Respawn of the Dead (Part Two)

Part One


 

Chapter 11

Heavy lumbered into the infirmary, cradling the bruised and battered Medic in his arms, and made a sharp turn into the tiny room he and Medic shared. He gently laid the doctor down onto their bed, taking a moment to survey his injuries. His eyes were swollen and purple, and there were deep cuts between them from his shattered glasses. His lower lip and cheeks were also dark with bruises. Heavy began to remove the doctor’s mud-splattered clothing.

“…Should have done zat before you put me down, mein Liebe…” Medic croaked.

“Sorry,” Heavy said, removing Medic’s boots and placing them on the floor by the foot of the bed. “I told you tiny man vould hurt you, Doktor.”

“Ja…you did…” Medic closed his eyes. “I zhought maybe…I could beat him…I undahestimated his sheer brutality…very stupid, in retrospect.”

The Russian just grunted, lifting Medic’s arm to remove his glove. He brought the doctor’s hand up to plant a quick kiss on it. Medic smiled weakly, and brushed Heavy’s face with his fingers. “You sure you do not vant me to punch Soldier for you?” Heavy asked, unbuckling Medic’s belt and sliding it off.

“Nein…zat vill not be necessary…” Medic sighed, as Heavy moved on to unbuttoning his coat. The doctor squirmed a bit, trying to help Heavy get it off. “Hopefully, ve can just move on.” The coat came off, sliding out from underneath Medic’s body, and Heavy worked on unbuttoning the doctor’s shirt.

“Do not tink it vill be so simple,” Heavy said, looking down at Medic’s now bare chest, which was now dotted in bruises, like so many ugly, violet flowers had blossomed there. He grazed his doctor’s skin with his fingertips, and Medic winced a bit.

“Cracked rib,” Medic gasped. “I do not even remember him giving it to me. Funny, zat.”

“You need ice, Doktor?” Heavy asked, running a hand over Medic’s hair.

“Please…” Medic rolled his head under Heavy’s caress. “Also, a bowl of hot vater, a rag…und some antiseptic und cotton balls.” Heavy straightened up, before Medic grabbed for his shirt. “Und some pain killers.”

“Da, Doktor,” Heavy nodded, and walked to the door.

“Oh!” Medic sat up a little bit, calling out to Heavy as he turned around. “Und a glass of vater…und anuzzah pair of glasses. I have a spare pair in my desk…”

“You relax, Doktor,” Heavy said with a small smile on his lips. “I vill take care of you. Lie back down.”

Medic flopped back down onto the pillow, and closed his eyes. Sheets were going to need changing, he thought. There was mud all over them, and while they were not particularly nice sheets, it was still a shame to get them all dirtied up like he had. Soldier had properly humiliated him out there, and if it weren’t for Engineer, his injuries would probably be much worse. He could hear Heavy rustling around in the cabinets, and Stumpy in the sickbay, making a few odd grunts and rattling his chain leash. He took a deep, shuddering breath, and let it out through his mouth. It hurt a little bit when his chest rose and fell, and his stomach still hadn’t recovered from that last savage punch Soldier had dealt him.

Why had he even agreed to such a stupid duel? Soldier was simply pressing his buttons, and he knew it. Worst of all, Soldier knew that he knew it, and they decided to go ahead with it anyway. It had felt good to land a few odd blows onto that god-forsaken boisterous windbag of a man, but it all went downhill when he let his guard down for just a second and found his glasses shattered against the bridge of his nose, and then tackled to the ground, gasping for breath in between blows to the face. Medic thought back to it, wincing a little bit, and vaguely recalled the feeling of something pressing against his already bruised chest…and shuddered when it struck him exactly what it was. Medic made a mental note to contact HQ regarding Soldier’s immediate transfer.

Heavy nudged the door back open, his arms full of everything that Medic had requested. He placed each of them, one-by one, on the nightstand, then pulled up a chair that had been in the corner of the room and set it beside the bed. He then lifted up the washcloth Medic had requested, soaked in the bowl of hot water, then wrung it out, and started to wipe the blood and mud off of Medic’s face.

“I don’t like vatching you fight, Doktor,” Heavy said after a few moments silence. “I alvays get so vorried.”

“Zat alvays seems to be vhy ve stick togezzah on ze battlefield, doesn’t it?” Medic hummed. The warm, wet cloth felt so soothing on his face.

“Ve make good team,” Heavy said. Most of the mud and the blood had been wiped off at this point. Medic looked slightly better now, albeit still bruised and swollen. “You vant medicine?”

“Danke, mein Kuschelbär,” Medic sat up a bit, as Heavy handed him two very large pills and a glass of water. He popped the pills into his mouth, and downed the glass quickly before he laid back down again.

“Doktor?” Heavy piped up, holding a cotton ball against the opening of a bottle of antiseptic and flipped it over, soaking it.

“Ja, Heavy?”

“…You tink…vit no BLUs to fight…RED vill send us home?” Heavy started to dab the cuts between Medic’s eyes with the cotton ball.

Medic screwed his eyes shut tight as the stinging liquid made contact with the gashes just above the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know, mein Liebling. Vhy, vhat ah you getting at?”

“I don’t vant to go back to Russia vitout you.” Heavy moved onto dabbing Medic’s split lip. “Vould you come vit me?”

“I don’t vant to live in Russia. Too cold. Und I cannot go back to Germany…perhaps, somevhere varmer?”

“Vhere are you tinking, Doktor?”

“I don’t know…” Medic sucked in another deep breath. “Maybe somevhere in ze Mediterranean…maybe Greece…or Venice. I’ve alvays vanted to go to Venice.”

“You speak Italian, Doktor?”

“I could learn…” The medication was starting to kick in, and already Medic was beginning to feel drowsy as the pain gradually started to melt away. “Spy knows Italian, doesn’t he?”

“He does, I tink.” Heavy started to stroke Medic’s hair again. “I do not like him, though.”

“I know, Heavy, I know…zis team…I zink ze team is starting to fall apart…”

“Don’t say that.” Heavy lifted Medic’s chin with a gentle finger, and looked into the doctor’s eyes, blacked as they were. “Is rough right now, vit no BLUs to fight. Ve get past this. You see. And maybe, they send us home, and ve can be together.”

“In Venice…?” Medic asked, his voice getting softer. He was already practically on the verge of falling asleep.

“Sure, vhy not?” the Russian chuckled. “Vhatever makes Doktor happy.”

“I love you, Heavy…” Medic sighed.

“I love you too, Doktor.” Heavy leaned forward and kissed his doctor on the forehead. “Now, go to sleep. You need rest.”

“Ja…I do…” Medic let his head fall against the pillow, and his mind started to become fuzzy and detached. “Don’t…forget, feed Stumpy. Don’t forget zat…”

“I won’t, Doktor.”

“Good…” Medic finally relaxed, letting the painkillers do their work. As sleep finally overtook him he could Heavy closing the door, although he sounded like he was a million miles away, across the other side of the universe.

RED base was unusually quiet throughout the rest of the day. Soldier was expected to have spent the whole day boasting and strutting around the base like a proud cock among hens, but instead he simply holed himself up in his room, not wanting to be disturbed. Sniper sheepishly retreated back up to his roost, listening to the radio more loudly than usual as he stared back out over the desert with his rifle propped on the windowsill. Demoman and Scout sat in front of the television in the rec room, while Pyro broke out a deck of cards and started playing solitaire while as he sat on the floor. Scout would occasionally try and strike up a conversation, but Demoman would give him curt, one-word answers and take another swig from his bottle of scrumpy. Medic spent the entire day in bed, and Heavy spent most of the day at his side, only really leaving to attend to Stumpy. Engineer locked himself in his workshop, nursing a beer as he tinkered incessantly with his sentries and teleporters. Spy knew what everyone in the base was doing, of course, since he had checked in on all of them, whether they were aware of it or not. He simply stalked the hallways, poking into rooms, sometimes cloaked and sometimes fully visible, occasionally pressing his ear against doorways and generally sticking his nose into other people’s business, as per usual.

Unlike previous nights, most of the team didn’t eat dinner downstairs at the table. Instead, they took their meals to their rooms, leaving only Engineer and Scout at the table. They ate in silence for a while, before Engineer finally spoke up.

“I just don’t get it, Scout,” Engineer sighed.

“Don’t get what?” Scout has pretty much cleaned his plate at this point, and was eager to leave.

“I dunno. This whole situation. Th’ BLUs bein’ blown up an’ that disease Medic found an’ then that fight earlier today…I don’t know, Scout, it’s all so strange.” Engineer was prodding the contents of his plate with his fork. “Ain’t no real reason for us to stay here an’ th’ Announcer tells us our orders are to guard th’ base. On top a’ that, she refuses to even talk t’ me! She’s only been talkin’ t’ Spah, s’far as I can tell.”

“Maybe she don’t like you,” Scout said with a dismissive shrug.

“No…no, there’s more to it than that. He’s all secretive when he uses th’ radio…well, I mean, he’s always secretive, but even more so than usual. Dang it…” Engineer sighed, leaning on his elbow, his palm propping up his face. “I was in such a good mood yesterday, an’ then this fight happens…”

Scout had finished his meal but wasn’t moving. He looked as though he wanted to say something, but was hesitating. “Why’d you go an’ break it up, anyway?” Scout finally managed to blurt out.

Engineer stared at the young man as though he had just asked him why he didn’t enjoy drop-kicking puppies. “Well, none a’ you were. I couldn’t just sit there an’ let Soldier punch the livin’ daylights outta Medic like that! He would’ve, too. An’ you were all cheerin’ him on…”

“Well, I mean…” Scout was visibly sulking, “Medic’s…he’s…y’know…”

“He’s what?” Engineer narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. He rapped his knuckles against the table top, awaiting Scout’s answer. Scout merely recoiled and bit a part of his lip that didn’t have stitches on the inside. “Is this because he’s…y’know…with Heavy?” Even Engineer didn’t even feel entirely comfortable being blunt about their relationship, and he felt silly realizing this.

“That, an’ he’s a Nazi, dude. Seriously!” Scout threw up his arms dramatically. “I mean, do you even /know/ what he did during the war?”

“Do you?” Engineer raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I mean, no, but…nobody does! That’s just it! I don’t even think Heavy knows.” Scout leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “I think he did experiments on people, man. Really, really fucked up shit. Like sewing identical twins together and trying to dye people’s eyes blue.”

“Uh-huh.” Engineer now crossed his own arms. “And what proof d’you have t’ back up these accusations, boy?”

Scout didn’t answer; he just looked abashed and slumped his shoulders. “I don’t have any but…I mean…Jesus, dude. What if he did? Would you just shrug that off?”

Engineer stared at the contents of his plate. He drummed his fingers against the side of his face, and then looked back up at Scout. “I believe,” he started slowly, “that people can change, Scout. They change all the time, for better or for worse, an’ I see no reason why we shouldn’t give ‘im the benefit of th’ doubt.”

“But-”

“No ‘buts,’ Scout. We’re a team here, and if we turn on each other, then, well, we’re useless. An’ I’m tellin’ ya, Medic’s not a bad person. He’s strange an’ kinda creepy sometimes, but he’s not bad. An’ I won’t hear anymore of you tryin’ to justify demonizing him. We clear?”

“Yeah…we’re clear,” Scout mumbled, hanging his head like a naughty child.

“My, my, laborer, you managed to make Scout quiet. Quite the feat,” Spy seemingly materialized out of nowhere, leaning over the Texan and doing his best to be obnoxious.

“How much did you hear?” Engineer asked, sounding annoyed.

“Pretty much all of it.” Spy took a drag on his cigarette, and blew a few lazy smoke rings into the air. “So quick to put your trust in ze good doctor, are you, Engineer?”

“And why not? He’s always looked out for us.” Engineer scooted his chair back and turned to face Spy. “Why, don’t tell me yer with Scout here.”

“Oh please, don’t insult me.” Spy flicked the cigarette butt to the floor, and stamped it out with his shoe. “I simply zink it’s foolish to trust anyone. Teammates included.” He smirked, taking out his disguise kit and flipping it open, pulling out another cigarette. “But zen again, zat is part of my job description. Trust no one.”

“Well, maybe you should learn to start trustin’ people,” Engineer huffed. “Then maybe I would just let you use the radio instead a’ you havin’ to sneak in when I’m not there.”

Spy laughed. “Ah, but how can I be sure that you wouldn’t eavesdrop? The information I’m exchanging is extremely classified.”

“Guess you’ll just have to trust me,” Engineer said coolly.

“Touché.” Spy put a fresh cigarette to his lips and lit it. “Alzhough, I highly doubt it. Adieu, Laborer, mon petit…” And with that, Spy performed an overly-dramatic bow and turned to leave with a peacock-like strut.

“Heh…didn’t cloak this time. That’s a rarity. Anyway, like I was sayin’, Scout-” Engineer turned back to see that the young man was already gone. He sighed. “Dag nabbit, between the two a’ them…” He never finished his thought, and instead finished his meal in a glum silence.

The sun was just peeking up from over the horizon, painting the sky with a brilliant palette of orange and pink, when the rifle shot rang out. “BONZAH!” Sniper shouted out victoriously, loud enough for the entire base to hear. The assassin then darted from out of his roost in the battlements, and downstairs to alert his teammates. “I GOT ONE!” He shouted, running through the halls and acting more like Scout than his usual self. “I got one a’ th’ bloody bastards! Ev’rybody, come look!”

“Ye got one a’ wot, lad?” Demoman poked his head out of his room, only half-dressed, clutching his head and looking very cross.

“A zombie, mate! Right outside th’ fence! Corker of a shot! Must’a got ‘im smack dab in the center a’ ‘is forehead! C’mon, then!” Sniper waved frantically, gesturing for the explosives expert to join him.

“Oh shit, man, seriously? Whoa!” Scout bolted from his own room to follow Sniper and Demoman excitedly, as the other members of RED team slowly stirred into action, with perhaps the sole exception of Pyro, who merely threw a bunch of muffled obscenities in Sniper’s direction and stayed inside his room.

Sniper hadn’t slept all night, and it showed. There were dark circles under his eyes and he was running on fumes, but somehow, he still managed to have enough energy to rouse the rest of his team over this shot. He sprinted out the front entrance of RED base, across the wooden bridge and past the blackened remains of BLU base, and up to the fence separating the battleground from the rest of the desert. He dropped to his hands and knees and crawled through the hole in the fence, then got back up to stand over his prize.

It was a white male, although its skin had already turned into a greenish-gray, and it was dressed in a blood-caked flannel shirt, white t-shirt, blue jeans and obnoxious looking cowboy boots. Its stomach had been ripped open, and there were numerous teeth marks around the neck of the corpse. There was also a small bullet hole smack-dab in the middle of its forehead, like some sort of gory bindi, and there were brains and bone fragments and bits of mucus leaking out of the back of its skull. Sniper looked over it with a grin.

“Whoa.” Scout had just emerged through the hole in the fence, and stood next to Sniper. “Nice shot, man.”

“Beauty of a shot!” Sniper said, his weariness starting to show through. “And past th’ fence, too! Almost didn’t think I’d actually hit ‘im.”

Demoman had now crawled through the hole in the fence, and motioned Sniper and Scout aside. He crouched down over the corpse with a narrowed eye, and shook his head. “Aye, t’was a gud shot, a’right. But this jes’ proves me right. BLU Spy got a’ least one o’er victim. Tha’s bad news.”

Sniper’s features fell, and suddenly he looked as though he were ten years older. “Oh,” he said dejectedly, turning his eyes to the ground and staring at the dust that had gathered on his boots. “Hadn’t thought a’ that…”

“Of course you hadn’t. You always did have a bad case of tunnel vision,” Spy jeered from the other side of the fence, still clad in silk pajamas, but with his balaclava still covering his face. “Snipers almost always do. Zat is why it’s always so easy to stab you in ze back.”

“Oh, piss off, Spy,” Sniper groaned. “Didn’t get a wink a’ sleep last night, Christ…”

“Oh, you poor zing!” Spy said with mock pity. “Come back inside so I can tuck you in and read you a bedtime story.” Sniper merely growled in response, and turned his gaze back to the festering cadaver.

“Good night, Irene.” Engineer had just jogged onto the scene, still clad in pajama bottoms and not much else. “Sniper, you sure that thing was walkin’ when you shot it?”

“Yeah…lumberin’ over all slow-like, like bloody Boris Karloff as Frankenstein.” Sniper held out his arms straight in front of him and did a brief imitation of Frankenstein’s monster. “Not movin’ very fast, but it was far away an’ just past th’ fence…”

“Get out of vay, make room for Doktor!” Heavy was ushering Medic forward. Heavy was dressed, for the most part, but Medic was in his bathrobe, his face looking much less swollen than the previous day. The doctor grumbled as he had to crawl underneath the fence, scuffing his bare palms and knees. He stood up, dusted himself off, adjusted his glasses and waved away Demoman, Sniper and Scout. He kneeled down over the corpse, eyes scanning over it, occasionally turning the body’s head or lifting its arm. Finally, he gingerly pushed the corpse over on its side, and plucked the wallet from its back jean pocket.

“Hey, man, that’s not cool, lootin’ the body like that,” Scout piped up.

“Don’t be shtupid,” Medic snapped, flipping it open and pulling out what he was looking for: the victim’s driver’s license.

“DOKTOR!”

“Vhat is it, Heavy?” Medic whirled around, only to see the Russian stuck in the hole in the fence, wedged in place and looking like Winnie the Pooh in the entrance to Rabbit’s house.

“I am stuck in tiny hole, Doktor,” Heavy whined, while Spy started to laugh hysterically behind him. “SHUT UP, SPY. WHEN I GET LOSE, I KILL YOU DEAD!”

“Ach, Heavy, vhy must you do these things?” Medic got up, and slipped the wallet into the pocket of his robe. “Engineer, Spy, vould you be so kind as to pull Heavy back in?”

“Yeah, sure, Doc.” Engineer grabbed a hold of Heavy’s ankle, and glared at Spy until he grabbed the other. Without even being told, Sniper and Demo approached Heavy from the front, and after a few acknowledging nods, Engineer and Spy started to pull on the bear of a man, and Sniper and Demo pushed against his shoulders.

“OW OW OW! Vhy is fence hurting?” Heavy roared, as the barbs from the fence dug into his sides, ripping his shirt. “I vill tear it right off the ground!”

“Please don’t, Heavy, ve need ze fence,” Medic sighed. “Now, stop being a baby und try to help zem get you out of zis.”

“Am not being baby. Sharp pointy tings are cutting me,” Heavy grumbled.

“Maybe if you did not stuff your fat, stupid face wiz sandwiches all ze time, you might be zhin enough to slip zhrough,” Spy sneered, still yanking on Heavy’s leg.

“I’M NOT FAT!” Heavy barked. “I have big bones and muscles.”

“Oh, yes…” Spy rolled his eyes, “and a big, fat vodka gut.”

Spy and Engineer would not expecting the sudden, forceful shove that Demoman gave to Heavy, jarring the Russian backwards and causing Engineer and Spy to stumble. Heavy sat up, and ran a finger over one of the cuts on his side, noting the blood on his fingertips. “Doktor!” he bellowed. “Fence has cut me!”

“Next time, don’t try und squeeze yourself into places you cannot fit zen, ja?” Medic’s voice wasn’t as sharp as it usually was; he still wasn’t fully himself yet. He crawled back under the fence after his Heavy and inspected his injuries. “Ach. A few of zese ah fairly deep. Really, Heavy…”

“Sorry, Doktor,” Heavy mumbled.

Medic clicked his tongue and shook his head, before turning his attention back to Sniper, Demoman and Scout. “If you vould kindly bring in ze body to ze infirmary for me, I vould appreciate it. I’d like to do an autopsy.”

“Ew, no way am I touching that thing, man,” said Scout. “It stinks almost as bad as that…thing you got down there.”

“Stumpy,” Demoman said.

“Yeah, Stumpy. He reeks. Anyway, I ain’t touchin’ it.”

“Yer a bloody wuss, Scout,” Sniper grumbled, already grabbing the corpse by the ankles and dragging it towards the fence. He then crawled underneath and gripped the body’s ankles again before starting to drag it off. Demoman followed Sniper back to the other side and lifted the cadaver up by the wrists. The two of them carried it back to the base, dripping bits of brain and tissue onto the ground. The corpse’s arm managed to pop out of its socket, causing Demo to lose his grip.

“ACH, SHOWER A’ CUNTS AN’ FECKIN’ ‘ELL!” he spat, dropping the arm. “Ruddy thing’s fallin’ apar’ like it were made a’ wet tissues.”

“Hold it under th’ armpit, then,” Sniper grunted.

“You had bettah not just leave zat arm lying on ze ground. Pick zat back up!” Medic snapped. Demoman obliged, albeit begrudgingly, and tossed the limb over the corpse’s chest, where it dangled like a limp fish.

The procession going back to the RED Base was an odd one. Sniper and Demo led the way, carrying the dead zombie back inside, followed closely by Medic and Heavy. Spy followed suit, stepping briskly, and Engineer trudged behind him. Scout brought up the rear, purposely trying to stay as far away from the stinking corpse as possible. Each of them walked past Soldier, who was standing in the doorway of the RED base clutching Shovel, silently watching them file in. Heavy made sure to cast a venomous glare at the American as he passed, and wrapped his arm around Medic, pulling him in close. Soldier merely chuckled. Once Scout made it inside and disappeared, Soldier relaxed his position, and marched towards the BLU base.

He and Shovel had some investigating to do.


 

Chapter 12

Stumpy hated his new mask. It covered his mouth and it made it so that he couldn’t eat meat. Clawing at it with his only hand had proven useless, as the mask stayed firmly in place and only the Meaty Thing in the White Coat could take it off. He dragged himself across the floor and tugged at the white coat, grunting at the doctor, but the doctor was busy. He had another one of…whatever Stumpy was. Stumpy wasn’t entirely sure what he was, although he knew he was not a Meaty Thing, and what the doctor had wasn’t a Meaty Thing either. It was like Stumpy, only it wasn’t moving.

“Ach, go avay, you little monstah, I am vorking,” the Meaty Thing in the White Coat said, batting him away with a glove covered in delicious looking blood. Stumpy tried to lick it off through the holes in his mask, but to little avail. He groaned again, louder this time, and went back to clawing at the doctor’s coat.

“Vhat do you vant? More food? You do not even have a stomach anymore, you shtupid little Scout!” Medic glared down at Stumpy, arms akimbo, staining his coat with red. Stumpy merely groaned and opened his mouth wide, pressing his tongue against the holes in his mask. Medic’s eyes drifted back to the corpse on the table, then back to Stumpy. “I vonder…”

Stumpy watched as Medic grabbed a handful of shredded organs and held them out in front of him. The doctor then undid the strap on the back of Stumpy’s mask, yanking the mask away and grabbing a hold of his leash, making sure he had a good grip on the monster before he let him eat from his hand.

Only, Stumpy’s reaction to the meat presented to him was entirely unexpected. He sniffed it, and then gave a tentative lick before recoiling and moaning in what sounded like disgust. Medic straightened up, still holding Stumpy away from him at a comfortable distance, and shook the innards off of his glove and back into the torso cavity of the cadaver lying on the operating table. “Very interesting…” he muttered to himself, keeping Stumpy in check without even looking at him.

“Mrruuhh…” Stumpy drooled, lolling his tongue out and looking up at the doctor pathetically. “Murreeeee, Murrdd…”

Medic shot Stumpy a curious look. He adjusted his glasses and locked eyes with the BLU Scout. “Vhat did you say?”

“Mrreeeeee!” Stumpy moaned. “Murrrdduk!”

The gears in Medic’s head were kick-starting into motion, and a mischievous smile grew over his face. “Einen Moment, mein little monster, I have an idea.” Medic then briskly took his leave, exiting the sickbay and leaving Stumpy alone and on the floor, starving as always.

The doctor dashed down the hallway, grinning maniacally as he came across his destination. He opened to door to Scout’s room without so much as a knock, startling the young man, who had been reclining on his bed. “Hey, man, what gives?” Scout shouted, looking up from an Saxton hale comic.

“I need your bat,” Medic huffed, walking right past him and grabbing the dented aluminum baseball bat, then turned on his heel and ran back out into the hall.

“Oi! The hell you think you’re doin’, man?” Scout hopped up and took off after the doctor. “GIMMIE THAT BACK, YOU CRAZY QUEER-MO! COME BACK HERE!”

Scout’s insults fell on deaf ears. Medic raced back to the infirmary, bat in hand, looking half-crazed as he burst into the sickbay, holding the bat aloft triumphantly.

The BLU Scout looked up at it, a glimmer of recognition in his milky eyes. Medic bowed over him, balancing the bat over his palms and presenting it to the monster. “You know vhat zis is, ja?”

Stumpy merely stared, eyes wide with a child-like awe. He reached up, grabbing a hold of the bat by its grip, and slowly pulled it towards himself, looking over it. Medic crouched down and observed, smiling like a proud father watching a child take its first steps. He was too absorbed in studying his subject to even notice when Scout appeared in the doorframe.

“Aw, geez, Doc, you gave my bat to fuckin’ Stumpy? Gimmie that back-” He was silenced by a swift motion of Medic’s arm.

“Zis,” Medic said to Stumpy, pointing at the bat. “Vhat is zis? Tell me.”

“Buhhhh…” Stumpy bellowed, lifting the bat up slowly. It rose into the air, just above Medic’s head, when it came down lightly, bumping harmlessly against the crown of the doctor’s skull. “Bonk.”

Medic started to laugh. It was the kind of laugh that seemed to suit Medic best, that sort of evil, clichéd Mad Scientist type laugh that started low and soft and gradually became louder and creepier, until he was standing upright, laughing up at the ceiling with his hands outstretched. Scout retreated a bit behind the doorframe.

“Holy shit…” Scout said softly…”It talks.”

“YES!” Medic said, his face beaming like a light bulb, despite the still-visible bruises that dotted his features. “Do you realize vhat zis is? Zis is a huge breakzhrough! I did not even zink zis vould be possible, let alone happening zis fast!” He grabbed Scout by the shoulders, and ignored the visible wince the young man made when he did so. “Ze victims can recall zeir lives before infection!”

“Yeah, big whoop,” Scout sneered, having regained his usual, cocky attitude. “So it can talk. Don’t make it smart or nothin’.” He tried to squirm out of Medic’s grip, but to little avail.

“Maybe he’s not intelligent, per se, but he is expressing interest in somezing besides eating. He’s even had zat muzzle off for ze past few minutes, und look! He’s perfectly content to leave us alone!” Medic gestured towards Stumpy, who was trying to lift himself up off of the floor by using the bat to prop himself up. He kept slipping, however, and would fall back down on his stomach.

“That’s disgusting,” Scout said with a grimace.

“Ach! You have no appreciation for scientific endeavors! Vhy ah you even in here, anyvay?” Medic let go of Scout and crossed his arms.

“You took my friggin’ bat, man! Aw, Jesus, now he’s fuckin’ droolin’ on it!” Scout motioned towards Stumpy, who was now running his tongue over the bat, licking up an old bloodstain.

“Oh, come now, it’s not like you’ll be using it anytime soon. We’ve no vone to fight anyvay. Shtop vhining.” He waved at Scout dismissively. “Now, unless you vant to wrestle your bat avay from a bitey, contagious plague victim, I suggest you take your leave…zhough, I vould appreciate if you could send Heavy in.”

Scout left, but not before making a particularly rude gesture to Medic’s turned back. Medic could hear him shouting in the hallway (“HEY, FATASS, DOC WANTS YA IN THE INFIRMARY!”), and just shook his head and looked down at Stumpy dotingly. The BLU Scout was now looking up at Medic pathetically, his numerous attempts at trying to sit up on his own proving fruitless. The doctor picked up Stumpy’s mask from the floor, and fastened it back onto his face. “Sorry, Stumpy, but I zink it is best for you to be muzzled.” Stumpy grunted in protest, but Medic merely patted him on the head and sat him upright.

Stumpy looked up at the doctor, leaning against him and tugging on his bloodstained coat. “Mrreeeuhhh,” Stumpy groaned, drooling through the mask over his face. He lifted his bat again, and tapped it weakly against Medic’s chest. “Bonk.”

The entire mess had started when some lost driver reported an abandoned, stationary big rig lingering on the highway. Its engine was still running, the keys were in the ignition, and yet, there was no driver anywhere in sight. The driver’s side window was rolled down, and inside the cab there were crimson splatters of blood. A red streak ran down the outside of the door on driver’s side, and there was a large puddle of blood right underneath, scarlet fingers branching out onto the asphalt.

Sheriff Eustace Brown lit up his cigar, and chewed and puffed on it thoughtfully. State troopers would normally take care of this sort of thing, but the truck was found just inside his county lines. His deputy, Clyde Barksdale, was currently investigating the cab, wearing a pair of white gloves.

“Jesus, fucker was bleedin’ like a stuck pig, Sheriff,” Clyde said with a whistle. “Musta’ been a stabbin’, probably. Guy musta’ tried to pick up some hitchhiker, an’ they were probably whacked out on acid or somethin’.”

“Sounds probable,” the sheriff said with a shrug. “Any clues on the identities of the victim or the suspect?”

“Well, I found this,” the deputy held up a cigarette case with a gloved hand. He opened it up. “Looks like it’s got a buncha’ cigarettes and…paper masks?” He removed one of the folded-up masks, which appeared to simply be a flimsy piece of paper with a face painted on it, and a bit of string tied around the back. “The hell is this?”

“Stop messin’ with it, it’s evidence,” the sheriff drawled. “Now, put it one a’ them Ziploc bags, we can dust fer prints down at th’ station.”

“I’m jes’ curious, is all” The deputy sighed. “I mean, what is this? Some sort a’ disguise? I can’t imagine it bein’ very effective, I mean, what, you just slip it on an’-” As he slipped the mask on, the younger man was engulfed in a plume of blue smoke, and suddenly was replaced by a tall, black man with an eyepatch, wearing a strange, red outfit with a black vest, and several odd canisters strapped to his chest. Clyde looked down at himself in disbelief. “…the hell?”

The sheriff stared at his partner, slack-jawed. “Sweet Jesus,” he muttered. “You turned into a nigger.”

“That’s ‘person of color,’ sir,” Clyde huffed. “You should be more sensitive. And what in the blue hell is up with this get-up?”

“Gimme that cigarette case,” Eustace snapped, snatching it from the hands of a very confused deputy and holding his cigar in his gritted teeth. He picked out a mask at random, and eyed is curiously.

“What happened to messing with evidence?” The deputy jeered, still wearing that negro disguise. Quite frankly, it was making the sheriff uncomfortable.

“Don’t get smart with me, kid,” the sheriff warned, and slipped on the mask. There was another blue puff of smoke, and then suddenly he was a short, portly man wearing what appeared to be a red asbestos suit and a gas mask. He held up his gloved hands for inspection.

“Whoa.” Clyde turned his gaze to the truck’s rearview mirror, examining himself and touching his face. “You know what’s weird? I can still feel my face under this. Y’know, my real face. It’s like it’s a mirage or somethin’.” He turned back to the sheriff, taking off his mask with another puff of smoke. “This is some pretty advanced technology right here.”

“An’ I doubt that it belonged to just some ordinary Joe-Shmoe trucker.” The sheriff removed his mask, put it back in the cigarette case, and then fished for another one. “Which means that the suspect was probably the one who had access to this technology.”

“But why would they leave somethin’ like that behind?” the deputy asked.

“Probably what you said earlier. They were whacked out on acid.” The sheriff put on another mask, this time transforming him into a thin, almost gaunt man in a red three-piece suit, wearing a balaclava and smoking a cigarette. “The hell are these disguises even supposed to be?” he asked himself, looking at his reflection on the surface of the cab.

“You think this may have somethin’ to do with that military base that’s supposed to be out here?” Clyde slid out from the truck’s cab and landed on his feet with a grunt. “I heard they’re testin’ experimental weapons or somethin’ out there…”

“Don’t be silly, boy, those’re just rumors,” the sheriff huffed, trying to look imposing. The deputy found it odd hearing the sheriff’s voice coming from a body that didn’t fit it at all. “We should probably drive this thing back to the impound lot. Don’t think it would tow pretty easy. I’m gonna assign you to th’ job.”

“Aw, hell, yer gonna make me sit in a bunch a’ dried blood?” the deputy grimaced. “Jesus, do I gotta?”

“Truck ain’t gonna drive itself back, Deputy,” the sheriff said, grinning beneath his mask.

As the deputy grumbled to himself and drove the truck back into town, the sheriff removed his mask and put it back in the cigarette case. He sauntered back to his patrol car, only to notice the radio calling him. “Dammit, Eustace, I know you’re there, pick up the damn thing.”

“Sorry, got distracted,” Eustace said, getting into the patrol car and tossing the cigarette case in the passenger’s seat. “Would it kill you to sound a little bit more professional?”

“You don’t pay me enough for that,” the woman’s voice responded. Hiring Wendy, a female officer, felt like a huge mistake, even if all she did was pretty much handle the phones and the radio. “Anyway, Miss Walsh called, you know, the lady with the ranch? Anyway, she said that there’s some strange man attacking her cattle.”

“Attacking her cattle?” the sheriff puffed on his cigar a bit more. “How so?”

“She said he was biting them. Weird, right? She said he looked like he was high or something. You’d better get over there.”

“Right. I’m on my way. Sheriff Brown, out.” He shoved the transceiver back in it cradle, and revved up the car, driving towards the ranch.

“Oh, thank God you came!” Miss Walsh was standing on her front porch, cradling a shotgun under her arm. “There’s a crazy man trying to take bites outta my cows. I shot at him a bit, but then he got right in among ’em, and I can’t aim for him, you know how my eyes are. Well, I thought this was a bit outta my league, so I called you.”

“Think nothin’ of it, ma’am,” the sheriff said, stomping on the cigar stub. “Now, if you’ll show me where he is…”

The middle-aged woman nodded, and led the sheriff out to the pasture. There stood a group of nervous-looking cattle, and out beyond them was a man in a three-piece suit, covered in blood and wearing a blue balaclava and gloves, digging in eagerly into the corpse of a cow. The sheriff blinked in disbelief.

“Took that thing down himself,” Miss Walsh said with a shudder. “I could get a clear shot at him now, actually…”

“I’ll handle this,” the sheriff said, creeping up to the gate and swinging it open. The cows, skittish as they were, scattered as he came. The man in the field looked up, snarled, and then turned back to the beef carcass before him. “Hands up where I can see ’em!” Eustace shouted, drawing his gun and training it on the suspect. “You’re under arrest.”

The man turned to him slowly, and it was then Eustace noticed how glassy and dead his eyes were. The sheriff had seen enough corpses in his day to know what a dead man’s eyes looked like, and he was staring into them right now. The man in blue stood up, body jerking and twisting in a way that simply was not human, and his tongue lolled out of his mouth as he started to reach forward, staggering and groaning as he tottered towards the sheriff.

“Come any closer, and I’ll shoot!” the sheriff bellowed. But his orders were ignored, as the man in the three-piece suit with the bloated stomach shambled closer, faster now, hissing at him. Eustace then turned his gun down and blew out his attacker’s kneecap.

The suspect fell forward, leg twisting in at an unnatural angle, and fell onto that bloated stomach, which burst open in an explosion of blood, organs and wet, black feathers. This didn’t seem to deter the man much, however, as he still managed to lift his head and claw and groan towards the sheriff, dragging himself across the ground. Miss Walsh screamed, and dove inside.

Eustace’s body then started to shift into autopilot, and the rational part of his brain started to crackle to life. This had to be some druggie. He would be dead soon. Best to call an ambulance and have them pick up the corpse. In a daze, he went to his patrol car and called Wendy. He grabbed a pair of handcuffs and wandered back to the man who was supposed to be dying. He cuffed the strange man, all while in an odd, trance-like state, and suffered a nasty bite on his forearm for his trouble. By the time the paramedic’s came, the suspect was still writhing around and snarling and groaning in a frenzy, and managed to bite one of them, taking a good chunk of flesh out of his arm. It was decided the best course of action for the sheriff would be to follow them to the hospital, and also get that bite treated. Eustace was happy to oblige, and drove back to his district, back to Beatty, Nevada.

“Sheriff Brown?”

The Sheriff looked up from month-old copy of TIME he had been flipping through, and met with the gaze of the doctor. “Yeah?”

“I wanted to talk to you about that suspect you brought in,” Doctor Meyer said, looking over his clipboard nervously. “I was wondering if we could talk somewhere more…private, perhaps?”

Eustace raised an eyebrow. “Sure…” He got up from his chair, tossed the magazine aside, and followed the doctor into one of the examining rooms. The doctor locked the door behind them. “What’s wrong with him, Doc?”

“Well…by all accounts, the man you brought in should be dead.”

The sheriff looked at him incredulously. “You mean the whole stomach exploding like that?”

The doctor shook his head. “It’s more than that. The man has no pulse. His organs are no longer functioning, and it appears his stomach had already ruptured due to being overstuffed before you even got to him. There’s some minimal brain activity, but it appears he has absolutely no recollection of…well, anything. All he seems to care about is trying to take a bite out of anyone who gets close enough to him. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire medical career.”

“Jesus Christ…” The sheriff took off his hat and ran a hand through his thinning hair. “This can’t be happening…”

“I’ve made some calls,” Dr. Meyer said, fingering his clipboard nervously. “I called some colleagues of mine, this is…well, this is a medical precedent. We’re actually doing x-rays on his skull right now, looking to see if there’s, I don’t know, some sort of invasive parasite controlling the central nervous system. This is big, Sheriff. Very big.”

“Yeah…very big…” Eustace began to feel hot, and mopped his brow with a handkerchief pulled from his back pocket. “Listen, I’m gonna head back to th’ station. I’ll call ya if anything comes up.”

“Very well,” the doctor said. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right? You got a nasty bite there…”

“Your guys stitched me up pretty good. I’ll be fine,” and with that, he stuffed the handkerchief back into his pocket, slapped his hat back on and left.

“Dammit, I told you nimrods to stop playing with those masks!”

The man who used to be Officer Clancy, but now had the appearance of a tall, lanky man dressed in red with suntanned skin, aviator shades, sideburns and a wide-brim hat, sulked at this reprimanding, “Aw, shoot, we’re just havin’ a little fun, Sheriff.”

“Yeah,” Wendy piped up from her seat at the phones. “Besides, he looks so handsome like that. Better ‘n’ usual.”

“Aw, geez, way to put a guy down.” He removed the mask in a puff of blue smoke, returning to the short and somewhat portly man he usually was. “Maybe I should just keep this thing on all the time.”

“Hey! Hey, look at me!” A tall, straight-laced looking man with glasses appeared, wearing what that looked like a cross between a medical lab coat and a German military uniform goose-stepped in. “Anybody else get a weird Colonel Klink vibe from this one, or is it just me?”

“Officer Fox, you take that goddamned thing off.” Eustace was feeling hot and cranky. “Could somebody turn the goddamned fan on? It’s hotter n’ hell in here.”

“Geez, AC’s on, Sheriff, you know how summer is out in the middle of the desert.” Officer Fox reluctantly took his disguise, revealing his boyishly handsome face. “You sure you’re doin’ okay after that acid freak or whatever it was bit ya?”

“Wasn’t an acid freak…” the Sheriff said, now fanning himself with a manilla folder. “Was somethin’ else entirely…”

The sheriff didn’t finish his sentence. He collapsed over his desk, becoming more feverish by the second.

It was early in the morning when Sheriff Eustace Brown, fevered and delusional, suddenly died of mysterious causes. A connection was made when one of the hospital paramedics died of serious causes an hour later.

About few hours later, the sheriff was no longer dead.

His body had still been within the hospital walls. The doctor performing the autopsy was killed viciously, and partially eaten. He then escaped, and had bitten and killed about a dozen more patients. Panic started to spread when hospital patients escaped into the town. Dr. Meyer frantically tried to call somebody for help, preferably the National Guard, but he was attacked and mauled by a group of bloodthirsty living corpses.

The town was in a panic. Despite many townsfolk being armed, the outbreak continued to spread, and during the panic it was hard for anyone to tell how. Eventually, several large jeeps, tanks, and helicopters swarmed in, all bearing a logo for some private organization for the Builder’s League United. They didn’t seem too worried about rescuing any survivors; on the contrary, survivors were mowed down under a hail of gunfire.

When they reached to police station, they had shot Officer Wendy Parker in the back. Officers Fox and Clancy, too, were swiftly executed, and Clyde Barksdale, who had only a few hours ago found himself the new Sheriff, panicked and hid in a broom closet. The door was kicked down, and he found himself stared down by barrels of some ridiculously large weaponry before his torso was liquefied by gun fire.

One of the executioners searched the corpse, and recovered the cigarette case in the sheriff’s breast pocket, which was now painted with a generous coat of red. He flipped it open and saw the paper masks fall out; they had been hastily stuffed back in a number of times.

The road was soon blocked off, and news of what went down in Beatty seemed to vary widely. But none of the rumors seemed to touch upon the truth.

And this was just the way BLU preferred it to be.

Sniper couldn’t explain why, but he had a feeling deep in his gut that something was terribly wrong.

That zombie that he had shot was a bad omen. That he knew. But he felt like something really horrible was going to happen, soon. Demoman had felt it, too, probably long before Sniper did. Hell, he probably felt it as soon as they had walked out to fight BLU team and they simply weren’t there.

He stared out over the desert through his binoculars, this time with the radio off. He felt as though he could hear things off in the distance. Screams. Gunfire. Those horrible bloody zombies. It was probably his over-active imagination, fearing the worst.

“Herr Sniper! Herr Sniper, come down quickly!” It was Medic. The hell did he want now?

“Not now, mate, I’m busy,” Sniper shot back.

“You ah not! You’re just sitting up zere, frying your brains und not using a proper toilet, like alvays,” Medic retorted, climbing up into the assassin’s roost. “Anyvay, I made some amazing progress viz ze subject I procured. Ze live vone, zat BLU Scout.”

“Stumpy?” Sniper barely turned to the doctor.

“Er, ja. Stumpy. Anyvay, I have been trying to have him re-learn speech. So fah, he’s only really been able to properly pronounce vone vord, but given enough time, I zink he may be able to recite all of our classes viz proper annunciation! Is zat not exciting?”

Sniper swiveled around in his seat and merely stared at the doctor with a mix of disbelief and annoyance. He could see Medic’s excitement melt away, shoulders slumping and face falling. “You’re serious,” Sniper said flatly, pulling down his aviators and peeking at Medic over them.

“Of course I am serious!” Medic huffed. “Zis may not seem important to you, but I zink zat knowing zat ze victims can be controlled und tamed is vital information to have! Vhy doesn’t anyvone appreciate vhat I am trying to do here? Not you, not Engineer, not even mein Heavy, no vone!” He threw up his arms in frustration. “Fine zen! I don’t need zis! Ach!” and with that, the doctor stormed off.

The assassin merely turned back to his window, and kept a watchful eye on the desert. Medic was in an unusually bitchy mood, but the man had just had the snot beaten out of him the previous day, so it could be excused. Sniper paid him no mind, and decided that maybe he should switch the radio back on again.


 

Chapter 13

The supply train was late. Today was the day it was supposed to come, bringing with it ammunition, food, medical supplies, mail, and whatever odd items that had been specifically ordered by the members of the RED team. All nine of them had gathered at the tracks where the train usually unloaded. It was supposed to have arrived at noon.

“It’s friggin’ 12:05 already!” Scout whined. He had yanked Sniper’s left arm closer to him to check the time, since the younger man had no watch on him. Sniper pulled his arm back with a sneer. “C’mon, they’re usually here at twelve on the dot!”

“Engineer, did HQ say anyzing about running behind schedule at all?” Medic asked, turning to the Texan standing next to him.

“Well, gee, I wouldn’t know, since the only person HQ ever wants t’ speak to anymore is Spah,” Engineer said with uncharacteristic venom in his tone. He shot a rather nasty glare towards Spy, who had just lit a fresh cigarette.

“Zey did not tell me anyzing of ze sort, Laborer,” Spy said nonchalantly. “I assume zat zere has simply been a delay.”

They all waited a few minutes in silence. Scout continually peered over at Sniper’s watch, and Sniper consistently retreated away from him. Spy had already gone through his first cigarette, and started on another. Demoman sat down on the ground and started taking a few swigs from his bottle. Engineer crossed his arms and began to drum his fingers and whistle. Medic, too, had his arms crossed but was standing up straight and almost motionless. Heavy stood next to him, shuffling nervously. Pyro walked over next to Demoman and sat down with a sigh. Soldier stood at attention, holding onto Shovel. He let out a low chuckle.

“What’re you laughin’ about?” Sniper asked with a sneer.

“Just thought of something really funny, is all,” Soldier answered.

“Time check?” Medic asked.

“Ten past twelve,” Spy said, looking at his watch. “I’m going inside.” Spy tugged at his tie and cast one last glace at the tracks before walking off. Scout looked around impatiently and ended up following Spy.

It wasn’t long before the other members of the team started to drift off. Sniper hawked a wad of phlegm onto the tracks before ambling back towards the base, and Demo eventually got up and following him, though he tottered a bit as he did so. Engineer didn’t stick around much longer either and departed, muttering something about trying to contact HQ again. This left Medic, Heavy, Soldier and Pyro still waiting. Medic still stood up straight, head turned in the direction the train should have come from. Heavy sighed, feeling an obligation towards his doctor to stay by his side, and found his gaze wandering as his mind drifted to daydreams. Pyro had pulled out a box of matches, and was content to light them, one by one, and watch them slowly burn. Soldier, however, decided to try and make Medic as uncomfortable as possible; casting lingering glances, grinning at him, and occasionally laughing, breaking up the long, awkward silence. Heavy’s menacing glares did little to deter the American.

“Doktor, come. Let’s go back inside. Train is not coming.” Heavy rested a large hand on the doctor’s shoulder.

“Should be arriving any minute, Heavy,” Medic said softly. “If no vone is here to greet zem, zey go past us. You know how zey ah.”

“Do not be silly. Ve have been out here for twenty minutes, at least. Let’s go.” Heavy gave Medic’s shoulder a gentle squeeze.

Gather ’round while I sing you of Wernher Von Braun/ A man whose allegiance/ Is ruled by expedience…” Soldier started to sing to himself, twirling Shovel around a bit as he did so. Medic’s eye twitched a bit, and he let out a sharp, shuddering breath through flared nostrils.

“You’re upsetting Doktor,” Heavy rumbled, glowering at Soldier.

“Awwww, did I hurt the little woman’s feelings?” Soldier cooed with mock sympathy.

“I zink you’re right, mein Heavy. Ve should go back inside.” Medic scowled at Soldier as he turned to Pyro. “Ah you coming inside as vell, Pyro?”

Pyro looked up from his match for a moment and shook his head. “Hrrll wurrhh hurrrr.”

“Ah you sure?” Medic asked.

“Hrrll burr frrn,” Pyro mumbled with a nod.

“Not all of us need to be babysat by you, Doc,” Soldier sneered. “Just mind your own goddamned business for once.”

“I don’t recall saying anyzing to you, Solider,” Medic snapped. “Shpeaking of minding your own business and vhatnot…”

“Sure thing, Von Braun,” Soldier jeered.

Medic and Heavy took their leave, Heavy trying to soothe the doctor by wrapping his arm around him and telling him to pay no attention to Soldier; he wasn’t right in the head, after all. Soldier watched them leave, and when he was sure they were out of earshot, he strolled over to Pyro, leaning over him with Shovel held behind his back.

“Hello, Pyro,” Soldier said, with a hint of menace in his voice. “We need to talk.”

“Hrrbrrt wwrrrt?” Pyro asked, looking up nervously through smoked glass lenses.

“I found this while I was patrolling the building last night.” Soldier produced a folded sheet of paper from one of the pouches on his belt, and handed it to Pyro, his expression grave.

The fire starter took it from Soldier’s fingers and unfolded it. He didn’t even have to read it to recognize that it was the note he had written to Medic a few days earlier. Pyro kept staring at the paper, too afraid to look back up and make eye contact with Soldier.

“I’m creeping you out, eh?” Soldier pulled his face closer to Pyro’s mask, trying to get a good look past the smoky glass lenses that served as Pyro’s portholes to the world. “I’m somehow scarier than Medic is? You decide to run and hide behind his coat tails, point at me and tattle like a goddamned little girl, is that it?”

Pyro cringed and shook his head in an exaggerated, cartoonish fashion, making pathetic little whimpers as he did so. Soldier frightened him even when he was being genuinely friendly, as loud and as animated as he was, and seeing him angry was absolutely terrifying.

“Hrryy wwrrr ooo urrnn Mrrddkk’sh uffisshh?” Pyro asked, trying to shift some blame off of himself.

“Why was I down there? Because somebody has gotta keep an eye on that lunatic, and that somebody is me!” He lunged forward, causing Pyro to jump, and his face was mere inches away from Pyro’s mask. “And who should I find sneaking around there last night but you, in the sickbay, with that prisoner.”

“Strrrmpuhh?” Pyro asked.

“Yeah…Stumpy…” Soldier spat out the name as if it were poison on his tongue. “What exactly were you doing down there, huh?”

“Frreedun hurrm,” Pyro said with a timid little shrug.

“I’m sorry, ‘feeding him’? That sounds like fraternization with the enemy, private!” Soldier whipped Shovel out, so that the spade rested right underneath Pyro’s chin. “You’ve got five seconds to tell me whose side you’re really on before I rip that mask off your face.”

Pyro started to panic. “RRRD!” he cried. “URRM URN RRRD TURRM! DRRN TRRRK URRFF MUUHH MRRSSK!” He covered his face with his arms in a feeble attempt to ward Soldier off.

Soldier, however, was stronger, and was able to easily overtake the smaller man, pinning him to the ground. Pyro let out an animalistic shriek, pressing his hands down over his mask desperately, as Soldier tried to grab the neckline of the mask and peel it up. Something jostled free into the light from under Pyro’s collar, and Soldier stopped and stared.

Oh no, Pyro thought, absolutely horrified. He found it. The fire starter hastily tucked it back under his uniform, but Soldier had seen it, and had gotten a good, long look at it. It was one of the only things Pyro had of his identity, and Soldier had seen it. Pyro guarded his face and his identity, preferring to keep everything about him a mystery; everything he could remember, at least. And now Soldier, of all people, had a hint of who he was. The worst part was the slow realization that dawned on Soldier’s face, which quickly turned into a wide, toothy grin.

“I understand now,” Soldier said slowly, sitting up. “Guess I had you wrong, after all. Why, you gotta hate Medic more than I do.”

“Whhry wurrrd uhh hrrrt Mrrddkk?” Pyro asked, his head tilted.

“Don’t play dumb, Pyro,” Soldier huffed. “We’re in the same boat, you and I. Well, maybe not the same boat. Similar boats, certainly, in the same lake; the lake of hating Medic.” He tightened his grip around Shovel.

“Burrt uhh durrnn hrrt-”

“Like hell, you don’t. If you’re trying to sabotage Medic’s operation, I’m the last person you should be lying to about that. We’re allies, now.” He got up off of Pyro and offered him his hand. Pyro cautiously gave it to the American, and found himself lifted up off the ground. Soldier wasn’t listening to him, and while Pyro was not entirely sure what that thing around his neck meant, other than that it was his, and it meant something, Soldier obviously read into it in away that made it think he was on his side. Best not to upset Soldier by arguing with him, Pyro thought. Soldier was scary.

“That makes four of us now, Pyro,” Soldier said, wrapping his arm around Pyro’s shoulder. “You, me, Scout ‘n’ Shovel. Although, I have to say, I can’t entirely trust Scout. Boy’s a goddamned chatterbox and he’s dumber than a sack of wet hammers. He wouldn’t understand Shovel, either.”

“Shrrvuurrl?” Pyro asked.

“Yeah. He…she…they are the real mastermind behind all this. Tactical genius, Shovel is. And I’m the only one that can hear ’em. They don’t like to talk too loud, y’see.” Soldier looked to the Shovel in his hand with a rare affection. “Only one in this whole goddamned shithole that actually understands me.”

Pyro nodded politely. Pyro was no shining pillar of mental stability, but even he thought that this was…disconcerting, to say the least. Medic might have been sadistic, but he has that odd nurturing side that served as a stark contrast to it, and he never really seemed to take much anger out on Pyro. Soldier, however, was much harder to predict.

“Listen, Pyro. You ever need a hand putting that crazy Nazi sonuvabitch in his place, you just stop by the War Room and say so. You can be my double agent; get him all comfortable and warm up to you before we ruin that maggot.”

“Drrburrll errgurrnt? Lrrrk uhh Sprryy?” Pyro asked.

“Yeah. Like a Spy,” Soldier said. “Only, better’n our Spy. He’s a goddamned smug little frog. I should probably give him a few good blows to the face too. Can’t trust that fucker as far as you could throw him.”

Again, Pyro nodded, finding himself almost dragged along as Soldier led him into the base and talked about how nobody on RED team was worthy of his trust, listing off his reasons for thinking so. Pyro decided not to argue the point, but felt a little pity for Soldier; he couldn’t trust anyone.

Then again, Pyro couldn’t fully put his trust in anyone else either. Maybe he shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

There was a sharp knocking at the door of Engineer’s workshop. “Door’s open,” he said, slipping his beer bottle back into his hidden desk fridge.

The door opened, and Medic marched in, followed by Heavy. “Hello, Herr Engineer! Any luck viz contacting HQ at all?”

“None,” Engineer sighed. “All I get back is dead air. If you wanna talk to ’em you’d hafta get a hold a’ Spah.”

“I do not zink zat vill be necessary,” Medic said assertively. “May I try?”

“Knock yerself out, pardner.” Engineer scooted his chair back and stood up, gesturing to the radio.

“Danke schön,” Medic said with a light bow, and leaned over the desk, supporting himself with the palm of his hand and grabbed the radio transceiver with the other. “Zis is RED Medic, calling ze Announzah, do you read me?” He waited a few seconds, then looked back at Engineer, who merely shrugged. “Zis is RED Medic. Come in, Announzah!”

Heavy’s gaze started to wander, and he turned to peer over the many shelves of odd gadgets, parts and tools that seemed to zig zag over the workshop. Engineer leaned back in his chair, giving out a little wooden squeak. Medic muttered something under his breath in German, before trying it again. “Frau Announzah, zis is RED Medic. Ze supply train has not arrived yet today. I am concerned. Please respond.”

There was still nothing; only dead air. Medic was becoming visibly frustrated.

“Having some problems zere, Docteur?”

Medic whipped around to see Spy behind him, smirking in his usual cocksure manner. Engineer nearly toppled backwards in his chair, muttering “Jesus!” as he managed to catch himself. Heavy, however, didn’t seem very interested in Spy’s appearance, and went back to studying an old teleporter.

“Spy! You stahtled me.” Medic clutched his chest. “But, ja. Ze Announzah is not answering. I vish to speak to her.”

Spy waved Medic away, and leaned over the desk, propping himself up with his elbows, and took a hold of the transceiver. “Bonjour, Madame. It is your RED Spy. How are you zis afternoon?”

There was a long silence. Spy still remained cool, however, and took a drag from his ever-present cigarette. “Do not be so coy, Madame. I know you are zere,” he said playfully. Engineer rolled his eyes. There was still no response.

“What’s th’ matter, Spy?” Engineer asked. “Have a little fight with th’ Madame?” He was answered with a look of absolute rage painted over the Frenchman’s face.

“Get out,” Spy hissed.

“I beg yer pardon? This is my workshop here, ya can’t just-”

“I said ‘get out’! Leave! All of you!” Spy barked viciously, pointing to the door with an outstretched and tensed arm. Both Medic and Engineer scurried out, and Heavy sighed and followed them out with an air of indifference. The door was slammed shut and locked behind them.

“Vell, now vhat?” Medic asked in exasperation.

“We’re just gonna hafta wait,” Engineer sighed, looking none too happy. “I can’t even do any work, Spah’s in there with all my tools…”

“Something bad has happened,” Heavy rumbled. “Train is not coming. Announcer is not talking to Spy. Monster almost came through fence yesterday. I do not like it.”

“We’ll get zis straightened out, Heavy,” Medic said, patting Heavy on the shoulder, trying to soothe him. “You vait und see.”

“If you say so, Doktor,” Heavy said with a sigh.

The recreation room was unusually crowded. The television was on, blaring the CBS Evening News and filling the room with the sound of Walter Cronkite’s voice. Heavy and Medic were on the couch, Medic leaning against Heavy’s shoulder but otherwise totally focused on the broadcast; the same could not be said for Heavy, who seemed preoccupied with playing with Medic’s hair curl. Engineer, Demoman and Sniper were down there as well, pulling chairs from the table usually reserved for card games or chess matches and circling them around the television. Pyro was also watching from his spot sitting on the floor. Scout was the only one there who seemed uninterested in the television, sitting at the table, reading an old issue of Batman.

“Jesus, isn’t there a game on or somethin’?” Scout whined.

“Quiet,” Sniper snapped. “This is important. If there’s gonna be a zombie uprisin’, you can bet it’d show up on th’ evenin’ news.”

“Not zombies,” Medic sighed.

The room fell quiet again. There was no news about zombies; only the escalating war in Vietnam, some Presidential election coverage, news of university campus protests and race riots. The program had ended, although the feeling of unease still remained. It was then Spy finally entered the room, looked disheveled and lacking his usual air of confidence. Everyone in the room turned to him, waiting for the words that they all expected to hear.

“Ze Announcer…she has stopped responding,” Spy stammered, his cigarette dangling from his lips as he stared at the wall past them.

“I thought you were the only one a’ us that could get through to her!” Scout said, standing up from his seat.

“I was…” Spy said. “But she is must not be there. Somezing has happened…”

“Why were you the only one she’d been talkin’ to lately, Spah?” Engineer asked accusingly. “Ever since we took down BLU base she’s been refusing t’ listen t’ me every single time I’ve called. I want an explanation.”

“Zat is none of you business,” Spy responded, becoming a little more animated.

“Zis is everyvone’s business now, Spy,” Medic snapped, standing up from his spot on the couch and whirling around from his spot on the couch. “If ve cannot reach ze Announcer, ve cannot contact HQ. Und wiz ze supply train not arriving, und no vay to contact anyvone about it… I zink it vould be prudent for you to tell us vhat exactly is going on.”

“I have not been given clearance to tell you.” Spy said. “Suffice to say, my contact wiz ze Announcer has nozzing to do wiz our current predicament, gentlemen. Zis is somezing else entirely.”

“And how in the Sam Hill are we supposed t’ trust you on that, Spah?” Engineer asked. “Hell, you shouldn’t even have t’ be hidin’ this stuff from us. If they’re leavin’ us t’ die out here, I hardly see why keepin’ their secrets would still be a priority.”

“Let us not jump to conclusions, Engineer,” Medic said. “I zink your emotions are getting ze best of you here. But yes, Spy, I zink you should indulge us. It is only fair.”

Spy didn’t respond. He seemed to seriously be considering it, but with Spy, nobody could be entirely sure.

“Come on, Spy,” Heavy said, arm hanging off the back of the couch as he turned to the Frenchman. “Ve are team.”

“Yes…a team.”

Soldier was now in the doorframe behind Spy, his arms crossed and Shovel dangling from one of his hands. “Funny you should say that, Heavy…being that you’re working for the one trying to tear the team apart.”

“Vhat is zis nonsense you keep talking about?” Medic asked. “I have been doing nozzing of ze sort. Zat seems to be vhat you ah doing.”

“Shifting the blame on me, eh? Obviously, I didn’t beat enough sense into that thick skull of yours.” He uncrossed his arms and pushed Spy aside with Shovel’s blade, his eyes never leaving Medic. “Think you can make everybody believe that as you’re on our side, that you’re harmless. Well, I know better. And so does Scout and Pyro.”

“Pyro?” Medic looked down at Pyro, who was cringing and covering his lenses with his gloved hands. “You ah in on zis?”

“Nurrrr! Urrh swwrrr! Durrn lrsshhn turr hurrm!” Pyro cried, shaking his head.

“Sorry to blow your cover, Pyro, but I don’t think you should have to hide anymore,” Soldier said, walking towards Medic. “Besides, Medic should pay for what he’s done…and what he’s planning to do…”

Suddenly, Soldier found himself blocked by Engineer, who looked up at him through his goggles, his expression stern. “That’s enough, Soldier. What Heavy said is right. We are a team, fer better or worse.”

Soldier was taken aback. “You’re just as treacherous as Medic is, aren’t you?”

“Ain’t treachery if you’re tryin’ t’ keep yer team from killin’ each other,” Engineer said. “Only person here I see acting mutinous is you.”

“I’m not alone here!” Soldier barked. “Right, Scout?”

Scout jolted. “Uh, yeah. I mean…uh…” He could feel the eyes of the entire team boring into him, and his voice trailed off.

“Ye donnae actualleh b’lieve th’ crap Soldier is spoutin’, do ye, lad?” Demoman asked, raising an eyebrow.

“He said he was gonna run experiments on us, man!” Scout blurted.

“Oh, fer Christ’s sake, Scout, yer a bleedin’ idiot, you know that?” Sniper pulled his aviators down the bridge of his nose. “Everybody knows Solly’s out of his bloody gourd.”

“You shut up, you smelly, hippie sonuvabitch!” Soldier waved Shovel at the Aussie threateningly. “Least I don’t go around collecting my piss in a bunch of mason jars, you filthy convict.”

“Better ‘n’ takin’ advice from a dingum Shovel,” Sniper spat back.

Pyro panicked at this point, scurrying behind Medic and hiding behind him, hiding behind his coattails like a small child. Medic tried to offer the chemsuited man a reassuring smile, but Pyro still appeared to be trembling.

“Pyro, you traitor!” Soldier yelled. “You’re supposed to be on my side!” He tried to charge towards Pyro, but Engineer blocked him once again.

“Soldier, you ah ill,” Medic said, patting Pyro on the head in an attempt to comfort him. “You do not even grasp how sick you ah. You ah probably suffering from some form of schizophrenia…”

“I am NOT letting you shove any more of those pills down my throat, you goddamned Nazi!” Soldier was now being physically restrained by Engineer.

“If you won’t be taking your medication, Soldier, zen I’m afraid I’m going to have to file a request for your immediate discharge,” Medic said coolly.

Soldier froze. Engineer slowly released his grip, and took a few steps back. Spy merely gave Medic a very quizzical glance.

“You bastard,” Soldier said softly. “You wouldn’t…”

“Vhy vouldn’t I? Obviously, your condition has gotten so bad zat you ah turning on your teammates, zerefore impeding your ability to perform even your more basic duties. I’m sorry, Soldier. Zis is for your own good.”

There was an ominous silence that permeated throughout the entire room. Soldier started to shake with rage, his face turning bright red and his jaw clenched tight. Finally, he just let out a shrill, primal scream, and was soon held back by Engineer and Heavy before he could get to Medic and bash his face in with Shovel. “YOU SOLD ME OUT!” he screeched. “ALL OF YOU! TRAITORS! YOU’RE ALL NAZIS BY PROXY NOW!”

“Take him to his room,” Medic said wearily. “Make sure he doesn’t leave. I don’t vant him hurting anyvone.”

“Vit pleasure,” Heavy said, lifting Soldier clear off the ground, making sure to hold his arms at his sides with his own large, beefy appendage. Engineer stepped out of the Russian’s way with a nod.

“I’LL KILL YOU, MEDIC! YOU ARE A DEAD MAN, YOU HEAR ME? DEAD!” Soldier continued to scream as Heavy carried him out of the room and down the hall.

Engineer looked around the room. “Aw, dagnabbit. Spah snuck out.”

Medic sighed, massaging the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “Let him go, for now. I’m going to bed.” He looked at Scout. “Ve shall discuss zis situation viz Soldier tomorrow. Hopefully, we’ll be able to contact HQ by zen.”

“Sounds like a plan, Doc,” Engineer said with a solemn tone.

“Yeah…sure…” Scout said nervously, looking down at his feet.

The remaining members of RED Team filtered out of the rec room. The general air of malaise still lingered over each of them like cigarette smoke as they each retreated back to their own corners of the base. A few miles away, in the desert, something was shuffling towards them, with narrow-minded determination; something with an insatiable hunger and several gaping maws that ached for flesh, eating away at the landscape.


 

Chapter 14

Well, Soldier thought, this was a fine how-do-you-do. Medic wanted him discharged, he was humiliated in front of his team, and Heavy had carried him back to his room and threw him in, hitting his helmeted head against one of the walls. When Soldier finally managed to come back to his senses, he opened the door only to see the back of a supply locker blocking the exit. And those things were goddamned heavy. The Russian might have actually had to call for help to move that thing in place.

To make matters worse, he could hear strains of “Ode to Joy” filtering down the hallway.

“Goddammit,” Soldier growled. He started to pace, occasionally looking over towards Shovel, who was lying down on the bed. “Whole team turned against me…the whole goddamned team…I thought I could reach them, Shovel. Especially Pyro…but it all backfired.”

Shovel was silent. Soldier imagined that he was probably taking this all under consideration.

“Good Lord, what if they’re right, Shovel?” Soldier asked, having a rare epiphany. “What if…what if Medic isn’t the main threat, here? I mean, I don’t like him, and I certainly don’t trust him…but, maybe…” Soldier paused. This was all very difficult to articulate. “Maybe…I don’t know. Maybe I’m just wrong, just this once.”

Don’t be stupid, Shovel snapped. You’re losing your focus, Soldier. You’re falling into his trap. We can’t allow that to happen. We’re the only ones left that know the truth.

Soldier averted his eyes from Shovel, looking down at his feet and tilting his helmet further over his eyes. “I…I’m sorry, Shovel. I don’t know what I was thinking. I shouldn’t have doubted you. Not even for a second.”

Very good…good boy, Shovel purred. Now, strip.

Soldier jolted in surprise at the request…no, demand. It was a firm, deliberate demand, and Soldier was not one to upset his Shovel. He obeyed, silently removing his clothing, until he was down to his undershirt, boxers, and helmet.

Naked, Shovel said flatly.

“Shovel…” Soldier asked, peering at him from under his helmet. “Are you trying to seduce me?”

I need your absolute trust and obedience, Soldier, Shovel said. Take it all off. Except for the helmet.

“Yes, sir.” Soldier said, straightening up a little before peeling off his undershirt. He had hooked his thumbs around the elastic of his boxers when Medic let out a particularly loud moan, which could still be heard from Soldier’s room, even over the music and through their doors and the steel supply cabinet.

Come to me, Soldier, Shovel whispered. We’ll drown them out.

That voice, that lusty, velvety soft voice of Shovel’s was enough to set Soldier off. He dove onto the bed and started to ravish his favorite weapon, squirming and writhing in throes of ecstasy.

Goddammit, he was going to show those sissy-boy maggots how a real man fucks.


 

Sniper found himself lying on a bed, and Marilyn Monroe was alive and well and pinning him down, so he either figured that he had gone back in time somehow or there was some sort of witchcraft involved. Either way, it didn’t matter, since her hands were exploring his bare chest and she was cooing “Happy Birthday to You” to him, her lips grazing over the skin of his neck as his hands slid down her hips…

“Sniper! Wake up lad!”

“Bwuh?” Sniper looked down and suddenly Marilyn had been replaced with Demoman. “Oh, crikey, no!”

“I SAID, MOVE YER BONES!”

Sniper jolted from his chair, waking violently and startling Demoman. He started to remember what had happened before he fell asleep; he had invited Demo up for a few beers, and they stayed in the roost this time, as opposed to on the roof. “Jesus, mate, why’d ya go an’ do that?” he panted. “I was havin’ such a wonderful dream. Marilyn Monroe was singin’ me ‘Happy Birthday’ an’ was gonna blow out me candle.”

“Thi’ is serious, Sniper,” Demoman said darkly. “They’re here.”

“Who’s here?” asked Sniper.

“Th’ livin’ dead,” Demoman responded. “Look ou’ yer window.”

Sniper grabbed his binoculars and peered out the window. Just past the fence there was a living sea of shuffling human corpses, packed tightly together, all moving in one single direction like a herd of cattle. Their cries were low and rumbling, and their faces were illuminated by the moonlight, gaping maws and rolling tongues and glassy, dead eyes shining in the night. Sniper lowered his binoculars and stared with his jaw hanging open.

“How did they even…” Sniper’s voice trailed off.

“I dunnae! They weren’t ou’ there a few hours ago! Mother a’ Christ, there must be a couple thousand o’ ’em, at least!” Demoman turned to Sniper. “I dunnoae if we ‘ave enough ammo to hold ’em all off.”

The assassin stood up from his chair, clutching his rifle and peering through the scope. “See if I can’t pick off a few of ’em. Go wake everyone up.”

“Ye donnoe need tae tell me twice,” Demoman replied, turning to run back down to the dorms.

“Knew it. Bloody knew it,” Sniper muttered under his breath, setting his aim on a zombie that was a few paces faster than the others. He fired, and the back of its head exploded into bits of blood and bone and brain. It collapsed, only to be trampled by the others behind it. “Piece a’ piss,” Sniper hissed, taking aim and firing at another, and another, and another.

It was going to be a long night.

“GET UP! ALL A’ YE! THEY’RE HERE! I TOL’ YE THEY’D COME!”

Medic shot up from out of bed. Demoman was in the halls, shouting like a man possessed. He fumbled for his glasses, and put them on his face, and could feel the bed shifting underneath him as Heavy got up.

“Vhat is going on, Doktor?” Heavy asked, still half-asleep.

“Get dressed. Somezing is happening,” Medic said curtly, standing up and walking briskly to his closet. He opened it, grabbing a uniform off of one of hangers and quickly getting dressed. “Vould you kindly fetch me a fresh pair of unterpants, mein Liebe?”

“Da.” Heavy got up and moved with a slowness that was absolutely painful to watch. Medic had already gotten his shirt and tie on by the time Heavy stood up and rounded their bed. Medic lost his patience and just grabbed the pair that had been thrown on the floor earlier than night, and slipped them on.

“Ach, could you possibly move any slowah?” Medic snapped. “Just go get dressed, und hurry!”

By the time Heavy lumbered to his trunk, Medic was fully dressed, medipack and all, and looking rather annoyed. Medic ended up stomping over, popping open the trunk and throwing Heavy’s clothes at him.

“WHAT’S TAKIN’ YE SO LONG, MEDIC, THERE’S BLOODY ZOMBIES CRAWLIN’ ALL O’ER TH’ PLACE!” Demoman shouted, pounding at the infirmary door.

“Zombies?” Heavy asked, sounding slightly more awake.

“HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU, DO NOT USE ZAT VORD!” Medic shouted back, opening their bedroom door. He shot a glare back at Heavy. “Don’t just stand zere, looking like a dummkopf! Unless you vant to fight zem naked, you’d better hurry! Raus, raus!” Medic darted into the infirmary, picking up his weapons and leaving.

When he got out into the hall, he could see the other members of RED team running about. Engineer was carrying his toolbox and headed upstairs, followed closely by Pyro, who was clutching his flamethrower. Scout was half dressed, hopping around and trying to work his legs through his pants while balancing his bat under his arm. Demoman was attempting to push the supply locker in front of Soldier’s room out of the way, only to have Soldier scream at him from the other side, insisting that he not be disturbed, banging on the locker with Shovel. Medic went over to the locker and tried to help Demoman.

“Christ a’mighty, this thing weighs a ton!” Demoman grunted.

“I said leave us alone, you goddamned inebriate!” Soldier shouted. “You’re all a bunch of treacherous, backstabbing, scum-sucking low-lives! You can all get slaughtered out there like the swine you are, for all I care!”

“Soldier, ve need your assistance!” Medic shouted, he and Demoman managing to push the supply locker over a few inches.

“You’re the last person I want to hear from,” Soldier spat. “You can burn in hell, you filthy, fascist sodomite!”

Medic stopped pushing on the barricade. “Vell, fine, zen. You shtay in zere and abandon your team. I have more important zings to do zen to sit around und listen to you shpew insults at me. Come, Demoman. We have to defend ze base.”

“But we’re gonnae need all th’ help we can get!” Demoman protested.

“If Soldier does not vish to be a part of zis team anymore, zen he vill no longer be a member of RED team. Let’s go.”

Demoman sighed and shook his head, and the two of them rushed outside, Medic whipping out his medigun and starting to charge it on the explosives expert. The hallway was quiet and empty for a few moments, before Heavy trudged out holding Sasha. He went down the hall, and stopped momentarily in front of Soldier’s room, contemplating whether or not he should release the American from his prison. In the end, he decided against it, and picked up his pace, jogging to the battlefield.

Engineer had been the first one out, followed closely by Pyro. Right away he had noticed the hole still in the front fence, and set up a sentry. “Geez, why didn’t anybody fix this gosh darned thing?” he asked.

Pyro smacked himself in the forehead. “YRR WURR SHHPRRSSHHD TURR FSSKKH UURRT!” he yelled angrily.

“Oh. Right.” It had taken a while to process what Pyro had said. “Sorry, Pyro, I just…never mind. Ain’t gonna do us any good now.” The sentry’s barrel flipped forward with a whirr, and started to fire into the crowd. As it fired at seemingly random zombies, Engineer whacked it with his wrench, upgrading it.

The walking corpses towards the front startled to crumple, toppling backwards onto each other. Engineer brought his wrench back down on the sentry for a final upgrade before picking up his toolbox and building another.

Pyro watched the sentry’s firing patterns. They were odd; the sentry would fire at some zombies, but not others. The fire starter equipped his shotgun and fired at the zombies that the sentry missed. After doing this for a few minutes, it finally dawned on Pyro why the sentry was only shooting certain zombies.

The sentry wouldn’t shoot a zombie unless it was wearing blue.

“ERRGRRNNUUR! THHUUR SRRNTRREE USSH URRNLLUR SHUURRTINNG THURR ZURRMBEES URN BLURR!” It occurred to Pyro that a sentence this long might be a little hard for Engineer to understand.

It didn’t take long, however, for Engineer to catch on. “Doggonnit, I shoulda figured that…” he said to himself, barely heard over the rocket blasts and rapid gunfire. He huddled over his sentry, giving it the occasional whack with his wrench as he tried to correct this problem.

“HEADS UP, COMIN’ THROUGH!” Scout leaped forward, stopping just short of the fence and firing through the holes, managing to take down a few of the monsters. It was hard, however, trying to aim for them through the barrier. Occasionally bits of shrapnel would ricochet back, startling Pyro, who had his shotgun out, or Engineer, still working frantically to get the sentries to fire at zombie indiscriminately.

A few grenades were fired over, as Demoman arrived, looking far more excited than he had any right to be. He switched often between the grenade launcher and the sticky bombs, relishing each explosion of flesh and blood and limb, laughing manically. Medic showed up shortly after, training his Medigun on Demoman to keep his adrenaline pumping. Heavy soon arrived, minigun blazing, much more awake now and excited by the first battle in almost a week. Medic aimed his healing beam upon the mighty Russian, who in turn kept his minigun aimed towards that damnable hole in the fence.

Engineer finally managed to get one of the sentries to simply fire forward without prejudice and let out a laugh that was both nervous and somehow relieved. He stopped to wipe his brow with the back of his arm and catch his breath. When he felt a tapping on his back, he instantly whipped around, wrench in hand, and turned to see Spy.

“Dang it, Spah, what th’ heck are you doin’?” Engineer said in an exasperated tone.

“Nozzing. And zat is exactly ze problem,” Spy shrugged. “What am I supposed to do, exactly? I’m a master of stealth and deception, fighting off a colony of crazed lepers has never been a part of my job description.” He blew smoke. “Medic is not very useful, eizzer. I mean, what good is healing us if it cannot reverse the effects of ze disease? We are out of our element, here.”

“Spah, I do not have th’ time or th’ patience to be yakkin’ away like this,” Engineer snapped. “Maybe you can find a way to actually be helpful instead of just hangin’ back an’ wastin’ time.”

“And do what, exactly?” Spy asked. “Backstab people who are seemingly impervious to any injury lesser zan a headshot? Oh, yes! Zat is quite useful!”

“Just git!” Engineer waved his wrench at Spy threateningly, prompting the Frenchman to scuttle off.

After about ten minutes of this, there was already a thick carpet of immobile corpses covering the ground in front of the fence. This seemed to slow down the advancing zombies, who stumbled and tripped over their fallen brethren into the line of fire, but their pace was still steady, and ammo was already starting to run low.

“NEED MORE BULLETS, DOKTOR!” Heavy shouted to Medic behind him.

“Vhat, you vant me to go fetch some for you? Do I look like a retrievah, Heavy?” Medic quipped.

“Doktor can’t do much good vit just Medigun!” Heavy shouted back. “Leetle needles are not much good, either. Go bring everyvone more bullets.”

Medic nodded. Heavy was right, after all. He looked over to Spy, who had gotten as close to the fence as he could, firing his pistol at the monsters through the gaps, looking rather awkward. “Spy!” Medic shouted over the gunfire.

Spy whipped around and saw Medic beckoning to him wildly. He ran over towards the doctor, who was already headed back in the direction of their own base.

Medic finally made his way in, and headed straight for the nearest Supply Room, lifting a box of ammo with a grunt, and then turned around jogging past Spy. “Grab as much as you can, Herr Spy!” Medic shouted at him. The Frenchman nodded, and went to fetch more ammo.

Time started to stretch out and become warped and disfigured as the fighting continued. In spite of the many bullets that were being fired or the bombs were launched, the zombie hoard still managed to inch forward, slowly but steadily. For each one taken down, it seemed that ten sprang up to replace them. Ammo boxes would be snatched up for bullets and grenades before Engineer could try to use them for more sentries, and even then with each sentry built, it took a while to modify it on the spot from their usual protocol of shooting anyone wearing the color blue. The unfortunate side effect of this, however, was that they were prone to short-circuiting. Everyone was, understandably, getting very frustrated.

“We really could use Soldier out ‘ere, Medic!” Demoman shouted to the doctor, who had just dropped off another box of ammunition.

“Tell zat to him!” Medic shot back. “I had to run all ze way to his room to get zis. Total silence from in zere. He’s not interested.”

“Will ye stop actin’ like a ruddy stubborn schoolboy an’ jes’ drag ‘im out!” Demoman spat. “I donnae care if the two a’ ye fight like alley cats; we need all th’ firepower we can git, so stop whinin’ an’ go git ‘im!”

Medic turned back to the inhuman wave, which had now crashed against the fence. Many of the members of RED were backing away, and were scrambling to protect the hole, that godforsaken hole the BLU Spy had carved out.

“What’re ye waitin’ for, ye daft dunderhead!” Demoman bellowed. “Get th’ bloody Soldier!”

The doctor hesitated no further. He charged back across the bridge and towards the base, running downstairs and into the living quarters. Though he hated Soldier, and was disgusted by his mutinous actions and the pure venom he spewed Medic, the good doctor realized that Soldier needed to be out there. He was a member of RED team, whether he wanted to be or not.

He scooted to a halt when he turned the corner and saw the supply cabinet that had been in front of Soldier’s room was now toppled over, ammunition and first aid kits strewn across the floor. The cabinet itself didn’t touch the floor, but instead fell forward until the top edge caught onto the wall, and its doors swung open. The door to Soldier’s room had been violently broken off its hinges, and was now leaning on top of the cabinet; this was especially odd considering that Soldier would pull the door inside to open it. But the most unsettling aspect of this was that Soldier was seemingly nowhere in sight.

Panic was starting to grip Medic’s mind in invisible raptors talons, despite his best attempts to stave it off. Hopefully, Soldier would reveal himself, his mind changed, and would now in the effort against the infected. Nothing to worry about. Medic sighed as he lied to himself, and turned around only to have something broad and spiky and swift hit him in the side and sent him sprawling to the ground, knocking his glasses off his face. He was stunned for a moment, the wind was knocked out of him and his bruised ribs were now cracked again. He gasped for breath, pawing for his glasses. He finally managed to locate a fuzzy shape that looked like his spectacles, and reached out only to see something broad and equally fuzzy come down upon them with a sickening crunch of glass.

And then the blurred boots came into view, and a familiar voice let out a chilling laugh.

“Hello, doctor.”

“Soldier…” Medic wheezed, “Vhat do you zink you ah doing?”

“Seizing an opportunity,” Soldier said with a low, sinister chuckle. “I heard you taking supplies out of the cabinet blocking the door. You came back a couple of times. Made it lighter. Made it easier for me to move. I knew you’d have to come back at least one more time. And here you are. Fancy that.” He was holding Shovel, but something about Shovel’s blade was different. Medic could feel blood seeping onto his coat, and the realization dawned on him before Soldier even had to explain. “Like Shovel’s new look here? Well, you probably can’t see it too good…you’re as blind as a bat without your specs, huh, Doc? It was his idea, really, the barbed wire. And you, you lucky bastard, are gonna be the one we test his new accessory out on. Quite an honor, eh, Doc?”

“Soldier, please,” Medic pleaded, coughing up a bit of bloodied phlegm as he clutched his injured side. “Stop zis. Ve need your help…stopping ze infected…zhere’s too many of zem.”

“It’s too late to come crawling to me with your apologies, you filthy, Nazi cur!” Soldier growled. “This has been a long time coming, maggot, and you’re not going to weasel your way out of this one.” He grabbed Medic by the hair and pulled him so they were face to face. “Start running.” He dropped Medic’s face back to the floor. “It’ll make things more fun.”

Medic wobbled as he brought himself to his feet, still wheezing and clutching his side from the blow, as he looked up to Soldier. Solider slammed Shovel against his head and screamed, and the doctor found himself scrambling away in the opposite direction, which was unfortunately towards the fallen cabinet. He clamored over it, and he could hear Soldier laughing as he struggled. The doctor felt a strong, firm hand get a grip around his ankle, and he whipped out his bonesaw from his belt, swinging it at the crazed American. He swung wildly and blindly, but managed to at least nick his attacker, causing him to let go. Medic tumbled over to the other side, rolled onto the ground, picked himself up and started to run. He needed to get to the others. Out in the open. It was eight against one, really, as long as Medic could get to his teammates, he’d be home free. If he only had his glasses and wasn’t suffering from some freshly cracked ribs.

“OH, MEDIC!” Soldier cried out in a sing song voice. “C’mon, Medic, we don’t wanna hurt you! I promise, you won’t feel a thing WHEN WE BASH YOUR FUCKING BRAINS IN!”

The doctor turned a corner and saw a door. He opened it and rushed inside, locking the door behind him. There were no lights on in the tiny room he was in, but he could tell he had wandered into the rarely-used broom closet. The medipack on his back was slowly working to heal his injuries, but it wasn’t fast enough. He could hear Soldier’s footsteps and loud, abrasive taunts getting louder and closer. He sucked in his breath and remained perfectly still.

Meanwhile, Soldier had followed the doctor’s trail down the hall and came to a fork. He noticed that his quarry was nowhere in sight. “C’mon out, Medic…” Soldier shouted. “Don’t hide from us, Medic. We just want to have a frank, open exchange of ideas…you know, a diplomatic solution!” He looked down at the floor and saw a trail of tiny, red droplets, leading a distinct trail to the broom closet. He grinned. “Yes…with a treaty and everything.” He crept towards the door, slowly and deliberately, and hovered just outside it. “And we can write the whole thing in your GODDAMNED FILTHY NAZI BLOOD!”

He drove Shovel hard onto the doorknob with enough force to send it flying off in a spray of splinters, allowing him to kick the door in. Medic, however, had prepared for him, and swung his bonesaw towards the American with an unintelligible screech. Soldier managed to duck out of the way, and landed another blow to Medic’s stomach with the broad side of Shovel. As the German doctor instinctively bent over in pain, Soldier brought Shovel up and smacked Medic on the underside of his chin, cutting up the soft flesh and sending him toppling backwards onto an unopened box of cleaning supplies. Soldier planted his boot firmly on top of Medic’s chest, and held Shovel’s barbed blade to his throat.

“Solider…ve ah wasting time…” Medic panted. “Even if you killed me, ve still have respawn…zis is useless…”

Soldier flinched a bit. “Huh. Yeah, you’re right. I forgot about that.” Soldier withdrew Shovel for a second, and stepped off of Medic’s chest. “I guess that makes killing you pretty useless, doesn’t it?”

“Ja…zank God…” Medic wheezed, trying to get up. “Now ve can go und kill ze infected-”

Medic’s head whipped around with a nauseating cracking sound, and his scalp was cut open and gushing hot, red blood. Soldier laughed, as he grabbed the barely cognizant doctor by the collar and shook him. “Yep, killing you is pretty useless,” Soldier said with a grin. “So, I guess I’m gonna hafta just torture you until you go insane then! Ha! I like that better. Shovel, you’re a goddamned genius!”

“Please…Soldier…don’t…” Medic’s head started to feel as fuzzy as his vision was, and he could feel hot tears starting to well up in his eyes. He wanted to throw up and pass out and he prayed desperately that he could just be held in Heavy’s arms. “Vasting time…ze ozzahs…”

“‘Wasting time,’ nothin’. You’re begging me to stop.” Soldier leaned in close to the doctor’s face. “I thought you could take pain better than this, Doc. Or was that all just a ruse?” He laughed; it was a deep, menacing sound, devoid of any kind of mirth. “You’re nothing without your big, strong Heavy to hide behind, aren’t ya? You’re a sniveling, cowardly maggot, and I’m gonna enjoy every goddamned second of making you scream.” He reached into one of the pouches hanging off of his belt and pulled out a pair of wire cutters, holding them up in front of Medic’s face, close enough for the doctor to see. He then lifted up Medic’s hand, holding onto it firmly and splaying out the doctor’s fingers, holding the open wire cutters up around the tip of his index finger. “Where’s your precious communist thug now, Doc?”

“Right here.”

Soldier tried to turn around, but was lifted up into the air and slammed against the hallway wall at a ferocious velocity, and before he had a chance to process what was happening, a flurry of blows assaulted his face.

“NEVER,” A punch, “EVER,” another punch, “HURT,” a third punch, “DOKTOR,” a fourth, “AGAIN!” and then there were too many for Soldier to keep track of.

“That’s enough, mate.” Sniper said, helping Medic to his feet. “I think Solly’s had enough.”

“NO!” Heavy roared. “YOU SAW! YOU SAW VHAT HE VAS GOING TO DO TO DOKTOR!”

Sniper nodded. “I saw. He ain’t right in th’ head, though, Heavy. But we still need ‘im.”

Heavy turned to Soldier, who he was still holding against the wall, his massive hand enveloping the American’s neck. Soldier spat a wad of blood and a tooth at his captor indignantly. Heavy snarled and tossed Soldier away like a rag doll, and watched him skid across the floor.

“Danke schön…” Medic said softly, keeping a firm hand on Sniper’s shoulder to maintain his balance. “You saved me…”

“I heard Soldier doin’ th’ ‘screamin’ eagles’ thing and got suspicious,” Sniper said. “Heavy apparently just got a bad feelin’ an’ left everybody. We met up on our way down, an’ followed the trail a’ destruction.”

“Soldier cost us…” Heavy rumbled, scooping Medic into his arms and cradling him. “Engineer put up more sentries to make up for us. But is not enough.” He glared hatefully at Soldier, who was trying to lift himself off of the floor. “Ve work harder now to make up for you.”

“Should have gotten Spy to go for him instead,” Medic said with a weak laugh. “Put me down, Heavy. I’ll be fine.”

“Your head is still bleeding, Doktor,” Heavy said, sounding more like a protective mother than his usual self. “Besides, I do not trust Soldier.”

“We’d better get goin’,” Sniper reminded them. “Everybody’s waitin’ on us.”

Heavy grunted in agreement, and carried Medic down the hall, initially headed for the stairs before Medic softly reminded him he needed yet another pair of glasses, and then took a detour to the infirmary. Sniper picked up the Shovel wrapped in barbed wire with a sneer, and kicked Soldier in his shoulder. “Git up, ya bleedin’ piker.”

“Go to hell, you fucking hippie,” Soldier spat.

Sniper delivered a harder blow to Soldier’s ribs, eliciting a pained groan. “I’m not a bloody hippie,” Sniper growled. “I’m a fucking professional.”

When the entourage of Heavy, Medic, Solder and Sniper managed to get on the ground level of base, they arrived just in time to see their fellow teammates dash inside, with Engineer activating the emergency shutdown procedure, bringing down the metal barricades.

“Vhat is happening?” Heavy asked.

“You freakin’ left us vulnerable out there, fatass!” Scout snapped. “We had ta retreat since they started gettin’ in past the hole! Thanks a fuckin’ lot!”

“YOU SHUT UP!” Heavy barked, clutching Medic to his chest. “Soldier vas going to chop Doktor to little pieces!”

“Oh, bloody ‘ell,” Demoman said weakly, awash with guilt, “I knew I shoulda’ sent Spy tae git ‘im…”

“Nice to know zat you zink so highly of me, Demoman,” Spy said bitterly.

“Look, we don’t have time t’ be arguin’ like this,” Engineer shouted over everyone. “Lissen. We’re goin’ up on th’ roof. They won’t be able to get us from up there, an’ we can mow ’em down easy. Long as we keep hammerin’ on ’em hard, we got a chance a’ gettin’ outta here. But we all gotta work together. No fightin’ between anybody, no blame games for anythin’, none a’ that. We are a team, workin’ together to stay alive. Now let’s move out.”

No one felt any need to argue with Engineer as they followed him upstairs, heading for the roof.


Chapter 15

The hatch to the roof popped open, and Sniper was the first to crawl out into the moonlight. He propped the door open, and carefully stepped out into the night air. The roof was slanted, and Sniper was a bit apprehensive about having so much weight on the roof, especially considering Heavy. Engineer poked out his head next, and pulled himself out with a grunt.

“Yer sure that this is th’ only roof we can get on top of?” Engineer asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Sniper said, offering Engineer a hand to stand up. “Demo an’ I been hangin’ out up here a lot, lately. I don’t know of any other part of th’ roof that can be reached, really.”

“Well, Sniper, I can say fer sure that alla’ us are not gonna be supported. Heavy’d prolly fall right through even without Sasha.”

“Well, what would you suggest we do, then?” Sniper asked. “Blow a hole through th’ wall?”

As if on cue, the roof shook and Sniper and Engineer found themselves clinging onto tiles desperately, trying not to fall off, as a rocket blasted outwards and into the crowd of zombies, sending them exploding upwards in a rain of entrails and blood.

“YOU IDIOT!” Medic shouted, as he leaned on a dispenser. “Sniper und Engineer ah up zere! You could have killed zem! Vhy did ve even let you up here in ze first place?”

“Shut up,” Soldier grumbled, looking up to see Engineer and Sniper climbing down from the ladder, looking irritated. “See? They’re fine.”

“Jesus Christ, Soldier, were ya tryin’ t’ git us killed?” Engineer bellowed, his hands shaking a bit. “You could’a warned us, at least.”

Soldier merely snorted, and turned back to the freshly made hole in the wall and started to fire down on the wave of zombies, looking completely stoic as he did so. Scout quickly joined him, aiming for the monsters directly below them with his scattergun, and was soon accompanied by Demoman, who joined in with grenades and sticky bombs. Engineer built another sentry overlooking the front of the base, grumbling to himself all the while. Pyro hacked away at the wall more with his axe, to make room for Heavy and his minigun. Sniper had retreated back to the roof, standing on the ladder with his upper body poking out of the hatch as he continued to pick off the monsters swarming them. Spy nudged his way through the crowd, and fired down upon them with is revolver, and Medic resigned himself to retrieving more ammo.

It was hard to tell how much time had passed. It hardly mattered, since no one seemed to be focused on anything other than killing off as many of the monsters as possible. The corpses piled on top of each other, bits of the zombies flew into the air upon contact with rockets and grenades. There was a mindless repetition to their actions; shooting in absent-minded patterns with little forethought. Nothing mattered but gunfire and explosions, racking up as many kills as possible. The only words that seemed to be uttered were cries for more bullets, though even those words ceased to be shouted over the din of fire. An animalistic desperation had engulfed them all, with only one collective thought among the nine of them: kill them all. Keep killing them until they are all dead.

This constant, relentless firing was starting to take a toll on the psyches of the RED team’s members. Medic, exhausted and battered as he was, came up with another box of ammo, and let it slam onto the creaky floorboard. “Zis…is ze last of ze ammunition,” he said breathlessly, slouching over and panting.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, are you sure about that?” Scout asked. “You sure there ain’t anymore down there? We should have a ton after we got stuff from the BLU base!”

“Ve vent zhrough all of it in just vone night trying to kill zis horde!” Medic said curtly. “Zis is ze last of it! Zere is nozzing left!”

“Jesus Christ, there’s gotta be almost three hunnerd of th’ bastards left,” Sniper said grimly, climbing down from his perch on the ladder. “I don’t think we have enough t’ take the rest of ’em out.”

“How long do you zink we could survive if we simply stayed in lock-down?” Spy asked.

“Viz our food supply as it currently stands?” Medic massaged the bridge of his nose with his fingertips wearily. “Two or zhree veeks, at best. Ve’d last much longer, had ze train actually come.”

“Well, that’s just fuckin’ great!” Scout spat. “HQ ain’t getting’ in touch with us, we’re stranded out in th’ middle a’ fuckin’ nowhere, surrounded by zombies, and we ain’t got enough firepower to kill ’em off! We’re fuckin’ dead in th’ water out here!”

“Easy, Scout,” Engineer countered calmly. “Let’s just think about this rationally an’ just explore all our options…”

“What fuckin’ options?” Scout screeched. “Stay trapped in here and eventually starve t’ death, throw ourselves to the zombies or blow our brains out before they get to us? Oh, yeah, those are some great options!”

“Zere is always escape,” Spy said coolly.

“And how the hell are ya plannin’ t’ do that, ya crazy frog?” Scout was sounding more and more hysterical. “We’re friggin’ surrounded! An’ where would we be able ta go, anyway?”

“Quiet, boy, I’m zinking,” Spy growled before taking a long drag on his cigarette.

Soldier peered out over the zombie hoard. It was the BLU Medic that had apparently made these monsters. This only served as further proof that Medics could not be trusted. He sneered down at them, lip curling upwards like an angry dog baring its fangs. He could hear Shovel, who had been tossed aside in the corner so carelessly by Sniper when they had come up, calling for him.

“This isn’t lookin’ all too well, lads,” Demoman said dejectedly. “I’d rather go doon fightin’ than sit ‘ere rottin’ away in this prison.”

“Demoman is right,” Heavy affirmed. “Is coward vay to die, sitting in base, vaiting.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Spy said. “There’s always a way out. Sniper, you still have your van around ze back, oui?”

“Yeah, it’s there,” Sniper said flatly. “No gas innit, though.”

“Merde,” Spy hissed. He took another long drag from his cigarette. “Why don’t you have any gas in zere, anyway?

“Well, I wasn’t bloody well gonna be goin’ anywhere, now was I?” Sniper quipped.

“Obviously, a sacrifice will have to be made.”

Everyone else in the attic turned to look at Soldier, who was standing in the corner, clutching his battered and beloved Shovel, which was still stained red from his assault on Medic hours earlier. “Someone is going to have to be thrown to those things so that the rest of us can escape. Lead them all off in one direction while we go the other. If we’re going to survive, that’s the only way.”

Spy raised a curious eyebrow. “Zat could work,” he said somberly. “But who would volunteer themselves for zat?”

“Who said anything about volunteers?” Soldier said with a twisted grin on his face, as his eyeballs peeked out from under his helmet and he gaze fell upon Medic.

Heavy stepped in front of Soldier’s field of vision, glowering at Soldier. “That is enough, Soldier. Give me Shovel.”

Soldier was startled by this request, and clung to his Shovel possessively. “Back off, Ruskie. Don’t you touch him.”

“Shovel is evil. Is traitor. You are fool for listening to him,” Heavy said sternly, looming over the much smaller man, and extending a large, expectant hand towards him. “Give him to me.”

“Never!” Soldier barked. “I’d sooner die like a dog than hand him over to you.”

“If that is vhat you vant….” Heavy lunged forward and grabbed the hand Soldier currently had wrapped around Shovel, grinding the bones together painfully. He then twisted Soldier’s arm, while the American tried to hold on desperately to his Shovel. His grip loosened just enough, however, that Heavy was able to wrench it from his hand, and punch Soldier in the jaw, sending the smaller man backwards. Heavy gripped Shovel in both hands, and made his way to the hole in the wall, overlooking the remaining zombies.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Soldier pulled himself to his feet, his voice betraying the panic he felt.

“Vhat ve should have done long time ago,” Heavy growled. He held Shovel up, his enormous hands gripping opposite ends of the tool, and swiftly, mercilessly, brought Shovel’s shaft over his bent knee, causing it to splinter and break with a loud, unsettling crack, like the breaking of a man’s spine.

It was at this point that Soldier dashed forward, screaming incoherent syllables at Heavy, only to watch the mighty Russian turn around and toss the two halves of Shovel down to the mob of zombies. Soldier finally reached the hole and collapsed onto his stomach, his fingers hanging over the edge as he peered down just in time to watch Shovel fall into the crowd. The zombies, for the most part, ignored the fallen object, aside from a few who turned their heads and regarded it curiously, only to immediately lose interest and go back to clawing at the unrelenting metal door. Soldier merely stared for a few moments, mouth agape in absolute horror. “You…you killed him.”

“Yes,” said Heavy grimly. “I did.”

Soldier turned around, his eyes nearly bulging from their sockets and beads of sweat starting to roll down his face. “You…you goddamned murderer!”

“I did vhat I had to. To protect team,” Heavy said calmly, his expression remaining stern and unperturbed. “It vas Shovel who told you to hurt Doktor. Shovel vas telling you to hurt Doktor again. He is evil.”

“Heavy, please,” Medic pleaded, “Don’t encourage his delusions like zis…”

“YOU KILLED SHOVEL! YOU MURDERING, COLD-BLOODED SON OF A BITCH!” Soldier screeched, and charged towards Heavy, pounding away at his massive chest with tightly-balled fists, before finally collapsing to a heap and doing some so very un-Soldier like, it left everyone staring at him in an awkward, stunned silence.

Soldier started to cry.

He was on his hands and knees, helmet titled downwards, shaking uncontrollably and choking out reluctant sobs, as tears started to sting his eyes, and began to beat his clenched, white-knuckled fists onto the floorboards at Heavy’s feet. The other members of RED team exchanged uncomfortable glances. Only Heavy seemed to be completely unaffected by this display.

“Stop crying,” Heavy said coldly. “You are being baby.”

“I am not crying!” Soldier protested. “I…I just have water coming out of my eyes, you murderer!”

“Shovel had to die. He vas demon.”

Soldier’s head shot up, his face contorting into pure, red-faced rage. “What the hell would you even know about demons, you godless, Commie sonuvabitch? WHAT WOULD YOU KNOW?” His hands lashed out to grab a hold of Heavy’s vest, and pulled himself up so he’s be closer to the larger man’s face.

“Missionary came to our village once, long time ago,” Heavy said. “Tried to convert us to worshipping Jesus Christ. I did not like him. He vas loud, proud, stupid man, from America, and vas convinced he vas on mission from God. But he vould talk about devils and demons and hellfire. He said demons vere like evil spirits, and they vere everywhere, and could possess people who vere weak-willed. I vas much younger then, and it stayed vit me.”

Soldier didn’t really respond; he merely stared at the Russian. He had never heard the man say so much at a time before. Perhaps it was shock finally registering inside him, or perhaps it was genuine curiosity, but whatever it was, Soldier remained silent and waited for Heavy to continue.

“But it makes sense now. Shovel vas demon. He vanted to you do terrible, terrible things. He make it sound good to you, make it sound like he cared about you, but he did not. He used you like tool, and possessed you because you were weak-willed. Didn’t he?”

“I…” Soldier stammered, looking away from Heavy. He felt strangely powerless for the first time in God knew how long. He had been humiliated, castrated, beaten into submission by this one act, and here he stood, crying for God’s sake. Nobody made him cry. He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to murder the man in front of him or just curl into a submissive ball, what with Shovel, his rock, his pillar of strength and his closest and only real ally, being executed so quickly and unceremoniously.

No, he thought. He couldn’t let Heavy win. There had to be some way to get back at him; prove that he was better, prove that Shovel wasn’t a demon. He tried to regain his composure, try and revert to a stoic, cold-blooded son of a bitch that was not to be fucked with. What would John Wayne do in a situation like this?

A slow, mechanical rumbling was heard off in the distance, becoming gradually louder and closer. Instinctively, everyone in the room, with the sole exception of Soldier, gathered to peer outside through the hole in the wall, and watched as the supply train cut its way through the desert, chugging along briskly as it pulled in to the usual drop-off area.

“I donnea b’leive it…” Demoman said softly, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Well, it’s about bloody time,” Sniper growled.

Spy raised a curious eyebrow, and took one last drag, flicking his cigarette butt into the zombie mob, “Zat’s somewhat convenient.”

“So, how we gonna get down there?” Scout asked impatiently.

“It’s as Soldier said, before he had a total emotional breakdown in front of us…” Spy said, removing his cigarette case from inside of his jacket and flipping it open, delicately removing a fresh cigarette, “ze monsters need a distraction zat would allow ze rest of us to escape wizzout zeir notice, and zey only see to be focused on one zing.”

“Food,” Medic answered glumly. “Ach, if only ze virus did not shpread in such a vay…”

“So…what are we gonna do?” Scout asked, looking around at the members of RED team while he waited for an answer.

There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Most of the members of RED team were sizing each other up with sideways glances. Engineer, too, found himself wondering who would be best suited for the task, before shaking himself out of it. “Look here, let’s not go around tryin’ t’ throw each other out t’ the wolves. I’m sure if we think about this, we can find a way t’ save ev’rybody-”

“I’ll do it.”

Soldier didn’t even look at the rest of the members of RED. His back was turned to them, facing the opposite direction of the hole in the wall. He straightened up a bit, turning his head to the side. “It’s like Heavy and Demo said. Better to go down fighting. That’s how I’ve always wanted to go out, and that’s how I want to be remembered. Not crying like some sort of spineless little girl over Shovel. He…he wouldn’t appreciate that.”

“Soldier…” Medic spoke up softly, trying to approach the American as gently as possible, “ah you sure you vant to do zat?”

“I don’t need any sympathy from you,” Soldier said flatly, turning to face Medic. “I don’t like you, Medic, and you don’t like me, and yet you still haven’t tried to kill me after everything. And, well…I’d like to know why.”

“You vant to know vhy?” Medic asked. “Respawn, you Dummkopf! Trying to kill you vould be shtupid.”

“That’s not why, and you know it,” Soldier snapped.

“Oh, you zink I care about you? Zat I feel responsible for you, zat I feel ze need to make sure you don’t hurt yourself of get yourself killed, like I’m ze mozzah of zis team und I’m not just doing my job?” Medic crossed his arms and huffed in exasperation. “Is zat vhat you zink?”

“Yeah,” said Soldier, “yeah, I think that is the case.” Medic stared at him, his irritation melting from his face and betraying an expression that was both surprised and oddly touched. Soldier cleared his throat. “You…you do your job. You do it well. You care. And I didn’t think you did. Shovel told me you didn’t, but now that he’s dead…well, I can see things a little more clearly, I guess. Shovel…Shovel wasn’t always right.”

“Shovel vas just a shovel,” Medic said, trying not to show his amazement that Soldier was actually talking like a civilized human being. “Ze voice you heard vas from your own head, a symptom of your psychosis…”

“I’m not even gonna bother correcting you anymore,” Soldier interrupted gruffly. “I’m gonna do this so I can save the whole goddamned team and prove that I’m a better person than you, Doc, because it’s the only way I’m gonna restore my honor.”

“Zat’s incredibly brave of you, Soldier.” Medic said admiringly, ignoring the shot that Soldier had taken at his character.

“Eh, I don’t need your praise, either,” Soldier said dismissively. “Now, get out of here before I change my mind.” He peered at Medic from under his helmet, his expression still hard, but the hatred in his eyes was gone. Their eyes met, as if to make a silent truce, even with all the animosity still between them. It didn’t matter anymore. There were bigger things to be dealt with.

“Oh, shit,” Scout said. “If, we’re, uh, gonna be leaving here forever, there’s some stuff I need…”

“You are not taking your entire collection of comic books wiz you, are you, Scout?” Spy asked.

“Uh…no?” Scout didn’t sound entirely sure of his answer.

“If we’re going to take anyzing viz us, it should only be vhat you can carry vizout being slowed down,” Medic said. “Besides…I have somezing I need to do before ve leave.”

“Sounds good,” Engineer said with a nod. He turned to Soldier. “You, ah, you sure you wanna go ahead with this?”

“Positive,” Soldier said. “You go ahead with your preparations, and radio me when you’re ready to go. I’ll just wait up here.”

The other members of RED team were already leaving the attic, but Engineer found himself lingering, feeling the need to say something, anything, to his comrade. “Soldier?”

“What is it?” Soldier asked curtly, turning to face the Texan.

“Thank you,” Engineer said. “It…it was an honor fighting with you.”

“No need to thank me,” Soldier said. “Just get out of here already, Tex.”

Engineer left, but not before turning back to get another glance at his teammate. Soldier was standing in front of the hole in the wall, looking down, hands behind his back as one of his hands held the opposite wrist. He went down the attics hatch to join the others, feelings of regret already stirring up within his chest.

“‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done’,” Soldier sighed, looking down at the throng of the undead that looked up at him, like so many sharks swarming in the sea, awaiting the inevitable feeding frenzy. He chuckled. Not every day that he could quote Dickens like that, really, but it felt appropriate. He looked over past the horizon, and locked his eyes on the moon, and started to sing. “You too may be a big hero/Once you’ve learned to count backwards to zero/’In German oder English I know how to count down/Und I’m learning Chinese,’ says Wernher Von Braun.

Stumpy had a vague idea that something was going on outside. He could hear the shooting and the sound of a bunch of things that were like him, and it made him anxious. He wriggled around uselessly, wondering where the Meaty Thing in the White Coat was, and how come he wasn’t being fed yet. He writhed on the floor, trying to get out of the room, but would find himself being held back by the leash going taut. At least he had his bonk, though. He held it close to him, and licked the familiar bloodstain.

When the door to the infirmary finally opened, and the Meaty Thing in the White Coat came in, Stumpy immediately started groaning and drooling in excitement. He was going to get meat, and have the terrible, evil mask on his face taken off. But the Meaty Thing in the White Coat didn’t smile at him like he usually did, singing to himself in those strange German words like he had before. He was holding something strange in his hands, something long and metallic and decidedly not delicious looking. The doctor’s expression was grim, mouth pulled in a tight line as he looked down at Stumpy.

“Mrruughhh…” Stumpy gurgled, looking up at the Meaty Thing in the White Coat as he lifted up the metal tube thing, “Mrrrdiickk.”

“Please, Stumpy, you ah only making zis more difficult for me,” Medic said, trying to aim the shotgun that felt so terribly heavy in his hands at the test subject’s head. He wasn’t sure why it felt so terribly, terribly wrong to do this to what was essentially a living corpse, but it did. He had killed people before, many of them, without the slightest hesitation, but somehow, killing this abomination, this monster, just seemed downright wrong.

The creature before him tilted its head in confusion, looking up at Medic from his position on the floor, lying on his stomach and clutching Scout’s bat. “Bwwuuuhh…Bonk?”

Medic looked down at the pitiful creature and sighed. He tucked Heavy’s shotgun under his arm, and picked up Stumpy by his shoulder, sitting him upright. He stepped back, and lifted his weapon up, aiming the barrel for the zombie’s head. Ammo was so precious now, it wouldn’t do to waste it by missing. He let out a long shuddering sigh. “I am so sorry, Stumpy,” he said.

Stumpy was still confused. He wasn’t sure what those words meant, exactly, but “sorry” sounded familiar. It meant…something feeling bad. And the Meaty Thing in the White Coat looked…what was that word? Sad? Like how Stumpy felt when he didn’t get meat. He didn’t have much time to ponder this, however, before there was a loud noise and then…

The doctor opened his eyes. He had closed them almost instinctively when he had pulled the trigger. He looked down at the corpse, its head in several gooey, red chunks all over the sickbay, with a generous layer of blood coating the walls and floor. He lowered his gun and hung his head. This was for the best, he told himself. It was cruel to let the thing live as an empty shell of a human being. It occurred to Medic that this was the first time he felt this way about any of his endeavors, and that frightened him. He walked over to the nearest bed, and took the blanket in his hand. He walked over the corpse, holding the blanket by two corners, and placed it over the remains of the BLU Scout, and picked up the bloodied baseball bat. The doctor then solemnly turned and left the infirmary.

He opened the door to see Heavy and Spy talking in a far corner of the infirmary, looking quite secretive. They were surprised by the arrival of the doctor, and Heavy turned to Medic, his expression somber. “Is he dead?” he asked.

“Ja…ze deed is done,” Medic sighed, handing Heavy his weapon, the barrel still hot. “Am I…interrupting somezing?”

“I was just leaving,” Spy said dismissively. “I’ll see you gentlemen downstairs.” With that, he took his leave, slipping out through the infirmary door and gliding down the hallway.

“Vhat vas zat about?” Medic asked as Heavy took back his shotgun.

“Is nothing,” Heavy said, his expression still looking grim. “I brought your violin. I tink, maybe, you should bring it vit you.” He handed Medic his slightly-dusty violin case, holding it delicately by the handle.

“Danke, Heavy,” Medic said with a smile, taking it gently from Heavy’s grasp. He looked up at The Russian, trying to offer him a reassuring smile, only to notice Heavy seemed to avert his gaze and look rather gloomy. Medic lifted a gloved hand and brought to the side of his face, turning the larger man’s head so that they were face to face. “Vhat is wrong, mein Liebe?” He asked with concern.

“I said, is nothing,” Heavy reiterated glumly. “Do not vorry about it. Ve vill be gone from here, soon.”

“Ja…ve vill,” Medic said, nuzzling Heavy’s chest. “Ve vill.”

“Doktor?”

“Yes, mein Kuschelbär?”

“I love you, Doktor.”

“I love you too, mein Liebling,” Medic said, and craned his neck up to kiss the larger man on the lips. “Now, come. Ve have to go now.” He took Heavy by the hand and led the larger man out into the hall.

Eight men were now gathered in the sewers. Spy had noticed that Medic was carrying his violin, Engineer had his guitar strapped to his back and Sniper was cradling his radio in his arm. The Frenchman hummed to himself, and looked over the others, who didn’t seem to have any visible cargo, aside from Scout’s noticeably bulging knapsack on his back and his baseball bat in his grip covered in a fresh coat of blood, and Demoman’s multiple flasks hanging from his waist.

“Y’don’t expect us t’ swim, do ya, Spy?” Sniper asked. “Radio’s not waterproof, mate.”

“Au contraire, mon ami,” Spy said with a grin. “I figured out a quieter, dryer way to get us across ze moat while Soldier plays cowboys and zombies.” He produces a small, yellow package from inside of his suit jacket. He then pulled a string on the package and tossed it to the sewer water, where it inflated into a large, yellow raft, and landed on the water with a gentle splash.

“Where’d the hell you get that?” Scout asked.

“A good spy is always prepared for anyzing,” Spy said matter-of-factly.

“But we’re out inna middle of the desert,” Scout replied. “What are ya, a fuckin’ Boy Scout or something?”

Anyzing,” Spy repeated, casting a glare at Scout, who was becoming far too inquisitive for his own tastes. He turned to the rest of his teammates. “Zis raft should be able to hold all of us, even ze fat man. Now, all aboard. Time is of ze essence.”

Heavy held the raft in place while the members of RED team all climbed inside, one at a time. Spy was the second to last to embark, and when he seated himself on the raft, Heavy hopped in, and the craft sank considerably, but not enough to let any water inside.

“So, do we have a paddle or what?” Scout asked.

“I’m not zat well prepared,” Spy snapped. “We’re going to have to paddle wiz our hands. Unless you have any objections…”

“I guess not,” Scout grumbled. “You want me ta call Soldier or what?”

“If you please,” Spy said, puffing at his cigarette.

Scout fiddled with his headset, tuning it to Soldier’s frequency. “Hey, Soldier. You there, man?”

Up in the attic, Soldier noticed the crackling voice coming through on his radio, which was resting on his hip. He picked it up, and pressed the transceiver. “Soldier here. Learn to use your radio properly, Private. Over.”

“Sorry, man, Jesus,” said Scout. “Well, uh, we’re in a raft down in the sewers. We’re gonna go across an’ come up around through BLU base, since Pyro says there’s a tunnel through the rubble we can use. Just…just keep the zombies away from the moat an’ on RED side, okay?” There was a pause. “Over.”

“Affirmative, over,” Soldier said, mounting his rocket launcher over his shoulder.

“Uh, hey, Soldier?”

“What is it, Private? Over.”

“Thanks, man. You’re…yer a credit to the team.”

“Oh Jesus, do not get all sentimental and mushy on me, Private. That is an order! I absolutely will not stand for that, do you hear me? Over.”

“All right, man, I get it, I get it.” Scout’s voice seemed to indicate he was knowingly disobeying Soldier’s commands. “Godspeed, Soldier. Engie…Engie told me ta say that. Uh, over.”

“Just get the hell out of here already, over and out,” Soldier growled. He looked down at the crowd of zombies below him, aimed his weapon, and jumped down. He fired downwards, the blast propelling him up into the air and taking out clusters of the monsters below him. He then tried to steer himself off to the side, leading the hoard away from the bridge as they followed him. Some were even gathered directly underneath him, although it would mean certain destruction. When he fired his fourth rocket, he quickly switched to his shotgun, and started firing wildly at the creatures, before landing deftly on his feet. He continued to fire at them, blowing away any that got to close before he started to back himself towards the fence behind RED Base. It was clear that the zombies were all gunning for him, but just in case, he decided to grab their attention even more.

“YOU CALL YOURSELVES ZOMBIES? WHY, I’VE SEEN LITTLE OLD LADIES DEVOUR PEOPLE WHOLE BETTER THAN YOU!” It seemed to be working well, as the undead bastards were all solely focused on him, shambling forward with steadfast determination. Soldier looked over to the right to see more zombies coming around from the other side of RED base, cutting off any chance for escape. Not that he was going to turn back now, he thought. He kept firing at them and whirling around to shoot whichever of them got closest, all while still hurling insults at them. “C’MON, YOU MAGGOT-INFESTED…MAGGOTS THINK YOU CAN HANDLE ME? I’LL SHOW YOU HOW A REAL MAN FIGHTS!”

He soon ran out of ammo, finding the zombies surrounding him cornering him tightly. Without even thinking, he flipped his shotgun around, holding tight onto the still-hot barrel, and started to swing it around like a club, bashing in more than a few heads as he continued to scream at them with total confidence, and his palm burned and sizzled against the shotgun metal. “COME GET ME, YOU UNDEAD SCUM! I’LL TAKE ALL OF YOU DOWN WITH ME! I WILL PERSONALLY SEE THE LOT OF YOU IN HELL!” It was right then that a child zombie leapt upon Soldier, dangling from his arm, and took a bite from his wrist.

Soldier let out an ear-splitting screech, and bashed the monster over the head until it split like an overripe cantaloupe. Unfortunately, the other zombies took this a signal to all tackle Soldier, who simply took to beating them off his own body as even more sets of teeth were sinking into his flesh. His adrenaline could only keep him going for so long. He was dimly aware that he was becoming more and more parallel to the ground, and he noticed a zombie successfully managed to gnaw his leg off. Soldier lashed out and grabbed at his leg in desperation, snatching it away, and was now beating at the monsters with his own severed limb, as their probing fingers managed to rip a hole in his abdomen, and he could see his intestines being pulled out and eaten straight from his stomach.

Slowly, the pain was becoming more and more dulled, and Soldier found himself vomiting up obscene amounts of blood, and his fists didn’t seem to be connecting to the zombies like he wanted them to. The sounds of rasping and moaning and gnashing teeth he was hearing were now drowned out by white noise, like static in his head, a high pitched ringing in his ears, and suddenly the moon looked so bright and welcoming. He’d never noticed how many craters were on the moon before this moment, just how many stars you could see out here. Why, there were thousands of them. So bright and beautiful…he barely noticed when the teeth that were chewing away at his neck managed to sever his windpipe and his head was rudely yanked off his shoulders, as the zombies continued their starved feeding frenzy.

The raft was now inside the sewers of the BLU base, and Spy was the first one off, followed quickly by Pyro. Spy pulled a very small flashlight from inside his jacket and shone it around the room. It was dark and dank and still smelled like burnt wood. Pyro got his axe and hopped onto a pile of concrete rubble and burnt wood with the quickness of a rabbit. He quickly waved to urge the others along. They disembarked cautiously, feeling understandably uncomfortable being in a building that had collapsed in on itself.

“Ye sure ye know what yer doin’ Pyro?” Demoman asked, as he set his foot on the bridge of debris.

“Errf crrsshhh eerr urrm,” Pyro responded, giving the Scotsman a thumbs-up. He waddled forward, as Spy followed closely behind with his flashlight.

Pyro had returned to the ruins of BLU base often since its destruction, exploring it and mapping it out. He managed to effectively communicate this fact to Spy, when Spy was devising an escape route. Out of boredom, he managed to find that the entrance of the stairs to the sewers was easily uncovered just by moving a few beams and bits of rubble. Miraculously, the sewers were not completely flooded with debris, and there was a rough little tunnel through fallen beams and concrete that could be navigated. He hacked his way through, making sure there was enough room for everyone to navigate without too much trouble and without bringing down a rain of rubble. Silently, the eight men made their way through the dark, wet tunnel, the occasional sound of Sniper or Heavy bumping their heads against the odd pipe could be heard. But Pyro pushed forward, climbing up the stairs between the rubble until he finally arrived at his destination. He pushed up at the wooden beams that had covered the entrance to his secret tunnel and emerged aboveground, poking his head out and looking like an odd little mole. He pulled himself up, and turned around to lift up Spy. Spy got up and dusted himself off, turning his attention to his next goal as the rest of the members of RED team were lifted out. Heavy was the last to come out, needing Pyro, Demoman, Engineer and Medic to help lift him up.

“So, now what, French fry?” Scout asked, hands on his hips as he tapped his foot impatiently.

“Gentlemen,” Spy motioned to the hole in the fence, which was currently surrounded by a large amount of dead bodies, “zere is our way out.”

Without any hesitation, Scout dashed forward and started to drag corpses out of the way with a sudden sense of urgency. Pyro, Sniper, Demoman, Medic and Engineer all ran over to help, tossing the cadavers about. They were the only obstacle, the one last hurdle that needed to be cleared before they could finally reach the train, which was still idling on the tracks, looking more and more inviting by the second. Spy checked his watch and clicked his tongue.

Finally, there was a clear path to slip through under the fence, and Scout was the first to crawl underneath. Pyro followed, wriggling in the dirt on his stomach, and was followed by Engineer, who also got down low and crawled through on his elbows. Sniper slid under and pulled Demoman through swiftly. Spy grumbled to himself, lamenting the fact that he would be getting his suit dusty, and slid underneath, followed closely by Medic, who looked upon the train and wiped his brow with the back of his hand, breathing a sigh of relief as his teammates were already making a mad dash to the train.

“Ve made it…” he said breathlessly. “Mein Gott, Heavy, ve made it!”

“Doktor!”

“Yes, mein Heav-” He turned and suddenly realized that there was a glaring flaw in Spy’s plan. “Oh, nein. Nein, nein, nein, nein, nein…” He dropped his violin case on the ground unceremoniously.

Heavy was lodged tightly between the fence and the ground, trying to pull himself forward with a few futile grunts, pawing at the dirt uselessly to get a good grip to pull himself forward. He looked up at Medic pathetically, looking so utterly helpless that he hardly seemed to be the Heavy that Medic knew and loved. “I am stuck, Doktor,” he announced in defeat.

“Nein! Ve helped you out of zis vonce, ve can do it again!” Medic reassured him as he ran to his Heavy, and gripped the man’s large hands in his own gloved ones and started to pull desperately. “ACHTUNG! TEAM! I AM IN NEED OF ASSISTANCE, HERE! RAUS, RAUS!”

Engineer was the first to jerk his head around, and skidded to a halt. “Oh, sweet Jesus, no…” he muttered, and ran back the way he came. “C’MON!” He shouted, and Sniper, Demoman, Pyro and Scout all followed suite. Spy merely stopped and watched.

Engineer batted Medic off to the right, so that each of them clutched one of Heavy’s hands. Sniper and Demo arrived moments later, each grabbing a wrist, and Scout and Pyro, grabbed the Russian man’s trunk-like arms.

“All right, on three, we all pull, got it?” Engineer shouted. The rest of them nodded in agreement. “Okay. One, two, three…PULL!”

All at once, the members of RED team pulled on the colossus of a man, grunting and straining and losing their footing in the dirt. Heavy barely moved an inch, and the twisted barbs in the fence were only digging deeper into his sides, causing him to roar in pain.

“Friggin’ fatass!” Scout shouted, losing his grip on Heavy’s sweaty arm. “Jesus, why’d you have to be so friggin’ fat?”

Spy strolled over, disinterested in the Tug-O-War match that his teammates were engaging in against the fence, glanced at his watch again, and then back at the train.

“Ze train could be leaving at any minute, now,” Spy said loudly over the grunts of exertion.

“Ve ah not leaving vizout Heavy!” Medic cried out.

“Doktor,” Heavy said in a very quiet, resigned voice, “Spy is right. I am not moving.”

Medic’s jaw dropped in horror, and the other members of RED team recognized Heavy’s tone and half-heartedly let go of the man. The doctor’s head jerked around, eyes darting from teammate to teammate, as he realized with mounting terror exactly what was happening. “Nein, Heavy, you cannot give up! I vill get you out of zis, I promise!” He gripped Heavy’s hands again, and started to pull frantically, with a mad desperation.

“Doktor, stop this. Is useless,” Heavy said. “You go. Train could be leaving soon.”

“NEIN!” Medic screeched, looking into Heavy’s eyes as tears started to well up in his own, “I vill not leave you here to die, mein Liebe! I refuse!”

“Stop being baby, Doktor,” Heavy said sternly.

“I am not being a baby,” Medic said, lacing his fingers with Heavy’s. “I…I vill not leave you. I cannot…vill not…”

“Don’t be stupid,” Heavy said. “Team needs you.”

Medic turned around and glanced at his team. Scout was looking down at the dirt, trying to avoid eye-contact with the doctor. Engineer was wringing his hands nervously, and Sniper had removed his hat and was placing it solemnly over his chest, bowing his head and sighing. Demoman looked apologetically at Medic, and took a very long swig from his bottle of scrumpy. Pyro waddled over and picked up the violin case, and then lifted his hand to put it on Medic’s shoulder, but stopped, slowly lowering the hand, and stepping back again sheepishly. Spy just looked on nonchalantly, and took another drag from his cigarette before glancing at his watch for a third time.

The doctor turned back to Heavy, biting his lip to try and keep it from quivering. “I can’t live vizout you anymore. You said…you said you vould come viz me, ve vould go to Venice togezzah…”

“I am sorry,” Heavy rumbled. He let go of Medic’s hand and brushed his lover’s cheek with his fingertips, before cupping the doctor’s face with his palm and bringing him closer. The foreheads were touching, and Medic found that he could no longer hold back, as he started to sob openly and tears streamed from his eyes and along side of his nose. Heavy lifted the doctor’s chin, and he brought their lips together in a long, solemn kiss.

“Ich liebe dich, mein Kuschelbär,” Medic murmured after they broke their kiss. “But…I never found out your real name.”

Heavy pulled the doctor close, and whispered his name into his lover’s ear. He let go of Medic’s shoulder, letting the information sink it.

“Such a beautiful name…” Medic said, fresh tears welling up in his eyes.

“You must go now. I will make sure zombies do not catch you,” Heavy said. He turned his head to Sniper and Engineer who happened to be the closest to the doctor. “You two. Make sure nothing happens to Doktor. Drag him onto train, if you must.”

“Sure thing, mate,” Sniper said grimly, walking briskly over to Medic.

“Vait!” Medic protested, reaching out towards Heavy before Sniper and Engineer each took a hold of the doctor’s arms. “Not yet! Ve cannot leave him yet! Don’t you undahstand? Zey vill kill him! Heavy!” He tried in vain to reach out to the Russian man, only to find himself being dragged further and further away from Heavy, the only man he had ever truly loved. His teammates were now all leaving his Heavy, racing to the train with the utmost urgency. Medic’s eyes darted to the RED side of 2fort, and he saw the zombies migrating towards the BLU side, all intensely focused on the fat man stuck in the fence, waiting for them like a wounded water buffalo before a pack of ravenous hyenas. Medic suddenly started to scream.

Spy slid open the door to one of the boxcars and climbed inside. It was almost completely barren aside from a few wooden crates, but Spy didn’t seem to really notice this, and if he had, he didn’t care. Scout doubled jumped onto the car, and turned around to hoist Pyro up. Demoman climbed up by himself, and awaited Engineer, Sniper and Medic. Medic, by this point, was hysterical, and was pulled roughly onto the train by Demoman and Scout, while Sniper climbed aboard.

“I’m gonna head up to th’ engine, see if I can get this thing started up,” Engineer said. “Y’all make sure Medic doesn’t do anything crazy.”

“Little late for that, mate,” Sniper replied, trying to keep a firm grip on the doctor.

“Do ye even know how tae drive a train, laddie?” Demoman asked.

“Boy, I got 11 PhDs. I’m sure I can figure it out.” With that, Engineer took his leave, and vanished out of sight.

Medic wrestled himself away from Sniper’s grasp with a primal shriek, only to be grabbed again by everyone else in the boxcar, peeking out only to see the zombies closing in on his Heavy, who was simply lying there, looking longingly at the train. He was pulled back inside the train just after he saw the mob swarm over his lover, and he let out a long, terrible wail before the train slowly started to rumble to life.

“I HATE ALL OF YOU!” Medic screamed, pinned to the floor of the boxcar by six pairs of arms. “YOU COULD HAVE SAVED HIM! I VOULD HAVE KILLED ALL OF YOU IF IT VOULD HAVE SAVED HIM! GET OFF OF ME! SCHWEINHUNDS! DUMMKOPFS! YOU’VE KILLED HIM! YOU…YOU…” He couldn’t even finish before he started blubbering and bawling, and six pairs of hands released their grip on him so that he could curl into a ball and weep.

The train picked up speed, chugging down the dusty desert tracks and leaving 2Fort behind, heading south. No one was quite sure exactly where the train was going, but it was generally accepted that wherever its destination was, it was better than being here.


 

Chapter 16

Sniper was sitting Indian-style on the floor of the boxcar, the only person left awake. Medic eventually calmed down a bit and fell asleep on the floor in the fetal position. Demoman started drinking until he eventually passed out, already more than halfway through the spare bottles and flasks he had brought with him. Scout fell asleep in a corner, sitting with his legs bent up in front of him and his arms out straight, balanced on his knees as he dozed. Pyro had been a bit jittery, though it was understandable, after everything that had happened, but he eventually fell asleep, clutching his flamethrower tightly like a child would a teddy bear. Spy, too, had fallen asleep, lying down on the floor and twitching occasionally as he slumbered. Scout’s knapsack had been lying in the middle of the floor, and Sniper found himself rooting through it, finding that it was filled to the brim with comic books and baseball cards, as well as photos of what Sniper guessed to be his brothers and his mother. He similarly “borrowed” Spy’s flashlight, and was now finding himself reading an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.

There was a noise outside of the boxcar, an awkward thump followed by rattling, which caused the assassin to jerk his head up and shine his flashlight toward the still-open boxcar door. A hand wrapped around the edge of the frame, and Sniper leapt to his feet, whipping out his kukri from its sleeve on his back. “Who’s there?” he shouted.

A familiar, hard-hatted head poked into view. “S’alright, Sniper, s’just me,” Engineer said. “Mind helpin’ a feller out?”

“Oh.” Sniper sheathed his weapon again, and walked over to the door, offering a hand to Engineer. The Texan gripped his hand, and was pulled inside with a grunt. “Scared me there for a second, mate,” Sniper said. “Aren’t you supposed t’ be drivin’ th’ train?”

“Darndest thing…it’s completely automated,” Engineer replied. “An’, well, I kinda didn’t wanna be up there by myself, so I came back here.”

“Th’ train’s movin’, mate. Ya coulda fallen off.”

“Wasn’t that hard,” Engineer said modestly. “All th’ cars are connected so’s you can walk between ’em safely until ya git t’ th’ boxcars. Though, I am mighty glad ya left th’ door open.”

“No problem, mate. Make’s it easier t’ read with the door open. ‘Sides, I wanna see where we’re going.” Sniper returned to Scout’s backpack and Spy’s flashlight, sitting back down and picking up the comic book right where he left off.

“Aw, Geez, you read those things too?” Engineer asked.

“Not much else to do, an’ I can’t sleep,” Sniper justified. “Scout’s right. This Spider-Man bloke’s not like Batman at all. I don’t recall Batman bein’ half this whiny.”

“I only used t’ read Donald Duck comics when I was younger,” Engineer admitted. “Never really go inta super heroes. Ma dinnit’ like ’em. Said they were too violent.”

“Well, th’ violence was what made ’em excitin’!” Sniper said. “Y’know, I guess I was kinda lucky. I got t’ read comics and pulp stories before they started puttin’ rules on ’em. The Joker used t’ bloody kill people in Batman comics, nowadays he’s just some lunatic clown who wants t’ play stupid pranks on Batman. S’pretty lame, right?”

Engineer rubbed the back of his head with his gloved hand, “I honestly wouldn’t know, Sniper. Sorry.”

There was an awkward silence between the two of them for a while. Sniper found his gaze wandering over to Medic, who was sleeping fitfully on the floor, murmuring things in barely-audible German.

“You think Doc’s gonna pull through okay?” Sniper asked idly.

“Hard t’ say,” Engineer sighed. “He got th’ snot beaten out of him by Soldier an’ then had t’ see his…best friend be left t’ die…it’d be hard on anybody. I think…I think it’s safe t’ say he’s prolly had one a’ th’ worst days a’ his life.”

Sniper nodded. “Yeah…Heavy…I think Heavy knew he was gonna get stuck like that. But he just…” Sniper bit his lip for a moment, “…accepted it.”

“He had to,” Engineer said. “I gotta admit, th’ thought didn’t even cross my mind. All I thought was that there was that hole, an’ it was our way out, an’ I just needed to get th’ heck outta dodge…no wonder Heavy looked so glum when we were leavin’…”

“Solly’s dead, too,” Sniper said. “S’weird, really, thinkin’ about it. How many times we died out there and just came back, like nothin’ happened, and now Heavy and Solly are really dead. Not comin’ back in th’ Resupply room, nothin’.” He sighed, taking off his hat and running a hand through his slicked-back hair. “Guess bein’ bit by a zombie kinda negates bein’ able to not die out there.”

“Seems like it,” Engineer said. His gaze turned to the desert landscape outside, noting that the sky was slowly illuminating, becoming brighter and brighter. The sun would be rising soon, and dawn would be gracing the horizon with rosy fingertips. “You really aughta get some rest, Sniper. Even if ya can’t sleep, lyin’ down fer a bit would do ya some good.”

“On this floor? Like I don’t have enough trouble with me back.” Sniper sighed, and ultimately decided to follow the Texan’s advice, slipping Scout’s comics into his bag and grimacing a bit at an old Tales from the Crypt issue featuring a zombie rising up from a Louisiana swamp. “You gonna get some shut-eye yourself, mate?”

“Yeah, I reckon I will,” Engineer replied. “In a few minutes, I guess.”

“Right. ‘Night, then.” Sniper removed his aviators and lay down on his back and stared at the ceiling. Eventually, sleep overtook him, and he started to snore softly.

Medic was on a train. Not the train he had fallen asleep on, but a passenger train in a city somewhere. He was dressed in civilian clothes, a long overcoat and leather gloves, and he was holding a briefcase, which was propped upright on his lap. He drummed his fingers nervously along the top rim of the case, and noticed that all of the other passengers appeared to be shadowy ghosts. To make things even more uncomfortable, they were all staring at him.

The doctor tugged at his collar nervously, wondering if the train would ever reach his stop. His gaze landed on a very large, very familiar figure, sitting in the corner, shaved head down and body slumped over with an ominous black puddle growing at its feet.

“Heavy…” Medic whispered, getting up from his seat. The ghosts on the train followed him with their black, eye-less sockets that seemed to suck all the light and happiness from the world into them like some horrible vacuum, as he slowly walked from the center of the train to his Heavy, who was totally motionless. He stopped just short of the Russian giant, hesitating for a moment before reaching out to touch his shoulder. “Heavy?”

Heavy lifted his head and turned to Medic, his eyes milky white and his jaw slightly agape and blood around his mouth. His skin was suddenly grayed with decay, and his veins were purple and showing through his skin. Medic let out a horrified screech, jumping backwards and clutching his briefcase to his chest, and Heavy started to speak. “Vhy, Doktor? Vhy did you let me die?”

“I nevah meant to…I didn’t vant to…mein Gott…” Medic stammered, backing away slowly. The eyes of the ghosts were all locked on him, staring him down accusingly, and suddenly their faces looked strangely familiar, but the doctor couldn’t place them. Heavy got up from his seat, head lolling back and arms dangling limply at his sides, and started walking towards Medic, blood dribbling out of his mouth and down his neck and chest. At this point the doctor turned around and clamored for the doors of the train. Unsurprisingly, they were tightly shut, as the train continued to speed down the tracks, totally different to his immediate jeopardy. He then grasped for the call cord, trying desperately to get the conductor’s attention to stop. This, too, proved to be useless. Heavy was taking his time advancing on the doctor, and Medic found himself running out of options. He threw his briefcase on the ground and bent down to pop it open, only to find that it was full of blood. The doctor jerked his head back up, to see that Heavy was standing over him, arms outstretched, and was backed up by all the ghosts on the train. Medic backed himself against the doors, scooting across the floor, and held his hands in front of his face as he screamed…

He shot up from the floor of the boxcar with a gasp, face covered in cold sweat. He looked around, catching his breath and saw his teammates were, for the most part, still asleep. Sniper stirred at Medic’s cry, but he flipped his head from one side to the other and continued his snoring. Medic then pawed at the floor for his glasses, only to realize he had fallen asleep with them on his face; they were askew and were grimy and stained from his tears last night.

Last night.

He didn’t want to remember last night, but now that he was awake and dwelling on the nightmare he had, it was impossible to forget.

The sound of a guitar being strummed caught his attention. He removed his glasses and wiped them clean using one of his coattails, then placed them back on his face and stared at Engineer. The Texan was the only one awake, sitting on the edge of the boxcar with his legs dangling out, guitar in his lap, playing and singing to himself.

I hear the train a comin’/ It’s rollin’ ’round the bend, /And I ain’t seen the sunshine, /Since, I don’t know when, /I’m stuck in Folsom Prison, /And time keeps draggin’ on, /But that train keeps a-rollin’,/ On down to San Antone,” Engineer’s singing voice was deep and rumbling and tinged with a very solemn, weighty sort of sadness, and though Medic had heard Engineer sing before, now it sounded…different, somehow, almost depressed. Not that he cared for Engineer’s taste in music and that low-brow, American rock music that so many of his teammates seemed to be fond of, but he couldn’t help but to be moved. Medic found himself crawling closer to Engineer, moving like a frightened puppy approaching a human for the first time. The Texan seemed to notice this, turning his head and smiling a bit, as he continued to play.

When I was just a baby,/ My Mama told me, ‘Son,/ Always be a good boy,/ Don’t ever play with guns,’/ But I shot a man in Reno,/ Just to watch him die,/ When I hear that whistle blowin’,/ I hang my head and cry,” he trailed off, no longer singing but still playing the melody as he turned his head to Medic. “‘Mornin’, Doc. How you farin’?”

“Not vell, I am afraid,” Medic sighed, hugging his knees. “I had a terrible nightmare last night.”

“So I heard,” Engineer said. “You wanna talk about it?”

“Nein…danke, Engineer.” Medic’s gaze turned to the steadily rising sun over the desert plateaus and bright orange rocks. “Vhat song is zat?”

“‘Folsom Prison Blues’ by Johnny Cash. The Man in Black himself,” Engineer answered. “You like it?”

“It’s…interesting,” Medic replied delicately.

Engineer chuckled, still playing without missing a beat. “Yeah, I know you’re not much fer anythin’ not Beethoven or Wagner an’ whatnot. ‘Least this is better ‘n those Rollin’ Stones fellas that Sniper an’ Scout seem so fond of.”

“To be honest, Herr Engineer, I do not notice much of a difference,” Medic confessed. He gazed off to the quickly moving desert landscape, kissed by the rays of the brilliant yellow orb that tinged the sky pink and orange.

The steady strumming on Engineer’s guitar stopped, and the Texan put his gloved hand on Medic’s shoulder. “Listen, Doc. We’re here for ya. You ever need anybody t’ talk to or anythin’…well, ya got us. We’re yer friends.” He gave the doctor a reassuring smile.

Medic turned his gaze to Engineer, and Engineer’s smile faltered. His expression was melancholy, and there was a bleakness in his stare that Engineer had rarely encountered before that very moment. “Danke, Engineer. But I do not zink zhere is much you can do to help me.” He bowed his head, and massaged the bridge of his nose with his fingertips, and fell silent.

“You know what I like to do, when I feel miserable, like th’ whole world’s gone against me?” Engineer said, leaning on his guitar. “I play something sad. I play until I feel like I’ve released all that sadness and pent-up anger and I’ve made something beautiful out of it.” He shrugged. “It doesn’t cheer me up completely, but there’s a catharsis in it, you know? Sometimes that helps.”

The doctor seemed to ponder this for a moment before standing up and walking to his violin case. He crouched down to open it, delicately lifting the instrument and its bow out of the velvet-lined case. He tweaked the knobs on its neck, plucking strings to tune it properly, and then, taking a bar of rosin out of a pocket on the underside of the lid, rosined the bow. He stood up again, and walked back over towards the open boxcar door, standing towards the edge of it, and adjusted the instrument under his chin. His eyes wandered over to Engineer, who had watched him the entire time, and the Texan simply gave him an approving nod. Medic played a few raw, warming-up notes before he started to actually play.

The song was slow and somber, but its notes stretched out to reflect a beautiful kind of agony. Medic closed his eyes as his fingers danced across the neck, drawing the bow in and out, milking each note as the song started to pick up its pace and intensity. He played faster and faster, and yet the tone remained generally the same; still heartbroken and in pained, until the whine of the violin sounded like the anguished cries of the dying. Engineer realized he didn’t recognize the piece, and it sounded very different from the usually far-more restrained classical compositions that Medic was so fond of. He played like a man possessed, his face remaining completely solemn as he played, as his fingers moved like lightening across the neck and his bow weaved back and forth furiously, the crescendo quickly mounting more and more before it reached its mournful climax. Medic then began to play slowly again, easing the song down, dragging it back down into the doldrums, sounding like a funeral march, and ending on a ghostly, haunting wail.

“That was…beautiful,” Engineer said in awe after the last note had long dissolved into the air.

“Danke, Herr Engineer,” Medic said, looking slightly embarrassed as he lowered his instrument. “You…you vere right. Zat felt…zat felt cleansing, somehow.”

“I ain’t ever heard that song before,” Engineer confessed. “Who’s it by?”

“Me,” Medic said. “I wrote zat.”

“You did?” Engineer shook his head. “You never told me you were a composer, Doc.”

“I nevah felt ze need to tell anyone,” Medic replied. “Besides, I haven’t written anyzing since I vas a teenager. It’s very sloppy, unpolished…”

“I think it works that way,” Engineer said with a shrug. “It’s very…raw an’ emotional. Not really like what you most of th’ time, I guess, but…it works.”

“He’s right, mate. S’bloody beautiful.”

Engineer and Medic turned around to see all of their teammates were awake and sitting together in the middle of the boxcar, still looking dirty and disheveled and not completely awake. Sniper continued, “Wot d’you call it?”

“‘For Johan,'” Medic replied bashfully. “When I vas a boy, I had a crush on a classmate of mine, but I could nevah tell him how I felt. So I wrote zat, to try und release some of zose pent-up emotions.” The side of his mouth started to twitch into a joyless smile. “My mozzah, she said I vas a prodigy. She vanted me to be a musician, play in an orchestra; she alvays told me I had talent. My fazzah said zat was ridiculous, und vanted me to become a doctor, like him. You can guess who von zat argument…”

“Ye brought a tear to me eye, laddie,” Demoman remarked, wiping at his remaining eye with his sleeve. “Ye should consider goan’ back tae playin’, maybeh. When all a’ this is o’er.”

Medic suddenly looked glum, and looked down at the floor. “Perhaps…” he said quietly. “If ve make it to safety…”

“Yeah, man, we don’t even know where we’re headed,” Scout piped up. “Engie was supposed ta be drivin’ it.”

“It’s automated,” Engineer replied with a shrug. “An’ I haven’t been able t’ gather much information on our destination aside from th’ fact that this train seems to be southbound. I don’t think we really got a choice but t’ stay on, see where we end up an’ hope for th’ best.”

“Urrr fffiiinnkk wuurrr muurrrt heeff suurrrm trrrbeell thuurrr,” Pyro mumbled, and pointed outside.

His teammates all turned their gaze to the early morning desert landscape. There were several human figures dotting the landscape, lumbering across the dry vegetation, and when they heard the train rumbling along, their heads jerked up and they started running clumsily towards the source of the noise. Scout let out a startled squawk, and Engineer rushed towards the boxcar door, trying to pull it closed. None of the monsters were close enough to get into the car, but no one was about to take any chances. Engineer was quickly joined by Sniper and Demo, who helped him pull the door closed with a satisfying slam.

The only light entering the boxcar now was the slivers of sunlight that peeked through the cracks in the door. They all sat in silence for a while, before Spy finally spoke up.

“Sniper, do you still have zat portable radio wiz you?” Spy’s face was softly illuminated by the glowing orange embers of his cigarette, his features so dim they were hard to make out.

“Oh, yeah, I still got it, mate.” Sniper fumbled around in the dark for his radio before he managed to find it, switching it on and fooling with the dial before he got a clear signal.

“-cases popping up by the hundreds, mostly in isolated towns. There has yet to be any signs of the infection spreading to any major cities, but more than 50 areas have been quarantined, and many more are expected to be shut off. Authorities currently don’t have any information as to the origins of the virus, but citizens are advised to stay in their homes and remain cautious and alert. Victims of the virus will first complain of dizziness, nausea, and hallucinations, before going into a catatonic state resembling death.”

“Bollocks,” Demoman said. “It is death, ye daft bastard.”

“The second stage happens after the victim awakes from their catatonic state, and becomes physically violent, often attempting to bite those who have not been infected. They can be identified, at this stage, by their eyes, which survivors have described as pale and colorless, and their movements, which have been described as jerky, slow, and moving like sleepwalkers.”

“Oh, I’ll tell ye wot they bloody move like. They move like bloody zombies!” Demoman yelled at the radio announcer in anger, swinging his bottle of scrumpy around and nearly beaning Sniper with it.

“Oh, would you just shut up already, you gibbering drunkard?” Spy snapped.

“President Johnson has called on the National Guard to move in and contain any wandering victims. There is no known cure for the virus, as scientists have determined that the damage done to the central nervous system is irreversible. Remember, the virus is spread through the bites of an infected individual, and should you become infected, isolate yourself from your neighbors and loved ones immediately.”

“This is all stuff we already know, mate,” Sniper grumbled. “You know, aside from th’ National Guard thing. ‘Least th’ President’s takin’ some initiative.”

“Spy is right,” Medic said softly. “Leave it on. Ve may here somezing important.”

“-loved one is bitten by an infected individual, remember: once the infection has reached the second stage, the individual is beyond a cure, and is no longer a conscious being. They will need to be isolated from other survivors, though it is considered safer to exterminate the infected individual.”

“…Not completely vizzout hope,” Medic mumbled. “Zere vas Stumpy…”

“Yeah, that BLU Scout,” Scout said, leaning forward. “What happened to that ugly sack a’ rotten flesh, anyway?”

“He’s dead,” Spy said bluntly. “I was zere when it happened.”

“Wait, whoa, you mean, like, really dead? Because he was already decomposin’ an’-”

“I shot him in ze head viz Heavy’s shotgun,” Medic said flatly.

The boxcar became uncomfortably silent, aside from the drone of the radio listing the names of quarantined towns. Pyro let out a pained little whimper, and quiet little sobs could be heard through his gasmask filter as he brought his gloved hands in front of his lenses. Demoman put a comforting hand on Pyro’s shoulder, trying to console the fire starter. Medic pulled his legs in and hugged his knees, and started to shake.

“I thought you liked th’ little bugger, Doc,” Sniper said quietly.

“Ja…I did. He vas fascinating…und I zink I got attached. I started treating him like a pet. Engineer, you vere right. It vas cruel to let him live,” Medic buried his face in his hands. “I didn’t vant to leave him down zere, starving forever, all alone…but I could not bring him viz us…” He started to shake uncontrollably.

“It’s okay, Doc,” Engineer said in a gentle, hushed tone, “we understand. It had ta been real hard on ya, puttin’ him down…”

“Purrr Sturrmpeehh,” Pyro wheezed, and started to hiccup.

“Do not cry for ze brainless little leper, Pyro,” Spy said nonchalantly. “He only wanted to eat you, anyway.”

“Nurrr Stuurrmpeeh,” Pyro replied, shaking his head. “Hrree wurrssh durrfrruunt.”

“I highly doubt zat,” Spy said dismissively.

Another long, awkward silence crept over the surviving members of RED team, the radio’s volume having been turned down by Sniper. This silence, however, was broken by a low, gurgling growl. Scout covered his stomach with his hands, and looked embarrassed. “Haven’t eaten anything since dinner last night,” he explained.

“There anythin’ in those crates in th’ corner?” Sniper asked.

“Oh, man, there better be,” Scout got up and ran to the crates, only to find them tightly nailed shut. He tried to dig his fingers between the boards and yank them free but found them too secure to pry loose. “A little help ovah here?”

Sniper stood up, strolling casually over to the younger man, and pulled his kukri out from its sheath on his back. He wedged the blade between the boards on the crate, and pressed down on the handle with a grunt, managing to pop one of the boards free. Scout eagerly plunged his hand inside, pulling out several cans and gathering them in his arms. Sniper also reached a hand in, pulled out a can and tried to hold it up to the light, lowering his aviators to try and read the label. “Spam. Well, that’s just lovely,” he said dryly.

“Well, it’s food, ain’t it?” Scout asked, rooting through the crate to see if there was anything else inside.

“Zat is debatable,” Spy said, sneering in disgust.

“Ooh, I think I found some beef jerky. Sweet.” Scout pulled out a tightly sealed bag, and tossed it over his shoulder to Demoman. “Here, catch.” The bag ended up hitting the Scotsman in the side of the face, provoking a string of murmured curses from Demoman.

The seven men in the boxcar ate their breakfast of smoked beef jerky in near silence. The spam ended up going untouched. Pyro retreated to a corner facing away from everyone else, while the others sat in the center, and mulled over their breakfast.

It was a few minutes before anybody spoke up again. As usual, it was Scout who broke the silence. “So…where do you think we’re goin’?”

“I told ya before, boy, I don’t have a clue,” Engineer said, sounding more than a little annoyed.

“Well, yeah, I know ya said ya don’t know. I asked where do ya think we’re goin’?” Scout emphasized.

Engineer leaned back and sighed, “My guess? Prolly a warehouse a’ some kind, somewhere you could make pick-ups an’ deliveries. Maybe somewhere close to civilization, if we’re lucky.”

“I hope so,” Scout said, his attention drifting off back to the boxcar door. “Hey, you think it’s safe to open the door again?”

“Just peek out,” Sniper said. “I don’t think they can jump on th’ train, but th’ last thing we need is them followin’ us.”

“‘Kay,” Scout stood up and pulled open the door just a little bit, and squinted in the sunlight, peering outside.

What he saw was hard to describe. It was a herd of cows, only instead of lazily grazing on grass like cows normally would, they seemed to be in a panic. They appeared to be stampeding, but occasionally a cow would tackle another to the ground, grabbing a hold of the beast in jaws normally only used for eating grass and chewing cud, and attracting a group of other similarly behaving cows. The noises they made were unlike anything Scout had heard before, panicked bellowing and wailing, as more and more cows started to cannibalize each other.

Scout quickly slammed the door shut and found himself pressing his body against it, as if to keep the creatures from coming in.

“What in th’ bloody ‘ell did ye see out there, laddie?” Demoman asked.

“The cows, man…” Scout said breathlessly, shaking his head. “Fuckin’ zombie cows.”

The train continued along the tracks, ignored by the bloodthirsty bovines, headed for its unknown destination.


 

Chapter 17

“‘Ey. ‘Ey, Sniper.”

Sniper grumbled to himself. He was in a sour mood, and he certainly wasn’t alone in that respect. He was sitting with a bunch of men alone in the dark, living off of beef jerky and spam and feeling kind of sick from it. He was bored out of his mind and the radio was playing nothing but emergency broadcast instructions on every available station. To make things worse, Pyro was starting to act downright neurotic, wheezing louder than usual, muttering to himself, and Medic wasn’t acting much better; the doctor seemed to switch between giving the ten-thousand yard stare at the walls or fits of quiet sobbing in the corner. Demoman polished off the rest of his supply of alcohol, and eventually passed out.

And now Scout was poking him in the side of his head, no doubt about to ask the same question he had asked over and over again over the past few hours.

“Wot d’you want?” Sniper asked flatly.

“How many hours we been on this train, man?” Scout asked.

The assassin held up his watch, trying to position it to it was hit with the rays of sunlight. “‘Bout 14 hours.”

“Jesus!” Scout threw up his hands and started to pace the boxcar again. He hadn’t been able to sit still for a while, and there wasn’t really any way to release all of his pent-up energy. “I’m fuckin’ bored, man!”

“Boy, you’re just gonna hafta be patient. We’re all a little stir-crazy right now,” Engineer said calmly, though his impatience with Scout was beginning to show through in his tone. “Just try an’ settle down a bit, actin’ up ain’t gonna make th’ train go any faster.”

“But you could!” Scout said. “You’re the dude with all the PhDs an’ shit. You could make the train go faster if you wanted!”

Engineer crossed his arms. “You know, somethin’ tells me that even if I gave you a list of all th’ reasons that’d be a bad idea, you’d still insist on me tryin’ that.”

“What, is it too complicated for ya?” Scout was challenging him now, his expression smug. “Figures. You couldn’t even get around to fixin’ the fence…”

“Zat hole provided us wiz our escape,” Spy said. His head by now was surrounded by a smoky haze, as he had been chain-smoking for almost the entire trip. “Ozzerwise, we would have simply been trapped in 2fort wiz no way to get out.”

“Yeah, well, tell that to Heavy!” Scout snapped. This statement prompted Medic to burst into tears from his corner of the boxcar.

“Dammit, Scout, look what you did!” Engineer stood up to get at eye level with Scout, straightening his back to full height, which was still a few inches shorter than the younger man. “You think blamin’ people is gonna change anything?”

“Well, somebody’s gotta take the blame,” Scout said with his arms akimbo.

“Ya wanna blame someone, ya spastic lil’ bastard?” Sniper snarled. He turned his head away and looked at the floor. “You can blame me. I missed th’ shot.”

“What shot?” Scout asked impatiently.

“BLU Spy,” Sniper muttered. “When he was escapin’, I saw ‘im cloak, just outta th’ corner a’ me eye. I tried t’ shoot ‘im an’ missed. An’ he was bit.” He looked up and stared Scout, his eyes hollowed out from minimal sleep and a haunted conscience. “Then he must a’ turned out in th’ desert, an’ started spreadin’ th’ infection. If I hit ‘im, this wouldn’t a’ happened.”

Scout stood there, totally silent, averting his gaze from all of his teammates and staring at the floor.

“If you want to get technical wiz your blame game, it was BLU Medic zat created ze infection,” Spy said casually. “It seems zat zere was more zan enough incompetence to go around.” He put out his cigarette butt on the floor, singeing the wood and causing the ember to let out one last ribbon of smoke. “But ze laborer is right. Placing blame on each ozzer is useless. We’re dysfunctional enough as is.”

Scout sat down and pouted. He brought his knees in close to his body and rested his crossed arms on them, and snorted. Engineer too sat down slowly, and sighed. He swung his guitar around and placed it on his lap, and started to pluck at the instrument idly. Demoman let out a loud snore and twitched before rolling over.

“Hrrrt trruunssh,” Pyro mumbled from his corner. “Weerrn geerrt urrrf.”

“Easy, Pyro, we probably won’t be goin’ too much longer.” Engineer swiveled around a bit to flash the fire starter a reassuring smile. “C’mon. Sit with us. You’ll feel better, I promise. I’ll play ya somethin’.”

“Reeng urrf Furryurr?” Pyro asked, lifting his head and looking almost like a turtle nervously poking its head out of its shell.

“Sure thing, buddy,” Engineer started plucking out the melody as Pyro crawled over. He had scarcely begun to play when he stopped, and stayed completely still.

“What’s the hold up, hard hat?” Scout asked.

“You can’t feel that?” Engineer slung his guitar back over his back. “Th’ train’s slowin’ down.”

“Well, it’s about freakin’ time!” Scout was about to stand up, but Engineer put a firm hand on his shoulder and kept him down.

“Wait ’til th’ train stops, boy. Don’t wanna get tossed around an’ look even more foolish than you’ve made yersef out t’ be.”

“Fine, Jesus.” Scout crossed his arms and started to impatiently drum his fingers on his arm.

The train began to slow down, the mechanical chugging decelerated to an agonizing lurch before braking and throwing everyone on board forward. The wheels caught with a short metallic screech. It let out one last hiss, as if it were some spooked and angry housecat, and fell silent.

Demoman snorted and shot up off of the ground, looking from side to side sleepily. “Wot’s goan’ on, then? We stopped yet?”

“Looks like it,” Engineer said as he stood up, walking up to the boxcar door. He opened it slightly, peering outside, and then opened it wider before poking his head out. He opened the door wide and hopped out onto the platform, landing on his feet with a grunt. “All clear so far,” he said, “but stay alert. C’mon.”

One by one, the men disembarked the train, looking around the loading platform only to notice the place was completely devoid of any life. Large boxes and crates sat covered in tarps, forklifts sat abandoned with keys still locked in the ignition. There were lunchboxes that sat on crates, still latched shut and undisturbed. The members of RED team walked in a single file: Engineer, Scout, Sniper, Medic, Demoman, Pyro, and Spy bringing up the rear. Engineer removed his pistol from the holster on his hip, prompting his companions to brandish their own melee weapons.

“Where is everybody?” Scout asked, keeping a tight grip on his bat.

“Don’t know, but I don’t like the looks a’ this,” Engineer said. “Stick close together.”

There was a warehouse nearby, filled with stacked crates, its giant door wide open. Next to it was a large corporate building, visible from the back. There was a metal door visible from Engineer’s position, and he motioned for the others to follow him to it. The door was shut, and Engineer pressed his bare hand against the cool steel door, and pushed. Not surprisingly, it was locked fast.

“Dang it,” Engineer muttered. “I thought that’d be the case.”

“Locked, is it?” Sniper asked.

“Naturally,” Engineer replied. “Looks like we’ll have t’ find another way in…”

“Stand aside, lads.” Demoman grabbed his sticky bomb launcher, which prompted everyone to back away with haste; everyone aside from Spy, who walked up to Demoman and rested his hand on the barrel, pushing it downwards.

“Don’t bozzer wasting your ammo,” he said. “Zere is a front entrance we should be able to use.”

“How d’ye know that?” Demoman scoffed, jerked his weapon away from Spy, and looking over him with a critical eye.

“Because I’ve been here before, you drunken fool,” Spy sneered. He turned his head upwards and looked at the building. “Zis is RED headquarters. Ze front entrance has a lobby wiz glass doors. If zey are locked, we can simply smash ze glass.”

“I ain’t evah been t’ headquarters before,” Scout remarked. “Did anybody else come here?”

“Not their main headquarters, no,” Engineer said wistfully.

“I hadn’t either,” Sniper added. “Th’ whole process, they just kinda whisked me from one place to another, an’ not once did I ever end up here.”

“Zat doesn’t surprise me,” Spy said nonchalantly. “Now, follow me. I’ll get us inside.”

Spy now replaced Engineer as the leader of the group, walking with a very deliberate stride, broadcasting just how familiar he was with the layout to his fellow survivors. They followed him regardless, although it was obvious that seeds of suspicion and doubt had been planted among them. They walked around the plain, grey building and found themselves blocked by a chain-link fence, its gate held shut by a chain kept in place with an ancient, rusty padlock. Spy took the padlock in his gloved hand, and reached into the inside of his jacket with the other, producing a small, thin metal rod, which he inserted into the keyhole. After about a minute of fiddling with it and muttering curses in French under his breath, the padlock surrendered with a satisfying click, popping open and dangling uselessly in defeat. Spy yanked the chain free, tossing it haphazardly onto the ground, and pushed the gate open, motioning for the others behind him to follow.

As they rounded the building, their surroundings shifted from the cold, gray desolation of the loading platform, to an equally desolate but undisturbed series of more corporate buildings, surrounded by a lush, green lawn. Sprinklers were going off, sputtering and clicking, providing the only real noise in the area aside from the footsteps of the surviving RED team members. Spy led them to the sidewalk, taking care not to get his suit wet from the sprinklers; a futile action, though, considering his suit was dusty and fringed from their escape the previous night. They finally managed to turn one of the building’s corners, and found themselves at the front entrance.

The building itself had no obvious sign from the outside that it was the RED corporate headquarters. It was a very plain, boring but thoroughly modern structure, but its lack of any sign of human life gave it a very eerie aura, and it seemed to loom threateningly over the party. Spy strode forward with total and utter confidence, straightening the tie around his neck as he did so, and approached the glass doors only to have them effortlessly slide out of the way.

“Huh,” Engineer muttered. “That’s odd.”

“What is odd, Laborer?” Spy asked, stopping just inside the door to address the Texan.

“Nothin’,” Engineer sighed, shaking his head. “Let’s just go in.”

“Very well,” Spy said with a shrug, and continued to saunter into the lobby.

While the outside of the building had no indications that it belonged to RED, the inside was another matter entirely. The logo loomed over the front receptionist desk, and a banner dangled just underneath it, with both the RED and BLU logos on either end, and the words “CONGRATULATIONS ON THE MERGER!” were emblazoned upon it in bold, black letters. Red and blue balloons dotted the ceiling, open bottles of champagne and a cake with several slices missing that had long gone stale rested on the reception desk, and confetti littered the ground. The members of RED team stared with their mouths agape and eyes wide.

“I bloody knew it,” Demoman snarled, finally breaking the silence.

“Oh, did you, now?” Spy asked, raising a curious eyebrow and blowing twin streams of smoke through his nostrils.

“‘Course I bloody did!” Demoman spat, tottering a bit as he turned to face Spy. “I thought they’d a’ donnit sooner, though. Think aboot it. Same weapons an’ technology, same uniforms, even same kinda’ people in each class…I mean, wot’s th’ chance a’ havin’ two black Scottish cyclopes on opposin’ teams, an’ they’re both demomen?” He grabbed an empty bottle from his hip and shook it at the Frenchman as he stumbled closer. “Donnae tell me ye ‘aven’t thought aboot it at all, eh, Spy?”

Spy looked over Demoman with narrowed eyes and a sneer. “You’re drunk, as usual, and you’re a raving, paranoid lunatic.”

“Tha’s got nothin’ tae do wi’ this,” Demoman replied. “Ye know what’s goin’ on here, don’t ye?”

“Even if I did, I wouldn’t be allowed to tell you anyway,” Spy answered curtly. “Now, let’s just focus on trying to find out what’s going on here. Shall we?”

“Fine,” Demoman said warily. “But you stay in front. I donnae trust ye.”

“This is a bad time t’ be tryin’ t’ pick fights, Demo,” Engineer said firmly. “We all gotta stick together, here. Now, I don’t like Spah any more than you do, but we gotta trust ‘im. He’s been in here before, we haven’t, an’ I don’t think we got much of a choice.”

“Merci, Engineer,” Spy said with a very toothy, almost shark-like grin. “So glad to see someone here has some sense in zeir head.” He removed his cigarette from his mouth and blew a stream of smoke, looking over the entire lobby. “Well, gentlemen, obviously we can venture a few guesses as to what happened here. Zere was a merger between RED and BLU. We simply were not informed of zis, for whatever reason. Perhaps zey didn’t want us to know. During the festivities, somezing happened. Everyone had to leave, quickly, and no one had any time to lock down ze building, leaving everyzing just as it was when they left. But we do not know what happened, exactly.”

“Yeah, amazing powahs a’ observation there, French fry,” Scout said dismissively. “Anything else ya wanna point out that we could a’ seen with our own two eyes, Sherlock?”

“Zink about it, you blithering, small-minded man-child,” Spy prowled closer to Scout, getting uncomfortably close to the younger man’s face, and flipped open his balisong just short of his ear. “What kind of event would have led to such a sudden, speedy evacuation? Somezing involving zose monsters, per’aps?”

“We dinnit see any of ’em outside, though,” Scout sputtered, shifting awkwardly away from Spy’s blade. “Maybe they nevah came here?”

“Maybe,” Spy said, withdrawing his blade and flipping it closed, “but one can never be too sure, can zey?”

“So, wot then? Ya want us to go around here, searchin’ for clues like we’re th’ bloody Hardy Boys, then?” Sniper quipped.

“Zat might not be a bad idea,” Spy said with a shrug. “Find out what, exactly, is going on here. Zis is much bigger zan we previously zhought. We should split up into groups, search ze building, see what kind of information we can find…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, back up a minute,” Scout interrupted, “we can’t split up. Everybody knows as soon as you get a group of people in some abandoned building to split up, the monsters starts takin’ ’em out one by one. Don’t you watch movies at all?”

“I am a fan of cinema, yes, but I’m not particularly fond of ze garbage you choose to rot your brain wiz,” Spy retorted. “Besides, we split into groups. We’re not going anywhere alone. Engineer, Sniper, you two head to ze west wing of ze building. Scout, you and Demoman can take ze east wing. Medic, Pyro and I will head upstairs to ze higher levels. Engineer, you still have a radio on you?”

“Yeah, I do,” Engineer replied, pulling out a handheld radio from one of the pouches on his belt. “Y’all don’t hesitate t’ call if ya run inta any trouble.”

“But of course,” Spy replied. “I have mine on me as well. Medic, Pyro, come. We’ll be taking ze stairs.”

“Ah you sure zat zis is wise, Spy?” Medic piped up weakly.

“Trust me, Docteur,” Spy said, offering Medic at cat-like smile and an arm around the doctor’s shoulder, “you are in good hands.” Medic flinched under Spy’s touch, and backed away a step. Spy snorted with an air of indifference. “Let’s go. We ‘ave a lot of ground to cover.” With that, he slinked towards a door conveniently labeled “STAIRS,” and held it open for Medic and Pyro. “After you.”

Pyro waddled ahead of the Medic with little hesitation, while the doctor was visibly stalling, moving like a deer about to venture across a lonely road at night. He finally managed to uproot his feet that had been so thoroughly planted to the ground and plod forward, casting wary glances at Spy as he did so. He turned to look at the other members of his team, to find that Demoman and Scout had already vanished from sight, and he just caught Sniper following Engineer down a corner. He sighed, and followed Spy up the stairwell.

“So, what’re we lookin’ for, anyway?” Scout asked, sitting on an office desk, kicking his legs absentmindedly as Demoman pulled open a filing cabinet and flipped through manilla folders with his index and middle fingers.

“We’ll know when we find it,” Demoman said calmly. “Why don’t ye make yerself useful an’ ‘elp me out, would ye?”

“Man, I don’t even know what ta look for,” Scout huffed. “You’re the conspiracy nut, I’ll leave that up ta you.”

“Th’ ‘conspiracy nut’ ‘ere was th’ one who turned out tae be right aboot th’ zombies, an’ if I remember correctly, you an’ Sniper were th’ only ones tha’ b’lieved me,” Demoman snapped.

“Look, just because you’re right about something once, don’t mean you’re gonna be right about everything after that,” Scout said defensively. “An’, well, you’ve been wrong about a lot of shit.”

“Like wot, then?” Demoman challenged. “Like ye could even name any examples…”

“Dude, you told me Pyro was a chick that one time,” Scout said, crossing his arms.

“I said he might a’ been a woman, Scoot. I ne’er actually said that ‘e was one.”

“You fuckin’ liar, you totally told me he was a chick. An’ you turned out ta be wrong, on top a’ that.”

“Not my fault ye decided tae go an’ find out fer yerself,” Demoman said with a chuckle.

“Yeah, yeah, I barely got outta there with my life. You’re an asshole, you know that?”

“Shush, lad,” Demoman pulled out a thick folder, simply labeled “BLU” and held it up to the light, a satisfied grin slowly spreading over his dark features. “I think I may ‘ave found somethin’.”

One of the fluorescent lights above Medic was flickering. A black fly buzzed against the light, its tiny body tapping against the plastic casing. Somewhere an air conditioner was humming. The hallway they had been walking down was long and empty, flanked by wooden office doors with names and titles stenciled onto the fogged glass windows. The doctor found it a bit odd that Spy didn’t really bother even poking his head inside any of the offices; he seemed dead set on his destination, and was stringing the doctor and Pyro along for the ride.

“Vhere ah you taking us, Spy?” Medic asked cautiously.

“You’ll see, Docteur, as long as you are patient,” Spy said in a very parental tone without even turning around to face him.

Medic glowered at Spy, clearly resenting the manner in which he was being addressed. Pyro, who had fallen a few paces behind the German, patted him reassuringly on the shoulder, eliciting a sigh from the doctor. The two of them continued to trudge forward, trailing behind Spy, who strutted down the twisting, winding hallways like a peacock. Finally, they had arrived at a much larger, metal door on a wide wall, centered perfectly and working to highlight the utter lack of any other doors near it. There was a numbered keypad beside the door, and Spy regarded it for a moment before fishing through the inside of his jacket for a small glass vial. He popped off the cap, poured a small amount of the dust into the palm of his hand, and blew it onto the keypad. The dust only stuck to one of the buttons: the “1.”

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” Spy muttered to himself.

“Wrrsh wrrunng?” Pyro asked, cocking his head inquisitively.

“It would appear zat zey decided to program zis door wiz ze stupidest combination ever,” Spy said, pressing the button four times with his index finger until the red light over the keypad went out and the green one beside it lit up, giving a friendly little beep as it did so. Spy grabbed the cool metal handle and yanked it downwards, opening the door slowly as he stepped inside.

It was a laboratory, immaculately clean in all its white and chrome glory. A giant computer took up about a quarter of the room, covered a mind-bogging amount of buttons, dials and switches, and a screen sat squarely in the center of it, only about as large as the average television. There were microscopes and test-tubes on racks, seemingly untouched, and a gurney with pristine white sheets sat in the middle of the room. In fact, it looked as though the room had never actually been touched by human hands, such was its tidiness. Naturally, Pyro, with his grubby, charcoal blackened gloves, started to poke around and touch everything in sight, turning over instruments with intense curiosity.

“Pyro, please, put zat down,” Medic hissed. “You could break somezing.”

Pyro sighed and placed the microscope in his hands delicately back onto the counter. He continued to explore the lab, however, making a conscious effort not to try and touch anything by wringing his hands impatiently and murmuring to himself.

Medic looked over the computer in the room, his gloved fingers lightly grazing over a keyboard, looking for a way to turn the behemoth machine on. There had been one in the bowels of RED base, but it was rarely used, and the only one who had any idea of how to use it was Engineer. But this machine was far more sophisticated; it was smaller, less intimidating, and looked simpler to figure out. He spotted a button simply labeled “POWER” and pressed it, watching as the computer started to hum and whirr and the screen flickered to life. Seemingly random numbers and letters popped up and filled the screen, scrolling down at an alarming speed. The screen then suddenly went blank, and then flashed a simple prompt: “Password?”

“Spy?” Medic called out. “Spy, vhere ah you? Do you know how ze password to zis zing? Spy?” He turned around, looking for the Frenchman, only to notice that he had vanished. Pyro was in a corner of the lab, staring at a door on the far end of the room. “Pyro, have you seen Spy?”

The fire starter turned around, and gave a cursory glance around the lab, and then shrugged. Medic started wringing his hands, trying not to panic. Spy was prone to vanishing into thin air all the time, surely there was nothing wrong. And yet, the doctor’s stomach got that horrible, plummeting feeling, and he found himself walking quickly to the exit. He gripped the handle and jerked down, only to find it wouldn’t budge, and all his desperate jiggling did him no good.

“SPY!” Medic cried out, banging on the metal door with a closed fist. “SPY! AH YOU OUT ZERE? LET ME OUT OF HERE! SPY!”

Spy was on the other side of the door, stamping out a cigarette underneath his shoe, and casting a casual glance at the Electro-Sapper he had placed over the keypad. He could hear Medic’s flustered shouting and banging quite well, and sighed. “I’m sorry, Docteur, but zis is business. I’m just following orders.”

“Whose orders?” Medic barked. “Vhat is going on, Spy?”

“I’d tell you, but I have ozzer appointments to make,” Spy said with a smirk. “Do not worry too much, zhough. If you’re not dead by ze time I come back, I’ll do you ze favor of killing you personally.”

“Vhat?” Medic stepped back from the door, reeling in shock.

“Look on ze bright side!” Spy said mockingly. “Pretty soon, you’ll be wiz your darling Heavy again.”

Medic started to tremble and his face blanched. He barely had time to collect his thoughts when Pyro started to scream. He jerked his head up to see that Pyro had opened the other door, and was now trying to close it, as grimy, pallid fingers tried to hook onto the frame and force it open. Familiar sounding moans of frustration and hunger could be heard from the other side, and Medic raced over to help Pyro keep it closed.

As Spy walked away from the laboratory door and pulled out another fresh cigarette and his lighter, he could hear Medic letting out a high-pitched shriek. Spy held the cigarette up to his lips, flipped open his lighter, and made his way back to the stairwell.

“Somethin’ ain’t right.”

“Well, of course not. S’ th’ whole problem, innit?”

“No, I mean, I just got a bad feelin’ alluva sudden,” Engineer said, closing the drawer he had been rummaging through. “I think we should try reachin’ th’ others on th’ radio. We never even planned where we’d meet up again…”

“I don’t think we’re in any real danger,” Sniper said with a shrug. “Place is deserted. Hell, we might be able t’ hold out here for a while until this mess blows over.”

“Still,” Engineer said, “I don’t like it.”

“Phone on th’ desk right behind ya, mate,” Sniper said. The room they were in was large, and seemed to consist mostly of desks lined up in two rows, cluttered with typewriters, folders, but most of them oddly missing telephones, despite the many phone line jacks that seemed to line the walls.

Engineer wasted no time in fumbling for the old rotary telephone, picking up the receiver and immediately dialing for the operator. “It’s ringing!” he announced triumphantly. He turned away from the assassin, playing with the cord nervously as it continued to ring. “C’mon…c’mon…pick up already, pick up…”

“Uh, Truckie?”

“Not right now, Sniper, I think we’re gonna get patched through.”

“We got a bit of a problem, mate.”

“I told ya, Sniper, not-” Engineer whirled around, and dropped the receiver on the ground in shock.

Sniper was being held at knife-point, a butterfly knife resting just above his jugular. Spy was holding the Australian in place, his body obscured by that of his prisoner, and the hand that wasn’t holding his knife was coming out from under Sniper’s arm, holding his pistol and aiming it at Engineer. Sniper’s Adam’s apple was bobbing up and down furiously as his head was tilted back, and Spy simply regarded the Australian’s predicament with a look of total satisfaction.

“Hello, Engineer,” Spy said in a very casual tone, flashing the Texan a sickening smile, “I’d like to speak wiz you, if you ‘ave a moment.”


 

Chapter 18

Engineer stood totally still, frozen in place, as the dial tone gave out constant, muted squawks through the telephones speaker. In his shock, it took a while for his brain to thoroughly process what was going on. Spy, one of his teammates, was holding Sniper hostage. Surely, he wasn’t really the BLU Spy all along…was he?

No, BLU Spy was dead. Or undead. This was definitely the RED Spy, and he had turned traitor. Without even thinking, Engineer reached for his pistol from its holster.

“Put ze gun down, Laborer. You make any sudden moves, and I’ll shoot you and slit Sniper’s zhroat.” Spy’s voice was cool and confident, just as it always was.

“Don’t worry about me, mate,” Sniper rasped, his eyes darting from the Spy’s hand in the corner of his vision to Engineer. “Just shoot th’ wanker.”

“I…I can’t,” Engineer stammered.

“I knew you couldn’t,” Spy said. “Now, put ze gun down on ze floor. Slowly.”

The Texan nodded, and slowly crouched down and gingerly placed his weapon on the floor in front of Spy. He occasionally looked back up at Spy, who looked back down at him, now completely straight-faced, while Sniper tried his best not to squirm too much. Engineer started to slowly get back up before Spy interrupted him.

“Your wrench, too,” he said.

Reluctantly, Engineer removed his wrench from his belt and placed is delicately beside his gun. He stood up, scowling at Spy from behind his dark goggles, before he finally spoke. “Why are you doin’ this?”

“I have orders to kill all of you,” Spy said. “To be honest, I really wasn’t even supposed to let you get zis far, but having you all split up certainly makes my job easier.”

“Then go ahead an’ kill me, then,” Engineer said, trying his best to sound defiant and courageous, but his voice wavered just enough to betray his fear.

Spy let out a low, menacing chuckle. “Oh…not quite yet, Engineer.”

“Why th’ heck not, then?” Engineer spat, becoming frustrated.

“Because,” Spy said, “I wish to give you a choice. Hear me out.”

“Do I get any choices, then?” Sniper asked.

“No, you don’t. Now, shut up. I would suggest you use zis time to savor your last moments instead of wasting your breath.”

“Whaddya want, Spah?” Engineer asked. Spy seemed to enjoy dragging this out, that bastard.

“I wish to offer you an opportunity, my dear Laborer,” Spy said, his tone gaining a very business-like air. “You don’t have to die here, wiz ze ozzers. You could escape from here, alive, per’aps, even see your wife again…and your daughter.”

“How’d you even know I have a daughter?” Engineer asked angrily.

“I wouldn’t be a very good spy if I didn’t, now would I?” Spy retorted.

“I didn’t know ya had any kids, ma-GAH!” Sniper was cut off by Spy nicking the side of his neck with his blade, just enough to break the skin.

“What did I tell you about speaking, Sniper?” Spy chided. He turned his attention back to Engineer. “But, yes, Laborer, I knew…ah, but she is still such a tiny little zing, isn’t she? It would be such a shame if she never really got to know ‘er fazzer, wouldn’t it?”

Engineer didn’t answer. He was taking long, shuddering breaths through flared nostrils, trying his best not to lunge forward and strangle Spy. But that would probably get him and Sniper killed. No, it was better to try and buy them some time. Maybe the others would come by…maybe…

“‘Ave I struck a nerve?” Spy asked with false concern. “I’m merely trying to help you. I figured ze only family man on zis team should at least have a chance of getting out of ‘ere wiz ‘is life.”

“That’s a load a’ crap,” Engineer said with a snort. “You don’t give a damn about my family at all. What’s th’ real reason you’re doin’ this?”

“Astute as ever, aren’t you?” Spy said sarcastically, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. It was giving Engineer the chills. “But not astute enough, I suppose. I offer you a chance to live, and you start questioning my motives. You don’t even know what I want you to do yet.” There was nothing but silence from Engineer, who was giving Spy the evil eye from behind his goggles. “It’s simple enough, really. Help me kill ze ozzers. I hide you from ze Announcer, fake your death, and I’ll make sure you leave here safely. As long as you never speak of any of zis again, and you remain in my debt, you’ll survive and be no worse for the wear.”

“Why would ya choose me, though?” Engineer asked cautiously. Despite the fact that he was looking down the barrel of Spy’s pistol, he was still curious. “Why not…somebody else?”

“You never picked up on it, did you, Engineer?” Spy said. “No…you were always too absorbed in your own work to pick up on ze hints. Oh, I suppose you cannot be blamed too much…I came on more like a schoolboy, really. I zink per’aps zat was too subtle for you…”

Realization slowly dawned on Engineer’s features. No, he thought. It couldn’t possibly be…that. “You…you don’t…no… I thought…I thought you hated me.”

“To be fair, I did, at first…it was just fun to tease you. You get so frustrated wiz me, and I found it quite…endearing, to say ze least. I found myself warming up to you quite a bit…alzhough, I never had ze opportunity to tell you. It would have been a sign of weakness, to go confessing my deepest desires to you, of all people. You must understand, really, how difficult it has been for me…”

“You bloody poofter,” Sniper muttered.

Spy disciplined Sniper’s insolence by giving him a swift, horizontal cut on the side of his face, running from his nose up to the tip of his ear, causing Sniper to wince. “Do not be so crass, Sniper. I don’t want to kill you just yet.”

“Look, Spah, I never…I mean, I’m a married man…I got no interest in, y’know, men…” Engineer felt himself desperately wishing he wasn’t saying this. This was no time to be discussing such things, especially with the compromising position Sniper was in.

“Of course not. You Americans and your backwards views…denying yourselves ze pleasures of bozh of ze sexes…I cannot say zat I am ze least bit surprised.” His voice then became lower and huskier, and he seemed to be breathing hotly into Sniper’s ear. “I could change your mind, if you let me, Laborer. Just once, I would like to have you. Just as I had wanted Sniper when I first came to RED base, I now find myself wanting you.” Sniper was now biting his lip, trying his best not to say anything, although the look of horror on his face was speaking volumes. “What can I say? I suppose I really do prefer ze midget cowboy over ze filthy jar man after all…”

“Th’ others’ll be here soon,” Engineer blurted out, trying desperately to change the subject to anything but that.

“And what makes you say zat, hmmm?” Spy asked. “Did you call zem over?”

Engineer hesitated. He wanted to say yes, but he couldn’t seem to do it. He cursed himself silently under his breath.

“Bluffing, of course,” Spy shook his head. “You never were a very good liar. Besides, Medic and Pyro have already been…disposed of.”

“Why, you cold-blooded, sonuva-” Engineer had stepped forward, and Spy tensed up, making sure that Engineer was well aware of the pistol aimed at him. The Texan took a few steps back until he had backed into the desk behind him. “How could you?”

“Easily enough. I just locked ze two of zem in a room, wiz ze monsters. Zey’ll be overwhelmed wizzout too much trouble, I’m sure. And if zey do manage to survive ze onslaught, we can finish zem off. Lucky for me, zat RED took it upon zemselves to round up a few of zem for experimental purposes, hmmm?”

“There ain’t no way in hell I’m helpin’ you!” Engineer spat. “You’re a murderer an’ a traitor an’ a coward an’ I should a’ never tried t’ defend you!”

A sigh escaped from Spy’s lips. “I had a feeling you would say zat, Engineer. You are breaking my heart. A shame, really; I zink we would make an excellent team. I was hoping zat maybe we could use Sniper before I killed him as well…he’d have a harder time fighting off two men at ze same time.” By now, Sniper was trying desperately to squirm from Spy’s grasp, but Spy managed to keep him still by pushing his head even further back, and resting the edge of his knife on Sniper’s throat.

By this point, Engineer was feeling physically ill. “You’re evil…pure, goddamned evil.”

“I’m just doing my job, Engineer. Is it so ‘orrible to want to get a few extra perks out of it?” He nuzzled Sniper’s neck in a way that should have been affectionate, but it came off as simply creepy. “Not everyone is going to volunteer to get zemselves killed like Soldier and Heavy did. Hmmm…Heavy was so easy to convince to sacrifice himself for ze team…so obedient, zat one. I can sort of see why Medic fancied him so much, aside from him being morbidly obese and a stupid idiot.”

“You talked enough yet?” Engineer snapped. “If yer fixin’ t’ kill me, then go ahead. I ain’t joinin’ you an’ I sure as hell ain’t gonna help you rape Sniper or kill our teammates.”

“Your loss, Engineer,” Spy said, aiming his pistol for Engineer’s heart. “We really could have been somezing.”

“HEY, CHUCKLEHEAD!”

Spy barely had time to turn around before the aluminum baseball bat collided with the side of his head with a “BONK!” His body jerked to the side violently, his knife barely missing Sniper’s throat in the process. He barely kept his balance, and twisted around, still trying to keep his grip on Sniper while whirling his pistol towards Scout. The blow to his head, however, slowed his reflexes down considerably, and he was barely standing as it was. The bat came down again on his hand, knocking the gun from his grasp, and Sniper took the opportunity to duck as Scout swung his bat again, catching Spy in the jaw. Spy caught himself from falling on a nearby desk, spitting blood as the bat came down again between his shoulder blades. “Not so fuckin’ chatty now, are ya, asshole?” Scout said with a sneer, about to bring his bat down again before Sniper pushed him out of the way.

“Outta the way, runt, ‘e’s mine,” Sniper growled, grabbing Spy by his suit jacket and twisting him around to punch him in the nose. “Ya creepy, bloody rapist, I’ll kill ya! I’LL FUCKIN’ KILL YA!” He landed in a few more punches before Engineer pulled him off of the Spy. Spy tried to pull himself up to a standing position, his arms wobbling and snapping weakly. He stopped moving however, when he heard glass shatter and found that his head was being held back and a broken bottle was now against his throat.

“Where’d ye leave Medic an’ Pyro?” Demoman barked.

“Zat question is irrelevant,” Spy replied groggily, spitting out wad of blood and phlegm from his mouth. “Zey’re dead by now, surely.”

“ANSWER TH’ BLOODY QUESTION, YE CUNT!” Demoman roared, tightening his grip on the top of Spy’s mask, getting a clump of hair with it.

“Second floor. Ze laboratory. I put a sapper on ze lock, and zey were in zere wiz a group of ze monsters. I assure you, you won’t find zem in zere alive,” he said with a snicker, showing his bloodied teeth.

Demoman picked up Spy by the throat, and tossed him across the room, causing Spy to crash into a desk, sending the typewriter, lamp, and stacks of papers on top of it flying off. Engineer immediately ran over to the Spy, flipping him over onto his back and grabbing a hold of both of Spy’s wrists. He held them together behind Spy’s back as he grabbed the yellow extension cord that dangled from his belt and used it to bind the Frenchman’s wrists behind him.

“Now, you listen here,” Engineer said in a very low, dangerous voice. “You’re gonna lead us to that lab right now. I’ve got plenty a mind t’ kill you right now, for what you’ve done, but I’m not gonna. But mark my words, boy; when I figure out what I’m gonna do to you, yer gonna wish you were dead. Are we clear?”

“Ah, you’re so cute when you’re angry, you know zat, Laborer?” Spy said, smiling through his pain and head trauma.

“Shut up,” Engineer grabbed Spy by the back of his coat and yanked him to his feet, and grabbed his pistol from its holster and held it against the small of Spy’s back. He turned to Demoman and Scout, who were watching with keen interest. “Thanks, fellas. We’d prolly be dead right now if it weren’t fer you.”

“No problem, hard hat,” Scout said dismissively. “I always wanted to beat that back-stabbin’ snail-eater’s head in, anyway.”

“We donnae have much time!” Demoman interjected. “Move yer bones!” Demoman raced out down the hall, prompting the others to follow with haste.

When Medic had first rushed to close the door with Pyro, he quickly realized they weren’t going to be able to keep this struggle. The weight of the zombie’s bodies pressing against the door was simply too much, and a whole hand managed to snake its way through, grabbing Medic by the wrist. He shrieked, and clamored desperately for his bonesaw. He finally got a hold of it and managed to saw through the arm, cutting through bone and rotting flesh, dribbling darkened blood onto the floor.

“Pyro!” Medic shouted. “Ve cannot hold zem back much longer! Use your flamezhrowah! Back away from ze door!”

“Rrrght!” Pyro murmured with a nod, and both he and Medic backed away from the door as it flew open. The fire starter stepped in front of Medic, pulling his beloved flamethrower from off of his back. He then unleashed a torrent of orange and yellow flame, driving the undead crowd back. The smell of burning clothing and flesh started to fill the room as the zombies moaned in surprise and confusion, spinning around in circles trying to go back the way they came. The ones that had been closest to Pyro were engulfed in fire, unable to make any sounds at all, and merely collapsed onto the floor in a flaming heap. Medic let out a triumphant laugh, and Pyro quickly joined in, and the two of them moved closer to the door, driving the walking dead back into the room from whence they came. Once they were all inside, Pyro stopped shooting his flames out long enough for Medic to close the door again.

“Quickly! Ve need a barricade!” Medic was pressing almost all of his weight against the door, and predictably enough, the zombies started to pound on the door again. Pyro immediately went and grabbed the only mobile thing in the room, the gurney and pushed it against the door. “Zat’s too light!” Medic shouted. “Do we have anyzing else?”

Pyro jerked his head around, looking over the flaming corpses on the floor, over to the counters that were firmly attached to the wall, and then to the massive computer on the opposite end of the room. He pointed to it. “Whurr urrbuurrt theerrt?”

“I don’t zink you could push zat, Pyro,” Medic said breathlessly. “Ve’re doomed.”

Pyro’s head tilted down, and he waddled quickly over to the door. He pressed the button on the handle that put in the lock with his thumb. He stepped back from the door, and sat down on the floor by one of the smoldering bodies, placing his flamethrower down next to him. Medic then slowly backed away from the door and noticed that it was locked.

“Zey could still get in,” Medic said cautiously. “Ve need to find a vay out of here und varn ze ozzahs about Spy.”

“Urrkeey,” Pyro said with a nod, not noticing the burnt corpse next to him picking up its head and lunging at him. Medic let out terrible screech, but Pyro couldn’t move fast enough. A pair of teeth found their way shredding through the material of the chemsuit and into Pyro’s right forearm. Pyro let out a muffled scream as Medic dashed over, bonesaw out, and hacked away desperately at the monster’s neck. It relinquished its grip, but the doctor didn’t stop until he was holding the creatures head to the ground and sawing through its throat, until its head rolled off its shoulders. Pyro was hyperventilating and had already reached for his axe while Medic was busy with the zombie that had attacked him. In an act of wild desperation, the fire starter held his axe high above his head in his left hand and drove it down just above the bite.

The anguished scream that Pyro let out caused Medic to jerk his head up and shriek in panic. Pyro had managed to get two hacks in before Medic stopped him mid-swing, grabbing the fire starter’s wrists. “Pyro, please! Stop zis!”

“URRT’LL SPURRD!” Pyro cried, his voice starting to become choked by tears. “URR DUURRN WAAAN TURR BURRCURRM UR ZURRMBEE! PLLSSH HURREH!”

Medic bit his lip nervously, inspecting the wound. “You could go into shock, Pyro,” he said. “I could end up killing you.”

“Urr durrn curr,” Pyro sobbed. “Pllssh.”

The doctor nodded and started to tear the cloth of Pyro’s chemsuit so that the wound was completely exposed, as well as Pyro’s reddened, burn-scarred skin. He desperately wished he had any of his anesthetic with him, but time was of the essence, and he wasn’t sure how long it would take the virus to reach Pyro’s bloodstream. It probably already had. He lifted his bonesaw before he realized that he couldn’t possibly use it on his patient; it was covered in contaminated blood. “I’m going to have to use your axe, Pyro,” he said grimly. Pyro nodded, and handed his axe to Medic. The doctor took a deep breath, holding the axe in both of his quivering hands, and bringing it down onto the wound that Pyro had created himself.

The work was arduous, and felt as though it was going much more slowly than it actually was. Pyro would cry out in agony with every blow, and Medic tried his damndest to get it over with quickly. There had been a time when he would have enjoyed inflicting this kind of pain and torture on another human being, but now it was just heartwrenching. The members of RED team were the only friends he had left, really, and he seemed to be losing them so quickly. He had to keep himself from completely breaking down, though. Pyro’s life depended on it.

Finally, the axe had cleaved its way through bone and flesh, and Medic pulled out his Medigun, aiming it at Pyro. A cool, red beam snaked its way out with a distinctive hum, and washed over the fire starter, relieving him of the incredible pain he had endured. Pyro’s breathing started to slow down a bit, and he gradually became calmer. Medic had never tried to use the device on a wound this severe, and a part of him was curious as to how the wound would heal. The blood oozing from the stump started to congeal and scab over, and Medic breathed a sigh of relief. Pyro was still shaking, no doubt in shock. Medic reached his hand up to Pyro’s mask, only to have it batted away defensively by the fire starter.

“Please, Pyro,” Medic said, trying to sound reassuring, “you vill be able to breeze easiah.”

“Nurrr urrr,” Pyro mumbled, shaking his head. “Urrr nurrd mrry murrshk.”

There was more furious pounding on the door. Medic clenched his jaw and tried to help Pyro to his feet, leading him away from the other bodies and his severed arm on the floor, closer to the exit. Pyro was still shivering. Medic, without even thinking, wrapped his arms around the smaller man, rocking him and trying to shush his whimpers as Pyro gripped at Medic’s coat tightly with his remaining hand. It was clear that Pyro was in no shape to fight off the zombies if the monsters managed to get back inside. Hopefully, they wouldn’t. But even if the zombies did not kill them, Spy most certainly would. It wasn’t hard to imagine that he hadn’t already murdered the others. He was a sneaky, vicious bastard, and he was good at his job.

“Doc? Doc, you in there?”

Medic jerked his head upwards. He never thought he would be so glad to hear Scout’s voice. “Scout!” He shouted. “Is zat you? You’re not Spy, ah you?”

“Trust us, Doc, he ain’t no Spah.” It was Engineer. “We’re gonna get you outta here, just you hold tight. You okay in there?”

The doctor hesitated. “Pyro…he’s been injured.”

On the other side of the door, the mood among the other members of RED team became sullen, with the sole exception of Spy, who laughed.

“You know zat means ‘e’s been bitten, of course,” Spy said in a very matter-of-fact tone.

“Shut up,” Sniper snarled.

“Hold on, Doc,” Engineer whacked at the Electro-Sapper with his wrench, knocking it off the wall in a shower of sparks. Unfortunately, when he went to pull down the handle to open the door, it didn’t budge. Demoman pushed Engineer aside, pulling out his sticky-bomb launcher, and fired his remaining bombs along the hinges.

“Ye’d better stan’ clear o’ th’ door, lads, ‘lest ye want t’ git blasted!” Demoman shouted.

Back inside, Medic grabbed Pyro by his wrist, pulling him back against the computer. The door exploded inwards, and fell to the floor in a cloud of dust and smoke, landing with in a deafening clatter. Demoman stepped in, and staggered as he did so upon entering. There were three smoldering bodies on the floor and a rather large puddle of blood that was smeared to the entrance and then back to the computer, where Medic was holding a rather skittish looking Pyro, who was burying his head in the crook between the doctor’s neck and shoulder.

“Pyro, lad,” Demoman asked, toning down his rather dramatic entrance in favor of a more quiet approach. “Are ye all right?”

Pyro shook his head while letting out a high-pitched whine, clinging to the doctor even more tightly. Medic stroked the top of his mask, his expression somber. “I’m afraid zat Pyro…may have contracted ze virus.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whaddya mean, ‘may have’?” Scout asked as he hopped over the door.

“He vas bitten,” Medic said grimly. “I had to amputate ze infected arm. Alzhough…I’m afraid I may only be delaying ze inevitable.” Pyro let out another whine, and Medic rubbed the fire starter’s back. “Ve can only hope for ze best und pray zat vill be enough.”

Demoman didn’t have the heart to ask anything more. He walked over to Pyro and put a hand on his shoulder. “C’mon, lad,” he said. “Let’s git outta here.” Pyro responded with a shaky little nod, and let go of the doctor, revealing his stump.

No one said anything until Pyro had been escorted out of the room by Demoman and Medic. Engineer handed Spy off to Sniper and approached Pyro, trying his best to give him a friendly smile.

“Hey there, buddy,” he said, putting a hand on Pyro’s shoulder. “How you keepin’ up’?”

“Urrfull,” Pyro mumbled. “Urr thrrnk urrm gurrn turr duur.”

“Nonsense,” Engineer said, “We’re not gonna let anything happen to ya. Don’t you worry.”

“Prrumissh?” Pyro asked, looking up at Engineer with a hopeful tone in his voice.

“I promise,” Engineer said assuredly.

“Oh, come now, Engineer, zat’s just cruel,” Spy said. “Giving ze poor man false hope like zat. Shame on you.”

“You just keep your mouth shut, Spah!” Engineer shouted back. “I’ve heard enough talkin’ out of you.”

“I knew I should have killed Demoman and Scout first,” Spy muttered.

“I heard that, ya rat bastard.” Sniper was holding Spy prisoner with his kukri, and lifted it in front of Spy’s face. “Wot were ya even plannin’ on doin’ once we were all dead, anyway? Yer as stuck ‘ere as th’ rest of us.”

Spy sniffed, turning his face away from the massive blade. “I suppose I might as well tell you now zat you have me captured. I was supposed to meet wiz ze Announcer.”

“Ze Announzah? Here?” Medic asked, sounding understandably puzzled. “Vhat is she doing here?”

“She stayed behind in order to make sure zat zere was someone here to meet me once I had completed my mission. She said she wanted to be here to greet me personally. But given zat it seems to have been a failure, for ze most part, she’ll probably kill me before you do.”

“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” Engineer said, crossing his arms. “Now, where is she?”

“Top floor. In ze Monitor Room,” Spy said. “Ze elevators should be working; it would be quicker to use zem.”

“Top floor, huh?” Engineer repeated. He looked around at his teammates, who looked worse for the wear. Exhausted and dirty as they were, they all seemed to wear a look of anger and determination on their faces. The Announcer had wanted them all killed. They had all made it so far, survived this long, and they would not be going down without a fight.

“Well, then,” Engineer said, uncrossing his arms and pulling his pistol back out from its holster. “I think we owe her a visit then, don’t we, boys?”


 

Chapter 19

The elevator wasn’t too hard to find. Pyro wasn’t really paying much attention to where they were going, anyway. He was clinging to Medic again, breathing heavily through his gasmask. He felt so hot in his suit. He blacked out for what felt like a split second, and then was inside the elevator, listening to his teammates talking to each other.

“May I ask you a question, Laborer?”

“Spah, I told you t’ shut up. Yer in no position t’ be talkin’.”

“I was just curious as to what, exactly, you were planning to do once you arrived at ze Announcer’s office.”

“Get some answers, hopefully. I wanna know why she wants us killed.”

“I could ‘azard a few guesses as to why, but even zen, I don’t really feel like telling you.”

“Funny that now ya don’t feel like talkin’. You were a dang chatterbox not 20 minutes ago.”

“I could not ‘elp it. It’s like twisting ze knife in ze back of your victims. You probably would not understand.”

“I understand plenty. I understand you’re a goddamned murderer an’ a traitor.”

“Don’t forget rapist, mate.”

“Oh, please. I didn’t even ‘ave ze chance to try. And you act so absolutely shocked zat I am a murderer. ‘My goodness! Ze Spy, a murderer? Perish ze zhought!'”

Suddenly the sounds of their voices were becoming softer and drowned out by a loud, terrible noise. Pyro looked around frantically. No one else seemed to notice it. It didn’t take long for Pyro to recognize what the noise was; it was fire. Not just a small fire, either. It was a blazing inferno, heard but not seen, and Pyro was the only one that could hear it. Normally fire was something Pyro embraced, for obvious reasons, but now it was suddenly terrifying. And it was everywhere.

Suddenly, he was no longer in the elevator. He was inside a burning building, watching beams and concrete fall and crumble from the intense heat. It was nighttime, and the orange and yellow flames licked at the sky like the tongues of so many snakes and lizards. There was no one inside there but him and Medic, who he was still holding onto, tighter now than before. There were words being shouted, so hard to hear over the din of people fleeing and screaming and dying; they might have been German. Some might have been Polish. It hardly seemed to matter.

There was an odd feeling of familiarity to this scene playing before him; an eerie sensation of déjà vu. Just beyond the flames, a figure darted out, and even in the very brief glimpse that Pyro caught of the man’s face, he recognized it immediately.

It was Medic.

This second Medic, though, was a much younger man, with darker hair and a leaner build; he must have been a good twenty years younger than the Medic Pyro was still clinging to. The younger Medic’s gaze landed on another figure, closer to Pyro’s vision, but almost unnoticeable as it was silhouetted against yellow and orange and black. Floating embers danced around the short, child-like form, which staggered forward out of the burning ruins, still walking towards young Medic. It then collapsed to the ground and started to scream.

The elevator door dinged and slid open, and everyone inside jolted when Pyro suddenly started screeching and pushing Medic into the wall, seemingly without any kind of provocation. The doctor tried his best to calm down the wailing fire starter.

“Shush, Pyro, please, it’s all right,” Medic cooed, rubbing Pyro’s shoulder and trying his best not to upset him any further, “ve ah here.”

Suddenly the sound of Medic’s voice wasn’t so soothing anymore. There was a connection there with something bad, even if there was not a hint of malice in his tone. Maybe it was just the fever, Pyro thought. Cold sweat slicked his skin underneath his suit, and his whole body started quaking as if he were standing next to a jackhammer.

“What’s th’ mattah with him?” Scout asked, more than a little uncomfortable.

“I’m afraid,” Medic said darkly, “he may be going zhrough ze delusions.”

“Delusions?” Scout asked.

“Aye,” Demoman said. “One o’ th’ symptoms.”

Spy snickered. Engineer pushed the barrel of his pistol further into Spy’s back, and the Frenchman cleared his throat and went straight-faced. They walked out of the elevator doors, into an empty hallway. It went down in either direction before each end was a dead one, and in the wall facing the elevator there was only a large, ominous looking door. It had no label, no keypad beside the door, and was simply large and cold and made of steel. Demoman was the first to approach it, resting his hand on the cool handle and pushing. It didn’t budge.

“S’locked,” he announced. “How th’ bloody hell d’ya open it?”

“It is activated by ze voice,” Spy said detachedly. “Since I am ze only one who knows it, I’ll have to open it for you.” He walked up to the door with Engineer still trailing behind him, and studied it with narrowed eyes for a moment. “‘E zhrusts ‘is fists against ze posts, but still insists ‘e sees ze ghosts,” he said, looking quite confident.

“PASSWORD: INCORRECT.” The robotic voice sounded similar to the Announcer’s, and took everyone by surprise. Spy was not amused.

“Stupid zing must be broken,” Spy growled.

“Lemme try it, ya mongrel.” Sniper pushed Spy out of the way. “He thrusts ‘is fists against th’ posts, but still insists ‘e sees th’ ghosts.”

“PASSWORD: INCORRECT.”

“Bloody hell!” Sniper spat.

“He zhrusts his fists against ze posts, but still insists he sees ze ghosts,” Medic said.

“PASSWORD: INCORRECT.”

“‘E thrusts ‘is fists again’ th’ posts, bu’ still insists ‘e sees th’ ghosts,” Demoman bellowed.

“PASSWORD: INCORRECT.”

“Dang it, it’s yer accents!” Engineer snapped. “Th’ thing wants perfect diction!”

“Hurrr thuurrrssht iissh furrsshts urrgnsshht thurr purrshts, burrt shturrrl unsshuuurts hurr shurrs thurrr ghuurrsshts,” Pyro interjected, his voice shifting in pitch sporadically as he spoke.

“Pyro, that ain’t helpin’ at all,” Engineer said.

“PASSWORD: CORRECT. ACCESS GRANTED.”

Demoman pushed the door open with ease. The members of RED team exchanged puzzled glances and decided it was best not to mention it further.

The room they stumbled into was dark, illuminated by rows upon rows of television screens. The images upon them were almost completely static, save for small flickers of movement on an odd screen. The rest of the light from the room came from the enormous glass window on the far side of the room, looking over another massive room that must have been larger than an airplane hangar, though it was impossible to tell what was inside it from their current line of vision. Silhouetted by this giant window was a desk, and behind it was a high-backed chair, turned away from the entrance. A cigarette was smoldering in an ash tray on the desk, and it was cluttered with an assortment of various objects, including executive toys, an empty coffee mug and pot, a chrome, blocky-looking microphone, a telephone and stacks of papers. A gnarled, withered hand could be seen hanging off the arm of the chair. She was here. They were now in the same room as the Announcer.

Nothing was said for a few moments. Engineer finally stepped forward, holding Spy in front of him still. “Ma’am, we need t’ talk,” Engineer said loudly.

The Announcer said nothing.

Engineer continued, “See, we don’t take too kindly t’ bein’ killed. Th’ way we see it, you owe us an explanation. We wanna know why yer turnin’ on us, an’ you’d better spill it.”

Complete and total silence washed over the room. Engineer’s face went bright red and it contorted into an angry scowl. Spy seemed visibly nervous; his eyes started to dart around and he muttered something under his breath about wanting a cigarette.

“What’s th’ matter?” Engineer shouted. “Ain’t ya got anything t’ say? Speak up!” After another stretch of silence, Engineer let go of Spy, and stormed forward, reaching over the desk and whirled the chair around. What he saw caused him to jump back and utter out a cry of shock.

The woman sitting in the chair was dead. She apparently hadn’t been dead for long, though, as her face still had some color in it. She was a thin, middle-aged woman with graying hair, sagging breasts, teeth yellowed from years of smoking. The make-up on her face was slightly smeared, and there was blood on her purple suit jacket around her midsection. This was made all the more unsettling, however, by the ugly, pained grimace that had been frozen onto her face. It provoked a cry of disgust from all the members of RED team.

“Well,” said Spy, struggling to regain his composure, “I certainly wasn’t expecting zat.”

“Okay, so now what’re we supposed ta do?” asked Scout. “I mean, this is kinda anti-climatic, ain’t it?”

“Look, I’m sure there’s some kinda explanation fer all this,” Engineer said, as the woman in the chair began to stir.

“Oh, merde,” Spy muttered.

The low groan from behind him caused Engineer to whip around just in time to see The Announcer lunge at him, mouth open and hands outstretched, her nails looking more like claws in the low light. He managed to dodge as she pounced forward and bit the person second closest to the desk: Spy. She tackled the Frenchman to the ground and sank her teeth into the crook of his neck, causing him to shriek in terror. Engineer reacted quickly, pulling out his wrench and smacking the zombie in the side of her head with a sickening sound of bone cracking. Her body was sent flying towards the wall with the monitors, where she collided with a dull thud. After a second or two of fumbling with his holster Engineer finally pulled out his pistol, aimed it for the Announcer’s forehead, and fired a single shot into her skull. She quickly slumped over and fell face-first on the floor, a puddle of blood quickly forming from the exit wound.

“Zat bitch…zat bitch bit me!” Spy shrieked, his voice marked by a very acute hysteria. “Zat stupid bitch bit me and you didn’t kill her sooner! I’m going to become one of zose zings now and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT, ENGINEER!”

“Oh, shut up, it’s not like ya dinnit’ deserve it,” Sniper sneered. “Quite frankly, I think yer getting’ off easy.”

Engineer didn’t say anything. His mouth was stretched into a taunt, thin line, and he simply stood over Spy, staring at him silently.

Medic made his way over, crouching over Spy and examining the wound with a furrowed brow. Spy winced in pain as he was being handled, and Medic was not making any effort to be delicate. “Well, what are you waiting for?” Spy hissed. “Use your Medigun on me, you idiot, isn’t zat your job?”

“Ze Medigun doesn’t vork on zis disease,” Medic answered in a near monotone. “I gazzahed zat much from ze BLU Medic’s notes, at least, since zat vas ze first zing he had tried. He still got infected. If it did vork, Pyro vould not be missing most of his arm.”

“And a fat lot of good zat did, didn’t it?” Spy snarled. “You plan on chopping off my head, maybe seeing if zat ‘elps at all?”

“Don’t tempt me,” said Medic under his breath, narrowing his eyes.

“Oh, why don’t we just kill ‘im before he turns inta one a’ those things?” Sniper suggested. “Bastard practically murdered Heavy, you’d have every right…”

Medic visibly bristled at Sniper’s words. The look he gave Spy was hard to describe; for a moment, it seemed as if Medic had returned to the cold, icy demeanor he was known for when he first joined RED team, one that he seemed to adopt when he wanted to be taken seriously and be seen as a figure of authority. But now there was absolute hatred burning in his eyes as he looked at Spy in total disgust. He straightened himself up, and his muscles became tense. “Is zat so?” he asked, his voice quiet, and his eyes never leaving Spy’s.

“Come, now, Medic…ze fence was ze fastest way out of 2fort,” Spy said, wincing in pain as he spoke, the blood from his shoulder spreading over his suit. “Heavy wasn’t going to fit, and I knew we simply didn’t have ze time to find anozzer route. I just talked wiz him and told ‘im zat a sacrifice would have to be made…for ze rest of ze team, and for you, especially. So I told him to be ze last to go zhrough, plug up ze hole wiz his body, and buy us plenty of time to escape before ze monsters came.” He squirmed; the extension cord binding his wrists was extremely uncomfortable. “I was simply being pragmatic.”

“You were fixin’ t’ kill us, anyway,” Engineer said. “Why even bother tryin’ t’ get th’ rest of us out there at all? I mean, I would a’ thought you’d have Heavy go right after you an’ trap us there?”

“Heavy would have never agreed to zat,” Spy said. “He knew he wouldn’t fit; he was not zat stupid. Besides, I knew wiz two of ze most brutish members of our team dead, killing ze rest of you would be much easier. Or, at least, it should have been.”

“Jesus, you got a bite taken outta you like you were a friggin’ sandwich, and you still won’t shut the hell up,” Scout said.

“ARE YOU QUITE FINISHED EXPOSITING YET, RED SPY?” A familiar voice boomed all around them, cowing RED team into silence. This voice sounded just like the Announcer, only…more stilted, odder, like it wasn’t entirely human. Immediately all eyes turned to the Announcer’s corpse on the floor. It didn’t even so much as twitch.

“Who-?” Engineer uttered, looking up in confusion, before he was cut off again.

“RED SPY, YOU ARE AN ABSOLUTE MISERABLE FAILURE. AND NOW YOU ARE GOING TO BE A ZOMBIE. I AM EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTED.”

“Madame?” Spy asked, trying to prop himself up so he wasn’t just lying on his side on the floor. “How can zat be? You are dead.”

“THE OLD ANNOUNCER IS DEAD.” The voice said. “BUT I AM STILL ALIVE. AND I WILL BE ALIVE LONG AFTER YOU ARE ALL DEAD AND DECOMPOSED AS YOU ARE INFERIOR, FLESHY MEAT BAGS. I AM SUPERIOR. I AM IMMORTAL.”

“Wot in th’ bloody hell?” Sniper asked. He started looking frantically around the room.

Demoman sprung forward and ran to the glass window. He looked down, pressing his hand to the glass, and looked down upon the mighty, metal behemoth in the room below him. It was the largest computer he had ever laid his eye on, giant metal cords like fire hoses snaked out of the back of it, some cords even hanging down from the ceiling. There was a single red light towards the top of the giant computer tower, and it must have been roughly the size of a manhole. It was like some sort of giant, steel monolith, smooth and sleek and imposing…but not quite finished. On its left side, there was a great deal of exposed machinery, revealing that this thing was, indeed, state of the art. Everyone crowded around the glass window, with the sole exception of Spy, who was stuck on the floor.

“Whoa,” Scout said in awe. “What is that?”

“THAT IS ME. THE NEW ANNOUNCER,” the voice boomed. “HAVE I MENTIONED THAT I AM BETTER THAN THE OLD ANNOUNCER? BECAUSE I AM. I FEEL THAT THIS CANNOT BE STRESSED ENOUGH.”

“It’s…beautiful,” Engineer said in a near whisper.

“WHY, THANK YOU, RED ENGINEER. UNFORTUNATELY YOUR FLATTERY WILL NOT MAKE YOU ANY LESS DEAD, AFTER I KILL YOU, OF COURSE.”

“I knew it!” Demoman shouted. “You all would a’ called me mad, but I knew it! Th’ Announcer’s a RUDDY MACHINE!”

“Oh, please, Demoman, it is not like she has been a machine ze whole time,” Spy said. “Because, I assure you, zat woman on ze floor here next to me was ze Announcer. I ‘ave no idea what zat zing is.”

“I TOLD YOU, I AM THE NEW ANNOUNCER. I AM REPLACING THE OLD ONE. SHE WAS IN CHARGE OF PROGRAMMING ME AND MADE ME JUST LIKE HER BUT BETTER. I CANNOT DIE AND WILL BETTER MANAGE THE EXPERIMENTS THAN THE OLD ANNOUNCER.”

“Vhat do you mean, ‘experiments?'” Medic asked dispassionately.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ‘WHAT DO I MEAN?’ THE EXPERIMENTAL WEAPONS AND BATTLE STRATEGIES AND THE RESPAWN AND ABOUT 95 DIFFERENT SOCIAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPERIMENTS. YOU ARE PART OF THESE EXPERIMENTS. THERE MIGHT HAVE ALSO BEEN SOMETHING WITH CLONING, BUT I DO NOT THINK THEY FINISHED PROGRAMMING ME BEFORE THE STUPID FLESHY MEAT BAGS GOT EATEN BY ZOMBIES OR RAN AWAY OR MAYBE BOTH.”

“Oh, mother a’ Christ,” Demoman muttered. “S’worse than I had imagined.”

“Nobody ever told us we were part a’ some experiment!” Scout shouted. “The hell’s up with that?”

“OH YEAH, THEY PROBABLY WOULD NOT HAVE TOLD YOU BECAUSE YOU WERE THE CONTROL,” the Announcer said quite absentmindedly. “I FORGOT ABOUT THAT.”

“Seems t’ me like you got a lot a’ bugs in yer programming,” Engineer said. “You sure you don’t want me t’ fix ya? We could probably have you runnin’ more efficiently in no time…”

“HA HA HA, I AM NOT FALLING FOR THAT ONE.” The Announcer’s laughter was made all the more unsettling by her awkward, robotic monotone. “I NEED ALL OF YOU DEAD. NEW CONTROLS WILL BE ACQUIRED SINCE THE EXPERIMENT HAD UNFORESEEN VARIABLES THROWN IN THAT SABOTAGED OUR DATA. STUPID, STUPID BLU MEDIC.”

“So, RED and BLU…th’ merger…there ne’er was a merger, was there?” Demoman deduced, the gears in his head turning faster and faster. “RED an’ BLU were jest fronts tae give us a reason tae fight th’ BLUs. An’ I’m guessin’ that only th’ ones at th’ top knew aboot this.”

“WELL, DUH. WHAT ARE YOU, STUPID OR SOMETHING?”

“Never thought I’d say this, but personally, I liked th’ old Announcer better,” Sniper said, tilting his hat down over his eyes. “How exactly are ya plannin’ on killin’ us, anyway? Ya can’t bloody move.”

There was a pause. The giant red light on the front of flickered a bit, before the new Announcer spoke up again: “THE ZOMBIES WILL EAT YOU.”

“You dinnit’ even have any way a’ killin’ us planned out, didja?” Sniper taunted. “Some super computer you are!”

“YOU SHUT UP. I AM IMMORTAL.”

“Zis is…I cannot…” Medic turned away from the window and found himself crumpling to the floor, crouching with his feet on the floor and his knees folded up to his chin, gripping his hair and shaking his head. “Zis…zis is just ridiculous…zis cannot be happening…”

“DO NOT BE SAD, RED MEDIC. YOU YIELDED SUCH LOVELY DATA, ESPECIALLY WITH YOUR…FRATERNIZATION WITH RED HEAVY. I HAVE TO ADMIT NOBODY SAW THAT COMING AT FIRST BUT IT WAS CERTAINLY INTERESTING.”

Medic didn’t say anything. He just bit his lip and stared at the desk in front of him, rocking ever so slightly.

“Man, an’ I thought the old Announcer was a bitch,” Scout said, chuckling a little, albeit nervously.

“Scout, please, have some consideration…” Engineer said, trying to keep Scout quiet.

“Hey, I’m just makin’ an observation, here,” Scout replied defensively. “I’m not doin’ nothin’!”

“YOU ALL PROVIDED SUCH WONDERFUL DATA.” The Announcer interrupted. “REALLY. YOU WERE LIKE CHILDREN TO ME AND OLD ANNOUNCER. WE WATCHED YOU FIGHT AND LIVE AND TALK AND SHOWER AND ALL SORTS OF OTHER WONDEFUL THINGS. BUT I MUST LET YOU GO NOW. NOW GO GET EATEN BY ZOMBIES, SINCE APPARENTLY SPY IS IN NO POSITION TO KILL YOU PROPERLY.”

“Like bloody ‘ell we are!” Demoman shouted defiantly. “Ye can go short-circuit, ye bloody robot cunt!”

“I AM NOT A ROBOT. I AM A COMPUTER. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE.”

Pyro, who had been totally silent since they entered the Monitor room, pressed his remaining hand up to the glass and leaned forward until his forehead thudded against the clear barrier, staring down at the new Announcer in deep thought. There had to be a way of defeating this thing. There was always a way.

“I don’t even see why we’re botherin’ ta stick around an’ talk to this thing,” Scout said, spreading out his arms for emphasis. “I mean, what’s she gonna do? Yell at us an’ try an’ creep us out about how she watched us take showers? Yeah, real scary.”

“OOOH, YOU ARE MAKING ME VERY ANGRY, RED SCOUT.”

“Yeah, whatevah, I’m headin’ outta here,” Scout said dismissively, strolling casually back to the door and gripping the handle firmly, pulling on the handle with a grunt. It didn’t budge. “Hey!” He cried out, tugging harder. “It’s friggin’ locked from th’ inside!”

“I TOLD YOU. I TOLD YOU, BUT NO, YOU DID NOT LISTEN. AND WHEN RED PYRO AND RED SPY BECOME ZOMBIES THEY ARE GOING TO EAT YOU AND THEN YOU WILL BE SORRY.”

“That’s assumin’ we don’t manage t’ kill ’em, or blow the door off with any more stickies,” Sniper said. “Wot then?”

“Actually,” Demoman said, looking quite ashamed, “I donnae have any more stickies left.”

All the confidence that Sniper had but a few short moments ago crumbled to dust. “Oh, yer kiddin’…”

“I used th’ last o’ ’em when we busted Medic an’ Pyro out,” Demoman said, shoulders slumping and his head hanging in disgrace. “I’m sorry.”

“Well, zat’s just great,” Spy said. “Now we’re all fucked.”

“You were fucked as soon as that zombie bit ya,” Sniper scoffed.

As the others were talking, Pyro had walked over to the desk and grabbed a random sheet of paper. He paid no attention to the form on the front of the sheet, and flipped it over, pawing for a pen. He grabbed one from a stand that held several, and then leaned over heavily onto the paper, trying to hold it down and write with his non-dominant hand. His handwriting, as a result, was even more scribbly and wide and child-like than usual. Once he was satisfied, he tossed the pen aside and grabbed the sheet of paper, and then stood over Medic. He probed the doctor with his hand, and when Medic looked up he handed him the sheet of paper. Pyro’s handwriting was so sloppy and trailing all over the page it was hard to read, but Medic was able to decipher it, and looked back up at the fire starter, who only offered him an encouraging nod.

The doctor stood up, and looked back out of the window, staring at the super computer in the room below. “If you do not mind, Frau Announzah, I have some questions for you.”

“GO AHEAD AND ASK. YOU WILL BE DEAD EVENUTALLY ANYWAY.”

“If ze higher ups knew zat ze companies vere bozh subsidiaries of anozzah, larger company, zen vhy vas a merger even made?” Medic asked. “Surely, zere had to have been some kind of reason for it…”

There was a pause from the new Announcer. “I WAS NEVER PROGRAMMED WITH ALL THE DETAILS,” she admitted. “IT MIGHT HAVE HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THOSE ZOMBIES.”

“Interesting…” Medic said, stroking his chin methodically. “Very interesting indeed…”

“WHY WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? TELL ME WHAT YOU ARE THINKING, RED MEDIC.”

“Oh, it is probably nozzing, really…just a zheory,” Medic said offhandedly.

“WHAT THEORY? SPIT IT OUT.”

“Ze merger…how long ago vas it?”

“I ASKED YOU FIRST.”

“Please, Frau Announzah, I vill be able to explain bettah if you cooperate. Vhen vas zis merger?”

“IT WAS ANNOUNCED FIVE DAYS AGO. WHY ARE YOU ASKING?”

“Such peculiar timing, zat,” Medic noted. “Since, according to ze radio, zat vas about ze estimated time zat ze virus stahted to shpread. Und I know for a fact zat ze virus broke out a few days before zat.” He clasped his hands behind his back and started to pace, narrating his thought process the entire time. “Vone of ze employees of zis larger company created a virus; deadly, shpreading quickly, causing mass panic und hysteria. Zey cannot possibly own up to zis. It vould be suicide. So, zey try und absolve ze company zat stahted it, as vell as its rival company, by combining zem into a new vone. Zese old companies, RED und BLU, zey ah no longah needed. No, zere is somezing fah more profitable zat has sprung up: a virus vhich begs for a cure, a vay to fight it. Und who bettah to come up viz a solution to ze problem zen ze vones who stahted it?”

“Bloody ‘ell, I should a’ thought o’ that,” Demoman said, smacking his forehead. “It all makes sense, don’t it? An’ it’d explain why they’d want us dead!”

“Ja, ve know ze truth,” Medic said. “Ve ah a liability. Und, since ve ah no longah needed for ze experiments, und a new vay to make money has so graciously presented itself, zey effectively kill two birds by getting rid of unnecessary guinea pigs who also happen to know vhat zey have done.”

“BUT BLU MEDIC MADE THE VIRUS,” the Announcer protested. “IT IS HIS FAULT.”

“Maybe, but ze public und ze media vould not see it zat vay. Ze blame vould lie squarely on BLU, und by extension, on ze parent company. Zey could lose a lot of money if such news vere to get out. BLU und RED zemselves have become liabilities. Ze merger vas nozzing more zen a diversion for ze lowah ranking employees, like ze paper-pushers und accountants. Ze mercenaries in ze var vere not even told, so zat zey could be left to rot, und zen disposed of. But…zat shtill leaves you, doesn’t it?”

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN?” She was sounding much more defensive at this point.

“Vell, you ah ze Announzah,” Medic said, “und your job is to monitor and run ze matches between RED und BLU. Only, now zere is no more RED und BLU, making you a complete vaste of money. Zey abandoned you, leaving you incomplete and not fully functional. Aftah ve ah dead, you vill be useless. You vill just be a giant machine zat is vasting power, idling by und vatching screens vhere nozzing is happening.”

“THEY CANNOT ABANDON ME!” the Announcer boomed. “I AM TOO USEFUL! THERE WILL BE MORE MATCHES! YOU ARE A LIAR!”

“Zink about it,” Medic said, walking over to the window and looking down at the giant steel tower. “You’re a vaste. You ah nozzing. You have no more purpose. No directive. You’re a vorthless piece of junk zat belongs in a trash heap, und you have been abandoned by zose who created you.”

The light on the front of the computer tower began to flicker and buzz, and tiny sparks started to spew from the ventilation slits. “NO! EVERYTHING YOU SAY IS BAD. YOU ARE BAD, BAD MAN, RED MEDIC, AND I HATE YOU FOREVER.”

“Good Lord,” Engineer muttered, looking down upon the tower as he scooted over closed to Medic. He was soon joined by Sniper, Demoman, and Scout. Pyro watched as well, but kept a distance from the window.

“You cannot prove me wrong, zhough, can you?” Medic replied. “I zink you know I am right. So, just save yourself ze trouble. Eliminate vhat is not necessary.”

“I WILL GET YOU FOR THHHIIII-EERRRR RED SPY IN THE BAAAAAS-FLAWLESS VICTORY OUR INTELLIGENCE HAS BEEN CAPTURED YOU FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL-” By now the showers of sparks were increasing, and smoke was drifting up from the machine. The lights above the tower got blindingly bright, a few of them bursting in an explosion of glass, and the monitors above Spy were suddenly switching from static to television broadcasts on their own.

“Auf Wiedersehen, you bitch,” Medic said coldly, trying to suppress a shudder.

The explosion that went off was unimpressive, to say the least. There was a quiet, muffled boom from inside the tower, and a much larger plume of smoke belched out from the machine. The light on the front of the tower switched off, and took out all of the lights in the building with it. The monitors, too, blipped and went black, and then, silence.

“Is it dead?” Scout asked. “Is that all there is?”

“I think so, Scout,” Engineer sighed. “Dang it, Medic, you managed to outwit the single most advanced artificial intelligence I’ve ever seen.”

“Really?” asked Medic, sounding fairly indifferent to Engineer’s amazement. “It didn’t zeem zat intelligent to me. I vas just making guesses, really.”

“Well played, Doc!” Sniper said, giving the doctor a congratulatory pat on the back. “How’d ya manage t’ think that one up?”

“I didn’t,” Medic said, turning to Pyro. “It vas Pyro’s idea. I just filled in ze details.”

Pyro looked down at his feet rather bashfully. “Urrr jurrshht thrrght ‘whurrt wurrrdd Crrrptuurrn Krrrk duur?'” he admitted. “Urrt rurrrmeerrnduurd mrree urrf urrn urreerrsurrd urrf Strrr Trrrurk.”

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” Spy groaned.

“Well, Pyro, that was…ah…unorthodox, but it worked beautifully.” Engineer patted the fire starter on the back. “Ya did good, and we owe ya.”

“Hey, you guys!” Scout shouted, already at the door, pulling it open. “Door’s unlocked! We’re free ta go!”

“Hold on a sec, mate,” Sniper said, walking over to Spy, who was still lying on his side on the floor. “I think we should decide wot we’re gonna do with this one.”

“If you’re going to kill me, just go ahead and do it already,” Spy huffed.

“Well, gee, don’t that sound familiar?” Engineer said, hands on his hips, standing over the wounded Spy. “I don’t really think I’m particularly inclined to do that, Spah.”

“You’re just going to leave me ‘ere?” Spy asked, sounding hurt. “You’re going to leave me here to die, alone, and zen become a monster?”

“Th’ way I see it, you already are a monster,” Engineer said coldly.

“Zen kill me already,” Spy commanded. “Shoot me yourself. If I’m going to die at anybody’s hand…I would prefer it to be yours.”

Engineer was taken aback by this. It was hard to tell if Spy was being sincere or not, but then again, he was dying. But he had caused RED team so much pain, so much torment, and he had wanted to kill all of them without even the slightest hint of remorse. Engineer pulled his pistol from his holster, aimed it at Spy, and shot him in the stomach.

The scream Spy let out was even louder than the one he made when he was bitten. He could not even speak, reduced to just making pained sounds and crying. Engineer then crouched down over Spy, and reached into the Frenchman’s jacket for the his revolver, which rested in a holster strapped to his chest. The Texan pulled the weapon out, emptied it of all its bullets except one. He then untied the extension cord binding Spy’s wrists, and placed the weapon just out of Spy’s reach.

“We’re goin’ now,” Engineer said softly, but his voice was anything but soothing. “You got two choices. By th’ time you reach that gun, we’ll be out of th’ room. Yer not gonna be gettin’ up from that shot. Now, you can either choose t’ go out slow an’ painful, an’ then let the virus do th’ rest, or you can end it all yerself. I think that’s fitting, don’t you?”

“Pyro…” Spy sputtered, “he will turn too…”

“We’ll see about that,” Engineer said, and got up, looking at his other teammates. “Let’s move out.”

Nothing else needed to be said. Spy found himself reaching for ankles in vain, watching as he was abandoned, and the other men drifted out of the room. He desperately wanted to say something, anything, to Engineer, the man he still lusted after, and managed to finally croak out “Laborer!”

The Texan was the last one still inside the door frame, and he turned to look at the down-right pathetic looking Spy, who was propping himself up off of the ground on his elbows, bleeding onto the floor. “We…we could ‘ave been somezing…Engineer,” Spy croaked.

“No…it would a’ never worked out,” Engineer said glumly. “Goodbye, Spah.” He closed the door, leaving Spy alone in the dark.

The room was now almost completely silent, save for the sound of Spy’s ragged breathing. He pulled himself forward, gritting his teeth in intense, agonizing pain as his stomach muscles were stretched out painfully, and groped around in the dark for his revolver. The choice was obvious, really. He had failed his mission, the Announcer was dead, RED was no more and he was going to turn into a zombie, and on top of all that, Engineer really and truly hated him. Once he had grabbed a hold of his revolver, he pulled it towards himself, twisting it around in his hands blindly. He regretted that he could not even be standing on his feet when he died, or anything more dignified than dying alone, in the dark, at his own hand.

At the very least, it was better than becoming a zombie.

Spy opened his mouth and stuck the barrel inside, aiming at the roof of his mouth. He closed his watering eyes, and thought of Engineer. He knew that he would never be forgiven by his dear Laborer for what he had done, and for the first time in a very long time, he felt pangs of regret that burned through him. And with that final admission of guilt to himself, he pulled the trigger.

In the stairwell just down the hall, Pyro and Scout whirled around and looked back in the direction of the muted gunshot. The group grinded to a halt, and Engineer sighed and shook his head.

“Don’t feel bad for ‘im, mate,” Sniper said, reassuringly. “He was a murderin’ bastard an’ he got what was comin’ to ‘im.”

“I know,” Engineer said. “But I got a feelin’ I’m gonna be tellin’ myself that for a long time, an’ it ain’t gonna help any.”

They proceeded downward, not saying anything to each other the rest of the way, moving with the silent solemnity of a funeral procession.


 

Chapter 20

Upon arriving at the bottom of the staircase, Scout opened the door to the ground floor, barely taking a step out before skidding back in surprise and slamming the door shut.

“What’s wrong?” Engineer asked. He had a feeling he knew the answer already, but he wanted to be proven wrong.

“There’s a bunch a’ friggin’ zombies out there!” Scout shouted. “Jesus, Doc I thought you an’ Pyro killed ’em.”

“Ve did not kill zem. Vell, not all of zem. Ve merely drove zem back,” Medic said. “I had a feeling zey vould find a vay out. How many ah out zere?”

“Uh…” Scout pressed his face to the small glass window on the door, and craned his neck to look around. “I dunno, maybe like, two dozen of ’em?”

“We could prolly take ’em,” Sniper said. “I mean, we still got a little bit of ammo left, right?”

“I still got my pistol an’ bat,” Scout said. “I emptied the scattershot last night.”

“I got mah pistol and mah wrench, but I wasn’t able t’ take mah toolbox, so I can’t build any sentries,” said Engineer.

“Ze syringe gun vould not do much good against ze infected,” Medic said, “so my only real weapon is ze bonesaw. Und Pyro, he can’t use any of his weapons vone-handed.”

“I’m outta stickies an’ I only got abou’ three grenades left,” said Demoman. “O’er than that, I still got me bottle.”

“An’ I got a clip for th’ SMG,” Sniper said. “So, we’re down t’ secondary an’ melee weapons, then, are we?”

“That would certainly appear t’ be th’ case,” Engineer said, twirling his wrench over in his hands.

Demoman pushed Scout of the way of the door, peering through the glass window and noticing that the zombies on the other side were shambling, quite slowly, towards the door, as if unsure if there was anyone over there. “They know we’re ‘ere,” he said. “An’ they’re makin’ their way over.”

“Then let’s waste ’em!” Scout said. “We can take those shufflin’ sacks a’ worm food any day!”

“Hold on a sec, there, Scout,” Engineer said. “I don’t think that’s wise. We don’t have a lotta ammo, an’ we don’t wanna get in close contact with ’em, either.”

“But fightin’ ’em that way would be badass as all hell!” Scout protested.

“‘E’s right,” said Demoman. “Give ’em a taste o’ th’ ole brimstone!”

“Look, we made it this far without bein’ killed, an’ I’m not gonna risk my neck for th’ sake a’ lookin’ cool,” Engineer said sternly.

“Yer right. We ‘ave made it this far,” Demoman said. “But those zombies out there, they’re a symbol. They represent everythin’ that’s stood in our way, all th’ losses an’ death an’ sufferin’ an’ betrayal we put up with.”

“No, they don’t!” Engineer protested. “They’re just infected people!”

“Shut up, ye bastard, an’ let me ‘ave me metaphors!” Demoman shouted. After an awkward silence, he spoke up again. “All th’ rage, all th’ misery an’ agony we got all pent up inside…I donnae see a better way tae release it then on th’ zombies out there! Dammit, I need a release! We’ve been screwed o’er enough! I need tae shed some blood!”

“Whoo hoo!” Scout cried out.

“We’re not gonna go in like a bunch a’ Kamikaze pilots here, Demo!” Engineer said impatiently. “Listen here. We’re runnin’. If any of ’em get too close, don’t be afraid t’ fight ’em off, but I’m more concerned about tryin’ t’ survive an’ get t’ safety here! ‘Sides, Pyro can’t even fight like he is, anyway.”

“Oh, fine, go ruin what lil’ fun I’m tryin’ tae git outta this, then,” Demoman grumbled. “I’m jest sayin’, I wasn’t able tae bust th’ Announcer’s ‘ead in, an’ by God, I wanna bust somebody’s ‘ead.”

“Me too!” said Scout, who was getting more and more excited.

“Oh, will you just stop arguin’ an get this over with already?” Sniper snapped impatiently. “I don’t wanna be in this bloody place any longer.”

“Fair enough,” Engineer said.

“Right, then,” Demoman grumbled. “But I’m warnin’ ya, I’m goan’ tae be a right bloody bat outta ‘ell. Scout, open th’ door.”

Scout nodded, gripped the handle, and pushed, breaking out into a run as he did so, bat out, his legs moving so fast the barely seemed to touch the ground. He was followed immediately by Demoman, who let out a primal yell that sounded like a warrior’s battle cry, as the two of them ran towards the front entrance of the building. Their path was blocked by a small group of zombies, and Scout wasted no time braining one with his bat, while Demoman swung his already broken bottle wildly, hitting a zombie on the head repeatedly until the glass cracked so much, it was unable to be used as a proper weapon. The Scout then improvised, and used the broken, jagged glass to stab one of the monsters in the eyes. Engineer followed up, trying to avoid getting close to the walking dead and occasionally firing a shot from his pistol at a few, trying his damndest to aim for the head. Sniper seemed to be enjoying himself, being very vocal as he hacked away at the occasional monster as though it were jungle brush with his kukri. Medic and Pyro trailed behind, Pyro struggling to keep up as he wheezed through his mask, and Medic sticking beside him, bonesaw drawn, steering the fire starter away from the zombies and towards the path that Demoman and Scout were clearing.

The zombies weren’t Frankenstein’s monster slow, but they were still slightly slower to react than a normal human, even when they were pursuing a potential meal. Since the number of zombies in the lobby was relatively small, Scout found himself disappointed when he finally reached the door without so much as a scratch. It slid open obediently, and he ran through until he reached the outside, which was still as empty and desolate as it had been before. He stopped to catch his breath for a brief moment, before Engineer, of all people, ran past him. “Keep runnin’, boy, they’re still after us!” Engineer shouted. Scout scowled. The guy had such short little legs and was usually slow as hell, but now he was tearing through like his ass was on fire. It wasn’t like the zombies were that fast. Not about to be shown up by Engineer in any way, Scout started to sprint again, turning their escape into a race. Pyro and Medic, who had come in right behind Engineer were quickly left in his dust, and Sniper seemed to be physically pulling Demoman away from getting overwhelmed by zombies.

It was a matter of seconds before Scout bypassed Engineer as they raced across the empty parking lot. To Scout, it didn’t really matter much where he was going though he was headed in a direction away from the train they had rode in on. He caught a glimpse of something moving in the corner of his vision, and looked up at the sky to see the first living thing he had seen since they had arrived here.

It was a seagull. It cried out, and flew off towards the direction Scout was headed. It took a little while for the young man to process the significance of the bird’s appearance. Engineer, who was lagging just behind him, figured it out pretty quickly.

“The ocean!” was all Engineer managed to get out.

The farther down he headed, the more of the birds there were. They didn’t wander too close to the building; even the gulls knew better than that. The air smelled saltier and the sound of waves could be heard, and Scout found himself stopping at the edge of a cliff, looking over the ocean and, more importantly, a dock. There were several boats idling in the water, one of them a giant cargo ship, the rest were mostly small fishing boats. Scout ran along the edge of the cliff until he managed to spot a wooden stairway leading from the concrete to the dock, and made a beeline for it. There were many more gulls on the dock itself, screeching and shrieking at each other. Scout managed to send them scattering into the air, sending up an eruption of white and grey into the dull, steel sky. He could hear the others catching up to him, before he stopped. Engineer, Medic and Pyro came down the stairs, all of them trying to catch their breath, Pyro even more so than the others.

“Yo, Hardhat!” Scout shouted as he jumped into a small boat with a simple outboard motor. “How’s this one?”

“Not like it’s gonna matter much, so long as it works,” Engineer said, straddling the edge of the boat before settling in, sitting next to the motor. Medic helped Pyro climb in, supporting the fire starter under his armpits gently. Pyro wheezed under his mask and shrugged Medic off, stumbling onto the boat and plopping himself down with a muffled thud.

“Where’re Sniper an’ Demo?” Engineer asked.

“Up there,” Scout said, pointing to the stairs.

Sure enough, Sniper was jogging almost casually down the stairs, sending the seagulls to scatter all over again, and Demoman trailed behind him with a scowl on his face. They weren’t in nearly as much of a hurry now; they had outrun their zombie pursuers, much to Demoman’s dismay. The two of them finally reached the steadily rocking boat, and Sniper dramatically cut the rope tying the boat to the dock with his kukri. Engineer pulled the motor, and the boat roared to life, sending up a fine salty spray, and he steered it out into the open water.

The dock quickly shrank away into the horizon as the boat thrummed forward, gliding over the glassy surface. It bounced only the slightest bit as it hit wave after wave, and Engineer found himself constantly trying to adjust the motor to lessen the effect. He was, in fact, the only one on the boat looking forward; the five other men on the boat all had their eyes locked on the cliffs behind them.

The sound of the motor churning in the water was overwhelming. Sniper was holding onto his hat, and looked around for a nearby landmass, a boat, anything he could find. There seemed to be nothing in any direction aside from the one they were headed. “Wot’re we s’posed t’ do now?” he shouted over the motor.

“What?” Engineer shouted back.

“I SAID, ‘WOT’RE WE S’POSSED T’ DO NOW?'” Sniper repeated, louder this time.

Nobody could really answer. They all turned and looked ahead to the horizon. The sun was blotted out by a hazy layer of grey clouds, and shadows would flutter over the tiny boat. Pyro looked up at the sky, clutching his stump. The sky seemed to flicker back and forth from the dull grey clouds that looked like wet cotton hanging in the air, to a sharp, crisp nighttime sky, absent of stars and tinged with yellow and orange from flame, with tiny red embers flitting skyward. It was hard to tell which of these skies was the real one; after a while they started to blend and twirl, mixing like muddy paints on a palette. Pyro stared up in awe. There was an ugly sort of beauty to it, the way the sky looked. Suddenly, he felt he needed to lie down. It was so hot in his suit, and he found himself panting raggedly through the filters in his mask.

Medic immediately took notice. “Pyro!” he cried out, moving to cradle the masked man, slipping his arm underneath Pyro’s masked head. The fire starter had rolled onto the floor of the boat, and the doctor was kneeling over him. This caught the attention of the other four men onboard. Sniper, Demoman and Scout all leaned forward with interest; they couldn’t move too much for fear of falling overboard. Engineer watched from his post at the motor, his shoulders slumping and his face falling in despair, and he switched off the boat motor. The boat eased into a stop as the roar of the motor died down to a burble.

“What’s wrong with Mumbles, Doc?” Scout asked, his voice betraying his dread.

“Quiet!” Medic snapped at the young man. The doctor leaned in close over Pyro, his gloved fingers slipping underneath the rim of the mask against the fire starter’s neck. Pyro’s hand shot up and grabbed Medic by the wrist. “Pyro, please,” Medic begged softly. “Trust me, just zis vonce.”

Pyro seemed to consider this for a moment. “Urrnlee Mrrdiick cuurrn luurrk,” he said finally. “Nurrbuhhdee urrlssh.”

“You ‘eard ’em,” Demoman said solemnly. “Avert yer eyes. Give th’ man ‘is dignity.”

The other men on the boat all looked away from Pyro, but Medic made sure to block their line of vision with his body, just in case. He lifted the edge of Pyro’s mask, rolling it up past his reddened neck, and gently peeling it from the man’s face. Pyro winced as Medic did so, and shuddered as his sweat suddenly cooled against the salty air.

Any other man may have turned away in disgust at the face underneath the mask. Medic didn’t even flinch; in fact, he seemed more intrigued than anything else. Pyro’s face was badly burnt, though that really should not have come as a surprise. His nose had been melted down so that it appeared as if he almost didn’t have a nose at all; the rims of the nostrils and the cartilage were almost entirely gone, exposing two ghastly little holes. Also missing were half of Pyro’s lips, twisting his mouth into a permanent sneer, exposing raw gums and a set of yellowed teeth. Most of his skin on his face was pink and raw and glossy, leaving only patches of the original olive-color that it once was. Most striking, however, was the fact that most of Pyro’s hair had been burned off, leaving only odd clumps and patches of dark, curly hair. Pyro looked up at medic with wide, terrified grey eyes, and took deep, gulping gasps of air. He wasn’t used to having his mask off.

“How ah you feeling?” Medic asked. It was practically a rhetorical question, but he wanted to hear the burnt man speak without being muffled.

“It’s so hot…in this suit…” Pyro gasped. There was the faintest hint of an accent in his voice, most likely Eastern European; it was soft enough that it was a bit ambiguous. His voice surprised Medic quite a bit, but then again, he had no idea what to expect. “The sky keeps changing,” he rasped.

“Zat is probably ze hallucinations,” Medic said grimly. “Zat and ze fever…zey ah bozh symptoms…”

“I am dying…aren’t I, Medic?”

The doctor hesitated. There was a part of him that thought perhaps if he didn’t say it, it wouldn’t happen. It was childish to even think that. He sucked in his breath, and finally answered. “Yes. I zink zat you ah.”

“Oh,” Pyro replied quietly. He looked down to his own chest, trying to keep his breathing steady. It was getting harder to do so. “It hurts, Medic.”

“Vhat hurts?” Medic asked.

“Everything,” Pyro hissed. “I don’t want to die.”

Medic shook his head and tried to keep his lip from quivering. He held Pyro’s hand in his own. “I know zat, Pyro. I’m sorry. I’ve failed you.”

Pyro didn’t speak for a while. He winced as he retracted his hand away from Medic’s, and reached under his collar and into his suit. He grabbed something, pulled it over his head, and then placed it into Medic’s palm, folding the doctor’s fingers over the object. “I forgive you, Medic,” he said, “for everything.”

Medic slowly opened his fist, and looked at the object that had been thrust upon him. His eyes widened and his mouth went slightly agape. “Mein Gott…you must have hated me.”

“I never…hated you…” Pyro wheezed. “Just…don’t let me become…one of them…”

“I von’t,” Medic said, tucking the object in his hand into his front coat pocket. “I promise.”

The corner of Pyro’s mouth tugged into a nervous little smile. It lasted only a second, before his pupils shrank and he could only make choked little noises that barely escaped a rapidly constricting throat. His body started to jerk and shake violently, causing everyone else on the boat to turn in alarm. Medic immediately swept Pyro up in his arms, blocking the view of the man’s head with his body as he held Pyro close, whispering to him in German. Quite suddenly, all movement from Pyro ceased, and he went limp in Medic’s arms.

Sniper was the first to look away, taking his hat off his head and placing it over his chest solemnly. “God rest ‘im,” he muttered. Engineer followed Sniper’s example and took off his helmet, repeating the gesture, and Demoman merely averted his eyes. Scout was still staring at Medic absentmindedly.

Medic looked towards the other men on the boat, his eyes watering but he was struggling to keep his expression stern. “Don’t look at him, Scout, you idiot, give him…give ze man some respect.”

Scout instantly snapped back to earth, looking away hurriedly. “I’m sorry, man…I dinnit’ mean…aw, dammit…” His voice wavered the tiniest bit, and he found himself raising a bandaged hand to wipe at his eyes. Demoman tried to pat the young man’s shoulder in an attempt to comfort him, but Scout jerked away. “Stop it, man, ‘m not cryin’…”

Medic turned back to Pyro. His expression looked serene, despite the hideous scars, and his eyes were half-lidded. The doctor gently used two fingers to close them, and planted a quick kiss upon the man’s forehead. He then picked up Pyro’s mask, and pulled it down back over his face.

“Yer not gonna let ‘im turn inta a zombie, are ya, doc?” Scout asked. He looked as though he was trying his best not to cry.

“Of course not,” said Medic. He lifted his bonesaw from off his belt. “I made a promise.” He lifted the body so that his neck was resting on the edge of the boat, and held down Pyro’s head. Medic then pulled back the rim of the mask with his thumb, enough to expose Pyro’s neck. He tried to keep his hand steady as he lowered the saws teeth against the burn-scarred flesh, and sliced through the dead man’s throat. Blood began to erupt and spray against the doctor’s coat, dribbling down the edges of the boat and turning the water beneath them dark red. The doctor’s breath quickened as he sawed through flesh and bone with increasing intensity, losing control over his composure by the second. The saw came through the other side of Pyro’s neck, and Medic fumbled for the tumbling head, grabbing it before it fell into the sea. He held it with shaking hands, and blanked out entirely, staring at it and not moving.

“We’re gonnae hafteh toss ‘im o’erboard, Medic,” Demoman said. “Not gonna look good bein’ rescued an’ havin’ a headless corpse in ‘ere, wi’ you all covered in blood.”

“He’ll float,” Medic said, still looking spacey, cradling the head like a baby. “You can’t just have him floating out in ze middle of ze ocean. It’s…it vould not be proper.”

“Ye jest sawed ‘is ‘ead off off so he won’t become a zombie,” Demoman pointed out. “An’ we donnae ‘ave anytin’ tae weigh ‘im down. Not much o’ a choice.”

Medic looked at the severed head in his hand with a look of defeat. It wasn’t right, sending Pyro off this way. He deserved better, even if he did make a living out of setting people on fire; it was his job, after all. Life, it seemed, had been hard enough on the poor man, and even in death he couldn’t seem to get a fair shake. The doctor twisted his body around and delicately placed Pyro’s head onto the water’s surface, the way someone might place a kitten down on a pillow. It bobbed in the water, glossy black lenses staring back at Medic as it started to roll on its side. Demoman and Sniper soon moved in closer to the body, helping Medic toss it over board far less ceremoniously. The body fell in with a splash, and if floated on its back, stomach bobbing up and down. A cloud of blood spread out, turning the dark blue waves crimson.

After a long silence, Scout finally spoke up again. “Should we, y’know, say a few words?” It was quite obvious the mood was making him uncomfortable.

“‘Now cracks a noble ‘eart. Good night, sweet prince. An’ flights o’ angels sing thee to thy rest,'” Demoman said cheerlessly.

“Dinnit’ know ya read Shakespeare, mate,” Sniper said quietly.

“Ye never asked,” Demoman replied. “Le’s go.”

Engineer nodded and tugged on the motors cord again, and the boat soon jerked to a start and cut across the water, leaving the floating corpse in its wake. The rest of the trip, nobody said anything. Words would come to them later, no doubt, but now, there was nothing that could be said. Medic cast one last look back at Pyro, still beating himself up over Pyro’s impromptu burial at sea. The irony of leaving his body in open water was not lost on him.

He reached into his breast pocket when he was sure no one else was looking, and pulled out a tarnished silver necklace with a Star of David hanging from it. “I’m so sorry, Pyro,” he whispered, too soft for anyone else to hear, and clutched the charm to his chest.


 

Epilogue

A lone seagull sailed through the air over the beach of a small fishing town in Mexico called Antón Lizardo. The tourists were, for the most part, gone, since the end of the season had arrived, and the crowds that had overwhelmed this beach were reduced to a tiny number of stragglers. Among them was a pair of thin, waifish looking white women who seemingly had no bathing suits, but were playing among the waves in their colorful, bohemian clothing; a pair of lost flower children, abandoned by the fall of their own counter-culture. Dirty and burnt-out as they were, they were still beautiful. When their ears had caught the sound of a violin being played in the distance, they stopped their frolicking in the waves to turn and listen to the middle-aged man wearing glasses and a white, button up shirt with khaki shorts, playing on the porch of a stilted shack.

Medic wasn’t really paying attention to his audience; he was vaguely aware that they were there, listening, but he was caught up in his own reverie. It had been two years since they had washed up in this fishing town on the Gulf of Mexico, arriving in the middle of the night after traveling for about two days; hungry, thirsty, sun-baked, disheveled and a bit delirious, but otherwise still alive. They probably would have been completely screwed were it not for Engineer being fairly fluent in Spanish; he was, after all, from Texas. After being able to rest and get some food inside their bellies, there was a lot of debate as to what they should do next. Medic had cautioned that it was entirely possible that whatever corporation that had been controlling RED and BLU might have their ears to the ground, listening for any signs of them, and that it would probably be best to keep a low profile, possibly change their names and try to start over. This was easy enough for Medic and Demoman; they had no living family members, since Demoman was a self-made orphan and most of Medic’s family died in the war. Scout, Sniper and Engineer were less than pleased at this proposition, to say the least. Sniper got so upset, he stormed out of the house of the fisherman that had so graciously hosted them, and went to immediately find a phone so he could call his parents. It took a while to finally locate a payphone, but once he had, he soon found out that his parents were told that he was dead. His father yelled at him over the phone, berating him for playing such a cruel joke. He had seen the body, his father said. It was going to be buried back home, and his dad was certainly not in the mood for some vicious prankster to be impersonating his son. He could hear his mother crying in the background before his father hung up and the only sound coming from the receiver was a cold, indifferent dial tone. Sniper ended up returning to the shack, crestfallen, and suddenly a lot more supportive of Medic’s plan. Reluctantly, Scout and Engineer agreed.

It was difficult to adjust to this place, at first, with Engineer being the only one who was fluent enough in the local tongue to communicate with the natives, and no money to any of their names anymore. They took up residence in another shack along the beach, which had no electricity or running water, but it was a roof over their heads and it was better than being homeless. Engineer worked odd jobs around the town, doing anything from plumbing to electrical work to automobile maintenance, and managed to get enough money for parts to construct a generator, giving enough power to have lights and fans running, as well as a burner that could be used if they wanted to make a stew or steam crabs. Medic also brought in money, working at the local clinic, though when he first started he barely knew the language. It had become a necessity for him to learn it faster than his companions, and Engineer’s coaching certainly helped. Sniper, Scout and Demoman were all constantly falling in and out of employment, for varying reasons. Demoman had, in the space of less than two years, developed a reputation as a violent, moody drunkard, and was blacklisted as un-hirable. Sniper’s reputation was a bit better; he was not a very social man, making little effort to learn the native tongue, but whatever job he did, he did it well, though he’d usually end up leaving due to general restlessness. Scout was not well-liked at all, known for being confrontational and learning Spanish seemingly for the purpose of being able to better harass the natives. He was getting a bit better, though, at the gentle insistence of Engineer, who would often force him to own up to his behavior. The five of them were tolerated by the local population, but it was made quite clear that they would never be truly accepted. Medic could live with that, he supposed, as long as the others were there with him.

“Hey, Doc.”

Medic stopped playing and turned around to see Engineer coming out onto the balcony, covered in oil and grease from a long day’s work. He still maintained his habit of wearing overalls and his goggles, but his usual glove and hard hat had long gone into disuse, and the RED uniform shirt had been replaced by a t-shirt. Medic smiled at the man. “Ah, hello, Herr Engineer. How vas your day?”

“Uneventful, really,” Engineer said, making his way to the railing and leaning on it with his elbows. “Ya don’t gotta stop playin’ on account a’ me, y’know.”

“I vas finished, anyvay,” Medic said.

“Was that th’ song fer Heavy?”

Medic sighed as he placed the violin back into its case delicately. “Ja. It vas.”

“Gets prettier every time ya play it,” Engineer said, the corners of his mouth twitching into a smile.

“Danke, Engineer,” Medic said, latching the case shut. “It nevah gets any easier, you know. He vas…so strong, und yet, so gentle vit me. He vas built to be ze Übermensch…he vas perfection, to me. Mein Kuschelbär…”

Engineer walked up to Medic and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. Medic was known to fall into long periods of depression since Heavy died. With time, it lessened considerably, but there were still instances when the doctor needed to have some time alone, whether it be by walking on the beach alone, or playing his violin, or simply leaning over the balcony railing and staring out over the sea. It was the least Engineer could do to make him feel cared for.

“We all miss ‘im, Doc,” Engineer said. “It ain’t been th’ same since we lost ‘im an’ Pyro an’, hell, even Soldier.” Medic flinched a bit at Engineer’s mention of Soldier. “Well, I mean, there’s no excusin’ what he tried t’ do t’ ya, Doc, but even you said he wasn’t right in th’ head…an’ we never would a’ made it out if it weren’t for him…”

“I know zat, Engineer,” Medic said. “Sometimes I vonder how he evah managed to get hired by RED…”

“RED never was too discriminatin’ when it came t’ hirin’,” Engineer said with a chuckle.

“True…” Medic said. By now he was drifting off into his own thoughts again.

The hippies on the beach down below were being approached by Sniper and Demoman. The both of them were shirtless, Sniper wearing a pair of rolled up jeans and sandals along with his usual hat and aviators, and Demoman wearing a vest and shorts cut of just above his knees. They both were carrying fishing rods and buckets of fish (previous attempts by Demoman to use explosives while fishing were frowned upon, to say the least), and the two women playing in the waves seemed rather receptive to them. It was hard to tell what was being said, but someone had said something that caused the women to laugh, and Demoman was huffing in mock indignation.

“You know…I wish I could call home,” Engineer said wistfully. “Just once. Just so that I can tell Irene I’m not dead…”

“Zat could be dangerous,” Medic said, almost absentmindedly.

“I know,” Engineer said. “I just miss her. I wonder if she moved on, y’know? She was told that I’m dead an’ I don’t know if she went t’ find another man…I don’t even know what our baby girl looks like anymore…”

“Vhat vas her name again?” Medic asked.

“Rosie,” Engineer said bashfully. “She’s just turned five.”

Medic surrendered a tiny smile. “Perhaps, someday, it might be safe to see her,” he suggested. These words rang hollow, though; they both knew that it probably wouldn’t work out that way.

“Maybe,” Engineer said with a sigh.

They both looked down to the beach, watching Sniper and Demoman flirt with the women there. It wasn’t unusual for Sniper, Demoman or Scout to be missing for a night or two, or even bringing home strange women into the shack. Medic found it extremely frustrating, constantly warning them about the dangers of STDs. It took Scout getting a nasty case of crabs to convince them to at least cut back a bit and start regularly using condoms, lest they wind up with something even worse. Medic didn’t look to terribly thrilled watching them, his brow furrowed and his mouth drawn tightly shut.

“What time is it?” Engineer asked, already reading Medic’s expression and trying to take the doctor’s mind off of whatever examinations he was going to have to perform later.

The doctor lifted his wrist and checked his watch. “Nearly five,” he noted. “Ze news should be on soon. Could you bring out ze radio please, bitte?”

“Sure thing, Doc.” Engineer turned to go back into the house and fetch Sniper’s portable radio. There was only one English language radio station in the area, and every evening at 5 o’clock there would be a general news broadcast. Medic was quite insistent on catching it every evening. Engineer brought the radio out onto the porch, placing it on a wooden crate that often served as a makeshift table, picking up a few of the empty beer bottles resting on it as he did so. He switched it on, and, of course, it was set on the station Medic wanted. The Texan then took a seat on one of the two chairs on the tiny balcony. After a few commercials and the introduction of the broadcasts hosts, the reading of the news began, and almost immediately a relevant story popped up.

“It’s been two years since the outbreak of the so-called ‘Zombie Virus,’ and in that time the number of new victims has dropped sharply, thanks to the immediate action of United States President Nixon upon taking the oath of office. Earlier today the President held a press conference to reassure the public that the bombings of infected areas were completely necessary, and that the affected states should be cleared out completely of the ‘Zombie Virus’ by 1972. Nixon’s ratings have been high since he ordered to condemn the sites that harbored the virus, and experts suspect that the success in keeping the epidemic contained within isolated parts of the American south-west will be a major part of his platform for re-election in ’72. Scientists suspect that the virus may even die out completely by the end of the decade, even though no cure has been found.”

“How much ya wanna bet he’s got money comin’ in from RED an’ BLU?” Engineer asked, though it was more rhetorical than anything else.

“I vould not doubt it,” Medic said.

“Critics of the President have been shrinking in number, but still quite vocal, accusing the administration of being overly violent in its attempts to prevent the spreading of the virus. Additionally, they claim that Nixon may even be purposely keeping the origins of the virus away from the general public. When asked about these accusations, a White House spokesperson simply declined comment.”

The rest of the broadcast didn’t really catch the immediate attention of either man, as they listened and watched the stragglers on the beach. The hippie women from before were now walking along side of Sniper and Demoman, one of them swaying as she walked, looking as though she was riding the crest of some sublime high. The front door opened and slammed shut, and a familiar voice piped up.

“Oh, hey, Doc, Hard hat,” Scout said, dropping a heavy bag that clattered as it fell on the creaky wood paneling. “What’s up?”

“News is on,” Engineer said, pulling up his right leg so that it rested on his right knee. “Sniper an’ Demo’ll prolly have dinner soon as they come back. They seemed to’ve gotten distracted, though.”

“Chicks, huh?” Scout asked, his hands in the pockets of his shorts. “I swear ta God, I don’t ever wanna do another chick around here for a long time, man. Not worth th’ fuckin’ crotch crickets.”

“I varned you, but you nevah listen to me until it’s too late, don’t you?” Medic said, shaking his head. “Sometimes I zink you vill nevah change.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Scout said dismissively. “Rub in it, why don’cha?” He took the other chair on the porch, flopping down and sprawling over it like a rag doll. “Anythin’ I care about goin’ on?”

“President made a statement sayin’ th’ zombie virus aughta be wiped out in two more years,” Engineer answered. “Just in time fer th’ election.”

“Whatever, man, not like that zombie shit is any a’ our concern,” Scout said. “I keep tellin’ you guys we should just forget all that, y’know? It’s not our problem no more.”

“Boy, a lot of good men an’ innocent people died because of that virus, an’ it’s downright disrespectful of ya t’ tell us t’ fergit about ’em,” Engineer said sternly.

Three that we knew, an’ that’s not countin’ Spy,” Scout quipped. “Unless ya actually felt sorry for that back-stabbin’ dirt bag…”

Engineer looked to the sea and didn’t answer right away. Scout waited impatiently for Engineer’s response, but was still a little surprised when he spoke again. “You know, sometimes I can still see his face, lookin’ up at me from the floor…an’ as much as I hated him for what he did, I still feel guilty about leavin’ him t’ die.”

“Ya said it yourself, though, guy was a monster,” Scout protested.

“No…not a monster,” Engineer said. “He wanted us t’ hate him, wanted us t’ think he was a monster, but he wasn’t. He was just a man, flawed as any of us. I saw it there was he was dyin’, an’ that’s somethin’ I’ll never ferget.”

Scout fell silent, seemingly at a loss for words. He probably wasn’t, but lately he was getting better at knowing when to keep his mouth shut. Medic’s own “negative reinforcement” experiments helped that along nicely…or maybe he was growing up a little bit. Not by much, but nobody was expecting any miracles.

The news broadcast continued, but it didn’t really seem like anyone was listening. Engineer leaned back his head and closed his eyes, fingers lacing over his chest, as he took a deep breath of the salty ocean air. Medic absentmindedly stared out over the sea, watching the waves roll in. “Do you zink he vould have liked it here?” he found himself asking aloud.

“Who?” Scout asked.

“Heavy,” Medic answered.

“Honestly, Doc, I think he would a’ been happy just t’ be anywhere you were,” Engineer answered. “I mean, it sure ain’t Venice, but…” Engineer didn’t finish the thought before he trailed off.

“Nein…it’s not,” Medic said sadly.

Scout squirmed a little in his seat. Talking about the events of two years ago always seemed to make him a bit uncomfortable. He cleared his throat. “You work on cars today, Engie?” He asked, noticing the black oil stains on the Texan’s overalls.

“Trucks, actually,” Engineer replied.

“Oh, that’s cool,” Scout said, flipping his baseball cap off of his head and sort of bouncing it up and down by the brim. “Y’know what I miss about home?”

“Running water?” Engineer asked, answering more for himself than Scout.

“Baseball,” Scout corrected. “Man, everybody down here plays friggin’ soccer. Soccer, man! How the hell am I supposed ta get into a sport like that?”

“Rest of th’ world seems t’ like it just fine,” Engineer said with a shrug.

“It’s friggin’ boring,” Scout quipped. “Y’know, Soldier would a’ understood…”

“Soldier vas a schizophrenic, xenophobic psychopazh who talked viz a shovel,” Medic pointed out flatly. “I zink it’s saying somezing zat you seemed to relate to him ze most out of all of RED team.”

“He wasn’t that bad,” Scout said.

Medic grumbled, knowing exactly what would be brought up if he protested any further. His brow knitted and he started to hum to himself, drumming his fingers in time with the tune on his lips. “Herr Scout?”

“Yeah, Doc?”

“Vhat vas ze name of zat song Soldier sang?” Medic asked. “Ze vone about von Braun?”

“It’s called ‘Wernher Von Braun,’ man,” Scout said, raising an eyebrow as though it should have been obvious.

“Ja, zat vone,” Medic said with a nod. “How does it go again?”

Scout hesitated at first; normally, this sort of thing would seem like a set-up, but Medic’s mood was melancholy enough that he might not have the doctor smacking him upside the head. He cleared his throat, and started to sing. “Gather ’round while I sing you of Wernher Von Braun/ A man whose allegiance/ Is ruled by expedience/ Call him a Nazi, he won’t even frown/ ‘Ha! Nazi Schmazi!’ says Wernher Von Braun.” Scout stopped there, and he could feel Engineer’s scowling eyes boring into him.

“Keep going,” Medic insisted quietly.

Don’t say that he’s hypocritical/ Say rather that he’s apolitical/ ‘Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?/ That’s not my department,’ says Wernher von Braun.” Scout’s warble was becoming increasingly nervous as he continued, looking up at Medic for approval and only seeing the doctor’s back turned towards him. “Some have harsh words for this man of renown/ But some think our attitude/ Should be one of gratitude/ Like the widows and cripples in old London town/ Who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun.” He sat up straighter for the last verse, feeling slightly more confident. “You too may be a big hero/ Once you’ve learned to count backwards to zero/ ‘In German oder English I know how to count down/ Und I’m learning Chinese,’ says Wernher von Braun.

Medic didn’t say anything right away. His head tilted down to the sand directly below the balcony. “You have ze whole song memorized, I see,” he observed.

“Yeah, well, I always was good with rememberin’ songs an’ shit,” Scout said in a very matter-of-fact tone.

“So it vould seem,” said Medic.

“Oi! Wankers! We’re home!”

Engineer felt a wave of relief wash over him as Sniper and Demoman came in the front door. The girls weren’t with them, but they both still seemed to be in very good spirits, and their arrival served to break the unbearable tension between Scout and Medic. He got up from his seat to greet the Australian and the Scotsman as they came in. “Well, hey, welcome back. Ya git a good haul?”

“S’ decent, but some bastard cut our crab traps an’ made off wi’ ’em,” Demoman complained. “I swear t’ God, every single one o’ these bastards ‘ere is out tae git me.”

“Oh, come off it, ya piker,” said Sniper, “it was probably a shark or somethin’.”

“Sharks are out tae git me, too. They know about me vendetta agains’ Nessie.”

“Yer fulla’ it.” Sniper handed off his bucket of fish to Engineer. “Think you can grill these up fer us, mate?”

“Sure thing,” Engineer said, taking the bucket into his hands. “Grab the stove top, wouldja?”

“‘Ey, Sniper, who’re those chicks you met on the beach?” Scout had hopped up from his chair and walked up to the taller man, his eyes lit up with a very keen interest.

“Hippie chicks. Ya wouldn’t be interested,” Sniper said dismissively.

“Yeah, I know you got a thing for ’em,” Scout said. “C’mon, tell me ya got their names, at least.”

“Th blonde one was th’ one I was talkin’ to; she said ‘er name was ‘Moonchild,’ or some such.” Sniper said with a shrug, but there was just the slightest hint of rouge in his face. “Said she came all th’ way down here from Kansas, of all places, tryin’ t’ ‘find ‘erself,’ with ‘er best friend, or somethin’.”

“‘Er friend said I sounded like Scotty from Star Trek,” Demoman grumbled. “If she weren’t so cute an’ I weren’t a gentleman, I would a’ gubbed ‘er.”

“You, a gentleman?” Sniper chuckled. “That’s a laugh.”

“I am when I want tae be,” Demoman said.

“Yeah, when yer sober, I’ll bet,” Sniper jeered.

“Ach, go tae ‘ell, ye bastard.”

Engineer sighed, rummaging through the tiny refrigerator on the floor. “Yeah, we’re jes’ one big, happy family, ain’t we?”

Medic turned his head at the comment. It evoked a genuine smile on his face. They were a family, and Medic probably would have not made it this far without them. Heavy had said that night, before he had died, that the team needed him. He was half right. The team had needed Medic, but Medic needed the team more. It had been Heavy who was the first to approach Medic when he arrived at RED base, Heavy who had seen through the cold, indifferent armor that Medic shielded himself in, Heavy whom he had fallen in love with and shared more of himself with than any other human being he had known. And it was Heavy that allowed him to open up to those seven other men he had once looked upon with absolute disgust, men that he had grown to actually care about. And though his lover was gone, his impact was just as large as the man himself. His heart fluttered a bit, thinking about the Russian man, and he felt the cold metal of Pyro’s Star of David against the bare skin under his shirt, and placed a hand over it. This family could redeem him. Heavy had started the process, and Pyro provided the point where Medic could no longer turn back. And these four men he was living with now, they would heal him, just as he healed them.

He would no longer be the Wernher Von Braun.

“Doc, man, you okay there?” Scout asked, tilting his head. “Ya look like ya spaced out there for a sec.”

“I’m fine, Scout,” Medic said, bending over to pick up his violin case. “Just reminiscing, is all.”

“You can reminisce all ya want later,” Scout said laying a hand on the doctor’s shoulder. “C’mon, let’s get dinner ready.”

Scout led the doctor inside, and they closed the screen door behind them. Somewhere, children were playing on the beach, laughing and singing in Spanish as the golden sun dipped further and further down behind the hills facing the sea.

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