"Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them -- and then, the opportunity to choose." ~ C. Wright Mills
Minerva, Chapter 30
Dan got up from his computer when he heard the familiar knock. Anticipation built as he headed for the door, even though he knew it had to be a coincidence.
'Matt!' he yelled as he threw open the door.
'What's up, little man?' Matt said as he entered the dorm room.
After throwing a duffel bag against the far wall, Matt very deliberately surveyed the room.
'Holy shit dude,' he said, peering at the walls, 'what'd you do to get thrown in here? Stick a shiv in a guard?'
'Yeah, it's a bit cramped,' Dan agreed.
''Cramped?'' Matt asked. 'A nun's box is cramped. That sub I took over here, that was cramped. But this is downright subatomic.'
'I know,' Dan said, but his attention had returned to his computer.
'Please tell me I didn't cross the fucking Pacific to watch you play Myst,' Matt pleaded.
'Hang on, I'm trying to get this girl and her friends to meet up with us,' Dan said, typing and smiling.
'Objection withdrawn,' Matt said and sauntered over to the computer. 'So tell me, do these girls like to bathe together?'
'Gotta hope so,' Dan said, still distracted by his internet flirting. 'This girl is smoking, and at least two of her friends are pretty hot too.'
Matt smiled. Sometimes Dan could be really cute; the kid had obviously been overwhelmed by his female classmates. That old song was right, Matt thought. The beaches on Minerva certainly had nothing on the lovely ladies of California .
Matt waited a minute or two patiently, but Dan showed no signs of stopping.
'Look Danny boy,' he said, 'I risked a lot to come here. If those lasses want to drink, then great, we'll see them at the bar. But let's go. For all you know, you're talking to a thirty-five-year-old pedophile.'
'All right all right,' Dan said. 'Oh wait, she wants to talk to you.'
'So she can do that at the bar,' Matt said. He had folded his arms and was literally tapping his foot.
'C'mon,' Dan said, 'just type something. She wants to go but her friends want to stay in and watch a movie.'
'Danny Danny Danny,' Matt said, 'I'm buyin tonight. We can splurge and get hookers if we want. I'm not going to beg some seventeen-year-old chick''
'She's fifteen,' Dan said.
Matt froze. He had completely forgotten Danny's age; it was hard with the kid's vocabulary.
'Well that's something entirely else,' Matt said, sitting down in front of the keyboard.
'HOW R U GORJUS?' he typed.
'good'you?' the fifteen-year-old answered.
'I = STUPENDOUS,' Matt replied.
'ha. my friend wants to know how old you r?'
Matt quickly processed dozens of considerations. He decided to go with the lowest age that could possibly be believed if and when the girls ever saw him.
'20 BUT I DONT LOOK A DAY OVER 17,' he typed.
'why are you hanging out with someone so young?' the girl asked.
'LETS MAKE A DEAL,' Matt typed. 'YOU DONT ASK ME QUESTIONS LIKE THAT, AND I WONT ASK YOU WHY YOU MAKE OUT WITH 20 YEAR OLD GUYS.'
Dan giggled over Matt's shoulder. Matt had decided that he would only spend another two minutes or so on this project. The payoff, though substantial, was extremely unlikely. After an unusually long delay, a response came.
'hey this is cindy,' the apparently new girl typed.
'HEY CINDY,' Matt answered, now very bored. 'I HEAR THAT YOU ARE AN EVEN BETTER KISSER THAN''
'Shit, what's the first girl's name?' Matt asked.
'Oh, Heather,' Dan replied.
'BETTER KISSER THAN HEATHER. IS THAT TRUE?'
'maybe so'guess you'll have to find out,' Cindy replied.
Matt was ashamed to discover that his penis had begun to stiffen. He vowed to end this nonsense quickly.
'SOUNDS GREAT. SO WELL SEE YOU IN AN HOUR,' he typed.
'Seriously,' Matt said to Dan, 'we're leaving in thirty seconds.'
'maybe if you buy me a drink ;-)' Cindy typed.
'What the fuck happened there?' Matt said. 'Did the cat jump on their keyboard?'
'No,' Dan said, laughing, 'that's an emoticon. It's a wink. It's on its side, see?'
This is seriously gay, Matt decided. It was time to end the tomfoolery.
'MAYBE IF YOU BLOW ME :-o <===8' Matt typed, then stood up from the computer.
* * *
'I don't know what's up with these directions,' Matt said as they walked down another side street, looking for a bar where even someone as young as Danny would be served. 'I'm sorry Dan, I should've gotten a specific address. Damn that was dumb.'
'No problem,' Dan said. 'What exactly did he say?'
'He said the bar was on Plymouth Avenue ,' Matt said, checking the piece of paper yet again. ''Five minutes past the Blue Lagoon,'' Matt read aloud.
'Excuse me,' Matt said as a couple approached. 'Do you guys know where The Crazy Horse bar is?'
'Yeah, it's that way,' the man said, pointing down the street. 'About fifteen blocks or so.'
'Oh okay,' Matt said, smiling. 'Thanks a lot.'
After twelve blocks of brisk walking, Dan said, 'I see it!'
Indeed, Matt squinted and could just make out the familiar purple sign.
'Remind me to have some words with the shithead on the phone,' Matt said. 'Who ever heard of giving time elapses for someone on foot? 'Five minutes past the Blue Lagoon,'' he muttered. 'Yeah, if you're a fucking kangaroo.'
* * *
'So I never asked you,' Dan said after the waitress had served them their beers, 'how come you got in so early? I wasn't expecting you until ten or eleven.'
'Well, it's like I said,' Matt explained, 'they don't tell you exactly when or where you'll get dropped off. After the sub docked, there was a shuttle waiting that dropped a bunch of us off at a bus station. They gave us tickets for our ultimate destinations, and I just got lucky that my bus left right away.'
'Explain to me again all the cloak and dagger?' Dan said.
'Think about it,' Matt answered. 'The U.S. has really clamped down on travel from Minerva. So these companies smuggling people into and out of the country will get absolutely fucked if they get caught. Now rather than do background checks on everybody who buys a ticket, all they do is make sure even the passengers themselves don't know exactly when and where their sub will land. So there won't be federal marshals waiting when it arrives.'
'But you did tell them where you wanted to be dropped off,' Dan said. 'So you knew where you were going to be, and you also knew the approximate time.'
'Right,' Matt said, 'so if I were a government informant, I could tell them where to arrest me. But the guys on the sub or driving the shuttle are fine; I didn't know which bus station they'd drop me off at. I didn't even know they would drop me off at a bus station until it happened.'
'Oh okay,' Dan said. 'How much did the whole thing cost, anyway?'
'More than you want to know,' Matt admitted.
* * *
'Yeah, we'll be down in a minute,' Dan said, then hung up the phone. 'Okay, we can hang out at Jeremy's room.'
'Is the card game on?' Matt asked. If he couldn't bang fifteen-year-old girls tonight, maybe he could screw fifteen-year-old boys.
'Probably,' Dan answered, 'but everybody's still at practice. Did you bring that stuff? Jeremy said we can break it out in his room.'
'Oh we can, can we?' Matt said, smiling. 'Is it okay with Jeremy if I give out handjobs, too? I wouldn't want to violate house rules or anything.'
'Huh?' Dan said, momentarily perplexed. 'Oh, they'll throw in a few dollars for it''
'It's all right, Danny boy, my treat,' Matt said. 'Besides, I've got the good shit on me. You guys would have to be my indentured servants to pay for it.'
Dan and Matt left his tiny room and headed down the hallway. Rather than taking the shortest route, Dan went out of his way to take Matt by the older kids' rooms. Dan was proud to have someone as cool as Matt King as a friend. Even though the kids here didn't know him, Matt just looked cool. And Dan also thought that after hanging out at Jeremy's, word would get around about Dan's older friend from Minerva.
* * *
'You said that to Cindy?' Jeremy said, laughing. 'That's fucking great. It's about time someone told that b'yach what to do with her big mouth.'
Matt grinned, but played it off as if it weren't at the boy's use of 'b'yach.'
'Hey,' Matt said, raising his can of cheap beer, 'I call it like I see it, you know?'
'So I hear you're from Minerva,' Kevin, Jeremy's roommate, said. 'What's that all about?'
'No, I'm from Chicago ,' Matt said, glancing at Dan. 'I got this weed from a guy from Minerva; that's probably what you're thinking of.'
'Huh, my bad,' Kevin said. 'I thought you were from Minerva.'
'Nope,' Matt said, 'unless they made a giant replica of the Windy City and never told me about it, like in that Jim Carrey movie.'
The boys laughed. Matt decided to divert their attention by unveiling his killer buds.
'All right fellas,' Matt said, pulling out the bag from his inside jacket pocket, 'feast your eyes on that.'
'You say this is from the island?' Jeremy said. 'No shit, your buddy bought this in a store, right? Look, it's actually in a package with a brand name and everything.'
'Fellas, I don't smoke generic,' Matt said.
Matt began rolling a fat joint. He noted with amusement the determination with which Dan studied his movements.
'Stick with me kid,' Matt said, handing the completed project to Dan, 'and you too can grow up to be a pothead.'
'Say,' Kevin asked, 'how old are you, anyway?'
'What is this, twenty questions?' Matt complained. 'That little girl kept asking me my age too. Come to think of it, how old are you? I'm not sure you should smoke this stuff; your parents might sue me.'
'Kev, chill,' Jeremy said. 'It's all good, man. We appreciate your sharing.'
'And I appreciate your hospitality,' Matt said. 'So tell me, when's the card game starting? I have to scrounge up my return fare.'
Matt realized with alarm that these kids weren't supposed to know he was traveling to Minerva. But he quickly relaxed, since his statement could simply mean a trip back to Chicago .
'People should be showing up in about an hour,' Jeremy said. 'So Dan, are you gonna fire that thing up, or are you waiting for them to legalize it?'
Dan was frozen. He wasn't sure how to light the joint; the two times he had previously smoked, it had been out of Matt's bowl. He was afraid that he would look like an idiot, trying to light it, or worse, that he would somehow ruin Matt's masterpiece.
'Hey, I've got class,' Dan said, handing the joint to Jeremy. 'Please, I insist.'
'Yeah, you've got class all right,' Kevin said, 'that's why you can't get laid.'
'Hallo, what's this?' Matt said.
'Yeah,' Kevin said, laughing. 'Dan's going for the Smooth Operator approach, but so far he's Mr. Rosy Palms.'
Matt smiled, and saw that Jeremy was quite amused at the ribbing. To Matt's dismay, Dan just chuckled.
'Well, there's nothing wrong with holding out for a prime piece of ass,' Matt opined. 'And anyway, if those sluts hanging around outside the dorm are any indication, I think you boys are better off keeping your dick in your pants around here.'
* * *
'Whoa man,' Jeremy said, 'this is good pot.'
'The King always delivers,' Matt said, taking a puff of the joint and handing it to Dan. He noticed that Dan hadn't been talking much in the last half hour or so. He hoped the poor guy didn't puke in front of the older kids.
'So what's up with this fucking war?' Matt suddenly asked, curious about the youngsters' thoughts. 'Should we send in the Marines or what?'
'Who the fuck knows,' Jeremy said. 'My uncle'he was in Nam 'says that Lympman'll never send troops in, since they'd get their fucking knees blown off like those dudes who tried to invade the island before.'
'Whatever man,' Kevin said, 'those people were just trying to take their land back, they weren't 'invading' shit.'
'I'm gonna piss,' Dan said, getting up. Inasmuch as his father was directly responsible for the original acquisition of the island, the conversation was making him very uncomfortable.
'So what do you think we should do?' Matt asked Kevin, remembering to sound American.
'Lympman's doing a good job right now,' Kevin explained. 'Those Minervans think they're above the rules, and as usual it's the U.S. who has to show them what's up. You got all these whiny activists saying we need peace, but they attacked our satellites. Lympman's doing the best he can to limit this thing, but those fuckers won't back down.'
'So you think we should send in the Marines?' Matt asked, amused by the hawkish sentiments from the boy who had no qualms about smoking his marijuana.
'Hell no,' Kevin said. He was really worked up by this point. 'Jeremy's uncle is right; that would be crazy. Nah, Lympman should go on prime time TV, tell those fuckers to stop laundering mob money and hiding ex-Nazis and all the rest of their shit, or else we nuke them. Give them a few months if you want, but don't dick around by sending in more and more ships. That's just stupid.'
'Yeah, that's stupid,' Jeremy agreed. He didn't want to say more, since he still wasn't sure where Matt stood on the matter.
* * *
'Oh, he's so fulla shit!' the boys yelled.
The game was seven-card stud, and Matt was showing two kings, a ten, and a four. Jeremy was the only other remaining player, and he was holding (and showing everyone else) a pair of aces and a pair of threes.
'I don't know,' Jeremy said, 'that's a lot of money.'
Matt began humming and sang, almost inaudibly, 'We-e-e, three kings, of Orient are . . . .'
Jeremy threw down his hand.
'Nope,' he said. 'I don't know how he plays yet. I'm not gonna blow a week at work when I'm already up.'
The boys groaned. Matt smiled and collected the pot.
Like takin a cherry from a virgin, he thought.
* * *
'Damnit!' Dan yelled as his jumpshot airballed. He was always money in practice, but in actual games he always choked.
'It's all right Danny, shake it off,' Matt said. The two were down 8-3 against Jeremy and Kevin.
Jeremy grabbed the airball and quickly banked it in.
'That's nine,' Kevin said, catching the ball at the top of the key. 'What do you guys have, two?'
'Three, asshole,' Matt said, wiping his face on his shirt. 'Damn boys, I haven't sweat like this since that night with Kevin's mom.'
(After the previous night's events, Matt had decided to show Dan that this kid Kevin was a punk.)
'Yeah, scoreboard old man,' Kevin said, then drove hard at Matt. Matt managed to strip the ball and looked for Dan to cut to the basket.
Dan anticipated Matt's steal, and knew full well that he ought to sprint past Jeremy, but he instead popped back out. He managed to convince himself that Matt needed room to drive in, but the real reason was that Dan was afraid of blowing a wide-open layup.
Matt was perplexed by Dan's movement; the kid usually played better than this. But he shrugged it off, crossed over to his left hand, and drove past Kevin. After finger rolling the ball over the rim, he rested the ball between his right elbow and stomach, and bent over with his hands on his knees.
'Oh Danny,' he said, wheezing. 'I think it's me pumper.'
'We can just quit,' Dan said, 'you guys are killing us anyway.'
'Are you out of your fucking mind?' Matt said, now able to stand upright. 'Matt King never just gives up. Sure, I might get crushed, but I don't give up. Let's go, we're only down by five.'