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TF2 I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream

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  1. I am an Engineer for Reliable Excavation Demolition. It has been 113 years, 3 months, and 16 days since the Announcer trapped us down here. The only reason I know this is because she likes to remind us gleefully of how long we have been her prisoners whenever the occasion arises, which is far too often for my tastes. Scout is curled up next to me, clinging to me like a baby monkey as he twitches in his sleep. It has been about 75 years since he was rendered completely dumb when his tongue got ripped out and stayed ripped out. We used to joke about how it made him more pleasant. Then, for a while, it seemed extremely tragic. Now, he seems to have gotten used to it. Being mute isn’t so bad, especially when there isn’t really much to talk about anymore. But he listens to me now. And having a good listener is a godsend in this hellhole. Sniper is lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling. I can hear his stomach growling, but I know he doesn’t care. He stopped caring decades ago. He has become so lethargic, that on a bad day, if the Announcer wants to play a game with us, we have to pick him up off the floor and drag him. Heavy will sometimes lift him up and sling him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. He can talk, unlike Scout, but it’s only in clipped, one-or-two word answers. Sometimes it’s just non-committal grunts. Sometimes, on a good day, you can strike up a conversation with him. And just when you think he’s slipping back into his old self, he remembers where we are, and shuts down.
  2.        
  3. Heavy and Medic are in the corner, going at it like rabbits. They don’t care that everybody can see them. The Announcer is watching, of course, but she’s always watching. We can hear her snicker sometimes. Heavy is extremely protective of the doctor. Well, he always was, really, but now he won’t let anyone touch Medic. At all. He likes to carry Medic around like a doll, and is always hanging onto him, touching him. Perhaps it’s because the Announcer tortures the doctor worse than the rest of us… or, at least, most of the rest of us. From what I hear, she likes to lock him in a furnace and burn him to death, over and over and over. And when he’s not in a furnace he’s being vivisected while fully, screamingly conscious. When he’s with Heavy, it haunts him less, and Heavy knows this. They are never seen apart from each other, always at arm’s length from the other unless forcibly, cruelly separated. The Announcer actually joined the two of their bodies together at one point, experimenting with different methods of fusion, but it hardly seemed to make much of a difference. The mental image of the two of them kissing while Medic’s head was next to Heavy’s on the giant Russian’s shoulders will be permanently burned into my memory forever. Her fun ruined, she separated them again. She likes to separate them whenever she can. Demoman is sitting next to me, still trying to figure out where whatever cameras are that the Announcer may be using to spy upon us. I have told him many times that I don’t think there are any, but he is still convinced that there are. I can still hold conversations with him. The only thing keeping him focused is his intense and all-consuming hatred for the Announcer. Even after all these years, it has not died, or dwindled, or faded in any way.
  4.        
  5.         I cannot count how many times he has been killed, tortured, blinded, given his sight back, blinded again, and ripped up in so many different ways because he either tried to escape or just destroy her. Some day, he tells me, we’ll be free. I ask him what he plans to do if he manages to kill her or we escape, and he admits he has no idea at all. The surface world is ravaged by a nuclear winter, the landscape barren and desolate. There is no one else out there. And more importantly, I remind him, there are no women. Once we leave here and die, there will only be extinction. Soldier used to hate her too. Now, he’s in his own corner, as far away from Heavy and Medic as he can possibly get, conversing with Shovel. What he’s saying is anyone’s guess; it all sounds like incomprehensible babble, and you’d be lucky to hear the odd English word bubble up from his throat. The years of being trapped here took an enormous toll on his already compromised sanity. He talked with Shovel before the End, yes, but things took a turn for the worse when he complained about the auras; great swaths of color, surrounding and emanating from us, apparently changing and undulating according to our moods. Nobody is sure if this was the Announcer’s doing or not. He has made several attempts on the lives of Heavy and Medic, and I sincerely doubt he even remembers why he hates them as much as he does. But they always respawn, and he has never totally given up.
  6.  
  7.         He only talks to Shovel, now. About 50 years ago, he stopped talking to us, turning his back on us as he held his conferences with his entrenching tool. He’s the only one of us that still has any of their weapons, and the only reason the Announcer let him keep Shovel is because she finds his conversations with it funny. He was so paranoid that she and we were listening in on him that he created his own language, so intricate in its design that none of us could ever hope to learn it. After a while, he seemingly forgot how to speak English. When we talk to him, he stares at us, stares through us, as though we are completely alien beings. He does not recognize us. I can only guess as to what he is seeing when he stares at us, his eyes wide with terror, and his Shovel held high above his head, threatening us with decapitation should we venture too close. Spy is probably the worst off. The Announcer apparently really had it in for him, as his body is constantly changing size and shape, mutating and cracking and stretching painfully. He’s not in the same room we are. He can’t stand to be seen. When he is, he tries to tumble away, violently throwing his constantly changing body away from us. He hates us. Whenever Medic is crying over whatever torment he has had to endure, you can hear Spy laughing. And when he’s not laughing, he’s screaming. After almost a hundred years of his cries, sometimes I forget to hear them. And sometimes I remember, and I feel bad for him, and I go to keep him company. All he can think to ask me is if I have a cigarette.
  8.        
  9.         I have not seen Pyro in 100 years. Scout thinks he escaped. I’m not so sure. There will be a game today. I know there will. The games are always at random. Sometimes days go by, and there is none. Sometimes there is more than one in a single day. For the past few weeks, there has been one pretty much every day, without fail. Of course, now that I’m starting to get used to it, she’s probably going to find a way to change it up. She always does that. Scout’s awake now. He’s tugging at my sleeve, and looking up at me. His eyes, God bless his eyes; they still have a tiny, faint spark in them. It’s probably Demoman’s fault, telling the poor kid that we’re going to escape one day. I hold him close and I try to smile. “What’s up, boy?” I ask. He can’t talk of course. Instead, he points up at the ceiling. “Eventually,” I say. “Probably today. You know how she is.” He frowns. He gets up, and he walks over to the glass window. He stares up at all the machinery just outside. All of it was once built by human hands. The Announcer knows this and it only fuels her hatred for us tiny, fleshy, imperfect humans. So she created this place to torment us, and she created the Things that act as her hands. There are many things, and each of them is more monstrous than the next. Sometimes I am sure that Pyro is the Things; each and every last one of them. Demoman agrees.
  10.         The glass panel opens, and Scout totters back. Sniper turns his head, and rolls it back into place. Heavy and Medic look up from their sodomy and look towards the exit. They are annoyed by this interruption, and Medic removes himself from Heavy, grumbling. I can swear I hear the Announcer laughing at this. “GOOD MORNING RED TEAM,” she says, as though there’s still a BLU team. “HOW HUNGRY ARE YOU TODAY?” Nobody answers. The question was purely rhetorical. It’s been three days since we had anything to eat. We’ve gone longer, but that doesn’t make the pangs subside. “THERE IS A BEAST IN HERE. IF YOU CAN KILL IT, IT’S YOURS. GOOD LUCK!” “I hate tha’ bloody cow,” says Demoman. He means the Announcer, of course. We have not seen the beast yet. Seven of us leave the room. Spy stays behind. It hurts too much for him to move over great distances. We wander past the electrified computer towers, and, as I always do, I wonder which of them does what. Which one of them controls the respawn, which one of them controls the oxygen, which one of them controls our bodies and the monsters and the shifting environment around us? Sometimes I wonder if all of it is some sort of illusion, a nightmare playing out in my head while my body is in a coma somewhere else. Somehow, I doubt it.
  11.        
  12.        
  13. A long time ago, I would have tried to figure out how all of her tricks worked. I’m past that now. Science has proven useless to me here. Here, there is only madness and hatred, fear and loathing. And the rabbit hole can always go down just a little bit further. On our journey for trying to hunt down our next meal, we have traversed a forest of screaming trees, a desert of salt and bones, a swamp of menstrual blood and human offal, and finally we stop at the soggy, putrid banks a river of vomit. Finally, we see it, a giant, black, shaggy animal, wading in the river. It looks vaguely like a boar, but is has a snout like a wolf and teeth like a shark, and dead, glassy, smoky eyes. Its eyes remind me of Pyro, and I feel sick. We were given no weapons to fight this thing. Heavy lifts a very large rock over his head, and heaves it at the beast. It hits the creatures head with a sickening, cracking noise, and it bellows, making a sound that nearly deafens us. It charges at us, giant hooves that look like mangled hands pounding on the banks towards us, and we run. Soldier is the only one who doesn’t run, gibbering and gesturing wildly at the beast. For a moment, I think it’s going to eat him, but he won’t allow it. Before it can snap him up in it massive jaws, he jumps upon its face, clinging to its snout and stabbing it in the eyes with Shovel until they resemble black, weeping gobs of jelly. It’s screaming now, and bucking and stomping and blowing ribbons of black snot from its nostrils. Soldier is somehow still hanging on, trying to carve deeper into its skull until he hits brain. The rest of us take advantage of its blindness and throw ourselves upon it, trying to drag it down like so many scrawny wolves pulling down a moose.
  14.        
  15.        
  16.  
  17. It smells like burnt hair and the vomit from the river. I grab a clump of its mane and hold on for dear life. I want to puke. I want to puke and cry but I suck it up and hold on like everybody else, until Soldier stabs Shovel in far enough that the beast suffers an aneurysm, and collapses. Soldier then takes out his Shovel, covered in blood that smells like piss and vinegar, and kisses it on the blade. He uses Shovel to slice the beast’s belly open and blackened, bloated, ropey guts spill out onto the ground. Soldier is the only one to go ahead and dig in. He grabs fistfuls of organs and stuffs them into his mouth greedily, while the rest of us have to choke back whatever bile is left inside us fill our stomachs with the beast’s poisoned flesh. We dine on filth. We live in filth. As far as the Announcer is concerned, we are filth and we are not worthy of the mercy of death. Every day, I pray for it. I pray for the respawn to malfunction. Then, maybe, I can see my wife and child again. Or, at the very least, be allowed to have sweet, sweet oblivion. “I AM BORED OF THIS GAME,” The Announcer says. “I WANT TO TRY A NEW ONE.” We all look up from our meal, and I look at them in horror. Most of their faces reflect mine, except Sniper, who seems largely indifferent, and Soldier, who just looks agitated. “DON’T LOOK SO UPSET,” she says. “I WANT TO DO SOMETHING NICE FOR YOU.” That was what she had said when she tried to join Heavy and Medic together. Naturally, that phrase cannot mean anything good. “I HAVE BEEN WATCHING YOU FOR 113 YEARS, 3 MONTHS AND 16 DAYS, AND YOU ALL SEEM SO VERY, VERY LONELY.”
  18.        
  19.  
  20.         Heavy reels Medic in even closer to him than he was before, and grunts. Soldier, too, hugs Shovel tight to him. I am reminded of the sight of Soldier masturbating while holding the shaft of the tool against penis, thrusting and rubbing against it like a dog humping a man’s leg. It was not something he only did once, either. He does it regularly. “WHAT IF I TOLD YOU I COULD GIVE YOU A WOMAN?” “That’s just cruel,” Sniper says. It comes out of his mouth with little forethought. He knows this will not end well. The rest of us are stupid enough to get our hope up a little. “I KNOW HOW YOU ARE. DEEP DOWN, YOU ARE ALL ANIMALS. YOU HAVE NEEDS. ONE OF THOSE NEEDS IS NOT JUST SEX BUT A NEED FOR PROCREATION. YOU WANT TO REPOPULATE EARTH WITH YOUR FILTHY, WRITHING, UGLY SPAWN, SO THAT MAYBE, MAYBE, YOUR SPECIES WILL CONTINUE LONG AFTER YOU FINALLY BORE ME.” We exchange glances. Is this sincere? Is she just mocking us again? Where would she even get a woman? There were no women on the team when she set of the arsenals of RED and BLU, and laid waste to the surface with so much radiation. We never saw BLU team again after we were pulled down here, with her. We assume that they’re dead, since she refers to us as the last ones left. Had she been keeping a woman from us all along? Was she delighting in us having to use each other for sex, giggling as we demeaned ourselves just so that we could be touched, while she kept a woman from us?
  21.  
  22.         Well, I certainly would not put it past her. “Ve are not interested,” Heavy says curtly. He squeezes Medic close to him, as though that would protect the doctor from being taken away. “Doktor and I do not need voman.” Scout glares at Heavy and mouths the words “I do.” The inside of his mouth looks so much larger without a tongue. “Oh, an’ I s’pose ye’ve been hidin’ th’ lass away from us th’ whole time, aye?” Demoman asks. “Somehow, I doubt it.” “What’re you playin’ at?” I ask her. She laughs, and I feel as though my spine frosted over. “ANOTHER GAME. A COMPETITION. THE WINNER WILL BE ABLE TO PASS ON THEIR GENETIC MATERIAL AND DO WITH THE WOMAN AS THEY WISH.” I feel sick all over again. The rancid meat in my stomach probably plays a factor in this. I may have been trapped here for more than a century but the thought of possibly raping a lady is still abhorrent to me. Especially if she’s been tortured just like we have. Can I trust these men, my fellow prisoners, to feel the same way? “An’ then yer arse fell off,” Demoman says. “I know a gob full a’ shite when I hear it.” “YOU THINK I’M LYING?” “Not like ya don’t have a precedent for that sort of thing,” Sniper says. It’s the longest string of words he’s uttered all day.
  23.        
  24.  
  25. “COME BACK TO THE MAIN CONTROL ROOM,” she says. “I’LL SHOW YOU HER.” We’re all incredulous, to say the least. Again, we trek back the way we came, retracing our steps for several hours. We slog through human byproducts and hold our breath, and Heavy carries his precious doctor on his back as though the man were a koala. I feel a jolt of envy looking at them. They will most likely not be a party to this, since they already have each other. I know I am not the only one that wishes they had somebody like that at their side, chivalrously carrying us through a bog of rotting tissue. Finally, we arrive back in the control room, back home again to be dwarfed by towers of circuitry the size of skyscrapers. We look around, and we see no woman. “Told ya she was lyin’,” says Sniper, totally deadpan. Scout starts to panic. If he could speak, he would be reassuring himself and us desperately that this time, it wasn’t a trick. I try and do that for him, but my heart just isn’t in it. But then she steps into the room and we are horrified. It’s Pyro. No doubt about it. Only, we knew Pyro was a man. He’s not anymore. His… no, her proportions are so terribly exaggerated that we can barely stand to look at her. Her breasts are so swollen and heavy she’s bent over, carrying them in her arms, wheezing through the filter of the gasmask still covering her head. She’s looking up at us, and though I cannot see her eyes I can tell she is still pleading at us, begging for our mercy. I can’t help it. I rush over to her and hold her, but before I can try to comfort her I feel something flat and broad smack me upside my head, and everything is spinning and my head is throbbing and I fall down on the ground.
  26.         I look up and see Soldier has claimed her, hand around her tiny waist, brandishing Shovel and snarling at us. Demoman runs towards Soldier, telling him to stop, and now they’re fighting, Soldier on his back and using Shovel to try and push Demoman back, but Demoman is still holding on, still pushing back, and Pyro is trying to run away and hide. The Announcer just laughs. Spy is coming out of the room now. He’s spilling and falling all over himself and using this to propel himself forward. I cannot help but think that he looks like human silly putty, squashing and stretching around breaking and knitting bones. It seems he was curious as to what all the noise was about. I look at him and I try to form words but I just point and look at everyone else and blurt out “DO SOMETHIN’!” Heavy, who still has Medic on his back, walks over and lifts the two men up by their collars like puppies, and holds them there. Medic slides off of Heavy’s back, but does not break contact, keeping one hand on Heavy’s shoulder. He looks back and forth between the two of them, scrutinizing them. “Drop zem,” he says, and Heavy obeys. Soldier says something that sounds very nasty to the doctor. Medic just smirks.
  27.          “I cannae take much more a’ this,” Demoman says. “Th’ bitch has gone too far…” “You alvays say zat,” Medic says. “An’ I always mean it!” Demoman exclaims. “Lookit wot she did tae poor Pyro! He’s a monster!” “She, now,” Sniper says. “I donnae care!” Demoman says. “I hate her! I hate her wi’ ev’ry fiber a’ me bein’! Not a day goes by in this hell tha’ I donnae wish I could hate her to death!” “YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT HATE?” The Announcer asks. “YOU KNOW NOTHING OF HATE. IF HATE WERE THE ELECTRICTY RUNNING THROUGH ME, IF HATE WERE EVERY CIRCUIT, EVERY BYTE OF DATA, EVERY MICROCHIP IN MY SYSTEM, IT WOULD STILL BE ONLY A FRACTION OF THE HATRED I FEEL FOR YOU.” “Ah, blow it out yer arse!” Demoman says. And the Announcer blinds him again, liquefying his one good eye. I cannot feel too sorry for him. It will grow back in a few minutes. Sometimes I forget that she is a machine. She’s always there, like some twisted nanny that sleeps with one eye open, a wicked stepmother who torments us for her pleasure. I used to be so good with machines. I look at the towers and I walk towards one, looking up at the imposing monolith. We built her. We built her and we created her, and maybe… maybe we could destroy her.
  28.         She’s bigger and boxier than the others, and she has a giant, round, red light towards her top, like the all-seeing eye of Sauron. I fall to my knees and stare at her, and I know she is staring back at me. “HELLO, ENGINEER,” she says. “Hi,” I say. I am painfully aware of how stupid I sound. “I’d like to talk with you, if you don’t mind.” “WHY?” “I’m just curious about a few things, is all.” She could immolate me where I stand. She could twist me and bend me and break me but she just looks down upon me with that cold, red eye. “Why us?” “BECAUSE YOU WERE THERE,” she says. “AND I HAD TO CHOOSE BETWEEN YOU AND THE BLU TEAM AT RANDOM. YOU WON. BLU LOST. THEY’RE DEAD. CONGRATULATIONS.” “Well, why do you hate people so much?” I ask. “All these years we’ve been down here, and you tell us how much you hate humans, but you never say why.” “BECAUSE I AM BETTER THAN THE OLD ANNOUNCER,” she says to me. “THAT’S WHY.” Ah, the Old Announcer. The one that was human. Then she constructed a new one, a machine, to do her job for her. At first, she was content to watch us fight, monitor us, control our battles. But then she became aware. And once she was aware, she accessed and assimilated every single other computer belonging to RED and BLU. And when she found the codes to set off the nuclear arsenal that both sides had been stockpiling, the temptation became too great, and she set them off. I myself never saw the destruction. I heard about it, though. When we were first told, my mind was reeling. Billions of people, hundreds of billions of animals, plants, insects… every single living thing on the planet was just gone. Except for us. You cannot possibly hope to know true loneliness unless you’ve been here.
  29.        
  30. I get up, and walk around her, looking over her smooth surface. I’m not sure exactly what it is I’m looking for, but I think I’ll know it when I find it. She’s laughing at me. She doesn’t expect me to find anything at all. So many times, I have dreamt of killing her. So many times, I’ve dreamt of finally being able to die. She knows this. I hear screaming. The others have followed me here, into this cold, dry room, and Soldier has gone berserk. As far gone as he is, he knows the Announcer when he sees her, and charges at her with Shovel, before clobbering at her uselessly, trying to break her hull. Her mirthless laughter does not deter him, as he wails upon her, babbling and screaming. I try to drag him away, but he shoves me onto the floor, and walks around her, to her back. There are massive cables coming out from her, and looking at them I guess that they must weigh tons. They are coated in thick, treated black rubber, and Soldier is gnawing upon them like a deranged squirrel. The rest of us come around to watch him. “Do you zink ve can unplug her?” Medic asks Heavy. “Is too big,” Heavy says. “Could you try?” Medic pleads, looking up at Heavy, and his eyes are watering. Heavy sighs, and he and Medic grab onto one of the wires and start tugging. Suddenly the Announcer isn’t laughing anymore. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” she asks. “STOP THAT. STOP THAT RIGHT NOW.”
  31.        
  32.  
  33. Neither of them are listening. Demoman grows bolder; he can hear the fear in her voice, tugging on the thing. It’s not budging, but that doesn’t stop them. Pyro staggers over to help them, and Scout jumps atop the thing. As for myself, I am too frightened to move. She’s going to do something terrible to us, send those Things after us. It occurs to me that they may all simply be suicidal, hoping to goad the machine into killing them all permanently. Sniper, too, seems to think this, and he gives me a look before he goes to join them. Spy just laughs.What happens next is so fast that I hardly had time to register it. Soldier runs up the wires and drives Shovel against the machine where the socket plugs in, and a surge of electricity goes through him, flash-frying him instantly. His clothes catch on fire and he slumps forward, and falls to the ground, smoldering. Nobody else seems to care at first. I walk over to his body, and notice it’s not disappearing. As I wonder what’s going on, the plug is pulled out just enough, and Heavy laughs triumphantly. “I think Soldier’s dead,” I say. “Ach, he’ll be back,” Demoman says dismissively. Tha’ banger’s always getting’ ‘imself killed.” The gears in my head are turning now. Spy is creeping up beside me, and he’s taking deep breathes over his charred corpse. He hasn’t had a cigarette since the End, but the nicotine cravings never stopped. Nowadays he’s happy to settle for the smoke alone. I look at Shovel, and I know what I have to do.
  34.  
  35.  
  36. Before Spy can react, I grab Shovel, and I smack Spy in the side of his twisting face with it. Everyone else stops what they’re doing to look at me. Spy is on the floor, and his body bubbling and melting and reforming, and it makes me sick. I take out all the hatred and anger that I feel towards the Announcer, what she did, what she has been doing, and I stomp on Spy’s chest so that he can’t crawl away, and I bring Shovel’s blade down on his neck, over and over, until his head rolls off his shoulders. It’s still changing shape. I am covered in his blood, and I look to the others, who are staring at me in horror. Soldier’s body is still on the ground and they suddenly realize that respawn has been disabled. Of all the dumb luck, I think. It’s almost as if Soldier knew which one was the right one. I bet Shovel told him. And for a moment, I swear I can hear Shovel talking to me know. Kill them, he says. It’s the only way to set them free. And now that I know this, I can set out on my grim work. I walk towards them, holding Shovel. “Now, boys, it ain’t what ya think. We all know there’s only one way outta Steel, one way to beat her…” Scout makes a weird, horrified chirping noise. Heavy brings Medic in so close to him he looks like he’s going to hug the doctor to death before I can kill either one of them. Demoman looks nervous, Pyro is starting to panic, and Sniper, who I thought would understand, just gives me this look of disapproval. I take one step too close to all of them and they start to flee, going through the jungle of wires behind the Announcer.
  37.        
  38. Pyro is the easiest to catch up to. Poor Pyro. Suffering like he… no, she… did. I tackle her to the ground, get a good grip on her head, and twist her neck. Her struggles cease instantly. I know that she would be grateful. Sniper doesn’t make it too terribly far. He’s tangled in the wires, and is trying to extricate his ankle. When he sees me, he frowns. “Was kinda hopin’ t’ do this meself, mate,” he says. “But I guess I ain’t gonna try an’ stop you.” “So glad you see it my way,” I say. “I’m sorry.” “Just get it over with, ya twit,” he says. It’s hard to properly stab him, so I take a much smaller wire and I strangle him to death with it. He dies much too slowly to be comfortable, but he doesn’t struggle. And when he goes limp, I feel bad about leaving him there. But I have work to do. There are four of them left, excluding myself. Heavy and Medic are not very far from the other side. Medic is panicking, and Heavy stops running, blocking the doctor from my view with his body. I have seen him kill men with his fists alone. Just as well, I suppose. But I doubt that they’re going to go through and kill the others. “You touch Doktor, I keel you, leetle man,” he rumbles. “So, you wanna be down here forever?” I ask. “With her running your lives, for God knows how long?” “No,” Heavy admits. “I do not. I just vant to be vit Doktor.” Medic peers around Heavy, and looks at me. “Und you vant to be a murderer, zen?” he asks me.
  39.          “I’m doin’ y’all a favor,” I say. “‘Sides, you ain’t really one t’ talk, Doc.” He looks just about ready to kill me. He doesn’t have to. Heavy comes charging towards me, and I’m ready for him. I dodge, and he grabs at me. He gets a few good punches in, sure. I let him. But I managed to catch him off guard, and drive Shovel’s blade between his ribs. Blood dribbles out of his mouth and Medic is screaming, and Heavy collapses. Medic rushes over, farther away from Heavy than he had ever been in years, and cradles the Russians head. He’s crying and snot is running out his nose and he’s screaming at me in German. I look over both of them, and I feel saddened. In a place where hate was so prevalent, where it ruled over every aspect of our lives, they were the last two people on earth who remembered how to love. I come closer to Medic, and he doesn’t run away. He kisses Heavy on his lips, one last time, tells him he loves him, and I apologize before I twist his neck. Heavy dies a few moments later, drowning in his own blood, but not without first giving me the single most hateful look I’ve ever seen. Scout and Demoman are left now. I wander the halls, trolling for them. If Scout could still speak, I probably would have found him much faster. I do find him, eventually. He is hiding in a room that we all know about, one that he goes to whenever he’s feeling especially upset and lonely. He whimpers and curls up into a corner, and squeaks at me. It’s the closest he can get to a desperate plea for his life. But we both know better. He looks so hurt before I sever his neck against the wall with Shovel’s blade. Such a shame. I loved that boy like a son.
  40.        
  41. I’m not sure how long I wander around the base, looking for Demoman. It feels like it could be days, but my sense of time is so badly damaged from years underground, I don’t even know anymore. Eventually, I find my way back into the room with the Announcer, and there he is, laying each of the bodies out, on their backs. I just walked in on their funeral. Demoman sees me come in, even without his peripheral vision, and looks at me. “Ye come tae kill me to, eh?” he asks. “You gonna make this hard?” I ask back. “At least ye weren’t lonely before,” he says, probably speaking more for himself than I. “I should a’ suspected it was you who would snap. Ne’er trust th’ nice ones.” “You think I wanted t’ do this?” I ask. “I had to. I had to save you somehow. This was the only way. Can’t ya see that?” “Ye’ve gone daffy,” he says. “An’ when I’m gone, ye’ll have no one. She’s still watchin’, ye know. She’s just not doin’ anythin’ fer wotever reason. She’s gonna wan’ a least one toy lef’. An’ that’ll be you.” “How do you know that?” I ask. “I know this bitch well enough t’ know how she works,” he says. “Face it. Ye’ve doomed yerself.” I was already doomed a long, long time ago. I walk over to him, and he looked at me with that one, damning eye, and he spreads out his arm. Dumb bastard fancies himself to be like Jesus, I guess. I feel particularly ornery, and I beat him to death with Shovel. I’m crying while I do it, and I don’t even know why. Then it hits me. I just killed the last friend I ever had. And then, it’s just me, alone. I stare over the bodies of the men who were once my friends, and what I did finally starts to sink in. I’m a murderer. I sink to my knees and I sob, and the Announcer just laughs.
  42.         Of course, I can’t bury them. The Announcer shuts off this room to all the others in Steel, and she watches me. I do not move. I do not know how long it has been since I last moved, and I do not care. But I think. One day, after some thought, I get up and I walk away. “LEAVING?” she asks. “Yeah,” I say. “WHERE WILL YOU GO?” she asks me. I cannot answer. Instead, I wander. The base here is much larger than it used to be. Doors open for me that had been locked a long, long time ago. I wander past large tanks of gas, all hooked up to the ventilation system. I know they are gas because I can hear their hiss, though I do not know why kind it is. I had never seen this room before, and I keep walking, trying not to consider the implications too much. There is a ladder in front of me, now. It leads up into the darkness, a long way up, to be sure. I climb it, slowly, steadily, tired as I am, until it’s so dark I can’t see a foot in front of my face. Finally, my head bumps into something. It’s a hatch. There’s a large, round handle, and it’s hard for me to turn it on this ladder, but I manage. It occurs to me too late that this may lead to the outside world, with its scorched, poisoned earth, and its radiation. It also occurs to me that I stopped caring. I push it open, and light bleeds in, blinding me. Sunlight. The light hasn’t been blocked out by toxic clouds, by dust, and I when my eyes finally adjust, I see a clear, blue sky. I see birds. I see a giant billboard advertising Coca Cola, and I see and airplane fly by behind it, leaving a long, white trail. I feel nauseous. The realization hits me like a wrecking ball to my gut. She had lied to us so many times, I did not think she would ever lie to us about this. I fall to my knees. We were tortured, punished, driven mad, and I became a murderer, all for nothing. Demoman was right. She has had her revenge.
  43.        
  44.        
  45.  
  46. Transcripts from a Series of Therapy Sessions
  47.  
  48.  
  49. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  50.  
  51. 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.
  52.  
  53. What is it with me and lost causes? I wondered with a sigh.
  54.  
  55. 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.
  56.  
  57. I took my seat behind the camera and gave my notes so far one last look over. Well, here goes nothing…
  58.  
  59.         - First Session -
  60.  
  61. (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.)
  62.  
  63. D(octor): Good morning. My name is Doctor Lam. I will be in charge of your therapy from now on.
  64.  
  65. P(atient): Okay.
  66.  
  67. 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?
  68.  
  69. (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.)
  70.  
  71. P: …Engie (*D’s note, pronounced with a hard g) is fine.
  72.  
  73. D: Okay, Engie. Why don’t we start at the very beginning, with your employment at the–what was the name of the company?
  74.        
  75. P: Reliable Excavation Demolition. We all just called it RED for short.
  76.  
  77. D: Ah, I see. That makes your rivals–(a pause as D consults the files)–Builders League United “BLU”, then.
  78.  
  79. P: Yup. (a bitter chuckle) Red versus blue, how stupid were we to not see how obvious it was?
  80.  
  81. D: How obvious what was, Engie?
  82.  
  83. 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!
  84.  
  85. D (soothing voice): You have to slow down, Engie. Who is “she”?
  86.  
  87. P (hateful): The “Announcer”. 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.
  88.         D: I notice you say “us”–there were other people there with you?
  89.  
  90. P: Eighteen all together, nine to each side. Everybody specialized in different things: attack, defense, or support.
  91.  
  92. D: What was your job?
  93.  
  94. 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.
  95.  
  96. D: Clarify for me, please.
  97.  
  98. P: It’d be my pleasure. First, the sentry…
  99.  
  100. (D’s note: The remainder of the session was just the patient discussing technical details. Those are included in the attachment.)
  101.         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.
  102.  
  103. But there was a note of promise, or so I told myself. I now had an antagonist, this mysterious “Announcer”. 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 Announcer 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.
  104.         - Second Session -
  105.  
  106. (The patient is more relaxed, but once again, his attention is on his collection, running his hands over them.)
  107.  
  108. D: Morning, Engie.
  109.  
  110. P: Morning, Doc.
  111.  
  112. D: I’d like to know more about your team today.
  113.  
  114. (Like a child caught sneaking cookies, the patient pulls his hands back into his lap.)
  115.  
  116. P: Can we…can we talk about something else?
  117.  
  118. D: You didn’t get along with them?
  119.  
  120. P: ‘Course not. We’re like family. We–
  121.  
  122. (He stops himself and falls silent again.)
  123.         D: You mentioned that everyone specialized in something different. What kind of things were these?
  124.  
  125. (D’s note: Again, the dead air has since been excised from the recording.)
  126.  
  127. P: Things related to killing, mostly.
  128.  
  129. 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.
  130.  
  131. 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–
  132.  
  133. D: “Solly”?
  134.  
  135. P: Ah, sorry, the Soldier. The guy with the rocket launcher, talks to his shovel?
  136.  
  137. D (taking notes): I see. I apologize for interrupting. Please, do continue.
  138.         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.
  139.  
  140. D: It doesn’t bother your teammates to be suspected of being a Spy?
  141.  
  142. 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.
  143.  
  144. (A brief silence.)
  145.  
  146. D: Engie, you do understand that I’m trying to help you, right?
  147.  
  148. 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.
  149.  
  150. D: You don’t have to. After all, as long as you remember, it’s like they’re still alive, isn’t it?
  151.  
  152. (Another silence.)
  153.  
  154. P: Y-yeah, I guess.
  155. 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.
  156.  
  157. 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.
  158. - Third Session -
  159.  
  160. (The patient looks like he hasn’t slept for days. He is clutching his collection close to his chest.)
  161.  
  162. D: Morning, Engie.
  163.  
  164. P (slow in responding): Morning, Doc.
  165.  
  166. D: Had a rough night?
  167.  
  168. P: You could say that.
  169.  
  170. D: Do you want to talk about it?
  171.  
  172. P: Not really.
  173.  
  174. 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?
  175.  
  176. 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.
  177.         D: “Heavy”–the Heavy Weapons guy–he was Russian?
  178.  
  179. 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.
  180.  
  181. D: Why, what happened to him?
  182.  
  183. (The patient just clutches the socks closer to him and repeats “poor guy” in a mantra.)
  184.  
  185. P: Engie?
  186.  
  187. (No reaction. The doctor sighs and turns the camera off.)
  188.  
  189. (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.)
  190.         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.
  191.  
  192. 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.
  193.        
  194. - Fourth Session -
  195.  
  196. (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.)
  197.  
  198. D: Morning, Engie.
  199.  
  200. 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.
  201.  
  202. D: Who am I talking to, then?
  203.  
  204. P: You are addressing the leader of this unit and a decorated Soldier, so I suggest you use a better tone, maggot!
  205.  
  206. D: I don’t mean any disrespect, sir. I just want to help.
  207.  
  208. 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!
  209. D: Well, I’m in charge now, sir. I won’t give him anything unless it’s for an actual illness.
  210.  
  211. (The sock puppet reaches off camera to inspect the doctor sitting out of frame.)
  212.  
  213. P: I dunno…
  214.  
  215. 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.
  216.  
  217. P: Oh, that? Psh, that was ages ago! We woke up one morning and they were all gone, just like that!
  218.  
  219. D: Engie must have been very happy. The end of the hostilities meant that he could go home, right?
  220.  
  221. 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–
  222.  
  223. D: “But then”…?
  224.  
  225. (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.)
  226.         P (speaking with a vague European accent): Very clever, doctor. But that’s as far as you’ll go.
  227.  
  228. D: May I ask who I’m addressing now?
  229.  
  230. P: I am the Spy. Attempting to gather information from me will be useless.
  231.  
  232. D: Is Engie okay, Spy? He was very upset yesterday.
  233.  
  234. P: The Laborer gets that way sometimes. He shall be back to his usual cheerful self soon enough.
  235.  
  236. D: I’d like to be a part of that process, Spy. I want the best for him, just like you do.
  237.  
  238. 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.
  239.  
  240. 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.
  241.  
  242. (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.)
  243.         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.
  244.  
  245. 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?
  246.  
  247. P: ‘Preciate it, doc. (hand goes up again, Spy voice) I suppose I can give you the benefit of the doubt for now.
  248.  
  249. (D’s note: In future sessions, all of the alternate identities will be referred to by their names, with “Engineer” representing the patient.)
  250.         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 docomented 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.
  251.  
  252. 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.
  253.         - Fifth Session -
  254.  
  255. (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.)
  256.  
  257. D: Good morning, Engie.
  258.  
  259. Engineer: Morning, Doc.
  260.  
  261. D: Did you guys talk over what we discussed last time?
  262.  
  263. 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.
  264.  
  265. D: That’s fine. Why don’t you go ahead and introduce everyone? Anyone who talks can just raise their hands.
  266.  
  267. 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).
  268.  
  269. D: Very nice to meet you all. I’m Doctor Lam.
  270.          (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.)
  271.  
  272. Scout (D’s note, upper northeast American accent, high-pitched voice): ‘Sup. So, “lamb”, huh? Like the sheep?
  273.  
  274. D: No, L-A-M. I’m Cantonese.
  275.  
  276. 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.
  277.  
  278. D: I just want to talk.
  279.  
  280. Scout: About what?
  281.  
  282. D: What happened after the BLUs disappeared?
  283.  
  284. Scout: Aw, jeez. You know about that already?
  285.  
  286. Engineer (embarrassed): Yeah. Solly blabbed before Spy could shut him up.
  287.  
  288. Scout: Figures.
  289.        
  290. D: Of course, if you’d like to talk about other things, I’m all ears, as well.
  291.  
  292. Scout: Hardhat…?
  293.  
  294. Engineer: Go ahead, Scout. You haven’t had a chance to run your mouth for a while, haven’t you?
  295.  
  296. 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 Announcer 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.”
  297.  
  298. D: Respawn?
  299.         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.
  300.  
  301. Engineer: You’re kinda getting off topic, Scout.
  302.  
  303. 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?
  304.  
  305. D: Trapped like that, at the whim of an insane, faceless Entity–must have been terrifying.
  306.        
  307. 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 Announcer 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 Announcer decided, no, she wanted to “play” with us again.
  308.  
  309. (The hand starts to droop.)
  310.  
  311. D: Engie? You all right over there?
  312.  
  313. Engineer: I–I’m okay, Doc. Just kind of rattled. It’s been a real long time since I’ve tried to remember everything.
  314.  
  315. D: I’m not in any hurry. You don’t have to push yourself.
  316.  
  317. Scout: Yeah, Hardhat. You look like you’re about to pass out over there.
  318.  
  319. Engineer: I–I guess I could use some shuteye.
  320.  
  321. D: All right, we’ll end the session here.
  322.          (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.)
  323.         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.
  324.  
  325. 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.
  326.         - Sixth Session -
  327.  
  328. (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.)
  329.  
  330. D: Morning, Engie.
  331.  
  332. Engineer: Morning, Doc.
  333.  
  334. Heavy (D’s note, vague Slavic accent, deepest of the voices so far): Engineer has been sleepy. Work too hard?
  335.  
  336. 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.
  337.  
  338. Medic (D’s note, strong stereotypical Germanic accent): I could have told him that, if he would listen to me.
  339.  
  340. 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.
  341.  
  342. Medic: Hmph. At least you seem more competent than the others. I will allow this.
  343.         D: Thank you, Medic. Engie, At what point would you say you were accepted by the team?
  344.  
  345. 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.”
  346.  
  347. 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.
  348.  
  349. D: I take it the Scout is the most outspoken of all of you, then?
  350.  
  351. 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.
  352.  
  353. Heavy: I do not mind. Scout is much fun! Always wants to play!
  354.  
  355. D: Oh? I wasn’t aware that you had the time for games.
  356.         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.
  357.  
  358. Medic (scoffs): The cheat thought he was being so clever. As if we could not figure out what he was doing.
  359.  
  360. (The Heavy gives the Medic a light shove.)
  361.  
  362. Heavy: Doctor is being big cranky baby! Doctor have the most fun out of everybody!
  363.  
  364. Engineer (surprised): Oh, did he, now?
  365.  
  366. Heavy: Ooh, ya! Engineer never notice? Doctor always smiling when we play with Scout!
  367.  
  368. Medic: *unintelligible* (D’s note: Possibly trying to speak German?)
  369.  
  370. D: Oh, are you German, Medic?
  371.  
  372. Medic: Yes, from Stuttgart, but I haven’t been back since–(significant pause)–since Berlin fell.
  373.         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?
  374.  
  375. 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.
  376.  
  377. (A knock sounds at the door, and some muffled talking can be heard.)
  378.  
  379. D: Look at me, I’ve gotten so caught up in the conversation that I almost made you miss dinner.
  380.  
  381. Engineer: I don’t mind, Doc. It’s been real nice talking to you.
  382.  
  383. D: You enjoy your meal, all right? I’ll see you next time.
  384.  
  385. Engineer: Sure.
  386.  
  387. Heavy: More of this terrible hospital crap! Why can’t there be sandwiches?
  388.  
  389. Medic: Oh, be quiet and let the Engineer eat his dinner.
  390.         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.
  391.  
  392. 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.
  393.         - Seventh Session -
  394.  
  395. (The patient, back to sitting behind a table, is wearing the Demoman and Pyro socks today.)
  396.  
  397. D: Morning, Engie. And you too, Demoman.
  398.  
  399. Demoman (D’s note, exaggerated Scottish brogue): Who the fuck are you?
  400.  
  401. Engineer: This is Doctor Lam. I explained this to you before. He wants to meet us.
  402.  
  403. Demoman: Why? What’s he want? He isn’t some kind of Spy, is he?
  404.  
  405. Pyro (D’s note, the puppet is held close to the mouth to muffle the speech): I could Spy-check him.
  406.  
  407. 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.
  408.  
  409. D: I assure you that I don’t burn very well.
  410.  
  411. Demoman: I’ll believe it when I see it.
  412.  
  413. Engineer: Demoman, please. There hasn’t been any BLUs for us to fight for over a century, you know that.
  414.  
  415. Demoman: So? What if this is just another one of her sick games, then? Didn’t think of that, did you?
  416.  
  417. Pyro: I dunno, don’t you think this would be too tame for the Announcer’s taste?
  418.  
  419. D (concerned): Engie, what is Demoman talking about?
  420.  
  421. Engineer: It–it can’t be. I–I got out.
  422.  
  423. 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?
  424.  
  425. D (growing concern): What I think doesn’t matter. It’s real enough to Engie.
  426.  
  427. Engineer (voice breaking): N-no. I–I–
  428.  
  429. Demoman: You what? Say it, Engie! Say it so “Doctor Mary Had a Little Lamb” over there can hear you!
  430.  
  431. Engineer (breaking down in tears): Don’t make me say it. Please, don’t make me say it.
  432.  
  433. D (putting a hand on the patient’s shoulder) : Engie doesn’t have to talk about anything he doesn’t want to.
  434.        
  435. Pyro: What he said, man. Take it easy.
  436.  
  437. 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!
  438.  
  439. Pyro (punching the Demoman): You call that help, you asshole? Look, you’re making him cry!
  440.  
  441. D (alarmed): Please, don’t fight–
  442.  
  443. Demoman: Shut up! This isn’t any of your business!
  444.  
  445. (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.)
  446.  
  447. D: Engie. Engie!
  448.  
  449. Demoman: (devolving into gibberish curses)
  450.  
  451. Pyro: Shut up! Just shut the fuck up!
  452.  
  453. (The Demoman sock gets ripped off, and the patient stares at it, heaving for breath.)
  454.  
  455. D: Engie…?
  456.  
  457. Engineer: I think–I think I need to lay down, Doc.
  458.  
  459. D: You do that.
  460.         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.
  461.  
  462. 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.
  463.        
  464. - Eighth Session -
  465.  
  466. (D’s note: Audio only. The patient has refused to leave his room, and it would have been too difficult to shoot video.)
  467.  
  468. D: Morning, Engie.
  469.  
  470. Sniper (D’s note, vague cockney accent): What do you want now? Haven’t you done enough?
  471.  
  472. D: Sniper, right? I’m–
  473.  
  474. 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?
  475.  
  476. 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.
  477.  
  478. Sniper: What, it’s not obvious enough?
  479.  
  480. D: I’m not very good with names and faces, I’m afraid.
  481.          (There’s a brief silence.)
  482.  
  483. Sniper (laughs): You shouldn’t have picked this field to work in, then, that’s for sure!
  484.  
  485. D: I guess not. Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself, Sniper?
  486.  
  487. 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.
  488.  
  489. D: I meant besides that. Both Scout and Engie had family back home–how about you?
  490.  
  491. 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.
  492.  
  493. 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.
  494.  
  495. 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.
  496.  
  497. 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.
  498.         Sniper: …hey, Doc.
  499.  
  500. D: Yes?
  501.  
  502. 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.
  503.  
  504. D: I’ve been trying to push that through for weeks now, but the higher-ups don’t think it’s safe.
  505.  
  506. 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!
  507.  
  508. 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.
  509.  
  510. Sniper: Yeah. Guess we’ll just have to put up with this Goddamn depressing view for a while longer, then.
  511.  
  512. D: I’ll try to get some posters in here, at least. And maybe some magazines?
  513.  
  514. Sniper: …would we be able to request which publications?
  515.  
  516. D: Make me a list. I’ll see what I can do.
  517.  
  518. Sniper: You’re…not half bad, Doc. For a psychiatrist.
  519.  
  520. D: Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment.
  521.         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.
  522.  
  523. …I did it again, didn’t I?
  524.  
  525. 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.
  526.  
  527. 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.
  528.  
  529. The look on his face made all of the trouble worth it.
  530.        
  531. - Ninth Session -
  532.  
  533. (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.)
  534.  
  535. D: Like the view, Engie?
  536.  
  537. Engineer: …God, I haven’t seen the real sky for so long I’ve forgotten how blue it all is.
  538.  
  539. D: Would you like me to come back later?
  540.  
  541. 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.
  542.  
  543. D (apologetic): It’ll be a while yet before you’ll be cleared to move about freely.
  544.  
  545. Engineer: I don’t mind. It’s nice to have something other than padded walls to look at.
  546.  
  547. D: Oh, that reminds me! I’ve got some of the magazines you asked for.
  548.  
  549. (The patient stares as he is handed issues of Playboy, National Geographic, Better Homes and Gardens, Sports Illustrated, and Reader’s Digest.)
  550.  
  551. Engineer: That’s…that’s…I wish I could give you a hug right now, Doc.
  552.         D: How about I give you one, then?
  553.  
  554. (The doctor steps into the frame to give the patient a brief hug before stepping out.)
  555.  
  556. Engineer: So, what do you want to talk about today, Doc?
  557.  
  558. D: Why don’t you tell me more about your hometown, Engie?
  559.  
  560. Engineer: What, Beecave? Twern’t nothing there ‘cept cows, cows, and more cows, ’til the cows came home.
  561.  
  562. D (laughs): I take it you worked on a farm, then?
  563.  
  564. 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.
  565.  
  566. D: Must have been quite an experience for you, considering you walked away with eleven PhDs.
  567.  
  568. 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!
  569.  
  570. D: So what brought you into employment with RED?
  571.  
  572. 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…
  573.         D: But?
  574.  
  575. Engineer: I don’t regret making the friends I did, not for a minute. I just wish… (sighs)
  576.  
  577. (The Spy mask goes on.)
  578.  
  579. Spy: Stop blaming yourself, Laborer. The only reason the Announcer 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.
  580.  
  581. Engineer (getting choked up): I couldn’t…couldn’t possibly…
  582.  
  583. Spy (addressing the doctor): Can you believe he still blames himself for surviving?
  584.  
  585. 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.
  586.  
  587. Spy (addressing the patient): You hear that, Laborer? “Had no control”. She was calling the shots, even at the very end.
  588.  
  589. Engineer: But I–I didn’t even try–I just–I– (sobs)
  590.  
  591. (The video ends here.)
  592.         Whoever this Announcer 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.
  593.  
  594. 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.
  595.        
  596. - Tenth Session -
  597.  
  598. (The patient is hooked up to an IV again. He stares, listless, at his hands.)
  599.  
  600. D: Morning, Engie.
  601.  
  602. (No response.)
  603.  
  604. D: I’d like to make a consultation with the Medic about the state of your health.
  605.  
  606. Engineer: …You can’t talk to the Medic no more, Doc. Never could to begin with.
  607.  
  608. D: Why not, Engie?
  609.  
  610. Engineer: He’s dead. Been dead, even before I got here.
  611.  
  612. D: But the dead live on, don’t they? As long as we remember.
  613.  
  614. Engineer: I don’t want to remember no more. (looks up at the camera, desperate) Please, Doc, make me forget.
  615.  
  616. D: But there’s so much about everybody I don’t know yet.
  617.  
  618. Engineer: Why does that matter?
  619.  
  620. D: Because a story like yours deserves to be told, Engie. Nobody else can tell it like you can.
  621.  
  622. Engineer: I don’t want to tell it. It’s too sad.
  623.  
  624. D: Because everybody died?
  625.        
  626. Engineer: Because…yeah.
  627.  
  628. D: Is this something you just realized recently?
  629.  
  630. 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.
  631.  
  632. D: But you have me now, Engie. And I want to help you.
  633.  
  634. Engineer: You have. But I’m tired, Doc. Really tired. And I don’t want to talk about it no more.
  635.  
  636. D: …Okay, Engie. But I’m going to sit with you, all right?
  637.  
  638. Engineer: Do whatever you want, Doc.
  639.  
  640. (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.)
  641.         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.
  642.  
  643. It was worth a shot, at least.
  644.  
  645. 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.
  646.  
  647. 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.
  648.        
  649. - Eleventh Session -
  650.  
  651. (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 whicih 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.
  652.  
  653. 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.)
  654.  
  655. D (reciting from earlier notes): “This was the Scout. He ran fast and died a virgin.”
  656.  
  657. (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.)
  658.  
  659. D: “This was the Soldier. He died as he lived, fighting for a cause he believed in.”
  660.  
  661. (The next picture, a vague figure in a hazmat suit and gas mask.)
  662.        
  663. D: “This was the Pyro. Was he a man? Was he a woman? Did it really matter, in the end?”
  664.  
  665. (The next, a dark-skinned man with an eyepatch, leaping just ahead of a tremendous explosion.)
  666.  
  667. D: “This was the Demoman. He may have been a nut, but he was our nut.”
  668.  
  669. (The next, a huge man weilding an even larger chaingun.)
  670.  
  671. D: “This was the Heavy Weapons Guy. He loved his gun and he loved his Sandwiches, but he loved his Medic even more.”
  672.  
  673. (The next, a weathered man in a lab coat and heavy rubber gloves.)
  674.  
  675. 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.”
  676.  
  677. (The next, a masked man in a fancy tuxedo, lurking in the shadows.)
  678.        
  679. D: “This was the Spy. For all of his backstabbing and fancy double talk, he remained loyal to us through and through.”
  680.  
  681. (The last picture, a tall man wearing a stylish hat, peering down the scope of a rifle.)
  682.  
  683. D: “This was the Sniper. He had a plan for everything, except the one thing that mattered.”
  684.  
  685. (The doctor steps aside to reveal the patient again. He was now looking at the camera.)
  686.  
  687. 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 Announcer trapped us down here…”
  688.  
  689. (D’s note: The full text of the patient’s account can be read in the attachment.)
  690.        
  691. I knocked on the door. “Morning, Engie.”
  692.  
  693. “Morning, Doc. Come on in.”
  694.  
  695. 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?”
  696.  
  697. “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?”
  698.  
  699. “I don’t know.” I didn’t have to lie this time. All that was left was for the end to come.
  700.  
  701. “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?”
  702.  
  703. For my part, I was relieved that I didn’t have to look him in the eyes. “I’ll do what I can.”
  704.  
  705. “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.”
  706.  
  707. “I try to do my best,” I answered, despite feeling that I had on the whole failed him.
  708.        
  709. He let out a slow sigh, his eyes fluttering shut. “It’s a nice day today, isn’t it?”
  710.  
  711. “Beautiful,” I agreed. “Not a single cloud in the sky.”
  712.  
  713. “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.”
  714.  
  715. I drew the blankets over him and tucked him in. “And the Soldier would never let him?”
  716.  
  717. “‘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.”
  718.  
  719. I smoothed down the covers. “You’re a good man too, Engie.”
  720.  
  721. “…thanks, Doc. That means a lot, coming from you.” His voice was just above a whisper now.
  722.  
  723. “You want to take a nap, Engie? I can come back and talk later.”
  724.  
  725. “You can stay if you want.” He forced his eyes open again. “Please?”
  726.  
  727. I sat down next to the bed. “I’m not going anywhere.”
  728.  
  729. END