Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? No need to call it that other word. We don’t use that word in this house.
EPISODE 47: We take charge of our destiny.
[Hey guys. If you haven’t listened yet, the soundtrack for episode 45 of WOE.BEGONE is available on bandcamp at woebegonepod.bandcamp.com, as well as patreon at patreon.com/woe_begone. These songs are reprises of 4 of the original songs from the WOE.BEGONE soundtrack. I had a lot of fun making it and it was a fun way to celebrate 1 year of WOE.BEGONE. Speaking of patreon, patreon.com/woe_begone is the only place besides my house where you can hear my cat yell at you. In addition to cat clips, there’s early access to episodes, instrumentals, q&as, director’s commentaries, a secret discord channel, and more. Thanks to my 10 newest patrons: Jon Grilz, Duke, Ryan Benk, Courtney Boyer, Sarah G., Logan Cheshire, Rat & Cameron, Nic Long, Bairon, and Astrid for supporting the show. Enjoy.]
Anne’s cabin was luxurious, decadently furnished and thematically ornamented. The whole place was designed to feel comfortable and rustic, despite how sprawlingly large it was. That was because Anne was not staying in a cabin provided by the Oldbrush Valley Energy and Resources Lodging Logistics Division (or whatever it’s called), but rather an AirBnB that she was renting out as a base of operations. She had been there for several weeks, waiting quietly in preparation for the events to play out as they had, with myself making a trip into Tier 2 to sabotage some necessary equipment for the upcoming mission that the Flinchites had roped Edgar and I into, a mission that apparently lead to the death of at least Edgar in some iterations of the scenario. I had hopefully prevented these iterations from occurring.
I sat in a wooden kitchen chair that had been dragged into a comfortably sized bathroom. When Anne had texted asking if I wanted breakfast, I immediately shot back that I was only interested if she was able to field dress a wound for me. She thought that I was being cheeky until I showed up at her place bleeding from my left arm. I hadn’t made much of it in the moment– the adrenaline of what I was doing was enough to mask any pain, but I had accidentally shot myself in the left arm, a limb that felt at this point more like a cursed instrument, destined to forever to be a magnet for suffering since it was first sacrificed for WOE.BEGONE, rather than a natural extension of my body. Anne had been a war journalist for some time out of college and had picked up significant first aid as a result. She was able to properly stitch me up in the bathroom, but the bullet was staying in there. Like when Marissa shot me, it had only passed through flesh, sparing the bone, though unlike that gunshot wound, this one didn’t graze me. It hadn’t struck any organs, arteries, or joints, but it hadn’t exited, either, having lost considerable energy ricocheting against the electronic device inside of Tier 2 before striking me.
I made sure to send a quick text message to Edgar, since it wasn’t like me to wake up and leave before him. “Didn’t disappear on you. Old friend is in town. Will fill you in soon. Cowboy emoji.” I washed up, got my shirt back on, and made my way back to the kitchen. Anne had actually made breakfast: biscuits and gravy.
“A gesture of goodwill,” she explained.
“As if sewing me up wasn’t enough?” I inquired.
“Maybe I’m feeling guilty because I’ve done worse than that to you with a gun,” she explained, a faint sly smile appearing and vanishing quickly from her lips. “It was the least that I could do. Did you ever figure out how you survived my fourth challenge, by the way?”
“Nope,” I said. “No clue.” Her biscuits and gravy weren’t as good as the biscuits and gravy from the diner but I was appreciative anyway.
“Interesting,” she said. “The whole thing’s a mess, you know. You and Ryan and the Flinchites and these new people…”
“Arbiters,” I offered. “We called them Arbiters at the Flinchite compound after one of them told me he was the “Arbiter of Access” to WOE.BEGONE.”
“They kept Ryan’s flair for the dramatic, I see,” she said.
“They’ve kept a lot of it intact,” I said. “I don’t really understand why. You would think that they would prefer to meddle in spacetime without having to run a game on top of it.”
“My guess? They don’t know what they’re doing,” Anne said, taking a sip of her coffee. “They have WOE.BEGONE, but they only have the finished product. They aren’t able to reverse engineer any of it. It’s like if you have the code for something but you don’t know how to read it. You can change some of the variables– make the numbers bigger or smaller– and get some result, even if you don’t know how the rest of the code is executing that variable. But you can’t add new parts from scratch because you don’t understand well enough how it works. They’re script kiddies.”
“If they’re script kiddies, then how did they manage to steal WOE.BEGONE from Ryan?” I asked.
“If you have a thousand bitcoin, you don’t have to steal anything,” Anne said.
“You think someone bought WOE.BEGONE off of him?” I asked. A thousand bitcoin is worth $56 million at time of recording, for those keeping track at home. At time of listening, there is a chance that it will be worth half or twice that.
“I think he took the money, cashed out, and fucked off to somewhere that no one would bother him anymore,” she said.
“I understand the impulse,” I said, “But why do you think that?”
“Because Ryan’s disappearance was completely bloodless. He left his home one day with a couple of suitcases, boarded a flight to who-knows-where, and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. He seemed like he was in a hurry to get to the airport like someone trying to catch a flight, not desperate to get to the airport to dodge an attempt on his life. He didn’t move his stuff out, but the day after he left it was completely gone. No storage facility or U-Haul. No sign of a struggle. No sign of anything, really. Everything was completely cleaned out without anyone entering or exiting the building. I think that was part of his severance package: a one-way ticket to anywhere that isn’t WOE.BEGONE. These new guys don’t have to worry about what to do with a corpse and he gets to live his life out in style. Plus, he knows that they have the power to ruin everything if he decides that he wants back in for some reason.”
“And how do ?” I asked.
“Because I was watching his house, duh,” she said, indignantly. I suppose I should have picked up on that.
“For how long?” I asked.
“Since you told me who he was. One of the first things that I did after your little snafu taking CANNONBALL hostage was to figure out where Ryan lived and how to keep an eye on him without him noticing. Nice job with CANNONBALL, by the way. He really did a number on you. You did kill him, right?” She asked. There was no concern in her voice, only interest.
“Yeah, it was… actually not as difficult as I thought it was going to be. I had help,” I said. Had she been watching CANNONBALL’s apartment as well? Did she see me get taken hostage for 4 months?
“I have some idea of the type of help you had,” she said. “Speaking of, I guess it’s time that we address the elephant in the room. I’m not just coincidentally in town to patch you up and feed you comfort food. The Flinchites’ mission is tonight. That’s why I am here. I haven’t been sitting around while you’ve been traipsing around Oldbrush Valley. I’ve been getting shit done. We’ve got a mission of our own tonight, Michael Walters. You, me, and Edgar. We’ve got our own [REDACTED] to pull off.”
“Don’t say that word,” I said, only half-jokingly.
“What word, “Michael?” I thought you liked being called Michael. I was building you up a little. I’ll stick to “Mike” from now on,” Anne said.
“No, [REDACTED.]” I said.
“What? Why? [Laugh]” She asked.
“Any time I say that word something unspeakably awful happens. Don’t use that word.” I knew that I sounded silly and superstitious but it was true. Any time I called something a [whispered] H-E-I-S-T everything went to shit. [Shudder] I get chills just saying it.
“Okay then, what should I call it?” Anne asked.
“I don’t know. Just say we’re gonna fuck shit up, maybe,” I said.
“Alright, Mike. We’re going to fuck shit up for bunch of different factions in Oldbrush Valley. Tonight. Let’s get ready,” she said.
This is WOE.BEGONE.
[INTRO THEME PLAYS.]
We got straight into it after breakfast. I was running on only a few hours of sleep, but I was systematically replacing the adrenaline in my blood with caffeine. I could sleep when I was dead– hopefully not soon but not out of the question. Anne was as poised and composed as always, a consummate professional.
It was the first time that I had seen her in the flesh since she killed me, since she completed the fourth WOE.BEGONE challenge by revoking her own prize, a night that I don’t remember, one that was described to me with a tranquility that I didn’t fully believe. She portrayed it as a quiet and calm night of convincing me that it was the right thing to do, similar to how I thought that my fourth challenge went until I was on the other side of it, cracking skulls with the butt of a gun until everything aligned perfectly. I didn’t begrudge her anything if she had lied to me. It would be hypocritical for me of all people to hold anything against her and, though I wasn’t above being a hypocrite, I was beyond resenting someone who had a valid reason to kill Mike Walters. If the truth was more gruesome than the story I was offered, it would not offer me any catharsis to know the truth. Anne convinced me to let her kill me in my cabin and I agreed. That is the truth as it was relayed to me. It didn’t matter and there was no time to discuss it now. We were on even footing for the first time since she knocked on my door and explained to me that she was playing WOE.BEGONE in order to reverse me bleeding to death in my apartment in a DIY amputation rig. It was time to talk about the future.
“So, to be clear, it was your voice on the recording, right?” I asked.
“That was me. Well, I know that it is going to be me,” she said.
“It’s from the future,” I concluded.
“You sort of have an idea of what the future is going to look like, I think. I do, too,” Anne said. “When you went to kill CANNONBALL, you had help from yourself in the future. At least that is what I’m guessing, based on the information I’ve received from myself.”
“Two of them. How did you know that?” I asked.
“At some point we get organized, apparently. There are Annes and Mikes out there making moves across different points in time, keeping in communication with each other and carrying out operations,” she said. “How old was the oldest Mike?”
“About ten years older than me,” I said. “I turn out to be quite the character, apparently.”
“I do, too, I think,” she said. “She sent me your little message to Edgar that the Flinchites had you record. I don’t know how she got it but it set me in motion. That’s why I’m here. Quite the odd piece of audio. He’s your little panther?”
“I’d rather not talk about that,” I blushed.
“No, it’s cute. You two clearly love each other. You should lean into that. It reminds me of when you and John first met,” she said.
I was still blushing. “We were talking about the future?” I tried to steer us back to the conversation.
“I’m still thinking about how cute the two of you are. You can’t stop me. But whatever is going on in the future, the seeds of it are being planted right now. There’s future Anne sending a recording to me and one to you, plus the stuff with the other two Mikes. That’s just the beginning. I think the big event is what happens tonight,” she said.
“The voice on the recording… uh… you… kept emphasizing that you had to be extremely careful about sending information back in time because if it can make it back in time this far, there is a danger that it can be sent even further back into the wrong hands and all of the plans could be undermined,” I said. “I think that’s why this is the earliest that we get to know these things. The Flinchites run into difficulty tracking any of us down after this time, as well, which seems related.”
“And it’s just in time for this big Tier 2 event that they had you orchestrate,” she added. “I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
“I don’t either,” I added. “Not with how cagey the Flinchites were about what my message to Edgar was actually going to be used for.”
“Which is why I started preparing right after I got that message from myself,” she said. “We are going to build something for ourselves, Mike. Like the Flinchites, like O.V.E.R., like WOE.BEGONE, but it’s all ours. An institution connected to itself through time that will only strengthen as we grow it. That’s why I came out here when I did. I’ve started getting ready. If someone is going to be at the forefront of this institution it’s going to be me. We have to get started now and we need to hit the ground running. I mean, were you making any plans to do something like this?”
“No… I could if I wanted to…” I said.
“Sure could, buddy,” Anne teased. “The recording came with a note in my handwriting and today’s date. That means Edgar is going to get the recording today and the big shindig starts at 11 o’clock tonight.”
“I told Edgar to steer clear but you made it sound in your message like we don’t actually have an option. At least Edgar is going to be there no matter what, no word on me or you being there. I guess someone will transport him there if he doesn’t follow the instructions of his own accord,” I said. Some of the worry about what would happen to Edgar crept back in under the excitement.
“I didn’t get that message, actually, so I don’t know what was in it,” she said.
“You had me destroy a bunch of shit inside of Tier 2. You said it was to keep Edgar from dying and you had convincing proof. One of the future Mikes told me that Edgar got hospitalized from this incident, but there seems to be a chance he will get killed. You texted me as soon as I got back from the job,” I said.
“I texted you as soon as the sun was up,” she said. “Might or might not be a coincidence.”
“Well, you know you, so it was more like a prediction, I think,” I said. “You left a note, too. “Hoping to redeem my prize,”” I said.
“Cute,” she said. “She must have done that. I finally get to enjoy the benefits of bringing you back,” she said. “We are going to develop a parallel access point to time travel, I’m going to meet your boyfriend, we’re going to kill a bunch of people at your work, it’s gonna be fun.”
“What do you think happens tonight?” I asked.
“Well, it seems like the Flinchites want to use Edgar as bait for the Arbiters. He’s doing something with the boulders. Inserting a device into a port,” she said.
“I destroyed that port and the power source that goes with it last night,” I said.
“Well, that really throws a wrench in someone’s plan,” Anne said.
“They told me to tell Edgar to kill anyone that is at the boulders tonight,” I said.
“Sounds like they made Edgar into a big target,” she said, “not just an unfortunate casualty.”
“Well that’s not going to happen now,” I said. “I made sure of that and you seem to have confirmed it. So, what is going to happen?”
“We take charge of our destiny. Or, if not our destiny, then we collapse the probability of whatever potential actions we might take,” she said. “We don’t wait for them to drop Edgar into Tier 2 like a sitting duck. We go in there, locked and loaded, ready for whatever happens.”
“Hell yeah,” I said. “As long as I don’t think about the inevitable bloodshed, that makes us sound fucking awesome.”
“Hey, it would be the first time that you died kicking ass and taking names,” Anne said.
“That you know know of,” I corrected her. “What do you think is going on with those boulders? I assumed that everything inside of Oldbrush Valley was gone after what happened to 357A, but they are apparently still important. The Flinchites think they’re important, the Arbiters think they’re important, and I had to go destroy some sort of device port in there in order to get this thing started, directed by a future Anne that also believes them to be important. The Flinchite minions told me that it required someone else operating remotely in order to put the codes in, the night that they came to my cabin.”
“Sounds like something that works, even without 357A,” she said.
“Without Flinch, without the WOE.BEGONE technology,” I said. “At least, that’s why I thought I got sent there in the first place. Their temporal security program inside Tier 2 doesn’t work anymore so I thought that was proof.”
“Maybe it’s something more primitive than WOE.BEGONE?” she asked.
“Well, it did shock the fuck out of me both times that I was there,” I said.
“We can speculate on what it is and where that second access point is after we take care of the standoff that’s going to be happening tonight,” she said. “It appears that we will have to step over a pile of bodies to figure out what the boulders are actually used for.”
“So, what’s the next step?” I asked.
“I think it’s time I met your boyfriend,” Anne said. “It’s time to let him in on our little plan and we can prepare together. Plus, I want to make sure he’s not trouble if he’s going to be dating you.”
“If there’s trouble, it is definitely the other way around,” I said.
Anne and I made our way to Oldbrush Valley. I texted Edgar and let him know that I was heading over and that I was bringing a friend. He asked if it was about the message and I told him that it was. He didn’t respond further. I assumed that meant that he had listened to it. Charlie was at the gate, vigilant as ever. She smiled at me and then gave Anne a serious once-over.
“Hi, Charlie. This is Anne. She’s in town this week and wanted to drop by,” I explained.
“I remember you,” she said, suspiciously. “You’ve visited before, awhile ago.”
“Oh, right. I did. To see Hunter. I’m friends with him, too,” she said.
“No, I think it was to see Mikey boy,” she said.
“Hmm. Oh yeah, I guess this is my third time here. Me and Mikey just ate at the diner when I came to visit him, though. I didn’t go inside.” She paused for a moment. “Oh, I don’t think it was you at the gate when I came to visit Hunter. It was some guy. Taylor or something?”
“Troy. Right, that must be it,” she smiled politely, but I could tell that she was trying to work out what exactly was going on. It was her job to keep suspicious people out of O.V.E.R. after all. She looked at me questioningly, as if she were trying to ask me whether I was safe with Anne. Then, her demeanor became softer, more cheery.
“See any bluebirds this morning?” she asked.
“Not this morning, unfortunately,” I replied.
“Darn, well you let me know when you see one.” She winked. “I’ll buzz you in.” There was a buzzing sound and the gate unlocked. We passed through the metal detector and proceeded into O.V.E.R.
“Bluebird” was a code-word that Charlie had given to me to signal to her if someone had come to Oldbrush Valley in order to give me trouble. We didn’t speak terribly often outside of work, but she was highly protective of me. I wondered if she was that protective of all of the O.V.E.R. employees or if I exuded an aura of needing protection. Regardless, her instincts were right. This was the first time that anyone had ever come to visit me without malicious intentions. I did wish that she would be less vigilant just this one time, though. The less people remembered about our movements inside of O.V.E.R., the better. Her attention to detail and the metal detector at the gate prevented Anne from bringing her gun in, since she was a visitor and it wasn’t an O.V.E.R.-issued service weapon. That meant that we would be one gun down tonight if things went as they seemed that they would.
We made our way directly to Edgar’s cabin in hopes that as few people would see us as possible. Edgar opened the door and ushered us inside.
“Hi, Mikey.” He looked at Anne. “Let’s see… Matt’s dead, John’s a big burly guy, and there’s only one woman that Mikey ever talks about from his old life… so by process of elimination, you must be Anne,” he said. “Nice to meet you. I’m Edgar by the way.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Anne said. “Mikey has only said wonderful things. I like him, Mikey. 15 seconds and he’s already problem solving. We’re gonna need that tonight.”
Edgar’s demeanor shifted slightly when Anne mentioned “tonight.” He looked ever so slightly upset, in a way that other people might not have been able to pick up on, looking at the ground or to his left out into space more than usual.
“I thought we were ignoring the message?” Edgar said. “Not that I didn’t appreciate hearing it from you. Even if my eyes did threaten to roll out of my head while you talked about ball peen hammers.”
“I hated that part, too,” Anne said.
“She’s heard it?” Edgar asked.
“Change of plans,” I said to Edgar. “Anne showed up with some new info and some bad news this morning. We don’t have a choice to ignore the message. If we ignore the message, we are going to get dragged into this kicking and screaming. And if someone’s dragging us into it, it means they already have their metaphorical hands around our wrists.”
“What are you saying?” Edgar asked.
“We are going to have to go into Tier 2 tonight,” I said. “We are going to have to go through with the plan, at least up to a point. It’s the only way we stand any chance.”
He stared at my arm while I spoke. “Mike, are you bleeding?” he asked.
“He’s not anymore,” Anne said.
“I had to run some errands this morning to make sure that tonight goes smoothly,” I explained.
He let out an exasperated sigh. “And what is it that we are going to do once we get in there? Follow directions? Mike, you told me to kill people in that message. You told me that I end up in the hospital.”
“We aren’t following all of the directions,” I said. “That device port from the message was destroyed this morning.”
“Just because we aren’t following the directions doesn’t mean that we’re not killing people,” Anne interjected. I glared at her. “Mikey, if we skirt around the possibilities we are going to die in there.” She turned to make direct eye contact with Edgar. “Edgar, there are people working on this that have already seen it happen and are trying to prevent it from turning out how they experienced it. We’re moving heaven and earth to keep you alive. Do you understand what we are telling you? Someone already knows what happens if we ignore the message and the results are not pretty.”
Edgar didn’t respond. He looked to the side, staring off into the distance. Then, he looked at me. I could see him lingering on my left arm, freshly stitched up, then my hair, much longer than it could have grown in a single day, then at my face, aged further than my years. He looked down at my hand, deeply scarred and not fully functional. He looked down at my gun, holstered at my hip, the rare occasion that I kept it with me. He looked me in the eyes, my uncertain, nervous energy radiating outward from them.
“You were gone for so long,” he finally said. “I could hear it in your voice, in the recording. I didn’t even have time to notice you were gone, but you were gone for so long.” He went quiet. Nobody spoke. “One of us is going to die if we don’t do anything. Do I have that right?”
“At least one of us,” I replied.
“You’re in the most danger, Edgar,” Anne said.
“And we’re going to be dragged into it regardless of if we prepare for it or not,” Edgar continued.
“That’s what we’ve been told,” Anne said.
“And Mike is a bad shot with that gun because he won’t practice with it,” he continued further.
“Hey, I used it… today,” I countered. “Ignore the stitches.”
“So, we’re all going to go into Tier 2 together and hope that we can somehow prepare for whatever bloodbath is going to happen and that whoever dies tonight, it won’t be any of the three of us,” he concluded.
“Exactly,” Anne said, solemnly.
We all looked at each other for a moment, all of us still standing around in Edgar’s living room, none of us having sat down during the entire conversation.
“So me and you are doing the shooting, right, Anne?” Edgar said, breaking the silence.
“Mike got hit by his own bullet this morning. That’s why I had to stitch him up,” Anne said.
“You should see me in 10 years,” I said. “I’m a regular old Butch Cassidy by then.”
“The Sundance Kid was the one who was a good shot,” Anne replied.
“No, I mean that when I’m 40 I’m going to look how Paul Newman did when he was 40. You’re welcome, Edgar.” I winked at him.
Anne broke apart the small talk. “Alright, crew,” she looked at her watch. “Game time is in about 8 hours. Let’s start solidifying some of these plans. We’ll review the recording and take notes. Edgar, you have the most Tier 2 knowledge, correct?” Edgar nodded.
“I’ve seen it the most at night,” I interjected.
“Right. We’ll map out the area and plan an itinerary around that. Mike, you’ve seen an Arbiter before. We’ve both seen the Flinchite goons. Between the two of us, we should be able to scope out some of what might happen out there tonight. Everything we can predict will make us a little bit safer.”
It was all coming to a point, out in the middle of Oldbrush Valley. Mike, Edgar, Anne. Tier 2. The boulders. The possibility of a future where we have control.
Next time: a standoff in the middle of the night, in the middle of a highly classified government facility. Us, The Flinchites, The Arbiters, O.V.E.R., WOE.BEGONE. Thanks for playing.
[End theme plays.]