This post is part of the series With Apologies to Harlan Ellison
Other posts in this series:
Title: Transcripts From a Series of Therapy Sessions
Premise, or Lack Thereof: A poorly written story dashed off as an emotional reaction to a much better one and its accompanying fanart.
Reason for Banishment: Weak plot, weak characterization, demonstrably poor understanding of proper psychotherapy, transparent Author Avatar.
Transcripts from a Series of Therapy Sessions
I wasn’t sure what to make of the files that came across my desk. According to his previous therapists, my patient’s level of psychosis was so deep that any attempts to break him out of his delusions were met with open hostility. By this point, all I could do for him was try to make living in a facility like this as stress free as possible.
What is it with me and lost causes? I wondered with a sigh.
At least he didn’t fight the orderlies who came to fetch him this time; he just kept a tight hold on his friends—I still didn’t know how he got his hands on the materials it took to make the sock puppets—and avoided looking at any of us while we set up the equipment.
I took my seat behind the camera and gave my notes so far one last look over. Well, here goes nothing.
– First Session –
(The patient doesn’t look at either the camera or the doctor but rather at the collection of sock puppets next to him. At the moment the patient’s hands are resting in his lap, but his body language is anxious.)
D(octor): Good morning. My name is Doctor Lam. I will be in charge of your therapy from now on.
D: I’ve already read up on your file, but I’d like to hear you tell your story, if you don’t mind. First, what should I call you?
(D’s note: the dead air has since been edited out of the video, but the patient didn’t answer for a good five minutes.)
P: Engie (*D’s note, pronounced with a hard g) is fine.
D: Okay, Engie. Why don’t we start at the very beginning, with your employment at the—what was the name of the company?
P: Reliable Excavation Demolition. We all just called it RED for short.
D: Ah, I see. That makes your rivals—(a pause as D consults the files)—Builders League United “BLU”, then.
P: Yup. (a bitter chuckle) Red versus blue, how stupid were we to not see how obvious it was?
D: How obvious what was, Engie?
P (getting more and more agitated): What she told us was a load of bullshit. There might have been a war once upon a time, but she then didn’t care about winning or losing no more. (now he looks at the doctor, eyes blazing) It was all just a sick game to her, that bitch!
D (soothing voice): You have to slow down, Engie. Who is “she”?
P (hateful): The “Administrator”. None of us knew who she was, and nobody ever saw her face, not even the Spies. Even back when there was an actual lady in charge, she didn’t talk to us. She just pressed the buttons, and we heard her pre-recorded voice over the loudspeakers. (he draws himself up and begins a rather poor imitation of a woman’s voice) “Alert. Our control point is being contested. Alert. The Payload is nearing a checkpoint. Alert. The enemy has taken our Intelligence. Alert. The Sniper leaked the video, lost Dracula, and is fired.” (notices that he has clenched his fists, and forces himself to relax) And on and on and on it went. Sometimes, she wouldn’t let us eat or even sleep between missions.
D: I notice you say “us”—there were other people there with you?
P: Eighteen all together, nine to each side. Everybody specialized in different things: attack, defense, or support.
D: What was your job?
P: Building things—sentries, dispensers, teleporters. Most of the time I was stuck in the back making sure none of those BLUs snuck by, but sometimes I’d help push an offense, too.
D: Clarify for me, please.
P: It’d be my pleasure. First, the sentry…
(D’s note: The remainder of the session was just the patient discussing technical details. Those are included in the attachment.)
Already I was starting to feel doubt creeping into my mind. It was obvious that the patient had years, perhaps even decades, to build up a frightening amount of detail to his inner world, and it wasn’t like there was some road-map to what on earth he was talking about.
But there was a note of promise, or so I told myself. I now had an antagonist, this mysterious “Administrator”. While I was sure it would not be wise to steer the conversation in that direction, the level of vitriol the patient demonstrated towards this Administrator meant that he had a good chance of bringing up the topic on his own. But given his wariness of the camera, that line of conversation would have to be saved for the non-recorded sessions.
– Second Session –
(The patient is more relaxed, but once again, his attention is on his collection, running his hands over them.)
D: Morning, Engie.
P: Morning, Doc.
D: I’d like to know more about your team today.
(Like a child caught sneaking cookies, the patient pulls his hands back into his lap.)
P: Can we—can we talk about something else?
D: You didn’t get along with them?
P: ‘Course not. We’re like family. We—
(He stops himself and falls silent again.)
D: You mentioned that everyone specialized in something different. What kind of things were these?
(D’s note: Again, the dead air has since been excised from the recording.)
P: Things related to killing, mostly.
D: That much I’ve gathered, but I’d still like to know the specifics. Some of the names are rather self-explanatory—I expect someone called “Pyro” would be an expert in setting things on fire, but I’m curious as to what a “Scout” would be doing if you were just fighting over the same bits of territory over and over again.
P: It was the same land, but they’d set up their defenses different. Scout’s got the fastest legs, so it’d be his job to dart in, see what they got, maybe even cap a point or steal the Intel before they’re ready. Most of the time the other Engineer’s already got a Sentry up, so it’d be up to the Spy, the Demoman, or Solly—
P: Ah, sorry, the Soldier. The guy with the rocket launcher, talks to his shovel?
D (taking notes): I see. I apologize for interrupting. Please, do continue.
P: Like I was saying, sentries aren’t a foolproof defense. Even the Heavy or Sniper can take down a level three sentry, so I gotta keep a sharp eye out all the time. But Spies are the worst. They can disguise as anybody, even as your own Spies in disguise, and put sappers on my stuff and stab me in the back when I’m trying to fix the problem. The Pyro’s not always around to Spy-check, either, so anybody who comes near me gets a few—(he closes his mouth, bites on his lip, and ponders for a minute before continuing)—pokes with my wrench first.
D: It doesn’t bother your teammates to be suspected of being a Spy?
P: Heck, no! They’ve all been fooled by the guy, too. Everybody Spy-checks; it’s what you do, you know? We had to look out for each other. We didn’t have nobody else.
(A brief silence.)
D: Engie, you do understand that I’m trying to help you, right?
P: I—I know. And I want to be better, I really do. (looking away) But I don’t ever want to forget about them.
D: You don’t have to. After all, as long as you remember, it’s like they’re still alive, isn’t it?
P: Y-yeah, I guess.
I couldn’t blame him for his wariness. After all, the well-meaning line of doctors before him all attempted to integrate his other personalities to no success. In fact, the more they pushed for him to stop talking to the sock puppets, the more he resisted.
Acknowledging the others as actual people might do more harm than good in the long run, but it seemed that I had no other way of getting the patient to trust me. Plus, getting the story from other points of view might help in getting a better idea of what was going on in the poor man’s tortured mind.
– Third Session –
(The patient looks like he hasn’t slept for days. He is clutching his collection close to his chest.)
D: Morning, Engie.
P (slow in responding): Morning, Doc.
D: Had a rough night?
P: You could say that.
D: Do you want to talk about it?
P: Not really.
D: Then I’d like to ask a few questions. When you first got here, why did you keep asking us what year it was?
P: Because I didn’t know. Last I heard, it was 1968 and we were trying to beat back the Communists and all that stuff. (shakes head) Poor Heavy. He would have had a heart attack if he knew that the Soviet Union doesn’t exist any more.
D: “Heavy”—the Heavy Weapons guy—he was Russian?
P: Yeah, he was from this tiny little village— (squeezes his eyes shut and begins massaging the bridge of his nose) uh—uh—uh— (gives up, sighs) somewhere. Everybody was kind of intimidated by him at first, but he turned out to be a big teddy bear, ‘specially to our Medic, the poor guy.
D: Why, what happened to him?
(The patient just clutches the socks closer to him and repeats “poor guy” in a mantra.)
(No reaction. The doctor sighs and turns the camera off.)
(D’s notes: The patient remained unresponsive for the remainder of the day, but was able to his resume regular sleeping schedule without medicinal assistance. Current recommendation remains the same—refrain from drugs of any kind unless the patient presents a clear danger to himself or others.)
Watching the patient suffer the vivid nightmares that assaulted him without the cornucopia of sleeping aids, anti-depressants, and anti-psychotics his previous doctors gave him was heart-breaking, but I stuck to my guns and eased him off the medications. This made it all but impossible to talk to the man at times, as he would withdraw into himself and refuse to interact with anyone at all. The orderlies soon tired of dragging him about like a sack of wet sand and he built up quite a bit of funk in those states of near catatonia.
Despite this, I always made it a point to visit him often and talk to him. It was my hope that the sound of another voice, one that belonged to a face, could help anchor him in the real world.
– Fourth Session –
(The patient, once again not looking at the camera, is wearing one of his socks over his right hand. The sock has been scribbled over with a black magic marker to indicate a shape suggesting that it is wearing a helmet and holding a shovel.)
D: Morning, Engie.
P (moving his hand so that the sock appears to be speaking, loud and aggressive): I told you, Engie (D’s note: soft g) doesn’t want to talk to you, ya quack. Leave him alone.
D: Who am I talking to, then?
P: You are addressing the leader of this unit and a decorated Soldier, so I suggest you use a better tone, maggot!
D: I don’t mean any disrespect, sir. I just want to help.
P: That’s what they all say! Next thing you know, they’ve got Engie all strapped down and more doped up than a hippie at Woodstock! The man wouldn’t hurt a fly, and they treat him like he’s some sort of criminal!
D: Well, I’m in charge now, sir. I won’t give him anything unless it’s for an actual illness.
(The sock puppet reaches off camera to inspect the doctor sitting out of frame.)
P: I dunno.
D: I want to hear Engie’s story, sir. So far I’ve just gotten a very vague idea of the whole “RED vs. BLU” conflict.
P: Oh, that? Psh, that was ages ago! We woke up one morning and they were all gone, just like that!
D: Engie must have been very happy. The end of the hostilities meant that he could go home, right?
P: That’s what we all thought. We threw a huge going-away party for the whole gang! Got so drunk even the Demoman couldn’t walk straight the morning after, ha! But then—
D: “But then”?
(The patient’s hand drops, and the sock is pulled off. A different one was put on—the markings on this one suggested a ski mask.)
P (speaking with a vague European accent): Very clever, doctor. But that’s as far as you’ll go.
D: May I ask who I’m addressing now?
P: I am the Spy. Attempting to gather information from me will be useless.
D: Is Engie okay, Spy? He was very upset yesterday.
P: The Laborer gets that way sometimes. He shall be back to his usual cheerful self soon enough.
D: I’d like to be a part of that process, Spy. I want the best for him, just like you do.
P (scoffs): I very much doubt that. The last handful of doctors all had the harebrained idea that we were nothing more than figments of his imagination and wanted to “fix” what was “wrong” with him.
D: I’m not one of those doctors. Engie may have to spend the rest of his life here—but I’d like to make that stay as pleasant for him as possible.
(D’s note: I have left the dead air in the video this time—it is clear from his body language that the patient is considering the prospect of therapy.)
P (voice breaking, changing back to his usual tone): I—I’d like that, doc. (moves the puppet, speaking in the Spy voice) Are you sure, Laborer? (normal voice) I think we can trust this one, Spy. Since I’ve started talking to him there hasn’t been any injections, or pills, or weird-tasting food. And he doesn’t mind me talking to you guys.
D: As a matter of fact, I would like very much to meet the whole team—but we can save that for next time. You look very tired, Engie. Would you like to take a break?
P: ‘Preciate it, doc. (hand goes up again, Spy voice) I suppose I can give you the benefit of the doubt for now.
(D’s note: In future sessions, all of the alternate identities will be referred to by their names, with “Engineer” representing the patient.)
Once again I found myself wondering about the patient. The sock puppets were beginning to feel less and less like alternate identities and more like characters in a bizarre roleplaying session. I, at least, had never heard of any true documented cases where someone could have so many separate and well-delineated personalities, each with their own quirks, and who could all interact with each other without prompting or even interference from the main identity.
Or maybe I was just starting to buy into the patient’s point of view. Some days I found myself wanting to go out into the desert with a metal detector to find the place he claimed to have escaped from. But the existence of such an underground bunker didn’t seem possible—there were no records of it (nor the mystery patient) anywhere, and no signs at all that there was anything out there beyond the nuclear waste disposal site.
– Fifth Session –
(The patient is seated at a table, the socks arranged in a neat row. Closeups reveal that each sock is decorated in a unique manner.)
D: Good morning, Engie.
Engineer: Morning, Doc.
D: Did you guys talk over what we discussed last time?
Engineer: Sure did. Don’t think I slept a wink last night. Most of them still don’t want to talk to you, though. Sorry.
D: That’s fine. Why don’t you go ahead and introduce everyone? Anyone who talks can just raise their hands.
Engineer: No problem. (indicates each sock in turn) You’ve already met Solly and Spy. This is Scout (baseball hat and an earpiece / microphone combo), Pyro (gasmask), Demoman (the lone darker sock of the group, and sporting an eyepatch), Heavy (stubble and bandoleer of bullets), Medic (glasses and cross patch), and Sniper (hat, sideburns, and aviator shades).
D: Very nice to meet you all. I’m Doctor Lam.
(D’s note: Once again, the dead air has been left in. Note the significant internal struggle the patient undergoes before he slips into character. This is unacceptable for the patient’s continued progress. The importance of the patient being allowed to converse with his other identities cannot be overstated.)
Scout (D’s note, upper northeast American accent, high-pitched voice): ‘Sup. So, “lamb”, huh? Like the sheep?
D: No, L-A-M. I’m Cantonese.
Scout: I was gonna guess that next. (he stares, drumming his fingers on the table) So what now? You a shrink? Hardhat don’t need his head shrunk.
D: I just want to talk.
Scout: About what?
D: What happened after the BLUs disappeared?
Scout: Aw, jeez. You know about that already?
Engineer (embarrassed): Yeah. Solly blabbed before Spy could shut him up.
D: Of course, if you’d like to talk about other things, I’m all ears, as well.
Engineer: Go ahead, Scout. You haven’t had a chance to run your mouth for a while, haven’t you?
Scout: Haha, very funny. (deep breath) Okay, so the BLUs are all gone, we have a big crazy party, blah de blah. So next morning we’re all trying to walk around with the hangover from hell packing our stuff when the Administrator starts freaking singing over the loudspeakers, I am not making this up. Some weird ass shit about cake or something, I don’t remember. Then she’s all, like, “How was that, RED team? My very first song. I’m going to be a big star, and you can be my groupies!” And I’m like, “What the fuck you on about, you fucking bitch computer? We’re done with this bullshit. I dunno about the rest of the guys, but I’m going home to my Ma, finding a nice girl, and having a whole shitload of babies with her!” So she goes: “Oh, Scout, I’m afraid your mother’s been dead for a very long time now—the outside world doesn’t have respawn, after all, and even if it did it wouldn’t be able to fix cancer.”
Scout: Oh, yeah. Respawn. (shudder) The higher ups made it so that we couldn’t ever die. We’d just wake up in the resupply room, good as new, and we would somehow even know who just killed us even if we got headshotted or backstabbed or whatever. That’s probably how Solly got what was left of his brains scrambled—even before the whole mess went to hell in a handbasket, he was the one respawning almost all the time. I mean, God, not even the Pyro ate it as many times as he did back when there was still a BLU to fight, and that crazy motherfucker has to be at least, like, within three feet of anything to light it on fire.
Engineer: You’re kinda getting off topic, Scout.
Scout: I know, I know, but the Doc asked, so I had to explain, right? Anyway, now we’re all skeeved out and shit, and trying to find our way out of this crazy joint, when the Spy comes back all shaken up—and Spies always so calm usually, so this seriously freaks us the fuck out even more—and says, “Gentlemen, I have made a most disturbing discovery.” Turns out we’d been underground somewhere the whole fucking time, and we just thought it was outside ’cause the people in charge were that damn good at making shit look real! How fucking nuts is that?
D: Trapped like that, at the whim of an insane, faceless Entity—must have been terrifying.
Scout: You said it! We all tried to escape at first, or at the very least die trying, but what could we do? There wasn’t any part of the base that the Administrator wasn’t watching all the fucking time, and unlike us she didn’t need to sleep. Then we tried to make the best of things. I mean, it was boring as fuck without a BLU team to shoot at, but other than that we still lived it up pretty damn good as long as we didn’t think too hard about where the food was coming from. Except then the Administrator decided, no, she wanted to “play” with us again.
(The hand starts to droop.)
D: Engie? You all right over there?
Engineer: I—I’m okay, Doc. Just kind of rattled. It’s been a real long time since I’ve tried to remember everything.
D: I’m not in any hurry. You don’t have to push yourself.
Scout: Yeah, Hardhat. You look like you’re about to pass out over there.
Engineer: I—I guess I could use some shuteye.
D: All right, we’ll end the session here.
(D’s notes: Despite his exhaustion, the patient expressed happiness that he was able to talk to the Scout again. Indeed, his overall demeanor has improved by a noticeable amount, and he is much more cooperative with all of the staff members.)
The last conversation clinched the impossibility of the patient’s claims to be true. Such an elaborate prison would have required an infrastructure that would have been noticeable by the government, at the very least, and raise questions among civilian populations as well. The mysterious “Area 51” had been open to the public for decades now, and I had the chance to visit the place once. It was a resounding disappointment; there were no secret laboratories or alien spacecraft at all, just a dull military base where they ran drills that weren’t safe to conduct anywhere other than the middle of a desert.
Nevertheless, it was becoming clear that any attempts to disillusion the patient would just make his mental state all the worse. Despite my immediate superiors’ reservations, I was determined to push forward with the casual, conversational style of therapy. I wanted to be my patient’s friend, and if that meant taking on some of his insanity, I was prepared for it.
– Sixth Session –
(Unlike the previous sessions, the patient is lying down in his bed, hooked to an IV. His right hand is wearing the Medic sock puppet, his left the Heavy’s.)
D: Morning, Engie.
Engineer: Morning, Doc.
Heavy (D’s note, vague Slavic accent, deepest of the voices so far): Engineer has been sleepy. Work too hard?
D: I would say so, yes. Traumatic memories like these are like a deep wound. Metaphorically speaking, it would be bad to try to rip the bandage off in one go.
Medic (D’s note, strong stereotypical Germanic accent): I could have told him that, if he would listen to me.
D: No, I bear just as much responsibility as he does. I should have stopped before he collapsed, and for that, I apologize. With your permission, I’d like to discuss some happier memories today.
Medic: Hmph. At least you seem more competent than the others. I will allow this.
D: Thank you, Medic. Engie, At what point would you say you were accepted by the team?
Engineer: Oh, wow, that’s—I haven’t thought of that. It just kind of—happened one day, y’know? I mean, it’s not like they ever hated me. First day on the job and the Scout was already going: “Hey new guy, you the Engineer, huh? Don’t fuck up too bad and you’ll do just fine.”
Medic: Oh, Gods, the Scout. Why did he always feel the need to tell us everything on his puny little mind? (imitating the Scout’s voice, but in the Medic’s accent) “Need a Dispensor here! Need a Teleporter here! Get on the point, dumbass! You gotta stop the cart!” Ugh.
D: I take it the Scout is the most outspoken of all of you, then?
Engineer: By a country mile. Boy’s always going at least a hundred words a minute. I think he was the youngest of eight brothers or something, so he was more used to being interrupted all the time.
Heavy: I do not mind. Scout is much fun! Always wants to play!
D: Oh? I wasn’t aware that you had the time for games.
Engineer: At first, back when there were actual ceasefires, yeah. Scout was always roping us into a couple innings of baseball, except then he’d get bored with playing it the usual way, so he’d keep changing the rules on us.
Medic (scoffs): The cheat thought he was being so clever. As if we could not figure out what he was doing.
(The Heavy gives the Medic a light shove.)
Heavy: Doctor is being big cranky baby! Doctor have the most fun out of everybody!
Engineer (surprised): Oh, did he, now?
Heavy: Ooh, ya! Engineer never notice? Doctor always smiling when we play with Scout!
Medic: *unintelligible* (D’s note: Possibly trying to speak German?)
D: Oh, are you German, Medic?
Medic: Yes, from Stuttgart, but I haven’t been back since—(significant pause)—since Berlin fell.
D: Let me make sure I have this right so far. Engie’s from Texas; Heavy, Russia; Solly, Minnesota; Spy, France; Scout, Boston; Medic, Germany. Is that correct?
Engineer: You got it. And, letsee. Sniper’s from Autstralia, Demoman’s Scottish, and, uh— (chuckles, sheepish) well, nobody knows where the Pyro’s from, the feller’s never taken off his mask.
(A knock sounds at the door, and some muffled talking can be heard.)
D: Look at me, I’ve gotten so caught up in the conversation that I almost made you miss dinner.
Engineer: I don’t mind, Doc. It’s been real nice talking to you.
D: You enjoy your meal, all right? I’ll see you next time.
Heavy: More of this terrible hospital crap! Why can’t there be sandwiches?
Medic: Oh, be quiet and let the Engineer eat his dinner.
Despite the rumors, I had long ago given up the idea of making everything all better for my patient. To use a metaphor from traditional medicine, I didn’t even know what or where the disease was, nor did I have the necessary tools to remove the necrotized flesh without harming the patient. We were, as far as I was concerned, two people having a nice conversation about whatever topic came to mind.
Not that I didn’t have my share of anxiety-induced nightmares. The most upsetting of these was a vivid recurring loop in which I ran down a labyrinth of endless hallways, shouting for him, but never quite being able to catch up to him. I shared this with no one, not even my psychiatrist, for fear of getting pulled off the case.
– Seventh Session –
(The patient, back to sitting behind a table, is wearing the Demoman and Pyro socks today.)
D: Morning, Engie. And you too, Demoman.
Demoman (D’s note, exaggerated Scottish brogue): Who the fuck are you?
Engineer: This is Doctor Lam. I explained this to you before. He wants to meet us.
Demoman: Why? What’s he want? He isn’t some kind of Spy, is he?
Pyro (D’s note, the puppet is held close to the mouth to muffle the speech): I could Spy-check him.
Engineer (sighs): No Spy-checks, Pyro. You don’t have your flamethrower, and I don’t think the Doc would take well to being lit on fire.
D: I assure you that I don’t burn very well.
Demoman: I’ll believe it when I see it.
Engineer: Demoman, please. There hasn’t been any BLUs for us to fight for over a century, you know that.
Demoman: So? What if this is just another one of her sick games, then? Didn’t think of that, did you?
Pyro: I dunno, don’t you think this would be too tame for the Administrator’s taste?
D (concerned): Engie, what is Demoman talking about?
Engineer: It—it can’t be. I—I got out.
Demoman: That’s exactly what she wanted you to think! I mean, what better way than to break you than to have you be stuck somewhere all alone, and everyone around you thinks you’re nuts?
D (growing concern): What I think doesn’t matter. It’s real enough to Engie.
Engineer (voice breaking): N-no. I—I—
Demoman: You what? Say it, Engie! Say it so “Doctor Mary Had a Little Lamb” over there can hear you!
Engineer (breaking down in tears): Don’t make me say it. Please, don’t make me say it.
D (putting a hand on the patient’s shoulder) : Engie doesn’t have to talk about anything he doesn’t want to.
Pyro: What he said, man. Take it easy.
Demoman (pushing the doctor away): Like hell he doesn’t! You’re just as bad as everyone else! (mocking) Oh, poor Engie, I want to help you! (scoffs) Yeah, right! He was doing just fine without your help!
Pyro (punching the Demoman): You call that help, you asshole? Look, you’re making him cry!
D (alarmed): Please, don’t fight—
Demoman: Shut up! This isn’t any of your business!
(The doctor moves in to stop the patient from harming himself, and gets punched in the face for the effort. Despite this, the Doctor holds on and refuses to call for help.)
D: Engie. Engie!
Demoman: (devolving into gibberish curses)
Pyro: Shut up! Just shut the fuck up!
(The Demoman sock gets ripped off, and the patient stares at it, heaving for breath.)
Engineer: I think—I think I need to lay down, Doc.
D: You do that.
Walking around the rest of the day with that shiner earned me quite a few odd looks and a stern talking to from the higher ups. But I managed to argue that it was my own fault for jumping in without backup. I still landed myself on probation for a while, though, and my patient was kept in lockup for quite some time.
At least he was still willing to talk to me whenever I passed by to speak to him. My assertion that I believed in his belief seemed to be enough for him to put his faith in me. I was a bit worried that he considered me to be just another figment of his torrid imagination, but at least he spoke to me with the same sincerity he did his unseen friends.
– Eighth Session –
(D’s note: Audio only. The patient has refused to leave his room, and it would have been too difficult to shoot video.)
D: Morning, Engie.
Sniper (D’s note, vague cockney accent): What do you want now? Haven’t you done enough?
D: Sniper, right? I’m—
Sniper: Dr. Lam, blah blah blah. I heard ya, I was there every time except the once Truckie thought it would be a good idea to bring that drunken moron. What do you need notes for?
D: There’s a lot of men on the team, and I’ve just met you all. I’d like to be able to keep you straight.
Sniper: What, it’s not obvious enough?
D: I’m not very good with names and faces, I’m afraid.
(There’s a brief silence.)
Sniper (laughs): You shouldn’t have picked this field to work in, then, that’s for sure!
D: I guess not. Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself, Sniper?
Sniper: What’s there to say? Sniping’s a good job, mate. It’s challenging work, out of doors. I guarantee you’ll not go hungry, ’cause at the end of the day, long as there’s two people left on the planet, someone is gonna want someone dead.
D: I meant besides that. Both Scout and Engie had family back home—how about you?
Sniper: Kind of. My mum and dad got a ranch in the Outback, but dad threw me out the house about the whole “crazed gunman” thing, no matter how many times I try to explain to him that it’s just a job.
D: Boy, do I know how that feels. My parents wanted me to be a surgeon, because according to them a PhD in psychiatry didn’t make you a “real” doctor.
Sniper: That’s bullshit! If anything, what you do is probably ten times harder ’cause you can’t cut into anybody’s heads to see what’s wrong in there. I mean, look at Truckie! You’re the first guy that’s given him any kind of hope in this hellhole—(pauses, sheepish now) er, no offense intended.
D: None taken. I don’t blame you for thinking poorly of this place. I mean, I get paid to be here, and sometimes even I don’t always feel up to making my rounds.
Sniper: Hey, Doc.
Sniper: Do you think you could move Truckie to someplace with a little more decor? Or a window view, at least. Not only is it dull as fuck in here, sometimes it also reminds Truckie of—y’know. That place.
D: I’ve been trying to push that through for weeks now, but the higher-ups don’t think it’s safe.
Sniper: Not safe? Truckie’s the sweetest man I’ve ever met! All of us can vouch for him, even that crazy conspiracy nut of a Scot!
D: I know. Given how much he’s progressed since I first saw him, there’s no reason to refuse a transfer now, but you know red tape.
Sniper: Yeah. Guess we’ll just have to put up with this Goddamn depressing view for a while longer, then.
D: I’ll try to get some posters in here, at least. And maybe some magazines?
Sniper: Would we be able to request which publications?
D: Make me a list. I’ll see what I can do.
Sniper: You’re—not half bad, Doc. For a psychiatrist.
D: Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment.
The bureaucratic nightmare that was requisitioning a regular room for my patient was wearing at my nerves. For every barricade I tore down, five more sprung up in its place. The assholes who ran the place didn’t care for Engie at all, just covering their own sorry rear ends.
—I did it again, didn’t I?
I was starting to lose my professional distance even moreso than I had before. Now I was referring to my patient as “Engie” even to the others. My near-constant presence in or near my patient’s quarters were garnering snide rumors about the two of us engaging some torrid affair. At least my supervisor was sympathetic to my position and backed up my recommendations for the transfer.
It was not until our district’s politician got wind of this place and breezed through for a publicity stunt that I was able to wrangle permission. We made the move while En—my patient was asleep, giving him quite the surprise the next morning.
The look on his face made all of the trouble worth it.
– Ninth Session –
(The patient is strapped into the bed, but his attention is focused out the window. His puppets are lying next to him, but he hasn’t put one on yet.)
D: Like the view, Engie?
Engineer: God, I haven’t seen the real sky for so long I’ve forgotten how blue it all is.
D: Would you like me to come back later?
Engineer (tears his gaze away): Nah, I’m good now. This is my room from now on, right? I’ll have plenty of time to stare later.
D (apologetic): It’ll be a while yet before you’ll be cleared to move about freely.
Engineer: I don’t mind. It’s nice to have something other than padded walls to look at.
D: Oh, that reminds me! I’ve got some of the magazines you asked for.
(The patient stares as he is handed issues of Playboy, National Geographic, Better Homes and Gardens, Sports Illustrated, and Reader’s Digest.)
Engineer: That’s—that’s—I wish I could give you a hug right now, Doc.
D: How about I give you one, then?
(The doctor steps into the frame to give the patient a brief hug before stepping out.)
Engineer: So, what do you want to talk about today, Doc?
D: Why don’t you tell me more about your hometown, Engie?
Engineer: What, Beecave? Twern’t nothing there ‘cept cows, cows, and more cows, ’til the cows came home.
D (laughs): I take it you worked on a farm, then?
Engineer: Nah, I got lucky. Joined the oil workers’ union with my Pop, got myself out on a rig with him for a couple of years before I saved up the money to go to college.
D: Must have been quite an experience for you, considering you walked away with eleven PhDs.
Engineer (sheepish): Most of them were in related fields, so all of the prerequisites were the same classes. Hell, I think I hung out with the same group of teachers for so long I think they wanted to give me those degrees just so they wouldn’t have to stare at my ugly mug all day!
D: So what brought you into employment with RED?
Engineer (shrugs): They were the first to contact me when I was sending resumes out, the offer sounded great, so I went. Maybe I should have realized that it was too good to be true, but…
Engineer: I don’t regret making the friends I did, not for a minute. I just wish… (sighs)
(The Spy mask goes on.)
Spy: Stop blaming yourself, Laborer. The only reason the Administrator even let you walk away was that she couldn’t think of any better way to “punish” you. So stop letting her keep making you the victim already. After all, the best revenge is a life well lived.
Engineer (getting choked up): I couldn’t—couldn’t possibly—!
Spy (addressing the doctor): Can you believe he still blames himself for surviving?
D: It’s very common. Those that made it through deep trauma will often hold themselves accountable even if they had no control over what happened to them.
Spy (addressing the patient): You hear that, Laborer? “Had no control”. She was calling the shots, even at the very end.
Engineer: But I—I didn’t even try—I just—I— (sobs)
(The video ends here.)
Whoever this Administrator was, I was starting to hate her with an intensity that rivaled my patient’s. In our private sessions he was beginning to allude to the horrific tortures she inflicted on him and the rest of the team, and while the level of brutality caused me to take some of his stories with a grain of salt, it was clear that he was convinced that every one of those incidents did indeed take place.
I was more and more convinced that my patient’s mental state was not self-inflicted. He had survived an ordeal akin to a concentration camp, and it was a miracle that he was even able to function in any capacity. In the light of that, many of his bizarre behaviors could now be explained. Whether or not he was surrounded by a team of characters whom he considered to be a second family during whatever happened to him, their presence now held the shattered remains of his mind together.
– Tenth Session –
(The patient is hooked up to an IV again. He stares, listless, at his hands.)
D: Morning, Engie.
D: I’d like to make a consultation with the Medic about the state of your health.
Engineer (shakes head): You can’t talk to the Medic no more, Doc. Never could to begin with.
D: Why not, Engie?
Engineer: He’s dead. Been dead, even before I got here.
D: But the dead live on, don’t they? As long as we remember.
Engineer: I don’t want to remember no more. (looks up at the camera, desperate) Please, Doc, make me forget.
D: But there’s so much about everybody I don’t know yet.
Engineer: Why does that matter?
D: Because a story like yours deserves to be told, Engie. Nobody else can tell it like you can.
Engineer: I don’t want to tell it. It’s too sad.
D: Because everybody died?
D: Is this something you just realized recently?
Engineer: No. I knew. I always knew. But I didn’t want to let them go. They were all I had—all we had. We didn’t have nobody else.
D: But you have me now, Engie. And I want to help you.
Engineer: You have. But I’m tired, Doc. Really tired. And I don’t want to talk about it no more.
D: Okay, Engie. But I’m going to sit with you, all right?
Engineer: Do whatever you want, Doc.
(D’s note: It remains my firm belief that antidepressants would be counterproductive to the patient’s wellbeing. I will be accompanying him for as much as I can, but Engie the patient needs to be supervised at all waking hours and checked in on often during lights out.)
I was nearing end of my rope. Engie was, either by his own power or through my “help”, was both cognizant and willing to admit to the fact that he was living a lie, and saying so out loud had broken him. There was nothing more I could do for him, except perhaps to provide some form of closure.
It was worth a shot, at least.
Before I settled on psychiatry, I had dabbled in art, and while I wasn’t the next Van Gogh or anything my skill had progressed to the level of being able to draw recognizable characters, and I had covered my notes in little doodles as I talked with Engie or pondered how best to help him. I began showing him these sketches, and for a while he returned to some semblance of his old, cheerful self. In some of our sessions he even became willing to let me roleplay as one or more of the classes, me using my pictures and he using his socks.
By the time I worked up the courage to suggest a memorial service for them, Engie was already open to the idea himself, but he wasn’t quite able to put the thoughts to words. Both of us prepared for what would be our last video session with grim determination, as if we were preparing for the last will and testament of a dying man.
– Eleventh Session –
(As before, the patient is hooked to an IV. The doctor, sitting just out of frame, can be heard drawing on a sketchpad. Every once in a while, the doctor pauses to show the patient the results, to which the patient answers in one or two word phrases. After some time, the sketching stops, and the doctor steps into the frame and shows the picture.
It is of a young man, cradling a shotgun as he jumps into the air, the dogtags hanging around his neck flying and hat flapping as he shouts into his microphone.)
D (reciting from earlier notes): “This was the Scout. He ran fast and died a virgin.”
(The doctor flips the pad over to reveal the next picture. This one is of an older, more well-bulked man wearing a helmet and firing off a rocket.)
D: “This was the Soldier. He died as he lived, fighting for a cause he believed in.”
(The next picture, a vague figure in a hazmat suit and gas mask.)
D: “This was the Pyro. Was he a man? Was he a woman? Did it really matter, in the end?”
(The next, a dark-skinned man with an eyepatch, leaping just ahead of a tremendous explosion.)
D: “This was the Demoman. He may have been a nut, but he was our nut.”
(The next, a huge man weilding an even larger chaingun.)
D: “This was the Heavy Weapons Guy. He loved his gun and he loved his Sandwiches, but he loved his Medic even more.”
(The next, a weathered man in a lab coat and heavy rubber gloves.)
D: “This was the Medic. Nobody cared that he might have been a Nazi; he was a credit to the team, and that’s all that counted.”
(The next, a masked man in a fancy tuxedo, lurking in the shadows.)
D: “This was the Spy. For all of his backstabbing and fancy double talk, he remained loyal to us through and through.”
(The last picture, a tall man wearing a stylish hat, peering down the scope of a rifle.)
D: “This was the Sniper. He had a plan for everything, except the one thing that mattered.”
(The doctor steps aside to reveal the patient again. He was now looking at the camera.)
Engineer: “My name is (bleeped out). I am an Engineer for Reliable Excavation Demolition. It has been 113 years, 3 months, and 16 days since the Administrator trapped us down here—”
(D’s note: The full text of the patient’s account can be read in the attachment.)
I knocked on the door. “Morning, Engie.”
“Morning, Doc. Come on in.”
I did, closing the door behind me before turning to address Engie. The man’s features were even more sunken and hollow than before; ever since he had made the videotaped “confession”, he seemed to have lost all will to live. “How are you feeling today?”
“Like death warmed over.” He forced a smile. “Be honest with me, Doc. I may be no Medic, but I know my own body. How much time have I got left?”
“I don’t know.” I didn’t have to lie this time. All that was left was for the end to come.
“I’m glad. I get to be with them again.” He stared outside the window. “Do you think—you could bury me out there? Or at least have my ashes scattered in the desert?”
For my part, I was relieved that I didn’t have to look him in the eyes. “I’ll do what I can.”
“Of course you will, Doc. You always do.” He reached out and gave me a weak squeeze on my fingers. “You’re a good person, Doc.”
“I try,” I answered, despite feeling that I had on the whole failed him.
He let out a slow sigh, his eyes fluttering shut. “It’s a nice day today, isn’t it?”
“Beautiful,” I agreed. “Not a single cloud in the sky.”
“The Scout would have loved a day like this. He’d hit balls over the fence and then whine to us about letting him go over it to get them back.”
I drew the blankets over him and tucked him in. “And the Soldier would never let him?”
“‘Course not. Too dangerous, he said. Never mind that even I could climb the thing and fetch those balls back, so that’s just what I did. Even if ol’ Solly wouldn’t stop yelling for days, it was worth it.”
I smoothed down the covers. “You’re a good man too, Engie.”
“Thanks, Doc. That means a lot, coming from you.” His voice was just above a whisper now.
“You want to take a nap, Engie? I can come back and talk later.”
“You can stay if you want.” He forced his eyes open again. “Please?”
I sat down next to the bed. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Unnecessarily Long and Tiresome Authoress’ Notes:
I don’t get teary-eyed by stuff easily. But the follow-up comic to Cat Bountry’s “With Apologies to Harlan Ellison” put a lump into my throat and made me want to do nothing more than give poor Engineer a great big hug. And since the impetus was to get the story out as fast as possible, I just went with Hollywood Psychology instead of real psychology.
Continue reading this series:
With Apologies to Harlan Ellison