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We Are Free

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Miles Upshur. Error 404. File not found.

A random memory supplied a laminated identification card hanging from the rear view mirror of a red Jeep.

“Nope. Afraid not,” said Waylon, casually. “Although…it does sound familiar. Miles. Upshur. Wait, is that even your real name? It sounds made up—like a non de plume. A public figure? Or…” Waylon’s analytical brain churned through probabilities.

The man did not look like a celebrity, even though he was attractive despite the strange coloring. Why would a celebrity even be looking for him? He was angry about the email. It had been addressed to a handful of journalists Waylon thought might act on an anonymous tip about Murkoff. Was it possible? The buzzing of the airconditioner was louder than usual, making it difficult for Waylon to concentrate and think.

“I sent an email out to some journalists,” said Waylon, watching Miles’ reaction carefully. “You were one of them. The riot happened a few hours later, and I had no way of knowing if the message even went through.”

“It went through,” said Miles, his gray glare unsettling. Waylon could not tell if Miles’ gray eyes were steely or charcoal. The lighting in the apartment played with the color, causing it to shift and change.

“I guess It’s good to know my attempts to get the word out were successful, in some small way. That email cost me a lot,” said Waylon.

“Cost you a lot? I still don’t think you understand,” said Miles, taking a step closer to Waylon, and staring down at him. “I showed up there, Mount Massive, September 17, 2013. On your tip, I was lured there, just in time to get caught up in a shit storm.”

“Murk Tactical? Murkoff’s Mercenaries, you mean? Or did you get in the way of the fire that destroyed the asylum?” asked Waylon.

“I arrived a little before that,” said Miles, giving a bitter laugh. “In fact, I was there when the fire started.”

“The best arson experts in the country couldn’t come to any consensus as to what caused the fire…”

“I said I was there. I know what started it.”

Waylon’s brown eyes narrowed as he studied Miles. “You know what started it? The country’s top investigators were never able to determine how exactly the fire started, but you know? There were several points identified as potential candidates. The cannibal’s kitchen showed minor damage, probably electrical. A cafeteria near the male ward was thoroughly burnt, and there were traces of accelerant found, but the sprinklers were triggered, and able to contain the fire. The chapel burned completely to ash--candles were ruled the most likely culprit.”

“Candles,” said Miles, giving a huge grin that made him look like a cat that had just a helpless mouse. “You know a lot about this stuff?”

“I was kept in the loop of the investigations, considering my place in the whole information leak…”

“Look at you. Did you think that if you researched enough, studied the remains, sorted and filed away every piece of evidence, you would finally come to some conclusion about why and how something of this magnitude could happen?”

Waylon opened his mouth and shut it, quickly. Miles snorted and shook his head.

“You don’t know shit,” said Miles, taking a step away from where Waylon stood by the door, and walking deeper into his apartment.

Waylon’s eyes darted around the perimeter of the room. Nothing looked amiss, but somehow he could feel the foreign contamination of another person. The trespasser did not even seem uncomfortable.

“So you’re some genius investigative reporter, is that it?” asked Waylon. “You showed up on the scene with all the answers.”

“There are no answers.”

“Then what…”

“Like I said, I was there when the fire started,” said Miles, lowering his chin as he glared at Waylon. “It wasn’t candles. It was a person. Called himself a priest, but he was definitely not ordained in any religion you’d recognize. He preached the Gospel of Sand. And he died of self-immolation. He forced me to watch—to witness, he called it.”

“A priest, there weren’t any…wait, I saw a…well, he looked like he was attempting to resemble a priest’s garb…”

“Father Martin,” said Miles, still glaring. “Bald guy, I believe the words I used in my notes were ‘alcoholic kiddy-diddler?’ He wore a modified straight jacket dyed dark, and made to look like a vestment. He was writing on the walls, in blood, and…”

“Another lost soul? Don’t be afraid, you’re doing His work…”

Danger. System unstable.

“How…how is that possible?” asked Waylon, shaking his head as though the physical act could somehow put an end to his remembering. “How could you know something like that? No one ever reported another survivor.”

Miles’ description matched a scene Waylon had come across in the asylum. He had recorded the man, but it had been such a brief moment on the video. Maybe this person had somehow enhanced the video? But even then, how had he known, from one single blurry glimpse, about the patient’s garb and appearance?

Waylon’s eye twitched. If what Miles said was true…then he had been in Mount Massive during some parts of the riot. Someone else in the world had lived through what he experienced in those dark halls. And he stood in Waylon’s tiny apartment, speaking about it with no hints of a nervous breakdown.

“Who was going to report it? There was no one left alive” muttered Miles. “Considering everything that happened…I didn’t exactly go running to the authorities. Doesn’t seem like it did you any good.”

“So, when did you arrive? What…” Waylon had to pause, and step back toward the door for support, his head suddenly feeling very light. “What did you see?”

“Everything,” said Miles, reaching down to slowly remove his gloves. “You know what was down there.”

Waylon’s forehead creased in confusion as he stared at Miles’ hands. His strange grayish skin tone was as strange as his changing eyes. But what really stood out were the missing digits. “Your fingers…this happened at Mount Massive?”

“No. I had the world’s worst manicurist. Of course it happened at Mount Massive.”

“Well, I don’t know,” hissed Waylon. “Everyone knows what happened to me-it’s a matter of public record. They know what was on that video, at least. There were parts that happened when I didn’t have the camera up. Some of the worst things, actually,” said Waylon, trailing off.

“I saw everything,” Miles reiterated. “I saw blood splattered across the hallway walls, men more cancer than flesh. I watched men burnt alive--and one who attempted it, and was pretty fucking pissed when I hit the sprinklers and ruined his plan. I was tortured, mangled, beaten, and chased by some monster covered in gore calling me a little pig…”

Error.

“Do me a favor, and die here, Park,” said Jeremy Blaire, after hitting Waylon until his vision was a tiny black pinpoint, and his face throbbed in time with his heartbeat. He shook his head, trying to fight off the confusion. Something was breaking down the door. How had Jeremy survived so long in the riot? How had that slimy bastard escaped? Waylon barely had time to throw himself into a dark corner when the door finally flew off its hinges. Through the door walked the biggest fucking guy Waylon had ever seen in his life.

The rattling of chains echoed in his mind. He had to get out. The room was too small. He would be spotted. He had to run—again. Run away. Waylon dashed, and the beast followed, howling its outrage, chains clanking in time with heavy footsteps. Run. Hide. Survive.

The creature’s mass and height gave him a strategic disadvantage, if Waylon could only find another accessible vent. His footing slipped on a puddle. Blood, bile, worse? It was impossible to know. He barely regained his balance in time to avoid a crushing hand around his throat.

Salivation loomed in the distance. Waylon’s legs were painful from all the running. He ignored it. Run. Waylon forced his way through a pile of broken furniture blocking the hallway. His shoulder almost dislocated as he wedged himself deeper, feeling wooden splinters lodging in his flesh. He had to get away. A huge hand attempted to grab his neck, succeeding only in grazing it with bloody, sharpened digits—more bones than flesh.

He had survived. The sound of chains rattling grew dimmer and dimmer…

“Park? Park?” A slap in the face. “Park?”

“Wha…” Waylon glanced around in confusion. He was not in the asylum. But he was no longer in his apartment, either. He was…well, he had no idea where he was. Miles Upshur was gripping his shoulders and staring into his eyes, his expression a mixture of anger and curiosity. Waylon’s ankle throbbed in pain that hit him all at once. He grunted and gingerly lifted his leg. Waylon would have fallen if Miles had not been there, keeping him upright.

“Don’t call me by that name!” said Waylon, leaning heavily against Miles. Miles managed Waylon’s entire weight as it if were nothing. Not that Waylon was all that heavy considering he barely ate and had lost considerable muscle tone during his years on the run.

“You wanna explain to me what the fuck just happened?” asked Miles.

“I…” started Waylon, pausing to take a deep breath and collect his thoughts. “I don’t know. I was back there. In the asylum. Chris Walker…”

“Yeah, that was his name! The big guy. I found a file on him. I remember seeing his picture on television,” said Miles. “So you freaked out that bad over a memory?”

“Flashback,” said Waylon, politely correcting Miles. “I, uh, suffer from a wide variety of undesirable side-effects due to my time spent at Mount Massive. I have post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. It’s…”

“I know what PTSD is, jackass,” said Miles, releasing Waylon suddenly with a short push. He winced and hobbled until he could lean against a fence post nearby. They were in an alley between large buildings. Waylon slowly recognized the street corner, and realized he must have run out of his apartment and across the street before regaining control. Every time it happened was as frightening as the first.

“I need to get home, I need to get off this ankle. So unless you still want to kill me?” Waylon asked, sounding almost hopeful.

“Keep tempting me,” said Miles, glaring at him. He replaced his dark glasses and beanie cap before pulling up the collar on his black jacket.

“I’ll help you get back,” muttered Miles. He hooked an arm around Waylon’s waist and allowed him to lean against him like a crutch. Waylon had not brought his cane in his delusional state.

“How do you manage then?” asked Waylon, his words jolting with his uneven steps. Miles only frowned at him from behind dark glasses. “So I’m to believe that you were there, you experienced what I experienced, and you’re not suffering any side-effects? Maybe, because you weren’t subjected to the Engine…”

“I can say with utmost confidence, I’m experiencing much worse side-effects than you,” said Miles, snorting quietly to himself.

Both of the men were quiet during the rest of the short walk, and the agonizing climb up the flight of stairs. Once inside, Waylon regained his cane, and began to strip off his outerwear.

“Hey, do you mind, taking off your jacket, and gloves, and shoes, and…”

“You going to buy me a drink, first?” asked Miles.

“Er…” Waylon stuttered and his face went crimson. He ignored the response and began to take off his own shoes, gloves, and clothes until he was down to a thin undershirt and some covering boxers. Waylon sighed as he looked around his apartment. “Either the dirty clothes come off, or you leave.”

Miles made an irritated noise and continued standing by the door, refusing to comply with either request.

Waylon walked into the living room, cautious, as though afraid to touch anything. “You were here earlier. What did you touch? How long were you here?”

“I walked in your house, I sat on your sofa waiting, and I looked for some snacks, but I was sorely disappointed. What do you eat?”

Unknown file detected, potentially dangerous. Running antivirus.

Waylon shuddered visibly. He walked into the kitchen and pulled out his bleach cleaning wipes. He began wiping down the counters, occasionally glaring back at Miles, still standing in front of the door.

“Wha…what are you even doing? I’m not covered in germs—what’s wrong with me isn’t contagious.”

“I like to keep my house clean,” said Waylon, simply.

“You were always like this?” asked Miles.

“Since the riot,” said Waylon. “I’ve seen enough filth and decay to last a lifetime. I choose to keep my place clean.”

Miles gave a sarcastic laugh as he removed his hat and glasses, putting them in his jacket pockets. “Look at you, you’re a mess. There’s a difference in being a neat person, and being a complete germaphobe…”

“I have a psychiatrist for advice on my mental health so I don’t need your input, thanks.”

Waylon continued cleaning in silence as Miles watched. Several minutes of intense scrubbing passed before Miles spoke again. “You’re hiding from Murkoff.”

“I’m hiding from everyone,” said Waylon, still cleaning.

“You’re about to leave again,” said Miles.

“Yeah, because you found me,” said Waylon, not looking up.

“No, because Murkoff did,” said Miles. Waylon paused in his movements and canted his eyes up toward the intruder’s presence.

“You…you said you weren’t with Murkoff,” said Waylon, his entire body tensing in preparation of another escape.

Standby.

“Fuck no,” said Miles, sighing as he resigned himself to taking off his overcoat. He hung it up and then discarded his boots, gloves, and sweater where Waylon had indicated. He took a step and Waylon made a noise of protest, holding up a hand. “I’m not taking off my goddamn pants. Just get over it.”

Waylon frowned, feeling a physical illness in his stomach as the stranger’s dirty socks trailed across his carpet. He needed to hear what this man had to say. He could disinfect the carpet later. He was leaving soon, anyways. Waylon gave a defeated sigh.

“You want something to eat?” asked Waylon.

Miles peered into the kitchen, a skeptical look on his face. “I looked earlier. There’s nothing in your cabinets. What are you cooking?”

“Noodles,” said Waylon, opening a cabinet and pulling out brick of ramen. “If you’re not working for Murkoff, then how do you know that they found me? How did you find me?”

“I have my ways,” said Miles, wiggling his eight fingers. Waylon rolled his eyes. “Since I’m not killing you right now, and you’re making me noodles…okay if I sit?”

Waylon shrugged, using his cane to walk over to a coffee pot and starting the appliance. After a moment, hot water began to drip into the pot. “Seems like a waste of time, going so far out of your way only to harass someone like me. What do you even care if I’m alive or dead?”

“I’m hunting Murkoff,” said Miles, as though it was a completely normal thing to say. Waylon raised his eyebrows as the pot continued to fill with steaming water behind him. “Everyone who did this to me is going to pay, and that includes the person that brought me there. Whistleblower.”

“Look,” said Waylon, taking a deep breath. “I had no idea that the message even went out. Jeremy Blaire laughed at my attempt and I assumed the email was intercepted before it could go anywhere outside of Murkoff’s system. I had no idea anyone answered the email. If I had known there was another, sane, ally in the asylum that night…it might have made the world of difference.” Waylon turned and tore open a package of seasoning. He proceeded to dump the noodles and powder into the coffee pot of hot water.

“It’s quicker if you make it in a microwave, you know,” said Miles.

“I don’t like microwaves,” said Waylon.

“Why not?”

“I don’t really want to get into that right now,” muttered Waylon, limping to retrieve two bowls and forks. “So, you’re trying to take down Murkoff. Good luck. I tried. Look at me now.” Waylon began dividing up the noodles and broth between the two bowls. He pushed one across the table toward Miles and kept the other close.

“You’ve been running this whole time?” asked Miles.

“Nah,” said Waylon, blowing on a forkful of noodles before bringing them to his lips and slurping loudly. “After the fire.”

“Which fire exactly?” asked Miles, taking a bite of his ramen.

“Someone set my house on fire, while my family and I were inside,” said Waylon, softly. He stared into the depths of his bowl for several seconds before he resumed eating.

“Could be bad luck?”

“Murkoff. Witness protection program took over after that. Separated my family. I’ve been moving around ever since. Murkoff keeps finding me,” said Waylon. He put his fork down, and raked his fingers through his choppy blond hair. “I don’t know if it’s my imagination, or reality. I have trouble differentiating sometimes. But, it always feels like they’re right there, in the shadows, trailing me. Breathing down my neck.”

“They are,” said Miles, slurping up a noodle and wiping excess broth from his face. “That’s how I found you. I didn’t want them to steal the privilege of killing you.”

“Good thing I’m already on my way out of the country, then,” said Waylon.

“You met with an agent today…” said Miles.

“You’ve been spying on me?”

“…and discussed leaving the country. You’re running because you know that Murkoff’s on your trail. And you’re right. The agents got in two days ago. They’re staying in a corporate flat downtown. They suspect you are in Kyoto because of some activity on your old accounts. But they suspected several other locations before this one…”

“How do you know all this?” asked Waylon.

“The answer I am more interested in, is how do you know that Murkoff is onto you?” asked Miles.

“I’ve been paranoid for a while,” said Waylon, between mouthfuls. “Finally got to where I couldn’t ignore it anymore. The plans are already arranged. I’ll be out of the country in two days.”

“I can tell, definitively, when you’re lying,” said Miles, staring over his steaming bowl at Waylon. “You have better ways than feelings. They really did find activity on your old accounts, didn’t they?”

Waylon stared awkwardly, training his face to stay as neutral as possible though his brain was whirring with confusion, and the buzzing from the damn air conditioner seemed to be growing louder.

“I need to know,” said Miles. “Maybe we can help each other out. You fucking owe me. You help me get rid of the rest of Murkoff, maybe we’re even, and I don’t have to kill you.”

“You expect me to reward you for not doing something illegal and morally disgusting?” asked Waylon, meeting Miles’ glare with indifference. The threat of death held much less power when the person being threatened would not mind dying. “You were carrying around an unloaded gun, how exactly are you planning on stopping them? You’re some kind of kung-fu master turned reporter?”

Miles snorted. “Wow, you’re not funny. Mount Massive. That place left me…hardened. I’m different. There’s…things I can’t really discuss.”

“Yeah, there’s things I would rather not discuss either,” said Waylon. There were some things he did not even discuss with Dr. Mason. Some things he did not even allow himself to remember.

Memory corrupt.

Waylon shook his head and stared at Miles, his strange gray eyes suspicious. He had no way of knowing how long he had been staring. “I’ll tell you how I track Murkoff, if you tell me how you do it.”

“Show me yours I’ll show you mine,” said Miles, grinning. “Okay. You first.”

Waylon huffed and pushed around the last lonely noodle in his broth. “I designed their system. I can still get access. A combination of social engineering and luck, and I can search through some memos for key phrases. Namely, Waylon Park, locations where I am staying at the time, other important phrases to indicate they are looking for me…”

“They are looking for you,” said Miles, his tone deadly quiet. “Have you kept up with Murkoff in the news?”

“Of course,” said Waylon, ticking off facts on his fingers. “Indicted in America. All the managers, anyone who knew anything, jailed. They’re no longer allowed to do any sort of business in the States. More countries are finding them guilty and banning them all the time…”

“Yeah, but have you heard about what happened at some of the major international locations in the last years? Munich?”

“Munich, there was a gas leak,” said Waylon. “The whole place burned down, officially ruled an accident, and they were denied the right to rebuild.”

“Yeah, but there were other strange happenings…”

“Well, Hong Kong office they had several executives turn up dead in their offices. It was assumed suicide, since they were in the process of being prosecuted for crimes against humanity…”

“Right. Similar story in their other international offices. They had shell companies as well. Places operating without the Murkoff name, but owned and fully controlled by Murkoff executives. Similar deaths were cropping up. They’re closed, now. There’s only one bastion of Murkoff left, but I don’t know where it is. Yet. I do know what they’re planning, though.”

“How do you know?” asked Waylon.

“I’m an investigative reporter. I investigated,” said Miles.

“Are you implying that all of these events across the globe are connected?” asked Waylon.

“Oh, they’re definitely connected,” said Miles, and the cruel smile that crept onto his strange gray face made Waylon shudder. “I know that for a fact. Murkoff knows, too. But you see, Murkoff believes they know the source of these terrible events. They’re seeing ghosts. Blaming shadows. They’re convinced that the Walrider escaped Mount Massive, and is haunting their locations.”

Waylon’s recent vision of the Walrider sprang back into his mind. It was real, he had told Dr. Mason. But then he remembered her responses.

“The Walrider? Billy Hope is dead. They found him dead, still hooked up to the Morphogenic Engine in some kind of fire-proof glass sphere filled with his blood. The Walrider can’t exist without a host.”

“Impressive that you know all that,” said Miles, his smile dropping. “Well, you see, Murkoff only knows about one survivor from the asylum and, therefore, they are positive that the new host of the Walrider is one Waylon Park.”

Waylon pushed away from the table, a sudden wave of nausea washing over him. “They’re trying to kill me, all these years, because they think I’m the Walrider’s host?”

“Partly, also the head of the board of directors has a bit of a personal vendetta against the Walrider,” said Miles. “But it’s okay. I know you’re not the host.”

“I barely saw the Walrider. It chased me, and killed Jeremy Blaire, and…I thought I saw it…at the gates…but no one’s seen the Walrider since that day.”

Miles chuckled, drumming his fingers on the table. It was a strange staccato sound, considering only three fingers met the table. “It doesn’t really matter if the Walrider is real or not—they think it is. And they’re coming for you. But I’m starting to think we can use this to our advantage.”

“How do I know I can trust you,” snapped Waylon, glaring at the smug expression on Miles’ face.

“I guess you don’t,” said Miles, pushing away his broth. “But it seems to me like this plan of mine would benefit both of us. Murk Tactical and the last remaining Murkoff executives are desperate to collect you. They would all come--like moths to a flame. We could set a trap.”

Waylon pushed up from the table with a loud scrape of his chair against the linoleum. He grabbed the two bowls and walked them to the sink without the assistance of his cane. He leaned heavily against the counter as he dropped the bowls into the sink. He opened a cabinet and began rattling several containers. Miles heard the noise and stood up, tilting his head toward the sound and reminding Waylon of a dog that’s heard a rodent. He quickly joining Waylon in the kitchen.

“Holy shit, you have like, a pharmacy in here.”

“They’re prescribed,” said Waylon, staring at Miles out of the corner of his eye.

“So you’re living in this shit hole, on every kind of medication available, and you’re still in constant pain, paranoid, having fits…damn, killing you would be a mercy.”

“I think about it sometimes,” said Waylon, finding the correct bottle and tossing a couple of large white pills into his hand. Water wasn’t necessary. They went down easy.

“What keeps you going?” asked Miles.

“My family,” said Waylon. “I have two boys, and a wife…Lisa.” Waylon’s voice changed when he said her name, like uttering a sacred word. “If Murkoff stops hunting me in the future, we can be united. If I’m healthy enough. If I’m not a…a danger to them.”

“If we don’t try this plan, what are you going to do? Just keep running? How long?”

“I don’t know,” said Waylon, sighing. “I’m tired of it.”

“Then stop running.”

“Like I said, I think about it sometimes to the point of ideation, but my family…”

“No. Don’t kill yourself. Just, stop running.”

“Oh, like, stop running and let Murkoff kill me, a kind of ‘suicide by cop’ situation,” said Waylon.

“No, fuck, Park. Just, not die at all, just stop running. Take on Murkoff, with me,” said Miles.

Waylon laughed, and it was a jarring sound, having not laughed much in the past years. “I’m useless. I’m not an investigative journalist. I’m not some kind of fighter. Shit, I can barely make it through a day without ending up on the ground rocking in the grips of a delusion. And you want my help?”

“Murkoff won’t stop until they get you. They think you’re the host of the Walrider that’s killing off their people, one by one. And the head of the board has beef with the swarm. They’ll keep chasing you, and eventually you will slip up. Instead, let’s set a trap. We’ll lure them here. When they show up, the authorities round them up, and it’s over.”

“You make it sound so easy,” snapped Waylon. “We would die. They would kill us.”

“Oh, I don’t worry about that,” said Miles, shrugging casually. “I’m already dead.”

“I guess you’re right, this isn’t much of a life,” said Waylon, glancing around at his pitiful apartment. “I risked my life to bring Murkoff to justice. I guess I could risk it again to end this, once and for all.”

“After they’re done, you can get your family back,” said Miles.

“What’s in it for you?” asked Waylon.

“Revenge,” said Miles.

“I need time to think,” said Waylon, going pale at the very thought of what he was agreeing to try with this stranger. “I’m supposed to be leaving in two days.”

“But they’re already in Kyoto, we could have them today if…”

“I need time,” said Waylon, narrowing his eyes. “I’m out of here. In just a couple days I will have a new place. New identity. I could make sure it’s safe, then lure them in. Once you find out they’re after me, we close the trap, call the FBI, they’re arrested, and this is finally over?”

Miles hummed to himself, scowling like a toddler that’s just been put in time out. “Fine. I’ve waited three years what’s another couple weeks. I can figure something out in that time. Does this mean you’re in?”

Waylon considered Miles’ plan for a few silent moments. His initial thought was to refuse. To leave Japan and hide from Miles, as well as Murkoff. Maybe he could even tell the FBI about another survivor, and have them take Miles in for questioning.

But he really was tired of running. He missed his family, dearly. At the rate things were going, he would never see them again. If this was a chance, even a small one, he should take it. He was desperate.

Calculating chance of success. Thirty three point three three three repeating…

No matter the chance of success, even if the plan was a failure, at least a bullet to the head would be a quick death. And Waylon wouldn’t have to pull the trigger himself.

“I’m in. I want to destroy the Murkoff Corporation. Bury it in shame. Take away its money. Wipe it from history.”