Recovery was a long time coming. It was a while before they were even sure I would survive. And a little while beyond that before I could stay conscious enough to tell them what had happened. There was so much to do and I couldn’t participate beyond answering questions that they couldn’t find the answers for any other way. It wasn’t just the knife wound and subsequent infection. I was literally unable to get around because I’d lost so much weight and grown so week. Time and again I would have a set back but slowly I got to be awake more hours than I slept in a day. They planted the garden, searched the woods for wild forage, tended the biofuel set up, took care of all of the day to day responsibilities of running the farm, keeping us fed, and keeping us safe.
And when I realized that is when the frustration set in. I also realized that there were data I was missing but they would only give it to me in bits in pieces. I don’t blame them now, or then, but that didn’t lower the frustration. I didn’t start to feel a part of things again until I talked them into letting me have books from the library and a tablet of paper to write on. I felt guilty for being unable to end Matt’s reign. I felt guilty for everything they were having to do without me. I was angry at myself for not being able to finish what I started.
Then there came a day when a plan started to form. I demanded more and more books and someone must have tattled to my doctor.
It wasn't the first time he'd said it and not the first time I responded, "I've got to find some way to turn this."
Jax, having figured out during my weeks-long convalescence, that stubborn didn't even begin to describe me once I had a goal, sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Ok, I'll bite. What are you going to find in all of these all history texts to help us out with the mess coming out of town?"
"I'm not sure yet but ..."
"Don't you dare laugh."
He kissed my forehead. "Have I ever laughed at you Lydie?"
"No. Not really. And I'm sorry I said it like that. It makes me sound like Matt."
Briefly angry Jax snapped, "Don't compare yourself to him again. I swear I am going to drop Gennie down a well someplace and cap it off."
I laughed though it used up some of the last of my energy to do it. "Whoa Big Boy. Down. This isn't about the crap Gennie says."
"Then what? You've done the exact opposite of what Matt did, is doing. And you got closer than any of us did at taking him out."
"I told you is wasn't necessarily about killing him though I went in knowing it was a possibility. It was about destroying his power base. Matt would be nothing without ..." I started coughing and felt pulling in my side.
"OK, that's enough. I don't want to ... to ..."
I knew what he was trying not to say, that he was trying not to act like he had congenital testosterone poisoning by ordering me to put the books away and rest. He knew me too well to know that wouldn't work unless I cooperated. And if I didn’t cooperate we’d wind up in an argument and I’d wind up weaker than I started. Instead he tried reason which was almost my undoing but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to try and explain my thinking.
"Lydie, let it go for a little while. There's nothing we can do."
"Maybe. Maybe not."
Jax eyed me with reluctant interested. "Ok, spit it out."
I picked the book I'd been holding back up. "You see this? It is full of the stories of empires throughout history, but every single one of those empires fells."
"One of the greatest empires of recent history was the Ottoman Empire. Not too many people think about it these days though."
"I thought the Ottomans were from like way back, the Middle Ages or close."
"They were. What a lot of people aren't taught is that the Ottoman Empire didn't come to an end until 1922."
"Wait. No way. Are you serious?"
"Yep. And that's a long time for an empire to exist so that’s what I’m using as my example."
"No freaking kidding." Then with some suspicion he asked, “Example for what?”
"I think just sitting back and trying to out wait Matt isn't the best choice. Letting him continue to build his power base is a bad idea."
Jax snorted. "Babe, you blew up every bridge you could get your hands on and the dam too, and more than a few other structures. If that wasn't destroying his power base I don't know what would be."
I nodded. "That definitely helps but won't work in and of itself. We have to do this carefully or like with ants, you might be able to destroy one mound but if you don't kill the queen they'll just rebuild the mound someplace else."
Reggie must have been hanging out in the hallway because I heard him laugh and ask, "You telling me that Matt is a queen?"
Jax chuckled as well but said, "Knock it off. If you're going to lurk come in here and help me understand what Lydie is trying to say."
Reggie walked in with a grin but real interest and said, "I will when she explains it so I can understand it."
It once again struck me what good friends I had and how badly I had scared them. I hadn't meant to and for that I was very sorry. They'd all been incredibly kind, to both me and Jax, doing chores and taking on other responsibilities so that he could focus his energy on me while I hovered between life and death and then took longer than expected to recover. It sounds so melodramatic to say it like that but it is the truth. Matt hurt me a lot worse than I had understood. But he’d also help me realize what a treasure some people can be.
My thoughts must have shown on my face because Reggie said, "Hey, if you're tired ..."
I shook my head and tried to put order to my thoughts. "No, I'm fine. Really. And I need to bounce this off people that won't think I'm crazy."
"Gennie been talking again?"
Jax snarled, "Does that girl ever stop talking?"
I put my hand on his arm. "It is too dangerous to pass her off to someone else right now. The way she is she could say something and bring attention we don't need. With the militia swarming all over town ..."
"Yeah, yeah. And there really isn't any telling what she would say if given the chance."
Reggie agreed but added, "So get to 'splaining Lucy. I'm all ears if you've got a plan. You mentioned the Ottoman Empire."
"The rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire. Just about any empire for that matter but like I told Jax, the Ottomans were so strong and long lived I figured I had my best chance of learning something from their fall. OK you guys, you know your history. So tell me what destroys an empire?"
They listed out all of the usual suspects ... war, famine, drought, yada, yada ... but then Reggie looked at me closely and muttered, "You sneaky, sneaky woman."
Jax looked between the two of us and asked, "Wait. What did I miss … and please don’t tell me you intend on blowing anything else up."
Reggie grinned. "Everything we mentioned could be a factor in bringing down an empire but it isn't a given. Strong leadership however can overcome all of that, even natural disasters can be used by an empire to solidify their position and control."
"Well Matt seems to be a strong leader so I'm still missing the point. We've already tried to take him out without success. And frankly we don't have enough resources to start a war, especially one that includes fighting the militia."
"Ah so Grasshopper but there is more than one way to skin a cat … or fight a war."
I rolled my eyes. "Knock it off Reg. What I'm suggesting ... well it isn't really war per se." I could see Jax getting irritated and explained further. "Outside factors can cause an empire to decline but what destroys an empire comes from within."
"Within," Jax repeated.
"Yeah. From within. Moral decline, civil war, corrupt politicians, an entitlement population who are more interested in taking resources than they are generating them. This weakens the infrastructure that holds the empire together. Fractures form. If these fractures aren't repaired collapse becomes inevitable and the result is destruction of the empire."
Reggie added, "At least until someone new comes along to pick up the pieces to use for their own purposes and starts a new empire building scheme."
Leaning back against the pillows propping me up I nodded. "Yeah. Which means we need to be very careful that when we do this we make sure that whatever is left over isn't going to be dangerous to us until we are strong enough to deal with it."
Johnson stuck his head around the door. "Still ain't seeing it Lydie."
Jax sighed, "Who all is out there?"
Johnson walked in followed by Aston, Aiden, and Jules. Jax stood up and asked, "Who's guarding ..."
It was Aston who said, "Relax Jax, everything is covered. Ginger is on comm, Ash has the kids, Alexis is on guard duty and Janice is sitting on the holy terror while she mucks out the goat pen."
Jax nodded but still glanced out the bedroom window like he was afraid Gennie was murdering the goats rather than mucking the pen.
Jules hadn’t lost his hate for Matt but he'd learned to control it ... most of the time. "So tell us this plan to kill Matt."
I felt Jax stiffen and then watched the others when I said, "Matt isn't our only problem. If we take Matt out all we are accomplishing is creating a hole that someone can come in and fill and continue doing the exact same thing he is doing now."
Surprisingly Jules gave what I said serious thought. "Okay, say I buy that theory though I'm not convinced anyone could do what Matt has done."
I said, "Sure they could. All it would take is someone willing to use people the way Matt has. In fact it might even be likely that someone could done it better than Matt has. All they would have needed was more attainable goals."
"You've said that before," Aiden said. "You said Matt was pretty crazy last time you saw him."
"No, not crazy, I said the plans he believed in were crazy ... and unattainable no matter how much he believed in them. If Matt is a certifiable anything it is that he has some kind of personality disorder; probably Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I've been reading up on it."
Johnson crossed his arms and complained, "Your father built the weirdest library."
I smiled nostalgically. "Mom used to say the same thing when Dad would bring home more books. He got them from all over ... yard sales, library sales, dumpsters, just all over the place. Now don't get me off track. Like I said I've been reading up on Matt's issues to try and figure them out."
"We already know he has issues Lydie," Jules growled.
"Yeah, of course. It's pretty obvious these days. At least for those of us that have broken free of the charisma he used to exert. And frankly a lot of people in town, at least from what I heard when I was there, aren’t really under his power in the traditional sense. They don't respect him very much either. They're only willing to follow him because he's given them stuff; that’s how he has them hooked. Which leads me back to what we were originally talking about."
Reggie started bouncing around in excitement. "Aw girl, I'm seeing it. I am sooooo seeing it."
Johnson put his big hand on Reggie's shoulder to keep him still. "Good for you man, how about you lend us your glasses so the rest of us can see it."
Reggie shook his head. "Lydie is right. If you take out the boss dude someone else will only take their place and keep on keeping on doing the same thing. If you can't crush something to destroy it, you have to collapse it to bring it down. Think of it the same way Jax brought down the bridges. He collapsed them by taking out the supports."
"Collapse of Matt's little empire man. Lydie started it by attacking the dam. First order of business is to find a way to keep it out of commission."
For the first time I saw Jules grin. "Wellllll, one of reasons I came down here was to tell you that from the sound of things I overheard while on comm is that the militia reported the bridge is too washed out to be worth repairing, they've declared it a total loss and said it wasn't worth sending them corps of engineer guys here from Chattanooga after all. They are going downstream to try and shore up the other dams that were damaged by the surge when our dam gave way."
Aston pantomimed spiking a football and Reggie did a spastic happy dance. Even Jax bumped fists with the rest of the guys. After they'd settled down some I said, "This is going to make our job easier."
Aiden asked, "Didn't you hear? The dam is damned. It went bye-bye."
"I heard, and that's good but it isn't enough. Matt is too invested in control and making his fantasies a reality. All he'll do is switch to a new tactic. Probably bio-fuel. Or some other recycling plan that would give him some kind of return to spend on his overall picture."
It was Reggie who said, "As long as he has a labor force and the resources to support them he'll just keep chugging along."
Nodding I said, "Exactly. And thers's no telling what he squirreled away from Delorey's business or even going back to when you guys were salvaging town after the initial attack. You've admitted that only Matt knew where all the caches were and what was in them."
That gave them something to think about.
Jax did his own nodding and said, "We've discussed all of this before. How do you plan on us using it against Matt?"
"Without a labor force, without a population to manipulate, Matt isn't anything. Remember this isn't high school where the projects were paper-bound theories that he could pull together with minimal physical effort on his part. Matt's talent these days lies in getting other people to do things for him. He plays foreman really well, worker bee not so much. He believes his job, his calling, is to get those theories off the paper but he sees himself as too good to do the manual labor involved. He’s one of the elite. Everyone else is just slave labor."
Jax started to get it. "Take away his sphere of influence … his slaves. If he doesn't have enough people around to get his projects off the ground ..."
The other guys finally saw it. Johnson asked, "Are you talking about killing off the people in town? As much as I hate some of them I ... I don't know if I can ..."
Reggie answered for me, "Not killing off the people in town, killing off the town as a viable place to live for the people. If enough of them are only on Matt's side of the playing board because of what he can give to them, and what he could give them was tied to the dam ..."
Jax said, "Question is how do we take advantage of that and bring Matt down?"
"We don't necessarily. At least not yet. What we focus on right now is exacerbating the problem. Make them lose confidence in Matt faster than they inevitably will if he can't get the lights back on. Make sure they are hungry and that they stay that way. Give them reason to think the grass is greener someplace else. This isn't a sprint, this is a marathon and we need to pace ourselves. Moving too fast could be just as dangerous as doing nothing at all. We don't want to tip our hand."