Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ottoman: Empire or That Thing You Put Your Feet On? Part 2

Gennie walked into the room, stopped and grinned. "Hey, look who has returned from the dead. Oh wait, you were never dead. And neither is Matt. Thought you were going to take him out. Instead all you do is lay around while the rest of us work. Thought you were going to ..."

Alexis grabbed Gennie by the nape of her neck and jerked her out of the study and into the hallway. "Sorry Lydie. Uh ..." She looked around and I gave a tired smile.

"Stop looking to see if I have a keeper. Yes, Jax knows I'm out of bed and downstairs. I actually made it down the stairs myself thank you very much."

Alexis grinned. "Good to see you up Girl."

"Good to be up." Nodding my head towards Gennie who was leaning against the wall and pouting I asked, "How is she?"

"Still living in la-la land but at least she is starting to cooperate with chores. Doesn't mean she is going to suddenly get any alone time. No play time either which means we are heading out to the garden. See you in a bit for the meeting."


I wanted to be outside so bad it wasn't even funny. I'd never resented all of the work that I'd had to do on the home place but this was the first time in my life that I resented not being able to do any of the work. It was an irritating conundrum to live. Everyone kept telling me not to worry about it, that they had it covered. That only made me more resentful, made me feel more useless. On the other hand it gave me plenty of time to develop devious plans to thwart Matt's plans for this area.

First things first was a long confab with the Houchins farm. It started with Lon and Vern but soon included Mr. Houchins himself.

Getting his first look at me he was shocked and unable to hide it. "Dear Lord child, I ..."

"Don't sweat it Mr. Houchins. What is done is done and I'm on the mend."

Already having seen me Lon shook his head and muttered darkly, "If this is on the mend ..."

"Like I said, what is done is done. But I have do admit for right now I run out of energy faster than I'd like to so maybe we could just get back to it."

It was Vern who nodded his understanding and said, "We relayed what you wanted to do. As you can see Bonanza here decided he wanted to hear it for himself before we take part."

Mr. Houchins gave Vern a stern look. "Lydie I understand what you are wanting but these people have put their faith in my word to keep their locations secret."

"I understand that. And appreciate that you've been doing the same for our location. We aren't asking for you to divulge their whereabouts or who they are. We are merely asking you to relay some of our ... hmmm ... suggestions to those you consider trustworthy. I'm not going to ask outright since we don't need to know right now, but I'm sure there are some of the homesteads in the area that you know of that would take the information and use it to their personal advantage. Possibly even thinking they could sell it to Matt as a way to keep him off their back."

Lon, now beyond the need to constantly test me, said, "And you would have that right. So before we relay anything to anyone I want to know what this plan is and see if I can work it out for myself. And don't bother with the history lesson. Reggie has already been over it, given us all a headache, and I've even done some 'light' reading on the subject myself just to prove this dog isn't too old to learn a new trick. Just tell me how you mean for it to work against Matt."

"Matt is our primary target but he isn't our only target. We need to completely dismantle what the town represents in this area. As a base of operations it needs to cease to exist."

Mr. Houchins shook his head. "That's a tall order child and in all honesty one I'm not sure I can completely get behind. We need a center of trade in these parts." Which proved to me Mr. Houchins was a lot smarter than people gave him credit for being. He wasn't just some old farmer getting lucky in the apocalypse; he was a businessman who had an eye to the future. "If we destroy the town, the cost of doing business is going to skyrocket."

I grinned. "I remember a story that you and Dad used to tell about some drunk pigs."

Mr. Houchins tried not to smile, as the story was a particularly memorable one, but shook his head and asked, "And what the tarnation does drunk pigs have to do with what you're talking about? I'm almost afraid to know."

"Welllll, it isn't the pigs but the location of the story and the history behind it that might be an answer to what we need. At least on this side of the county. Aston and Johnson did a recon of the area in question and said that the river water was going back to its historical level and geographic norm."

Mr. Houchins' smile dimmed, his eyebrows went up, and then he surprised us all when he barked a loud laugh. "Ray's Landing?! Well my Lord, I ..." He nodded his head. "You know, that might well work. Assuming the water level cooperates. The buildings and all are still there too, or at least those that the historical society maintained are."

Vern asked, "What's she talking about?"

It was explained to everyone that while industry had created the town along the area called River Road, way back in the day, before the dams had changed the water level so dramatically, there had been a ferry crossing known as Ray's Landing. Even further back Ray's Landing had been a portage site for goods coming and going on keel boats and flat bottomed wooden barges.

"It wouldn't be like moving stuff by semi and dump truck loads but it would beat being completely dependent on bridges and paying the militia protection money for fuel and safe passage along the highways," I added.

Mr. Houchins nodded. "Well lets worry about moving goods when we have some goods to move. Looks like we've still got options one way or the other. Now what about the other pieces of this plan of yours?"

"It isn't my plan."

Jax insisted on reminding me, "You thought of it."

Not averse to taking some credit I agreed. "I may have come up with the initial idea but everyone has been adding to it. And I expect at the very least Lon and Vern have some ideas of their own or at least a few things they can tweak." Trying to get back on track I continued. "We know the destruction of the dam hurt Matt's plans. However, the pictures and reports coming in prove that he already had a Plan B on the drawing board. From the look of the set up Reggie and I both agree that it looks like there are two parts. First is a straight up liquid bio-fuel set up. It is bigger than what either of us have ..."

"Now just wait a minute," Lon interrupted but I was running out of steam and didn't let it go any further.

"Don't sweat it. No one said anything they weren't supposed to. It is just logical. Even salvaging all the farms in the area you wouldn't have had enough fuel to keep your outfit going this long. Especially not since there are others that were probably doing the same thing on a smaller scale at the same time. All, or at least most, of the fuel in town was taken after the initial terrorist act against the water supply. That leaves buying it from outside the area or creating your own. The federal government controls the fuel supply and it is primarily reserved for military use or the megafarms and major industry to keep the military complex up and running. So, you make your own. We don't need to know what you do with it, including selling it to other farmers."

Mr. Houchins looked momentarily uncomfortable then just brushed it off. "Now you're saying those people in town have a set up as well."

"Yes Sir, but it looks like they also are making charcoal. If I had to guess, based on the noise and the smoke, he is using it in those old steam engines from the Visitor's Museum. He's had them moved to the waterfront and from there I'm betting he is going to try and get some kind of water mill set up. I'm not sure yet whether the fuel is the goal or if he is going to manufacture something, either way the river will be a good way to carry away any undesirable contaminants."

"But you said that boy was a tree hugger type that was going for some kind of all-natural utopia."

"Sorta kinda. It is a technologically-based utopia but even as strung out as Matt is, he realize reaching that goal is a long way off and requires intermittent steps he needs to attain first. He's got ideals certainly, but that doesn't mean he isn't willing to compromise temporarily if it means attaining his goals in the long run. What the preacher would have called situational ethics. He hates the very idea of pollution but he's realistic enough to know that right now he doesn't have the technology at his disposal to attain a negative carbon footprint."

"A negative what?"

Vern said, "Just tree-hugger mumbo jumbo. But I'm beginning to get what Lydie means. The dam is toast. But Matt was smart enough to have secondary plans ready to either run concurrently or instead of the dam in case it broke down."

I nodded. "Exactly. It is a means to an end and potentially a pretty profitable one. I think he is starting with ethanol ... probably salvaging all of those silos on the other side of the county. And before I forget if you see an uptick in rats instead of shooting them or poisoning them, live trap them if you can."

Mr. Houchins nodded. "We've got reports from some of our contacts that disturbing them silos has led to a lot of vermin problems. You planning on turning that back on the town I take it? If we don't do something quick they'll breed and mow down whatever we have in the fields."

Jax smiled, "Believe it or not it was Ginger that added that part."

Lon had a red-headed daughter and smiled before saying, "Oh I believe it. I heard about that time she ran into a rat in the barn."

Reggie smiled, "We were cleaning rat bits up for a while and the rabbits still sit up and salute when she comes in."

We all chuckled but then got back to it. "Still not seeing all of it Lydie."

"Excuse the mixing of metaphors but Matt is going to try the honey route for a while before he brings the stick out. He'll blame all the bad things that were occurring on the dead that are no longer around to defend themselves. He may even try and make it seem, without actually saying it, that the militia is the real enemy. That's been his style thus far and is the same thing he used to do when we were in school. Always have a mutual enemy to fight to keep anyone from realizing he was the real enemy until it was too late. He'll go to the farms he knows of and try and make friends; and make no mistake if he and Delorey didn't find them with the drones then the militia knows their coordinates and have likely shared the information with him. At first the trade will be advantageous to both parties if not a little more so to the farmers, then slowly the advantage will slide more to Matt though he ultimately may use the militia to get what he wants from the farms without paying for it. And as soon as Matt gets enough of the smaller farms in his pocket he'll either come after us or send the militia after us depending on how far his influence has spread at that point. And the smaller farmers will back him up, either because they've been turned against you or they've been taken over completely."

Mr. Houchins looked at Lon and Vern and they both nodded. He turned back to me and said, "Agreed. And that might already be happening to a few of them. Let's just say they ain't as welcoming as they used to be. Couple of 'em have even said outright that they don't need us anymore and not to bother coming around."

Jax asked, "Would you be averse to those that have turned hostile to you reaping some consequences for it?"

While Mr. Houchins looked uncomfortable Lon said, "Absolutely not. The enemy of my enemy might be my friend, but the converse of that is also true. The friend of my enemy is my enemy ... even if they used to be a friend. I wouldn't necessarily be in favor of complete destruction but compromising their ability to do business wouldn't be hard to swallow."

Reggie nodded. "Good. Aston and I are going out tonight and we're going to mess with their fuel delivery."

"Not more explosions?" Vern said like he had a headache coming on.

"Nope. That would tip our hand and make Matt too suspicious too soon. What we plan might make him wonder but there will be no proof that anyone did anything beyond having a bad batch come off the production line. I'm going to doctor the tanks with a couple of handy dandy ideas I picked up listening to our resident chemist ..."

"Knock it off Reggie," I told him, incidentally revealing how tired I was getting.

Vern said, "Reckon it might be time for us to be heading home."

Trying to save face I said, "A couple of more things if you have a moment. If you have the ability ... we suggest you start caching supplies if you haven't already started. I'll be blunt and honest and admit that we are doing that. If it isn't the forces from town it could be the militia coming out and knocking on our doors if not just kicking them in to take what they want."

"Not all of the militias have gone bad Lydie," Lon told me.

"I know. We can tell from the various radio transmissions we are picking up that the rogue militia around here are actually not how most are running; but hungry and desperate men are going to do things they might not under normal circumstances, especially if they believe the ends justifies the means at the time they are doing it. Plus they could get bad intel about us, make us out to be an enemy force, who knows, just anything. And, don't take this the wrong way but if I've thought about bringing down Matt's operation from inside, certainly someone else could think of doing the same to us."

"You think Matt knows?"

I shook my head at the question having already gone over it in my head numerous times. "Even if he has thought about it he won't consider it a real possibility. His ego simply won't allow him to believe it. It is what he does to other people, not what happens to him. That doesn't mean that he won't try and do it to us. Our group is small enough that we know each other's movements, would notice, that kind of attitude change, and we know what our weak link is."

"That little kid."

"Yeah. But with a group your size ... I mean no offense but ..."

Lon nodded as did the other two men. "None taken. You ain't the only ones with some that need more watching than they should. We're on it but the additional warning is warranted. We'll pass the word to be careful to others as well. Anything else?"

I nodded, nearly completely spent and having a hard time not showing it. "To work this plan is going to have to stay flexible. We'll work with you as much as possible, but we may have to take advantage of moments quicker than we can have a committee confab over. I expect it is going to be the same for you with your contacts. All I ask is we keep each other in the loop. Move too fast and put too much pressure and Matt is going to figure the game and change tactics and that will just waste everyone's time. I also don't want to set Matt up for assassination."

"Why not?"

It was Reggie who snickered and answered, "Taking out one queen might just be making room for the next one."

Jax rolled his eyes and explained to the men who had learned to be suspicious when Reggie started snickering. "Has something to do with ant mounds or termites. Basically we don't want to leave a vacuum for the next big bad to fill. Or panic those in town into moving their operation to somewhere less accessible to eradicating. We've got an inside track on Matt's way of thinking. The next guy we might not be so lucky with. The next town might be better protected"

"Understood," Lon said with a nod. "But it really is time for us to go. Clouds are looking a little heavy and I don't like all three of us being away at the same time these days."

Reggie followed them out and down the road as it was his turn to be on guard duty and Jules was already overdue for relief. Jax looked at me and I sighed. "Yeah, I know. Nap time."

"Don't get so frustrated Babe. You did really well today and you're starting to get your energy back faster. But overdoing it could set you back. Maybe not square one but backwards is not the direction you want to go no matter how far."

Despite trying to not show how irritated I was I still sounded petulant. "I get it Jax. It isn't a race it is a marathon."

He gave me his arm to lean on as I maneuvered up the stairs. "I knew you were smart. Just think of it the same way you are thinking of this campaign to bring down Matt's empire. Doing things too fast ... you'll undo every advantage you have."

"Don't start using reason and logic. I'll just get cranky."

Suddenly he lifted me up in his arms and started carrying me up the stairs like Rhett Butler. "Hey! I can walk."

"I know. But soon enough you'll be so strong that you want need me to do this anymore. Besides, the doctor has ordered a special remedy for you today."

Running my fingers through his hair I said, "I might not need you to carry me, but it doesn't mean I won't want you to on occasion. As for the 'special remedy' how long until you have to take your shift on comm?"

Taking the remainder of the stairs two at a time Jax grinned and said, "I've got some time, especially since Ginger and Ash have the kids outside for some fresh air."

I gave him grin for grin and my best Scarlett I said, "Why Jax Remington, you sneaky ol' thang you."

The rest of the remedy my doctor ordered is no one else's business.