59: Post-Mortem

59: Post-Mortem WOE.BEGONE


Here lies Project T.B.D.O. Mission 1. Rest in peace.


Episode 59: Post-Mortem

         Sometimes, we here at Base choose the wrong people for the job. It happens. We’re new to this whole thing, remember. We’ve never had to run a whole operation before. Edgar and Anne act like they’re good at it, but this is their first rodeo, too. The rest of us don’t even act like we’re good at it. So sometimes there are… severe miscalculations and, for instance, I die. Or a hamster gets shot into space. Or I get brutally injured performing an assassination and have to be saved by a Latvian cowboy and his gal Friday. Mistakes happen.

         Project TBDO Mission 1 was one such mistake. That’s on me to a certain extent. It was my idea and I had control over many of the goals and procedure. It did not go as planned. We set some open-ended goals at the outset—like find out what we could about Ty Betteridge—and we accomplished them because it’s hard to fail at an open-ended mission like that. But what started as a mission with 2 members in the field ended with one 1 member coming back. Edgar scheduled a post-mortem meeting to discuss what happened, what we learned, and what went wrong. The TBDO Mission 1 post-mortem was going to be… messy. This is WOE.BEGONE


         The conference room for the presentation was claustrophobic. That’s because it wasn’t a conference room, it was my bedroom. Base didn’t have a conference room. It was just a house being rented out by Anne. This normally worked in our favor since we could live in the house and work at whatever hours the job required, but it felt much smaller when all 5 of us were in the house at once. Through sheer luck of the draw, my room had the largest blank wall for projecting a Powerpoint presentation onto, so today it was the conference room. It was a nice bedroom, definitely more space than I needed, especially with Edgar only staying with me some of the time due to how we scheduled our missions at Base. It was decidedly not enough space for me, Edgar, Anne, Hunter, and Marissa. We were sardines in a can. I made a mental note to buy some difficult to move furniture to put on that wall to discourage such meetings from happening there ever again.

         “Nice cowboy hat, Mikey,” Marissa teased me. “Do you always leave it out on the bedside table like that?”

         I groaned. “If I had known that everyone was going to go through my stuff, I would have saved myself the trouble and died in North Dakota.”

         Marissa was beaming. It was too late to stop her. “And that deerskin jacket with the fringes hanging up in the closet? It’s all painting a picture, Mikey boy.”

         I took a deep breath and tried to keep from getting embarrassed because Marissa was trying to embarrass me and I didn’t want to give her the pleasure. “That was a gift from Edgar.”

         “I bet it was. Your face is red by the way.” She was right. My face was red. I could control what I did but I couldn’t control my face flushing. “Are those cowboy boots?—“

         “We’re all here. Can we get started on the post-mortem?” I pleaded silently to Edgar with my eyes. He was suppressing a chuckle. I was alone in my torment, left to nature out in the wild west. Edgar was not riding to my rescue. I had not purchased or acquired by choice any of said items that were being scrutinized. The cowboy hat was left behind by Michael at the house in Rugby, North Dakota. The deerskin jacket was a gift from Edgar. The boots… were also a gift from Edgar… but like ironically, okay? We thought that it would be a funny joke if I had cowboy boots. It’s all very ironic, very wink-wink-nudge-nudge. It’s extremely funny if you think about it. Please take a moment, right now, to think about it and how hilarious it, in fact, is. I know what it looks like, but it’s actually a very funny joke.

         “We really should get started, actually,” Edgar said. Finally, Edgar. Please rescue me before they start digging through my journal. “But just a heads up: this is not going to be a fun romp. Are we all ready?”

         Everyone muttered agreements and nodded.

         “So, the Ty Betteridge Data Operation, mission 1.” A barebones Powerpoint presentation began to play, black text on a white background, an outline of what Edgar was preparing to say. I’m sure that just the information on the screen is enough to get the job done, but he could’ve spiced things up at least a little bit. C’mon Edgar! Let’s get some typewriter animations in there. “This is mostly to bring Hunter up to speed since he wasn’t here for it, but hopefully we can get everyone on the same page as well since Mikey, Anne, and I were all on different shifts. The goal was broad and simple: to find out more about Ty Betteridge. We determined, through the reconnaissance efforts of Marissa and Ravi—“

         There was a cold silence after Edgar said Ravi’s name. There was barely a pause between him saying “Ravi” and continuing on with his sentence, but it felt like ages. I could see it on the faces of everyone else as well. The jokiness was gone. It had been snuffed out with a single word. That was what we were all actually there for. Nobody cared about my cowboy boots anymore. It felt torturous to save it for the end of the presentation, but Edgar kept going.

         “The mission was intended for 72 hours but came in right under 24 in our continuous time. It was right around 32 hours in time measured from the perspective of the team on the ground, allowing for breaks. In that time, we learned that Ty was a man with more authority than we previously thought inside of the O.V.E.R. hierarchy. As someone with similar job responsibilities as Ty, I can attest that his behavior was not typical. He was able to access red flag cabins, seemingly with permission and authority to go inside and access classified information therein.”

         “And kill with impunity,” Marissa grumbled.

         “I’ll get to that. I’m telling it in order.” Edgar looked down at the ground for a moment, then righted his posture and went on with the presentation. “We decided not to attempt to retrieve the red flag cabin files, which were transferred to a nearby building that Mike identified as being the same building that he successfully retrieved files from after seeing Hunter deposit them there.”

         Edgar delivered this information about the red flag cabins and my history with them with, frankly, what I consider to be too much nonchalance. There was absolute no chalance to be had. The Chalance Meters made not a single beep when he announced that I had stolen files deposited by Hunter Jeremiah Hartley from a red flag cabin.

         “Excuse me?” Hunter interrupted. He stood up from his chair in surprise. I would say that he walked over to me but we were in my cramped bedroom so he actually took a single step towards me, which put him right on top of me. Hunter’s a tall guy with a big frame. One of those guys that played football in high school because the coach saw them and knew that even if he didn’t love football he could be a decent linebacker through sheer size. He probably looked more imposing standing over me in my shitty folding chair than he meant to. I winced, recalling several incidents with Punished Hunter with similar beginnings, and Hunter’s face softened some seeing my reaction.

         “It wasn’t you, it was Mystery Hunter. At least I think it was.” I eked out the words. I was embarrassed by how scared I felt. I knew that Hunter wasn’t going to hurt me, but I wasn’t in control of how my body reacted. Someone who looked exactly like him had pummeled me half to death on more than one occasion. That face was the last thing that I saw before losing consciousness once. “It was the second day on the job and I had orders from WOE.BEGONE. I had to do it. If it makes you feel any better—“ I stopped myself short. I was going to say, “if it makes you feel any better, that story eventually ended with me getting shot by Marissa” but not everyone knew that story and I knew that Marissa didn’t want everyone to know that story. “If it makes you feel any better, it wasn’t you and I had to do it and I didn’t get anything out of it for myself and I’m sorry.”

         “Well, you’re wrong on one count, there. It is me, bud,” Hunter said. He took a step back to his own crappy folding chair and sat down. “You have iterations now, too. You know they’re you. Have some respect. If you didn’t have a choice, you didn’t have a choice. Say that. But have some respect.” I could feel my face flushing again.  

         “Edgar,” Anne chided, pointing to her watch. “Can we speed this along maybe?”

         “Right.” Edgar leapt right back into the Powerpoint. “We decided not to retrieve the red flag cabin files and those files were later picked up by O.V.E.R.’s internal mailing service which put them outside of our consideration for the remainder of the trip. Marissa then went to Ty’s personal cabin while Ty was working to search for clues. She found many files scattered around and a large safe in his bedroom. None of these were confirmed as relevant to our operation. Anne was on duty at Base and denied permission either to break in or to use the Calculator to enter the cabin. Anne, do you want to speak on that?”

         Anne looked around, trying to address the room from her seat. “Ty Betteridge is known to be dangerous, to have significant access to technology, and to be operating in times other than this one. Breaking in could have put Marissa in a position where she could be the subject of retaliation for dubious material gain. It wasn’t worth it for information we don’t even know could be useful to us.”

         “Marissa and Ravi,” Marissa said.

         “Huh?” Anne replied.

         “Just now, both of you said “Marissa.” It was me and Ravi. We went together. He was there for everything. Marissa and Ravi scoped out Ty’s cabin. Marissa and Ravi. We were together the whole time, until he…” Marissa trailed off.

         A silence fell over the room after Marissa was done speaking. I was suddenly aware of the hum of the projector that was displaying the presentation on my bedroom wall. The Powerpoint didn’t mention Ravi on the slide about checking out Ty’s cabin, either. It just said Marissa. I think Edgar was trying to avoid brining him up until he absolutely had to.

         “We’re going to talk about Ravi.” Edgar voice was flat and lifeless. He pressed on. Next slide. “Night came and Ty retired to his quarters. Marissa… and Ravi retreated to the rendezvous location.” This slide also only had Marissa’s name on it. “In the dead of night, Ty left his quarters and Marissa heard a gunshot from the opposite direction of Ty, which ended up being a correction from future Base. They had been sent with orders to distract Marissa and separate her. Mike and Michael—“

         “They fucking killed him,” Marissa said. “They distracted me and then executed Ravi like a fucking mob hit.”

         “We don’t know that,” I said.

         “You said it yourself, Mike. Ravi was a “problem” and he’s not anymore? What the fuck else could that mean?” Marissa was shaking.

         “That wasn’t me. I was here at Base. I was in your earpiece. That was Michael,” I tried to explain.

         “So, it was you with your fucking dress-up cowboy antics. Out there playing gunslinger. You killed him. Or you’re going to kill him. That’s what you mean right? That’s better for you? That you simply haven’t got the blood on your hands yet?”

         “Marissa…” Edgar looked like a lost puppy dog standing in front of the 4 of us. “Base issued a correction that was carried out by the Latvia team. It was a decision made by the future Base, based on what they knew about the consequences of that mission and having Ravi on the team. You helped come to that decision, too. You have to trust that future iterations of the Base know more than we do. That’s how this whole operation is structured.”

         “Maybe I decided with all of you,” she said, “but I didn’t pull the trigger.”

         “I’m sorry,” I grumbled.

         “No you’re not,” Marissa shot back.

         I lost my cool. “You know what? You’re right. I’m not sorry. I didn’t do anything wrong. And I don’t love defending him, but Michael didn’t do anything wrong. He did what had to be done because Ravi was dangerous and you looped him in too far into what we were doing.”

         “Fuck you,” Marissa spat at me.

“While that was happening—“ Edgar continued loudly, hoping he could shout down the argument, “said Latvia team reported Ty Betteridge shooting and killing someone on the opposite side of Tier 1. This cut our plans drastically short and we extracted Marissa successfully. My recommendation is that we limit our teams exclusively to the 5 of us and our iterations and to take corrections as serious critique of the airtightness of our missions and to scrutinize our own methods of operation accordingly. There. The end. Post-mortem complete. Commence discussion, which you’ve already got a head start on.” He threw his hands up.

         “He wasn’t going to rat us out. You murdered him,” Marissa said. “That’s you in 10 years. 10 years from now you’re going to do that and you aren’t going to think twice about whether or not it is the right thing to do. You already said that you don’t care. Am I wrong about that?”

         “I don’t know.” I put my head in my hands. “I don’t know.”

         “And because of you, we didn’t get to see what Ty was up to. You ruined your own plan, dipshit.”

         “That’s not fair.” I looked at Edgar and Anne.

         “Future Base made the decision, Marissa,” Anne said.

         “What’s not fair is that this asshole gets to play Clint Eastwood and we’re all supposed to just accept it when he guns someone down because “Base” said so,” Marissa shot back.

         It would have been easy to stop holding my tongue, to trot out the “but Marissa, remember when you shot me?” card. But I didn’t. I was mad at her but she was in pain. I knew what that was like.

         “I’m mad about it, too, Marissa. I didn’t make any of these decisions.” My words failed.

         Hunter sat quietly in the corner, raising his hand politely, waiting for the anger to die down before adding his 2 cents. Classic Minnesota. Ooh, sorey aboot that bud. Edgar saw this and used it as an out.

         “Hunter, you have a question?” he said, interrupting the ensuing battle.

         “Ummm, yeah,” Hunter said. “What did you say the date of this operation was?”

         Edgar told him the date.

         “Yeah… you know I was there, right? At O.V.E.R.? I was already working when that happened,” Hunter said.

         “Yeah, we know, but you weren’t available for the mission because you said you had responsibilities at O.V.E.R. So we didn’t send you out in the field,” Edgar replied.

         “No, yeah, that’s not what I’m asking aboot. I was there. That morning. The guy that got shot in front of the cabins. Mike, I told you, right? The day we met.”

         “The day we met?” I asked.

         “I know I told you because you asked me if very much goes on at O.V.E.R. and I was explaining that no, it doesn’t, but also my first week on the job I heard shots fired and ran out to see if I could help and by the time I got there O.V.E.R. was already cleaning it up. Does that ring any bells?” Hunter asked.

         “Just barely. Didn’t you say you thought they staged that to spook you?” I asked.

         “It made sense at the time. But it looks like this Ty Betteridge fella is the one that did it. They told me that the guy was trying to break into Tier 2 so security shot him. I got spooked by the guys in uniforms and went back to my cabin. That was before I learned to keep my head down.”

         “You’re saying you saw the body?” Anne asked.

         “Sure did,” Hunter said. “Saw him with my own 2 eyes. It was a mess. So much blood. I remember it soaked into the ground. And Tier 3 security was in the middle of covering it up. “Move along, nothing to see here,” that sort of thing.”

         “Tier 3? You’re sure?” Edgar asked.

         “ I think so. I didn’t know what Tier 2 looked like at the time but now I know these guys weren’t from Tier 2. They were serious business,” Hunter said.

         “Ty was Interfacing team, right?” Anne asked. “So not even Tier 2?”

         “Oh, I wouldn’t take that at face value,” Hunter explained. “Interfacing team can mean anything. And he could be strategically placed, not doing the job he said he was doing. There’s people at the desks like Edgar here but there’s a lot more to it than that. There’s guys out there that say they’re janitors but you can tell they’re really up to something else. And then one day you catch them waltzing into Tier 3 like they belong there.”

         “But that makes it sound like Ty killed this guy with authorization from O.V.E.R.” I said.

         “Maybe. Probably. I knew him as the kid on the Interfacing team but that doesn’t mean that’s what he was. He was up to something, clearly. I mean he was wearing that mask when I—“ Hunter trailed off. Shot him. When Hunter shot him dead in Tier 2 is what he meant. No one is free from suffering the memories of their actions today. Not at the Project TBDO Mission 1 Post-Mortem, emphasis increasingly on “mortem.”

         “That’s great, Hunter,” Edgar said. “We didn’t have any leads on who it was, why Ty shot him, or how he seemingly got away with it. That’s huge that you recognized the murder. We would have been totally lost. Great job.”

         “If you say so,” Hunter replied.

         “That’s where this goes from here, right?” I asked. “That’s what the next project is? To figure out who this guy is and why Ty might have been instructed to kill him?”

         “Who says he was instructed?” Anne asked.

         “Well, unless he is the head of O.V.E.R. the authority to kill had to come from somewhere,” I said.

         “Who says he’s not the head of O.V.E.R.?” Anne asked.

         “He’s like 25,” I replied. “When would he have had time to be the head of a top secret governmental facility?”

         “I’m just saying don’t rule anything out without proof,” she said.

         “But that’s mission 2, right? To find this guy before Ty kills him? I’m not saying we prevent the killing, we just find the guy. He could have some extremely useful information. Something was worth killing him over and whatever that information is could be extremely valuable to us,” I said.

         “I agree, Bear,” Edgar said.

         “Of course he agrees,” Marissa scoffed.

         “Do you have criticism?” Edgar asked.

         ““Bear” here just got one of us killed and you’re letting him plan another mission?” Marissa asked. I could see her balling her hands into fists.

         “But you agree, though, right? We should figure out who this person is and what they had to do with Ty,” Edgar replied calmly, sidestepping the anger.

         “I don’t even care about that right now,” Marissa said.

         “Then you aren’t in a place to criticize,” Edgar replied. “Marissa, I’m sorry that happened but this is still Base and we still have missions to carry out. You can sit this one out or take a shift here at Base. I think Mikey and Hunter should be in the field for this one. Mikey because it’s his mission and Hunter because he remembers what happened.”

         “I’m going?” I asked. “But I didn’t work there back then.”

         “I don’t think that is as important as we thought. You’ll have to get in and out with the Calculator if you need to take a break, but we have the rendezvous location and that worked pretty well so it shouldn’t be a big deal,” Edgar said. “I think it will be fine. Hunter, is this okay with you?”

         Hunter didn’t reply. His demeanor shifted. He seemed to shrink into himself, become more contemplative.

         “Hunter, we could really use your expertise on this one,” Edgar said.

         “I have work. At O.V.E.R,” Hunter said quietly.

         “You really need an O.V.E.R. Iteration,” Edgar said.

         “It’s great. O.V.E.R. Mike seems like he’s having a great time out there doing his job and I don’t have to do any work,” I added.

         “There are enough of me,” Hunter said.

         “You could come live here,” Anne said. “I’m not charging anybody rent.”

         “Except me,” I interjected.

         “Mikey’s got you covered, H,” Anne corrected herself.

         “You guys are always too cavalier about this,” Hunter said. “It’s going to backfire. Aren’t the Mikes super weird about consolidation any time you bring it up with them? Something’s going to happen.”

         “Think about it at least,” Edgar said. “We really need you on the mission, Hunter. It’s either you or I send Mike in alone.”

         “We could make another Mike and consolidate us when I get back,” I said.

         “I’ll go,” Hunter said abruptly.

         “You’ll go? You sure?” Edgar asked.

         “Don’t make any more Mikes. I’ll go. You win,” Hunter said.

         “If you’re sure about it, we would love to have you,” Edgar said.

         “I’m sure. No one needs to get consolidated. Let’s do it,” Hunter replied.

         “It’s settled then. Project TDBO Mission 2. Project 2BDO,” I said.

         “He doesn’t get to name stuff anymore,” Anne said. “You all told me that it was fine, he could name this one thing. And how he has named this one thing and this is what he chose to do with it. Project 2BDO.”

         “You’re welcome,” I said. “Okay, so is that everything for the meeting? As in, can you all please get out of my bedroom? It’s starting to stink in here.”

         “I’m surprised that it didn’t stink in here before,” Marissa said.

         “That’s because it’s also my bedroom most of the time,” Edgar said.

         “Fun banter, fun banter. Maybe you could have it somewhere else?” I said.

         “Does anyone have anything to add before we dismiss?” Edgar asked.

         Nobody responded for a few seconds and then Marissa spoke up. “Rest in peace, Ravi. I always teased you for acting like I was your boss and I never got the chance to tell you that I genuinely enjoyed your company. I don’t know what the future Base or Mike thought that you did, but I miss you and I wish that there was some other way things could have happened. I got you into this with my recklessness and you suffered the consequences. I’m sorry. Rest in peace, Ravi.”

         “Rest in peace, Ravi,” Anne added.

         “Ravi was… a scheming little rat,” I said. Everyone stared daggers at me. “What? It’s true. He was going to turn us into O.V.E.R. That’s how this whole thing started. Don’t get me wrong, I have sympathy for the guy. I’m also a scheming little rat. That’s my whole thing. I am also, if you recall, the proud owner of 3 other scheming little rats, or hamsters at least. Rest in peace, Chubbums. I love scheming little rodents. Princess Daffodil got out of her cage and shredded a month’s worth of toilet paper this week.”

         “We know,” Anne said, perturbed. “Are you done putting your foot in your mouth yet, Mike?”

         “Rest in peace, Ravi, is my point. Everybody get out of my room,” I said.

         “Can’t get out of here fast enough,” Marissa said.

         Everyone shuffled out of my bedroom, taking their folding chairs with them. Hunter was the last one out. He grabbed the door to close it on his way out and looked back at me. There was the faintest hint of something in his gaze, something that I recognized but had never seen in Innocent Hunter. It was a serious look, almost a grimace. It was the only look that Punished Hunter ever gave me. He looked so much like Punished Hunter in that moment, which makes sense because they are literally the same person, but I had always managed to see them as completely different people. They always treated me differently. I was seeing the continuity between them for the first time and I didn’t like it. Still, it was a little thing, a single look after a difficult conversation. It gave me a tiny chill but then I thought nothing of it.  

         I was alone in my bedroom. I locked the door. I needed some privacy. I threw the cowboy hat in the closet, slightly bending one of the edges out of shape. I laid down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. It had been a heated meeting and I came out the bad guy at every single turn. I was the one who conceived of the botched mission, I was the one who stole files from Hunter, I was the one who killed Ravi. “You turn into me, remember that.” I remember, Michael. It is a decision that I am eventually going to make, already made manifest in the here and now. Like an avalanche barreling toward me, with nothing I can do to get out of the way. I could always hope that it was the right decision, but I wouldn’t know until the time came for me to make it.

         But, when you fall off the horse, you get right back on. And you probably should seek medical attention at some point? But you’ll get to the doctor faster if you get back up on that horse. We had done what we could to process Mission 1. We examined its corpse. The right thing to do was to keep going. There was important work to be done and we could do it better than we did last time. Marissa deserved better. Hunter deserved better. I deserved better. Ravi deserved better. So, next time, we would do it better.

         This has been WOE.BEGONE. Next time: Project 2BDO. Thanks for playing.

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