Snapshots of an Unconventional Team

Title: Snapshots of an Unconventional Team
Premise, or Lack Thereof: What it says on the tin, a series of short scenes starring a group of very non-canon mercenaries
Reason for Banishment: Ran out of steam, which makes me sad because it’s so close to being a complete story


Over and over again, the Medic told the Scout to watch what he ate—the rest of the team’s sanitary habits made even the Sniper’s camper look well-organized, and worse, they had a habit of not throwing out food even when it started growing mysterious green fuzz—but of course the idiot believed himself to be immortal and tried to subsist on nothing but his fizzy soda until he couldn’t take it any more and wolfed down half a slimy sandwich left forgotten in the back of the fridge. An hour later, when the Scout failed to show up for their next mission, the Engineer was the one who found the Scout kneeling over the toilet, dry heaves wracking that tiny, too-thin frame.

As the Medic waited for the battery of tests to determine whether the Scout was suffering from mere food poisoning or something more serious, he took the opportunity to order a full, complete cleanup. Everything had to be scrubbed until it shone, he insisted. And for one glorious day everything was clean before descending back into unacceptable levels of filth, though now there at least was some order among the chaos.

For his part, the Scout spent what felt like forever to both him and the Medic laid up in the Medic’s office with an IV drip hooked to his arm, working his way up to thin soups (grandmama’s secret recipe for sick little Scouts, or so the Heavy claimed) and stale bread after the Medic was satisfied that the Scout would not just vomit everything back up. When the Scout recovered enough to start complaining, the Medic sent the Scout back to his own room with a bottle of antibiotics and strict orders that was to be obeyed on the threat of shots with large, thick needles.

***

As far as the Medic knew, their team was one of the few with two Spies and two Snipers, and despite the potential logistical nightmare this presented on some of their missions, it somehow managed to work. And off the battlefield, one Spy-Sniper pair in particular seemed to all but vanish from view, making such few appearances that everyone would often forget that they even existed. On top of that, the Sniper seemed to go out of his way to avoid the Medic whenever possible; what little the Medic saw of the man, he was always trailing after one of the Spies, holding onto the other man’s sleeve like some sort of lost child, refusing to meet the Medic’s gaze or even acknowledge him. Sometimes the Medic would catch glimpses of the two of them smoking on the roof, but they would disappear as soon as they thought anybody was nearby.

Everything the Medic learned about these mysterious teammates he got second-hand from judicious eavesdropping. According to the Soldier, the unusual pair had defected from the other team, the Spy showing up first to test the waters to see how accepted they would be, the Sniper never making an official appearance, but his target dot would always hit its mark—his domination over the enemy Medic became so thorough that the opposing team’s doctor never dared to make an appearance in the open no matter how poor his colleagues’ performance. The other Spy weaved wild tales of horrible scars covering the Sniper’s visible features, claiming that the marksman was all but blind in one eye. The other Sniper, meanwhile swore up and down to have caught a rare sighting of his fellow Sniper in action once, shooting left-handed despite not being a southpaw otherwise, and taunting with a defiant gesture when he scored a direct hit to the enemy Heavy’s nether regions. The Scout tried to bother the two of them once—running away just as fast—and for weeks the base rang of loud complaints that there was not enough bleach in the world to scrub away the memories of “dose two cockfags”.

In the end, the Medic decided that it wasn’t his business. They got the job done, and as odd as it was that they would keep to themselves he was sure they had their reasons. As far as he was concerned, the Spy and Sniper who seemed to be all but attached at the hip was just another one of those oddities about the team that the Medic was willing to live with as long as they contributed their part on the battlefield.

***

If the Medic was the team’s father figure, the stern disciplinarian that kept them working as a cohesive unit on the battlefield, then the Engineer was the soft-spoken, nurturing mother hen that kept them well-cared for during ceasefires. The man seemed to think of everything: hot soups, jackets, and even little gun cozies during the winter; raspberry iced tea, spritz bottles, and hand-built lawn chairs during the summer; for all times and all seasons he was an endless fountain of invention and helpful advice.

He even somehow found out everyone’s birthdays (including those of the elusive Spy-Sniper pair) and made it a point to celebrate them with what goodies or trinkets he could cobble together from the pantry or his workshop. It wasn’t before long before even the Medic had one of the Engineer’s masterpieces, a headband with a bit of reflective metal attached; no doubt the Engineer spent hours shaping and polishing the thing, but when asked he just gave a modest chuckle and insisted that it wasn’t a big deal.

***

The enemy Pyro was an often topic of speculation since all anyone ever saw of the fire-starter was the all-encompassing suit. The discussion grew more animated when one of the Spies brought back pictures of what looked like a purse in the Pyro’s locker.

This time, it was the Heavy that grew annoyed with the conversation. “Entire team is eediots! I am woman, and I kick more ass than all of you poot together.”

The Medic was first to process this declaration. “Vait, you are a voman?”

“Ya!” The Heavy Weapons—well, Gal—puffed out her chest while the rest of the team stared. “Women grow big and tough in my village! Thought everybody knew!”

“But you’ve taken showers with us and everything and oh my God it makes sense now we thought you were just too fat—” the Scout was blushing to his ears now, mortified at the thought that he’d seen a woman naked without even realizing it.

The Soldier looked like he was ready to have an aneurysm. “But—you—your hair—”

The Heavy ran her fingers over the peach fuzz stubble on her skull. “Shave it all! Too hot here to grow hair long, and it get in the way of fighting anyway.”

The Sniper (the non-invisible one) muttered something about going to his bunk, earning dirty looks from the others, but he didn’t seem to care.

***

The Medic’s predecessor, from what he could gather from the man’s notes, believed that any problem could be “solved” with enough medications. The Soldier in particular was prescribed a dizzying number of drugs—mood stabilizers, anti-depressants, and anti-psychotics, just to name a few—that the Medic was convinced couldn’t have been safe for the man’s liver, at the very least. As tough as he knew a detoxification program would be, the Medic was determined to stick it out and get to the bottom of Soldier’s multitudinous mental issues.

It was hell. In battle, the Soldier still functioned on pure instinct and muscle memory, becoming more and more vocal and demanding as the drugs wore off, but most of the team had already learned to tune him out. During ceasefires, however, the Soldier still saw the enemy everywhere, accusing even inanimate objects of being Spies, or became convinced that he had been abducted by aliens. For weeks the Medic wondered if he could ever even begin to have a normal conversation with the Soldier, the temptation to reinstate his original cocktail of pills growing stronger by the day.

But then, the Soldier began to have moments of—well, not exactly clarity, but a dim understanding that a world existed beyond his simple black-and-white (or perhaps red and blue) interpretation. He was even willing to sit down and converse with the Medic, or at least his Shovel, while the Medic sat by and took extensive notes. By now the Medic had disabused himself of the notion of “fixing” the Soldier, and even slipped him a few drugs every now and again to take the edge off the Soldier’s wilder delusions, but compared to before the Soldier had shown a marked improvement that even the man himself noticed every once in a while.

Not that the Soldier wasn’t anything other than a collective pain in the ass. But now his mannerisms were almost endearing now, in a harmless, crotchety old geezer fashion.

***

Back when the Medic was still new, living in the shadow of the man he replaced—disappeared down the sewers one day and never returned, or so the story went—he found himself fighting an uphill battle against his predecessor’s bizarre, almost mad scientist-level reputation and possible connections to the former Third Reich. Save for the (original) Spy who had been at the train depot to welcome and debrief him, and the Heavy whenever the Spy was on hand to translate the broken English combined with smatterings of Russian, no one spoke to him outside of their missions. When the bullets were flying they at least listened to him, but it soon became obvious that he was obeyed out of fear and nothing more; they never called for him, preferring to patch themselves up with the on-field medikits, go to the Engineer’s Dispenser, or “borrow” one of the Heavy’s sandwiches when they were injured. So whenever he wasn’t being shot at, stabbed, blown up, or set on fire, the Medic roamed behind his team training his Medigun on them or charged ahead of them, drawing the enemy’s attention.

Since he wasn’t living long enough to build up the precious moments of invincibility, the Medic switched to using the Kritkrieg, staying out of his allies’ line of sight to boost them without their notice. This in turn drew even more antagonism from the enemy, and some days he was restricted to getting nothing more than his first charge whenever there was be a Setup phase before a hail of death rained down on him.

Six months into the job, his relations with the team had improved to a point of detached politeness, if nothing else. They tolerated his presence more, trying to make small talk and even sharing drinks with him after a hard-earned victory. They remained jumpy whenever he raised his voice anything above regular speaking volume, but at least most of them stopped talking about him behind his back about whether or not he, like the old Medic, was also a Nazi. (As if having a German accent meant automatic unfortunate implications. If the Medic’s files weren’t confidential like everyone else’s, he was tempted to unseal them and show them that he was from Austria and a proud former member of the French Foreign Legion.)

At least the Spy and the Heavy remembered to thank him every time he healed them; if it weren’t for their friendship back then, the Medic would have just asked for a transfer and washed his hands of the unpleasantness.

***

With two Spies disguising themselves as all of the classes, mass confusion must have reigned on the other side of the field as to the true makeup of the team. Still, without an actual Pyro, Spy checking was often a hit or miss affair (save for the obvious), and more often than not the knowledge that a Spy was in their midst would be passed on while the victim waited for Respawn nausea to wear off. At least some mystical force seemed to keep in check the ability to injure one’s own allies, so after the first few attempts to set up a password system proved to be too complicated everyone just took to taking a few swings at each other until they were satisfied that no living enemy Spies lurking among them.

The Medic took it as a compliment when he got his first near shotgun-blast to the face when he managed to catch up to the Scout once. Never mind that he was healing said Scout at that precise moment and he was certain a Spy couldn’t impersonate his Medigun’s abilities, no harm was done and the Scout even apologized for it.

“And, uh, for what it’s worth, I think you’re kinda crazy ta chasing after us so you can fix us up,” he added, scratching the back of his neck. “But a good crazy.”

While the Medic’s teammates were warming up to him now that he had proved himself to be nothing like the old one, he took it upon himself to disabuse the enemy of the notion that he was an easy kill. Courtesy of the Engineer, he received a much sharper melee weapon dubbed “the Ubersaw” by the others as soon as they laid eyes on it, and he took shooting lessons from the (non-invisible) Sniper so he wasn’t just showering the field with needles and praying for a lucky hit. The team even began keeping score for him, and when he netted his fiftieth official Scout kill via “lethal injection”, they threw him a party complete with paper-maché trophy.

***

Everyone enjoyed the endless battles, each for their own reason, but of all the classes, the Spy (the one that was friends with the Medic) never seemed to lose his ever-present grin. Sometimes the Medic would wonder if the man was even sane: at least no normal person would twist their bodies in such an uncomfortable position and declare in a loud voice that he was a member of the rare and elusive “Spy Crab” species. But the Spy’s devil-may-care attitude meant that he was easy to get along with; even the otherwise Spy-wary Engineer would share drinks and crack jokes with the man.

Still, the Spy was not without his faults, his odd hours being the most prominent of those. The man fancied himself some sort of modern-day ninja and had a penchant for appearing and disappearing at the most inconvenient of times, most of the time managing this using good old-fashioned stealth techniques rather than his cloak, which he claimed was unreliable. Sometimes he would even try to infiltrate the enemy base during ceasefires, disappearing for hours or even days at a time.

The Medic used to stay up nights waiting and worrying, but the Spy would return each time no worse for wear, shaking his finger at his teammates whenever questions were raised.

“Ah, ah, ah. That is a secret,” the Spy would say with a wink and a smile.

***

For all of his reputation as a bushman who lived in his own filth, the (non-invisible) Sniper was fastidious about being clean to the point of obsession. Even the jars of questionable liquid had, in the Sniper’s mind, a reasonable explanation: what was he supposed to do while he waited for the perfect shot, get up and pee in some corner? Besides, it wasn’t like he didn’t wash them out afterwards with a thoroughness that would have made a surgeon jealous. He had a system of organizing everything: ammunition, clothes, trophies of his kills—whatever the Sniper laid claim to, woe betide anyone else disrupt his “perfect” order.

Outside of the context of the mission, the Sniper was just about impossible to talk to if the topic didn’t circle around guns or big game hunting. And in battle, the Sniper was a man of few words as well, though this was more due to his absolute trust in his teammates’ abilities than a lack of good social graces.

The Medic found out just how far this trust went when, while trying to outrun the enemy’s maniacal Pyro once, it had been this Sniper who had appeared out of nowhere and nailed the Pyro to the wall with an arrow.

Gathering his breath, the Medic was about to roam the field for teammates to heal when the Sniper blocked his path with a concerned: “‘Old still a minute, yer bleedin’.”

The Medic was about to explain that his Medigun’s aura extended to himself when he worked its magic on the others, and that was enough to keep him alive until he was exploded, headshotted, or backstabbed, but the Sniper was not yielding the right of way and the Medic’s wounds were starting to hurt. “If you do not mind, then.”

While he was by no means a surgeon, the Sniper proved that his steady hands were useful for more than just shooting. He also spoke words more than the Medic had ever heard him utter, pausing in his ministrations to make sure that he wasn’t making things worse. He finished dressing the wound with some topical analgesic and wrapped it up just tight enough so that the stitches wouldn’t tear. “Not th’ best job, but it’ll ‘ave t’ do.” He tipped his hat at the Medic. “Be seeing you around, Doc.”

It wasn’t until after the battle had ended that the Medic realized that not once during the entire conversation that the Sniper ever tried to suss out whether or not the Medic might be a disguised Spy. Double checking the records, the Medic was shocked and somewhat horrified to find that the Sniper—while rather adept at avoiding other means of death save for the occasional bout of bad luck—was at the top of the charts for backstabs.

When asked about it, the Sniper just shrugged. “It’s not loike death’s a big deal. Besides, ‘e’s just one Spoi; if it makes ‘im feel better, ‘e can backstab me all ‘e wants as long as I get to drop at least two of his mates b’fore he gets me.”

The Medic couldn’t believe his ears. “But you know about the Friendly Fire Suppression System! It literally vouldn’t kill us for you to take a few swipes wiz your knife, or maybe even throw one of those jars—”

The Sniper recoiled at the suggestion. “What? No! That’d be disgusting! Besides, it dun feel roight trying t’ shoot one of you gois, even if a Spoi’s trying t’ sneak ‘is way in.”

The Sniper had looked so earnest when he said this that the Medic decided not to push the issue.

***

Of course the Scout loved baseball the most, but he was a fan of anything that involved running and jumping. The others tried their best to humor him whenever he got bored, because his idea of “entertaining himself” more often than not involved ridiculous, dangerous stunts like trying to play “don’t touch the lava” with the enemy side’s Scout during ceasefires. According to the Scout, this involved making one’s way across the battle field without stepping foot on the ground, which was now made of burning hot molten earth that would kill you the moment you so much as brushed against it.

On the plus side, this meant that the Scout was that much more unpredictable during battles, since he considered every surface he could reach a walkway, no matter how temporary. The obvious downside was that the Medic was always being called to treat the results of the Scout’s recklessness. It got to the point where the Medic refused to treat the Scout with the Medigun for fear that the Scout would try something even more insane the next time.

The Scout never did anything halfway, and his injuries showed it. In addition to the typical youthful belief that he was immortal, the Respawn system ensured that he never stayed down for long. Besides from the many minor scrapes and bruises he accumulated from his out of battle “adventures”, he had stepped on so many rusty nails that the Medic was convinced the boy had acquired an immunity against tetanus (or just didn’t ever live long enough to suffer the consequences) and broken every bone in his body—including a rather terrifying skull fracture that time he somehow found a moped and crashed it moments later. Of course, as soon as the Scout woke up from the concussion he was harassing the Medic to hurry up and heal him so he could go gallivanting about again.

***

When the Medic came up short in his sleeping pill count for the third time that week, he knew it was time to put his foot down. At the risk of getting his throat slit, he made his way to the side of the base everyone else was sure to avoid.

As expected, a Spy soon showed up to intercept him before he could get any further, looking very unhappy indeed. “If you wanted to talk to me, Doctor, you could have left me a memo.”

“No, I believe this necessitates me being here in person.” He held up a half-empty bottle of sleeping pills labeled as such and shook it. “Are you aware that the side effects of these things include both sleep paralysis and vivid nightmares?”

To his credit, the Spy kept a perfect poker face, but the pitch of his voice changed in a noticeable amount. “I had no choice. He was keeping himself awake to ze point of having hallucinations.”

“He needs psychiatric help, not pills.” The Medic continued before the Spy could object: “And if he hez a problem with seeing me in person, zere ah vays to vork around that.”

The Spy seemed to consider the proposition, but the Medic could tell that he was hesitant. “If he agrees to it—”

The Medic sighed. “I can turn zis into an explicit order, if you prefer to not be the ‘bad guy’.”

This time, the relief on the Spy’s face was obvious. “Thank you, Doctor.”

***

Among those who shared cooking duties, the Engineer’s cuisine was the universal favorite. Like the Scout, he came from a big family, and he knew how to make delectable meals in portions that even satisfied the Heavy to the point of refusing more seconds. He was also always expanding his repertoire, so anyone who dropped into the kitchen at the right time of day could be sure that they would be asked to taste the results of the Engineer’s newest recipe.

While the Engineer preferred making things by hand—nothing added more flavor than a little elbow grease and lots of love, or so he claimed—he was delighted when everyone pooled their resources together to get the Engineer a bread machine. From that day forward the mess hall was filled with the mouth-watering aroma of loaves of all kinds.

Then, with a bit of help and dim memories of family secrets from the Medic, the Engineer began experimenting with pastries, always being sure to make more than enough for everyone to have a bite even while he was trying to figure out how to substitute ingredients that were all but impossible to acquire. In particular, Engineer’s attempt to succeed in a souffle became a running gag among the rest of the team. The Medic began to see bits of graffiti claiming that “the souffle is a lie”, which always gave him a chuckle. One wondered what the enemy thought of the development.

***

In the more remote bases where weekend furloughs weren’t possible, those with family elsewhere relied on the mail to keep in touch. The Scout and Sniper were always getting care packages from their mothers, boxes full of baked goods or handmade trinkets that more often than not found their way into the hands of everyone in the team; the Medic traded postcards with his wife, who passed the time waiting between visits to do her own world-traveling; and the Engineer corresponded with his brood via cassette tape. Should anyone stay up late enough at night to drop by his workshop, he could be heard listening to the voices of his loved ones saying their hellos. Just before they shipped out to Two-Fort, the Engineer bought a collection of children’s books so he could record himself reading them out loud to his youngest.

The Engineer proved to be a master storyteller, sometimes even recruiting the others for different voices or sound effects. It wasn’t long before just about everyone became a part of the growing project, culminating in an hours-long marathon performance of “The Wizard of Oz”. And as luck would have it, a tornado struck the area on the day that the recording was supposed to take place. They spent the day huddled in the bunker, gathered around the tiny lanterns the Engineer had prepared, each of them taking their turn in reading a chapter.

After that, it felt as if the team had become honorary members of the Engineer’s family. The Scout became pen pals with one of the Engineer’s older daughters, eliciting no end of jokes about the possibility of a shotgun wedding somewhere in the Scout’s future. And after the Sniper let slip that he could knit in one of the tapes, he became inundated with requests for booties and hats for the latest addition to the Engineer’s burgeoning clan. The Soldier exchanged war stories with the older relatives, while the Medic somehow found himself as the go-to guy for relationship advice. What’s more, the team spent that year’s Thanksgiving getting a taste of Southern hospitality on the Engineer’s farm.

***

After a brief stay in Harvest, the Soldier became inspired to plant his own “Victory Garden”. Of course, given the hostile if not outright radioactive environment of the other bases, he had to settle for a small trough and soil from the local goods store. With the Engineer’s help, the Soldier managed to coax a few potatoes and carrots into sprouting.

Behind his back, the others set up a betting pool to see how long it took before he gave up on the project, but the Soldier’s dedication proved to be absolute. He spent every spare moment out of battle doting over the tiny plants, even giving them names and ranks. And though the plants never produced the unending bounty that the Soldier hoped for, everyone had to admit that seeing something grow was good for morale.

***

Granary, as the center of supplies for all the other bases, was also home to a wide variety of livestock. Since the actual dirty work in taking care of the animals were left to the civilian staff members, the team would from time to time “adopt” one of the creatures as an unofficial mascot. The Heavy in particular had a weakness for all things she considered cute. At first, she would put up great resistance whenever the inevitable need arose to kill them, but all that it took to get her to back down once and for all was a gentle reminder from the Medic: “You do realize that the ham from your beloved ‘Sandviches’ come from pigs, do you not? And you have nevah once crusaded for the lives of the fruits or vegetables that you consume with no qualms vatsoevah.”

The Heavy took a moment to consider those words and relaxed her fists. “You are right, Doktor. I am being foolish.”

The Engineer patted her on the shoulder. “Now, don’t be hard on yerself. If ya really wanna, I can show ya how ta train one of those feral cats that are always hanging about ta be great mousers. And I promise ya we’d never put one of those felines on the dinner table.”

“Actually—” the Sniper began, but thought better of it once several glares were aimed in his direction. “Never moind.”

***

Whenever the Soldier remembered, he’d get up at the crack of dawn and blast his bugle at deafness-inducing volumes with the intention of rousing his bleary-eyed teammates out for jogging. If no-one came bursting out of their bedrooms to see what the racket was, the Soldier would sometimes even take to kicking doors down and dragging people out, still in their pajamas.

This was a seldom enough occurrence that most of the team humored the Soldier, though they weren’t above complaining or dragging their feet. Once, the Heavy destroyed the bugle beyond repair during a hangover-induced rampage, but her actions proved futile when the Soldier just produced another one from his locker—“a man of war has to be prepared for everything!” was all he offered as explanation.

Things got worse when the team moved into Teufort. Thanks to the extreme proximity of the two sides, they discovered that the enemy Soldier had a similar idea. At once a war of escalating noise broke out, each Soldier trying something more extreme the next morning in an attempt to drown the other side out.

The allied Soldier won temporary victory by bellowing out “Yankee Doodle Dandy” through a megaphone while standing on the roof—naked, no less, save for his helmet. This resulted in him losing his voice for a week; perhaps saner heads prevailed on the other side as well, because no further “music” came from the opposing encampment during that week. The team took the chance to talk the Soldier into a compromise: they’d get up of their own volition and jog with him once a week in exchange for him not regaling them with more bugle solos.

***

Once both sides got acclimated to their new surroundings, it didn’t take long for things to settle into an even worse standoff than before. In other locations, stalemates were rarer due to various factors, if not outright impossible by the virtue of the mission objectives, but Teufort was too small and had too many simple-to-defend choke points for either side to make significant pushes. There would be token attempts every so often should either side’s Medic build up an Ubercharge, the Snipers never stopped dueling, and the Spies darted in and out of view, but serious battling would often grind to a complete halt after lunch, when the heat of the day caused both sides to be reluctant to venture out of their respective bases. On some days the Engineer would just put up his sentry to watch the courtyard, block the other Intelligence Room exit with a Dispenser, and the whole team—even the other Spy and Sniper—would lounge in the second floor Respawn drinking beer while the Heavy kept the sliding door propped open to keep an eye out for trouble.

It was on one of these days that the conversation went in the direction of musical tastes. The Heavy and Engineer preferred their home country’s folk music; the Scout, the prank-pulling Spy, and the backstab-prone Sniper were fans of modern pop, whereas the Medic refused to listen to anything not written before the 19th century; the Soldier loved war ballads, marches, and anything patriotic; the other Sniper listened to an eclectic mix of genres; and the other Spy had a taste for Jazz.

“Couldja imagine th’ nine ‘o us formin’ a band?” the Engineer chuckled and shook his head. “We’d never agree ta a playlist.”

“Ooh, I know!” The Heavy’s eyes lit up. “We could sing your song, Engineer!”

The Medic raised an eyebrow. “You compose, Engineer?”

The Engineer turned beet red. “That ol’ thang was jus’ somethin’ I made up on a lark ta keep my mind off th’ tedium while we were cleanin’ junk outta Sawmill, way back before you joined up, Doc. Ain’t what I’d call proper music.”

“I dunno, Hardhat, it was pretty catchy.” The Scout grinned from ear to ear. He started tapping out a beat with his empty can. “How’d it go again?”

The Engineer looked like he was looking for a hole in the ground to disappear into. “I don’ remember! It was ages ago!”

One of the Spies produced an incriminating cassette and held it up in plain view. “Good zing I had ze foresight to save it for all posterity, non?”

“Indeed!” The Soldier clapped the mortified Engineer on the shoulder before he could even think about slinking away, keeping the other man rooted in his seat. “It’s a masterpiece, Engie! You shouldn’t be ashamed of it!”

The other Spy was doing his best to keep a straight face, but his eyes were also lighting up with mirth. “Gentlemen, if you would allow me—” with a theatrical flourish, he produced a hand-held tape player.

The whole team was on the verge of giggles even before the song could play; if the Medic wasn’t the one sitting closest to the tape player, he doubted that he would have been able to hear anything over the building laughter. This atmosphere proved infectious, as he, too, couldn’t help but titter as he heard the recording of the Engineer waxing poetic about the virtues of toast.

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