This was different from before. He was still surrounded, but the uniform colors clashed with the walls of his prison. Then his hands were no longer bound so that he hung from the ceiling and strong arms caught him before he fell into a useless heap to the floor. He heard the sound of a bottle being opened, and cool, healing energy flowed over his wounds. A jacket was draped around his bare shoulders.
He often hallucinated of escape or rescue, but this was the first time the process had been so detailed. He remained silent even as strength returned to his limbs, wondering if he had at long last lost his sanity. This had to be some kind of waking dream caused by the hours of starvation, dehydration, and sleep deprivation he endured between whatever else they were doing to him. Indeed, his body seemed light, as if he left his body altogether and was watching from afar.
He felt himself being pulled back in as he was lifted by his elbows. “On your feet, crouton! We stuck our necks to get you outta that hellhole; now it’s your turn to pull your own weight!”
He blinked as a gun was shoved into his hands. He tested the weight of it in his hands, wondering if he would wake up and find himself in captivity again at any moment.
“Eet doesn’t look like he eez een a state to fight just yet. Heavy, let’s get him to zee Medic first.”
He was too surprised to make any kind of noise as he was picked up again. The gun clattered to the ground as his feet left it and his useless arms hung over a wide, strong back.
“Yes, Doktor will know what to do. Let us hurry.”
Or maybe he could just go with it and see where things led him.
And then I woke up.
My first reaction was to flex just far enough to confirm that I was, as I suspected, strapped to the spot where I lay. I would have resigned myself to keeping my gaze fixed on the unfamiliar ceiling, but that was also when I noticed the nine other strangers crowded around my bed. I stared back, my mind spinning as I tried to make sense of what I saw.
“I stll suh hhs nuh our Sphh.” This almost incomprehensible jumble of sounds that might have been words came out of the rubber suit to my immediate right, and I found myself unable to take my eyes off of it, feeling the hairs on my arm stand on end. It poked me with one gloved finger, and though I tried to downplay my reaction I was sure I flinched. “I suh wuh brrn hmm tuh mk shuh.”
“Later,” was the distracted response from the man in the white coat, and I felt a corresponding clench in my gut as my gaze turned to him. He shined a flashlight into my eyes, using his other hand to hold my head in place. “Well, Herr Spy? How do you feel?”
“Ah—I—that is—” I hedged, trying to give away as little as possible. Until I had a better idea of who he was, I was not about to tell him anything. “Could you ask again later? I’m not—” I stuttered as I searched for as neutral-sounding words as possible. “Not ready to talk yet.”
“Hey, what happened to the accent, huh, Frenchfag?” The younger man near the foot of the bed crossed his arms. “Where’s all dat ‘hon hon hon’ stuff you always do?”
“Scout, don’t be bothering Spah none,” a short man in a hardhat and overalls patted this ‘Scout’ on the shoulder before he could press further. He tipped his hat at me. “You take as long as ya need.”
“Stop fussing, he vill be fine.” The man in white—it was a labcoat, some corner of my mind provided—began pushing the rest of the people out of the room. “Now, get out, you are interfering viz mein vork.”
The thought of being in a room alone with that man—any of them—sent my pulse racing moreso than having them all present. With more than one man there, I could play them off each other, but I couldn’t ask for any of them to stay without giving away that they had the advantage.
The Scout, meanwhile, continued to run his mouth even as he was going out the door. “What, Spy’s fine, ya said so yourself! Your Medigun fixed all of the parts of him that got fucked up, right?”
The scars that I could see corroborated this story, but no matter how much I tried to think back about it, I kept drawing a blank. I watched him, and the rest of them, file out one by one.
“Ach, zat boy never shuts up, I swear!” Labcoat-man slammed the door shut behind the last straggler, a tall lanky fellow who kept sneaking backwards glances at me, before turning his attention back to me. “Now, zen, let’s get zis ovah wiz so I can get back to some real science.”
It took every bit of my willpower to not leap from the bed and take off running when he undid the straps and began checking my reflexes. I had to play along until I could come up with a clearer game plan. “Well, what eez zee prognosis?” I asked, playing cool and using what I hoped sufficed for a foreign-sounding enough accent. (I was supposed be French? Who knew?)
It seemed like an eternity of poking and prodding before Labcoat-man clapped me on the back. “You seem to haff a clean bill ov health, more or lez. You’re free to go.”
I touched my neck, as if I was reaching for something there, but found nothing. “Eef you don’t mind, I would like to rest here a bit longer.” He gave me an annoyed gaze, but I somehow managed to smile back at him and hold my ground. “You won’t even know I’m here.”
He considered this, a hand massaging the bridge of his nose. “Fine. But if I zo much as hear a peep out of you, you are going back to your own room.”
I forced myself to lay back down. “Thank you.”
He moved out of my line of sight, no doubt to his so-called ‘real science’. I turned my gaze to the rest of the room, trying to find something, anything that I found familiar.
Still nothing. I went to cataloging what I did know instead. My general knowledge from my first twenty-odd years of life seemed to be intact, at least: I rattled off to myself all of the useless facts I had learned in grade school without any hesitation. But when I tried to turn those thoughts inward, to anything I knew of myself or the current situation, I would keep getting stymied. It was as if my mind was refusing to think about anything related to myself or this place. I let my mind drift and began cataloging what I could see of the room instead, hoping that my subconscious would come up with something while I was otherwise occupied.
I lay there counting ceiling tiles for who knows how long when the largest of the nine men came back through the door with a tray of food. “Dinner time, Doktor!” he exclaimed with a cheerful voice.
“Ach, already?” Labcoat-man moved back into view, his arms soaked up to his elbows with blood. “Let me wash up first.” He flicked a glance in my direction. “Spy, you haff some, too. Try some solid foods first. I’m uzing all of zee supplies zat I vould ozzerwize be using on you for my project right now.”
Brief as it was, I found it hard to meet his gaze. “I don’t zink I should—”
“No worries! I brought enough food for Spy, too!” The large man put one plate next to several beakers full of mysterious fluids and then came over to set the tray on my lap. “How are you feeling?”
I shrugged as I dug in. “As well as can be expected, I guess.”
“Take your time. I’ve seen my share of people who’ve survived ordeals such as yours. It takes them months, even years, to recover.” He scratched the back of his head. “I would ask you to talk to the Medic about this, but he’s not what I’d call an expert in psychiatry.”
At this point the Medic turned his attention to us, looking as cranky as ever. “I may not be able to speak much Russian, but I can understand it just fine.”
I almost dropped my fork. Did I just have an entire conversation in a language I had no memory of learning? “Ah, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—” I trailed off mid-sentence as I realized I couldn’t tell which language I was speaking.
The large man didn’t seem as concerned. “Ah, Doktor, you know my English is no good. Wanted to talk to leetle Spy without, how do you say—” He chuckled and shrugged. “Well, that.”
The Medic wasn’t placated, but neither did he press the point. Instead, he muttered something to the effect of “idiots” in German and went back to finishing his food.
The large man shook his head and gestured to me that he’d talk to me later before letting himself out.
“Look at him! Frenchy here likes dis nasty shit!”
Agony lanced his entire body. Liquid pain ran down his back, his arms, his legs.
“Don’t worry, dere’s plenty more where dat came from!”
He stifled the urge to make any noise. They would not have the satisfaction of hearing him scream, or moan, or beg for mercy. He would give them nothing.
“Heh, keep dis up and you’ll only be able ta hop like da frog you are!”
Darkness was descending, and he welcomed it.
Labcoat-man wasn’t around when I woke the next morning, but there was still someone sitting in his chair watching me. I was trying to make sense of the man’s outfit—an immaculate pinstripe silk suit, matching tie, plus a mask that covered everything except his eyes and mouth—when he drew a cigarette out of a slim metal case and lit it up.
God, I wanted that cigarette.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” he began. “I am—”
“A man of wealth and taste?” I interrupted, forcing a smile that I didn’t feel.
He chuckled. “Glad to see you haven’t lost your sense of humor, at least.” He exhaled a long stream of smoke. “Non, mon ami, I am zee Spy our magnanimous employers sent to replace you when you were reported missing een action.”
He hadn’t told me anything I hadn’t already guessed from what I observed. “Are you worried zat I would want my job back, zen?”
He scoffed. “Hardly. What use would zee team have for a Spy who doesn’t even remember who he eez?”
“Zat means I have no secrets to geeve away, even under zee pain of torture, non?” Despite my apparent nonchalance, the palms of my hands began to break out in a cold sweat.
He took something out of the inside of his jacket and threw it onto the bed. “Do you even remember which end of zee gun to point at zee enemy?”
I cupped the weapon between my hands, testing its weight. In a series of motions that must have been well practiced, it was checked, loaded, cocked, and aimed straight at him with minimal visible tremors in my hands. “And how do I know zat you are not zee enemy, trying new ways to extract Intelligence from me?”
“An enemy Spy wouldn’t give you zee tools to become useful again.” The Spy chuckled again as I raised a skeptical eyebrow at him. “Believe what you like.”
I blinked as he dumped a number of things on the bed next to me. “You will be asked to participate een battle again next week regardless of any objections you may attempt to raise when zee time comes. Happy studies.” With that, he was gone, leaving me to contemplate what he had given me.
Well, no time like the present. Finding the map that corresponded to the current base, I put that on top of the stack while I threw the rest of the things in a box.
It didn’t take long for me to I find my way back to my own room, and though it was locked, picking it open was a trivial matter. Though I wanted to lock—and perhaps bar—the door behind me, just being in such a small room, even one that was supposed to be my own, was making me anxious, so I left it open and began searching to see if I could find any clues.
Even if this was my room, I must have been very cautious, because I couldn’t find anything besides the closet full of the same striped suits and masks my replacement was never seen without and a number of blank notepads with several pages ripped out of them. The choice of wardrobe both seemed like it was the most natural thing in the world and complete nonsense. Why would I ever choose to wear a silk tuxedo on a battlefield, even if I was some sort of secret agent? Nevertheless, once again my body seemed to move on its own, and I found myself changing into one of the suits.
I got as far as draping the tie around my shoulders before I seized it and dashed it against the ground as if it were a poisonous snake. I left it there, going over to the box of items I had left on the bed. At once I reached for the first thing I noticed, a small butterfly knife. The shaking in my hands disappeared as I played with it, flicking it open and closed with a snap of my wrist.
This was about when Overalls, with Gasmask hovering behind him like a guard dog, came to my door with a bowl in his hands. “Don’t mean ta bother ya none, Spah, but seein’ as ya didn’t come in fer breakfast I thought I’d bring some.”
I set the knife down before I got up to accept the food. “No, I should thank you for your trouble.”
“T’weren’t no thing.” As the hand-off happened, Gasmask pointed two fingers to the dark lenses covering its eyes, then jabbed them back towards me in a threatening manner. This caused Overalls to chuckle. “Don’t you mind Pyro. He’s jus’ watchin’ out fer me.”
I nodded back. “No offense taken.”
This time, I waited to be alone again to try the food. The oatmeal, though bland, was palatable, so I sat on the bed and continued to study the items I had been given. The function of the knife was obvious. The cigarette case held a hidden compartment full of paper masks, perhaps suggesting the beginning of a disguise kit, if a very crude one. Finally, I could guess that the large rectangular box full of indicators, knobs, and wires was some sort of sabotage device, but what was I supposed to do with a watch that didn’t tell the time? I put it on, pressing what I assumed to be the dial to adjust the settings, and dropped the bowl when I found myself turning invisible. When I tried to clean up the mess I made, I discovered that while I could still touch both the bowl and the oatmeal, I could not affect either of those things until I turned the invisibility off.
Having ruined half of my meal, I leaned against the wall and smoked cigarettes until lunchtime. I joined my colleagues for the meal, but I didn’t involve myself in any of their conversations until I had learned all of their names by way of judicious eavesdropping, and even then I kept my answers as vague as possible. I spent the rest of the day reacquainting myself with my revolver alone, using that as an excuse to dodge anyone who was trying to talk to me.
A hand grabbed his hair and lifted his head up. “You must have noticed, haven’t you? Your teammates are doing just fine wizzout you. I’ll bet zey don’t even realize you’re here. Nobody eez coming for you, mon ami.” The hand let go and he sank down again, causing fresh blood to ooze from his wounds. “But eef you cooperate, I may be eenclined to show you mercy.
He refused any sort of reply. There had never been any relief from his torment before, and he knew that all that awaited him was more of the same. He would give them nothing.
“Still playing zee hero, are we? Well, we shall see how long zat lasts.”
Whatever plans I could have made for the rest of the week was dashed to pieces by the arrival of sudden torrential rain. The shoddy construction of the base meant every joint in my body felt as if it had swollen to at least twice the normal size. I tried to keep myself busy by helping the consistent effort to keep the water out, but when I kept dropping sandbags on the account of my hands not being able to close into proper fists, I was shooed away by the others for being a nuisance. I wandered the hallways looking for a place to kill time without breaking into a cold sweat, wanting to vomit, or shaking like a leaf. From the maps that I had been given, it was obvious that the two opposing sides had near-identical base layouts, and though my conscious mind still refused to acknowledge what I had been through, I knew without a doubt that every nook and cranny was reminding me of some horrific trauma.
I was still wandering the hallways some time later when the Heavy Weapons Guy spotted me. “Spy! You look pale. You need to eat more. Come, I make you soup!”
“That’s all right, I’m not hungry, don’t trouble yourself over me,” I squeaked out as the Heavy threw and arm around my shoulders and all but picked me up.
“No worries. Is Gramama’s secret recipe, no trouble at all. Is delicious!”
As it was obvious the Heavy wasn’t about to take no for an answer, I let him herd me into the kitchen and plant me onto a chair. While he prepared the soup, I kept my gaze fixed to the ceiling and the dust bunnies there. I was well into triple digits before the Heavy declared his masterpiece done and plunked a bowl of what looked to be abstract art onto the table. I stared at it, not sure what to make of the contents. “So what eez zis, exactly?”
The Heavy wagged a finger at me. “Secret recipe, remember? Just eat! Trust me, you’ll like it.”
I dawdled for as long as I could; solid food had not been sitting well with me so far, with the result that even the mere presence of certain smells were enough to make me nauseous. I scooped up a tiny bit on the spoon, wondering to myself if I could keep it down long enough to make a run for the bathroom as I tasted it.
It was the best dish I’d eaten so far. The balance of flavors were exquisite, evoking the sense that I was partaking of some ancient family recipe passed down for generations. “I thought you were exaggerating, but eet seems I was wrong. Give thanks to your grandmozzer for me.”
The Heavy grinned from ear to ear as he sat down with his own bowl. “What did I tell you? Eat, eat!”
As hungry as I was, I took my time savoring every bite, while the Heavy seemed to drink his bowl straight down with almost no chewing. But instead of getting up to leave me to finish my food by myself after he dropped the bowl off into the sink, the Heavy sat down again, his expression more serious than I’d ever seen him before.
“We talk, da? In Russian, like last time?”
“I’ll do my best,” I answered in what I hoped was the Heavy’s preferred language.
Whether it was or not, the Heavy made no indication, but instead plowed right on ahead. “You need a vacation, Spy. Being here not only isn’t doing you any good, I’ll bet good money it’s making things worse.”
I shook my head. “Where do you think I’d be allowed to go?”
He shrugged. “Anywhere would be better than here, don’t you think?”
I stared into the soup. “I don’t know.”
The Heavy stood up and patted me on the shoulder. “Well, think about it.”
As if I could ever leave this place. Even if the higher ups agreed to a transfer, I was sure that at least half of the team would assume that I was deserting and react in accordance. As for thinking about it? Easier said than done: I was already expending all of my mental energy into mere survival and had nothing to spare for anything else.
Though the heat was so intense that all he could feel was the searing flames, he could also smell his flesh burning. He tried to pull away, but the bindings held him fast.
He was yanked closer still by the choke chain around his neck. “Guess I should be impressed. I was sure you’d ‘a cracked by now.”
He refused to give any kind of answer. His jaw ached from the effort of keeping it shut, but he knew that should he unclench his teeth now all the effort of remaining silent would be for naught.
He had to give them nothing. That was all he had left.
Too soon, and yet at the same time not fast enough, the day that I was scheduled to go into battle crept up little by little. As everyone else busied themselves with restocking the supplies, I made myself scarce and managed to avoid most interaction by carrying what everyone else dubbed my “little black book” and keeping my focus on taking copious notes in a code that nobody else claimed to be able to read.
Go figure, the one guy I couldn’t avoid right before bed ended up being the Scout.
“Dude, have you taken a shower at all this week?” He sniffed in my direction, making a face. “You reek even worse than you usually do.”
Part of me wanted to exhale a long stream of smoke right into his face, but I lacked the nerve and aimed it elsewhere instead. “How I smell eez none of your business.”
“It is when even yer faggy French perfume isn’t da foist thing I smell on ya! What, do ya got some national aversion ta watah or somethin’?”
“Non, what I am not a fan of eez mouthy brats like you.” I made a shooing motion with my hand, hoping that and a bit of harmless snark would get him to leave. “Don’t you have someone else to annoy?”
He seemed to think about this for a brief moment before breaking out in a wide grin. “Nope! Now hurry up already.” Then he crossed his arms. “Don’t make me toss your naked ass inta da showah myself.”
I had no interest in testing whether or not he was bluffing. “Since you are so adamant about eet, I suppose I will freshen up.” I mirrored his grin the best I could as the best way to rid myself of the pest bubbled to the surface of my mind. “Care to join me?”
As I thought would happen, the Scout rankled at the idea and peeled away, back-stepping all the way into the wall. “Woah, woah, woah! Keep yer fruity hands ta yerself!”
I gave him a cheeky wave back before doing my best impression of a saunter towards the bathroom.
The showers were—thank God for small mercies—empty, but I remained on edge the while I was there. The others had long ago used up all of the hot water, but I didn’t linger; I scrubbed hard and fast, not bothering to feel sorry for myself over the mess of scars my skin had become.
I fell into bed too drained to worry about my performance tomorrow; I had, after all, plenty of time to fret about that during the pre-battle Setup phase.
He was drowning. As blood dribbled from his lips, he could feel more of it filling his lungs and spots danced in his vision.
Then he heard the familiar hum of the Medigun and soon the sensation of suffocating faded, replaced by the persistent dull ache that no amount of healing could erase.
The boots that had been kicking him in the ribs filled his vision again. “You’re cutting it close, there, Doc. That maggot almost got away from you this time.”
“Nozzing to vorry about, Herr Soldat. I know vat I am doing. Trust me, ja?”
So even death was being denied him. No matter. He still wasn’t going to give them anything.
The boots reared up for another stomp.
My first respawn of the day left me spending a good minute or so vomiting into the sink until I had nothing left. My other attempts to cross the battlefield also ended up in varying ways of death, but each trip became less and less harrowing until it was just a momentary inconvenience.
At last I was able to sneak my way up into the enemy Sniper’s nest without being detected. I uncloaked, but did not drop my disguise in case he glanced back, and approached him with my knife raised.
“Sphh chhk Sphh chhk Sphh chhk!”
I jumped back, cloaking and pressing against the back wall as soon as I heard the cheerful mantra approaching from downstairs. My heart thudded in my chest with both terror and anger: if I had made my move, I would have at least taken out their Sniper; a fair trade considering my abysmal performance so far.
But what if my rescue had been staged just so the enemy could use me against my own team?
The notion seemed absurd. Did they think that I would give them valuable Intelligence if I thought them to be allies? Or were they that desperate for me to be on their team instead? Going through the trouble of the pretense seemed to be the most roundabout way of accomplishing either goal, and it wasn’t as if every one of my current teammates had welcomed me back with open arms.
Nevertheless, I still couldn’t eliminate the possibility. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t remember anything pleasant, not even in what was supposed to be on familiar ground. And I couldn’t help but overhear the little whispers of doubt and even outright hostility in the corners.
Of all the thoughts running through my head, “but what if” kept repeating itself and kept me paralyzed.
The Pyro moved on to other areas without checking the Sniper’s nest and instead of capitalizing on the opportunity, I found myself leaving the enemy base having not attacked anyone. Pulling out my earpiece so I wouldn’t have to hear the progression of the battle, I squeezed myself, still invisible, into a cubbyhole that I had seen everyone pass without a second glance. I rested my head on my knees, my eyes closed and my hands over my ears as if I could shut out the world this way. I berated myself for my inability to do anything when push came to shove, but my heart was no longer in the fight.
Down, down, down went the plunger, draining the syringe of its ominous-looking fluid. And all he could do was watch. And wait.
The rubber gloved hand ran across his forehead. “Oops, zat was not medicine. Ah, well, no use wasting a perfectly good shot of whatever zat was, I suppose.”
Music began to play somewhere, soft and soothing and not at all fitting for a situation like this. His mouth began to feel dry and his vision went blurry.
As his mind began to lose focus as well, he held onto one thing, repeating it like a mantra: say nothing. Give them nothing. Even if he were to die here, he would not betray his team.
I didn’t let myself be found until the day had ended, trudging into Respawn with a limp that wasn’t quite faked due to the soreness I felt from having hidden in a very uncomfortable position for several hours.
I shouldn’t have bothered. Just one person was there waiting for me, the other Spy. “Got cold feet?” He asked between puffs on his cigarette, leaning against the locker as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
“You could say so.” I shrugged out of my suit and dumped it down the laundry chute before putting on a new one, my hand lingering at the knot in my tie as if to make sure that it wasn’t something else. I scrounged my mind for a good excuse and soon found one that I hoped would be accepted. “Eet occurred to me zat eef I were at full strength, zee teams would no longer be balanced, and I have no desire to use my skills for zee enemy.”
“You don’t have to worry about zat. Eet will just be a matter of time before zee ozzer team catches on and requests anozzer Spy to even zee numbers. After all, eet only took you being out of action for a few battles before I arrived here.” Now the other Spy turned to leave. “You just worry about getting well.”
The arrival logs! Of course! That was one piece of information neither team could interfere with! Then I could find the truth once and for all!
I was in my room studying the maps to make sure that my plan would work when I heard the stomping of boots approaching. I stuffed the maps under my pillow and lit up a new cigarette; the pile of smoked ones in the ashtray on the nightstand would make it look like that was all I had been doing.
The Soldier burst in without knocking. “That other Spy said not to bother you, but seeing as you’ve skipped another meal, I brought it to you!”
I stared as a tin of some unidentifiable material was plopped next to the ashtray. “Zat eez alright, I’m not hungry—”
“Doesn’t matter! You need to keep your strength up! I won’t have any of my men getting sent home because of Shell Shock!”
“I’m fine, sir,” I lied, wondering if that was what the other Spy said about me to explain my absence.
“Like hell you are! Don’t think I haven’t seen you with that Thousand Yard Stare!” He grabbed me by the shoulders. “Look at yourself! The old Spy wouldn’t have let me lay hands on him like this!”
In a flash my open knife was at his neck. “What makes you think I have any interest een being manhandled now?”
He let me go, but his expression didn’t change. “Eat your goddamn dinner, Frenchie. That’s an order.”
I didn’t retract my weapon. “Eef you eenseest.”
He stepped out of my range and was about to leave when he slapped himself upside the helmet. “Almost forgot!” Some fishing in his pockets later, a bottle cap with a ribbon glued to one end joined the mess. “Until you get an actual Purple Heart,” was all he offered as explanation before he marched out.
I poked a finger into the substance and tasted it. Salty, but palatable. Or maybe it was just the hunger from missing lunch that made me inclined towards mysterious substances. Still, the Soldier was right about needing sustenance. I fished out the bottle of wine I found during one of my searches and used that to wash the rest of the tin down and then forced myself into a meditative rest.
Tonight, I promised myself. Tonight, I would get some real answers.
They watched him bleed, some of them bored, some unreadable, and some leering.
“I’ll tell you wot, it’s downroight eerie. I ‘aven’t ‘eard a single peep out ‘f ‘im.”
“He must have been trained to rezeest torture.” A spent cigarette was extinguished on his collarbone and a new one lit. “Be patient. Everyone breaks sooner or later.”
He sucked in air through his teeth as he was pulled up. Any sound he made would be taken by the enemy as a sign of defeat. He refused to let them win.
He would give them nothing.
“Ghhng shmwhrr, Sphr?”
I froze like a deer in the headlights. My mouth dropped open to say something, but my brain refused to catch up and form words. I couldn’t even work up the strength to run as the soulless monstrosity advanced on me, demanding answers from me in that incomprehensible mumble of his.
I knew it.
I’d made the mistake of getting caught, and now the game was over. I was going back into the hole.
The room began to tilt and spin. The Pyro’s boot seemed to grow to monstrous proportions as it was aimed towards me, but the floor rushed up before it made any contact. I remained where I lay, watching as the rest of the Pyro advanced in my direction.
More hands reached down—but it was the Pyro who was pulled away while a wall of flesh interposed itself between myself and certain doom. “Stop, Pyro!” I heard the Heavy rumble from somewhere. “There is no fighting now! This is our Spy!”
The Pyro responded with a torrent of noises that sounded more like expletives than anything else.
“Slow down, Firebug, even I can’t quite get whatcher sayin’,” the Engineer could be heard as he hurried over.
“Don’t need t’ translate, Truckie, I know wot ‘e’s going at loud and clear—Pyro thinks ‘e’s caught ‘imself an enemy Spoi.”
“That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard!” The Soldier barked. “Why in the world would the other Spy need to beat himself half to death if he wanted to get on our team? What’s wrong with you, Pyro? Couldn’t get any traction out of accusing the new guy of playing for the other team, so now you’re going to pick on a wounded man?”
The Pyro rambled some more, its voice getting even louder and less comprehensible. “‘e’s roight about one thing,” the Sniper admitted. “Wot if th’ Spook is faking it?”
“Easy for you to say! You weren’t there when we found Spy!” This was the most animated I had ever heard the Heavy sound. “That was not fake!”
“An’ whit if they brainwashed heem?” The Demoman wanted to know. “‘en whit?”
“Aw, come on, dat’s even stupider dan Pyro’s theory!” The Scout shoved me in the arm. “Hey, aintcha gonna say somethin’? About half da team’s ready ta eatcha alive!”
I wanted to answer—anything would have been preferable to silence even if it wasn’t going to change the situation—but other than the shuddering spurts of breath that passed through my teeth, no sound came out. My heart rate soared, my vision narrowed down to a tiny pinpoint of light, and for a single moment of eternity I was back There again.
Or maybe I never left. I had exhausted all other avenues of retaining my sanity and my mind had retreated into this fantasy as a last resort, but now the dream was over. Nobody cared about Spies, they were a dime-a-dozen, backstabbing scumbags. Nobody would risk their own asses to save a Spy who was stupid enough to be captured and held captive.
“Keep it together, Spy! You didn’t crack for the enemy, you sure as hell aren’t cracking under my watch!” The Soldier raised his hand, but that was as far as he got before Heavy grabbed it and held it tight.
“You try to hit leetle Spy, I hit you.” The Heavy pointed his meaty finger at the rest of the team. “Same goes for all of you great big stupids.”
“Will all of you shut up and let zee man have some space?” Now the other Spy was hovering over me, pressing a finger to my neck. “Mon Dieu—Doctor! Medic!”
“I’m right here, you don’t haf to yell,” the Medic could be heard grousing. “And if you haven’t noticed, I don’t haf any of my things wiz me.”
“Zen we need to get him to zee infirmary, quickly—Heavy, Soldier, I’m going to need your help—”
Up off the floor I went, my limbs dangling like a puppet with its strings cut, except for the hand that the Soldier picked up and held all the way to the infirmary. “Stay with me! That’s an order!”
I kept my gaze fixed to the ceiling as I was placed on the gurney, willing myself to stay put. The more I struggled against the inevitable, the worse they would make it for me. At least this time they seemed to be taking more care in removing my custom tailored silk suit. Soon my upper half was bare, but instead of moving onto the rest of my clothes they stuck wires to my chest. I wondered what was in store for me this time; I had vague recollections of either being chained to the ceiling or forced to the floor. This halfway position was new.
The Medic took hold of one arm and rubbed it down with alcohol. “Goodness, your vitals are a mess. But I can get zat taken care ov soon enough. Just hold still, ja?”
I did what I was told, and when the Medic was done, a blanket was drawn over my shivering frame. “Nae whit?” the Demoman could be heard asking.
“Go to bed. Spy iz obviously in no shape to answer any questions tonight, and we haf a full day ahead.”
The Pyro headed for the door at once, but the Soldier blocked him. “Oh, no you don’t! You’re not going anywhere until you’ve at least apologized to the Spy!”
Now the Sniper joined the fray. “Leave th’ Pyro alone, you miserable Yank!”
“Like hell I am! He’s the whole reason Spy’s like this right now!”
“So wot do you expect ‘im t’ do, friendship th’ Spoi until ‘e gets better? Even all th’ Doc can do is shoot ‘im up until ‘e’s not acting loike a ninny!”
As I watched this, I could feel the drugs take effect and a numbing calm washed over all of my senses. My thoughts became clearer than ever: I had to take action now. The situation was getting worse by the minute as emotions rose; if I didn’t volunteer myself as a target, things would be all the worse once they turned their attentions on me.
I stood up. “Oh, what now, Spah—” that half a question from the Engineer stopped mid-sentence after I stepped out of the rest of my clothes and knelt, naked, on the cold tile floor.
Nothing. Nobody moved, or even dared to breathe too loud. Seconds, and then minutes, went by in silence.
“Shit, Spy,” that was the Scout, speaking in a whisper. “It—it ain’t like dat. Even if we seriously thought you were one ‘a dem, we weren’t gonna—” he trailed off, his voice choking. “Jesus, man. What da hell happened ta ya back dere?”
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t; the words stayed stuck in my throat. I couldn’t even tell what was real or what was a figment of my imagination.
The other Spy draped the blanket over me again and guided me to sit back down on the bed. “Zee Medic eez right. All of us should rest. Docteur, you also have something to help him sleep as well, do you not?”
”Ja, but I’m not sure if I should give him anozzer shot so soon.”
“I believe eet eez worth zee risk.”
The Medic didn’t answer for some time. Then he sighed. “I suppose zere isn’t anyzing we can do now to make things vorse.”
Reassuring words were murmured into my ear as my arm was prepared for another injection, but I was well beyond caring what happened to me at this point.
The first thing the Spy noticed as his world swam back into focus was that his arms and legs were bound with thick rope and his mouth gagged with foul-smelling cloth. He tested the ropes, but found no give in the knots. He peered into the darkness, trying to make out any details; aside from some light seeping through the cracks in the door, all he saw were worn plastered walls.
It was obvious he’d been captured by the enemy. That means they must have gotten wise to him. And instead of just killing him, they had other plans.
He tensed as he heard footsteps echo down the hallway headed in his direction. Whatever was in store for him couldn’t be pleasant, even if he could survive the ordeal.
But he was a Spy, the best of the best, trained to give as well as take. Those amateurs could destroy his body, but not his spirit.
He would give them nothing. He was sure of it.