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?”
“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.