The Soldier

Whenever his own Demoman would ranted and raved that the government was attempting to control its population via tampering with the water supply—as if Uncle Sam would ever need to stoop so low—Soldier would in turn laugh off the absurd notion. But now that he was about to embark on his own in what must have been enemy territory, he figured it would be better to be safe than sorry. So in addition to the Dispenser he’d strapped to his back (Engie wasn’t all too happy about letting Soldier have one of his babies, and in addition to a wall of words that the Soldier tuned out, gave Soldier a list of maintenance manual that must have been at least as thick as a New York phone directory and then some), Soldier packed all of the food and drink he could carry and made his way towards what he hoped to be one of the many emergency bunkers that were rumored to exist in case of events such as the situation they faced now. Even if everyone had agreed to not take action against the new head of Mann Co. (“That’s Awesome Supremo Madame President Olivia to you, minion!”), Soldier figured their former employer owed them some answers. This wasn’t a desired fueled by money; his service to BLU had never been about anything other than fighting the good fight. But ever since the first time BLU stopped existing in any meaningful manner, no matter how many robots he destroyed he couldn’t stop laying awake at night wondering what purpose all of that screaming, exploding, and dying was for.

And now, left to his own devices, a stranger in a strange land, and running out of edible things no matter how much care he took to rationing his supplies, Soldier found his mind drifting more and more to places they’d ought not to go. Dark, traitrous thoughts he had no business entertaining even in his wildest dreams bubbled to the surface; the hallucination Tavish who’d appeared to him somewhere between Bumfuck, Nowhere and Admit It, You’re Lost refused to go away no matter how many times he bashed himself upside the head with his entrenching tool and his head was starting to hurt. The one thing that saved him from irrevocable, gibbering insanity was the firm knowledge that the apparition before him was indeed a product of his fevered imagination—he had plenty of experience with both his own flights of fancy and the real thing, and there were a million little details that distinguished this unwelcome guest with the former friend that Soldier did his best to ignore during the brief time when RED and BLU stood together on a united front.

As irony would have it, the phantom Tavish stalked Soldier as he treked through the desert. On most days, he spouted nonsense based on half-remembered conversations engaged while under the thick haze of Scrumpy and hand-rolled smokes; on others, he would act in such an over the top stereotypical fashion that it confirmed all the more he could not be an actual person (though Soldier had to admit that the hours-long monologue consisting nothing except the word “haggis” repeated over and over again was pretty funny, all things considered). None of this bothered him, as it was harmless compared to the sorts of things he’d witnessed himself or fantasized with his mind’s eye.

What was getting to him was the rare occasion that the fake Tavish spoke sense and gave voice to the doubts assaulting his mind. But he’d never let doubts paralyze him before and he sure as hell wasn’t now, not even as it was becoming more and more obvious that he was going in circles. Still, “anywhere but here” seemed a good enough destination, so he kept on trucking.

It wasn’t as if he had anything else to do with his life.

Prologue and the Scout

The fragile peace established with the REDs under the premise that at least they weren’t robots out to steal their jobs disappeared as soon as it became clear that the situation was not as dire as anyone had feared, and that both sides could handle the worst that Grey threw at them without having to grit their teeth and work with those they’d been trying to kill for what felt like years. Both sides had tried to be somewhat civil about parting ways, but it wasn’t quite possible to do so without a fight breaking out. At least nobody died.

After that, things chugged along just fine, with the occasional break in the action to broadcast the day’s kill count to wherever the REDs were holing up now—and the REDs, not to be outdone, always did their best to equal, if not exceed, that kill count. Both sides must have destroyed hundreds of those robots, perhaps even cracking quadruple digits, before somebody somewhere thought to change tactics and have the mechanical abominations proclaim their non-murderous intentions before charging headfirst into getting shot, exploded, set on fire, bludgeoned, stabbed, or some combination thereof, and even after that countless more of the things ended up as scrap metal before the stalwart defenders at long last got tired of the easy pickings and let one lone, trembling robot through.

The initial reaction to the announcement that Grey had succeeded in a non-hostile takeover of Mann Co.—and therefore they were all now even more unemployed than they had been before—was, of course, disbelief. Even if the enemy had never displayed any particular cunning, subterfuge, or indeed even thought to the way they had attempted to destroy their human counterparts, it seemed too impossible that the war had not been decided in the trenches but far away in Saxton Hale’s office, and the epitome of Australian manliness had given up without so much as a fight.

But when, after that initial message of regime change had gotten across, not one single robot appeared on the horizon, no further orders came from the Administrator, Miss Pauling could not be reached, and even the REDs were silent, everyone had to admit that maybe the status quo had once again changed in a total, irrevocable manner. A few of them floated around the idea of taking matters into their own hands; though nobody had any problems cutting down swaths of robots and whoever was staffing the Mann-co offices (and if any of them were quislings who’d turned traitor just to keep taking a paycheck, then they deserved an express ticket to hell) none of them were all that eager to bring harm or even the threat of harm to a little girl.

In the end, like the REDs that must have jump ship long beforehand, the mercenaries of BLU also decided part ways, move on with their lives, and hope for the best. This meant several days of drunken carousing as they reminisced and made plans, and several more days of recovering from the epic hangover, but in the end not a single human presence was left amid the sprawling lands that had been fought over for centuries.

***

The first thing Scout had packed up and shipped back home was all of his hats, somehow all crammed into a single (enormous, but nonetheless not quite big enough) box. His bats he was taking himself—like hell he’d trust anyone else to take care of his babies—and he hadn’t made up his mind about the rest of his crap, but he’d for sure earned those hats, along with the huge-ass paycheck that meant Ma didn’t ever have to work another day in her life again, and that he could take her and the whole rest of the clan, why the hell not, on the world-spanning vacation he’d promised her.

He wondered if he should take one of his brand new uniforms home, just in case thing picked up again (somehow), or maybe just to put it in a nice frame and have it sit on his bedroom wall. He still remembered how it had felt putting it on for the very first time and almost crying because he couldn’t remember if he’d ever worn something that wasn’t a hand me down, and here he was standing in custom-fitted clothes that made him look like the baseball player he’d always dreamed of being but couldn’t ever hope to accomplish because finishing school—even if that meant being on the varsity team—proved to be too much of a hassle. Of course, once he got into the swing of things he must have gone through like a million of the identical shirts, pants, and socks, but every so often he’d still feel a bit of nostalgia whenever he put on a new set of clothes and traced his finger around his class emblem for good luck before rolling up the sleeves so they wouldn’t go flapping in the wind when he ran.

In the end, he decided to take one primary and secondary weapon each, stashing the rest back in the respawn locker and letting Engie have as much of the ammo as the other man wanted.  Unlike the others, Scout was planning to travel in style and book a personal jet, and it wasn’t worth the trouble or the cost to take everything with him.

Overheard

“So you comin’ back for da holidays or what?”

Quoi?”

“Don’t play dumb, Frenchie, you skulk around at Ma’s place enough ta know that she keeps a seat for you every year, even when ya don’t invite yerself ovah.  So I figure, what wid da whole BLU and RED thing bein’ moot now, might as well make it all official like.  I’ll even promise dat I won’t kick ya under da table or nuthin’, cross my heart and hope ta die.”

“How very—unusually gracious of you, petit.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I still think yer an bastard who’s full ‘a hisself, and if we ever get back ta da way things were I’d be just as happy ta keep killin’ ya.  But compared ta all da shitheads Ma’s had ta put up wid so dere ta put a roof over our heads, clothes on our back and food on da table, you’re a goddamn saint.  Ya didn’t beat her, or any ‘a us even if we mighta desoived it, ya didn’t gamble, ya didn’t get drunk—”

“Hardly a scintillating character reference, but I shall keep you in mind should I ever need one.”

“Jesus Fuckin’ Christ, cantcha stop bein’ an ass for one minute and be serious for once? Just answer the question already! It’s not like I’m askin’ ya ta marry Ma or nuthin’, just show up for a few hours and make her happy.  If nuthin’ else, you can do dat, right?”

“—I suppose at zis point eef I tried to politely decline, you would not take no for an answer.”

“You bet I wouldn’t.  I’ll hogtie ya and drag ya over if dat’s what it took.”

Alternate Universes in the Theme and Variation Series: A Visual Guide

One generation before the destruction of Planet Vegeta, King Vegeta sold the services of the Saiyans to Frieza in exchange for the latter’s cooperation in striking a crippling blow to the Suponjians; the only Suponjians who manage to escape the purge are ones who had Saiyan allies in the Royal Houses who secretly leaked the news of the surprise attack.
Concerned about the uneasy relations with Frieza and tensions within the Royal Houses, Nataku’s father sends her as a political hostage to the Suponjians on the very eve of Planet Vegeta’s destruction, unknowingly saving her life in the process. (“For Want”) Concerned about the uneasy relations with Frieza and tensions within the Royal Houses, Nataku’s father instigates an unsuccessful coup and dies in the process. The orphaned Nataku is exiled to parts unknown. (“Requiem”) Concerned about the uneasy relations with Frieza amid tensions within the Royal Houses, King Vegeta reconciles with his biggest political enemy and they betroth their children to one another. (“Canon”) Despite the uneasy relations with Frieza and tensions in the royal houses, Nataku grows up as a minor noble alongside Vegeta, eventually taking Nappa’s place as his companion for the majority of his missions. (“Aria”, “Scherzo”)
The regular events of Dragon Ball Z take place here. Minor changes to this universe’s events causes Planet Vegeta to hang round until Vegeta is eighteen (see Castaways), but everything else is otherwise more or less the same until Vegeta and Nataku land on earth. Working together, they barely succeed in overcoming Earth resistance, but Piccolo dies anyway. Seeing Goku’s potential, Nataku convinces Vegeta to spare him and go off towards Namek.Vegeta and Nataku (and the Z fighters) fight alongside each other through Frieza’s minions a few close calls, but they manage to triumph each time until they encounter Frieza himself.  Instead of Goku, it is Vegeta who becomes a Super Saiyan.  With no ties to Earth, Vegeta and Nataku go off into outer space looking for other Saiyans; what this means for the Z fighters on Earth will be a tale for another day. In the battle on Earth, the Z fighters triumph; Vegeta drags the injured Nataku into his spaceship to escape, resulting in an uncomfortable ride to Planet Frieza #79 (see Comrades).In return for this life-debt, Nataku sacrifices her life to save Vegeta’s in the alternate world where Future Trunks comes from (see Lullaby). In the battle on Earth, the Z fighters triumph; Vegeta repudiates Nataku when she becomes injured, leaving her behind; as a result of this, Yamcha and Nataku end up with each other instead (see When it Rains).
The events of For Want take place here, about a year before the final World Tournament of the series. The events of “Requiem” take place here at some point in the time skip at the end of the series.

A Trifling Dispute Over the Inheritance

you the paperweight.”

“Beg pardon?”

“You let a madman into the heart of MI6, got her killed, blew up Skyfall, and she gave you the paperweight?”

“Thought you hated the place as much as the rest of us did.”

“I certainly prefer going there over ever attending another one of those banal ‘reunions’ at wots’-his-faces private island.”

“Yeah, you can’t use tending to the old estate as an excuse any more, can you? I suppose I should apologize for that.”

“I’m not the one you should be making amends with.”

“Of course not, but I don’t think I’d ever meet dearest ‘mum’ again, not even in the afterlife.”

“Ever the optimist, I see.”

“You know me, always the most chipper bloke in the room.”

“Certainly never lacking in something cheeky to say.”

“I was trained by the best.”

“I knew I liked you for a reason.”

“It wasn’t for my good looks.”

“You’re still not my type.”

“And I’m still married to the job.”

“As well you should be.”

“–look, if you really want the bloody thing, just take it.”

“–no, you keep it.  You’re the one with the license to kill, after all.”

“The Queen’s official bulldog, as it were.”

“Exactly.”

“Going so soon?”

“Supposed to meet the new M and all that.  Just stopped by to see how you were holding up.”

“–and whinge about a ceramic paperweight.”

“–and that.  But I’m good now.  So I’ll be seeing you later.”

“That doesn’t sound very reassuring.”

“Wasn’t intended to be.  But do try to stick around longer than I did.  I’d hate to come back and find some other fellow at this desk.”