Well, Mike, if you didn’t want that to happen, you always could have, you know, not done it.
EPISODE 35: SAFEHOUSE
[Hey guys. The remake of episode 1 of WOE.BEGONE is available now as a bonus episode in the feed. In honor of 50,000 plays, I recorded a totally new version of the episode with new writing, acting, and soundtrack. I’ll leave the original up until Friday August 20th so you can go back and listen to the differences, but after that the original will only be available on Patreon and Patreon.com/woe_begone. There’s a lot more stuff to check out there too like early access to episodes, soundtracks, and more. That’s patreon.com/woe_begone. Thanks to my 10 newest patrons: n13e86, Allison Bourgeois, Melvis Grey Mystery, ElanorInTheWoods, Brynne C, Samantha Topfer, C(l)ow(n)girl, jean, Tarabyte 3, and Mitch Gerads. And Ben Rowe wanted me to say his name again. Hi, Ben. Enjoy the show.]
[Warning: this episode contains a description of violence. Listener discretion is advised.]
There comes a time in every man’s life where he must reckon with the actions that he has taken that has harmed people and do right by them for their sake and for his own. Many things can delay the consequences of a hurtful action, even truly heinous ones. One can run away from their troubles and put physical distance between themselves and the situation that they created. One can, just as an example that is purely hypothetical, use time travel and spacetime manipulation to get out of trouble again and again even as the situation inside the… let’s call it a hypothetical “energy and resources division”… yeah I like the sound of that… falls apart more and more with each passing day. Eventually, you have to stop running because you will eventually run out of places and times that you can run to. Because eventually someone is going to hijack the time travel technology you were using in a violent explosion and your actions cannot simply be undone anymore, no matter how desperately you want to undo them. This hypothetical is universal. It can apply to all humans in all situations on this earth. Tale as old as time.
So, yeah. It’s gone. The technology that started this whole thing, the supercomputer (or whatever it was) inside of 357A is no longer there. I have reason to believe that O.V.E.R. has been stripped of its time travel and all of the power that came with owning and protecting that technology. They aren’t shutting down from what I can tell. I’m sure that there is something else inside of there that is similarly powerful and there’s probably someone just like me trying to get their grubby paws on it, and we just haven’t found their podcast yet. But the time travel is no more. In addition to this being a total bummer for me, who has been singularly focused on the technology that apparently was inside of 357A this whole time, it is also an enormous security vulnerability for O.V.E.R., who were using this time travel technology in the form of security software to protect not just their time technology but also the rest of the complex. From my limited vantage point, time travel security was the cornerstone to their whole security operation inside Tiers 2 and 3. I don’t blame them. It is the perfect way to protect against almost any threat, past or future without having to hire an unwieldy amount of staff. It’s a great idea until something inexplicably happens and it isn’t there anymore. There’s no way to send someone back in time and warn them that the attack is going to happen from where we are now. It’s gone and I can’t tell if it’s ever coming back.
This new reality that I find myself in makes me anxious, as someone whom an expert on the subject once called one of the most easily killable people in the universe. I’m sure that the technology to bring me back to life were I to die is still out there. That’s the whole point of taking it, after all. The rub is that I don’t know who the people that took it are. Even if they know who I am, they probably aren’t interested in sparing even a moment and some computing power on bringing me back from the grave. I can only assume for now that all actions taken and their consequences are final, like they used to be before I got tangled up in this, like they are for every other human being on the planet`. Without time travel, it’s just me living my life in a linear fashion. But unlike before I started playing WOE.BEGONE, my life is a lot more complicated. There are many more situations that I would like to undo with the push of a button as I had become accustomed to. Without the ease of this consequence evasion tactic, my life has become more difficult. My penchant for understatement has stayed exactly the same, though.
I don’t want to say where I am right now. I’m afraid that it would compromise what little safety I have. But I can tell you where I’ve been. It’s been a whirlwind of an adventure. I mean, a whirlwind of blood. It’s been a blood tornado. This is WOE.BEGONE.
[Intro theme plays.]
When Hunter said that he “didn’t do it,” I thought that he was going to tell me that he was framed or that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and sustained his injuries through unfortunate coincidence. I wasn’t expecting him to tell me, you know, that he had done it. That might be an uncharitable description of what happened since he says that he was being blackmailed into doing it, but he put a device in 357A and that device compromised the building so soon after that it resulted in the laceration across his face because he couldn’t run away fast enough. Someone was using him as the legwork for getting the technology out of that building and they picked exactly the person who could get it done.
Much to my chagrin, Hunter told me that the voice of the person who was blackmailing him sounded like if I was a robot? I don’t know what that means. Does that mean that the person blackmailing Hunter was me from some point in the future and I failed to adequately mask my voice? If so, then ha! Everything is going perfectly to plan! I’m a genius and I have the technology and I blew up a building. I sound awesome. I am infinitely skeptical of my involvement in plans sent from the future at this point, though. Remember when I called myself the “King of WOE.BEGONE” because I thought that I had evidence that I won? How did that turn out for me? Well, not as bad as I originally thought, but quite bad.
It would not be hard for someone to impersonate me if they had the technology that we are talking about, assuming that they are using the technology or something like it from the future to get the technology—time travel is weird, man, and now the word “technology” doesn’t sound like a word anymore. It is already possible to feed audio clips to an AI and have it generate a facsimile of a real person. It isn’t perfect in the form that it is currently in, but that form does not have a supercomputer potentially decades in the future working on it. It could have been someone who stole my voice and maybe even masked that stolen voice to make it sound like it was me trying ineptly to cover my tracks. I mean, I get it. Ineptly covering my tracks is sort of my calling card at this point. Bumbling around is the best way to ensure that you are doing a good job impersonating me.
I was able to convince Hunter that it probably wasn’t me and if it was, then the present me didn’t know anything about it. I think he was subtly evaluating me for recognition of what he was describing while he was telling me the story, just as I had evaluated him to tell whether or not he was truly Innocent Hunter. I think we both came away with our initial hypotheses satisfied, which sucks because if either of us were in on it then both of us would have a lot more information about what’s going on. Hunter had done what he was told for fear of something happening (he refused to specify what), he did his tasks, and he now felt assured that the thing he feared would never come to fruition. And whoever did it wasn’t O.V.E.R., because O.V.E.R. no longer had the power to do such a thing.
Of course, O.V.E.R. didn’t put out an announcement that they no longer had access to time travel, at least to us peons in Tier 1. I assume that they didn’t tell the staff working in Tier 2, either. They would know that the security program was down, but without knowing about what powers that program, they wouldn’t have any reason to suspect anything more than the destruction of a server inside of Tier 3 that could be replaced no problem. I don’t know what the average Tier 2 worker thinks is happening, but they haven’t played the time travel murder game or been given training on who Flinch is, I’m sure. This is a technical difficult as far as they know. Technical errors make work harder at government facilities all of the time. It is a less common occurrence that a worker has everything that they need to get their job done without inconvenience. The security program froze half of the time anyway. The only people who suspected anything permanently damaging to the program had happened were people that had reason to suspect something. I had reason to suspect something, but the initial attack only gave me the suspicion, not the answer.
I sent a message to Ryan again to see if he knew anything. He didn’t respond. I haven’t heard from him since the night that I handed control of WOE.BEGONE back over to him. I’m fine with keeping it that way but I needed confirmation that what I came to O.V.E.R. for originally was no longer sitting inside of Tier 3. If I was right and they didn’t have it anymore, I would have to reevaluate my plan. O.V.E.R. had just recently lifted its rule that was forcing us all to stay there, but the uncertainty paralyzed me. I needed something more to guide me wherever I was to go next. I didn’t want to ride off into the sunset if I was going to get dragged back in again. I had just done that a few weeks ago and it was a drain on my morale. Not to mention that it’s bad storytelling to repeat the same beat, though I’ve accepted that I might be forced to tell you a bad story sometimes.
The first thing that I needed was confirmation that my assumptions were true. If there were evidence that the technology was still in there against all odds, I would need to find it. If there was evidence that it wasn’t, then I would be able to decide based on that. The security program was the obvious choice. I knew the security program at this point. I would be able to design a test to see if it worked. And it would be trivial to get in.
Tier 2 is such a breeze when you have the code to get inside. Thanks, Edgar. They really should promote me. I probably know more about what goes on inside of Tier 2 than the average Tier 2 employee. While he was telling me the story of what happened to him, Hunter told me that there was a working computer inside of the building that I had destroyed that had a working security program on it. How convenient. This would be the easiest trip inside yet. All I had to do was get in (Hunter said he broke open the door already), move something inside around as a test, and then I’d have my answer. If the program didn’t work, it meant that the thing that was powering the program was mostly likely inside of 357A. That combined with the fact that the problem didn’t fix itself before anyone could notice means that that technology is gone, at least for now, maybe permanently. From that point, I didn’t know what I would decide, but I would have all of the information that I needed to make a decision.
You know how the Tier 2 thing goes at this point. Wait until nightfall, enter through 116E, sneak to the abandoned building. It’s all typical at this point. I had wondered if there was going to be tighter security inside of Tier 2 because of what had happened, but there was actually less security from what I could tell. I think that there were likely quite a few people inside of the inner tiers that quit when they decided to let us leave. They were too close to an attack and there was nothing saying that another attack couldn’t happen. And the security guards that were left did not have all of their tools at their disposal, so I got in without being bothered.
I opened the security program. It froze because of course it did. It took a minute, but it booted to the main screen. Everything looked normal, but I doubt they coded an alert that the whole infrastructure that made the program possible had been stolen by a malicious entity. I attempted a simple test. Move the chair behind me 2 feet to the left but within the same time. I typed in the information and hit enter. Nothing happened. Though I had been careful to make sure that I had done everything right, I tried it one more time. Nothing again. I sighed. There was my answer. It was really gone. The whole reason that I was here in the first place. WOE.BEGONE. Gone. Whoa. I’ll let you languish in that wordplay for a second before I describe what happened next.
I heard the footsteps of someone navigating through the broken door and into the building. It wasn’t possible to sneak in through the front door in silence because of all of the broken boards and other junk on the ground. He knew that I would hear him coming. “You miserable fuck,” a voice attached to the sound of footsteps said. Punished Hunter. He saw me in Tier 2 and followed me in here. Why wouldn’t he? What would a trip into Tier 2 be without a fight with this asshole? I honestly expected it this time. I might not always think every detail through, but I had been assaulted enough in this very building to know that it was a good idea to come prepared for a fight. I readied myself and put on an air of confidence.
“It doesn’t work,” I said.
“No shit, no thanks to you and Edgar,” he snarled.
“Me and Edgar?”
“You led Edgar away like a good little pawn, 116E got compromised, you blew up the goddamn building,” Hunter said.
I just stared at him. I didn’t think that the attack happening while we were on vacation was a coincidence, but I didn’t know what to make of what he was saying.
“We didn’t do anything. You did. Remember?”
“I fucking remember. That was you, too. That was your voice. You’re the only one dumb enough to think you could get away with something like that.” I honestly liked it better when he was too furious with me to speak.
“So is this what you warned me would happen?” I asked, shaking.
“No! I don’t know what this is. You screwed the whole thing up, somehow worse than I imagined. I don’t know what happens now. We are fucked, Mike Walters. How was I supposed to know that your boyfriend was the only competent person working in that whole building? Because somebody knew.”
“It’s really gone, isn’t it?” I asked, trying to dodge the rest of the questions.
“YES! Obviously it’s really gone,” I could almost hear him grinding his teeth. “So whatever you’re doing on that computer is worthless. We are past the point of no return. We are in uncharted territory. And you have led all of us out here to our fates and newflash: I can’t imagine that whoever is in charge now likes us very much.”
My mind had been racing before but Hunter wasn’t helping. It was over. There was no undoing things anymore, at least not through O.V.E.R.
“What do we do now?” I asked.
“We!?” I could tell that Hunter’s face was beet red, even in the dark of the abandoned building. “WE aren’t going to do anything! You are going to mind your own business for the rest of your life if you want to live.”
He approached me. I stood up from the chair I was in and took a step back.
“I’m too important. You told me that. I’m too entwined in this. It’s going to affect me. I can’t sit here with my thumb up my ass. Things are going to happen and they are going to happen to me,” I said.
Hunter took another step closer. I could smell his hot breath. “How many times do I have to beat some sense into you until it sticks? Your plans only get people killed. They never fix anything. I wasn’t born tired of your shit, you made me that way. And it didn’t even take that long. You got us into this.”
He took another step toward me. “You are leaving Tier 2 right this instant. You are going to get in your car and you are going to leave O.V.E.R. and you are never going to come back. You are going to let me fix your mess—no, fuck it, it’s not a mess. It’s a terrorist attack. I am going to fix the terrorist attack that you planned and you will never be heard from again. Do you understand me?”
I did understand him. I did want to leave if leaving was the right choice. I didn’t know anymore. I had learned my lesson about leaving. It was dangerous. It was only possible if everybody in this situation with more power than me decided that it was possible. I was not convinced that was the case. I think that is a level-headed and honest way of evaluating the situation. So, of course I didn’t lay any of that reasoning out to Hunter in response. Instead I said “Fuck you, Hunter Hartley,” and then I spat in his face. It was a sort of uncharacteristic move by me if I may say so myself, but Punished Hunter was a violent man and I entered Tier 2 prepared for a fight that night.
It was at this point that Hunter attempted to grab me by the collar, a tried and true method for physically controlling me. Full of adrenaline, I stepped back and evaded him. He reached down to the office chair that was in-between us and flung it across the room into the wall. This office truly brings out the worst in people, I swear. I wonder how bad the employee drama was in this building because it is a truly cursed piece of architecture.
I brought my gun. I never brought it anywhere. I didn’t even bring it on patrol with me. The one time that someone ever came out to inspect my job performance I didn’t have it with me and got written up for it. I hated shooting it. I even hated practicing with it. It wasn’t anything about the nature of guns, as off-putting as the social discourse around that can be. It was more personal than that. Firing a gun felt like making a decision that I was not thoughtful enough to make. I was not sure enough of myself to prevent myself from doing something regrettable.
While Punished Hunter was staring me down, I thought about the irreversibility of it all. Nothing would undo this moment.
I raised my gun, pointed it at Hunter’s center mass and pulled the trigger. Despite my lack of training, I hit him square in the chest. Hunter Jeremiah Hartley. He staggered toward the wall beside him, sputtered for a few seconds, fell against the wall, slumped, and then was gone. His face softened, the muscles unable to stay tense. It was over in a matter of seconds. The sound of the gunshot reverberating around the building deafened me for a moment. I stood there, shocked at myself and out of it, staring at the lifeless body of Hunter Jeremiah Hartley. One of the Hunters, I reassured myself.
I didn’t think about why I had done it until after it was done. It felt like animal instinct in the moment. I was doing what my body was designed to do. Everything I had done had culminated up to that point. It was inevitable. There were other Hunters out there. In that sense, nobody had really died. I had seen a dead Hunter before. I was prepared for this. There wasn’t any undoing it. Nobody hit a switch to reverse this moment.
That didn’t stop me from trying to reverse that moment. I ran over to the computer and tried in vain to move Hunter from in front of the bullet’s path, but my assessment of the state of the security program was unfortunately correct the first time. What was done was done. He was dead. There was no moving him out of the building without getting spotted. Bodies are big and heavy and they don’t travel well. I had to leave him there and hope that by the time someone found him, there wouldn’t be any way to track him back to me, the man who spent a whole paragraph earlier telling you about how characteristic it is of me to poorly cover my tracks.
I may have prepared for it, but I did not take it well once the deed was done. I quickly went into shock. I tried the program again and ended up smashing the keyboard against the floor in frustration. Whether or not it was a bad idea to kill Hunter, in the moment it felt like an enormous mistake. What if somebody walked in on us? What if somebody put together that it was me? Hunter wasn’t there to cover things up for me anymore.
I’m flighty by nature. When I get scared, I run away. My impulse was to run away, after all of that talk about how I wasn’t going to run away. The scenario had changed. I was disgusted with myself. I didn’t want to be near anyone. I didn’t want to see anyone. I know that I had just tried to run away and failed, but I had another chance. If I ran away again and it worked, then it worked. If it didn’t, then I was right back where I started again. And Shin Hunter, master of the Satsui No Hado or whatever other demonically aggressive force could come retrieve me. Fuck it. We’re repeating a story beat. Nothing changes one’s mind like killing an old friend at close range. I had to get out of there.
I got back into Tier 1. I got to my car and started it. I didn’t even go in my cabin first. I didn’t pack a bag. I did have a bag, but all it had in it was a can of air duster to trick the sensor on the door to 116E. I didn’t tell Edgar. I didn’t tell the Hunter that was left to tell. I didn’t tell anyone. I got in my car. The night guard, Troy, was at the front gate. Thank God. Charlie would have seen the panic on my face. I wouldn’t have been able to hide it from her. Troy barely looked up from his phone. I managed to keep myself composed until I was all of the way out of O.V.E.R. and on the road.
I did the thing that WOE.BEGONE taught me to do when something like this happens. Lay low for awhile. The police officer. Both of them actually. My third challenge and Anne’s third challenge. Lay low for awhile and just don’t die: both lessons that I didn’t need practice to learn but I received that practice anyway. It would be easy to lay low. I didn’t want anybody to see me. I just wanted to drive.
I couldn’t go home. Even if I wasn’t concerned about being tracked down, I never wanted to see that apartment ever again. I don’t know why I keep paying for the rent. I knew exactly who to call. Matt answered the phone groggily. By the time I made it out of O.V.E.R. it was almost morning. I could see the sun preparing to break over the horizon.
I won’t torture you with a blow-by-blow of my conversation on the phone with Matt. I did a lot of screaming that I don’t feel like I had perfect control over. It’s inadvisable to leave your body while you are driving but Matt stayed on the phone with me and kept me grounded. I didn’t get in a car accident, so it all worked out in the end. I told Matt a lot. I didn’t tell Matt about the game, about him being a prize, about me killing him, or about how I had given access back to Ryan and in what I thought was one final time travel hijink saved his life, though he probably suspects something since he definitely has a strange memory of something happening to him the day that he was supposed to get hit by a car.
With a few stops for gas and food and never for sleep, I made it to Vancouver in 26 hours. It was morning all over again. I had lost a whole day to driving. Matt was awake and waiting for me. The familiar house made my stomach lurch. I could still smell blood, like it was stuck in my nostrils and wouldn’t come out. Hunter’s blood, Matt’s blood, my blood. Matt didn’t understand what I had done for him. I didn’t understand why I had done any of this.
I pulled into his driveway, picked my phone up out of the console where it had been giving me directions and bent it will all of the force my hands still had in them. I worried for a moment that it would bend and not break the phone because one of my hands was still weakened from the night that the Flinchites assaulted me, but eventually the phone gave way and died. Colors shot across the screen and then it went permanently black. I watched the messages that I knew were piling up become unrecoverable. I was relieved to see them go.
He embraced me with open arms and led me into the house, into the kitchen where I had shot him just as I had shot Hunter. He led me into a back room that had clearly been cleared out the day prior just for me. There was a futon on the floor. I hadn’t packed anything. Matt didn’t ask any questions. He told me to get some rest and we could talk when I woke up, but sleep was no longer a mere suggestion for me. It was safe enough to sleep so I slept. I didn’t expect to ever feel safe again.
[End theme plays.]