“You shouldn’t sit so close, you’ll ruin your eyes,” said Waylon. He walked into the living room, dust cloth in hand, to find Miles sitting with his forehead almost pressed against the computer screen.
“My vision is amazing,” said Miles.
“Whatever,” said Waylon. “Maybe take a break?”
“There’s more articles from other outlets, I just need to translate them, and…”
“We’ve been here for weeks, now, and it’s safe,” said Waylon. “The news from Italy has been old before I even got out of the FBI’s holding, and since then it’s reported that Blaire senior is in United States custody, and there aren’t even enough employees to round up as witnesses in his defense, and no lawyer worth anything wants to touch the case. He’s over. It’s finished.”
“Then, the FBI…”
“If the FBI is after us, it won’t be in the damn internet news,” said Waylon.
“We can’t just rest, we have to be always looking, and searching,” said Miles, clacking away at the keys. “You think I survived this long by just sitting around and hoping for the best?”
“Honestly, I have no idea what you were doing between the time of the riot and the day we met, and I’m a little afraid to find out,” said Waylon. Miles stopped clacking to level a flat stare.
“What’s that supposed to mean? You regretting being here with me?” asked Miles.
“No, not like that,” said Waylon. “I’m just, I’m getting cabin fever, I want to go out somewhere. Let’s go somewhere, get some drinks, some food.”
Miles massaged his temple with his fingers.
“He’s looking at you again,” said Miles.
Waylon’s eyebrows shot up, as he sipped on his pina colada. He turned his head and caught the eye of the man in question. He turned back to level a stare at Miles.
“Can we please just enjoy the evening?” asked Waylon. They sat outside a dive bar, lit with tiki torches, and the ocean just out of view in the darkness. It was supposed to be a fun night away from watching Xena.
“That guy is staring,” said Miles. “It’s painful. He’s spying on us, I know it.”
Waylon took another sip of his drink, then set it on the table. He pushed his chair back, and walked toward the bar, stopping directly in front of the man. Miles called to him, but gave up easily. It was a crowded tourist bar. No need to make a scene.
“Hi,” said Waylon, smiling at the man sitting at the bar. He had short, cropped black hair, and a peeling sunburn on his nose. “How’s it going? You here on vacation?”
“Stop it,” said Miles, having chased Waylon down.
“I am,” he said, smiling. “Couldn’t help but notice you and your friend, specifically you. Are you two a couple, or…”
He left the ending ambiguous.
Waylon turned a smug grin on Miles. “We’re together, hope you have a good night.”
Miles grabbed Waylon by the elbow, and led him back toward their table and abandoned drinks.
“What the hell,” said Miles, hissing loudly near Waylon’s ear. “You don’t know who that guy was!”
“Stop being jealous some guy found me attractive,” said Waylon, frowning. “Do a lot of men find me attractive, you think? I thought surely any men would be more into you, you have that tall, dark and handsome thing going on. I mean, I’m rather plain, and never got much attention in school…”
“He was spying on you, he held up his phone at one point…”
“You need to face some facts,” said Waylon, meeting Miles’ eyes. “There was no spy at the seafood restaurant. You searched the house, and information, of that guy who came to the door—and he was exactly what he said he was. And that young guy was just checking out my ass. There’s no conspiracy.”
“You give up too easily,” said Miles, frowning. He pulled up his Long Island Ice Tea, and took a long drink. “Something feels off.”
“Is that another of your super powers? Feeling things?”
“Kinda yeah,” said Miles. “I can read people, their vitals, there are signs, idiot, like, if you’re avoiding eye contact, and your blood pressure is elevated, and you’re sweating, we can pick up on it, and do the math, put two and two together. Something was off about every one of those people.”
“It hurts me to see you like this,” said Waylon, pulling the pineapple garnish from the side of his drink. “Maybe you should get help? We could find someone discreet, and you don’t have to see a medical doctor, we don’t need to open that can of worms, I mean, meds might not work in your condition, but we have to try…”
“I want to protect you,” said Miles, staring at Waylon’s lips as he took a bite of pineapple. “Let me protect you. Listen to me, and stay away from strangers.”
“I eventually have to see my kids again,” said Waylon. “I can’t lock myself away from civilization, I have to be out there. I want this to be a real relationship, where we have ties with the community, and family.”
“Gross,” said Miles. Waylon couldn’t stop the hurt from showing on his face. “Not you, you’re not gross, but, having friends, and you said ‘community,’ it was awful…”
“We’re a serious couple,” said Waylon. “I’m not leaving you. It’s been weeks here, we’re safe. You can relax.”
“I promise to keep it low key,” said Miles, “but I won’t stop watching, and looking, and trying to keep you safe. You don’t have to agree with it, but don’t sabotage me, either.”
“You should just trust me,” said Waylon.
“Let’s get out of here,” said Miles. “This place is giving us a bad vibe.”
“I’ve been thinking, a lot,” said Miles, over a pizza dinner. He’d been uncharacteristically quiet since their failed outing, and almost three days had passed.
“I want to show you something,” said Miles.
An automatic flush crept onto Waylon’s cheeks.
“Nothing that exciting,” said Miles. Waylon studied the leftover strings of mozzarella on his plate, as though they’d suddenly become infinitely more interesting. “Will you see?”
“I don’t like surprises, makes me anxious,” said Waylon.
“It’s about, well, the years after Mount Massive,” said Miles. “The years between the riot, and when I formally met you.”
“Oh...okay,” said Waylon, nodding. Miles stood up, and jerked his head toward the hallway. Waylon took the hint, wiping his mouth on a paper towel, and following.
Miles paused at the stack of boxes obscuring a closed door. He easily lifted the boxes as if they held only air, but Waylon had pushed them before and knew they were heavy. He had wondered many times what was in the room.
“Oh God,” said Waylon, his voice breaking.
“What?” asked Miles, pausing with two boxes under his arms.
“Please…please tell me there’s not bodies in there…”
“B-bodies? I’m not an idiot, I know how to dispose of bodies,” said Miles. “It’s just a collection of information about the riot, and Murkoff. There are some pictures that might be disturbing…”
“Okay,” said Waylon, his voice quieter. Miles relocated the boxes, stacking them up along the wall. It made the hallway narrow, but the doorway became accessible. Miles pushed the door open, and held it for Waylon.
There was roughly an hour before sunset, but the room was pitch black. Someone had boarded up the windows. Miles felt along the wall and flicked on the solitary ceiling light.
This had to be something out of a movie. The scene was too surreal. Miles had put up a huge map of the world, covering an entire wall, ignoring the blocked windows. There were many colored strands of yarn zigzagging across the globe, forming no discernable pattern.
“What the hell?” asked Waylon. There were some other boxes filled with loose papers that Waylon had to navigate around to get close enough to read the back wall. Next to every pin there was a note, written in Miles’ chicken scratch.
Dates. People. Places.
“You were being systematic about your hunt,” said Waylon. Miles hummed an affirmative sound. “Would you come here often?”
“Once a lead turned cold, or when I needed to lay low,” said Miles.
Waylon turned his head, and found the other wall plastered from floor to ceiling with articles, printouts, photographs printed on a cheap home printer. Information about Murkoff’s business, the scientists and executives that worked there, and all coverage of the riot in the news. Several of the articles had highlighted areas, or large circles and notes written in bright red marker.
One particular picture made Waylon frown. It was a picture of him, sitting with Simon Peacock. Miles had circled his head in red marker and written “WHISTLEBLOWER.” There were several notes nearby listing rumored locations. Waylon squinted at one article with highlighted portions.
“Hmm, the biggest theory was that I was hiding out in Russia?” asked Waylon.
“Da,” said Miles, grinning. “I went there, and managed to find Peacock and his ilk, but you were nowhere.”
“You killed Simon Peacock?!”
“Dammit,” said Miles, making a disgusted noise. “I didn’t kill everyone I found, I was only hunting Murkoff, I was trying to kill only guilty people, to put an end to that company, kill every last seed of its existence, and salt the earth so it could never grow back…”
“Wow,” said Waylon, doing a full circle around the room. “You’ve been living on the edge for so long. No wonder you can’t seem to calm down, and relax.”
“I don’t even know if I want to,” said Miles.
“I mean, I was always paranoid, looking for threats, and I never felt completely safe, even with all my locks, and my pseudonyms, and my FBI protectors. I still look over my shoulder. But now that I’m with you, I do feel better. Not perfect. Better. Maybe you can start to feel better, too.”
“We should take all this down,” said Waylon, noting the immediate pained look on Miles’ face, and the dark shadow behind his eyes. “Not right now!”
Miles walked to one of the boxes, and shuffled some files around. He pulled out a stack of grainy photographs, likely from a closed circuit television. “What if they’re not gone? What if I need it?”
“We should take it down, get rid of the most of it, and save some in the attic,” said Waylon. “We can make this room something nice. We can make it a kid’s room, so the boys can come to visit. That would be a much better use, don’t you think?”
“I already have a guest room,” said Miles, scratching his head.
“Well, then we can make this some kinda man cave with a game system, and a big TV, and something to entertain them when they come down.”
Miles fingered through more files, as he considered the proposal. Finally, he sighed. “You’re right, of course. This stuff needs to go. It’s one thing to be careful, and another to be monomaniacal about it…”
“There are healthy ways to deal with it, even if medication can’t help you,” said Waylon. He walked behind Miles, and wrapped his arms around Miles’ middle. “We can do this. We’re stronger, together.”
“It’s not easy for me,” said Miles, sighing. “But yes. What the hell. Let’s do it.”
Waylon squeezed around Miles’ body, pressing his cheek into Miles’ shoulder blades. “You’re going to be so happy when we turn this into a cool media room.”
“Hmm, I wonder what kinda system we should get, what is hip these days…”
“I’ll tell you, the word ‘hip’ definitely isn’t hip…”
“Shut up,” said Miles, chuckling.
Waylon saw a long column of careful wording written in permanent marker right onto the eggshell colored paint on the wall. It was obscured by the door. Waylon had to close the door, sealing them into the room, to read the writing.
It was a timeline. Every entry was written very small with a date, and a note. Sometimes, lines varied by only a day; other times consecutive entries were dated several months apart. The very bottom:
040816 El Salvador branch, neutralized
041916 Agents dispatched to Kyoto Japan
Waylon stared at the writing.
“I kept a list, there, of everything that happened, to keep track of where all I had been…”
“This is how you found me?” asked Waylon.
Miles nodded, coming up behind Waylon. He pointed with his middle finger.
“There I got information from an agent about a cell operating in El Salvador. Left this day, arrived, took out the only actual Murkoff people, used their information to get more contacts and information. Intercepted the order for Kyoto. Went there. Met you. You know the rest.”
“Wow,” said Waylon. “This is just, some next level shit…”
“You’re being an asshole…”
“No, I’m legitimately impressed, this is something I would want to do, but I’d be afraid people would think I was insane. It’s so neat, and it’s a great way to organize your files and data, and the visualization of the globe and…”
Miles was watching Waylon, as if he could see the computer processor in his brain chugging away at the numbers.
“Um, I mean, it still needs to go…”
“Yeah,” said Miles. “I got it.”
Out of curiosity, Waylon pulled over a stepping stool. The purpose seemed to be reaching high places. Even on the stool, Waylon had to stand on his toes to read the first entry on the timeline of the Battle of Murkoff vs. Miles Upshur.
110314 Denver Office, neutralized
Waylon felt his eye twitching in his skull. The date. That date.
“Y-you started this in November…”
“Yeah, the trial ended, and ‘justice’ was served, and I decided it wasn’t enough,” said Miles. “Some bad things happened with my family, and I just, shut down all functions, except finding and annihilating Murkoff.”
“B-but this date…the third…that’s…”
110414 Insiders suspecting P.W.
“P.W. Project Walrider?” asked Waylon, his voice shaking.
“Yeah,” said Miles, shrugging. “I used a lot of code, in case someone walked in here, didn’t wanna just, give myself right away, I mean, obviously…”
There was no entry 110514.
Waylon was unsteady as he dropped from the stool, back onto the ground.
“Miles, what did you do on November third?”
Miles squinted his eyes, and stared at the top of the timeline.
“Ah, one of Murkoff’s lawyers, their main branch in Denver, I went in to get as much information I could about all the Murkoff branches, and affiliates, around the world. That’s how I got my initial start, though Murkoff hadn’t reported everything to their lawyers and accountants. Of course not.”
“And they suspected the swarm?” asked Waylon, clutching his stomach.
“Uh, yeah, they suspected the swarm, that’s how I got in, took care of some threats, and destroyed their equipment and surveillance.”
There was no entry 110514.
“Are you okay?” asked Miles, trying to put a comforting hand on Waylon’s shoulder.
IF Miles used the Walrider to attack Murkoff on November 3rd, AND Murkoff assumed Waylon Park was the host of the Walrider, THEN the fire on November 5th was in retaliation for Miles’ initial strike.
A problem has been detected, and Waylon has been shut down to prevent further damage.
The problem seemed to be caused by the following input: Lisa Park’s death was in direct correlation to the careless acts of Miles Upshur.
No one had been able to tell him why the fire had started. No suspect was ever caught, but Waylon Park was a man with only one enemy--and it was a colossus. Murkoff was the most probable culprit, but the timing was strange. Why would Murkoff attack Waylon and his family after he had already released his video, been put under surveillance watch, and successfully witnessed in the lengthy trial against them?
Waylon had sat, shivering, in Agent Perry’s office, while an entire office of agents attempted to make sense of the actions. Murkoff was not the type to hold a petty grudge. If anything, it behooved them to put on a face, send in the damage control personnel, and tuck their tail to continue their nefarious ‘charity’ organizations in other countries. Why, then, make an outright attack on a witness, months after the trial?
110314 Denver Office, neutralized.
The dates continued down the wall. Everytime Miles attacked someone, it was more fuel to the fire of finding Waylon. It was all because of Miles. If Miles had gone away with the swarm, if he had been more discreet, if he had…
Waylon put his hands over his ears, and crouched down. He could hear the flames. The sirens. The crying of Trevor on the snow beside him. The night of the fire.
“Waylon? Hey, are you okay?”
“No,” snapped Waylon. He looked up so quickly it made his neck crack. “Your fault. Everything is your fault. My family was murdered two days after you started your little vigilante crusade. My life was in danger for years—I was a target, because of your actions. You hunted me down to kill me…”
Waylon laughed, too shrill to be genuine. “Imagine if you’d killed me! How confused they would have been! Walrider’s host turns up, dead, but the Walrider’s still haunting their outposts!”
The room was spinning. The insane rambling on the walls, the map with its colorful yarn, everything was shrinking away…flames and sirens…
System Check: Dangerously Unstable.
“I have to get out, I have to walk outside, I need to…I’m going to the ocean…”
“I’m coming with you,” said Miles.
“Don’t you dare,” said Waylon, gritting his teeth so hard he could feel the enamel chipping away. “Don’t. You. Dare.” Waylon opened the door, once again obscuring the timeline, and rushed down the narrow hallway.
“Waylon, you need to stop, I’m the person who knows best what you’re feeling right now,” said Miles.
“Leave me alone,” said Waylon. “Your idiocy…your…callous disregard for anyone but yourself…selfish...” The front door was within sight.
“You’re upset because of something I did, but I acted that way because of Murkoff, and I didn’t set your house on fire, Murkoff did!”
“Did they?!” screamed Waylon, turning around to glare at Miles, and finding his eyes disturbingly black. “Because no one was ever found guilty of the crime. Murkoff was the obvious suspect. But maybe it was Miles Fucking Upshur.” Waylon opened the door, and slammed it in Miles’ face.
“Murkoff caused a riot,” said Miles, already opening the door. He stalked after Waylon, down the driveway to the house with its thick foliage cover. “This isn’t my fault, any more than it was yours. I blamed you for what happened to me, but it was Murkoff that started the riot, they experimented, they committed the crimes, you were just the messenger.”
“I didn’t kill anyone,” said Waylon, causing Miles to flinch and glance around, as if waiting for someone to jump out of the bushes.
“Keep your voice down, dammit!”
“No!” screamed Waylon, even louder, walking in the direction of the main road, and the beach across the way.
“Are you under the impression that I lost nothing?” asked Miles. “You saw the video. You don’t know what happened to my family. You lost your wife, but at least it wasn’t your fault she died…”
“No, it was yours,” said Waylon.
The road was only two lanes, winding along the ocean. It was rarely crowded with traffic. Waylon crossed the road without looking, and started along the shoulder. He walked with his head down, hands shoved in his pockets. Tears fell freely.
The same suffocating sadness he had experienced when he first learned about Lisa’s death threatened to crush him all over again. He thought that feeling was behind him. He had to heal, to move on. Not that he would ever get over Lisa’s death, completely.
The processor in Waylon’s brain stuck in an endless loop. He felt insistent on assigning blame. Someone was responsible.
Murkoff killed Lisa, because of Miles, who attacked because Waylon sent an email, because Murkoff was murdering people…
Running Script: Calm Down and Think Rational.
It wasn’t Miles’ fault, anymore than what happened to Miles was Waylon’s fault. Except he felt incredibly guilty for what happened to Miles.
Lisa’s burns. Trevor’s crying. Miles’ dying on camera. These were all because of Murkoff.
Waylon walked down the road. Sometimes his anger choked away the tears, a momentary respite from the crushing depression. But he couldn’t stay mad forever. He could potentially stay depressed, though.
A car came around a winding turn in the seaside road faster than was legal. Waylon hear the car breaking, and turning. There was tons of beach access. It was not unusual.
Waylon continued along the shoulder, until he heard the sound of a car approaching. He half wondered if Miles had not driven after him. But it was the same car. Same silver Buick. Waylon tensed until the car drove around the corner. Tourists were always getting lost.
It was stifling hot, even with the sea breeze. Going back to the house and talking it out with Miles was sounding better and better. Waylon wiped the sweat and tears away from his face. There was a pier a quarter mile ahead. He could make a quick detour, clear his head, then head home. He’d walked there before with Milest.
But when Waylon passed a large copse of palms, the silver car was back. Trunk open. And while Waylon puzzled over what it could mean, he was pushed violently from behind, into the trunk. He screamed as it was slammed down violently, locking him in darkness.