Episode 70: base.
“With all due respect, Mike, you’ve got some nerve showing up here after all this time and telling a story like that. It doesn’t make you sound like the team to join up with. It makes you sound like the dark hole that we should run away from if we don’t want to be pulled in and ripped apart. Only a fool would make the mistake of getting too close to… whatever this is. You think I don’t know what’s going on? You think I don’t know about all of the opportunities that exist at my fingertips to meddle in the time space continuum? This is O.V.E.R., Mike. Every day I could get involved and every day I choose not to. I’ve had unfettered access to shit that you’re not even aware exists. I’m well aware that you are seemingly biologically incapable of turning down these opportunities and that’s your prerogative (though I am not withholding judgment, not by a long shot.). Can’t you just appreciate the paycheck? That’s why I’m here. They’re dumping money into my bank account. Why do you need to set up a Base? Is it going to make you happier, or is it going to get you chewed up and spat out? Again? This covert ops shit has bested better men than Mike Walters, I assure you. Do you remember Cole? No? I can tell by your face that you don’t. We remember Cole. Clever is an understatement. Smarter than you by a long shot. Smarter than us, too, to be fair. Masters in mechanical engineering, curious and inventive and flying up the corporate ladder. I don’t know what they ended up having him do, probably building actual time machines. Then, one day, [snaps fingers] gone. He didn’t quit, no matter what they told us. I went by his cabin and his stuff was still there after he vanished. The most classic form of O.V.E.R. Security entertainment: peering into the windows of the recently vanished. His phone was on the table. I can humor the idea of him sending for his things if he quit on short notice, but who would leave their phone? His car was in the damn parking lot for an entire day after he left. A smarter man than you, better than you, if you want me to be honest. Got too curious and then dead. Why sugar coat it? Dead. He’s dead. It takes some unmitigated gall for you to show up here and make promises that you can’t keep. You want to bring someone back from the dead, big shot? Start with him.”
Chance smacked the kitchen table with his open palm. His hands had been shaking as he spoke. I kept unconsciously averting my gaze. I wanted to interrupt him, to tell him that he was wrong. Maybe I wasn’t capable, but all of us together were capable. I could find better people than myself. Anne told me that she would send an iteration of herself if we could manage to set up another Base. We could carve our own reality from the raw materials of the universe. But I was there, in their cabin, because I had already failed. Both Chance and Shadow had declined to be a part of the base the first time and I had made a better argument back then. Chance wasn’t saying anything that I wouldn’t tell myself.
Shadow brought his hand up onto the table and slid it over Chance’s, a reassuring gesture. “Hey, hey,” he said in a calm and low voice, “we talked about this in session, right? We need to get back to the ground, okay? And we talked to each other about Mike, right? How it’s okay to be mad but not to become our anger. Right?”
Chance huffed. I absentmindedly looked around Chance and Shadow’s cabin. It was the same size as every other cabin in Tier 1, but the space was used in a way that made it look spacious and tasteful. The walls were decorated, the decor went together, and the place was spotless. They hadn’t cleaned up to impress us. We had knocked on their door with no warning. They lived like this full time.
Michael fidgeted with his cowboy hat, which was sitting on the table in front of him. He cleared his throat.
“T’weren’t supposed a negotiation,” Michael said. “It’s an offer. Take it or leave it sorta thing.”
“Leave it,” Chance said.
“Now, let me finish,” Michael said. “You two already been killt once caught in the crossfire. You’re on some radars you can’t even remember, thanks to us savin’ your hides. We’re the ones that performed the connectivity strike on Hunter.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Shadow said, “unless you’re admitting to murder.”
“A couple murders and at least 4 lives saved,” Michael continued. “And I did a good enough job that the two of you don’t remember Hunter cornering you, probably right here in your quaint little cabin, backing you up against the wall under those guitars you got hung up there and [bang].” He made the motion of a pistol going off with his fingers.
“Michael,” I chided him.
“You already played good cop,” he shot back at me. He put his cowboy hat back on. “You know, if they killed both of ya, that means they killed one of ya first, then the other. Ya think about how that goes? I been on both sides of that, the first and the second one to go, and each side is somehow worse than the other.”
“Sounds like you do a lot of dying, bad cop,” Chance replied. His tone was forceful, but I could see him veritably vibrating.
“You do, too, Chance,” Michael said. “And the less you stick with us, the harder it gets to correct that.”
Chance folded his hands in front of him. “Yeah, and I’ll be sure to take your word on that, cowboy.”
“Remember when you went back to Boulder to visit Jess and you ended up in a shootout because someone tailed you all the way from O.V.E.R.?” Michael asked. “No, I suppose you don’t, because I ran a damn correction for you. “See this?” He parted the side of his beard, revealing a scar where hair no longer grew. “Got slashed in the face on that correction. Can’t tell as long as I grow my beard out. Can’t shave or everyone can see the scar.”
Chance looked at Shadow confused.
“…I’m the one with a Jess in Boulder,” Shadow said.
“Well then I guess I’m lying,” Michael replied indignantly. He leaned back in his chair.
“Michael has been through a whole bunch of realities that don’t exist anymore,” I explained. “The least painful ones are the ones where we all cooperate. The worst ones are the ones where we are apart and don’t know enough about each other to make a proper correction.”
“That’s about right,” Michael added.
“And if we say yes, what then?” Shadow asked.
“Then we launch the Base,” I said. “The first ever iteration of the Base for you, the second for me. We build up a schedule of operations and work together to harness the technology that we have access to, to correct problematic aspects of the timeline, and to propagate information backwards to ourselves and forwards to later iterations of the Base. I’ve done this before. We would be picking up where I left off.”
“And Edgar?” Shadow asked.
“Basically in charge of things,” I replied. “Scheduling, tactics, planning, designing standard operating procedures.”
“That’s a relief,” Chance said. “Why didn’t you send him instead of the cowboy?”
“Edgar don’t know the story about Jess,” Michael said, pleased with himself.
“And rescuing Marissa is part of this so-called “Corrections” itinerary?” Shadow asked.
“It’s a long shot,” Michael said, “but it’s more entangled with our other goals than we used to think.”
I squinted at Michael. I didn’t know what he meant by that. He hadn’t run that by me first. I kept my mouth shut.
“Do we have to answer now?” Shadow asked.
“No,” I said. “We have some other meetings this afternoon, the outcomes of which I think will put you more at ease with your answer.”
“Ok then,” Shadow said. “Unless you have anything else, we’ll wait for you to get back to us.”
“Cole,” Chance interrupted. “Can you fit Cole into that correction schedule?”
“Worth lookin’ into,” Michael replied. “He work here long?”
“Years, way before either of us got here,” Chance said. “Disappeared a few weeks ago.”
“He could know about Kasimieras,” I said.
“We’ll talk specifics when we have an answer,” Michael said. He smiled and extended his hand across the table for a handshake. “Pleasure doing business.”
Chance and Shadow shook Michael’s hand, slightly taken aback by the gesture. We stood up from our chairs and began toward the door.
“Talk to you soon,” I said.
“Chance. Shadow,” Michael tipped his hat.
We were off to secure the rest of the newest iteration of the Base.
This is WOE.BEGONE.
[INTRO THEME PLAYS.]
“It’s chamomile tea. I know you said you don’t really like tea, Mikey, but you should try it. It’s supposed to help with pain. I think it’s supposed to be anti-inflammatory or antioxidant. It’s anti-something. I know with the bear attack and your hand, I bet some of that still lingers. Didn’t you break your ankle, too, at one point?” Charlie asked.
“Yeah, I did. I was walking with a cane for awhile,” I replied. I took a sip of the tea that had been offered to me and smiled. I hated it. I took another sip. I still hated it. “Should we talk about why we’re here?”
“Am I supposed to be surprised that there are two of you and that one of you is a cowboy?” she asked. “I’ve seen more doubles than you can count, Mike. I tend to look the other way. Your friend, Hunter. There were a couple of him, I think. They were pretty sneaky, dressing different from each other, kind of like you two, but it only takes exiting the front gate twice without coming back in to get me thinking about it. I never told anyone. I mean, I’m not the reason he’s wherever he is now. Not here, I mean.”
“We don’t suspect you–” I said.
“We killed him,” Michael said. “Mikey, we’re trying to recruit her. We can’t pussyfoot around.”
“I’m not interested in being recruited,” Charlie said. She took a sip of her tea.
“Bottom line is: We need you, Bluebird,” Michael said. Charlie sat her tea down and looked at him. I turned to look at him, too. There was a tenderness in his voice that I didn’t expect. In our previous meeting with Chance and Shadow, he had been so full of bluster and bravado that I thought he was going to blow our chances. Now, he was calling Charlie an affectionate name in a low voice.
Charlie looked into his eyes and furrowed her brow. “Your face has some lines that I don’t recognize, Mike. I guess it’s been awhile.”
“Michael,” he corrected her.
“Michael ,” I explained for the second time that day. “I have, too. Not as many as he has. We lost everyone. We lost you, Charlie. We lost Marissa. We lost Edgar. We can’t go through that again. He’s right. We need you. Nobody knows O.V.E.R. like you do.”
Charlie grunted in discontent. “I know how this is supposed to go. I’m supposed to explain to you that you are running toward an early grave and that I’m not going to help you do that. But I know you’ve heard me give you that speech before, even though I don’t remember it happening. You’re going to do this no matter what I say. You’ve already done it once, even though it meant losing everybody. I’m not naive. I know that I’m not going to talk you out of anything. I can see you. How you’re holding yourself, how you’re looking at me, how you change into him,” she gestured from me to Michael. “It’s happening.” She shrugged her shoulders. “And now I have to decide whether I want to be at your funeral or be buried alongside you. Do I have that right?”
“Said it better than I could,” Michael said.
“You always said that if I was in trouble that I could call you Bluebird and you would protect me,” I added. “Michael’s right. We need you, Bluebird.”
“And Marissa was part of this operation once?” She asked.
“”Marissa was one of the team, same as any of us. The bravest out of any of us, to be sure,” I replied.
“So, she used to still be alive? She didn’t always… do what she did?” she asked.
“You mean 357A?” I asked. She nodded grimly.
“We’re startin’ to get a handle on what happened that night,” Michael said. “In the previous timeline, it was Hunter that went in there. Both of ‘em were blackmailed. Our goals are directly related to stopping the organization responsible.”
I squinted at him again, just as I had squinted at him when he had said something similar in Chance and Shadow’s cabin. The missions that we were planning for the new Base were about Ty Betteridge and the Flinchites. Was he saying that the Flinchites were responsible for 357A? It made sense, but Michael was telling Charlie this like he knew. I wondered if he knew something that he hadn’t told me or if this was the carrot that he was dangling in order to get Charlie to join up with Base. Regardless, it put me ill at ease. He was going off script.
“I knew that she wouldn’t have done something like that of her own volition,” Charlie said.
“Were you two close?” I asked.
Michael turned to me, a look of disbelief on his face. “Was they close? Apologies, Charlie, he don’t know everything I know.”
Charlie blushed. “It’s alright. Yes, Marissa and I were close.” She took a long sip of her tea. I hadn’t taken any sips of my tea since the polite two sips that I took when she sat it down in front of me.
Charlie looked us dead in the eyes, first myself then Michael. She smiled a melancholy smile. “And this is the part where you try to lure me in by saying that if I join up with you, then we can work together to save Marissa and stop her from blowing up that building. And my love for her combined with the slightest glimmer of hope of seeing her again will override my basic human instincts to survive and I’ll be putty in your hands. I can’t tell. I can’t tell if you actually care about Marissa or if you are using her as a pawn to get to what you really want. Even if you care about Marissa, I don’t know whether you think trying to save her is a good idea or not. And I don’t either. And however I respond, it’s the result of some chain reaction that you have tampered with in ways that I’m not even aware of. I’ve been meditating lately. I thought it would help me manage how I feel from working here. The meditation guides say to let the thoughts pass over you, to dismiss them without indulging in them, as though you were viewing them from afar. I think it’s obvious here that I need to learn to let go. But which one do I let go? Do I let go of Marissa and the thought of seeing her again? Or do I let go of myself, let myself be water, poured into the collective jug, all destined to the same fate, whether that means being returned to the sea or poured on the ground?”
“That’s beautiful, Charlie,” I said.
“The water thing is from one of the meditation recordings,” she said. “I feel like I’m dragging my feet here. I have to do it right?”
“You don’t have to do anything,” I said.
“Bullshit,” she replied. I sat upright, hearing her swear so casually. “You told me that the last time you did this, I died, right? Was I even part of your group when that happened?”
“No,” I admitted.
“Then it sounds like I am involved whether or not I “do anything” or not,” she said.
“You drive a hard bargain, Charlie,” Michael said, “But we can bring you into the fold, if you really insist.” He winked at her. She chuckled and then sighed.
“You got me,” she said. “So, what is the name of this shadowy organization I’m a part of?”
“It’s just called Base,” I said.
“Hmm. I like that. Simple, covert, easy to talk about in mixed company, yet still mysterious” she said.
“You’re the first person to actually like the name,” I said.
“You had something more flashy in mind, I’m sure,” she said.
“Charlie’s the one who named the place the first time,” Michael said. He cleared his throat. “But pay no mind to that. It’s an honor to have you Bluebird.”
“So, what happens next?” Charlie asked.
“We have everyone on board, now we just need to bring them together,” I said. “There are some logistics that we have worked out that need to be put into action, we are waiting for a response from someone that has to make first contact, and then we can launch Base operations.Once everything has been established we can start briefing everybody.”
“It’s a deal,” Charlie said. “Just don’t make me regret this.”
“No promises,” Michael said, “But I try to absorb most of the regret for everyone’s sake.”
“Good to know,” Charlie said.
“We’ll get out of your hair, Charlie,” Michael said. “We’ll let you know when we’re ready to get started. Shouldn’t take long.” He stood up from his chair and extended his arm for a handshake, just as he had in Chance and Shadow’s cabin. Unlike them, Charlie enthusiastically met his hand with her own.
“I’ll see you then. Take care of yourselves,” she said.
“We will,” I said. We said our goodbyes and left the cabin.
The night air inside of O.V.E.R. felt thick and oppressive, like the sky was lower than it should have been. It was humid, overcast, and a new moon hung in the sky. Michael and I were searching for somewhere secluded that we could use the Calculator without being noticed.
“We gotta be careful, Mikey. That was too easy,” Michael said. “Everybody’s in, but everybody’s got something they want.”
“That’s only fair,” I replied.
“It can’t get in the way of our mission,” Michael said.
“Then we won’t let it. Here,” I motioned toward a dark space behind two buildings. There was a patch of woods behind them. “Perfect spot.”
“You ready to go home to the apartment, Mikey?” he asked. He pulled out the Calculator.
“That’s not home anymore, thank God,” I said. “Edgar is home. But I’m ready to go to the Base satellite location if that’s what you mean.”
“If you say so,” Michael said. “Transport in 3, 2, 1…”
And we were gone.
We landed with the familiar thud that came with Calculator travel inside of the Riga apartment. I looked around as my body was settling in. This wasn’t home. Home didn’t feel like a thing that I was able to have anymore, but there were varying degrees of home and this wasn’t one of them. O.V.E.R. was home, in a sense. Base had been home. Base was going to be home again. Home was under construction as we spoke. The machine was ramping back up into operation. The apartment wasn’t home. It shouldn’t feel like home for Michael, either. It was a place that he was sent in order to do an important job. It wasn’t a place to stay in after that job was done. Michael hadn’t gone home to visit Edgar when Mike and I went on vacation, even though he was the one who had been hurt. I worried that the job would never be done for Michael. Maybe he would live inside of that job for the rest of his life, in service to the rest of us. And eventually that could happen to me as well. Is this the fate of every Mike Walters, to live outside of our time, secluded from anyone we love, in service to the younger iterations of ourselves, forever? I shook off this thought. No. Everything was too pliable for something as specific as that to be set in stone. That wouldn’t be the case. That was part of why we were setting up the Base, to make sure that that wouldn’t happen. That this whole thing was pointing somewhere instead of back onto itself, like a mirror pointed at a mirror.
I made my way to the living room couch and laid down on it. It had been a long day, longer than 24 hours according to the clock. The couch had unfortunately become my bed since Mike was coming back. It did not agree with my back. I almost preferred sleeping on the floor. No, this wasn’t home. This wasn’t comfortable enough to be home, physically or otherwise. I was about to ask Michael if he wanted to talk before I went to bed when I heard him call out.
I had assumed that Mike was in his bedroom, given the itinerary that Michael had laid out, though I hadn’t gotten up to check. “He’s not here?” I called back.
I heard some scrambling from the other room. “Shit, shit. What time is it? We’re early,” Michael said.
“Early? Michael, this day has been like 30 hours long, how could we be early?” I asked.
“I put the wrong time in,” Michael said. “I wrote down the wrong thing. Ugh, you’ll see in a second. Shit.”
While he was saying this, Mike appeared in the room in front of us. He landed with an unceremonious thus, perhaps even more unceremonious than usual. I sat up on the couch.
“Get it together quick, Mike. I fucked up. Mikey’s here,” he said.
Mike spluttered the usual time travel splutters and made his way to his feet. I looked at him. His face was covered in blood. I could see one black eye. I leapt to my feet.
Mike put a hand out to stop me from approaching him. “It’s okay, Mikey. It’s just a broken nose. It’s not even that bent out of shape,” he said. “You should see the other guy. Michael, you said you wouldn’t be here for this.”
“I put your time into the Calculator instead of our time,” Michael explained. His hand was on his forehead.
“That’s what we get for keeping secrets from Mikey, I suppose,” he said. “Sorry, Mikey. I know you’re not our kid brother, but I can’t help but get protective sometimes. Michael, can you get me some tissues?” Michael nodded and left the room.
“How did Base recruitment go?” Mike asked.
“Suspiciously perfectly,” I said. “Chance, Shadow, and Charlie are a go, so I guess the whole Base is a go at this point.”
“Glad to hear it,” Mike said. “I’ve got some news of my own that’s too good to be true. Unrelated to the broken nose, of course.” He was smiling ear to ear, his mouth mostly covered in blood. He brought his left hand up to his face and wiped away some of the blood, gently maneuvering around his tender nose. On his left hand, on his ring finger, was an understated silver engagement band. Some blood touched the bottom of the ring as he wiped his face.
He looked at me to see if I had noticed the ring. He had used that hand on purpose. Fresh blood trickled from his nostrils and onto his lips and teeth as he looked at me and smiled. He was beaming.
“We’re getting married,” he said.
[End theme plays.]