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with apologies to Hunter S. Thompson (5)

1 .

Every repost is a repost repost. By Owl Tiem.


It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era - the kind of peak that never comes again. 2fort in the late sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run... but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole team comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time -- and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened. My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights - or very early mornings - when I left the base half-crazy and, instead of heading toward the first capture point, aimed myself straight across the map at a hundred miles an hour... booming through no man's land toward the lights of the RED base, not quite sure what I'd do once I got there...but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was; no doubt at all about that. There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the moat, then up in our own sniper decks, or down in the basement where the Engineer was working. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle - that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Red and Evil. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave... So now, less than five years later, you can go up on that second point on Badlands and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke.

We didn't even know it when it happened. Sure, we had the announcer's voice telling us we'd lost, but surely she was lying. Surely she was wrong. We couldn't lose! Look at us - we were the kings of the world. We had everything going for us: youth, energy, that wonderful electric sense of freedom firing up every neuron in our twisted little brains. We had glorious violence and violent glory. We were the New Gods. We were a force of nature.

The beginning of the end was the day we lost our Medic. Sure, we'd all complained about him - a crazy German, some kind of Nazi or something, Mengele jokes flying as thick as the bullets whose wounds he was healing for us when we could get him to put away his bloodstained bonesaw. A drug-addled psycho, with mysterious concoctions in his hypodermics and a terrifyingly thoughtful look in his eyes when you ran to him bleeding - but he was ours; he was one of us.

He'd gone down in the last few minutes of that last fight, right before the announcer gave the news. That bitch. Her voice as cold and heartless as a disappointed god, booming from the sky, and all of us still high on the heady mixture of adrenalin and medigun fumes from the last desperate heals as we fought off their push. I don't think any of us even realized he was dead at the time. We didn't even realize we'd lost, that our wave had crested and was rolling back - no matter what the announcer said - until the Reds drove us off the base, herding us out the gate in the chain-link fence that had been locked for as long as I'd been there. We left carrying what we'd brought in - they'd let us do that - and somebody managed to steal the Medigun while we buried Medic - they'd let us do that too. But then we were gone, forced out, leaving behind the place that had been our home since what felt like the beginning of time.

Everything we were was on that base. We didn't have names; we had jobs. And those jobs required being there, in that place, at that time, doing those things. Now the sun was setting behind our backs and even the grotesquely lengthened shadow of our base, that last remnant of everything we'd been and had, was fading into the general blackness of desert night.

We were three days out, somewhere between 2fort and the ocean, when the Trouble began.
Marked for deletion (old)

2 .

We'd been travelling hard, pushing ourselves, Soldier jealously rationing what supplies we had on us, and by that afternoon we were all passing the medigun around, breathing in deep, riding that little burst of fumes like an ether high. It had started as a strictly logical thing - moving too fast on too little food and water under too much sun, we needed the healing properties to keep us going. It just made sense. But we were starting to get a little too into it.

I think I realized that when Scout's hat started talking to me.

For the last two miles the cactuses around us had been glaring at me, giving me the evil eye, and I'd been steering clear of them, zigzagging and sidling to make sure they wouldn't have a good shot at me with their needleguns. Malevolent creatures, those cactuses. Living in the desert has twisted them. Made them into something not quite human. I knew it wasn't safe. That was why we had to keep moving. They had us outnumbered, but we were faster. As long as we didn't stop, they wouldn't be able to sneak up on us, circle around us while we slept. We just had to take rational precautions about things and we'd be fine. But Scout's hat had different ideas.

"Kill them," it said.

"What?" I said, and everyone looked at me. I had to play it cool. If I let on to them that Scout's hat and I were talking, they'd think we were co-conspirators.

"I thought I heard something," I said. Play it cool. It was my turn for the medigun anyway. I took my hit and passed it on, giving Scout's hat a sidelong glance that said: Watch yourself. You're being too obvious. I don't know who you want me to kill, anyway. The cactuses? There were too many of them. Too well-armed. No weak points. A risky proposition. Was I saying this aloud?

Scout came over and looked at me with glassy eyes. He was hitting the stuff too much. He was too young for it. Too small. A lightweight. He should cut back. Save more for the rest of us. I looked at his hat, and his hat looked at me. A voice was saying: "Maybe we ought to stop for the night, guys. I think Spy's gettin' loopy." And another voice was saying: "Don't be ridiculous. We can't stop here. This is cactus country." One of them may have been me.

3 .

Strange memories on this nervous night in the desert. Extremely hazy. All I have, for guide-pegs, is a pocketful of loose sheets from the intel briefcase that I'd grabbed on the way off the base thinking they were important, all covered with scribbled notes in six languages, two of which I don't even speak. A battle-plan full of Xs and Os and directional arrows, for the inevitable confrontation with the cacti. "Teleporter? Hook into transdimensional rifts. Engineer - talk/ask/bribe LEAN on the fucker... heavy yelling." Another just has the word "turpentine" written over and over.

Pyro made a fire. Hands blazing into light, painting everyone red. Fucking REDs. Maybe the hat was right. I could still hear it whispering.

We passed the medigun around. Me, Scout, Heavy, Demo, Sniper, Soldier, Engineer, Pyro, me again, circle around the fire like Indians passing the peace-pipe, circle and loop and circle again. Dizzy. When Pyro passed it to me I could see the light of the fumes inside his mask. Blue glow behind the lenses.

A medigun is a wonderful and terrible thing. Used right, it can save a life. Used the way we were... It was like being ubered. There's a reason the charge only lasts ten seconds normally. It makes you act like the village drunkard in some early Irish novel. Complete lack of conscious motor control. Blurred tunnel-vision, numb tongue - severance of all connection between the body and the brain.

And the Fear.

Scout was getting it. He tried to bite me. I held the medigun back. He was on too much. I knew he was too much of a lightweight for this. When he start squirming, kicking at the ground, I just looked around at the others. See, I told you. Listen to me. I am a wise man. I am a shaman. I deserve an extra hit.

Everyone else was trying to calm him down, Heavy pulling him into a bear hug. "No fear, little man. All is ok." I could hear the hat - it was all the hat's fault - whispering under the fuss. "The lizardmen, they live in the cactus."

I wanted to tell the hat it wasn't helping, but what if it was right? I knew those cacti were up to no good. It wouldn't surprise me if they'd brought in allies against us. You can't trust them. They're perfidious. Terrible creatures. All around us. Everywhere. I had to be at peak fighting performance to face them. I took another hit off the medigun.

They'd be coming for me next.

Memories muddled like a game of 52-card pickup played with Polaroids, half the deck lost in the shifting desert sands. Was it all in one night? Two? Ten? God and the cactus know. The hat might have known once, but it's not telling me now. Heavy comforting Scout, twitching and kicking in his arms, hugging him close until his feet kicked hard and hard and stilled and he didn't move again, a great bear petting a rabbit, George. Sniper - we're walking in circles - what do you mean - I've seen that cactus five times today - of course you have, you poor bastard, they're following us, don't you know that? They're after us, they're on our trail, THEY KNOW US. Give me the medigun, give it to me. I'm the only one who's safe. The hat keeps me safe, it keeps me sane. It's my advisor, it's my confidential doctor, we don't have a doctor, Medic's gone. Heavy sitting down beside a small neat pile of sand, Soldier's shovel end-down in the ground for a marker, the hat, my advisor, hanging off the top of it. I wait here for Medic catch up. Poor, magnificent bastard. But I have to bring the hat, I have to keep track of it, we're allies now. Can't wear it or they'll know. Carry it in my hand. Hear them muttering, they think it's personal, they think I miss Scout. Lightweight. But better they think that than they know the truth. Conspiracies. Lies. A web tangling around us, wires snaking through and around and between the cactuses as they follow us. Only six of us left. Me and Engineer and Soldier and Pyro and Demoman and Hat. We few, we band of brothers. What does tomorrow hold? What is today? Is it today, or is it yesterday? It's so hot. Sunburn in a ring around my eyes, my mouth. Three-piece suits are not adapted to this. Can't take it off, can't drop the disguise. Have to keep them guessing. I'll see this through. I have the power. I have the medigun. I'll see this through, my advisor and me.

Demoman, lost, gone, couldn't wake him up. Heavy sleeper. Not snoring. Is he breathing? Engineer must have checked, or Pyro, pyros are always checking, spy-checking, avoid him or he'll know. He knows I'm a spy he doesn't know about the Hat I can't let him know we're conspiring.

"As a hat I advise you to just take a whiff and make the best of it."

"As a hat I advise you to guard the medigun, guard it with your life, they want it, but it's ours. We're the only ones smart enough, aren't we?"

"Kill them."

He must be talking about the cactuses, but there's too many of them, swirling around us in the desert, shimmering in the heatwaves, what should I do? All I have is my knife, they took the revolver, they took all our guns, or Soldier could do it, Soldier and his hot pocket crit rockets what are those they're sparkly why don't we have the backpack if we'd taken the backpack we wouldn't be coasting on fumes we were stupid if I'd had Hat advising me back then I'd have known I'd have taken the backpack too it would be better we're going to die out here.

No we're not.

They are.

I'll make it

Where's Soldier we lost him where am I I lost me

4 .

you cant stab a cacuts it stabs back nkvives all voer ists skin what do i do hat tell me hat hat etlll me hat

cant wear it they ll know carry it in my hadn
put it kin my pocket

i can steill HEAR it it s whipsering

5 .

Clearer head now. Don't know what came over me. I'm fine, I'm perfectly fine; nothing to worry about here, no sir. My advisor is tucked safely in my back trouser pocket, brim folded in two to fit - there's a crease down the middle; Scout must have carried him like this at times himself - and the tail of my jacket covers-hides-protects him. We're safe, the two of us.

Down to four. Engineer and Pyro, and Hat and me.

How long has it been? Has Heavy been reduced to eating what's left of Scout, sitting back there at the graveside in his futile wait for Medic? Has Sniper been eaten by the cactuses? We didn't even give Demo a proper burial. Left him there for the cactuses to finish him off. Better him than me.

Hat has the Fear. I can hear him mumbling from my back pocket. Stop mumbling about us!


There are no cats. There's only cactuses. Stupid hat. Maybe you aren't qualified to be my advisor. No, I take it back, please no, no, be my friend, stay my friend, I need a friend, I'm all alone out here, Engineer and Pyro keep looking at me, they know, they know too much.

Kill them.

No, I can't, we're still teammates.

Teammates? We left that behind when the REDs kicked us out, Spy. You know that. You were never really on their side anyway, were you?

I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't, Engineer's carrying the medigun, it's running dry, it's running out, why didn't I think to get the backpack? He says he can fix it, I don't think I believe him, he can have as many PhDs as he wants and we're still going to die out here.

Don't get the Fear, Spy. There's not enough for three, but there's enough for one. Take it. Kill them. You deserve it. You're a spy. No one could blame you.

I don't have the Fear. I'm perfectly rational.

As am I. And as a hat, I advise you -

No, no, no no no no no

days days nights days the sun is out the sun is gone the sun is out again and the sun is a cruel cruel bitch the father the sun and the holy ghost the ghosts of scout and medic they're in among the cactuses where are the others i don't see them but i see scout and medic just behind that cactus there the one at 3 o'clock you see it you see them i see them you see them they're there

it hurts to blink i'm burned around the eyes shouldn't the medigun be fixing that it isn't it's dying we're dying it's not enough engineer you useless bastard can't you do something about it give it back to me you're not fixing it give it to me i need it can't you see

Of course he can't, Spy. He's not rational like we are. That is why he does not deserve to have it. That is why you need to take it. And the only way you'll be able to take it is by force, you know that. There are two of them and only one of you; it's not as if you can pretend this is a democracy and put it to a vote. Pyro will side with Engineer, as he always does, and the Spy will be the odd man out. This is the way of the world. You need to act first. While they're asleep. It will be easy; you still have your knife, don't you?

hat stop no no this is crazy talk

Is it, Spy? We both know I'm right. Don't let the Fear overpower you and steer you wrong. Staying with them is suicide. There's not enough left in the medigun to support three people; it's them or you. This is only logic, Spy. I have your best interests at heart.

i can't hat i can't do it

Spy, don't argue with the inevitable. We both know you can.

no no no don't make me i can't be alone out here

You won't be alone, Spy. I'm here.

maybe you're right

Of course I am, Spy. You've known that all along, haven't you?


yes i have

6 .

In the end, I didn't do it. I didn't have to.

Hat woke me up one afternoon - we'd taken to walking all night, sleeping through the days in whatever shade we could find, conserving our energy and what was left of the medigun - so I could hear the sound of muffled shouting, Pyro losing it at Engineer at last. They were standing just far enough away from our morning's campsite that I couldn't make out even Engineer's words; they'd left the medigun in its place in the center of our sleeping circle.

So I took it and ran.

I ran blind and terrified, kicking up sand at my heels like a jackrabbit, dodging between cactuses and diving over dunes, Hat telling me when to swing left and swing right. I ran with my lungs aching, the medigun fumes tingling down my burnt-out throat with a mentholated shiver, unblinking even when the dust blew my way and filled my eyes. I ran for the sake of the only things I'd ever loved - myself and Hat.

I don't know where or when I lost them. I only know that by sundown, I was alone.

Years later I heard a roar in the distance. It was Pyro, that hellish flamethrower of his, I knew it. Unless it was the Reds, unless they'd finally gotten that old pickup we'd had sitting on our base for ages working and had come out to find me, changed their minds about letting me go, wanted me a prisoner so I'd tell them what I knew. I ran again.

I ran toward it.

In the end, we are all cowards.

Twin lights came over the horizon, and I realized that it really was a car, rolling toward us across the flats. Hat was whispering to me, telling me to leave him behind and he'd watch the medigun while I negotiated with the car.

That's when I realized.

He was never really on my side.

He just wanted me to leave him with the medigun - he wanted me to leave it with him! He wanted it for himself! He was using me the entire time, using me to get at that medigun, the selfish fucking prick bastard. I'd kill him! I'd kill him!

The fight was short, but bitter, and in the end I buried him there in the dunes, my knife still thrust through his back.

I knelt over the grave, breathing deep at the end of the medigun, but nothing came out - even the fumes were gone. Not the slightest glow in the darkness. And that car was still heading our way.

The medigun was dead.

Hat was dead.

And I'd killed him.

Oh, Hat - fuck, Hat - please, wake up - I'm sorry - I didn't mean it - it was this fucking medigun, it fucked me up, it made me blind - I'm sorry - I'm sorry -

The car rolled to a stop, and a young voice carried over to me. "Hey, brother, you alright out there? This is - " a pause, punctuated by giggling - "this is some hard shit, out here."

My salvation had arrived in the form of a pair of jive-talking love children in an old blue Volkswagen.

I left the medigun where it was and walked to the side of the highway.


That was twenty years ago now, and I'm still on the highway, still trying to see if there's anywhere else that you can catch a glimpse of our high-water mark. If there's anything left of what we used to be.

One night a few years ago I walked in to a truck stop with a short-order diner in it. Behind the counter I saw the cook, a tall black man with an eyepatch. I turned around and walked out before he saw me.

Sometimes I can still hear Hat.
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