Friday, May 1, 2015

Hindsight is 20/20 Except For Those Who Wear Blinders - Part 1

Part 1

 

I’d give a lot to say that my prediction came true but as with all things in life there are always those surprises.  It isn’t that Matt wasn’t prosecuted for his crimes.  And it isn’t that Matt didn’t go to jail for those crimes.  It isn’t even that Matt wasn’t scheduled to be executed for his crimes.  All three of those took place.  Except the execution never took place.  Somehow, some way Matt managed to find a way to pull himself out of the ashes at the last second.

 

"What?!!"

 

“Easy Son, I’m only relaying what came down the information pipeline.”

 

“No.  No way.  My uncle … He’s alive?!”

 

We were all in shock.  Well angry too as we were still recovering from hearing that Matt had been transferred to federal custody and moved to a facility out west.

 

Mr. Houchins had thought it important enough – and potentially upsetting enough – that he had Lon bring him to the Home Place.  Honestly, when I first saw his face I thought there had been a death in the family; instead we find out that it was the opposite and it was for Jax.  Of course, Jax reacted to it almost like it was a death.

 

It took a while to get the whole story – weeks and months of time as bits and pieces would reach us so that a clear picture and timeline could be constructed.  Rather than dying Matt’s father had been bodily co-opted by certain powers that be to save what infrastructure assets could be saved in certain locations out in Colorado.  Why Colorado?  Possibly because of his experience with dams.  However, what those assets were in the beginning have never been clear as it seemed that no matter what they tried the cascading effect of failures kept them on the move hopping from one bad spot to another.  All we knew is that Matt was gone and not coming back.  Ultimately we had no choice but to accept that what energies we had needed to be focused on our own survival.  There was a bitterness that would have probably overtaken us if we hadn’t had so many other things that needed our full attention. 

 

I was pregnant.  Boy was I pregnant.  To the hilarity of all, except for Jax and I, we eventually presented Kelly with a set of twin brothers.  And this in the midst of Ginger’s pregnancy where Jax and I got our turn when poor Reggie collapsed upon hearing he had a daughter.  Ginger and I went into labor within twelve hours of each other and Jax swore that if any of us did that to him again he’d cork half of us and tie a knot in the other half and that was all he was saying on the subject.

 

It took a month before Johnson and Alex could even get up the nerve to tell him that they’d miscounted as well and were due one of their own six or seven months down the road.  I thought poor Jax was going to hyperventilate.  Lon and Vern had a lot of fun at our expense, calling the Home Place the “Rabbit Hutch” on the radio.  Or at least they did until their daughters informed them they’d be grandfathers sooner rather than later. 

 

Time and energy.  They were suddenly in very short supply for everyone; and what there was seemed to get away from us and move too fast.  It took not one year but two for everyone to move to their own places year round.  They tried to work it out that first year but what sufficed in the Spring, Summer, and Fall was simply too inadequate for the winter. 

 

On top of the micro-environment we lived in, there were a great many changes that came during those two years out in the rest of the world.  The war we faced was unlike any the world had seen before.  World War One was supposed to have been the war to end all wars.  It wasn’t.  World War Two was supposed to take care of the problems left over from WW1.  It didn’t.  World War Three was … well it was terrible.  There are still places on earth not fit for human habitation, some of them even here in this country.  Not even the technology we have today is speeding up the process of the earth healing from the wounds inflicted upon it. 

 

In hindsight had the war just been one of nuclear attrition it would have been over in a short period of time.  Instead what we had to deal with was the occasional limited nuclear exchange, as well as some dirty bombs deployed by terrorists that never claimed responsibility out of fear of retaliation.  There was also bioterrorism and the use of so many conventional weapons that we wondered where all of it was coming from.

 

During those two years something happened in our own government and there was a … I guess basically the Pentagon took control of the Executive Branch of the government because the Executive Branch either had their head in the sand or in their own backsides and nothing was getting accomplished.  Many of them simply hid in the “continuity of government” bunkers waiting for the end of the world to get over with.  Those that weren’t running around like lunatics or frozen like ice dummies were throwing the men and women of our armed forces around in such a way as it was plain that they had no understanding of war and no care that their ill-thought out chess moves were resulting in hundreds and thousands of our forces dying or being so injured they could not go back to fight another day.  It was at that point that the Pentagon finally put a boot to the backsides of some that hadn’t expected it and changed the game from chaos and insanity back to one that, while not bloodless, relied on real strategy that had as its endgame a true win and not just a “last man standing” type of mentality.

 

While the Pentagon took care of the war outside our borders they were more than happy to allow Congress and the state governments to take care of what was going on inside the country.  Surprisingly, many that were blatant screw ups on the international playing field were actually fierce warriors with some sense on our home turf.  The first that accomplished was that Canada and the US formed a mutual aid treaty and combined forces to secure our borders against enemies both foreign and domestic.  And by domestic I mean that you could practice your Constitutional right and protest but if you were found to be participating in terrorism of some type, you were likely to find yourself on a transport and dropped off in a war zone and you could choose to fight … or you could die … but you didn’t have time for sitting around making a nuisance of yourself.  And the federal law already in place regarding crossing state lines to participate in violent protests and/or riots was strictly enforced.  Immigrants, legal or otherwise, also found themselves caught up and shipped out to war zones.  That type of deportation order could happen whether the person was male or female and aged fifteen or older.  The rationale was that if you were old enough to learn to drive, you were old enough to learn to shoot.

 

With the worst of the “agitators and terrorists” under control – real or imagined – the federal government instituted a public works program.  With most forms of fiat currency in the tank those in the know considered it too economically dangerous to just hand out dollars to a small cross section of the population they were putting to work so they did the next best thing … barter credits.  And they actually did something quite brilliant; rather than paying people in credits by the hour they paid in work credits by the job.  This gave people that were motivated the opportunity to complete as many jobs and/or projects as they could handle.  It also gave people the opportunity to build a team and then share the resulting credits between them.  It was like thousands of independent contractors were created overnight. 

 

How we got involved in our area is that it started in salvaging.  The town really was almost too big of a mess to be worth saving but there were some structures and a boatload of materials that would be a crime to waste.  We’d already gotten quite a bit of salvaged building materials the year before; none of us seemed to want to play pioneer and live in what amounted to a log-style lean to.  Our experience put us head and shoulders above the outside crews that were brought in and fairly soon Ashton became sought after anytime a particularly tricky problem arose.  Obviously enough Reggie became the go to for demolition work when a little “boom” was required.

 

Jax was a good shade tree mechanic that helped keep the tools and machinery up and running until they found out he had some medical training.  He was then reassigned to the small clinic that was erected in the old Town Green.  The clinic served the work crews and anyone else that happened to be able to make their way there.  Jax was finally getting the training he’d always wanted.  I was proud of him.  More importantly Jax began to be proud of himself and most of the baggage that he’d been carrying around finally disappeared. 

 

Mr. Houchins grew his farm even more by taking over some of the other farms in the area.  No one objected and the food was desperately needed.  He traded food for the building supplies the reclamation crews salvaged.  He would use those building supplies to build homes for his growing clan, taking the pressure off of the farmhouse and getting them out of the travel trailers and tents that were beginning to break down and need replacing. 

 

The other thing Mr. Houchins traded his crops for were supplies for rebuilding Ray’s Landing.  There was a small tussle when the militia wanted to confiscate all of their work but peace reigned when that particular militia was discovered to not have registered with the state and were therefore not officially recognized or sanctioned.  It also turned out that they were a militia in name only and were more akin to a roving band of thieves, living off of whomever was too weak to defend themselves.  There were many such groups in those days and it took the end of the war to take away their excuse for existence.

 

During that second and then third year I went through a time where I wondered what I was supposed to do with my life, I was even maybe jealous.  It came to a head when we found that Gennie’s family – what remained of it – had been looking for her.  Strangely it was Jules that had returned with the news.

 

He had indeed left during that second winter and we hadn’t heard from him in two years.  No one said it aloud but everyone, including Aiden, suspected he was dead.  He hadn’t died, he’d gotten drafted after being in a brawl at a refugee camp where he’d been trying to trace his family.  While he was serving out his term he got friendly with the techs that ran the huge databases where they were trying to count the dead and the living.  After his tour was over and he was released he simply continued working with them, doing what he could to reconnect families who’d been separated by the war, finding relatives willing to take guardianship of children orphaned by it, and reconnected families with their elders that were desperately in need of help themselves.  It was a job that seemed to bring him a peace he hadn’t had for a long, long time.

 

He put in everyone’s information – except for Jax and I since he knew we knew about our own families – and eventually Gennie’s information popped up that she was being sought.  Knowing us he brought the news himself and he also told what he’d found out about the families.  Reggie’s father and brother had died not long after the initial attack when it was discovered they’d secretly taken items from the town that wound up being contaminated.  In fact that happened to several of the adults on those buses that left and never came back.  Ginger’s family died in quarantine as did Ashley’s.  Ashton’s parents were alive but refused, for a long time, to believe that Ashton was.  Guilt is a powerful emotion and apparently they’d been baring quite a bit of it for some time.  It was several years before they finally reunited and both sides could come to terms with what had happened.  Everyone else’s story lay somewhere between those two extremes and are theirs to tell if they want it published.

 

After Gennie left it was like a hole had opened up in my carefully constructed world.  She and I had made truce and I’d done what I can to help her even if it was without any appreciation.  She had a lot of issues and I had to accept that I just wasn’t equipped to help her any further down her life road.  It was then that I took a long look at myself and face my personal reality.  I tried to deal with my regrets but only part way succeeded.  I was never going to college.  I was never going to be known as that smart girl that everyone thought was a little weird but had potential.  Everyone was off finding their own path.  I struggled to find my identity.  Kelly and the twins were my life, as was the Home Place, but I was gazing off at that road not taken and wondering where it might have led. 

 

I buried my frustrations the best that I could and put all of my energy into the kids and the farm.  After all, most of the time it was back to just being me again.  The others were building their own lives and didn’t need me.  Jax was spending a lot of time at the clinic in town and was too tired by the time he got home to really see what I was going through. I existed like this for months.  And then the past reared its ugly head … only at the time I didn’t recognize it for what it was.
 
 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ottoman: Empire or That Thing You Put Your Feet On? - Part 6


Three days later another confab was held.  “You sure about this girl?  It would be a relief for all of us if you are and if it works.” 

“Lon, it isn’t about me being sure.  I’ve been sure all along that Matt was beatable.  Even after I almost ran out of life force …”  I stopped when Jax started growling.  “When I got sick, even at my lowest point, I was always sure that Matt was beatable … even if I wasn’t the one that wound up beating him I knew someone would.” 

"Ok fine, I'll even give you that point," Vern agreed.  "But I'm talking THIS plan.  Are you sure about it?" 

“As sure as I can be.” 

Vern scratched the back of his head and I noticed his hair was thinning back there.  It made him look older.  For that matter I was beginning to notice everyone looked older.  Hard work and a lot of worries will do that to you.  “This isn’t the time to go soft on Matt,” he finally said. 

“If you are worried about hurting my feelings then you can put it to rest.  I get it.  I’m sure in all fuss and bother of the last couple of days someone has reported that I’ve said I pity Matt.  And I’m sure that has you concerned; you are wondering if I’m going soft.  Don’t let it.  I can pity him.  I might even be able to generate a little compassion for him just to practice my own humanity.  That doesn’t mean that I think consequences should be withheld.” 

“There’s consequences and then there are consequences,” Lon reminded me. 

Jax said, “I’m willing to do the deed.” 

I looked at all three men and sighed.  “You aren’t going to like me saying this but here it is.  I don’t think we should be the ones to execute him.  I’m not even sure executing him is the best solution.” 

Jax hunched his shoulders and said, “Kinda late to be discussing this.” 

“Yeah.  The Chattanooga Militia already picked him up,” Lon said. 

“And he’ll be tried in a court of law … a real one run by real lawyers with a real judge and a real jury and his Constitutional rights will be assured and yada, yada, blah, blah, blah.  Bottom line is Matt will have his day in court.  I have no doubt that he’ll be convicted as an accessory to Baumgarten’s criminal activities.  My best guess is that those in the local militia that were arrested have already, or will soon, turn on him to save their own skin … they’ve got more to lose as several of them are facing either a firing squad or immediate transportation to the front lines.” 

Jax sighed.  “He’ll try and blame you for the dam.” 

“Won’t work.” 

“You keep saying that.” 

“And I mean it.  The dam was already marked down as an act of God due to the flooding.  We weren’t the only ones worrying that the wash outs around the spill ways were going to cause a collapse.  As far as the rest of it?  Even if a few think he might be telling the truth who is really going to think some poor, sick girl created all the mayhem in town?  That isn’t even the focus of the investigation which is more about Baumgarten.  What’s he going to do?  Blame me for that too when they’ll likely have all of these other depositions that point everything right back to him?” 

Lon shook his head and said, “God forgive me but if this plan of yours works, it isn’t all that satisfying Lydie, not after all we’ve gone through and all we’ve suffered.”  He looked at Jax then and said, “I know he’s your family but …” 

Jax shook his head.  “By blood.  The rest of what could have been died a long time ago.  And if there had been any left, what he did to Lydie killed what was little there was.” 

“Jax …” I said, putting my hand on his arm.  The muscles were bunch stiffly and I could tell he was trying to control the anger he still felt. 

Eventually he put his hand over mine to let me know that he knew I was more concerned for him than anything else.  Directing his comments to Lon and Vern he said, “I’m … well, maybe ok isn’t the word for it but I’ve accepted the way things have turned out.  Matt wrote his own story.  Nothing I tried to do changed the direction he chose.  Now he has to pay the piper.” 

I said, “He’ll do that.” 

Vern asked, “Will he?  Boy might just talk his way out of this one too.” 

I admitted that, “He will undoubtedly try.  He may even be able to keep himself from winding up in front of a firing squad.  But he won’t escape.  He isn’t Delorey Baumgarten.  He’s not scary enough.  If he tries to use what secrets he may have picked up about people from those quarters more than likely he’ll just wind up beat up or found dead in his cell or something equally as nasty.” 

Lon nodded and said, “That’s harsh but I can see it happening.  With the backlog gone from the justice system trials are coming faster and with the war on, sentences are being carried out without appeals and fanfare.  We’ve heard through the grapevine that they are already pulling together a jury and the trial is going to start as soon as they can get him to the court house.  The only reason they expect the trial to last more than a few hours is the length of time the prosecutor is asking so they can read out all of the charges and present evidence against Matt.  Apparently he wasn’t as hidden behind the scenes as he thought.” 

Jax nodded.  “If Matt is expecting to be able to put on a show he’s in for a shock.” 

I agreed and added, “This isn’t high school.  This isn’t small town.  He wanted to play with the big dogs … this is what it means.” 

Everything else said before Jax took me back was just a repetition of what had already been said.  After everyone was tired of repeating themselves the meeting broke up; we had chores to finish before it got dark.  We were almost home when Jax took a left turn and we bumped down a road full of pot holes to a small cul-de-sac where three empty slabs sat.  Even the bolts that the trailers had been strapped to were gone.  Tall grass grew in every direction. 

Looking around I said, “Things have definitely changed.  But if you expect me to get out and see if anymore spiders are around you can think again.” 

Jax relaxed but only a little.  “Yeah.  Have the girls mentioned anything yet?” 

I gave a small grin realizing Jax was still careful to include me in everything even if the others still occasionally treated me like spun glass.  “You mean about Ashton and Reggie trying to figure out a way to build their own homes?” 

“Yeah.  I told them to leave it until after the whole Matt situation was brought under control but …” 

“But Ginger thinks she might be pregnant and Alex and Johnson are finally getting serious as well.” 

“Throw in Janice and Aiden …” 

I nodded. “The house is going to resemble a bunny hutch pretty soon if we don’t create some space.” 

“Pretty much,” he agreed nervously.  Then he asked, “Are you ok with that?” 

“The bunny hutch or the spreading out?” 

“Spreading out.” 

“So long as you and Kelly don’t ‘spread out’ then I figure it is just what was always going to happen anyway.” 

“What if we get stuck with Gennie?” 

Uncomfortably I admitted, “I haven’t thought that far ahead.  I’d rather not think too far ahead yet if you don’t mind.  The logistics of trying to make sure everyone has what they need to start up is starting to make my chest tight and my stomach churn.  It is going to be hard enough to get through winter with all of us under one roof.  Trying to do it for … Jax I just can’t think about it right now.” 

He reached over and took my hand.  “Then let it go.  I probably shouldn’t have brought it up.  I just didn’t want you to think stuff was being hidden from you.  I actually think, even with all of us working and helping, it is going to be months before everyone has a place of their own and I don’t think it is even feasible to start any serious plans until after it has dried up next Spring.” 

I nodded and tried to work the tension out of my neck.  “You know, I think everyone moving out on their own worries me more than Matt ever did … or … or at least as much anyway.” 

“I thought you said you needed to let it go.” 

“I do.  It is just hard.  Nature abhors a vacuum.  Since our big worry is going away my brain is looking for the next one.” 

“How about your brain takes a small vacation so you can rest.” 

“I feel like I’ve done nothing but rest since I blew the dam.” 

“Wrong.  If you had rested your recovery wouldn’t have taken so long.”  Debating something he finally asked, “When are you going to tell the others?” 

“Not until we’re sure.  You said you can’t tell yet so it is possible that I’m not.  I’m not feeling any different … to the good or to the bad.  I’ve only missed once.  And if I am I want to keep it between just the two of us for as long as we can.” 

“You’re … you’re sure?” 

“Yeah.  We need to have something for ourselves alone before it becomes group property.” 

“Oh,” he said like he’d been thinking something totally different. 

I asked, “Have you already said something?” 

“No.  I … I guess I just worried that you were … I don’t know … uh … unhappy about the timing.” 

We still ran into each other’s insecurities back then.  Finally understanding his hesitancy I told him, “If I am … if we are … I’ll be happy.  I just don’t want to be disappointed if I’m not.” 

“Oh.  Disappointed.  Yeah.  Ok … we keep it between us.”  Then he winced and shook his head.  “I don’t even want to think about what Reggie is going to come up with for commentary.” 

I smiled with grim humor and said, “I wouldn’t worry about Reggie.  He’s going to be too busy trying not to walk into walls and doors every time he thinks about Ginger being pregnant.  Or did you think the dayglow green he has been sporting around his mouth was his natural color?” 

Jax got a laugh out of that but then became serious once again.  “Sorry you got caught up in Jules’ hissy fit this morning when he found out I’d accepted some stuff from the people out of Chattanooga.” 

“Not a prob.  Jules is just feeling …” 

“Like a fifth wheel.  Everyone else is pairing off only there’s no one for him but some little girl that he can barely stand.” 

I nodded.  “Aiden thinks … well Janice says Aiden thinks that Jules may not even make it through the winter.  That he may take off to go look for … for whatever happened to the adults and other kids, to see if any of their family has survived and if so why they never came to look for them.” 

“If he does I wish him luck.  He needs something we can’t give him … a direction of his own.  He and Johnson almost got into it the other day.” 

“Still no reason for him to go off on you because you accepted the vitamins and those Kid Kare packages.  They weren’t paying us for being informants, it was just good will kind of thing since they aren’t going to be able to set up a med center in this area like people expected them to.” 

“I know it.  Aiden and Janice got him calmed down just in time to keep Alex from clocking him about being late for relieving her at the overlook.  Jules is going to have to be watched.  I was hoping with Gennie calming down …” 

“Yeah ,,, the drama.  Sometimes I wonder if we’re going to outlive it or what.”

Monday, April 27, 2015

Ottoman: Empire or That Thing You Put Your Feet On? - Part 5


 September is the time of year when the temperature begins to cool.  By the end of the month it can be more than cool.  September is also when you start thinking of winter, but only in a far off fuzzy way.  But not that year.  That year winter was upper most in our minds around the farm. 

With the late start to the year and then having to replant what little we could after the floods receded, we were on a race to play catch up.  September was the last month of big harvests.  The apples and pears would hopefully continue to produce into October but after the damage to blooms early on, what was being harvested seemed much less than last year’s plenty.  The fruit wasn’t as large or pretty either which told me that they needed something … more compost, more spray, more pruning, I wasn’t sure … and didn’t have to give.  We’d have to watch freeze damage once it got good and cold or we’d harvest even less the next year, and have nothing to replace it with. 

Beans would likely be our salvation though we were running out of rice to go with them to make a complete protein.  We were coming to the end of the fresh greens as well as we harvested beets, broccoli, cabbage, wild greens, domestic greens, and herbs. 

The cantaloupes and watermelons added to the grapes and peaches to keep us in sweet fruit though raccoons got into the garden and stole or damaged more than we could afford to lose before Jax put an end to the robber’s existence.  I put the robber on the menu and once he was baked up with carrots and sweet potatoes not even Gennie turned her nose up at first … or second … helpings. 

We traded squash – both summer and winter – as well as peppers with the Houchins farm in exchange for some heirloom tomato varieties that I’d never grown.  They were as happy to have the squash as we were the tomatoes as some kind of beetle had gotten into their garden and done a lot of damage before the kids could pick them all off the plants. 

In addition to the beans, white potatoes would probably be a staple at least at one meal a day during the winter.  I’d still been fairly weak when they were planning that part of the garden but I had been awake long enough that I cut the seed potatoes for planting.  They were half the size that I could ever remember planting and I was worried that they wouldn’t make.  And when something started digging up the tubers not long after planting I worried so much it almost made me ill all over again.  Ashton and Johnson took turns patrolling the fields and whatever had been doing the digging stopped … whether animal or human we never found out. 

The sweet corn made plenty, so did the popcorn.  The problem was that the ears were smaller and some didn’t make kernels all the way to the tip.  The same was true of the heirloom dent corn that was earmarked for turning into cornmeal and animal feed.  Not having commercial fertilizers or enough manure was really beginning to show in everything’s growth and production.  Next year we knew it was likely to be even worse. 

The one thing that didn’t seem to be phased were the cucumber and zucchini plants.  The difference between that year and earlier ones was that no one was groaning when it was put on the table for the umpteenth time for the week.  Everyone was hungry.  Everyone was hungry all the time.  We all worried that if we were this hungry now, when so much food was being preserved, what was winter going to be like.  We weren’t just worried, some of us were scared.  And I numbered myself among them. 

The other girls and I had just brought the first ripe pumpkin in from the field to clean and slice for baking when Jules came bounding down the stairs looking for Jax. 

“You too Lydie.  Something is going on.  Vern has his ears on too.  Looks like DHS showed up in town a little early and it sounds crazy.” 

Alex stepped outside and whistled the guys in from the barn and we all filed up to the attic to listen.  Vern and Lon would occasionally send us a comment over the radiofax but for the most part all we could do was sit there and decode what was going on based on the chaos of people begging for Matt to come save them like he had promised and the comments from the DHS patrol that we picked up. 

When the radio quieted down it was Ginger who summed it up by saying, “That was sick and I don’t mean that in a good way.” 

I was thinking, trying to look into a future that was foggy.  The others talked around me for a bit having recognized the symptoms.  I wasn’t zoned out, I was hyper focused.  It was Gennie who lost patience first and nudged my ankle. “So … what’s it mean?  Give already.” 

I looked at the girl who only a few months earlier I had considered selling to the gypsies and shook my head.  Gennie still rubbed me the wrong way but at least she had backed off her hate enough that it didn’t steal all the air out of the room. 

“I think he’s playing ‘possum.” 

“What’s that mean?” 

“You heard them calling for a medic and then for their psych eval team as they lined people up and separating them off.  They were splitting them off and pulling out the able bodied men first, then the able bodied unattached females.  Those got bussed off to some kind of training facility.  Able bodied females with children and anyone under thirteen who claimed to be an orphan were put into another group and bussed off to a work farm.  Anyone that was medically or mentally unfit were being sent to the other side of town.  We’ll need to find out what is going on there, and soon.  The last group looked to be the thirteen to seventeen year olds who were sent to some kind of industrial facility, presumably where they are going to be trained to build the tools of war.” 

“Huh?” 

Reggie snorted.  “Munitions plant … somebody has to make the bombs and bullets you know.” 

She got quiet, then wonder of wonders she sat down at my feet and said quietly, “Don’t let them send me to one of them places.  I … I don’t wanna make those things.  I wanna stay here.” 

I could see Reggie tuning up to say something that wouldn’t be helpful so I forestalled him by telling her, “When I invited you to live here Gennie I meant it.  You just have to help out and not create problems.  If you can do that then we’ll all do what we can to protect you.” 

She looked at me like she was seeing me for the first time but all she answered was, “Ok.” 

When she went back to looking at her shoes I glanced around and saw that most people were looking at her like she’d suddenly sprouted a third head with green hair and purple boogers.  Catching Jax’s eye he gave a small nod.  Detente had been temporarily agreed upon. 

Ashton interrupted the quiet to ask, “Do you believe that Matt was really given a mentally unfit whatchamacallit?” 

“A mentally unfit designation?  I believe he was given one, someone using his names definitely did.  I believe he deserves that designation.”  I put my hand up to forestall any comments until I could finish.  “I believe he was given one and deserves it; however, I also believe he manipulated the situation so he would be left behind.  I think he is still going to try and impliment with his getaway plan.” 

Jules copied my comment onto the radiofax and Vern replied, “I concur.  Boy got himself what amounts to a military section 8 on purpose.  Question is why.” 

“Because,” I said reminding them.  “Matt doesn’t like to play the game by other people’s rules.  If he can’t control the board then he leaves the board.  If he isn’t sure he is going to win the game he chooses not to play.” 

Reggie said, “You sure Lydie?  Because in his shoes I would have let DHS take me and then I would have attached myself to someone powerful.  He could have started his games all over … trading up with each move.” 

“You forget one thing.” 

“What’s that?” 

Before I could answer Jax grimaced and shook his head as he saw it.  “He’s a snob.  And he still believes in all of that utopian crap.  Those DHS patrols didn’t sound like much more than crowd control keystone cops.  Until Matt can be sure that whoever he is attaching himself to is at least temporarily worthy of his support he won’t jump into the next frying pan.” 

I nodded.  “This presents a problem.  For him and for us.” 

Johnson shook his head and said, “Just explain it already Lydie.  I need to get back out to the barn and unload that corn before it gets dark.” 

Ashton agreed and added, “Yeah and I need to get going on getting those logs split.  I’m not going to live splinter-by-splinter again this winter.” 

It just hit me all of a sudden.  I started chuckling, then laughing, then I was practically hee-hawing and there were more than a few in the room that thought maybe I was in need of a mentally unfit designation. 

Jax picked me back up where I’d slid to the floor I was laughing so hard.  “Lydie?  Babe?  Uh …” 

“Oh God.  Don’t you see?  Didn’t you just listen to yourselves?” 

Reggie gave a disgruntled, “Not seeing the humor here Lydie.” 

“Geez you guys.  For months now Matt has been the boogie man.  He was the greatest enemy, the most dangerous foe.  You spent endless hours trying to figure out what he was going to do to us next; wat Big Bad he was going to invite to stomp on us.  You used to question me ad nauseum trying to figure out why Matt is like he is.  You had nightmares about him.  You questioned whether he would ever lose.” 

“And?” 

“Listen to what you just said.  Getting in the corn and chopping the wood is much more important than anything Matt is going to do.  You almost don’t even have the patience to make the time to think about him.  Don’t you get it?  You don’t have to worry whether Matt will ever lose because we’ve already won.  He’s running out of lives, running out of energy points.  He’s flickering out of existence.” 

Vern radiofax’d over that he wanted a confab and would Jax mind bringing me to the midway point.  I signaled in the affirmative and then turned to find everyone looking stunned. 

I was about to head downstairs and get ready when Gennie stopped me with a pull on my pants leg.  “But … but he’s still alive.” 

“Yeah.  And we still need to be careful which is why Jax is going to drive me over for a meet up.  But we aren’t just living in this little bubble that Matt controls.  The bubble is gone and it is not coming back.” 

“So’s everything is going to be ok now?” 

I sighed.  “No … not yet.  But it will be better for our heads from now on.  Matt can’t hide in the closet or under the bed anymore.  He’s not the boogie monster.  We see him for what he is … not how he sees himself or how he wants us to see him.  He’s just a shadow.  And how do you get rid of a shadow?” 

After thinking a moment she answered, “Put light on it.” 

“Exactly.”

Monday, April 6, 2015

Ottoman: Empire or That Thing You Put Your Feet On? - Part 4


Looking back I wonder how other people didn't see what Matt was doing, what he was planning. Everyone claimed to see it in hindsight.  But why did it have to be me that was so intimately familiar with the way his mind worked in foresight? 

“Babe? You need to sleep.” 

I looked at Jax and nodded. “I know it.” 

“But you're still thinking about Matt. You're still going to give him head space when you need to turn it off.” 

I could hear something in his voice that I hadn't heard in a long time. “It isn't because I'm enjoying it.” 

“Then let it go. Stop thinking about him all the time. Isn't it bad enough he almost killed you once?  My God, you’re barely healed up, still aren’t back to where you used to be completely!  I … I should have been the one … not you.  I don’t’ think I could handle losing you.  Not again.” 

I slid over to his side of the bed where he was sitting taking off his shirt. I rubbed his back and asked, “You didn’t lose me.  And you aren't going to lose me. You certainly aren't going to lose me to him. Ever.” 

“Don't make promises like that. I've already been through ... ” 

I got closer and did what he liked and it distracted him for the duration but right as we were both going to sleep I heard him mumble, “You're thinking about him again.” 

“I wasn't until you brought it up.” 

“Then I didn't say anything.” 

“Good. Because ...” then he snored.  

And I hadn't been thinking about Matt ... until Jax brought him back up and suddenly sleep was eluding me once again. 

See I had figured out — or was nearly positive I had figured out — Matt's next move. I didn't know whether to feel triumphant or cry at the sadness because all it did was prove that Matt, for all his genius, couldn't grow beyond what he already knew. It was just another variation on the same themes that Matt had used over and over in gaming. Now that I had his number — Reggie saw it too though he wasn't as angst ridden about it – I couldn’t believe no one else could predict where Matt would jump next on the game board.  Reggie enjoyed what to him was simply a triumph, he refused to feel bad for Matt. 

I wasn't exchanging my fear of Matt for fear for Matt. I didn't feel bad for Matt in the way that Reggie and Jax imagined. Strangely I was starting to pity him. Perhaps that was just as dangerous but at the same time I had to be honest. I could see it if none of the others could quite believe me when I explained things to them.  I forgave Matt for my sake, not his; not even for Jax’s.  I did it so I could dump the baggage and keep my brain from being scrambled any more than it felt like it already was.  I just wasn’t up for losing control of my temper, feeling those kinds of emotions.  I’d stopped letting my reaction to Matt control me.  It wasn’t compassion I felt; it was pity.   

It was all getting away from Matt. The kite was stuck in a tree. The string was unraveling. The orchestra was no longer followed the conductor if they ever had.  Maestro was turning out to be just some little man hiding in fear behind a curtain … not a wizard, just a snake oil salesman.  Or maybe the bigger truth was we were all outgrowing Matt and for all of his genius he just couldn't keep up.  

It was a precarious time. I knew that once Matt realized he was no longer — had never been — whatever it was that he imagined himself to be, that he was going to have a meltdown. And that meltdown was going to be big and nasty in scale and scope. I wasn't sure what he planned as a swan song but I knew he had one planned. 

He'd more than once expressed an admiration for the scorched earth military strategy used by the Cossacks. They were being forced back by Napoleon's army but in the end, though they retreated it was actually the French that suffered greater fatalities and the ultimate loss because the Cossacks burned everything in their wake so that the enemy couldn't use it. I'd seen him incorporate it into RPGs when, in a rare turn of events, he started to lose. He'd kill everyone and everything the game allowed him so that the enemy had nothing to work with, nothing to hide behind, no life points to gain. Then the effort was to stay alive just long enough for the other player/enemy to run out of energy and die first.  All he needed to win was to be the last man standing. 

I'd mentioned this as a warning in the last family meeting we'd had and it was Ginger — in her own strange way — who actually got the others to understand what I was talking about. “You mean like the last episode of Little House on the Prairie?” 

"Uh ...“ 

“You know, they tried to keep the railroad from buying Walnut Grove but they lost. Only they decided to lose on their own terms. They used dynamite to blow up every building in town. I just cry buckets every time I see it. All the places that were so familiar ... the store, the mill, the church ... they blew it to smithereens rather than let the railroad have it. The railroad was hacked but see they'd only bought the land ... not what was on the land.  So even though Laura and the others technically lost, they morally won.” 

Ashton started snickering until I said, “Actually that is exactly what I think Matt would do and how he would see it. He'd blow the town or sabotage it ... something devastating ... so that no one else could get any use out of it.  He’d view it as a moral win.” 

Johnson said, “We don't need the town. We haven't salvaged anything from there in months.” 

That's when it clicked for Jax. “Actually we do need the town. Remember what Mr. Houchins said about trade and stuff like that.  Or maybe not the town as it is, but the idea of the town. We need to either be able to control who goes in next or at least have some control or vetting so that they don't become the next enemy we have to defend against.  If he does something to contaminate the river or … I don’t know, create his own plague situation … we could be cut off by the militia or military, they could come here and forcibly evacuate everyone … I really don’t know what Matt could create exactly, but I do know he is capable of creating something that could hurt those of us left behind.” 

Later Reggie and Ashton cornered me and wanted to know how worried I was. “Guys, can't you feel it?” That's when I told them I sensed it was getting away from Matt's control. “That dovetails into what Vern and Lon have overheard.” 

Ashton said, “Just because there is noise that DHS is coming in to draft people and Matt is trying to move his favorite scum to safety ...” 

“I'm not sure that he is.” 

Both guys were confused. “Wait ... what?” 

“I think it is some kind of trick. The same sort of trick he pulled on Suicide and ...” 

“And those of us that were there in the beginning,” Ashton said with a growl when I was wary of finishing my sentence. 

Carefully I said, “Yeah. Like that. He's taking out the nearest competition, knocking back those that might be getting too strong or too confident in their own abilities, those that might have gotten too popular or have too many friends.” 

Reggie nodded. “Sounds like something the little tyrant would do. But if he does it, it isn't going to leave him much to work with.” 

The house isn't that big and it didn't take much to draw other people's attention. Alex who'd joined the casual discussion said, “So what's the plan?” 

“Ours or his?” 

“Ours, his ... just explain it,” she said as exhausted as the rest of us after a long day of trying to get by and survive without anyone else’s help. 

Sitting in the chair Jax gently pushed me into I explained it as I saw it happening. “Those buses aren't to 'save' people ... they're for an escape. Matt wouldn't poor that much effort into something that is just going to be used by others and then discarded. That one bus in particular we have pictures of is being gutted and refitted with too much luxury.” 

“Yeah, it looks like it is fit for a king.” 

“Exactly. That one is for Matt's use. The game is usually played thus ... Matt gets in a bind of some type.  He gathers a small subgroup and claims he is sending them to safety but they can’t let the group at large know that they are the elites and his most important troops.  Because they are so important to him – and because he is such a great guy – he himself will fool the enemy and lead them away to protect this gullible sub-group. Usually in this sub-group are people that Matt distrusts or hates for some reason that only he knows … keep your friends close and your enemies closer.  But the reality is rather than protecting this sub-group what Matt actually does is use them as bait to draw the heat off of himself … he sacrifices them like pawns. I suspect Matt is going to get rid of those he considers his most immediate problems. Then he is going to act as savior, pack up the few survivors, and move to a new hive location. As he leaves he'll salt the ground behind him so no one has the resources or assets to come after him.” 

“Salt the earth ... what that's supposed to mean?” 

“It means make whatever they have to leave behind unusable.” 

“Not exactly Geneva Convention approved.” 

I shrugged, “It's been going on for centuries. Heck, Vlad the Impaler used it against the Ottoman Empire.” 

“Vlad the Impaler? You mean that dude that Dracula is supposed to be?!” 

I snorted at Julian's response. “Yep. Same one. It was a favorite tactic of his and he isn't the only one. Darius of Persia, the Greek general Memnon, the Gauls against the Romans, the Carthaginians. It was used by various people to try and prevent the Vikings from moving inland from the coastal regions. William the Conqueror used it punitively to punish those he vanquished. The English used it again against the Irish. In the modern era another example is how Sherman used it to subdue and subjugate the South as he plowed through places like Atlanta. Do you want more examples? Because I can keep going.” 

“God no,” Johnson mumbled. “You make my head hurt when you start up with that crap.” 

“Fine. Just so long as you understand. Matt may be on the ropes but he is still dangerous. We're going to have to be very careful how this gets addressed. And ... I might have an idea but we could be opening up another can of worms.” 

That's when I said if we could come up with some way to open a dialogue with DHS, or someone like DHS, and tell them about Matt and his plans. “But what we all need to remember is that to us Matt is a big deal. To other people in other areas he is no one.  To the large groups like the government Matt isn’t even on the radar as they are dealing with a world war, invasions, and trying to contain the civil war that keeps trying to break out in this country.” 

“Matt will just wind up doing what he did here someplace else.” 

“Maybe.  He’ll try that’s for sure.  But he could hook up with powerful people that won’t take him for granted and they’ll use him and make him worse.  He’ll be their puppet.” 

“Or they’ll kill him for getting in their way.” 

I nodded.  “Or that.  I think that is the one thing that has kept Matt from moving on before now. Here he is a big fish. Out there he's going to have to start at square one or even zero or lower. He's going to be competing against people that have already established themselves and their reputations for success, who already have a power base.” 

Jax crouched beside me and asked, “Lydie, how sure are you that this is his next move?” 

I looked at Reggie and he gave a slow nod. I turned to the others. “I can't give you 100%. I wish I could but this ... this feels like Matt. And while he's changed ... it's been a limited change. He continues to do things the way he always has, just on a bigger scale.  Pull the curtain back and he’s just the same high school kid pulling the same levers attached to the same sticks and carrots he’s always used.” 

They aren't convinced. That is what is keeping me up. I'm second guessing myself while at the same time I'm getting frustrated.  They want answers from me but when I give it to them they don't necessarily believe it. I can't blame them for that. It is actually a healthy system of checks and balances.  At the same time ... 

At least they've agreed to talk it out with Vern and Lon, see what they think. For my part I'm almost positive of Matt's next moves. I'm less positive that I've come up with the right response.