Williams would probably have kept a good count of his kills, but he'd never have a chance to claim them.

"Bottle is broken," Mat announced over the radio. "Get people moving around the library to the north. Let it be known that anyone who wants a weapon can have it, if they agree to help us teach these bastards a lesson." Harry reached over and rolled Williams onto his back. Straightening the man's limbs as best he could, he tried to give him a little dignity in death. Finally, he reached up and closed the man's eyes. If you ignored the bloody ruin of his chest, he could almost be sleeping. Almost.

One of the soldiers coughed, bloody froth erupting from his mouth. Mat had ignored him until now, but duty called. Walking over, he grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and yanked him upright. "Why?" He snarled. "What the bloody hell did you idiots think you were doing?"

"Terrorist scum," the soldier spat. "We're not going to let you-" another coughing fit interrupted him, and Mat almost felt like retching as blood splattered onto him. "Going to trim you bastards back," the soldier said instead. "Make you pay for the lives you took in Texas."

Mat dropped the soldier back onto the ground in disgust. It figured. Of course Asswood would try to call them terrorists, and apparently at least a few of the soldiers had fallen for it, hook line and sinker. Turning on his heel, Mat walked away, leaving the soldier to die alone. He had more important things to worry about.

"Harry," he snapped out. "I make it twelve casualties to eight. That's not good enough if we're going to keep going. Work on figuring out how to teach these guys better."

"Kayla!" he turned to face her. "I want you and your boyfriend to do some scouting. Take three or four volunteers and go poke your noses out. I want to know if the military sends units around to try and close this bottle. Remain in close contact with Harry-" Mat shook his head. "Sorry, with whoever Harry handed the coms to. Keep moving, keep low, and let us know the second you see anything. You'll probably need to split into multiple groups." Mat stepped closer and lowered his voice. "And Kayla? That means letting the volunteers take point. They're a tripwire. When they stop answering, we know trouble is on its way. They only take pistols, we'll need to keep the rifles we just liberated to mount any counter offensives."

Kayla nodded, face pale. "Understood," she agreed. Mat could see in her eyes that she wanted to argue, but he turned away and looked at the crowd headed their way. What was that phrase that that his history professor always loved? Oh, right.

Mat stomped back over to one of the corpses and ripped off the bloody shirt. He carefully avoided looking at the face. He didn't want to know who this was. Soon enough he had his bloody shirt in hand, and all he had to do was wave it.

"Remember!" he bellowed as the crowd began to run past him, waving the shirt over his head like a flag. "Remember what Ashwood has done! Remember your friends! Remember the dead!"

As they flowed past, the crowd began to pick up his chant. "Remember!" he bellowed, and the crowd screamed it back at him. "Remember what Ashwood has done!"

Harry forced his way against the flow of the crowd until he was next to Mat. "I've done what I can," he reported, swallowing. "It's not going to help much, and this time the bastards are going to know we're coming. For all intents and purposes, we had them in an ambush this time. The last thing they were really expecting was a counter-attack."

"I know," Mat muttered, before resuming his bellow. "Remember!" By now, the crowd was almost handling it themselves.

"Mat," a volunteer broke in, "We're not entirely certain, but it looks like they've started to pull away from the north and south, and we've got reports that the eastern cork is pushing in." Mat didn't know the voice, but he was reasonably certain it was whoever Harry had detailed to take over communications.

"Any data on which way the northern and southern forces went?" Mat asked.

"Not yet," the volunteer replied.

"Thanks for the report. Connect me to Kayla," Mat ordered.

"Done," the volunteer replied before dropping out.

"Kayla, if they're going to come for you, they're coming for you now," Mat warned her. "They've pulled off the northern and southern blocking forces, and the eastern force is moving in hard. At a guess, they've decided they don't have the forces to keep us bottled up and do a clean sweep, but they can still try to catch most of us. If that's their game, you're going to see them shortly."

"Now he tells me," Kayla snapped back. "Perfect timing, I was about to call and let you know that shit is headed your way. We'll buy you some time."

"Negative," Mat snapped. "Get your asses back here before you get killed."

"Mat, read my lips," Kayla told him. "We're going to try and buy you time. We don't particularly want to die, but..."

Mat took a deep breath. "Kayla, are you surrounded?"

"Not exactly," she hedged. "But we're definitely cut off from retreat. Rob is in better shape, and is on his way back to you."

"Where are you?" Mat demanded.

"I took the southern approach. We're holed up in the dorms' cafeteria at this point. Nice, big windows to let us catch anyone approaching us."

Mat looked west and thought about the terrain there. Nice, big windows, and nice empty lawns. Looked really nice, and as the saplings grew into trees it would be even better, but for the moment there was no cover of any sort. And no way in hell Kayla could hold that building with just one or two others. It was too big, with too many access points.

On the other hand, she was perfectly placed to hold back one of the two pincers moving in to try and cut off the stream of humanity steadily draining out of the center of campus.

"Buy us what time you can, Kayla," Mat told her. "Keep your ass alive, though. You're holding them off on that flank until we're in a position to deal with them." He took a deep breath before switching to broadcast. "You have one minute to finish what you're doing, then we move north. We're going to engage and destroy the squad in that direction, then turn south to engage and destroy that squad. If you want out, give your gear to someone else first. That includes your comm set and any weapons you've procured in the course of the festivities. And don't forget to strip the dead."

Mat wandered back to where the soldier lay, now quite dead. For a second that stretched to hours he stared down at the man. Others had stripped his weapons and ammo, but his comm gear was still in place, as was his body armor. The comm gear was useless to them, letting the opposite side listen in on them was a mistake Mat wasn't stupid enough to make. But the body armor... Mat couldn't blame anyone for not wanting to wear a dead man's armor, but it was stupid. The armor itself was quite good. The wound that had killed the man had come in through the armpit, where the armor didn't cover. Mat reached down and began stripping the armor off. It took him a bit longer than he was happy with, but he had it hanging over his own clothes before the time was up.

Instead of taking the final few seconds to snap the armor up around himself, he stared at the dead soldier. They needed to leave a message. Mat pulled the corpse upright against the glass wall of the library, then his knife flashed out to scratch a symbol in the glass. A single medium length stroke from side to side, then a long stroke straight down to form a T. Then a series of short strokes, forming a pair of sideways Vs with the points pointing right, and the tops attached to the T. Finally a single, upward angled stroke halfway up the other side of the T.

Mat looked at his handiwork for a moment, then pulled the armor on. "Lets move out," he ordered as he stood up, leading the way north.

Colonel Bishop stared at the reports in front of him in utter confusion. One set reported no sign of a riot at the college campus, the other insisted that the rioters were, in fact, winning. Not only had the rioters successfully punched out one squad, they'd managed to stop a second from advancing and providing support as they maneuvered to take out a third. The two remaining squads were trying to advance, but the sheer number of people they had to kill between themselves and their objectives was enough to slow them down even if their targets couldn't fight back. Which, unfortunately, was not the case. That crowd was, in fact, armed. Mostly with pistols, but it was clear that assault rifles were getting stripped from the unit and used against it.

Both sets definitely agreed, however, that there was no sign of the other platoon assigned in support. In fact, they were quite emphatic that someone in command get their ass out, because they weren't even describing the same terrain.

"I want GPS coordinates from both groups, now," Colonel Bishop ordered harshly. "Put them up on screen four."

Within seconds, the one screen his superior had left him to run the operation with updated to show a map of the city, with unit markers showing where the two sets of reports were coming from. As soon as he saw it, he knew exactly what had happened.

"General Bush, the college riot is out of control, I recommend withdrawing all forces from that area," Bishop suggested. "We don't have sufficient troops to contain the situation."

"You have two platoons there, that should be plenty!" Bush snorted. "Hell, I've visited that campus. It's tiny. You should have swept it by now, especially with the river on its north."

"Actually, sir, I have one platoon at the new campus, and one platoon at the old campus. The old campus is pretty tiny, that's why they built the new campus just three years ago," Colonel Bishop explained. He debated asking how it is that a unit had gotten directed to the old campus, but that wasn't how the game was played. "It looks like someone redirected one of the platoons from their proper target at the new campus."

"New campus?" Bush blinked in surprise. "I had to redirect a platoon because they were headed out to- There's a new campus?" Shock and horror began to form on Bush's face, and Bishop's suspicions over how the clusterfuck had started were confirmed. Idiot he thought.

"Sir, we don't have a lot of time. I recommend we withdraw all forces from the campus riot. We've hurt them pretty badly, but we can't hope to totally wipe them out at this point. We need those troops to achieve total victory at the Capitol building instead." Thanks to Bush's decision to deploy the reserves, Bishop had found himself powerless to turn the tide when the situation there went south. Initial reports had indicated complete success in quelling the rioters, but then they'd managed to storm the Capitol building, overwhelming the understrength security forces there. Hell, some reports suggested the security force itself had split, half fighting to protect the rioters and get them into the building! Whatever the cause, the rioters had taken shelter in the building, and suddenly the nice, clear lawns had transformed from a perfect killing ground to a perfect defensive shelter. It was impossible to get any large number of units close to the building without being taken under by a hail of fire, and Bush refused to authorize destructive action to level the building. Standing orders may have been to minimize damage to 'monuments, government buildings, and other symbols of authority', but they weren't going to take that building back without breakage. Lots of breakage. And Colonel Bishop would really, really rather the breakage was to the rioters, not his men. "Reports indicate the rioters are dug in deep. We're going to need the extra troops just to finish locking down the area. Heavy weaponry -- tanks, airstrikes, or artillery -- will also be required at this point."

"No!" Bush snapped. "You can withdraw the troops, but you are not destroying that building!"

"Sir, do you have any alternatives?" Bishop asked. Turning, he looked at the orderly that had brought in the latest reports. "You, relay orders to all platoons deployed to local education centers to reinforce the State Capitol!" That was a tad bit more than Bush had given him authority for, simple error / typothe but the man didn't countermand the order, so what the hell. Turning back to the General, Bishop continued, "There are more people inside the building than outside, and at this point they're pretty damned well armed. Even if they have more weapons than warm bodies, they can rotate the weapons around to whoever is at a guard station while the rest wait their turn. They've already got the emergency generators running so they're going to have light come nightfall, and sooner or later they're going to find a clear channel to broadcast on."

"You've got jammers up!" Bush argued weakly.

"Yes sir, but I've only got so many jammers, and they can only do so much," Bishop argued. "The State Capital is a designated communications node for emergencies. Hell, some of their equipment is designed to help counter jamming. Sooner or later they'll figure out a way to use it."

"There has to be an alternative," Bush actually moderated his tone down to a request rather than a demand.

"I don't see any," Bishop told him firmly.

"Our orders-" Bush began.

"Are to secure control of this area at any cost," Bishop interrupted him, as if agreeing. "I know it's painful, but orders are orders."

Bush sighed. "Very well then. The tank divisions are busy elsewhere, so you'll have to use artillery."

"Thank you sir," Bishop smiled, then turned around to start the ball rolling.


Mat realized they were in trouble about two seconds too late. Their headlong charge had carried them right into a squad of soldiers who promptly began to fall back. Caught up in the moment, Mat didn't think anything about it as they chased the soldiers around the building, simply enjoying the heady feeling of victory. They didn't just have them on the run, they had them whipped. They scattered, each soldier breaking up and diving into a separate window.

That was when Mat realized he'd been suckered. "Fuck," he swore. "Fallback!" he screamed, diving for the cover of a nearby planter. The squad they'd been chasing popped up out of cover long enough to take a few potshots, and then twice as many soldiers popped up from the windows on either side of their charge. The fire scythed through his impromptu army, which hadn't learned the importance of dispersion or cover.

"FALLBACK!" Mat bellowed again, taking a few potshots himself, even as another bullet buzzed past his ears.

Mat understood instinctively that if he could get the crowd running, he wouldn't be able to stop them. That sucked. That really sucked. But already something like fifty people were down, most of them just eagerly charging forward to try and get their hands on a weapon.

And then the bullets stopped. Mat was already dashing for a window, pistol in his hands scanning for targets, but suddenly the targets just stopped showing. He hesitated, and slowly the crowd around him stopped screaming.

"Did... Did we win?" Someone asked, almost surprised.

"We didn't lose," Mat told him. "That's good enough for today. Kayla, how you doin'?"

"The soldiers were pressing in hard, then just up and left," she told him. "I can see one or two of them duck between dorm buildings now and again, but they are definitely leaving. Don't think they're trying for a flank attack, either. They're just... Giving up."

"Thank God," Mat breathed in relief. "Alright, we've got lots of wounded. Lets move them into the cafeteria, use it as an impromptu infirmary."

"Sounds like a great idea," Harry agreed, hobbling over.

"Harry!" Mat said, surprised. He rushed over to his friend. "Where'd you get hit," he asked, leaning over to look at the leg his friend was favoring. "Damn, that's a lot of blood," he added, trying to find the source. "Oh," he commented when he realized why he couldn't find it on the leg.

"Suddenly, all the jokes about someone getting their ass shot off really aren't funny," Harry agreed. "It's not as bad as it could be, but damn it hurts."

Mat straightened up and nodded. He took hold of Harry's arm and pulled it around his shoulder, physically holding him up. "Let’s get you to the cafeteria," he ordered.

"Why not the health center?" Harry asked.

Mat shook his head. "They have to report it if anyone comes in with a knife or gun wound."

"And you think no one is going to report us setting up an infirmary in the cafeteria?" Harry snorted.

"I'm sure they will," Mat agreed, "but given the number of wounded, and its proximity, we can claim we're just picking up the pieces and no one will care. Play our cards right, and no one will be thinking about writing down names, just getting bandages put on."

"You always were clever," Harry laughed. "Not a lot of brains, but really good at using them."

"I swear, if you make another redneck crack," Mat threatened.

"Nope, not going to make it," Harry smiled. "Besides, sounds like you got it anyway. So ha."

Mat resisted the urge to drop Harry on his ass, but it was hard. Real hard. And it was probably the pain talking anyway.

"So, why do you think they ran?" Mat asked.

"I don't think they ran," Harry disagreed. "They withdrew. They pulled us into an ambush to break contact, but once they got that done, they just pulled out. If they were running, I doubt they'd have quit until they were out of firing range."

"And the difference is?" Mat asked.

"If they withdrew, it's because they had somewhere else they needed to be," Harry told him. "I wish I was still on the police scanner."

"Mat to communications," Mat activated the headset. "Any reports on the police scanners?"

"Lots," someone answered. "Still trying to make heads or tails of it, but it sounds like the riot at the Capitol has grown about a thousand percent. Also a comment about the suburbs going up like someone poured gasoline over them, but we don't see any smoke coming from that direction so who knows."

"If I had to make a guess," Mat suggested wryly, "I don't think they meant a literal fire. Imagine what would happen if a soldier walked into your old neighborhood and tried to shoot someone."

"We'd probably call the ACLU," the guy commented. Mat rolled his eyes. Oh of course. One of them.

"If the cops tried anything like what we're seeing on campus, most of the suburbs would explode," Mat told him. "Hell, depending on who they tried it on, they'd be dead before the riot could even get started. Keep an ear out."

"I don't like the sound of that," Harry added. "Then again, I only heard half the conversation."

"At a guess, some over-eager idiot probably ran off the reservation to cause this kind of trouble out in the boonies," Mat told him. "Imagine the reaction if he tried that at home."

Harry laughed. "If he was lucky, he'd be dead before the riot got started," he agreed.

"Oh shoot," Mat swore softly. "Hey everyone," he turned his attention back to important matters, "if you're still hearing gunshots, let me know, but it looks like the military has withdrawn. Check the dead for comm sets, and bring those in. Any military wounded, finish off. If any of ours are wounded, try and get them back to the dorms. We'll set up an impromptu first-aid center outside Johnson Hall. Other than that..." Mat sighed. "Everything else, use your own judgement on. Most importantly, I don't think we'll be able to hide our guns. The cops are going to be moving in soon enough, and I doubt we're going to be able to hold off the military when it comes back looking for us. We need to vanish, fast. If you think you can hide a weapon, be my guest, but be damned sure before you try it. Otherwise, we need to make them vanish. Wipe off your fingerprints, and put it in a dead man's hand."

Mat's mind flashed back to his bedroom. His woodworking toolbox had a hidden compartment in it that should fit the pistol. He hadn't exactly intended to stick guns in it, but it would work. Probably. He'd just need to dispose of what was in there before anyone caught him with it. That still left him wondering about what the hell he should do with his body armor.

"I don't think we're going to manage it, but I'm giving us a half-hour time frame," Mat finished. "Get the wounded out, your weapons hidden or disposed of, and any witnesses dealt with before then."

"Kill the wounded?" Harry hissed, grabbing Mat by the arm. "Seriously?"

Mat closed his eyes, already feeling sick. "Yes, seriously," he told Harry. "We're an underground resistance, as of right fucking now. Being identified is the last thing we can afford. It's all too likely to happen anyway, but we can at least try to make it more difficult for them."

Harry shook his head in disgust. "I'm not walking down that road," he said. "After today, we're done."

"So be it," Mat shrugged, partially disassembling the pistol in his hands as he turned to walk away. If he was going to hide a gun, he'd better make sure it was in good condition first. Be rather silly to pick a pistol that needed work. Thankfully, the pistol looked to be in perfect condition. He snagged a few extra clips from dead bodies he passed, and others that were disposing of their weapons.

"Why?" one of the volunteers asked as he handed over his clips. "I thought you wanted us to hide them."

"I have a hiding place big enough for one gun and a few extra clips," Mat told him. "I'll transfer the bullets out of these clips before dumping them in the trash somewhere, so I have maybe four full clips plus what's in the gun. But my hiding spot is only big enough for one gun. Everyone who wants to keep theirs needs to find their own hiding spot, and make damned sure its a good one."

"So what's yours?" The volunteer asked, but Mat simply shook his head.

"If I told you, it wouldn't be much of a secret," Mat told him as he walked away.

Mat didn't have a clue how to dispose of the body armor at this point, so he proceeded straight to his room. Thankfully, Frank wasn't anywhere in sight. Mat quickly pulled his toolbox out of the closet and began pulling trays out until it was empty.

Instead of being hinged, the lid had four pegs that slotted neatly into rods that ran the length of the toolbox. Mat had designed and built it himself, and hopefully no one had ever figured out his secret. Setting the lid upside down on the floor, he picked up the solidly built box and carefully laid it over the lid, jiggling until everything was aligned just right. With a single solid shove, he pushed the box down on the lid. The wood groaned as it was forced out of its well-settled position, but it gave way with a satisfyingly muffled thunk. The velvet lining on the bottom of the box had been difficult to arrange, but had many wonderful advantages to it.

Grabbing the rods inside the box, he lifted them, and the bottom, away, revealing a small hidden compartment. Mat quickly unloaded the contents of the compartment, then arranged the gun and clips carefully inside it. Placing the false bottom back down, Mat carefully lifted the box up. The bottom settled more or less back into place, and he rapidly began replacing the trays of tools he'd pulled out. As he added the trays, the bottom settled further and further into place, the weight above it served to drive the wooden dowel rods back into the waiting holes.

Mat hadn't really believed his design would work when he made it, but between his father's skill and an inordinately large amount of luck, the toolbox had come out very well built. Even at nine years old, Mat had loved working with wood, an activity both Dad and Mom thoroughly approved of. Neither of them would have exactly approved of what he used the secret compartment to hide, but a teenaged Mat was hardly going to give up the best hiding spot he had just because Dad would have disapproved.

Mat's lips twitched as he stroked the box one last time. Every time someone called him a momma's boy, or stuck up, he thought of this box's contents and smiled. Mat quickly wrapped the former contents of his toolbox in his captured body armor and stood to walk out. For a moment he hesitated, thinking about moving some of the contents to a drawer somewhere so they weren't totally wasted, but they were kinda old. Old enough that maybe he should dispose of them anyway.

Walking out the door, he managed to bump into Ralph. "Hey," he greeted his friend, half expecting trouble.

"Hey Mat," Ralph nodded back. "Let me guess, you need a place to hide that," he pointed to the armor.

"Well," Mat hesitated. "It's kinda bulky. Probably better to just dispose of it."

Ralph snorted. "Fine then. We're arranging a bit of planned arson to help destroy evidence. I'll stick that in for you."

"That sounds perfect," Mat grinned in relief. Absolutely perfect. No evidence left.

"I'll take it for you," Ralph reached out to take the armor, but Mat just held it a bit more closely to his chest.

"No, I'll put it in myself," Mat told him, feeling his cheeks heat up.

"Don't be silly," Ralph laughed. "You've got more important things to do. Now give." Ralph's tug didn't manage to get the armor out of Mat's hands, but it did dislodge a magazine that slithered its way down to the ground.

"What's that?" Ralph asked, surprised.

"Nothing!" Mat squeaked, trying to pick it up one handed. The attempt just let several others fall out, including one that landed wide-open on a rather pretty picture of Mrs. December, 2005. One that had her baring all.

"Nice!" Ralph whistled. "You've been holding out on me!" he grinned as Mat blushed.

"I'm never going to live this down, am I?" Mat moaned as he let Ralph have the armor -- and the rest of the magazines.

"Probably not," Ralph grinned. "But I'll keep it quiet for a while, if you'll let me have the magazines."

"You can have them," Mat sighed. "If you promise to keep it quiet."

"Oh, it won't be quiet," Ralph leered, "but I won't tell anyone where I got them. Or the condoms."

Mat groaned, then walked away. At least Ralph's word was good, even if his taste in jokes was far too ribald for polite company. "You'll need to trash the condoms," Mat added over his shoulder. "They're too old to be any good."

"Oh well," Ralph laughed. "At least I'll enjoy the rest of it."


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