Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Empire Strikes Back - Part 1


“Is that all you got to say girl?” 

I shrugged, “What else do you want me to say?  If you are waiting for me to apologize for sticking that bomb on the Charger you’ll be waiting for a long while.” 

I moved into the seriously crowded kitchen and looked around.  In addition to Cal and Vernon, Lon was there as was Junior.  I had to slow down as people shifted to make room for another body in the limited free space.  I was heading for the stairs but Jax got in front of me and instead of making it easy on me he pulled a chair out like he was being a gentleman.  I gave him a look that let him know I didn’t like being herded like a cow but he kept his face carefully blank and said, “Take a look at what is in that box Lydie.” 

Not having much choice unless I was willing to make a scene I sat at the table and grabbed a box that Reggie pushed my way.  Looking inside all I could say was, “Well isn’t this special.  I wouldn’t have minded some flowers and candy but this is a little above and beyond don’t you think?” 

I looked at Lon and Vernon who were both now inside and having Ginger refill their mugs.  I smelled poultry seasoning and realized she had fixed them broth.  “Where did you find this?” I asked them with a little less sass in my voice. 

“One of the boys on guard duty at the farm shot it down while we were battling down by the river,” Vernon answered.  “It’s the primary reason why we’re here instead of home in the arms of our women where we belong.” 

I clinched my teeth against a comment concerning male chauvinism and then said, “So?” 

“So I want to know if Matt is capable of making a contraption like that or if it is someone else eyeballing us.” 

Before answering him I asked, “Why didn’t you call us on the radio instead of coming all this way?” 

“’Cause I’m no longer sure that we can trust that our transmissions aren’t being monitored.  And that’s another problem to come to terms with.” 

I shrugged.  “Telefax or Radiofax … you know, like they used to use in air traffic control towers back in the old days … the stuff you see in movies about World War 2 and the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts.” 

The room got silent and then Vernon asked in clipped and irritated tones, “You can do that?  Why haven’t you brought this up sooner?” 

I clucked my tongue and told him, “Don’t get bent.  It isn’t rocket science you know.  If they were able to pull that sort of stuff off starting back in the 1920s when it was invented I don’t see why we can’t come up with something similar to it today.  We can use radio waves instead of phone lines or other types of cable since we already have the set up on both ends.  We keep it simple enough we could probably have something up and running within the week and unless someone else has the transmission wavelength and the right kind of receiving device they won’t really be able to capture what we were doing.  I’d still use code just to be sure but …”  I ended on another shrug.  “As to why … if I had suspected we would need something like that I would have probably thought of it sooner.  But garbage in garbage out.  I can’t plan correctly if I don’t have all the data in a timely manner.”  

Vernon and Lon looked at each other then at Jax who cocked an eyebrow at them.  I looked at the three of them and just shook my head.  “Am I supposed to interpret that bit of sign language or do you want something from me or what?” 

Ignoring my question Vernon asked, “So do you think that Matt is capable of this?” 

I answered, “Of course he is capable of it.  Several people sitting around this table are capable of it including me, Reggie, you, Jax, and Lon for starters.  However if you are asking is this for sure Matt’s handy work … ?  I don’t know, did you look for a signature?”  At their silence I started looking at the remains of the apparent drone in front of me.  I hate when people like to test me like I’m some kind of trained monkey that they really don’t believe can use sign language. “This doesn’t look military, not sophisticated enough, and the two of you would have known that so why are you quizzing me on it?  To be honest it looks more like something slapped together from spare parts from a hobby shop … and there were a couple of those in town at one point.  So yeah, this could be Matt’s work … but Delorey could just as easily have someone working for him that knows the ropes as well.  Some of those guys in the drug trade have military training … again something the two of you, with your experience, would know.  It wouldn’t take much imagination for someone to replicate what had been used against them at some point.” 

“So you can’t say for sure that this isn’t Matt’s work?” 

“No more than I can say for sure that it is.”  Looking at everyone looking at me I rolled my eyes.  “Next question I guess is do I think that Matt is working for or against Delorey.” 

“Yeah,” Lon admitted. “That’s the next question.” 

“Why ask me this now?”  I asked to no one in particular.  Not getting an answer I told them, “Well, if he is working against Delorey I doubt it is being done openly.  Delorey is mean, nasty, but worst of all for Matt’s purposes, he’s unpredictable.  Matt wouldn’t like that – not that anyone would – and would have a hard time manipulating him because of it.  Like I mentioned to everyone else, it’s possible that somehow or other Matt decided to use Delorey’s anger over the blow up and take Suicide out if for some reason Suicide was getting in Matt’s way.  We still don’t know what his immediate, or even ultimate, goal is.” 

Cal said, “But Jax said that you said Matt wants some kind of tech … uh … tech-no-u-topia … or something like that.” 

“Maybe,” I agreed.  “But that was just a guess on my part.  I don’t have a direct line to Matt’s psyche no matter what any of you seem to think.  I’m really not sure I know what is motivating him these days.  I can guess – probably get closer to the truth than most people – but that doesn’t mean my guesses are automatically correct.” 

Vernon asked, “But you suspect that Matt saw us coming at the very least.” 

“Same as you did once you got out there in the middle of it.” 

Then he asked, “You have any idea how he figured it out?” 

I shook my head.  “For pete sake, how am I supposed to know?”  When they kept looking at me expectantly I just shrugged and told them, “It could have been any one of a handful of different ways.  I’m sure you’ve got suspicions of your own.  My best guess though would be by accident … he may still have taken credit for it but that doesn’t mean it didn’t start out just by plain ol’ accident.  Maybe someone left a booby exposed or some equipment behind or one of their patrols spotted one of us … one of these drones could have seen us since we weren’t looking for them.  Maybe Delorey had someone watching and we didn’t realize it … just any number of things.  But Matt wouldn’t need but a few pieces of information to create a set of possible defenses.  I don’t even know exactly what happened yet.” 

Lon growled, “Jax can give you the details later.  Basically we walked into an ambush.  Luckily Suicide’s people weren’t expecting us to be able to throw as much firepower back at them as we did and hadn’t found all of the boobies.” 

“Matt wouldn’t care about that.” 

“Huh?” 

“Matt wouldn’t care if he lost soldiers to the booby traps so long as his plan continued to move forward.”  I stopped and gave it some serious thought and then turned to Reggie.  “Reg, you’ve played against him enough to have a feel for him.  What do you think?  Was it a serious attack or … or maybe just a diversion … possibly to keep Suicide occupied until Delorey could get in place?” 

Reggie had already picked up on what I was asking before I was half way through.  “That’s a real possibility.” 

“Jax?” 

“Hum?” he answered like he hadn’t expected me to include him. 

“Did you notice anything unusual about the fighting?” 

“Unusual how?” 

“You know where we laid the boobies.  Did it look like the teams were supposed to avoid that area or were they trying to keep people away from some other area?  Did you run into any teams that were trying to … I don’t know … box you in or turn you away or towards something?” 

All of the guys started thinking about it at that point, trying to step back and see the big picture of how the battle had flowed.  Jax answered first with, “They either didn’t know about the boobies on the embankments of the hill or didn’t care.  Some of the ones we had set closer to town caught them off guard but not enough to stop and make them think.  I can say they didn’t want us going near the waterfront but that’s probably because they’re using that area for their energy production.” 

“Maybe, maybe not.  How did Delorey get involved?  Was he already in town?  If not how did he get there?  What …?” 

Junior interrupted before I could continue.  “Wasn’t by boat if that’s what you’re wondering; the river was iced over.  But I don’t think he was there when the fighting started either.  My team was closest to getting Suicide when I saw him start to freak when Delorey showed up.  You’d figure Suicide would have known if Delorey was in town.” 

“Maybe … probably … unless Matt was keeping it quiet,” Johnson added. 

I held up my hand for a momentary pause.  “We’re making a huge assumption here that it is Matt that is running the show.  Even if we take Delorey out of the picture you know it is possible that Matt isn’t the one calling the shots.” 

Jules snapped, “Are you honestly still defending that guy?” 

My hackles snapped to attention and I belted back at him, “No.  And I never defended him to begin with.  I’m trying to use logic which is more than you are doing.  I’m sorry about your girlfriend but you need to back off me and get your head out of your backside over this.  More than likely Matt is certifiable but that doesn’t mean he’s boss hog at the feeding trough.  We need to consider all possibilities before we act like idiots over nothing.” 

Jules made to jump at me.  Johnson and Aston grabbed him in surprised alarm.  Jax and Reggie stepped in front of me.  And Vernon and Lon shot up but let us sort it out ourselves.  

I pushed Reggie to the side because Jax wasn’t budging.  “Jules, don’t mess with me.  I’ve about had my fill of people acting like they can talk to me anyway they want with impunity.  It is not my fault that Matt has turned out like he has.  It is not my fault that none of you that were left in town saw it until it was too late and you’ve suffered badly because of that.  It is not my fault your girlfriend hurt you.  I’m not sure that is particularly Matt’s fault either, but a choice she apparently made willingly.  She’s responsible for that, not me and not anyone else.  I understand how bad it has to hurt that she turned on you but she is the one that did you wrong.  Stop letting it rule your life and your commonsense.” 

Aiden who had come into the kitchen, aided by Janice whom he was leaning on fairly heavily said, “Jules … I hate to say it but she’s right.  You’re trying to make other people pay for what she did to you, trying to make it someone else’s fault.  Ain’t happening Cuz.  She isn’t coming back.” 

Jules snarled, “I don’t want her back.” 

“Good,” I told him.  “I think you deserve better.  She had no right to do you like that.  If she wanted out she could have ended it a heck of a lot better than she did.”  He started to say something but then just looked at me like he wasn’t sure he’d heard what I’d said.  Giving him a hard look I asked, “How do you think I felt about what Matt and Marty did to me?  Think on it.  And also wonder how I felt when it seemed that all my friends turned on me at the same time, favoring Matt and Marty’s side over mine.”  He just sort of blinked like that wasn’t anything that had ever occurred to him.  Feeling I’d made my point I said, “Now let’s everyone sit down and get back to business before Lon and Vernon start wondering if we are all just a bunch of hormonal, angst-ridden teenagers.” 

Jax sighed and looked to the heavens for patience.  The imp in me wanted to tell him to be careful what you prayed for as God had a way of answering when you least expected it … and usually in the form of lessons that forced you to acquire the skills you were expecting free of charge.  Praying for patience seemed to be one of the more dangerous types of prayers a person could make.  But I managed to keep my mouth shut because God also has a way of dealing with smart alecks and I was honest enough with myself to admit that I crossed that particular line more than was strictly necessary. 

After the pause in histrionics Lon and Vernon shook their heads and sat back down after making sure everyone else was doing so.  I decided to give it another go.  “Like I was saying, Matt is a brain trust; smarter than I am and I’m not embarrassed to admit it.  And I’m honest enough to admit that he also may very well be every nasty thing everyone has been calling him.  But none of that means that he is automatically the one currently in control or in power.  It also doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible to think around him regardless of what his place in everything is.” 

Lon asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?” 

Reggie answered for me.  “It means that you don’t have to be smarter than him to outsmart him.  Matt’s worst failing is that he can’t recognize that he could possibly be outsmarted.  He’s brilliant but has a one-track mind; one of those I-think-therefore-it-must-be-so hang ups so many smart people have.  If he is so determined to go one direction then we shake his confidence, or take enough of his game pieces of his board game, then he might not be able to adjust his plan in time to stop us from doing whatever it is we want to do.  It is the only way I was ever able to beat him.” 

I added, “That and the fact that he never knew if his opponent was you or someone else.  You created new avatars left and right; faster than Matt could keep up with.  If he couldn’t judge who you were then he didn’t know what your shortcomings were in real life and kind of twit you with them on the board.  What a lot of people don’t know was part of Matt’s strategy was to study his opponents long before his opponents ever thought to challenge him.  He also studied battlefield tactics and successful generals and stuff like that.  It was the closest he came to finding history useful.” 

Vernon said, “Sounds like Napoleon.” 

I admitted, “Maybe.  And if Napoleon met his Waterloo, the same thing can happen to Matt.  Again, assuming he is the one in control of the chess board.  We need to take a leaf out of his book and start studying who our opponent really is and then plan accordingly.  Obviously surprise is out … but then again, maybe it isn’t.  If Matt or whoever it is makes the mistake of assuming they know everything that we’re capable of then we operate outside that box they are trying to put us in.  Wait for our opportunity.  Then slam them hard and with something permanent.” 

Jax said, “That’s all well and good but don’t forget, we’ve got Delorey Baumgarten added to the mix now.” 

“Do we?” I asked.  When I had everyone’s attention I said, “It is likely that we do but we don’t know   for sure and we don’t know in what form.” 

Vern leaned back in his chair and said, “Sure, I see it.  We don’t know if he is going to take over the town or put someone in charge and use it as an outpost.  Will he live on site or only drop by occasionally.” 

Lon added, “We’ve heard he has aspirations.  He wants the whole state under his control.  To make that happen he is going to have to stay on the move.” 

Vernon nodded and said, “We don’t know how far he is with that plan or if …”  He stopped and shook his head.  “We’ve got a lot of thinking to do but first thing we need to do is shore up our defenses.  And I want a plan for that radiofax system ASAP so we can get the ball rolling.  Come on boys, we need to head home and spread the word.  It will help with morale.”  Vernon looked at Jax and nodded but it would take me a while to figure out what that nod meant.

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