Prologue and the Scout


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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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